Photo 101: Week 2 Assignment

Week 2 of my photography class was last Monday, and tomorrow we see whether or not I figured out how to take the pictures the way I was asked to take them (This week only we've been asked to do something specific with our weekly assignment. You'll see why.) Week 2 was all about aperture, and controlling the amount of light that passes through your lens and hits your digital camera's sensor.

I won't get into the nitty gritty, other than to point out that if you're seeing a picture of rolling hills or other such landscape, you're probably seeing something that was taken with a small aperture, displaying great depth of field, whereas if you're looking at a shot of a flower or a person with a blurry background, that is indicative of a larger aperture and a small depth of field. There's a good little tutorial on aperture here. Aperture is measured in f-stops, and large apertures have small f-stop numbers. (So far, no problem remembering that.)

I've been a fan of well used depth of field for a little while now, using it in close up shots to control the area of focus as well as the importance of the subject in the shot, but never really known how it was controlled. When you're shooting in auto, you can usually get shallow depth of field (DOF) by getting very close to the subject, and you'll notice the background being thrown out of focus (like here). Small apertures are good for landscape shots where everything is in focus (like here). Smart little cameras, those digital SLRs. Of course, shooting in full auto allows the camera to make all sorts of other adjustments for exposure if you're forcing it to use a small or large aperture.

What I didn't fully understand that was for each lens, different maximum aperture (sizes) exist. My kit lens, a Nikon 18-55mm, has a maximum aperture of 3.5-5.6, which means when I'm using a focal length of 18mm, my maximum aperture is f/3.5. Obviously when I'm at 55, I have a maximum aperture of f/5.6. Large aperture lenses are often more expensive, as it makes them work "faster", allowing more light in at quicker shutter speeds and without flash (bear with me here as I assume some of this), though this is not always the case.

What I'm finding in my weekly assignment, as I'm attempting to restrict my depth of field in my week's pictures, is that I'm being challenged in finding good subject matter. I don't want everything to look like a macro shot, and when I'm taking pictures outside, I've not been happy with single subjects because the backdrop seems to be white/grey only, lacking the texture that colourful foliage (or even green foliage!) can offer. Without that, it seems the next best option is to get shots of repeated subjects, with only the one closest to the camera in focus (picture a long fence, or a row of fleet vehicles, where the mind just assumes the background is "more of the same"). All in all, not using large apertures for portraits or macro has been the biggest challenge. I'm also not sure if using manual focus is cheating on this assignment.

I'll be sure to post this week's selection again. Thanks for your comments on last week's submissions!

Posted bythemikestand at 6:00 PM  

6 stepped up to the mike:

doow said... 7:16 AM, January 21, 2008  

1 - a lot of the expense of a large aperture lens comes from the fact that they have so much more glass in them in order to achieve that large aperture. The 50mm lens is just a lump of clever glass really.

2 - photo idea: maybe someone holding something out in front of them, upon which you focus? Like this, for example.

SRH said... 9:33 PM, January 21, 2008  

I would just narrow the field of focus in Photoshop, but that is where my talents lay. I am not a photographer, I am an image manipulator

richgold said... 10:20 PM, January 21, 2008  

So I was working with aperture here ( and didn't know the name for it. Cool.

Mike - what made you pursue photography to this extent?

themikestand said... 8:22 PM, January 22, 2008  

doow: my instructor is going to lend me his "extra" 50mm lens to try out. Hopefully it's as good as he says.

srh: I don't know how to do that yet. But I'll pick your brain some day on it.

richgold: precisely! And well, I might add ;)

As for how I got into this, I'm not really sure, other than that I was touched by some of my favourite online photographer friends (including doow and jurgennation), and TLW's uncle who is quite accomplished in this area. Regardless, it intrigued me and I'm excited about learning a new (and apparently expensive) skill!

Karla said... 5:09 PM, January 24, 2008  

Hey Mike,

Congrats on the new camera and the fun of learning how to use it! I think you're doing very well - I like the pics you've taken so far, especially the cup and the rain on the window. Well done!

I like to tell people I have 2 expensive hobbies: photography and travel. Siiiigh. All the money I make shooting weddings every year goes directly toward all the new toys I want for my camera.

I'm not sure if you checked out my website, but I've re-done it in the last few months and updated some of the galleries. Check it out if you like!

Karla said... 5:10 PM, January 24, 2008  

Oops, I forgot to leave you my address:


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