Featured Photo: Photograph Your Yard in 10 Minutes

As travelers, explorers, admirers of beauty, or photographers, we often take our town, our neighborhood, and our back yard for granted.  Look around your back yard and try and view it from the perspective of someone else.  Is there something beautiful somewhere?  Something interesting?  Something that’s fascinating looking, even if it’s rusting away?

Try this for a fun exercise:  take as many cool photos as you can in your yard in ten minutes.  See what you can come up with.  Below is what one of the photos I shot:

Fuzzy Cacti

Fuzzy cacti, one of the photos I took in a fun exercise in which I tried to take as many cool shots as possible in my back yard in a span of just ten minutes.  Try it and see what you come up with – it’s a good way to rediscover your yard and a good photographic exercise.

Equipment:  Leica D-Lux 4 using the pinhole setting

Featured Photo: How Black and White Photos Are More Captivating

The Poignancy of Black and White Portraits

Portrait of a Tibetan Man

Portrait of a Tibetan man, originally shot in color but changed to black and white (technically, duotone since it’s tinted slightly, but you’ll give me a pass on our discussion of black and white now, won’t you?).  Although a strong portrait when viewed in color, the photo takes on an added poignancy by eliminating distractions and focusing on the man’s kind visage and the lifetime of events seemingly etched on his face. Naturally, as discussed in a previous blog, I focused on the eyes.

There’s simply some times when an image feels stronger in black and white.  Not everyone feels this way.  Some feel it’s limiting.

But there are times in which a black and white photo can be more captivating, poignant, and emotional than its color counterpart.  Black and white photos can refocus the attention on the subject by eliminating colors that may serve to distract more than enhance. By eliminating colors, black and white photography can place added emphasis on shape, form, texture, contrast or pattern.

With digital photography, one may not even have to “think” in black and white when photographing, although I do feel this is a fantastic exercise in strengthening one’s awareness and appreciation of shape, form, texture, contrast or patterns.  Or even lighting.  Try experimenting with the monochrome settings in your camera so you can receive instant feedback in your LCD screen.  If you shoot in RAW, you can even switch your image back to color.

Or if working in an image editor such as Photoshop, try viewing the image in black and white.  As with all photography, lighting and composition and attention to form all still matter, and in some instances, perhaps more so.

Earlier blog about focusing on the eyes.

Equipment:  Nikon D90, 18-200mm VR Nikkor lens

You can see more of these photos here  on my Ken Lee Photography Facebook Page (poke your head in, say hi, and “like” the page if you would, uh, like).

And you can go to the Ken Lee Photography website, which has more photos from Ken Lee.  And you may purchase prints, framed or unframed, at my photo store.  Thank you very much for visiting!

Please consider using the links below from amazon.com to support this photography blog.  It doesn’t cost you anything but helps keep the blog going.  Thanks!

Nikon D90 12.3MP Digital SLR Camera (Body Only)

Nikon 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G AF-S ED VR II Nikkor Telephoto Zoom Lens for Nikon DX-Format Digital SLR Cameras

Nikon MC-DC2 Remote Release Cord for Nikon Digital SLR Cameras

Photo Link: Nikon D4’s Amazing Low Light Capabilities And Other Features

I’ve been receiving some information about the new flagship Nikon camera, the D4. here’s a link to the manufacturer’s website.  Every once in a while, I’ll link to something that may be of interest, and today, that’s the D4.

King of Low Light
One of the specs I’m most interested in is its low-light capability, with an ISO Range  of100-12,800 (extendable from 50 – 204,800).  I’m going to repeat that again.  204,800.  One can only hope that light sensitivity like this will eventually filter its way down to more affordable cameras for the rest of us.  In my opinion, this is one area where Nikon shines.  I think Canon offers more “bang for the buck”, but when Nikon is offering low light sensitivity like this, it’s difficult to look elsewhere for this price range.

Additionally, the D4 offers HDR, combining multiple images in-camera to produce images with increased dynamic range.  Obviously, other cameras that are considerably cheaper do this too, but something tells me that this’ll do it really darn well.

The D4 also has a giant new higher-resolution 16.2 megapixel CMOS sensor, but has also added a 91,000 pixel RGB 3D Color Matrix metering sensor that senses brightness and color, and supposedly interprets this with increased accuracy in color reproduction and balanced exposure.  And it adds face recognition, an appealing feature that is on many consumer cameras, but has often been left off cameras designed for professional use.

1080p HD Video
Probably the biggest, most obvious change is that Nikon has no doubt been noticing how well the  5D Mark II has been doing in the professional video market and wants to step it up.  Coupled with its fantastic low-light capabilities, The D4 captures HD 1080p video at various frame rates, easily suitable for broadcast quality video, and is capable of streaming the video out its HDMI port.

Field Monitor and Remote Capable Through iPad
Of some interest as well is that Nikon reports that the D4 is also iPhone/iPad compatible.  But what does this mean?  You can control the D4 via a web browser through your iPhone or iPad.  Nikon uses an HTTP protocol, meaning that with a Wifi or other internet connection, you can control the D4 remotely.  This could be handy for photographers or filmmakers who, say, have the camera attached to the top of a basketball backboard for sporting events, attached to a moving vehicle, or perched on top of a tree or crane.

The Sucky Part
I’ve seen on several reviews that due to the increased functionality of the camera, the battery life is lower.  However, Nikon has said that they are coming out with a new battery that promises better battery life.

Overall, this sure makes me wish I had US$6000.

Equipment:  I currently use a Nikon D90, 18-200mm VR Nikkor lens, and a 50mm f/1.4 lens.

Featured Photo: Valentine’s Day – Creative, Romantic Wedding Photos!!!

For Valentine’s Day, I’m going to write about wedding photography.  But this isn’t a how-to on wedding photography, oh no.  That would take a book.  Or three.  And besides, this is the Featured Photo section, not the Photo Tip Of the Month.  No, today, I’m going to simply suggest that you, whether you are a wedding photographer with a staff or a friend attending a wedding with a point-and-shoot, think about capturing creative, one-of-a-kind moments.  And some of these moments can be lighthearted or funny, not just the more obviously romantic shots, although those are great too.

Let’s start with very INformal wedding portraits, just because we can:

Informal Wedding Portraits

Very Informal Wedding Portraits:  here, I’ve got the bridesmaids posing silly and the guys holding beautiful bouquets.  

Above:  Is there a better way to get people loose than by gettin’ silly?  I thought not. People can be stressed out at weddings.  It’s a big day.  But bringing a sense of fun to the portraits can get them to relax, enjoy the day more, loosen them up for the more serious formal shots, and get some really silly photos in the process.  And who doesn’t want that?

Minnie Mouse Bride

Minnie Mouse Bride.  ‘Nuff said.  😀

Above:  Do I really need to tell you how many kinds of awesome this is?

Bride with Unbridled Joy

Bride with Unbridled Joy.  Part of capturing a wedding, whether you’re a professional wedding photographer or their drunken friend with an iPhone, is capturing spontaneous moments like this of the bride dancing.  Look at that expression.  You can’t fake that.  This is a photo that the bride and her family will have forever, and how cool is it that you can capture someone simply having the time of her life?

Above:  Spontaneity.  It happens everywhere.  Be ready.  This is what’s great about iPhones and compact cameras.  It ain’t a photo unless you take it, is it?  Now, the above wasn’t taken with an iPhone.  But I was ready nonetheless, and that’s what matters.  Have fun, get to know people, and keep your hand on that camera.  Look at the expression on the bride’s face.  A bride with pure, unbridled joy (should I even apologize for that pun?).  No posed photo can get across the pure joy she is feeling.

Oh, and Happy Valentine’s Day.  I discussed wedding photography today, but it doesn’t have to be that sort of love.  And sure, it may be a day created by a corporate greeting card company.  You may not have a significant other right now.  It’s alright.  Focus on love anyway.  Focus on your dog, your cat, your goldfish, your friend, your sister, your brother, your mother, your father, your family, your parakeet, your friend who lives far away, your Facebook friends, whatever.

Wedding Dance

Wedding Dance:  Capturing those moments.  Like a previous blog mentions, sometimes, images can be more striking in black and white, accentuating the sweetness of their expressions during their wedding dance.

Equipment:  Nikon D90, 18-200mm VR Nikkor lens, SB-600 speedlight flash, Sto-Fen Omni-Bounce.

Featured Photo – When the Universe Smiles Upon You, Embrace It (Avocado Face)

I hope you weren’t expecting this to be a super serious blog!

Avocado Face

Never look a gift horse in the mouth.  When the universe smiles upon you, wrap your arms around it in a full embrace.  And of course, take a photo.

I was preparing tacos.  I sliced an avocado in half.  It fell apart, completely in half, including the pit, cleaved cleanly in two, looking like a pair of eyes.  Perfect!!!  This was clearly a sign that I must do something.

I looked around my kitchen.  I had a lime for the fish tacos.  Cool.  That’d make a good nose.  And a slightly old banana would make a good mouth. And this nice Fiestaware plate completed the face.  Fantastic! It’d make a good avatar for a blog or a profile photo for Facebook or a forum.

Then, back to the fish tacos…

Equipment:  Nikon D90, 18-200mm VR Nikkor lens

Photo Link: New York Leper Colony

I  came across photos of this abandoned leper colony, left to rot on the island of North Brother, just 350 yards from The Bronx.  This was a quarantine zone, leper colony, and center for drug addicts, once home to hundreds of patients, now abandoned to nature. As with many abandoned buildings, this is eerie.  But the nature of the building makes it perhaps more akin to the photos I’ve posted of the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum in Weston, West Virginia in some respects.

New York leper colony
New York leper colony
New York leper colony
New York leper colony
New York leper colony of North Brother
New York leper colony of North Brother

Link:  The short article is by Liz Hazelton on the Daily Mail, with photography by Ian Ference/Barcroft Media.  Thanks to Scott for the link!


A couple of photos from my Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum collection of photos that I took during my visit to West Virginia in 2010:

Doctor's office, Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum
A decaying doctor’s office at the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum in Weston, West Virginia. Some of the doctors had special wings, where their wife and children would stay. Can you imagine being a kid, living and growing up at an insane asylum? – Photo by Ken Lee
Metal doors for violent inmates, Trans-Allegheny Lunaic Asylum, Weston, West Virginia
The area for particularly violent patients in the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum, with several bolts, as one patient still managed to bust one metal deadbolt. Trans-Allegheny Lunaic Asylum, Weston, West Virginia – Photo by Ken Lee

Equipment:  Nikon D90, 18-200mm VR Nikkor lens

Photo Tip of the Month: Cameras on the Cheap – Champagne Tastes on a Beer Budget

The Window
Good portraits can be taken with modest or small cameras, such as the one with a Brazilian girl, taken with a Leica D-Lux 4 (the same as a Panasonic DMC-LX3) compact camera, which fits in a pocket. This allows us to take a camera anywhere. But unlike most camera phones, we can take fantastic looking photos suitable for magazines or gallery shows.

An amazing sunset.  Fascinating looking people.  Vibrant landscapes.  Whether traveling abroad or exploring our own neighborhood, we want to take great photos without busting the bank.  Is this possible?  I get asked for recommendations for good bang-for-the-buck cameras more often than any other question, so I’ll start here.

When film cameras were king, camera technology didn’t change that much.  Sure, cameras got smaller as they went along, but a good camera made in the 1960s wasn’t all that different from a good camera made twenty years later.  Not so with digital cameras, which are continuing to evolve at a breakneck pace.  What does this mean for us?  We can get great cameras that have features that didn’t exist at that price point – if at all – even a few years ago.  We have, for example, the Sony Alpha A55 or A75 interchangeable lens cameras, with their groundbreaking translucent mirror technology, allowing light to pass straight through to the sensor without needing to move the mirror away to allow exposure.  What does that mean?  Less bulk, and fast continuous shooting rates previously unthinkable at this price.  Mirrorless cameras such as the Panasonic G2 also cut down on the size and weight, removing the optical viewfinder and the swinging mirror.  Cool.  Better cameras for less money.  I like it.  Oh, and it has a touch-screen.  Even among more “normal” DSLRs, you have major bang-for-the-buck cameras like the Canon T3i or even a Nikon D3100, which you can grab for under $600 with a kit lens.  Even these last two DSLRs are still lighter and smaller than professional DSLR cameras, such as the venerable Nikon D3s, an incredible full-frame camera which is amazing for low-light photography, although the $5000 you spend for it may lighten your wallet enough to compensate for its weight.

But, you say, that’s fantastic, but some of us still can’t afford the new Sonys or Canons or Nikons.  But these enormous leaps in new technology can often drive the price of cameras that are just a few years old down.  Buying used cameras such as the Nikon D50 DSLR for under $200 can get our foot in the door.  This is a camera that I owned for years, and I used it to take photos that appeared in books, encyclopedias, newspapers, magazines, the Huffington Post, photo assignments for Jimmy Page and Jack White, and even winning photo contests.  While not state of the art, it’s good enough that you can’t really blame the camera if you aren’t getting great looking shots. And there’s always film cameras.  You can get amazing deals on film cameras that people are virtually giving away.

What kind of lens would you use with a DSLR?  Depends.  You need to start thinking about how you like to shoot.  What’s your photography personality?  Do you tend to prefer wide-angle?  Telephoto?  Portraits?  Something else? As I fell in love with photography more and more, I explored this with what I call a “walkabout lens”, an 18-200mm AF-S VR Nikkor telephoto, which is extremely flexible for many sorts of situations, which is why I love it for travel photography.  It’s not without its drawbacks, though.  It’s a little heavier than many fixed-length lens (prime), has lens creep, alters its aperture as you change the zoom, and isn’t quite as sharp as a prime lens.  For prime lens, a good choice is a high-speed 50mm lens, such as a the AF F/1.4D 50mm prime, or what must be one of the best bargains in DSLR photography, the AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.8D from Nikon, which sells for under $125.  New.  Brand new.  They’re a good travel lens, and are outstanding for portraits and low-light photography.  And at 8 ounces, they’re light.

And there’s always compact cameras to consider.  Fuji X100 makes a good lightweight camera, although at about $1200, it’s not cheap.  The Panasonic Lumix LX3 is physically identical to the Leica D-Lux 4, a fantastic camera that does surprisingly well in low light situations, at a little over $500.  I own the D-Lux 4, and can assure you that it takes vibrant, sharp photos.  The Panasonic G2, Canon G11 or G12, and other compact cameras are quality cameras worth looking into.  They’re lightweight and small.  I like that. In a later post, I’ll discuss why I never leave on a trip without a compact camera.