Night @ Chicago Navy Pier

Hello friends! Could you help me find an excuse for abandoning my own blog for such a long time? Well, I am back after a gap. Fair enough right?

These below pictures were taken at Chicago Navy Pier a few years back. Why am I posing these now?, because I really miss Chicago :(. I currently live in Bangalore, India; moved to my company’s regional office last year.

Chicago Skyline

Chicago Skyline

Summer Firework at Navy Pier

Summer Firework at Navy Pier

I will post a few pictures from India next. Stay tuned…

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Chicago Botanic Garden – 2011

Hello there!. It’s been a while since I’ve added any posts or pictures to this blog. Not that I quit photography, but simply speaking I was busy. I know that’s not an excuse, but I am sure you would agree if I say  ‘the time just flies’, right?

Actually I have taken quite a good number of pictures in the past few months, but most of them were function photography for friends and family (baptism, birthday, dance programs etc.). So I got some hands on experience with my flash SB-900 too- I will write a short article on how I use flash with my D-90 at a later time.

Now, here are some pictures from my recent trip to Chicago Botanic Garden. As always, you can see more pictures from my Flickr account.

Rose - ( I actually sprinkled water on the flower for the effect, don't call it cheating but call it a trick. ;))

Waterfall by the Japanese Garden

When we went there, it was almost the end of the season for the rose flowers, but I got few nice shots such as the one below.

Rose

Click the link on the right side for more pictures from this trip.

Please don’t hesitate to leave a comment or critique on these and other pictures. Thank you.

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Photography: How to meter manually? – Part 2

In part -1 of this article, we discussed about metering modes and the advantages of manual metering. In this article, I will talk about the techniques that you can use to manually meter scenes.

Any discussion around manual metering won’t be complete, without mentioning the zone system developed by Ansel Adams. In fact, a basic understanding of the zone system is essential in learning to use manual metering.

Zone system was developed by Ansel Adams in the early 50’s and is used to represent tonal values. Zone system divides the tones between total black and pure white into 10 zones. Zone 0 thus represents total black and zone 10 represents pure white (actually the paper white tone). Zone 5 represents a midtone in the scene. The standard 18% grey corresponds to zone 5 in the zone system. The zone system was originally developed for black and white prints, but is still useful in the world of color.

Now, if you look through the view finder of your digital camera, you won’t see all these 10 zones. You will see only 2 lines each to the left and right to the center line. The middle line corresponds to 18% grey or midtone and so is nothing but the zone 5. In general digital cameras can only hold details in the zone 3 to zone 7 ranges and that’s why you see only 2 zones each on either side of the middle line. In Nikon cameras, lighter tone is represented by the lines on the left and darker tone by the lines to the right of the middle tone (line). With Canon, it’s the other way, i.e. lines to the left are darker tones and lines to the right are lighter tones.

The picture below depicts the typical view finder display of a Nikon camera, generally known as the exposure indicator or metering display/indicator.

View Finder

Nikon – The left most line represents zone 7 and the right most, zone 3.
Canon – The left most line represents zone 3 and the right most, zone 7.

When your camera’s meter evaluates the scene, it’s goal is to arrive at a tonal value that corresponds to the middle Grey, i.e. the middle line above. So that gives us a clue about how we should be metering the scene.

With manual metering, what we want to do is to adjust the parameters (ISO, Aperture and Shutter Speed), so that the bar indicates the correct zone that we are measuring. Let me explain, if I have a middle toned subject in the frame (18% Grey), I would dial the values to bring the exposure indicator to the middle. (What values?, aperture, shutter and ISO. I usually fix the ISO and aperture and dial the shutter to adjust the light to get proper exposure)

Metering a scene can be tricky or easy depending on the mix of lighting or objects in the scene. While an 18% grey tone in the scene is ideal for proper metering, you will in most cases find none in the scene. In such cases, I often use tones or colors that correspond or match close to 18% grey to meter the scene.

For example green grass or green leaves are 1 stop less than the mid-tone. Another way is to find dark tones or white tones in the scene and meter on that. Remember, white and black are on the extreme end of the zone system. Zone 7 is approximate white and zone 3 is approximate black. So if you see a darker shadow area (black) in the scene, you can choose it as your metering area, and dial the exposure until the spot measures a zone 3 value (or the right most line with Nikon or left most line with Canon). Or if there is a white tone in the scene, you can spot meter the tone, and dial all the way to the left (on Nikon and right on Canon) so that the camera indicator stays close to the white tone.
The real world is full of color so, here are some real world equivalents of those zone values.

1. Blue sky. The blue sky is equivalent to middle tone (Zone 5)
2. Green grass or green leaf; they are one stop less than the middle tone. Note: one stop, not one zone.
3. Your palm: Your palm is roughly 1/3 to 2/3 of a stop lighter than the middle tone.
4. Skin of a white person: one stops above the middle tone.
5. Dark Skin: Roughly 2/3 of a stop less than middle tone.

The trick here is to be able to identify each color relate to the middle tone (18%). I would highly recommend you getting familiarize with the middle tone to be able to judge the color tone better.

Now, how to meter a scene? Here is how.

• Put your camera in manual mode
• Switch to spot metering
• Select your aperture and ISO first,
• Point the camera to the scene with the spot area at the tone, that you want to meter on.  Make sure to zoom in as much, to get the tone clearly isolated.
• Looking through the view finder adjust your shutter speed, until the camera metering system indicates proper exposure, i.e the exposure indicator is at the middle line.
• Lock your exposure using the exposure lock button. Recompose the scene and click away

OR

Note down the shutter and aperture values for the current ISO. Recompose the scene, dial in the values noted in the above step and click away.

• Check your histogram to see if the exposure is correct

If you are having the camera hand held and if the shutter speed is too low to avoid any shaking or vibration, increase the ISO (under normal cases I wouldn’t go beyond 800) or decrease the aperture and try again.

Some people prefer to underexpose a scene and some others prefer to overexpose a bit. I am not going to comment on that part, as I think it’s purely a personal preference on the part of the photographer.

Let’s look at a few practical examples here.

The photo below was shot after metering the grass.

This one was taken after metering the blue sky.

This concludes this 2 part article on metering. Hopefully I was able to give you some idea on manual metering and the techniques that you can use to meter scenes for better pictures. Your comments and feedback are greatly appreciated.

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Holiday Wishes

To all my friends,

I wish you all a very happy holiday season and a wonderful year ahead.

Liju Augustine.

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Autumn Colors 2010

Who doesn’t love autumn and the vibrant colors that it brings out. Autumn is my favorite season and to some extent, the season that brings in the most anxiety too. You might wonder why? Yep!, you got it; Autumn is followed by Winter. I love snow, but having to drag myself out of the bed in the morning and then rush to get to the train station is not fun. These days, I consider this rushing part as the ramp up exercise before work. By the way, we got our first significant snow fall this morning.

Enough complaints, right? Here are some pictures from fall 2010. Most of these pictures were taken from Morton Arboretum, IL (See the post for pictures from 2009). The trees were not very colorful, when I went to the place, but I was able to get a few nice pictures.

Bridge

 

Red Leaves

Colorful

Pumpkin Bride

More pictures are available at my Flickr Account. Thank you for visiting.

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Photography: How to meter manually? – Part 1

When reading photography books or articles, you would definitely come across expressions like ‘I aimed my camera at the sky and then metered or I would meter the face etc.’ I don’t know about you, but I used to get so confused at these explanations, when I was learning to use my camera and the science behind metering. It took me some time to figure out the details, and once I learned to use manual metering, I found it very easy and useful. This article is an attempt to explain the basic metering principles, and techniques involved in manual metering.

As explained in a previous article (A Case for Manual Metering), your camera sensor is programmed to relate everything it sees to 18% gray, in order to make the exposure decision. All the auto or semi-auto settings are trying to achieve the perfect exposure based on this principle, combined with the metering scheme selected. With full auto, the metering is defaulted to “matrix’ or ‘evaluative’ scheme.

Every photographer, at some point in their photographic journey will be using manual metering; some of us, way early and some of us, a little later (usually with a little pat and push from the back). My job here is to give that little pat and push, if you are still sitting on the sidelines watching the fun. This article has 2 parts, in part -1, we will refresh our memory on the metering modes and how the metering works with your camera. Part 2 will be dedicated to the manual metering techniques.

You can’t learn to swim without getting into the water; you can’t learn to ride a bike at a seminar; you can’t learn to yell without being yelled at… right? (The last one, I just made up). But the point here is that, ‘attempting is the first step in learning’. So here is what I want you to do, read this article (and it’s part 2) carefully, try out the steps explained and come back and tell me, if that worked for you or not.

The choice of metering mode (Matrix/Evaluative, Center Weighed, Partial(Canon only), or spot) is really dependent on the scene that you are going to capture. Before explaining the ‘how’ part of manual metering, let’s refresh our memory on the metering modes.

Matrix/Evaluative metering has evolved in the last couple of decades and is generally very reliable. In matrix metering, the system uses the entire scene for the exposure decision. See below for Nikon’s own explanation.

“This meter gathers information from 1005 red, green, and blue sensors and factors in distance information provided by the lens as it evaluates proper exposure calculation. This meter instantly analyzes a scene’s overall brightness, contrast, and other lighting characteristics, comparing what is sees against an on-board database of over 30,000 images for unsurpassed exposure accuracy, even in the most challenging photographic situations. By the time the 3D Matrix meter has made its considerations of colors by hue and saturation, tonal ranges by brightest and darkest, areas of similar tonality that are connected or separated, distance to the subject, and compared that to its database generated from photographic images, it’s got a very good idea of what the exposure should be.”

Matrix or evaluative metering is the default mode in most of the cameras and it works just fine in most cases. But there are times when the metering system gets fooled by the subjects in the frame, such as a bright overcast sky, light bulb, predominantly dark or light areas etc. The problem in all of the above cases is that, the metering system won’t be able to guess the appropriate exposure for the scene (see the example in the article A Case for Manual Metering) and the output will be either too dark or too bright.

Center weighed metering work better, when you want to give priority to the center area of the frame. That doesn’t mean that the other areas are ignored, but the exposure decision will be biased toward the center of the frame. You will be able to change size of the center area from the menu setting of your camera.

Spot metering uses sports within the active focus points to determine the appropriate exposure. This is the case with Nikon at least. So it’s not just the spot in the middle of the frame but the spot(s) within the active focus points. This may sound a bit confusing, but that’s how it works. You can always use the center focus point and the associated spot, or you can change the focus points to another area in the frame and use the sport(s) within them. Check your camera manual for more details on this.

Partial metering (not available with Nikon cameras) similar to spot metering but it covers a little more area than the spot metering area.

When you shoot in P, A or S modes, your chosen metering mode plays a part in the camera’s exposure decision. Now, you might question the wisdom in metering a scene manually, when P, S and A modes can also make use of these metering modes. The difference is that, with any of these modes, the camera makes the decision for you and with manual metering; you make the decision on where to meter and what to mater on.

Remember, manual metering and manual modes are two different concepts. In manual mode, you select the shutter speed and aperture (and ISO) based on your expected outcome and with manual metering; you make the decision about the metering modes and the subject that you want to meter on. You don’t need to meter manually to use manual mode.

This concludes the first part of this article. In part -2, we will discuss the manual metering techniques in detail. If you want to receive notifications of new posts by email , you may subscribe to this blog by clicking the button on the right.

Please don’t hesitate to leave your thoughts and comments. Also, please let me know, if you would like to contribute more to this article.

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A trip to Galena, IL

The city of Galena is located in the north western part of IL. We heard a lot of good stories about Galena, so we decided to spend a few days there (Aug 6&7, 2010). We were able to rent a reasonably priced cottage near the Apple Canyon lake. After a few hours of drive, we got to the place and, we were surprised to see a large bigger than expected house, in the middle of the woods. Common guys, we were not frightened by the uneasy calm around the house or the occasional howling of a owl/bird at night. Seriously, none of us were scared of a thing ;)

Our gang (a few of us with family and kids) has the reputation of staying late at night, generally playing cards or gossiping but this time we found ourselves talking about Ghosts!!!. (Did I tell you ? there was a Wicked Witch Welcome Sign hanging at the front door.)

Anyways, the stay was nice, we ate a lot, had a barbecue the next day and we even managed to go to the city of Galena and to Alpine Slides. But the most enjoyable part of the whole trip was not the Ghost stories, not the barbecue, not the gossips but the stop at a Vineyard, on our way back. (Any objections gang?).

Enough stories, right? Here are some pictures from this trip.

Grapes

The Vineyard

Hats on Unbrella

and finally, the reason why we loved our stop at the Vineyard.

Half full (not half empty)

Please see more pictures from this trip at my Flickr gallery.

Thanks for visiting. Comments and critiques are welcome.

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