A new day

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The last 5 days have been sort of crazy, which explains why I have been absent here. First I went to SC to visit my parents for the Independence Day weekend (and pick up my children, who had been with the grandparents for a week), and then two of my three children came down with high fevers and coughing. So it has been a bit of a washout these last few days. I do not have a portrait to post today, but a couple of photos of my photographic inventory to share with readers.

DSCN0917_3000x2250_500x410.jpg

Here is another angle with a few other items:
DSCN0916_500x666.jpgSo now you know what I am working with.

Hopefully I will get back on track tomorrow with my self-portrait project. Until then, bye!



It took me 10 photos today before I got one reasonably in focus. This time I set up a paper towel holder at eye level and even tried to lock in manual focus....Oh, I just realized something!!! Flash of insight! I just realized that I probably was missing focus because I used a larger aperture (f/5.6). I should have tried f/8. Tomorrow I will do everything the same except I will use a smaller aperture and see if that affects focus.

I won't go into details about the shoot today, other than the aperture (f/5.6).
POR_6521.jpgAfter I uploaded it, I changed the white balance slightly, straightened and cropped it, and sharpened. I got the exposure pretty good this time, so again, it didn't take much fiddling with it after the fact.

I am getting quicker at the whole thing. I look forward to tomorrow's attempt. I am curious to see if decreasing the aperture will indeed help with the focus.

Hi. Today I left the safe confines of my (home) office and ventured into my library. I had been sitting in there earlier and noticed the nice daylight streaming in the window. I thought it might be a nice backdrop for today's photo.

So I took my tripod, camera, wireless release, and gray card into the library and set up the shot. If you look just over my left shoulder, you will see a little African statue. I placed that there at approximately my eye level, and used that to lock focus on. It was a bit better this time, I think.

Here is the shot (click on the image to see the full-size photo), and following that, the particulars:
POR_6508.jpgToday's particulars:
  • Today's set-up was a bit different in that instead of cropping in more tightly on me, I zoomed out somewhat to include the backdrop. I liked seeing the books, and I thought it provided some more visual interest, so I left the background in. Is this the right choice? Maybe technically not, but I liked it, so there's that creative license again. (P.S. Can you tell I was an English major, both B.A. and M.A.?)
  • Today I used the following specs: Nikon D300 with the 18-200mm lens at 35mm, f/5.6, ISO 200, and shutter speed of 1/5s. I used AF-C mode, with an area mode of dynamic, 21 points. Perhaps if I use this mode, I should go down to 9 points. Anyway.....I used Matrix metering with 0EV dialed in.
  • When I pulled the NEF into Capture NX2, all I did was adjust the WB using the gray card test shot, remove sharpening, straighten it slightly (it was just slightly tilted), and then add my customary sharpening of 45, 6, 4. I didn't crop at all today. I guess upon further reflection I should have cropped some, but I didn't feel like it. It took all of maybe 5 minutes to do the post processing.
Other comments today: I did receive my cool new monopod and swivel head yesterday, and while I haven't played around with them yet, I am so excited about them. They are very sturdy but lightweight. Here is a quick snapshot of them:DSCN0912.JPG

I am still having problems with focusing....so today I skirted around the issue by photographing my clothing (and I just noticed even that isn't in very sharp focus...d'oh!). This is tricky. If anyone has any ideas on how I can do this, I would appreciate hearing them. Here is today's shot (click on the photo to get the full-size version):
POR_6504.jpgHere are today's challenges and issues:
  • Last night, for inspiration, I was re-reading Bryan Peterson's excellent book, Understanding Exposure, and was struck by his concept of a "who cares?" aperture. I decided to use a "who cares?" aperture on today's shoot because I didn't feel like I needed to "isolate the subject" this time, although most times on portraits, I feel like you should....Again, it's a creative decision, which is another thing about photography that appeals to me. I also didn't need to use an extremely small aperture, because there is no need for huge depth of field. So today I chose an aperture of f/8. That set the shutter speed at 1/8s. I used an ISO of 200, although upon further reflection, I think the shot would have been better served at 400. Live and learn. I did a few things differently today. Today I tried to use the spot meter and I metered off my shirt. I was concerned about complexities caused the darkness of the background and the light coming in the window. Not sure it did the best job, but again, it's a learning experience. For focus, I used AF-C with single area mode. Like I said previously, I didn't nail the focus today. DRAT.
  • Anyway, I pulled the NEF into Capture NX2 and set the white balance using the shot I took with the white balance gray card (which I am finding is pretty good and easy to use, so yea!). The only things I adjusted were exposure (I bumped it up 2/3ds a stop) and I did some work with white and black control points. I also sharpened as usual (45, 5, 4).
In other news, last week I ordered a Feisol monopod and a Manfrotto swivel head with a Kirk quick-release clamp. I am hoping they arrive today. So exciting! I love new toys.
Today's photo was taken on my Mac webcam, using a program called Photo Booth. I clicked on the "Effects" button, and chose the Andy Warhol-ish effect, and here you go:

Photo 2.jpg

Tomorrow I will get back to being more serious, I promise! But I actually kind of like yesterday's and today's images, I must confess.

Day 3: A wuss-out day

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OK, it's only Day 3, and I already wussed out. Oh well. I went swimming this morning with my four-year-old son and my hair was a big mess, so I bagged the "real" thing, got out my point-and-shoot (Coolpix P6000), and took a picture of my freshly painted toes. So sue me. I set the camera on auto-everything, and saved the file right in the camera as a JPEG, so all I had to do was click, upload, and write up my blog. Yea!

DSCN0911.JPG

Hey, give me credit for being creative (sort of).


What did I learn from the first day? Well, I learned that focusing is hard! I also learned that I need to say a tiny bit more about each shot, so that I can truly learn and not repeat the same mistakes over and over.

I have been thinking a lot about this project over the last 24 hours, and I think I have some good ideas: working with flash, figuring out the best use of the remote, enlisting help from friends, using the Coolpix P6000 on occasion, etc. etc. It should be fun. I need to keep this to a reasonable time limit, or I will not be able to continue.

Here is Day 2's photo. Click on the image to get the full-size photo:
POR_6499.jpg


Here are the particulars for today:
  • Aperture priority at f/4.5 (I didn't want to use flash today, so I made the aperture larger to let in more light) with an automatic shutter speed of 1/10s and an ISO of 200.
  • I used Matrix Metering again, with a 0 EV dialed in. This time I got the exposure better (than yesterday's shot).
  • I used Auto WB again today, but this time I took a preliminary shot using a digital gray card (which I then used to set the WB in the software).
  • Picture Control was again D2XMODE1.
  • My Nikon D300 was mounted on my tripod vertically and again I used a remote release. I had my 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 lens on the camera with a focal length of 20 mm.
  • I tried a couple of different focus settings (I took a total of 6 photos of myself before I got this last one that was in focus), finally ending up AF-Area Mode of Auto.
  • Then I uploaded the WB shot and the portrait into Capture NX2. I got the WB set and then transferred it to the portrait, which pretty significantly warmed up the photo.
  • The only other things I did with it--because I got the exposure correct this time--was add sharpening, crop, and save it as a JPEG. That's it. It took me longer to open NX2 than it did to edit the photo.


A project for me

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I have decided I have got to do something drastic to increase my photographic skills. More action, less talk. The thing I decided on was a project: I am going to try to take a portrait of myself every day....and then talk about it. My plan is to do as minimal of editing as possible, at least initially, to stretch my photographic skills. Bad hair day. Busy. Tired. Doesn't matter. I am going to try to take--and post--a self-portrait a day.

I am hoping that in addition to increasing my photographic skills, it will force me to be more creative and not so "rote." So there you have it.

Today's issue was focusing. I set up a chair and tried to focus on it using autofocus, and then I used the manual focus to tweak the focus to a few inches in front of the chair, to compensate for where my head would go. Anyway, what came in sharp focus was my hair to the right of my face (left side of the screen). The rule is to "focus on the eyes," and that didn't do it. I am going to need to figure out focusing when the subject isn't there!

Anyway, here are the particulars of the shot:

  • Camera was set vertically on my tripod and set at Mirror Up.
  • Composed the shot by placing the chair where I wanted it and then doing the focusing deal I spoke about above.
  • Used my wireless remote to trigger the shutter.
  • Used Aperture priority, f/8, with a shutter speed of 1/60s. 0EV dialed in. Used pop-up flash with -1.0 EV, ISO 200, Auto WB, and Matrix metering. Picture control was D2XMODE1.
  • I pulled the RAW file into Capture NX2 and made the following tweaks:
    • Changed WB to Flash
    • Rotated and cropped
    • Changed picture control to Portrait
    • Changed exposure compensation to +1.0 (I really underexposed it!)
    • Removed camera sharpening, and then later added it using Unsharp Mask at 50, 5, 4.
    • Created a black control point and moved it to the right
    • Saved as a JPEG
Here is today's photo, the first of many (I hope!). Click on the image to get a larger version:

POR_6490.jpg




Frustrations

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I think I am finally getting it with regards to photography. The actual clicking the shutter, I mean. I usually get my exposure right, or nearly right, and I know how to do all the settings on my camera to achieve (sort of) what I want to achieve regarding depth of field, motion, and etc. However, I am hitting a wall when it comes to processing. I have used a variety of tools, from Photoshop CS3 on down. Currently I am using Lightroom 2.0 to download my files and view them initially, and then Capture NX 2.2 to edit the photos themselves.

My main areas of concern are sharpening and white balance (color). I always set my white balance in camera, and I use either the pre-set menus on the camera (cloudy, sunny, flash, etc.) or an Expodisc. But the color never seems right to me, and then I fiddle and fiddle with white balance in NX 2, and I can never seem to get skin tones and other colors correct. No, I haven't calibrated my monitor. I guess that's a logical first step.

The second problem is sharpening. I never know how much is too much or how little is too little, and my photos end up looking either fake-y or too soft. UGH. I have read all of the posts in the forums, I have purchased the Jason O'Dell book, and I took a Nikonians Academy class on NX 2, and I still don't have a good feel for things.

This is my rant for the day.....

Thanks for reading.
I am so excited to have my very own blog on Nikonians. I am going to start out by giving a brief biographical sketch of myself, and in future posts, I will talk about my photographic equipment; my processes; my workflow (ha! that makes it sound like I actually have one!); and my likes, dislikes, pet peeves, and passions in photography.

My name is Melinda and I live in North Carolina with my three children (aged 10, 5, and 4). My first full-time job is as a Web editor and publisher for IBM. My second full-time job is running a house and family. And finally, my interests are photography, tennis, cooking for friends and family, and spending time with my friends.

I have been a photographer since I was in middle school or thereabouts. I have used a million different point-and-shoot cameras over the years, finally moving to an SLR about 10 years ago when my first child was born and I became disgusted with shutter lag. My first "real" camera, the SLR, was a Nikon N65, and I was sold on it as soon as I got it. Well, not quite as soon as, I should say. The body came with a third-party lens, and it wasn't the best quality. As soon as I upgraded to an all-glass Nikkor lens (28-105 mm), I could see the difference in my photography.

Then the digital age hit. My next camera was a Nikon D50. I currently own a Nikon D300, and I just bought the D300 a baby sister, the Coolpix P6000. I have dived in head-first with this hobby of mine, and I have spent a lot of money (not to mention time and effort) on it. But I am improving, and I love it.

I started out my "serious" phase of photography 10 or so years ago focusing mainly on shots of people (specifically my children), but my main areas of interest are still-life things and wildlife. I'm not as good with portraits as I'd like to be, so that's another area I need to practice on.

Well, that's all for now. More later.