Photography On Location


June 21st, 2015

Lander Wyoming. rock climbing
Just back from three weeks on the road, 3500 miles and 6 states. The primary purpose of this trip was to spend some time with my family climbing and camping…along with some climbing photo shoots! Living out of a trailer for three weeks with lots of photo equipment presents a few challenges, mainly keeping gear clean and batteries charged. We have large solar panels we use with our trailer, and since we had tons of sun, keeping Elinchrom flash packs charged wasn’t a problem.

Lander Wyoming. rock climbingLander Wyoming. rock climbing
My favorite shoot of the trip was in Moss Cave in Sinks Canyon, Wyoming. My son, Skyler, was working on a very difficult route (5.13c) that climbed out the severely overhung cave. As climbing photography goes, generally the best angle is from above the climber. My son attached a rope so I could ascend to get into the right position.

Lander Wyoming. rock climbingLander Wyoming. rock climbing
Next up was figuring out the lighting. Since the day was sunny, we had extreme contrast. I decided to us one of my favorite lighting techniques for climbing, what I call the ‘vertical studio’. My favorite light for this is the Elinchrom ELB400 and Quadra Hybrid. I attached one of these 400 watt packs to a 24 foot lightstand and extended it above where the climber would be. I attached a 27.5″ Rotalux Deep Octabank to soften the light, but removed the front diffusion to keep a little edge to the light, similar to beauty dish flash. The light filled in shadows on the climber, and produced a nice ‘pop’ to the image. Love hanging from ropes and shooting climbing pics!

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Stormy Skies and Lightning Triggers

June 7th, 2015

I just returned from a great trip to Ohio with the Mentor Series. We packed in the shooting from landscapes to portraits to sports, but one of the highlights for me was the incredible skyline images we created. We had scouted a good bridge to photograph the Columbus skyline, and we were hoping for a nice twilight image. But what we found was much more than your normal skyline shot. When we arrived an incredible thunderstorm was moving through the area, creating a spectacular sky above the city lights. The timing was perfect since both twilight and the city lights helped illuminate the moody storm clouds. After about five minutes of shooting, a downpour began and we retreated to our bus. To add even more drama and mood to this shot, I used the adjustment brush in Lightroom and added Clarity, Saturation and changed the white balance slightly. I also added a slight Topaz Adjust action to the final image.

We had lighting during this storm, but unfortunately no clean bolts, just cloud to cloud. But summer is the time to thrown your lighting trigger into your photo bag, you never know when you will be in the right place for a good lightning storm. I use the AOE Lightning Strike as my trigger; small and easy to use.

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iPhone Apps

May 27th, 2015

Let’s face it, cell phones are more capable than ever and will continue to improve. I have a love/hate relationship with mine. On one hand I need it to stay in touch with my business and stay current with social media like Instagram (if you want to follow my travels, Instagram is where you will find me). On the other hand I find my phone very distracting when I am in the field or on a shoot; I like to stay focused on my creativity and technique. But your cell phone is a valuable tool to help with your creativity, just use some of these apps to help you create better images.

1. Wunderground. There are a ton of weather apps out there, but time after time Weather Underground gets it right and with more detail than most other apps. I love the forecast graph that shows you hourly rain and sun forecasts down to the hour. This app lets you store favorite locations, and gives quick access to sunrise/sunset times.

2. The Photographer’s Ephemeris. If you are wondering where and when the sun will rise from your location, this is the app for you. Very handy to show you where the sun will peak out behind Half Dome no matter the time of year. Also shows moonrise/set information and times. Every photographer will appreciate this app.

3. Night Sky. If you like to photograph star trails, then this app will help you find the north star and other constellations. Handy to set up that one hour star trail shot.

4. Easy Release. For the portrait shooters out there, this app lets you have models sign a release on your phone or tablet. You can take their picture, tag it to the release, and send it home via email. When you return, your releases are waiting for you. Comes in many different languages.

5. Hi-Def Radar. Another weather app, this one shows you where those nasty thunderstorms are and what direction they are moving. So you can set up in their path with your lightning trigger attached and wait for the show…just remember to run for cover! I’m addicted to this app; it is very valuable to know what weather is going to hit you when you are in the middle of a shoot.

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Photographing moving water

May 20th, 2015

Moving water is a common subject for many photographers. Landscape and travel photographers often encounter moving water, and portrait shooters may use it as a dynamic element in their shot. The question then becomes how to capture this moving element, and specifically what shutter speed is best? The best way to answer this question is by asking another question; what mood and concept are you trying to create? Tranquility, tension, drama, serenity, solitude, action…these concepts all require different approaches to photographing water.

Take a look at the image at the top of this post. With this image I wanted to capture the solitude and beauty of the Merced River in Yosemite National Park. I found an interesting composition of rocks, whitewater and forest along the river. To create this image I used a 14-24mm lens to get really close to my foreground rock and still capture the background forest. If I wanted to create a really tranquil image, I would have shot around 5-10 seconds to create white ‘cotton’ water with no sense of direction. But this image was a little different. The strong diagonal line created by the foreground rock added some tension to the shot. With this in mind, I decided to shoot around 1/3 of a second to make the water silky, but still have direction and wave action. Photographing the river at this speed kept the design elements harmonious in this image, which created a better photograph.

In the end the photographer makes the decision on what shutter speed and resulting effect looks best. But remember the bigger question of what are you really trying to create in your shot. Clarifying your concept directs your shooting technique and results in better images.

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Let it Rain.

May 11th, 2015

San Miguel De Allende, Mexico
Okay, this is one of the wettest springs I can remember in Colorado. And for that matter, it seems like on my past few workshops and assignments I have run into rain. What are you going to do? Of course you are going out to shoot! Bad weather is good weather! Whether you are in an urban area, or in the wilderness, rain brings opportunity.

I love how streets come alive in the rain. You might think everyone is taking shelter, and that can be true. But on the other hand all the street surfaces now have water on them, creating a beautiful reflective surface. On commercial shoots we hose down sidewalks and roads just to get this look…why not let mother nature help you out?

Umbrellas pop up everywhere, creating terrific photo opportunities. Try finding a high vantage point to shoot down into the sea of umbrellas. If you are feeling creative, how about shooting slow shutter speeds to create some creative blur images. Bring your own umbrella to keep you camera dry. If it is really pouring, trying using a simple rain cover from Fotosharp or Lens Coat to keep your gear dry. I’m en route to Yosemite right now, and the forecast is calling for a few rainy days. Perfect, the falls will be flowing and the flowers will have beautiful rain drops on their petals!

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Selective sharpening

May 5th, 2015

Fort Collins, CO.. portrait
On workshops one question that pops up frequently is how to develop images in post production. And one step, sharpening the image, always gets people’s attention. In Lightroom there are presets and slider controls for manual sharpening, and in Photoshop you have even more sharpening algorithms to use. But whatever method you choose, I highly recommend selective sharpening. This technique offers better results and is what professional retouchers are doing.

Selective sharpening is just like it sounds. Instead of sharpening the entire image, you sharpen selected areas differently. I work in Photoshop, so my workflow goes like this. First, I might actually sharpen the entire image slightly to bump up the overall sharpness. Since I photograph in RAW format, my images need a little sharpening (but not much with the D810!). Next, I look at what I want the viewer to more focus on in my shot. If it is an animal or person, I may sharpen these just a little bit more. If my shot is a tight portrait, then I may do additional eye sharpening.

Pay attention to your depth of field and focus point on the image. If you are using a shallow depth of field, then you don’t want to sharpen elements that you are trying to keep out of focus. Take the image at top as an example. I was working with a gorgeous young model, Esther, and we wanted a summertime feel to one of her portraits. I chose F2.8 to keep the background out of focus and add to the dreamy quality of the shot. Since I didn’t want to sharpen the background, I only sharpened Esther’s face and eyes even more so.

How do you add sharpening to selected parts of an image? In Photoshop I duplicate the layer, add a layer mask filled with black, and then brush in (using white) what areas I want sharpened. If you are working in the RAW converter (Photoshop and Lightroom), you could use the adjustment brush to do the same thing. Not all images need selective sharpening, but this is a valuable technique for many photos.

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Nikon D810

April 27th, 2015

Moab, UT.
When I saw the D810 announced about a year ago, I wasn’t in line to buy one. I was so happy with my D800 and the files it produced, I just didn’t see the need to upgrade when the files were basically the same. Sure, the D810 didn’t have the anti-aliasing filter so I could expect sharper images out of the camera. But a host of other features got me thinking;

-group area autofocus
-base ISO of 64 and ability to go to 32.
-expeed 4 image processor, ie faster autofocus.
-up to 7 FPS frames per second with option grip MB-D12.
-numerous video improvements including ability to record at 60p
-more time-lapse frames available, and ‘exposure smoothing’
-sharper LCD
-better battery life
-new shutter, quieter

After shooting this camera awhile, I have to say one thing; this was not just a bump in features, the D810 is better thought of as a new camera entirely. I could go on and on about what I love about this camera, it is amazing. First, for those action shooters, group-area autofocus is simply amazing. Faster acquisition of moving subjects (can’t wait to photograph birds!) with less blurry frames. And here is the real kicker. The buffer has been more than doubled, so you don’t have to worry about waiting to shoot your next series of images. And with frame rates of 6 and 7fps (with grip) and using smaller crop (1.5x) sizes, you get great performance for action sequences and still large files (1.5x gives you approx. 15MP files…about the same as the D4). ISO 32 allows me to darken midday skies for portraits without using a filter, or shoot slower shutter speeds during video and time-lapse. And yes, the files are noticeably sharper right out of the camera. If you ask me about whether to ‘upgrade’ to this camera or not, I would unequivocally say got for it. You will be blown away by the improved performance and new features of the D810.

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Ohio here I come!

April 23rd, 2015


I teach photo workshops all over the country and globe, but noticeably absent are excursions to the Midwest. I grew up in the Midwest, and despite not having a Grand Canyon or an ocean, there are a lot of lesser known, but very beautiful, areas to photograph. When the Mentor Series asked me if I would interested in teaching a workshop there, of course I said yes. So for all those past workshop participants who have asked why there are no workshops in the Midwest, come join me in Ohio. We will be photographing cowboys, horses, waterfalls, rolling hills, kayakers…all packed into a 3 day trip. Check out all the details here.

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Combining white balances

April 21st, 2015

San Miguel De Allende, Mexico
One of the most powerful design elements photographers can use is color. Color evokes a strong emotional response from the viewer, and can help the photographer achieve their vision and concept. Often the first step in creating the color is choosing your white balance. Your white balance might match the scene, such as Daylight for a midday sunny photograph. Or you might choose a white balance to add color such as using ‘Cloudy’ on a sunny day to add a warm tone to your shot. I take it a step further and combine white balances, especially on twilight shots.

The image above was taken at sunset in San Miguel De Allende. These tango dancers were incredible, and we found the perfect narrow street for the shot. Tango is about passion, love, drama…and amazing dancing. To achieve this mood, we photographed the dancers at twilight in a street with tungsten lights overhead. The street lights would add a nice warm glow to the shot (with a daylight white balance), and the distant clouds would add some drama. Warm colors advance off cool colors, so the dancers in red and warm street light glow would be very dramatic. But with the final image, the street glow looked perfect, the dancers looked perfect, but the clouds looked gray. To solve this issue, I combined white balances.

There are numerous ways to add selective white balance. In Lightroom you could choose the adjustment brush and brush over the sky, then adjust the color temperature slider to warm up this area. With the shot above I double processed the original raw file. I saved one that kept the warm street light glow, and saved another with the white balance set to tungsten. I put the tungsten balanced image over the original shot, added a layer mask filled with black, and then brushed (using white as the foreground color) the tungsten (blue) sky to create ‘the right white balance’.

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Creative trees

April 13th, 2015

San Miguel De Allende, Mexico
On my recent travels in Mexico I kept encountering beautiful purple Jacaranda trees. The challenge with photographing the trees was their location; busy streets, private yards and cluttered courtyards. But one morning we found a beautiful tree near a church, and this Jacaranda was perfectly silhouetted against the blue sky. How to photograph this tree?

I started with a sharp image and bracketed compositions changing the position of the tree trunks. The black trunks provided the visual handrail the viewer’s eye would travel along through the image. I liked the trunks in the lower left corner the most.

San Miguel De Allende, Mexico
Next, I aimed my camera straight up, set a slow shutter speed (1/-2 to 1/15 second) and twisted my camera as I pressed the shutter. The trick with this image was trying to keep my center point steady so the motion would rotate around this one point. ‘Twisties’ are a great way to photograph trees from below when you are working on abstract shots.

San Miguel De Allende, Mexico
Finally, I had to shoot the tried and true ‘shakie’. Using the same slow shutter speed this time I shook my camera up and down to create an abstract effect. And in the end, this was my favorite shot. Always experiment with your camera technique, especially methods that produce abstract results. Sometimes these images are my favorites from a trip.

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