Word and Image

Technical tips

Background

Focus would be helpful. I learn from imperfection. The background is often ignored in favor of the subject. Distracting elements will sink you every time. The last thing I check before pressing the shutter is my background. Simply moving a few degrees will change the mood. And, it would help if the camera focused on my main subject. Autofocus is too easy. And, I remain ever hopeful it will compensate for my laziness. Eh?! Otherwise it wouldn’t be lessons to learn.


Colleen shoots

It’s not just me. Colleen shoots. She does not like to – shoot. But, I cannot shoot from the car, and, drive, sometimes. And on a rare occasion, I actually turn around and stop to shoot. I did this one time. Colleen’s shots are sprinkled in. I’m not asking for guesses. She is relieved my shooting thru a car window is – forward. I cherish the opportunity to appreciate the beauty and the serenity of nature.


Cat eyes

A portrait starts with the eyes. My cats are cooperative in illustrating my point. Hooded eyes need a bit of flash. Black cats are particularly difficult. Their black fur is hard to highlight and contrast. And, who figured dust would show too! Then again, cat nip shows, as well. Focus on the eyes is a key component. Gazing directly into the lens is helpful. For cats, put the camera in front of the cat; don’t wait for them to look your way. The icicle is a non sequitur. And, Colleen’s initials are CAT, once upon a time when she was a maiden.


Speaking of … still tryn’

I tried to illustrate wide angle distortion in an iPhone  portrait of a child the other day. Everyone liked how cute she was and ignored the forehead distortion. Ok!? So, here is a loaf of challah right out of the oven. Smells great, butter glazed, good enough to eat!! Colleen made a braided proportional loaf. That is to say, it was a parallel loaf!? I intentionally moved in close and distorted the lines. Do you see? It doesn’t matter when it comes to bread. But a child?

Ok. I didn’t want to do a formal portrait of my son. Shy?! I don’t mind sticking my camera into Colleen’s face. She is used to me by now. But, “the boy?” So, I sneak/snuck a few grab shots. The lighting was not helpful. It would help if we got the right situation before he is on the road again. Yes, they (the images) are a good representation. But it’s not what I am trying to achieve. … another day, another opportunity.  


More lessons

I fear I may have lost family after correcting angle distortion the other day. No angle distortion here. Secret: get the camera down at the level of your (cat) subject. Hence, use the angled screen to take the picture at the subject’s eye level. Pretty easy. Most people don’t do it.

Flash has never been my forte. I use it very sparingly. The more recent cameras I use have better exposure than ever before. Flash will certainly help to brighten hooded eyes. Portraits? It is the eyes. Focus on the eyes. And, to be more effective, I think the subject should be looking right at you. … my opinion. After that, breaking the rules is what gives you something different. Better, worse, “keepers” are pretty easy to spot. There are so many bad shots….


Distorted

The original image transmitted was #4. I used ‘transform’ in Lightroom to make some quick changes.

1. Transform and crop – it’s better. But, see the sleeve and arm? They are disproportionately large.

2. Another try – crop and elongate the face, slightly. Without any other reference the distortion from the first pic is hidden.

3. Once more – I rounded the face slightly. Subtly. This is hard. Because of Covid I have not seen the child in person in more than two years. So the shape of her face is not quite known to me.

4. Angle distortion – it occurs when you stand above the subject and aim down with your spiffy iphone. The head is disproportionately larger than the feet. Can you see this? (My hydrocephalic patients had overly large foreheads.)

Of course, the easiest solution is for dad to get lower, more or less eye level with his kid. Because dad is tall, the distortion is more noticeable. Alas, I have lost many a friend due to constructive comments about their photographic technique. This is family. There’s nowhere to go or hide. I like the kid and think she deserves better preserved memories.

Epilogue: Since I texted the image corrections, not a peep from the parents. I guess I am/will refrain from further comment about their perfect child.


Technical

Light. It is the essential element of photography. Without it, there is no image. Controlling it: therein lies the key. Most people don’t see it. Rhetorically speaking, most people don’t pay attention. Light has color. And, it behaves to thwart the efforts of the causal photographer. iPhone has enabled the feeble to be stars by anticipating the mistakes and correcting them for you. Oh boy! Our selfies (not one and the same) – one was taken with flash, the other was natural light. Can you tell? I was bedeviled to get a wave shot. The answer: pan the camera as the wave broke. Duh! Backlight? A bright sky will make the foreground subject dark. See it, correct for it. Morning light? Meter the foreground darkness to bring out the color of the sky. Simple. It’s even simpler in iPhone. It will do all this for you and it comes with a stack of enhancements, so you look like Monet or Adams. If you made it this far, you have interest in photography. Otherwise, you are interested in photographs. I’m, just being crotchety today.


Dinner for eight

Just fun. I did it with a tripod. I ran around and used a flash to get all seven of me on one picture. Sure. Right! I am pretty fast – at running around a table. For sure! It was fun. Colleen? Late for dinner, again. Ha! I can count. She would be number eight. If she’s late again, I shall still be beside myself.


Phone me

There is one convenience that can’t be beat with the iPhone. Panorama. It’s dead simple. Ha! I can Photoshop. It’s easy enough. But…. So, I ask? Dave advised me to tap on the mountain to adjust the exposure so there would not be overexposure. When did he get so smart? Meanwhile pano is a neat trick I pull out of the pocket on occasion.


Stopping

You simply cannot not stop at every potential photo-op. Even while I drove alone, I did not do it. Traveling with your wife is enough to try her patience many times over. Colleen is such a good sport. I am careful not to overdo things? Ha! Have I been known to be moderate? You can see some of the results of stopping by the roadside. And, you may ascertain some of the image shot thru the windshield on the go. Actually, Colleen has acquired some skill shooting on the go. She thinks she’s better than if I try to drive and shoot. Stop, go, hey! It’s all the same when I edit the images. Good, or, bad? Keep it, or, discard it? Sometimes, it’s hard to tell. I will readily admit that I tend to draw a crowd while I am stopped by the roadside.


Help

We usually do our selfies without assistance. That’s me, my modus operandi. I take a shot of Colleen. Then Colleen takes one of me in the same spot while I sit in the next chair over. It works well. A helpful wife urged her photographer husband to shoot the two of us. Oddly, I could not reciprocate. Ok! There was an old lady in black who was in the background in all the shots. That was a pain. I simply blotted her out. More work? Which method was better? Hey! We got a selfie. Do I need help? … more than you know.


Indulgence

No one could accuse me of holding back nowadays. I just don’t go all out too often. I apologize for the slang given that there are a good many people from around the world who look in. But, once in a while I… Certainly, I spoil Colleen. In this moment, not too often at all, I indulged a whim. I discovered after my recent purchase of the Nikon Z5, that the Nikon zoom 80-400mm lens (I own) did not autofocus when attached the new model body Z5. Long story short, I went to eBay. Of course, they have the Nikon model G that does the job. It is at these times that I have been extremely lucky to get (used) just what I wanted at half price compared to new. The lens arrived in pristine condition. Damn. I was so lucky. My old lens was soft now. ??? I cannot explain except to say that the images were slightly less than tack sharp. Now, the problem is solved. Yeah, it cost $$$. But then, when do I indulge? Don’t answer. Colleen is getting a new spinning wheel… Are pictures better with the new lens? Ah? Sort of. A poor workman blames his tools. I have the tool to become a better workman. Had I but taken a few moments, my trigger happy shots would have been much better. I know this and you would too if you know what I know about fixing things. For instance, the moon is over-exposed; go to manual exposure. I was just too excited (lazy) to make the adjustments. Flog me. My bad. (more slang) I was just being indulgent. Now! I can’t wait to get back to the powwow.


Beauty

Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. There are so many people in this world. I see people (together) with others and wonder, “How did he/she get with her/him?”

I suppose people think the same of we/us. Ha! The thing is – I don’t care. I love my wife. (Cue: Frank Sinatra.) She’s a very good sport about it all. When she constantly has a camera pointed at her, I think it must wear down Colleen’s resistance to my constant “clicking.” The light was perfect and in this case the focus was soft. How? What? Me? I do not know except to realize that the light was flattering and “good!” So? Done! No adjustment, just right out of the box. I could tweak and do a lot. No need. The waitress passed at that moment with a look of puzzlement and humor as I “clicked” away. Even I was surprised at how successfully the elements all came together. My wife, she’s beautiful. That’s my story, And, I’m stickin’ with it.


Too much

Today. It’s lessons!… I have learned. We move forward by making mistakes and then correcting our errors. Right? I’m gonna hit a bunch of things I learned this summer. If it’s boring, look at the pictures and … see you tomorrow.

Water: I used the “mist” setting on the nozzle and got water droplets. A little is good. It even looks natural. And, too much? … looks contrived. No! No Photoshop, too much work.

Focus: A good macro lens is unforgiving. There is no depth of field to speak of. Focus is critical. Within a single flower, focus can change the whole feeling. Example: yellow flower. Failure. All summer I have tried to find the focal interest. No luck. it’s just a blurred mess. Red – petunia – flower, focus shallow (petals) or (deeper) stamen? Purple flower, it’s near impossible to get all of its parts in focus. Yes, I manually focus. No, I did not quite get it right.

Timing: See, the praying mantis. Two black dots for eyes? Blink. One shot open and one shot not? Really? Macro – I could not get the whole of the bug in focus. I settled for the head and “eyes.”

TMI? It’s why I love photography. Not like, love. Well, I love my wife – first and foremost. (Ha! I live another day.) There are challenges. I am not perfect. I try different things. And, very much unlike in a medical practice, no one dies! Practice, practice, practice. Practice makes perfect.


Quality

When I shoot hundreds of images a day, it’s often not about quality as much as quantity. Why so many? … to be sure I did not miss the one that got away. Make sense? Not to me either. I just shoot. I experiment. Sometimes it works. Sometimes I am pleasantly surprised. I know there can be a world of from difference one shot to the next. Subtle sometimes, but, always it is a surprise how one can almost miss the moment. Clouds in the sky… never repeat. I will also admit that shooting the rain on a spider web is a whole lot easier with a macro lens. Ok! And with a straight face, I challenge you to figure out how I flattened a peach and kept the juice in?


Throwback

The internet is grand. It allowed me to peruse and find a Canon G3 camera, my first digital camera. It was gifted on my birthday (decades ago) by Lisa, who consulted the gurus at B&H Photo. Great! It’s laughable. The camera is so clunky. It is so retro – about 20 yrs old now.

Oh! The backstory – an article reviewing the original Canon G1. It was never on my radar (back in 2000). I was waiting for a DSLR – Nikon. The (then) current Kodak digital with a Nikon body was about $10K. Yes, that was $10, 000 (in 2000). My! My! Needless to say I had fun (with the G3) but it was not my main camera. I was using whatever Nikon DSLR of the day reigned in 2000.

Present day – a used Canon G3 is about $30. Retail, in 2000 ~ $1,000. Hey! It was not exorbitant ($30). Click! Ordered. But. You need a memory card, card reader, and a battery. That alone exceeded the cost of the camera. Ha ha. And then the camera arrived with a memory card, and battery, and a charger. Returns! Oh! I saved money!

The file size is < 1mb. The image is soft, most likely user driven (error). (A comparable Nikon Z5 image is seen above.) Fun! It’s a whole lot easier than dipping back into the film pond. Meanwhile… to find my old Nikon D70. If you are a camera nut – you probably aren’t – I once shot the US (Tennis) Open with a Sports Illustrated photographer. I had the spiffy Nikon D70 while the professionals were using the latest Canon Mark III D whatever heavies. They toted 25-pound tele lenses. I was a rank amateur and didn’t know how badly outgunned I was. Still, I got great images and an even greater experience.

The Canon G3 – two memories: 1. I lost some images of Jules at a college track meet. They just went missing from the memory card.  2. I shot some of Susan’s daughter’s wedding with it. But, the critical images went to film on my Nikon.


It’s late

But, it’s never too late to learn a new trick. I discovered beefsteak tomatoes. Ha ha! Everyone else knows them. I am late to the party as usual. Colleen bought one. I just about let it go bad on the counter. Then, we got mozzarella. I added olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Voila! Instant revelation! I was stunned. I don’t think I ever ate a beefsteak tomato before? Or if I did, it was not a true tomato?

An aside? I shoot macro images. Sometimes it feels as though I cannot see the details the lens captures until I start editing. The details! Water droplets? Subtle and not noticeable until I enlarge the image. Yes, I feel like some images were shot with my eyes closed.

Focus? Dead on accurate – the cat (Peas) – or, it’s not a shot. You aspire to a different standard.

And that beefsteak? A simple recipe. Good lighting. Luscious color. Mmmmm….


Learning curve

Hey! Look how close I got to the dragonflies. They were all over my yard. They land on a point and rest. They move away when you approach but tend to circle around and alight on the same spot. They get used to you, hence, I was able to get in close. I presume the western wildfires may be responsible for the spectacular clouds blowing in from my west. And, what else is there to add to the fact that my spiffy macro lens catches great flower details. Yes, enlarging the images in Lightroom lets me appreciate things I might never otherwise notice. (Double click the image, it will enlarge somewhat.) I’ve been at photography a long time. … and still learning.


Just about anything will do

Fireworks! I have shot them for many a year, in many a year, even in the rain. I evolved. Pointing a camera at the sky will only get you so far. I got the 411 late. You need a tripod. But, you also need a long exposure. Three seconds or so will get you bursts of fireworks trailing in the night sky. It’s a bit more dramatic. You are committed. There’s not enough time to switch around techniques; the show is fleeting. This year – I hadn’t shot fireworks in many years, and with a new camera no less – I attended fireworks with the family. They were casual viewers for whom any burst of fire was a treat. Therefore, I was out of position by more than a mile – sitting by a road side with traffic, lights, and with houses and trees in my horizon. Plus, fireworks vary depending upon the budget. Home bought (fireworks) stuff – don’t bother. This stuff? It was too low on the horizon and did not have much variation, imagination, or pop. Oh well, fireworks is fireworks. But, once upon a time I shot them from my deck in Manhattan and saw the Macy’s annual big doo. It doesn’t get much better than that. I did not caption: Macy’s; Maine (hand held); beach. You will know the beach shot by the trees. Lemon? Make lemonade. Colleen was thrilled to see my pics. She’s so kind to me. For you: tripod, long exposure – ISO 600, f8, manual, 3 seconds; start there and adjust on the fly.


Oops

New, old, discontinued, obsolete, incompatible. Tech is all of this. They upgrade the iPhone and Macbook Pro every year so that I will have envy and soon be obsoletely completely behind. Nikon flash? The technology has changed little. The connector remains the same. I can use my trusty old flash since forever (>10yrs old) even though it is outdated and discontinued. Huh!?! Anyway, the darned flash still works atop my spiffy new camera. I fully expected to be buying a new one. eBay – cheap <$100. Amazon – new, $499. Or, used – about $120. A bargain! But, I have a flash (already)! And, it works! How fortunate am I? All they had to do was change the connection, and, I’m upgrading – see (for example) Apple! They (Apple) change connectors and the whole world has to follow them.


Astro what

Okay! So, Colleen tried to buy me a telescope for Xmas. She spent big $$$$ and ordered a special camera ready telescope after much research, much angst, and after consulting with Liz, our family astronomer. I have dabbled, miserably, in some astrophotography. With anticipation and then great disappointment (Colleen’s), the telescope never shipped, never arrived. We saved big $$$$. Colleen cried inconsolably. Everyone knows it is impossible to get me a present. I tend to buy whatever I want. So, there is no wont in my house.

Amazon prime came to our house – inadvertently. Amazon prime day had a sale on beginner telescopes. The rest, as they say, is history. The learning curve is high. First and foremost is light pollution. I discovered the technical limitations of attaching a Nikon camera to a Celestron telescope. Focus in the dark was dismal. The earth moves at about 400 meters/sec. I thought diving was challenging? The stars are dots of light – pinholes in black paper.

My point and shoot Canon got better focus of the moon than the spiffy telescope. Risk/benefit, or, bang for your buck?; I chose the camera. The stars are not a subject I will pursue. Amazon gave me a refund. End of story.


Eyes

Portrait photography – the first rule – focus on the eyes. From the start, when I did film photography, it was always focus (manually) on the eyes. Nothing else is as important. Cats feel threatened when you point a big lens at them. It’s like a big eye. The cat does not like it. Mine, they are resigned. I have pointed so often that the lens is familiar. It’s still not easy. The skill is in putting the lens in front of their eye so it looks as though they are looking at you. Ha! And, salt on the tail, will catch a bird! It ain’t easy. But then again, if it were, all my pictures would be perfect. Right?


Vertical

When I started in film, “they” always admonished me to hold the camera vertically – get a vertical shot – about 10% of the time. Or, more. Nowadays, I shoot 99% with the horizontal computer screen in mind. My shots are mostly horizontal. I can crop vertically, easily enough. Or, more than ever I hold my camera tilted off horizontal to get a more “street” or “edgy” look. Ha! The cameras I have all have a horizontal ‘indicator’ to hold you perfectly aligned which is anything but what I want to be. Come as you are! My images turn out vertically sometimes because I am holding the camera so far off horizontal. To which I might ask, if you have a round flower, does it matter – horizontal or vertical? To which, I might add, I never met a rule I didn’t try to break…


Camera or operator

Am I good? Or, am I good because of good equipment? Or, does the equipment make me good? And so on and on… Luck? This butterfly cooperated. This all has a lot to do with the butterfly, who held still for its close-up. My good luck! Look at the detail – eye, the hairs. Pretty nifty! Hey! I’ve done this before. It’s not my first. But, its rare enough that I appreciate it’s not a given. A lot of things come together to get to this point. Ho hum. Whip out an iPhone and shoot. Uh uh. Not by the hair of its chinny chin chin.