Sunday, December 5, 2010

5 Things I have learned from the class

          Probably the most important thing that I took from this class was learning some of the settings and how to use my camera. One of the most important things right off the bat was my ISO settings were at 1600 and my autofocus was set to focus on the left middle side of the screen. I didn't know anything about either of these things but they were both reducing my image quality by quite a bit. Figuring out how to change the area where the focus will be on was extremely important and I can't believe I had never figured that out before. It is kind of disappointing knowing that I have taken some really cool trips and missed out on some great photo opportunities because my settings were wrong.
          Another very important thing was learning how to shoot in aperature priority. This is what I shot in the majority of the semester and I like the lighting options that it gives you and allows you to play with. Depth of field is extremely important in many of my opportunites to take photos and I had never understood how depth of field worked previously and was not happy with it a lot before.
     I had the opportunity to get very close to a black bear in the Pryor mountains right here. Despite snapping hundreds of pictures I was very disappointed in the quality of them. Looking back now I think of ways that I could have fixed that. Aside from those mentioned already exposure compensation is an important tool to use. I was shooting the black bear in sport mode on a bright sunny day, and normal camera functions usually turn everything a certain percentage gray. My pictures of the bear come out gray it was pretty disappointing. I with I would have known about exposure compensation then to make the bear blacker.
          One take home point from the class was the seven rules of photography. The seven rules are; red is more attractive than yellow, jagged lines are more attractive than curved lines, light is more attractive than dark, large draws more attention than small, difference draws more attention than conformity, diaganol lines are more attractive than vertical lines, and sharpness is more attractive than blur. These general rules are easy to follow and usually if you can obey a few of them in an image it will become very interesting visually.
          Another thing I learned that may be very important for me in the future is the use of RAW format to take pictures. I like all of the adjustments that can be made when it is first opened and photoshop becomes available. What makes this option seem appealing to me is that even if the settings aren't quite right on the orignal image they can be tweaked quite a bit to look very realistic.
          I have always been told that I have a good eye for setting up a composition. That wasn't really what I was worried about coming into this class. I have taken a lot of picutres since college began and have gotten used to what I need to do to set up a good composition. I went into this class knowing very little about camera settings and I got everything I wanted. As mentioned earlier there are a lot of mistakes I have made while photographing on previous school trips or other trips I took myself in cool locations such as the Galapagos and Costa Rica.

Section 6 - Digital Processing

          Chapter 6 discusses what happens after the image is taken in the field. It talks about filling up a 1-2 GB storage card such as a compact flash. The author recommends using multiple small capacity cards in case of a disaster which causes the loss of all images on the card. It also recommends backing the images up on both a hard drive and a computer in case the images are lost from one of the places. More battery power allows the photographer to look through the images and delete the ones that are poorly exposed, leaving more room for photos in the field.
          RAW mode is the mode used exclusively by most professional digital photographers. RAW saves all of the data in its original state with no processing of the image done by the camera. No sharpening, color changes or tweaking of contrast are done in this format. These images must be turned into a TIFF or PSD to work with them on a computer. The author recommends Photoshop CS for most digital cameras.
          The original RAW image when first opened looks dull an unsharp. The chapter goes on to discuss how this can be fixed using Photoshop. They first suggest making changes using adjustment layers that can be turned on and off. The recommended first adjustment is to the brightness. Usually it is only a small change unless there was something that stood out on the histogram. The author says to use common features as a reference because they take up a large portion of the composition. The next adjustments are done with the levels scale which changes certain tonal ranges such as the whites and blacks. The next step given is to adjust the color saturation. This can be done to all of the colors at the same time or by choosing only red or green and so on.
          Contrast refers to the difference between the colors in an image. A scene with high contrast has a very large difference between the brightest brights and the darkest darks. Usually adjustments are made to allow for as much color recording as possible while retaining an original that is similar in appearance to the scene as seen while the photo was shot. The histogram can give an idea of high contrast if there are gaps in it. These gaps show lack of color information in that tone. Different contrast adjustments include a standard overall adjustment and a shadows/highlights adjustment and a midtone contrast adjustment.
          Other adjustments are more specific to certain parts of an image. There is a digital version that allows for dodging and burning. Other tools highlight certain regions that can be adjusted individually. The next step is to retouch things such as telephone wires, garbage, and other unwanted options from the compositon. One way to do this is using the healing brush. This tool takes pixels from one par that was selected to the part that needs some touching up. It matches automaticalls in light and texture. The other way to do this is the clone stamp, which is similar but not automatically modified in light and texture.

Part Five - The Close-up World

         Part five begins with a chapter on macro photography. It explains that a true macro lens has a close-up distance yielding 1:2 life-size reproduction and extends to infinity. An expensive lens can be used to take pictures of small insects to large landscapes properly. Less expensive options include teleconverters, lens extensions and close-up supplementary lenses. None of these offer the image quality that a true macro lens does. Extension tubes reduce the amount of light transmitted by the lens and reduce the stop time.
          The option of a supplementary lens may be better in low light conditions where a low f stop is necessary and beneficial. These doe not alter the f stop or the amount of light coming in. Different options include wide-angle lenses for expanded perspective and tilt-shift lenses for a maximum depth of field while using larger aperatures and fast shutter speeds to freeze motion. Due to the darkness of many macro situations, and the amount of light needed for a good composition, some suggestions on flashes is given here as well.
          Stabilizing a macro image is one of the most important things one can do, because a longer shutter speed is going to mean more detail in the flowers. Tricks include holding the base of the flower with your hand but leaving it our of the composition or using a tool such as a plant clamp or "Plamp" to stabilize the flower to an object which isn't being affected by the strong winds. These can also be useful for lining up the flower exactly where it is wanted to be. The opposite of this would be to use a hand or something to make motion to blur out some of the nearby flowers that distract from the subject.
          The best light recommended for shooting wildflowers is in overcast, hazy skies. In this situation a white matte reflectors should be used to help give detail to shadows and bring out the colors as well as possible. The opposite is true if shooting during the middle of the day under blue sunny skies. One option given is using a large umbrella of neutral colors to block direct sunlight from the composition. The reflector is then used to send soft light back into the scene and bring out even more details.
          The most important part of this chapter are the tips on taking wildflower portraits. This begins by telling us to get close enough to the flower. The flower should take up a large enough part of the composition to keep it interesting. The sharp focus should be on the most interesting part of the flower so that the image appears in focus in the important parts. Using the out of focus background is a good way to add a little extra to the image. Nothing should take away interest from the main subject flower.

Section 4 - Light on the Land

          The first chapter in "Light on the Land" discusses finding landcapes that will present good photographic opportunities. The first indicator listed as a good chance for a good composition is the presence of a strong, visually attractive color such as red. Other techniques, such as adding motion to water to make a normal composition more exciting, are discussed throughout the chapter. Another technique is using clouds to help make a sky exciting and shooting in snowy or foggy weather to add another element to the composition.
          The chapter goes on to give hints on good times to shoot and good directions. It suggests facing north or south for a composition in the prime light hours so that the subject is sidelight. An interesting foreground can make or break a good photo, and should add to the entire composition instead of being the main subjec. A really good foreground also frames the photo or brings the viewer in to a certain portion of the composition. Another technique is using reflections off of water and adding animals to the scene. Excluding human influence is recommended.
          The most important part about the next chapter is showing depth in landscapes. Having a good depth of field for a landscape photo is extremely important in showing the different planes that are visible to the human eye. Different planes usually include a blue sky plane, cloud plane, feature plane, horizontal plane, midground plane and a foreground plane. Using overlapping planes can be very beneficial if the planes are easily distinguished with high contrast. The author recommends setting up the camera at a 45 degree angle from the nearest size cue in the composition.
          The beginning of the next chapter discusses techniques for capturing reflections. A tall tripod is suggested because it can be used as a walking stick and a depth tester too. A camera focal length between 20 - 100 mm is suggested because it gives enough room to frame a picture by zooming but isn't too heavy and is wide enough for large landscape reflections. Techniques such as wading into the water may be necessary to capture just the right reflection. The best time is again early in the morning or in the evening.
          The basic recommended lenses are a polarizing filter and a one stop split neutral density filer, along with duct tape to hold them in place at the least. A polarizing filter at its maximum will make the reflection stand out the most, with the highest contrast. If the histogram shows less than 80% of the data is in the center then it may be necessary to use the split neutral density filter to darken up the sky. The split-neutral density filter is also recommended for scenes with bright mountain tops and darker valleys.

Section 1 - The Right Equipment

          The first section of this chapter begins by explaining some of the basic details between a film camera and a digital SLR. It explains some of the benefits such as the ability to get an idea of exposure after the shot is taken, easy modification on computer programs, quick adjustment of ISO and ease of printing. It goes on to suggest a 6-megapixel camera for amateurs and a DSLR with 10-40 megapixels for serious photographers who want to make very large prints. It is also suggested that the camera have depth-of-field preview, high-speed image capture and is compatible with a cable shutter release.
          The next chapter explains the importance of using a tripod. Some of the advantages of having a tripod include stabilizing telephoto lenses, stabilizing macro lenses and the ability to take long exposures and have a sharp image. A tripod should come up to eye level on a person and should also go as low to the ground as possible. A long center column is recommended. For heavy lenses, a gimbal-type head is recommended. The chapter goes on to give opinions on some brands of tripods and the stability and lightness a good tripod has.
          The next chapter begins with the the focal length most photographers want in a telephoto lens. 500mm is recommended as the go to lens that is the easy choice. For those a little more extreme about getting the close up shots and willing to shoulder the weight, a 600mm may be a better choice. A more economical option is to enhance a 300 or 400mm lens with a converter such as a 1.4X or 2X. Nikon and Canon are the brands recommended because of the image-stabilization. A maximum aperature of f/4 and larger is recommended.
          The main portion of the next chapter involves getting a vest for your photography work in the field. Advantages of having a vest includes knowing where everything is, ease of carrying and carrying capacity. The author uses the Lowerpro Street and Field model. Things that can be included in the vest include; memory card extras and storage, extra batteries, extra lens, plastic bag, walkie talkie, reflectors, duct tape and filters.
          The next and probably the chapter most useless to anyone living here in Montana is the chapter about winter photography. It discusses using clothing with a lot of zippers rather than layers because of all of the gear photographers already have. It suggests wind and rain proof jackets. Waterproof pants are recommended due to the amount of laying and kneeling that occur during nature photography. It is recommended to bring many batteries along for long winter shoots, and storing them someplace warm because of the draining effects cold has on batteries.

Make up blog - pheasant pictures that I like

silhouette of rooster and dog
tailfeathers out of vest
rooster and dog in field with grasses blowing

I leave on Thursday for an eight day trip to South Dakota to hunt pheasants. This is probably the most exciting time of the year for me, and three years in a row we have been going. We have also not taken any good pictures three years in a row. This is kind of disappointing every year after we have a lot of fun and get a few birds and don't have any good pictures of them. The three links above are ideas that I got when I was looking for pheasant hunting pictures. They are all pretty classic photos, but I never would have known enough about my camera to do them properly. In years past, my flash would have came on to ruin the silhouette picture. My focal point would have been off and the tailfeathers coming out of the jacket wouldn't be in focus. And I never would have figured out to use a low shutter speed to get the grass to wave through the screen the way it does in the third picture. Now that I understand things such as aperature and shutter speed priority and exposure compensation these are pictures I think I can make.

Make up blog - my other camera

My back up camera at the time is a Olympus Stylus Tough. I really think that this is a great little camera for a person like me. This camera has been a lot of places I would never think about carrying an larger camera and wouldn't be able to if I tried. It works out great for me because it captures some of the best moments. Here are some of those moments that this camera really came through to get a picture when I wouldn't have wanted my other camera to be on me due to weight or weather and terrain.
bighorn river new camera 034
bighorn river new camera 053
duck hunting 038
Mountain Lakes Week 7 055
Mountain Lakes Week 5 118

Extra blog - my class goal

My two main goals as discussed in the beginning of the semester were to get a nice picture of my new puppy and to get a few good pictures of my dog Rudy and his time in Montana. Both of these proved to be pretty difficult as my puppy never seems to slow down at all and the best times with Rudy were in "foul" weather and conditions were difficult. These two pictures are my favorite out of all of the ones I took of my dogs. The thing that they have in common is the angle I was at to take the picture. For the picture of my pup Buddy I climbed up on a dead tree along the bank of the Yellowstone River. This gave me two advantages, Buddy was sad and wanted to be close to me so he tried to jump up, and when he did jump up I got a great angle to get his entire face, instead of the usual angle from level with the dog.

I tried hard this year when the weather wasn't too terrible to get a good picture of Rudy retrieving a duck. For the most part this worked out poorly. All of the ones I got were just head shots of him where you could barely even see his eyes because of the duck. This day I decided to try something a little different and get him retrieving a bird in the shallow water instead where I could get most of his body. The shot I liked the best was this one where he was pretty close to me because of the angle capturing most of his face.