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- AboutMy interest in photography started with influence from my dad. Wherever we went, he took pictures of my family and the scenery around us. As I grew up, more and more times, he let me be the camera man. Maybe the habit just stuck. I took up photography in the summer of 2006. I really am not sure what spurred the idea, but since then I have made a hobby of taking photos of what I find to be beautiful. What do I find to be beautiful? Mostly, nature. I find beauty in the subtleties of the Earth. When I take the time to think through the complexity of the Earth and the life within it, I conclude that there must be a reason to existence. However, Earth is only one small piece of the larger puzzle; much more beauty exists in places and shapes we have never imagined. What is that larger puzzle? What other beauty lies out in the Universe? What is the driving force behind life? These are questions that run through my mind when I witness nature. What makes the Earth beautiful to me? I can’t really say. I feel a quiet passion as a crisp…
So… hopefully you’ve had a chance to look at the first part of this blog series about my photography expedition to Olympic National Park. If not, please visit the link so you can catch up on the story.
So given that I had gotten some pretty good shots of the sunset and night of the day before and the sunrise of the morning, I decided to head to the Hoh rainforest. Normally, I would reserve shooting at scenic locations for sunrise and sunset, when the sky acts like a huge softbox and doesn’t create hard to manage, dynamically lit scenes. However, the Hoh is a pretty dense forest that blocks out much of the harsh rays. Plus, the weather had called for some rain mists which would really help to control light and create a feeling of depth.
Getting to the Hoh is rather easy, but is time consuming. I wanted to get to the rainforest, shoot for an hour or so, then make the journey back to catch the sunset at Shi Shi (a sunset in the Hoh would not be nearly as photogenic given how little you can see the sky from there). Given that I had so many nights at Olympic National Park, I wanted to give the weather enough opportunities to create something special on the coasts — which were were I planned to take most of the photos on this trip.
So, I left my camping gear back at Shi Shi, and trekked back through the mud for about an hour and a half, our to the place I parked. Then, I was off on the 2 hour drive down to the rainforest.
The other photographer warned me of the difficulty of shooting the Hoh, but I had to experience it for myself to see what he was talking about. The forest has no order to it, which is beautiful in its own regard. However, it also makes composing a shot especially difficult. As a photographer, you look for patterns, leading lines, angles, and contrasts. But when everything seems to be growing from everywhere, it really throws you a loop!
The mist I hoped for never arrived, but the light was soft enough for some shooting. After a little time, I did find some interesting angles and frames that make an image. Here is the first, which shows a ray of sun bursting through a clearing in the forest, and leading to the ferns on the floor:
I continued walking around and exploring the rainforest. It was really quite a peaceful and cathartic experience; maybe some of that has to do with the fresh and fragrant air that the rainforest provides. When I inspected the moss, which is omnipresent in the rainforest, I saw a single drop of water that stayed suspended in on the moss tip. Because of the absorbent texture of the moss, the drop was held completely still, save for its bottom spinning in a circle from gravity:
As I walked further, I saw a small path in the ground. The path led through a line of mossy trees and gave a bit of organization to a section of the forest:
Then, I started inspecting the grounds where moss and other shrubs were slowly building over trees. This next one was interesting to me as is contrasted a shrub (with a point on its leaves that resembles a worm) common to the rainforest with a piece of fallen wood:
After I took that shot, it was already time to head back to Shi Shi for the sunset. So, I made the long drive back, hiked through the mud and marshes for another couple hours and ran back to Shi Shi to see what colors were in store for me.
It turned out to be another bluish/gray type of evening. While I didn’t have explosions of vibrant light like the morning, I was captivated by the somber hues.
This first shot shows more interesting shapes from the Shi Shi coast (including another angle of the hole through the sea stack I shot here), and offers a glimpse of Point of the Arches way in the distance. I used a long exposure to mist the waters against the other rocks:
I took that shot from the left side of the “King” sea stack that dominates the Shi Shi scene. I then I decided to scale all of rocks from the side I was on and get on the other side of the beach. This wasn’t easy, but was pretty exciting. Over the course of days when I was shooting this beach, I had been scaling rocks, walking over beds of mussels (for traction), jumping over large and small tide pools, dodging (or getting smacked by) waves — all to position myself for a good composition. When I scaled the left side of the beach to the right side of it, it included doing all of those things I described, but to a larger scale. I had to literally scale up a mountain to get over a wide swath of seawater, then jump down to a mussel covered rock to get into the right position. I felt pretty comfortable shooting from where I was, except that I had to remember that the tide was slowly rising and soon I may not have a path back to shore.
All that adventure was for this next shot. It shows the King from different angles than I have shown so far — and he again looks very different (and especially foreboding). I used a relatively slow shutter speed of a half second to show the water crashing up against and swirling around the rocks. In the distance, I placed the setting super full moon in a “V” shape of the rocks near the King. The size of the moon should give you an idea of how grand the King looked from this angle:
After that shot, I decided to call it a night and rise in the morning for one last try at Shi Shi. Cloud cover came over the park at night so photography was less of an option.
The next morning, I shifted compositions to try to catch something new. I’ve mentioned a few times about the low tide providing access to the shore at Shi Shi beach and its sea stacks. But low tides also give a glimpse into tide pools and the array of life in them. This next shot shows a view into the busy worlds beneath and above the water. I particularly like how the green sea anemones form a inverse column from the King sea stack. I used the pinks and greens of the kelp and sea bush to frame the anemones, and the cloud passing in the distance to frame the sea stack. This is another one of my favorites from the trip:
Here’s a close up of a sea anemone, with shadows cast on it from the sun through sea grass.
My last shot at Shi Shi Beach was taken when I shifted my attention away from the compelling sea stacks and towards the land and forest. In a previous shot far away from the north end of the beach, I noticed a dramatic cliff far in the distance. Up close, this cliff is much more fantastic, with its trees starkly contrasted with the mountains in the distance. The cloud passing by add a bit of balance and framing of the image:
After I was done shooting… I bid Shi Shi goodbye and hiked back through the trail back to my car. My next destination was Second Beach, another venue on the coast with differing sea stacks and tide pools. That area was near the town of Forks, famous for its Twilight series of vampire movies. In case you ever forgot that, just visit Forks and you’ll be reminded .
On the way there, I passed over several bridges and small rivers. This next scene was particularly interesting to me, as a rainforest tree seemed to dip into the emerald-colored mountain water:
It took me a while to get out of Shi Shi and over to Forks. I had hoped to catch the sunset at Second Beach, but time was running out. I decided to head straight to my motel. Then, right as I was checking in, I looked outside and saw an incredible magenta and orange sunset! You can imagine how mad I was that I was not on the beach for this:
I grit my teeth and decided that it was OK… I had many more chances to get conditions like that sunset and was going to start early in the morning.
When I got into my motel room, I finally stopped to look at myself. After 3 days and 2 nights of trekking in the mud, running on the beach, ducking past the waves, and scaling up mountains, I was DIRTY and WORN. The best part was my shoes and gaiters, which were caked in mud:
The next morning, I headed straight for Second Beach. The hike to the beach was about 10 minutes, but that seemed like a cakewalk after my days at Shi Shi. The real challenge to getting to the beach is the heap of logs that you have to scale to get to the sand. These are trees, that over the course of time, died, fell into the water, and were washed ashore by the powerful ocean. It’s quite amazing to think about.
Once I got onto the sand, I immediately realized why photographers love that beach. During low tide, the sand usually under the water is transformed into a large, flat field. Water frequently scales far inland from the waves and slowly sweeps back into the sea. When after the water sweeps back into the ocean, the wetness creates a sheen cover on the sand that reflects the sky. These phenomena provide great opportunities for dramatic shots.
In this first shot, I captured the sweep of the water back into the sea. Pockets of foam created a “grate” shape that I find intriguing:
This next one is a view of another sea stack, with the water receding back into the ocean. However, the water moved more calmly and produced less foam, allowing it to reflect the sea stack on the sand. The the curve of the water on the beach and from the wave in the distance give the image a bit more intrigue:
After I got some images of the vista, I walked closer to the water and noticed a single rock getting slammed every few moments by the waves. During smaller waves, water simply rushed around the rock. As I got closer to the rock, I noticed a family of star fish gathered closely. I set my tripod up to shoot a long exposure of this scene, but kept getting blurred images. That was not only because the waves were crashing against the tripod, but that the sand that it stood on was sinking from my weight. Though it took quite a while and several instances of me running from the water with a camera & tripod in a vice grip, but I finally got this image of the water misting up to the family of starfish:
A bit more exploring up on the shore led me to more starfish families and my last image on this second of three blog posts on Olympic National Park. I was really intrigued by the intricate texture and pattern of the starfish. I was so fascinated that I kind of petted one — which felt like bumpy leather . I took this shot to bring attention to the pattern and texture of the starfish, and their variance in color. This is a macro of four starfish grouped together; if you look closely you can see grains of sand in the ridges of the starfish that are laced with water (which is blue, reflecting the color of the sky):
I hope you enjoyed part 2 on this series on Olympic National Park. Remember, if you haven’t read the first entry, please check it out here. I’ll be wrapping up this series with the third and final post within the next few days.
Thanks for looking!
This past March, I went on a photography expedition at Olympic National Park, which is on the Northwest coast of the United States, about 140 miles (or about 3 and a half hours) from Seattle, Washington and surrounding the Twilight movie town of Forks. I spent four nights camping and touring the park, and photographed scenes on the rugged coastlines of Shi Shi and Second beaches and Point of the Arches. I also captured some shots of the Hoh rainforests and of alpine forests. I used various photography techniques including timed exposures and bracketing and used modifiers such as lens filters and extenders to record these images. Over this and two more blog posts, I’ll guide you through my time at the park, and some of the moments I photographed.
Please visit the NPS website for a more detailed map.
I flew into Seattle on a Thursday night, and first thing in the morning, I was off to Port Angeles to meet a photographer who accompanied me for portions of the trip. We continued on to Neah Bay to get to Shi Shi Beach, a beautiful coastline set with towering sea stacks and, at that particular time of the month, very low tides. I spent most of my time on the trip at this beach, waiting for the right conditions to get best possible shot.
Getting to Shi Shi Beach is no easy feat. The beach itself is on the Makah Native American reservation, which requires a permit to enter, and the nearest place to park is about 3 miles hike from the beach itself (and actually in someone’s back yard). The trail to the beach starts with wooden bridges for about a mile that wind above a greenish swamp, then a flat two miles on towards the beach. The path is in the middle of the Olympic’s temperate rainforest (one of only four in the world; the others being in southern Chile, western British Columbia and New Zealand), which means that once off of the wooden planks, the way is incredibly wet and muddy. I brought gaiters and waterproof hiking books to guard myself from the mud I knew I would step through, but nothing would prepare me for what actually happened.
Every few hundred yards of the muddy path, the trail would transform into a flooded marsh. Every now and again, I’d see someone trying to tip toe from rock to wood to try to avoid the inevitable: sloshing knee deep in mud. While at first this was uncomfortable, I quickly warmed up to the adventure and pushed ahead.
In retrospect, I wish I had taken some shots of my experience with the path on my ways in and out of Shi Shi — not only to include the mud marshes but the skunk cabbage, which were a pleasing yellow contrast, in dark brown pools surrounded by green foliage. However, I was always in such a hurry to catch the light on the beach that my camera was firmly holstered in my pack. So that leaves you 800 words in with 0 shots .
I finally reached the beach near the evening. I set down my stuff in the woods near the beginning of the trailhead and head straight to the coast.
As I neared the section of the beach where the sea stacks were, I finally started snapping some shots of the impressive landscape. Here’s the first, which shows a reflection of the steep hill that separates the area of the beach where I camped with the more interesting northern area of Shi Shi:
As I climbed atop that hill to and faced the north end of the beach, I got a slightly closer view of the sea stacks in the distance, contrasted with the grassy perch and its coupled set of trees:
As I mentioned, I timed my trip so that it coincided with very low tides. Why did I do this? Well, much of the Western Olympic Coast is only accessible during low tide. During other times, the water rises high enough to almost completely rule out exploration. Also, low tides reveal pools along the coast that are filled with life: kelp, sea anemones, and starfish among others. Here’s my first shot of the life in the tide pools. This was taken near sunset (but against the sun, such that it blew out the detail in the shot). If you look closely you can see the evidence of the rainfall that would soon drown out the sunset and its color:
That’s probably the third time you’ve noticed the large sea stack that dominates Shi Shi Beach. This thing is an absolute gorgeous geologic structure. What’s especially unique about it (and beneficial from a photographic standpoint) is how different it looks from varying angles. You’d barely know you’re looking at the same structure if you saw it from one side or the other. Needless to say, this sea stack was the star subject for me in my time at Shi Shi… so much so that I named it the “King” of the beach (corny I know but YOU HAVE TO SEE IT!).
As the sun set and the rain set in, the beach lost a lot of its color. In fact, many times I found the western coast of Olympic National Park lacking in color and contrast, except for in lucky moments when the light complied. To catch that colorful and intriguing light was the reason I returned to Shi Shi so many times at sunrise and sunset.
Though the color faded, the subjects themselves remained spectacular and I was still able to get some pretty cool shots. In this next one, I silhouetted the sea stack in the foreground to bring emphasis to the group of sea stacks in the distance, at Point of the Arches. I used a long exposure (as I did for several of my coastal shots) to mist the water:
In this next one, I zeroed in on some of the low lying western facing rocks. To me, the scene is like a miniature mountain range in the sea. This bluish color is the one that dominated the scene as the clouds covered the sun:
After the light faded, I made my way back to camp. I also timed my trip around the time of the month when the moon was fullest. This made for some interesting night shot opportunities.
The first of these night shots was a zoom in of the family of sea stacks at Shi Shi Beach. The scene immediately struck me as eerily beautiful. It seems to me like an otherworldly cityscape made of wind, water, and rock — rising high above the fog and mist below. Note that this shot was taken around 9:30pm and its just the moon that is illuminating it so much. Note also the window through the sea stack on the right:
I then shot another from a slightly wider angle. Showing the trees on the ridge and the water on the beach, this shot brings a bit more earthly sense than the last. Note the layers that the mist creates in the rocks and cliffs on the right:
As I turned my attention back south, I noticed that the clouds that had dominated the scene since sunset were clearing towards the stars. While the mist of the coast blocked much of the starlight near the horizon, I was able to catch these stars that shone high above the Point of the Arches:
I then tried to get a closer look at Point of the Arches from Shi Shi Beach. This next shot reminded me again of an alien type of skyline or city — but with a bit more earthly elements given the trees that grew from the sea stacks in the distance. I really like how each segment of the line of sea stacks has its own character and adds to the depth of the shot:
By the time I finally made it back to camp, it was past 12am. That normally wouldn’t be a problem — but when you’re setting your sleep schedule to sunrise times, it does turn out to be quite late. Now as I mentioned, I had never really camped much before. One thing I can say after this trip is BUNDLE UP. Because all evening I had the ocean slapping up against me, the rain pouring over me, and the humidity of the rainforest sticking to my body, I never dried up at all my first night. Combine that dampness with 30 degree winter temperatures at night, and it equaled me shivering my butt off in my tent. It was quite an experience. Because I do this so infrequently, I had to get a shot of my campsite — with my large tent in the foreground and the other photographer’s in the back. I shot this in nearly complete darkness except for the faint hints of moonlight:
The next morning, I rose for the sunrise and headed straight back to the north end of Shi Shi Beach, hoping this time for a bit more color. And… my hopes were answered!
I had spent much of the last evening scouting my shooting location. I had a pretty specific shot in mind, until the sunrise colors finally made their way to the beach.
As I was watching the sea stacks, waiting for the sun to rise above the horizon and light the western rocks, beautiful pastel hues of pink and green swept in from behind. The most beautiful and colorful light fell slightly short of the King and surrounding sea stacks and I HAD to shift my camera to catch its beauty. Unfortunately, the area where this light shone only had some complementary geologic formations. In this shot, the pink from the sky mixed with the green colors within the water and blended rather smoothly:
After I got a few shots where the light was best, I shifted my attention back to the King and my initial composition. Elements of the colorful light shone one the scene and really gave it some character. In this next shot, note the green from the water in the left of the shot, and the pink in the clouds that was reflected on the right side of the water. A clearing in the clouds lent a little blue as well. I used a 1/8 second shutter speed to emphasize the violent motion of the waves crashing in:
Coasts give a great opportunity to shoot at long exposures — some of which I’ve already shown. Water (especially) and clouds can be “painted” with light to create surreal images. In this next shot (which is pretty much the same composition as the last), I used a 10-stop neutral density filter, to allow me to capture a very long exposure without overexposing it. The neutral density filter also did a great job of pulling the pink elements of the sunrise forward. This one is one of my favorite images from my trip:
Like I mentioned, low tides exposed shallow tide pools where life thrives. Stay tuned to the next part of this blog series for much more on that. Here, though is a different take on some of those scenes. In this shot, I made the King and the background sky black and white, while leaving the starfish in color. Just an experimentation that I think turned out relatively well:
The last shot in this multi-part blog series is another long exposure with a neutral density filter. After I took the above images, I scaled the exposed rocks on the beach, looking for a new venue to shoot from. When I saw water creeping from one tide pool to the next, slowly bubbling and swirling, I knew exactly what I wanted to shoot. What I got, besides an angle where the King looked different — ended up looking like a satellite view of a hurricane:
So, that’s what I’ve got for round 1 of the blog posts from my trip to Olympic National Park. Stay tuned for the next in the series!!
A month or so ago, I was contacted by the owner of a Charlottesville, VA-based company, Indigo Night.
This company creates prints that illustrate the night sky as it actually looks at a given time and place. Add to that a personalized message and a quality frame, and you have a pretty special piece of art on the wall.
To clearly illustrate the place from which the sky is seen on an Indigo Night print, the company uses high resolution images of that locale’s horizon. Locales can include both generic venues (like a desert) and cities.
It just so happened that the owner of this company had been searching far and wide for a unique image of the Washington, D.C. skyline and its monuments. For a some years, he had little luck . Through a Google images search, he stumbled upon my site and found the view he was looking for.
A few weeks later, and Indigo Night has transformed one of my images into a horizon for their Washington, D.C. night sky! You can check it out here (where you will have to select “Places from Q-Z” under the “Horizon” drop down and then choose “Washington DC”). You might see a resemblance to one of my images:
Thanks to Indigo Night for licensing my image! Good luck to them in their very creative business.
I recently had a few of my shots of Eden DC published in the May/June edition of DC Magazine. The exposure is pretty exciting for me so I thought I’d share it here as well. I’m looking forward to picking up a couple print editions too!
Scroll to page 64 of the digital mag, here.
Thanks to the guys at Eden for the opportunity. Looking forward to what’s next!
Recently, I was chatting with a friend who is new to photography with an SLR. After shooting an event for the first time, she came away underwhelmed with the images she captured.
We then got into some of the details of why the shots didn’t appear as she had wanted. When she mentioned how frustrated she was at choosing the manual settings (aperture, shutter speed, and ISO), I thought back to my own frustrations when I first started. I, like she, had heard these buzz words but hadn’t quite made the connection of how they would affect my images.
So, I thought I would dedicate this post to give a how-to and introduction, with examples, to the basics of digitial photography with an SLR: aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. Granted, there is a ton of literature out on the internet, but this may help you or anyone you know who’s interested in taking the next step in photography. These are just the very basics, though — there are many more nuances to shooting that I can get into in later posts.
One thing to keep in mind: photography literally means recording of light. Everything you do is related to that. There are elements within your camera and lenses that play the light differently: aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages. That said, there is no one combination of the three that will produce the best image; you will adjust each of the three according to the light conditions and your creative vision.
We can start with probably the most complex of the three elements I’ll cover: Aperture. Aperture is the size of the hole of light opened or closed by the lens. Adjusting the aperture either darkens or brightens the image (as you are changing the amount of light that shines on the camera’s sensor at a given moment), and increases or decreases depth of field.
Part of this discussion on aperture requires a bit of knowledge on depth of field. In a nutshell, you can think of depth of field in planes that are perpendicular to your line of vision through the lens. The more space covered within that plane, the more subjects nearer and further from you will be in focus. Decreasing depth of field reduces the depth of the perpendicular plane that starts at your point of focus, just as increasing the depth of field increases that perpendicular plane.
When would you want to increase or decrease the aperture? Generally, you would adjust your aperture to achieve a certain depth of field effect. Let’s say you only want a small plane within the scene in focus, and the rest blurred out (and achieve an effect known as bokeh). You would increase your aperture, by (confusingly) lowering your aperture number (from f/11 to f/2.8, for example). Here’s an example of an image with a large or wide aperture. Using f/2.8 at 100mm, only the snow-capped post is in focus; the lights in the background blurred out:
What if you DIDN’T want any of the planes within scene out of focus, say if you were shooting a beach scene or other landscape. You probably guessed it, instead of widening the aperture, you would “stop it down” to a smaller aperture setting. This would mean increasing your aperture number from say f/2.8 to f/11. Here’s an example of an image with a smaller aperture. Using f/22 at 17mm, the rock (close in the foreground), the kids (somewhere in the middle of the plane), and the clouds (in the back of the plane – “infinity”) are all in focus:
There are other considerations to note when choosing your aperture.
- Focal length – As you may have noticed, I included my focal length in the descriptions of the shallow and deep depth of field shots. Shorter focal lengths will generally provide you a deeper depth of field than longer focal lengths (meaning more of your shot can be in focus). This is especially true as the subject is closer to the camera. So, it’s no surprise that landscape photographers often like to shoot in wide angles — coupled with the fact that they also probably want to capture a grander vista.
- Amount of available light – The amount of light available also dictates what your aperture setting may be. You may prefer to shoot a sunset at f/11, but given that there’s so much light still available, you might have to stop down to a lower aperture so that light doesn’t wash away details in your shot.
- Diffraction - you may want to stop down to the lowest aperture, say f/32, to get the maximum depth of field for your image. However, there is a point in which too small an aperture has an adverse effect on sharpness. The aperture value that provides the greatest depth of field and the lowest diffraction differs for each lens – unfortunately there is no ‘one size fits all’
2) Shutter Speed
Shutter speed is a relatively simple concept. It is the amount of time the camera’s shutter is open, therefore shining light on the camera’s sensor and recording an image.
Why would you want to increase or decrease your shutter speed? Generally, you’d want to adjust this value to “freeze” or “paint” motion within your picture. If you wanted to capture a single droplet of water splashing up from the ocean, or a bird zooming by a mountain, or another fast moving subject dashing across your frame, you would want to use a fast shutter speed that spans only a fraction of a second. Here’s an example of where I used a fast shutter speed, capturing birds flying by the St. Francis Cathedral in Lima, Peru a shutter speed of 1/1000th of a second:
The opposite of freezing motion is to paint or blur it. When you use a slower shutter speed, the camera records movement as it happens across the frame. You can think of it like the many frames that make up a movie — except that instead of a moving image that shows each frame exclusively and in succession, a still image stacks each frame on top of the last. You are, in essence, viewing all the frames of the movie in a single picture.
Why would you ever want to record an image this way? Simple…for artistic effect. A long exposure can streak clouds across the sky, soften reflections in water, and paint people or other living beings. Here’s an example of a shot I took at around 9pm in Georgetown, Washington, DC. I used a shutter speed of 10 seconds (which, for a long exposure, is relatively short) to show cars whizzing by and people walking down the sidewalks:
There some things to note when choosing your shutter speed.
- Stability of your camera – If you are shooting a fast moving object and are choosing a fast shutter speed, you likely can “hand hold” the shot by simply pointing and shooting like you probably already do. However, if you are trying to paint the light and your subject and want to use a longer exposure, you will need to stabilize your camera using a tripod (or something similar) to avoid unintended camera shake and blur.The general rule of determining whether or not you can hand hold your shot is if you are using an X mm lens, you should use a shutter speed of at least 1/X seconds to avoid unintended camera shake and blur. Therefore, if you are using a 100mm lens for example, you should use a shutter speed of 1/100th of a second or faster. If you want to shoot at a slower speed than the rule allows, you should set it upon a ledge or attach your camera to a tripod or monopod. That way, the only thing that’s moving is your subject, and you only get the blur you want.
- Amount of available light - As I mentioned, adjusting the shutter speed adjusted the amount of light that shines on the sensor; as you lower the speed and increase the exposure, more light is let in and leads to a brighter picture. The opposite goes for when you increase the speed and decrease the exposure – you achieve a darker image. You may want to increase or decrease your shutter speed to achieve an effect, but the light available might not be suitable.For example, you may want to paint the motion of the water flowing from a waterfall, but there may be too much light to capture the image without overbrightening (“blowing out”) the details. That is when lens filters, such as polarizers, neutral density filters, or graduated filters (the last of which are becoming less relevant with increased use of exposure blending and HDR) come in handy.Similarly, you may want to freeze the motion of a subject by using a faster shutter speed, but there may not be enough light available to see the image properly. To compensate for this, you may adjust your aperture (by “opening up” from f/10 to f/2.8, for example) — so long as you are okay with changes to the image’s depth of field. If you don’t want to change the image’s depth of field or adjustments to the aperture are not sufficient to make your image bright enough, you could change the last value I will introduce in this post, the ISO.
ISO is probably the simplest of the three elements to consider of the three elements of photography. ISO is the value of the camera sensor’s sensitivity to light. A lower ISO reduces the sensor’s sensitivity to light and produces a smoother image, while a higher ISO increases the sensor’s sensitivity to light and produces a grainier image.
Why would you want to increase or decrease your ISO setting? It depends solely on the amount of available light. In all cases, you want to choose the lowest ISO setting as possible. This will ensure that your image is free of grain and as sharp as possible. If your desired aperture and shutter speed settings, coupled with your lowest ISO, do not produce a bright enough image with enough detail, you tick up your ISO as appropriate. At some point, too high of an ISO setting will produce more grain than is acceptable; that threshold is dictated by your camera body (and its image sensor size) and not your lenses.
Of course, there are other things to keep in mind when choosing your ISO.
- Stability of your camera – sometimes you may feel like bringing and/or using your tripod and sometimes you may not. Often times, though, you can eliminate the need for increasing your ISO by stabilizing your camera on a ledge, tripod, or monopod. That will allow you to increase your shutter speed to allow more light to hit the sensor, and will allow you to decrease the light sensitivity value via your ISO setting. However, if you plan on shooting a fast moving subject, making the shutter speed slower will not be an option, and aperture or ISO will be your only remaining choices.
- Tones of your image – generally, brighter tones (e.g., whites) don’t suffer as much from the grain of a high ISO setting as darker tones (e.g., black). If you plan on shooting a relatively bright image, you can be more liberal with any ISO increase.
Here’s an example of an image I had to take at a high ISO. This picture is a “macro” (meaning close up) of a very small flower (about the size of a dime) in slightly larger petals. In order to freeze the motion of this incredibly small flower which was flapping all over the frame from the wind, AND get enough depth of field to have it acceptably in focus, I had to choose a shutter speed of 1/800th of a second and a depth of field of f/6.3. Any slower of a shutter speed and the flower would have unintended motion blur; any wider of an aperture and the flower would not be acceptably in focus. Actually, the depth of field was so tricky on this subject that I had to “focus stack”, meaning take several pictures at different focuses and blend them, to get this image truly acceptably in focus. The only option I had to pull in enough light to make the image bright enough, given my strict parameters for shutter speed and depth of field, was to increase my ISO to 4000. This ended up working out great, though you can see some grain in the darker parts of the image:
Well, there you have it. I hope you feel like this was an informative post that helps to clarify some of the mysteries when starting out in photography. As you have probably noticed, the moral of the story is there is no one “golden” setting to always use when taking pictures. You have to balance your creative juices with available lighting conditions. There is obviously much more to this story, including planning for the best light, using sources of artificial light, and using processing techniques. The rabbit hole of things to learn about photography winds far down a path, but I guess that’s why photography has gripped the attention of so many people across the world. Now, perhaps you can understand why many people argue that quality photography is not all in money spent on lenses and cameras.
Please comment if you have any questions or thought this post was helpful.
Till next time…
I recently returned from a trip to Washington State, where I photographed the Pacific Northwestern Coast. As I sift through and process the images, I thought I’d give just a teaser of what’s to come.
This shot was from Forks, Washington. Those of you who are familiar with the Twilight series are aware that Forks is where much of the story is set. Towards the end of my trip, I spent a couple of nights in this cozy town (which had plenty of stores and promotions dedicated to the Vampire novels and movies). On this particular evening, I didn’t have time to make it to the coast in time to shoot the sunset. As I was cursing myself and asking WHY DOES THE MOST BEAUTIFUL SUNSET HAVE TO HAPPEN WHEN I’M NOT WHERE I AM SUPPOSED TO BE, I took a minute to breathe and decided to capture what I could.
Enjoy… and stay tuned.
As some may know, this weekend I’m on a photography and camping trip to Olympic National Park outside Seattle.
Hopefully, I will learn more nuances of landscape photography and come back with some nice shots.
Wish me luck!
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