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 Saturday, April 22, 2017
When planning for a big photo daytrip, I usually have a packed-full itinerary carefully planned out and select the day based on the desired weather matching the forecast along with various other factors. But, sometimes even very careful planning does not work out.
This particular day had set up perfectly and I executed the plan, making the roughly 6-hour round trip drive to Philadelphia.
Upon arrival, I immediately discovered that preparations for the NFL Draft ceremonies, including installation of multiple enormous covered stages, had completely taken over the art museum, including the parking area I was planning to use. The backup plan was implemented for parking and the art museum, one of my intended subjects, quickly hit the questionable list.
The morning and early afternoon were forecasted to be cloudy and I drove in rain during much of the trip into the city. While that might not sound like the ideal forecast for city photography, the cloudy skies were going to provide ideal light for interior photography at a large church. Soft light coming in the windows would add life to the interior, but direct sunlight burning highlights into an image would be avoided.
Upon arrival at the church, I found the doors ... locked. The church's website said it would be open. The city employees watching over the area contacted their superiors and were told that the church was supposed to be open. Some church employees were even trying unsuccessfully to get in. About two hours later, the church was still locked and I gave up the wait, moving on to scout for later opportunities.
A blue hour ultra-wide angle view of the art museum entrance was on my to-photograph list for the day, so this was the next shot to be scouted/planned for. Because this view faces somewhat into the setting sun, the ideal blue hour timing was slightly later than another blue hour photo I had planned. I worked through the NFL Draft construction project and a security worker permitted me to go to the top of the art museum steps (the ones "Rocky" climbed) behind the main NFL Draft stage. Unfortunately, upon arriving at the top of the steps, I discovered more large tents covering most of the main entrance. Scratch primary photo #2 from the list.
Scouting the view from the Spring Garden Street Bridge was next on the list. The goal was to photograph the downtown skyscrapers bathed in the warm late day light and a clear sky to the west was needed for that. The skies were forecasted to clear in the afternoon but I was not optimistic of the clearing happening in time. Finally, in late afternoon, the heavy clouds quickly moved past, showing a beautiful blue sky.
I arrived at this location quite early and set up two tripods with a pair of Canon EOS 5Ds R cameras with Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II and Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II lenses mounted. I waited, watching the perfectly clear sky with highly anticipated success, but alas, just minutes before the sweet light happened, a cloud bank rolled in and shut down the light, erasing major photo goal #3.
With three of five planned image series already failed, the day was not shaping up well, but two photo goals remained. Fortunately, the cloud bank that shut down the city-in-sweet-light image did not make it past the city before darkness and photo opportunity #4, the image shared here, was a home run.
The ideal blue hour light only lasts a few minutes and the ideal time is often easier to best-determine when reviewing the images on a computer at home, so I simply shoot constantly through that short time window. However, a clue to when the time is ideal is when proper f/16 exposures are between 15 and 30 seconds.
Why f/16? Live View with DOF preview showed that I had enough depth of field at f/8 and the images would have been sharper if captured at that aperture, but ... I like the star effect that a narrow aperture creates from the city lights. The straight lines from the city buildings sharpen nicely even at f/16 and I seldom regret this aperture choice for this purpose.
Because I was shooting from an elevated bridge, the camera was able to be leveled (for both pitch and roll), a requirement if keeping the edges of the buildings vertically straight is desired. Another takeaway from this image is that telephoto lenses are great for cityscape photography. Telephoto focal lengths keep distant subjects large in the frame and the city skyscrapers were a primary subject, so keeping them large was desirable.
With the blue hour past and a good set of images captured on two cameras, it was time to make photo #5 happen. The goal was a nighttime photo of City Hall from the center of S. Broad St. and getting there required a 1.6 mi (2.6km) walk. I had been carrying a heavily-loaded MindShift Gear BackLight 26L (including two tripods) all day, but ... whatever it takes is the motto of many photographers. I could rest on the drive back home.
Upon arriving at City Hall, I discovered huge – you guessed it – NFL Draft banners adorning each side of City Hall. While a photo with the banner may have been good for memories of the event happening in this city, it was not what I wanted. I was tired and opted to simply walk back to car.
So, out of 5 potentially great series of photos, I brought only one home with me. While that batting average is not very good, I'm happy with the images I did get and another positive spin is that ... I will not need to do much research to make another day-filled photo itinerary for this city with a hopefully-more-productive result. Alas, the NFL Draft will forever be a memory as there it is, advertised on the large blue billboard near the center of every frame I captured here.
A larger version of this image is available on, Flickr, Google+, Facebook and 500px. If reading from a news feed reader, click through to see the framed image.
Post Date: 4/22/2017 4:30:00 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Thursday, April 13, 2017
by Sean Setters
Not long ago we posted a video where photographer Jordan Matter used shop window lights for downtown nighttime portraiture. I thought it'd be fun to try my hand at some nighttime portraits using whatever light that downtown Savannah, GA had to offer and see if there were any additional lessons I could learn along the way. I contacted a local model I've worked with on a few occasions, Hunter, and asked if she'd like to experiment with downtown portraiture; she readily agreed. The following are a few things I took away from the downtown session.
Trustees Theater Entrance Savannah,GA

1. Finding sufficiently bright shop window light can be tough, but alternative downtown lighting options may be available.
I typically rely on off-camera flash for portrait lighting, but I was determined not to on this occasion. My goal was to use whatever light I could find in downtown Savannah for creating the portraits. Knowing a thing or two about downtown Savannah, we chose Broughton Street as the most likely candidate for finding brightly lit shop windows.
Unfortunately, while there were some shop windows that were somewhat well lit, I wouldn't consider them sufficiently well lit for my preferred portrait exposure parameters. However, the lights in front of the Trustees Theater proved more than sufficient from a brightness perspective. And even though all of the lights were positioned overhead, the huge area that the lights occupied created a very soft light that proved very flattering for portraiture.
Hunter Downtown Nighttime Portrait 2

2. A very wide aperture and a relatively close subject may not be enough to completely eliminate background distractions.
While the Trustees Theater may have been perfect from an illumination standpoint, it proved problematic from another standpoint as it located next door to one of the most popular hangouts in Savannah, Leopold's Ice Cream shop. The theater's location combined with its proximity to a busy ice cream shop (with a long line of customers snaking out the door) meant that we had to pause numerous times so that nearby pedestrians could move out (or farther out) of the frame. However, it wasn't until I was reviewing the images later that I realized that the chairs outside Leopold's were a bit too distracting for my taste. It's true that I could have used an even wider aperture (I used an f/1.6 aperture in the image above), but... I'm not sure just how much that would have helped. Of course, choosing a different framing could have eliminated the distraction, but one of the points of using a wide aperture was to create enough blur to render background elements unrecognizable. No matter, care should always be taken to ensure that background elements do not detract from the main subject.
Hunter Downtown Nighttime Portrait 1

3. You will likely need a confident subject if shooting in populated areas.
If shooting along a busy street, you'll want to make sure your subject is confident enough to deal with the attention that he/she will inevitably garner. Thankfully, Hunter proved quite adept at dealing with the attention of passersby without missing a beat. However, a less confident subject may require scheduling similar downtown shoots during a less busy weekday evening and/or at a less popular location.
Hunter Downtown Nighttime Portrait 5

4. Always remember to us a white/color balance target.
I was actually on my way back to my parking space after the session when I realized I had forgotten to capture an image of the X-Rite ColorChecker Passport under the neon lights of the Trustees Theater entrance. Not wanting to turn around and walk the three blocks back to the theater, I reasoned that I could get the color balance "close enough" in post without it. However, being red-green colorblind and without any great color-neutral objects in the frame, color balance became nearly impossible for me. In fact, I had to return to the same location the following evening to take a picture if the color target in order to get a decent skin tone in the images.
Note that because the neon light of the theater entrance was a vastly different color than the lights illuminating the street and surroundings, the background light took on a noticeably reddish hue. And while that hue may not be what I had imagined when setting up the shoot, the important thing is that the skin tones have an appealing warmth to them and the hue even makes the background look a little more interesting to me.
You may not be colorblind like me, but shooting a color target can help automate the sometimes tedious process of color balancing. It's definitely made my life easier (when I remember to use it).
Hunter Downtown Nighttime Portrait 4

5. I won't be giving up my flashes anytime soon.
While I thoroughly enjoyed the convenience of this shoot, with the ability to simply set my exposure, position the subject and snap away, I felt more than a little "boxed-in" by having to limit myself to shooting in a single location and pointed in a single direction (the direction with the most interesting, street light illuminated background). A small off-camera flash setup consisting of two flashes, one (or two) foldable soft boxes, radio triggers and color gels would have allowed me to get similarly-lit results anywhere (or I could have used a single light - possibly with a reflector - as the main source and a rim/hair light behind the subject). This setup would have been more cumbersome overall, but it would have also provided more flexibility.
Final Thoughts
Education is the key to understanding what's possible. Experience teaches us how to deal with the unexpected, giving us the confidence to react and think on our feet. If you come across an idea that sparks your interest, grab your camera and try to replicate the results and/or put your unique spin on the concept. By doing this over and over again, you'll gain the experience needed not only to recognize but to make the most out of the opportunities that abound for the inspired photographer.
Post Date: 4/13/2017 6:48:54 AM CT   Posted By: Sean
 Tuesday, April 11, 2017
by Sean Setters
I've been very interested in lightning photography for past several years. My original lightning trigger – the Vello FreeWave Stryker Lightning & Motion Trigger – was destroyed by a set of AAs that ruptured and corroded the battery compartment. While the Vello FreeWave Stryker worked as advertised in very dark conditions, dialing in the correct sensitivity was difficult and you couldn't use it effectively in even dimly lit overcast conditions. With my first lightning trigger irreparable (at least by me), I began looking for a more full featured trigger.
Not long after the Vello trigger bit the dust, I picked up the Miops Camera Trigger. After more than a year with the device, I've come to realize just how awesome this little trigger is. Following are three reasons why I love the Miops Camera Trigger.
Lightning Over Savannah, GA June 28, 2016

1. It saves wear and tear on the camera's shutter.
Of course, this benefit is true of all lightning camera triggers to a certain degree, but I find the Miops' sensitivity settings to be very easy to dial into a "perfect" setting for whatever situation presents itself in front of my camera, whether I'm photographing in very dark conditions or comparatively bright ones. The ability to finely tune the trigger means that the camera only triggers when lightning occurs. Contrast this with the technique of triggering your camera via an intervalometer where your camera fires endlessly whether there is lightning or not, and you'll quickly realize that a 1-hour storm translates into a lot of wear and tear on your shutter mechanism. Not only does the lightning trigger significantly reduce the wear on your camera, but it also saves you considerable amount of time in post processing as you don't have to wade through a mountain of images to find the candidates where lightning occurred.
Cannon Firing at Fort Pulaski Miops Camera Trigger

2. It's not just a lightning trigger.
Even though I purchased the Miops trigger primarily for photographing lightning, I love the fact that it features multiple kinds of triggering. In addition to lightning, the device can trigger your camera based on sound or laser catalysts. And on top of that, the Miops trigger can even serve as an intervalometer or a Bluetooth/smartphone remote trigger. In fact, I used the device to photograph a cannon firing demonstration (seen above) by remotely triggering my EOS 5D Mark III in continuous burst mode from a vantage point where spectators were not allowed (with prior permission, of course).
Miops Camera Trigger Li-Ion Battery

3. The internal battery is excellent.
To be perfectly frank, I wasn't sure I'd like the internal, rechargeable battery feature of the Miops trigger. I envisioned the battery running out at exactly the wrong time with no way to quickly replace the battery (or batteries) for uninterrupted operation. However, I've only charged the device twice in the year that I've had it and its battery indicator has never dropped below full power (after the initial charge, I recharged it once around the 6 month point just as a precaution). The device uses so little power that its relatively large internal battery seems to last forever. Of course, given enough time or enough usage, the battery will be exhausted, but... considering its performance, I'm happy to throw it on the charger once or twice a year. And if you're really concerned, you can purchase an additional rechargeable lithium-ion battery from Miops and keep a separately charged one in your bag or, alternately, use an USB battery pack to power the device while in-use.

About the Featured Image
Ever since creating the composite image of a lightning storm over River Street, I envisioned a tighter framed depiction of Savannah City Hall's gold dome with lightning in the frame. However, the biggest problem with the tighter framing is that the lightning would have to occur within a much smaller portion of sky in order to fall within the required field of view. While the perfect placement of a lightning bolt seemed unlikely, I thought it was worth an effort.
With a lightning storm forecast for the evening of April 5, I headed across the Savannah River to International Trade and Convention Center, the same spot I photographed the lightning composite of River Street. The great thing about this location is that it has a canopy covered side which has a great view of River Street on the opposite bank. This time around I used an EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM affixed to a 5D Mark III, the Miops trigger and an OP/TECH USA 8" Small Rain Sleeve and pointed the tripod-mounted rig at Savannah City Hall on the other side of the river. Using a focal length of 140mm allowed for the City Hall gold dome to be the prominent feature in the frame while [hopefully] giving me enough buffer around it to capture a lightning bolt.
After setting my exposure values (f/5, 1 sec, ISO 200), I sat down in a spot shielded by a canopy and alternated between watching the storm and reading articles on my smartphone. One of the great things about this type of photography is the automation; once everything was in place, it just became a waiting game.
While waiting for a fortuitous bolt, a riverboat which tours the Savannah River, the Georgia Queen, parked just under the City Hall dome right along River Street. The bright lights of the riverboat helped balance out the frame by adding some interest to the otherwise dimly lit River Street below City Hall.
After about an hour (and only 4 minutes after the Georgia Queen settled into place), I had the shot I was looking for. As it turns out, I was reading articles on my smartphone when this particular strike took place and I had no idea I had captured the image I set out to get. I packed up about 30 minutes later a bit disappointed thinking I was going home empty handed. It wasn't until I was reviewing the images later that evening that I realized I had been successful in achieving my goal of a photographing a lightning strike near the golden-capped landmark.
Post Date: 4/11/2017 7:00:42 AM CT   Posted By: Sean
 Friday, March 31, 2017
by Sean Setters
A week ago, the wispy clouds drew my attention as I walked outside to water my garden plants. With sunset soon approaching, I decided to grab the Canon EOS 7D Mark II, a tripod and a selection of lenses with the hope of catching some sunset and/or blue hour shots in downtown Savannah, GA. I specifically chose the crop sensor 7D II because a) the crop sensor lenses are smaller allowing for a wider range of focal lengths to be carried in a small backpack and b) I didn't necessarily need the benefit of the 5D III's high ISO performance for sunset imagery.
My original plan was to capture a sunset behind a silhouette of the Talmadge Memorial Bridge. After heading across the Savannah River to one of my favorite locations for photographing River Street, I realized that scene I had imagined was impossible to capture from the location I had in mind. And, unfortunately, there wasn't another easily accessible location on Hutchinson Island that would provide the angle I needed (without obstructions) to capture the sun behind the bridge. If I had taken the time to research the sun's position in relation to my intended shooting location, I would have realized that my imagined shot was not possible. Regardless, I decided to regroup and see what I could do with the beautiful sunset occurring before my eyes.
As the sun sank just below the horizon, the sky became striped with vibrant colors. Using a couple of cranes and the stacks of a building under construction to anchor the image, I chose a verticle framing and, using the EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS STM and the 7D II set to HDR mode, captured the dramatic skies the sunset had created.
In post processing, I blurred the water in the bottom of the resulting HDR JPEG image to simulate a longer exposure, increased contrast a bit and increased saturation/vibrance to further enhance the colors in the sky.
Sometimes, things work out just as you plan them; other times, they don't. Always be prepared to go with a "plan B" option, even if your backup plan is created completely on the fly. By grabbing your camera and heading out the door when conditions look favorable, you'll likely find yourself with a myriad of options to frame in your viewfinder. And don't forget, having a go-bag ready can make heading out the door that much easier.
Post Date: 3/31/2017 7:35:18 AM CT   Posted By: Sean
 Tuesday, March 28, 2017
It is early spring and, at least here in the mid-Atlantic and farther north latitudes, the outdoor landscape is looking rather bleak right now. The snow is gone and the green has not yet come. That makes this is a great time of the year to focus on indoor photography and interior architecture is one great option. And when photographing interior architecture, an ultra-wide angle lens becomes especially useful.
Most of us photographers love curves and the Italian architecture in the Pennsylvania House Chamber is filled with them. While cameras are not permitted in this space when the house is in session, selecting a non-session day cleared that roadblock. Moving to one side of the balcony gave me an angled view across the room that sent ceiling lines arching into the frame.
Got 12mm in your kit? That is the full frame focal length you will need to capture this image and many others like it. The Sigma 12-24mm f/4 DG HSM Art Lens on a full frame body executes this image (and those similar to it) extremely well. Even though the aperture used was not extremely narrow (f/8), the entire image is within the 12mm depth of field and the Canon EOS 5Ds R's extreme resolution was fully utilized with essentially no visible impact caused by diffraction. This image is tack sharp from corner to corner.
Notice that the columns on the sides of the image are vertically straight (or very close to being so)? While it is easy to have these lines angling inward or outward when using a focal length this wide (and that is sometimes a desired effect), a vertically level camera will render vertical lines parallel to each other and these lines can be parallel to the frame borders as long as the camera is horizontally leveled.
Spend your money on gear, not admission fees. One of the great things about the PA state capitol building is that admission is free. While you may not live close to this specific capitol building and will not likely find it alone to be worth a plane ticket or all-day drive to get there, your own state capitol building may offer the same deal. I didn't check all 50 USA state capitol buildings (or any outside of the USA), but many others also have free admission.
Get your ultra-wide angle lens and go photograph some interior architecture!
A larger version of this image is available on, Flickr, Google+, Facebook and 500px. If reading from a news feed reader, click through to see the framed image.
Post Date: 3/28/2017 9:10:00 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Saturday, March 25, 2017
I've wanted to add an image of a densely-packed flock of flying snow geese to the porfolio for a long time. But, it was not until this year until I accomplished this task.
The first priority for photographing a flock of snow geese is ... to find a flock of snow geese. For many of us, when flocks of snow geese arrive is based on the birds' migration patterns. Find where these flocks typically travel and time your visit with theirs.
A good method of determining when the birds have arrived (or are expected to arrive) is to use wildlife management area status reports, including the historical reports as history in this form tends to repeat. While these reports are great aids to finding the flocks, remember that an entire population of these birds can completely leave an area within minutes. A location that is great on one day may be completely empty the next.
With a warmer winter than normal, the snow geese migrated early this year and, at the urging of two friends, I too went early. The location was Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area. Located at the border of northern Lancaster County and southern Lebanon County, Pennsylvania, this WMA is an about-2-hour drive from my house. While this is not a famous snow geese bucket list location that photographers most-target, the population at this location was estimated to be at least 50,000 on this day. And, that's a LOT of geese.
Mostly the white geese were swimming on the small lake, appearing as a large iceberg, or they were feeding in a nearby field, causing a small hill to appear snow-capped. While the huge numbers of geese in either of these two environments were interesting, the real show happened when they flew as a group. Even if one wasn't paying attention when the geese took off, a low thunder-like rumble was unmistakable and, if the flight path was overhead, the sky would darken (and an umbrella may be desired for protection from the strafing).
When photographing an individual bird, framing decisions are made in an at least somewhat more-controlled manner than when photographing a flock of birds. One reason that geese flock together is to make it more difficult for a predator to single out one bird as its prey and these flocks can have the same effect on photographers. With seemingly random chaos occurring, how does one create an attractive image?
Here are some thoughts for the flock:
The first thought is to simply go back to the basics. Start with focal length selection.
Perspective comes into play, but if you are photographing a flock of now-flying geese, it is likely too late to get a different perspective. Plan for that earlier, but ... geese always fly wherever they want to and predicting where they will fly will often be challenging. Predict as best you can (they like to take off and land into the wind) and react quickly to what happens.
How far away are the geese, how large is the flock and how wide of an area are the birds covering? If it is a small flock a long distance away and the birds are densely packed, a longer focal length will likely be best. That is, best unless more of the landscape is desired to be in the frame in order to create an environmental-type image. If the geese are close, the flock is large and/or the birds are widely spread out, a shorter telephoto lens might be a better choice.
For my Middle Creek WMA shoot, the birds went where they wanted to go, access was limited and even if it wasn't, moving fast enough to catch a flock of geese required some form of powered mobility. So, embracing what was available was, as often is, the thing to do. To handle this situation, I had a full frame Canon EOS 5Ds R and 600mm f/4L IS II Lens tripod-mounted using a Wimberley Tripod Head II. In the MindShift Gear FirstLight 40L at my feet was a second 5Ds R with a 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II mounted. When the flocks were far away, I used the 600. When the snow geese storm moved overhead in big numbers, I grabbed the 100-400. And when the squall became widespread overhead, I had the EF-M 15-45 on the EOS M5 ready to catch that scene as well.
Note that I started out this day with a 1.4x extender behind the 600mm lens, but quickly determined that the heat waves were too strong and sharp results were not possible at this magnification. Even at 600mm, many of my distant images were not tack-sharp until after the sun went low enough in the sky to end the heat source creating the air disturbance. So, yes, it is very possible to have too much focal length even if that focal length is more ideal for the scene as the additional magnification may be wasted.
The shutter speed required for sharp birds depends on how fast their details are moving across the pixels on the sensor. A large-in-the-frame bird moving at high speed across an ultra-high resolution imaging sensor requires a much faster shutter speed than a small-in-the-frame bird sitting on the lake does when using a lower resolution camera. Aperture and ISO settings are then balanced for depth of field and noise with the desired brightness being the other side of the equation. In regards to brightness, use care to not blow the white highlights on the birds, leaving no details in the white. If the birds were flying, I was mostly using a 1/1600 shutter speed and an aperture of f/8 or narrower was usually best to keep more birds in focus. Once the light faded, I began experimenting with much longer shutter speeds for a panning motion blur effect.
Bryan's Law of Bird Photography: The frame in a high speed burst containing the perfect wing position, head position, background alignment and lighting will time perfectly with the bird's blink.
When photographing birds, using the camera's high speed burst mode is often the rule. Especially with multiple birds in the frame, having many images to select from is going to be a big advantage for many of the above reasons.
I usually use only one specific AF point or one point plus the surrounding points. But, when a huge flock of geese is filling the frame, using the all-points-active can work very well, allowing you to concentrate on composition while the camera figures out which of the closest birds should be focused on.
Composition always matters and usually, the goal is a balanced composition. When such a huge flock of birds is flying, you need to figure out what a balanced composition is very quickly and see that in the frame no later than as it happens. The bottom line is that, unless you are shooting for someone else, if you are happy with the image, you nailed it. But, we are always trying to improve our skills and there are some composition variants that work well for the snow geese storm.
If the goose density is extremely heavy, just fill the frame with the geese and shoot away. Singling out specific birds is very challenging if they are not large in the frame and you are unlikely to notice the background through all of the geese. The huge quantity of birds essentially becomes a pattern and everyone likes pattern images, right?
If possible, determine which direction (in relation to the camera) the birds are flying and focus on your preference. I prefer an approaching side view, but all of the other directions have their own photogenic advantages, showing differing views of the geese bodies. If a large flock is flying within a location, such as over a lake, they may fly in a circular motion and you may sometimes have a choice. So, be ready to identify what you are looking for.
If the birds are not dense enough to hide the background, the background showing through must be considered in the composition. If the background is mostly a solid color, such as the side of a mountain, there may not be much concern in that regard. The background will be evenly colored and that often works well for flock backgrounds. It is hard to go wrong with a blue sky background for the white birds and images with birds flying against a sunset sky often look great.
Contrast draws the viewer's eye. If the background includes strong lines of contrast, such as where the land and sky meet or a waterline (often present where there are waterfowl), it is good to carefully position these lines in the frame. Use your landscape photography skills here – perhaps taking advantage of the rule of thirds.
When sitting or swimming snow geese flocks take off, they often peel away from one side of the flock in a surprisingly orderly fashion. The line between the stationary and flying birds can be incorporated into the composition.
When the birds are not filling the entire frame, additional compositional elements must be considered. Where the flock is positioned in the frame is a big consideration and again, the rule of thirds may be a good choice in these cases.
In the image I am sharing here, I could have filled the entire frame with a rather-high density of geese, but chose to include the water in the very bottom of the frame. I often like to keep a clean bottom frame border, giving the image a base to be built upon. Having the water in the frame in this case meant that some geese can be seen landing in addition to those still in flight.
When the flock was farther away, I often kept additional frame borders clean (void of geese) as well (especially the top border).
Especially if using an ultra-high resolution camera, don't forget that you can crop the image to create a better composition later.
Lighting always matters. At this location, I arrived early in the afternoon, giving me time to do some on-site scouting and planning to be ready for the late-day, low-angle, warm-colored light. Again, the birds fly when and where they want to fly and good images can be made at various light angles, but the sun at your back, your shadow towards the birds, early and late in the day is usually a sure-thing for wildlife lighting conditions. As mentioned earlier, shooting into the sunset can also work well, but be very careful to not look at the sun through a telephoto lens as serious permanent eye damage can occur. On a clear day, the sky opposite the nearly-set sun will also turn pink, creating a pastel background for your birds.
While a cloudy day will not provide the same illumination, the giant softbox effect from a cloudy sky results in a soft light with a lower dynamic range for greatly-reduced shadows and easier to control exposures. Ultra-bright, solidly cloudy skies may cause a background brightness issues when the birds are above the skyline. In this case, consider exposing the sky to be pure white for a high key effect. Or, there is nothing wrong with a gray background and silhouetting the birds is a strategy that can work.
At the onset of this trip, one of my goals was to capture frames densely-filled with geese, perhaps even with no background remaining. While I don't think any of my images were completely void of background, many images have multiple thousands of geese in them and some have very little background remaining. In addition to getting some fun images, it was a great learning experience and it was especially great to experience this phenomenal nature event.
Now, check the forecast and go find your own snow geese storm!
A larger version of this image is available on, Flickr, Google+, Facebook and 500px. If reading from a news feed reader, click through to see the framed image.
Post Date: 3/25/2017 8:00:00 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Friday, March 24, 2017
by Sean Setters
While a sharp image is often most desireable, sometimes increased sharpness is counterproductive to achieveing specific photographic goals. For instance, lately I've been intrigued by slow shutter speeds and the motion blur recorded as a result of their use. Specifically, I've recently been using the RigWheels RigMount X4 Magnetic Camera Platform for automotive photography.
While I'm finding the camera platform to be an exciting tool to have in my kit, its not necessarily an inexpensive piece of gear and its uses outside of automotive photography are somewhat limited. But using the RigMount X4 got me thinking about other ways of capturing motion and the world of artistic possibilites at our fingertips, especially if nothing in the frame remains sharp as a result of one's chosen exposure variables.
With that in mind, I recently made set out with my camera in hand with a goal of creating a totally motion blurred image that looked more like "art" and less like "a mistake." With the goal of few (if any) details being discernable, I didn't have to go far to find a suitable location. The scene I chose was the normally-not-very-photogenic view seen across the street from my home. After about 20 attempts (using various panning/rotating techniques), I had a motion blurred image that intrigued me enough to post-process (seen above).
To capture the image, I used a Canon EOS 5D Mark III and EF 17-40mm f/4L USM (with a 4-stop ND filter) with the following settings: 40mm, f/6.3, 2 sec, ISO 200. I held the camera level to the ground and panned from right-to-left while bouncing the camera up and down (as if it were a bouncing ball) during the 2-second exposure which created seemingly the intertwined flowing lines seen in the image. For post processing, I applied vignetting correction and increased the image's saturation/vibrancy/clarity in Adobe Camera Raw and Photoshop CC. For what it's worth, I ended up liking the end result so much that it's now my smartphone's wallpaper (slightly croped and rotated 90-degrees).
We invite you to share your artistically motion blurred images in the comments below.
Post Date: 3/24/2017 8:51:00 AM CT   Posted By: Sean
 Thursday, March 23, 2017
by Sean Setters
In my review of the RigWheels RigMount X4 Magnetic Camera Platform, I demonstrated how the mount could be used to capture a vehicle in motion (with blurred surroundings) while attached to the car being photographed. The example I created can be seen below.
Self Portrait with RigWheels RigMount X4 Magnet Camera Platform 1

Getting a shot like the example above is relatively easy and straightforward using the magnetic camera platform. But ever since posting the review, I had been wondering whether or not the RigMount X4 could be utilized to photograph a vehicle it wasn't attached to with a sharp vehicle and similarly blurred background. From a photographer's perspective, this type of situation would be ideal as the camera gear's safety and security remain the responsibility of the photographer rather than the driver of the subject car (assuming you're not using the X4 for a self-portrait like I was).
However, I knew that there would be several challenges involved in photographing a following vehicle, all of which can cause unwanted motion blur of the vehicle being photographed. To capture an acceptably sharp follow vehicle, the following would all need to happen simultaneously during the relatively long shutter duration:
  1. The car with the camera mount could not hit any significant bumps
  2. The follow car could not hit any significant bumps
  3. The follow car would need to maintain a constant distance from the lead/camera mounted car
I reasoned that using an image stabilized lens would help reduce the impact of small vibrations caused by the mount vehicle, but... it wouldn't be able to compensate for any noticeable bumps in the driving surface.
Unfortunately, there was another challenge to consider – lighting. If photographing on a bright, clear day, the single primary light source would not likely produce great results.
For instance, if driving into the sun, the lead vehicle's shadow would likely cast a distracting shadow into the scene. If the sun were camera right, the broad side of the subject vehicle as seen from the lead vehicle would be in shadow with, yet again, another distracting shadow cast into the middle of the frame. If driving away from the sun, then the bulk of the subject car would be in shadow. With the sun camera left, the broad side of the subject vehicle would have been well lit, but... I still wasn't sure that I'd be happy with the lead vehicle's shadow likely being visible in the frame.
Shooting at night seemed to be the best solution to the lighting problem. With street lights (and possibly head lights) providing the bulk of the lighting required for an exposure, the car could be lit from multiple angles with any shadows cast being less severe. Also, the direction of travel would be less of a concern, meaning that a wider variety of shooting locations would be available for consideration. As ideal nighttime lighting conditions would likely be sporadic on any given route (aside from a well lit parking lot), it was necessary to add "good lighting" to the ever-growing list of variables that had to fall in line for the desired final image.
Before attempting a nighttime shot, Alexis (the driver of the following vehicle) and I did a dry run during the day to determine which focal lengths and shutter speeds might work best. Tests with a shutter speed of 1/2 second never created a sharp-looking vehicle. We found that wider focal lengths and a relatively close vehicle in an adjacent lane with a 1/3 second shutter speed provided the most promising results. At 1/3 second, there were still only a few sharp images compared to the total images captured. However, the blur created at 1/3 second appeared significantly better at comfortable speeds than when using shorter shutter speeds.
Before I go any further, let me be clear – please use caution if attempting to photograph moving vehicles. Do what you can to minimize risks and always be alert to potential hazards and/or traffic conditions. We are not responsible for property damage and/or loss of life if you attempt to replicate the results.
How I Got the Shot
Because of its wide angle of view and image stabilization feature, I opted to use a Canon EF-S 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 IS STM Lens paired with an Canon EOS 7D Mark II. The 7D II was not only a good camera choice because of its compatibility with the EF-S 10-18 IS STM, but it's built-in intervalometer feature made triggering the camera during the shooting runs very easy.
I mounted the camera and lens to a ball head attached to the RigMount X4 and – using the included (4) Long Magnetic Mounts – I affixed the rig to the driver's side back quarter panel of my car. With the road in front of my house free of traffic, I directed Alexis to a spot for optimal framing, manually focused on the car, made a few test shots to determine the proper exposure settings, and with the exposure settings determined, I set the camera's intervalometer to take a shot every second. With the camera triggered, I told Alexis to try and maintain a constant distance from the car when she could (while abiding by all traffic laws, of course).
The exposure settings used: 10mm, f/5, 1/3 sec., ISO 1000.
We ended up doing two 1/2 mile laps traveling down a four lane road featuring a decent number of street lights. After the first lap, we took a look at the images to see if there were any adjustments that might be made to improve our results. We determined that the follow vehicle needed to be just a little bit closer and a little more forward in relation to the lead car than the previous run. On the second lap, we got the shot atop this post. Out of the two laps, there were only a handful of acceptably sharp images (out of 400+) and only a couple of the shots featured decent lighting and optimal vehicle placement within the frame (making selection of the best shot a very easy task).
Can the RigWheels RigMount X4 be used to photograph a moving vehicle that it isn't attached to, with motion blurred surroundings and a sharp subject? In a word – "absolutely." However, planning, patience and persistence will be your allies in getting those results.
More Info: RigWheels RigMount X4 Magnetic Camera Platform Review
Post Date: 3/23/2017 8:10:50 AM CT   Posted By: Sean
 Saturday, March 18, 2017
This was a situation where a fast frame rate was extremely helpful for wildlife photography. While I had intended to use a Canon EOS 5Ds R as my primary camera for this trip, the 5 fps frame rate quickly proved too slow for the fast-moving fawns. Switching to the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II immediately solved the frame rate problem and significantly increased the ideal body position captures. However, I remained challenged to keep the adorable little animals in the viewfinder.
Another challenge presented by the fast-moving fawns was anticipating where they were going to be before they got there. The fawns would sometimes run right up to me in curious fashion, and then turn around and run far away in next moment. I used the Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Lens almost exclusively on this several-day trip. Having the zoom lens meant that I could (mostly) frame the fawns as desired and often I included the mother and/or siblings in the same frame. I had the built-in extender switched into the optical path for this capture.
Another reason that a zoom lens is a great option for this location is that Big Meadows has many line of sight obstructions. This makes it difficult to get a clear view of the subject and getting closer is sometimes what is needed to avoid such.
I wasn't totally happy with this image due to the fact the fawn was leaping just slightly away from me – I usually prefer an approaching position. But, my daughter walked by as I was selecting one of the fawn pictures to share and was immediately drawn to this one. While the late-day sunlight was ideally-warm, what she loved was that namesake tail raised and an approaching angle would not do that part justice. Sometimes it takes another set of eyes to see things in a different way.
A larger version of this image is available on, Flickr, Google+, Facebook and 500px. If reading from a news feed reader, click through to see the framed image.
Camera and Lens Settings
533mm  f/800  1/1600s
ISO 1600
3707 x 2471px
Post Date: 3/18/2017 8:09:59 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Sunday, March 12, 2017
While stalking elk on this ranch, I was focusing on areas with the potential for fall maple tree colors in my backgrounds. The sun had set, but the light, though somewhat dim, was still very nice when I noticed antlers approaching in the distance. I was working in heavy sage a moderate distance out from the maples and this bull's approach was as I would have directed.
I captured many images of the bull, but I selected this one to share for a few reasons. One was that I didn't cut off the antlers even at this relatively close distance and that the bull was large in the frame was another. That the bull is alert with a head angle that reflected the sky in his eye, adding some life to the image was another. I also like the body position displayed here. The bull is mostly broadside but approaching and his head and antlers are about 1/3 of the way into the frame facing toward the 2/3 side for good balance. While the animal itself is beautiful, a beautiful background adds greatly to an image.
When photographing antlered animals, I frequently try to keep the complete antlers in the frame, preferring the legs and sometimes the body to be cropped if desired.
A larger version of this image is available on, Flickr, Google+, Facebook and 500px. If reading from a news feed reader, click through to see the framed image.
Camera and Lens Settings
600mm  f/4.5  1/800s
ISO 1600
8688 x 5792px
Permalink: Alert Bull Elk
Post Date: 3/12/2017 7:00:00 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Saturday, March 4, 2017
This happy-looking wood duck drake was swimming in the Wissahickon Creek just outside of Philadelphia.
A key to good swimming duck photos is to get as low to the water as possible. Then, use a long focal length and a more-distant duck to get the camera angle even closer to level.
A larger version of this image is available on, Flickr, Google+, Facebook and 500px. If reading from a news feed reader, click through to see the framed image.
Post Date: 3/4/2017 8:28:54 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Friday, March 3, 2017
by Sean Setters
I thoroughly enjoy visiting new destinations and reveling in the photographic inspiration that the unfamiliar scene inevitably engenders. My yearning for exploration is often the result of being blind to the beauty of the all-to-familiar locations I've photographed before.
There is a way to help tame the bordem with often visited locations, though. Have you ever heard the phrase, "Absense makes the heart grow fonder?" I'm not altogether sure how true the concept is in relationship terms, but the phrase seems perfectly applicable to locations I've visited and photographed numorous times.
For instance, I've photographed this Spanish moss-covered Oak several times primarily because it is only a short walk from my home. However, I hadn't photographed it for quite some time when, a couple of days ago, I decided to take a walk with my IR-converted EOS 7D and EF-S 24mm f/2.8 STM lens.
I've photographed this tree under similar, cloudy circumstances with the very same gear and shared the results here before. While I preferred a tighter framing before, I found that the freshly-cut field aided in isolating the tree in the scene thereby allowing a looser framed image to have more impact. It was a minor difference, but one that made a definitive impact on my framing preference. One could also argue that having photographed the tree from a closer perspective meant that I was subconsciously looking for a reason to find/utilize a new perspective, and that would be a fair point. But seeing a familiar scene with fresh eyes helps to get one's creative juices flowing, and being familiar with a location means you're better able to seek out and capitalize on those minor differences that can have positive impacts on your already-photographed location imagery.
For the shot above, the exposure settings were f/2.8, 1/2000 second and ISO 100.
During post processing, I first inverted the red and blue color channels in and then desaturated the yellow hues to achieve the traditional IR white foliage look while maintaining the blue color captured by the Super Color IR sensor. Click on the image above for access to a higher resolution version.
As the promise of brand new foliage fills the warming seasonal air, now is the time to send your (older, seldom used?) camera in for an infrared conversion to take advantage of the IR photography opportunties that lie ahead.
Learn more about infrared photography and IR conversions in our Infrared Camera Conversion by LifePixel Review.
Post Date: 3/3/2017 10:43:26 AM CT   Posted By: Sean
 Thursday, March 2, 2017
We recently spoke with a high-level Canon representative about the benefits of using image stabilization when high shutter speeds are being utilized to stop fast action. While the information below should not be considered official Canon guidelines, they do represent the experiences of a person who has had a substantial amount of experience with Canon lenses and their IS systems.
Question: Is there a shutter speed above which image stabilization should be turned off? Should IS be turned off when shooting action under bright light with short shutter speeds, perhaps 1/1600 – 1/2500 using a 400 f/2.8L IS II or 600 f/4L IS II, as the benefits of stabilization may be reduced substantially?
It's definitely true that there's a point, as shutter speeds get progressively faster, that the shake-prevention qualities of Image Stabilization really have little or no added effect. In other words, if you take a 600mm f/4L IS lens, mount it on a monopod (definitely NOT a totally stable platform, obviously!), and shoot at 1/8000th of a second, it's absolutely arguable that I.S. has no direct benefit in terms of minimizing camera shake. I think we can agree that with or without I.S., most users could get consistently shake-free pictures with that monopod-mounted 600 at 1/8000th of a second.
Turning I.S. off in situations like that (maybe not at 1/8000th, but perhaps at 1/2000th or thereabouts) will save a small amount of camera battery power... probably a minor consideration to most users, but perhaps a bit more relevant to someone working with a camera like an EOS Rebel or the new EOS 77D, which have smaller batteries with less capacity than, say, an EOS-1D X Mark II. Definitely a potential consideration for anyone shooting with a mirrorless camera like an EOS M5, which *always* have less battery life per charge, since they use more power-hungry LCD monitors or electronic viewfinders.
For sports, action, wildlife and so on, keep in mind the potential benefits of a more stable image in your viewfinder. Even if your shutter speed pretty much precludes any problems with camera shake, if I.S. is active and set to Mode 1 or Mode 2, you see a steadier, more stable view in your finder when working on a monopod or a gimbal-type tripod mount. This can be beneficial in a number of ways, from subtle benefits in frame-to-frame composition when following moving subjects, to being able to keep an AF point solidly upon a detailed area of a moving subject.
For those who consider the effect of visible stabilization during shooting to be an annoyance (for instance, it may seem to delay rapid lens movements to follow a moving subject), there is Mode 3 on lenses like the 400/2.8 II or 600/4 II. This is a specialized I.S. mode that does provide the shake-prevention effects, but ONLY when the shutter button is **fully** depressed, and a shot is actually being taken. Otherwise, at all other times, the effect of I.S. is disabled, although stabilization detection is continually taking place between shots, and the lens's moveable stabilization optical elements are held in a non-locked, "ready" position. In other words, in Mode 3, you don't SEE the effect of stabilization, but it still is there when you actually shoot each picture.
Here's one that never gets discussed among sports, action and wildlife shooters, but which our engineers HAVE said is a benefit of Image Stabilization, even at the fastest shutter speeds. Because Canon's I.S. is optical, if you do have your stabilization set to Mode 1 or 2, where it's continually active, the viewfinder isn't the only place where a steady, stabilized image is seen. The FOCUSING SYSTEM also gets the same benefit of a clean, steady and stabilized look at the subject, too. This matters, especially during fast, high-speed sequences, and even more so if/when you're shooting subjects that are (a) moving aggressively, and (b) may not have tons of detail, contrast and texture to them. The AF point or points being used must see some detail, and during a fast, AI Servo AF sequence, have less than 1/10th of a second in cameras like an EOS 7D Mark II, or certainly an EOS-1D X model, to read the subject between each frame. By using I.S., regardless of how fast the actual shutter speed is, the AF system gets a cleaner, steadier look at the subject during that interval between each frame, and is more likely to be able to read subject detail and provide continuous AF where most or all frames in a sequence are sharp (in terms of FOCUS).
I know there's a body of thought out there among some sports shooters that since they're already at fast shutter speeds, I.S. isn't needed, but they should contemplate what I just said. And, there's a body of thought that I.S. being active can slow down AF... I've directly asked our leading engineers that, and been told emphatically that this is NOT true, regardless of anecdotal "evidence" some shooters may feel they've experienced.
Bottom line, my basic suggestion would be to leave it on, unless you absolutely have deliberate reasons for not doing so. Consider the above points; remember the potential impact of Mode 2 (panning mode, so to speak) and Mode 3 (stabilization, but without visible effects in the viewfinder); and we do still suggest turning I.S. off if you know you'll be mounted to a completely rigid, locked-down position.
Question: Extending your engineering discussion … I understand the benefit of IS to the AF system. What about when the subject is moving rapidly and IS is trying to hold the image still? It seems to me that the AF system would be better having the exact subject framing present at the moment it is making its decision. And, isn’t the addition of Mode 3 supporting this concept?
Like I said, if you have distinct reasons for shutting I.S. off, go for it. But, in the VAST majority of action-type situations, especially with human-subjects (football and similar sports), the likelihood the movement would be SO sudden that what I.S. projects into the viewfinder and the subject's actual composition at the same time or an instant later would be extremely different is probably pretty slim. At least, in my experience. Might be a little different for someone photographing small birds in flight with a big lens, from relatively close distances.
The addition of Mode 3 *might* bring some benefits if and when you feel this difference in what you see vs. what you shoot is happening, but it's not the sole reason for its existence.
Most of the time, I'm very comfortable to suggest using I.S. Mode 1 or 2, even at fast shutter speeds, and with nearly all moving subjects. But I repeat, if for whatever reasons you feel it's hindering your ability to compose in real time, either switching to Mode 3, or turning I.S. off completely, remain options as well.
So, there you have it. Even when using shutter speeds fast enough to negate camera shake, leaving image stabilization "On" is generally a good idea. If nothing else, it's providing a stable viewfinder scene for you and the AF system, allowing for easier tracking of moving subjects.
Post Date: 3/2/2017 8:00:00 AM CT   Posted By: Sean
 Wednesday, March 1, 2017
Image via
In just a few short months, the United States will be treated to a total solar eclipse on August 21, 2017, an event which hasn't been witnessed by the citizens of the US mainland in 38 years.
In other words, mark your calendars and start planning / preparing for your solar eclipse viewing now.
On August 21, assuming fair weather and an unobstructed view of the sky, those residing in or traveling to the pathway above will enjoy an experience of a lifetime (click to download a larger image).
Due to the fact that the total eclipse pathway will traverse the central part of the US from the Northwest to the Southeast, a large percentage of the US population lives within a day's travel to a total eclipse viewing point.
Of course, finding a hotel in one of the larger cities placed along the total eclipse pathway will be more challenging as the August event draws near, so start making your reservations now to avoid accommodation issues.
You'll likely also want to stock up on your solar eclipse viewing/photography supplies. With that in mind, B&H has created a special Solar Eclipse 2017 page with gear specific the rare event.
The Canon Digital Learning Center has been publishing articles on the upcoming event and will continue add more articles in the months ahead. Here's what they have posted so far:
If you miss the opportunity to see and/or photograph the August 21 solar eclipse, you'll have to wait another seven years for the next opportunity to roll around (April 8, 2024). Our advice is to try and view this rare event from a total eclipse vantage point if you can; assuming clear conditions, you will never forget the awe-inspiring scene.
Post Date: 3/1/2017 6:23:14 AM CT   Posted By: Sean
 Tuesday, February 28, 2017
Put a large specimen of one of my favorite animals in front of my favorite tree trunks in front of my favorite leaves and ... an image I like is shaping up nicely. The leaves are from Idaho maples in the peak of their fall color. The tree trunks are aspens and their white color makes most images look better. Of course, a large bull elk makes practically any photo look good.
What is the easiest way to create panorama image? Crop a wide aspect ratio from a single image. While successfully capturing multiple images and seamlessly stitching them together can create a higher resolution image, it is easier just to use a wider angle lens and crop them to the desired aspect ratio. Using the cropping method also avoids issues with subjects in motion (waves, clouds, people, animals, etc.). Especially if a very resolution camera is used (one of the 5D Mark IV's upgrades was resolution), there can still be plenty of resolution for large output remaining after cropping.
In the example shared here, the "wider angle lens" was due to a focal length limitation at the time of capture. I was stalking the elk, didn't have an extender with me and the bull was walking towards the woods (the moment was not going to last). The cropping technique is often useful in helping to mentally justify the result.
I'll save the argument as to whether or not the angle of view from a 600mm lens covers a wide enough view of an area to qualify for the definition of "panorama" for another day, but the wide aspect ratio is at least in the spirit of these images.
A larger version of this image is available on, Flickr, Google+, Facebook and 500px. If reading from a news feed reader, click through to see the framed image.
Camera and Lens Settings
600mm  f/4.0  1/1000s
ISO 800
5772 x 2574px
Post Date: 2/28/2017 7:03:00 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
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