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!
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.
I’m always looking for new tricks and techniques to improve my photography. Maybe it is new software to use in post production, a new lens to get the ultimate landscape or just doing something different with a familiar subject. Recently I have been experimenting with a new element in my portraits….motion. Adding moving elements, but keeping the subject still, creates different moods and concepts. Sometimes moving elements create tension and drama, other times mystery and suspense. Adding smoke to film noir creates mystery. Adding water adds drama.
These two portraits are good examples. Jeremiah, my model, is the best…he is game for anything, and has lots of creative ideas of his own. And he also is multi-talented, check out his book. For the first shot at top I had Jeremiah stand on our driveway right below the roof of our house. My wife climbed onto the roof, and poured a big bucket of water onto Jeremiah’s head…since it was already raining outside, he didn’t mind getting a little more wet.
For this image I had two assistants stand on either side of him, and spray him with hoses. But there is one important aspect of this shot. I was shooting my new Elinchrom ELC 1000s at 8 frames a second. This allowed me to capture the water and spray at just the right time before Jeremiah was soaked. Shooting the ELCs around 500 watts gives a flash duration of 1/5000, plenty fast enough to freeze the droplets. Next time you are trying to liven up a portrait, try adding motion, you might be surprised at the results.
I have continued to shoot with the new Elinchrom ELC 1000s, and I just can’t stop shooting these bad boys. Why? The need for speed, or in this case, firing off 500 watt pops at 8 frames a second.
Recently I worked with an incredible rider (thanks Chance!) who caught enough air to make me dizzy. I mean every jump and this guy is running into bird migration patterns. Our crew of Cree, Casey and myself had a blast shooting Chance as he did trick after trick. Here is a short video of the shoot…check out how fast those lights are shooting.
I have gotten some questions on powering these lights in remote locations. Since they are AC units, you need to bring a generator on your shoot. But not just any generator. These lights suck power to keep up with their lightning fast recycle times (up to 20 flashes per second!), so I recommend a 2000 watt generator or bigger. I’m using a Honda 2000 watt generator right now. We shot two lights off it on this shoot, and it worked like a charm. Can’t wait to try some creative portraits using these new lights.
News flash…I’m arriving in Australia on Sept. 15! Very excited to be the ‘artist in residence’ at the Shimmer Photography Festival. I’ll be doing a number of presentations during my stay, including teaching the latest on Hypersync using lightning fast Sandisk cards and the incredible Elinchrom ELC 1000s for some stunning action photography. I love these events, so much collaboration and inspiration from everyone gathered to talk photography! I’m honored to be invited, and plan to share my latest work and teach some power-packed classes. Stop by if you can, and I expect to see my Aussie friends (you know who you are!) to show me around down under. Thanks to all my sponsors, and especially Samantha Oster for making this happen!
If you have read my earlier posts, you know I love the Df. I have been using this camera extensively this year from humid jungles in Peru to chilly glaciers in Alaska. I love the files, retro styling, lightweight, quiet shutter and incredible ISO performance. I just shot over 4000 images on a big assignment, and the Df was the only camera I used.
In talking with Nikon last spring, a great idea emerged; how about combining two classics, historic Route 66 and the Df. Uh, where do I sign up for this job!? Soon after this I found myself logging over 2000 miles and shooting thousands of images through Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. Just me, my Df, a few lenses and a couple speedlights. I haven’t traveled this light on a job in years, and it was very liberating. Just explore the highway, meet the colorful people along the way, and chase the light. Nikon just posted the results of my trip at Learn and Explore on their website.
This assignment had some unexpected results. It had been a long time that I shot an assignment without assistants, lots of gear and detailed production. On Route 66 I just roamed, followed the highway and watched the light stretch across sandy hills. I’d sit in diners and listen to old timers talk about change, the weather and local gossip. I ate some of the best pie I’ve ever eaten. I watched ravens soar through indigo skies in the Painted Desert. Time slowed down for me on this assignment. I really got a chance to explore my own photography, and remember why I like creating images. Route 66 used to represent freedom and hope to many travelers back in the day. For me, this classic highway led me back to my journalistic roots, and the simple joy of clicking the shutter at just the right moment.
I recently returned from a week long assignment shooting for a tourism bureau in Alaska. I’ve worked with these folks for years, and it is always one of the most enjoyable assignments I shoot all year. First, I get to return to my old home in Alaska. And second, I get to shoot the coolest things like fisherman hauling in huge king salmon, float planes soaring over remote lakes with Denali in the distance, and endless scenic landscapes. And many years I go up in helicopters to photograph. Shooting aerials is always exciting; you just have to remember a few things to get good shots.
First, make sure you and the pilot are on the same page. I like to tell the pilot what I have in mind, and then hear from him what he has in mind. Things like how close to fly to the ground, are the doors going to be on or off, and where can I put my gear if I have some. For shooting in helicopters, I normally take one body with a 24-120mm VR lens. The VR will help reduce vibration, and this focal length works great for both distant landscapes and allows me to zoom in on interesting parts of the shot. I make sure to have a fresh battery and plenty of card space.
Second, wear a dark shirt. Your reflection on the window may be a problem to photograph through, so a dark shirt will minimize this issue. I get as close to the window as I can without touching it. This reduces glare issues. If you touch the window with your lens, you will get vibration and may cause a scratch on the glass.
Third, take off your lens hood. Anything that can fall off (filters, hoods) during the flight is a very bad thing, and dangerous.
Fourth, make sure the pilot knows how high and fast you want to go. On my shoot in Alaska this year, I was with some tourists on my flight so the pilot wanted to give them a good ride. He was flying low and fast over a huge glacier, not ideal for shooting but a lot of fun! To compensate for the high speed/low flight, I dialed up my ISO and shot at 1/3200 to stop the action, or in this case, freeze the landscape.
I just returned from a photography packed trip in Montana put on by the Mentor Series, and I am still trying to download all the images I shot. We photographed animals at the Triple D Game Ranch, North American Indian Days, models fly fishing and kayaking, and the beauty of Glacier National Park. Thanks again to everyone who put this trip together, and the great participants on the trip!
One technique we explored was shooting into the sun. This angle is generally the last thing photographers are thinking about; lens flare, tricky exposures and spotty autofocus can all be problems when you photograph from this angle. But the results are worth it! Our first subject shooting into the sun was avalanche lillies on Logan Pass. These delicate yellow flowers are only about 4 inches tall, so to start with, some of the participants and I laid down on the ground at eye level with the flowers. Next, we positioned ourselves so the sun would drop behind a peak around sunset, producing a nice sunstar and backlit flowers. Remember, to produce sun stars you need to use a small aperture opening like F16.
Next up was photographing a huge Blackfoot Indian Pow Wow. This is an amazing event; bright colors, heavy drumbeats and loud chanting creates a powerful experience. We had complete access to this event, and we all got some great images. As the sun was setting during some dancing, I realized it would be at the perfect angle to shoot through the elaborate headdresses worn by the dancers. There were only five minutes where the dancers and the sun lined up, and I got one of my favorite shots during the trip.
Remember when the sun is setting, anticipate possible shooting opportunities you might have….
Workshop participants often ask about techniques they can use to improve their photography. Many are busy with work during the week, so their only shooting time might be on weekends. One thing we all can do to improve our shooting is practice a lot. When was the last time you went to the park and really worked on creatively shooting those boring mallard ducks? Of how about photographing flying pigeons in the street? This might not sound glamorous, but shooting sessions like these will improve your camera handling and technique….the better you know your camera, the quicker you can get that fleeting shot.
Recently I was in Kenai Fjords NP, and we were returning from a fabulous day of photographing in the park. On the boat ride back we had a flock of gulls that just hovered and soared all around the back of our boat. I was sitting there watching the gulls when I realized this was a great opportunity to photograph flying gulls against beautiful scenery. Better yet, these birds got really close to the boat, no long lens needed. So I started shooting…and shooting…and shooting. I shot at 10FPS with my D4, and experimented with different focus patterns, shutter speeds, focus modes…I couldn’t remember that last time I put my camera through so many different settings experimenting with my shooting techniques. About 500 frames into it I was really having fun. ’Boring’ gulls were becoming as exciting as sea lions on the rocks. By 800 frames I was laughing like a giddy child; these gulls were as exciting as breaching whales. By 1000 frames I was almost losing my voice I was laughing so much. And I was getting some very interesting frames, only shots I could get by shooting hundreds of gull photos. I honed some of my shooting technique that day, and learned a few creative approaches to panning bird photography. Practice with that camera, even with ‘boring’ subjects, you will be a better photographer for it.
I just returned from a terrific ANPW workshop in Alaska (if you are interested in next year, there are a few spots still open). We had a private charter into Kenai Fjords NP one day photographing orcas, seals, birds and whales, and spent a number of days photographing bears in Lake Clark NP. I brought my long lens with me, my 500mm, which is always good to have shooting wildlife in Alaska. But I also tried out my F4 70-200mm with a 1.4x converter as a lighter, more accessible option to capture the action. I wasn’t disappointed.
I am using my 70-200mm F4 a lot these days for a few reasons. First, it is a lot lighter and smaller than my 70-200mm F2.8. Second, this lens features Nikon’s latest VR technology, and it is simply incredible, noticeably better than any earlier versions of VR. And third, to my eye, this lens is as sharp as the 2.8 version. If there is one thing the F4 version doesn’t do as well as the F2.8 version, its focus as fast, especially in low light conditions. But I just got done shooting this lens everyday in Alaska, and it is impressive.
All these images were shot using the 70-200mm F4 with the 1.4x. I was very impressed at how tack sharp this combination was. I wound up using this set up more than my 500mm since the bears were close, and it was much easier to get low shooting angles and follow moving bears.
I will still be using my 70-200mm F2.8 for action sports, but I have been very impressed with the F4 version. And since it is tack sharp with a 1.4x converter, I’ll be using it even more.