A growing family

Picture Info: ISO 100, 35mm, f/3.2, 1/250 second

Picture Info: ISO 100, 35mm, f/3.2, 1/250 second

Week 35 (3/31/2014 -4/6/2014): Treasure Island Beach, FL

Picture taken on 4/6/2014 at 8:03 PM

Picture description

This past weekend brought me to Florida to celebrate my cousin Danielle’s wedding.  It was a beautiful venue filled with my beautiful family.  Originally I planned to use a picture from the wedding for this post, but due to mobile limitations I decided to hold off on posting any wedding pictures until I returned and had time to properly sort through them all.  My back-up plan was to hit the beach at sunset sometime during my trip, preferably in the area of a pier.  My goal was to shoot either a long exposure and or some kind of sunset picture.  Since getting my DSLR I’ve taken two other trips to Florida, but neither visit brought me to the beach during sunset with my Nikon.  This time around I was determined to get to the beach for magic hour.

When I pitched the beach sunset idea to my family, they were all on board and even helped research locations.  After picking a location, we quickly ate dinner and set out for  “The Long Pier” at Redington Beach.  Redington Beach was a little far which had us worried about arriving late and missing the sunset.  As we drove up the coast we decided to call an audible and stop at the location of our last family reunion, Treasure Island Beach.

After arriving my cousin Courtney and I moved ahead of everyone else and headed towards the beach.  We moved as quickly as possible, taking into account my cousin is pregnant, but that didn’t seem to slow her down at all.  Once we reached the shoreline, Courtney and I both started assessing the sunset for the best shot.  Like me, Courtney is a photography enthusiast, and recently purchased a DSLR of her own.  We both shuffled around taking pictures until the rest of the family arrived.  When Courtney’s husband Ray arrived and stood next to her my eyes were immediately drawn to how their silhouettes contrasted against the sunsetting sky.  Their silhouettes were particularly meaningful because of Courtney’s little baby bump.  I took a couple steps back, told them to pose and three shots later had my picture.  Although I got plenty of great pictures that night, none seemed as meaningful as the one of Courtney and Ray.  To me this picture perfectly captured the essence of my trip, Florida, beaches, love and our growing family, both through marriage and pregnancy.

Photography concepts:

While in Florida I made it a point to shoot almost completely in manual.  The more I shoot in manual, the more I’m seeing how much it trumps my old technique of exposure compensation.  Yes I can fix my exposure in post (editing), but getting it right in camera feels more authentic and is definitely more gratifying.  Had I not shot this week’s picture in manual, my best option would have been to spot meter off the sunset background.  Spot metering should have done the trick for underexposing and therefore silhouetting my cousins, but I didn’t have time to test in order to prove my theory.

What made this picture was a combination of decisions involving, aperture, focus points, and composition.  First, I decided to shoot with a somewhat wide aperture (f/3.2).  The reason behind using a wide aperture was to isolate my subjects from the background.  A bonus was that I didn’t have to slow my shutter down too much, resulting in crisp edges in details such as strands of hair that were blowing in the wind.  Second, in order for me to get my cousins in focus and separate them from the background as I planned, I had to set my focus point on them.  Focusing on dark figures is difficult because your camera looks for contrasting colors to focus on.  Therefore I didn’t line my focus point up with either of their center masses, instead I hit the edges around their mouths.  The tricky part about using edges is knowing if you actually hit them or the background, it’s a very fine line.  I recommend zooming into your image after shooting and looking for some kind of detail such as hair to determine if you were successful.  The third and last point I want to mention is my composition.  I used the rule of thirds to determine both where I lined up my cousins, and the horizon.  I split my cousins between the left and middle thirds of the picture putting their kissing heads on the border line.  The reason I put them off center was because the background wasn’t symmetrical.  Had the the background been symmetrical, I think it would have looked better if they were symmetrically lined up too.  As for the horizon, the sky was more interesting than the water, so I gave the sky two thirds of the background space.

All of the decisions I just outlined are becoming very quick, almost instinctive decisions for me now.  I’m learning that the more you shoot, the more you fall back on the habits you developed in the early stages of learning your DSLR.  If you’re new to shooting with a DSLR, or you’re just applying these concepts to taking pictures with a point and shoot or camera phone, I encourage you to spend time thinking about what makes a good picture.  Before you shoot think about what you want to emphasize in the picture, then using the triangle of photography decide what settings are best.  Then determine your composition and start shooting.  The more time you spend on these decisions now, the less you’ll have to spend as you get more experience.  If you’re not new to taking pictures but never applied these concepts just slow yourself down and think.  The thing I always remind myself to do is take a picture less to “document” what’s going on and more to pass along the way I see things.  How do you see something?  Putting your creative spin on things is what makes it an art, that’s photography and that’s what people like to see.


Picture info: ISO 160, 36mm, f/4.0, 1/4000 sec

Picture info: ISO 160, 36mm, f/4.0, 1/4000 sec

Week 29 (2/17/2014 -2/23/2014): Wagner Park, New York, NY

Picture taken on 2/23/2014 at 5:13 PM

Photograph description:

There is a first for everything, and this week was a feast of firsts. For starters, this week was the first time that I didn’t post within my weekly deadline.  After a busy weekend when it came time to write my post on Sunday night, I  couldn’t resist collapsing face down on my plush tempurpedic.  Other than my latent post, this week also marked the first time that my post’s picture was shot with something other than my Nikon 35mm f/1.8 lens.  I still shot my picture at ~35mm but this time it was with a new  Sigma 17-50mm f/2.8.  I had been tussling with whether or not to buy a new lens for a couple of weeks.  Last week I was finally able to validate purchasing a new lens.  One of my stocks recently started to take a hit so I decided to cut bait and divert those funds to the investment of a new lens.  Hopefully the lens will pay better dividends.  

The last two “firsts” worth noting are locations based.  This week was the first time that I visited Washington Square park and the nearby Stumptown coffee shop.  I’ve been to the Stumptown on 29th street a few times but never the second and smaller location by Washington Square park.  It was nice finally checking out the park  even if it wasn’t the best time of the day for pictures.  The sun was at about 45 degrees and blindingly bright.  After walking around the park for a few minutes with my friend that tagged along we decidle split off from one another so we could each focus on finding the best shot.  As I moved away from the park’s iconic arch I found a couple ways to use to the sun’s harsh angle.  One was to shoot some reflection pictures using the wet ground.  The second idea I had was to line the sun up within the street lights that littered the park so it looked like they were glowing in the daylight.  Although both were fun ideas, they quickly grew old so I decided to find my friend and search for a better location.

Washington Square Park Light Post

Washington Square Park Light Post

With sunset approaching we decided to head to Wagner Park located at the southern tip of Manhattan.  I shot at that location once before during week 16 but since it provides great sunsets, I knew there was no harm in taking a return visit.

While on our way south we seemingly stopped every couple of feet to take pictures.  Since the purpose of our trip was to take pictures, frequently stopping wasn’t a problem, but it was threatening our chances of getting to the park at the right time.  Eventually we decided to jump on the 1 train to expedite our journey.

Once we got out of the subway we made a beeline towards the park.  When we finally cleared the tall buildings of the financial district, I yelled out “boomshakalaka” in excitement once I saw the beautiful evening sky.  For the next hour or so my friend and I were treated to one of the better sunsets I’ve seen in a while.  We both shuffled around the park trying to find the best shot.  I eventually spotted a patch of tall grass which provided me with a good foreground subject and sealed the deal for this week’s picture.

Photography concepts:

Since this week is the first time shooting with my new Sigma lens it makes sense for me to talk about some of the advantages it provides.  One of the advantages which benefited this week’s picture is the Sigma’s nice bokeh.  As I talked about last week, bokeh is the part of the picture that’s out of focus.  One thing I recently learned is that with nicer lenses the bokeh is smoother and although it’s a little bit of an oxymoron, the out of focus images are sharper.  The nice bokeh worked well for creating silhouettes of the lamp post, railing and couple walking.

Another advantage the Sigma has is a low fixed aperture of f/2.8. Although the Sigma doesn’t beat my Nikon 35mm’s f/1.8 aperture it’s still large enough to make shooting indoor and night pictures easier.  The Nikon beats the Sigma aperture but the Sigma has a 4-stop Anti-Shake feature which allows for slower shutter speeds.  This means that although the Nikon can let in more light via a wider aperture, the Sigma can let in more light via slower shutters (without using tripods).  The term 4-stops means I can go 4 stops lower than the recommended shutter speed for a specific focal length.  When shooting at 35mm (52 with a crop sensor) it’s recommended that I stay at or above 1/100 of a second.  Thanks to the anti-shake feature I can hit a shutter speed of 1/40 of a second, and possibly slower if I have any added stabilization.  This is a moot point if you’re using a tripod but it’s very relevant when you’re shooting indoors or at night.

The last advantage I’ll quickly mention because it’s not one that can help me during my 52from52 photoblog series is that the Sigma is a zoom.  The advantage of having a zoom lens is pretty obvious.  With a zoom you’re able to recompose your picture without moving and hit targets that a 35mm prime can’t.  Because it’s a zoom I might use my Sigma again in some upcoming posts, not to shoot my picture from another focal length, but so that I have some flexibility for the pictures not meant for this blog.  The Sigma’s focal length range 17-50mm ( ~25-75mm) is very versatile.  The lens moves from wide angle to a nice focal length for taking pictures of people, especially when I can maintain a f/2.8 aperture.  The possibilities this lens has is exciting so stay tuned!