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 Friday, May 22, 2015
Just Reflections by the Canon 24-105mm IS STM Lens
Sometimes, I find images comprised of only reflections more interesting than images containing only the subjects being reflected. To capture such an image requires a reflective surface and something to be reflected in it.
 
Most locations share a similar nearby reflection source: water. When water is the reflective surface and there is at least a small amount of motion on the water surface, no two photos will be the same. You can capture 20 images from a tripod-mounted camera and still have no duplicates. Such images can sometimes work together for a low-effort collection.
 
Water in motion is ... in motion. To stop motion requires an adequately short shutter speed and to achieve stopped motion in this frame, I opted for ISO 400 (vs. the least-noisy ISO 100 option). The final image has very little noticeable noise and the small waves are not showing blur.
 
For this image, I found a brightly colored boat as the reflective subject and adjusted my position until I had what I felt was ideal framing. I especially like how the top and bottom borders of the frame are relatively uninterrupted by lines in this composition.
 
Keep in mind that reflection images often benefit from increased contrast and saturation in post processing.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr, Google+, 500px and Facebook. Also, if reading from a news feed reader, click through to see the framed image.
 
Camera and Lens Settings
105mm  f/10.0  1/40s
ISO 400
5760 x 3840px
Post Date: 5/22/2015 7:30:18 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Thursday, May 21, 2015
Canon 24-70mm L II Captures Reflections at Independence Pass, Colorado
A great way to make a good scene better is to add a reflection and water is perhaps the most common reflective surface used in landscape photography. At least relatively still water is needed if what is reflecting is to be recognizable and, when shooting in extremely windy locations (this one qualifies), small bodies of water tend to be most still.
 
Shaded water often provides a better reflective water surface than water under direct sunlight. At the top of Independence Pass, the setting sun shines horizontally across the landscape and casts a shadow evenly across this small alpine meadow pond. The dark water nicely reflects the great clouds overhead
 
This is a manual HDR processed image with a subtle increase in reflection brightness being the result.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr, Google+, 500px and Facebook. Also, if reading from a news feed reader, click through to see the framed image.
Post Date: 5/21/2015 10:20:30 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Wednesday, May 20, 2015
Kat and Laura Instrumental Duo
by Sean Setters
 
Kat is a musician and operates a music instruction business that is literally a stone's throw away from my mailbox. I often see her going in and out of her studio when walking to the nearby grocery store.
 
One day we struck up a conversation and, naturally, I mentioned that I was a photographer. With a look of surprise she said, "Really? What a coincidence! My music partner and I were just talking about doing some promotional shots for our business."
 
Kat would go on to explain that she had teamed up with Laura, a cello player, and they were doing side gigs playing wedding receptions and various events. They wanted a few images to promote their own music (single portraits) and to promote their instrumental duo.
 
When I asked what Kat what kind of look or feel she wanted for the images, she replied, "Something with nature."
 
I told her I'd come up with something.
 
One evening a few days later, I was visiting a friend when I noticed a home in his neighborhood that featured a beautifully landscaped yard. The yard had fantastic rock formations, a stream and several trees that all screamed "nature." Another benefit of the location was its proximity to the road and a small area off to the side for parking. In short, the location was close to town, easily accessible and could be framed in a way to make it look like we were out in the middle of nowhere. Perfect.
 
I immediately knocked on the home's front door with the intent of asking the homeowner if I could use his yard for a shoot (a bit bold, yes). The homeowner wasn't home. I took a few pictures of the yard using my cell phone to document the location with a mental note to return again to introduce myself to the home owner.
 
I returned the following day with a typed, signed letter introducing myself to leave for the home owner just in case he/she was once again not home. When I pulled up to the home, the homeowner – a very nice gentleman by the name of Danny – was blowing the leaves and grass off his driveway obviously having just finished mowing. He looked a bit standoffish as I approached, likely because I looked like a traveling salesman or an evangelist walking down the driveway.
 
The first words out of my mouth set him at ease. "Don't worry, I'm not selling anything. I simply have a favor to ask. My name is Sean and I'm a local photographer..."
 
I continued to explain about my clients, their desire for a natural setting, and how the images were intended to be used. I complimented his yard and landscaping several times in the conversation (sincere flattery) and noted that I thought it would be absolutely perfect for their needs. A little to my surprise, Danny didn't even hesitate. "Sure, come over anytime. It doesn't matter whether I'm here or not. No need to tell me you're coming. Just be careful around the rocks."
 
I love the South. :-)
 
I emailed Kat the location images I had snapped with my phone and she thought the scene looked great. With the "go-ahead," we scheduled the shoot.
 
On the day of the shoot I arrived a little early to set up the lighting gear. Using the Photographer's Ephemeris web app, I knew that the sun would be positioned behind the spot I wanted to use around 4pm. This would have been ideal. Unfortunately, Kat and Laura were only available in the morning, meaning I would have to fight the sun which was positioned in front of them.
 
I tackled the direct sunlight problem by shading the duo with two umbrellas camera left (boomed above). I originally intended on shooting my tripod-based images with the umbrellas in the scene and then shooting a reference image without the umbrellas so that I could remove the umbrellas from all of the images in post. When the cloud cover arrived later in the shoot, I simply removed the umbrellas. All the example shots in this post occurred after we removed the umbrellas from the scene.
 
Here's how I lit the scene:
 
  • White Lightning x1600, camera right, diffused by a 43" octabox
  • White Lightning x3200, camera left, diffused by an extreme silver parabolic umbrella (with diffusion cover in place)
  • Canon 580EX, camera left (behind subjects), 1/2 CTO gelled
You can see the setup below.
 
Kat and Laura Setup

 
For my camera and lens, I used a tripod mounted 5D Mark III and one of my favorite lenses, the EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM with a Singh-Ray Vari-N-Duo. The 85mm focal length was a good fit considering that I had to position the camera on the other side of a ditch between the subjects and myself. Being pretty far back from the scene, the 85mm focal length also allowed for a not-too-tight / more loosely framed composition which would give Kat and Laura more ways to crop the image for a wide range marketing materials (letter, postcard, brochure, web, etc). The variable ND filter (mounted via a step-up ring) allowed me to utilize the lens's wider apertures (f/1.8 in this case) while keeping the shutter speed at or below the flash sync speed for a more blurred background.
 
While the setup was a lot of work, the results proved worth the effort (I think). Here were some of the individual promotional images we shot.
 
Kat and Violin
Kat and her Violin

Laura and Cello 1
Laura and the Cello 1


Laura and Cello 2
Laura and Cello 2


Takeaways:
 
  1. Always be on the lookout for good locations. You never know when and where you'll run across something that's just perfect.
  2. Don't be afraid to ask permission to use a location. The worst they can say is "no."
  3. Arrive ahead of your clients if you anticipate needing a decent amount of setup time. Doing so will ensure your clients are ready to shoot fresh upon arrival.
  4. Frame loosely for promotional images that won't be used in a large format. Doing so gives your client much more flexibility to use the images on a wide range of materials with varying aspect ratios and typesetting needs.
In the end, the clients loved the images and even gave me a bonus on top of the agreed-upon fee. It proved to be a great session all-around.
 
You can find higher resolution images on my Flickr photostream:
 
Post Date: 5/20/2015 10:16:07 AM CT   Posted By: Sean
The 24-70 L II Visits the Last Dollar Ranch, Telluride
Colorado is known for its big ranches and a big ranch calls for a grand entrance. The Last Dollar Ranch on Last Dollar Road near Dallas Divide (and RT 62) has one of my favorite such entrances. The huge mountains behind large golden fields fronted by a rustic wooden fence and of course, a grand entrance create a simply beautiful scene.
 
To make the entrance appear grand in the image, I moved in close and used a wide angle focal length.
 
Just looking at this photo brings back memories of the large heard of elk in the distance and I can still hear the large bull bugling. That is the power of an image.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr, Google+, 500px and Facebook. Also, if reading from a news feed reader, click through to see the framed image.
Post Date: 5/20/2015 9:14:32 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Tuesday, May 19, 2015
The 5D III and 70-300 L Visit the San Juan Mountains
After spending a late September day scouting from Crested Butte to Durango and back north to near Telluride with practically no pictures captured, the sun finally broke through an opening in the heavy clouds that had produced rain and the season's first snow for most of the day. This is the breathtaking scene that was presented to me.
 
Capturing attractive landscape images with a telephoto lens is sometimes so easy that it almost feels like cheating. I safely pulled off the road, setup and quickly shot until the sun went back behind the curtain of heavy clouds.
 
Looking for a fall foliage photography trip? Few locations are better than the San Juan Mountains in Colorado. The aspen trees play a starring role in this spectacular landscape.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr, Google+, 500px and Facebook. Also, if reading from a news feed reader, click through to see the framed image.
Post Date: 5/19/2015 8:46:21 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Thursday, May 14, 2015
A 5-Step Recipe for Bird Photography Success
Cookbooks are filled with successful recipes and successful bird photography is similarly not limited to a single recipe, but here is a recipe that works every time.
 
1. Start with a great camera and lens.
 
The Canon EOS 7D Mark II and Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens are excellent choices.
 
2. Find a beautiful bird properly posed against a clean background.
 
A snowy egret in breeding plumage easily qualifies for this main ingredient. A practically uninterrupted clear blue sky background frame keeps the viewer's eye on the main subject.
 
3. Time the bird meetup with an early or late day sun at your back.
 
Lighting is one of the most important ingredients to any photo. Early and late day direct sunlight, generally warm in color and slightly diffused in hardness, is a highly desired source of light. The 5:50 PM light was so warm in this case that I decided to cool the 7D II's AWB (Auto White Balance) choice very noticeably in post processing. Because the sunlight was directing my shadow toward the bird, subject shadows are very minimal.
 
4. Cue a side or tail wind to ruffle the bird's feathers.
 
Birds like to face the wind, keeping their feathers in line. When a side or tail wind presents itself, I like to take advantage of it. The ruffled feathers add a character to the image and in this case, the wind pushed the breeding plumage into better view.
 
5. Carefully time the shutter release
 
Birds are often constantly moving and timing the shutter release, in conjunction with balanced framing and accurate AF, is a challenge. With the 7D II's wide-set AF points, I was able to select a point that covered the bird's head without recomposing needed. When the bird turned its head to the side, I quickly pressed the shutter release and the 7D II's short shutter lag did not get in the way.
 
Compared to the effort required for many of my photos, this was a very easy photo to capture. Being at the right place at the right time to apply the recipe was all that was needed.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr, Google+, 500px and Facebook. Also, if reading from a news feed reader, click through to see the framed image.
 
Camera and Lens Settings
371mm  f/8.0  1/200s
ISO 100
3648 x 5472px
Post Date: 5/14/2015 9:43:45 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Thursday, May 7, 2015
by Sean Setters
 
When a friend of mine posted on Facebook, "Does anyone have any use for a TON of expired coffee beans?," I quickly replied, "I'll take 'em."
 
As others expressed interest in the coffee beans for gardening purposes, and I didn't need much for the macro shots I thought I might use them for, I only ended up getting a couple of bags out of the seventeen pounds she was offering (though I'm sure I could have found an interesting use for that many coffee beans).
 
As I was picking up the graciously free props I asked my friend if there was anything specific she wanted me to shoot with them. Much to my surprise she had a very quick answer. "Amanda. Something with her hair, maybe?"
 
While it certainly wasn't what I had in mind, it sounded right down my alley. I nodded my head and replied, "Okie dokie. I'll see what I can do."
 
With a vague idea in my head, Amanda and I took the opportunity of some free time yesterday afternoon to bring it to fruition. I laid a standard sized (32x40") white foam-core white poster board on my living room floor. I then extended the legs of my Induro CT314 to their fullest extent, reversed the center column, attached my 5D Mark III + Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art and positioned the tripod directly above the board. After that, I set up one light stand with a Canon 580EX and an 24" Glow softbox and another light stand with a 580EX and a Westcott RapidBox Octa (both triggered via radio slaves).
 
I asked Amanda to lay on the white board so that her head was basically centered in the board. We then spread out her hair so that it filled a majority of the space after which I began taking test exposures while fiddling with the position of the lights. I settled on f/6.3, 1/160 second at ISO 160 for the exposure with the lights set to between 1/8 and 1/4 power.
 
Getting the light just right proved a little challenging because of the orientation of the subject and the background and the fact that both were on the ground. I positioned the RapidBox Octa toward the top of Amanda's head, camera left, feathered a little downward. I positioned the 24" softbox camera right but feathered slightly toward the top of the frame. This lighting position and close power ratio provided a relatively flat lighting from a highlight to shadow perspective, yet there was still a direction to the light which helped to sculpt and highlight Amanda's features.
 
Then the coffee beans. If I had thought through this setup a little more, I would have laid down a garbage bag or two beneath the white board in order to catch stray coffee beans before they hit the carpet – but I didn't. When I opened the bag and started pouring the beans onto the background, the beans bounced much more than I had imagined. While most of the coffee beans stayed within the confines of the white board, more than a few landed on the carpet. Tip: If a coffee bean lands on your carpet, be careful not to step on it. It can make the mess infinitely more difficult to clean up.
 
We tried several different poses throughout the session including several with Amanda holding a coffee mug. But in the end, this was the keeper from the shoot. And while I typically see the world in a 2x3 (and increasingly, 16x9) frame, I ended up liking the square crop best and knew it would work well as a profile picture.
 
Since updating her Facebook profile picture yesterday afternoon, the picture has amassed 95 likes with several nice comments as well. It's amazing what you can do with a little space on your floor, a white board, a tripod, a couple of lights, a pretty girl and a bag of magic [coffee] beans. ;-)
 
Click on the image atop this post to see a larger sized version on Flickr.
Post Date: 5/7/2015 10:02:16 AM CT   Posted By: Sean
 Friday, May 1, 2015
Canon 7D II, 100-400 L II and a Preening Sandwich Tern
What was the hardest part of this capture?
 
It was not the exposure. With a solid cloud cover, I was able to lock in a manual exposure for perfect results on every shot. In this case, I chose a 1/1000 shutter speed (the bird was moving a lot and quickly), an f/5.6 aperture (to isolate the bird using shallow depth of field) and ISO 160 to bring the brightest whites up to near RGB 255,255,255.
 
The challenge was not the tight framing of the bird. I was able to slowly belly-crawl close to the small flock of terns. So close that I only needed a 234mm focal length in front of the 7D II's APS-C sensor. I should have used a slightly wider angle still as I added a small amount of canvas on the left in post, providing additional breathing room for the wing.
 
The challenge was also not the low shooting position. Using the NatureScapes Skimmer Ground Pod II, I was able to push the camera forward as I crawled in the sand. Shooting from on the ground gave me a clean background (only sky) and the remaining land in the frame is primarily a blur of texture.
 
The big challenge? Timing the shutter release in conjunction with using the proper AF tactics to get this specific composition with the head included in focus. The sandwich tern cleaning process involved a wide array of moves, few of which I was able to predict and all of them fast. The head was constantly moving in what seemed like all directions and fast framing adjustment with a properly-selected AF point proved very challenging. A narrower aperture would have reduced the AF task, but the result would have been more ground in focus for a different look.
 
One aspect of this image that I like is the complete separation of the head from the body. Many of the preening positions did not have this attribute (and many had a completely hidden head). I also like the balance. While I don't often place my subject in the center of the frame, I felt that centered worked best in this case. The wing and tail balance the bird over the dark, eye-catching legs. The head extended to the right caused me to want the legs shifted just left of center to get what I felt was the right overall balance. My shooting position was low enough that only the legs intersected the color of the sand. The small amount of feather pulling through the bill is the bonus feature. I'll credit the 7D II's short shutter lag for enabling that timing.
 
This sandwich tern was on the gulf shores of Captiva Island, just north of Blind Pass. This location in southwest Florida is ideal for expanding one's bird photography portfolio.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr, Google+, 500px and Facebook. Also, if reading from a news feed reader, click through to see the framed image.
 
Camera and Lens Settings
234mm  f/5.6  1/1000s
ISO 160
5622 x 3648px
Post Date: 5/1/2015 10:10:10 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Thursday, April 30, 2015
Tamron 15-30mm f/2.8 VC Lens Captures Sanibel Island Lighthouse
Essentially all lighthouses attract photographers and casual observers alike, but not all are similarly photogenic. While it is hard to take a bad photo of the Portland Lighthouse, I found the Sanibel Island Lighthouse to be more challenging (especially with the weather conditions I was given). If you search for images of the Sanibel Island Lighthouse, you will primarily find the normal from-the-side, from-a-distance variation. While some of these images are great, I was looking for something different.
 
The skeletal, pyramidal iron structure of this lighthouse is somewhat unique, and that uniqueness captured my attention. One way to emphasize part of a subject is to make that part closer to the camera than what is to be de-emphasized. Using a wide angle focal length is one key to de-emphasizing more-distant subjects and that is the tactic I used for this image.
 
To get this perspective, I was flat on my back under the lighthouse. For the record, no, I wasn't napping (but it was a comfortable shooting position). It is of course not possible to get under most lighthouses, but the design of this one makes that position possible and that makes the image even more unique.
 
While this shooting location and position brought my state of mind into question from other observers (I received some light-hearted attention), the wide 15mm focal length and careful framing made this image happen.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr, Google+, 500px and Facebook. Also, if reading from a news feed reader, click through to see the framed image.
 
Camera and Lens Settings
15mm  f/11.0  1/80s
ISO 100
5724 x 3816px
Post Date: 4/30/2015 10:57:04 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Monday, April 27, 2015
by Sean Setters
 
I'm always on the lookout for picturesque locations that can be utilized for future portrait sessions. While traveling to photograph a nearby waterfall a couple of weeks ago, a stark tree set upon the crest of a hill with dark, brooding skies caught my eye. I immediately imagined a portrait where the subject and the tree were equally prominent, yet balanced, within the composition. The kind of shot I imagined was a departure from my normal style. I typically like closer up, tighter cropped images that feature my subject against a strongly blurred, yet still beautiful backdrop. That's the kind of picture I'm most comfortable producing. But I needed to break out of my comfort zone, and my imagination was leading the way.
 
The location looked well suited for a portrait session because there was no fence between the the field and the road and there was a small parking area (enough for a couple of cars) nearby. I filed away the location in the back of my mind with the intent of using it whenever the opportunity came up.
 
That opportunity arrived in the form of a text message less than week later. Samantha, someone I've worked with on a couple of occasions, was in town and wanting a shot to bolster her portfolio. I told her I had the perfect place in mind but didn't yet have permission to use the land for a photoshoot. I told her we'd need to get permission before shooting but I didn't think that would be a problem. Trusting my judgement (and relatively vague description of the location), she readily agreed.
 
We met up at a gas station about 4 miles from the location and caravanned to the parking spot along the road. When we arrived at the location, I quickly assessed the situation. On the plus side, the afternoon skies had gone from party cloudy early in the afternoon to mostly cloudy later in the day. This coincidence meant that the shot I had in my head – with dark, brooding skies – could potentially be realized. One downside, though, was that the tree which had been completely bare the week before now showed signs of life in the form of small growths of leaves forming at the end of the branches. Thankfully the growth wasn't substantial enough to completely hide the beautiful shape of the tree outlined by its branches.
 
After parking I walked to a nearby house and acquired permission to use the land. As it turns out, the land is rented out seasonally to a farmer who grows various crops on it. However, as the crops had not yet been planted this year, there was no reason to be concerned about us shooting in the field. With permission obtained, the shoot was underway.
 
I set up a Vagabond II powered White Lightning x3200 monolight mounted with a Mola Demi beauty dish (with stacked PAD and Opal diffusers) as the main light. I chose the beauty dish because there was a decent amount of wind and I knew that any large modifier (softbox, octabox, umbrella, etc.) would quickly become a wind sail. I've had more than a fair share of light stands blow over in the wind (even when I thought they were adequately sandbagged). I knew the position of the beauty dish, being relatively far away from the subject, meant that the typical beauty dish look would be lost on the scene. However, I thought that the warmth and diffusion of the dish would look better than a standard silver reflector or silver beauty dish (both of which I had brought along with me). I initially only set up the monolight but later decided that I needed some fill light. Therefore I set up a Canon 580EX Speedlite, bare, on the right side (just out of the frame) zoomed to 85mm. The speedlite made a huge impact in allowing details to be visible in the shadows.
 
Contrary to my typical style, I chose a relatively narrow aperture so that the background did not become blurred into oblivion. The f/7.1 aperture combined with a low ISO allowed me to underexpose the scene to make it look as if it were captured at a much later time (this image was taken at 5:25pm CDT with sunset occurring at 7:21pm). I chose to use the EOS 5D Mark III paired with the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art because it's an extremely sharp lens and the focal length seemed optimal for obtaining the perspective I wanted.
 
Below is a setup picture taken just after we ended shooting. I didn't change camera settings for the setup image but lifted the shadows substantially in Photoshop Camera Raw so that the equipment would be easily identifiable.
 
Sam and the Silhouetted Tree Setup

About the Power Lines
 
I had every intention of removing the power lines in post-processing while the shoot was underway. However, after removing the power lines in post, I felt like the two subjects were too isolated from one another. The picture had lost something.
 
I flipped back and forth between the two versions (with and without power lines) and came to the conclusion that the power lines helped draw my eye into the image. They also connected the primary subjects (the girl and the tree) in a subconscious way. Even though I typically despise power lines in landscape and portrait images, this (I felt) was an exception to the rule. Therefore, the power lines stayed.
 
Conclusion
 
We, as photographers, are very fortunate in that we see a world with endless possibilities and beauty. I'm sure I'm not alone in always keeping an eye out for a fresh location in which to shoot. Unfortunately, it's really easy to get stuck in a rut shooting the same types of images – in the same sort of style – over and over. So when your imagination leads you on a creative tangent that leads out of your comfort zone, take advantage of the inspiration and press onward. You may surprise yourself when you try something completely different than what you're used to, and you may find yourself questioning how you ever got in a rut to begin with.
 
Note: You can see a larger version of the image by clicking on the image at the top of this post.
Post Date: 4/27/2015 11:57:31 AM CT   Posted By: Sean
 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 needing 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
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