About three weeks ago I received as an early birthday gift a new camera. I had been thinking for a while now that I should get a “real” grown-up camera with interchangeable lenses; you know, a DSLR. My little Olympus point-and-shoot camera is a fantastic field camera–it takes amazing macro shots and I can dunk it in a tidepool or operate it with wet hands, plus it fits into a pocket–but it’s not the best tool for photographing birds from far away. In the past couple of months I rented first a Nikon D7200 and then a Canon 80D and took them up to Lake Tahoe to give them a test-drive. After all was said and done I decided that the Nikon both took better pictures and was easier for me to figure out, and that’s the camera I decided to get. It came as a kit with an 18-140mm zoom lens and I also got a 35mm fixed focal length lens.
Cameras these days are complicated affairs. And me with a concussion, trying to figure out all of the bells and whistles was a daunting thing. So I decided to set myself a challenge, to take photos every day and post one to my Instagram feed. This 30-day endeavor has proven to be more challenging than I had anticipated: I knew that I wouldn’t always feel inspired to take pictures, but hadn’t thought that the real difficulty would be in choosing a single photo to share. For this challenge I wanted to see what this camera and I can achieve together, with no post processing other than cropping and straightening.
Day 1: Lucie, taken with the 35mm lens. This was my first day of experimenting with the 35mm lens. A sleepy Lucie was too lazy not to cooperate.
Day 2: Evening lights. When some friends invited us to meet them for dinner at the harbor, I brought the camera along. It has a few settings for nighttime photography. I took this shot with the Night Landscape setting, and the camera was spot-on with the exposure. Unfortunately I took it from a floating dock, and the slight movement was picked up by the long shutter speed.
Day 3: Fire at night. The same evening that I took the above photo, we were sitting around our friends’ fire pit. I learned from this that it isn’t easy taking still shots of fire. Fortunately for me, the camera is smarter than I am. I cranked up the ISO to its highest setting and let the camera do the rest.
Day 4: Pelicans in flight. I was experimenting with the sequential exposure setting on the camera and was happily surprised by this squadron of pelicans. This shot was my favorite, as it captures several of the postures of pelicans in the air. When they’re not flying in formation, they get unsynchronized and sort of goofy.
Day 5: Sunrise. When I got up this morning and saw the high clouds with interesting texture I grabbed the camera and went outside to wait for the sunrise. Patience rewarded! The camera has a setting for sunsets, and it works for sunrises as well. Once again, I am very pleased at how well the camera captures what I see with the naked eye. These colors are exactly true.
Day 6: Natural Bridges. On a sunny clear day between storms went out to Natural Bridges. I’ve not had much experience with fixed focal length lenses so making myself practice with the 35mm lens. Using this lens forces me to look at things differently, which I am finding very fulfilling. So far I find this lens to be bright and clear: check out this depth of field! The pelicans and cormorants at Natural Bridges seemed to be enjoying the sun.
Day 7: Yarn indoors. What to do when it’s raining? Seemed like a good day to find out how well the camera captures colors indoors under artificial light. I just started another lace knitting project and am trying to achieve a gradient effect with these three skeins of yarn. The camera has a “Food” setting but that washed out everything (all three yarns and the aqua blue background). I tried the “Blossom” setting and voila! Perfect color representation of both the cool aqua of the background and the warmer colors of the yarns. Another win!
Day 8: Pitcher plant. This day had me experimenting with depth of field again. Finally, I captured what I wanted. The subject is a pitcher from a carnivorous plant. I live how the pitcher is in crisp focus, while the background is blurred.
Day 9: Maggie. Maggie likes to stick her head out between the slats of the deck railing so she can spy on the kitty downstairs. I’ve been trying for years to catch this moment. The camera has a “Pet portrait” setting. I am not quite sure what it does, but it worked! Take that, iPhone camera!
Day 10: Morning sky. Day 10 brought me another fascinating morning sky. I’ve decided that it must be the constantly changing textures of clouds that make them such a favorite subject of mine.
Day 11: Waves. A big wave day lured me out to West Cliff Drive to see if I could capture an action shot. The exposure was wrong but I was trying to capture a specific moment. Can anyone guess what that moment was?
Day 12: Protea. Today I took a tour of Gondwanaland without leaving Santa Cruz! How, you ask? By visiting the UCSC Arboretum and walking through their Australian and South African gardens. Got buzzed by lots of Anna’s hummingbirds, and took pictures of plants, including this Protea in the South African garden.
Day 13: Coot on pond. I went to Antonelli Pond to see what birds were there. There were cormorants, mallards, and a great egret, but it was the coots that caught my attention. When I was little we called these birds mud hens; seems to me now that they deserve a more flattering name. So I go with coots. For this photo I was experimenting with f-stop and manual focus, and succeeded in achieving what I hoped for. The blurred vegetation in the foreground makes me feel like I’m spying on a maiden bathing in a pond.
Day 14: Lace shawl. Photographing my knitting has always been a challenge because the colors are difficult to capture. What a test for this new camera, right? I took lots of shots with the 35mm lens, draping the shawl in various ways over my dress form, and this is the shot I like best. The colors are true, including the gradient from light to dark.
Day 15: Lucie in a box. I had grandiose plans to find some spectacular outdoor scenery to photograph for today’s entry, but then Lucie hopped into the apple box and I can never resist a kitty in a box. I caught her in the middle of a meowyawn, which is what I call it when she yawns in the middle of a meow. It’s her signature noise. Once again the camera gets an ‘A’ for the Pet portrait setting.
In looking over these photos again, I’m pleased at how many different types of pictures I’ve taken. The cats have been surprisingly cooperative, too. I’m excited to see what inspires me in the next two weeks!
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