Have Yourself a Slow and Macro Little Christmas

Merry Christmas to one and all.  The bright lights of the tree look so inviting, but are often difficult to photograph.  Flash makes the tree look washed out and hides the colors of the lights.  Hand holding your camera makes all the colors blur together.  So what is the secret to capturing good tree photos?  As with so much in photography, the answer is a good tripod, slow shutter speeds and a remote trigger.  Even with the very nice low light capabilities of the D800 and the 50mm 1.8 lens, putting the camera onto a stable platform makes all the difference.   From the LR histogram you can see that I pushed the ISO all the way up to 640, and it still took a 4.0 sec exposure.  By using a remote cable trigger, it removes the shaking caused by my ham-handed fingers, pressing the buttons. The other way to catch the warmth and depth of colors from the tree is to go in close.  A good macro lens can get more detail and usually needs less light.  We have quite a few lighted ornaments which offer their own set of challenges.  The bright inside lights can blow out the rest of the image, leaving the background too dark.  With a macro, you can be very precise in selecting your focal point.  I used the darkness of the tower clock, and then applied the LR development brush to reduce the exposure and highlights of the lights. 

Our house also maintains a fair and balanced approach between the forces of good and others for the holidays.    Well, we didn’t have much of a white Christmas; and that is ok with me.  I hope you got whatever you were wishing for.  The joy of spending time with friends and family is what makes this season special.  We hope that all our readers enjoy the holidays. 

How High is Too High (for good ISO)?

This weekend we traveled down to Luray Virginia to see the caverns. I vividly remember the first time I saw them when I was about 6 years old.  I took my daughters there a few years ago and took my camera along, but the pictures just, well, sucked.  It was way too dark for the D300 to get usable images that weren’t filled with digital noise.  Noise occurs when the camera sensor doesn’t have enough input, so it just creates random information.  Noise show up mostly in the shadow areas of an image, which only makes shooting in a cave that much harder.   This trip, I had Sarah, her best friend from OK, and the new camera-it already was going to be a great day. You can adjust your ISO, the light sensitivity of your camera on the fly.  My D300 if you went above ISO 800 the pictures were useless.  I wanted to find out where the D800 could live, so I started out with the camera on ISO 3200.  With the lights in the cave, I discovered that was too much.  All of the pictures had really blown out highlights in the bright spots and pretty bad noise in the dark ones. 

I reset the camera down to ISO 2500 and was pretty happy with the results.

One of my favorite spots in the cavern is the underground lake.  Although it is only a few inches deep, it is so still it reflects the ceiling perfectly.Underground Lake

The process of growing the cave still fascinates me. These formations are called drapery and some are thin enough to be transparent. 

Near the end of the tour is the “Wishing well”.  Each year they drain this place and scoop up the six inches of coins people have thrown in and donate it to charity.  The water color is caused by the copper from the pennies.  Yes, those are dollar bills—I hope they don’t leave them in for the whole year. Wishing Well It’s a pretty cool place--55° to be precise and therefore perfect for a warm VA summer trip.