Jonathan Fleming's Blog

A Photography Blog

Posts Tagged ‘70-300

Street Photography in San Francisco

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I recently watched a video that involved Photoshop guru Scott Kelby spending a day with Jay Maisel, a highly regarded photographer who lives in New York City. They explored the streets of Manhattan all day, cameras in hand, and Jay shared his extensive knowledge and experience the whole way through.  I loved seeing such an experienced photographer talk about his methods and thought processes while out creating photos on the street.  Seeing the way he interacted with people in order to get natural photographs of complete strangers was also a real treat.

There were tons of great points on improving your photography that Jay expounded on during the photo walk, but a few of them really stood out for me.

For example, he said that one of the greatest ways to improve your photography is to practice it regularly, daily if possible. This involves committing yourself to carrying a camera with you at all times. He mentioned that if the camera is with you, you’re improving your skill even if you don’t use it. How? Your awareness of your camera causes your eyes to search for interesting subjects while you’re out on the street, which helps hone a a key skill for a photographer: his or her ability to observe, anticipate, and react to what happens in an environment.

Another point I appreciated is that photographers should be more concerned with “picture quality” instead of “pixel quality.” He encouraged the use of high ISOs out on the street, even in relatively good light. Why? It keeps your shutter speed high, and gives you the depth of field and bracketing flexibility needed for capturing good frames in a highly dynamic environment like the streets of New York. Basically, it helps you “get the shot.” Sure, lower ISOs give you technically cleaner images, or better “pixel quality,” but our aim as photographers should be, once again, the “picture quality.” After all, what’s the point of a cleaner image if it’s blurry or you couldn’t nail the exposure? Jay typically shoots at ISO1600 on his Nikon D3 when out on the street (yes, having a D3 helps).

His lens of choice? The bargain-priced Nikkor 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 VR. Does it matter to him that it’s not the sharpest, fastest, highest performing glass in Nikon’s lineup? Nope. He chose this lens for the photo walk because of its smaller size, lighter weight, and wide focal range. A good example of choosing an appropriate tool for the job.

As they roamed the streets, Jay demonstrated how highly tuned and focused his photographic eye is. He was catching moments, shapes, colors, and compositions in the environment that Kelby wasn’t even aware of.  It really inspired me to get out and try exploring my own neck of the woods and looking for interesting things to photograph with these new points in mind.

So, on a day off last week and after having lunch with the wife out in the city,  I started walking the neighborhood with my camera. I brought along a single lens (the 70-300), and slowly explored the neighborhood. Check out the gallery above for a sampling of what I came back with that day. Not really the best images I’ve ever taken (and WordPress degrades the quality on these unfortunately), but I had such a fulfilling time out there that I’m anxious to head out again for another photo walk and to continue developing my skills. I just wish I had more time!

In other news, I just found out that Adobe Lightroom 3 is officially out of Beta and available for download! It’s got great new features and runs much faster than before. If you’re a Lightroom user, you must check it out!

Me, Suki, and the Forest

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One foggy morning in San Francisco this week on a much needed day off work, Suki and I headed out of the house. Hoping to get a nice shot of her for my 52 week photo project, we headed for a local park. Though located right in the city and surrounded by neighborhoods and shops, once you enter Mt. Davidson park, you forget you’re in a city at all.

Strolling through the forest made me feel like a character in an episode of Lost! Because of the dense fog and light rain that rolled over the city earlier in the day, the forest was very damp. Trails were muddy, and the trees dripped water down on us constantly. Suki and I both got pretty dirty as a result. It was also extremely humid, which made the climb to the top of the mountain particularly uncomfortable, especially since I had photo gear. The top image was taken using an off-camera SB-900 unit through a shoot-through umbrella, which I carried and set up in the mud all by myself (and no, Suki did not help me).

Suki was fascinated by the forest. She loved to run ahead and check out what was further down the trail. If I lagged behind, she’d turn around and wait for me, giving me this look that seems to say “hey, what gives? Hurry up will ya!”

Notice how dirty her face is from sticking her nose in the wet plant-life that surrounds the trail. Good thing I had clean rags in the car!

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Shot Data:
Camera: Nikon D300s
Top: Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 at 13mm f/4, 1/200 Sec ISO200 (CLS triggered SB-900)
Shot 2: Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 at 11mm f/3.5 1/500 Sec ISO200
Shot 3: Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 at 11mm f/6.3 1/80 Sec ISO200
Bottom: Nikkor 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 VR at 300mm f/5.6 1/500 Sec ISO800

Expand or Compress?

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I thought that after picking up my Tokina 50-135mm f/2.8, my Nikkor 70-300mm VR lens would no longer be a relevant tool in my camera bag. But after having both for some time now, I have to say, I’m glad I didn’t get rid of the Nikkor. Why?

While the Tokina allows faster shutter speeds in lower light due to its constant f/2.8 aperture, the sweet thing about the Nikkor is its much longer focal range. When racked out on my D300s, I get a a full frame equivalent of a 450mm focal length in a compact, lightweight package with the Nikkor 70-300. The reason why this is important to me is that it allows me to really compress the foreground and background elements of a scene using those long focal lengths.

This kind of compression can give your photos real power and subject isolation, and can also help you exclude undesirable surrounding elements from the image you’re trying to create. The images here from Suki’s last shoot this weekend illustrate this point. I received many inquiries after I posted my week 10 photo on flickr (chosen from this series) about where I took the photo. Some people said it looked like Suki was on mars (hah!), and others thought that the background was the sky. Since I shot the photo at 240mm, Suki was compressed so close to the golden background that it was hard for many to tell exactly where she was (the background was all water, as you can see here). This was the exact effect I wanted to create, and I couldn’t have done it without using such a long focal length.

Conversely, using a super wide angle lens expands the foreground and background elements, and gives an exaggerated sense of space around your subject, as can be seen in this photo of Suki, taken with my Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8.

Above: This shot was taken at a shorter 70mm. You can see much less compression as a result.

One trick I learned from studying Moose Peterson’s (a very well-known landscape and wildlife photographer) work is to try to avoid composing with your zoom ring. In other words, use your feet to get into position and compose your shot, then select a focal length based on how much you want to expand or compress the elements in the frame. Good advice!

Nikon D300s + AFS Nikkor 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 VR, varying focal lengths

Our Favorite Dog Park

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This is our favorite place to take Suki: the recently renovated dog park on 30th street and Church street here in San Francisco. Look how big it is! This image doesn’t even include a long stretch of run behind me. Suki approves of this park too:

There’s plenty of area for her to run at full speed!

There are also lots of tennis balls for her to play with.

And lots of smells for her to sniff!

Of course, her favorite thing to do is meet new dogs, and there are plenty of very friendly dogs to meet at this dog park!

Nikon D300s + Tamron 17-50 f/2.8 VC at 22mm f/11 ISO200 1/200 Second

….Like this guy for instance. Look at that face! He’d drop this slobbery ball on the ground and then dash off to get ready for me to throw it before I even had a chance to pick the ball up. I had to kick the ball since I had my camera in hand.

Nikon D300s + Nikkor 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 VR at 70mm f/4.5 ISO220 1/500 Second

But if you threw the ball, he’d catch it in mid-air! Wow! This guy could play outfield in the MLB.

Nikon D300s + Nikkor 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 VR at 125mm f/8 ISO500 1/400 Second

See how happy Suki is when she’s at the park?

Nikon D300s + Tamron 17-50 f/2.8 VC at 17mm f/2.8 ISO1000 1/1250 Second

After releasing a bunch of energy at the park, Suki walks very obediently. We usually take a walk through the neighborhood and hit up a local cafe, where she’ll patiently wait for us as we socialize over coffee:

Nikon D300s + Tamron 17-50 f/2.8 VC at 18mm f/4 ISO200 1/250 Second

Nikon D300s + Tamron 17-50 f/2.8 VC at 31mm f/2.8 ISO200 1/125 Second

Nikon D300s + Tamron 17-50 f/2.8 VC at 38mm f/2.8 ISO200 1/200 Second

On a side note, I’ve noticed something sort of strange with how images are displayed on my blog posts here in WordPress. Each of the pictures in this post contains a link that takes you to the image source. The images on this post look like they were stripped of some color and contrast, but if I click on any of them, I see an image with more color and contrast, closer (but still not exact) to what I see in Lightroom 3 beta. Do you see this too? It’s driving me crazy!

Written by Jonathan

January 2, 2010 at 11:57 pm