First Outing with My Canon 50D DSLR

| August 28, 2009
carlbad beach sunset

Photo – Boy and girl against Carlsbad California sunset

I don’t have the time to paint out of doors as much as I would like. I remain committed to my goal of painting at least 50% of my paintings en plein air over the next 12 months but I felt the need to add another tool to my creative arsenal for observing and documenting nature when I am not able to paint outside. The tool I chose was an upgraded camera. I have also set my eyes on becoming a better photographer. My belief is that the camera, although not as good as the human eye, will help me capture potential subjects more accurately and becoming a better photographer will help me use the camera to more accurately capture colors, improve my composition skills, and tune my eye for interesting painting subjects.

carlsbad beach

King of the castle near Ponto Beach California

It is a big commitment to haul 8 to 10 pounds of photo gear around. My new camera is a Canon 50D 15-megapixel digital SLR. The lenses in my bag are 17-40mm, 28-135mm, and 70-300mm zooms with professional quality polarizing filters on them. The two longer lenses are image stabilized, which comes in very handy for minimizing the blur from camera shake when shooting at high zoom levels. Wanting to be ready to go photo crazy in Italy next month, I decided to take my gear to San Diego on a business trip so I could figure out how to carry the equipment, determine whether or not I needed anything else in my bag, and, of course, to improve my shooting skills. I confess that I did not thoroughly learn how to use my last camera, which was also a Canon DSLR. I often found myself frustrated while shooting trying to figure out which buttons to push to get the results I wanted. So, before leaving on the San Diego trip, I read and worked through the 120 page 50D manual to become fully acquainted with the camera and its functions. I am happy to report that the effort is already paying off.

eucalyptus tree

Eucalyptus at sunset on Highway 101

As you can see throughout the post, I have inserted a few of my favorite pictures from the trip. They may not make it into the next National Geographic but I feel like they helped me achieve specific objectives that will help me in my painting pursuits. When taking all the shots, I paused to think about composition and asked myself if I would be making the same choices if my painting gear were in front of me. Some were flops, but some stood out as a result. After taking every shot, I looked at the very handy 3-inch LCD on the camera to evaluate whether the photo captured the essence of the scenery that I experienced and felt first hand.

carlsbad california beach

Late afternoon on the Carlsbad California coastline

In the case of the photo of the Carlsbad coastline above, I was initially drawn to the moisture in the atmosphere and how it created curtains of depth as the scene receded. I also liked how it crept up to the street level in the distance. I really wanted to take that effect home with me in the photograph. To capture the effect, I took several shots that were individually metered off of different areas of light and shadow in the scene. For instance, I took three shots, one metered from the shadow of the cliff, one from the sky, and one from the water. As a result, the exposures varied dramatically, each showing different character in contrast and detail. I also paid attention to whether or not the scene was grouped into major masses and if the masses were in arranged in an interesting manner. I also used the focal length of the lens and aperture setting to try and isolate my subject from the rest of the detail of the scene.

In the picture of the couple relaxing in the chairs on the cliff, I loved the crisp light and shadow as well as the casual but “king and queen of the castle” look. Because the couple was on top of the cliff, the separation of the foreground from the people peppered beaches and water mass in the distance seemed like it would make a neat photo. Since I did not want to appear like a stalker, I took the picture pretty fast at the 35mm equivalent of a 450mm zoom. Just so happens that the little squirrel was sneaking up on them as I clicked the picture. Again, I feel like the masses work well here and the blurring of the background takes the eye to the primary subject, which is the couple casually relaxing in the chairs.

strolling on carlsbad beach

Ladies strolling on the beach

Now for the sunset at the top. I planned to have dinner at the Beach House in Cardiff at precisely the time the sun would be setting. The restaurant has an amazing beach-front patio that serves as the viewing location for incredible Southern California sunsets. As soon as I was seated for dinner, I saw the horizon come alive as the sun began to set. I ordered a Sapphire Tonic and quickly grabbed my camera to run over to the water to get some shots. The shimmering light blue against the burning oranges and yellows from the sunlight and intervening atmosphere was what I wanted to capture. I shot about 60 pictures in 10 minutes. Some were just of the sun and water and some were with silhouetted people in the foreground. Again I forced the camera to meter from the sun, water and sky in various shots to try and capture the beauty of the moment. The whole experience was breathtaking. Everything was changing so fast I could not imagine trying to get all the colors down with paint. It seems like it would take an enormous amount of experience! As it turns out, one of my favorite shots was of the sun setting with a brother and sister back to back against the light. I am pretty sure I metered the water for this shot, which seemed to be a great reference for the exposure. I feel like the Canon did a nice job of capturing a relatively true representation of the colors I was seeing. The exposure setting makes a huge difference in what you get so make sure you bracket the exposure or mix up the metering spots to make sure you have some good references when you get back into the studio. Fun, fun, fun!

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Category: Photography, Travel

Comments (2)

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  1. Liz Holm says:

    Lee, these are spectacular. I popped them open larger and paged through the gallery, and you really have a great eye. Am impressed you read the entire manual. whew. my hat’s off to you. It paid off! Love the squirrel sneaking up on the couple. Agree about photos as good reference tools. If I’ve absorbed the scene with my senses, the photos help prompt my memories of the place.

  2. Lee says:

    Thanks Liz! It was fun to go out after a day of meetings to shoot. This whole painting thing has got me thinking about how to apply art concepts across multiple forms of expression. Thanks for stopping by. I have been over to your site lately and love the portrait work you have been doing. Keep it up!