Testing the New Glass

Testing the New Glass

It’s been awhile since I’ve been excited about shooting anything.  But my nephew is getting married this weekend, and I was asked to shoot some pictures at the reception.  I was happy to do it, but wasn’t happy with the equipment that I have for an occasion like this.  I’ve been wanting a 24-85mm, 2.8 lens for awhile now, and thought about renting one for the weekend.  But I recently got a little bonus at work, so I decided to splurge and get the lens that I’ve really had my heart set on.

And then there was the issue of the flash.  I have a Speedlight SB-700, but I’ve never taken the time to really learn how to use it.  This seems like the perfect time to get better acquainted with that piece of equipment.

So, the new lens arrived yesterday, and for the past two evenings I’ve been prowling around the house, shooting anything that doesn’t hide from me.  And I’m LOVING this lens.  Not only does it give me beautiful DOF, it also has a macro setting that lets me get up really close to things–I’m thinking the wedding cake–for some nice detailed shots.  And I’m finally getting comfortable with the flash, although I still have a long way to go to learn all about lighting.  I’m not trying any fancy off-camera flash–just the hot-shoe mount with the head tilted up to the ceiling.

So, here are some of the test shots that I’ve taken.  These are all straight out of the camera, shot in “fine” JPG mode.  I used aperture-priority with shutter speed of 1/60, and let the camera figure out the ISO.  The D700 is a great low-light camera, so I’m not worried about ISO with this setup.

Now, I’m really excited about shooting again!!  Hopefully this will be the start of a renaissance!!

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Thirsty (in Macro)

This evening I was playing around with my macro filters, trying to get some decent shots to submit to the photography group that I just joined (more about that in a moment).  I set up my lightbox with my poor excuse for lighting and props, mounted the camera on the tripod and spent about an hour getting totally frustrated.  Macro photography is totally different from what I normally shoot.  Trying to manage the depth of field, adjusting the aperture and trying to balance DOF to shutter speed, was driving me nuts.  The plane of focus was so small!  Finally I just grabbed the camera and started wandering around the house looking for things to shoot hand-held.  I even resorted to using the pop-up flash.

The cat wound up in my path while he was trying to get a drink of water from the bathroom sink (his favorite place to drink).  I got right in his face with the camera and the flash, and wound up with this shot:

Thirsty
Photo taken with a Nikon D700, 50mm lens with 10X macro filter, processed in Paintshop Photo Pro X3.

Yeah, I know it’s a little (ok, a lot) blown out on the bottom right, but I still like the way the flash stopped the water droplets right on the tip of Macho’s tongue. It made me laugh, and sometimes that’s a good thing!

Now, back to the photography group. I attended my first meetup last night of the AZPhotographersGroup. The meeting was an open forum where you could ask any question you wanted about photography. I learned so much just from the discussions around each of the questions. Then Nick, the organizer of the group, presented some tips on how to photograph people, which is what I’m starting to concentrate on now, and once again I picked up some great information. The people were all friendly and willing to share information with newbies such as myself.

The group is very active, with several organized events and photowalks each month. They also do monthly photo challenges where they present a theme and members submit photos relative to that theme. This month, it’s macro photography…which explains why I was playing with the 10x filter this evening. If you’re in the Phoenix/Tempe area, I recommend that you check them out. I’ve already signed up for a workshop next month on how to use an off-camera flash. Now all I have to do is get my hands on a flash unit before then!

If you like my work, please subscribe to this blog and feel free to offer comments.  You can also find me on Facebook at ZannWalker Photography.

Natural Light is Best

Has it already been a month since my last posting?  Unbelievable!  Yes, I’ve been busy, but that’s no excuse.  I promise to try and do better.  My camera misses me, I’m sure!

We went on our cruise the last week of April, sailing on the Carnival Paradise out of Long Beach, California, with shore excursions on Catalina Island (CA) and Ensenada (Mexico).  I took a lot of pictures on the cruise, but honestly they were mostly of the snapshot variety.  Guided tours don’t provide a lot of opportunities to thoughtfully set up the perfect shot, but they do get you out into the countryside to see a lot of things you wouldn’t otherwise see.  I decided that my time would be better spent actually looking at my surroundings and engaging with the locals, rather than spending all my time looking through the viewfinder.

That said, I did manage to experiment with a few things while we were out sightseeing.  One thing I enjoyed was trying to capture photos of people indoors using the natural light coming through the windows.  Here are a few examples:

This first shot was made in one of the many colorful and quaint shops on Catalina Island off the coast of California.  It was just about 11:00AM on an overcast morning, which made for perfect lighting coming through the shop windows.  I was able to capture lots of details inside the shop, without losing much of the detail outside the windows.  This photo was shot as a JPG, and processed in Paint Shop Pro to up the contrast and add a little local tone mapping.

Shopping on Catalina Island

This next shot was made just about an hour later when we stopped at Jack’s Original Country Kitchen for one of their delicious crepes with Nutella and lots of fresh fruit.  We sat near the front window so we could watch the people go by.  Once again, the light was perfect for capturing the details of the interior of the restaurant without a flash, and without washing out the highlights.

Jack's Original Country Kitchen

This final shot was taken the next day at the L.A. Cetto Winery in Ensenada Valley de Guadelupe, Baja California, Mexico, in their wine tasting room.  We had taken a wine tour of the Ensenada area, and this was our final stop.  It’s a beautiful winery, the largest in the area, and the wines were exceptional.  The tasting room had smaller windows that looked out over the vineyards, so even though it was a sunny day outside, the interior space was much more dimly lit than the shots above.  I like the way the wine bottle and the man’s arm are slightly blurred, suggesting movement as he poured the wine for the tasting.

L.A. Cetto Vineyards and Wine Tasting

I haven’t yet gone through the process of editing all the cruise photos–I guess I got a little burned out earlier this year.  But I’m starting to get the bug again, so hopefully I’ll still remember all the things I learned back in the winter and early spring.  It’s definitely starting to get hot here in the Phoenix area, which makes it much less tempting to go hiking around with a lot of camera equipment.  However, I’m going to be visiting my family in North Mississippi over the Memorial Day weekend, and I’m looking forward to having a lot of new subjects to shoot.  They live on a beautiful lake property, everything is lush and green, and it’s supposed to be a full moon weekend….I’m salivating just thinking about it.

Changing the subject, thanks to a friend’s Facebook postings, I discovered 365Project.org, a website where you are encouraged to upload one photo per day for a year, just capturing everyday moments in your life.  I’ve started a 365 project on this website, only using pictures taken with my Blackberry.  I thought it would be fun to chronicle those little things that you capture on the spur of the moment with the piece of technology that’s most often at hand.  Check it out, follow me, and start your very own 365 project!

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Tripod Nirvana

I am so excited!  I finally have a decent tripod!  I went to Best Buy after work this evening and purchased the Sunpak Pro 523PX 64″ model with the pistol grip ball head.  It has a lot of features that I really like, including:

  • Pistol grip ball head with trigger control (no more levers!)
  • Quick release plate with a built in screwdriver (no more using a coin to tighten and loosen the screw)
  • 360 degree rotating ball head (no more taking the camera off the tripod and repositioning the not-so-quick release plate to change from landscape to portrait mode)
  • 2 bubble levels
  • Adjustable lift n’ lock center column (with an extra shorter column for tabletop configuration)
  • Neoprene leg grips
  • Center column accessory hook
  • Carbon fiber leg sections
  • Rubber feet with retractable spikes

I love the pistol grip trigger control.  It makes it possible to reposition the camera and have it locked into place for the next shot with just a squeeze.  I can’t wait to take this thing out this weekend and give it a test run!

The only photography that I got to do today was totally by accident.  We had a baby shower for a co-worker in the office today, and the person who was supposed to be taking pictures ran out of memory in their point-and-shoot camera after only a couple of shots.  I happened to have my camera at the office with me, so I grabbed it and started shooting.  I had the telephoto lens already attached, so I went ahead and used it.  All the better to get shots of the action from the far end of the conference room table.  It also gave me some depth-of-field variety:

Since these were just snapshots, I only published them to my Facebook page, but you’re welcome to view them (click here).  The conference room had a ton of natural light, so I only needed the flash when taking pictures of people who had their backs to the windows.  I had the camera on Auto the whole time, and I was pretty pleased with the way the pictures came out.  I haven’t edited any of them, just published them as is (except for some resizing, of course).

I’m hoping to get some good shots this weekend.  They’re predicting a 60% chance of rain tomorrow and 30% on Sunday, so it could be dicey.  But I’m determined to find that window of opportunity so I can get my dose of Zen–I need it!!

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Digital Darkroom – The Lizard and the upgrade

I said I was going to process one photo each evening this week from our trip to the zoo last weekend.  Tonight it has been a challenge.  At 7PM, I got to my computer and decided that I was going to purchase and download the newest version of my photo editing software, Paint Shop Pro.  The upgrade was available online for $69.99, so I fired up the Vaio and settled in, but first I plugged in my iPod so that it could recharge and sync up.  Mistake.  I got a notification that a new version of iTunes had been released, so I thought, “Why not?  Let’s just upgrade everything.”

Three hours later, I finally completed all the downloads and installations.  I have a new version of iTunes, new version of the software on my iPod Touch, Corel’s Paintshop Photo Pro X3, and the bonus software from Corel called Painter Photo Essentials 4 (which I’ll probably never use).  Since it was already so late, I decided “what the heck, I’ll just stay up and play with the new PSP!”

I selected another photo from our trip to Wildlife World Zoo last Saturday. This one was shot through the glass in the reptile exhibit.  Here’s the original JPG:

For this shot, I didn’t want to use flash since it would have reflected off the glass.  I used the aperture-priority setting, ISO 200, using my telephoto zoom set to 70mm, F/5.0, giving me a shutter speed of 1/60s.

I pulled the photo into my newly upgraded version of PaintShop Pro (I see that they’ve now combined “Paint Shop” into one word), and I immediately fell in love with the new user interface in this version.  The Organizer feature is much faster and provides a filmstrip view of the photos that was missing in X2.  The options in the editing menu are also richer, and even include some Tone Mapping.  I played with several of the options just to get a feel for them, and came up with this:

I think it looks much better.  I was able to reveal more of the fine details in the photo, and adjust the color balance which was a little off in the original, due to the type of lighting they were using in the exhibit.  I didn’t spend too much time on this, since it was so late, but already I can tell I’m going to like the X3 version of PSP!

Let me know what you think!

Tool shots with the built-in flash

Well, my fifteen minutes of fame are over–I’m no longer featured on WordPress.com’s home page.  It was fun while it lasted, but now it’s back to obscurity.  Sigh.

Once again it was almost dark by the time I left work, plus I had some chores that needed to be done, so my photography for this evening was all indoors with the built-in flash.  I really don’t like using the built-in flash when trying to take close-ups shots of subjects, but I thought I’d give it a whirl just to see exactly how much I didn’t like it….turned out to be quite a bit.

My hubby’s workshop has lots of little odds and ends lying around, so I zeroed on in a few things and took about ten or twelve shots, handheld, on the camera’s Auto setting to see what I could get.  Afterwards, I processed a few of the JPG files in Paint Shop Pro, and here are some of the results:

Not my best work, but it gave me a chance to use the camera today, so what the heck.

Finally!  A book that I ordered about three weeks ago finally came in.  It’s “Digital SLR Camera & Photography for Dummies”, 2nd edition, by David D. Busch.  Unlike most of the books in the Dummies series, this one has tons of full color photos in it.  I’m anxious to start looking through it and hopefully gathering some tips that even a dummy like me can understand!

I’ve also started looking around the Internet for recommendations on a new camera bag that will be large enough to hold my camera and three lenses, my filters, cleaning stuff, and my users manual.  I also want a new flash, a new tripod with a better head, and some more software.  Like I said before, this hobby can be expensive!!