No matter what tool, what technique or what challenge you give yourself, it always comes back to light. That one simple thing that we can’t avoid and must always abide by. Shooting at f/1.8 was a lot of fun in part because you can really maximize light. So much more light is coming in that you start to see things a little differently. It can get to the point where the light itself becomes the subject and the rest just falls away to the background.
Continuing on with my theme for this week about depth of field, is it better to be physically close to your subject to maximize the impact of the shallow depth of field, the subject and the distance between your subject and the background or is it better to be far away? If you’ve spent any time on social media or the web you’ll see lots of photos just like the one below where the photographer is close to the subject and you have a blurred out background. There’s nothing wrong with this but it’s done a lot especially in small scale stuff. Let’s think beyond that.
My setup was the Nikon D5, 85 f/1.8 at 1.8. Right there at 85mm I have to be moving around a lot in order to compose. It’s a prime lens I can’t zoom in or out but the challenge was shooting at f/1.8 the whole time so I went back and forth between distances. What was the result? While it is great to have those detail shots they don’t convey the story that I want them to. For years I’ve been going to Nevada City and I have yet to capture the image that really sums up that place to me. The only way to get it is to show more of the town not less. By shooting at f/1.8 the whole time I noticed that everything looked and felt smaller in the photo while still capturing more. That’s what you can do when you shoot further away. Cities are a great place to play around with this because there are so many lines to work with, you can really play around with how sharp and how blurred out you can make them. In the end it all comes down to the story and every one of those background elements comes into play.
Depth of field is a powerful tool that we must take full use of every time we step behind the camera. The relationship between the subject and the other elements in the photograph is key to telling the story and either maximizing or minimizing the amount of information we see by changing the depth of field is how we bring out that story to the fullest. But it’s not always easy to get used to changing your F-Stop and then to think about that relationship between the F-Stop and the story.
A really good way to challenge yourself is to pick a good area where there is lots to work with, grab one camera body and one lens and one F-Stop. Practice. Watch the relationship between the subject, the background and the light and what the differences are with that one F-Stop. I just did this because I needed to practice so I grabbed the Nikon D5, 85 f/1.8 and shot at 1.8 the whole time I was out walking around. That’s how you get better. You do these little challenges and learn from the results.
So here is a real basic but important truth to using that shallow depth of field. First off it vignettes which can be good or bad depending on what you are trying to say but I tend to like vignettes because it sucks the viewers eye into the photo. The real lesson here is the focal plane. Everything on the same focal plane will be sharp so if you’re shooting at 1.8 but everything is on the same focal plane then you aren’t really going to make use of that shallow depth of field. This is why you need to stay at a slight angle. I put up these two images to show just that since they were taken with the exact same setup.
One thing there is a lot of in Montana are ghost towns and they are a photographers paradise. It’s a great place to let your imagination run wild as you are transported to another world. While there are many ways to photograph ghost towns and the attributes that make them special, one way that I prefer is going for the details. Trying to encompass everything often doesn’t translate the same feeling as a closeup image of an old piano, old glass, or even the texture on the side of the buildings. In this case these are train cars and it’s the color and texture of the wood that drew me to them.
You might be wondering if I used a macro lens and the answer is no. Something as simple as a 24-70 f/2.8 or 70-200 VRII do great jobs. Now having said that I am tempted to go back with the D5 and 70-180 macro just to see what would happen. The key with the detail shots is to have somewhere for the eye to rest on.
It never ceases to amaze me how quickly the storms can change around here. One minute it’s a blizzard roaring down a foot of snow and the next its sunny and warm. Yesterday we had a great big snow storm come through which was great for shooting but wouldn’t you know it the sun came out and most of it’s gone already down in the lower areas. Guess that means i’ll have to climb up into some higher spots this evening. O well the fly fishing is supposedly getting better.
Image captured with D3, 24-70 AF-S, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film
I was somewhat turned in two when i went to the ghost town this time. I thought that i would make a gallery about it afterward but something grabbed hold of me and i couldn’t the other day i just didn’t want to. Not sure why, considering the images were all there, maybe just second guessing myself again. Not sure even what to say here in this post. The back of this one train car always grabbed my attention with the wavy design in the wheel handle and then the faded wood of the back door. Here are some images of the history of the west. Maybe they’ll grab your attention as they have mine.
Images captured with D3, 24-70 AF-S, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film
Well hopefully for someone somewhere the wheels are a turning, for it’s back to a another familiar place to try and find new images that i haven’t already taken a dozen times in the past. It seems to be a recurring theme of mine lately, doesn’t it. Good news though, the fresh snow added some interesting elements to play with in one of my favorite ghost towns, Nevada City of course and that let new images arise that i never would have noticed otherwise. Of course all the rabbit tracks had my attention but they weren’t as cooperative. Wagon wheels are a lot of fun to play with because they can break up any linear element with that great curve and the light going through the spokes makes just amazing shadows.
Now the hard part i found was capturing that romance and nostalga feel to the pre-tire era which was was the wagon wheel. Getting the right angle with the right background to capture that fleeting moment of where the wheel has been and where it still wants to go is very important. I love working with these kind of wheels, i can never find enough of them. There truly are just so many ways to go about shooting them that it’s hard to talk about just these two.
Images captured with D3, 24-70 AF-S, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film
Today was the end of DLWS Montana and what a marvelous time it was. Days and days of compiling images and meeting new people happened it what seemed like the blink of an eye, and with that blink it ended. The door closed on that chapter of events and is waiting to be opened again, not knowing what new treasures might be found or new experiences made on the way. It was an amazing time and I wanna thank everyone for including me in it, especially my parents who made it all happen.
The afternoon shoot on this second day was at Nevada City. A really cool place where there are tons of opportunities for anyone with an open mind. There is never enough time or light to be spent at this gold mine of images.
One of the coolest parts of this ghost town is the ability to take a shot of almost anything and be able to make it into a black & white. There always seems to be one more around the corner.