October 21st, 2014
I recently returned from a spectacular week of shooting in Sedona teaching on a ANPW workshop. Everyday brought amazing light, rosy sunsets and stunning clouds. I have shot a lot in Sedona, so I decided this trip I would endure the 50mm exercise. What is this you say?
When I taught college photography classes, I loved the fact that I had the students all semester. This meant we had time to really explore concepts, techniques and creative styles. One of the first exercises I had the students do is shoot with a fixed 50mm for one week. This assignment was met with groans of displeasure; how could they get anything good with a 50mm? No zooms, super wide angles or fisheyes, just a simple 50mm to record the scene.
If you have journalism roots like I do, you know fixed lenses have ruled the profession for years. Award winning images are shot on fixed lenses like the 50mm. So really what happens when you only use the 50mm is you have to change how you shoot, and try different things. Perfect! That is how you develop your creativity…try something new, not doing something you do all the time.
I roamed the desert looking for angles with my 50mm. I had to walk right up to some subjects; try photographing people with the 50mm. You have to make contact, establish report, and hopefully record an honest moment the 50mm interaction creates. I found shots in Oak Creek I had never seen before when I used my zoom lens. I’m not leaving all my beautiful zoom lenses behind, but using the 50mm got me thinking outside the box in a familiar location. Try the 50mm exercise on your next shoot, you might just get an image you never imagined.
October 15th, 2014
I have been using the Singh-Ray 10 and 15 stop ND filters a lot lately, and I am really impressed…these filters are as much about slowing down water as stretching tiny movements into creative blurs and building up colors. Above is a shot I took in Hvar, Croatia; about a 5 minute exposure. With just a little wave action, the boats turned into nice soft blurs. And a colorful sunset transformed into a super saturated one. Remember, 5 minutes of exposure will create colors you don’t see looking at a scene in ‘real time’. If the scene looks slightly colorful, chances are after a 5-10 minute shot it will look incredible.
In Sedona right now working on more slow exposures. Shot this iconic scene of Cathedral Rocks using a LB Color Polarizer and 2 stop soft edge graduated ND filter…gotta love the desert light!
September 30th, 2014
I’m in the middle of trips right now, in Australia last week, off to Croatia right now. I love travel; it puts my senses and creativity in overdrive. New sights, sounds, smells…very intoxicating stuff. One aspect I try to look for in my travel images is motion. And there are three types I try to capture; 1)pan/blurs with subjects sharp, 2)blurs where everything is a little blurry, and 3) static subject/motion nearby.
1) Pan/blur. How much fun is it to stand on a street corner and shoot pan and blurs of passing bikers, cars, rickshaws, horses? I start my pan and blurs at around 1/30 and pan with my subject shooting as many frames as I can. Adjust your shutter speed depending on your results and how fast your subject is moving. Using a tripod will give you more usable frames.
2) Blur. Create these abstract images by having everything slightly soft…dancers in motion, pedestrians on the street, birds in the square…I shake my camera a little for more creative results. Shutter speed around 1/20 to start, but experiment with your settings. Try zooming in and out over a 1 second exposure for a ‘zoomie’.
3) Static subject/motion nearby. These images are like a pan and blur, but your subject is not moving, something is moving around it. Take the subway shot above. A bullet train whizzes by a business man in Tokyo. Look for these scenarios when you are out shooting, the images can be stunning.
September 24th, 2014
Just in from a fabulous trip to Australia. Long on my list to visit, Australia lived up to everything I hoped and more. A HUGE thanks goes to Sam Oster for setting up my visit and teaching schedule, check out her work here. Also many thanks to all the others that helped sponsor my visit including Elinchrom, Diamonds Camera, Lastolite and the terrific folks at Red Poles.
I taught lighting classes during my visit, focusing on Hypersync. I’ve blogged repeatedly on this topic; it is amazing technology that Pocket Wizard developed allowing the use of fast shutter speeds with studio packs. Our group used Pocket Wizard Flex TT5 and Mini TT1 units with Elinchrom Rangers and Quadras, and we were able to shoot up to 1/8000 with a variety of Nikon and Canon cameras. A few notes; you will get slight banding at this extreme speed, but if you shoot wide, then this can be easily cropped out. Shooting outdoors minimizes how much this banding shows up in your image. If you shoot in the studio against flat backgrounds, then the banding is more obvious. Another note…turn off your red eye reduction in your flash settings, this causes a delay when triggering the strobe pack. And finally….note to self…American Pocket Wizards work on a different frequency than Australian units, so they won’t trigger each other. Which is nice when you have a bunch of people blazing away in the forest.
We had incredible models for all our sessions, including dancers swinging from fabric and ropes in trees, and skateboarders tearing it up. And did I mention one brown snake slithering through the grass…bound to get everyone’s attention! My only regret is not having enough time. Australia is big, with tons of shooting opportunities. Combine that with warm, friendly people…I’m already planning my next visit!
September 12th, 2014
Some folks have emailed me asking about my upcoming lighting workshops, and I do have some on my schedule that will focus on lighting. To start next week I will be in Australia speaking and teaching at the Shimmer Photography Festival. My time there will include classes on portraits and action lighting, with lots of time using the new Elinchrom ELC 1000s. In March I will return to Shooting the West to teach some portrait/lighting classes. Then later in March Dave Black, Dave Tejada and myself will teach lighting in Las Vegas for the Mentor Series, including a visit to the Neon Boneyard and Las Vegas showgirls. In April I will be teaching lighting in Arches National Park for American Nature Photography Workshops. This class will focus on photographing rock climbers in the desert. Hope to see you at one of these events!
September 8th, 2014
One of the first tools a photographer uses to modify light is a reflector. They’re simple, inexpensive and create a nice look if used properly (i.e. not to close to your subject!). White and soft gold make sense, these bounce light back onto the subject to reduce contrast and create nice soft fill light. But why use a black sided reflector?
Recently I shot a good friend and incredible model, Jeremiah, on a bright sunny day. We were using available light and diffusing it with overhead silks and reflecting it with soft gold reflectors. Jeremiah switched into some edgy clothing for a new look, and this required different lighting. Remember, use and modify light to match your concept. I could have used a white reflector on the top shot, but this would have evened out the lighting on his face for a soft almost flat look. Wearing a ‘gritty’ coat required gritty lighting…i.e. lighting with more contrast. To achieve more contrast and grit in the image, I placed a black reflector near the right side of Jeremiah’s face. Black subtracts light, and in this case created shadow on the right side of his face. More contrast in the image better matched the gritty look we wanted to achieve.
September 5th, 2014
My friend Bill Donavan at Dangerous Circus Pictures created a cool video behind the scenes of our half pipe shoot in Salida Colorado. I was trying out the new Elinchrom ELC Pro HD 1000 lights, and having a blast shooting off rapid fire bursts. I was so amped up at the end of the shoot, he said tell me what you think about these lights and left the camera rolling. Check out this video, the rapid flash action of the ELC 1000s, and the incredible skating of Shea Donovan.
September 2nd, 2014
I teach a lot of lighting classes, everything from speed lights to big strobes, one light to multiple light setups. Recently I condensed down a lot of technique into three basic, but proven, lighting techniques for Digital Photo Magazine. If you are just starting out, you will really get a lot out of this article. If you are thinking about shooting portraits as part of your photography business, then this article is for you. You can check out the article here.
August 28th, 2014
Okay, if you have been reading this blog, then you should have my book….and if you don’t now is the time to get it at a bargain price. Peachpit is having a labor day sale on their books, including mine; 40 percent off titles using the code at this link. My book covers tons of information including steps to enhance your creativity, workflow, flash technique and shooting the northern lights…to name a few topics. I hope you enjoy it!
August 27th, 2014
Backgrounds can make or break any photograph. And the separation we get from the background is also critical for many photographs, especially portraits. Key to creating separation in a photograph is your choice of aperture and depth of field. Choosing F2.8 with a telephoto will give you a nice blurry background. But the quality of those out of focus elements, known as bokeh, is what really matters. Not all lenses are equal when it comes to bokeh. So what lens has the best bokeh?
My choice is the 85mm 1.4 Nikon. Of course this is a subjective opinion, but there is just something special about the bokeh created shooting the 85mm at wide open apertures. The image at top was shot using this lens at F2.2 at 1/30. The slow shutter speed ensured the background burned into the shot, and the shallow 85mm aperture created the soft silky bokeh. The background helps set the scene and mood of the shot, and the tack sharp subject pops off the background. I have other lenses that create pleasing bokeh too like the 70-200 F2.8, but my choice is the 85mm.
Here is a behind the scenes shot of our set up with one of the models we shot (thanks Casey and Jeremiah!). We used 4 lights for this shot. One overhead Elinchrom ELC1000 shot through a small deep Rotalux octabox to illuminate the model from the front. Next, two Rotalux strip banks with grids were used to add accent light to the sides of the model (the grids kept the light from spiling into other parts of the scene). We used two Elinchrom Quadras for this job. And last, an Elinchrom Quadra shot through a 30 degree grid added accent light to the model’s hair.