Street photography

There’s something really special about street photography. At its essence, it’s honest and very pure to me; a good street photo captures a moment in time that can never be repeated. It’s candid, raw, and often imperfect–just like life itself.

Dog riding in car; Seattle 2011
When I first spotted this dog, he was resting his head on the mirror; he had moved by the time I got my camera up, but I still love the picture.

This is what I mean–it’s not a perfect shot; the dog should have been a little more to the left of the frame, and it’s blurry too. But it’s a slice of everyday life, one of those funny moments that will never come around again. Seconds after I took that picture, they were gone.

Humans of New York is one of my favorite examples of street photography. Their work is more thoughtful and composed than I think is typical of the classification, but it’s just so beautiful. I love the stories they tell. I’m not up for taking lots of pictures of people yet–I am intensely uncomfortable around strangers–so I generally tend to focus on things like architectural details, street art installations, landscaping, and whatever else catches my eye.

autumn leaves
A leaf peeks out of the hood of someone’s coat.

 

Heart in a tree
A heart-shaped hole in a tree. The tree is probably still there, but I might never see it again.

 

Waikiki Rainbow
A beautiful rainbow over a jogging path in the Waikiki area of Honolulu.

 

Pulse chalk art memorial
Chalk art in downtown Knoxville on the anniversary of the Pulse shooting

Tips:
Be aware of local laws regarding photographing people (especially children) and buildings; don’t get yourself in trouble
Don’t sweat it if your photos aren’t perfectly composed when you’re first starting out. Try to get your exposure right and let everything else fall into place.
Plan in advance and try to keep your gear down to the essentials. If you’re walking all day, do you really want to lug your whole kit along with you?
Be aware of your surroundings; bring a friend if you’re uncomfortable going alone.
Have fun and enjoy the sights.

I’m sure I’ll have more street photos for you in the future. In the meantime, please be sure to leave me a comment and share this with your friends. For my readers in the US, have a safe and happy Fourth of July weekend! I’ll see you next week. 🙂

Summer fun, part 2

Last week, I posted about my visit to Rock City and promised to share photos from another location we visited in that area, Ruby Falls. We got a double play pass when we visited Rock City, so Ruby Falls was included in the ticket. Since I already told you all how we ended up in the area in last week’s post, today is just going to be another photo dump. Enjoy!

 

 

Tips:
The double play is a really good idea if you want to see more than one attraction on Lookout Mountain. They have other deals if you want to visit even more locations, like the train, but we were really just interested in Rock City and Ruby Falls. Do a little research before your trip and figure out which is best for you.
Go to Rock City when they open in the morning. Save Ruby Falls for the afternoon; it’s cooler underground, so you’ll be able to avoid the sun during the hottest part of the day.
Don’t bother with a tripod at Ruby Falls. Although it would be nice to have for pictures, you’ll be with a big tour group down inside a cavern; there’s limited space to set it up and someone might trip.
Have fun!

 

As always, if you enjoy what you see here, please be sure to leave me a comment and share this with your friends. You can also like my page on Facebook for more photos and updates. See you next time!

Summer fun

Disclosure: I did not receive any sort of compensation for writing this post.The opinions here are my own and this is not intended to be any sort of advertisement or recommendation to go (or not go to) Rock City.

Back in April, before I even started this blog, I had to take a trip to Texas to do some work on the house that my husband and I are trying to sell. I made it a point to visit my grandma while I was there and my aunt, who was her primary caregiver, suggested that my cousins and I get together and go through Grandma’s curio cabinet.

Grandma and Grandpa traveled a LOT, both when he was serving in the military and after he retired, and most of the curios in the cabinet were souvenirs they had picked up on their trips. Among other things, Grandma had a small collection of bells she had bought at various tourist traps over the years. My cousins and I divided them up among ourselves, picking and choosing from places we had visited or stories that were important to us for whatever reason, and putting any extras into a pile for Goodwill or a yard sale later.

One of the bells had a rock formation painted on it along with the words “Lover’s Leap.” No location, no other information, just the usual Made in China label on the inside. Nobody had ever heard of it, so we looked it up. Turns out Lover’s Leap is part of a larger tourist attraction, called Rock City, that’s just outside Chattanooga, Tennessee. It’s just across the state line, so even though it’s just a few minutes outside Chattanooga, it’s actually in Georgia.

I added the bell to my pile; the following weekend, when I got back to Tennessee, my husband and I made the drive down to Rock City. If it was a place Grandma had been, I wanted to see it with my own eyes.

And what a sight it was.

It was a delightful day, and although I only had my phone with me and not my camera, I got a lot of ideas for pictures I want to take on a future visit. I probably won’t go back until sometime in the fall, when the summer heat and tourist crowds have died down somewhat, but I’m definitely looking forward to it. By that time, I should have enough experience with my DSLR to get some really great shots.

I hadn’t planned to write about this trip since it happened before I started Saga Shots, but my local newspaper mentioned this list on their Facebook page yesterday and it looked so good that I wanted to share it with you all. Rock City is GoBankingRates.com’s America the Beautiful bucket list entry for Georgia, and for good reason. It’s actually one of several tourist sites on Lookout Mountain, all of which would be great for photos or a family vacation. Next week, I’ll share the photos I took at one of the other Lookout Mountain tourist destinations, Ruby Falls. Until then, please leave me a comment and share this with your friends!

Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies

Disclosure: I did not receive any sort of compensation for writing this post. The opinions here are my own, and this is not intended to be any sort of advertisement or recommendation to go (or not go to) Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies. It’s really just my observations and photos from a day trip my husband and I took a couple of weeks ago.

I meant to post this sooner, but then family stuff happened and I didn’t have the time or the energy to figure out exactly what I wanted to say here, and how I wanted to say it.

Not too long ago, my husband and I took a trip to the Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokeys in Gatlinburg. We’re new to Tennessee, and we try to get out and do tourist things when we have the time and funds. Because how else are we going to get to know anything about the area?

I love aquariums and zoos, and animals in general, so I was really excited to go. The last time I went to an aquarium, aside from the little one they have at the Houston Zoo, was several years ago on a trip to Seattle (2011-ish, I think), before I got my DSLR. Most of the pictures I have from that time are either super blurry, super noisy, or both.

So bad I’m embarrassed to upload this…

I was really excited to see what I could do with a more powerful camera than the point-and-shoot I had with me back then.

As you can see, my expectations were much higher than my actual abilities.

I started out shooting with my 50mm lens, but it just wasn’t working for me and there were so many people (so, so many pushy kids!) that I was uncomfortable taking the time to figure out what I needed to do to get good shots. So I switched to my kit lens, which I’m more accustomed to using. That helped some, but something was still not working out. The light was wrong, I kept getting reflections off the tanks, photos were blurry or noisy or too dark…Between the camera issues and the crowds, I was getting so frustrated that I just wasn’t enjoying myself. It wasn’t a total bust–I did get a few good shots, and even the bad ones were better than the point-and-shoot photos from Seattle, but it wasn’t what I had been hoping to achieve.

 

I ended up putting my camera away and getting my phone out instead. I have a Google Pixel, and I love it. On a good day, I do get better photos with the DSLR than the phone. It’s usually worth the effort to take the time to figure out what I need to do to get those shots with my camera. However, given that the aquarium tickets were not cheap and I don’t get many days like that to spend with my husband, I think I made the right choice. Sometimes it’s important to take the easy route and just have fun.

Overall I enjoyed the aquarium, but I would recommend skipping the glass-bottom boat ride; it’s an extra $10/person and just not worth it. They take you a lap around the shark lagoon and the bottom of the boat was so dirty that it’s hard to see much, let alone take pictures. Plus it’s next to impossible to get a shot without somebody’s feet in the way. So…yeah. Not really my thing.

I hope you enjoyed reading about my aquarium adventure! Tune in next time (probably Friday) for more photos. In the meantime, please be sure to give this a like and share with your friends if you enjoyed it. Thanks, everyone!

Flowers

Although many of my recent posts have been fairly informative, that’s really not what I set out to do when I created this website. For me, the purpose of this page is to keep track of the progress I make as I’m working to become a better photographer, and share a little of what I learn as I go (and also have it written down somewhere so I can refer back to this if I forget things).

In that spirit, here’s a photodump. Like I said before, flowers are one of my favorite subjects and I spend a lot of time seeking them out. Luckily that isn’t difficult here because both the Knoxville Botanical Garden and the Ijams Nature Center have free admission and loads of flowers to enjoy.

Please enjoy the pictures as they are here. My photos are not stock. I would rather you did not download them or post them to other social media sites without requesting permission (either in a comment below or use the form on my about page) and giving credit to me. Thanks.

yellow hibiscus

A few tips for photographing flowers:

Shoot early in the morning or on overcast days
Try to avoid direct sunlight
Don’t use your camera’s flash
A 50mm 1.8 lens has been my best friend for flower photography
Be mindful of creatures that like to live in and around flowers
Watch out for bees, especially if you’re allergic

Thanks for looking, everyone! I hope you enjoyed the pictures. Please come back next time for more! And, as always, if you liked what you saw, please give this a like and share my page with your friends.

Inspiration and regret

There are no pictures in today’s post, but there is a reason for that. I hadn’t planned to write this, because it’s more personal than I had planned to be on this blog, but I feel like it’s somewhat relevant.

I think the reason I fell in love with photography can be attributed to my grandmother. She always had her camera ready to capture all those little moments. She must have filled hundreds of albums over the years, from every holiday and birthday, weddings, school events, childhood milestones, and sometimes just us grandkids on impromptu visits posed in front of her refrigerator so she could finish off a roll of film and take it to be developed.

She was a vibrant, loving person, who traveled the world but always had time for her family and friends. When I was in college, she wrote me a letter every month and enclosed a $20 in each one. Sometimes she’d mail pictures, too. I saved every letter and tucked them away in the back of a photo album.

Alzheimer’s stole her from us. I watched her fade quietly away and tried desperately to find some piece of her that I could hold on to and keep for myself forever. I learned to sew and made blankets for my cousins’ kids, her great-grandchildren, just like the ones she made for us when we were small. I learned to knit and made pretty scarves for my friends (she crocheted a little, but I couldn’t get the hang of that; knitting was the next best thing). I learned her recipes, served her meals at my kitchen table, and baked hundreds of cookies to give away at Christmas.

None of it felt quite right.

And then I picked up my camera. My albums go up on Facebook instead of the hutch in the family room, but they’re there…Every birthday party, every Thanksgiving and Christmas, engagement parties, and welcoming new babies into the family. Weddings when the bride and groom are okay with it. Whenever, wherever, however my family gets together, I’ve got the camera or I’m snapping pictures on my phone.

Grandma didn’t raise me, but she was the person I counted on as a child, my constant. My mom is mentally ill and my dad was always at work. They weren’t affectionate, and there were times when things bordered on abusive; I was frequently pushed aside or ignored. My parents did the best they could, given their personal issues, but Grandma was the one who showed me what it means to be compassionate, selfless and kind, to cultivate friendships, and be a part of a loving extended family.

Alzheimer’s may have stolen my grandma, but it left me with one of the greatest gifts I have ever received. Without it, I might never have discovered the capacity I have to love others. I used to think I was cold and heartless, but as the Alzheimer’s ran its course and took her farther and farther away, I tried to hold on to her tighter and tighter, and I realized that I would love her no matter how much she changed. It opened my eyes. It taught me the value in holding on to people unconditionally, which is something I had never fully understood before her diagnosis.

And that brings me to the point of today’s post:

I don’t have any good pictures of the two of us together; somehow we traded places behind the camera and, although I have plenty of pictures of Grandma, I never thought to ask anyone to take a nice, posed photo of Grandma and me.

Until yesterday. She died two days before.

There are some candid shots where we both happen to be in the frame, looking in opposite directions, and one picture of us when she was in the hospital sleeping, but nothing that really captures the bond we had with each other. And now there will never be any.

So make sure you step out from behind your camera sometimes. When you’re busy capturing those family moments, make sure you don’t forget to capture your own because one day you’re going to run out of chances to be with the people who are special to you. Ask someone to take over for a few minutes. Or use a tripod and your camera’s timer, or a shutter remote, or even a selfie stick.

Just don’t make the same mistake I did.

Aperture

The other day, I went over a few things you can do to help improve your photography. Exposure was on the list, and aperture is one of the elements of exposure. I hadn’t planned to write anything about aperture or exposure so soon because I feel that I have yet to master the topic, but when I was out shooting the other day, I managed to take a couple of photos that I think illustrate it really well.

Basically, aperture determines how wide your camera’s shutter opens when you take a photo. It is measured in F-stops; low numbers are a shallow depth of field, and high numbers are deeper. Aperture can also affect the amount of light in the photo, so it works with your shutter speed and ISO to determine how light or dark your pictures are. I am not going to get into detail on all that today, though; I’m not sure I understand it well enough to explain it in detail and keep things interesting. Instead, I’m just going to show you what I shot.

mockingbird and babies
A mockingbird and its babies perched on a sign

See how the trees are in focus, and the birds are not? I shot this with a high F-stop, to compensate for my high shutter speed and the cloudy day. When I realized what I had done, I decreased my F-stop for a more shallow depth of field, and took the picture below.

mockingbird and babies
A clearer picture of the birds

Now the birds are clear, and the shallow depth of field has put the background out of focus, making the birds stand out even more. Had I dropped my F-stop even further, I might have had an even better photo. I was just experimenting with my settings at that time, and unfortunately the birds flew away before I could decrease my F-stop again and take another shot.

Luckily, I have a few other interesting photos from that day, and I hope they’ll help you to understand what a difference understanding aperture can make to your photography.

red hibiscus
A red hibiscus captured from the side

You can see that the flower is quite sharp, but the background is out of focus. I love photographing flowers; they’re beautiful from every angle, they don’t move much (except when it’s windy) so I don’t have to worry about them getting up and leaving, and it’s usually inexpensive or free. I can change camera settings and practice as much as I want. Yay!

yellow hibiscus
A yellow hibiscus up close

Here’s one more; the flower’s pistil is in focus, but the petals are not. Once again, this is due to a low aperture. It’s sort of my taste to have photos with a sharply focused subject toward the center, usually a close-up, and a shallow depth of field is good for that style of photography. However, a large aperture is better for things like landscape photos, where you want more of the image to be in focus. I don’t do a lot of landscape photography at this point, but I do have a couple of examples.

sunsphere world's fair park
The Sunsphere and World’s Fair Park in downtown Knoxville, TN.
Women's Basketball Hall of Fame
The Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame

Although I have other landscape pictures, they were from my days of shooting in auto and hoping for the best, so I’m not going to share them today. I’d rather use this blog for the shots that I’ve taken in manual, so I can keep track of the progress I make. But both of these are examples of subjects you would want to tackle with a fairly large aperture, so you can capture as much detail as you can.

That’s all I have today! If you have questions or comments, please leave them in the comment box below. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Five things you can do to improve your photos today

Sooo…Like I said in this post the other day, I’m in the process of working to improve my photography. I can’t afford to take classes, but I have plenty of time to practice right now! Here are some things that have been helpful for me.

Best of all, most of these are things that will only cost you time.

Go over your camera manual and learn what the basic settings are
I know this sounds like a lot, but you don’t have to do it all at once. My Canon’s manual is huge…I downloaded a copy and keep it on my phone, so I can refer to it when I’m out shooting without having to lug the actual booklet around. It’s been a great help, especially when I was shooting indoors one day and realized I didn’t know how to adjust the white balance setting. I just pulled out my phone and from there it was an easy fix.

If you don’t have a manual for your camera, Google your model and see if there is one available online to access or download. If you can’t find one that way, see if you can find a forum and ask others for advice.

Learn a bit about exposure
There are three main elements to exposure: aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. It’s a lot to cover here, so I’m not going to go into great detail today. Respectively, they are how wide your shutter is open, how long it stays open, and how sensitive your camera sensor is to available light sources. By manipulating the way these three elements interact with one another, you can control how bright or dark an image is, how much noise is present, motion and blur, and all kinds of things. I’m sure I will write a post just on exposure one day, but in the meantime there are loads of tutorials online that will give you an idea of how this works.

Depending on your camera model and preferred shooting mode, you may have more or less control over each of these elements. Shooting in manual should give you complete control over your exposure, although finding the correct balance every time can be tricky.

Practice mindfully composing photos
Instead of just mindlessly snapping away and hoping for the best, lately I’ve been focusing a lot on composition. Whether it’s during the shooting process itself or afterward when I’m editing, I’m trying to expand my horizons a bit in this area. The rule of thirds is especially difficult for me; a typical photo for me used to be as tight as I could get, with my subject dead in the center. I’m trying to get away from that, although I probably won’t stop shooting that way completely. Sometimes those are the images that just speak to me.

Here’s an example of a mindless photo. I just took it, without thinking about the lighting or composition. That reflection off the sign is awful, isn’t it?
A couple steps to the left got me a much better shot of this exhibit. Granted, it’s not the most interesting subject, but it’s what I had to work with that day.

Another thing I’m trying to do is shoot in such a way that the picture will evoke an emotional response in the viewer, or maybe tell a story. I don’t feel like I have it down to the point that I can explain it very well yet, but I will be sure to post about it when I do.

Study other photographers
This is something I love to do–look at other people’s photos, consider what I like about them, and try to figure out how I might achieve similar effects in my own work. It’s not that I’m trying to duplicate their picture, just that I want to understand their use of light and patterns, focal points, and composition.

Use a tripod
So…This is the only suggestion I’m going to have today of extra equipment that you may want to purchase. It doesn’t have to be expensive, either; I see tripods at Goodwill and other resale shops all the time for $5 and under. Using a tripod can make a huge difference in the quality of your work, especially if you have a slow shutter speed, poor light, or your hands are a bit shaky. If you want to take that a step further, consider getting a shutter remote as well.

Waterfall
I shot this without a tripod, and you can see it’s a little blurry.
I used a tripod for this shot. It’s much clearer, and I was able to set a lower shutter speed and capture the motion of the water.

 

Most importantly, have fun while you’re practicing and learning. Some of this–like going over your manual and studying exposure–can get a little dull, but keep in mind that you’ll probably like your photos a lot better after you have a stronger idea of how the technical details work. Photography as a hobby doesn’t have to cost a lot of money, and if it feels like a chore you might want to consider trying something different. Learning the basics on whatever equipment you currently have on hand will help you get your best photos yet, and it will also give you a better idea of what you might want to look for if or when you choose to upgrade.

Phew, that sure felt like a lot. I hope it was helpful for you! Any questions? Suggestions? Leave me a comment below! If you enjoyed my post, please give it a like and share it with your friends. Thank you!

Lizards at the Houston Zoo

So you think you want to be a photographer

Happy Friday, everybody! I’m back today with a few more thoughts and pictures. Enjoy!

If you’re like me, and interested in getting better photos out of your camera, this post is for you. It’s not anything technical, but it’s an easy place to start thinking about things you might want to take into consideration. One of the first things I did when I realized I wanted to pursue photography seriously was go back through my old photos with a critical eye, trying to figure out what my strengths were and where I needed to improve.

And honestly, there was a lot of room for improvement.

Seagull
Blurry, terrible foreground, subject is right in the middle of the picture and it’s hard to tell what makes it interesting.
turkey vulture
Blurry. Subject should have been on the right instead of the left. Etc, etc.

 

Of course, that’s not to say that all of my old photos were bad, just that I was taking them carelessly. I’m trying to be more mindful of things like composition and exposure, so I get more good photos when I shoot. If I’m really absorbed in taking pictures (and usually I am) I’ll take hundreds of shots when I’m out. When it’s time to sit down and edit, I might like about 10 percent of them.

It’s time for me to do better. Next time, I’ll post a list of things I’m doing to improve my photography so there will be fewer photos that just get deleted, and less time spent editing crappy pictures to try and make them look good after the fact.

For now, enjoy a couple of older photos that really weren’t so bad.

white alligator
This is Blanco, a white alligator who used to reside at the Houston zoo. I love how tight this shot is, but I feel like the white balance is off a little.
lionfish
Lionfish, either at the Houston zoo or the Seattle aquarium; I don’t remember. Once again, I love a nice, tight shot. It’s pretty clear for something my shaky hands took, so I’m proud of that as well.

You can also check out my gallery, although I’m still working on adding to it. I do sometimes post different photos on my other social media sites, so be sure to follow me on Instagram, Facebook, and Tumblr if you want to see everything. (Note: My Tumblr is a personal page, not specifically a photography page, so you should be prepared to see a lot of fangirling if you decide to head that way).

Do you have any suggestions for me, or for the list I’m planning to create for the next post? Please leave a comment and let me know!