A Creatively Correct Exposure

December 5, 2011 § Leave a comment

A friend recommended a great book to get started on shooting photos manually, Understanding Exposure. I now highly recommend it as well.

Almost every beginner guide I’ve tried to read for photography usually loses me in technical jargon from the start. Most assume you were already born speaking f-stop.

I like this Bryan Peterson guy; he’s different. Even though he probably spends most of his waking moments behind a camera, he understands how to talk to people who don’t. While others explain what ISO is, he equates it to thinking of it like worker bees capturing light. The more you have the less time they need to capture it.  I can get behind that.

Just after a few pages in I felt reassured that my brain would indeed be able to process what he was saying and kept reading. He includes simple exercises along the way to illustrate what he’s explaining so you can try on your own.

I was playing around with understanding how to capture a correct exposure across various f-stop settings using the light meter to help me set the corresponding shutter speed. His book shed light on a huge misconception I’ve had as a beginner. I always assumed you had to have the know-how to set your camera for the one perfect exposure.
He explains in the book there are at minimum 6 correct exposures you can achieve and it is up to you to decide the correct “creative” exposure (or perfect one) you’re looking for.

I did a little experiment of my own on a phrenology bust I purchased from the flea market I was photographing earlier in the week. It was much more reliably stationary than my cat.

I started with my camera at an ISO of 200 (worker bees) and f/1.2 (50mm lens). Using the light meter (which I didn’t even know was there) I set the correct shutter speed indicated and shot a photo. I then set the aperture a “stop down”, effectively cutting the amount of light in half. I continued re-setting the f-stop until f/16, taking a photo with each new arrangement of aperture and shutter speed with the ISO constant. I only picked a few to show the range.

As you shoot each photo you’ll notice the shutter speed slowing down considerably to let the right amount of light in due to the smaller aperture. Each of these is correctly exposed despite varying apertures & corresponding shutter speeds.

From a creative perspective, I prefer the top image as it isolates the bust with a much shallower depth of field compared with the progressively sharper images which show much more of what is happening in the background.

I never really understood how aperture, shutter speed and ISO worked in conjunction with each other to not only capture a correct image but to creatively play with the depth of field.

I practiced the same experiment on a friend when we were having coffee together at her house.

Again I like when the focus is much more on her than what’s going on in the background (although they do have a beautiful historic house).

I love that “Understanding Exposure” starts out with a simple explanation of aperture, shutter speed and ISO over just a few pages and follows them up with exercises you can try that illustrate the points he’s making.

Switching your camera to manual reminds me a lot of driving a manual car. You have so much more control. You pay a lot more attention to what you’re doing. One of the reasons I’ve always driven a manual car is that I feel more connected to the road. You get more feedback (and let’s be honest, it’s a lot more fun than an automatic).

I think there are a lot of similarities with shooting photos manually. As with learning to drive a stick shift, it just takes a bit of practice and understanding where things give.

I still have a lot of practice ahead but at least I got the camera out for a spin.


Baby Steps

December 1, 2011 § 1 Comment

I’ve never been one of those types that dutifully reads the manual. It’s a habit that has generally served me well. It has unfortunately prevented me from using about 90% of the camera I invested a lot of money in.

This week I’m giving the camera manual another chance. I’ve started learning what the random buttons and symbols mean and as a result what I can do with them. Today I was fooling around with something called “creative auto” on my camera, which is the equivalent to taking baby steps towards using your camera manually (and a great “What About Bob?” reference).“Creative auto” is for people who want some control over the image but don’t want to learn the mechanics of exposure.  For the image above I was playing around with the exposure range feature and liked the brighter exposure where it was more washed out looking, almost like a watercolor.
I also played around with taking a monochromatic shot (never knew how to do that on my camera!). I still couldn’t get the snow to come out as white as I wanted but I did make some new friends.

To practice a bit more with some of these features I went to the local flea market since there are always fun things to look at and to practice cutting through clutter. Here I was playing around with the background. Sadly this head was “NOT FOR SALE!” Who knows what her next assignment will be after she finds that cowboy hat an owner. Maybe she’ll be retired to a mantel above the fireplace.

Taking photos makes you slow down and notice more, like she-head-torso below. That mannequin used to be somebody. Back in the 80s, she could stop window shoppers in their tracks selling leotards…before the accident. She wistfully still holds out hope to be reunited with her appendages in time for resort wear season. I couldn’t bring myself to tell her the fashion world has moved on from blondes (and her arms and legs are shoved in a mis-marked box in a basement in Albequerque).

This sad little beagle also caught my eye. I played around with darkening the exposure a bit to take advantage of the light shining on him. It better suited the interrogation going through my mind. “Where did you come from?” “How did you get here?” “How could anyone look down at that adorably sad beagle expression and stick you in a box to be sold?” I’m glad it is at least a no-kill shelter.

Below again I played with the background focus and darkened the exposure to focus in more on Raggedy Ann and Annie. It seems I caught them in the middle of something. I guess it would stand to reason they’d be close friends. Both are red headed, a little rough around the edges and started out poor before becoming famous. I think they were discussing Occupy Wall Street and their disdain for the 99% but I couldn’t be sure.

Taking photos at a flea market makes you hone in on the curiosities of people’s possessions. There is a reflection of the life of those who owned them as you walk from stall to stall; the travelers, the homemakers, the entertainers. I couldn’t shake the mortal thought that someday my own life might be reflected through my possessions in a stall somewhere where people could come and root around, deciding whether my possessions are of interest.

I hope they take pictures and at least make up fun stories about what they find.


How to Take Photos

November 28, 2011 § Leave a comment

I’ve always loved taking photos. The one above is of my friends’ daughters playing in a pool in Charleston, SC. Taking photos for my blog has been an aspect I’ve really enjoyed. Luckily I have an amazing camera (Canon 5D Mark II) that does most of the work. I know one of the central elements in learning photography is to just get out, fool around with the camera and take a lot of pictures. I’ve done that but now I want to actually understand how my camera works and learn use it manually. I know I could do a lot more with it.

I also want to hone in more on what kind of subjects I like. Looking back over the photos I liked most from last year I seem to gravitate towards people and life. It will be fun to explore whether that’s true this week.

Dairy owner’s granddaughter in milking room in NE Colorado

Afternoon lunch in Paris

Nephew practicing karate

midnight in Venice Italy

curious little girl outside grocery in Grover Colorado

Dancing by the Seine

Late night by the grand canal

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