Back to School

My winter break ends tomorrow, when I begin my second semester at Daytona Beach College. I’ll be taking six courses (sixteen credit hours), but three of them are with the same wonderful teachers, and one of them is Photography I, so this will be my most fun semester.

The photography course is in-class for four hours weekly, so I won’t be there till Friday. While I do some black-and-white photography, this course will be mostly black-and-white film. I haven’t worked with film before (only digital and digital editing), so this will be a useful learning experience.

The courses I’ll be in: English II, Humanities II, American Political & Economic Issues, Trigonometry, Photography I, and a one-credit course on Internet research, which is good for my intended majors (computer science, and library science as my master’s degree).

Photo: Symmetry

Symmetry — a yellow, sunlit flower against a deep blue sky

The sky makes a beautiful background for flowers. You might have to lay in grass, but it’s worth it for a photo like this. I am pleased that the yellow, blue, and green colors mix nicely. :smile:

The colors pop because of added contrast, and a blending layer with the “soft light” style in Photoshop. I cloned in extra sky at the top; otherwise part of the flowers get chopped off in the print. This is one thing you need to watch out for if you’re going to do borderless printing; don’t put stuff at the edge of the frame or it will be chopped off (bleed edge). Same for television because of overscan.
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Canon PowerShot A620, 1/1600, F3.5, 7.3mm, ISO50, 2006-11-06T10:30:34-05

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Low-Light Photography on your Digital Compact

Low Light — Photo by Richard X. Thripp

Peter Rise has an interesting question for me:

“When you’re doing action photos, do you use the viewfinder, or an LCD display that you can look at from a distance? What are the advantages/disadvantages for each?

I ask because I’ve been *attempting to* take school basketball pictures lately, which I find extremely difficult. Much more difficult than football or wrestling photos, because basketball is much faster-paced. The ball typically switches players within 1-2 seconds, and by the time I find a good photo, they’re on the opposite side of the court. If you could think of any advice that might be helpful, I’d really appreciate it.”

I use the viewfinder, but I have a digital SLR, where you can’t use the LCD screen anyway. On my smaller Canon PowerShot A620, I have both, but I generally use the LCD, to avoid the parallax error, which is quite bad on my camera, even at far distances. If you notice the LCD screen lagging in low light, the viewfinder is better.

Of course, there is then the issue that point-and-shoot cameras don’t operate well without a flash indoors (even if it’s fairly bright). Have you ever noticed at the basketball game, or any indoor performances, that people from 40 feet away have their flashes flashing away? The flash will do no good at that distance, and they’ll get grainy, under-exposed shots and be disappointed. This is due to two problems: one, they have their cameras set to an automatic mode, and the camera does what it thinks is best, which is in this case, horribly wrong (no flash is the only way to go beyond about ten feet). Two: compact cameras have small sensors that do a poor job at gathering light compared to SLRs. I struggled with this problem for two years before getting a Canon Rebel XTi last August, and found the following options:

1. Use the largest aperture setting (lowest F number), though this won’t be enough alone.
2. Increase your camera’s light sensitivity (ISO speed), though this produces grainier photos (digital noise).
3. Use a tripod, hold really still, or brace the camera against a hard surface such as a chair, table, or wall. Get your subjects to hold still too, though this is not an option at a basketball game, of course.
4. If you can’t do 3, use image stabilization, though you’re out of luck if your camera lacks the feature.
5. Go into manual mode and use a faster shutter speed, deliberately under-exposing your photos, and then brightening them on the computer afterwards. This is a bad option, as it lowers the quality your photos’ quality on many levels: shadow detail is lost; posterization and JPEG compression artifacts become noticeable. It won’t be so bad if you use RAW mode, but if your camera offers RAW mode, it’s probably high-end anyway, and you won’t need this kludge.
6. Take three or four photos where you normally would’ve taken one. You’re likely to get one sharp photo, even with a 1/20 shutter speed.
7. Zoom out all the way, because zooming in magnifies camera shake resulting in photos that are more blurry.

Use 1, 2, 3, 6, and 4 (image stabilization) if you have it (but not on a tripod), and you’ll have a winning combination. 7 works if you have to balance the camera yourself, but you’ll include a lot of clutter and barrel distortion may become noticeable.

For the technical details, use “Sports” mode, or if you have an Aperture Priority mode on your camera, switch to it, raise the ISO speed up to 400, and change the F number to the lowest setting (2.8 on my Canon PowerShot). If the photos are still blurry, raise the ISO speed to 800 (if available), or use a tripod or equivalent.

Even after doing all this, you’ll still have the problem of shutter lag. You press the button, and then 2 seconds later, after automagically choosing focus, aperture, shutter speed, white balance, and the flash to use, the camera takes a photo of the empty side of the court. The biggest thing you can do to combat this is to have the camera make these settings in advance, and this is accomplished in almost every camera by pressing the shutter button down half-way, holding it, and then finally pressing it down all the way at the right moment. Keep in mind that your locking in the settings with the half-click, so if you do it on the dimly lit edges of the court and then move to the bright center, you’ll get a photo that’s too bright, and moving close-to-far or vice-versa will merit an out-of-focus image.

If it’s really dark, you’ll have to manually focus the camera. Many compacts don’t offer this, so try locking the settings with a half-click, pointing toward a bright object that is as far away as your darker subject.

If you’re looking for a camera for ambient-light photography, but don’t want to invest in a good digital SLR ($450 for the Canon Rebel XT on, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ6S ($120) and Fujifilm FinePix F40fd ($184) are getting good reviews.

If you are going to be using the flash, 7 Strategies for Avoiding Flash Blow Out at Digital Photography School complements this article.

I took the photo at the top in a dimly lit theater, with a Fujifilm FinePix A360 digital compact (more photos) in auto mode with the flash off. 1/2 shutter speed, ISO250; had to brace the camera on the seat in front of me.

Keywords: low light, ambient light, lighting, dark, indoors, basketball court, flashless photography on the cheap, sensors, iso speed, shutter lag, how-to, suggestions, digital compacts, digital point-and-shoot cameras, p&s, a beginner’s guide

Photo: Complicity

Complicity — a pair of beautiful pink roses

The definition of complicity is “involvement as an accomplice in a questionable act or a crime.” So these roses are not your normal, law-abiding citizens. :wink: This is along the same thread as Simplicity and Implicity, my other photos of roses, which have similar backdrops.

I spent three hours getting the rose and background to look just right. I used the kit lens as it’s the closest I have to macro, but it lacks good “bokeh” (blurring in out-of-focus areas), so I blurred the background in Photoshop, but sharpened the flowers to make them stand out. I desaturated and darkened the background as normal, and went for a less colorful, more contrasty look than Simplicity.
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Canon Rebel XTi, EFS 18-55mm, 1/50, F5.6, 55mm, ISO200, 2007-11-11T08:13:21-05, 20071111-131321rxt

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License. Please credit me as “Photo by Richard Thripp” or something similar.

8 Tips for the On-Cue Photographer

Be prepared. — Photo by Richard X. Thripp

I was reading 5 Reasons to Take Your Camera Everywhere in 2008 over at the Digital Photography School Blog, and it really resonated. You need a camera with you to take any sort of photos—this is a point that is not stressed enough in photography guides and classes. I’ve produced my best work on outings not intended for photography: Sky of Fire, Two of Us Against the World, and Sky’s Camouflage, for example. The article is good, but I want to add eight tips so that once you have your camera with you, you’re ready to use it:

1. Leave the SLR at home. Get a small point-and-shoot (P&S) camera so you aren’t loaded down. Make sure shutter lag is slim to nil; the venerable Canon PowerShot A620 (photos) has been in my pocket since 2006, though it’s harder to come by as its gone out of production.

2. Keep one, versatile lens. While this contradicts the above tip, there are some situations where you’ll need an SLR. P&S’s aren’t typically suited for low-light, so if you’re out in the evening or anywhere indoors, where P&S’s can’t work with the ambient light, take an SLR and a fast lens. My choice for such situations is the Canon EF 50mm f1.4 (photos); open the aperture and crank up the ISO speed, and you’ll be able to hand-hold without a flash even for night-time street photography. Then there is bright mid-day, where a slower, zoom lens will be your best bet. I still use the Canon Rebel XTi kit lens (photos); it’s a good start for wide-angle photography and produces sharp photos at f/8.

3. Drop the camera bag. While a bag for your lenses is acceptable (though picking one lens will save weight), your camera needs to be at the ready for baby Lucy to skip through those mud puddles. I’d never be quick enough to get the shot at the top of this article with my camera cooped up in a cozy bag. If you have a P&S, stow it in your pocket, or sling an SLR around your neck.

4. Freshly charged batteries are a must. Murphy’s law states that your batteries will fail just when you need them the most.

5. Have space for 100 photos on your memory card. While you may not capture that many brilliant photos, you won’t have time to swab the decks when that seagull grabs the fish, or those clouds form your Aunt Mary’s face. With the burst modes on modern cameras producing three photos a second, you’ll want plenty of temporary space for crazed snapping.

6. Set your camera. That 15-second exposure with tungsten white balance won’t cut it for a spontaneous afternoon portrait. Set your ISO speed, white balance, and flash preferences, then choose your aperture or shutter speed in the priority modes, and have the camera take care of the rest. If you’ve forgotten to do this, dial in Auto mode real quick for that fleeting Kodak moment; sub-optimal results are better than an over-exposed, blue mess. Use RAW mode for editing leeway, though note that the larger file sizes will slow you down from shot-to-shot.

7. Brace yourself. Blurry photos of your precious moments are no fun. Turn up the shutter speed as much as you can; the same as your lens’ focal length at minimum (i. e. 1/50 second for the EF 50mm f1.4, or 1/80 on the XTi because of the crop factor). Hold still, keep the viewfinder glued to your face, and support the lens barrel with your other hand while you click three shots, then delete all but the sharpest. If you have a P&S, don’t keep it at arm’s length as you’ll shake the camera more.

8. Turn off auto-focus. Even on SLRs, auto-focus causes the biggest delays from click-to-shoot. If your subjects will be consistently far from your camera, lock in the focus and switch to manual mode, then enjoy the lightning-fast shutter lag. Alternately, half-click your shutter button a few seconds in advance and hold it—then when you push down all the way, you’ll get a quick photo with the settings the camera locked in.

Photography is as much about skill as it is being in the right place at the right time. When life’s picture-perfect moments pop up, be sure to have your camera at the ready.

Photo: Sunrays

Sunrays — orange sunlight shines through the clouds in this sunset

Beams of sunshine shoot through the clouds in this beautiful scene. I took this in my front yard; it’s nice that there are no houses there to clutter up the picture. :smile:

I added contrast and brightened the sunrays to enhance the image.
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Canon PowerShot A620, 1/200, F4.5, 8.46mm, ISO50, 2006-10-22T18:26:17-04, 2006-10-22_18h26m17

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License. Please credit me as “Photo by Richard Thripp” or something similar.

More of the Sunrays series.

Photo: Sky’s Camouflage

Sky's Camouflage — a beautiful blue sky reflected on the body of a car

A reflection of a cloudy, deep-blue sky on the side of a car. This is a black car I saw in a parking lot at Home Depot; it must have just been polished as the reflection is very impressive. Luckily, I had a camera with me and snapped this. :smile:
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Fujifilm FinePix A360, 1/278, F2.81, 5.8mm, ISO64, 2006-06-17T14:44:08-04, 2006-06-17_14h44m08

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License. Please credit me as “Photo by Richard Thripp” or something similar.

Photo: Leafy Droplets

Leafy Droplets — a brilliant green leaf adorned with raindrops

Droplets magnify the veins and texture of a brilliant green leaf. Took this after a storm; these are authentic raindrops. I cropped the image tightly, added lots of contrast, and removed some specks of dirt.
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This was the Digital Photo of the Day for 2006-08-10 at

Fujifilm FinePix A360, 1/50, F2.81, 5.8mm, ISO64, 2006-06-28T18:20:02-04

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License. Please credit me as “Photo by Richard Thripp” or something similar.

More of the Leafy Droplets series.

Photo: Simplicity

Simplicity — a beautiful pink rose

A lovely pink rose on the ground against a pallid background of dirt and a wilting flower. I recall thinking this would be too clichéd, but I’m glad that didn’t stop me. :smile:
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Canon PowerShot A620, 1/50, F2.8, 7.3mm, ISO50, 2007-04-15T15:03:27-04

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License. Please credit me as “Photo by Richard Thripp” or something similar.

13 Indispensible WordPress Plugins

I’ve broken my promise about focusing on adding photography, as I spent the last few days solving technical issues and making improvements around here.

Category URIs don’t have “category/” in them anymore, so you can get to the shop at, which is what I’ve wanted for a while. I got this working with Top Level Cats.

The comment section for each entry has been totally redesigned. You can subscribe to comments (Subscribe to Comments plugin), preview comments without a page reload (AJAX Comment Preview plugin), and subscribe to an RSS feed for the comments on each entry. I moved stuff around and renamed stuff so it makes more sense; the “reply to” (for comment threading) is now at the top so that when you click a “Reply to this” link, you don’t have to scroll up to see the comment box. I use Yet Another Threaded Comments Plugin (YATCP) version 0.6.1, in which I accomplished this by moving <?php yatcp_show_comment_parents($post_ID); ?> up above the contact boxes in yatcp_comments.php, and delinking the reply box from the comment form (comment_form) by changing add_action('comment_form','yatcp_show_comment_parents'); to add_action('','yatcp_show_comment_parents'); in template_functions.php.

I added notifiers for disabled JavaScript, because the “Reply to this” links, comment previewing, and the shopping cart require it. Try disabling JavaScript in your browser to see what I mean.

When viewing individual entries, there is a link to the next and previous entries above the similar entries list (Related Posts 2.04 plugin, which has been taken offline by its creator). I added <?php previous_post_link(); ?><br /><?php next_post_link(); ?> in my theme’s index.php file for the previous and next entries feature.

If that isn’t enough, first-time commenters will get an automated thank-you email, with a plug for my RSS syndication feed. The Comment Relish plugin makes this easy to set up.

My cousin wanted his own website, so I set it up for him in the same WordPress installation at (which just redirects to his category at I added him to the banner and sidebar, and he’s already got some photos up. I’m using , Bind User to Category, and Advanced Category Excluder, so that his entries stay off the home page, he can only post in his category, and he can’t go on a rampage destroying my website. The three plugins are playing nicely together.

I’m using SEO Title Tag to manually edit the titles of the home page, categories, and other pages; they’re more descriptive and search engine-optimized.

Admin Drop Down Menu makes it a breeze to navigate in the administrative section.

I thought I was adding too much stuff; I’m getting 35 MySQL queries on the home page, and 20 on most individual entries, with query times of 2-3 seconds on the home page and feed, and ~1 second on most individual entries. I have cheap shared hosting from Netfirms, and the WP-Cache plugin speeds up load time and reduces the server load, so this seems acceptable.

To make an even 13, I use Random Image Script for the random photos in my header. It isn’t actually a WordPress plugin, but it’s convenient because you can throw it in a directory with some images and call it like a normal image (an img scr HTML tag). To have three random photos, I just made three copies of the script. It’s an inefficient method, but it’s easy and the cool (or annoying) thing is the same images can show up in each box. Get three of a kind and you’re really lucky.

And finally, there is a bugs and problems page, where I list the problems remaining, which I don’t know how to fix and are fairly minor.

I’m $3.25 away from recouping my hosting costs on this website, though domain renewal is up in March and I’ll have to pay more for hosting in August. Save me from insolvency. :help: Buy three prints from the shop today—$3.85 shipped in the USA). :big-grin:

List of the plugins:
Top Level Cats
Subscribe to Comments
AJAX Comment Preview
Yet Another Threaded Comments Plugin (YATCP)
Related Posts (Original site, offline currently)
Comment Relish

Bind User to Category
Advanced Category Excluder
SEO Title Tag
Admin Drop Down Menu
Random Image Script