Two Down, Two to Go

Through the local adult school, I am taking a short four-week long intermediate digital photography course.  Whew, is it a lot of work!  I’ve learned a lot I never knew about, as well as put it into practice.  I have learned about rear curtain flash, how to pan (at which I failed dismally with the 70-300 mm lens my friend the Nikon Hit Man loaned me), as well as some very basic elements of portraiture.  We also are being introduced to Photoshop Elements 8, even though 9 is now available.  The instructor is Tom Ferguson, who has been in the photography industry for ages.  His experience shows in how he is able to answer questions; as a teacher, he is to-the-point and a lot of fun.

This past week’s work has been time-consuming, and thought-provoking.  We have to do portraits, and we need to be able to explain our choices of background.  Working with the color wheel, using analogous colors (colors near each other on the color wheel), complementary colors (colors opposite each other on the color wheel, such as red-green, orange-blue, yellow-purple), and split complementary colors (yellow-blue violet-red violet), we need to choose one or many, take some photos, and print out some pictures.  Finally, depth of field, making decisions, and explaining our choices.  All of this forces pre-visualization and some thought before just pushing that button.  Good lessons.

New Lens

The 70-300 mm lens is simply way too big to lug around while learning how to use a new camera, as well as trying to meet assignments.  I decided to invest in a short, prime lens, and bought a Nikon 35 mm AF DX f/1.8 lens.  It was definitely worth it.  For one thing, I can actually hold the camera!  (Maybe I’ll try some panning shots today.)  The autofocus is very nice, but even better, I can fine tune the focus manually, even with the autofocus on.  Incredibly easy to use.

Portraiture

For the portraiture, I took some pictures of friends and family, and did some manipulating of the colors and focal planes in different software – Elements, Corel, and Photoscape.  I also picked out some photos from other times, and manipulated those as well.  So, one new photo went into the printout for class, and 3 older ones.  What was interesting – to me – was that I got all colors of skin, from rosy to black, and was really pleased with the overall post-processing results.

In my opinion, most cameras make people too red – too warm – and in the end, everything else becomes too red as well.  I decolored, to some degree, most of my pictures to begin with, and then did a few other things.  I really try not to do too much manipulation, but with portraits, by and large, there is too much stuff going on, and simplifying everything is very important to keep the picture interesting and focused on the individual.

This picture of Josh initially had no depth of field.  As a result, the bright red flowers of the dragon tree demanded your attention, drawing the eye away from the focal point of the picture.  Using Photoscape I decolored the picture (Josh was as red as the flowers), and then selected the filter to create a region out of focus.  The result toned down the flowers, Josh’s skin, and sharpened the face.  Much better than the original, though maybe not the best portrait shot I took.

Color Wheel

For my color wheel studies, I was at a total loss, and spent days thinking about it since last Monday’s class.  Then it hit me – my socks!  I have a drawer full of socks, hand knitted, store bought.  I’m always struggling to find the boring socks to wear to work – there just aren’t too many.  But – there are a lot of colors – and so I pulled them out.  What a pile!  Socks everywhere, sorted by color and intensity.

For this exercise, I thought that the analogous color would be really interesting because most of my socks are multi-colored.  Doing this could be something of a challenge, but in the end, it was not especially hard.  I also did one sock shot with split complementary colors, but for the complementary color study, I found some fallen leaves on the bottom of my blue bucket which I thought made for an interesting, yet simple, study.

This photo was set up in Elements 9 as a collage.  These are the analogous color groupings of my socks.  I sort of messed up and put the same picture in twice (the red and green socks).  You can see these socks in greater detail on my Flickr page.

This photo is all about complementary colors – orange leaves in the puddle on the bottom of my blue gardening bucket.  Quite serendipitous!

Depth of Field

Having an f/1.8 lens really allows me to open up my camera and have a very shallow depth of field.  This can be too shallow, and the interest points of a photograph can rapidly disappear.  Finding that sweet spot was really fun.  By the same token, having a very wide depth of field, such as in landscape photography, may work for or against you it seems.

I like this photo for its shallow depth of field, along with the complementary colors of the deep blue sky in contrast to the orange-red of the rock.

These two photos are good to compare depth of field for losing the subject (the one on the left) and finding it (the one on the right).  I like them both for different reasons, but think that the one on the right needs something to be done with its color.  Neither have been post-processed.

Here is the same landscape – two views, each with different depths of field.  I don’t think having the cacti out of focus does much for the scenery; having it in focus is more successful.

The curves of the road in this photo work nicely with the different patches of vegetation in the valley and up the hillside.

Conclusions

With my little Lumix ZS5, I got the taste for depth of field and control of the image.  There are still issues with color, but I am inclined to think that it is me.  On the Lumix, even with manual exposures, I find that unless I push the EV to a -1/3, the colors can wash out if there are bright whites or spots of sunshine in the image.  Better to make the picture a bit dark to get the lighter areas with some detail.  This can be modified with post-processing.  However, using the Nikon D70 and the 35 mm lens, I find that I most likely don’t need to do this.  Too many of my images taken with the Nikon seem too intensely colored, usually toward the red spectrum.  This is actually a bit more difficult to correct.

I also have found that I do not like the automatic color balance in Elements 9.  If I don’t accurately pinpoint a white / grey / black area, the entire picture can get wonky – but quite often bizarrely colored, and interesting as a result!  In Photoscape, the best way to deal with this is to decolor at about a -3 for a starting point.  I also like the different blurs available in this software.  Corel is confusing, but with practice and exploration, I am getting it.  Altogether, each of these three programs will provide good results, with varying learning curves for success.  I really don’t like sitting at a computer to learn stuff, but if I have the ability to focus, it is well worth the time spent.

Taking a gander at older photos of some friends, as well as the recent ones I have done, I am getting a different perspective on framing a person in a photograph.  I think it is possible to have a busy background, but it is best to blur it out, unless the person is another element in the overall composition of the photograph.  Depth of field is important here, as well as knowing just which f/stop will give the best result.  I love the blur of the f/1.8, but have learned that it is important for the main subject to be focussed upon enough to keep the picture from losing its point – unless the entire point is blur and bokeh.  With landscapes, I think it can vary as far as the overall DOF, but certainly for a grand vista, you need to have a smaller f/stop.

Finally, using color, and my exciting sock collection, my entire sense of color was given a good kickstart!  As I have been painting only in sumi for quite some time, I have found my sense of color, and its visual impacts, has been somewhat forgotten.  Contrast is important in images – that I think I get – but now my mind is whirling away about color!

Next Class

ISO.  Flash – as in bounced, off-camera, for portraiture, slave flash, reflector cards.  Other things too!  Stay posted!

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