Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Absence Notice, all work and no play!

For those of you who have been wondering why I have not posted anything since May, fear not, I still have lots to share with you of my D90 adventure. Summer is a busy time of the year for me so blogging takes a bit of a back seat. Will be back with new blog posts very soon.

In the meantime you can see what Ive been getting up to by flickr stream
Feel free to leave me a comment on any photos you would like me to blog about.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Macro El Cheapo. Macro photography on the cheap, and some lessons learned

ISO 500      40mm       f/5.0       1/125sec
Being a landscaper, I love plants. So plant and flower photography is something I enjoy. To get interesting photos of plants you want to get in really close to the subject. The problem with this is in order to get a good sharp photo with a nice blurred background you want a nice macro lens. The problem with this is macro lenses are very expensive. So what are the alternatives????

Cheap (very crap) ebay extension tubes
I was reading up on this and discovered that one way to achieve this kind of magnification is to use extension tubes. These tubes contain no optical elements, their sole purpose is to move the lens farther from the image plane. The farther away the lens is, the closer the focus, the greater the magnification, and also the greater the loss of light (requiring a longer exposure time).
Good automatic extension tubes are also quite expensive and out of my budget. But I did find some cheap ones on ebay. They didn't have any fittings for auto focus or aperture but I thought for €10 they were worth a go.

My camera with the extension tubes on
Well I can tell you now, they are not worth a go, they are the crapest things I ever bought on ebay. Not only did they not work, but the also caused me quite a lot of anguish when they apparently got welded stuck onto my lens. They came without any documentation or instructions so I had no idea what to do. In a panic I went on line looking for answers. And it didn't take long to find many people with the same problem.
Lucky I found a forum where someone had the answer. So just in case you end up in this predicament I will now explain what to do.

So on the crappy extension tubes there is a little threaded screw thingy that doesn't seem to have much purpose. Its function is not to be twisted (as logic would make you think), it is in fact meant to be pushed down and towards the tube. Treat that screw as if it were the lens release button on the camera and push it in the same direction to release it from the lens. If you've tried to release it by other means it may be stuck. Just twist the lens a little so that the pin is not binding and then push the button in the same direction as the camera lens release button.
How to take the cheap ebay tubes off.
 The only remaining thing to do is chuck them in the bin! (I did contact the ebay shop, to share my frustration and my opinion of their product, and to be fair they did offer me a refund if I posted it back to them, but for the sake of €10 it was not really worth my while)


Close-up lens kit
After this I picked up a set of close-up lenses that screw onto my 18-105mm kit lens. These work pretty well. The kit has three lenses that have +1 +2 and +4 magnification which can be screwed together to make various amounts of magnification. And at a fraction of the cost of a macro lens at €50 they are money well spent.

Original image without close-up lens

There is some distortion around the edges of the image that dose increase with the more lenses you use, however this usually isn't a problem as for most macro shots you want to be blurring out the background as much as possible anyway. Remember to use a large aperture with macro photography to really blur out the background of the image. (At the beginning aperture or 'f' numbers really confused me, as they go against logic. You would think that the larger the aperture opening the larger the 'f' number, when in fact it is the opposite. A great tip I got over at learning the light was 'The more 'f' numbers, the more focus'. So for macro you want less focus in the surrounding image so you want less 'f' numbers)

ISO 200      105mm    f/8.0      1/160sec 
 Pretty much all of my macro shots are taken using my close-up lenses. I generally favour using the +4 and +2 lenses together, in fact I tend to leave them screwed together in my camera bag, that way I keep the void between the two lenses dust free.

It is also worth using a tripod when using these lenses as getting a sharp focus is a bit tricky. Generally what I do is, using my 18-105mm lens at full zoom with the close-up lens on, move the camera back and forth to the object till you find your focus point and only then use the focus ring on the lens to do your final adjustments.

ISO 200   92mm    f/25       1/13 sec

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Learning the Light, The Calvinists and my first attempt at gig photography

The Calvinists  (processed in Lightroom) ISO 1600     35mm        f/10       1/80 sec
 So a few weeks back, my brothers band The Calvinists were playing their first Dublin gig, and asked me if I would bring my new camera along. I thought this would be a great opportunity to try my hand at some gig photography. Only problem of course is that as yet I had now clue as how to go about it. The constant changing light in dark conditions with moving targets and no flash can be quite troublesome.

The Calvinists playing one of their songs 'Anchor'

I found this great site called Learning the Light where I found some great tips on gig photography. The main points I got from this post is.
  • Use a lenses with large apertures (around f/2.8 or larger) A large aperture will allow more light to enter the camera (vital in low light    conditions)
  • Use  high ISO’s (you will probably need to use anywhere from ISO 1000 right up to 3200) Increasing the ISO’s will allow you to shot at faster shutter speeds.
  • Shoot at fast shutter speeds. You will want to be shooting at least1/ 80 of a second, ideally at around 1/100sec, or your shots will become blurry.
  • Shoot in Manual mode. This gives you greater control of your settings.
  • Shoot in burst mode, so that you don’t miss the moment.
  • Take lots and lots of photos. For every good shot I took I had almost 20 bad ones.
AF NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8D lens
So the first thing I did was buy my first lens. The kit lens that came with the camera is great but it’s aperture only goes up to f/3.5. So I decided to pick up this AF NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8D lens. This is a great little lens and it’s pretty cheep too. I picked this one up for around €100. What’s great about this lens is that with its large aperture of f/1.8 its great for low light photography.

Taidhg      ISO800      50mm     f1.8     1/100sec

The Calvinists  (processed in Lightroom)  ISO 3200     21mm         f/10        1/60sec
 It is also worth mentioning the software I processed the photos in. I used a program called Adobe Lightroom. I have always used Photoshop for processing photos, however I have recently started using Lightroom because it is just much quicker and has some very handy tools. Lightroom was created for professional photographers who need to process large quantities of photos in a short amount of time. Really like this program, would definitely recommend investing in this.

Frank  (processed in Lightroom) ISO 2000 105mm  f/5.6    1/60sec
After a while I noticed that the lighting wasn’t as bad as I had anticipated, so I switched back over to my 18-105mm lens, which allowed me to get a bit more creative with my shots. Using a slower shutter speed of 0.5 sec and zooming out at the same time I was able to get this great affect. You may remember me talking about this technique in my post First Artistic photo experiment. Slow shutter speeds and colour

Taidhg ISO 3200 70-105mm  f/10    0.5sec

Dr Voodoo (processed in Lightroom)  ISO 1000 30mm  f/5.0    1/80sec

Frank & Noel  ISO 2000    34mm  f/4.2    1/60sec

A little bit about The Calvinists

The Calvinists are a four piece band from West Cork in Ireland. They are a mix of rock (with a twist) with strong hints of American blue grass music. They got thrown into the spotlight late last year when New York Time’s writer Matt Gross happened upon one of their gig, and loved them so much he gave them a glowing write-up in The New York Times. In his piece he wrote
“They were awesome: straight-up rock with a country accent, courtesy of the banjoist Taidhg Burke and ... thanks to Noel Maguire’s effortless voice…the whole room hummed with enthusiasm and pride. I was part of something. Maybe this was a moment that, years from now, I’d remember as a big one."
Please check them out, and if you like what you hear be sure to like their facebook page.

Frank (processed in Lightroom)  ISO 1250      75mm      f/5.3    1/60sec
The Calvinists  ISO 2500     105-60mm        f/5.6       0.6 sec
You can see the rest of the photos I took  here

Below is another track by The Calvinists the video is a slideshow of photos I took on that night.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

First Artistic photo experiment. Slow shutter speeds and colour

ISO 200    50mm+zooming and spinning out    f/5.6     0.6sec
After watching one of Bryan Petersons YouTube videos ‘Spinning and Zooming-Creative Photography Ideas and Images’ I decided to try my own take on this idea. In Bryan's video, using slow shutter speeds he would spin and zoom while shooting pictures in the park, ending up with some pretty neat creative pictures. So naturally I wanted to give it a go. After taking a few shots, I decided I wanted more vivid colours for my shots, something to take it a little further. So this is how this series of photos came about.

ISO 200        28mm+zooming out        f/4.0          0.6sec

I started off by setting up the shot. I got some multicoloured fairy-lights and some tinsel from the box of Christmas decorations, also to make it a bit more interesting I used an object in the center.
I started off by putting my lens cap in the center and started doing some test shots. As I wanted to keep the shutter speed low I was shooting in Shutter Priority mode, after doing a few tests I found 1.6sec gave me the best results.
The first picture (as was the picture in my blog heading) was taken in my kitchen under normal lighting conditions.
In an attempt to get even greater colour contrast, I moved the setup into a darkened room. I also added a mask in to the center, which made for some very interesting shots indeed.

Left ISO 200    75mm f/5.3 /10sec     Right     ISO 200    92mm+zooming out    f/5.6    0.8sec 
After entertaining myself with this for some time I got the idea to try moving the lights around rather than the camera, which led to this next series of photos.
In order to do this I first had to mount the camera on a tripod and set the timer on the camera. Then, keeping the camera in the same settings as before (Shutter priority mode at 1.6 seconds,) I started to play, pressing the shutter release button on timer with one hand and swinging a set of fairy-lights with the other.

ISO 100 38mm    f/4.5    1.6 sec
ISO 100    38mm    f/4.5      1.6 sec

As I only had 1.6 seconds to make a movement with the fairy-lights I tried using multi exposures. On the Nikon D90 you can select 2 or 3 multi exposures, so I tried a few in both double and triple exposures. The multi exposures make my face look weird but I think the overall effect is pretty cool.

Three exposures    ISO 100     32mm   f/4.2  1.6sec

Two exposures using two different sets of fairy-lights
ISO 100     22mm   f/3.8   1.6sec
All these photos were taken using my AF-S DX NIKKOR 18-105mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR kit lens

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Photo Competition. Please vote!

Sea Campion, Waterdrops, Me & Reflection  (ISO 1000    105mm     f/13      1/1000sec)
Ok everyone, I am counting on ye! I entered these photos along with 16 others in the series in a self-portrait competition and the grand prize is..... A YEAR OF MY LIFE PAID FOR TO CREATE MY ART....... Lots of good karma, art and blog posts coming your way if i win. PLEASE go to the link and rate it by clicking on the number of stars you feel appropriate. (You will probably be wanting to click on the last one on the right that gives 5 out of 5 ;) )

Checking out the Dewy Drumstick primula (ISO 200   50mm     f/5.0      1/2000sec)
See the whole series of these photos and rate the album by following the link

Inverted Pine drops & Me  (ISO 200   92mm     f/.3      1/160sec)

Thanks, I will also do a blog post on how I took these photos at a later stage.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Understanding the basics, Understanding Exposure.

Steel Windows  (ISO 200     38mm     f/5.6     1/125sec)
So now that I have my camera, now I have got to learn how to use it.
The first thing I did (as I do whenever I get a new gadget or software program) is go and look up tutorial sites on the internet and on YouTube.
On YouTube I found lots of useful information and tutorials. One set of tutorials I enjoyed was a series of tutorials by Bryan Peterson. I like his energy and enthusiasm and the way he keeps things simple. (very important for someone just starting out in the world of DSLR) Here is the first of his YouTube videos I came across.  

After watching a bunch of his video tutorials, I decided to check out his books. I ordered his bestseller Understanding Exposure (3rd addition) and I must say, it was great. This book truly gave me an understanding of the principles of photography and got me taking better pictures in no time at all. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone starting out in photography. Not only did it give me a better understanding, but with in days of getting the book, I was shooting in manual mode almost all of the time.
What I also like about Bryan’s way of teaching is that he teaches you not just to make correct photos but creatively correct photos (something us artists like very much).

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

My New Camera & My New Blog (An introduction)

My Nikon D90 (she makes me happy)

So welcome to my photo journal. In this blog I hope to record my progression as an amateur photographer, record lessons learned and handy tips I picked up along the way. And who knows maybe even help a few fellow amateur photographers in the process.  I would love to hear your feedback, and please feel free to point out any mistakes I might make along the way or indeed share any tips you yourself may have picked up.

A Little About Me
Me playing with slow shutter speeds
Besides being a novice photographer I am also a Landscaper/ Stonemason/ Artist in Ireland, where I work for myself under the company name Stone Art.
 I also write a creative landscaping blog ‘Stone Art Blog’ where I share many of my passions for art, landscaping and stonemasonry along with anything else interesting that catches my eye.  It was originally for my profession that I decided to get myself a decent quality camera so that I could record good quality shots  of my work for my website.
For the last few years I have been using a nifty little ‘point and shoot’ camera my wife got me. It’s a Cannon IXUS 60 and I must say for a point and shoot it’s a great little camera, capable of taking very nice shots. In fact I still always keep it close to hand and use it for day to day use or on a night out (or for taking pictures of my D90)

My nifty little Cannon IXUS 60 'point and shoot' camera

Deciding on a camera.

So when I made the decision to by myself a DSLR, I didn’t know where to start. So I called on my good friend Google to see if he had any advice. Looking around one name that kept coming up was Nikon. I also emailed fellow blogger and fantastic plant photographer Britt Conley from Photo Garden Bee for her advice. She highly recommended Nikons D60 as it would be great for my budget and requirements. She takes a D60 and a D90 on all her photo shoots.
Taking this advice I found myself a great deal for a second-hand D60 online. Especially in resent years, I am more and more apprehensive about buying online, and fortunately for me, it was this paranoia about buying online that stopped me from being scammed out of €500. I wont go into this, but if you are interested in finding out what happened, or should I say 'almost' happened you can see the detailed message I left on the online sites 'scam watch' forum here. (I must also say, that this does not mean I think you should not buy online, just be sure to be vigilant. I still buy online all the time, especially nowadays for camera gadgets)
Shortly after this I was talking to fellow ‘Stonie’ and Blogger Mark Jurus from Rockin Walls who talked me into blowing my budget out of the water and going for the D90. I can now say I am glad he talked me into it.

First Photos

So when I finally got my Nikon D90 I went from excitement to frustration to joy. At first it all was a bit daunting. In the first photos I took, I could see the potential of the camera, however the photos were…..well, they were pretty crap. I was able to take nicer photos on my point and shoot. But after a little studying on the internet I finally started getting some better shots. Here is the first shot I took on my new D90 that I was actually quite happy with (I wont tell you how many shots came before that one)

Forest Spiral (ISO 450    45mm    f/8    1/60sec)