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 Tuesday, August 26, 2014
Canon Macro Ring Lite MR-14EX II Captures Monarch Butterfly
Capturing good butterfly pictures can be challenging. Perhaps the biggest two challenges to butterfly photography are constant, significant subject motion and tattered wings.
 
Butterflies are seldom still and often have a mild fear of humans. Add a little wind to their lightweight, wing-dominated bodies and even a stationary butterfly has motion.
 
Tattered wings are often best overcome by finding a new subject. It is hard to get a great butterfly picture without a near perfect wings and butterfly wings seem to deteriorate rapidly in their short lives. Even good quality subjects can require significant post processing to make wing repairs.
 
Raise your own subjects and these two challenges are erased. Well, erased for a short period of time at least. The kids have taken such an interest in monarch butterflies that we now have milkweed (the monarch caterpillar's food source) growing amongst a section of our house landscape. I'm not sure what others think about these "weeds" in our landscape, but ... the girls collected some monarch eggs this summer and raised them indoors, out of the reach of predators. Last week, the monarch metamorphosis moved from the chrysalis stage to the butterfly stage.
 
A bit of warning is given before the butterflies hatch – the color of the chrysalis turns from bright green to transparent, showing the dark butterfly tightly packaged inside. But, it takes a watchful eye to see the chrysalis open as this event occurs very quickly. Once open, the monarch pumps its wings up rather quickly and then appears to remain the same – and motionless – for a long enough period of time to capture many photos.
 
I was ready for this particular hatching. I had the milkweed leaf holding the chrysalis in a Delta Grip-It Clamp that was sitting on the kitchen island. A moderate distance behind the main subject was a cardboard box with a sheet of printer paper taped onto it.
 
A Canon Macro Ring Lite MR-14EX II Flash was mounted to a Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 L IS USM Macro Lens and the lens was mounted to a Canon EOS 5D Mark III DSLR. A Canon Speedlite 600EX-RT Flash was in its shoe stand and configured as an optical remote slave to the ring flash.
 
The perfect-condition butterfly hatched and hung motionless from its chrysalis while I went into action.
 
The lighting I used for the butterfly image series I captured on this day, and a great technique for lighting in general, was separated by layer. The ring lite was providing the main subject layer lighting and the slave 600EX-RT took care of the background light with brightness levels individually controlled from the ring lite. With a white background and a set of Rogue Flash Gels, I was able to create a large variety of background colors for the images, but this particular shot's background was simply a green notebook. A variation I incorporated into some images, to create a less-even background color, was to use a coarsely crinkled sheet of aluminum foil as a reflector beside the printer paper.
 
After nearly two hours of posing, the butterfly became active and was released outdoors. After the forth butterfly hatched in as many days, I had enough willpower to just observe the process without a camera.
 
Camera and Lens Settings
100mm  f/11.0  1/200s  ISO 100  3840 x 5760px
Post Date: 8/26/2014 1:14:53 PM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Wednesday, July 30, 2014
Canon Macro Ring Lite MR-14EX II Flash and a Poppy
Macro lenses are among the most-fun lenses available and the Canon Macro Ring Lite MR-14EX II Flash makes getting great images with these lenses very easy.
 
The poppy is an especially big challenge to light from a top-down orientation. There are very few good methods to get light around the end of a macro lens without creating unwanted shadows deep inside this flower. The macro ring lite, with a pair of circular flash tubes positioned at the end of the lens, wraps a light around the flower's significantly-raised pistil while avoiding shadows created by the also-significantly-raised petals.
 
This result is what I was looking for. The lighting is somewhat flat, but there is plenty of color and detail in the poppy to keep me satisfied. This was a very easy picture to capture with the ring lite mounted.
 
Watch for a full review of the Canon Macro Ring Lite MR-14EX II Flash coming soon.
 
B&H has the Canon Macro Ring Lite MR-14EX II Flash in stock.
 
Camera and Lens Settings
100mm  f/16.0  1/200s  ISO 100  5760 x 3840px
Posted to: Canon News
Post Date: 7/30/2014 8:27:56 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Thursday, July 24, 2014
I Dropped My Canon 5D Mark III into the Caribbean Sea
That's right. I dropped my Canon EOS 5D Mark III with an EF 16-35mm f/2.8 L II USM Lens attached into the Caribbean Sea. Fortunately, it was in an Ewa-Marine U-B 100 Underwater Housing.
 
As I have mentioned, my landscape photography plans did not work out as well as planned on my recent St John, USVI photo trip, but I had a backup plan. St John has some of the world's best snorkeling locations, and as I am sure that you are aware of by now, I have a problem with seeing something amazing and not being able to capture it photographically. The Ewa-Marine underwater housing is a very cost-effective way to make high quality underwater photography possible using your existing DSLR kit. The UB-100 model fits most DSLR cameras and small to medium-sized lenses with 77mm or 82mm filter threads.
 
Underwater snorkeling photography is both physically demanding and skill-challenging. I have never deleted as many bad pictures as I did on this trip, but I have no regrets and look forward to the next opportunity to shoot underwater as it is great fun and also rewarding.
 
Imagine swimming through a school of little fish so thick that you can't clearly see beyond several feet (with motion sickness becoming a real issue) – until a 3-4' (1m) tarpon shows up, clearing a path around it. As the fish appears, you dive down to attempt a level perspective and attempt to get good framing as the huge fish passes close by. Occasionally, you get it right and have a unique image to add to your portfolio.
 
Watch for an upcoming review of the Ewa-Marine U-B 100 Underwater Housing along with underwater snorkeling photography tips.
 
This housing has been difficult to find in stock, but it is available right now at B&H.
 
Camera and Lens Settings
22mm  f/11.0  1/500s  ISO 1600  5760 x 3840px
Post Date: 7/24/2014 10:48:31 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Tuesday, July 15, 2014
Mosquito Bites Black Bear Cub
See the mosquito on this black bear cub's ear? The black bear is at the top of the food chain in Pennsylvania, but that does not mean they don't get bit. Getting bit is certainly going to be on the back of everyone's mind when photographing a bear cub this small as the highly protective mother is guaranteed to be nearby.
 
A mother bear nearby makes the zoom capabilities of the Canon EF 200-400 f/5.6 L IS Lens highly desirable. To capture this picture of a tiny cub required use of the built-in extender for 560mm of focal length (plus a small amount of cropping). To capture a full body portrait of the much larger mother (with or without cubs in the frame) required a wider focal length. Bears are very unpredictable and may not have tolerated (or stayed long enough for) a lens change. The 200-400 L lets me work fast, capturing the ideal framing potential from the situation.
 
This was a very productive bear session (and not the same as the recently shared bear picture was captured during). I'll try to share a few more shots from this encounter with you soon.
 
Camera and Lens Settings
560mm  f/5.6  1/320s  ISO 1250  5095 x 3397px
Post Date: 7/15/2014 8:00:51 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Thursday, July 10, 2014
Sahara Desert Dust takes out My St John, USVI Landscape Photography
See the aqua blue water in this photo? Caribbean blue may be my favorite color and this is the color that I hoped to capture a lot of on my recent St John, USVI photography trip. I mentioned in the 100 Megapixel Francis Bay, St John, USVI Sunset post that I faced a big challenge to my landscape photography on this trip. That challenge was dust blowing nearly 5,000 miles from the Sahara Desert to the Virgin Islands, causing haze.
 
To get the brilliant blue color I like so much requires white sand under clear water and a clear sky with an overhead sun. The white sand and clear water are generally abundant on this island, but the haze caused by dust took out the clear sky requirement and with the exception of about one day, the blue water did not pop like I wanted during my trip. Since that one day was partly-to-mostly cloudy, shooting was only good for part of that day. Some clouds are of course desired for adding interest to an otherwise solid blue sky, but too many clouds become an issue.
 
This picture of Ram Head and Booby Rock was captured during a break in the clouds with part of Ram Head, the distant sea and the island under shade from the clouds. I shot a variety of compositions of this scene, but liked the panoramic captured handheld at 53mm the best.
 
Often, an extremely wide angle of view captured using a circular polarizer filter will result in an unevely darkened sky, and I have been asked about the evenly polarized skies in this image. The key was that this image was captured at 12:48 PM under a very high sun. With the sun was high in the sky, the 90 degree angle of strongest sky darkening is at the horizon – the entire horizon, making wide panorama skies captured using a polarizer filter look great (if significantly more sky was included in this photo, you would start to see the sky lighten toward the top of the frame). I frequently shoot under a high sun for this reason. Use a circular polarizer filter to create mid-day amazement.
 
Even without landscape photography being greatly successful on this trip, I had success in another area of photography and will share some of those results soon.
 
Camera and Lens Settings
53mm  f/11.0  1/50s  ISO 100  14829 x 3805px
Post Date: 7/10/2014 9:55:07 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Wednesday, June 25, 2014
100 Megapixel Francis Bay, St John, USVI Sunset
I'm just back from a 10-day photo trip to St John, USVI. St John is an extremely beautiful island and landscape photography was intended to be a major component of my trip, but I found myself highly challenged in this regard. I'll share more about the primary reason for this challenge later, but lack of color in the sky at sunset was another challenge.
 
My St John, USVI photo gallery is predominated by blues and whites. While the Caribbean blue water under full sun is probably my favorite color, one of my goals for the recent trip was to capture some new colors from this island. Nine evenings of chasing sunsets resulted in pics from only one night with color worthy of sharing.
 
It had been a long, hot day of hiking and I was tired. Analyzing the sky, I decided to go light with only the Canon EF 24-70mm f/4 L IS Lens and Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 L IS Lens and a single Canon EOS 5D Mark III body. I guessed that these two lenses would cover my entire range of needs for the balance of the evening. What I didn't plan adequately for was the sky completely exploding overhead, leaving me seriously focal length limited on the wide end. While I captured many images of the cropped sky show, I wanted the bigger picture.
 
There was no time to hike back to get the Zeiss 15mm f/2.8 ZE Lens from the SUV, so I took the next-best alternative – I captured a few panoramic photos that, when stitched together, frame nearly all of the color in the sky that night. Using completely manual settings, I captured overlapping images (overlapping by at least 1/3) and later stitched them together using Photoshop's Photomerge tool. Containing nearly 100 megapixels, this panoramic image has many good crops available in it. I can decide what a print will look like later.
 
In the end, a colorful sunset helps accomplish the new color for St John goal.
 
Camera and Lens Settings
24mm  f/11.0  1/13s  ISO 100  14022 x 7268px
Post Date: 6/25/2014 9:25:51 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Wednesday, June 18, 2014
The Zeiss 15mm f/2.8 ZE Lens and Cayuga Falls Sans Log
Great locations warrant revisiting. Seasons change, weather changes even faster. Clouds are rarely the same. And sometimes the scene itself changes.
 
In this case, a log that has been in Cayuga falls, Ricketts Glen State Park, for what seems like forever is now gone. Apparently the extraordinarily harsh/cold/icy winter forced the log from its prominent long-time resting place. I had some pictures from this falls that included the log, and, while I thought they were nice, I like the sans-log pictures I now have even better. That I visited immediately after a very heavy rain gave me an additional benefit of a more than usual amount of water to work with along with some color in the water.
 
The 15mm full frame angle of view is able to give the viewer a nice sense of presence in the scene, but being this close means that water drops splashing onto the lens becomes an issue. I was holding a microfiber cloth over the lens as much as possible when the shutter was closed and was using that cloth to wipe water drops from the CPOL filter between shots. Water drops on the filter are very noticeable in narrow-aperture 15mm images.
 
This is an HDR image. I used a slightly darker exposure for the water, better retaining the highlight and detail in the water.
Post Date: 6/18/2014 6:55:05 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Tuesday, June 03, 2014
Watching the Game through the Player's Eyes
When I'm shooting field sports, my favorite images are very frequently tightly cropped shots that include the subject's face and the game ball. Because these fields are generally very large and invariably, my subject is deep in them, the Canon EF 600mm f/4 L IS II USM Lens is what I'm usually using.
 
Tracking action with a narrow angle of view is somewhat challenging, especially when implementing the tight framing I'm referring to. When the framing is ideally-tightly cropped (in camera), it is extremely challenging to release the shutter the moment the ball enters the frame. That is where another strategy combined with the Canon EOS 1D X's 12 fps frame rate comes into play. I follow the subject in the viewfinder and watch the game through the player's eyes.
 
In this photo example, I knew that the opposing keeper was going to kick the ball and that my player was in position to potentially receive of that kick. I half-pressed the shutter release to begin focus-tracking in AI-Servo mode. As I watched her eyes and facial expression (sports bring out the best of these), I could tell that she was about to intercept the ball. I fully-pressed the shutter release and, along with a few before and after shots, captured 3 with-ball frames of the player's approximately .3 second interaction with the ball. One frame had the ball entering (shared here), one included the ball just after impacting her foot and the third included the ball leaving the frame in the same position it entered from. Using a wait-until-I-see-the-ball strategy to begin shooting and estimating a .2 second reaction time as being best-possible, I would have been very fortunate to get even one frame with the ball included.
 
This image is actually a composite of two of those frames. The image with the ideal-for-compositional-balance ball position was framed so that the ref's face was cropped at the eyes. This was no problem since I had a handful of other images captured at the same time and some had more of the ref's head included. I simply aligned one of those other images under the main image to add to add the missing details to the top of my preferred image.
 
Another comment I should make about this image is that it was captured under full sunlight at a terrible time of the day for lighting (1:18 PM). This lighting typically creates harsh shadows under eyebrows, creating the raccoon-eye look (see the ref's eyes for an example). Unfortunately, photographers do not usually get to schedule sporting events around their ideal photographical lighting times. You must deal with what is available. Because my player was looking upward in this photo, her face is fully lit.
 
Camera and Lens Settings
600mm  f/4.0  1/1600s  ISO 200  3456 x 5432px
Post Date: 6/3/2014 8:50:07 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Thursday, May 29, 2014
A Call from my Wife, a Dandelion Field and the Zeiss 15mm Lens
I always appreciate photo subject and location scouting help and my family looks out for me in this regard. It was early-mid morning and I was sitting in my office when the phone rang. As you guessed from the title, it was my wife. "The neighbor's field is full of yellow dandelions in full bloom. The light is perfect."
 
My wife has a good eye for beauty (she married me, didn't she? OK, OK, just kidding). I knew that the field she was talking about was indeed full of these yellow flowers and I had already considered photographing them. The part of the report that I was most questioning was the perfect light part. It was well after the golden hour and the sky did not look hazy enough to remain warm and/or soft this late in the morning.
 
The big question was, "Did I want to carve out an hour+ of my day for this shoot?" Keeping the scouts happy always has merit, the blooms were not going to last for long and a circular polarizer filter can take care of the high sun issue, so I loaded a couple of lenses and a 5D III into a Think Tank Photo StreetWalker Backpack and drove a couple of miles to the field.
 
My goal was to create an attractive photo highlighting the massive quantity of yellow dandelions, so the lenses I took were of the wide angle variety. Upon walking up to the field, I realized that looking downward revealed a much lower flower density than I wanted to see and dirt showed between many of the green plants in this hay field. Looking at the field from a low vantage point (from near or far) showed the bed of bright yellow flowers perspective I was looking for.
 
The chicken barn was not going to be avoided being included in the frame with the wide angle lenses I had with me, so I embraced it. Much of the very long barn was featureless, but taking a position close to the feed bins allowed the bins to become a prominent feature of the barn.
 
With the sun still relatively low in the sky, the CPOL filter needed a specific angle into the scene to work its magic.
 
The final composition involved finding the best-available foreground flower clumps relatively close to the grain bins, getting down close to ground and shooting in the angle providing the best CPOL filter effect. While I often avoid getting much of a clear sky in the frame, I felt that the bright polarized blue gradient sky color was attractive and added balance to this overall composition.
 
Down low and up close to the foreground flowers meant that an f/16 depth of field was not quite enough to give me sharp details in the closest foreground subjects, so I shot a second frame with those subjects in better focus. The two frames were stacked in Photoshop layers and the not-sharp-enough foreground details were erased from the top layer to allow the sharper second layer to show through.
 
What I didn't remember from childhood is that the yellow readily comes off of dandelion flowers. Upon getting into the car, I realized that my pants were very yellow. They were still yellow after blowing them off with an air compressor and they were still somewhat yellow after their first washing. All photos have a cost, but some have unforeseen costs.
 
In the end, I was glad my wife called and the collection of images I captured on this morning were worth the costs.
Post Date: 5/29/2014 9:06:30 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Wednesday, May 28, 2014
Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8 L II Lens Captures Senior Track Picture
Brianna, my high school senior, has had a very successful high school track career from multiple perspectives including having her name on three school records. This success did not come without a huge effort on her part, and we had discussed shooting a more-formal senior picture highlighting her passion for mid-distance running. Track season became busy and I shot many images of her competing, but time got away from us and suddenly we had only one evening remaining before she had to turn in her uniform.
 
The weather forecast for that evening called for scattered showers and we were watching the radar very closely. I was packed and ready, and we decided to go for it. After determining the ideal location on the track to shoot at, I began unpacking.
 
I had three Canon 600EX-RT Speedlites and a Canon ST-E3-RT Speedlite Transmitter to control them with. Two Speedlites were mounted on background light stands (small, light and simple) with Justin Clamps used to hold the Speedlites to the poles at any height I wanted. The third Speedlite was mounted to a weighted light stand with a 60" reversed/shoot-through umbrella mounted to a Manfrotto umbrella adapter.
 
I first mounted the umbrella to the stand and almost immediately a light rain began to fall. I quickly put Brianna, who feared that her hair and makeup would be ruined, under the Photogenic "umbrella". The rain mostly passed within 10 minutes or so and we went to work.
 
The two flashes on background light stands were set to group B and used as rim lights, placed to the side or slightly behind the subject as composition allowed. The shoot-through umbrella's flash was set to group A and used as the main light. Ambient light (for the entire background) was controlled through a manually-set camera exposure. The flashes were in E-TTL mode and +/- exposure for the two groups was controlled by the ST-E3-RT's Group mode.
 
While this may all sound complicated, it was not. Setup was very simple and I was able to quickly and easily adjust/balance the ambient, main and background light levels from the camera. While the rain stayed away for much of the two hours we were shooting, it did not fully stay away. Fortunately, this entire kit, including the Canon EOS 5D Mark III and Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8 L II USM Lens, was weather-sealed and we were able to make many great images in this time.
 
I had planned this shoot for an evening so that the flashes would be able to overpower the ambient light levels, though I had hoped for a bit more light than we had. The aperture was wide and the ISO was moving up by the end of the evening. Still, the shoot was a big success for us.
 
Even selecting this particular image from the many shots of just this pose was difficult. With lighting dialed in, I had Brianna repetitively start from specific position on the track and take one big stride with her left knee and right arm (with the baton) forward. I timed the shutter release (a short shutter lag is extremely useful in this situation) for a near-top-of-stride subject position that coincided with the lighting setup. The composition was arranged to take advantage of the lines on the track.
 
With a wireless flash system and a little effort, we created the images we had envisioned.
Post Date: 5/28/2014 8:12:33 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Tuesday, May 27, 2014
Canon EF 200-400mm L IS Lens Meets Big Bad Black Bear
This was one of the longest, coldest winters that I can remember, and the leaves that have finally appeared, bringing color to the long-monochromatic landscape, have been calling me. While I have not avoided the typical spring landscape shots, I have been looking for creative ways to incorporate the beautiful light green color of the new leaf growth into my images. And then this guy showed up.
 
This is a big black bear. One way to tell that a bear is big is by the size of its ears (small) relative to the size of its head (large). It is also is one of the nicest-looking black bears I have seen, lacking scars and other deformities that these animals so commonly have (bears often do not play well with others). It is in especially good physical condition for recently coming out of hibernation. (Yes, the bear is indeed bad - it has been causing damage to multiple neighbors' properties, primarily targeting bird feeders.)
 
Photographing black bears is usually very challenging. Finding these animals in light bright enough for photography is frequently the biggest challenge. Photography is about capturing light and black, especially in the form of fur, is the absence of light. So, once you find a black bear, properly exposing their light-absorbing black coat is the next challenge. If using an auto-exposure mode, the camera will need to be instructed to under-expose the image by a significant amount. That amount varies depending on the percentage of the frame the bear is consuming and the percentage of the frame you are using for auto-exposure.
 
If the lighting is consistent (or not changing fast), a manual exposure setting is best. Either way, it is hard to completely avoid blocked shadows (pure black with no detail) – especially on the shadowed areas of the bear and especially if there are bright subjects in the frame (because they will become pure white). With a manual exposure locked in (the log is just under blown brightness before I reduce the final exposure of this image), I was free to concentrate on focus and framing.
 
Composition and focusing are two additional bear photography challenges. These animals do not stay still for very long – unless they are staring at what they think is a danger (or perhaps is food) to them (me in this case). The closer the selected focus point is to the bear's eye in the desired framing, the less time you will spend adjusting the framing after establishing focus. This means that the bear is less likely to move before the shot is captured and more images can be captured in the potentially short period of time that the bear is posing. A turn of the head means a new focus distance is needed and then I usually want a different subject framing (to keep the animal looking into the frame) and this usually means a different AF point becomes ideal. Sometimes I use only the center AF point and sometimes I use a more-ideally-located AF point.
 
While I would like to say that I had established this bear's patterns and was waiting for him for long periods of time, this encounter was more divinely-timed with me being able to very quickly capitalize on it. The 200-400 L performed incredibly well as always and the bear did also. The bear's position in the clearing with direct evening sunlight along with brightly-lit green spring leaves in the distant background could not have been better planned. This shot has become one of my favorite black bear pictures and I'm guessing that I will not find a better way to incorporate the spring leaves into a photo this season.
 
Camera and Lens Settings
400mm  f/4.0  1/160s  ISO 640  5262 x 3508px
Post Date: 5/27/2014 8:53:36 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
   
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