Welcome to (The Occasional) Photo Tip of the Day! Please also visit my main site jeffwignall.com. Text and photographs Copyright 2014 Jeff Wignall.

"In three words I can sum up everything I've learned about life: it goes on."


Robert Frost

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Moonrise at Twilight at the Beach in the Snow: You Must Believe in Spring

The afternoon that I discovered Talia (see previous post), it was the first warm afternoon we'd had in what seemed like a century (and probably was a few months in reality) in Connecticut. It's been a tough winter. One of the things about staying indoors a lot though is that you forget how interesting (and dare I say it, pretty?) the winter world can be (especially when you're a writer that works at home). I really envy people that ski a lot (especially cross-country skiers--and I used to love cross-country skiing, so maybe next winter I'll go back to it) because they do get to see a lot of the nice side of winter. They probably hate it less.

Anyway, after I'd discovered Talia and spent an hour or so shooting photos of her (including a kind of nice series of depth of field studies that I may use in a book--provided I can get her to sign a release), I started to pack up and as always happens to me, I turned around to see a really fascinating view. It seems that whenever I'm about to leave and I'm just looking forward to putting the gear away and taking a ride, a shot pops up. Who am I to turn away? This is not a great shot in terms of composition (and I was standing on an ice field when I shot it and just hoping to keep my balance) but it had a lot of interesting exposure challenges: it was twilight, there was a full moon rising, the foreground was mostly snow and, oddly enough, there was a sunset going on behind me. Since I've been working on a book about exposure (an update of my book Exposure Photo Workshop: Develop Your Digital Photography Talent), I decided to accept the challenge. Even though I'm not crazy about the shot, I think the mix of exposure challenges was fun to play with and it looks very much as I saw it: snow and sky bathed in twilight and the warm moon rising. (The shot was made at ISO 1600, by the way, so you will see some noise in the sky--but I thought it was minimal considering the low light.)

And, interestingly, I think this shot will remind me of the day the ice broke: the day that I could finally see spring in the light of the first full moon I'd noticed all winter. I think I heard spring talking to my soul in the moonlight, saying "Remember me?" And trust me, after this winter, my soul needs spring. Yours does too, probably. So, get out, find a pretty end-of-winter scene and let winter go. Wave it goodbye and wish it well. It's less than 30 days to spring: my neighbor told me the daffodils are coming up under the snow. I haven't seen them, but I believe her.

(The photo was made with a Nikon D90 body with an 18-70mm lens and exposed 1/50 at f/4.2, ISO 1600 and exposed in RAW.)

Friday, February 18, 2011

Introducing Talia: The One that SI Let Slip Away


There's been a lot of buzz this week over the new Sports Illustrated (oh, excuse me, "SI") swimsuit edition that is apparently coming out soon or has just come out, so yesterday I took a ride to the beach here in Connecticut (most of which is still covered in snow and ice) to see if I could find any babes laying around waiting to be photographed. And, to no one's surprise greater than my own, I found one! She was relaxing in a pile of ice when I found her (cold feet, warm heart) and it looked like she was just waiting to be discovered by a passing photographer so that she could be ride the wave (frozen though it might be) to fortune and fame. So, naturally I picked her up and after carrying her around (and thawing her out) in my pocket for a while, we looked for the perfect venue to show off her very natural beauty. We toyed with the traditional ideas--the abandoned swings, the slide, a picnic bench,but eventually decided that the jungle gym was the ideal backdrop. I spent about an hour photographing her (perhaps tomorrow I'll show you one of her reclining poses--oh so playful!) and this was one of our favorite shots.

Her name is Talia, by the way, and she describes herself as a typical wild-haired blue-eyed blonde (I'm fairly certain she's a natural blonde, too--rare these days) who likes to spring ski in Davos, read biographies of famous cheese makers and fly fish. She volunteers weekends reading to shut-in dolls. She didn't have a swimsuit or bikini handy (besides, those shots are so overdone), so we went with the country-hippie-funk-barefoot look. The outfit is, I believe, one of her own creations. Who needs those skinny vacant-eyed models with pouting lips that walk funny when you have a natural beauty like Talia. She has, how do the French say, a certain charme don't you think? Eat your heart out SI. Talia is available for modeling assignments, by the way, you can contact me for her rate sheet. Talia was photographed in natural light using a Nikon D90 with an 18-70mm Nikkor zoom lens in the RAW mode, on a Manfrotto tripod (the best models insist on an Italian tripod, of course).

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Back to the Future: Multiple Exposure Mode

As much as I love digital cameras, in some ways I miss the unexpected and the unknown results of just doing strange things with my old SLR film cameras. In those days we'd use all kinds of little tricks to get creative images--like smearing petroleum jelly on a skylight filter to get soft focus (easier now to just call up the Gaussian blur filter in Photoshop) or holding a colorful piece of cellophane in front of the lens to get offbeat colors (much easier now in editing). One of my favorite things to do was to shoot two or more exposures on the same frame of film--just to see what kind of strange visual concoctions might pop up. Combining a shot of a sunset with a bold silhouette was a favorite double-exposure subject, of course, as was shooting a portrait of a friend and then shooting a distinct texture, like a rock surface. You can do the same thing incredibly easily in Photoshop, of course, by layering several images together, but to me it doesn't have the same experimental quality of not knowing what you were getting in the camera until you had the film processed. There was just something magic in not knowing what you might get--the lack of control was fun.

That's why I was happy when I bought my Nikon D90 12.3MP Digital SLR Camera (Body Only)to find that it had multiple exposure capability. Yippee! Back to the future! Using the feature is, to be honest, a little bit bogus--it involves going to the menu system and setting up the multiple-exposure (how many shots on one frame) which takes time. And it seems like you have to do it after each exposure series. There is probably a custom setting so that you can leave it in multiple-exposure mode, but so far I haven't gone looking for it. Of course, with my first SLR cameras, I actually had to physically rewind the film after each exposure to put another exposure on top of it, so that was certainly no easier! But I am glad to see the feature coming back to cameras. You may have the feature and not even know it, so take the time to look at your manual's index (you kept your manual, didn't you?) and see if there is a multiple-exposure feature.

I shot the photo here in my garden last summer on one of the first days that I tried the feature. All that I did was to set the camera up to take two exposures on one frame, then took one shot of a bed of zinnias and another of a bed of marigolds. The camera took care of underexposing each frame (by one stop, I'm guessing) so that when they were combined, they wouldn't be overexposed--something you had to consider in film exposures, too.

Perhaps it's a longing for my misspent youth, but I love finding features like this in digital cameras. Pretty soon there is going to be a built-in petroleum jelly effect and won't I be waxing happy!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Restricting Depth of Field, Not Always Easy

A photograph always works best when it has a single clear subject that is well defined. That isn't to say that you can't have a complex scene (like this one) and still emphasize just one subject (the Christmas decorations in the tree), but you have to find a way to make that subject dominate its background. One reliable way to make a subject pop, of course, is by limiting depth of field (near-to-far sharpness) and thereby restricting focus to just one zone of the photo. Three factors go into how much depth of field any photo will have: the lens aperture you're using (the wider the aperture the less will be in sharp focus and vice versa), lens focal length (the longer the focal length, the less that will be in sharp focus and vice versa) and subject distance (the nearer you are to your subject, the less will be in sharp focus with any given lens at any given aperture). OK, that's the mini lesson in depth of field.

But even restricting depth of field with two of those factors doesn't always have enough impact. I took the shot above of a neighbor's tree after an ice storm last week. It wasn't a serious photo, I was just chatting with a few neighbors and popping off some shots. But what I wanted was for the decorations to really jump out against the background and not get lost in the tangle of ice-covered branches. And to some degree, I got that--but not quite as dramatically as I would have liked. Two depth of field factors were at work to give me shallow focus: I was using a Nikon 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G ED IF AF-S VR Nikkor Zoom Lens for Nikon Digital SLR Cameras set at 112mm (equivalent to 168mm in 35mm terms--which is a pretty long lens) and I was shooting nearly wide-open at f/5.6. For most subjects that would have restricted depth of field to a very narrow zone--and, in reality, it did--the sharpest focus is limited to the ornaments. But because I was about 30' away from the tree, I didn't have the third factor at work: I was a little too far away from the subject to really knock the background out of focus. Unfortunately the snow was about four feet (yes four feet!) deep between me and the tree and there was no way I was wading into that mess!

So, while I had the right lens and the right f/stop, the long lens compressed the space (a trait of long lenses) between the main subject (the ornaments and foreground tree) and the background trees and branches into a bit of a visual mush. Had I gotten physically closer (probably 10' closer) and isolated just a few of the ornaments I could have easily tossed the background completely out of focus. Or I could have zoomed out more, but from where I was standing I couldn't find a good composition using more lens.

The photo is OK, it's pretty, but the photo I was really seeing in my mind's eye would have required the third factor: getting closer. And that would have required a fourth factor: a photographer willing to stand up this his chest in snow to get the shot. That day, it wasn't me!

By the way, not to throw in a book plug (oh hey, why not!) but there is lots more about depth of field and related issues in my book Exposure Photo Workshop: Develop Your Digital Photography Talent.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Superbowl Prediction: Patriots Win NEXT Year!

OK, I've had a cold all week and so I'm too lazy to do a real posting. I'll take the easy route and do a Superbowl prediction:  Steelers 38/Green Bay 21 (by the way, that's the third prediction I've made, all different--but the Steelers win them all).  Of course, I've been a New England Patriots fan since I was about 11, so I don't really care who wins, but Green Bay was the first team I followed as a kid, so I'm kind of hoping they win. But I've watched a few Steelers' games this year and their defense is so incredible its hard to fathom anyone scoring much against it. But who knows. And honestly, who really cares (unless you're from Green Bay or Pittsburgh). And, by the way, I didn't have a football photo so I picked a youth soccer shot. Hey, it's a game played with a ball, you kick it, it's played on grass, you wear uniforms--let's not be too picky.  And here's another idea:  I've always thought they should take the two worst teams in football and have another game called the Toilet Bowl the week before the Superbowl. Probably be a better game!

My radio partner Gito (a Giant's fan) picks Green Bay 24-21 over Pittsburgh. My photographer friend Derek (a Bill's fan) has this prediction:  "I predict that Wignall's prediction is wrong." 

And incidentally, I have to say, having a wicked head cold is no fun, but getting to spend several days in bed in suspended animation under a pile of wool blankets: priceless.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

What Every Photographer Needs: A Bathroom with a View

I shot this from my bathroom window at dawn during one of the countless storms in January. And I'm grateful for the view because there was no way I was going to go out at dawn with a fresh foot of snow looking for pictures, Not that I mind tramping around in it once I get somewhere, but that morning the plow never even visited the street. Besides, fortunately, the bathroom is the warmest room in my house, so it was a nice toasty place to shoot from! Come on spring! (Shot with a Nikon D90 and an 18-70mm Nikkor zoom; exposed in RAW.)

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Enter PhotoWorkshop's Cell Phone Photo Contest: Win a $100 Gift Certificate

Got any cool cell phone pictures? Time to cash in--you might win $100 gift certificate from Unique Photo. Here's the contest info:

Announcing the first PHOTOWORKSHOP.COM Facebook Fan Site Photo Contest!

Assignment: "I Can't Believe I Took this with My Phone!" Upload your images here. The winning entry will receive $100 in merchandise from Unique Photo. Upload as many images as you like but they must have been taken with a cell or smart phone. Along with the winning image, a selection of the best submissions will appear on PHOTOWORKSHOP.COM and be announced in our Double Exposure newsletter. The contest is now open and will end February 15. So quit talking on your phones and start using them the way they were intended! To submit your entries:

1. Go to the Facebook Fan page and join our group if you are not already a member.
2. During the upload process, be sure you note in the 'status' or 'comment' area that your upload is intended as a cell phone entry.
3. Finally, BE SURE TO SUBSCRIBE TO DOUBLE EXPOSURE so as not to miss the massive exposure on PHOTOWORKSHOP.COM that we'll be giving to the winning image and top submissions received.

And that's it! We'll announce the winner a few days after the contest closes and that lucky (and talented) person can start their 'shopping spree' on the Unique Photo web site.