Monday, October 12, 2009

Evolution of a family photographer

Although my photography skills still need a lot of improvement, I find it nice to look back once in a while to see some progress and chuckle at my naivete.  As I look back, I also see how our baby has grown into a toddler in just a couple of very short years. I'm sure in the blink of an eye he'll be married and have his own kids.

I started out taking snapshots just like everyone else, without any knowledge of photography:


Like most people, I figured out that the deer-in-the-headlights look is not very flattering. So I turned off the flash:
 
Sometimes, though, the shots came out blurry:
 

I thought, there must be a better way to take photos. So I learned about exposure and about how I could get sharper shots in low light without a flash by getting a camera equipped with a wide aperture lens.  After doing some research on cameras, I chose a Pentax K100D because of the shake reduction and excellent high ISO performance, and paired it with a Pentax 50 f/1.4. I got shots like this:

Then one day, my bro (who had more experience in photography) asked me to buy a flash for him. First thing I thought was wow these flashes are really expensive for something so simple! Second thing I thought was, what's so useful about a flash?  So my bro told me about how you can bounce the flash to the ceiling and get more natural looking light. I researched this some more and found Neil van Niekerk's planetneil.com blog. That convinced me to get an external flash with bounce and swivel, the Pentax AF540FGZ.  By bouncing the light from walls (not just ceilings) I got shots like this:




I noticed though that sometimes, the colors in the shot looked kind of strange and figured out that the flash was picking up the color of the surface it was bouncing from:

I learned about color temperature, and tried to use that to fix the white balance issues in my shots with Picasa (back then I didn't know about the neutral picker, or magenta-green tint or RAW).  Playing around with Picasa, I also learned about improving contrast, which helped me get improvements like this:

I plateaued there for a while, not seeking any development of my photo skills.  My shots seemed better than the previous month's not because I became a better photographer but primarily because each month our baby became a little cuter:

and a little cuter still

Armed with the planetneil techniques and just minimal photo skills, I managed to get some decent holiday shots:

Without adequate knowledge of flash exposure though, I got inconsistent results like this flash underexposure:

Playing around with the flash one day, I tried using the flash off-camera for fun:

So I got a cactus trigger and used it to trigger the flash wirelessly, often rather ham-handedly:

I turned to Strobist.com to try to get a better understanding of lighting. I read Light: Science and Magic and learned about reflections (or avoiding them).

I also bought a lightstand and umbrella, and learned from Strobist.com how to do portraits with black backgrounds:

However, I felt that running back and forth between the camera and the manual flash, plus the K100D's slow (albeit usually accurate) focus were too limiting for our baby who has getting more mobile.  So I sold my Pentax gear and got a Nikon D80 (with a Tamron 28-75 f/2.8) and an SB800.

I made all sorts of excuses to take off-camera flash shots with CLS, like this shot at a friend's party:


For a while I experimented with snoots and shaping light:

But eventually, the novelty of using a snoot wore off and I reached another plateau. Sadly, for several months, I took only a few photos of our quickly-growing toddler.


Then one of our friends had a birthday party for their daughter. Some of the shots were ok but some needed improvement.  I was reminded of the limits of my photography skills. I also saw the need to do selective postprocessing adjustments, which I learned by playing around picnik.com.


To help keep me on my toes, I then created this blog and hence the roadmap.  And that's where I've been ever since.