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 Wednesday, January 15, 2020
Like most wildlife photographers, I'm opportunistic. Photographing moose wasn't the primary plan for this trip but when this bull showed up, our group didn't question what we were going to photograph next.
 
I most often encounter moose just before dark and the wide aperture of the Sony FE 600mm f/4 GM OSS Lens was very welcomed this evening. The working distance this lens provides is another benefit for photographing moose. Moose are one of my least-trusted North American animals and this one had just locked focus on me.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
Post Date: 1/15/2020 10:01:08 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Wednesday, December 25, 2019
For many households, Christmas brings with it many decorations with a tree being the primary one. Installing the tree is often a large job, the result is generally beautiful, and capturing memories of the annual tree is worth the small amount of effort required to do so.
 
Help the Christmas tree photo from the start by selecting a great looking tree that fits nicely in your space. "Great" is as seen in your eyes. We have a tall ceiling over our tree's location and our tree height is limited to what I can haul home and make stay upright in the tree stand. Another limitation is that the top of the tree must be reachable using only a step ladder (scaffolding is not an option) and with our space not being large in width, it is nice to have enough space to be able to walk around the tree. The kids always want taller and the parents always want shorter. The parents can better tolerate taller if narrower enters the equation. With a narrow tree, height becomes easier to manage (except for the road clearance issue faced when hauling it home across the back of the SUV's Hitch Haul).
 
When decorating the tree, ensure that the strands of lights are all the same brand and model, or at least that all of the strands share the same bulb color and brightness. I learned that lesson a few years back when I needed to combine multiple exposures to balance out the brightness differences of our dual-brightness tree.
 
Do you have windows in the frame with your tree? If so, consider photographing during the blue hour which is really the blue minutes as there will likely be only a couple of minutes of ideal exterior brightness to balance with the indoor light levels, giving your images that extra wow factor. Shooting through that ideal time period will ensure the perfect minute is captured. You likely photographed a tree in the same location at the same time a year ago. Reviewing the EXIF information from a prior year's perfect photo will provide a close estimate of the perfect time for the blue minute shot this year. Then ensure you are set up and ready for that minute to arrive.
 
While reviewing images from prior years, look at the angles you captured to learn what works well and what doesn't. Repeat and avoid those compositions as makes sense. Also, check the camera settings used for the previous images for guidance on this year's camera settings. Note that changing out strands of lights can change the needed settings due to differing brightness.
 
Often, turning off all of the lights (or at least the brighter ones) in the house, aside from the Christmas lights, will result in the ideal lighting. If there are windows in the image, watch for reflections in those. Block any problematic reflections (such as the numbers on the microwave display) and take advantage of positive ones (such as the Christmas lights). For the image shared here, a couple of Post-It Notes were placed over the thermostat display. Note that double-pane windows may create double reflections.
 
With only the Christmas lights providing illumination, the environment is dark. While I like to use a wide aperture lens, I don't use a wide aperture for the Christmas tree photo. Stopping a wide aperture lens down to f/16 or so makes each light into a little starburst and stopped down wide aperture lenses tend to produce the best stars. The narrow aperture also makes it easy to keep the entire scene in focus.
 
Unless your lights are far brighter than ours, you can expect to need a long exposure at f/16. I usually use 30 seconds and sometimes bump the ISO up modestly to keep from having to wait for even longer exposures. Thus, a tripod is needed along with either a remote release or the self-timer used. I don't mind if the individual lights become slightly blown (pure white), but if an extra-bright decoration is in the frame, I will sometimes exposure bracket with an additional image captures.
 
Long exposures raise another problem for some of us. While most Christmas tree displays will be motionless, they may not always be perfectly so. Unless your Christmas tree is on a concrete floor, there is likely the potential for the floor to vibrate at least slightly when walked on. Hanging ornaments will likely be the first indicators that the floor has vibrated and if swinging, they will be blurred in 30-second exposures. Planning this shoot for when the rest of the family is not home (or is in bed) is a good idea. You might need to stand very still behind the camera for a couple of minutes before capturing the shot.
 
Think about the camera angle. A completely level camera is often desired for interior photography such as this and adjusting the camera height and distance from the tree provides the composition desired.
 
For this year's tree photo, I opted to use the Canon EOS R and RF 15-35mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens. The R's 30 MP resolution was very adequate for my needs and the RF 15-35 delivers impressive image quality. In addition, the 15mm focal length was very attractive for this image capture — and it became even more attractive during post processing. Despite being very careful to level the camera, I still managed to get a slightly tilted (0.6°) image. Straightening an image requires cropping (or creating missing details) and the 15mm angle of view gave me just enough additional angle of view to make that adjustment comfortable. Note how little barrel distortion is showing in this uncorrected image.
 
As soon as the perfect light was captured behind the windows, I pulled the couch and ottoman out of the way and pressed the shutter release of a second camera that was already set up, providing a completely different image.
 
From my family to yours, we wish you the merriest, joy-filled Christmas ever!
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
Post Date: 12/25/2019 8:29:26 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Monday, December 23, 2019
When first arriving at a beautiful waterfall, it usually seems obvious to frame it nicely and press the shutter release. After getting that basic (though often important) image on the card, it is time to look for variations and these often incorporate foreground elements.
 
The last image I posted from Ricketts Glen State Park, On the Ledge at R. B. Ricketts Falls in Ricketts Glen State Park, illustrated the use of interesting rock in the foreground of a waterfall image. Another great waterfall composition strategy involves finding an attractive cascade below the primary falls. Moving in close to those lower cascades increases their relative size, balancing their overall weight in the image.
 
With good water flow (it was raining on this day), R. B. Ricketts Falls turns into a double falls with streams converging into the pool at the base of their falls. The camera position utilized for this image combined the white water of twin cascades to create an X-factor.
 
As I've said before, one has to work hard to have a bad day at Rickets Glen State Park but conditions made this an especially great day at this awesome location. The Breakthrough Photography circular polarizer filter was a crucial part of the kit on this day, cutting the reflections left by the wet conditions, leaving richly saturated landscape that provided inviting photo opportunities everywhere I looked. 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. They were perfect for the needs encountered on this day.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
Post Date: 12/23/2019 10:03:16 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Thursday, December 19, 2019
Just because the skies are white doesn't necessarily mean that they should be kept out of the frame. While cloud-covered white skies are sometimes welcomed, especially for the broad even light they provide, they are not usually my favorite for image backgrounds and I often avoid the inclusion of white skies in image backgrounds. However, they can be used to create a sometimes-desirable pure white high key background.
 
Getting this background is not difficult. Simply find a good subject and align it with the white sky. Note that your camera's meter will want to make a white sky grey (especially if the subject is a white goat) so some positive exposure compensation (or a manual exposure) will likely be needed for such images.
 
On this day, my daughter and I were chasing mountain goats high in the Rockies and as you have already figured out, the skies were white. The thick cloud cover meant that we could photograph the goats from any angle offered to us without concern for shadows but any sky in the photo was going to be white. Getting into a position that allowed the entire background to be sky and allowing that background to become pure white created a nice portrait.
 
The versatile and optically-impressive Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens was a great lens to have for this trip. It was the only lens I used for photographing the goats.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
 
Camera and Lens Settings
124mm  f/8.0  1/1000s
ISO 2000
8688 x 5792px
Post Date: 12/19/2019 10:13:01 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Tuesday, December 17, 2019
Using a new camera often brings acclimation factors and despite having used the Sony a7R IV for a couple of months prior, I was still acclimating to this camera's enormous 120MB uncompressed RAW file size. We were staying ahead of this big old 12-point buck and it finally cooperated perfectly, walking toward us with the sun was at our backs. While capturing images of him approaching, I was greeted by the memory card full message in the viewfinder.
 
I had filled a 256GB memory card just as the perfect scenario was unfolding. While another memory card was immediately available, the pause was just long enough to miss the pinnacle of the action. Ironically, the workshop participant shooting next to me filled his Nikon D850's 256GB card at almost the exact same second. While we missed some images, the humor of it is realized and that memory is at least of some value. The lesson here is to monitor card capacities closely — or buy cards with enough capacity to outlast any use given to the camera.
 
Fortunately I had some good pictures from this buck encounter. When the buck was farther away, I preferred a horizontal camera orientation, keeping more of the grass field in the frame. As the deer approached, the horizontal framing became too tight and switching to the vertical orientation shared here made complete sense for the vertically shaped subject.
 
The vertical vs. horizontal camera orientation is a choice we are always making. Sometimes the choice is easy and sometimes it is not.
 
One consideration is how the image is going to be used and which orientation is required for that use. If your goal is to get the image on a magazine cover, going vertical is a good choice. Another big consideration is the aesthetics of the scene. Some scenes look better in one of the orientations.
 
If the horizontal vs. vertical orientation choice does not have a straightforward answer, shoot both. It is often easier to decide when using a computer display and keeping images shot in both orientations may be the right choice.
 
While the Sony a7R IV's uncompressed RAW file size has required some acclimation, it has not been hard to acclimate to this camera's 61 MP resolution.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
Post Date: 12/17/2019 10:38:29 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Sunday, December 15, 2019

 
by Sean Setters
 
Whether for Christmas/Hanukkah, Independence Day, Memorial Day, Labor Day, Veterans Day, MLK Day, or in this case, Thanksgiving, holiday events offer exciting opportunities for documenting family traditions, personal relationships, physical development, and all the joys togetherness brings.
 
This Thanksgiving, I filmed my family throughout the day, focusing much of the camera's attention on my 14 month-old daughter, Olivia Jane. My hope is that she will enjoy watching videos such as these as she matures, with an eager fascination to see what life was like long before her long-term memory kicked in.
 
Of course, there's a ton of video filming options available, and while my own video kit is continuously evolving, the following items were what I used while filming that day:
 
Having only purchased the Canon EOS R about a month before Thanksgiving, this event was my first experience producing video with the camera. Overall, I came away impressed by the camera's performance. The EOS R was just small enough to allow the battery grip to be used with the DJI Ronin-S Gimbal, a feature I appreciated as I didn't have to continuously watch my battery levels throughout the day. Of course, using the battery grip increased the size/weight of the setup, but I didn't find use of the battery grip to be burdensome, especially as filming was limited to relatively short segments throughout the day.
 
As I don't have any RF mount lenses yet I defaulted to my favorite EF-S/EF-series lenses, the lenses I have historically utilized while filming with a gimbal – the Canon EF-S 24mm f/2.8 STM and Canon EF 40mm f/2.8 STM. Why use two of Canon's most inexpensive lenses for filming video? Because 1) they're small and light, 2) can be swapped out for one another with very little need for rebalancing the gimbal, 3) their optical performance is surprisingly good, 4) the f/2.8 aperture is wide enough allow for relatively low ISO use when the shutter speed is set to 1/60 second (twice the frame rate of 30 fps), and 5) the lenses' STM AF systems do a very good job transitioning focus between subjects when the camera is set to a subject (face) tracking mode. Note that because the full-frame camera gives me a 38.4mm full-frame equivalent angle of view while using the EF-S 24mm STM, I set the camera to crop mode while using the EF 40mm STM to provide a noticeably different angle of view.
 
In a previous video, I had used lavalier mics with a couple of Tascam DR-10L Micro Portable Audio Recorders and really enjoyed the results, but this larger family event necessitated the use of a different audio recording solution as I needed to record a number of people. This need motivated my newest audio recording acquisition – the Deity Microphones V-Mic D3 Pro Shotgun Microphone. Looking online, you'll find numerous videos hyping this microphone's performance and value; the hype is well deserved. This is an excellent shotgun microphone, it is reasonably priced, and I'm really glad it's now part of my kit for run-and-gun applications.
 
So, those are the items I'm now relying on to record family videos in addition to the occasional for-hire filming request (the Tascam DR-10Ls also come in handy for the latter) and are certainly worth consideration when documenting your own family's memories.
Post Date: 12/15/2019 7:00:00 AM CT   Posted By: Sean
 Saturday, December 14, 2019
Everyone loves lighthouses and lighthouse images, right? After awaking to a 4-something AM alarm for three days in a row, I was finally treated to some morning sunlight at the Bass Harbor Lighthouse. While some cloud drama would have been welcomed, the white sky created by the solid cloud cover present on the previous two mornings was not as photogenic.
 
When the sky is clear at sunrise/sunset, there are some expected parameters for landscape photography. One is that the first/last light will be very warm in color and another is that pastel colors will show in earth shadow and the Belt of Venus above it low in the sky opposite the rising/setting sun. These two parameters combine very nicely.
 
I don't always require myself to use a completely level camera (tilt and roll) for landscape photography but did so in this case, primarily to keep the sides of the lighthouse from leaning. Adding to that compositional constraint was the desire to have the reflections availed by the foreground tidal pool included in the frame. The lighthouse reflection was the primary interest and it was very tightly framed between the surrounding rocks, further limiting the camera position to within that narrow line. With the rocks being indicative of the Maine coastline, having them close and emphasized seemed logical and led to this final camera position.
 
Should circular polarizer filters be used for all landscape photographs? While CPL filters are easily my most-used filters and I very frequently use them for landscape photography, this was a time when using the effect provided by this filter was a detriment to the final look. Cutting the reflections on the rocks and in the tidal pool created a dark, flat, lifeless look to the foreground rocks and water, detracting significantly from the result. It didn't take long to determine which look was preferable.
 
Wet dark-colored rocks absorb a lot of light even without a CPL filter and two exposures were combined to ensure that details were retained in those rocks in the final image.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
Post Date: 12/14/2019 9:38:05 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Friday, December 13, 2019
These two brown bears are having a heart to heart in a salmon stream in remote Katmai National Park, Alaska.
 
Notice the high contrast of the splashing water? Camera AF systems also notice splashes and will often jump to focus on any bright water drops in front of a subject. In this case, the splash was well below the focus point and not an AF issue.
 
The Christmas special offer on the Brown Bear Chasing Salmon, Remote Katmai National Park, Alaska instructional photo tour is still in place. Sign up along with a spouse or friend and save $500 on the second admission price for this bucket list-grade trip.
 
Dates: Thu, September 17 to Fri, September 24, 2020
 
If this trip is calling you, I need to hear from you as soon as possible. Contact me to sign up!
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
Post Date: 12/13/2019 2:24:15 PM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Wednesday, December 11, 2019
Looking for a lens to carry while hiking? You likely want a compact and lightweight model but do not want to substitute image quality to get those properties. The Tamron 17-28mm f/2.8 Di III RXD Lens and its sibling 28-75mm f/2.8 Di III RXD Lens are great choices and both are quite remarkable lenses overall.
 
This afternoon in Acadia National Park found the 17-28 RXD along with a Sony a7R IV in a MindShift Gear BackLight 18L on top of Bald Mountain anticipating a great light show at the end of the day. Unfortunately, that show mostly did not happen. The weather forecast did not hold true and as can be seen in this image, thick clouds ruled the sky.
 
Just when we thought there was no hope for seeing a sunset, a tiny hole appeared in the clouds and awesomeness shined through. I dropped the tripod into the nearest location that looked compositionally promising and shot a several frame bracket, ensuring that one image had bright foreground detail captured at f/11 and the darkest of two others had a tiny bit of color remaining in the sun. The latter two images were captured at f/22. While f/22 results in softer image quality than f/11, it delivers a larger, better quality starburst effect and the clouds nicely hide the softness in the portion of f/22 capture used in the final image. Note that changing the aperture changes the starburst including the orientation of the star points. When bracketing such images, be sure that most of the images containing the starburst are captured at the same aperture to avoid an awkward appearing composite.
 
By the end of the first bracket capture, the warm sunlight was no longer reaching the foreground and after a second bracket at a slightly adjusted camera position, the sun was completely cloud-blocked again. The foreground lighting was better in the first set of images and cropping those from the bottom gave me a result similar to those captured in the adjusted camera position.
 
I seldom use ISO settings above 100 when photographing daylight landscape but you will notice that a setting of 800 was used for this image. Along with the heavy clouds came very strong winds and I was estimating the exposure duration that could be tolerated between gusts. The Really Right Stuff TVC-24L Mk2 Carbon Fiber Tripod and BH-40 Ball Head held solid and I probably could have used longer exposures — though sun time may not have permitted that.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
Post Date: 12/11/2019 9:27:16 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Monday, December 9, 2019
On this day's schedule was giving some great gear a workout and the Sony a7R IV and Tamron 17-28mm f/2.8 Di III RXD Lens combination were chosen. These were packed in MindShift Gear BackLight 18L along with a Really Right Stuff TVC-24L Mk2 Carbon Fiber Tripod with a BH-40 Ball Head mounted and the very early AM hike to Dream Lake ensued.
 
I don't like to be the second person at a popular location and some may say that I arrived too early for this one. The extra time ensures adequate setup time with some starry sky photography included. The extra time also means that very warm clothes were needed, especially with the wind often encountered here.
 
I love perfectly still water surfaces in the shade and the mirror reflections those surfaces create. This morning did not provide such and the mentioned wind was relentless.
 
Between reviewing long exposure, high ISO image captures and the light becoming bright enough for the foreground rocks to be visible, this composition was settled on. I wanted the closest round rock centered between the mountain peak reflections with a clean border around it and the other foreground rocks. The camera was leveled for both roll and pitch. I seldom want a camera that is not leveled for roll when photographing landscape and in this case, I also chose to avoid an upward or downward camera angle that would have caused the straight tree trunks to tilt inward or outward respectively. The focal length was selected to be inclusive or exclusive of details in the scene and the camera height was selected for the final composition. The color balance disparity of the warm first light of the day hitting the mountain mixed with cool shade in the valley below is natural and I love it.
 
The final image is the result of combining two images using manual HDR blending. As is often the case, those exposures were different with the sunlit areas captured darker (f/11, 0.4 seconds, ISO 100) and the shaded areas coming from brighter settings (f/11, 30 seconds, ISO 200).
 
As you likely noticed, the longer exposure is dramatically longer and includes a 2x-brighter ISO setting. This exposure was needed to compensate for a 6-stop Breakthrough Photography X4 ND filter (great gift idea) being used. The longer exposure this filter permitted allowed the water to be smoothed, averaging out the reflection details in the lake surface ripples, giving the mountain reflections some definition. A third image (another darker one) was pulled in because some of the trees were less motion-blurred than in the primary image.
 
The aforementioned gear all performed excellently. It was a superb choice for this event. Of course, the bottom line is that Dream Lake and its rocks rock!
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
Post Date: 12/9/2019 9:43:45 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Thursday, December 5, 2019
Smart people told us long in advance that the planet Mercury was going to pass in front of the Sun for many hours on 11/11/2019 and that the transit was going to be visible across a huge swath of the world, including my location on that date, falling during my Shenandoah National Park Workshop.
 
My first thought regarding photographing this event was that I could take a picture of the Sun anytime and simply use the paint brush tool to drop in Mercury planets wherever desired. While the result would look fine, it wouldn't be nearly as fun or as phsychologically rewarding as experiencing the event firsthand and capturing the real thing. Photographing the Sun is easy and a little black dot in front of it was going to be equally easy to capture so, I packed the required solar filter for the trip.
 
The Sun was not going to be our primary subject on this day, we didn't have time to shoot throughout the entire many-hour transit, and the cloudy sky made photographing it challenging during the few times we attempted to do so. Still, I wanted to show the entire transit in the final result. To fulfill that goal, I pieced a number of images together and then duplicated a Mercury planet to fill in the entire path across the Sun.
 
While the Mercury transit does not rise to the level of amazing as the recent solar eclipse, it was still fun to see and photograph.
 
When photographing the Sun, everything else in the frame is black unless there are clouds being brightly lit while darkening the Sun enough to even out the dynamic range. With black periphery being easy to create during post processing, framing the Sun a tightly as possible becomes the goal. Still, the Sun will not come close to filling the frame even at 1200mm, the longest most photographers will use, on a full frame camera. In a focal length limited scenario, higher pixel density on the imaging sensor means more resolution remaining after cropping and the Sony a7R IV has that. The Sony FE 600mm f/4 GM OSS Lens and FE 2x Teleconverter were used to gain the 1200mm focal length.
 
Among the many images captured were some with a cloud-caused fiery haze surrounding the Sun. Adding some of these images into the Photoshop stack provided the option of including the haze in the final image as shared here.
 
Here is a question for you: Since I watched Mercury transit the Sun in an electronic viewfinder, did I really see it?
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
Post Date: 12/5/2019 11:20:19 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Wednesday, December 4, 2019
It is generally much easier to photograph deer in a field or meadow than in the forest where tree trunks and branches create obstructions and chaotic backgrounds. However, the forest is where many deer spend large amounts of their lives. Heading into the forest may reduce the odds of getting good images but the increased challenge makes a successful in-the-forest image more rewarding.
 
While a 600 f/4 lens is an awesome choice for obscuring a distracting foreground and background via blur, the narrow angle of view can be challenging to use in the forest due to the obstructions. A farther away view results in a higher chance of trees and branches being in the way. Despite having a Sony FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM OSS Lens with me in Shenandoah National Park, I mostly used the Sony FE 600mm f/4 GM OSS Lens. The images this lens makes are hard to beat and once one acclimates to 600mm f/4 images, it becomes difficult to be satisfied with anything less.
 
All 600mm f/4 and similar lenses are very expensive but the high price has one advantage: it is a barrier of entry, making it harder for those without such a lens to compete with those having one. In a world with an unimaginable number of images being captured daily, this lens' image quality is a differentiator and those able to make the investment should frequently make use of their advantage.
 
I was working ahead of this buck (with a somewhat unusual drop tine), looking for openings it might pass through. He came into this opening and cooperated nicely, looking toward the camera. After quickly capturing a few images with the currently-selected focus point, I changed the focus point to a more optimal position in the frame and captured another burst of images before the buck turned its head. I selected the image with the best deer pose (both ears forward and looking toward me) and stitched another of the images captured using the other focus point for a slightly wider overall image.
 
This image was captured on a bright cloudy day. Clouds act as a giant softbox, eliminating the harsh shadows often encountered in the woods. Images captured in cloudy weather often appear slightly cool and low contrast is also normal for images captured under cloudy skies. Adding a small amount of contrast and saturation and warming the color balance slightly brings the image to life.
 
The increased challenge, increased reward concept applies to many genres of photography. Welcome ways to increase your challenge!
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
 
Camera and Lens Settings
600mm  f/4.0  1/400s
ISO 2000
10272 x 6912px
Post Date: 12/4/2019 9:10:41 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Tuesday, December 3, 2019
Rocky Mountain National Park is very scenic but some locations within the park have better environments for elk photography than others. Elk go where they want to and little will stop them from doing so, but I have some favorite locations and usually will pursue the elk found in these. This elk was in one of my go-to locations, featuring a low, clean foreground and rocky mountain base in the background.
 
Elk are very large animals and that means relatively long distances are required to fit them in the frame of a long lens (and for personal safety). Longer subject distances mean increased depth of field and that means the background will be less diffusely blurred. The 600mm f/4 focal length and aperture combination creating a three-dimensional effect that makes the subject stand out from the background is especially valuable when photographing large animals such as elk.
 
After seeing how sharp the Sony FE 600mm f/4 GM OSS Lens was (and experiencing how light it was), I opted to use this lens behind the ultra-high-resolution Sony a7R IV for all of my late summer and fall wildlife photography.
 
The bull in this photo was moving across the meadow in front of us and this great rut-characteristic chin-high pose was my favorite. The other images captured in this sequence provided a small additional amount of background that, with the lack of distracting details, I later decided to merge with the original image, creating a panorama. With the 61 MP resolution provided by the a7R IV, I didn't need the additional pixels. Moving back and cropping would have been easier from a post-processing perspective but moving back would have resulted in a missed opportunity in this instance (and the original framing would have been fine). Note that this capability likely exists in some of your images — be cautious when deleting the lesser images.
 
Images captured under a cloudy sky, including this one, usually readily accept some contrast increase and a modest amount was added to this image.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
Post Date: 12/3/2019 12:28:28 PM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Monday, December 2, 2019
Not having thumbs makes catching and handling slippery salmon very challenging for bears and very entertaining for those photographing the action. This bear is deploying one of its catching techniques, pinning the fish down for an easier bite.
 
What caught my attention in this photo is the colorful salmon tail splashing upward.
 
I'm getting into the Black Friday/Cyber Monday spirit with a special offer on the Brown Bear Chasing Salmon, Remote Katmai National Park, Alaska instructional photo tour. Sign up along with a spouse or friend and save $500 on the second admission price for this bucket list-grade trip.
 
Dates: Thu, September 17 to Fri, September 24, 2020
 
If this trip is calling you, I need to hear from you as soon as possible. Contact me to sign up!
Post Date: 12/2/2019 11:44:19 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Saturday, November 30, 2019
Sony a7R IV and Epic Rocky Mountain National Park Milky Way The Sony a7R IV and Sony FE 24mm f/1.4 GM Lens teamed for an epic Rocky Mountain National Park Milky Way on this September evening. While chasing elk in rut was our top priority during the RMNP workshops, photographing the night sky was also on the to-do list and a clear RMNP night sky never fails to wow us.
 
For the Milky Way to reach down close to its reflection requires the reflecting surface to have little obstruction above it. Large bodies of water have distant shores and that distant perspective usually results in lower shoreline sky obstructions. Small bodies of water are more likely to have a calm surface than large bodies but trees and mountains typically get in the way of the little-obstruction requirement. Mountains often bring elevation gain that tends to bring reflection-erasing wind.
 
This particular small mountain lake is set high enough for the southern view to open up to the sky while being protected from the wind for the perfect combination. I love pointed spruce treetops and always welcome their great character on the horizon. Reflections can be counted on to double the value.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
Post Date: 11/30/2019 9:53:35 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Saturday, November 23, 2019
One of my favorite subjects to photograph is the Milky Way. The required long exposures provide plenty of time to simply watch the spectacular sky show (unless I'm running two cameras), taking in the awesomeness, and the pictures captured are usually among my favorites. I was blessed with the opportunity to photograph the Milky Way from several top-notch locations this year, including during the Rocky Mountain National Park and Acadia National Park workshops. The image shared here was captured from the coast of Acadia NP.
 
Seldom can the reflection of the Milky Way be seen in an ocean as the water movement completely blurs everything during the required long exposure. However, tidal pools are often still and can make great reflectors (though not at high tide) for a variety of coastal photography needs including reflecting the night sky. Adding value to this particular tidal pool was the low surrounding rock with good character, adding jaggedness to the rock line and its reflection.
 
To photograph the night sky, I usually want a wide-angle lens with an f/2.8 or wider aperture available with sharp wide-open image quality. The Canon RF 24-70mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens, with an EOS R behind it and a Really Right Stuff TVC-24L Mk2 Carbon Fiber Tripod and BH-40 Ball Head under it, met those needs superbly.
 
Photographing the Milky Way is easy and very addicting. This image was captured using the 2-second self-timer feature with settings of f/2.8, 15 seconds (longer exposures increase star trail length), and ISO 6400 (with a low amount of noise reduction applied). I opted to brighten the result a bit in post and brightened the foreground by an additional stop for a single-image HDR. Just after sunset, the sky still had some color in it and a slight saturation increase (+1 in DPP and +7 in PS) made those colors pop. Auto white balance was used. Increasing contrast via an S-curve adjustment always makes the Milky Way stand out.
 
As I was searching through the over-a-thousand images captured with the RF 24-70, selecting a few to share in the review, this one stood out as my favorite and thus I'm sharing it with you here. Add the RF 24-70mm lens to the list of good night sky lenses.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
Post Date: 11/23/2019 1:49:25 PM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Tuesday, November 5, 2019
This image was one of my Katmai National Park goals. I wanted a straight-on, tightly-cropped bear face image and the image shared here was my favorite from this trip.
 
The bear was huge. The September coat was beautiful. The pose was almost perfectly straight-on with some catchlights in the eyes. The water drops falling from the bear's snout show that it is active. No, that is not lipstick and yes, it is looking at me. Fortunately, these bears like the taste of salmon and not that of people.
 
I could have made use of a 1.4x extender behind the Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS II USM Lens for this image but didn't have time to install it. Fortunately, the Canon EOS 5Ds R resolution is so high that this heavy crop still has adequate resolution. A Wimberley Gimbal Head made controlling the large lens effortless and sitting on a small stool makes the time with the bears quite comfortable.
 
Picture yourself sitting alongside a remote creek in Katmai National Park filling memory cards while photographing these giant bears catching salmon, playing, fighting, etc. That's the opportunity I had and that is the opportunity you have in September 2020! Plan on joining me for the Brown Bear Chasing Salmon, Remote Katmai National Park, Alaska instructional photo tour.
 
Plan to increase your wildlife photography skills while capturing portfolio-grade images on this bucket-list-grade trip! Learn more here.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
Post Date: 11/5/2019 6:30:00 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Tuesday, October 29, 2019
After getting to the Vessel, located in Hudson Yards near the Jacob Javits convention center in Manhattan, New York City, getting in is the next step (though photographing the exterior of this structure is also fun) and getting in requires a ticket. Vessel Tickets are free, but they must be sourced for a particular entry time slot. Tickets are available online, beginning 14 days in advance, and on site (though they can sell out). Reasonably-priced Flex Pass tickets are available up to 6 months in advance and permit one-time entry at any time on that day. If making a big effort to get to this location, it might be worth spending a bit to get this ticket.
 
Once inside, plan on walking a LOT of steps with 2,500 of them available in 154 flights connected to 80 landings. Even when circling the Vessel at the same level, one must go down and up stairs almost continuously.
 
From a compositional perspective, the higher the shooting position (the more stairs you climb), the more that stairs and landings are seen in the compositions (as you are inclined to shoot more downward at higher levels). The lower the shooting position, the more that the copper color and reflections tend to be seen. The hexagonal shapes created by the flights of stairs and landings appear largest when photographed with a level camera. A wide range of focal lengths can be used, but ultra-wide-angle focal lengths are really fun to use here. The 15mm focal length was not too wide and I would have used wider if I had it available (the Canon EF 11-24mm f/4L USM Lens would be especially fun here).
 
Note that this is a "Tripods and selfie sticks are not permitted" location. I didn't have a problem with the selfie stick limitation but would have much appreciated having a tripod to work from. A small amount of (sloped) space available on hand rails enabled use of a Really Right Stuff TFA-01 Ultra Pocket Pod and that along with a BC-18 Microball worked very well, though very close attention was required to ensure the rig did not tip over the edge. There is a conventional round handrail throughout the structure, but it is lower than the sloped edge rail, making the RRS clamp I had along unworkable due to the obstructed view.
 
I love symmetry in compositions and while this structure makes symmetry available, it is a challenging pursuit. My advice is to frame the scene as symmetrically as possible or make it look like you didn't try to do so. Either can look great, but a nearly symmetrical image can appear sloppy. Centering the camera on a landing (watch the floor and railing tiles for centering clues) and ensuring that it is level is a good start to obtaining symmetry. Fine-tuning may still be required and even if great care is taken in the field, fine-tuning may still be required during post production.
 
This location can be photographed at any time of the day. However, the later the night got, the more I liked the results. The black sky allowed reflections on the structure to pop. Aircraft (a police helicopter is landing in this image) and vehicle lights can be streaked through the frame after dark. Fewer people were visiting and the longer exposures permitted by the darkness allowed the people still there to be erased via their movement. Using strong ND filters is a good mid-day option for obtaining long exposures. Especially on the higher levels, there are vibrations from people walking, especially when going up and down stairs. Long exposures can be surprisingly sharp when the vibrations are a short percentage of the overall exposure.
 
Another strategy for removing people from the composition is to capture multiple images, later blending them to show portions of the frame without people. Perhaps visiting on a bad weather (think cold, rain, etc.) weekday might gain solitude. Additional options include embracing the naturally occurring people and taking someone along that you want in your photo (environmental portraits).
 
If the sun is visible, capture it peeking through the structure using a narrow aperture to create a star effect (wide aperture lenses often work best for this). I planned to capture the sunset in the background on this afternoon but ... heavy clouds canceled that show.
 
The elevator rails will likely end up in your wide-angle images, so use them compositionally. Try centering the rails and also angling them through the side of the frame. Observe the buildings in the background varying as the structure is circled. Give consideration to what they look like in the composition. The blue lights shining upward from the bottom of the structure can be utilized in the frame. In this case, a narrow aperture turned them into a rather wild-looking bright blue star.
 
I managed to spend 4 hours at the Vessel before a phone call pulled me away from the fun. The take-home from this shoot was very good and it was difficult to select one image to share.
 
The image I've chosen here simply would not be the same if captured at 16mm. I carried the Canon EOS R and RF 15-35mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens, the only combination I ended up using, along with some other options in a MindShift Gear BackLight 18L. This backpack was perfect for this need.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
 
Camera and Lens Settings
15mm  f/16.0  30s
ISO 100
6696 x 4464px
Post Date: 10/29/2019 7:00:00 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Wednesday, October 9, 2019
I had attempted to photograph the historic Crystal Mill twice. On the first (not very serious) attempt, a navigational error prevented success. On the second attempt, heavy rains prevailed and even the jeep service would not take me to the mill. With the end of the Rocky Mountain National Park photography workshops aligning with the normal peak fall foliage time in Marble, CO and the airline ticket price home being significantly lower one day later, I opted to make another attempt at photographing this mill and routed the itinerary through Marble one more time. This time, success was achieved.
 
Getting to this location requires driving a very-rough 4x4 road or a very long hike. My rental Suburban checked the 4x4 box but I was advised that it was questionably long to safely make the trip. Yes, the rental company's damage insurance coverage was in place but I still needed to be able to get to the airport and after driving up the first section of road, I opted to park the SUV in an area just large enough to clear the road. The hike remaining hike was between 4 and 5 miles and quite scenic.
 
This trek started mid-morning and the mill was reached at around noon. Upon paying the access fee ($10 enables access beyond the cable) and scoping out the available shot locations, it was obvious that the light would be better later in the afternoon (as expected). Also, the crowds were heavy at noon, another unfavorable aspect of photographing at this time of the day. With a very early AM flight scheduled, a very short night at the hotel was promised (about 2.5 hours of sleep) and a nap seemed like a good plan. I hiked past Crystal City, a ghost-town-like area featuring historic rental cabins and a store, and upon finding a sloped rock with my name on it, (sort of) slept for a couple of hours.
 
Upon returning to the mill, I found the crowds much lighter. The sky had filled with clouds that created an even light and clouds prevailed for most of my remaining time there. I didn't mind the even lighting that the clouds created but the clouds in the background were usually in direct sunlight, creating a huge dynamic range. After shooting many HDR captures, the clouds parted momentarily and I was able to make (only) one single image with direct sunlight hitting the mill while using this camera and lens. The cloudy sky images were nice, but this direct sunlight image was my favorite.
 
For this hike, I could take two cameras and two lenses in the MindShift Gear BackLight 18L. The Canon EOS R and Canon RF 15-35mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens made the cut and delivered excellently. A Breakthrough circular polarizer filter was used to cut reflections and increase saturation. a Really Right Stuff TVC-24L Mk2 Carbon Fiber Tripod and Really Right Stuff BH-40 Ball Head provided the support for this image.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
Post Date: 10/9/2019 11:39:33 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Wednesday, September 11, 2019
With a forward head tilt and relaxed ears, this bedded whitetail buck looks cute and cuddly, presenting an image perhaps ready for a child's storybook. But, make no mistake, this is a huge ball of muscle ready to violently fight anything it thinks poses a threat to its interests (that right-side G4 tine required significant force to break off). This buck knows exactly what the doe bedded nearby behind it is doing and if another buck moves in or the doe moves away, this big bad boy will be up in a flash.
 
Very positive was that this bedded buck provided a wide range of poses for us, including head rested solidly on the ground, a large yawn, and ears perked in attention.
 
I'm not often a fan of a downward camera angle when photographing wildlife and in this case, getting down to the buck's eye level using a fully-retracted monopod made complete sense. This low/level angle provides a more distant background that can be strongly blurred with a 600mm f/4 lens, allowing the subject to clearly stand out against an even very distracting background. With the subject being stationary, the distance and alignment could be selected and varied. In this case, the leaves on the ground provide a solid base for the image. The large tree trunk on the left and the small tree trunk on the right provide a frame for the subject.
 
Wildlife photography is a great source of stories and this situation brought back a memory from the year before. I was in Shenandoah National Park photographing a different bedded buck from a reasonable distance when it suddenly bolted straight toward me. I jumped behind a tree just as it went past a short distance away. Fortunately, it was not racing after me but instead after a doe. I just happened to be in its path.
 
The shot of adrenaline took a little time to wear off, but the memory is a fun one.
 
Want to photograph these awesome animals and create some stories this fall? Sign up for the "Whitetail Buck in Rut and Much More", Shenandoah National Park instructional photo tour.
 
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: 9/11/2019 9:06:42 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Tuesday, September 10, 2019
I'll not likely ever repeat a shot similar to this one captured on a fall evening in Rocky Mountain National Park.
 
Photographing multiple animals (vs. a single animal) significantly increases the compositional challenge and especially with a 600mm lens in use, having all of the animals in the plane of sharp focus, especially at f/4, is a big challenge. At this moment, these three subjects aligned themselves nicely for me at this moment. The number 3 is meaningful to this discussion in that an odd (vs. even) number of animals often works best compositionally (note that it also works well in landscape photography and in landscaping).
 
When multiple animals are in the frame, interaction between those animals usually increases the image's appeal. If you look carefully at this photo, you will see a quite humorous interaction occurring. The bull is licking the cow who is showing us her shocked face. The cow's yearling is looking intently at the behavior, seemingly very interested in what is happening. The yearling facing the opposite direction somewhat completes a circle (while a portion of the circle of life plays out). Icing on the cake is that the head shadows of the cow and yearling are showing facing each other on the side of the bull.
 
There are two openings remaining for the September elk in rut photo tour, one for each week. The time is rapidly running out, but it's not too late for you to join a small group of passionate wildlife photographers pursuing these awesome animals and the beauty of RMNP. 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
  • 1 Opening: Sun, September 22 to Sat, September 28, 2019
  • Sign Up for September 2020
Contact me to sign up!
 
Photographers at all skill levels are also invited to join me for these tours:
 
Fall Landscape in Acadia National Park Instructional Photography Tour
 
Tue, Oct 15 through Sun, Oct 20, 2019
 
"Whitetail Buck in Rut and Much More", Shenandoah National Park
 
Sun, November 10 to Wed, November 13, 2019 and/or Wed, November 13 - Sat, November 16, 2019
 
Contact me to sign up!
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
Post Date: 9/10/2019 8:00:00 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Monday, September 2, 2019
Where there is smoke, there may be drifting! Kinetic friction expert Ryan Litteral leaves a plume of smoke behind his high-powered Formula Drift car while painting new lines on the street.
 
When shooting a fast-moving subject at a relatively long shutter speed (for panning blur), the sharp image rate is typically low. Increasing the number of keepers is the Canon EOS 90D's fast 10 fps continuous shooting speed, a highly-welcomed upgrade from the 80D.
 
In this example, I was evaluating the 90D AF system's ability to select the desired focus point using Auto AF point selection (all 45 AF points active) and ability to select the correct focus distance with a fast-moving subject. The results were very good with the AF point switching nicely while I attempted to track the car in the viewfinder.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
 
Camera and Lens Settings
120mm  f/11.0  1/80s
ISO 100
5391 x 3594px
Post Date: 9/2/2019 9:05:38 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Saturday, August 31, 2019
Can the Canon EOS M6 Mark II with the optional EVF-DC2 electronic viewfinder be used to capture fast action moving from side-to-side? While the EVF has a slight display freeze when each image is captured, I was able to keep up with the drift cars while using this one.
 
Highly advantageous for capturing sports action is this camera's 14 fps continuous shooting rate and the latest version of Canon's Dual Pixel CMOS AF is also very high-performing, up to this task.
 
How does this little camera handle larger lenses such as the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM Lens used for this image? Canon's latest tiny M-series cameras are surprisingly easy to use with larger lenses such as this one and the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens I was using to photograph action on the track. As when using DSLR cameras, the left hand controls the lens and the right grips the camera. There is not as much grip real estate on the M models, but the design provided is adequate for this use.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
 
Camera and Lens Settings
90mm  f/10.0  1/50s
ISO 100
6732 x 4488px
Post Date: 8/31/2019 10:48:36 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
The rear tires on a Formula DRIFT (Formula D) car do not last very long and when there are only a few fast-moving cars participating in the action, short photo opportunities followed by long breaks become the schedule. The safe method of photographing this and similar subjects is to use a fast shutter speed, freezing the action for a sharp image. However, frozen action does not (usually) ideally convey motorsports action. Thus, I opted for shutter speeds long enough to result in a low success rate.
 
While I promptly deleted a lot of my images, I only needed a few images from this event and I wanted them to have a very strong panning blur. That plan worked.
 
Using a circular polarizer filter often brings substantial improvements to photos taken mid-day and a Breakthrough X4 CPL was used for this capture. To get a longer shutter speed under bright sunlight without going to an extremely narrow aperture (diffraction being the issue), a 2-stop neutral density filter was stacked behind the CPL to block additional light. Because the gear being introduced and evaluated at this event was unknown prior to arrival, I chose to take a set of large-sized filters along with a stack of step-up filter adapter rings to provide versatility and one was used for this image.
 
This is Dustin Miles turning right to go left and leaving tire on the track. The Canon EOS 90D with its fast 10-fps continuous shooting rate is a great choice for capturing fast action.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
Post Date: 8/31/2019 9:53:49 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Friday, August 30, 2019
A Lamborghini Huracan AND a Kelly Moss Porsche 911 in the same garage? Those two cars are worth about as much as all of the camera lenses below the Conowingo Dam on a fall weekend. Yes, this is a dream garage and yes, there was drooling. With a 2.5-mile Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta just outside, my only question was "Where are the keys?!"
 
On this big day of test shooting, the Canon EOS 90D performed superbly, as its heritage leads us to expect. This is a superb general-purpose camera choice and while this particular scene did not challenge it, the subjects outside on the Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta track provided a greater challenge, one which the 90D also met.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
 
Camera and Lens Settings
24mm  f/5.6  1/80s
ISO 800
6960 x 4640px
Post Date: 8/30/2019 12:24:50 PM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Friday, August 16, 2019
It was just another typical rainy weekday in Ricketts Glen State Park. It was the perfect time to take my favorite ultra-wide-angle zoom lens and landscape camera body, the Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM Lens and Canon EOS 5Ds R, for a hike.
 
I am not aware of this cascade having a name, but I always find it photo-worthy. It is hard to go wrong with a series of lines leading into the bottom of the frame and the leading lines in the rock are the big draw to this location.
 
Camera height is something a photographer usually has some control over, at least within their physical reach ability or the height of their tripod if such is being used. When photographing flat water (pond, lake, ocean, slow-moving river, etc.), a higher camera position will often provide a higher percentage of the frame being filled with water than a lower camera position IF a similar overall scene framing is used. For example, photographing an ocean from a standing position with a level camera will result in far more water percentage in the frame than doing the same while lying down at the edge of the water due to the angle of view across a flat surface. Often, supporting that big IF requires that the camera angle be changed and camera angle also plays a role in determining how much of the frame is filled with water. A downward-tilted camera can include more water than a level camera.
 
The key is to find the right balance for the scene you are photographing and there may be multiple right answers. Work with a scene until you can find no more camera positions that work well. Then move on.
 
The small waterfalls seen here do not qualify as flat water, but there is still a lot of near-flat water in this scene. The right balance for this image was using an ultra-wide-angle focal length positioned with enough downward angle to show a significant amount of water and low enough to gain the right perspective to emphasize the foreground rock lines.
 
I don't always take the time to photograph this cascade, but especially with the wet rock bringing out strong color (saturation aided by a circular polarizer filter), I couldn't resist stopping on this day.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
Post Date: 8/16/2019 9:02:19 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Wednesday, August 14, 2019
Rarely does photographing wildlife subjects (and human ones also) at eye level not work well. Bull elk are very large animals, but when they bed down, a standing position may yield a downward camera angle. While I don't always mind a downward camera angle, it is frequently not my first choice. So, when they go down, consider taking the camera down with them. A lower position increases the likelihood of catchlights showing in the eyes.
 
It was raining lightly during much of the time I spent with this bull. There are a lot of benefits for photographing wildlife under cloudy skies, but such images typically have relatively low contrast and often respond nicely to a small contrast increase during post processing. A slight saturation increase is another adjustment that frequently helps images captured under heavy clouds.
 
There are now two openings remaining for the September elk in rut photo tour, one for each week. It's not too late for you to join a small group of passionate wildlife photographers pursuing these awesome animals and the beauty of RMNP. 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
  • 1 Opening: Sun, September 22 to Sat, September 28, 2019
  • Sign Up for September 2020
Contact me to sign up!
 
Photographers at all skill levels are also invited to join me for these tours:
 
Fall Landscape in Acadia National Park Instructional Photography Tour
 
Tue, Oct 15 through Sun, Oct 20, 2019
 
"Whitetail Buck in Rut and Much More", Shenandoah National Park
 
Sun, November 10 to Wed, November 13, 2019 and/or Wed, November 13 - Sat, November 16, 2019
 
Contact me to sign up!
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
Post Date: 8/14/2019 12:00:00 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Thursday, August 1, 2019
My favorite camera mode is manual mode. But, when lighting conditions are changing rapidly, it is often helpful to get the camera involved in the decision-making process via auto exposure. When using auto exposure, most often I'm still using manual mode, but with auto ISO being selected.
 
In auto exposure modes, the camera must be able to guess the proper exposure, or close enough that the result can be adjusted to perfection during post-processing without detriment to image quality (increased noise for example). When photographing deer, a subject rather neutral in relative brightness, in their natural environment, the camera often gets the auto exposure right. Wildlife photography is usually very challenging, involving unpredictable action and fast camera work, and having the camera take care of the exposure can make the difference between getting a great shot and getting nothing. With the exposure being determined by the camera, I can focus on getting the shot.
 
When the camera can guess the exposure with good accuracy and auto ISO in manual mode is being used, the shutter speed alone can be rapidly changed as needed to produce a sharp image. For example, if an animal that has been in fast motion (requiring a fast shutter speed) pauses and stares at something while motionless, a quick roll of the top dial can increase the exposure times to allow lower ISO settings be taken advantage of.
 
One thing I need to focus on is not getting too close to my wildlife subjects. While getting close enough to wildlife is a common challenge, being over-successful, getting too close, can sometimes be an issue. Wildlife subjects often need some space around them in the frame, some breathing room. Getting closer means a stronger background blur, but in this case, it meant not enough breathing room around the mule deer buck. Fortunately, Photoshop helped me increase the canvas size, adding some background to the perimeter of this image.
 
Another teaching point illustrated here is the catchlight in the buck's eye. In practically all images containing an eye, catchlights will add positively to the result, giving sparkle and life to the subject. Catchlights can be created with flash lighting, but when photographing wildlife, the sun, or at least the bright sky, is my favorite catchlight source as it usually provides the most natural appearance.
 
For catchlights to happen, something bright, often the sun/sky, must be able to reflect in the subject's eye. Think about the animal's rounded eye reflecting such and the camera angle needed for that to happen. The subject's head position can make a difference with a raised head increasing the chances for catchlight reflections. Your position can also make a difference. The lower your position relative to the subject, the more likely you are to get catchlights reflecting the light source. When the sun is the catchlight source, the lower the sun, the better the odds are that it will reflect in the eyes. The more exposed the sky is, the better the likelihood of a reflection.
 
In this example, I had a catchlight. However, with just a slight amount of the sky reflecting in the top of the deer's eye, it was a weak one. Using an exposure adjustment layer in Photoshop, I added a mask that was entirely black (not affecting the image) except for the little catchlight and then slid the exposure adjustment slider slightly to the right to increase the brightness, affecting only the catchlight. This tiny adjustment made a noticeable difference in the final result.
 
I'm always looking for an entertaining or at least unusual behavior to capture in wildlife images. This buck's large rack added points to the entertainment factor, but its behavior was rather boring — it was mostly feeding. While smelling the small plant is not dramatic behavior, it does speak to this animal's keen sense of smell and its ability to communicate in this way. The huge rock behind the buck provided an out-of-the-norm background for the image and the position of the antlers allowed all of the points to be seen. Thus, this image was my pick from this session.
 
A reminder: there is only one opening remaining for the September elk in rut photo tour in Rocky Mountain National Park. While elk are our primary subject, we'll be opportunistic, taking advantage of other wildlife that avails itself as illustrated here.
 
Consider joining a small group of passionate wildlife photographers pursuing these awesome animals. Photographers of 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!
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
Post Date: 8/1/2019 7:00:00 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Thursday, July 25, 2019
When a great animal is found, staying with it can lead to great images. Sometimes, it can lead to a lot of great images.
 
When photographing wildlife, the stay or go decision is often a tough one. The subject in front of us may not be entertaining for relatively long periods of time and the thought that a better opportunity may be nearby runs through our minds. On this day, staying was the right decision.
 
There is only one opening remaining for the September elk in rut photo tour!
 
Consider joining a small group of passionate wildlife photographers pursuing these awesome animals. Photographers at all skill levels are invited to join!
 
"Bull Elk in Rut and Much More", Rocky Mountain National Park
 
  • 1 Opening: Sun, September 15 to Sat, September 21, 2019
  • Filled/Wait List: Sun, September 22 to Sat, September 28, 2019
  • Sign Up for September 2020
Contact me to sign up!
 
Photographers at all skill levels are also invited to join me for these tours:
 
Fall Landscape in Acadia National Park Instructional Photography Tour
 
Tue, Oct 15 through Sun, Oct 20, 2019
 
"Whitetail Buck in Rut and Much More", Shenandoah National Park
 
Sun, November 10 to Wed, November 13, 2019 and/or Wed, November 13 - Sat, November 16, 2019
 
Contact me to sign up!
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
Post Date: 7/25/2019 7:00:00 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Saturday, July 20, 2019
It started out innocently. After verifying firsthand that Mount Evans was closed due to snow and ice, despite it being summer, we decided to explore Guenella Pass. Traveling the entire previous day gave Brittany a strong desire to go for a hike and she didn't have to expend much energy convincing me to take that option.
 
The plan was to explore the nearby alpine tundra from trails leading from a parking area near the top of the pass. We grabbed a backpack, some water, snacks, and rain shells and set off on what we thought would be a mini-adventure. Carrying the Canon EOS 5Ds R with a Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens mounted (primarily for wildlife) and a Nikon Z 7 with a Nikon Z 24-70mm f/2.8 S Lens mounted (primarily for landscape) seemed to be an ideal set of gear for the planned short hike.
 
While hiking, Brittany continuously wanted to see what was over the next ridge. In this location, deception reigned and the answer to the what is over the next ridge question is always another ridge. Still, we kept asking the question until having climbed mostly rock and snowfield over 2,400' (730m) up in roughly 3.5 mi (5.6km). Unintentionally, we found ourselves on top of a very high mountain.
 
The view at the top of the 13,800' Table Top Mountain was spectacular. What Brit was feeling from the altitude ... was not nearly as pleasant.
 
Unfortunately, we needed to promptly go back down and couldn't spend much time on top. Fortunately, Brit found the mental fortitude to get some great photos despite the altitude sickness but she didn't feel good until after a nap back in town.
 
While I was not as strongly affected by the high elevation, I definitely should have left the 100-400 in the SUV as it gained a lot of weight on this hike.
 
See the distant thunderhead cloud looming over Brittany's head in the image? That was another reason to go down quickly. That storm brought us near white-out snow conditions for a short period of time during our descent, adding to the day's story.
 
While photography is great for storytelling, going on photo adventures is a great option for creating stories.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
 
Camera and Lens Settings
24mm  f/11.0  1/200s
ISO 100
8256 x 5504px
Post Date: 7/20/2019 7:29:11 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Sunday, July 14, 2019
I spotted this lone bristlecone pine tree on my first drive up Mount Evans. The uniquely shaped tree alone on the side of the mountain begged to be in an image and on the last day of this trip, I made that pine my sunrise subject.
 
A clear sky does not hold promise for an amazing sunrise or sunset, but what can be counted on is the opportunity to incorporate a great sunstar into the image.
 
To create a sunstar from a point light source requires a narrow aperture. The narrower the aperture, the bigger the sunstar is the rule. I often select f/16 for these types of images as the effects of diffraction are usually tolerable at this aperture, even on the highest resolution cameras. A downside to using a narrow aperture with the sun in the frame is that flare effects are increased, especially from lenses with high element counts. Whether or not the flare shapes are attractive and desired may be a personal preference. Also note that, in general, wide aperture lenses create the largest sunstars.
 
Nikon Z 14-30mm f/4 S Lens' f/4 aperture isn't terribly wide and in this case, I opted for f/22 to get a larger and more attractive (including stronger points) star. I don't like the softness that diffraction creates at f/22 so the portion of the frame without the sunstar in it was merged from an f/11-captured frame. I captured a 5-shot bracket (varying by 1 stop) at each aperture setting and opted to use a brighter f/11 image for the foreground.
 
The other property a clear sky can promise is a very warm light immediately after the sun rises or immediately before the sun sets and the warm first or last light of the day raking over a scene is often welcomed from a landscape photography perspective.
 
The small crescent moon included in the frame just above the left side of the pine tree was a bonus for this image.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
Post Date: 7/14/2019 3:12:02 PM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Wednesday, July 10, 2019
by Sean Setters
 
If you're like me, after having purchased the 5DayDeal Complete Video Creators Bundle (especially over multiple years), you may have a ton of LUTs (Look Up Tables) that can be used to color grade your videos and images. For instance, the last time I counted, I had over 600 LUTs sitting in a folder on my hard drive. Unfortunately, sifting through my LUTs to find one that's appropiate for a specific video/photo project has has been a painfully slow and tedius process, requiring the of application of each LUT individually within the software editor for preview purposes.
 
Thankfully, there's a better way. A Swedish software designer has created an excellent (and free) program – Bulk LUTs Previewer – that allows for fast and easy previewing of your locally stored LUTs.
 
How Does Bulk LUTs Previewer Work?
 
It's really simple.
 
  1. Open the program and click "Import" to point Bulk LUTs Previewer to the image you'd like to use as the sample. I'd suggest using a small resolution image as a full-resolution image will make the previews load significantly slower.
  2. Click the "3D Luts" button and navigate to your folder containing the LUTs.
  3. Click "Generate" to generate the LUT previews.
Bulk LUTs Previewer Screenshot

How to Apply a LUT in Photoshop
 
Once you've found the LUT you'd like to use, here are the steps for applying the LUT to an image in Photoshop.
 
  • Open your image and add a Color Lookup Table adjustment layer.
  • In the Properties panel of the adjustment layer, click "Load 3D LUT..."
  • Click the "Load 3D LUT..." option and navigate to the appropriate LUT.
While the sofware is free, I highly suggest donating to the author (using the "About" menu option) to encourage the software's further development (I did).
 
Download: Bulk LUTs Previewer
Post Date: 7/10/2019 5:55:20 AM CT   Posted By: Sean
 Sunday, July 7, 2019
Untimely was that Mount Evans and the other high peaks in the Colorado Rockies were the recipients of a summer snowstorm that dumped up-to-2' (that's right, feet, not inches — 0.6m) of snow the weekend just prior to my Monday afternoon arrival, closing the mountain for the first two days of my trip. Weather is one of the many reasons for planning more time at a location than seems necessary and for this trip, 4 days was definitely not too long.
 
There is often a photographic upside to bad weather and in this case, that upside was snow available for inclusion in both the foreground and often the distant background of images. Adorable baby mountain goats in snow works for me.
 
Bonus points are awarded for images having all of a wildlife subject's feet visible. Very often subjects are in an environment that does not allow the feet to be completely visible (grass in a meadow for example). This little kid (what a baby goat is called) was racing around and conveniently opted to run over this rock (it's what all kids do, right?).
 
I have a tendency to frame my wildlife images too tight and the base image used for this shot was vertically tighter than I liked. Fortunately, I had another image in the burst sequence that permitted a vertical panorama to be created, giving my kid some breathing room.
 
While I would like the Canon EOS 5Ds R to have a higher frame rate for wildlife photography, the images it creates are simply awesome, especially when a lens like the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens is in front of it. I lugged a 600mm f/4 with me for the duration of this trip but used it very infrequently due to extremely high winds at the over-14,000' (4,267m) elevation making subject framing too difficult. That issue along with 400mm being often sufficient at the top of this mountain meant the 600 spent most of the week in the SUV. The 100-400 allowed capture of environmental wildlife portraits as desired and that technique was definitely desirable at the top of this mountain.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
 
Camera and Lens Settings
400mm  f/8.0  1/2000s
ISO 400
8688 x 6312px
Post Date: 7/7/2019 7:00:00 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Tuesday, July 2, 2019
If you are a bull elk, there comes a time in life when you are mostly alone during the rut. The other bulls your size have become your enemies and the larger bulls are going to beat you up if you get too close to the herd. You become referred to as a satellite bull.
 
While this bull is relatively large, he is no match for those having the cows. Bigger is usually better in terms of bull elk subjects, but I cannot resist photographing the smaller bulls in the right scenarios.
 
While I often seek sunlight from my back when photographing wildlife, the animal looking directly into the sun often works well from a lighting perspective. In this case, I was aligning a non-distracting background (that happened to be in the shade of a cloud) to help the elk prominently stand out in the frame.
 
There is only one opening remaining for the September elk in rut photo tour!
 
Consider joining a small group of passionate wildlife photographers pursuing these awesome animals. Photographers at all skill levels are invited to join!
 
"Bull Elk in Rut and Much More", Rocky Mountain National Park
 
  • 1 Opening: Sun, September 15 to Sat, September 21, 2019
  • Filled/Wait List: Sun, September 22 to Sat, September 28, 2019
  • Sign Up for September 2020
Contact me to sign up!
 
Photographers at all skill levels are also invited to join me for these tours:
 
Fall Landscape in Acadia National Park Instructional Photography Tour
 
Tue, Oct 15 through Sun, Oct 20, 2019
 
"Whitetail Buck in Rut and Much More", Shenandoah National Park
 
Sun, November 10 to Wed, November 13, 2019 and/or Wed, November 13 - Sat, November 16, 2019
 
Contact me to sign up!
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
Post Date: 7/2/2019 12:46:56 PM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Saturday, June 1, 2019
When the fog is present, contrast is significantly decreased and heavy fog can reduce visibility to very short distances. While in Shenandoah National Park for two days in the spring, heavy fog was the only visibility I had. The dozens of turnouts and trails designed to show off spectacular views of the mountains and valleys far below all had the same view. White fog.
 
When this happens, one option is to find close subjects. With close subjects resulting in less light-scattering fog between the camera and subject, good color and contrast is retained. The large patches of bright green ferns were one such subject that always catches my attention in the spring in Shenandoah National Park. Fog scatters light in all directions, creating very even lighting even deep in the woods.
 
The one problem remaining was a light breeze. Some of the ferns I was photographing were waist high. With a big sail and a small stem, these ferns moved in even the lightest breeze. I would rather the slight motion blur in the lower left fern blade not be there.
 
Options for dealing with the subject motion were limited. Embracing the movement and allowing the subject to become blurred is an easy one. Results vary when using this technique.
 
Waiting for short breaks in the breeze was option I worked on. Taking many shots was another, trying to catch a fern at the end of its motion.
 
Making shorter shutter speeds available by increasing the ISO setting is another good option. This option results in increased noise in the image, but sometimes a scene can be captured at a low ISO for the stationary subject and then at a higher ISO setting to keep the moving parts stabilized. The two (or more) image can then be stacked during post processing with only the in-motion portion of the frame being shown for the high ISO capture.
 
Using a narrower aperture offers the same shutter speed advantage with reduction of DOF being the penalty.
 
A last method I was working with involved placing small temporary Y-shaped twigs at the base of the closest ferns (the ones moving across the most pixels) to help stabilize them. A Wimberley Plamp is a good tool for this purpose.
 
Moving farther away from the moving branch and/or using a wider focal length make the moving subject smaller in the frame which means they cross over imaging sensor pixels less rapidly which means they are sharper in the final image.
 
Remove the light-cutting circular polarizer filter can help establish faster shutter speeds, though this is not often a good choice for landscape photography. While on the fog topic, note that CPL filters very significantly cut through fog. The difference can be very noticeable. Rotate the filter to turn on or off the fog effect, obtaining the look you want.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
 
Camera and Lens Settings
16mm  f/11.0  1/4s
ISO 400
5760 x 3840px
Post Date: 6/1/2019 11:20:58 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Wednesday, May 29, 2019
Credentialed access to a 4 hour concert in a 15,000-seat indoor stadium seemed like the perfect opportunity to give the Canon EOS R and Canon RF 28-70mm f/2L USM Lens a workout while the mostly high-energy performers also got a workout.
 
When photographing low light action, one historically had to choose between a moderately wide aperture (f/2.8) in a zoom lens and an ultra-wide aperture (f/1.4 for example) in a prime lens. With the RF 28-70, you can have both a wide aperture and a zoom focal length range. While some prime lenses still have the wide aperture advantage, the RF 28-70 f/2 L lens bridges the divide and, especially from an image quality perspective, is an outstanding option for low light needs including concert photography.
 
The spot lights happened to be on the singer (Ledger) in this image, allowing a very clean ISO 800 with a shutter speed adequate to stop most of the motion at f/2. Other images were captured at ISO settings as high as 6400 where the 1-stop advantage this zoom lens has over most other zooms makes a considerably bigger difference in image quality.
 
At concerts, the location of the action is often unpredictable and changing fast and that means focal length changes are required, ideally fitting for a zoom lens. Yes, some prime lenses could have given me another 1-stop lower ISO setting, but I would have minimally needed multiple cameras to cover the same range and often the performers were moving so fast that the shot would have been long gone by the time the cameras were swapped. Shooting wider and cropping later is an option, but lower resolution images are the result.
 
Also great for fast moving subjects was the R's touch and drag AF. With the left hand adjusting the focal length and the right thumb moving the focus point as needed for ideal framing, the EOS R was an ideal choice.
 
Every shoot teaches new lessons and here are a few concert photography tips from that night.
 
First, if photographing with a media pass, know without a doubt which gate you are supposed to enter through and be ready to politely ask for a additional opinions when the first person(s) thinks they know the different gate you are required to enter through. This saves walking half way around a stadium to the shipping and receiving area and waiting for a security guard to make a series of phone calls to figure out what you already knew and send you back to the other side of the stadium. If opting to ignore this advice, strongly consider arriving at least 1 hour early.
 
Also if photographing with a media pass, make sure that you have a signed copy of that pass (minimally on your phone) with you because the media reps for some reason may not have your name on the list. If offered a label with your name handwritten on it, request a lanyard because your camera strap is going to peel the label off within 10 minutes of your arrival, leaving you without the pass. Minimally attach the label to something that avoids the peel-off risk.
 
While your media pass may specify where you are supposed to photograph from, the media pass may not have been updated since the 360° stage was implemented. The specified locations may not exist and those working the show may have no clue about the topic or even how to get to the floor from the entrance level. Arrive early enough that if the instructions do not align with reality there is time to figure out where you are permitted to go without negatively impacting the show (it is probably not being performed for you).
 
Oh, if the tour is promoting a 360° stage, just get a ticket and leave the camera at home. Within seconds, the performer can be a basketball court distance away and even two cameras with complementing zoom lenses are not adequate. Compounding the problem is that you will have backs toward you for at least 270° of the stage.
 
I'll add these notes to the concert photography tips page.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
 
Camera and Lens Settings
28mm  f/2.0  1/500s
ISO 800
4480 x 6720px
Post Date: 5/29/2019 7:00:00 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Friday, May 24, 2019
This bull had just lost a fight over a harem of cows and headed for the hills. His rack was larger than that of the opponent, but the opponent's body was larger and that is where the battle strength comes from.
 
Capturing this image was primarily a matter of repeatedly getting out in front of the bull and properly predicting where it would enter a clearing at the right distance for the big prime lens I was using. As you will notice from the camera settings for this image, it was quite dark when this image was captured. The pursuit started under cloudy weather that deteriorated into light rain.
 
I still have one opening remaining for the September elk in rut photo tour in Rocky Mountain National Park (or get on the 2020 waiting list). Consider joining a small group of photographers (all skill levels welcome) pursuing these awesome animals and other wildlife and landscape opportunities in this great park!
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
Post Date: 5/24/2019 11:00:00 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Friday, May 17, 2019
The timing was perfect for a visit to Ricketts Glen State Park. The new beech tree leaves were coming out with their light spring green color looking great. It had rained a significant amount the prior day and the forecast was for rain all of this day.
 
Waterfalls, of course, thrive on rain, rain saturates the landscape, rain requires clouds and clouds ensure even lighting, and also helpful is that rain keeps the (smarter?) potential park visitors at home and out of images. On this day, I had the Falls Trails completely to myself until I was hiking out near dark.
 
Rain also makes photography a bit more challenging. I was wearing Gore-Tex clothing (boots, pants, and jacket) that kept me completely dry. At least dry until I overheated a bit while hiking up out of the canyon at a fast pace with quick-drying clothing resolving that problem quickly after I was back in the car. I carried a large umbrella to work under (awkward but very helpful) and had a microfiber cloth readily available to wipe water drops from the front of the lens. When shooting waterfalls, a microfiber cloth is often needed regardless of the rain situation. Note that nano-coated filters are easy to keep clean and easily worth their additional cost on days like these. The camera and lens were in an inexpensive rain cover that I was evaluating and that is now on the to-replace list as it was not "waterproof", leaving the camera and lens wet enough that a towel was needed (get a LensCoat RainCoat). This is an example of when weather sealing can save the day.
 
The Canon EOS 5Ds R and the Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM Lens were the only camera and lens that came out of my BackLight 26L on this day. It was the perfect combination for this image and all of the others I wanted. Also in the backpack was an EOS R and RF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM Lens. The BackLight's rear access meant that cameras could be swapped without setting the backpack down on the very wet ground and without taking the rain cover off.
 
I've mentioned that I rely on my tripod for personal support at times and this was one of those. Working up onto this ledge over wet rocks was not easy and a Really Right Stuff TVC-24L Carbon Fiber Tripod saved me from a serious fall when my footing broke loose. The ledge position meant that the lower tripod legs were planted rather far below me, making every inch of the "Long" length of this tripod very useful. Saving my images by cutting reflections and increasing saturation was a Breakthrough Photography circular polarizer filter. Had I forgotten this filter, I would probably have just turned around and gone home.
 
Overall, it was a great day in Ricketts Glenn SP. I'll likely be sharing more of the images captured on this day at some point.
 
With 24 named waterfalls, including some of the most photogenic falls around, Ricketts Glen State Park is waterfall photography heaven. I spent over 45 minutes capturing a variety of compositions of this falls alone and finally forced myself to move on, leaving some options for another day. If you are interested in photographing with me here, I need to know. This will likely be the destination for an upcoming waterfall photography workshop!
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
Post Date: 5/17/2019 8:20:00 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Tuesday, May 7, 2019
A whitetail deer's ears are extremely perceptive. So good is their hearing that they have the practical equivalent of eyes in the back of their heads. The buck in the foreground, with ears turned back and raised high, is essentially "watching" the buck in the background while looking the other direction.
 
The buck in the background is using his ears for another purpose, to communicate threat. While his ears are also turned back, the big difference is that they are laid low. The threatening laid-back-and-low ear position is not unique among deer and should serve as a warning to wildlife photographers if the warning is being directed toward them. Buck in rut frequently use this communication technique with other deer.
 
Another communication strategy deer and other animals use is the raising of their hair. In a moment, a buck can go from having a sleek, normal-appearing coat to appearing huge and fuzzy with every hair (thousands per square inch) standing straight out (imagine what humans could look like if we possessed that skill).
 
Always be looking for that something extra in your images and when photographing wildlife, communication is one such extra that can take an image to the next level. Another extra illustrated in this image is the incoming buck's raised front leg. This shows action.
 
This scenario pictured here unfolded quickly and capturing the action was the first priority. The image that showed the best juxtaposition of the two bucks was not as well-balanced in the frame as I wished, cutting off some of the trees on the right side. Fortunately, another image in the sequence included more of the right side of the scene and stitching the two images together allowed the full set of trees to be included, creating a natural frame.
 
There is still room to join me this fall for the "Whitetail Buck in Rut and Much More", Shenandoah National Park Instructional Photo Tour. Stay for the entire time and I'll pick you up at/near the Dulles International Airport.
 
Sun, November 10 to Wed, November 13, 2019 and/or Wed, November 13 - Sat, November 16, 2019
 
Contact me to sign up!
 
Photographers at all skill levels are also invited to join me for these tours:
 
"Whitetail Fawns and Much More", Shenandoah National Park
 
Sun, June 9 to Wed, June 12, 2019 and/or Wed, June 12 - Sat, June 15, 2019
 
Fall Landscape in Acadia National Park Instructional Photography Tour
 
Tue, Oct 15 through Sun, Oct 20, 2019
 
"Bull Elk in Rut and Much More", Rocky Mountain National Park
 
1 opening: Sun, September 15 to Sat, September 21, 2019
Filled: Sun, September 22 to Sat, September 28, 2019
Wait List or Sign Up for 2020.
 
Contact me to sign up!
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
 
Camera and Lens Settings
600mm  f/4.0  1/500s
ISO 2200
8910 x 5476px
Post Date: 5/7/2019 10:29:47 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Saturday, May 4, 2019
The tips of elk antler tines are polished for a reason. During the rut, bull elk thrash the ground with their antlers and in addition to the tine tips becoming whiter, this practice often results in grasses and other plants hanging on the antlers. Sometimes the haystack is large enough to impede vision.
 
There is only one opening remaining for the September elk in rut photo tour. Consider joining a small group of passionate wildlife photographers pursuing these awesome animals. Photographers at all skill levels are invited to join!
 
"Bull Elk in Rut and Much More", Rocky Mountain National Park
 
  • 1 Opening: Sun, September 15 to Sat, September 21, 2019
  • Filled/Wait List: Sun, September 22 to Sat, September 28, 2019
  • Sign Up for September, 2020
Contact me to sign up!
 
Photographers at all skill levels are also invited to join me for these tours:
 
"Whitetail Fawns and Much More", Shenandoah National Park
 
Sun, June 9 to Wed, June 12, 2019 and/or Wed, June 12 - Sat, June 15, 2019
 
Fall Landscape in Acadia National Park Instructional Photography Tour
 
Tue, Oct 15 through Sun, Oct 20, 2019
 
"Whitetail Buck in Rut and Much More", Shenandoah National Park
 
Sun, November 10 to Wed, November 13, 2019 and/or Wed, November 13 - Sat, November 16, 2019
 
Contact me to sign up!
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
Post Date: 5/4/2019 10:21:25 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Friday, May 3, 2019
When photographing a symmetrical subject, either take the time and effort to make it perfectly aligned in the frame ... or don't come close to doing so.
 
An image of a symmetrical subject that is perfectly symmetrically framed (or at least nearly so) usually looks great. An image of a symmetrical subject that appears intentionally non-symmetrically framed can also look great. It is when an image of a symmetrical subject is almost symmetrically framed that it appears you have made a mistake.
 
Some symmetrical subjects are far more forgiving than others. A tile floor is typically symmetrically unforgiving and note that any geometric distortion in a lens increases the in-camera alignment challenge. Another challenge is slight asymmetry in the subject.
 
This image appeared ideally aligned in-camera, but it still needed to be adjusted slightly in post-production to finish off that task. I thought I had the image ready to go when Sean mentioned that the monument was not quite perfectly straight. Measuring structure positions in Photoshop made it appear straight with some subject asymmetry showing at the bottom of the monument. A tile was lifted by a noticeable amount on the right side and the left side had stone showing on the outside of the perimeter drain that was not showing on the right, both creating optical illusions of asymmetry. I decided those fixes were needed and made some other adjustments (sometimes these small projects take on a life of their own). After revisiting the image a couple of times, I decided that Sean was still right and adjusted rotation slightly to move the image closer to perfection.
 
In this image, Abe Curland of B&H is carefully aligning his shot of the Empty Sky Memorial in Liberty State Park, NJ. The lines in tile flooring provide valuable assistance for finding center.
 
In light of the Should I Get the Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III or EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM Lens? article just posted, I'll mention that this image could have been equally captured with the less expensive Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM Lens. The Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM Lens was my choice for this trip because I was shooting from a tripod and wanted larger-sized stars to be created from the city lights during the blue hour and after dark. I was pulling a Think Tank Photo Airport Security rolling case around the city, so gear weight was not an issue.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
Post Date: 5/3/2019 9:00:00 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Tuesday, April 30, 2019
In addition to presenting danger, this large Pennsylvania mother black bear was looking for danger, a move that often includes a pause that gives a photographer time to carefully focus, compose, and shoot.
 
At this distance, the bear was not close to fitting in the 600mm frame. Keeping the bear's head in the frame is the primary compositional goal and shooting vertically with a sideways pose meant that a large portion of the frame was empty. Fortunately, the mamma bear's second-year cub was moving in and added interest to the empty portion of the frame.
 
As I had no control over either subject, this result depended on situational awareness along with a bit of serendipity. Time spent in the right locations increases the chance of serendipity.
 
While the bright gray background may appear studio-like, it was courtesy of a heavy morning fog between the subject and the distant background.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
 
Camera and Lens Settings
600mm  f/4.0  1/1600s
ISO 2800
5504 x 8256px
Post Date: 4/30/2019 7:00:00 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Sunday, April 28, 2019
An easy way to get a unique photo is to find a unique subject. I have seen a lot of different antler abnormalities, but this buck sported a new one.
 
Antlers are very strong, but deer frequently break their tines and even main beams, especially when fighting. However, the broken tine or beam nearly always breaks cleanly, detaching immediately, never to be seen again. Or, often due to injury, antlers grow in abnormal directions. This buck's right antler was broken off under the skin, dangling from the skin keeping it attached.
 
When photographing animals, I like to see separation between the legs and especially like to see one of the front legs stepping forward, showing action. I'll rarely complain about wildlife photography lighting when there is a setting sun behind me with the catchlight in the eye adding life to the animal.
 
What will this buck's next rack look like? I hope to find out this fall. Want to join me to photograph these great animals in Shenandoah National Park?
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
 
Camera and Lens Settings
600mm  f/4.0  1/1600s
ISO 320
8006 x 5338px
Post Date: 4/28/2019 6:30:00 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Saturday, April 27, 2019
Welcome to Island Pond, located by Red River Camps in Deboullie Public Reserved Land of T15-R9 in the North Maine Woods. That this location is a nearly 1-hour drive from the grid and paved roads should help set the scene. Along with natural beauty, what you get here is a dark sky and at this time in August, a beautiful view of the Milky Way and the annual Perseid Meteor Shower.
 
Aside from the effort required to get to this location, this was a very easy image to create.
 
  • Mount the camera and lens on a solid tripod
  • Manually focus the lens on a bright star using fully-magnified live view
  • Adjust the composition as desired with the camera leveled for roll
  • Dial in a manual exposure of f/1.8 (use your widest available), ISO 6400 and 30 seconds (a stretch)
  • Set the camera to its high-speed frame rate
  • Plug in a remote release
  • Capture a test image and verify that it looks good
  • Lock the release button down (press down and slide forward)
  • Return later
The camera continuously captures images, hopefully with perfectly-positioned meteors in them. These frames can also be made into a time-lapse.
 
After setting up the first camera, you have plenty of time, so set up a second camera the same as the first, capturing a different composition.
 
On this night I had three camera setups with four of what I consider the best night sky lenses available. One of the cameras was a Nikon model and the only Nikon-mount star-capable lens I had along (not a Nikon model) showed a serious image quality problem, leaving two cameras in operation.
 
I mentioned that the 30-second exposure was a stretch and that is what happens to the stars at this focal length, exposure duration, and imaging sensor pixel density combination. They get stretched.
 
A blur is created when details in an image move across pixels on the imaging sensor, regardless of the reason why that happens. As we all know, due to the earth's rotation, stars are moving across the frame when the camera is in a fixed position. The longer the exposure, the more they are magnified (longer focal length lens) and the higher pixel density the imaging sensor has, the more that star blur will be visible at the pixel level.
 
Note that when final images are viewed and compared, the imaging sensor's pixel density-caused blur becomes equalized. For example, if you are printing at 8" x 12", the pixel density factor no longer matters in regards to the star trail blur created by two different resolution, equal-sensor-sized cameras.
 
Also, note that not all stars move at the same rate relative to the camera position. For example, the North Star (Polaris) does not move at all. If you are primarily including the northern sky in the frame, you might be able to use longer exposures than if your camera was directed west, east or up. There are star blur rules that can be helpful, but photography skills rule. Analyze your results as soon as they are captured and make adjustments as needed.
 
I mentioned having 4 of my favorite star lenses along with me. They are my favorites, but the perfect star lens, at least from a lens in the realm of affordability for most individuals, does not exist. All lenses have at least some issue keeping them from reaching perfection and corner performance is typically their biggest limiting factor.
 
This image was captured with the Sigma 14mm f/1.8 DG HSM Art Lens. It is a great choice for this purpose.
 
For star photography, ultra-wide angles are helpful for taking in a greater area of the sky and allowing longer exposures before star trails become visible, though ultra-wide angles produce rather small stars. Ultra-wide apertures (that produce sharp enough image quality to be used) create a brighter image in less time or at a lower ISO setting. The Sigma 14mm Art lens has those two features.
 
The worst case: even if the entire night's shoot was a failure, just hanging out under a starry sky would be totally worth the time and effort.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
Post Date: 4/27/2019 8:27:00 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Friday, April 26, 2019
by Sean Setters
 
As I have gotten older, I have come to appreciate the many benefits of being well organized. Why is that? Far too often, I have experienced the consequences resulting from not being very well organized or thorough in my planning. And that's an ideal segue into the following story.
 
Our small family was planning on spending the long Easter holiday weekend with some friends and their two kids in Gerton, NC (about 17 miles southeast of Asheville, NC). As I contemplated what photography equipment to bring, my wife advised me that the Honda CRV we would be taking was going to be very full, so I needed to "think carefully" about how much camera equipment I brought along. Typically speaking, I like to bring the kitchen sink, so to speak, when photography is on the agenda. But in this case, there wouldn't be room in the car for the I-maaaaay-use-that type of gear I typically bring along.
 
Knowing that the gear I packed had to be versatile enough to capture indoor/candid portraiture as well as landscapes/waterfalls didn't make the job any easier, especially since I wanted to also bring some off-camera flash gear to take formal portraits of our hosts' kids (as well as my own, possibly) if given the opportunity. So, here's what I packed into a medium-sized photography backpack the night before we set off:
 
I knew I wouldn't be shooting enough to exhaust the two camera batteries stored in the camera's battery grip, so there was no need to bring the LC-E6 battery charger. I considered bringing an LCD Loupe and a rocket blower, but there wasn't enough room in the bag and I thought I could make do without them.
 
In addition to the backpack, I also stowed the following lighting gear in another part of the automobile:
 
At this point, sharp-eyed observers might have noticed a vital omission from the items I packed if I wanted to use the off-camera lighting gear. However, I didn't notice what I had forgotten until we were all eating dinner the first evening of the trip. For some reason, I was going through the gear I had packed in my head when it hit me. I turned to my wife and said in astonishment, "I forgot to bring my radio trigger and the 5D III doesn't feature a pop-up [master] flash. The off-camera flash gear I brought is completely useless."
 
Of course, "completely useless" was a bit of an exaggeration, as I could still use the flash on-camera and bounce it off a neutral colored surface if shooting indoors. But in essence, forgetting the tiny radio trigger meant that I had packed several of the items in vain, a frustrating revelation to say the least.
 
Thankfully, the first floor of the house where we were staying had a large bank of windows that provided ample soft light in the family/dining room and kitchen areas of the house, as evidenced by the picture atop this post and the one below.
 
Easter 2019 Gerton NC Trip 2

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

 
Easter 2019 Gerton NC Trip Abandoned House 2

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

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

She was much happier with my second attempt at capturing "the bloom."
 
Of course, the initial failure to capture what my wife really wanted did not have devastating consequences as I was able to rectify the situation with another (more complex) photo shoot the following day. However, the lesson learned from this ordeal is quite clear, and it will surely pay more tangible dividends down the line. Don't take seemingly simple requests at face value; always dig deeper to ascertain the precise needs of your client, potentially avoiding the wasted time, effort, frustration – and dissatisfaction – resulting from not fulfilling those needs the first time around.
Post Date: 4/3/2019 7:30:55 AM CT   Posted By: Sean
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