Get up close to capture a new photograph

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Over the course of a school year I work with many digital photography students at Walla Walla Community College who have the opportunity to display their digital images in the classroom.

The pattern I have noticed with many of the student images is they will find a subject that is interesting and just take a picture with their iPhone, iPad or SLR camera. What's missing with this approach to photography is the aspect of discovering something new. To do that the photographer must get closer to the subject.

This subject seems so simple to accomplish, yet it is frequently a missed opportunity by student photographers.

In preparation for my upcoming class I recently finished reading the book "Visual Images" by Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist Vincent Laforet who writes, "Images are happening around you every second. You can photograph anything in a million different ways, but what I always try to remember is to photograph something as if I've discovered it for the first time."

Recently my wife and I had the opportunity to visit our sons in Southern California and see our new granddaughter for the first time. This trip was timely, as my photography focus would be to get closer to the subject and possibly discover something new.

For this trip I had packed my Nikon D7000 and two lenses, a Nikon 50 mm F 1.8, and a Nikon 18-200mm F 3.5-5.6.

When photographing something new it's a good idea to observe the subject without a camera, if time permits, and watch for nuances that could lead to discovering a new image.

The first challenge on this trip was, of course, our new granddaughter, Colette, and I had forgotten how small a newborn is to hold and photograph.

Looking for the "new way" and observing mom for a day, I had Caroline hold the baby's feet with her hands as I came in close with the camera. Suddenly the image came alive. This image can be accomplished with natural light on manual settings with the 50 mm lens, ISO 1000, shutter 1/40, aperture F 2.0.

The next day we visited the city of San Clemente, where I had not been in many years. As we walked the oceanfront pier, the waves were large and the surfers were having great runs during our afternoon visit. I needed a picture to capture the setting, and while resting the camera on the pier railing I patiently waited for the waves to crest. Using the 18-200mm lens I set the ISO to 200, shutter at 1/250, and aperture F 14.

I was surprised as a Coast Guard helicopter suddenly flew over the pier. Just for fun I quickly decided to attempt to freeze the rotor blades on the aircraft. I adjusted the manual setting to ISO to 200, shutter to 1/4000, aperture F 5.6 -- and it worked!

While walking the pier and feeling good that I was accomplishing the goal of getting closer, I noticed a number of pigeons near the fish-cleaning sinks. I stopped and took a closer look, and sure enough, the birds were trying to drink water from the sink faucet. Using the 18-200mm lens I quickly zoomed in to catch one pigeon's beak up into the faucet. For this picture I set the ISO to 200, shutter at 1/320 and aperture F 13.

This trip caused me to refocus my thinking process for my upcoming classes: to get closer to the subject, watch for the unexpected shots and work to discover new ways to capture the subject.

Don Fleming can be reached at don512@me.com. He is also on Facebook and Twitter.

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