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...

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!