Day 64: Taking my own advice.

In addition to my Legal Research and Writing course this semester, I’m also taking a computer class. It’s focusing on applications that are commonly used in most law offices, but it’s still primarily a computer class. We just finished learning about Word and this week, we’re moving onto Excel. I’ll confess that the Word lessons were very easy for me, but the Excel makes me a little nervous.

Word processing? For a linguist and writing instructor? Piece of cake.

Spreadsheets, calculations, formulae, and numerical input? Cue the cold sweats.

Our final project for this class is a newsletter about a subject of our choice. We will build it in Word but will have to incorporate elements from Excel, PowerPoint, and Access. Our first section was due this past week. My newsletter is called, “Indecent Exposure Weekly: A beginner’s guide to film photography.” I came up with the subject matter, but I Buzz gets credit for the title.

The first article I wrote for it was on the role of the aperture in photography.

Day 63 - Pentax aperture controls

I plunked down a few basic facts about what the aperture is, how it helps regulate the amount of light that exposes the film, and what effect different aperture settings may have on the photo. Here’s how I ended the article for my fictitious photo group:

“Well, that certainly is a lot to take in, isn’t it, grasshoppers? The best way to start understanding this is to keep everything else about your camera fixed: shutter speed, film speed, and lens focal length. Take some pictures adjusting only the aperture and see how the image changes with those settings. Don’t forget to take notes of what f-stop you are using for the picture so you can match each setting to the image that you are looking at.”

How does this all relate to my Project 365 posts?

Well, let me tell you.

On Saturday night, I had the idea of taking a picture of the steam coming from the mug that held my hot bedtime tea. I thought of getting a macro shot of the mug, back-lit steam rising from the mug, and some nice blur in the background. I set up the mug near a light source, tried many different angles and settings, but every single shot came out quite really awful.

So I thought to myself, “Self? What are you doing wrong? Are you hitting the limits of the camera or your skills?”

It could be the camera. I’ve gotten that macro subject/blurred background effect in the past using my Pentax, not the digital.

Day 63 - blue daffodil

The funky blue color was completely unintended (but totally rad!) and likely just a result of how that particular film (I believe it was a Fuji  Superia X-Tra 400) reacted to the green background and late afternoon sunlight. But the focus on the center flower and the blur of the background was intentional. Maybe my digital camera isn’t really the right tool for this kind of picture.

Or maybe I just haven’t figured out how to make it do what I want it to do. I may have gotten good results in the past, but I’m not entirely sure I can dependably recreate them. I remember taking this photo and fiddling with the settings, but…I just can’t remember what my settings were. I have a general idea, but the light meter on the Pentax makes determining my settings much easier, and I’m adjusting these variables blind in a sense. I view the scene, I watch the light meter that can only be seen through the view finder, and I use the aperture ring to get that meter needle to the right position in the middle. I know which way is smaller and which is bigger, but I don’t know necessarily know what setting I land on. I just know I got the needle to the middle. I will also adjust the shutter speed as needed, but because those controls are not as easily manipulated while I’m looking through the viewfinder, I tend to rely more on the aperture setting.

I’m starting to realize that my dependence on that light meter has defaulted me into mostly shutter-priority shooting. This technique might serve to get my overall light exposure closer to optimal, but it doesn’t really help me determine a clearer cause and effect between my aperture settings and the end result.

With a digital camera, it’s even less instructive. Even on manual settings, I’m paying less attention to what the numbers actually mean and more attention to what the image looks like on the screen. I’m adjusting anything and everything just to obtain the relative lightness or darkness I want, but what if I want to control other aspects of the photo? How can I do this more reliably?

Day 63 - Pentax with aperture controls

Oh. Oh yeah. Control the variables. Keep everything constant and just change one thing. Keep track of your data points.

In other words, take my own advice. Keep film speed, shutter speed, and focal length constant. Shoot in the same conditions – let’s say sunny days just to make it easier to figure out the settings (thank you, Sunny 16!) Just change the aperture. Bracket shots so I can see in increments what the different settings create on film. Take one roll of film and pay close attention to what I want to achieve, what I did achieve, and what settings got me to the final results.

And maybe…just maybe…I might even be able to track all the data in…dare I say it?… Excel!

Okay, no. That’s just crazy talk.

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5 comments on “Day 64: Taking my own advice.

  1. margaret21 says:

    I’m just beginning to get confidence to explore my new camera more, and your post has frightened me to death 😦 . But then the Excel course I did once at work didn’t do anything for me, and I’ve never implemented anything I ‘learnt’ on it. I put it down to being figures-phobic

    • limr says:

      No no no! Don’t be scared! I like spending time just playing with something – be it a camera or new software or whatever – but then I feel the need to be a bit more systematic about it. It took me 20 years to get to that point with my Pentax! You’ve got plenty of more fun playing and exploring with your new camera, and just because I have a touch of OCD doesn’t mean everyone has to 😉
      (I know – for an English teacher, I’m non-stereotypically addicted to hard data and the scientific method. That’s one reason I majored in Linguistics instead of English, actually! Having said that, yesterday I was wearing my English professor “uniform” – plaid skirt, boots, turtleneck – and peeked over the reading glasses perched on my nose in order to correct a classmate who thought that “and” was a preposition. At these times, I am the very model of the English prof. stereotype!)

      • margaret21 says:

        Ah, well, I can be a Grammar Nazi too. And in fact I started to make steps with the camera the other day, having my hand metaphorically held by a friend who’s just a bit ahead of me in this particular game. That’s the best way for me to start – then I can have a go at reading the manual, doubtless translated from Taiwanese by some computer.

  2. AEG says:

    In addition to a largely untapped talent for coming up with pithy names for fictitious newsletters, I also have a rather startling repository of links to all manner of relatively specialized (read: obscure) data. If you would like a big pile of hard data on aperture and its effect on depth-of-field, start here: http://www.dofmaster.com/dofjs.html

    And no matter how much you want to me to go on endlessly about the technical reasons why it is difficult to obtain shallow DOF on digital cameras with high-crop sensors, I won’t. Nope. You can’t make me. Don’t even try.

    • limr says:

      Hey look, kids, it’s Buzz! Say hello…

      That’s a good link. Except for the headache-inducing physics. But if someone else can make head or tails out of it, then it’s a handy little bookmark.

      Okay, I won’t ask you about depth of field on my digital camera. No really, I didn’t ask. I’m not. No, I’m really not asking! No! I said no! Drop it! Drop it!

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