New Trick

You cannot teach new tricks as you drive along. Do not try this at home!

I saw the sunrise behind us as we drove along. I could see it in our rear view mirrors. Colleen does not know how to manually focus my camera. I could not teach her on the fly. She tried. We failed…from her side mirror. I was a bit more successful from my side. It is a matter of knowing where you want the camera to focus and then doing it. Got it? simple!

It’s not as easy as it seems and Colleen is definitely not at fault. She simply had never tried to manually focus the camera. And I suppose she did not understand the subject at hand was the sunrise. Plus, the lighting was extreme contrast. And… You need a bit of experience. And luck! I got it from my side.


Technical: Canon EOS 7D, 1/80 sec, f1.4, focal length 50mm

This is an example of shallow depth of field. Critical focus is important. Cousin David focused on the left eye highlight. Everything else is slightly out of focus. With point and shoots, and even with automatic DSLR settings, the computer avoids the wide open f-stop. The whole point is to focus the viewer on a particular area of interest. For portraits it’s the eyes. And the shallow depth of field gives you that ‘bokeh’ some photographers avidly seek. With auto-focus, I’ve really gotten lazy. But it doesn’t mean you should forget the rules. In order to ‘break the rule’ creatively, you need to know the rules. At least that’s my opinion.

Swing and Motion

Susan wrote: Not one of my favorites but brings up a question?  How do you photograph kids on swings?  Motion catch???

There are some pointers but no sure fire solution. Use a fast shutter speed. That would be to set the shutter at a fixed setting and let the ISO and f-stop adjust. I would use 1/500 to stop motion on a swing.

Manually focus as the subject moves. The motion is toward, away, or across your field of vision. Focus out or in depending on the direction of motion like the swing. For objects moving across the field of view – pan the camera. That is to say swing it in the direction of the motion. It will blur the background and focus on the object such as a car. No one much uses manual focus anymore. But it’s there if you want to try it.

Focus points are now in multiples on all advanced digital cameras. The Nikons and Canons offer a choice of metering patterns. There are multiple points of focus where the subject crossing that sensor point will cause the lens to focus on the subject. On the Nikon D200, I use the closest subject focus choice. It focuses reliably on the nearest subject, which usually happens to be my subject of interest. It works most of the time. This is what I rely upon as far as focus.

Anticipation is important. Most things we photograph are moving in a reasonably predictable pattern. Not so for wildlife but most things like a swing have predictable paths. You can focus on a point and let the action come into the field of view. You can pan the camera and follow the action. You can continuously focus and fire the shutter at the critical moment.

There is a button on Nikon and Canon cameras, which allows you to focus first and then trip the shutter separately instead of a single button that you depress partially and fire the shutter. This gives a bit more control. It is what the sports photographers rely upon. It’s a very good trick and feature on the camera. The manual takes a page or so to discuss it and I swear I skipped over that part until I shot tennis. Then it all made sense.

Finally be prepared to shoot a lot of images. There will usually be one or two that you will want to keep. The rest will be technically good but not outstanding.


Focus and Depth of Field

Technical: Nikon D90 1/200 sec, f14, focal length 31

The standing question:

Abi is standing under our Weeping Cherry Tree….She pulled on the branches and the blossoms showered her with “Pink”–I did the same! ~  Any trick to get the blossoms in better focus?

Can you focus the blossoms? It’s pretty hard. The subject, Abi, is in focus. The blossoms are falling and in a different plane. So you cannot effectively focus on both. Say you tried to focus on the blossoms, forget Abi. This would require pre-focusing. You would go to manual focus. Focus on a few blossoms, then fire as they fell through the camera view. It can be done, but this is a fine photo of Abi. I would have preferred this over an out of focus grand daughter.

Focus and Depth of Field

Technical: Nikon D90 1/200 sec, f13, focal length 26

Abi is standing under our Weeping Cherry Tree….She pulled on the branches and the blossoms showered her with “Pink”–I did the same! ~  Any trick to get the blossoms in better focus?

Susan sent the above emails with a few pics of grand daughter Abi. Whoa, she’s getting big now. It’s spring. There’s a lot going on in this photo. There’s more documentation of spring flowers and color than any focus on a subject. As a snapshot, it’s fine. Otherwise it needs more to draw interest. No harm here but I was also caught up in getting the whole kid into the photo when mine were little. It might have been much more interesting to crop and focus on the head and shoulders. But we tend to photograph the whole kid. Perhaps, the idea is that the editing will compensate later.

Julia Zebra

Technical: Nikon D200, 1/250 sec, f8, focal length 55mm

This is another trick I learned from Julia and David. With point and shoot cameras, some of the tricks they know are hilarious. David did it in South America and here Julia demonstrates in Africa. Perspective is an interesting concept. I admit to manipulating the image for the final result. But here, one holds out their hand and the photographer lines up the distant subject (zebra). Done right it looks like you are holding a very large animal in your hand. I have seen this done much better by both kids.

Bird Feeder

Technical: Nikon D200, 1/250 sec, f5, focal length 185mm

It was a snowy grey day at the bird feeder. The low saturation is obvious. The image is soft. I had to shoot this through the window. My wife would have pitched a fit if I had kept the window open. Sometimes you take what is there. The chair in the background is a bit distracting but it is blurred out from the depth of field and focal length. But then again there is that perfect placement of the beak within the beak that makes this special in spite of all else.

Bird Feeder

Technical: 0039 Nikon D200 1/250 sec, f5, ISO 200, focal length 160      Technical: 9815 Nikon D200 1/250 sec, f5, ISO 200, focal length 185                     Technical: 1010 Nikon D200 1/1000 sec, f5, ISO 1000, focal length 145

Here’s an exercise. Try to shoot birds in flight. I have many shots now of birds perched on the feeder. Flight is another subject. Advice: shoot at high shutter speed, use a tripod, pre focus, and have lots of patience. I used a tripod, which I mostly eschew. It does limit mobility and composition. But holding a telephoto lens is a chore. I used the bird feeder and focused on one of the lower screws as my pre focus point. I set the camera focus on manual so I could fine tune. I used shutter speeds of 1/250, 1/1000, and then 1/2000. The action is caught pretty well at 1/2000 but there is the noise/ISO to contend with. My ISO ran to 1000 and then 1600. The images were sharp. At 1/250, the wing motion was harder to stop. The images are obtained primarily by patience. In 1000 images, I got about 50 take home shots. You would never do that with film, but hey, it’s digital. You cannot just set off the motor drive. It will not reliably capture good images. Most images have no movement because the timing was off. Or the image will capture the wings in a strange position. Hence there is a low rate of success. The tripod is crucial. I  could pre focus and then wait. While waiting I made up this post.

For a really great set of photos see 11/14 post hummingbirds by cousin David. It’s posted again below.


Technical: Nikon D90, 1/200 sec, f5, focal length 22

Flowers are great subjects. They don’t move, except for the breeze. So because we see flowers all the time, it’s hard to get a photo that’s a ‘keeper.’ You know what I mean – something special. The composition is interesting because a square crop is not so common in photography. But it’s definitely in use in the ad world. The center mum has not bloomed. It’s a distraction. I would instead move in and focus on one plant and emphasize color and texture. Yellow or purple, you decide.



Technical: Canon EOS 7D, 1/80 sec, f2.8, ISO 500, focal length 60mm, no flash

Pardon me if I didn’t get this right away. The selective focus made me think that this was a ring. Now I see the caterpillar. Good composition. The background is nicely out of focus. This is because of two things. The f-stop is 2.8 and this gives a narrow depth of field. And the background leaves and stem are far enough away to be way out of focus. The stem which otherwise might be distracting if it were in focus, now adds a pleasing pattern in the background. What might have been more interesting would be to have had the head of the caterpillar in view. If you don’t mind cheating a little, I would Photoshop the spot on the petal in the right foreground. It’s a fine shot.