Photo Tips and Stories (Page 12) RSS Feed for Photo Tips and Stories

 Saturday, March 2, 2019

Just add water, because water usually makes an image better.

I was staying ahead of this bull and his harem in a large meadow for perhaps 30 minutes when we arrived at a small pond that I didn't even know existed. At the other side of the pond (my side) was a tall, steep bank down to a stream at the bottom. While determining if this bull's nose-up threatening pose was meant for me or the cows he was tending, I captured a large number of frames with the 600mm focal length quickly becoming too long. Just as I was about to go down the bank, the bull turned back to the cows and the opportunity stayed alive.

It was a hot morning and the elk were cooling themselves in the water. Especially fun was that some of the calves were using their hooves to splash water onto their backs. It was an awesome experience.

Due to additional interest in the Rocky Mountain National Park Instructional Photo Tour, an additional set of 2019 dates has been added. Can you go from Sun, September 15 to Sat, September 21, 2019?! The rut should be going strong. Let me know ASAP!


A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.

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Post Date: 3/2/2019 8:38:48 AM ET   Posted By: Bryan
 Wednesday, February 27, 2019

by Sean Setters

Being a surfer enthusiast in Savannah, GA is a rough life; the waves found along Tybee Island (the nearest beach) are rarely conducive to "hanging ten." Such is the story of Dagny, someone who loves to surf but rarely finds conditions here favorable for her pursuit. On this day, however, the waves were "ok" and Dagny had just finished about an hour of surfing along a nearby shoreline. She had obviously been having fun. I, on the other hand, had been plagued by one issue after another since arriving at the beach at 9:00am. Let me explain.

When I arrived at the south end of Tybee Island to meet Dagny at 9:00am, there was a fairly dense fog along the shoreline. Dagny wanted to do some surfing but also wanted a picture, so the first question to answer was, "Which do we do first?" Since the waves were looking good to Dagny and the fog was looking questionable from a photographic standpoint, I told her to go ahead and surf and I would signal to her when I was ready to start shooting. This would allow me time to scout out a suitable location, set up my lighting gear and hopefully give the fog some time to clear. In hindsight, telling Dagny to hit the waves ahead of our shoot had another great benefit; it allowed me time to methodically work through the problems I was destined to face without having an increasingly impatient subject stare on with resentment for stealing her away from the best waves of the day.

When shooting at the beach, I generally prefer to transport only the items I intend on actually using to the sandy location. This approach lessens the amount of cleanup necessary once the shoot is finished. However, a downside of this technique is that if technical issues are experienced, one is required to go all the way back to the car to retrieve backup items. As I would come to realize, that's a pretty major downside.

After scouting out a good location on the beach, I went back to my car in a [relatively] nearby parking lot to plan out my gear needs. At that time, it was still quite foggy and I was unsure if it would clear completely before we started shooting. I decided that limiting the amount of space between the subject and me would be a good idea for optimal contrast. Therefore, I opted for a Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens on my Canon 5D Mark III instead of the Canon EF 135mm f/2L USM Lens I had originally planned on using.

Backup #1 [Lens]: Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens (for Canon EF 135mm f/2L USM)

To allow me to shoot at my max flash sync speed (for these studio strobes, that's 1/160 sec), I put a 4-stop neutral density filter on the lens knowing that it wouldn't be enough density to allow me to use a wide-open aperture at my base ISO (100), but it would allow me to use a wider aperture than I would have been able to without the ND filter in place.

I'm always leery about using a softbox and/or umbrella on the beach because, even with sand bags in use, the large surface area of those modifiers can cause significant problems when wind is added to the equation. However, I love the soft light I get with softboxes and umbrellas, so they are generally my first choices if the weather allows for their safe use. The beach wasn't as windy as it has been in the past, but... I still didn't think it was a good idea to attach what amounts to a sail to my light stand. Therefore, I opted to mount a Mola Demi Beauty Dish (with Opal Diffuser) to my White Lightning X3200 studio strobe, powered by a battery pack. The 22" diameter, sturdy metal modifier has proven to be a solid choice in the past in windy conditions, so I was glad I brought it.

Backup #2 [Modifier]: Mola Demi Beauty Dish (for Medium/Large Soft Box or Parabolic Umbrella)

After transporting my light stand, studio strobe, beauty dish, battery pack, power cord, radio trigger with cord and two sand bags to the beach, I plugged everything in, turned on the battery pack/strobe/radio trigger and pushed the "Test" button on my trigger to fire the strobe.

Nothing.

Ok Sean, let's work the problem. Are the trigger and receiver on the same frequency? Yes. Am I sure I turned on the trigger? It doesn't appear to be blinking (a sign that it's on). I pressed the receiver button again (which should trigger the strobe in addition to turning the unit on), but nothing happens.

"Ahh, the batteries in my receiver are dead."

So, off to the car I went. While I did have some extra batteries in the car, I chose instead to grab a different radio receiver as the batteries are somewhat difficult to replace in these things. And, back to the beach.

Backup #3: Radio Receiver #2 (for Radio Receiver #1)

With the new radio receiver plugged into the studio strobe (and blinking), and everything powered on again, I hit the test button on my trigger and... again, nothing. However, a quiet moment between the waves and various beach sounds reveals a barely audible beeping coming from my battery pack. It doesn't usually beep, so my guess is that it's trying to tell me something (later tests would reveal that my battery pack's battery had just failed). Once again, it's time to go back to the car with a nearly 20 lb battery pack so that I can return with its replacement (an identical unit).

Backup #4: Battery Pack #2 (for Battery Pack #1)

After returning to the beach with the new battery pack, plugging everything back in and turning everything back on, I hit the test fire button on my trigger.

Nothing.

This is getting old. At this point, everything I've replaced has been a validated problem. The radio receiver's batteries were dead and the unit was replaced with a working one. The battery pack's battery had failed (even though it had been charging all night). Now, even with those issues resolved, my strobe still wouldn't fire. In one last Hail Mary attempt, I dragged my White Lightning x3200 back to the car to replace it with a Whilte Lightning Ultrazap 1600 that I had also brought along.

Backup #5 [Studio Strobe]: White Lightning Ultrazap 1600 (for White Lightning x3200)

After returning to the beach with the new studio strobe, I once again plugged everything up, turned everything on and hit the test fire button.

Success! The flash fired just as Dagny was walking to our shooting location. She needed a break from surfing, and her timing could not have been better.

Camera settings for the shot atop this post were f/3.2, 1/160 sec., ISO 100 (with a 4-stop ND filter).

The fog had mostly cleared by the time this image was taken, so I wouldn't have technically needed to use the Sigma 50mm Art lens in place of the Canon 135mm f/2L, but I liked the view I was getting at 50mm, so I think it worked out for the best. I performed basic edits in Adobe Camera RAW and changed the color tones of the highlights and shadows and, after importing to Photoshop CC, I used the Content Aware Move Tool to reposition the three birds for better framing (they were originally more spread out and lower/closer to the left edge of the frame). I also used the Content Aware Healing brush to remove a very long zipper pull that was flapping in the wind.

If you'd like to see what it was like on the shoot after all the problems had been worked out, check out this behind-the-scenes video.


This was one of those shoots where it seemed that everything that could go wrong did go wrong. However, having a backup of everything (I also had a backup camera along) meant that I could deal with the problems that cropped up and ultimately capture an image that I was very proud of. When shooting on-location, do yourself a favor – bring a backup of every vital piece of equipment you're taking. You'll often find yourself falling back on one of your backups. And someday, you may find yourself needing a backup for everything.

A larger version of the image can be seen on Flickr.

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Post Date: 2/27/2019 10:43:57 AM ET   Posted By: Sean
 Sunday, February 24, 2019

When photographing non-voice-controllable subjects, the potential of capturing all subjects in the frame with good body positions decreases exponentially with the number of subjects.

With a single subject, capturing a good body position is sometimes challenging but often not too difficult to accomplish. Add a second subject and the challenge doubles and it doubles again when a third subject is in the frame. While not every subject in the frame is required to have the ideal pose, it certainly helps when all have one.

I had been hanging with these big boys for several minutes. When enough distance separated them, it was not too hard to find individual subject poses worth photographing. When both bulls were in the frame, good opportunities became scarce with the second bull often becoming a distraction to the first.

Photographing groups of animals includes increased challenge, but that challenge serves to make the rewards of success higher.


A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.

 
Camera and Lens Settings
600mm  f/4.0  1/160s
ISO 640
7667 x 5111px
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Post Date: 2/24/2019 7:19:00 AM ET   Posted By: Bryan
 Tuesday, February 19, 2019

by Sean Setters

Holidays offer great opportunities for gift giving and flowers, although possibly a bit cliché, are still very often appreciated, which is why a bouquet of flowers has been sitting on our living room hutch since Valentine's Day. But while flowers are intended to be enjoyed by the recipient, there's no reason why we as photographers can't take advantage of the beautiful subjects at hand to add some colorful floral images to our portfolios.

A few evenings ago after my wife had retired for the evening, I took her bouquet into the studio to try one of my favorite techniques for photographing flowers – focus stacking. After perusing the options available in the bouquet, I settled on a type of flower that I've photographed before, a type of Peruvian lily. The colorful, elongated spots found on the leaves as well as the easily visible inner structures of these flowers make them ideal candidates for photographing.

I set up my Canon EOS 5D Mark III and Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM + 36mm extension tube on a sturdy tripod and Arca-Swiss Z1 ball head set to f/9, 1/160 sec, ISO 100 and tried several compositions with the Peruvian lily that caught my eye. A studio flash on each side of the bouquet provided the light required for a proper exposure at those settings, and Magic Lantern's Focus Stacking feature was used to increment focus for the focus bracketed images. After capturing all of the variations, I brought the images into Canon's Digital Photo Professional to see which one (or ones) might work well for further processing. Finding a series that I really liked, I opened the relevant RAW files in Helicon Focus (my preferred focus stacking software), compiled the images and output the result as a DNG.

Looking closer at the result in Photoshop CC, I realized that I hadn't captured enough depth-of-field in my focus bracket to fully cover the parts of the plant I wanted in focus. As such, instead of having crisp lines in places where I wanted to emphasize details, I had soft transitions that didn't seem to meld with the rest of the focus stacked image.

From a photographic standpoint, my attempt at a pleasing focus stack image was a failure. But then I had a moment of inspiration.

My wife is a huge fan of impressionist paintings. In fact, not more than a couple of weeks ago she insisted we see (aka, dragged me to) the impressionist art exhibit that was showing at the Jepson Center for the Arts ("Monet to Matisse: Masterworks of French Impressionism"). The nice thing about impressionism is that crisp details are not a notable quality of the creative movement; in the case of my image, I could use impressionism to hide the major flaw in my image. Keep in mind, rarely is an image made visually palatable if you have to "save it in post." But in this case, it seemed to work just fine.

After searching for several years for a Photoshop plug-in that could convincingly turn an image into a painting, I finally found Topaz Impression and never looked back. It's been an excellent find and has opened up a new door for monetizing my images. Or in this case, just saving one.

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Post Date: 2/19/2019 9:16:33 AM ET   Posted By: Sean
 Tuesday, February 5, 2019

by Sean Setters

A friend of mine, Maria, who has recently become interested in photography asked if I would accompany her on a sunrise shoot. As it had been much too long since I had photographed a sunrise, I eagerly agreed. Of course, when when I awoke to my alarm clock well before sunrise on an otherwise lazy Saturday, I was considerably less eager to set off for the sunrise shoot. But, I was ready when Maria picked me up about 45 minutes before sunrise.

I had advised Maria to use The Photographer's Ephemeris to scout out possible locations she'd like to use for the sunrise shoot. We are fortunate to live in an area of the country that provides vast views of the sky with interesting, varied landscape options (the Atlantic Ocean, marshes, rivers, fields with oak trees, etc.) with only a short drive required to arrive at any of them. Unfortunately, time had gotten away from Maria; she had not researched any options before arriving at my door.

So, we drive a short while before coming to a small town, Thunderbolt, about 5 miles southeast from downtown Savannah along the Wilmington River. After seeing a nice looking dock on the right side of the road (before the upcoming overpass), I suggested we stop to photograph it before the sunrise. As we were walking the short distance to a clearing with a good vantage point, I noticed how striking the glow of the covered dock looked against the rich blue of the sky. "Blue hour," as it's commonly referred to, is the time just before sunrise and just after sunset. This time presents especially good opportunities to photograph landscapes, seascapes and cityscapes (as well as many other subjects) set against the deep blue color and hint of warm sunlight that often graces the sky just before sunrise.

Sunrise came not long after this shot was taken, but clouds obstructed its view making us very glad to already have our blue hour photos in the bag.

My advice? Take some time this week to shoot a sunrise. Even if the circumstances prove to be less than ideal from a photography perspective, the experience may prove fulfilling from a personal one. There's just something refreshing about a sunrise.

The shot above was created using a 7-shot exposure bracket, edited in Aurora HDR 2019 and Photoshop CC.

Gear Used

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Post Date: 2/5/2019 7:47:02 AM ET   Posted By: Sean
 Sunday, February 3, 2019

This mother black bear had sent her cubs high up into a large pine tree and was searching for food. She kindly paused and looked in my direction at a break in the bright green foliage.

There are many ways to compose a wildlife image and each scenario can be different, but a technique that often works is to center the animal in the frame and then open up the frame in the direction the animal is looking. In this case, the momma black bear was looking straight toward me and its near-centered position works well. I left a slightly more room around the bear on the right side as there is a very slight head turn and the tall green plants on the right helped balance and frame the image.

The color, or lack thereof, of black bears is a challenge for cameras' auto exposure systems with overexposure being the frequent outcome. A manual exposure is often best.


Joining me for the Shenandoah National Park workshop this June?

A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.

 
Camera and Lens Settings
400mm  f/4.0  1/640s
ISO 4000
3533 x 2355px
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Post Date: 2/3/2019 7:00:00 AM ET   Posted By: Bryan
 Thursday, January 31, 2019

by Sean Setters

Several years ago I started snapping pictures of various objects with unique, interesting looking textures and patterns which I would place in an appropriately named "Textures" folder on my hard drive. The purpose of this folder was to have a personal collection of images I could pull from whenever I wanted to create an image with an overlay. And while I don't utilize the images in my textures collection very often, I'm really glad that I have texture/overlay options available whenever an image looks like it would benefit from an additional layer of interest.

Below are just some of the images in my Textures folder. Looking at the file names, they were all likely captured on the same outing with the camera.

Sean's Textures Folder

There are lots of everyday items that can provide an interesting texture for an image overlay. As evidenced by the screenshot above, wood, tree bark, gravel, tiles, fences, concrete/pebbled sidewalks, brick walls and mud/dirt are just a few of the options that are likely only a short walk away from your front door. If it's a rainy day, you might consider photographing all the interesting textures and patterns that are right inside your home. Old/crinkled paper, patterned fabrics and wallpaper are just a few of the indoor options I can think of.

So which awesome image did I use to create the texture in the image above? That would be this one.

Sean Setters Pavement Texture

From a photographic point of view, the image above is as lackluster as a photo can be. It's a snapshot, and the subject (old pavement) is quite boring on its own. But when you adjust its levels/contrast in Photoshop, the difference between the light and dark areas is accentuated and the pattern becomes much more interesting.

Processing the Image

To get the image above, I added the texture layer to the top of my already-edited portrait photo in Photoshop CC and proceeded through the following steps:

  • Changed texture layer blend mode from "Normal" to "Linear Burn."
  • Added a Curves adjustment layer to the texture layer (using ALT+dragging the adjustment layer over portrait layer to create a clipping mask so that the adjustment layer only affects the texture layer).
  • Adjusted the texture layer's blending properties (by double clicking on layer) so that it would not appear in the darkest areas of the underlying portrait layer. By ALT+left clicking the "Blend If - Underlying Layer" slider adjustment, I feathered the blend.
  • Added a mask to the texture layer and lessened its visibility over parts of the face using a black brush at various opacities.

To see a larger resolution sample of the image, click on the picture atop this post.

Do you already have a textures collection? If so, what items have you saved in it that I didn't mention above?

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Post Date: 1/31/2019 9:50:17 AM ET   Posted By: Sean
 Friday, January 25, 2019

The Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III Lens is all about speed and fast-moving subjects ideal for the 400mm focal length are scarce in my location right now. The race cars are all being re-built in preparation for the next season. With a layer of snow on the ground, outdoors sports are in the off-season. The ski slopes benefit from the snow, but the closest is hours away. The horses, however, are always ready for some galloping and provide a convenient subject for an AF performance testing session.

This American quarter horse's name is "Nugget", as in "gold nugget", referencing the coat color. "Gold" also reflects the parent's perspective of what it costs to keep a horse. The positive in this investment is that the kid's have had to do most of the horse maintenance work, teaching them responsibility and how to work hard. The horses are of course fast and fast makes them good focus performance test subjects. An added benefit of such testing is some nice pics of the kid(s), as long as the camera and lens perform well of course.

And to that matter, the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II and EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III Lens combo performed stellarly. They performed so well that they created a bit of a problem. It took forever to go through the well-over-2,000 images captured in this session as most were keeper-grade. With a great camera and lens, one's brain needs to be retrained to be OK with deleting really nice images. I keep telling myself that.

With steady lighting conditions (solid clouds), the setup for this shot was easy. Using manual mode, the shutter was set to 1/1600, a setting that I know works well for freezing galloping/cantering horse and similar action. The aperture was set to f/2.8 to let in as much light as possible and to create the strongest background blur possible. Having the shallowest depth of field possible also emphasizes the AF precision. The ISO was then adjusted until the snow was slightly overexposed, causing the brightest areas to blink while reviewing test images on the LCD. With the exposure locked in, I could concentrate on composition.

The AF mode was of course set to AI Servo (continuous) and the top-center AF point was selected with the surrounding points assisting (the horse bounces a lot, making it difficult to keep a single point on the rider's head).

While this camera and lens combination is handholdable, shooting it from a monopod is still more comfortable (especially for long shooting sessions) and doing so made tracking the subject easier.

Nugget was not moving very fast in this frame, but I liked the heavily-clouded sky in the background, making the subject pop with a bit of a high-key look. Note that snow is a great reflector and gives images a different look, usually in a positive way. I'll share other images of this horse in fast motion in the review. Some of these images will show another way this lens can make the subject pop – by strongly blurring the background.


A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.

 
Camera and Lens Settings
400mm  f/2.8  1/1600s
ISO 400
3648 x 5472px
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Post Date: 1/25/2019 8:00:00 AM ET   Posted By: Bryan
 Thursday, January 24, 2019

by Sean Setters

Before I delve into my new appreciation for the 35mm focal length, let me first explain why I've never really savored using the 35mm focal length (until now). Typically speaking, I'm either shooting portraiture in a studio with a small, carefully selected backdrop or outdoors where my goal is to minimize any background distractions. In these situations, longer telephoto primes (or a 70-200mm f/2.8 zoom) are helpful in capturing a frame filling subject while blurring the background to oblivion. But there are times when a larger scene needs to be documented, such as when the subject's environment provides a desired context.

This past December my wife and I spent a weekend in Atlanta celebrating Christmas with my extended family before heading off to New Orleans for two weeks to celebrate Christmas with her family. For both trips, I packed the following camera and lenses (as well as a few accessories) in a Lowepro shoulder bag:

You probably noticed a pattern in my selected lenses – they're all primes. While packing, I reasoned that most of my photographic opportunities over the holidays would be indoors, often in relatively low light situations. The wide apertures available in these primes meant that I wouldn't have to rely on a shoe-mount flash to obtain my desired image brightness level while employing action stopping shutter speeds at low-to-moderate ISOs (for optimal image quality).

In theory, having a wide range of focal lengths covered sounded reasonable. In practice, however, I used one lens about 95% of the time – the Canon EF 35mm f/2 IS USM. And that got me wondering, "Why does a 35mm prime lens work so well for holiday family photography?"

Abby Holding OJ Christmas 2018

A 35mm prime lens provides an angle of view that can highlight a subject while providing vital environmental clues that give the photos context. The background blur a 35mm lens prime lens is capable of helps to isolate the subject, yet the background is still more or less recognizable enough to place the subject firmly in that particular scene. And when it comes to family holiday photography, background details such as the decorated tree, food and other family and friends in the room help to document the holiday spirit that resonated at the time.

Vicky Christmas 2018

The 35mm lens distorts subjects less (with the same framing) than a 24mm lens, especially when your subject is placed near the edge of the frame. And while a 50mm lens can be used for holiday photography, the relatively small rooms I was photographing in and the close proximity of my subjects meant that a 35mm lens simply worked better for capturing the bigger picture. The highlight of the trip was Alexis' family's decorating of the Christmas tree. For them, the tree decorating event is bigger and celebrated more fervently than Christmas Day, and my 35mm prime lens helped me capture it all.

Vicky Phone Christmas 2018

Besides holiday photos, a 35mm prime lens can be extremely useful for wedding, indoor event, documentary and street photography, predominately for the same reasons as listed above. The birth of my daughter was another instance where a 35mm prime was one of my most-used lenses over a several day period. While I may not have been a huge fan of 35mm prime lenses in the past, a 35mm prime has quickly become one of the most important – and most used – lenses in my kit.

If you don't already have a 35mm prime lens in your kit, now would be a great time to investigate the options found below.

Relevant Information

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Post Date: 1/24/2019 8:14:06 AM ET   Posted By: Sean
 Wednesday, January 23, 2019

My apologies if I missed an important keyword in that title.

Regardless of what the event was named, the show was spectacular. I hope that you were able to take it in and, even better yet, photograph it.

The sky visibility forecast for everywhere within a long drive provided little hope of this eclipse being viewable. Unexpectantly, the problem, remnants of a significant winter storm, began to move out just in time and the sky started to clear about an hour before the eclipse began. With the full moon peeking out of breaks in the clouds, the hope became strong enough to warrant the effort to photograph the event and I scrambled to put a plan into place.

Also seeming to meet the definition of spectacular were the near-zero-degree (-18° C) temperatures accompanied by very strong winds those of us in much of the east/northeast US were required to endure for 5 hours (some short indoor warm-up breaks were taken). Admittedly, the temperature made shooting through skylights from inside the house a very attractive option, but donning many layers and going outdoors became the plan. While the skies cleared beautifully for the full eclipse, the wind remained an issue and wind is an especially big stability problem when photographing with a large, long focal length lens. Setting up next to a solid fence significantly aided with this issue and also took some of the bite out of the wind chill.

The composition plan was easy. The moon was going to be high overhead and that meant incorporating foreground elements in the frame was going to be very challenging, so making the moon as large in the frame as possible was the choice. That meant 1200mm, a combination of a 600mm f/4 lens and a 2x teleconverter.

For a solid base, the UniqBall IQuick3Pod 40.4 Carbon Fiber Tripod with spiked feet installed (for use in snow) was perfect. Simply stick the spikes into the ground and use the IQuick3Pod's leveling base feature to quickly level the tripod head platform. A gimbal head makes using big, long lenses easy and the Really Right Stuff FG-02 Fluid-Gimbal Head is awesome (the RRS PG-02 is also excellent). With a level base, the gimbal-mounted lens will always be level with only tilt and pan adjustments, both very simple to make, requiring attention while tracking the moon. It is much easier to keep a tightly-framed moon centered in the frame with a gimbal head than with a ball head. Shooting at a strong upward angle can be a challenge with a gimbal mount as the camera body can impact the tripod before a high-enough angle is reached. I'll talk more about that issue soon.

Looking through a viewfinder with the camera directed at such a hard-upward angle is tough, but the D850's tilt LCD made subject framing easy in this situation. An angle finder is another great option for shooting upward.

What is the best exposure for photographing a lunar eclipse? That depends mostly on the varying brightness of the moon and that changes by season and it also changes during the eclipse. When the moon had direct sunlight reaching it, f/8 (my max aperture with this setup), 1/200 and ISO 200 with a -1 EV adjustment in post worked well. During this time, I opted to capture brackets of up to 9-stops to use for adding as much detail as desired to the dark portion of the moon during post processing. A Vello ShutterBoss II Timer Remote Switch made vibration-free capture easy.

Once the moon was completely in the earth's shadow, it became very dark and 1200mm exposures became very challenging. The blood moon image in the center of this frame was captured at f/8, .6 seconds and ISO 6400. Getting tack sharp details from a subject that is over 221,000 mi (356,000 km) away does not happen and these settings do not help.

Photographing the lunar eclipse brought back great memories of the 2017 solar eclipse (a bit ironic is that event occurred in extreme heat for many of us). A similar post-eclipse scenario now faces those of us who photographed it. We have a large number of images capturing the entire eclipse progression and want do something with them. While each individual eclipse image may be great, likely none of your friends want to see all 300 (OK, 800) of them. The friends will be interested in a partial eclipse image or two and perhaps one from totality, but then eyes glaze over and they start checking their Instagram account. Creating a lunar eclipse progression composite is a very logical way to tell the full eclipse story in a single, interesting image.

The method for creating the lunar eclipse progression composite is the same as that shared in the How to Create a Solar Eclipse Phase Composite Image article (skip the HDR part). The arrangement options for such a composite vary greatly. The left-to-right option shared here works well, but this unique ultra-wide aspect ratio is a bit awkward to share online and will not typically be as easily viewable/displayable as closer-to-square arrangements.

Also ultra is the resolution able to be created from such a composite. This one measures 52000 x 5500 pixels for a 286 MP (over SmugMug's max file dimensions limit I learned) final image (the .PSD weighs in at 3.19 GB) looking for a long hallway wall to be displayed on. Those not able to frame the moon tightly in-camera can crop heavily and still have a high resolution result from the composite technique.

Sure, getting images requires some effort. Getting to bed well after 2:00 AM means being tired the next day and it took about an hour under the covers to get my core temperature back up. But, at least a day or two later, only the rewards remain. The memories of this lunar eclipse, with the images to buoy them, will remain a lifetime.

What is the subject calling you right now? Get motivated and go for it!


A larger version of this image (it needs to be seen much larger) is available on Flickr or my SmugMug site.

Did you photograph the recent lunar eclipse? We invite you to share your images and tips below.

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Post Date: 1/23/2019 8:00:00 AM ET   Posted By: Bryan
 Sunday, January 20, 2019

The fast frame rate of the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II caught this high-stepping fawn with a couple of leg joints high in the air, making the already adorable animal look even cuter.

Joining me in Shenandoah National Park this spring? Learn more here.


A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.

 
Camera and Lens Settings
350mm  f/5.6  1/1000s
ISO 640
5203 x 3469px
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Post Date: 1/20/2019 7:30:00 AM ET   Posted By: Bryan
 Sunday, January 13, 2019

With wildlife photography, being at the right place at the right time is a key to success. Of course, being in the right place for a lot of time improves the odds. During this week, I spent time around groves of brilliantly-colored maple trees and on this morning a big bull elk obliged, summiting a distant ridge in the early morning sunlight.

The bull was not in a hurry and, as you probably guessed, I captured a lot of images of it (at 9 fps). This image stood out to me primarily because of the elk's position. Its position in the opening gave it high contrast against the still-shaded background. With viewers' eyes drawn to contrast, the elk is able to command attention over the brilliant red maple trees. The position of the bull's legs, all visible and showing movement, works well. The head angle is usually important and the slightly-toward-the-camera angle is usually a good one.

Shooting at very long distances in direct sunlight usually results in significant heat wave distortion when using a high magnification focal length. Because the sun was just beginning to reach this area, the heat waves were not yet an issue and that problem was avoided.


A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.

 
Camera and Lens Settings
600mm  f/4.0  1/140s
ISO 140
8379 x 4664px
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Post Date: 1/13/2019 7:00:00 AM ET   Posted By: Bryan
 Wednesday, January 9, 2019

by Sean Setters

Canon USA often offers excellent rebates on their PIXMA PRO-100 Wireless Professional Inkjet Photo Printers. Not long ago, I took advantage of one of those rebates and received my PIXMA PRO-100 shortly afterward.

Aside from the great build quality of the printer itself, I was thoroughly impressed by the box that the printer was shipped in. I realize that reading that previous statement may invoke a quizzical look on many site visitors' faces, but hear me out. Not all cardboard is the same, and the cardboard used in the PIXMA PRO-100's packaging (it's likely the same for the PRO-10 as well) is extremely rigid and durable, a fact that was clearly evident when I attempted (and eventually succeeded) in cutting out the barcode for rebate claim purposes.

Why would someone care about the quality of cardboard? Well, if you're like me, you may have a decent amount of 8.5 x 11" photo paper lying around because you took advantage of a couple of great printer paper deals which tend pop up every now and then. However, 8.5 x 11" is rarely a requested print size; more often than not, an 8 x 10" print is desired. It's easy enough to produce an 8 x 10" print on an 8.5 x 11" piece of paper, but cutting is required to make that print fit in most 8 x 10" frames.

While scissors are certainly an option for accomplishing the task, if you're like me, you may have trouble cutting in a straight line. Even though a print with slightly not-so-straight edges will rarely be noticed once it's in the frame, handing such a print over to a customer is a bit embarrassing. We strive to produce the highest quality photos possible, so why would we hand over a print that gives the impression of a low quality product without exquisite attention to detail?

My solution for obtaining clean, straight cuts on my prints involves an X-ACTO knife (with plenty of spare blades), a stainless steel ruler and cardboard. Before the PIXMA PRO-100 arrived, I had been using whatever cardboard box was in the recycling pile waiting to be picked up (usually an Amazon box). But I often didn't have a large enough box on-hand to make the required cuts, and even if I did, a single project made the box unusable for future projects because the cardboard was too weak to endure multiple uses. A single PIXMA PRO-100 box top panel, on the other hand, has sustained multiple uses (I've created about a dozen prints with it) and shows no signs of imminent failure. And when (or possibly, "if") that panel ever becomes too worn to do its job, I've got another panel waiting to take its place.

Everyone who has received a hand-cut print from my Canon PIXMA PRO-100 printer has been extremely happy with the quality of the finished product. Of course, the quality of the photos and the quality of the printer deserve most of the credit for my clients' satisfaction, but the printer's box top also deserves some credit for helping me to produce those high quality 8 x 10" prints.

Oh, and by the way – select Canon Printer Paper products (including 8.5 x 11" sheets) are on sale at B&H for a limited time.

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Post Date: 1/9/2019 7:11:57 AM ET   Posted By: Sean
 Monday, January 7, 2019

Stories are great. Sometimes a picture tells a story and sometimes a story comes from getting the picture. One afternoon during a fall photo trip to Colorado, we headed to Owl Creek Pass. This area is very scenic, especially with fall colors.

The dirt road over the top of this pass can be questionable after a rain (at least without an off-road-capable vehicle) and we had plenty of rain but opted to give it a go with the small Ford Edge AWD SUV we had rented. At a relatively high elevation, we discovered that the road was being worked on and by the time we reached the top, we were bottoming out on loose gravel being dumped (tailgated) onto the road. By maintaining forward momentum, we made it over this rather long obstacle but were then greeted by a thick mud road surface until finally reaching the top of the pass.

As we went over the top, the serious question was whether or not we should risk going down the other side. That answer was quickly provided in the form of a 6-wheel-drive grader coming up the other side. It was mostly sideways and consuming the entire width of the relatively narrow road. The large machine had its rear scarifier down and was tearing up the road surface, preparing it for a fresh layer of stone similar to what we had just driven through. The decision to turn back was easy and immediate with a strong sense of that get-out-while-you-can feeling.

While on our way back down the mountain (it is easier to plow stone when going down hill), beyond the active road construction area, the sun broke through the clouds and we stopped to take pictures at the next clearing. Very few people were around this rather remote area, but a couple was at this spot taking a selfie. My daughter asked them if they would like us to take their picture, volunteering me to do so. They were quite happy about that and I quickly obliged while very anxious to get my shot before the small hole the clouds passed and the sunlight again was again shut off.

Looking at my hat, purchased in Hawaii over 5 years prior, the young guy asked if I had been to Hawaii. Turns out that he was a crew member for the boat company I had sailed with during the Canon Hawaii product announcement event only a few weeks prior. He showed me pictures on his phone of the boat I had been on. What are the odds that?

We chatted for a while and I of course captured a large number of images of this spectacular scene while doing so.

Direct sunlight shining under heavy clouds is at the top of my favorite lighting scenarios list. When the light is this good, the image results can be striking without much processing. The standard picture style was used to process this image and no additional contrast adjustments were made. The biggest processing challenge was to determine which image to share with you.


A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.

 
Camera and Lens Settings
50mm  f/9.0  1/180s
ISO 100
6516 x 4344px
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Post Date: 1/7/2019 7:43:00 AM ET   Posted By: Bryan
 Sunday, January 6, 2019

I love Pronghorn most because of their colors. But, they have many other great qualities. The dark, semi-heart shaped horns are one and that mohawk hair style is great.


A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.

 
Camera and Lens Settings
600mm  f/4.0  1/2000s
ISO 2000
3948 x 2632px
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Post Date: 1/6/2019 7:00:00 AM ET   Posted By: Bryan
 Saturday, January 5, 2019

When going afield, I often have some image goals in mind. Being opportunistic, taking advantage of every opportunity afforded, is always the primary plan with wildlife photography, but looking for opportunities to capture the goal shots is also part of the plan.

When viewed straight on from the front, most animals appear symmetrical and that is a look that can often work well in an image. One of my goal shots for this trip was a head-on image of a bugling bull elk (cow elk do not bugle) with its head and antlers characteristically laid back. Put that elk in a meadow with a strongly blurred background and I'd be even happier.

This shot nailed the head position I was looking for and most of the other aspects were in line with the goal. The elk's body position is nearly ideal, but the bull seemed to have its neck shifted slightly, breaking perfect alignment. Few sets of antlers are perfectly symmetrical and this set has some side-to-side variation.

I'll be attempting to one-up this image in the fall.


Coming with me?

A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.

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Post Date: 1/5/2019 7:30:00 AM ET   Posted By: Bryan
 Friday, January 4, 2019

These days, digital cameras support various types of memory cards such as CompactFlash, CFAST, XQD, Sony MemoryStick and – the focus of today's article – the ultra-popular Secure Digital (SD/SDHC/SDXC).

If you have ever been shopping for SD memory cards, you likely noticed a lot of different numbers of symbols on the cards' labels. Although seemingly cryptic, those numbers and symbols reveal important information about a card's performance, and whether or not that memory card is right for your intended use. So let's take a closer look at a typical SD card's label to see what information is available.

Secure Digital Memory Card Label (SanDisk)

Format

In 1999, SanDisk, Panasonic and Toshiba jointly introduced the Secure Digital memory card format (later referred to as Secure Digital Standard Capacity, or SDSC) in an attempt to improve upon the existing MultiMediaCard (MMC). The following year, those same companies formed the SD Card Association to develop SD standards and promote the new memory card format. In 2006, the SD Card Association outlined the SDHC (Secure Digital High Capacity) format in the second version of its SD specifications with support for memory cards up to 32 GB and speeds up to 25 MB/s. Later, the development of Ultra High Speed bus systems would increase the speeds available for SDHC memory cards. Three years later, the SDXC (Secure Digital eXtended Capacity) format was introduced supporting capacities of 2 TB and speeds of 104 MB/s with the addition of the UHS-I (Ultra High Speed) bus standard. When UHS-II was introduced in 2011, speeds up to 312 MB/s became possible. In 2018, The SD Card Association developed the SDUC (Secure Digital Ultra Capacity) format with support for 128 TB and speeds up to 985 MB/s.

Card TypeSupported
Capacity
Supported
Bus Speed
File System
SDSCup to 2 GB12.5 MB/sFAT12/FAT16
SDHCup to 32 GB25 MB/sFAT32
SDXCup to 2 TB312 MB/sexFAT
SDUCup to 128 TB985 MB/sexFAT

Max Read Speed

The max read speed indicates how fast the data from the memory card can be read under ideal circumstances. On some cards, an x-rating value is displayed. The x-rating is based on the original data transfer speed of CD-ROMs (150 KB/s). Because there may be a significant discrepancy between read speeds and write speeds, max read speeds (and x-ratings) are not truly indicative of the kind of performance you can expect from a memory card when used in your camera (where write speeds are significantly more important). Note that some manufacturers list separate max Read/Write data specs to clarify their card's performance, and the SD Association's introduction of Speed Classes (and Video Speed Classes) also help to clarify SD memory cards' performance (more on that later).

x Speed RatingApprox. Max
Read Speed
300x45 MB/s
400x60 MB/s
633x95 MB/s
1000x150 MB/s
2000x300 MB/s

UHS Class Speed

UHS-I and UHS-II cards (more on these later) may list a UHS class rating to designate the minimum write performance for the card, with U1 indicating 10 MB/s and U3 indicating 30 MB/s or more.

Capacity

Listed big and bold, and probably what most consumers pay the most attention to, is the memory card's capacity. Of course, a larger capacity means more images/videos can be saved before running out of room.

Video Speed Class

In order to cater to the needs of videographers, the SD Association created a Video Class Speed to designate the minimum sequential writing speed of the card. The number following the "V" indicates the minimum number of MB/s the card is capable of sequentially writing. In the example above, the card is minimally capable of writing 30 MBs of data to the card every second.

Bus Interface

An SD memory card's UHS (Ultra High Speed) rating indicates the maximum amount of data that can physically move into and out of the card. Along with the SDXC standard released in the SD Association's v.3.01 specification standards (2009), the UHS-I standard was also introduced. UHS-II and UHS-III soon followed allowing for even greater bus speeds, but these technologies required a second row of pins to be added to memory cards. The latest UHS bus iteration is dubbed "UHS Express" and has a theoretical limit of 985 MB/s.

Bus InterfaceBus Speed
UHS-I12.5 MB/s (SDR12)
25 MB/s (SDR25)
50 MB/s (SDR50, DDR50)
104 MB/s (SDR104)
UHS-II156 MB/s (FD156)
312 MB/s (HD312)
UHS-III312 MB/s (FD312)
624 MB/s (FD624)
UHS-Express985 MB/s (FD985)

Speed Class

Speed Classes 2, 4 and 6 support write speeds to a fragmented card of 2, 4 and 6 MB/s respectively. Class 10 cards, on the other hand, support a minimum of 10 MB/s sequential writing to a non fragmented card in addition to utilizing a high speed bus mode. As you can see, there's a lot of room for a Class 10 memory card to exceed the minimum spec, which is probably why the other class ratings (such as UHS/Video) were implemented.

Speed ClassMin. Seq.
Write Speed
Suggested Use
Class 22 MB/sSD Video
Class 44 MB/sup to 1080p/30p
Class 66 MB/sup to 1080p/30p
Class 10, U1/V1010 MB/sup to 1080p/120p
Class 10, U3/V3030 MB/sup to 4K/120p
Class 10, U3/V6060 MB/sup to 8K/120p
Class 10, U3/V9090 MB/sup to 8K/120p

Which memory card should I get for my camera?

In short, the memory card that has a sufficient capacity, the performance necessary to meet your most data-hungry needs and falls within your budget range. Keep in mind that SD memory cards are backward compatible; even if a memory card maxes out the capabilities of your camera to record data to it, you may find the extra performance useful when a) transferring images or video to other devices via a card reader or b) when your next camera offers features such as higher resolution images and/or video.

Secure Digital Memory Card Suggested RetailersB&H | Adorama

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Post Date: 1/4/2019 8:28:57 AM ET   Posted By: Sean
 Monday, December 31, 2018

Is your new year starting with fireworks? Photograph them!

If you've photographed fireworks long/frequently enough to be bored with the results, it is time to get creative.

Visiting the local annual fireworks show is a tradition for our family. With years of the normal motion-blurred fireworks images already on the drives, creating unique imagery has become more challenging. To create uniqueness this year, I used the fireworks focus blur strategy for practically the entire show. At least for me, this strategy results in a very low keeper rate. But, having a few of these images that worked out well was worth more to me than having 75 or 100 that looked the same as those captured in previous years.

Let's go over the gear selection for this shot/shoot. A fast frame rate was of no importance and high resolution, sharp imagery was. Thus, the Canon EOS 5Ds R was the perfect choice. The approximate focal length range needed was known and any the 24-something normal zoom lenses would comfortably cover it. I opted for the Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS II USM Lens over the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM Lens because a wide aperture was of no importance and ... I had fewer sample images from the newer 24-105mm lens.

A solid tripod was needed, but with over 1 mile of round trip walking required for this shooting location, it could not be heavy. The Really Right Stuff TVC-34 Carbon Fiber Tripod was a perfect choice. A capability-matching tripod head was of course needed. The shooting was going to be 100% in the dark and I wanted all images to be completely level despite the usually-requiring re-framing when the first rockets launch. The UniqBall UBH 45X Ball Head, with its unique capabilities, was the perfect choice. Once the head was leveled, pan and tilt could be adjusted without levelness being changed.

Fireworks are usually launched in the dark and many of us immediately think that large apertures and high ISO settings will therefore be needed. But, that is not the case. Fireworks are so bright that the opposite problem is often encountered. In order to avoid the softening effects of diffraction at the tiny aperture opening required for an ideal fireworks burst exposure, a 2-stop neutral density filter was used. As the f/10 aperture used for this image is still slightly narrower than the aperture where diffraction becomes slightly noticeable, a 3-stop ND would have been a slightly better choice.

Getting the entire fireworks burst in a single image requires a long exposure. The tripod ensures that the camera is stationary during that exposure (avoiding wavy fireworks trails), but the shutter must be opened without causing camera motion. Because timing of the start and finish of the exposure is critical for fireworks photography, a remote release is a requirement.

Fireworks are in fast motion. Thus, their brightness in the image is determined by aperture and ISO. The shutter speed controls how long the rocket and resulting explosion is captured. Since the ideal time duration varies, Bulb mode is the ideal choice. With Bulb mode selected, the release button is pressed, held and released to time with the launches.

Fireworks bursts vary greatly in size. In general, it is better to frame slightly too wide than than slightly too tight. It is easier to crop than it is to build missing light trails. My choice is often to let the largest burst go out of the frame, but keep 90 percent of the explosions entirely framed in black.

A fireworks image seemed fitting to lead a Happy New Year well-wishing post and that wish is what I most want to pass along here. Thanks for a great 2018 and Happy New Year 2019!


A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.

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Post Date: 12/31/2018 9:38:43 AM ET   Posted By: Bryan
 Saturday, December 29, 2018

The titles "How to Turn Water into Gold" and "On Golden Pond" seemed also appropriate for this image. Regardless, gold was the theme here.

During my stay at Red River Camps in northern Maine this past summer, a pair of loons were raising their chicks on Island Pond. Especially unusual was that the chicks were very small for the mid-August timeframe. The loon's first nest had been attacked by a predator and the adult pair started over. With winter arriving early here, there was concern that the chicks would not be able to fly in time for migration and biologists were monitoring their progress. But, having small chicks available was a bonus from a photography perspective.

Hanging with these loons required a watercraft and a small canoe was my best option. A light wind made keeping the canoe properly positioned a big challenge and probably more time was spent paddling than photographing. The sun was setting and maintaining a position between the sun and the loons was the goal.

The adults were constantly diving for food and moving around the lake while doing so, but fortunately, they were in the area of the lake receiving the latest direct light when the sun went behind the trees. The color difference between shade light and a late day sun light is dramatic with shade light typically being very cool and direct setting sun light being very warm. As the sun went down, the water became shaded before the shoreline and shaded water usually shows reflections very well.

The photograph shared here was only lightly processed. The primary edit was selecting a custom white balance point using a patch of the adult loon's solid white feathers as the basis. Those feathers were in the shade and the result was a color temperature setting of 10500 K being established. At this setting, the reflected sunlit background becomes very golden and a slight saturation increase (+18 on a -100 to 100 scale in Lightroom) finishes off the liquid gold.

Be looking for opportunities to use the light color mismatch of sun and shade to your creative advantage when out photographing. The subject in the shade, background in the sun option as shared here often works well, but the opposite can also work, creating a blue-toned background with a properly white-balanced subject.

For those with Nikon-based kits, the Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6E AF-S VR Lens is a great option for handheld wildlife photography. The D850 is my current Nikon camera of choice for this purpose.


A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.

 
Camera and Lens Settings
330mm  f/5.6  1/640s
ISO 1000
7384 x 4923px
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Post Date: 12/29/2018 9:56:17 AM ET   Posted By: Bryan
 Wednesday, December 26, 2018

A fresh snowfall leaving a blanket of white was calling me outdoors this morning. The snow has just subsided and the wind was arriving, promising to clear the snow from the tree branches, so time was of the essence. With the M50 and EF-M 18-150 mounted, I had an ideal combination in my hands.

The snow was beautiful and covering everything, but a good composition was not obvious. Finding order within chaos is frequently what landscape photography is about and that was the challenge I faced. Finding the order within chaos often means isolating a portion of the scene. The huge focal length range made available by the EF-M 18-150 was ideal for this task.

Exploring the scene through the viewfinder, this section of a pair of hickory trees caught my attention. The contrast between the trunks and branches and the snow and background fog was strong. As much as possible, I avoided having the larger branches leave the frame, hoping to use the large trunks as leading lines, but without branch lines leading viewers' eyes out of the picture. The distant trees visible at the bottom of the frame provide a small hint to what lies beyond otherwise hindered by fog visibility. The overall balance in the frame is always important and this composition seemed to check that box.

Good composition is often easiest to determine while reviewing images and this one was my favorite from this short session.


Check out our Winter Photography Tips page for more ideas on how to spend you winter.

A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.

 
Camera and Lens Settings
57mm  f/8.0  1/80s
ISO 100
6000 x 4000px
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Post Date: 12/26/2018 7:00:00 AM ET   Posted By: Bryan
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