Friday, September 23, 2011

Manual Exposure Settings—the Art of HOW

Another snap of the shutter, another opportunity to exert control over your image capture...  How you composed the image determines WHAT will be seen, but it’s your combination of shutter and aperture (and to a lesser extent ISO) that controls HOW it will be seen.  You know all this already.  The point is, do you apply this knowledge before pressing the shutter?

You know that shutter speed generally dictates the amount of motion-freeze or motion-blur you allow in your image.  You also know that aperture choices generally dictates the depth of field, that is, what you allow to be in focus.  So, once again, before you press that shutter, HOW do you want your resulting image to appear?

The two images here of grape clusters demonstrate the result of different decisions being made prior to pressing the shutter.  Of the complete grape cluster, my desire was to be able to see the entire bunch of grapes clearly, and in focus.  Because of this, a fairly broad depth of field was desired.  By choosing an aperture of f/5.6, all grapes would be well within the depth of focus resulting in the desired outcome.  (The necessary shutter speed for proper exposure under this condition was 1/250 sec. with ISO at 200.  A focal length of 105mm was used.)

Conversely, the tight, almost macro image of the grapes was shot at a wide-open f/1.8 because of my desire to have focus only on the surface of a few select grapes, with the remainder of the grape cluster falling off into a gentle blur (an effect often referred to as “bokeh”).  (For this aperture setting, a shutter speed of 1/750 was needed, also at ISO 200.  A focal length of 35mm was used.)

With all the advantages that today's software gives the photographer in post-production (i.e. after the fact), it can’t make up for the important decisions you make as part of the initial capture.  Photography is thinking, not just reacting or snapping pictures.  That said, sometimes conditions are such that you don’t have the luxury of time to think, plan, or prepare for your shot, and that's ok—that’s when you need things like fully-automatic, aperture-priority, or shutter-priority.  But if you have the luxury of time, indulge yourself by also taking advantage of the luxury of manual settings in order to exert full control over HOW you want your image to look.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

There Once Was a Girl and Some Ducks...A Post Production Journey

I was at Descanso Gardens in Los Angeles a few months ago and had the opportunity to capture an image that was full of anticipation.  The scene developed rather quickly as a young girl hesitantly approached a group of ducks nestled on the ground next to a pond.

Barely having time to take up position and adjust the camera, I captured the moment just before she started to pet the closest duck.  This moment was full of excitement and tension and I couldn’t wait to get back and see the image on a larger screen.

In post production, one thing that I noticed that was dominating the image was the bright blue of the young girls dress.  This seemed like one of those times when a color image works against you because of color distraction, and so I decided to convert the image to black and white.

I liked what black and white did, but was never completely satisfied with the result.   I liked the image enough that I shared it with friends and with my local photography club.  The reaction was consistent…nobody liked the image.  The ducks were completely lost in the background.

So I went back to the drawing board.  I started with the full-color image, de-saturated the dress and worked more on the lighting and contrast of the ducks.  I was pretty happy and ran the result past those same friends of mine who had seen the black and white version.  Reaction was all favorable, but interestingly enough, another consistent response came out—the girl’s leg was now a distraction, and a tighter crop was recommended.  This response came from two friends who don’t know each other and live in different cities—I found their common observation interesting.  I didn’t see the leg as a problem, and in fact thought that its position helped convey the tentative approach the young girl was making.  I did see how the high contrast between her leg and the surrounding would draw the eye’s attention so I thought I’d try out their suggestion.

So, my final edit was the tighter crop, and you know what?  I like it, but I also like every other version of the image.  I think it was a strong image to begin with, and a stronger image with each post production improvement. 

My journey helped reinforce two points…1)  starting with a strong image IN CAMERA is really important, and 2)  don’t be afraid to get the opinions of your friends and be open to trying their suggestions.

Feel free to contact me at or check out my website gallery at

(metadata 1/180 sec at f/5.6 and ISO 320, focal length 105mm)

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Aebleskiver? And you eat them??

Yep, and with powdered sugar and jam!  So I learned on my first trip to Solvang.  So close to Los Angeles, but continents away in terms of charm. 

The Santa Ines Mission was founded on September 17, 1804 and was named in honor of Saint Agnes, an early Christian martyr of the fourth century. The Spanish for Agnes is In√©s, hence the name of the church; the American Yankees anglicized the spelling of the Spanish pronunciation and named the town Santa Ynez.  The Mission, which commands a superb view of the Santa Ynez River Valley and the Santa Ynez and San Rafael mountain ranges in the distance.

The community of Solvang was founded in 1911 and began as a dream of three Danish immigrants: Reverend Benedict Nordentoft, Reverend J. M. Gregersen, and Professor P. P. Hornsyld. In January, 1911 the Danish-American Colony corporation bought almost 10,000 acres of prime land in the Santa Ynez Valley, California. The new colony was named “Solvang” (meaning sunny field).   Early buyers, almost all Danish, came from California, the Midwest, and Denmark. 

In 1936, the 25th anniversary of Solvang’s founding, the people in Solvang decided to throw a party. The three-day celebration (June 5-7) included a torch-light procession, plays, pageants, a parade, folk dancing and singing, a concert, barbecue, and a street dance — and was a huge success. In 1937 Solvang put on another celebration and the tradition of Danish Days was born.  In January 1947, the Saturday Evening Post magazine published a feature article about the “spotless Danish village that blooms like a rose in California’s charming Santa Ynez Valley.”

Oh, the smell of fresh baked pastries… That’s one of the main attractions when walking the town square.  And Aebleskivers?  Well, they are traditional Danish pancakes in a distinctive shape of a sphere. Somewhat similar in texture to American pancakes crossed with a popover, √¶bleskiver are solid like a pancake but light and fluffy like a popover.  Oh, delicious!!

Check out my complete collection of Solvang-area photos (including some great wine country) at

And as always, if you have comments or suggestions, drop me a line....

(photo metadata:  1/500 sec @ f/4.0, ISO 100, focal length 45mm)