Inside: Woodrow Wilson Bridge at Sunset, Never enough light, GWC vs. Real Photographers; Just go to “The Point”s to skip my rambling
When you buy a new camera after all that research no one tells you that most of your pictures are probably going to come out looking a lot less awesome than you thought. Your indoor photos might as well have been taken with your cell phone camera. Your photos of music concerts — ha. Sure, you’ll get lucky every now and then. But that joyful point and shoot vibe that makes taking photos so fun? That “capture the moment, any moment” thing that the technology of these amazing little digital cameras promise? Not so much once you get indoors or at sunset/dusk.
What’s up with that?
This is for reg’lar folks who want to take good photos but don’t be fooled into thinking that I know what I’m talking about. I know what I know. And I know what I’ve read but haven’t learned how to apply book knowledge in the heat of the moment. Also, a lot of times I say “you” when I really mean “I” or “we”.
I set out with the big lens, 70-400mm, on the a55, but clearly there wasn’t enough light. The colors of sunset obscured by buildings and the bridge were already fading.
I switched to the NEX-5N and played around with program and manual mode. Set the shutter speed to 2 seconds or 5 seconds or whatever. I tried to capture the light trail of planes flying over the bridge and into DCA (Reagan International) but that didn’t quite work out like I expected. I’m thinking of trying for shots from the northern end of the bridge — the overlook — and getting the car lights.
Tips and advice are welcome.
WordPress is compressing the heck out of these photos, by the way. They’re not this blurry.
1. Physics Can Suck
It’s all about light and there’s rarely enough of it so getting good photos is all about compromise. Well, experience. If you’re a(n aspiring) photographer what you really are is a light artist. You are painting with light. You are slicing off moments of time from the fabric of reality and painting those slices with light.
It’s like an MRI that allows you to look at a cross-section of a body or organ.
I’m learning my way around flash photography. Very slowly. There’s a science to it but I can’t keep up with it in my pretty little head while I’m thinking about framing and trying to get the right moment. I’m in the experimentation phase with the off-camera wireless flash (triggered by the on-camera flash).
Here are two blogs I found recently that are really well done and they usually don’t have a ridiculous amount of equipment.
Getting crisp, clear images requires a lot of light. For example, even when I’m indoors taking photos at the gym directly under pretty even (but warm fluorescent light it’s not enough to freeze the action of someone kettlebelling. And consider that the person is standing in one spot. It’s not like they’re sprinting across the room or leaping in mid-air.
You’re screwed. Well, no. Not really. But if you’re indoors and flashes aren’t allowed or the subject is beyond your flash or lens range then you’re screwed. You’ll have to compromise.
In my opinion, I take some good photos. I capture moments. But I’m a few steps shy of getting the results I want. Moments captured with precision — crisp, clear and razor sharp. My fuzziness is almost a style in a way, but often it’s not what I intend.
Your camera (if you allow any of the primary settings — shutter speed, aperture, ISO or light sensitivity — to its technomagic) will try to compensate. It’ll increase the ISO or slow the shutter speed. But that’s not good enough and will usually just result in blurry and/or grainy photos. Use shutter priority mode and the camera will jack up the ISO and again you’ll get blurry/grainy photos. Even with your fastest lens.
That means that it’s time for flash photography
Well, either that or also carrying around a lighting system. Or both. In theory, I should be able to freeze action with a flash. I just haven’t figured out the rules for it yet, especially when the flash is off-camera and bouncing off of ceilings and reflectors. The High Speed Sync(HSS) stuff? Uh … right.
According to what I just read online, HSS is good for 7-15 ft. from the subject. And with the Sony/Minolta equipment HSS does NOT work if your flash head is at an angle.
Even in bright sunlight, by the way, a good photographer will use a flash to fill in areas or to cast a glow in the subject’s hair or to pool in the subject’s eyes. That’s one of the main uses of a flash — filling in shadows. The other is to freeze action.
I’m thinking that one way to increase chances for better photos is to use manual focus. Otherwise, the camera/lens will often have to futz and that will cost you seconds. Manual focus may be key, but you’ll have to predict or lead your subject.
I got good results last weekend by having the off-camera flash at about the same distance as the camera and moving in a little closer (but I didn’t want to blind people while they’re lifting). Something I learned from that experience is to take photos across your light source. (I’ll post some photos in this section once I get permission from a few peeps.)
In other words, if your flash is in front of someone and you take pictures from the front, you’ll get their shadow in the back. That can make for a cool effect if that’s what you want. BUT, if you set your flash in front of someone from below, let’s say, and you take your photo from a 3/4 view — well, now you’re talkin’.
Painting with light also means painting with shadows.
What happens after you get home and transfer your photos to your computer is where a lot of artistry comes into play. At the very least, adjusting the contrast or saturation can help you get your photos to convey what you were actually seeing. The brightness of lights and their contrast with the sky. Brilliant rainbows of Fall foliage. The color and shine in someone’s eyes.
Play around with software. Google’s Picasa is free and it’s excellent. Play around with all of the included filters and then adjust various levels. Play with black and white.
You’ll be surprised at how much art is going on around you every day and how there’s often a lot more going on in your photographs than even you realized. Sometimes it takes an effect to bring it out.
You may have noticed that I’ll sometimes complain about the blurriness of my photos but even professionals use software to sharpen their images or parts of them after the fact.
Don’t go overboard, though, is my amateur advice. Instagram is cool but if you just do what everyone else is doing people will tend to gloss over your photos instead of seeing what you want them to see.
Reading some photographer blogs I came across the term “GWC”. It’s used in a playfully derogatory way. It means “Guy With Camera”.
Some guy with a camera may approach a photogenic person on the street and and propose taking photos or a photo shoot. How do you know if that photographer is trustworthy, not very good, or a total creep? You don’t, really.
Guys like me who are into photography are kind of horning in on professional photographers. My nephew’s little league soccer coach asked if I would take photos of the team. I don’t know if pro photographers are into that sort of thing but it could be a pretty easy buck. A relative asked if I would be the wedding photographer at her friend’s wedding.
Wow. I said no. That’s a high pressure situation and something you can’t afford to get wrong. I didn’t and still don’t have the experience for something like that. You have to be fast, constantly prepared, and you have little to no control over the lighting. The action could move from outdoors to indoors. A well lit hallway to a dimly lit dance floor. A loving moment between the bride and groom or kids bearing rings and flowers sprinting across the scene. (That’s why you see wedding photographers with a full quiver of cameras — one for each lens they want to use — PLUS a second photographer.)
I’ll be more than just a GWC some day. Practice practice practice. At least you don’t have to buy film these days.