Tag Archives: aperture

A Photographic Disc Golf Dress Rehearsal

The #2 son putts.

Recently, #2 played in the aptly named Dress Rehearsal for Texas States at Houston’s Tom Bass Park. Texas States is a huge, two-day disc golf tourney (that happens to be this weekend!) at that location. The one-day, 36-hole dress rehearsal gave players a chance to check out the course. And it gave me an opportunity to prepare for shooting photos at the real deal.

Ryan’s drive flies off the tee on top of a hill.

I was looking forward to making sure I was ready to take decent disc golf photos. I hadn’t shot at Tom Bass since last year’s Texas States, but I soon remembered why the course is so tough for players and photographers alike: It’s swampy (this was a muddy, warm day) and long. I was dragging by the end of 18 holes, and I hadn’t hoisted a disc!

T.J. putts uphill.

But I wasn’t complaining, because I was getting my fill of two of my favorite photo subjects: The #2 son and wildflowers! It was too early in the year for an abundance of flora. But there were enough to make me take more pics of the flowers than the players.

These delicate, small white flowers were all over the park.

I used my Nikon 105mm macro lens with my Nikon D700, because it does a good job with action and flower close-ups. There were a few times when I wished I had opted for my Nikon 70-200mm lens on shots of the players putting (I needed the 70mm range), but I was willing to sacrifice for the 105’s macro capabilities.

Even weeds can be pretty!

I’ll be using the 70-200 this weekend, because the disc golf action will take precedence. But I’m sure I’ll still get some close-ups of different wildflowers that have sprung up since the dress rehearsal. They’re so easy to capture, because they don’t move!

Yellow flower

Shooting flowers gives photographers a great opportunity to work on bokeh, that lovely blurring of backgrounds.

These little yellow flowers looked shiny close up.

The key is to open up your aperture (set it on the smallest number, e.g., f/2.8 or f/4), move in close, and focus on one spot.

They’re the same type flower, but one is white and one is purply.

And don’t forget that if you can’t effectively crop when you’re taking the photo, you can always cut out the excess in photo-editing software like Photoshop Elements. It’s not cheating to crop! It’s still your photo; you’ve just made it a more-effective picture by zooming in on what’s important. Our high-megapixel digital cameras are made for cropping; you don’t lose any resolution, so your photo stays sharp.

Brown, reedy stuff

The dress rehearsal did give me a chance to kick that nature-photography jones temporarily out of my system.

A branchless tree looks stark against the sky.

Just like the disc golfers, including #2, I’m going to be rarin’ to hit the course and see what I’m capable of at Texas States. Let’s hope I take more photos of the active players instead of the inactive wildflowers!

It’s All About the Background Blur (Bokeh)

A mostly dead fern (Nikon 105mm lens; f/3)

The Pioneer Woman, aka Ree Drummond, loves to run photography contests. A fine, self-taught photographer in her own right, PW enjoys seeing what others can do with different subjects. I’m usually blown away by her readers’ level of talent.

All 26,000-plus of them who enter! Check them out on Flickr: Pioneer Woman Photography Assignments. Oh, and look at Ree’s site for great, well-explained photo tutorials—her most-recent ones were about aperture and shutter speed.

Hope the fern is merely hibernating for now.

This week’s Pioneer Woman contest is all about shallow depth of field. Also known as bokeh. That beautiful blurring of a background caused by using a camera lens wide open (with the f/stop set on the smallest number, e.g., 2.8) when shooting a photo.

Hopefully, spring will revive the dead ferns, which didn’t like early January’s freeze.

When I was taking pix of our front landscaping’s pitiful-looking ferns for Monday’s Photo of the Day, I thought about how much background blurring I do.

We need to get rid of a bunch of acorns!

“Hello, my name is Susan, and I’m a bokeh addict.”

It’s so rare that I close down my aperture (which allows in light) that I usually blur group shots before I remember that I want everyone in focus, not just one person. Gotta use a closed-down aperture/f-stop of around f/11 for those.

Love the reflections! (Nikon 85mm lens; f/1.4)

In her tutorials, the Pioneer Woman wrote about using wide-open apertures for things that don’t move and worrying more about shutter speed for those that do. I agree with that in general, but I almost always leave my lens wide open when I shoot action. Why? For one thing, indoors it’s hard to get a fast-enough shutter speed if the lens isn’t at f/1.8 or f/2. Closing down the lens (letting in less light at, say, f/4) slows the shutter. Slow shutter speed = blurred photos = delete!

Neal tees off during the Ice Bowl disc golf tournament. (Nikon 70-200mm lens; f/2.8)

Outdoors during the day it’s pretty easy to have a fast-enough shutter speed to avoid blurring. But I still like to shoot wide open, because backgrounds can be messy. How would the photo above of Neal teeing off look if all those players behind him were in focus? What would your eye be drawn to?

Alex is about to have his flag pulled. (Nikon 70-200mm lens; f/2.8)

Shooting wide open (low f/stop numbers) allows you to keep the focus where it belongs: On the action in front of you.

The #2 son looks a pass into his hands. (Nikon 70-200mm lens; f/2.8)

Blurring the background lets you forget about what’s going on behind the main scene. That way the photo can be about what’s truly important.

The #1 son’s typical pre-work meal of boneless buffalo wings and rice. (Nikon 50mm lens; f/1.4)

And for me, of course, that’s my #1 priority when the subjects are my sons. Bring on that bokeh!

Basketball Jones, Part II

Pearl finds the way to the basket is blocked.

Four days later, I went back to that same fieldhouse where I had taken photos of our high school’s boys’ varsity basketball team. This time the girls’ varsity took center stage. I still was equipped with my Nikon D700 and 85mm lens. But I also had some different shooting angles I wanted to try.

Brooklyn looks for a teammate to pass to as she's closely guarded.

As I was driving away from the facility the first time, I was bummed that I hadn’t tried to take any photos from the seats close to the court. I remedied that with the girls. As you can see from the first photo, that was a great vantage point . . . for some of the pix. But too often spectator heads would be in my way.

Natalie attempts a jump shot.

So after the first quarter, I climbed the steps and went to the walkway above the court. From there I could shoot uninhibited.

Auty tries to snag a rebound.

My camera was set for an ISO of 1250-1600 so that I could have a fast shutter speed. As I’ve noted before, I shoot on aperture-preferred mode—I set the aperture (how much light is let in), while the D700 changes the shutter speed. But I make sure that the speed is at least 1/250th of a second (too slow means blurry photos; no one thinks you’re a good photographer with those).

Brooklyn defends her team’s goal.

Back in my previous life, I was a sportswriter in Chicago. My specialty was girls’ high school sports. In the mid-1970s to early 1980s, the girls’ game was starting to take off, but it had a long way to go. I remember sitting through one suburban high school game during the second quarter and thinking, “If there’s one more jump ball, I’m leaving.” Back then, two players tying up the ball meant a jump, unlike now when they just change possession.

Sure enough, the 24th or so tied ball happened, and I just had to walk out. It was so boring!

Lauren goes in for a layup.

That was then. I’m happy to report that our girls’ team and its opponent, which is ranked as one of the best in the area, played just as hard and as physically as the boys did.

Auty and Pearl make a sandwich of the opponent.

The girls don’t work above the rim like the guys, but they’ve got great skills and never quit.

Nicole cans a three-point shot.

My varsity high school basketball shooting jones has been quelled, for now. Next time? I’m going to sit, watch, and be thoroughly entertained!

The Non-Delightful Light Battle; Warning: Eyes May Glaze Over


Back in May I wrote about my trials and tribulations with shooting our high school’s dance show in the school’s auditorium. Saturday night found me back in that same location trying to take decent photos of our high school’s play, “Laughing Stock.”

The #1 son and my “third” son Chase wanted to see the play (#1 was determined not to laugh during it), and I decided to tag along (because really what high school senior doesn’t want his mom hanging around with him?). I knew several of the actors, which meant I knew that their moms would like good photos that are impossible to take with a point and shoot.


I tried my best to sit as far away from other people in the audience, because, well, my camera’s shutter is very loud. Especially in a quiet auditorium. Plus I knew I would need to chimp (e.g., check my LCD) periodically to make sure my settings were correct. Those lighted cell phone screens that are annoying in the dark? Well, my LCD monitor looks like a torch in comparison!

I remembered from taking pix of the dance show that the lighting is funky on stage. That’s where exposure compensation comes into play. Exposure compensation (the +/- button) lets you add or subtract light without changing your aperture; it allows you to adjust for the bright lights that are on stage, as well as backlighting outdoors.

Eyes glazing over? Sorry!

I was using my Nikon D700 (which does a wonderful job with high ISOs with Noise Ninja’s help, of course) and beloved Nikon f/1.4 85mm lens to let in as much light as possible (no flash photography necessary). My ISOs ran from 1000 to 2500 when it was pretty dark. At first I tried a mild exposure compensation of –.33 but quickly went to –.7 and –1 to try to darken the effect of the overwhelming overhead stage lights.

Too much light despite an exposure compensation of -1.33.

Too much light despite an exposure compensation of –1.33.

An exposure compensation of –1.33 worked pretty well, but as you can see above, sometimes the photo still was blown out. In this case I quickly chimped and reset the e-c to –1.67.

Alec at -1.67

Alec at –1.67

Wow, what a difference!

The cast works on a scene from "Charley's Aunt."

The cast works on a scene from "Charley's Aunt."

Once I finally got the e-c set to either –1.33 or –1.67, the photos looked pretty good, and I could just snap away.

Christin is somewhere within the smoke.

Christin is somewhere within the smoke.

The negative exposure compensation even worked well when there was smoke on stage.

Trey "kills" Dracul (Cameron) in a coffin as Jonathan (left) and Alec watch.

Trey "kills" Dracul (Cameron) in a coffin as Jonathan (left) and Alec watch.

Photoshop did play a role in getting the best quality out of these photos. Sometimes I had to add more light, while other times I had to darken a little using Levels. Photoshop wins the award for best supporting actor!

Brian is silhouetted by the actors taking their "Hamlet" bows behind him.

Brian is silhouetted by the actors taking their "Hamlet" bows behind him.

“Laughing Stock” is a comedic play about actors who rehearse/perform three summer stock plays (“Dracul,” “Charley’s Aunt,” and “Hamlet”) in a barn in New Hampshire. During the play, the cast performed “Hamlet” in the background behind a mesh screen. It made for interesting photos!

Christin, Cameron, and Grace take their bows at the end of the play.

Christin, Cameron, and Grace take their bows at the end of the play.

All of the actors were extremely talented and put on a very funny performance.

The cast applauds the audience.

The cast applauds the audience.

I’m sure I would’ve really enjoyed the play . . . if I hadn’t been busy compensating for my photographic exposure!

Photo Friday: Resetting Settings

Forgot to reset the exposure compensation!

Forgot to reset the exposure compensation!

Even though I’ve been taking SLR (single-lens reflex) photos for about 40 years, I still make plenty of mistakes.

Sidebar: Yes, I was born with a camera in my hand, thank you very much! I’m really not that old!!

Probably the blunder I make most often is forgetting to reset my settings from the time I previously used my Nikon D300. Normally, I shoot on aperture mode where I choose how much light to let in (usually f/2.8, if possible) while the camera picks the shutter speed (but I keep an eye on it to make sure it’s fast enough to stop the action if needed). I often up the ISO to increase that shutter speed, and sometimes I increase or decrease the exposure compensation to let in more or less light.

That’s all well and good for the session at hand, but it can be disastrous if I forget to reset to my defaults (ISO 200 and no exposure compensation) when I put my camera away. As in the above shot of the #1 son teeing off at North SeaTac Park’s disc golf course in Seattle. I had the exposure comp set at +1 from the day before, resulting in a photo that was much too light.

The photo after Photoshopping

The photo after Photoshopping

The photo looks better after I darkened and sharpened it in Photoshop CS3, but it doesn’t look as good as it might have if my settings had been correct. Oh, and if I had upped the ISO more to increase the shutter speed; it’s a little blurry, too. Definitely not the kind of photo I’d show anyone to make them think I’m a good photographer!

Sometimes I forget to reset the settings as my photographic situation changes. When I shoot action pix, I like my aperture to be at f/2.8, the better to blur the background and focus only on that action. But f/2.8 usually doesn’t work when you’re taking portraits and need some depth of field.

The #2 son not totally in focus

The #2 son not totally in focus

Take this photo of the #2 son, for example. I snapped it on the ferry to Bainbridge Island. I had my aperture set on f/3, which meant that his face is in focus, but not his ears or most of his hair. Not a bad mistake, fortunately; good thing he’s so doggone cute!

Sharp son and blurry dad

Sharp son and blurry dad

But this error truly was unfortunate. I had been snapping flag football photos all afternoon at f/2.8 when I saw Chris and his toddler son. I took the photo without changing my aperture to at least f/5.6 to get both of them in focus. Result? Sharp son and his blurry dad. And one frustrated photographer who blew a good photo op. Arrrrgh!

So the lesson to be learned here? Always reset your settings to their default positions after you’re done shooting. And don’t forget to check your settings when you switch between subject matter. That great photo you save may be your own!

Now if I could just staple a Post-It note to my forehead for every time I pick up my camera . . . .

Fabulous Photo Fourth!


What can be better than watching fireworks on the Fourth of July? In our master-planned community, we’ve enjoyed going to our sports complex to view the rockets bursting in air almost every year, and this year’s show was no different.


Sidebar: Well, it was a little bit different this year. One of the best parts of watching fireworks is seeing the looks on my sons’ faces as they ooh and aaah. However, this time the boys quickly ditched us, and we were on our own to watch with our friend Karen E., whose two sons also had dumped her.


Like most photographers, I’ve taken my share of fireworks pix. Usually, I just wing it, preferring to point either my film SLR (back in the day), digital SLR, or point and shoot camera up to the sky and push the shutter button when I feel the time is right. Definitely a hit-or-miss operation, much more miss than hit.

Flowers in the sky!

Flowers in the sky!

But this time I decided to finally get serious and do a better job at capturing the glory of fireworks. I did online research to determine some guidelines, and then headed to the sports complex with my Nikon D300, Nikon 17-55mm lens, and a tripod. For a change, I set everything on manual: I focused to infinity, set my aperture at f/16 (no bokeh necessary in this situation), and switched the shutter speed to “bulb.” When you use the bulb setting, you push the shutter down and hold it until you think you’ve captured enough of the fireworks burst, and then release. Experts opined that anywhere from one to four seconds should do the trick. For me, three seconds was the sweet spot for getting the best fireworks photos.


The trickiest part was trying to capture both the ground fireworks at the same time as those in the air. It was hard to have both in focus; I only was successful once, but I like the way it turned out.

Fireworks above and below

Fireworks above and below

It helped that it was a clear night. Even the breeze came out to blow the mosquitos away.

"Palm trees" swaying in the air

"Palm trees" swaying in the air

I had read about trying to achieve the “palm tree” effect—getting the rockets’ trails and the bursts in the same photo. Thanks to good timing and luck, I scored big time!

Finale time!

Finale time!

The best part of any fireworks show, of course, is the finale. The patriotic music builds, and the pyrotechnic crew shoots lots of pretty colors into the night sky. Definitely time for the rockets’ red glare . . .

Part of the finale

Part of the finale

. . . and the bombs bursting in air! I had fun looking at the fireworks show through my lens and documenting the event. Can’t wait to try to improve next year on hopefully another fabulous photo Fourth!

Photo Friday: I(n) S(earch) O(f) Sharper Photos

The batter in still life pose

The batter in still life pose (ISO 250)

If only every sports photo could be as easy as this one! The only movement might be from the wind; otherwise, the batter is so easy to keep in focus. Sharp pictures would be, dare I say it, a breeze!

Michael moves toward second base for the force out.

Michael moves toward second base for the force out. (ISO 250)

But that’s not reality. Sports photography means action, usually, and plenty of it. The trick is to capture that action in focus, which is hard when the light is fleeting and the players are on the move. A point and shoot camera can’t handle the challenge, but a digital SLR definitely can if the photographer remembers one simple rule: Your shutter speed should at least equal the focal length of your lens.

So if you’re shooting with a 70-300mm lens zoomed out to 300mm, your shutter speed needs to be at least 1/300 to stop the action. This isn’t set in stone, but it’s a good rule to follow.

Seamus is ready for the pitch. (iSO 320)

Seamus is ready for the pitch. (ISO 320)

The tricky part occurs when you’re shooting around sundown and later. As the sunlight lessens, so does the amount of light allowed in by the camera’s aperture (the f-stop). You can widen your aperture (go to a smaller number, like f/3.5 or f/2.8), but your shutter speed inevitably also will drop. And that means you’ll unintentionally blur your photos.

Cole throws towards first base in time to get the runner. (ISO 400)

Cole throws towards first base in time to get the runner. (ISO 400)

I thought about this problem while I was shooting Little League baseball a couple days ago. A parent came up to me and said he couldn’t get sharp action photos of his grandson. I asked him what his ISO was set on, and he replied 400. Easy solution! I told him to increase his ISO all the way up to 1600 if he had to. If he had enough light, he then probably would have a fast-enough shutter speed to stop the action.

Nick gets a warm welcome after a home run. (ISO 400)

Nick gets a warm welcome after a home run. (ISO 400)

So what is ISO? Back in the day, we would buy film by its ASA number—the lower that number (e.g., ASA 100), the less grainy (better image quality). ISO works the same way, except you can change it in the camera (a big plus!). Depending on your camera, photos taken at ISO 200-400 should look sharp. But once you get to the upper numbers, say, ISO 800-1600, pictures can be noisy. That’s where noise reduction software, like Noise Ninja, which is what I use, comes in handy.

Andre catches the ball in centerfield. (ISO 800)

Andre catches the ball in centerfield. (ISO 800)

So the basic ISO tradeoff is a faster shutter speed to stop action in exchange for noisier (grainy) photos. But with the newer digital cameras, the noise may be hardly noticeable. If you’re going to shoot sports photos and can’t use a flash, as the sunlight dims, you need to open up your aperture (low f-stop number) and increase your ISO. Otherwise, you’ll have a lot of blurry photos to delete.

Griff lays down a bunt. (ISO 800)

Griff lays down a bunt. (ISO 800)

Is this football or baseball? Griff is out at first base. (ISO 800)

Is this football or baseball? Griff is out at first base. (ISO 800)

I took these photos of our local Little League’s 11-year-old all-star team from 7-8:15 p.m. When I hit ISO 1600 and felt I probably had enough quality photos, I put away my camera and enjoyed watching the action from the bleachers.

Cole and Harry watch the action from the dugout. (ISO 800)

Cole and Harry look out of the dugout. (ISO 800)

And as much as I really enjoy trying to capture memories with my Nikon D300 and my beloved Nikon 70-200mm lens, I still like rooting for our boys among their parents.

Andrew readies to throw a strike. (ISO 1000)

Andrew readies to throw a strike. (ISO 1000)

The best part of taking photos of our 11s all-stars? I got to record how much sweat, effort, and heart they put into beating a long-time rival twice out of three games to advance to the next level of play. Looking back on these pix always will remind me of this young team that thought it could win and did. Glad I raised my ISO so I could document that sharp effort!