A couple of years ago I finally converted all my Manfrotto RC2 Quick Release plates and clamps to the Arca-Swiss standard. Looking back, I don't know why I waited so long.
Arca-style plates and clamps lock down your gear so well that they've become the industry standard in camera support. And thanks to the system's popularity, you can buy Arca-style plates and clamps from a myriad of manufacturers, meaning there's a brand to fit nearly every budget. As there aren't a lot of technologically demanding aspects of the plate and clamp system, I oftentimes buy well-reviewed (and significantly less expensive) plates and clamps from the cheaper brands like Sunwayfoto and Desmond. Generally speaking, I've been very happy with these price conscious brands.
Unfortunately, there's a small catch. Even though the Arca system is indeed an industry standard, there still seems to be some variation in the widths of plates among the wide range of manufacturers. If you're using a typical quick release clamp that is tightened with a knob, the slight variation in plate widths is no problem and you can use any plate with utter disregard for the brand name. But if you're using a clamp with a lever release, things can get a big trickier.
A lever release is designed to clamp down with a sufficient amount of tension at a very specific width. Even though the clamp can typically be adjusted to different widths, the adjustment usually requires the use of a hex key. If you're using several plates from a range of manufacturers, the adjustments necessary would be less than convenient when switching between cameras. This is the exact problem I experienced with a recent QR plate purchase.
I own a Glidecam HD-4000 that I use for video production. As I wanted to use the gimbal stabilizer with more than one DSLR, I decided to use an Arca-style clamp on the top to make switching out cameras faster and easier. Finding just the right QR clamp proved challenging as I needed one whose clamping mechanism did not extend beyond the bottom of the base of the clamp. That requirement ruled out all of the knob style clamps I came across. The one product I found that worked was the Desmond DLVC-50 Lever Clamp (seen above). Its tensioning lever does not extend past the base of the clamp meaning that it can sit flat on top of the Glidecam. Its "skeleton" design saves weight and the hole in its lever makes it easy to tighten and release even with the camera in place. I adjusted the clamp with the included Allen wrench so that it provides the optimal tension when used with my Kirk L-brackets and the setup worked well – but not perfectly.
I'm a huge battery grip fan and both my cameras have L-brackets designed for use with the battery grip. And while using a battery grip with the Glidecam works, it's trickier getting everything balanced when the weight of your camera and lens sits that much higher off the stabilizer's base. Therefore, I bought a universal QR plate for the times I wanted to use the Glidecam with a battery grip-free camera. Unfortunately, the plate proved very slightly narrower than the Arca-style plates on the Kirk L-brackets, meaning that the plate would slide back and forth in the clamp when tightened.
To prevent this, I could of course adjust the clamp so that it was properly calibrated for the new plate. However, I wanted to leave the clamp's adjustment as-is just in case I wanted to use it with a DSLR with the battery grip attached (for times when extra battery power trumps ease of stabilization). I considered returning the plate and getting one from another manufacturer in the hopes that the new plate would fit better. But then I had an idea...
Or in this case, technically speaking, spike tape (a narrow width gaffer tape). I cut the gaffer tape so that it would fit along the lower half of the groove where the QR clamp should come into contact with the plate. Two small strips (one on each side) was all it took to provide the perfect amount of friction between the plate and the clamp. If I had needed an even smaller adjustment, could have used gaffer's tape only on one side of the plate.
Will this solution work forever? Probably not. With enough use, the tape would likely wear down enough to warrant replacement. However, my guess is that because the tape is consistently being squished against the plate via the clamp, it'll stay in place relatively well. It should only experience wear during the mounting and unmounting of the camera, thereby leading to a relatively long lifespan for the fix.
In the end, a $12.50 plate and a few cents of spike tape worked just as well for my needs as buying a comparable Kirk-branded, $50.00 plate. Gaffer's tape never ceases to amaze me when it comes to its usefulness in photography.
The other day, I looked over a large, steep, grassy clearing on our property. I quickly noticed a round orange object approximately 400' below. The bright color caught my attention, the round shape caused me the think it was a pumpkin and I later hiked down to confirm my guess.
What I found was a medium-large pumpkin with deep bear teeth marks in it. Upon my return to the house, the girls informed me that the pumpkin was from our deck. The bear had carried the pumpkin away and likely, at some point, put it down, only to have it roll hundreds of feet down the hill. While the bear story is one for our memories, the fact that orange stands out so much is the lesson for today.
Orange is a fall color and a primary source of that orange comes in the form of pumpkins. It is quite likely that one will show up at your house in the fall and if not, a neighbor likely has one that you could borrow. Or, take the family to the farm or market, photograph your people there and then bring home some color to work with. At home, spend some more time getting creative with your color source, increasing the color orange in your portfolio.
Then, print your own fall decoration for next year, perhaps in the form of a metal print (love these).
This simple image was captured in the shade of our front porch. I explored various angles on the subject, trying to consume the entire frame with it. This angle seemed to work nicely.
After you have your orange, explore the yellows and other colors available in the other fall favorite, gourds!
The answer to the "When opportunities arise around the house, which lens do you grab?" question for me is often whichever lens(es) I happen to be evaluating at the time. Some lenses are more easily pressed into general purpose use than others, largely due the focal length(s). Fortunately, 35mm focal length-containing lenses have been very popular lately and that focal length is great for general purpose use.
Especially great was when I was putting the Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM Lens through its evaluation. Not only does this lens have the right focal length, but it also has a wide aperture, ideal for those around-the-house needs and often ready to capture high quality images without any additional lighting needed. That this lens has such great image quality at that f/1.4 max aperture is especially great.
On this day, Brittany came home tired and took a moment to relax with the dog that is of course tired and relaxing most of the time. My currently-mounted lens was the 35 L II and it allowed me to snap a few cute pictures using only ambient window light.
Did I ever find the 600mm angle of view too narrow when photographing bears in Coastal Katmai National Park? Sure, that's why I had the 100-400mm L IS II lens mounted on a second body and ready for immediate use. When I saw action moving closer, I would quickly switch cameras and continue shooting. The gap between 600mm and 400mm usually meant that I could begin using the 100-400 maxed at the 400mm end with plenty of time before I needed to begin zooming out.
But, I didn't always make the right choice. Sometimes, something unexpected happened. When the 600mm choice was wrong, sudden movement taking the bear out of ideal framing was usually the reason. Or, something happened at the border of the frame, such as another bear coming into view. The result was that I have some frames that are cropped too tightly in camera and this was one.
Really, I would never have guessed that a salmon was going to leap out of the water this high while in such a small stream (quite a feat actually) and that the leap would be this far ahead of the bear, but ... the unexpected is certain to happen on occasion.
The too-long focal length problem is not limited to the 600mm focal length. Even full-frame-mounted 100mm was slightly too long for some enormous brown bears that approached very closely (well under 20').
The big question is: "What do you do when your focal length is too long?"
It is far more common to be focal length limited on the long end and recovery in that situation is simple: crop. Though cropping reduces overall image resolution, it is usually better than having an important part of the scene missing.
The solution to being focal length limited on the wide end: shoot a panorama. If you ever find your lens framing a photo framed too tightly, shoot multiple images and merge them into a panorama later.
Planned or Unplanned
Here is the key for wildlife and other action photography: the panorama technique is not limited to very intentionally captured still life/landscape images. Even if you have a subject in motion and can't recreate the original subject pose, a panorama can sometimes be created. A frame with a cut-off in motion subject can be hard to recover, but adding border space to a fully contained subject is often easy.
As immediately as possible after the capture of a frame needing more border, switch the lens to manual focus and the camera to the last-used exposure settings while retaining the selected focal length (easy with a prime lens). If the focus distance and/or focal length changed after the primary photo was captured, do your best to reset them. Then photograph enough additional images to cover the framing that was missing in the original image. Back at the computer, merge the images together in Photoshop or your favorite image editor.
Fortunately in the case of my Katmai National Park brown bear and leaping salmon, I was able to take another frame from the burst and merge the two together. While Brooks Falls is known for salmon leaping toward bears standing at the top of a falls, capturing salmon leaping away from pursuing brown bears was one of my biggest goals in coastal Katmai National Park. When I saw this capture meeting my goal, I knew that the extra time required to piece a panorama together was going to be worth taking.
Apply this technique to your own photo subjects. Did you photograph your kid kicking the winning goal in the soccer match but not leave enough border on one or more sides of the frame? Another frame in the capture sequence may hold that missing border. If not or if you are not sure, capture a couple of additional identical-settings frames to work with later. It may even be possible to go back at a later time or date to recreate the missing portion of the frame (with similar lighting strongly desired).
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My coastal Katmai National Park brown bear photography trip was a big one for me and I wanted to take the best-available gear with me. As the camera is the foundation for a photo kit and the Canon EOS 5Ds R, with its incredible resolution, great color and very good noise performance with a handling, feature and AF package to match has proven to be, for me, the ultimate camera to build a kit around. With a pair of these bodies in my kit, it was not hard to select them as two of my bodies. The question remaining was, what was going to be the third body?
On such a trip, I seldom take less than three camera bodies. Although I sometimes use all three at once, more frequently is that the third is ready for backup use in case something unfortunate happens to one or both front line bodies. With a significant amount of wading in various depths of water (including salt water) involved on this trip, one fall and the unfortunate could easily become a reality. And, I wasn't going to be receiving a next day air shipment via UPS or FEDEX out there.
Back to the which camera question ... my options included taking my Canon EOS 1D X, taking my Canon EOS 7D Mark II or getting another 5Ds R (rent or buy). Great AF was paramount in this decision, but ... all three cameras are excellent in this regard.
The 1D X's extremely fast frame rate was an especially attractive feature for bears in action and that I already owned this camera made it a cost effective solution. That I would need to take an additional charger/batteries was a downside as was the "only" 18-megapixel resolution.
The 7D II's primary advantages were not dissimilar from the 1D X: the fast frame rate and the budgetary concern as I already owned one of these as well. That this camera shared the 5Ds R's battery system was a positive feature. That the smaller APS-C sensor would show more high ISO noise at the same output dimensions and would not produce the same amount of background blur as the full frame options were negatives.
My primary question about the 5Ds R option was the frame rate – would 5 fps was going to be fast enough for the bears in action? Not far behind the frame rate concern was the additional cost factor. In the end, the 5Ds R's ultra-high resolution full frame sensor with 7D II-matching pixel density (reach) and along with the latest-available feature set won my favor. And, I simply love this camera. While this need was ideal for the rental option, I opted for the additional purchase in this case. My camera math said that the over-two-weeks rental cost was greater than the purchase price minus resale value minus additional use value. I'll get plenty of use from this body to justify the cost of ownership.
Having three identical cameras meant that switching bodies required no thought (though the 7D II is essentially the same also). They all had the same controls, the same menu options and the same setup configuration.
Was 5 fps fast enough? It was. While I am an opportunist when it comes to subjects, my primary photography subjects were brown bears. Bears (unless sleeping) are in nearly constant erratic motion and present an AF challenge, but they were mostly moving in slow to medium speed. One exception was when they were trying to catch salmon, but even then they weren't moving close to the speed of a bird in flight, as an example. I had plenty of photo opportunities and could often time single frames with body positions I found favorable.
Would a faster frame rate have been better? Yes, there were probably some shots I missed due to the frame rate not being fast enough, but ... having to sort through a 2x higher image volume a faster frame rate would have generated would have completely buried me. It will take me many months to work through the daunting roughly-10,000 bear images I captured on this trip.
Was high ISO performance important? Definitely. The trip started out with an approximately 28 hour float plane departure delay due to rain and heavy fog and things didn't get much better with 2 of the four remaining days on the coast holding the same weather. My most-used ISO setting was 3200. The ultra-high resolution, full-frame 5Ds R has a noticeable advantage at ISO 3200 when resized to a similar resolution as the 7D Mark II.
Was the ultra-high 50 megapixel resolution an advantage? Definitely. While I'm still teaching myself that it is OK to frame a bit looser with the ultra-high resolution being delivered by the 5Ds/5Ds R, I have many 600mm images that will be cropped due to the distance of the subject. These images can be cropped down to a 960mm-equivalent angle of view with the 7D II-equivalent 20 megapixel image remaining. With the range of focal lengths I had along, a majority of my images will remain at or near full resolution, resulting in great detail for very large output.
While I titled this photo "Brown Bears Fighting" and technically they are fighting, this is a mother and her second year cub. The mother is teaching the cub to fight, but the fierceness was toned down to more like hard playing. This is an uncropped EOS 5Ds R image captured with the EF 600mm f/4L IS II USM Lens.
Fortunately, the playing lasted a long time and I was able to capture a large variety of shots of the behavior. I varied the aperture during the event, but only between f/4 and f/5.6 with some additional depth of field being the narrower aperture goal. In AI Servo AF mode with the one-up-from-center focus point selected and placed on the left bear's leg, the plane of sharp focus aligned ideally over the bears' noses. This placement kept both faces sharp even at f/4 and the wide aperture removed all background distractions.
I have no regrets regarding my camera choice - I would make the same decision again. Hopefully my camera decision logic made sense to you. If not, ask questions!
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While most of the world bases the fall season on the calendar, a photographer's fall season starts when the foliage changes color and ends soon after the leaves "fall" from the trees. "Photographer's fall" is generally a subset of everyone else's fall, but ... not always. For example, in Alaska, photographer's fall starts and, in some locations, ends in what everyone else considers summer.
As you may have noticed in my September 11th-captured Denali National Park image, the landscape has some good color in it, but a significant percentage of the leaves are beyond peak and many have fallen already. And, as illustrated in this picture, very few leaves were left on the brush and snow was on the ground this September 12th morning. From a photographer's perspective, this was winter, but per the calendar, "fall" was still over a week away.
Planning the timing of "fall" foliage photography has never been easier. Here are some suggestions to get you started:
First, consult fall foliage maps. These maps will show you when to expect peak leaf color in the location you want to photograph in.
Note that I was intentional with the plural of "maps". If you have one watch, you think you know what time it is. If you have more than one watch, you might not be so sure. But, if you average the times of all of the watches, you are more likely to have the correct time. Not all maps are identical in their forecast timing and granularity. Averaging the forecasts together helps provide a better understanding of what normally happens.
There is good reason that these maps are not identical and that is because the fall foliage colors do not come at exactly the same time each year. Leaf color change can be influenced by a variety of factors including temperatures and ground moisture levels. If you know what the various forecasts say, you can plan your photography for the heart of what is typically fall foliage season for that region.
Another good way to determine the right timing for your fall photography is to look for fall photo tours occurring in your target location. Quality tours will be held during the window of highest likelihood for peak color. Even if not joining such a tour, note the date range for planning purposes.
As I write this tip, photographer's fall is coming to an end across the northern hemisphere. But, there have been a lot of fall landscape photos posted to the web in the last two months and those pictures are a gold mine for trip planning. Find out when the best pictures were taken in your target location and take notes. Also, take notes from your own photos.
At minimum, I photograph the fall foliage around home and usually at Ricketts Glen State Park, an amazing location less than 2 hours from my home. Each year, I record the leaf condition for the dates I photograph in those locations along with others I visit. As the next fall comes around, I have a very good idea of when I should be photographing in those locations.
Start now. Wherever it is that you keep notes, record your fall experience along with the information gleaned from research. Make plans for next fall's photos to be your best ever!
I've been a photographer for many years but somehow never got around to adding a set of Christmas lights to my kit – until now. On a recent trip to CVS Pharmacy, I wondered down the newly stocked holiday seasonal aisle to find dozens of sets of Christmas lights.
When my eyes landed on a set of "icicle" lights, I immediately thought about how great they'd look as a background for a shallow depth-of-field portrait. After a quick checkout I was ready to set up a portrait session with Amanda.
I gelled both flashes with a full CTO so that the light hitting the subject would closely match the light emanating from the warm, tungsten Christmas lights. Gelling the flashes with a full CTO helped to create the illusion that the light hitting the subject's face might have been caused by another string of Christmas lights just behind the camera. I know that's a bit of a stretch, but at least the color of the light hitting the subject is at least somewhat motivated by the components within the scene. And with the color of light closely matching, I could use a global color correction to dial in just the amount of warmth I wanted in the image.
For the camera and lens, I used a tripod mounted Canon EOS 5D Mark III and an EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM. The 85L II worked perfectly in the relatively small amount of space, providing a field of view narrow enough to fill the frame with the collapsible background and an aperture wide enough to throw the background out of focus.
Here's a shot of the setup that I took this morning:
The EXIF details for the final portrait were f/1.6, 1/60 sec, ISO 200. While I could have used an even wider aperture to further accentuate the bokeh, I thought f/1.6 was a good compromise between DOF and the effect in the background that I was going for (Amanda's nose is still a touch out of focus at f/1.6).
At the end of the evening, I was really glad I had finally added a set of Christmas lights to my kit. They're fun, relatively inexpensive and a great source of creative inspiration – be sure to pick some up this holiday season for enjoyment year round!
You can click on the image atop this post to see a larger version on Flickr.
Safe to say is that nearly everyone reading this post has their eye on a piece of camera kit, that one piece that will take their capabilities to the next level.
Usually, money is the barrier to taking that next step, so let's talk about increasing available cash.
Raising funds generally involves earning money by working, selling something of value and/or spending less.
Sell Your Images and Photography Services
Since photography is our love, most of us will find the best option to raise money for camera gear is to sell our images and/or photography services.
This is of course easier said than done, but get a sales channel going and you will have a recurring revenue stream to support your photo kit growth long term.
Advertise your portrait services to your Facebook friends.
Ask your kid's teammates' parents if they would be interested in spending a few dollars for some great sports action pics.
Hang prints for sale in local establishments.
An upside to selling prints and services is that, if you sell enough, your accountant will likely allow you to write-off your gear costs and other expenses,
saving you a lot of money by effectively reducing your costs significantly.
Sell Your Old Camera Gear
You have likely been upgrading to the latest camera and lens models as they are released.
But, are you cleaning out what doesn't get used any longer?
If there is gear in your kit has not been used in a year or two and is not needed for backup purposes, it is probably not worth keeping and is a potential source of funding for the hot new gear.
Selling camera gear direct to a buyer can bring you the most revenue, but ... it doesn't get easier and the risk doesn't get lower than
selling to B&H.
They take care of everything and you can count on getting paid.
Sell Something Else
For many of us, the camera gear is the priority, so ... what else can you sell?
What is taking up space in your house, garage, attic, basement, etc. but has been unused for a year? Are you really going to use it again?
Sell it on eBay.
The process is easy and you might be surprised at what other people want.
Even if you don't make a lot per item, repeat the process enough times and the funds start adding up.
Available space in your house also increases. Perhaps enough to make room for a new photo setup, even if it is only a product/macro setup.
Offline, the "Bake sale" suggestion keeps bubbling to the surface around here. Beats selling a body part for sure and a good sandwich sale could finance an L lens.
Get More Money from the Day Job
If your day job is not photography related, I hesitate to recommend that you work more hours as doing so may cut into your photography time, but ... a little overtime in your off season (winter perhaps?)
could go a long way in financing some new glass.
Another option with longer term payback: spend some time educating yourself to qualify for a position that commands a higher salary.
If your day job is commission based, put in more sales time and effort for a greater compensation reward.
Finding a side job that you find enjoyable, even if for only an evening or two each week, can raise considerable funds over a period of time.
I should note here that time with the family should not suffer if you are working more hours.
Make your family your highest priority. Take the extra working hours out of your personal time (put away the video games).
Increase Your Rates
Do you charge a rate for the work you do?
Being the low-priced option might be necessary for someone starting out in an industry, but the goal is to quickly leave the bargain basement pricing behind you.
Increase your rates. Get good enough to become worth more in the eyes of your clients or your employer.
Study your craft and deliver the highest quality of work possible. Then educate why your work is better.
Work More Efficiently
The amount of time we have cannot be increased, but better utilizing the time we do have is the goal.
Post processing consumes a large part of many photography jobs and especially with the additional bandwidth requirements of the
ultra-high resolution DSLR cameras arriving on the scene, computing performance is a common bottleneck.
There are likely few of us who find the anticipation of an image loading to full resolution to be worth the time spent watching it do so.
I recently replaced the lab laptop with a model that processes images twice as fast.
It is not hard to justify an expense that frees time like this.
Another consideration is to outsource the work that is not core to your services (or that you do not like, or are not good at).
This work can include accounting, payroll, lawn mowing, cleaning, etc.
Or, hire an assistant that complements your skill set and/or handles the tasks that do not require your skills.
Working smart includes working carefully (mistakes are very time consuming), quickly and of course, hard.
Tighten the Budget
Increasing available cash from an existing revenue streams (such as the day job) can be accomplished by tightening the budget.
Even a modest $20 per week savings will net over $1,000 in a year in after tax dollars.
Pack a lunch a couple of days per week.
Give up a few of the fancy cups of coffee each week.
Ride a bike to work.
Look at where your money is going and stop some of the flow.
How Not to Fund Camera Gear
Your credit card makes it easy to place an order for any gear that you want right now.
But, I strongly recommend not using your credit card as the source of a loan for camera gear.
While I very highly recommend using credit cards (pick a good rewards card with the warranty extension feature), credit card companies charge extremely high interest rates that can become a long term burden.
Pay the credit cards in full every month to avoid this additional cost. Find another source for a loan if necessary.
Get a Loan
I was not going to include this option, but since I strongly discouraged using a credit card as a loan source, I wanted to note that a loan is not always a bad decision for camera
and post production gear purchased for business use.
If you think that a capital investment in camera gear will allow you to increase your business opportunities and revenue, a loan from a reputable source with a reasonable interest rate may be a valid consideration.
Before signing for the cash, make sure that you have a business plan in place that includes loan repayment.
Lenses hold their value especially well, meaning that aborting the plan early will not likely prove disastrous. Even so, go into debt only with careful forethought.
Watch for Deals
One of our goals here The-Digital-Picture.com is to maximize your kit improvement per dollar.
The retailers we promote (especially B&H) always offer low prices combined with excellent customer service.
The highly relevant short term deals we search out and share on the news page/feed range from very good to amazing.
Make sure to check in at least daily to insure that you don't miss the opportunity to save on the gear you want or need.
Basically, the camera gear kit funding strategy is: make more, spend less, sell what you are not using and shop smart.
Then watch your kit grow.
Sounds simple, right?
More often than not, wind is the enemy of photographers. Blowing wind puts not-fixed objects into motion, including light stands, reflectors, subjects' hair and ... leaves. Landscape photographers are perhaps most negatively affected by wind, with moving flora being their problem (along with mirror-like reflections on bodies of water being disturbed). You can't stop the wind. At least not on a large scale such as a landscape.
Fortunately, there are options for dealing with the wind.
The first option involves selecting a time when the wind is not blowing. Shoot early or late in the day when the winds tend to be most calm. Of course, shooting early or late in the day may mean less light and with a wind-unfriendly longer exposures necessary. If possible, come back on another day when the wind is not blowing.
The next option is to stop the wind, not physically, but in-camera. Use a faster shutter speed, enabled by using a narrower aperture and/or a higher ISO setting. Right, you may not be able to use ISO 100 for ALL of your landscape photos and I give you permission to bump up the ISO as high as you need to go (in case you are mentally struggling with this option). Our modern cameras can still create great imagery at high ISO settings and more often than not, noise is better than motion blur.
One way to mitigate the high ISO noise to a varying degree is to capture two images of the same scene from a stationary camera using different ISO and shutter speed settings. Later during post processing, stack the two images in Photoshop or a similar app and allow the lower noise level image to show for the sky, rocks, buildings and other non-wind-affected subjects. A touch of noise reduction on the higher ISO-captured layer should help. The result is an image with the lowest noise levels possible throughout the scene. If using this suggestion, I recommended shooting multiple pairs of frames to have more options to deal with potential subject movement overlap.
Another option available on a small scale is to stabilize the subject. Various clamping devices including the Wimberley Plamp are available to hold a subject in place while a photo is captured. I've used Y-shaped sticks stuck into the ground to keep smaller flora in place.
And the last option I have to share with you: Embrace the wind. Use a longer exposure and capture blurred leaves. I know, having a not-sharp part of the landscape frame is hard for those of us used to striving for everything sharp in the frame, but give it a try. When the wind is blowing, every frame can be unique including the position of tree branches in relation to the rest of the composition. If you think one position will be better than the others, time the shot with the branch in that location. Shoot a lot of frames with a variety of camera settings and prepare for a long review session to determine which images rise above the rest.
When composing for wind motion blur, I usually like to incorporate some non-blurred elements in the photo (such as a tree trunk) to anchor the frame. This is not a requirement, but I usually want the frame to include subjects that are either sharp or noticeably blurred as images with slight blurs may leave the viewer uncomfortable with or confused by your technique. To increase the amount of blur, zoom in or move closer to the subject so that its movement covers a larger area of the frame. Better preserving a desired composition is the use a longer exposure to give the in-motion subject time to show more movement. Use a neutral density filter if more time is needed than your desired in-camera settings can produce.
Because the path of wind-blown flora is not always predictable, composing slightly wider than what appears to be ideal is often a good decision. Crop to taste during post processing.
Part of the fun of shooting wind-blown flora is the anticipation of seeing the results. We can envision what the images are going look like, but seeing them appear on the LCD brings the effort to fruition. Hopefully with a positive outcome.
Don't let the wind be your excuse for not getting great shots. Either work around it, work with it or, my favorite option, do both!
Mikayla (she's 13) decided to make a lion costume. After a week of diligent designing, a run to the craft store, lots of cutting and plenty of sewing, she had a very impressive made-from-scratch full lion costume complete with a stuffed tail that had a curve at the end of it. She created the best lion costume she possibly could and my goal was to capture the fruition of her effort the best I could, creating a memory to cherish for a lifetime.
She finished the costume just in time to wear it Trick-or-Treating. For those unfamiliar with this tradition, the kids spend an evening walking around town wearing costumes and people hand out candy from their front doors. Well in advance, I requested time for a photo session with Mikayla wearing the costume, but ... kids in their most photogenic moments seem to be completed (hair, makeup, etc.) just in time to ... leave for their big event.
I requested 15 minutes notice prior to the photo op (I know, I ask for a lot), got 10 minutes and scrambled to finalize my decision on what the short photo session was going to look like. The amount of remaining daylight was the biggest question I had prior to this moment. It seemed logical that a lion should be outdoors, so I was hoping for some light remaining in the sky and with at least some ambient light, outdoors was the final location selection.
While the leaves were just beyond their peak fall colors, they were still clinging to the trees and had a still-nice color that was indicative of the autumn season. A location that could incorporate this color in the background was the next decision.
I knew that I wanted a blurred background, that I had plenty of working distance available and that I wanted subject framing ranging from environmental to tight headshots. I went with the 200mm focal length as it would work well for those requirements and I went with the Canon EF 200mm f/2L IS lens to maximize the background blur (and to get put the most available light possible onto the sensor).
Lions are known for their nasty predator look and for their roar. Mikayla was acting the part, but since she is a very sweet girl, the nasty-mean lion look made her naturally smile big soon afterward. I still find it a little unsettling to look at the pictures of her roaring, but definitely like the smiles that came afterward. And I like some of the little smiles that came between the two extremes, as seen here.
As planned, I captured a wide variety of poses and subject framing (in the 10 minutes of shooting time I was given). I liked many, but ... her crimped hair acting as the lion's mane "stood out" for me. So, I chose to share a moderately tightly-framed portrait with you.
The mechanics of taking pictures turned out to be an easy part of this series of images, with the ambient light working especially well. I've received a lot of positive comments from friends, with "Those are great photos!" being very common. The subject was of course largely responsible for these responses, but the ability of this lens to strongly blur the fall-colored background, making the subject pop, was another strong contributor to them. This lens, though not inexpensive, can do the same for photos of your own family, or for those for your clients.
The next time you have portraits planned for fall capture, look for trees that can provide a colorful background to your image. The color of the fall foliage should be complementary to your subject's clothing and the colorful trees should not steal the show from the primary subject, but especially when blurred, fall foliage can add a beautiful natural color to portrait backgrounds.
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr, Google+, 500px and Facebook. Also, if reading from a news feed reader, click through to see the framed image.
As trees are usually much taller than us, it is common is for us to look upward at leaves or minimally view them from a side perspective. Also typical is for the leaves to be facing, at least to some degree, upward and for the light to be reaching the leaves most strongly from above. While photographing glowing backlit leaves from underneath is commonly recommended (and a good tactic), the top of leaves generally have the strongest color with that color facing the light. Thus, capturing the best leaf color in the best light often means photographing the top of leaves.
Because most leaves (on trees at least) are higher than us, moving in close to the tree can diminish the amount of color seen. Moving farther away, unless that distance means a lower elevation, can provide a more colorful view of a tree by simply lowering the angle of view. Better is to get a higher vantage point. This means going up on a hill, up on a deck, up in a building (shooting from an open window for example), up on a ladder, etc.
A photo accessory that I've long considered acquiring, one that would help greatly in this regard, is a Bucket Truck. I know, you think I'm kidding, right? Not so. I think having such a truck would be a competitive advantage and I am always seeing locations where I could make use of one.
I don't know if that idea will ever come to fruition for me, but more popular is the use of drones. While the rules and regulations book for use of these devices is still being written, drones can get to many locations that would previously have required a bucket truck, crane or helicopter. Getting above the leaves is no problem for a drone.
If moving up means moving back, a longer focal length lens may be desired to keep the same framing and that the perspective will change should not be overlooked.
I was evaluating the Tamron 35mm f/1.8 Di VC USD Lens and while looking down the steep hill from our house, a beech tree with various shades of yellow and salmon-colored leaves caught my eye. At 35mm, the tree was tiny in the frame, so I went down to it. The closer I got, the less I was noticing the color patterns that initially caught my attention and the more I was looking across the side of the leaves, leaving the bare woods showing through the color. While still beautiful, this was not the image I had envisioned from the top of the hill.
I took some photos that I liked at 35mm, but then went back to the house to mount the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens. With the narrower angle of view, I could easily fill the frame with color and the downward view on the leaves left few holes into the background.
The next time you are looking at beautiful fall foliage, consider moving to a position that affords a downward view to maximize the color available to you.
I have to confess. I'm a fall leaf color addict. If the leaves have changed to their fall colors, I'm struggling to resist being outdoors 100% of the daylight hours with a camera in my hands. Fortunately, I don't have to go far from home to find some of the best color available anywhere.
Even with colorful trees being easy to find, photographing the fall color can be very challenging and one of those challenges is to create a compelling composition. Many of the most-brilliantly colored local trees, primarily old maples, are found in town, where houses and other buildings, power lines, signs, etc. interfere with the natural look I'm typically seeking. A picture of a complete tree may capture the color, but the likelihood of something undesirable being in the frame is quite high. Even in the countryside, the ideal trees can be difficult to work into great compositions for a variety of reasons including a lack of supporting elements.
One fall foliage technique I like to use is isolation of the colorful leaves of one tree with other parts of the same tree or another tree filling the rest of the frame. Find an attractive leaf or set of leaves that are in good condition and then determine what could be a good background for the composition.
Determine the focal length of your lens based on how large the foreground leaves should be in relation to the selected background. The focal length decision will also be affected by how large the selected background is and the space you have to work in with a longer focal length requiring less background area needed. The longer the focal length selected, the easier it will be to make the background blurred and of course, the vice versa is also true.
Determine the aperture used based on how much depth of field is desired with a very wide aperture capable of putting the background into a primary-subject-isolating blur. Also note that a wider aperture makes a faster shutter speed easier to obtain (at a lower ISO setting) and a faster shutter speed may be necessary to stop any wind-imparted motion of the primary subject leaf or leaves.
Don't stop with your first setup. Continue to refine the shot until you have it perfected. Then find another composition to work on.
The brilliantly colored maple tree in this picture was on the corner of an in-town street intersection with power lines and houses directly behind it. I moved in close to the foreground leaves and aligned the angle of view with the lines created by the trunks and limbs. The backlit leaves on the other side of the tree and some green grass across the street complete the composition. The result is a brilliantly colored fall photo that is, at least somewhat, unique.
People seem to enjoy being creeped out around this time of the year (Halloween) and spiders are a perennial favorite source of creepiness. They happen to be my wife's biggest fear at any time of the year, so when I brought a mother wolf spider carrying a big "cluster" of babies into the house for a photo op (it was dark outside), she was not too happy. And when the spider jumped off of my white paper background and lost her cluster, I went back outside (after corralling what seemed like hundreds of tiny baby spiders).
I wasn't looking to create an award-winning photo of this spider, but wanted decent quality without much time investment. I mounted a Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L IS USM Macro Lens to a Canon EOS 5Ds R and attached a Canon Macro Ring Lite MR-14EX II Flash. The scene was dark (even inside) and the lens shaded the subject at this distance, so I utilized the MR-14EX's focus assist lights to manually focus on the mother's eyes (all 8 of them) with the plane of sharp focus angled to include many of the babies.
As mentioned, I went high-tech with the background: a sheet of white printer paper goes with everything. With the main subject being medium-dark colored, I was able to boost the highlights slightly in post, creating a pure white background, without negatively impacting the mid and dark tones.
Spiders are a popular fall theme and that is probably the only time of the year when you can post a spider picture that gets socially shared. Find out who has arachnophobia. Dig out one of your spider pics or better yet, go create a new one. Share it and peg the creep-out meter.
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr, Google+, 500px and Facebook. Also, if reading from a news feed reader, click through to see the framed image.
Do you ever feel stuck in a rut, creatively speaking? You've got all this great gear at your disposal but you're simply not inspired by your surroundings? That's an unfortunate side effect of the human condition – we start losing appreciation for the things (and people?) we see on a daily basis. Even the extraordinary can seem mundane if we see it every day.
Aside from taking a vacation and enjoying the benefits of exploring a new place (providing an excellent source of inspiration), there are several things you can do right in your own hometown to help quell the "been there, seen that" blues. And many of them require little to no investment in new gear. A common (and useful) technique is to limit yourself to shooting with a single focal length. But as that approach has been covered by just about everyone, let's look at other ways to inspire your own creativity.
1. Multiple Exposures
One particularly intriguing camera feature that has trickled down from high-end bodies in the past few years is the Multiple Exposures feature (found in the EOS 1D X, 5Ds/5Ds R, 5D III, 6D, & 7D II). A multiple exposure is just what it sounds - a single exposure created by combining two (or more) individual shots. The possibilities for creative multiple exposures are limited only by your imagination, and forcing yourself to think about your multiple exposure before capture is an excellent exercise in creative thinking. Using Live View in Multiple Exposure mode enables you to preview the result you can expect after capture. If you don't have a camera that features Multiple Exposures, you can easily recreate the most common multiple exposure effect in Photoshop by layering one image over another and setting the top layer's blend mode to "Lighten" (that's exactly what I did for the image above).
2. Long Exposures
As photographers, we're used to capturing the world in split seconds. Movement is frozen in when our shutter speeds are short enough and our images are sharpest. Capturing an image that spans seconds (if not minutes) can completely change the dynamic the scene. A tripod and 10 stop neutral density (or even more dense) filter can allow water along the beach to appear as flat as a sheet of glass or can aid in reducing the evidence of people when photographing in a crowded place (think architectural photography).
A neutral density filter isn't necessarily required for creating long exposures. If shooting at night, you can easily use just a tripod (or other means of support) to help capture light trails left by passing vehicles.
Shooting in infrared is a great way to help you break out of a creative slump because it allows you to experience the world in a whole new way. Suddenly, drab and familiar landscapes become intriguing when capturing the typically unseen wavelengths.
There are a couple of ways to capture infrared shots. The first and least expensive way is to purchase a filter that blocks visible light but allows IR light to pass through. When using the infrared [passing] filter, your exposure times will be very long (sometimes minutes). That's because your camera has a built-in infrared blocking filter that prohibits most of the infrared light from hitting the sensor. The infrared filter on the front of your lens allows you to create an exposure out of the trickle of IR that makes it through to the camera's filter. For these shots, a tripod (or other stable shooting platform) is essential.
Keep in mind that with the IR filter in place, you cannot see through the viewfinder (and you'll see very little if anything in Live View). Therefore, you must frame and focus your shot before placing the IR filter on the camera. And since IR light focuses at a slightly different point than visible light, you'll want to shoot at or near hyperfocal distances with a narrow enough aperture to compensate for focus shifting.
Another piece of gear helpful for capturing images with an infrared filter is the timer remote. The timer remote/intervalometer will allow you to shoot exposures longer than 30 seconds without having to continually hold down the shutter button (as in Bulb mode). Some newer camera bodies – like the 7D Mark II and 5Ds/5Ds R – feature an in-camera bulb timer and will not require the remote timer accessory.
If you'd like to dive into infrared photography head first, you can have your DSLR converted to an infrared camera. The cost will vary depending on your camera body and filter option, but the conversion will likely be in the ballpark of $300.00 (or more, depending on camera model and options). One big benefit of an IR conversion is that your exposure times will closely mimic your exposure times for visible light, meaning a tripod isn't absolutely necessary. However, you will need to compose and focus using Live View because visible light no longer passes through to the viewfinder.
If you only have one camera, I wouldn't suggest an IR conversion. Converting your camera to infrared means that you can no longer capture visible light with your camera. However, converting an older DSLR to infrared after upgrading cameras is a great way to extend the useful life of your likely-to-be-neglected equipment (assuming you don't need a backup camera). That was the motivating factor for sending my rarely-used EOS 7D to Life Pixel for an infrared conversion. With my newly converted 7D in-hand, infrared photography has never been more fun and inspiring. The image at the top of this post was created with my EOS 7D modified with Life Pixel's Super Color IR conversion.
As a general rule, I see the world in a 2x3 ratio frame. But even I know there are times when a wider, theater-like view is required to truly experience what it's like to be standing in a specific spot. Maybe you need a wider angle lens but just don't have one. Or maybe you just want to squeeze every pixel of detail out of a scene. No matter the reason, panoramas force you to think about your composition differently. It gets much more difficult to hide "distracting" elements of a scene when you force yourself to capture everything that's in front of you in all its glory.
There are many different ways to create a panorama. The easiest way is to simply stand in one spot and point your camera in different directions and stitch the resulting images together in post. Unfortunately, this may not always work well because of parallax errors caused by not rotating the camera body at its no-parallax point. That's exactly why I built my own panning rig for creating 360-degree panoramas. Another way to create panoramas while avoiding parallax errors is to use a tilt-shift lens to capture images at widest extents along the shift plane.
No matter what method you use to capture your images, you'll need a decent photo editor to stitch them into a seamless panoramic image. Photoshop CC is a full-featured, reasonably priced option; Hugin is free and open source, but the learning curve is [in my opinion] relatively steep.
One way to inspire creativity is to throw another variable into the mix – the element of time. We generally try to capture images that attempt to tell a complete story in a single frame. Time-lapse photography gives us the ability to illustrate changes that happen over time and require a completely different approach to planning and capture.
Creating a good time-lapse requires patience, planning, dedication and a fair amount of post-processing. Preparing for time-lapse capture means that you have to consider what elements in your scene will change over time, how to protect your equipment and how to compensate for changes in exposure thoughout your time-lapse.
To create time-lapses you'll need a solid support system (a tripod is likely best, but any stable platform will do), a timer remote (if your camera does not have an interval timer built-in), and patience.
Shown above is the time-lapse I created when evaluating the Triggertrap Mobile Dongle. The Mobile Dongle (paired with a smartphone) not only allows you to create a time-lapse, but it allows you to adjust the timing and exposure values during capture so that you can be even more creative with your time-lapse.
If you already own a macro lens, then you already have everything you need to explore the wonders of your own back/front/side yard. If you do not own a macro lens (and even if you do), using extension tubes with your current lenses will help increase the maximum magnification possible by shortening the lens' minimum focus distance.
The flower seen above is located about 6 feet from my backdoor in a small flowerbed. Tip: Plant flowers around your home. Not only will they provide you with ample opportunities to shoot beautiful macros, but your significant other will likely enjoy displaying them in your home. And just in case you forgot a special occasion, being able to pick flowers from your yard may help you avoid the ramifications of your lapse in memory.
Is the weather not conducive to venturing outside? Try macro photography with objects around the house. Many everyday objects become much more intriguing when viewed up close (salt, peppercorns, etc.)
So that's our top 6 ways for inspiring your own creativity. Do you have other suggestions? Let us know in the comments!
When I left for my Alaska trip, I was packing on the end of a 90+ hour work week and was still actively fighting against a DDOS attack on the site as I was going out the door. With major distractions, I left without a key piece of kit that I expected to need on this trip – my Think Tank Photo Hydrophobia 300-600 v2.0 rain cover. When I remembered what I had forgotten, it was too late to recover from my mistake.
As it turned out, I was shooting with my Canon 600mm f/4L IS II Lens on a Canon EOS 5Ds R in light rain about 50% of the time I was in Katmai National Park. While this lens and lens combo is weather sealed, I don't like to test the limits of this sealing.
What saved me? Minimally, from anxiety? A simple garbage bag. Having needed to use this backup plan before, I knew what to do. Place the makeshift rain cover (I usually carry at least two in my larger cases) over the camera and lens. Then tear a small hole in the bag, with the opening just large enough to tightly stretch over the lens hood. The plastic stretched around the hole holds the bag tightly to the lens hood, providing a seal between the gear and the makeshift rain cover.
A hole can also be made for the viewfinder, but I often use the bag's normal opening when shooting. My ball hat brim provides some protection for the exposed back of the camera and I pull the bag completely over the camera when not actively shooting.
This solution is not nearly as elegant as the TTP rain cover. The one problem with this setup is that wind can swiftly blow the bag off of the camera, generally turning it inside out and into a flag blowing from the snug-fitting tear/cut hole hold holding onto the lens. Wrapping some tape (carry a small, perhaps self-made, roll of gaffer tape) around the back of the lens can be enough. Other securing options abound, including the use of ball bungies.
Forget your garbage bags? Garbage bags are ubiquitous; they can be found at most household supply, grocery and camp stores. Your hotel can likely give you one if there isn’t a good one to be found in your room. If your hotel happens to provide shower caps, that is another rain cover option.
Garbage bags have many uses beyond camera and lens rain protection. Use them as a drop cloth/ground matt to keep you and/or your gear clean and dry. You can even put your camera case/backpack in a bag. Use a garbage bag as a makeshift raincoat for yourself (important: allow for fresh air to prevent suffocation). You can of course use the bags for their namesake purpose. Carry a load of trash out of the location you are shooting in.
Choose your bag size and its duty-level based on your need. While a super telephoto lens works great with a full-size garbage bag, smaller lenses work better with a kitchen-sized garbage bag or smaller. When used as a ground cloth, my preference is for very heavyweight contractor bags, though I find lighter weight garbage bags easier to work with as a camera rain cover. I often have various size and material weight selections at my "disposal."
While it is your choice, I highly recommend "unscented" bags. :)
Garbage bag are cheap, readily available and incredibly useful. Put some garbage bags in all of your camera bags now, before you forget. And, add this useful accessory to your packing lists.