I've gotten a lot of questions on Instagram recently when I began posting a series of night images to my gallery. What are your settings? What camera do you use? What lenses are you using? How is the foreground lit? How is the background lit? You forget after a certain period of time the wonder and discovery of how to take a certain kind of image. One where you can't even begin to know where the photographer started. I always get so excited when people ask because I am so passionate about the art, and I love the whole process. But I want to tell them everything all at once.
"It's really simple," I say. "Settings are ISO 1600 f/2.8 for a single thirty second exposure. The tent is lit from behind where my boyfriend is holding a flashlight. My friend and I managed to stay relatively still for the time period." Ok, they think about it. But how does the f-stop relate to the shutter speed, and how do both of those affect the what ISO sensitivity to use?! AND...how long was the flashlight backlighting the tarp?
So let me break it down a little further, because I remember learning all this stuff mostly through trial and error, reading, and looking at A LOT of other photos. I'll describe each part of the exposure in relation to how I took the above photo.
There are three parts to exposure- ISO, Shutter Speed, & Aperture
ISO Sensitivity- For me, it was easier to understand ISO in relation to film photography. Back in the film days there were 100 speed film, 200 speed film, 400 speed film, etc... The higher the number the more sensitive the film was to light. For instance, if I were to photograph the same subject in daylight with all the same settings except different ISO sensitivities, the one with the lower number would be darker than the photo taken on the higher ISO. It works the same way with digital, but we don't have to use a whole roll of film with one sensitivity! We can vary it from photo to photo. You always want to use the lowest number possible in any given situation in order to avoid unwanted noise. In the photo above I used ISO 1600, which is relatively high, especially for my Canon Rebel T2i. This was one of the things that allowed me to capture the stars in just 60 short seconds.
Shutter Speed- I think this is the part of exposure that is easiest for most people to understand. The shutter speed is how long the shutter of the camera is left open during the exposure. The longer it is left open, the more light is captured. With this photo I left the shutter open for one minute. When people shoot on automatic during the day, their camera usually sets the shutter speed at a trusty 1/60 second. This is fast enough to capture most scenes (not sports or action) but slow enough to expose the image at a lower ISO. Because I left my shutter open for a minute I was able to capture a dark scene. So you might ask, Kat, why didn't you leave it open for two minutes and get more stars in the pic? I didn't do that because the longer you leave the shutter open, the more noise (grainy appearance to the photo) you get. To answer the question of how long Craig was behind us shining the flashlight? It was very brief, maybe a second or two. With a wide open shutter and aperture (which I'll talk about below) and a high ISO setting, we didn't need much light to create the above effect.
Aperture- Aperture is one of the most important parts of the whole puzzle, or I guess I could say one of the more expensive parts. Aperture is the same as f-stop. It is essentially how wide the hole in your lens opens during the exposure. Aperture does several other fun things too, but I'll focus on its role in general exposure in this post. My aperture was set to f/2.8 in the above photo. This is KEY! Most cheap-o wide angle lenses only stop down to f/3.5. Good enough to take kind of crappy star pics. The fact that my lens goes down to f/2.8 made a large difference in the quality of my photos. It opened up just that little extra I needed to take in the light necessary without using too high an ISO or too long a shutter speed.
Any more questions feel free to ask in the comments below!
Also I want to note that I called this post "The TAKING of an Image" not "The Making of an Image." As much as I love and admire Ansel Adams and his work, I think he was wrong. I'm simply an observer who strives to capture the beauty of every day. I didn't make anything in the photo above. I just borrowed it for a little while. Ok, enough of my two cents! :)
Happy Summer Solstice! The longest day of the year. The day with the most potential to do everything you ever wanted to do with your life. Ok, so maybe it's just another day. But it is a great day to hike and camp. Every year at this time I think about how I spent my solstice during the summer of 2009, in Alaska.
The sun didn't set at all. I got off work at around 1 p.m. and I had been working since 4 a.m. Craig and his dad (he was visiting) picked me up at the lodge and Craig had kindly packed my stuff into my pack (this was before we were dating).
When we arrived at the bus stop we consulted our favorite bus driver, Gary. We knew we wanted to cover section 29 and 6, the first up in the mountains to the north of the road and the second towards the Alaska range near the Talkeetna River. Gary confirmed this would in fact be an awesome trip.
Out in 29 Craig, Mr. K, and I hiked over the spongy, wet tundra. It had begun to mist on us and soon it was just plain raining. I was always in awe of the grand magnificence of DNP, but even more so now because it was still the beginning of the summer and everything was fresh and new still. We had just arrived in the park a week and half before and although we had already hiked Mt. Healy, this was our first backcountry trip. I was taking hundreds of photos, trying to keep my camera dry, and attempting to move at the same pace as the guys. We made our way up through a drainage and with all the rain we decided to camp on the tundra right before the pass we wanted to take over the mountains the next day. Dinner was enjoyed around a little portable gas stove (you are not allowed to build a fire in the park) and all three of us snuggled in side by side into Craig's two man tent.
We woke up early and made our way up the pass. The elevation in this area was not was intense as you would think. Most of the peaks hang out around 4,000 ft. They pale in comparison to Denali looming in the distance. But the climb was exhausting. There are no trails in DNP, so you forge your own way. And you have to do it over scree slopes, brush, and boggy tundra.
Once we reached the top we noticed it was very steep on the other side and almost entirely scree. So naturally Craig and I act like it's a slide and go barreling down, covered in dirt and mud when we stand up. Mr. K opted for the slightly safely albeit more boring and slower route of simply climbing down backwards. We descend a ways and begin to head south as it starts to mist on us again. Our view looked about like this...
We continued to descend and finally came upon the squishy tundra again. We intersected the park road and Mr. K decided to take the bus back to the lodge. He wanted to dry off and sleep in a bed.
Craig and I headed into Section 6 towards the Alaska Range, one of the most magnificent looking mountain ranges in the world. We hiked southeast and I looked at Craig and said, "I want a five star view tonight." So we didn't stop until we found a five star view, near the Talkeetna River with the AK Range spread out in front of us. I woke up in the middle of the night, and although it was difficult to get up off the oh-so-comfortable tundra mattress, I stepped outside. I yelled at Craig and he stuck his head out to see what all the commotion was about. There was part of a rainbow, in the middle of the night, in front of the AK Range. It looked about like this...
This was the first trip in a summer that would find us waking up with bears outside our tent, being charged by caribou, stumbling upon bright blue glacial lakes, staring up the the aurora borealis in awe, and hiking on the Muldrow Glacier at the base of Denali. A fairly memorable solstice I you ask me. And in case you were wondering, our first kiss did not happen on this trip, though it would have been appropriate. It took place a few days later while watching Airplane. So romantic :).
The photo to the left is from our Everglades trip. We spent two days paddling through the intricate, mangrove-lined waterways, slept on a chickee (platform on the water), and woke up to dolphins swimming outside our tent. We learned a lot about both canoeing and teamwork after almost taking my head off three times. Craig would get going fast and we wouldn't be able to avoid low-lying branches. Naturally, I always have my camera glued to my eyeball and I didn't see them coming in time. EPIC.
It's my last day of work in Florida tomorrow. I'm headed to Disney where my awesome boyfriend is attending some fancy elite athletes USATF conference or something like that. We get to enjoy Disney World for a couple days. I'm kind of pumped- I've never been. And then we are going to Texas. We'll be all over Texas for about a week before finally arriving in KANSAS! Home sweet home. Can't wait to see everyone.
I've applied to a few jobs in San Diego, but I'm only applying for ones I really want- places I could see myself staying and growing. I'm ready to start building something, and although I have built a lot of skills and life experiences over this year I'm ready to be settled...for a little while anyway. And I can't believe Craig and I are finally going to be in the same place for the long term! YAY for that! Can't wait to see what the next few years bring. Every year I am surprised by the awesome people, places, and things I get to experience. I have a feeling it is just going to keep getting better.
Here we go again with new beginnings. After 2012 continues to be one of the best years of my life- short recap: moved to Spain, played volleyball in Spain, learned Spanish, made friends, tried many new fruits, traveled, watched my incredible boyfriend throw for team U.S.A. at the OLYMPICS!!!!!!!!!, traveled some more, took tons of photographs, and moved to the Florida Keys for a short stint... And now that we are up to date I will tell you what is up for what little is left of 2012. I'm going home for Christmas and I'm taking the boyfriend with me :). From there we are moving to San Diego where he will train at the Olympic Training Facility, and I get to figure out what my next move is. I'm going to start with finding a job and place to live.
Stay in touch. I will no longer update my old blog about Spanish life, but I will update here periodically. If only for a reference for myself and my lovely mother, who I know reads because she loves me. I hope life is everything you dreamed it would be!