Every photographer wants to create better images and figure out their style. What separates their work from the rest of the pack? What style of images do you like to shoot? As photographers we all have free time, and man is it easy to find other activities to fill the day instead of going out and taking a few images. But I have learned one thing about my own photography; I didn’t find my style, my style found me. And I developed my style when I had free time to experiment and shoot subjects I wanted to shoot, not ones on an assignment. I think it is very important to always have a personal project, and flex you creative genes and hone camera/lighting technique during those ‘slow’ periods. I’ve learned through the years that the process is as important as the end result. I might not create images I like all the time, but mistakes contribute to style as much as successes. Days are getting longer and summer is fast approaching. Will you be shooting on your free time, or thinking about shooting on your free time? Grab a camera and head out the door and see what happens. You might be surprised.
Elinchrom recently introduced a new flash, the ELB 400. Similar to the earlier Quadra, this pack is very lightweight (about 6 pounds with the head) and portable. I have used the Quadra around the globe; it is the perfect solution for portraits in remote areas and travel. Nothing is more exciting than lighting a Mongolian throat singer in the Gobi desert with this light! But the Quadra just got a lot better with the introduction of the ELB 400.
Here are some of the improvements:
-new OLED menu
-20% faster recycling
-25% more full power flashes (up from 280-350)
-new creative modes including Strobo, Delayed and Sequence
-minimum power setting is 0.3 f-stop lower
-new generation Skyport built-in
Let me just sum it up at the beginning. The ELB 400 shoots like a powerhouse. I have been shooting the light for weeks now, and right out of the box I loved the new OLED menu. This menu system is very intuitive and easy to navigate, even if you have never used an Elinchrom light before. And the increased power and faster recycling time is HUGE on shoots. I hate missing an expression from a model while I wait for a flash to recycle, and ELB does a terrific job speeding up recycle times. Also important to me is extended battery life, especially if I am miles into the backcountry shooting rock climbers or mountain bikers. 350 full power shots is a lot, and since I rarely shoot at full power, the lithium battery almost eliminates the need to bring in a second a battery on a shoot. I can get hundreds of flashes at full power, and over a thousand at less than full power…my climbers and bikers will wear out before the battery does.
The ELB also has a cool strobic mode to shoot multiple flashes over a long exposure for sequence shots. I have used this a few times and it works perfectly. Now I just need my ballerina dancer to become available to try this out even more…stay tuned, a future post will look at the strobic mode in depth.
If you are looking for a portable light that packs a punch, take a look at the new Elinchrom ELB 400. I’ve shot rock climbers to body builders with this light, and it hasn’t missed a beat.
I just returned from Shooting the West, a unique photography workshop/symposium held every year in Winnemucca, NV. This was my 5th year attending, and it is always a highlight of my year. Why? Because of the great people who attend, and the amazing workshops. This year Ben Wilmore was the keynote speaker…you might know him through his extensive Photoshop training and numerous books. Ben and his wife Karen were terrific presenters and educators, looking forward to seeing them at future events. I had a chance to teach workshops on portraits and lighting, and the images participants created were stunning. This year the amazing Brenda Heintz arranged veterans and cowboys for our portrait class, and it was all I could do not to pick up a camera and shoot images myself. The image above was taken by Richard Westin, a friend and workshop participant. I just had to show this image of rim lighting…Richard nailed it! Always feels good when you see folks succeed with their photography and images.
I was just in Costa Rica on a fantastic workshop with ANPW. The shooting was incredible, including watching this amazing sunset over the Cerro De La Muerte. I sometimes get asked how my career began in photography, was there a turning point in my career, and what inspires my work. My friend Randy at Fusebox Studio was up for producing a video about these questions, so here is the final video. Enjoy!
I just returned from a week shooting in Yellowstone National Park, and some of my favorite images were taken at night. My favorite star trail shots use both the North Star and land elements in the composition. Adding landscape grounds the swirling stars above, and using the North Star gives a pleasing central point for the rotation streaks. But how do you find the North Star?
The easiest way is to look north, find the Big Dipper, and use the end stars in the ‘dipper’ to point to the North Star. See the arrow in the image above as a reference. Another way to find the North Star, especially if you can’t find the Big Dipper, is use a smart phone app like Night Sky. With the app turned on, you just hold your phone above your head in the direction you want to identify the stars. The app will show you exactly what you are looking at in the sky.
The shot at top was done shooting at F 2.8, ISO 100 and a one hour exposure time. I had my long exposure noise reduction turned on to help reduce noise. Old Faithful erupted during the exposure, and this was illuminated with a strong flash light to make it more visible in the final shot. I changed the white balance to 2800 Kelvin to make the sky more blue.
I know many nature photographers who don’t like to use flash. Their biggest concern; the shot looks ‘flashed’. Beautiful nature photography is all about gorgeous natural light. But what if you could create your own gorgeous natural light? When I first started out, I loved natural light and wasn’t interested in flash…until I could see how it vastly improved many of my images. So if you are not into flash in nature, here is one technique that might get your attention.
I like to add a splash of light to small scenes like flowers, forest floors, mushrooms. To do this you need a speedlight you can shoot off camera. Many Nikon cameras have a popup flash that can work as a master controller and trigger your speedlight off camera. I like to use my wireless Nikon transmitter, the SU800. Next, attach a full CTO gel to the front of your flash. Rogue makes a great set of precut gels to fit on your speed light. Full CTO is orange and resembles sunlight. Finally, attach a snoot to your flash. I use the Rogue FlashBender. Pinch down the opening of the snoot so only a small shaft of ‘sun’ comes out.
With your flash set in Remote mode, and your transmitter set to TTL, just place the flash to the side of your scene and shoot. Generally TTL flash will be right on the mark for exposure. I set up my camera on a tripod and use the self timer. This allows me to hold the flash to the side of my scene and make quick adjustments to the angle of light until I get my shot.
It seems almost everywhere I photograph it’s dusty. I mean really dusty; dry gritty deserts in New Mexico, salt ponds in Peru, windswept plains in Patagonia. I’m not one of those photographers who worries about dust getting in my camera when I change lenses. If I need to switch lenses, then I am going to switch lenses. Yes, I get dust on my sensor, sometimes a fair amount during a day of shooting. At night I will clean my sensor using my arctic butterfly from VisibleDust.
But how can I minimize the dust in my shot during the day without cleaning the sensor? Use wide open apertures when you can. If I have a set amount of dust on my sensor, and shoot one image at f16 and the next at f5.6, the 5.6 shot will have a lot less visible dust showing. The shallow depth of field reduces the amount of dust that shows up in the image. Sometimes you need f16 for a lot of depth of field, so you are stuck eliminating dust in post processing. But if you don’t need all that depth of field, try a wider aperture. It the image above I was shooting an assignment for Nikon on Route 66, a very dusty place. But shooting at 5.6 for this portrait helped eliminate a lot of dust I would have to take out later.
I speak at a lot of events about photography, great getting to meet other photographers and share experiences. I’m often asked when I started shooting professionally and the beginnings of my career. If you want to know what was the defining moment in my decision to be a photographer, pick up the current issue of Shutterbug magazine.
I have been shooting 25 years as a professional photographer. Initially I combined adventure sports guiding with shooting until I established myself and made enough money to be full time. 20 years ago I was part of an Indo-American team to climb Nanda Devi, a 25,643′ peak in the Indian Himalayas. It was during this trip, doing a little soul searching about my future, and a remarkable experience, that put my photography career in full motion. One night, under a bright moon at 20,000′, a snow leopard sneaked up behind me as I peered through my camera. I turned around, saw the big shadowy shape (I could hear it breathing), and felt a surge of adrenaline and excitement unlike any other. Thinking about the encounter, my excitement, and the fact it wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t been taking a picture…I decided right then and there I wanted to be a full time photographer. Read more about it in Shutterbug, and watch my new video coming out later this month about my photography career. Stay tuned, more on that soon!
With a subscription plan to Photoshop CC, it is sometimes hard to know what exactly is changing in the program. In addition to supporting new camera RAW formats, what new features can we use to help with processing photos? I’ll tell you one of my new favorites: the camera raw filter. This filter is exactly like it sounds. Using the ‘filter’ drop down menu, you choose the ‘camera raw filter’ and the original camera raw window opens allowing all the adjustments you normally have with the raw converter. Be aware you are past non-destructive editing at this point, but you can use the filter on jpeg and tiff images. I love being able to have the clarity slider available, as well as being able to adjust highlight and whites via the sliders. You could accomplish these things different ways in photoshop, but it is much easier to do with the new camera raw filter.
I had some questions from my last post, so I thought I would explain in detail. A friend, Steve Dondero, gave me some pointers on the technique, and I have since been experimenting a lot. For starters you need an egg whisk, a 3 foot chain or cord attached to the egg whisk, a lighter and ‘0000’ size steel wool. You can buy everything you need at Walmart for about 10 bucks. Steel wool comes in a variety of sizes, but the small ‘0000’ works really well.
You start by pulling the steel wool apart and stuffing it into the egg whisk. Next, you attached your cord via a small carabiner to the egg whisk. Now you are ready to light it on fire, and start spinning. The faster you spin, the brighter and further the sparks fly. For exposure at night, I shoot at 20 seconds, ISO 100 at F5.6. You will need a tripod to keep your camera steady. One big note of caution; the flying sparks can not only catch your surroundings on fire, but also your model. We have been shooting in snowy fields to minimize any fire hazard.
For the shot at top, we used an Elinchrom Ranger with a gridded square soft box to add light to the model. The light was just out of the frame on the right. Jeremiah, our model, held very still for the 15 second exposure while Cree spun the steel wool directly behind him.