Sea Blue Lens


Third Thursday and SHS 5.19.13

It’s a twofer! I decided to combine the Third Thursday Challenge , a monthly linkup at How to Feather an Empty Nest, with this week’s Scavenger Hunt Sunday. I recently bought a new lens, a Nikon 35mm f1.8, but up til now have not used it very much. I’ve been wanting to get better acquainted with it, so for my Third Thursday Challenge, I decided to take on the scavenger hunt using only that lens. My goal was to create images that would work with no (or minimal) cropping or other post-processing.

I couldn’t miss this week’s Scavenger Hunt, since the list was sponsored by my dear friend Susan (Happy No Ears). The target items for the hunt were Three, Hand(s), Fence, Cuddly, and Sign.


Berry BowlPerfection

First they posed for me. Then I ate them. They were just as good as they look.



My daughter made this doll for me with her own hands a number of years ago. Using no model except her imagination, she sculpted his head, hands, and feet from porcelain clay, which she then fired in her own kiln. She sewed the body from scraps of fabric and dressed him in a preemie-sized outfit, and gave him to me for Christmas. His realism amazed me then and still does, all the more because she has no children and, really, no experience with babies. I call him my third grandchild.


Old FenceOld Fence

New FenceNew Fence

I couldn’t decide, so you get both.


Pink ThrowThat Warm, Fuzzy Feeling

I have no babies or pets, and I’m mad at the oh-so-cute cottontails this week for eating my portulaca, so I’m not going to feature them! I love cuddling up on the couch with my soft, cozy mohair throw, so that will have to do.


WelcomeCome On By

Friends are always welcome. Stop on by if you’re ever in the neighborhood!

Results of My Challenge:  The strawberries, both fences, and the pink throw are full-frame. The baby doll was cropped slightly to remove a distraction from one corner. I cropped the welcome sign image quite a bit, since I decided after the fact that I preferred a tighter view. There are a fence and shrub in the way that prevent me from framing this exact view without cropping.

This experiment took me back to my early, pre-zoom days of photography, when all I had was a fixed-focal-length “normal” lens for my SLR. I enjoyed “zooming with my feet” to frame these images as I wanted them, though I confess that I often found myself trying to zoom the lens just from habit.

There was one moment when I really wished for my telephoto zoom:

Visitor farSOOC (straight out of the camera)

But I got what I wanted anyway, thanks to the magic of cropping in Lightroom:

Morning visitorMorning Visitor

Many thanks to Brenda at How to Feather an Empty Nest for the Third Thursday Challenge that encourages me to prod  myself out of my comfort zone. And thanks to Ashley at Ramblings and Photos for the always entertaining Scavenger Hunt Sunday linkup.


Third Thursday Challenge: 02.2013

A few months ago, my friend Brenda, a wonderful photographer and author of the blog How to Feather an Empty Nest, started a linkup called Third Thursday Challenge. I’ve wanted to join in ever since I first heard of it. The goal is to expand our photographic vision, and the challenge is to try something new, something outside our comfort zone. This also fits well with my word for 2013, Explore, so this month I’m finally taking up the challenge.

In my recent post Breaking Through, I mentioned that I had discovered a way to overcome the soft images I’ve been getting from my dSLR. A couple of people asked in the comments if I would share what I had done. Although I didn’t do it with Third Thursday in mind, it was a new area of exploration for me so I think it qualifies!

Blurry Before -- Sharp After

Happy Discovery: Before and After
Click to enlarge the image and the difference will be easier to see.

After yet another disappointing photoshoot resulted in an entire series of soft images, I decided it was time to figure out what was wrong. I have a Nikon D5100. All the reviews I read before buying my camera highly praised its picture quality, but I haven’t been as impressed as I expected to be. So I went online and searched for variations of “unsharp photos with Nikon D5100.” Of course there are many reasons for unsharp images, but I was looking for something specific, not related to camera shake, poor quality lenses, too-slow shutter speed, etc. I found numerous discussion threads on various forums on this issue. I was not alone!

What I learned was that my camera’s shooting menu has a sub-menu called Picture Controls. My camera has six of them: Standard, Neutral, Vivid, Monochrome, Portrait, and Landscape. The default is Standard, a setting that’s meant to be acceptable for general, all-around shooting from landscapes to portraits and everything in between. That’s what the camera uses in Auto mode.

In Auto, the camera has a mind of its own.

Test Shot. In Auto, the camera has a mind of its own.

But — a-ha, the light begins to dawn — each of those Picture Controls has its own menu, where you can adjust contrast, brightness, saturation, hue, and SHARPNESS! In its infinite wisdom, Nikon’s default sharpness setting is, um, not very sharp. In Standard, on a scale of 1 to 9, the factory setting is 3. After some experimentation, I bumped it up to 6 and am much happier with the images I’m getting. I can still tweak sharpening a bit in post-processing if needed, but it takes much less work now to get the results I want.

Picture Controls don’t work if you’re shooting in Auto. In that case the camera uses Standard and decides for itself how much sharpening the subject needs. But in Program, Aperture or Shutter Priority, or Manual, you can select the Picture Control mode you want to use, and personalize it to suit yourself.

Vincent Grade StationBefore (Standard default) vs After (Vivid with Sharpness 6)

Vincent Grade Station
Before (Standard w/default Sharpness) vs After (Vivid w/Sharpness at 6)

I also shot a few images in each Picture Control mode to see what the difference was between them. I’m glad I did, because I discovered I prefer Neutral rather than Standard for the type of photographs I usually take. It yields a more natural color rendition that I like better — and, of course, I can still make adjustments in post-processing if I want to.

So that’s how I “fixed” my Nikon. I have no experience with Canon dSLRs, but I’d be surprised if they don’t have a similar feature somewhere in their menu. If you can’t find it on your own, just ask Google!

A note on these photos: All are straight out of the camera, except for close-up cropping to show detail. The side-by-sides were near-duplicate shots taken on two different days, the only difference being the in-camera Picture Controls adjustment.

So that’s my Something New for February. I’m already thinking about next month. Thank you, Brenda, for challenging me to challenge myself.

Come on over to Brenda’s and see what’s happening at the Third Thursday Challenge for February.


Up a Creek

With a Paddle

So, say you plan to meet a friend after work for a photoshoot. It’s kinda last-minute, so you dash home at 5:00, quickly change clothes, grab your camera bag, toss it into the car and head out. You get to the appointed spot, open your bag, and . . . .

There’s no camera in there, just a lens and some accessories.

What would you do? More to the point, what did I do? Well, after saying a couple of things to myself that I won’t repeat here, I decided I wasn’t going to let it ruin my day. It was another crazy-warm-for-March, beautiful day, and the evening light was gorgeous. It would be great just to be out in the fresh air, enjoying the scenery and the company of my friend. Besides, we were going for pizza afterwards. Life was still good, though I did feel a little silly.

And then I remember I’ve got my iPhone with me — I can take some photos with that! My iPhone is still fairly new to me, and I haven’t used the camera much. So my expectations aren’t very high, but I figure, what have I got to lose? So I wander around, snapping this and that, trying to frame subjects on the viewscreen. In that light, the surface is like a mirror and I’m mostly seeing my own reflection. Still feeling a little silly, but having fun.

Maybe it was because I didn’t expect much. Or because I wasn’t taking myself or my photography very seriously. I wasn’t trying very hard. But to my great surprise, I got a bunch of images that I really like. Here are a few of them.


All Tied Up




Inner Light

Outer Glow

Molten Sky

At Rest

These images were taken with the iPhone camera, no apps involved. Some were lightly processed in Lightroom, but many are SOOC — or should I say SOOP (Straight Out Of Phone)? I was impressed with their color and clarity.

May I just say that I love my iPhone? I’m really glad I gave it a try that evening. It turned out to be a great night. (And the pizza was delicious.)



For the Birds

Chuck and Kirk

We had the most amazing, gorgeous New Year’s Day here in Southern Maine. An azure sky with a few wispy clouds, golden sunshine, a mild breeze, and a temperature in the mid-forties. And . . . I got a new 55-200mm zoom lens for Christmas! What’s a photographer to do? Go on a photo walk with a couple of friends, of course.

We checked out the Audubon Sanctuary at Biddeford Pool, then we headed down here:

Nubble Light

What we were looking for was this, which was just out of the frame on the left of the image above:

Snowy Owl

. . . a Snowy Owl that had been reported on local bird forums as having been sighted hanging around the lighthouse. I’m quite pleased with this photo, which was cropped from an image taken with my new 55-200mm lens, hand held, from a distance of a hundred yards or so.

Anyway, that’s when the guys got out the “big guns.” Can you tell they are serious about this?

Getting Real

There was quite a little crowd coming and going, thanks in equal measure to the beautiful weather and the rumored owl sighting. People seemed equally fascinated by the camera gear and the Snowy. My companions were generous with offering close-up looks through their lenses, and sharing their knowledge of birds and photography with anyone who had questions.

Local Color


Me? I was standing back watching the action, playing with my own new lens, photographing birds so far away I could barely see them, taking pictures of the scenery and the people, listening to conversations and having a few of my own, wearing a huge happy grin at the wonder of it all.


Lighter than Air

It’s hard to think of a better way to start a new year.



Shooting in Style

No, this isn’t a post about hairstyles. For our Find Your Eye course, Kat has asked us to write about our style of photographing. That is, not the style of photographs we take, but the way in which we take them . . . our “shooting style.”

I’m a girl who likes to travel light. I went to London for 10 days with only a carry-on bag. I recently flew to California for almost two weeks, again with just a carry-on. For everyday use, I carry a wallet-on-a-string sort of bag, just big enough for ID & credit card, a little cash, lip gloss, and cell phone. Pre-cell-phone, the rest of those things just went into my jeans pockets.

That’s why I was so enamored (and still am) with my little travel camera. Tons of functionality packed into a very small handful, a bit too big for a pocket but easily slipped into a little pouch to wear on my belt. Now that I have a dSLR, I’m researching and experimenting to find the perfect camera bag. For now, I bought the smallest one I could find just to protect the camera and allow me to safely transport it around. It’s not my ultimate solution, but it’s working for now.

As part of my travel light inclinations, I carry and use very little camera gear. I prefer to handhold my camera rather than use a tripod, even though I know and understand all the very good reasons for using one. I prefer natural light, and seldom use flash. I stick with one lens, though it is a zoom. I don’t use reflectors, remotes, filters, or other accessories, though that may change in time as I get to know my dSLR better.

At the present stage of my life, I seem to be mostly a weekend and vacation shooter. During the week, I’m in an office all day and tired when I get home. In the summer, I do go out with my camera after work sometimes, but this time of year I’m already feeling the pain of lack of light. After the change back to standard time next week, it will be dark before I get off work, so I’ll be doing all my shooting on weekends — and praying for good weather!

I tend to be a spontaneous photographer. That is, I photograph things I come upon, rather than setting out with a deliberate goal in mind. I almost always have a camera with me “just in case.” I will often go somewhere — a drive or a walk — planning to take photos, but not with the intention to shoot anything in particular. I ramble along, taking whatever catches my eye, whether it’s a wide-angle ocean vista or an insect on a flower, an old mill building or a reflection in a puddle.

When I get home and review the images on my computer, I love that moment of discovery when one of them makes me inhale and say Ohh! There might be two or three out of a hundred. But those are the ones that make it worth it. The rest . . . well, I learn from those. I often think, Well, too bad, that didn’t work. Or, Hmm, I wish I had tried . . .  Next time I’ll . . . .

In a way, I guess you could say I’m sort of a sloppy photographer. Or, to be kinder to myself, a casual one. But I’m not really satisfied with that anymore. Learning to think about what I’m doing, and trying to photograph with intention is a new experience for me, one that’s causing me to grow, and not just in my photography. I have a lot to learn, but I’m enjoying the process. I don’t ever want to stop.

The image at the beginning of this post has nothing to do with anything. In fact, I didn’t even take it. I was visiting my daughter and her significant other this evening when their parrot, Cayce, climbed onto my shoulder and began playing with my hair. My daughter took the photo with her iPhone and I really liked it. So here you go, Cayce, your 15 seconds of fame starts now!



About the Equipment

Columbus Day Weekend, Ocean Park, Maine

In my last post, I said, “Sometimes it is about the equipment.” One of the direct outcomes of the Find Your Eye classes I’ve been taking is that I have just purchased my first digital SLR.

Just to cut to the chase, I’d like to say…Whoo hoo!!!

A little history

My first SLR was a hand-me-down Nikkormat. In the mid-70’s I bought a Pentax ME, which I adored for its compact size that fit my hands and my style perfectly. By the end of the 80’s, some vision changes meant that I was missing a lot of shots because I couldn’t focus properly, so I bought a Nikon N8008 autofocus SLR. It was an awesome camera, and I still have it, though I haven’t used it in at least ten years.

In the late 90’s, I discovered the compact, autofocus point-and-shoot. The sweet little Minolta I got was small enough to slip into my purse, and took brilliant photos. The bag full of heavy Nikon equipment slipped to the back of the closet, while the little Minolta went to England with me three times. (I’ll be happy to show you my picture of Her Majesty!)

In 2003, I discovered the delights of digital with a tiny Canon Digital Elph. What an amazing camera! It took great photos in almost any light, and it had an actual viewfinder along with its little LCD screen. I wore it out — one sad day it simply would no longer record images.

Next came a Canon Powershot S2 IS. I loved the 10X optical zoom and other features, and it, too, had a viewfinder as well as a swiveling LCD screen. But it was too bulky and heavy to slip into a purse. To fulfill that need, last January I got a Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS7. Wow! Leica lens, 25mm wide angle, 12X zoom…all in a camera about the size of a pack of cigarettes (not that I’ve ever carried around packs of cigarettes, but you know what I mean).

The Panasonic is the camera I’ve been using for the photo assignments for these Find Your Eye classes. I love the size and capabilities of that camera. But there were times when I became very frustrated because I simply couldn’t make it do what I wanted it to. I couldn’t control depth of field because the apertures are so limited. Many photos were very contrasty, with bright areas blowing out even if I deliberately underexposed the image.

Worst of all, in common with the latest generation of compact digital cameras, it has no viewfinder, only an LCD screen. The LCD is large and very bright and works just great in low light situations. But since I do most of my photography outdoors in bright sunlight, I was often literally working blind, having to just guess if my subject was where I wanted it in the frame, and if the camera was focused on the right target.

The happy ending to this long story

I did some research and, to make a long story short, decided on a Nikon D5100 with 18-55mm zoom lens. I got it just before my vacation, and if you can believe it, decided NOT to take it with me. I was traveling light. This past weekend, we had a glorious burst of Indian Summer, and I finally got into the field with my new baby. I am in love! I’d forgotten how wonderful it is to use a truly fine camera. Unfortunately, I’ve also forgotten much that I used to know about the technical side of photography with an SLR! So far I’m still on Auto, but we’re slowly getting acquainted.

Sunday, I took the Nikon and the Panasonic to the beach and took some identical shots with both, just to see how the images would differ. I honestly didn’t know what to expect. I am more than pleased with the results. The Nikon images are richer in color, with more subtle gradations in tone, and much smoother and finer in detail. Did I mention that I’m in love with my new camera?

I was trying to explain the difference to my sister, who is not a photographer, telling her that I didn’t know what I had been missing. I knew she “got it” when she likened it to a person with poor eyesight getting their first pair of glasses, something we both know well. Yes! That’s exactly it. The world looks a lot different through my new lens.

Here’s a little sample, SOOC (except for a little cropping in the side-by-side):

Left: Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS7. Right: Nikon D5100

Taken with Lumix DMC-ZS7

Taken with Nikon D5100

The fine print

I want to emphasize that nowhere in her wonderful blog or her classes does Kat encourage her students to run out and invest in expensive cameras or any other equipment. In fact, she emphasizes that it’s not about your camera, and that whatever camera you have right now will work just fine. As we’ve all heard many times before, it’s not the camera, it’s the photographer who makes the image. Just like it’s not the paint, but the painter who produces the masterpiece.

I’ve learned a lot using the camera I had, and I’ll continue to use that camera. But one of the things I’ve gotten from this class is a desire, and a commitment to myself, to do more with my photography — not in the sense of going pro or any such thing, but simply for my own pleasure and satisfaction. For me, it reached the point where it really was about the equipment.

I am so ready for this.