Saturday, May 30, 2015

Photographing Atmosphere

The Morning Window - San Simeon, California
Something I've discovered lately is that I really like creating photographs with atmosphere. There is something timeless and mysterious about them. The atmosphere adds unique interest. Atmosphere captured makes an ordinary image extraordinary.

What are photographs with atmosphere? Basically there is something in the air, such as dust or mist, that is illuminated. There has to be something in the air and there must be a strong light source illuminating it.
Light Rays - Stallion Springs, California
So how do you create photographs with atmosphere? Well, you have to find situations where there is stuff in the atmosphere to be illuminated and a light source to illumine the stuff. This may be dust from an old home with an open window. This may be the dirty air around Bakersfield, California with a partly cloudy sky. This may be the mist from waves crashing onto Morro Rock while the sun is setting.

Actually, you'll notice that those are the three scenarios of the photographs in this post. There are varying degrees of perceptibility, but in each image there's some atmosphere captured.
Sunset At Morro Rock - Morro Bay, California
You could also create your own atmosphere. I haven't done this yet, but I'd like to give some of these ideas a try. You could use a fog machine. You could drive down a dirt road to stir up the dust. You could use a little flower or chalk to add dust to the air. I've heard of people using a bunch of small candles for the smoke. You can even artificially light the scene with studio lights--or even a flashlight--if you'd like.

This is something that I hope to experiment with more in the upcoming months. It should be an interesting photographic adventure.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

What Gear Should An Aspiring Photographer Buy?

Keep Out The Sun - Tehachapi, California
Captured using a Nokia Lumia 1020--this was good enough to be published in a magazine.
I get asked pretty often what gear a beginning photographer should buy. What camera should a aspiring photographer purchase? Canon? Nikon? DSLR? Full frame? How many lenses?

I don't like answering this question because gear isn't nearly as important as many think it is. It's the wrong question, really. If someone wants to be a photographer they need to understand what it even means to be a photographer. What is it about photography that attracts you?
Gas Station Sunset - Ehrenburg, Arizona
Captured with an obsolete Galaxy S cell phone.
You have to know why you photograph in order to know what and how to photograph. There are so many different genres and styles, and in order to be successful you have to create your own style and niche.

The gear you use doesn't make any difference to understanding the deeper, more important questions. And gear makes very little difference to the outcome of an image. You would be hard-pressed to find a camera that isn't capable of capturing great images.
Sunset At Morro Rock - Morro Bay, California
Captured using a Nikon D3300.
So to answer the question, get a camera--any camera--and use it. Figure out the deeper questions. Begin to understand vision, creativity and the decisive moment. Then, if you think you need different gear, go out and get what you think you need. But until you've figured out what you need and why, then stick with whatever it is that you already have.

If that's not a good-enough answer for you, and you want some specific gear to buy, how about the Nokia Lumia 1020. I paid $100 for mine, and I guarantee that it's the best digital camera you can buy for that price. Or Nikon's entry level DSLR, the D3300, which is very inexpensive and yet is still a quality camera. But, really, any camera will do.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Aperture Priority vs. Shutter Priority

Telephone - San Simeon, California
I used Aperture Priority Mode for this image because I wanted a certain depth-of-field.
In yesterday's post I said, "The 40mm lens is my primary lens for this camera and I use it 90% or more of the time. However, on this trip the 55-200mm lens got the bulk of the load. Because of that, instead of using the camera in aperture priority mode, I found myself using shutter priority mode more than ever before."

Someone wanted to know why I would choose aperture priority mode or shutter priority mode and what that even means.

Aperture priority and shutter priority modes are semiautomatic functions commonly found on digital cameras. Sometimes the names are different and the exact way that they work can vary, but on most cameras they're basically the same. When in aperture priority mode, you choose the aperture and the camera chooses the shutter speed and the ISO. When in shutter priority mode you choose the shutter speed and the camera chooses the aperture and the ISO.

These semiautomatic features allow the photographer to have control over an aspect of the process that they need to control, and let the camera worry about the other aspects that the photographer doesn't care so much about. They speed up the process for the photographer.
Steadfast Movement - Mojave, California
I used Shutter Priority Mode for this image because I wanted to show motion.
Typically, for most of my images, I want to control the aperture. The aperture affects depth-of-field and (to an extent) sharpness. When in aperture priority mode, the way that I have the camera set up, the shutter speed doesn't go any slower than 1/125 unless the maximum ISO (which I set at ISO 3200) is achieved. I set the aperture to what I want and the camera figures out what the shutter speed and ISO should be within the parameters that I've set.

Sometimes, though, I want to control the shutter speed. Most often it's a situation where I want a shutter speed slower than 1/125 to show motion in an image. But sometimes I want a shutter speed faster than 1/125, such as when I want to freeze motion or I'm using a telephoto lens. Camera shake is magnified with a telephoto lens, so a faster shutter speed or tripod is required to get a sharp image. I could go into the menus and adjust the auto-parameters that I've set up, or (more easily), I can switch the camera to shutter priority mode. I lose control over the aperture (although I can still manipulate the aperture a little), but I gain control over what I most want to control.

Occasionally neither of these semiautomatic modes are ideal so I go fully manual. This is no big deal and I have a few different film cameras that I sometimes use that don't have any auto modes. Auto-features just allow me to more quickly achieve what I want, but they're only useful when they allow me to accomplish whatever it is that I'm trying to accomplish.

So the reason that I used "shutter priority mode more than ever before" is because I was using a telephoto lens and I left the tripod behind. I wanted a faster shutter speed and I didn't care quite as much about the aperture. Simple enough.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

5 Travel Photography Thoughts

Barstow - Barstow, California
This photograph doesn't have anything to do with this post other than I passed through Barstow on my road trip and this was the last time (prior to the trip) that I shot film.
You may have noticed that I didn't post anything on the Roesch Photography Blog last week. That's because I was on the road. This wasn't a photography trip (although I did manage to do some photography here and there), but preparation for future relocation.

This family travel was to Salt Lake City, Utah. I'd never been to Salt Lake City before, so it was quite interesting. We also had two nights in Las Vegas. Overall it was a good trip, despite all three kids getting sick (and by sick, I mean sick).

Below are five thoughts on photography that occurred to me after this road trip.

1. I hate camera bags. They're bulky, get in the way, and take time to open and close and organize. This trip was the first time in a while that I'd brought with me an actual camera bag, and I regretted that decision the whole trip. When you're traveling, it's much better to travel as light as absolutely possible.

2. The Nikon D3300 has such a long battery life that I didn't charge it at all on this trip. I left with a fully charged battery and came home with a nearly exhausted battery. The charger stayed in the camera bag the entire trip. I guess I should have left it at home.

3. I brought along two lenses for the D3300: a Nikkor 40mm AF-S DX f/2.8G Micro and a Nikkor 55-200mm AF-S DX f/4-5.6G ED. The 40mm lens is my primary lens for this camera and I use it 90% or more of the time. However, on this trip the 55-200mm lens got the bulk of the load. Because of that, instead of using the camera in aperture priority mode, I found myself using shutter priority mode more than ever before.

4. A FED 5c rangefinder camera was occasionally used. It's the first time in nearly a year that I've shot with a film camera. As excited as I was to use film again, this was not the trip to do it. The FED 5c, especially, was not a good idea because it's so big and heavy.

5. In retrospect, I should have brought the D3300 with the 55-200mm lens attached to the front and left everything else at home. Less is more in travel photography.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Happy Memorial Day!

American Flag - Palmdale, California
Today we remember the hundreds of thousands of Americans who have given their lives to ensure the freedom that the rest of us in America enjoy. A million thanks seems insufficient. Join me in a moment of silence and gratitude.
I also want to give a special thanks to all who are serving or have served in America's armed forces. You may not have given your life for liberty, but you were willing to do so if necessary. You are true heroes!

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Travel: California's Central Coast - Conclusion & Notes

Red Chairs - Cambria, California
Click here to read more about this image.

The weekend tour of California's central coast was nothing short of wonderful. There is so much beauty and intrigue in this region that one should never find themselves bored. We had some new experiences. We saw some cool things. I can't think of hardly anything negative about the trip. It was good.

I wanted to close out this series of posts by taking a closer look at some of the photographs. I'll expound a little on these images (after all this is a photography blog). Some are my favorites, while others I simply wanted to comment on.

All of the photographs were captured using a Nikon D3300 DSLR. I had two lenses with me, a Nikkor 40mm AF-S DX f/2.8G Micro and a Nikkor 55-200mm AF-S DX f/4-5.6G ED, and the majority of exposures were captured with the 40mm lens. All of the images were post-processed using Alien Skin Exposure 7 software.
Yellow Coast - Montana de Oro State Park, California
ISO 900, f13, 1/125, 40mm, 3/21/15 @ 6:32 PM.
The yellow flowers and the blue ocean provide some color contrast. I like the dreary-looking weather contrasted with the happy flowers.
Stone Arch - Montana de Oro State Park, California
ISO 400, f11, 1/125, 40mm, 3/21/15 @ 6:01 PM.
This image is about contrast. The eyes are immediately drawn to the areas where the light sky meets the dark shadows. 
Stone Creek - Montana de Oro State Park, California
ISO 1600, f10, 1/125, 40mm, 3/21/15 @ 6:04 PM.
This was captured on the other side of the arch that's seen in Stone Arch. I liked how the creek and stone floor almost appeared to merge together. Contrast is what makes this image work.
Stone Design - Montana de Oro State Park, California
ISO 2000, f8, 1/125, 40mm, 3/21/15 @ 6:19 PM.
I really liked the natural curves in the sandstone created by the tides. Again, contrast is an important element to this image.
Brilliant Bloom - Cambria, California
ISO 200, f13, 1/125, 40mm, 3/22/15 @ 9:54 AM.
This is a simple photograph, but because it's a macro image it looks unique. The colors and the bright center draw the viewer right in.
Ice Plant Blossom - Cambria, California
ISO 360, f11, 1/125, 40mm, 3/22/15 @ 9:09 AM.
I noticed the flower on a small ridge as I was walking up some steps. The vibrant colors and color contrast caught my eye. I quickly composed and exposed this image.
The Natural Design - Cambria, California
ISO 320, f9, 1/125, 40mm, 3/22/15 @ 9:17 AM.
This plant (I have no idea what it's called) was found right outside the hotel office door--it was part of the landscape. The macro capabilities of the lens allowed me to get close to show the design.
Boardwalk - Cambria, California
ISO 320, f13, 1/125, 40mm, 3/22/15 @ 8:46 AM.
I like how the path crosses the bridge while tunneling under the tree. The bridge also provides interest with repeated lines.
Lone Surfer - Cambria, California
ISO 100, f11, 1/250, 40mm, 3/22/15 @ 9:08 AM.
I wanted to capture a surfer, but I had left the longer lens in the hotel room. So what I did is place the scene in context by showing the shore and the vast ocean. I added lots of grain in post-processing to give the image a more gritty film-like appearance.
Hearst Castle - San Simeon, California
ISO 100, f13, 1/200, 40mm, 3/22/15 @ 12:35 PM.
I gave this photograph a vintage look in post-processing because I felt it matched the scene well. I used the foreground building to hide some of the scaffolding from the renovations, although some of it is still visible of you look carefully.
Telephone - San Simeon, California
ISO 3200, f4, 1/125, 40mm, 3/22/15 @ 11:53 AM.
This image of an old phone was made to look old. I placed a portion of the dark handset against the light curtain to create some additional contrast.
The Morning Window - San Simeon, California
ISO 1400, f6.3, 1/125, 40mm, 3/22/15 @ 11:43 AM.
I really liked the atmosphere and antique feeling of this scene.
The Library - San Simeon, California
ISO 2800, f3.2, 1/125, 40mm, 3/22/15 @ 11:49 AM.
I like the balance and contrast of this scene. Eyes seem to move in a signal pattern top-left to lower-right. It has a vintage feel, which matches the decor.
Mary - San Simeon, California
ISO 3200, f3, 1/125, 40mm, 3/22/15 @ 11:47 AM.
I don't know if this statue is of Mary or not, but it looked to me like it could be. The only thing that I don't like about it is the light spot in the upper-right. If I wanted to put in the effort to remove it I could, but when you are processing hundreds of exposures you don't want to spend too much time on any one image (unless you just happen to have lots of spare time on your hands, which I don't).
Castle Tower & Palms - San Simeon, California
ISO 100, f9, 1/1000, 40mm, 3/22/15 @ 11:34 AM.
I wanted to give this image a vintage look, and to help with htat feeling I tilted the camera a bit.
Two Flowers - San Simeon, California
ISO 360, f16, 1/125, 40mm, 3/22/15 @ 12:30 PM.
This close-up of the flowers is made possible by the macro capabilities of the 40mm lens. The image works because of the color contrast.
Red & Yellow - San Simeon, California
ISO 1100, f11, 1/125, 40mm, 3/22/15 @ 12:48 PM.
Even though the title is Red & Yellow, it is really the red and green that make this photograph stand out.
Youth Statue - San Simeon, California
ISO 100, f10, 1/500, 40mm, 3/22/15 @ 12:23 PM.
I used a low point-of-view for this image because otherwise the background was distracting. I used the statue's right arm as a leading line from the upper-left corner.
Roman Statue - San Simeon, California
ISO 900, f5.6, 1/125, 85mm, 3/22/15 @ 1:03 PM.
I really liked the natural lighting on this statue and the contrast with the dark background is great. 
Roman Pool #1 - San Simeon, California
ISO 2000, f5.6, 1/125, 40mm, 3/22/15 @ 1:11 PM.
About a month after I captured this I saw that well-known photographer Trey Ratcliff had captured a similar image. At first I thought, "Well, great minds think alike!" But then I realized that there are probably millions of pictures of this pool out there.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Travel: California's Central Coast - Day 2 (Continued) - Hearst Castle

Hearst Castle - San Simeon, California
Day 1 Day 2

William Randolf Hearst, along with architect Julia Morgan, built La Cuesta Encantada, which is now known as Hearst Castle, between 1919 and 1947. The design is "Spanish Revival" with inspiration from throughout Europe, including ancient Rome.

The castle included 56 bedrooms, 61 bathrooms and 19 sitting rooms. There were 127 acres of gardens, an indoor and outdoor swimming pool, tennis courts, a zoo (zebras still roam the property), and a movie theater. The castle is over 60,000 square feet, and the estate structures total over 90,000 square feet!

Hearst Castle sits on a tall hill overlooking the Pacific Ocean. From the Pacific Coast Highway you can see the massive structure in the distance to the east, but you cannot get close to it without taking a tour. At the base of the hill is a large visitor's center. Inside are several restaurants, a gift shop, a small exhibit, and a movie theater that plays the docudrama Hearst Castle - Building The Dream.
Clothes Laid Out - San Simeon, California
There are three different tours offered daily: Grand Room, Upstairs Suites, and Cottages & Kitchen. In the spring and fall an evening tour is also available. My wife had visited Hearst Castle once before and took the Grand Room tour. This is the most popular (and most crowded) tour, so we elected to go on the Upstairs Suites tour instead. Tickets were $25 each. We didn't bring our young children along because we didn't think they'd appreciate the experience.

A bus takes visitors up the hill from the visitor's center to the castle (you must purchase a castle tour in order to ride the bus). Alex Trebek provides a prerecorded narration of the drive. At the top a tour guide gives a detailed narrative of the castle.

The Upstairs Suites tour was interesting. Our tour guide (who was highly informative) took us through bedrooms, sitting rooms, hallways, a library and a dining room. The incredible artwork and antique decor were the highlights.
Telephone - San Simeon, California
Hearst Castle was in the middle of restoration on our visit. Scaffolding climbed the sides of the main structure. The Neptune Pool was completely drained. That was a bit disappointing. There were a number of photographic opportunities lost due to the renovation.

After the tour we were allowed to roam the grounds (outside of the structures) for as long as we wished. That was really nice because we were able to take our time and simply enjoy the amazingly beautiful setting and gorgeous views. The walk back to the bus goes by the incredible Roman Pool.

We expected Hearst Castle to be a highlight of the trip and it definitely was. Despite the restoration and despite the seemingly expensive tour cost, it was well worth the visit. It's a truly amazing site and there aren't many places like this anywhere in the world.

The Morning Window - San Simeon, California
Guest Bedroom Design - San Simeon, California
Mary - San Simeon, California
The Library - San Simeon, California
Wreath Halo - San Simeon, California
Castle Tower & Palms - San Simeon, California
Fountain Steps - San Simeon, California
Tulip Garden - San Simeon, California
Purple Flower Landscape - San Simeon, California
Hearst View - San Simeon, California
Two Flowers - San Simeon, California
Red & Yellow - San Simeon, California
Castle Tower - San Simeon, California
Youth Statue - San Simeon, California
Roman Statue - San Simeon, California
Roman Pool #1 - San Simeon, California
Roman Pool #2 - San Simeon, California