Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Photography Lesson III - Lining Up A Shot

Since we have gone over equipment and the basics of camera settings, then next logical topic is how to line up a shot so that you get the most out of your photos. People will notice how well a photo is lined up and how it draws their eye before they noticit that it is a little blurry or dark.  In fact, when the angle on a photo is perfect, little flaws can be played up as artistic.

Most people's photography needs fall into a category (like nature, the kids, pets, etc) that that is the main subject of the majority of their pictures. If you have children, you are probably going to be most interested in tips on children's photography. Same goes if you take mostly nature shots, or portraits. I will try to use examples and present info in a way so that everyone can benefit from it.

As I said in my last photography lesson, I use the viewfinder on my camera to take pictures rather than looking at the LCD screen. I find that it is easier to imagine what a picture will look like when I block out all other visual information. I can then review the photos on the screen when I'm done.

The first thing to ask yourself when lining up a picture is Why am I taking this picture? If you are photographing your child's soccer game, you are going to want to get a shot of your child with the ball or in action, right? This means you are going to want to zoom out a bit so you can get your child's body and the ball in the shot. A closeup of little Susie's face isn't what you are going for here. Makes sense, no? On the other hand, if you are trying to photograph the beauty of a rose, you are going to want to get in close to capture its intricacies. If you take a wide shot of a rose garden you will have a nice shot of a garden, but nothing extraordinary because the viewer's eye will not be drawn to any particular subject.

 And that is my next tip: ask yourself What is the subject of this picture? Your answer will probably be "My child kicking a soccer ball" and not "My child and five other kids on a soccer field". Keep in mind that the background of a picture can be distracting if the subject doesn't fit with it, or if the subject isn't placed well in it. Your eye tends to dart around looking for a subject to settle on, and if it can't, it will move on to something more interesting. Let's look at some examples.

Here is an example of an action photo where having the subject placed correctly in the frame is crucial. In this case, the background colors go nicely with the subject so they add to the photo rather than distract from the subject. It was also important for the photo to be in portrait (up and down) format. This layout minimizes the amount of uninteresting background and makes Arrow look longer and the jump more spectacular. It allows more sky and ground immediately around him to be shown. You can see that Arrow is nicely centered in the picture. Given that the background is pretty, but not particularly relevant to the subject of the photo, having the subject centered made the picture more visually appealing. The next example is the opposite.

When lining up this shot I felt that it was important to capture as much of the background as possible without minimizing the subject. It would not have been very interesting to see Richard against a white snow background without any of the context that the trees bring. This photo was taken from the top story deck of the house in Lake Tahoe. The height was crucial in getting the right angle for this shot. Richard had just sledded down the hill and was climbing back up for another go. I loved that he was wearing all black (even though the doofus was in short sleeves) because it played so well against the snow. I could have panned a bit right to center him in the lower half of the frame, but sometimes an off center subject is best. I chose to anchor him in the bottom right of the shot because it accentuated the fact that he was walking uphill. (It can be helpful to think of your subject as the anchor of the picture. It makes the subject seem weightier and helps you visualize the shot before you take it.) NOTE: The color was edited in PhotoShop to make it black and white while keeping the color of the sled. I will explain how to do this in a future Photography Lesson.

In the Arrow photo I sat on the ground to accentuate the height of the jump. In the photo of Richard I climbed up to take the picture from above to get a lot of background in and to highlight the uphill journey.  Here is another example of the importance of the height you take a picture from.

For this photo of Hayden I had him lie on the ground on his tummy with his arms over his boppy pillow. Because this put him low to the ground, I needed to get even closer to the ground than sitting on it would have allowed. So I got on my tummy too, propped on my elbows, and got him centered in the frame. If I had been sitting I would have gotten more of the top of his head than his face. Once I was set up I shook a toy in my left hand out of frame to get his attention (and apparently Bodie's too if you look in the background). I will do a Photography lesson on the best ways to engage your subject a little later (I sure am making more work for myself!)

Using your surroundings to frame a subject and make the photo more visually interesting is my next tip. Here are a few examples. Each of these photos would have been very different if I had pushed in past the closer objects instead of using them as a frame.

This walkway at Pebble Beach is pretty, but by taking the photo through an opening in the sheer curtains the photo becomes more interesting. The colors seem more vibrant and the curve of the sidewalk looks more pronounced.

For this photo of a vineyard, instead of zooming in past the stone archway I pulled back and let the arch create a natural frame. The archway acts like a funnel directing the viewer's eye to the vineyard.

This picture of the valley with the circular frame is an example of looking around you to see what might make your picture more visually appealing. Any ideas about how I achieved this? Well, the photo was taken through a knothole in a fence. I got up close to the fence, focused on the landscape, and the fence created a creative frame. Again, the viewer's eye is directed to the subject (the view) and any extraneous visual information is blocked by the fence.

Finally, for this photo at Lake Tahoe instead of avoiding this location because of all of the branches in the way, I used the branches in the foreground to frame the shot. Many times objects in the foreground can accentuate the background of your pictures as well as add context.

Now, let's talk about getting really creative with the placement of your subject. Sometimes it is fun to place the subject of your photo in a wacky spot in the frame.

This picture of Arrow is fun because the background is blurred out and his eyes draw yours. Don't dismiss a photo like this, even if it was an accident.

For this photo Baby B I pushed in really close to focus on his amazing blue eyes and precious lips. I have other pictures of his whole little self, so I wanted one that would accentuate the details.

The same can be said for the following photos of Hayden.  I got some great photos of his face, or all of him, so I wanted to capture some of the finer details. Take a little time to pick out the details of your subject. For Hayden I chose his sweet hands, mouth, toes and eyelashes. I did this because he was 4 months old and I knew that his parents would want to have some pictures to remember the little baby things that change so quickly.

Final tip: sometimes the subject isn't what you think.

In this photo, the little girl's face doesn't matter. The emotion in the photo comes from her little hands pressed against the store window.  Think about what you are trying to convey with the photo.

The same is true for this photo of the sisters at the piano. The emotion of the photo comes from seeing their little backs squished in together (the older ones framing the baby) and from the two sisters looking at each other. We got some great shots of their faces that day, so their faces weren't important here. We know who they are. The emotion is the key (both what is shown and what is evoked).

Here is the final example: Javan and Karen in Washington, DC. Here I didn't want to take a portrait of them holding hands. I wanted to capture the moment. The visual of them holding hands walking down the tree lined sidewalk is best presented from the back. Not seeing their faces leaves the emotion entirely in their body language.  I like to think that one day their grandchildren will really like this photo too.

So that is a little lesson on framing your photos and lining up your shot. This post doesn't address lighting, staging, taking advantage of the moment, or many other factors that I will address later. The point of this was to help you broaden the way you arrange your shots. Play around with this and I think you will be pleased. Think about what you are going for, but don't over think it (make sense?). Some of the best photos are happy accidents.

Next lesson: Lighting - Sometimes it's okay to cross to the dark side.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Evidence Of Awesomeness

As I mentioned in my Photography Lesson post, I am really enjoying the camera on my new iPhone 4.  I thought I would share a few pictures that I took with it so you can see how great the camera (and camera and editing apps) are.  Have I mentioned that I adore Apple products?  

(Working out.  The phone has both forward and rear facing cameras so you can see the screen if you are taking a picture of yourself.  Very useful.)

(Archie is obsessed with my bangs.  He likes to push them around with his beak.  This is the view I get when he comes in for them.)

Friday, March 25, 2011

Book Review

This is the first time I am recommending a book on the blog.  If you do nothing for yourself this week, go read (or listen to) A Discovery of Witches.  This is the most fantastic book I have read in a long time.  Deborah Harkness takes the supernatural vampire/witch genre to an entirely new (more adult) level.  If you enjoyed the fun nature of the Twilight series but wished that the characters were more believable and less, well...swoony, then you will love this book.  Even if you didn't like Twilight, you will love this.  
The writing is exquisite and you will not want it to end.  Discovery is the first of what will be a trilogy.  The second book is due out in 2012 and I am trying to figure out how I can possibly enjoy another book in the meantime.  

(FCC: I have not been compensated by the Author or Publisher for recommending this book.  I purchased the book with my own funds.)

Thursday, March 24, 2011

We've Had Some Rain, Clearly

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Back At It

Thanks to a wicked storm we were without power here for about 48 hours.  Add that to the fact that my computer was in the shop getting a new hard drive and a bunch of other stuff, and you will understand why blogging has not been very regular.  

While I get things back in order (and throw a bunch of stuff out of the refrigerator) I will leave you with a few photos of the recent "Super Moon".  I didn't think the size difference was noticeable until I took these photos and saw how much of the frame the moon takes up compared to previous shots I have taken.  For perspective and orientation, the large crater on the right of the moon in these photos is Tycho.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Photography Lesson II - Camera Settings

I got positive feedback about the last photography lesson and I hope some of you found it helpful. Since we have gone over equipment, I will now move on to discussing how to use the settings on your camera.

If you are anything like me you took one look at the User Guide for your camera, put it aside and figured out the camera by using it. The only way I could do this however, was because I have a background in photography and know what the various settings and buttons mean. However, camera settings vary widely and sometimes I do need to refer to the User Guide. A problem that may stand in your way if you aren't familiar with cameras, is that the User Guide may not be helpful because you can't translate what the settings mean. These problems are pretty specific to Digital SLR cameras since point and shoot models generally only have Auto mode.

What I would like to do next is introduce you to the main settings on a camera. These will help you understand what your camera is doing by itself when it is in Auto mode. My camera is only in Auto mode if I hand it to someone else so they can take a picture of me. The rest of the time I keep it in Manual mode. This means that I individually adjust the settings for each photo shoot and usually multiple times during the shoot. This isn't as time consuming or daunting as it sounds, and I hope that by the end of this Photography Lesson series you will feel comfortable enough to explore Manual mode. I think you will be pleased with the results. You will certainly be getting more out of your camera. Here is an overview of the basic settings on your camera.

ISO Sensitivity - This measures the sensitivity of the image sensor. Low ISO numbers are used in good light, higher numbers are used in low light. You will also need to adjust the ISO based on the shutter speed you are using. ISO ranges vary between cameras. My D5000 has ISO numbers between below 200 and over 3200. This vast range was one of the reasons I was drawn to the D5000. I'm not going to be able to eloquently describe how/when to change ISO settings, but I can help with some of the basics by using examples. If you are taking a photo outside, say of a flower, and it is bright and sunny out, you would use a low (~200) ISO setting for two reasons: 1) it is sunny and 2) because you are not taking an action shot you can use a slower shutter speed. It is better to use a low ISO then adjust the shutter speed until you get the right light in the photo whenever possible. Why? Because high ISO numbers come with something called "noise". "Noise" is what makes photos look grainy, blurry, or out of focus. Always use the lowest ISO settings possible for a given environment. Here's a second example - say you want to capture your child's soccer game and it is e same kind of sunny day as it was in the first example. Wouldn't you use the same settings? No, because you are going to need to use a much faster shutter speed to capture the moving players without making them blurry. Te faster the shutter speed, the shorter the time the shutter is open, and therefore the less light is getting in. You may have to bump the ISO up to around 400 to compensate for the faster shutter. Here's one last example - you want to capture a photo around sunset, say a group shot at an evening party. If you are not going to use a flash, you are really going to have to bump up your ISO to the top of the range on your camera. You will also want to use a slower shutter speed to maximize the amount of light getting in. But you can only go so low in terms of shutter speed before the movement of your subjects (and your hands) causes blurring. People then accuse you of drinking while photographing and you end up saying thinks like "I'm dot nrunk! It's a poblem with the EI-EI-O and the sputter seed!" and those conversations are always uncomfortable. Particularly at children's parties at 3pm. The point is that you can't expect magic from your ISO settings. They can only take pictures in low light to a point before you need to add light or use a flash.

Shutter Speed. Get to know how to adjust your shutter speed manually, you will be happy that you did. It is pretty easy to understand the purpose of the shutter's speed. The more quickly the shutter opens and closes, the less light enters the camera. Also, if you are shooting action, a faster shutter means the picture is taken so quickly that a moving object doesn't blur. Think of shutter speed as how fast you blink your eyes. The way shutter speed is adjusted varies between cameras. If you take a look at your User Guide you can learn how to change the shutter speed, I just want to help you understand what is happening when you do. Once you do that, all you need to do is keep in mind the following - 1) faster shutter equals less light, 2) faster shutter equals less blur, and 3) in low light you will need to use a slower shutter speed. Don't be afraid to play around with your shutter. Take a photo then look at it on your camera's screen. This is the beauty of digital photography! No guessing! Take advantage of this feature. (This is a good spot to mention that I take all my photos while looking through the viewfinder of my camera rather than the screen. I feel like closing one eye, looking through the camera, and seeing only what will be in frame helps develop a photographer's eye. I will go more into this in the next post). If your photo looks too dark on the screen, adjust your settings and try again. This is truly the best way to understand your camera. Don't take a bunch of photos without checking the screen to see how they look. I promise that you will not hurt your camera by constantly playing with the settings, that is what they are there for. The camera manufacturers will not let you access a "self destruct" or "burst into flames" setting on your camera (they send memos to professionals on how to use those). If you get overwhelmed and feel like you are stuck, just relax, put the camera into Auto mode and try again later.

F Stop (also called F Number). Unlike the ISO or shutter speed, the F Stop is determined by the lens, not the camera. The lens will show the lowest F Number possible in its name (like for my Nikon Nikkor 50mm 1.8 GE, the 1.8 refers to the lowest possible F Number). Your camera will know what lens is attached to it and what that lens is capable of, and it will only let you make adjustments within those boundaries. D SLR cameras are computers after all. Now you are saying "what is an F Number? Get to the point Meghan!". The F Number is kind of like the pupils of your eyes. When it is dark your pupils get larger to absorb as much light as possible. Likewise, when it is super bright, your pupils contract so that you can see without washing everything out. The F Stop is the same. (They say your pupils dilate when you look at someone you love, I don't know if a camera gets a tiny F Number when it sees a lens it covets). A low F Number means a wide open lens for low light photography. A larger F Number means a smaller opening when it is very bright. Pretty simple, right? Again, take a look at your User Guide to find out how to change your F Stop and consider the lowest F Number on a lens when buying it. The lower the better. Also, don't forget to review your photos and adjust accordingly until you love the results!

White Balance (WB). This is one of the easiest settings to understand. One reason is because the options under the white balance menu on your camera are shown as icons rather than numbers (like a cloud, sun, light bulb, etc). These icons show which kind of light environment each option is best for. You know that sunlight is going to have a more blue/white quality, while a lightbulb under a shade will be more orange/yellow. White balance compensates for this so that you get a more uniform look. This is easy to change and easy to understand. Piece of cake! (Mmm...cake.)

Hopefully you now have a little better understanding of your camera's Manual settings. There are more settings on most D-SLR cameras, but these four are the ones you will adjust most frequently and the ones that together will have the greatest impact on your photos.

Writing this has been a bit like trying to describe how to tie your shoes without any visual instruction, but hopefully it makes sense. Making these adjustments has become a bit like typing for me, more muscle memory than conscious thought.

The next photography lesson will be about lining up a shot to get the best photos. I will include photo examples so you will have something to break up the monotony of my writing.

Now I'm going to go drink heavily so my brain can unknot from trying to write this out over the course of two days.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Veg Veg Revolution

How do you like the new title for my Vegetarian journey? One of my readers suggested "Vegetarian Revolution" in a comment. I just rhymed it with "Dance Dance Revolution", the game no one plays anymore.

Anyway, my Vegetarian journey is going well. It has been about a month of eating no meat or meat products. It has been surprisingly easy. After the first week I realized how little meat I was eating before and I didn't have to make too many adjustments. I mean, I can't have an In N Out burger again (collective Californian gasp!) but that isn't too terrible. Here are a few things I have learned and a few things I had to change this past month.

Jello has animal products in it. Look it up because if I have to type it out I might throw up.

It is easy to replace chicken broth with vegetable broth in soup.

Filling a grocery cart with fruits and veggies is gratifying.

When people find out you are a vegetarian they inevitably ask "Why?". And you had better have an answer or they will stare you down (and "None 'ya business" doesn't really work). This happens even though the town I live in is based around a religion (which I don't belong to) whose followers are either Vegetarian or Vegan. The local grocery store doesn't sell meat products (including fish).

There are a whole lot of companies trying to make vegetarian "meat-like products" (ham like chunks or beef like granules anyone?). I have no interest in eating these over processed products. I'm not eating meat, I don't need something to taste like meat to feel satisfied.

Every now and then on a TV show or movie there is mention of meat processing. It is a relief to be able to see that and know I am not taking part in any of it.

I feel like I can take a longer shower because being Vegetarian has significantly reduced my carbon footprint. Around 18 percent of carbon emissions come from the meat industry. So I am one squeaky clean Vegetarian.

Vegans will always have something to hold over Vegetarians. But will I give up cheese? Hell to the No.

I have also joined Weight Watchers recently to help me make healthier choices in my vegetarianism. It is easy to fall into eating all kinds of junk food because "it doesn't have meat in it!". Neither does a good arugula salad.

I will keep you all apprised of is journey, thanks for your support!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The First In A Series Of Photography Lessons: Equipment

Well, it looks like The number one request from the many comments on my SITS post was for information and tips on photography. I am honored, and always a bit surprised, that you like my photographs as much as you seem to. I thought I would pay you all back for all your wonderful comments by writing a series of posts about my photography knowledge and style. I will try my best. Photography is such a difficult thing to teach, so bear with me. Those not at all interested in photography may not want to read this lengthy post, though I do include info on point and shoot cameras. I am also including the prices of equipment I mention because another common question was something along the lines of "what is the best camera for X price range?". All prices are approximate because different sites may charge $50 more or less, plus there is tax which can add up. Prices are for equipment only, from Nikon's site.

I guess the place to start is with the basics - your camera equipment. I use several cameras and lenses which produce very different results. My main camera is my Nikon D5000 Digital SLR camera, aka "My Firstborn" ($650). I have four lenses for it as well. Two are standard lenses (one with slightly more zoom than the other), one is a macro lens for extreme close-ups, and one is great in low light settings. Now, don't let all the specifics intimidate you, it is easier to understand than it sounds. The exact lens info is located on my sidebar in case you want to know a few more specifics. I will come back to this camera and its lenses in a minute.

In the past I have used a Nikon Coolpix digital point and shoot camera ($250) for times when it wasn't feasable to lug my D5000 and all its various accessories around with me. The Cookpix has pretty good color and resolution, but I could definitely see a quality difference between it and the D5000. For some reason, the pictures from the Coolpix didn't have as much soul. I recently got an iPhone 4 ($250-$350) which has a great built in camera and now I don't use the Coolpix. Obviously the iPhone 4's photos are not as good as those from the D5000, but they are comparable to the Coolpix (if not better). I especially love all the camera and photo editing apps that are available for the iPhone 4. You can really explore your creativity with them (and many are FREE!).

So, now you have a little info about the equipment I use and recommend. You can see that I prefer Nikon products. There seems to be two categories of professional photographers - those who like Canon products and those loyal to Nikon. Honestly, I have never owned a Canon camera, though I have played around with a few. I find the Nikons very user friendly while also allowing professionals to make lots of manual adjustments. I think it is a personal preference, similar to my unwavering love for Apple/Mac products.

Some of you may have noticed that I don't use an external flash. Each of the cameras has a built in flash, but I don't use those either. When I was in High School and learning photography with a 35mm SLR, I had several external flashes. For some reason, it seems like digital photos taken with a flash look flat and unremarkable, while this isn't necessarily the case with film. Now here is the bomb I'm dropping today - I can't think of a single photo on this site that I took using a flash. Two years of photos, many types of situations, no flash. It can be done.

I'm going to go back to the lenses for the D5000 now. When I first got the camera I bought two standard lenses, one with a bit more zoom than the other. I was very happy with these lenses immediately. They both take great photos and are easy to use. All lenses are autofocus unless otherwise specified. Here is a bit of info on the two standard lenses:

Nikon Nikkor dx 18-55mm lens ($200)

Great for everyday shots. Can get relatively close and also not a bad zoom. Great starter lens.

Nikon Nikkor 55-200mm lens ($250)

Great zoom lens. Good for nature shots or when you want to get a group (or wide) shot and close ups without changing lenses.

When I felt like I wanted to get more out of my camera, I bought a macro lens. I do a lot of nature photography and this lens takes nature shots from zero to sixty in a millisecond. Here's a bit more about it:

Nikon Nikkor 60mm lens ($600)

Absolutely amazing lens. Can clearly capture a dew drop so that it fills up the frame, and can even see reflections in it. Also zooms out to take regular shots from up to ten feet away or so. This makes it better because it means it gets more use. Dreamy lens.

One thing I was missing with these lenses was a good low-light lens. I wanted some good indoor shots or shots at evening events. I was give the next lens as a gift:

Nikon Nikkor 50mm 1.8g ed lens ($200)

Takes amazing low-light pictures. This lens does not autofocus with my camera, which I rather like. I have gotten some amazing results with it. All the photos of the three little girls were taken with this lens. Not having autofocus didn't get in the way, even though I was wrangling 7, 4, and 1 year olds while taking their pictures.

Well, that is the low down on my camera equipment. Next time I will talk about what all of this means for actually taking photos. Now excuse me while I faint while thinking about the over $2500 of equipment in my bag.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Comment Contest Winner

Congratulations to Christina over at There's Just One Mommy who won the comment contest on my SITS day! She will be receiving a fun bag of goodies from my Etsy shops.

And thank you all so much for your hundreds of positive comments. If we could get women everywhere to treat each other the way SITS Sisters do, the Real Housewives would be out. Women (students, mothers, bloggers, newlyweds, doctors) all took time out of their day to send me a few compliments on the blog, asking only for a little positivity back. I like that exchange system. Thank you again, reading the comments here and on SITS gave me warm fuzzies. You are all flowers in the garden of awesome.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

It's My SITS Day

Today is my day as the featured blogger on SITS! I'm excited. SITS is a really cool site that encourages women bloggers to leave comments on each other's blogs as a sign of support. I have always had positive comments here and really like getting them.

So, welcome to my Sisters from SITS! Thank you for stopping by, I hope you hang out for a while. Feel free to look around, delve into the archives, visit my Etsy shops, follow me on twitter and ask me any questions.

Here is a bit about me and my blog. I started Adventures in Wonderland in April 2009 ( almost two years ago! ). I live in Northern California but I was born and raised in Texas until I was 17 years old. I graduated from college in 2008 with a BA in Psychology and minor in Art History. I love to travel and spent two weeks in Europe after graduation.

After two years working with children with special needs, I am now applying to graduate schools to get my masters in Communication Disorders. I plan on being a Pediatric Speech-Language Pathologist (Kid's Speech Therapist), I will know where I was accepted soon and am very excited.

Arrow is my sidekick. He's an Australian Shepherd-Border Collie mix and is my favorite photography subject. He even has a calendar! I think he's pretty awesome.

My main hobby, which has turned into a side business, is photography. I specialize in photographing children and pregnancy. If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area and would like to have me photograph your family or something else, just leave a comment or send me an email. I was published in California Homes Magazine in November 2010, which was pretty cool.

As a thank you I will send one random commenter from today a little package of goodies. This may include some hand made hair accessories from my site and a few hand designed cards. I may throw in a few other treats too!

So take a look around, put your feet up (not on the sofa!), grab a lemonade (and a coaster) and enjoy. Thanks for visiting!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Arrow's Corner Movie Reviews: Two Paws Up

Arrow asked me if he could start reviewing the movies we have been watching on Pay Per View while I have been sick.  I thought he was sick of chick flicks so I ordered 127 Hours.  
Here is his review.  

Next time on Arrow's Corner - The Kids Are All Right

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Feeling Craptastic

Sorry it has been so long since my last post. I caught a flu bug thingy from the tiny humans. Gotta love those little germ factories. Not any huge info from my world anyway.

Oh, except if you count GETTING WAIT-LISTED AT MY FIRST CHOICE GRAD SCHOOL!!!! This is pretty huge. The program is really competitive and top ranked so getting put on the wait list there is like a prize. It is still possible that I could get into the program. It depends on the number of people who were accepted that accept their spot. Hopefully this bodes well for the other programs I applied to. And hopefully I get accepted off that wait list.

I texted a friend and asked him what could be more stressful than getting wait listed at your first choice school? His answer was simple and true:

"Getting wait listed at your last choice school."

Leave it to a Physicist/Engineer to cut through the crap and point a spotlight on the truth.