Giggles and grins in Provence.

I have mentioned before that sometimes you just have to shoot the under-belly of the beast… the odd-ball thing… the funny stuff… the hodge podge … you know the stuff you put into a folder called… miscellaneous. I said that for two important reasons. First and foremost… is because these “small shots” can add so much to a story. They are the color and the texture that can make a series of photos so very interesting. The second reason is that it is good practice. And as you know… practice makes perfect. Or darn close. If you use the same exact creativity to capture the “small stuff”… ie composition… simplicity and perspective…. when the “shot of a lifetime” is looking you in the face… you will be ready! And people will say….”Did you shoot that?”… and you will humbly reply… “Yes, I shot that!”. Below are a few of those small shots I have shot over the last few days.

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Now… take a closer look at those shots. Long lens. Short lens. Low perspective. Overhead. High shutter speed to freeze a sheep. Shallow depth-of -field to capture a strawberry in the snow. Simple compositions. Humorous. Contrast of content to add a little drama to the scene. All the things I have talked about are represented here. I won’t pretend they are award-winning… because … well… they aren’t. Nor were they captured with that in mind. On their own they are just little shots… but in the right grouping they would add color and texture to the story. And maybe a few giggles and grins.
So… don’t shy away from the small stuff. Just practice what I preach. Happy trails.

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Roussillon is definitely an 800 year old Hollywood set.

It has to be. Just look at it! It is perched on a hill of red and ochre “rock”. Picture perfect narrow lanes wind up and down and around just at the right place and angle to catch the light. A tiny town square that looks like it is about to stage an opera. Shutters painted blue, red, yellow, orange and green. Buildings of red, orange, yellow and ochre. It is amazing.
It is Roussillon. And in reality it gets its beautiful and romantic palette from the nearby rich deposits of ochre. Ochre was mined from the late 1700’s till about 1930 for textile use. But today the hills of gold and orange are protected but one can still take a hike on them… just be sure to wear clothes/shoes you care nothing about. I literally took fifty photos yesterday…
but here is a small sample.

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In this one-of-a-kind place it is easy to make use of “leading lines”, flat graphic patterns, strong geometric shapes and interesting perspectives. And your settings? Get as much deep “depth of field” as possible… you don’t want to have anything soft… it is just too darn gorgeous. Happy trails… and remember… no white shorts.

Fog or brouillard… it is still magical.

Weather events… you gotta love them… if you have a passion for photography! A dusting of snow… right after a good downpour… or an ice storm… thunderous cloud formations… all present the photographer with a look that just doesn’t happen every day. Fog is especially generous with its beauty. It is almost a built-in depth-of-field setting. It is mystical as everything recedes into the quiet cauldron. Obviously, if it is “thick as pea soup” and you can’t see past your nose… then that is just too much a good thing. Then… just wait. It will thin out. Also… it is just what the doctor ordered if you have intentions of transferring the color photo into black and white. Nature has already done most of the work for you.
Click on a few buttons and voila… it is art. But here are a few tips… one… having it “backlit” is a good thing. The subjects close to you will “go black”… and become milkier as they recede. Yummy stuff.
Here are a few recent shots I have taken in the fog.

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Now… when you are shooting… since nature is automatically supplying most of the “depth-of-field” settings for you… set your camera at F-22 or as close to that as possible. And perhaps you will need a tripod… but probably not. It looks gray but believe me… there is plenty of light in the sky. An added bonus of shooting in the fog is that you don’t have to avoid the sky… make it part of the composition. It is not going to harm anything. So… when the cold air hits the warm ground… make sure your battery is charged and get out there and capture one of nature’s most beautiful weather events. Happy trails.

Animal House.

This little “post” is all about shooting things that you have no control over and things that you have almost total control over. First the “no control” subject. Yes. Goats. In particular… baby goats… the original kids. They do not listen. They do not slow down. They don’t pose. They don’t understand French or English or any of the Romantic languages. They don’t do anything except move like a pin ball in a pin ball machine. Erratic… off the wall bundles of joy. They are hilarious. And when they are not outside… they are usually hanging out in a large shed eating and working on their game of antics. So for a photographer… there in lies the challenge. They are usually dark in color…. moving quickly and they are in a low light situation. What to do? Now if you want a blurry shot… then you have no problems. But if you want to actually see them in focus… here is what you have to do. Change your settings. Immediately.
First… bump up your ISO ( light sensitivity number)… it should have been at 100 for a smooth look… but we are desperate here… we want the shot so we will accept a little bit of “grain”. Go ahead… bump it up to about 400 or 800. Choose an F-stop that will allow the shutter speed to be as quick as possible… that is right…anything below F-5.6 should do the trick. Now… put your camera on “multi-shot”… because …. well you just never know what is going to happen in a split second. Now… you are armed. Go and capture those little guys! Now… it is not everyday that you shoot a goat… pardon the expression. I know some one will be saying… just shoot them with the flash on. And I say… I hate the flash. So…. the next time you are shooting goats or kids… or anything that moves quickly… in a low light situation… apply those settings and go to town! Forget one of those settings and you will not get the shot that will have people saying…”Did you shoot that?”.

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Now… on the other hand or hoof… when you have total control… or close to it… it is indeed a completely different animal. Let’s talk Chevre cheese. Yes… it is a delicious product of goat’s milk but…. It doesn’t move. You can pick it up … turn it around and you can put it almost anywhere to shoot. I chose an old wooden serving plate. I placed it near a window for a little light. Now…. the options come in. Angles… angles… angles. You get to choose… you are the photographer. It is not going anywhere so I got to shoot it anyway I wanted. Also… I chose a pretty shallow depth of field… ie… an f-stop of 3.2 or 3.5. Love that look! And the shutter speed didn’t matter… just so I didn’t dip below 1/25th… because I can’t hold the camera perfectly still any slower than that. I chose not to get out the tripod… well… I really didn’t need it and anyway… it was in the car.

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So… when you have the time… take your time. Move it around. Try different angles. It is up to you. And of course the best thing about
shooting food is… well…you get to eat it afterwards…. which is not an option when you are shooting kids.
Happy trails.

The Berger.

No… not “hamburger”…. a real one… a pro… the good shepherd kind of Berger. Meet Herve… his dogs and his flock.

It wasn’t exactly as difficult as photographing a non-stop moving infant… but darn close. Think of one with four legs, hoofs, a wooly backside and scared of one thing… those dogs. The relationship between dog and flock is akin to the same relationship between the authority figure and the chain gang members in Cool Hand Luke. It is true. Always being watched. Always being barked at. And if one steps out of line to chew on a little grass just over there……. whoa Nelly… watch out! As I said, Herve is a pro. At times he has nearly 2000 sheep under his control and protection. But today… it was 200. Herve never stopped walking… the sheep never stopped walking ( except for a handful who just thought the grass was greener just off the path… wrong idea) and the dogs… they never stopped working. Staring the trouble-makers down… giving them the old “what for” in dog speak.

In minutes it was over. Past the river… over the bridge… down the road… into the brush.

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A photographic challenge. Constant movement. Changing light. “Depth of field” control. And unlike a lot of models I have photographed… these guys did not listen to direction… except from those dogs. Happy trails!

Lenses… the long and short of it.

Unlike your eyeballs… the camera you probably got for Christmas… has interchangeable lenses… or it should. They are available in many sizes and configurations … just take a peek at the Canon camera site and click on lenses. Along with the diversity come price tags that would choke a horse. But if you really need that 600mm f-2.8 lens that has IS ( Image Stability) for your sports photography assignment… you won’t mind at all that it costs the same as your car. But I digress.

Lenses come as a zoom or a prime. Personally I have two zooms ( 24-70 mm and a 70-200mm) and one prime ( 100mm Macro) that I use to get ultra close to food and praying mantises.
Here is the tip of the day… stay away from shooting at about 50 mm. If you must then OK… but I avoid it because it is boring. I love to be long or short…. but rarely in between. Using the far end of my 70-200 zoom tends to squish the scene so that the compressed scene becomes more graphic. Check out the shot directly below to see what I mean.

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Now… at the other end of my 24-70mm zoom is the “short” portion. It allows me to “see” wider than the eye can see and gives an instantly dramatic look. See example directly above. It is certainly up to you as far as what lens to use… but with each will come a different look. Look at the scene before you… and choose the length of lens which allows you to tell the story the way you want to tell it. After all… that is what photography is all about. To tell a story to another person who was not standing next to you when you saw something interesting… raised your camera… chose the lens… set the aperture and activated the shutter. Voila.

Aperture… let the numbers tell the story.

Well… now we have come to… in my opinion… the most important “math-based you gotta know this to create great photos” subject.

Aperture control. The numbers are simple…. most cameras…. make that good cameras…. will accept different lenses. Basically…. the better the lens…. the more flexibility it will give you. And yes… just like in golf… flexibility is key to getting that great shot. Lenses are defined on two scales…. millimeter “length” ( zoom or prime) and their ability to “open up” or “stop down”… in order to allow more or less light in. And this number is expressed in “f-stops.” The better lenses usually have a range of f-2.8 to f-22. Usually. Ansel Adams was a key member in the “64 club”…. yep… his lenses could go to f-64…. allowing the photo to be so sharp you could see an ant a mile away. Well… close.

Quickly and simply… and to use an analogy to explain what is happening when you “open up or stop down”. Think of the f-2.8 setting… as a big paint roller brush… you get the job done quickly but there is a “downside or plus side” depending upon what you wanted to shot to look like. You will achieve a nice exposure quickly… but it will be sharp only in a thin area of the photo. It will have a thin “depth of field.” Now…. on the other hand if you had chosen f-22… the exposure would take longer but the result is a photo that is sharp from your foot to the horizon… or darn close.

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Take a peek at the three shots above…. all were shot with an f-stop close to f-2.8. All three have a very shallow depth of field…. and the beauty of this is that the subject is sharp and everything before and after it… is soft…therefore giving more emphasis to the subject. As I said… I love this stuff… it draws you in and has a simple look because the eye will travel to what is sharp and not waste any energy looking at the soft part of the image. It is a very sophisticated use of the “leading lines” strategy. Luscious stuff if I do say myself.

Now… look below… a lovely Provence landscape… and since I used a f-stop near f-22…. it is extremely sharp. Keeping with the painting analogy…. think of f-22 and that end of the f-stop spectrum as a very very small but precise painting brush… perfect for painting extreme detail. In fact the original photo was so sharp I could easily see a tiny tiny tiny black speck in the sky. When I enlarged the photo to remove the speck… it turned out to be a flying crow!

Experiment…. just remember… you are the photographer not the camera. It is only a tool. A great one but… only a tool.

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