Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Notes from a Phickle Photographer!!

When friends or strangers find out I enjoy taking pictures, they always ask what type of photography do I like???  Hmmm, well, ummm.  There are photogs who are passionate about stunning landscapes; others get a tickle in their tummy photographing beautiful brides; others like nothing better than spending hours hiding behind a bush waiting to snag a shot of an elusive bear; others can spend hours getting a yummy piece of chocolate cake to look perfect for a picture; others are into action sports; others only pick up their camera to take pictures of their kids, and on and on and on.  My response to the above question is that I am really a very fickle photographer.  I love the challenge of many types of subjects and know I'd get horribly bored shooting the same thing over and over.  Like the saying, 'a jack of all trades and a master of none', I guess I'm a jack of many types of photography and a master of none!  The down side to my approach is that I will never excel at shooting any one thing.  The upside is that I really have fun with photography and don't take it too seriously, (which is why I enjoy it), and when I come back to shooting a subject that I haven't done for a while, I have a fresh perspective and greater enthusiasm.  Additionally, when I look back at my photos, they are so diverse and unpredictable, that I am never bored.  I hope this comes through as I choose photos to put on the blog.  From one day to the next, you never know if you are going to see a beautiful waterfall, a stunning bride, a multicolored frog, a unique house or a huge strawberry.  It works for me and I hope it works for you.

With all that being said, I'm off on another tangent and I'm going to start posting "Wednesday Workday".  I mentioned in my last "Phun Phriday" post, (last paragraph),  that I've had an ongoing project doing character studies.  That is, shooting interesting people in their own environments, often work environments,  as I see them when I'm out and about.  They are either 'working' to earn a living, or 'working' at something else.  Remember, I'm fickle and get bored easily so I'll see how long this is fun.  

Tech Talk Tuesday

Let's Talk About Focal Length

First of all, remember these posts, (for now), are bare bones, just the basics.  I get questions from beginners, and/or  'point and shooters',  who are after simple solutions so their family and travel photos are worthy of the time it takes to paste them in the scrapbook.  

Most point and shoot cameras now days come with great zoom capabilities, going from wide angle to telephoto.  Sometimes you zoom in or out to include or exclude what you want in the photo, but then are disappointed with the results.  Somehow things just don't look right; maybe distorted or blurry or appearing farther away or somehow different than how it looked on the LCD or viewfinder.  Today I'm going to talk about how different focal lengths can change the look of your picture.  I'm keeping this simple, so for all the following photos I put my camera on auto, shot indoors using natural light, had my ISO high at 800, and framed my shots with the strawberry as close to the lower left corner as possible.  A simple setup you can try for yourself.  I'm not going to talk about all the other adjustments that can change how your final picture will look, only the focal length and where you focus.  So here we go:
Here I used a telephoto lens with a focal length of about 200mm.  In other words, I zoomed in close.  In order for me to get the strawberry in the lower left corner and still get part of the flowerpot in the frame,  I had to be about 6 feet away.  I focused on the strawberry, and as you can see, everything else is blurred.

Here I used the same focal length and the same distance from the strawberry.  But look what happened when I focused on the little red hearts behind the strawberry.  There is a small band of the picture in focus, but everything in front and behind is out of focus.  (Although if you notice, the flowerpot is not as blurred as in the first shot because I focused closer to it.)

So now you get the idea.  When I focused on the flowerpot in this shot, it is in sharp focus while everything in front is out of focus.  As you can see with these three photos, where you focus is critical to the look you are trying to achieve.  In this still life, I like the strawberry in sharp focus, but there are many times when you could purposefully choose another area of the frame to be in sharp focus to make your picture more interesting.

A medium telephoto lens is a good choice when taking portraits, because, as in the first shot, when you focus on your subject in the foreground, the softly blurred background eliminates distractions and creates separation.  But it is important to remember to focus on the most important part of the face and that is the eyes.  The eyes must be in sharp focus for a portrait to look good (unless you are going for some artsy unusual look).  Even the difference in distance from the tip of the nose in relation to the camera, compared with the distance from the eye to the camera, can be critical in determining if you have a good portrait or a great one.  So focus specifically on the eyes, not on the nose or anywhere else on the person.  O.K., now for another look:

Whoa, what happened here??  Now I have gone to the other extreme and have a wide angle photo length of around 20mm.  Isn't it amazing how this changed the perspective of the scene and how much more you can see.  Again, I framed this so the strawberry was in the lower left hand corner.  But to get it there, I had to be about a foot away.  (If I had stayed 6 feet away, the picture would have looked a bit more in proportion but would have included a lot of the tabletop and floor in front of the strawberry.)  This looks totally different from the first three shots with the 200mm focal length.  The strawberry is HUGE, and looks like it is a mile away from the flowerpot.  This demonstrates why photographers don't use extreme wide angle lenses for portraits.  And that is because of the distortion in the size and shape of features.  If a head shot you've taken somehow does not look quite right, check your focal length.  If her cute button nose looks like the size of the above strawberry, you might have been using a wide angle focal length too close!!!   Photographers do, however,  use wide angle lenses when they want to be creative and purposefully produce a unique perspective like the above shot.  More often, however, wide angles are used to include more of the scene from side to side and from foreground to background.  For example, a real estate agent would use a wide angle lens to take photos of her homes because she can get more of the room in the picture, and a landscape photographer would use a wide angle lens to include more of the scene in the frame from the flowers in the foreground to the distant mountains in the background.  In this shot, notice once again that I focused on the strawberry and everything else is blurred.

Here I've focused on the little red hearts in the center.  The strawberry is really out of focus, but the flowerpot is not nearly as blurry as when I focused on the little hearts with the 200mm focal length, and you can see much more detail behind the flowerpot.

In this shot I focused on the refrigerator in the far background.  Now the flowerpot, hearts, and strawberry are all out of focus.  (If I were shooting a landscape there are other 'rules' for getting the sharpest focus possible throughout the image, but that discussion is for another day.)

I hope this shows you visually why it is important to know how different focal lengths and focusing points will change the look of your photo.   With a little forethought in visualizing how you want your photo to look, and having the know how to take advantage of the capabilities of your camera,  you will have the best chance of taking a picture you'll be proud to paste in that scrapbook!


Well, actually, this one is really for Jeff.  I have to tell you my Valentine story.  Jeff's favorite treats are chocolate covered strawberries.  My tradition is to give him chocolate covered strawberries every Valentine's Day, and he looks forward to them with great anticipation.  Well on Saturday, the day before Valentine's Day, I was so busy and I had lots on my mind.  I attended a class all morning, ran errands, then took wedding photos in the afternoon until evening.  I was gone all day and came home late and tired, totally forgetting Valentine's day.  Jeff knew I had forgotten.  Later that evening he brought me red roses, and he also bought himself strawberries and chocolate dip and proceeded to make his own Valentine gift!  I know, I know, I'm soooo ashamed!!  Since I didn't make you chocolate covered strawberries this year, Jeff, I took a picture for you!  Let's hope I do better next year!!