October 14, 2007

Working with the Light

Sonja recently got me a book on digital nature photography. As I'm sure you all have noticed, the natural world tends to be the most common subject of my photographs, and having some references to help improve my skills as a photographer is always a good idea. However, while I usually tend to try to improve some skill by simply futzing around and seeing what works and what doesn't work, the added complexity of using a camera like this makes that technique rather frustrating. While initially most of my focus will probably be primarily on the mechanics of using the camera, this book has some interesting assignments that will get me out in the field experimenting with various techniques while I learn what all the buttons do.

My first assignment is to practice working quickly with the light during sunrise or sunset. The trick is to try to take a variety of pictures quickly to capture the changing shades, hues and warmth of the light as the sun either sinks or rises toward the horizon. Since I am rarely capable of getting up early on my days off, most of my photography time lately has been during sunset, as these photos demonstrate (each one was taken on a different evening over the past month). Fortunately, sunsets here at the Well can be spectacular.

Sunset from the front yard.
(1/50, f18, ISO 800, Canon 18-55mm lens, focal length 33mm)

Even better than the light on the clouds right at sunset is the the light filtering in through the sycamore trees in the picnic area in the 15-20 minutes preceding sunset. The warmth of that light makes the white bark of the sycamore trees glow. Our crappy point-and-shoot was never able to really capture what this really looks like. But our new camera can...

Sonja and the dogs under the light of a sycamore.
(1/320, f5.0, ISO 400, Sigma 70-300mm lens, focal length 168mm)

As an added bonus, the fact that we live in a national park unit means there tends to be an abundance of wildlife around. Including a pair of Great Horned Owls that seem to enjoy patrolling this stand of sycamores almost every evening. This evening we made it into the picnic area just in time for the light to be nearly perfect. And one of the owls decided to stick around. But the damn owl is still fuzzy! Arrrghhhh..this is frustrating.

Great Horned Owl at Montezuma Well
(1/200, f5.6, ISO 400, Sigma 70-300mm lens, focal length 190mm)

I'm sure I'll take many more photos of the evening light here at the Well as time goes on (in a little over a month I've already taken over 1400 pictures with this camera). But these have been three of the highlights so far.

We also had what I am assuming was an immature black widow spider hanging out with some captured harvester ants on our garage door this morning. I'm not entirely sure that it's not a male, though. It was pretty darn small (note the size of the ants next to it). But in the second picture you can definitely make out an hourglass shape on the underside of its abdomen, albeit this one is biege rather than red. I'm not sure if male widows have that or not.

This spider looks deceptively huge in these pictures (this camera kicks butt at macro photography!). But remember, that big blob of stuff next to it is a collection of three ants tied together.

And there is the hourglass. I ended up moving her off of the garage door, though, to a quite little shrub out of the way of curious dog noses. Even itsy-bitsy black widows pack quite a punch.


Steve said...

dude - switch to manual focus to get that owl. that or bump up the f-stop or both. looks like he was posing for you - you had time. still nice pics tho. it's been a very cloudy and rainy fall so i haven't had many opportunities with my new toy.

P. Ollig said...

I guess I'm still stuck using the aperature-priority mode...so I forget to mess with the f-stop. Did the video mention why decreasing the aperature (bumping up the f-stop) would make things clearer? Is it a matter of extra "noise" with a wider aperature?

Steve said...

dunno why the smaller aperature yeilds more depth of field. the videos may say, but they are off the counter and in the mail now, so i can't check. you can in a few days. let me know - k?