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Our Newest Technique: Panning

Apr 9, 2013   //   by Kris B   //   Photo Techniques  //  No Comments

W
e have been working on a new technique this week:  panning. Panning is the technique used by photographers at car races, in which they capture the moving car in focus, but the background is blurred out so that you can barely tell what is around it. This makes the subject stand out from the background very well, and serves as a very interesting effect. While I probably won’t be shooting many NASCAR races, I will be snapping shots of my kids as they are running around wildly–same difference!

Panning Shot

f/10, 1/25, ISO 100

This is a technique that will probably take a lot of practice, and a lot of trial and error to get the exact type of effect that you are going for. After much practice, the picture to the left is what I came up with, something that I feel successfully illustrates the technique. How do you accomplish this?  Just follow these steps and practice, practice, practice.

Set camera to a constant focus mode (not “One Shot”). I use a Canon, and my focus mode is called “AI-Servo”. This basically means that you can lock the focus on a subject, and the camera will hold that subject in focus for as long as you hold the focus button down. This is a necessity, as the subject will be moving, and thus changing the focus plane (if you were to lock on in a “one shot” type mode.

Set your camera for continuous shooting mode. Most DSLRs have a continuous shooting mode that allows the photographer to simply push the shutter release, hold it down, and take several pictures in a row (until the camera’s buffer fills up). Make sure you are in this mode, as the action will pass far too quickly for you to be able to re-acquire focus, and push the shutter release again.

Set camera to a slower shutter speed that you would normally expect. For this shot, in order to freeze the subject, one would expect to set the shutter to 1/250 or greater, especially on such a bright day. However, to achieve this effect, I set the shutter speed to 1/25. This slow speed is compensated for by moving the camera as you will see shortly.

Set the aperture for a good exposure. Because you are concerned about the shutter speed, you must set it first. Then, the exposure can be balanced by altering your aperture and ISO. I like to shoot with the lowest ISO I can get by with, so on this bright day, I set my ISO to 100. To get a good exposure, I then set my aperture to f/10.  Because of the slower shutter speed, most likely you will have to stop down the aperture to be able to get the proper exposure.

Set your feet.  Now that you have the right settings programmed into the camera, there is a need to get the physical aspects of the technique right. Start by getting a good solid base under you. Again (I know, I sound like a broken record…slow shutter…slow shutter…slow shutter) because of the slow shutter speed, you want to eliminate as much of the possibility of camera shake as you can. So, make sure that you position your feet a comfortable, and stable distance apart, pointing toward the area you intend to snap the picture.

Turn your body at the waist toward the starting point of your subject. While keeping your feet stable, twist at the waist, and get your focus set on the subject. The more room you have before the subject hits the target area, the better. This will give you time to lock your focus on the subject, and start shooting photos.

Follow through.  Lock focus as quickly as possible, and then press the shutter release, holding it down as your subject passes in front of you. If you chose the correct shooting mode, your camera should fire off in quick succession.  I get about 3.5-4 frames per second. Swing at the waist with your subject remaining at your chosen focus point (in your viewfinder) through the entire exercise. The best shots should occur when the subject is directly in front of the camera. You have to remember to keep moving the camera at the same speed that the subject is moving, so that they will be sharp within the frame when they are directly in front of you. Keep swinging (and shooting) with your subject until they pass completely through your desired shooting field.

That about does it. Review your photos and see if you have accomplished what you set out to do. If they don’t look right, try adjusting your shutter speed. The shutter speed will depend on what you are photographing, and how fast it is moving, not to mention other variables such as distance from the camera. So, there will be a bit of trial and error until you get it down just the way you would like. Keep practicing until you get just the effect you are working on.

f/11, 1/60, ISO 100

f/11, 1/60, ISO 100

I use my kids as test subjects for various techniques, and sometimes they get a bit silly as they work with me. I was working with my daughter practicing this technique a few days ago, and had her running back and forth in front of me. While I was improving, I didn’t have everything fine tuned yet, when she decided it would be funny to try and make faces at me as she passed by. So, for your viewing enjoyment (and to see some of my earlier stages of practicing panning) I give you one from the “blooper reel”. Enjoy.

 

NOTE:  You can click on all photos in this post to see larger versions!

Aperture for Kids…

Mar 26, 2013   //   by Kris B   //   Blog, Education: Basics  //  No Comments

T
oday, Jacob and I were working on understanding aperture, and he was struggling with some of the ideas (and who blames him…some aspects of aperture are hard!).  We started by hammering out the basic (and perhaps boring) details. The aperture is the hole through which light enters the camera body, through the lens. The size of this hole is controlled by the diaphragm, which is usually located in the lens. The first difficulty (especially when relating it to children) is the idea that a smaller aperture number (f-stop number) actually means a bigger hole. So, the smaller the aperture number, the more light is able to make it to the sensor. While many lenses have a wide range of apertures through which they can shoot, a maximum aperture will be printed on the lens (for Canon it is on the end of the lens). Most kit lenses have a variable maximum aperture, with mine being from f/3.5-5.6. A “faster” lens will have a smaller number–down to f/1.2.

f Values:

1

1.2

2

2.4

4

5.6

8

11

16

22

32

45

64

 

By understanding the relationship between the aperture numbers, a photographer can know how much to adjust the aperture to affect the exposure (supposing that he wants to keep both shutter speed and ISO unchanged).  In the lists of f values to the left, each increment, starting at 1, cuts the transmitted light in half. So, f/1.2 allows half the light that f/1 would allow. It should be noted that f/1 does not really exist, but is a theoretical aperture. f/1.2 Lenses are readily available, but the larger the maximum aperture, the more expensive a lens will be.

Another confusing idea tied to these aperture values is that it would seem logical that going from f/4 to f/2 would let in twice as much light. However, that is not the case. Going from f/4 to f/2.4 lets in twice as much light, and then going from f/2.4 to f/2 lets in twice that amount. So, in reality, going from f/4 to f/2 lets in four times the light!

While cameras and lenses can be set to various f/stop values that are not shown on our chart, these represent the change of one full stop. So, a value of 3.5 (as many kit lenses have for a maximum aperture value) is somewhere between f/2.4 and f/4. the distance from f /3.5 to f/4 is not a full stop. If, however, you realize that your meter is showing that you are 1 stop under exposed at f/8, you will know that moving the aperture to f/5.6 will set your camera for proper exposure. Using the chart above with the meter readings from your camera will help you to understand what is happening. I understand that most DSLRs today have the information readily available, usually just by looking through the view finder. Simply line the marker up with the “0” on your scale, and your exposure will be correct. However, if you are like me, it is not good enough to just know what is correct. I want to know why the settings are correct! By understanding the relationship between each of these numbers, one can know what aperture changes to make without simply running through the trial and error process. Knowing what to do makes the process of changing settings on the fly much easier!

To illustrate these principles, we set up a little experiment to visualize the different light transmission based on the aperture set. Each of these photos were made with my Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II Camera Lens, set at 1/40 sec shutter speed, and ISO 400. We set the first aperture to f/2 and then progressed one full stop at a time through f/11. Published below are the results through f/8 (the last photo with any discernible detail).

 

f/2.0, ISO 400, 1/40

f/2.0, ISO 400, 1/40

 

f/2.4, ISO 400, 1/40

f/2.4, ISO 400, 1/40

 

f/4, ISO 400, 1/40

f/4, ISO 400, 1/40

f/5.6, ISO 400, 1/40

f/5.6, ISO 400, 1/40

f/8, ISO 400, 1/40

f/8, ISO 400, 1/40

Jacob found this exercise to be quite helpful in understanding the concept of aperture. He could see the distinct difference as the light was cut into half for every full stop. Principles that he was struggling with suddenly became clear to him. While he will still have trouble remembering the list of f/stops, how the change of aperture impacts his exposure will stick with him going forward!

 

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Pick a Subject…Any Subject…

Mar 13, 2013   //   by Kris B   //   Education: Basics  //  No Comments

J
acob and I have really started hitting the books, and taking our photography education seriously. Of course, spending so much time on that has made it nearly impossible to find the time (around other obligations) to sit down and share what we are working on!  We will try to rectify that, and get the blog updated more frequently, especially now that we have made all of the necessary repairs to the blog and have (hopefully) blocked off all the hackers who have been causing us grief!

One of the more basic things that we have been working on has to do with basic composition of photographs. I’m sure if you’ve had a camera in your hands, you probably have thought of some (if not all) of these tips, but hey, you have to start somewhere!

HSPhoto-1

Birthday Party

We have started with the idea that a photographer must have a strong subject in mind when that shutter is clicked. This is, quite often, the difference between a forgettable snapshot and a treasured memory. I know that this is an area that has been difficult for me to work on personally, and it is a challenge to teach a kid the principle as well.

I’ll use the picture to the left as a first example of NOT having a clear subject (click the picture to see larger). Obviously, the picture was taken at a birthday party for my son, and he should have been the subject of the photo. However, it is also obvious that I did not do a very good job of composing the photo to emphasize the subject. There are three people in the photo, all the same size and  in relative focus.  The two boys certainly compete for attention in the photo, one with a gift and the other with a great expression of excitement on his face. Another problem is the very busy background that is also in sharp focus. All of this takes away from picture, and causes it to lose any impact it might have.

There are many things that can help to clean up a picture. Once the subject of the picture is determined, the photographer must make some compositional choices to make that subject clear and make it stand out within the photo. Here are some suggestions:

  1.  Fill more of the frame with the subject. The larger the subject is in the frame, the easier it is to distinguish from other elements that may be in the photo. 

    HSPhoto-9

    Science Project: Flower

  2. Blur the background. Blurring the background helps the subject stand out, as that subject will be the only thing in the photo that is in relative focus. In any photo, the area that is in the greatest focus will draw the attention of the viewer. This is called selective focus. That is, only a portion of the picture is in focus–it is selectively focused.
  3. Use elements such as framing or leading lines to draw attention to the subject. Anything that works to separate the subject from the background helps to emphasize its importance. Leading lines can draw the viewers focus through the photograph to the main subject. Framing can accomplish the same thing, pulling the eye of the viewer to the main subject.

The picture to the right uses some of the elements above to try and bring out the subject of the photograph. This project that my son put together this week is a model of a flower, but he went the extra mile and made a small bumble bee out of pipe cleaners to spice up the project. We set the aperture to about 2.0 to have a shallow depth of field, and then cropped tightly to fill the frame with flower. The bee, the main focus of this picture, is in focus, while even the near and far petals of the flower are thrown out of focus. While this photo breaks the rule of thirds (a subject for another post), sometimes rules are made to be broken! Often, at least in my experience it is not uncommon for macro type shots to be more centered in the frame.

Getting a good composition is the start of getting good photographs. It starts before you ever click the shutter. Of course, there is far more to good composition, but we are just learning, right? Stay tuned for more to come…

 


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What’s the Best Camera?

Nov 29, 2012   //   by Kris B   //   Camera Equipment  //  No Comments

West Virginia Mountain Sunrise

A
nyone who has ever picked up a camera has probably had someone ask the question:  “What is the best camera to shoot with?” While we could jump into a series of reasons to choose one camera over another, the simplest answer (and the one I consider the most legitimate) is, “The one you have on you when you need it.”

While the modern DSLRs take amazing pictures, there are times that you simply do not have that technology with you. Point and shoot cameras have come a long way, and they are much more compact making them more convenient to carry along when the more cumbersome equipment is inconvenient. But, the most convenient cameras, which have also improved dramatically over the last few years, and are almost always on hand, are a part of cellphones. Many of the newest cellphones have 8 megapixel cameras, and are capable of taking some pretty great shots.

Over the recent Thanksgiving week holiday, I was able to spend some time with my family at our deer camp in central West Virginia. As we were deer hunting, it was not possible to lug my DSLR around to snap pictures as hiked the mountains. However, I did carry my new Samsung Galaxy

The (Not-So) Lone Hunter

S III with me, which has a fantastic camera on board. It was great to be able to snap pictures (a couple of which are linked in this post) as I was out and about. I enjoyed being able to capture some of the great sights I witnessed in the process of covering a lot of ground on the mountains. I also had the opportunity to spend time with family, and capture a couple of candid shots, far from the camp house.

I love my Canon T2i, as I have previously posted about, but it just isn’t going to feasible to have it on hand in

every situation. I have carried a couple of portable cameras with me when I have been fishing, wading mountain streams. But, nothing is more convenient than a cellphone that is always in your pocket. So, while I don’t ever want to give up my Canon, I also don’t want to give up my more convenient cameras. I am convinced that the best camera you can have is the one you have on you when you see something you want to capture. It might be a $5000 DSLR, or it might be a $100 point and shoot.  Then again, it might just be a cellphone, right on your finger tips when the sun pokes through the trees at the top of a mountain pass…

 

 

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My Camera: Canon T2i

Nov 1, 2012   //   by Kris B   //   Camera Equipment  //  No Comments

A
few days ago, I wrote a post to tell you about the equipment that Jacob is using. I thought I’d write a bit about the equipment that I am using today. I will not going to put everything in one post, but instead break it up a bit. Today, I will write about the camera body that I am using.

When I decided to upgrade from the camera that Jacob is using, I decided to go with a Canon DSLR. When I was doing research, I found that both the Canon and the Nikon had great reviews, and decided to go with the Canon so that I could share lenses with my brother, who had already purchased a Canon. I narrowed down, due to cost restrictions, my choice to either the T2i, or the T3i models. When I was considering the specs between the two, I discovered that there really wasn’t much difference, except that the t3i had a pop out screen.  To me, that was not worth the extra $100, so I went with the t2i. Since I have purchased my camera, the T4i has been released by Canon. It has some significant upgrades, even though it still uses the same sensor as both the t2i and t3i.  
Disclosure:  Links in this post are affiliate links.  We don’t make much off of these links, but if you purchase through our site you help to support our efforts (and our photography addiction).  Thanks!

If I were going to make the purchase today, I’d go with the T4i, as it comes with some pretty innovative features, especially for an entry level DSLR. It has the ability to process HDR on board, instead of using software, and has an articulating touch screen.  Both of these are significant upgrades from the T2i!

I have been very happy with the Canon T2i. It has provided a great jumping off point for DSLR photography for me. It provides enough features to keep me busy working toward understanding them all, and has the capability of capturing great images. I know, great photographers claim that every camera can take great pictures, and maybe that is true, but I have found the quality of this camera to be far better than any that I have previously owned.

The Canon T2i has enough flexibility to allow a photographer to grow with it. Of course it has a full automatic mode, which functions as a mere point and shoot. However, why would anyone spend several hundred dollars to get a point and shoot that they could get similar exposures for a couple of hundred (or less)?  The T2i also has several program modes that offer a beginner (like me) to start shooting different circumstances and still get good pictures. By watching the settings chosen by the camera in these program modes, a new photographer can begin to see how to change settings on their own.

The camera also has different settings beyond automatic that allow photographers to move closer and closer to full manual mode. We will address these different settings in future blog posts, but suffice to say that it is possible to choose one element (either shutter speed or aperture) and allow the camera to select the other settings. Again, this makes it possible for the photographer to either pass some of the settings over to the camera, so that he does not have to worry about them, or he can watch the settings and see what changes he would need to make in full manual mode. As everything is clearly posted for the photographer, both on the screen, or in the viewfinder, these settings help to speed up the learning curve.

Here are some of the specifics about the Canon T2i, straight off of Canon’s website:

  • 18.0 Megapixel CMOS (APS-C) sensor and DIGIC 4 Image Processor for high image quality and speed.
  • ISO 100-6400 (expandable to 12800) for shooting from bright to dim light.
  • Improved EOS Movie mode with manual exposure control, expanded recording, new Movie Crop recording in 640 x 480 and external microphone IN terminal for access to improved sound quality.
  • Enhanced iFCL 63-zone, Dual-layer metering system; and 9-point AF system utilizing a high-precision, f/2.8 cross-type center point.
  • Wide 3.0-inch (3:2 aspect ratio) Clear View LCD monitor (1.04 million dots) for improved viewing.
  • New Quick Control Screen button for easy access to frequently used settings.
  • Improved layout with dedicated Live View/Movie shooting button.
  • New compatibility with SDXC memory cards, plus new menu status indicator for Eye-Fi* support.
  • 3.7 fps continuous shooting up to approximately 34 JPEGs or approximately 6 RAW.
  • Compatible with the full line of Canon EF and EF-S lenses.

I have especially enjoyed the burst mode of capturing images. I typically shoot in RAW format, and find that I get about 6 shots per burst, just as the Canon site says.  I have only tried the JPEG burst a couple of times, but found that I get in the neighborhood of 20 pictures before the processor has to stop to write to the card. I have also found the 18 megapixel sensor to be more than adequate. I know that Nikon has some newer models that are quite a bit higher than that, but unless you intend to print posters, there is no real need for a significantly higher number of megapixels. I have enjoyed being able to crop pictures quite significantly and still end up with a nice, printable photo.

Overall, I have loved the Canon T2i. If you are in the market, I’d recommend it immensely. With the newer models coming out, you can probably find a pretty good deal on this model. If cost is not an issue, go with T4i.  On second thought, if cost is not an issue, go with something like the Canon EOS 5D Mark III 22.3 MP Full Frame .  That is my “one day” type of camera!

 

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Jacob’s Camera

Oct 17, 2012   //   by Kris B   //   Camera Equipment  //  1 Comment

T
oday I thought I would begin sharing a bit about the equipment that we use, and maybe set the stage for telling you about some of the equipment we would like to have, our “wishlist” so to speak.

I thought I would start with Jacob’s equipment. When I decided to purchase a new camera, Jacob asked if he could buy my old one, which is a Fujifilm Finepix S6000fd . I purchased this camera several years ago, and had been quite pleased with it. It is not a DSLR, but still has plenty of settings to allow the photographer to have a lot of control over the picture outcome.  This camera has several manual settings, which allow Jacob to learn most of the principles involved in photography.  There is, in fact, even a full manual mode, which will allow him to have control over all aspects of the exposure. There are, of course, limitations that are present with this camera, which will necessitate some cross over to my camera for some of his lessons.
Disclosure:  Links in this post are affiliate links.  We don’t make much off of these links, but if you purchase through our site you help to support our efforts (and our photography addiction).  Thanks!

Jacob has been working to learn how to adjust the aperture and shutter speed to turn out the type of exposure that he is looking for. Unfortunately, one of the shortfalls of the Finepix S6000 is that it will not allow him to set the ISO to automatic when in full manual mode. While I have no doubt he will be able to figure out where he needs to set the ISO as he continues to practice, it would be nice if he could only concentrate on the first two elements of the exposure and allow the camera to handle the ISO. Changing the ISO is also a confusing endeavor on this camera, so at the present time, he usually will have me help him set it to an acceptable speed, and then continue to shoot with it throughout the day. He has done a pretty good job of adjusting the shutter speeds to match what is needed for his other settings.

Because this camera is only 6.3 MP, he is able to take a lot of pictures without completely filling up my hard drive. He is also learning to use Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4 Student and Teacher Edition, which he helped to purchase with his own money for this project (instead of purchasing the camera, which we decided to give to him). As side note, Adobe allows homeschoolers to purchase and activate their educational products.  We have purchased both Lightroom 4 and Adobe CS 5.5 Design Suite Student and Teacher.  Of course, now Adobe CS6 Design Standard Student and Teacher Edition is out.  You can save a lot of money by purchasing these versions, and they are the full versions, without limitation. While both have a steep learning curve (which we are obviously still in) it has been quite enjoyable to work with them and try to teach them to Jacob.

Grist MillWhile on our recent field trip to Babcock State Park, and some other West Virginia landmarks, Jacob took about 300 pictures,completely on his own. We have not had a lot of time to edit and upload them, but one of his best was this picture of the Grist Mill at Babcock (click on the pic to see a larger version).  We hope to get more edited soon, and posted to our Facebook page. If you want to keep tabs on them, you can visit this album on the Facebook page.  Be sure to “like” our page while you are there!

Another real problem problem with Jacob’s camera is that the viewfinder is digital, and the screen on the back is not very clear. This creates a problem because looking at the picture on the screen may look like it is coming out well, when in fact it may have quite a bit of blurriness. We are going to have to scrap quite a few of his pics from the field trip, simply because he could not tell that he had his shutter speed too slow, and was getting a lot of camera shake in the photographs. As he gets more familiar with the camera, I am sure he will cut down on these problems.

Overall, I have been pleased with this camera, and Jacob has enjoyed having a higher quality camera that he can use when he wants to. It has enough features for him to learn the principles behind photography, allowing him to leave the concept of “point and shoot” behind.  And best of all, I don’t have to endanger my DSLR in the hands of a 9 year old!

 

Field Trip to Babcock State Park, WV

Oct 11, 2012   //   by Kris B   //   Photography Trips  //  No Comments

f22, 55mm, 0.3 sec, ISO 200

W
e were able to take a day trip to Babcock State Park in the heart of the West Virginia mountains this week. The Grist Mill at Babcock State Park is the most photographed mill in the country, and many photographers have a trip there on their “bucket list.”  I am thankful that we live close enough to make it an easy trip, and it was well worth our time to get there! I had hoped that the leaves would be in full color, and we did have some good pockets of color, but there was also a lot of green. Another week and the area should be at peak color.

The picture to the left was one that I was determined to capture before we left. We were set up, and waiting for the scene to clear out so that there would be no people in the shot. This is a very busy time for photographers and tourists to visit the Mountain State, so we had to wait for about 30 minutes for a small window of opportunity (less than a minute) to snap the picture. The large boulder to the left side of the picture, on the water’s edge, is another popular spot from which to set up and shoot the scene. So, there was a steady stream of photographers lining up there to get their shots. The picture below is a shot I got from near that location. While it is a good shot opportunity as well, by going across the river, and down the road, I was able to capture the mill, the waterfalls, and the reflection of the mill in the first photo. I believe that many of the photographers who visit this location gravitate to the landing below the visitor’s center, and never realize that the better location is further down stream!

f13, 39mm, 1/6 sec, ISO 200

After leaving Babcock, we visited a small, deserted coal mining operation in what used to be the town of Nuttallburg.  This was an interesting experience for all of us. The town, which is is mostly destroyed, consists of an old mine, including the still standing conveyor, along with a tipple, as well as pillars of houses that are long gone, the remnants of the coal company’s store, and 80 coke furnaces. The mine started operations in about 1920, and had much of its technology designed and installed by Henry Ford. He was determined to control all operations in the building of a cars, which meant that he would need coal for making steel. He was, however, unable to gain control of the railroads, and so his plan fell through and he ended up selling the mine.

The park service asks that you not take any artifacts that you might find out of the area. As a result, there are many artifacts piled on top of the pillars that were once the foundations of homes and other structures in the area. My kids were able to find a marble, and a few pieces of broken dishes, which they happily added to the piles of broken glass and pottery that were scattered around. They found it very interesting to look at the different things that had been unearthed, and left behind. Here is a couple of pictures from the area. The first is a pillar, with some of the collected artifacts that had been piled on it. The second is the conveyor chute that carried coal down the mountain from the mine to the waiting coal railway cars.

f9, 55mm, 1/40, ISO 800

f 5.6, 32mm, 1/160, ISO 40

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Visiting Nuttalburg is a worthwhile trip, even though it is a bit difficult to find. You will think you are getting lost as you drive into the hollow, along the New River, that holds the remnants of this once thriving coal town. There are many informational signs posted in the area that give a lot of the history of the mining operation, as well as information about the what life was like in a coal town during that period of history. It is a great educational trip for the kids, and parents will certainly learn a thing or two as well. Throw in the beauty of the area, and it is a great day for everyone!

f18, 29mm, ISO 100, multiple shutter

Our final stop of the day was to visit the world famous New River Gorge Bridge, near Fayetteville, WV. This was once the longest single arch bridge in the world, thought that distinction has since been surpassed. It was an engineering feat when completed! The beautiful setting of this bridge adds to its mystique and grandeur. We stopped in at the visitors center on the rim of the canyon, and walked down the boardwalk (which consists of a lot of steps–down is easy, coming back up is the hard part!) to the overlook area.

After leaving the visitor’s center, we took a single lane road down into the gorge, to the old bridge (which is visible from the overlook area) and walked out over the river to get a better look from below the bridge. It is quite impressive to see just how high the bridge is.  It is the second highest bridge in the country, with only a bridge over the Arkansas river in Colorado being higher. One Saturday per year (this year it will be October 20th) the bridge is closed for “Bridge Day” and people are permitted to walk out onto it. There are many festivities during this time, and it is the only day that bungee jumping and base jumping are lawfully permitted from the bridge. Be forewarned, however, that this is a major tourist event and it will be extremely crowded. If you are traveling through the area, you will need to find an alternate route!

Over all, we had a wonderful day. We had hoped for clearer skies, but it remained cloudy for the whole day. It did not, however, rain at all. While it was a bit chilly, it was not unbearably cold, and so all of the kids were fine. They had a wonderful time, and all quickly fell asleep following supper on our way home. It was a truly wonderful day!

If you’d like to see a few more pictures from our trip, be sure to check out this album on our Facebook page. Be sure to “like” our page while you are there!

Kick “Auto” to the Curb

Oct 2, 2012   //   by Kris B   //   Camera Settings  //  No Comments

 

 

Crashed Out

f 5.6, 300mm, ISO 800, 1/1600 sec

W
ith most of the modern cameras available today, the automatic mode does a good job of taking good exposures. In fact, a lot of people who use point and shoot cameras rely upon the automatic mode quite extensively. Many hobbyists who have made the jump to DSLRs have also relied upon the automatic mode to take good pictures. Our goal, however, is to learn the art of photography, which means getting rid of the crutch of automatic mode!  This has been, and will continue to be, a challenge, especially for the children who are more focused on getting a good picture than understanding HOW to get get a good picture. I am in the process of weaning my 9 year old off of automatic mode, and onto the manual side of the settings dial.

If Auto Mode does a good job, then why change?  Some people have the “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it” mentality. Since they have always gotten acceptable photos with the Auto Mode, they see no reason to change. But, there are some serious defects in the Auto Mode that will limit your ability to get the outcomes you may desire in your photographs. Auto does a good job with landscape photos, but not nearly as good of a job with portraits. There is simply no “one size fits all” setting. So, if you can learn to adjust your settings for the picture that you want to record, you will end up being much happier with the results.

What are some limitations of Auto Mode?  There are several settings that are a part of the Automatic Mode that will affect the outcome of your exposure, none of which can be changed. Some cameras may have a bit more flexibility than others, but for the most part, when set to Auto Mode, the camera makes every decision. It is truly “point and shoot” as the photographer makes no decision concerning the outcome of the picture.  Here are just a few of the things that will be chosen for you if you shoot in Auto Mode:

  • Focus Point:  The camera will choose the closest subject to the lens and make that point be in focus. This is great, if the closest subject to the lens is what you are wanting to take a picture of!  However, if you want to focus on something else in the frame, it is very difficult to force the camera to “see” what you are wanting to photograph.
  • Flash: While some cameras will allow you to make some changes to the flash mode in Auto Mode, many will not. The camera decides whether you need a flash, and there is no adjustment as to the intensity of that flash. This too may be fine in some circumstances, but if you want to add a fill flash to a portrait, you could be out of luck.
  • Depth of Field, or Depth of Focus:  When set to Auto Mode, most cameras will make an attempt to get everything in the frame in focus. If you are shooting landscapes, that is great!  But, if you are shooting portraits, you can end up with very distracting backgrounds.
  • Shutter Speed:  Because the Auto Mode makes every attempt to put everything in focus, it will set a fairly high aperture value, which will slow down the shutter speed drastically, especially in low light conditions. This will make it difficult to either stop action, if that is your desire, or to capture motion (because of the automatic flash). The point is, you lose all control over these decisions!
  • ISO:  Most cameras, when set in Auto Mode will not allow you to adjust your ISO. While the camera will probably do a pretty good job with ISO, it is the principle of having that control taken out of your hands that is problematic.

There are certainly many other problems that can arise when you have the control taken out of your hands, but these give you at least some indication of the issues. Some people will jump from full Auto Mode to one of the Semi-Auto Modes so that they can gain some of the control back. This gives you some control over the finished product, but once again, the camera is really making all of the decisions for you. There are several Semi-Auto modes, even on some of the popular DSLRs:

  • Sports Mode:  For shooting sporting events and/or moving action shots.
  • Landscape Mode:  Will attempt bring everything in the frame into focus.
  • Portrait Mode:  For taking pictures of people, usually uses a larger aperture.
  • Macro Mode:  For taking detailed, close up pictures, usually of very small objects.
  • Night Portrait Mode:  For taking pictures of people at sunset.  The flash will capture the model, while a longer exposure captures the background.

 

If you are ready to get rid of full Auto Mode, I recommend Tony Northrup’s Book:

These Semi-Auto Modes give you as the photographer much more control over how your photographs turn out, and can be very instrumental in helping you to learn what the different settings on you camera do. By setting your camera to one of these modes, and noting what settings the camera chooses for you, you can learn how to choose those settings manually to get a similar picture. Eventually, you will learn how to choose the correct settings for getting the results that you have in your mind. Only by taking control of the camera settings can the photographer really express his own creativity. Today’s cameras can certainly take great pictures, but it is the creative eye of the photographer that will make true art!

With this post, we have really only looked at the various Auto Modes available to photographers. When using these modes the camera makes all of the exposure decisions. That means the photographer only has to compose the shot!  Our goal is to learn all about the various settings on the camera, and figure out what each one does.

In coming posts, we will look at the various program modes available on DSLRs and how to use them effectively. Every mode on the manual side of the dial affords the photographer more control over the outcome of his exposures. Once you learn to use the manual modes, you will not find any reason to set your camera to an Auto Mode ever again!

Where We Are Going…

Sep 28, 2012   //   by Kris B   //   General  //  1 Comment

W
elcome to the inaugural post on The Homeschool Photographer. We are starting this blog and portfolio site as a project for our children, who have decided that they would like to learn photography. Currently, I am working with my son, Jacob, who is 9 years old, teaching him the basics about photography. The catch is, I have not been involved in photography for very long myself, so I am learning as I go, and trying to relate that information to him!  We have 2 other children coming along behind Jacob who will also want to learn this information. It is my hope that we can chronicle both the lessons we learn, and the results of those lessons (the photographs) along the way. It is my plan to share many of the resources that we find helpful, and sites that have been and continue to be of some value.

We have been homeschooling our children since they began school. One of the great advantages of this method of educating our children is that we have the flexibility to let them develop new interests, and incorporate those interests into their formal education. Jacob and I are currently conducting a photography class, in which we are exploring not only the basics of the art, but also important peripherals, such as photo editing with Photoshop and Lightroom 4. This flexibility has been a great blessing to us, providing great opportunities for our children. It also has opened doors for us as parents, as the interests of our children sometime force us to learn new things as well.

It is my hope that this website will develop into a long term project, something that all of the children will have opportunity to be a part of over the next several years. I hope that it develop into a good resource for other kids who would like to learn photography as well. If you happen on this site from the beginning, perhaps you can learn along with us, contribute to our little site, and make it even better.  We certainly are not professional photographers, but we hope to be steadily improving ourselves!

If you don’t homeschool, please don’t let the name of our site deter you from participating with us. Our name just identifies who we are, and is not intended to exclude those who do things differently. As we get more materials posted, we hope to have many who will join us in discussing the various aspects of the art of photography.