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Capturing Life's Memories Volume 8

A Few of My Favorite Things

Sunflower 2One thing I love about digital photography is how it encourages me to get out and explore the world around me.

With my camera in hand I can make an “adventure” exploring almost anything from my backyard to a local park to a trip around town or across the state or country.

Each adventure begins as I look for opportunities to “find a photograph” in the places I visit and the things I see. The challenge is to not only capture the obvious photos but to also capture to the ones that others overlook.

We live in amazing world full of colors, textures, plants, animals, people, etc. These present us with endless photographic opportunities. Also many of us live in areas where there are all kinds of events, scenic attractions, etc. that provide great photo opportunities. Wherever we find ourselves we are truly surrounded by great photos waiting to be captured.

For this month I would like to share with you a few of my favorite recent photographs and let you know a little about the story behind them and the camera settings used to capture these special memories.

Botanical Gardens, Gardens, Flowers, etc.

Botanical Gardens, gardens, and flowers, make for great photographic subjects. Here are few recent examples of photos from a recent trip to Powell Gardens in Missouri. One of the key elements for capturing images of butterflies and insects is patience. Local parks and gardens offer a great place for photography. When visiting them take your time and be patient. Also be sure to pay attention to the lighting. Sometimes slightly changing your angle will allow more dramatic lighting and result in a much better photograph.

butterfly 2This image of a butterfly was taken using a telephoto lens. The combination of longer focal range (500mm) and lower f-stop (f6.3) allowed for a nice blurred background and helping separate the butterfly from the background.

Another factor in making this a better photo is the angle the light is to the subject which helps to highlight the butterfly's wings.

To capture this photo I focused on the butterfly and waited until it had opened its wings. By shooting a series of photos of the butterfly I was able to get several different ones with this being one of my favorites.

butterflyHere is another photo of a butterfly taken during the same trip.

As you can see the angle of the light is slightly different on this photo but similar settings were used which again helped the butterfly standout from the background.

Because this photo did not have the direct lighting of the first one, the ISO was increased to 400 but the aperture remained the same at f6.3. Sometimes even slight changes to your camera settings can make a big difference in the photograph.

macro 2Just as patience is the key to many photographs it is especially important when trying to take macro photos of insects. Had I not been walking slowly and carefully while observing what was going on around me I would have overlooked these small insects hard at work.
For this photo I used the program mode on my camera with a shutter speed of 1/500 and an aperture of f6.3. This combination allowed an ISO of only 200 resulting in a good quality image.

Because the lighting was good enough I was able to capture this without using a tripod. My telephoto lens was zoomed in at 330mm keeping this photo well within the "reciprocal value" needed to obtain a sharp photo when hand-holding the camera.

macro exampleThe second image taken just a few minutes later uses the same setting. Again the combination of faster shutter speed and lower f-stop allows you to freeze the insect and have a limited depth of field to help separate the subject from the background.

Photographing butterflies and other insects can be challenging and fun. Often they move from flower to flower very fast but with proper technique, some patience and a little luck you can capture some great photos of these amazing and often colorful creatures.

water lillyThis is just one of many photos of flowers that were taken on my trip to Powell Gardens.

This photo was also shot using the program mode on my camera. The photo was captured using a shutter speed of 1/640 and an aperture of f9. This combination allowed me to keep the ISO speed at 200 allowing for a sharp, "noise free" image.

In order to "frame" the flower the way I wanted to I used a my telephoto lens zoomed in at 500mm and supported it using a monopod to help avoid any camera shake or motion blur.

For this image I used some of the powerful editing tools of ACDSee Pro 4.0 to help adjust the image and bring out the beauty of the flower and its reflection. While the original image was very good without any editing, it was slightly darker and I wanted to help bring out the reflection and color a little more, which the powerful editing tools in ACDSee Pro easily did.

Waterfalls, Scenic Vistas, wide open spaces, etc.

Waterfalls, scenic vistas and wide open spaces can all make for great photos. I am not sure what it is about waterfalls but they seem to draw photographers like magnets.
The area I live in has very few waterfalls and they are much smaller and less powerful than the majestic ones like Niagara Falls that draw millions of people each year to see their amazing power and beauty. Yet even though they are much smaller and less powerful even these waterfalls make for a great photographic subject.

There are many different ways of photographing waterfalls. Using a fast shutter speed allows you to "freeze" the water and results in one type of photograph while using a slow shutter speed will "blur" the water resulting in those almost surreal photos as the water takes on a different perspective.

On a recent trip across Kansas I went to Pillsbury Crossing outside of Manhattan, Kansas to take a picture of the waterfall there. I was hoping to take pictures at the slow shutter speeds necessary to blur the water but ended up not being able to accomplish that for a variety of reasons. First of all I left the attachment plate to my tripod at home attached to my camcorder...rule one always double check all equipment before leaving home. Next I was at the waterfall on a bright sunny day in the middle of the afternoon and I simply could not adjust my shutter speed to be low enough without over exposing the image. While I still captured some great photos of the waterfall I did not get the type of photo I had hoped to because I simply was not prepared.

Pillsbury Crossing

On my next trip there I will be sure to try and be there either early in the morning or early evening so the light is less direct. I will also be sure to have my tripod and some neutral density filters with me to allow me to have everything needed to slow down the shutter speed and come away with that beautiful waterfall picture with the silky smooth water.

The moral of this story is to always double check your equipment before you leave for a day of photography and plan ahead so you are there at the right time of day and with all the equipment needed to capture the type of photograph you are looking for.

Even though I did not get the photo I was hoping for, I did get some good photos of this scenic area including this panorama of the waterfall. This photo is actually a series of individual photos taken in vertical format and then "stitched" together using the auto merge function of PhotoShop CS5. The result is a high resolution panoramic picture seen above.

Another photo taken while traveling through Kansas is this one taken at Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area outside of Great Bend, Kansas. As I was driving through the area hoping to get some photographs of birds or wildlife I instead captured this panoramic image of a large thunderstorm building in the distance.

Cheyenne Bottoms Panorama

This photo, like the one of the waterfall above is actually a series of photos taken in vertical format and then merged together in Photoshop to create one large panoramic image.

Taking photos of storms presents its own unique set of challenges. While this particular one was quite a distance away and of no danger, we must be very careful when there is lightning or other dangerous weather conditions. If you do decide to try and take photos of approaching storms be sure and do so safely and with proper precautions.

Sunsets and Sunrises

Sunsets and Sunrises are another favorite of mine to photograph. When photographing sunrises and sunsets you have the choice to simply capture the beauty of the scene without any foreground objects or you can choose to include some interesting foreground subject and silhouette it against the sunrise or sunset. Both make for dramatic and beautiful photos.
This series of sunrise photos taken in a wheat field show you how making a few changes to your camera settings or photographing the subject from a slightly different angle can give you dramatically different photos.

When I decided to take some photos of a wheat field at sunrise I had a specific image in mind that I was trying to capture. That led me to take lots of photos using different settings and from different angles. In doing so I not only captured the type of image I was hoping to but also many other vastly different images as well.

I have chosen these three photos as examples of how minor changes in your camera settings or selecting a different angle or perspective can dramatically change the photo.

Wheat SunriseThe first image is the one that had in mind when I began my photo shoot that morning. It is one of wheat being silhouetted in front of the rising sun. For this image I adjusted my exposure compensation to -1.3ev to help make the foreground darker while bringing out the color of the sunrise. To capture it I used the program mode on my camera with a shutter speed of 1/640, aperture of f13 and ISO of 200. Taken at 40mm using an 18-70mm lens allowed me to capture the type of image I was trying to capture.

WheatThe second image was taken just a few minutes later and shows you just how much a change in angle or perspective can change the image being captured. For this photo I turned away from the sunrise and using a lower angle I captured a photo looking up towards the morning sky. Most of the settings were very similar to the first photo, although I did not use any exposure compensation and instead let the cameras normal exposure capture a much lighter image.

wheat sunrise1For the third image I again was trying to capture a silhouette of the wheat with the sunrise in the background. But instead of using the wider angle 40mm focal length I switched to a telephoto lens and zoomed in to 230mm while using aperture priority to minimize my depth of field. This combination allowed for the smoother "bokeh" or blurred background that is noticeable in this picture.

Taking photos at sunrise or sunset presents its own unique sets of challenges. As in many other photographic settings, slight changes in your perspective or camera settings can produce vastly different results.

Old towns, deserted buildings, off the beaten path places, etc.

Old towns, deserted buildings, off the beaten path places also are another of my favorite subjects to photograph.
Often in our busy lives we drive right by these small towns or abandoned buildings with scarcely a thought. Yet often they hold some great photographic opportunities if we slow down and take time to explore them.

Bobs Market

I took this photo of Bobs Market on the almost deserted main street in small town in Western Kansas. I liked this particular building because of subtle colors and the details of the decaying bricks and wood. It reminded me of times gone by and I feel like recording pictures of these types of places helps preserve a of our history and captures a small piece of Americana.

For this photo I used a focal length of 55mm and and ISO of 200, aperture of f13 and shutter speed of 1/125 second. After taking the photo I adjusted the colors and lighting slightly useing ACDSee Pro 4.0. After that I loaded the photo into Photoshop CS4 and used Topaz Labs Adjust Photoshop Filter on it.

This filter helps bring out the details in the brick and wood and adjusts the color from a more dramatic photo. If you are not familiar with Topaz Filters you should try them out. You can download a free 30 day trial of Topaz Adjust here.

Birds, animals, wildlife, etc.

RacconBirds and wildlife are some of my favorite things to photograph. That is why choosing just one image to share with from this group of subjects was hard. Although I finally decided on this photograph of a raccoon on a road sign.
This photo is one of those that was only captured because I was lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time. I had been out photographing a sunset at Monument Rocks in Western Kansas and was slowly making my way along the dirt roads heading back to the main highway. As I was driving along I caught a glimpse of something on top of a road sign and after stopping and backing up discovered this little raccoon.

I suspect he had probably climbed the road sign as a way of getting away from some predator. Quickly grabbing my camera, I took several pictures of him trying to get one that captured the moment. Because of the reflective paint on the sign and the dark night it was hard to find a setting or angle that allowed me to get a good picture. But by adjusting my angle and using a flash I finally was able to get this picture which I liked.

Taken at 70mm with flash and using an ISO of 800, aperture of f5.6 and shutter speed of 1/125 second, I was able to get a well exposed image by taking it from the back side of the road sign. After taking several photos I left the raccoon hanging there and drove off into the night.

One reason I like this photo is for image it can convey. This small raccoon found his shelter on top of this lonely road sign in the middle of Western Kansas. As the highest thing around it provided him with protection from whatever predator had "treed" him there. As long as he would "hang in there" he would be safe. I could not help but think of the irony of him holding on for safety to a road sign riddled with bullet holes.

I suspect many of us have had times where we too "hung on" to whatever could support us through our difficult days, much like that small raccoon was that night in Kansas.

I hope that you have enjoyed seeing some of my favorite photos from this summer. I would love for you to share some of you favorite photos and the stories behind them with myself and the visitors to my website.

If you would like to share a photo you can easily do so by filling out the form at the bottom of my page on Vacation Photography Tips.

Until Next Month,


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