I Love You, Too
I mentioned before that we went out to Balboa Park on Sunday afternoon in order to let me shoot. Despite the fact that the light wasn't great and I couldn't get a good angle on any of the actual dance performances, and even despite the fact that I didn't really get any particularly great shots, it turned out to be one of the most enjoyable and interesting shoots I've done recently.
They say that photography is the art of seeing. For me, what that has meant is really being aware of what's going on around me. As I've developed my eye, I've found that I'm nearly always composing a shot in my mind, and I've started noticing interesting people and things everywhere.
What was really great about this shoot was that for the first time, I felt like Juliette and I were on the same wavelength. Oftentimes, I'm paying attention to the photographic possibilities while she's paying attention to what we're actually doing, which can lead to us clashing a bit. (I don't blame her, either. A few weeks ago someone at a party said to me "It must be nice to have a photographer in the family," to which I replied, "Well, it's nice to have the photos, but it's also nice to have a husband who's actually involved in what's happening instead of just taking pictures of it.") This time, though, she seemed to be seeing the scene the same way I was, even surprising me by pointing something out at the exact moment I had noticed it.
That's what happened with this photo. We were headed back to the car and noticed this mom and her son walking just ahead of us, and we both recognized the moment simultaneously. Juliette had just started to turn to tell me to snap the photo, only to find me already sinking to one knee to get the angle.
There are a lot of ways to feel close to your spouse, but I particularly love times like that where our thoughts and awareness seem to be completely in tune. I'm smiling now just thinking about it.
Technical info: Shot with a Nikon D40 and Nikkor 55-200mm VR DX lens, in aperture priority mode. Focal length 86mm, aperture f/4.5, shutter 1/4000 sec, ISO 200. I did a fair amount of post-processing in Aperture 3: first I applied the Daylight WB preset, then bumped the exposure (+1) and recovery (+1). The sky was way overexposed, so I brushed in a curves adjustment over the sky, pulled way down. I then used the Orange Filter B&W conversion preset. I dodged the mom and son, then burned the entire ground. Finally, I added some vignetting (intensity .51, radius 1.01), mainly to change the focus of the lighting.
Thoughts for improvement: The main thing here is that there was way too much contrast in the scene for a good exposure--I was shooting almost directly into the sun, so the sky is very bright and the subjects were in shadow. I ended up splitting the difference, mainly trying to avoid blowing out the sky and figuring I could brighten up the subjects in post, but it might have been better to shift brighter in camera, instead, as the subjects are still pretty dark. There are also some halos around the treetops and the tower that resulted from brushing in the curves adjustment, which I couldn't get rid of. Finally, I wish I had gotten just a slightly better angle so that the top of the tower weren't cut off.
This is another one of the performers from Steam Powered Giraffe. This one's character is called Upgrade.
Technical info: Shot with a Nikon D40 and Nikkor 55-200mm VR DX lens, in aperture priority exposure mode. Focal length 165mm, aperture f/5.3, shutter 1/160 sec, ISO 200. I added a similar blurred overlay layer in Photoshop CS5 to enhance contrast and give it that soft glow, but I also used a layer mask to apply it just to the midtones. (Duplicate layer, apply Gaussian blur with radius 5, set layer mode to overlay, apply layer mask, apply image to layer mask, solarize layer mask, move layer mask white point to the left, flatten image.) After that, I used the vignetting tool in Aperture 3 to darken the background. This left her coat too dark, so I brushed the adjustment out of the bottom of the picture.
Thoughts for improvement: This looks pretty good on my laptop, but on my work monitor (which is dark and uncalibrated) it's way too dark. I should probably have increased the brightness or exposure in post, or just had a better exposure to begin with.
I was itching to get out and shoot yesterday, so we decided to check out the Celebrate Dance Festival that was taking place in Balboa Park this weekend. One of the first things we saw was a group called Steam Powered Giraffe, a "musical pantomime troupe" that wasn't, as far as I could tell, actually part of the festival. They do a sort of "singing robots" act that Jason loved. I got this shot of one of the performers--whose character's name is Rabbit--in between a couple of their songs.
Technical info: Shot with a Nikon D40 and Nikkor 55-200mm VR DX lens, in aperture priority exposure mode. Focal length 200mm, aperture f/5.6, shutter 1/100 sec, ISO 200. I bumped the exposure a bit and cropped to 4x5 in Aperture 3. In Photoshop CS5, I added a blurred overlay layer to increase contrast and give it a bit of of that painterly, glowy feel (duplicate layer, set blending mode to overlay, apply Gaussian blur with radius 5, reduce opacity to 50%, flatten) then sharpened with a high-pass overlay (duplicate layer, apply high-pass filter with radius 5, set blending mode to overlay, reduce opacity to 80%, flatten).
Thoughts for improvement: I probably should have upped the ISO, as the shot was pretty severely underexposed. I'm also not completely sure about using an overlay diffusion and sharpening--I like the way it turned out, but the two might be working at cross purposes.
I think "Greek Gyros" is kind of redundant but, hey, I didn't make the sign. And that doesn't really look like the kind of guy who I want to be correcting, either. It's cool.
Technical info: Shot with a Nikon D40 and Nikkor 35mm f/1.8 DX lens, in aperture priority mode. Aperture f/1.8, shutter 1/125 sec, ISO 400. Applied curves to recover highlights and bring up the midtones, then dodged the shopkeeper a bit in Aperture 3.
Thoughts for improvement: There's not really a lot going on in the left or right windows, so possibly it would be better to crop them out. I kind of like the symmetry of having three windows, plus I think the neon looks cool, but it definitely does make for a more cluttered image. Though, I do think that in terms of storytelling, the extra scenery does provide more atmosphere. Other than that, the sign at the bottom is very dark; I probably should have brightened it up a bit.
One For You, One For Me, and One For Mom
I love how, in this picture, the kid is the one who noticed me, while the two adults had no idea I was there.
Technical information: Shot with a Nikon D40 and Nikkor 35mm f/1.8 DX lens, in aperture-priority exposure mode. Aperture f/1.8, shutter 1/30 sec, ISO 1600. B&W conversion, crop, curves, and some mild dodging applied in Aperture 3.
Thoughts for improvement: I wish I had been able to nail the exposure a little better to get the kid's face a little less shadowy. There's also a fair amount of detail lost in the shadows in the lower left corner, mainly from the curves adjustment I added--I made a trade-off between overall contrast and shadow detail, but I wish I didn't have to.
Closing Up Shop
Another one from Saturday's group shoot. I passed by this little souvenir shop several times as I walked up and down the foot path next to the beach. I noticed a few tourists from time to time, looking at sunglasses and postcards, but for the most part it was empty. Finally, it was time to close up, and I grabbed this shot of the clerk taking down the signs for the night.
Technical information: Shot with a Nikon D40 and Nikkor 35mm f/1.8 DX lens in aperture-priority exposure mode. Aperture f/1.8, shutter 1/40, ISO 1600. I added a slight curves adjustment in Aperture 3 to bring down the highlights and darken the shadows just a little bit. I also cropped out the top fifth or so of the frame.
Thoughts for improvement: The crop ratio here is a little weird, and I much prefer to use standard aspect ratios whenever possible for ease of printing. If I could do this over, I'd either frame the shot a little lower to avoid having to crop, or I'd try to adjust the exposure a little so that the cropped-out portion is dark enough not to be distracting.
I went to another group shoot on Saturday with the San Diego DSLR club. This was my first night shoot, and I was a little intimidated, not having much experience with low-light photography. Being at Belmont Park, a local amusement park, there were a lot of places to set up for cool motion blur shots. I didn't end up taking many of those, though, mostly because it seemed like everybody else was. I mostly ended up taking candid shots of strangers, which was both exhilarating and a little nerve-wracking.
With this shot, I particularly liked the contrast of the bouncer's red shirt with the dark blue sky. I was also lucky enough to catch him from an angle where one streetlight was to his side and one was right behind his head, giving a nice little halo effect on his hair.
Technical information: Shot with a Nikon D40 and Nikkor 35mm f/1.8 DX lens in aperture priority exposure mode. Aperture f/1.8, shutter 1/125 sec, ISO 1600. No post-processing.
Thoughts for improvement: The main thing that bugs me about this shot is all the digital noise in the dark areas, especially the sky. Unfortunately, I have neither a good low-light camera nor good noise reduction software to clean it up in post. Something to save up for.
I Only Have Eyes For You
On Sunday we met up with some friends this weekend to see another free outdoor concert and, as usual, I took a bunch of pictures of the crowd. I was experimenting with manual exposure, trying to get a feel for it. Many of the shots I got were too dark or way too bright, but the ones that worked out seemed to get much better tone than when I use an automatic exposure mode.
In this one, I liked the way that the woman is looking at her boyfriend, and how he seems to be leaning slightly away from her. I also liked the way the way the sun highlighted her face and hair, and how you can see his reflection in her sunglasses.
Technical information: Shot with a Nikon D40 and Nikkor 55-200mm f/4-5.6 DX VR lens. Aperture f/5.6, shutter 1/400 sec, ISO 200. White balance correction, B&W conversion, curves, sharpening, dodging and burning applied in Aperture 3.
Thoughts for improvement: It's hard to plan candid shots, exactly. The main thing, I think, is to just have the camera close to hand and preset as much as possible for the correct exposure. The composition could also probably be better, but as grab shots go, this doesn't seem so bad.