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 Saturday, April 21, 2018
I had been watching this pair of red fox kits (what baby fox are called and not to be confused with the kit fox species) at a relatively close distance, within photo range, for perhaps an hour with essentially no good images captured. They were running, resting, wrestling, eating (the mom or dad would occasionally bring them captured food), nursing and simply being extremely cute.
While I was thoroughly enjoying watching the adorable babies, I of course wanted photos to take home. The problem was the thick brush including vines, trees, limbs, grasses, etc. constantly obscuring the view and creating hard shadows that were nearly as problematic as the obstructions. There were very limited unobscured areas to shoot into at this location and the kits seemed to seldom go into these.
At one point, the kits started running together in a big circle. I saw that the arc, if followed, was going to lead them through one of the small openings. I told the small group I was with to get ready, followed my own advice and when they hit the opening, I hit the shutter release.
The result of anticipating the shot was one of the few images worth processing I captured on the trip and anticipation is often the key to successful wildlife photography. Wildlife is frequently moving and determining where that movement will correspond with a good composition is often what is required for good results.
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
Camera and Lens Settings
600mm  f/4.0  1/1600s
ISO 160
5901 x 3934px
Post Date: 4/21/2018 7:30:00 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Saturday, April 14, 2018
What is the cutest animal on the face of this planet? Whitetail deer fawns are at the top of my list. These adorable fawns decided they were going where I was and I was thankful that I could zoom out wide enough to keep them in the frame while they were going.
In the field, scenarios can change fast and keeping photography strategies simple can mean the difference between getting a good photo and getting nothing. That said, selecting an exposure must always be part of the strategy.
Most North American deer are brown and brown is a friendly color for a camera's auto exposure algorithm (unlike the color of most black bears). Green is another friendly AE color and that is the most-common background color at Shenandoah National Park in late spring. Thus, I commonly use AE when pursuing this subject with little need to monitor changing light levels.
Though using AE, I am still using the camera's Manual mode with Auto ISO providing the brightness adjustment. The fawns are often in fast motion, so I want control of the shutter speed being selected with a fast speed being normal. When the subject pauses, I roll the top dial to select a longer exposure, resulting in a lower (less-noisy) ISO setting being automatically selected.
The aperture setting works similarly. If I have a single subject, I can roll the aperture value to a wider setting, again with the ISO setting being reduced and a stronger background blur created. If multiple subjects become part of the composition or I decide that the background should be more recognizable, I simply dial in a narrower aperture.
There are obviously many more factors that go into a wildlife image capture but having a solid exposure strategy that works in many scenarios helps keep the strategy simple. Currently, turning my mode dial to Custom Mode 3 instantly provides this setup.
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
Camera and Lens Settings
222mm  f/8.0  1/800s
ISO 2500
3168 x 4752px
Post Date: 4/14/2018 8:57:09 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Sunday, April 8, 2018
This large bull elk is singing my favorite Rocky Mountain song.
I took a little time to process a few images from my fall Rocky Mountain National Park trip and thought I would share one that I liked.
When elk are standing, their antlers rise far above their heads, meaning that wider framing (longer subject distance or wider focal length) is required to fit the entire animal within the image borders. However, when elk bugle, they tilt their heads far back, bringing their antlers much closer to the rest of their body, allowing a tighter portrait to be created. Although I was positioned for a tightly-framed image of a standing bull, I was still able to crop modestly for a large-in-the-frame elk.
Most often, the head is facing forward, positioning one antler on each side of their body. For this bugle, the elk's head was turned to the side, allowing both antlers to fit comfortably into a tight portrait. I liked how that pose came together with a beautiful animal in great light.
Of course, the Canon EOS 5Ds R and Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS II USM Lens delivered amazingly as well.
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
Post Date: 4/8/2018 5:57:00 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Wednesday, April 4, 2018
By Sean Setters
While on vacation in Pigeon Forge, TN, my wife and I decided to tackle some easy-to-moderate trail hikes in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Being spring break for many primary school students, the park was more crowded than usual. With that in mind, we decided to avoid all the paved trails which are typically popular for family hikes. While we had a few trails in mind, a stop at the Sugarlands Visotors' Center and a talk with one of the rangers proved vital to determining which trails we would ultimately traverse as the ranger provided previously unknown information like temporary road temporary road closures, likely crowd sizes and the types of things we might see on each trail. In the end, we settled on the Porters Creek Trail / Fern Branch Falls at Greenbrier and Cucumber Gap Loop at Elkmont.
Photography was not a primary goal for these hikes; spending quality time with my wife who thoroughly enjoys hiking was. However, going on the hikes without a camera seemed unimaginable to me, so I decided to pack a small kit with the intent of pausing our hike periodically so that she could meditate to the tranquil sounds of the wind in the forest and the gently flowing creek. At least, that's how I sold the idea to her as she watched me pack my small camera backpack.
I knew that our hikes would follow a couple of creeks and their smaller tributaries. I wanted to use long exposures to capture silky movement in the water, which meant that an ND filter was necessary. I decided to bring my Singh-Ray Vari-N-Duo filter because its variable neutral density filter and circular polarizer combination seemed well suited for photographing flowing water. Note that I didn't say "perfectly suited" as I own the standard version of the filter which is very thick (it extends .69" / 17.54mm from the end of the lens) and causes significant mechanical vignetting at focal lengths wider than roughly 50mm on the EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM (mounted on a full frame EOS 5D Mark III) that I took with me. In short, the tradeoff for getting an ND + polarizing effect was the loss wide angles of view.
Using exposures long enough to capture ample motion blur in the water necessitated a stabilized camera, and that meant I needed to bring a tripod or alternate method of stabilization. My primary tripod and head weigh in at nearly 6.5 lb (2.9 kg) and when compacted, are still 27.75" (70.49 cm) long. The size and weight of the tripod made it an inconvenient and cumbersome choice for the hikes, especially considering the small camera backpack I planned to take on the trips.
In place of the primary tripod I opted to take my Feisol TT-15 Carbon Fiber Tabletop Tripod. Even with a small travel-style ball head attached, the tripod and head weigh less than 1 lb (0.45 kg) and are only 8.38" (21.29 cm) long when folded down. The combo's small size and minimal weight made carrying the tripod a breeze yet it allowed me to capture the long exposures I was hoping to get. That said, there was one significant drawback to the diminutive tripod, which is that the framing and composition options available at any given time depended on the surfaces (and especially the height of those surfaces) available at any specific location. There were several locations that I thought looked interesting but couldn't find a suitable platform high enough to get the composition I wanted. But in most cases along the Smoky Mountain Trails we traversed, a large rock bordering (or in) the water or a fallen tree trunk provided a sufficiently high enough platform for pleasing compositions.
Porters Creek Trail, Great Smokey Mountains National Park #2

In the end, I was extremely happy I had the Feisol TT-15 Tabletop Tripod in my kit. Consider picking one up if you plan on hiking moderate-to-long distances and want to reduce the weight you bear with every step.
Post Date: 4/4/2018 10:52:22 AM CT   Posted By: Sean
 Sunday, March 25, 2018
While the full moon is a great and highly-popular photo subject, I'm just as big of a fan of photographing the small crescent phase.
Just after the new moon phase, the moon starts trailing the sun into the western horizon and very soon after the new moon, the brightly-visible shape of the moon is a tiny crescent and it descends into sunset colors. The opposite is also true. Just before the new moon, catch the waning crescent moon on the east horizon just before sunrise.
On this day at this time, the moon was 2.4% visible. The night before, I could not locate the .2% moon as it set due to its too-close proximity to the sun. The 7.2%-visible moon also looked great the next night, but the higher the moon is, the farther it is from the greatest likelihood of sunset color.
Photographing the moon is easy, but to get the moon in a photograph requires the moon to be visible. For the waxing crescent phase, a clear view of western sky just after sunset, or the eastern sky just before sunrise, is minimally required. Clouds can provide some interest and add color, but they can block the key subject. A clear sky nearly assures a visible moon and a bright orange horizon.
While the weather is long-term unpredictable, moon phases are highly predictable. The moon takes 29 days, 12 hours, 44 minutes and 3 seconds to complete a lunar month. If this subject interests you, set a calendar appointment. If one attempt does not work out, just wait for the next opportunity to come in about a month.
A consideration for a moon photograph is the foreground. Moon photos can work well with only sky in them, but in this case, I went for a clean mountain range as the base of the image. Something interesting silhouetted in front of the sky also works very well (consider the depth of field required for this). Artificial lighting can be used to change the silhouette to a fully-lit subject.
Which focal length should be used to photograph the moon? That depends on how big you want the moon to be. The longer the focal length, the larger the moon will be rendered in the frame. A 1200mm full frame angle of view renders the moon only about 1/3 of the narrow dimension of the frame. Use wider focal lengths to include more sky color and additional elements in the frame. The Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens is an excellent choice for this purpose, providing a nice range of focal length options.
Remember that lunar photography is not extreme low light photography – the illuminated portion of the moon is in direct sunlight. Avoid overexposing the moon. Balancing the brightness of the sky with the brightness of the moon simply involves timing. Start photographing prior to the optimal time and continue until the lighting is past your desired result.
I opted to slightly crop the original capture during post processing, making a minor adjustment the overall balance. From a white balance perspective, I warmed the bottom of the frame, cooled the overall balance and added some saturation to pull out the colors. Overall, this is a simple image to capture and having Venus available (that is not a white dust spec on your screen) was a bonus on this particular evening.
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
Post Date: 3/25/2018 12:00:00 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Saturday, March 24, 2018
Fifty mm lenses are useful for many subjects and one of the great uses for tilt-shift lenses is architecture. From a previous Philadelphia visit, I knew where this focal length would work well with plenty of architecture in the frame.
The procedure for capturing this image is a rather standard one for me. Scout the location (already had this step done). Show up before sunset with a pair of cameras, lenses and tripods. Set up both using two significantly different focal lengths (cropping can effectively handle smaller differences in focal length, especially when using a 5Ds or 5Ds R camera) and begin photographing the city using a level-on-both-axes camera and a sharp f/8 aperture as the sun sets.
When the lights come on, I adjust the aperture to f/16 to gain the starburst effects from the lights. This aperture is not as sharp as f/8 due to the effects of diffraction, but details remain sharp enough (ideal would be to merge the areas of an f/8 image with the star effects of an f/16 image). Also, soon after the lights come on, I begin capturing an underexposed frame periodically so that I could later use it to pull the brightness of some of the lights down (the gridded triangle roof top was especially bright). I adjust the exposure as necessary as the sky darkens and when there is nearly no color left in the sky, I usually pack up and head home.
In the end, I usually archive most of the earlier-captured images as the images captured within the ideal 5 minutes of the blue hour are usually my most-preferred. Usually, the perfect timing exposure is f/16 for 30 seconds at ISO 100.
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
Post Date: 3/24/2018 8:30:01 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Thursday, March 22, 2018
By Sean Setters
Take a look at the picture above and try to guess which color gels were used to create the in-camera effect. Then read on.
Last week, Patrick, a friend of the site, emailed us asking for advice on how to photograph school children, in costume, for an upcoming performance of Peter Pan. Patrick said that he would be photographing about 70 kids and would be creating formal portraits in a gymnasium before the kids' initial performance. He had all the necessary equipment, but he simply wanted some guidance on the lighting setup.
During our email exchange where we discussed different ideas and setups, I suggested that Patrick might use 2 CTO (orange) gels on his main light and set his camera's white balance to a very cool Kelvin value to get a warm main light against cool (ambient or ungelled flash) fill and/or background light that might simulate theatrical lighting, the same technique that I described in a post from last year.
In the end, Patrick decided to go with a more traditional lighting technique that yielded great results. But the email exchange got me thinking about how opposite colors, like orange and blue, can be used to create intriguing images.
With a single (or stacked) CTO gel(s), you can vary the color intensity of the gelled light – even to white – in-camera by how much you shift your camera's white balance to blue (for example, using a low Kelvin white balance setting). That means you may be able to neutralize any color by shifting the white balance opposite direction (that's exactly what Auto White Balance does). But that also means that we can shift the color spectrum of our image to the opposite color of any gel by telling the camera that a neutral color target lit by the gelled light is actually neutral with Custom White Balance.
With that in mind, take a look at the image atop this post again. What gel (or gels) were used to create the in-camera color effect?
Gelling a Flash to Produce the Opposite Color
To test out this idea, I flipped through my collection of color gels until I found one that intrigued me – dark green (not the much lighter Plus Green). I honestly couldn't remember what the opposite of green was on the color spectrum and had to ask Google to help me out. The answer, of course, was red. I set up a tripod-mounted Canon EOS 5D Mark III and EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM, a couple of Canon Speedlites and a mottled gray background for a self-portrait.
The first thing I needed to do was photograph a neutral target using the gel. But instead of gelling the flash, I decided to gel the lens. Why the lens? Because my gel was big enough to cover the front element of the lens I was using and, if I had to illuminate a large [white] color target with multiple lights (for example), it would be easier to gel the lens rather than each individual light. I had never tried gelling a lens before, but it seemed to make sense for this purpose. I photographed a white target that filled the frame, illuminated by a bare Speedlite (very low power), using the green-gelled lens. I then used the image to set a Custom White Balance in-camera.
I put a flash grid on a Speedlite and pointed it at the background. A few test shots proved I was on the right track; the illuminated areas of the background were red. Now it was time to tackle the main light. I decided to use a gridded 24" collapsible soft box (similar to this) and positioned the soft box so that its light didn't contaminate the background (camera right, slightly behind me, pointed slightly toward the camera). I attached two gels to this flash, the green gel that I had used to create the custom white balance (in essence, turning the flash's output white) and a full CTO to provide some warmth.
As for the fill light, I decided to simply open the curtains on the windows behind the camera and let the daylight ambient light left the shadow areas. I reasoned that the indirect sunlight would be close enough in color to my bare flash that the effect would be similar, and even if they weren't, exact/precise color balance wasn't necessarily the point of this exercise. As long as the result looked interesting and illustrated the concept sufficiently, I was going to be happy. However, a few test shots confirmed that the color of the fill light looked similar to the light on the background, at least as far as this colorblind photographer was concerned. I also know that adding the additional CTO to the main light likely caused a less pronounced difference between its color and that of the background, but I thought the less dramatic color shift would make the image look a little more organic. After it was all said and done, I had a portrait with a red background and a red fill light with a much-less-red-tinted main light – in camera – without using a single red gel. EXIF for the image was f/4, 1/160 sec, ISO 800. In hindsight, I could have easily used a slower shutter speed and a lower ISO, but I was so used to using 1/160 second when using off-camera flashes with radio triggers to kill the ambient that I didn't think to adjust the shutter speed when I actually wanted the ambient to play a supporting role in the lighting.
When might this concept come in handy? Well, if you wanted your overall scene to be a certain color, but you didn't have that color gel in our kit, you could use the opposite color to shift your white balance to get similar results. Or, if you simply don't have enough gels for a multiple light setup, you could again shift the color spectrum of all your lights using a gel of the opposite color. This won't likely be a technique that gets you out of a jam, but... it can certainly be a fun technique to experiment with, and thinking about color balance and how to manipulate it in different ways may prove beneficial down the line.
B&H sells color gels for flashes.
Post Date: 3/22/2018 11:16:44 AM CT   Posted By: Sean
 Wednesday, March 21, 2018
by Sean Setters
I spent this past Saturday morning at the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge with the hopes of photographing a few birds while I was there. Unfortunately, opportunities to photograph my intended subjects were few and far between as it's just past the peak season for waterfowl in the area.
Egret Savannah Wildlife Refuge March 17 2018

However, as the image atop this post illustrates, there were definitely other subjects that deserved my attention. It seems that I wasn't the only top-level predator who was interested in the waterfowl.
American Alligator Savannah Wildlife Refuge March 17 2018 #2

There were plenty of warnings in the visitor's center that alligators were present in the refuge, but reading a warning doesn't invoke the same heart rate increase as seeing a pair of eyes and a snout just above the water line within 20 feet of you as you walk along a pathway.
And that got me thinking. When photographing birds, it's often ideal to photograph them from ground or water level, which means you will likely be positioned near the water's edge and in a rather defenseless, prone position. Unfortunately for us photographers, that's the same area where alligators find their easiest meals.
American Alligator Savannah Wildlife Refuge March 17 2018 #3

Of course, it's important to put hazard into context – attacks by American alligators are very rare. Since 2010, there have only been 6 confirmed deaths attributed to the species. However, I'd suggest taking a few precautions to ensure you're not the next unlucky one.
American Alligator Range

When you're photographing in a marshy area/wetland within the American alligator's range, here are a few things to keep in mind:
  • Avoid the water's edge and especially don't crouch down next to it. An American alligator can sprint at about 11 miles per hour (17.7 kph) for short distances. Alligators don't like chasing after prey, so the farther away from the water's edge you are, the less appealing you'll appear even to a particularly hungry one.
  • Stay alert. You are most vulnerable when looking through the viewfinder, so look around before doing so and try to minimize viewfinder usage as much as possible.
  • Alligators, like crocodiles, often work in teams. If you see one, there's a good chance there's another one (or more) nearby.
  • Alligators are most active from dusk to dawn, so try to avoid traversing alligator-prone areas during those times.
  • If you are attacked by an alligator, make as much noise as possible and fight back by hitting, kicking and poking it in the eyes. Alligators will often release prey and retreat when they cannot easily overpower it. Of course, seek medical attention as soon as possible.
Of course, you may find yourself in the same situation as me where the alligators prove to be the most interesting subjects available at the time. By staying away from the water's edge, remaining alert and minimizing use of your viewfinder, you can relatively safely photograph alligators using the same equipment ideal for bird photography; that is, a very long telephoto lens.
Post Date: 3/21/2018 12:25:34 PM CT   Posted By: Sean
 Tuesday, March 13, 2018
by Sean Setters
Before we delve into the different techniques for capturing focus stack images, it's important to understand why focus stacking is an important tool, especially in regards to macro photography. Focus stacking allows you to gain more DOF (depth of field) so a larger portion of your frame can be in sharp focus. Your DOF is determined by the relationship between format size (full frame or APS-C), focal length, aperture and focus distance. Macro photography, especially as magnifications of 1.0x (or greater) are achieved, necessitates focusing on very close subjects, which in turn produces a very shallow DOF even at relatively narrow apertures.
For instance, using a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV and an EF 100mm f/2.8L IS USM Macro lens set to f/5.6 with a subject distance of 11.8" (the lens' minimum focus distance), your DOF would be approximately 0.08" (2.03 mm). Switch out the 5D Mark IV for an EOS 7D Mark II and the DOF would change to 0.05" (1.27 mm). Note that if a 7D Mark II were used and the framing remained identical between the two cameras, the APS-C 7D II's DOF would be greater than the full frame 5D Mark IV's (see FOVCF).
With such a shallow DOF at f/5.6, why not just use a much narrower aperture to gain more DOF? There are two main reasons. The first is that even if you used f/16 with the 5Ds R under the shooting conditions listed above, your DOF would only increase to 0.23" (5.84 mm) which still won't be enough DOF to cover your subject under a lot of macro shooting conditions. And the second (probably more compelling) reason is that the cameras listed above have DLAs (Diffraction Limited Apertures) of f/6.7 and f/6.6, respectively. Noticeable sharpness and contrast penalties are incurred when using apertures significantly narrower than a camera's DLA, so shooting at f/5.6 allows you to obtain the sharpest image within your DOF.
In short, focus stacking allows us to obtain exactly the DOF we desire in a scene while maximizing sharpness at the same time (assuming an aperture wider than the camera's DLA is used).
Now that we've established why focus stacking is important in regards to macro photography, let's dive into ways you can capture the images necessary for focus stacking.
Really Right Stuff Macro Focusing Rail

Fixed Focus, Variable Camera Position
A perennial favorite for macro shooters is the use of a focusing rail to move the camera forward/backward at set intervals. Focusing rails are typically adjusted by rotating a screw on which the camera platform sits (or otherwise the platform freely slides along the rails until clamped into position) with markings provided to make precise interval shooting a breeze.
Move the camera forward so that the new plane of sharp focus overlaps with the previous shot and activate the shutter button. Repeat as necessary until the desired DOF has been captured.
If you prefer an automated solution, Cognisys, Inc.'s StackShot Automated Macro Rail can be programmed to do the work for you.
Note that if your macro lens features a tripod ring, you could attach an inexpensive macro plate (one with scaled markings) to the tripod ring and manually slide the camera, clamp, shoot and repeat to capture your focus bracket. This approach isn't as convenient and won't likely be as precise as using a geared macro rail, but it is much less expensive.
One issue that you may run into when using macro rails is that your perspective changes as you move the camera. However, most focus stacking programs are designed to properly align source images even with the perspective change.
Variable Focus, Fixed Camera Position
For this technique, the camera is mounted to a solid support system (typically a tripod) and images are taken as the lens' focus distance setting is changed to move the plane of sharp focus forward or backward. This can either be done manually by very carefully and minutely rotating the focus ring in between shots or the process can be automated through various camera remote platforms (CamRanger, CamFi, DSLR Controller). For the sample image atop this post, I used the Canon EOS 5D Mark III and EF 100mm f/2.8 USM Macro (and some extension tubes) to capture 17 RAW files while manually adjusting focus from the nearest in-focus element to the farthest.
Varying focus does not lead to perspective change. However, if the lens exhibits focus breathing (many do), the scene will be framed slightly tighter or looser as focusing is adjusted throughout the imaging sequence, making details larger or smaller in the frame. This change isn't typically an issue for most focus stacking programs.
Which focus stack capture technique should I use?
As a lens's maximum magnification is only achieved at its minimum focus distance, moving the camera position will enable you to achieve the lens' max magnification throughout your image sequence. Also, manually moving the camera via a macro focusing rail can enable you to capture a more precisely spaced set of images compared to manually varying focus (automated systems would likely be equal in that regard).
A focusing rail will not work as well for scenes with a lot of depth as your camera's travel distance will be limited to the length of your rail. In those cases, varying focus will be your only option. If you are on a limited budget and want to give focus stacking a try, the variable focus method doesn't require an investment in specialized equipment, making it much easier to just hit the ground running when the inspiration strikes.
Which focus stacking software should I use?
There are a few programs dedicated to focus stacking and at least a couple of general image editing programs have a focus stacking feature built-in. I decided to try three of them with the same stack of images to see how they compared.
To capture the stack images, I used the variable focus technique, manually adjusting focus between shots. Here's what the nearest focused and farthest focused shots looked like in the 20 shot sequence at f/5.6:
Focus Stack First and Last Shot

After processing, here were the results:
Photoshop CC Focus Stack

Adobe Photoshop CC - Auto Aligned, Auto Blend Layers (Stack Images with Seamless Tones and Colors)
Affinity Photo Focus Stack

Affinity Photo - Focus Merge
Helicon Focus Pyramid Focus Stack

Helicon Focus - Pyramid
Helicon Focus Weighted Average Focus Stack

Helicon Focus - Weighted Average (Default settings - Radius 4, Smoothing 2)
Each of the programs used did a decent job assembling the in-focus areas of the focus stack, but there were some notable differences. Photoshop seamed to do a great job assembling the in-focus areas, but it didn't handle the transitions to out-of-focus areas very well, especially in regards to areas showing depth. Affinity Photo seemed to do a better job handling the areas that troubled Photoshop, but it produced noticeable halos throughout the image.
It's important to note that Photoshop and Affinity Photo have very limited (if any) focus stacking options to allow for tailoring the stacking algorithm to best suit a given set of images. Affinity Photo provides no customization options for focus stacking while Photoshop CC gives you the option of Automatically Aligning the source images (highly recommended) in the Scripts/Load Files Into Stack dialogue box and provides two checkmark options – Seamless Tones and Colors and Content Aware Fill Transparent Areas – in the Edit/Auto Blend Layers/Stack Images dialogue.
On the other hand, Helicon Focus provides three separate algorithms for stacking – Weighted Average, Depth Map and Pyramid. And if you choose Weighted Average or Depth Map, you can choose specific Radius and Smoothing settings. The Radius setting adjusts how large of an area is analyzed around each pixel. Low Radius settings enable fine details to be better resolved, with an increased risk that halos will appear in the image. The Smoothing setting dictates how the in-focus to out-of-focus transitions will appear, with higher settings enabling a softer transition.
In the end, I liked the Helicon Focus Weighted Average result best, and with the ability to adjust its algorithms' variables, Helicon Focus will likely prove most adept at producing pleasing focus stacking results. But if you already own Photoshop CC or Afffinity Photo, give their focus stacking features a try to see if they work well for your needs.
Post Date: 3/13/2018 10:10:40 AM CT   Posted By: Sean
 Wednesday, March 7, 2018
My Morning wildlife photography in Shenandoah National Park usually involves being where I expect to see wildlife when there is just enough light to start being able to see wildlife. The goal is to find a subject and be in position, ready to photograph, when there is just enough light to do so. The situation was golden on this particular morning. Very early, I found this nice-sized 9-pt buck tending a doe and worked into ideal position as the sun peaked over the horizon, giving me perfect low and warm light from my back.
The buck was looking great and the frost on his back and antlers was a bonus. I went to work, but promptly ran into a full buffer on the Canon EOS 5Ds R I was using. The 5Ds R buffer typically clears fast, but unfortunately, this full buffer took a very long time to clear. I didn't put a timer on it, but ... what seemed like an eternity was probably (rough guess) 10 minutes.
In those 10 minutes, I lost a significant number of images. What happened?
The problem started the night before. I put the 256GB SDXC card in my laptop and decided to quickly delete images I knew were inferior. The goal was to re-gain some capacity on the cards and to reduce the load on the redundant backups next on the to-do list. It is always risky to delete images directly from the card, but ... I was being careful – and apparently feeling bold.
After making a quick pass through the images I had time to review prior to bedtime and completing the backups, I put the card back in the camera. Having run into the buffer issue before, I took a short burst of images to ensure that the camera was working properly. However, in the morning, that burst proved too short.
At a high level, when files are deleted directly from the card using another device, the camera performs organizational maintenance before writing new files and, in this case, that maintenance took a very long time to complete. I've encountered this problem before, but with the test capture, I thought I would be OK in this regard. If doing as I did, capturing a burst long enough to trigger the organizational maintenance routine while still at home/in the hotel is very highly advisable. The best plan is to not touch the images written to a memory card and simply format new cards being used in the camera.
While I went away with many nice images of this buck, the frost melted quickly and I definitely left some good images in the field.
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
Post Date: 3/7/2018 7:25:25 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Thursday, March 1, 2018
While this image was created to illustrate one of the unique capabilities of the lens being used, I thought I'd share the process behind creating the wedding ring, Bible, love verse and heart shadow photograph.
Obviously, to create an image similar to this, you need a ring and a book. Most large books and round rings can be used, but a wedding ring is the most common type of ring photographed and the Bible then becomes a very appropriate book for holding the ring. Note that if the ring is not round, creating a heart-shaped shadow immediately becomes more difficult, if not impossible. The heart-shaped shadow is not required, but ... it too is very appropriate for a wedding ring photo.
Love is the strong theme we are building on here and 1 Corinthians 13:4 is a favorite verse for this theme. While all Bibles will have this verse in them, not all Bibles will have this verse in an appropriate position on the page.
Getting the ring to stand up without a form of adhesive is another challenge. Doing so is easiest with some curl toward the inside of the pages, supporting the ring higher on its sides. The amount of curl also influences the heart shadow's shape.
This verse is closer to the end of the Bible than the beginning, meaning that there are more pages to the left than the right, creating unbalance. This makes creating the curves needed for the ring to sit in the pages somewhat more challenging, a challenge I met with a pair of A-clamps. My ill-designed-for-photography clamp jaws were red and required some black gaffer tape to eliminate the red showing in reflections on the ring. Reflections such as this are easy to miss when photographing, so be sure to check images of reflective subjects carefully.
Creating a shadow with an obvious shape requires hard light. This means the light source must be small in size relative to the source of the shadow. The smaller and farther away the light source is, the harder the shadow will become.
The right angle of the back-lighting is necessary to create the heart-shaped shadow in front of the ring. Aligning the flash with the crease between the pages will create a symmetric-shaped heart (if the pages are equally curved). The higher the flash, the shorter the heart. Figure out what works best for your composition.
Try handholding the flash and moving it around until you see the results you want. If using E-TTL and the camera's self-timer, the pre-flash will give you a preview of the shadow and give you a moment to adjust it prior to the picture being taken. Simply test-firing the flash will also help accomplish this task. Once you know where you want the flash positioned, fix it in place.
There are a million methods of holding a flash in place. I happened to have a lens box the right height at my immediate disposal and ... I simply used it. The box was not an especially secure option, so I had to be careful.
I wanted a hard shadow, but I didn't want the image to appear harshly lit. Since my working space was tight, I went high-tech with white copier/printer paper reflectors. I gaffer-taped one piece under the lens and another over the flash. Because rings are reflective, the paper reflectors were especially helpful in illuminating the front of it.
Bibles have a lot of pages and the pages are usually made thin for a compact and light overall book size and weight. Thin pages can become somewhat transparent and other print may bleed through the page being photographed. You can put a white paper under the pages, but that does not keep the print on the reverse side of the page being photographed from showing and this strategy potentially increases emphasis on that print. Find a Bible with thicker pages if you feel this issue is negatively impacting your results. The light bleed-through I encountered did not bother me.
I was reviewing the Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8L Tilt-Shift Lens, a superb product photography lens, and was looking for an interesting subject. Especially with its macro capability combined with the tilt movement, this lens can draw a viewer's eye to the intended subject and to illustrate this ability, the ring image concept shared here worked perfectly. Tilting the lens fully upward (10°) permitted the camera to be used at a relatively high position while creating a shallow slice of in-focus area that nicely encompasses the ring and its heart shadow along with the verse intended to be emphasized.
When one views this image, their eye is instantly drawn to the in-focus subjects.
Here is the setup:
Wedding Ring, Bible, Love Verse and Heart Shadow Photograph
The Canon wireless flash system made this lighting setup very easy. Hopefully you "love" the result!
While I didn't create this image with the WPPI show in mind, the timing seems appropriate.
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
Post Date: 3/1/2018 6:45:00 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Sunday, February 25, 2018
This bull elk was in full rut, was not in a good mood and he was looking for some cows to steal (could be a Charlie Daniels song). This is an un-cropped image captured with a 600mm lens on a full frame body and under many circumstances, I was waaaay too close. What you can't see in the frame is both a Rocky Mountain National Park ranger directing visitors and vehicles and my rental SUV between the bull and I.
The meadow at Moraine Park is closed from late afternoon until morning and that means most photography opportunities in that location are then found alongside the road. That also means heavy competition for viewing positions when elk are present and finding a parking spot can be challenging at those times. A 4x4 vehicle with some clearance is helpful in accessing the more challenging parking opportunities (think rocks) and the rangers are also helpful, and especially helpful is preventing people from stopping in the middle of the small road, which of course still happens and creates long traffic jams. Increasing my safety were the people more "bold" (being nice here) than I.
At the moment this picture was taken, this solitary bull was about to cross the road. The ranger parted the crowds and I took cover behind the SUV. Because the meadow is lower than the road, the bull had been lower than camera level. While good images can be made from a higher level, eye-level is often ideal and that height was reached as the bull approached the road.
A catchlight in the eye adds life to an animal and that light usually comes from the sun and/or sky. There was no sun at this time (it was dark and rainy), but the more-upward angle helps to get a stronger sky reflection, lighting up the eye.
I could not adjust my position and was using a prime lens. That meant this subject was going to be cropped in the frame. While I like having the entire subject in the frame, I also like tightly framed portraits. Full subject framing of wildlife is usually easier to accomplish and when tighter framing avails itself, especially with an animal like this one, I usually take advantage of that opportunity.
When cropping a subject, there is often a variety of creative options. But, I most often want the eye in the frame. Keeping the head in the frame is often a next priority and ideally, giving the subject some space on the side of the frame being faced (the gaze weights that side of the frame). In this case, my next decision was determining how to adjust the vertical framing and more or less antler was the question. I find antlers very interesting and opted to go big on the antlers, smaller on the body. However, I left enough body showing to send the back line and a portion of the body out the left side of the frame and kept enough space below the chin to include the reverse-curving lines of the beard.
In this case, the elk's head, the primary part of the animal, falls approximately on the intersection of the right and lower 1/3 grid lines. The photographic rule of thirds often works well for composition, but ... I more frequently first approach composition from inclusion/exclusion and balance perspectives. What I find is that the rule of thirds can frequently later be applied to my results.
In general, the tighter the framing, the faster the shutter speed needs to be. For an image to be tack sharp, the exposure duration must be short enough that no details cross over to another pixel. It was dark out and I wanted to keep the ISO setting down. The 1/320 second exposure used here was a compromise and I tossed many images from this encounter due to motion blur. In the end, this was my favorite image from the series.
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
Post Date: 2/25/2018 7:05:46 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Saturday, February 24, 2018
Upon seeing this image, what was the first word that came to your mind? Does the dictionary-present "Aw" stretched to "Awwwww" count?
Being tame, this adorable 1-day-old fawn had zero concern with my presence and that opened up the opportunity to capture some unique-perspective close-up images. When it became obvious that she was going down for some solid sleep time (about the only time fawns become motionless), I swapped the Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Lens for the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM Lens and moved in close. The close perspective emphasizes the fawn's head, ears and hoof, making them appear large in proportion to what is farther away. As those are especially cute parts of this little animal, that perspective works well.
Having a still subject was only the first challenge solved and several others remained. Shooting under a high tree canopy created several additional challenges for this capture. First, it was rather dark at the ground level. Second, the backlit, light-spring-green-colored hardwood tree leaves created a green cast on the scene. And, as the breeze moved the branches, spots of direct sunlight was intermittently hitting the subject, causing bright hot spots in the image.
Using a monopod braced against my leg allowed me to shoot at a relatively-long 1/25 second shutter speed, addressing the darkness challenge. The color cast had to be removed during post processing and I had to revisit the color balance adjustments over a period of time until I grew comfortable with the result. I may change my mind about the color adjustments tomorrow. The last challenge was resolved with careful timing of the moving shadows, avoiding most of the hot spot problem.
As is so often the case with photography, the effort was worth the reward.
Hopefully the sleeping fawn brought a smile to your day! A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
Post Date: 2/24/2018 7:00:00 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Sunday, February 18, 2018
Getting one wild animal in ideal position for a photograph is challenging and getting multiple animals simultaneously-posed definitely ups the game. Especially when using a long telephoto lens, depth of field becomes one of the challenges. I love the subject-isolating shallow depth of field look created by these lenses, especially when used at their widest apertures, but keeping that look with multiple animals in the frame further increases the challenge. This bull and cow elk in the Moraine Park meadow cooperated very nicely for me.
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
Post Date: 2/18/2018 6:30:00 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Tuesday, February 13, 2018
by Sean Setters
If you're like me, you sometimes get the itch to photograph something, but your immediate surroundings leave you somewhat uninspired. Thankfully, the Multiple Exposures feature found in most mid-to-high level Canon cameras can help with that.
Canon Cameras that can shoot multiple exposures in-camera include:
  • EOS 1D X Mark II
  • EOS 1D X
  • EOS 5D Mark IV
  • EOS 5Ds / 5Ds R
  • EOS 5D Mark III
  • EOS 6D Mark II
  • EOS 6D
  • EOS 7D Mark II
  • EOS 80D
  • EOS 70D
While most of the DSLRs above can be set to record the final multiple exposure image and the images used to create the final exposure, the EOS 70D, 80D, 6D and 6D Mark II only allow for saving the finished image (not the component images). This feature limitation can be important as you will not be able to create your own multiple exposure in post-processing using the component images.
While testing out some different lighting setups in my studio this weekend, I remembered that a dark silhouette-style portrait can create an ideal base for a multiple exposure image. However, I didn't want a complete silhouette, and instead opted to use two rim lights (studio strobes with gridded strip boxes) for the profile image so that the lit areas of my face and head would still be visible in the combined exposure. A single, bare 580EX Speedlite provided the lighting for the background.
Multiple Exposure Base Image Feb 2018

The image was captured with a tripod mounted Canon EOS 5D Mark III and EF 100mm f/2.8 USM Macro set to Manual mode, 2-second delay (shutter tripped via wireless remote), f/5.6, 1/160 second, ISO 320.
With my base image captured and specified in the Multiple Exposure menu options, I switched my camera to Av mode (leaving the camera set to f/5.6 and ISO 320), walked out my studio door and searched for subject/composition that might work well for the multiple exposure. At first, the trunk of a large tree that borders the backyard caught my attention. This was the result:
Multiple Exposure with Bark Image Feb 2018

After seeing the combined result on my screen, I thought the bark overlay was interesting, but I wasn't completely satisfied. Looking upward, I found another possible subject – my neighbor's tree. I shot three different compositions using the tree, with my favorite appearing atop this post.
If you'd like to try out your camera's Multiple Exposure feature, here are a few tips we outlined in our article, Multiple Exposures: Yet Another Way to Add Value to Your Wedding Services.
Set the camera as follows:
Multiple exposureOn:Func/ctrl
Multi expose ctrlAdditive
No. of exposures2
Save source imgsAll images
Continue Mult-exp1-shot only

* The option to save source images may not be available on some cameras.
  1. Create a silhouette image to use as the base layer. Note that the brighter areas of the each image will be what comes through prominently in the final image. An underexposed profile/silhouette set against a bright sky (or pure white background) tends to work well for a base layer.
  2. Turn on Live View. Use the LCD's preview to help you align the next shot. Note that you may need to use negative exposure compensation (for both the base and second image) to keep from overexposing the final image.
  3. Preview your results. If you don't like the final image, simply go back into the Multiple Exposure options and designate your original base image to be used for your next attempt.
Take this opportunity to think about what kinds of subjects could be silhouetted in your multiple exposure image, capture it, and then brainstorm what kinds of subjects may work well as an overlay (or simply walk out our door and go for a walk as I did). You might even change focal lengths and apertures between your base and overlay images to create interesting effects. With a little bit of practice, and the help of the preview on your camera's LCD monitor, you'll be able to create interesting multiple exposures in no time!
Post Date: 2/13/2018 8:01:33 AM CT   Posted By: Sean
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