My photo posting is mostly current now, at least into early January. There are eleven new sets and my esteemed visitors are cordially invited to the photostream to see them all. In addition to the new sets, there are some photos from my second trip to Tennesee added to the existing Nashville set.

Leo DrummingThe Party @ Robin & Billy’s Place set is the first full set I photographed after acquiring a gently-used Nikon SB-600 Speedlight. By this time, I had come to the realization that I couldn’t avoid using the flash all the time. I hated the washed-out amateurish look I often got from flash photography, so I frequently used the D70s‘ 1600 ISO setting and maximum aperture of F3.5 on the 18-70mm, with no flash. To be sure, I could take far better pictures with this setup than I could at the maximum ISO400 of my old Canon Powershot SD-330 point and shoot camera. (I tried hyperlinking the Canon’s name to an info page of some sort, but it’s so old I can’t find one!) The flash exposures using the D70s’ built-in flash were an improvement over the SD-330’s too, but still weren’t satisfactory. I longed for a more powerful flash that I could bounce off of ceilings to illuminate a dark scene with a more natural-looking light. When I spotted the deal on the used SB-600, I snapped it up.

As you can see, the pictures in these early sets aren’t as noisy and are starting to look decent. However, bouncing the flash wasn’t a panacea – the shots were often underexposed, and I was getting funny hot spots on subjects’ foreheads. Also, I soon found out that high ceilings weren’t bouncing back enough light, and colored ceilings were causing a funny cast on the scene.

PatrickThe Weekend In Ennismore Sept 06 set mostly consists of outdoor shots of Leo and Maia. Many were taken with the 70-300, which worked adequately as long as the cloud cover wasn’t too thick. At some points, there simply wasn’t enough light to avoid an obvious camera-shake effect, even at about ISO800. Going to a higher sensitivity than this introduced noise into the shot. Claire’s dad brought out an old Nikon 35mm SLR kit that he had, and I had an opportunity to snap on a fully-manual 50mm prime lens that he had. The big aperture yielded a couple of nice shots, and I instantly wanted a 50mm of my own.

San FranciscoThe next set was taken in San Francisco, while I was there with some coworkers for the annual DMA show. I had a chance to take a bunch of pictures on the street, and this was a really good chance to just practice. I took some pictures in the light and some in the dark, and used both of my lenses a lot. At one point, three young women saw the D-SLR and asked for me to take their picture, thinking perhaps that I was a photojournalist? I did better this time than with the couple in Nashville, but again, I couldn’t relax and only snapped a few quick shots, nothing inspired. One of my favorite shots from this trip was one I inconspicuously took of another photographer at the Starlite Room at the moment his flash went off to shoot a couple dancing. It was dumb luck, but had a cool result. There wasn’t a single revelation-like lesson from this set, but a lot of good practice and experience from the hundreds of shots I snapped.

KirstenThe next set was taken at our friend Kirsten’s birthday dinner at a great Brazilian steakhouse, the name of which now eludes me. I was starting to get the hang of the bounce flash technique and captured some nice shots as a result. The restaurant featured Brazilian carnival dancers and a belly dancer, and I took a bunch of pictures of them. Some learnings here:

a) Direct flash with the 70-300 looked terrible, at least in the conditions I was in, with the dark background;
b) Low light in a venue like this basically forces you to get close to the subject, otherwise you can forget about the shot. I didn’t really feel confident enough to do this.
c) Be considerate of other spectators at an event. I angered some people by walking into their line of site to take some shots, and felt bad for doing it.
d) Descriptive keywords on Flickr can yield a lot of hits. Apparently searches on the word “Dancer” are quite popular.

Sunrise on Lake ChemongThe Ennismore Early Dec. 06 set is not a big one, but includes some tripod shots of the sunrise over Lake Chemong. I wasn’t rushing, so it was a great opportunity to carefully compose shots and bracket like crazy to find the right exposure. I realized after the fact that I had become a victim of sensor dust, so I had to clean up the pictures in post. I also bought a Visible Dust Arctic Butterfly sensor cleaning brush to rectify the source of the problem.

Another lesson learned while photographing Leo – wipe your kid’s nose before photographing him. (I thought I had learned this before, but apparently not).

RTC 2006 XMas PartyWhen Claire told me there was a request from her coworkers for me to photograph another one of her company’s functions -this time the Christmas party– I jumped at the chance. I remembered my success with the long lens on candid shots of her colleagues at the summer party, and knew this venue would be indoors and darker. I had to stop at Vistek to get a sensor brush (to clean off dust that was showing up in the Ennismore shots), so I inquired at the rental desk for fast telephoto lenses. They had a $2100 Nikkor 70-200mm AF-S VR F2.8 lens that I could rent for the weekend for $40, so I did just that.

This beautiful lens helped me get some good shots, but the Christmas party venue was still too dark for such a long lens, and my camera’s auto ISO was pegged at 1600. Despite the vibration reduction built into the lens, I got lots of camera shake. I switched to direct flash to alleviate the conditions, and this actually got me some OK shots. The best ones were taken with a shorter lens with no flash. I also tried some tripod shots which were decent. Overall, a disappointing outing (photography-wise, anyway – the dinner was great). Lessons learned: a fancy lens can’t work miracles, and it’s better to practice with new equipment before jumping into a situation where people expect results.

TMS Kids Xmas PartyThe next day was my company’s kids’ holiday party, and I still had the fast 70-200. This time, I had more light thanks to a wall of windows allowing muted sunshine in and got some excellent shots of everyone’s kids. A great opportunity to get the shots came up when a children’s magician put on his show, and all the kids were sitting, enthralled, watching him. Thankfully they were facing the windows, well lit, and I had a good angle. No one was paying any attention to me despite my relative proximity, and this made a huge difference in capturing “moments” versus “poses”. I later found out that one of these shots was picked up by an art director colleague of mine for a minor McDonald’s piece she was doing. My first published work!

Christmas 2006The next set was taken in Toronto and Ennismore at Christmas. Just before the holidays, I took home the lovely 60mm Nikkor Micro F2.8 AF lens I had purchased from Denis. I played with different closeups of tree ornaments, plants and such. Most of this set was taken with the 18-70, indoors, with the SB-600 flash. The shots where we’re playing cards were taken with the flash pointing at the low ceiling, and ended up only slightly underexposed. If I were to do this again, I’d take a closer look at the histogram in-camera and set exposure compensation accordingly. The shots taken while we were opening presents were taken with the flash pointed directly upwards, and a business card strapped on with an elastic band to provide some on-flash bounce. This produced some better-exposed results, and the shadows weren’t overly harsh.

I want to get something posted before I fall asleep, so I’ll stop here for now. More to come.