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 Wednesday, March 13, 2019
by Sean Setters
 
During their visit this past weekend, my wife's parents bought us an orchid that now resides on our dining room table. While we often have an orchid around the house, the intriguing pattern on this particular orchid's blooms along with its conspicuous location meant that it wouldn't take me long before I was motivated to drag it into the studio to see what I could do with it.
 
In terms of difficulty, I'd rank orchids in the medium range as far as flowering subjects go. I find flowers with deeper structures to be more difficult to capture in a captivating way, but the unique shapes found in orchid blooms, along with the blooms close proximity to one another, can make them challenging to photograph.
 
So what trait makes an orchid an excellent subject for the budding (pun intended) flower photographer? In a word – longevity.
 
Typically speaking, an orchid will bloom once or twice a year and those blooms will last anywhere from 2-4 months. To put that into perspective, a rose bloom typically lasts only about a week (to be fair, though, some rose plants bloom repeatedly). Even the low end of an orchid's longevity range provides a busy photographer with ample opportunities to photograph the plant before its blooms disappear. In fact, one of the busiest photographers I know often uses orchids in the sample photos of his reviews.
 
For the image atop this post, I used a Canon EOS 5D Mark III and Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 USM Macro Lens set to f/8, 1/160 sec, ISO 100. I captured 19 incrementally focused frames using Magic Lantern's Focus Stacking feature (use Magic Lantern at your own risk – the Canon EOS RP has a focus bracketing feature built-in). The lighting was provided by two radio triggered studio lights placed to the left and right of the camera (the right one was behind the subject) with gridded strip boxes.
 
For a larger resolution version of the image, check out my Flickr photostream.
Post Date: 3/13/2019 8:30:30 AM CT   Posted By: Sean
 Tuesday, March 12, 2019
For easy portrait lighting, simply find a window without direct sunlight shining through it. In this example, the model is holding a sheer curtain over the window to eliminate background distractions that would otherwise be visible behind her.
 
While it may seem that the ultra-light, compact, extremely affordable Canon EOS RP would not make sense behind the large, heavy, ultra-high-end Canon RF 28-70mm f/2L USM Lens, this combo worked extremely well together. Servo AF with eye-detection was used for this entire shoot with near-perfect results.
 
Save money on the camera to make the lens more affordable? Save weight in the camera to offset some weight of the lens?
 
Camera and Lens Settings
70mm  f/2.0  1/125s
ISO 100
6240 x 4160px
Post Date: 3/12/2019 7:53:05 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Sunday, March 10, 2019
These adorable little fawns were playfully bounding all around and then stopped in an ideal location to check me out. Few animals are cuter than whitetail fawns.
 
With the fawns beyond the idea 400mm range, it was great to have the 1.4x extender available with only a throw of the switch. There would not have been time to mount an external 1.4x extender in this situation.
 
Are you joining me to photograph these beautiful creatures (and likely black bear) in "Shenandoah National Park this June? We'll have a great time looking for these subjects, learning photography, and more than a little gear talk is likely. Also check out my other Instructional Photo Tours.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
 
Camera and Lens Settings
560mm  f/5.6  1/1250s
ISO 2000
4057 x 2704px
Post Date: 3/10/2019 7:05:00 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Thursday, March 7, 2019
by Sean Setters
 
With the sun shining, not a cloud in the sky and the local vegetation finally awakening from its wintry slumber, I thought it would be a good time to venture out with my Super Color IR-converted EOS 7D to see what I could find. Not wanting to stray too far from home, I ended up at a nearby defunct dairy farm where – fun fact – they filmed a couple of scenes from the movie Forrest Gump. One of the greatest things about having a camera in your hands is that it feels like a you have passport for exploration, sparking the impulse for embarking on new adventures.
 
Unfortunately, my exploration on this day revealed that the area is not as scenic as it was at the time the movie was filmed. A nearby dike failed many years ago flooding the low-lying areas with salt water, killing many of the trees such as the one above, the catalyst for my spending a few minutes capturing its curvy branches in isolation against a distant background and rich, blue sky. I had originaly planned on desaturating the yellow tones so that the vegetation would appear white (the more traditional IR look I had in mind when setting off from my studio), but doing so resulted in the tree no longer standing out as well, so I instead opted to leave the grass and shrubs yellow after switching the red and blue color channels (more IR image processing in the IR Conversion Review).
 
You can find a higher resolution sample of this image on my Flickr Photostream.
Post Date: 3/7/2019 9:05:31 AM CT   Posted By: Sean
 Wednesday, March 6, 2019
by Sean Setters
 
Years ago, you could expect good reasonable customer service from almost any photography gear manufacturer. Today, however, that isn't necessarily the case. Therefore, we like to draw attention to companies that offer more than just great products, but seem to go above and beyond the competition to support their customers' needs.
 
Today's case in point: Matthews Studio Equipment.
 
Backstory
 
I recently posted an image of a surfer taken at nearby Tybee Island. While I experienced many technical difficulties during that session, one thing I didn't mention was what I noticed as I loading up the car and getting ready to leave. After brushing the sand off the Matthews Maxi Kit Steel Stand I had been using, I placed it in the trunk of my car. As the light stand hit my trunk, sand started pouring out one of the legs. That's when I realized an end cap on one of the light stand's legs was missing. After all of the frustration I had endured throughout the session, I didn't really feel like combing the beach to find my missing end cap. Regardless, back to the beach I went.
 
The rising tide which had been encroaching on our shooting location shortly before packing up had erased the telltale signs of the exact spot where my light stand had been. There was no hope of finding the relatively small plastic end cap, assuming it had been lost on the beach and not somewhere else before I had arrived. I gave up after only a few minutes of aimless searching.
 
Once I arrived home, I immediately put a ring of gaffer tape around the leg that was missing an end cap to alert me of the missing accessory which could result in a scratched surface if the stand were used on certain types of flooring. While doing so prevented me from using the stand on a floor where it may cause damage (wood, tile, etc.), the gaffer tape obviously didn't fix the problem. What I needed was another end cap.
 
My Experience with Matthews Studio Equipment's Customer Service
 
When I called the Matthews Studio Equipment phone number, an operator answered the phone and asked which department I would like to be connected with. First off, an actual operator answering the phone was a refreshing change from the typical automated answering service that I end up screaming at in vain before my call is finished. I told the operator my problem, and she politely said, "You need the parts department. I'll connect you now." Well, that was easy enough. Unfortunately, with Matthews Studio Equipment being in California, it was roughly lunchtime when I called and no one answered. However, the mailbox message requested that I leave my name and phone number and that someone would call me back, which I did.
 
Fast forward to the end of the California workday (5:00pm their time, 8:00pm Eastern Time) and I get a call from Stuart in the Matthews Parts Department. I told him that I needed the end cap for a Matthews Maxi Kit Steel Stand, part #387485 because one of mine was missing. He said, "Ok. I have a few of those right here. What's your email? I'll need you to send me your mailing address."
 
At this point, I'm a bit confused. I realize the plastic end caps for my light stand are probably not an expensive accessory, but I'm wondering when he's going to tell me the price of the items, how much shipping will be and how exactly I will pay for the desired gear. I assume all the details will be in the soon-to-arrive email. A few minutes later, Stuart's email arrived with no subject line and a simple "Hello" in the body, to which I replied with my address and the following:
Just let me know how much I owe you and the preferred method of payment and I'll make it happen.
His reply came the following morning right as the California workday began.
Hello Sean
 
I will mail these out to you today free of charge. No payment needed.
 
Have a good day
Again, I realize these end caps (they sent a set of 3) weren't expensive items. In fact, shipping them to me likely cost as much (if not more) than what a company might typically charge for them. But that's not the point. When you purchase high quality products from a well-known and well-respected manufacturer like Matthews Studio Equipment, you get the type of customer service that their reputation is built upon. Yes, their equipment is priced a little higher than its competitor's products, but you'll likely find dealing with Matthews' customer service to be easier/more pleasant than dealing with the customer service department of a competing (cheaper) brand based in different part of the world. And even if those other brands offer similar customer service, it's highly unlikely that a replacement part coming from – for example, Asia – will arrive as quickly as one coming from California (for USA citizens, at least).
 
My replacement feet arrived a few days later. My light stand is now whole again, and I take comfort in knowing that Matthews Studio Equipment's reputation for excellence and commitment to its customers is well earned.
 
For your light stand and other studio equipment needs, Matthews gear should be at the top of your short list. They'll take care of you.
 Saturday, March 2, 2019
Just add water, because water usually makes an image better.
 
I was staying ahead of this bull and his harem in a large meadow for perhaps 30 minutes when we arrived at a small pond that I didn't even know existed. At the other side of the pond (my side) was a tall, steep bank down to a stream at the bottom. While determining if this bull's nose-up threatening pose was meant for me or the cows he was tending, I captured a large number of frames with the 600mm focal length quickly becoming too long. Just as I was about to go down the bank, the bull turned back to the cows and the opportunity stayed alive.
 
It was a hot morning and the elk were cooling themselves in the water. Especially fun was that some of the calves were using their hooves to splash water onto their backs. It was an awesome experience.
 
Due to additional interest in the Rocky Mountain National Park Instructional Photo Tour, an additional set of 2019 dates has been added. Can you go from Sun, September 15 to Sat, September 21, 2019?! The rut should be going strong. Let me know ASAP!
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
Post Date: 3/2/2019 8:38:48 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Wednesday, February 27, 2019
by Sean Setters
 
Being a surfer enthusiast in Savannah, GA is a rough life; the waves found along Tybee Island (the nearest beach) are rarely conducive to "hanging ten." Such is the story of Dagny, someone who loves to surf but rarely finds conditions here favorable for her pursuit. On this day, however, the waves were "ok" and Dagny had just finished about an hour of surfing along a nearby shoreline. She had obviously been having fun. I, on the other hand, had been plagued by one issue after another since arriving at the beach at 9:00am. Let me explain.
 
When I arrived at the south end of Tybee Island to meet Dagny at 9:00am, there was a fairly dense fog along the shoreline. Dagny wanted to do some surfing but also wanted a picture, so the first question to answer was, "Which do we do first?" Since the waves were looking good to Dagny and the fog was looking questionable from a photographic standpoint, I told her to go ahead and surf and I would signal to her when I was ready to start shooting. This would allow me time to scout out a suitable location, set up my lighting gear and hopefully give the fog some time to clear. In hindsight, telling Dagny to hit the waves ahead of our shoot had another great benefit; it allowed me time to methodically work through the problems I was destined to face without having an increasingly impatient subject stare on with resentment for stealing her away from the best waves of the day.
 
When shooting at the beach, I generally prefer to transport only the items I intend on actually using to the sandy location. This approach lessens the amount of cleanup necessary once the shoot is finished. However, a downside of this technique is that if technical issues are experienced, one is required to go all the way back to the car to retrieve backup items. As I would come to realize, that's a pretty major downside.
 
After scouting out a good location on the beach, I went back to my car in a [relatively] nearby parking lot to plan out my gear needs. At that time, it was still quite foggy and I was unsure if it would clear completely before we started shooting. I decided that limiting the amount of space between the subject and me would be a good idea for optimal contrast. Therefore, I opted for a Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens on my Canon 5D Mark III instead of the Canon EF 135mm f/2L USM Lens I had originally planned on using.
 
Backup #1 [Lens]: Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens (for Canon EF 135mm f/2L USM)
 
To allow me to shoot at my max flash sync speed (for these studio strobes, that's 1/160 sec), I put a 4-stop neutral density filter on the lens knowing that it wouldn't be enough density to allow me to use a wide-open aperture at my base ISO (100), but it would allow me to use a wider aperture than I would have been able to without the ND filter in place.
 
I'm always leery about using a softbox and/or umbrella on the beach because, even with sand bags in use, the large surface area of those modifiers can cause significant problems when wind is added to the equation. However, I love the soft light I get with softboxes and umbrellas, so they are generally my first choices if the weather allows for their safe use. The beach wasn't as windy as it has been in the past, but... I still didn't think it was a good idea to attach what amounts to a sail to my light stand. Therefore, I opted to mount a Mola Demi Beauty Dish (with Opal Diffuser) to my White Lightning X3200 studio strobe, powered by a battery pack. The 22" diameter, sturdy metal modifier has proven to be a solid choice in the past in windy conditions, so I was glad I brought it.
 
Backup #2 [Modifier]: Mola Demi Beauty Dish (for Medium/Large Soft Box or Parabolic Umbrella)
 
After transporting my light stand, studio strobe, beauty dish, battery pack, power cord, radio trigger with cord and two sand bags to the beach, I plugged everything in, turned on the battery pack/strobe/radio trigger and pushed the "Test" button on my trigger to fire the strobe.
 
Nothing.
 
Ok Sean, let's work the problem. Are the trigger and receiver on the same frequency? Yes. Am I sure I turned on the trigger? It doesn't appear to be blinking (a sign that it's on). I pressed the receiver button again (which should trigger the strobe in addition to turning the unit on), but nothing happens.
 
"Ahh, the batteries in my receiver are dead."
 
So, off to the car I went. While I did have some extra batteries in the car, I chose instead to grab a different radio receiver as the batteries are somewhat difficult to replace in these things. And, back to the beach.
 
Backup #3: Radio Receiver #2 (for Radio Receiver #1)
 
With the new radio receiver plugged into the studio strobe (and blinking), and everything powered on again, I hit the test button on my trigger and... again, nothing. However, a quiet moment between the waves and various beach sounds reveals a barely audible beeping coming from my battery pack. It doesn't usually beep, so my guess is that it's trying to tell me something (later tests would reveal that my battery pack's battery had just failed). Once again, it's time to go back to the car with a nearly 20 lb battery pack so that I can return with its replacement (an identical unit).
 
Backup #4: Battery Pack #2 (for Battery Pack #1)
 
After returning to the beach with the new battery pack, plugging everything back in and turning everything back on, I hit the test fire button on my trigger.
 
Nothing.
 
This is getting old. At this point, everything I've replaced has been a validated problem. The radio receiver's batteries were dead and the unit was replaced with a working one. The battery pack's battery had failed (even though it had been charging all night). Now, even with those issues resolved, my strobe still wouldn't fire. In one last Hail Mary attempt, I dragged my White Lightning x3200 back to the car to replace it with a Whilte Lightning Ultrazap 1600 that I had also brought along.
 
Backup #5 [Studio Strobe]: White Lightning Ultrazap 1600 (for White Lightning x3200)
 
After returning to the beach with the new studio strobe, I once again plugged everything up, turned everything on and hit the test fire button.
 
Success! The flash fired just as Dagny was walking to our shooting location. She needed a break from surfing, and her timing could not have been better.
 
Camera settings for the shot atop this post were f/3.2, 1/160 sec., ISO 100 (with a 4-stop ND filter).
 
The fog had mostly cleared by the time this image was taken, so I wouldn't have technically needed to use the Sigma 50mm Art lens in place of the Canon 135mm f/2L, but I liked the view I was getting at 50mm, so I think it worked out for the best. I performed basic edits in Adobe Camera RAW and changed the color tones of the highlights and shadows and, after importing to Photoshop CC, I used the Content Aware Move Tool to reposition the three birds for better framing (they were originally more spread out and lower/closer to the left edge of the frame). I also used the Content Aware Healing brush to remove a very long zipper pull that was flapping in the wind.
 
If you'd like to see what it was like on the shoot after all the problems had been worked out, check out this behind-the-scenes video.
 

This was one of those shoots were everything that could go wrong seemed to do just that. However, having a backup of everything (I also had a backup camera along) meant that I could deal with the problems that cropped up and ultimately capture an image that I was very proud of. When shooting on-location, do yourself a favor – bring a backup of every vital piece of equipment you're taking. You'll often find yourself falling back on one of your backups. And someday, you may find yourself needing a backup for everything.
 
A larger version of the image can be seen on Flickr.
Post Date: 2/27/2019 10:43:57 AM CT   Posted By: Sean
 Sunday, February 24, 2019
When photographing non-voice-controllable subjects, the potential of capturing all subjects in the frame with good body positions decreases exponentially with the number of subjects.
 
With a single subject, capturing a good body position is sometimes challenging but often not too difficult to accomplish. Add a second subject and the challenge doubles and it doubles again when a third subject is in the frame. While not every subject in the frame is required to have the ideal pose, it certainly helps when all have one.
 
I had been hanging with these big boys for several minutes. When enough distance separated them, it was not too hard to find individual subject poses worth photographing. When both bulls were in the frame, good opportunities became scarce with the second bull often becoming a distraction to the first.
 
Photographing groups of animals includes increased challenge, but that challenge serves to make the rewards of success higher.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
 
Camera and Lens Settings
600mm  f/4.0  1/160s
ISO 640
7667 x 5111px
Permalink: Double Bull Elk
Post Date: 2/24/2019 7:19:00 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Tuesday, February 19, 2019
by Sean Setters
 
Holidays offer great opportunities for gift giving and flowers, although possibly a bit cliché, are still very often appreciated, which is why a bouquet of flowers has been sitting on our living room hutch since Valentine's Day. But while flowers are intended to be enjoyed by the recipient, there's no reason why we as photographers can't take advantage of the beautiful subjects at hand to add some colorful floral images to our portfolios.
 
A few evenings ago after my wife had retired for the evening, I took her bouquet into the studio to try one of my favorite techniques for photographing flowers – focus stacking. After perusing the options available in the bouquet, I settled on a type of flower that I've photographed before, a type of Peruvian lily. The colorful, elongated spots found on the leaves as well as the easily visible inner structures of these flowers make them ideal candidates for photographing.
 
I set up my Canon EOS 5D Mark III and Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM + 36mm extension tube on a sturdy tripod and Arca-Swiss Z1 ball head set to f/9, 1/160 sec, ISO 100 and tried several compositions with the Peruvian lily that caught my eye. A studio flash on each side of the bouquet provided the light required for a proper exposure at those settings, and Magic Lantern's Focus Stacking feature was used to increment focus for the focus bracketed images. After capturing all of the variations, I brought the images into Canon's Digital Photo Professional to see which one (or ones) might work well for further processing. Finding a series that I really liked, I opened the relevant RAW files in Helicon Focus (my preferred focus stacking software), compiled the images and output the result as a DNG.
 
Looking closer at the result in Photoshop CC, I realized that I hadn't captured enough depth-of-field in my focus bracket to fully cover the parts of the plant I wanted in focus. As such, instead of having crisp lines in places where I wanted to emphasize details, I had soft transitions that didn't seem to meld with the rest of the focus stacked image.
 
From a photographic standpoint, my attempt at a pleasing focus stack image was a failure. But then I had a moment of inspiration.
 
My wife is a huge fan of impressionist paintings. In fact, not more than a couple of weeks ago she insisted we see (aka, dragged me to) the impressionist art exhibit that was showing at the Jepson Center for the Arts ("Monet to Matisse: Masterworks of French Impressionism"). The nice thing about impressionism is that crisp details are not a notable quality of the creative movement; in the case of my image, I could use impressionism to hide the major flaw in my image. Keep in mind, rarely is an image made visually palatable if you have to "save it in post." But in this case, it seemed to work just fine.
 
After searching for several years for a Photoshop plug-in that could convincingly turn an image into a painting, I finally found Topaz Impression and never looked back. It's been an excellent find and has opened up a new door for monetizing my images. Or in this case, just saving one.
Post Date: 2/19/2019 9:16:33 AM CT   Posted By: Sean
 Tuesday, February 5, 2019
by Sean Setters
 
A friend of mine, Maria, who has recently become interested in photography asked if I would accompany her on a sunrise shoot. As it had been much too long since I had photographed a sunrise, I eagerly agreed. Of course, when when I awoke to my alarm clock well before sunrise on an otherwise lazy Saturday, I was considerably less eager to set off for the sunrise shoot. But, I was ready when Maria picked me up about 45 minutes before sunrise.
 
I had advised Maria to use The Photographer's Ephemeris to scout out possible locations she'd like to use for the sunrise shoot. We are fortunate to live in an area of the country that provides vast views of the sky with interesting, varied landscape options (the Atlantic Ocean, marshes, rivers, fields with oak trees, etc.) with only a short drive required to arrive at any of them. Unfortunately, time had gotten away from Maria; she had not researched any options before arriving at my door.
 
So, we drive a short while before coming to a small town, Thunderbolt, about 5 miles southeast from downtown Savannah along the Wilmington River. After seeing a nice looking dock on the right side of the road (before the upcoming overpass), I suggested we stop to photograph it before the sunrise. As we were walking the short distance to a clearing with a good vantage point, I noticed how striking the glow of the covered dock looked against the rich blue of the sky. "Blue hour," as it's commonly referred to, is the time just before sunrise and just after sunset. This time presents especially good opportunities to photograph landscapes, seascapes and cityscapes (as well as many other subjects) set against the deep blue color and hint of warm sunlight that often graces the sky just before sunrise.
 
Sunrise came not long after this shot was taken, but clouds obstructed its view making us very glad to already have our blue hour photos in the bag.
 
My advice? Take some time this week to shoot a sunrise. Even if the circumstances prove to be less than ideal from a photography perspective, the experience may prove fulfilling from a personal one. There's just something refreshing about a sunrise.
 
The shot above was created using a 7-shot exposure bracket, edited in Aurora HDR 2019 and Photoshop CC.
 
Gear Used
 
Post Date: 2/5/2019 7:47:02 AM CT   Posted By: Sean
 Sunday, February 3, 2019
This mother black bear had sent her cubs high up into a large pine tree and was searching for food. She kindly paused and looked in my direction at a break in the bright green foliage.
 
There are many ways to compose a wildlife image and each scenario can be different, but a technique that often works is to center the animal in the frame and then open up the frame in the direction the animal is looking. In this case, the momma black bear was looking straight toward me and its near-centered position works well. I left a slightly more room around the bear on the right side as there is a very slight head turn and the tall green plants on the right helped balance and frame the image.
 
The color, or lack thereof, of black bears is a challenge for cameras' auto exposure systems with overexposure being the frequent outcome. A manual exposure is often best.
 
Joining me for the Shenandoah National Park workshop this June?
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
 
Camera and Lens Settings
400mm  f/4.0  1/640s
ISO 4000
3533 x 2355px
Post Date: 2/3/2019 7:00:00 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Thursday, January 31, 2019
by Sean Setters
 
Several years ago I started snapping pictures of various objects with unique, interesting looking textures and patterns which I would place in an appropriately named "Textures" folder on my hard drive. The purpose of this folder was to have a personal collection of images I could pull from whenever I wanted to create an image with an overlay. And while I don't utilize the images in my textures collection very often, I'm really glad that I have texture/overlay options available whenever an image looks like it would benefit from an additional layer of interest.
 
Below are just some of the images in my Textures folder. Looking at the file names, they were all likely captured on the same outing with the camera.
 
Sean's Textures Folder

There are lots of everyday items that can provide an interesting texture for an image overlay. As evidenced by the screenshot above, wood, tree bark, gravel, tiles, fences, concrete/pebbled sidewalks, brick walls and mud/dirt are just a few of the options that are likely only a short walk away from your front door. If it's a rainy day, you might consider photographing all the interesting textures and patterns that are right inside your home. Old/crinkled paper, patterned fabrics and wallpaper are just a few of the indoor options I can think of.
 
So which awesome image did I use to create the texture in the image above? That would be this one.
 
Sean Setters Pavement Texture

From a photographic point of view, the image above is as lackluster as a photo can be. It's a snapshot, and the subject (old pavement) is quite boring on its own. But when you adjust its levels/contrast in Photoshop, the difference between the light and dark areas is accentuated and the pattern becomes much more interesting.
 
Processing the Image
 
To get the image above, I added the texture layer to the top of my already-edited portrait photo in Photoshop CC and proceeded through the following steps:
 
  • Changed texture layer blend mode from "Normal" to "Linear Burn."
  • Added a Curves adjustment layer to the texture layer (using ALT+dragging the adjustment layer over portrait layer to create a clipping mask so that the adjustment layer only affects the texture layer).
  • Adjusted the texture layer's blending properties (by double clicking on layer) so that it would not appear in the darkest areas of the underlying portrait layer. By ALT+left clicking the "Blend If - Underlying Layer" slider adjustment, I feathered the blend.
  • Added a mask to the texture layer and lessened its visibility over parts of the face using a black brush at various opacities.
To see a larger resolution sample of the image, click on the picture atop this post.
 
Do you already have a textures collection? If so, what items have you saved in it that I didn't mention above?
Post Date: 1/31/2019 9:50:17 AM CT   Posted By: Sean
 Friday, January 25, 2019
The Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III Lens is all about speed and fast-moving subjects ideal for the 400mm focal length are scarce in my location right now. The race cars are all being re-built in preparation for the next season. With a layer of snow on the ground, outdoors sports are in the off-season. The ski slopes benefit from the snow, but the closest is hours away. The horses, however, are always ready for some galloping and provide a convenient subject for an AF performance testing session.
 
This American quarter horse's name is "Nugget", as in "gold nugget", referencing the coat color. "Gold" also reflects the parent's perspective of what it costs to keep a horse. The positive in this investment is that the kid's have had to do most of the horse maintenance work, teaching them responsibility and how to work hard. The horses are of course fast and fast makes them good focus performance test subjects. An added benefit of such testing is some nice pics of the kid(s), as long as the camera and lens perform well of course.
 
And to that matter, the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II and EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III Lens combo performed stellarly. They performed so well that they created a bit of a problem. It took forever to go through the well-over-2,000 images captured in this session as most were keeper-grade. With a great camera and lens, one's brain needs to be retrained to be OK with deleting really nice images. I keep telling myself that.
 
With steady lighting conditions (solid clouds), the setup for this shot was easy. Using manual mode, the shutter was set to 1/1600, a setting that I know works well for freezing galloping/cantering horse and similar action. The aperture was set to f/2.8 to let in as much light as possible and to create the strongest background blur possible. Having the shallowest depth of field possible also emphasizes the AF precision. The ISO was then adjusted until the snow was slightly overexposed, causing the brightest areas to blink while reviewing test images on the LCD. With the exposure locked in, I could concentrate on composition.
 
The AF mode was of course set to AI Servo (continuous) and the top-center AF point was selected with the surrounding points assisting (the horse bounces a lot, making it difficult to keep a single point on the rider's head).
 
While this camera and lens combination is handholdable, shooting it from a monopod is still more comfortable (especially for long shooting sessions) and doing so made tracking the subject easier.
 
Nugget was not moving very fast in this frame, but I liked the heavily-clouded sky in the background, making the subject pop with a bit of a high-key look. Note that snow is a great reflector and gives images a different look, usually in a positive way. I'll share other images of this horse in fast motion in the review. Some of these images will show another way this lens can make the subject pop – by strongly blurring the background.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
 
Camera and Lens Settings
400mm  f/2.8  1/1600s
ISO 400
3648 x 5472px
Post Date: 1/25/2019 8:00:00 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Thursday, January 24, 2019
by Sean Setters
 
Before I delve into my new appreciation for the 35mm focal length, let me first explain why I've never really savored using the 35mm focal length (until now). Typically speaking, I'm either shooting portraiture in a studio with a small, carefully selected backdrop or outdoors where my goal is to minimize any background distractions. In these situations, longer telephoto primes (or a 70-200mm f/2.8 zoom) are helpful in capturing a frame filling subject while blurring the background to oblivion. But there are times when a larger scene needs to be documented, such as when the subject's environment provides a desired context.
 
This past December my wife and I spent a weekend in Atlanta celebrating Christmas with my extended family before heading off to New Orleans for two weeks to celebrate Christmas with her family. For both trips, I packed the following camera and lenses (as well as a few accessories) in a Lowepro shoulder bag:
 
You probably noticed a pattern in my selected lenses – they're all primes. While packing, I reasoned that most of my photographic opportunities over the holidays would be indoors, often in relatively low light situations. The wide apertures available in these primes meant that I wouldn't have to rely on a shoe-mount flash to obtain my desired image brightness level while employing action stopping shutter speeds at low-to-moderate ISOs (for optimal image quality).
 
In theory, having a wide range of focal lengths covered sounded reasonable. In practice, however, I used one lens about 95% of the time – the Canon EF 35mm f/2 IS USM. And that got me wondering, "Why does a 35mm prime lens work so well for holiday family photography?"
 
Abby Holding OJ Christmas 2018

A 35mm prime lens provides an angle of view that can highlight a subject while providing vital environmental clues that give the photos context. The background blur a 35mm lens prime lens is capable of helps to isolate the subject, yet the background is still more or less recognizable enough to place the subject firmly in that particular scene. And when it comes to family holiday photography, background details such as the decorated tree, food and other family and friends in the room help to document the holiday spirit that resonated at the time.
 
Vicky Christmas 2018

The 35mm lens distorts subjects less (with the same framing) than a 24mm lens, especially when your subject is placed near the edge of the frame. And while a 50mm lens can be used for holiday photography, the relatively small rooms I was photographing in and the close proximity of my subjects meant that a 35mm lens simply worked better for capturing the bigger picture. The highlight of the trip was Alexis' family's decorating of the Christmas tree. For them, the tree decorating event is bigger and celebrated more fervently than Christmas Day, and my 35mm prime lens helped me capture it all.
 
Vicky Phone Christmas 2018

Besides holiday photos, a 35mm prime lens can be extremely useful for wedding, indoor event, documentary and street photography, predominately for the same reasons as listed above. The birth of my daughter was another instance where a 35mm prime was one of my most-used lenses over a several day period. While I may not have been a huge fan of 35mm prime lenses in the past, a 35mm prime has quickly become one of the most important – and most used – lenses in my kit.
 
If you don't already have a 35mm prime lens in your kit, now would be a great time to investigate the options found below.
 
Relevant Information
 
Post Date: 1/24/2019 8:14:06 AM CT   Posted By: Sean
 Wednesday, January 23, 2019
My apologies if I missed an important keyword in that title.
 
Regardless of what the event was named, the show was spectacular. I hope that you were able to take it in and, even better yet, photograph it.
 
The sky visibility forecast for everywhere within a long drive provided little hope of this eclipse being viewable. Unexpectantly, the problem, remnants of a significant winter storm, began to move out just in time and the sky started to clear about an hour before the eclipse began. With the full moon peeking out of breaks in the clouds, the hope became strong enough to warrant the effort to photograph the event and I scrambled to put a plan into place.
 
Also seeming to meet the definition of spectacular were the near-zero-degree (-18° C) temperatures accompanied by very strong winds those of us in much of the east/northeast US were required to endure for 5 hours (some short indoor warm-up breaks were taken). Admittedly, the temperature made shooting through skylights from inside the house a very attractive option, but donning many layers and going outdoors became the plan. While the skies cleared beautifully for the full eclipse, the wind remained an issue and wind is an especially big stability problem when photographing with a large, long focal length lens. Setting up next to a solid fence significantly aided with this issue and also took some of the bite out of the wind chill.
 
The composition plan was easy. The moon was going to be high overhead and that meant incorporating foreground elements in the frame was going to be very challenging, so making the moon as large in the frame as possible was the choice. That meant 1200mm, a combination of a 600mm f/4 lens and a 2x teleconverter.
 
For a solid base, the UniqBall IQuick3Pod 40.4 Carbon Fiber Tripod with spiked feet installed (for use in snow) was perfect. Simply stick the spikes into the ground and use the IQuick3Pod's leveling base feature to quickly level the tripod head platform. A gimbal head makes using big, long lenses easy and the Really Right Stuff FG-02 Fluid-Gimbal Head is awesome (the RRS PG-02 is also excellent). With a level base, the gimbal-mounted lens will always be level with only tilt and pan adjustments, both very simple to make, requiring attention while tracking the moon. It is much easier to keep a tightly-framed moon centered in the frame with a gimbal head than with a ball head. Shooting at a strong upward angle can be a challenge with a gimbal mount as the camera body can impact the tripod before a high-enough angle is reached. I'll talk more about that issue soon.
 
Looking through a viewfinder with the camera directed at such a hard-upward angle is tough, but the D850's tilt LCD made subject framing easy in this situation. An angle finder is another great option for shooting upward.
 
What is the best exposure for photographing a lunar eclipse? That depends mostly on the varying brightness of the moon and that changes by season and it also changes during the eclipse. When the moon had direct sunlight reaching it, f/8 (my max aperture with this setup), 1/200 and ISO 200 with a -1 EV adjustment in post worked well. During this time, I opted to capture brackets of up to 9-stops to use for adding as much detail as desired to the dark portion of the moon during post processing. A Vello ShutterBoss II Timer Remote Switch made vibration-free capture easy.
 
Once the moon was completely in the earth's shadow, it became very dark and 1200mm exposures became very challenging. The blood moon image in the center of this frame was captured at f/8, .6 seconds and ISO 6400. Getting tack sharp details from a subject that is over 221,000 mi (356,000 km) away does not happen and these settings do not help.
 
Photographing the lunar eclipse brought back great memories of the 2017 solar eclipse (a bit ironic is that event occurred in extreme heat for many of us). A similar post-eclipse scenario now faces those of us who photographed it. We have a large number of images capturing the entire eclipse progression and want do something with them. While each individual eclipse image may be great, likely none of your friends want to see all 300 (OK, 800) of them. The friends will be interested in a partial eclipse image or two and perhaps one from totality, but then eyes glaze over and they start checking their Instagram account. Creating a lunar eclipse progression composite is a very logical way to tell the full eclipse story in a single, interesting image.
 
The method for creating the lunar eclipse progression composite is the same as that shared in the How to Create a Solar Eclipse Phase Composite Image article (skip the HDR part). The arrangement options for such a composite vary greatly. The left-to-right option shared here works well, but this unique ultra-wide aspect ratio is a bit awkward to share online and will not typically be as easily viewable/displayable as closer-to-square arrangements.
 
Also ultra is the resolution able to be created from such a composite. This one measures 52000 x 5500 pixels for a 286 MP (over SmugMug's max file dimensions limit I learned) final image (the .PSD weighs in at 3.19 GB) looking for a long hallway wall to be displayed on. Those not able to frame the moon tightly in-camera can crop heavily and still have a high resolution result from the composite technique.
 
Sure, getting images requires some effort. Getting to bed well after 2:00 AM means being tired the next day and it took about an hour under the covers to get my core temperature back up. But, at least a day or two later, only the rewards remain. The memories of this lunar eclipse, with the images to buoy them, will remain a lifetime.
 
What is the subject calling you right now? Get motivated and go for it!
 
A larger version of this image (it needs to be seen much larger) is available on Flickr or my SmugMug site.
 
Did you photograph the recent lunar eclipse? We invite you to share your images and tips below.
Post Date: 1/23/2019 8:00:00 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
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