Archive for the ‘Photography’ Category

October 2, 2015

Focusing on the Formalities

It was bound to happen eventually. I’ve been picking up my camera so often that I felt my interest began to wane a little. I was beginning to feel like I was taking the same photos over, and over, and over again. I love the photo journalistic style, but after awhile of filming the same sets of subjects, in the same settings, it starts to feel very repetitive. I needed a new challenge.


Alexis in the spotlight, only this time achieved with an open window and not a desk lamp.

As luck would have it, I’m also shy of formal photos of Alexis. Turns out when you no longer have the two to one parent photographer to child subject ratio, the two man strategy of baby photography doesn’t work so well. It’s much easier to take photos of Alexis doing normal baby things (crawling, playing, cruising) than to worry about any kind of posing.

Challenge accepted.

I ended up using nap time to gather backdrops & props. I like to set Alexis down on the crib mattress instead of the rug directly, as the mattress helps keep the backdrop smoother than the rug does. There is a potential rolling hazard, so I mostly like to keep Alexis in a sitting position for formal photos. If she drops to her belly, I drop the camera. Once on my foot. Apparently that’s hilarious if you haven’t reached your first birthday yet.

The trade-off in pursuing formal photos is there’s less time for the photo journalistic slice of life photos I tend to take. That’s less photos to choose from for her baby book, and milestone posts. I think I am okay with that as long as ‘less’ doesn’t translate to ‘none’, and I capture the emerging skills like crawling and walking. I know I’m very happy with the above photo.

August 29, 2015

Happy Camera Day

cameraday

Three years ago today my Nikon D5100 arrived in the mail. Not coincidentally, it’s almost the same age as Nicole. I wanted a large canvas print of Nicole the newborn, and my D60 just didn’t have the megapixels to print the size I wanted.

I remember the first time shooting with the D5100, how overwhelmed I was by the different interface and controls. The D5100 had more options and more buttons than my D60. For a girl just learning to go off auto, it was a little intimidating. I was both amazed by the image quality and frustrated I didn’t know how to adjust the focal point. It took some time before I became comfortable with the new camera. Now the D5100 is second nature. So second nature that using the D60 to take the above photo of the D5100 required a learning period again to find the right controls.

In the past three years my camera has had 107,178 shutter actuations, which is just shy of 98 photos a day. In contrast, my D60 has just 28,354 actuations including today’s photo! It was my sole camera for 3 and a half years before the D5100 came into my life, and the camera I took to Europe and Asia! The D60 may have been my first DSLR, but the D5100 was the one I learned on.

I’ve been thinking about my next camera a lot lately. I considered a full frame, but have little desire to repurchase my lenses. I was super excited about the D7200 announcement this past March, but something has been holding me back. I used the move as an excuse to put off purchasing it. I didn’t want it to get lost in the transition, and knew I wouldn’t have the time to learn a whole new set of controls. Now that we’ve moved I still haven’t followed through with the purchase. My current camera is nearing it’s end of life but it’s not there yet. Nikon tests them for 100,000 shutter actuations. After that the physical components can start to go. My shutter may stop working tomorrow, or it may last for a few more years. I kinda want to see how far my D5100 can go. It’s my baby after all.

August 25, 2015

My Life Right Now

ringphotography
Totally Staged. I was practicing with my macro lens, but I turned the rings around to face my iphone rather than the DSLR for the photo

Aside from the whole not-making-money-yet, life is pretty great right now. I’m loving my dual role as stay-at-home mom and entrepreneur.

On the entrepreneur front, I’m splitting my time between web apps, and my primarily start-up idea based on photography. Being my own boss and setting my own schedule is a pretty great perk too. I’ve carved out 30 hours a week dedicated to my start-up, mostly on the days Alexis is in school. Working this way is surprisingly effective. (Well, not that surprising.) A number of ideas have come to me when I wasn’t explicitly searching them out. I’m quite pleased with how much I’ve been able to accomplish so far, especially given all the other things I also have on my plate.

On the stay-at-home part, the house is coming together. I ordered the last piece of furniture we were missing yesterday. I still have a couple storage units to assemble, but we’re down to the last 12 boxes, and I’ve so far been able to avoid having a junk drawer or a junk closet. We’re in the home stretch! Alexis is home with me a couple days a week, and I’m enjoying soaking up as much baby time as I can. I loved having this time to bond with Nicole, and am so grateful to have it with Alexis as well.

Life might be busier these days, but there’s less time sinks. Daycare is the same raw distance from our house than the old one was from our apartment, but it takes half the time. The grocery store, bank, gas station, and discount retail stores are all a quick trip away. I spend 60 to 90 minutes less behind the wheel per day than I did prior to the move. I’m also double dipping. It’s no secret that I spend a bit of time as the momtographer of the family. I use this time to try out some of my theories, turning intuition about photography into numerical understanding.

I love having a built in excuse to practice photography. If nothing else I’ve gained a lot of knowledge about a field I’m passionate about, a chance to hone my craft, and have many many photographic momentous from my journey.

Leaving stable employment was beyond scary, but I’m glad we decided to take a chance. Even if nothing else comes out of it, I’m having the time of my life.

August 22, 2015

Three Year Old Ballerina

Nicki loves ballerinas. She loves them so much she can sit through the nutcracker in it’s entirety. I knew she would love to dress up as a ballerina. Now that she’s three, I was in dire want of some more portraits.

ballerina1

ballerina2

I have to be super quick with the camera these days for these posed photos. She’s happy to get in the pose, but holding it? That’s mommy’s problem. Or more precisely, mommy’s camera’s problem. She was having so much fun twirling and spinning about the room, but my camera couldn’t focus fast enough.

ballerina3

ballerina4

A trick that’s working fairly well these days is to ask her about things. For example “how many feet do you have?” if I want her to look down.

twirl
How most of my photos turned out. Happiest. Ballerina. Ever.

Materials Cost:
$30.15 – Leotard (Amazon). A splurg, I admit. Will be used for dress up clothes afterwards
$2.99 – Ribbon (JoAnn’s)
$15.58 – Backdrop (JoAnn’s) Would you believe I didn’t have a simple cream backdrop?! I purchased two yards, but I really need three. Sarah’s rule of thumb 1 yard for each year.
—-
Total Cost – $48.72 fore tax.

This afternoon I decided to take advantage of the rare June rain to break out my macro lens to practice photographing some water kissed flowers from our garden.

I like to think I have a pretty good handle on my most used lenses – the 30mm and 50mm primes. I know what shutter speeds about I need to freeze fast moving toddlers (1/320s-ish), and what aperture I need to bring their whole faces into focus (f2.8 – f3.2 usually does the trick). I use my 60mm f/2.8G Micro for macro photography. With a focal length so close to my 50mm prime, I expected it to handle about the same. One thing that immediately struck me was how large an f-stop I needed to get the whole flower in focus.

f33
f8
Even at f/8 little of the flower was in focus, and flowers are not that big!

f18
Here’s another example, at f/18

So why the incredibly shallow depth of field? Distance to subject seems an obvious culprate. A quick search lead me to the mathematical formula for calculating the nearest in focus point, and farthest in focus point using depth of field from distance, focal length, aperture and something called circle of confusion.

Approximations:

NearestInFocusPoint = s x f2 / (f2 + N x c x (s – f))
FarthestInFocusPoint = s x f2 / (f2 – N x c x (s – f))

Where

s is distance to the subject being focused on
f is Focal Length
N is the f-Number and
c is the Circle of Confusion

Then the total depth of field can be calculated as the nearest in focus point subtracted from furthest in focus point and simplifying. For simplicity, let Dn be the denominator of NearestInFocusPoint, and Df be the denominator of FarthestInFocusPoint:

DoF = FarthestInFocusPoint – NearestInFocusPoint
DoF = [s x f2 / Df] – [s x f2 / Dn]
DoF = [s x f2 x Dn / (Df x Dn)] – [s x f2 x Df / (Df x Dn)]
DoF = [s x f2 x (Dn – Df)] / [Df x Dn]
DoF = s x [f2 x (Dn – Df)] / [Df x Dn]

Where
Df x Dn = (f2 – N x c x (s – f)) x (f2 + N x c x (s – f))

From the above equation my hypothesis appears to be correct; as distance approaches zero, the numerator approaches zero and the denominator approaches (f2 + N x c x f) x (f2 – N x c x f) or (f4 – (N x c x f)^2). For my camera, c = 0.02mm with a maximum aperture of ƒ/32, far less than the 60mm focal length. Thus (N x c x f)^2 is far, far, smaller than f4. Thus the denonimator, Df x Dn, is positive and non zero. Thus as distance approaches zero, DoF approaches zero.

Of course there are practical limitations and focusing distance to subject cannot be zero. My 60mm lens has a minimal focusing distance of about 7.5 inches, or 190mm. Using my camera’s specs, if the flowers were only 10 inches from my lens, at f/3.2 the dept of field is just .1 inches. At f/8 the depth of field is just 0.17 inches. I’d have to back up another foot to have a depth of field at least 1 inch wide.

Values of 0.02 – 0.03mm seemed to be pretty typical circle of confusion values, at least according to the sites I visited while researching this blog post. Even with a very wide angled lens, capable of a very narrow aperture, I suspect my hypothesis would still generally be true. Nikon has a 6mm fisheye lens, and even for that lens the math holds.

It may (or may not) come to a surprise to you that I didn’t know anything about the technical side of photography when I bought my first DSLR in 2009. How little did I know? Well, on July 4th, after just owning the camera for a few weeks, I took some photos of fireworks. When someone asked me what settings I used, I responded with:

I’m not really sure what settings I used, I’m still figuring out what all the buttons do. The shutter was all the way open, and I think “M” and “A” pretty high.

I’ll give you camera gear nerds a minute to pick yourself off the floor from laughing. (For the uninitiated: Aperture priority mode (“A”) overrides shutter speed, “M” is full manual mode and lets you change the shutter speed after you’ve set the aperture speed. Order matters! Also you can have the shutter speed be fast or slow, but you don’t set “manual” to high. Anyway, I digress…).

For the past six years now I’ve been mostly self taught figuring out what all the different settings do, and what all the little icons on my camera mean.

In 2012 shortly before the arrival of our first daughter I purchased a new lens. Shortly there after a new camera body. A few months later I started having problems. Occasionally when I’d go to take a photo nothing would happen. There’d be no whurr of the auto focus, no snap of the shutter. Just a little beep, indicating an error had occurred. It happened in good lighting and in bad, and seemed to be timed perfectly for when I was getting the best baby smiles. A moment or two later the camera would behave as expected. We had lots of theories – bad lens, faulty contacts – but the problem was too intermittent for me to test any hypothesis and I was too cheap to send in the camera for repairs without a good idea what was wrong. I also didn’t want to be without my camera or lenses for weeks.

After moving to Silicon Valley the frequency with which I’d encounter the shutter release issue increased and I became more intent on identifying the problem. I figured since the shutter wasn’t releasing, and there was a beep that was clearly digital and not mechanical – some component must be detecting the issue and trying to signal to me what it was. I just had to figure out where to find the error message. Alas, here’s where not knowing much about DSLRs (and not having bothered to read the manual) was hurting me. I had no idea what half of the icons on my menu view finder screen mean!

For the past weeks (months?) when ever the camera would beep and the shutter refused to release I’d quickly scan every screen I could. I was looking for anything that would appear whenever there was an issue, and not otherwise. It took me a while to notice the little bottom right hand corner had an “[ r# ]” at the bottom, and that the number was typically low when the shutter wouldn’t release. Then I realized that number was always zero.

A quick internet search later (because who keeps around paper manuals these days?) I had my answer. I was looking at the internal buffer indicator. The number was the Number of shots remaining before memory buffer fills. I was taking photos at a faster rate than could be written to my memory card. Momtographer likes to take a lot of photos, apparently.

That’s when it dawned on me. Way back in 2009 when I purchased my first DSLR a photographer friend advised me to get a fast memory card. I did, and I haven’t updated since. When I upgraded my camera in 2012, I went from 10 mega pixels to 16 mega pixels. Once Nicki started smiling I learned burst mode is the best mode for the greatest chance of capturing optimal baby smiles. When she started running, I never took my finger off the shutter button. It wasn’t a progressive problem after all, just reflective of a change in the equipment and the way I used it.

Through empirical study I’ve determine it takes ~10 seconds for a photo to be written to the old memory card, and only ~1 second to be written to a new, much faster one. For the last three years I’ve been having problems stemming from not having a fast enough memory card. When I think of all those missed opportunities where the shutter wouldn’t release, I could kick myself.

February 17, 2015

In the Box Thinking

paintwarrier
I love this photo. It reminds me of something out of national geographic. In concept at least.

Meeting the needs of an active, rambunctious toddler and young baby simultaneously is still proving to be a bit challenging for me, especially when confined to our apartment. There aren’t that many activities that are both mentally stimulating and relatively quiet that hold Nicole’s interest for long. Then there’s the mess factor. I’d really like to avoid losing any of my deposit, but with my arms full, I can’t always get to the mess right away.

A recent discovery I made is that underpads do a great job at protecting the carpet from paint to play doh. I’d even surmise they work better than laying out junk mail, as junk mail is so thin and light it’s easily disturbed leaving exposed carpet. I swear exposed carpet is a finger paint magnet. I recently purchased these disposable underpads for newborn photography and they work great for art time as well. Incidentally, the number one complaint about the underpads I linked to, that they’re super thin, makes them ideal for newborn photography. They’re so thin they don’t create any bulges in the fabric, unlike the previous brand I used. Since newborn bladders are so tiny, they’re still plenty absorbent. If your cheap like me, you can also reuse them for multiple art projects.

But underpads still aren’t fool proof. Play doh can roll off of them, getting stuck in the fibers of the carpet. Crayons and chalk have a tendency to roll too, although they are less prone to mess.

Last week we had a subscribe and save Amazon delivery. We have quite a few subscriptions, so the deliveries tend to be brought in giant boxes. Nicole is always climbing on them, and in them. It just now occurred to us that large cardboard boxes are excellent creative mess containers. I put her in the box with a set of crayons, markers, and anything else I’d rather keep out of the carpet and let her decorate to her hearts content.

The above photo was from her first time with finger paints in the box. It didn’t take long for her to realize that she was in the box, and thus a member of the class of paintable objects. She seemed surprised I didn’t object to her painting her legs purple (which says something about how much of a control freak I’ve been over messes so far.) At the moment the photo was snapped, it was just occurring to her that she could intentionally paint her face as well. I adore her expression.

February 2, 2015

Capturing Sisterly Love

I’ve gotten so much better with my camera, and photographing Nicole, that I didn’t really give much thought to how much more difficult it would be to photograph the girls together. I thought I’d be able to hammer out a few good photos in time for our Christmas card. In retrospect, the difficulty should have been obvious.

When I’m photographic Nicole I can easily take ten frames to get that one good frame. That’s why I always shot on burst mode – better odds that I’ll hit that perfect hundredth of second moment. Some frames her eyes may be closed, the framing is off, the exposure is wrong, etc. And she’s mostly a cooperator! If we treat the photographing the two girls as independent events (a not unreasonable assumption when they’re both in a good mood, terribly inaccurate if one of them is upset for whatever reason), then it’d be 1 in 100 frames to get a good shot of both of them simultaneously. Mathematically the probability of getting a good shot of one kid (1/10) times the probability of getting a good shot of the other (1/10).

We can extrapolate out for n kids getting the function: probability_of_good_shots = photographer_hit_ratenumber_of_kids. Thus the number of frames needed when photographic n kids to get one good frame as a function of n can be plotted as follows:

number of frames needed
f(n) = 10n

In other words, it gets exponentially harder with each additional kid.

concerned
Hmm. Alexis looks mighty concerned.

My hit rate is less than 1%, so I might be underestimating the difficulty. Or overestimating my skill.

going in for a kiss
My best one so far. I just wish I had panned a little more to the right and the lighting was a little better on Alexis’ face.

Here’s what I’ve learned:

  • Swaddle the Baby. It helps keep the baby calm and, as an added bonus, helps the baby appear more newborn like. That’s very handy when it may take you multiple tries to get those 10^n frames! Alas, Alexis is now a champion swaddle buster.
  • Have an Assistant. Not only are you going to want a safety spotter (depending on the age and activity level of your toddler, a total must!) but getting the girls ready in unison helped maximize our in-front-of-the-camera-time. Daddy swaddles while mommy assembles the camera.
  • Bribes. Yeah, I know what you’re thinking, but hear me out! I’ve found that my energetic, rambunctious toddler exhibits a little more self control when a piece of candy or new toy is on the line. When photographic near a baby, that’s a trade off I’m willing to make.
  • Patience, Patience, Patience. I feel like a amateur photographer again, which can be frustrating. Nicole is pretty perceptive. If I let my frustrations get the best of me she’ll pick up on it and will instantly be done with photo time. It’s better to keep it fun, and hope I get lucky.
  • and Learn to Love the Outtakes. Hi, my name is Sarah, and I’m a recovering perfectionist…
January 5, 2015

Breathing Room

When I was counting all the reasons why the timing of Alexis’ birth was just about perfect, I forgot one little detail: I’m obsessed with photography. I not only wanted to get a ton of newborn photos, and family photos (which almost didn’t happen at all), and Alexis’ monthly photos, but also formal Christmas photos of both the girls, all in about a four week time stretch while learning out how to function as a family of four and celebrating the holidays. I took nearly 6,400 photos all totaled, including of both girls and inanimate objects like ornaments on the trees. Needless to say, I was putting a ton of undue pressure on myself. Now that it’s January I no longer feel the pressure to take specific kinds of photos. (Although I’d still love a non holiday themed family photo if I can arrange it. And some more of just the girls.)

I decided early on that the best way to save my sanity was to not try and duplicate my favorite photos between the girls. I have less time to play momtographer as a mother of two. Often my time with the camera is split between the girls on the weekends. Nicole has always enjoyed her time in front of the camera, and I didn’t want her to feel replaced by the baby so I always offer to take photos of her as well. So far the responses are about a 3/1 split between yes/no. Since I’m a mom of 2, there’s less time to be had behind the camera anyway. It would be impossible to duplicate Nicki’s baby book with Alexis. There were times when the book felt like an impossible project as just a mother of one! Getting those photos in the later months took a team effort between Domingo and I. Blocks are very enticing for a mobile baby.

I also have more skill this time around. I’ve been practicing with my camera, and off again on again in auto mode for the past two years. The first photos I took of Alexis are far superior to the first ones I took of Nicole. When I look at some of the early photos of Nicole I can’t help but think of all the ways I would have taken them differently. If I were to take the same style of photo with Alexis as Nicole, it would invite the comparison between photo quality. I already beat myself up enough when I make photography mistakes, no need to keep reminding myself of the previous ones.

So I strive for similar, but unique.

alexisblocks
This one is pretty easy to duplicate when home alone on maternity leave.

Speaking of help, I’m sure I would not have been able to take so many photos (or kept my sanity in tact) without it this past month. Between my parents visit, and Domingo taking most of the month of December off, I had a tremendous amount of help. I was able to get some sleep, and spend quality time with both girls, and even enjoy the holiday! Yet in just a few short weeks our home still started looking like a total disaster. I have no idea how other parents manage it.

My goal for the coming month: get the house back in order

January 1, 2015

Newborn Photos by the Tree

Happy New Year! Are you tired of Christmas yet? I’m sure not (although this is probably my last Christmas related posted until next December.) One thing I can’t get enough of is photographing Christmas Trees.

There are two ways of doing tree photos: shallow focus (wide aperture, short exposure) and deep focus (narrow aperture, long exposure). Personally I like the wide aperture when shooting up close. It makes our artificial tree look less artificial, and means I don’t need to use a tripod. When shooting from a distance, however, I just love the way the narrow aperture gives a nice star effect to the tree lights.

treelights
Aperture and Christmas Tree Lights

I love Christmas, and I love newborns, so naturally I wanted some newborn Christmas photos by the tree.

christmasnewborn
So Dreamy
F/16, 15 second exposure, 50mm prime lens, ISO-125

The setup was really simple. I used a pillow on top of one of our storage boxes to raise Alexis high enough that the Christmas tree would fill the entire background. Under the blanket is a water proof sheet, and under that a heating pad. I used Nick Kelsh’s tip of white Christmas tree lights (sans pizza box) to cast a nice soft glow on Alexis. I wanted the Christmas light star effect, so I needed a narrow aperture and long exposure. That meant turning off most of the other lights in our living room, and cranking the ISO way down.

christmastreesetup
The pull back. Ignore the scattered toys, my home is in perpetual mess state these days.

A long exposure requires a (mostly) still baby. Breathing is obviously okay. No babies should be harmed in the making of this photo! Once I put Alexis down I gave her a good 15 minutes to get into a nice deep sleep. Don’t forget your safety spotter! Even newborns will sometimes roll, especially if the surface their on is uneven.

Once she was asleep I needed to act quick. From start to finish I only had 28 minutes before Alexis was stirring too much for me to continue. In order to ensure I’d end up with some usable frames I made only one adjustment between frames. Between one frame I might straighten out the blanket under Alexis’ head. Before another I might move her hand away from blocking her mouth. That way there’s less risk of her waking enough to stir, and also I’m guaranteed to have some photos to fall back on in the event that she does wake up.

For comparison, here is one of the first photos I took of Alexis and the tree (barely a week old!) with wide aperture. She’s not asleep. One of the nice things about fast shutter speeds, you can catch those eyes closed, fleeting smiles moments!

christmasnewborn2
f/2, 1/50 sec, ISO-1000
(not using Nick Kelsh’s tree light trick)

My favorite photos are always from Christmas time.

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