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 Thursday, January 22, 2015
Winter Photography Tips: I Don't Shoot Black and White, Except
While I love black and white in interior and graphic design, I am about as interested in creating black and white images as I am in watching black and white movies. I view black and white photography as a last resort for not being able to find good color. If a scene does not lend itself to a color photo, I usually move on, looking for one that does.
 
I need to emphasize the "I view" part of that sentence. I am only referencing my personal interest level in black and white photography. Everyone has their own photographic interests and if B&W photography is your thing, I say "Go for it!" If everyone was exactly like me, this would be a boring world.
 
Photography has very few "laws" and my black and white aversion is not one of them. One exception I make to my no-monochromatic rule is when a found scene is monochromatic and winter landscapes often qualify as that. For example and as illustrated in this image, a blanket of snow over a hardwood forest under a cloudy sky is a common monochromatic winter scene. You are looking at a full color image and in this case, I'm into black and white.
 
When shooting a monochromatic scene, there are two colors to work with. Thus, contrast, lines and focus take on an elevated importance in composition. With the entire scene in sharp focus, my eye is drawn directly to the area of strongest contrast which in this case is the cluster of front-most tree trunks. The balance of these trees aid in leading the viewer's eyes to this location or to the similar trunks diminishing in size in the background.
 
Trees laden with snow pull the image toward the white side of black and white and capturing such requires a sense of urgency as often the snow does not remain on tree branches for long. A light wind clears the branches as does some direct sunlight warming the branches enough to cause the snow to become slippery, inducing its fall. Sometimes the best time to photograph a snowstorm is while it is happening and the falling snow also pulls the image even further toward white. Protection for your camera during the snow storm can be as simple as the umbrella used for this image capture.
 
Summary: Use this winter to increase the depth of your black and white (or monochromatic) portfolio.
 
Camera and Lens Settings
24mm  f/11.0  1/20s  ISO 100  5760 x 3840px
Post Date: 1/22/2015 10:48:16 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Tuesday, January 20, 2015
The Power of Otus f/1.4: Bee on Orange Sunflower
Sunflowers, with their large size and bright colors, make great photo subjects. Add a bee to take the overall composition one step further.
 
For this image, I moved in close to the foreground flower, keeping it completely in the frame which places the center about 1/3 into the frame. I then moved to position a similar flower in the background. Again, that flower is fully contained in the frame and the green leaves anchor the bottom of the composition.
 
The shallow depth of field created by the combination of an 85mm focal length and f/1.4 aperture draws a viewer's eye directly to the bee and to the sharp flower petals (with strong contrast also pulling the viewer's eye to this location).
 
This image is razor sharp across the back of the bee (thanks to the Zeiss Otus 85), but details quickly soften in front of and behind that plane of sharp focus.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Google+, Flickr and Facebook. Also, if reading from a news feed reader, click through to see the framed image.
 
Camera and Lens Settings
85mm  f/1.4  1/640s  ISO 100  5760 x 3840px
Post Date: 1/20/2015 1:29:57 PM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Monday, January 19, 2015
Finding Southwest USA Landscape in Pennsylvania
My life does not currently afford me to constantly be flying to exotic locations, so I'm continuously looking for opportunities closer to home to give photo gear a workout. One landscape type not readily found in my home base of Pennsylvania is the water-eroded bare-earth look so common in the American Southwest. After gaining permission to photograph at a local limestone quarry after hours, I came upon a huge screenings pile (a small mountain really). The fine stone was fast-eroding and the erosion created a very Southwest-appearing landscape.
 
After scouting the pile and trying many good perspectives, I came to prefer this one. I moved in close to one of the wider areas of non-erosion and framed to let the strongly-contrasting lines (courtesy of shadows from a late-day sun) move through the frame in a pleasing manner. I didn't use the widest focal length available to me to prevent the background details from becoming too small.
 
If I hadn't told you, where would you have said this image was captured?
 
A larger version of this image is available on Google+, Flickr and Facebook. Also, if reading from a news feed reader, click through to see the framed image.
 
Camera and Lens Settings
27mm  f/11.0  1/30s  ISO 100  5760 x 3840px
Post Date: 1/19/2015 9:06:24 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Friday, January 16, 2015
Canon 7D II Captures Bald Eagle in Flight in Front of Conowingo Dam
I generally prefer to avoid the hand-of-man in my wildlife images and when setting up at the Conowingo Dam I positioned myself to best avoid the dam, wires and other non-natural objects in my backgrounds. But ... those man-made objects were not always avoidable and ... the Conowingo Dam is a big reason why the eagles are there in the first place. And, it is a landmark among bird photographers. It is not unusual to find half a million dollars worth of gear on the shoreline below this dam. So, I find it fitting to include the dam in the background of a bald eagle image. In this example, I like the even pattern of the heavily blurred dam in the background.
 
The 7D II performed very well this day. I used the 600 L II IS lens for maximum reach and used the 1.4x III extender some of the time. The 1344mm effective angle of view proved challenging for tracking the erratically-flying eagles and I eventually removed the extender. However, some of my favorite shots of the day would not have been nearly as good without the extender in place. So, the with or without extender decision must be weighed in light of circumstances.
Post Date: 1/16/2015 11:52:41 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Wednesday, January 14, 2015
Capturing a Partially Cloudy Partial Lunar Eclipse at 1200m
It seems that, every time there is an astronomical event scheduled, the sky turns cloudy where I am. I'm sure that this is one of Murphy's laws, but ... sometimes everything works out anyway.
 
This particular lunar eclipse was happening early in the morning and I setup my gear the evening before. After checking the weather report immediately prior to going to bed, I turned off the alarm. The odds of the cloud cover clearing were very low and I decided that a clear mind from a solid night of sleep was the wiser decision.
 
Fortunately, my Mother-In-Law was wiser than I was (or more excited about the event) and, upon seeing some clearing in the sky, she called me at 4:30 AM. I crawled out of bed, dressed warmly, hauled the ready-to-go gear out to the front yard and found a chair to sit on. I established the focus distance and changed the lens to MF. I then established the exposure needed to keep the moon very slightly darker than blown (mostly avoiding pure white/blinkies on the LCD). The clouds indeed cleared (mostly) by the time of the event and I was able to capture many good shots.
 
As is generally the case with landscape photography, I had to embrace what the weather provided me and in this case, some remaining clouds moved across the moon at times during the eclipse. The brightness of the moon was much for the clouds to remain visible in the frame most of the time (except when the moon was very obscured), but I wanted to show the clouds in some images with the moon only slightly obscured. Thus, I used an HDR technique involving two exposures stacked and merged in Photoshop.
 
The result of this particular image is that the eclipsed portion of the moon is not as dark (due to the presence of the clouds) as those captured without clouds, but the clouds appearing to radiate from the moon yields a different look to this infrequent occurrence.
 
Obviously, for this lunar eclipse, I opted to fill the frame with just the moon vs. including a landscape in the frame. The 600mm f/4L IS II is a much-appreciated part of my kit, and this was an instance where the 2x extender proved useful.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Google+, Flickr and Facebook. Also, if reading from a news feed reader, click through to see the framed image.
Post Date: 1/14/2015 9:47:56 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Tuesday, January 13, 2015
The Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS Lens Takes on Ricketts Glen Falls
Ricketts Glen State Park, near Benton, PA, has 28 named falls including the namesake Ricketts Glen Falls. If you don't mind climbing down from the trail and don't mind placing your tripod in the water, Ricketts Glen Falls is an easy location to get a keeper. Pick a cloudy day and use a circular polarizer filter.
 
What is the ideal exposure duration for motion-blurred water? That answer is both situational and personal preference. In this location, my personal preference is around half a second. Experiment to learn what works well and what doesn't. Watch the details in the water (typically air bubbles) go from sharp to smeared to an indistinguishably smooth color as exposure times increase. When the right amount of blur is obtained, that is the right shutter speed.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Google+, Flickr and Facebook. Also, if reading from a news feed reader, click through to see the framed image.
Post Date: 1/13/2015 9:04:23 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Monday, January 12, 2015
Dealing with Wind During an Independence Pass Sunset
Independence Pass is at 12,095' elevation on the Continental Divide in the Sawatch Range in Colorado. The top of a really tall mountain is often a great location choice for photographing (or just watching) a sunset, but the best photo (or view) is not always directly into the sun to the west. Really great sunsets also light up the eastern sky and on this particular evening, a storm to the east provided great color over the stark landscape at this pass.
 
A wide angle landscape photo composed of rock and clouds and captured on a tripod generally would not need ISO increased to 200 to maintain a 1/25 second exposure just to retain sharpness. But, the wind was ripping across the top of this mountain and I was not comfortable even with this 1/25 shutter speed.
 
There are various ways to deal with wind when photographing, but a solid tripod setup is the first key. Without any other protection from the wind available at the location I was shooting from (such as a vehicle or building), I opted for my frequently-used technique of holding my coat open around the camera and much of the tripod. The coat greatly reduces the amount of wind hitting the camera, yielding a potentially much sharper image – though it leaves me quite cold sometimes. The picture lasts far longer than my coldness.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Google+, Flickr and Facebook. Also, if reading from a news feed reader, click through to see the framed image.
 
Camera and Lens Settings
16mm  f/8.0  1/25s  ISO 200  5760 x 3840px
Post Date: 1/12/2015 10:00:45 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Sunday, January 11, 2015
Christmas Cactus Flower: Background Color by Gel
Once a year (though always well after its namesake Christmas holiday), our Christmas cactus blooms. The plant itself is nothing special to look at, but the flowers are quite beautiful.
 
The biggest challenge for this annual photo opportunity is finding a pleasing background to go with the flower. I've done the easy on-white and on-black options many times and I've used various color cards behind the flower. I needed a new option and the Rogue Flash Gels provided just that.
 
I placed the cactus pot on my shooting table (I'm using an Elinchrom model). This table has a white Plexiglas surface with a large sweep up the back. An off camera Canon 600EX-RT with a Rogue FlashBender Softbox installed was placed on the table in front of the selected flower and a second 600EX-RT was positioned to light the back of the table independently. Both flashes were sitting on their shoe stands and the flashes were triggered by an ST-E3-RT Remote Transmitter.
 
By placing a Rogue Flash Gel on the background flash, the white shooting table background became the gel color. The background color could be changed by simply replacing one gel with another and the currently selected color could be made brighter or darker by simply adjusting the flash output (done directly on the ST-E3-RT). I worked through various color options provided in the gel kit and decided that the pink color complemented the Christmas Cactus flowers best. As you see here.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Google+, Flickr and Facebook.
Post Date: 1/11/2015 7:27:59 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Saturday, January 10, 2015
Zeiss 15mm f/2.8 ZE Lens and Lines in the Sky are Enough
Sometimes, for me at least, clouds alone are enough for an image. In those situations, I'm usually looking for something dramatic or unique (and sunrises or sunsets most frequently qualify as such). While I wouldn't go as far to say that these clouds are dramatic, they are definitely unique.
 
The lines of clouds were so broad that they completely filled a 15mm full frame format DSLR angle of view. While I captured many images of these clouds, I settled on this one to share. What I like is the larger clouds diminishing to smaller ones (due to perspective) as they angle through the frame into the distance.
 
With unique clouds in the frame, it is unlikely for an image to be repeatable.
 
Sometimes, for me at least, clouds alone are enough for an image. In those situations, I'm usually looking for something dramatic or unique (and sunrises or sunsets most frequently qualify as such). While I wouldn't go as far to say that these clouds are dramatic, they are definitely unique.
 
The lines of clouds were so broad that they completely filled a 15mm full frame format DSLR angle of view. While I captured many images of these clouds, I settled on this one to share. What I like is the larger clouds diminishing to smaller ones (due to perspective) as they angle through the frame into the distance.
 
With unique clouds in the frame, it is unlikely for an image to be repeatable.
 
Camera and Lens Settings
15mm  f/8.0  1/25s  ISO 100  5760 x 3840px
Post Date: 1/10/2015 8:50:38 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Friday, January 09, 2015
Some Subjects Beg to be Centered in the Frame
Some subjects beg to centered in the frame and one of the first of such subjects that come to my mind are products. Products are often rendered large in the frame, showing as much detail as possible in the space allocated for them on a web page, product catalog, etc. Today's product is a smart phone – an iPhone 5 to be specific.
 
I first shared this iPhone photo in the Canon Macro Ring Lite MR-14EX II Flash review and obviously, the ring flash is the source of the bright reflection. Ring lite flash reflections in my photos is not usually my preference, it probably does not help sell the product in this case and I typically avoid these, but ... sometimes creatively using the open and close parenthesis reflection can work for at least an artistically creative purpose.
 
This phone and the glass under it is on are both black and highly reflective. To avoid other reflections on the phone and glass, I had a piece of black velour material between me and the subject and the ambient lights were turned off to create a black room. To get the flash reflection perfectly centered, I utilized the reflection of the MR-14EX's focusing lights while working straight overhead.
 
Working in the dark with only the focusing lights made perfectly aligning and centering the subject with the camera perfectly positioned over the phone a big challenge. I'll just say that more than 1 photo was required to get it right. I might have very slightly tweaked the image borders in Photoshop also – when the borders of an image are solid white or black in color, it is easy to manipulate the image boundaries.
 
The overall result in this case is an image that you probably have not seen before (other than in the aforementioned review).
 
Camera and Lens Settings
100mm  f/13.0  1/200s  ISO 100  5760 x 3840px
Post Date: 1/9/2015 11:37:33 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Wednesday, January 07, 2015
Air Clarity: The Big Enemy of Ultra-Long Distance Landscape Photography
The sand dunes of Great Sand Dunes National Park and the beautiful Sangre de Cristo Mountains behind them are a common target for landscape photographers. To compress the dunes against the mountains requires a long distance perspective and if the dunes are to be large in the frame, a long telephoto focal length must be used. Fortunately, the road leading into GSDNP provides easy access to the that long distance perspective and sharp telephoto lenses are readily available. Unfortunately, there are other issues to be dealt with.
 
Haze (including that caused by smoke, dust and air pollution) kills contrast and heat waves are potentially seriously damaging to image sharpness.
 
The haze/air clarity problem is nearly always at least somewhat of an issue when shooting from this distance and the best way to combat haze during the capture is to use a circular polarizer filter. This filter will not completely eliminate the haze, but it definitely helps. The best way to reduce haze after the shot is by increasing contrast. Both were used for this photo.
 
Far harder to control is the major issue I dealt with at this time of day in GSDNP and that is heat waves. Aside from moving closer (which changes the composition) or choosing another time of the day (or another day completely) to shoot, there is little that can be done about heat waves. Heat waves can be problematic at even short distances (and complicate outdoor comparison testing of lenses).
 
Being at this location at the right time and day is ideal and both air clarity and heat wave issues can be mostly avoided with the right timing. Locals of course have that timing luxury, but I had only half of a day to spend at this location. I was intent on maximizing my time and embracing what I found.
 
Many prefer to shoot this location early and late in the day (and I photographed until dark), but I found the dune shadows to be harsh at this time and also-liked the more-subtle tonation of mid-afternoon lighting on the dunes. In this case, I was able to run bands of color through the frame horizontally with the first snow of the season forming the top non-sky layer. Even though I was using the extraordinarily sharp Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Lens and a circular polarizer filter, the end result has a soft painterly effect (visible at full resolution) thanks to the heat waves.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Google+, Flickr and Facebook. Be sure to like or follow if visiting those pages.
Post Date: 1/7/2015 9:54:57 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Tuesday, January 06, 2015
Aspen Trunk Hunting in Crested Butte, Colorado
A high priority for my fall photo trip to Colorado was to capture the beauty of aspen tree trunks. There is little challenge to finding an aspen grove in Crested Butte. Aspen trees, with their beautiful white (or gray) trunks, are the predominant flora in the 10+ miles west of the small ski town of Crested Butte, through Kebler Pass and beyond. The big challenge is finding the right grove of trees to create ordered complexity in an image.
 
Of the thousands of trees observed in this area, I found some of the most-photographically-cooperative at a strong curve in the road just east of Kebler Pass. Especially missing at this location were the deadfalls that are so common and interfere with the vertical lines I wanted to emphasize.
 
For this image, I wanted the viewer to feel like they were part of the scene. I attempt to convey that feeling by moving in close to a large, featured foreground tree and using a moderately wide angle focal length. This location allowed one aspen tree trunk to become large in the frame while a couple of other clumps of trunks staggered into a great mass of trunks filling most of the background. All of this while the camera remained level, keeping even the tree trunks in the border of the frame parallel with the sides of the frame.
 
The 31mm focal length was wide enough to allow everything in the frame to stay sharp at f/11, yet not so wide that the background trees became tiny. Cloud cover reduced the contrast, evening out the light on this scene. A complete lack of wind (something I'm not used to at high elevations) allowed for sharp foliage even with the .8 second exposure. The yellow-green foliage color requires a late Sep or early Oct-timed visit to this location.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Google+, Flickr and Facebook.
Post Date: 1/6/2015 8:29:45 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Wednesday, December 10, 2014
Laser Light Beam, Upper Antelope Canyon
A laser-like beam of sunlight reaches 130' below the ground to the floor of Upper Antelope Canyon. I highly recommend a wide angle zoom lens when shooting at this popular location. There is a lot of sand blowing into this slot canyon (and the 4 other slot canyons I was in during this trip), so any lens changing should be done inside a protective bag. A towel or other protection for the camera and lens would also be a good idea.
 
I captured this image back in 2010, but it remains one of my favorites. I took advantage of a recent Canvas On Demand 50% off deal (ends today) to have a 56x37" canvas print of it created. The canvas looks great and is leaning against the wall in my studio awaiting me to hang it.
 
Apparently, photos of light beams in slot canyons are quite valuable right now. I'm taking offers. :)
 
See this image larger on Google+, Flickr and Facebook.
 
Camera and Lens Settings
16mm  f/8.0  5s  ISO 100  3744 x 5616px
Post Date: 12/10/2014 1:20:28 PM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Tuesday, December 09, 2014
How to Stop a Galloping Horse with the Canon EOS 7D Mark II
If you can script the action, the odds of getting a great action photo increase dramatically. If you can repeat the script, those odds skyrocket far higher. And, being able to pick the time of day for the shoot is golden. For this galloping horse shoot, I had full control. But even with full control, you still need to know how to get the shot.
 
I often test camera and lens AF performance using a rider on a galloping horse. This is a challenging subject that I am familiar with, allowing me to best appreciate a camera and lens' capabilities. I often share sample pictures from these shoots and thought you might appreciate the "How To" behind these shots. To dive right in, let's select a lens.
 
Select your Lens
 
Tracking a fast-moving subject requires a fast, responsive-focusing lens. I prefer longer focal length lenses with an effective 400-500mm angle of view being ideal for my situation. A narrow angle of view allows me to isolate the horse and rider against a relatively small area of strongly blurred background. The longer focal lengths keep the horse and rider in the framing sweet spot for a longer duration.
 
There are many lenses capable of tracking this action, but the Canon L telephoto lenses are generally my preference. When testing a camera, the Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS II USM Lens and Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II USM Lens are usually my first choices. I completely trust these lenses to perform amazingly in all regards and their narrow depth of field at wide open apertures shows me exactly where AF placed the plane of sharp focus.
 
If the lens has IS mode 3, that is the mode I use. Otherwise, I turn off image stabilization.
 
The Camera Setup
 
The camera itself is of course an important component in stopping a galloping horse. If you have only one, that is the camera to use. If you have a choice ... the faster and more accurately a camera auto focuses on a fast-moving subject, the more likely it will be able to keep the horse's rider in focus and the faster that camera's frame rate is, the more likely you are going to capture the ideal horse position. The Canon EOS 1D X and Canon EOS 7D Mark II (used for the included image) are my top 2 choices.
 
Since you know that the subject will be in motion, use the camera's AI Servo AF mode. In this mode, the camera will predict where the subject will be at the precise moment the shutter opens.
 
I also recommend using the fastest frame rate burst mode your camera offers. Some people refer to this mode as "Spray and Pray", but ... just because you can create a catchy saying that has negative implications does not mean that the implications are right.
 
The fastest frame rates available today have a purpose and that purpose includes allowing the photographer to concentrate on framing the action while capturing a large variety of subject position(s) to later choose from. The faster the frame rate, the more likely the ultimate subject position will be included in the results (be sure to use a fast, high capacity memory card). You can alternatively release the shutter when you think the subject will be in perfect position, but ... know that horses can move very fast. This American quarter horse was approaching at an estimated 35-40 mph (56-64 kph). Good luck timing even a short shutter lag with all four hooves off of the ground.
 
For the galloping horse photos, I always use manual exposure mode. I select the widest aperture my lens has available, which is most often f/2.8 or f/4. The wide aperture allows more light to reach the sensor, allowing the use of faster (shorter) shutter speeds and lower ISO settings. I usually select a 1/1600 sec. shutter speed. I can get by with a modestly slower shutter speed setting, but 1/1600 practically eliminates motion-blur issues for this subject (same in most people-in-action photos).
 
I use the ISO setting to adjust the final image brightness delivered by the selected shutter speed and aperture. If ISO 100 is not low enough (such as under bright sunlight at f/2.8), I use a faster shutter speed. If the light is rapidly changing (clouds cause this), I use an Auto ISO setting, but this is not my preference.
 
When shooting in the late-day sun (the ideal time of day for this scene), the light level typically goes down throughout the shoot. I watch the histogram between passes and adjust settings as necessary.
 
Because this action scenario is not unique and because I shoot action with some frequency, I have Custom Mode 1 programmed for the above parameters on all of my cameras. If I am shooting action, I simply turn the dial to Custom Mode 1 and tweak the settings as needed.
 
I want the rider's face to be in focus as the rider is more important than the horse for my photos and an important choice to be made prior to shooting is the AF point selection. There are a lot of AF point options with some of the newest high-end camera models. As a rule, the center AF point is a camera's best-performing AF point. However, in the horse galloping situation, the center AF point tends to fall on the horse's nose. Since I choose to shoot with a shallow depth of field, focusing on the horse's nose places the rider out of focus.
 
There is more than one AF point option that can work as I desire and I often use more than one in a shoot, though I seldom select more than a single AF point option. Placing the left-most center AF point on the rider's boot and the saddle area works well. I also like to use the top-most AF point placed on the rider's head. Because the horse and rider are going up and down very rapidly, it is difficult to keep the horse's ear from capturing the camera's focus attention when using this AF point. The latest and greatest cameras can have their AF parameters tuned and instructing the camera to not be too quick to focus on distractions can resolve this specific problem.
 
You might find that an AF point placed low on the horse's chest places your rider adequately in sharp focus, but ... the lack of contrast in that location may challenge the camera's AF system.
 
Setting up the Action
 
The horses I am primarily shooting are running on a slowly curving trail at the top of our field. As the rider is warming up the horse, I am adjusting my shooting distance to ideally frame the subjects and to align both horse and rider with the background (I also dial in my exposure during warmup).
 
There is not a lot of foreground in my galloping horse pictures, but you can readily see the background and that is very important for the overall image. I try to select distant landscape (mostly small mountains) that is pleasing but not distracting. I prefer the high contrast line between the sky and the forest to not go through the rider's head, but above or below is good. My choice is usually to shoot from a very low position – typically squatted behind a monopod-mounted camera and lens. This low position places the rider higher into the background.
 
Capturing the Action
 
When the horse and rider are warmed up and ready, it is time to go live. The rider typically lets me know that they are ready, I check the camera's electronic level to insure that I am (nearly) perfectly vertical and let the rider know that I am ready.
 
I carefully watch for the rider to appear over the horizon. As soon as the subjects appear, I place the AF point in the desired position and begin AI Servo AF tracking by pressing the shutter release half way (pressing the rear focus button also works if the camera is so-configured). As the subject approaches the ideal framing distance, I fully press the shutter release and follow the subject until too close for usable framing.
 
As the horse and rider trot back for another pass, I check the results just captured and make any adjustments needed. Since I am usually testing a camera or lens when shooting this rider on a galloping horse scenario, I shoot many passes.
 
Reviewing the Take-Home
 
With a fast camera and many passes, I am often looking at a thousand or more images to review. Reviewing is a time consuming process and, when using a top-performing camera and lens combo, selecting down the keepers can be a huge task. While making the first pass through the images, I mark all that are out of focus for immediate deletion. If the camera, lens and I did our jobs properly, the keeper selection challenge grows considerably after the first pass. I have favorite positions for the horse, prefer to see open eyes on both the horse and the rider and also look for something unique in the image (such as a big tail swish).
 
Not Just for Galloping Horses
 
As you likely guessed, these instructions can be used for photographing much more than just galloping horses. While galloping horses may have some unique challenges, a significant number of in-motion subjects including many in sports action scenarios can be properly captured using this technique with or without tweaks.
 
Safety First
 
I'll leave you with a quick warning: Don't lose sight of safety. I described a large and potentially dangerous subject rapidly approaching the photographer who is concentrating through the viewfinder. It is easy to become consumed with capturing what is in the viewfinder and failing to get out of the way of danger. Be aware of what is happening around you. It is always best to live to try again.
 
Camera and Lens Settings
300mm  f/2.8  1/1600s  ISO 250  3648 x 5472px
Post Date: 12/9/2014 9:13:55 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Thursday, December 04, 2014
Canon EOS 7D Mark II and EF-S 24mm f/2.8 STM Lens for Bird Photography
While the Canon EOS 7D Mark II is without a doubt an awesome bird photography camera, the Canon EF-S 24mm f/2.8 STM Lens is near the bottom of my bird photography lens list. Don't take me wrong – the 24 STM is a great little lens (a great bargain), but making a bird large enough in the 24mm frame to be relevant requires a very short subject distance or a short subject distance and a very large bird.
 
But, as this image proves (to me at least), the 24mm focal length can capture birds under ideal conditions. These ideal conditions with a wild bird in them come very infrequently, but ... one came to me this week. Here is the story:
 
I was outside giving the 24 STM lens a workout prior to wrapping up its review. We had a light snow followed by freezing rain overnight and warming air temps created a dense fog. Dense fog means low contrast which means evaluating lens image quality performance is compromised. But, these conditions can make for moody images and I was searching for something interesting.
 
After exploring the yard and surroundings, I came to like this lightly snow-and-ice-covered spruce tree best. I honed in on the set of branches shown in this image, working on placing the lines of branches and needles into an interesting composition. Still, I was looking at an only average image. It needed something.
 
Then my daughter walked out of the house announcing "I have a cardinal!" The unfortunate bird had made a navigational error and impacted a window of the house. Brittany had rescued the bird from the shrubbery.
 
In this part of the world, at this time of the year, no other bird is as beautifully colored as the cardinal and perhaps no other subject can make a snowy image pop more perfectly than a cardinal. As the bird gathered its wits, I placed it on the ideal branch in my composition and captured some images of it – from any distance I desired.
 
I knew that I wanted the cardinal large in the frame. Large in the 24mm frame meant moving in close, which also helped reduce the amount of background showing in the modestly-wide 24mm angle of view (on an APS-C/1.6x DSLR). Being close enough to the bird for the ideal large-in-the-frame composition meant that I had to be very careful to not make one part of the bird (such as the wing) look unusually large in relation to the rest of the bird (perspective distortion). A slightly forward-of-the-bird position seemed to work the best and the spruce branches provide leading lines to draw a viewer's eye to the bird (in case the color contrast was not enough). The bird was not completely still and capturing the right head position (looking slightly toward the camera) required good timing.
 
To have this ideal subject show up and cooperate for a few minutes at this exact time was divine. The cardinal flew away, apparently unharmed, not long after this picture was captured.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Google+, Flickr and Facebook.
 
Camera and Lens Settings
24mm  f/8.0  1/30s  ISO 200  5472 x 3648px
Post Date: 12/4/2014 11:46:15 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Monday, December 01, 2014
Capturing the Spirit of Baltimore's Inner Harbor with the Canon 24-105mm STM IS Lens
The historic Inner Harbor seaport is a showcase of the city of Baltimore, Maryland. While I was looking for interesting and creative photos in general on a day trip to this location, my ultimate goal for was to come away with a picture that captured the spirit of Inner Harbor in a single frame. Since I had only the latter part of the day to shoot, I was targeting sunset and the blue hour for that photo.
 
My afternoon scouting showed that the west side of the harbor offered my favorite view, one that included the most photogenic landmark buildings including the National Aquarium and Baltimore's World Trade Center. From the selected vantage point, the Hard Rock Cafe and Phillips signs also stood out and all of the colorful lights reflected in the water.
 
Not all waterfront is harbor, so the Lightship Chesapeake and the USS Torsk submarine docked in the background helped depict this waterfront properly as such. Of course, what finishes off the capture of the spirit of Baltimore's Inner Harbor better than a boat aptly named Inner Harbor Spirit docked in the foreground?
 
After selecting the specific location I wanted for my key photo, I captured a variety of photos using various lenses and focal lengths (there was no getting closer happening here). The scene shown in this sample picture was my favorite and I have it captured at various times during sunset including some with nicely pink clouds in the sky. The image shown here was captured just before total darkness. At that time, a 30 second exposure allowed a smooth motion blur of the very calm harbor, an f/16 aperture caused the lights to show a starburst effect without imparting a too-severe amount of softening of the image (due to diffraction) and the combination of 30 seconds and f/16 allowed a deep blue sky color to be retained.
 
The Canon EF 24-105mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM Lens is a nice lens and the Canon EOS 5D Mark III is of course an awesome camera. This photo is basically as-shot. Based on the Standard Picture Style (in DPP), I cloned out a few paint tiny imperfections on the ship and reduced the brightness of the Hard Rock Cafe sign, Phillips sign and the side of the aquarium using an HDR technique that utilized a darker exposure showing through the primary exposure at those positions in the frame.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Google+, Facebook and Flickr.
Post Date: 12/1/2014 10:00:00 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
How the Canon EOS 7D Mark II Performs when Shooting Birds in Flight
"How well does the Canon EOS 7D Mark II perform when shooting birds in flight?" has quickly become a frequently asked question. The Canon EOS 7D Mark II, especially because of its high performance AF system, high density imaging sensor, fast frame rate and modest-for-what-you-get price, is quickly finding favor with bird photographers. And, one of the biggest challenges faced by bird photographers is maintaining focus on birds in flight. Thus, the question is getting asked.
 
I had the privilege of spending the larger part of a day shooting bald eagles below the Conowingo Dam in northern Maryland with the 7D II this week. My goal was to discern how well this AF system could track the often-erratic movement of these beautiful birds in flight (and to hopefully come away with some nice images).
 
The day's moderate-to-heavy cloud cover eliminated any harsh shadow issues, but made the sky a white canvas (white sky is OK, but is not my favorite) and provided low light to further challenge the AF system. The bottom line is that I'm really impressed with my success rate from this day.
 
I was using the Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS II USM Lens with and without a Canon EF 1.4x III Extender behind it. Tracking these fast and erratic-moving birds with such a narrow angle of view was quite challenging, but when I kept the selected center AF point or one of the 4 neighboring AF points (based on the AF area I was using) on or even close to the bird I was tracking, most of the images were properly focused. Especially impressive was the ability of this camera to maintain focus on the birds even with backgrounds that the birds visually blended into and even more impressive was this camera's ability to maintain focus on the birds even with high contrasting backgrounds including electrical line towers and bare tree branches against a bright sky. I was using the AF Case 2 to instruct the camera to be slow to leave a tracked subject due to obstacles.
 
This camera is a great choice for bird photography. The consensus that I'm hearing from the other photographers frequenting Conowingo Dam is that their 7D Mark II experiences mirror my own.
 
After catching its dinner, this eagle in the above picture flew directly toward the camera. I began tracking and shooting at 10 fps. I have numerous good images of this eagle, but this was the most-frame-filling that did not cut off any significant amount of the bird. This image is essentially right out of the camera. I extended the canvas slightly to the bottom, added the extreme tip of the two bottom-most feathers and removed imperfections from a couple of other feathers. I changed the Picture Style to Standard (in DPP), changed saturation to "1", white balance to "Cloudy" and added a touch of noise reduction.
 
I have added a 10 fps burst example of flying eagles (a juvenile chasing an adult with a fish) to the Canon EOS 7D Mark II Review. The wing positioning shown in this series of images will assure you that 10 fps is definitely not too fast and at times, I needed a frame between the neighboring frames – such as at the moment the eagles grabbed a fish in the water.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Google+, Facebook and Flickr.
 
Camera and Lens Settings
600mm  f/5.6  1/1250s  ISO 1000  5472 x 3732px
Posted to: Canon News
Post Date: 12/1/2014 8:00:00 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Thursday, November 20, 2014
Trout Surfacing in Alta Lakes, Telluride, CO
The drive to the abandoned mining camp at Alta Lakes in the Uncompahgre National Forest just south of Telluride is a treat – if you have a high-clearance 4x4 vehicle and you know how to drive off-road. The AWD crossover SUV I had rented was marginal in meeting that first qualification, but I'm apparently at least somewhat qualified for the second requirement as I managed to navigate the vehicle to Alta Lakes. Unquestionable is that the drive to this amazing scenery was worth taking.
 
When at a high elevation, strong wind is generally what you find. OK, more like always what you find. Even at about 11,000' of elevation, there was no wind on this day and the Alta Lakes (3 of them, Upper is shown here) were absolutely calm.
 
Give me a mirror-smooth lake with something attractive behind it and I can be entertained for hours. OK, more like days. The snow-covered Wilson Mountain easily qualified as "attractive".
 
There was one exception to the mirror-smooth water surface and that was the occasional trout feeding on the surface, sending rings of ripples across the lake surface. When this happened, I would pause my shooting until the lake was again smooth. Then the nicely-time trout rise happened.
 
I was shooting HDR images to insure that I had lots of flexibility in final image brightness. One frame was exposed to hold the highlights, preventing the brightest clouds from becoming blown (pure white with no detail). The second frame was exposed to maintain the shadow details including those in the evergreen trees. The third frame included a trout's jump that synched perfectly with my 2 second self-timer release. I find the trout, though small in the frame, to add a positive element to an image that I already liked.
 
I generally share images because I like them. It seems that images with clean frame borders very frequently bubble up in my selection process and this image again has this trait. From a compositional perspective, placing the horizon in the middle of the frame with a reflective lake in the foreground virtually guarantees a perfect vertical balance to the image.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Google+, Facebook and Flickr.
 
Camera and Lens Settings
24mm  f/11.0  1/25s  ISO 100  5760 x 3840px
Post Date: 11/20/2014 9:55:20 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
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