Friday, August 08, 2008

Photo Critique

Well, following a post where I show you how vapid and shallow my life is, by confessing the extreme level of excitement and happiness that a new camera brings me .... I figure now is as good a time as any to show you my photos from our second assignment in class (all taken with "the old" camera, I should add.)

The goal for this week was to become more comfortable with the manual settings on our cameras. Since many of us (me, me, me!) primarily use our cameras in the 'auto-everything' mode, the instructor wanted us to learn how to properly select shutter speed, and properly select aperture, and when it might be necessary or beneficial to use either one of those modes, as opposed to letting the camera set everything itself. (Wow, that was a really long run-on sentence, wasn't it?)

For the first half of the assignment, we met at a local park on Saturday morning and discussed shutter speed and a technique called "panning". The goal of panning is to capture a moving object in the frame, and have that object be in focus, but have everything else be blurred, to "show" the action that is happening. You accomplish this, hopefully, by pre-focusing on one place, then “following” the action with your camera, moving your body in the same direction as the action, and then releasing the shutter at the pre-focused spot at exactly the right second.

Here is a good example (in my opinion, anyway) of panning that I pulled off the internet:

Here, on the other hand, are the images I took as our instructor drove back and forth in his car, and where I prove I might very well be the world’s worst panner --- ever:

Determined not to give up, by golly, I *WILL* conquer panning, I begged my nephew to let me practice on him while he rode a bike back and forth. It took about forty tries (thanks, Dalton!) but I finally got one that I think is ….. not terrible:

Then, we were to capture the same image, panning at a faster shutter speed, showing a sort of “freeze” of the action. So even though the car is moving at about 20 mph, it looks static in the photo. None of us in the class had any trouble with this:

Then, we were to switch from shutter mode to aperture mode, and take photos in the flower gardens of the local park. The goal was to capture close depth of field images, where the items in the foreground are focused but everything else has a nice blur to it, and also to capture the same image with a long depth of field, meaning everything in the picture is in focus.

Pretty much everyone in the class was successful with this, also. This is my favorite picture of the short depth of field:

But to be honest, I thought the pictures I took at the wall of the Memorial Site last week were a better example of this, even though I didn’t do it on purpose then, and the camera had selected the aperture that day. Maybe this is a lesson that sometimes, the camera really does know what’s best??? I hate admitting that a small plastic box is smarter than I am, but I'm starting to wonder .....

And for the second half of the assignment, we were to take pictures wherever, whenever, with an eye for composition and lighting. The teacher is very gentle in his critiques, to say the least, but it is helpful to hear what he thinks about why a picture works or why it doesn’t.

He liked the picture of Barley I took and said it was good use of the rule of thirds. Again, I just think she’s cute. Except when she’s pooping in my bedroom, which seems to be her favorite place to go. (sigh)

He wasn’t that impressed with this photo of Kellen. Personally, I think the color is a bit off and wonder if doing some sort of saturation work in Photoshop might be helpful.

While he said the composition of this photo was nice (local park) he said the lighting was too harsh; too many bright spots and shadows. He suggested taking it on an overcast day because the lighting would probably be softer and less glare-y. Is glare-y a word? Because I totally know what I mean.

Even though this picture of my nephew Landon wake-boarding from last weekend wasn’t so much a controlled, contrived shot, as it was a random, lucky click of the shutter at exactly the right moment, the instructor liked it. Said the ski rope leads the eye nicely to the subject, and was a good use of shutter speed. Um ….. ok. I just thought it was funny.

His favorite of all mine from this week was this shot of a windmill. I changed nothing about it, not cropping, not zooming, not the color or the brightness or anything. Just a straight, out of the camera shot. To be honest, I sort of like it, too.

And now, of course, it’s time to start playing with my new camera.

Sort of a funny story, actually, about how I wound up buying it, when “new camera” is so far down on my priority list as to be invisible. In class a few weeks ago we were talking about camera parts and accessories, and the instructor (the first instructor, who is no longer teaching the class) told us about lens extenders. A lens extender is a device you can put on the end of your lens to double the amount of magnification (or something technical like that, my ears start to bleed whenever people are talking that far above my head about mechanical-y stuff) and zoom in more closely on objects that are far away. This year, specifically, I noticed I was having trouble taking pictures at the soccer fields because as the kids get older, the fields get larger, and my 75-300 mm telephoto lens just wasn’t powerful enough. So when I heard about the extender, I thought it sounded like a perfect solution for me.

I asked the next instructor what he thought about them, and he wasn’t too keen on the idea. Said you lose aperture and light because of the extra lens (again, something technical, blahblahblah) but that since they’re not that expensive, it might not hurt to try.

So I went to our local camera store with the intent of buying an extender lens. The salesman asked what I was going to use it for, and I explained about the soccer fields and that I was having trouble getting close enough to get good shots of the kids on the other end of the field. He asked me about the kind of camera I currently use --- a Canon Digital Rebel EOS. I’ve had it almost five years, and while it was top of the line when I bought it … well, now? It’s pretty much a dinosaur. Like computers, and anything technical, I guess, it seems cameras are outdated about five minutes after you buy them. So while I luuuuurve my camera, and wasn’t looking to upgrade, even I had to confess that the 6 mp it contained, that seemed SO cutting edge when I purchased it, was inadequate now.

It made me smile, because the sales guy said to me, “Look, I realize I work on commission and this might sounds like I’m only trying to make a sale. But based on what you’ve explained to me, and what it is I *think* you’re wanting to get out of your camera, I don’t think an extender is the way to go. You’ll lose a lot of the light you need for action shots, and at 600 mm telephoto, you’ll probably need to use a tripod, which doesn’t seem conducive to action photography. To be honest, I think you would be better off with a new camera body. But I promise, I’m not just trying to make a sale.”

Really, how can you NOT admire honesty like that?

So he let me hold the Canon Digital Rebel XSi, and all I could think was, “Dear Lord, please don’t let me drop this and break it because I would hate to have to pay for it and not even get to take it home!” The advantage for me to stick with Canon is that I could buy just the camera body and use my old lenses, since Canon lenses are interchangeable. I’m sure my new instructor, who is a bona-fide Nikon guy, will be horrified to know I stuck with Canon. But, I was perfectly happy with my OLD Canon, so why switch? Nikon v. Canon. It’s sort of like the Chevy v. Ford debate. A few hard-core devotees on either side sit around slinging mud, and the rest of us (or at least me) sit back and believe they are both good cameras. So for me, it just made sense to stick to what I know and like.

The actual camera is pretty much the same, just updated and upgraded. It’s 12 mp, so while the kids on the other end of the soccer field will still be pretty far away, I’ll be able to crop and zoom now without losing the image or going grainy. There will definitely be a learning curve, but I’m hopeful since it’s still Canon that I’ll pick up on it fairly quickly.

And, um. It’s pretty. So there.


Donna said...

Your panning project takes me back to high school photography class. It was the eve of what would become one of the worst ice storms in my memory, a Sunday I think, and moi had procrastinated my assignment all weekend when suddenly the weather started to turn nasty. Naturally I freaked. So my dad offered to drive my '76 Camaro up and down the street in the worsening sleet so that I could get my various panning shots. They were flat and grey and yucky. But I didn't find that out until much later because the ice storm knocked the power out and cancelled school for two days, one of which was actually quite nice and on which I could have taken much better pictures!

And while my assignment was a flop, I got some kick-ass ice pictures.

I am relearning all that camera stuff with my Rebel as well. Time to get off the program button and get creative again.

The Running Girl said...

Great pictures. I love the one of your nephew Landon wake-boarding!!! That's a priceless picture. Congrats on the new camera. While I use my very small, compact and I'm sure very outdated digital for most shots, I'm considering getting a DSL just for those soccer shots. My husband has one, but I want my own.

momto2boys said...

I think the pictures are good and who couldn't like the picture of Barley minus the poop. New cameras are awesome, but you're right...learning curves are a serious they really think we have the time or patience to read those manuals?

katy said...

I love my nikon but then again I will drive nothing but a Ford.
I keep threatening to take a class on photography at a local college but I'm afraid to learn the correct way.
I always did everyones makeup and hair until I went to cosmotology school and after that I tried to follow makeup rules and didn't like what I was doing.

Lena said...

That is a great pic of your nephew (he probably doesn't think so).

lizinsumner said...

Yay - Canon!!!!!!! I KNEW you were smart!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Eloise said...

I enjoyed seeing your pictures and reading your teacher's critiques of them (so brave of you to share with us!). Thanks for the information on your new camera. I really need to upgrade from my point and shoot but worry that I won't be as willing to lug a bigger camera everywhere.

Mama Bear said...

Love reading about what you're learning in this class. It's kind of like WE are taking that class too, except we didn't have to pay. Or do homework. Or have the fun of shooting this pics.

I'm saving up to buy my first digital SLR, having only recently given up my Minolta Maxxum (which was the greatest film SLR I've ever used). Still sitting on that Nikon-Cannon fence trying to decide which way to go. Any reason why your professor prefers Nikon?


I think you are doing great! Me, I never got past the manual of my first digital camera. However I just won a great digital camera in a lottery so I'm determined to change that and get into the 21st century!

PS Love the pictures of your nephew running and the one wakeboarding!

Patty House, Jasonville, IN said...

Sounds like a sweet camera! I have I just forgot what I have. lol! Oh a Pentax. Sheesh. It's a digital SLR. I love it, but I have no clue how to use the manual setting and no time for a class. I need a SLR for dummies book or something. I've had it for 2 years and still pretty much use the auto setting.

I really liked the picture of Kellen. and I REALLY liked the one of the local park. I love the light shining through pictures...what's wrong with that instructor? lol!

DivaDunn said...

Okay, so you're inspiring me to get back to my SLR... I had taken some community classes around the turn of the century when you carried a huge ass bag of every type of film known to man in your camera bag! Then WHAM - digital point and shoots hit the market and I got incredibly lazy.

I liked your composition of Kellen - the lines of the wood and the streaks in his hair going opposite of those in the shirt...too bad the sun wasn't cooperating!