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Wednesday, January 29, 2014

An Example Using Manual Mode

shot at 55mm, ISO 400, 1/15 sec, f/5.6, ambient light only
Before moving on, I wanted to give you an example of a simple photograph I took using the manual controls on my Nikon camera. 

I grabbed my camera on Easter while at my aunt's house when my son, Gavin, was running around on her sun porch... excited about the upcoming egg hunt, no doubt! I figured it was going to be a great opportunity for a photograph because the lighting out there was fantastic, no flash needed whatsoever. Nice opportunity to play with the manual settings on my camera.

Now, I must confess...when taking pictures on the fly like this, going completely "manual" is difficult. So what I do in a situation like this is manually set everything like I want it (ISO, aperture, lighting, etc) and I let the camera choose the shutter speed. So I cheat a bit, I admit! But sometimes you have to choose between capturing a once-in-a-lifetime shot (and letting the camera do some of the thinking for you) and missing the shot altogether. Now, when I become an expert photographer I will won't have to rely on any automatic settings...ever. But today is not that day. I wanted to get a nice picture of our boy all excited about this special day.

A couple of things to note about this picture. I wanted to "fuzz" the background a bit so I set the aperture (f-stop) down as low as I could with my lens. This gave me a shallow depth of field, blurring the background. You will find me doing this a lot because a shallow depth of field makes your eyes immediately go to the main subject, which in this case is my son's face. 

This allowed me to do something else. Choosing a large aperture (low f-stop number, remember?) allowed a lot of light inside the camera, and in turn gave me a high enough shutter speed to make everything work. If I used a smaller aperture, the shutter speed would have had to be lower (like down in the 1/5 sec range perhaps). Now the more you learn about shutter speed, the more you will realize that slow shutter speeds and energized children do not mix. Had I set the shutter any slower (or allowed it in this case, being the camera was choosing this part automatically) Gavin would have looked like a blur because he was moving around rather quickly. Notice the keychain on his beltloop? It was blurred because he was wiggling and twirling it around, and even at 1/15 of a second (that's .06666667 of a second mind you) I couldn't stop it from moving in the image. But that's okay, it added to the mood or playfulness of the photograph. Nice.

shot at 200mm, ISO 800, 1/2 sec, f/5.6, ambient light only
How about another? 

Okay, here's one. This one was shot totally in manual mode (yes even the shutter speed was all me). 

This one has a few more challenges due to low light, and quality of the light.

This is a picture of "Kitty", our loyal pussy cat (her name is actually Pepper, but she wouldn't know it...always have called her Kitty). At first when taking this picture I only had a table lamp lit, but I could not take a good quality image because I had the shutter set so low/slow that I would have had to use a tripod. (In a later post I will show you a trick you can utilize if a tripod is not at your finger tips, so stay tuned.) 

Now ordinarily, I would have gone for one of my strobes (flashes) to bring more light into the picture. But I want to prove a point here, and that is to show that you can use only available light to take photos. And that is what I encourage you to stick with for a little while until you learn the manual controls on your camera. 

So here is what I did to make this work. I turned on the overhead light in the room. I set my ISO pretty high at 800. Any higher and the picture becomes a little "grainy". I bottomed out my aperture as low as I could at f/5.6 while zoomed in to 200mm. And I set my shutter speed to 1/2 second. That is S-L-O-W. Especially in terms of what you can shoot without a tripod. My Nikkor lens actually made this possible. It has an Image Stabilization feature that allows me to shoot at very slow shutter speeds and still have a sharp image. So credit given where due. Even still, I had to brace my elbows on my knees and take a deep breath when pressing the shutter button. Pretty neat hugh? While the picture is a little yellow due to the quality of the light, I like it.

All done with manual controls, and with ambient light. You can do it too, just try.

Thanks for reading!


Friday, January 24, 2014

Get Creative

shot at 56mm, ISO 800, 1/2sec, f/11, ambient light

If you are like most people who capture images of your wife (or husband) and children while opening Christmas gifts, or while blowing out those birthday candles...or simply while doing something around the house...chances are you are shooting your camera in Auto mode. This is called a snapshot. And while that is okay--especially when time is an issue and you just have to have that picture right now--let me encourage you to try something a little different.

It is called shooting in Manual mode. Dig out your owner's manual and find out how to set your camera up this way. Even on your point-and-shoot camera (i.e. pocket camera), it can be done. Most have a dial on the side you rotate to "M".

This is not something you will want to mess with when 3-year-old little Johnny has done something for the first time and you want to quickly get a picture of him to put on Twitter. This will be a little project for you when you have a few extra minutes that you can devote to it. And you will not be very good at it, at least at first. 

Look at the picture above. I shot this completely in Manual mode. I used only ambient light (only the lights on the Christmas tree and a small amount of room lighting). You might think it looks underexposed (or dark), and you'd be correct, technically. But this is the way I wanted it to turn out. After all, you are reading my blog...The World Thru Brant's Eyes, right? 

It's a matter of perception, and what kind of mood you want to project. Basically, the way I view it, photography is an art form and--just like any art--beauty is in the eye of the beholder. That is one of the things that I love about photography, you can't mess it up! If it looks good to you, that's all that matters.

Briefly, let me explain what the major factors are when shooting in Manual mode. And let me tell you now that I call myself an amateur because that's what I am...meaning I am not an expert. I am continually learning about these factors, and as I learn more, you will read about it here, I'm sure. Having said that, here are the basics you should know:

ISO sensitivity. You have the option to set your ISO anywhere from 100 (or sometimes lower) all the way up to 6400 on some cameras. You want to set your ISO to the lowest you can, because this gives you the best quality image possible. If you are taking pictures in low light (indoors, or outdoors at dusk) you will have to choose a higher setting. As a rule, I shoot most often at 200. Then if needed, I will adjust to a higher ISO if the light is just too low (like in the image above). I try not to shoot above 800 or 1000 unless I have to. Why? Because the image comes out "grainy" when blown up to original size.

Shutter speed. This is a cool one. With this one setting, you can stop a soccer player in mid-air, make the wings of a humming bird stop (really!), and actually turn off the lights in a room. You may think I'm nuts, but its true. You will hear me talk about this a lot. For now, know that in lower light you need to set you shutter speed slower, meaning 1/30th of a second, for example. In brighter light (daylight) you will need to set it higher, such as 1/1000th of a second. Most cameras will allow you to set your shutter speed anywhere from 1/1 of a second (one full second, which is very slow) to 1/8000th of second (extremely fast, much faster that you can blink your eyes). Rule of thumb: The slower the shutter speed, the more light comes into the camera. And the faster the shutter speed, the less time light has to make it inside to the camera's delicate sensor. I could write a whole page on this one, but for now let's stop.

Aperture. This one is pretty neat too. You can adjust your aperture (also called f-stop) anywhere from f/1.4 (depending on your camera/lens capability) all the way up to f/22 or higher (again, depends on your camera/lens). What does that mean? This one is a little tricky because the higher the number, the less light can enter thru the lens. A large aperture (low f-stop number), like f/2 or f/2.8, "opens up" the lens and allows a lot of light to come in, therefore making it ideal to work in low-light scenarios. When a lot of light can be funneled thru the lens, it allows you to work at higher shutter speeds and therefore can open up new possibilities...or may allow a shot to be taken that otherwise could not. 

One other very neat thing that I will mention about aperture is how it effects your depth of field. This is one of my favorite ways to add that professional touch to my photographs. What is depth of field? Best and most simple way to describe it is this:  If you have ever opened up a recipe book or magazine that shows those macro (up-close) photos of food and have noticed how blurry the background is, then you know what depth of field is. What to make the background of your photos out-of-focus? Open up your lens (lower your f-stop number). You will make your photos look professional almost instantly. How cool is that?

That's enough for today. I could go on and on, but I will stop because there is a sucha thing as information overload. 

Try shooting in Manual mode, you may be surprised at what you learn.

Thanks for reading,

Friday, January 17, 2014


Welcome to my blog. It is called "The World Thru Brant's Eyes" for a very simple reason. I am Brant, and anything interesting that catches my eye thru the course of a day makes me, I wish I had my Nikon to capture it.

Especially things in nature, or anything thing else in the world around me that makes me stop for a split second in my busy day and say...hmmm. You know what I am talking about I'm sure. What made you say "hmmm" today when you saw it? If you are not the type to notice the little things around in our world from time to time--the beautiful things, the cool things, the interesting things--maybe after you read a few of my posts, your perception will change.

You certainly don't have to have a camera with you to capture life's little visual treats. Things tend to stick with you if you will give it a few seconds of your undivided attention. For example, if you are walking into work one day and you see the sunrise on the horizon and it is hitting the morning clouds just right...if you will stop a second and just 'take it in', that image will stay with you. You can take a mental snapshot if you will. 

My memory is not that great anymore, so maybe that's why I am so interested in capturing images (like that beautiful sunrise) that excite me in the form of a photograph.

What can you expect to see on my blog? 

You will see pictures for sure, and you will see come camera 'jargon' along with it. It will be geared more towards the amateur photographer (because that's what I am), but you don't have to know a thing about photography to enjoy the pictures I post. You will see pictures of my pets for sure, pics of my wife and son, pictures of the outdoors, and some off-the-wall stuff too (me just playing around with my camera).

My aim is to do two things... one is to develop my own photography skills and perhaps maybe teach a few tricks to other amateurs. The other objective is to get the reader to open their eyes to the beautiful world in which we live and pause for a bit, just to take it in. 

There will be no rhyme or reason to when I post unfortunately. You may see a post every few days, or once a month...depending on how busy life gets. I have a wonderful wife and son (and a more-than-full-time job) who get first dibs on the hours in my day.

Thanks for reading. Hope you enjoy!