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Softly does it!

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If you’re shooting outdoors you usually check out the weather forecast and pray for sunshine, but this isn’t always the best kind of weather to work in. It depends a great deal on what it is you’re photographing.

The overcast conditions that the shot above were taken in were at first glance far from ideal. It was an outdoor shoot for an up and coming wedding venue which boasts the most wonderful gardens, but the day was a dull one and there was absolutely no detail in the sky – just dull grey clouds. Naturally, when a couple marry they want sunshine and warmth, and dream of spending time with friends and family in a beautiful outdoor location sipping fine champagne and nibbling on canapes. A cloudy forecast is the last thing they would want.

However, there are benefits to this kind of weather, and that’s the softness of the light. The image above is very delicate, and if it was shot in blazing sunshine would look very different. It would be much harsher and have far more contrast, and wouldn’t give us anything like the delicate hues that we see here. There are no shadows blocked up, and no highlights blown out, it’s all been captured rather nicely!

The Perfect Camera?

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My little Fuji X100 amazes me every time I use it. It’s quite an old camera now in technology terms, there have been two models that have superseded it (the x100s and the current model the x100t).

1524659_1025229974158213_5955181392400240162_nI originally bought the camera to use when travelling, as it’s compact and lightweight but very well built with excellent image quality. It was perfect for that task but it’s also great to just have with you for when a photographic opportunity presents itself.

In the case of the bee above I quickly put the camera into ‘macro’ mode and moved in close to get a few images. The bee stayed still long enough to get the shot above. I set the aperture to f4 to get the bee sharp but to completely blur the background, and I like the way that the focus drops off from the front of the allium (the allium has a dome like head so the effect is a nice, gradual blur).

An ordinary compact wouldn’t have got this shot. It wouldn’t have been able to focus close enough, and the sensors are too small to allow you to minimise the depth of field. My Nikon DSLR would have been able to do this no problem, but it’s now a question of which camera you want to carry around with you all the time in anticipation of these opportunities.

For me, the X100 is the camera I’ve been waiting years for – it’s almost perfect in every respect.

Desire Lines

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An introduction courtesy of Wikipedia:

desire path (also known as a desire linesocial trailcow pathgoat trackpig trail or bootleg trail) can be a path created as a consequence of foot or bicycle traffic. The path usually represents the shortest or most easily navigated route between an origin and destination.

Width and erosion severity can be indicators of how much traffic a path receives. Desire paths emerge as shortcuts where constructed ways take a circuitous route, have gaps, or are non-existent.

In Finland, planners are known to visit their parks immediately after the first snowfall, when the existing paths are not visible. People naturally choose desire paths, clearly marked by their footprints, which can be then used to guide the routing of new purpose-built paths.”

Which is why I like this image. To me at least it’s not just a photo of a corn field, it’s an image of a journey.

Too little or too much? Part 2

 

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Following on from my post about depth of field in ‘Too Little or Too Much – Part 1‘ comes this post about shutter speed.

It’s very common for photographers to adjust the shutter speed of their camera to blur water and give it a sense of movement. I do this now and then, though sometimes I’ll do the opposite and use as high a shutter speed as I can to freeze the movement instead. Either way, for me it needs to be one or the other, as both of these options are more interesting than shooting with a ‘medium’ exposure.

Our natural reaction is to close the aperture right down (or use an ND filter) and select the longest shutter speed we can, then fire away, but I’m not convinced that this is the right thing to do.

For me there’s a sweet spot in between where the motion is frozen too much, or blurred beyond recognition. Allowing the water to blur too much gives a loss of definition, and can be less visually appealing. Have a look at the two examples above (click on the image for a closer look). The one on the left was shot at 1 second, and as you can see that water is well and truly blurred. The one on the right was shot at 1/4 second, but in my opinion is preferable as although the water still shows movement there’s a little extra definition in there.

Like all things in photography it’s entirely subjective, and some will prefer one over the other, so I suppose the key is to just take lots of photographs at different settings and then decide which one you like the best.

Too little or too much? Part 1

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It all comes down to personal preference I suppose, but sometimes too shallow a depth of field is as bad as too much.

It’s easy to whack a lens on your camera, open the aperture up to as wide as it will go to blur that background, focus on what you think is the most important part then take a shot, but quite often you’ll find that you really should have stopped down a little and got a touch more in focus. It’s particularly relevant if you’re quite close to your subject, perhaps photographing flowers or food.

The shot above was taken very close up using a 105mm macro lens at an aperture of f10. Usually you’ll find that for general purpose photography f10 is more than adequate to capture practically all of your scene in sharp focus, but it’s all relative. In this instance, the distance from the front of the flower to the petals at the back is important, as although it’s not physically that much (perhaps a couple of centimetres), in relation to the distance from the lens to the flower (around ten centimetres) and the magnification of the image on the camera sensor it’s considerable, and will have an impact in how much of the flower is in focus. As a result, even at f10 the petals at the back are out of focus due to the limited depth of field at that aperture and those relative focussing distances.

So the trick is to use your depth of field preview and check your shot before you take it. The usual rules don’t apply when photographing things close up, and an average aperture of f8 is never going to be enough – if you’re not careful you’ll be struggling finding a part of the image that actually looks sharp.

How much depth of field is enough though is ultimately down to the individual. In the shot above you could say that it would be improved if the whole flower was sharp, and I would accept that criticism. On the other hand I rather like the way the focus drops off and the important part of the image is the deep red centre of the flower. The best bet? Cover all bases and bracket your aperture, then pick the one you like the best.

Busy Bees

beeBees are busy things. It’s quite fascinating watching them buzzing around the garden from flower to flower, but it’s this routine that makes them quite easy to photograph.

First up, you need a lens that lets you get up close. Don’t worry about them stinging you, they’re generally far too interested in pollen to be bothered about what you’re doing, so just get in there as close as you can.

Bees usually follow a pattern, and this involves visiting as many flowers in the nearby vicinity as they can. This means that usually if a bee is on a plant it will visit pretty much every flower on there before it buzzes off.

Don’t hang around though, they’ll more than likely only spend a few seconds on each flower head, so pre-focus and as soon as it arrives fire away.

Focussing this close up means your depth of field is minimal, so it’s a bit of a balance making sure that your background is blurred but the important parts of the bee are still in focus. I’ve found that no less than f5.6 generally does the job.

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