Photo tricks – Adding snow with Photoshop

Here’s something new I’ve been thinking about sharing on the blog – more sophisticated tips and tutorials for photography. This is a fun little trick I learned this year and I thought I’d share it with you. Want to make a fun winter photo even more wintry-looking? Add a little snow with Photoshop!

First, you need Photoshop Elements or just about any version of Photoshop. I love Lightroom for most editing purposes, but when it comes to cloning out unwanted bits or playing with layers, nothing beats Photoshop! Second, you also need to download these fun (and free!) snow textures from Florabella.

Open your photo and one of the snow texture files and drag the snow on top of your original photo. This is the important part: make sure you set the blending mode to SCREEN and not overlay. I think it’s the inclusion of the word ‘overlay’ in the title that keeps messing me up here, and it took me forever to figure out why I couldn’t get these to work. SCREEN blending mode!

Adjust the opacity to taste. I also like to add a layer mask at a low opacity and randomly lighten spots, especially over key detail areas. For this image, first I duplicated the background layer and set the blending mode to multiply to punch up the contrast, and then I added the snow layer.

Here’s the original:


Here’s the version I took in the blizzard:

Snowman fun-2

What do you think? Would you have guessed the snow was added in post production?

How to take beautiful sunrise (or sunset) photos

I love September for many reasons (and dislike it for a few more!) but one of the best things about September are the morning drives to work. The sun is rising just as I leave the house, and the cool overnight temperatures often lead to misty or foggy mornings. Fog + colourful sunrise = irresistible!


There’s a couple of tricks you can use to capture really amazing sunrise photos. (The same applies to sunset photos, but early riser that I am, it always seems to be the sunrise I’m chasing.) If you’re using your camera, set it to capture the most saturated, vibrant colours possible. If you can pick your exposure, try to expose for the sky away from the sun and not the sun itself — you want to underexpose your image by a stop or two to make those colours nice and rich.

I love using my iPhone for sunrise shots. The filters often add a quick hit of saturation by torquing the colours and the contrast up a bit. This is a Hipstamatic shot, taken with the John S lens that adds a heavy vignette (darkened edges) and contrast:

winter sunrise

While the sky colours are often spectacular in themselves, pay attention to the other things in your picture and try to use those elements to frame the sunrise, or to add interest or contrast. Since you’re exposing for the sky, which is bright, and you’re trying to underexpose it to saturate those colours, everything anything on the ground or in the foreground is likely to become a silhouette.

250:365 Sunrise on the farm

Think about the overall composition as well as the colours, and try not to put the sun or the horizon in the dead centre of your frame. If you’re shooting a gorgeous sky over a boring suburban skyline or an otherwise uninteresting foreground that will be lost in the shade anyway, just use a bit of it as a frame for contrast. Consider other elements of composition like balance, leading lines and shape/form.

"There is nothing is more musical than a sunset." ~ Claude Debussy

And, as far as I’m concerned, a good shot is almost always made better with a human element. Since many of my sunrise shots are snapped on my commute to work, I don’t get the chance to play with people in my shots too often. This one is actually a sunset shot from this summer, but I love it so much I have it both as my iPhone wallpaper and hanging in the living room as a canvas.

Sunset on Lake Huron-6

A little planning goes a long way. This guide will tell you when the sun rises and sets each day, but of course not every sunrise or sunset is spectacular. My favourite conditions are when there’s fog and funky clouds covering half or less of the sky. Think about where the sun will come up (or go down) and think of a few beautiful foregrounds that might frame a beautiful sunrise. I have a few favourites picked out on my way to work, including the Long Island Locks (first shot above) and a handful of barns and silos before I hit the urban part of the city. Also, know that the colours of a sunrise are usually more intense just before the sun comes up or after the sun drops below the horizon, and that the colours change minute by minute.

Happy shooting!

Quick and easy tips for taking great holiday card photos of your kids

Last week, I hauled out the Santa hats for our annual Christmas card shoot. The boys recognize this tradition, and are wonderfully patient subjects. It was getting dark quickly, but the sun was perfectly screened by light cloud cover and the light on the porch was lovely when I got a few good shots. This isn’t the best of the lot, but it is my favourite of the outtakes.

336:365 Christmas card outtake

Here’s the official portraits from 2009 and 2010, too!

Merry Christmas 2009Happy Christmas

(Ha, I just realized that they’re in exactly the same seating arrangement for all three pictures — complete coincidence!)

With a little bit of patience, you too can take great pictures of your kids (no, really!) for your own holiday cards. Here’s a few tips:

– work with them when they’re at their best. Full bellies, post-nap, playful mood and nobody in a rush. Also, a calm photographer goes a long way towards making kids calm, so don’t try to cram a session in while the spaghetti is boiling over or you’ve only got 10 minutes before you have to leave for hockey practice.

– be playful. Tell the kids a knock-knock joke, and snap pictures between the responses. Make funny noises. Make funny faces. Genuine laughs are way more beautiful than what a six year old boy *thinks* a smile is supposed to look like.

– get in close. Fill the frame with the kids, or even just their faces. Also, try avoid shooting down at them. Get yourself to face level or even shooting slightly up at them.

– look for the best light – and turn OFF the pop-up flash on your camera. This is the dimmest part of the year, so good natural light is hard to come by — but it’s worth hunting for! Think about shooting with an open door or window behind you (but watch out for your shadow) or shoot beside a big window or patio door. Soft, diffuse light is better than direct light, though. (Oh, so many rules!) If you’re outside on a bright day, look for open shade with bright light nearby.

– try to capture catchlights in their eyes. Catchlights are those bright points of light that bring sparkle to the eyes, and are either a reflection of the light source itself or a large surface of light like an open window or bright patch of floor. Catchlights are so important that Photoshop books will teach you how to fake them, but it’s better if you can just and capture them.

– avoid having the kids look at the camera and say cheese. Nothing spoils a good photo faster, IMHO! Catch them interacting with each other, with a favourite toy or book, or even interacting with you — but no canned cheese smiles, please!

– give the kids some control. Tell them that once you get a couple of shots you’re happy with, they can do a funny-face one, or one with everyone doing rabbit-ears, or whatever it is that they’re trying to do that you don’t want to send to all 150 people on your greeting card mailing list.

– think about what they’ll be wearing and try to coordinate the colours. They don’t have to be matchy-matchy, but think about having a bit of one colour on each person, or complimentary colours. Or go for matching props, like with my precious Santa hats, or maybe matching mitts or scarves. Unity is good, cloning is not.

This year, I’m feeling mildly guilty that I chose to print flat, single-sided hoilday cards — preprinted with a greeting and our names, no less! — rather than the folded cards that I’ve personalized by hand in prior years. And I had even had grand designs of creating my own template from scratch at one rather optimistic point back in September, but have defaulted to one of Costco’s templates. I feel like such a slacker!

But at least I had the photos taken and the cards ordered before the end of November. I think that’s a new speed record for me! Now it just remains to be seen if I’m organized enough to send them out this year…

Photography and post-processing

When I started my first 365 project back — hey, it was two years ago tomorrow! I didn’t realize that until I was half way through the sentence!! Ahem, anyway, when I started my first 365 back in January 2009, I posted almost every shot straight out of the camera (SOOC). I had it in my head that post-processing (that is, adjusting the exposure, white balance or even crop) was somehow making my photo less “true” to the original.

About two months into the project, I started using Photoshop and became a convert. In the spring of that year, I discovered The Pioneer Woman’s Photoshop actions, and became a veritable junkie. Over the course of six or so months, I figured out how to do a few things in Photoshop very well — adjustments like curves, white balance, and of course my beloved actions, which I ran on just about every picture. (In fact, looking back at some of those images, one might argue I could have used a lighter touch with some of those actions!) Other things, like cutting the head out of one picture and pasting it in to another, or the kind of magic worked by my friend Justin in pictures like this just escape me. (No really, go click on the link to see Justin’s picture, it’s worth it!!)

The only problem with Photoshop was that we were using a version supplied by Beloved’s employer, and he was uncomfortable with me using it for even semi-commercial purposes. When I started taking portraits and commissions, we decided we’d buy a copy of Photoshop Elements for me to use, and avoid any potential licensing conflicts.

Photoshop is a behemoth of a program. It does so much more than I was using it for. It’s also hugely expensive: currently Photoshop CS5 is $699US from the Adobe store. We picked up a copy of Elements 8, which is a much more practical and stripped-down version of Photoshop that does virtually everything I was using Photoshop for, at Costco for less than $100 last summer.

Also around that time, I downloaded the free beta of Adobe Lightroom 3.0 and once I got the hang of it, I never looked back. The beta ended in June of last year, and I had to buy my own copy. I love Lightroom! I love my presets, I love the ease of use, and I love the interface. Playing with pictures in Lightroom is one of my very favourite things to do, and post-processing has become as much fun as actually taking the pictures themselves. The only time I open Photoshop anymore is for my TtV pictures, because there are a few actions that I like that I haven’t been able to replicate in Lightroom.

I know a lot of you are doing your own 365 project right now (I love that so many of you are, in fact!) and even if you’re fairly new to photography, I’m betting that if you stick with it, eventually you’re going to start thinking about buying some post-processing software. If you do, I can’t say enough good things about Lightroom. Having said that, here’s two things you MUST know: first, you can download a free trial of Lightroom to check it out. And even better, Adobe offers smashing educational discounts on all its software for students and teachers. The full price on Lightroom is $299US, but you can get it for $89US with the educational discount. It’s *so* worth it, and all you need is to submit a copy of your student or faculty card (or, ahem, your dependent student’s student card — hint, hint. What, your five year old doesn’t need to learn post-processing with his ABCs?)

So, are you guys interested in chatting more about Lightroom and stuff like that here? So many blogs are already doing a much better job than I ever could with Lightroom tips and tutorials and presets, but now that I’ve re-engaged the photo-obsessed part of my brain, I’m looking for more creative outlets! And if you’ve got other non-Adobe suggestions for post processing, please share them!

(Nope, this is not a sponsored post – I’m just in love with Adobe’s products.)

What the heck is TtV photography anyway, and why would you bother?

A couple of you have asked me about my new fascination with TtV photography, so I thought I’d post a little tutorial here.

The idea is simple enough: take a photograph through the viewfinder of another camera. The viewfinder camera is usually a vintage twin-lens reflex camera, the kind that you would have held at waist-level and looked down into the viewfinder. It doesn’t need to be in working order, it just needs a largish and relatively clear viewfinder. A little bit of schmutz on the viewfinder does give your images character, though! I started with an old Kodak Brownie Hawkeye that I got from my uncle when I was wee, and I recently won an auction on eBay for a lot (pun intended) of vintage cameras including my new baby, a Kodak Duaflex IV. It’s in amazingly good condition for a 50+ year old camera!


This is a terrible, blurry shot of the top and back of the Duaflex, but at least it gives you an idea of how nice and big the viewfinder on top is. (Note to self, check the LCD display every now and then. You’re not shooting film anymore, you can fix your mistakes on the fly!)

duaflex back

The second camera, the one that actually takes the picture, can be a point-and-shoot, or a dSLR, or if you’re really old-skool, a film camera of any kind. The first tutorials I read said you need a macro lens, but I don’t use one. You align your subject in the viewfinder of the vintage camera, check your focus, and shoot. You’ll end up with a shot that looks kind of like this.

pinwheel fullsize

Then you crop it to square, leaving that characteristic bit of black frame, and do however much or little post-processing twists your knickers. I like a little bit of an urban-acid cross-processed look to mine.

Once you’ve taken a few TtV pictures, you realize that there is an annoying glare on the viewfinder, and that’s why people build amazing Rube-Goldberg-esque contraptions to eliminate the extraneous light. I’ve heard of TtV junkies using everything from a Pringles can to elaborately decorated and personalized contraptions. I’m using a highly sophisticated contraption myself, constructed from yellow posterboard and scotch tape:

duaflex in contraption

And, equally stunning in its sophistication, here is my visual summation of the TtV process. Because sometimes a picture *is* worth a thousand words. Try not to be too awed by my mad photoshopping skillz.

ttv illustration

And this is the final product.

260:365 Colour wheel

It’s a lot more challenging than it looks to get your composition right, not least because everything is flipped right to left, so when you want to adjust your image to move the subject more to the right, you have to swing to the left. In fact, there’s ongoing debate in the TtV community as to whether you should flip your final images or leave them reversed. (So far, I lean toward the latter.) Getting your camera to focus on the image in the viewfinder and not the viewfinder glass is another troublesome spot. But IMHO, when it does work, TtV produces dreamy, retro images that are oddly compelling.

I’m totally hooked! In fact, I’ve discovered that there’s a group on Flickr of devotees who are doing 365 projects entirely in TtV. Hmmm, that may be next year’s challenge — if I didn’t think my family would completely disown me if I even thought about it!

If you’re curious and would like to see more, check out my TtV set on Flickr!

Edited to add: I finally got around to rebuilding my contraption and writing a better version of this tutorial in May of 2010. Check it out!

10 ways to know you made a good picture

(I’m annoyed with Twitter right now, so I pulled this from Twitter to my sideblog!)

This is an excellent little checklist from photographer Scott Bourne to evaluate your photographs. Very simple, but quite helpful set of reminders: 10 ways to know you made a good picture. This is the one I have to really keep in mind: “#7. Emotion: the photograph should evoke some emotion. Any emotion will do. But really good photographs cause an emotional reaction.”

The Family Photographer: Protecting your images online

This is an issue I’ve been struggling with for a while, so it’s not so much as a “how-to” post as an invitation to discuss the subject.

The keen-eyed among you will have noticed that I’ve started watermarking my photos. (A watermark is, in this case, a small and mostly transparent addition to your image that shows the image is copyrighted, to deter unathorized use.) I’ve toyed with the idea of watermarking my images for years, but was too lazy to do it. Now that I run all my pix through Photoshop before I publish them, and thanks to this great tutorial from one of my 365 friends, I can drop a watermark into each image with three clicks.

You can see it in this photo of the American falls at Niagara Falls (because I don’t have enough Niagara Falls in my blog this week, right?)

American Falls 2

I really don’t want the watermark to interfere with the images, so I tucked it way down in the corner and tried to make it mostly transparent. (The problem with putting it way down in the corner is that it’s not too difficult to crop it out, should someone be so inclined, but the kind of people who steal images are generally the lazy sort anyway, and I suffer no delusions that my images are worth the extra effort to acquire!)

So that’s the ‘what’ of watermarking, and a hint at the ‘how,’ but what of the why?

I talked to Andrea a bit about this when we had lunch the other day, and it was great to finally talk to someone about it after stewing on it for weeks. I’ve been having a crisis of confidence about having so much of my world online and out in public lately. Part of it was the (albeit totally innocuous) recognition of Lucas and Beloved in the library by a nice lady who reads the blog and lives in my neighbourhood, but it was mostly motivated by some weird traffic in my Flickr stats.

You might remember back in the fall of 2007, there was a kerfuffle on the ‘net about people stealing images of kids and making fake profiles on the social networking site Orkut. About a month ago, I noticed that there was traffic from Orkut that pointed to a (completely ordinary) picture of Tristan from an apple-picking trip a couple of years ago. I made the image private, and that stopped the traffic, but there are still a few links from sites that Flickr doesn’t recognize pointing to random photos in my stream and if I can’t reconcile it I’m not comfortable with it.

For a while, I was so twitchy about the issue that I thought the solution might be to simply stop taking pictures of the boys for my 365. That idea made me feel sick, and sad, and a little angry. The whole reason I started Project 365 was to improve my photographic skills, and while it’s nice to be able to take better pictures of carrots and fence posts, what *really* matters to me is better pictures of the people I love. If I were to quit taking pictures of the kids, I might as well quit the 365 entirely.

I toyed for a while with making every image of family members private or for contacts only on Flickr (truth be told, I’m still thinking about it) but that certainly wouldn’t help with the images I post here. And it may be a little bit too late in any case, what with four and a half years worth of images already out there in cyberspace.

In the end, I’ve decided on a middle ground of cautious awareness. I think it’s prudent to be conscious of what you put on the Web but, thanks in part to the chat I had with Andrea, I’m feeling less exposed and freaked out about the whole thing. I’m taking simple steps to minimize any potential risks, like being cognizant of the kind of images I put up — no bare bums, stuff like that. I don’t post their pictures to any group that has “child” or “babies” or anything like that in it. And I monitor the traffic on Flickr much more carefully than I monitor my blog traffic. If anything makes me even remotely uncomfortable, I make the image private — so far, I’ve only done it twice.

Andrea asked me what it was that I would be worried about, what nefarious use of my images I feared, and I don’t know, exactly, what could be done. Frankly, I’d rather not think about it! But, as I’ve often said about living my life online, I’m not going to give undue attention to some ephermal and ill-defined potential risk.

And that comes back to watermarking. I’m going to watermark all my images, so I can protect in some small way the intellectual copyright on the few really stellar images that I’ve created, and to deter any unsavoury use of the images of with people in them.

What do you think of all this? Are you a purist who is annoyed by the ‘ego’ factor in watermarking photos? Do you think it’s futile to even bother? I’ve seen people argue that by simply putting images online, you are de facto giving up your rights to what happens to them — something I, no surprise, completely disagree with. What do you do to protect your images online? I’d love to hear your opinions on this!

The Family Photographer: Composition 1

I have to laugh when I look at the pictures I used to take when I was younger: as soon as whatever subject I was trying to capture was in the frame – anywhere in the frame! – I’d push the shutter button. Don’t get me wrong, it works — but if you take a few seconds to really think about what you want your final picture to look like, you’ll go from ‘taking’ pictures to ‘making’ pictures.

Each picture needs to have a focal point. The focal point is the subject, the centre of interest. What is your photo trying to say? You might even have a couple of focal points, but you should choose one main one and make sure that nothing else in the frame is more interesting, more noticable or otherwise taking attention away from that one point of focus.

The very hardest thing for me to do — still! — is the most important: slow down and really look at the picture you’re about to take. Kids are squiggley and wildlife doesn’t sit pretty for the camera and even landscapes change with variable lighting and tourists wandering into your frame and whatnot, it’s true, but if you take a few seconds to really look at the picture you’re about to take, I guarantee you’ll take better pictures.

Look into all four corners and along the edges of the frame. Is everybody in the frame who is supposed to be in the frame? Are there any tree branches sticking out of the sides of anybody’s head? If you moved a little bit to the left or the right, would you do a better job of including the Statue of Liberty in the background, or be able to exclude that ugly sign advertising pizza by the slice?

Try to see the whole picture, including the background and foreground. Include only the elements that add to your picture and – perhaps more importantly – do what you can to reduce or eliminate the things that might take attention away from your subject. (Do this by squatting down or moving from one side to another, by zooming in or out, or by getting closer to or further away from your subject. Turn your camera sideways, and see if that’s a better shot. Or, if you have a fancy camera, play with the depth of field to throw the background out of focus.)

This picture favours neither me nor the elephant, but might have been
a more interesting composition if it showed less sky and the entire elephant.

Now you’ve taken a good look to make sure you’ve got an interesting viewpoint with all the good stuff in your frame and none of the bad stuff, and you’ve got your subject perfectly framed in the centre of your viewfinder. Ready? Don’t press that shutter!

For the most part, you should avoid placing your subject in the dead centre of your photo. I have a hard time with this one myself. There’s an old ‘rule’ called the rule of thirds, which basically says that you should try to place your centre of interest at the 1/3 or 2/3 point of your frame, either horizontally or vertically, to make the image more interesting.

Imagine lines dividing your frame into equal thirds, both horizontally and vertically, like a tic-tac-toe board superimposed on your photo. Putting your subject anywhere on those imaginary lines is good, but even better is the spots where those imaginary lines intersect. They call those four points the sweet spots, and placing your centre of interest over one of the sweet spots gives a picture just a little extra je ne sais quoi.

141b:365 The egg thief
Lucas’s eye is just about where the top and left third lines would intersect.

I’m resisting the urge to throw everything I’ve learned about composition into one post, but it’s difficult to leave so much unsaid! We still need to talk about foregrounds and backgrounds, and using frames, and static versus dynamic, and using lines that you can see instead of imaginary ones… lots of topics to cover in the upcoming weeks, I guess!

The Family Photographer: Controlling the light

Okay, so you’re trying to take a picture of your brand new puppy: a tumbling, squiggling ball of golden fur. It’s late afternoon and the light is low. What can you do?

My first recommendation? Don’t use a flash, and especially don’t use the in-camera flash that pops up in automatic mode. I’ve learned over the past year that the in-camera flash gives a cold, unflattering flat colour to your subject, and casts harsh shadows.

See the red-eye, the harsh shadow, and the flat grey tone of Tristan’s skin? Flash = evil!

Okay, so no flash. What to do, then? First, move your puppy near a window. Not in the direct sunlight, but within six feet or so of a nice, bright window. The diffuse light will make some lovely and gentle contrasts but no harsh shadows.

You’ve got some nice warm light, and the puppy is chewing adorably on one of your old shoes. You take the picture — and when you look at the LCD display, all you see is a blur of yellow fur. Because you didn’t use the flash and the light is low, the shutter speed wasn’t fast enough to “freeze” the motion of the energetic puppy.

What can you do? Well, you could turn on some more lights in the room, but that might ruin the nice tones and shadows you’re getting from the window light. There are three things you can do to control the amount of light getting into your camera and improve your picture:

(1) Open up the aperture.
(2) Slow down the shutter speed.
(3) Boost the ISO.

The first thing you should try is opening up your aperture to a nice fat f-stop like f/2.8 or f/3.5. You want a little f-stop number, which means a big opening, so lots of light will get in. That also means, though, that you’ll have a really shallow depth of field, which is how much of the image is in focus. You can use that creatively, so when you focus on your puppy, you can throw your ugly couch in the background out of focus and avoid the distraction of the pile of newspapers on the coffee table behind him.

If you were taking a picture of something that wasn’t moving, like your sleeping puppy, another option would be to slow down the shutter speed. The shutter speed also controls how much light gets in, but the longer the shutter is open, the more likely movement will lead to a blurry subject. If you are using a shutter speed any lower than 1/60 of a second, you should probably be using a tripod, or bracing your camera on a solid surface.

Sometimes, you can use a slower shutter speed creatively to emphasize movement.

So you’ve maxed out the aperture, and you can’t use a shutter speed any less than 1/250 of a second or so because the puppy is a wiggling mass of energy, but the images are still not crisp enough. What can you do? Try boosting your ISO.

In a film camera, ISO (or ASA) refers to how sensitive the film is to light. In Digital Photography ISO measures the sensitivity of the image sensor. A lower ISO gives you pictures that are more crisp, but a higher ISO lets in more light so you can shoot a at a faster shutter speed, thus letting in more light, thus reducing motion blur. I leave my Nikon D40 at the lowest ISO setting (200) and only adjust it if I need more light. The only problem with higher ISOs is that at really high settings (depends on your camera, but usually at 1200 or more) you start to get “noise” which is a grainy quality to your images that’s especially noticable with printed enlargements.

So there’s three easy ways to control the light so you can take stunning photos of your adorable new puppy. And, completely unrelated to light, here’s three more tips to improve your puppy pictures:

  1. Get down low. Shoot at puppy’s eye level, or even lower if you can.
  2. Get in close and fill the frame.
  3. Focus on the puppy’s eyes. If you get the eyes in focus, the portrait will work. If you miss focusing on the eyes, something just seems “off” about a portrait.

So what do you think? Is this stuff helpful or boring? Anything else you’d like to talk about? I’m weirdly intimidated by these posts all of a sudden, maybe because I’m in an insecure place in my own picture-taking right now. And by all means, please do share your ideas and thoughts for controlling the light!

The Family Photographer: about lenses

Okay, so maybe I was a bit ambitious with the idea of a whole new blog and Flickr group for my Family Photographer idea, but there’s no reason I can’t start the posts here and migrate them to a new blog as time, energy and your interest permit.

Amy from the Muddy Boots blog asked me about lenses, and I thought that was as good a place as any to start.

My D40 came with an 18-55 mm “kit” lens, which is pretty standard on an entry-level dSLR. Last summer, after we’d had the camera for about a year, we invested in a a 55-200 mm telephoto lens, which is great for bringing far-away stuff closer, but also takes excellent portraits. This picture of Simon, for example, was taken with my telephoto:


It separates him from the background by giving that lovely bit of blur to the leaves behind him. The telephoto lens is bulky, though, and you need to be able to back up enough to get your subject framed properly. (Funny, looking at that picture of Simon now, I wish I’d gotten in a little closer and filled the frame more!)

Two months ago, we got our third lens, a 50 mm f1.8 fixed (or ‘prime’) lens. The f1.8 means that 1.8 is the largest aperture, and 1.8 is fairly large. What that means is that it lets in a lot of light, which means that you can shoot in a wider range of natural lighting conditions without having to use your flash. By contrast, the largest aperture on my 18-55mm lens is f3.5, and on the telephoto is f4.

When you spend a lot of time crawling around the house trying to snap a photo of the toddler who never sits still, you appreciate the convenience of a wider aperture! I don’t think I’ve taken a single picture using my flash since I got the 50mm lens in April, which is great because I hate the cold, flat pictures that the in-camera flash creates. And the larger aperture also means that I can get a much shallower depth of field (area that is in focus) so I can play with that creatively.

Yesterday, I wanted to take a picture of Lucas’s feet just after his bath, but I didn’t want to use the flash because I knew that the natural light from the window would make for some beautiful shadows that would help define the textures of his toes. Originally, I was shooting with the aperture at around f4 and he was so wriggly that every shot was coming out blurry. When I opened the aperture up to the maximum of f1.8 I got two things I wanted: a shorter shutter speed, which “froze” his motion and gave me a fairly crisp shot of his toes, and a lovely blur to the rest of his body, which also helped focus attention on his feet. I love love love how it turned out:

131:365 Baby toes

For something like a shooting a wedding, where the lighting is likely to be low and you don’t want to use a flash, I’d highly recommend a lens like the 50mm f1.8. The only drawback is that it won’t autofocus with the D40, which is a bit of a drag. (I’m beginning to think my eyesight isn’t as keen as it used to be, because I’m having a heck of a time getting my focus tack-sharp lately!) If you have a few more $$ to invest, you can get a 50mm f1.4 — that’s an even larger aperture! woot! — that will autofocus with the D40, but at almost twice the price.

I leave the 50mm lens on my camera all the time, and only change to the 18-55mm if I know I’ll want the autofocus capability, or will be going somewhere that I’ll want to take some wide-angle shots. I use the telephoto lens to bring stuff closer, like when we went to Parc Omega, and for nice close-ups and portraits. The 50mm is no slouch at portraits, though:

104:365 Lucas on the path

I think these three lenses will cover just about all of my needs for right now. The next item on my wish-list is a decent flash, but if I had to choose a next lens to get and price were no object, I’d probably get the 18-200 mm lens, which would combine my kit lens and telephoto into a single lens.

What do you think? For those of you with dSLRs, what lenses do you have, do you love, and do you covet?