Saturday, 20 February 2010

Improve my Photography

Now that I have retired (it still sounds very odd when I say that), one of the things I want to spend some time doing is to improve my photography. I think my photography is ok, but I don’t really understand the technical side of what I am trying to do. So, being in Spain for the past week or so, I decided to bring my Camera and see what I could do.

I have had my Nikon D200 for about a year and a half and the beauty of the camera is you can change the settings to “Program” and it becomes a simple point-and-shoot camera where you don’t need to really understand anything except composition. However, having had some time to read the manual , or more accurately, skim through it, I am slowly understanding the other things that the D200 can do. All I can say at the moment is that I am glad I am retired, because I think I might need quite a lot of time to get to the bottom of all of this technical stuff.

Photographically, I want to be able to capture my upcoming tour of the USA in the best way possible and so I need to learn more and practice over the next 4 months. I have included below some of the photos I have taken this week, so I will use these to compare to where I have reached before I start the tour.


Earlier in the week, despite the rain, I was determined to get my camera out – here is a close up of the rainwater sitting on the decking at our house in Spain....





















Another shot of a palm tree reflecting on the very wet decking....




















I tried a few shots at very fast shutter speeds. Here is one of my sons jumping off a log. I think this was taken at 1000th of a second....






















Another shot of my son, who soon regretted his decision to do a flip. He thought the sand, actually small stones, was softer than it really was. He landed on his head and shoulders with quite a thump!.....






















As the weather has been so poor, I tried to capture the high wind we were having ....
















As I was shooting directly into the sun, it was difficult to get the aperture right on this shot, so using my new found knowledge, I used bracketing to get different exposures of the same shot. This was the best....





















I wanted to get a large depth of field on this shot and I think it worked. The whole picture from front to back is in focus......






















I was pleased with the composition of this shot.... The rock of Gibraltar is in the background....





















Another shot of Gibraltar. In the foreground is where a river meets the Mediterranean Ocean and causes some interesting water effects....






















It makes for a bizzare picture, but these are oranges that for whatever reason got swepted down a river, into the Med then washed up on the beached during a storm....






















Jeremy throwing a stone in the Med....






























A view of the mountains with a motorway in the forground....

18 comments:

iansolley said...

like you fellow retiree I too have been trying to improve my photography and even harder my photoshop skills - the best break I have had was to buy a fixed length lens, which has really made me concentrate on the composition of the shot!

Canajun said...

Nice photos. To continue iansolley's point, I have found that the more gear I have and the more idiot-proof the camera, the worse my photography. And digital only makes it worse because it costs nothing to take 100 shots of the same thing.
Did some work with a pin-hole camera many years ago, and that was some of the best experience ever for composition, depth of field, etc.

Rob said...

Your photo skills should come in handy for your big trip this summer.

Gary France said...

Ian - do you use Photoshop much? I don't use it, preferring instead to use my photos as I took them. Although having said that I do sometimes crop an occasional photo, but that is about it.

Canajun - I agree about the more idiot-proof the camera the worse the photography. We probably all fire off loads of mediocre shots using a simple small digital camera, never looking at many of them ever again! With a more complex camera I find myself taking more time and more care with the consequence being better photos.

Rob - yes, that's the idea. I want to be able to record my tour in the best way possible.

iansolley said...

i have been using Photoshop to manipulate some images for my 7ages T Shirts, otherwise I just use Iphoto on the Mac for cropping and a few adjustments.

bobskoot said...

Gary:

I agree with all above. I used to carry too many cameras and it was a challenge to figure out which one to use. I now use the KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) principle. I also don't carry my Nikon anymore preferring smaller cameras for bike use. On my last vacation I purchased a small P&S which I used for all my video (Instead of a dedicated camcorder), and my G10 as a backup for night shots (time exposures) and wireless remote control shutter release, which would be good for you to be able to be in some of your photos. I have a universal charger which can virtually charge any battery so I don't need to bring one for each electronic device.
I am not a believer in manipulated photos other than enhancements for contrast and colour balance and cropping to obtain a better perspective is cheating. My posted photos are all full frame and uncropped.
If you wish your trip fully documented then I suggest you included my expenses in your budget and I will be there at your beck and call, with my camera

bob
bobskoot: wet coast scootin

Gary France said...

Ian – When I read that you used Photoshop, I had visions of you taking a leaf from the fashion industry (that clearly manipulates photographs a great deal) but with photos of one of your bikes - enhancing the curves of tank, removing blemishes, making the rear fender look smaller or increasing the cleavage between the pipes! I am glad to hear that you don’t use it too much!

Bob – It is a difficult call to know what to carry. I like and agree with your KISS principle, but I would find it very hard to leave my Nikon at home. Here is my intended photography equipment list....

-Nikon D200
-Nikkor 17-55mm 1:2.8 lens
-Maybe my 200mm Nikkor lens if I have room
-Nikon Speedlight SB-600 flashgun
-Remote shutter release (I agree with your comment re this)
-Lightweight but full height tripod (does anybody else carry a tripod on your bike trips?)
-Sony Cybershot P&S camera for informal use
-Charger for both camera batteries, but only one lead
-My new GoPro HD Motorsport Video camera and whatever goes with that – lots of memory cards and external hard drives I guess!

This looks like a long list and I think the only item I might have to leave behind depending upon available room is the 200mm lens. Oh, of course I will have to leave lots of other items behind so I have room for you and your pink crocs!

bobskoot said...

Gary:

That is quite an abitious list. My questions is what size will your output be in print sizes. I have professional film equipment. I used to carry my Mamiya 7 kit with two lenses. 6x7 format, able to print every shot 16x20, or 20x24. Or my Fuji GSW690, which is 6x9 format. I also have a Noblex 150F 6x12 format rotating lens panorama. I used to carry all of this.
It boils down to what you are going to do with the images. Once you have this nailed down we can begin to discuss what equipment you will need.
For instance, you can now digitally stitch together multiple images for a panorama which your D200 can't do in ONE shot. I have found that a small camera is less conspicuous and I have managed to shoot a lot of "spur of the moment" video as you can see on my Hawai'ian holiday videos which are 720p30 taken with a ZS3, 12x zoom, AVCHD codec. This camera is smaller than your 200mm lens and will replace all your Nikon Equipment. I like the idea that all my camera gear can be stored in two pockets (well maybe 3). I have gone to the other side from having an impressive camera in my hand, to one who looks like they don't have a camera at all.
There is a new camera annouced at the CES and coming out in March 2010. Normally I would not recommend a Sony but now they all can us SDHC, or SDHX. There are only a couple of cameras on the market with HDR mode and this Sony has it, plus it has Panorama scan mode, and the NEW self-Portrait mode. Check it out model HX7 (I think), plus it has 1080i AVCHD HD video mode.

bob
bobskoot: wet coast scootin

Gary France said...

Bob – thanks for your help with this. Something that might help straight away is that like you, I am going to mount the GoPro on my bike, so carrying that around in a pocket etc is not an issue. I can lock the unit in a pannier when I am away from the bike. Also, I will not be taking any other video equipment, as I am not into taking video except from on the moving bike with the GoPro.

That leaves my Nikon to carry and at times, the flash, the remote shutter release and the tripod, but most of the time, I will just be acrrying the camera in my hands, with the remaining gear locked in the bike. If I do take it, I will only use the 200mm lens when taking shots from very near where I park the bike – I learnt a long time ago that carrying the extra long lens any distance is not realistic. The Sony Cybershot is very small and can easily go in a pocket.

That list of gear that you used to carry is long and heavy-sounding. I was getting tired just imagining you having to carry it.

Coming back to your main question about what I am going to do with the images, there is not a simple answer to this, other than I don’t know. Let me explain – now that I have retired, I am going to follow a couple of paths. One of these is photography, but to what level I do not know. When I was in my twenties, I was a reasonably competent photographer. I was the chairman of my local camera club for a while and whilst I wasn’t technically knowledgeable, I was told I had a pretty good photographic “eye”. I might use the photos for nothing more than personal use and my blog. However, depending on what I take photos of and their quality, I might use them in other ways. I cannot see a print size bigger than 8x10’s, but who knows? To be honest, I take more care with my photography when I use my Nikon and I get a considerable amount of satisfaction from the quality of the pictures I take.

The other very important point that you make is that a small camera is less conspicuous. I will be carrying a small camera sometimes and this sometimes gives the opportunity to grab informal pictures.

Gary

bobskoot said...

Gary:

I can foresee that you may wish to write a book or some articles for a magazine. I would suggest that you take RAW images for those and jpegs for others as to conserve memory as most may be snapshots or a visual record of your trip. You don't mention about a small netbook with external drives. You can always purchase additional drives "on the road", they are very inexpensive. Here a WD 500Gig is only $100. cdn. I have found that a large camera is sometimes a mark of a professional and many may shy away from your photos. If you see a great image in your mind make sure to shoot a couple of RAW portrait views, you never know if you may get a magazine cover.
I used to carry my 80-200 EDIF with me but it was so heavy I never really used it and now I just leave it at home. If I can be of further help, just ask away . . .

bob
bobskoot: wet coast scootin

Gary France said...

Bob - thanks for your tips. I have bought a netbook especially for the trip, along with a WD external drive and buying more along the way is a good idea. I don't know much about RAW images, so I feel the need to get out the Nikon maunual....

bobskoot said...

Gary:

RAW is just a way to get you out of trouble when your exposures aren't right, especially on backlit subjects. It allows you to "salvage" the image, correct exposure and colour balance when you get home. Otherwise your only other option would be to go back and take the shot again.

I was looking at your trip map and wondered what is going to happen to your bike when you reach LA ? Wouldn't it be better to ride your bike to relatives (around Bellingham) and just leave it there until next year, when you could then ride up to Vancouver to start your Cross Canada Tour ?

bob
bobskoot: wet coast scootin

Gary France said...

Bob - I read a little about RAW and the different RAW file types on Wiki. I need to read a lot more yet!

Riding to Washington and leaving the bike there may be a possibility, but so far Mrs France has been very good about me disappearing for 4 months this year. I haven't mentioned next year yet.....

bobskoot said...

Gary:

I hope she doesn't read this . . . You could make a slight "detour" at the end of your USA tour, sort of a Quick Last-minute decision to leave your bike with relatives, you know, unplanned to save money on shipping. You do a lot of thinking while you are riding by yourself and it was just something that entered into your thoughts AND sets up the scene for next year, since your bike is already in North America.

That GoPro tripod mount would do the trick for a $7. item it would cost more in shipping. I'll see if my dealer can include one in one of his future shipments.

I also read that PREL8 wasn't too good. Many prefer the PREL7 which I have. I used to use WMM and I hear that Live MM is good but I prefer to have my own program. I stuck with Adobe because they are experts with their Photoshop and also Premiere Pro which is their professional system. I like the idea that with PREL7 you have many options. I did a Picture in Picture recently to test it out, it's on one of my Granville Island Videos. I also have some video taken in Utah and Arizona on my youtube channel. The Mpeg4 can be imported directly into PREL7 without conversion, then you can render to a multitude of output formats. I am not sure of the bitrate on the GoPro but I downsize to 6 Mbps for uploading to Youtube. If you are writing to DVD you can leave it as full Mpeg2 .

bob
bobskoot: wet coast scootin

Motorcycle Philosophy said...

All the photos you posted on this article are of you standing on ground. Think about how you're going to take photos while on the motorcycle.

On all the long rides I've done, I took the time to pull over and shoot some great photos. But I found that there's so much beautiful landscape in the USA that you'll waste too much time pulling over to stop.

So, what I do is keep a small camera hanging around my neck on a long chain. I can snap a photo pretty quickly while riding down the road, and you can just as easily let go of it in case I need to put both hands on the bars. I can also get some cool shots of going through the twisties this way too.

Mounting a camera on the handlebars or elsewhere really limits what you can shoot.

Gary France said...

Bob – if she does, I will deny everything! Taking your advice, I have ordered PREL 7 to sit alongside the GoPro HD video camera. We have covered these points more on your blog.

MP – you raise a very good point. In my previous long tours trying to balance stopping to take photos with pressing on with the ride was a challenge. I did attempt to take still photos as I rode but with limited success. I too used a small point-and-shoot camera for on the move pictures, keeping this around my neck on a lanyard. I used the camera with my left hand actually upside down so I could fire the shutter button with my thumb.

The results were ok, but only just. I got more than I expected out of focus shots and of course shooting while riding means using the zoom is out of the question – far too fiddly whilst rolling. I will practice some more and I will use this method during my tour, but I suspect I will want to stop often to take photos.

Motorcycle Philosophy said...

Gary, while the weather is warmer, I use thinner gloves that fit tight, it helps me push the little buttons.

Doug said...

Gary,

Your D200 might have the capability to shoot and save photos in RAW and JPG at the same time and save copy of each (my D90 does that).

PhotoShop is what all the cool kids use but it's expensive. You could look to PhotoShop Elements which will give you pretty much all you need for basic image editing or try Nikon's own Capture NX2 software which is fairly easy to use and handles Nikon's NEF/RAW files the best. Corel PaintShop Pro X2 will handle Nikon NEF files also but not as well as Nikon's own software.

I'm with the folks who suggest carrying a small P&S camera around your neck. Sometimes that's all you need unless you're going to print stuff out larger than 8x10.

Also, there are some D200 training DVDs out there, you might invest in one to get a good overview of camera features and functions you might have otherwise missed. So many buttons and config possibilities!

I'll be following your adventures and wondering if this retired guy has one last long trip in him.