Redwoods are the main attraction at Calaveras Big Trees State Park in the Sierra Nevada Mountains a hundred miles west of San Francisco. But in the summer people also follow a winding road eleven miles into the park interior to enjoy the Stanislaus River. A substantial concrete and steel bridge serves the relatively few visitors. The bridge provides a great vantage point for photographing river rocks and white water. Recently summer visitors added interest to the scene. I used my cell phone so I could do a mobile upload to my facebook page.
I’ve been to San Gregorio beach often enough to know the drill. You walk out on the bluffs two or three hours before sunset and shoot down across the beach towards the sun. The sun is still high enough to be out of the picture, but there is sparkle off the water and beachgoers in silhouette. This attractive combination of subject and lighting occurs only once in … well, actually, it’s every sunny day. Afternoon haze on a recent day added an extra measure of dream-like atmosphere.
Photaf™ is an app for Android smart phones that automates taking and sharing panoramic photos. It has an automatic mode that uses the phone’s compass to guide positioning the camera to take overlapping images, and the shutter is clicked automatically in each new position. The stitched panorama can then be uploaded to the Photaf site, e-mailed, or shared on facebook. It does all the basics well, and panoramic snapshots are more fun than ordinary snapshots. Squeezing the best quality from Photaf requires some care, as we will discuss.
San Gregorio Beach, California, taken with Photaf on a Droid X
A higher resolution version is here. It’s the default resolution for e-mailing images.
Filoli in Woodside, California, comprises an historic mansion and acres of gardens, meticulously cared for by upwards of a thousand volunteers plus some permanent staff. Photographers know they are guaranteed seasonal garden scenes. Earlier this year I posted pictures of the lilacs in Filoli. Recently we were running an errand and decided to drop by for the summer views. This precipitated a near crisis, because I had forgotten to bring my camera. I know that’s unforgivable, but unforgivable things happen sometimes. I came close to having to enjoy the scenery entirely without photographic aid. Then remembered I had my older pocket camera, a Canon A570IS in the car.
Cameras built into cellphones have improved substantially. My Droid X phone captures 8 megapixel images through it’s tiny lens. Since I almost always carry a pocket camera I haven’t used the cellphone camera very much, but recently I decided to give it a try. One advantage of the cellphone camera is that the pictures can be sent out as e-mail directly from the spot where you took the picture. We’ve all seen the blurry products of those attempts, but it seems the problem is not always with the camera. In good light, they can take respectable pictures.
Let’s admit that tripods are a pain to carry, set up, and use. The Quick Shot Artist principle is to avoid them whenever possible. Despite the pain, however, there are times when you just have to have one. They are like lawyers in that regard. I endured the trauma recently —picking a tripod, that is— and have some tips to pass along. I ended up with a three-part assembly from Manfrotto: an aluminum tripod, a ball leveler, and a pan-and-tilt head.
We’ve produced a twenty minute video tutorial on the basics of pocket cameras. It includes operation of the camera controls like the zoom and close-up mode, coping with batteries and memory chips, and the mechanics of downloading photos into Adobe Photoshop Elements™. It’s intended for people just getting into digital photography who need an orientation to what’s going on.
Many digital cameras come with free software for organizing and editing your photographs. That software is fine for casual users, but if you are a photo hobbyist advanced enough to, say, read a photo blog, then it’s best to invest in Adobe Photoshop Elements™. Elements was upgraded from version 6.0 to 7.0 last year, so you know it is a mature product. It comprises an organizer for filing and retrieving images and a photo editor for improving them. The basics are well-covered at this point, but I have some suggestions for improvements. These range from searching caption text to improved methods of resizing images, tagging, and making panoramas.
The effects of light on a subject depends upon the the positions of the subject, the camera, and the light source. I am fond of strong back lighting, which depends upon getting subject, camera, and light source carefully aligned. Set up correctly, back lighting has the potential of giving subjects the drama they deserve. Subjects like scrambled eggs or sorbet, for example. With a lightweight pocket camera and a small subject, the camera can be held in one hand and the subject in the other to very quickly get the lighting aligned.
We should be able to plug in the camera to a computer and use a software package designed to make the setup process easy, with help keys and online access to the manual and general reference materials. For example, setting up exposure bracketing on a Nikon D100 does not actually require a soldering iron, but it might be easier if it did. Instead, one might have the camera attached to a computer, access “bracketing” from a menu, and then be led through the process step by step.
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