Photo Tips and Stories (Page 25) RSS Feed for Photo Tips and Stories

 Wednesday, April 20, 2016

As close to vertically level as possible is often the ideal camera position for photographing a bird, especially one swimming. Of course, when a bird is swimming, perfectly level would mean a nearly or partially submerged camera. I don't recall seeing an underwater housing for a birding lens and I therefore prefer to be high enough above-water to keep the lens dry.
 
On this day, I was sitting on the ground at the edge of the creek with two tripod legs and one of my own legs in the water. Though I was bending over uncomfortably hard to get to a low-positioned camera, all was good with the setup. That is, good until I heard two Canada geese getting into a squabble. Two very loud geese were taking flight from mid-stream and headed directly toward me. While that shouldn't be a problem, they were watching each other instead of where they were going.
 
It didn't take long to realize that I was directly in their trajectory. I raised a foot to block the rapidly incoming fowl and held the camera and lens tightly with both hands. Minimally, the first goose crashed hard into my boot. I say minimally because I turned my head just prior to impact and I'm not sure if the second goose crashed also or was able to correct itself in time (wish I had video of that). There was lots of flapping and ... lots of water covering both me and the gear.
 
I quickly sacrificed the remaining dry areas of my shirt to dry the camera and lens. Fortunately, both were weather sealed and fine, but ... I still don't like to take chances and like to keep the gear clean – much more than I cared about my shirt.
 
Capturing interesting behavior is always a goal of photographing wildlife, but this behavior was a bit over the top and ... I was unprepared to capture it. The Canon EF 11-24mm f/4L Lens would have been ideal for this accident scene. The best I could do was photograph the rude goose after the incident.
 
While photography is often used to tell a story, very often photographing creates stories. This day gave me a story that I'll long remember. Go photograph frequently and you will likely have many interesting stories to tell.
 
Disclaimer: No geese were harmed in the making of this image.


A larger version of this image is available on Flickr, Google+, Facebook and 500px.

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Post Date: 4/20/2016 10:32:31 AM ET   Posted By: Bryan
 Tuesday, April 19, 2016

This mother great horned owl may be the most popular and most photographed of its species in the Mid-Atlantic states at this time. Being able to photograph a primarily-nocturnal bird, very visibly sitting in its nest throughout the day, is an unusual situation and MANY photographers took advantage of this opportunity. I made this opportunity a priority and carved most of a day out of my schedule to get my great horned owl photo.
 
The viewing area of this nest is in a public park with a significant bank and stream separating viewers and the owl family (two owlets are deeper in the cavity). This meant as much focal length as possible was needed in front of a full frame camera (and a significant amount in front of an APS-C model). For me, this meant the Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS II USM Lens in front of an EF 2x III Extender along with the ultra-high resolution Canon EOS 5Ds R.
 
While this uncropped image indicates a clear view on the nest cavity, that was not completely the case. Getting the right position for a semi-clear view of this owl was challenging and I spent much of this day leaning to the side so that I could use a tripod position immediately next to another cooperative photographer for the best-available view. My primary concern was getting a clear view through the tree branches on my side of the creek as these branches became very defocused and lowered contrast over a significant portion of the image if in the frame. The branches on the nest tree were of a lower concern as the healing brush in Photoshop made branch removal a trivial task.
 
While the owl spent most of the day sitting nearly motionless, it occasionally changed positions. When a loud motorcycle came into the park, the mother great horned owl showed her personOWLity, making for one of my favorite shots of the day.


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.

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Post Date: 4/19/2016 11:55:22 AM ET   Posted By: Bryan
 Thursday, April 14, 2016

When flying with camera gear, I always carry it on the plane with me. At least the most expensive and highest importance gear goes with me. But, just because I want to carry the gear onto the plane does not prevent the airline from forcing a gate check of a typically-large roller case, even if it falls within dimensional compliance. The scariness of this scenario was reinforced to me recently when I watched gate checked bags sliding down a very long tube, landing with significant force at ground level. So, I take precautions against being forced to turn over a camera case at the gate.

The first precaution I often take is using the airline's credit card to buy the flight tickets. This move typically results in priority boarding privileges. United Airlines and American Airlines (my two most-used airlines) charge an annual fee for their cards, but another benefit these cards provide is a certain number of free checked luggage bags on each flight. A flight or two a year generally equalizes the credit card's annual fee.

While there are generally a lot of people flying with priority boarding passes, getting in line early within this boarding group has always insured that I can stow my largest case in the overhead storage, avoiding a gate check requirement caused by lack of storage space.

Another key to avoid gate checking is knowing the size of the planes that you will be flying on. The smallest plane on your trip is going to be the limiting factor. If flying on a small plane such as a regional jet, this can be a problem (especially if it is the first leg of a multiple flight trip). The isle seat on the side of the plane with the most side-by-side seats may have the largest storage option – under the seat in front of you. In this case, know what size case fits here – a full-size hard or rigid case will often not fit.

With large-sized planes booked for all of my commercial airline flights and priority boarding passes in hand, I was comfortable taking a full-size roller bag as my carry-on to Alaska. My choice? The Think Tank Photo Airport Security V 2.0 Rolling Camera Bag. TTP sent me this case a long time ago, and I have used it with great frequency since, leaving many of my other cases to gather dust.

This trip involved a mix of travel (including float planes, various boats and an SUV) and in-the-field use of camera gear. While the Airport Security is not my first choice for backpack-style carry, it provides this option and I carried it full of gear for many miles in the Katmai National Park back country on this trip. The straps work fine. Aside from having a large capacity, including the ability to hold a 600mm f/4 lens with a pro-sized camera body attached (snug fit), this case provides very solid protection for the contents and the build quality was something I had a lot of confidence in.

The lead image for this post shows most of the primary items I carried in this pack while traveling. I removed a 15" sleeved laptop and some other odds and ends (including some spare clothes) prior to taking this picture. The laptop fits in the outside pocket or, to save some dimensional space, inside in the shown load configuration.

In the case, starting at the top, is the Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS II USM Lens mounted to the Canon EOS 5Ds R with a Canon BG-E11 Battery Grip. I talk about my reasoning behind the camera and lens choices here:

My Wildlife Lens Selection for Katmai National Park, Alaska

My Camera Selection for Katmai National Park, Alaska

From left to right across the bottom of the case are the following:

The Canon EF 11-24mm f/4L USM Lens was along for my ultra-wide angle needs (didn't end up using it much). The Zeiss 15mm f/2.8 Lens earned its ticket to travel from its excellent image quality at a wide aperture. Night sky photography its primary intended purpose. The Canon EOS M3 with a Canon EF-M 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM Lens mounted made the trip. With Canon EOS Rebel T6i-like image quality, this tiny camera with the 18-55 gave me a very compact general purpose kit to use when I could not (or did not want to) take a full size camera and also provided a backup under the same circumstances. The EOS M3 proved a convenient choice for photographing from commercial airplanes (you do this, right?), from float planes and for a part-day salmon fishing trip.

In Lowepro Lens Cases under and beside the M3 are Canon EF 1.4x and 2x III Extenders. While I have no regrets from bringing these, I did not use either on this trip. The 600mm lens was enough, but you never know when a unique situation calls for more reach.

An Arca-Swiss Z1 Ball Head is fit into the bottom right divided section of the Airport Security. This head was chosen because ... it is my current favorite – it works great and reliably so. While I don't usually have room for tripods in my carry-on cases, I usually include my primary ball head because of its dense weight. Keeping my checked bag under the 50 lbs. limit is usually a challenge.

Numerous circular polarizer and neutral density filters can be seen in the two backpack images shown.

My "personal item" carried onto the plane was a Think Tank Photo StreetWalker Pro. This pack is ideal for maximizing the camera gear carried onto the plane and great for lower volume needs on location.

Think Tank Photo StreetWalker Pro Packed

Shown in this pack are a pair of 5Ds R bodies, one mounted to the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens (amazing lens, again, see the lens selection link above) and one mounted to the Canon EF 24-70mm f/4L IS USM Lens, a great handheld landscape lens. The other two lenses shown in this pack are the Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM Lens and the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM Lens. Both are best-available for landscape and other needs.

Lots of additional accessories were along in the carry-on packs including well over 1TB of memory cards, many batteries, chargers, power supplies and including power supplies, charges, external hard drives. I always carry an empty water bottle through security and fill it from a water fountain before the flight, insuring adequate hydration for a long period of time.

Not seen in the two backpack images are a pair of tripods that were along for this trip. My favorite all-around tripod is the Gitzo GT3542LS. It is an extremely rigid, strong, lightweight, reliable tripod that is easily up to handling the 600mm lens kit. Nested inside the legs of the larger tripod was the Gitzo GT1542T Traveler Tripod with an Acratech GP-s Ball Head mounted (great little head). The second tripod served as backup, permitted use of two simultaneous tripod setups and offered an ultra-lightweight tripod for those times when the full-size option was too much. This little tripod could have handled the 600mm setup if necessary. A pair of empty Lowepro Toploader Pro cases were placed over both ends of the nested tripods with their open lids providing protection for most of the sides of the tripods. Clothing provided the balance of the protection necessary for the tripods.

Large lenses are far easier to use on a gimbal mount and the Wimberley Tripod Head II is my first choice. I packed this head in a padded case inside my checked bag.

Think Tank Photo Airport Security V 2.0 in the Field

The above image shows the Airport Security in action in coastal Katmai National Park. I like to keep my gear clean – The Airport Security can be seen here on The 1 Cheap Accessory that should be in All of Your Camera Bags. I always have these along.

My Alaska trip itinerary, in brief, involved a flight to Anchorage, SUV rental, driving to Seward and then Homer and float plane flight to coastal Katmai National Park where I stayed on boats for 4 nights. After flying back to home, a 1/2-day side trip to fish the Kenai River was in order and then on to Denali National Park for a few days. There is very little I'd change in my packs if I were to do this trip again.

Have any questions? Ask them in the comments section below!

Get your Think Tank Photo Airport Security at B&H or direct from Think Tank Photo.

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Post Date: 4/14/2016 12:04:13 PM ET   Posted By: Bryan
 Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Warning: You might want to go here. "Here" is Mudjin Harbor in Middle Caicos (Turks and Caicos, British West Indies), where there are surprisingly few people and the scenery is amazing. Capturing my attention for the large part of a day were the large cliffs and the rugged landscape bordering the brilliant turquoise waters of the Atlantic Ocean here. And, who is the landscape photographer that can pass up a cave framing the ocean?
 
By moving deep into this cave and zooming the Canon EOS 5Ds R-mounted Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM Lens out to 16mm, I was able to completely frame some of the most-beautifully-colored water found anywhere.
 
Caves are (usually) very dark and that was case here. This image is composed of three separate exposures – one for the water and sky (slight blinkies in cresting waves), one for the cave walls and another for the upper right portion of the cave wall as it was even darker and needed some detail brought out. With a handful of exposure variations available, I experimented with differing cave wall brightness during post processing. In the end, I opted for noticeable walls, but not bright enough to distract from the idyllic beach and water scene being framed.
 
Because the sun is constantly moving, multiple exposures intended for combining via HDR that include a shadow line should be captured in quick succession due to that line moving. The always moving and always different waves determined the primary exposure timing. The other exposures were simply captured very close in time to the primary ones.
 
A circular polarizer filter played an important role in capturing this image, making the sky and water colors pop.


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.

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Post Date: 4/5/2016 10:41:10 AM ET   Posted By: Bryan
 Monday, April 4, 2016

Photographing amazingly-colored wood ducks has been on my bucket list for a long time and, when I located some potential subjects, I dropped everything and made the 6-hour round trip drive to photograph them.
 
While I had done some intelligence gathering (via a friend), I went prepared for the full range of bird photography scenarios. This included taking the just-reviewed Canon EOS 80D mounted to a Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens and a Canon EOS 5Ds R mounted to a Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS II USM Lens with a Canon EF 1.4x III Extender behind it in a MindShift Gear FirstLight 40L Backpack.
 
Upon arrival, I was able to quickly locate the wood ducks. However, they proved to be a big challenge to photograph due to their constant, often-quick movements and the ideal lighting angle required, minimally, for their iridescent colors to show.
 
I ended up using the 600 with 1.4x on the 5Ds R the entire time due to the distance and rather small size of the ducks. The 840mm focal length gave me a deep ideal subject framing distance. I captured environmental portraits when the birds were distant and tight portraits when they came close, a logical tactic that provided a variety of subject framing in the take-home.
 
The subjects were in constant motion and that means AI Servo AF mode was required to keep them in focus. Specifically, a focus point needed to be constantly placed on the wood duck's eye. I shot in Case 1 (general purpose) and Case 5 (instant adjustment for erratic motion) AF Modes on this day with Case 1 showing the best results. I also used the 5 fps burst drive mode, in part because birds blink with some frequency. Capturing minimally a few frames at a time usually results in at least one fully opened eye.
 
In the end, the daytrip was very worthwhile, with hundreds of keeper-grade images resulting from the effort.
 
As seems often the case (I think that Murphy has a law to cover this), the image with my favorite pose had some minor motion blur due to the drake raising its head rapidly. To counter this, I reduced the overall size of the image (down-sampled) modestly. Along with some modest cropping, the remaining 5Ds R-captured image still has about 15 megapixels of resolution, an adequate amount for many uses. I used a layer mask to darken the background modestly, helping to place emphasis on the drake.


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Post Date: 4/4/2016 9:19:25 AM ET   Posted By: Bryan
 Monday, March 28, 2016

by Sean Setters

I'm sure you've seen them before, but in short, a photomosaic is a photo that is made up of lots of individual photos. If arranged and edited properly – and viewed from a distance – the individual tiles transform into one beautiful overall image.

My first experience with photomosaics came in high school. A favorite history teacher of mine had a photomosaic of Abraham Lincoln adorning his door which utilized pictures of the Civil War as the tiles. It was captivating.

After college I came across a very cool free program – AndreaMosaic – that allowed users to create photomosaics simply and easily by adjusting a few variables and letting the computer do all the hard work. I created several photomosaics at the time but I hadn't created one in several years before last week.

The good news is that AndreaMosaic is still in development and works better than ever. The desktop application is compatible with Windows XP, Vista, 2000, 2003, Windows 7 / 8 / 8.1 / 10, OS X 10.7 - 10.11, and can even be installed and run from a flash drive (Windows only). And the best news – it's still free. There are a few very advanced features that are unlocked by purchasing the software, but... my guess is that very few people will feel limited by the features included in the free version.

The ease and simplicity of creating photomosaics – along with the large batch of images necessary to create a good one – make it a perfect add-on for your wedding photography services. Wedding clients typically love them.

For the example photomosaic seen above, I used a little more than 450 images from a wedding I shot in late 2014 as the individual tiles. The overall image was my favorite shot of the couple, Kim and Brian, on their wedding day.

Below is an enlargement of the happy couple from the photomosaic above:

AndreaMosaic Photomosaic Sample Image by Sean Setters Closeup

How to Create a Photomosaic with AndreaMosaic

For starters, the more tile images you have to start with, the better off your final photomosaic will look (with fewer duplicates). My suggestion is to create a resized batch of tile images to reduce the algorithmic processing load. I personally used COOLTWEAK to create a set reduced resolution images that were 800 pixels on the longest side (although I could have resized to an even smaller resolution). If using Lightroom or DPP, simply set the Resize option accordingly in the program's export/batch dialogue.

The main reason for using reduced resolution tile images is that your photomosaics will be calculated and compiled much more quickly, meaning that you can easily modify the various parameters and create several different versions of your photomosaic in a very short amount of time. And since your tiles will likely end up relatively small (depending on your chosen settings), you won't likely miss the incremental resolution you gave up to gain faster processing time (each tile in the photomosaic seen above is only 120 x 80 pixels at full-resolution).

Once your tiles are ready, the next step is to open AndreaMosaic. You'll be greeted with the following screen:

Andrea Mosaic Start Screen

As you are visiting this site, you are probably most interested in the "DSLR Tiles (3:2)" option, and that's what I chose for creating the example atop this post. After that, another window will appear:

Andrea Mosaic Screenshot

Now use the "+" button at the top of the window to point AndreaMosaic to your main mosaic image. Using a full resolution file is preferable here, as it gives the program the best chance to closely match details using the tile images.

Next, click the stacked images below the number "2" to select your tile images. The program will bring up another window. Click the Add Images or Add Folder buttons to specify your tile images.

Loading Tile Images List Window

Now click "Save List" to save this collection of tile images. Doing so will expedite the process of creating future photomosaics with the same images. The program will then analyze your tiles and provide some handy information on them.

Loading Tile Images List Saved

Notice the part at the bottom that says, "307 Landscape images, 157 Portrait images" from my example tile set. It's important to note an approximate ratio of landscape to portrait images as it will help us choose an optimal Pattern algorithm later on. Click the OK button to return to the main parameters window.

The Size Parameters will vary widely based on need, but I chose to create a [roughly] 20 MP image at 300 PPI. Because details in my overall image are quite small, I chose a relatively large number of tiles per row (30) because smaller tiles will help define smaller details. If your overall mosaic image has larger (and fewer critical) details, you can easily choose a lower number of tiles per row. However, if your photomosaic features a relatively small number of tiles per row, your individual tiles will have to be large enough in resolution to fill the row accordingly.

The Tile Parameters, just like size parameters, will vary significantly from user to user and from job to job. For my image, I set the Pattern option to "Mixed (2.0L 1P)" because I had roughly a 2-to-1 ratio of landscape to portrait images in my tile set, meaning that the program should utilize my tile set more effectively (with less need for duplication) using that option. I also could have chosen "Parquet (2L 1P)" or "Mixed2 (2.0L 1P)" for similarly tile-efficient results but with a different looking pattern. If you resized your tile images as advised, you can easily try several different tile variations in a short amount of time to see which one best suits your overall image and intended use.

Note that some of the features, like certain patterns and select 1/2 and 1/4 tile options, are only available to those who donate at least $2.00 to the developers.

Let's take a look at the next set of options – Use same tile up to, Duplicate spacing & Color Change.

By default, AndreaMosaic will analyze your tiles and attempt to use the place them in the overall image where it calculates they look best. This means some of your image tiles may get used significantly more than others. To minimize duplication, you can limit how many times the program utilizes any one tile with the Use same tile up to option.

One way AndreaMosaic helps you improve the look of your photomosaic is to allow you to space out duplicate tiles with the Duplicate Spacing option. I chose the "5 tiles minimum" spacing option, but if you're starting with a large number of tiles (with less need for duplication), you might want to set this value even higher for optimal results.

The next option, Color Change can have a huge impact on how your final photomosaic will look. If you set this value to a low percentage, your final photomosaic may not be recognizable as far as the overall image is concerned. Setting this value to a higher number will ensure that the overall photomosaic is a good representation of your featured image, with the downside that each individual tile will be automatically adjusted to a higher degree. For my purposes, I chose "65%."

The next set of options is the Tile Variants. These parameters are here to help bolster your number of tiles available (reducing duplicates) by allowing rotated, mirrored and flipped images. Note that the "Integral Tiles" option is new (it isn't even shown in the User Manual that's installed with the program) and, from my understanding, is supposed to keep your final row intact (uncropped) by adjusting the overall dimensions of the image slightly to accommodate for any discrepancies in sizing. Unfortunately, my final row was cropped even though I left a checkmark beside the option.

You can save your parameters in the Load/Save Settings section for future use and/or specify file type, mosaic filename/save location using the More Options icon located at the top/right of the window. When ready, simply click the Mosaic icon at the top of the window (it has a "3" beside it) to compile your photomosaic.

And voilà! Your photomosaic will be created after processing.

Keep in mind, the photomosaic market isn't limited to wedding couples. Hospitals, large businesses and any medium-to-large sized organization will likely enjoy seeing their logos comprised of hundreds of images of their employees or group members. And creating a photomosaic is an excellent way to generate income through large print sales and billable hours of photography services necessary capturing the tile images.

As I noted earlier, a donation of at least $2.00 will unlock a few additional features of the program. If you need even more flexibility in creating photomosaics, you can unlock Professional options with a $35.00 donation.

What do you get with the Professional version of the software? Take a look at the following screen shot from their User Manual.

Andrea Mosaic Professional Benefits

Want to create a 100 Gigapixel photomosaic? The price for the Professional version of the software will be well worth the investment. And even if you don't plan on making photomosaics that ambitious, you might consider throwing a few dollars the developers' way to thank them for providing an excellent profit-generating program.

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Post Date: 3/28/2016 8:40:33 AM ET   Posted By: Sean
 Monday, March 14, 2016

After researching potential Philadelphia photography locations, I decided to make the sunset and blue hour view of center city from the South Street Bridge my priority. After conveniently parking at the Penn Museum parking garage, I carried a MindShift Gear BackLight 26L full of gear a short distance to the bridge to finalize my scouting. As expected, the bridge piers could be photographed from, eliminating the potentially major mid-span issue of bridge movement caused by vehicle traffic. Satisfied with my plan, I went on to explore the great Philadelphia riverfront and some of the inner city.
 
I came back to my bridge position about an hour before sunset, setup two tripods and cameras and began taking some long exposures using 6 and 10-stop Breakthrough Photography neutral density filters, capturing the setting sun bathing the city in warm color. Warm color turned into orange in the sky for another nice set of images. But, the best was yet to come.
 
When the lights in the city became sufficiently bright relative to the sky, the images took on significantly more sparkle – exactly what I was looking for. While I have a very good idea of when this time is happening, I shoot images from before the expected time until the color in the sky is gone. I later select the image captured at the most-ideal time as it is most easily discernable in post.
 
A 30 second exposure was ideal for eliminating moving people from the image (the riverfront walkway was filled with walkers, joggers, bikers, etc.) and for blurring the water. While a far wider aperture would have provided an adequate depth of field for this image, but f/11 and f/16 create larger starburst effects from the lights. An even narrower aperture will create even larger stars, but I find the detail-softening effects of diffraction to become too strong for this purpose beyond f/16. At this capture time, f/16 at 30 seconds needed ISO 200 for the desired brightness. I could have gone to a 1-minute exposure and ISO 100, but with long exposure noise reduction turned on, that means 2 minutes per image and I wanted a faster capture rate.
 
Post processing adjustments to this Philadelphia skyline image were primarily adding saturation along with a minor curves adjustment. Often the case when photographing city lights is that some areas of the photo are illuminated more strongly than others, often the photogenic tops of skyscrapers go pure white first. To counter this issue, I captured bracketed exposures and selected a 2-stop shorter variant to put the color and details back into the triangular-shaped gridded roof-top on the BNY Mellon Center building via an HDR process. I usually remove airplane light trails, but ... the up-curving arc, to my eye, seemed to work in this image, so it remains.
 
I mentioned using two complete camera and tripod setups. I was using a pair of Canon EOS 5Ds R cameras with the Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM Lens on one (capturing a wider image including the west side of the Schuylkill River) and the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM Lens on the other, capturing a more-tightly framed image emphasizing the city's great architecture with the riverwalk providing a strong leading line into the frame. The two cameras in simultaneous use essentially doubled the take-home from the prime time of this day's shoot.


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Post Date: 3/14/2016 10:09:44 AM ET   Posted By: Bryan
 Wednesday, February 10, 2016

I'm not focused on me, can be accused of under-marketing myself and until very recently, I had never taken a selfie (at least not one shared beyond the immediate family). Of course, when the request for a portrait came in, I didn't want to under-deliver on the effort and set out to have some fun, creating my first selfie. Since the task turned into a major project, I thought I would share some of the undertaking.
 
I know, I gave away the focal length choice in the title and right away some of you are thinking that I've lost my mind. The 12mm focal length, and anything close to it, is not going to create a pleasing portrait perspective, right? Not necessarily. Perspective is created by distance and, if you are far enough away from the subject, any rectilinear focal length can work (I'll save the fisheye discussion for another day). The 12mm angle of view includes a lot of environment in the frame at that adequate distance, and that was my goal for this shot.
 
I should mention that human subjects tend to look best closer to the center of an ultra-wide angle frame, avoiding the stretched look that can be present in the corners. Keeping the camera level (both pitch and yaw) also helps keep perspectives looking reasonable in this image, though you can still find some stretching closer to the borders. For example, the white lens on the left appears somewhat wide.
 
I stopped short of making this image into an I Spy photo, but there are lots of (hopefully) interesting items in this photo. Some are easy to see and some are more obscure (such as the Multicart R12RT loaded with camera backpacks). Overall, I tried to keep the image borders free of lines, fully containing most items in the frame. I also attempted to position the closest lenses so that the hoods were directly aligned with the camera with the hood lines mostly clear of intersecting lines, making them stand out, including the one in my hand.
 
After "decorating" my workspace (my wife's reference to what I was doing), I positioned the camera for the composition I was envisioning. Then, I started pulling out Speedlites.
 
For the main light, I opted for a Canon Speedlite 600EX-RT Flash with a Photogenic Eclipse 60" Umbrella positioned mostly above the camera. This setup provided a soft light over the entire foreground. To reduce the remaining shadows, a second 600EX-RT, with the wide angle diffuser down, was directed into a 30" umbrella positioned behind the camera. This flash was below the first umbrella and acted as a fill light. Note that it is a good idea to use the camera's eyepiece shade/shutter when firing a flash into the back of the camera (especially if using E-TTL metering).
 
I added a third 600EX-RT on a backlight stand behind me with the unmodified flash firing directly toward the camera. This light provided some rim lighting that helped to separate me from the background and lit up the middle layer of the image including some strong reflections.
 
The last Speedlite, a Canon 430EX III-RT, with its wide angle diffuser down, was placed on the floor deep into the studio. This flash's job was to keep the background from going dark.
 
While I ended up selecting this image for use, I also photographed with other camera positions and lighting variations. One change that I liked was moving the background-most flash under the desk and aimed at the left wall seen in this image. This added a pop of brightness that created some stronger lines in that area of the photo.
 
The Canon EOS 5Ds R was tripod-mounted and the tripod was placed immediately against the edge of the desk and triggered via a Canon RC-6 wireless remote. See it on the desk in front of me? I would press the release button, put the release on the desk and grab the lens in time for the 2 second self-timer trip the shutter.
 
I photographed this image in three exposures. The primary f/11 exposure was selected to keep the cloudy sky properly exposed (this exposure happened to be convenient for the overall image) with the flash output, controlled by a Canon Speedlite Transmitter ST-E3-RT, adjusted to balance the overall image.
 
A second exposure utilized a more-diffraction-softened f/16 aperture for keeping the closest subjects in better focus and the third exposure was 4 seconds, necessary to capture the image on the monitor. The three images were composited in Photoshop.
 
Note that ISO 200 was used to increase battery life in the flashes (18 AA batteries in use, I used two sets).
 
See the ColorChecker in the foreground? It is serving a dual purpose. The first purpose is to add some color pop that balances with the images on the walls and on the monitor. The second purpose is for an easy custom white balance. While the Canon EOS 5Ds R provided a good auto white balance in-camera, it was extremely simple to select the custom white balance eye dropper and click on a gray square for the ideal white balance.
 
So, that is the story of my selfie. If you are interested in capturing a selfie of your own, be sure to check out Sean's guide to self-portraits in the site's photography tips.


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.

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Post Date: 2/10/2016 9:40:38 AM ET   Posted By: Bryan
 Monday, February 8, 2016

I find rockslides photographically entertaining and the lichen-covered granite rocks found on the south side base of Deboullie Mountain (Deboullie Public Reserved Land, North Maine Woods, T15, R9, Maine) make this rockslide especially so.
 
The composition of this image was not very complicated. I zoomed out to 10mm and moved in close to a set of rocks with one having a particularly strong amount of lichen growing on it. I chose the camera elevation to keep the top point of that most-prominent rock within the water background, avoiding additional line intersections and adding to the horizontal layers effect in the upper portion of the frame. I then adjusted the camera distance to fully frame the closest rocks and avoid strong lines of contrast leaving the frame.
 
Since the sky was clear and blue in color, I didn't need a lot in it in the frame for this particular image. I chose to keep enough sky to yield a clean top border and to add a full layer of blue color over and contrasting with the distant evergreens.
 
This photo was captured handheld. I used the in-viewfinder electronic level to keep the image properly leveled and captured two frames. One frame was focused closer than the other and the two were manually focus stacked during post processing. Alternatively, a narrower aperture could have been used, but with the clean separation of foreground and background, I chose to use a sharper aperture (f/8 shows less diffraction softening than f/11 or f/16) and the focus stacking technique.
 
This capture was timed with early evening, resulting in the best possible light quality just prior to the rocks went into full shade. While I frequently use a circular polarizer filter when photographing landscapes, I chose not to in this case. Because the sun was at a relatively low angle to my side and because I was using a wide angle focal length, the sky would have showed strong uneven darkening if this filter was used.
 
A Canon EOS Rebel camera and EF-S 10-18mm IS STM Lens make a great lightweight combination for hiking.


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.

 
Camera and Lens Settings
10mm  f/8.0  1/160s
ISO 100
5400 x 3600px
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Post Date: 2/8/2016 10:03:55 AM ET   Posted By: Bryan
 Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Although the two days I spent in Shenandoah National Park last June were mostly rainy with heavy fog, I managed to get close enough to this adorable just-born fawn for some clear images. The white-tailed deer fawn may be my favorite baby animal and this photo alone would have made the trip worthwhile.
 
My camera choice for this trip was the EOS 5D Mark III. I made this choice for the combination of image quality (the EOS 5Ds and 5Ds R had not yet arrived) and AF performance.
 
While I had several telephoto lens choices along, the Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Lens was my primary wildlife lens. The deer I photograph in Shenandoah National Park are often at least somewhat approachable (though mothers with fawns seem to be an exception), making 400mm often adequate and the 560mm option is available at the throw of a switch. The other issue is that getting close to the animals is often a requirement to eliminate trees and other obstructions. The need to get closer makes even 400mm on a full frame body very frequently too long (unless head shots are desired). The zoom range feature of this lens offers plenty of flexibility in framing at a range of subject distances.
 
My second choice lens on this trip was the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens. This is another incredible lens that offers an even longer focal length range than the 200-400. Yes, the 200-400 has the built-in extender, but the 100-400 is also compatible with extenders. The 100-400 is considerably smaller and lighter, but the 200-400 has a wider aperture – a full 1 stop wider at the long end. As I mentioned, the weather was rainy with heavy fog, which translates to dark and being able to stop motion in 1/2 as much light was important.
 
The next thing you are going to say is that ... this photo was captured at f/5.6. That is correct. The fawn happened to be at the edge of a clearing with an above-average amount of light on it. It had been nursing from its mother moments before and I was using f/5.6 to gain some depth of field. So, in this case, the 100-400 L II would also have worked well.
 
Moments later, the fawn was bouncing around in the woods and ... that meant that the 200-400 L was the right choice.


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.

 
Camera and Lens Settings
400mm  f/5.6  1/320s
ISO 1600
5431 x 3621px
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Post Date: 1/20/2016 10:21:36 AM ET   Posted By: Bryan
 Monday, January 18, 2016

by Sean Setters

If the term "stroboscopic" is unfamiliar to you, you're not alone. My guess is that many Canon 580EX / 580EX II / 600EX-RT owners have yet to explore this intriguing feature found in their Speedites.

So what is stroboscopic flash? Fortunately, the 600EX-RT manual provides a good description in the feature's introduction:

"When using stroboscopic flash with a slow shutter speed, you can shoot multiple successive movements within a single picture, similar to stop-motion pictures.

In stroboscopic flash, set the flash output, number of flashes, and flash frequency (number of flashes per second = Hz)."

As outlined above, stroboscopic – or MULTI, in Canon's terminology – flash allows for the Speedlite to fire several continuous flashes within a specified duration of time, which is beneficial in illustrating movement by exposing the subject with individual burst of lights as it travels across the frame during a single exposure.

What kind of subjects work well when captured with stroboscopic flash? Dancers and falling/bouncing objects are commonly utilized, but just about anything that moves will work. Keep in mind that a dark shooting environment is necessary to achieve optimal results because any constant/ambient light will cause motion blur to be captured between flash bursts.

To set up your flash for stroboscopic/MULTI mode, press the Mode button until "MULTI" is displayed on the Speedlite's LCD panel. If the flash is set to Slave mode, you may need to hold the Mode button for a few seconds until it switches out of ETTL mode. Note: In Slave mode, the MULTI label will blink.

Next, you'll need to set the flash power, number of total flashes and number of flashes per second (Hz).

Canon Speedlite Multi Stroboscopic Illustration

In the illustration above, the flash is set to fire 8 times at a rate of 12Hz. In this situation, the flash wil be firing for 2/3 of a second, meaning that the camera's shutter speed will need to be set to 2/3 second or longer in order to capture all 8 of the individual flash bursts.

Note that as you use higher flash powers, the number of flashes you can fire in succession begins to dwindle. That means that there's a limit to how many continuous flashes you can expect to achieve at various power levels, with higher power level use allowing for fewer continuous flashes. Once again, the 600EX-RT's manual comes to the rescue to provide a handy resource for determining the number of continuous flashes we can expect at specific power levels:

Maximum Number of Flash Bursts During Stroboscopic Mode 600EX RT

Creating the Example Image

To create the image above, I used a tripod mounted 5D Mark III, EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM, ST-E2 and (2) 580EX Speedlites set to stroboscopic/MULTI mode. The flashes were set to 80mm zoom and positioned slightly behind the bouncing platform (a board) so as to limit the amount of light spilling onto the background, an Impact Collapsible Black/White Background.

The flashes were set to 1/128 power, 15 flashes at a rate of 30Hz. This made my shutter speed calculation quite easy – 1/2 second. And if you look closely, you'll notice that the exposure time and framing allowed me to capture every flash burst from the Speedlite in the image (you can count 15 individual balls). With an aperture of f/7.1 and an ISO of 250, I was able to capture a dark background while maintaining a good exposure on the subject, a ping pong ball. Note that I purposefully shot this image at night with the overhead lights turned off to minimize the ambient light in the room (I left a hallway light on and the studio door cracked to provide enough working light). To create the exposures, I set the camera to manual focus noting the plane of focus on the board. I then gently dropped the ping pong ball at the point of focus while triggering the camera's shutter button with my other hand.

So why would someone uses stroboscopic flash instead of simply firing off a continuous burst from the camera with flash set to trigger on every exposure with the intend of combining the exposures in post? One word – speed. For example, an EOS 7D Mark II can achieve a burst rate of 10 frames-per-second, meaning that the camera's burst rate limits the number of individual exposures you can create in a 1-second duration. And if shooting with a Rebel/xxxD series DSLR, the burst rate becomes even more limiting. But using stroboscopic flash, you can essentially capture a subject 40 times within the same 1-second time period (at 1/128 power), translating into a much faster burst rate while simultaneously reducing the amount of post-processing required to achieve the desired result.

If you've never tried stroboscopic flash, we invite you to do so. Creating images using stroboscopic flash is a great way to spend an evening creating fun, creative images. And when you've captured your favorite stroboscopic image (or if you already have one), share it in The-Digital-Picture Flickr group with the tag "stroboscopic flash".

A larger version of the example image can be found on my Flickr photostream.

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Post Date: 1/18/2016 9:02:44 AM ET   Posted By: Sean
 Wednesday, January 13, 2016

They don't take Christmas decorations down on December 26th, but ... the crowds will be lighter than before Christmas. Public Christmas displays, including large Christmas trees frequently found in towns and cities, make great photography subjects. Photographing these displays after the crowds leave can make life easier for the photographer (and your social schedule will likely be cleared). Though the Christmas anticipation feelings may have subsided, the resulting photographs can be as good or better than those captured before the holiday.
 
When do they take down public Christmas decorations? That answer varies greatly, but on this particular year, the large Christmas tree on display at PPG Place in Pittsburgh was scheduled to be taken down on Jan 26th. Part of my pre-trip planning involved asking that question. On January 5th, a very cold Tuesday afternoon, the crowds at the ice skating rink were light, but ... timing the photograph with the ice being cleared for the Zamboni to do its resurfacing work meant a completely empty rink.
 
To add an extra element to the image, I aligned the sun with a small hole in the Christmas tree and used a narrow aperture to create a strong starburst effect.
 
Setting the Canon EF 11-24mm f/4L USM Lens to 11mm will take in a VERY wide angle of view. Pointing 11mm upward will cause buildings to strongly lean inward.


A larger version of this image is available on Flickr, Google+, Facebook, Instagram and 500px. If reading from a news feed reader, click through to see the framed image.

 
Camera and Lens Settings
11mm  f/16.0  1.30s
ISO 100
8688 x 5792px
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Post Date: 1/13/2016 11:14:16 AM ET   Posted By: Bryan
 Tuesday, January 12, 2016

With plentiful wildlife and beautiful scenery, Katmai National Park ranks very high on my list of favorite places to photograph.
 
In this photo, the large, bare, coarse-edged mountain peak, the more-gently sloping mid and lower elevations covered in green, and the various waters below, all being large in the frame, are obvious to the viewer. With a little more attention paid, a sow and her standing cub, concerned about the risk presented by the boar that is eyeing and potentially approaching them, come into view and give the photo that extra element I always like. Additional elements (and not as visible at this resolution) are the large number of salmon splashing their way up the stream in the foreground and a pair of brown bears on the distant shoreline.
 
The Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens was practically glued to one of my Canon EOS 5Ds R bodies while in Katmai NP and a great complement to my big lens, the Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS II. The 100-400 L II, with its long focal length range, can capture wildlife images ranging from environmental portraits to close-ups, depending on the subject distance of course. That 100mm was nearly too long to frame 1,000+ lb brown bears at times was ... a very exciting part of this trip.


A larger version of this image is available on Flickr, Google+, Facebook, Instagram and 500px. If reading from a news feed reader, click through to see the framed image.

 
Camera and Lens Settings
142mm  f/9.0  1/320s
ISO 200
5792 x 8688px
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Post Date: 1/12/2016 12:17:46 PM ET   Posted By: Bryan

As I was creating yesterday's post about the New York Public Library releasing 180,000 images into the public domain, I began thinking of ways in which the wide range of images could be used.

With a primary interest in portraiture, the first idea that came to my mind was incorporating one of the public domain images in a portrait simulating a multiple exposure. With that in mind, I picked up my 5D Mark III and favorite portrait lens – the 85L II – and captured a profile of Amanda lit with a 580EX flash diffused by a small soft box positioned in front of (and slightly behind) her and another flash pointed at the background. This left me with a significant portion of Amanda's profile in shadow, meaning that I could use a public domain image set to a Lighten blending mode in Photoshop CC to easily blend the two images.

After cleaning up the background (making sure it was completely white) and a few adjustments (including a Black and White adjustment layer), the base image looked like this:

Profile Portrait with Public Domain Image Base

For the overlay, I settled on an image in the public domain library that seemed to indicate that the wheels were turning in the subject's head. I thought this overlay image would work well because with the subject's eyes looking to the right, she looks as if she's thinking about something.

New York Public Library Public Domain Image no. 1691644

I adjusted the brightness and contrast of the overlay layer in order to obtain an optimal balance with the base portrait (a matter of taste, of course) and placed the overlay below the same Black and White adjustment layer so that the adjustment applied to both images. The final composite can be seen above and the full resolution image can be found on my Flickr photostream.

Do you plan on using public domain images in your work? If so, let us know how in the comments.

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Post Date: 1/12/2016 8:30:18 AM ET   Posted By: Sean
 Friday, January 8, 2016

While attempting a few macro shots yesterday, I was inspired to turn my lens on a subject that has always fascinated me because of its intrinsic beauty and complexity – the eye.

Gear Used

EXIF: f/10, 1/80 sec, ISO 320

Thought Process and Execution

As I wanted a macro shot of the eye, my lens choice was easy. However, as I wanted to get as much magnification as possible, I stacked all three of the Kenko Extension Tubes behind the lens. This shortened the minimum focus distance allowing me to get even closer to the subject for a larger than 1.0x maximum magnification.

How much larger? Well, let's see.

With the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM...

Update: I revised this section to make the calculation simpler.

Magnification = Native Maximum Magnification + (Extension Length / Focal Length)
Magnification = 1.0 + [(12 + 20 + 36) / 100]
Magnification = 1.0 + [68 / 100]
Magnification = 1.0 + .68
Magnification = 1.68

Note that the magnification value assumes we are working at Minimum Focus Distance.

Another factor we need to consider is the effective aperture in this scenario. As magnification increases, the effective aperture gets narrower. Here's how the effective aperture is calculated:

Effective Aperture = Aperture Setting + (Aperture Setting * Magnification)
Effective Aperture = 10 + (10 * 1.68)
Effective Aperture = 10 + 16.8
Effective Aperture = f/26.8

Working with this kind of magnification brings with it a couple of challenges. One challenge is that your depth of field becomes very thin. Even at f/10, there's only a sliver of the image that's in focus (the reflection of the top eyelashes). And on top of that, a higher than 1.0x magnification makes the viewfinder very dark. Minimal DOF combined with a dark viewfinder makes precise focusing a challenge to achieve.

And because of the very narrow effective aperture, a lot of light is needed for a proper exposure. In this case, I used a manually controlled, shoe-mounted Canon 580EX set to nearly full power (at ISO 320) in order to obtain a decent exposure. Of course, the RoundFlash Ringflash Adapter I was using resulted in a certain amount of light loss from diffusion, but I felt it was the best modifier for the look I was going for and well worth the penalty of a slightly higher ISO.

As far as the shutter speed goes, there was no specific reason I chose 1/80 second over anything else. In this particular instance, any reasonably fast shutter speed would work (even one that would likely show motion blur during at normal magnifications). That's because the light captured in this scene is provided entirely from the flash which has an extremely short duration. In effect, the shutter speed was the flash duration.

I typically use a tripod when shooting macro subjects. But in this case, using a tripod seemed a bit impractical. That's because with such a small DOF, I thought it would be easier for me to adjust the camera back and forth slightly to achieve focus rather than try and direct the subject to move her head the same amount. I also typically use 10x Live View to aid in manual focusing when shooting macro subjects. But in this case, using 10x (or 5x) Live View would have had two big consequences: the inability to see the entire framing and a loss of stability needed for precise manual focusing (as my eye would not be on the viewfinder).

I overcame focus challenges by sitting on the coffee table in front of the subject and bracing my elbows against my knees with the camera pressed firmly to my face. This gave me a relatively rigid platform where I could sway ever so slightly forward and backward as the subject stared straight into the lens. This also allowed me the ability to easily adjust framing on the fly for slightly different looks between shots. I concentrated on timing my shots when the reflection of her top eyelashes looked sharpest (a challenge with the dark viewfinder, but not impossible). After several attempts, I finally had the framing and focus that I wanted.

In post-processing, I increased clarity to help bring out details in the iris, upped the saturation a little and made relatively minor adjustments to brightness/contrast. The image is uncropped.

You can find a full resolution version on my Flickr photostream.

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Post Date: 1/8/2016 8:58:49 AM ET   Posted By: Sean
 Thursday, January 7, 2016

Pittsburgh, home to three rivers (Ohio, Alleghany and Monongahela), is also home to great reflections and many bridges. The reflections of the city, however, are usually color blurs due to wakes from boat and barge traffic. Thanks to the wave-rebounding solid vertical river walls, the waves seem to never dissipate and when planning this long daytrip, I was visualizing a creamy-smooth river of color during the blue hour and later. What I found on this day was ... no boat traffic and very different images than I had visualized. Different in a good way, I think.
 
The most difficult part of this image capture? Being there.
 
To take the actual picture, I simply stood on the north shore of the Three Rivers Heritage Trail river walk, centered between the Robert Clemente and Andy Warhol bridges, set the aperture to f/16 to get the star burst effect from lights, adjusted the framing to level (both pitch and yaw to keep the buildings and their reflections vertically straight) and pressed the shutter release (mirror lockup with 1 second delay).
 
The RAW file post processing was not challenging. In DPP, highlights were reduced (-5), shadows were boosted (+5) and saturation was added. While this result was very good, I opted to brighten the reflection in the water slightly (1/3 stop) using a simple HDR process. Two 16-bit TIFF files were created (one at -.83 EV and one at -.5 EV) and combined in Photoshop.
 
Being in Pittsburgh for the day meant renting a car the night before (4 drivers with 2 cars is not working so well), driving 4 hours, hiking roughly 3 miles with a full MindShift Gear BackLight 26L (including two tripods, extra cloths, food and water) and overall, being outdoors for 9 hours with temperatures in the teens and twenties (°F). I arrived home at 2:30 AM and got up to return the car in the AM.
 
The beauty of our brains is that, in a few days, the only thing I will remember is having spent a great day in a beautiful city and the images will last for a lifetime. I'm ready to go back.
 
Another beauty is the Sigma 20mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens that I was "focused" on for the day. I referred to this lens as a "scapes" lens and it performed excellently in its cityscapes roll this day.


A larger version of this image is available on Flickr, Google+, Facebook, Instagram and 500px. If reading from a news feed reader, click through to see the framed image.

 
Camera and Lens Settings
20mm  f/16.0  30s
ISO 100
8688 x 5792px
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Post Date: 1/7/2016 12:52:27 PM ET   Posted By: Bryan
 Thursday, December 24, 2015

1. Install Christmas tree and clean up (this is the hardest step)
 
2. Wait for dark
 
3. Mount the Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM Lens on a full frame DSLR camera
 
4. Mount the camera to a tripod, zoom out, move in and level the camera (both pitch and yaw)
 
5. Turn off all regular lights, turn on all Christmas lights.
 
6. Take some test shots to determine that 15 seconds at f/16 (to get the starburst effect from the lights) and ISO 200 is right
 
7. Wait for the kids to go to bed (to avoid any floor vibrations)
 
8. Shoot until you run out of new composition ideas
 
9. Brush your teeth
 
10. Make one more attempt at finding new compositions.
 
My family and I wish you and your family a very "Merry Christmas!" May all of your photos be amazing!


 
Camera and Lens Settings
16mm  f/16.0  15s
ISO 200
5880 x 3920px
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Post Date: 12/24/2015 3:07:11 PM ET   Posted By: Bryan
 Tuesday, December 22, 2015

If you look through Bryan's and my own favorite images, you won't see many abstract images. Typically speaking, our subjects are clearly defined and discernable (although our backgrounds may not be). When focusing on a specific subject (pun intended), the quality of your equipment and the sharpness your lenses deliver take center stage. Also, your subject and/or background must be visually compelling to grab the viewer's attention.

But what if you don't have the sharpest lenses? What if you have become uninspired by your immediate surroundings (a common problem I face)? In October, I posted the Top 6 Ways to Inspire Your Own Creativity, but I recently realized I missed a big one – Abstract photography.

My recent fascination with abstract photography began a couple of evenings ago when Amanda had fallen asleep on the couch, lit only by the faint glow of a TV left on in front of the room. Her arms and legs were humorously perched in awkward positions while our two dogs were cozily sharing the couch with her. It seemed like the perfect time for a personal snapshot that I never intended to share with the general public. But then happened...

Abstract Example #1

With my camera set to Live View (Silent Mode), Av priority at f/1.4 and ISO 800, It seems that I miscalculated just how slow the shutter would be even with -1 stop of exposure compensation dialed in (I wanted the scene to look as dark as it appeared to my eye). Soon after pressing the shutter, I raised the camera to look at the LCD preview only to notice the end of the exposure happening at that time. The resulting "accident" was oddly captivating to me.

That's what got me thinking about the benefits of abstract photography. Some of those benefits include:

  • You can easily create interesting abstract photos with inexpensive gear.
  • You can use very narrow apertures and significant motion blur to render subjects unrecognizable, yet still compelling.
  • The abstract images created can be used in many different ways.

The quality of gear used for creating abstract images is largely irrelevant as sharpness isn't a priority. According to dictionary.com, "abstract" can be defined as "expressing a quality or characteristic apart from any specific object or instance" or "difficult to understand; abstruse." In photographic terms, an abstract image is one in which the actual subjects are not clearly discerned, and the easiest way to accomplish that is to blur subjects through motion (my personal preference) or bokeh. When doing so, the incremental sharpness of one lens over another is practically meaningless.

And if our subjects are going to be blurred to oblivion, we can use rather uninspiring subjects found around the house to create interesting abstract images. At this point, I've photographed the flowers in my backyard about a dozen times over the past month. While they are still beautiful, they've stopped inspiring me to grab my camera for yet another shot of pretty flowers. But when focusing on abstract photography, the flowers become exciting again. Forgoing the tripod I usually use with macro subjects, I grabbed my 5D Mark III with the EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM attached to capture the following images:

Abstract Example #2

Abstract Example #3

Abstract Example #4

And using motion blur and a macro lens, you can even create a relatively interesting image with something as mundane as a concrete patio (below).

Abstract Example #5

Of course, motion blur isn't the only way to render subjects unrecognizable. You can also use a wide aperture and unfocused subjects to create an interesting composition. The Christmas holiday seems to provide ample creative bokeh opportunities.

Out of Focus Christmas Lights

So what can you do with abstract images? Well, like any good image, a compelling abstract can liven up a blank space on your wall, but its usefulness does not end there. An abstract image can look great as a background for future portraits (either via post processing or via a Light Blaster) or they can be used for many generic stock image background needs and various typesetting projects.

At the end of the day, creating abstract images can be a fun and fulfilling way to spend time behind your camera.

Do you have abstract photos you'd like to share? Just add them to the site's Flickr group and tag them with "abstract".

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Post Date: 12/22/2015 9:57:07 AM ET   Posted By: Sean
 Monday, December 21, 2015

Putting up and decorating is a big family tradition at our house and the annual photographing of the tree is my own sub-tradition.
 
The photo setup starts long before the camera comes out, beginning with the position of the tree. In addition to the location selected in the house (ours has a very logical one), make sure that the tree appears vertically straight (regardless of the trunk's curvature) and, if the tree is being centered on a feature (such as a set of windows), fine tune that position.
 
The next item on the checklist must be attended to before you string the lights on the Christmas tree (I know, that is the favorite job). The key is to make sure that all of the strings of lights have bulbs with the same brightness (or that they are dissimilar enough to look proper). Perhaps I'm not the brightest bulb in the pack as I skipped this step (thought we corrected this issue last year) and ... apparently there are two different Christmas light models in our tree kit. At least I have a dark-light-dark-light pattern going up the tree. Hopefully most will think that design was intentional.
 
After the tree is fully decorated, clean up the area around it – minimally all that will be included in the frame. This task may include smoothing the carpet if it shows tracks.
 
The Best Time of Day to Photograph the Christmas Tree
 
A Christmas tree can be photographed at any time of day or night, but the best time of the day is when the ambient light is right for the image you want. A tree located in a room with many windows will, without significant shading, show mostly green with ornaments and a subdued look to the strings of lights. This is a very nice look.
 
My preference for photographing our tree, installed in our great room/living room, is to use only the light from the Christmas tree lights with very low or no additional ambient light. With windows behind our tree, I am quickly limited to the after dark timeframe. After dark comes early in late fall and early winter, but there is another issue. People walking around cause the floor to flex slightly and that makes the ornaments swing, becoming blurred in a long exposure. So, after the kids are in bed (or plan to be somewhere else in the house for a period of time) works best for long exposures sans kids in the picture.
 
Having windows in your photo quickly complicates the tree photo session for a couple of reasons in addition to the ambient light they provide. One reason is what is outside of the window. Waiting until after dark usually takes care of this problem unless there are other lights visible through the windows (such as street lights). In the latter case, blocking your windows from outside, such as with black foam core, may be a solution to the issue. In this photo, I waited until late in the blue hour on a very foggy day to get a slight even blue glow through the windows. I wasn't sure how bright I wanted the blue to be, but capturing a frame every few minutes allowed me to choose what I thought was ideal at a later time.
 
Reflections are another issue with windows. If Christmas lights are being reflected, those reflections are often beneficial to the composition. But, if something else in your house is being reflected (such as the LCD panel on the microwave or thermostat), the effect will not likely be appreciated.
 
Lens Selection for Christmas Tree Photography
 
The desired perspective should always drive focal length selection and in this case, working space may limit the perspective options. Within the bounds of walls and other furniture (consider moving it), the optimal perspective will often result in a wide angle lens being selected.
 
Experiment with perspective, utilizing the various focal lengths at a variety of distances. Also try a variety of camera heights, but do so with an understanding that a vertically level camera is going to keep vertical lines in the frame straight. Windows, corners, furniture and other items will provide those straight lines.
 
Aperture Selection for Christmas Tree Photography
 
While a wide variety of apertures can be used for Christmas tree photos and blurred Christmas trees are quite beautiful, f/16 is one of my favorites. I know, your first thought was to cringe at the softness that diffraction will impart at this aperture and that is a true concern. But, the narrower the aperture used, the bigger the star effect created by each light on the tree. The f/16 aperture is a bit of a compromise in that the images remain reasonably sharp (and sharpenable) with rather large stars being created. Experiment with f/8 through f/22 to determine your own preference.
 
While ISO 100 is ideal, I went to ISO 200 for this exposure to reduce the amount of time each frame was taking. This one stop increase in ISO meant little in terms of noise, but it took 15 seconds off of the exposure and another 15 seconds off of the long exposure noise reduction information capture following the exposure.
 
Summary
 
You have spent (or are going to spend) all that time and expense putting the Christmas tree up and decorating it, so ... plan on spending some time taking pictures of it. If you don't think the right lens is in your kit, this would be a good time to buy it. Renting a lens to use over the holidays is another great idea.


 
Camera and Lens Settings
35mm  f/16.0  15s
ISO 200
5736 x 8691px
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Post Date: 12/21/2015 11:15:45 AM ET   Posted By: Bryan
 Tuesday, December 15, 2015

by Sean Setters

Full disclosure: my extended family already celebrated Christmas this past weekend. We generally all make the long drive to my aunt's house to get together a week or two before Christmas so that actual Christmas day can be spent at home with immediate family.

As such, I thought I'd share my "Christmas Day Presents Opening" kit because, after photographing my family's event over the past few years, I've finally settled on a small kit that seems to work very well for the festive day.

Camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark III (or EOS 5Ds / 5Ds R / 6D)

The Canon EOS 5D Mark III is an extremely versatile body that works well in just about any situation. The AF system is great, the full-frame camera offers a wider angle of view compared to using the same lens with a crop-sensor camera, and its high-ISO image quality allows me to grab ambient only shots when desired. As I'll explain later, a full-frame camera body isn't necessarily required, but it is certainly my preferred choice. I also like that the 5D III (and 5Ds/5Ds R) feature dual memory card slots. While capturing the fleeting moments of bliss and unbridled happiness that the day brings, having a backup set of images means that you're less likely to lose your precious memories because of a memory card malfunction or accidental deletion from the primary card.

Lens: Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art (or Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II / EF 35mm f/2 IS USM)

A lot of people prefer a general purpose zoom for these types of celebrations and events, and there are certainly advantages to having a versatile focal range available for use. However, I find a 35mm f/1.4 lens to provide an excellent balance between focal length and maximum aperture. The 35mm focal length is wide enough to you create a story with relatively loose framing, yet it's rarely too wide. It's also not too long so that photographing in smaller spaces/rooms becomes an issue.

The wide f/1.4 aperture allows you to separate your subject from the background while [in most cases] still getting a sense of what's actually taking place in the background. The wide aperture also allows you to utilize the ambient light while helping to freeze action (certainly a benefit when arms and hands are busy opening presents) without having to use your maximum ISO.

But just because you can shoot at f/1.4 doesn't mean that's going to be optimal for your needs (especially with the depth-of-field needs associated with keeping multiple subjects in focus). The next part of my kit allows me much more flexibility in choosing the right aperture/shutter speed/ISO those kinds of shots.

Flash: Canon Speedlite 580EX (or 600EX-RT / 430EX III-RT) with CTO Gel & Flashbender 2 (Small)

No matter how much ambient light there is, I always like to be able to push a little bit more light into the room in order to allow for the use of lower ISOs and/or faster shutter speeds or to simply change the quality of light in the scene.

In a presents-opening situation, I'm typically using a camera-mounted flash with its head pointed straight up toward the ceiling to create flattering, room-filling bounce flash. Attached to the flash I use either a full CTO or a 1/2 CTO gel so that the color of the flash more closely matches that of the room's ambient light (generally created by tungsten lamps and even the glow of Christmas lights).

Another tool I find helpful is the use of a Rogue Flashbender 2 (Small). I like the Flashbender 2 (Small) because it isn't unwieldy when attached to the flash and it pushes just enough light forward to mitigate dark eye shadows that can sometimes be caused by the primary light source coming from overhead.

And while the flash works great with a wide aperture prime lens and a full-frame camera, a flash can also enable the use of narrower aperture zooms (or primes) and/or cameras with pixel-dense sensors (i.e., crop-sensor cameras). In these cases, the flash will likely shift from augmenting the existing ambient light to being the predominate light source in the scene.

So that's the kit I used this past weekend and it worked very well for capturing a wide variety of shots throughout the day. Do you have any other suggestions or recommendations? Let us know in the comments.

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Posted to: Canon News, Sony News   Category: Photo Tips and Stories
Post Date: 12/15/2015 10:17:49 AM ET   Posted By: Sean
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