Thursday 28 April 2011

Trying out a new (old) camera

In one of the simple soulful photography lessons, we were encouraged to try a different camera. A Polaroid camera was strongly suggested, and it's definitely something, I want to try out one day in the future. But I havent' got one. But what I found when tidying up over the weekend, was my parents, no mine, old Minolta Hi-Matic 7sII compact camera. It's in perfect condition, having been safely stored away in its beautiful leather case inside its original box for years. Together with the original manual, which is very handy :-). Also, the 7sII is said to at the top of the hi-matic range, and the lens, a Rokkor 1:1.4 40mm fixed lens, apparently is renowned for it's sharpness. Well, it all sounds good so far :).

I had wanted to shoot with film again for some time now, especially as I was given an old Nikon FA SLR about two years ago, complete with a whole range of lenses (and the manual :) ), but I'm not feeling ready yet to tackle that one. I've only started shooting in manual mode with my DSLR a few weeks ago, and I'm still learning how it all works together. Shutter speed, especially, is something I still find rather difficult.

So the compact Minolta seems a good choice for the moment.  I must admit, though, that haven't really got much of an idea yet how to properly use it (despite the manual). The great advantage of a digital camera is, of course, that you can see the exposure scale in your viewfinder and adapt shutter speed and/or aperture accordingly. And of course, you can see immediately on the display, if it's any good or not. The Minolta Hi-Matic 7sII also has an Automatic mode as well as the possibility of manual settings. When I looked for some information aobut the camera on the internet, it was mentioned that the automatic mode is actually not reliable anymore, as the batteries had a different voltage back then. But I decided to shoot in automatic mode anyway, at the beginning. So I bought battery and film and started shooting.

The day before yesterday, I took the roll to a camera shop to have it developped, and last night, I could pick them up. I really didn't know what to expect. I just hoped that there'd be one or two decent shots, and that it hadn't all been just a complete waste of money...

I must say, I'm pleasently surprised with the result! I expected that most would be over- or underexposed and/or completely out of focus. Three or four were out of focus, but then I find the focussing rather difficult, because sometimes, I really just don't see it! And sometimes, I just simply forget about it, being used to my DSLR's autofocus... But apart from that, the exposure is allright with basically all of them, and they're really nice and sharp. The only great disadvantage were the costs. The prints, together with the developping, cost a small fortune, and to this add the cost of the film roll. Next time, I'll take them to my local supermarket, and maybe have them printed 9x13cm, instead of 10x15cm. Also, I wasn't sure whether to choose matt or glossy. I went for glossy, but somehow, I think that matt would suit the camera better, as would the 9x13 size.

Today, I tried to scan some of the photos to have a digital version. I don't kow if it's the scanner or the quality of the prints (which at that price should be good!), but the results were a disaster. The colours I can fix in PSE, no problem, but the sharpness... There's nothing left of the beautiful sharpness, instead, you can go cound pixels! Well, next time, I'll have a CD made along with the print, so I don't have to bother about turning them into a decen digital format... Somehow I didn't think about it at all! I'm so used to digital camera = digital files, film camera = prints.

Think I took this in manual, with f/1.7, but I'm not quite sure
 The next thing I want to really learn is using it in manual. I've read about the Sunny 16 Rule, which says that on a bright, sunny day, use f/16 as aperture, and set shutter speed to the equivalent of your ISO film speed, i.e. with a ISO 100 film, set it to 1/125, with ISO 200 film to 1/250 etc. And if it's hazy sun, cloudy or overcast, basically do the same. This sounds all good enough, and certainly a thing to remember when doing landscape shots, for which f/16 works very well anyway, to make sure to get a good exposure. But what if you want to play with depth of field, and use an aperture of f1.7, for example? After all, if you have a lense that goes to f/1.7, you certainly want to use that, right? So what's the rule there?? I couldn't find anything, unfortunately, and I don't have any experience to fall  back on. As I've mentioned before, shutter speed is the one thing I've rather avoided so far, always taking aperture as my starting point. Well, I think I'll just have to experiment, diligently making notes of everything, and learn by experience. And find a cheaper option for having the films developped...

But I'm happy so far, with my new (old) camera. It's fun to try out something different, and have other options along my beloved DSLR.

To sum up my experience, so far:

  • It's easy enough to use and even though the battery voltage apparently apparently isn't right anymore, the automatic seems to works well enough
  • I'm spared the white balance business, which often drives me mad with my DSLR
  • But then, film means that you have to decide about the ISO beforehand
  • More decisions: when you want to have prints, what size do you choose, and glossy or not?
  • I love its compact size and solid quality. In its beautiful fitted leather case, I feel very comfortable to just throw it into my bag and carry it around all day. Not something I'd feel comfortable doing with my DSLR...
  • I still have to figure out how to use it in manual mode (and start making notes about settings for each photo I take!)
  • Take it to the local supermarket for development, rather than the very expensive camera shop (unless it's b&w film)
  • Have prints made in 9x13cm format, rather than 10x15cm, and maybe try out matt finish rather than glossy (seems to me to fit the period of the camera better)
  • Rather than getting frustrated with trying to scan them, have a CD made along with the prints
  • Get to know which subjects work best and which don't with this camera
  • Always try to remember to focus properly! :)
  • I really like the sound of the shutter and of forwarding the film
  • Have / develop patience to learn how to use the camera to achieve best results, and practice, practice, practice :)

Monday 18 April 2011

Abstract processing

The weather on Sunday morning, when we went on a walk over the dam over Lake Zurich wasn't too great. it was sunny but very hazy, which turned the sky a blurred grey/white. Also, at 10 in the morning, the sun really was already to high and the light a bit too harsh. I liked the reeds reflected in the water, but it was facing the sun and the angle limited. But I thought it might make a nice b&w picture for the 52 weeks of no colour project (where I'm still terribly behind).

Original shot
 When I started processing it, I thought that it might make a good abstract image, with strong contrasts and where it only becomes obvious what the subject is at a second glance. I also thought that a square crop might work well, so I cropped and straightened it.

I tried adding a bit of a Gaussian blur to make it even more abstract. I like the softness it gives, but I think that in this case, it really is a bit too much (I actually quite like the sharpness of the first).

After looking at both square versions, I decided that actually, I liked the upper part best and that maybe, it would actually work better in landscape format than in square format. So I cropped it again, choosing a 10x15cm, and I think that this really works much better here.

I tried adding a bit of Gaussian blur again, but this time trying not to overdo it. I quite like the soft, dreamy effect, but the one above, landscape crop with no added blut, is actually my favourite version.

But I really love what you can do with post processing, how on thing leads to another and how you can create different moods. It's such fun to play around, and by trying out different options and creating different versions to compare with each other, you can learn so much. Only downside is that creating many different versions takes up a lot of storage space....

Sunday 17 April 2011

Enchanted forest

I love a walk through the woods. I don't really like direct sunlight (and should avoid it anyway) and I don't like when it's getting too warm, so walking through the woods really is perfect. You get the shade, the protection from the sun and still all the beautiful sunlight. There's so much to see and hear and discover.

I always like to think that the woods are enchanted, that really, there are all kinds of fairies, gnomes, and other fairy tale creatures populating the forests, and when you walk through them, hundreds of eyes are following you without you ever knowing it, let alone catching a glimpse of any of them.

That might sound a little bit scary now, but I think that they're really quite friendly, at least as long as you let them be. After all, it's their forest, and you're only a guest, passing through.

I could walk through those woods for hours, making up stories about those fairies, and their adventures. The only problem is that the woods around here really are often far too crowded with noisy people...

But there's nothing as relaxing and refreshing as spending some time on your own in the woods, letting your mind wander and your imagination run wild. Watched and protected by hundreds of little eyes...

Friday 15 April 2011

Photography accessories

There's a whole range of equipment and accessories available for enthusiastic photographers, some of them more useful and necessary than others. Camera strap covers, for example, maybe not the most necessary items, but they're certainly useful and definitely very pretty and stylish.

I was so happy when I found the gorgeous strap cover I had ordered from Sewtamz on Etsy in my mail box this week. Isn't it wonderfully bright and cheerful and happy? Doesn't it just make you want to grab your camera and run out into the spring sun and start snapping? It certainly makes me want to do jsut that :). And the best thing, I had it customised with my initials. Yay! :) I absolutely love the bright pink of the monogram and the "bold font" (which I had no idea what it looked like, but it couldn't have been more perfect!).

I have a feeling that this is not going to be my last camera strap (cover). I just love accessories :)

Sunday 10 April 2011

The beauty of the ordinary

I'm taking part in a workshop by Irene Nam, Simple Soulful Photography, which started at the beginning of the week. I had read about it on someone's blog, and after eight weeks of focusing on the technical aspect of photography with Mastering Manual Mode, I thought it would be a great idea to focus on the creative aspect.

The first two lessons were about self care and making space, which are important ressources for a creative life. Both self care and making space seem to be such simple things, things that we know do us good, common sense, really, but more often than not, oh so difficult to follow. Self care, treating yourself to little things that do you good without feeling guilty, I find especially difficult. But the space making isn't much easier, even though I often feel that if my desk is full of clutter, I just can't think anymore and as a result, get nothing done. I'm beginning to wonder what exactly it is that's continuously holding me back from clearing away the mess and clutter in the flat and giving me breathing space. But maybe another lessons in self care is to allow yourself time, and to take little steps.

On Friday, we got the first weekend photo challenge, which was to look for the beauty of the ordinary. I love going for walks, but more often than not, I have to force myself to actually go - and most of the time, I end up not going at all. But this morning, after re-reading the lesson, I grabbed my camera and just went.

I left the house shortly after 8 o'clock, to avoid a) the hot weather (the weather gods seem to have decided to skip spring this year and go straight to summer) and b) the masses of people that fill up the woods and walking pathes on a warm, sunny Sunday - both things I absolutely hate. Plus, there's the advantage of the great light which you get in the early mornings.

So out I went, looking for the beauty of the ordinary, which nature provided in plenty. I love putting my camera down on the ground and just click the shutter, without knowing what it's going to focus on. The results are often surprising and amazing.

My little tour led me through parts of the local cemetary, where there was a field full of those white and yellow daffodils and buttercups, which were absolutely enchanting in the early morning sun.

Another part of the lesson/photo challenge was to look for those things we maybe would want to dismiss as not making a good enough picture, and just take it anyway. Being open to getting caught off guard by an image. I passed a hedge on the way, with some pink flowers and some light shining through. It looked rather too dark but remembering the lesson, I decided to try and take a picture and see what would come out of it. Well, this is what did come out, and my, I'm glad I did stop and give it a try. Isn't this pink and bright green spring bokeh just making you happy? It certainly makes me happy :-)

 On the way back home, there was a patch with some small hyacinths, pink and blue, on a littel patch of green right next to the main road. It wasn't the most charming place, but you'd never guess from the images, would you.

I put the camera on the ground again, but this time used live view to focus. I don't like using live view at all (and I don't know how some DSLR users prefer to use it instead of looking through the view finder), I really just find focusing with it very annoying. But unless you want to ly down flat on you're belly - which I preferred not to do considering the grass being all wet and damp with dew - it's often the only way to maintain any control of your focus. But sometimes, it's well worth taking a bit of trouble :-)

There were some little common daisies as well, next to the hyathinths, looking still a bit sleepy and only just beginning to wake up and unfold. Common daisies (Gänseblümchen - "little duck flowers" in German) are the flowers that (along with buttercups) remind me most of my childhood. Making daisy chains in the sun on the green outside the house, what a wonderful time to spend a school free Wednesday afternoon. I haven't made a daisy chain in ages, decades, really. I think it's high time to make one again!

On the way home I passed the local bakery, which openes for a couple of hours on Sunday mornings. After having walked for two hours, a hearty breakfast was more than deserved, so I treated myself to my favourite Laugengipfeli (a croissant made of some kind of pretzel dough, very popular here) and a special Sunday chocolate croissant.

I feel full of energy after my early morning achievement, ready to tackle the space making and mess clearing. I think I should definitely try to make this into a Sunday morning routine, as part of my self care programme.

Wishing you a wonderfully creative and enchanting Sunday!

Saturday 9 April 2011

Happy Birthday To You...

...dear little plastic box, and happy anniversary.

It's one year now, since I got my little beginner's DSLR, and it's been one year of exploring, experimenting and learning. It's been a great journey so far, into this wonderful world of (digital) photography. When I first got my camera, I didn't have a clue about how to use it. I used the "beginner's modes", i.e. landscape, macro, portrait etc. in the first few weeks until I was ready to move on to aperture priority mode after a National Trust photography working holiday in the Lake District last May. The firts thing our tutor made us do back then actually was to shoot in manual mode and trying out all the different settings, especially white balance. I found it all rather confusing and overwhelming, and so confortably settled for aperture priority for the next 8 months, ignoring all the other settings and taking my time to discover all about depth of field, focusing and how everything worked together (it's really not much use having someone explain it all to you, you just have so see it for yourself).

Macro mode, 135mm, 1/250, f/5.6, ISO 100, WB: auto. Taken 29/04/2010 (processed 09/04/2011)

By the end of last year, I decided that it was time to move on and signed up for an 8 weeks e-course on how to shoot in manual mode, starting in February. I must admit that when the course began, I was sort of secretly convinced, that it was nice to know all about manual mode, but that I really would go on using aperture priority mode and maybe just pay more attention to ISO and white balance. However, after the 8 weeks, I must say that I quite enjoy shooting in manual mode. It does mean a lot of settings and adjusments to do before you can actually take your picture, but I quite like the feeling that I'm in control of all the settings and decisions. It needs more time but then, all this fiddling with aperture, shutter speed, white balance, ISO etc. really is what a DSLR is about, isn't it. And although I haven't been doing it very long, I do feel that there have been times, when I'm quite sure that I'd never managed to get a satisfactory picture if I had just used aperture priority mode and nothing else. There are, of course, still pictures that go straight into the bin, but that's the limitations of photography. There are certain conditions, where it just isn't possible to get a good picture, and that's another thing one has to learn by experience and trial and error. But I don't think I'll go back to aperture priority mode as my main mode of picture taking, but stick with manual mode and continue on the learning path.

As it's now a year since I got my camera, it means that I'll now be able to compare my pictures with those from last year. I like to believe that I've made some progress and am getting a bit better at it (though when looking through my old pics, they aren't all that bad). Of course, photography is more than just the settings on your camera. It's as much about seeing, about composition, colours and catching moments that mean something to us, that tell our story and our way of looking at and seeing the world. But knowing something about the technical stuff certainly doesn't hurt, and in fact can help you to achieve better results.

Manual Mode, 50mm, 1/1000, f/1.8, ISO 100, WB: daylight. Taken 09/04/2011
Another thing I've started to learn about in the last 12 months is post processing. I got PSE8 almost three months after I got my camera and really started using it about another two months later, mostly doing a bit of levels and saturation adjustments. I also used the straightening tool a lot because I seemed to be absolutely unable to take a straight picture (something I've managed to get much better at). I also used Picnik a lot for my post processing, because it was so easy to use, but I was also often a bit frustrated about its limitations. I felt that I didn't have much control about the processing and I really wanted to learn to do it myself. I found some e-courses (what a great thing they are!!) and learnt first the basics and then all about working with textures, which I really enjoy. I processed the top image with a lovely Kim Klassen texture, the one in the middle using a close-up of one of the blinds in the living room, and the one below with a number of adjustment layers and cross processing. The possibilities really are endless.

Manual Mode, 50mm, 1/1000, f/1.8, ISO 100, WB: daylight. Taken 09/04/2011

So that has been my first year with my little camera. I'm still at the beginning of my journey, having taken only some small steps so far. There's still so much to learn and to practise. Portraits, for example, is something I'm no good at at all but would like to do more often. And there's still a lot to learn about all the settings, most of all about white balance, which I often find very confusing and probably really the most difficult thing of all. But I'll write a separate post about that, I think. All I can say is that I enjoyed the journey so far and I'm looking forward to many more months and years of following the path, and keeping practising, practising, practising... :-)

Thursday 7 April 2011

* spring *

Too tired to write much at the moment, just glad that it's Thursday night and my day off tomorrow :-). It'll be a busy day with lots of appointments though. But hopefully, I'll manage some photo time as well.

Trying out some different processing effects in PSE8 and enjoying the spring images from last Sundays morning walk.

I really like how you can manipulate the colours with post processing. I used to do all the colour effects with textures, but I'm just learning how to do them by using different adjustment layers, most of all levels adjustments.

But of course I'm not abandoning textures, as you can see, well, in basically every pictures in this post. I've even painted a couple of them yesterday night and scanned them today. I'm not entirely happy with them, though, I still have to practise and experiment a lot. (The "bubbly" one in the image above is one of them).

Tuesday 5 April 2011

~ seeing double ~

Now that I have my camera back, I'm trying to catch up with everything I missed in the last 3 weeks. We're now in week 6 at Picture Inspiration, and so far, I managed exactly two of the prompts (i.e. week 1 and 2). Today, I read through the weekly inspiration message for this week, and realised that I had just the perfect photo for this week's prompt "seeing double".

I went on an early morning walk around a lake nearby and the surface of the lake was so calm and smooth that the woods along it were perfectly reflected on it. The colours aren't exactly very pretty at the moment, with everything still rather brown and bare and only just starting to turn green and coming into bloom, so a little bit of post processing experimenting was perfect with these shots. In the above picture, I tried to achieve a vintage 1970s effect, following an e-course lesson.

In the image below, I used a scratchy texture technique to enhance the "old black and white photo feel".

So there are still weeks 3, 4 and 5 to catch up. Hope I'll manage over the weekend :-)

Saturday 2 April 2011

A splash of pink

Yay, after almost 2 1/2 weeks, I finally got my camera back :-). The plastic rubber grip thingy (I have no idea what is called, not even in German) is replaced and firmly sticking and in addition, they checked the whole camera through and cleaned it's insides. So it almost feels like new :-). Hope the grip thingy won't come off again now!

The beautiful pink magnolia tree in my street is getting into bloom and I was afraid that I might miss it, as the weather forecast wasn't too good and announced lots of rain. However, the weather turned out much better with much more sunshine than rain and the tree is exploding with big pink blossoms. Of course, when I came back home from work last night and my camera was waiting for me, I just rushed out again to take a few pictures before the sun started to disappear behind the hill.

I couldn't do anything for the Mastering Manual Mode class for the last two weeks (which also happened to be the last two weeks of the course) without my camera, but now that I have it back, I'm now practising shooting in manual mode, adjusting ISO, white balance, aperture and shutter speed and trying to get it all right. I actually quite like it! :-)