Fire in the Sky
Tuesday morning--like most weekday mornings--I was getting Jason's breakfast ready as Juliette was on her way out the door to go to work. The door had scarcely closed behind her when she came back in and said "Come out here and look." Through the open garage door I was greeted by this explosion of color as the sun came up over the hills. I just stood there and gaped at it for a few seconds before rushing to grab my camera out of the trunk of my car. In the space of the few minutes it took me to get my camera, switch lenses, and snap a few frames, the light had already changed and the brilliant orange color faded to gold and then to yellow. I missed the best colors, but fortunately I was able to catch a few shots that were almost as good.
Technical info: Shot with a Nikon D40 and Nikkor 55-200mm VR DX lens, in manual exposure mode. Focal length 65mm, aperture f/16, shutter 1/60 sec, ISO 200. Post-processing in Aperture 3: Daylight WB preset, cropped out some on the left and bottom, curves to recover highlights, deepen shadows, and intensify the color a bit.
Thoughts for improvement: What I would have loved is to be able to get this shot from up on my roof with a much wider angle. Either that or to have been in the back yard of my neighbor across the street, whose yard opens up onto a canyon. As it was, from ground level in my own driveway I had to settle for a much narrower angle of view, which unfortunately doesn't portray the same feeling of majesty that the entire scene had.
Edged With Gold
Sunday morning, I was walking back to the campsite after finishing up at the lakeshore when I was struck by how the rising sun was shining through the trees. I had already been taking pictures longer than I had intended--I'd told Juliette I'd be "just a few minutes" but ended up crouching by the waterside for probably 20 minutes--but even so I had to stop and look at the light. I probably stood there shooting for a good five minutes or so, but eventually I overheard my friend James say "No, he's right over there" and realized it was time to finish up.
Technical info: Shot with a Nikon D40 and Nikkor 18-55mm DX lens, in manual exposure mode. Focal length 55mm, aperture f/22, shutter 1/30 sec, ISO 200. Post-processing in Aperture 3: Daylight WB preset, crop to 4x5, curves to recover highlights and increase midtones.
Thoughts for improvement: I'm actually pretty happy with this one. I'm still not sure how to coax a nice, defined sunstar out of the lenses I use, but I still like the way the sunbeams look in this image, even though there is also a bit of ghosting. I particularly like how the sunlight adds some separation to the leaves in the foreground, so they still stand out distinctly even against the dark and somewhat busy background. If I'm being really nitpicky, there's a little strand of what looks like spiderweb hanging between two of the leaves at the top right, which I probably should have brushed away before taking the shot. And then I guess I might also prefer if the sun were just a tiny bit more to the right, but keeping the same crop and placement of the subject.
For the shot I posted yesterday, I really wanted to get a low angle, with my camera just above the surface of the water. Unfortunately, I was still wearing my pajama pants and I didn't want to kneel or lie down in the green scum that ringed the water line. On the other hand, the scum made an interesting subject in its own right.
Technical info: Shot with a Nikon D40 and Nikkor 18-55mm DX lens, in manual exposure mode. Focal length 55mm, aperture f/5.6, shutter 1/30 sec, ISO 200. Post-processing in Aperture 3: Daylight WB preset, crop to 4x5, s-curve to increase contrast and set the white and black points.
Thoughts for improvement: I like the horizontal bands of color and focus in this shot. I'm not 100% sure about the crop--it might look a little better with some more space at the top. I would also have liked to see what it looked like with a narrower aperture (more depth of field) and the focal point set either right at the water line or further into the foreground.
This weekend, Juliette and I took Jason on his very first camping trip. Along with our friends James and Melanie (who brought their daughter along for her first camping trip, as well) we headed over to Lake Morena, in east San Diego county, for a little overnight excursion. We went on some walks, had a nice campfire, and Jason got to rub dirt all over his face. (At one point he looked like a little chimneysweep.)
It turns out that going on a camping trip with a two-year-old doesn't provide a lot of opportunities for taking pictures--most of my time was spent making sure Jason wasn't eating rocks or throwing dirt at his friend. I did finally get a chance just after sunrise on Sunday morning, while Juliette took Jason to give him his breakfast. As you can see, the lake is quite picturesque at that time of the morning.
Technical info: Shot with a Nikon D40 and Nikkor 18-55mm DX lens, in manual exposure mode. Focal length 18mm, aperture f/11, shutter speed 1/30 sec, ISO 200. Post-processing in Aperture 3: Straightened horizon, cropped to 4x5, daylight WB preset, slight s-curve for contrast, brought the black point way up to darken the bottom of the frame, burned over the sky and the bright parts of the hills, dodged over the shadowy parts of the hills and reflection.
Thoughts for improvement: You know, I was really happy with this photo when I finished with it last night, but the more I look at it, the less happy I'm becoming. I think that this would look better in a narrower crop, probably 2x3 instead of 4x5. That would give more of a feeling of length and also cut out some of the hills on the right side, which now look unbalanced to me. Also, I shouldn't have brought up the black point quite so much. I do like the feeling of darkness at the bottom to balance the brightly-lit hills, but there's too much of it. The bottom third of the frame is entirely without detail, and it feels like wasted space. Actually, both problems could be solved with a shorter, more narrow crop, but with the camera I use, I don't have the resolution to spare.
Behind the Scenes
Last month I decided to try my hand at making one of those neat shots of dye droplets diffusing into water. I set up a wine glass of water in front of a piece of printer paper and used a straw to drop small quantities of blue curacao into it. It didn't really work out, though--I couldn't get the timing quite right, plus the lighting just didn't look good. After about forty-five minutes, six or seven changes of water, and two shots' worth of curacao, I gave up. But I snuck in this little setup shot before I cleaned up.
Technical info: Shot with a Nikon D40 and Nikkor 18-55mm DX lens, in manual exposure mode. Focal length 18mm, aperture f/16, shutter 1/125 sec, ISO 200. Nikon SB-400 flash at camera left, set to EV -1. Post-processing in Aperture 3: bumped vibrancy, added edge sharpening, and used a curve to darken shadows, pull in highlights, and add contrast.
Thoughts for improvement: Technically, this is not a very good photo. There's no particular thought behind the arrangement of the elements, the countertop is too busy and the wrong color to make the elements (and splashed liqueur) stand out, and that little blue lens cloth in the background is completely out of place. If I were going to do this on purpose, I would definitely have preferred to have a white or light-gray surface, and I would have arranged the wine glass, shot glass, and paper to have a more evenly triangular arrangement across the frame. The lighting is kind of cool, though.
This one comes from the group shoot last month with the San Diego DSLR club. Right next to the famous Belmont Park amusement park in Mission Beach is the Wave House--an outdoor bar that includes two huge wave pools for boogey boarding and surfing. My friends, Shawn and Andy, pointed it out to me, and I immediately busted out my telephoto lens and took a position near the edge of one of the pools. Many of the people that went in were obviously beginners, which made for some amusing wipeouts, but one or two knew what they were doing. This guy was one of the latter.
Technical info: Shot with a Nikon D40 and Nikkor 55-200mm VR DX lens, in aperture priority mode. Focal length 150mm, aperture f/5.6, shutter 1/125 sec, ISO 900. Post-processing in Aperture 3: pushed exposure to the max and added a strong curve to drop the shadows and midtones while maintaining the highlights. (It looks like there is some vignetting, but the darkness you see around the edges has more to do with the way the artificial lights were actually striking the wave area.)
Thoughts for improvement: I actually like this shot quite a bit. The only reason I didn't pick it the first time around is because although it's a pretty good action shot, it doesn't really speak to me much in terms of atmosphere or storytelling. Technically speaking, this would probably have been much better if I had a fast telephoto lens and a camera with better high-ISO performance, that way I could have operated with a much faster shutter speed and captured the water with less blur and grain. Working within the limitations of my gear as it is, though, I think this is pretty good. Possibly a different crop would be better.
Can I Have Some?
I didn't manage to get out for a shoot this past weekend, so for the next few days I'll be posting a few "B-sides" from previous weeks--photos that I liked but that didn't make the first cut.
This is another from the weekend before last, when Juliette and I took a walk down the Mission Beach boardwalk. About halfway into our walk, we passed by a funny pair having a conversation from adjacent patios. One was a middled-aged woman who was chatty, happy, and completely blitzed. The other was this guy. What caught my eye was the way the dog here was so completely intent on the rib his master was eating--anybody who's ever eaten around a dog is familiar with that body language.
Technical info: Shot with a Nikon D40 and Nikkor 55-200mm VR DX lens, in manual exposure mode. Focal length 116mm, aperture f/5.6, shutter 1/1000 sec, ISO 200. Post-processing in Aperture 3: Red Filter BW preset, cropped to a closer composition, curves for highlight recovery and contrast, dodged over the dog, burned the background and the man's hat. Also applied some burning on the man's shirt to try to make the dog stand out a bit more.
Thoughts for improvement: I liked the moment here a lot, but the reason it didn't make the cut the first time around is because the angle is pretty poor. Because I have the dog and man lined up on the same axis as the camera, the edges of the dog's head get lost against the background of his shirt. That, in turn, loses much of the expressiveness of the tilt of the dog's head. What would have been much better would be to either get much closer and lower--so as to both decrease the depth of field and to put the dog's head against a more contrasted background--or to bring them off-axis from one another. The latter is probably the better choice, as it would also allow you to see the dog's facial expression, plus there wouldn't be an umbrella right behind the man's head.
L and Jason have been friends since they were both just a few weeks old--Juliette and L's mom went to the same breastfeeding support group. One of the fun parts about seeing them grow up together has been seeing the differences in their personalities. L is soft-spoken; Jason is a shouter. L likes to give Jason hugs; Jason usually tries to run away from L's hugs. And, as you can see here, L likes to pose and smile for the camera, while Jason generally doesn't want to be interrupted from his busy schedule of running in circles and climbing on top of tables.
Technical info: Shot with a Nikon D40 and Nikkor 18-55mm DX lens, in manual exposure mode. Focal length 55mm, aperture f/8, shutter 1/60 sec, ISO 200. Post processing in Aperture 3: Daylight WB preset; cloned out some sensor dust and a bit of food that was in the corner of her mouth; applied curve for highlight recovery, midtone boost, and highlight recovery; lightly dodged over her eyes to bring out the color a touch.
Thoughts for improvement: I can't quite make up my mind whether this would be a little better if I had taken half a step back, so that her whole head appeared in the shot. It would be nice to get her hair in the frame, but on the other hand, I think this framing may emphasize her eyes and smile more.
We had planned to have a big end-of-summer playdate with a bunch of Jason's friends, but it turns out that when everybody involved a.) has toddlers, and b.) are busy people, it's hard to get everyone's calendar lined up. Thus, our end-of-summer playdate ended up happening in mid-September. Anyway, it was a rousing success and everyone had a good time. Or at least was polite enough to pretend.
Technical info: Shot with a Nikon D40 and Nikkor 18-55mm DX lens, in manual exposure mode. Focal length 18mm, aperture f/5.6, shutter 1/60 sec, ISO 200. Post-processing in Aperture 3: Daylight WB preset, cropped to square, curve for contrast and highlight recovery, burned background.
Thoughts for improvement: Well, the booger in his nose is a little unsightly, but I was unfortunately not skillful enough to clone it out. It would also be nice if that bush weren't right behind his head on the left.
Sunday afternoon, as we were headed back to the car after finishing up our little photowalk on the Mission Beach boardwalk, Juliette and I saw this group of young women cross the street in front of us. All of them were dressed pretty revealingly, but one in particular stood out. Juliette nudged me to make sure I had noticed; I had, of course. It was hard not to. What struck me as kind of funny or, I don't know, ironic or maybe even a little sad about this woman was how obviously self-conscious she was. She kept fiddling with the bottoms of her shorts, tugging them down as you see here. Her clothes and make-up screamed "Look at me!" but her manner said exactly the opposite. Thinking back on it now, I kind of feel bad for her, that she was so insecure that she felt like she needed a certain kind of attention while also being uncomfortable with the idea of getting it.
Technical info: Shot with a Nikon D40 and Nikkor 18-55mm DX lens, in manual exposure mode. Focal length 55mm, aperture f/5.6, shutter 1/1000 sec, ISO 200. Post-processing in Aperture 3: Cloned out a streetlamp that intersected the woman's head and cropped to 3x4. Applied Daylight WB preset, added a slight s-curve for contrast, bumped vibrancy, and added edge sharpening.
Thoughts for improvement: The only thing I wish is that I had been zoomed out just a bit or that I had taken one step back, so that the woman's arm weren't cut off by the edge of the frame. Otherwise I like it.