August 1st, 2015
I was photographing rock climbing yesterday, and by the time we got to the route I wanted to photograph, it was midday. With a cloudless sky and intense sun, this is a time most photographers would kick back and wait for better light. But what if the ‘better light’ is in the middle of a sunny day? ‘No matter what the conditions and lighting, something will photograph well’. Assignment photographers know you don’t have the luxury of putting your camera away in the middle of the day because the sun is strong. You may only have one day to photograph a location. So you seek out subjects and locations that photograph well with the existing light…or add strobe to create your own light.
In this case I was photographing my son on a classic route in Tensleep Wyoming, The Gravy Train. The route ascends the backside arete of a large pinnacle, which is in deep shade in the midday sun. But in the background are bright sunny cliffs creating the perfect silhouette. Sometimes contrast and midday sun work perfect for the shot.
July 26th, 2015
If you ever photograph while traveling, chances are good you will visit a church or other place of worship during your trip. Some churches are massive and ornate, others are simple and quaint. You probably shoot a few exterior shots, some of the detailed stonework or statues, and maybe a cross on top. Next you move to the interior (if photography is permitted inside). Dial up your ISO and photograph the paintings, stained glass windows and burning candles. These subjects are all great to photograph, and will be a meaningful part of your travel portfolio.
But what about creative church photography? What if you want to go beyond recording the subject, and want to do something more abstract. Next time try using multiple exposure twists. No, that is not a technical term, but it does describe what I often do photographing churches. I’ll set my multiple exposure to 4-7 frames, and rotate my camera after each shot. The end result is a kaleidoscope of colors and shapes.
Here is your standard candle shot in a church; nice image, has some emotion and warmth associated with it. But what else can I do?
Here is a multiple exposure candle shot. Not there is a sea of candles with strong graphic elements. At the top of this post is stained glass windows shot using this technique. Next time you are in a church, try out this technique for some unique images.
July 19th, 2015
I just returned from a fantastic workshop with ANPW in Provence, France. One of the most exciting days involved traveling to the Camargue area of southern France to photograph the famous white horses of this region. These horses love the water so we arranged a shoot with a local ranch to photograph the horses running through some deep marsh water. And lucky for us, we had a terrific shooting platform; an old military truck with high clearance to travel through the marshlands.
I’ve said this many times on workshops, and this shoot proved it to be true again; the background can make or break an image. If we had been photographing at ground level there would be only a few of the horses visible from side angles. But perched high off the ground in the truck, we had a terrific angle to show all the horses galloping across the marsh, not just a couple. Also, the high angle eliminated the white clouds on the horizon seen at ground level. Instead, the frame was filled with marsh and galloping white horses, no distracting background white spots in this frame. Sometimes the ground level is the place to shoot, other times not. But just remember, check your background as often as you check your subject for good compositions.
July 8th, 2015
I have been shooting the D810 for awhile now, and the camera continues to impress me. Incredible file quality, group-area autofocus, faster autofocus, faster frame rate…the list is long. But one feature this camera has, and other recent Nikon bodies as well, is multiple choices for self-timer shooting. What might these be? I go to my Custom Setting Menu, choose Timers/AE Lock, and then select Self-timer. You get three choices. First, you set the self-timer delay, something most photographers are familiar with for giving you enough time to jump back into those group shots. Second, you can choose the number of shots. Now this is really handy. For that same group shot, you could set your camera to take three images instead of one; someone is always looking the wrong way during that group shot. And third, you can choose the delay between shots. This is also very handy if you want to change positions during that group shot, or give time for everybody to smile.
I just found another great use for all these functions. I love to take POV, or point-of-view, images for a lot of my sports photography. Last week I was hired to photograph a zipline, and I really wanted to show the viewer what it looked like hiking along in the trees. I attached my fisheye lens to my D810, put the camera around my neck using the camera strap, and then twisted the strap to raise the camera position on my body. To maximize the number of shots I got while walking with the camera shooting, I set my self-timer for three frames at half second intervals. I hit the shutter, and the camera starting taking images as I walked across the zipline bridge. Very cool!
July 4th, 2015
Happy Fourth of July to everyone! I just returned from an assignment in Alaska, always one of my favorite places. One day I visited a local market photographing various vendors and interesting people, and used one of the staple TTL flash techniques, on-camera fill flash. If you are photographing a parade this weekend, or a festival, this might be a technique you want to consider. Often the difference between a nice image and a really good image is a simple technique like fill flash.
I met a very friendly woman selling vegetables at the market, and her friendly personality and bright colors made a terrific photograph. With fill flash shooting your lighting ratio between background ambient light and flash is almost the same; most people won’t even know you used flash. But that is the point, you add a little flash to make the image ‘pop’, and your shot will look better than a standard available light image. Take a look at the image above. By adding just a touch of flash, the color of the vegetables has improved, and woman’s skin tones are more luminous with less shadows. Most importantly, she has catch lights in her eyes which makes the image more engaging.
I used a D810 with a SB900 attached to the hotshot for this shot. I placed a diffusion dome (which comes with the flash) on the flash to take the hard edge off the light. I was shooting in Aperture Priority using matrix metering, and just took the shot. No exposure or flash compensation. Flash was set to fill flash mode. It took about one minute to take this image, quick and easy. The beauty of modern speed light photography is you can shoot a fill flash shot like this in a few seconds, and the be on your way. Let the camera/flash figure things out. And you subject can go back to selling their wares without a big distraction.
June 21st, 2015
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
May 11th, 2015
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!