Sunday, April 14, 2013

Photography For Beginners Understanding Aperture (F-Stop)

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When I first started out in photography and I was trying to wrap my head around the technical aspect of it I realized that some of the language was a bit confusing and even seemed to contradict itself. In the hopes of making photography easier to understand for a beginner, I have decided to write a blog post to try and demystify some of the technical aspects of photography and put in terms that the average person can understand. 

It’s easy to use the “auto” on your camera dial but if you want better pictures you will need to have a little more control of your camera as opposed to the camera having the most control over the decisions. Most SLR cameras have Aperture priority, Shutter priority, program for shutter & aperture priority combined and Manual. Today we will be working with aperture priority. Your camera manual will tell you how to access this mode on your camera. On a Nikon it is A on the dial.
We will begin with understanding what aperture (F-stop) is. It appears that the numbers on the dial are backwards from the photo terminology that describes them. A large aperture (F-stop) for example is 2.8 but a small aperture is 22. Huh? The description describes what is going on in the camera and to further confuse this, making the number larger is called “stopping down”.  Why are they different?
The description actually doesn’t describe the size of the number but rather the size of the aperture (the part of the camera that allows more or less light in). A larger aperture (letting more light in would be F 2.8 for example and stopping down to the smallest aperture would be at F 22 on a lens or camera that has a scale of F 2.8- 22.
Now that we have that part out of the way, what is important is that you understand how to use the F stop numbers to your advantage. A larger F stop number for example 22 or 32 will give you more depth of field meaning that more of what you see in a photo from foreground to focal point to background will be sharper and in better focus. This would be a good setting for landscapes for example. On the other end of the scale, if you were shooting a portrait and there were many distracting objects in the background, a smaller f stop number would be your choice. By choosing a smaller f stop number like say f 5.6, this will soften the objects in the back ground so that your subject will stand out more.

Something else to consider about the F-stop you choose is how it affects your shutter speed. The faster the shutter speed is, the better your chances of getting a sharp photo are. Factors such as movement in your subject and camera shake that occurs when you press the shutter button can all affect sharpness. You can use F stop to help with the camera shake.  If hand holding a shot, it’s not a good idea to hand hold anything with a shutter speed of less than 1/60. A tripod is best for those instances that are less than 1/60. To help with camera shake problem, some cameras and lenses now come with vibration reduction also called image stabilization which does allow you to hand hold at a slower shutter speed ( possibly down to 1/30 depending on how steady you are).  So what do you do if you don’t have a tripod and you have a slow shutter speed?  This is where your F-stop comes into play. You won’t get as big of a depth of field but if you lower your F-stop number it will increase your shutter speed number. This will enable your chances of getting a sharper photo of you subject.

Thank you for stopping by to read my blog and I hope you found this information helpful. Happy Shooting.

Point and Shoot Macro Photography Tips

My new to me but used 105 mm 2.8 lens for my SLR camera will be arriving tomorrow. Technically it's sitting in the local post office but they didn't deliver my pick up slip until later in the day so I don't get to pick it up until Monday now. 

In the mean time as I anxiously await my new lens, I decided to look for bugs in our yard with my point and shoot set to macro this morning.  I didn't find any bugs so I opted for an easier choice and I "stalked" the flowers in our yard instead. 

I'm discovering that the little point and shoot has a really great macro setting that shows good detail but the only draw back is that the depth of field is so deep that the background tends to look a little busy. I found a way to remedy that in these two photos though. The daffodil was a super easy fix. I just cropped way in and that eliminated the busy background.The ornamental plum however required a little more work and Photoshop technique.

Recently I discovered a technique to manipulate a point and shoot photo's background to look like it was taken on an SLR camera with a shallow depth of field.

Here is a description/tutorial of this technique and how I created the shot of the ornamental plum blossoms.

Since I shot this on my point and shoot camera the original shot looked like this:

Using a Photoshop program (I use Photoshop Elements 11) I first made a duplicate layer and did a little cloning on the petals to clean up some of the harsh shadows since I shot this in direct sunlight. After I was satisfied with that I did a select all and copy. Then I hit control D to get rid of the selected area (since I had hit copy it's in the program's cue and still ready to paste). Then, working on the new duplicate layer that I created I go into Filter and then Gaussian blur. You can adjust the amount of the effect while in Gaussian blur to the degree you like and you can also adjust the opacity slider  for this after you apply the effect since it is on a layer. Next I click on edit and paste. This will make the non-Gaussian blur layer the top layer. I prefer to work with the Gaussian layer on top and then use the eraser tool to bring back the parts that I don't want to be blurred. To do this you will need to click on to the non-Gaussian blur layer and drag it down on top of the Gaussian blur layer. Now you will see that the two layers have changed position. Click back onto your top layer which should be the Gaussian blur layer now. Next use the opacity slider to pull the percentage down far enough so that you can see the image underneath it well enough to work with an eraser tool. The next and tedious part is to erase the parts that you do not want the Gaussian blur effect on. In this instance it's the flower. Once you have all the parts erased that you want to show through just adjust the opacity slider again to the degree you want for the background. For this photo I was able to eliminate our chimney and the trees in the back ground which makes the flower pop a little more now. And here is the result:

I hope this little tutorial was helpful. Stay tuned and as I learn more I'll share what I learn. Thanks for stopping by to read my blog. Happy shooting.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Photographing The Small World

I took the plunge today and got it! Today I purchased a Nikon 105 mm 2.8 lens. All those months of saving from my photography earnings have paid off. I'm really excited about photographing the small world. It should be arriving here just in time for Spring and all the little wildflowers that pop up on the forest floor. The Virginia blue bells have started blooming and hopefully there will still be some left when the lens gets here.

I'm making a mental list of what I want to shoot with the new lens. Wildflowers will be first but I'm hoping I can get some closeup detailed shots of butterflies and dragonflies as well. I'm also going to stalk those cute little lizards that hang out on our rock piles in the yard. I'm also curious to see how close the hummingbirds will let me get with this lens. I've actually missed some shots of the hummingbirds because they fly too close to my 70-200 lens and they are too close to focus on. This lens shouldn't have that issue as the focusing distance is much closer than the 70-200 lens. 

Another bonus to this lens though is that it is also a good portrait lens (at least that's what I've been reading). I love my 70-200 2.8 lens but it will be nice to have one that is smaller but still a great versatile lens. 

Stay tuned...I should have some images of the small world on the mountain in the next couple of weeks or so. 

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Cultivating Wildflowers

I have always loved wildflowers. I love just about all flowers except for skunk cabbage (but that's another blog post story all together). Roses are beautiful as are tulips and daffodils and all the other hybrid beauties that can be found in the garden but there is a simple pure beauty in a wildflower that  despite all their vibrant colors and flashiness, a hybrid just can't compete with.  Another admirable quality about wildflowers is their tenacity. Many of them don't seem as fussy about care and for the most part take care of themselves. I found these lovely bloodroot flowers literally on the roadside one year. They come back faithfully every year and poke up through the gravel and leaves. People must think I'm crazy when they drive by to see somebody crouching on the roadside with a camera pointed at the ground trying to capture their fleeting blossoms. These pure white early spring flowers have easily become my favorite Virginia wildflower. There were so many of them that I carefully dug up one small one and put it in my pocket for the rest of my walk. When I got home to our property on the mountainside I planted it in a shady moist spot where a spring runs when it rains really hard. On the way home from work today I stopped to see how it was doing after a day and so far so good. The leaves looked happy and were not wilted at all so I'm hoping it will take hold. I planted it next to our driveway so it should be at home on a roadside again. Maybe if I'm lucky one day it will spread and I will have my own little wildflower garden next to our driveway. Perhaps this will be the beginning of more wildflower gardens on our property. I can not claim credit for this idea to start cultivating wildflowers however.  My mom is the inspiration. Years ago she planted trilliums on their property in Oregon and although my Mom isn't around to admire their beauty anymore, the trilliums are thriving and are still there for my Dad to admire and remember some of her beauty that she left behind. So as I set out on my walk to see if the bloodroot flowers were blooming yet I was on a mission not just to capture some photos but to also bring one home to spread their beauty to our part of the mountain. Maybe one day when I'm not around anymore the flowers I planted will bring  joy to somebody else like these little wildflowers bring to me. Hopefully this will be just the first addition to my wildflower garden. I'd also like to add Virginia Blue Bells and maybe some milkweed for the monarch butterflies too. Stay tuned :-)