Saturday, March 28, 2009

Photography immersion

California poppies, and a crazy slow shutter/fast focusing technique I tried.

I haven't been very good about writing blog posts lately. I've been busy being mad at the unfairness of life (I know it's pointless, but I can't seem to stop) and doing more physical therapy exercises (I'm doing better physically due to the latter, thank you). I've also been learning more about photography and trying to pick up tips here and there. See, at the beginning of the year I failed to make resolutions per se, but I did decide that I would try to get better at photography this year. Photography makes me happy, and I could use more of that. It helped that a professor visiting our lab for the year from Scotland is also a keen photographer, so we often discuss photography. Since the digital camera era has made a lot of people interested in photography, I thought I'd share some of my favorite websites/podcasts/videocasts that have been helping me learn more about the technical side of photography in case it can help any of my readers--I know three of you (Genevieve, Kirsty, and Kim) are somewhat interested in photography and the other two (that's you, Ian and mom) aren't, but maybe someone else with an interest in photography will come across my mediocre blog in time!

A hallway on the campus where I work.

The thing I've been spending the most time on is listening to the old podcasts of TWIP (This Week In Photography) on my iPod Shuffle while running and eating lunch, trying to catch up to the current show (I have a way to go--they've been putting out ~1 hour podcasts once a week for over a year). I subscribed via iTunes so you can search for it there. They (the people of TWIP) also keep a blog that has additional information and also the show notes for the podcasts [UPDATE: try this blog (Photofocus) and this blog (TWIPlog) instead--they moved and diverged a bit]. The podcast is basically a round table discussion of photography news and tips, with the "panelists" being a group of respected photographers and digital perfecting/manipulation types. I am impressed by the breadth of experience of the panelists--I think they were well-chosen because they each have different specialties and thus as a group they have a wide spectrum of viewpoints. My favorite person on the show is one of the original two hosts (he seems to now have have been replaced as a host by one of the long-time panelists for the podcast, but still has a lot to do with the blog): Scott Bourne. As a host, he's pretty good at keeping things on track and I like his direct, practical attitude. Apparently, a number of people (listeners) have issues with him--they don't like the way he flaunts his wealth or his "hard-assedness" that he displays in managing the comments section of the blog etc. But whatever, it doesn't bother me and what's more, I like his voice. I am not alone in liking the TWIP podcast--it is apparently #1 for photography podcasts. The podcast does have quite a bit to do with raving about new technology but even though I don't have the paycheck to keep up with the Joneses in that regard, I find I learn interesting technical stuff when they start discussing the new products so that's okay.

Some bacterial colonies that I grew as part of my experiments. See, bacteria can be pretty!

In TWIP, they talk about Flickr a lot (TWIP runs competitions through Flickr and also has a critique forum etc. there), so I did try to give Flickr another chance by uploading more of my photos and trying to spend more time wandering through other people's photographs there, but I still am not a fan of the Flickr format. For those who don't know, I do the bulk of my photo displaying over on smugmug. Yes, I have to pay for it and Flickr is free, but I like smugmug better and it acts as backup storage for my photos. If you'd like to sign up for smugmug too, you can use my coupon code (on my smugmug page) and get a discount, and that will also earn me a discount on my renewal... and that would be the first money I'd ever get from photography ;-)

An unusual plant I encountered on a hike.

Okay, what else? A couple of people from Kelby Training recently started a videocast called D-Town TV of tips for Nikon cameras, so I've been watching that. The problem is that my camera is 5 years old and they only focus on the newer Nikon cameras. But, it's only about 10 minutes a week of my time to watch it and it's teaching me the cool things that newer cameras are capable of... downside to that is that it makes me want a newer camera! 

An awesome flower (in South Africa).

As for Kelby Training itself, I have watched the (free) introductory lessons to a few of their courses (you have to pay to watch the rest of the lessons for the courses). I haven't yet paid for them because you pay by the month for unlimited courses and I don't have enough time to squeeze in enough of the courses to make it worth it. Also, a lot of their classes are about using Photoshop and I don't care about that (since I don't have Photoshop). If at some point I find myself with lots of time, I will watch all the Joe McNally videos (mostly on artificial lighting--not something I use a lot, but I think it is interesting) and the Moose Peterson ones (wildlife and landscape--my favorite genre of photography is Nature). I was particularly impressed by the Joe McNally introductory lessons so I'm glad that he makes appearances on D-Town TV too.

By the way, if you're interested in flash (and especially off-camera) lighting, this is widely viewed as an excellent site for it: Strobist.

You might also want to read Thomas Hawk's tips for newer dSLR camera users.

A lizard on the campus where I work.

Before this year, I'd basically never edited a photo... I assumed that if I put in enough thought at the time of shooting, I'd never have to worry about editing. Well, now that everyone says you should take photos in RAW format (vs. jpeg), I gave that a try and realized my photos didn't look very good straight out of the camera anymore. My sister then informed me that if you shoot RAW, you basically have to run it through some software to get it to look good (when your camera processes the image to spit out a jpeg file, it does some behinds-the-scene stuff to the image to make it look "better"). So I went back to shooting jpegs while I did a bit of research on software. I'm not about to spend big bucks on Photoshop, and a couple of the guys on TWIP seem to use Aperture a lot, so I've downloaded the trial version of that to give it a try (other people on the show use Adobe's Lightroom, but I like Apple so am trying Aperture first. You can apparently also get a free trial of Lightroom). Both Aperture and Lightroom help you manage your photo collection (I'd been using Apple's iPhoto for that) and allow quite a bit of image adjustments, just not as much as Photoshop. To help me use Aperture, I've been watching the tutorial videos for it on the Apple site. Rumor has it that Aperture 3.0 may be coming out in the next couple of months, so I won't be buying a license for it until I hear more about that (it was a very sketchy rumor I heard second-hand, so if anyone finds this blog by searching for Aperture three-point-oh, you are in the wrong place to find out when it will be released).

I altered this photo with iPhoto! I changed the exposure and contrast, I think, and I like it better than the original. It's of Snoqualmie Falls in Washington state.

As the TWIP panel regularly mentions, writers become better writers by reading, and photographers become better photographers by looking at other people's photos. To help me with that, I subscribe to a couple of professional photographers' blogs: Phil Colla's Oceanlight, and Ron Niebrugge's Niebrugge Images. There are many others out there, and for many other genres. Many wedding photographers have their own blogs, so if that's what you're into, you could try those. 

Grass at Lake Murray, taken after sunset with my 50 mm f/1.8 lens! Amazing that it could let in so much light with a reasonable shutter speed.

All the above has improved my knowledge, but has it improved my photography? Probably not a lot yet, because I haven't been taking enough photos lately! I do think my photography has improved in the last year though, but it happened before I got so into reading/listening to all the above things. First, for my trip to South Africa last year, I stopped using the "Auto" setting on my camera after reading my camera's manual and discovering all the things the "program" settings (like "landscape," "portrait," "action" etc) do. Earlier this year, I took my camera to lab a couple days and went and took photos of whatever during my lunch break, but had my camera set to "Manual"--took me back to the days of using my manual film camera and reminded me of all the things I'd forgotten! On Manual mode, you have to adjust the aperture and shutter speed and ISO settings until the exposure is good--takes a lot of fiddling, and makes you pay attention to your camera settings. Then, the first day that I went to see the desert wildflowers this year, I focused on aperture settings (the aperture in my lens, not the software)... I put my camera on aperture priority (what most pros seem to use for most of their shooting) and then watched what happened to my photos when I changed the aperture. That was a very good experience--helped me get a better feel for what changing the aperture accomplishes besides letting in more light. The next time I was out in the desert, I focused on focus (hee hee). I realized from the aperture day that blurry images just aren't good ;-) So, I recommend reading your camera manual and not using the Auto setting, if you still do that.

A ladybird on a flower that I took a photo of on the day I was focusing on focus.

By now, you're probably thinking I'm getting paid to plug certain products or productions :-) If only... then maybe I could afford some of the photography gear on my ever-growing wish list! 

I have a blog?

Oh, yeah, it looks like I do! Oh oh... it's been a while since I wrote anything! Hmmn. Will have to think of something to write about. In the meantime, here's a photo of how I feel:

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Photo diary of the last few days

I'm going to work backwards, since that's the order my photos loaded in :-)

I made a knitted kitty, inspired by an ex-roommate of mine, Jodi, and with a pattern from another person's blog (if you don't like swearing, don't go there).

To take the photos of the kitty last night, I decided I should practice using my fancy flash off-camera (my camera can remotely control the flash). I couldn't remember how to do it, so I got out my camera manual, my flash manual, and did a google search and finally got it, as this test shot (while sitting at my computer) shows. You can also see the manuals in the background.
Yesterday afternoon, Jesse and I went over to a coworker's house to watch a football game. For those of you who know me and Jesse, you'll know we are not the football-watching types. But, we decided it would be fun to give it a try. As I'm working backwards here, I'll start with after the game--"our" team, the San Diego Chargers, lost, but we sat on my coworker's deck and enjoyed the sunset and city lights.
I made yellow and blue cupcakes with blue or yellow frosting. My advisor's daughter (my advisor's significant other (and father of the kid) was at the party, though my advisor was not) took quite a liking to the cupcake frosting... she licked the frosting off of four cupcakes, and only then took a nibble of one of the cupcakes (but never ate the rest of any of them). Here she is licking, and you can see another licked one on the table. 
Here are the cupcakes I took to the football watching party.

Before we left for the football party, I had a little photo shoot with Alice as she sat in some autumn-colored leaves I collected on Friday (more on that towards the end).

And here are the leaves, that I photographed separately on Saturday:

Okay, now we're at Friday, the day I collected the leaves... I sat outside when I ate my lunch because it was such a lovely day (sorry to everyone who lives somewhere that wouldn't be a possibility in January). The leaves are finally starting to turn colors and fall off trees here (took some getting used to when I moved here!). I ended up picking up a whole bunch of the leaves since I thought they were so pretty, and when I got back into lab, I tied a rubber band around them to keep them as a bunch. I happened to have my camera in lab, so one of my coworkers and I had a bit of fun. Here I am throwing my bouquet:
This photo was actually taken as a test shot as I was showing my coworker something, but I am putting it in so y'all can see where I work... my desk is at the very back on the right (you can see my desk chair pushed back) and my bench, where I keep my reagents and equipment and set up some of my experiments is in front of that, where my stool with my gray jacket is. Lab's are cluttered-looking places.
My coworker took a self portrait, and I really like how you can see another of my coworkers in the back.
Me posing with the coworker you could see in the back of the previous photo.
I put the leaves on our light box to get a back-lit shot through one of the leaves.
Here's my bouquet on the over-turned lid of my ice bucket (we put ice into them to keep reagents cold on our benches, when necessary).
And there you have it.