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...

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