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 Wednesday, September 19, 2018
by Sean Setters
 
My wife has two night-blooming cereus plants which were cut from her mother's decades old plant. In fact, the origin of this night-blooming cereus goes back four generations with mothers passing down cuttings to their daughters. If you're unfamiliar with this type of plant, an apt description can be found on Wikipedia:
Night-blooming cereus is the common name referring to a large number of flowering ceroid cacti that bloom at night. The flowers are short lived, and some of these species, such as Selenicereus grandiflorus, bloom only once a year, for a single night. Other names for one or more cacti with this habit are princess of the night, Honolulu queen (for Hylocereus undatus), Christ in the manger, dama de noche and queen of the night (which is also used for an unrelated plant species).
The night-blooming cereuses we have typically bloom once or twice a year, with the flowers appearing well after the sun goes down and wilting sometime around sunrise. Once you see the white petals just poking out of the ends of the nearly enclosed buds, you know the flowers will be blooming later that night.
 
Having noticed the imminent blooms, I photographed one of the buds earlier in the day. The leaf the bud was attached to was sticking out well beyond the railing of our back porch, giving me plenty of working room and few obstacles to shoot around if shooting from the side. To photograph the bud, I set up a tripod-mounted Canon EOS 5D Mark III and EF 100mm f/2.8 USM Macro and pointed the camera alongside the railing to get a nice side view. However, the background (a line of trees bordering our backyard) proved too distracting because a) the relatively narrow aperture I wanted to use did not diffuse it sufficiently for good separation and b) the colors of the background were too similar to the bud to create color separation.
 
To remedy the situation, I clamped a black foam core board behind the bud to eliminate the background. Here's what the setup looked like:
 
Night-Blooming Cereus Bud Setup September 2018

At this time of the day (approx. 12:30pm Eastern Time), sunlight was filtering through the trees, giving it a soft quality, but the bud was still relatively well lit. Therefore, I used the sunlight as my main light and simply held a white foam core board angled slightly below the bud to fill in the shadows caused by the high sun. Of course, the sunlight was also illuminating the background, making my very dark grey foam core board less dark, but... I liked the effect. Here's what the bud shot looked like after processing:
 
Night-Blooming Cereus Bud September 2018

EXIF: f/10, 1/160 sec, ISO 200
 
Later that evening, the real show began. Around 10:00pm ET, we noticed that the flowers were starting to open up. I quickly grabbed the same tripod-mounted camera and lens and got to work. This time, I used a shoe-mount flash diffused by a 24" collapsible softbox with grid positioned behind the flowing plant (rather high) to create a diffused backlit glow and rim light. I used the same white foam core board that I had used for the bud shot positioned below the flower for fill. EXIF for the end result seen atop this post: f/8, 160 sec, ISO 400.
 
My mother-in-law questioned why I didn't shoot the flower from the front to show off its interesting structure, and many of you may be wondering the same thing. Truth is, I captured many shots of the blooming flower from the front but didn't like them nearly as much. Here were the challenges that made photographing the flowers from the front less ideal:
 
  1. The position of the bloom (sticking through the railing) limited where I could place off-camera flashes and modifiers (no rim/back lighting possible), leading to a rather dull image.
  2. Night-blooming cereus flowers are very deep. Front lighting the flower from anywhere except the camera's axis results in dark shadows in the deepest part of the blooms.
  3. Getting the entire flower in focus from the front of the petals to the back (within the depth-of-field) is very challenging. As I was photographing the flower while still attached to the plant, small movements made focus stacking an impractical solution.
Sometimes you just have to accept the limitations of a given situation and figure out a solution that works best.
Post Date: 9/19/2018 10:11:44 AM CT   Posted By: Sean
 Wednesday, September 12, 2018
by Sean Setters
 
My wife and I would like to introduce the newest member of the The-Digital-Picture.com family. Pictured above is Olivia Jane, born yesterday at 4:50pm. She was 7 lb 13 oz (3.54 kg) and 20" (50.8 cm) long. She's healthy and, contrary to what last night's seemingly constant crying might indicate, probably very happy to be here. I'm running on very little sleep, so... I'll make this post short and sweet. I'm a father now, and it's a whole new world. :-)
 
Olivia Jane Grasps Father's Finger – September 11, 2018

Post Date: 9/12/2018 6:40:03 AM CT   Posted By: Sean
 Tuesday, August 28, 2018
Most higher-end image editing programs now feature automated panorama stitching, but if you don't rotate the lens on its nodal point while capturing the individual images for your spherical panorama, even the best image editing programs will find it challenging to stitch all of the images perfectly. Instead, portions of the stitched areas don't precisely line up, a result of parallax errors. Rotating the lens on its nodal point allows you to avoid those parallax errors, ultimately leading to a better panoramic image.
 
But how do you find the nodal point for your lens? The solution is probably easier than you think. Yesterday I determined the nodal points for eight lenses (one at two different focal lengths) using my pano rig.
 
To find your lens' nodal point:
 
1. Set up your camera along with aligned subjects.
Set up your tripod-mounted pano rig so that it is level and pointed at two objects that are perfectly lined up in the center of your viewfinder/frame using Live View at max magnification. For me, that was two light stands set up in my studio about 6' (1.83m) apart. The farthest light stand was extended just a little bit higher than the closest light stand to make aligning the two subjects easier.
 
2. Rotate the camera left or right and move the camera forward/backward to create an identical view.
Move your magnified live view frame all the way to the left or right, then rotate the camera so that the front object is within the magnified view. Now, move the camera forward or backward using the nodal rail until the two objects are lined up just as they had been in the center of the frame view.
 
3. Record your results.
Record the position of the nodal rail in your clamp, such as "Clamp centered on 49mm rail mark," the lens being used and (if using a zoom lens) the focal length setting of the lens. If using a zoom lens for your panos, you'll need to determine the nodal points for all focal lengths you intend on using for your panos. Typically speaking, I usually calculate the nodal points for the shortest and longest focal lengths of a zoom lens. I find it handy to record the measurements in a cloud-based document so that they can be accessed from any location where data services can be accessed. Also, keep in mind that your nodal point calculations may be different depending on whether your camera is in portrait orientation or landscape orientation. Typically, you'll want to orient your camera vertically to maximize your panorama's resolution. However, if shooting horizontally, the plates in your L-brackets may be offset from one another. For 5D Mark III L-bracket, the offset is 15.5mm, meaning I have to subtract 15.5mm from my vertical orientation measurement to get the landscape oriented one. If planning to travel to remote areas to capture panoramic images, storing the nodal point measurement values locally on your smartphone in a notepad app (or alternately in a traditional paper notepad) would be best.
 
My particular pano rig consists of a bidirectional clamp and a multi-purpose rail. Instead of moving the rail in the tripod's head, I move the bidirectional clamp that's connected to the camera. Therefore, I have to ensure that the rail is clamped into the index rotator's clamp at the exact same position each time if I ever entirely break down the setup. While that sounds a bit complicated, it's not in practice. I just make sure the first measurement mark on the rail is lined up with the front edge of the index rotator clamp, and all is well.
 
After calculating the nodal points for several of my lenses, I got the itch to create another 360-degree panorama. After a short time thinking about the possible locations to photograph, as you can see from above, our renovated second bedroom was the subject I chose. To capture the image, I used a Canon EOS 5D Mark III and Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 lens a 3-shot exposure bracket at each 20° interval. I then combined the exposure brackets in Lightroom (using identical settings for each HDR blend) and compiled the panoramic image with Hugin.
 
Want to step into our nursery? Download and install FSPViewer and open this high-resolution version of the image above in the app for a cool virtual experience.
Post Date: 8/28/2018 7:52:41 AM CT   Posted By: Sean
 Thursday, August 2, 2018
by Sean Setters
 
I thoroughly enjoy lightning photography, but until recently, I had never seriously attempted to capture lightning during the day. Soon after receiving the MIOPS Camera Trigger, I tested the device during a daytime thunderstorm to see how well it worked. Site visitors interested in lightning photography are often curious if a triggering device will work in the daytime, and my test revealed that the MIOPS Camera Trigger worked perfectly under even relatively bright conditions. The same cannot be said about other lightning triggers I've tried.
 
Even with a good camera trigger, lightning photography during the daytime presents a problem. How do you balance the exposure so that the lightning bolt is visible in the bright sky while keeping the foreground details from being silhouetted?
 
The best answer I've come up with – a graduated ND filter and a covered shooting location.
 
The image above of the Savannah River was taken just before 7:00pm (an hour and 23 minutes before sunset). While it wasn't as bright at 7:00pm as it would be with midday sun, relatively few opportunities for lightning will be photographed in conditions that bright. The storm clouds that bring lightning typically block out the sun or at least darken the sky in the area being photographed to some degree. However, the darkening rarely lowers the sky's exposure to that of the ground beneath it. That's where the graduated ND filter comes in. For this shot, I mounted my 5D Mark III, EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM, MIOPS Camera Trigger on my tripod which was set up under the Savannah Belles Ferry Waving Girl Landing, adjacent the Marriott Hotel along the Savannah River. To the end of the lens, I attached a 100mm filter holder containing a Cokin NUANCES Z-Pro Soft-Edge 2-stop Grad ND. By positioning the filter in the holder so that it primarily covered the sky, I was able to better balance out the exposure between the ground/river elements and the sky.
 
Remember when I mentioned that a covered shooting location was an important part of this technique? While a lens hood will often prevent rain from accumulating on your front lens element or protective filter, the use of a 100mm filter holder and filters precludes the use of a lens hood. With a much larger surface area to gather water droplets and ultimately impacting image quality, a location that protects the entire camera rig from rain is ideal. Of course, if photographing a storm from a vantage point where it isn't raining, no covered location is necessary. Unfortunately, storms tend to move and photographing lightning is very much a waiting game. If it isn't raining in your location, the same may not be true 10 minutes later.
 
And while I'm on the subject of rain, here's some advice: invest in some type of waterproof camera backpack for transporting your gear to and from your shooting location. I recently picked up a used Lowepro DryZone 100 – predecessor to the now available Lowepro Dryzone 200 – and it's been perfect for these types of outings. The DZ100 and DZ200 are completely watertight, have plenty of room and are comfortable to wear for moderate distances even with a tripod strapped to the back (although the waist strap sits high on my 6'2" / 1.88m frame). If you're serious about photographing in extreme conditions, pick up a Lowepro DryZone 200 or similar bag.
 
Figuring out your desired exposure level for daytime lightning photography is easier than for nighttime lightning photography. At night, a lightning bolt becomes the primary light source for the sky – where it bounces off of nearby clouds – and, if not illuminated by artificial light, the ground. It usually takes a few test shots and a little bit of luck to determine the optimal exposure settings for a given nighttime storm. You can typically vary the shutter speed until the ground is sufficiently bright enough at your chosen aperture and ISO, but that aperture and ISO are keys to determining the brightness level of the sky that results from a lightning strike. That said, if your shutter speed is too long, you may record multiple lightning strikes within the same image which will cause a substantially over exposed sky. In other words, sufficient skill and a little bit of luck are important in getting properly exposed nighttime lightning shots.
 
On the contrary, lightning doesn't typically impact the brightness level of the surrounding sky to a consequential degree during the daytime, generally speaking, unless there is a significantly thick blanket of dark clouds overhead. Therefore, you can set usually set your exposure to slightly underexpose the sky and your lightning will simply pop out against the underexposed background, such as in the example above. The ease of setting an exposure really paid off in this case. The lightning bolt I captured is the only lightning that occurred within my camera's field of view while I was photographing on this particular evening.
 
In post processing, I darkened the sky a bit further by reducing the luminosity of the blue channel and increased the image's overall contrast and saturation.
 
The following day I photographed from the same location around 3:30pm and while I didn't catch any lightning, the retreating storm provided an inspiring view.
 
Storm Over the Savannah River
 
As you can see, one benefit of attempting to photograph lightning during the day is that, even if you are unsuccessful, the clouds may reward your effort. I used the Cokin NUANCES Z-Pro Soft-Edge 2-stop Grad ND for this image as well.
 
If you don't have a graduated ND filter in your kit, you can combine multiple exposures to arrive at a similar result (under-expose the sky in the lightning shot and combine that with a brighter ground exposure). However, any elements that move during the exposure that reside within the field between those two images (the part that simulates the graduated part of the ND filter) will have to be dealt with on an individual basis with specific masking. I've worked with exposure blending quite a bit over the last few years, and while some extreme exposure latitude situations can certainly benefit from the technique, I've really been enjoying the use of graduated NDs lately. I suppose I'd rather spend more time in the field setting up the camera to capture the image I want (or very close to it) as opposed to spending more time in front of my computer attempting to create a similar image.
Post Date: 8/2/2018 6:35:35 AM CT   Posted By: Sean
 Monday, July 30, 2018
by Sean Setters
 
Pictured above is my wife, Alexis, and as you can probably tell – in mid-September, assuming no unforeseen calamity arises – our life is going to change in a very dramatic way. We're expecting a girl.
 
Our preparations for the new arrival have been going on for months. A crib has replaced the bed in the second bedroom, new curtains adorn the windows and a matching rug ties it all together. And all those things would all look great if it weren't for the tons of boxes filling the room containing car seats, tiny clothes, baby wipes, diapers, a diaper bag and all the other things seemingly necessary for a child to survive infancy. Of course, we're very fortunate to be experiencing a clutter problem. Those boxes will help us through the challenging months ahead.
 
Even before my wife and I were actually expecting a child, we had started preparing in our own ways. For Alexis, that meant hand knitting baby accessories that would someday keep miniature hands and feet warm. Those handmade accessories came in handy for notifying close friends and family of the expected arrival.
 
Expected Arrival Test

As for me, I started preparing by purchasing used baby photography props from local photographers and stacking them in a pile in the corner of my studio. But that pile of baskets, ribbons, fuzzy blankets and knitted hats got me thinking – the images that I will look back on most fondly, the images that will be most dear to me, I haven't even taken yet. Bryan's been hammering this point home in many of his portrait lens reviews and in the captions of many of the pictures that he posts to the site; the most important pictures you will ever take will be of the ones you love. Birthday parties, sporting events, vacations, family get-togethers, graduations, and many more events are all great reasons to have a camera and an appropriate lens readily available. Increasing height, missing teeth and hairdos that will be well out of style in the next decade should all be documented formally on a monthly basis.
 
It's at this point in my life that I'm most happy to have a pretty well fleshed-out photography kit. I know that it's going to be well used over the next few years, and I look forward to looking back at the images created and wondering, "Where did the time go?"
Post Date: 7/30/2018 8:35:11 AM CT   Posted By: Sean
 Sunday, July 29, 2018
Did you ever see a whitetail buck wrap a pine branch around its face? The rut brings out the best in unusual whitetail activity. This buck is creating (or freshening) a scrape used for communication purposes at this time of the year and the location selected for a scrape typically has a scent branch just above it.
 
Only a couple of spots remain open: join me for the "Whitetail Buck in Rut and More workshop in Shenandoah National Park!
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
Post Date: 7/29/2018 7:37:40 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Saturday, July 28, 2018
In Watkins Glen State Park, visitors are (mostly) confined to the trail which primarily consist of rock, rock steps and rock walls. I usually prefer to keep the hand of man out of my landscape photos, but that is not so easy to do at this location. That the man-made features are so interesting is part of the attraction of this park and that made it easier for me to get out of my box.
 
While trying to figure out what to do with this scene, I used one of my frequent wide angle tips and that was to get in close to something interesting in the foreground. I didn't have to get too creative with that advice here because the only foreground I could get close to and still see the waterfall (Pluto Falls) was ... the wall. Fortunately, that worked out OK.
 
I especially like how the man-made lines in the stone stairs and wall interact with the natural lines in the rock. The vertical lines of the water and gorge cutting through the rock intersect those horizontal lines and draw the viewer's eye into the frame.
 
The Sony a7R III and Sony FE 16-35mm f/4 ZA OSS Lens were a very nice combination for this hike.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
Post Date: 7/28/2018 8:04:27 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Wednesday, July 11, 2018
Our eyes are typically drawn to the areas of an image containing the strongest contrast. The head and antlers of a whitetail buck are typically this animal's most interesting features and placing those against a nearly blown-out sky utilizes the contrast principle, making them especially eye-catching.
 
Being in the right place at the right time is always a key for wildlife photography, but in this situation, a key to getting the desired framing was to adjust the camera height. Lowering the camera position until the foreground grasses were just below the buck's head and neck provided an angle that positioned the buck's head against the sky and void of distracting lines intersecting the animal. A lower camera position also makes it easier to get the catchlight sparkle in the eyes. Working from a monopod makes that elevation adjustment able to happen very fast.
 
The strong background blur created by the 600mm f/4 lens of course further emphasizes this subject. The blur this lens creates is addicting.
 
Are you joining me to photograph whitetail buck in rut in November? There are still spots open for this tour/workshop. Bring a friend, make new photography-enthusiast friends there!
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
Post Date: 7/11/2018 8:04:00 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Wednesday, July 4, 2018
For those residing in the USA, Independence Day (aka, the 4th of July) is often celebrated with freinds, family, grilled food and fireworks. With so many fireworks displays occurring this evening (either in a city center or in your own backyard), you may want to brush up on your fireworks photography techniques before the colorful bursts paint the night sky.
 
Fireworks Photography Tips
 
Post Date: 7/4/2018 8:17:29 AM CT   Posted By: Sean
 Saturday, June 30, 2018
Oneida Falls is one of my Rickets Glen favorites and I always stop to photograph it when in this state park. Yes, I have numerous images from this location. But, different days bring differing water flows, foliage and lighting. And, I frequently bring differing gear and creativity.
 
On this day, the excellent little Sony a7 III was what I was using and a compact Sony FE 16-35mm f/4 ZA OSS Lens was the lens option I selected from several I had along with me.
 
This is a subtle HDR image and I captured enough bracketed exposures to significantly brighten the darker areas. However, I liked the natural brightness accentuating the near and distant falls (especially in higher resolution versions).
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
Post Date: 6/30/2018 7:30:00 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Monday, June 18, 2018
I advised my daughter and then-future son-in-law that something would go wrong with the wedding and that they should be ready to adjust plans as necessary.
 
What went wrong started with my youngest daughter waking up at 3:00 AM with a fever of 101.7° F (38.7° C) on the day before the wedding. I was so sad for her and expected the virus to have her in its grasp through the wedding day and beyond. Fortunately, after many prayers and sleeping much of the morning, she was feeling much better the same evening and was able to enjoy the wedding rehearsal and dinner afterwards.
 
That rehearsal dinner afterwards (at our house) became the next issue. The food was all out and everyone was ready to eat (and hungry), but ... the rolls needed to hold the main course were missing. Apparently an assignment was missed and a 40-minute round trip to the grocery store ensued, resolving this relatively minor issue.
 
As I mentioned, I was (mostly) not photographing this wedding, but received a request to "just" set up a video camera. I assembled the gear I intended to use (multiple cameras, tripods, mic, sound recorder, Pelican cases, extra batteries, etc.) the day before (amidst plenty of other chaos) and ran a gear check late in the day. I planned to use the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II as the primary camera, recording the entire ceremony in 4k. Strangely, when attempting to record video with this body, all I saw was black. After checking for an installed lens cap multiple times and verifying that live view worked in the still photo modes, I resolved to call Canon CPS in the morning, hoping that there was some obscure setting I had missed. Unfortunately, the phone call determined that the camera had a failure of some sort (I was not surprised by that news) that was preventing the shutter from opening in video mode.
 
So, it was wedding day for my daughter and the primary camera I intended to record video with had failed. This is the perfect example of why a backup camera is mandatory when photographing weddings and other important events.
 
I had a 4k-capable Sony a7 III with a Sony FE 24-70mm f/4 ZA OSS Lens, the focal length range I needed, sitting on my desk. That setup was untested, so I opted to double-record using a Canon EOS 5Ds R and Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM Lens. I set up the two cameras immediately next to each other, one on a Really Right Stuff TVC-24L Carbon Fiber Tripod and BH-40 Ball Head and the other on a ProMediaGear TR344L Tripod with a UniqBall UBH 45X Ball Head.
 
A relative captured other video angles handheld using a Canon EOS 80D and EF 24-105mm f/4L IS II USM Lens. Audio was recorded with a Tascam digital audio recorder positioned under the flowers near the pastor, on a Rode Stereo Video Mic mounted on the 5Ds R in the back (closer to some of the musicians) and in-camera on the other two cameras. The setups appear to have all worked great and there is plenty of audio and video available to assemble a nice edited movie.
 
While I had time to put together a revised camera setup prior to leaving for the wedding, that is not always the case with equipment failures. I had an additional camera and various accessories (including batteries) along to cover any on-site failures (OK, I had enough to cover any of the contracted photographer's equipment failures as well).
 
Then there was the tomahawk injury that required a trip to the medical center and 8 stitches on the groom's ankle on the morning of the wedding. Don't ask – but it involved fruit. I'll just say that there was little spring in the groom's step as he walked his bride down the aisle, but the wedding worked and I now officially have a son.
 
As I said, I was mostly not photographing the wedding, but ... the girls happened to be ready just before the official photographers arrived and I happened to have rolled paper on a background stand and two lights in softboxes (one large octagonal overhead, a medium-sized rectangle on the back/left) ready. I needed time to set up and dial in two more lights, including one on a boom, but with a very rushed schedule, I accepted a compromise.
 
Overall, the wedding was awesome. Thanks for sharing in my excitement!
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
 
Camera and Lens Settings
70mm  f/11.0  1/160s
ISO 100
5733 x 8599px
Post Date: 6/18/2018 10:31:14 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Saturday, June 16, 2018
Mostly, this post is to let you share in our excitement and that sentence probably caught your attention with many thoughts potentially entering your mind.
 
Perhaps for those of you following this site from the early days, it is hard to believe that she is that old. Yes, the years really do fly by (every year goes by faster). This image was captured in 2003, the year TDP showed up on the web:
 
Brianna at Age 7
 
And now, my baby has become a beautiful young lady.
 
While the girls are taking care of many of the wedding's fine details, I am also involved. One of the requests of me was to assemble a set of pictures suitable for use in a slide show. While gathering those, many great memories were brought back and, as you probably guessed, I had a solid selection to choose from.
 
While on that topic, heed my advice: now is when you need to spend time with your kids and of course, make them feel special by photographing them constantly (and giving them that reason why). Only photographs (and videos) can keep them that age forever. Capture your times together and all of the special moments. Grandparents, you are included here – you get to photograph the grandkids when that generation shows up (I look forward to that day).
 
Answering another common question: yes, we love the incoming son and look forward to him being an official part of the family (he's been hanging around for years already). With him and his great family joining our lives, all of the parent wish list boxes are being checked here.
 
I know, the first question you really wanted answered was "Are you photographing the wedding?" Well, the official answer is no – there are hired photographers for the event. But ... I just might have (a few cases of) gear stashed somewhere handy. You know – just in case!
 
Then came the "Oh, can you just set up a camera to video the wedding?"
 
In what seems a blink of an eye, the kid is grown and moving on with her life. Fortunately, she is not moving too far. And, we have plenty of pictures to look back on.
 
The lead image for this post is a recent one, commemorating college graduation. It was a cloudy day and light green spring colors were still on some of the trees. I positioned Brianna under the shade of a tall tree to gain some direction to the ultra-soft cloud-diffused light and aligned with a distant tree of interest in the background. At 200mm, the f/2 aperture turns the tree into an interesting blur of color and Brianna pops from the background. Due to the color of the background, my eyes struggled to properly recognize the right color balance this image but, in the end, I opted to use the black cap and gown for a custom white balance.
 
The Canon EF 200mm f/2L IS USM Lens is a killer portrait lens and it has captured some of my favorite portraits of the kids. This is not an inexpensive lens, but the results can be priceless.
 
The girls are due home from their hair appointments at any time – gotta go!
 
Camera and Lens Settings
200mm  f/2.0  1/500s
ISO 100
5398 x 8097px
Post Date: 6/16/2018 11:13:42 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Wednesday, June 6, 2018
I was positioned between this red fox's den (and her two kits) and her feeding grounds with a good sun angle for an approach. She had recently brought home dinner and would always go right back out to hunt again and that was the case this time. I knew that she was coming, but I was not able to see her as her distance closed due to the thick brush.
 
Suddenly, she hopped up on this log, in plain view at a close distance, stopped and looked back while being lit by a late afternoon sun. I couldn't have orchestrated her behavior any better.
 
I grabbed a quick burst of insurance shots and quickly moved the selected focus point for a better composition. Being able to quickly change focus points is a key skill for wildlife photography. The fox being close, made the framing tight, but in the seconds it paused, I was able to capture enough images to build this panorama, adding a small amount of border to the top and left side of the primary frame.
 
This particular fox's mottled coat and head angle along with the bright sun causing her to squint produces an especially sly look.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
 
Camera and Lens Settings
600mm  f/4.0  1/1600s
ISO 125
9165 x 6160px
Post Date: 6/6/2018 9:05:12 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Saturday, June 2, 2018
I had a backpack full of new gear that needed an in-the-field workout and the right timing for waterfall photography happened – a forecast for very cloudy skies with a strong percentage chance of rain combined with recently prior rains (to provide waterflow). So, I took advantage of the opportunity, photographing in Watkins Glen State Park.
 
While I knew this could be a busy park, I thought that going on a mid-spring weekday with a weather forecast that most would consider dismal would solve that problem. I was wrong. While I don't know what a normal day is like in this park, the gorge trail had plenty of people on it.
 
Watkins Glen is a beautiful park but being limited to the trail (mostly stone and concrete) makes it especially challenging to photograph the best scenes without random people in the composition. I spent well over an hour trying to capture this Cavern Cascade and Spiral Tunnel image. Apparently tour bus groups were being dropped off at the gorge trail's upper parking lot and being picked up at the lower lot as hundreds of people were going in the downhill direction.
 
At one point, I decided to leave and come back later. That approach worked especially well because, in the evening, the path light in the tunnel (very dark) better-balanced with the ambient daylight. I noticed that the tunnel walls were dark in some areas and opted to use my phone light to paint the walls slightly brighter.
 
I bracketed this exposure to ensure that I had the right brightness options available for HDR processing. The final image is mostly two captures with the longer exposure providing the brighter tunnel.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
Post Date: 6/2/2018 7:00:00 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Thursday, May 31, 2018
by Sean Setters
 
I took a shot yesterday that I thought looked interesting, so I thought we'd have a little fun with it today.
 
Can you guess what the subject of the photo is? You can click on the image above to download a higher resolution version for analysis. Then scroll down for the answer.
 

 

 

 
Answer: It's the seed head of a grass plant.
 
Backstory
 
I really wanted to create a macro focus stack image, but I was having a difficulty coming up with an idea for an interesting subject. As I often do when I'm experiencing a mental block for a macro subject, I strolled around my lawn to see what I could find. It had been raining off and on in Savannah, GA for several days, so I hadn't been able to mow the lawn in quite some time. Some of the grass had gotten very tall, and one such plant drew my attention. I marveled at the plant's seed head as I inspected it closely, and decided my search for a macro subject was complete. Now onto the photography bit.
 
I attached stacked Kenko extension tubes and a Kenko 1.4x Teleconverter to my Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM and mounted it all onto my EOS 5D Mark III (tripod mounted, of course). Two studio strobes were already set up in my studio with one firing through a 4 x 6' (1.2 x 1.8 m) and a 3' x 8" (0.9 x 0.2 m) gridded stripbox, so I simply used those for lighting. A bottle provided a nice stand for the stem the grass plant.
 
I originally shot it without a background which caused the background to be completely black. However, while the light colored part of the seed head stood out very well, the black portions (unsure what their name is), understandably, did not. So, I searched my home for something that might provide a suitable background color for the subject (I didn't expect to see recognizable details in the macro shot because of the limited depth-of-field and camera-to-subject and subject-to-background distance). I found my answer donning the wall of our kitchen – a calendar someone had given us for Christmas.
 
I attached the calendar to a backlight stand via a reflector holder and positioned the calendar so that the pictured flowers were directly behind the seed head. So here's what the setup looked like:
 
What Is This Subject? - The Setup

And here's a closeup with the flashes illuminating the subject:
 
What Is This Subject? - The Setup Closeup

I captured 36 images with the Focus Stack feature of Magic Lantern (installed on the 5D III) which were compiled in Helicon Focus. EXIF settings for the individual images were f/6.3, 1/160 sec, ISO 100.
 
After compiling the images in Helicon Focus and a little bit of editing in Photoshop CC, I arrived at the image below.
 
What Is This Subject? - Uncropped

At this point, I was pretty happy with the image. But as I as I began to look at it in detail, the black parts of the seed head reminded me of trees. With that in mind, I rotated the image so that the stalk portion of the seed head was horizontal and cropped it so that the other half of the stalk (and the mirrored portion of the seed head) would remain unseen. Unfortunately, I didn't give myself enough leeway in the original framing to allow for the background to cover the entire frame at such an extreme angle of rotation. Therefore, I had to recreate the background (using content aware fill) in the areas where no background existed. But after that, the image you see atop this post was finished.
 
For what it's worth, I'm consistently amazed by the details found in readily available (very common) subjects that await capture with a macro lens and (sometimes) the higher magnification made possible by extension tubes and teleconverters.
Post Date: 5/31/2018 9:45:42 AM CT   Posted By: Sean
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