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The Big Ferris Wheel at Night The Big Ferris Wheel at Night
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.
 
15mm  f/11.0  1.3s  ISO 100
Pilings, Brooklyn Bridge Park, NYC Skyline during Blue Hour Pilings, Brooklyn Bridge Park, NYC Skyline during Blue Hour
With a seven hour round trip drive included, fitting the PDN PhotoPlus Expo trip into 24 hours makes for a huge day. Increase the drive time to 10 hours (thanks to traffic), include a 1 hour wait at the show admission line due to a system outage (yes, I was preregistered), attend seven planned meetings plus a dinner meeting and I am left searching for a word that means much bigger than huge. Perhaps mammoth?
 
Still, with the show floor closing at 5:00 PM and rest seeming so unproductive, I decided to plan a shoot between the show and the dinner meeting. This year, I headed over to Brooklyn Bridge Park near Pier 1 (in Brooklyn) to the pilings shown in this picture.
 
I got onto the shoreline rocks beside the boat ramp and positioned the camera so that the opening between some of the pilings curved into the frame. I adjusted the focal length (with some mostly minor variety used) for a good size balance between the buildings and the pilings. An ultra-wide angle would emphasize the pilings while a standard or short telephoto lens would place more emphasis on the buildings. Another consideration is the levelness of the camera. With the camera vertically level, the buildings toward the sides of the frame remain vertically straight in this image.
 
The Canon EF 16-35mm f/4 L IS USM Lens mounted to the Canon EOS 5D Mark III was the perfect choice for this scene. Perfect for both the angle of view/focal length range and for the impressive image quality it provides.
 
I was in position in front of the piers as the sun set. While I have images captured during sunset that I like, including the sun against the horizon with the last sunlight of the day reflecting on the water, the city lights were not showing at this time of the day and the colors were not as attractive to me as the late blue hour example shown here. I also have some shorter exposures of this scene, but the choppy river did not attract my eye like the buttery-smooth blurred alternatives. I used neutral density filters and adjusted the aperture slightly (between f/8 and f/11) to keep my exposure times at or near 30 seconds as sunset turned into blue hour and then into dark. I started with a 6-stop ND, moved to a 2-stop ND and removed that filter as darkness came.
 
While this may seem like a long time to shoot a single scene, this was the shot I wanted and I wanted a variety of options to choose from. I was shooting 3 bracketed frames (this is an HDR image) with the longest exposure at or near 30 seconds in duration and I had long exposure noise reduction enabled, meaning that dark frames were captured for an equally long period of time. This means that I was spending several minutes for each potential final image. With exposures that long, one cannot predict the large boats and other detractants that will possibly influence an image and I threw away some frames for this reason. In the end, I had a nice amount of images, but not a crazy number.
 
Likely, only a few of the images from this shoot will see the light of day. But, I really like those few images and consider the time and effort well spent. I can cross "Pilings at Brooklyn Bridge Park" off of my location bucket list.
 
The day started at 5:00 AM and ended at 2:45 AM the next morning. The overall results from the day, including the meetings and the show, were totally worth the effort.
 
30mm  f/8.0  30s  ISO 100
2011 MasterCraft ProStar 197 2011 MasterCraft ProStar 197
Want to shoot bright white subjects (especially reflective ones) under a full sun at f/1.4? You will likely need a circular polarizing filter or a neutral density filter to reduce the amount of light hitting the sensor. Otherwise, even the 1/8000 sec exposure available on Canon's higher end DSLR cameras will not be fast enough to prevent the whites from being blown.
 
35mm  f/1.4  1/4000s  ISO 100
Creating a Wedding Ring, Bible, Love Verse and Heart Shadow Photograph Creating a Wedding Ring, Bible, Love Verse and Heart Shadow Photograph
While this image was created to illustrate one of the unique capabilities of the lens being used, I thought I'd share the process behind creating the wedding ring, Bible, love verse and heart shadow photograph.
 
Obviously, to create an image similar to this, you need a ring and a book. Most large books and round rings can be used, but a wedding ring is the most common type of ring photographed and the Bible then becomes a very appropriate book for holding the ring. Note that if the ring is not round, creating a heart-shaped shadow immediately becomes more difficult, if not impossible. The heart-shaped shadow is not required, but ... it too is very appropriate for a wedding ring photo.
 
Love is the strong theme we are building on here and 1 Corinthians 13:4 is a favorite verse for this theme. While all Bibles will have this verse in them, not all Bibles will have this verse in an appropriate position on the page.
 
Getting the ring to stand up without a form of adhesive is another challenge. Doing so is easiest with some curl toward the inside of the pages, supporting the ring higher on its sides. The amount of curl also influences the heart shadow's shape.
 
This verse is closer to the end of the Bible than the beginning, meaning that there are more pages to the left than the right, creating unbalance. This makes creating the curves needed for the ring to sit in the pages somewhat more challenging, a challenge I met with a pair of A-clamps. My ill-designed-for-photography clamp jaws were red and required some black gaffer tape to eliminate the red showing in reflections on the ring. Reflections such as this are easy to miss when photographing, so be sure to check images of reflective subjects carefully.
 
Creating a shadow with an obvious shape requires hard light. This means the light source must be small in size relative to the source of the shadow. The smaller and farther away the light source is, the harder the shadow will become.
 
The right angle of the back-lighting is necessary to create the heart-shaped shadow in front of the ring. Aligning the flash with the crease between the pages will create a symmetric-shaped heart (if the pages are equally curved). The higher the flash, the shorter the heart. Figure out what works best for your composition.
 
Try handholding the flash and moving it around until you see the results you want. If using E-TTL and the camera's self-timer, the pre-flash will give you a preview of the shadow and give you a moment to adjust it prior to the picture being taken. Simply test-firing the flash will also help accomplish this task. Once you know where you want the flash positioned, fix it in place.
 
There are a million methods of holding a flash in place. I happened to have a lens box the right height at my immediate disposal and ... I simply used it. The box was not an especially secure option, so I had to be careful.
 
I wanted a hard shadow, but I didn't want the image to appear harshly lit. Since my working space was tight, I went high-tech with white copier/printer paper reflectors. I gaffer-taped one piece under the lens and another over the flash. Because rings are reflective, the paper reflectors were especially helpful in illuminating the front of it.
 
Bibles have a lot of pages and the pages are usually made thin for a compact and light overall book size and weight. Thin pages can become somewhat transparent and other print may bleed through the page being photographed. You can put a white paper under the pages, but that does not keep the print on the reverse side of the page being photographed from showing and this strategy potentially increases emphasis on that print. Find a Bible with thicker pages if you feel this issue is negatively impacting your results. The light bleed-through I encountered did not bother me.
 
I was reviewing the Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8L Tilt-Shift Lens, a superb product photography lens, and was looking for an interesting subject. Especially with its macro capability combined with the tilt movement, this lens can draw a viewer's eye to the intended subject and to illustrate this ability, the ring image concept shared here worked perfectly. Tilting the lens fully upward (10°) permitted the camera to be used at a relatively high position while creating a shallow slice of in-focus area that nicely encompasses the ring and its heart shadow along with the verse intended to be emphasized.
 
When one views this image, their eye is instantly drawn to the in-focus subjects.
 
Here is the setup:
 
Wedding Ring, Bible, Love Verse and Heart Shadow Photograph
 
The Canon wireless flash system made this lighting setup very easy. Hopefully you "love" the result!
 
90mm  f/2.8  1/200s  ISO 100
Capturing the Spirit of Baltimore's Inner Harbor Capturing the Spirit of Baltimore's Inner Harbor
The historic Inner Harbor seaport is a showcase of the city of Baltimore, Maryland. While I was looking for interesting and creative photos in general on a day trip to this location, my ultimate goal for was to come away with a picture that captured the spirit of Inner Harbor in a single frame. Since I had only the latter part of the day to shoot, I was targeting sunset and the blue hour for that photo.
 
My afternoon scouting showed that the west side of the harbor offered my favorite view, one that included the most photogenic landmark buildings including the National Aquarium and Baltimore's World Trade Center. From the selected vantage point, the Hard Rock Cafe and Phillips signs also stood out and all of the colorful lights reflected in the water.
 
Not all waterfront is harbor, so the Lightship Chesapeake and the USS Torsk submarine docked in the background helped depict this waterfront properly as such. Of course, what finishes off the capture of the spirit of Baltimore's Inner Harbor better than a boat aptly named Inner Harbor Spirit docked in the foreground?
 
After selecting the specific location I wanted for my key photo, I captured a variety of photos using various lenses and focal lengths (there was no getting closer happening here). The scene shown in this sample picture was my favorite and I have it captured at various times during sunset including some with nicely pink clouds in the sky. The image shown here was captured just before total darkness. At that time, a 30 second exposure allowed a smooth motion blur of the very calm harbor, an f/16 aperture caused the lights to show a starburst effect without imparting a too-severe amount of softening of the image (due to diffraction) and the combination of 30 seconds and f/16 allowed a deep blue sky color to be retained.
 
The Canon EF 24-105mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM Lens is a nice lens and the Canon EOS 5D Mark III is of course an awesome camera. This photo is basically as-shot. Based on the Standard Picture Style (in DPP), I cloned out a few paint tiny imperfections on the ship and reduced the brightness of the Hard Rock Cafe sign, Phillips sign and the side of the aquarium using an HDR technique that utilized a darker exposure showing through the primary exposure at those positions in the frame.
 
24mm  f/16.0  30s  ISO 100
Ferry Boat Picture Ferry Boat Picture
Lots of sweeping lines go through this picture of a brightly-colored ferry boat.
 
70mm  f/10.0  1/100s  ISO 200
Saint Patricks Cathedral, New York City Saint Patricks Cathedral, New York City
Saint Patricks Cathedral in New York City is a spectacular piece of architecture. The problem, from a photographical standpoint, is that it is always full of people. The solution is to shoot upwards. The other problem is that it is extremely dark inside. Image stabilization allowed this picture to be taken handheld.
 
15mm  f/5.0  1/5s  ISO 1600
Piano Keys Picture Piano Keys Picture
A shallow depth of field picture of a piano keyboard. Lighting is from a simple overhead music light.
 
50mm  f/1.2  1/50s  ISO 100
Track Loader Close-up Picture Track Loader Close-up Picture
Well, about as close-up as you want to get to a working track loader at least. Dangerous equipment is a good reason to use a telephoto lens.
 
200mm  f/5.6  1/250s  ISO 100
The Starting Line The Starting Line
Anyone familar with track will instantly recognize this as a starting line. While capturing your sports and other events, look for shots that represent the event in addition to the actual particpants doing what they do.
 
24mm  f/11.0  1/50s  ISO 100
Barn Door Picture Barn Door Picture
Shot from ground level with an ultra-wide angle lens, these barn doors and especially the columned porch over them appear to get narrower as they go up.
 
14mm  f/11.0  1/160s  ISO 100
1963 Corvette Stingray 1963 Corvette Stingray
Here is the situation. I was in a residential neighborhood in the dead of winter. Everything living was dead (if that makes sense) and the color was far from exciting. Across the street was a huge pile of dirt that an excavator created the day before this shoot. But I had a beautiful subject.
 
I was evaluating the Zeiss Otus 55mm lens. I added a B+W XS-PRO CP filter and got down flat on the ground (the camera was against the street) to remove everything but the sky (and a street lamp) from the image.
 
55mm  f/8.0  1/100s  ISO 100
New York City Skyscrapers Picture New York City Skyscrapers Picture
At a 17mm perspective, these New York City skyscrapers tower far overhead.
 
17mm  f/11  1/60s  ISO 200
Don't Forget to Look Down! Don't Forget to Look Down!
My day trip to Ricketts Glen was carefully planned. A pair of calls to the park office gave me redundant information. Both individuals indicated that the leaves in the falls ravines were going to be peak and one said that the water flow was good (that was necessary for waterfalls of course). This information aligned perfectly with the weather forecast calling for very light wind (enabling flora to remain still for long exposures), heavy cloud cover (keeps lighting low and free of harsh shadows) and light rain likely throughout the day (keeps the crowds at home, out of the frame and provides saturated colors).
 
After driving 1.5 hours in the fog, I arrived to find ... no wind. The leaves were indeed peak, but they were peak at the top of the mountain – not down in the deep falls ravines. The fog cleared to a mostly sunny sky and my opinion of a good water flow differs greatly from the person I talked to.
 
Fortunately, there are always great photo opportunities in this park. And, after photographing in the early morning shade for over an hour, the clouds eventually came and were present for a number of hours, creating good light.
 
Especially high up in the falls trails, there were some good leaves, but ... many of them were on the ground. However, the ground can be a great place to photograph leaves, especially when they are wet from a stream they have fallen into or nearby. During the fall, especially late in the local fall foliage season, look for colorful leaves on the ground that can be worked into an image.
 
Don't forget to use a circular polarizer filter to reduce glare and increase saturation of these leaves. The Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM Lens was the only lens I used this day. I didn't need a focal length that it didn't contain and the image quality coming from this lens is very impressive.
 
35mm  f/11.0  6s  ISO 100
Steel Architecture - New York City Steel Architecture - New York City
This is the steel architecture behind a glass building in New York City. This shot was taken handheld - utilizing the image stabilization available in the lens.
 
135mm  f/5.6  1/13s  ISO 400
Elegant Porch Picture Elegant Porch Picture
This well maintained porch and entrance on an old house invite photos. Lighting is ambient only.
 
10mm  f/7.1  1/50s  ISO 320
Empire State Building, New York City Picture Empire State Building, New York City Picture
Not your conventional New York City Empire State Building picture - but I'm always looking for new ways of looking at things. I like the leading lines drawing the viewer's eye toward the distant subject.
 
18mm  f/9.0  1/30s  ISO 100
The Irix 11mm f/4 Firefly Lens Finds Center at the Cathedral The Irix 11mm f/4 Firefly Lens Finds Center at the Cathedral
When the Irix 11mm f/4 Firefly Lens showed up, I had a couple of subjects immediately in mind for it. The Cathedral Parish of St Patrick in Harrisburg, PA was one of them and on the next very-cloudy day, I made the trip to this beautiful place.
 
Why did I need a cloudy day to photograph the interior of a church? Any direct sunlight shining through the windows creates overly bright spots on the interior. While daylight was needed to light the inside of the church and bring life to the stained-glass windows, strongly-diffused sunlight creates a far more even light than direct sunlight.
 
Perhaps the biggest challenge to creating an image like is perfectly aligning the camera to the ceiling. With the centered framing, the camera must be positioned precisely below the subject in the exact center of the frame. Often aiding in finding this exact position are tiles and other structural elements that help indicate where the center of the floor is.
 
I had another aid in this case. The gold-colored subject dead center in the frame is a chandelier that hung far below the ceiling. When I saw the gold chandelier centered in the blue and gray area of the ceiling behind it, I knew that the camera was perfectly centered.
 
Centered, however, did not mean squared. The Really Right Stuff TVC-34 Carbon Fiber Tripod and BH-55 Ball Head were especially helpful for this part of the endeavor. I wanted as much of the ceiling in the frame as possible, so I fully retracted the tripod legs, which, with the precise construction of this model, meant that the tripod was level. Similarly-precisely-constructed is the BH-55 ball head and with the stem fully against the bottom of one of the drop notches, the camera was directed straight up.
 
With the camera centered and angled straight up, only final adjustments were needed. The camera still needed to be rotated within the notch (adjust the camera so that it is visually straight up to get started) and then I simply rotated the tripod on the ground, keeping the camera in its centered location, until the viewfinder showed that it was squared with the ceiling. Yes, panning adjustments could have been made using the head's panning feature, but rotating the camera around the head moves the camera slightly from its centered position, meaning that the tripod would need slight repositioning anyway. So, I simply adjusted the tripod position to begin with. Using a Canon Angle Finder C made finalizing the absolute straight-up framing much easier (as would a vari-angle LCD).
 
Focusing with this manual-focus-only lens was simple. I turned the focus ring to the slight detent/bump at the infinity focus mark and everything in the frame was in focus. The 11mm depth of field is huge at normal subject focus distances and this haptic-feedback setting works for a large number of uses, including with wider apertures than the one used here.
 
This is an HDR image, processed with Photomatix.
 
I left the cathedral quite impressed with the Irix 11mm f/4 Firefly Lens. The angle of view it provides is amazing and my first impression is that image quality is very good, especially for the very low price of this lens.
 
11mm  f/8.0  3.2s  ISO 100
Octagonal Patio Ceiling Picture Octagonal Patio Ceiling Picture
Tongue and groove Yellow Pine boards and laminated beams on the ceiling of an octagonal patio make an interesting shape. Lighting is reflected daylight.
 
14mm  f/8.0  1/40s  ISO 100
Sanibel Island Lighthouse Sanibel Island Lighthouse
Essentially all lighthouses attract photographers and casual observers alike, but not all are similarly photogenic. While it is hard to take a bad photo of the Portland Lighthouse, I found the Sanibel Island Lighthouse to be more challenging (especially with the weather conditions I was given). If you search for images of the Sanibel Island Lighthouse, you will primarily find the normal from-the-side, from-a-distance variation. While some of these images are great, I was looking for something different.
 
The skeletal, pyramidal iron structure of this lighthouse is somewhat unique, and that uniqueness captured my attention. One way to emphasize part of a subject is to make that part closer to the camera than what is to be de-emphasized. Using a wide angle focal length is one key to de-emphasizing more-distant subjects and that is the tactic I used for this image.
 
To get this perspective, I was flat on my back under the lighthouse. For the record, no, I wasn't napping (but it was a comfortable shooting position). It is of course not possible to get under most lighthouses, but the design of this one makes that position possible and that makes the image even more unique.
 
While this shooting location and position brought my state of mind into question from other observers (I received some light-hearted attention), the wide 15mm focal length and careful framing made this image happen.
 
15mm  f/11.0  1/80s  ISO 100
Dirt Track Racing Dirt Track Racing
Sprint car racing and other dirt track events provide great photography experiences with easy access. 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.
 
59mm  f/4.5  1/250s  ISO 3200
1992 MasterCraft ProStar 190 Bow and Windshield 1992 MasterCraft ProStar 190 Bow and Windshield
To get this shot, I held the Canon EF 8-15mm f/4 L USM Fisheye Lens just above the 1992 MasterCraft ProStar 190 ski boat's windshield.
 
The circular fisheye field of view causes the lettering across the top of the windshield wrap nicely around the image border.
 
I had my bother drive the boat toward the sunset while I shot handheld in this awkward position. The sunset and clouds of course provided lots of color reflections from the water, boat bow and windshield (and combinations of those).
 
8mm  f/8.0  1/100s  ISO 250
Lobster Trap Buoys Lobster Trap Buoys
Bright yellow and green lobster trap buoys stand out against the wet dock in Northest Harbor, Maine. There are an incredible number of these floating around Mt Dessert Island/Acadia National Park, Maine. Each lobsterman's buoys are uniquely color coded for identification.
 
55mm  f/8.0  1/40s  ISO 160
Add Life to the Kit – Get a New Lens – PA Capitol Rotunda Add Life to the Kit – Get a New Lens – PA Capitol Rotunda
The addition of a new lens can add life to a kit, sparking creativity and inspiring a new look on old subjects. One such lens example is the Irix 11mm f/4 Firefly and for most photographers using full frame gear, the extreme wide angle focal length is the big appeal for this lens.
 
Shared here is the Irix 11 view of the Pennsylvania Capitol Rotunda ceiling. While this appears to be a simple image to capture, establishing the perfect camera alignment is very challenging. Any decentering within the space causes opposing side detail alignment mismatch and forces slight camera tilt to establish balanced framing with the latter quickly being made apparent by converging lines.
 
While software can be used to correct some issues such as perspective, it cannot easily move the relationship of near and far details. Getting it right in the camera is a much better option.
 
With those bright lights in the frame, an HDR strategy was needed for this picture.
 
Consider getting the Irix 11 or another lens that would be useful to you and provide a creative spark. The holidays are great time to use such a lens and your Christmas tree makes a great 11mm subject.
 
11mm  f/8.0  1.3s  ISO 100
Architectural Picture Architectural Picture
The strong, clean lines of this house are framed on the top against a blown (over-exposed) sky.
 
83mm  f/5.0  1/80s  ISO 100
City Scape Picture City Scape Picture
Distant city buildings appear compressed by the 1200 focal length used for this shot.
 
1200mm  f/8.0  1/800s  ISO 400
New York City Steel Picture New York City Steel Picture
An elaborate architectural steel structure found in New York City. This was a handheld shot taking advantage of the IS feature of this lens.
 
80mm  f/5.6  1/20s  ISO 250
The 10-Step Recipe for a Christmas Tree Photo The 10-Step Recipe for a Christmas Tree Photo
1. Install Christmas tree and clean up (this is the hardest step)
 
2. Wait for dark
 
3. Mount the Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM Lens on a full frame DSLR camera
 
4. Mount the camera to a tripod, zoom out, move in and level the camera (both pitch and yaw)
 
5. Turn off all regular lights, turn on all Christmas lights.
 
6. Take some test shots to determine that 15 seconds at f/16 (to get the starburst effect from the lights) and ISO 200 is right
 
7. Wait for the kids to go to bed (to avoid any floor vibrations)
 
8. Shoot until you run out of new composition ideas
 
9. Brush your teeth
 
10. Make one more attempt at finding new compositions.
 
My family and I wish you and your family a very "Merry Christmas!" May all of your photos be amazing!
 
16mm  f/16.0  15s  ISO 200
Boats Tied to a Northeast Harbor Dock Boats Tied to a Northeast Harbor Dock
This particular dock is in Northeast Harbor, Maine. These boats are used to get to the lobster boats moored in the harbor.
 
37mm  f/8.0  1/40s  ISO 160
Condensation Volunteers as an Interesting Winter Subject Condensation Volunteers as an Interesting Winter Subject
When looking for interesting winter subjects, condensation often volunteers. Condensation likes a cold temperature carrier and a warm, moist environment. In the winter, it is of course cold outside and warm (and much more comfortable) inside. The perfect scenario.
 
With the state of the weather being a deep freeze (about -4°F/-20°C), a unique small oval area of condensation formed in the center of the window above our kitchen sink. With the tripod in and behind the sink and me precariously balanced on the edge of the counter around it, I went to work. The result was an interesting image (OK, many of them) of very unique condensation patterns.
 
Snow, bare trees and a cloudy sky make up the background seen inverted through the clear condensation drops – a very monochromatic scene. While I could have setup a colored background outside behind the window, doing so (and lighting it) would have presented a big challenge. But, this particular scene lends itself nicely to a creative white balance adjustment as you see here.
 
150mm  f/11.0  1/5s  ISO 100
If it Spins, Make it Blurred If it Spins, Make it Blurred
It seems that most of us photographers are intrigued by the circles created by motion blur. I don't know exactly what it is about spinning subjects, but ... when blurred, they frequently make good compositions. Amusement parks, fairs and other events featuring rides are great locations to find circular motion.
 
Creating the blur simply requires a tripod and the exposure duration long enough to get the desired amount of blur effect. Since long exposures generally require low light levels, dawn and dusk (as seen in this example) are good times for this type of photography. Alternatively, use a neutral density filter under brighter lighting conditions.
 
24mm  f/11.0  .8s  ISO 100
Bar Harbor Shops - Maine Bar Harbor Shops - Maine
Lively signs add color to the already colorful Bar Harbor town shops in Maine.
 
90mm  f/8.0  1/100s  ISO 100
Just Reflections Just Reflections
Sometimes, I find images comprised of only reflections more interesting than images containing only the subjects being reflected. To capture such an image requires a reflective surface and something to be reflected in it.
 
Most locations share a similar nearby reflection source: water. When water is the reflective surface and there is at least a small amount of motion on the water surface, no two photos will be the same. You can capture 20 images from a tripod-mounted camera and still have no duplicates. Such images can sometimes work together for a low-effort collection.
 
Water in motion is ... in motion. To stop motion requires an adequately short shutter speed and to achieve stopped motion in this frame, I opted for ISO 400 (vs. the least-noisy ISO 100 option). The final image has very little noticeable noise and the small waves are not showing blur.
 
For this image, I found a brightly colored boat as the reflective subject and adjusted my position until I had what I felt was ideal framing. I especially like how the top and bottom borders of the frame are relatively uninterrupted by lines in this composition.
 
Keep in mind that reflection images often benefit from increased contrast and saturation in post processing.
 
105mm  f/10.0  1/40s  ISO 400
Cathedral of St Patrick, Harrisburg, PA Cathedral of St Patrick, Harrisburg, PA
I have photographed the beautiful Cathedral Parish of St Patrick (Harrisburg, PA) one time prior, but a clear sky on that day meant sunlight streaming through the stained-glass windows created hotspots that were detracting even with HDR processing. With the extreme wide angle Venus Optics Laowa 12mm f/2.8 Zero-D Lens in my hands and a rainy day forecasted, I knew where I was going.
 
To get this image, I laid flat on my back directly under the center of the ceiling with the tripod positioned low, just above me, while I meticulously adjusted the camera angle to find the perfect alignment. The low linear distortion of this lens was a great aid in this challenging task.
 
There are currently very few lenses that can replicate this image. None of them are as small and light as the Laowa 12 and none of them have so little distortion.
 
12mm  f/8.0  3.2s  ISO 100
Glass Building, New York City Glass Building, New York City
The clouds reflect off of this dark glass building in NYC.
 
18mm  f/8.0  1/160s  ISO 100
Starfish Holding Hands Starfish Holding Hands
Well, more like crawling over each other. These starfish are in a shallow tidal pool on the Maine coast. Macro lenses are fun to explore with.
 
100mm  f/8.0  1/100s  ISO 100
The Chapel of the Transfiguration, Grand Teton National Park The Chapel of the Transfiguration, Grand Teton National Park
There are few churches with a view comparable to that from The Chapel of the Transfiguration in Grand Teton National Park. I'm thinking that this view would be a strong distraction from the sermon.
 
The next time you visit Grand Teton National Park, make sure that The Chapel of the Transfiguration is on your to-photograph list. It is as attractive outside as it is inside. Morning is the best time of the day to photograph at this location as the tall mountains go dark when the sun sets behind them. A visit timed for the right week (late September) results in brilliantly colored aspen trees for the mid-ground layer of interest (though the aspens are only barely visible in this image).
 
Obviously, I went inside to capture this photo. My goal was to see the mountains through the window while capturing most of the interior of this little log-constructed church. My preference was to see the mountain peaks in the window and this meant a low shooting position at the back of the sanctuary was required. That position seemed to work well for the rest of the scene, so I went with it.
 
Though a steady stream of people were coming through the little church, there were enough breaks that patiently waiting was all that was needed to capture a wide range of exposures. Because the dynamic range was extreme, the wide range of exposures were required. I later used a manual HDR technique to composite several of those images into a balanced final result.
 
The Canon EOS 5Ds R and EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM Lens were the perfect combination for this photo.
 
16mm  f/11.0  2.5s  ISO 100
Manhattan Buildings Manhattan Buildings
Standing on the street, looking straight up into the Manhattan sky. This is one approach to eliminating the clutter (signs, power lines, traffic lights ...) of the city.
 
17mm  f/11.0  1/80s  ISO 100
Admit One Ticket Picture Admit One Ticket Picture
The Canon 100mm F/2.8 USM Macro Lens makes a good product lens.
 
100mm  f/11.0  1/250s  ISO 100
Team Picture -or- Picture of the Word Team Team Picture -or- Picture of the Word Team
Not a typical team picture, but a picture of the word team. The wide open aperture combined with a short focus distance creates a shallow DOF along with natural lens vignetting to focus the viewer's attention.
 
24mm  f/2.8  1/80s  ISO 100
Patterns Under the Ice Patterns Under the Ice
Yes, it is winter and your comfort "mode" is likely staying in your warm house. While I do encourage you to get out of that "mode", I'm referring to a different "mode". Your camera's Auto mode to be more specific.
 
Today's DSLR cameras have a wide range of fully or semi-automatic modes available, but I still shoot in manual exposure mode at least 95% of the time (as do a significant percentage of other professional and enthusiast photographers). There are many reasons for choosing manual mode, but having full control over image brightness in a snowy environment is the base reason directly related to winter photography. The camera's exposure meter is confused by the bright color of snow and attempts to make it mid-gray in brightness. Yes, you can use exposure compensation to adjust the brightness of the various auto exposure modes, but if the lighting is not changing frequently, I highly recommend using the manual exposure mode alternative. And, winter is a perfect time to perfect your manual exposure skills.
 
Have no fear: Using Manual Exposure Mode is Not Difficult.
 
In manual mode, there are three settings that work together to affect the brightness of an image. These three settings are fundamental to photography and learning them is going to be worth your effort. These are shutter speed (the exposure duration), aperture (how wide the lens opens) and ISO (the amplification of the image received by the imaging sensor).
 
Working backwards, I can't think of a time when I wanted a higher ISO setting for image quality purposes. I want ISO 100 if the other two parameters allow it and adjust upwards as required with noise as the penalty.
 
My aperture setting is usually selected to control the amount of depth of field in the image. The higher the number, the narrower the lens aperture opens and the greater near-to-far distance that remains in focus. So, if everything in the image needs to be in focus, select a high aperture setting number. There is a caveat with going to a very high number and that is diffraction causing the image to become soft. My compromise is usually to shoot at f/8 on an 18-20 MP APS-C body and f/11 on a 20-22 MP full frame body (I go higher/narrower at times). If I want a maximum background blur, I select a wide open aperture (the smallest number available – such as f/1.4).
 
The shutter speed is selected to control (show or avoid) motion blur in an image. If avoiding all motion blur, I can't think of a penalty for using a too-high shutter speed (unless flash is being used and that is a topic for another day). If handholding the camera, there will be a point where a too-high percentage of your images become blurred due to camera shake and usually those images will be sent straight to the recycle bin. Motion blur is sometimes desired in an image (such as moving water) and the right exposure duration is needed to capture this effect.
 
In a perfect world, you would simply select the three perfect parameters for your photo. In reality, there are compromises that are often required and the primary example is a lack of light. If there is not enough light, the shutter speed must be reduced, the aperture must be opened and/or the ISO increased with potential penalties for any of the three adjustments.
 
Dialing In Settings for Manual Mode
 
The more experience you gain, the easier it is to set your manual settings. However, it is not hard for even a beginner to get started and with digital technology where it is today, the learning curve is very short. In the old days (when film was popular), this is the time when the light meter would be pulled out. That piece of equipment is no longer needed for most situations and the meter built into the camera is all you need.
 
There are multiple ways to get the proper manual settings established. You can turn the camera to fully automatic mode and use the settings it picks for you as your initial manual mode settings. You can use the Sunny 16 rule: For a subject under a full sun, set the aperture to f/16 and shutter speed to the 1/ISO setting. Or you can take a guess (what the most-experienced can do).
 
After establishing the initial settings, the next step is to take a picture of a typical scene you can expect to be photographing in (ideally with bright whites included). Then check the camera's histogram for adjustments needed. The histogram shows a graph of the relative brightness of the pixels in your image. This chart is your best friend – learn how to use it. Here is the Canon DPP histogram from the title image.
 
Histogram Example
 
Press "Info" while reviewing an image to turn the histogram on in Canon cameras and I recommend using the RGB histogram to allow all three color channels (Red, Green Blue) to be monitored. Dark details are mapped on the left side (RGB=0) and bright are on the right (RGB=255). Usually to be avoided are pixels stacked on either side of the graph, indicating a loss of details due to blown highlights or blocked shadows. If possible, adjust your manual mode settings to bring the details within the limits of the chart, but use discretion. Pay attention to the brightness of the details in your scene and reflect their relative brightness on the chart. You don't often want to make black or white colors into mid gray.
 
I highly recommend shooting in RAW and adjusting the final image brightness to perfection during post processing. Shooting in RAW, I generally like to expose to the right, commonly referred to as ETTR. This means that the brightest pixels in the image are at or very close to 255, the right-most extent of the chart. This method allows the maximum amount of color information (the most photons) to be captured for each pixel with dark areas especially benefitting from this strategy. Image brightness can later be reduced as desired in Lightroom, DPP, etc. ETTR does not work well in all situations and shutter speed is often what is compromised to get a brighter image, so as always, use this technique with discretion.
 
New York City Blizzard Forecast
 
Especially Useful in Snow
 
As mentioned, if shooting in the auto zones, cameras will usually underexpose snow images (unless adequate exposure compensation is called for). A manual exposure allows you to dial in the ideal settings and, unless the lighting is changing (such as dark clouds moving over), every image will be identically exposed, making batch adjustment (if necessary) a fast post processing task.
 
When shooting in bright snow, you are going to want the histogram to show pixels with very close to 255 brightness values (regardless of your ETTR strategy) and you might even want to allow some very small areas to go completely white (enable Highlight Alert and watch for the blinkies during image review). The brightest pixel in the tile image has a max RGB component value of 253. I know, this image is of ice, but there is enough air in the ice to appear nearly as white as snow and similarly confound an auto metering system.
 
While exploring a small stream deep in the winter, I came across this smooth ice with interesting patterns under it. Capturing this photo and many others like it was very easy. The day was very cloudy, giving me even light without shadows. I setup the tripod with the camera directed straight down, focused on the surface of the ice, determined the manual exposure needed to make the ice as bright as possible without blowing the highlights and took the picture. I then slid the tripod on the ice to the next composition and took that picture. Repeat.
 
With a manual exposure locked in, the biggest photographical challenge presented by this opportunity was finding a composition that I liked. The patterns were completely random and, in the end, I captured a number of images to sort through. This one is my favorite. I think.
 
Your turn. Get the camera out and turn the dial to the "M" mode. Learn to make your own fundamental camera setting decisions and your photography will be improved in all seasons.
 
150mm  f/11.0  1/8s  ISO 100
The Christmas Tree 2020 The Christmas Tree 2020
The annual Christmas tree photo session was late this year, but ... I'll take satisfaction that it happened before Christmas.

Our space calls for an ultra-wide-angle focal length, and a wide max aperture lens typically makes the starburst effect from individual lights pronounced at narrow apertures. Last year, the impressive Canon RF 15-35mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens got the call for this job. Another impressive lens, the Sony FE 12-24mm f/2.8 GM, was a recent addition to the kit and a perfect choice for this year. That lens choice made the Sony a7R IV the easy camera choice.

When shooting the same scene every year, the composition selection tends to become established, and I didn't get too creative this year vs. last year, choosing again to utilize the wall unit as a right-side frame to the full room scene. The straight vertical lines of the wall unit lead me to a level (for pitch and roll) camera as those lines need to be straight along the edge of the frame (or they can be angled enough to appear intentionally so). The leveled camera position then determines the composition.

Note the lack of geometric distortion in this uncorrected 12mm capture.

With the close foreground, this composition requires f/16 for adequate depth of field, and narrow apertures produce larger starbursts. However, f/16 is considerably narrower than the a7R IV's DLA (Diffraction Limited Aperture), meaning that the image becomes very noticeably soft at f/16. Since this lens produces nice starbursts at f/11, I opted for this aperture for the base image and composited the closest subjects and the candle starbursts from an f/16 image via layers in Photoshop. Otherwise, this image is right out of the camera.

With that, another Christmas tree photo is in the archives.
 
12mm  f/11.0  30s  ISO 125

Cowbird Egg Picture Cowbird Egg Picture
This picture is super-easy to create. Put the camera on a tripod, add a sheet of printer paper and wirelessly fire a remote flash being handheld above the egg.
 
100mm  f/11.0  1/200s  ISO 100
Clover Picture Clover Picture
Water drops stand out in this 3-leaf clover picture.
 
100mm  f/9.5  1/200s  ISO 100
Skyscrapers and Reflection Skyscrapers and Reflection
A skyscraper reflects in the windows of another.
 
17mm  f/10.0  1/100s  ISO 100
Swamp Love Swamp Love
Some of the best trip pictures require you to simply take the effort to stop and take the shot. While traveling in the Florida Everglades, I came across this Swamp Love mural painted on the side of a small store. With the PowerShot G1 X in the rental SUV console, I simply pulled in and took the picture. This shot turned out to be one of my favorites from this trip - and was well worth the small inconvenience of stopping. Especially with the extremely convenient G1 X by my side.
 
28mm  f/8.0  1/30s  ISO 100
Shipwrecked in St. John Shipwrecked in St. John
No, I was not driving. Just wanted to get that straight
 
This yacht was torn from its mooring during the fall 2010 tropical storm that hit St. John with an exceptional amount of rain. The 18mm focal length gives the shipwrecked yacht a pleasing (to me at least) perspective.
 
18mm  f/13.0  1/160s  ISO 100
MasterCraft ProStar 197 TT on Tow Vehicle MasterCraft ProStar 197 TT on Tow Vehicle
Moving in close provides a unique perspective of a ski boat and its tow vehicle. A circular polarizer filter was used to cut some of the reflections.
 
24mm  f/11.0  1/15s  ISO 100
Virgin Islands National Park Visitors Center Window Virgin Islands National Park Visitors Center Window
Just because you are using a wide angle lens does not mean that you have to frame the big picture. Move in to capture the details with a unique perspective. In this picture, I avoided lines intersecting the edge of the frame as much as possible and kept the top of the windows parallel with the top edge of the frame.
 
18mm  f/16.0  1/80s  ISO 100
2010 American Eagle Proof Silver Dollar 2010 American Eagle Proof Silver Dollar
The hardest part of capturing this shot was getting the coin to stand on its side at the right rotation. Otherwise, this is a an easy shot.
 
The coin is a near-perfect, highly-reflective 2010 American Eagle Silver Dollar in proof condition. The background is black velor draped over a box. The coin is sitting on very clean back-painted black glass (my desk). A tiny piece of card stock is under the coin to prevent it from rolling. A Canon Speedlite 600EX-RT in a small softbox was triggered by a Speedlite Transmitter ST-E3-RT. The softbox was directed downward onto the coin (I should have moved it back slightly to get an even reflection across the entire top of the coin).
 
Insure that nothing reflects back onto the coin. Then use a macro-capable lens to capture your shot.
 
70mm  f/16.0  1/200s  ISO 100
Nasturtium Leaf Nasturtium Leaf
Nature provides great patterns for photographing. The orange background is a Nasturtium flower.
 
100mm  f/5.6  1/80s  ISO 100
Pennsylvania State Capitol Senate Chamber Pennsylvania State Capitol Senate Chamber
There are only a small handful of DSLR lenses that can take in a view this wide. Basically, excluding fisheye lenses, the Canon EF 11-24mm f/4L USM Lens or one of the three Sigma variants including the latest, the Sigma 12-24mm f/4 DG HSM Art Lens are your choices.
 
With the senate recessed for the holiday, I made a visit to this location to give the Sigma 12-24 Art a workout. The angle of views afforded by this lens are a blast to use and with the widest, I was able to capture a great deal of the French Renaissance architecture in the senate chamber.
 
While the 12mm angle of view was great to have, the bright lights were a bit of a problem from an exposure standpoint. But, they were very beautiful and I wanted to see some of the detail in them. Thus, an HDR technique was needed.
 
The primary image was captured at 2.5 seconds with a second image captured at .4 seconds (2 2/3 stops darker) to retain some of the detail in the lights. It can be very challenging to composite two images captured at such drastically different brightness while retaining a natural appearance, but here is a technique that proves rather easy.
 
First, stack the two images in Photoshop with the brighter image on top. Then add a layer mask to the top layer and select the layer mask. Select the brush tool, select black as the color and reduce the opacity to something low, such as 10%. Select a brush size appropriate for the area that needs detail added (areas too bright in the original exposure) and adjust the brush hardness as desired (softer may be better in this situation). Then paint the blown areas until just the right amount of detail shows through. The process is easy and the results appear natural.
 
When photographing a symmetrical scene such as this one, it is usually desirable to have the scene perfectly centered in the frame (for perfect balance) and to have the camera perfectly centered in the room (to avoid perspective-caused converging horizontal lines) and horizontally level (to keep horizontal lines parallel to the frame borders). As you can figure out from the resulting image dimensions, I cropped this image very slightly from the top left to perfect my capture. Note that no distortion correction was used. Even at 12mm, this lens is a good performer in this regard.
 
12mm  f/8.0  2.5s  ISO 100
Layers of Plant Leaves Layers of Plant Leaves
By placing the camera's line of sight perpendicular to the plane of the plant leaf, much of the leaf remains in focus even with the shallow DOF producted by the f/2.8 aperture at this close distance. The more distant leaves obviously go out of focus. The primary leaf is fully contained in the frame, but the background leaves go beyond the frame into the corners.
 
100mm  f/2.8  1/125s  ISO 100
Photographing the Christmas Tree during the Blue Hour Photographing the Christmas Tree during the Blue Hour
Putting up and decorating is a big family tradition at our house and the annual photographing of the tree is my own sub-tradition.
 
The photo setup starts long before the camera comes out, beginning with the position of the tree. In addition to the location selected in the house (ours has a very logical one), make sure that the tree appears vertically straight (regardless of the trunk's curvature) and, if the tree is being centered on a feature (such as a set of windows), fine tune that position.
 
The next item on the checklist must be attended to before you string the lights on the Christmas tree (I know, that is the favorite job). The key is to make sure that all of the strings of lights have bulbs with the same brightness (or that they are dissimilar enough to look proper). Perhaps I'm not the brightest bulb in the pack as I skipped this step (thought we corrected this issue last year) and ... apparently there are two different Christmas light models in our tree kit. At least I have a dark-light-dark-light pattern going up the tree. Hopefully most will think that design was intentional.
 
After the tree is fully decorated, clean up the area around it – minimally all that will be included in the frame. This task may include smoothing the carpet if it shows tracks.
 
The Best Time of Day to Photograph the Christmas Tree
 
A Christmas tree can be photographed at any time of day or night, but the best time of the day is when the ambient light is right for the image you want. A tree located in a room with many windows will, without significant shading, show mostly green with ornaments and a subdued look to the strings of lights. This is a very nice look.
 
My preference for photographing our tree, installed in our great room/living room, is to use only the light from the Christmas tree lights with very low or no additional ambient light. With windows behind our tree, I am quickly limited to the after dark timeframe. After dark comes early in late fall and early winter, but there is another issue. People walking around cause the floor to flex slightly and that makes the ornaments swing, becoming blurred in a long exposure. So, after the kids are in bed (or plan to be somewhere else in the house for a period of time) works best for long exposures sans kids in the picture.
 
Having windows in your photo quickly complicates the tree photo session for a couple of reasons in addition to the ambient light they provide. One reason is what is outside of the window. Waiting until after dark usually takes care of this problem unless there are other lights visible through the windows (such as street lights). In the latter case, blocking your windows from outside, such as with black foam core, may be a solution to the issue. In this photo, I waited until late in the blue hour on a very foggy day to get a slight even blue glow through the windows. I wasn't sure how bright I wanted the blue to be, but capturing a frame every few minutes allowed me to choose what I thought was ideal at a later time.
 
Reflections are another issue with windows. If Christmas lights are being reflected, those reflections are often beneficial to the composition. But, if something else in your house is being reflected (such as the LCD panel on the microwave or thermostat), the effect will not likely be appreciated.
 
Lens Selection for Christmas Tree Photography
 
The desired perspective should always drive focal length selection and in this case, working space may limit the perspective options. Within the bounds of walls and other furniture (consider moving it), the optimal perspective will often result in a wide angle lens being selected.
 
Experiment with perspective, utilizing the various focal lengths at a variety of distances. Also try a variety of camera heights, but do so with an understanding that a vertically level camera is going to keep vertical lines in the frame straight. Windows, corners, furniture and other items will provide those straight lines.
 
Aperture Selection for Christmas Tree Photography
 
While a wide variety of apertures can be used for Christmas tree photos and blurred Christmas trees are quite beautiful, f/16 is one of my favorites. I know, your first thought was to cringe at the softness that diffraction will impart at this aperture and that is a true concern. But, the narrower the aperture used, the bigger the star effect created by each light on the tree. The f/16 aperture is a bit of a compromise in that the images remain reasonably sharp (and sharpenable) with rather large stars being created. Experiment with f/8 through f/22 to determine your own preference.
 
While ISO 100 is ideal, I went to ISO 200 for this exposure to reduce the amount of time each frame was taking. This one stop increase in ISO meant little in terms of noise, but it took 15 seconds off of the exposure and another 15 seconds off of the long exposure noise reduction information capture following the exposure.
 
Summary
 
You have spent (or are going to spend) all that time and expense putting the Christmas tree up and decorating it, so ... plan on spending some time taking pictures of it. If you don't think the right lens is in your kit, this would be a good time to buy it. Renting a lens to use over the holidays is another great idea.
 
35mm  f/16.0  15s  ISO 200
Emphasizing #1 with the Sony FE 20mm f/1.8 G Lens Emphasizing #1 with the Sony FE 20mm f/1.8 G Lens
No, post-processing was not used to create that perfectly-placed shadow. Outdoor photography is often about being at the right place at the right time. On this day, my timing was about perfect for the shadow of a large university field house to fall across the lanes of the outdoor track next to it, shading all but the first lane.

Also aiding in emphasizing the "1" was the perspective. With the 20mm lens positioned closer to the "1" than the other numbers, the "1" becomes the largest in the frame and therefore the most prominent. Everyone loves number "1" and there are far more uses for an emphasized "1" than any other number.

The Sony FE 20mm f/1.8 G Lens is very fun to walk around with, letting your creativity take over. The results from this lens are quite impressive.
 
20mm  f/11.0  1/80s  ISO 100

Christmas Tree and Presents Christmas Tree and Presents
Moving in close to the foreground presents makes them emphasized in the frame and the edges of the packages create leading lines into the frame. The strong lines entering the frame from the top-right somewhat balance the lines created by the gifts in the lower-right. This camera position allows the tree lights to reflect in the windows and the TV.
 
15mm  f/16  100s  ISO 100
Canon EOS R5 and RF 70-200mm F4 L IS Lens Running with the Big Dogs Canon EOS R5 and RF 70-200mm F4 L IS Lens Running with the Big Dogs
Let me introduce you to "Nala," my oldest daughter's year-old goldendoodle. I was looking for a subject to challenge the new Canon RF 70-200mm F4 L IS USM Lens for the review, and Nala happily volunteered. She maintained a great spirit for 25 minutes until the session ended abruptly when another dog arrived.

Not long ago, capturing an eye-sharp image of a big dog in a great pose while running (bouncing) full speed toward and close to the camera was extremely challenging. With the Canon EOS R5's incredible animal eye AF combined with the 20 fps frame rate and the Canon RF 70-200mm F4 L IS USM Lens in front of it, the biggest challenge of this shoot was deciding which of the 1,400+ images on the ProGrade Digital 325GB CFexpress 2.0 Cobalt Memory Card to keep.

Bright white snow is a strong auto-exposure influencer, typically causing the camera to underexpose images. With bright white snow filling greatly differing percentages of the frame during each dog pass, exposure compensation was not optimal. Thus, my most frequently used exposure mode, manual, was the ideal choice.

This shoot's goal was to challenge the camera and lens AF system, so the shallow depth of field provided by a wide-open aperture was best, providing little margin for error. The wide-open aperture in combination with the longest focal length provided the strongest background blur possible, making the subject stand out.

Next, the shutter speed was selected, with freezing motion the goal. I opted for 1/1250-1/1600, choices that proved marginally short enough for this fast dog in some instances.

ISO was the last image brightness factor to be applied. As a rule, snow in the sun should be nearly blown-out white. To determine the optimal brightness, the histogram is the proper tool. The ISO setting was increased until the brightest pixels were registering nearly against histogram graph's right side. Note that the blinkies will likely show before color channel capacities are reached. Use the histogram.

This day was cloudy, and cloudy skies often bring brightness changes. Thus, the histogram required monitoring for ISO adjustment needs.

With the R5 in face and eye detection mode and animal eye AF selected, the remaining job was to keep the dog in the frame while holding down the shutter release as my daughter repeatedly positioned and ran Nala toward the camera.

With the R5 and a good lens, getting the perfect action shots is (often) only a small challenge.
 
200mm  f/4.0  1/1250s  ISO 250

Blue Hour Architecture Photography with the Sony FE 20mm f/1.8 G Lens Blue Hour Architecture Photography with the Sony FE 20mm f/1.8 G Lens
A university administration building had caught my eye. It seemed a perfect subject for the Sony FE 20mm f/1.8 G Lens I was reviewing and photographing it was on this evening's to-do list. During the blue hour is a great time to photograph architecture and starting with a shooting direction away from the sunset provides the earliest brightness balance between the building lights and the sky. As the sky darkened, the light balance on the other side of the building, looking toward the sunset (brighter sky), improved and that was the direction the camera was facing for this image capture.

To get a level camera for this perspective required fully extending the Really Right Stuff TVC-24L Mk2 Carbon Fiber Tripod legs and positioning the feet as close together as possible without risking stability. The camera was well above head height but the tilt LCD enabled proper leveling and composition. The low geometric distortion of this lens makes it a great option for photographing subjects with straight lines along the edges of the frame.

This was a single RAW image (not an HDR) captured with the brightest areas of the image somewhat too bright. In post, utilizing the Sony a7R IV's excellent dynamic range, the highlights were pulled back and the shadows were boosted for a balanced appearance.
 
20mm  f/8.0  13s  ISO 100

Finding Curves at the Pennsylvania Capitol House Chamber Finding Curves at the Pennsylvania Capitol House Chamber
It is early spring and, at least here in the mid-Atlantic and farther north latitudes, the outdoor landscape is looking rather bleak right now. The snow is gone and the green has not yet come. That makes this is a great time of the year to focus on indoor photography and interior architecture is one great option. And when photographing interior architecture, an ultra-wide angle lens becomes especially useful.
 
Most of us photographers love curves and the Italian architecture in the Pennsylvania House Chamber is filled with them. While cameras are not permitted in this space when the house is in session, selecting a non-session day cleared that roadblock. Moving to one side of the balcony gave me an angled view across the room that sent ceiling lines arching into the frame.
 
Got 12mm in your kit? That is the full frame focal length you will need to capture this image and many others like it. The Sigma 12-24mm f/4 DG HSM Art Lens on a full frame body executes this image (and those similar to it) extremely well. Even though the aperture used was not extremely narrow (f/8), the entire image is within the 12mm depth of field and the Canon EOS 5Ds R's extreme resolution was fully utilized with essentially no visible impact caused by diffraction. This image is tack sharp from corner to corner.
 
Notice that the columns on the sides of the image are vertically straight (or very close to being so)? While it is easy to have these lines angling inward or outward when using a focal length this wide (and that is sometimes a desired effect), a vertically level camera will render vertical lines parallel to each other and these lines can be parallel to the frame borders as long as the camera is horizontally leveled.
 
Spend your money on gear, not admission fees. One of the great things about the PA state capitol building is that admission is free. While you may not live close to this specific capitol building and will not likely find it alone to be worth a plane ticket or all-day drive to get there, your own state capitol building may offer the same deal. I didn't check all 50 USA state capitol buildings (or any outside of the USA), but many others also have free admission.
 
Get your ultra-wide angle lens and go photograph some interior architecture!
 
12mm  f/8.0  4s  ISO 100
Sprint Car Racing Sprint Car Racing
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.
 
70mm  f/4.5  1/250s  ISO 2000
Just Part of a Pumpkin Just Part of a Pumpkin
The other day, I looked over a large, steep, grassy clearing on our property. I quickly noticed a round orange object approximately 400' below. The bright color caught my attention, the round shape caused me the think it was a pumpkin and I later hiked down to confirm my guess.
 
What I found was a medium-large pumpkin with deep bear teeth marks in it. Upon my return to the house, the girls informed me that the pumpkin was from our deck. The bear had carried the pumpkin away and likely, at some point, put it down, only to have it roll hundreds of feet down the hill. While the bear story is one for our memories, the fact that orange stands out so much is the lesson for today.
 
Orange is a fall color and a primary source of that orange comes in the form of pumpkins. It is quite likely that one will show up at your house in the fall and if not, a neighbor likely has one that you could borrow. Or, take the family to the farm or market, photograph your people there and then bring home some color to work with. At home, spend some more time getting creative with your color source, increasing the color orange in your portfolio.
 
Then, print your own fall decoration for next year, perhaps in the form of a metal print (love these).
 
This simple image was captured in the shade of our front porch. I explored various angles on the subject, trying to consume the entire frame with it. This angle seemed to work nicely.
 
After you have your orange, explore the yellows and other colors available in the other fall favorite, gourds!
 
35mm  f/1.4  1/500s  ISO 100
Taking the Irix 11mm Lens to Church Taking the Irix 11mm Lens to Church
The Cathedral Parish of St Patrick is one of my favorite churches and I previously shared an image of its ceiling captured at 12mm. While I liked that one a lot, I wanted to see what the same scene looked like captured at 11mm.
 
Can a 1mm difference in focal length make a significant difference in an image? Absolutely. While a 1mm difference is meaningless at 400mm, it is substantial at extreme wide angles and the difference between 11mm and 12mm is very noticeable. Of course, wider is not always better and sometimes 12mm is a better choice than 11mm. If you must decide between these two focal lengths, keep in mind that an 11mm image can be cropped to 12mm framing. Cropping of course results in reduced resolution, but going the other direction requires panorama capture and that becomes especially complicated when mixed with an HDR technique as was required by this image.
 
While it seems that going into a church and photographing straight up would be easy, this image was very challenging to capture. Getting the camera alignment (nearly) perfect was the big part of the challenge. The camera had to be perfectly centered in the scene, directed straight upward and aligned square with the architecture. Any misalignment meant that certain aspects in the scene would not match throughout the image, such as the bottom of the arches being equally aligned with the designs painted on the ceiling.
 
A slight misalignment makes it appear that you didn't do your job correctly. Intentionally framing the scene so that it is not close to square saves a lot of effort. Challenges are fun, but those not wanting to make that effort should consider the latter.
 
If you don't have the very-fun 11mm focal length covered in your kit, the Irix 11mm f/4 Firefly Lens is an inexpensive option that performs very well.
 
11mm  f/8.0  .6s  ISO 100
Ripples in the Sand, Down by the Bay, Bowers Beach, DE Ripples in the Sand, Down by the Bay, Bowers Beach, DE
Unless you are a local, Bowers Beach in Bowers, DE, referred to as sleepy fishing village (population about 335), is probably not on your radar. That this town and beach border the Murderkill River, north of Slaughter Beach, surely does not help spur interest.

Exploring with a camera is one of my favorite things to do and late on this day, I ended up on the very peaceful Bowers Beach at low tide. With the Delaware Bay drawn back, the low angle light emphasized the ripples left in the sand. Those ripples consumed my attention for the last hour of direct sunlight.

The Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 Di III RXD Lens mounted on a Sony a7R III were perfect for walking around the beach. For each image, I selected an aperture that would keep all details in the frame sharp (commonly f/11) and focused roughly 1/3 into the depth of the image. I varied the focal length, the camera height, and the camera's up/down angle while trying out a variety of ripple locations on the beach.

When the right set of ripples are found, there seems to be endless compositions available. That of course creates a selection challenge during post processing. For this set, I simply picked one image I liked and archived the rest of the RAW files.

Images of patterns are seldom among my most-liked social shares, but ... I love them. They are great for interior decorating and they work very well as backgrounds for various media.
 
28mm  f/11.0  1/50s  ISO 100

Composing Symmetry, Empty Sky Memorial, Liberty State Park, NJ Composing Symmetry, Empty Sky Memorial, Liberty State Park, NJ
When photographing a symmetrical subject, either take the time and effort to make it perfectly aligned in the frame ... or don't come close to doing so.

An image of a symmetrical subject that is perfectly symmetrically framed (or at least nearly so) usually looks great. An image of a symmetrical subject that appears intentionally non-symmetrically framed can also look great. It is when an image of a symmetrical subject is almost symmetrically framed that it appears you have made a mistake.

Some symmetrical subjects are far more forgiving than others. A tile floor is typically symmetrically unforgiving and note that any geometric distortion in a lens increases the in-camera alignment challenge. Another challenge is slight asymmetry in the subject.

This image appeared ideally aligned in-camera, but it still needed to be adjusted slightly in post-production to finish off that task. I thought I had the image ready to go when Sean mentioned that the monument was not quite perfectly straight. Measuring structure positions in Photoshop made it appear straight with some subject asymmetry showing at the bottom of the monument. A tile was lifted by a noticeable amount on the right side and the left side had stone showing on the outside of the perimeter drain that was not showing on the right, both creating optical illusions of asymmetry. I decided those fixes were needed and made some other adjustments (sometimes these small projects take on a life of their own). After revisiting the image a couple of times, I decided that Sean was still right and adjusted rotation slightly to move the image closer to perfection.

In this image, Abe Curland of B&H is carefully aligning his shot of the Empty Sky Memorial in Liberty State Park, NJ. The lines in tile flooring provide valuable assistance for finding center.

In light of the Should I Get the Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III or EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM Lens? article just posted, I'll mention that this image could have been equally captured with the less expensive Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM Lens. The Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM Lens was my choice for this trip because I was shooting from a tripod and wanted larger-sized stars to be created from the city lights during the blue hour and after dark. I was pulling a Think Tank Photo Airport Security rolling case around the city, so gear weight was not an issue.
 
16mm  f/11.0  0.8s  ISO 100

Canon EOS 90D Meets Formula DRIFT Canon EOS 90D Meets Formula DRIFT
The rear tires on a Formula DRIFT (Formula D) car do not last very long and when there are only a few fast-moving cars participating in the action, short photo opportunities followed by long breaks become the schedule. The safe method of photographing this and similar subjects is to use a fast shutter speed, freezing the action for a sharp image. However, frozen action does not (usually) ideally convey motorsports action. Thus, I opted for shutter speeds long enough to result in a low success rate.

While I promptly deleted a lot of my images, I only needed a few images from this event and I wanted them to have a very strong panning blur. That plan worked.

Using a circular polarizer filter often brings substantial improvements to photos taken mid-day and a Breakthrough X4 CPL was used for this capture. To get a longer shutter speed under bright sunlight without going to an extremely narrow aperture (diffraction being the issue), a 2-stop neutral density filter was stacked behind the CPL to block additional light. Because the gear being introduced and evaluated at this event was unknown prior to arrival, I chose to take a set of large-sized filters along with a stack of step-up filter adapter rings to provide versatility and one was used for this image.

This is Dustin Miles turning right to go left and leaving tire on the track. The Canon EOS 90D with its fast 10-fps continuous shooting rate is a great choice for capturing fast action.
 
71mm  f/13.0  1/80s  ISO 100

Happy Independence Day 2020, USA! Happy Independence Day 2020, USA!
For those of us residing in the USA, today we celebrate our country's independence. Take some time to study the history, including what our forefathers said, did, and wrote on this day, one that is foundational to our country.
 
Independence Day (aka, the 4th of July) is often celebrated with friends, family, grilled food, and fireworks. The effect seen in this fireworks image is from manually adjusting focus during a long exposure. Check out the following tips articles and the gear list below them.
 
Fireworks Photography Tips
 

 
35mm  f/9.0  4.1s  ISO 100
Merry Christmas 2019! Sharing Some Christmas Tree Photography Tips Merry Christmas 2019! Sharing Some Christmas Tree Photography Tips
For many households, Christmas brings with it many decorations with a tree being the primary one. Installing the tree is often a large job, the result is generally beautiful, and capturing memories of the annual tree is worth the small amount of effort required to do so.

Help the Christmas tree photo from the start by selecting a great looking tree that fits nicely in your space. "Great" is as seen in your eyes. We have a tall ceiling over our tree's location and our tree height is limited to what I can haul home and make stay upright in the tree stand. Another limitation is that the top of the tree must be reachable using only a step ladder (scaffolding is not an option) and with our space not being large in width, it is nice to have enough space to be able to walk around the tree. The kids always want taller and the parents always want shorter. The parents can better tolerate taller if narrower enters the equation. With a narrow tree, height becomes easier to manage (except for the road clearance issue faced when hauling it home across the back of the SUV's Hitch Haul).

When decorating the tree, ensure that the strands of lights are all the same brand and model, or at least that all of the strands share the same bulb color and brightness. I learned that lesson a few years back when I needed to combine multiple exposures to balance out the brightness differences of our dual-brightness tree.

Do you have windows in the frame with your tree? If so, consider photographing during the blue hour which is really the blue minutes as there will likely be only a couple of minutes of ideal exterior brightness to balance with the indoor light levels, giving your images that extra wow factor. Shooting through that ideal time period will ensure the perfect minute is captured. You likely photographed a tree in the same location at the same time a year ago. Reviewing the EXIF information from a prior year's perfect photo will provide a close estimate of the perfect time for the blue minute shot this year. Then ensure you are set up and ready for that minute to arrive.

While reviewing images from prior years, look at the angles you captured to learn what works well and what doesn't. Repeat and avoid those compositions as makes sense. Also, check the camera settings used for the previous images for guidance on this year's camera settings. Note that changing out strands of lights can change the needed settings due to differing brightness.

Often, turning off all of the lights (or at least the brighter ones) in the house, aside from the Christmas lights, will result in the ideal lighting. If there are windows in the image, watch for reflections in those. Block any problematic reflections (such as the numbers on the microwave display) and take advantage of positive ones (such as the Christmas lights). For the image shared here, a couple of Post-It Notes were placed over the thermostat display. Note that double-pane windows may create double reflections.

With only the Christmas lights providing illumination, the environment is dark. While I like to use a wide aperture lens, I don't use a wide aperture for the Christmas tree photo. Stopping a wide aperture lens down to f/16 or so makes each light into a little starburst and stopped down wide aperture lenses tend to produce the best stars. The narrow aperture also makes it easy to keep the entire scene in focus.

Unless your lights are far brighter than ours, you can expect to need a long exposure at f/16. I usually use 30 seconds and sometimes bump the ISO up modestly to keep from having to wait for even longer exposures. Thus, a tripod is needed along with either a remote release or the self-timer used. I don't mind if the individual lights become slightly blown (pure white), but if an extra-bright decoration is in the frame, I will sometimes exposure bracket with an additional image captures.

Long exposures raise another problem for some of us. While most Christmas tree displays will be motionless, they may not always be perfectly so. Unless your Christmas tree is on a concrete floor, there is likely the potential for the floor to vibrate at least slightly when walked on. Hanging ornaments will likely be the first indicators that the floor has vibrated and if swinging, they will be blurred in 30-second exposures. Planning this shoot for when the rest of the family is not home (or is in bed) is a good idea. You might need to stand very still behind the camera for a couple of minutes before capturing the shot.

Think about the camera angle. A completely level camera is often desired for interior photography such as this and adjusting the camera height and distance from the tree provides the composition desired.

For this year's tree photo, I opted to use the Canon EOS R and RF 15-35mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens. The R's 30 MP resolution was very adequate for my needs and the RF 15-35 delivers impressive image quality. In addition, the 15mm focal length was very attractive for this image capture — and it became even more attractive during post processing. Despite being very careful to level the camera, I still managed to get a slightly tilted (0.6°) image. Straightening an image requires cropping (or creating missing details) and the 15mm angle of view gave me just enough additional angle of view to make that adjustment comfortable. Note how little barrel distortion is showing in this uncorrected image.

As soon as the perfect light was captured behind the windows, I pulled the couch and ottoman out of the way and pressed the shutter release of a second camera that was already set up, providing a completely different image.

From my family to yours, we wish you the merriest, joy-filled Christmas ever!
 
15mm  f/16.0  30s  ISO 100

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