Homework Assignment… with a prize!

flower f/4

April 4, 2008 @12 a.m:  The contest is now closed.  You’re still welcome to do the exercise and add your photos to the comments, of course, but you won’t be eligible for the March prize.

OK all you slackers… you have homework. Grab your cameras.

Go outside on a bright sunny day, or somewhere where you’ll have lots of light to work with. Find a subject. I don’t care what it is– a person, a tree, a flower, a fire hydrant– and a background. The only criterion is that the subject is clearly distinct from the background.

Take a picture of your subject in such a way that the background is intentionally blurred. You can use aperture priority, shutter priority, or manual modes at your discretion, though of course one of those is less-suited to this exercise than the others. Don’t just shoot a bunch and hope you get it right, but think about what settings you want to use before you take the shot.

Upload your photo to a photo sharing site (I recommend Flickr but any one will do). Leave a comment with the settings that you used, a link to your photo, and anything else you want to say about the image.

At the end of March 2008, I’ll pick one commenter at random and send them an 8×12 signed print from my flower porn collection.

OK, go out there and shoot!

Update! At a friend’s suggestion, I’m offering two prizes. If at least 20 people submit entries, I’ll give away two prints– one to someone chosen at random, and one to the best submission. Pass the word to your friends, enemies, photography groups, etc. You can enter more than one image but don’t get too carried away… a few is OK, but not a dozen.

Small print: void where prohibited by law. Anyone who clearly violates the spirit of the rules will be disqualified. Don’t put that in your mouth… you don’t know where it’s been. Please make sure your images are worksafe. You can post more than one photo, but you’ll only get one chance at the drawing. It must be a photo that you took specifically for this assignment, not something pulled out of the archives. Play nice. Judging is at my discretion, and is final. SSA might want to show your image in a future entry, but we don’t want any other rights to it– if we want to use it for anything else, we’ll play nice and ask for your permission first.


Filed under Aperture, Exercise

22 responses to “Homework Assignment… with a prize!

  1. This was a difficult assignment. I live in Ohio. We haven’t seen the sun since September! So… I used my two favorite models for an indoor shoot: http://www.flickr.com/photos/harrywagner/2300993416/ I used manual mode (but auto focus) and a Canon 28-135mm lens. I used an aperture of 3.5 (the largest for this lens) and an exposure of 1/10 sec. Since I was shooting indoors I bumped the ISO up to 400.


  2. Can we enter more than one picture???

    http://flickr.com/photos/51674556@N00/2309643130/. Shot in AV at 2.8 with my 50mm 1.4 which I haven’t removed from the camera since getting it for the holidays.

    One question I have is, when you’re shooting in bright light but still want nice bokeh, what are some ways to compensate so the image doesn’t end up completely washed out. I mean, obviously you want the shutter speed to be fast. This was taken at 1/4000 which is pretty fast (I don’t recall what the Rebel XT’s upper limit is). Is there anything other than a faster shutter speed and short of post processing (a skill I do not yet possess)that can be done to prevent this?

  3. Ooo! Changing the ISO. Yes? That would help, wouldn’t it? Mine was at 800 because I’d been shooting indoors. Typically, what ISO do you use outdoors in bright light?

  4. stopshootingauto

    Sarah, yes, feel free to enter two or three if you’d like.

    The “easy” things you can do when you’re in bright light are to use a faster shutter speed and a slower ISO. In your case, 1/4000 is at the Rebel XT’s upper boundary– it just doesn’t get any faster than 1/4000. The 5D will go up to 1/8000, but that’s only one more stop.

    I’m looking at the EXIF data on your image, and you’re using ISO 800. You could have dropped it down to 100 and had three more stops of room to play with. When you’re shooting outdoors on a bright day, you almost always want ISO 100.

    Eventually, though, you just run out of room– the shutter speed’s as fast as it will go, and the ISO is as low as it will go. There’s something called a neutral density filter that will help when you just run out of room and need less light. It’s essentially just a piece of grey glass that screws onto the front of the lens to make the image darker. I’ve never used one, but people who shoot waterfalls and other running water often use them to slow down the exposure and create water blur.

    (Edit: Oh! I see you answered most of your own question while I was typing. Good job!)

  5. same burdock, different day :: two

    Shot nearly wide open (f1.8) at ISO 200. The shutter speed was still 1/4000 and the shot isn’t as sharp, obviously, but it’s better, I think. At least it’s not nearly so washed out.

  6. timprov


    This is color and brightness adjusted because I’m very much a fake-that-I-know-what-I’m-doing-in-post sort of photographer, but the bokeh is real, and I love what it does to the snow.

    Shot with my 20D and the kit lens, wide open so to speak at f3.5, 1/8000 shutter, and 100 ISO. Probably should have used slower shutter, as it came out nearly too dark to fix.

  7. TJ

    Hah! I thought I’d run out, snap 2-3 pics and be done. Twenty some pics later, 2 lenses, and several trips out to the flower, lying on my stomach to focus, then getting up to come back into the house and see what I got…

    I have nothing. LOL! Clearly this assignment is going to take some work. I sure am glad my flower is outside my front door and not down the street in the park.

  8. I’m back. ;)

    Here are two I shot yesterday:

    orange chair

    (or see them together here, http://flickr.com/photos/51674556@N00/2332580590/ )

    You can look at the exif but I think both were taken at 2.8 with the ISO at 200. I could’ve taken it down to 100 on that first shot, but hey, I’m learning. Right?

    I’m sure I’ll be back with more…

  9. I approached this with the idea of taking the photograph with a wide aperture; that would reduce the depth-of-field, blurring the background. In fact, in one picture (the one with three pink flowers), the foreground is blurred as well, as the point of focus is the central flower.

    Click the thumbnail for a larger picture (and you can see the original by clicking the larger image, too).

    All of the flower pictures were taken at on a Sony Alpha-200 in aperture priority mode, with a 1/200 shutter speed, an f/5.6 aperture and a 70 mm focal length (the 35 mm film equivalent is 105 mm), using 100 ISO for film speed. The picture of the birds was taken using the same settings, but 1/100 shutter speed.

  10. Oops; apparently this software doesn’t accept img tags in comments. Well, here’s what I got:

    Flower picture 1
    Flower picture 2
    Flower picture 3
    Flower picture 4
    Bird picture

    Of the 5, I think the 4th flower picture is my favorite, as it shows both foreground and background blur; it’s a good example of selecting your depth of field with focusing.

  11. Taken at f1.4, 1/4000 exposure, and 400 ISO. I took the same picture (relatively) at varying ISOs (and lower exposures) but preferred this one taken at 400 over the shots taken at 200 and 100 which, in my opinion, looked muddy. I imagine that could have been taken care of with some post processing but since I’m essentially an illiterate when it comes to that, it wasn’t an option.

  12. St Patrick's Day in Snow Park

    It wasn’t as bright and sunny as I’d hoped, as it was late in the day when I took this shot, but I thought I’d give it a try anyway, as I found a particularly nice set of blooms on a tree in Snow Park.

    When the assignment came out, I pretty quickly started shooting though with your assignment in mind.

    1st Congregational

    Thanks for the inspiration to shoot at subjects, and in ways I hadn’t yet thought to.

  13. TJ

    Well, I tried again this morning. I’m definitely not gonna win any prizes at this rate. But at least you can see what I’m shooting. I attempted to get pics of the redbud tree in my yard, before all the buds go away and are replaced by leaves.

    The album
    href=”http://s169.photobucket.com/albums/u229/teejay58/Camera%20Learning/?action=view&current=DSC_0004.jpg” rel=”nofollow”>Redbud 1: F4.2, 1/2000
    href=”http://s169.photobucket.com/albums/u229/teejay58/Camera%20Learning/?action=view&current=DSC_0005.jpg” rel=”nofollow”>Redbud 2: F5.3, 1/1600
    href=”http://s169.photobucket.com/albums/u229/teejay58/Camera%20Learning/?action=view&current=DSC_0691.jpg” rel=”nofollow”>Daffodil 1: F3.8, 1/400
    href=”http://s169.photobucket.com/albums/u229/teejay58/Camera%20Learning/?action=view&current=DSC_0686.jpg” rel=”nofollow”>Daffodil 2: F5.3, 1/200

    The daffodil pictures were taken using all manual mode (that’s why it took me 20 to get any that were remotely acceptable). The Redbud pictures were taken using Aperture Preferred. I’ll probably take a few more next time we get a sunny day. :) Interesting: looks like I got the DOF so short on Daffodil 1 that only part of the flower is in focus. I didn’t take write it down, but I bet this was one of the times when I was using a macro lens. That flower probably isn’t any bigger than a 1.5 square inches.

    I copied Tyler’s code. Not an expert in html, so hope this works.

  14. I bought a nifty fifty on your rec not long after I first posted in this thread, and have been having fun playing with it and this technique. Haven’t really wanted to flood the post with photos. This one, though, I’m pretty sure is going to be a favorite:


    I’m enjoying looking at others’ photos here too.

  15. Cylis

    The Bell

    f/5.6, 1/100 exposure and ISO 100.

    I just wanted to get the DOF to focus on the bell, specially the meditating buddha figure. It kind of feels like meditation helps you forget everything else, doesn’t it?

  16. here is my assignment…

    Canon 10D, 1/500seg, f5.6, iso 100.
    it was manually focused, because my lens it’s not working the autofocus, and i wear glases :)

  17. Johan

    Thanks for a web site with great info!

    This was shot with a Fuji S5200 (not a dslr, but still a great camera), on a sunny day:

    I zoomed in fully to get the background as far away as possible, and to get a reasonable small DoF.

    Settings were: iso64, f/3.2, 1/1600

  18. Jamie

    I just read up on this the last Three Day’s. Wow! I have learned alot so far. Its hard to get sunny days here in Maine this time of year.

  19. TJ

    I thought I would edit my previous entry and correct the code, but this blog doesn’t allow for that. So here’s another post where things will hopefully display correctly.

    The Entire Album http://s169.photobucket.com/albums/u229/teejay58/Camera%20Learning/
    Redbud1 http://s169.photobucket.com/albums/u229/teejay58/Camera%20Learning/?action=view&current=DSC_0004.jpg
    Redbud2 http://s169.photobucket.com/albums/u229/teejay58/Camera%20Learning/?action=view&current=DSC_0005.jpg
    Daffodil1 http://s169.photobucket.com/albums/u229/teejay58/Camera%20Learning/?action=view&current=DSC_0691.jpg
    Daffodil2 http://s169.photobucket.com/albums/u229/teejay58/Camera%20Learning/?action=view&current=DSC_0686.jpg

    The daffodil pictures were all taken using manual mode. The Redbud pictures were taken using Aperture Preferred. I think I may have been using a macro lens on the Daffodil1 picture. That flower is about 1.5” square.

    I am a bit embarrassed at my pics compared to the others that are posted here. Surely you aren’t all beginning photographers?! Ah well, maybe my attempts will encourage other beginners to post their stuff here.

  20. Not sure if it’s still Friday where you are but here’s one more that was taken in March but that I never posted here. An ode to chicken boullion.

    golden nuggets

    AV mode, ISO 800, f1.8, & 1/800 shutter speed.

  21. I took this one this morning. I know the homework assignement is over but hey, I didn’t find out about this site until this week when a friend pointed it out to me. By the way, I read the whole lesson’s blog and I now seem to have an understanding of my camera and how to make it do magic. :) At any rate, I wanted to post my sharp foreground, blurred background shot just for your perusal. It is a Belladonna (I think), but not sure. I call it nature’s Kaleidoscope.
    Nature’s Kaleidoscope

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