Minion Pumpkin

Minion Pumpkin

Susan is our resident artist, although she would never admit it herself. Compare her minion pumpkin to my mangled triangle eyed basic pumpkin (which wasn’t even worthy of a picture) and it is easy to see why I say this. These days at halloween each kid buys their own pumpkin to carve. Then usually right around the time we get the top cut off they have lost interest and Susan gets two pumpkins to carve herself. She usually pretends, without much success, that she doesn’t enjoy it.

This picture highlights what we like so much about our 50mm fixed focal length lens in general, and especially with portrait photography. Our 50mm lens has a maximum aperture of 1.4, the next closest lens we have for getting this wide of an aperture is the Canon EF 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 lens which is no where near as wide. Not to mention the 28-135mm lens is a variable aperture lens so the only way to have get the f/3.5 is to be zoomed all the way out to 28mm. Having this wide aperture is what let me get Susan and her pumpkin in focus and have the background be blurry. In a picture like this the background would just be a distraction and take away from the main focus of the picture. Making the background blurry instead draws even more attention to the main subject which is exactly what I wanted.

For the people paying attention to the camera information, the date on this picture is not a mistake. Our old neighborhood would move Trick or Treating to the weekend after Halloween if it fell on a weekday. So no, we don’t just randomly carve pumpkins throughout the year! It is also interesting to note that this picture was taken a couple of years ago. Who would have known that a minion pumpkin would have probably been even more popular this year?

We wish everyone a fun and safe Halloween!

Minion Pumpkin Information

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Family Photo

Family Photo

This family photo tells the story of us taking pictures with the kids. Tyler is a big cheese ball and loves to have his picture taken, while Anna generally refuses to let us take her picture. So Tyler’s big smile, and Anna’s scowl in this family photo is normal for us. It actually usually takes a good bit of convincing before we can get Anna to join us for a picture at all.

For a shot like this we use our tripod and the camera’s timer feature in order to get all four of us in the picture. To do this we have 3 of us posed, while one of us sets up the camera. Once everything is ready Paul gets to start the timer and then run into place before the picture is taken. Normally this is a pretty easy task, as in this case, but sometimes it provides comical pictures when he doesn’t make it in time. We have everything from pictures of his back, to a “ghost” Paul as he is blurred so much from moving.

Every family photo we have has been taken this way. We would rather do our family photos in fun places that we will remember rather than in a studio with someone. Because of this our family photos are always spontaneous. We don’t ever go out with the plan that we are going to take one. Instead, whenever we think it is a good moment we take one. Another benefit to this is one or two pictures and we are done, which makes things much easier with the kids. Because of this we always like to have our tripodwith us, even if we don’t think we will need it. That said, we have plenty of “selfie” family photos taken with our iPhones. Remember, our goal with family photos is for a fond memory, not the best, most technical picture we can get. That doesn’t mean that we don’t try to get the best picture we can. It just means we don’t let not having the best setup available stop us.

Family Photo Information

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Hidden Lake

Hidden Lake

While in Utah we went hiking on a trail in Guardsman Pass between Park City and Big Cottonwood Canyon. The drive itself is a beautiful one with great views into the Heber Valley, plenty of wild flowers, and mountains all around. Hiking here proved to be just as beautiful. We went exploring on a side trail and came across this hidden lake. OK, there was a small group of locals that came down to the lake also, so how much of a “hidden lake” it was I don’t know, but to us it was off on a side trail and unexpected so we called it a hidden lake. I would love to be able to tell you how to get to this spot, but unfortunately I don’t know the name of the trail or the exact mile marker where we were.

If you go hiking on Guardsman Pass and find our hidden lake you will know it. It was a spectacular view to come around the corner and see the lake down below. The deep green of the water is not due to any photo editing, the water was truly that deep green color. Utah is a very dry state so it is also interesting to see the lake agains the dry surroundings.

If you have been following this blog you will probably notice a trend here: for this picture I used a circular polarizing filter to reduce the glare on the water and to deepen the blue sky. Normally a bright blue sky with no clouds can be somewhat boring in a picture, even though it’s beautiful in person, but in this case I like the contrast of the blue with the green of the trees and the water. It also helps that the blue sky isn’t a huge focus of the picture.

Hidden Lake Information

  • Taken By: Paul
  • Date Taken: 3-JUL-2012
  • Camera: Canon EOS REBEL T1i
  • Lens: Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6
  • Exposure: 1/60 sec at F/5
  • Focal Length: 19 mm
  • ISO: 100
  • Flash: Did not fire
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Pay Phone

Pay Phone

You can always tell a trip is going to be a good one when the minute you step off the plane at your destination the kids find something new (even if it is really something old). Tyler walked off the plane at the LaGuardia airport and immediately saw pay phones. Of course he didn’t call it a pay phone, to him it was an “old fashioned phone.” He was fascinated by the pay phone and spent a while playing with it. After all, what he knows as a phone is a cell phone. We only have cell phones at our house, so to him even a traditional land line is an “old fashioned phone.” It would have been fun to let him make a call, but of course we didn’t have an quarters or know anyone local. Putting quarters in phones, and even the idea of a long distance call were foreign to him.

What I love about the picture is that it was not staged. Tyler really did have that look on his face. He was asking us what kind of phone it was, how it worked, who uses them, and all kinds of other questions. Sure, from a technical standpoint this isn’t a perfect picture, but similar to the horse show picture, don’t miss the moment while you try to get the perfect picture. There is only one time in Tyler’s life where it is going to be the first pay phone he sees. The next time he sees one, if that ever happens again, he may have fond memories of seeing his first one, but the reaction won’t be the same.

Pay Phone Information

  • Taken By: Susan
  • Date Taken: 20-Dec-2013
  • Camera: iPhone 5s
  • Lens: iPhone 5s back camera
  • Exposure: 1/20 sec at F/2.2
  • Focal Length: 4.12 mm
  • ISO: 320
  • Flash: Did not fire
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White Water

White Water

This was a typical bright sunny Utah day in Little Cottonwood Canyon. This bright day with the shade of the trees provided the challenge of trying to meter for both the bright section and the shady section. For this picture I decided to mainly meter for the shady section, and let the sunny section be a little bright (although I still chose somewhat of an in-between). In doing this I used a slower shutter speed which also gave me the soft white water look I wanted.

With shots of the water I almost always use a circular polarizing filter and this picture was no exception. Normally my main goal with the polarizing filter is to reduce the glare on the water. In this case I was using it both to reduce the water glare, and the glare on the rocks. Without the filter, many of the rocks had so much glare that they were clipping and lost all of their detail. Even with the polarizing filter there is still some clipping in this picture in bright sun areas of the water. Because the water was moving so fast, and I was going for nice, soft, white water in the picture anyways, the clipping isn’t as noticeable. The clipped areas are white, and the rest of the water is white also so, to me at least, it still looks natural.

Another filter that is useful for situations like this is a neutral density filter. These filters reduce the amount of light coming into the lens so a slower shutter speed can be used. A lot of people use these filters when they want a soft white water look, but it is too bright out to use a slow enough shutter. The filters come with different amounts of light reduction, giving you different options depending on what you are trying to achieve. Unfortunately I do not own a neutral density filter, and I haven’t used one, so I don’t have any recommendations for a good one. Getting one is on my wish list, so hopefully one day that will change!

White Water Information

  • Taken By: Paul
  • Date Taken: 6-JUL-2012
  • Camera: Canon EOS REBEL T1i
  • Lens: Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6
  • Exposure: 1.3 sec at F/20
  • Focal Length: 37 mm
  • ISO: 100
  • Flash: Did not fire
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Horse Show

Horse Show

Photos of our daughter at a horse show are always a challenge for us – both of us. Often at a horse show, the lighting is awful for photography because of the size of the barn interior. This picture from the winter show at High Caliber Stables in Greensboro, North Carolina is a good example. If you use a flash, it will “get lost” in the high ceiling. Or it will blind the horse and kill your child (this is Susan – I trend toward hyperbole). Another issue with horse show photography is that if the arena is inside, there are often windows. So as your subject rides around the arena you may or may not need to meter to that window. If your shutter speed is metered to a window and you are not at a window you will have a super dark shot.

I compensate for this in a couple ways. During a horse show, your rider will usually compete in several classes so I review Anna’s schedule and “practice” during the upcoming classes. I can usually find a spot in the ring where I am about 75% confident I will get an acceptable shot. Compensation #2 comes in at this point – sometimes that shot is not what you have in your mind as ideal. For example, in the photo above, I certainly would have loved to get the focus and concentration on Anna’s face; however, the windows were killing me so I opted for the “running away” shot (side note – Paul has specific instructions NEVER to photograph me this way in a running race or triathlon, all men should follow this rule). I like this shot because the action is in the horse, but I can tell by Anna’s posture that she is in “horse show mode.”

Compensation #3 is a life lesson that applies more broadly than just photography: Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good (Voltaire). Anna does not show very often, just once a year, maybe twice. So I would rather have this average shot technically speaking than to have missed the moment forever. When I am old and gray and only see her once a year – maybe twice, I want to have any quality photo to remember these moments by.

Horse Show Information

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Sun Rays

Sun Rays

Sun rays like this are one of those things that you can’t really predict when they will happen. Here we were hiking along at Wilson’s Creek in North Carolina when I noticed them coming through the trees. I stopped for the picture and through the view finder I couldn’t see the sun rays so I figured the picture wouldn’t turn out. I ended up taking the same picture at several different exposures hoping that one would turn out. Even looking at the preview on my camera after taking the picture, I couldn’t see the sun rays so I figured the picture would be no good. To my surprise, when I get home and downloaded the pictures the sun rays were there, maybe not as prominent as I saw them on the trail, but they were there.

The lesson here is that if you think there is a chance for a good picture then take it even if you aren’t sure you can get what you want out of it. With digital photography there is nothing to lose. In the days of film cameras, this may not have been as wise because you had to pay to get the pictures developed to see if you got any good shots. With digital, the worst case is the picture doesn’t come out good and you delete it. Nothing lost but a couple seconds of your time. But a lot of times something good comes out of it.

It can also be beneficial to do as I did here and experiment. In this case I experimented with different exposures. You can also experiment with things like different apertures, different angles, etc. Experimenting with many different pictures is a good way to learn what the different settings on the camera do. When you get home and download the pictures to your computer, look at the differences. Pick out the picture you like best, paying attention to why you like it best. Doing this helps you learn how the camera works, and understanding this helps get better pictures right from the start. And like I said, with digital photography you have no reason not to experiment.

Sun Rays Information

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Beautiful Flowers

Beautiful Flowers

The contrast of colors between all the flowers, the blue jar, and the different colored wrappings around the jar, combined with the way the light is coming through makes for beautiful flowers. This pictures uses the rule of thirds to focus the viewer’s eye on the most colorful pedals in the flower arrangement. The idea behind the rule of thirds is to divide the picture into thirds both horizontally and vertically. The four points where these lines intersect are places are where people’s eyes are naturally drawn so they are a good place to put the focus of the picture. This may sound a little complicated, but it’s actually a pretty simple and powerful concept once you understand it. If you are interesting in finding out more about the rule of thirds this page does a good job of explaining it.

This picture was taken at Paul’s sister’s wedding. All of the tables had beautiful flowers like this on them like this, but what made these flowers stand out to me was the sidelight. Using sidelight like this can have a fun artsy effect on pictures. This technique can also be used to bring out different textures in an image. Here it helps “separate” the flowers on the darker side of the image and also brings out the texture of the cloth that the jar is on. This technique has a lot of applications, but can be especially interesting with portraits. If you are tired of getting the “same picture” all the time, try sidelight for some new ideas. Maybe it will be just what you need to get the creativity going.

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Changing Seasons

Changing Seasons

The changing seasons are always a good time for photography. Trees are always interesting in the changing seasons, wether it is the bright green new leaves in the spring or the the varied colors of fall, both can provide great opportunities for photography. Susan and I went to Boone North Carolina for our anniversary weekend and decided to take a quick hike around Julian Price Memorial Park on the Blue Ridge Parkway before we headed home. This is a flat, easy hike with lots of great views of the lake. As you can see we were here a couple weeks early to really get the good fall colors, but things were still pretty with the leaves just starting to change.

This was a very cloudy and gray day which tends to make the sky look white and washed out in pictures, but what I like about this picture is the changing trees reflecting on the water. The water was perfectly still on the lake which is really what is needed for good reflection photography. When the sky is like this I will frequently look for places I can get reflections like this because it can draw the attention away from the sky and makes for interesting pictures. If you can add trees changing colors into the reflection it only makes things better. Even though the trees weren’t at peak color for this picture, there was enough color to make the reflection stand out.

As a side note, I lived in Boone while attending Appalachian State University and love the area. If you have any interest in visiting the area I would highly recommend it. Wether it’s hiking around Price Park, taking in the views from Rough Ridge, cycling (or just driving) to on the Blue Ridge Parkway, or pretty much any outdoor activity you are looking for Boone is a great place. If you have questions about the area send me and email and I will help if I can.

Changing Seasons Information

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Perfect Smile

Perfect Smile

Our daughter Anna and her cousin Rebecca are showing us their perfect smiles at Paul’s sister’s wedding. The thing to remember here though is that with portrait photography, it is all about eyes. Humans are naturally drawn to the eyes. In a picture like this, the eyes draw you in and make you feel connected to the people in the picture. Once that happens, then the perfect smile has meaning. In this picture Anna and Rebecca are smiling with you because the are looking at you. If they were not looking at me when I took the picture it probably would have still been a good picture, but the personal connection with the viewer would be lost which decreases the impact of the picture.

There was a lot going on around Anna and Rebecca in this picture and it is always tempting to include all of that in the picture. The problem is everything additional that gets included in the picture distracts from the main focus of a picture like this. In this picture I wanted to focus on how much fun Anna and Rebecca were having. Getting in close and only showing their faces makes that the only focal point of the picture. If I had included the other people around, or anything else going on, the person viewing the picture would also pay attention to those things. This distraction would have minimized what I was trying to convey in the picture. If you want people to focus on the perfect smile then make that what your picture is about, not everything going on around where you want the focus.

Perfect Smile Information

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