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 Friday, July 3, 2015
Canon EOS 5Ds Sample Photo of Black Bear
Obvious is that the Canon EOS 5Ds is a much higher resolution camera than the Canon EOS 5D Mark III. Because the 5Ds has more pixels in the same amount of sensor space as the 5D III, camera and subject motion causes subject details to cross over pixels at a faster rate, potentially resulting in blur and a loss of pixel-level sharpness. Because of this, you may find that a faster minimum shutter speed is necessary for handholding this camera (and that image stabilization becomes more important). Similarly, fast-moving subjects may require faster shutter speeds to avoid pixel-level motion blur.
 
This is the 5Ds change with the biggest learning curve. But, get the shutter speed wrong and you may have a fallback option available.
 
The momma black bear showed up and I sprung into action. With the Canon EF 100-400mm L IS II Lens mounted to the 5Ds (the "R" in this case), I quickly estimated the manual exposure needed. Black bears rendered large in the frame tend to be overexposed in auto exposure modes and I was able to dial in the right manual exposure setting just as fast as determining any exposure compensation needed. I made one quick ISO setting change after seeing the first image on the histogram and began rapidly capturing frames.
 
Unfortunately, most of my shots from this 2 minute session were throwaways, primarily due to the bear's constant fast movement creating poor head positions. Some of the better-composed images were not as sharp as desired due to motion blur.
 
Hindsight is usually clear and I know that I should have opted for a higher ISO setting and shorter shutter speed, but I was hoping that the bear would pause occassionally, affording me the opportunity for sharp images at 1/320. When modestly blurred images happen, the fall-back option available is to reduce the final image dimensions until it is the desired sharpness. Reducing the final image dimensions to those of the 5D III (or similar) will give you the about same sharpness results as if the image had been captured on that lower resolution camera.
 
Here is the full resolution crop example showing what I was not satisfied with:
 
Full Resolution 5Ds Sharpness
 
Take this image down to 5D III pixel dimensions and ... I have an image I can be happy with:
 
Reduced to 5D III Size Sharpness
 
In the case of my bear photo, 5D III dimensions result in an acceptably sharp image (the DOF is centered closer to the eyes, leaving the teeth slightly out of focus). While I would rather have the full 50.6 megapixel image be sharp, having this image sharp at 22 megapixels does not leave me with big regrets.
 
I know, the bear is not looking at me. I always recommend taking a tastier (and slower) friend along when photographing bears. The bear was looking at her. I'm kidding of course. :)
Post Date: 7/3/2015 7:25:15 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Tuesday, June 9, 2015
As is often the case, I created a self-portrait to gain more experience with a technique that I rarely employ – using a ring light as fill light.
 
A ring light is often used as a main light in high fashion, high key situations. The on-axis light is flattering because minimizes the look of flaws in skin. Using the ring light as a main light can get a bit stale after a while largely in part because of its conspicuousness. How often do you view the world with a bright light emanating from your eyeballs?
 
Using a ring light as a fill light is nothing new; it's an often used technique of David Hobby – the Strobist – and it was through his blog that I was first introduced to the concept. The ring light works particularly well as a fill light because, being on-axis with the lens, it doesn't leave a telltale shadow. Then again, the catchlights in a subject's eyes will always give away your fill light technique if he/she is looking at the camera (a circular catchlight is hard to miss). However, you can also remove the catchlight in post if desired.
 
I've used several different ring lights over the years, but my favorite is the RoundFlash Ring Flash Adapter. Why? Because it's compact when folded down, lightweight, and relatively easy to incorporate into a standard portrait session.
 
With the goal of practicing ring light use, I dusted off last year's Halloween costume (the hat and glasses, at least) to once again take on the role of Walter White, aka Heisenberg.
 
For this particular setup I used a tripod mounted Canon EOS 5D Mark III + Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art lens. A Canon Speedlite 580EX (forerunner to the 600EX-RT) flash was mounted in the camera's hot shoe and fitted with the RoundFlash Ring Flash adapter. As noted, this light was dialed down and acting like a fill light. Its light allows detail visibility in the shadow areas without leaving a discernable shadow of its own. The rim lights were provided by two more 580EX flashes set slightly behind me on both sides. The flashes were bare and zoomed in a bit (50mm, I think) in order to reduce their spill onto the background. And speaking of the background, I used a fourth 580EX flash to illuminate it – a Botero #023 Collapsible Background (Dark Grey) – from below. I lit the background just enough so that its mottled grey surface vaguely resembled smoke or fog behind me.
 
I used manual power settings for each of the flashes to reduce the number of variables involved and employed one of my favorite self-portrait tools – DSLR Controller + TP-LINK Portable WiFi Router – to frame the shot, focus and trigger the camera. The off-camera flashes were triggered via optical slaves (but yes, ETTL optical triggering would have worked just fine in this situation).
 
One thing I should note here – if a subject is wearing glasses, lighting can be a bit challenging. In this case, looking straight into the camera would have caused a very distracting glare in the glasses. To deal with the glare, I simply angled my head downward just enough so that the majority of the reflection did not appear in the lenses.
 
As you can see, the ring light did a good job of allowing me to keep the bulk of my face dimly illuminated without leaving a telltale shadow of its own. The shadow cast by the ring light would have been visible behind me (evidenced by a dark halo) if I hadn't used a background light to illuminate that area.
 
In short, the ring light is more than just a one-trick pony. Sure, it can be used as a bright key light for a high fashion look, but the ring light really shines (pun intended) in its ability to reveal details and control contrast when used as a fill light.
 
You can find a larger version of the image on my Flickr photostream.
Post Date: 6/9/2015 10:07:48 AM CT   Posted By: Sean
 Monday, June 8, 2015
Spring Photography Tips: Baby Animals
Spring is when most baby animals make their entry into the world and who doesn't love a baby animal photo? Baby animals are the definition of cute.
 
Create your spring baby animal photography plan now (regardless of the season you happen to be reading this tip in). Determine what your baby animal subject(s) is(are) going to be, determine where they are located and plan on being at the right location to photograph them when they are introduced to the world.
 
This year, my animal of choice was the white-tailed deer. Newborn whitetail fawns are about the cutest animal on the face of this planet. They are also full of energy and very playful, making them very fun to watch.
 
My selected location for white-tailed deer fawn photography was Big Meadows in Shenandoah National Park. Whitetail fawns are born in late May and Early June, and I made it a priority to be there in that time-frame.
 
Watching the weather forecast about a week out, I booked a lodge room for one night. I know, that date was too far away for anyone to accurately predict the weather, but I needed a bit of planning time. The weather forecast was for "cloudy" and that meant I would have decent light all day long and wouldn't need to concern myself with harsh shadows even in the woods.
 
A couple of days later, the forecast changed to sunny and another day later the National Weather Service began calling for about 80% chance of rain for both of the days I would be there. I prepared for rain (rain gear for both me and the camera equipment along with a large umbrella). What I didn't plan for was heavy fog the entire two days and I really didn't expect it to rain most of the time I was there, but that was reality.
 
While I sighted many deer, those with fawns were not interested in being in view of photographers (even when approached in a vehicle). The fog drastically reduced contrast and cut realistic photo distances down to 30' (10m) at times, so approaching was necessary. After a long day, what I really felt like doing was hitting bed early the first night, but I continued the effort. That perseverance was rewarded when watching a doe in front of some bright ferns at the edge of the woods.
 
The ferns made an interesting background and as I was photographing her, she was bleating. Deer bleat to communicate, so I knew that there was another deer or a fawn nearby. With no warning, the cutest little fawn came bouncing out of the woods and began nursing.
 
The adorable fawn drank with fervor and I shot similarly, capturing nearly 200 images in the about-8 minute long encounter. While the fawn drank, the mother cleaned it and when the fawn finished drinking, it peered out from under the mother, providing additional poses including this one (I also like this image cropped tighter, emphasizing the fawn and removing the bright ferns). Then both went back into the woods and darkness came over the scene soon after.
 
While my trip overall was not one of my more productive efforts, but 8 minutes with one of the world's cutest animals produced a series of images that made the effort worthwhile.
 
On this trip with ultimate image quality being my goal, the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II and Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS (used for this image) were my wildlife lenses of choice with a Canon EOS 5D Mark III mounted behind them. When hiking longer distances, I carried the 100-400 L II and also used it from the car at times when the light was strong enough. The 200-400 L was my choice when the light waned and often used it on a monopod when not moving too far from the car. Both lenses and the camera performed amazingly.
 
Determine which baby animal you want to photography this or next spring and create your plan to photograph it!
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr, Google+, 500px and Facebook. Also, if reading from a news feed reader, click through to see the framed image.
 
Camera and Lens Settings
258mm  f/5.0  1/320s
ISO 1600
5760 x 3840px
Post Date: 6/8/2015 12:04:39 PM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Thursday, June 4, 2015
As usual, this self-portrait was created in order to answer a question I had rolling around in my head:
Is it possible to make an outdoor portrait taken in bright, sunny conditions appear to be taken at night? And with relatively limited gear (shoe-mount flashes)?
I knew that choosing the right location was key to producing the effect I wanted. It was about 1:30pm and the sun was high in the sky and very bright. Speedlites are not necessarily the best choice when overpowering the sun (especially when used with a light modifier). I chose a spot in my driveway that was completely shaded by an overhanging tree. The pointed the camera at a fence that borders my driveway which was also in shade. I set up a tripod mounted 5D Mark III with the versatile EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM (forerunner to the version "II" model) attached and framed the shot. I used a 4-stop ND filter on the lens so that I could use a wide aperture to limit my depth-of-field (the fence behind me wasn't all that interesting) while staying below my flash max x-sync speed. Truth is, I could have easily gotten away with a 2-stop ND filter as I had to use ISO 400 with the 4-stop ND Filter in place. So why didn't I change out NDs having had a 2-stop ND filter inside the house? The answers – 1) laziness and 2) it simply didn't matter. The 5D III's performance meant that the difference between ISO 100 and ISO 400 was not significant enough to worry with, so leaving the 4-stop ND filter on the lens wasn't a problem (especially as the 5D III's autofocus is quite sensitive in low light).
 
The main light (Canon 580EX in Westcott Rapid Box Octa) was boomed overhead using an Avenger 40" Extension Arm mounted to a C-stand. The extension arm allowed me to position the light above me (slightly in front) without having the light stand in the way. I gelled it with two full CTO gels with the intent of shifting the color balance blue to simulate the cooler colors of nighttime.
 
I wanted the picture to have a dark, ominous look to it. The modified main light was positioned a little high to light my face while leaving my eyes in shadow (thanks to my pronounced brow ridge). Having the eyes in shadow added to the effect I was going for. Still, I was asking a lot of the shoe-mount flash. With two gels in place and a diffusion panel in front eating away at the flash's output, I had the flash set to full power and still could have used a bit more light (I upped the exposure a small amount in post).
 
I used a bare 580EX (ungelled) as a rim light (positioned behind me). I decided not to gel this flash so that it would produce a cool rim light that would contrast well with the still-slightly-warm main light. I think that flash was set to 1/32 power. Both flashes were fired via radio triggers.
 
To trigger the camera, I used a wireless RC-1 remote and simply pointed the tripod-mounted camera at my desired spot using the AF points to cover the area where my head would be. Then it was simply a matter of standing in the right spot (roughly middle of the frame) and pushing the RC-1's shutter release button.
 
EXIF:
Canon EOS 5D Mark III
Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM (forerunner to version "II")
125mm, f/3.2, 1/160 sec, ISO 400
 
Click on the post image to see a larger version on Flickr.
 
Fun Fact: Conveying a specific image is often about the ideal framing. In this instance, you'd never know that I was wearing baggy, tan colored cargo pants with my button-up shirt and suit jacket. Because of the framing, I knew that changing into matching black dress pants (on this warm day) would be superfluous. ;-)
Post Date: 6/4/2015 9:37:01 AM CT   Posted By: Sean
Heat Waves on Railroad Bridge
Did you ever look at images you captured with a telephoto lens on a beautiful afternoon and wonder why they were not sharp? As I write this tip, I have been evaluating several long focal length lenses that share an attribute common with other telephoto lenses. Ever see shimmering in the distance such as where a road goes over a hill? Telephoto focal lengths magnify these heat waves and longer subject distances are more likely to be negatively influenced by the distorting effect.
 
If there is a heat source (relative to the ambient temperature) between you and your subject (or below that line of sight), you can expect some heat wave impact at even relatively short subject distances. Heat waves can occur practically anywhere, but this issue is primarily encountered outdoors and the sun is the primary (but not the only) cause. I frequently see degradation caused by heat waves over artificial turf athletic fields, running track surfaces and even thick green grass in the front yard. Asphalt, being dark in color and high in heat absorption/retention, is a classic source of heat waves, including the source in my "road goes over a hill" example.
 
Many other heat waves sources exist, including a flowing river on a cold day as illustrated in the included photo.
 
That image is a 100% crop from a 600mm picture of a steel railroad bridge. No, I did not use an "Art" filter on this image. Yes, the steel should be straight and sharp. No, this blurry image is not the fault of the lens.
 
When present, heat shimmer will create optical distortion that will diminish the quality of medium and long distance photos. It was 13° F (-11° C) on a clear, sunny morning when I photographed the distant railroad bridge. The warmer water in the river I was shooting over was creating turbulence for the light waves reaching the lens.
 
Know that heat waves are not limited to affecting only long distance subjects. While testing a lens at 600mm on a sunny afternoon, the strong focal length magnification made heat wave micro-distortion easy to see over thick green grass with only a roughly 100' (30m) subject distance.
 
The moon is a common photo subject for telephoto lenses and to photograph the moon means that light must pass completely through the earth's atmosphere. That distance leaves plenty of opportunity for light bending to occur.
 
Heat waves are definitely an obstacle for creating accurate outdoor lens comparisons. Generally, a clear sky is needed for consistent lighting between captures and the sun of course needs to be at least relatively high in the sky. That means the sun will be heating anything it shines on.
 
Note that heat waves can negatively impact AF performance as well. Because the optical irregularities caused by heat waves are presented to the camera's autofocus system(s) (both phase detection and contrast detection systems), focus distance calculations can be impacted. Especially keep this in mind when dialing in AF microadjustment.
 
What can you do about this problem? Heat waves are an image quality factor that you generally can't spend money to put behind you. For example, a sharper lens and a better camera are not going to be helpful. Selecting a different location, a different time of day and/or a different day completely or even a different season is often the best solution. A cloudy day with low temperature fluctuation may work for your image.
 
Many times, the photographer does not have control of the day and time of a shoot and will need to deal with the issue. Sports photographers typically fall into this group. For example, auto racing often takes place mid-day on asphalt tracks and photographers capturing these events will encounter this distortion.
 
If opting to shoot through the heat waves, move closer if possible (but not dangerously so – referring to the auto racing scenario). The less air that light passes through, the less likely that heat waves will cause strong distortion. Also, capture lots of images to allow selection of the least-influenced and to give your camera opportunity to lock in proper AF distances.
 
How Heat Waves Affect Photography Summary
 
The summary is short. The reason why some of your telephoto images are not sharp is because heat waves are bending the light and confusing your camera's AF system. The basic lesson here is that using the long focal lengths to photograph distant (and sometimes no-so-distant) subjects must be done with consideration to the effect of heat waves.
Post Date: 6/4/2015 9:23:00 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Wednesday, June 3, 2015
Waterfalls and Going with the Flow
When it comes to photographing waterfalls, one needs to go with the flow. Water flow that is. And spring is often when that flow is just right.
 
While too little flow can be detrimental to waterfall photography for obvious reasons, too much flow can also be a problem. When the water rises, features that can add to a composition (such as rocks) are often covered. Too much water flow can also result in mud-colored water. While I sometimes like tannin creating streaks and paths in the water, a photo with muddy water is not usually going to hit my favorites folder.
 
Start monitoring the weather (both recent and forecasted) at your favorite waterfall location and proactively plan to be there at the right time. My forecast preference often includes some rain and plenty of clouds, allowing a saturated landscape with even lighting.
 
After a heavy rain, B. Reynolds Falls in Ricketts Glen State Park was flowing very strongly on this mid-May day (though the needed rocks details remained exposed). The water was so loud that by the end of the day, I was ready for some quiet time in the car. My ears would have been happier during a drought, but ... my images would not have been nearly as good.
 
To get this particular image, I climbed down the rocks beside a small walking bridge and precariously positioned myself and the tripod legs on the strongly-sloped wet rocks just above the water. I often place the tripod in the water for such shots, but ... that only works if the water flow is not strong enough to cause vibrations in the tripod. The final composition emphasizes a balance of the features contained with most lines moving toward the center of the frame.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr, Google+, 500px and Facebook. Also, if reading from a news feed reader, click through to see the framed image.
Post Date: 6/3/2015 8:47:00 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Tuesday, June 2, 2015
Canon 1D X, 600mm f/4L II, 1.4x III and a Wing-Drying Double-Crested Cormorant
It is not unusual to find double-crested cormorants drying their wings. Images of these birds doing so are often entertaining, but I am always looking for positive additional elements in my images.
 
The first positive additional element in this image is the still, shallow, reflective water the bird is standing in. The reflection doubles the primary subject of interest and brings in the blue sky color.
 
The reflection also pulls in the white and orange color of a flock of white pelicans standing in the water behind the cormorant. White pelicans are not so common in the places I frequent, so having a large flock of them behind my wing-drying bird provides me a positive additional element. That the light-colored reflection provides higher contrast on the cormorant's dark head, where the viewer's eye is to be drawn, is also positive.
 
The location for this photo was Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island, Florida. The choice of the 600 f/4 L IS II Lens with a 1.4x III behind it was made for maximum reach for the 1D X (along with the superb image quality the combo provides).
 
I love tightly framed bird portraits, but in this case, my 1D X was focal length constrained, limited to the angle of view provided by the 840mm lens combo (unless I cropped and that option still remains). Composing good environmental bird photos is often more challenging tightly-framed portraits, but when done well, they can look great. In this example, I chose to have a clean bottom border of water and a mostly-white top border. If you follow my work, you know that I like how borders free of contrasting lines keep the viewer's eye within the frame. Beyond that strategy, I was trying to balance the elements remaining in the frame.
 
While that last sentence may sound easy, the cormorant was constantly changing its head angle. If the bird was looking to my right, I needed to frame farther to my right. And, vice versa. That meant that I had to either change the selected AF point very quickly or that I had to recompose after focusing. My choice here was to quickly select the AF point to one that landed on the bird's head. I made this choice over the recomposing options because I was counting on capturing more than one image before the head moved to another position.
 
I ended up with many keepers from this short session, but ... I think that this image is my favorite.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr, Google+, 500px and Facebook. Also, if reading from a news feed reader, click through to see the framed image.
Post Date: 6/2/2015 10:48:54 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Friday, May 22, 2015
Just Reflections by the Canon 24-105mm IS STM Lens
Sometimes, I find images comprised of only reflections more interesting than images containing only the subjects being reflected. To capture such an image requires a reflective surface and something to be reflected in it.
 
Most locations share a similar nearby reflection source: water. When water is the reflective surface and there is at least a small amount of motion on the water surface, no two photos will be the same. You can capture 20 images from a tripod-mounted camera and still have no duplicates. Such images can sometimes work together for a low-effort collection.
 
Water in motion is ... in motion. To stop motion requires an adequately short shutter speed and to achieve stopped motion in this frame, I opted for ISO 400 (vs. the least-noisy ISO 100 option). The final image has very little noticeable noise and the small waves are not showing blur.
 
For this image, I found a brightly colored boat as the reflective subject and adjusted my position until I had what I felt was ideal framing. I especially like how the top and bottom borders of the frame are relatively uninterrupted by lines in this composition.
 
Keep in mind that reflection images often benefit from increased contrast and saturation in post processing.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr, Google+, 500px and Facebook. Also, if reading from a news feed reader, click through to see the framed image.
 
Camera and Lens Settings
105mm  f/10.0  1/40s
ISO 400
5760 x 3840px
Post Date: 5/22/2015 7:30:18 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Thursday, May 21, 2015
Canon 24-70mm L II Captures Reflections at Independence Pass, Colorado
A great way to make a good scene better is to add a reflection and water is perhaps the most common reflective surface used in landscape photography. At least relatively still water is needed if what is reflecting is to be recognizable and, when shooting in extremely windy locations (this one qualifies), small bodies of water tend to be most still.
 
Shaded water often provides a better reflective water surface than water under direct sunlight. At the top of Independence Pass, the setting sun shines horizontally across the landscape and casts a shadow evenly across this small alpine meadow pond. The dark water nicely reflects the great clouds overhead
 
This is a manual HDR processed image with a subtle increase in reflection brightness being the result.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr, Google+, 500px and Facebook. Also, if reading from a news feed reader, click through to see the framed image.
Post Date: 5/21/2015 10:20:30 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Wednesday, May 20, 2015
Kat and Laura Instrumental Duo
by Sean Setters
 
Kat is a musician and operates a music instruction business that is literally a stone's throw away from my mailbox. I often see her going in and out of her studio when walking to the nearby grocery store.
 
One day we struck up a conversation and, naturally, I mentioned that I was a photographer. With a look of surprise she said, "Really? What a coincidence! My music partner and I were just talking about doing some promotional shots for our business."
 
Kat would go on to explain that she had teamed up with Laura, a cello player, and they were doing side gigs playing wedding receptions and various events. They wanted a few images to promote their own music (single portraits) and to promote their instrumental duo.
 
When I asked what Kat what kind of look or feel she wanted for the images, she replied, "Something with nature."
 
I told her I'd come up with something.
 
One evening a few days later, I was visiting a friend when I noticed a home in his neighborhood that featured a beautifully landscaped yard. The yard had fantastic rock formations, a stream and several trees that all screamed "nature." Another benefit of the location was its proximity to the road and a small area off to the side for parking. In short, the location was close to town, easily accessible and could be framed in a way to make it look like we were out in the middle of nowhere. Perfect.
 
I immediately knocked on the home's front door with the intent of asking the homeowner if I could use his yard for a shoot (a bit bold, yes). The homeowner wasn't home. I took a few pictures of the yard using my cell phone to document the location with a mental note to return again to introduce myself to the home owner.
 
I returned the following day with a typed, signed letter introducing myself to leave for the home owner just in case he/she was once again not home. When I pulled up to the home, the homeowner – a very nice gentleman by the name of Danny – was blowing the leaves and grass off his driveway obviously having just finished mowing. He looked a bit standoffish as I approached, likely because I looked like a traveling salesman or an evangelist walking down the driveway.
 
The first words out of my mouth set him at ease. "Don't worry, I'm not selling anything. I simply have a favor to ask. My name is Sean and I'm a local photographer..."
 
I continued to explain about my clients, their desire for a natural setting, and how the images were intended to be used. I complimented his yard and landscaping several times in the conversation (sincere flattery) and noted that I thought it would be absolutely perfect for their needs. A little to my surprise, Danny didn't even hesitate. "Sure, come over anytime. It doesn't matter whether I'm here or not. No need to tell me you're coming. Just be careful around the rocks."
 
I love the South. :-)
 
I emailed Kat the location images I had snapped with my phone and she thought the scene looked great. With the "go-ahead," we scheduled the shoot.
 
On the day of the shoot I arrived a little early to set up the lighting gear. Using the Photographer's Ephemeris web app, I knew that the sun would be positioned behind the spot I wanted to use around 4pm. This would have been ideal. Unfortunately, Kat and Laura were only available in the morning, meaning I would have to fight the sun which was positioned in front of them.
 
I tackled the direct sunlight problem by shading the duo with two umbrellas camera left (boomed above). I originally intended on shooting my tripod-based images with the umbrellas in the scene and then shooting a reference image without the umbrellas so that I could remove the umbrellas from all of the images in post. When the cloud cover arrived later in the shoot, I simply removed the umbrellas. All the example shots in this post occurred after we removed the umbrellas from the scene.
 
Here's how I lit the scene:
 
  • White Lightning x1600, camera right, diffused by a 43" octabox
  • White Lightning x3200, camera left, diffused by an extreme silver parabolic umbrella (with diffusion cover in place)
  • Canon 580EX, camera left (behind subjects), 1/2 CTO gelled
You can see the setup below.
 
Kat and Laura Setup

 
For my camera and lens, I used a tripod mounted 5D Mark III and one of my favorite lenses, the EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM with a Singh-Ray Vari-N-Duo. The 85mm focal length was a good fit considering that I had to position the camera on the other side of a ditch between the subjects and myself. Being pretty far back from the scene, the 85mm focal length also allowed for a not-too-tight / more loosely framed composition which would give Kat and Laura more ways to crop the image for a wide range marketing materials (letter, postcard, brochure, web, etc). The variable ND filter (mounted via a step-up ring) allowed me to utilize the lens's wider apertures (f/1.8 in this case) while keeping the shutter speed at or below the flash sync speed for a more blurred background.
 
While the setup was a lot of work, the results proved worth the effort (I think). Here were some of the individual promotional images we shot.
 
Kat and Violin
Kat and her Violin

Laura and Cello 1
Laura and the Cello 1


Laura and Cello 2
Laura and Cello 2


Takeaways:
 
  1. Always be on the lookout for good locations. You never know when and where you'll run across something that's just perfect.
  2. Don't be afraid to ask permission to use a location. The worst they can say is "no."
  3. Arrive ahead of your clients if you anticipate needing a decent amount of setup time. Doing so will ensure your clients are ready to shoot fresh upon arrival.
  4. Frame loosely for promotional images that won't be used in a large format. Doing so gives your client much more flexibility to use the images on a wide range of materials with varying aspect ratios and typesetting needs.
In the end, the clients loved the images and even gave me a bonus on top of the agreed-upon fee. It proved to be a great session all-around.
 
You can find higher resolution images on my Flickr photostream:
 
Post Date: 5/20/2015 10:16:07 AM CT   Posted By: Sean
The 24-70 L II Visits the Last Dollar Ranch, Telluride
Colorado is known for its big ranches and a big ranch calls for a grand entrance. The Last Dollar Ranch on Last Dollar Road near Dallas Divide (and RT 62) has one of my favorite such entrances. The huge mountains behind large golden fields fronted by a rustic wooden fence and of course, a grand entrance create a simply beautiful scene.
 
To make the entrance appear grand in the image, I moved in close and used a wide angle focal length.
 
Just looking at this photo brings back memories of the large heard of elk in the distance and I can still hear the large bull bugling. That is the power of an image.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr, Google+, 500px and Facebook. Also, if reading from a news feed reader, click through to see the framed image.
Post Date: 5/20/2015 9:14:32 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Tuesday, May 19, 2015
The 5D III and 70-300 L Visit the San Juan Mountains
After spending a late September day scouting from Crested Butte to Durango and back north to near Telluride with practically no pictures captured, the sun finally broke through an opening in the heavy clouds that had produced rain and the season's first snow for most of the day. This is the breathtaking scene that was presented to me.
 
Capturing attractive landscape images with a telephoto lens is sometimes so easy that it almost feels like cheating. I safely pulled off the road, setup and quickly shot until the sun went back behind the curtain of heavy clouds.
 
Looking for a fall foliage photography trip? Few locations are better than the San Juan Mountains in Colorado. The aspen trees play a starring role in this spectacular landscape.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr, Google+, 500px and Facebook. Also, if reading from a news feed reader, click through to see the framed image.
Post Date: 5/19/2015 8:46:21 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Thursday, May 14, 2015
A 5-Step Recipe for Bird Photography Success
Cookbooks are filled with successful recipes and successful bird photography is similarly not limited to a single recipe, but here is a recipe that works every time.
 
1. Start with a great camera and lens.
 
The Canon EOS 7D Mark II and Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens are excellent choices.
 
2. Find a beautiful bird properly posed against a clean background.
 
A snowy egret in breeding plumage easily qualifies for this main ingredient. A practically uninterrupted clear blue sky background frame keeps the viewer's eye on the main subject.
 
3. Time the bird meetup with an early or late day sun at your back.
 
Lighting is one of the most important ingredients to any photo. Early and late day direct sunlight, generally warm in color and slightly diffused in hardness, is a highly desired source of light. The 5:50 PM light was so warm in this case that I decided to cool the 7D II's AWB (Auto White Balance) choice very noticeably in post processing. Because the sunlight was directing my shadow toward the bird, subject shadows are very minimal.
 
4. Cue a side or tail wind to ruffle the bird's feathers.
 
Birds like to face the wind, keeping their feathers in line. When a side or tail wind presents itself, I like to take advantage of it. The ruffled feathers add a character to the image and in this case, the wind pushed the breeding plumage into better view.
 
5. Carefully time the shutter release
 
Birds are often constantly moving and timing the shutter release, in conjunction with balanced framing and accurate AF, is a challenge. With the 7D II's wide-set AF points, I was able to select a point that covered the bird's head without recomposing needed. When the bird turned its head to the side, I quickly pressed the shutter release and the 7D II's short shutter lag did not get in the way.
 
Compared to the effort required for many of my photos, this was a very easy photo to capture. Being at the right place at the right time to apply the recipe was all that was needed.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr, Google+, 500px and Facebook. Also, if reading from a news feed reader, click through to see the framed image.
 
Camera and Lens Settings
371mm  f/8.0  1/200s
ISO 100
3648 x 5472px
Post Date: 5/14/2015 9:43:45 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Thursday, May 7, 2015
by Sean Setters
 
When a friend of mine posted on Facebook, "Does anyone have any use for a TON of expired coffee beans?," I quickly replied, "I'll take 'em."
 
As others expressed interest in the coffee beans for gardening purposes, and I didn't need much for the macro shots I thought I might use them for, I only ended up getting a couple of bags out of the seventeen pounds she was offering (though I'm sure I could have found an interesting use for that many coffee beans).
 
As I was picking up the graciously free props I asked my friend if there was anything specific she wanted me to shoot with them. Much to my surprise she had a very quick answer. "Amanda. Something with her hair, maybe?"
 
While it certainly wasn't what I had in mind, it sounded right down my alley. I nodded my head and replied, "Okie dokie. I'll see what I can do."
 
With a vague idea in my head, Amanda and I took the opportunity of some free time yesterday afternoon to bring it to fruition. I laid a standard sized (32x40") white foam-core white poster board on my living room floor. I then extended the legs of my Induro CT314 to their fullest extent, reversed the center column, attached my 5D Mark III + Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art and positioned the tripod directly above the board. After that, I set up one light stand with a Canon 580EX and an 24" Glow softbox and another light stand with a 580EX and a Westcott RapidBox Octa (both triggered via radio slaves).
 
I asked Amanda to lay on the white board so that her head was basically centered in the board. We then spread out her hair so that it filled a majority of the space after which I began taking test exposures while fiddling with the position of the lights. I settled on f/6.3, 1/160 second at ISO 160 for the exposure with the lights set to between 1/8 and 1/4 power.
 
Getting the light just right proved a little challenging because of the orientation of the subject and the background and the fact that both were on the ground. I positioned the RapidBox Octa toward the top of Amanda's head, camera left, feathered a little downward. I positioned the 24" softbox camera right but feathered slightly toward the top of the frame. This lighting position and close power ratio provided a relatively flat lighting from a highlight to shadow perspective, yet there was still a direction to the light which helped to sculpt and highlight Amanda's features.
 
Then the coffee beans. If I had thought through this setup a little more, I would have laid down a garbage bag or two beneath the white board in order to catch stray coffee beans before they hit the carpet – but I didn't. When I opened the bag and started pouring the beans onto the background, the beans bounced much more than I had imagined. While most of the coffee beans stayed within the confines of the white board, more than a few landed on the carpet. Tip: If a coffee bean lands on your carpet, be careful not to step on it. It can make the mess infinitely more difficult to clean up.
 
We tried several different poses throughout the session including several with Amanda holding a coffee mug. But in the end, this was the keeper from the shoot. And while I typically see the world in a 2x3 (and increasingly, 16x9) frame, I ended up liking the square crop best and knew it would work well as a profile picture.
 
Since updating her Facebook profile picture yesterday afternoon, the picture has amassed 95 likes with several nice comments as well. It's amazing what you can do with a little space on your floor, a white board, a tripod, a couple of lights, a pretty girl and a bag of magic [coffee] beans. ;-)
 
Click on the image atop this post to see a larger sized version on Flickr.
Post Date: 5/7/2015 10:02:16 AM CT   Posted By: Sean
 Friday, May 1, 2015
Canon 7D II, 100-400 L II and a Preening Sandwich Tern
What was the hardest part of this capture?
 
It was not the exposure. With a solid cloud cover, I was able to lock in a manual exposure for perfect results on every shot. In this case, I chose a 1/1000 shutter speed (the bird was moving a lot and quickly), an f/5.6 aperture (to isolate the bird using shallow depth of field) and ISO 160 to bring the brightest whites up to near RGB 255,255,255.
 
The challenge was not the tight framing of the bird. I was able to slowly belly-crawl close to the small flock of terns. So close that I only needed a 234mm focal length in front of the 7D II's APS-C sensor. I should have used a slightly wider angle still as I added a small amount of canvas on the left in post, providing additional breathing room for the wing.
 
The challenge was also not the low shooting position. Using the NatureScapes Skimmer Ground Pod II, I was able to push the camera forward as I crawled in the sand. Shooting from on the ground gave me a clean background (only sky) and the remaining land in the frame is primarily a blur of texture.
 
The big challenge? Timing the shutter release in conjunction with using the proper AF tactics to get this specific composition with the head included in focus. The sandwich tern cleaning process involved a wide array of moves, few of which I was able to predict and all of them fast. The head was constantly moving in what seemed like all directions and fast framing adjustment with a properly-selected AF point proved very challenging. A narrower aperture would have reduced the AF task, but the result would have been more ground in focus for a different look.
 
One aspect of this image that I like is the complete separation of the head from the body. Many of the preening positions did not have this attribute (and many had a completely hidden head). I also like the balance. While I don't often place my subject in the center of the frame, I felt that centered worked best in this case. The wing and tail balance the bird over the dark, eye-catching legs. The head extended to the right caused me to want the legs shifted just left of center to get what I felt was the right overall balance. My shooting position was low enough that only the legs intersected the color of the sand. The small amount of feather pulling through the bill is the bonus feature. I'll credit the 7D II's short shutter lag for enabling that timing.
 
This sandwich tern was on the gulf shores of Captiva Island, just north of Blind Pass. This location in southwest Florida is ideal for expanding one's bird photography portfolio.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr, Google+, 500px and Facebook. Also, if reading from a news feed reader, click through to see the framed image.
 
Camera and Lens Settings
234mm  f/5.6  1/1000s
ISO 160
5622 x 3648px
Post Date: 5/1/2015 10:10:10 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
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