Archive for February 2007

A Quick Guide To Portraits

February 23, 2007

Aqua and Kabe, originally uploaded by foolscircle.

Photo Details:
Camera: Nikon D100
F-Stop: f/5.6
Focal Length: 38 mm
Exposure Bias: 0.00
Shutter Speed: 1/90
ISO: 200

Can we be honest? For just one second? OK, here goes: I generally hate taking portraits. It’s because I’m simply not a people person.


I swear.

It isn’t because people will often assume they know more about lighting and poses and start trying to take over the photo shoot. Surprisingly, this rarely occurs when I’m taking head shots; I largely suspect it’s due to theatre people being terrified that I’ll become vindictive and make them look fat. Some of the most problematic shoots can be high school portraits, during which parents can sometimes get more than a little bossy and start telling you exactly how everything needs to go. I’ve generally come up with a solution in the form of a verbal contract explaining how it works: you provide your kid’s wardrobe and chose the location of the shoot (because you have a general idea of how you want the pictures to look), I take the photos and arrange where/how the kid will pose (because I have a general idea of how photography, y’know, works). You’d be amazed at how easy portrait shoots can go, provided you’ve laid down some ground rules.

My favorite portraits are usually those that my friends ask me to take, partially because everything’s so laid back during those sessions and partially because they trust me to make them look good. The nice thing about shooting pictures of friends is that I know what they’re like, which means I can generally find an environment that is as comfortable and fun for them to pose in as it is for me to shoot in. If you have a chance, hang out with your subject for an hour or so and just get to know them a little better. Oftentimes, this will make them a little more comfortable with you as both a person and a photographer; this will generally make for a much more rewarding photo shoot. For this example, we’re going to use my friends Aqua and Kabe as models.

Essentially, Aqua (the guy) wanted to get a portrait of he and his girlfriend in their new leather jackets. I liked the lines on the jackets, so I decided to pose them somewhere where there were other horizontal that would enhance the linear visual without overpowering it.

*Side note*
Don’t choose a location more interesting than your subject. It never works out.

Both Aqua’s and Kabe’s outfits contrasted nicely with the brick and glass background. For the most part, I just sauntered around them and took pictures of them being cute and holding each other. Kabe was feeling kind of self-concious, I guess, and wouldn’t look directly at the camera, so I played it up by having her look at Aqua instead.

After approximately 20 minutes of subjecting them to my lens’s scrutiny, I managed to capture this moment and fell in love with it. I cropped it down so it had a tighter, more polished feel, and the end result was the image at the top.


Walla Walla Reflections

February 21, 2007

Train Tracks in Walla Walla 5 Minutes Before a Storm Arrives, originally uploaded by foolscircle.


Photo Details:
Camera: Nikon D80
F-Stop: f/5.3
Focal Length: 70 mm
Exposure Bias: -0.67
Shutter Speed: 1/400
ISO: 100

So I’ve returned home from Walla Walla and gone from a lot of cold and rain to… well, more cold and some rain that’s set to appear in the near future. Still, I was lucky while I found myself roaming around the town’s streets, mainly because I managed to catch some beautiful brief moments of sunshine in the midst of all the storm clouds that kept on lurking across the sky. As I said before, I wasn’t really looking to take that many photos while I was in Washington, mainly because I was too busy being a social butterfly… still, I found myself happy with a couple of the images I did manage to capture.

As you can clearly see, I returned to the train tracks and shifted the location slightly in order to avoid the presence of that ugly fence from before. The silos and trees just happened to be situated on the walk from my hotel to Whitman’s campus and I also just liked the way they looked. It’s one of the unique properties of Walla Walla: there doesn’t seem to be any set system to the city’s neighborhoods. Immediately around the Whitman campus, most of the houses are actually very nice and seem to be something straight out of Better Homes & Gardens. Within a couple of blocks distance, though, things quickly degenerate and seem to become more than a little run down due to teeming weeds and poor paint jobs. It’s strange, because neighborhoods seem to change from block to block with no discernible transition in between; one seems straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting, crossing the street will bring a pedestrian into an area overrun with shady buildings and lawns scattered with car parts.

Nature and industrialism seem to mix in the same awkward manner. As a result, it’s not uncommon to find a building ringed by evergreen trees sitting next to a field that’s populated by farming equipment, silos, and some beat-up looking boxes. It’s funny, because when I was attending Whitman I grew pretty acustomed to the startling contrast without even realizing it. Coming back to the area after spending roughtly eight months away, though, I was pretty shocked to see the town through fresh eyes. It was a little weird, and just a little sad, to realize that I’d simply grown used to seeing the massive differences… and it was probably a little sadder that I just forgot about it when I came back to the Bay Area.

At least this time around, I’ll have these photos to remind me of how much of a difference a city block can make.

Walla Walla Revisited

February 17, 2007

Train Tracks in Walla Walla, originally uploaded by foolscircle.

Photo Details:
Camera: Nikon D80
F-Stop: f/10
Focal Length: 24 mm
Exposure Bias: -0.67
Shutter Speed: 1/200
ISO: 100

Walla Walla is a relatively small town in Eastern Washington which never seems quite sure as to what it really wants to be. The place was settled by Marcus and Narcissa Whitman back in the 1830s and the settlement stuck around even after the Whitmans were killed by the local Native American populace a few years later. Since then, the town’s become known for three different things: a booming wine industry, three fairly prestigious colleges in the area, and the overwhelming presence of the Washington State Penitentiary (which looms on the edge of town and always manages to generate an absurd amount of light pollution at night). The wine is actually pretty amazing, though since I was allowed to graduate from Whitman College I’m not sure I can speak for the universities’ quality (you’d think they would have clued into the fact that I stopped caring about my education after my sophomore year… but that’s a story for another time); I can’t really say anything about the prison other than it’s huge and intimidating.

I decided I needed a vacation from work -and the general public- so I came up here because I wanted to see a number of my friends who were still in school. Surprisingly, the Whitman campus is a lot more fun to hang out around when you don’t have to go to class or do homework. I also brought my camera up with me in case I had some free time to take a couple of photos.

While wandering around near a friend’s house today, I found the train tracks that bisect the town and cut right through Whitman’s campus. I kinda liked the imagery evoked by the section of tracks I wandered, so I figured I’d fire off a couple of shots. I played around with the perspective by getting low to the ground, which in turn allowed for a unique point of view… the image of the tracks gradually filling up the foreground is a nice effect in my opinion. I also made a half-hearted attempt to do some macro photography with the rail spikes, but I was distracted by what was quite possibly the longest earthworm I’d ever seen. I might wander back out there tomorrow to try and retake some photos, but it ultimately depends on whether or not I have enough free time to do so. If not, I might just try photoshopping some of the landscape on the right over to the left and softening the general feel of the tracked landscape.

Winter Photos… Sans The Snow (Part Two)

February 12, 2007

Icicle, originally uploaded by foolscircle.

Photo Details:
Camera: Nikon D80
F-Stop: f/29
Focal Length: 120 mm
Exposure Bias: —
Shutter Speed: 1/200
ISO: 100

As I’ve said before, taking winter photos is a pain when you don’t have any snow to work with. My last post discussed how I finally captured a couple of interesting shots down at Donner Lake, which is near my family’s house in Truckee, CA.

The weekend before that, I simply decided to walk around our house and see what kind of wintry photos I could snag without going ambling more than 25 feet away from the building. I started out on our front deck, where a couple of sizable icicles were hanging off the roof. The main problem with photographing icicles is that they often can amplify or distort the background; this can prove to be really problematic when you just want to capture and highlight the textures of the watery stalactites. Since I was shooting photos on a sunny afternoon, I was getting a lot of colors in the background which prevented the icicles from becoming the real focus of my photos.

The solution, I realized, was easy to accomplish by doing two things: pushing up the F-stop on my camera to a rather absurd number and using my speedlight to illuminate the ice in a way which a regular flash couldn’t. I’ve often found that even in the brightest environments, putting the F-stop higher than 25 will obscure just about anything that isn’t directly illuminated by a flash of some sort. When you take a speedlight on a remote cable and set it at an interesting angle, the resulting play of shadows and light can often prove to be really dramatic.

For the above picture, I placed my speedlight directly beneath the icicle (seriously, it was about an inch outside of the camera’s field of vision) and snapped a couple of pictures. Once I’d adjusted the distance so that the actual light flash wasn’t visible, I really liked how this technique made the ice look like it was lit from within.

The other photos in this entry were from behind the house: two different pine cones I found from two entirely different angles. Neither picture was lit with a flash, nor was the ISO any higher than 100. The black and white picture was taken just beneath our deck, which provided for a rather soft light and didn’t create any harsh shadows on the cone’s exterior. I managed to snap the other picture off right when a cloud blocked out the sun and the shadows on the pine cone were suddenly a lot less extreme.

Now, if we can just get some actual snowfall, hopefully I can capture some traditional winter images.

Winter Photos… Sans The Snow

February 11, 2007

Donner Lake Pine Cone, originally uploaded by foolscircle.

Photo Details:
Camera: Nikon D80
F-Stop: f/5.6
Focal Length: 85 mm
Exposure Bias: -0.67
Shutter Speed: 1/250
ISO: 100

The Lake Tahoe region, at the moment, is pretty desolate right now due to an overall lack of snow. It’s a little worrisome, since Northern California’s water supply is largely derived from My dog, Hunter, at Donner Lakemelted snow. While it’s been raining pretty hard down here in the Bay Area, I’m hoping this will keep up and provide a couple of blizzards up in the Sierras… because, well, I really don’t want to end up in another drought.

The more immediate problem, though, is that taking winter pictures with only a minuscule amount of dirty snow is a pain. Two weekends ago, I simply walked around the area near my family’s cabin and took a bunch of texture-based nature photos with what I found on the ground nearby. This past weekend, I ambled down to Donner Lake in search of some more winter-oriented imagery.Surface of Donner Lake

While there still wasn’t any more snow down there, there certainly was a lot of ice coating the surface of the lake. We’re talking some serious ice, too, in certain places: my dog was able to wanter out about 20 feet while sniffing around, and I saw some teenagers standing even farther out on the ice about a half-hour later.

Ice itself is often tricky to shoot, mainly because the background often gets refracted through it and reduces the detail of the textures/crystals. The easiest solution for this conundrum is to light it from behind, or, in certain cases (like with icicles), lighting it from the bottom. As I wandered around the shore, I saw a lot of ice that I couldn’t really control the lighting on. Needless to say, I had to get a little creative in order to make the photos interesting.

Normally, I shoot with my 24-120 mm lens. In this case, my regular lens wasn’t getting meKids playing on the surface of Donner Lake close enough to the interesting items on the lake’s surface. In this case, I switched over to my 70-300 mm lens in order to get closer to the action. Laying down on the boat dock, I was leaning about halfway off the edge and shot roughly a dozen pictures of the pine cone before I was happy. As you can see, the result is at the top of this blog entry.