To all ye who want to paint with light ...

I should have started this blog many moons ago as I started experiencing the joys of rediscovering the art of photography. But as the saying goes - it's better late, than never!
So, here I am, in the hopes of recording what I learn as I progress from ignorance to enlightenment; about what my eyes can see that my camera can capture; and, what my mind imagines and my camera paints with its capabilities.

Please feel free to add any comments and share your wisdom (tips or tricks) that you have picked up along the way.

And do check out my How-To and Birding pages as well.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Day 183 - Portrait session with a friend

I was looking for some practise with portraiture, and a friend offered to sit for me as he needed some photos done as well.

I am completely green at this and besides a couple of lessons on lighting a subject for portraiture, I have not done any serious portraiture at all.  And those sessions were really on how to use reflectors as a supplemental light source.  My dilemma this morning was how I could actually use a reflector, as I had no second person to help.  I had to rely on my pop-up flash for fill-light, as my YN460 is extremely unreliable.  And since we went out around 10:00 am, we didn't have a lot of time to waste experimenting with an unreliable flash.

My challenges today were mainly two - composing a shot properly with a human being as a subject, and of course the light.  I was happy with the locations I chose.  But at times the bitter cold winds made it difficult for my subject to keep his eyes open.  However, out of the 200 plus shots I took, I found that I could easily keep at least 30, if not a few more.

My next challenge, post-photoshoot, is the processing.  I hope that once I'm done with the processing, I can get some nice shots ready for delivery to my friend.

I would love to hear your comments on these shots on how I could have composed or lit them better, or if I can process them differently to improve the image.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Day 182 - Breakfast time!

I spent a good half hour photographing sparrows and pigeons at the bird feeder this morning.  Obviously, at the cost of my breakfast.  But it was fun.  I shot these images through the window, but despite the dirt and spider webs on it, I got pretty clear shots. 

I initially started to shoot from a long distance, not wanting to spook the birds.  My balcony is west facing, and therefore doesn't receive much morning light.  Therefore, I had pretty poor light to work with.  On top of that, the brighter background wasn't helping me at all, despite high ISO and slower shutter speed.  So, although I was worried that the flash might bother the birds, I still went ahead and used it - the birds didn't even move a hair!  That was nice!  

Then I got bolder, and sneaked through the kitchen and planted myself within 2 or 3 feet of the window.  The shots got better.  And the Fall colours in the park in front of my balcony really created a great background for the shots.   

I had a great time doing this.  I will now have to find out what winter birds I might get and prepare to feed them as well.  But I'm worrying about the background when the leaves are gone. :(

Day 181 - Christmas theme (pt. 3)

I spent a lot of time in setting up this shot, because I needed all these props to make the images I had in mind.  I am not even halfway through trying all the shots I have in mind.  Who knows, but it might take me right until Christmas to get them all done! ;)

For this evening's shoot, I set up my table lamps on either side.  I tried using fill-flash for some which worked well.  However, I liked the warmer light of the lamps.  I will need to gel my flash before I can use it to complement the light from the lamps.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Day 180 - Christmas theme (contd.)

I finally managed the flash with some success.  However, I still fail to understand why it doesn't work on full power, even when the batteries are freshly charged.  I tried different set-ups, but found that holding the flash right over the camera worked best.

Today's experiment was more on the light, rather than on the composition; I somehow threw a few things together and focussed more on the lighting.  Had a long day at work, visiting with a friend, and then another couple of hours of work for my project submission tomorrow.  I will have to compose myself first, before I can compose a shot.  :(

This one had the overhead light on, and I flashed the white background.

This one is with only the flash held above camera.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Day 179 - Baubles and candlelight

Trying these shots in candlelight, with a table lamp placed about 10 - 12 feet away.  I need to do something about the reflections on the glass.  A C-PL would be the best answer for that, but it would cut out a lot of light.  I will have to figure something out for this.  Maybe use two table lamps on either side?  Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Day 178 - It was one foggy day!

I forgot my camera on my way out this morning, and therefore missed all the fog and mist.  I hope we'll have at least one more day like this.  I took a couple of shots on my phone, just for records.  No other photography done today - day of excitement and of depression.  :(

Excitement because I'm planning my Christmas vacation, and deep, deep depression because I let myself get scammed by the lure of travelling to Florida!  I can't believe that just happened to me even when I had a hundred red flags going off in my head.  If anyone ever gets a call from Universal Travels - hang up on them right away!  I am keeping my fingers, toes and even my eyes crossed that my bank can help me sort out the mess.  A gloomy, gray, foggy day it was!  And then there was the patch of red as well!  Doomed I was to have not heeded the warning!

This last one was taken a few days ago, on my cell phone again.  

Monday, October 25, 2010

Day 177 - I messed it up!

I couldn't believe how I could mess up the focus so completely today despite being on a tripod.  I know I'm feeling exhausted, but that's not an excuse! :(

I was trying directional flash today, and again failed at getting the right amount of flash from my YN460.  Finally, resorted to using mixed light sources - the overhead tungsten with the flash at around 45 deg to the subject to camera right.  I used a white foam board to camera left in an effort to bounce off the flash onto the left flower which was in the shadows.  I don't think that really worked well and in the end the overhead light came to the rescue.

I didn't see any point in processing the shots at all, so just adjusted the white balance and blacks.

135 mm, f/5.0, 1/2s, ISO 100, flash as described above.  

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Day 176 - My music man

After updating my blog yesterday, I was suddenly overcome by extreme dizziness and nausea.  Not quite sure what it was, but it kept me in bed for the rest of the day and evening.  I even missed an invitation to dinner that I had cancelled my weekend trip to Quebec City for.  What a disappointment.  Maybe it was being out in the cold for over two hours that brought me down.

I was better today, so I went out this afternoon for an hour to get some fresh air, but mainly because I needed to pick something up from a friend.  And I took that opportunity to show him the forest I often go to, since he wanted some Fall photos to send home to his family.

I saw a few birds today, but I returned home and found my son practising his scales on the trumpet.  Incidentally, he also plays the recorder and the piano.  So, I do have a few subjects to study through the winter months.  Again, I tried flash, and got terrible results.  So, I stuck to the table lamp for illumination. Damn the flash!

I got a few different compositions and angles, but processed these to begin with.  I'd love to know which of the three you liked most.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Day 175 - Rise and shine!

I didn't get to post over the last few days as I was in a photography workshop that I helped organize for my photo club at work.  It went off pretty well, although there are no photos from the workshop - it was mostly aimed at complete beginners, but being one of the organizers, I had to be present.

However, on one of the evenings, I took some nice shots of the night lights as I was waiting for the bus back home.  And when I went out this morning, I accidentally deleted all of them! :(  I was really looking forward to seeing how they had turned out, as the preview looked pretty darn good.  Oh, well!

I saw a few wisps of clouds last night and decided that we might have a nice sunrise today.  So, I was out of the house by about 6:30 am, since the sunrise was supposed to be at 7:19.  It was chilly at -1 deg. C, with the chill factor at -5.  But the moment I stepped out of the building, I realized that I was going out for nothing - not a cloud in the sky!  We'd have a normal sunrise, with nothing to add interest to the skies.  I know the birds are mostly gone already, except a few chickadees and starlings.  I almost half-turned to return home to my warm bed.  But then I told myself - "Rise and shine!  'Tis the dawn of a new day!"  And with that, my mood lifted dramatically, and I headed for the riverside.

I set up and took a few shots as the red glow smeared the horizon - alas, nothing inspiring; nothing spectacular.  And I'm a little tired of the same locations.  I definitely need to find some place more inspiring, but the problem is getting there before dawn.  I really have to start doing some early morning driving.

I picked up my camera and tripod, and headed into the thick brambly bushes along the shore.  I knew there was a canoe that I had found lying under some trees, and I figured that the first rays of the sun would hit the boat lying in the underbrush.  I saw the sun peaking out from below the horizon, and I stumbled over some roots and almost fell with camera et al.  Fortunately, I grabbed a tree-branch and steadied myself and also got a shot at the sun, although the image is too cluttered! :(  I could not move around for a cleaner shot of the precise moment the sun popped up.

And then a little ahead, I found the boat! And exactly as I had hoped to find it.  Here are a few of the images from different angles.  

I have a few other shots of birds and squirrels, and some more leaves (I just couldn't resist those leaves!), but I think I will take some time to process them later.  

However, considering the number of times I stumbled over roots, and twisted my ankles (fortunately, not severely), I think for next year, I will buy some good hiking shoes to get into these parts of the terrain.  I can't afford to break either my photography gear, or my mobility gear (read feet, ankles, and other appendages). 

À la prochaine! 

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Day 174 - Blue

I had been nurturing this idea of doing a shoot with pencil shavings and then I finally had the opportunity to do that today.  I borrowed my son's coloured pencils and had a play with them.

I started off with ambient light and then experimented with bounced flash and then fill-flash.  I had decided to pick the best shots without considering the type of lighting I had used.  And strangely, I picked every shot, barring one, that was shot with only ambient light.  (I looked at the EXIF data only after I'd picked the shots for today's post).

Moral of the story: I still have a very long way to go before I'm able to use flash with satisfactory results.

90mm, Aperture Priority, no flash, ISO 200, 0.4s, f/9.0

90 mm, Aperture Priority, Flashed at -2 stops, external flash powered at 1/8, held above camera, IS0 200, 0.6s, f/20.0 

Day 173 - Another shot at flash photography

The more I play with the flash, the more it scares me!  I keep telling myself that I need to just play and make friends with it, but I seem to be developing an intense fear/mental block for it - just like I did for math in school.  What's going to become of me! :(  What's winter without a few flashes of light?

I have adopted a new mantra - I can only keep practising and wrap my head around it.  Maybe someday, some day, I will get it, after all.

I had this image in my mind this evening when I stumbled upon my son's sudoku board and counters.  I had planned to use the overhead light and then use fill-flash.  But I did learn something though - my YN460 for some weird reason, flashes optimally when it's powered down to about 1/8.  When I need full power, it somehow drops off at the back!  That's kinda strange, or I am missing something, somewhere.

Anyhoo, I tried different power levels, with the overhead light and without it.   I honestly think that I prefer the images with the tungsten glow in it, rather than with the flash.  In fact, the one with the fill-flash is possibly one of the better shots.  Out of the 60 odd shots I had, I came down to keeping about 15 just so I could study the settings later.  But the ones I handpicked for this post were 4 - just for records.

 This first one is taken only with the overhead light.  I couldn't get rid of the beige colour cast and it's really irking me.   55mm, f/36.0, 10.0s,  ISO 100, Aperture Priority, no flash.

This one is SOOC - no overhead light 
55 mm, 1/200s, f/16.0, Manual exposure, pop-up flash at +2/3 stops, ISO 100,  external flash at 1/8 power, above camera to right of frame

SOOC - overhead light with fill-in flash
1.0s, f/29.0, EV -1, pop-up flash +2/3 stop, ISO 200, Aperture Priority, external flash at 1/8 power held just above camera about 2 ft. above the subject

Selenium Filter applied in LR3 - lit with overhead light only
55 mm, 1.6s, f/13.0, ISO100, Aperture Priority

I'm glad I could get rid of the colour cast in this last one!  Phew!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Day 172 - Soft focus & bounced flash

My experiment today would have been to use my YN460 flash to light the background to make it look white.  Instead, it turned out that the flash wasn't behaving itself at all, and consistently turned out some really gray backgrounds.  I switched over to custom white balance and then decided to use the flash to bounce some light into the centre of the flower as it was showing up really dark.  That didn't go too badly and I did get the centre to lighten up a little.
I was hand holding the camera since I couldn't find my tripod head and the soft focus was purely accidental.  I had a bit of camera shake when trying to shoot the gerberas.  I found the soft focus actually looked pretty nice on the LCD screen of my camera and instantly decided to try and play with that.  So, I intentionally took a few shots with a soft focus and then touched them up in Lightroom.

250 mm, 1/8s, f/9.0, ISO 400, Aperture priority

250 mm, 1/4s, f/9.0, ISO 400, Aperture priority

250 mm, 1/5s, f/9.0, ISO 400, Aperture priority

Day 171 - Still catching up

Handheld @ 55 mm, 1/8 s, EV -0.67, f/14, ISO 100, Aperture Priority

Friday, October 15, 2010

Day 170 - One more leaf

I don't think I will be doing many more leaves in the near future, although I did want to go out and shoot the leaves in the puddle behind my house.  The weather has been miserable all day, and I couldn't quite do that.

This leaf shot was taken for the Fall photography infosession I had planned for the photo club meeting.  Only 3 people showed up for it, and that too fifteen minutes too late - I had packed up already.  It's a little disappointing when you have worked hard on something because people ask you for it and then they just don't bother showing up or even letting you know they won't.  Oh well!  So much for that, but I have to say it was a learning process for me because I had to do some research besides really plan my images.

This was my first time shooting with a gray card to set the custom white balance.  Although I was shooting in RAW, I wanted to try the white balance in-camera to use as a sample image.

It was a pleasing enough shot, but later I thought I liked the shot taken with the "sunny" preset, better.  Saying this, I have to admit that the gray card came from behind my Photoshop Elements 8 Book for Digital Photographers by Scott Kelby.  And he had already added a disclaimer that the colours wouldn't be really accurate.  So, it's better to get an 18% gray card from a store.  I really like his writing and find it a very humourous instructional style.  I get a good laugh out of it.

Handheld @ 1/30s, f/5, EV -0.67, 109mm, ISO 100, Manual ExpoCustom White Balance

Handheld @ 1/125s, f/20, 84 mm, ISO 800, Manual Exposure

I bumped up the ISO really high on the second one because I wanted to get that lens flare through the branches, and this was the only way I could get a small aperture and a fast shutter speed.

Day 169 - I crossed the bridge when I got there...

... but only after I had snapped up this sunset.  Gorgeous colours and the clouds tell a story of their own.  I tried different perspectives, but this low-down shot through the railings got me the best one.

These shots were taken a couple of days ago, but I just hadn't had the time to upload them because of my work schedule.  It's finally lightened up a bit, and although I'm exhausted, I figured I should start clearing my backlog.

Handheld @ 1/15s, f/11, 21 mm, ISO 100, Aperture Priority

Handheld @ 1/25s, f/11, EV -0.33, 34 mm, ISO 100, Aperture Priority

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Day 168 - Only work and no play...

No, I couldn't let that happen.  So. I fortunately got a ride home with a colleague and had enough time to take a few shots in the dark (well, literally!) and then head back home.

Handheld @ 96 mm, f/5.0, 1/10s, ISO 200.  Shot in aperture priority mode

Monday, October 11, 2010

Day 167 - Creating a watermark in Lightroom 3

I have been super busy with work again and haven't had the time to do any photography.  Today was a gorgeous Thanksgiving Day, but I had to slog 10 hours at my computer - go figure!  I guess, I should be giving thanks that I do have a job to keep me busy.  I try to count my blessings each day, but sometimes it's difficult not to crib when you know that you are missing something in your life that's more exciting!  For me, it's photography - I guess I'm obsessing over it a little bit too much, so it's good to give myself these little breaks! ;)

I have a few bracketed shots of this church I really love, that I again wanted to turn into HDR. And again I thought, I should give that a break as well!  So, I edited it as I normally would and touched up very minimally.  I sharpened it a bit, and added a little bit more clarity and vibrance.  That's all!  And yes, I figured out how to create a watermark in Lightroom 3 while I was at it.  In case you're new to LR3 as I am, and are looking for a way to use this feature, just follow the quick steps below.
I'm using a Mac, thus the screens you see are for the Mac, only.  I'm quite certain the Windows version will not be too different.
1. You can create the watermark as you're exporting your image after processing it in Lightroom.  Simply click on File -> Export in the menu bar.
2. You will see the export dialog box:

Scroll down to the Watermarking section. As you can see, I have my default set up as Shinydewdrop.
3. Open the dropdown box and select Edit Watermarks to start creating yours and ensure that the Watermark option is checked.
4. You can pick between a Text and a Graphic style for your watermark.  For the first part, I've chosen the Text option.  In the blank editable portion at the bottom-left of your screen, add the text you would like to display as your watermark.  (To create the copyright symbol ©, use Option+G on your Mac and the Windows version would be Alt+0169).  Another easy way to do this is to find the © symbol on the Internet and then just copy-pasting it into the window.
Feel free to play around with the options available for adding effects to the watermarking.  
5. Once you're done, click Save.
6. At this point you will be asked to name your watermarking preset.  
7. Give it a name and then click Export.
8. You might also want to use a graphic.  To do that, you will first need to create a graphic file.  I did mine in Photoshop Elements 8 and then used the Graphic option in the Watermark Editor. Here is a link to a good tutorial for creating a signature file/logo in PSE8 that I found on the Internet and should work in any version of Photoshop as well:
9. The rest of the process is exactly the same.
This is the shot I processed with the little logo I have created for my website that I'm currently working on. 
I hope you will benefit from this quick little tutorial.  And if you do, please leave me a comment to let me know if it was helpful and easy to follow. 
And this image will have to serve as my photo of the day! :(

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Day 166 - Ferry dock at sunset

I was determined to go out and do some photography today as it was sunny, bright and beautiful after a long, long time.  I thought I'd almost forgotten what the sun looked like!  I had wanted to do some bird photography, but after doing the shopping for the month and with the exhaustion I have been feeling, I pretty much didn't feel like getting out early enough to find birds.

So, I checked on the sunset times and went out with about 45 minutes in hand to get to the place where this hidden ferry dock is.  I have posted some pictures of that earlier in my blog, and honestly, I didn't really experiment with a new perspective this time, as I wanted to try out HDR, as it has been my latest fun thing to do ( I actually try to learn something new and practise a few times so I don't forget it in a hurry).

However, I didn't bring my tripod with me because this place is a very long walk from home, and I would be slowed down with the added weight.  But I knew I could rest my camera on the railings there.  But believe it or not, it was so windy, it was actually moving the camera around when I rested it on the railing.  Fortunately, I was able to do some quick shooting when the winds went down a little bit.

The shot was created from the 5 bracketed shots below:

Here's the final HDR image that I created using CS5.  I added a little bit of saturation, and sharpness as I found that it looked a little washed out.  Also, the original HDR image was too grainy, so I removed some noise in it and added back a little shadow to make it look more realistic.  Afterwards, I added a border and voilà!