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 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
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