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 Monday, August 8, 2016
I recently mountain biked to a nearby wildflower field and spent a very enjoyable end of day with the Samyang 135mm f/2 ED UMC Lens (and a large black bear that also showed up). The Samyang 135 is not a macro lens (it's not a good bear lens either), but this lens is great at creating a strong background blur and that is precisely what I wanted this evening.
 
The sun had set, giving me even, low contrast lighting, and the wind had practically stopped, allowing sharp images to be made without clamping the flower stems in place. I worked along the edge of the field (to avoid damaging the flowers), looking for compositions that could work. This white-trimmed brilliant red poppy caught my attention and I found an angle and background combination that I liked.
 
When photographing people and wildlife with shallow depth of field, the eye(s) are nearly always the right focus point. When there are no eyes, more difficult decisions sometimes need to be made. In this case, I set the lens to its minimum focus distance and moved in so that the front edge of the upper set of petals was in sharp focus. I later second-guessed my decision and focused on the top edge of the closer flower petal, but ... in the end, I liked the first choice best. The very shallow depth of field covers more of the flower and the stem (also known as a leading line) is more prominent in this version.
 
The Samyang 135mm f/2 ED UMC Lens performed excellently for me this evening. This lens holds lots of creativity-unleashing potential (and it is a very good value).
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr, Google+, Facebook and 500px. If reading from a news feed reader, click through to see the framed image.
Post Date: 8/8/2016 8:43:20 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Friday, August 28, 2015
Amusements parks, carnivals, fairs, and similar are popular summer attractions. The next time you visit such attractions, be sure to take your camera gear (including a tripod) and ... make sure that you stay until the lights come on. To be more "attractive", amusement rides are typically well-lit at night and these rides (along with other signage) can make colorful images.
 
The first step: before you leave home, make sure that you know the park's rules for photography. The bigger the park, carnival, etc., the more likely that your activity will fall under regulation. The Ferris wheel shown here was captured at Knoebels Amusement Resort in Elysburg, PA (America's largest free-admission park). This park requires permission for "Professional Photography".
 
Also before you go, scope out potential opportunities using the park's map, satellite imagery and photos found online. Look for colorful rides that move significantly and have lots of lights on the moving portions of the ride. While motionless lights can be attractive in images (especially if out of focus), moving lights can be made to cover much more of the frame, replacing dark sky with bright light. Spinning rides often work well, but roller coasters often do not.
 
A perfect night photography ride example is the big Ferris wheel at Knoebels. The park has recently installed a new LED lighting system that displays constantly changing colors as the big wheel spins. The ride looks impressive and attracts many spectators in addition to riders.
 
Though it has excellent image quality, my choice to use the Canon EF 11-24mm f/4L Lens for this image was foremost for the ultra-wide focal lengths. Because of the many obstructions around (notably, trees), I wanted to be as close to the ride as possible and also wanted the close, looking-up perspective. This position also helped avoid people (the spectators I mentioned) in the frame (and the model release complication they could potentially add).
 
There are many options for photographing amusement parks in the dark (or just before dark), but I like to fill a significant amount of the frame with light. In this particular case, I liked having the entire wheel in the frame while shooting (I was over 11 hours into my commercial shoot and had gone to bed at 3:00 AM that morning, so I can't argue that my decision making ability was not slightly clouded at the time). During post processing, I decided that I liked the wheel cropped tighter, showing even more color in the frame and making the support structure larger in the frame. That the 5Ds R has such extreme resolution enabled me to crop significantly into the frame and still have a high resolution image remaining (roughly 22 megapixels). And, I still have the full size image available if wanted at a later time.
 
Camera exposure settings for lights moving in the dark are often determined by aperture and ISO. That was the case here. Since the lights in the middle of the wheel are not moving as fast as the outermost lights, there is an overall exposure balance required. The LED lights were very bright and ISO 100 with an f/11 aperture worked well in this case (I reduced the brightness somewhat in post processing). I adjusted the shutter speed (in manual mode) to capture the complete movement between wheel spokes without overlap (which would cause overexposure), generating a complete circle of light that, with the changing lights, resembles a pinwheel.
 
Dark park photography will test your visualization ability, but it is great fun to anticipate and view the results. It is not hard to create attractive blurs of light at these venues. Give after-dark amusement park photography a go! It shouldn't be hard to entertain the kids while you do.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr, Google+, 500px and Facebook. Also, if reading from a news feed reader, click through to see the framed image.
Post Date: 8/28/2015 1:46:21 PM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Wednesday, August 19, 2015
Few natural subjects surpass flowers and butterflies in colorfulness. Planting flowers that attract butterflies takes advantage of both and planting them in your yard means fast access to these great subjects.
 
Don't have a garden of your own? Don't want to do the work? Others love gardening. Find someone who has this passion and share your photography passion with them in the form of images and prints. Alternatively, find a public garden.
 
Coneflowers are one of my favorite flowers and a small garden of them behind the house provided hours of distraction (I mean "gear evaluation") for me this summer. The shape of the flower permits full view of the butterfly and the working area keeps the butterfly busy long enough to get the photo. Because these flowers are planted on a bank, I can shoot horizontally across the flower tops (to get blurred blooms in the background) without lying on the ground. A raised planting box offers a similar advantage.
 
Most macro lenses work well for flowers, but butterflies are sometimes not comfortable with a lens close to them. Longer focal lengths permit longer working distances. In this case, the spangled fritillary butterfly was quite tolerant of my presence and I was able to utilize the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L IS Macro Lens at a close distance.
 
I'm still struggling to retrain my brain to frame slightly wider with the extreme resolution of the Canon EOS 5Ds R available, allowing minor cropping to achieve perfect framing during post processing. The result in this case was that the butterfly's antenna was slightly closer to the right edge of the frame than I wanted. Fortunately, I had taken multiple photos and was able to add a small strip to the right side of this image, with ideal wing position, from one of the others for a 52.9 megapixel final image size.
 
I used a Canon Macro Ring Lite MR-14EX II Flash with a camera exposure that balanced the ambient background lighting. Because the coneflower petals were closer to the flash than the butterfly, they were slightly brighter than I wanted. I decreased the brightness of the RAW file and overlaid the darker flower petals on the brighter butterfly and background.
 
What is in your flower bed? If the ideal flowers are not there, add them! Then get ready for your summer color.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr, Google+, 500px and Facebook. Also, if reading from a news feed reader, click through to see the framed image.
 
Camera and Lens Settings
100mm  f/4.0  1/160s
ISO 100
6092 x 8688px
Post Date: 8/19/2015 12:28:16 PM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Tuesday, August 18, 2015
Why am I posting a fall foliage photo for a summer photography tip? Good question – Let me explain.
 
Anticipation is one of life's greatest feelings.
 
Strive to create anticipation for your clients and also in your own life. One of my favorite anticipations is for a photo trip and, while many lament the end of summer approaching, my favorite time of the year to photograph is when the leaves change color. This time of the year is primarily in the fall season, but ... the leaves in some of the most-scenic areas are reaching peak color just as the summer season comes to an end.
 
Many landscape photographers share my affinity for fall and photographers with interests other than landscape photography can also benefit from the brilliant colors. For example, portrait, sports, car and many other photographers can find the colorful fall backgrounds advantageous. If it is summer and your fall trip(s) is(are) not planned, don't wait any longer.
 
If colorful leaves are the desired subject, a location experiencing that color during your time there is important. While that timing can change from year-to-year, influenced by water and temperature, trip planning should use historical averages for decision making. There are many fall foliage maps available to help with destination and date planning.
 
My last fall foliage photography trip was to Colorado, including the San Juan Mountains, a location sure to be found on all USA fall foliage maps. For this image, I used a telephoto lens to bring the snow-capped mountains in close, making them appear large in the frame. A break in the heavy cloud cover provided beautiful lighting and the low-hanging cloud added the extra element I am always searching for.
 
While your fall foliage photo trip may be best planned even earlier than summer, if summer is here, wait no longer. My big fall trip is planned, but ... I'll let the destination be a small anticipation for you.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr, Google+, 500px and Facebook. Also, if reading from a news feed reader, click through to see the framed image.
Post Date: 8/18/2015 9:28:41 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Thursday, August 13, 2015
Don't like shooting in the extreme heat and humidity of summer? Be like the birds – migrate! For most of us northern hemisphere residents, the preferred direction is north.
 
I was recently privileged to do just that, spending a week 26 miles from the grid in the North Maine Woods, just below the Canadian border. The temperature here in late July was very pleasant during my entire stay.
 
The North Maine Woods are sometimes referred to as the "Silent Woods" by my family, referencing specifically the lack of crickets, cicadas, katydids, etc. making the loud night music we are accustomed to at home. But that declaration is not completely true. Along with some frogs, the clear, eerie call of the loon is a common night sound heard around the silent, pristine northern Maine lakes. It is a sound that I love to hear and a photo of that audio source brings back great memories.
 
I have photos of common loons, but ... none that stood out to me. I have wanted change that problem on this trip and to do so, I spent just over hour early each of four mornings attempting to photograph these beautiful birds.
 
My craft was a canoe. Being solo in the canoe with light and changing winds added to the challenge of positioning for the photos. Getting close enough for adequate frame filling while positioning between the loons and the sun all while not concerning the not-too-tame birds was not easy. A light wind being able to rapidly turn the canoe was definitely not helpful.
 
My case was a Pelican. As it is only fitting to use a case named after a bird while photographing birds, I stored the camera and lenses in a "Pelican" 1510 while in transit between shore and actively photographing the birds. While the Pelican case lacks official approval as a PFD, it floats very nicely in the event of a worst case scenario. There was no worry about water from the paddle dripping on it and no worry about water on the floor of the boat reaching the gear.
 
The Canon EF 100-400mm L IS II was my Lens choice for these outings. While a 600mm lens would have been more ideal from a focal length perspective (due to the distance that the loons were comfortable with), it would not have been easy to handle this lens in the canoe, especially when alternating between paddling and photographing. The 1.4x behind the 100-400 L II would have also been helpful, but ... that option was not available to me.
 
The Canon EOS 5Ds R was my camera choice. Having the tremendous resolution of the 5Ds R allowed me to crop deep into the frame with significant pixel dimension remaining. At least 24 megapixels remained in most final images and some required no cropping for a frame-filling loon. Framing loosely had some advantages. For one, the loons were seldom still. And, by sticking one leg straight out the side, loons can change directions 180° almost instantly. That is much faster than I could change the canoe's direction and faster than I could change an AF point to the opposite side. With the center AF point locked on the bird's head, I was ready for any direction change with the bird (often) remaining (relatively) easy to keep entirely in the frame with only slight recomposition needed.
 
While I cropped the loons rather tightly in most images, being able to go back to the RAW file means that I can open images up if/when more space is needed around the birds such as for titles and text. The background, primarily reflections of the forest with some sky, are beautiful in their own right and in this photo, I especially liked the reflected colors of the forest being hit with early morning light. The white birch tree reflection is another key location identifier to me.
 
Photo trips such as this one provide extremely educational firsthand experience. One of my take-aways from this loon photography experience is that loons blink a LOT after surfacing into bright sunlight. Once I noticed that behavior, I was careful to time the shutter release with an open eye (and utilized burst mode more frequently).
 
Crossing this photo off of my bucket list was not a small effort (some might say that I went "loony"), but the pile of keeper-grade loon images I brought home was a bit daunting to sort through. Selecting the one to share with you first was an even bigger challenge. Being in a far north latitude meant that this effort was "no sweat."
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr, Google+, 500px and Facebook. Also, if reading from a news feed reader, click through to see the framed image.
 
Camera and Lens Settings
400mm  f/6.3  1/500s
ISO 800
7230 x 4820px
Post Date: 8/13/2015 10:04:47 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Wednesday, August 5, 2015
Let me first say that photographers (myself included) tend to overlook safety too frequently when attempting to capture the perfect shots. Lightning is extremely dangerous and strong caution is advised when attempting to photograph it. That said: Summer is the season for lightning.
 
A couple of days ago, my wife came in from walking the dog at nearly midnight and said that I had to go out and see the lightning in the distance. A quick check of the weather radar showed that a strong thunderstorm was going to graze us and even though my body said "No! It's time for bed!", my brain knew that this was a great opportunity and that the potential photos, if realized, would last far longer than my tiredness.
 
I quickly assessed the focal length needs and mounted a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM Lens on a Canon EOS 5Ds R. Lightning strikes tend to be random in location and, with the extreme resolution of the 5Ds R, I could afford to shoot with a wider focal length and crop into the frame for the shorter and more-distant lightning bolts. Lightning bolts also vary greatly in brightness and the f/2.8 lens gave me plenty of latitude for exposure settings.
 
I grabbed a tripod, remote release and a tiny flashlight. I went out the door and spent the next hour capturing lightning strikes.
 
Note that rain protection for both you and the gear is a very good idea as rain typically accompanies thunderstorms. In this case, my shirt became the gear protection and I simply got wet.
 
When it is very dark out, lightning photography is not too difficult. Frame the scene in the direction of the storm (consider incorporating some foreground) with a level camera. Turn off image stabilization (if available) and switch to manual focus. Establishing accurate manual focus in the dark can be challenging, but a street light, a light on a distant tower or even a star (if visible) can work.
 
Attach the remote switch (needs to be able to lock the shutter open) to the camera and set the camera's mode to "B" (Bulb). The shutter speed will be established by the duration of the remote release press. With the dark sky contributing very little light to the exposure, the image brightness will be determined by the lightning and its illumination of the clouds in combination with the selected ISO and aperture settings. Lightning bolts are very bright, but because of the varying distance and intensity of the light output, some trial and error may be necessary to dial in the most-optimal settings. I'll throw out a starter setting of f/4 and ISO 400.
 
You may decide that turning off the camera's long exposure noise reduction is advisable as dark frame capture is time consuming.
 
Once the camera is setup, open the shutter using the remote release and wait for lightning to strike. After a strike, release the shutter and immediately open it again.
 
Bryan's Law of Lightning Photography: The best lightning bolts are guaranteed to occur in the brief period of time that the shutter is closed between exposures.
 
You may find that you want to start a new photo after a period of inactivity to reduce long exposure noise in the images. Leaving the shutter open for multiple strikes is an option, though a risk is that parts of the image, generally clouds near an area of recurring lightning activity, become overexposed. You may find it more optimal to combine specific images later during post processing.
 
I captured more lightning strikes in this 1 hour storm than I have in any storm I previously photographed. The results were definitely worth an hour of lost sleep. This image, my favorite of the take, is a single exposure practically straight out of the camera (slight cropping and Picture Style change).
 
While the nighttime lightning photography technique is relatively easy, daytime lightning photography is much more challenging. Daylight lightning photography procedures are not dissimilar from normal daylight photography, but the problem is that relatively short exposures are required to achieve proper image brightness and short exposures are hard to time with a lightning strike. To catch a bolt of lightning in daylight requires FAST reflexes (or better, a lightning trigger) and a camera with a short shutter lag.
 
Give lightning photography a try – the results will be ... "striking."
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr, Google+, 500px and Facebook. Also, if reading from a news feed reader, click through to see the framed image.
Post Date: 8/5/2015 9:48:31 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Wednesday, July 22, 2015
Sure, telephoto lenses are great for wildlife, sports and many other uses, but they are also great for flowers! I've had my eye on a small field of wildflowers and, after spending a large number of contiguous hours of work putting the Lens MTF Comparison tool into place, I gave myself the freedom to go after some summer color in the form of flower pics.
 
I knew that making an image worth sharing from this field was going to be a challenge. The location was not well-suited for a grand landscape image incorporating the flower color in the foreground. The flowers were beautiful, but they were intermixed with other vegetation, were very random in position and most were imperfect including a random state of bloom (some were well-beyond peak).
 
I was biking to this location (2 cars - 4 drivers = a problem) and, since I wasn't sure what the best opportunity was going to be, I put lenses ranging from 16 to 300mm in focal length along with a Canon EOS 5Ds R in a Think Tank Photo StreetWalker Pro backpack and was on my way. After riding past and then walking back along the edge of the field, I found few standout subjects calling for emphasis. Sometimes, flowers look best when blurred out of focus, becoming blobs of color and this was what I determined the case to be for much of this field.
 
This pair of cosmos did appear to be a cut above the rest and I focused on them for a period of time. By using a 300mm telephoto focal length with a relatively short focus distance, a nice blur was created, making full use of the imperfect blooms in the background.
 
While simply setting up such a blur is easy and can be good enough, taking the shot to the next level requires some attention to detail. In this case, I oriented the tripod-mounted camera and lens so that the background of the in-focus flower was only green, making the flower pop. This perspective also placed a complementary same-color cosmos just out of focus with a matching pair more-strongly blurred above. An intermittent light breeze made this alignment a bit more challenging, but ... patience was the answer to that issue.
 
I used manual focus aided by the 5Ds R's 16x Live View, allowing precise focusing on the center of the flower (preventing AF from picking the petals just in front). While an f/5.6 aperture would have given an even stronger background blur and would also have created a nice image, I opted for f/8 in this case. F/8 kept more of the flower in focus and reduced vignetting to even out the background brightness. Lighting is courtesy of a bright cloudy sky.
 
Then, right on cue, the bee landed on my primary subject. I was shooting the scene in vertical orientation at that moment (creating a nearly identical image), but I wanted to post the horizontal format picture as it fits better on computer monitors. So, I simply copied the bee out of the vertical photo and pasted it into this one.
 
Go get some summer color (in your photos, not your skin). Mount your telephoto lens and go flower hunting!
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr, Google+, 500px and Facebook. Also, if reading from a news feed reader, click through to see the framed image.
Post Date: 7/22/2015 11:05:13 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Wednesday, July 15, 2015
Fireworks are captivating, especially from a photography perspective. But even a captivating subject can become mundane over time.
 
The local fireworks show happens annually during the summer and attending has become our family tradition. This is not a New York City East River-scale fireworks show, but it is well done, is relatively low effort to attend and is very easy to photograph. After photographing the show over many years, I've grown somewhat bored with the same-old imagery and have been looking for something different. While I have a great unobstructed view from a close distance, the area is void of additional subject matter to include in these shots.
 
A technique that is showing some popularity right now is to utilize manual focus ring adjustment during exposure to change the appearance of the fireworks. When in focus, fireworks blasts appear as thin lines arcing through the frame during long (bulb) exposures. When out of focus, those lines become thick. If you rack focus during the exposure, those lines can be made to vary in thickness.
 
Focus Blur to Sharp Fireworks
 
Go from out of focus to in focus to create a many-faceted star-like subject as shown above. Do the opposite and the narrow lines grow thick as they expand:
 
Sharp to Focus Blur Fireworks
 
A key to long exposure photography is visualization and this technique will exercise your brain in this regard. But, there are no rules and the technique is not hard to try.
 
Before the shoot, establish the ideal focus distance mark in the focus distance window or using the distances printed on the lens. Note that this may not be at the full rotation extent of your focus ring and the subject may become blurred at focus distance longer. This is true even though fireworks photographed at a safe distance would be considered at infinity. Remember the ideal setting and have a small, dim (to not bother others nearby) flashlight handy to allow re-establishing of sharp focus. As Tony suggested (in the comments), Follow Focus device (even an inexpensive model) can work great for this purpose as long as the slected model cannot be rotated beyond set stop points (or care is taken to avoid this).
 
Ideally, press and hold the remote release to open the shutter immediately when a rocket is launched. As the rocket explodes, adjust focus smoothly until the burst goes dark and stop the exposure.
 
How much rotation to give the focus ring depends on the focal length, aperture and lens being used. A telephoto focal length is going to create a stronger blur more rapidly than a wide angle lens. A wide aperture will create a stronger blur more rapidly than a narrow aperture. Lenses have differing focus ring rates that also need to be accounted for.
 
The rate of focus adjustment also plays a role in the final shape of the blurs.
 
Use your creativity to expand the focus blur technique. For example, capture two subsequent explosions with the focus ring going in opposite directions. Or just leave the entire explosion blurred.
 
There is no reason that you cannot mix your standard fireworks photos with your creatively blurred versions.
 
Fireworks
 
Too late to get creative in the field this year? Edit your fireworks photos in Photoshop or your favorite image editing app. Experiment with the blur filters available to you there.
 
The fireworks images on this page were photographed a Canon EF 24-70mm f/4L IS USM Lens at about 47mm. This lens and focal length permitted an easy full extent focus adjustment. The camera was a Canon EOS 5Ds R. With the incredible resolution this camera offers, I framed the fireworks slightly wider than I typically do. This meant more cropping, but fewer large bursts went out of the frame.
 
For the fireworks images on this page, I utilized a 2-stop neutral density filter. Without this filter, the softening effects from diffraction would have been noticeable with the required f/16 aperture. The filter permited a sharp f/8 aperture with properly exposed bursts.
 
Fireworks Tentacles
 
Are you bored of the standard fireworks pictures you capture regularly at your easy-to-attend location? Are you tired of the thin lines of color in your fireworks images? Get more frame coverage from your fireworks color by making them out of focus.
 
Learn more about fireworks photography.
Post Date: 7/15/2015 10:47:22 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Thursday, July 9, 2015
Summer is perhaps best known for heat and when the heat is great, it is most comfortable to be in an air-conditioned building or ... to be wet. The latter sounds more fun to me, but ... water and electronic camera gear are at odds with each other. Unless you have a waterproof housing for that gear.
 
While the high end dedicated rigid housings are very nice and may produce better image quality, a PVC underwater housing such as those made by EWA-Marine are far more affordable while still allowing unique photo opportunities.
 
In this photo, I was standing near the side of the pool with camera ready. Because capturing the perfect position of a normally thrown tennis ball is very challenging, I opted for a toss-straight-up technique. The dog wanted the ball, but didn't want to jump into the water to get it. I tossed the ball straight up so that it stopped moving at the ideal height and just far enough out so the dog couldn't reach it. The latter part mattered because it was game-over when the dog caught the ball and ran away with her prize.
 
Make this the summer that you waterproof your camera. Add wet shots to your portfolio. Capture the fun memories of the summer water activities. Get an underwater housing.
 
Read also: Underwater Photography Tips for Snorkeling.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr, Google+, 500px and Facebook. Also, if reading from a news feed reader, click through to see the framed image.
 
Camera and Lens Settings
22mm  f/6.3  1/1250s
ISO 400
5184 x 3456px
Post Date: 7/9/2015 9:21:26 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
   
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