Photography and Squirrels

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We all know school doesn’t come cheap. It’s a long term investment, but in the short term there are a surprising number of perks that come with being a student, especially a Stout student. Some of these perks are obvious, but some are hidden in the crevices of our daily lives. Often we pass them up without thinking about their potential to provide us with entertainment, or even a new hobby.

The particular perk that I’d like to showcase here today is the opportunity to check out cameras and video cameras from the library with one’s student ID. Because the cameras are not limited to people in a certain major or class, I was free to select a camera and use it for my admittedly less productive purposes. I was planning on testing it out at our Fourth of July cookout, but my primary objective was to photograph the most ubiquitous of all campus wildlife—the squirrels.

                For this purpose, I selected the Canon Rebel EOS T2i. I don’t mean to beat a dead horse about the “free” part of all of this, but the camera I checked out sells for $656.99 on Amazon, and any student can check it out for three days at a time.

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Source: http://www.digitalcamerareview.com/assets/32110.jpg

                Anyway, I was coming into this whole experience with limited camera knowledge, so I selected the T2i because it felt right (and looked pretty cool) and for no other reason. When I unpacked it at our cookout, I was happy to find that the battery was fully charged and I could get going right away. I got set up and took my very first picture of….

Oh. Oh my.

Because I was determined to do some learning in this whole process, I was on Manual settings, and right away I could tell something wasn’t right. It was bright out, but not that bright out. My boyfriend and lovely assistant Andrew (an Entertainment Design major with infinitely more camera expertise than myself) was more than willing to help, but I learn best by trial and error, even if it takes me a while. I had a minimal base knowledge about each of the settings, but while I knew what they did, I didn’t necessarily understand it, and that’s why I was determined to figure it out on my own.

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As the patriotic moped began to appear from the great big block of white, I knew I was heading in the right direction.

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I fiddled with the shutter speed, which had been the source of my brightness problem, and eventually I snapped this reasonably bright picture of Andrew in his patriotic duds on the moped for the full effect.

Later in the afternoon, we headed down to the perceived nucleus of the squirrel population on South Campus—the lawn outside Applied Arts. At this point, my personal camera expert made the only suggestion I took into account all day—switching to shooting in Camera Raw. My layman’s understanding is that Camera Raw takes a bigger photo full of more information, so that you have a bigger range of colors to fiddle with later, and you can zoom in further without the photo looking pixelated or grainy.

Considering the jumpiness of the squirrels, this turned out to be extremely advantageous.

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If you look very carefully near the dead center of the shot, you can see a brownish dot that might be a squirrel. So you can see why I might have been discouraged. But sure enough, I was able to zoom in incredibly far on the squirrel.

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Excited about the potential of the camera in my hands, I adventured around the lawn, getting more ambitious with my shots.

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In these shots, the squirrel appears to have snagged a pizza crust, which is entirely plausible.

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This is my first summer in Menomonie, so I took the time to appreciate seeing the campus covered in flowers, instead of snow.

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My camera expert, in his natural environment.

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These photos were very easy to compile and subsequently edit, thanks to the Adobe products provided on our school laptops. If you’ve never used these programs before but you want to, we’re also provided with online tutorials and training at Lynda.com.

As an Apparel major, I know my way around Photoshop somewhat, so I decided to get a little ambitious and teach myself something new.

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I took this picture of campus, and I was pretty happy with it. Except for the sky. Not content to settle, I searched for instructions on how to replace the sky in a photo using Photoshop, and my search was fruitful.

Using a simple, step-by-step tutorial (http://www.photoshopessentials.com/photo-editing/replace-sky/), I replaced the sky in the photo with one that I thought was more exciting.

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At the end of the day, I had a little bit of sunburn, quite a few awesome photos, and a lot more knowledge about something that had previously intimidated me. And that, in itself, is priceless.

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