Confessions of a Ballerunner

Essays on Sports, Arts, Culture, and Life

Archive for the tag “camera”

Whimsical fish and bicycle mixed-media illustration

seafood bike_collage_med.res

This was an illustration I did for my 3-1/2 year old nephew based on a trip I made to London, England in September of 2012, where I happened upon a lovely green delivery bike complete with wicker basket for Bentley’s Oyster Bar & Grill off Regents Street.

The bike and cat were hand-drawn using a black pitt pen; the fish and newspaper were photographs I had taken and cropped, while the boy, cartoon fish, and background were all drawn using Photoshop. Colorization was completed in Photoshop. My nephew loved it! 🙂

Experimenting with still life and portrait DSLR photography

Well, my intro class in digital SLR photography at the School of the Photographic Arts: Ottawa will soon be finishing (sigh). I have really enjoyed this class and am grateful for the DSLR Nikon D40 camera that a friend of mine loaned me so that I could take this class and see if photography was an art form I would enjoy prior to going out and purchasing my own DSLR camera (which can be quite an investment).

It’s clear to me that I still need a lot more time to work on the mechanics or technical aspects of shooting, but at least I think I have pretty good natural instincts for composition and story-telling. It’s figuring out those exact settings (the specs) I will need for a given shot that still seems to trip me up. You can always tell a seasoned photographer from a newbie by the former’s facility with rattling off the expected shutter speed, F-stop and ISO that will be needed for a shot. I guess I just need to be patient and practise, practise, practise. And, perhaps invest in a Dummies book for some remedial training.

As you may have noted from my previous posts, landscape photography is a passion. So is black & white photography. I also find people fascinating and would really like to learn to shoot portraits both in a studio (posed) and non-studio/street (unposed) setting. I find studio photography trickier though, since you require a fair amount of equipment, and importantly, you need to understand how to adjust/manipulate light and shadow. Studio is a lot less forgiving than outdoor photography, with the former requiring more technical skill, in my opinion.

We did two classes in studio: one with still life (objects) and one with human subjects (portraits). I preferred the portrait session probably because I’m generally more interested in human subject matter than inanimate objects. (Not surprisingly, any past career testing I had done revealed I was not someone who would be terribly well suited to engineering or related fields.)

This wine glass was deceptively tricky to shoot and get the rim lighting just right. I tried to do some correction in Photoshop, but still couldn’t bring the stem outline out. The background is also too dark. (Argghh!)

As I listened to my enthusiastic photography teacher’s tips during our two studio sessions, I couldn’t help but think how much more interesting and less intimidating high school Physics classes would’ve been had the teachers used real-life ‘case studies’ (like is routinely done in problem-based learning curricula in the health sciences). An illustration of how the principles of Physics are applied to real-life problems would’ve made learning Physics easier for people like me, who are stimulated by story-telling and who don’t visualize well in 3-D and are also mechanically-challenged.

For example, studio photography could easily double as a lesson in Physics (with the manipulation of light and shadow) or Mathematics (especially Geometry with the calculation of angles) — and Shop class, if you have a MacGyver-like inventor/photography teacher like I do! 🙂 There are also potential teachable moments for Biology, if you do macro-photography (e.g., use of a magnifying lens to make bugs look big and allow one to study nature up close) and Chemistry, if you do food photography (e.g., adding drops of glycerin to an aqueous liquid to simulate water drops or adding effervescent tablets to make beer look frothy).

This still life set-up was kind of random, but it was a team effort. I threw my watch into the scene and declared it a re-interpretation of Salvador Dali‘s “Persistence of Memory” painting.

So, all in all, I found the evening of shooting still life kind of frustrating. Fortunately, when we did portraits the following week, everyone shot the same models, so we had some real-time group-think on what shutter speed and F-stop to try. (ISO remained constant.) I was generally more pleased with the portraits I had taken, but still had some trouble toning down the shiny slot box in the background of photo # 2 (below) in Photoshop. Again, I guess it’s just a matter of practice and getting more familiar with Photoshop…

Canadian Tulip Festival, Ottawa: A perfect opportunity for an aspiring photographer to hone her craft

Well, it’s the May long weekend – the start of planting, the beginning of summer, the opening up of one’s cottage (chalet, cabin, or camp), the return of Sunday morning cycling along the parkways, the weekend before Ottawa Race Weekend, and the last hurrah for this year’s edition of the Canadian Tulip Festival here in Ottawa.

A couple of weeks ago, I began an introductory class in digital SLR photography through the School of the Photographic Arts in Ottawa (SPAO). I’ve always been an avid point-and-shoot photographer since I was a kid, but I finally decided it was high time I learned to shoot in proper, manual mode with an SLR. I also have to say, the plethora of stunning photography I’ve seen on WordPress to-date has certainly been a motivating factor to finally jumping on the SLR bandwagon. The main draw, however, was the allure of eventually being able to create some really interesting, artistic shots and possibly venturing into the realm of mixed media.

For now, I’m borrowing a photographer-friend’s back-up SLR camera. I figured it was probably best to see if I actually liked SLR photography first (as much as I suspected I might) before going out and buying an expensive camera. Plus, I figured I would probably benefit from some good buying tips from the teacher — and avoid getting sucked into all kinds of pricey accessories I didn’t need from those opportunistic sharks on commission at the big box stores. Turns out my teacher, who reminds me of a cross between Red Green and MacGyver, is all about cost-effective photography. Sweet! 🙂

Since I love color, shooting landscapes, and being outdoors, the Tulip Festival afforded me a great opportunity to practise taking pictures, while gaining familiarity through experimenting with the essential technical aspects of the camera — specifically, the shutter speed, the aperture, the ISO. I’m not really conversant in these features yet, as I mainly adjust instinctively or by feel right now. (I do really enjoy fiddling with post-production in Photoshop though! :-)) Hopefully, over the next two months of this class, however, I will get to ‘know the numbers’ when asked about the technical characteristics of a given photo I take.

To give you an idea of my baseline or more accurately, how mechanically-challenged I am (which makes mastering the technical aspects of SLR photography both challenging and a bit intimidating), I only learned a few days ago that I had to manually turn the lens in order to zoom in and out. What a whole new world that opened up for me! 🙂 Up to that point, I had only been shooting at 18mm and couldn’t figure out how I would ever bring a distant image into focus. (With point-and-shoot cameras, of course, that feature was simply a button you pressed.)

Anyway, the photos below represent some of the fruits of my self-directed photography tutorials, and were shot over several outings during the past two weeks. This year, the tulips were unfortunately not at their best. Some beds were bursting with blooms while others looked really wilted overall. By contrast, the beds were consistently beautiful last year (and the year before), though reached their peak well ahead of the Tulip Festival schedule. This year, the tulips weren’t especially early blooming, but they were missing that wow factor of last year. I should say that I am far from being a green thumb, but I do have to wonder if that week of pseudo-summer we had back in March, followed by the considerably cooler, often frosty April, was responsible for the outcome of lacklustre blooms in many of the beds. In any case, the show — or Festival — must go on. The pink tulips — I think they’re the ‘Pink Lady’ variety — along the canal were especially pretty and are my favourite, and so that is where I spent the bulk of my practising. I guess I must be expressing a little bit of my Dutch heritage by enjoying these beautiful flowers so.

[Above: There was a peleton of middle school kids seemingly out on a field trip, happily whizzing by as I shot this lovely bed of pink tulips near the canal.]

[Below: Taking time to reflect or ‘smell the tulips’ near the canal.]

[Below: This was one of the loveliest beds of pink tulips I came upon, somewhat removed from the ‘main stage’ downtown or at Dow’s Lake, being along the canal path. The ‘castle’ house in the background has always caught my eye, as well; from the path, I have noted what seems to be a sizable library visible through the windows in its turret.]

[Below: This was my first foray into shooting in manual mode with SLR last weekend at Commissioners Park. An idyllic location — especially in the early morning — where all those beautiful, gracious homes overlook the park and Dow’s Lake, and where the greatest concentration of tulip beds can be found.]

[Below: My pink tulips again after discovering what a 50-70 mm shot looks like this past weekend. :-)]

[Below: No tulips per se in this shot, but I love this house, particularly its windows and the stunning views of the Lake and sunset that they must provide the owners. I also liked the lilac bush, but the color is a bit dull in this photo.]

[Below: This Tudor-style home is another favourite. It wraps around the corner of Queen Elizabeth Drive facing the canal. In the winter, it is very tastefully decorated with carefully placed beautiful balsam wreaths with red ribbons.]

[Below: A practice shot: Giving the tulips their close-up.]

[Below: Another home I greatly admire for its interesting architecture and the multiple chimneys. It must be cozy during the winter! :-)]

[Below: Just around the bend from Commissioners Park in the Glebe on a quiet, leafy laneway lies this interesting little, ivy-covered, stucco English cottage with a wonderful red door.]

[Below: A little pond in the Glebe where fish and turtles can be found frolicking — much to the delight of the neighborhood children — along with this lovely bed of tulips.]

[Below: Interesting Spanish-style home overlooking Commissioners Park and Dow’s Lake. I love the red terra cotta roof tiles and the constrasting powder blue shutters.]

[Below: A spendid leafy, yellowish tree adorning a red-roofed house facing Commissioners Park and its pink tulips, and Dow’s Lake.]

[Below: Some sort of white, flowering tree, which I found beautiful in the sunset on the periphery of the pond in the Glebe.]

[Below: This was one of my favourite pictures when I was out shooting that warm summer-like twilight. A little girl perfectly matching the tulips in her pink outfit reacts to a fish who suddenly surfaced and flapped its tail before diving back below the surface. (I wasn’t fast enough reacting to capture the fish on film though!) At the same time, the little girl found a tiny turtle lounging on the shore. I didn’t want to scare him and hadn’t figured out the zoom at this point, so unfortunately, I didn’t capture him either. So, you’ll just have to take my word on both of these sightings! :-)]

[Below: A practice shot: For ‘homework’, we were asked to ‘freeze’ a moving object and also catch it as a blur on a slow shutter speed. This is what I caught on a break from my lifedrawing class in the Byward Market. Lovely red tulips, too, but the pink ones remain my favourite. :-)]

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