One of the biggest challenges for myself is to find a new subject to photograph when I revisit a location. As many of you know I teach classes all over Southwest Florida and I visit many of the same locations with the classes. Some might see this from the angle that “I’ve been here before, I’ll leave the camera in the car.” and others may look at it from the perspective of “This is an opportunity to try something new.” When I first started shooting full time over five years ago, I was fortunate to have the resources to acquire different types of lenses. When I visit a location many times over the course of a season, I’ll take different lenses with me and focus on something different (pun intended!).
Since I live in Charlotte County, Florida one of the locations that I visit frequently is the History Park in Punta Gorda, Florida. I have written many posts on this place over the years. At first, I could have the attitude, “Been there, done that”, but I always want to push myself as a photographer and see what else I can come up with. I wish I could say that I hit out of the park every time, but lighting would strike me dead. This location is popular with students as it’s close to two of the venues that I teach in Punta Gorda and it’s free. Not to mention that there is a variety of subjects to photograph such as flowers, butterflies, historic homes, birds and so on. However, in the past five years I have probably visited this location over twenty times for field trips with students. This makes being “creative” more challenging every time I go.
During one of my visits about a month ago, they added an old wagon and surrey to the park collection. As I was answering student questions the old wagon was calling my name. I kept walking around it looking it over and I couldn’t help but notice that it was loaded with details and texture. I actually now use this technique with the students. Most of the time folks photograph the whole wagon. This is perfectly acceptable; everyone needs an old wagon in his or her portfolio. Then I tell them to photograph detail shots, these can actually be more interesting than the subject as a whole. Once they see this (and it gets them to play with the “flower” or “macro” mode on their camera) they go bonkers and take some really nice close ups.
This wagon is old and is earth toned colored, read this as a lovely dirty brown. Hey, it’s old, what did I expect? As I have mentioned before, I’m kind of slipping back into black and white. I’m actually enjoying photographing abandoned/historic structures and Americana types of subjects. (If any of you have some shooting locations for this type of photography, please contact me.) This old wagon looks like it came straight out of the old west when the gold rush was in it’s peak so I saw this as a new opportunity to shoot some black and white in macro. As always, click on the photos to see the full size version.
While everyone was working on their projects, I went to the car and fitted my Nikon with my 105mm Macro lens. This is a specialty lens that is made for macro subjects. It’s actually a 105mm prime lens so I have also used it for portraits as it goes down to f/2.8. As far as the other equipment that I was going to use was my electronic release and tripod. Since I was going to be blowing up the magnification of all the details on the wagon, any sort of movement would result in a blurry photo.
The lighting itself was harsh; it was in the middle of the day so there was going to be strong shadows and highlights. This in my opinion is what helps make a good black and white, any photo with strong contrast. However, with that being said, I do like some detail in these areas as well. Since I was surrounded by other photographers, there wasn’t a shortage of help, plus they got to see how one can use light to their advantage. In the above photo for example, I had one of my students hold a silver reflector to throw some light in under the tongue of the hitch. This helped bring some of the details out in the shadow area. This was also my way of teaching them to “see” light and how it can be manipulated to the photographer’s advantage. See there really is a method to my insanity!
Here is something that I had to get use to when working with macro, higher f-stops. I like the creamy goodness of blurred backgrounds so I’m one of those folks who would shoot f/2.8 all day if I could. In macro photography, the lens is really close to the subject; this can make depth of field tricky. All of the photos that you are seeing here were shot between f/22 to f/40! Since macro depth of field works in quarter inches, this is why it’s best to use higher f-stops to ensure that the main subject is going to be in focus from front to back. Since the f-stop is going to be cranked down quite a bit and I’m using a low ISO to minimize my noise factor, such as ISO 100, this means that my shutter speeds are going to be quite slow, hence why I use the tripod to make sure that the resulting photos come out sharp as possible.
I also shoot manual mode so I can force the camera to use the settings that I want instead of me being in the passenger seat with my hands tied behind my back and hope that we don’t crash along the way! This is one of the big questions that I get from folks who are ready to take the next step in their photography. Since shooting in manual puts all of the settings on the photographer to get it right, where does one start? I have read books and taken online courses on this very thing and everyone seems to have the “ultimate” way to figure this out. After some trial and error, this is what I came up with and has worked for me. In fact, I can usually get the exposure I want within five seconds. You can too; you just need to try different ways to see what is going to work for you. This is how I approach shooting in manual mode. First, I set my ISO. This is technical; I look around and see if it’s sunny out or if I’m in a darker environment. Wow, this is rocket science! If there is an abundant amount of light, I use a lower ISO such as 100. This will also keep my noise factor (some of you may know this as “grain”) down. If I’m in a dark environment such as a concert or sunset and I’m not shooting with a tripod, I’ll be at ISO 800 – ISO 1600. This will help me get a faster shutter speed, but more on that in a minute. The next variable that I like to set is my f-stop. This is where I decide on what I want in focus and how much. If I want the background to be blurry, but keep the subject sharp, such as a portrait, I’ll use an f-stop of f/2.8. However, if I’m shooting a landscape and I want everything in focus, I’ll stick with f/16 – f/22. I know there are some discussions on diffraction at higher apertures, but for this discussion we’ll keep it simple. At this point the ISO and aperture is set. There’s only one more setting left, shutter speed. What is the magic number for the scene? The camera will tell you. When you look in your viewfinder or on the back of your LCD if you have a compact camera, there will be a scale at the bottom. On the scale there will be a pin or a series of lines. All I do here is move my shutter speed until the pin or lines come into the middle where the “0” is. If the pin is on the + side then you know that the exposure is going to be lighter. If it’s on the – side then you know it’s going to be darker. By adjusting the pin to the “0” mark, you should have a pretty even exposure. There are times when the camera gets it wrong and you have to forget what the meter is telling you and use your own judgment. We’ll save this discussion for another day. So there you have it, that’s how I shoot in manual mode. First I set my ISO, then my aperture and lastly, my shutter speed. This may sound complicated, but once I show someone how to do this in real time, they usually say, “That’s it?” and my reply is “That’s it.”.
Touching on the post processing of the photos just a bit, I use a combination of Camera RAW and Nik Software. I prefer to get it as close in the camera as possible on location. I usually spend about five minutes manipulating my photos. I do my cropping and overall adjustment changes in Camera RAW. Then I pass the file to Nik and make a contrast change and in this case I used the black and white plug-in called Silver Efex Pro. These tools have served me well, and if I weren’t teaching the software there wouldn’t be a need to upgrade. I can make all of my photos look like I want with these couple of items.
There you have it, some macro and manual photos, I guess the “M’s” have it for this one. The bottom line is if you revisit a location, and you might be feeling uninspired try looking for details. I find these are the types of photos that average “snap shooters” won’t get when they go shooting. Get low, look up, and take the time to “see” where the light is falling on the subject. This will keep the creative wheel going and when you get home your photos will reward you for it.
Until next time…
Keep Your Glass Clean