One area of technology that has quietly become available to many photographers are remote triggers. Back in the day this was big news; you could set up your camera aimed at a bald eagle nest and fire away from your blind. Or set up cameras at the horse race track at ground level for stunning shots. For me, I used remote triggers to create endless stock images, often with myself as the model. I vividly remember working on images for National Geographic Adventure in the desert; I set up my camera with remote trigger at a roadside pullout and aimed my 500mm lens at a distant pinnacle. Leaving the camera 1/2 mile away, I rock climbed up the pinnacle, set up a yellow tent, and stood there looking out over an amazing desert landscape. I was starring in my own stock shot, and was sure it would make the cover…until I heard Molly Hatchet blaring on the radio. Looking back at the pullout, a bunch of ‘good old boys’ had pulled in beside my camera, and were amazed at their luck finding $10,000 worth of gear just sitting there for them to take. As they walked towards it, I frantically hit the remote shutter causing the camera to take pictures. They stopped in the their tracks, not sure if the camera was possessed. In the meantime, I practically jumped from the pinnacle, raced back up the road, and said hello to the ‘boys’. Honestly, they were really nice, and offered me a beer. They were quite amused at what I was doing.
Technology aside, remote triggers still give you great creative liberties. Just this last weekend I wanted to create a sea kayaking shot. Not an image of the boats on the water, but I wanted to photograph the boats on top of my car. Think road trip and lifestyle image. To set this up, I used a Manfrotto magic arm attached to my car rack. This arm clamps down on anything, and can be positioned in really contorted angles. I attached my D810 to the arm, and used a Pocket Wizard Plus II and remote cable to fire my camera.
The great thing about the Pocket Wizard system is the range. With fresh batteries you can easily trigger your camera a 1/4 mile away. And today, any Nikon camera with built in wifi can be triggered from your smart phone using the Nikon smart phone app. No extra transmitters needed, just set it up and shoot away. Think about what images you can create using your camera remotely. Remote photography opens up a new area of creativity for photographers.
I have always liked converting images to black and white, but the trick has been figuring out what method to get good results. While there are lots of ways in LR and Photoshop to convert an image to black and white, I’ve always been a advocate of third party conversion software as long as it looks good. And I have to say, the new On1 Photo 10 with its black and white filter options gives incredible results with all the tools necessary to adjust the conversion.
Here is what the black and white filter window looks like. To start, you have a larger variety of presets to choose from for your conversion. But that is just the start. On the right side you have a variety of sliders and tools to allow more adjustment of the image. What I really like about this new version is now you can do your black and white conversion, and then add a filter from the same window. Just hit the ‘add filter’ button on the right side to apply this to your shot. Maybe you like a grunge look to your images, or you want to add dynamic contrast to a landscape. The algorithms have been improved on sliders such as the Shadows slider, and you can choose specific colors to adjust in your black and white shot. Just like adding colored filters in the field at capture. Another way to convert to black and white is use the film preset option. Click this tab and you will be presented with your favorite black and white film presets.
On1 Photo offers a lot more than just black and white conversions. It is on sale one more day for $109 dollars with lots of extras included. For the vast amount of presets and filters included, On1 Photo is a bargain.
I just returned from Tucson co-teaching a workshop for the Mentor Series with Tamara Lackey. We had an amazing few days photographing a wide variety of subjects, and our group was fantastic. Thanks to Tamara for the great energy and fun in teaching, and to Michelle for yet again putting together a learning packed workshop.
Our first day we visited the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum. Don’t let museum fool you. This facility is amazing, and has a wide variety of plants and animals in their native environment, perfect for photography. Their cactus garden alone is worth going to see. We photographed a birds in flight presentation, which gave me the chance to try out my D810 for some fast action photography. Photographers may not think of the D810 as an action camera, but with group-area autofocus and large files, this camera has some advantages. It may not have the blazing frame rate of the D4s, but with 36mp you can crop down on distant wildlife and still have large files with a lot bigger subject in your image. And group-area autofocus just works amazingly well. In the image above I focused on a Harris Hawk as it flew towards us, and I didn’t miss a frame with this fast moving bird. If you have a D810, 750 or D4s, you should try it out on your next action shoot, you won’t be disappointed.
When I heard about the new Skyport Plus HS from Elinchrom that supported lightning fast shutter speeds with flash photography, I got sweaty palms. I’ve long been a user of High Speed Sync flash in speed lights, and Hypersync using strobe packs. I’ve shot underwater Hypersync in frothy rapids photographing kayakers, and shot volumes of portraits at F1.4 around 1/2000 and faster for silky backgrounds and underexposing daylight.
But the new Skyport Plus HS promised dedicated Elinchrom performance with extended range, and no visible banding (dark bands caused by the shutter curtain blocking the light) and easier control of strobes via the new LCD interface. And that wasn’t all. The new Skyport Plus would work seamlessly with existing packs and receivers, no special transmitters needed. Since I work on location, I have a fleet of Ranger, Quadra and ELB 400 packs. Did this mean right out of the box I could just attach the Skyport to my D810 and shoot at 1/8000 of a second with no banding? The short answer…YES! The portrait at the top of this post was taken at 1/8000, F2.8 and ISO 100 in full midday sun. I used three Rangers with ‘S’ heads and the Skyport Plus HS. Incredible! Even better, I was shooting my Rangers around half power, I had power to waste!
Let me take a step back and start with the range. To start things off with this Skyport I naturally needed to do something outside of the box to test the range. One of my favorite sea kayaking images is loading up a boat with lights and firing them at twilight. For this test I placed a Quadra Hybrid and two ELB 400s into a kayak and had the kayaker paddle way out into the water…much further than I would want to shoot. Every frame the lights triggered flawlessly. Honestly, I got impatient trying to get the lights to misfire. At one point my paddler was at least 400 feet away, further than I would ever shoot the lights. And they didn’t miss a beat.
Since I was on the water theme, I decided to shoot the Skyport underwater. I love shooting over/under images, so I rigged up my underwater housing with the Skyport enclosed in a waterproof flash housing connected to the camera via waterproof cable.
Still on the fishing idea, I busted out my tilt-shift lens to see if I could add fill light to the backlit fisherman. Since I was using F4 in bright sun, I shot at 1/3200 using my Ranger on shore about 30 feet away from the fisherman. What was really incredible was I had to dial down my Ranger and ‘S’ head to half power to get the right exposure. If I had shot at full power, I’m guessing I could easily illuminate a subject 100 feet away or even further (stay tuned, I’ll test this idea later.)
At this point I could see the Skyport Plus was living up to its name. But what about the banding’ issue that plagues fast shutter speeds and strobe flash. The true test would be to shoot the flash against a white seamless background at 1/8000 and see what happened. Take a look at the picture above. 1/8000, F4, ISO 200, Ranger with ‘S’ head and standard reflector about 20 feet away from the background. Amazing, no banding at all. And this is just putting the Skyport on your camera and shooting, no special settings for adjustments. The Skyport Plus HS does have a way to adjust for flash banding if it occurs, but at least with my D810, I don’t see the need.
Another thing I was curious about is how Hi-Sync (what Elinchrom calls this technology) worked shooting through big soft boxes. My experience with High Speed Sync systems showed that the strobic mode that is used in HSS really gets absorbed by diffusion in soft boxes. Since Hi-Sync uses one burst like a traditional flash, I expected it would perform well in a big octobox. I set up my Ranger using the enormous 74″ octobox and an ‘S’ head for some fall lifestyle shooting.
And as expected, Hi-Sync worked perfectly, and with power to spare. These portraits were shot at 1/2500 at F1.4, ISO 125. No uneven light, just beautiful smooth light coming out of this octobox to wrap around the model.
Some readers will no doubt ask me about how the Skyport Plus HS works with the Quadra and ELB 400. I am waiting to test this when I get the new HS heads. These heads are designed to be specifically used with the Skyport Plus HS. I would expect amazing results based on my testing of the Ranger and ‘S’ head.
If you are an Elinchrom user, this is a no-brainer purchase ($250). Elinchrom has detailed information of their lighting system and what works with the new Skyport Plus HS. You are going to love the nice display and intuitive user interface. The Plus takes AA batteries, a nice touch.
Shooting flash with speeds faster than 1/250 used to produce inconsistent results and some flash banding, all depending on the camera and flash used. I’ve received numerous emails through the years about how to get the best performance for flash and lightning fast shutter speeds like 1/2500 and higher. Now I have a new, simple answer; use the Skyport Plus HS.
Workflow is a topic that is taught and mentioned on every workshop I teach. You can find volumes of information online about numerous photographer’s workflows, and a general trend emerges. Everyone’s workflow is slightly different, and is based on their particular situation. You might shoot 1000 images in a month, or an hour. You might have a deadline in an hour, or next month. You may edit on a brand new Mac, or on a dusty old desktop. It is important for every photographer to find a system that works for their particular shooting needs.
Which brings me to Photo Mechanic. I’ve been using Photo Mechanic for ten years now, and I can’t imagine my workflow without it. Why? Because as Camera Bits (they make PM) states on their website, Photo Mechanic is a workshop accelerator. The other day I did a huge volume shoot for a client, and I needed images asap to send to the client. With Photo Mechanic I could instantly preview images (on the card or on the computer), tag the few I liked, do simple edits and have the select images in less than an hour. Photo Mechanic is the fastest browser on the market; my D810 files are shown instantly, no waiting for previews.
Here is another scenario that might apply to you if you aren’t shooting assignments with clients waiting for sample shots. I recently returned from Iceland on a photo workshop, and we spent everyday out in the field photographing. The shooting was over the top and we were capturing hundreds of images each day. We would return to our hotel, have an hour before dinner, and I would arrive at the table with my laptop with my best images from the day already in a folder ready to go. Participants are amazed at how I work so fast. The key to my fast workflow is using Photo Mechanic to quickly select my best images from the day. If I want to present a slideshow to clients, two quick command key strokes and a beautiful slide show is created to showcase the images. Photo Mechanic goes for $150, or you can try it out for free. In my workflow it is money well spent.
Nikon set the bar high when they introduced their 14-24mm F2.8 lens. This lens was so sharp that it outperformed fixed focal length lenses in the same range. But the one downside for many was the bulb front element; this bulging element made it impossible to screw on any filters. I am happy to report there is a terrific filter system for this lens, the WonderPana FreeArc system.
This setup uses a ring behind the lens hood of the lens and screws into a filter holder in front of the lens. It takes a few minutes to attach the system. You can also attach brackets to the filter holder to allow you to use graduated neutral density as well. I just returned from shooting in Acadia NP in Maine and used the filter system daily, and it worked great.
You can use both a polarizer and various graduated ND filters with the system. As many know, if you use a polarizer on a wide angle lens you get uneven polarizing (and uneven lighting) in your final shot. But if you use the polarizer to reduce glare on leaves or water, then you won’t even see this effect. I used a two stop soft edge graduated ND filter in Acadia (in the images above) and the filter helped keep my skies from being overexposed, and saturated color as well. The filter isn’t cheap, it comes in around $480. But in my book the results are worth it.
In Iceland last week we saw northern lights on multiple occasions. These magical curtains of light are stunning, and create a great photograph. But how to photograph the lights? Simply put, start with F2.8, 15 seconds and ISO 800. This should put you in the neighborhood of a correct exposure. If the display is really bright, you can reduce your exposure. Have your focus figured out before you go outside. You will be using manual focus, so determine what is the infinity focus mark for your lens. You can use your LCD and live view to help, but better to be prepared. Figure out your focus while there is still light.
I like to ground my images with some kind of land feature like a tree or mountain, but this is a creative choice. Two apps will help you predict the Aurora. Aurora Photo Forecast gives you sample exposure settings based on how bright the display is, and also predicts the strongest northern lights activity. Aurora Forecast predicts the activity levels, and has a cool global map showing you where the strongest displays will be. Can you shoot the Aurora with a bright moon? Yes, moonlight will illuminate your foreground, which can make interesting photographs. If you want to photograph the Aurora, your best chance is way north in places like Alaska and Iceland. Join me next year in Iceland to chase the northern lights!
I just returned from leading an amazing trip to Iceland with Strabo Photo Tours. If you like landscape photography, it doesn’t get much better. This trip was planned for September to hopefully photograph some Northern Lights, and we weren’t disappointed. Our first night out we had a great display of aurora. And the amazing shooting just kept going and going. Massive waterfalls were the norm, including Skogafoss, one of my favorite waterfalls anywhere. If you like animal photography then you will love the shaggy Icelandic horses. These are the most friendly horses you will ever find, they love attention and people. One of my favorite shoots was photographing icebergs in the crashing surf at the glacier lagoon. The silky water and blue icebergs blended into one in the crashing waves on the beach. Lenticular clouds and rays of light hit massive glaciers to create stunning landscape images. This was some of the best landscape shooting I have done in a long time. I am doing the same trip at the same time next year, and it is already getting signups. If you want adventure and stunning landscapes, join me next year!
On a recent trip to Glacier National Park I experienced incredible wind and storms. While the weather made taking pictures difficult, the conditions and light were stunning. Glacier has a lot of big lakes, so with the wind came large waves. And waves make interesting elements in your photographs, as long as you shoot them at the right shutter speed. How do you know what speed to use?
I photograph moving water based on my image concept. Am I trying to capture a calm, tranquil scene or am I trying to show drama and tension. I typically shoot at slower speeds for silky water with tranquil scenes, and shoot at faster speeds to freeze the water for action shots. One morning I was photographing at Two Medicine lake with dramatic light and huge waves. I realized that this landscape image was more about tension and drama, and I needed a shutter speed to show this feeling in the wave action. The trick was getting the waves with some motion, but not completely washed out like cotton. And on the other hand, I didn’t want to freeze the water since that would be too static. After bracketing my shutter speed for numerous frames, I found 1/3 of a second was just right. There is no right or wrong speed for capturing motion. In the end the motion should support your image concept.
It is always fun to see your images in print. Recently I found out one of my images will be on the Colorado Tourism guide cover for this winter. The publication is titled Alive: A Colorado Winter Travel Magazine and can be found all over Colorado this winter. I shot this image on a beautiful blue sky day snowshoeing in Rocky Mountain National Park. I didn’t plan on shooting a lot on this hike, but since it was such a nice day with fresh snow I had to take a few shots. I always bring a camera with me in the backcountry; you never know what you will find!