Where the Water Flows

I make no secret of the fact that I love photos of flowing waterAnd I also make no secret of the fact that I’m a big fan of using slow shutter speeds to create that “silky water” effect.

Just recently I got myself a better tripod (and a nice ballhead to go with it), and ever since then I’ve been playing around with this technique a bit more.

benro a0580f tripod

I also just recently picked up an ND filter (“neutral density” – basically sunglasses for your lens) and decided to try it out.

ND filters are typically used to darkens a scene evenly, allowing for a slower shutter speed – which lets you blur out any movement… such as flowing water.

little stream flowing

Previously, I’d been using my circular polarizing filter as a sort of poor-man’s ND filter. I could still use slow shutter speeds, but I was still somewhat limited by the available light – if it was too bright, I wouldn’t be able to use as slow of a shutter speed as I would have liked. The above photo, for example, was taken in the shade under a bridge in order to allow me the slow shutter speed I wanted.

So when the weather warmed up a bit this past weekend and I found myself at a local park with some streams and rocky cascades, I just had to give it a try.

rocky cascade on Rhinehart Brook

For a first try, I’m pretty pleased with how these came out. The thing with using slower shutter speeds is that… well, you are using slower shutter speeds – which means you really need to hold the camera steady. In other words, you almost always need to use a tripod (and, ideally, a remote cable release).

Unfortunately, I didn’t have either of those things with me the day I took these shots – these shots are entirely hand-held.

small cascade on Rhinehart Brook

Luckily the exposures I was using weren’t too terribly long, so I was able to get away with hand-holding – but I did have to get a bit creative with how I steadied the camera! The shot above, for example, was taken with the camera resting on the side of my shoe as I sat cross-legged on a rock!

little cascade on Rhinehart Brook

I’m not sure why I’m so fond of this particular type of photographic effect, but I do know that it’s something I’ve been trying to do pretty much ever since I first picked up a digital camera.

Long exposures in general are just kind of fun – to me they imply motion where none exists in a way that I just find really compelling.

In the end of course this is just my taste – I like these kinds of photos, and more importantly I enjoy taking these kinds of photos.

The Hidden Worlds in our Own Backyards

So recently I took a little photowalk along the river behind my condo complex. As I was setting out, I noticed a path heading in a direction I’d never seen before, and I decided to take it.

deer print

Right away I was rewarded with seeing some deer prints in the sand beside the river, which is not very unusual because deer are very common in New Jersey.

water's edge

Still, it was very nice beside the water’s edge, with the sound of the river flowing and the crickets chirping in the early Summer evening.

the river is ... low

The river was rather low though, because it’s been such a dry summer, which meant I could get to some places I normally wouldn’t be able to.

a way across

I eventually found a way across a little side stream, which led me further upstream…

a steep slope

…and then I found the path took a sharp turn up a steep slope, which – strangely enough! – had a rope tied off to help you climb up it. Very strange, considering you normally can’t get over here…

looking down the slope

Once I was up, the path wound on a bit further, which led me to a bit of a… smelly… surprise.

the bog of eternal stench

Although all it had in common was the bad smell, I’m still calling this place the “bog of eternal stench.”

By this point, things were starting to feel a little weird – this was a strange new place, and it’d gone very quiet – you couldn’t hear the sounds of cars on the road where I’d parked, and the air had taken on that strange still feeling that you get in the deep countryside in late summer.

tiny fairy forest on a log in the bog

Looking a bit closer, I saw that the log that was lying in the bog (heh) had a lot of growth on it, which looked really neat, so I (very carefully) climbed out there to take a closer look. I honestly wouldn’t have been surprised to see faeries or smurfs or something like that crawling around.

someone marked out a path

Still, despite all of this, the path was clearly marked, although I don’t know who had done this.

everything is overgrown with green

As I moved further, you could just see that everything was absolutely covered with green, like an overgrown ruin of some sort…

overgrown structure

Eventually I stumbled across this strange structure, although I think you can guess what it is.

secret entrance

The trail briefly exited onto a road at this point, and I turned around and almost couldn’t find the path I’d just come out of!

another hidden entrance

It really was a very well hidden entrance.

drain pool

Heading back (somewhat) the way I came, I found myself next to this surprisingly pleasant pool (aside from the inevitable bugs).

At this point I had to retrace my steps somewhat, and returned to the path beside the river.

lone bench

That’s when I stumbled across this – a lone bench, sitting beside the river, on a section of riverbank that normally would be submerged. Suffice to say, I was rather surprised to see it there.

bench and river

That said, it was a lovely place to sit and admire the river.

summer river

The water was really calm at this point, and the reflections of the trees in the late afternoon sun was really just beautiful.

strange fire marking stone

But then I noticed this weird stone next to the bench, with this odd symbol carved onto it.

I began to wonder if I had wandered into some strange world.

more rope guides

The path continued on, with more rope guides…

overgrown remains of a ladder

Then, things became overgrown again – this time, the overgrown remains of a ladder.

the path keeps going on

And yet, the path continued on…

under the log

At one point, the path went under this giant fallen tree, but as soon as I stepped under it, things didn’t feel quite the same anymore, and I heard the sounds of people again, so I decided this was the end of this path, and turned back and took a different branch.

washed out bridge

This time, I followed a ravine, where I saw a washed out bridge – no doubt this was why everything felt so isolated.

deer

another deer

Unsurprisingly, I ran into some more deer. Although I was actually quite close to them, I did not have a zoom lens on (it’s too dark for my zoom lenses) so I had to crop a bit to get these pictures.

little bridge and on to the other side

The ravine eventually narrowed and another, smaller bridge crossed it.

the path back to civilization

This brought me out briefly to a path where the grass had been recently mowed. If you look closely, you can even see a groundhog I ran into – he waddled off back into the undergrowth after a brief staring contest with me.

overgrown stone path

The path then branched back into the woods, and once again things became green and overgrown.

stones overgrown on the path

At times the path was so overgrown that the occasional stone popping up was my only guide to keep me on the almost-vanished path.

path through the green

It was a very inspiring journey, but eventually I found myself heading back the way I came.

back to the human world

And then, at last, I was back where I started, at the bridge crossing the river, and the sounds of the ordinary world returned, and everything seemed just a little bit duller.

Still, it was an interesting adventure, and a reminder of the hidden worlds we can all find in our own backyards, if we’re just willing to look.

 

Same Picture, Different Lenses

More experiments with digital photography – this time, learning the differences that different lenses (and different focal lengths) produce!

It’s winter around here at the moment, and there’s not much to do outside. So I’ve been spending some time playing around with my new lenses, and learning what kind of effects they have.

And what better way to experiment than to take pictures of… my bookshelf?

my manga shelf 3

This first picture (above) was taken with my kit zoom lens, at its widest setting (14mm). It’s an OK shot, but because the lens I used here is so wide (and the bookshelf itself is so short), it isn’t terribly interesting.

manga shelf - sayonara, zetsubou sensei

This next picture (above) was taken with my 20mm (f/1.7) prime lens. I like this picture a lot more, because the longer focal length (narrower field of view) works better with the size of my shelf, and helps keep the books themselves as the focus (if you’ll pardon the pun) of the picture. Also, the nice shallow depth of field helps bring attention to just the set of books in the middle there, which I like as well.

my manga shelf 2

This picture (above) was again taken with my kit zoom lens, again at 14mm. This one is a little bit better than the first one, but it’s still not terribly interesting, because the books on the left are still too much in focus, even though they are not the ones I was pointing at. Still not bad, but not great either.

manga shelf - lucky star

This final one was taken with my 20mm prime lens. Unlike the first two pictures, I actually took this one from a slightly different position – I backed up a bit – to make up for the narrower field of view. So even though you can actually see a little bit more of the shelf, the books in the middle (my Lucky Star collection) are in sharp focus, but the rest of the books both to the left and right are out of focus. This keeps your attention squarely where I wanted it, and is exactly what I wanted to do.

By performing these experiments, I’ve really gotten an intuitive feel for what sort of results I’ll get with each lens, and with the different focal lengths (and, of course, f-stops). Sure, I knew intellectually what should happen, but until I see it in action, I don’t really get a feel for it – and I’m one of those sorts of people who learns best by seeing & doing.

There’s still more for me to learn about photography, but these experiments are a neat (and fun!) way to learn (and understand) techniques and give meaning to all the often confusing terminology used in the world of photography. I highly recommend trying some experiments of your own – you might be surprised at what you can learn!

(If you’re interested, you can see all the pictures I took (along with others in my office) here.)

Depth of Field Experiments – Parts 2 and 3

More experiments into understanding and controlling depth of field (or the lack thereof) – this time, with my new camera and new lenses!

You might remember my previous experiments with depth of field – well, with my new camera (and new lenses), I decided to re-run those experiments.

As a refresher, this is the result of my first experiment with trying to control depth of field:

depth of field experiment 2 (wine)

This was taken with my old Canon PowerShot S3 IS camera, with an aperture of f/3.5, an exposure of 1/8th of a second, and a focal length of 25.2mm (equivalent to 159mm in traditional 35mm terms).

In other words, to get this effect, I had to zoom in a bit and set the focus as close as I could to the front bottle of wine. Even so, the bottles in the back, although blurred, were still identifiable. My old camera (like most point & shoot or non-interchangeable lens cameras) was just not capable of creating very shallow depth of field (at least, outside of super-macro mode when focusing on something only an inch away from the lens).

When I got my new camera, one of the first things I did was re-run this experiment.

dof experiment - final result

This was the best I could do with the stock (kit) lens that came with my new camera. This was taken with my Panasonic Lumix DMC-G2 camera, using a 14-42mm (28-84mm in 35mm terms) f/3.5-5.6 zoom lens. The aperture was f/3.5 (as in my previous experiment) and the exposure was 1/13th of a second, with a focal length of 42mm (84mm equivalent).

As you can see, the results were pretty much the same as in my original experiment, with perhaps a little bit more background blur, due largely to the fact that my new camera has a larger sensor (and thus, as I’ve mentioned before, the same f-stop number actually means a slightly larger physical aperture).

More recently, however, I got a new, faster lens (that is, one with a larger aperture – meaning, a smaller maximum f-stop number). Specifically, I got a 20mm (40mm equiv.) f/1.7 lens.

Naturally, almost as soon as I got it, I tried re-running my experiment again. (I was in a bit of a hurry though, so I didn’t pull out all my wine bottles; instead I opted for just one.) This was the result:

depth-of-field experiment - take 3

The larger aperture (smaller f-number) of this new lens gives a very, very shallow depth of field, allowing me to completely blur out the background.

This picture was taken at the same place as all the others, but now the background (in particular, the orange & red wall hanging) is much, much more blurred out – almost to the point where you can’t make out what it is.

This last picture’s technical details are: 20mm (40mm equiv.), f/1.7, and 1/50th of a second exposure.

As you can see, with the much larger aperture, I was finally able to achieve that shallow depth of field I’d always wanted.

Even though this new lens has a fixed focal length (a.k.a. it’s a “prime” lens, meaning it can’t zoom at all), it is now my go-to lens, especially for indoors photos. That’s because, in addition to the nice shallow depth of field, the larger aperture also means it lets in more light, which lets me take photos in low light (e.g., indoors) at a faster shutter speed (and also, lower ISO setting) than my other lens or my old camera could.

In the end, all these experiments with depth of field and different lenses (and cameras!) have taught me a lot, and helped me get a “gut feeling” understanding of depth of field and focus and how they relate to one another. (Time will tell whether this actually leads to taking better photos.)

New Year, New Camera

Keith gets a new camera, and proceeds to totally geek out over it, as expected.

OK, so it’s not quite the new year yet… but it’s close enough. I finally decided to pick up that camera I’d been looking at – a Panasonic Lumix DMC-G2 – and it arrived yesterday. So even before the battery is finished charging, I’d already started taking comparison pictures. (Why yes, I am a huge geek, why do you ask?)

canon powershot s3 is vs panasonic lumix dmc-g2 - from above

As you can see, the new Lumix DMC-G2 is almost exactly the same size (and weight) as my venerable old PowerShot S3 IS. This is great for me because I don’t need to buy a new camera bag or anything – it fits just fine in the bag I already have. Also, I don’t have to worry about straining my neck while carrying this thing, since it’s almost exactly the same weight as well. A big fancy camera is nice and all, until you have to lug it around all day on your neck.

canon powershot s3 is vs panasonic lumix dmc-g2 - from the rear

Like my old Canon, the Lumix has an electronic viewfinder built-in along with a swivel screen, both of which are features I really like. The Lumix does have a few more buttons on it, but it’s not really that many more.

canon powershot s3 is vs panasonic lumix dmc-g2 - from the front

Here’s a front view of the two cameras side-by-side – old vs. new. I keep the extension tube on the Canon all the time, which is why it looks almost the same size. If it wasn’t attached, the Canon would be much shorter – although when the camera is on, the zoom lens does extend a bit.

my new camera - lumix dmc g2

I opted to buy the “kit” lens to start with – it’s a 14mm-42mm f3.5-5.6 lens (with the 2x crop factor in Micro Four Thirds cameras, this means it’s equivalent to a 28mm-84mm lens on a more traditional SLR camera).

Some people look down at kit lenses, and I can understand why. Since the kit lens is often the first lens you own, you want to use it for everything (it’s often the ONLY lens you own, at least at first), so it needs to be reasonably good at many things… which of course tends to mean that it’s not particularly great at any one thing.

However, I wouldn’t knock this lens – I may not have much experience with interchangeable lenses, but this one seems quite solid, it’s not too heavy, and (so far anyway) the pictures it produces are quite nice and free of noticeable aberrations.

Eventually I’ll want to pick up a so-called “pancake” lens (a fast one – that is, one with a very low maximum f-stop number, meaning a very large maximum aperture) with a fixed focal length, but for now, this lens will do.

my new camera - lumix dmc g2 - back (showing swivel screen)

As I may have mentioned before, the screen on the DMC-G2 is not just a swivel screen, it’s also a touch screen, which is very clever. You can just touch the screen to set the auto-focus point, which is really, really, really easy compared to using the 4-way controller and the menus to move it around.

I doubt I’ll use the touch screen for more than the focusing, though. Most of the other menus are just as easy to get to using the 4-way controller, and that way I don’t have to get the screen dirty.

my new camera - lumix dmc g2 (back view)

One nice thing about this camera compared to my old one is that the eyepiece for the viewfinder sticks out a bit more – this makes it more comfortable to look through, since your nose is not squished up against the back of the camera. Very nice.

my new camera - lumix dmc g2 - left front view (with lens cap off)

For now, I’m leaving the lens hood on, but very soon I’ll pick up some UV filters for the end, and I think I’ll keep them on – I’ve never been a fan of keeping the lens hood on your camera all the time.

Fortunately, some of my old filters can still be used on this camera. My ND-Grad filters, for example, came with 2 mounts and 2 adapter rings, one for a 58mm mount (which is what the extension tube on my old Canon is) and one for a 52mm mount (which is what my new lens uses). I’ll need to get a new UV and polarizing filter though – but fortunately those are not at all expensive. (Which is a good thing, since the “pancake” lens I hope to get uses yet another different mounting size (46mm and 37mm, depending on whether I get a Panasonic or Olympus lens).

One of the things I’ll be doing right away is re-trying my depth of field experiments – I’ll be sure to post pictures from that as soon as I’m done.

Unfortunately it’s winter right now, which means the scenery is somewhat boring, and it hasn’t snowed since that one weird snowfall in October, so there’s no pretty snow to take pictures of either, so for the moment, I must content myself with taking pictures of things indoors. (My rabbits are going to get lots of screen time, I’m sure.)

Anyway, that’s my new camera – I’m quite pleased with it, and I’ll be sure to post more pictures and updates as time goes on!