Test shots and fun

Wow! I guess people really were interested in articles about photography basics. Friday’s post has the highest traffic of any page on this site! How cool is that? I’ll be back on Friday to talk a little bit about how shutter speed affects your exposure, but today is sort of a lazy day for me. I wanted to keep Wednesdays just for fun (although I’m thinking about bumping these back to Tuesdays just to space things out a little).

Taken through a special solar filter. I’m getting all geared up for that eclipse, y’all!

Yesterday, I posted this photo to Facebook and asked you all to guess what it was. It’s the sun! I’m super excited about the solar eclipse next month, and I got a special filter for my camera so I can take photos! If you’re planning on watching the eclipse, please be sure to get some eclipse glasses to protect your eyes. I had to get a filter for the camera to protect its sensor, too. I need to practice with it a bit more so I can get some clear photos when the time comes.

A goldfinch? I’m not sure.

While I was testing my solar filter, I also just took some shots with my 75-300mm lens, which is the one I’m tentatively planning to use for the eclipse. I’m not really used to it yet, and it definitely has some quirks that my other lenses don’t. I’ll probably be using it a lot over the next few weeks, just to get a feel for how it works.

I was surprised to find apple trees at a public park. How pretty!
Another test shot

I had hoped to get out over the weekend and check out a few potential eclipse viewing spots, but I just didn’t get a chance. Where I live, we’ll get a 99% partial eclipse. A short drive will put me into the totality zone. Obviously I want the full experience, but I’m not familiar with this part of the country. I need to find a good place to go, and I have a few spots I want to check out before next month.

I did get out to the botanical garden and downtown over the weekend. You’ll see a lot of those shots on Friday, but I can share a few of them here today.

This is the full version of the flower from today’s header. I thought a little editing might be fun for a change.
I don’t know what this is, but I love this color.
Gay Street after dark. I love the lights and theater signs (and the ice cream shop down the road).

That’s it for today! Are any of you planning to watch the eclipse? Let me know what you have planned! And of course, check back on Friday to see the next post in my photography basics series.

 

Random summer photodump

I got a new lens last week (a Canon 75-300mm for anyone curious) and spent the weekend testing it, as well as practicing with the 50mm lens that I’ve had for a while. I don’t feel like I have enough experience with either of them yet to give you a thorough review, so I thought I’d just upload some photos today.

I’m really pleased with this batch; I feel like I’ve made a lot of improvement in a short amount of time. My ratio of good to bad pictures is getting higher every time I go out to shoot and I feel like I’m finally starting to get the hang of what all those numbers on my display mean. I hope everyone here is noticing some improvement over my earlier posts as well.

I’m also doing a lot of work behind the scenes, so to speak, planning future posts and doing research on both my camera equipment and upcoming local events. I have a list of things I’d like to try out at some point, and I think some of it is going to be really exciting stuff. I’m also starting a new series of basic photography advice, which will run on Fridays starting this week. If there’s anything you’d like to see in a future post, please leave a comment and let me know!

Cades Cove

Visiting Cades Cove is like stepping back in time. The structures in the valley date back to the 19th century, and the mountain scenery makes it feel like today’s fast-paced world is hundreds of years away.

A 19th century cabin at Cades Cove
A cabin at Cades Cove

My husband and I decided to make the trek from Knoxville after some friends suggested it might be a good place to see bears. We weren’t lucky enough to see any of the bears that make their home in the area, but we did enjoy exploring the old cabins and churches, and the loop road itself is an easy drive one-way around the valley. Admission is free, although there are several donation boxes and a gift shop. There is only one stop that has a public restroom.

We didn’t stop at every marker along the loop, but I did take photos of a few of the remaining buildings and some of the scenery. There were a lot of tourists, though, so it was hard to get pictures that don’t have people in them. I plan to go back sometime in the fall when the leaves are changing and kids are in school, probably on a weekday, and try again.

19th century log cabin in Cades Cove
The same cabin as above, from a different angle
Baptist church in Cades Cove
A Baptist church. One of three primitive churches in the Cove.
Smoky Mountains
Smoky Mountains in the distance
Smoky Mountains
Another shot of the mountains

We were also lucky to see some wildlife, even if none of the bears in the area put in an appearance. According to a park ranger, there are two mother bears with two cubs each that have been spotted frequently around Cades Cove this season. We did see several deer, a wild turkey, many other birds, fish, and snakes. Most of our sightings were from the car and I was driving, so photos were out.

The exception was when I almost wandered into a nest of snakes along the banks of a creek. Trust me, this photo was taken from a distance. There are only two species of venomous snakes in this part of the country–copperheads and rattlesnakes–and though these (probably rat snakes) don’t fall into that category, it’s still not wise to approach wild animals.

Also, there were at least four of them in that place. I took one picture and got out of their territory; I didn’t realize until later that I didn’t get all of the snakes in the shot, but that’s okay by me!

Snakes in Cades Cove
A pair of snakes

Looking back, I wish I had focused more on the scenery and less on the structures. I also wish I had brought my tripod and focused more on getting clear shots and less on what the people around me are doing. I’ll be sure to keep all of that that in mind for my next visit. And fingers crossed, we’ll see some bears!

As always, I hope you enjoyed the pictures. Please be sure to like and share this with your friends!

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.

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!

 

 

Welcome

Me on my wedding day.
Don’t mind the Carmen Sandiago look. I’m growing out a bad haircut, so a recent photo will have to wait; in the meantime, enjoy this shot from my wedding!

Let’s make this a short story, shall we? I don’t want to bore you guys on my first day.

I’ve always been obsessed with pictures, for as long as I can remember. About five years ago, I finally saved up the money to buy myself a “real” camera–a Canon DSLR–and I’ve spent those five years taking pictures on Auto with a kit lens. For better or for worse, husband and I even took our own wedding photos with it.

I’ve gotten some good pictures out of it, but there was always that thought in the back of my mind that I wasn’t utilizing my camera to the best of its potential. We can’t afford to pay for photography classes, but there is a wealth of information available online for free. I’m between jobs right now thanks to moving halfway across the country for my husband’s career, so I have some time on my hands.

Saga Shots came about as a way to help me keep track of my progress and share some of what I learn with others. I hope you enjoy sharing this journey with me; I’ll do my best to keep it interesting for you. I have a Facebook page, Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr, just for giggles. Tumblr is a little more casual than the rest, so don’t be surprised if you see a ton of anime posts. Otherwise I’m trying to just stick with photography.