Photography Blog

Hiking Through a Cedarbrake in August (17-Aug-17 23:02)


I woke up Saturday morning and decided that I would go on a hike and take a few pictures.  There is a nice, old bridge, way down in the back edge of Miller Springs Nature Center, along the Leon River, in Belton.  I’ve been down there several times and have a few snapshots of the bridge, taken with my phone.  This time, I wanted to take my DSLR along and get some better shots of this beautiful old bridge.


Here are a couple of photos of the old bridge, taken a couple of years ago.


I packed up all of my gear and went to kiss my wife and daughter, before I left.  They decided that a hike sounded like fun, so they decided to go along with me.  We loaded up in the truck and drove over to the trailhead, by the Belton Lake Dam.  It was close to 10:00 AM when we hit the trail.


Miller Springs Park and Nature Center are located on opposite sides of the Leon River, below the Belton Lake Dam.  This dam was constructed in the late 1940’s by the US Army Corps of Engineers, as a flood control measure.  It is an earthen dam, which basically filled in the space between two hills, creating a reservoir.  Below the dam, where the park and the hiking trails are located, the terrain is made up of rough canyons (at least by Central Texas standards) and rocky washed, covered by Cedar trees as well as Oaks, Pecan trees and a host of other species of trees.  The trails are not tough, by Colorado standards, but they are rough and rocky in certain areas.  It is a very nice hike, and I highly recommend it…in March-May or October-November!


American Beautyberry


I got this image of what seemed to be an omen, before we headed down into the canyon


By the time we got down to the entrance into the canyon, it was already getting pretty warm, but I was finding lots of interesting things to photograph, so I didn’t notice it all that much. 


We proceeded down the log steps, and into the thickly wooded canyon.  I shot a few more photos of my daughter on the steps, and then we proceeded down the trail.  The breeze was gone, the air got thick and the sweating started!



Along the trail, there is a small body of water, called the Green Pond, due to the algae that grows in it.  I shot a couple of photos of the pond, and some of the Cattails that were growing along the edge of it. 



As we started moving along, toward the river, we heard the sound of running water, so we proceeded through the underbrush and came upon a small waterfall.  The girls splashed water on themselves to cool off, and I set up my tripod and took a couple of pictures of the water, as it spilled down the face of the small bluff.



We moved on toward the river, along the trail that I have been down several times, but there was a new pond in the way.  Apparently, some of the rains the we received over the last couple of years since I’ve been there have changed things a bit.  I pulled up an aerial map on my phone and found a different route to the bridge.  Unfortunately, the only route that I could find, that didn’t require swimming, would add several miles to our hike.  At this point, we had been down in the canyon and Cedars for a couple of hours, so the girls informed me that we were done with our hike! 


We turned around and started up the trail that led back up and out of the canyon.  I shot a few more pictures as we made our way up the slope and back to the trailhead. 



This is a mural, painted on the concrete wall that lines the emergency spillway for the Belton Lake Dam.


We got back to the truck around 12:30, and the thermometer read 100 degrees.  We were all tired, and soaking wet from sweating.  There is nothing like being in a Cedarbrake in August!


After we got back home, I loaded my photos onto my computer to sort through them.  I was not very happy with the results.  Almost all of the pictures were unusable, due to a lack of sharpness or high ISO noise.  There was a pretty good breeze up on top, so even when I was using the tripod, the leaves in the background ended up being a bit fuzzy.  I shot a lot of the images with the aperture stopped down quite a bit, to get as much depth of field as I could.  Even in bright sunlight, I had to up the ISO setting to 1600 in order to get the shutter speed up fast enough to prevent the leaves from blurring.  This resulted in an unacceptable amount of noise in the pictures.  I was able to salvage a few images, suitable for use in this post, at lower resolutions, but I will have to make a return trip to reshoot most of them. 


It was a fun trip, and we enjoyed spending time together, in spite of the ridiculous heat!

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NYIP Course Unit 1 Complete......Almost (4-Aug-17 22:45)


The Basic Building Blocks of Photography

I have completed the first unit of the New York Institute of Photography's Complete Course in Professional Photography, at least the reading and written exercise part.  All that is left to do in this unit are the Photography assignments.  I have been spending most of my time working on getting the website up and running, but I think I am, somewhat, satisfied with it, for now.  It's time to finish the photo projects, so I can start on Unit 2.  This first unit, teaches you the basics of camera operation, what all of the controls do and how to use them to take properly composed and properly exposed photographs.


Unit 1 - You and Your Equipment


This first unit begins with an introduction to the "Eye of the Photographer."  It teaches you the basic principles of composing a successful photograph, which are as follows.  Every photograph should have a clear and obvious subject.  You should compose the shot, so that you draw attention to the subject of your photograph and eliminate, or minimize anything in the frame that takes attention away from the subject of your image.

Unit 1 teaches you the basic features of a typical DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) camera, and how to use them to achieve successful photographs, following the basic principles.  You are taught about the exposure triangle -- Shutter Speed, Aperture and ISO Setting -- how they are related, how to use them to achieve proper exposure and how each setting affects the look of your photograph. You can use each of the three "points" of the exposure triangle, to draw attention to your subject, or to minimize parts of the frame that are distracting and draw attention away from your subject.  This first unit gives you a good, solid foundation to build upon during the rest of this course and to use for the rest of you life.  


The Exposure Triangle Explained


I will go off on a "rabbit trail" here and explain exposure the way that I understand it.  This was explained to me years ago, in a simple way that I understood and it stuck with me.  This explanation was based on a film camera, but it works the same way with modern digital cameras.  In the next few paragraphs, I will explain what ISO, shutter speed and aperture is.  I will follow up with the "so simple a cave man can do it" explanation that has stuck with me over the years.




The ISO setting on a digital camera is based upon standard film speeds, such as 100, 200, 400, 800, etc.  The higher the ISO number, the more sensitive the film, or digital sensor, is to light.  For instance, in bright sunlight, we would use ISO 100 film, and today, we set our digital cameras' ISO setting to 100.  For cloudy days, we would typically use ISO 200 or 400 speed film, depending on how dark the cloudiness was and whether or not we were shooting a moving subject.  This same idea is used to set the ISO on your modern digital camera.  It is all based upon the ISO speeds of film.  The lower the level of lighting that you have, the higher the ISO setting you will need to use.  There are trade-offs, however, as there are no free rides in life or photography.  The higher the ISO setting on your digital camera, or on your film, the more graininess you will have in your prints.  So, high ISO = grainy pictures.  Sometimes this is good and sometimes this is bad, depending upon the look you are going for.


Shutter Speed


The shutter speed setting on your camera adjusts how long the shutter will stay open, allowing light from the lens to strike the film, or digital sensor.  The shutter speed will be displayed as 25, 60, 100, 500, etc., corresponding to 1/25, 1/60, 1/100 and 1/500 of a second.  So a shutter speed setting of 100, will allow the shutter, a little "automatic window", to stay open for 1/100th of a second, sending a specific amount of light to the surface of the film or digital sensor.  Slower shutter speeds (lower numbers) allow more light to reach the film/sensor, and faster shutter speeds allow less light in.  Everything else being equal, the lower the ambient light, the longer you will need to have the shutter open to properly expose the picture.  This all sounds simple enough, but just as in the ISO setting, there is a trade-off.  If your subject is moving, or if you are hand-holding your camera, there will be consequences and repercussions.  Low light levels will require relatively slow shutter speeds, such as 1/ 20 of a second or even slower.  While 1/20th of a second sounds like a short amount of time, it allows plenty of time for your hands to move during the exposure, resulting in a blurry image.  A rule of thumb is to not hand-hold your camera at any shutter speed slower than the focal length of your lens.  For example, if you are using a 200 mm lens, you should use a tripod for any shutter speed slower than 200 (1/200th of a second).  Another thing to think about when choosing a shutter speed in how fast your subject is moving.  For instance, a running dog will become a blurred streak at a shutter speed of 1/20th of a second (setting of 20 in camera), but will be frozen in time at a shutter speed of 1/250th of a second (setting of 250 in camera).  So you can use the shutter speed setting to freeze action, or allow your subjects to blur, depending upon what your intent is.


Aperture Setting


Every lens for an SLR or DSLR camera has a mechanical diaphragm inside of it, controlled by the aperture setting on the camera. Typical aperture settings are f/4, f/5.6, f/8, etc., denoted on camera as 4, 5.6 and 8.  On old-school film cameras, this setting was on the lens, itself, but modern cameras control the aperture with in-camera settings.  Without going into a lot of detail, the aperture setting will control the size of the diaphragm opening in the lens.  The picture below, drawn by my daughter, Katharine Smith, shows what the aperture diaphragm in a typical camera lens looks like.


Notice that the smaller the f-number (4, 5.6, etc), the wider the diaphragm (aperture) opening will be.  A wider opening will let more light in, and a narrower opening (larger number) will let less light in.  Just like the ISO and Shutter Speed settings, the aperture setting has trade-offs.  A wider opening, while letting in more light, will have a shallower depth of field.  A smaller opening will let in less light, but will have a larger depth of field.  Depth of field refers to the range of view that will be in acceptably sharp focus.  For instance, if you are shooting a portrait of a person, and you are focused perfectly on your subject's eyes, with a wide open aperture setting, you could end up with the nose and ears being out of focus, due to a very narrow depth of field.  If you "stop down" or use a narrower aperture opening, you could have a broader depth of field, so that their eyes, ears and nose are all in sharp focus.  So the aperture setting determines, not only how much light hits your film or sensor, it also controls how much of your subject is in acceptably sharp focus.  

Here is a little experiment that you can do, if you are near or far sighted.  I have no idea where he learned this from, but my younger brother, when we were kids, used to do this before he was prescribed with glasses.  I guess he is just an innovative kind of guy.  When he was in school, he would have trouble seeing the chalk board and what the teacher was writing on it, so he discovered that, if he used both hands, and pinched both index fingers and thumbs together, creating a very narrow opening, and held this opening up to his eye, all of the "out of focus" things on the chalk board, would come into focus and he could see it.  He was, basically, creating a smaller aperture setting for his eyes, effectively widening his depth of field, so that he could see what the teacher was writing on the board.  It works....I've tried it with sports scores on my big screen TV -- yep, I'm getting older and my eyes ain't what they used to be.  So, in a nutshell, the aperture setting controls the size of the diaphragm opening in the lens, allowing more or less light through, but is also affects the depth of field, or the range of distances, from the camera, that will be in acceptably sharp focus.


Putting it All Together in Cave Man Terms


The exposure triangle can be simplified into a water faucet, a garden hose and a bucket.  A particular ISO rating of film or ISO setting for a digital sensor, can be thought of as a bucket.  ISO 100 can be thought of a large bucket.  It is less sensitive to light, so it takes more light to expose it properly, or "fill it up."  ISO 800 can be thought of as a small bucket.  It is more sensitive to light, so it takes less light to "fill it up."  All other things being equal (shutter speed and aperture settings), the darker the scene is, the higher the ISO setting you will need to be to properly expose the image, or fill up the bucket.

The shutter speed can be thought of as a water valve, or faucet, and how long you leave it open.  The shutter is, in essence, a light faucet.  Opening it for a certain amount of time, allows a measured amount of water, or light, through.  The longer the valve is left open, the more water or light gets through to fill up the bucket.

The aperture can be thought of as the diameter or size of the hose that is connected to the faucet.  A smaller diameter hose allows a smaller quantity of water (light) through in a given time, and a larger diameter hose will allow a greater amount of water (light) through in the same amount of time.  I will repeat this, because it's important.  A larger diameter hose is like a larger aperture opening (smaller f-number aperture), allowing a larger quantity of light through in a given amount of time.  A smaller diameter hose is like a smaller aperture opening (larger f-number aperture), allowing a smaller quantity of light through in a given amount of time.


Summarizing the Cave Man Exposure Triangle


For example, let's say we have ISO 100 film, or an ISO setting of 100 in a digital camera.  We will assume an 8 gallon bucket has an ISO rating of 100.  It will take 8 gallons of water (light) to fill up the bucket, and properly expose the film, or digital image.  We can either use a fire hose (large aperture opening, f/4) and leave the valve (shutter) open for a short period of time, or a garden hose (small aperture opening, f/22) and leave the valve (shutter) open for a long period of time.  Either one we choose, we need to end up with the 8 gallons of water that it takes to fill up the bucket, or properly expose the image.  Using this example, an ISO rating of 800, could be thought of as a 1 gallon bucket.  It is 8 times more sensitive to light, so the bucket is 8 times smaller than the ISO 100 (8 gallon) bucket.  In this case, you could use a smaller hose (aperture opening), or just leave the valve (shutter) open for a shorter period of time, so long as we end up with the 1 gallon of water (light) that it takes to "fill up the bucket" and properly expose the image.

To get a properly exposed image, you need to fill up the bucket.  Depending on the effect you are going for, you can vary the size of the hose (aperture) and control the depth of field, or you can vary the shutter speed (how long you leave the faucet open) and control the motion blur in your image.  

Okay, this is the end of the rabbit trail.  Hopefully, this explanation of the exposure triangle makes sense and will help you to better understand it.


NYIP Unit One Photo Projects


The photo project assignment for Unit 1 requires submitting 2 photos.  The first image should show motion and the second one should have a very deep depth of field, where everything is in acceptably sharp focus.  For the motion assignment, I will need to either, leave the camera stationary, shoot a moving subject at a relatively slow shutter speed and allow the subjects to blur, or use a slower shutter speed and pan the camera along with a moving subject, which will keep the subject reasonably sharp, and allow the background to blur.  The second image will have to be a photo of something with depth, like a landscape.  It will require the use of the Hyperfocal Distance setting, for maximum depth of field, where both the near-ground and the background are in focus.


Unit 1 Photo Assignment - Image One (Motion) - Possibilities


I will add more photos here, as I take them.

Duck Running


Unit 1 Photo Assignment - Image Two (Depth of Field) - Possibilities


I will add photos here as I take them.


Once I select the photos for submission, I will send them off to be graded and critiqued by my instructor.  All of the instructors are working, professional photographers, with years of experience.  The instructor will send me, either an audio file, or a video, explaining everything that is right and wrong with the images that I submit, and give me ideas on how to improve them.  I will edit this post when I receive my critique and document how it goes.



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A Refreshing Pause (22-Jul-17 14:11)



Having a refreshing Margarita, to take a break from configuring the website.


After a long night (and all morning) spent working on this <insert expletive>  website, I needed a break and a margarita!  We decided to try the newly opened Rosa's Cafe, here in Temple.  I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised!  The food was very good, and the service was great, as well.  The margaritas were excellent, and on sale!  We really like the tables in here, with all of the Mexican tile.  They would not match anything in our house, except for the Fiestaware Dishes, but I still think we need a dining room table like this!

The only camera that I have with me is my iPhone, but with all of the bright, saturated colors, I thought that I would take a few snap-shots and post them to the blog, mainly for getting more familiar with how to format everything on this new website.  Since this post isn't really photography related, I created a new category, Off-Topic Ramblings, for random posts like this.

Rosa's Cafe

Enjoying all of the colorful decorations at Rosa's Cafe.


It is a brand new restaurant, so everything is nice, clean and VERY colorful! 


Swan Vase

A very bright and colorful swan vase at Rosa's Cafe.


Well, my margarita is all gone and I'm full from the plate of Fajitas, so I guess it's back to configuring the website for me. 



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Website is Up and Running

by is online and active, as of yesterday, 7/16/2017.  I spent the better part of last night tagging, naming and uploading photos to the galleries, mainly to become familiar with how the website management system works.  I am, very slowly, beginning to figure it out.  I have built several websites, from scratch, using html, java and css, but I lack both the time and desire to try and re-teach myself how to code.  I decided that this time, I would just use a pre-made template, designed for photography websites.  This made things much easier, but there is still a learning curve, and there are certain changes that I would like to make with some of the navigation and styles, but that would require coding, and there is that whole "time and desire" thing again.  Anyway, the site is up and functional, so there is one small victory, and I even have some photos online!

Here is a photo that I took on my way home from South Texas.  This is the old church in Panna Maria, TX.

Panna Maria Church

Over the next few days/weeks, I will be uploading more images and removing some that I don't like as much, so things will be in a constant state of change until I am done.  I would also like to mention that I am not, by nature, a "blogger," so writing is not something that I am used to doing.  I will do my best, but it may take some time to get used to the idea of writing, since I haven't really done much of it since my college days.

A little background information on me:

My day job is working as a civil engineer, which keeps me pretty busy, so I have to do the whole photography thing in my spare time.  When I was in my early 20's, I worked for a photography studio, which was owned by a very talented photographer.  He let his kids do most of the studio work, while he and his wife travelled around to art shows and various locations to take photographs.  I learned how to do custom framing and how to operate the photo processing/developing equipment in the shop.  I did not own a camera when I started working there, but I had a nice 35mm SLR after a short time.  I guess this is where I developed an interest in photography.  Prior to that, my artistic interests were centered on painting and drawing, which I had done for most of my life, up to that point.  After I left that job, I mostly used the camera to take pictures of landscape and old barn scenes that I wanted to paint.  Shortly after this time, I joined the US Army and began a new chapter in my life, and both photography and art were left by the wayside, until I was deployed to Hungary, in support of the Bosnia Peacekeeping mission.  I taught classes in the mornings, and had the afternoons all to myself, with absolutely nothing to do.  I found a new 35mm SLR camera in the local Exchange, so I bought it and signed up to take an online photography course from the New York Institute of Photography.  For the next 6 months of my tour, I worked my way through about 3/4 of the course.  When I returned to Germany, after my tour was over, life got in the way again, so I did not complete the NYIP course.  I have kept up with dabbling in photography through the years, and even upgraded to a nice digital SLR camera, which, in my opinion, is much better than the old film cameras.  In Hungary, I would have to wait almost a week to get my prints back, when I sent them off to be developed!  Fast-forward to the present....  I still like to take pictures, and I would like to make the photos that I take even better, so I have re-enrolled in the "new and improved" NYIP course, which is all done online now.  I had to start all over again, but it has been a good refresher course up to this point.  I am also a bit older now, and more driven to achieve results, thanks to the Army and 20 years of life's lessons, so I am getting more out of the course this time around.

Since I am not a "professional" photographer, my goals are a little different.  I make photographs as a hobby, because I enjoy the hunt for a good image, sort of like one of my other hobbies, deer hunting, where the experience and the thrill of the chase is all that matters.  Photography, like deer hunting and all of my other hobbies, is an expensive undertaking, so hopefully I will be able to sell a photograph every now and then to help offset some of the cost of entry.  Anyway, I wrote way more than I intended to in this initial blog post, so I will sign off until next time.  If you made it all of the way through this post, thanks for reading!



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