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 Friday, July 1, 2016
by Sean Setters
 
Back in late 2014 I purchased a Vello FreeWave Stryker from B&H (via a Daily Deal) with the intent of exploring lightning photography. After only a few times using the device, I fell in love with the endeavor. However, while the device worked well for me in very dark conditions, the device could not be correctly set to trigger the camera if the ambient light was above a certain [very low] level.
 
That left me wondering, "Is there a more flexible lightning triggering device that's also reasonably cost effective?"
 
In this case, patience paid off. In February B&H featured the Miops Camera Trigger in another Daily Deal; I decided to pick one up. Not long afterwards I also purchased the OP/TECH USA 8" Small Rain Sleeve to protect my camera during the anticipated downpours.
 
With storm season well underway, I can say I've been very impressed with the device. It can be set to detect lightning and trigger the camera in significantly brighter conditions compared to the Vello FreeWave. And the OP/TECH USA rain sleeve has proven to the perfect tool for protecting the camera. I even used it when photographing dirt track racing with Bryan a few weeks ago.
 
Miops camera trigger and camera protection in-hand, I began planning where I wanted to capture lightning. After a little bit of exploration, I settled on a view of River Street as seen from the Savannah International Trade and Convention Center just across the Savannah River. The location was optimal because it gave me a great view of downtown Savannah with City Hall (the gold domed building) being recognizable in the center of the frame. The convention center's awning also provided a decent amount of rain protection, though gusts of wind would still compromise gear if left uncovered/unprotected.
 
With the location decided upon, I needed to organize the right gear to tackle the job. And just in case I forgot to check the weather for a given day, I also installed Dark Sky - Hyperlocal Weather on my Android phone in order to receive alerts whenever precipitation was imminent. I also created a bookmark for LightningMaps.org which showed lightning activity around Savannah. After receiving a notice of precipitation, I would quickly check the map to see if lightning was also headed my way.
 
I keep a Go-Bag packed and ready for immediate use whenever storms are in the forecast. This allows me to bolt (pun intended) out the door at a moment's notice.
 
While the lenses have changed slightly in my Go-Bag over the last couple of months, most of the items remained constant. For the image above, my Go-Bag contained:
 
Every time I received a Dark Sky precipitation warning and confirmed lightning was headed toward Savannah, I would grab my gear, head downtown, drive across the Talmadge Memorial Bridge and make my way to the convention center. It took me four attempts, but this past Tuesday I was finally able to capture the lightning I had envisioned.
 
As I crossed the Talmadge Bridge Tuesday evening, I could see a significant amount of storm activity to the west. The storm was getting very close. As I was setting up my equipment, a light sprinkle of rain began to wet the ground. Soon after, it looked like a strobe light was illuminating the sky. Most of the lightning was occurring above the clouds, but every now and then one would connect with the ground within my camera's field of view.
 
I chose to use the EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM because its hood would be more protective against the rain compared to the EF 17-40mm f/4L IS USM's hood. I used 10x Live View and manual focus with the camera set to f/5.6, 8 seconds at ISO 100. The f/5.6 aperture was chosen because it allowed me enough depth of field at 24mm to have most everything in focus while also keeping individual lightning bolts from overexposing the sky. An 8-second shutter speed allowed for the city lights to be decently exposed. While these settings worked well under individual strikes, multiple strikes within the 8-second shutter speed would cause overexposure in the sky especially if the bolts were large and nearby.
 
I varied the Miops Trigger's sensitivity throughout the evening so that I could limit the camera's captures to instances when they were more likely to capture a compelling lightning strike. With the sensitivity set too high, the camera would trigger at the reflection of lightning bouncing off of the clouds with no actual bolt within view. Finding the preferred setting proved very easy, though.
 
The final image above is a composite of several images taken that night. In post processing, I layered all the individual images that featured interesting lightning bolts and set them to a "Lighten" blending layer to allow the brighter parts of those images to come through. A few parts of the scene required masking so as not to have duplicate ghost items in the image (especially true around the flag poles where wind blew the flags occasionally).
 
I wish more lightning had occurred on the right side of the frame so that the image would appear more balanced, but... I didn't like any of my shots with lightning on the right side.
 
In short, I captured an image that was very close to what I had in my head and the Miops Trigger helped me do it. For what it's worth, there's currently a $40.00 instant savings on Miops Camera Trigger + cable kits and the device allows for many other types of triggering, including sound and laser triggering (which certainly increases its value). Personally, I wouldn't bother getting the mobile-branded kit as you can just as easily control the Miops trigger (connected to the camera) via your mobile phone rather than control your phone (connected to the camera, requiring an additional cable) via the Miops trigger. The only time the mobile kit would be beneficial is if you need the Miops device to be positioned well away from the camera for triggering purposes.
Posted to: Canon News,
Post Date: 7/1/2016 7:10:16 AM CT   Posted By: Sean
 Thursday, June 30, 2016
If you are a USA resident, I am sure you are keenly aware of the explosive holiday that is approaching. Of course, I'm talking about Independence Day (July 4th) and with it brings an excellent opportunity for festive image making.
 
As you enjoy the colorful explosions this year, be sure to bring along your camera to capture the action. Here are a few basic tips:
 
  1. Arrive early and find out exactly where the fireworks will be setting off from at your chosen location. Use this information to plan your optimal shooting location, keeping in mind various elements that might be used as a background.
  2. Choose a wider focal length to capture background elements in your fireworks photos; choose telephoto focal length to isolate the explosions. A general purpose zoom works well and allows you to capture a wide range of framings without the need to change lenses.
  3. Use a sturdy tripod to allow you to capture the fireworks from their lift off point to explosion. The trails leading back from the explosions will help viewers' eyes wonder around the image.
  4. Bring a shutter release cable for a more relaxed style of shooting. It's easy to enjoy the fireworks from a folding chair and still get compelling images with a cable release trigger in your hand.
Want to get creative? Check out these posts on capturing fireworks:
 
And if you plan on shooting off fireworks off this year (or plan on being in close proximity to them), please BE SAFE and enjoy the celebration!
Posted to: Canon News,
Post Date: 6/30/2016 6:30:11 AM CT   Posted By: Sean
 Wednesday, June 29, 2016
Looking for great access to photograph a car race? Your local dirt track may hold that key for you. Sprint car racing and other dirt track events provide great photography experiences with typically easy access and lots of freedom. Check out the Dirt Track Racing Photography Tips page to learn much more about this topic.
 
The 1D X Mark II and EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II make a great combo for this event.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr, Google+, Facebook and 500px. If reading from a news feed reader, click through to see the framed image. If you find these tips useful, please share them in your circle of friends!
 
Camera and Lens Settings
70mm  f/4.5  1/250s
ISO 2000
4716 x 3144px
Posted to: Canon News,
Post Date: 6/29/2016 8:16:30 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Sunday, June 26, 2016
The Canon EOS-1D X Mark II is an amazing camera, but I continue to use the Canon EOS 5Ds R a considerable percentage of the time. The primary benefit of the 5Ds R is its incredibly high resolution. Lighter weight, especially without the battery grip installed, is another advantage.
 
When planning my fawn photography trip to Big Meadows in Shenandoah National Park, I expected the higher resolution to be my preference and packed a pair of 5Ds R bodies along with many spare batteries. I also packed the 1D X Mark II, with expectations for this camera being more for additional in-the-field experience in support of the currently published review.
 
The Big Meadows meadow is thick with vegetation. Thick patches of thigh-high briars are found throughout and grass covers much of the balance of the meadow area. The grass is not exceptionally thick, but it sends stems and seed heads up rather high and there are few openings void of the tall grass.
 
While somewhat attractive, these seed heads create problem. The fawns are short – shorter than the grasses. While the fawn may be easily visible, a very high percentage of my fawn photos include a grass across an eye or blocking enough of the fawn's face to detract significantly from the image. With the sun at my back, the ideal lighting for wildlife photography, the grasses created shadows directly on the fawns and the shadows were just as detracting as the grasses themselves, creating double trouble. With careful timing, images could be captured when the fawn passes between the grasses. That is if the fawn was moving slowly and if the wind wasn't blowing.
 
The problem was that the fawns were seldom still or moving slowly and the grasses move in even the lightest wind, making accurate timing nearly impossible and even challenging with the fawn standing still. Compounding the problem was that grasses close to the camera were not so visible in the viewfinder, but they still contributed to a noticeable contrast reduction in the image. There are a lot of things to concentrate on when photographing a randomly moving animal (focus point selection to mention one) without having to keep track of blowing grasses and their shadows. Shooting from a higher position than ideal (ideal being level with the subject) was often helpful in getting above some of the grasses, but ... the 1D X Mark II's fast frame rate delivered a much greater number of keeper images than the 5Ds R was capturing.
 
Capturing images at 14 fps, there was often the right combination of body and grass positions in at least one of the frames from a burst. Or, subsequent frames captured so quickly could potentially allow portions of one image to be composited with the other, such as for removing an offending blade of grass.
 
I'm not sure if this fawn was playing or experimenting with a new food, but it was adorable for sure. I held the shutter release down for the short period of time it was holding the branch in its mouth. While I captured well over a dozen images, only one image gave me a clear view of the fawn's head.
 
Grass was my #1 nemesis in Big Meadows and was responsible for the delete button being pressed on thousands of images, but the 1D X II ensured that there were plenty of great shots remaining in the keeper folder.
 
Overall, the success of my three days in Shenandoah National Park was largely due to the 1D X II's capabilities. Even when the grass interfered visually, I was impressed at how adept the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II was at focusing on the fawn. Foreground obstructions are notorious for grabbing AF's attention, but very frequently the 1D X II figured out that the fawn was the real subject and remained locked onto it.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr, Google+, Facebook and 500px. If reading from a news feed reader, click through to see the framed image. If you find these tips useful, please share them in your circle of friends!
 
Camera and Lens Settings
400mm  f/4.0  1/500s
ISO 2500
4705 x 3137px
Posted to: Canon News,
Post Date: 6/26/2016 8:00:00 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Friday, June 24, 2016
The Ben Franklin Bridge in Philadelphia, PA has been on my to-photograph list for a long time and earlier this year, I was technically able to check this attraction off of my list (I decided to keep it on the list for images from a different angle).
 
Having not been to this location before (aside from driving across the bridge), I needed some daylight time to scout for the evening's photos. I knew the basics of the area based on my research, but onsite finalization of the plan is usually needed. Even though very far from the bay and roughly 90mi (150km) from the Atlantic Ocean, this location on the Delaware River is tidal. I knew that there was a tide and that the tide would be going out during my shooting time (incoming tides require more concern). What I didn't know was the significance of the water level change. My scouting determined that locations close to the early evening water appeared best and I had lots of flowing water in the foreground for the image I envisioned.
 
As prime time approached, I watched the water level rapidly decrease a significant amount until my side of the river became nearly empty. There was nothing I could do about the situation and I was not about to attempt walking out into the quicksand-like muck. As photographers must always be ready to do, I embraced what I had to work with. The good news is that, as the water level dropped far enough, I had wet mud and pools of water that nicely reflected the bridge and city, creating a look that I may like even better than the image I had visualized.
 
On a good day, Philadelphia is an over-3-hour drive for me. The ideal time of the day to photograph the city lights with at least a little color in the sky is only a small fraction of that time duration. Life is busy and when it comes to good images, more is rarely worse than less. If you are a professional photographer, you count on your images for your income. If your primary income is not generated by photography, you probably cannot spend as must time in the field as you wish. To maximize your image volume relative to effort expended, perhaps close to a doubling effect, run two complete camera setups.
 
If you read my Canon EOS 80D review, you saw an image showing one angle of the Ben Franklin bridge. With a very short period of time to capture images and each image taking approximately a minute to capture (a 15-30-second exposure followed immediately by a same-length long exposure noise reduction process), having at least a second complete camera and tripod setup nearly doubled my images for this evening. While the 80D and Canon EF-S 18-135mm IS USM came out of the MindShift Gear BackLight 26L later in the evening, I mostly used the 5Ds R and EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II on a Gitzo GT3542LS with an Arca-Swiss Z1, set up close to the bridge.
 
About 100' (33m) to the north, I had another 5Ds R mounted to an EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM Lens on an Gitzo GT1542T Traveler with an Acratech GP-s Ball Head as my second primary camera and lens combination.
 
I very frequently utilize a pair of cameras when shooting landscapes and cityscapes before sunrise, after sunset or even when working with strong neutral density filters under bright sunlight. The process is simple. I find a unique composition for each camera. Upon finishing one camera's setup and triggering the shutter release, I run to the other camera (well, I sort-of ran and stumbled over the big rocks in this case) and did the same. By the time I return to the first camera, it is usually finished or nearly finished with its processing. I quickly evaluate the image captured, make any adjustments I feel are warranted and repeat the process.
 
If running two camera setups not immediately within reach, safety for the gear must be considered. I wouldn't call the area below the Camden, NJ side of the Ben Franklin Bridge the safest I've been in. It was dark, there were no other people around and I kept a very close eye on the second camera setup, watching for anyone sketchy approaching. Having the cameras setup this far apart gave me very different perspectives of the bridge and city vs. simply different framing of the same perspective. The 5Ds R would permit strong cropping to achieve a similar framing adjustment, so I wanted something completely different from the second camera.
 
With so many images that I like captured that evening, I struggled to pick out one to share (part of the problem of having perfectionist tendencies). Three months later, I forced myself to pick one. This was it. Hope you like it and hope even more that you can increase the number of great images that you capture.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr, Google+, Facebook and 500px. If reading from a news feed reader, click through to see the framed image.
Posted to: Canon News,
Post Date: 6/24/2016 10:11:18 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Wednesday, June 22, 2016
One of the keys to getting good wildlife photos around the house is of course having wildlife around the house. With even small yards able to attract wildlife (especially birds), the next key is having a camera with a good wildlife lens mounted and ready for immediate use when the wildlife shows up.
 
The incredible combination of the 1D X Mark II and EF 200-400mm f/4L IS lens has been taking on this duty for me recently. I have had a very high number of black bear sightings this spring (most frequently after the sun sets), and the range of focal lengths this lens has, including up to 560mm with the built-in extender, along with the f/4 aperture has been valuable.
 
On this rainy Wednesday, it was an ovenbird that made my day. This bird is typically found deep in the forest. While they tend to be low to the ground, the light levels there are dismal. On this day, heavy cloud cover provided reasonably bright and very soft lighting at the edge of the forest where this bird happened to be. The wet conditions provided a saturation boost and some tiny water droplets on the bird. The situation was ideal.
 
I quickly grabbed the camera and lens combo, threw the switch to place the extender in the optical path and went into action. I worked into a position that gave me an attractive background with a clear view of the bird, initially a profile. While I captured some ideal profile images, the bird began hopping into different positions and in this one, the tail wind ruffled its feathers. I'm still undecided between which of the two poses I like best, but decided to share this one as it appears more lively.
 
What is in the ovenbird's mouth? Good question. One item is an insect leg, perhaps from a grasshopper. The other is unknown, but perhaps a piece of moss or similar.
 
On this day, having a camera and lens ready to use for wildlife gave me a nice set of photos out of a very brief encounter with circumstances aligning nicely. The entire session only took a few minutes out of my day. Be ready and when opportunities arise, make the effort to go after them.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr, Google+, Facebook and 500px. If reading from a news feed reader, click through to see the framed image.
 
Camera and Lens Settings
560mm  f/7.1  1/200s
ISO 2500
5472 x 3648px
Posted to: Canon News,
Post Date: 6/22/2016 10:23:03 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Tuesday, June 21, 2016
I love close, frame-filling wildlife photos, but I also love wildlife photos that show animals in their environment. Getting close enough to fill the frame with an animal is often quite challenging, but I often find environmental images even more challenging to obtain. Another thing I love is a challenge and the environmental wildlife portrait challenge one was one I took on during a recent photo trip to the Big Meadows area of Shenandoah National Park.
 
Be in the Right Location
 
Location selection is a big part of environmental wildlife portraits. Basically, you need to photograph wildlife in an environment that invites the type of photos you desire. I would not describe the scenery of all locations that hold wildlife as especially photo-worthy and the tighter-framed option works better in these less-desirable landscapes.
 
Just as important as a photogenic landscape is that wildlife, or more specifically, wildlife that interests you, is in the location. Location selection resources have never been more readily available. Simply search your favorite image sharing site for the subject that has your interest. Then determine where that image was captured.
 
Timing for Photography
 
With the location selection made, timing the photography in that location can be done. If you want fall-colored leaves, there will be a week or two out of the year that needs to be targeted. If baby animals are on your list, there will be an ideal time, likely in late spring.
 
For the example I share here, I knew that early June was a good time to photograph fawns and I knew that Big Meadows in the heart of Shenandoah National Park was a great place to find them. SNP scenery is very nice, though as with most locations, it can be challenging.
 
See the Image Coming
 
Within the chosen location, wildlife cannot be controlled (unless baiting, calling, etc.), so a photographer must work with the animals wherever they decide to be. Learning wildlife behavior goes a long way to set up the ideal shot, but wildlife is generally unpredictable. While locating wildlife, visualizing ideal shots will keep your mind focused on upcoming opportunities, including those that may present themselves at a later time.
 
The key for this white-tailed deer fawn image, in addition to being in a good location at the right time of the year, was thinking ahead. The deer were moving in a general direction and I knew that the white tree trunks in front of ferns and fronted with tall grasses were coming up on their route. The shorter green grass foreground would be ideal and I surmised that these fawns and their mother may pass through this location.
 
Be Ready with the Right Gear
 
I was partly right. The mother went slightly off-angle, but the fawns cooperated briefly by walking, broadside, in line and both within the plane of sharp focus, right into the scene I visualized. I was ready.
 
Under 10 seconds. That is how much time the fawns spent in my scene. That is both extremely short and very long. I had very few other decent opportunities that lasted longer, but 9 seconds is not much time to capture an image of wildlife in motion even when standing (head and ear angles were constantly changing). This was one of the last frames captured before they turned different directions and leaped off to explore somewhere new.
 
The 1D X Mark II was in manual exposure mode with Auto ISO selected. The light levels were changing rapidly due to clouds and both deer and grass are kind to autoexposure, making Auto ISO a great choice. The adorable fawns were running/leaping/frolicking constantly, so I was using a 1/1600 shutter speed most of time. It is usually better to have more noise due to a high ISO setting than to have a motion-blurred subject. With the fawns slowing down and with their distance being greater than usual (their movement was crossing individual sensor pixels at a slower rate), I quickly rolled the shutter speed down to 1/800. Auto ISO took care of the exposure adjustment, immediately selecting a lower noise level ISO 1000. High speed burst mode with Case 1 AI Servo AF and a single AF point placed on the lead fawn worked ideally.
 
The Canon EOS-1D X Mark II and Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Lens combo performed impressively on the entire trip. While this lens has many benefits (including incredible sharpness), being able to zoom to ideally compose a scene, especially one with multiple animals, is a big one. Though this image does not take in a wide, grand landscape, it includes enough surroundings to qualify for at least my own definition of environmental. At 362mm, this lens could be set to an even much wider angle. However, I didn't feel that additional surroundings were going to be positive additions to the image. I had enough angle of view at the chosen focal length.
 
I'll talk more about the 1D X II's amazing frame rate and why it was so important for this location in another post, but ... I made full use of the 14 fps. Just to clarify, there really are two different fawns in this picture. This particular frame taken from a burst captured both in nearly identical positions. Upon a quick glance, my daughter suggested that I may have clone stamped the second deer into the image. I assure you that was not the case – there really were two fawns there. The slightly different leg positions are the biggest clue.
 
The 1D X II's AF system performed especially well in the tall grasses the fawns were commonly found in and was ready when the fawns started leaping and playing.
 
Note that I used a monopod exclusively for support on this trip. While a tripod provides better support, a monopod is faster to use. With only one leg to retract or extend and with no leg angles to set, I could quickly move into positions and set up, a key to getting many of the images I captured on this trip. A monopod also means less weight to carry around. The wildlife I was shooting required shutter speeds fast enough to avoid motion blur, especially with the support of the monopod.
 
Seize the Opportunity
 
Be ready to take advantage of all wildlife photo ops made available to you. Even if focused on the environmental images, take the tighter-framed images when availed to you. Wildlife photography is extremely challenging and no opportunity should be passed on. Having a mix of subject framing will make a portfolio or gallery appear more complete.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr, Google+, Facebook and 500px. If reading from a news feed reader, click through to see the framed image. If you find these tips useful, please share them in your circle of friends!
 
Camera and Lens Settings
362mm  f/5.6  1/800s
ISO 1000
5472 x 3648px
Posted to: Canon News,
Post Date: 6/21/2016 9:08:53 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Tuesday, June 7, 2016
by Sean Setters
 
I've always wanted to photograph butterflies, but my lack of patience and my general inability to find them meant that butterflies were never a subject featured in my portfolio.
 
However, while traveling through New England last week, I stopped by the Magic Wings Butterfly Conservatory and Gardens in South Deerfield, MA. I quickly realized that visiting a butterfly conservatory was the perfect way to quickly gain experience with butterfly photography and bolster my portfolio with images of the beautifully-winged creatures.
 
The Magic Wings Conservatory is an 8,000 square foot facility housing roughly 4,000 butterflies featuring several dozen individual species (the exact number of species depends on the season). The admission fee for visiting the conservatory is $14.00 and is good for an entire day of re-entry (the admission fee for children is less). Note that this particular facility does not allow tripods or monopods to be used in its conservatory.
 
It's actually quite difficult to aptly describe the experience of walking into a beautiful garden inhabited by thousands of butterflies of all shapes and sizes, as words like "amazing" and "dream-like" don't seem to really do it justice. But if you have the chance to experience it, as a photographer or simply a curious visitor, don't miss out on the opportunity.
 
Magic Wings Butterfly Conservatory Image 2

From a photography perspective, a butterfly conservatory gives you ample opportunities to create beautiful and inspiring butterfly images. The experience and images gained from photographing butterflies in a conservatory would likely require years to garner in the wild, allowing you to easily bolstering your portfolio in a single afternoon.
 
You might think that photographing butterflies in captivity is much like photographing wildlife in zoos (which can be difficult if trying to eliminate man-made elements in your frame), but because butterflies are so small and backgrounds (and any man-made elements within those backgrounds) can easily be thrown well out of focus, images captured in a conservatory will likely be indistinguishable from those captured in the wild.
 
Magic Wings Butterfly Conservatory Image 3

For my trip to the Magic Wings Conservatory, I used a Canon EOS 7D Mark II with an EF 100mm f/2.8 USM Macro. In this case, I chose the 7D Mark II over the 5D Mark III because I had forgotten to pack my BlackRapid Strap (which can be conveniently switched between bodies) and the neck strap that Bryan had loaned me was already attached to the 7D II. The EF 100mm f/2.8L IS USM would have been a better lens for this particular endeavor, but... I originally invested in the non-L version of the macro because I rarely shoot macros handheld (and IS would have certainly come in handy here). Another item I wish I had packed for my trip was the RoundFlash Magnetic Ringflash Adapter, but when packing I did not envision needing the rather highly-specialized light modifier for the trip. Other lighting options well-suited for this type of photography include the Canon Macro Twin Lite MT-24EX and MR-14EX II Macro Ring Lite.
 
The conservatory I visited featured nicely diffused light thanks to the water vapor adorned the inside of the large windows. But "nicely diffused" doesn't necessarily mean "plentiful," even when bright sunlight is hitting the building. One particular issue with lighting is that butterflies often like to attach themselves to the underside of leaves or to the top of leaves with additional leaves shading them. The great thing about a conservatory is that your chances of catching a butterfly in great light is extremely high, so a small amount of patience goes a long way.
 
For the photos accompanying this afticle, I was using an f/3.2 or f/3.5 aperture in Av mode with an ISO of 1000 or 1250 to obtain shutter speeds that were fast enough to counteract camera shake and freeze movement. Images were post-processed in Lightroom CC.
 
Magic Wings Butterfly Conservatory Image 4

Word of warning: If you open your camera bag to change lenses or retrieve gear, be sure that there are no stowaways when you exit the facility. I checked myself thoroughly before leaving the facility to make sure that there were no butterflies attached to my clothing. However, as I proceeded to detach the lens from my camera and put both items in my camera bag, a butterfly flew out of my Lowepro NovaSport 35L AW. I had to [sheepishly] alert the staff to the butterfly escapee.
 
Magic Wings Butterfly Conservatory Image 5

Are you excited to gain lots of experience in butterfly photography? There are plenty of butterfly conservatories in North America. Here are just a few I found:
 
Niagara Parks Butterfly Conservatory
2565 Niagara Pkwy, Niagara Falls, ON L0S 1J0, Canada
 
Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory
1316 Duval Street, Key West, FL 33040
 
The American Museum of Natural History Butterfly Exhibit
(Open September 5, 2015 - May 30, 2016)
Central Park West at 79th Street, New York, NY 10024-5192
 
Magic Wings Butterfly Conservatory
281 Greenfield Rd, South Deerfield, MA 01373
 
Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, Pavilion of Wings Exhibit
900 Exposition Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90007
 
There are many others, of course. You can find a more extensive list organized by state here. Be sure to research in advance to ensure the exhibit will be open during your planned visit.
 
Do you have a favorite butterfly conservatory? If so, share your location experience in the comments!
Posted to: Canon News,
Post Date: 6/7/2016 8:10:39 AM CT   Posted By: Sean
 Tuesday, May 24, 2016
The Little Red Lighthouse, officially named Jeffrey's Hook Light, is a small (40'/12.2m) lighthouse located under the eastern span of the George Washington Bridge (AKA the Great Gray Bridge) in Fort Washington Park, Washington Heights, New York City. The official name of this lighthouse was surpassed by the name given it by Hildegarde Swift and Lynd Ward in their famous 1942 book The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge. This book was one of my wife's childhood favorites, so ... it was fitting for me to have this location on my photo bucket list and circumstances worked out for me to cross off this line item.
 
Typically, big city landmarks are readily accessible and easy to visit. While the first applies to this one, for a non-local without a bicycle, the second ... not so much. The problem is the lack of local parking and the significant roads and railroad tracks separating Fort Washington Park and the Hudson River Greenway from the rest of the city in this area.
 
There are two entrances into Fort Washington Park. I chose the more-northern 181st St option over the southern 158th St entrance as it appeared logistically better. Parking at one of the closest parking garages, Alliance Parking Services (for GPS, use 649-699 W 184th St, New York, NY 10033) resulted in a just-over 1 mile (1.6km) hike to the lighthouse. The landscape in Manhattan and many other parts of New York City is mostly flat, but Washington "Heights" wasn't given its name without reason. While not a mountain by most people's definition, the ascent and descent into the park, over and under the roads and tracks, is noticeable under the weight of a heavy pack.
 
Loaded into my MindShift Gear BackLight 26L for this trip was the following:
 
A pair of Canon EOS 5Ds R DSLR bodies
Canon EF 11-24mm f/4L USM Lens
Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM Lens
Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM Lens
Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM Lens
Gitzo GT1542T Traveler 6x Carbon Fiber Tripod with a Acratech GP-s Ball Head mounted.
Numerous accessories, food, plenty of water, warm clothes.
 
I hand-carried a second tripod, my current-favorite Gitzo GT3542LS Systematic Carbon Fiber Tripod with an Arca-Swiss Z1 Ball Head mounted.
 
This gave me two complete camera setups with plenty of focal length overlap in the range I expected to need the most. The redundancy was first and foremost to allow me to take twice as many photos during the short time period within blue hour that I was most-targeting. This shoot consumed most of a day (I arrived home at 2:30 AM) and with the small extra effort of taking a second camera setup, I was getting nearly twice as many photos when the exposure durations hit 30 seconds (with an additional 30-second-long exposure noise reduction) during prime time. I would start one image capture and go attend the second camera setup, located far enough away for a different composition, but close enough that I had a close watch on it from a security standpoint.
 
Backup in case of failure was the other reason for the second complete camera setup. I was investing heavily enough (time and other costs) in this trip to warrant a backup.
 
The Little Red Lighthouse shoot went as planned. Arriving late in the afternoon, I climbed around the rocks for an hour or so, trying to decide what compositions would be best for prime time. I ate, rested and went to work as the sun set behind the GWB.
 
As the sun set, the balance of sky brightness to the light hitting the lighthouse transitioned from silhouette to nearly the opposite. By shooting continuously during this time, I could select my favorite look later. A darker background is always an option, but a brighter sky is not available again until another day (without some post processing techniques).
 
For this image, I opted for the 11-24L lens set to 11mm to provide a dramatic perspective that included the entire river span of the bridge. To see a sample result captured from the other camera, with a lens choice made for a reason, one that you may not have considered (not focal length or sharpness), check out the pic I creatively titled The Little Red Lighthouse.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr, Google+, Facebook and 500px. If reading from a news feed reader, click through to see the framed image.
Posted to: Canon News,
Post Date: 5/24/2016 8:09:10 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Friday, May 13, 2016
When the clouds become turquoise, you are probably in a great place.
 
The day started out with no clouds in the sky. After having photographed for 6 days straight prior with good results, I was looking for more than what a clear sky would deliver, so some scouting was the task at hand. The selected location for the day was Wild Cow Run, at the end of Middle Caicos. From my base location in Whitby Beach, North Caicos, this meant a drive through most of North Caicos, across the causeway and through most of Middle Caicos. Then, at the end of the road, a 4x4 road was traversed until going further becomes impossible.
 
Your reward for this drive is one of the most beautiful beach locations in the world with seldom another person seen. I had hiked about a mile out when some nice clouds began forming on the horizon. Seeing great images beginning to materialize, I ran and swam back to the vehicle, grabbed a Canon EOS 5Ds R with an EF 16-35mm f/4L IS Lens mounted, threaded a circular polarizer filter onto the lens and put the setup in an EWA marine underwater housing.
 
I know, an underwater housing does not make sense for capturing an above-water image of beach, water and clouds, but ... you may have noted the "swam" part when returning to the vehicle. I had to swim (fins, snorkel and mask) through a channel with a swift tidal current to reach the island with the beach I was targeting. I was not using the camera underwater, but the housing was perfect for the water transportation to the scene.
 
Once across the water, I removed the camera from the housing, stowed the housing (and snorkel gear) high on shore and hiked over sand and shallow water to reach the desired location. The huge expanse of sand and shallow water had my greatest attention. I was looking for angles and heights that would work best while keeping the clouds in pleasing locations within the frame. The clouds were moving in rapidly and I was shooting quickly, monitoring mostly my manually-set exposures from time to time, keeping the brightest parts of the clouds nearly blown.
 
What I wasn't noticing was that, as the clouds came closer, they began reflecting the amazing fluorescent turquoise colored water behind the reef, which was located a distant 1.4 mi (2.25 km) from shore at this location. Upon uploading my images for the day, I realized that the clouds, as they came in closer than the reef, had picked up a very strong color reflection from the water below. The result was something I had not captured before, turquoise-colored clouds.
 
Photography (usually) rewards effort – effort pays off. It was definitely worth the effort of a round trip to the vehicle to add this (and many other similar) images to the collection. I'll leave the "foresight to take the camera with me the first time" topic for another day.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr, Google+, Facebook and 500px. If reading from a news feed reader, click through to see the framed image.
 
Camera and Lens Settings
16mm  f/9.0  1/125s
ISO 100
8827 x 5885px
Posted to: Canon News,
Post Date: 5/13/2016 8:53:10 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Wednesday, May 11, 2016
by Sean Setters
 
You probably know that Canon USA provides a 1-year warranty on new DSLR cameras and lenses purchased through its authorized retailer network. But what you may not know is that your warranty can often be extended by using a credit card to purchase your camera gear. In many cases, credit card companies will provide Extended Warranty protection (usually 1-year after the manufacturer's warranty has expired) when you charge the full amount of the camera gear to the credit card.
 
In addition to the extended warranty coverage, some credit card companies also offer purchase Protection Coverage (up to a specified amount) if your item is damaged or stolen within the first 90 days of purchase.
 
Yet another credit card benefit that you may be able to take advantage of is Price Protection. With this benefit, the credit card company will reimburse you the difference in price if you find a lower price on the newly purchased item within 60 days.
 
Of course, you'll need to contact your credit card company (or do your own research) to find out which (if any) of these benefits come with your specific credit card(s).
 
Here is some general information I found about various credit card benefits:
 
Visa Signature Card
Visa cardholders can register a product and extend a manufacturer’s warranty. One convenient service makes it quick and easy.
(This benefit may also be available on other card products. Check with your issuer to see if you qualify.)
 
Warranty Manager Service offers you a number of valuable features, including warranty registration and Extended Warranty Protection, all available with a simple toll-free telephone call. Warranty Manager Service’s registration service helps you take full advantage of your warranties, because you can get key information about your coverage with a single toll-free call. And if you send us [Visa] your sales receipts and warranty information, we’ll keep everything on file-so arranging for a repair or replacement is as easy as picking up the telephone. Warranty Manager Service offers Extended Warranty Protection that doubles the time period of the original manufacturer’s written U.S. repair warranty up to one (1) additional year on eligible warranties of three (3) years or less when an item is purchased entirely with your eligible Visa card.
MasterCard
Extended warranty
Doubles the original manufacturer's or store brand warranty for up to one year when you pay with your eligible MasterCard.
 
Price protection
Should you find a lower price for a new item within 60 days from the date of purchase using your eligible MasterCard, you may be reimbursed for the price difference.
 
Purchase assurance
Provides coverage for most items you purchase with your eligible MasterCard if the item is damaged or stolen within 90 days of the date of purchase.
Discover
No need to worry about expired warranties. We will extend the terms of an existing eligible warranty for up to 1 additional year on warranties of 36 months or less.
 
Note that the entire cost of the eligible purchase must be charged to your Discover Card (or accrued rewards) for coverage to apply.
American Express
Use your Card for your eligible purchases and you can have warranty protection for longer.
 
Use Your Eligible Card - Extended Warranty1 can provide up to one extra year added to the original U.S. manufacturer’s warranty. Applies to warranties of 5 years or less when the eligible purchase is charged to the Card.
 
Coverage - You will only be covered up to the actual amount charged to your Card for the item up to a maximum of $10,000; not to exceed $50,000 per Card Member account per calendar year. Please read important exclusions and restrictions.
Citi DoubleCash Card (MasterCard)
We will extend the manufacturer’s warranty for an additional 24 Months. If you purchase an extended warranty, our coverage begins at the expiration of that warranty. In the event of a covered failure we will repair or replace the item or reimburse up to the amount charged on your Citi card and/or ThankYou Points (excluding shipping and handling) or $10,000, whichever is less. In no event will total coverage exceed 84 Months from the purchase date.
As shown above, warranties longer than 3-years typically do not qualify for extended warranty benefits. This is important because even though Nikon DSLR purchases would qualify for extended warranty coverage (1 year warranty), Nikon USA provides 5-year warranty (1+4 year extension) on lenses after registration. Sigma lenses qualify for a 4-year Sigma USA warranty (1+3 year extension) and Tamron USA provides a rather generous 6-year warranty.
 
Again, I urge you to check your credit card benefits to see if any of these benefits apply to you. It's a benefit we hope to never use, but a great benefit to have if your camera gear fails soon after the manufacturer's warranty expires.
 
On that note, getting an extra year's warranty on the newly announced Canon Speedlite 600EX II-RT doesn't sound so bad, does it?
Posted to: Canon News,
Post Date: 5/11/2016 8:11:58 AM CT   Posted By: Sean
 Tuesday, May 10, 2016
With 9 students planning to arrive for prom pictures within a short period of time, I had to be ready. The entire week preceding the big day was extra cloudy with lots of rain. The forecast for the Saturday afternoon shoot was calling for clouds with a 30% chance of light rain. Clouds would be perfect for afternoon outdoor lighting, the grass was very green and the new spring leaves on the trees were a great color for a background, but that chance of rain required a studio setup be on standby.
 
White matches everything, so ... I went with white this year.
 
Setting up for a high key white background is not hard nor is it expensive. If shooting partial body portraits, a white wall, white reflector or white foam core can work well as the background. For full body portraits, rolled paper is often the best option and it works great. Savage Widetone Seamless Paper Background is what I use.
 
To hold the rolled paper in place, a background stand (I have Impact and Manfrotto brands) is needed. The rolled paper slides onto the top bar of the background stand and rolls out onto the floor to the front (get another person to hold the background stand up while unrolling the paper as the stand could easily tip over during this step). I gaffer tape the paper to the floor to keep it from rolling back up and clamp the roll of paper to the top bar to keep it from further unrolling.
 
High Key Lighting Setup
 
More complicated than the background setup is the lighting and the balancing of the lights. I typically start my light balancing setup with the camera exposure settings. With powerful strobes in use, I have a lot of flexibility even at the lowest noise ISO setting of 100. With the EOS 1D X Mark II and similar-resolution full frame cameras, I generally start with f/11. This aperture gives me a lot of depth of field, keeping much or all of the subject in focus along with room for error (it is rare to get an out of focus portrait at f/11) without compromising image sharpness to diffraction. Note that, when using a solid-colored background such as rolled paper, there is little benefit to blurring the background via a wide aperture. A 1/160 shutter speed is about as fast as I trust the PocketWizards to trigger the first strobe and for the rest to optically trigger while the shutter is fully open, so that is what I go with. The f/11, 1/160 and ISO 100 combination is generally enough to overwhelm any ambient light present.
 
For lighting with consistent requirements, manual flash settings are ideal and ... the only option I have with my Elinchrom Digital Style studio monolights (Elinchrom ELC Pro HD Flash Heads are the current models).
 
For the high key background, I place a softbox-fitted strobe on each side of the paper with the power set high enough to blow out the background in the selected exposure (but not higher than necessary as flare could become an issue). I was tempted to place a 4x8' piece of clear Plexiglas on the floor under the subject to better reflect the bright background, but ... I feared that the parade of subjects flowing through my studio would not be kind to this relatively-expensive piece of plastic's useful lifespan.
 
To keep the background reflection from strongly influencing the lighting on the subject (a wrapping light the softens the transition from subject to the background), the subject should be positioned well in front of the background. The subject to background distance was about 10' (3m) in this example.
 
Prom is all about the dress (or tux) and a 54" octagonal softbox angled just slightly downward and directly at the subject from camera-left created an even light emphasizing the dresses. This light was adjusted to the output needed for proper dress brightness with care taken to not overexpose the dress as reducing brightness during post processing can reduce the background's whiteness. A 24x24" softbox on a Manfrotto boom was positioned above the subject to light their head with the appropriate brightness setting used for that.
 
While it takes multiple lights to effectively create a high key effect and light the subject, the light sources do not have to be studio strobes. I have done the same many times with Speedlites and constant lights, can also be utilized. And, the background does not have to be pure white as long as your background lights are bright enough to make whatever color is available bright enough. I've even shot high key corporate portraits using a light-colored wallpaper background. Hit it with enough light and it turns white.
 
Umbrellas can be used in place of softboxes.
 
By the time my first subject arrived (my own daughter was first and about 1 hour late), the day was bright, sunny and unfavorable for lighting in my preferred outdoor locations. It didn't take much thought to know that the indoor option was best.
 
With the lighting and camera settings all dialed in before any subjects arrived, I was able to take lots of photos in a short/compressed amount of time.
 
The Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM Lens is an excellent portrait lens and 70mm is just wide enough for comfortably shooting full length portraits in my studio space. The just-arrived Canon EOS 1D X Mark II was my camera choice for this shoot. This scenario was a walk in the park for this camera.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr, Google+, Facebook and 500px. If reading from a news feed reader, click through to see the framed image. Please share these tips with your circle of friends!
 
Have any questions? Ask!
 
Camera and Lens Settings
80mm  f/11.0  1/160s
ISO 100
3648 x 5472px
Posted to: Canon News,
Post Date: 5/10/2016 11:13:39 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Thursday, May 5, 2016
by Sean Setters
 
While recently planning a trip to Wichita, KS to visit friends, my goal was to pack as light as possible to avoid checked baggage fees. The trip was not planned with photography being a high priority, however, I wanted to take a decently capable kit with me in case photographic opportunities arose.
 
On that note, Delta allows one personal item and one carry-on bag for free. My work laptop bag filled the "personal item" allotment. As such, my Lowepro Nova Sport 35L AW became a dual service bag in that it not only carried my camera gear but my clothes as well.
 
Unfortunately, that led to compromises as I couldn't take as much camera gear as I'm used to having available and I had to be very selective in the clothes that I packed.
 
Having never been to Wichita, I wasn't quite sure what kinds of photographic opportunities to expect. Therefore, I decided to structure my kit to be as versatile as possible while remaining [relatively] small in footprint.
 
Clothes aside, here's the gear I packed into the Lowepro Nova Sport 35L AW:
 
I choose to bring the 7D II instead of my 5D III because the crop sensor camera allowed me to pack a wide range of focal lengths in a smaller amount of space compared to a full-frame compatible set of lenses (not to mention the weight savings over similarly-capable full-frame lenses). As this wasn't a photo-centric trip, I decided not to pack an LC-E6 battery charger (assuming I wouldn't exhaust two LP-E6s in three days).
 
Here were my thoughts behind the gear choices:
 
  • The EF-S 10-18 IS STM would fulfill my wide-angle lens needs; the EF-S 55-250 IS STM would cover telephoto needs.
  • The EF-S 24 STM and 40 STM pancakes would be perfect for shooting video while adding very little weight/bulk to the kit. The 40mm lens would also fill a gap in my uncovered focal range and could serve as a decent, loosely framed portrait lens with a 64mm full-frame equivalent focal length.
  • The Sigma 24mm f/1.4 Art would serve as my indoor, low-light lens. I anticipated that we would be spending a decent amount of time in our friends' apartment hanging out and catching up (we don't see them often).
  • The 580EX flash would allow me to augment the light in a scene if needed. Bounce flash can produce very flattering light in indoor settings (assuming you have neutral-colored walls/ceilings to work with). And with the 7D II's pop-up flash acting as a master flash, I could even use the flash off-camera if needed. Including flash gels would also allow me to change the color of the flash's light to more closely match the ambient.
  • I opted to bring the tiny Feisol Mini Tripod so that I'd have some type of support solution in the kit. I envisioned using it for group photos or possibly lightning shots (when combined with the Miops Camera Trigger).
The Canon EF-S 55-250mm IS STM proved especially useful on a visit to the Sedgwick County Zoo because of its small size, long focal range and effective IS.
 
Giraffe Mane at Sedgwick County Zoo

Bird at Sedgwick County Zoo

Galapagos Tortoise at Sedgwick County Zoo

The EF-S 55-250 IS STM also proved useful in another way. Having not anticipated the need for a macro lens, I hadn't packed one. However, as our friends were recently engaged, I was asked to capture a shot of the engagement ring. Being engaged to a railroad rail quality engineer, the happy bride-to-be wanted to incorporate the railroad into the shot.
 
Luckily, we found an abandoned pile of railroad spikes about 20 feet away from a portion of track at a long-abandoned railway station. Without a macro lens at hand, I used the 55-250mm lens to create the image below.
 
Engagement Ring on Railroad Spikes

And here are a few images I captured using other lenses in the kit:
 
Trees Beginning to Bloom Wichita KS

Buildings Wichita KS

Museum of World Treasures Wichita KS Portrait

Museum of World Treasures Wichita KS

Overall, the gear worked well for the trip and was not a burden to travel with. I used everything except the Miops trigger (no lightning on the trip) and I was able to capture images in a variety of situations. And for what it's worth, my most-used lens on the trip – the Canon EF-S 55-250mm f/4.5-5.6 IS STM – is currently on sale at the Canon Refurbished Store for a ridiculously low price.
Posted to: Canon News,
Post Date: 5/5/2016 9:05:15 AM CT   Posted By: Sean
 Friday, April 29, 2016
Aspen trees do not all change color at the same time in the fall. This can be good or bad news. Good is that there is some flexibility in the timing of fall photo trips to aspen areas. Potentially bad is that there will likely be green or bare aspen trees in your targeted area.
 
In addition to leaf color, sky cover is a concern for aspen tree photography. While blue skies are beautiful, I much prefer to have photogenic clouds decorating a blue sky (with abundant amounts of sunshine coming through). My reasoning for this preference is probably obvious for images that include those clouds and the sky. But, clouds cast shadows and shadows can greatly contribute to imagery.
 
On the return hike from Crater Lake on this day, clouds blocked the sun just enough to shade Sievers Mountain while the foreground aspen trees glowed brightly in the sunlight. In the mid-ground was a patch of aspens with only their top-most leaves remaining (these are the last to fall). Also in the sun, these leaves appear as a flame over the trees. While it is not in the limelight, Sievers Mountain, full of character and framed in blue sky with white clouds further separating the sharpest peaks, makes this shot for me.
 
While a telephoto lens may not have been your first choice for a hike primarily focused on landscape photography, telephoto focal lengths are an integral part of my landscape kit. I often find composing landscape images with a telephoto zoom lens to be easier than a wide angle lens. The next time you head out to photograph the great outdoors, especially in big mountain areas, make sure that a telephoto zoom lens is in your bag.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr, Google+, Facebook and 500px. If reading from a news feed reader, click through to see the framed image.
Posted to: Canon News,
Post Date: 4/29/2016 11:23:51 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Thursday, April 28, 2016
While exploring Middle Caicos, I came across this great little old boat on Bambarra Beach. I opted to go wide and move in close, emphasizing the boat relative to the rest of the landscape. As I worked the scene, I continued to move in closer and lower until ... cue the pelican ... I settled on this shot.
 
The Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM Lens is a great beach and seascape lens option, with or without a tripod.
 
Whether or not to use a circular polarizer filter when using the widest angles of this lens on a full frame body (and similar angle-of-view-equivalent focal lengths on APS-C format bodies) is a question that one must ask themselves. At very wide angles, a CPL filter can create an unevenly-darkened sky and tastes for such vary widely. One strategy is to shoot in the middle of the day. A high sun places the most-darkened portion of the sky evenly over the horizon. This provides a more-evenly darkened sky within the frame, as seen in this image.
 
While there is some gradient in this sky, I much prefer the CPL look and the high sky-to-boat contrast over the lighter sky (which naturally has some gradient even without the filter).
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr, Google+, Facebook and 500px. If reading from a news feed reader, click through to see the framed image.
Posted to: Canon News,
Post Date: 4/28/2016 11:56:32 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
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