Monthly Archives: November 2013

Christmas Tree in the Window

Christmas Tree In The Window

To stave off the post-Thanksgiving-tryptophan sleepies, I decided to clean my living room window so that my lovely little Christmas tree would show up better from the outside.  Naturally, I had to take tripod and camera out after dark to capture images of this one little tree glowing brightly in the night.  Apparently, I am either the only person with a tree in the entire apartment complex, or I am the only person who likes showing off their tree through the window.

Beckys Christmas Tree

This photo was taken shortly after sundown.  I deliberately set the f-stop to 22 so the lights would create little starbursts.  The ISO was 500, I used my 24-70mm lens with the focal length set to 24mm, and the shutter was open for 30 seconds.

Christmas Tree In The Window

I switched from to my 16-35mm lens because I wanted a much wider-angle view of the complex and my tree.  The only issue was the fact that the oak tree branches in the yard drooped quite a bit.  The ever-so-slight breeze took those drooping branches and blurred them during the 30-second shot.  The ISO was 250.  I had to use noise-reduction with this image (yes, you can sometimes get grainy low-light photos even when using a low ISO) and I ultimately cropped out as much of the offending blurred branches as I could, giving this image a sort of pseudo-pano look.

O Christmas Tree

Lots of frames in this image above:  the front lights on the brick columns, the frame created by the apartment complex architecture, and the frame created by the oak tree limbs.

Magic Tree

The Magic Tree.   Easy to do if you ever decide to experiment yourself.  Just put your camera and zoom lens on a tripod, set the camera for however many seconds you wish, then play around with zooming the lens in and out to get some funky effects while the shutter is open.

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Filed under Canon Lens, Christsmas, Equipment, Holidays, low light photography, Night Photography, Photography, starbursts

Christmas Fun with the Canon 250D Close-Up Lens Filter

Pirate Nutcracker Ornament

I recently received my December 2013 edition of Photoshop User.  Within that edition is their “Gonzo Holiday Gear Guide”.  Naturally that was the first thing I turned to upon opening up the magazine.

Jingle Bells

The Canon close-up lens filters were items reviewed in this gear guide.  These can be used for a Canon or Nikkor lenses.  It mentioned how fun these little items were and compared to a real dedicated macro lens, they can be purchased at a fraction of the cost.  So I figured, why not?

Snowflake Ornament

These filters come in several thread sizes, and there are actually two different filters.  The 250D (which is what I ordered) is good for focal lengths of between 30 – 135mm, while the 500D is good for focal lengths of 70 – 300mm.

On Camera

I affixed the close-up lens filter to my Canon 40mm lens to create a light, easy to carry, pseudo-macro lens which I then used to photograph ornaments on my Christmas tree.

All of the images you see of the ornaments in this blog post are totally un-cropped, so this should give you an idea of just how close I can maneuver my camera and lens to get these shots.  Mind you, the depth of field (DOF) is pretty shallow (as you can see) and no, it’s not a dedicated macro.  But, for what is essentially a magnifying glass (utilizing pretty good glass) that is light to use, easy to affix, easy to pack into a gear bag, and produces pretty darned good close up images, I’d say my $87 (this includes 2-day shipping) was well-spent.  It’s going with me on my forthcoming December road trip to Big Bend National Park.

Christmas Ball Reflection

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Filed under Christsmas, Close-Up Lens Filter, Equipment, Holidays, Photography

My Thoughts On Lowepro’s Nova Sport 35L AW Bag

I know – three posts in a row for me!  I’m feeling prolific! 😀

The National Parks Traveler site has just published my review of Lowepro’s Nova Sport 35L AW bag.  If you are interested in reading my thoughts on this, click on this link.

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Filed under Camera Bag, Equipment, Lowepro, Photography

Photography in the National Parks: Winter Essentials

Hello Everybody!  Just a quick post to let you know that the National Parks Traveler site has published my latest article.  It’s titled “Winter Essentials” and deals with photography in the national parks during the winter (duh).  If you are interested, check it out.

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Filed under Equipment, Landscape, National Parks, Photography, Seasons, Travel and Photography, weather, winter

The Trickiness of Christmas Lights and Portraiture

I like buying local when I can, and I like buying hand-made. So when my friend Sabyn of Simplysabyn crocheted an adorable little Santa holiday hat for a baby, I asked her if she made them for big people, too. Yes, she did. So I ordered one. After receiving it, I thought it would make for a great Facebook profile pic to get a portrait of me modeling the hat in front of my Christmas tree (yes, it’s not even Thanksgiving yet and I have the tree up, lights, ornaments and all).

My goal was to try and get a relatively well-lit shot of me but with all the color and brightness of the lit tree in a darkened room behind me.

Easier said than done.

My first experiment was a shot of me and the tree using only the ambient light given off by the tree. My Canon 5D Mk III was set up with my Canon 85mm f1.2L lens on a tripod. The ISO was set at 1600 with an f-stop of 5 and a shutter speed of 1/10 second. I used my $20 Pixel-brand wireless remote shutter release to get clear images of myself. Oh, and I used myself as the model because I not only like the way I look but I was also the only one around at the time. I wanted to do this experiment right then and there, and I don’t mind doing this over and over until I get it the way I want. I figure other models would get a little bored after awhile. Plus, I wanted to send the final result to my friend Sabyn so she could use them on her FB site if she wanted.

Christmas Becky - Ambient Light

After many takes, here is the resulting image using only the ambient light. The entire image was cast in a golden-red hue which was further emphasized by my red hat and red fleece top. Interesting, but not quite what I was aiming for.

So I brought out a single light stand and screwed in a 500 watt bulb in front of which I put a 24” white umbrella for diffusion since 500 watts at close range is pretty intense – particularly since I was still trying to get the color and glow of the tree lights behind me. The camera was set at ISO 320 with a f-stop of 4.5 and a shutter speed of 1/30.

Christmas Becky

As you can see, the light was great on me, but it totally eliminated the ambience of the tree lights and ornaments.

I’d been working on this for over an hour, was hot and sweaty and more or less done for the day. It wasn’t until the next day that I considered using my flash off-camera. The only problem with that was my focus issue. I couldn’t have my Canon dedicated flash remote trigger on the camera *and* a wireless shutter release (I probably could if I had a different setup). In the end, I relied on manual focus. That was tricky because the only light in the room was provided by the Christmas tree. So I had to set up one of my camera backpacks in the chair in front of the tree, then shine a flashlight on the backpack to help me get the focus correct. Eye roll. But it worked.

This little photo session took forever, because I just couldn’t get the whole lighting thing right. I set the flash to one side of the camera, then I set the flash to practically in front of me, then I set the flash directly behind the camera and raised the stand about a foot above the camera. Finally, just as I was about to give up, I decided to try something. Leaving the flash on the stand behind and above the camera, I deliberately set the camera shutter speed slower than the flash, so that the flash would trigger but the camera shutter would be open for just a bit longer after the flash went off. ISO was 160, the f-stop was 7.1, the shutter speed was ½ second, and the flash intensity was set to between 1/128 and 1/64 (with it being closer to the 1/64 mark).

Christmas Becky-Flash

Ultimately, I had to brighten my face up post-process, but by golly, I got what I was working for: a nicely-lit view of my face and the colorful, glowing ambience of the tree behind me.

Christmas Camera Becky-Flash

Christmas Camera Becky Ornament

Photography is all about practice, experiment, and climbing that learning curve.

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Filed under Canon Lens, Christsmas, Equipment, Flash Photography, Holidays, Photography, Portraits, Studio Lights

Webs

Spider And Web

Whenever I feel restless and in need of some photographic therapy, I head out to the Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge, a little less than 20 miles from my home in southeast Texas.

This past Saturday morning, I headed out that way with the intention of getting to my favorite spot in the refuge to capture some scenery shots with the ground-hugging mist floating above the landscape.

As I drove along the refuge road, I noticed all these spider webs sparkling in the morning sunlight.

Sunlit Webs

Strung Up

Web

Naturally, I had to stop.

Of course, this meant by the time I arrived at my favorite spot, all the mist was gone.

Web

That’s ok.

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Note:  capturing images of dew-dappled silken strands strung across the air from one tree/fence post / plant stem to another is a bit of a challenge with a telephoto lens.  The lens simply doesn’t want to autofocus on something that ephemeral, choosing instead to either focus beyond the web, or not at all.  I probably should have used the manual focus except my eyes just don’t focus as well as they used to and manual focus on anything other than infinity is a chore.

For the images above, the ISO ranged from 400 – 500, shutter speed ranged from 1/125 – 1/320, f-stop ranged from 5.6 – 7.1 and the focal length was 400mm.

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Filed under Brazoria NWR, nature, Photography, telephoto lens, Texas, Wildlife Refuge

An HDR Perspective of the Mt. Desert, Maine, Starscape

This morning, laying aside all of the other things I should have been doing, I perused  the news feed on my Facebook photography page and noticed an image posted by another photographer of a night shot processed using HDR techniques.

Hmm, I thought to myself, this might be an interesting test of my own star shots I captured while in Maine this past October (2013).

Normally, an HDR image is composed of 3 or more bracketed images (with different exposure settings).  Now, while I did get multiple images of the same comps using different settings, I chose instead to simply create two duplicate images in Photoshop of the original processed image,  change the exposures in those duplicates by +2 and –2, then process all three images together using Photomatix.

Below are the results.  I’ve posted both the HDR-processed images as well as the original processed image, and you can see whether or not there is any difference.

A Sea Of Stars

A Sea of Stars – Original

A Sea Of Stars-HDR

A Sea of Stars – HDR

Pointing The Way To The Milky Way

Pointing the Way to the Milky Way – Original

Pointing The Way To The Milky Way

Pointing the Way to the Milky Way – HDR

The Road To The Night Sky

The Road to the Stars – Original

The Road To The Night Sky

The Road to the Stars – HDR

Headlight Star Shot

Headlight Star Shot – Original

Headlight Star Shot

Headlight Star Shot – HDR

After processing the images through Photomatix, I went back and added some curves adjustments as well as contrast, brightness, and exposure adjustments.  While I think the HDR technique added some light/shadow nuances to the images, I am not  certain I couldn’t  have pulled similar results from just regular processing.

I am still on the fence regarding HDR in general, but I do believe the images above were improved using this technique.

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Filed under Equipment, HDR, Maine, Night Photography, Photography, Star Photography, Travel

A Little Starburst Fun at Brazos Bend State Park, Texas

Evening At Creekfield Lake

For the first time ever, I think, in the 15+ years I have lived here in Texas, I drove over to Brazos Bend State Park in the late afternoon.  Being the morning person that I am, I usually visit this park during the slightly-post-dawn hours before anybody else arrives.

The day was clear and cool and I thought it would be a nice time to try for some evening photos.  Plus, it gave me the opportunity to practice my starburst skills on the lowering sun.

How is this accomplished?

Set your aperture to f22.  It’s as easy as that!

Of course, you’ll need to work with your shutter speed and ISO  to assure you aren’t getting a totally under-exposed image in your quest for a starburst effect.  An aperture of f22 means not much light is getting through to the sensor via that route.

I played around with the ISO so some of these mages are at 320 while others are at  400.

My shutter speeds ranged from between 1/20 to 1/13 of a second.

Needless to say, this was all done on a tripod.

Evening At Creekfield Lake1

Evening At Creekfield Lake2

Note, the longer the shutter speed, the larger and more pronounced the starburst effect.  These images were shot using my Canon 5D Mk III and 16-35mm lens set at 16mm.

Evening At Creekfield Lake3

Now that you see how easy it is to get a starburst effect, go on out, yourself, and have some fun with your camera and lens setup and f22 your way to a neat starburst.

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Filed under Brazos Bend State Park, Equipment, Parks, Photography, starbursts, Texas