Tuesday, July 27, 2010


Hi Family & Friends,
Just a quick note to let you know I'm alive (barely), but swamped, so I'll have to postpone my next Tech Talk Tuesday for now.  I've been shooting another wedding, then bridal/groomals, then spent the weekend in Lake Arrowhead Calif for my high school reunion, shooting the event of course.  Now we have company, tomorrow we are supposed to go on a 3 day southern Utah trip with our 4 wheeler friends, then Saturday we leave for a family reunion week in Idaho, and I'm supposed to put together a photo presentation before we go.   When we return I have about a week before my son's wedding.  In my free time I'm coordinating the paperwork and inspections for a client's house I've got under contract.  Whew!!!!

Hope everyone is having a great summer and I'll catch up with everyone when I can!  (Scott, I have a Sunday Sunset taken from the deck of my high school friend's Arrowhead lake house to share when I can get to it.)

Thursday, July 22, 2010

High Noon at Capitol Reef

Another Image Saved by Modern Technology

This spring we were on a weekend trip with some friends and tried to see too many places in too short a time.  We were at Capitol Reef National Park for only about an hour, and you guessed it,  it was around high noon on a bright sunny day and I only had my point and shoot.  Most of my photos were of our friends and taken just to document our trip, but I really loved the composition of this shot.  I love how the cliffs step back from right to left, the shape of the tree, and how it is framed within the smaller hill.  So with the help of numerous computer programs and techniques, I ended up with this.  No where close to how dramatic this scene would have been around sunset, but not too bad considering what I started with.  (I love Photoshop!) If you want me to take you through what I did to this shot, let me know.  Here is the original:

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Wednesday Workday (Interesting People in Their Environment)

(head shot for modeling portfolio)

After photographing this sweet young girl I really 'saw' what is meant when someone is "photogenic".  When Alexis and her mother first approached me about shooting Alexis for the numerous beauty contests she enters, I had grave reservations.  In my opinion, Alexis was a nice, but average looking, slightly plump little girl, still with baby fat, and new, big, uneven front teeth that were just starting to come in.  I think she was eight or nine at the time.  I also had reservations about doing this type of photography.  I've always been against beauty contests for little girls.  But they both assured me that this was about Alexis having fun, and not about the mom's ego.  Alexis proudly showed me her room that was filled with trophies and tiaras and told me she couldn't wait for the next event.  So I reluctantly agreed.  The day came for the shoot and Alexis came with her hair done up and just a bit of powder and lipstick on, and still, I did not see what my camera was going to see.  What I discovered during the shoot, however, was that Alexis was a natural in front of the camera.  She loved every bit of it.  Her poses and facial expressions were natural, and I just recorded what she did.  I think she would have posed and let me take photos all day.  She was happy, and fun, and loving every minute of our time together.  And when my photos came back from the lab, (this was back in the film days), I couldn't believe what I saw.  The young lady in my photos was stunning!  I could hardly believe it was the same little girl.    During the next few years, I went on to take several more head shots for other contests, and I was always blown away by how beautiful she was.  Then the family moved and I lost touch, but it wouldn't surprise me if Alexis is headed for a career in modeling, or something else where she is in front of a camera.    

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Tech Talk Tuesday

O.K. Listen Up...
As promised, below are a few of Karen's favorite websites/blogs for education and inspiration,
(in no particular order).

Scott Kelby is currently the top selling author of photography books.  His books are written in a simple and concise way that we all can understand.  I have several of his books and recommend him highly.  If you are a Photoshop or Lightroom user, his books are mandatory.  He is the Photoshop guru,  but keeps up on all the latest trends and advances in photography and equipment as well as events.
This Week in Pictures - MSNBC News
This is an inspirational slideshow of amazing photos from all over the world showing weekly current events.
Joe McNally's Blog
Joe McNally is a famous photographer who has shot for National Geographic for years.  His blog is a variety of technical instruction, fabulous locations, shoots of celebrities, and whatever else is on his mind delivered with his charming humor and wit.
Stuck in Customs
Trey Ratcliff is the HDR guru and produces the Number 1 travel blog.  His photos are from all over the world.  Most are artistically and beautifully done, some are over the top.  Personal preference.  He offers several free tutorials.  Something to note is that he has reviews of many of the computer programs and plugins he uses, and even better, he has coupon codes to get a reduction in price for anything you might be interested in purchasing.
Pioneer Woman Photography
Ree Drummond hosts the wildly popular blog called The Pioneer Woman.  She is a transplanted city girl, now living on a cattle ranch/farm.  Her wit and humor are wonderful and the number of her followers is huge.  She has several sections to her blog including cooking, home schooling, etc., but this link is to her photography page.  She often has guest bloggers, and contests where followers submit their photos of a specific subject.  The photos that get submitted are truly inspiring.  But the most important part of this blog for me is that she has made available, free of charge, two different Action Sets for Photoshop you can download.  I use them all the time.
I don't know about you, but one of the trickiest and confusing aspects of photography is lighting.  How to use artificial light, or artificial light combined with ambient light to produce an image with just the right amount of light and shadows in just the right places.  This blog is all about the light.
This blog is a photography magazine with a wealth of information about all aspects of photography.  You can sign up for a free newsletter.
Digital Photography School
One of my favorites!!!  This site gives all sorts of practical tips, tutorials, information.  I've signed up for their daily email, which gives just enough valuable information to take in on a daily basis.  This one is a must.
For any of you thinking about the world of stock photography,  this blog is worth following.  He is local to where I live and successfully switched from full time Realtor to full time stock photographer.  In a few short years he is at the top of his trade.
Beyond Megapixels
Another photography magazine type blog with a wealth of information about all aspects of photography.
This is another photography magazine.  I've signed up for their daily newsletter.  It often has reviews of various cameras and all other photography equipment.
Friday Photo School 
This website hosts online live seminars about learning photography.  After the live event you can download the seminar.  Both for a modest fee.

If you are in need of some inspiration, I hope this gets you started.  Of course this list only scratches the surface of the vast amount of information available.  There is no excuse for someone who really wants to learn about photography and has access to a computer and the internet.  So much is available right at your fingertips!!  (And if you have a favorite inspiration/educational website/blog you love, please let is all know!!)

Next week I'll post my favorite photography computer programs, plugins, actions, and the websites/blogs where they are available.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Camping with the Grandkids (well, some of them!)

We had a quick weekend camping trip with our daughter and her family.  With four little boys there was lots of playing in the dirt, playing in the stream, eating junk food that Grandma brought, riding the RZRs, making s'mores and most important, making memories.  Yesterday morning I was up before anyone else, camera and tripod in hand, to see if I could find something worth photographing.  I think it was around six and the sun was just lighting up the surrounding cliffs, and the sky was beautiful, so this is what I got.

Soon I had company and realized I was not the only early riser in the group.  Taylor, Chase, Bennett and Owen decided to keep me company!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Phriday Phun

I ran across this post on Scott Kelby's blog (one of my favorites).  I never knew there was a cartoon strip dedicated to photographers!  I really got a chuckle out of these topics we as photographers run into at times, but I have to warn you there are a couple that might be a bit offensive.  (Actually the title of the  comic strip is more offensive than anything in the content.)

Click HERE if you dare!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Tech Talk Tuesday

What Karen Sees
Hummm, the title of this post sounds familiar.  What I want to talk about today kind of has to do with the name of my blog, but I'll explain that in a minute.

Last week's Tech Talk Tuesday was the tip of the iceberg of what you need to know about the technical side of using your camera to capture memorable pictures.  Important, but not fun.....unless you're one of those techies I talked about.  Important because you must have that foundation so you know how to record the image you see with your eye, or with your 'mind's eye', on your flash card, a computer, film, print, web, etc.

Today I want to talk about some fun stuff, and for me, it's the artistic side of photography.  I'm going to talk about what I think is the most important first step in taking a great photo.   First of all, I want to describe what a great photo is for me.  I've done this before, (most recently in a comment on Scott's blog), but it's an important part of my philosophy so I'll repeat.  A great photo is one that causes the viewer to take a second look, or look a little closer, or want to view it longer than the other pics he may be looking at, or decide to come back and view it again - in other words, keep and hold the attention of the viewer.  The photographer has done something  right to make that photo memorable.

So how do you make a photo memorable??  In my humble opinion, it starts before you pick up your camera, before you fiddle with the controls, or before you push the button.  I think all of us at times look at a scene and think, "that would make a great picture",  so we put the viewfinder up to our eye, compose, focus and take the shot.  This could be a landscape, a portrait, almost anything.  Then later when we look at the picture on the computer or printed out, we think, "that doesn't look as great as I remember".

I think one reason we are disappointed is we failed to identify what it was about the scene that really caught our attention.  Or even if we did,  we didn't stop to think about how to use our camera, our understanding of composition, and our own creativity to emphasis this interesting feature.

This is where the title of my blog comes in.  You and I might look at the same scene and yet see things very differently.  In other words, what I see can be very different from what you see!  Here's an example.  Maybe you and I are both at Zion National Park looking at the same beautiful scene.  I say, "wow, this is beautiful", pull out my camera, compose, and snap the picture.  You on the other hand, take a few minutes to really study the scene and say, "what is it that makes this so beautiful.....well, I think it is the amazing intense red color of the rocks and the way that cliff is enormous and dwarfs everything around it.  Humm, how can I show the people who will view this picture what so impresses me about this scene.  Well, first I'll make sure my camera is set on Landscape picture style to make sure the color saturation is at the max to show off the vibrant red color in the rock.  I also think I'll adjust the aperture so that the foreground is not quite in focus and attention is really drawn to the cliff. Then I think I'll move in closer and angle my shot upwards to emphasize how huge this cliff is.  Boy I wish that tourist would move out of the way so I'd have a clean shot...wait a minute, I'm going to include him to show a comparison in size so the viewer can really see how enormous that cliff is.  O.K. I think I'm ready.....wait a minute, I just realized that the cliff is facing west.  At sunset, (the magic hour), that cliff will be 'on fire' with beautiful light and shadows.  I'll come back and take this shot then!!!"

Can you see what I'm getting at?  Producing an interesting picture takes both thought and often time.  The first picture in my last post is a good example.  When you read the caption you can see I not only wanted to show a beautiful scene, but I also wanted to create a mood about how I was feeling at the time.  I had to figure out creatively, how to put that across by using my artistic abilities, my basic knowledge of photography, and my understanding of how my camera works; and I have to add, my ability to use post processing techniques in Photoshop and Lightroom, and various other computer programs I use.  But it always starts with getting it right in the camera. 

This takes some practice and it even works with candids and action photography; however, often you have to anticipate and picture in your mind what would make a good shot, then be in the right place with your camera ready for what you hope will happen.

Sometimes you might want to create a mood or feeling or emotion for the viewer.  Maybe it's an outstanding feature in nature.  It could be an idea, or something unusual, or even something common but seen from an unusual view.  The possibilities are endless but should all have one thing in common...whatever it is should make your photo stand out from the rest.  I read somewhere that it was virtually impossible to get a picture of a sunset accepted for publication in a certain magazine, because photos of amazingly beautiful sunsets are so common, they are no longer interesting.       

Now for you skeptics who insist there are great shots you've snagged with no effort, because you just happen to have been in the right place at the right time, with camera in hand..... I totally agree.  Sometimes it all comes together and you get lucky.  But I maintain, you will consistently create more memorable images that you and your followers, family, and friends will want to look at over and over again, when you spend time really 'seeing' what you are about to photograph, then deciding how you will get your viewers to 'see what you see'.

This week's assignment is to look at some of your recent photos with a critical eye.  See what you might have done differently to further emphasize the reason you took the photo in the first place.  And, if you are an over achiever and want extra credit, here's a bonus assignment.  Pick a scene and identify one element within the scene you want to emphasize.  Take at least 5 good pictures of the entire scene, using different angles, camera settings, creative focus etc., but of the 5, take only one that you really feel emphasizes the feature you chose.  Then show the 5 images to several friends or family and ask them if they feel one of the five does a better job of showing that feature, and see if they choose the same one you did.  (And I would love being one of the friends who look at your images.  You can either make a comment with a link to your photos, or email them to me at:   Karen@KarenLarsenOnline.com)      

P.S.  For next week's 'Tech Talk Tuesday' I'm going to list my favorite blogs/websites where I find both education and inspiration.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Secret Garden

I live a few minutes away from a beautiful oasis called Thanksgiving Point.  It is 350 acres of museums, golf course, shops, children's discovery park, and my favorite, 55 acres of beautiful themed gardens.  Often I go for an early morning walk through these beautiful gardens.  I'm there with the gardeners before the gardens are officially open.  I smell the freshly cut grass, I hear the birds sing, I say hello to the bunny rabbits who scamper across my path.   I cross beautiful streams and amazing waterfalls and observe a friendly owl who has made his home on a rock ledge.  There is a beautiful rose garden, Roman pillars, fountains, even a flower covered carousel.  I am bombarded with flower eye candy and a thousand fragrances.  I often end my walk in a smaller, walled 'Secret Garden'.  I sit by a fountain and listen to the peaceful sounds and look at the beauty of the place.  Beautiful summer gardens are God's way of reassuring me that He is near, He is in control, and all is well!  I hope you have a delightful Sunday filled with rest, renewal and worship!  (Following are a few pictures from yesterday's early morning visit.)

This is the view from where I was sitting.  I sat back and took several shots, hand held.  I practiced changing the aperture so some of my shots showed everything in focus and some with the background out of focus.  I prefer the out of focus background which made this lovely place look soft and peaceful, a bit drowsy and a bit mysterious.  This is how I felt at the moment.

Simple flowers glowing from behind with morning light.

I was sitting under a huge arch covered with honeysuckle and the bees and bumblebees were buzzing busily with their morning work.  (This is my first real photo with my new macro lens.  And I found out that taking a hand held picture of a quickly moving bee was not easy.  I ended up with about 2 shots in focus out of about 35 attempts!!)

Saturday, July 10, 2010

WARNING: 'It's a GUY thing' post!


I think I've mentioned that my husband recently retired from his day job, so you're probably thinking he has nothing better to do than tote my camera bag around for me.  Well, he does plenty of that, but this post will show you what he really does with his time.

He and our 3 sons restore classic cars...more specifically, mopar muscle cars of the early 1970s.  O.K. you girls can move along to the next blog, but for you guys who lived through the 1970s, you all know what muscle cars are, because they were coveted by almost every teenage boy.  For you girls who are still reading, in a nutshell, they are cars with huge, loud engines that are really fast.

My husband knows everything about these cars, where every nut and bolt goes for each model.  If you live in Utah and have a question about these cars, he is the one you call.  He judges lots of car shows in and out of our state, and recently was given an award called Mopar Legends.  He has restored cars that start as a piece of junk to what you see in these photos.

About 6 or 7 years ago, through a fluke, he got wind of someone who had his dream car, stored in an old garage in a little farming town in Idaho.  Jeff didn't know his name or where he lived but he was determined to find him.  We drove to this little town and started asking around until we finally found the guy.  Sure enough, this old car, mostly disassembled, had been sitting in this ramshackle one car garage for years.  The owner didn't want to sell it, but my husband has a way of making people feel comfortable and building trust, and before they were through talking, he had purchased the car, and paid for it in cash on the spot.  I accused him of being more excited bringing that car home than when we brought our babies home from the hospital!!!  (Just kidding.... kind of!)

Anyway, life got in the way of this restoration project.  He had a business to run, baseball teams to coach, then cars to restore for our boys, plus several houses to build.  His car got put on the back burner.  Well, since he retired, he has been concentrating on getting it finished, working for hours a day so it would be ready for the summer car shows.  It's still not quite done, but done enough to show.   So here it is (with one of our grandson's taking a look).  It is the purple one, and the color is original and called 'plum crazy'.  For you men, it is a 1970 hemi 'cuda convertable.  Now here is the sweet part.  He purchased the piece of junk, er...I mean car, for $10,000.  It is now worth somewhere around $125,000!!!   ( P.S.   The yellow one is my son's car.  It is also a  'cuda and the 'model' is his beautiful wife.) 

Friday, July 9, 2010

Phriday Phun

From the Sublime (last post), to the Ridiculous (this post)!!!

Here's one from the vacation memory files.  First day of the cruise and this guy is ready to PARTY HARDY!!  For those of you who are 'people watchers', there is no better place than on a cruise ship.  The best entertainment onboard is sitting in a nice deck chair, tall, cool drink with little umbrella in hand, (non alcoholic for me),  and watch the variety of humanity walk-stagger-dance past!!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Michael's Beautiful Senorita

Classic beauty, classic pose, classic architecture

Love those amazing eyes

Leading lines - pillars, chandeliers, railing, chairs, windows, and placing her in the center of the background detail, all say..."Look at this beautiful Bride!"

It IS possible to be modest and a little bit flirty

A beautiful halo - Finding unique ways to use the available light

Creating drama with lighting - I turned the lights out in this small room and had my sister-in-law,  (and Diana's soon to be mother-in-law),  hold my flash to the side.  (Off camera flash triggered by Pocket Wizards.)

Fun and Fantasy - Cinderella style

Thinking 'out of the box' for a creative shot.  This is a beautiful stained glass skylight.  (I originally had Diana in the center, but cropping her to the side made for a more interesting composition.)

P.S.  For those of you wondering about this stunning building, it is the Joseph Smith Memorial Building located in Salt Lake City, Utah.  It was built in 1911.  (That would be before power tools!) 

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Tech Talk Tuesday, Part 2

As a follow up to my last post, I'm going to show you just a few examples of why you might consider shooting in Manual mode, AV mode, or TV mode.

The first group of photos is a simple way to help you understand depth of field and how much more creative you can be if you shoot in Manual or AV modes:
Program Mode - camera chose Aperture f/3.5  Shutter 1/125
On all these images I focused on the first shell.  When I let the camera do the thinking, it decided that I wanted only one shell in focus and everything else blurry, so that's what it did.  That's o.k. if that's what I really wanted.  But what if I wanted to see more of the other shells?

AV Mode - Aperture f/8  Shutter 1/20
I changed from Program to AV mode.  I knew that if I chose a small aperture number, the back shells would still be blurry, so I picked a larger number and then the camera set the appropriate shutter speed to make a correct exposure.  Hmmm, the shells are clearer and I like this better, but I was really hoping to see all the shells clearly.  (As a side note, what do you notice about the shutter speed the camera selected??  It's pretty slow.  I'd have to have a really steady hand to hold still long enough so the image wouldn't be blurry.  Best option would be to use a tripod, which I did.)

AV Mode - Aperture f/32  Shutter 1/0.8
Now I turned the aperture wheel to the largest number I could, to get the greatest depth of field I could.    Remember the bigger the aperture number, the smaller the hole to allow light in.  In order to get enough light through that small hole for a proper exposure, the shutter has to stay open a long time - a slow shutter speed.  The shutter stays open so long, that I absolutely must use a tripod.  Now this is what I envisioned when I set up this shot.  Can you see that I couldn't achieve what I wanted if I'd just shot in Auto??

(For those pros out there who are worrying that I haven't talked about all the other factors that affect DOF such as what type of lens I was using, how close to the shells did I placed my camera, did I consider hyperfocal distance, etc.,  remember I'm starting with very simple basics.  All that will come later!)

Here's two more photos to help you understand why a manual mode might work better for you:
Have you ever wondered why sometimes your pictures come out underexposed when you have it on the same Auto mode as when you took a previous shot and that shot was fine?  This often happens when the majority of your composition is white or very bright, like a huge white wedding dress or a winter landscape filled with snow.  The dress, the snow and everything else turns out looking dingy and underexposed.  Here's a very brief explanation.  Your camera on Auto mode is programmed to expose pictures to the value of 18% gray overall because percentage wise, most pictures have light, dark and medium light values that probably average out to 18% gray.  This means that if your camera sees a bright white dress dominating the picture, it assumes the scene is overexposed and you really don't want that much bright white.  So it reduces the exposure to compensate - and tadaaa, you get dingy gray instead of beautiful white.

When you do the thinking, instead of letting your camera do the guessing, you will learn how to compensate for this problem by purposely overexposing your shot to come out with the exposure you were looking for.  Incidentally the same thing is true for the opposite problem.  If you wanted to take a picture of your cute black cat, sitting on a dark sofa, the camera on Auto mode would assume that your shot was underexposed, and would lighten it up.  You then would have an 18% gray cat on a medium colored sofa!!
(Side note off the subject for you wedding photographers.  If you have a really cluttered background and can't find a decent setting, and your bride has a really full dress, and you have a girl assistant to help you, use her dress as your backdrop.  This has saved me many times, and the brides love it!)

Here's another scenario.  Your kids are playing and doing funny stuff.  You want to remember the moment so you grab your camera and shoot.
First of all I have to say that those days really are just memories for me.  Now I grab the camera for the grandkids.  But for this post, I just went outside and snapped a shot of my son walking to the house.  This is a definite  'hit the delete' photo.

  If I had a second to see that the Auto mode set a shutter speed too slow to freeze him walking, I could have quickly flipped to TV mode (shutter priority), and set a faster shutter speed and ended up with a reasonably sharp photo.

And finally, and most important to me, shooting in Manual allows you to be creative and end up with pretty pictures:
SOOTC (Straight Out Of The Camera) shot in Auto
The camera chose f/3.2 aperture and 1/50 shutter speed
This is not a very inspiring photo.  The camera underexposed the shot, probably because I had my spot meter focused on the water.  (I would have gotten a better exposure if I'd used evaluative metering. ) Even if this was properly exposed, it is destined for the garbage.  But I have learned to better expose, but also to use my camera settings in manual to create a more interesting waterfall shot called veiling.  This is a very common technique and easy to do.

 TV Mode - I choose a shutter speed of 1 second and the camera chose the aperture of f/13

 The trick is to set a slow shutter speed to blur the water which creates a dreamy, cotton candy look.  Of course you must use a tripod, and the scene must be dark enough to allow for a slow shutter speed.    I took both of these shots yesterday in about 3 minutes.  I hope the second one is good enough to be a visual argument about why you should at least try manual, AV, or TV modes.  Scott mentions in his comment on the last post, and I concur, that in addition to shooting in the manual and semi manual modes, there are numerous other ways to manipulate how you use your camera to allow you the most creative options.  The key is knowing what these options are, then choosing the method that is best to achieve the image you want to make.  I can tell you that taking control of my camera, and showing it who's the boss (sometimes) has allowed me to do so much more with my photography and I've never turned back.  I hope I've given you beginners some encouragement to take that leap and I'd love to hear how you are doing!

P.S.  I apologize to some of you who have made comments because they are not showing up on the blog.  I have no idea what is wrong!!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Tech Talk Tuesday

(I think it is!)

Before you tackle this post, please read the previous post as a 'forward' to this one.

As I began thinking about where to begin, it became obvious that there is no way to tackle this subject in one brief post.  There are tons of books, websites,  classes that explain 'why' it is to your advantage to shoot in manual and, 'how' to do it.  As many of you who are already shooting in manual read through this post, you will be thinking, "Well, duh, that's obvious!"  I'm remembering, though, how confused I was when I picked up my first SLR, tried to learn it all, and then, tried to remember it all while I was shooting.   So I know that for many, it is NOT that obvious, and that's who this post is for.  So for those of you who have this all down pat, please contribute your comments and help us all learn.  Here we go.....

First of all, let's take a minute and define our terms.  (A good suggestion from Scott.)  For purposes of this discussion, shooting on ''M' for manual means that you set the aperture and shutter speed individually.  'AV' (stands for aperture priority on Canon cameras), and means you choose the aperture and the camera chooses the correct shutter speed for a properly exposed image.  'TV' (stands for shutter speed on Canon cameras), and means you choose the shutter speed and the camera chooses the aperture to make a  properly exposed picture.  These three settings can all work well to give you the most out of your camera and the most creative options.   Now the auto settings.  The 'green box' setting works like a point and shoot and assumes you know nothing so it makes all the decisions. The 'P' program mode lets you make some decisions, like exposure, white balance, ISO, etc.  Then all the pre programed modes, such as a little picture of a mountain, or flower, or a person running are trying to guess at the best settings to use for specific kinds of subjects, i.e, landscape, macro, sports, etc.  I'm going to take a stand and say that most of the time you will get better images if you use the M, Av, or Tv settings and stay away from the auto settings.  This is because the camera is just guessing at what would generally work, and doesn't know what you have in mind! 

I think there are many photographers with great potential who improve to a certain point, then get frustrated because they don't seem to go beyond that certain point.  Often the stumbling block is the technical side of photography.  Many of us photographers became interested in photography as an artistic outlet.  We love to compose beautiful landscapes, love capturing the romance of a wedding, love telling a story, etc.  We really couldn't care less about how a camera works.  Then there are the techies who know every aspect of their camera, have all the latest gizmos and gadgets and can take a technically perfect picture, but maybe it lacks emotion or interest.  Finally, up there on pedestals,  are the lucky ones who have a good combination of both skills.  Well, I'm not one of those types.  I'm the artistic type and still struggle to learn the ins and outs of how my camera works and how the camera settings affect the look of my images.   As hard as this was (and is) for me,  I knew I had to learn if I wanted to make pretty pictures, so I persevered to a minimal degree of competence.  And this is my first, and most important point to you confused beginners.  You are not stupid!  Learning the basics is confusing at first, but not difficult, so you can have confidence that the light will eventually come on.  I promise you are not trying to learn something akin to quantum physics.  Something else I found encouraging is that you don't have to know everything there is to know.  Just the basics will help improve your photography by leaps and bounds. 

The second point which is equally important is that you MUST be willing to put in the time.  Like anything else you want to be good at, you must read, take classes, learn from others, and practice, practice, practice, practice, etc. etc.  If you aren't willing to do the time, you won't learn, and if you don't practice, you won't remember.  So here is a good place to start.  I've found a website that does an excellent job of explaining the basics of aperture, shutter speed and ISO in a short, simple, and concise way.  Understanding these three concepts is the foundation, the basics.  Once you know how these three camera settings interact, you will begin to see how manipulating them can help give you the image you want.  Click HERE for Part 1, and HERE for Part 2.  It might be helpful to read and study these articles before continuing with this post.

So you've read these articles numerous times until you kind of understand the concepts, but it's still confusing.    Early on I was so confused about how it all worked.   When someone said, 'shoot wide open' or 'stop down' your lens I couldn't figure it out.  Sometimes I still have to stop and think about it.  The bigger the number, the smaller the opening.  Think, think, remember.  Whose idea was it anyway to make this so confusing.  Then it finally hit me.  When I began thinking about the f stops as fractions, it all made sense.  So instead of f/4 or f/8 or f/22, I began changing the 'f' to a '1', so then I have 1/4 or 1/8 or 1/22.  Of course 1/4 (of say a piece of pie) is bigger, (a larger opening) than 1/22 of a piece of pie, (smaller piece of pie and opening.)   I know, I know, this is where you experts are saying 'Duh!'  But really, this was a break through to me.

So after reading the above articles you now have a basic but fuzzy understanding of aperture, shutter speed and ISO, but how does the 'theory' turn into 'practice' when you pick up your camera.  How do you know where to turn the knobs????  When someone first told me I needed to be shooting in manual, I turned the knob to 'M' then started shooting.  I couldn't understand why everything was blown out.  I finally figured out which wheel changed the shutter speed and which one changed the aperture, but no matter how I turned them the exposure was way off, or the picture was blurry.  Finally, at a workshop, someone physically showed me how the manual mode basically works.  I had no idea I was supposed to be looking at that little light meter at the bottom of the view finder.  I was shown that I needed to change the aperture and the shutter wheels until the little pointer was in the middle, indicating those settings would give me a proper exposure.  (See, I told you I was really slow in the technical area!)

The next break through came when I realized that different combinations of aperture and shutter speeds would also produce a proper exposure.  Well, if they all give a proper exposure, why does it matter which combination you use???    I learned that different combinations will change how my image looks.  As a beginner, the most important types of shots I cared about were:  (1) I wanted to shoot landscapes where everything was sharp and in focus from the flowers a few yards in front of me, to the mountains many miles away;  (2) I wanted to shoot portraits where the people were in sharp focus but the background was soft and blurry;  (3)  I wanted to shoot my kids at their sports events so they were sharp and not blurry.   I was pretty basic in my goals back then.  

Just as a simple starting point here you go:  (1)  To shoot landscapes, the bigger the aperture number such as f/11, f/22, (which means a smaller opening), the greater will be your depth of field, meaning that both the foreground, middleground and background will be in focus.  So starting in AV mode, I would set the aperture to the largest number that my camera and lens would allow me to set.  Remember the camera will set the shutter speed to get a proper exposure.   (If the pointer on the light/exposure meter is way to the right or left and blinking, you will not have a  proper exposure, so you could readjust your aperture setting to fix the problem.)  (2)   To shoot portraits with a sharp foreground and a soft background, start in AV mode and choose a small number such as f/2.8, f/4, (which means a larger opening),  and you will have a shallow depth of field.  (Same as above applies with automatic shutter speed and the blinking light meter.)  (3)  To shoot kids in action you must have the shutter open and close very fast to freeze the action so your image is sharp and not blurred.  So the shutter speed is most important.  Switch to TV mode and set the shutter speed to, say 250, and let the camera select the aperture for a properly exposed shot.  These simple basics will help you to first determine what you want your image to look like, then know how to adjust your camera settings to achieve it.

There are many, many other things to take into consideration that I just can't cover here, but know that the type of lens you have, your ISO setting, whether you are shooting in bright light, will all have an effect on the aperture and shutter combination you can use to obtain a proper exposure.  Two more basic bits of information.  It is very difficult to hand hold a camera and obtain a sharp image at a shutter speed less than 30.  Any less than this, and you need a tripod.  And typically, your shutter speed shouldn't be less than the focal length of your lens.  A quick comment about ISO.  The lower your ISO, the less 'noise' you will have, and, conversely,  the higher the ISO, the more noise you will have, but, a high ISO will allow you to take photos with less light, meaning in a dark room or in the evening.

And finally we come back to the big 'M' mode.  Eventually you will look at a scene and take a good guess at where your settings should be.  Until then, here is what I do.  I put my camera on 'P' for program mode.  I compose my shot and look at what the camera has chosen as the settings for a proper exposure.  Then I switch to manual and choose those same settings and take a practice shot.  This gives me a starting place.  Then I decide what I want the image to look like.  If I'm shooting a landscape and want great depth of field, I turn the aperture wheel to a larger number (which in reality is a smaller opening), then adjust the shutter wheel until the pointer on the light meter is somewhere in the middle indicating a proper exposure.  I really still say to myself, "big number for aperture equals big depth of field".  If I want a nice blurry background I start with a small aperture number (which makes a large opening), and experiment until I get just the right amount of blur.  For me, it is still a learning experience.  And thank heavens for digital, where we can immediately review the histogram and immediately see the effect our settings have on our image.  Then comes, practice, practice, change settings, practice, practice, read and memorize your camera manual, practice, practice, take some classes, read some books, talk to other photographers, repeat, repeat.

Other ideas to get you motivated
1.  Join your local camera club
2.  If you own a popular camera, go to your local big box book store and purchase books specifically designed to elaborate on the information found in the manual that came with your camera.  A well know publisher of these books is Magic Lantern Guides.  The first thing I do when I get a new camera is to buy several supplemental manuals.  They go into great detail about how to use your camera.
3.  Find a 'photo buddy' in your area to go shooting with and to share information with.
4.  Find someone in your area who knows more than you do and ask if he/she will mentor you.  He/she might need a willing assistant to pack gear or hold reflectors in exchange for seeing first hand how he/she works.  
5.  Check out your local camera club, photo finishing labs, camera stores, professionals and get on their mailing lists for upcoming classes and seminars.  I have learned so much for a very little monetary investment this way.

Well, it is after 2:00am in my neck of the woods, and I'm starting to see double.  I was going to end this post with several images that show the difference between shooting in auto, and how different they look adding a little creativity and shooting in manual.  I promise to do that in tomorrow's post.  I know this post only covered a few pointers, but I truly hope there was at least one idea, or thought, or bit of information to help you feel confident enough to try that manual mode,  (or AV or TV).  I'd love to hear your progress, and I'm more than happy to answer individual questions as best as I can.  Either leave a comment or send me an email.  And, we'd all like to hear any additional suggestions for beginners from all you experts out there.   And now, good night!!!          


MANUAL vs. AUTO??????

FINALLY taking that big step......turning your camera dial to Manual...YIKES, WHAT HAVE I DONE!!

Today I got a great email from a new photographer friend.  Here is her note:  "I ran across your blog a couple of months ago.  I have since been following it and I really enjoy your pictures and the information you share.  I have a question.  I have taken pictures for fun for a long time.  But I have always just stayed in auto.  At Christmas I took the plunge and bought a Nikon D90.  I love it and have so much to learn!!  Do you have any advice for me as to how to start shooting in manual?  I have been reading about aperture and shutter speeds.  But when I am out and trying to take pictures I struggle with getting out of the programmed modes because I get overwhelmed with knowing where is a good stating point and what should I do from there.  Is there a standard place to start and then change things accordingly?  I know I can do this if I can just get past the overwhelming feeling of where in the world do I begin?  Thank you for caring enough to allow us to ask questions.  I look forward to your reply."

 As I was thinking about how to respond, I decided that probably 90% of 'photographers', (rather than snap shooters), could have written this same thing.  We all buy cameras, usually for the purpose of recording family memories and vacations.  We may even decide to snap some beautiful flowers or a friend's new baby.  We find the little green square that means 'auto',  and start snapping away.  Most people are content with this and are using their camera as anticipated.  But some of us look at our snaps and think, "humm, how come my photos don't look like the ones in the magazines", or "I wonder how so-and-so made her flower pics look so much better than mine??"   And that's how the addiction starts.  It's all so innocent in the beginning.....I'll just read my camera manual and see what it says....  Well, maybe I'll stop by the library on the way home from work and see if they have any photography books....  I'm only going to spend ONE hour on the internet reading about photography instruction, then I'll get dressed and clean the house!  And before you know it, you begin carousing the streets in front of your local dealer, and finally come home with a $2,000 habit, (in my case a Canon 5D Mark ll).  But, you rationalize, I can stop at any time!  Yeh, right says your family and friends.

I'm sorry, I just got carried away, and chuckling so hard to myself I couldn't stop.  (They say the first step to recovery is to admit one has a problem.  But if my husband is reading this, I'm NOT admitting to anything!)

Back to the purpose of this post.  At some point, most of us who call ourselves 'photographers' were probably casual point and shooters who became fascinated with taking pictures and wanted to learn how to do it better.  From then it doesn't take long before you learn that most great photographers learn to shoot in 'manual' modes, because often, this is the secret for getting your camera to record an image the way you actually see it or want to see it.  But shooting in manual is a BIG leap for many of us. 

I thought this would be a great topic for a Tech Talk Tuesday, so I asked my new friend if I could quote her email, and then we will have a discussion on how to make that leap from auto to manual tomorrow.  So tune in tomorrow for this discussion, and please join in by telling us how you made, or are in the learning process of making this transition!! 

Sunday, July 4, 2010


For Love of Country - Grand or Humble
Six years ago we took our first trip to the east coast.  We had an amazing 2 1/2 weeks and saw so many wonderful historic sites and sights.  One place that was truly impressive was our tour of Gettysburg.  There was a reverence and awe in this sacred place.  We viewed hundreds of impressive statues and huge monuments honoring the brave men who fought for what they believed in as we walked on the very fields where they battled and died.  We read the plaques and learned of the sacrifices they made.   We toured Boston and were even more moved as we  remembered all the extraordinary and famous men and women we've read about in history books, who sacrificed their all to give us freedom.  Again we walked where they walked and saw many beautiful statues and monuments with plaques memorializing their brave contributions.

Then, on the outskirts of an area where so much of these early events took place, we ran upon this small, unmarked cemetery.  Most of the markers were of this same era.  No big statues or plaques, but one simple American flag beside a grave.  Somehow this struck me as even more poignant.  I thought about the thousands or hundreds of thousands of brave and patriotic men and women there have been throughout American history who have also sacrificed their all and who have also loved this country as much.   And for the most part, their stories are untold, and these are the backbone of this great nation.

I quote the chorus from one of my all time favorite patriotic songs by Lee Greenwood that never fails to bring tears to my eyes:  "And I'm proud to be an American, where at least I know I'm free.  And I won't forget the men who died, who gave that right to me.  And I gladly stand up next to you and defend her still today.   For there ain't no doubt, I love this land, GOD BLESS THE USA!"

Happy 4th of July!

Friday, July 2, 2010

Phriday Phun

Clown - Downtown San Jose, Costa Rica
I was Caught in the Act....of Taking a Picture
A couple of posts ago I revealed my fear, and ongoing attempts to reach out to people, learn their stories, and document with my camera.  I said, no fair snapping candids long distance.  Well, now I'm going to contradict myself, (my husband says this is not unusual).  Anyway, sometimes a story is best told when your 'subject' is about his business and does not know he is being observed.  (I guess I better put in a disclaimer here.  I'm obviously talking about observing people in public, and not  something weird like becoming a 'peeping tom'!)  Moving on, we were in downtown San Jose, and several clowns were entertaining children in the town square.  That is, all the clowns were entertaining children except for one.  I noticed this clown was not paying any attention to the children, but was paying a lot of attention to the ladies.  He caught me just as I snapped this candid.  I just waved and went on my way.   

Thursday, July 1, 2010

July Desktop Image

Beautiful Arenal Volcano at sunset - Costa Rica
Here is my July desktop image for you to download, share and enjoy.  Just click HERE then right click to set as your desktop image.   It should not be pixalated or blurry.  If you have problems, let me know and I'll help.

Last November Jeff and I took a most memorable trip to Costa Rica.  Yes, it was this green and yes this scene did look like what I imagine Shangrila, Paradise and the Garden of Eden would look like all rolled into one.  The clouds are a combination of clouds and steam/gas  escaping from the volcano.  We could hear it rumbling at night, accompanied by the sound of howler monkeys in the trees.  This photo was taken from the balcony of our motel room,  and we were actually closer to this active volcano that it looks.  I wanted to include the beautiful sunset sky and the lush vegetation, so I used a wide angle lens, which, as we know, distorts perspective.