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 Monday, October 20, 2014
The Canon 16-35mm f/4 L IS USM Lens Strikes Gold at Maroon Bells
I'm just back from an intensive 9-day photo trip to Colorado. Overall, the trip was great, though the weather was not cooperative for about half of the daylight hours. Bad weather can create the dramatic skies that are highly desired for landscape photos, but rain, snow and heavy fog can be especially challenging when distant mountains are a primary subject.
 
At the top of my distant mountains list were the Maroon Bells, a pair of fourteeners (Maroon Peak and North Maroon Peak) located in the Maroon Bells Scenic Area near Aspen. These tree-less, maroon-colored peaks are generally considered the most-photographed mountains in North America. They are most-photographed for good reasons. The mountains are beautiful, the scene in front of them, including Maroon Creek Valley and Maroon Lake, is beautiful and the access is very easy. Getting this picture into the portfolio, however, was definitely not easy.
 
I mentioned that access to the beautiful Maroon Bells scene is easy. The hike from the relatively-small parking lot to Maroon Lake is a short one. I carried about 50 lbs. of gear to the lake in a Think Tank Photo Airport Accelerator Backpack and a Think Tank Photo StreetWalker worn as a front pack. But, this hike is the easy part of getting this photograph.
 
There are basically two ideal sections of the Maroon Lake shoreline to shoot from with a limited number of photographers fitting into them. Getting the perfect location requires you to be there before the other photographers wanting the same easy-to-get-to location (just getting a parking space can be a challenge). Factor a 30 minute drive from the nearest hotel to the early arrival time requirement at the parking lot (a limited amount of campsites are available closer to the location) and the result is a very early AM alarm. By the time this photo was taken, there were nearly 100 photographers standing beside Maroon Lake, and I assure you that many did not have optimal shooting positions (just hanging out with this many friendly, enthusiastic landscape photographers makes this trip worth the effort).
 
Aspen in their brilliant yellow (and red) fall foliage colors were my other primary photography target for this trip. There are only a handful of days each year when the aspen trees are at their peak, so the timing of this trip has to be perfect. Locals can simply watch the foliage reports and make the drive (just over 4 hours from Denver) when the trees are peaking, but the rest of us need to plan ahead with airline ticket purchases, hotel reservations and vehicle rentals. My strategy was simple: plan the trip for peak foliage dates from recent years. In Aspen, this strategy worked perfectly for me. Some trees were beyond peak and some remained green, but most were at or near peak color. Though this is a highly desired location most of the year, the peak foliage definitely factored into the large crowds I encountered.
 
To get the peaks of the Maroon Bells to glow at sunrise requires a clear sky in the east during sunrise and to get a perfectly clear reflection of the peaks requires no wind. I was not hopeful during my 2 hour lakeside wait. Unlike many of the other mornings on this trip, the sky was perfectly clear. But, there was enough of a breeze blowing to create mirror-reflection-destroying ripples in the water. A moment before this photo was captured, the lake became a giant mirror and remained nearly flat for the next 3-4 hours (this duration is unusual for Maroon Lake) until the sun lit the entire valley floor below.
 
With the right scene unfolding in front of me, capturing the right framing and exposures became the next challenge. The framing was not hard (it is hard to go wrong at this location), but the exposures required more attention. With direct sunlight hitting the mountain peaks and the light-absorbing evergreens in deep shade, there was a significant amount of dynamic range to be captured. Using a multiple exposure HDR technique was the key to capturing the entire scene and all I had to do in the field was to insure that, for each final image, I had proper exposures captured for the highlights (shorter exposure) and for the shadows (longer exposure).
 
Back home in the studio, the processing work was much more difficult than capturing the right exposures in the field. Blending the two RAW images into a natural-looking HDR image was a complex process. I'd be embarrassed to say how many revisions I've made to this image, and while I have many variations that I like, I can't say that I am completely satisfied yet. This is my favorite revision today.
 
The iconic photograph of the Maroon Bells reflecting in Maroon lake with an apron of brilliantly-colored aspen trees lining Maroon Creek Valley was high on my bucket list and checking this line item off was my highest priority for this trip. No, this photo is not going to be unique (at least not completely unique). A lot of other photographers (close to 100 from this day alone) could have this or similar photos in their portfolios (if they executed and processed properly). I enjoy looking at photos taken by others, but this one is mine and there is something special about having iconic images in your own portfolio and having photos you created hanging on your walls. The memories these photos hold are part of their specialness. This particular image does not tell much of a story, but the story behind the image is big. That my father joined me on this particular trip was part of the specialness.
 
Because this shot was a priority, I allotted the most trip time (two full days and an additional half day if needed) to the Aspen area. The first morning was perfect (I shot from the side of the lake until about 11:00 AM and in the valley most of the day) and the second morning was an exact duplicate of the first until a breeze picked up just after sunrise (I moved to other shooting locations at this time – as planned).
 
Lakeside, I was simultaneously shooting with two complete tripod-based setups (one under the other when space was tight or to better protect tripod legs from accidents). With all of the effort and timing coming together perfectly and with the short duration of mountain peaks being lit, two rigs allowed me to maximize my take-home. This particular image was captured with a Canon EOS 5D Mark III and one of the best landscape lenses ever made, the Canon EF 16-35mm f/4 L IS USM Lens. They worked perfectly.
 
A larger version of this image is available on: Google+, Facebook, Flickr and Pinterest.
 
Camera and Lens Settings
35mm  f/11.0  .3s  ISO 100  5760 x 3840px
Post Date: 10/20/2014 12:04:51 PM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Tuesday, September 30, 2014
James and Amy's Steam Punk Engagement Shoot
By Sean Setters
 
A photographer friend of mine – James – recently asked me to shoot his engagement pictures. He and his fiancée were planning a steampunk wedding and wanted engagement pictures to match the theme.
 
If you're you've never heard of "steampunk," check out Wikipedia for a good introduction to the science fiction sub-genre.
 
James and Amy had spent countless hours hand crafting or altering Victorian age clothing, accessories and props. They wanted their engagement photos to showcase their passion for the genre. And considering James is a fellow photographer, I really wanted to bring my A-game to this shoot.
 
We planned the shoot for the late afternoon. I arrived at the location about 30 minutes early to scout out the location, determine my shooting angles and set up my gear. This is an important step if you shoot with off-camera flash – arrive early. Setting up light stands, wireless triggers, light modifiers and power options is time consuming. Arriving early allows me to hit the ground running once your clients arrive fresh on the set.
 
While setting up I realized that it was hotter than I thought it would be when I planned the shoot. About 20 minutes into setup I was already sweating through my t-shirt. I knew James and Amy would be wearing multiple layers of clothing (they had sent me a preview of their outfits). If I was already hot, they were going to be much more uncomfortable than I was.
 
I decided to purchase a few cold bottles of water from a nearby food vendor so that my clients could stay hydrated throughout the shoot. It was a small – but certainly appreciated – touch.
 
One big challenge for the location was that the front of the train faced the setting sun. This meant that my subjects would be staring straight into the sun whenever they looked into the direction of the camera. This caused two problems: 1) the subjects would be squinting and 2) the direct sunlight would make them even hotter in their multiple layers of clothing.
 
To combat these issues, I set up large 64" umbrella behind the camera's position so that it shaded my subjects from the sun. The umbrella didn't shade them completely, but it allowed the subjects to pose comfortably while the sun was making its way over the horizon in front of them. The shade umbrella also had another benefit – it provided a blank canvas to work with as far as lighting is concerned. It converted the sun into an ambient base instead of limiting it for use as a main light. That means I could position my main light anywhere to sculpt the scene as I saw fit while simply adjusting my shooting variables to obtain the base exposure I wanted (soft, ambient fill light on my subjects).
 
In short, here are the three things I did to help keep my subjects comfortable on this shoot:
 
  • Arrived early to set up equipment
  • Provided cold water to the clients to combat the hot afternoon
  • Used an umbrella to shade my subjects so that they weren't staring into the sun
And those small things combined to keep my subjects happy on this shoot. Throughout the shoot, James and Amy stayed fresh, fun and full of ideas. And it really paid off in the end.
 
If you'd like more details on the lighting setup, check out my description below the picture on Flickr.
Post Date: 9/30/2014 8:17:44 AM CT   Posted By: Sean
 Wednesday, September 10, 2014
Stamps Design Group - Greg Stamps
By Sean Setters
 
I tend to see the world in a 2x3 ratio frame. That's how my camera captures the world, so that's how I'm accustomed to framing the world in my imagination (with the exception of panoramas).
 
I also tend to like tighter shots rather than wider framed shots. I like seeing more detail in my subjects rather than the surroundings. Generally speaking, that's just fine. However, the value of an extra-wide environmental shot should not be underestimated.
 
The biggest reason? Facebook. Many of my clients these days are wanting images that can be used in a multitude of ways, whether they be for conference promotion, marketing material, business cards, social media or their own business websites. The aspect ratios required for these uses vary considerably. Therefore, you have to keep in mind that your 2:3 ratio image may need to be cropped down to a 1:1, 16:9 or 851:315.
 
851:315 – huh?
 
Yep, that's right – 851:315. That's a very thin strip of your 3:2 image. But right now, it's an extremely prevalent aspect ratio – thanks to Facebook. Facebook's cover photo is exactly 851x315 pixels. Not only that, but you have to take into consideration other issues like how much real estate the profile picture takes up on the left side of the cover photo. Check out this Facebook Cover Photo Size Helper for more details.
 
I was specifically thinking about the Facebook cover photo requirements when shooting the image for Stamps Design Group at the top of this post. On the whole, it works well at a 2:3 ratio image. But it also works well when cropped down to the aspect ratio of the cover photo:
 
Greg Stamps Architect Cover Photo
 
Yes, you lose a lot of content – the beautiful brick in the top and the scale model in the bottom portion of the image are gone – but the impact is still there when cropped down.
 
So keep in mind – when shooting for clients, be sure to grab an extra wide shot so that it can work well in a variety of different aspect ratios, including the almost-panoramic 851:315 aspect ratio.
Post Date: 9/10/2014 8:51:31 AM CT   Posted By: Sean
 Tuesday, September 09, 2014
Billy Hollis by the Tree Headshot
By Sean Setters
 
Last month I posted about my experience regarding shooting headshots for Kim Frick-Welker, a local actress and theater director. The gist of the post – trust your instincts and find a way to capture the images that are in your imagination (even if the client hasn't asked for them specifically).
 
The point became relevant once more as I was shooting headshots for Billy Hollis, software designer, at his home in Nashville this weekend. Billy told me that his last headshot was "...taken about five years – and fifteen pounds – ago" and he was ready for an update. He wanted a few different versions of his headshot for display on social media, conference bios and various marketing tools. The only shot he specifically asked for was the "...boring, traditional on-white headshot." Other than that, I could shoot whatever I thought was appropriate (indoors or outdoors).
 
We decided to start with outdoor shots as the sky was overcast which provided a good, soft ambient base to work with. I found a spot behind his tool shed that provided an interesting combination of elements – a tree trunk, some limbs and an old window surrounded by weathered bricks. I used Canon EOS 5D Mark III with an EF 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS USM and a Canon 580EX diffused by a 24" Glow Pop Soft Box (camera right) to light the subject and a bare 580EX to light the background (camera left). His favorite from that series is shown at the top of this post.
 
Moving indoors, I created a white background setup by placing a Botero #037 Collapsible Black/White Background behind the subject (lit with three flashes). I used the same Glow softbox for the main light (camera right) and added a 580EX reflected into white umbrella for fill light (camera left). As I was firing my off-camera flashes with manual triggers, the first shot was simply a test shot to dial in the power of my lights; it was a throw-away. I'm usually pretty close on the first shot after setting up my lights. However, I had forgotten to change the aperture on my camera when moving to the indoor setup. With my camera set to f/3.5, my test shot was extremely over-exposed. I nearly deleted the picture right after seeing it, but I didn't.
 
Realizing my mistake, I set my camera to f/6.3 and the next exposure was in the ballpark. But after reviewing the images the next day, I kept coming back to the horribly over-exposed test shot. Something about it captivated me. I sent it to Billy and he's now using it as his Twitter profile picture. New lesson learned – make sure and take a good look at your "throw-aways" before actually throwing them away.
 
Billy Hollis Headshot Over-Exposed
 
After about 20 minutes of shooting (trying various shirts and poses), Billy had the standard headshot on white that was a "must-have" request.
 
Billy Hollis Headshot on White
 
But while we were shooting the headshot on white, I started formulating another shot in my mind – a profile shot. So before packing up, I asked him if he would like to try one more setup. He readily agreed. I asked him to change into a black shirt while I made a few changes to the setup.
 
While he was changing, I turned off all of the background lights and flipped the Botero background around to its black side. I then took my mainlight and placed it on the left side just beside of (and slightly behind) where Billy was standing. I added a grid to the softbox and angled it away from the background to keep it from spilling onto the background. I remove the umbrella from my fill light, added a Honl Speed Grid and moved it to the right side to illuminate the back of Billy's head. The shots that followed were undoubtedly our favorites from the day.
 
Billy Hollis Profile on Black
 
So again, let me reiterate something that I mentioned in the Kim Frick-Welker headshot post:
"It may sound obvious, but here's something to keep in mind – anyone who hires you was likely impressed with the work you've already created. So if a shot really inspires you, it will likely inspire your client as well – so try to devote a few minutes to getting the shot you want to get, even if it's not a part of your agreed shot list."
It was true then, and it was true again this weekend. Trust your instincts and shoot for yourself. Never leave your best shots on the table. ;-)
Post Date: 9/9/2014 8:52:30 AM CT   Posted By: Sean
 Tuesday, September 02, 2014
Canon EF 200-400mm f/4 L IS captures Black Bear Sow and 4 Cubs
Seeing a mother black bear with 4 cubs is a rare opportunity. To get a photo opportunity of the same is even rarer, and to get a decent photo of the same is ... priceless.
 
The cubs were very fun to watch. They were in non-stop motion, running around, climbing on things (including mom) and playing with each other (rolling over each other). This activity level meant that things happened fast. Getting all four cubs in a single frame was very challenging (an image with less-than-four cubs would be far less remarkable) and a decent composition of the same was nearly impossible. Having the 200-560mm (with built-in extender) zoom focal length range was extremely helpful in this situation.
 
In this specific scenario (my only 4-cub image worth posting from this encounter), I decided to center the primary subject – the apparently-not-happy momma bear. I generally like to compose animals (and people) with more space on one side frame – so that they are looking into the frame. But, the large bear was positioned straight forward and looking (more like glaring) in the same direction with cubs on either side adding balance. I moved the camera just slightly to the right of perfectly centering the large bear to give the cub on the right a little more room to look into the frame because it was a "stand"-out.
 
Selecting the ideal aperture was another challenge for this encounter. At f/4, I needed and an ISO setting of 800 to get a barely-adequate-for-the-activity 1/320 shutter speed. At 300mm, at this distance, the under-1' (.3m) depth of field provided by f/4 does not keep more than the primary bear's eyes in focus. Using a narrower aperture of course provides more depth of field, but it also requires raising the ISO setting.
 
Raising the ISO to 1600 would have been acceptable to me, but ... I didn't want to go to ISO 3200 and the resulting f/8 aperture would have provided a still-not-nearly-deep-enough DOF of about 1.5' (.5m). Yes, the cubs would be less out of focus with the narrower apertures, but the background would also be more-focused, creating less separation from the big bear. As is often the case, there were multiple setting combinations that would have worked for this example and a compromise was required. I'd probably make the same decision the next time.
 
Camera and Lens Settings
300mm  f/4.0  1/320s  ISO 800  5760 x 3840px
Post Date: 9/2/2014 7:58:19 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 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
 Monday, August 11, 2014
Kim Frick-Welker in the Lounge Chair
By Sean Setters
 
I run a small photography business and typically shoot high school senior photos, family portraits, maternity sessions as well as the occasional corporate work.
 
Last week I was hired by the Cookeville Performing Arts Center's Cultural Arts Program Assistant, Kim Frick-Welker, to shoot headshots to be used as promotional material for an upcoming show. After completing that assignment, Kim invited me back to CPAC to shoot another round of headshots for her own portfolio (Kim wanted various headshots because she occasionally acts in or directs theater performances).
 
Kim asked that her headshots be photographed using a black background. As she was wearing a black shirt, this requirement made the setup a little challenging. I had to push quite a bit of light onto the black curtain behind her (as well as use a hair/shoulder light) in order to provide enough separation between the subject and the background. Overall, Kim was happy with the images we got. The following was my personal favorite:

Kim Frick-Welker Headshot on Black

After shooting the headshots with the black background, Kim had what she had asked for. But the last time I was on stage, I was captivated by some of the set pieces being prepared for the upcoming play. I had imagined using the lounge chair as a prop and the understated, yet beautiful wallpaper as a backdrop. And I couldn't get that idea out of my head. So after we wrapped up the headshots Kim had asked for, I suggested we take a few more minutes and try something completely different. I explained to her what I was thinking and she readily agreed to extend our session a little longer. She decided a change of clothes might work better for the new setup, and I agreed.
 
Setting up the shot (seen at the top of this post) took 5 - 10 minutes. I used nearly the same lights and light modifiers that I had used in the previous setup, so it was merely a matter of moving around some furniture, a few light stands and my tripod.

Kim Frick-Welker Lounge Chair Setup

It only took a few shots to dial everything in. And after that, we captured some of the best images of the day. No, they weren't the images Kim had asked for – but she liked them even better (as did I).
 
So what did I take away from this experience? When clients hires you, they may have a set of guidelines (or restrictions) for you to follow in order to achieve specific goals. And there's nothing wrong with that. You have to give the client what they need.
 
But many times it's difficult to create the image that's in someone else's head, no matter how well they communicate it to you. So you do your best to give the client what they've asked for.
 
It may sound obvious, but here's something to keep in mind – anyone who hires you was likely impressed with the work you've already created. So if a shot really inspires you, it will likely inspire your client as well – so try to devote a few minutes to getting the shot you want to get, even if it's not a part of your agreed shot list. And then maybe both of you can walk away from the table getting more than you bargained for (in a good way).

Post Date: 8/11/2014 12:12:40 PM CT   Posted By: Sean
 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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