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...

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.