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 Wednesday, April 22, 2015
DIY On-Camera Flash Modifier
A few days ago I posted the following video from ExpoImaging's YouTube Channel:
 

The video outlined nearly the exact same technique I had used for many events (banquets, wedding receptions, etc). The only difference was that I had used the large version of the original FlashBender. There were definitely some drawbacks to using the large version. One drawback was that the flash modifier was quite heavy (the new FlashBenders are lighter) and the overall size made it a cumbersome setup. Another drawback was that modifier's large size caused it to reflect just a little too much fill light for my taste. It could be bent in ways to reduce the issue, but that wasn't an ideal solution.
 
Upon watching the video I realized that the small version of the FlashBender 2 was better suited for my needs, so I ordered one.
 
But what if you were in a bind and couldn't wait for a FlashBender 2 to land on your doorstep? I figured that a DIY solution would be fairly easy to fabricate. And the best part is you probably have everything you need already in your home (and if not, the tools and materials would be easy to find).
 
Tools Required:
 
Directions:
 
  1. Download and print out the template on an 8.5 x 11" piece of card stock and cut along the lines.
  2. Fold the lower flaps of the modifier around your flash head and tape the modifier and gel in place. Voilà, you're ready to go.
DIY On Camera Flash Modifier

Granted, this DIY solution won't be as good or as durable as the FlashBender 2, but you may be surprised by how well it works for the relatively small amount of effort (and investment) involved.
Post Date: 4/22/2015 9:01:53 AM CT   Posted By: Sean
 Monday, April 20, 2015
Spring Photography Tips: Photographing Flowering Trees
It is early spring here in the northern hemisphere and flowering trees, if not already in full bloom, will be so very soon.
 
While the spring flowering trees are incredibly beautiful, I find them a challenge to compose into an image I like. Part of the problem is that, when the trees flower, most other trees remain leaf-less and low in their color-rating. Lack of leaves reveal highly detracting power lines in many of the landscapes where these trees are planted. This leaves sky, green grass and man-made objects to provide the other good colors to compose with.
 
So, how does one create a good photo of this subject? A solution that often works well is to fill the frame with only the flowering tree or trees. In this case, I found a very large, densely-flowered tree, moved back to create a compressed perspective and zoomed in to frame only the flowers with a narrow aperture keeping the entire frame remaining in focus. The result is a pattern of complexity that fills the frame. I positioned the larger limbs visible in the picture so that their lines lead the viewer's eye into the frame. The bright color of the flowers becomes the predominant color of the final image.
 
Working with the same concept of filling the frame with the color of the tree, a close perspective with a wide aperture can be used to blur the background flowers as illustrated here.
 
If working with a wider angle focal length, the background is more likely to become part of the image. In this case, consider getting above the tree to use the often-bright-green spring grass as the background. Bright green often complements the color of the tree(s). Another advantage that getting higher sometimes affords is a better angle on the flowers in the image. Dogwood tree flowers, as illustrated in the just-referenced image, typically face upward. Looking downward from a ladder allowed me to see the full flower being isolated with shallow depth of field.
 
Incorporating flowering trees into portrait images is a strategy loved by many. My advice is to make sure that the tree colors do not steel the viewer's focus from the primary subject, your person. Using the fill-the-frame and blur-the-background strategies again work well for portraits. Use a telephoto focal length and wide aperture to isolate the subject against a completely blurred background of flowers.
 
Winter is past and the winter-like landscape is about to awaken, bursting into vibrant color. Go capture it!
Post Date: 4/20/2015 7:54:14 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Tuesday, April 14, 2015
As winter quickly transitions into spring, flowers bloom, trees become leafy again and the pitfalls of the frigid cold fade into (maybe not so distant) memory.
 
If you are anything like me, your home and surroundings may not be very inspiring to you anymore. I think it is human nature to lose appreciation for the things you see every day. And when that happens, inspiration close to home can be difficult to come by.
 
Thank goodness spring brings us so many opportunities to see the world around us – including those areas in close proximity to our own doorstep – in a new light with a macro lens attached to your camera. Such was the case with the image above.
 
Dandelions are probably as loved by photographers as they are despised by lawn care professionals, as beautiful as they are hard to get rid of. Once the quaint yellow flower sprouts its seeds, you can bet there will be another dozen or so dandelions appearing soon wherever the wind blows.
 
Dandelion Seeds April 2015 Spring Macro

No matter which side of the fence you are on – whether you love dandelions or regard them with disdain – it's hard to argue with their appropriateness for macro photography.
 
The image at the top of this post was one of the easiest images I've created in quite some time. It was captured with relatively minimal gear, took about 10 minutes to complete (including setup and several different framings), and the flower was located within about eight steps from my front door.
 
Gear used:
 
To capture the shot, I first inverted the tripod's center column so that the camera would hang beneath the tripod. This enabled me to more easily get the top-down perspective that I wanted. I used the 7D II's Live View to frame and focus on the newly forming stigmas of the flower at or near minimum focus distance.
 
EXIF: f/11, 1/100 sec, ISO 800
 
The overcast day provided a nice, even light on the flower. However, the subdued light combined with the narrow aperture I needed to obtain the depth of field I wanted meant that I had to push the ISO to 800 and use a relatively long shutter speed (relatively long considering the small bursts of wind occurring at the time). I could have pushed the ISO higher and used a shorter shutter speed, but instead I simply timed my shots to coincide with the small periods of calm in between small wind gusts. The shot headlining this post was my favorite out of the twenty or so shots I captured that day.
 
The image in the middle of this post and the one below were captured using a handheld Canon 5D III, 100mm f/2.8 Macro, and a 580EX Speedlite with a Roundflash Ringflash Adapter.
 
Dandelion Full of Seeds April 2015 Spring Macro

In summary, great macro subjects are everywhere, and that's especially true as spring sets in. Grab your macro lens and capture inspiring images without having to travel farther than your own mailbox.
Post Date: 4/14/2015 11:20:27 AM CT   Posted By: Sean
 Monday, April 13, 2015
by Sean Setters
 
At about 3:30am this past Friday, I awoke from a sound sleep but had no idea why. Through the tiny slit in my eyelids I thought I detected a flash of light from the window behind my head. It didn't seem very bright and I thought to myself, "Was that lightning or am I dreaming?"
 
After waiting a few seconds to hear the tell-tale sounds of thunder, I laid my head back down. A few seconds later, though, I finally heard the faint sounds of distant thunder.
 
Wanting to try out my Vello FreeWave Stryker Lightning & Motion Trigger, I groggily rose from the bed, put on clothes and packed my camera gear. In 15 minutes I was standing on the town square after a very short drive.
 
I originally purchased the Vello FreeWave Stryker Lightning & Motion Trigger just before Christmas of last year. As winter is not known for producing thunder storms, I had only been able to use the device once a couple of weeks ago since acquring it. While testing the device for the first time, I thought about how cool it would be to capture lightning over one of my town's most famous landmarks, the historic county courthouse.
 
To get the shot, I positioned myself under the awning of a building across the street. I used my 5D Mark III and a Canon TS-E 24mm f/3.5L (precursor to the TS-E 24mm f/3.5L II) so that I could keep the perspective of the building clean while also capturing a good portion of the sky (shifting the lens upward).
 
I adjusted the Vello trigger's sensitivity to the point at which it was triggered by the ambient street lights and then backed off the sensitivity just slightly. It took me a few test shots to nail down my exposure settings (adjusting aperture and ISO to properly expose for the lightning and shutter speed to properly expose for the buildings), but I finally worked it out.
 
After about 30-40 minutes there was a break in the rain where lightning was striking within the camera's field of view. I captured lightning bolts in three different images, and this one captured at 4:07am was the best of the bunch. The camera also triggered when lightning flashed outside the camera's field of view, but those images simply showed a brightened sky.
 
After about an hour and a half of shooting (well after getting this shot), I went home and immediately edited the image and posted it to Facebook where it blew up in popularity, easily besting any other image I've ever posted to social media. It was shared by the official Facebook page of our county (where it has garnered over 1,400 likes and almost 200 shares this weekend) as well as being shared on the Facebook pages of our town mayor and a local radio DJ.
 
Unfortunately, I was quite tired when originally editing and posting the image and didn't notice how warm I left the image's color balance. I cooled down the color balance (but still left it slightly warm) in the image uploaded to Flickr (shown above).
 
Could I have captured this image without the lightning trigger? Of course. To do so, I would have needed to continuously fire the camera in interval mode (either using an intervelometer or simply pushing the shutter button every time an exposure ended), but using the dedicated lightning trigger made the process much easier. The lightning trigger was also handy when trying to find the right exposure variables (as the camera wasn't continuously firing, camera settings could be adjusted as normal). Also, using the trigger meant that I didn't have to wade through hundreds of images to find the ones where lightning actually struck.
 
Misc. Takeaways
 
  • When posting images to social media, timing is important. As I posted the image soon after getting home, the morning lighting storm was still fresh in everyone's mind (many people woke up to the storm), so the image was even more relevant.
  • Even though I was shooting beneath an awning, a lens hood (which I forgot to bring) would have helped protect the lens's front element from raindrops blown by the wind. The image above shows evidence of rain being on the front element.
  • An image that has nothing to do with your bread-and-butter, money-making photography (for me – portraiture, architecture and advertising) can actually help you get business. A former headshot client of mine contacted me later that day to congratulate me on the image and then requested a quote for portrait-based advertising images for his company. The proceeds from that job alone would easily cover half the investment in an EOS 5Ds. Aside from that, I've also had requests for print purchases of the image.
You can see a larger version of the image on Flickr.
 
EXIF Info:
Canon EOS 5D Mark III
Canon TS-E 24mm f/3.5L Tilt-Shift
24mm, f/8, 10 sec, ISO 100
Post Date: 4/13/2015 9:51:39 AM CT   Posted By: Sean
Canon 200-400 L IS Captures Black Bear Cub and an Iris
With the amazing Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Lens getting a nearly-equally amazing $800.00 price reduction, I felt compelled to share an image captured with this lens.
 
In the spring, black bears come out of hibernation and the cubs enter their new world, full of first-time experiences waiting to happen. This little cub may have never seen an iris before and though it was still nursing from its mom, must have thought the iris looked like candy. After pulling some unopened flower buds from their stems and carrying them around like toys, this little cub approached the big open flower. It proceeded with great effort to pull the flower off of the stem. Too cute.
 
With a cub this young, you can count on the mother being close by. The zoom focal length range of this lens allowed me to frame the cub reasonably tightly at 560mm with the built-in 1.4x extender switched into the optical path (with some cropping) and then quickly zoom out to 270mm sans extender to vertically capture the momma bear standing upright with a cub between her legs. No single prime lens would have worked in this situation (unless the widest-needed focal length was selected with most images needed significant cropping).
 
Leave your own caption for this image in the comments!
 
Check out the huge list of significant Canon L lens price reductions in addition to the 200-400 L II's $800.00 price drop.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr and Google+. Also, if reading from a news feed reader, click through to see the framed image.
 
Camera and Lens Settings
560mm  f/5.6  1/250s
ISO 1000
3914 x 2609px
Post Date: 4/13/2015 10:30:20 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Thursday, April 9, 2015
The 7D II, 100-400 L II and a Great Egret
The Canon EOS 7D Mark II, EF 100-400mm L IS II Lens and a great egret make a great combination. With the egret perched above me and the setting sun behind me, the remaining challenge was to catch the constantly moving bird in ideal positions with AF locked on the eye. The camera and lens performed really well on the latter requirement and my own performance on the former was good enough to land me a pile of shots that I like.
 
What are the ideal subject positions for bird photography? There are many, but side-on to the bird with its head straight forward or turned slightly toward the camera is a basic ideal position. While this bird was directly facing me, that long neck could position the head in a variety of positions and the sideways but turned slightly toward me position worked well in this situation. The gust of wind ruffling the egret's feathers added the extra interest I'm always watching for.
 
Compositionally, I like the two black legs (leading lines) coming up into the frame, positioning the bird at about 1/3 of the way into the frame. The bird looking into the frame adds the needed balance to the image. Cropping the legs (vs. including the entire legs and feet) in-camera allowed the bird's beautiful body to be larger in the frame and allowed me to avoid the background distractions that lower framing would have included. With the wide zoom range available in this lens, I had a large variety of framing options available and I used many.
 
The 7D II's top-center AF point was selected and placed on the on the bird's eye. That the 7D II's AF system covers an area that close to the edge of the frame made capturing this particular image very easy relative to the focus and recompose technique most other DSLRs require in this situation. The great egret's long neck was constantly moving the head to new positions and I had only an instant to catch any of these positions. By the time I would have recomposed after focusing, the bird would have been in a new position most of the time.
 
Though an f/10 aperture used with the 7D II will show some softening due to the effects of diffraction, I wanted as much of the close bird to be in focus as possible. A low sharpness setting of "2" was used in DPP with very light/fine sharpening added in Photoshop CC for a very sharp end result. Even with f/10 selected, I had enough light to use a 1/320 sec shutter speed (though marginal for the moving bird) at ISO 100.
 
My "great" image is basically straight out of the camera with a small amount of bill cleanup done and white balance cooled slightly as the light was extremely warm at the moment of this capture.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr, Google+ and Facebook. Also, if reading from a news feed reader, click through to see the framed image.
 
Camera and Lens Settings
200mm  f/10.0  1/320s
ISO 100
3648 x 5472px
Post Date: 4/9/2015 10:08:49 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Monday, April 6, 2015
Canon 11-24L visits Jane's Carousel in Brooklyn, NY
Jane's Carousel is a standout landmark in Brooklyn Bridge Park, Brooklyn, NY. While it is hard to miss the carousel house, the highly-styled words in the concrete are not as obvious. Ultra-wide angle lenses are great for emphasizing the foreground and I decided to emphasize the not obvious in this case, the words:
 
"Jane's Carousel made by Philadelphia Toboggan Co in 1922"
 
Jane's Carousel is a very popular location and, while not a necessity, keeping people out of your frame is challenging (an understatement). To start, visiting on a cold winter weekday will reduce the visitor population. Next, taking enough frames to allow all parts of the scene to be captured without people or their shadows in them is key. Fortunately, I had two images that when combined, showed no humans outside of the building. In post, I combined these two exposures to show only the sans-people parts.
 
At 11mm, it is hard to keep your own shadow out of the frame. By using the self-timer, I was able to step back before the shutter released. The camera's own shadow was the remaining problem. With a clean foreground, I was able to remove the shadow in post processing without difficulty.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr, Google+ and Facebook. Also, if reading from a news feed reader, click through to see the framed image.
Post Date: 4/6/2015 9:20:51 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Thursday, April 2, 2015
My Girls are Growing Up
My kids are amazing. Yes, I am of course heavily biased, but I sincerely hope that you feel the same way about your own kids.
 
Many of you comment about having watched my kids grow from tiny to what they are today, so I thought I would share a current group photo of them. Having the three girls together while they are dressed up and not having to run out the door because they are late for wherever they need to go has become a rare situation, so I jumped on this one.
 
Setup for this 5 minute portrait session involved grabbing a Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens mounted to a Canon EOS 5D Mark III and positioning the girls just behind direct light streaming in a wall of windows. There is not a bad portrait focal length in this lens and the 100mm end gave me an ideal angle of view for this tight group photo even in tight quarters. I avoided background distractions the best I could while including enough to give the photo a homey feel.
 
My kids are growing up and so are yours. Growing up is of course what is supposed to happen to kids, but ... the growing up happens too fast – in a flash it seems from hindsight. So, I'll leave you with a parenting tip: You cannot take too many pictures of your kids (and grandkids I'm sure). Load them on a digital picture frame or computer in your home's living area to regularly relive those great times of life.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr, Google+ and Facebook. Also, if reading from a news feed reader, click through to see the framed image.
 
Camera and Lens Settings
100mm  f/4.5  1/80s
ISO 100
5760 x 3840px
Post Date: 4/2/2015 10:11:42 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Thursday, March 26, 2015
Canon 7D II and 100-400 L II Get Close to a Royal Tern
There was a small flock of royal terns on the Captiva, Florida beach just north of Blind Pass and Sanibel Island. It would have been easy to stand and capture distant photos of the flock resting in the sand, but I was looking for something better. By lying down in the sand and moving forward slowly, the beautiful birds allowed me to get quite close without showing any signs of stress. So close that I had to zoom out somewhat to get the framing I selected for the bird in this photo.
 
That the 100-400 L II focuses so closely is a big benefit when the subject is small and you want to fill the frame with it or a portion of it. The close focusing is also useful in situations such as this one – when I got too close. As I said, there was a flock of birds and I was photographing various birds as their positions and behaviors warranted my attention.
 
A low shooting position often has the benefit of a clean background (the sky in this case) and provides a nice angle on most small birds and animals located on the ground. To make shooting while lying flat in the sand easier, I utilized a NatureScapes Skimmer Ground Pod II. To help darken the sky in the background, I used a circular polarizer filter.
 
Early and late in the day sunlight often provides the best lighting for bird photography, but nice images can be made at other times of the day. This royal tern photo was taken at 11:44 AM. At this time of the day, the sun is near its highest point, making shadows harsh and the color temperature of the light cool. By carefully timing the shutter release, I was able to catch bird positions that minimized shadows (especially on its head) and that included a catchlight in the eye. Sunlight reflecting on sand also helps minimize shadows (though not as well as the snow that was on the ground at home on that date does).
 
With a white bird in full sunlight and under a cloudless sky, the exposure decision was easy. Lock in manual mode settings that included a shutter speed fast enough to stop any movement present (there was lots of action happening), an aperture that provided adequate depth of field and an ISO setting that caused the brightest areas of the photo to be *just* below blown (pure white) in brightness.
 
The 7D Mark II and 100-400 L II performed extremely well on this trip. The alert among you will notice that the reported full size pixel dimensions for this image are larger than those native from the 7D Mark II. I framed this bird tight to the top of the frame and used Photoshop's content aware fill to extend the canvas, creating more sky in the final image. This tactic created a modestly higher resolution image overall. Another option for increasing resolution would have been to capture a similarly-focused second frame with more upward angle, taking in much more sky for later stitching to the bird image.
 
I spent hours focusing on these birds and will try to share some additional images when I get time.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr, Google+ and Facebook. Also, if reading from a news feed reader, click through to see the framed image.
Post Date: 3/26/2015 8:38:04 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Tuesday, March 17, 2015
Capturing Cityscapes During the
Following Sean's recent winter photography tip suggestion, I took the Canon 11-24mm f/4L Lens to New York City for a late-winter day. New York City is one of the most photogenic cities on the planet and it remains similarly so at all times of the year. Advantages of shooting architecture and cities when it is uncomfortably cold out include fewer people to interfere with your compositions, fewer photographers competing for the same shooting locations and easier isolation of composition-enhancing people while doing street photography.
 
Scouting
 
New York City is extremely large and I doubt that anyone will ever exhaust all of the photo possibilities of this location. For sure I will not. This means that pre-trip scouting is especially important. Using available online resources to visualize the location's available compositions maximizes one's photo time. These resources include maps, satellite imagery, The Photographer's Ephemeris, reviewing photos others captured at the potential location, etc.
 
Part of this scouting involves determining the direction of sunrise or sunset as this effects the look of the image at a key time of the day for cityscape photography. The sun rising or setting to the side of an image will be the most challenging with the sky taking on a brightness gradient from one side of the image to the other. If the sun is rising or setting behind you, buildings will reflect the brighter sky and the background sky will be darker in relation to the buildings. The sky may also become pink above the horizon in this situation. If the sun is rising or setting in front of you, the sky will be brighter in relation to the buildings, but the building lights will become more pronounced. Both latter options are great. My choice in this example was the in-front-of-me sunset.
 
On Location
 
Arriving at the location early to verify the choice made during pre-trip scouting is highly recommended. You never know what you might find upon arrival (such as a large construction project), so arrive early enough to implement plan B if necessary. Yes, having at least a plan B and, better yet, a plan C and D is a very good idea. Arriving early also provides the best opportunity to score the perfect shooting location.
 
On this particular cold evening, there was no competition for shooting location and to completely avoid the chance of people walking into my composition (and to avoid an ugly sign and construction fencing), I setup so that no foreground was visible in the frame. To do so at the focal length I wanted to use (24mm – the longest available on the lens I was evaluating) required extending my tripod down through the curved East River fencing.
 
The Right Time of Day Makes the Difference
 
City lights do not come on (or become visible) until it gets somewhat dark and these lights are a key to one of my favorite cityscape looks. The lights add life to the buildings and while cityscapes can be captured in complete darkness, I find that some color remaining in the sky makes a better image.
 
The "Blue Hour", by definition, lasts for 1 hour just before sunrise and just after sunset (use your online tool or phone app to find out when it happens at your shooting location on your chosen shooting day). However, the perfect shooting time, when the sky color balances with the city lights (and possibly reflections), lasts for closer to 15 minutes within that hour. I'll dub this time period the "Perfect 15" and I can usually narrow my ultimate preference down to a subset of that duration. While the Perfect 15 are ideal for capturing a variety of image types, cityscapes are an especially great use of this short period of time.
 
While it is possible to capture a number of compositions within the Perfect 15, I find it best to concentrate on one composition at the key time of the day. Fifteen minutes sounds like a very adequate amount of time to capture one image, but I assure you, it is often not. Here is why:
 
At this time of the day, each f/11 image requires 30 seconds of exposure (roughly) followed by 30 seconds of long exposure noise reduction dark frame capture. Add a few seconds for mirror lockup and multiply each shot by two or three for exposure bracketing (if warranted for HDR) and those Perfect 15 minutes begin to look very short.
 
Reflect a Great Scene for a Better Image
 
Want to make a great scene even better? Reflect it in water to double the greatness. Many major cities exist because of the water located by them, and cityscapes often look best when reflected in water. However, these waterways are typically large enough and have enough wind and boat traffic on them to never permit a mirror-smooth reflection. Reflections in rough water can look OK (though somewhat distracting), but making a smooth blur of the water via a long exposure is usually my preference. The Perfect 15 happens at the right time of day for long water-blurring exposures, but the boat traffic presents a problem.
 
Even during a 30 second exposure, the waves created by a large boat are going to create possibly-undesirable lines in the final image. Also, at this time of the day, boats are required to have lights on and those lights show very clearly as long streaks in the image. Sometimes these light streaks can be removed in post processing (try the content-aware healing brush in Photoshop), but lights on the larger boats (such as ferries) streak across the city details, becoming much more difficult to remove. When this happens, an available option is to simply leave the light streaks remaining in the final image, adding an effect. Most of the time, I find this effect undesirable. Correcting the uneven reflections caused by 30-second wave blurs is usually very challenging.
 
The Perfect 15 is Short for Even One Image
 
So, in addition to the over-1-minute exposure captures along with similar durations for exposure bracketed shots (for potential HDR use), a boat moving through an image can cut the remaining available time drastically. A tug boat pushing a barge through the Brooklyn Bridge and Manhattan Skyline scene takes a couple of minutes and the waves don't settle for a period of time after that. The East River Ferry is much faster, but it also makes significant waves. Boat traffic alone took a major chunk out of my Perfect 15 on this day.
 
Does the Tide Matter?
 
If your city's waterway is tidal-influenced and water-level subjects, especially in the foreground (such as pilings), are in your frame, make sure that your capture date is ideally timed with the tide. Use the tide charts available for your location to determine this.
 
The Weather Matters
 
If it were raining, snowing or foggy, I would not likely have been able to see the city I was photographing, so yes, the weather matters. Aside from being able to see the primary subjects, what the weather is providing becomes decreasingly important for cityscape photography at these times of the day. If you want the sunset to add a significant interest to the sky, there needs to be some clouds to catch color and an opening in the sky allowing the sun to illuminate those clouds. Since I wanted the city itself to be the primary interest in my image and because I wanted a high-percentage weather forecast, I chose a perfectly clear day for this trip. A clear sky provides a great blue color over the city and reflects in the water below it.
 
Seeing Stars and Aircraft
 
Cities are usually bright enough to overwhelm the visibility of most stars, but if you happen to be able to see the stars in your images, 30 seconds is probably going to give you some star trails. What to do with the handful of visible stars and their short trails is a matter of taste, but they appeared to be an anomaly in this image. There were not enough stars showing to make them appear as part of the scene, so I removed them.
 
Along with waterways, large cities usually have busy airports and air traffic very frequently becomes part of these images. The flashing lights from this aircraft generally create long dotted lines through a cityscape captured during 30 the seconds exposures typically in use during the Perfect 15. Again, the choice of what to do about these inevitable additions to the image is up to you. Fortunately, most of the aircraft are flying above the city and can be easily removed in Photoshop.
 
Replacing Light Bulbs
 
The waterways commonly found by large cities frequently have bridges over them. These bridges are often landmarks that you will want to incorporate into your images and these bridges commonly have many lights on them. The Brooklyn Bridge is one such bridge. After a severe winter, numerous light bulbs were in need of replacement. I'm sure that there had been very few maintenance crew members volunteering to scale the bridge under the severe temperatures (along with plenty of snow and ice) NYC had for many months prior, but I felt the missing lights negatively impacted the image and took the liberty of replacing the bulbs myself (in post of course).
 
Note that, while often the highest location in a city, bridges would seem to be great vantage points for cityscape photography during the Perfect 15. Unfortunately, for bridges with traffic on them, this is not the case. The amount of movement on most bridges with vehicular traffic is incredible (especially the large suspension bridges) and long exposure images captured from such bridges are typically very blurry.
 
This New York City Image
 
While reviewing the Canon EF 11-24mm f/4L USM Lens, I wanted to put some on-location hours behind this lens and decided that Brooklyn Bridge Park, just across the East River from downtown Manhattan, would be a good destination. I arrived early in the afternoon, spent an hour or so selecting what I thought was the ideal composition for capture during the Perfect 15 and then explored the area for other photographic opportunities.
 
About 45 minutes before sunset, I came back and anchored myself into the selected shooting location. I setup the camera, perfected the framing using a completely level camera (keeping the buildings vertically straight) and then established the proper focus distance setting. While I have yet to take a miss-autofocused image with this lens, I wanted no chance of that happening when the scene became dark. I used autofocus to get the initial setting, switched to manual focus mode and took a verification image.
 
While my selected image was captured 41 minutes after sunset, I captured images periodically before entering the Perfect 15. Some of these images are very nice and I'm glad to have them. More importantly, these images allowed me to monitor the exposure settings and how they were changing. There was no question about what settings I should be using when the ideal shooting time came.
 
While I did some bracketing and captured many exposures before, through and after the Perfect 15, everything came together in one image this time. The boat traffic stopped long enough for the waves to even out. The brightness in the sky leveled with the brightness of the city lights and the brightness of the reflection seems just right to me.
 
Aside from some of the tweaks I mentioned already (such as replacing burned out light bulbs), this image is basically right out of the camera. I shoot with the Neutral Picture Style selected in-camera to get a lower contrast histogram to best show the camera's available dynamic range and how I'm making use of it. Because this style's low contrast is not typically what I'm processing for, my usual first post processing step is to select Standard Picture Style. I added some saturation and turned the sharpness setting down to "1". Even with a very low "1" sharpness setting, all details in this image are tack sharp. Awesome lens.
 
Other "Perfect 15" Cityscapes
 
A few other recent cityscape images can be found here:
Pilings, Brooklyn Bridge Park, NYC Skyline at Sunset
Capturing the Spirit of Baltimore's Inner Harbor
Manhattan Skyline and Hamilton Park
 
Summary
 
A majority of photographers and other observers pack it in when the sun dips below the horizon, but the show is just getting started at sunset. Stick around. If the sun is visible in the sky, unfortunately, the best AM photo time may be in the past. This is the time to make plans for tomorrow. Try shooting during the blue hour and learn what your "Perfect 15" is.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Google+, Flickr and Facebook. Also, if reading from a news feed reader, click through to see the framed image.
Post Date: 3/17/2015 10:18:52 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Sunday, March 8, 2015
Western Digital My Passport Portable Hard Drive
If your hard drive failed right now, what would you lose? While I hope that your answer would be "Practically nothing", unfortunately, I know that the percentage of photographers lacking regular backups is very high.
 
While shooting at Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge last week, I overheard one gentleman asking another why he was shooting a particular scene, indicating that the person already had photographed that particular scene numerous times before. The response sent a chill down my spine: "My hard drive crashed. I didn't have a backup and lost most of my pictures. I'm trying to replace what I lost."
 
PLEASE don't let me hear those words from you. Hard drives fail or become corrupted far more frequently than you want to believe. You could be the next victim and you could become so right now. Theft and fire are additional perils you should guard against.
 
With so many good backup options available today, there is no good excuse for not backing up. Western Digital My Passport Portable Hard Drives are currently my first choice backup strategy. I have 15 of the 2 TB models in active use and another dozen or so smaller capacity models acting (mostly) as archive drives. The small size and high capacity of these drives allow me to easily rotate current copies off-site and also to a second location in my studio regularly.
 
If you are lacking a regular backup strategy, decide right now to tackle that problem and commit to a routine that protects what you've worked so hard to create.
Post Date: 3/8/2015 8:55:47 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Friday, March 6, 2015
Canon 100-400 L II Captures Bahia Honda Railroad Bridge at Sunset
Few lenses have grown so important to me in such a short amount of time as the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens. Wildlife has been my first-choice use for this lens, but landscape photography is a very close second on the list (sports will compete with these other two uses as soon as the snow melts and more athletes go outside).
 
I love the great outdoors and landscape photography ties in very well with that love. Landscape photos allow me to take my favorite scenes with me and many hang in my house and studio. Many of these prints are very large (up to 40x60") and I'm always looking for the ultimate image quality. While I'm often using wide angle lenses to capture landscapes, I love using telephoto lenses nearly as much. Narrow angles of view are easy to compose with and, even mediocre sunrises and sunsets can fill the frame with color. The 100-400 L II provides a great focal length range and very impressive image quality, making it the perfect choice for landscape uses.
 
The historic Bahia Honda Rail Bridge (the bridge story) spans the channel between Bahia Honda State Park (Bahia Honda Key, mile marker 37 U.S. 1, the Overseas Highway) and Spanish Harbor Key (Florida). After the new highway was constructed, sections of the old bridge were cut away to accommodate boat traffic. The remaining portion of the steel truss construction bridge provides a great silhouette for sunset photos captured at the western end of the state park and the missing portion of the bridge definitely adds a uniqueness to the images captured here.
 
This is a single-frame HDR image. I simply processed the same raw image at two different brightness levels to bring up the ocean brightness slightly.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Google+, Flickr and Facebook. Also, if reading from a news feed reader, click through to see the framed image.
Post Date: 3/6/2015 8:14:46 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Tuesday, March 3, 2015
The 7D II and 100-400 L II Rocked in SW Florida
I took my own advice and left the crazy cold N 40° latitude (-4° F/-20° C) for the warmer weather of Florida and just over a week of (primarily) bird photography. Although I had a 5D Mark III and 1D X along, the Canon EOS 7D Mark II was glued to my hand for most of this trip and the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens was glued to the camera most of that time. As noted in the title, this combination rocked and with relatively-cooperative birds, my take-home is a bit voluminous.
 
The subject shown here is a Great Blue Heron in breeding plumage. To capture this image, my first priority was to get in line between the sun and the bird with the low, late-day sun creating good subject lighting. By maneuvering to a slightly lower vantage point than the bird, I was able to create a background composed completely of blue sky. No distractions there.
 
A big challenge remaining was to get the bird properly aligned for a pleasing composition. A side-on angle to the bird with the head straight or turned slightly towards the camera usually works great. The challenge in getting that angle was that the bird, especially its head and neck, was constantly moving. I selected the top-right AF point in the center block of AF points (closely aligned with the bird's eye) and when the bird was in a position that worked for me, I quickly captured the image.
 
I was shooting handheld for maneuverability and setup speed reasons. The 7D II and 100-400 L II combo's size and weight are especially nice for this type of shooting.
 
Some are asking if the 7D II images are sharp enough for serious work and I can assure you that the answer is "Yes." EOS 7D II images are very sharp. Because ultimate image sharpness capabilities are not completely discernible from reduced-size images, I have made the full-size version of this image available for download here. You are granted a license to use this image for personal gear evaluation purposes including further processing of the image. This is a 10.2 MB .JPG file that was sharpened very lightly. Sharpen to your taste (perhaps add a little saturation) and then follow the plane of sharp focus through this image to see what the 7D II and 100-400 L II can do.
 
A medium-sized version of this image is available on Google+, Flickr and Facebook. Also, if reading from a news feed reader, click through to see the framed image.
 
Camera and Lens Settings
182mm  f/8.0  1/500s
ISO 100
5472 x 3648px
Post Date: 3/3/2015 11:07:05 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Wednesday, February 18, 2015
Winter Photography Tips: Go Where the Temperature is Warm
It was -4° F (-20° C) this morning and the wind was howling. The meteorologist was warning of frostbite occurring to exposed skin within 15 minutes.
 
I can take cold weather, but wind chills approaching -30° F (-34° C) are getting uncomfortable enough to keep me and a large majority of other photographers indoors. What is the answer for someone wanting to photograph outdoors when weather conditions reach this extreme? Wait until warmer weather arrives or go somewhere that is warm. The latter is of course my preference. Where to go? Closer to the equator, of course. Or, cross the equator to find summer.
 
One example of a winter photography location is southwest Florida. This location is renowned for its bird photography and the weather here is very comfortable most of the time including the middle of winter. Take you long lens and migrate with the birds.
 
This Roseate Spoonbill was found at Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island, Florida in late winter. The spoonbill was standing in place for a long time and I had taken plenty of shots of various standing poses – and insurance shots of the same. I was waiting, looking for a new and hopefully more interesting behavior. A preening session provided just that.
Post Date: 2/18/2015 8:21:02 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Friday, February 13, 2015
Single On-Camera Flash Illuminates the Beauty of a Rose (Hint: Valentine's Day is Tomorrow)
Roses are arguably one of the most beautiful flowers on the face of this planet. They don't smell so bad either, which makes working around them even more pleasant. Buy the wife (or yourself) a bouquet of roses and you have days' worth of photo subject for your macro lens (and presumably a happy spouse).
 
For this image, I attached a Rogue FlashBender softbox to a forward-facing Canon 600EX-RT Speedlite. With this setup, I was free to shoot handheld as I worked on finding pleasing compositions – with deep-reaching soft light following me. This turned out to be my favorite image from this shoot. A nearly centered rose's petals curve outward into and subsequently out of the frame in a balanced manner.
 
Later, print one of your rose pictures to gain even more return on your small investment.
 
With tomorrow being Valentine's Day, I thought you might find this subject idea timely.
Post Date: 2/13/2015 7:26:10 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
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