Thinking Photography

2007_10_28_cameraBy far the most interesting thing so far about getting a new camera has been the fact that we are always looking at things with photography in mind. We are noticing things about the sun, our local environment and the composition of things around us that we never observed before.

Unfortunately, the next thing that we noticed is that having fancy photographic equipment doesn't make anywhere near as much difference as we thought it would. Of course we knew the person holding the camera is the most important factor and that megapixels (a metaphor for specs) are generally much less important than people think. But knowing and seeing are different things, and seeing our favorite photos from the weekend come from our point and shoot camera was a little shocking. But so far we are just extra energized to learn to get the most out of our new camera.

Our mission this weekend was to learn about landscape photography. Our first conclusion is that scene selection is by far the most important factor. Not just the subject and viewpoint, but also catching the lighting just when its right. We set up our camera on a tripod and took the same photo quite a few times with different settings to compare the results. But what we noticed most of all, was differences in the photos that we think were due to lighting rather than camera settings. Now perhaps we could have done things differently with metering, but the major takeaway is think hard about scene selection and lighting.

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Where we live, the best time for outdoor photographs seems to be in the early morning. We read the 1/2 hour after sunrise and before sunset is the "magic hour". We found the colors to be a bit too golden for autumn photography and colors started to stand out a bit more a little further from the twilight hours. But as we got closer to midday everything lost its vivid colors and became less interesting (though a polarizing filter did help a bit). Late in the day we didn't like the photos as much as in the morning. We suspect its because of local atmospheric conditions (it does tend to be hazy here), but we suppose it might be because we were in a different place in the afternoon.

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The technical things, that we thought would be at the heart of our learning weekend did make a difference but were far and away of secondary importance. We learned that with a tripod we can achieve good photos at an ISO setting of 100 a good deal more often than we expected. We learned that even quite slow shutter speeds are OK if the subject isn't moving (think wind and flowing water). We got a decent photo at 1/25th of a second, but our best photos were faster than 1/60th of a second. If you have foreground in your photos aperture of 8 or 16 makes a positive difference. We shot with the camera in aperture priority nearly the whole time. We chose the aperture we thought would keep the depth of the shot in focus and then increased the ISO until the shutter speed was just above 1/60th of a second.

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Our comparison shot

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Comparison of the distance in photos taken at Aperture;Shutter Seed 16;1/25, 8;1/100, 4.2;1/320. we prefer 2 over 3 but there's not much in it.

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Comparison of the near field in photos taken at Aperture;Shutter Seed 16;1/25, 8;1/100, 4.2;1/320. Its 1, 2, 3 in order of focus.

It wasn't the focus of the exercise, but when we did want to isolate a subject from the background it was not at all easy. Even going to the largest aperture and getting as close as we could, the background was still too clear. Maybe we need a wide angle lens with a nice big aperture. Our zoom can't really achieve that.

2007_10_28_shiobara_autumn114But for now we don't want to try to improve our shots with equipment purchases. We are quite sure the best bang for the buck will come from considering our photographic subjects more carefully. Our photos were mostly rather boring. So for our next session we need to learn a lot more about composition. A plain subject, clearly rendered won't suddenly become interesting.

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