Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Amateurish Photography, Part 2

First things first. I don't have a top of the line camera. I have a Nikon DSLR. It's a few years old (which, likely in the age of digital anything, is an eternity), and is the lower end of the available tech-iness. But it does more than I need. And it's small, lightweight and portable. And truthfully, there are all sorts of settings on this camera that (a) I don't yet understand and (b) I've never even looked at. Again, I am not a professional photographer, but am providing you with a behind the scenes look at my low-tech approach to taking decent pictures.

I use a Nikon D40 for pretty much all of the photographs on this blog. And I use one of two lenses.

The first lens is a 18-55mm that came as part of the camera kit.

Nikon 18 55

The second is a 50mm, f /1.8* fixed lens which I purchased a year ago for about $100. I bought this lens for the sole purpose of taking those "still life" photos that are prevalent on these pages and because it does amazingly well in low-light. The drawback is that because I have the Nikon D40, it doesn't auto-focus. So it's like the old days when I took photography in high school and used a classic 35mm film camera. I have to focus it myself. (This is an auto-focus lens on other models of camera. But because of the lightweight makeup of the D40, the drives have to be housed in the lens rather than the camera body.)

Nikon 50mm f18

The benefits of the 50mm lens can be seen here. This was low-light. And had I used my other lens, it would have required a flash (which would have undoubtedly washed out the picture).

Grace and Nola

The prime feature of this lens, which can be both a blessing and a curse, is that it has a very shallow depth-of-field*. It's unavoidable. It creates great bokeh (that out of focus parts that make your photos look so artsy). See the crisp image with bokeh taken in a flourescent lit gym.

Sparky 01

But this can be a problem when taking a picture like this where you want both the foreground and background to be in focus.

Anna at American Girl salon

See?

The other draw back of this lens is that I have to move myself closer to subjects to take a picture or back way up to get a wider angle. But I really love the images this lens produces, and I use it for most of the "still-life" photographs shot in my "light box."

I know that it is possible to get bokeh with a point-and-shoot camera. It depends on the camera, but I would look to see if there is a Macro mode or Aperture-priority setting. Though I didn't realize it when I was using the camera, even my early generation Nikon point and shoot had these features. The lens on a point and shoot is trickier to me, and because the camera is doing all the work to figure out the exposure (aperture/ shutter speed) completely behind the scenes, it's harder to control.

*In photography, you will often hear reference to F-stops. Without getting into stuff I don't really understand, an F-stop controls how narrow or wide the lens is opened restricting (or allowing) various amounts of light to pass through (aperture). Generally, depth of field (see below) increases with the f-stop number. Exposure is basically a combination of f-stop and shutter speed. Shutter speed is fairly easy to understand, it's how fast the shutter will open and shut capturing the image. I usually use my camera on a auto setting and let the camera choose the shutter speed and aperture. If you are like me and hate using a flash (more on that later), it's important to remember that once you get below 60 (which is 1/60th of a second) you will probably start getting blurry pictures as the shutter speed is too slow for you to hold the camera perfectly still. I sometimes cheat and go to 1/30th without a flash or tripod, but that's why I often have blurry pictures.

**Depth of Field defines the portion of a photograph that is sharp and in focus. Bokeh is the stuff in the picture that's out of focus. I learned from Wikipedia, that the word Bokeh comes from the Japanese word for blur or haze.

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