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 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
 Monday, May 28, 2018
I was in coastal Katmai National Park primarily to photograph brown bears feasting on salmon, but the landscape was also very impressive. As the light faded on the bears, clouds settled into the mountaintops and the setting sun brightly lit the clouds not shaded by the mountain. Direct sunlight just before sunset (or just after sunrise) is warm in color and very significantly warmer than the light in shaded areas. I often like that difference in color.
 
While I carried a wide angle zoom lens along with me on the bear treks, primarily to use for landscape photography, it was not the right lens choice for this scene. My subjects were mountain tops and I wanted them large in the frame. Meeting this goal calls for telephoto focal lengths and the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens I primarily intended for wildlife use worked perfectly here.
 
Sometimes capturing a great landscape image with a telephoto lens seems too easy. While the 100-400 L II is not a small or light lens, it is usually with me when photographing landscape exclusively. This is an extremely versatile lens that delivers very impressive image quality.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
 
Camera and Lens Settings
182mm  f/8.0  1/80s
ISO 100
8688 x 5792px
Post Date: 5/28/2018 8:34:53 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Saturday, May 19, 2018
While some fences can be great photo subjects themselves, they often contain another photo subject, including captive wildlife and those participating in sporting events (and sometimes subjects that the paparazzi are chasing). I'm going to primarily focus on the wildlife photography aspects of fencing today, but the same tips are applicable to many through-the-fence situations.
 
For wildlife, not everyone can afford a safari to Africa and not everyone can take enough time off of work to track down more-locally-occurring wildlife such as a wild mountain lion. Zoos make these great animals readily available for observation and enjoyment. Photographing the animals in zoos, however, remains a challenge and the biggest challenge is usually the fence.
 
A key to a great zoo animal photo is avoiding any signs of the fence, including a patterned background blur, in the photo. To that goal, here is a list of photography tips relevant to fences.
 
  • The most important tip: move the lens as close to the fence as possible. Doing so aids immensely in the foreground fence becoming blurred out recognition. Getting against a fence, at least at some exhibits, may require attendance at a special program designed for this access (ZooAmerica's Photography Tour in this case), but others are readily approachable. Removing the lens hood permits a closer-to-the-fence position, but caution is required to avoid scratching the lens. A UV/Clear Protective Filter can help minimize the risk of damage to your lens' front element.
  • The second most important tip: use a wide aperture, allowing the shallow depth of field to obscure the obstruction, including both the foreground and background fence.
  • Similarly, use a long focal length to enlarge the blurred obstruction, making it less obvious. Though an ultra-wide angle lens may cause a background fence to be so small that it is barely visible in the frame, wide angles are more likely to leave even a practically-against-the-front-element fence very recognizable. So, use a long telephoto lens to blur both the foreground and background fences away.
  • Dark-colored fences (dark colors absorb more light than bright ones), remain more obscured in an image than bright silver fences (very common). If you have a choice, go for dark.
  • Avoid brightly-lit fences. For the same reason I prefer dark fences, I prefer shaded ones. If you have a choice, opt for fences in the shade (including in the background). If the sun is behind you, the opportunity to create your own shade exists and the lens with your hand around it may be all that is needed to accomplish this.
  • Attempt to align your subject inside the fence so that there is a natural background, avoiding the background fence that most fenced enclosures have. This may mean shooting from a low position to look over the background fence or aligning the subject with flora (as seen here). Using a long focal length lens provides a narrow angle of view that makes smaller background scenes easier to work with.
  • Shoot from over the fence. While the looking-down angle is not often my favorite for wildlife, it may be the best available option.
  • Find the widest opening available in the fence and center the lens in it. Finding a hole to shoot through (do not create one unless you own the fence) can be a great find. Take advantage of existing fence damage to gain a larger portal for photography purposes. Quality fencing likely has all-identical-sized openings and this tip will not be helpful in that scenario.
  • Use the fence as a steadying aid. While the fence may detract from your image quality by some amount, if the subject is stationary enough, you might be able to shoot braced against the fence with longer shutter speeds than otherwise possible, enabling lower ISO settings that improve image quality through lower noise levels.
  • Avoid fence shadows falling on your subject and in your backgrounds. This may require shooting at a specific time of the day or even a certain time of the year. Cloudy skies are often optimal for this reason.
  • Lighting, subject pose, the background and all of the other important requirements for a good image are still in place. Don't lose sight of what makes a good image just because a fence is obscuring your view and/or the subject is unusual for you.
  • Low contrast and low saturation are likely image quality issues with photos captured through a fence. Consider adding these adjustments during post processing.
  • A last resort for removing fencing in the frame is via photo editing software with Photoshop's healing brush tool being especially helpful if individual fence wires remain visible.
If you can't obscure the fence, your option may only be to capture a memory photo. Memories are very important too, so capture the memory and move on.
 
Have any photography-through-a-fence tips? Please share them with us!
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
 
Camera and Lens Settings
400mm  f/5.6  1/125s
ISO 2000
5304 x 7952px
Post Date: 5/19/2018 6:00:00 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Saturday, May 12, 2018
The ideal height to photograph wildlife, especially birds not flying (perched, standing, walking, swimming, etc.) is most often when the camera is level (pitch) and the bird is properly framed. Basically, this is the same level as the subject.
 
If the bird is on the ground and the ground is flat and void of visual obstructions, getting flat on the ground is a great option and a ground pod is a great support for this position.
 
If the bird is in or on the water, getting to their level immediately becomes more complicated. The embankments of most water bodies are raised at least somewhat over the water and that makes it hard to get down to bird-level from outside of the water. If possible, and you are OK with the risks involved, getting in the water can be a great way to get down to close to the ideal level. Still, the comfortable/safe height of the camera (and likely the tripod head) above the water usually leaves the bird at a still-lower elevation.
 
The next option is to get farther away. If the bird is near you, the camera will be angled downward more than if the bird is farther away. Of course, moving farther away means the bird is smaller in the frame. That is, unless a longer focal length is used.
 
Very long focal lengths are ideal for bird photography for a couple of reasons. The obvious reason is that they make the bird appear large in the frame from a less-frightening (mattering only to the bird usually) distance. The other reason coincides with one of the reasons for shooting from a level: to strongly blur the background.
 
Long focal lengths magnify the background blur, giving images a more-strongly blurred background that makes the subject stand out. Aside from the perspective making the bird look good, shooting from a lower position pushes background farther into the distance, farther outside of the depth of field and making your long focal length lens blur powers even more magical.
 
For this image capture, I was wearing chest waders and a Gore-Tex coat and sitting in the water up to my elbows (where the Gore-Tex jacket became an important part of the wardrobe). The temperature was in the 40s F (single digits C) on this day, so I had many layers on in addition. The tripod was positioned so that the apex was just above the water line and I was bent over to reach the viewfinder. Note that I'm not saying that a low shooting position is comfortable, especially after over 4 hours of not moving. But, what is comfort when making a good image is at stake?!
 
Being as low as I could go and using a long focal length (840mm) on a full frame body provided a great background blur right out of the camera. Of course, it is hard to take a bad picture of a subject as beautiful as a wood duck.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
Post Date: 5/12/2018 6:00:00 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Friday, May 11, 2018
Making the long backstory short, my wife gave my father-in-law a Jack-in-the-pulpit seed for Christmas. My in-laws planted it in the spring and it grew, only to be dug out by an animal. It was replanted and the next year it was crushed by a bear. After installing three different types of fencing around the vulnerable plant, their Jack bloomed splendidly this year.
 
That led to the phone call from my mother-in-law, suggesting that I might have interest in photographing the plant. I was nearing the completion of a review and really wanted stay heads-down until it was finished. But, I felt the strong encouraging and started asking questions and for location pics via text.
 
Flowers do not often stay at their peak appearance very long (and who knew what might try to destroy this plant overnight). With the initial assessment leaning favorably to decent image potential, I went over with a MindShift Gear BackLight 26L full of gear, including a multi-off-camera flash setup and reflectors.
 
One of the challenges I faced was the background. Winter seemed to hang on forever this year and only a few days earlier a warm spell finally and very quickly accelerated leaf growth. Still, the available leaves, able to add a green color, were minimal and mostly brown was the surrounding forest and ground color, with dead leaves on the ground and bare tree trunks primarily visible. My tongue-in-cheek suggestion that we cut the flower was not found humorous.
 
Another challenge was the lighting. Good lighting is always key to a good picture. As the forest canopy had barely started growing leaves, I expected mottled direct sunlight to be a problem. The flashes and reflectors (able to provide shade as well as reflected light) were my insurance, ensuring that I could create my own lighting if necessary. Also, waiting until the sun set would give me full shade and completely even lighting.
 
As the background did not compare in attractiveness to the plant, blurring the background away was going to be a high priority and that meant long focal lengths and wide apertures. I contemplated taking the Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS II USM Lens with a 25mm extension tube, but the sloping ground was not going to give me optimal positioning from the subject distance that focal length would have required. I needed a shorter telephoto lens and opted to take the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L IS USM Macro and the Canon TS-E 135mm f/4L Tilt-Shift Macro lenses with me. While the macro lens may be an obvious good choice, the tilt-shift lens has a 0.5x maximum magnification and with a narrow aperture desired, I thought the movements feature could be useful. That turned out to be a good choice as in the end, I only used the tilt-shift lens option.
 
Upon arriving on the scene, I found the sunlight to be mostly diffused on the plant with some of the background being touched by direct sunlight. Shade is typically cool in color temperature and late day sunlight is usually warm. That means a properly white balanced subject in the shade results in the sunlit background turning especially warm and that scenario often works well.
 
The composition was a bit of a challenge. I wanted to see the full flower without obstruction and the large leaves growing on two sides immediately limited the available angles. I also wanted to see the curved top of the jack in the frame and from the side or front of course. Upon working the scene, I saw that, with a low/level camera position, a pair of background trees were framing the Jack and keeping some border around those trunks framed the trees.
 
The inside of the pulpit (the spathe) and the Jack (spadix) of this particular Jack-in-the-pulpit are very bright in relation to everything else in the frame. Thus, my exposure goal was to make just a tiny part of the Jack blinking overexposed in the image review. I wanted the background to be as blurred as possible, emphasizing the Jack-in-the-pulpit in the image and that meant using the wide open f/4 aperture for this lens. I was using a tripod and wind was not an issue, so ISO 100 was selected for the lowest noise levels with the camera's mirror lockup and the self-timer mode being used. The shutter speed was adjusted until that small portion of the Jack was blinking during review on the camera's LCD.
 
As I worked the scene, adjusting/refining the camera position, I captured some bracketed exposures in case I wanted to the background to be brighter in the final image. In the end, I opted to use the original exposure for most of the image and dropped the Jack and pulpit by 1/3 stop to bring the brightest details down on the tone curve, slightly increasing contrast and bring a small amount of detail out on the nearly detail-void Jack.
 
Notice the tiny fly with red eyes sitting on the Jack? It is difficult to see at this resolution (I'll share a larger version on my Flickr account). Fortunately, I think he was only parking and not eating. Flies are attracted to Jacks by smell and in turn do the pollinating. He was an incidental subject that I didn't notice while photographing and he was only in a few frames. I liked the additional point of interest and opted to not stamp him out during post processing.
 
For this image, I used the tilt-shift lens as a normal lens with the movements in their zero position. But I did use movements for some images including this Jack-in-the-pulpit image.
 
As I was leaving, my mother-in-law mentioned "If they turn out well, I want to have a metal print made." Phew, going to take the pics was definitely the right decision.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
Post Date: 5/11/2018 8:25:13 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Wednesday, May 9, 2018
by Sean Setters
 
Before I get into the five tips for hood-mounted camera photography, it's important to note that having a reliable method for attaching your camera to the hood of an automobile is a requirement for this type of photography. The best tool I have found for the job is the RigWheels RigMount X4 Camera Platform with one of the magnetic mounts replaced with an RMH1 RigMount with Ball Head. The duo allows you to securely mount the X4 platform supported with 3 RML1 Long Magnetic Mounts on one side and the Ball Head Magnetic Mount on the other side, which can be adjusted to provide a secure magnetic connection on the side of the car.
 
With the absolutely required gear out of the way, let's get rolling (pun intended) with the tips.
 
1. Wash the parts of the car that will be visible in your image, including the hood.
 
I'm leading off with this tip because a) you'll want to complete this step ahead of time because washing a car with a camera attached is not advisable and b) it's something I forgot to do before taking the shot above. I did wipe down the hood with a cloth to get most of the loose dirt off the hood, but I completely forgot about the windshield. Dirt on the windshield will really stand out when light is reflected at certain angles and can cause a less clear/hazy view into the car's interior. Do yourself a favor and wash [minimally] the parts of the car that will be within the lens' field of view. Doing so will ensure you can easily see your subject/the car's interior and will reduce the amount of time needed for spot removal in post-processing.
 
2. Use a fisheye lens.
 
So why is a fisheye lens important? First, a fisheye lens gives you a very wide angle of view which makes the hood of the car look bigger/more prominent while also allowing any details on the hood (like a hood scoop) to be fully framed. And second, the fisheye lens' distortion makes the lines of the hood curved, leading to a much more intriguing, almost futuristic-looking image.
 
Note that one downside to using a fisheye lens is that such lenses do not accept front filters. Therefore, in order to obtain a slow enough shutter speed for optimal motion-blurred surroundings, shooting when the ambient light is minimal (in other words, at night) will be necessary.
 
3. Park under a street light to figure out your framing and exposure.
 
The best way I've found to figure out the best exposure values and obtain focus is to park under a street light. This has several benefits. For one, as street lights will likely be the primary source of illumination for the car, it makes sense to use a street light to dial in your exposure settings. As the hood will not be constantly exposed by a single light source in any of the desired moving images, it's best to set your exposure so that the hood is slightly overexposed in testing. Doing so will help account for the time the car is less illuminated between light poles. Of course, not all of the images the camera takes will be optimally exposed, but by using the street light to dial in your desired aperture, shutter speed and ISO, those images that are well-illuminated by one (or two) street lights will likely be in the ballpark of your test exposure.
 
Another benefit of parking under a street light is that you can usually set manual focus on the lens by using any light that is illuminating the car's interior and 10x Live View magnification on the camera.
 
And last but not least, the street light will help you set your desired framing. In most photography disciplines, getting your camera level is an optimal technique. However, significantly tilting a hood mounted camera makes it look like the car is traveling on an angle, sort of like a NASCAR stock car in a banked turn. Using Live View, experiment with different angles to see which one you think looks best.
 
4. Use a remote flash to light your subject(s).
 
While the car is an integral part of any hood-mounted image, a well-lit subject will provide a necessary focal point for the viewer. However, the subject will not be well-lit from the ambient light without the car being overexposed (especially with lighter exterior car colors). What you need is a remote, radio-triggered flash inside the car to illuminate your subject(s) during the exposure. It can be tricky to position your flash so that it is flattering to your subject yet remains unseen from the camera's position, so you may have to experiment (and problem solve) to figure out a plausible flash mounting solution, especially if you want to include a modifier in the mix. Also, be sure to choose an interval setting that includes a buffer time between images so that your flash has adequate time to recharge before the next shot.
 
5. Compositing can help you get the "perfect shot."
 
One of the great things about this type of photography is that there's an unavoidable random quality to the images that are captured. The look of the images can change dramatically based on the speed of the vehicle and the types of lights affecting the scene. You could drive the same stretch of road a dozen times with the same camera settings and no two images would look the same. On the one hand, that means you'll always get something unique. On the other hand, nailing the perfect shot takes a decent amount of luck and/or a bit of Photoshop. Because much of the image is static (never changes) and with the changing parts being motion-blurred and mostly unrecognizable, you can easily combine those areas from several images using a soft edged brush to blend desired areas of each image together.
 
About the Shot
 
Not too long ago, I installed Magic Lantern on my Canon EOS 5D Mark III so that I could test out a particular feature of the firmware add-on. While I ultimately found out that the feature didn't work as I had expected (and, therefore, was useless to me), the other benefits of having Magic Latern installed on the camera led me to leave it installed on my memory cards. One such feature, an full-featured intervalometer, made me want to recreate my favorite driving self-portrait, except using the full-frame camera instead of the EOS 7D Mark II + Rokinon 8mm f/3.5 Fisheye. The EOS 7D Mark II features a built-in intervalometer, making it really easy to use when mounted to the RigWheels RigMount X4 for the rolling car shot. However, the full-frame 5D Mark III was better at resolving fine details. With the intervalometer feature enabled by Magic Lantern, all I needed was a fisheye lens that would enable me to simulate the perspective of the Rokinon 8mm f/3.5 on the APS-C camera.
 
Considering that this would be a lens I intended to use sparingly, purchasing a used model seemed to make a lot of sense. Therefore, I started keeping an eye out for full-frame fisheye lenses in B&H's used inventory as well as eBay. After a couple of weeks, I ran across a Rokinon 12mm T3.1 Fisheye auction going for a very reasonable price and watched it carefully. For my intended use of the lens, autofocus was not necessary; a manual focus lens would work just fine. I ended up winning the auction with a bid significantly less than half the retail price, so needless to say I was very happy with the acquisition. Of course, there are some risks in buying a used lens, which is why I wanted to give it a thorough test after it arrived on my doorstep. Thankfully, it performed excellently.
 
The Setup
 
To get the shots used for the composite above, I mounted the Canon EOS 5D Mark III + Rokinon 12mm T3.1 Fisheye on the passenger side corner of my hood with the lens set to T4 and focused where the driver would be. The camera was set to Manual mode with a 2.5 sec. exposure at ISO 200. I used the Tungsten white balance setting because most of the streetlights in Savannah emit a very warm colored light. To light myself in the driver's seat, I used a background light stand situated in the floor of the passenger side with an umbrella swivel supporting a radio triggered full CTO gelled Canon Speedlite and Lumiquest Ltp softbox mounted on top. The flash and modifier were positioned as high as I could get them without the softbox being visible to the camera for more of a side light (as opposed to an under light) and the CTO gel allowed the color of the flash's output to closely match the light emitted by the streetlights, easing the color correction process.
 
With all the camera gear in place, I set Magic Lantern's intervalometer dialogue to take a picture every 6 seconds with a 20 second delay before the first shot. These settings gave my flash plenty of time to recharge between shots while also not wasting shots as I returned to the driver's seat after starting the sequence. After exiting the ML settings (triggering the start of the intervalometer), I hopped in the car and headed to downtown Savannah where I did a loop before returning home. In the relatively short drive, I captured 176 images.
 
Post-Processing
 
My ideal shot would meet the following requirements:
 
  • The subject would not be motion blurred or blocked by a street light's glare on window.
  • The hood would be well-lit without the camera's shadow detracting from the image.
  • The surroundings would be adequately blurred and interesting-looking.
Unfortunately, none of the 176 images captured met all of those requirements to my fullest satisfaction. However, several of the images met some of the requirements, with the net effect that all requirements could be met by combining a few of the images in post-processing.
 
Here was the base image:
 
Cruisin with the RigWheels RigMount X4 and Rokinon 12mm Cine Lens Base Image

I chose the above for the base image because the hood was well and evenly lit without an obvious shadow being cast by the camera rig, my facial expression was suitable and generally liked the background blur. However, I thought the area along the right side in the blurred area was lacking interest, so I found an image where I liked that part of the frame better.
 
Cruisin with the RigWheels RigMount X4 and Rokinon 12mm Cine Lens Image 2

After masking the second image and blending the desired areas of the frame, I ended up with this:
 
Cruisin with the RigWheels RigMount X4 and Rokinon 12mm Cine Lens Image 2 with Base

However, I still wasn't satisfied with the image. At this point, I didn't really like the dark area on the left side of the frame and I decided I wasn't completely happy with my facial expression and the direction of my gaze. Coincidentally, I had captured another image that solved both of those problems.
 
Cruisin with the RigWheels RigMount X4 and Rokinon 12mm Cine Lens Image 3

After blending in the desired parts of that image and a bit of spot healing, I ended up with the final result:
 
Cruisin with the RigWheels RigMount X4 and Rokinon 12mm Cine Lens

You can see a higher resolution version of the image on my Flickr photostream.
 
So who would be interestd in these types of images? Anyone who owns a car that they are proud of (or has a sentimental attachment to). You probably already know someone who spends evenings and weekends working on their pride and joy. Potential clients also abound at car meetups and race events.
 
Here's a recap of the gear you may need to create dynamic car shots:
 
Relevant Article
 
Post Date: 5/9/2018 8:00:22 AM CT   Posted By: Sean
 Sunday, May 6, 2018
When there is a choice, I nearly always go after the elk with the nicest antlers. While everyone has opinions on what "nicest" means, I generally look for overall size (bigger is better with age, genetics and nutrition aiding this aspect), symmetry (or character if something unusual is present), shape (classic shape with long curved tines and a big whale tail) and color (dark with ground-polished white tips is perfect).
 
This bruiser checked most of those boxes and in this position, his primary flaw, a missing G2 (second point from the base) on the left side, is nicely hidden. This 6x5 had not long ago lost a fight with a bull with antlers that were smaller overall. In the battles, it is often the size of the elk's body that matters most and this one needed to go eat more. He is still talking to the nearby herd with a bit of food still in his mouth.
 
This pursuit started not too far from the car, but I eventually ended up on a ridge a good distance from where I parked. When a light rain ensued, I was thankful for weather sealed gear as I did not bring a backpack and would not have been pleased to have to leave a subject as nice as this one.
 
I usually use a shutter speed faster than 1/400 second when photographing elk. But, elk usually move slowly while bugling. So, I grabbed some immediate insurance shots and then rolled the shutter speed down to go after lower noise images. Manual mode was selected with a wide open aperture and auto ISO adjusting for the shutter speed change I made.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
Post Date: 5/6/2018 7:00:00 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Tuesday, May 1, 2018
In Shenandoah National Park, early June brings bright green flora that provides a great environment for wildlife photography. Ferns are one of my favorite sources of bright green and there is no animal that stands out in starker contrast to ferns than a coal-black black bear.
 
This mother bear paused her food hunting task to look intently toward her two cubs, treed high in a large pine tree nearby.
 
While the green flora is very helpful in compositions, it also adds challenges. One flora challenge is that it frequently obstructs the view of the subject with small animals (including fawns and cubs) being most-easily obscured. While an eye-level shooting height often works well for wildlife photography, a higher level may sometimes be needed to clear the obstructions.
 
Another flora challenge is AF-related. The contrast and brightness provided by the green leaves and grasses along with their closer-to-the-camera position often gains the camera's AF system preference, causing a strongly front-focused image.
 
The bottom line is that the eyes (minimally the closest one) must be in focus. While MF may sometimes be required to work around obstructions, they can often be worked around by selecting a focus point off of the animal's eye, on a nearby part. Which nearby part depends on the animal and its head position. If the animal is looking sideways in the frame, much of the head, from nose to ear, may provide a sharp eye. If the animal is facing the camera, the challenge is often greater with long noses also being a big AF system lock-on favorite. Parts that situationally may work include the forehead, the base of an antler or the base of an ear.
 
Carefully watching what is sharp immediately upon focus lock can help identify any series issues in that regard. For this frame, focusing on the eye worked fine.
 
I have had the privilege of photographing a large number of bears and know that they are not equally attractive. Within a species, they have somewhat different shapes and especially their coats are not all the same. This one; however, was a quite beautiful specimen.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
 
Camera and Lens Settings
400mm  f/4.0  1/320s
ISO 400
4618 x 3079px
Post Date: 5/1/2018 7:00:00 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
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