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A Wing and a Prayer

June 16, 2018  •  Leave a Comment

Not much to discuss with this week's photo. It's an image I grabbed, like many people do, through the window of an airplane.

While on the way to San Francisco for a business trip recently, the plane was "chasing the sun" across the sky. I was fortunate enough to get a view of this...


A Wing and a PrayerA Wing and a PrayerThe wing of an airliner that's fliying high above the clouds.

It's not a perfect photo.  You can only do so much with an iPhone image taken through thick glass.  But I thought it was worth sharing.

I took this on the evening of June 5th, the anniversary of a sad event in my family. I can't help but think that there's a smiling face in this photo.



Foregrounds and Backgrounds

June 10, 2018  •  Leave a Comment

I've mentioned several times on this blog that "foreground interest" is important for any landscape image.  By that I mean that a landscape photo should include some object in the foreground -- ideally some interesting object -- to balance with the (presumably) gorgeous landscape in the background.  This adds depth and perspective to the image.

This concept also applies, in my opinion, to more isolated landscape shots -- meaning, images that are framed around a single object in the distance, like a single mountain, for example, rather than a sweeping landscape encompassing a full mountain range.

Why do I bring this up?  Mostly because I like to blather on and on about photographic subjects.  But also because it pertains to the images below.

In these images, two approaches are seen.  In one, the foreground interest is in focus, while the background landscape (an "isolated landscape", as I described above) is out of focus.  In the other, the reverse is seen.

First, the image with the foreground in focus:


Red Rocks With Foreground Tree #2Red Rocks With Foreground Tree #2An out-of-focus red rock butte near Sedona, AZ with an in-focus tree in the foreground.


Next, we have an image (of a different scene) with a somewhat blurry foreground, and the background in focus:


Red Rocks With Foreground Tree #1Red Rocks With Foreground Tree #1A red rock butte near Sedona, AZ with an out-of-focus tree in the foreground.


Which do you prefer?  In other words, which image do you think is more "pleasing to the eye"?

Personally, I prefer the foreground to be in focus (the first image).  But let me know what you think.

(FYI, when properly framed and focused, there's no reason why both the foreground and the background couldn't be in focus.  That's tricky to do sometimes, but certainly possible.)

Both of these images were taken near Sedona, AZ -- beautiful "Red Rock Country".




Cacti Reconsidered

June 02, 2018  •  Leave a Comment

I've never been a big fan of cacti.  (I could also have said "cactuses", but that doesn't sound as academic.  Besides, I like saying "cacti".)

Cacti always seemed to be somewhat dry, a little off-putting, and frankly not all that attractive. But then I realized that people could say the same thing about me.  So I decided to give cacti another chance - maybe they're just misunderstood.

While in Arizona not long ago, I was able to see cacti growing in the wild - as opposed to the way we usually see them here in the northeast U.S., growing in a pot on someone's window sill.

I took the usual photo of one cactus. By "usual" I mean that I focused on one portion of the plant, using a shallow depth-of-field to render similar parts of the plant out of focus in the background - essentially the same approach I use for most flower shots:

CactusCactusAn Arizona cactus in all its prickly glory.


But you really see some of the natural beauty of the cactus when you zoom in for a close-up.  As with any flower image, this kind of close-up shot really reveals the details of the plant.

Cactus Close-UpCactus Close-UpA close-up shot of the prickly part of an Arizona cactus.


If you read up on cacti, you realize what amazing plants they are. The very fact that they survive and grow in some of the driest climates on earth is pretty impressive. They store water that they collect through their root system. Their spines serve several purposes, the most obvious is to keep plant-eating animals away. There are thousands of species - some grow like trees, others are small plants. Some species can survive for hundreds of years.

They've also got that whole "i" plural thing going on, which is cool.

So I'm ok with cacti now.




Spring Rolls Into Summer

May 26, 2018  •  Leave a Comment

Memorial Day weekend marks the unofficial start of summer here in the U.S. But it's technically still spring, and with spring comes rain and storms.

I thought I would post an image this week that captures the essence of both seasons.

Naturally, I chose a roller coaster.  (Hear me out.) 

It's Phantom's Revenge, a coaster at Kennywood Park near Pittsburgh, PA. Roller coasters and amusement parks are a summer tradition. On the day I captured this image, storm clouds were rolling in as riders enjoyed one final run.

The Phantom #2 (Monochrome)The Phantom #2 (Monochrome)Phantom's Revenge, a roller coaster at Kennywood Park, crests a hill just before a big drop.

The riders with their hands in the air adds a nice touch, with a huge area of negative space above them. A storm was brewing.

This image has appeared on this blog before, but in color. I rendered this in monochrome to highlight the gray clouds and to give the image a slightly more ominous, "storm-brewing" feel.

I composed the image to highlight the curves of the coaster, with the foreground track effectively making a sweeping diagonal across the frame. Your eye tends to want to sweep along that line, and then jump to the cars on the background rails.

Is that what your eye did? Or did you look first at the coaster cars in the background, and then notice the sweeping rail in the foreground? Let me know.





The Exposure Triangle

May 19, 2018  •  Leave a Comment

In the photography world, exposure is critical.  From the old days of film to the current days of digital imaging, the amount of light that reaches your camera’s film/sensor is of huge importance to any photographer. Photography is literally writing with light, after all.

But you knew that.  And if you’ve been a photographer for any longer than a day, you’ve probably heard of the “exposure triangle”.  It’s simply a way of expressing the fact that exposure is controlled by three settings on your camera: shutter speed, ISO, and aperture – with each setting represented by a side of the triangle.  But if you haven’t yet read a full description of the triangle – well you’ve come to the right blog – keep reading…

The point of the exposure triangle model is to emphasize the way that these three settings work – or, more accurately, work together – to control the exposure of your image.

First, a word about exposure terminology:  Exposure is measured in terms of “stops”.  I won’t get into the optics and math related to this.  Just know this: Changing your camera’s settings to allow 1 more “stop” of light will double the exposure.  Changing your camera’s settings to allow 1 less “stop” of light will cut the exposure in half.

With that in mind, here’s the exposure triangle:


Shutter Speed

Shutter speed of course represents the amount of time that your camera’s sensor is exposed to the light coming through your lens.  Shutter speed is measured in units of seconds, and can of course vary greatly, from really fast (for example, 1/500 second, 1/1000 second, or faster) to really slow (for example, ½ second, 1 second, 10 seconds, etc.).  If you double the shutter speed (say, from 1/200 to 1/100), you double the exposure (you add a “stop”).  If you halve the shutter speed (say, from 1/100 to 1/200), you cut the exposure in half (you remove a “stop”).

Straightforward, eh?   That’s why I started with it.

Shutter speed primarily and most commonly affects your ability to freeze motion (or to create blur, if that’s what you’re going for).  It also allows you to collect light for a longer period of time, as with night sky photography, for example.

When shooting handheld (i.e. without a tripod), a common rule of thumb is that your shutter speed should be no shorter than 1 over the focal length of your lens.  (That’s the "35mm equivalent focal length", but we’ll cover that in a future blog post.)  So, if you have a 200mm focal length, you really shouldn’t hand-hold your camera with a shutter speed slower than 1/200 second.  This is just a rule of thumb, and doesn’t factor in your equipment’s “vibration reduction” or “image stabilization” abilities, which sometimes allow you to shoot at even slower shutter speeds.



Your camera’s ISO setting controls the sensitivity of your sensor to light.  The range of ISO settings can vary with each camera, but common settings are 100, 200, 400, 800, etc.  Those numbers are significant, because doubling the ISO number doubles the exposure (adds a “stop”), and cutting the ISO number in half will cut your exposure in half (removes a “stop”). 

Lower ISO values are almost always desirable, because image noise increases as ISO increases.

Still straightforward?  Nothing too complicated so far.  But keep reading…



The subject of aperture gets a little complex, I think just because the notation and the math tends to throw people.  Aperture values represent a ratio between the lens focal length and the diameter of the opening.   By convention, aperture values are written as “f/N”, where “N” is this ratio.  (For example, if you have a lens with a 10mm focal length and a 5mm opening, the value of “N” would be 2, and the aperture would be written as “f/2”.)

As with everything else, the aperture settings available on your camera/lens can vary, but standard settings are:  f/1.4, f/2, f/2.8, f/4, f/5.6, f/8, f/11, f/16, and f/22.  Why these particular numbers, you ask?  (Let’s just say you asked.)  The “N” values are powers of the square root of 2.  (1.4 is the square root of 2 to the 1st power, 2 is the square root of 2 to the 2nd power, 2.8 is the square root of 2 to the 3rd power, etc.  Don’t believe me? Check your calculator.  Just note that some values are approximate.)   Why is the square root of 2 involved with this?  That’s a little too heavy to get in to here – but I encourage you to read more about that online if you’re interested.

Anyway, based on the standard scale of aperture values above, we can once again equate these settings to the exposure.  Moving your aperture setting one value to the left on that scale (for example, changing from f/2.8 to f/2) doubles the exposure (adds a “stop”).  Moving your aperture setting one value to the right on that scale (for example, changing from f/2 to f/2.8) halves the exposure (removes a “stop”).  The expression “F-stop” comes from this relationship, by the way.

The most popular effect of an aperture change is your image’s depth of field.  See my previous blog post regarding that.


Anything Else?

One additional thing to note is that the sample values I used above are just examples.  All 3 exposure settings have intervals between the standard ones.  For example, f/3.5 may be available, falling between f/2.8 and f/4.  These additional settings just allow for more fine adjustments.

Also, remember that some lenses are better than others, so the total light gathered by one lens with a given set of exposure settings may differ (probably slightly) by the light gathered by another lens with the same settings.


Yeah, Ok… So How Does All This Work Together?

Let me give you an example:  The largest aperture (smallest “N” number in the “f/N” notation) supported by a lens will vary.  More expensive lenses support larger apertures.  Lenses that support a maximum aperture at the lower end of the scale (e.g. f/2.8, f/2, or lower) are called “fast” lenses, because large apertures like that allow you to use a fast shutter speed.  That’s a good example of how different types of exposure settings affect one another.  By using a large aperture (a small f/N number), you are collecting more light, and that allows you to keep your shutter speed short in order to freeze motion while still getting a good exposure.

More generally, understanding the way exposure settings relate to one another allows you to make adjustments and achieve the image you’re going for.  For example, if you are shooting at ISO 100, at 1/200 sec, at f/8, but you want a little bit deeper depth of field, you can “stop down” your lens to f/11, but you’ll of course lose a stop of light.  To account for that, you can either increase your ISO to 200, or lengthen your shutter speed to 1/100.  Either way, you’re maintaining the same exposure.   But there’s a trade-off here – increasing your ISO may add noise to your image (unlikely at ISO 200, but you know what I mean).  Likewise, lengthening your shutter speed might result in motion blur if your subject is moving.

These are the types of decisions that photographers (good ones, anyway) make for each shot.  It becomes second nature after a while.  And modern cameras have shooting modes which help simplify this – but that’s a blog post for another day.


So That’s The Triangle?

That’s the triangle.  It’s really not complicated, but it’s central to photography.  As with most photo topics, you can dive down a rabbit hole into discussions about optics, sensors, etc.   We won’t do that here – I don’t have enough room, time, or expertise for that.  Just understanding how these settings interact and affect your images is all you really need to know.


Flowers Reaching for the Sky

May 13, 2018  •  Leave a Comment

It wasn't too long ago that I was posting flower shots on this blog on a regular basis.  Some might say it was a little too often.

So, I moved away from flowers for a bit.  Not since last August have you seen any here.

But, spring has sprung, at last.  (It was a little late in arriving, at least where I live.)  So I think a nice splash of color is in order, compliments of Mother Nature.

This is actually one of my favorite images from a visit to Longwood Gardens in eastern Pennsylvania.

Reaching for the SkyReaching for the SkyA vibrant bunch of flowers reach for the sky.

I call this image "Reaching for the Sky", because that's what they're doing. 

(Actually, they're probably reaching for the sun.  But "Sky" sounded better.)

Most ordinary flower photos are taken with a downward angle.  To make a flower image that's not so ordinary, you sometimes have to get your pants dirty and get down on the ground, to capture them from their level, or lower.  That's what I did here, getting below the height of the petals and shooting up.  The ground was actually dry, so my pants survived.

I won't go back to posting flower shots every week.  But since spring (and soon summer) is here, after a long, dark, cold, grey, miserable, relentless, sun-less, and seemingly endless winter, I thought I'd brighten up the place with a little natural color.



Nature Always Finds a Way

May 06, 2018  •  Leave a Comment

I've photographed many-a-tree over the years, as a self-proclaimed nature photographer. I've seen lots of evergreens, oaks, birches, and elms in the northeast U.S.  I've seen southern live oaks dripping with Spanish moss in the southeast U.S.  And I've seen towering cedars and firs in the northeast.

But on a visit to the southwest U.S., a part of our country I hadn't visited before (except to make a flight connection through Phoenix), I came across some trees like I had never seen before.

One in particular that I can share with you is in the image below, taken near Sedona, AZ:

Desert TreeDesert TreeA gnarly tree grows amongst the red rocks of Sedona, AZ.

I tried to frame this shot such that the distant red rock mountains are visible in the background.  I adjusted the exposure to keep the sky blue while still exposing the shadow areas enough to show the texture of the tree.

I think (based on consultation with my wife, who knows much more about trees than me) that this is a juniper tree, but I could be mistaken.

What's so interesting about this tree is the gnarly trunk and branches.  This tree has real character.  It looks like something right out of a movie - you almost expect little elves to be living there.  (Or something.)

The apparent age of this tree is amazing too.  I don't know its age, but it's clearly been there a while, surviving the dry heat and desert conditions of this environment. 

Sedona does have a rainy season, but this tree (and all cacti and other growth in that area) somehow finds a way to survive during the long dry months too.  And not just survive, but grow and flourish.  Amazing.  Nature always finds a way.



This Old Fort

April 29, 2018  •  Leave a Comment

The wife and I are big fans of This Old House. We never miss an episode (our DVR is always full of them), and we enjoy each project. Right now, the TOH gang are working on a project in Charleston, SC.

Why do I bring this up?

No good reason, really. It's just because a recent episode paid a visit to Fort Sumter, in Charleston Harbor, site of the opening rounds of the American Civil War in 1861. A few years ago on this blog, I posted shots I took there. But while watching This Old House, I remembered that I still have a few images from that site that I never shared. This being April, the same time of year that those first cannon shots were fired back in 1861, I thought this would be a good time to roll them out.

Or at least two of them. I haven't processed them all yet, but I found a couple images that I thought were noteworthy.

First, a close-up. Probably every tourist with a camera (i.e. every tourist) gets a shot of this - it's an old cannon shell embedded in a wall at the fort. Seeing a shell that size embedded that far into a solid brick wall really gives you a feel for the power of the weapons in use at the time. This may have been a century and a half ago, but this war employed some serious weaponry.

Fort Sumter - Cannon ShellFort Sumter - Cannon ShellA cannon shell embedded in the wall at Fort Sumter.

The second image in this pair of shots is a little more peaceful, even though it includes a cannon. Being at the fort late in the day (a great time for photography, as every shutterbug knows), I was able to incorporate the warm setting sun in a lot of shots, as I demonstrated in images from several previous blog posts (like this one, this one, and this one.)  Here, a lone cannon "stands guard" as the sun approaches the horizon, lighting up the frame, and my lens, with golden rays.

Fort Sumter Cannon at SunsetFort Sumter Cannon at SunsetThe sun sets on a cannon at Fort Sumter.

I left the spectral lens flare (near the cannon wheel) in this shot, because I thought it added an interesting touch.

If I come across any more shareable images from this old fort, I'll post them here. In the meantime, for more Civil War images, take a look at my "Gettysburg" collection.