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 Thursday, March 26, 2015
Canon 7D II and 100-400 L II Get Close to a Royal Tern
There was a small flock of royal terns on the Captiva, Florida beach just north of Blind Pass and Sanibel Island. It would have been easy to stand and capture distant photos of the flock resting in the sand, but I was looking for something better. By lying down in the sand and moving forward slowly, the beautiful birds allowed me to get quite close without showing any signs of stress. So close that I had to zoom out somewhat to get the framing I selected for the bird in this photo.
 
That the 100-400 L II focuses so closely is a big benefit when the subject is small and you want to fill the frame with it or a portion of it. The close focusing is also useful in situations such as this one – when I got too close. As I said, there was a flock of birds and I was photographing various birds as their positions and behaviors warranted my attention.
 
A low shooting position often has the benefit of a clean background (the sky in this case) and provides a nice angle on most small birds and animals located on the ground. To make shooting while lying flat in the sand easier, I utilized a NatureScapes Skimmer Ground Pod II. To help darken the sky in the background, I used a circular polarizer filter.
 
Early and late in the day sunlight often provides the best lighting for bird photography, but nice images can be made at other times of the day. This royal tern photo was taken at 11:44 AM. At this time of the day, the sun is near its highest point, making shadows harsh and the color temperature of the light cool. By carefully timing the shutter release, I was able to catch bird positions that minimized shadows (especially on its head) and that included a catchlight in the eye. Sunlight reflecting on sand also helps minimize shadows (though not as well as the snow that was on the ground at home on that date does).
 
With a white bird in full sunlight and under a cloudless sky, the exposure decision was easy. Lock in manual mode settings that included a shutter speed fast enough to stop any movement present (there was lots of action happening), an aperture that provided adequate depth of field and an ISO setting that caused the brightest areas of the photo to be *just* below blown (pure white) in brightness.
 
The 7D Mark II and 100-400 L II performed extremely well on this trip. The alert among you will notice that the reported full size pixel dimensions for this image are larger than those native from the 7D Mark II. I framed this bird tight to the top of the frame and used Photoshop's content aware fill to extend the canvas, creating more sky in the final image. This tactic created a modestly higher resolution image overall. Another option for increasing resolution would have been to capture a similarly-focused second frame with more upward angle, taking in much more sky for later stitching to the bird image.
 
I spent hours focusing on these birds and will try to share some additional images when I get time.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr, Google+ and Facebook. Also, if reading from a news feed reader, click through to see the framed image.
 
Camera and Lens Settings
360mm  f/8.0  1/1250s  ISO 160  5472 x 3932px
Post Date: 3/26/2015 8:38:04 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Tuesday, March 17, 2015
Capturing Cityscapes During the
Following Sean's recent winter photography tip suggestion, I took the Canon 11-24mm f/4L Lens to New York City for a late-winter day. New York City is one of the most photogenic cities on the planet and it remains similarly so at all times of the year. Advantages of shooting architecture and cities when it is uncomfortably cold out include fewer people to interfere with your compositions, fewer photographers competing for the same shooting locations and easier isolation of composition-enhancing people while doing street photography.
 
Scouting
 
New York City is extremely large and I doubt that anyone will ever exhaust all of the photo possibilities of this location. For sure I will not. This means that pre-trip scouting is especially important. Using available online resources to visualize the location's available compositions maximizes one's photo time. These resources include maps, satellite imagery, The Photographer's Ephemeris, reviewing photos others captured at the potential location, etc.
 
Part of this scouting involves determining the direction of sunrise or sunset as this effects the look of the image at a key time of the day for cityscape photography. The sun rising or setting to the side of an image will be the most challenging with the sky taking on a brightness gradient from one side of the image to the other. If the sun is rising or setting behind you, buildings will reflect the brighter sky and the background sky will be darker in relation to the buildings. The sky may also become pink above the horizon in this situation. If the sun is rising or setting in front of you, the sky will be brighter in relation to the buildings, but the building lights will become more pronounced. Both latter options are great. My choice in this example was the in-front-of-me sunset.
 
On Location
 
Arriving at the location early to verify the choice made during pre-trip scouting is highly recommended. You never know what you might find upon arrival (such as a large construction project), so arrive early enough to implement plan B if necessary. Yes, having at least a plan B and, better yet, a plan C and D is a very good idea. Arriving early also provides the best opportunity to score the perfect shooting location.
 
On this particular cold evening, there was no competition for shooting location and to completely avoid the chance of people walking into my composition (and to avoid an ugly sign and construction fencing), I setup so that no foreground was visible in the frame. To do so at the focal length I wanted to use (24mm – the longest available on the lens I was evaluating) required extending my tripod down through the curved East River fencing.
 
The Right Time of Day Makes the Difference
 
City lights do not come on (or become visible) until it gets somewhat dark and these lights are a key to one of my favorite cityscape looks. The lights add life to the buildings and while cityscapes can be captured in complete darkness, I find that some color remaining in the sky makes a better image.
 
The "Blue Hour", by definition, lasts for 1 hour just before sunrise and just after sunset (use your online tool or phone app to find out when it happens at your shooting location on your chosen shooting day). However, the perfect shooting time, when the sky color balances with the city lights (and possibly reflections), lasts for closer to 15 minutes within that hour. I'll dub this time period the "Perfect 15" and I can usually narrow my ultimate preference down to a subset of that duration. While the Perfect 15 are ideal for capturing a variety of image types, cityscapes are an especially great use of this short period of time.
 
While it is possible to capture a number of compositions within the Perfect 15, I find it best to concentrate on one composition at the key time of the day. Fifteen minutes sounds like a very adequate amount of time to capture one image, but I assure you, it is often not. Here is why:
 
At this time of the day, each f/11 image requires 30 seconds of exposure (roughly) followed by 30 seconds of long exposure noise reduction dark frame capture. Add a few seconds for mirror lockup and multiply each shot by two or three for exposure bracketing (if warranted for HDR) and those Perfect 15 minutes begin to look very short.
 
Reflect a Great Scene for a Better Image
 
Want to make a great scene even better? Reflect it in water to double the greatness. Many major cities exist because of the water located by them, and cityscapes often look best when reflected in water. However, these waterways are typically large enough and have enough wind and boat traffic on them to never permit a mirror-smooth reflection. Reflections in rough water can look OK (though somewhat distracting), but making a smooth blur of the water via a long exposure is usually my preference. The Perfect 15 happens at the right time of day for long water-blurring exposures, but the boat traffic presents a problem.
 
Even during a 30 second exposure, the waves created by a large boat are going to create possibly-undesirable lines in the final image. Also, at this time of the day, boats are required to have lights on and those lights show very clearly as long streaks in the image. Sometimes these light streaks can be removed in post processing (try the content-aware healing brush in Photoshop), but lights on the larger boats (such as ferries) streak across the city details, becoming much more difficult to remove. When this happens, an available option is to simply leave the light streaks remaining in the final image, adding an effect. Most of the time, I find this effect undesirable. Correcting the uneven reflections caused by 30-second wave blurs is usually very challenging.
 
The Perfect 15 is Short for Even One Image
 
So, in addition to the over-1-minute exposure captures along with similar durations for exposure bracketed shots (for potential HDR use), a boat moving through an image can cut the remaining available time drastically. A tug boat pushing a barge through the Brooklyn Bridge and Manhattan Skyline scene takes a couple of minutes and the waves don't settle for a period of time after that. The East River Ferry is much faster, but it also makes significant waves. Boat traffic alone took a major chunk out of my Perfect 15 on this day.
 
Does the Tide Matter?
 
If your city's waterway is tidal-influenced and water-level subjects, especially in the foreground (such as pilings), are in your frame, make sure that your capture date is ideally timed with the tide. Use the tide charts available for your location to determine this.
 
The Weather Matters
 
If it were raining, snowing or foggy, I would not likely have been able to see the city I was photographing, so yes, the weather matters. Aside from being able to see the primary subjects, what the weather is providing becomes decreasingly important for cityscape photography at these times of the day. If you want the sunset to add a significant interest to the sky, there needs to be some clouds to catch color and an opening in the sky allowing the sun to illuminate those clouds. Since I wanted the city itself to be the primary interest in my image and because I wanted a high-percentage weather forecast, I chose a perfectly clear day for this trip. A clear sky provides a great blue color over the city and reflects in the water below it.
 
Seeing Stars and Aircraft
 
Cities are usually bright enough to overwhelm the visibility of most stars, but if you happen to be able to see the stars in your images, 30 seconds is probably going to give you some star trails. What to do with the handful of visible stars and their short trails is a matter of taste, but they appeared to be an anomaly in this image. There were not enough stars showing to make them appear as part of the scene, so I removed them.
 
Along with waterways, large cities usually have busy airports and air traffic very frequently becomes part of these images. The flashing lights from this aircraft generally create long dotted lines through a cityscape captured during 30 the seconds exposures typically in use during the Perfect 15. Again, the choice of what to do about these inevitable additions to the image is up to you. Fortunately, most of the aircraft are flying above the city and can be easily removed in Photoshop.
 
Replacing Light Bulbs
 
The waterways commonly found by large cities frequently have bridges over them. These bridges are often landmarks that you will want to incorporate into your images and these bridges commonly have many lights on them. The Brooklyn Bridge is one such bridge. After a severe winter, numerous light bulbs were in need of replacement. I'm sure that there had been very few maintenance crew members volunteering to scale the bridge under the severe temperatures (along with plenty of snow and ice) NYC had for many months prior, but I felt the missing lights negatively impacted the image and took the liberty of replacing the bulbs myself (in post of course).
 
Note that, while often the highest location in a city, bridges would seem to be great vantage points for cityscape photography during the Perfect 15. Unfortunately, for bridges with traffic on them, this is not the case. The amount of movement on most bridges with vehicular traffic is incredible (especially the large suspension bridges) and long exposure images captured from such bridges are typically very blurry.
 
This New York City Image
 
While reviewing the Canon EF 11-24mm f/4L USM Lens, I wanted to put some on-location hours behind this lens and decided that Brooklyn Bridge Park, just across the East River from downtown Manhattan, would be a good destination. I arrived early in the afternoon, spent an hour or so selecting what I thought was the ideal composition for capture during the Perfect 15 and then explored the area for other photographic opportunities.
 
About 45 minutes before sunset, I came back and anchored myself into the selected shooting location. I setup the camera, perfected the framing using a completely level camera (keeping the buildings vertically straight) and then established the proper focus distance setting. While I have yet to take a miss-autofocused image with this lens, I wanted no chance of that happening when the scene became dark. I used autofocus to get the initial setting, switched to manual focus mode and took a verification image.
 
While my selected image was captured 41 minutes after sunset, I captured images periodically before entering the Perfect 15. Some of these images are very nice and I'm glad to have them. More importantly, these images allowed me to monitor the exposure settings and how they were changing. There was no question about what settings I should be using when the ideal shooting time came.
 
While I did some bracketing and captured many exposures before, through and after the Perfect 15, everything came together in one image this time. The boat traffic stopped long enough for the waves to even out. The brightness in the sky leveled with the brightness of the city lights and the brightness of the reflection seems just right to me.
 
Aside from some of the tweaks I mentioned already (such as replacing burned out light bulbs), this image is basically right out of the camera. I shoot with the Neutral Picture Style selected in-camera to get a lower contrast histogram to best show the camera's available dynamic range and how I'm making use of it. Because this style's low contrast is not typically what I'm processing for, my usual first post processing step is to select Standard Picture Style. I added some saturation and turned the sharpness setting down to "1". Even with a very low "1" sharpness setting, all details in this image are tack sharp. Awesome lens.
 
Other "Perfect 15" Cityscapes
 
A few other recent cityscape images can be found here:
Pilings, Brooklyn Bridge Park, NYC Skyline at Sunset
Capturing the Spirit of Baltimore's Inner Harbor
Manhattan Skyline and Hamilton Park
 
Summary
 
A majority of photographers and other observers pack it in when the sun dips below the horizon, but the show is just getting started at sunset. Stick around. If the sun is visible in the sky, unfortunately, the best AM photo time may be in the past. This is the time to make plans for tomorrow. Try shooting during the blue hour and learn what your "Perfect 15" is.
 
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
24mm  f/11.0  30s  ISO 100  5760 x 3840px
Post Date: 3/17/2015 10:18:52 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Sunday, March 8, 2015
Western Digital My Passport Portable Hard Drive
If your hard drive failed right now, what would you lose? While I hope that your answer would be "Practically nothing", unfortunately, I know that the percentage of photographers lacking regular backups is very high.
 
While shooting at Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge last week, I overheard one gentleman asking another why he was shooting a particular scene, indicating that the person already had photographed that particular scene numerous times before. The response sent a chill down my spine: "My hard drive crashed. I didn't have a backup and lost most of my pictures. I'm trying to replace what I lost."
 
PLEASE don't let me hear those words from you. Hard drives fail or become corrupted far more frequently than you want to believe. You could be the next victim and you could become so right now. Theft and fire are additional perils you should guard against.
 
With so many good backup options available today, there is no good excuse for not backing up. Western Digital My Passport Portable Hard Drives are currently my first choice backup strategy. I have 15 of the 2 TB models in active use and another dozen or so smaller capacity models acting (mostly) as archive drives. The small size and high capacity of these drives allow me to easily rotate current copies off-site and also to a second location in my studio regularly.
 
If you are lacking a regular backup strategy, decide right now to tackle that problem and commit to a routine that protects what you've worked so hard to create.
Post Date: 3/8/2015 8:55:47 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Friday, March 6, 2015
Canon 100-400 L II Captures Bahia Honda Railroad Bridge at Sunset
Few lenses have grown so important to me in such a short amount of time as the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens. Wildlife has been my first-choice use for this lens, but landscape photography is a very close second on the list (sports will compete with these other two uses as soon as the snow melts and more athletes go outside).
 
I love the great outdoors and landscape photography ties in very well with that love. Landscape photos allow me to take my favorite scenes with me and many hang in my house and studio. Many of these prints are very large (up to 40x60") and I'm always looking for the ultimate image quality. While I'm often using wide angle lenses to capture landscapes, I love using telephoto lenses nearly as much. Narrow angles of view are easy to compose with and, even mediocre sunrises and sunsets can fill the frame with color. The 100-400 L II provides a great focal length range and very impressive image quality, making it the perfect choice for landscape uses.
 
The historic Bahia Honda Rail Bridge (the bridge story) spans the channel between Bahia Honda State Park (Bahia Honda Key, mile marker 37 U.S. 1, the Overseas Highway) and Spanish Harbor Key (Florida). After the new highway was constructed, sections of the old bridge were cut away to accommodate boat traffic. The remaining portion of the steel truss construction bridge provides a great silhouette for sunset photos captured at the western end of the state park and the missing portion of the bridge definitely adds a uniqueness to the images captured here.
 
This is a single-frame HDR image. I simply processed the same raw image at two different brightness levels to bring up the ocean brightness slightly.
 
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: 3/6/2015 8:14:46 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Tuesday, March 3, 2015
The 7D II and 100-400 L II Rocked in SW Florida
I took my own advice and left the crazy cold N 40° latitude (-4° F/-20° C) for the warmer weather of Florida and just over a week of (primarily) bird photography. Although I had a 5D Mark III and 1D X along, the Canon EOS 7D Mark II was glued to my hand for most of this trip and the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens was glued to the camera most of that time. As noted in the title, this combination rocked and with relatively-cooperative birds, my take-home is a bit voluminous.
 
The subject shown here is a Great Blue Heron in breeding plumage. To capture this image, my first priority was to get in line between the sun and the bird with the low, late-day sun creating good subject lighting. By maneuvering to a slightly lower vantage point than the bird, I was able to create a background composed completely of blue sky. No distractions there.
 
A big challenge remaining was to get the bird properly aligned for a pleasing composition. A side-on angle to the bird with the head straight or turned slightly towards the camera usually works great. The challenge in getting that angle was that the bird, especially its head and neck, was constantly moving. I selected the top-right AF point in the center block of AF points (closely aligned with the bird's eye) and when the bird was in a position that worked for me, I quickly captured the image.
 
I was shooting handheld for maneuverability and setup speed reasons. The 7D II and 100-400 L II combo's size and weight are especially nice for this type of shooting.
 
Some are asking if the 7D II images are sharp enough for serious work and I can assure you that the answer is "Yes." EOS 7D II images are very sharp. Because ultimate image sharpness capabilities are not completely discernible from reduced-size images, I have made the full-size version of this image available for download here. You are granted a license to use this image for personal gear evaluation purposes including further processing of the image. This is a 10.2 MB .JPG file that was sharpened very lightly. Sharpen to your taste (perhaps add a little saturation) and then follow the plane of sharp focus through this image to see what the 7D II and 100-400 L II can do.
 
A medium-sized 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
182mm  f/8.0  1/500s  ISO 100  5472 x 3648px
Post Date: 3/3/2015 11:07:05 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Wednesday, February 18, 2015
Winter Photography Tips: Go Where the Temperature is Warm
It was -4° F (-20° C) this morning and the wind was howling. The meteorologist was warning of frostbite occurring to exposed skin within 15 minutes.
 
I can take cold weather, but wind chills approaching -30° F (-34° C) are getting uncomfortable enough to keep me and a large majority of other photographers indoors. What is the answer for someone wanting to photograph outdoors when weather conditions reach this extreme? Wait until warmer weather arrives or go somewhere that is warm. The latter is of course my preference. Where to go? Closer to the equator, of course. Or, cross the equator to find summer.
 
One example of a winter photography location is southwest Florida. This location is renowned for its bird photography and the weather here is very comfortable most of the time including the middle of winter. Take you long lens and migrate with the birds.
 
This Roseate Spoonbill was found at Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island, Florida in late winter. The spoonbill was standing in place for a long time and I had taken plenty of shots of various standing poses – and insurance shots of the same. I was waiting, looking for a new and hopefully more interesting behavior. A preening session provided just that.
 
Camera and Lens Settings
800mm  f/8.0  1/400s  ISO 100  2623 x 3935px
Post Date: 2/18/2015 8:21:02 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Friday, February 13, 2015
Single On-Camera Flash Illuminates the Beauty of a Rose (Hint: Valentine's Day is Tomorrow)
Roses are arguably one of the most beautiful flowers on the face of this planet. They don't smell so bad either, which makes working around them even more pleasant. Buy the wife (or yourself) a bouquet of roses and you have days' worth of photo subject for your macro lens (and presumably a happy spouse).
 
For this image, I attached a Rogue FlashBender softbox to a forward-facing Canon 600EX-RT Speedlite. With this setup, I was free to shoot handheld as I worked on finding pleasing compositions – with deep-reaching soft light following me. This turned out to be my favorite image from this shoot. A nearly centered rose's petals curve outward into and subsequently out of the frame in a balanced manner.
 
Later, print one of your rose pictures to gain even more return on your small investment.
 
With tomorrow being Valentine's Day, I thought you might find this subject idea timely.
 
Camera and Lens Settings
105mm  f/11.0  1/100s  ISO 100  5760 x 3840px
Post Date: 2/13/2015 7:26:10 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 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 evenly-repeating 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 9, 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 7, 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
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