Thursday, March 13, 2014

One Shot #9 | The Edge of Dawn

Shake reduction before/after

After initially posting yesterday’s blurred-by-camera-shake photo, I updated the post with a version processed with Photoshop CC’s “Shake Reduction” filter. But most people just saw one version or the other, and even people who saw both probably couldn’t compare them head-to-head. So I thought it might be interesting to post a direct comparison.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

One Shot #8 | Dogs

We had a storm and a cold front come through today, and when I left work there was a thick fog. I could have done something interesting in the woods, but I wasn’t dressed for that, and I wanted to photograph somewhere where I could grab dinner afterwards. I decided to head downtown, thinking I might be able to shoot people walking through the fog.

It wasn’t as foggy downtown, but I quickly saw the above juxtaposition of the red Morley’s Dog and the green dresses. I had the E-PL5 and 20mm f/1.7 with me, but I had to go back to the car for the Olympus 14-42mm kit lens in order to shoot at a long enough focal length to keep the dresses prominent in the background.

Unfortunately, the shot is technically unacceptable. The statue, where I focused is unsharp, apparently due to motion blur. I’m surprised that that was the case with a 1/90 exposure time, but I guess I was hurrying in the rain.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

One Shot #7 | Rugged Terrain

A potato chip (Lay's Cheesy Garlic Bread), photographed with the Pentax FA 100mm f/2.8 Macro at f/13.

A Neewer LED macro ring light arrived today, and was used to light this shot. I will confess to unthinkingly firing a few test shots while mounting the light to the camera, so I guess I need to say a few Hail Ansels or something.

The light works well enough, and it’s bright enough for true  macro photography, where it’s very close to the subject. It doesn’t do much at, say, portraiture distances. I got it for $14.49 as an open box item from Amazon Warehouse, and everything looked basically brand-new.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

One Shot #4 | Boots

I guess I’m on a footwear kick?

This morning while I was still in bed, the Spousal Unit came in to tell me that a red fox had been walking on our frozen lake, but the dogs scared it away. If I’d had a chance to photograph it, I probably would have had to break my Lenten resolution.

I walked around outside for a bit, but didn’t find any appealing subjects. We’re in a spring thaw, and everything’s brown and soggy and muddy. But when I was in the garage, I saw the Spousal Unit’s new boots, which she’d treated with waterproofing spray and left to dry on top of the tractor. Something about the clean boots and brightly colored newspaper advertisements caught my attention.

I wanted to shoot them with the Pentax FA 100mm f/2.8 Macro, to better isolate them from the background, but there wasn’t enough room to set up the camera far enough away. So the FA 50mm f/1.4 got some more work. I set up on a tripod and focused manually on the boot labels using Live View. Because I was working so close, I shot at f/5.6 to make sure I had enough depth-of-field for the newspaper. I probably could have backed off to f/4 or f/3.5 and been fine, though. (I have trouble judging absolute sharpness in Live View. The boot labels are blisteringly sharp in the photo, as they should be with this lens at f/5.6, but they didn’t look that sharp in Live View. That contributed to my conservative choice of aperture.)

Processing was pretty straightforward in Lightroom, though I did brush on some local adjustments to tame the brightest parts of the newspaper and boots.

Friday, March 7, 2014

One Shot #3 | Cinderella

I noticed these shoes yesterday, at the end of a highway off-ramp. I couldn’t shoot them, since I’d taken a picture at dawn, but I figured I’d hit it today. There was some grungy snow around them yesterday, which might have been nice, but today’s sunshine melted the last of it.

My first thought was to shoot a single shoe with the E-PL5 and 20mm f/1.7 wide open. But I worried that if it was sunny, I wouldn’t be able to shoot wide open. The Pentax K-5 II has a faster shutter and lower minimum ISO, so I figured that camera with the Pentax FA 50mm f/1.4 might be a good choice.

Once I got to the shoes, I saw something I hadn’t noticed from the car: The two shoes were tied together. Instead of shooting a single shoe, I decided to shoot the pair, and take advantage of the leading line formed by the laces. I think this was the right idea, but my execution fell short.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

One Shot #2 | Curves and Lines

Yeah, another sunrise-and-fields picture. But we change the clocks this weekend, so from now on it will be dark when I drive to work, so I may as well take advantage while I can.

I saw this scene yesterday morning, and the juxtaposition of the curved tracks and the straight shadows caught my eye. But the light wasn’t quite right yesterday.

I had the Olympus E-PL5 with the outstanding Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 mounted. I also had the kit zoom, but the normal field of view worked will for this scene. With only one shot, I was a little worried about the exposure. I dialed in −2 stops of exposure compensation, to avoid blowing out the rising sun, and that turned out to be just about right. I’m quite happy with how it turned out. I composed with the shadows extending further off the bottom of the frame you see here, but there were some unsightly puddles and potholes in the lower-right corner, so I went with the square crop.

I’m not above adjusting the color balance to reflect the mood I’m trying convey, but in this case there was no need: This is straight-up daylight-balanced, +15 vibrance. It’s the kind of light that’s worth getting out of bed for.

One observation about the project so far: I’m trying to slow down and be more deliberate, but so far my two photos have been taken along the road on my morning commute. Since I’m trying to get to work, and not get hit by any cars in the half-darkness, I haven’t been as attentive as I mean to be. At least I got all my settings right today. (That reminds me: I should probably zero the EV now, before I wreck tomorrow’s shot…)

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

You only get one shot.

Ash Wednesday

I used to race in autocross, a form of motorsport where you race against the clock on a short, but challenging, temporary course marked by traffic cones in a parking lot. You get to walk the course on foot, then you get three full-speed driving runs, and the fastest of those determines your place in the standings.

Over the course of a few years, against strong competition, I gradually improved from abysmal to mediocre. On a good day, I might finish mid-pack. But I noticed one thing: I usually improved a lot from my first run to my third. And on practice days, where we might get 10 or 15 runs on the same course, I would keep improving all day, and end up fairly close to the top drivers.

The best drivers were better than me by any measure, but I think the biggest component to their success was that on their first run, seeing the course at speed for the first time, they could drive at nearly their best. It took me a lot longer; I had to work up to it.

In photography, I feel like I shoot the same way that I drove. When I review my shots in Lightroom, I usually find that my best shot of a subject is at the end, after a bunch of awkward approaches. For most of what I shoot, that’s not a problem, per se, but it gave me inspiration for this year’s Lenten project. Like my first project two years ago, I think it can be helpful to impose constraints on yourself, to develop your skills. So from now until Easter, my plan is each day to take one shot—and only one shot. One exposure per day.

I’m not saying that’s a good way to work—for me it will almost certainly yield worse results than normal. But I think it could be a useful effort, forcing me to slow down and think about whether everything is just right.

This summer, I’ll be going on vacation to Banff, and the photographic opportunities excite me. With limited time in good light each day, I want to make sure I’m thinking clearly and not wasting my chances. And so, for better or worse, here we go.