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! 


Goof said...

Nice post Foof. Cool pics and info, and i'm glad you're blogging again.

Kim said...

Great pictures! I tried to get a few of them for my desktop but the file sizes are tiny. Where on your smugmug site are the "unusual plant" black and white photo and the grass from Lake Murry photo? Love them! Makes me want to go outside and take more pictures (it's raining and dark right now, so it won't work)

Samantha said...

Thanks for the comments G and K!

Kim: I'm delighted you like my photos well enough to want them on your desktop! This was my first post where I used smaller versions of my photos--in part because of storage (file size) issues, and in part because I was getting nervous about people I don't know "stealing" my photos (not that I have any evidence it has happened). My smugmug site still does have my full-size images, but I may change that at some point. Another issue with a few photos in this post is how I moved them around--I normally go into the Blogger html editor to move photos to a specific location in the text but didn't for a few of them this time and it seems the original-sized images are not linked. Will go back to moving them in html--live and learn!

Anyway, here's the full-size, uncropped version of the unusual plant...
...not actually black-and white though it looks like it here! In the same gallery in smugmug, I do have a b&w photo of the same plant from a different angle. I've been learning about the "rule of thirds" and that is why I cropped the photo for posting on my blog and I do think the cropped version is better--you can crop it (or not) in iPhoto or whatever the way you like it.

As for the other photo, it is from the first time I tried shooting in RAW. It isn't on smugmug, and I haven't got a good enough feel for Aperture to figure out how to made the RAW image file look good like the version shown here... my camera can only save a small .jpg when I'm shooting in RAW and the .jpg looks much better and is what I posted. It's just small, as you noticed. So, I'm going to work on the RAW image at some point and I'll either put it on smugmug and let you know, or send it to you. Or I can send you the RAW file if you'd like to play around with it :-)

pinnochio said...

I love the photos, Zam... wish I could have been there, but then again, I've been writing about a city spring, which has it's own advantages. How is the reasearch going? Any closer to the breakthrough, or is it more like running uphill?

Kirsty said...

Wow you are good. Fascinating info. I am so impetuous and lazy, I really need to start with reading my user manual (blulsh) Gorgeous photos. That one s. African flower looks like it has a biscuit in the middle of it :D And yes, your bacteria is beautiful.

Widge said...

Your photos are great! I'm with Kirsty on the needing to read my users manual thing..hmmmm

Samantha said...

Hi Widge--thanks for the compliment. I put my camera manual next to my bed with my other bedtime reading materials so that I would be more likely to read it. Also, I had a lot of time in an airplane on my way to South Africa to read it...

Of course, not long after I wrote this entry, I got a new job that takes so much of my time, I rarely take any photos any more (or write on my blog, obviously). So much for my year of photography! I will get back into though when/if work calms down a bit. Thanks to all my readers for reading and commenting!