Photography On Location

Creating silky water effects with multiple exposure

February 26th, 2017

Lofoten Islands, Norway

Lofoten Islands, Norway

I returned from a fantastic trip to Norway with the Mentor Series. We explored the Lofoten Islands, a dramatic fjord landscape along the north coast of Norway. Our main goal was to capture the dramatic, moody landscape of this remote area. Weather changes by the minute there, creating dramatic lighting and cloud formations. We even had a few nights of successful northern lights shooting.

One creative choice that we made daily was deciding how to photograph water in the image. Crashing ocean waves and meandering streams could be frozen with fast shutter speeds to create an image with tension and drama. Or the water could be photographed at slow shutter speeds to create silky, tranquil moods. I found myself wanting to slow the water down for that beautiful silky effect. I like to use shutter speeds around 1 second for just the right mix of ‘silky’ and ‘texture’ in my water. But shooting at my lowest ISO at F16 (my smallest aperture) my shutter speeds were still around 1/30 of a second in midday light. I normally use my trusty 5 stop Singh-Ray filter to reduce light and allow me to shoot at slow shutter speeds. But what happens if you forget your filter and still want to create silky water? Try multiple exposure.

First, check to see if your camera has multiple exposure. Most newer cameras have multiple exposure. Next, set up on a tripod for your shot. You have to make sure there is no movement in the scene other than the flowing water. Finally, set your multiple exposure for 2-3 frames, and take the shots. The camera will automatically figure our the exposure for you. Since the water is moving, but the landscape is still, each frame renders the moving water slightly differently and merges all the frames into one. The end result is water that looks similar to being photographed at a very slow shutter speed even though you are shooting at much fast speeds. The image at top was photographed using 3 shots in multiple exposure mode.

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Landscape Pro

February 3rd, 2017

DNP, Alaska.  Denali from plane.

DNP, Alaska. Denali from plane.

I’m always up for new software that opens up some new possibilities. But when I saw Landscape Pro being used on a recent workshop to Cuba, I was a little unsettled. This program just seemed to go over the top in what it could do, and things looked a little overdone in the final shot. But after using the software for awhile, I came to realize it is all in the hands of the user as to what you get. And if you are not a Photoshop user, Landscape Pro will seem like magic to you. Created by the same folks who make Portrait Pro, which I use frequently, this software can transform your landscapes in a matter of minutes.

Hands down one of the coolest things this software does is simplify selections, and adding effects to those selections. Here is the first screen. You just grab labels for the area you want to select. For the sky, I just drag and drop a few of the sky labels on the sky. Next, I use a simple ‘pull’ tool to refine my selection. This reminds me of the magic wand tool in photoshop, something Lightroom users may not know about. The programs gives you even more options to further refine a detailed selection.

Here is the cool part. With selections done, you go to the next step where you choose the selection you want to adjust. I can choose sky, and then choose one of the many presets to apply to the sky. Moody lighting, sunsets, flare…heck, you can even add a variety of different types of clouds to a blue sky with one click. Self control is an issue here, it is just so easy to keep adding effects and adjusting selections. But if you show restraint, this program is terrific for quick selections and adding some nice adjustments.

You might expect a program like this to cost more than a $100. Right now Landscape Pro is on sale for $40 for the initial launch. For that amount you should get the program and see what it has to offer. Your landscape photos will transform before your eyes.

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What’s in my pack; traveling light.

January 24th, 2017

On a recent workshop to Cuba, we spent a lot of hours on our feet walking the colorful streets or hiking through scenic valleys in the Vinales tobacco region. Add to that hiking up and down steps to our lodging and waiting hours in airports…just about the norm when you explore and photograph a new country. How do you pack light, and yet bring enough camera gear to cover the trip? Take a look at the photo at top. Just over 14 pounds of gear, and I could even reduce it more if needed.

Here is my gear list:
-Lowepro Flipside 400
-2 camera bodies (2 D810s or 1 D500 and 1 D810); one extra battery
-18-35mm F3.5-4.5 lens
-24-120mm F4 lens
-70-200mm F4 lens

I start with bringing two bodies, generally 2 D810s. Can’t say enough about how great this camera is. If I need a faster frame rate, I will bring a D500. This introduces a 1.5x crop factor so my angle of view is narrower with my lenses, but this helps with distant telephoto images. Next are my lenses. As you can see, all my lenses are F3.5 or F4. Using F4 lenses greatly reduces weight, and these lenses are optically excellent (comparable in many ways to their F2.8 counterparts). You lose the 2.8 bokeh and faster focusing, but your back will be happier. Then there is the SB5000. Smaller, lighter and more powerful than the SB910, you hardly know this flash is in your pack. Finally, the Flipside 400 is the perfect travel pack in my mind. The pack is slim yet easily holds all the gear mentioned and more, and this pack has a ‘real’ hip belt to shift most of the weight to your hips, not your shoulders. I also love how this pack opens on the backside to prevent unwanted prying hands unzipping my pack in busy markets. This backside opening also allows me to switch lenses and gear without having to put the pack on the ground.

If I have a camera in my hand, my pack will weigh around 10 pounds, very light and something I can easily carry all day long. There is enough redundancy in the lenses that if one breaks or is stolen the other two will help cover part of the zoom range. Since 14 pounds isn’t much, I also often bring a fast prime like the 35mm or 85mm 1.4. These are great travel lenses, and terrific portrait lenses. I would also take a small umbrella and some Rouge gels and Flashbender for portraits.

The above mentioned gear is my lightweight travel photo kit. I do bring other gear for different types of trips that might focus on wildlife or landscapes (I’ll mention those in another post). In addition to excess camera gear, another area you can lighten your load is ‘the other stuff.’ Everyone travels with a computer, so choose a light one, not a big 15 inch laptop. I use a Macbook Air 11″. Sure, the screen is small, but I can put this in the back pocket of my Flipside 400. This computer has plenty of power for Photoshop and Lightroom, and can be used to connect external dives to for backup. The Macbook Air is fine for the simple editing I am doing on the road. I save the heavy editing until I get home on my large computer. Suitcase…find one that weighs under 10 pounds unpacked. My normal travel clothes are almost entirely nylon, much lighter than bringing cotton pants and shirts. With my suitcase packed for a 9 day trip with a lightweight tripod inside I normally come in around 30 pounds or lighter. Add 14 pounds of camera gear and one light computer and my total weight is around 46 pounds.

Okay, I admit I like to take a cotton shirt or two, and love a good pair of jeans. And everyone likes to bring their iPad and other electronic gadgets. But if I am planning on a long travel trip with lots of walking and many stairs, I go ‘ninja style’ super lightweight. I’m not tired carrying my pack all day, and more importantly, I have the gear I need to make great images, not weigh me down and result in my missing images!

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Angle of view

January 10th, 2017



One question that recently came up on a trip to Cuba was how to deal with busy street scenes. Or, in other terms, how to clean up the shot. One simple answer to this question is change your angle of view. But what does that really mean? Imagine this scenario. You want to photograph part of a old car on a busy street in Cuba, but the background and sides are busy with daily street life. You could just zoom in from your position, but this would change the size of the subject. A better solution is move your position by walking back or forward. This will change your angle of view, but you can keep you subject size the same.

Here are a series of images to illustrate this concept. The image above was taken with a 24mm lens at F4. With this wide angle I am getting all sorts of clutter in the background and to the sides.

Here is what happens when I move approximately twice the distance (I moved from 5 feet to 10 feet away) from the subject and shoot at 50mm at F4. The subject is basically the same size, but I have narrowed my background down and changed the bokeh quality.

Next I put on my 105mm, roughly twice the focal length of my 50mm, and moved to approximately 20 feet away. Once again the subject is the same size, but the background in more narrow and more blurred.

Finally I put on my 300mm and shot at F4 even further away, but with the subject size the same. Now the angle of view is very narrow and the bokeh quality very different. Going back to the car on the street, by moving my position I can control how much of my background is in the image by narrowing the angle of view. And I can affect the bokeh quality as well. It is easy to stand at your tripod or zoom from your position, but don’t forget basic camera craft. Move your position to change your angle of view and bokeh.

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When to use Auto ISO

January 9th, 2017

Bosque Del Apache, NM

Bosque Del Apache, NM

I know I have said this before, but new camera technology continues to give photographers more tools than ever to ‘getting the shot.’ I shot film bodies for years, and honestly, not much changed. Frame rates got better, metering slowly improved and films evolved. I mean it was a big deal when Fuji introduced Velvia in 1990. The colors were amazing, rich and saturated, and all was well for landscape shooters. But at ISO 50, can you imagine shooting that today? I roll through my ISO settings continuously during my shoots. ISO used to be the set variable, and exposure was affected more by aperture and shutter speed. Now all three play equal parts in the exposure triangle. Why? Because high ISO performance has gotten so good. Most cameras can easily shoot at ISO 1600 with excellent results. And I regularly shoot at 3200 and higher with publishable results.

One camera setting that has gotten popular with better ISO performance is Auto ISO. Basically, you go into your camera menu, set the maximum ISO and minimum shutter speed values, and let the camera adjust the settings based on your aperture and shutter speed. Auto ISO works great for wildlife shooting when you want to keep a certain shutter speed, say 1/1000, to freeze the action. Here are the times I like to use Auto ISO:
-fast action wildlife shooting
-fast action adventure sports
-fast moving travel photography..i.e. walking through a contrasty market.
-handheld shooting to maintain a certain shutter speed.

Just to clarify, these are the times I turn Auto ISO on in my camera. Normally I shoot in Aperture mode and manually select my ISO. But why not use Auto ISO all the time? You could use it a lot, but here are some reasons to consider not using it all the time.
-using flash; Auto ISO tries to compensate for exposure shifts you want to make, and causes a lot of confusion in lighting classes. When you want manual control of your exposure, turn off Auto ISO
-deep shadows; noise shows up in shadows and dark skies more than anywhere else, and these are scenarios you may want exact control over your ISO, especially scenes that are not fast moving.
-on a tripod; I will set my ISO at my default setting, usually ISO 100, for many of my landscapes. It may be very low light, and Auto ISO might choose a higher ISO for the shot which isn’t necessary and could produce more noise.

The good news is that we have great images using ISO 1600 and higher. Whether you choose to use Auto ISO or manually select the ISO in the field, we get great results. Consider trying out Auto ISO on your next wildlife shoot. I just returned from Bosque Del Apache, and Auto ISO worked great with the changing light.

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Live view composition

December 23rd, 2016

Here is a quick travel photography tip: you don’t have to look through the viewfinder to take a picture. How many times have you walked through a market browsing the goods and taken a few snapshots. And that is what they are, snapshots (I’m done it many times!). Instead, look at the objects on the table, and try to figure out the most graphic angle. Many times this can be achieved by holding your camera directly above the objects. If you have a tilt LCD screen, then you could use Liveview to help compose the shot. If you don’t, just use a wide angle lens and shoot numerous images holding your camera over the objects. Autofocus should work fine, and one image will look good.

Take the hats at the top of this post. In Cuba a few weeks ago I was walking through a market and saw these classic hats. The round shape and repeating pattern was best illustrated by shooting directly from above the hats. Try this technique out, and remember, you don’t have to be looking throughout he viewfinder to take a shot.

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Holiday gift ideas!

December 16th, 2016

Hard to believe but this is the last weekend to holiday shop, or order online and still get your gift in time. I have been using some great new accessories that would make a perfect gift for the photographer on your list, so here are five photo gift ideas. Some inexpensive and others expensive. But your photographer will be happy!

1. Singh-Ray Mor-Slo 10 stop ND filter. The image at top was taken with this filter. This ND filter is about slowing down moving clouds during the day, or slowing water down as well. What is nice is you just order the size that fits your wide angle lens, and call it good. You can shoot at 1 1/2 minutes in bright sun, and much longer when the storm clouds roll in. Or imagine slowing down moving people and cars on your next European trip. $350.

2. Rogue Flashbender 2 XL Pro Lighting System. This handy reflector doubles as a soft box with a diffusion attachment, a snoot or a bounce card. Also, a strip grid is included (see my recent video for Rogue on their website) to control the light with portraits. A great item for any photographer. I used my snoot for travel (see cigar photo) and the softbox for portraits. $99

3. Nikon SB5000. I have used almost every flash Nikon has introduced for the last 20 years, and their latest speedlight, the SB5000, is incredible. Compared to the SB910, this flash is smaller, more powerful, faster (recycling) and can use a radio wireless signal from the D500/D5 (and no doubt future cameras). The SB5000 is compatible with other Nikon cameras like the D810 using an optical wireless signal. I have been using these lights extensively; they are excellent…but not cheap. $600

4. Streamlight Stylus. Here is a great stocking stuffer. This little flashlight is the perfect tool for light painting portraits and small objects. The Stylus comes is a variety of colors, and you hardly know it is in your photo pack. Imagine light painting that fishing buoy on the beach, or the flowers in your hotel room. $14

5. 50mm prime lens. If you want to experience all the benefits of using a prime lens, but don’t want to pay a fortune, then but a 50mm F1.8 prime lens for your camera. These lenses cost around $200, a great value with excellent performance. I bring my Nikon 50mm F1.8 with me on ever trip. It is very lightweight, offers incredible bokeh shooting wide open, and is a terrific street lens. Try a few portraits at F1.8 to see what the beautiful bokeh background prime lenses offer. If you already have the 50mm, consider an 85mm. My favorite portrait lens is my 85 F1.4, and the 85mm F1.8 is also excellent and a lot cheaper.

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Polaroid Revival; Lomo’Instant camera

December 15th, 2016

The holiday season is here, and there is a great option for the travel photographer on your list; an updated version of the venerable instant Polariod camera. Why go retro? Have you ever seen how touching it is watching a remote villager see their own photo for the first time? Or how excited kids get when you give them a shot of them with their best friends? Being able to give instant pictures to people in your travels is a great ice breaker, a kind gesture, and you might get some incredible images when they see their shot.

There are numerous instant cameras and mini-printers on the market. I wanted a camera, not a mini-printer, and after some research, I went with the Lomo’Instant. Unlike many of the competitors, this camera had a lot of features I wanted. First, it had flash, which you will need for shooting in low light situations. Next, the camera has exposure comp. If your image is too dark or light, you can manually use exposure comp to get the right exposure. Focus is simple, you are either moving the lens for a close shot (less than a meter), or you are shooting for everything else. You can adjust aperture from f16 (the default) to F8 using the wide angle lens. The camera also offers a long exposure Bulb setting, multiple exposure for creative effects, and a small selfie mirror on the front. The Lomo uses Fuji Instax Mini film, better quality than some other instant films on the market. The camera produces a credit card sized print. You can also buy accessory lenses and gels. The camera sells for around $100.

A few notes on using the camera. If you shoot in cold weather, it will take the instant film 3-5 minutes to fully develop. The flash can miss exposure in bright daylight, I just used available light. And one more point…you need to hand check the film at airports or it will streak if it goes through an X-ray machine.

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Speedlight lighting in Austin

December 14th, 2016

A number of folks have asked me if I teach lighting classes, and the answer is yes! My scheduled lighting class will be in Austin Texas in March with the Mentor Series. These classes focus on speed lights, and are loaded with class sessions, critiques and shoots with models. The techniques you learn apply across many styles of photography including travel, portraits and landscape photography. Check out this fun workshop here!

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Everyone is a photographer with camera in hand.

December 1st, 2016

Tucson, Arizona

Tucson, Arizona

Recently Scott Kelby came to Denver to do a full day talk, “Shoot Like a Pro, Reloaded”. Naturally I decided to go visit and heckle Scott from the back row. I do training videos for KelbyOne, and have had some fun times shooting with Scott. Sitting in the audience it was a pleasure to see how polished Scott’s presentation was; he had the audience fully engaged for hours. I always love watching other educators do their presentations to see what tips I can pick up.

Scott said one thing during the presentation that really made sense to me. We all know photography has both creative and technical aspects, but it often seems today the technical might overshadow the creative. Everyone likes to talk gear, editing, histograms, apps…these are things that help us achieve our creative goals. But Scott said “when you pick up a camera, it doesn’t matter what your profession is, you are now a photographer, an artist.” Forget about that other stuff, use the LCD preview to see your PHOTOGRAPH. Don’t get caught up in all the technical. His statement reminded me of something I mention during my composition class; “Don’t let the technical inhibit the creative.” Or as Pablo Picasso said, “The chief enemy of creativity is good sense.” Go out and shoot, develop your creativity, and focus on the photograph.

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