This Was Kid Weekend on the Farm with the Camera

We had so many different families out on the farm collectively this weekend it was hard to keep track of who was who and what everyone was doing. I know what I was doing, taking the photos. Pictured above is William Fillmer (my grandson), Martha and Abby Marchio (two of my nieces), and Maddie Metteer (my grandcousin?). It was great fun getting to take their photos all weekend since I don’t really ever get a chance to practice my photography on the little ones.

Backyard Photo Walk with a 35mm Lens and Some Bokeh :: Photos

I love doing the back yard photo walk, mainly because you really don’t have to go anywhere to shoot. Every time you go out in your yard you will be surprised at how many new things there are to shoot each time you try it. It doesn’t seem that way at first, especially since you look at the same setting every day, but if you look hard, everything changes as the seasons move on, and there is always something new to shoot. Yesterday I went to test out this Nikon 35mm f/1.8 DX and this is what I came back with. Years ago when I was shooting Nikon’s FX (Full Frame sensor) I loved to shoot specifically at 50mm using a fast 50mm lens. Over the last few years I have been shooting with a crop sensor (or DX), which makes my 35mm lens a 52mm. All that to say this is about the same as something like this but with a different lens.

Have a great rest of the weekend everyone.

Top iPhone Camera Apps for Mobile Photography

Every since the very first iPhone came out I have been trying to find ways to make the camera on the iPhone a viable photography choice when a DSLR was just too big, bulky, and basically unavailable. Most photographers would have scoffed at the thought of using a cell phone for any kind of serious photography, but as has happened with the field of photography over the years, things change.

I took my first photo with an iPhone on December 15th, 2008 at 9:23am, and from that point I have since taken a little more than 7,000 images with an iPhone in one version or another. With the release of the iPhone 4 Apple made realistic photography an option. The screen resolution and the over abundance of really cool camera and photography apps has made mobile photography legit (most posts on this blog that have iPhone photos are tagged iPhone).

Being a photographer that actually was around when we were shooting 35mm and transparency film, I have been a little slow to jump totally on the mobile photography platform, but with so many great apps out now it’s made iPhone photography fun. My top three of all those apps on the app store are listed below. You can click the image just below to see a full size screen shot of all three apps in an example progression.

With all these apps I would highly recommend shooting an original and working with a copy to preserve the original image. Many if not most of these apps will completely alter the image forever and you can’t go back, so be sure to have that original image saved.

Best iPhone Camera Apps

  1. Camera+ – Great all around photography editing app
  2. Camera+ is probably the most versatile app available. It has been around quite a while and has a very large number of adjustment-post editing possibilities. It has several shooting options for focus, a grid (standard on DSLR’s), a better zoom than the basic iPhone app has, and several ways to adjust the image before you shoot. The image editing features are more flexible than any app I have tried. It allows for the most filters, and gives you a large number of “effects” which are basically overlays on the image.

    One of the best features of this app has nothing to do with the way it edits photos but with the fact that it doesn’t “require” a square crop to be taken. That allows the full 5mp camera depth to be used. It allows for sharing on Twitter, Facebook, and Flickr. Cost $.99 (at this posting it’s on sale). Download Camera+ on iTunes

  3. PicFx – Best app for filters, and textures
  4. The PicFx app is basically an app you can apply cool filters and textures to your images. The biggest drawback to this app is the fact that you must use a square crop on the image which reduces the image size significantly. The best part about this app is the textures. It has a large number of choices and it gives you an easy to use opacity meter allowing for even more unique looks. Will allow you to share on Twitter and Facebook. Cost $.99. Download PicFx on iTunes

  5. Instagram – Best social networking photo sharing app
  6. This app has exploded in popularity like many things that have an element of social networking attached to it. The cool thing about Instagram is it’s quick and easy ability to share quick and quirky edits with friends. The negative aspects of this app is that it’s limited to basically people with an iPhone.

    It has no web application, which means it has no way to see a full stream of photos, no url to give to someone, no profile, no rss feed, or any of the things we take for granted with most other applications (like Flickr). It is also quirky to add new friends, but all info and sharing take place within the app. You can share to Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, Foursquare, or email.

    This app would be fantastic if it had an app available for Android and a web presence. I have read that both are on the way but with the main focus of this app being a social networking app it needs to be available outside the iPhone. Cost: Free. Download Instagram on iTunes

HDR Photos on the iPhone iOS 4.1 Camera :: Review

One of the best updates to iOS 4.1, to me, was the ability to automatically take and merge HDR photos right on the iPhone. For those unfamiliar with HDR (High Dynamic Range) photography, this is a relatively new area in photography that takes multiple images, which are beyond the tonal stop range of most digital camera sensors (or film for that matter). This actually isn’t new at all, film photographers have used this technique of bracketing ever since the invention of photography, but it is the digital media that has made it far more easy to achieve pleasing results, and hence, it is a revived sort of new.

High Dynamic Range (HDR) Explained

In brief, when you take images bracketed in exposure range, and then combined them either in camera or in something like Photoshop CS5 (which made huge changes to their HDR process over CS2, CS3, or CS4), or Photomatrix, you get a much richer, deeper tonal range, which just isn’t possible with one image. Digital SLR cameras can “see” about 6-8 stops of light, which is translated to be 4 stops underexposed and 4 stops overexposed from the middle exposure value, whatever that middle value is deemed to be. The human eye on the other hand can see far more “stops” of light, some say 3-4 times that of a digital camera, so HDR is a little closer to what we see with our own eyes. It still doesn’t match the light sensitivity of the eye, but it’s closer than non-HDR.

With HDR, you generally take one middle (or properly exposed) image, one frame that is 2 stops underexposed (-2/EV) and another frame 2 stops overexposed (+2/EV). When combined, the dark shadows are seen along with the detail in blown out areas (white overexposed spots). The iPhone now does this automatically. I took a few test shots to see how a camera-phone would handle these types of exposures. These images below are right out of the camera, they had zero processing, but all images below were taken with my iPhone. All the shots below show the non-HDR image first and the HDR image second.

iPhone HDR Image Examples

These first two shots were actually the ones where I liked the non-HDR image better, mainly because it had deeper colors on the first one with a little more contrast, simply because of how the shot was framed and where the backlight fell on the image.

These two shots were taken in the impossible condition for a camera, a bright light in a dark room. This just gives you an idea how in the second shot the HDR opens up the range of exposed light. Even with opening up the room light, you still get a visible image on the screen, which most of the time will be blown out to white.

These two shots show the great potential of HDR. This shot of my friend Lee, though he wasn’t expecting to be the HDR subject, shows how well it works. The HDR shows much more natural facial features, his white shirt shows a much more realistic looking texture and color, and the overall image has a much better well-balanced look to it.

Overall it seems to be a fantastic edition to the iOS 4.1 package. There are some well known photographers, like Jarvis, now getting incredible shots with the iPhone, the HDR setting should only make the images better and better.

Photo-Video Year in Review for 2009

2009 was a busy year that saw a lot of changes in our household.  Throughout each month of each year for the past 15-18 years or so I have taken photos every chance I get, but it has only been in the past several years where I have taken photos of just about everything my wife and I do as we go about the year.  This puts a new perspective on the year when you look back at an entire year of photos and see what all we were able to do.

People often think you need special equipment or expertise to be a good photographer, and in some cases that is probably true, but for every day events, any picture is better than no picture.  Most cell phones have cameras now and they are around the 2MP range which is certainly good enough to shoot a passing smile.  In fact, a good majority of the photos you will see in the video below came right out of my iPhone camera.  It has taken some practice but I have gotten very good results with just using my iPhone camera, and there are many photographers that have made a point to compose a gallery here and there using their iPhone camera.

This video below is a combination of about 1,200 photos over about a 5 minute period, hope you enjoy it, happy new year to everyone.  If you want to watch the video in a larger window just click 2009 Year End Photo-Video.

Last Round of 5 Year Old Expired Kodak BW400

Kodak BW400 Expired Film

Deb on Kodak BW400 Expired Film

Auburn Basketball Game

I got back the last of my expired rolls yesterday. This time it was on the Kodak BW400 (consumer version, not professional grade) film that was also about 5 years old.  The grain is pretty significant and the scans are not all that great as far as color correction goes, but then again, for 5 year old expired film, it’s not bad.

This first shot was out my front door during a tornatic rain storm we had just a few days ago.  Hard to believe it was 75* with thunder, rain, wind, etc and yesterday it was below freezing.  I like this particular shot, the grain of the age of the film is covered up by the image itself.  The Auburn Basketball game was from last week, not 50 years ago.  You can see Jeff Lebo on the sidelines among other current Auburn Basketball players.

What Kodak GC 400 Looks Like After 5 Years in a Camera

Scott Fillmer's Office

Scott Fillmer

I recently shot a few rolls with an old film camera that had a roll half exposed.  As far as I can tell, the film had sat in this camera for 5 years.  The time stamp on the first half of the film reads 11-12-03 so that is almost exactly 5 years to the day.  Kodak GC 400 is a pretty grainy film to begin with and a consumer film that was sold mostly in Wal-Mart and other retails stores.  Surprisingly the color is not all that bad.  The first image was one a took a few days ago of my desk, the second is one me and my old ride.  Had to be a while back, I still have some hair.

I Love the Smell of Kodak BW400cn in the Morning

I had such a great time shooting with some photographers in Birmingham on Wednesday (Amelia Strauss, Paul Bryant, and Stephen DeVries) and I am sure DeVries could have guessed, he inspired me to look beyond my digital obsession and go back and re-examine my photographic roots in film.  Of course I shot film for years and years before I picked up a digital SLR, mostly shooting Fuji Velvia 50, but since then (around 2001 when I purchased my first Nikon D100) I have taken less than a roll of film.

I dug around and found an older Nikon film camera, picked up some Kodak BW400cn film and BOOM, 35mm B&W possibilities abound.  For those who already shoot a lot of 35 or 120 B&W, I would love to hear what your favorite emulsion is out there.  Recommended to me was the Ilford XP2, Ilford HP5, Kodak Tri-x, and the Kodak BW400cn (shown above).  I just happen to find some of the BW400cn, which is probably expired, no way to know.

Actually, I have some family background in photography (see Son of a Son of a Photographer?).  My grandfather was a photographer of sorts back in the 70’s, and so was his son, my uncle (Les), so who better to ask.  I contacted my uncle to see if he knew of or had any of the 120 medium format stuff laying around, and was thrilled to find out he did.  Turns out he had a 3 1/4 x 4 1/4 Speed Graphic made by Graflex that my grandfather got for him when he was in sixth grade! It uses sheet film or 120 roll film (perfect) so any of you out there that love the older 120 Graflex, Rolleiflex, or Mamiya’s, looks like I could have some to post here in the coming months.

There were so many things I loved about shooting 35/120 film that I had totally forgotten what it was like to hold a roll of film in my hands.  I hate that in the box thinking I trap myself into at various times, digital (for me) is one of those boxes.  Thanks, Stephen.

How to Compose Great Photos Every Time

deborah on the sailboat

I am often asked about what equipment would be best to use, a digital SLR or a huge mega pixel point and shoot, and how can I make better photos with the equipment I have. So today, I am going to start a new series on this blog called photo 101 (see the first entry How to Successfully Photograph Lightning // Equipment and Techniques), intended to answer some of those questions.  You can see all the entries by looking at the tag on this blog called photo 101.

Many times I go back to the basics and re-read and re-learn what it is that makes a good photograph. I would say that almost everyone can improve on how they shoot. Even the professionals will grow as a photographer as they shoot and refine their subjects and techniques.

I am going to start off with a quick 14 point guide that helped me when I first started shooting. If you are interested in more you can visit the two categories called pic tips, and photo 101. I had a great photographer-mentor at UAB and these are some of the basics he passed along to me.

Composition can give a photo character or power, it can change the mood the image displays, or even the intent of the image. The image of my wife above was taken very quickly as we were leaving the marina after a nice weekend. It works well because the composition is not “bulls-eye” in the frame. It visualizes her reluctance to leaving and perhaps a little disdain for the camera in her face.

A Guide to Composing Your Photographs

1. Ask a simple question – Why am l taking this shot. lf there is no clear and simple answer to this question, you are not prepared to take a good photograph. You must be able to explain what you are trying to accomplish in a sentence or less. Start with the basics: What made you stop and look?

2. What Is the subject? Every photo must have one and only one subject. Now is the time to clarify and amplify the subject of the picture. If you have multiple subjects in the frame, recompose. Many times the entire frame will be the subject, but split subjects in one frame don’t often work well.

3. Now place your subject In the frame. Avoid the “bull’s eye” syndrome; Don’t routinely place your subject dead center in the frame. Use the “points of power” described where the lines of a “tic-tac-toe” grid (also called the rule of thirds) imposed in the viewfinder intersect for subject placement. Generally, subjects should look into rather than out of the frame. And use the f/stop which will provide the desired degree of depth-of-field.

4. Get Close. Now get closer. Most shots’ great flaw is that the photographer was too far away from the subject. The only shot that can’t be improved by getting closer is the Grand Canyon. But please do let the subject “breathe.” If you don’t have a long enough lens, try to move close to your subject.

5. Simplify. Remember that you must have a subject, but only one subject. Look around the frame: any item that doesn’t help tell the story, hurts it. Edit ruthlessly. Look especially for unwanted and distracting elements such as “hot spots”, trash, body parts, or bright lines diverting attention away from the subject. Pay particular attention to edges and comers of the frame.

6. Determine your point of view. Should this be a vertical or a horizontal composition? What’s the best perspective? How can you deliver this shot in a manner that makes it fresh, different from the obvious, different from your typical approach? Look around, find those places and angles that were not the most obvious when you walked up to the scene.

7. Try and try again. Take more than one shot; get the safe shot first, then go for the gold. Take lots of pictures; that’s how we get better. And be adventurous: once you’ve taken the “safe”, “sure” shot, experiment. Take chances. This too is how we improve.

With digital DLR cameras that are most commonly used now, we have a luxury that film shooters did not have. We don’t have to pay to process film. If you think a $50 CF card is expensive, try developing 50 rolls of film. Load up on high volume CF or SD cards and shoot away. The idea is not to shoot as many as possible in hopes of getting one good image, but you can shoot without worry and cost of film.

8. Which focal length is right? Don’t fall in love with your equipment; that favorite lens of yours is exactly right for some things, but not all things. If you don’t try new things, you become brittle… predictable. Try different lenses/focal lengths to achieve different results.

An example of this is the airport in 50mm shoot I did recently (see Atlanta Airport and a 50mm Lens // Part 1 and also part 2 and part 3). I tried using something other than the normal lens I would use, and I achieved some results I wouldn’t have otherwise.

An old film trick, use an empty slide mount as a composing tool. The distance of the slide mount from your eye is the focal length: rotate to simulate vertical or horizontal formats.

9. Watch your horizons. If there is a visible horizon in your shot, it must be level. lf there is no horizon, you may turn the camera in almost any direction. But remember to give the viewer a cue as to which way is up…

Don’t just think I can fix the horizon in Photoshop later. If the horizon is off on the original image by 5%, when you go to “correct” the slanted horizon in Photoshop, you are going to essentially crop 5% off of your entire image all the way around. That may be ok, but if you composed the image full frame, you may be loosing something you don’t intent to crop out.

10. Evaluate the lighting. What is the direction of the light? (Backlight, sidelight, frontlight) What is the intensity of the light? (Full sun, haze, open shade, deep shade) What is the color/temperature of the light (Pink, amber, blue, grey) Now, how can you incorporate the lighting factors into your shot to make it better?

11. Deal with your foregrounds and backgrounds. And deal with them constructively. In a landscape, the foreground serves to anchor the viewer; other times, such as wildlife photography, a blurred foreground provides a sense of closeness to the subject. Same with sports photography, much like wildlife, you want your subject to pop off the screen, not blend into the background.

And again, a soft wash of unfocused color in the foreground can be used to fill an otherwise too-empty frame with useful soft color. And how much background sharpness is called for. The background should compliment – never compete – with the subject.

Use complimentary and supplementary colors in the background and foreground to highlight your subject. This is not always possible in sports photography, but look for it, it may be there and you just didn’t look for it. The image of my friend Heath below is a good example. The orange of his shirt and the green of the grass are very complimentary and make for a great background/foreground combination.

Portrait of Heath

12. Filters? Flash? Special effects? Yes, but if and only if you can explain in one sentence why it is needed and what it will do to make the shot better. This isn’t as needed with digital as it was with film, but it should still be part of the consideration.

13. What have you missed? How about your exposure? Are you sure about it? Have you considered all the rules of photography, such as the rule of thirds? Looking through the viewfinder, do you still love what you see? Would you change anything? How about your technique? Is the camera steady on a tripod, with the head locked?

14. Now it’s time to make magic. Though it sounds painstaking, this checklist becomes second nature; the point of the exercise is to make taking pictures more successful and therefore more fun.

Miami Airport Photos and a 50mm Lens :: MIA-ATL

Approach into Miami

Miami Airport in 50mm

Miami Airport under construction

Roof in Miami airport

This the third and final part of my airport in a 50mm lens perspective (see ATL part 1 and DEN part 2), at least until I jump on another plane and end up at an airport other than ATL, DEN, and MIA. Miami was the most difficult out of the three to shoot. It was hot, humid (yes I was inside), very very crowded, and all under construction.

That just means I had to look around more than I usually do and find something that said this was MIA and was (to me) photographically pleasing. For this post, I chose these 4 images below.

I love the second shot, the plane. This old plane was restored and hung from one of the walks between terminal buildings. What caught my attention was the print just below the name of the pilot.

Passengers travel in this vehicle at their own risk

I did find one nice architectural images of this roof line which seemed to open like a bottle top. I would have preferred to get the faces of the travelers but in an airport you must be wise when holding the camera. With so many irritated passengers around every bend waiting for delayed flights, I wasn’t real interested in inflaming the minds of many.

I always liked the Miami airport. So much diversity even in the airport itself, but modernizing the terminals (which they are doing) would also make it a nice place to fly into while waiting for a long connection. All images in each part of this shoot were taken with a Nikon D700 (in full frame FX mode), hand held, with a 50mm Nikkor f/1.4 lens. Comments, suggestions, critique, or criticism are all welcome. These are shown in the order they were taken.

To see the larger sizes all at once just click on the first image to open the light box gallery and you can scroll through the larger sizes that way.