Archive for the ‘Techniques’ Category

Trying something new – Blueberries, a Lightbox and Lights

Freshly picked Fraser Valley Highbush Blueberries in a bowl.

fresh organic highbush blueberries from the fraser valley in a bowl

Experimenting with my lightbox – a bowl of blueberries (Purchase)

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   In early 2015 I decided to try something new photographically, which is probably a good idea to do from time to time. Occasionally I want to photograph something that isn’t a landscape, nature or macro subject. I’d seen many tutorials on how to construct your own lightbox on the internet, so last spring I built one. Then I didn’t use it for a few months as I made excuses about not having the right equipment (I didn’t) or subjects (I did). When I was picking blueberries at the end of last summer I decided I would try to get a “product” shot of these fresh blueberries in a bowl. Typically my blueberry related photography has been more along the lines of blueberries still on the bush. Next it was a matter of finding a relatively photogenic bowl which was harder than I’d first anticipated.

   After a number of exposures only using my Canon 7D’s built in flash and two desk lamps shining in the sides of the lightbox, I fully realized that this was a whole new kind of photography thing altogether. I’ve never tried to artificially light subjects, and not owning a dedicated flash seems to be a bit of a drawback in that regard. However, trying something new shouldn’t always be easy, and so there were many ugly exposures before this one came to life. So, thinking this was my best effort so far, I put it up on the blog here which drew my attention to how “white” the background of the image is (or isn’t, in this case). That is my point here though – I’m trying something new and that is not something that usually starts with success right away. I am hoping I will soon regard this image as a failure, even though right now it is the best of its type that I have – because that would mean progress has been made.

   I believe I will soon be buying a flash for this kind of photography and a few other uses I have in mind. Once I spend some actual cash and not just time putting together a cardboard and poster paper lightbox the real “pressure” will be on!

Focus Stacking ‐ Spring Crocus Flowers

a crocus flower - crocus vernus - emerges from the ground in one of the first signs of spring

Crocus vernus
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   A closeup of two Crocus (Crocus vernus) flowers in the backyard last Spring.

   This photograph was a bit of an experiment. I wanted to have a shallow depth of field that would blur the background. Since these flowers were at different heights, having them both in focus was not going to occur along with a shallow depth of field. I might have been able to get these both in focus with an aperture of f/16 or higher, but this would not have the background bokeh effect I was looking for. So this is a blend of two exposures shot at f/2.8 each focusing on the top of one of the flowers. The two exposures were then merged in Photoshop. I like the effect this created, and it shows that a “focus stack” doesn’t have to have everything in focus through the composition.

   More photos of Spring flowers and gardens can be found in my Garden Photos Gallery.

When Photography Plans Go Awry

a yellow-bellied marmot - marmota flaventris - looks out from a burrow at kekuli bay provincial park - vernon - british columbia - canada

Yellow-bellied Marmot
(Marmota flaviventris)

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   When a photography plan goes awry, or the weather changes, there are almost always images that can still be made. I often can look back on such instances at photos that I never would have been able to make if my plans had come to be. Sometimes those are the most satisfying.

   Years ago when I would go on a day trip I would try to plan very thoroughly. No matter how much forethought had gone into a trip I found myself throwing off the whole plan because the first or second location I’d visit had more photo opportunities than I had anticipated. I would then rush through the remaining locations and not feel that relaxed when doing so. I’ve realized how silly this was.

   Now my planning tends to be towards becoming familiar with locations in the area and not always the order I plan to visit them. What locations might be good at sunset, for early morning, for the harsher midday light? I find getting this information beforehand, if possible, means that I can adapt to the conditions available. After all, the conditions will seldom adapt themselves to my plans!

   During my last trip to the Thompson Okanagan region of British Columbia, I had to be flexible on many occasions. While attempting to photograph wildflowers in Kekuli Bay Provincial Park and the local populations of Osprey, Red-wing Blackbirds, and Killdeer I was instead presented with wind and near horizontal rain. This didn’t bother me much either, as I already had figured this could occur and had a place to go when the weather cleared. This change in my plan did create an unforseen opportunity, however.

   So I relaxed in my car reading a photography magazine and eating cold soup for dinner. I watched the rain fly past my window horizontally. Looking out my car window I saw a Yellow-bellied Marmot (Marmota flaviventris) peeking out from its burrow – then scurrying up the bank and eating some of the grass. I’d never seen a Marmot before – and I still might be able to say that if the rain hadn’t changed my “plans”. This was near a path up to a children’s play area near the campground – and I’d walked within a few feet of this burrow about 20 minutes before without noticing it. I turned the car around (less rain flying in my face) and made the above photo from inside the car. Getting my magazine wet was worth it!

a mule deer odocoileus hemionus laying in the pine forest at ellison provincial park - vernon - british columbia - canada

Mule Deer
(Odocoileus hemionus)
(Odocoileus hemionus columbianus)

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   As this was Vernon and not an area near Vancouver, the rain didn’t last too long, and the storm moved on. I then headed bakc in the direction of Ellison Provincial Park to see what the sunset might have in store. I’d noticed a few spots down there earlier in the day that would be great for a sunset shoot. I drove to the parking lot, walked part way down the path and realized that sunset light was just not going to happen. So I left in order to see what else I could find to photograph.

   Just as I exited the parking lot I noticed a few Mule Deer (Odocoileus hemionus) laying down in the Pine forest along side the road. They didn’t seem to mind me photographing them, though I didn’t get out of my car either. Just as I turned onto the main road on the park border – I noticed about 15-20 Columbian Black-tailed Deer (Odocoileus hemionus columbianus) grazing in a field. I parked the car, put the 1.4x extender on my 70-200mm f/4 L IS lens for just a bit of extra reach. I suppose deer are pretty common in the area, but I liked how they were grouped together, and in the earlier photo I posted how they seemed pretty unconcerned with my presence. Though in the above photo I certainly looks like I’d been spotted!

a group of columbian black tailed deer odocoileus hemionus columbianus standing in a field at ellison provincial park - vernon - british columbia - canada

Columbian Black-tailed Deer
(Odocoileus hemionus columbianus)

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   So what I am trying to suggest is that if you are planning your photo trips too tightly – relax! I enjoy photography a more when I’m not as concerned with where I have to be next. The planning I do helps me adapt to changing weather conditions and my own timing – allowing me to make photos during times when I would have just considered that moment a failed plan. Photography is a lot more fun that way.

Downtown Vancouver During Blue Hour

downtown vancouver at dusk panorama  from stanley park

Downtown Vancouver Panorama photographed during Blue Hour

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   I have photographed downtown Vancouver from Stanley Park a few times in the past – with fair but not spectacular results. When my first DSLR was new I would try to photograph the skyline well after sunset. At that time of day there isn’t much contrast between the dark buildings and the sky, so these photographs did not turn out very well. I learned that if you photograph during “Blue Hour” there will be much better contrast between the dark buildings and the sky – with much better results! Blue Hour is the period of time between total darkness in the sky and sunrise or sunset. Just like the “Golden Hour” this may not actually last an hour. In Vancouver at this time of year I think the blue hour lasted about 20 minutes facing southeast though there was still good blue light facing west for about another 10 minutes after that.

   This Panorama, taken during the blue hour after sunset, shows a dark sky but you can still see the profile of all the buildings. Much better than a photo taken when the sky is really dark!

   FYI – if you ever photograph downtown from Stanley Park near the Nine O’Clock Gun is the location I made this photograph. I was still there at 9 o’clock… with a few others who had gathered to hear its blast. Well, this isn’t a cap gun, the shockwave was dramatic even though I was standing 50 feet away. There were some tourists and teenagers who were standing right next to the wire cage that houses the gun, and one passerby tried to get them to plug their ears or step away from the thing as it was almost 9. This sage advice was ignored and when the gun went off there was a lot of screaming and even some tears due to the noise. If you are out there photographing near 9 o’clock and the red flashing lights go off – plug your ears!

Creating Drama With Shutter Speed

great blue heron - ardea herodias - at the capilano river

Great Blue Heron
(Ardea herodias) – 1/125 seconds

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   In October I visited the banks of the Capilano River in North Vancouver in search of some fall colours. I didn’t find much there, but the canyon is always so beautiful that I knew a photo opportunity would be likely regardless of the state of the leaf colours. Lucky for me, this Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) was lounging near the bank and posed for some photographs.

   Often when I shoot wildlife with my 70-200mm f/4 L IS lens, I switch to AV mode and f/4 so that I am always getting the fastest shutter speed possible. I do not know what I am going to encounter a lot of the time, and this gives me a good chance of being able to catch whatever action I may happen upon. On this day I had upped the ISO to 640, so that I had a bit of extra shutter speed available (1/125 sec) for this photo. Thankfully the 7D does great with much higher ISOs than this – so there is some room available for dealing with low light. When I came upon this Heron, I was able to make this photo quite easily with these settings.

great blue heron - ardea herodias - at the capilano river

Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) – 0.6 seconds(Purchase)

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   While I like the above shot I thought there might be an opportunity to make a better photo. Having tried a number of ideas with a faster shutter speed, I decided to try a slower one to see what I could do with the water in the background. I changed my aperture to f/18, and lowered my ISO to 100 in order to create the longer shutter speed. Using a tripod, I made the photograph on the left with a shutter speed of 0.6 seconds.

   I believe that the blur in the river created by the slower shutter speed makes the second photo here much more dramatic and interesting than the first. The Heron doesn’t really change between them, the rocks remain the same, but the longer shutter speed creates a great effect in the river. While I do this quite often with static landscape subjects, this is one of the first times I have tried this with a wildlife photo. Granted, the Heron made a great subject for this attempt, but this really shows how varying shutter speed can have dramatic impact on the photographic result.

Focus on the Details

the chilliwack river in winter
The Chilliwack River in Winter

   When I first started getting serious with a “real” film camera I had a 28-90mm kit lens. Eventually I wished to move on from just taking random snapshots and actually gain more skills and take better photos. I read a bit on the internet about lenses and bought a Canon EF 50mm f/1.4. The “nifty fifty”. It was at this point that I realized the difference lens quality can make. I couldn’t believe how sharp and clear the shots with the 50mm were.

   A few years after buying the 50mm I upgraded to a DSLR – A Canon 30D. Wow not only could I take 100’s of shots at one time, I was not paying for film and developing so I could actually afford to experiment and try new things. The 28-90mm kit lens was a bit better on the DSLR (cropped out some of the edge anomalies) but still had nothing on the 50mm. On the APS-C sensor of the 30D (1.6x) the 50mm was more like an 80mm lens. I really wanted to go wider so that I could get more into a shot. I saved up and bought a Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5. Good quality and really wide compared to the 50mm. I shot with the 10-22mm and the 50mm (the kit lens now relegated to a drawer for bad behaviour) for quite a while. I wanted to determine what I was missing the most before I went in that direction with a new lens.

nodoubt peak - part of Mount Redoubt - alpenglow
Alpenglow on Nodoubt Peak in North Cascades National Park

   A year or so after I bought the 10-22mm I filled in the gap between my lenses with the Canon EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM. At that point I had opted for crop sensors over full frame (largely due to price of both long lenses and the FF cameras) so the 17-40mm was not on my list. From there I went to a Canon EF 70-200mm f/4 L IS USM to get a bit more reach for wildlife. What I had not really anticipated is that I would be using this lens so often for landscapes.

the chilliwack river in winter
Abstract Chilliwack River

   Often as a beginning photographer I read about wide angle lenses as the be all and end all of landscape photography. Walking in to a camera shop and being asked what I like to shoot – the answer of landscapes would push wide angle lenses in my direction. I was rather surprised to learn what I had been missing in a longer telephoto lens for landscapes. In some scenes I have found it difficult to use the wider focal lengths in that they actually get too much into the frame. Ironic considering this is why I earlier had thought I needed a wide lens. The details of the scene are there, but are drowned out by distracting elements that take the viewer’s eye away from what is important. So my initial impression that I would always want to be at a wide angle all the time has actually changed to looking at the details and what is more essential.

eureka falls in spring
Eureka Falls

   I never would have predicted this sort of outcome when I started. I see many posts and articles devoted to gear and purchasing wide lenses for landscapes. I wonder how many of the beginners reading these thing will eventually start to favour longer lenses for their landscape photography? Would they be better off getting a telephoto lens before a really wide angle one? Maybe this is just a normal evolution for a photographer. Regardless, I am happy I have moved away from all wide angle all the time – the variety of shots possible at longer focal lengths is liberating.