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 Tuesday, March 31, 2020
The most difficult aspect of capturing this sunset image was being there. Once in location, wait until the sun is nearly set behind a distant mountain, use an f/16 aperture to create a sunstar (but not lose too much sharpness to diffraction), select a shutter speed that nearly blows the red channel at ISO 400 (I had been running and did not have a tripod), compose for the foreground, sun, and clouds, focus roughly 1/3 into the frame, press the shutter release, and get that great feeling of knowing that a beautiful scene was part of the evening's take-home.
 
On this mid-July evening, I timed a trail run with the sunset and the clouds and slightly hazy summer sky cooperated to provide great color. The Sony FE 24-70mm f/4 ZA OSS Lens, small and light enough to not pose a physical limitation, was also getting a workout. This lens has the core general-purpose focal length range needed and it handled this scene nicely.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr (and the foreground appears brighter in the larger size).
 
Camera and Lens Settings
24mm  f/16.0  1/40s
ISO 400
7952 x 5304px
Post Date: 3/31/2020 8:52:34 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Tuesday, March 24, 2020
Life has become crazy for a vast number of people as I create this post and the fragility of life has become more real. Know that the time we are in is a temporary one. As always, hold onto Faith and make the most of the situation.

If temporarily unemployed, you suddenly find yourself with a huge amount of time available. Even if still working but from home, you no longer have commute time in your schedule. While relaxation has some value (I keep telling myself that), I challenge you to stay motivated and make good use of your extra time.

Kid Portrait

Shoot the Kids

If you have kids, they are extremely important to you but finding time in overlapping schedules is often a major obstacle for photographing them. Your schedule and their schedule have likely been cleared, green-lighting this project. I promise that you will not regret having the images and your kids might find it of value to share the pics on their social media (market that usage to get their buy-in).

Shoot formal portraits ranging from full-body (slightly wide-angle to normal focal lengths) to tight headshots (telephoto lens), find brightly-colored clothing and props, go wild with lighting, photograph them doing something they are passionate about, make them go out and get some exercise while you work a run and gun approach to catch them in action, etc.

When the kids lose patience, move to the pets — or consider including the pets to extend the kids' patience.

Bryan Carnathan

Shoot yourself

Perhaps your Facebook, LinkedIn, and other social media profile pictures are lacking in quality? No need to hire someone for this — go into full selfie mode. Consider photographing yourself doing something you frequently do such as exercise (which should always be part of your routine) and consider using an exposure long enough to create some motion blur as motion is a minimum requirement for exercise.

Canvasback Duck

Shoot Something Different

If birds and wildlife are your thing, try shooting architecture. If you are a portrait photographer, try wildlife. Browse Instagram, Flickr, etc. for ideas. Now is a great time to learn to shoot video. Perhaps the portfolio you build from this experience will open new doors.

Love Is Patient

Shoot with Something Different

A lot of the fun of photography is using new gear and that is a valid reason to try another brand camera. This is a great time to try a mirrorless camera model. Tilt-shift lenses are very educational (and useful).

A new season is coming and now is a great time to research the gear you need to capture it. If unsure about your future with that gear or you can't afford to buy it, go big for a small cost by renting something. It is super easy to order a camera, a lens, lighting gear, etc. from Lensrentals and have it show up on your doorstep.

Sony FE 20mm f/1.8 G Lens Number 1 Sample Picture

Shoot from New Heights and Angles

Shoot from positions that require you, your tripod, and/or minimally your camera to go into positions they are not normally used in. This may be from up high, down low, very close, very far, etc. Go for a walk with your camera with a self-imposed limitation such as "All images must be captured within 6" (150mm) of the ground.

I know, that electronic viewfinder level not showing all green makes us perfectionists hesitate to press the shutter release but sometimes it is OK to take a not-gravity-level photo. Consider imposing a limitation on the angle of the camera such as angled 45° downward, tilted 45° sideways, or both.

Sony FE 20mm f/1.8 G Lens Architecture Sample Picture

Shoot Your House

Think like a real estate photographer and photograph your house. Shoot the exterior during the blue hour. Stage and photograph the interior with an ultra-wide-angle lens, timing the shooting with exterior light levels if relevant for your space. Then market yourself to the local real estate companies.

Moth

Shoot Something Small

Especially for a macro lens, there are unending subjects available.

Rose

Bring a flower in from your garden. If your garden is bare, perhaps a neighbor would trade one of their flowers for a much-longer-lasting print. Or, perhaps you can buy a subject.

Candy

Go through your cabinets and drawers looking for interesting subjects that could include noodles, candy, utensils, etc. Find colorful art supplies such as crayons and pencils.

Hint: if it comes in a box or bag and is in your cupboards, it might make a great pattern subject. Consider photographing one unique small subject among a significant amount of similar subjects.

Hint 2: Avoid eating too much of your subject until the project is finished.

Hint 3: This is a great time to learn lighting including with flash.

Hint 4: Try focus stacking.

Condensation

Hint 5: Try strong white balance adjustments.

Blurred Pansies

Shoot Blur

Everyone loves a lens blur and an easy way to get artistic is to intentionally blur a scene by making it out of focus. I often shoot intentional focus blurs when testing lenses and sometimes I like the results enough to keep them. Shooting these blurs will teach you how to approach a scene differently with the structure created by color and contrast taking over the frame.

Consider going really crazy with zoom blurs. Use an exposure long enough to allow you to turn the zoom ring a noticeable amount while the exposure is being captured. A tripod will usually improve these results.

Attach your camera to something moving. Use an exposure duration that is long enough to make the scene blurred with, ideally, whatever the camera is attached to remaining sharp. If lacking a good mounting platorm, simply hold the camera in front of a colorful scene and, while using a long exposure, pan the camera left and right to create a sea of color. Note that a Neutral Density Filter may prove vital for achieving exposure durations necessary for optimal results.

Include something very close in the foreground that adds blur to an otherwise-common-appearing subject such as a person (please do not block their face).

Tilt-Shift Lens Blur

Consider using a tilt-shift lens to create interesting blurs.

Bear Cub Picture

Shoot Sharp

Focus calibrating cameras and lenses can be time-consuming but the adjustments can be worthwhile to make. Go through your kit, shooting a Datacolor SpyderLensCal or other focus calibration aid and fine-tune your combinations to perfection.

Loon Picture

Shoot for the Background

Find a background that works superbly with the focal length you are using and then find an attractive subject to place in the foreground for a sure win. Sometimes different lighting on the subject and background can create a look that stands out.

New York City Tribute Lights Sample Picture

Research Your Next Shoot

Determine what subject you want to photograph, determine where and when is optimal for that subject, and make plans to be there with the right gear. Utilize apps such as The Photographer's Ephemeris and Photo Pills to determine the alignment of the celestial attractions.

Milky Way, Rocky Mountain National Park

Sign up for a workshop going to a location that interests you. Enjoy the anticipation of capturing your planned image(s).

Kure Beach Fishing Pier

Improve an Image You Already Shot

Re-post-processing is a thing. Hopefully your photo editing skills are improving and likely you captured some great images in the past that could now be re-processed for better results. Perhaps some challenging images you didn't attempt processing are now within your capabilities.

Now is a great time to learn a new software application. Consider adding Photoshop & Lightroom, Capture One, and/or Luminar (use coupon code THEDIGITALPICTURE to get a $10.00 discount) to your kit and skill set.

SmugMug

Share What You Shot

If you are not already maintaining a portfolio site, now is a great time to set one up. I use SmugMug and highly recommend their service which optionally includes selling. Plans start at only $48 per year and a 14-day trial is available.

Consider taking your marketing/professionalism to the next step by purchasing a personal domain name and hosting for it. Through experience, I can tell you that there are a lot of bad web hosts out there. There are also some very good ones and an inexpensive host I have grown to trust is InMotionHosting. SmugMug can also utilize your custom domain name with their hosting.

If you already maintain a portfolio site, this is a good time to remove the lower-grade images still there. Your skills are surely improving and some of those old images are no longer reflecting your abilities.

Printique

Print What You Shot

You now have time to create that family or trip photo book you have been putting off. Perhaps it is time to put some of your prints on your walls. Consider metal prints — they are awesome and you don't have to select or buy a frame. Also not requiring a frame and loved by most are canvas prints. Printique (formerly AdoramaPix) is one of my favorites.

Backup What You Shot

You have a backup plan that includes secure, remote off-site storage, right? If so, make sure that those backups are current. If not, fix that problem ASAP. WD My Passport external drives are a great option.

Scan What You Shot

Still have prints and slides hanging around? Don't wait any longer to digitize them. I used the predecessor to the Epson Perfection V550 Photo Film and Document Scanner to digitize my old prints and the kid's artwork and still use it to eliminate most of my paper receipts.

Ricketts Glen State Park

Learn to Shoot Better

Learning is worth intentionally interrupting work for and the decision to spend time learning during a forced interruption is a no-brainer. Our Photography Tips page is a good place to start. Professional Photographers of America (PPA) has made a huge set of free online classes available.

Laptop

Upgrade your Computer and Home Office

You have been tolerating that old, slow computer for long enough. It is time for a change and you have time to set up a new system, migrating your images and workflow. A faster system will save you valuable time later and a more reliable system will save more than time. I have been using Dell XPS computers for about 20 years.

While at it, if kids are involved, upgrade all of the systems. Education is extremely important and making learning easier will encourage that practice.

Is your printer adequate? A wireless printer makes life much easier in our house.

If spending a significant amount of time sitting, the ergonomics of your chair become very important. Check out the full range of home computing necessities at B&H and Amazon.

Do you enjoy music while at your desk? A quality sound system can make a big difference.

During a time of change is a good time to drop bad habits and start new ones. Hopefully something just said has stirred your creativity and motivation. Move in positive new directions. This world is a better place with you in it — carpe diem.

Post Date: 3/24/2020 10:00:00 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Saturday, March 21, 2020
It is so hard to get kids to smile nicely but apparently, even animal kids have this problem. What was this black bear cub thinking? What induced it to bend its nose sideways? I have no idea, but I love humor in wildlife images and am always looking for it.
 
A second cub is facing the opposite direction in the background and the side of the mother bear can be seen along the left edge of the frame.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
Post Date: 3/21/2020 1:42:22 PM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Friday, March 20, 2020
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.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
Post Date: 3/20/2020 7:46:11 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Thursday, March 19, 2020
The "Which software should I use for image editing?" question hit the inbox so I thought I'd share the software I am using with you.
 
If processing Canon RAW images, I use Canon's Digital Photo Professional (DPP). While this software is not as feature-filled as other options, it is easy to use and more important is that it produces very good image quality, including very good color. That this software is free is a strong positive feature.
 
The huge industry favorite is feature-packed Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop is included in the Adobe CC Photography Plan required to acquire this software. I process Nikon images with Lightroom and finish most web-bound images with Photoshop.
 
I use Capture One for editing Sony RAW images. This is well-designed software and when I last compared results, Capture One produced noticeably-better-looking noise patterns in Sony images than Lightroom. The Sony Express version is free.
 
Another app growing rapidly in popularity is Skylum Luminar.
 
Nikon and Sony both offer free image processing software but I find both challenging to use.
Post Date: 3/19/2020 1:31:28 PM CT   Posted By: Bryan
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.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
 
Camera and Lens Settings
20mm  f/11.0  1/80s
ISO 100
9504 x 6336px
Post Date: 3/19/2020 8:13:19 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Tuesday, March 10, 2020
I was there to photograph mountain goat kids but the bighorn sheep also showed up and the lambs were totally adorable.
 
The Canon EOS 5Ds R and Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens combination were perfect for this capture.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
 
Camera and Lens Settings
227mm  f/8.0  1/600s
ISO 2000
8688 x 5792px
Post Date: 3/10/2020 8:09:11 PM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Thursday, February 27, 2020
I'm evaluating Canon EOS-1D X Mark III images, selecting a few for inclusion in the review, and thought I'd take a moment to share an image of another amazing-looking duck, the American widgeon. The goal of this short trip to the Chesapeake Bay, in addition to testing the 1D X Mark III in the field, was to photograph canvasback ducks. Like most other wildlife photographers, I'm opportunistic and it wasn't hard to be attracted to the beautiful American widgeon. The colors, patterns, and shapes of this bird's feathers are incredible.
 
Again, I was sitting in very cold water just upriver from the Chesapeake Bay wearing chest waders (and a heavy layer of fleece insulation under them) to enable a low camera position. The Wimberley WH-200-S Sidemount Head held the big lens and mostly submerged under the Wimberley was a Robus RC-8860 Vantage Series 5 Carbon Fiber Tripod.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
Post Date: 2/27/2020 2:24:21 PM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Tuesday, February 25, 2020
Do you like your bird images cropped tightly or do you prefer some breathing room around your birds?
 
I shared a canvasback duck image earlier today and mentioned that I was struggling to decide which of two images I liked better. While that topic is fresh on my mind, I thought I would share the looser-cropped image and get your opinion.
 
Which image do you like better? The composition with the closer duck filling a greater percentage of the frame or the more-distant duck showing more surroundings?
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
Post Date: 2/25/2020 2:20:41 PM CT   Posted By: Bryan
The Canon EOS-1D X Mark III arrived mid-afternoon and immediately the battery went on the charger. Setting up the camera came next (didn't wait for a full battery charge) and shooting the noise test followed. Late-night packing ensued and the road trip started the next morning.
 
The goal of this trip was to give the 1D X III a workout and the Chesapeake Bay ducks seemed a good choice.
 
One of the challenges I frequently encounter when photographing ducks is selecting the correct focus point(s) in time to get an image before the duck changes direction again. Those webbed feet can make 180° turns very fast but the 1D X III's new Smart Controller is a game-changer in DSLR focus point selection. Simply slide a thumb (even with a glove on) across the AF-ON button's Smart Controller feature and the AF point moves in the same direction. Keeping up with the ducks is now considerably easier thanks to the Smart Controller — this feature is awesome. I'm now less-satisfied with my other DSLRs.
 
When photographing ducks, I seldom appreciate a downward camera angle. This means getting the camera down to the level of the duck which becomes complicated when the duck is swimming. Sitting in the low-40-something-degree-F water just upriver from the Chesapeake Bay wearing chest waders (with a heavy layer of fleece insulation under them) was the option selected. Obviously, the camera cannot go right on the water level, especially with saltwater sometimes having splashing waves, but getting into the water helps reduce elevation.
 
Another aid to a flatter camera angle is using a long focal length lens. The longer the focal length used, the farther away the subject needs to be for proper framing and to frame a farther-away subject requires the camera angle to be raised, creating a closer-to-level shooting angle.
 
Prior to leaving for this short trip, I had a number of accessories sent to me for testing.
 
Holding the camera and lens in the river was a Wimberley WH-200-S Sidemount Head. The Wimberley Tripod Head II (full gimbal head including the cradle) is an awesome choice for holding a big lens. This head is very solid but the Sidemount version is even more rigid, weighs less, consumes less space, and provides a better handle (such as for lifting the tripod out of the river). The only downside to this side-mount head is that some lenses, primarily very large lenses with high-profile tripod feet, may not be perfectly centered over the head. This slight offset didn't seem to matter in my use with a 600mm f4L lens. My cradle will not likely see any future use.
 
Mostly submerged and holding the Wimberley Sidemount tripod head was a Robus RC-8860 Vantage Series 5 Carbon Fiber Tripod. This solid, heavy-duty tripod was a superb solution for anchoring (literally in this case) a 600mm f/4 lens on a pro body. I continue to be impressed by the quality of the Robus products, especially for the price. They are great values.
 
I might share another Canvasback photograph with you soon as I struggled to select between this one and a looser-framed shot (and many others). The warm lighting on this duck is from a setting sun and the blue water color is courtesy of a blue sky.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
Post Date: 2/25/2020 10:23:14 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Sunday, February 16, 2020
There are not many animals that are pure white but those that are often have beautiful sharp black accents
 
This was an easy shot for the Canon EOS 5Ds R that, despite 50 MP of resolution, does seems not to seriously challenge the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens. The combination was perfect for Mount Evans.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
 
Camera and Lens Settings
400mm  f/8.0  1/2000s
ISO 400
9492 x 5792px
Post Date: 2/16/2020 4:02:13 PM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Monday, February 3, 2020
Just another stellar Shenandoah National Park sunrise and being there was the hardest part of capturing this image (being there was not hard either).
 
This is single exposure image (not an HDR) captured with the red channel being nearly blown on the histogram. At that brightness, this just-before-sunrise scene provided adequate detail in the shadows for Capture One to brighten them while darkening the highlights slightly for improved balance. The f/8 aperture maximized sharpness, minimized peripheral shading, and provided very adequate depth of field. ISO 100 was selected for its low noise attributes. Nothing in this scene was in motion except for the very-slow-moving clouds and the 0.4 sec. shutter speed used for the final scene brightness was easily adequate to stop all motion.
 
Saturation and contrast were added to this image but this sunrise was so dramatic that the amount of both adjustments was only slight. Auto white balance delivered a cool-toned image and warming it slightly proved helpful.
 
From a composition perspective, the options were limited in this scene. Moving a short distance would not change the scene much and moving a large distance meant the view would be completely obscured. Thus, selecting the right focal length became the primary method for inclusion and exclusion of elements.
 
Old Rag mountain, the highest peak shown, was my primary subject. I wanted the foreground layer (trees) included as a base for the image and liked the curvature this element showed, partially encircling Old Rag and its trailing mountain range. Keeping this horizon straight seemed obligatory in this case but how high the horizon was in the frame was left for personal preference. The height selected here seemed to create a nice overall balance.
 
The remaining area of the frame was filled with color in the sky. While most of the color in the sky is in the frame, a significant amount of the frame is filled with color.
 
Though this image is uncomplicated, it was one of my favorite Shenandoah National Park landscape images from last fall.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
Post Date: 2/3/2020 10:56:53 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Tuesday, January 28, 2020
Fish out of water. A female pink salmon races away from a massive brown bear. Just a normal day in Katmai National Park.
 
This could be an image you captured. Contact me ASAP to sign up for the Brown Bear Chasing Salmon, Remote Katmai National Park, Alaska instructional photo tour!
 
Dates: Thu, September 17 to Fri, September 24, 2020
 
Contact me to sign up!
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
Post Date: 1/28/2020 10:31:42 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Sunday, January 19, 2020
It had been two years since I photographed this bull elk and he was #1 on my list of subjects to find on this trip to Rocky Mountain National Park. He didn't let us down.
 
This year, Mr. Incredibull was a 7x7 (referencing 7 points on each antler) with remarkably long G3s (the third point on each side) and long swords (G4s, the fourth point on each side). This morning found the huge elk in my favorite meadow, with short grass and a clean background ideal for photographing in.
 
While the Sony FE 200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 G OSS Lens is not the ultimate choice for blurring the background (compared to the Sony FE 600mm f/4 GM OSS Lens for example), it's zoom range has very strong benefits. The 600mm prime does not do 500mm, the focal length needed for this image.
 
This bull was not moving fast and permitted a large number of images to be captured. I chose this one as a favorite in part due to the leg position, showing nice separation and a bent front leg conveying a sense of action.
 
I like as many tines as possible to show in antlered animal images. With this bull's head tilted up, the tail of the left antler is hidden by the body. However, I'd rather capture the desirable bugling pose and there is not much that can be done about partial missing antler in this situation. One tine is hidden on the right antler but the shadow brings that one to light. Antler shadows are great.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
Post Date: 1/19/2020 11:23:43 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Wednesday, January 15, 2020
Like most wildlife photographers, I'm opportunistic. Photographing moose wasn't the primary plan for this trip but when this bull showed up, our group didn't question what we were going to photograph next.
 
I most often encounter moose just before dark and the wide aperture of the Sony FE 600mm f/4 GM OSS Lens was very welcomed this evening. The working distance this lens provides is another benefit for photographing moose. Moose are one of my least-trusted North American animals and this one had just locked focus on me.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
Post Date: 1/15/2020 10:01:08 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Wednesday, December 25, 2019
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!
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
Post Date: 12/25/2019 8:29:26 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Monday, December 23, 2019
When first arriving at a beautiful waterfall, it usually seems obvious to frame it nicely and press the shutter release. After getting that basic (though often important) image on the card, it is time to look for variations and these often incorporate foreground elements.
 
The last image I posted from Ricketts Glen State Park, On the Ledge at R. B. Ricketts Falls in Ricketts Glen State Park, illustrated the use of interesting rock in the foreground of a waterfall image. Another great waterfall composition strategy involves finding an attractive cascade below the primary falls. Moving in close to those lower cascades increases their relative size, balancing their overall weight in the image.
 
With good water flow (it was raining on this day), R. B. Ricketts Falls turns into a double falls with streams converging into the pool at the base of their falls. The camera position utilized for this image combined the white water of twin cascades to create an X-factor.
 
As I've said before, one has to work hard to have a bad day at Rickets Glen State Park but conditions made this an especially great day at this awesome location. The Breakthrough Photography circular polarizer filter was a crucial part of the kit on this day, cutting the reflections left by the wet conditions, leaving richly saturated landscape that provided inviting photo opportunities everywhere I looked. The Canon EOS 5Ds R and the Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM Lens were the only camera and lens that came out of my BackLight 26L on this day. They were perfect for the needs encountered on this day.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
Post Date: 12/23/2019 10:03:16 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Thursday, December 19, 2019
Just because the skies are white doesn't necessarily mean that they should be kept out of the frame. While cloud-covered white skies are sometimes welcomed, especially for the broad even light they provide, they are not usually my favorite for image backgrounds and I often avoid the inclusion of white skies in image backgrounds. However, they can be used to create a sometimes-desirable pure white high key background.
 
Getting this background is not difficult. Simply find a good subject and align it with the white sky. Note that your camera's meter will want to make a white sky grey (especially if the subject is a white goat) so some positive exposure compensation (or a manual exposure) will likely be needed for such images.
 
On this day, my daughter and I were chasing mountain goats high in the Rockies and as you have already figured out, the skies were white. The thick cloud cover meant that we could photograph the goats from any angle offered to us without concern for shadows but any sky in the photo was going to be white. Getting into a position that allowed the entire background to be sky and allowing that background to become pure white created a nice portrait.
 
The versatile and optically-impressive Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens was a great lens to have for this trip. It was the only lens I used for photographing the goats.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
 
Camera and Lens Settings
124mm  f/8.0  1/1000s
ISO 2000
8688 x 5792px
Post Date: 12/19/2019 10:13:01 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Tuesday, December 17, 2019
Using a new camera often brings acclimation factors and despite having used the Sony a7R IV for a couple of months prior, I was still acclimating to this camera's enormous 120MB uncompressed RAW file size. We were staying ahead of this big old 12-point buck and it finally cooperated perfectly, walking toward us with the sun was at our backs. While capturing images of him approaching, I was greeted by the memory card full message in the viewfinder.
 
I had filled a 256GB memory card just as the perfect scenario was unfolding. While another memory card was immediately available, the pause was just long enough to miss the pinnacle of the action. Ironically, the workshop participant shooting next to me filled his Nikon D850's 256GB card at almost the exact same second. While we missed some images, the humor of it is realized and that memory is at least of some value. The lesson here is to monitor card capacities closely — or buy cards with enough capacity to outlast any use given to the camera.
 
Fortunately I had some good pictures from this buck encounter. When the buck was farther away, I preferred a horizontal camera orientation, keeping more of the grass field in the frame. As the deer approached, the horizontal framing became too tight and switching to the vertical orientation shared here made complete sense for the vertically shaped subject.
 
The vertical vs. horizontal camera orientation is a choice we are always making. Sometimes the choice is easy and sometimes it is not.
 
One consideration is how the image is going to be used and which orientation is required for that use. If your goal is to get the image on a magazine cover, going vertical is a good choice. Another big consideration is the aesthetics of the scene. Some scenes look better in one of the orientations.
 
If the horizontal vs. vertical orientation choice does not have a straightforward answer, shoot both. It is often easier to decide when using a computer display and keeping images shot in both orientations may be the right choice.
 
While the Sony a7R IV's uncompressed RAW file size has required some acclimation, it has not been hard to acclimate to this camera's 61 MP resolution.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
Post Date: 12/17/2019 10:38:29 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Sunday, December 15, 2019

 
by Sean Setters
 
Whether for Christmas/Hanukkah, Independence Day, Memorial Day, Labor Day, Veterans Day, MLK Day, or in this case, Thanksgiving, holiday events offer exciting opportunities for documenting family traditions, personal relationships, physical development, and all the joys togetherness brings.
 
This Thanksgiving, I filmed my family throughout the day, focusing much of the camera's attention on my 14 month-old daughter, Olivia Jane. My hope is that she will enjoy watching videos such as these as she matures, with an eager fascination to see what life was like long before her long-term memory kicked in.
 
Of course, there's a ton of video filming options available, and while my own video kit is continuously evolving, the following items were what I used while filming that day:
 
Having only purchased the Canon EOS R about a month before Thanksgiving, this event was my first experience producing video with the camera. Overall, I came away impressed by the camera's performance. The EOS R was just small enough to allow the battery grip to be used with the DJI Ronin-S Gimbal, a feature I appreciated as I didn't have to continuously watch my battery levels throughout the day. Of course, using the battery grip increased the size/weight of the setup, but I didn't find use of the battery grip to be burdensome, especially as filming was limited to relatively short segments throughout the day.
 
As I don't have any RF mount lenses yet I defaulted to my favorite EF-S/EF-series lenses, the lenses I have historically utilized while filming with a gimbal – the Canon EF-S 24mm f/2.8 STM and Canon EF 40mm f/2.8 STM. Why use two of Canon's most inexpensive lenses for filming video? Because 1) they're small and light, 2) can be swapped out for one another with very little need for rebalancing the gimbal, 3) their optical performance is surprisingly good, 4) the f/2.8 aperture is wide enough allow for relatively low ISO use when the shutter speed is set to 1/60 second (twice the frame rate of 30 fps), and 5) the lenses' STM AF systems do a very good job transitioning focus between subjects when the camera is set to a subject (face) tracking mode. Note that because the full-frame camera gives me a 38.4mm full-frame equivalent angle of view while using the EF-S 24mm STM, I set the camera to crop mode while using the EF 40mm STM to provide a noticeably different angle of view.
 
In a previous video, I had used lavalier mics with a couple of Tascam DR-10L Micro Portable Audio Recorders and really enjoyed the results, but this larger family event necessitated the use of a different audio recording solution as I needed to record a number of people. This need motivated my newest audio recording acquisition – the Deity Microphones V-Mic D3 Pro Shotgun Microphone. Looking online, you'll find numerous videos hyping this microphone's performance and value; the hype is well deserved. This is an excellent shotgun microphone, it is reasonably priced, and I'm really glad it's now part of my kit for run-and-gun applications.
 
So, those are the items I'm now relying on to record family videos in addition to the occasional for-hire filming request (the Tascam DR-10Ls also come in handy for the latter) and are certainly worth consideration when documenting your own family's memories.
Post Date: 12/15/2019 7:00:00 AM CT   Posted By: Sean
 Saturday, December 14, 2019
Everyone loves lighthouses and lighthouse images, right? After awaking to a 4-something AM alarm for three days in a row, I was finally treated to some morning sunlight at the Bass Harbor Lighthouse. While some cloud drama would have been welcomed, the white sky created by the solid cloud cover present on the previous two mornings was not as photogenic.
 
When the sky is clear at sunrise/sunset, there are some expected parameters for landscape photography. One is that the first/last light will be very warm in color and another is that pastel colors will show in earth shadow and the Belt of Venus above it low in the sky opposite the rising/setting sun. These two parameters combine very nicely.
 
I don't always require myself to use a completely level camera (tilt and roll) for landscape photography but did so in this case, primarily to keep the sides of the lighthouse from leaning. Adding to that compositional constraint was the desire to have the reflections availed by the foreground tidal pool included in the frame. The lighthouse reflection was the primary interest and it was very tightly framed between the surrounding rocks, further limiting the camera position to within that narrow line. With the rocks being indicative of the Maine coastline, having them close and emphasized seemed logical and led to this final camera position.
 
Should circular polarizer filters be used for all landscape photographs? While CPL filters are easily my most-used filters and I very frequently use them for landscape photography, this was a time when using the effect provided by this filter was a detriment to the final look. Cutting the reflections on the rocks and in the tidal pool created a dark, flat, lifeless look to the foreground rocks and water, detracting significantly from the result. It didn't take long to determine which look was preferable.
 
Wet dark-colored rocks absorb a lot of light even without a CPL filter and two exposures were combined to ensure that details were retained in those rocks in the final image.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
Post Date: 12/14/2019 9:38:05 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Friday, December 13, 2019
These two brown bears are having a heart to heart in a salmon stream in remote Katmai National Park, Alaska.
 
Notice the high contrast of the splashing water? Camera AF systems also notice splashes and will often jump to focus on any bright water drops in front of a subject. In this case, the splash was well below the focus point and not an AF issue.
 
The Christmas special offer on the Brown Bear Chasing Salmon, Remote Katmai National Park, Alaska instructional photo tour is still in place. Sign up along with a spouse or friend and save $500 on the second admission price for this bucket list-grade trip.
 
Dates: Thu, September 17 to Fri, September 24, 2020
 
If this trip is calling you, I need to hear from you as soon as possible. Contact me to sign up!
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
Post Date: 12/13/2019 2:24:15 PM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Wednesday, December 11, 2019
Looking for a lens to carry while hiking? You likely want a compact and lightweight model but do not want to substitute image quality to get those properties. The Tamron 17-28mm f/2.8 Di III RXD Lens and its sibling 28-75mm f/2.8 Di III RXD Lens are great choices and both are quite remarkable lenses overall.
 
This afternoon in Acadia National Park found the 17-28 RXD along with a Sony a7R IV in a MindShift Gear BackLight 18L on top of Bald Mountain anticipating a great light show at the end of the day. Unfortunately, that show mostly did not happen. The weather forecast did not hold true and as can be seen in this image, thick clouds ruled the sky.
 
Just when we thought there was no hope for seeing a sunset, a tiny hole appeared in the clouds and awesomeness shined through. I dropped the tripod into the nearest location that looked compositionally promising and shot a several frame bracket, ensuring that one image had bright foreground detail captured at f/11 and the darkest of two others had a tiny bit of color remaining in the sun. The latter two images were captured at f/22. While f/22 results in softer image quality than f/11, it delivers a larger, better quality starburst effect and the clouds nicely hide the softness in the portion of f/22 capture used in the final image. Note that changing the aperture changes the starburst including the orientation of the star points. When bracketing such images, be sure that most of the images containing the starburst are captured at the same aperture to avoid an awkward appearing composite.
 
By the end of the first bracket capture, the warm sunlight was no longer reaching the foreground and after a second bracket at a slightly adjusted camera position, the sun was completely cloud-blocked again. The foreground lighting was better in the first set of images and cropping those from the bottom gave me a result similar to those captured in the adjusted camera position.
 
I seldom use ISO settings above 100 when photographing daylight landscape but you will notice that a setting of 800 was used for this image. Along with the heavy clouds came very strong winds and I was estimating the exposure duration that could be tolerated between gusts. The Really Right Stuff TVC-24L Mk2 Carbon Fiber Tripod and BH-40 Ball Head held solid and I probably could have used longer exposures — though sun time may not have permitted that.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
Post Date: 12/11/2019 9:27:16 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Monday, December 9, 2019
On this day's schedule was giving some great gear a workout and the Sony a7R IV and Tamron 17-28mm f/2.8 Di III RXD Lens combination were chosen. These were packed in MindShift Gear BackLight 18L along with a Really Right Stuff TVC-24L Mk2 Carbon Fiber Tripod with a BH-40 Ball Head mounted and the very early AM hike to Dream Lake ensued.
 
I don't like to be the second person at a popular location and some may say that I arrived too early for this one. The extra time ensures adequate setup time with some starry sky photography included. The extra time also means that very warm clothes were needed, especially with the wind often encountered here.
 
I love perfectly still water surfaces in the shade and the mirror reflections those surfaces create. This morning did not provide such and the mentioned wind was relentless.
 
Between reviewing long exposure, high ISO image captures and the light becoming bright enough for the foreground rocks to be visible, this composition was settled on. I wanted the closest round rock centered between the mountain peak reflections with a clean border around it and the other foreground rocks. The camera was leveled for both roll and pitch. I seldom want a camera that is not leveled for roll when photographing landscape and in this case, I also chose to avoid an upward or downward camera angle that would have caused the straight tree trunks to tilt inward or outward respectively. The focal length was selected to be inclusive or exclusive of details in the scene and the camera height was selected for the final composition. The color balance disparity of the warm first light of the day hitting the mountain mixed with cool shade in the valley below is natural and I love it.
 
The final image is the result of combining two images using manual HDR blending. As is often the case, those exposures were different with the sunlit areas captured darker (f/11, 0.4 seconds, ISO 100) and the shaded areas coming from brighter settings (f/11, 30 seconds, ISO 200).
 
As you likely noticed, the longer exposure is dramatically longer and includes a 2x-brighter ISO setting. This exposure was needed to compensate for a 6-stop Breakthrough Photography X4 ND filter (great gift idea) being used. The longer exposure this filter permitted allowed the water to be smoothed, averaging out the reflection details in the lake surface ripples, giving the mountain reflections some definition. A third image (another darker one) was pulled in because some of the trees were less motion-blurred than in the primary image.
 
The aforementioned gear all performed excellently. It was a superb choice for this event. Of course, the bottom line is that Dream Lake and its rocks rock!
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
Post Date: 12/9/2019 9:43:45 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Thursday, December 5, 2019
Smart people told us long in advance that the planet Mercury was going to pass in front of the Sun for many hours on 11/11/2019 and that the transit was going to be visible across a huge swath of the world, including my location on that date, falling during my Shenandoah National Park Workshop.
 
My first thought regarding photographing this event was that I could take a picture of the Sun anytime and simply use the paint brush tool to drop in Mercury planets wherever desired. While the result would look fine, it wouldn't be nearly as fun or as phsychologically rewarding as experiencing the event firsthand and capturing the real thing. Photographing the Sun is easy and a little black dot in front of it was going to be equally easy to capture so, I packed the required solar filter for the trip.
 
The Sun was not going to be our primary subject on this day, we didn't have time to shoot throughout the entire many-hour transit, and the cloudy sky made photographing it challenging during the few times we attempted to do so. Still, I wanted to show the entire transit in the final result. To fulfill that goal, I pieced a number of images together and then duplicated a Mercury planet to fill in the entire path across the Sun.
 
While the Mercury transit does not rise to the level of amazing as the recent solar eclipse, it was still fun to see and photograph.
 
When photographing the Sun, everything else in the frame is black unless there are clouds being brightly lit while darkening the Sun enough to even out the dynamic range. With black periphery being easy to create during post processing, framing the Sun a tightly as possible becomes the goal. Still, the Sun will not come close to filling the frame even at 1200mm, the longest most photographers will use, on a full frame camera. In a focal length limited scenario, higher pixel density on the imaging sensor means more resolution remaining after cropping and the Sony a7R IV has that. The Sony FE 600mm f/4 GM OSS Lens and FE 2x Teleconverter were used to gain the 1200mm focal length.
 
Among the many images captured were some with a cloud-caused fiery haze surrounding the Sun. Adding some of these images into the Photoshop stack provided the option of including the haze in the final image as shared here.
 
Here is a question for you: Since I watched Mercury transit the Sun in an electronic viewfinder, did I really see it?
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
Post Date: 12/5/2019 11:20:19 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Wednesday, December 4, 2019
It is generally much easier to photograph deer in a field or meadow than in the forest where tree trunks and branches create obstructions and chaotic backgrounds. However, the forest is where many deer spend large amounts of their lives. Heading into the forest may reduce the odds of getting good images but the increased challenge makes a successful in-the-forest image more rewarding.
 
While a 600 f/4 lens is an awesome choice for obscuring a distracting foreground and background via blur, the narrow angle of view can be challenging to use in the forest due to the obstructions. A farther away view results in a higher chance of trees and branches being in the way. Despite having a Sony FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM OSS Lens with me in Shenandoah National Park, I mostly used the Sony FE 600mm f/4 GM OSS Lens. The images this lens makes are hard to beat and once one acclimates to 600mm f/4 images, it becomes difficult to be satisfied with anything less.
 
All 600mm f/4 and similar lenses are very expensive but the high price has one advantage: it is a barrier of entry, making it harder for those without such a lens to compete with those having one. In a world with an unimaginable number of images being captured daily, this lens' image quality is a differentiator and those able to make the investment should frequently make use of their advantage.
 
I was working ahead of this buck (with a somewhat unusual drop tine), looking for openings it might pass through. He came into this opening and cooperated nicely, looking toward the camera. After quickly capturing a few images with the currently-selected focus point, I changed the focus point to a more optimal position in the frame and captured another burst of images before the buck turned its head. I selected the image with the best deer pose (both ears forward and looking toward me) and stitched another of the images captured using the other focus point for a slightly wider overall image.
 
This image was captured on a bright cloudy day. Clouds act as a giant softbox, eliminating the harsh shadows often encountered in the woods. Images captured in cloudy weather often appear slightly cool and low contrast is also normal for images captured under cloudy skies. Adding a small amount of contrast and saturation and warming the color balance slightly brings the image to life.
 
The increased challenge, increased reward concept applies to many genres of photography. Welcome ways to increase your challenge!
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
 
Camera and Lens Settings
600mm  f/4.0  1/400s
ISO 2000
10272 x 6912px
Post Date: 12/4/2019 9:10:41 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Tuesday, December 3, 2019
Rocky Mountain National Park is very scenic but some locations within the park have better environments for elk photography than others. Elk go where they want to and little will stop them from doing so, but I have some favorite locations and usually will pursue the elk found in these. This elk was in one of my go-to locations, featuring a low, clean foreground and rocky mountain base in the background.
 
Elk are very large animals and that means relatively long distances are required to fit them in the frame of a long lens (and for personal safety). Longer subject distances mean increased depth of field and that means the background will be less diffusely blurred. The 600mm f/4 focal length and aperture combination creating a three-dimensional effect that makes the subject stand out from the background is especially valuable when photographing large animals such as elk.
 
After seeing how sharp the Sony FE 600mm f/4 GM OSS Lens was (and experiencing how light it was), I opted to use this lens behind the ultra-high-resolution Sony a7R IV for all of my late summer and fall wildlife photography.
 
The bull in this photo was moving across the meadow in front of us and this great rut-characteristic chin-high pose was my favorite. The other images captured in this sequence provided a small additional amount of background that, with the lack of distracting details, I later decided to merge with the original image, creating a panorama. With the 61 MP resolution provided by the a7R IV, I didn't need the additional pixels. Moving back and cropping would have been easier from a post-processing perspective but moving back would have resulted in a missed opportunity in this instance (and the original framing would have been fine). Note that this capability likely exists in some of your images — be cautious when deleting the lesser images.
 
Images captured under a cloudy sky, including this one, usually readily accept some contrast increase and a modest amount was added to this image.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
Post Date: 12/3/2019 12:28:28 PM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Monday, December 2, 2019
Not having thumbs makes catching and handling slippery salmon very challenging for bears and very entertaining for those photographing the action. This bear is deploying one of its catching techniques, pinning the fish down for an easier bite.
 
What caught my attention in this photo is the colorful salmon tail splashing upward.
 
I'm getting into the Black Friday/Cyber Monday spirit with a special offer on the Brown Bear Chasing Salmon, Remote Katmai National Park, Alaska instructional photo tour. Sign up along with a spouse or friend and save $500 on the second admission price for this bucket list-grade trip.
 
Dates: Thu, September 17 to Fri, September 24, 2020
 
If this trip is calling you, I need to hear from you as soon as possible. Contact me to sign up!
Post Date: 12/2/2019 11:44:19 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Saturday, November 30, 2019
Sony a7R IV and Epic Rocky Mountain National Park Milky Way The Sony a7R IV and Sony FE 24mm f/1.4 GM Lens teamed for an epic Rocky Mountain National Park Milky Way on this September evening. While chasing elk in rut was our top priority during the RMNP workshops, photographing the night sky was also on the to-do list and a clear RMNP night sky never fails to wow us.
 
For the Milky Way to reach down close to its reflection requires the reflecting surface to have little obstruction above it. Large bodies of water have distant shores and that distant perspective usually results in lower shoreline sky obstructions. Small bodies of water are more likely to have a calm surface than large bodies but trees and mountains typically get in the way of the little-obstruction requirement. Mountains often bring elevation gain that tends to bring reflection-erasing wind.
 
This particular small mountain lake is set high enough for the southern view to open up to the sky while being protected from the wind for the perfect combination. I love pointed spruce treetops and always welcome their great character on the horizon. Reflections can be counted on to double the value.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
Post Date: 11/30/2019 9:53:35 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Saturday, November 23, 2019
One of my favorite subjects to photograph is the Milky Way. The required long exposures provide plenty of time to simply watch the spectacular sky show (unless I'm running two cameras), taking in the awesomeness, and the pictures captured are usually among my favorites. I was blessed with the opportunity to photograph the Milky Way from several top-notch locations this year, including during the Rocky Mountain National Park and Acadia National Park workshops. The image shared here was captured from the coast of Acadia NP.
 
Seldom can the reflection of the Milky Way be seen in an ocean as the water movement completely blurs everything during the required long exposure. However, tidal pools are often still and can make great reflectors (though not at high tide) for a variety of coastal photography needs including reflecting the night sky. Adding value to this particular tidal pool was the low surrounding rock with good character, adding jaggedness to the rock line and its reflection.
 
To photograph the night sky, I usually want a wide-angle lens with an f/2.8 or wider aperture available with sharp wide-open image quality. The Canon RF 24-70mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens, with an EOS R behind it and a Really Right Stuff TVC-24L Mk2 Carbon Fiber Tripod and BH-40 Ball Head under it, met those needs superbly.
 
Photographing the Milky Way is easy and very addicting. This image was captured using the 2-second self-timer feature with settings of f/2.8, 15 seconds (longer exposures increase star trail length), and ISO 6400 (with a low amount of noise reduction applied). I opted to brighten the result a bit in post and brightened the foreground by an additional stop for a single-image HDR. Just after sunset, the sky still had some color in it and a slight saturation increase (+1 in DPP and +7 in PS) made those colors pop. Auto white balance was used. Increasing contrast via an S-curve adjustment always makes the Milky Way stand out.
 
As I was searching through the over-a-thousand images captured with the RF 24-70, selecting a few to share in the review, this one stood out as my favorite and thus I'm sharing it with you here. Add the RF 24-70mm lens to the list of good night sky lenses.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
Post Date: 11/23/2019 1:49:25 PM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Tuesday, November 5, 2019
This image was one of my Katmai National Park goals. I wanted a straight-on, tightly-cropped bear face image and the image shared here was my favorite from this trip.
 
The bear was huge. The September coat was beautiful. The pose was almost perfectly straight-on with some catchlights in the eyes. The water drops falling from the bear's snout show that it is active. No, that is not lipstick and yes, it is looking at me. Fortunately, these bears like the taste of salmon and not that of people.
 
I could have made use of a 1.4x extender behind the Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS II USM Lens for this image but didn't have time to install it. Fortunately, the Canon EOS 5Ds R resolution is so high that this heavy crop still has adequate resolution. A Wimberley Gimbal Head made controlling the large lens effortless and sitting on a small stool makes the time with the bears quite comfortable.
 
Picture yourself sitting alongside a remote creek in Katmai National Park filling memory cards while photographing these giant bears catching salmon, playing, fighting, etc. That's the opportunity I had and that is the opportunity you have in September 2020! Plan on joining me for the Brown Bear Chasing Salmon, Remote Katmai National Park, Alaska instructional photo tour.
 
Plan to increase your wildlife photography skills while capturing portfolio-grade images on this bucket-list-grade trip! Learn more here.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
Post Date: 11/5/2019 6:30:00 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Tuesday, October 29, 2019
After getting to the Vessel, located in Hudson Yards near the Jacob Javits convention center in Manhattan, New York City, getting in is the next step (though photographing the exterior of this structure is also fun) and getting in requires a ticket. Vessel Tickets are free, but they must be sourced for a particular entry time slot. Tickets are available online, beginning 14 days in advance, and on site (though they can sell out). Reasonably-priced Flex Pass tickets are available up to 6 months in advance and permit one-time entry at any time on that day. If making a big effort to get to this location, it might be worth spending a bit to get this ticket.
 
Once inside, plan on walking a LOT of steps with 2,500 of them available in 154 flights connected to 80 landings. Even when circling the Vessel at the same level, one must go down and up stairs almost continuously.
 
From a compositional perspective, the higher the shooting position (the more stairs you climb), the more that stairs and landings are seen in the compositions (as you are inclined to shoot more downward at higher levels). The lower the shooting position, the more that the copper color and reflections tend to be seen. The hexagonal shapes created by the flights of stairs and landings appear largest when photographed with a level camera. A wide range of focal lengths can be used, but ultra-wide-angle focal lengths are really fun to use here. The 15mm focal length was not too wide and I would have used wider if I had it available (the Canon EF 11-24mm f/4L USM Lens would be especially fun here).
 
Note that this is a "Tripods and selfie sticks are not permitted" location. I didn't have a problem with the selfie stick limitation but would have much appreciated having a tripod to work from. A small amount of (sloped) space available on hand rails enabled use of a Really Right Stuff TFA-01 Ultra Pocket Pod and that along with a BC-18 Microball worked very well, though very close attention was required to ensure the rig did not tip over the edge. There is a conventional round handrail throughout the structure, but it is lower than the sloped edge rail, making the RRS clamp I had along unworkable due to the obstructed view.
 
I love symmetry in compositions and while this structure makes symmetry available, it is a challenging pursuit. My advice is to frame the scene as symmetrically as possible or make it look like you didn't try to do so. Either can look great, but a nearly symmetrical image can appear sloppy. Centering the camera on a landing (watch the floor and railing tiles for centering clues) and ensuring that it is level is a good start to obtaining symmetry. Fine-tuning may still be required and even if great care is taken in the field, fine-tuning may still be required during post production.
 
This location can be photographed at any time of the day. However, the later the night got, the more I liked the results. The black sky allowed reflections on the structure to pop. Aircraft (a police helicopter is landing in this image) and vehicle lights can be streaked through the frame after dark. Fewer people were visiting and the longer exposures permitted by the darkness allowed the people still there to be erased via their movement. Using strong ND filters is a good mid-day option for obtaining long exposures. Especially on the higher levels, there are vibrations from people walking, especially when going up and down stairs. Long exposures can be surprisingly sharp when the vibrations are a short percentage of the overall exposure.
 
Another strategy for removing people from the composition is to capture multiple images, later blending them to show portions of the frame without people. Perhaps visiting on a bad weather (think cold, rain, etc.) weekday might gain solitude. Additional options include embracing the naturally occurring people and taking someone along that you want in your photo (environmental portraits).
 
If the sun is visible, capture it peeking through the structure using a narrow aperture to create a star effect (wide aperture lenses often work best for this). I planned to capture the sunset in the background on this afternoon but ... heavy clouds canceled that show.
 
The elevator rails will likely end up in your wide-angle images, so use them compositionally. Try centering the rails and also angling them through the side of the frame. Observe the buildings in the background varying as the structure is circled. Give consideration to what they look like in the composition. The blue lights shining upward from the bottom of the structure can be utilized in the frame. In this case, a narrow aperture turned them into a rather wild-looking bright blue star.
 
I managed to spend 4 hours at the Vessel before a phone call pulled me away from the fun. The take-home from this shoot was very good and it was difficult to select one image to share.
 
The image I've chosen here simply would not be the same if captured at 16mm. I carried the Canon EOS R and RF 15-35mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens, the only combination I ended up using, along with some other options in a MindShift Gear BackLight 18L. This backpack was perfect for this need.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
 
Camera and Lens Settings
15mm  f/16.0  30s
ISO 100
6696 x 4464px
Post Date: 10/29/2019 7:00:00 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Wednesday, October 9, 2019
I had attempted to photograph the historic Crystal Mill twice. On the first (not very serious) attempt, a navigational error prevented success. On the second attempt, heavy rains prevailed and even the jeep service would not take me to the mill. With the end of the Rocky Mountain National Park photography workshops aligning with the normal peak fall foliage time in Marble, CO and the airline ticket price home being significantly lower one day later, I opted to make another attempt at photographing this mill and routed the itinerary through Marble one more time. This time, success was achieved.
 
Getting to this location requires driving a very-rough 4x4 road or a very long hike. My rental Suburban checked the 4x4 box but I was advised that it was questionably long to safely make the trip. Yes, the rental company's damage insurance coverage was in place but I still needed to be able to get to the airport and after driving up the first section of road, I opted to park the SUV in an area just large enough to clear the road. The hike remaining hike was between 4 and 5 miles and quite scenic.
 
This trek started mid-morning and the mill was reached at around noon. Upon paying the access fee ($10 enables access beyond the cable) and scoping out the available shot locations, it was obvious that the light would be better later in the afternoon (as expected). Also, the crowds were heavy at noon, another unfavorable aspect of photographing at this time of the day. With a very early AM flight scheduled, a very short night at the hotel was promised (about 2.5 hours of sleep) and a nap seemed like a good plan. I hiked past Crystal City, a ghost-town-like area featuring historic rental cabins and a store, and upon finding a sloped rock with my name on it, (sort of) slept for a couple of hours.
 
Upon returning to the mill, I found the crowds much lighter. The sky had filled with clouds that created an even light and clouds prevailed for most of my remaining time there. I didn't mind the even lighting that the clouds created but the clouds in the background were usually in direct sunlight, creating a huge dynamic range. After shooting many HDR captures, the clouds parted momentarily and I was able to make (only) one single image with direct sunlight hitting the mill while using this camera and lens. The cloudy sky images were nice, but this direct sunlight image was my favorite.
 
For this hike, I could take two cameras and two lenses in the MindShift Gear BackLight 18L. The Canon EOS R and Canon RF 15-35mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens made the cut and delivered excellently. A Breakthrough circular polarizer filter was used to cut reflections and increase saturation. a Really Right Stuff TVC-24L Mk2 Carbon Fiber Tripod and Really Right Stuff BH-40 Ball Head provided the support for this image.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
Post Date: 10/9/2019 11:39:33 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Wednesday, September 11, 2019
With a forward head tilt and relaxed ears, this bedded whitetail buck looks cute and cuddly, presenting an image perhaps ready for a child's storybook. But, make no mistake, this is a huge ball of muscle ready to violently fight anything it thinks poses a threat to its interests (that right-side G4 tine required significant force to break off). This buck knows exactly what the doe bedded nearby behind it is doing and if another buck moves in or the doe moves away, this big bad boy will be up in a flash.
 
Very positive was that this bedded buck provided a wide range of poses for us, including head rested solidly on the ground, a large yawn, and ears perked in attention.
 
I'm not often a fan of a downward camera angle when photographing wildlife and in this case, getting down to the buck's eye level using a fully-retracted monopod made complete sense. This low/level angle provides a more distant background that can be strongly blurred with a 600mm f/4 lens, allowing the subject to clearly stand out against an even very distracting background. With the subject being stationary, the distance and alignment could be selected and varied. In this case, the leaves on the ground provide a solid base for the image. The large tree trunk on the left and the small tree trunk on the right provide a frame for the subject.
 
Wildlife photography is a great source of stories and this situation brought back a memory from the year before. I was in Shenandoah National Park photographing a different bedded buck from a reasonable distance when it suddenly bolted straight toward me. I jumped behind a tree just as it went past a short distance away. Fortunately, it was not racing after me but instead after a doe. I just happened to be in its path.
 
The shot of adrenaline took a little time to wear off, but the memory is a fun one.
 
Want to photograph these awesome animals and create some stories this fall? Sign up for the "Whitetail Buck in Rut and Much More", Shenandoah National Park instructional photo tour.
 
Sun, November 10 to Wed, November 13, 2019 and/or Wed, November 13 - Sat, November 16, 2019
 
Contact me to sign up!
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
Post Date: 9/11/2019 9:06:42 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Tuesday, September 10, 2019
I'll not likely ever repeat a shot similar to this one captured on a fall evening in Rocky Mountain National Park.
 
Photographing multiple animals (vs. a single animal) significantly increases the compositional challenge and especially with a 600mm lens in use, having all of the animals in the plane of sharp focus, especially at f/4, is a big challenge. At this moment, these three subjects aligned themselves nicely for me at this moment. The number 3 is meaningful to this discussion in that an odd (vs. even) number of animals often works best compositionally (note that it also works well in landscape photography and in landscaping).
 
When multiple animals are in the frame, interaction between those animals usually increases the image's appeal. If you look carefully at this photo, you will see a quite humorous interaction occurring. The bull is licking the cow who is showing us her shocked face. The cow's yearling is looking intently at the behavior, seemingly very interested in what is happening. The yearling facing the opposite direction somewhat completes a circle (while a portion of the circle of life plays out). Icing on the cake is that the head shadows of the cow and yearling are showing facing each other on the side of the bull.
 
There are two openings remaining for the September elk in rut photo tour, one for each week. The time is rapidly running out, but it's not too late for you to join a small group of passionate wildlife photographers pursuing these awesome animals and the beauty of RMNP. Photographers at all skill levels are invited to join!
 
"Bull Elk in Rut and Much More", Rocky Mountain National Park
 
  • 1 Opening: Sun, September 15 to Sat, September 21, 2019
  • 1 Opening: Sun, September 22 to Sat, September 28, 2019
  • Sign Up for September 2020
Contact me to sign up!
 
Photographers at all skill levels are also invited to join me for these tours:
 
Fall Landscape in Acadia National Park Instructional Photography Tour
 
Tue, Oct 15 through Sun, Oct 20, 2019
 
"Whitetail Buck in Rut and Much More", Shenandoah National Park
 
Sun, November 10 to Wed, November 13, 2019 and/or Wed, November 13 - Sat, November 16, 2019
 
Contact me to sign up!
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
Post Date: 9/10/2019 8:00:00 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Monday, September 2, 2019
Where there is smoke, there may be drifting! Kinetic friction expert Ryan Litteral leaves a plume of smoke behind his high-powered Formula Drift car while painting new lines on the street.
 
When shooting a fast-moving subject at a relatively long shutter speed (for panning blur), the sharp image rate is typically low. Increasing the number of keepers is the Canon EOS 90D's fast 10 fps continuous shooting speed, a highly-welcomed upgrade from the 80D.
 
In this example, I was evaluating the 90D AF system's ability to select the desired focus point using Auto AF point selection (all 45 AF points active) and ability to select the correct focus distance with a fast-moving subject. The results were very good with the AF point switching nicely while I attempted to track the car in the viewfinder.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
 
Camera and Lens Settings
120mm  f/11.0  1/80s
ISO 100
5391 x 3594px
Post Date: 9/2/2019 9:05:38 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Saturday, August 31, 2019
Can the Canon EOS M6 Mark II with the optional EVF-DC2 electronic viewfinder be used to capture fast action moving from side-to-side? While the EVF has a slight display freeze when each image is captured, I was able to keep up with the drift cars while using this one.
 
Highly advantageous for capturing sports action is this camera's 14 fps continuous shooting rate and the latest version of Canon's Dual Pixel CMOS AF is also very high-performing, up to this task.
 
How does this little camera handle larger lenses such as the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM Lens used for this image? Canon's latest tiny M-series cameras are surprisingly easy to use with larger lenses such as this one and the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens I was using to photograph action on the track. As when using DSLR cameras, the left hand controls the lens and the right grips the camera. There is not as much grip real estate on the M models, but the design provided is adequate for this use.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
 
Camera and Lens Settings
90mm  f/10.0  1/50s
ISO 100
6732 x 4488px
Post Date: 8/31/2019 10:48:36 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
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.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
Post Date: 8/31/2019 9:53:49 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Friday, August 30, 2019
A Lamborghini Huracan AND a Kelly Moss Porsche 911 in the same garage? Those two cars are worth about as much as all of the camera lenses below the Conowingo Dam on a fall weekend. Yes, this is a dream garage and yes, there was drooling. With a 2.5-mile Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta just outside, my only question was "Where are the keys?!"
 
On this big day of test shooting, the Canon EOS 90D performed superbly, as its heritage leads us to expect. This is a superb general-purpose camera choice and while this particular scene did not challenge it, the subjects outside on the Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta track provided a greater challenge, one which the 90D also met.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
 
Camera and Lens Settings
24mm  f/5.6  1/80s
ISO 800
6960 x 4640px
Post Date: 8/30/2019 12:24:50 PM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Friday, August 16, 2019
It was just another typical rainy weekday in Ricketts Glen State Park. It was the perfect time to take my favorite ultra-wide-angle zoom lens and landscape camera body, the Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM Lens and Canon EOS 5Ds R, for a hike.
 
I am not aware of this cascade having a name, but I always find it photo-worthy. It is hard to go wrong with a series of lines leading into the bottom of the frame and the leading lines in the rock are the big draw to this location.
 
Camera height is something a photographer usually has some control over, at least within their physical reach ability or the height of their tripod if such is being used. When photographing flat water (pond, lake, ocean, slow-moving river, etc.), a higher camera position will often provide a higher percentage of the frame being filled with water than a lower camera position IF a similar overall scene framing is used. For example, photographing an ocean from a standing position with a level camera will result in far more water percentage in the frame than doing the same while lying down at the edge of the water due to the angle of view across a flat surface. Often, supporting that big IF requires that the camera angle be changed and camera angle also plays a role in determining how much of the frame is filled with water. A downward-tilted camera can include more water than a level camera.
 
The key is to find the right balance for the scene you are photographing and there may be multiple right answers. Work with a scene until you can find no more camera positions that work well. Then move on.
 
The small waterfalls seen here do not qualify as flat water, but there is still a lot of near-flat water in this scene. The right balance for this image was using an ultra-wide-angle focal length positioned with enough downward angle to show a significant amount of water and low enough to gain the right perspective to emphasize the foreground rock lines.
 
I don't always take the time to photograph this cascade, but especially with the wet rock bringing out strong color (saturation aided by a circular polarizer filter), I couldn't resist stopping on this day.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
Post Date: 8/16/2019 9:02:19 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Wednesday, August 14, 2019
Rarely does photographing wildlife subjects (and human ones also) at eye level not work well. Bull elk are very large animals, but when they bed down, a standing position may yield a downward camera angle. While I don't always mind a downward camera angle, it is frequently not my first choice. So, when they go down, consider taking the camera down with them. A lower position increases the likelihood of catchlights showing in the eyes.
 
It was raining lightly during much of the time I spent with this bull. There are a lot of benefits for photographing wildlife under cloudy skies, but such images typically have relatively low contrast and often respond nicely to a small contrast increase during post processing. A slight saturation increase is another adjustment that frequently helps images captured under heavy clouds.
 
There are now two openings remaining for the September elk in rut photo tour, one for each week. It's not too late for you to join a small group of passionate wildlife photographers pursuing these awesome animals and the beauty of RMNP. Photographers at all skill levels are invited to join!
 
"Bull Elk in Rut and Much More", Rocky Mountain National Park
 
  • 1 Opening: Sun, September 15 to Sat, September 21, 2019
  • 1 Opening: Sun, September 22 to Sat, September 28, 2019
  • Sign Up for September 2020
Contact me to sign up!
 
Photographers at all skill levels are also invited to join me for these tours:
 
Fall Landscape in Acadia National Park Instructional Photography Tour
 
Tue, Oct 15 through Sun, Oct 20, 2019
 
"Whitetail Buck in Rut and Much More", Shenandoah National Park
 
Sun, November 10 to Wed, November 13, 2019 and/or Wed, November 13 - Sat, November 16, 2019
 
Contact me to sign up!
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
Post Date: 8/14/2019 12:00:00 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Thursday, August 1, 2019
My favorite camera mode is manual mode. But, when lighting conditions are changing rapidly, it is often helpful to get the camera involved in the decision-making process via auto exposure. When using auto exposure, most often I'm still using manual mode, but with auto ISO being selected.
 
In auto exposure modes, the camera must be able to guess the proper exposure, or close enough that the result can be adjusted to perfection during post-processing without detriment to image quality (increased noise for example). When photographing deer, a subject rather neutral in relative brightness, in their natural environment, the camera often gets the auto exposure right. Wildlife photography is usually very challenging, involving unpredictable action and fast camera work, and having the camera take care of the exposure can make the difference between getting a great shot and getting nothing. With the exposure being determined by the camera, I can focus on getting the shot.
 
When the camera can guess the exposure with good accuracy and auto ISO in manual mode is being used, the shutter speed alone can be rapidly changed as needed to produce a sharp image. For example, if an animal that has been in fast motion (requiring a fast shutter speed) pauses and stares at something while motionless, a quick roll of the top dial can increase the exposure times to allow lower ISO settings be taken advantage of.
 
One thing I need to focus on is not getting too close to my wildlife subjects. While getting close enough to wildlife is a common challenge, being over-successful, getting too close, can sometimes be an issue. Wildlife subjects often need some space around them in the frame, some breathing room. Getting closer means a stronger background blur, but in this case, it meant not enough breathing room around the mule deer buck. Fortunately, Photoshop helped me increase the canvas size, adding some background to the perimeter of this image.
 
Another teaching point illustrated here is the catchlight in the buck's eye. In practically all images containing an eye, catchlights will add positively to the result, giving sparkle and life to the subject. Catchlights can be created with flash lighting, but when photographing wildlife, the sun, or at least the bright sky, is my favorite catchlight source as it usually provides the most natural appearance.
 
For catchlights to happen, something bright, often the sun/sky, must be able to reflect in the subject's eye. Think about the animal's rounded eye reflecting such and the camera angle needed for that to happen. The subject's head position can make a difference with a raised head increasing the chances for catchlight reflections. Your position can also make a difference. The lower your position relative to the subject, the more likely you are to get catchlights reflecting the light source. When the sun is the catchlight source, the lower the sun, the better the odds are that it will reflect in the eyes. The more exposed the sky is, the better the likelihood of a reflection.
 
In this example, I had a catchlight. However, with just a slight amount of the sky reflecting in the top of the deer's eye, it was a weak one. Using an exposure adjustment layer in Photoshop, I added a mask that was entirely black (not affecting the image) except for the little catchlight and then slid the exposure adjustment slider slightly to the right to increase the brightness, affecting only the catchlight. This tiny adjustment made a noticeable difference in the final result.
 
I'm always looking for an entertaining or at least unusual behavior to capture in wildlife images. This buck's large rack added points to the entertainment factor, but its behavior was rather boring — it was mostly feeding. While smelling the small plant is not dramatic behavior, it does speak to this animal's keen sense of smell and its ability to communicate in this way. The huge rock behind the buck provided an out-of-the-norm background for the image and the position of the antlers allowed all of the points to be seen. Thus, this image was my pick from this session.
 
A reminder: there is only one opening remaining for the September elk in rut photo tour in Rocky Mountain National Park. While elk are our primary subject, we'll be opportunistic, taking advantage of other wildlife that avails itself as illustrated here.
 
Consider joining a small group of passionate wildlife photographers pursuing these awesome animals. Photographers of all skill levels are invited to join!
 
"Bull Elk in Rut and Much More", Rocky Mountain National Park
 
  • 1 Opening: Sun, September 15 to Sat, September 21, 2019
  • Filled/Wait List: Sun, September 22 to Sat, September 28, 2019
  • Sign Up for September 2020
Contact me to sign up!
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
Post Date: 8/1/2019 7:00:00 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Thursday, July 25, 2019
When a great animal is found, staying with it can lead to great images. Sometimes, it can lead to a lot of great images.
 
When photographing wildlife, the stay or go decision is often a tough one. The subject in front of us may not be entertaining for relatively long periods of time and the thought that a better opportunity may be nearby runs through our minds. On this day, staying was the right decision.
 
There is only one opening remaining for the September elk in rut photo tour!
 
Consider joining a small group of passionate wildlife photographers pursuing these awesome animals. Photographers at all skill levels are invited to join!
 
"Bull Elk in Rut and Much More", Rocky Mountain National Park
 
  • 1 Opening: Sun, September 15 to Sat, September 21, 2019
  • Filled/Wait List: Sun, September 22 to Sat, September 28, 2019
  • Sign Up for September 2020
Contact me to sign up!
 
Photographers at all skill levels are also invited to join me for these tours:
 
Fall Landscape in Acadia National Park Instructional Photography Tour
 
Tue, Oct 15 through Sun, Oct 20, 2019
 
"Whitetail Buck in Rut and Much More", Shenandoah National Park
 
Sun, November 10 to Wed, November 13, 2019 and/or Wed, November 13 - Sat, November 16, 2019
 
Contact me to sign up!
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
Post Date: 7/25/2019 7:00:00 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Saturday, July 20, 2019
It started out innocently. After verifying firsthand that Mount Evans was closed due to snow and ice, despite it being summer, we decided to explore Guenella Pass. Traveling the entire previous day gave Brittany a strong desire to go for a hike and she didn't have to expend much energy convincing me to take that option.
 
The plan was to explore the nearby alpine tundra from trails leading from a parking area near the top of the pass. We grabbed a backpack, some water, snacks, and rain shells and set off on what we thought would be a mini-adventure. Carrying the Canon EOS 5Ds R with a Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens mounted (primarily for wildlife) and a Nikon Z 7 with a Nikon Z 24-70mm f/2.8 S Lens mounted (primarily for landscape) seemed to be an ideal set of gear for the planned short hike.
 
While hiking, Brittany continuously wanted to see what was over the next ridge. In this location, deception reigned and the answer to the what is over the next ridge question is always another ridge. Still, we kept asking the question until having climbed mostly rock and snowfield over 2,400' (730m) up in roughly 3.5 mi (5.6km). Unintentionally, we found ourselves on top of a very high mountain.
 
The view at the top of the 13,800' Table Top Mountain was spectacular. What Brit was feeling from the altitude ... was not nearly as pleasant.
 
Unfortunately, we needed to promptly go back down and couldn't spend much time on top. Fortunately, Brit found the mental fortitude to get some great photos despite the altitude sickness but she didn't feel good until after a nap back in town.
 
While I was not as strongly affected by the high elevation, I definitely should have left the 100-400 in the SUV as it gained a lot of weight on this hike.
 
See the distant thunderhead cloud looming over Brittany's head in the image? That was another reason to go down quickly. That storm brought us near white-out snow conditions for a short period of time during our descent, adding to the day's story.
 
While photography is great for storytelling, going on photo adventures is a great option for creating stories.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
 
Camera and Lens Settings
24mm  f/11.0  1/200s
ISO 100
8256 x 5504px
Post Date: 7/20/2019 7:29:11 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Sunday, July 14, 2019
I spotted this lone bristlecone pine tree on my first drive up Mount Evans. The uniquely shaped tree alone on the side of the mountain begged to be in an image and on the last day of this trip, I made that pine my sunrise subject.
 
A clear sky does not hold promise for an amazing sunrise or sunset, but what can be counted on is the opportunity to incorporate a great sunstar into the image.
 
To create a sunstar from a point light source requires a narrow aperture. The narrower the aperture, the bigger the sunstar is the rule. I often select f/16 for these types of images as the effects of diffraction are usually tolerable at this aperture, even on the highest resolution cameras. A downside to using a narrow aperture with the sun in the frame is that flare effects are increased, especially from lenses with high element counts. Whether or not the flare shapes are attractive and desired may be a personal preference. Also note that, in general, wide aperture lenses create the largest sunstars.
 
Nikon Z 14-30mm f/4 S Lens' f/4 aperture isn't terribly wide and in this case, I opted for f/22 to get a larger and more attractive (including stronger points) star. I don't like the softness that diffraction creates at f/22 so the portion of the frame without the sunstar in it was merged from an f/11-captured frame. I captured a 5-shot bracket (varying by 1 stop) at each aperture setting and opted to use a brighter f/11 image for the foreground.
 
The other property a clear sky can promise is a very warm light immediately after the sun rises or immediately before the sun sets and the warm first or last light of the day raking over a scene is often welcomed from a landscape photography perspective.
 
The small crescent moon included in the frame just above the left side of the pine tree was a bonus for this image.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
Post Date: 7/14/2019 3:12:02 PM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Wednesday, July 10, 2019
by Sean Setters
 
If you're like me, after having purchased the 5DayDeal Complete Video Creators Bundle (especially over multiple years), you may have a ton of LUTs (Look Up Tables) that can be used to color grade your videos and images. For instance, the last time I counted, I had over 600 LUTs sitting in a folder on my hard drive. Unfortunately, sifting through my LUTs to find one that's appropiate for a specific video/photo project has has been a painfully slow and tedius process, requiring the of application of each LUT individually within the software editor for preview purposes.
 
Thankfully, there's a better way. A Swedish software designer has created an excellent (and free) program – Bulk LUTs Previewer – that allows for fast and easy previewing of your locally stored LUTs.
 
How Does Bulk LUTs Previewer Work?
 
It's really simple.
 
  1. Open the program and click "Import" to point Bulk LUTs Previewer to the image you'd like to use as the sample. I'd suggest using a small resolution image as a full-resolution image will make the previews load significantly slower.
  2. Click the "3D Luts" button and navigate to your folder containing the LUTs.
  3. Click "Generate" to generate the LUT previews.
Bulk LUTs Previewer Screenshot

How to Apply a LUT in Photoshop
 
Once you've found the LUT you'd like to use, here are the steps for applying the LUT to an image in Photoshop.
 
  • Open your image and add a Color Lookup Table adjustment layer.
  • In the Properties panel of the adjustment layer, click "Load 3D LUT..."
  • Click the "Load 3D LUT..." option and navigate to the appropriate LUT.
While the sofware is free, I highly suggest donating to the author (using the "About" menu option) to encourage the software's further development (I did).
 
Download: Bulk LUTs Previewer
Post Date: 7/10/2019 5:55:20 AM CT   Posted By: Sean
 Sunday, July 7, 2019
Untimely was that Mount Evans and the other high peaks in the Colorado Rockies were the recipients of a summer snowstorm that dumped up-to-2' (that's right, feet, not inches — 0.6m) of snow the weekend just prior to my Monday afternoon arrival, closing the mountain for the first two days of my trip. Weather is one of the many reasons for planning more time at a location than seems necessary and for this trip, 4 days was definitely not too long.
 
There is often a photographic upside to bad weather and in this case, that upside was snow available for inclusion in both the foreground and often the distant background of images. Adorable baby mountain goats in snow works for me.
 
Bonus points are awarded for images having all of a wildlife subject's feet visible. Very often subjects are in an environment that does not allow the feet to be completely visible (grass in a meadow for example). This little kid (what a baby goat is called) was racing around and conveniently opted to run over this rock (it's what all kids do, right?).
 
I have a tendency to frame my wildlife images too tight and the base image used for this shot was vertically tighter than I liked. Fortunately, I had another image in the burst sequence that permitted a vertical panorama to be created, giving my kid some breathing room.
 
While I would like the Canon EOS 5Ds R to have a higher frame rate for wildlife photography, the images it creates are simply awesome, especially when a lens like the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens is in front of it. I lugged a 600mm f/4 with me for the duration of this trip but used it very infrequently due to extremely high winds at the over-14,000' (4,267m) elevation making subject framing too difficult. That issue along with 400mm being often sufficient at the top of this mountain meant the 600 spent most of the week in the SUV. The 100-400 allowed capture of environmental wildlife portraits as desired and that technique was definitely desirable at the top of this mountain.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
 
Camera and Lens Settings
400mm  f/8.0  1/2000s
ISO 400
8688 x 6312px
Post Date: 7/7/2019 7:00:00 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Tuesday, July 2, 2019
If you are a bull elk, there comes a time in life when you are mostly alone during the rut. The other bulls your size have become your enemies and the larger bulls are going to beat you up if you get too close to the herd. You become referred to as a satellite bull.
 
While this bull is relatively large, he is no match for those having the cows. Bigger is usually better in terms of bull elk subjects, but I cannot resist photographing the smaller bulls in the right scenarios.
 
While I often seek sunlight from my back when photographing wildlife, the animal looking directly into the sun often works well from a lighting perspective. In this case, I was aligning a non-distracting background (that happened to be in the shade of a cloud) to help the elk prominently stand out in the frame.
 
There is only one opening remaining for the September elk in rut photo tour!
 
Consider joining a small group of passionate wildlife photographers pursuing these awesome animals. Photographers at all skill levels are invited to join!
 
"Bull Elk in Rut and Much More", Rocky Mountain National Park
 
  • 1 Opening: Sun, September 15 to Sat, September 21, 2019
  • Filled/Wait List: Sun, September 22 to Sat, September 28, 2019
  • Sign Up for September 2020
Contact me to sign up!
 
Photographers at all skill levels are also invited to join me for these tours:
 
Fall Landscape in Acadia National Park Instructional Photography Tour
 
Tue, Oct 15 through Sun, Oct 20, 2019
 
"Whitetail Buck in Rut and Much More", Shenandoah National Park
 
Sun, November 10 to Wed, November 13, 2019 and/or Wed, November 13 - Sat, November 16, 2019
 
Contact me to sign up!
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
Post Date: 7/2/2019 12:46:56 PM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Saturday, June 1, 2019
When the fog is present, contrast is significantly decreased and heavy fog can reduce visibility to very short distances. While in Shenandoah National Park for two days in the spring, heavy fog was the only visibility I had. The dozens of turnouts and trails designed to show off spectacular views of the mountains and valleys far below all had the same view. White fog.
 
When this happens, one option is to find close subjects. With close subjects resulting in less light-scattering fog between the camera and subject, good color and contrast is retained. The large patches of bright green ferns were one such subject that always catches my attention in the spring in Shenandoah National Park. Fog scatters light in all directions, creating very even lighting even deep in the woods.
 
The one problem remaining was a light breeze. Some of the ferns I was photographing were waist high. With a big sail and a small stem, these ferns moved in even the lightest breeze. I would rather the slight motion blur in the lower left fern blade not be there.
 
Options for dealing with the subject motion were limited. Embracing the movement and allowing the subject to become blurred is an easy one. Results vary when using this technique.
 
Waiting for short breaks in the breeze was option I worked on. Taking many shots was another, trying to catch a fern at the end of its motion.
 
Making shorter shutter speeds available by increasing the ISO setting is another good option. This option results in increased noise in the image, but sometimes a scene can be captured at a low ISO for the stationary subject and then at a higher ISO setting to keep the moving parts stabilized. The two (or more) image can then be stacked during post processing with only the in-motion portion of the frame being shown for the high ISO capture.
 
Using a narrower aperture offers the same shutter speed advantage with reduction of DOF being the penalty.
 
A last method I was working with involved placing small temporary Y-shaped twigs at the base of the closest ferns (the ones moving across the most pixels) to help stabilize them. A Wimberley Plamp is a good tool for this purpose.
 
Moving farther away from the moving branch and/or using a wider focal length make the moving subject smaller in the frame which means they cross over imaging sensor pixels less rapidly which means they are sharper in the final image.
 
Remove the light-cutting circular polarizer filter can help establish faster shutter speeds, though this is not often a good choice for landscape photography. While on the fog topic, note that CPL filters very significantly cut through fog. The difference can be very noticeable. Rotate the filter to turn on or off the fog effect, obtaining the look you want.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
 
Camera and Lens Settings
16mm  f/11.0  1/4s
ISO 400
5760 x 3840px
Post Date: 6/1/2019 11:20:58 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Wednesday, May 29, 2019
Credentialed access to a 4 hour concert in a 15,000-seat indoor stadium seemed like the perfect opportunity to give the Canon EOS R and Canon RF 28-70mm f/2L USM Lens a workout while the mostly high-energy performers also got a workout.
 
When photographing low light action, one historically had to choose between a moderately wide aperture (f/2.8) in a zoom lens and an ultra-wide aperture (f/1.4 for example) in a prime lens. With the RF 28-70, you can have both a wide aperture and a zoom focal length range. While some prime lenses still have the wide aperture advantage, the RF 28-70 f/2 L lens bridges the divide and, especially from an image quality perspective, is an outstanding option for low light needs including concert photography.
 
The spot lights happened to be on the singer (Ledger) in this image, allowing a very clean ISO 800 with a shutter speed adequate to stop most of the motion at f/2. Other images were captured at ISO settings as high as 6400 where the 1-stop advantage this zoom lens has over most other zooms makes a considerably bigger difference in image quality.
 
At concerts, the location of the action is often unpredictable and changing fast and that means focal length changes are required, ideally fitting for a zoom lens. Yes, some prime lenses could have given me another 1-stop lower ISO setting, but I would have minimally needed multiple cameras to cover the same range and often the performers were moving so fast that the shot would have been long gone by the time the cameras were swapped. Shooting wider and cropping later is an option, but lower resolution images are the result.
 
Also great for fast moving subjects was the R's touch and drag AF. With the left hand adjusting the focal length and the right thumb moving the focus point as needed for ideal framing, the EOS R was an ideal choice.
 
Every shoot teaches new lessons and here are a few concert photography tips from that night.
 
First, if photographing with a media pass, know without a doubt which gate you are supposed to enter through and be ready to politely ask for a additional opinions when the first person(s) thinks they know the different gate you are required to enter through. This saves walking half way around a stadium to the shipping and receiving area and waiting for a security guard to make a series of phone calls to figure out what you already knew and send you back to the other side of the stadium. If opting to ignore this advice, strongly consider arriving at least 1 hour early.
 
Also if photographing with a media pass, make sure that you have a signed copy of that pass (minimally on your phone) with you because the media reps for some reason may not have your name on the list. If offered a label with your name handwritten on it, request a lanyard because your camera strap is going to peel the label off within 10 minutes of your arrival, leaving you without the pass. Minimally attach the label to something that avoids the peel-off risk.
 
While your media pass may specify where you are supposed to photograph from, the media pass may not have been updated since the 360° stage was implemented. The specified locations may not exist and those working the show may have no clue about the topic or even how to get to the floor from the entrance level. Arrive early enough that if the instructions do not align with reality there is time to figure out where you are permitted to go without negatively impacting the show (it is probably not being performed for you).
 
Oh, if the tour is promoting a 360° stage, just get a ticket and leave the camera at home. Within seconds, the performer can be a basketball court distance away and even two cameras with complementing zoom lenses are not adequate. Compounding the problem is that you will have backs toward you for at least 270° of the stage.
 
I'll add these notes to the concert photography tips page.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
 
Camera and Lens Settings
28mm  f/2.0  1/500s
ISO 800
4480 x 6720px
Post Date: 5/29/2019 7:00:00 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
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