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 Tuesday, September 1, 2015
Meerkat at the Nashville Zoo at Grassmere
by Sean Setters
 
When I travel, I usually try to visit a zoo if there is one nearby. Zoos offer tremendous opportunities to photograph wildlife that would otherwise be economically infeasible (because of travel) or dangerous to photograph otherwise.
 
After visiting several zoos over the past few years, I've learned a few things that may help you on your next zoo trip.
 
Plan to start your day early.
 
Animals are generally more active in the morning before the sweltering sun sets in for good. Plan to arrive at the zoo when it opens. This will not only give you the best opportunity to see animals active and out in the open, but you will also be able to avoid the large crowds that develop as the day wears on (thereby making the best vantage points easier to reach). Doing online research of the zoo before you set off can help you determine which exhibits you want to visit first to increase your chances of capturing the best shots.
 
Alligator at Oatland Wildlife Center Savannah GA

Getting to Oatland Wildlife Center as soon as it opened allowed me to photograph the alligators while no one else was around. This gave me the freedom to choose any shooting position I wished for optimal framing.
 
Pack these: your longest (non-super) telephoto, a general purpose zoom & a standard wide aperture prime lens.
 
Generally speaking, a telephoto lens in the 300-400mm range will be ideal for many outdoor wildlife exhibits. The long reach and narrow angle of view of these lenses will help allow you fill the frame with your animal subjects while also minimizing the evidence of captivity in your photos. Lenses such as the Canon EF 300mm f/4L IS USM, EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM and EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM work very well in this regard.
 
Hyacinth Macaw at Nashville Zoo

A long telephoto lens can even aid in minimizing the impact that fences/nets have on your images as long as the barricade is close to the end of your lens and your focus point is well beyond it. This causes the fence/net to become blurred sufficiently enough so that it may not be readily distinguishable in your image (though you will likely notice a loss of contrast).
 
You may find that your long telephoto lens never leaves your camera while visiting a zoo. However, don't discount the value of having a general purpose lens on hand just in case. My recent trip to Oatland Island Wildlife Center in Savannah, GA proved less than fruitful in regards to animal photography than I had hoped because the early morning heat left most animals hiding in their shaded enclosures. However, one section of the trail proved especially beautiful as the boardwalk ventured out over a large marsh. I quickly affixed the EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM to my 5D III and captured the following handheld HDR image.
 
Oatland Island Wildlife Center Marsh

Another lens you may find particularly useful is a standard wide aperture prime lens in the 50-85mm focal range. These lenses can prove extremely beneficial if the zoo you are visiting features indoor aquariums or exhibits. The wider aperture provided by these lenses can be essential for minimizing motion blur (from animals or the photographer) while maintaining acceptably low ISO levels.
 
And while on the subject of photographing animals through glass, wearing a dark colored shirt can help you avoid capturing distracting reflections in the glass. Unfortunately, wearing a dark colored shirt may not be ideal if it's a hot summer day, so you may want to simply throw the shirt in your camera bag in case you need it.
 
Bring sunscreen and water.
 
While many zoos have done a good job in providing ample shade for visitors, you may find yourself getting a little more sun than you thought you might after a long day of photographing captive wildlife. Be sure to wear sunscreen to the park and keep a small tube of it in your camera bag (inside a zip-top plastic bag) for reapplying when necessary.
 
Not only can the sun take a toll on your skin, but the heat combined with the exercised involved in toting camera equipment around the park can easily lead to dehydration if you aren't careful. Most zoos have water fountains located throughout the park, but you may want to keep a water bottle on hand for when you need it most. A small snack (like a granola bar) can easily be stowed in your camera bag and can help provide a little energy during a short break.
 
And that's it. If you have any more tips, please feel free to share them in the comments section!
Post Date: 9/1/2015 10:10:00 AM CT   Posted By: Sean
 Friday, August 28, 2015
Summer Photography Tips: Visit the Amusement Park After Dark
Amusements parks, carnivals, fairs, and similar are popular summer attractions. The next time you visit such attractions, be sure to take your camera gear (including a tripod) and ... make sure that you stay until the lights come on. To be more "attractive", amusement rides are typically well-lit at night and these rides (along with other signage) can make colorful images.
 
The first step: before you leave home, make sure that you know the park's rules for photography. The bigger the park, carnival, etc., the more likely that your activity will fall under regulation. The Ferris wheel shown here was captured at Knoebels Amusement Resort in Elysburg, PA (America's largest free-admission park). This park requires permission for "Professional Photography".
 
Also before you go, scope out potential opportunities using the park's map, satellite imagery and photos found online. Look for colorful rides that move significantly and have lots of lights on the moving portions of the ride. While motionless lights can be attractive in images (especially if out of focus), moving lights can be made to cover much more of the frame, replacing dark sky with bright light. Spinning rides often work well, but roller coasters often do not.
 
A perfect night photography ride example is the big Ferris wheel at Knoebels. The park has recently installed a new LED lighting system that displays constantly changing colors as the big wheel spins. The ride looks impressive and attracts many spectators in addition to riders.
 
Though it has excellent image quality, my choice to use the Canon EF 11-24mm f/4L Lens for this image was foremost for the ultra-wide focal lengths. Because of the many obstructions around (notably, trees), I wanted to be as close to the ride as possible and also wanted the close, looking-up perspective. This position also helped avoid people (the spectators I mentioned) in the frame (and the model release complication they could potentially add).
 
There are many options for photographing amusement parks in the dark (or just before dark), but I like to fill a significant amount of the frame with light. In this particular case, I liked having the entire wheel in the frame while shooting (I was over 11 hours into my commercial shoot and had gone to bed at 3:00 AM that morning, so I can't argue that my decision making ability was not slightly clouded at the time). During post processing, I decided that I liked the wheel cropped tighter, showing even more color in the frame and making the support structure larger in the frame. That the 5Ds R has such extreme resolution enabled me to crop significantly into the frame and still have a high resolution image remaining (roughly 22 megapixels). And, I still have the full size image available if wanted at a later time.
 
Camera exposure settings for lights moving in the dark are often determined by aperture and ISO. That was the case here. Since the lights in the middle of the wheel are not moving as fast as the outermost lights, there is an overall exposure balance required. The LED lights were very bright and ISO 100 with an f/11 aperture worked well in this case (I reduced the brightness somewhat in post processing). I adjusted the shutter speed (in manual mode) to capture the complete movement between wheel spokes without overlap (which would cause overexposure), generating a complete circle of light that, with the changing lights, resembles a pinwheel.
 
Dark park photography will test your visualization ability, but it is great fun to anticipate and view the results. It is not hard to create attractive blurs of light at these venues. Give after-dark amusement park photography a go! It shouldn't be hard to entertain the kids while you do.
 
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: 8/28/2015 1:46:21 PM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Wednesday, August 26, 2015
Catching Color with the Sigma 24-35mm f/2 Art Lens and Why You Shouldn't Leave when the Sun Sets
Time after time, I am in position to photograph the sunset with many other photographers and observers around me. It is (usually) lots of fun talking to those nearby, but ... as soon as the sun goes behind the horizon, most people pack up and leave.
 
Last week, the same thing was happening as I was bayside in Seaside Park, NJ. Right after the sun disappeared, a friendly photographer came over and asked if I got "it" while showing me his favorite pic of the setting sun. I replied that I did, but indicated that the main show was likely still to come. He said that he liked to see the sun's reflection best. My thought was that his preference is fine, that we are all different, that I too like the sun's reflection and that I was still expecting the best yet to come.
 
Fortunately, this gentleman had enough question about my opinion vs. his that he stuck around. Fifteen minutes was all that was needed. The color in the sky was very impressive on this evening and Barnegat Bay was very calm. About 25 minutes after the sun set, the other photographer returned very excited. Upon a quick review of his website the next day, I found only one picture from that evening. One captured well after the sun had set.
 
Unless I am shooting landscape that the setting sun is directly lighting, I am usually more found of my post-sunset images. This image was my favorite from the night (though I have many close runners-up).
 
This is an HDR image, comprised of three exposures used to balance the overall brightness of the final image.
 
While an f/2 max aperture lens invites many uses in addition to landscape photography, the focal length range of the Sigma 24-35mm f/2 DG HSM Art Lens is great for this use. Since the Sigma 24-35mm f/2 Art Lens was what I was evaluating at the time, I put it to use for my sunset session. It performed excellently.
 
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: 8/26/2015 12:03:09 PM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Wednesday, August 19, 2015
Summer Photography Tips: Plant for Butterfly and Flower Pictures
Few natural subjects surpass flowers and butterflies in colorfulness. Planting flowers that attract butterflies takes advantage of both and planting them in your yard means fast access to these great subjects.
 
Don't have a garden of your own? Don't want to do the work? Others love gardening. Find someone who has this passion and share your photography passion with them in the form of images and prints. Alternatively, find a public garden.
 
Coneflowers are one of my favorite flowers and a small garden of them behind the house provided hours of distraction (I mean "gear evaluation") for me this summer. The shape of the flower permits full view of the butterfly and the working area keeps the butterfly busy long enough to get the photo. Because these flowers are planted on a bank, I can shoot horizontally across the flower tops (to get blurred blooms in the background) without lying on the ground. A raised planting box offers a similar advantage.
 
Most macro lenses work well for flowers, but butterflies are sometimes not comfortable with a lens close to them. Longer focal lengths permit longer working distances. In this case, the spangled fritillary butterfly was quite tolerant of my presence and I was able to utilize the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L IS Macro Lens at a close distance.
 
I'm still struggling to retrain my brain to frame slightly wider with the extreme resolution of the Canon EOS 5Ds R available, allowing minor cropping to achieve perfect framing during post processing. The result in this case was that the butterfly's antenna was slightly closer to the right edge of the frame than I wanted. Fortunately, I had taken multiple photos and was able to add a small strip to the right side of this image, with ideal wing position, from one of the others for a 52.9 megapixel final image size.
 
I used a Canon Macro Ring Lite MR-14EX II Flash with a camera exposure that balanced the ambient background lighting. Because the coneflower petals were closer to the flash than the butterfly, they were slightly brighter than I wanted. I decreased the brightness of the RAW file and overlaid the darker flower petals on the brighter butterfly and background.
 
What is in your flower bed? If the ideal flowers are not there, add them! Then get ready for your summer color.
 
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
100mm  f/4.0  1/160s
ISO 100
6092 x 8688px
Post Date: 8/19/2015 12:28:16 PM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Tuesday, August 18, 2015
Summer Photography Tips: Plan Your Fall Foliage Trip
Why am I posting a fall foliage photo for a summer photography tip? Good question – Let me explain.
 
Anticipation is one of life's greatest feelings.
 
Strive to create anticipation for your clients and also in your own life. One of my favorite anticipations is for a photo trip and, while many lament the end of summer approaching, my favorite time of the year to photograph is when the leaves change color. This time of the year is primarily in the fall season, but ... the leaves in some of the most-scenic areas are reaching peak color just as the summer season comes to an end.
 
Many landscape photographers share my affinity for fall and photographers with interests other than landscape photography can also benefit from the brilliant colors. For example, portrait, sports, car and many other photographers can find the colorful fall backgrounds advantageous. If it is summer and your fall trip(s) is(are) not planned, don't wait any longer.
 
If colorful leaves are the desired subject, a location experiencing that color during your time there is important. While that timing can change from year-to-year, influenced by water and temperature, trip planning should use historical averages for decision making. There are many fall foliage maps available to help with destination and date planning.
 
My last fall foliage photography trip was to Colorado, including the San Juan Mountains, a location sure to be found on all USA fall foliage maps. For this image, I used a telephoto lens to bring the snow-capped mountains in close, making them appear large in the frame. A break in the heavy cloud cover provided beautiful lighting and the low-hanging cloud added the extra element I am always searching for.
 
While your fall foliage photo trip may be best planned even earlier than summer, if summer is here, wait no longer. My big fall trip is planned, but ... I'll let the destination be a small anticipation for you.
 
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: 8/18/2015 9:28:41 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Monday, August 17, 2015
I've used the Spiffy Gear Light Blaster periodically since authoring a review of the strobe-based projection aid nearly two years ago. Over that time I've used the Light Blaster in several different ways. With a brand new studio space (giving me more room to work than my previous place), I decided to illustrate some of the different ways you can utilize the Light Blaster for creative portraiture with a series of (yep, you guessed it) self-portraits.
 
The Standard – Using the Light Blaster for Backgrounds
 
Spiffy Gear Light Blaster Used as Background

The most common use for the Light Blaster is to project an interesting background for your portrait. It's relatively easy and straight forward to use the Light Blaster in this way. However, you need to make sure to control all the light sources in your scene as stray light can wash out the projected background. Notice that the left side of the image above is slightly more washed out than the other side which is a result of me using a reflector as opposed to a gridded softbox for fill.
 
Here was the setup:
 
Spiffy Gear Light Blaster Used as Background Setup

The main light was provided by a Canon 580EX flash diffused by a gridded softbox while the fill light was provided by a reflector positioned just out of the frame. I used another 580EX (camera left, gridded) as a rim light and a final 580EX provided the light being projected by the Light Blaster. Note that I had to use my widest angle lens (a Rokinon 14mm f/2.8) to create a projection wide enough to fill the wall behind me and I had to pose carefully so as to hide the Light Blaster during the shot.
 
Projecting an Image onto the Subject and Background
 
Spiffy Gear Light Blaster Lighting the Subject and Background

This was one of the techniques I used when creating the Light Blaster Review. This is a relatively challenging technique because of the multiple planes of focus you must consider when creating this type of image.
 
One plane of focus you must consider is that of the lens attached to your camera. That one's pretty straight forward as you can increase (or decrease) depth-of-field by adjusting your camera settings. The other plane of focus is more troublesome because you can't vary the aperture of Canon AF lenses that aren't attached to the camera (in other words, the lens attached to the Light Blaster). Unless that lens is fully manual (and in most cases it won't be), your lens will be projecting the image using a wide open aperture meaning you must choose a working distance and focal length which are optimal in terms of making use of the projection and obtaining the depth of field necessary for the effect.
 
While I was eventually able to overcome the challenges and produce an effect I liked, the projection on the background was not perfectly in focus (although I think the slight out-of-focus text looked good in that particular image).
 
Projecting an Image onto the Subject (But Not Onto the Background*)
 
Spiffy Gear Light Blaster Lighting the Subject Not Background

This is probably the second-most utilized technique when using the Light Blaster. If you have enough working space, you can position the Light Blaster so that it strikes the subject yet doesn't appear in the background. That may sound simple, but it's a little tougher than you may think.
 
The problem is that for a full-sized projection to cover your subject, pointing the Light Blaster straight ahead is best. However, that leaves you with the projection very noticeable in the background. You can compensate for this by independently lighting the background (blowing it out) or you can avoid the situation by angling the Light Blaster in such a way that its projection doesn't fall into the background of your composition.
 
Depending on the space you have available to you, it may be difficult to position the Light Blaster perfectly so that it lights the subject in a pleasing way while not also appearing the background. If you position the Light Blaster too high, it may not light your subject's eyes when looking at the camera. In my first attempt, the projection fell onto the lower part of my frame in the background when used at the height necessary to light my eyes. I dealt with it by cropping the image so as not to show that part of the frame. When showing the image to Bryan, he wasn't terribly impressed by the attempt. He challenged me to create an image with "more power."
 
More power, eh?
 
I'm glad that Bryan challenged me to make a better image, as the one shown above turned out to be one of my favorite self-portraits ever. The Light Blaster was positioned similarly as in my first attempt (high, pointed downward) and a couple of rim lights were used to help define my outline. Instead of cropping out the part that was "contaminated" by the Light Blaster's projection, I used it heighten the effect of the image. That's why there's an asterisk on this section – the projection did hit a small portion of the background (and that turned out to be a good thing).
 
The out-of-focus (OOF) areas of the projection which fell onto the background looked a little bit like flames to me, except that they were greyish in tone. The projection was not perfectly centered, either, which led to a black area on the left side.
 
Here's the straight-out-of-camera (SOOC) image:
 
Spiffy Gear Light Blaster Lighting the Subject Not Background SOOC

I cloned a section of the OOF area on the right side, flipped it horizontally, set the layer blend mode to "Lighten" and placed it over the lower black portion of the left side of the frame. I then created a new layer set to "Color" blend mode and painted the OOF areas behind me with a yellow color. The alterations transformed the OOF areas into something reminiscent of flames which added to the overall intimidating, tyrannical look I was going for.
 
The setup looked similar to this except Speed Grids were used on the rim light flashes:
 
Spiffy Gear Light Blaster Lighting the Subject Not Background Setup

Using the Light Blaster with In-Camera Multiple Exposures
 
Spiffy Gear Light Blaster Used in Multiple Exposures

You can also use the Light Blaster when capturing in-camera multiple exposures to create interesting and creative images. For the above image, I pointed the Light Blaster at a wall and projected a slide contained in one of the Spiffy Gear Blaster Creative Kits (think it was the Backdrops one, but I'm not 100% certain). I then set my 5D III to Multiple Exposures (Additive) and chose the Light Blaster slide as my base image.
 
Using the Additive setting in Multiple Exposures mode will cause the lightest pixels in each exposure to stand out. I took advantage of this by using gridded rim lights to burn my profile into the original image. Full disclosure: I was really lucky with the placement of my eye within the frame. The fact that my eye just happened to occupy a dark area in the slide meant that it became a big focal point in the image. I converted the in-camera multiple exposure to grayscale in post.
 
Of course, you can achieve multiple exposures in post-processing simply by layering your images and changing the blend mode to "Lighten." And in that case, you certainly aren't limited to the specific Light Blaster slides you own. But there's a certain elegance to capturing the image you want in-camera, and it can certainly be more fun to do it that way.
 
As you can see, there are many different ways that a Spiffy Gear Light Blaster can be used for creative portraiture. Another great thing about the Light Blaster is that purchasing used 35mm transparent slides on eBay allows for an endless variety of backdrops and projections to use.
 
List of Gear Used
 
Spiffy Gear Light Blaster
Spiffy Gear Blaster Creative Kit
Canon EOS 5D Mark III
Canon EF 24-105mm f4L IS USM
Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art
Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 IF ED UMC
Induro 8X CT-314 Carbon Fiber Tripod
Arca Swiss Monoball Z1 Ball Head
Matthews Maxi Kit Steel Stand (9.5')
Avenger Light Stand (Black, 12.6')
Avenger F600 Baby Offset Arm
24" Collapsibe Softbox for Shoe-mount Flashes
Impact Collapsible Oval Reflector - Soft Gold/White - 41x74"
Radio triggers
Shoe Mount Umbrella Adapter & Umbrella Swivel
Female Hotshoe with Miniphone Jack
5/8 Inch Spigot with 1/4"-20 Threaded Stud
Honl Speed Strap
Opteka 1/8" Universal Honeycomb Grid
35mm Transparent Slides
Post Date: 8/17/2015 8:24:00 AM CT   Posted By: Sean
 Thursday, August 13, 2015
Summer Photography Tips: Go North (or: Follow the Birds)
Don't like shooting in the extreme heat and humidity of summer? Be like the birds – migrate! For most of us northern hemisphere residents, the preferred direction is north.
 
I was recently privileged to do just that, spending a week 26 miles from the grid in the North Maine Woods, just below the Canadian border. The temperature here in late July was very pleasant during my entire stay.
 
The North Maine Woods are sometimes referred to as the "Silent Woods" by my family, referencing specifically the lack of crickets, cicadas, katydids, etc. making the loud night music we are accustomed to at home. But that declaration is not completely true. Along with some frogs, the clear, eerie call of the loon is a common night sound heard around the silent, pristine northern Maine lakes. It is a sound that I love to hear and a photo of that audio source brings back great memories.
 
I have photos of common loons, but ... none that stood out to me. I have wanted change that problem on this trip and to do so, I spent just over hour early each of four mornings attempting to photograph these beautiful birds.
 
My craft was a canoe. Being solo in the canoe with light and changing winds added to the challenge of positioning for the photos. Getting close enough for adequate frame filling while positioning between the loons and the sun all while not concerning the not-too-tame birds was not easy. A light wind being able to rapidly turn the canoe was definitely not helpful.
 
My case was a Pelican. As it is only fitting to use a case named after a bird while photographing birds, I stored the camera and lenses in a "Pelican" 1510 while in transit between shore and actively photographing the birds. While the Pelican case lacks official approval as a PFD, it floats very nicely in the event of a worst case scenario. There was no worry about water from the paddle dripping on it and no worry about water on the floor of the boat reaching the gear.
 
The Canon EF 100-400mm L IS II was my Lens choice for these outings. While a 600mm lens would have been more ideal from a focal length perspective (due to the distance that the loons were comfortable with), it would not have been easy to handle this lens in the canoe, especially when alternating between paddling and photographing. The 1.4x behind the 100-400 L II would have also been helpful, but ... that option was not available to me.
 
The Canon EOS 5Ds R was my camera choice. Having the tremendous resolution of the 5Ds R allowed me to crop deep into the frame with significant pixel dimension remaining. At least 24 megapixels remained in most final images and some required no cropping for a frame-filling loon. Framing loosely had some advantages. For one, the loons were seldom still. And, by sticking one leg straight out the side, loons can change directions 180° almost instantly. That is much faster than I could change the canoe's direction and faster than I could change an AF point to the opposite side. With the center AF point locked on the bird's head, I was ready for any direction change with the bird (often) remaining (relatively) easy to keep entirely in the frame with only slight recomposition needed.
 
While I cropped the loons rather tightly in most images, being able to go back to the RAW file means that I can open images up if/when more space is needed around the birds such as for titles and text. The background, primarily reflections of the forest with some sky, are beautiful in their own right and in this photo, I especially liked the reflected colors of the forest being hit with early morning light. The white birch tree reflection is another key location identifier to me.
 
Photo trips such as this one provide extremely educational firsthand experience. One of my take-aways from this loon photography experience is that loons blink a LOT after surfacing into bright sunlight. Once I noticed that behavior, I was careful to time the shutter release with an open eye (and utilized burst mode more frequently).
 
Crossing this photo off of my bucket list was not a small effort (some might say that I went "loony"), but the pile of keeper-grade loon images I brought home was a bit daunting to sort through. Selecting the one to share with you first was an even bigger challenge. Being in a far north latitude meant that this effort was "no sweat."
 
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
400mm  f/6.3  1/500s
ISO 800
7230 x 4820px
Post Date: 8/13/2015 10:04:47 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Monday, August 10, 2015
eBay Hero Image after Post-Processing
by Sean Setters
 
When you need to sell some of your photography equipment to fund upgrades (or in dire cases, pay bills), it's important that you get top dollar when parting with your gear. While selling your used equipment to B&H or Adorama is extremely convenient, an eBay auction can help you get the highest price for your photography gear (even considering eBay and PayPal fees).
 
As eBay is such a popular choice for those wanting to sell used DSLRs and lenses, it's important to make your auction look as attractive as possible in the search results page to maximize page views and generate auction watchers. The best way to do that is to create an outstanding leading image that stands out from the pack.
 
Can a great leading image really help? Check out this eBay search for used "L" lenses and take a good look at the leading images. Chances are you'll find several examples of lenses sitting on a hardwood floor, carpet or dining room table with terrible (and many times insufficient) lighting. Even though these sellers own high-quality Canon lenses (assuming a 3rd party isn't handling the sale), most take little care in crafting a compelling leading image for their auction. And, typically speaking, eBay buyers don't want to see a stock image when purchasing used lenses – they want to see the actual items they're buying. All of these factors make creating a high-quality leading image an important and valuable part of the listing process.
 
I realize that not everyone has all the lighting equipment that I have. Therefore, my goal was to create a high-quality eBay leading image for a lens auction – on white – using only one flash (with a modifier) and minimal processing.
 
For the purposes of this post, I picked the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM to photograph for the hypothetical auction. To begin with, I set up a small foldable table in my studio. Next, I placed a white sheet of glass (Hobby Lobby, $8.00) and a white, bi-fold piece of foam craft board (Hobby Lobby, but I don't remember the price). The craft board served as both a background and a reflector.
 
Next, the lighting – a radio triggered Canon Speedlite 580EX diffused by a Lumiquest Softbox LTP and affixed to the flash with a Honl Speed Strap. Why the Lumiquest LTp? Because its size seemed just about perfect for this particular setup. Plus, it's designed to be stored in a bag's laptop (or similar) compartment so it's pretty easy to always have on hand. To better even out the lighting in the softbox, I taped a thin sheet of tissue paper to the inside/front of the softbox soon after receiving it several years ago. The DIY diffusion panel has stayed intact remarkably well.
 
I placed the flash/softbox on a light stand positioned at roughly a 45-degree angle opposite the center of the bi-fold craft board.
 
It's a good idea to include all of the important elements of your auction in the leading image. In this particular hypothetical sale, I'm selling the lens, UV filter, hood and lens cap. Even if I were including the box with the sale, I wouldn't necessarily include it in the leading image. Don't get me wrong, a retail box can help boost the value of your auction, but I don't think it draws enough clicks on its own to bother with cluttering up the image that gets displayed in search results (keeping in mind that including the box would make the actual lens a smaller part of the overall composition). Also, be sure to thoroughly clean your items before photographing them. A rocket blower can help tremendously for getting rid of pesky dust.
 
As for the camera and lens, I'm using a tripod-mounted EOS 5D Mark III and an EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM. A macro lens certainly isn't required for this type of image, but it is very sharp and has a long focus throw (I like using manual focus for product imagery).
 
Below you can see my setup.
 
eBay Leading Image Sample Setup

The settings used for the leading image were: f/7.1, 1/160 sec, ISO 200. If this were a real auction, I would have taken many more images using the same setup (each item photographed individually with several different shots of the lens).
 
Here's the leading image straight out of the camera:
 
eBay Leading Image Straight Out of Camera

I did a decent job of blowing out the background in the initial exposure, but it's not perfectly white (that's especially true for the left side of the frame which was farthest away from the light source). I corrected this by creating a white layer and masking out the areas where the lens and discernable shadows were. After that I simply cleaned up a few of the dust particles I missed when initially cleaning the items. Note that I didn't remove the small blemish above the focus distance window. Removing dust in post-processing is fine, but you shouldn't alter the appearance of the lens in any meaningful way (and any imperfections should be clearly noted in your auction).
 
The final post-processed image appears at the top of this post, but here it is again for reference purposes:
 
eBay Leading Image Final

If you want to help protect your image from being used by others eBay sellers, you can also watermark your image. The problem is that putting a watermark in the white areas is easy to erase, while placing the watermark over the product could lead to hiding a critical detail if you aren't careful. If you want to include a watermark, it might be best to watermark the leading image and leave it absent on subsequent images of individual items included in the sale. Below is the same image with a watermark included.
 
eBay Hero Image Final with Watermark

So with a single off-camera flash, modifier, white piece of glass and a bi-fold craft board you can create professional looking product images for your next eBay sale, thereby increasing consumer interest and maximizing sale profits on your used gear.
Post Date: 8/10/2015 6:59:03 AM CT   Posted By: Sean
 Wednesday, August 5, 2015
Summer Photography Tips: Lightning
Let me first say that photographers (myself included) tend to overlook safety too frequently when attempting to capture the perfect shots. Lightning is extremely dangerous and strong caution is advised when attempting to photograph it. That said: Summer is the season for lightning.
 
A couple of days ago, my wife came in from walking the dog at nearly midnight and said that I had to go out and see the lightning in the distance. A quick check of the weather radar showed that a strong thunderstorm was going to graze us and even though my body said "No! It's time for bed!", my brain knew that this was a great opportunity and that the potential photos, if realized, would last far longer than my tiredness.
 
I quickly assessed the focal length needs and mounted a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM Lens on a Canon EOS 5Ds R. Lightning strikes tend to be random in location and, with the extreme resolution of the 5Ds R, I could afford to shoot with a wider focal length and crop into the frame for the shorter and more-distant lightning bolts. Lightning bolts also vary greatly in brightness and the f/2.8 lens gave me plenty of latitude for exposure settings.
 
I grabbed a tripod, remote release and a tiny flashlight. I went out the door and spent the next hour capturing lightning strikes.
 
Note that rain protection for both you and the gear is a very good idea as rain typically accompanies thunderstorms. In this case, my shirt became the gear protection and I simply got wet.
 
When it is very dark out, lightning photography is not too difficult. Frame the scene in the direction of the storm (consider incorporating some foreground) with a level camera. Turn off image stabilization (if available) and switch to manual focus. Establishing accurate manual focus in the dark can be challenging, but a street light, a light on a distant tower or even a star (if visible) can work.
 
Attach the remote switch (needs to be able to lock the shutter open) to the camera and set the camera's mode to "B" (Bulb). The shutter speed will be established by the duration of the remote release press. With the dark sky contributing very little light to the exposure, the image brightness will be determined by the lightning and its illumination of the clouds in combination with the selected ISO and aperture settings. Lightning bolts are very bright, but because of the varying distance and intensity of the light output, some trial and error may be necessary to dial in the most-optimal settings. I'll throw out a starter setting of f/4 and ISO 400.
 
You may decide that turning off the camera's long exposure noise reduction is advisable as dark frame capture is time consuming.
 
Once the camera is setup, open the shutter using the remote release and wait for lightning to strike. After a strike, release the shutter and immediately open it again.
 
Bryan's Law of Lightning Photography: The best lightning bolts are guaranteed to occur in the brief period of time that the shutter is closed between exposures.
 
You may find that you want to start a new photo after a period of inactivity to reduce long exposure noise in the images. Leaving the shutter open for multiple strikes is an option, though a risk is that parts of the image, generally clouds near an area of recurring lightning activity, become overexposed. You may find it more optimal to combine specific images later during post processing.
 
I captured more lightning strikes in this 1 hour storm than I have in any storm I previously photographed. The results were definitely worth an hour of lost sleep. This image, my favorite of the take, is a single exposure practically straight out of the camera (slight cropping and Picture Style change).
 
While the nighttime lightning photography technique is relatively easy, daytime lightning photography is much more challenging. Daylight lightning photography procedures are not dissimilar from normal daylight photography, but the problem is that relatively short exposures are required to achieve proper image brightness and short exposures are hard to time with a lightning strike. To catch a bolt of lightning in daylight requires FAST reflexes (or better, a lightning trigger) and a camera with a short shutter lag.
 
Give lightning photography a try – the results will be ... "striking."
 
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: 8/5/2015 9:48:31 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Tuesday, August 4, 2015
The Canon EOS 5Ds R and EF 16-35mm f/4L IS Lens Capture Sunrise at the Portland Lighthouse
While it is painful to get up early enough to photograph the sunrise in early summer (4:20 AM in this case), early summer is the right time of the year to photograph the Portland Lighthouse and the distant Ram Island Lighthouse from this angle with the sun in the frame.
 
With the middle daughter accompanying me, I arrived at Fort Williams in Cape Elizabeth, ME just before sunrise. I selected one specific composition to concentrate on during the prime shooting minutes, timed the rotating lighthouse light, bracketed exposures and, when capturing the foreground rocks being hit with the first light rays of the day, adjusted focus to a closer distance.
 
This image is composed primarily of three source images run through a complicated manual HDR process with manual focus-stacking. After the big effort made to capture this image (a long drive in addition to the early alarm), I was anxious to see how this photo turned out. It was the first-processed from my recent photo trip to Maine. I'm happy with the result – it was definitely worth my effort.
 
I'm also very happy with the 5Ds R and 16-35 f/4L IS combination. I can say that they "rock".
 
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: 8/4/2015 10:48:54 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Monday, July 27, 2015
Facebook Cover Photo Continuous Image Example
by Sean Setters
 
In this day and age, Facebook is as ubiquitous as Coca-Cola (and maybe even more so). As such, I'm guessing that most of our site visitors have Facebook accounts. With that in mind, I thought I would share some things to keep in mind when making your profile cover photo.
 
First of all, the cover photo is that wide, panoramic-looking image that adorns the top of a user's profile. As a photographer, this space offers a great opportunity to show off your skills and/or creativity. But to create an image with the greatest impact, you need to understand the following:
 
1) The Facebook cover photo’s dimensions are 851 x 315 pixels.
Utilizing the space accordingly means having to keep that [uncommon] aspect ratio in mind. I strongly suggest uploading your cover photo at a resolution of 2048 x 768px so that it looks best when someone clicks on the image to view it full screen.
 
2) The image is blocked in several areas, either by the profile picture or by the user’s name or miscellaneous buttons.
Understanding where those visual blockages occur can help with deciding on your image's composition. We've designed a handy Photoshop CS5 (and later) template to help you out with that.
 
3) Facebook darkens the bottom part of your cover photo with a gradient.
Not only is a substantial amount of the bottom part of the image blocked by various buttons, but you'll notice that the bottom part of your cover photo image is darkened. Be sure to keep this in mind when choosing your image framing as this darkening can further de-emphasize this part of the image.
 
4) Only the bottom half of your cover image will be seen when someone loads your profile on a computer.
When someone clicks on your profile, only the bottom half of the cover photo is visible. The full cover photo is only displayed if the user scrolls up.
 
5) Your cover photo will look completely different on mobile devices as only the center part of your cover photo will be displayed.
If you care about how your image will look on mobile devices (and you probably should), then you must keep in mind that mobile devices will display only the middle-part of your image (just how much of the "middle-part" shows depends on the device's orientation and resolution).
 
Here's what you'll see when opening the Cover Photo Template:
 
Facebook Cover Photo Template TDP on Load

How to use the template:
 
  1. Crop your image using a ratio of 851 by 315. Downsize the image to 2048 pixels wide. Otherwise, simply import your photo at 100% resolution and downsize/position the image for optimal framing. If you import at 100%, you'll need to crop your cover photo before exporting it for use (851x315 ratio)
  2. Place the image in the layer group named "Place 2048px Cover Photo Here" and position the image so that it snaps into an upper corner of the template.
  3. If you'd like to watermark your image, place your watermark just above your cover photo layer and position it for optimal visibility, taking into account the areas of the image which will be covered by various elements.
  4. Use the template to preview how your cover photo will look on the initial load, full monitor and various mobile screens.
  5. If you imported a 2048px resolution image and you're happy with it, you can simply upload it to Facebook using the small camera icon at the top/left of your profile picture. If you imported a larger image, you'll need to turn off the overlay group layer and crop the image using an 851x315 ratio selection box and save the image for uploading.
You can toggle the visibility of the smartphone and initial view guide layer group to see your entire cover photo in all its glory. You can also get rid of the PS guides by pressing CONTROL+H for a much cleaner view.
 
Bonus Tip: The guides can be used to create a continuous cover photo where your image continues through your profile picture (like the one at the top of this post). In order to get it right, you'll need to do the following:
 
  1. Make a square selection on your cover photo layer that encompasses the part of the image that is covered by the profile picture.
  2. I'm not quite sure why, but to get it to line up just right on Facebook, you'll need to move the selection down by pressing the down arrow twice.
  3. Edit --> Crop
  4. Make the Overlay Group Layer invisible and save your new profile picture.
  5. When updating your profile picture on Facebook, be sure to set the Zoom/Crop to none. Otherwise, Facebook will default to a zoom/crop that does not include the white area at the bottom of the image.
Did I miss any good tips/considerations when making a cover photo? Let us know in the comments.
Post Date: 7/27/2015 8:51:55 AM CT   Posted By: Sean
 Wednesday, July 22, 2015
Summer Photography Tips: Telephoto Lenses are for Flowers Too
Sure, telephoto lenses are great for wildlife, sports and many other uses, but they are also great for flowers! I've had my eye on a small field of wildflowers and, after spending a large number of contiguous hours of work putting the Lens MTF Comparison tool into place, I gave myself the freedom to go after some summer color in the form of flower pics.
 
I knew that making an image worth sharing from this field was going to be a challenge. The location was not well-suited for a grand landscape image incorporating the flower color in the foreground. The flowers were beautiful, but they were intermixed with other vegetation, were very random in position and most were imperfect including a random state of bloom (some were well-beyond peak).
 
I was biking to this location (2 cars - 4 drivers = a problem) and, since I wasn't sure what the best opportunity was going to be, I put lenses ranging from 16 to 300mm in focal length along with a Canon EOS 5Ds R in a Think Tank Photo StreetWalker Pro backpack and was on my way. After riding past and then walking back along the edge of the field, I found few standout subjects calling for emphasis. Sometimes, flowers look best when blurred out of focus, becoming blobs of color and this was what I determined the case to be for much of this field.
 
This pair of cosmos did appear to be a cut above the rest and I focused on them for a period of time. By using a 300mm telephoto focal length with a relatively short focus distance, a nice blur was created, making full use of the imperfect blooms in the background.
 
While simply setting up such a blur is easy and can be good enough, taking the shot to the next level requires some attention to detail. In this case, I oriented the tripod-mounted camera and lens so that the background of the in-focus flower was only green, making the flower pop. This perspective also placed a complementary same-color cosmos just out of focus with a matching pair more-strongly blurred above. An intermittent light breeze made this alignment a bit more challenging, but ... patience was the answer to that issue.
 
I used manual focus aided by the 5Ds R's 16x Live View, allowing precise focusing on the center of the flower (preventing AF from picking the petals just in front). While an f/5.6 aperture would have given an even stronger background blur and would also have created a nice image, I opted for f/8 in this case. F/8 kept more of the flower in focus and reduced vignetting to even out the background brightness. Lighting is courtesy of a bright cloudy sky.
 
Then, right on cue, the bee landed on my primary subject. I was shooting the scene in vertical orientation at that moment (creating a nearly identical image), but I wanted to post the horizontal format picture as it fits better on computer monitors. So, I simply copied the bee out of the vertical photo and pasted it into this one.
 
Go get some summer color (in your photos, not your skin). Mount your telephoto lens and go flower hunting!
 
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: 7/22/2015 11:05:13 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Monday, July 20, 2015
by Sean Setters
 
Often we see a location, capture the image, post-process and move on. After that, being in the same location can feel a bit like, "...been there, done that." But shooting the same location multiple times - if given the opportunity - can be very beneficial.
 
Last year was my first experience visiting Oak Island, NC. I brought [what I would consider] a small photography kit and captured many worthwhile images while on vacation. While planning a return trip this year, however, the recent shark attacks in North Carolina (and Oak Island in particular) meant that I was less than eager to enjoy even modestly deep water off the beach this year. In other words, I knew I'd have more time to devote to other endeavors.
 
Therefore, taking advantage of the photographic opportunities the island had to offer became an even higher-than-usual priority for my vacation. I packed substantially more gear this time around and I challenged myself to create at least one image I was proud of each day. On image in particular that I wanted to capture was a long exposure of the Oak Island pier similar to the shot in IR that I took last year, but this time using a traditional (but very strong) ND filter. I purchased a Rocolax 15-stop ND filter in anticipation of shooting the pier again this year.
 
Fast forward to yesterday - my first full day in Oak Island this year - and I was out the door soon after sunrise. Why not before sunrise? Because the position of the rising sun meant that it wouldn't be a subject included in any of the pier compositions I wanted to capture (Oak Island faces south meaning I would have had to have been in the water to capture the pier with the rising sun). What was important, though, was that I shoot early (soon after sunrise) in order to get the low-on-the-horizon sunlight that I wanted for illuminating the pier.
 
My experience shooting the pier the previous year meant that I could plan [almost] everything about the image capture so that my time and attention could be utilized in the most productive way possible. I knew where to park, how to access the area under the pier and exactly how much time would be required traveling from the front door of the beach house to the shooting location. And, using time of optimal illumination was especially important in this instance because my exposures would be measured in minutes, not seconds.
 
For all intents and purposes, I was able to capture the image I wanted (plus another framing) without a hitch. The only thing I didn't take into consideration was the tide level (high tide) which meant that I had to position myself closer to the beach with the end result that the pier was not as tall in the foreground of this image compared to last year's image.
 
After processing the image I realized that being able to shoot the same location, one year apart, was a really great experience. Some of the benefits include:
 
  • Familiarity with a location means that you can better plan your shots, pack the right gear and optimize your time while capturing images.
  • Challenging yourself to capture the same location in different ways is a great creative exercise.
  • Shooting the same location periodically - with a good amount of time between attempts - can help illustrate how your photography is growing/evolving over time.
In the end, I was happy with how the shot turned out. It looks very similar to the shot I had in my head meaning that all my planning and recent experience in long exposure photography paid off. I'm roughly 95% happy with the image; and that nagging 5% should provide ample incentive to shoot the pier yet again with another year of photographic experience under my belt.
Post Date: 7/20/2015 8:11:51 AM CT   Posted By: Sean
 Wednesday, July 15, 2015
Creative Fireworks Photography
Fireworks are captivating, especially from a photography perspective. But even a captivating subject can become mundane over time.
 
The local fireworks show happens annually during the summer and attending has become our family tradition. This is not a New York City East River-scale fireworks show, but it is well done, is relatively low effort to attend and is very easy to photograph. After photographing the show over many years, I've grown somewhat bored with the same-old imagery and have been looking for something different. While I have a great unobstructed view from a close distance, the area is void of additional subject matter to include in these shots.
 
A technique that is showing some popularity right now is to utilize manual focus ring adjustment during exposure to change the appearance of the fireworks. When in focus, fireworks blasts appear as thin lines arcing through the frame during long (bulb) exposures. When out of focus, those lines become thick. If you rack focus during the exposure, those lines can be made to vary in thickness.
 
Focus Blur to Sharp Fireworks
 
Go from out of focus to in focus to create a many-faceted star-like subject as shown above. Do the opposite and the narrow lines grow thick as they expand:
 
Sharp to Focus Blur Fireworks
 
A key to long exposure photography is visualization and this technique will exercise your brain in this regard. But, there are no rules and the technique is not hard to try.
 
Before the shoot, establish the ideal focus distance mark in the focus distance window or using the distances printed on the lens. Note that this may not be at the full rotation extent of your focus ring and the subject may become blurred at focus distance longer. This is true even though fireworks photographed at a safe distance would be considered at infinity. Remember the ideal setting and have a small, dim (to not bother others nearby) flashlight handy to allow re-establishing of sharp focus. As Tony suggested (in the comments), Follow Focus device (even an inexpensive model) can work great for this purpose as long as the slected model cannot be rotated beyond set stop points (or care is taken to avoid this).
 
Ideally, press and hold the remote release to open the shutter immediately when a rocket is launched. As the rocket explodes, adjust focus smoothly until the burst goes dark and stop the exposure.
 
How much rotation to give the focus ring depends on the focal length, aperture and lens being used. A telephoto focal length is going to create a stronger blur more rapidly than a wide angle lens. A wide aperture will create a stronger blur more rapidly than a narrow aperture. Lenses have differing focus ring rates that also need to be accounted for.
 
The rate of focus adjustment also plays a role in the final shape of the blurs.
 
Use your creativity to expand the focus blur technique. For example, capture two subsequent explosions with the focus ring going in opposite directions. Or just leave the entire explosion blurred.
 
There is no reason that you cannot mix your standard fireworks photos with your creatively blurred versions.
 
Fireworks
 
Too late to get creative in the field this year? Edit your fireworks photos in Photoshop or your favorite image editing app. Experiment with the blur filters available to you there.
 
The fireworks images on this page were photographed a Canon EF 24-70mm f/4L IS USM Lens at about 47mm. This lens and focal length permitted an easy full extent focus adjustment. The camera was a Canon EOS 5Ds R. With the incredible resolution this camera offers, I framed the fireworks slightly wider than I typically do. This meant more cropping, but fewer large bursts went out of the frame.
 
For the fireworks images on this page, I utilized a 2-stop neutral density filter. Without this filter, the softening effects from diffraction would have been noticeable with the required f/16 aperture. The filter permited a sharp f/8 aperture with properly exposed bursts.
 
Fireworks Tentacles
 
Are you bored of the standard fireworks pictures you capture regularly at your easy-to-attend location? Are you tired of the thin lines of color in your fireworks images? Get more frame coverage from your fireworks color by making them out of focus.
 
Learn more about fireworks photography.
Post Date: 7/15/2015 10:47:22 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Friday, July 10, 2015
The Canon 7D Mark II and 100-400 L II Capture a Willet Standing on One Foot
Under a cloudy sky, the lighting was right at any subject angle and throughout much of this day at Blind Pass in Captiva, Florida. This giant softbox-like lighting permitted me to maneuver to the ideal angle for this subject (from the side) and the NatureScapes Skimmer Ground Pod II allowed me to comfortably work from right on the sand.
 
This low perspective caused the background content to be farther away. That distance, combined with a long focal length and close primary subject, meant that the background became significantly blurred. When it becomes a blur, the background's color and shapes become the primary concern.
 
In this case, the ocean was my background. The wave patterns, including breaking waves, supply the gently-changing color and shapes.
 
When the ocean is in your frame, shutter release timing often matters as the ocean is constantly changing. A wide variety of waves shapes worked well for this situation, but my final selection included not only the willet with ideal head and body angle, but also with most breaking waves (white color and shape) avoiding the bird's outline.
 
As I've said before, the Canon EOS 7D Mark II and EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II Lens make a great birding combo.
 
The Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II Lens was released many months ago, but has been out of stock for most of that timeframe. B&H has this lens in stock at this moment.
 
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
400mm  f/5.6  1/320s
ISO 100
5472 x 3648px
Post Date: 7/10/2015 8:30:09 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
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