Today was the first day in while that it wasn’t raining or snowing in my little city of Bellingham, Washington. As a reward for working hard in my studio today, I gave my self a much needed walk. I have been itching to get out and find those first little sprouts and buds that begin to appear on the ground and branches this time of year.
As many of you know, choosing a lens can be an overwhelming decision to make. What if I want to shoot wide for a landscape? What if I want to do macro photography?
Normally I would just pick a kit lens or an advance zoom on such an outing. These lenses offer different focal lengths for many situations. But, unless you have spent thousands on a high end zoom (and I have not), you also sacrifice quality. Now, on a little jaunt like this you aren’t always necessarily looking to create a masterpiece… or that’s what I’ve told myself in the past and ended up finding the most dazzling light situation or an incredible display of color on a stretch of grass, and my mediocre kit just isn’t sharp enough to capture such amazing stuff! Ackk!!
Solution: Instead of taking a zoom lens, equip your camera with a 35 mm or 50 mm prime lens. These lenses can be found at a much better price than high end zooms ($100-$245) and are tack sharp! In most cases, they can open up to a f1.8, and some can go to f1.4. These lenses are fixed at the focal length they were designed for, so you will have to use your “zoom legs” to adjust focal length, but the reward is great quality pictures!
*below are examples of shots I took today with a 35mm 1.8.
Happy shooting everyone!
It has been a long and gradual journey for me from casual to serious photographer. I first picked up a SLR back in community college, when I was being instructed how to shoot slides of my artwork. At the time (and for most things today) tools involving numbers or precision did not appeal to me in the least. For some reason, this tool with its focus ring, light meters and shutter speeds, really spoke to me and it wasn’t long until I spent a hefty chunk of my student-job paycheck on the cheapest 35mm SLR I could find. At first, I went fully automatic on all the settings, but I eventually came to a point where I could work fully manual. Back then, success to me meant creating photographs that were in focus and exposed well. My compositions were just so-s0, and none of my images were of a quality I would consider very artistic. That was frustrating. I was a decent artist that could draw and paint well. I understood perspective, lighting, color, tonality and line, but all my images just looked like snapshots…and I wanted them to look like Ansel Adams. Turns out, composition is HUGE in photography, and it would take me many more years of study for that to really sink in. With painting, if something doesn’t work, you can change it. In photography, you work with what you get! What a challenge. I had to learn P A T I E N C E.
Dang it! Patience. Waiting. Slowing down. Acceptance vs. anxiety. Going with the flow. All that stuff you see in the inexhaustible stream of Memes on social media today. Patience; the word that all of my instructors at one time directed towards my stubborn ears until the one day I finally embraced another concept and patience finally penetrated my young thick skull. I became humble. I realized I could actually get help from people and it was okay. I became a better student and my art and photography began to improve.
Twenty years later and I am still learning the rewards of patience. Learning that some days are going to yield amazing photographs, while others might only provide a single cup of good coffee, is an ongoing lesson for me.
Last week, I was in one of my favorite parks I use to prime my creative juices. I wasn’t really expecting much, but I was hopeful. There are a lot of places to shoot water, but the sun was already high and I wasn’t going to be able to take very long exposures. I decided I would just shoot trees and plants. Since it is a heavily wooded area, I could catch splashes of light hitting random sections of limbs and trunks of the cedar and firs. I wasn’t getting anything spectacular, but I was in acceptance of my situation and allowed myself to enjoy the smells of the park and the coolness of the air coming of the stream. After gathering up my gear, I headed towards a walk bridge and spotted something sitting on a tree limb. Almost immediately after I spotted it, a patch of light hit the object and I saw that it was a Barred Owl!
After a minute or so of admiring this beautiful bird, I suddenly thought, “camera!” I desperately dug out my camera from my bag and fitted my longer zoom and began shooting. To get it’s attention, I began making “hoot” sounds and knocking on the hand- rail of the bridge. It would slowly rotate its head long enough for me to get a few shots before returning back to whatever it was gazing on before. To push my luck, I decided to slowly walk around the owl on a trail that would get me another angle. After snapping some photos from the new angle, I looked over in the direction it was gazing and noticed a mother duck and its ducklings. Bonus! I was too far away to get a tight shot of the duck, but the lighting and the greenery in the foreground made for a nice composition.
It was a great nature photography day for sure. In the past, I would of looked at the harsh lighting and not pursued picture taking on a day like that. Experience has taught me that you can make just about any lighting situation work, and with enough patience and the right mind set, even your worst photo outings will be rewarding.
Thanks for stopping by! If there is a photography topic you would like to read, whether it be technical or artistic, let me know. I am happy to share all I know-Shawn Pagels
Create Graduated Neutral Density effects in Photoshop by blending two exposures into one. In landscape photography, graduated neutral density filters help balance the bright sky and keep it from losing detail and getting overexposed while maintaining clarity and detail in the areas below the skyline. In the digital age we can use software to fix many of these problems if we don’t have a filter at hand. One way to do this is by blending two different exposures of the same image.
Blending two exposures:
Here is the same image shot with different exposure times. Notice the one on the top has more tonal variation and detail in the sky and the one on the bottom has more detail and variation below the skyline:
To give us the best of both exposures, we are going to blend the two layers using a layer mask with a gradient fill:
1) In photoshop, place the image with the best details in the sky on a lower layer
2) on the layer above, place the exposure with the best details below the skyline, then create a layer mask
3)With the mask selected, activate the gradient tool in the toolbar
With the mask selected, start from the top of your picture while holding shift+mouse about 1/5 the way down and release. You may have to do this a few times, dragging more or less down the image, to get the desired result.
That’s it! You may wish to continue editing color or whatever, but now you have an image with balanced tonality in the land and sky.
Thanks for stopping by. I hope you found this tutorial useful. Come back and see part 2 of Making the Grade.
When shooting wide angle landscapes or waterscapes, take advantage of the focal range by placing something of interest in the foreground. Even if the foreground has an interesting texture, it will lend to the composition and increase the sense of depth in your photograph. The light was very nice the day I took this shot. Since I shot in early spring, color wasn’t giving me much to work with, so I stuck a nd 4 and a polarizing filter on my Tokina 11-16 to allow for darker skies and a longer exposure to smooth the water a bit. Happy shooting!