Compound eyes

1. I have actually taken some shots with my macro lens recently that I’m quite happy with. Like the photo of the fly above – I like its crazy compound eyes and its little yellow fuzzy chest. I still find working with the limited depth of field pretty challenging, but I’m getting more shots that seem decent. Breaking news: taking photos regularly seems to improve your ability to take photos. Amazing. I’m as stunned as you are.

2. I recently sped my way through Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead, and Claire DeWitt and the Bohemian Highway, a pair of wonderfully surreal mystery novels by Sara Gran. I want more Claire DeWitt, and am settling for reading one of Sara Gran’s earlier books instead.

3. I am baking things out of a new cookbook at the moment, Short & Sweet – so far I’ve made a basic white bread, sesame & date biscuits, and some way too sweet chocolate biscuits. (If I think that something is far too sweet, trust me, it is far too sweet.) Next up is a parsnip & ginger cake, because parsnips were ridiculously cheap at the fruit and veggie store, and I bought a large bag of them while vaguely thinking of that recipe. I discovered when I got home that it only calls for about 150 grams of parsnips so I will be browsing around for something else to do with the rest of them. A stew or something, I expect.

4. In between making new recipes from Short & Sweet, I want to try these Prune and Caraway Scones over at The Wednesday Chef. In that post, she writes a little about explaining to people why you like to cook, and I related to the description: “Whenever people ask me why I like to cook, when so many people find it stressful and complicated, I wonder how to put into words that feeling. You know what I mean, right? The sense of providing your loved ones with edible comfort and happiness?…” Prunes. Scones. Edible comfort and happiness. They sound lovely. I’m not sure they would appeal to either Edward or the husband though, which is a slight drawback. I need more people to ply with baked goods.

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Reading the manual

For the last couple of years I have mostly used my camera in aperture priorty mode, occasionally in shutter priority mode, but never in full manual mode. This means the camera is always deciding some element of the settings for me, rather than me choosing all the settings based on a particularly lighting situation. “Cameras are so intelligent these days,” I would say to myself lazily, switching the camera to AV mode, lying back on the couch and peeling myself another grape. However, as I’ve slowly discovered, my camera isn’t smart enough to deal with things like spotlights, and the camera doesn’t know the shot I’m trying to get. Also, I’m more intelligent than my camera. At least I fervently hope so. And given all those things, I’m the best person to pick the settings to get the shot I’m after, and that means getting off the metaphorical couch and learning how to shoot properly in manual mode.

While technically I know how to change the ISO, aperture and shutter speed, I still feel somewhat unsure about what shutter speed is right for different situations. Unfortunately getting better at that is just a matter of practice – taking a lot of photos until knowing the right settings becomes automatic. And now that I have my new camera body I really would like to get better at shooting in manual, so that’s going to be my approach – switch the camera to manual mode, not let myself change it back, and take a lot of photos until I get a little better at it.

I’m also giving myself a few assignments to complete in an effort to get to know the camera better and improve my manual shooting skills. (Because I couldn’t think of a nerdier weekend project than setting myself photography assignments. Believe me, I tried.) So! My thrilling photography assignments du jour, which I will work on over the next few weeks:

Assignment 1: Meter locking! Where is the button or setting for it, and what difference does it make?
Assignment 2: White on White! Take shots of some white on white still lifes to improve exposing for contrast.
Assignment 3: Macro! Trying to use my macro lens on manual settings. Which I foresee is going to be a little difficult as I find it quite a tricky lens to use on auto. Or! Potentially my camera is too stupid to figure out my macro lens and perhaps it will become much simpler to use in manual mode. I guess it’s possible.
Assignment 4: Focal Point! Figuring out how to adjust them with this new camera which has about two screens worth of menu settings regarding focus, none of which I understand.
Assignment 5: Black and White! Figure out how to do a better conversion in Photoshop than the basic action I currently use.

Once I feel like I’ve got a handle on manual shooting I’m thinking of some other things like trying shooting in RAW again (ugh). But first, manual all the way, until I can claim ninja photographer status and make myself a nice homemade cardboard badge saying as much.

Dream team

I was asked to take some photos at a rehearsed reading of a new musical, Billy Buckett, last week (a rehearsed reading is basically a run through of a musical without formal choreography where the actors are holding their scripts). I had bought a new camera body that week (my very belated Christmas/birthday present), so I was fairly eager to try it out in low light – it’s a huge step up from my previous body, and deals with high ISO like a dream, taking relatively clear photos with the ISO set at 2000, whereas my previous body would churn out horribly grainy photos once I got up to 800 or so. So I was relatively confident that I could deal with low light, but what I hadn’t considered was a combination of low light plus dazzlingly bright light from the spotlights.

Everything I took with my own settings was horribly overexposed, and I couldn’t actually see in order to fiddle too much with them – I was shining my phone onto the camera so I could see which way I was turning the dials, much to the consternation of the people sitting next to me. “The director asked me to take photos,” I hissed at them reassuringly, so that they would realise I wasn’t being randomly irritating, but was instead being irritating at the behest of the director. I eventually gave up and switched to auto, which worked fairly well apart from dealing with the spotlights. I would have a series of photos where the actors in the background were beautifully exposed and clear, and the actor singing the song would be a glaring white blob. I’m not even sure how to deal with that – I would imagine if I adjusted my shutter speed so that it exposed the person under the spotlights properly, then the background would be completely black and you wouldn’t see the other actors at all. Not that I could see enough to try doing that in any case, so I kept shooting on auto and hoped for the best.

I ended up pulling 50 semi decent shots from around 800, and the husband commented that it was lucky I’d had the nice new camera. Which is something that normally irritates me, when people look at a photo I’ve taken and say “Wow, you must have a lovely camera.” Because yes, I do have a lovely camera, but I would vastly prefer them to say, “Wow, you’re an awesome photographer”, as I like to have my ego stroked at every opportunity. But it’s not really something I can get on my high horse about when I’ve taken photos on auto, because apart from me zooming and pressing a button, I didn’t have much to do with the process. Although I did set the ISO, I suppose. Me and the D7000. We’re a team.

Breaking glass

A year or two ago, my camera was dropped off the bonnet of a car onto a concrete slab. I won’t say who was responsible for that (it wasn’t me). Astonishingly, nothing appeared to be terribly wrong with the camera. It had its 18-70mm kit lens on, along with a uv filter, and while the lens was a little dented (which prevented me from ever removing the uv filter), it still seemed to function without any problems.

Fast forward to our New Zealand trip, where on our first morning my padded camera bag slipped off my shoulder and dropped to the ground as I was bending down. I picked it up again and didn’t think much of it, because the bag’s padded, and it’s slipped off my shoulder a couple of times before. However (of course, there’s going to be an ominous ‘however’ following up that anecdote), as we walked down to the sea I pulled the camera out of the bag, and clicked together the little opening mechanism on the lens cap to be greeted by a terrible crunching noise. I looked up at the husband with what he described as a blank, frozen expression as I continued to pull the lens cap off to reveal shattered glass underneath.

I stuttered something articulate like, “Oh. my. god. That’s my only landscape lens. We are in New Zealand. Landscapes. New Zealand. Lens. Argh.” The husband took a look, and pointed out that it was only the uv lens that had actually shattered – presumably due to a flaw in the glass from the first time it was dropped. We couldn’t remove the filter, due to the dented end of the lens, so we went over to a bin and smashed out the remaining glass from the filter with our car keys.

The camera still seemed to function perfectly, and the lens continued to take photos that I couldn’t see any flaws in. I took approximately 18 million landscape photos. We realised later when we were in Queenstown that there are actually two tiny star-like cracks in the lens itself, but for some reason they’re not visible to my eye in the photos we take, not even against a clear blue sky. The husband took a photo of me down by the lake. “This can be a record of when you realised your lens was cracked.”

As a result of this little incident, I have stepped up my project to upgrade some of my camera equipment. Well, calling it a project is a bit of a misnomer – it simply involves navigating to an appropriate website and spending rather a lot of money. “Project” indeed. And the “stepping up” has amounted to sending the husband an email helpfully pointing out that I am turning 30 this year (in case he had forgotten), which he must agree is a lovely round number, certainly worth of celebration and the lavishing of gifts upon said 30 year old. I included a list of items and approximate prices. This has not resulted in any positive indications thus far, but the seed is planted. I’m sure it will flourish into a lovely tree, bearing bushels of Nikon fruit.

Spider

It’s going to take me a while to get used to combination of manual focussing and the correct settings for this new lens – opening it up too wide makes the focal point too small, but it was very overcast today. I probably should have used the flash.

Lens

My new lens arrived as an early birthday present – the Nikkor 105mm f/2.8G VR Micro. And it is gorgeous. Almost completely silent, heavy as all hell, and I can’t wait to get out into the garden during daylight and really test it properly. You can check out some of the shots people take with this lens on Flickriver.

I took a couple of test shots around the house with the flash, and I love that I can make a light bulb and the cats’ water bowl look, like, totally arty. Well, I think so.