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!