Cities are not as interesting for me to photograph as nature and landscapes are but from time to time they catch my attention. Getting some practice and tips will be useful at these times so this experiment is worth taking some time to perform. As luck would have it, I have a nice city to photograph relatively close by too. Some of Peter Carey’s advice includes a little bit of research to determine when and where to photograph which ever city you’re visiting. To read more of his advice about shooting cities with your favorite camera click here…
The first tip is to avoid taking pictures of a city during the middle part of the day when the sun is higher in the sky with the most light intensity reflecting off of buildings. I didn’t follow that very well taking pictures of New York this past summer. Using a polarizing filter on this particular picture may have helped even though I don’t think it turned out to bad thanks to a nicely timed cloud blocking some of that sunlight.
Here is a good example of why shooting during the middle part of the day may not work out so well because of all the reflections. In this case I did that on purpose because I liked the idea of the new World Trade Center tower appearing as the beacon of New York. It provided a sense of brightness for a city that was horrifically attacked. That is not an effect I would like to have with most cities when trying to photograph them.
This photo of Seattle was taken just before sunset providing a nice opportunity to capture the city towards the end of a day. Direction was less important because of the clouds covering the sun preventing any reflections from the glass but also prevented the warming effect of the setting sun against the buildings. Those same clouds enhance the picture with their shapes and colors though. Since this was taken from the top of the Space Needle it was difficult to put this identifying landmark in the picture.
Later that evening I had the chance to take this nice panorama of Seattle. That is probably my favorite picture of many cities – the life of a city after dark. This is also the same picture that I don’t often provide time to take.
This is taken from Pier V in downtown Baltimore. I was playing with the aperture settings in order to get the starburst effect on the lights. I think I may have gone a little too far and should have found a more intermediate setting.
My main objective that night was to catch some of the numerous strikes of lightning over Baltimore. There were very few visible bolts of lightning so I had to settle for the sky lighting up. Still, I like the picture even though it does not show the whole downtown area but a small portion of it.
One final piece I think is worthwhile to photograph are special events occurring in a city. In this case it was the Baseball All-star Game in Minneapolis this past summer. Earlier in the day I heard about a fly over of F-16’s over the stadium before the game. It wasn’t until I arrived at this park to photograph it that I was informed the fly over would be performed by the Thunderbirds. Unfortunately I could only capture this moment with video or still photographs. I chose to use video and this was one frame from that video making it a lower quality picture. Even with that being the case, I saw a picture from a different vantage point on top of one of those taller buildings in the newspaper the next morning. This picture is better than the one in the newspaper simply because of the direction of the sun. I was shooting with the sun at my back while the newspaper photographer had the sun in front of them catching the reflection on the planes washing out most of the color from the picture. I thought taking a picture from the top of a building looking down on the stadium as the Thunderbirds flew over would be great. After seeing it, the picture didn’t work out all because of the placement of the sun. A good learning experience for me in this situation. Had I decided to take still photos I may have had one of the best pictures of this event anywhere all because of the location I chose for this picture.
One of the rules of photography is to place focal points or points of interest into a third of the shot. That is a point where the lines intersect on this grid. For a little more in depth description check this out. The grid above represents a photo divided into sections equaling a third. Many cameras have this grid available for display and I have added this into my display. I enjoy photographing the setting sun (and rising sun if I’m out and about with the camera) so this seemed like a good subject for the thirds experiment. The picture below has the sun centered in the photograph as you can see by the grids. Hmm….interesting.
I really don’t think it is all that bad but then again the subject – setting sun over a lake looks good in just about any picture. Now let’s see what this looks like using the thirds rule. After adding the grids you can see that the sun is in the lower, right third of the picture. I definitely like having more of the colorful sky in the picture but in this case the water could really be shown more, especially with the suns reflection. As is stated in Peter’s post, “The Rule Of Thirds is a handy place to start when trying to figure out how to frame a scene. It’s also a great jumping off place for further experimentation.”
I do think the sun and it’s reflection in the water look better off to one side or the other so let’s keep that part of the photograph at the thirds line. Adding a little more water to the picture and just a little bit less sky gives me a picture that shows the highlights of what I was enjoying that night – water with the suns reflection in the waves, setting sun with so many beautiful colors, and the silhouettes of the surrounding shore contrasting with the sky and water. Yah, keeping the sun to one third of the picture is better than centering it in my opinion.
For those who would like to see this picture without the grids on it, here it is.
Since I really liked the sun reflecting in the water and the transitioning colors of the sky, changing the orientation of the camera offered the opportunity to capture more of both. I still kept the sun on the right third of the picture as you can see by the grid lines. That did it! this shows all of the sun’s reflection in the water and the colors of the sky transitioning from the reds and yellows to the darker blues of the oncoming night sky.
Once again a chance to look at this picture without the grids. If trying to decide which one of these to frame, I’m not sure which one I would choose. Which one would you choose? Why? It would probably depend on where I would hang it or what I was going to do with it.
As I continue to practice with cameras and improve the photos I take, I added the histogram to the rear display to see how the exposure changes with different shots. You may first want to read Peter Carey’s article describing histograms before continuing on with my attempts with it. The photo above was the first picture taken before putting the histogram on the camera display. This was taken using the camera auto settings.
This is the histogram of that photo. The high peak on the left indicates the darks/shadows are being clipped. Ideally the histogram would have the peak towards the center meaning that the sensor was getting as much information as possible. This is a bit of a challenging situation because part of the subject is in the sun while other parts are in the shade which you can see with the over exposed leaves and some dark areas in between the plants. in an effort to maximize the information the sensor is picking up I pointed the camera at the same plants but from different directions as well as changing some of the camera settings.
Focusing on areas of the plants that are in the sun eliminated the darks/shadows clipping as you can see in the histogram below. There aren’t as many over exposed areas in this photo as in the picture above. Both of these photos are using jpegs as taken by the camera. Because they are jpegs the advantage of the histogram still is not as visible.
To get the most out of the information that the camera sensor picks up a RAW image is useful. RAW images store more data maintaining more of the properties of that picture which becomes important when using photo editing software. The photo below is the exact same picture as above but started in the RAW format and processed with an editor. Because I paid attention to the histogram, the camera sensor was able to get more information almost eliminating the over exposed leaves as well as getting a truer color. Also, the shadows provide a little better sense of depth because they where not clipped when taking the picture.
Another little detail that can really help get better pictures in the right situations.
Metering modes are not something that I have ever really played around with as I keep this set to pattern on my cameras which is the same as matrix or evaluative in Peter’s article on metering modes. I decided to play around with this a little to see what differences I could find. The different modes are only available with the aperture priority, shutter priority, program, and manual settings. I set the camera in aperture priority and kept the ISO at 1600. The camera was not on a tripod so each shot is slightly different which could account for some of the variation in these pictures. That being noted, here’s a few pictures:
The top left photo used spot metering while the top right photo used center weighted average and the photo to the left used pattern. I don’t see much of a difference in any of these that even at larger sizes. These were taken during the morning on a sunny day at close range possibly negating any difference in modes. These are daffodils emerging from their winter nap.
These photos are in the same order as the previous group with spot metering top left, center weighted average top right, and pattern metering on the left. As in the daffodil group above, I don’t see a lot of difference between modes. Again these were taken outside in the sun so the difference may be less noticeable if there is any.
These photos show more of a difference in modes most likely because of the distance between the foreground and background. The order is the same with spot metering top left followed by center weighted top right and pattern to the left. Both the spot and center weighted are focused on the pussy willows while the pattern focuses on the trees in the background. The spot metered picture is a little darker than the others with greater focus on the details of the pussy willow branch. Center weighted obviously let in more light making the whole photo brighter. The pattern photo is the brightest of the three modes due to the whole picture being weighted for light levels by the camera.
I didn’t see a lot of differences by changing the metering modes for photos shot closer to the subject but once you step back and take pictures of a larger area the differences begin to show up. There are plenty of situations to try this in to find the differences. Peter Carey gives a list on his metering modes page for which modes to use in which situations. Time to go learn more about taking photos. Fortunately many of the issues from incorrect metering can also be taken care of if editing with the exception of focus or too high and too low of an exposure.
This is how I set everything up to shoot a time lapse video before the snow started falling for one of our April snow storms. I plugged in the Arduino which is connected to a prototype board with the potentiometer on it which is connected the the shutterbug pro which is connected to the servo on top of the camera set to take pictures. I found an AC adapter around the house ( I knew I saved these things for a reason) that puts out 5 volts DC current which is perfect to power all of the boards and the servo. As a bonus the plug fits perfectly into the port on the Arduino board. Should be all ready to go now.
The next thing is to adjust the camera for taking the pictures. If it was left in automatic mode it would re-focus each time and set different shutter, aperture, and ISO for each shot. This takes time, energy, and changes how each picture looks so that there is a flicker appearance in a time-lapse. To help avoid this I set the camera on aperture priority with a setting of f2.8 so I could get as much light to the senor as possible because it was darker than normal with the heavy cloud cover and snowfall along with the day transitioning to night during the shooting time of over 8 hours. Also, the focus was set to manual and adjusted for further away. This saves power since the camera doesn’t have to focus for each picture and prevents it from transitioning the focus from the street to the glass in the window as night arrives since this all took place through the window. Here is the final video which lasts 24 seconds but taken over 8+ hours in time.
Some points of interest. First, at about 5 seconds, if you’re lucky, you can see a pair of ducks venture into different yards for a few frames. Second, I used 25 frames per second which means that for every second of video there are 25 pictures. Calculating that out you get 600 pictures taken over the 8+hours which is 1 picture every 50 seconds. I used 8 hours because that’s how long the batteries lasted in the camera. Below are the first and last photo so you can compare the difference in light throughout this project.
While spending way too much time researching mechanical intervalometers (the device that takes pictures at a set interval) I came across a video that shows a shutterbug pro pre-built circuit board used to control a servo which mechanically presses the shutter button on any camera. While looking through the parts list and how this all works I came across a problem. You need another device to set the servo positions so shutterbug can operate the servo to those precise positions. The company that sells the shutterbug pro also sells a signal emulator which can position the servo. Do I really want to use something once that really has no other uses?
Of course not! Spending even more time I came across another video that shows how to use an Arduino micro computer and potentiometer to adjust the servo. In addition, once I’m done using it to set the servo positions for the shutterbug, I can learn simple programming to make the Arduino do other things if so desired. In addition I use the Arduino as a voltage regulator to the shutterbug. Are there a lot of terms here that are unfamiliar? I had that issue as well. I never really knew what a potentiometer was or how a servo works until researching it more just to do time lapse photography.
I do also want to try long exposures to capture star trails at some point which the shutterbug can do with some (suppose to be) simple programming. Although I have run into issues trying to re-program this board from time to time for different interval shooting and to change it to hold for long exposures. With enough messing around I do eventually get it to do what I want. Make sure everything is working well before the desired photography session begins. It has taken me up to 30 minutes to get the board and servo set up. In addition, it takes some tinkering to get the servo to consistently push the shutter button on the camera.
As you can see in the photo above I needed to add some extra equipment to make this work flawlessly. I have the servo attached to the camera with a velcro strap. Just this didn’t work well because I could not get it tight enough to actually push down the button on the camera. That’s where the close pin comes in. I use one or two to make the velcro tight enough to get the servo to press the button depending on how tight I get the velcro to start with. Also, I added a rubber band to the servo because it kept sliding around on top of the camera over time preventing it from taking photos after awhile. One last modification was the addition of electrical tape to the servo arm as it would scratch the button after a number of pictures.
Next up….. taking the actual pictures.
Well, it’s been a few weeks since I’ve put together a post so what have I been doing? Other than taxes? Ya, that takes a little time, along with shredding documents that have accumulated over the past year that don’t need to be saved. I’ve been going through a few more properties on the photography experiment board such as Shutter Speed, Aperture, ISO, and Photography Jargon as well as reading a book or two on photography. The photography jargon helped explain a few terms for me so I can understand them better. A worth while post to read. I couldn’t think of anything to write about regarding these and I’ve already completed the experiment recommended by Peter Carey covering these topics so there haven’t been any post recently.
One thing I’ve been thinking about lately is how to take time lapse photos. Using my point and shoot camera which was recently fixed, you can see that post here…, I tried it out just using the remote that came with the camera taking a photo as soon as the camera was finished processing each shot. There ended up being over 300 pictures taken over 30 minutes which ended up providing a 10 second time-lapse video. That was fun but how can I make a 4-5 minute time-lapse video using this technique? Through some research I found the Tempus time-lapse remote to take pictures every few seconds. Problem solved, let’s order one.
Wait a minute! That will work for my point and shoot but what about the new Sony Nex 3 which does not have remote functions. When I purchased this camera I didn’t think the remote was very important since up to this point I never used it on other cameras. What that ever a wrong assumption now that I have a camera capable of shooting good nighttime photos. Who knew? Well, Tempus also comes with a mechanical trigger but at a much higher cost. Could there be another way? Through more time and research I came across ways to build my own mechanical time-lapse trigger which was a little more adjustable and would work on all of my cameras with considerably less cost.
Finally I settled on the Shutterbug Pro which combined with a servo will take pictures at set time intervals. This is able to take extended photos in the bulb setting on dSLR cameras in order to capture light trails and star movement over time which I do want to try. Also, I get to build something and learn how to use things I’ve never used before. Learning is usually the best part for me and successfully using that knowledge. More new experiences!
I’ll put up another post explaining how I did this later. To see that post click here….
To see the video created from this project click here….
Continuing on with my determination to learn how to better use my camera, I took on a few experiments recommended by Peter Carey in his post about Exposure. The first one involves changing Aperture from the lowest aperture to the highest. On my camera that involved 6 different photos. My apologies as the lighting is not great for these photos but the basic idea still comes through.
In the top photo the background is completed blurry and the shutter speed was the slowest. As I progressed through each level I noticed two things happening. First, the shutter speed decreased as I moved the aperture higher. This is in response to the camera letting in less light (larger aperture) requiring a longer exposure to capture the elements in the photo to offset the smaller opening. Second, more and more of the background came into focus. You can see the difference in focus from the top photo to the bottom one. This must be what they call depth of field and what is meant by losing depth of field as the aperture increases. Nice experiment Peter!
The next experiment was with ISO. Keep aperture steady and increase ISO and see what happens. This took 8 photos for me to run through the available ISO range on my camera ranging from 200 to 16,000.
In the top photo the clarity is pretty good as this photo is magnified somewhat. Again as the ISO is increased the shutter speed changed. The higher the ISO the faster the shutter opened and closed to compensate for the sensitivity to light as affected by the changing ISO. As I moved to the middle of the ISO range you can see the graininess appear more in the picture below.
Moving to the lower picture the graininess is really noticeable, especially on the white and black objects. Before understanding how the exposure, aperture, and ISO work together better, I used the exposure setting on my camera to change the picture not realizing that all that was doing was changing one or more of these settings. I thought it was a separate setting altogether. I’m gaining a clearer idea of how each of these can be used to change the look of a photo. A few thousand more photos changing the exposure settings and I should start to get a feel for which to adjust in different situations.
One of the reasons we replaced our old camera ( an Olympus C-750) was because there was dust particles on the lens. In the photo above you can see one of the particles just above the sun. This lens is sealed and requires taking the entire camera apart which is why this hasn’t been done until now. There are other reasons we upgraded cameras but this was the catalyst that dictated when.
I’ve been known to dismantle electronics before and get them back together successfully most of the time so why not give a digital camera a try. How hard could it be? Besides I came across a website with information on cleaning the lens on a similar camera to this one with nice pictures and everything. Didn’t look to terribly difficult. After some searching for a few screws I managed to get it apart without breaking anything as you can see in the photo above. That’s always a good start. There were 4 screws that hiding making it a bit of a challenge but once I found them all went pretty well. The lens is that black tube with some ribbons coming out of it.
After some thorough but gentle cleaning I got it all back together. Now the final test is does it all work. The photo below was taken with this camera and there is no more dust visible on the lens. It may have taken a couple of weekends to accomplish the cleaning but I learned a lot about point and shoot cameras along with more capabilities that I didn’t know this model has. I always knew it was a good camera but there’s more versatility than I ever imagined using the manual modes. Certainly not SLR quality but better than most point and shoot cameras.
There’s not a lot of exciting things to say or show regarding holding your camera. One of the things I did learn about how I hold my camera is my arm position. According to Peter’s video (found here), holding your arm at you side can produce slightly less shaking. I naturally hold my arms slightly away from my body while shooting photos so this is one area I will continue to work on correcting.
While practicing I decided to also practice with my macro lens so these shots are all close ups. I decided this because I attempted to use this macro lens a few weeks ago and realized I was using it incorrectly. Amazing how much better the photos look when using a lens the right way. How was I using it incorrectly you ask, simple: I was trying to use it as a wide angle lens. I know, what kind of moron would confuse a macro lens with a wide angle lens? Apparently me that’s who.
After noticing the photos where turning out blurry on the edges I searched how to use a macro and realized my idiotic mistake. Kind of feel stupid now. Error learned and shouldn’t happen again. Now I want to look at wide angle lenses as well.
Since I’m a horticulturalist I tend to photo landscapes, plants, and animals. I may be more of a naturalist but have a horticulturalist degree. Is that enough “ist’s” for you?
Apparently I found another use for a macro lense when plants are concerned. When looking at this photo on the computer I realized this plant has spider mites which you may be able to see on the lower right leaves. This plant was immediately treated after seeing this photo.