Day 152—Ah, Hmmmmmmm!

I was outside on the patio in the late afternoon heat trying to find an interesting shot of the lone immature kumquat I found on my newly purchased kumquat tree., which I thought would be perfect for the daily challenge, “peek-a-boo.” As I moved around the plant trying different focal lengths and angles, I heard a hummingbird scolding me for being outside. I abandoned the kumquat, and followed the sound. As I focused on the hummer darting nearby then landing in the shrubs, I managed to get two shots of it as it tried to approach the fountain but was too timid because I was apparently encroaching. One of the shots is in perfect focus. I didn’t have a chance to increase the shutter speed or make other adjustments to the exposure so this was a very lucky shot. I cropped it for effect but I made no changes to the exposure (manual mode and, ahem, an ISO setting of 320, Melinda, outside!).

Focal Length 300mm
ISO 320
f/5.6
1/100
Cropped

Day 151—Everybody Loves Mady

Today, Mady and I drove to Benicia to visit fellow photoblogger Melinda so that she and I could use each other as “cooperative human subjects” to complete the remaining assignments for our photography class. Everybody at Melinda’s house, including her husband Lonnie and her son Matt were happy to have a golden retriever visiting for the day. Melinda and I made progress on our assignments and decided to add Mady as an uncooperative, nonhuman, subject for another class requirement, that of submitting photos for critiques that go beyond the specific lesson assignments and combine everything we’ve learned in the class, including composition, camera settings, exposure, focus, white balance and lighting.

I won’t be using this shot for any of the class assignments because it doesn’t quite measure up technically, especially because I focused on Melinda’s left eye instead of the eye closest to the camera and on Mady’s right eye instead of the one closest to the camera. However, I like the composition, the fact that Melinda and Mady fill the frame, and I think the exposure and lighting are good.

Focal Length 50mm
ISO 100
f/2.2
1/100
WB sunny
SOOC

Day 150 — It’s In The Bag

Today’s challenge theme is “paper.” It wasn’t until this evening when I came across this paper bag that I realized it would be perfect for the challenge and since I hadn’t taken a photo yet today, that was probably going to be it. I tried custom white balance but it returned an odd yellow color so I went with daylight, since the light from the dining room window supplied the light. I used my black backdrop to eliminate the light from behind.

Focal Length 85mm
ISO 100
f/1.8
1/8 second
WB Sunny
SOOC

Day 149—Made In The U.S.A.

Today we celebrate Memorial Day and fly flags as a tribute to the men and women who have served our country. A couple of days ago I bought a new US flag at Costco; and I bought it because it was MADE IN THE USA! I hoped to have it up this weekend for Memorial Day but I discovered that my old flag holder was too small to hold the new flag’s 1 and 1/4 inch pole. And when a friend stopped by this afternoon and offered to install the new bracket, the battery on my drill was dead and we needed it to drill through the stucco on my house. So, my lovely new US Flag, proudly made in the USA, stands in a holder in my backyard until I can get the new bracket installed, hopefully in time for flag day. I guess it’s a sad commentary that I am gleeful to find a US flag made in the USA but I think it would be a sadder commentary to find a US flag made in China. Today’s shot of the flag reflects my entire backyard and the back of my house in the finial at the top. I guess I’m reflected in there somewhere, and, if you look closely, the “made in the U.S.A.” label shows on the flag, near the union (and, no, I didn’t know until just a few minutes ago, that the blue quadrant of the US flag is called the union).

Focal Length 50mm
Manual Mode
ISO 100
f/8
1/80
WB Sunny
SOOC

Day 148—Strolling Through The Park

My friend Peggy and I went to see Wicked at the Sacramento Community Theater this afternoon and didn’t get home until almost 6PM. I still needed to take Mady for her walk so we headed off to Mahaney Park near my gym for an hour. I hadn’t taken a single photo today and was not sure what I’d find at the park. Not much, as it turned out, but I’m going with what I got.

Focal Length 28mm
ISO 100
Manual Mode
f/5.6
1/60
SOOC

Focal Length 28mm
ISO 100
Manual Mode
f/14
1/50
SOOC

Focal Length 28mm
ISO 100
Manual Mode
f/5.6
1/250
SOOC

Day 147—Big Red

I bought these beautiful red onions yesterday at the nearby strawberry patch. After chopping up part of one of them, I decided I should photograph them while I still had the chance. I used my shutter delay for the first time because I had the camera with the long lens at full extension on the tripod and, because I needed to use a long shutter speed, I wanted to avoid camera shake. I used custom white balance as well and actually heeded the camera’s light meter to set my exposure. The light came from the kitchen window and I propped the black side of my 5 in 1 reflector on top of a drawer to eliminate the background. Besides the gorgeous color, I love the look of the dried root fibers.

Focal Length 300mm
Manual Mode
ISO 50
f/5.6
1.6 seconds
Custom WB (2981 K)
SOOC

Day 146—Lady Bug, Lady Bug

This was one of those days that my real life actually intervened and precluded me from pursuing my imaginary life of “cub photographer extraordinaire.” When I finally was able to take a breath and got out to take Mady for a walk, it was almost 6PM. I didn’t have much hope for a good shot of anything and decided to take Mady to a place I’d walked one other time in the hopes of finding something interesting. Nothing materialized and although I took a few shots of the clouds and the landscape, it wasn’t good enough. I was thinking about what I could photograph once we returned home when I glanced over at what I think is wild fennel and saw, in a misty sea of green, a tiny red ladbug standing out from the background. I have never photographed a ladybug before; it was in deep shade and I was shooting manual. I ended up with two shots in focus. I cropped this one.

Focal Length 300mm
Manual Mode
ISO 320
f/5.6
1/60

Day 145—She’s Baaaaaaaack!

Mady’s back. And she served as a marginally cooperative subject today as I photographed her in indirect light with the lawn serving as a reflector of sorts. We’re studying light this week so I encouraged Mady to lay in the shade on the lawn while I lay a few few away on the lawn in the sun. I even used a custom white balance. I couldn’t decide which of these shots I liked the best so I’m including all of them. You can see the main light reflector (the lawn) in her eyes. I used manual mode today and felt the kind of relief I felt the other day when I used manual mode again for the first time since starting this class because I had complete control again. Aperture and Shutter Priority modes have definite advantages and I know I will use them often, but I think I am most comfortable using manual mode. And I know when there’s a problem, I’m to blame, not the camera for automatically resetting one of the exposure elements.

I really like the composition of the first shot as well as Mady’s expression. And I love the last one because she’s looking straight at the camera. And well, I just plain like all the others; I just can’t put my finger on why. The first shot required a little help. I had to make a couple of adjustments in Aperture: the custom white balance didn’t seem quite right, perhaps because it was underexposed; I left the ISO set to 100 (I’m still hung up on low ISO settings). When I increased the exposure by 1 2/3 stops and changed the white balance to sunny (5500 Kelvin) the shot appears almost the same as the other shots that I shot with custom white balance at 7879 Kelvin and ISO set to 200. All were shot with the lens at f/5.6 and shutter speed at 1/60. I cropped the last shot slightly. The rest are SOOC.

Day 144—Not So Cooperative

Last week’s photography class assignment for “In-Camera Processing” required a cooperative human subject. Today, when I drove up to Williams to meet my brother Arthur and to pick up Mady the Golden Retriever for another ten day stay, I decided to take advantage of my brother’s charm, good looks, and general “nice guy-ness” and prevailed upon him to be my cooperative human subject for this assignment. I forgot he is also my big brother and the “big-brotherness” trumped any charm, good looks, and general “nice guy-ness” he might otherwise have exhibited. While we ate lunch at a picnic table across from Granzella’s in Williams (he did buy my lunch) I switched from RAW to JPEG, as required by the assignment, and cycled through the various in-camera picture styles, taking one or two shots at each setting while Arthur made it impossible for me to capture any reasonably civil photographs. These two shots, both taken in the “vivid” setting, most exemplify what it was like to grow up as this guy’s little sister.

In the first shot, I metered on the water bottle so the exposure of Arthur is dark (and out of focus as I used a wide aperture and shallow depth of field); since I was using Aperture Priority the shutter speed varies depending on what the primary focus is and I forgot to use my recently set exposure lock button to lock in better exposure. The second shot is better exposed than the first but the “vivid” in-camera setting made the colors too vivid and the skin tones too red. I have already returned my camera to RAW. I’d rather apply these kinds of effects in post processing, not while worrying about exposure and focus. However, nothing can be done with the subject’s expression.

Focal Length 72mm
ISO 100
Aperture Priority
f/5.6
1/160
WB – Shade
SOOC

Focal Length 72mm
ISO 100
Aperture Priority
f/5.6
1/60
WB – Shade
SOOC

Day 143—G Is For Garlic

Today’s challenge theme is “starts with G.” The other day I bought some garlic at the nearby strawberry farm that had been harvested that morning. My shot today features one of those garlic bulbs, still with its stem and lots of dirt, and two others I had on hand. I returned to manual mode for this shot and was relieved when exposure settings didn’t suddenly change as they do in Aperture and Shutter Priority settings. I was after a dark and moody look for this shot, sort of a low-key shot. I think the reflections add interest. I took the shot with the camera on a tripod, on one side of the counter facing my kitchen. The light came from the kitchen window to the left; I used a white reflector to add a little more brightness.

Focal Length 85mm
ISO 100
Manual Mode
f/1.8
1/40
SOOC

Day 142—Custom White Balance

Today I’m trying to catch up on my photography class assignments. Last week, we covered white balance, including custom white balance settings. I’m featuring two completely different shots today, related only by the fact that I used a custom white balance setting for both of them. To set a custom white balance, you photograph a gray card in the specific light that is hitting the subject that you’re going to photograph. The camera reads the kelvin temperature and sets the white balance at that temperature. Custom white balance can be set for any subject and it is quite interesting to me that the custom settings seem to greatly enhance the colors of the photo, improving upon the camera’s preset white balance options.

Both of my subjects have appeared in this blog before so there is nothing new or exciting here. The first, is my English lavender, only from a slightly different point of view. I lay on my back on the patio peering through the viewfinder at the lavender behind my head. I especially liked this shot and the angle of the lavender running diagonally across the photograph.

Focal Length 50mm
ISO 100
f/1.4
1/1600
Custom WB (5081K)
SOOC

The second is Bobo who was a surprisingly cooperative subject because I had just picked her up from a 5 day stay at the vet while I visited Santa Rosa. She didn’t want me out of her sight and when I beckoned her to the opening of her cage door, she eagerly scrambled there. She wasn’t even put off when I held the gray card near the cage door to capture the same light falling on her for the custom white balance setting. The light was from the bay window by her cage and an incandescent overhead light which was overwhelmed by the natural light. Our white balance class assignment required us to take a photo at each of the camera’s preset white balance settings and to set custom white balance as well and determine which of the settings was preferable. I loved the custom white balance compared to the other white balance settings on the shots I took of Bobo.

Focal Length 50mm
ISO 100
f/1.4
1/125
Custom WB (6077K)
SOOC

Day 141—Raptor

Today was the California Foundation for Birds of Prey’s annual open house. It offers a wonderful opportunity to photograph raptors up close. Three things prevented me from getting excellent photos: the time of day: between the hours of 11AM to 2PM when it was bright, cloudless, and hot with the sun directly overhead (the annular eclipse had yet to begin); my failed attempts at applying what I thought were the correct mode settings (Aperture Priority for some, Shutter Priority for some, Manual Mode when I was about to give up) but which apparently were not; and the fact that I still don’t know which button or dial controls which features on the new camera, so the adjustments I made incorrectly by feel really wreaked havoc with my photos today. Early on, I managed to change the white balance from my consciously set sunny setting to tungsten and about half of the eagle shots were blue. I am sure glad I shoot raw so I can change the white balance later in post processing if I decide to use any of the “blue” shots. During the free flight of a falcon, I used shutter priority and had to keep changing the settings but it wasn’t until much later that I realized I had inadvertently set exposure compensation minus one full stop. No wonder everything was dark. I was very discouraged after today’s fiasco. I really struggled.

These shots are my favorites from today. The exposure was almost correct; the only exposure correction I made was to dodge the eyes. I shot them using Aperture Priority and I cropped them both, as well. This is Tesla, the golden eagle who amazingly survived electrocution many years ago and now lives permanently at the CFBP and serves as an educational ambassador for the foundation. She is wet in both shots because Andy, her handler, sprayed her with water to keep her cool.

Day 140—Slurp

Before leaving Santa Rosa earlier this evening to drive home, I stopped by my brother John’s house to say “hi.” Misto is his tailless Australian Shepherd and she absolutely adores John. Although she is not a small dog, nor is she a puppy, she loves to loll in John’s lap. Misto is also a ham and she was happy to pose and look straight at the camera for a couple of the photos. I used Aperture Priority. The first and last shots required a levels and exposure adjustment. The second and third shots are SOOC.

Gazing adoringly at John:

Slurping John’s face:

Staring straight at me as if to say, “well take the photo, already!”

Staring at me again, as if to say, “I get to loll in John’s lap and you don’t!”

Day 139—A Snail’s Pace

Honora and I are going at a snail’s pace today. It’s well past noon and we haven’t yet started to do any of the road trip planning which is the reason we got together this weekend. We have, however, managed to take lots of photographs. I say “we” because Honora has been pointing out photographic challenges for me to attempt, even staging some scenarios. When she found a snail in one of her planters, she asked if I wanted to photograph it before she “did away with it.” I started taking photos and Honora added a few flowers for the snail to crawl to, then she pulled a patio chair near so it would cast an interesting shadow over the entire scene. I think the black spot at the end of the antenna-like stalks are eyes. If so, he seems to be watching me in some of these shots.

All shots are cropped but otherwise, SOOC. I used Aperture Priority. They were all taken at f/9, ISO 100, 300mm focal length and shutter speeds of 1/100 or 1/125.

Day 138—Cheerio!

Cheerio! I’m off to Santa Rosa this morning to spend a couple of days with my old high school friend, Honora, and plan our 2012 “Thelma and Louise” (without the cliff thing) road trip down California’s Coast Highway 1. Today’s daily challenge theme is “starts with C” and as I poured my morning bowl of Cheerios, I knew what my picture of the day would be. When the colors weren’t accurate, I used my gray card to create a custom white balance, which was one of the lessons for this week’s class. When the shutter speeds produced by Aperture Priority were too slow, I switched to manual mode and captured the photo I wanted. I have a tendency to shove my camera closer than the lens can focus; I try to keep an eye on the focus meter but sometimes I get caught up in the composition. And since I used the largest aperture on this lens, I think the only thing in focus in this shot is the top of the blueberry in the spoon. Too late to try again for better focus. I’ve already eaten the bowl of Cheerios.

Focal Length 50mm
Manual Mode
ISO 200
f/1.4
1/60

Day 137—Dandelion on Steroids

As I left the gym this morning, a huge seed pod covered with water drops and that looked like a dandelion on steroids caught my eye. There is nothing in the photo to show the size of this giant seed pod. It was about 4 inches in diameter. Turns out it is the seed pod of the Salsify plant also known as goatsbeard that seems to have invaded the not-so-carefully manicured garden beds that rim the parking lot. I missed the flowering phase somehow (I caught it last year- Day 105 2011 Goatsbeard) but this pod, glistening with tiny water drops was beautiful in the morning sun. I photographed it using Aperture Priority with the sun behind it. What amazed me was that with the aperture wide open, the shutter speed my D800 delivered was 1/8000. The focus is pretty amazing. I think I’d have to be pretty shaky to get this one out of focus. Of course the depth of field with my 50mm lens is so shallow when it’s at maximum aperture that most of the seed pod is out of focus anyway.

Focal Length 50mm
Aperture Priority
ISO 100
f/1.4
1/8000
SOOC

Day 136—Weed

I saw this weed, with its globular seed head, in my backyard and suspected it wasn’t a dandelion because the leaves are different and multiple flowers grow on one stalk. According to unknown sources on the Internet, it is catsear, a weed that is also known as a false dandelion. I took its photo because today’s daily challenge is “round” and this weed seemed to fit the theme. I used Aperture Priority and although yesterday’s lesson from my photography class was “white balance” I opted for Auto WB because quite frankly, I didn’t think about it.

Focal Length 300mm
Aperture Priority
ISO 100
f/5.6
1/400
SOOC

Day 135—Goats And More Goats

Driving along Elverta Road this afternoon I came across a herd of goats and a place to pull over. I’m back to using Aperture Priority, at least for the time being. There’s a slight hint of the cyclone fencing I was shooting through. I suppose it would have disappeared entirely if I’d used a larger aperture. The first shot seemed a bit dark so I increased the exposure by 2/3 stop in Aperture. The second shot seemed properly exposed.

Focal Length 300mm
ISO 100
f/11
1/500
WB Sunny
Exposure +2/3

Focal Length 300mm
ISO 100
f/11
1/200
WB Sunny
SOOC

Day 134—Hummers Again—Finally!

I’ve had my Nikon D800 for two weeks and until this morning, I have not managed to capture a single shot of a wild bird that I would consider posting on my blog. Part of the problem is getting acquainted with how the new camera works and adjusting to its increased weight. Part of the problem has been my busy schedule during the last couple of weeks that kept me from going in search of bird photos. And, part of the problem has been that my hummingbirds have been elusive—that is until this morning. When I opened the blinds at about 6:30 AM, there were two bathing in the fountain, something I’d not seen before. That was enough for me. I took my coffee and my camera and sat next to the fountain. There were so many (four or five), I think they must have fledged and left the nest. A couple of what appeared to me to be baby birds showed interest in the fountain but they were chased away by an adult. All the birds weren’t from the same family, however. One smaller hummer turned out to be a black chinned hummingbird, something I verified in my Sibley Guide to Birds after I downloaded the shots. So, there is a family of Anna’s hummingbirds (I think two adults and two babies) and at least one Black chinned hummingbird.

At 6:30 AM, the light at the fountain was not conducive to a low ISO so I bumped it up. The two shots I’m using today were taken at an ISO of 2000. I used an ISO of 5000 for some of the shots, but I’m still not comfortable using that high an ISO. Fortunately, with this camera, the noise it produces is not nearly as significant as the noise that high a setting would produce on my D90. I am posting these shots today because I think they are interesting but they are not well focused. I feel as if I’ve lost some of my ability to take good photos.

So, regarding this regression in my photographs, I will say that Karen Russell, the instructor for the on-line class I’m taking, has told us that our photos will get worse before they get better. However, she assures us that they will get better. I am certainly finding that my photos are getting worse. I am waiting for the up swing. This morning, I couldn’t get any of the hummers I saw in focus. I finally decided it was because I was not on continuous focus but rather single servo focus. It was only after I changed that setting that I was able to get these shots.

Both shots are cropped and the first required a levels adjustment. Both had the same exposure settings: Focal Length 300mm, ISO 2000, f.5.6, 1/125. I used manual settings and although I considered using auto ISO, I tried to keep a close eye on the meter to make sure my shots were exposed properly, but I missed on both of these: the first was underexposed, the second, overexposed. I guess it’s back to Aperture Priority for me, at least for a while.

Female Anna’s Hummingbird

Male Black Chinned Hummingbird

Day 133—Chair

I didn’t get a chance to take photos today until mid afternoon when the sun was high and it was hot. I passed by a fenced off courtyard to a small business that was closed and was intrigued by some chairs casting distinct shadows of their grids onto the bright concrete beneath them. I was challenged by this shot because I had to shoot through a wrought iron fence and I was trying to avoid getting the fence pickets in my shots. I had to place my lens against one of the pickets to prevent this from happening but as a result, I was restricted in my composition. I wanted to avoid the somewhat distracting pots at the upper left edge of the shot but was unable to compose the shot to avoid them. Today’s daily challenge theme is “borrowed.” I borrowed the idea for this shot from a much-discussed shot at the Placer Camera Club a couple of meetings ago. Someone had photographed a similar scene, only with a table and chairs casting shadows and it was intriguing so when I saw this, I knew it had to be my photo for today. I started out using Aperture Priority but my brain must have been affected by the sun because I forgot about Exposure Compensation. Old habits die hard: I switched to Manual because without exposure compensation, Aperture Priroity settings overexposed the shots because of the brightly reflecting concrete.

Focal Length 125mm
Manual Mode
ISO 100
f/5.6
1/500
SOOC