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 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
 Friday, May 24, 2019
This bull had just lost a fight over a harem of cows and headed for the hills. His rack was larger than that of the opponent, but the opponent's body was larger and that is where the battle strength comes from.
 
Capturing this image was primarily a matter of repeatedly getting out in front of the bull and properly predicting where it would enter a clearing at the right distance for the big prime lens I was using. As you will notice from the camera settings for this image, it was quite dark when this image was captured. The pursuit started under cloudy weather that deteriorated into light rain.
 
I still have one opening remaining for the September elk in rut photo tour in Rocky Mountain National Park (or get on the 2020 waiting list). Consider joining a small group of photographers (all skill levels welcome) pursuing these awesome animals and other wildlife and landscape opportunities in this great park!
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
Post Date: 5/24/2019 11:00:00 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Friday, May 17, 2019
The timing was perfect for a visit to Ricketts Glen State Park. The new beech tree leaves were coming out with their light spring green color looking great. It had rained a significant amount the prior day and the forecast was for rain all of this day.
 
Waterfalls, of course, thrive on rain, rain saturates the landscape, rain requires clouds and clouds ensure even lighting, and also helpful is that rain keeps the (smarter?) potential park visitors at home and out of images. On this day, I had the Falls Trails completely to myself until I was hiking out near dark.
 
Rain also makes photography a bit more challenging. I was wearing Gore-Tex clothing (boots, pants, and jacket) that kept me completely dry. At least dry until I overheated a bit while hiking up out of the canyon at a fast pace with quick-drying clothing resolving that problem quickly after I was back in the car. I carried a large umbrella to work under (awkward but very helpful) and had a microfiber cloth readily available to wipe water drops from the front of the lens. When shooting waterfalls, a microfiber cloth is often needed regardless of the rain situation. Note that nano-coated filters are easy to keep clean and easily worth their additional cost on days like these. The camera and lens were in an inexpensive rain cover that I was evaluating and that is now on the to-replace list as it was not "waterproof", leaving the camera and lens wet enough that a towel was needed (get a LensCoat RainCoat). This is an example of when weather sealing can save the day.
 
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. It was the perfect combination for this image and all of the others I wanted. Also in the backpack was an EOS R and RF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM Lens. The BackLight's rear access meant that cameras could be swapped without setting the backpack down on the very wet ground and without taking the rain cover off.
 
I've mentioned that I rely on my tripod for personal support at times and this was one of those. Working up onto this ledge over wet rocks was not easy and a Really Right Stuff TVC-24L Carbon Fiber Tripod saved me from a serious fall when my footing broke loose. The ledge position meant that the lower tripod legs were planted rather far below me, making every inch of the "Long" length of this tripod very useful. Saving my images by cutting reflections and increasing saturation was a Breakthrough Photography circular polarizer filter. Had I forgotten this filter, I would probably have just turned around and gone home.
 
Overall, it was a great day in Ricketts Glenn SP. I'll likely be sharing more of the images captured on this day at some point.
 
With 24 named waterfalls, including some of the most photogenic falls around, Ricketts Glen State Park is waterfall photography heaven. I spent over 45 minutes capturing a variety of compositions of this falls alone and finally forced myself to move on, leaving some options for another day. If you are interested in photographing with me here, I need to know. This will likely be the destination for an upcoming waterfall photography workshop!
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
Post Date: 5/17/2019 8:20:00 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Tuesday, May 7, 2019
A whitetail deer's ears are extremely perceptive. So good is their hearing that they have the practical equivalent of eyes in the back of their heads. The buck in the foreground, with ears turned back and raised high, is essentially "watching" the buck in the background while looking the other direction.
 
The buck in the background is using his ears for another purpose, to communicate threat. While his ears are also turned back, the big difference is that they are laid low. The threatening laid-back-and-low ear position is not unique among deer and should serve as a warning to wildlife photographers if the warning is being directed toward them. Buck in rut frequently use this communication technique with other deer.
 
Another communication strategy deer and other animals use is the raising of their hair. In a moment, a buck can go from having a sleek, normal-appearing coat to appearing huge and fuzzy with every hair (thousands per square inch) standing straight out (imagine what humans could look like if we possessed that skill).
 
Always be looking for that something extra in your images and when photographing wildlife, communication is one such extra that can take an image to the next level. Another extra illustrated in this image is the incoming buck's raised front leg. This shows action.
 
This scenario pictured here unfolded quickly and capturing the action was the first priority. The image that showed the best juxtaposition of the two bucks was not as well-balanced in the frame as I wished, cutting off some of the trees on the right side. Fortunately, another image in the sequence included more of the right side of the scene and stitching the two images together allowed the full set of trees to be included, creating a natural frame.
 
There is still room to join me this fall for the "Whitetail Buck in Rut and Much More", Shenandoah National Park Instructional Photo Tour. Stay for the entire time and I'll pick you up at/near the Dulles International Airport.
 
Sun, November 10 to Wed, November 13, 2019 and/or Wed, November 13 - Sat, November 16, 2019
 
Contact me to sign up!
 
Photographers at all skill levels are also invited to join me for these tours:
 
"Whitetail Fawns and Much More", Shenandoah National Park
 
Sun, June 9 to Wed, June 12, 2019 and/or Wed, June 12 - Sat, June 15, 2019
 
Fall Landscape in Acadia National Park Instructional Photography Tour
 
Tue, Oct 15 through Sun, Oct 20, 2019
 
"Bull Elk in Rut and Much More", Rocky Mountain National Park
 
1 opening: Sun, September 15 to Sat, September 21, 2019
Filled: Sun, September 22 to Sat, September 28, 2019
Wait List or Sign Up for 2020.
 
Contact me to sign up!
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
 
Camera and Lens Settings
600mm  f/4.0  1/500s
ISO 2200
8910 x 5476px
Post Date: 5/7/2019 10:29:47 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Saturday, May 4, 2019
The tips of elk antler tines are polished for a reason. During the rut, bull elk thrash the ground with their antlers and in addition to the tine tips becoming whiter, this practice often results in grasses and other plants hanging on the antlers. Sometimes the haystack is large enough to impede vision.
 
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:
 
"Whitetail Fawns and Much More", Shenandoah National Park
 
Sun, June 9 to Wed, June 12, 2019 and/or Wed, June 12 - Sat, June 15, 2019
 
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: 5/4/2019 10:21:25 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Friday, May 3, 2019
When photographing a symmetrical subject, either take the time and effort to make it perfectly aligned in the frame ... or don't come close to doing so.
 
An image of a symmetrical subject that is perfectly symmetrically framed (or at least nearly so) usually looks great. An image of a symmetrical subject that appears intentionally non-symmetrically framed can also look great. It is when an image of a symmetrical subject is almost symmetrically framed that it appears you have made a mistake.
 
Some symmetrical subjects are far more forgiving than others. A tile floor is typically symmetrically unforgiving and note that any geometric distortion in a lens increases the in-camera alignment challenge. Another challenge is slight asymmetry in the subject.
 
This image appeared ideally aligned in-camera, but it still needed to be adjusted slightly in post-production to finish off that task. I thought I had the image ready to go when Sean mentioned that the monument was not quite perfectly straight. Measuring structure positions in Photoshop made it appear straight with some subject asymmetry showing at the bottom of the monument. A tile was lifted by a noticeable amount on the right side and the left side had stone showing on the outside of the perimeter drain that was not showing on the right, both creating optical illusions of asymmetry. I decided those fixes were needed and made some other adjustments (sometimes these small projects take on a life of their own). After revisiting the image a couple of times, I decided that Sean was still right and adjusted rotation slightly to move the image closer to perfection.
 
In this image, Abe Curland of B&H is carefully aligning his shot of the Empty Sky Memorial in Liberty State Park, NJ. The lines in tile flooring provide valuable assistance for finding center.
 
In light of the Should I Get the Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III or EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM Lens? article just posted, I'll mention that this image could have been equally captured with the less expensive Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM Lens. The Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM Lens was my choice for this trip because I was shooting from a tripod and wanted larger-sized stars to be created from the city lights during the blue hour and after dark. I was pulling a Think Tank Photo Airport Security rolling case around the city, so gear weight was not an issue.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
Post Date: 5/3/2019 9:00:00 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Tuesday, April 30, 2019
In addition to presenting danger, this large Pennsylvania mother black bear was looking for danger, a move that often includes a pause that gives a photographer time to carefully focus, compose, and shoot.
 
At this distance, the bear was not close to fitting in the 600mm frame. Keeping the bear's head in the frame is the primary compositional goal and shooting vertically with a sideways pose meant that a large portion of the frame was empty. Fortunately, the mamma bear's second-year cub was moving in and added interest to the empty portion of the frame.
 
As I had no control over either subject, this result depended on situational awareness along with a bit of serendipity. Time spent in the right locations increases the chance of serendipity.
 
While the bright gray background may appear studio-like, it was courtesy of a heavy morning fog between the subject and the distant background.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
 
Camera and Lens Settings
600mm  f/4.0  1/1600s
ISO 2800
5504 x 8256px
Post Date: 4/30/2019 7:00:00 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Sunday, April 28, 2019
An easy way to get a unique photo is to find a unique subject. I have seen a lot of different antler abnormalities, but this buck sported a new one.
 
Antlers are very strong, but deer frequently break their tines and even main beams, especially when fighting. However, the broken tine or beam nearly always breaks cleanly, detaching immediately, never to be seen again. Or, often due to injury, antlers grow in abnormal directions. This buck's right antler was broken off under the skin, dangling from the skin keeping it attached.
 
When photographing animals, I like to see separation between the legs and especially like to see one of the front legs stepping forward, showing action. I'll rarely complain about wildlife photography lighting when there is a setting sun behind me with the catchlight in the eye adding life to the animal.
 
What will this buck's next rack look like? I hope to find out this fall. Want to join me to photograph these great animals in Shenandoah National Park?
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
 
Camera and Lens Settings
600mm  f/4.0  1/1600s
ISO 320
8006 x 5338px
Post Date: 4/28/2019 6:30:00 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Saturday, April 27, 2019
Welcome to Island Pond, located by Red River Camps in Deboullie Public Reserved Land of T15-R9 in the North Maine Woods. That this location is a nearly 1-hour drive from the grid and paved roads should help set the scene. Along with natural beauty, what you get here is a dark sky and at this time in August, a beautiful view of the Milky Way and the annual Perseid Meteor Shower.
 
Aside from the effort required to get to this location, this was a very easy image to create.
 
  • Mount the camera and lens on a solid tripod
  • Manually focus the lens on a bright star using fully-magnified live view
  • Adjust the composition as desired with the camera leveled for roll
  • Dial in a manual exposure of f/1.8 (use your widest available), ISO 6400 and 30 seconds (a stretch)
  • Set the camera to its high-speed frame rate
  • Plug in a remote release
  • Capture a test image and verify that it looks good
  • Lock the release button down (press down and slide forward)
  • Return later
The camera continuously captures images, hopefully with perfectly-positioned meteors in them. These frames can also be made into a time-lapse.
 
After setting up the first camera, you have plenty of time, so set up a second camera the same as the first, capturing a different composition.
 
On this night I had three camera setups with four of what I consider the best night sky lenses available. One of the cameras was a Nikon model and the only Nikon-mount star-capable lens I had along (not a Nikon model) showed a serious image quality problem, leaving two cameras in operation.
 
I mentioned that the 30-second exposure was a stretch and that is what happens to the stars at this focal length, exposure duration, and imaging sensor pixel density combination. They get stretched.
 
A blur is created when details in an image move across pixels on the imaging sensor, regardless of the reason why that happens. As we all know, due to the earth's rotation, stars are moving across the frame when the camera is in a fixed position. The longer the exposure, the more they are magnified (longer focal length lens) and the higher pixel density the imaging sensor has, the more that star blur will be visible at the pixel level.
 
Note that when final images are viewed and compared, the imaging sensor's pixel density-caused blur becomes equalized. For example, if you are printing at 8" x 12", the pixel density factor no longer matters in regards to the star trail blur created by two different resolution, equal-sensor-sized cameras.
 
Also, note that not all stars move at the same rate relative to the camera position. For example, the North Star (Polaris) does not move at all. If you are primarily including the northern sky in the frame, you might be able to use longer exposures than if your camera was directed west, east or up. There are star blur rules that can be helpful, but photography skills rule. Analyze your results as soon as they are captured and make adjustments as needed.
 
I mentioned having 4 of my favorite star lenses along with me. They are my favorites, but the perfect star lens, at least from a lens in the realm of affordability for most individuals, does not exist. All lenses have at least some issue keeping them from reaching perfection and corner performance is typically their biggest limiting factor.
 
This image was captured with the Sigma 14mm f/1.8 DG HSM Art Lens. It is a great choice for this purpose.
 
For star photography, ultra-wide angles are helpful for taking in a greater area of the sky and allowing longer exposures before star trails become visible, though ultra-wide angles produce rather small stars. Ultra-wide apertures (that produce sharp enough image quality to be used) create a brighter image in less time or at a lower ISO setting. The Sigma 14mm Art lens has those two features.
 
The worst case: even if the entire night's shoot was a failure, just hanging out under a starry sky would be totally worth the time and effort.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
Post Date: 4/27/2019 8:27:00 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Friday, April 26, 2019
by Sean Setters
 
As I have gotten older, I have come to appreciate the many benefits of being well organized. Why is that? Far too often, I have experienced the consequences resulting from not being very well organized or thorough in my planning. And that's an ideal segue into the following story.
 
Our small family was planning on spending the long Easter holiday weekend with some friends and their two kids in Gerton, NC (about 17 miles southeast of Asheville, NC). As I contemplated what photography equipment to bring, my wife advised me that the Honda CRV we would be taking was going to be very full, so I needed to "think carefully" about how much camera equipment I brought along. Typically speaking, I like to bring the kitchen sink, so to speak, when photography is on the agenda. But in this case, there wouldn't be room in the car for the I-maaaaay-use-that type of gear I typically bring along.
 
Knowing that the gear I packed had to be versatile enough to capture indoor/candid portraiture as well as landscapes/waterfalls didn't make the job any easier, especially since I wanted to also bring some off-camera flash gear to take formal portraits of our hosts' kids (as well as my own, possibly) if given the opportunity. So, here's what I packed into a medium-sized photography backpack the night before we set off:
 
I knew I wouldn't be shooting enough to exhaust the two camera batteries stored in the camera's battery grip, so there was no need to bring the LC-E6 battery charger. I considered bringing an LCD Loupe and a rocket blower, but there wasn't enough room in the bag and I thought I could make do without them.
 
In addition to the backpack, I also stowed the following lighting gear in another part of the automobile:
 
At this point, sharp-eyed observers might have noticed a vital omission from the items I packed if I wanted to use the off-camera lighting gear. However, I didn't notice what I had forgotten until we were all eating dinner the first evening of the trip. For some reason, I was going through the gear I had packed in my head when it hit me. I turned to my wife and said in astonishment, "I forgot to bring my radio trigger and the 5D III doesn't feature a pop-up [master] flash. The off-camera flash gear I brought is completely useless."
 
Of course, "completely useless" was a bit of an exaggeration, as I could still use the flash on-camera and bounce it off a neutral colored surface if shooting indoors. But in essence, forgetting the tiny radio trigger meant that I had packed several of the items in vain, a frustrating revelation to say the least.
 
Thankfully, the first floor of the house where we were staying had a large bank of windows that provided ample soft light in the family/dining room and kitchen areas of the house, as evidenced by the picture atop this post and the one below.
 
Easter 2019 Gerton NC Trip 2

Next door to our weekend home was an old abandoned house. It was the kind of location that made me miss having the ability to use off-camera flash, but we found a few areas to utilize the light that was available.
 
Easter 2019 Gerton NC Trip Abandoned House 1

 
Easter 2019 Gerton NC Trip Abandoned House 2

So while my lack of proper planning certainly left some photo opportunities on the table (or at least impove on what could be captured with available light), it certainly wasn't a devastating mistake (this time).
 
However, the mistake did get me thinking about how I could avoid a similar issue in future photography outings. The simplest solution – a checklist system – seemed to be an adequate solution to the problem. Of course, there are many types of photography, with different subjects requiring different types of gear. With that in mind, I've put together a few sample checklists that you may want to use as starting point when packing for your next photo adventure.
 
Always Bring
 
  • DSLR/Mirrorless Camera(s) with at least (1) lens, memory card(s) and a sufficiently charged battery (or batteries)
  • Color calibration target (i.e., ColorChecker Passport)
Portraiture, Natural Light Checklist
 
  • General purpose or prime lens
  • Circular Polarizer
  • Filter wrenches
  • Reflector
  • LCD loupe
  • Camera strap
Portraiture, Flash Checklist
 
  • General purpose and/or prime lens(es)
  • Flash(es)
  • Extra flash batteries
  • Proprietary flash trigger (for flash units with built-in receivers)
  • Radio Trigger (or Transceiver)
  • Radio Receiver (or Transceiver) for every flash + backup
  • Triggering cables
  • Hot shoe/cold shoe adapters
  • Extra batteries for trigger/receiver
  • Light Meter
  • Flash gels
  • Light stands
  • Super Clamp and Justin Clamp (for attaching the flash to different surfaces)
  • Umbrella swivels
  • Modifiers - soft box, umbrella, beauty dish, grid
  • Sand bags
  • Neutral Density filters (useful if flashes are not capable of high-speed sync)
  • Circular Polarizer
  • Filter wrenches
  • Gaffer tape
Landscape/Cityscape Checklist
 
  • General purpose and wide-angle lenses
  • Tripod with head (ensure the camera has the appropriate plate/means for attaching to the head)
  • Neutral Density filters – variable, 10-stop and/or graduated
  • Circular Polarizer
  • Filter wrenches
  • Rain cover (for both the camera and the camera bag)
  • Intervalometer (if not a built-in feature of the camera)
  • LCD loupe
Architecture/Real Estate Checklist
 
  • Camera with high-end exposure bracketing
  • Ultra-wide, wide angle and/or tilt-shift lens
  • Tripod
  • Possibly off-camera lighting gear (see "Portraiture, Flash")
Sports Checklist
 
  • Camera with advanced AF, light flicker detection, fast continuous burst rate and a large buffer
  • General purpose and telephoto/telephoto zoom lens
  • Monopod and/or camera strap
  • Circular Polarizer
  • Filter wrenches
  • Rain cover (for both the camera and the camera bag)
  • LCD loupe
Make your checklists now so that they're ready when you need them, and keep your lists updated as you find additional items necessary for your particular endeavors. Doing so will help you avoid forgetting a vital piece of gear and the resulting embarrassment/frustration caused by the slip-up.
Post Date: 4/26/2019 9:30:00 AM CT   Posted By: Sean
 Thursday, April 25, 2019
While it is always great to photograph a beautiful sunset, better is to find a way to create sunset images that are different from the hordes of others in my archives. A silhouette often makes a good sunset image differentiator, adding a little something to the image, and in this case, a tiki torch hints at the location the image was captured at.
 
Note that sunsets do not always have to be in focus. To mix things up a bit, I decided that I wanted the tiki torch and its flame to be sharp with the background going out of focus. Thus, a wide aperture was selected. The wide aperture had the secondary purpose of enabling a flame-freezing shutter speed.
 
The composition decisions for this image were made primarily for overall balance in the frame. The tiki torch is dark and heavy, so placing it near the center was helpful for balance. I wanted the torch flame in the frame along with the other flame, the sun, along and the color surrounding it was another subject of primary interest. With the latter seeming stronger than the prior, moving the tiki torch slightly to the right seemed to make sense. Keeping the perimeter of the frame clear of lines often helps keep the viewer's eye in the frame.
 
As the flame was changing rapidly, I captured a burst of images and later selected the flame shapes I liked best.
 
The Canon EOS R and RF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM Lens are a perfect walkaround combination. The camera and lens used to capture this image were on loan, but I eventually added this pair to my personal kit.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
 
Camera and Lens Settings
88mm  f/4.0  1/400s
ISO 100
6720 x 4480px
Post Date: 4/25/2019 7:30:00 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Wednesday, April 24, 2019
For wildlife photography, timing, in a variety of ways, is critical.
 
The time of the year is one timing factor. In Shenandoah National Park, spring brings bright green foliage and these adorable whitetail fawns.
 
Another timing factor is where the animal is at the moment it is photographed. That timing involves determining (guessing) where the animal is going next, determining an ideal photo position in that path, being the right distance away for framing and composition purposes, and being ready when (OK, if) they get there.
 
This time, the timing worked and this image of a fawn against a bed of green was the reward.
 
Often, wildlife looks best when photographed with a camera that is level for both tilt and roll. The tilt part means getting the camera at the animal's level and when the animal is small (and not at a higher elevation than you), that means getting down low. Photographing from a low position is not always the most comfortable, but the effort is usually worth it and the images taken with a downward angle are often deemed not good enough after some level captures are on the card.
 
In this example, the low green foliage permitted a level position, but a compromise is sometimes needed if visual obstructions become an issue.
 
Fawns are constantly moving and a monopod lets me adjust the height very quickly while trying to photograph them.
 
There is still room for you on the "Whitetail Fawns and Much More", Shenandoah National Park Instructional Photography Tour. All skill levels are welcome!
 
Sun, June 9 to Wed, June 12, 2019 and/or Wed, June 12 - Sat, June 15, 2019
 
Email me at Bryan@Carnathan.com to sign up or ask questions!
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
Post Date: 4/24/2019 7:30:00 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Tuesday, April 23, 2019
Unless you are a local, Bowers Beach in Bowers, DE, referred to as sleepy fishing village (population about 335), is probably not on your radar. That this town and beach border the Murderkill River, north of Slaughter Beach, surely does not help spur interest.
 
Exploring with a camera is one of my favorite things to do and late on this day, I ended up on the very peaceful Bowers Beach at low tide. With the Delaware Bay drawn back, the low angle light emphasized the ripples left in the sand. Those ripples consumed my attention for the last hour of direct sunlight.
 
The Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 Di III RXD Lens mounted on a Sony a7R III were perfect for walking around the beach. For each image, I selected an aperture that would keep all details in the frame sharp (commonly f/11) and focused roughly 1/3 into the depth of the image. I varied the focal length, the camera height, and the camera's up/down angle while trying out a variety of ripple locations on the beach.
 
When the right set of ripples are found, there seems to be endless compositions available. That of course creates a selection challenge during post processing. For this set, I simply picked one image I liked and archived the rest of the RAW files.
 
Images of patterns are seldom among my most-liked social shares, but ... I love them. They are great for interior decorating and they work very well as backgrounds for various media.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
 
Camera and Lens Settings
28mm  f/11.0  1/50s
ISO 100
7952 x 5304px
Post Date: 4/23/2019 7:30:00 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Sunday, April 21, 2019
It was an early morning in Crested Butte, Colorado and the sky was dark, heavily overcast and quite uninspiring. Then the clouds rolled away and suddenly there was bright light bringing life to the fall-colored aspens.
 
I was primarily shooting with the Canon EOS R and RF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM Lens this morning. As there was adequate light, shooting this combination handheld permitted rapid and significant location and composition changes as dictated by the rapidly changing light.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
 
Camera and Lens Settings
58mm  f/8.0  1/100s
ISO 100
6720 x 4480px
Post Date: 4/21/2019 6:05:51 PM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Wednesday, April 3, 2019
by Sean Setters
 
My wife, Alexis, rarely asks me to take a photo for her. She is generally satisfied with documenting everyday life with her smartphone, so when she asks me to photograph a particular subject, I usually take notice and fulfill the request as soon as possible. But I admit to dragging my feet a bit when my wife noticed one of her aloe plants blooming and said, "You should take a picture of that."
 
Personally speaking, I didn't find the aloe plant's bloom to be very intriguing, which is probably why I didn't immediately rush to photograph it. It doesn't feature colorful petals or otherwise interesting elements that typically make blooms ideal photographic subjects. To my eye, the aloe bloom's shape reminds me of a tall, thin pine tree, a not-very-compelling subject, especially considering the background context provided by my back yard (again, not very photogenic). However, when my wife sent me a reminder the following morning, "You should take a pic of that aloe bloom!," her use of an exclamation point was a clear sign that she was very serious about the suggestion. So, I dropped what I was doing to satisfy her request.
 
To photograph the bloom, I moved the aloe plant's pot from the back porch to a spot in the yard where sunlight would be hitting the bloom but not the background, allowing me to use the difference in luminosity to make the subject stand out. With the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 USM Macro mounted to my Canon EOS 5D Mark III, I also used a wide f/2.8 aperture and a distant background to further accentuate the subject/background separation. Other than moving the plant (which was actually quite cumbersome and somewhat heavy), the image was relatively simple to capture. I proudly sent her the result of my efforts, having precisely fulfilled her request.
 
Aloe Plant Bloom Sean Setters March 2019

Her reaction, "Where's the rest of the plant?," left me a bit perplexed.
 
First, she hadn't asked for a photo of the plant with the bloom. She had twice asked for a picture of the bloom. Plus, from my perspective, the plant doesn't change very much day-to-day. If she wants to see the plant, she can just open back door and walk the 10 paces to its home on the porch. The bloom was what made the plant different from its typical appearance, that is what she asked me to photograph and that is indeed what I documented.
 
But that's not what she – in this case, the client – wanted. And if I had been more inquisitive from the get-go, I would have had more context and could have discerned exactly what she desired in the image. As it turns out, this particular aloe plant used to be her grandmother's who passed away a couple of years ago. And in all the years her grandmother owned the plant, the family had never known it to bloom. So while the bloom was indeed special, the plant itself garnered feelings of great sentiment, giving the bloom much more important context.
 
After realizing exactly what my wife wanted, I dragged the plant into my studio for a formal portrait session involving three studio lights, two shoe-mount flashes and my favorite mottled gray collapsible background. So why not photograph the plant outside? Because the increased camera-to-subject distance would require an increased subject-to-background distance to achieve a similar background blur, and the background distance, in this case, wasn't variable. I was already using nearly the full width of my backyard when I photographed the isolated bloom; photographing the whole plant would have left the backyard – including my neighbor's house and fence – too recognizable.
 
The resulting studio image can be seen below.
 
Aloe Plant with Bloom Sean Setters March 2019

She was much happier with my second attempt at capturing "the bloom."
 
Of course, the initial failure to capture what my wife really wanted did not have devastating consequences as I was able to rectify the situation with another (more complex) photo shoot the following day. However, the lesson learned from this ordeal is quite clear, and it will surely pay more tangible dividends down the line. Don't take seemingly simple requests at face value; always dig deeper to ascertain the precise needs of your client, potentially avoiding the wasted time, effort, frustration – and dissatisfaction – resulting from not fulfilling those needs the first time around.
Post Date: 4/3/2019 7:30:55 AM CT   Posted By: Sean
 Wednesday, March 20, 2019
The rut is the perfect time to get great bull elk poses. This bull was without a harem but staying close to a larger bull that has one. These satellite bulls are constantly watching for their opportunities to move in.
 
What is the best technique for composing an image of an entire animal? While this answer can quickly become complicated and is situationally dependent, a simple strategy that often works is to center the entire animal in the frame and open up to the side it is looking toward. In this example, the elk is looking almost straight at me, but with its head angled slightly toward the right of the frame, adding weight to that side, I positioned the elk slightly to the left of center to create an overall balance.
 
Picture yourself here! As recently shared, I have added a second week for the Rocky Mountain National Park workshop. Photographers at all skill levels are invited to join!
 
"Bull Elk in Rut and Much More", Rocky Mountain National Park
 
  • 2 openings: Sun, September 15 to Sat, September 21
  • Possibly 1 opening: Sun, September 22 to Sat, September 28
  • Wait List or Sign Up for next year
Contact me to sign up!
 
Photographers at all skill levels are also invited to join me for these tours:
 
"Whitetail Fawns and Much More", Shenandoah National Park
 
Sun, June 9 to Wed, June 12, 2019 and/or Wed, June 12 - Sat, June 15, 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: 3/20/2019 7:56:33 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 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 where it seemed that everything that could go wrong did go wrong. 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
 Sunday, January 20, 2019
The fast frame rate of the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II caught this high-stepping fawn with a couple of leg joints high in the air, making the already adorable animal look even cuter.
 
Joining me in Shenandoah National Park this spring? Learn more here.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
 
Camera and Lens Settings
350mm  f/5.6  1/1000s
ISO 640
5203 x 3469px
Post Date: 1/20/2019 7:30:00 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Sunday, January 13, 2019
With wildlife photography, being at the right place at the right time is a key to success. Of course, being in the right place for a lot of time improves the odds. During this week, I spent time around groves of brilliantly-colored maple trees and on this morning a big bull elk obliged, summiting a distant ridge in the early morning sunlight.
 
The bull was not in a hurry and, as you probably guessed, I captured a lot of images of it (at 9 fps). This image stood out to me primarily because of the elk's position. Its position in the opening gave it high contrast against the still-shaded background. With viewers' eyes drawn to contrast, the elk is able to command attention over the brilliant red maple trees. The position of the bull's legs, all visible and showing movement, works well. The head angle is usually important and the slightly-toward-the-camera angle is usually a good one.
 
Shooting at very long distances in direct sunlight usually results in significant heat wave distortion when using a high magnification focal length. Because the sun was just beginning to reach this area, the heat waves were not yet an issue and that problem was avoided.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
 
Camera and Lens Settings
600mm  f/4.0  1/140s
ISO 140
8379 x 4664px
Post Date: 1/13/2019 7:00:00 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Wednesday, January 9, 2019
by Sean Setters
 
Canon USA often offers excellent rebates on their PIXMA PRO-100 Wireless Professional Inkjet Photo Printers. Not long ago, I took advantage of one of those rebates and received my PIXMA PRO-100 shortly afterward.
 
Aside from the great build quality of the printer itself, I was thoroughly impressed by the box that the printer was shipped in. I realize that reading that previous statement may invoke a quizzical look on many site visitors' faces, but hear me out. Not all cardboard is the same, and the cardboard used in the PIXMA PRO-100's packaging (it's likely the same for the PRO-10 as well) is extremely rigid and durable, a fact that was clearly evident when I attempted (and eventually succeeded) in cutting out the barcode for rebate claim purposes.
 
Why would someone care about the quality of cardboard? Well, if you're like me, you may have a decent amount of 8.5 x 11" photo paper lying around because you took advantage of a couple of great printer paper deals which tend pop up every now and then. However, 8.5 x 11" is rarely a requested print size; more often than not, an 8 x 10" print is desired. It's easy enough to produce an 8 x 10" print on an 8.5 x 11" piece of paper, but cutting is required to make that print fit in most 8 x 10" frames.
 
While scissors are certainly an option for accomplishing the task, if you're like me, you may have trouble cutting in a straight line. Even though a print with slightly not-so-straight edges will rarely be noticed once it's in the frame, handing such a print over to a customer is a bit embarrassing. We strive to produce the highest quality photos possible, so why would we hand over a print that gives the impression of a low quality product without exquisite attention to detail?
 
My solution for obtaining clean, straight cuts on my prints involves an X-ACTO knife (with plenty of spare blades), a stainless steel ruler and cardboard. Before the PIXMA PRO-100 arrived, I had been using whatever cardboard box was in the recycling pile waiting to be picked up (usually an Amazon box). But I often didn't have a large enough box on-hand to make the required cuts, and even if I did, a single project made the box unusable for future projects because the cardboard was too weak to endure multiple uses. A single PIXMA PRO-100 box top panel, on the other hand, has sustained multiple uses (I've created about a dozen prints with it) and shows no signs of imminent failure. And when (or possibly, "if") that panel ever becomes too worn to do its job, I've got another panel waiting to take its place.
 
Everyone who has received a hand-cut print from my Canon PIXMA PRO-100 printer has been extremely happy with the quality of the finished product. Of course, the quality of the photos and the quality of the printer deserve most of the credit for my clients' satisfaction, but the printer's box top also deserves some credit for helping me to produce those high quality 8 x 10" prints.
 
Oh, and by the way – select Canon Printer Paper products (including 8.5 x 11" sheets) are on sale at B&H for a limited time.
Post Date: 1/9/2019 7:11:57 AM CT   Posted By: Sean
 Monday, January 7, 2019
Stories are great. Sometimes a picture tells a story and sometimes a story comes from getting the picture. One afternoon during a fall photo trip to Colorado, we headed to Owl Creek Pass. This area is very scenic, especially with fall colors.
 
The dirt road over the top of this pass can be questionable after a rain (at least without an off-road-capable vehicle) and we had plenty of rain but opted to give it a go with the small Ford Edge AWD SUV we had rented. At a relatively high elevation, we discovered that the road was being worked on and by the time we reached the top, we were bottoming out on loose gravel being dumped (tailgated) onto the road. By maintaining forward momentum, we made it over this rather long obstacle but were then greeted by a thick mud road surface until finally reaching the top of the pass.
 
As we went over the top, the serious question was whether or not we should risk going down the other side. That answer was quickly provided in the form of a 6-wheel-drive grader coming up the other side. It was mostly sideways and consuming the entire width of the relatively narrow road. The large machine had its rear scarifier down and was tearing up the road surface, preparing it for a fresh layer of stone similar to what we had just driven through. The decision to turn back was easy and immediate with a strong sense of that get-out-while-you-can feeling.
 
While on our way back down the mountain (it is easier to plow stone when going down hill), beyond the active road construction area, the sun broke through the clouds and we stopped to take pictures at the next clearing. Very few people were around this rather remote area, but a couple was at this spot taking a selfie. My daughter asked them if they would like us to take their picture, volunteering me to do so. They were quite happy about that and I quickly obliged while very anxious to get my shot before the small hole the clouds passed and the sunlight again was again shut off.
 
Looking at my hat, purchased in Hawaii over 5 years prior, the young guy asked if I had been to Hawaii. Turns out that he was a crew member for the boat company I had sailed with during the Canon Hawaii product announcement event only a few weeks prior. He showed me pictures on his phone of the boat I had been on. What are the odds that?
 
We chatted for a while and I of course captured a large number of images of this spectacular scene while doing so.
 
Direct sunlight shining under heavy clouds is at the top of my favorite lighting scenarios list. When the light is this good, the image results can be striking without much processing. The standard picture style was used to process this image and no additional contrast adjustments were made. The biggest processing challenge was to determine which image to share with you.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
 
Camera and Lens Settings
50mm  f/9.0  1/180s
ISO 100
6516 x 4344px
Post Date: 1/7/2019 7:43:00 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Sunday, January 6, 2019
I love Pronghorn most because of their colors. But, they have many other great qualities. The dark, semi-heart shaped horns are one and that mohawk hair style is great.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
 
Camera and Lens Settings
600mm  f/4.0  1/2000s
ISO 2000
3948 x 2632px
Post Date: 1/6/2019 7:00:00 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Saturday, January 5, 2019
When going afield, I often have some image goals in mind. Being opportunistic, taking advantage of every opportunity afforded, is always the primary plan with wildlife photography, but looking for opportunities to capture the goal shots is also part of the plan.
 
When viewed straight on from the front, most animals appear symmetrical and that is a look that can often work well in an image. One of my goal shots for this trip was a head-on image of a bugling bull elk (cow elk do not bugle) with its head and antlers characteristically laid back. Put that elk in a meadow with a strongly blurred background and I'd be even happier.
 
This shot nailed the head position I was looking for and most of the other aspects were in line with the goal. The elk's body position is nearly ideal, but the bull seemed to have its neck shifted slightly, breaking perfect alignment. Few sets of antlers are perfectly symmetrical and this set has some side-to-side variation.
 
I'll be attempting to one-up this image in the fall.
 
Coming with me?
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
Post Date: 1/5/2019 7:30:00 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Friday, January 4, 2019
These days, digital cameras support various types of memory cards such as CompactFlash, CFAST, XQD, Sony MemoryStick and – the focus of today's article – the ultra-popular Secure Digital (SD/SDHC/SDXC).
 
If you have ever been shopping for SD memory cards, you likely noticed a lot of different numbers of symbols on the cards' labels. Although seemingly cryptic, those numbers and symbols reveal important information about a card's performance, and whether or not that memory card is right for your intended use. So let's take a closer look at a typical SD card's label to see what information is available.
 
Secure Digital Memory Card Label (SanDisk)

Format
 
In 1999, SanDisk, Panasonic and Toshiba jointly introduced the Secure Digital memory card format (later referred to as Secure Digital Standard Capacity, or SDSC) in an attempt to improve upon the existing MultiMediaCard (MMC). The following year, those same companies formed the SD Card Association to develop SD standards and promote the new memory card format. In 2006, the SD Card Association outlined the SDHC (Secure Digital High Capacity) format in the second version of its SD specifications with support for memory cards up to 32 GB and speeds up to 25 MB/s. Later, the development of Ultra High Speed bus systems would increase the speeds available for SDHC memory cards. Three years later, the SDXC (Secure Digital eXtended Capacity) format was introduced supporting capacities of 2 TB and speeds of 104 MB/s with the addition of the UHS-I (Ultra High Speed) bus standard. When UHS-II was introduced in 2011, speeds up to 312 MB/s became possible. In 2018, The SD Card Association developed the SDUC (Secure Digital Ultra Capacity) format with support for 128 TB and speeds up to 985 MB/s.
 
Card TypeSupported
Capacity
Supported
Bus Speed
File System
SDSCup to 2 GB12.5 MB/sFAT12/FAT16
SDHCup to 32 GB25 MB/sFAT32
SDXCup to 2 TB312 MB/sexFAT
SDUCup to 128 TB985 MB/sexFAT

Max Read Speed
 
The max read speed indicates how fast the data from the memory card can be read under ideal circumstances. On some cards, an x-rating value is displayed. The x-rating is based on the original data transfer speed of CD-ROMs (150 KB/s). Because there may be a significant discrepancy between read speeds and write speeds, max read speeds (and x-ratings) are not truly indicative of the kind of performance you can expect from a memory card when used in your camera (where write speeds are significantly more important). Note that some manufacturers list separate max Read/Write data specs to clarify their card's performance, and the SD Association's introduction of Speed Classes (and Video Speed Classes) also help to clarify SD memory cards' performance (more on that later).
 
x Speed RatingApprox. Max
Read Speed
300x45 MB/s
400x60 MB/s
633x95 MB/s
1000x150 MB/s
2000x300 MB/s

UHS Class Speed
 
UHS-I and UHS-II cards (more on these later) may list a UHS class rating to designate the minimum write performance for the card, with U1 indicating 10 MB/s and U3 indicating 30 MB/s or more.
 
Capacity
 
Listed big and bold, and probably what most consumers pay the most attention to, is the memory card's capacity. Of course, a larger capacity means more images/videos can be saved before running out of room.
 
Video Speed Class
 
In order to cater to the needs of videographers, the SD Association created a Video Class Speed to designate the minimum sequential writing speed of the card. The number following the "V" indicates the minimum number of MB/s the card is capable of sequentially writing. In the example above, the card is minimally capable of writing 30 MBs of data to the card every second.
 
Bus Interface
 
An SD memory card's UHS (Ultra High Speed) rating indicates the maximum amount of data that can physically move into and out of the card. Along with the SDXC standard released in the SD Association's v.3.01 specification standards (2009), the UHS-I standard was also introduced. UHS-II and UHS-III soon followed allowing for even greater bus speeds, but these technologies required a second row of pins to be added to memory cards. The latest UHS bus iteration is dubbed "UHS Express" and has a theoretical limit of 985 MB/s.
 
Bus InterfaceBus Speed
UHS-I12.5 MB/s (SDR12)
25 MB/s (SDR25)
50 MB/s (SDR50, DDR50)
104 MB/s (SDR104)
UHS-II156 MB/s (FD156)
312 MB/s (HD312)
UHS-III312 MB/s (FD312)
624 MB/s (FD624)
UHS-Express985 MB/s (FD985)

Speed Class
 
Speed Classes 2, 4 and 6 support write speeds to a fragmented card of 2, 4 and 6 MB/s respectively. Class 10 cards, on the other hand, support a minimum of 10 MB/s sequential writing to a non fragmented card in addition to utilizing a high speed bus mode. As you can see, there's a lot of room for a Class 10 memory card to exceed the minimum spec, which is probably why the other class ratings (such as UHS/Video) were implemented.
 
Speed ClassMin. Seq.
Write Speed
Suggested Use
Class 22 MB/sSD Video
Class 44 MB/sup to 1080p/30p
Class 66 MB/sup to 1080p/30p
Class 10, U1/V1010 MB/sup to 1080p/120p
Class 10, U3/V3030 MB/sup to 4K/120p
Class 10, U3/V6060 MB/sup to 8K/120p
Class 10, U3/V9090 MB/sup to 8K/120p

Which memory card should I get for my camera?
 
In short, the memory card that has a sufficient capacity, the performance necessary to meet your most data-hungry needs and falls within your budget range. Keep in mind that SD memory cards are backward compatible; even if a memory card maxes out the capabilities of your camera to record data to it, you may find the extra performance useful when a) transferring images or video to other devices via a card reader or b) when your next camera offers features such as higher resolution images and/or video.
 
Secure Digital Memory Card Suggested RetailersB&H | Adorama
Post Date: 1/4/2019 8:28:57 AM CT   Posted By: Sean
 Monday, December 31, 2018
Is your new year starting with fireworks? Photograph them!
 
If you've photographed fireworks long/frequently enough to be bored with the results, it is time to get creative.
 
Visiting the local annual fireworks show is a tradition for our family. With years of the normal motion-blurred fireworks images already on the drives, creating unique imagery has become more challenging. To create uniqueness this year, I used the fireworks focus blur strategy for practically the entire show. At least for me, this strategy results in a very low keeper rate. But, having a few of these images that worked out well was worth more to me than having 75 or 100 that looked the same as those captured in previous years.
 
Let's go over the gear selection for this shot/shoot. A fast frame rate was of no importance and high resolution, sharp imagery was. Thus, the Canon EOS 5Ds R was the perfect choice. The approximate focal length range needed was known and any the 24-something normal zoom lenses would comfortably cover it. I opted for the Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS II USM Lens over the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM Lens because a wide aperture was of no importance and ... I had fewer sample images from the newer 24-105mm lens.
 
A solid tripod was needed, but with over 1 mile of round trip walking required for this shooting location, it could not be heavy. The Really Right Stuff TVC-34 Carbon Fiber Tripod was a perfect choice. A capability-matching tripod head was of course needed. The shooting was going to be 100% in the dark and I wanted all images to be completely level despite the usually-requiring re-framing when the first rockets launch. The UniqBall UBH 45X Ball Head, with its unique capabilities, was the perfect choice. Once the head was leveled, pan and tilt could be adjusted without levelness being changed.
 
Fireworks are usually launched in the dark and many of us immediately think that large apertures and high ISO settings will therefore be needed. But, that is not the case. Fireworks are so bright that the opposite problem is often encountered. In order to avoid the softening effects of diffraction at the tiny aperture opening required for an ideal fireworks burst exposure, a 2-stop neutral density filter was used. As the f/10 aperture used for this image is still slightly narrower than the aperture where diffraction becomes slightly noticeable, a 3-stop ND would have been a slightly better choice.
 
Getting the entire fireworks burst in a single image requires a long exposure. The tripod ensures that the camera is stationary during that exposure (avoiding wavy fireworks trails), but the shutter must be opened without causing camera motion. Because timing of the start and finish of the exposure is critical for fireworks photography, a remote release is a requirement.
 
Fireworks are in fast motion. Thus, their brightness in the image is determined by aperture and ISO. The shutter speed controls how long the rocket and resulting explosion is captured. Since the ideal time duration varies, Bulb mode is the ideal choice. With Bulb mode selected, the release button is pressed, held and released to time with the launches.
 
Fireworks bursts vary greatly in size. In general, it is better to frame slightly too wide than than slightly too tight. It is easier to crop than it is to build missing light trails. My choice is often to let the largest burst go out of the frame, but keep 90 percent of the explosions entirely framed in black.
 
A fireworks image seemed fitting to lead a Happy New Year well-wishing post and that wish is what I most want to pass along here. Thanks for a great 2018 and Happy New Year 2019!
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
Post Date: 12/31/2018 9:38:43 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Saturday, December 29, 2018
The titles "How to Turn Water into Gold" and "On Golden Pond" seemed also appropriate for this image. Regardless, gold was the theme here.
 
During my stay at Red River Camps in northern Maine this past summer, a pair of loons were raising their chicks on Island Pond. Especially unusual was that the chicks were very small for the mid-August timeframe. The loon's first nest had been attacked by a predator and the adult pair started over. With winter arriving early here, there was concern that the chicks would not be able to fly in time for migration and biologists were monitoring their progress. But, having small chicks available was a bonus from a photography perspective.
 
Hanging with these loons required a watercraft and a small canoe was my best option. A light wind made keeping the canoe properly positioned a big challenge and probably more time was spent paddling than photographing. The sun was setting and maintaining a position between the sun and the loons was the goal.
 
The adults were constantly diving for food and moving around the lake while doing so, but fortunately, they were in the area of the lake receiving the latest direct light when the sun went behind the trees. The color difference between shade light and a late day sun light is dramatic with shade light typically being very cool and direct setting sun light being very warm. As the sun went down, the water became shaded before the shoreline and shaded water usually shows reflections very well.
 
The photograph shared here was only lightly processed. The primary edit was selecting a custom white balance point using a patch of the adult loon's solid white feathers as the basis. Those feathers were in the shade and the result was a color temperature setting of 10500 K being established. At this setting, the reflected sunlit background becomes very golden and a slight saturation increase (+18 on a -100 to 100 scale in Lightroom) finishes off the liquid gold.
 
Be looking for opportunities to use the light color mismatch of sun and shade to your creative advantage when out photographing. The subject in the shade, background in the sun option as shared here often works well, but the opposite can also work, creating a blue-toned background with a properly white-balanced subject.
 
For those with Nikon-based kits, the Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6E AF-S VR Lens is a great option for handheld wildlife photography. The D850 is my current Nikon camera of choice for this purpose.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
 
Camera and Lens Settings
330mm  f/5.6  1/640s
ISO 1000
7384 x 4923px
Post Date: 12/29/2018 9:56:17 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Wednesday, December 26, 2018
A fresh snowfall leaving a blanket of white was calling me outdoors this morning. The snow has just subsided and the wind was arriving, promising to clear the snow from the tree branches, so time was of the essence. With the M50 and EF-M 18-150 mounted, I had an ideal combination in my hands.
 
The snow was beautiful and covering everything, but a good composition was not obvious. Finding order within chaos is frequently what landscape photography is about and that was the challenge I faced. Finding the order within chaos often means isolating a portion of the scene. The huge focal length range made available by the EF-M 18-150 was ideal for this task.
 
Exploring the scene through the viewfinder, this section of a pair of hickory trees caught my attention. The contrast between the trunks and branches and the snow and background fog was strong. As much as possible, I avoided having the larger branches leave the frame, hoping to use the large trunks as leading lines, but without branch lines leading viewers' eyes out of the picture. The distant trees visible at the bottom of the frame provide a small hint to what lies beyond otherwise hindered by fog visibility. The overall balance in the frame is always important and this composition seemed to check that box.
 
Good composition is often easiest to determine while reviewing images and this one was my favorite from this short session.
 
Check out our Winter Photography Tips page for more ideas on how to spend you winter.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
 
Camera and Lens Settings
57mm  f/8.0  1/80s
ISO 100
6000 x 4000px
Post Date: 12/26/2018 7:00:00 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Tuesday, December 25, 2018
Putting up the Christmas tree is a highly-anticipated annual event at our house. We visit a local tree farm, driving up into the hills to select the perfect tree. The off-road 4x4 driving with the family might be my favorite part of the entire process. That, and causing the girls to complain about the trees I suggest. They think we need the tallest tree available, although I'm not fond of driving home with an enormous tree across the back of the SUV (on a Hitch Haul), usually with the trunk barely clearing the guard rail while the top is hovering above the road's center line on the other side.
 
I "get" to put the finally-agreed-upon tree in the stand (twice this year – it ran out of water and needed to have the stump cut off again to eliminate the sap seal) and try to keep it upright for the season (we understand firsthand that a fully decorated tree falling over is traumatic, at least to young kids). Oh, and I also "get" to string the lights, regardless of the height. Photographing the Christmas tree is the last job and one of my favorites. Who can resist capturing all of those sparkling lights?
 
While I photograph the result of a lot of work every year, I don't remember if I've ever used the same lens more than once for this task. There always seems to be a new one on hand that would work great for the task. This year, the Canon RF 28-70mm f/2L USM Lens on a Canon EOS R seemed like a perfect option.
 
Deciding on a composition is always an early decision for this task and this year I opted for a straight-on view from a level camera position. I wanted the windows to remain vertically straight and any camera tilt would create converging or angled lines. I determined that the timing for this photo should be during the blue hour so that a touch of color would show through the windows. With windows in the frame, reflections had to be controlled and in this case that meant that I needed a dark house. So, an afternoon when the girls were going Christmas shopping seemed ideal. That way, the have the house would be empty with no one's interests being hindered (i.e. a relaxed shoot). The exposure would not have to be timed for when no one was walking on the floor, creating vibrations for both the camera and the hanging ornaments. And, no one would care that the lights were off.
 
After sitting at my desk all day, I needed to get some exercise, ideally in the form of a trail run, before it was dark. A late start on that task meant that an increased pace was necessary. Despite a blown out sock along the way (requiring a stop and reversal to prevent a hot spot from becoming a blister), I still managed to complete my tough 3k course in near record (for me) pace. Phew. there was just enough time to cleanse the scene and set up the camera prior to the ideal shooting time.
 
Experience taught that when the outdoor ambient light was ideally balanced with the indoor light, an ISO 100 exposure of 30 seconds at f/16 would be ideal. Why f/16? Do you see the stars on the candles sitting on the windows? Every light on the tree also has a similar-but-smaller star. You need a narrow aperture to make those happen. Also note that a wide max aperture lens often creates the biggest stars and the RF 28-70's stars are awesome.
 
While f/22 will create even larger stars, the strong softness caused by diffraction at this setting is hard to accept. While some diffraction effects are visible at f/16, this seems to be an optimal choice for balance between star size and sharpness. Using a +1 sharpness setting is a good compromise for using f/16 over the sharper f/11 setting. Nice is that the deep f/16 depth of field makes it easy to keep everything in the image sharp.
 
Scene prep involved moving a couple of items (couch, ottoman, ...) out of the way and smoothing the carpet. As I began setting up the camera, my oldest daughter called (from the shopping excursion) to ask questions about a Christmas gift she was putting together for her husband. I of course wanted to help her, but ... the light was fading (so much for the relaxed shoot). Her questions were answered just in time to finalize the setup and begin shooting. It is difficult to visualize when the perfect blue hour light balance is achieved, so I usually opt to shoot through the period of time that contains the ideal balance. Then, during post processing, there is again a struggle to decide which time was best because subsequent images appear quite similar.
 
When there was no more blue left in the windows, I knew that additional images were not going to look any different than those already captured (without choosing a new perspective) and I went to find warmer clothes (there had been no time to change out of my running clothes prior to the shoot).
 
Amazingly, the girls opted for a tree that I selected this year! They did a great job decorating the tree (as always) and they like the results of my final job, the formal tree picture. That is ... my final job until I get to clean up the results of the Christmas morning package destruction (and later take the tree out).
 
That is probably more than you wanted to know about this Christmas tree, but ... from my family to yours, we wish you a very warm Merry Christmas! And, I wish you many memory cards full of memories from the day!
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
 
Note that you are going to be hearing more about this tripod. I'm impressed.
 
Camera and Lens Settings
28mm  f/16.0  30s
ISO 100
4480 x 6720px
Post Date: 12/25/2018 8:00:00 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Friday, December 21, 2018
In response to a tilt-shift lens question, Canon USA Technical Advisor Rudy Winston provided a detailed response that we though was worth sharing with you.
 
Canon TS-E Tilt-Shift Lens General Shooting Procedure
 
While there's no one "official" way to work with the TS-E lenses (I'm sure you'll find some diversity of opinion on what different users feel is best), the following is what works best in my experience. Keep in mind there's no "one-touch" way to set the lens up unless you've recorded previous settings and are shooting the same subject subsequently, at the same camera position, subject distance, and so on. Otherwise, there's a bit of trial-and-error, especially if you're trying to adjust the zone of sharpness (notice I avoided saying "depth of field," as that technically doesn't change; you're altering the plane of sharpest focus via the tilt operation).
 
THE BASIC OPERATIONS
 
It is important to be sure in one's mind what the two different possible adjustments – Shift and Tilt – do, and why you might want to apply one or the other. There are certainly many instances where just one will provide the look you want in finished images, so don't assume every shot will need a combination of both (of course, experimentation can be great fun).
 
A couple of other points:
 
I *always* recommend starting with both tilt and shift zero'ed out, before you begin to work with adjustments.
 
Metering with DSLRs: You MUST perform any in-camera metering with a TS-E lens at the zero Shift and Tilt positions. On any of the cameras with an optical viewfinder, you will get exposure errors or deviations if you meter daylight or E-TTL flash with a TS-E lens that's not at its zero adjust positions. Note that this is far less of a problem with the mirrorless cameras, since they're metering directly off the image sensor, and the light doesn't have to get reflected upward by a DSLR mirror, and then get scattered by a focus screen before it's read by a metering sensor in the prism area, near the viewfinder eyepiece. Bottom line, do any metering (manual mode, of course, is ideal for this, since nothing will change if you begin to adjust the TS-E lens), before you start tilting and/or shifting, and you should be in a good place to begin taking actual shots... don't freak out if you do need to tweak exposures, after a couple of quick test shots, to nail it down the way you want. Parenthetically, if you're using a separate hand-held meter (not the one built-in to the camera body), you can normally set the camera to whatever the meter suggests, whether you've engaged tilt and/or shift or not, as typically a hand-held meter will be pretty close to optimum exposure for ambient light.
 
Shift function
 
Shifting the lens up, down, left or right is primary for perspective control – the obvious example is keeping vertical lines on a building or product (like a cereal box) straight, and avoiding the "pyramid" effect of converging vertical lines. It can sometimes also be useful for literally shifting the subject in the frame, removing the image of photographer & camera if shooting into a wall with small mirrors (this won't work for an entire mirrored wall, of course!), and so on.
 
Canon TS-E 24mm f/3.5L II Lens Shift Example Cabin

Tilt function
 
Tilting the lens, so that the front section is no longer perfectly parallel with the image sensor/film plane, changes the plane of what is in sharp focus. Shooting with a lens from an angle (rather than straight into a subject, like a wide-angle shot of a car taken from around the front fender/wheel well), it's possible to focus on the near part of the subject, then tilt the lens so that the front section is closer to being parallel to the whole length of our hypothetical car (or any other subject), and you can get sharpness to run from the near area focused upon, down the length of the subject. To be clear, tilting has **nothing** to do with the architectural photography need to keep vertical lines straight; that's SHIFTING alone. Of course, you CAN combine tilt and shift in the same image... just be clear up-front about the role of each, or you'll spend a long time trying to dial-in an optimum setting.
 
Canon TS-E 50mm f/2.8L Macro Paddy Field Tilted at f 2.8

Shooting Aperture
 
Anything you want. If you apply tilt correctly, you won't require tiny f-stops like f/22 just to hope to get an entire subject sharp. In some cases, even a wide-open aperture can get the job done, which might never be possible with a conventional lens.
 
Tripod Use
 
Tripod use is definitely preferred where possible, since it keeps everything anchored and lets you concentrate on composing and working the lens's controls... though it *is* possible to do this hand-held. However, it's nowhere near as smooth an experience, and you can expect your arms to get tired after a while at the controls.
 
Release Knobs for Shift & Tilt
 
180 degrees from the actual adjustment knobs for each movement are locking knobs, slightly smaller in diameter. Be sure to UNLOCK each before trying to adjust shift or tilt, and then snug it back down once you've arrived at a desired setting to keep it from any inadvertent movement. This is especially important for SHIFT, since if you apply it vertically, the weight of the front section of the lens can sometimes allow it to drop downward slowly, if it's left unlocked after you've adjusted it.
 
Home Position and Rotating the Lens as Needed
 
By default, whether you've decided to apply shift/tilt or have everything zero'ed out, there's still a basic position from which you can apply your tilts and shifts. Mount the lens on the camera when it's all correctly oriented to the default settings, and you'll see the name plate at the TOP of the lens, when it's mounted and secured to the camera. AT THIS POSITION, any tilt movements (with most of the TS-E lenses, anyway) will be tilting the lens *left or right;* the larger Tilt knob will be facing upward and any shifting at the same default setting will move the lens up and down. This means the direction of each is at 90 degrees from the other movement, which is NORMAL operation for Canon TS-E lenses.
 
You're not locked-in to this. The lens can rotate, without loosening it from the camera. The 2nd generation lenses (see below) have TWO rotation points. However, the one closest to the camera body is definitely the primary one. It'll allow you to rotate the lens up to 90 degrees left or right. Example: in the standard position, the Shift is up and down. Say you wanted to shift side-to-side, for whatever reason. Ninety degrees to the right (think the 3 o'clock position, with the camera aimed at a subject, and in horizontal orientation) is a small, projecting tab, just inside the camera grip when the lens is correctly mounted. Press this release tab toward the camera body, and virtually the entire lens can be rotated in 30-degree increments, to the left or right. Move it 90 degrees, and your Shift now moves side-to-side (the Tilt moved as well, now tilting upward or downward).
 
In most real-life situations, you can rotate via this rear-most tab and move the desired adjustment to where you want it; much of the time, realistically, you won't be applying shift and tilt simultaneously. So just rotate the lens so your Shift *or* Tilt is where you need it.
 
Rotating Using the Forward-mounted Control
 
About 1/2 inch or so in front of the little, 3 o'clock projecting metal tab is another, very similar tab. THIS ONE allows you to rotate JUST the front section of the lens, while the rear section stays put. The primary purpose here is if you needed to apply both shift and tilt, and needed to change the normally standard orientation where tilt and shift are at 90 degrees from each other. However, DON'T use this rotation point to simply rotate the front section, if all you want is to change the tilt orientation... if you only want to change the direction of tilt, use the rear tab and rotation point to arrange the tilt where you want. There's a technical reason for not reaching for this forward rotation point if you can avoid it.
 
As I said, first-generation Canon TS-E lenses didn't have this forward mounted rotation capability... there is only one way to temporarily unlock and rotate the older TS-E lenses. Here are the lenses... check the lens naming at the front of the lens to determine which one you have.
 
First-gen TS-E lenses:
 
2nd-gen (current) TS-E lenses:
 
Shooting with the Canon TS-E Lenses
 
Example 1: Correcting converging vertical lines with SHIFT. I'll assume the camera is tripod-mounted, although again, you can do this hand-held if you can endure the hassle.
 
a. Keep the Camera Level – This is the most important part of being able to correct for converging lines, regardless of the lens you're using. Any upward angling of the entire camera, to "get the whole subject in," is going to make it impossible to correct for convergence... this is why buildings shot with conventional wide-angle lenses look like they're falling backward. It's perfectly normal not to get the entire subject in the frame at this stage.
 
Here's a wide-angle example of a typical building, with the camera aimed upward. The vertical lines converge inward, making the subject look a bit like a pyramid, or like it's falling over backward.
 
Canon TS-E 24mm f/3.5L II Lens Home Example Pointed Up

b. Aim the camera straight ahead, not tilted up. Obviously, you now can't see the entire subject, but that's the role of the Shift function. What you WILL notice is that now, with the camera level, the vertical sides of the subject are indeed parallel, and not tilting inward. This is your starting point!
 
Canon TS-E 24mm f/3.5L II Lens Home Example Straight Ahead Level

c. Now, start shifting the lens upward, to include more of the subject.
 
Canon TS-E 24mm f/3.5L II Lens Home Example Shift Up 1

Canon TS-E 24mm f/3.5L II Lens Home Example Shift Up 2

Canon TS-E 24mm f/3.5L II Lens Home Example Shift Up 3

Canon TS-E 24mm f/3.5L II Lens Home Example Shift Up 4

d. When the entire building (or cereal box, or whatever) is positioned where you want, lock the shift in-place, and begin shooting! You're done! Of course, if you move the camera, or go to a new subject, you'll likely need to use the Shift again to compose and align things as you want.
 
Example 2: Tilting to keep a subject sharp, as it recedes into the distance. Normally, this would require stopping-down to your minimum aperture, and hoping you have enough depth-of-field to cover you, front to back. TS-E lenses offer another alternative, and sometimes, you can even pull this off at the lens's widest aperture. Regardless, though, you'll find a lot less need to shoot at f/16, f/22 and so on!
 
a. Compose the scene as you desire, horizontal or vertical. We'll use a horizontal example here. b. **Focus on the NEAREST part of the subject or scene you want in sharp focus.** Of course, the background will be out of focus.
 
In this example, we've got a receding fence, drifting out of focus. Sharpest focus deliberately placed at nearest point we want in-focus; in this case, the first-generation TS-E 90mm f/2.8 lens was used wide-open, at f/2.8 throughout. No Tilt/Shift movements applied, yet.
 
Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8 Lens Fence Example No Tilt Nearest Focus

c. Now, start to tilt the lens so that the front section starts to move in a direction closer to parallel to the subject you want to keep sharp. In this case, that meant the tilt section was moved so that (viewed from above) the front of the lens now tilts to the left.
 
IMPORTANT: As you start to tilt the lens, you'll see two things. The farthest part of the subject (fence in this case) will become progressively sharper. However, the front portion you just focused upon in step a will begin to drift a bit out of focus. Here's the key element to using tilt – you want to tilt until the degree of DE-FOCUS you see, front to back, is essentially constant. In other words, as you tilt, nothing in the fence or whatever the subject is will appear tack-sharp. What you want is to get the tilting so that the entire subject, front-to-back, appears about the same degree out of focus (it won't be radically out, but obviously just not tack-sharp, even at the point you focused on a moment before). This is absolutely normal.
 
d. Once you get the tilt so the entire subject looks pretty much the same, in terms of the degree of out-of-focus you see, you've got the tilt close to right-on. NOW, RE-FOCUS THE LENS TO GET THAT FRONT POINT SHARP AGAIN. If the amount of tilt was correct, the entire subject will now appear sharp. Again, if you examine the picture immediately below, keep in mind this was taken at f/2.8 with a 90mm telephoto lens.
 
Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8 Lens  Fence Example After Tilt and Refocusing

A mistake many users make at first is tilting TOO MUCH, especially with relatively distant subjects. Do it in little increments, slowly, until you begin to get comfortable with the process. And, in general, the closer a subject is to the camera, the more you'll typically need to tilt the lens. This is something many users have to play with for a while, to get the hang of watching that entire scene/subject drift out of focus as they tilt, and stopping when the amount of de-focus is about the same, front to back. It's at that point, if done properly, that you've got the right amount of tilt dialed-in.
 
Thanks go out to Rudy Winston for providing this information. Images used in this article were provided by Mr Winston.
 
Read our Tilt-Shift lens reviews to find the right model for your needs:
 
Post Date: 12/21/2018 8:10:52 AM CT   Posted By: Sean
 Thursday, December 20, 2018
Eurasian magpies are common in many locations, but not where I live. Thus, they are more interesting to me than others. Especially interesting is that they are extremely intelligent (relative to animals in general). That these birds' loud calls can become annoying surely leads to local disinterest, but with their great colors and shape, it is hard to argue that magpies do not look amazing.
 
Magpies are not a subject I have set out to specifically target with a camera, but I will take advantage of incidental encounters. When one landed in a tree in front of me as I was chasing elk in Rocky Mountain National Park, I went into opportunistic mode. I had the right lens in hand and all I had to do was adjust the monopod height, direct the camera at the bird, focus on the eye and press the shutter release.
 
I of course pressed the shutter release many times in the short period of time the bird cooperated with me. Why did I select this particular image to share? Here are some reasons:
 
First, I like the head angle, turned slightly toward me with some sky reflecting in the eye to add life to the subject.
 
I also like the body angle. While the bird may be turned very slightly away and that is not usually my favorite angle, in this case, that angle allowed the iridescent feathers on the wing to show their colors prominently. The tail was angled downward enough to fit in the frame (that can be an issue when photographing magpies) and with a slight toward-the-camera angle, the iridescent tail feathers also showed their colors.
 
Aspects I like that were common to this set of images, in addition to the beauty of the magpie, include:
 
I was able to get to eye level with the bird (by quickly adjusting the monopod).
 
The background was very distant and became completely blurred with a close subject photographed at 600mm f/4. With all details in the background eliminated, the bird stands out prominently.
 
I also like that the lighting was very soft with a touch of rim lighting happening. Looking closely at the catchlight in the eye tells me this day was partly cloudy and that clouds were blocking the sun during this exposure.
 
Unless flying, birds are on something – a branch, sand, rock, water, etc. In this case, that something was a dead tree limb. That this particular limb did not distract from the bird and even had a little character was a positive aspect.
 
While Rocky Mountain National Park is an awesome location for elk photography, it offers much more. Including magpies.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
Post Date: 12/20/2018 11:33:50 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
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