On the Cheap

Just a short blog here. 

Photography can be a very expensive hobby.  It is an expensive career unless your goal is to make money and have fun in the process.  You really do not have to spend a lot to get really good photographs that will print to wall size. 

We have several Southern magnolia trees at our house.  Magnolia grandiflora is aptly named.  Magnolias are strange trees as trees go.  They are evergreen, drop leaves all year long, but they do not have a fall season.  They are strong and resilient.  They grow tall.  They can live to be very old.  Their blossoms are very large, 10 inches or more petal tip to petal tip when fully open. They are quite beautiful and fragrant, with an aroma something like sweet citrus fruit. 

At the end of May throughout the summer, different varieties of magnolia will bloom in the South (United States).  The Southern magnolia blooms mid May to mid June or so here in Atlanta.

They have been the subject of artists for many years; Georgia O’Keefe, Ansel Adams, Frida KahloImogene Cunningham and others have presented their beauty to us.  I don’t consider myself worthy of those heights, but I like what I did with the subject. So does my wife, and that’s all that matters. 

Like I said, I want to keep this short.  Here’s the photograph:

The magnolia came from one of our trees.  I picked the bloom to bring inside.  They can fill a room with sweet perfume. 

The bloom was fully open very symmetrical.  The leaves projected from the stem like points on a compass.  It was as perfect as I could hope for, so I decided to photograph it. 

I tried five or so different poses.  I put this abused flower in a couple different bowls and on different material and ultimately decided to keep it simple and just place it on a dark cherry stained table. I placed something under the bloom to lift it from the table so I could have a better angle.

Here you go; there were very little cost in props.

Lighting came from a fairly large north facing window.  This is classic natural portrait light that artists have used for centuries, before there were any such things as studio lighting and flash.  I like this post

Here’s another cost-savings:  Use natural light.  Batteries not included.  It is beautiful light. It will compliment a person or a magnolia, and gently sculpt their features.  In this case I didn’t even use a reflector to modify the lighting contrast.  The white petals of the bloom are natural reflectors and filled in the shadows. 

Natural light from the north means that you probably must set your camera on a tripod.  If you want to do street photography or sports, gin up the ISO, get a fast lens, and go for it.  If you are photographing still life, like this flower, you should use the lowest ISO available to your digital camera, or the slowest film if you are still shooting film.  I think ISO 100 is about as slow as it goes today.  As a general rule, the lower the ISO, the greater the detail you will capture.

What do I mean by slow film speed? Check it out here.

The camera I used for this photograph is a Nikon D3400.  The lens is a 35mm f1.8 Nikon AF DX G lens.  The D3400 is Nikon’s consumer APS-C, cropped sensor, DSLR.  It has been surpassed by the D3500.  Mirrorless is all the rage, so you can expect DSLR prices to hold steady or drop.  Check out DPReview reviews of both the cameras and the 35mm lens.  You can get the D3500 for about $400, and the 35mm f1.8 AF-S DX G lens for about $175, brand new with a full warranty.  $575.00 US is relatively inexpensive compared to the rest of Nikon’s product line and other brands.  That is for 24 mp also.  The camera  and lens specs are pretty impressive, and the D3400/3500 are best buys.   If you purchase used from a reputable company, you can get it for even less money. 

The 35mm focal length on the APS-C camera is what is called a “normal” lens.  That is, the image circle and angle of view is roughly equivalent to the perspective a human eye can gather, albeit not as wide a view. On a full frame digital camera like a Nikon FX series, D6 or D610 a normal lens would be about 50mm.

My strategy for equipment for many years has been, buy Nikon (my preference), buy a lower priced body and spend more for the lenses.

There will be a visible difference some people will notice between full frame and APS-C cameras; that is, between Nikon FX and DX. Why would I opt for less detail? Size and weight are two reasons. The FX cameras are bulkier.

FX cameras cost more. The entry price of FX is about $900.00 US for the D610. The entry price for DX is about $400.00 US for the D3500. The top of line DX APS-C, the Nikon D500 is $1500.00 US. The top of line FX, full frame, D6 is $6,500.00 US. Granted you will see and feel a difference at the price. And if you are selling images for $10k each then you need full frame and larger format. Consider your return on investment. For stock photography, websites, and small size prints most people will not see the difference. I hike, take nature photographs, and I enjoy street photography. For me lighter is better. However, when I can afford it, I plan to get a full frame Nikon compatible with some older lenses I own. For advertising and architecture, I better be shooting with some honkin’ glass to it.

I just cannot make things short, can I.

Anyway, the camera exposure settings for the magnolia were ISO 100, f13, 2-4 seconds. I set the camera to aperture priority and let it decide the shutter speed. Regarding focus, I set the camera to manual focus first, and then to dynamic area and moved the focus point around to the center of the flower. It focused better than my aging eyes could in manual mode.

I imported the RAW image to Adobe Lightroom. There I applied exposure (Light) controls. When I had a darkroom and printed on silver paper, I used selenium toning. Depending on the paper emulsion, the selenium gives the gray tones a slightly bluish tint. I used a free B&W selenium toner preset.

I exported the image for printing on matte paper. I used Strathmore Matte Photo inkjet paper. It gives the image a little more “presence” than Epson Matte Presentation paper, although Epson is very good. The effect is more three dimensional on the Strathmore paper. When printing on matte paper you will need to adjust the contrast of the final image so neither highlights nor shadows get lost.

That’s it. I hope this has been informative.

Selah

~ by Bill on May 26, 2020.

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