Canon DSLR Photography Lesson 1-on-1 in downtown St. Petersburg Florida with Sandy

Sandy lining up a shot using leading line composition during our photography lesson in St. Petersburg FloridaIt had been nearly a month since I saw Sandy as we met this past Saturday morning for our second of four 1-on-1 DSLR Photography Lessons in downtown St. Petersburg Florida.  It was a bright and sunny morning, as is typical for Florida in May, though thankfully not too hot at our 9:30am lesson start time.  

Sandy had done some practicing with her DSLR applying what we learned during the first lesson and realizing what she would like to practice and review in our second lesson.  There is nothing more important when learning photography than actually going out and shooting!  

We made our way through the Saturday Market finding some challenging lighting situations.  Normally during the day increasing ISO is not necessary, but when photographing subjects under shelters like at the market, using a 200mm+ focal length, with a max f/5.6 aperture lens, those deep shade shooting conditions do require a bump in ISO in order to maintain a safe 1-to-1 shutter speed to focal length ratio.  

St. Petersburg Florida Skyline at Twilight Fine Art Photography

St. Petersburg Florida waterfront skyline in vivid twilight - Nikon D300 Tamron 17-50mm @ f/11 ISO 200 5 sec tripod mounted with cable release

Each time I go out to the top of The Pier to make waterfront skyline images like this of downtown St. Petersburg Florida, I think it may be my last since The Pier is scheduled to close in May 2013.  As you can see, its closing will be a great loss for photographers and anyone who enjoys a great vantage point for looking at the sunset over a cityscape.

Finding the last light left over St. Petersburg Florida fine art photography - Nikon D300 Tamron 17-50mm @ f/11 ISO 200 5 sec tripod mounted with cable releaseThe Pier is five stories tall with an open roof allowing for the making of clean shots (i.e. not shooting through window glass).  It is often a quiet spot, especially on a weeknight, providing an opportunity to watch the sunset in peace as twilight then night takes over.

St. Petersburg Florida Silhouette Dusk Twilight Fine Art Landscape Cityscape Waterfront

The downtown St. Petersburg Florida waterfront in Silhouette at vivd dusk - Nikon D300 Nikkor 50mm @ f/4 ISO 200 1/200th handheld

This was an image I made quickly while taking Kiki for an extended walk around the downtown St. Petersburg waterfront on a recent Saturday evening.  I was traveling light, just my Nikkor 50mm f/1.8D lens on my Nikon D300, but even with that lens on was still looking for a possible landscape shot.  With Kiki always in constant motion and having no tripod, I knew my best bet of getting a usable shot was to go for a silhouette of the skyline, which is done by using a fast shutter speed I could easily handhold, even with Kiki always trying to sniff something just out of reach.  The fast shutter speed exposed the bright sky well, but put the foreground buildings and boat into silhouette.  

St. Petersburg Florida waterfront scenes fine art photography

Waterfront view from North Straub Park in downtown St. Petersburg - Nikon D300 Tamron 17-50mm @ f/8 ISO 200 3-exposure HDR

According to the Tampa Bay Times, St. Petersburg, Florida has the third largest continuous waterfront park system in all of North America (behind Chicago & Vancouver).  I believe it is the best thing about St. Petersburg, by far.  It is totally unique to the Tampa Bay area, and really anywhere else on the west coast of Florida.  

A small rainbow over the St. Petersburg Pier - Nikon D300 Tamron 17-50mm @ f/11 ISO 200 1/200th tripod mounted

You can walk along water for pretty much as far as your legs will want to carry you starting on Coffee Pot Blvd following going all the way down North Shore Blvd.  I have walked its entirety, but only in pieces.  Of course the most notable landmark one will see along the way is The St. Petersburg Pier (above).

Downtown St. Petersburg bathed in a pastel sunset - Nikon D300 Tamron 17-50mm @ f/11 ISO 200 7-exposure HDRIf you can time your waterfront walk so that it ends at dusk at the top of The Pier itself, well then you may just be treated to a spectacular sunset view like the one above.  In the right weather, there is no more pleasant way to spend a few hours in Florida than walking through St. Petersburg's downtown waterfront parks.

Stunning Vivid Dusk Sky over St. Petersburg Florida from The Pier

Downtown St. Petersburg vivid dusk south view from The Pier - Nikon D300 Tamron 17-50mm @ f/11 ISO 200 11 sec tripod mounted with cable release

And to think, making this photograph will not even be possible in a year's time because the location I shot this from, the roof of The Pier, will be demolished.  I certainly hope the structure that replaces it will offer similar or better views of the downtown St. Petersburg, Florida waterfront, otherwise there will be no more photos showing its beauty at dusk, twilight and sunset.

Cotton candy coated downtown St. Petersburg vivid pink dusk - Nikon D300 Tamron 17-50mm @ f/11 ISO 200 6 sec tripod mounted with cable releaseI had the opportunity to make these photos only because I was teaching a DSLR Photography Lesson focusing on tripod usage.  Otherwise, I would have been home and never witnessed this amazing view.  In fact, both my student and I had just earlier remarked how gray the sky was and how we would not be able to get any keepers this lesson, but at least I was able to teach him the technical aspects of using a tripod for long exposure photography.  I told him since there is so little color that I would shoot thinking to convert the images to black & white!

Orange dusk breaks over downtown St. Petersburg Florida - Nikon D300 Tamron 17-50mm @ f/11 ISO 200 1/2 sec tripod mounted with cable releaseThen all of a sudden a hint of orange light appeared reflected off the low clouds, as the sun had already actually set.  We took immediate notice and thought, at least we got to see a touch of color.  Then as the sun slipped further to the other side of the Earth, the dusk sky started to explode in color and as we adjusted the length of the shutter speed on our DSLRs, we were able to pull more and more color back over the horizon and into our lenses.  The photographs above are actually posted in reverse chronological order, with the above orange image the first I took.  Each was made almost exactly five minutes after the other.  That is the power of putting your DSLR on a tripod and using shutter speed to create an amazing long exposure image finding light and color the naked eye cannot see.

How to Photograph Fireworks - 4th of July Fireworks St. Petersburg Florida 2012

4th of July Fireworks over downtown St. Petersburg Florida 2012 - Nikon D300 Nikkor 80-200mm @ f/11 ISO 200 10.5 sec tripod mounted with cable release covering lens frequently with a cardThere is an art and methodology to photographing fireworks that if you have the necessary gear is pretty fun.  To photograph fireworks properly you need:

  • DSLR camera with bulb mode
  • Lens with appropriate focal length for your location
  • Very stable tripod
  • Cable release
  • A stiff card large enough to cover the front of your lens

Other tips for shooting fireworks:

  • Choose a spot with a clear open view (obviously!)
  • Choose a spot that is upwind (so smoke does not blow into your shots)
  • Include foreground elements (do not just shoot the fireworks themselves)
  • Do not record overlapping fireworks (will just look blown out in one spot)

4th of July Fireworks in St. Petersburg Florida 2012 - Nikon D300 Nikkor 80-200mm @ f/11 ISO 200 27.4 sec tripod mounted with cable release covering lens frequently with a cardThe actual process for making and recording a multiple firework image:

  1. While still light out focus on something where the fireworks will be
  2. Set your focus to manual focus so you do not have to worry about autofocusing in the dark
  3. Use manual exposure mode set to bulb mode and f/8 or f/11 & your lowest ISO
  4. Hold the shutter open with your cable release when seeing a streak going into the air
  5. Cover the front of the lens quickly & carefully with the card
  6. When the firework explodes remove the card for a split second
  7. If another firework explodes in a different spot, remove the card again
  8. Repeat step 7 a few times then release the shutter

4th of July fireworks finale in St. Petersburg Florida 2012 - Nikon D300 Nikkor 80-200mm @ f/11 ISO 200 28.8 sec tripod mounted with cable release covering lens frequently with a cardI also try to avoid removing the card for fireworks that are just bright balls of light as these tend to overexpose and just look like all-white blobs.  Overly bright fireworks can also reflect light onto smoke in the sky ruining the shot.  The ideal is to catch a streaking firework trail going up, a low firework explosion, a middle one, and then a very high one.  This evening they tended to explode in the same spot like three times in a row, which is no good as the overlapping makes them start to again look like an all-white blob.  If you are patient, study the patterns of explosions, and use good technique exposing the front of the lend with the card, then you will give yourelf the best chance at creating a satisfying fireworks multiple explosion image.  

Post a link to your fireworks shots in the comments below!

Nikon D5100 DSLR Photography Lesson with Debbie in St. Petersburg Florida

Debbie with her new Nikon D5100 during our photography lesson in St. Petersburg FloridaIt was on a crisp and sunny President's Day I met Debbie with her new Nikon D5100 for our first DSLR Photography Lesson together in downtown St. Petersburg.  Debbie had a Fuji bridge camera before that she had extensive experience with photographing people.  However, she was mostly using it on auto-mode, and likewise, when she got the D5100 she was staying in auto-mode.  DSLRs do not work well at all in auto-mode, they like to be told what to do.  The very first goal during my 1-on-1 photography lessons is to get people off auto-mode and to start taking more control over their photographs.  

Even though Debbie already had photography knowledge, I added some organization to that with my 4-step method of getting the settings right for any given shot and also helping her just get familiar with changing those four things on her D5100.  We started out using aperture priority mode, but it did not take long to find the limits of using it in the harsh mid-day Florida sunlight.  Aperture priority mode was a good starting point for making a landscape shot of The Pier and Tampa Bay, but it was choosing too slow of a shutter speed.  By switching to manual mode and doubling the speed from 1/100th to 1/200th the results were much deeper blues in the sky, more details in the clouds and just an overall more dynamic image.  That is the power of taking control of your DSLR.

Debbie gets to travel often for her work, giving her lots of different photography opportunities.  I look forward to seeing her images taken in aperture and manual modes!