Travel

I travel because I dream of touching the horizon.

The mountains call to me. “Come here,” they say, “And we will help you touch the sky.”

The waves whisper secrets as they kiss the pebbled shore. They tell stories of foreign lands and leave treasures in their wake.

In the forests, I find worlds both large and small, as well as the creatures that call them home.

The cities are filled with color and innovation. It’s a different kind of energy that is both exhilarating and draining.

Why do you travel?

Oh Deer

I decided to take a break from photography basics today. I’m hoping I’ll be back next Friday with a post to wrap up my exposure series, but it just wasn’t happening this week. To make a long story short, I was involved in a car accident earlier this week. I don’t know when I’ll have a vehicle again, so right now I don’t have a good way to get out and take photos. Luckily I have plenty of archived photos that I can share with you in the meantime.

My husband’s grandparents fell in love with Orcas Island back in the 90s (how weird is that to say–back in the 90s. It doesn’t seem like it was that long ago to me; I guess my age is showing.) and his grandmother still lives there today. We go to visit her as often as we can and it’s just an amazing place–there’s great food, friendly people, and the scenery and wildlife are perfect for photographers.

I found all these photos of deer when I was going through my archives trying to find something for today, and I thought it would be fun just to feature them since there are so many.

I hope you enjoy the photos! I’ll be back next week with more. Have a great weekend.

Photography Basics: Aperture

Welcome to another photography basics post! This week we’re continuing the exposure theme and talking about aperture. Your shutter speed, ISO, and aperture settings work together to form the foundation of an image by controlling how much light reaches the sensor of your camera, as well as how it happens.

Aperture is probably my favorite element of the exposure triangle because it allows you to add depth to your photos. Here’s how it works. If you imagine that your camera’s lens is its eye, the aperture is the pupil. It dilates or contracts to allow light to reach the retina or, in the camera’s case, the sensor. A wider aperture, like a wider pupil, allows more light to pass through to the sensor while a narrow aperture keeps some light out.

I might come back and replace this one later…

Different lenses will have different aperture ranges available to them, so keep that in mind when you’re shooting; you might end up needing to move around a bit or even switch lenses to get the best possible photo.

I think the most confusing part to aperture is how it is measured. Aperture is expressed in f-stops; the higher the f-number, the smaller the opening. So an aperture of f/16 is a fairly small opening, while f/1.4 is very large. There is a reason behind this, but it’s…a lot of math. I plan to go over all of the math behind exposure stops in a later post, after we’ve finished going over all three of the basic elements, but I thought I’d leave it out today for simplicity’s sake. I’m not sure how many of you are interested in the mathematical and technical side of photography, and how many of you are more interested in the creative side, but I’ll hazard a guess that it’s mostly the latter. So let’s keep going.

The biggest creative aspect to controlling your aperture is having control over your depth of field. This will allow you to take sweeping landscape shots with every part of the image is in razor sharp focus or, if you’d rather, you can take portraits with soft blurs or bokeh behind your subject. You have to be mindful of your depth of field when you’re composing a shot and selecting your aperture setting, otherwise your subject may end up a little out of focus.

Notice how the sunflower in front is in focus and the other is not? Oops. My aperture should have been a little smaller to get both flowers looking sharp.

When I’m shooting a subject that is not in motion, I try to determine my aperture first so I know what part of the image needs to be in focus, and then use shutter speed and ISO to compensate for the amount of light that comes through the lens opening. Most DSLRs have an aperture priority mode, which helps you to keep your exposure balanced while giving you control over your depth of field, but I prefer shooting in manual and having full control over my camera.

When taking landscape photos, you generally want to have a small aperture so the entire scene is in focus. I haven’t done a lot of landscape photography at this point, but I do have a few examples to share with you.

Mead’s Quarry

Here’s a shot from my walk around Mead’s Quarry the other day. A small aperture (f/10) allowed me to take full advantage of the morning sun and beautiful landscape. I probably could have gone a little smaller and gotten an even better shot, but I think this is pretty good. I love the reflection of the rocks in the water.

Knoxville taken from Sharp’s Ridge. It’s a shame about the power lines because this is a magnificent view.

This shot is from Sharp’s Ridge. Once again, I used a small aperture (f/16) to really take in the scenery. If it had been a clear day, we would have gotten a really great view of the mountains in the distance, but I think this is still pretty good.

Now let’s look at some of the benefits of using a large aperture.

In my experience, a large aperture is better for portraits or for shots where you want to have a dramatic blurred background or foreground. Have a look at some of these to see what I mean.

French macarons from Honey Bee Bakery in Knoxville

See how the macaron in front is clear and the others are blurred? I shot this with f/2.5 to give it that soft look. I wish I had better lighting in my kitchen, but renters can’t be choosers I guess. (And we’re planning on moving soon anyway, so keep your fingers crossed that I find a place with good lighting). This kind of shooting is good for food bloggers who want to show off their delicious creations. It would also be an attractive way for someone to display items they’re trying to sell online.

A hibiscus on a wire bench.

This is a pretty cool one. Both the foreground and background are blurred, leaving the flower and the back of the bench in focus. The aperture for this shot was f/7.1, which is sort of a middle ground.

I hope those were good examples for you. If you have any questions, please be sure to ask in the comments below or send me a message on Facebook. I want these articles to be easy to understand and helpful for beginners who are branching out into manual mode. If it’s overwhelming for you to shoot strictly in manual like I do, try experimenting with aperture priority if that’s a feature your camera offers.

Remember, you can also use your ISO and shutter speed to control how much light is in an image. These three elements play off of each other, and figuring out the best way to balance them takes some practice. Don’t be discouraged if your first foray into manual mode doesn’t give you perfect results; just keep trying until you get it right. Next week, we’ll cover the last element of exposure, ISO. In the meantime, please be sure to comment and share!

 

Photography Basics: Shutter Speed

Like I mentioned last week, exposure is the foundation of photography; it can be difficult to master, but having a basic understanding of how it works will help you improve your photo game by leaps and bounds. Learning how to operate your camera in manual mode will help you to take advantage of everything it has to offer, but you’re going to have to figure some of that out on your own since every camera is different. It’s unlikely that you’re using the same model that I am, so I probably can’t advise you on the technical aspects of your digital camera.

My camera, a Canon EOS Digital Rebel T3. It’s definitely not the new hotness, but it still gets the job done.

What I can do is show you how controlling the elements that make up exposure will affect your photography. We’re starting with shutter speed.

First, the technical details. The sensor in a digital camera acts a bit like film in an analog camera. It captures the light that comes through your camera’s lens and creates the image that you see. I’m not going to get that technical, so here is a helpful article if you want to know exactly how a sensor works. The shutter is like a little curtain inside your camera that opens and closes to expose the sensor to light. Your shutter speed determines how long the curtain stays open. It’s usually measured in fractions of a second.

Shutter speed is circled; it’s currently 1/200 of a second.

All three elements of exposure have two features. Shutter speed determines how long your sensor is exposed to light, which will make your photo brighter or darker depending on your surroundings. The longer the shutter is open (i.e., the slower your shutter speed), the brighter your picture will be. It also determines how motion is captured in an image. For example, a high shutter speed will freeze birds in flight while a low shutter speed can give an artistic blur to flowing water.

When I’m getting ready to set my shutter speed, the first thing I try to consider is whether something is moving in my shot and how I want to capture that motion. My next concern is the amount of light that is available to me.

If nothing is moving, I use shutter speed and ISO to control the amount of light in the image, and aperture to determine what parts of the picture will be in focus. We’ll discuss using aperture this way in more detail next week, so for now let’s concentrate on motion. You’re going to want to practice this ahead of time if you have any big shoots planned. Don’t expect perfection on your first try; it can be a fiddly process to get everything just right.

To freeze motion, you want a high shutter speed. This means that your aperture will need to be a lower f-stop than you might normally use, and your ISO might need to be higher as well. The three elements play off of each other at all times; how you adjust one will affect the other two. There is some math behind this, but I’m saving that for the end of our exposure series; I think it will be easier to explain and understand once we’ve gone over all three elements in detail. For now, here’s a practice scenario for you.

(Note: This is just the way I do things. I’m a kinetic learner–I can read or hear about something until the cows come home, but the lesson isn’t going to stick until I actually start trying to do it. I end up experimenting a lot.)

Let’s say I want to take photos of bees. I don’t, really, I’m terrified of bees, but they’re easy to find and they make a pretty good example for this subject. What I would do is set up my camera with my shutter speed fairly high, then use my aperture to focus on a flower, and take a test shot. It’s usually pretty bright outside when bees are around so I can keep my ISO at its lowest setting, which is 100. If my test shot is too bright, I’ll raise my shutter speed even higher and take another test shot. I’ll continue this until I’m satisfied. Then I’ll try to compose an interesting shot with flowers and bees. If necessary, I’ll make other adjustments and shoot again until I get what I want. Like I said, it’s a fiddly process and I’m still learning.

I was trying my hardest to get a shot of the bee in the air to illustrate this point even better, but it just wasn’t happening that day.

You can probably get away without using a tripod in this situation because your shutter speed is high and camera shake won’t be as big of a deal. It’s when you get into low shutter speeds, let’s say slower than about 1/60 of a second, that you will probably want to use a tripod to get the best possible shot.

Now let’s look at low shutter speeds. Although you’re usually shooting in fractions of a second, a slow shutter speed can be full seconds depending on what you want to capture. Some cameras even have what’s called B or bulb mode, which keeps the shutter open for as long as you hold the button down. When your shutter speed is low, your sensor is exposed to light for a longer period of time. This means your aperture needs to be a higher f-stop and your ISO might need to be higher as well. It can be hard to get a long exposure shot on a sunny day without overexposure; for best results, try shooting on overcast days or even at night when you want to use a low shutter speed. Here’s something fun to try at night.

Set up near a fairly busy road. Obviously you don’t want to be so close that cars will hit you. A rooftop or an overpass that has a sidewalk will be ideal. You want a low shutter speed, start out around 2 or 3 seconds. Use your aperture to focus on any stationary things or objects of interest in the area. Your ISO should be low, around 100, because this is all about the light and you want it to be as free from noise as possible. Wait until a car is coming by, then take the photo. Pretty cool, right?

The white lines to the left are the headlights of a passing car. This would have been a lot more impressive if there had been more traffic.

You’ll definitely need a tripod for this sort of shooting. A shutter remote helps as well because then you don’t even have to touch the camera and risk shaking it. You can get some interesting effects if you set a low shutter speed and move the camera deliberately, though, so feel free to play around and see what happens.

A deliberate camera shake can add some interesting effects to a long exposure shot.

There is some math involved in the relationship between your shutter speed and the amount of light that reaches your sensor, but I decided to keep things simple since this is supposed to be a basics post. I wanted to cover this somewhat briefly, and I think this is probably enough for one day, don’t you? Leave a comment here or on Facebook if you’d like me to break the numbers down for you, and I’ll be happy to explain! Next Friday we’re talking about aperture, one of my favorite elements of exposure. I’m going to do my best to have some fun pictures to share. In the meantime, I hope you’ll like and share this post with your friends! Thanks for reading; see you next week!

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!

Fireworks

Photographing Fireworks

Today’s story is mostly about learning from mistakes and making the best of a less than ideal situation.

A couple of weeks ago, I got the idea that I should go to the Independence Day celebration here in Knoxville. It was going to be at World’s Fair Park, and I just knew I could get some amazing pictures of the fireworks and the Sunsphere, and it was going to be great. Fantastic even; the best Fourth of July ever.

And honestly, it wasn’t bad.

My husband and I got downtown early and found what we thought was going to be a good spot to set up. It looked like rain, so we picked a parking garage where there would be shelter, but we’d have an unimpeded view.

Downtown rooftops and the Sunsphere in Knoxville
Downtown rooftops and the Sunsphere in Knoxville.

We still had hours to go, so we went for a walk and sampled some delicious ice cream from a local dairy.

Brownie fudge ripple from Cruze Farm Dairy.
Brownie fudge ripple from Cruze Farm Dairy.

At dusk, we went back to the car and started setting up the camera. Except for a few short rain showers, things were going pretty well. And then the fireworks show started and things fell apart a little bit. It started raining again–we both got drenched, but the camera stayed dry–and I had completely misunderstood where the fireworks display was going to be. So the test shots I had so carefully composed were completely useless. I had to readjust and just make the most of it.

Which was great for a certain hotel chain, I guess, but not so good for me.

Fourth of July fireworks in downtown Knoxville.
Fourth of July fireworks in downtown Knoxville.

I can’t complain too much. It was a learning experience, both for shooting fireworks and shooting at night, and I gained a lot. I just wish it hadn’t been such an obstructed view. Plus the show was really short; we waited for hours, and only got 15 minutes of fireworks in the rain.

Fourth of July fireworks in downtown Knoxville.

Fourth of July fireworks in downtown Knoxville.

Fourth of July fireworks in downtown Knoxville.

Fourth of July fireworks in downtown Knoxville.

Fourth of July fireworks in downtown Knoxville.

Fourth of July fireworks in downtown Knoxville.

I think my biggest takeaway from this experience was that I should have looked into the location a little better. Obstructed view does not make for good composition. Given the weather, I’m not sure that I could have gotten into some of the really good spots without getting my camera soaked, but I probably could have done better than I did. If I decide to do this again next year, I’ll try to shoot from the Gay Street bridge. I think the sight of fireworks blooming and fading over the river will be amazing.

Advice for shooting fireworks:
Location, location, location
A tripod is a must
I would also highly recommend a shutter remote so you don’t even have to touch the camera and risk shaking it
Set your exposure to manual, and your lens to manual focus
Set a slow shutter speed–I shot most of these at about 1.5-2 seconds
ISO should be 100 to minimize noise
Don’t be afraid to play with your aperture a bit until you get it right
Take some time and enjoy the show; remember to look up from your camera from time to time
Have a plan for afterward; traffic can be a real pain, so rather than fight it you might want to find a local restaurant that’s open and hang out a while

Honestly, I think I could have gotten some great shots if only I’d been in a better spot. Rather than dwell on my mistakes, though, I’m going to celebrate because I got some pretty good pictures in spite of the location. The whole point of all this is to learn and improve, and I feel like I was successful in that area. Anyway, I hope you all enjoyed the photos! Please be sure to share this with your friends, and follow me on Facebook if you want to see more!

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.