Saturday, August 25, 2012

Railroad Crossing Signals

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Beer bottles in the sunset

The sun hit some beer bottles as it was setting. The light was just perfect for a photo. 

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Lighting Practice With My Kids

Learning 2 Flash Photography, The Hard Way

My son assisted me in experimenting with two flashes. He held the external flash and I used the on-camera flash. The problem I have is that I bought a Cowboy Studio NPT-04 set. I thought that I could fire the remote flash through the trigger; but, it didn't work out. My camera doesn't have a sync cable port; I can only fire the external flash manually. 

This can be problematic because I would have to lower the shutter speed to give me enough time to fire the remote. I'd have to make the flashes stop the motion. 

Knowing this, I underexposed my camera by 2 stops. On full power, my flash gives me 3 stops up or down. Since the external flash would fire at full power, underexposing compensated. I underexposed by lowering the ISO to 100 and closing the aperture to the max, f8. My shutter speed started at .3 seconds and moved to .4 seconds. I was able to see the camera flash fire and also fire the external flash manually. Not ideal; but, it worked...sometimes. 

For the moment, Pocket Wizards are bit outside my budget. I could always buy a cheap-o flash for these experiments; but, I made the mistake of buying cheap remotes. Well, maybe I'm too harsh. Without the sync cable port on my camera, it's not the remote's fault. A little improvisation gets me in the ballpark. 

For example, absent the ability to control my external flash's power, it's a Speedlite 270EX II, I can adjust the power by having my son move back or forward. I could also adjust the power to the on-camera flash. Then, there's the reflector, etc... 

I did this mostly to see if I could do it. Otherwise, I'd have chosen a better subject than a work glove on my barbecue grill. It was fun. My kids had fun too. 

First attemp. On-camera flash only. Did not sync the external flash.

Another misfire. 

We got the external flash to fire; but, my son was standing too close. 

My son stood back a little further. Both flashes captured. Side flash still a bit strong.

Misfire. Between shots, the external flash would time out. 

Placed flash behind and below the glove for a highlight. 

Moved the camera back a bit. On camera flash power is lower. 

Turned up the power on the on-camera flash to full. Back flash timed out. 

Back flash failed to fire again. 

Camera flash on full, rear flash on full. You can see the glove's shadow on the backdrop. 

Lowered the power of on camera flash by 1 stop. Got the highlight. 


"Taller" is the Spanish word for workshop, or in this case, a mechanic shop. It is pronounced "tayer", stressing the second syllable and rolling the r at the end. 

This property near downtown has a small flat tire repair shop in the front, which charges $5 to fix a flat. In the rear, here in this photo, is the mechanic shop. 

Monday, August 20, 2012


This tree grew next to a warehouse that burned down earlier this year. I do not know if the tree died as a result of the fire, or if it was dead prior to the fire. The remains of the warehouse have been torn down and taken away, leaving the concrete foundation and this dead tree. It really catches your attention when you pass the vacant lot with a huge dead tree in the center.

Black and White, or Color?

This is the same image in black and white, and in color. I could not decide which would be better. I want the monkey bars to be the focus, which the color image does with the yellow. But, I find that the monochrome draws more attention to the shapes of the same rings.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Shopping Carts

I was walking by and saw these shopping carts. As you can see, it's only a handful of carts; but, they were grouped just so. It caught my eye. The parking lot looks empty; but, there were plenty of cars parked, just not on this side.

I took the photo in color with the intent of going black and white. I've discovered that it is better to tweak the image in color for saturation, contrast, highlights, darks, etc... and then turn it into monochrome. Otherwise, the camera will capture a rather even greyscale when set on monochrome.

Some Realizations About Photography

You learn about photography with doing. Hands on training is probably the best way to figure it all out.

I've been happy with my point and shoot camera, a Canon SX40 HS. The camera has aperture priority mode, shutter speed priority mode, manual mode, program mode, and some other auto features on it. I can control the flash power, have TTL metering, and many of the features that a full DSLR camera would have.

There are some limitations to the camera that make sense for a consumer product. Even though the camera has a Digic 5 processor, it doesn't use it as fully as the DSLR cameras.

One limitation, for example, is a top ISO speed of 3200 when you set it manually. However, the camera cheats at times. The photo above, for example, has an ISO of 4000. And, when set to low-light mode, it goes up to ISO 6400.

That's one of my realizations. Up until now, I was comfortable hanging out in the 200 to 400 ISO range, not realizing how higher ranges would help me increase shutter speed for sharper pictures in low light. Yes, there is noise in the image; but, that doesn't bother me so much.

I want the depth of field and motion freezing more than I want noiseless photos.

And I think that's my other realization. After taking so many pics, I'm starting to understand what I like in a photo. I can decide what sacrifices I'm willing to make to achieve the result I want. I also understand the limitations of my hardware, and I can figure out how to work around those limitations.

And, having momentarily borrowed some DSLRs at events, I realize that it's super important to RTFM. Cameras can do some really neat stuff if you know what all the features are.

Midday Swings

It would be eerie to visit a park without children if you didn't know that temperatures are near 100F close to noon time. I walked by this park on the way home from picking up some photo prints. I spent some time trying different shots.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Aha! Backgrounds with Aperture, Flash, and Shutter Speed

More flowers

I took these flowers in the midday sun using a flash. I expected things to be a bit more washed out; but, the camera adjusted for the extra light. So, the flowers are bright; but, the background looks darker here than it actually was. I think I'm starting to understand how shutter speed and aperture work together.

This was at f8.0, 1/250s, and ISO 160.

The Canon SX40 HS has a maximum aperture of f8. I normally shoot at 2.8 for DoF, except I was zoomed in here. For proper exposure, the camera increased the shutter speed to 1/250 as it could not close the aperture anymore.

In another picture, I was physically closer to the subject rather than zoomed in. The result, in the midday sun, was a blurry washed out background. The camera adjusted for the additional flash brightness through shutter speed; but, the aperture was wide open, allowing a whole lot of ambient light into the shot.

So, it now makes sense. Shutter speed=flash exposure. Aperture=ambient light exposure.

I wondered why photographers would even bother with f8, f22, or whatever small aperture. I can see that the bight subject, dark background result has a good aesthetic appeal. And, I can see that in certain circumstances, I might want the opposite, a washed out background. Good to know.

Flowers in the Wind

OK, this is slightly deceptively titled. In this photo I learned that if there is wind and your subject is moving around, grab it and hold it still for the shot. It was windy and the branch with these flowers was waving around everywhere. I had to grab it and shoot for my camera to focus long enough to take the shot. 

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Grass in the Foreground

Some decorative grass. The background is crap; but, I was mainly interested in the idea. I think if I'd put the taller grass to one side, it may have looked better. What do you think? A little rule of thirds?

I took this at almost mid day sun with the flash on to eliminate shadows on the grass. 

Scruffy Bird

I captured this scruffy little bird while waiting for a meeting. It was resting on the tip of what looks like an agave.

I don't know enough birds to tell you what kind of bird this is. But, with the whitish feathers, it looks a bit unkempt compared to other birds in darker colors. Thus, "Scruffy Bird". 

This was near the water fountain at Palms Crossing in McAllen, Texas. It was very slow to get near enough to the bird without spooking it. Once the flash started going off, it turned around and did a few poses. I'll post more later. 

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Sign of a 4-Year-Old

My daughter left this stack of blocks. It seemed the perfect subject for a photo. Her mom is grateful that they aren't on the floor where we can step on them. 

It is always fun to try to think about what she was imagining when she built the stack. How did the aquarium rail car fit into the equation?

Saturday, August 04, 2012

Vine on the Fence

This vine is growing on the fence at home. As I was walking out the door, the lighting on it caught my eye. I'll be trying shots at different times with different lighting.

The Living and the Dead

A couple of palm trees at a nearby park. One has been dead for some time. The other palm is close to reaching the same height as the old, dead one.

Friday, August 03, 2012

Backlit Leaf

A backlit bougainvillia leaf. I had seen a demonstration on how you get more texture from a backlit leaf than from a frontlit one. In the video, the photographer used a remotely fired flash. I can't do that without buying a hot shoe cable or a Pocket Wizard set. That is, of course, unless I use the sun as my backlight.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Sunset at Oblate Park

White Bougainvillea

Why I Podcast, Blog, Vidcast, and Engage in Social Media

What I do is intrusive. I'll get up in your business and take your picture. I'll record video. I'll talk about something we did together. I'll blog about it.

A lot of it has to do with my inability to let go and be part of the moment. I prefer to watch and enjoy experiences apart from melee. I have personality quirks that I don't care to fix, being happy the way God made me.

One of the things I realized early on when I started writing a journal, then started blogging, and then podcasting, and so forth, was that I am making history. My wife studied History in college, and she's good at it. The most valuable thing she knows how to do is Historiography. She knows where to look for information.

But, the thing is, what she loves to do depends largely on what I do, which is to record things.

Many of you are accidentally contributing to history via social media. However, most of what people post online has little value to Historians. I mean that your smart-ass repost on why Snooki did whatever (I'm not entirely certain who she is) has little value when compared to your letter to your loved one fighting in Afghanistan, or your letter to the editor on the subject.

On a macro scale, most social media is meaningless. It's just minutiae. However, when you record moments with the intent of capturing your family history, it takes on a whole new dimension.

Your photos, your notes, your videos, your ...whatever..., they become a part of the family lore. They become a way of remembering those who have passed away. Take for example, my Oral History interview with my Grandmother, Luz Mata.  Earlier this year, I had to attend her funeral. My family was glad to hear her voice again.

Below is a video by Jared Polin, who photographed the last days of his mother's struggle with cancer. The video really touched me, and reminded me of why I do what I do.

As insignificant as you think you are, you have a story. People have memories of you. They care about you and find an endearing quality about you, even if you're an asshole; because you're family.

It's hard to watch the video without getting teary-eyed. It gives you an idea about why you should record those personal moments. It used to be that all we had was memories; we have the technology to augment those memories.

It's important to leave something behind for those you love. It is a small comfort; but, it's a comfort.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

A Bright Tree

I took this a few days ago when I climbed on the roof. The way the sunlight lit up the tall tree on the right got my attention. I couldn't find a way to capture it properly on the camera. What I've done here is focus most of the tree and blur the area around to make the tree stand out. It kind of does what I was seeing, though not completely.

Perhaps I could have used light to make the parts of the tree that were in shadow stand out more.