The Shutterbug Bug.

J gave me a Nikon D40x, ie the geewhiz camera, for Christmas way back in 2007. It takes great photos, but for seven years I only used the automatic settings because I had no idea how to work the bloody thing.

01 sunbeams through trees
YAY for automatic. This is after I first tried about 2,500 times on manual.

It was soo frustrating you guys. It was like having the most unreal 4WD-Batcar-even-sticks-to-walls-and-goes-underwater super car and keeping it in the driveway to use as a table. I read and re-read the manual and checked out photography blogs and tried instructional videos on YouTube but there seemed to be a lot of extremely basic, even-a-total-dropkick-knows-this-shit information that was assumed I knew so they didn’t tell me. But I didn’t know. If you told me to open the aperture to infinity, I’d say fine… how do I do that exactly? I need details!! And my understanding of technical stuff like depth of field and f-stops was hazy at best… I tried many, many times to assimilate this crucial information but it always just bounced off. I was much the same with learning to drive a manual… tell me again why I need to push the clutch in? Why does this car keep stalling? Stupid car. Why does it hate me?!

I’m not dumb, there’s just certain things I have an inordinate amount of trouble with. Everyone has a thing; Einstein couldn’t tie his shoelaces. What’s yours? …It’s normal, and human… so I don’t feel bad, just annoyed that I seem to need a manual to understand my camera manual. Over the years I’ve spent loads of time playing with the settings, trying to reproduce what I see in my head. Long exposures have been particularly irksome; I’ve accumulated dozens of hours getting eaten alive by mozzies at home or freezing my arse off on crystal clear winter’s nights in New Zealand, trying to figure out how to achieve a starscape for not much result.

Indeed yes, this is apparently a star trail. Singular; I somehow managed to capture a patch of sky that had only ONE star in it. Perhaps a 'blue wanderer'? (nb if you zoom in you'll see heaps of red and green "noise" too. Could be stars, but only in two colours? WTF did I do...
Indeed yes, this is apparently a star trail. Singular; I somehow managed to capture a patch of sky that had only ONE star in it. Perhaps a ‘blue wanderer’? (nb if you look really closely you’ll see heaps of red and green “noise” too. Could be stars, but only in two colours? WTF did I do…

So after a ridiculous amount of time trying to muck along on my own, I signed up for a beginner’s course with Bluedog Photography. There were 7 or 8 of us, ranging from a grandad who’d just received a geewhiz camera for a big birthday to a cake decorator who did her own marketing. I’d thought it was going to be all technical jargon and button pushing, but our tutor David first taught us the basic basics. Like

  • NEVER stick anything inside the camera body to clean it (whoops)
  • Always have a spare battery and memory card handy
  • When out sightseeing keep your camera turned on and in your hand ready to shoot not in the camera bag or turned off slung around your neck like a tourist (also guilty)
  • And just stop and think about things like composition and lighting before madly clicking away (very guilty).

Then we learned about some buttons, and after each new feature learned, we headed outside to practise; make the background blurry while the subject is in sharp focus? I can do that. Increase the shutter speed and ‘freeze’ water droplets? I can do that. Take a long exposure? I can do that too!! And it’s so simple. Isn’t it reassuring to know you felt stupid for a good reason? I should put that on a postcard. Everything seems happier and more uplifting with a picture.

This sarcasm font doesn't really work.
This sarcasm font doesn’t really work.

Anyway I went home super stoked at my newfound knowledge, then didn’t practise for a couple of days and *BAM* I forgot it all again.

#massive facepalm
#massive facepalm

But practise I did. A lot. It got to the stage where the husband would groan and the children would squeal and hide when they saw Mummy coming with the camera.

Portraits are particularly difficult.

Example #1: Photograph fast moving object. Blurry but still cute.
Example #1: Photograph fast moving object. Blurry but still cute.
Example #2: NAILED IT.
Example #2: NAILED IT.
Example #3: I love this shot, though I'm still spewing I cropped the top of his head off.
Example #3: I love this shot, though I’m still spewing I cropped the top of his head off.

The wildlife around here is plentiful, and indifferent. I can pester them with taking photos as much as I like.

Old and Inferior: Pale Headed Rosella. I think.
Old and Inferior: Pale Headed Rosella. I think.
New and Improved: Two Renly Baratheons, aka Rainbow Lorikeets.
New and Improved: Two Renly Baratheons, aka Rainbow Lorikeets.
Old and Inferior: Bee ricocheting off a dietes.
Old and Inferior: Bee ricocheting off a dietes.
New and Improved: Bee diving into tiny white flowers.
New and Improved: Bee diving into tiny white flowers.
Old and Inferior: A gorgeous Glossy Black Cockatoo in flight. A vulnerable species, their diet consists almost exclusively of the seeds of the native casuarina pine - they like the ones on our block so they'll be back. Even so, I will spew forever that I stuffed up this shot.
Old and Inferior: A gorgeous Glossy Black Cockatoo in flight. A vulnerable species, their diet consists almost exclusively of the seeds of the native casuarina pine – they like the ones on our block so hopefully they’ll be back. Even so, I will spew forever that I stuffed up this shot.
New and Improved: A less exotic but just as beautiful Australian magpie exiting my favourite dead tree.
New and Improved: A less exotic but just as beautiful Australian magpie exiting my favourite dead tree.
Old and Inferior: Shitty sunset. No colours or definition, looked nothing like the real thing.
Old and Inferior: Shitty sunset. No colours or definition, looked nothing like the real thing.
New and Improved: Got this sunset on the drive home after the Bluedog course. Pictures speak louder than reviews!!
New and Improved: Got this sunset on the drive home after the Bluedog course. Pictures speak louder than reviews!!

Oh, remember that noisy blue wanderer from before? This shot is from our last night at Kaka Point.

New and Improved: Actual stars! In their proper colours! On the left you can clearly see Crux (the 'cross' of the Southern Cross) - I was so excited I nearly peed myself.
New and Improved: Actual stars! In their proper colours! On the left you can clearly see Crux (the ‘cross’ of the Southern Cross) – I was so excited I nearly peed myself.

I was up til nearly 1am that night; with all the light pollution from Surfer’s Paradise at home it’s not great for astrophotography. I had my brand new remote shutter release and a sturdy tripod and a clear night sky and I was not going home without some goddamn twinkle twinkle! I tried for star trails and cranked the ISO as high as it would go. Took exposures several minutes long but got black screen after black screen; it’s only supposed to take half a minute! I finally cracked the shits. Opened the shutter, went to brush my teeth and got changed for bed, then came back and closed it. It processed for a good long while but when it was finally done:

Improved! IMPROVED!!
Improved! IMPROVED!!

I finally DID IT!! WOOHOO! My jubilation at success offset the agony in both my kneecaps from walking into a fence in the dark on the way back to the camera.

So while I still have a ways to go, and a lot of work to do to get where I want to be, I’m not stressing; my goal is progress rather than perfection. Bluedog have a great Facebook-based support group, there’s lots of mini courses yet to do (star trails, light painting, action shots, sunsets…) and I’ve found photographers both local and abroad to follow and be inspired by. One in particular, Sean Scott, who lives on the Gold Coast, uses one of his two Instagram accounts to publish his incredible underwater shots with background info and metadata included (ie information on lenses used, aperture, shutter speed etc) which is extremely helpful and encouraging to budding shutterbugs like me.

Courtesy of Sean's @inthesea2015 Instagram account... Wowza! It's like a surfer version of Alice going through the looking glass.
Courtesy of Sean’s @inthesea2015 Instagram account… Wowza! It’s like a surfer version of Alice going through the looking glass.

His stuff is completely mindblowing and I’d be stoked to get half as good. Actually since beloved hubby got me a GoPro for Christmas last year underwater photography is another area I’m getting into… stay tuned.

– Michelle

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10 Comments Add yours

  1. ekgo says:

    Personally, I ilke the old and inferior shots, too; they’re pretty in their own right.
    But, yes, your class helped you tighten you work up a lot!
    I used to love photography! Now I just have a point-n-shoot because it keeps up with my current lifestyle. One day, though, I’ll get another manua camera…and probably have to take classes because I took mine 20 years ago…and my pictures will be tight, too! Like yours. 🙂

    Like

    1. Michelle says:

      Thanks Erica. Another thing David said was to keep the shots that didn’t work, because they aren’t junk and we can learn from them – now when I look at the cockatoo pic in particular I’m all, I could totally get that photo now!
      And yes, I love your photos too, Colorado is VERY photogenic. And I love when you take pics of all the sparkly lights…

      Like

  2. Wow! So many great shots here Michelle – I love the one of Rory, I think the close crop is what makes it, he’s looking handsome. The one of the magpie leaving the dead tree – wow! Congrats on nailing the star shots too, I’ve never had the patience…. maybe one day. Thanks for mentioning me xox
    Ps. Can’t wait to see some underwater stuff!

    Like

    1. Michelle says:

      Thanks Rachel, I am pretty happy with those ones. Though I wouldn’t say I ‘nailed’ the star one, I am definitely stoked I finally got one to work! Now I need to get more to work – practise practise practise. It’s a good thing it’s fun and I love it. 🙂

      Like

  3. kcgoegan says:

    In regards to the very final shot: When you’re shooting more than a minute, the higher the ISO is only giving you more noise and orange hues. This is just form personal experience, but if the shutters open suuuperr long, may as well fend off noise as much as possible. Put your ISO halfway up next time and extend the exposure another minute or so. Personally, I shoot long exposures at 100 and let the shutter sit for a good while.
    But the joy of photography is the experimentation right? 🙂 Otherwise, great practice, such a wide range of skills your honing!

    Like

    1. Michelle says:

      Thanks for the advice KC! When you mentioned the noise I had a thought and checked the metadata for that photo, and I only had the ISO at 400 not HI1. Duh me. Well now I’ll remember for next time! Ta muchly 🙂

      Like

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