Tag Archives: exposure compensation

The Backlit Photo Challenge

This is a big place.

This is a big place.

When my younger son’s adult bestie Glen gave him a TopGolf gift certificate for his graduation, I knew two things: One, they’d have a blast together, and, two, I wanted to go along. Toting my Nikon D700, of course.

Last Sunday was their last chance to use the gift card for awhile, because Kelly was due to bless Little Glen with a baby brother the next day (welcome, baby Jonas Henry!). It was now or wait a looooong time.

The outside part of TopGolf

The outside part of TopGolf

TopGolf is a deluxe, three-story driving range . . . plus more. The golf bays are outside, with the golfers protected by an overhang. Food and drinks can be served at the bay or inside at the bar or in areas that feature pool, indoor shuffleboard, and big-screen TVs. And it’s fun for all ages.

You can see the available targets on the board.

You can see the available targets on the board.

Golfers can use the facility as a typical driving range or they can compete against friends and/or family in point-scoring games, like hitting targets (the balls are microchipped).

We watched the Canadian Open final round as well as the scoring monitor.

We watched the Canadian Open final round as well as the scoring monitor.

It came as absolutely no surprise that Glen and the kid were up for some friendly competition. Just like when they play disc golf. However, my son had an advantage over his pal: He competed in junior golf, and he still possesses a nice, natural swing. Glen, not so much. Good thing he’s so athletic.

Nice silhouette effect

Nice silhouette effect

When I got to the bay and looked at the 240-yard bright, green space, I knew I’d have a problem with strong backlighting. Sure enough, my first snap of my son with my Nikon 24-70mm lens (great for wide angle and telephoto photo ops) showed that capturing the TopGolf action was going to be a test of my skills.

That stronger light causes the camera’s sensor to expose for the background, severely underexposing the foreground. As in the golfers. Great if you like silhouettes, not so good if you like to see faces. Which I do.

Spot meter with -1 exposure compensation

Spot meter with +1 exposure compensation = meh

So I switched my meter to the spot setting and fiddled with the exposure compensation to add light to the foreground.

Glen with spot metering and +2 EC = still meh

Glen with spot metering and +2 EC = still meh

Fortunately, I had about an hour to try to get decent photos. And I needed just about every tick of the clock.

Honing in on the right setting: Spot meter plus flash and -.67 EC

Honing in on the right setting: Spot meter plus flash and -.67 EC

Finally, I figured out that I had to use the D700’s onboard flash to illuminate the kid and Glen. I rarely use it for action shots, but, then again, I rarely have this kind of a lighting problem. Fortunately, neither of them seemed bothered by the added light. I decreased the exposure compensation to try not to blow out the background so much.

Got it!

Got it!

I also changed my photographic approach. I stopped looking at this as an action assignment, because it was almost impossible to get the club on the ball or follow the ball in the air due to the lighting. Instead, I chose to shoot portraits of the two, which cut out the too-light sky.

The kid got very sweaty.

The kid got very sweaty.

So our TopGolf adventure turned out to be a win-win experience. Glen and the kid had a great time trying to best each other, while I learned to be a more-flexible photographer.

I’d definitely need to clean the windshield.

I’d definitely need to clean the windshield.

Still, I’d much rather shoot facing the players. Maybe next time I can ride in the ball picker-upper!

It’s a Bird! It’s a Plane! No, It’s the Supermoon!

My first attempt at shooting the moon.

The moon closed in on the Earth Saturday night. When I finally remembered to look at it, the time was 10:40 p.m., and the orb was pretty high in the sky, glowing brightly. So I ran inside, grabbed my Nikon D300 and Nikon 300mm (f/4) lens, and did my best to document it.

The supermoon was so luminous that my shutter speed was fast enough for handholding. At first I opted for that wide-open f/4 setting (ISO 320), which meant I had to go to –4 with exposure compensation to bring out the moon’s features.

Then I went into the house, looked at my results in Photoshop (as seen above), and felt satisfied. Until I read an article about the proper way to shoot the supermoon. The advice was to use at the very least f/8 and spot meter to adjust for the brightness.

My second try using f/8 and spot metering—it looks more detailed.

Outside I went once again with the same equipment and changed the settings (ISO 200, exposure compensation –.3). How did I feel about the results?

Over the moon!

Pomp, Circumstance, and the Photographic Graduation Challenge

My #1 son walks to his seat accompanied by “Pomp and Circumstance.”

As the venerable “Pomp and Circumstance” starts filling the huge cavern known as Houston’s Toyota Center, I feel myself starting to get misty-eyed. Afraid that the awful ugly cry is on my personal horizon, I quietly admonish myself. “Grow a pair!” I think; now isn’t the time to make it hard to focus on taking photos.

#1 stands out for having four years of perfect attendance.

Last Friday was a date that I really hadn’t thought about over the past 18 years . . . until my #1 son and I started looking at colleges his junior year. High school graduation just doesn’t seem real, as you’re working on moving from velcro to learning to tie shoelaces, reading chapter books, learning equations, discovering where the Amazon River is, and understanding chemical reactions.

And then, out of the blue, you’re in the venue where the Houston Rockets play basketball watching your son being honored among only several others of the 520 graduates who had four to six years of perfect attendance (aka, the Mom award). It almost was surreal.

Jessika spots her mom Sue and me in the stands.

As you might expect, I was as worried about meeting the photographic challenge of shooting in a large building after 6 p.m. as I was getting my #1 son to the ceremony on time. I was able to scout out a diagram of the Toyota Center and, knowing that the graduates would walk across the stage from right to left, I pinpointed two sections (119 and 120) that might be best for shooting. The Mister, our #2 son, and I were able to snag seats in 119 next to my good friend Sue, and it proved to be a great angle for snapping pix of the grads.

My “third son” Chase chats up our school district’s superintendent.

Both sections looked fairly far from the stage, though, so I decided to use my beloved Nikon 70-200mm lens with the Nikon 1.4x teleconverter. Because I would be losing a stop of light (from f/2.8 to f/4), I opted for that low-light champ, the Nikon D700, instead of the D300, which has a crop factor that lets you zoom in even closer.

My #1 son is congratulated by our principal.

The D700 turned out to be an excellent choice, because my ISO started at 1600 in order to not blur the action and ended up at 2500. What was disappointing for me was that I failed to account for the keylights shining down on the graduates; it wasn’t until after #1 walked across the stage that I figured out that I needed to use negative exposure compensation to tone them down. Photoshop helped, but too many of my photos were a bit overexposed. Live and learn!

#1 warmly greets our associate principal where the lighting is more even.

I was so busy snapping and chimping that I didn’t have time to get emotional. Which was a good thing given that ever-looming possibility of the ugly cry.

#1’s tassel has moved to the left: It’s official!

The ceremony moved along at a decent-enough clip, given the 500-plus graduates to acknowledge. It was fun watching kids we had known from elementary school looking so grown up as they walked across the stage to fulfill their destiny as high school graduates. Kindergarten graduation was cute and fun, but this was so much more meaningful.

Texas A&M-bound Karan and my #1 son

Speaking of kindergarten, it was great capturing photos of my #1 son after the ceremony with a couple friends he’s had since the beginning of school. One was Karan, who has always been one of our favorites.

Best friends forever! #1 and Chase

The other one, of course, was my “third son,” Chase. What a proud moment for me to see my two “sons” standing side by side with their robes on, looking so darned handsome. Regular readers know that Chase is practically a member of our family; at times he seems to live with us. So it seemed that the right thing to do when my brother-in-law snapped a family photo of us . . .

Our family!

. . . was to include him, too!

Congrats to both of my high school graduates! May the big dreams you hope to accomplish come true. We’re so proud of both of you!!

Battling the Stage Lights Once Again

Uneven lighting . . . ugh!

When I got an e-mail from my “twin” sistah Joyce that our high school would be presenting its excellent one-act play, “Fire in the Hole,” for everyone’s viewing pleasure, I knew I needed to attend. Especially when she said that cameras were welcome.

Normally, the play is performed during competition when no cameras or camcorders are allowed. This was a great chance to see these talented actors and actresses in action. And to do battle with the challenge of uneven lighting that our school’s auditorium loves to feature.

I had just moaned and groaned about those sometimes-blinding bulbs last week when my #1 son walked across that stage to receive a math award. And I went on and on about them in this post when many of these same kids acted in our fall school play.

As you can see from the first photo, I had to compensate for uneven lighting. Justin, on the right, is overexposed, while Grace, David (lying on the table), and Daniel (Joyce’s son) are well lit.

The lighting is better for David, ghostly Nora in the doorway, Grace, and Justin.

Overall, the stage wasn’t very dark. I had the ISO on my Nikon D700 set at 1000–1600 (of course, I used my beloved low-light champ, the Nikon 85mm f/1.4 lens). My exposure-compensation to tone down the keylights mostly was at –.7.

Daniel, Justin, and Alec look good on a different part of the stage.

When I reviewed photos on my LCD during the play and saw that some parts of the stage were too overexposed (too light), I pulled out one key photographic strategy: Avoidance! The problem area mainly was in the middle of the stage; that’s why I have few photos of the action there. I figured I would get decent pics on the left and right sides, and that’s what happened.

Brian thinks about what Daniel is asking him to do.

“Fire in the Hole,” set around a Kentucky coal mine, is one of nine one-act plays from Robert Schenkkan Jr.’s “The Kentucky Cycle.” A union organizer (Justin) encourages Mary Anne Rowen’s family  (Grace, Daniel, and David) and fellow miners into striking against the Blue Star Mining Company.

Daniel, David, and Grace discuss while Brian waits.

The school play became especially poignant with the recent West Virginia coal mining disaster when 29 miners were killed.

An angry Daniel confronts Grace, while David looks on.

Coal mining is a way of life in West Virginia, just like it was in the play. I couldn’t help but think about those miners (dead and alive) and their families, as I watched our students’ amazing performance (they almost made it to the state competition).

Much of the cast gather for one of the final scenes.

Battling those brilliant bulbs seemed so insignificant.

It Takes a Village

A look at part of the village.

The other night the Mister and I actually put on our social pants and paid a visit to friends in our community. We wanted to see Kathie and Dwayne, of course, but the true draw was one of Kathie’s passions: Her Christmas village that was set up in her dining room.

A young girl pulling her baby brother on a sled represents their kids.

Kathie started collecting the pieces in 1992 when her daughter Monica and son Tanner (who is a friend of my #1 son) were very young. Every year she adds to her wonderful village.

Snowmobile tours

This snowmobile tour building (and more) was her addition this year. It’s set up next to a ski run.

The skiers never seem to get bored!

The ski run actually works! The skiers shoot down the hill and then back up the “lift” endlessly.

Skating without falling down!

Skaters also turn rings around a rink without ever falling. That’s quite an accomplishment!

Too bad there's no ocean for this lighthouse!

Every bit of Kathie’s village is interesting and worthy of low-light photography (with my Nikon D700 and 50mm lens; my ISO mostly was set on 1250–1600).

The choir sings!

I especially liked the parts that made sound. Such as the church’s choir . . .

The old-fashioned radio station

. . . and singers inside the old-fashioned radio station (K-TOY).

A peek inside at the radio station’s singers

I set my exposure compensation at –1 to tone down the light emanating from the radio station’s window. Aren’t they cool-looking characters?

Or maybe they’re really macho men (even though this isn’t a YMCA)? After all, they are the village people!

New Year’s Eve

I hope all my readers have a safe and happy New Year’s Eve tonight! Farewell to 2009!!

An Illuminating Photo Shoot

An inauspicious start!

Continuing where I left off with yesterday’s blog post about taking photos of bright Christmas lights:

As you can see from the above photo, which was my first attempt snapping away in Pecan Grove, I got off to a lousy start. Remember all that practicing I had done the day before for taking photos on a ProGrad hayride? I forgot one teensy, tiny, minute detail: The vehicle would be moving.

While in my neighborhood, I was either on foot or shooting from a stopped car. I didn’t consider that the hayride vehicle would be on the go for most of its 45 minutes of travel. Which led to a bunch of blurred photos until I increased my shutter speed to compensate for how fast the car I was in was going. Duh!

Sidebar: Yes, I wimped out and rode in the car, driven by the husband of my friend Darlene, instead of in the trailer it was pulling. Hey, it was cold that evening! Can’t shoot well with frozen fingers (or so I rationalized!).

Lots to see at this house

As we drove along the lit-up streets of Pecan Grove, there was so much beauty to take in and photograph. The residents did themselves proud! The Nikon D700 and 50mm lens were up to the task, as my ISO was mostly set on 2500. I kept the exposure compensation at –.3 and –.7 (depending on how many lights there were), so I could retain as much lights detail as possible.

Here’s a sample of what we saw:

It's an Incredibles Christmas!

Santa also apparently flies a plane!

Lots of pretty lights here

Kung Fu Panda takes center stage.

This house featured a horde of snowpeople.

This seemed to be everyone's favorite: The Ho Ho Ho house.

Ho ho ho! Seems to be an apt sentiment for tonight!

Practicing for a Light-Filled Photo Shoot

A cute inflatable

When I volunteered to help with a hayride last Saturday, I, of course, had an ulterior motive. The event was run by the ProGrad committee at my sons’ high school in an attempt to raise money for its lock-in the night of high school graduation.

Sidebar: Project Graduation is a supervised, all-night, alcohol-free party for grads where they get fabulous prizes and have a great time. Even the hardly social #1 son plans to attend. Surprised me, that’s for sure. Which meant I had to volunteer.

Snoopy serenades our neighborhood.

The hayride (aka trucks pulling trailers filled with hay bundles) travels through a nearby community, Pecan Grove, that’s renown for its December lightfest. Most of the houses participate in making the many streets look festive and bright. I knew I’d want to go on one of the trucks after my volunteer duties and snap photos of the beautiful houses. I also knew that I’d better practice in my own neighborhood first, so I’d know what to anticipate once the hayride was rolling.

Lit-up snowpeople

My equipment choice was easy: I opted for two low-light champs, the Nikon D700 paired with the Nikon f/1.4 50mm lens. A fast lens like the 50mm lets in a lot of light, enabling me to keep my shutter speed high enough to, hopefully, not blur what I’m shooting.

Why not use flash, you ask? Because it wouldn’t look like you were photographing at night! Everything would be much too bright.

As I walked around my neighborhood, I experimented with exposure compensation in order to deal with the cluster of lights, like with the above snowmen. Without accounting for this extra light by going to an exposure comp of –.7, the snowmen would be blown out and almost unrecognizable. Too much light, just like too little light, can be a bad thing photographically.

Sidebar: Neither my neighbor Sylvia nor the Mister read the above three paragraphs. Their eyes started glazing over once they read “My equipment choice.” I fully understand . . . that’s how I feel when people talk about spreadsheets or computer code. Or cooking without following a recipe.

Two bears and a seal

Walking around the neighborhood taking a multitude of photos (each time I would try different settings to see what worked best) was a great experience. Although I’m sure some of my neighbors were scratching their heads at my odd behavior.

Blue snowflakes

I even found myself wishing that some of the snowflakes I was photographing were real. No, not lots and lots and lots of them. Just enough to make it seem like winter here in south Texas.

How many white trees are there?

Every now and then I found a reflection photo op. Those always are my favorite.

Love these peppermint lights!

My neighbor Tish put out some of the most-intriguing and fun lights to photograph along her sidewalk. They look like big peppermint candies!

Red peppermints

And they change colors! Too cool!!

Santa travels in style!

I really was getting into the swing of photographing well-lit things by the time I finished experimenting. The settings that seemed to work best were ISO 1600-2500, f/2-3.5, and an exposure comp of –.3 or –.7. I was ready to take on the Pecan Grove challenge.

How did I do? Tune in again tomorrow to find out!

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 . . . .

A Devil of a Time Shooting Angels


Shadow dancer

Shadow dancer

The more you think you know, the less you really know. I proved that once again last Friday night.

For the third straight year I took photos of a dance show at the #1 son’s high school. The dancers are called the Angels, and these talented girls can fly through the air with the best of them. Because in the past I had done a decent job under difficult, demanding conditions—different, changing lights that are never strong enough for better-quality lower ISOs—I figured that this year’s show would be a slam dunk to shoot. Of course, I was wrong. Taking quality action photos in a dimly lit auditorium is never easy, no matter how well prepared you are. Especially when you forget one important thing: Last year’s camera settings!

Poor, pitiful, washed-out Nick

Poor, pitiful, washed-out Nick

See poor Nick above? He was one of the announcers who does skits in between dances, so the girls can change into their costumes. See his handsome face? Right, you can’t! That’s because on stage key lights are used in certain spots. If one of the students happens to be under that key light, their face is horribly overexposed. Parents don’t want to buy photos where only their kids’ knees are properly lit. Key lights are bad for business.

So, naturally, I’m clicking away with my Nikon D300 and Nikon 85mm f/1.4 lens, noticing how overexposed my photos look on my LCD review screen. And then it finally dawns on me: In the past I had set the exposure compensation to -.7 to try to balance the key lights; I had forgotten to do that, and it was ruining my pix. Headslap . . . I could’ve had a V8!

Sidebar: Exposure compensation (increasing or decreasing the amount of light allowed in by the camera) comes in very handy with backlit subjects. In this case, you focus on the person’s face, increase the exposure compensation (usually done with a dial on the camera), and shoot. Just be sure to always reset back to zero when you’re done.

High-flying Angels

High-flying Angels

Once I fixed the setting, my photos looked a lot better. It still was difficult to properly balance the lighting and keep the shutter speed high enough to stop the action (my ISO was set at 1600; I used Noise Ninja in Photoshop to help decrease the graininess). I opted for the 85mm f/1.4, because it gave me the reach (I was sitting pretty far back) and lens speed (it lets in more light at high ISOs) I needed. Anyone using a digital SLR to take indoor dance or sports photos should invest in an 85mm lens (the less-expensive f/1.8 usually does the trick); the 18-55mm kit lens that comes with dSLRs is too slow to stop the action (the aperture is f/3.5-5.6, which won’t allow for a fast-enough shutter speed).

Sophomore dance

Sophomore dance

Me and my shadow

While I was taking photos of the first solo (the first photo above), I became intrigued by the shadow the dancer was making on the curtain. Sometimes I would focus on the shadow; other times, I would key on the dancer herself. There were only two solos, but I was able to capture a few of these shadowy pix.



Good for a laugh

The Angels’ parents always have their own show-stopping number. My friend Janet did her best to try to hide in the background, but I was glad when she stepped forward, and I was able to snap her photo and embarrass her in front of the entire internet. You can thank me later, Janet!

The moms strut their stuff!

The moms strut their stuff!

The dads also were good sports and seemed to enjoy hamming it up for the audience and their daughters.

Hard to properly expose for those white shirts!

Hard to properly expose for those white shirts!

At the end of the show’s finale, streamers are shot across the stage. Did I remember this was going to happen for the third straight year? Of course not! Fortunately, my camera still was at the ready to document the moment.


outlook-not-goodIf I take photos of the Angels show next year, will I actually remember the proper settings for my camera? Hmmm, let me turn to my handy-dandy Magic 8-Ball for an answer: Outlook not so good!