My love of trains brought me back into photography after a long absence fraught with the concepts of career and raising a family. Making a move to a house with a bonus room rekindled an idea of building that dream model railroad I’ve had since I was a kid reading Model Railroader magazine.
Researching ideas online lead to the desire to document my progress which lead to my first serious DSLR, a micro-four thirds Panasonic G2. And then this snowballed into more lenses, an upgrade to a G3 and then eventually to starting to sell my photographs which justified upgrading to a full frame Canon 6D as well as various studio lights, lenses, bags and so on.
No doubt this is a similar trend. Typically people probably purchase their first serious camera when a child is born which may for may not lead to an obsession that takes them way past taking family photos.
But my train obsession has continued although its certainly not my only subject. I’ve shot trains and train tracks, stations, abandoned equipment and lost lines all over New England and even in Canada. From museums to living breathing steam engines on tourist lines.
One of my most intimate train experiences came one summer in Connecticut when I was helping my parents move out of their summer home for a permanate move to Florida. In between trips to the Goodwill and the dump, I was able to sneak away and capture some great shots of the Essex Steam train.
I shot on the train and from vantage points carefully mapped out along with the train schedule. By the end of the summer I knew every crossing and every parking spot up and down the Connecticut River from Essex to East Haddam.
I got some of my most iconic shots of those great old steam trains that summer and what happened to my model railroad? Unfortunetly photography bit hard and my poor model railroad sits unfinished waiting for me to get off the real real railroads and back into the attic.
Do you know a photographer who always seems to get that lucky break? Some amazing shot that looks like he/she might actually know what they are doing? Well, truth be told, getting lucky has a lot to do with being prepared and ready.
Sure luck happens. But the working photographer puts themselves in situations in order to increase the chances of luck and they are always prepared to capture moments when they suddenly appear.
One of my favorite things is finding vintage cars in the wild. This particular shot of an old vintage truck in front of a dinner looks like might have been planned and set up for a magazine shoot but it was completely a lucky situation.
We had just dropped off our son at summer camp on Squam Lake (On Golden Pond) and were headed home when we decided to stop off in TIlton, New Hampshire for dinner at the Tilt ‘n Diner. As we are finishing up our burgers and milkshakes, we start seeing vintage cars roll into the parking lot just as the sun is starting to get low on the horizon.
What timing! We were dining at a spot an hour from house in the middle of the week and it just happened to be old car night! So of course my wife took car of the bill and I headed out to get my camera and started shooting.
Unlike at a car show when the cars are all packed in tight and often festooned with awards or signs, this situation was perfect as the diner provided a great nostalgic background for the cars and as they drove, the first cars had plenty of space around them so they appeared more natural.
Fort Myers Beach – A Great Spot to Capture a Sunset
Let’s face it. Sunsets with nothing more than miles of blank ocean to the horizon and then a ball of sun dropping into the sea are boring as hell. Imagine a small child’s drawing of said sunset. Not much better than the square house and lollipop tree crayon rendering.
Sunsets as an experience are wonderful with cocktail, glass of wine or beer in hand and your skins slowly feeling a sunburned memory of a fun filled day at the beach. But as a photography subject, many a snap shot fails to capture the feeling of the moment.
As with any good landscape, the artist seeks to find strong elements for a complete composition of foreground, middle ground and background. Too often snaps of a sunset have nothing but background which is why they fall flat in the intrigue, substance and interest levels.
Taking Fort Myers Beach as an example, the fishing pier makes a great point of interest for fantastic sunset photos. Located on the western coast of Florida, this region of Florida makes for great sunsets over the Gulf of Mexico.
The trick is figuring out where the sunset will occur, finding a great foreground to add interest to the shot, set up your tripod and hope people stay out of your way, bracket your exposures and don’t forget to manual focus before you lose the light because your autofocus might not work in low light.
Also stick around after the actual sunset to get some amazing colors in the sky that only occur AFTER the sunsets.
I like having my camera on a sturdy tripod for sunsets. Take a exposure reading off the sky, set up your camera in manual and shoot away. Look at the results in the LCD screen and examine the histogram. Adjust your setting and fire away bracketing your shots to cover a wide exposure range.
Keep in mind that to create a stunning sunset you’ll need some great clouds. A blank sky is going to be boring and often the sunset gets lost in low hanging clouds on the horizon so be prepared to revisit the same spot several times during your stay in the area. Also stick around after the sun goes down in case the sky opens up.
Also take your white balance off of auto WB and put it on Daylight. Auto will adjust for the warm tones and take away the colors you came to see! Play around with the WB setting if you want to intensify the colors.
Tired of dull, gray snow scenes? Having trouble taking bright, white snow photographs? Here is what to know when shooting snow!
Early cameras did not have built in light meters. You either had to guess at the exposure based on previous tests or later using a handheld light meter. It was easier when using a flash bulb such as on a press camera you see used in the movies because the exposure with a flash bulb is based on distance – basically the time it takes for the light to bounce off the subject and come back to the camera.
Eventually light meters were included in the camera design. But the most important thing to remember about light meters is that are measuring the object they are pointed at and are trying to calculate the exposure to represent the subject at what is known as 18% gray.
As the majority of snapshot with cameras are people and assumed Caucasian or Asian skin tones, the camera manufactures assumed that most of the time photographers would want to expose for this 18% gray tone.
This means that every time you take a picture of something that is not 18% gray or in that range, the exposure is most likely to be over or under exposed.
Take a picture of a 18% gray wall and it will correctly expose as 18% gray. Take a picture of a white painted wall, white wedding dress or snow and it will come out underexposed or gray.
Take a photo of a black wall or a black frying pan and it will come out overexposed or gray instead of black.
This is why its important to understand how to use your exposure compensation controls on your camera to purposely under expose or over expose your scene to get the right exposure.
Over expose to get white snow, under expose to get true black scenes. You have to “fool” or “trick” your build in exposure meter to get the right settings.
Another method would be to shot a 18% gray card and then enter those setting into the camera in manual mode. Or use a light meter to take the ambient light measurements. Rather than metering reflected light, this setting on a hand held light meter measures the light falling on the scene.
Why 18% Gray? Is it really 18% or more like 12%? Does it really matter?
The story goes that Ansel Adams came up with the “18% gray” figure. Back in the hay day of film photography he was developing the zone system and needed to define a “middle gray”. It was a judgment call. Eventually, the idea caught on, but film and camera companies picked their own middle gray. It is a fun fact that your digital camera probably uses something more like 12% gray as middle gray.
Whatever the number, the idea behind middle gray is not that is “reflects 50% of the light”. Or even that “it is half way between absorbing all light (pure black) and reflecting all light (pure white)”. It has to do with your perception.
Your eyes are logarithmic detectors. That is, if a source gets brighter by a factor of 4, it will only seem brighter by a factor of 2 to you. If it increases by a factor of 32, it will only seem brighter by a factor of 5. If it increases in brightness by a factor of 128, it will only seem 7 times brighter to you.
The above are not the actual numbers. As you can imagine, measuring how bright things seem to people is very tricky, and varies from person to person. The important thing is that it is this weird logarithmic nature of your eyes that keeps middle gray from being 50%.
How to use a gray card to determine exposure
Set your camera to manual shooting mode. Select the ISO and aperture you wish to use for your shot.
Set your camera’s metering mode to Spot Metering. This will allow the camera to read a very small area only, helpful if you only have a small gray card. You only want it to read the light off the reflector only, not the entire scene.
Set your focus point to single and choose the center one. Your camera will meter the same place it focuses.
Aim your camera at the gray card and press the shutter button part way down to take a reading. Looking in your viewfinder (eye piece) adjust the shutter speed until it gives you a reading of “0” (zero).
Take a test shot of the model (or subject) and the gray card similar to the one above. (You’ll be able to use this in part four below also.)
Review the histogram – you should have a perfect exposure with the gray card and all tones falling in the correct zones.
Seems like photography enthusiasts drift toward bird photography at some point in their lives. They are either a birder who wants to capture their life list in photos or a amateur photographer who is looking for a great subject that gets they out of the house. In either case, most of these would be bird photographers come to me with questions about how to improve their photographs. Namely they want to product photographs of the quality they see in their birding books and in National Geographic magazine.
The problem lays in trying to compete with professionals who write off insanely expensive cameras and glass and will stalk their subjects for three weeks in some exotic location paid for by the magazine. This is why as a photographer trying to make a living on their work, I don’t want anything to do with bird photography. The quality long lenses can cost $5,000 to $25,000 and the top cameras can cost over $3,000. That’s a lot of equipment money to try to make a profit on and the market for bird photography is over-saturated and not even all that in demand in the first place. Low demand and high costs of equipment. Not a good formula for turning a profit.
And then there is the travel costs. Unless you have a lot of exotic birds in your backyard, you will have to travel to find them. A birder friend of mine recently took a cruise to South America and the Galápagos Islands. She had a great time and added something like 900+ birds to her life list but also came back with a lot of blurry bird photos. But I disgress…
Bird Photography on the Cheap
Birds are tiny! They represent a small fraction of your total view. With your eyes you might focus in on the birds and disregard the surrounding but when you take a photograph of them, you realize how small they really are compared to the overall landscape. So you are going to have to get close – either physically or optically.
So you don’t have tens of thousands of dollars to spend on long expensive lenses like the Canon EF 600mm that costs about $10K.
Tip One – Buy a lens aimed at the photo enthusiast market instead of the professional level lens such as this Sigma lens. You can also rent lenses to test them out or while on vacation although renting a lens isn’t cheap, It can cost hundreds of dollars to rent a huge lens.
Tip Two – Get a bridge camera with a built in long lens. These are birders favorites as they provide plenty of zoom at a low cost.
Tip Three – Get closer to the birds. This is the cheapest way to get close up photos of birds, Set out some food and hunker down in a blind and wait for the birds to come to you. You can photograph the birds with shorter range lenses if you are closer to them.
Tip Four – Crop in your photos. Just because you see a photograph of a bird in a magazine and it looks like the photographer is right on top of the bird doesn’t mean they didn’t crop the photo. Birds are tiny, crop in for maximum impact.
Tip Five – Create a feeding station and put plenty of perches around for more natural photographs.
Looking for a dynamic, scene stealing artwork or photograph for your home or office? Check out my portfolio of over 4,500 image from around the world! – http://www.edwardfielding.com
Watercolor version of “Autumn Splendor” by Edward M. Fielding – artwork based on an original photograph taken in Norwich, Vermont during peak foliage season right across the Connecticut River from Hanover, New Hampshire and Dartmouth College. The fine art photograph version is below:
With Easter coming up soon, let’s talk about eggs! Eggs make a great still life subject matter or accessory because 1. they are a familiar every day object full of emotional weight – memories of great breakfast feasts with the family perhaps or just your favorite meal of the day and 2. they have symbolic weight as birth, reborn, renew, awakening, life and other connotations. 3. They have a nice simple, pleasing shape to work with and can be used in multiples, on their own, in the shell, out of the shell, raw, cooked, decorated and more – versatile props indeed!
This photograph of eggs in a vintage wire basket in a barn was actually created in my basement studio. Over time I gathered the elements of the shot including a vintage wire egg gathering basket, hay, an old garden spade and some farm fresh eggs from a co-worker who has chickens. The set was constructed from weathered rough boards to look like the inside of an old barn and the scene was lit with strobes.
Breakfast Sandwich is actually one of my best selling stock photographs but has also sold as wall art. Its a bagel sandwich with scrambled eggs, cheese and thick cut, locally smoked bacon. Its a family favorite for special mornings!
The nest is actually a sculpture made from wire and the eggs are carved from stone.
Farmer Dog guards the hen house, keeps the foxes away and helps out by gathering eggs.
This colorful shot of dying Easter eggs is another popular stock photograph of mine.
I borrowed a family heirloom antique kitchen scale from an old college roommate of my wife’s for this still life of the scale with baking supplies – eggs and flower in the background. Its a popular as a kitchen wall art.
This Easter Bunny Card photograph features and adorable little Easter bunny and decorated eggs.
Can’t get enough of your own farm fresh eggs in your area? Try Nest-spresso!
Believe it or not – the lens you buy might not really the focal length you think it is – your 200mm lens might only be 135mm! Your 70mm lens might be 45mm! Does your lens have focus breathing? This video shows why it happens, how to test if your lens has it, and how to fix it.
Zoom lens design is the art of combining lens elements to create a lens that works in a variety of focal lengths. A zoom or telephoto lens is a full of compromises as the designers work with attempting to maximize performance across the range of focal lengths as well as dealing with issues such as weight, length, portability, easy of use, price point etc.
Basic optical theory means that the lens elements have to move closer and further from the lens to be able to focus on objects near and far. In some designs the lens actually gets long or shorter ie. you can see the movement. In other designs this movement occurs within the lens but this type of design is a compromise which robs the actually zoom abilities from the lens. So you end up with a lens is not getting the subject as close as you think it would based on the infinity rating.
Like abstract painting, abstract photograph chooses to isolate shapes, lines, color, divorced from reality and boiled down to the very essence of a sensation or impression. The difference is painting starts with a blank canvas and adds elements whereas in abstract photography the photographer uses a camera to isolate and subtract from reality.
Finding shapes, patterns, detail and composition from the larger world and eliminating all sense of context and meaning other than the pure sensation and tension created by line, texture, light, dark, color and perhaps movement.
Abstract photography, sometimes called non-objective, experimental, conceptual or concrete photography, is a means of depicting a visual image that does not have an immediate association with the object world and that has been created through the use of photographic equipment, processes or materials.
An abstract photograph may isolate a fragment of a natural scene in order to remove its inherent context from the viewer, it may be purposely staged to create a seemingly unreal appearance from real objects, or it may involve the use of color, light, shadow, texture, shape and/or form to convey a feeling, sensation or impression.
The image may be produced using traditional photographic equipment like a camera, darkroom or computer, or it may be created without using a camera by directly manipulating film, paper or other photographic media, including digital presentations.