The New Manual DSLR Project

Hi, and welcome to my blog. The Manual DSLR Project was started March 30, 2010 with the intent of devoting one year to learning how to use my Nikon D300 in manual mode. I invited you to join me as I took this journey. You celebrated with me as my fingers began to remember which wheel adjusts the shutter speed and which controls the aperture settings. I was brutally honest in sharing my mistakes.

A year passed quickly...and I achieved my goal of demystifying the manual operation of my camera.

While the Manual DSLR Project was intended to be bound by time (one year), I am eager to keep the conversation going. So look for additional posts on anything related to photography. And interact. Let me know if you are reading the blog and find it useful.

All the best...

Friday, December 31, 2010

One Step Further: Custom White Balance

My last post was about setting white balance manually. Tonight we take it one step further by discovery the wonders of custom white balance. Okay, "wonders" might be a bit much, but custom white balance on the D300 is pretty cool and easy.

The process is quite easy. But let's first talk about why you would use custom white balance.

If you are in a situation where you want your white balance to be correct in camera and you will be shooting in the same location with the same lighting situation, you may want to use custom white balance. I wouldn't use this feature for shooting an event where the lighting would change from one scene to the next. However, if I were doing a product shoot in a studio where the lighting would be the same, this might be an excellent option.

This photo has nothing to do with the post, but since this is a photo blog...
Now the process. First you hold down the WB button and turn the wheel to PRE. Then hold the WB balance down until PRE starts to flash. Then take a shot of your scene. If the lighting is adequate and the WB setting worked, you will see Gd at the bottom of your viewfinder and Good spelled out on your LCD display. Your custom white balance is now set and ready to go. What this means is that the white balance is set from a white or gray object in the original scene.

You can actually save more than one custom white balance setting and select them just as you would any preset.

Hope this helps. Have a safe and happy New Year's eve!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

White Balance - Working on Getting it Right in Camera

Today we look at white balance. Like many modern D-SLRs, the Nikon D300 provides an option to select an automatic white balance. Some people like this idea while others suggest that it is better to use a specific white balance setting for the shoot (or portion of a shoot) so that one may batch correct the white balance in post production. While it is beyond the scope of this blog to debate the pros and cons of each, I tend to go for the latter--where I select one white balance setting (as close as I can get in camera) and make necessary corrections in post. So it's time to explore the joys of white balance. My goal here is to learn how to select an appropriate white balance setting for the situation.

So how hard is that? If it's cloudy you select the little cloud...sunny and you pick the sun...

Let's take it a little farther by not only learning what preset to use, but to select the appropriate Kelvin temperature for the situation.

So where to start? I suppose it wouldn't be a bad idea to consult the camera manual (Yikes!). The manual tells us to "choose a white balance setting that matches the light source before shooting." As I understand it, the white balance setting on our digital cameras is like the filters we might have used on our film cameras. For instance, if you took a photo in fluorescent light you might use a blue filter to "filter" out the blue tint.

This one was shot with a white balance setting of 2500.
The white balance in our digital camera does the same thing. Here's an exercise to illustrate the point. I shot this first photo of Lane (under protest) at a setting of 2500 Kelvin. It appears pretty well balanced with the incandescent overhead lights, but it could use a little more warmth.

So I repeated the photo at a setting of 3500 Kelvin as shown below, which added a bit of warmth.

Could I have added the warmth in post? Sure. In reality, will I probably just adjust in post? Yep! But this project is about experimentation and learning to use the manual controls of the camera and this exercise is one step in that journey. Just like auto focus, white balance presets are great and I plan to use them. But it's good to know how to add warmth in camera.

To add a little warmth I shot this one at 3500 K.
Heck, I might ever break out some gels for my flash to adjust the color temperature. But not tonight...

Until next time...


FYI. Settings on these photos: ISO 800; f5.6; 1/5 sec.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Contributor for

Through the magic of the connections made on Twitter, I was recently offered the opportunity to become a contributor for CurrentPhotographer. Specifically, I will be writing a regular weekly post reviewing photography-related iPhone and iPad applications. My first post is a review of Pic Grunger, a really cool application that allows you to make your pics look old.

Run by professional photographer Trevor Current, CurrentPhotographer provides "information and resources to help educate and inspire the photo community to make better photos. Our topics include breaking photo industry news, tips, tools, techniques, how-tos and reviews for beginners through professionals." Check it out at

I also recently contributed to the FatPhotographer site, which is designed to link photographers worldwide. If you are going on a trip anywhere in the world and want to know (from a local) where to shoot, visit the site to find tips about where to shoot, as well as listings of photo stores, processors, professional photographers and more. I wrote the introduction to the Alabama page. If you find that your state or area has not yet been developed you may get the opportunity to contribute to the site.

Since this is a photo blog, I am including one shot from my recent trip to Louisville, KY. This was shot at a red light looking north toward 4th Street Live.

Until next time, check out my posts on and follow me on Twitter (@manualdslr)...Mike

Monday, November 22, 2010

What makes a pro a pro?

In the short time that I have been following photographers on their blogs and on Twitter, I have learned that there seems to be a categorization related to photographers. With tongue planted firmly in cheek, I would like to speak to some of these categories:

Amateur – This is the category in which I find myself considering that I do not make my living from photography. I have, out of need for a particular illustration, had a few photos published in books that I wrote. My employer has used some of my photos in publications. For the most part, however, my photography has been for personal enjoyment. One should note that the skill level in this category varies widely from beginner to expert. I suppose I fall somewhere in between the two.

Professional – Most of the photographers that I run into online tend to be in this category. Some are photography “rock stars” with names like Chase Jarvis, Scott Bourne, Derrick Story, David Ziser, and Tamara Lackey. Others are perhaps equally talented but perhaps less well known. These are people that you have never heard of, but who do beautiful work and make a good living for their families. Still others may have less (or more) skill, but seem to just get by.

Then there is another group. These are the ones who buy a “good camera”. They take a few shots on Automatic mode. (Yes, with the pop-up flash firing on the shots they take from the nosebleed section at the football game.) Someone tells them that they take good pictures. “Look at this portrait that a professional photographer took. The background is all blurry,” they might say. “But the telephone pole lined up just behind Little Johnny’s head is just as clear as the little squirt himself”. You probably know where I am going with this.

So the photographer decides that it is time to go pro. After all, he has a good camera. What else does he need?

I experienced the work of one of these pros recently. I was very nice when the person was shooting the event and, in fact, did not shoot myself since a professional had been hired. I don’t want to be the “Uncle Bob” in this story.

Then I saw the photos. The composition was poor. One group shot chopped off the heads of several; one was chopped at the level of the eyes. I understand artistic creativity, but let’s get real. The images were over processed to the point of being ridiculous. There is one shot where two of us have blue noses. I’m not kidding! Blue noses! Okay. I’m exaggerating. It might be more of a teal color. Maybe aqua. What??

But you know what? There are some pretty good pictures too. One is of a really cute pose of a child. I would have probably approached it differently and opened the aperture to really focus on the subject and let the background blur. But it’s still a good photo. A few good ones and a few bad ones.

Why do I consider these photos to be less than professional? Lack of consistency. They should all be good. Do we all have throw aways where eyes are closed or the lighting wasn’t just right or whatever? Sure. But the customer should never see these. These should NOT be in the album. But when that is all you have…

I would include a copy of some of the botched photos, but will not due to copyright issues. Neither will I include one of my shots on this post since it’s a post about what not to do. Until next time I’ll just assure you that I am not exaggerating about the quality of these shots.

And by the way…the next time someone tells you that you take good pictures because you have a good camera. Set your ISO to 3200. Aperture to the biggest setting that the lens will allow, and the shutter speed on maybe 1 second. Hand it to them and ask them to take your photo. You think maybe Scott Bourne is right when he says that the camera may not be the most important component in the photo? I think so. What does Scott say? “90% of all cameras are better than…”

So do I want to be a pro? Not until I am the best amateur photographer you know. And I'm still working on that. All the best...

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

SizzlPix Pick of the Month - The Digital Story

I was thrilled to receive a Twitter message and email from Derrick Story of The Digital Story (web site and podcast) notifying me that I had won the SizzlPix Pick of the Month! For those of you unfamiliar with Derrick Story, he is a renowned photographer, author and workshop leader. A visit to and subscribing to his podcast by the same name will be well worth your time and effort. Though I do not know him other than through listening to his podcast, I can tell you that Derrick is one of the most enthusiastic photographers I have come across. I almost can't listen to him early in the morning because my general state of grumpiness is stirred by his wonderful demeanor.

Character flaws (mine, not his) aside, I always enjoy his podcast and have been challenged to submit a photo in one of his monthly contests, sponsored by SizzlPix--a company that prints photos (through some mysterious special process) on a sheet of polished aluminum. This yields a very stable, gorgeous way to display a photo that will outlast any other medium of which I am aware.

The theme of the September contest was "Saturated" so I submitted this shot, which I have shared on this blog before. This was shot on Little River in the Great Smoky Mountains. Shot with a Nikon D300 with a 24-70 kit lens equipped with a ND2 neutral density filter. (This is the only lens that my ND filter will fit). Shot at ISO 100, F11, 1/5 sec. on a tripod. Bracketed at one and two steps above and one and two steps below. Processed with Photomatix Pro.

I can't wait to see how it will look as a SizzlPix!

Here's a link to the announcement:

I encourage you to participate in photo contests like this one. To learn more, go to and click on Members.

I'll be sure to let you know when I receive the SizzlPix. Thanks to Derrick Story and SizzlPix!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Measure Twice. Cut Once.

I enjoy woodworking. While I don't often get out to the shop and build things, I do enjoy it and should do it more often. However, there are always reasons not to get out to the shop: Too hot; too cold; don't have time; don't know what to build; don't have time to finish a project...

Today I decided to go out and start a project. As I walked down to the shop I began to think about the similarities between woodworking and photography. Here are my thoughts:

  • The right equipment makes all the difference. The project I am building has three main parts. The first of the three required me to cut a gap (or dado) about two inches wide and two inches deep in eight places. A daunting task if you don't have the right tools. However, with a table saw and dado blade, the work is simple, clean, relatively quick, and safe. Does that apply to photography? I think so. While you can improvise with many items, some items are necessary to do a good job. I don't want to make this about equipment, but the right tool does make a difference. 
  • A plan is vitally important. While I didn't draw a written plan for the project I started today I did have a mental image of what each component would look like. As you compose a photograph, you should also have a plan. What story are you trying to tell through the photo? Are there distractions (power lines, garbage, etc.) that you need to remove from the photo through removal or changing perspectives? How is the lighting? Are you shooting for motion blur or freezing action? You may consider these questions and more as you set up for your shot. 
There is an old adage in woodworking that says, "measure twice; cut once". As photographers, we probably did that when we were shooting film, due to the cost of film and processing. However, when we shoot digital, we sometimes tend to just click the shutter until we get a good shot. I admit that was my strategy a couple of years ago. Now, however, I am trying to "measure twice" and think before I shoot.

ISO 250, f5.6 1/500 sec.
Since this is a photo blog I suppose I should post a photo. This was taken in August during a trip to Lake Guntersville for a family gathering. These ducks were at the edge of the water doing "duck stuff" and I was walking around doing "photo stuff". I really didn't do anything in post except for RAW conversion and a little sharpening on export.

ISO 250, f5.6, 1/60 sec.

The second shot is the son of one of my nephews. It was shot at the same family gathering under a picnic pavilion. As you can tell he had played hard, but I think this shot fits him well. This is shot using available light. Cropped just a little on the right side and I applied a Seim Preset: Angel Kisses B&W in Lightroom. 

Thanks for reading. By the way, I should note that this blog received a nice comment on David Ziser's blog a few months ago. I was flying to New York City when it was published and didn't see it until much later. (That just goes to prove that you should never miss a day of Digital Pro Talk). As Mr. Ziser is one of the inspirations for this blog, I appreciate his kind words and am honored that he would take the time to view my work. A link to the story is here. Digital Pro Talk June 11, 2010

All the best...

Friday, November 12, 2010

Late Veteran's Day Post

I should have posted this one yesterday, but didn't get a chance.

This is one of my favorite photos of my Dad. It was taken a few weeks ago after 2 of my sons, my brother, a brother in law and I helped him replace the roof on his workshop that was damaged in a recent storm. We were all tired and dirty but I happened to have my camera in my truck. (Imagine that).

My Dad had just walked through the carport and was still partially in the shadows when I got this shot. To me, it really represents him: hands in pockets, wearing a hat, flannel shirt, pencil in pocket (I inherited that one).

It is fitting on Veteran's Day to recognize the heroes (present and past) who have fought for our freedom. For that reason and more, here's mine.

Kenneth Kennamer, Veteran of WWII, U.S. Army, Pacific Theater.

Please be sure to thank heroes like my Dad and others who sacrificed so much for our country. And not just on Veteran's Day. If you have an Honor Flight program in your area, please consider supporting it. Learn more at

All the best!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Must Print Photos

I'm really bad about taking loads of photos, spending time in post-processing, and then never printing them. After losing some of my pix to a hard drive crash recently, I vowed that I would not do that again. I recently checked out Blurb Books after hearing about them on The Digital Story -- Derrick Story's podcast. I downloaded the free software and set out to work. The design process was very quick, easy and fun.

I ordered late at night on October 30 and my book shipped today (November 4). Want to see a preview? Click here:

To download the software and build a book of your own, go to

Can't wait to see the finished product! I'll let you know how it turned out.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

North Head Lighthouse, Washington

While visiting the Pacific Northwest recently, we grew tired of the rain and decided to travel north until we found sunshine. We found that sunshine as we crossed into Washington. As I looked on Google Maps on my iPhone, I found that there was a state park called Cape Disappointment on the southern coast of Washington. Among its many great features, there are two lighthouses that are easily accessible. The first one that we visited is called the North Head Lighthouse.

Construction on this lighthouse began in 1896; it was lit for the first time on May 16, 1898. I really did not expect this to be one of my favorite photos of the lighthouse, but a combination of a "PH Dramatic Ocean" preset and a graduated filter both applied in Lightroom 3 gave me a pleasing result--or at least one that I like.

It had been an overcast day but the sun was starting to come out (for the first time all weekend). I selected an ISO of 100 to lessen the sensitivity of the sensor. I shot with my 18-135 Nikon lens at 18mm with an aperture of 7.1 and a shutter speed of 1/400 second. The result was a somewhat "blah" shot with a dark background and little contrast in the sky. However, there was a really nice cloud pattern in the sky which I thought could "pop" with just a little work in Lightroom. I first applied the preset, "PH Dramatic Ocean" which made the sky pop but toned down the brightness of the foreground. I then added a graduated filter to lighten and brighten the foreground, especially the bottom of the lighthouse. A little luminance smoothing finished it off. I hope you enjoy!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Pacific Northwest

This is an HDR shot taken along the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon.
I just returned from Portland, OR on business but had the opportunity to go out the Friday before to enjoy some time on the coast with my wife. It was a great trip--very relaxing--and I am coming to realize how much I love the Pacific Northwest. The scenery there is awesome. Though we were there just a few days we got to enjoy terrific beaches, great lighthouses, and beautiful vistas.

ISO 320, f18, 1/40 sec.
We arrived on a Friday to a very windy and rainy Cannon Beach. The rain and wind (along with the blowing sand) made it a little difficult to take photos, but we still got a few. As you can see in the second photo, the wind was blowing pretty briskly. This is one where Trisha was walking across the beach with the sand blowing by her.

Look for more posts with photos from this trip and follow me on Twitter (manualdslr) to see more photos.

Until next time...

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Just Having Fun

I haven't had much of a chance to take photos recently but I have had some time to think about what I could take pictures of. One of the ideas I had involved my 14-year-old son, Lane, and his sword. What... Your 14-year-old kid doesn't have a sword? Okay, that's a different story. Let's talk about the picture.

I was looking to do something edgy but I didn't have a clear vision for how it would look because I don't spend a lot of time hanging out in the woods. After some really bad poses initiated by me (not sure how we ever got him out of tree without hurting at least one of us), Lane suggested a spot in a thicket next to a tree. It looked good to me so I told him to pretend that he was all alone with only his sword with which to protect himself, and the bad guys are on the way. Here is the result. 

Lighting was provided from my pickup truck, parked about 75 feet away with the lights shining in from photo left. I simply asked Lane to step forward until his face came into the light. The dirty looking spots on his face and elsewhere are actually shadows. He isn't wearing a hat of any kind; the darkness is just from being outside the light. This was shot in manual mode at ISO 1600, f5.6 and 1/6 second. What you see here is what we got from the camera. I didn't do anything in post except to convert from RAW to JPG.

We experimented with using a small LED flashlight but found the light to be too white. The lighting from the pickup truck was quite warm, allowing it to look a bit more natural. My goal was to take a creepy-looking picture that is a little edgy. Though I probably won't hang a 60-inch canvas of this over our sofa, I deem the experience a success for five reasons:
  1. I was able to translate a vague vision of what I wanted to do to an actual photo. All too often I take my camera out looking for something to shoot. This time however, I approached it a bit differently. 
  2. I got to experiment with light, not in the traditional way of adding strobes or speedlights, but using available light and adjusting the scene. 
  3. It was fun!
  4. I got to hang out with Lane. 
  5. And most importantly, it almost made the purchase of a sword sound legitimate. (Not really. #4 is by far the most important.)
And who knows, it might make a good Facebook profile picture for Halloween.

Until next time...Mike

Monday, September 20, 2010

Back in the Saddle?

I'm back after about a three-week hiatus caused by illness in our extended family. This post will be pretty quick, but I hope to be taking more photos in the next few days. In fact, I have some ideas for some edgy nighttime shots. We'll see how those go before I tell you what they are.

This is a recent shot of a barn that is very different from the HDR barn photos that I've taken lately. This was taken at ISO 250, f6.3, 1/320 sec. I applied a Holga effect in Lightroom, giving me the vignette around the edges and overexposing the corn in the foreground. Not my best shot ever, but a fun shot of what was a pretty unexciting barn. I especially like the contrast in the green trees, the golden corn, and the red barn. The Holga preset just raised the bar on the contrast.

Hope you enjoy. It's getting dark, so I'm headed outside to shoot.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

A Time for Everything

The Old Testament book of Ecclesiates tells us that there is a time or a season for everything. That wisdom holds true in photography as well. And while I am getting much more comfortable with using Manual mode on my D300 I came to the realization last week that it was time to use Aperture Priority for something that I was shooting. This was a situation in which there was a lot of action and it wasn't practical to make manual adjustments. It felt strange to use Aperture priority, but I did find that I paid more attention to what I was doing (even in Aperture priority) because of my experience in using Manual mode. 

While this shot doesn't have much to do with the subject of this post, it is a close-up of my wife. This was shot at ISO 250, f5.6, 1/20 second handheld with an 18-135 mm zoomed all the way in. I used natural light under a picnic pavilion at the lake.

Until next time...MK

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Catching Up

It has been a while since my last post. I do some writing and had a couple of projects due that I had to get finished. Since my last post I had a bad experience with a hard drive crash, but had an excellent service experience at the Apple Store. One Saturday night I was working on multiple projects on my 3 1/2 year old Macbook when it completely locked up. When I tried to restart it would not boot. I used my iPhone Apple Store app to make an appointment at the Huntsville Apple Store the next afternoon. I arrived at 2 pm fully expecting to have to buy a new Macbook that day. By 2:30 I was out of there with a new hard drive in my computer. No cost.

Here's the amazing part. Several months ago I replaced the 120 GB hard drive that came with my Macbook with a 500 GB Hitachi drive. It was the replacement drive that went bad, but Apple stood behind it. So guess what my next computer (and next and next and next) will be? That is the first time I've ever used the Genius Bar and I must say that I am extremely impressed by the quality of service received.

Did I lose images? Yes. What did I learn? That backup isn't something that should be done monthly or quarterly or... I've now developed a workflow that includes saving an additional copy of all of my raw images to an external hard drive on import. Over the next several weeks I'll be designing a system that will save my images in multiple drives in multiple locations. I just watched a Chase Jarvis video podcast that showed his workflow and backup procedures. While his system is on a very large scale, there is a good possibility that I can do something similar on a smaller scale.

Here's a picture I took Saturday at a church picnic. This is a great old barn and fun to photograph. I don't have any other writing projects cooking for now so I should be back to blogging on a regular basis.

All the best...

Monday, August 2, 2010

IPhone 4 Camera

I took the plunge and ordered the iPhone 4 a few weeks ago. For all the reported problems I must say that mine is doing great. My favorite part is the new camera. This camera is good enough that when I don't have a "real" camera with me I still feel that this one will do a good job. Here are a few examples of some photos I've taken and edited on the iPhone. The first is a flower that I took using the Hipstamatic app.

The second is a photo that I took through the windshield (I wasn't driving) as we crossed a bridge over the Tennessee River. Not a bad pic considering the speed and shooting through a dirty piece of glass.

The third is a photo taken with my iPhone and modified using the Pic Grunger application. Pretty cool.

While this blog is about DSLRs, it's good to know that the phone on my belt will produce photos of this quality.

More to come...

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Shooting at 50 mph

I took this shot yesterday as we crossed the Tennessee River bridge into Decatur, Alabama. (I wasn't driving by the way). It was shot at ISO 320, f11, 1/500 sec. I added a PH preset in Lightroom.

The water was especially still, giving me a good reflection off the water below. Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Another Reason Manual Mode Rocks!

We had an awesome electrical storm Sunday night. Conditions at my house were not bad but there was a pretty cool storm both to the north and the south of us. I took just a few minutes to go out on our back deck with my Nikon D300 with a Nikon 18-135 zoom. This was mounted on a tripod. The ISO was already set at 320 so I left it there. I set the aperture to 9 and the shutter speed at 6 seconds. I then aimed the camera toward the northeast and focused on a light in the distance. After that, about all I did was press the shutter release.

This first shot was one where you could see the amount of lightning activity. As you can see, the lightning lit up the yard.

The second shot is another one that struck relatively nearby.

The third is similar, but I applied a Lightroom preset to give it a little more impact. I only shot for a few minutes and got about 10 usable shots. So how was it different shooting it in manual than what I would have done a year ago? A year ago I would have probably gone with Aperture priority and opened the aperture to the largest possible setting. While that might work well with a daylight portrait, it doesn't always work best for shots like these.

These are definitely the best lightning shots I've been able to get before. The good part is that I didn't have to torment for minutes over how to set the camera. I set it and started snapping pictures.

I'm loving this personal project. What is your personal project for this year? Camera Dojo just had a good podcast about personal projects. I hope you start yours tomorrow.

All the best...Mike

Thursday, July 8, 2010

What Now??? Manual Focus!!!!

Just when I thought I was getting used to the manual settings on my camera...

I just received a Lensbaby Composer today that I purchased from Outdoor Photo Gear (great purchase experience, by the way). Although I knew very well that this is a manual focus lens I don't want to think about the number of times that I pressed the shutter release half way expecting the image to automatically come into focus. It's amazing how accustomed we become to using the automatic features on our cameras and lenses. Here are a couple of shots that I took after work tonight. Both were shot at f2.8 and ISO 200. The first was shot at 1/320 sec. and the second at 1/400 sec.

Maybe having to use manual focus will make me think more about the actual process of focusing. Do I see myself moving my camera to manual focus all the time? Not a chance. However, it's good to remember that the great photographers of yesteryear did not have the advantage of automatic everything.

On another note, I visited our local Unclaimed Baggage Center on Monday. Though I did not find anything good in the camera section as I wandered through the electronics department, I saw a new, in the original package, BlackRapid RS-4 R Strap hanging on a peg. It was marked as an "electronic accessory" and priced for $25.99. Needless to say, it is now proudly hanging from my D300.

As I trekked through New York City a few weeks ago, I told my wife that I wish I had a camera strap that would hang at my side but easily slide into action when I need it. I was starting to engineer such a strap in my mind when I discovered that someone had already invented that strap. I had planned to order one but had not yet done it. I feel bad for the person who bought this one and promptly lost it when the airline lost his/her luggage. However, I'm glad to have gotten a great deal.

New R-strap (half price), new Lensbaby Composer (great deal on a demo model along with Independence Day discount from Outdoor Photo Gear) and I'm supposed to receive my new iPhone 4 tomorrow (paid full price for that one). It's beginning to feel a lot like Christmas... No more goodies for me for a while!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Time and Space Died Yesterday

Going back to my NYC photos today with a shot of some graffiti from Little Italy. I don't know what any of the rest says, but I thought the subject matter was interesting. Enjoy.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Latino Festival

Here's another shot of the Latino Festival that I shot on Saturday. It was very hot, but a great crowd and everyone was having a great time. This is held each summer as an outreach to the Latino community by our local community college. It also gives us the opportunity to learn about the culture, enjoy the food, and to share a day of fun.

This is a shot of a group of dancers. You just have to love all the colors--the flags, the dresses, the sky... Shot at ISO 250, f5.6, 1/500 sec using an 18-135 Nikon AFS lens. More to come.


Saturday, June 26, 2010

Latino Festival: First Look

I had the opportunity to shoot my college's Latino Festival today. While I don't have time to post much tonight, here is one shot to give you an idea of the colorful subject matter that I had to work with. Enjoy!

Shot at ISO 250, f5.6, and 1/250 sec.

Friday, June 25, 2010

I will pay attention to my shutter speed. I will pay attention to my...

Remember back in school when you goofed and your teacher made you "write sentences"? Whether it was, "I will not chew gum in class." or "I will not pull Sally Lou's hair.", the combination of punishment and repetition was supposed to help us to remember to avoid doing that wrong again. I've come to realize that maybe I need to be "writing sentences" to remember to pay attention to what I am doing. Here's the problem...I've become accustomed to using the camera's meter to make adjustments to the shutter speed while looking through the viewfinder. While it's good to be able to make adjustments on the fly, with the camera up to my eye, I have found that I sometimes do not pay attention to the shutter speed setting, but only turn the wheel in the appropriate direction to increase or decrease.

Though I won't be writing sentences, I will work on paying attention to the current shutter speed as I make changes. The photos you see here were taken yesterday afternoon as my wife was watering the flowers. The first was shot at ISO 320, f5.6, 1/20 sec. I used a Quantaray 70-300 macro and shot from a tripod.

The second was shot in the same manner, only with a shutter speed of 1/15. Both were imported directly into Lightroom 3 Beta 2, converted from raw to JPEG. No further adjustments were made.

Speaking of Lightroom 3, I have ordered mine but have not yet received it. I hope it arrives before the end of the month when the beta expires.

I'm shooting an event for my employer tomorrow so look for Latino Festival photos in the next few days. This is the third year that I have shot this festival, but the first time that will shoot it in Manual mode. Though I do not look forward to the scorching heat, I am looking forward to photographing all the bright faces and colorful costumes.

Until next time...Adios!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Shooting in Low Light

Last Saturday, I had the opportunity to shoot a production of our local children's theatre group. While the kids did a great job writing, directing, performing, and producing the play, their budget was limited and lighting was less than optimal. So I took my spot on the balcony and did the best I could do with what I had to work with.

I used my Nikon 80-200 f2.8 lens and shot handheld with my D300. This particular picture was shot at ISO 2000 (that's really pushing the limits of my D300), f3.2 with a shutter speed of 1/160 sec. With that big, heavy (metal) lens, that's about the slowest shutter speed I could use and still get a clear shot. While I certainly won't be making sofa-size enlargements of these shots, I came out with several usable shots and got some good experience in shooting in very low light. 

Until next time...

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Handheld HDR?

Here's another quick post with a photo I took of a line of police motorcycles in Times Square. This is an HDR taken handheld by holding the camera at waist level. I took five shots but only used four (original, one above and two below) on this top shot.

I have another shot that is a little brighter (using two above and two below), but I think this one better shows that it is completely dark (after midnight). The lighter one is a little might be a little over the top. While I like HDRs, I am not a big fan of the super bright shots that look more like a painting than a photo. Oh well, I'll include the other one and let you decide.


Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Mailboxes, Etc.

Here's another in my series of mailbox photos taken in New York City. This one is on Wall Street. Enjoy!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Lens Selection

I must admit that there is no rhyme or reason to the collection of lenses that I own. Many have been purchased used at the local Unclaimed Baggage Center (the place that your lost luggage ends up when the airlines give up on getting it back to its rightful owner).

So here is the list of what I have at this point:
  • Nikkor 28-80 AF 3.3-5.6
  • Quantaray AF 70-300 4-5.6 Macro
  • Nikkor 24 mm f2.8 AF
  • Nikkor 80-200 f2.8 AF
  • Nikkor 18-135 3.5-5.6 AFS might be time to start thinking a little more purposefully about lens selection. First of all, I really like my 18-135 as a good "walking around" lens. It is good for when I travel light with only one lens. It focuses quickly and is a pretty good lens for when I can only carry one lens. However, it does not have VR, so I am thinking of upgrading to something like the Nikon 18-200 AFS VR2.

The 24 mm prime lens is a good little lens but I find that I don't use it that often.

The Quantaray is the only Macro lens I own, but the zoom is sluggish and the lens quality is marginal. I would like to have a good quality macro prime lens. I'm thinking an 80 or 85mm.

From there, I am thinking of maybe a 24-70 2.8. It's an expensive lens, but I'm thinking that I would use that one a lot. Another lens that I want is a Lensbaby Composer. I purchased a Lensbaby Macro kit at Unclaimed Baggage a couple of weeks ago for a steal ($6), so now I just need a Lensbaby to go with it. Isn't that the same kind of logic that got me this eclectic collection of mismatched lenses? Oh need to worry too much about going too deep on that list until I have the fund to do so.

This photo is another one from New York. It was shot with my 18-135 Nikon lens at ISO 320; f7.1, 1/250 sec. This particular mailbox is located on the corner of Spring and Elizabeth.

Until next time...

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Common Objects as Art

Recently my wife and I sat on a bench outside a store in Little Italy, New York City, eating a slice of cheese pizza from Ray's Pizza (on Prince Street). We had no place to be so we did a little people watching. Part of "people watching" is paying attention to the surroundings. One of the things that I started to notice was all the mailboxes on the streets of New York. (Frankly, I noticed this one since this was directly in front of me as I sat on the bench). This one was shot at ISO 320, f7.1, 1/200 sec.

Over the next few days I'll be posting additional scenes from NYC, including more mailboxes. Subscribe to this blog to see new posts and/or follow me on Twitter @manualdslr. Thanks for reading... Mike

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Advantages of Using Manual Mode

It has been a few days since I blogged. We took a quick trip to New York City last weekend, which gave me the opportunity to shoot in NYC for the first time. There are so many iconic locations there that it was difficult to know where to start. You'll probably see several photos posted here and on Twitter over the next few weeks.

While walking around the city on the first day we were there, we went by the iconic Apple Store on 5th Avenue. You've probably seen the typical view of the storefront--all glass with the silver Apple logo. While waiting outside, I took a few minutes to experiment by taking a photo of the Apple Store from a different point of view. This is shot from the FAO Schwartz side of the store shooting toward East 59th Street. (ISO 320, f11, 1/500) In shooting it, I realized how I could use manual mode on my camera to make the photo look the way I want it to. An any of the automatic modes, the camera looks at the setting you choose (aperture or shutter speed) and attempts to equalize the light for a nice bell-shaped histogram. While that is desirable in some circumstances, in cases like this where I wanted the building just across the street to pop a little more, it was not optimal.

My solution to this was to change the shutter speed to 1/125 second, giving me 2 more stops of light and allowing for a better view through the Apple Store to the building beyond. It also gave me more detail on the glass and provided a nicer image. By adding a preset in Lightroom 3, I was able to create a cool effect. The one of the left here is called "Jake Likes the Sky".

So, should I never use the automatic settings on my camera? Of course not! To ignore these features would be almost like refusing to use autofocus because "I can focus better than the camera". However, there are times when the photographer needs to use manual controls to bring out the vision that the computer within your camera is unable to see.

Having said that, the more I use manual mode the more I am becoming a "Manual Snob" and finding that I am not satisfied with the results when I shoot in Aperture Priority mode.

While in NYC I was able to visit the B&H Superstore and J&R Music World. No major purchases, but it was fun to browse. Until next time...

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Forming Habits & Thinking Before You Click

Sixty-eight days into this project and time to reflect on what I've learned so far. The first thing I've learned, I suppose, is that operating a camera in manual mode is NOT as mysterious or as difficult as I had led myself to believe before I started this project. Wow! You shoot in manual mode!!! It really seemed that elusive to me.

It is really not as difficult as I had imagined, though it does require a couple of things--both of which are reflected in the title of this post: forming habits and thinking before you click. Let's look at each individually.

Forming habits - How do we form habits (good or bad)? We practice. Good habits are formed while practicing good techniques. Bad habits, as you might guess, are formed while practicing bad techniques.  A former music teacher taught me that "Practice does not make perfect; perfect practice makes perfect".

Another old adage is true: "The more I practice the better I get." Photography is something that is best learned by doing. If you have been doing this all your life and have all the principles down then it is likely that you can pick up the camera after six months of not taking any photos and nail the exposure. However, if you are like me--just learning--then you need to be shooting every day or two to develop that technique that will make you consistently good. That seems to be the greatest value of this project. It makes me remember to practice and to practice well. Another value of this project is to make me think before I click.

Thinking Before You Click - This one is also important. I have learned that I am a better photographer when I think before I start activating the shutter release button. What do I think about?
  1. Is the camera ready? Check the ISO, white balance, and other settings to assure that I don't shoot an outdoor shot in full sun using the same settings used when I shot that indoor party last week. Think about the settings. 
  2. Think about composition. I was listening to a podcast last week (forgive me as I do not remember which one) when I heard this great piece of advice: As you start to take a shot, as yourself, "What is my subject?". "Just over there" is not a satisfactory answer. For instance, my subject for the photo above was the barn and the background was the mountains. (ISO 200, F8, 1/640) Sometimes, the subject is very prominent while the background is less obvious. A macro or portrait is an example of when you might see a clear subject with the background being less important. Here is a shot of my son, Lane, in the foreground with a blurred stream in the background. (ISO 160, F8, 1/15, ND2 filter) The goal here was a tack sharp subject (Lane) and a nice background that is somewhat out of focus. Since I want the viewer to focus on Lane, I purposefully put the stream slightly out of focus.
  3. Think about what you are going to do with the photo. In the film days, we would take 24-36 shots of what we hoped would be good and would send off the film to have 4 x 6 prints made. Only then would be know if we got a great shot. Today, we know very quickly if we have a winner, but sometimes we don't do anything with them. I know people who actually leave all their photos on the memory card in their camera. What a waste! Photos are meant to be enjoyed, and it's hard to enjoy them while they are sitting on a memory card in the camera. So when you take that shot, you might imagine what you'll do with the print. For instance, I would love to have the Little River shot shown on an earlier posting printed on aluminum. (Still trying to decide which vendor). I have taken some shots that I knew would make a good note card or greeting card. By having an idea of the use of the photo, it becomes easier to know how to compose the shot. 
Well, that's all for this post. I'm off to New York City on Friday, so expect to see some NYC shots soon. Maybe I'll get another chance to post before I leave Thursday night. Until then...MK

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Little River in the Great Smoky Mountains in HDR

Spending the weekend with extended family in the Great Smoky Mountains. This was taken using a Nikon D300 with a 24-70 kit lens equipped with a ND2 neutral density filter. (This is the only lens that my ND filter will fit). Shot at ISO 160, F11, 1/5 sec. on a tripod. Bracketed at one and two steps above and one and two steps below. Processed with Photomatix Pro.

This is the first time I've used a neutral density filter to try to "slow down" the action of the water. Yesterday was overcast (as it is much of the time in the Smokies), so light and lens flare was not much of an issue.

Headed home tonight to spend Memorial Day at home. More from the Smokies later. Hard to believe it's less than 2 weeks til our NYC trip.


Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Dumbest Photography Mistakes I'll Admit

It has been nice to receive a couple of words of encouragement this week--especially so since one was from Kerry Garrison of Camera Dojo--one of the pros that inspired me (through his podcast and blog) to begin this project. Thanks for the words of wisdom. I can sure use them. 

Regardless of what we know, we sometimes still make mistakes. Have you ever made a really stupid mistake and wondered how you could mess up that badly? I certainly have. Even so, remember that our stupidest mistakes are only stupid if we continue to repeat them and/or if we learn nothing from them.

Here are my stupidest photo mistakes (that I care to admit).

1. A little over a year ago I discovered the world of High Dynamic Range (HDR) photography and learned that with my D300 I could easily bracket exposures at normal and 1, 2, 3 stops above and 1, 2, 3 and 3 stops below. Very cool feature and very easy to do. Unfortunately, you have to remember to "undo" that feature. You can guess what I did. After using my camera to shoot HDR one day I went to a family get together the next day and couldn't figure out why I couldn't nail the exposure--even in aperture priority. Some shots were underexposed; some were overexposed. Imagine that. Anyway, I was able to salvage some shots, including this one of my oldest son, Devin. This was shot at ISO 200, F5.6, 1/160 sec. I could have toned this one down a bit, but like the effect.

2. Exposure compensation is fun to play with, and as part of this project, I took some shots with exposure dialed down to -3. Again, however, I took some photos the next day and didn't check exposure compensation (though I did check to see that I wasn't bracketing), and guess what. I shot everything 3 stops down. Everything turned out okay, but I couldn't quite understand why the settings I was using just weren't working like I thought they should. Lesson number two: If something seems amiss it probably is. The family portrait shown earlier on this blog was one of the victims of my -3 EV error.

3. Then there was that time that I just shot everything (for about a month) at ISO 1600. Enough said.

I don't know if you have noticed, but there seems to be a common theme here. So what did I learn from these mistakes and what have I done to assure they do not happen in the future? Before I start shooting, I always check the ISO, make sure I am not bracketing, etc...

Another mistake:
4. Didn't charge my batteries the night before a shoot and left my spare and charger in another bag. Thankfully, I made it through the shoot, but I was a bit nervous about it.

I suppose I could do an entire blog about this. So what are your biggest mistakes?

Also a shout out to Greg Peck, who is also considering learning how to use his D300 better in manual mode. Thanks for the comment!

This photo is of the Steiner Building in downtown Birmingham, Alabama. I took this out the window of my wife's jeep. This is as shot, but I did apply an effect in Lightroom 3. ISO 320; F5.6; 1/1000 sec.

All the best... Mike

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Two Important Lessons

So we took a quick trip to New Orleans this week via Amtrak. Our train was delayed leaving Birmingham and flooding in Mississippi and Louisiana resulting in our going very slow on the way down. That was okay, since we had a nice quiet room and free meals in the dining car.

Lesson # 1 - On the way down, my wife (who usually shoots in Aperture priority or Automatic with her D80) asked how manual mode works. Of course the teacher in me came out so I explained how to use manual mode and the relationship between ISO, shutter speed, and aperture. Good news: She caught on very quickly. Bad news: By Tuesday she was shooting mostly in manual mode and nailing her exposures. Lesson learned: My wife is awesome and can kick my butt at almost anything. (Did I say almost?)

Lesson # 2 - I did get an opportunity to shoot a lot on this trip, so I started learning to adjust the camera on the fly without having to take it down from my eye. One little memory tool that I used was to decrease shutter speed turn the wheel toward the center of the camera body and to increase shutter speed I turn it away from the body. An easy way to remember that is to increase the amount of light (by slowing the shutter speed) you turn the wheel toward the hot shoe. To decrease light (by increasing shutter speed), you turn the wheel away from the hot shoe (away from the light). Okay, it's cheesy but just cheesy enough that it might just work. If you don't believe me, sing along with me as we sing "Conjunction Junction, what's your function" or "Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas..." or any of the memory tips that we used when we were kids.

Here are a couple of shots from this week. This first shot is an example of some of the great detail in the architecture in New Orleans. I thought this house (which was next door to the B&B where we stayed) told the story of New Orleans: The city has endured some rough times, but there is a beauty there--a sense of class--a city with a clear identity.

This was shot in manual mode at ISO 320, F7.1 and 1/800 sec.

The second shot is a bear (duh!) taken at the Audubon Zoo. It was shot at ISO 200, F5.6 at 1/40 sec. Both were shot with a Nikon D300 and a Nikkor 18-135 f3.5-6.3 AFS lens.

I was trying to travel light on this trip so I took only the D300, the 18-135 lens and an SB600 speedlight. I'll post more photos on this site and on Twitter as I get a chance.

The more I shoot in manual mode the more I see that it is not rocket science, but it does take practice, practice, practice until the adjustments become second nature. Look for a new post soon.

All the best...Mike

Friday, May 14, 2010

One from the archive

 It has been a busy week so I haven't had much time to shoot. However, I did pull this one out of the archive when I imported some older photos into Lightroom 3 Beta. This was shot at dusk on my back deck using a Nikon D50 and an SB600 flash.

I'm going on a quick trip to New Orleans on Sunday so expect to see some shots from there.

Until next time...

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Testing out a new lens - Tamron 18-270

I bought my wife the popular Tamron 18-270 f3.5-6.3 Di II VC LD Aspherical IF Macro Zoom Lens for Mother's Day. She received it yesterday. She wanted a good "walking around" lens so that she can travel light and still have a lot of flexibility. She even let me try it out this afternoon and I'm impressed. If I could only choose one lens with which to travel, this would be a great pick. The 18mm wide angle part of the lens makes it easy to shoot a good landscape. This is similar to the Nikon 18-135 that I carry, so I've grown accustomed to having the wide angle option.

What sets this lens apart, though, is the ability to zoom in to 270 mm. Not only is it a decent zoom, it is also a nice macro lens, allowing the user to get in very close. The vibration compensation on the lens seems to work well, and it seems to focus quickly with my Nikon D300. I've never used a VC lens before, but found it to be sharp as I walked around the back yard.

So when is Father's Day?

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Automatic ISO

I got the opportunity to "second shoot" (or actually third or fourth shoot) the "picture night" for our community college's production of Little Shop of Horrors earlier this week. This theater does such an excellent job and I usually see the shows several times.

Since there was such a variety of lighting situations I opted for using the automatic ISO selection on my D300. Though it helped me to quickly adjust to all kinds of lighting situations, it did tend to overexpose everything, which meant that I had to bump down the exposure in Lightroom. This first shot shows the guy who did the voice of the "Audrey II" (the plant) and the puppeteer, who happens to be my son, Cody, posing in a simulation of the curtain call. ISO 3200, f4.8, 1/160 sec.

The second shot is during one of the songs in which the dentist pulls the head off the little girl's doll. Very funny scene, but difficult to capture due to the fast movement and low light. This was shot at ISO 3200, f4.8 at 1/100 sec. Due to the high ISO, I applied some noise reduction to these shots. I enjoy being afforded the opportunity to shoot these since they really make me think about where the light is coming from. There are usually 100 or more scenes to be shot, which means that is is quite fast paced and you must think fast about how to make sure the light works for you.

So, what did I learn from this shooting situation? First of all, it taught me to be prepared as I grabbed my camera bag and headed out the door without checking to see if I had everything. I got to the shoot to find that I only had one battery (which was at 27%). Thankfully the battery lasted me the entire shoot, which netted about 215 usable shots. What are the dumbest mistakes you've ever made in photography? I have a bunch of them. Maybe I'll save that for another day's blog post. Ciao!