Monday, June 24, 2013

When taking advanced digital photography classes, the more educated you get, the more frustrated you can become!

One of my self-improvement goals is to be a better photographer.  I never had an SLR or DSLR back when I was flying missions around the world, and I kick myself now for not getting better photos in those days. I wouldn't call this current phase of education I'm going through a bucket list checkbox, but the classes are affordable and the homework is definitely a lot of fun.
 My instructors haven't really touched too much on pairing lenses to subject matter, save for the arbitrary action/landscape/wide angle/telephoto stuff.  I've got that pretty much down, and know how to get my exposures centered in the viewfinder's meter.  In fact, I never use Auto, Shutter Priority, or Aperture Priority on my Nikon D200 anymore - just Manual.  I'm getting pretty adept at spinning both front and rear command dials on the Nikon to adjust the aperture and shutter for the perfect exposure.
I see you!
 I love the Nikon's rich, saturated colors as I set them up in the camera's menu. I'm emulating Fuji Velvia for nearly all the images I capture, although that's only in the saved JPEGs - the RAW files that are captured simultaneously are more subdued.  I'm also a big fan of finding older Nikkor AF film lenses, particularly those that are made of real metal and glass, and attaching them to the newer D200.  These lenses are heavy as hell compared to the newer plastic DX lenses, but more than make up for the weight with the image quality. I'm not the only one who does this of course, because one of my favorite lenses, the older Nikkor AF 70-210mm 4-5.6D, has rebounded in price on the used lens market.  Part of this is because of Ken Rockwell's review, but I have to believe the other part is because this old film lens does so well when paired with a modern Nikon DSLR.   
Although a Nikon D200 or D300 body still commands a few Benjamins in outlay, that doesn't mean decent glass has to be expensive.  I've got about 1/2 dozen AF Nikkor lenses from 18 to 300mm in focal length, and they came from an unusual source - Goodwill!  That's right, Goodwill has an online auction site, where all the donated primo stuff is auctioned off.  Most of the items you see at Goodwill's retail stores have been picked through by their staff, and those items that would garner more shekels go to their auction.  You still bid against others for a camera lens or body, but the prices at Goodwill are still well below those found on eBay or online camera shops. I paid around $70.00 for that 70-210mm f4-5.6D, and a whopping $25.00 for the 35-105mm f3.5-4.5D seen mounted on the D200 below.  Both lenses are push-pull in operation, which is actually quite nice.
The D200's usual repository
It's not all moonlight and roses, however. For the most part, I'm pleased with the images I take, especially when I've taken the time to compose them and spin the wheels the right way.  I'm particularly keen on outdoor shots here in my native Wisconsin, because nature has provided an awesome palette of colors and contrasts. When collecting elderberries in an out-of-the-way location, these echinacea flowers caught my eye.  ISO is 200, pull the 35-105mm zoom lens out to 105mm, open the aperture wide, set the shutter to center the exposure meter, and let 'er rip!
Medicinal Flowers
 Ok, that's a nice photo. By nice I mean that the foreground subjects are sharp, the colors are vivid, and the out-of-focus objects in the background (Bokeh) have soft edges - they don't distract you from the main subjects up front.  All in all, it's pretty well balanced for a DSLR image.  Contrast that with this photo: 
Busy Bokeh!
 The same lens was used for both of the above photos - this is what frustrates me. While the foreground subjects in the latter photo are sharp with nice colors, look at that background!  It's busy, distracting, and totally uncharacteristic of the lens, which I know can do better. My 500mm mirror lens gives better bokeh than this! The exposures between both photos above are very similar, with maybe a single f-stop between them.  That may have been the cause of the difference, but it's something I'll have to research myself, or ask my instructors about. Arrrrgh!  Here's another quandry:
Color-Shifted Spring Thaw
This was the spring thaw across the street from my house, illustrating the snow melt.  But wait, what's going on with that water?  The sun's reflection in the background has turned green, while in the foreground it's gone magenta! I'm using that wonderful Nikkor 70-210 f4-5.6D lens, this time at ISO 200, with a 116mm focal length, f4.2 aperture, and 1/2500 second exposure.  As I look through all the images I captured that day, I paid particular attention to any reflections on rippling water.  Sure enough, they all showed the same phenomenon. My school instructors didn't teach this, so I had to dig deeply to get my answer. It's called "color bokeh" or spherochromatism, and happens with fast telephoto lenses when shot wide open.  Stopping down the aperture one or two numbers usually fixes it.  It's not considered a defect, or a problem, just something you have to keep in mind. The RAW images in the camera don't show this effect to such a pronounced extent, so it could also be amplified by the Nikon's internal image processing for Fuji Velvia emulation.  I plan on bringing this up in class to see what their response will be. I don't mind vivid colors, as long as they were there to begin with.
Real colors - from an arriving storm
These colors were actually present when I snapped the shutter at the maple trees in front of my house on May 14th of this year.  The National Weather Service called it a "heat burst event".  I just know the sky turned everything these vivid orange colors, and then the winds came within seconds of me clicking this photo, snapping trees and blowing in excess of 70 mph - no funnel cloud, no siren, nothing other than it being a hot day and those unearthly colors. This is a case of everything working right for the photographer - and as I continue my formal education, I hope to have many more of these. 

1 comment:

Brigid said...

The pictures are beautiful though part of is goingo "tractor fest!!!" I've many pictures like that as screensavers.

I have two cameras both less than $200 after my very old but very good expensive camera went tango uniform. I've been helping out family members a lot financially, so I'm OK with that, but I'm looking forward to see what I can do with another decent camera.