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, May 31, 2011

It's Official: Best Graduation Book Gift of All Time

It's been a while since I've done any blatant and shameless self promotion here, but there's no time like the present. And speaking of presents: the super secret institute that meets to decide such things has leaked the fact that my book The NEW Joy of Digital Photography (Lark Photography Book) is widely considered the number one best graduation present among photography books. I'm honored to hear this and I had absolutely no influence over their decision. And ignore all rumors that I am the sole member of that super-secret secret intellectual society.

But since we're on the topic of Joy (and truly, who doesn't need more joy in their life?), I will say that it's easily the best general photography book that I've ever written. The book presumes no knowledge of photography or cameras, and the author skillfully manages to weave the wonder of digital cameras and technology into a classic book (oh, wait, there I got talking about myself in the third person again) on all aspects of photography: lighting, composition, camera handling, imagination, etc. And the book is illustrated by hundreds (probably more than 400, but I never actually counted) of photos by myself and some of the world's great shooters: Boyd Norton, Derek Doeffinger, Ralph Lee Hopkins (wait until you see his cool wildlife shots), Jim Zuckerman, Ron Niebrugge, Julia Cutter and many others.

OK, that's the end of the commercial :) I just thought I'd give myself a little spring promotion! Oh, and if you happen to live in a rural (or Native American) community that can't afford to buy books these days: I'll send them a copy for free. Just have the librarian contact me. Come to think of it, that goes for just about any library that wants a copy, as long as I can afford to send them.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Thank You

I shot this photo in 2006 in Turners Falls, Massachusetts. There was a flag planted on the hilltop for every soldier that lost his or her life in Iraq and at that time there were about 2,500 flags. Eventually (and not slowly) that number would climb to around 4,500--fifty percent of those were under 25 years old. While it was heartening and inspiring to come across this amazing display, it is, of course, a memorial that is equal parts gratitude and sorrow. Freedom is never free and we're reminded of that almost every day. But it would be nice if the reminders were less frequent and if many more sons and daughters and parents made it home safely.

Probably the best war film (if there is such a thing as a good war film) that I have ever seen is Saving Private Ryan (Special Limited Edition). The opening 20 minutes or so, as you probably know, are among the most realistic and gruesome war scenes ever filmed: they are almost impossible to watch, but they should be required viewing for everyone--particularly the old men and women who send young men and women to war. If you've never seen the movie, put it on your Netflix list, or just go buy a copy and then share it with friends. 

I was in a restaurant with a friend a few weeks ago and a soldier in uniform came in with a small group of people--it was just a few days after Bin Laden was killed--and at one point he walked from one corner of the restaurant to the other to use the bathroom. As he walked past, people at virtually every table stopped him, said "thank you" and shook his hand. They had no idea who he was, no idea where he had served or for how long, but each one stopped their meal to show their gratitude. How nice that he was home among family and friends to hear those words--and for his friends and family to see that wave of appreciation.

While you're thinking of Memorial Day, here's a bit of it's history as posted by my radio partner and friend Ken Brown. The contrast between the original intent of the holiday and what we have today is pretty interesting.

And to all who are serving now and who have served: Thank you.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Orange Blossom (is) Special

Well, I could hardly tempt you with a photo of the bud (see the previous posting) and not show you the blossom--so here it is. Actually, I think the bud in that posting is the one in the bottom right of this shot. These buds just pop open (I wonder if that's why they're called poppies?) one morning without much warning--you usually don't see the color start to emerge, as you do with other flowers. I shot this one using a bit of fill-in flash to compete with the backlighting and used the flash-compensation setting on my D90 body to set the flash to about 2/3 stop less than the daylight exposure (if you have a D90, the switch for this is on the left side of the prism housing--look it up in your manual, it's easy to use). But the flash was still a little "shiny" looking to me on the orange petals, so I burned them down a touch in Photoshop. Also, I wanted the background to be out of focus, but was able to shoot at the relatively small aperture of f/8 (normally I'd shoot much wider, at f/4, for example) and still keep the background soft because 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 240mm--or the equivalent of 360mm in 35mm (with the cropping factor). This lens does not have the greatest bokeh in the world (bokeh is the aesthetic quality of the out-of-focus region) but it's not too bad. Anyway, I just finished updating my book Exposure Photo Workshop: Develop Your Digital Photography Talent so you'll have to forgive me for explaining so much about the exposure--it takes a few weeks to shake this stuff out of my head.

Exposure: Shot at ISO 200 at 1/60 sec., at f/8, with fill-in flash and on a Manfrotto 190XPROB 3 Section Aluminum Pro Tripod tripod. Captured in RAW.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Admiring the Surprise Gift of the Poppies

If you had never seen one open before, who would think that this hairy little pod would open up to become such a cheerful orange flower? But that's one of the things I like about poppies: they start out as an almost alien-looking plant form pushing up through the ground in April, then continue their mysterious appearance by growing these strange buds on graceful--but equally hairy--stems that seem right out of Little Shop of Horrors. Then you come out one sunny morning in May and the garden is full beautiful orange or red blossoms. It's almost as if nature is testing your patience to see if you will be curious enough to wait for the May surprise. I photographed this one last year (on May 31st) and just noticed yesterday that this year's buds are beginning to look very similar. It pays to scout around the garden this time of year to see if you can find interesting shapes and forms before the flowers actually blossom. I shot this with a Nikon D90 (now discontinued, see yesterday's posting) with a 70-300mm Nikkor zoom and a close-up extension tube (not sure which size, probably 20mm) with existing light coming from behind the bud.

Exposure notes: Shot at ISO200, f/5.6 at 1/100 second in Shutter Priority mode, on a tripod. Capture in RAW.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

End of the Nikon D90 Camera Body?


I just read that the Nikon D90 body has been listed as discontinued on the Nikon Japanese website. I went to the site and let Google translate it, but I don't see the discontinuation notice--but I'm probably just not seeing the correct page. I'm guessing that the body is being phased out in favor of the Nikon D7000, a 16.2mp camera that is about two years newer than the D90. Still, the D90 is a great camera and if it's discontinued it might be a good time to look for bargain prices. By the way, I saw the news on the Photography Bay blog--a very fun and interesting blog.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

That's Some Deep Photo, Man

With all due respect to the recent attempts by camera makers to add 3D to digital photography (people have been trying to perfect it since photography was invented, by the way), the best way to give your photos a sense of depth is to use one of several depth cues. Depth cues are just visual "tricks" (for lack of a better word) that enhance the illusion of distance in a picture. One of the most powerful of these is linear perspective--or using a receding line to draw the eye further into the scene and create that sensation of spatial expansion. A lot of things can be used to create that sense of perspective: a road going into the distance, a stream or river that leads off to a vanishing point or, in this case, a fence that seems to disappear over the rolling hills of an Iowa meadow. I exaggerated the effect to some degree by using a long lens to condense the hills a bit. You would think that doing this would ruin the sense of space--and sometimes it does--but in this case, by pushing the fence posts closer together, you see the repetition in a more exaggerated way. I tried shooting it with a wide-angle lens, but everything in the frame got so small that the drama seemed to evaporate--it pays to experiment with different lenses when a scene isn't coming out just the way you want it to.

Part of the reason that this type of illusion works is because the farther away that the fence posts get, the smaller they seem. In fact, size diminution (shrinking sizes) is another very powerful cue on its own. So next time you're photographing a landscape and you want it to seem "deep" in its two-dimensional form, try adding the illusion of 3D with a depth cue. I'll write about a few more of these in upcoming columns.

Photo Note: Shot with a Nikon D70 body and a 70-300mm Nikkor lens (at 240mm). Exposed at ISO 200 for 1/30 sec., at f/22.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Owl and the Pussycat: Great animal video!



I can't believe this video--a great piece of filming and a terrific story of animal friendship!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Cool Photo Accessories You May Already Own

Popular Photography called me a few weeks ago and asked if I'd rummage through my camera bags and see if I had any cool photo accessories that might not necessarily have come from the photo store. Are you kidding? My camera bag looks more like a kitchen drawer than a bag full of photo stuff--I'm constantly finding stuff around the house that I think would be a useful photography tool. So I came up with eleven of them (top-ten lists are so overdone!) and, the truth is, I probably have another bunch I can write about next time they ask. Be sure to click on the "gallery" button when you go to the page and then "next" to follow the story along. By the way, if you like these kind of improv ideas, you'll like my book Jeff Wignall's Digital Photography Crash Course: 2 Minute Tips for Better Photos (Lark Photography Book)--it's a book of about 150 shooting & editing ideas that are kind of home-brewed and a bit off the wall...which pretty much describes me.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Ten Things to Learn from the Japanese People

It always stuns me how quickly one major news even falls out the headlines when another comes along. Although the earthquake that destroyed so much of Japanese life happened just eight weeks ago, it's virtually disappeared from the media. Today I got a letter from the Japanese tourism bureau and, happily, they've announced that the United States Department of State has reduced the restricted travel area to  only the 50 miles radius surrounding the Fukushima nuclear power plant, which excludes major cities such as Tokyo and Yokohama, and Tokyo's Narita and Haneda airports. Great news for the Japan tourism industry. One thing that really struck me about this whole event was how graceful the Japanese people were in the face of this incredible series of horrors. The word "looting" was barely mentioned in any news story. The following list of characteristics of how the Japanese have dealt with the earthquake and tsunami was included in the tourism newsletter and, though they don't really know the source of it, I think it is probably quite accurate and it's pretty amazing. Take a moment to read this list and you'll see why we should all have great admiration and respect for the Japanese people:

1. THE CALM
(Not a single visual of chest-beating or wild grief. Sorrow itself has been elevated.)
2. THE DIGNITY
(Disciplined queues for water and groceries. Not a rough word or a crude gesture.)
3. THE ABILITY
(The incredible architects, for instance. Buildings swayed but didn't fall.)
4. THE GRACE
(People bought only what they needed for the present, so everybody could get something.)
5. THE ORDER
(No looting in shops. No honking and no overtaking on the roads. Just understanding.)
6. THE SACRIFICE
(Fifty workers stayed back to pump sea water in the N-reactors. How will they ever be repaid?)
7. THE TENDERNESS
(Restaurants cut prices. An unguarded ATM is left alone. The strong cared for the weak.)
8. THE TRAINING
(The old and the children, everyone knew exactly what to do. And they did just that.)
9. THE MEDIA
(They showed magnificent restraint in the bulletins. No silly reporters. Only calm reportage.)
10. THE CONSCIENCE
(When the power went off in a store, people put things back on the shelves and left quietly!)