Hello again! I hope this post reaches you safely at home, in good health, and enjoying the onset of spring… even if it is through your front window! For my latest post, I wanted to offer some thoughts on one of my primary hobbies: photography. While I have shared my images through this blog for the past four (!) years, I have been an active photography enthusiast since high school. For years, I have recorded the world around me (on both film and digital memory cards), and it remains one of my favorite forms of self-expression.
I thought I would share some of my favorite images from past years, show my camera gear, and offer a few tips for taking better pictures. I am certainly not a professional photographer, but this is a passion of mine, and I hope that you enjoy this fun exploration of the art of photography.
Photography – The Art and Science
This is my “rig.” I am a Canon man, through and through. I have nothing against Nikon, Olympus, Sony, or any other brand – you really can’t go wrong with any modern digital Single Lens Reflex (dSLR) camera. Canon just feels right to me – when I pick up a Canon camera, all the buttons and controls fall easily to hand, and for my money, Canon’s lenses are a tremendous value.
Back row: my Canon 100-300mm zoom lens, my newest addition, the 100-400mm L-series Zoom lens, the 17-40mm L-series zoom lens, and my workhorse EOS 70D camera body. Front row: 50mm f/1.8 lens, 85mm f/1.8 lens, 430EX flash, and my ancient Canon EOS Rebel XSi camera that still performs well despite being over a decade old (it has also made an excellent starter camera for my wife who is taking an interest in photography as well).
When I’m out taking pictures, this is almost always my default: my EOS 70D camera body and my 17-40mm lens.
The 17-40mm lens is a wide-angle zoom, giving you a broader view than can be seen with the naked eye. I purchased it in 2017, and it is also my first L-series lens – Canon’s designation for their professional level lenses. After over two decades of shooting with consumer-grade equipment, I remain deeply impressed by the sharpness, clarity, and image quality from the lens.
For portraits or for close-ups, my go-to lenses are my 50mm f/1.8 (left) and my 85mm f/1.8 (center).
The 85mm lens excels at crisp images of the main subject with subtly blurred backgrounds to help focus the viewer’s eye.
Both the 50mm and the 85mm lenses excel at close-up photography.
Zoom lenses, past and present. My 100-300mm lens (left) was a gift from my grandmother when I was in high school. Last month I added the Canon 100-400mm L-series zoom lens (center) to my stable. Both lenses are capable of creating dramatic images for distant subjects.
Despite being built in the early 1990s, the 100-300mm lens can still produce fantastic shots, such as this shot of a screaming eagle, taken during our drive home from the Midwest after Christmas.
However, the 100-400mm lens is my new favorite. The superior zooming power, the edge-to-edge crispness, and the accurate focusing have made this a fantastic addition to my camera bag.
For all of my lenses, I purchase a UV filter. It screws on the end of the camera lens and helps filter out ultraviolet light. A huge bonus? If you get careless and drop your lens (like I did last weekend), the filter, and not the glass on the front of your lens, takes the blow. It’s far cheaper to replace a $20 filter than a many-hundreds-of-dollars lens.
The other element of my photography? My now-ancient Apple iPhone 7. Following the proverb that “the best camera is the one you have with you,” images from my phone represent probably 40% of the photos you see on this blog. While the iPhone might not be as technically advanced as my Canon gear, it has the advantage of being small, lightweight, and capable of producing surprisingly good photos. Tips and Tricks
In this section, I would like to offer some photographic advice on rules I follow, tips I have learned, and tricks I keep up my sleeve when I take pictures. Hopefully, you’ll find this section interesting and helpful:
The Rule of Thirds. Imagine a blank canvas divided either horizontally or vertically into equal thirds. This rule can create a more dramatic photograph. For instance, in this image, the ocean fills 1/3 of the frame while the Cape May sunset fills the upper 2/3.
Perspective. In this case, looking upward toward the top of High Point Monument offers the viewer a sense of scale of the staircase above.
Framing. Use natural elements to help frame your subject. Like a wooden or metal frame that you place around the photos and artwork in your home, elements that you find in nature can help you draw attention to your main subject.
Get Close. While the natural tendency toward a subject is to try to include everything, you can create more drama by focusing closely on one element of your subject. In this case, a cactus is far more dramatic when the needles are viewed up close, as opposed to a shot of the entire plant.
Get Low. In this case, by simply squatting on the floor and taking my photo at eye level, I was able to create a more dramatic image of the Staten Island ferry model at the New York Botanical Garden Holiday Train Show.
Selective focus. By focusing on only one sunflower, I was able to turn hundreds of sunflowers into a sea of yellow during our trip to a Sunflower Maze.
Bokeh. A Japanese word, “bokeh” refers to the out-of-focus areas of the picture that are produced by a lens. A camera lens can cause objects in the background to softly blur out of focus, leaving the main subject tack-sharp while the background is a pleasing blur. This technique can greatly aid your image composition.
Zoom. Massive subjects, such as the Rocky Mountains, can’t be captured in a single photo. Rather than trying to photograph the entire vista in front of me, I switched to my 100-300mm zoom lens and photographed just one small section of the mountains during our visit to Rocky Mountain National Park last summer. The result? A photo I am proud to share.
Reflection. You can create dramatic compositions by observing reflections around you. In this case, a gorgeous sunset reflected in the waters of Seventh Lake during a dinner cruise with my wife and her grandma. Also? Don’t be afraid to completely ignore the “rules” when you photograph. For instance, following the rule of thirds would have been a mistake in this instance – I preferred to show the complete reflection of the Adirondack sunset in the lake below.
Texture. Fading paint, crumbling stonework, rust, well-worn bricks… images that convey a sense of texture can also create an evocative mood. Add sepia tone or black and white to make the sense of touch even more apparent.
Panorama. Many modern smartphones include a panorama feature with the camera – use it! One word of advice: the closer an object is in the foreground of the image, the more the panorama will appear distorted. The farther away the subject (in this case, the baseball diamond), the less unnatural the image appears.
Twilight. While I love a good sunset photo (as readers of this blog will doubtlessly recognize), some of the best photos can be found in the minutes after the sun has set, such as this photo of Fourth Lake from behind The Woods Inn, located in the town of Inlet, NY.
Seriously, twilight is an amazing time to photograph!
Night Photography. Brightly lit subjects at night can create dramatic subjects, such as this Chinese lantern festival in Philadelphia, PA. Allow me to offer a few tips for nighttime photography. First, turn your flash OFF. Invariably, I’ll be at an event like this and someone will take a nighttime photo of the scene and then complain “Why didn’t it come out right?” A flash can only illuminate a short distance, and you’ll end up with an overexposed foreground and a pitch black background. Second, focus your camera on the brightest object in the screen. I shot this scene with my iPhone, and I tapped on the head of the dragon. The phone determined the correct exposure for the lanterns, creating the scene you see here. Third? Nighttime photography is a lot of trial-and-error – don’t be discouraged if the first few shots do not come out right.
Sunlight. If you want deep blue skies, and not white skies with silhouetted subjected, pay attention to the location of the sun. If this is the kind of sky you’re looking for, keep the sun behind you whenever possible.
Food. For food (and drink) photography, there is no hard-and-fast rule to observe. I do recommend getting as close to the plate (or cup) as possible, and pay close attention to the light source – nothing takes away from a good photo than a big reflection spot from a light above a table.
Post-Processing. Be gentle when processing your images on a computer. I try to apply as minimal of adjustments and filters as possible. In this case, a little vignetting around the edges, and a bit of sharpening to enhance the rust of the Bethlehem Stacks.
I hope you found these tips and pointers helpful, and interesting. This is far from a comprehensive list – the techniques of good photography are as endless as your creativity. If you have any other advice you’d like to share regarding photography, please do not hesitate to add to the comments for this post!
Before closing, I wanted to pass along a few other updates, both automotive- and travel-related. First, I recently came across a cool news feature of another Honda CR-V… this one that managed to cross the 1,000,000 mile mark! The Cram Family of Louisville, Kentucky have driven their 2007 CR-V to the impressive million-mile mark, and you can see more in this short video from a local news station:
Onto some other updates closer to home:
My wife and I volunteer with a local food pantry, which keeps us busy. We have recently organized a donation drive through an Amazon Wishlist, but because the food pantry is closed for deliveries owing to COVID-19, our home has become the drop-off spot. We collect the donations that are shipped to our front door, and a couple times a week fill up our cars (as pictured) to deliver the food. I am humbled by the generosity and kindness of others. Also, if I can make a personal request – don’t forget to donate to your local food pantry and food bank. With large-scale unemployment affecting many sectors of the economy, food banks across the nation are seeing record increases in usage – they need your help!
As I wrote in my last post, my wife and I had intended to continue hiking through the parks of Middlesex County for exercise. Unfortunately, the governor of New Jersey closed all state and county parks, as people were using the spaces to meet in large groups, defying social distancing rules. Fortunately, we were able to squeeze in one last hike at Davidson Mill Pond Park in South Brunswick before the parks closed.
We were able to follow a path through the woods down to the pond. It was a peaceful and solitary walk – aside from only one other person, we were the only ones on the trail.
I had taken my camera and zoom lens with me, and while we were walking beside the pond, I managed to catch a photo of a pair of double-crested cormorants swooping low over the water.
Watch out, National Geographic, here I come!
Despite having been locked indoors for much of the past month, nature does continue to move on. We met this robin, who reminded us that winter is over and spring is indeed here!
On the way out, I pulled over to grab a photo of the Accord. Both it and the Grand Cherokee are running well, although the mileage on them continues to grow at a glacially slow pace. This weekend, however, the Accord should pass the 152,000 mile mark. I’ll just consider this social distancing a brief pit stop on the way to my goal of 200,000.
Thank you for taking the time to read my musings about photography. It is a hobby that I greatly enjoy, and I hope a little of that excitement and passion came through in this post.
I have a few more posts like this – about different topics – scheduled in the coming weeks, so if you’re in the mood for some fun reading, please be sure to check back periodically. Thanks for coming along on this photographic journey down the open road ahead!
‘Til next time.