+10 Close-up filter on a rainy day…

I had about an hour on a Sunday morning and decided to take my camera to the local Japanese garden. There wasn’t really any spectacular scenes (especially since this is winter), and the garden is not large.  So when you enter an area, look around and recognize that there really isn’t any great “big pictures”, you have to start thinking in terms of “small pictures”.

I think I took that a bit overboard, though, when I screwed a +10 close-up filter on the end of my 50mm f/1.8 lens.  Normally, I use a +2 and +4 for my close-up filters, because I haven’t been able to afford a real, dedicated macro lens.  But this is like strapping a magnifying glass to the end of your lens!  There are some pros and cons involved with using a filter with such strong magnification:

Pro: It allows you to get your standard, non-macro lens much closer to small subjects and fill the viewfinder.

Con: Your depth of field shrinks so drastically, and the area in sharp focus is so narrow, that you have to stop down your aperture to compensate.

Grass Blade, Rain Drops

Grass Blade, Rain Drops – 1/60, f/9.0, ISO640

I ran into some challenges, as you can see from the photo above. Even with the aperture closed down to f/9, the depth of field is extremely short. I found it too hard to use auto focus to choose which parts of the image I wanted in focus, so I turned it off, set the focus manually, then carefully maneuvered that camera forward until I got what I wanted into focus. The problem with this approach is a slight movement of your hand, or a slight breeze, takes the focal point out of focus, as in the photo above.

Another challenge was the light, with heavy clouds and rainy weather. I have a phobia of high ISO settings from my film photography and early digital photography days that I am trying to overcome.  Newer cameras and software do a great job of correcting high ISO noise.  In this photo I raised the ISO speed to 640 so I could get a shutter speed high enough to avoid motion blur.  Softness in photos comes from more than one cause. I’ve kept my ISO at 100 or 200 in the past, thinking I’ll get the best image quality, but at the cost of slight motion blurring the photo just enough that it looks ok on the camera screen but not on a computer monitor. But we gotta learn from our mistakes, right?

Grass Drops = 1/60, f/10, ISO400

Grass Drops – 1/60, f/10, ISO400

This photo turned out a little better, but it still illustrates how incredibly shallow the area in sharp focus is with a +10 close-up filter. These are mere blades of grass, mind you. I began to focus the lens at infinity (the farthest it can focus) and move the camera until I got details in focus.  This, in combination with a narrower aperture setting, allowed me to get a slightly greater depth of field.

But as I experimented, I found that shooting at right angles with the surface of the subject got me better results than shooting along the length of the subject. You can see that in these next photos. But look carefully and you’ll notice that the light in the water drops changes with the angle.  Bright and silvery at a parallel angel, darker and less sparkly at a right angle.

Rain Drops on Leaf - 1/50, f/5.6, ISO100

Rain Drops on Leaf – 1/50, f/5.6, ISO100

Rain Drops on Leaf 2 - 1/25, f/5, ISO100

Rain Drops on Leaf 2 – 1/25, f/5, ISO100

I took the above shots before I switched to Aperture Priority mode and began stopping down the lens opening, and before I started adjusting the ISO to compensate for lost light. The shutter speed on that last shot was really too slow, but I was lucky to get some detail anyway.  The aperture setting of f/5.6 (on a f/1.8 lens) was still not enough to get the depth of field that would have made these better photos.

This is what they’re talking about when they say “start using manual modes on your camera and take more control of how your photos look”.  I am still learning and I still shoot in Program auto mode too often and don’t pay attention to what’s going on.  I probably could have made these photos better if I had started my shoot carefully controlling shutter speed, aperture, and ISO speed.  So in closing, here’s a list of things I learned from my experiment with the extreme close-up filter:

  1. Stop down your aperture enough to get the right amount of details in focus.
  2. Check your photo on the back of the camera and take the time to zoom in on relative details to make sure you accomplished #1 above. If you didn’t, adjust and re-shoot.
  3. Raise your ISO speed to compensate for a smaller aperture setting in order to keep your shutter speed high enough to avoid motion blur from hand shake or breezes.  The rule that seems to work is: shutter speed should be equal to or greater than focal length. In other words, a 200mm lens needs at least 1/250 to avoid motion blur on still subjects. Moving subjects need higher shutter speeds to freeze motion. I used 1/60 with my 50mm lens.
  4. When you have an extremely shallow depth of field, shooting at a right angle, rather than a parallel angle, with the subject helps more details to be in focus. Conversely, when you want an out of focus background and foreground to zero attention on the focal point of your shot, adjusting your angle to parallel helps create the effect.
  5. In macro photos, using manual focus and setting the lens at its farthest focusing position, then moving the camera to get the proper focus can increase a depth of field that is too shallow.
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Black & White edits

I am lucky to live where I do. I have a busy life as a business professional, husband, and father. But Olympia has a lot of photogenic locations within a few minutes’ drive from the house for those times when I can only get away for an hour or so. And many times, taking my family to scenic parks allows me to shoot some pictures at the same time.  On this trip, I took my 6-year-old to a local park for some “exploring”, and brought my camera bag too.

I liked the combination of the foot bridge and fence, bordered by a bush and tree, but the background is busy and confusing. It has lots of colors and details, but they all kind of blend together and nothing stands out.

Footbridge - edited for sharpness & contrast

Footbridge – edited for sharpness & contrast

I think the bridge should be the focal point, so I converted the image to black and white. Then I used a blue filter to darken the foliage in the background.  The end result, I hope, is to make the bridge more of a central focal point while making the busy background fade and blend enough not to be distracting, as it was in the color image.

Footbridge - B&W conversion

Footbridge – B&W conversion

With the next photo I took a different approach.

Footbridge 2 - edited for contrast & sharpness

Footbridge 2 – edited for contrast & sharpness

I wanted to get a more artistic, sepia effect. I wasn’t going for sharpness, but more of a dreamy, softer look. I also burned the outside edges a bit.  Same composition, but they really look like different photos!

Footbridge 2 - Sepia

Footbridge 2 – Sepia

Photography in a Virtual World

One interest I have not mentioned so far on this blog is cars.  No, not Aspires to Zephyrs (Ford models) … I’m talking about Ascari to Zonda, sports cars and super cars.

But I’m not rich, so there are no cars of this caliber parked in my driveway. My daily driver is a 2001 Lexus IS300 sports sedan which I bought almost 9 years ago with 103,000 miles on it.  It now has over 155,000, and it’s still rock solid and purrs like a kitten, or roars like a lion when you press your right foot done.  A nice compromise for a family man.  It is a very comfortable highway cruiser and a capable corner carver rolled into a practical sedan with very high build quality.

But I can dream, and as games like Gran Turismo, Forza Motorsport, and others get more and more realistic, I can experience with world’s coolest cars in a limited way.  To come to my point, with the release of Gran Turismo 4, developer Polyphony Digital introduced a “photo mode”.  This allowed you to place your favorite car from your GT4 garage in one of the scenic locations around the world, and take a picture of it using controls available on most digital SLR cameras. You can change the camera angle, shutter speed, aperture, use filters, and a lot of other controls that make taking a picture of a car in the game seem a lot like doing the same in the real world.  And the high resolution pictures this side activity produced are impressive.  They kept the feature in Gran Turismo 5, and it became downright difficult to tell the pictures were taken inside a game, not real cars!

Alfa Romeo 8C - taken in Gran Turismo 5

Alfa Romeo 8C – taken in Gran Turismo 5

This is one of my favorite cars based on looks alone.  I’ve never driven one, but playing with the GT5 version makes me think it would be a lot of fun to drive.  The BBC TV show Top Gear asked the question “Can a car be art?” when they reviewed this car. Click link below:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aQ8xDia5RNY

In addition, you can also race or just drive a car around a track in Gran Turismo, run the replay, and pause it here and there to walk around the frozen car in action to take photographs using the same controls used in the static settings. This is where aperture and shutter speed settings become more critical, because their affects combined with the car’s motion is quite accurate. This next photo is a Maserati Granturismo (that’s what Maserati named this model, though it looks a lot like the name of the PS3 game I’ve be talking about).  I was doing a long, 4-wheel drift with it here, paused the replay, and set up the shot in the photo mode.

Maserati Granturismo - taken in Gran Turismo 5

Maserati Granturismo – taken in Gran Turismo 5

Because of the shutter speed and aperture settings I used, the spinning wheels are somewhat blurred, and the back of the car is a little out of focus, while the front is tack sharp. Not the most photogenic background for the shot, but showing the long trail of tire smoke disappearing around a blind corner was the goal here.

Technology these days is pretty amazing, as the virtual world gets closer and closer to looking just like the real thing!

Snapseed + iPhone

I make my living as an accountant, so you can imagine there’s nothing really interesting around my workplace or office to take pictures of.  But I just installed Snapseed for iOS on my iPhone 4S and tried it out on my lunch break, sitting at my desk.

My expectations were low, considering that the iPhones lens and image sensor are tiny compared to my big Canon dSLR, and any image editing software for iOS is going to be somewhat limited compared to software for Mac OS-X.  As a side note though, as iPads, iPods, and iPhones get more powerful processors, the gap between their capabilities and that of a desktop or laptop computer are narrowing.

What I did not know, when I downloaded Snapseed and took these photos, was that Snapseed was created by NIK Software, who makes some powerful and impressive plug-ins which I used with Aperture on my Mac. NIK was recently purchased by Google, who has built in functionality to post photos directly to Google Plus, their social media and photo sharing website. Alright, let’s look at some boring pictures from an accountant’s desk!

Pen & Report

Pen & Report

Shiny Steele

Shiny Steele

X Marks the Spot

X Marks the Spot

Death to Staples

Death to Staples

What I like is that most effects, like “Grunge” or “Vintage” have presets which you can try until you find a look you like, then you can tweak the settings to make it more to your liking. There are basic sharpening and contrast adjustments, as well as artistic effects like I’ve used on my paperclips and staple puller, including vignettes and selective focus.

Overall, I’m impressed, given that the app was free and the camera so tiny.  And I wasn’t trying to create art in earnest, just goofing off, really. This makes me wonder if, just as smartphones were the death of PDAs, they will also spell doom for small point & shoot cameras. Why have one, when you can get the same or better (and more customizable) results with a device you carry everywhere with you anyway?