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.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Day 260 - Tandoori Chicken

I have to admit I wasn't quite in the photography zone this evening.   However, I still had to do a shot of this dish as it's going to be on the cooking class menu for this weekend.  The chicken tasted great, but I have no idea why I couldn't really get a single shot to work out.   I'm just very disappointed!

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Day 259 - Relearning the Alphabet: The Letter "U"

"U" for Unfocussed

An unfocussed, impressionistic shot of the sunset.  I was out in the freezing cold for close to 2 hours and just as I started to realize that I couldn't feel my toes or my nose (the rhyming was intentional, but it's also a fact), the sun decided to peak out from behind the clouds.  My eyes were tearing with the cold, and things were going out of focus, when I suddenly realized that this would be "it" - "U" for unfocussed!

Day 258 - I'm Back!

I had an intense three days starting with a project deadline, prepping for the cooking class, and then the cooking class itself.  The class went off really well, and one of the ladies is going to return for a second one!  That's a 33% success rate, since I had 3 students in the class this time.

Anyway, despite being dead beat, I knew I had to pick up the camera and feel it in my hands again.... Sheesh!  Did I just say that aloud?   Ok, never mind, I did - but that's the truth.  I feel that I'm missing something when I don't do my shot of the day, despite all the challenges I have of actually doing it.  It's like I'm cheating myself out of some great pleasure.  And often, it's a narrow hit-or-miss, thanks to my low energy levels.

'Nuff said about that.  This shot is part of a "Red" series that I want to do for a contest.  I'm not sure whether this would be appropriate since it does have a lot of yellow as well.  Let me know what you think. Would love to hear your take on "Red".

And I haven't forgotten to complete learning my alphabet.  I still have to do "K"  and "U".  I don't want to resort to anything obvious - I've been doing that a lot lately (out of sheer laziness).  Will have to scratch my head a little, and would welcome your ideas as well (although I can't promise to deliver :=P).

This shot has minimal post-processing.  The only thing I've done is increased the sharpness a couple of notches.  The flash was powered down to 1/64 at 50 mm, pointed directly at the candle from right of frame.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Day 257 - Food for the Hungry Soul

The word "Soul" here has two intended meanings - soul as in a person (like when we call someone a "poor soul") and soul as in the Spirit - the essence of a person. 

Food feeds the soul, but when that soul is my son, it has to be good food!  But for me, food feeds my imagination, after it has nourished my body, of course.  

This dish, the Chicken Biryani, is a favourite with most Indians, and likewise a favourite with my son and me.  And although it could become a little elaborate, over time I have learned to simplify the process so I can whip it up quickly and on demand.  

The Biryani, a rice dish with add-ins, can be made with most anything - beef, lamb, chicken, shrimp, eggs and even vegetables!  I love making this really hot and spicy and colourful.  However, having run out of the orange food colouring, I had to use red, which in my opinion turned out pretty cheesy.  But as I don't usually like to judge a book by its cover, digging into the biryani sent my taste buds spinning on a deliciously pleasurable journey (although I say so myself)!  

Reminds me of a line from a commercial for Maggi Instant Noodles from when I was growing up in India - Fast to cook, good to eat! 

The best light for food photography would be - you guessed it - ambient daylight.  However, since I don't have the luxury of cooking dinner in the middle of the afternoon, I have to make do with the flash.  I set up the external flash at 28 mm, 1/4 power level, to bounce off of the ceiling, placed to the right of the subject.  

Both these shots are almost straight out of the camera - the exposure was fixed marginally in the first one.  The second one is SOOC.

The shots were taken with the 18 - 55 mm lens.  The reason is simple - I find it really helpful to either shoot with this one or the macro lens as they allow me to be flexible with the focussing distance and angles.  I chose a very shallow depth of field (f/4 and f/4.5) and a fairly fast shutter at 1/180s.

And just a little note to those who have referred to my tutorials page before - I have removed that page and added a new How-To Blog.  Please feel free to check it out.  I hope to upload more findings from my various experiments in the future.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Day 256 - Relearning the Alphabet: The Letter "V"

"V" for "V" in the Corner of the Serving Dish

The thought of "V" only kept bringing "vase" in my mind.  My friend suggested "Va-va-vrroomm" and that would mean a bike.  Where would I find a bike in this freezing cold?  My "vocabulary" seemed limited, so I decided to focus on the concept of vocabulary.  However, I was doing the image for my beef curry recipe when I decided to use one stone to kill two birds.

I don't think I will be able to put much effort into my photography in the next few weeks, because I'm now bracing myself for my cooking classes starting this weekend and continuing over the next few.  I'm wishing myself luck - they tend to be very, very intense.

I can't say I'm pleased with this shot at all, but unfortunately I have too many things to focus on right now - the cooking class being the top priority over the next few weeks.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Day 255 - Relearning the Alphabet: The Letter "Z"

"Z" for Zoom Blur

This was my second time trying this - the first time was during Fall, when I tried it on a coloured leaf, but the shot was handheld, and therefore not worthy of your attention.  This way of creating an image is also known as Intentional Camera Movement (ICM).

It's absolutely imperative that a tripod be used for this. Click here for detailed instructions on how I did this.

And I need to mention that all these shots are SOOC, except for this one, which I cropped only.

Day 254 - Human Bounce Board

I wanted to write a quick post about a little experiment I did, after my shot went to nought.

I was trying to photograph these little Turkish Delights (if you have an acutely sweet tooth, try them; else just avoid them).  I didn't get what I was after, so I tried to use my hand as a bounce board, since the only negative about the LP160 right now is that it comes without one.  I would have really expected it to have one since it's comparable in every other aspect to the Nikon SB 700 (or is it 800?) and the Canon 580 Ex II.  I am clueless as to why they couldn't include a small piece of plastic when they could include a diffuser!

Anyhow, I took one shot with and one without my hand acting as a bounce board.  My flash was set to 28mm, full power, and bounced off the ceiling.  Both these shots are SOOC - no post-processing at all, so you can see the difference in the spilled light that bounced off my hand onto the subject, as opposed to the one that spilled out.

This one was without my hand placed behind the flash; lots of darker areas.  

This one had my hand placed right behind the flash to prevent the light from spilling.  Since it was set on 28 mm, there would be quite a bit of spill, as opposed to being set on 85 or 105 mm.  The idea was to experiment with the effect.  My hand redirected the spilled light onto the subject and filled light into the shadow areas.  What I didn't wait to do was decrease the power level and try again, so the whites wouldn't get blown out.  But the "bounced" effect is clearly evident!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Day 253 - Patience Is a Virtue!

I had no idea what I would shoot today - I was almost going to call it a dry day when I realized that I needed to finish the last two sips of Grand Marnier.  This way I could pitch the bottle out and make room on my kitchen counter.  My cooking classes are going to start at full blast and I have to clear up and clean out my kitchen ASAP.   So, the irony was that it did turn out to be a not-so-dry day(no pun intended).

That's when the idea came to me - shoot the wine splash!  And what better way to practise my flash photography than to do some speed shots.  Out came the glass, the wine, the ice cubes and the flashes!  And within minutes, I was all set up.  I should have used my white seamless background, but honestly, I keep forgetting I have one.

Camera Setting: 100 mm, 1/200s, f/9.0, ISO 100, WB set to Flash
Flash Settings: Right flash at 10 deg., 50 mm, 1/32 power; left flash at about 35 deg and rest similar to the right flash

 However, I had a few challenges I had to overcome, first.  I set up both my flashes to bounce light off the wall at the back into the glass, rather than flash the glass, which would cause a glare.  I got perfect light right behind the glass, but found a darker band at the top of the frame. like so:

Next, I found I got some strong reflections on the glass, so I got out the polarizer.

After a little thought I realized that the light wasn't reaching the top part of the frame and that was what caused the darker band at the top.  My flashes were set on manual, with the zoom set at 85 mm and power level at 1/32.  So, I adjusted the angles of the flashes so one was pointing at the wall at about a 10 degree angle, and the other at around 35 degrees and adjust the zoom to 50 mm so the light would spread a little bit further (that's what the zoom on the flash does - works exactly the same way as the zoom on the camera lens).  And that did the trick!  The light evened out.

The rest of the shots were taken on the previously mentioned settings, and I was just trying to get the timing right.  I kept missing the moment when dropping the ice cube because continuous shooting wasn't an option as it wasn't giving the flashes enough time to recycle.

It took me about 30 odd shots to get four or five I could keep.  But the patience to get the timing right paid off.  I had been really out of practise with speed photography for a long time.  I don't remember when I last tried it.  Thus, the slow ramp-up to getting the shots right.

I still have a lot to work on this as I need to figure out a way to remove the vignetting.  This is obviously being caused by the light fall-off as well as due to the lens.  Oh well!  I will just have to keep trying. 

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Day 252 - Relearning the Alphabet: The Letter "D"

"D" for Down Below (catch-up post)

This was taken from far above on the cliffs, looking down at Stinson Beach from HWY 1.  It was spectacular and although we didn't quite see the sun setting, we caught the twilight.  It was a great drive, and every turn in the highway uncovered a breathtaking view.

Day 251 - Relearning the Alphabet: The Letter "X"

"X" As in the "X" in the Fencing (still catching up from the holidays :-S)

I have been scratching my head over "Z", but I know I have to do produce something in the future as I don't have any image from my holiday collection.  So, I just thought I'd get over and done with "X" anyway.

Day 250 - Casual Portrait Session

I managed to coax a coworker into sitting for me this afternoon after my plans of shooting in the snow went down the drain.  We hardly got enough snow to shoot, although the forecast was calling for a lot more than we actually got.

This shot was taken by the window.  I tried one with the flash bounced off the ceiling as well.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Day 249 - The Hope of Spring

I got myself a pot of tulips yesterday, in preparation for Spring.  I know, I know, it's still a long way to go and it definitely doesn't look or feel like Spring yet (it's -23 deg C with the chill factor even as I write) but the days have started getting longer.  Have you taken the time to notice that yet?  Well, I have!  Simply because I am again looking forward to going out and enjoying the outdoors!  I become very optimistic the moment December 21 comes and goes - it just means the days will get longer, albeit, only a minute a day to start with.

I got quite a few keeper shots from my little photoshoot with the tulips.  Tell me, which one's your favourite?

Are you also looking forward to Spring?

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Day 248: Relearning the Alphabet: The Letter "M"

"M" for Migratory Birds - The American White Pelican

'Tis finally the day of the pelican!

@Swati:  This one is for you!  I have a few more that didn't turn out too bad, but I am ready to crash right now.

I apologize that you have to do a bit of scrolling to get to the last one, but I hope you enjoy the pictures. A better camera would have been much more beneficial, but these turned out OK, I thought!

Day 247 - Getting to Know Gary Fong

.. not really the photographer/inventor, but the invention he calls the Lightsphere Universal.  You might remember that I had mentioned it in a recent post and I had barely been able to try it for want of a model.  Today, I managed to coax my son to sit for me for just ten minutes, and after a little bit of haggling and hassling, he agreed!  My lucky day!  Actually, he's agreed to sit for me now and then, but only for ten minutes each time.  I can't complain - he's a teenager after all, and has had a mind of his own since he was less than 6 months old!

Anyway, I started with the translucent photojournalist (that's what the diffuser is called).  When I had ordered this product I had noted that it came with a tutorial DVD, but when I rummaged through the box yesterday, I hadn't found it.  Upon mailing Midwest, they sincerely apologized and let me know that Gary Fong had pulled it out of the kit!  Darn!  However, when you have Youtube, there's not much cause for worry.  So I spent a few minutes watching videos on how to use it.

I did this really late in the evening, after dinner, so I didn't really spend a lot of time taking notes on the flash settings and the position of the dome, so I'm unable to post them today.  I was experimenting with the light by stopping down the power level of the flash, changing the zoom level, or changing the angle of the flash.  I will have to do a thorough study of the settings again soon to familiarize myself with the flash and diffuser duo.

Here are the results from this evening:

I tried flashing the background with a blue-gelled flash, but I obviously wasn't able to use that correctly.  While the first shot has a more or less even background, the last one is the least attractive.  I'll definitely have to work on that.  

Friday, January 14, 2011

Day 246 - Relearning the Alphabet: The Letter "E"

"E" for Egret (catching up from the holidays)

These shots were from my trip.  My friend and I had gone to Lake Elizabeth in Fremont in search of pelicans!  I'd never seen pelicans before, and therefore I had been really excited.  I had also seen fantastic images of egrets that my friend had taken on her walks at the Lake.  When I had almost given up hope of seeing an egret (which I had also never seen in real life), I got to see one!   This is a Snowy Egret, if I'm not mistaken.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Day 245 - Not What I Had Intended

I finally got my new Strobist's kit with two speedlights yesterday, and I got myself familiar with how to set up the light stand, the umbrella and how to use the Cactus radio triggers.  I'm really proud of having figured out the entire setup all by myself without having to refer to the manual except to understand the difference between a receiver and a transmitter (patting myself on the back for that).  I really didn't think it would be quite that simple considering I got a pile of different things I'd never before used in my life.

I wanted to figure out how to use the coloured filters for the flash this evening, but that kinda bombed - I didn't get the results I was hoping for, so I won't post those shots here.

My son had condescended to sit down for exactly one and a half minutes last evening while I tried the umbrella and I got exactly two shots with it.  I also got myself the Gary Fong diffuser which I tried out and found fantastic. The kit has 2 diffusers, but I only used one of them and I'm not sure which one.  I'll have to explore these as well and I'll definitely let you know what I think, beyond the first positive impression.  On the face of it, it yielded very natural looking shots and the results were really pleasing.

I know I'm talking about all this without providing samples, but my son won't appreciate me posting pics of him in his jammies.  So once mister decides to have a haircut and dress better, or I find a willing victim (my friend suggested I do selfies), it's all talk!  But trust me, I will post something soon!

I'm telling myself that now I have to understand the basics of flash photography - and that's just the tip of the iceberg!   Please wish me luck as I embark upon this journey and I swear I will not spare any effort, or leave any stone unturned (read as I will not spare you the whining and the crying and the ranting that goes along with learning a difficult subject).

Since the gelled flash images didn't work, I got this shot instead.

If you're trying to guess what this is, well, these are the edges of lasagna noodles.  And you guessed right - I made lasagna with meat sauce for tonight's dinner!  

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Day 244 - Stack of Crackers

Quick post with my 18 - 55 lens, f/5.6, 1/200s ISO 100, flash powered at 1/32, placed at 60 deg in front of subject to right of camera.

And with that, good night!  I'm definitely in need of sleep after getting barely any last night.

Day 243 - First Part of My Vacation Photos

Just a handful from the trip.  I know I have been sitting on them too long and now I have too many requests for the photos.  To view the photos manually, click on the "View All Images" button.  Hope you enjoy them!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Day 242 - Relearning the Alphabet: The Letter "Q"

"Q" for Quick Meal

A delicious and healthy meal/snack on the fly that will keep your rumbling tummies from caving in while you do other stuff.

Another one of my culinary experiments - I sliced up some tomatoes, put the slices on whole wheat bread, drizzled them with olive oil, salt and pepper and then gave them a quick grill at 450 deg F for 10 mins. I fried up eggs on the side and tossed them on to the grilled toast, sprinkled some more salt and pepper and wolfed them down.

My teen hates tomatoes as well as eggs - but this went down pretty well with him too, albeit with a few drops of hot chilli sauce on top of the eggs.  I'm sometimes amazed at how he enjoys hot and spicy food! It's all in the genes! ;-)

The ingredients ...

The prepping ...

The frying ...

And finally the finished product! 

I like my egg yolk a little runny, but I think it would taste equally good if you cooked them through as well.  I also think some finely chopped parsley could have added more flavour, but again, no parsley at home! :(  

The shots were taken under fluorescent lighting (I know, I'm too lazy to set up my cranky speedlight, but I will soon have a brand new lighting kit to play with),  with my 18-55 mm lens, on Aperture Priority, except the image with the oil stream.  I took that on Shutter Priority since I needed a faster shutter speed to capture the stream as I was pouring the oil which meant my hand wasn't steadily dropping the oil on one spot.  

High ISO of 1600 for the shot with the oil, and exposure was compensated +2 stops.  The rest were on ISO 400 and mostly aperture at f/5.

Day 241 - Comforting

I really needed some comforting food to see me through today, so I decided to use up the carrots sitting in my fridge for the last few days.  I made a carrot soup that's really simple but tasted really great!  This recipe should serve two if you plan to eat it as a meal.  This is my own recipe that I just cooked up as I went along.  I would encourage you to try different add-ins, and please let me know what you threw into your pot so I can try it as well!

Carrots, large - 4
Chicken/beef stock - 4 cups
Ginger - 2" piece
Garlic - 2 cloves
Bay leaf - 1
Butter - 1 tbsp
Fresh cream - 2 tablespoon
Croutons - a handful
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste
Pinch of nutmeg


  1. Wash the carrots, peel them and cut them into 2 inch pieces.
  2. Pour the stock in a pot and add the carrot pieces to it.
  3. Chop the ginger and garlic into small pieces and add to the pot.
  4. Add the bay leaf and a couple of pinches of pepper, or to taste.
  5. Boil covered, until the carrots are tender, about 20 - 25 mins. (I used a pressure cooker to save time).
  6. Remove the pot from the heat and let cool for a few minutes.
  7. Remove the bay leaf before pouring the contents into a blender; be careful not to splash the hot liquid on yourself.
  8. If there is too much liquid, keep some aside, and use the rest to puree the carrots.
  9. Once the puree is very smooth, and has no lumps, remove it to the pot again, and let simmer for about 5 minutes.  
  10. If the puree seems too thick, you can add a little water (or the reserved stock, if you kept any) to thin it down to your preferred consistency.
  11. Add the butter and let it melt into the soup; simmer for another 2 - 3 minutes before turning off the heat.
  12. Add a pinch of nutmeg and stir into the soup.
  13. Serve hot with a swirl of fresh cream and croutons.
  14. You can also garnish it with some green herbs to add some colour.  Chive might be a good garnish, but I had none at home. 

Day 240 - Relearning the Alphabet: The Letter "N"

"N" for New

I have been doing the shot of the day, but just hadn't had the energy to post them.  I have been feeling really under the weather, and therefore spent a lot of time away from the computer and in bed - reading or sleeping.  I also didn't spend much time behind the camera - I'm somehow overcome with lethargy after returning from my trip, and I'm mostly unable to motivate myself to think about my shot of the day.

Anyway, this was from Saturday.  This is the spanking new grill that came as a gift from my employer for completing three years with them.  I also get an additional week of vacation from this year, and I'm more thrilled about that.

I am actually losing my patience with the 365 project because of a number of reasons - I'm realizing how it cuts into family time and ever since I started this project, I've had a number of issues come up that I realize are due to my being obsessed with this project.  Another thing is I have been really sleep-deprived, because I'm too busy doing my shot of the day, or processing, posting or catching up on other posts.  These are just a couple to start with, but the list is pretty long and I don't want to bore you with that.  I know that I will see it to the end somehow, but I have a sneaking feeling it's going to take a lot longer than the 365, because I'm already running behind from previous months.  Sigh...  

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Day 239 - Relearning the alphabet: The Letter "T"

"T" for Tall Building

This was the Flood Building in San Francisco, at the corner of Powell & Market streets from where we took the cable car and where the cable car turnaround is.  

This shot was taken while riding on the escalator that brought us up to the street level at Powell from the BART train station.  I had a bare few seconds to position myself and shoot, but I really liked this perspective as I first set my eyes on this building.  And the young man in this shot is not my son! ;-)

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Day 238 - Relearning the Alphabet: The Letter "Y"

"Y" is for Yellow 

This is another post to catch up on the missed ones.  This was at Lake Elizabeth in Fremont, CA.  The day was overcast and gloomy and I remember being really disappointed with my shots as I had to raise the ISO.  You have often heard me complain about digital noise on my camera, and this would be another perfect occasion to whine about it; but I shall spare you that.

This yellow divider (or whatever it is) is the perch for many a bird that's resident at the Lake.  I know I had a shot of an egret and cormorants sitting on it, but I didn't really have the patience to dig through too many pictures.  Maybe some other time.

55 mm,  f/14, 1/50s

Day 237 - Relearning the Alphabet: The Letter "O"

"O" as in the drop of body lotion

Ok, that's a little far-fetched, but I had no plans of doing the shot of the day, or catching up. I'm suddenly exhausted and I just can't seem to be able to remain in a vertical position.  However, after chatting with a friend on the phone and admitting to him that I hadn't even worked on my photos from the trip, I kinda felt guilty and just got up and got at it.  I had no clue what I was going to shoot when I started playing with the bottle of body lotion.  Et voilĂ !  The shot just popped into my head.

I know it isn't top quality (even by my standards, which aren't that high to begin with), and then, it was handheld at 1/4s at ISO 1600, f/2.8.  And of course I had to fire the flash to freeze the camera shake.  The blurriness is part handholding and part high ISO.

I know, I know - I'm being lazy, but that's how I truly feel at this moment.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Day 236 - Relearning the Alphabet: The Letter "W"

"W" for Warbler (catching up)

A few shots of a Yellow-Rumped Warbler taken in Fremont, California.  I think this is an adult female eastern, but if you think otherwise, please drop me a line.

I have had quite a bit of trouble with my camera and realized that a good camera paired with my 250 mm lens could have gotten me a long way.  However, that wasn't meant to be so I had to crop these photos really tight to see the tiny bird.