Thursday, April 29, 2010

Baseball Pictures - Through The Backstop

Are you trying to get good shots of your kids or grand kids playing baseball? Is the backstop behind home plate causing your camera to focus on it rather then the subject you want?

You can beat this problem if you can control your camera's focal length. To shoot through a fence or the bars of a cage at the zoo, you use a longtelephoto lens. This can be a problem for some shots, but if you want to get the player swinging the bat at home plate, zoom in. The fence will blur out or totally disappear depending on how far you are from the fence and how much telephoto you have. Experiment with this before and during the game to see what you need to do. Once in awhile you will get a perfect shot, of the fence! But you will also get some great shots of your favorite player as well.

Try it! Let me know what happens!

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Lonely Photographer-Hardly!

I asked my wife and grown son if they wanted to accompany me to the National Wildlife Refuge near Richland, Washington yesterday. In the beginning it was OK with them but they both needed to do some other things first, then we could go. I waited about an hour then I said I was leaving, if they wanted to go along it had to be now. I ended up going alone. It was too late for any early morning scenery but I was after wildlife or closeup shots anyway since the latter is my latest passion in photography.

I headed for a Bank of America first to get some cash to pay the entry fee, picked up a ready made poorboy complete with chips and a cookie at the local grocery, and set my vehicles GPS for my destination. I've learned that this device will take me over routes I would never think or know to go, and it's always a pleasurable experience. As a matter of fact I have a small Amazon Website where I sell the Top Rated GPS units. There's a link to that site on this blogger page.

When I got to the refuge I had a nice visit with the volunteer in the contact station, paid my entry fee of $3.00 dollars and started out on the Auto tour. You drive your own vehicle over a pre-determined route and do your photography from within your vehicle.

I saw tons of wetland birds. The day was sunny but hazy, making it a little difficult to choose which white balance setting to use. I chose daylight and let it go at that. Still I hadn't totally prepared my camera as I should have and was just enjoying the slow drive as I idled the truck along the route. There were other cars on the tour too and we just passed each other as needed but kept moseying along.

Soon I saw something moving in the grass near the base of a lone Oak tree next to the road. As I approached I saw a medium sized, young looking Raccoon waiting for my approach. Naturally since my camera wasn't ready I missed the best shots as he climbed the tree. I got a few others when he reached his favorite branch though and then I made sure my camera was ready for whatever came next. As  I moved along I came to a rest stop where you are allowed to leave your vehicle. There was one other person there when I arrived and we struck up a short but polite conversation. His name was Frank. I helped him identify a Starling, (he said he was new to ornithology) and we both shot pictures of a couple of Bald Eagles that were soaring high above in the bright sun.

Frank soon departed and I changed lenses to my Sigma 170-500 zoom. I photographed a couple of groups of turtles sunning themselves on logs in a slough, a Great Blue Heron, and a beautiful white Egret as it preened its feathers out in the marshland. As  I continued my tour I suddenly I saw another Heron in the distance that was flying my direction. It has something long and thin hanging from its bill. I stopped the truck and got ready but the bird landed behind a dike out of sight. I moved the truck slowly forward until suddenly the bird appeared again right next to me and another heron was chasing it. I had less than 5 seconds to grab the camera, point it out the window and snap five quick shots as both Herons flew by. Fortunately I had set the camera to programmable mode earlier when I saw the other heron. It was standing right on the road and I knew a car in front of me would cause it to jump and fly so I had prepared the camera to capture the bird as it lifted off.

I left the auto tour and headed over to the other side of Richland where I could walk the trails near the "Plank House," in another part of the same refuge. The Plank House is a replica of the dwellings used by the local natives when Lewis and Clark were here. I met another photographer there and we walked the paths together as we discussed our equipment and various ways and reasons to shoot pictures of the local plants and other scenery. Eventually we parted company as I saw some pretty wildflowers I wanted to work with. After awhile I ran into Frank, the guy I had met earlier in the day and it was like meeting an old friend. We visited and compared a few notes about the days adventures and then went our ways again as we had before.

I soon left Richland and headed over to the Cedar Creek Grist Mill. I had been there the day before and after reviewing the shots I took that day I wanted to go back and try to catch the same frames but with different lighting. As it turned out I arrived just in time and the light was exactly as I had hoped. I had time to create about ten frames before it was gone. I worked a few other closeup scenes with Bleeding Heart and other wildflower blooms, and visited with other guests before leaving.

Was I a lonely photographer because my wife and son chose to stay home? Not on your life. I made several new friends, had a great day of photography, and came home grinning and happy with a camera full of nice pictures for my "lonely" effort.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Close-Up Photography

Entering the world of close-up photography for the first time is like being a pioneer. It's challenging, exciting, and offers new wonders at each bend. It requires developing a new "eye" for photography. You're still looking for that perfect landscape, but it's much smaller. It requires learning new ways to use your old equipment, or acquiring new equipment to do the job. I suggest learning to use your existing equipment for close-up work before buying a bunch of new stuff. You will be surprised at what you can do with what you have. Don't be afraid to use your little point and shoots for this work too. Some of these will do amazing things for such little cameras.

I created this image using my Sigma 70-300mmD Lens mounted on my Nikon D300. This lens has a macro feature that lets me focus closer than normal at 200 to 300mm. It doesn't create a true macro image of 1:1 where the subject is the same size on the CCD as in real life, but will allow ratios from about 1:2 to 1:5. I mounted a really really cheap Quantaray 4X close-up filter from my earliest days in photography on the front of the lens and began messing around to see what would happen. I soon spied this little growth of lichen on the end of a fence board and moved my tripod (Bogen-Manfrotto 3221W, with a 30-30 head) up close for the shot. This took some maneuvering but I finally found the range and began shooting. I used the other filters in the set at 1x and at 2x too but I don't like the results they offer at all. The 4x really surprised me though. It gave the image a huge sense of depth. Mostly due to the filters poor quality and the subsequent vignetting that occurred. I really like this shot and its is displayed here un-edited and exactly as it came from the camera. As you probably guessed, I'm off on a new (to me) project again, and you can bet I'll be experimenting more with my old equipment in new ways.

Here's a great book that I bought at Costco a couple of days ago that is helping me with this type of photography: "Understanding Close-up Photography," by Bryan Peterson. There were three other books of his there as well but this one suited my needs at the moment. Besides Bryan does some of his photography in the same places I do here on the West Coast of the US.

Photography Tips

Here are a few things you can do to improve your photography that will apply regardless of what camera you use. These are the basics that every photographer should know and do to get reasonably good pictures out of any camera.

Make sure you have a clean lens. Don't just blow the dust off, but use a clean cloth suitable for cleaning lenses and do it right.

Set up so your camera is stable and won't move as you press the shutter. You can do this a number of ways. If you will be handholding the camera, hold your elbows in against your sides, and stand with your feet apart with one slightly forward of the other. You can also lean against a solid object like a light pole, tree, building or whatever. The best method though is to use a tripod or monopod. I have both but I like to carry the tripod best. If I want to use it as a monopod I just extend only one leg and us it as I would a monopod. I'll add instructions about to how to use these tools later.

Finally the "First" basic thing you need to do is read your manual and learn what all the parts of your camera are for and how to use them. If you understand how your meter works and what white balence is you'll go a long way to getting that shot you want when the light is wierd and you are wondering why your pictures are all dark or yellow instead of like what you saw on the monitor or in the viewfinder.

I'll expand on all these topics in the coming weeks and months so you'll want to check back and see what I've added from time to time.