Week #91: I See


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I see a tree, looking at me!

Earlier this week, I met two friends for lunch that I haven’t seen in way too long. Afterwards, I had about 20 minutes before my next appointment, so I wandered around the grounds, played with my camera and discovered this tree (and many other things).

Prior to “A Month of Sundays” and my weekly camera lessons, I wouldn’t have had my camera with me. And I wouldn’t have thought 20 minutes could possibly be enough time to use my camera. But it was. Working on my photography regularly has changed me in many (wonderful!) ways. One of the changes is that now I see pictures everywhere, every day — little defining moments and quirky people and weird signs and trees that look at me. Every time it happens, I instinctively reach for my camera – but it often isn’t there.

And that is my next challenge – figuring out how to keep my camera with me all the time, in a way that doesn’t scream “CAMERA BAG – STEAL ME!” “WARNING! PHOTOGRAPHER ON THE LOOSE – HIDE WHILE YOU CAN!” I want something unnoticeable, that also has room for my every day stuff so I’m not hauling multiple bags like a pack mule. (Because pack mules are noticeable.)

So I’m wondering what solutions you guys recommend? What do you do to keep your camera gear with you?

Week #90: Spring Changes


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Happy Easter! Happy Spring!

Spring is the season of change – and it’s (finally) come to my attention that I need to make a few. Aside from the usual ones (anyone else dusting off their New Year’s resolutions?), I’ve realized that field trips, house calls from the flu-fairy, uncooperative weather, family and school commitments (in other words, my life in general) is not conducive to doing a chapter a week in my photo book. So, I’m changing – getting smart for a change, actually. Instead of rushing to get a chapter done every week (and stressing and cramming and beating myself up), I’ve decided to give myself at least two weeks per assignment so I can really learn the material. Because learning the material and improving my photography skills, not finishing a chapter a week, is the real point of having the assignments in the first place.

Yes, sometimes those simple solutions really are the best. And that simple act of giving myself permission is a huge change for me.

I’ll still continue to post on AMOS weekly – because I don’t want to lose the habit of taking photos every week. That’s had a huge positive impact on my photography (and my sanity!). The time between assignment posts will just be longer.

Speaking of assignments, here’s Chapter 7 – Landscapes:

But first – check out this neato site with flash cards for photography terms! http://quizlet.com/11357559/basic-photo-definitions-flash-cards/

  • Aperture and focal length: Take a photo with your longest focal length (ie, telephoto) and smallest aperture (ie, f22). Then keep the aperture the same and use your shortest focal length. Compare the depth of field in the photos.
  • Rule of Thirds: The rule of thirds is a compositional tool. Imagine your viewfinder divided into thirds horizontally and vertically (like a tic-tac-toe grid). The most interesting place to put your subject is anywhere those lines intersect. (Some cameras have a grid overlay feature that you can turn on. Check your manual! It’s a very handy feature; I keep mine on all the time.) Pick a scene and experiment with placing the subject on different intersection points.
  • Horizons: Select a scene with a horizon line. Experiment with putting the horizon on the top, middle and bottom third of the frame.

Have fun and feel free to share your photos, comments or questions. Or just share what changes this spring is bringing you.

See you next week!

Week #89: Aha! and Ta-da!


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Last week, I had the opportunity to do some product shots for my friend, Jen, who needed pictures of her adorable, wrapped wire, fish mobiles for a class she’ll be teaching. (You can check out all of Jen’s handmade awesomeness at  http://www.mamasmagicstudio.com/ ) Her request was just the push I needed to cross “build a photo light box” off my “to-do-someday” list. (Thanks, Jen!)

Admittedly, the process was trial and error (and error and error and error and trial) – but in the end, it was fun and I learned so much! Now I want to share all that learning with you – in case I can save time for anyone else out there.

The Product Shots:

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Making the Light Box

At first, I thought the challenge would be making the light box. Surprisingly, that turned out to be the easiest part. Thanks to the wonders of the internet, I found this very helpful tutorial. http://www.wikihow.com/Create-an-Inexpensive-Photography-Lightbox

Of course, the one time I needed a large cardboard box, they had all disappeared from my universe. So, I improvised by using a clear plastic box. That actually worked out great, because the plastic created it’s own diffuser – eliminating the need for tissue paper and significantly reducing the odds of me setting the house on fire. I also experimented with different lighting options, since the specifics of that weren’t listed in the tutorial. I ended up using three reflector lights, with a 300 watt (Seriously! 300 watt!) clear bulb in each one.

 The light box supplies:

  • 1 plastic bin (or cardboard box and tissue paper)
  • 1 piece of white poster board for background
  • oodles of clear tape (This holds up the poster board background. It also keeps small objects, like fish mobiles, in position.)
  • 3 reflector lamps ($14/ea)
  • 3 300-watt clear light bulbs ($3/ea)
  • 1 power strip (Optional. It’s handy to plug all the lights into this so you can turn them all off with one click.)

I had everything at home, except two of the reflector lamps and the bulbs – so my total cost was under $40. (Can’t complain about that!)

And the added bonus of using a clear plastic bin? When I’m done with my light box, I can store all my lighting inside and it’s ready to use for next time. Neato! Here it is all set up:

DSC_1646With my light box built and lit, I was ready to click away and have instantly beautiful product shots. Yeah, not quite… the pictures just didn’t have that bright white background that I wanted – despite having a white background in the actual light box and being surrounded by 900 watts of blinding light. I could correct that in Photoshop – but that required many additional steps because the mobile wires so small, that selecting them properly was time consuming. Besides… I really wanted to be able to capture the shot correctly – that was the point of building a light box.

So it was back to research – reading conflicting information in online tutorials, reading my photo book and even (*gasp!*) the actual camera manual, experimenting with Photoshop and Lightroom. All of which finally led to the pictures above and the following “aha’s!” that I happily share with you:

 The Aha’s!

  •  Know your light source: Every light source has a different color (warm, cool, etc.) Our brains compensate for this – so we don’t notice it in our daily lives. But your camera doesn’t do that as well on it’s own. This is the time to make sure you understand the white balance option on your camera. I chose tungsten initially, which works for most non-florescent light bulbs. Then I found a “custom light source” setting on my camera – which was perfect! It allowed me to take a picture of the background with the lights on and set that as the white balance. Very accurate and handy feature.
  • Control your light source: Shutting off all the rest of the lights in the room and minimizing any window light helps ensure that the camera sees only the light from your studio lights.
  • Remember the medium gray rule: The camera sensor wants to convert the picture to an average value (meaning medium gray). That means, when I take a picture of my white background under my bright white lights – it turns out medium gray. To compensate for that – you need to overexpose. Most cameras, especially the point and shoot kind, have a +/- EV setting which you can easily use to add exposure to your picture. Or you can increase the aperture (meaning make the aperture bigger by making the f-stop number smaller. Remember – the bigger the number the smaller the hole”. Sing it with me!) or decrease the shutter speed, in order to increase the exposure. Keep overexposing until that background is a lovely, bright white, but don’t overexpose so much that your subject is washed out.
  • Use a tripod: This helps keep your camera in the same position between shots and keeps the camera steady.
  • Try manual focus: Cameras have a hard time focusing on something small or light colored against a white background. Your photo may be sharper if you focus manually.
  • Turn off VR: If you have vibration reduction (or image stabilization) on your lens, turn it off whenever you’re using a tripod. It’s great when you’re hand holding the camera, but can actually introduce a little shake when it’s on the tripod.
  • Use editing software: Yep, even after all that, I learned from my research that most photographers still use some type of editing software. However, the better your picture is, the less editing you’ll need to do. Using the process above, I did use Lightroom to brighten up the background just a little bit more without overexposing the subject. But because the shot was exposed properly, it only took a couple of clicks in Lightroom and TA-DA! Drastically different from my first (hundred) failed attempts, that required multiple steps in Photoshop (select the product, replace the background, sharpen the product, etc, etc) and after much pain and suffering, still didn’t have good results.

Additional resources:

Here are a few other resources that are helpful for product shots, especially if you’re using a point-and-shoot type camera. I’m looking forward to trying the milk jug light box for photographing small items. (Right after I find someone to drink a gallon of milk for me!)

So, now you know everything I know about making a light box and taking product shots. Let me know how it works out for you!

Week #88: We Interrupt This Program…


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We interrupt our regularly scheduled program for proof of spring!



This past week, I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to take some product shots for a new class my friend, Jen at Mama’s Magic Studio, is teaching. I’ve been thoroughly absorbed in creating a light box, reading manuals and tutorials, learning new settings on my camera, troubleshooting, learning new software – fun, fun, fun! (Seriously! This is the kind of thing that makes me just giddy!)

Next week, I’ll share all my learning’s about creating product shots and working with a home made light box. The following week, I’ll post the Chapter 6 Portrait assignment and we’ll be back on track again.

In the meantime, if you (are forced to) participate in Daylight Savings, how are you making up for your lost hour and what are you doing with your extra daylight?

Week #87: Action!


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This week’s assignment was about showing action… and I found some unsuspecting victims subjects during our snow trip last week. Take a look.

First, showing motion without panning. In other words, holding the camera still and letting the action move past the camera – creating motion. (In this case, the snow is the moving subject.)

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And now, showing motion with panning – moving the camera with the subject while take the picture. Ideally, the subject is sharp (at least the key parts of it are so that it’s recognizable) and the background is blurry. My key learning’s are:

  • Panning is an art, not a science.
  • It’s difficult to tell if I captured the panning correctly until I can look at it closely on my computer
  • The direction of the subject compared to the camera makes a big difference. It works best when the subject moves left to right or right to left.  If the subject is coming at you or away from you, it’s difficult to show the motion.
  • It’s easier to practice panning on subjects that move in a predictable way. (Sledders do not move in predictable ways. Some of these sledders are going to need chiropractors!)

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How did it go for you? Any other panning tips out there?

And now for week 6’s assignment: Portraits  (We’re halfway done already!)

  1. Depth of field in portraits
    Find a willing victim patient friend and take their picture with different aperture settings – from shallow depth of field (meaning –  large aperture, small f-stop number) to large depth of field (meaning – small aperture, large f-stop number). Make sure there’s some space between the subject and the background so you can notice the effect. (In other words, don’t have your subject touching the background, unless you’re practicing mug shots.) Notice how the different depth of fields changes the portrait.
  2. Natural light portraits
    Find another willing victim and take their picture on a bright sunny day. Experiment with facing him towards/away from the sun. Try using fill flash and notice the difference.

Feel free to share links to your shots from any of the assignments in the comments below.

Week #86: Lately


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We went to the snow last week and returned later than expected yesterday. (Hence, the delayed post – sorry!) I’m happy to report that the trip was relaxing, fun and exactly what I needed to recharge. (Even though I couldn’t have told you that I needed to recharge, let alone what I needed to do to recharge, before the trip.) There was time with family, friends, my camera and wine. The perfect blend of quiet time and active time. Ahhh….

I even got to work on week 5’s action assignment  – which I’ll show you next week. (How’s it going for you?)

And to make up for the late post, here are a three of my favorite (non-people, non-action) snow photos from the trip to share with you.

DSC_0375We arrived at night. The next morning we awoke to see this cute little guy guarding our cabin.

DSC_0368I couldn’t resist photographing these winter shadows on the new snow.


Our view while we snowshoe.

See you next week!

Week #85: Punt!


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This week, my schedule and the weather did not play well together. But I was determined not to miss this week’s assignment. So I punted and shot “on location” today in my back yard. (And I’m technically still posting on Sunday, with 19 minutes to spare. Yeah, it’s been that kind of week, preceded by that kind of month. Oh well, that’s life.) So, here we go…

Aperture Priority Mode – playing with depth of field:

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As you can see, when the aperture is large (small f-stop number) only a small portion of the photo (just the center of the flower) is in sharp focus. When the aperture is small (large f-stop number) the whole scene is in focus. (Remember the aperture diddy from last week? “The bigger the f-stop number, the smaller the hole. The smaller the hole, the larger the depth of field.” Everyone sing it with me now! ;-D) Notice how the larger aperture separates the subject (the part in focus) from the background (everything else) by making the background blurry? A handy trick when the background for your subject is ugly or distracting.

Shutter Priority Mode – freezing motion

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It took a little hunting to find something that would move (at least somewhat) consistently while I did this experiment. I finally settled on a pinwheel – or as my son says “spinwheel” (which makes more sense, actually) with the help of a fan (that you can see in the background).

Manual Mode – changing exposure with shutter speed

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This one is a bit subtle — keeping the aperture the same (f10), the shutter speed starts at 1/125, then decrease to 1/100 (longer time, more exposure) and then increased to 1/160 (shorter time, less exposure). I should have increased/decreased the shutter more than one stop so you could see the effects more dramatically. (I’ll remember that for next time…)

How did it go for you? Even if you prefer to stay in Program mode, I highly recommend learning what settings your camera allows you to change in that mode (ISO? Aperture?), so you know what control you have creating your photo. If it doesn’t give you the control you want, venture out into both Aperture and Shutter Priority modes. Even the pros use these modes sometimes when they need to work quickly and, due to the action of the subject or the changing light conditions, manual mode might not be as successful. Remember, at the end of the day – getting the shot matters more than how you got it. But most of all — have fun doing it!

And now week 5’s assignment: We get to delve into motion more this time. Ready?

1. Practice “panning” using shutter priority mode. Experiment with different shutter speeds and focal lengths.

2. Create a sense of motion – without panning – by keeping the camera still and adjusting the shutter speed until there’s a blurred effect that conveys a sense of motion. (As opposed to just looking blurry.)

Both of these techniques take a bit of practice — so have fun! And feel free to share your results. Plus… you get an extra week to practice, because looking at my calendar for the upcoming week, I know I’ll be needing two weeks for this assignment. (But I’ll post something fun for you to look at next Sunday – don’t worry.)

Week #84: Shooting on Location


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This week’s assignment was to explore the different scene modes on your camera. (How did it go for you?) I discovered that my camera has 19(!) different scene modes. I chose two common ones — landscape and macro, and two that I’ve always wanted to try — low key and hi key.

Naturally, I headed to the nearest graveyard to do my assignment.


Yep. Maybe it’s because I’ve watched too much Buffy in my lifetime (is that possible?) and recently read Neil Gaiman’s lovely story “The Graveyard Book” (a very sweet story, despite the name, really!) — but for months, I’ve been completely intrigued by this graveyard I drive past every day. I can barely take my eyes off it. (Joss Whedon would have a field day here!) So, when the only day I could shoot this week happened to be freezing cold and gray, I knew exactly where I should go.

I wandered for quite a while, the only living person there, and was surprised to learn that it’s a very old graveyard; most of the residents moved in during the late 19th century. There weren’t any signs explaining the history of the place – which meant it was left to my (very vivid) imagination. And you’ll be happy to know that I didn’t freak out — except once when some cats started fighting and two squirrels went berzerk and then my camera bag thunked into me unexpectedly. Other than that brief cardiac episode, I was cool as a cucumber. (And there should be a law against cats fighting in a graveyard. Just sayin.)

So take a peek, if you dare…

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And check out this side-by-side comparison. Same shot, different modes. What a difference it makes!

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Neato, huh?

I was so absorbed by this place and the assignment, that I didn’t even notice that my fingers had gone numb, until I couldn’t push the trigger button on my camera. And even then, I initially thought there was something wrong with my camera. (Yeah, I get *that* absorbed when I’m doing photography.)

So how did it go for you? Any pictures to share? Are you ready for week four’s assignment? Yes? Me, too!

Assignment for week #4:
We’re moving into the manual modes – whoohoo! If your camera doesn’t have a full manual mode, it probably has some of the other ones listed. If not, explore some of the other scene modes that you didn’t get to last week. Here we go:

  • Program Mode (P): Explore what setting options are available. (ISO? White balance? etc) Shoot in a variety of environments (shade, sun, indoors, out) look at what setting options your camera chose – that’s a great way to learn what to do when you’re using full manual mode later.
  • Shutter Priority Mode (S): Find a moving subject, start at a low shutter speed and keep changing it to a faster shutter speed until you can freeze the action. Now do the reverse — find a subject that isn’t moving, start at a fast shutter and keep changing it to slower shutter speed until the picture is blurry. (Now you know how slow your shutter speed can be while hand holding a camera.)
  • Aperture Priority Mode (A): Explore how each aperture setting affects your depth of field.
  • Manual Mode (M):
    a. Outside on a sunny day, set your ISO to 100, your shutter speed to 1/125 and aperture to f16 – check the meter and verify/adjust it to zero and take the picture. Now move your shutter speed up (faster, 1/500) and your aperture down (wider, f8) and take a picture. Now move your shutter speed down (slower, 1/60) and your aperture up (narrower, f22) and take the picture. Review the pictures – they should all look the same because the exposures were the same — even though you used different combinations of aperture and shutter speed.
    b. Set your camera back to shutter speed 1/125 and aperture f16. Change the shutter speed up and down, without changing the aperture and compare the shots. (This changes the exposure — under or over exposed — of your picture.)

And here’s my tip for remembering how aperture works — because the numbers are confusing. “The bigger the number, the smaller the hole.” (If you’re ever on a photo shoot with me, you will probably hear me mumbling that little diddy under my breath.) And, the smaller the aperture (bigger number, smaller hole) the farther your depth of field is. Remember using empty paper towel tubes as pirate telescopes as a kid? Yeah, that was a small aperture and far depth of field. See? You know this stuff already, just don’t know you know.

Now go have fun, Matey’s! And feel free to leave a comment, question, link to a picture, random musing or pirate talk below.