Canon EOS 5Ds R Sample Pictures

Canon EOS 5Ds R
Telephoto Lenses are for Flowers Too Telephoto Lenses are for Flowers Too
Sure, telephoto lenses are great for wildlife, sports and many other uses, but they are also great for flowers! I've had my eye on a small field of wildflowers and, after spending a large number of contiguous hours of work putting the Lens MTF Comparison tool into place, I gave myself the freedom to go after some summer color in the form of flower pics.
 
I knew that making an image worth sharing from this field was going to be a challenge. The location was not well-suited for a grand landscape image incorporating the flower color in the foreground. The flowers were beautiful, but they were intermixed with other vegetation, were very random in position and most were imperfect including a random state of bloom (some were well-beyond peak).
 
I was biking to this location (2 cars - 4 drivers = a problem) and, since I wasn't sure what the best opportunity was going to be, I put lenses ranging from 16 to 300mm in focal length along with a Canon EOS 5Ds R in a Think Tank Photo StreetWalker Pro backpack and was on my way. After riding past and then walking back along the edge of the field, I found few standout subjects calling for emphasis. Sometimes, flowers look best when blurred out of focus, becoming blobs of color and this was what I determined the case to be for much of this field.
 
This pair of cosmos did appear to be a cut above the rest and I focused on them for a period of time. By using a 300mm telephoto focal length with a relatively short focus distance, a nice blur was created, making full use of the imperfect blooms in the background.
 
While simply setting up such a blur is easy and can be good enough, taking the shot to the next level requires some attention to detail. In this case, I oriented the tripod-mounted camera and lens so that the background of the in-focus flower was only green, making the flower pop. This perspective also placed a complementary same-color cosmos just out of focus with a matching pair more-strongly blurred above. An intermittent light breeze made this alignment a bit more challenging, but ... patience was the answer to that issue.
 
I used manual focus aided by the 5Ds R's 16x Live View, allowing precise focusing on the center of the flower (preventing AF from picking the petals just in front). While an f/5.6 aperture would have given an even stronger background blur and would also have created a nice image, I opted for f/8 in this case. F/8 kept more of the flower in focus and reduced vignetting to even out the background brightness. Lighting is courtesy of a bright cloudy sky.
 
Then, right on cue, the bee landed on my primary subject. I was shooting the scene in vertical orientation at that moment (creating a nearly identical image), but I wanted to post the horizontal format picture as it fits better on computer monitors. So, I simply copied the bee out of the vertical photo and pasted it into this one.
 
Go get some summer color (in your photos, not your skin). Mount your telephoto lens and go flower hunting!
 
300mm  f/8.0  1/30s  ISO 100
Sunrise at the Portland Lighthouse Sunrise at the Portland Lighthouse
While it is painful to get up early enough to photograph the sunrise in early summer (4:20 AM in this case), early summer is the right time of the year to photograph the Portland Lighthouse and the distant Ram Island Lighthouse from this angle with the sun in the frame.
 
With the middle daughter accompanying me, I arrived at Fort Williams in Cape Elizabeth, ME just before sunrise. I selected one specific composition to concentrate on during the prime shooting minutes, timed the rotating lighthouse light, bracketed exposures and, when capturing the foreground rocks being hit with the first light rays of the day, adjusted focus to a closer distance.
 
This image is composed primarily of three source images run through a complicated manual HDR process with manual focus-stacking. After the big effort made to capture this image (a long drive in addition to the early alarm), I was anxious to see how this photo turned out. It was the first-processed from my recent photo trip to Maine. I'm happy with the result – it was definitely worth my effort.
 
I'm also very happy with the 5Ds R and 16-35 f/4L IS combination. I can say that they "rock".
 
16mm  f/11.0  1/13s  ISO 100
Common Loon Common Loon
Don't like shooting in the extreme heat and humidity of summer? Be like the birds – migrate! For most of us northern hemisphere residents, the preferred direction is north.
 
I was recently privileged to do just that, spending a week 26 miles from the grid in the North Maine Woods, just below the Canadian border. The temperature here in late July was very pleasant during my entire stay.
 
The North Maine Woods are sometimes referred to as the "Silent Woods" by my family, referencing specifically the lack of crickets, cicadas, katydids, etc. making the loud night music we are accustomed to at home. But that declaration is not completely true. Along with some frogs, the clear, eerie call of the loon is a common night sound heard around the silent, pristine northern Maine lakes. It is a sound that I love to hear and a photo of that audio source brings back great memories.
 
I have photos of common loons, but ... none that stood out to me. I have wanted change that problem on this trip and to do so, I spent just over hour early each of four mornings attempting to photograph these beautiful birds.
 
My craft was a canoe. Being solo in the canoe with light and changing winds added to the challenge of positioning for the photos. Getting close enough for adequate frame filling while positioning between the loons and the sun all while not concerning the not-too-tame birds was not easy. A light wind being able to rapidly turn the canoe was definitely not helpful.
 
My case was a Pelican. As it is only fitting to use a case named after a bird while photographing birds, I stored the camera and lenses in a "Pelican" 1510 while in transit between shore and actively photographing the birds. While the Pelican case lacks official approval as a PFD, it floats very nicely in the event of a worst case scenario. There was no worry about water from the paddle dripping on it and no worry about water on the floor of the boat reaching the gear.
 
The Canon EF 100-400mm L IS II was my Lens choice for these outings. While a 600mm lens would have been more ideal from a focal length perspective (due to the distance that the loons were comfortable with), it would not have been easy to handle this lens in the canoe, especially when alternating between paddling and photographing. The 1.4x behind the 100-400 L II would have also been helpful, but ... that option was not available to me.
 
The Canon EOS 5Ds R was my camera choice. Having the tremendous resolution of the 5Ds R allowed me to crop deep into the frame with significant pixel dimension remaining. At least 24 megapixels remained in most final images and some required no cropping for a frame-filling loon. Framing loosely had some advantages. For one, the loons were seldom still. And, by sticking one leg straight out the side, loons can change directions 180° almost instantly. That is much faster than I could change the canoe's direction and faster than I could change an AF point to the opposite side. With the center AF point locked on the bird's head, I was ready for any direction change with the bird (often) remaining (relatively) easy to keep entirely in the frame with only slight recomposition needed.
 
While I cropped the loons rather tightly in most images, being able to go back to the RAW file means that I can open images up if/when more space is needed around the birds such as for titles and text. The background, primarily reflections of the forest with some sky, are beautiful in their own right and in this photo, I especially liked the reflected colors of the forest being hit with early morning light. The white birch tree reflection is another key location identifier to me.
 
Photo trips such as this one provide extremely educational firsthand experience. One of my take-aways from this loon photography experience is that loons blink a LOT after surfacing into bright sunlight. Once I noticed that behavior, I was careful to time the shutter release with an open eye (and utilized burst mode more frequently).
 
Crossing this photo off of my bucket list was not a small effort (some might say that I went "loony"), but the pile of keeper-grade loon images I brought home was a bit daunting to sort through. Selecting the one to share with you first was an even bigger challenge. Being in a far north latitude meant that this effort was "no sweat."
 
400mm  f/6.3  1/500s  ISO 800
9/11 Tribute in Lights Reflection with One World Trade Center 9/11 Tribute in Lights Reflection with One World Trade Center
It was late (about 10:30 PM) and I still had a nearly-4-hour drive home. But, I couldn't help myself and made another stop in Jersey City/Newport. I had been in New York City since early afternoon, walking many miles with a heavy pack as I finalized my scouting in the Brooklyn Bridge Park area around Dumbo. The date was September 11th and the goal was to get at least a high quality image of the city with the Tribute in Light illuminating vertical miles of the night sky.
 
I hope to share an image captured from the primary-selected location later, but periodically the tribute lights are turned off to allow the attracted-by-the-light birds to disperse. I had my initial location images and, not knowing how long the lights would remain off, I decided to pack up and head for a completely different view of the city.
 
The attraction from of this different location? Along with a great city skyline view including the tribute lights being visible closer to the ground than from my first destination, seawalls reduced the wave action on the Hudson River, producing a cleaner reflection in the image and providing interesting leading lines. What I could not have planned for was the black-crowned night heron choosing to roost on a nearby piling. A sidewalk lamp provided just enough foreground illumination for the bird and wall to be brightness-balanced with the city lights in a set of four images bracketed up to a 1 minute exposure at f/11, ISO 100. And, the bird remained motionless long enough to be sharp in one of those frames.
 
After photographing here for nearly two hours, I decided that I had this location covered, including alternative framing using two camera/tripod setups. It was 12:15 AM when I packed up and headed to my car. Then I saw a slightly different angle that I needed to capture. I unpacked a camera and captured one more set of images. As it turns out, that last set was my favorite from the entire trip, the one I am sharing here.
 
A key for composing this image was to use a camera position that was level for both tilt and roll. While the city buildings being rendered rather small in the frame and the tallest building, One World Trade Center, having a tapered shape and being positioned close to the center of the frame, can take a slight camera tilt without looking bad, the bold-in-the-frame pair of bright lines running up the border of the frame were completely unforgiving. Any camera tilt up or down results in those lines tilting inward or outward (respectively) from perspective distortion, appearing unnatural.
 
To create this final image, four 1-stop-bracketed images were processed in Photomatix and the result was polished in Photoshop.
 
For this daytrip, I was focused on getting the best-possible image quality from known-excellent gear. For me, that meant a MindShift Gear BackLight 26L loaded with a pair of Canon EOS 5Ds R bodies and three lenses, the Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III, Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II and Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II.
 
Yes, I also have the f/4 versions of all three of these lenses and carrying those would have meant a lighter load. While the f/2.8 aperture was not important to me for the amount of light it could take in, I like the lights in a cityscape to become starbursts and wider aperture lenses typically render more prominent starbursts than their narrower max aperture counterparts when used at narrow apertures. The f/2.8 lenses were my choice primarily for that reason alone. The overall focal length range covered by these lenses was ideal for my pursuit. I used all three (and I had the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens in the car if needed).
 
For support, I used the RRS TVC-34 and RRS TQC-14 Carbon Fiber Tripods with RRS BH-55 and RRS BH-40 Ball Heads used respectively. Really Right Stuff gear is among the best made and these particular models are simply excellent.
 
While the World Trade Center building attack being memorialized by the Tribute in Light was extremely tragic, the lights themselves are beautiful and add a great element to the New York City skyline. On each September 11th, when the Tribute in Light becomes visible in the night sky, south Manhattan and the New York City perimeter become especially inspiring for photographers. I no longer remember the 4:15 AM arrive-home time and how tired this trip made me the next day, but I'll long remember the time there and the images captured, reinforcing the "Never Forget" slogan.
 
35mm  f/11.0  60s  ISO 100
Spangled Fritillary Butterfly Spangled Fritillary Butterfly
Few natural subjects surpass flowers and butterflies in colorfulness. Planting flowers that attract butterflies takes advantage of both and planting them in your yard means fast access to these great subjects.
 
Don't have a garden of your own? Don't want to do the work? Others love gardening. Find someone who has this passion and share your photography passion with them in the form of images and prints. Alternatively, find a public garden.
 
Coneflowers are one of my favorite flowers and a small garden of them behind the house provided hours of distraction (I mean "gear evaluation") for me this summer. The shape of the flower permits full view of the butterfly and the working area keeps the butterfly busy long enough to get the photo. Because these flowers are planted on a bank, I can shoot horizontally across the flower tops (to get blurred blooms in the background) without lying on the ground. A raised planting box offers a similar advantage.
 
Most macro lenses work well for flowers, but butterflies are sometimes not comfortable with a lens close to them. Longer focal lengths permit longer working distances. In this case, the spangled fritillary butterfly was quite tolerant of my presence and I was able to utilize the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L IS Macro Lens at a close distance.
 
I'm still struggling to retrain my brain to frame slightly wider with the extreme resolution of the Canon EOS 5Ds R available, allowing minor cropping to achieve perfect framing during post processing. The result in this case was that the butterfly's antenna was slightly closer to the right edge of the frame than I wanted. Fortunately, I had taken multiple photos and was able to add a small strip to the right side of this image, with ideal wing position, from one of the others for a 52.9 megapixel final image size.
 
I used a Canon Macro Ring Lite MR-14EX II Flash with a camera exposure that balanced the ambient background lighting. Because the coneflower petals were closer to the flash than the butterfly, they were slightly brighter than I wanted. I decreased the brightness of the RAW file and overlaid the darker flower petals on the brighter butterfly and background.
 
What is in your flower bed? If the ideal flowers are not there, add them! Then get ready for your summer color.
 
100mm  f/4.0  1/160s  ISO 100
Old Dock Pilings, Barnegat Bay, New Jersey Old Dock Pilings, Barnegat Bay, New Jersey
Time after time, I am in position to photograph the sunset with many other photographers and observers around me. It is (usually) lots of fun talking to those nearby, but ... as soon as the sun goes behind the horizon, most people pack up and leave.
 
Last week, the same thing was happening as I was bayside in Seaside Park, NJ. Right after the sun disappeared, a friendly photographer came over and asked if I got "it" while showing me his favorite pic of the setting sun. I replied that I did, but indicated that the main show was likely still to come. He said that he liked to see the sun's reflection best. My thought was that his preference is fine, that we are all different, that I too like the sun's reflection and that I was still expecting the best yet to come.
 
Fortunately, this gentleman had enough question about my opinion vs. his that he stuck around. Fifteen minutes was all that was needed. The color in the sky was very impressive on this evening and Barnegat Bay was very calm. About 25 minutes after the sun set, the other photographer returned very excited. Upon a quick review of his website the next day, I found only one picture from that evening. One captured well after the sun had set.
 
Unless I am shooting landscape that the setting sun is directly lighting, I am usually more found of my post-sunset images. This image was my favorite from the night (though I have many close runners-up).
 
This is an HDR image, comprised of three exposures used to balance the overall brightness of the final image.
 
While an f/2 max aperture lens invites many uses in addition to landscape photography, the focal length range of the Sigma 24-35mm f/2 DG HSM Art Lens is great for this use. Since the Sigma 24-35mm f/2 Art Lens was what I was evaluating at the time, I put it to use for my sunset session. It performed excellently.
 
24mm  f/11.0  1/8s  ISO 100
The Big Ferris Wheel at Night The Big Ferris Wheel at Night
Amusements parks, carnivals, fairs, and similar are popular summer attractions. The next time you visit such attractions, be sure to take your camera gear (including a tripod) and ... make sure that you stay until the lights come on. To be more "attractive", amusement rides are typically well-lit at night and these rides (along with other signage) can make colorful images.
 
The first step: before you leave home, make sure that you know the park's rules for photography. The bigger the park, carnival, etc., the more likely that your activity will fall under regulation. The Ferris wheel shown here was captured at Knoebels Amusement Resort in Elysburg, PA (America's largest free-admission park). This park requires permission for "Professional Photography".
 
Also before you go, scope out potential opportunities using the park's map, satellite imagery and photos found online. Look for colorful rides that move significantly and have lots of lights on the moving portions of the ride. While motionless lights can be attractive in images (especially if out of focus), moving lights can be made to cover much more of the frame, replacing dark sky with bright light. Spinning rides often work well, but roller coasters often do not.
 
A perfect night photography ride example is the big Ferris wheel at Knoebels. The park has recently installed a new LED lighting system that displays constantly changing colors as the big wheel spins. The ride looks impressive and attracts many spectators in addition to riders.
 
Though it has excellent image quality, my choice to use the Canon EF 11-24mm f/4L Lens for this image was foremost for the ultra-wide focal lengths. Because of the many obstructions around (notably, trees), I wanted to be as close to the ride as possible and also wanted the close, looking-up perspective. This position also helped avoid people (the spectators I mentioned) in the frame (and the model release complication they could potentially add).
 
There are many options for photographing amusement parks in the dark (or just before dark), but I like to fill a significant amount of the frame with light. In this particular case, I liked having the entire wheel in the frame while shooting (I was over 11 hours into my commercial shoot and had gone to bed at 3:00 AM that morning, so I can't argue that my decision making ability was not slightly clouded at the time). During post processing, I decided that I liked the wheel cropped tighter, showing even more color in the frame and making the support structure larger in the frame. That the 5Ds R has such extreme resolution enabled me to crop significantly into the frame and still have a high resolution image remaining (roughly 22 megapixels). And, I still have the full size image available if wanted at a later time.
 
Camera exposure settings for lights moving in the dark are often determined by aperture and ISO. That was the case here. Since the lights in the middle of the wheel are not moving as fast as the outermost lights, there is an overall exposure balance required. The LED lights were very bright and ISO 100 with an f/11 aperture worked well in this case (I reduced the brightness somewhat in post processing). I adjusted the shutter speed (in manual mode) to capture the complete movement between wheel spokes without overlap (which would cause overexposure), generating a complete circle of light that, with the changing lights, resembles a pinwheel.
 
Dark park photography will test your visualization ability, but it is great fun to anticipate and view the results. It is not hard to create attractive blurs of light at these venues. Give after-dark amusement park photography a go! It shouldn't be hard to entertain the kids while you do.
 
15mm  f/11.0  1.3s  ISO 100
Huge Bull Elk and Fall Foliage Huge Bull Elk and Fall Foliage
My favorite wildlife subject lighting comes from a low-in-the-sky sun behind me, but ... wildlife is not always (not often?) cooperative. In this case, the elk was in the shade while the incredibly-colorful background remained in direct sunlight of a setting sun.
 
When the subject is in the shade and the background is in direct sunlight, you are most likely going to have a different white balance for each. Usually, the sunlit background will be warmer in color than the shaded subject. However, that is a difference I sometimes welcome. Adjust the overall white balance for the subject and the background becomes especially warm/golden. This is often an ideal situation for fall foliage, making the colors especially vibrant.
 
For this image, I used an exposure that pushed the red channel nearly against the right side of the histogram (nearly R=255) and let the rest of the image fall where it may. I initially thought I would have a complete silhouette (totally black elk), but there was plenty of light remaining in the shade to work with. While I could have very significantly increased the brightness of the elk in this photo (and did use a +3 shadow adjustment), I chose to keep the animal dark to emphasize the outline.
 
A mature bull elk with a set of headgear this big is ... really big. Creating a very strong background blur while including most of or the entire animal in the frame requires a large sensor camera, a long telephoto lens and a wide aperture. The Canon EOS 5Ds R and EF 600mm f/4L IS II USM Lens at f/4 created what you see here.
 
600mm  f/4.0  1/3200s  ISO 640
Huge Brown Bear, Katmai National Park, Alaska Huge Brown Bear, Katmai National Park, Alaska
Katmai National Park in Alaska has long been on my destination bucket list and I recently had the privilege of crossing off that line item. Well, that crossing off does not sound quite right as the experience was great and I would jump at the chance to go again. This destination will probably remain on my places to go list forever.
 
Finding the defining image for this location became a huge challenge. The problem was a good one as the gear and techniques used worked very well, yielding a huge number of images with nearly 7,000 of those being dissimilar and keeper-grade. Finding the single best of that take ... is going to take a long time. I'll pick a handful that I especially like and will share those over the next few months (hopefully not years).
 
With the brown bear being symbolic to Katmai National Park, it just seemed right to select an in-your-face, nothing-but-brown-bear image as the lead for my Katmai photo series.
 
600mm  f/4.0  1/1600s  ISO 640
Denali, Denali National Park, Alaska Denali, Denali National Park, Alaska
You are looking at one of the first pictures ever taken of "Denali", the highest mountain peak in North America. While that statement is fun to say (and true in a sense), a tremendous number of photographs have been taken of this mountain long prior to my arrival. However, the mountain's name was "Mt McKinley" from June 1896 until about just before I arrived. On August 28, 2015, Sally Jewell, US Secretary of the Interior, announced that the mountain would be renamed "Denali" (Wikipedia). Two weeks later, my opportunity to photograph this mountain came.
 
With an elevation of 20,310' (6,190.5 m), the peak of Denali can be seen be seen from at least 125 miles away – on a clear day. The last part of that sentence is a key one. Getting close to this mountain (for most) requires a shuttle/tour bus ride deep into Denali National Park's 92 mile mostly-stone road. Even those making the effort to get deep into the park stand only a 30% chance of seeing this mountain's peaks due to the clouds that frequently engulf it.
 
I spent a large amount of time planning and traveling to get to the location for this image and was blessed with a beautiful day for my long-in-advance-scheduled tour (after a morning snowstorm, the sky even cleared enough on my backup day to make the peaks visible once again). With the weather cooperating, taking the actual photograph was easy part.
 
I selected a manual exposure that would make the sunlit snow at the top of the mountains nearly pure white (barely blinking in the camera LCD) while using an f/8 aperture (for ideal sharpness and depth of field) and ISO 100 (for noise-free images). The resulting shutter speed of 1/160 was adequate for resting the awesome combination of the Canon EOS 5Ds R and the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens on my backpack. With the ideal exposure locked in, I was free to quickly capture a variety of compositions of this incredible view during the 15 minute shuttle bus stop, with all being ideally exposed.
 
In the end, I merged two images to add a couple of hundred pixels to the right and left sides of the base images, giving the side-to-side balance that looked right to me.
 
I usually have a circular polarizer filter mounted when I'm photographing landscapes and usually note this use in the notes below relevant image posts. But, I want to make special mention of CPL use here because of the significant difference it made in the deep saturation and contrast of the foreground of this image. Like no other, this filter can add WOW! to your images.
 
100mm  f/8.0  1/160s  ISO 100
The Backyard Lion The Backyard Lion
Mikayla (she's 13) decided to make a lion costume. After a week of diligent designing, a run to the craft store, lots of cutting and plenty of sewing, she had a very impressive made-from-scratch full lion costume complete with a stuffed tail that had a curve at the end of it. She created the best lion costume she possibly could and my goal was to capture the fruition of her effort the best I could, creating a memory to cherish for a lifetime.
 
She finished the costume just in time to wear it Trick-or-Treating. For those unfamiliar with this tradition, the kids spend an evening walking around town wearing costumes and people hand out candy from their front doors. Well in advance, I requested time for a photo session with Mikayla wearing the costume, but ... kids in their most photogenic moments seem to be completed (hair, makeup, etc.) just in time to ... leave for their big event.
 
I requested 15 minutes notice prior to the photo op (I know, I ask for a lot), got 10 minutes and scrambled to finalize my decision on what the short photo session was going to look like. The amount of remaining daylight was the biggest question I had prior to this moment. It seemed logical that a lion should be outdoors, so I was hoping for some light remaining in the sky and with at least some ambient light, outdoors was the final location selection.
 
While the leaves were just beyond their peak fall colors, they were still clinging to the trees and had a still-nice color that was indicative of the autumn season. A location that could incorporate this color in the background was the next decision.
 
I knew that I wanted a blurred background, that I had plenty of working distance available and that I wanted subject framing ranging from environmental to tight headshots. I went with the 200mm focal length as it would work well for those requirements and I went with the Canon EF 200mm f/2L IS lens to maximize the background blur (and to get put the most available light possible onto the sensor).
 
Lions are known for their nasty predator look and for their roar. Mikayla was acting the part, but since she is a very sweet girl, the nasty-mean lion look made her naturally smile big soon afterward. I still find it a little unsettling to look at the pictures of her roaring, but definitely like the smiles that came afterward. And I like some of the little smiles that came between the two extremes, as seen here.
 
As planned, I captured a wide variety of poses and subject framing (in the 10 minutes of shooting time I was given). I liked many, but ... her crimped hair acting as the lion's mane "stood out" for me. So, I chose to share a moderately tightly-framed portrait with you.
 
The mechanics of taking pictures turned out to be an easy part of this series of images, with the ambient light working especially well. I've received a lot of positive comments from friends, with "Those are great photos!" being very common. The subject was of course largely responsible for these responses, but the ability of this lens to strongly blur the fall-colored background, making the subject pop, was another strong contributor to them. This lens, though not inexpensive, can do the same for photos of your own family, or for those for your clients.
 
The next time you have portraits planned for fall capture, look for trees that can provide a colorful background to your image. The color of the fall foliage should be complementary to your subject's clothing and the colorful trees should not steal the show from the primary subject, but especially when blurred, fall foliage can add a beautiful natural color to portrait backgrounds.
 
200mm  f/2.0  1/160s  ISO 320
Huge Bull Moose, Katmai National Park, Alaska Huge Bull Moose, Katmai National Park, Alaska
With Alaska being such a massive state, it is only fitting that many of the Alaskan animals are also large. This huge bull moose looked very impressive walking down off of the mountain, initially with only its antlers rising above the trees.
 
Know what our bear guides were most afraid of? Moose. We spent days sitting among brown bears, some weighing well north of 1,000 lbs, with nothing more than minor issues, but a huge bull moose walking down off the mountain directly toward us definitely got the guide's attention. To reduce the drama, I should also say that part of the attention grab was because the sighting was so unusual in this location – this was the only land mammal other than brown bears that I saw in coastal Katmai National Park.
 
While moose were not my primary photography target at the time, I consider myself an opportunist and didn't hesitate to turn the camera from the bears when this bull showed up.
 
The moose was walking at a steady-but-leisurely pace and I could easily fill the camera buffer whenever I chose to, but that would have given me too many images that were similar to each other. Instead, I timed the frame captures with body positions that I thought would make a good composition with an eye also on the background. The body position I often chose had the far front leg in a forward position.
 
While I did not hold the shutter release down, I did shoot more images than I thought I needed. Aside from having insurance shots, I was trying to use a marginally long shutter speed, allowing a lower ISO setting to be used for less noise. Though a handful of my images were slightly blurred, the tactic proved to be a good one as I still ended up with many good images.
 
When the bull moose came to the edge of the high tidal stream bank, it proceeded to smoothly drop right over the edge. I caught that action nicely and might share it later, as soon as I get over being slightly bothered by the antler covering the eye. What I didn't correctly anticipate was the speed of the moose's decent and the base image for this shot, the one with the far lead leg in the air and sand flying, became cropped slightly too tightly on the bottom of the frame. Capturing some quick additional shots with different framing allowed me to create a panorama in post, correcting the tight crop and resulting in a 76-megapixel image.
 
With that much resolution available, cropping into the bull moose much more tightly remains an option, but I like seeing the environment the moose was in and especially like the fall-colored fireweed in the background.
 
What do you think? Should I have cropped this image tighter?
 
600mm  f/4.0  1/1250s  ISO 2000
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
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.
 
57mm  f/16.0  30s  ISO 200
Mudjin Harbor, Middle Caicos, Turks and Caicos Mudjin Harbor, Middle Caicos, Turks and Caicos
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.
 
16mm  f/11.0  1/50s  ISO 100
If it Spins, Make it Blurred If it Spins, Make it Blurred
It seems that most of us photographers are intrigued by the circles created by motion blur. I don't know exactly what it is about spinning subjects, but ... when blurred, they frequently make good compositions. Amusement parks, fairs and other events featuring rides are great locations to find circular motion.
 
Creating the blur simply requires a tripod and the exposure duration long enough to get the desired amount of blur effect. Since long exposures generally require low light levels, dawn and dusk (as seen in this example) are good times for this type of photography. Alternatively, use a neutral density filter under brighter lighting conditions.
 
24mm  f/11.0  .8s  ISO 100
Summer Snow, Denali National Park Summer Snow, Denali National Park
While most of the world bases the fall season on the calendar, a photographer's fall season starts when the foliage changes color and ends soon after the leaves "fall" from the trees. "Photographer's fall" is generally a subset of everyone else's fall, but ... not always. For example, in Alaska, photographer's fall starts and, in some locations, ends in what everyone else considers summer.
 
As you may have noticed in my September 11th-captured Denali National Park image, the landscape has some good color in it, but a significant percentage of the leaves are beyond peak and many have fallen already. And, as illustrated in this picture, very few leaves were left on the brush and snow was on the ground this September 12th morning. From a photographer's perspective, this was winter, but per the calendar, "fall" was still over a week away.
 
Planning the timing of "fall" foliage photography has never been easier. Here are some suggestions to get you started:
 
First, consult fall foliage maps. These maps will show you when to expect peak leaf color in the location you want to photograph in.
 
Note that I was intentional with the plural of "maps". If you have one watch, you think you know what time it is. If you have more than one watch, you might not be so sure. But, if you average the times of all of the watches, you are more likely to have the correct time. Not all maps are identical in their forecast timing and granularity. Averaging the forecasts together helps provide a better understanding of what normally happens.
 
There is good reason that these maps are not identical and that is because the fall foliage colors do not come at exactly the same time each year. Leaf color change can be influenced by a variety of factors including temperatures and ground moisture levels. If you know what the various forecasts say, you can plan your photography for the heart of what is typically fall foliage season for that region.
 
Want a chance for snow and colorful leaves in the same frame? Go late in the typical peak foliage timeframe.
 
Another good way to determine the right timing for your fall photography is to look for fall photo tours occurring in your target location. Quality tours will be held during the window of highest likelihood for peak color. Even if not joining such a tour, note the date range for planning purposes.
 
As I write this tip, photographer's fall is coming to an end across the northern hemisphere. But, there have been a lot of fall landscape photos posted to the web in the last two months and those pictures are a gold mine for trip planning. Find out when the best pictures were taken in your target location and take notes. Also, take notes from your own photos.
 
At minimum, I photograph the fall foliage around home and usually at Ricketts Glen State Park, an amazing location less than 2 hours from my home. Each year, I record the leaf condition for the dates I photograph in those locations along with others I visit. As the next fall comes around, I have a very good idea of when I should be photographing in those locations.
 
Start now. Wherever it is that you keep notes, record your fall experience along with the information gleaned from research. Make plans for next fall's photos to be your best ever!
 
24mm  f/11.0  1/25s  ISO 100
Brown Bear Catching a Salmon, Katmai National Park Brown Bear Catching a Salmon, Katmai National Park
From my coastal Katmai National Park trip, I have lots of images of brown bears chasing and carrying salmon, but this one surfaced for several reasons.
 
First, there is significant splashing. The splashing adds drama, showing that fast action is taking place.
 
Second is that the pink (humpback) salmon's tail and head (including eye) are both showing along with the bear's eyes being visible. Having the eyes in an image can make or break a shot.
 
I of course love the ideal timing of those enormous claws about to hook the fish.
 
That the bear's head and the fish are sharply in focus is definitely a positive factor as splashing water along with an erratically moving subject presents a significant challenge to both the camera's AF system and to the photographer's skills (including rapid AF point selection).
 
Put all of those attributes together with the impressive image quality of the Canon EOS 5Ds R and EF 600mm f/4L IS II Lens combination along with the primary subject being the impressive-by-itself brown bear and ... the image rises into my favorites album.
 
600mm  f/5.6  1/1600s  ISO 1000
Moraine Lake Sunrise, Banff National Park Moraine Lake Sunrise, Banff National Park
One of my primary goals for my time at Moraine Lake was to capture the warm light from the rising sun hitting just the top of the mountains with the amazing blue lake reflecting the same. The scene I was visualizing required a very clear sky to the east, allowing the sunlight to reach the mountain unimpeded/undiffused. The other important factor was wind – I needed there to be none of it. I had three mornings for everything to come together.
 
Capturing this scene of course meant being in place and ready to go before the sun rose. On the first morning, having never been there before, I not only needed to find the lake, but needed to hike to (find) and climb up the Rockpile (via a trail) followed by scouting – all in the dark. Well, in the dark but with the help of a super-bright SureFire Maximus Headlamp. As incredibly bright as that light is, I was not going to be lighting the distant mountains and it was a guess as to where the sunlit mountain peak reflections were going to fall in the lake.
 
I picked what seemed like a great position, with a distant glacier framed between the trees, some nice boulders in the foreground and the overall scene nicely framed and bookmarked with a pair of large evergreen trees. After setting up a Canon EOS 5Ds R with an EF 11-24mm f/4L Lens on my primary tripod, I set up a second 5Ds R with an EF 16-35mm f/4L IS Lens mounted on my travel tripod a short distance away. The plan was to go back and forth between the cameras, rapidly capturing multiple compositions with immediate redundancy available if a problem was encountered (it is called the Rockpile for a good reason and I had one very close call).
 
The weather proved ideal and everything was looking great until ... I realized that the mountain peak reflection was being cut off by the foreground. I immediately abandoned the carefully selected locations, running across the rocks with the primary camera setup to quickly find a better position. There was no time to waste because the sun line moves down the mountain very rapidly.
 
While I have a large number of images I like from my three mornings at Lake Moraine, this one, one of the first ones I captured on the first day, remains a favorite. The sun line had moved down the mountains slightly farther than I originally visualized, but ... I may actually prefer this version better. While simply having that preference adds to the satisfaction of achieving the goal, I really do think that I like this scene better. With more of the mountain in the still-very-warm sunlight, there is more desired color in the frame and more of the peaks are being lit than when the first light hit only a couple of the peaks.
 
This is an HDR image. Because, as I mentioned, the line of sunlight moves quickly down the mountain, it is important to capture the HDR frames in very quick succession in this situation. My preference is to use AEB (Auto Exposure Bracketing) with the camera in high speed burst mode. I used Live View to gain mirror lockup and used a locking remote release to complete to capture. Lock the release down and quickly go to the second camera. Quickly check the results, fine tune if needed and repeat.
 
For processing the HDR image, I used a combination of Photomatix (the best HDR software I've used) and manual blending in Photoshop.
 
While 4-5 hours of sleep three nights in a row is not a good habit from a physical or mental health standpoint, I'm sometimes willing to make that sacrifice for a good image. While that effort is not always rewarded with a great photograph, the disappointing efforts serve to make the successful ones even more special. Fortunately, disappointment didn't happen in this location.
 
18mm  f/8.0  1/5s  ISO 100
Wolf Spider Carrying Babies Wolf Spider Carrying Babies
People seem to enjoy being creeped out around this time of the year (Halloween) and spiders are a perennial favorite source of creepiness. They happen to be my wife's biggest fear at any time of the year, so when I brought a mother wolf spider carrying a big "cluster" of babies into the house for a photo op (it was dark outside), she was not too happy. And when the spider jumped off of my white paper background and lost her cluster, I went back outside (after corralling what seemed like hundreds of tiny baby spiders).
 
I wasn't looking to create an award-winning photo of this spider, but wanted decent quality without much time investment. I mounted a Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L IS USM Macro Lens to a Canon EOS 5Ds R and attached a Canon Macro Ring Lite MR-14EX II Flash. The scene was dark (even inside) and the lens shaded the subject at this distance, so I utilized the MR-14EX's focus assist lights to manually focus on the mother's eyes (all 8 of them) with the plane of sharp focus angled to include many of the babies.
 
As mentioned, I went high-tech with the background: a sheet of white printer paper goes with everything. With the main subject being medium-dark colored, I was able to boost the highlights slightly in post, creating a pure white background, without negatively impacting the mid and dark tones.
 
Spiders are a popular fall theme and that is probably the only time of the year when you can post a spider picture that gets socially shared. Find out who has arachnophobia. Dig out one of your spider pics or better yet, go create a new one. Share it and peg the creep-out meter.
 
100mm  f/11.0  1/125s  ISO 100
Top of the Rock, New York City Top of the Rock, New York City
I recently had the opportunity to photograph from the top of the Rockefeller Center, from the observatory decks named "Top of the Rock". The view from this location is excellent and the imagery waiting to be captured is eye-catching, but there are some things you should know before you go. I have posted a guide to help you maximize your time at this location along with many tips that can be applied to other similar locations.
 
The Ultimate Guide to Photographing at Top of the Rock (and Tips for No Tripods Allowed Locations)
 
This image was captured at 16mm with the amazing Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM Lens, a great choice for this location. And, the Feisol TT-15 Mini Carbon Fiber Tabletop Tripod made this 2 second shot possible.
 
16mm  f/5.6  2s  ISO 100
Shaking Brown Bear, Katmai National Park, Alaska Shaking Brown Bear, Katmai National Park, Alaska
This was a big trip for me and I did not want to be limited by the gear I was taking. Therefore, I spent a lot of time thinking about and researching my wildlife lens selection for Katmai National Park, Alaska.
 
Choosing a lens for the first visit to a location must be based on advice given by others and on understanding/visualizing the situations that will be in front of you. As indicated, ultimate image quality was a baseline for my decision making process. The lens focal length was another primary consideration as perspective, framing and background blur are strongly influenced by this choice, affecting the look you get in your images.
 
Brown bears were my primary subject in this location and a significant interest I had for this trip was to capture frame-filling brown bears in action. For that purpose, I needed a long focal length lens with excellent AF performance. Since the weather conditions could range from sunny to full-on rain, I decided that a wide aperture was also needed (f/4 or wider) for those darker days.
 
One thing that I knew was that my Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens was going to be along. This lens has everything I wanted for a wildlife lens including a size and weight that I could carry for long distances and handhold, but this is an f/5.6 max aperture at the 400mm end.
 
Which big lens to accompany the 100-400 remained the question. I love my Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Lens for wildlife. That I already had this focal length range covered by my 100-400 was not a big decision factor as the 200-400 had the significant benefit of a 1-stop wider aperture. But, that I was uncertain that 400mm was going to be long enough was a bigger factor. The 200-400's built-in extender takes this lens to 560mm with the throw of a switch, but a 1-stop impact on the max aperture yields f/5.6. An f/4 max was my preference. Note that I was not at the popular Brooks Falls where the 200-400 L lens may have been the first choice.
 
Another option was to rent a Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM Lens. This lens would give me an extra 100mm and still have an f/4 aperture. The 500 f/4 is considerably smaller than the 600 f/4 and easier to pack, carry and use.
 
In the end, I made the Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS II USM Lens my primary long wildlife lens choice. The longer focal length paired with an f/4 aperture is what was the primary decision maker. It seems that wildlife is never close enough and if it does get too close for 600mm, much harder-to-get headshots and similar become possible.
 
When setup on location, I had the 600 f/4L on a Wimberley Tripod Head II mounted to a Gitzo GT3542LS Systematic Carbon Fiber Tripod. A second camera with the 100-400 L II mounted was at my side, ready for capturing environmental-type images or for closer subject distances when needed.
 
Packing the 600 around Alaska required some effort, but I was very happy with my decision. Many of my images would have required cropping (or more cropping) if a shorter focal length was used. And, an f/4 aperture along with the required action-stopping shutter speed meant that ISO 3200 by far the most used as about 50% of the time in the field was under dark skies with light rain. I know, some of you are thinking that 600mm would be about 1/2 as long as preferred to keep an acceptably long distance between yourself and the bears.
 
The mamma brown bear in this image was snorkeling for salmon. Each time that it would lift its head above the water, it would shake. It didn't take long to figure out this behavior and I began timing a burst of shots as the water flew. A 1,000 lb animal shaking a significant amount of water from its fur is an impressive sight. A window in the cloudy skies gave me enough light to use f/5.6 for this image, gaining a little depth of field to keep more water droplets in sharp focus.
 
600mm  f/5.6  1/1600s  ISO 800
Turquoise Clouds, Wild Cow Run, Middle Caicos, Turks and Caicos Turquoise Clouds, Wild Cow Run, Middle Caicos, Turks and Caicos
When the clouds become turquoise, you are probably in a great place.
 
The day started out with no clouds in the sky. After having photographed for 6 days straight prior with good results, I was looking for more than what a clear sky would deliver, so some scouting was the task at hand. The selected location for the day was Wild Cow Run, at the end of Middle Caicos. From my base location in Whitby Beach, North Caicos, this meant a drive through most of North Caicos, across the causeway and through most of Middle Caicos. Then, at the end of the road, a 4x4 road was traversed until going further becomes impossible.
 
Your reward for this drive is one of the most beautiful beach locations in the world with seldom another person seen. I had hiked about a mile out when some nice clouds began forming on the horizon. Seeing great images beginning to materialize, I ran and swam back to the vehicle, grabbed a Canon EOS 5Ds R with an EF 16-35mm f/4L IS Lens mounted, threaded a circular polarizer filter onto the lens and put the setup in an EWA marine underwater housing.
 
I know, an underwater housing does not make sense for capturing an above-water image of beach, water and clouds, but ... you may have noted the "swam" part when returning to the vehicle. I had to swim (fins, snorkel and mask) through a channel with a swift tidal current to reach the island with the beach I was targeting. I was not using the camera underwater, but the housing was perfect for the water transportation to the scene.
 
Once across the water, I removed the camera from the housing, stowed the housing (and snorkel gear) high on shore and hiked over sand and shallow water to reach the desired location. The huge expanse of sand and shallow water had my greatest attention. I was looking for angles and heights that would work best while keeping the clouds in pleasing locations within the frame. The clouds were moving in rapidly and I was shooting quickly, monitoring mostly my manually-set exposures from time to time, keeping the brightest parts of the clouds nearly blown.
 
What I wasn't noticing was that, as the clouds came closer, they began reflecting the amazing fluorescent turquoise colored water behind the reef, which was located a distant 1.4 mi (2.25 km) from shore at this location. Upon uploading my images for the day, I realized that the clouds, as they came in closer than the reef, had picked up a very strong color reflection from the water below. The result was something I had not captured before, turquoise-colored clouds.
 
Photography (usually) rewards effort – effort pays off. It was definitely worth the effort of a round trip to the vehicle to add this (and many other similar) images to the collection. I'll leave the "foresight to take the camera with me the first time" topic for another day.
 
16mm  f/9.0  1/125s  ISO 100
Wood Duck Drake Wood Duck Drake
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.
 
840mm  f/8.0  1/1600s  ISO 840
Pennsylvania Beech Tree Pennsylvania Beech Tree
As trees are usually much taller than us, it is common is for us to look upward at leaves or minimally view them from a side perspective. Also typical is for the leaves to be facing, at least to some degree, upward and for the light to be reaching the leaves most strongly from above. While photographing glowing backlit leaves from underneath is commonly recommended (and a good tactic), the top of leaves generally have the strongest color with that color facing the light. Thus, capturing the best leaf color in the best light often means photographing the top of leaves.
 
Because most leaves (on trees at least) are higher than us, moving in close to the tree can diminish the amount of color seen. Moving farther away, unless that distance means a lower elevation, can provide a more colorful view of a tree by simply lowering the angle of view. Better is to get a higher vantage point. This means going up on a hill, up on a deck, up in a building (shooting from an open window for example), up on a ladder, etc.
 
A photo accessory that I've long considered acquiring, one that would help greatly in this regard, is a Bucket Truck. I know, you think I'm kidding, right? Not so. I think having such a truck would be a competitive advantage and I am always seeing locations where I could make use of one.
 
I don't know if that idea will ever come to fruition for me, but more popular is the use of drones. While the rules and regulations book for use of these devices is still being written, drones can get to many locations that would previously have required a bucket truck, crane or helicopter. Getting above the leaves is no problem for a drone.
 
If moving up means moving back, a longer focal length lens may be desired to keep the same framing and that the perspective will change should not be overlooked.
 
I was evaluating the Tamron 35mm f/1.8 Di VC USD Lens and while looking down the steep hill from our house, a beech tree with various shades of yellow and salmon-colored leaves caught my eye. At 35mm, the tree was tiny in the frame, so I went down to it. The closer I got, the less I was noticing the color patterns that initially caught my attention and the more I was looking across the side of the leaves, leaving the bare woods showing through the color. While still beautiful, this was not the image I had envisioned from the top of the hill.
 
I took some photos that I liked at 35mm, but then went back to the house to mount the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens. With the narrower angle of view, I could easily fill the frame with color and the downward view on the leaves left few holes into the background.
 
The next time you are looking at beautiful fall foliage, consider moving to a position that affords a downward view to maximize the color available to you.
 
300mm  f/8.0  .5s  ISO 100
Brown Bears Fighting, Katmai National Park, AK Brown Bears Fighting, Katmai National Park, AK
My coastal Katmai National Park brown bear photography trip was a big one for me and I wanted to take the best-available gear with me. As the camera is the foundation for a photo kit and the Canon EOS 5Ds R, with its incredible resolution, great color and very good noise performance with a handling, feature and AF package to match has proven to be, for me, the ultimate camera to build a kit around. With a pair of these bodies in my kit, it was not hard to select them as two of my bodies. The question remaining was, what was going to be the third body?
 
On such a trip, I seldom take less than three camera bodies. Although I sometimes use all three at once, more frequently is that the third is ready for backup use in case something unfortunate happens to one or both front line bodies. With a significant amount of wading in various depths of water (including salt water) involved on this trip, one fall and the unfortunate could easily become a reality. And, I wasn't going to be receiving a next day air shipment via UPS or FEDEX out there.
 
Back to the which camera question ... my options included taking my Canon EOS-1D X, taking my Canon EOS 7D Mark II or getting another 5Ds R (rent or buy). Great AF was paramount in this decision, but ... all three cameras are excellent in this regard.
 
The 1D X's extremely fast frame rate was an especially attractive feature for bears in action and that I already owned this camera made it a cost effective solution. That I would need to take an additional charger/batteries was a downside as was the "only" 18-megapixel resolution.
 
The 7D II's primary advantages were not dissimilar from the 1D X: the fast frame rate and the budgetary concern as I already owned one of these as well. That this camera shared the 5Ds R's battery system was a positive feature. That the smaller APS-C sensor would show more high ISO noise at the same output dimensions and would not produce the same amount of background blur as the full frame options were negatives.
 
My primary question about the 5Ds R option was the frame rate – would 5 fps was going to be fast enough for the bears in action? Not far behind the frame rate concern was the additional cost factor. In the end, the 5Ds R's ultra-high resolution full frame sensor with 7D II-matching pixel density (reach) and along with the latest-available feature set won my favor. And, I simply love this camera. While this need was ideal for the rental option, I opted for the additional purchase in this case. My camera math said that the over-two-weeks rental cost was greater than the purchase price minus resale value minus additional use value. I'll get plenty of use from this body to justify the cost of ownership.
 
Having three identical cameras meant that switching bodies required no thought (though the 7D II is essentially the same also). They all had the same controls, the same menu options and the same setup configuration.
 
Was 5 fps fast enough? It was. While I am an opportunist when it comes to subjects, my primary photography subjects were brown bears. Bears (unless sleeping) are in nearly constant erratic motion and present an AF challenge, but they were mostly moving in slow to medium speed. One exception was when they were trying to catch salmon, but even then they weren't moving close to the speed of a bird in flight, as an example. I had plenty of photo opportunities and could often time single frames with body positions I found favorable.
 
Would a faster frame rate have been better? Yes, there were probably some shots I missed due to the frame rate not being fast enough, but ... having to sort through a 2x higher image volume a faster frame rate would have generated would have completely buried me. It will take me many months to work through the daunting roughly-10,000 bear images I captured on this trip.
 
Was high ISO performance important? Definitely. The trip started out with an approximately 28 hour float plane departure delay due to rain and heavy fog and things didn't get much better with 2 of the four remaining days on the coast holding the same weather. My most-used ISO setting was 3200. The ultra-high resolution, full-frame 5Ds R has a noticeable advantage at ISO 3200 when resized to a similar resolution as the 7D Mark II.
 
Was the ultra-high 50 megapixel resolution an advantage? Definitely. While I'm still teaching myself that it is OK to frame a bit looser with the ultra-high resolution being delivered by the 5Ds/5Ds R, I have many 600mm images that will be cropped due to the distance of the subject. These images can be cropped down to a 960mm-equivalent angle of view with the 7D II-equivalent 20 megapixel image remaining. With the range of focal lengths I had along, a majority of my images will remain at or near full resolution, resulting in great detail for very large output.
 
While I titled this photo "Brown Bears Fighting" and technically they are fighting, this is a mother and her second year cub. The mother is teaching the cub to fight, but the fierceness was toned down to more like hard playing. This is an uncropped EOS 5Ds R image captured with the EF 600mm f/4L IS II USM Lens.
 
Fortunately, the playing lasted a long time and I was able to capture a large variety of shots of the behavior. I varied the aperture during the event, but only between f/4 and f/5.6 with some additional depth of field being the narrower aperture goal. In AI Servo AF mode with the one-up-from-center focus point selected and placed on the left bear's leg, the plane of sharp focus aligned ideally over the bears' noses. This placement kept both faces sharp even at f/4 and the wide aperture removed all background distractions.
 
I have no regrets regarding my camera choice - I would make the same decision again. Hopefully my camera decision logic made sense to you. If not, ask questions!
 
600mm  f/4.0  1/1600s  ISO 1600
Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II and Hanging Out with the Dog Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II and Hanging Out with the Dog
The answer to the "When opportunities arise around the house, which lens do you grab?" question for me is often whichever lens(es) I happen to be evaluating at the time. Some lenses are more easily pressed into general purpose use than others, largely due the focal length(s). Fortunately, 35mm focal length-containing lenses have been very popular lately and that focal length is great for general purpose use.
 
Especially great was when I was putting the Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM Lens through its evaluation. Not only does this lens have the right focal length, but it also has a wide aperture, ideal for those around-the-house needs and often ready to capture high quality images without any additional lighting needed. That this lens has such great image quality at that f/1.4 max aperture is especially great.
 
On this day, Brittany came home tired and took a moment to relax with the dog that is of course tired and relaxing most of the time. My currently-mounted lens was the 35 L II and it allowed me to snap a few cute pictures using only ambient window light.
 
35mm  f/1.4  1/100s  ISO 100
Brown Bear and Leaping Salmon, Katmai National Park, Alaska Brown Bear and Leaping Salmon, Katmai National Park, Alaska
Did I ever find the 600mm angle of view too narrow when photographing bears in Coastal Katmai National Park? Sure, that's why I had the 100-400mm L IS II lens mounted on a second body and ready for immediate use. When I saw action moving closer, I would quickly switch cameras and continue shooting. The gap between 600mm and 400mm usually meant that I could begin using the 100-400 maxed at the 400mm end with plenty of time before I needed to begin zooming out.
 
But, I didn't always make the right choice. Sometimes, something unexpected happened. When the 600mm choice was wrong, sudden movement taking the bear out of ideal framing was usually the reason. Or, something happened at the border of the frame, such as another bear coming into view. The result was that I have some frames that are cropped too tightly in camera and this was one.
 
Really, I would never have guessed that a salmon was going to leap out of the water this high while in such a small stream (quite a feat actually) and that the leap would be this far ahead of the bear, but ... the unexpected is certain to happen on occasion.
 
The too-long focal length problem is not limited to the 600mm focal length. Even full-frame-mounted 100mm was slightly too long for some enormous brown bears that approached very closely (well under 20').
 
The big question is: "What do you do when your focal length is too long?"
 
It is far more common to be focal length limited on the long end and recovery in that situation is simple: crop. Though cropping reduces overall image resolution, it is usually better than having an important part of the scene missing.
 
The solution to being focal length limited on the wide end: shoot a panorama. If you ever find your lens framing a photo framed too tightly, shoot multiple images and merge them into a panorama later.
 
Planned or Unplanned
 
Here is the key for wildlife and other action photography: the panorama technique is not limited to very intentionally captured still life/landscape images. Even if you have a subject in motion and can't recreate the original subject pose, a panorama can sometimes be created. A frame with a cut-off in motion subject can be hard to recover, but adding border space to a fully contained subject is often easy.
 
As immediately as possible after the capture of a frame needing more border, switch the lens to manual focus and the camera to the last-used exposure settings while retaining the selected focal length (easy with a prime lens). If the focus distance and/or focal length changed after the primary photo was captured, do your best to reset them. Then photograph enough additional images to cover the framing that was missing in the original image. Back at the computer, merge the images together in Photoshop or your favorite image editor.
 
Fortunately in the case of my Katmai National Park brown bear and leaping salmon, I was able to take another frame from the burst and merge the two together. While Brooks Falls is known for salmon leaping toward bears standing at the top of a falls, capturing salmon leaping away from pursuing brown bears was one of my biggest goals in coastal Katmai National Park. When I saw this capture meeting my goal, I knew that the extra time required to piece a panorama together was going to be worth taking.
 
Apply this technique to your own photo subjects. Did you photograph your kid kicking the winning goal in the soccer match but not leave enough border on one or more sides of the frame? Another frame in the capture sequence may hold that missing border. If not or if you are not sure, capture a couple of additional identical-settings frames to work with later. It may even be possible to go back at a later time or date to recreate the missing portion of the frame (with similar lighting strongly desired).
 
600mm  f/5.6  1/1600s  ISO 1600
Creating a Wedding Ring, Bible, Love Verse and Heart Shadow Photograph Creating a Wedding Ring, Bible, Love Verse and Heart Shadow Photograph
While this image was created to illustrate one of the unique capabilities of the lens being used, I thought I'd share the process behind creating the wedding ring, Bible, love verse and heart shadow photograph.
 
Obviously, to create an image similar to this, you need a ring and a book. Most large books and round rings can be used, but a wedding ring is the most common type of ring photographed and the Bible then becomes a very appropriate book for holding the ring. Note that if the ring is not round, creating a heart-shaped shadow immediately becomes more difficult, if not impossible. The heart-shaped shadow is not required, but ... it too is very appropriate for a wedding ring photo.
 
Love is the strong theme we are building on here and 1 Corinthians 13:4 is a favorite verse for this theme. While all Bibles will have this verse in them, not all Bibles will have this verse in an appropriate position on the page.
 
Getting the ring to stand up without a form of adhesive is another challenge. Doing so is easiest with some curl toward the inside of the pages, supporting the ring higher on its sides. The amount of curl also influences the heart shadow's shape.
 
This verse is closer to the end of the Bible than the beginning, meaning that there are more pages to the left than the right, creating unbalance. This makes creating the curves needed for the ring to sit in the pages somewhat more challenging, a challenge I met with a pair of A-clamps. My ill-designed-for-photography clamp jaws were red and required some black gaffer tape to eliminate the red showing in reflections on the ring. Reflections such as this are easy to miss when photographing, so be sure to check images of reflective subjects carefully.
 
Creating a shadow with an obvious shape requires hard light. This means the light source must be small in size relative to the source of the shadow. The smaller and farther away the light source is, the harder the shadow will become.
 
The right angle of the back-lighting is necessary to create the heart-shaped shadow in front of the ring. Aligning the flash with the crease between the pages will create a symmetric-shaped heart (if the pages are equally curved). The higher the flash, the shorter the heart. Figure out what works best for your composition.
 
Try handholding the flash and moving it around until you see the results you want. If using E-TTL and the camera's self-timer, the pre-flash will give you a preview of the shadow and give you a moment to adjust it prior to the picture being taken. Simply test-firing the flash will also help accomplish this task. Once you know where you want the flash positioned, fix it in place.
 
There are a million methods of holding a flash in place. I happened to have a lens box the right height at my immediate disposal and ... I simply used it. The box was not an especially secure option, so I had to be careful.
 
I wanted a hard shadow, but I didn't want the image to appear harshly lit. Since my working space was tight, I went high-tech with white copier/printer paper reflectors. I gaffer-taped one piece under the lens and another over the flash. Because rings are reflective, the paper reflectors were especially helpful in illuminating the front of it.
 
Bibles have a lot of pages and the pages are usually made thin for a compact and light overall book size and weight. Thin pages can become somewhat transparent and other print may bleed through the page being photographed. You can put a white paper under the pages, but that does not keep the print on the reverse side of the page being photographed from showing and this strategy potentially increases emphasis on that print. Find a Bible with thicker pages if you feel this issue is negatively impacting your results. The light bleed-through I encountered did not bother me.
 
I was reviewing the Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8L Tilt-Shift Lens, a superb product photography lens, and was looking for an interesting subject. Especially with its macro capability combined with the tilt movement, this lens can draw a viewer's eye to the intended subject and to illustrate this ability, the ring image concept shared here worked perfectly. Tilting the lens fully upward (10°) permitted the camera to be used at a relatively high position while creating a shallow slice of in-focus area that nicely encompasses the ring and its heart shadow along with the verse intended to be emphasized.
 
When one views this image, their eye is instantly drawn to the in-focus subjects.
 
Here is the setup:
 
Wedding Ring, Bible, Love Verse and Heart Shadow Photograph
 
The Canon wireless flash system made this lighting setup very easy. Hopefully you "love" the result!
 
90mm  f/2.8  1/200s  ISO 100
Incoming Storm Over Dragon Cay, Mudjin Harbor, Middle Caicos Incoming Storm Over Dragon Cay, Mudjin Harbor, Middle Caicos
Storms on the horizon and mostly cloudy overhead. That is what I saw when I stepped out of the Middle Caicos villa well before sunrise. While I admit that going back to bed seemed like a good (and justifiable) option, I knew that storms could bring desired drama and resisted that urge. While a sky completely covered in rainstorm was not of interest to me on this morning, I saw enough breaks in the clouds to give hope for some dramatic skies and I stayed with the plan.
 
Mudjin Harbor is my favorite location in the causeway-connected North and Middle Caicos islands (Turks and Caicos Islands are just north of Haiti and Dominican Republic). The cliffs and beaches in this location are stunning and the color of the water is among the best anywhere. The close-to-shore reef system brings entertainment in terms of waves and many small ironshore formation limestone rock islands dot the landscape, including Dragon Cay (Dragon Island) as seen here.
 
At this resolution, it is not especially easy to recognize the dragon lying in the water, but the rightmost large rock is shaped like a horn-nosed dragon head with its body (including shoulders and hips) flowing to the left and followed by its tail. A goal for this trip was to capture some images that included this fun land formation in them and having a nearby villa was part of the plan implementation.
 
A big attraction of Mudjun Harbor is a pair of caves and one of the caves faces the beast. A great and popular compositional technique is to frame a subject within its surroundings and one of my favorite natural frames is the opening of a cave. In addition to making a good frame, this particular cave offered a couple of additional benefits on this morning.
 
First, the sustained wind speed was just over 30 mph and gusts were reaching 50+ mph. That is fierce enough to blow a camera and tripod over and strong enough to make it difficult to even stand up, let alone frame and capture a sharp image. It is strong enough to make a painful whistle across one's ears and strong enough to blow salt water deep inland (causing, minimally, front lens element clarity issues). I was able to get deep enough into this cave to essentially eliminate the wind factor.
 
You can see the other issue approaching in this image. A small-but-significant rainstorm is close and on direct course for my position. The cave offered shelter from the rain and allowed me to photograph continuously as it approached and hit.
 
The word "cave" is often used to describe a dark venue and though these cave walls were brighter than many, they were quite dark and the backlit clouds were much brighter. This scenario means that an HDR technique was required. Two images with different exposures were manually (painstakingly in this case) blended in Photoshop to achieve the result seen here.
 
Obviously, this rainstorm was back-lit by the sun and direct sunlight on rain holds promise for another highly valued, loved-by-everyone landscape photography element that I'll share later.
 
16mm  f/8.0  1s  ISO 100
Photographing the Christmas Tree during the Blue Hour Photographing the Christmas Tree during the Blue Hour
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.
 
35mm  f/16.0  15s  ISO 200
City of Pittsburgh, PA City of Pittsburgh, PA
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.
 
20mm  f/16.0  30s  ISO 100
Brown Bears and Epic Katmai National Park Landscape Brown Bears and Epic Katmai National Park Landscape
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.
 
142mm  f/9.0  1/320s  ISO 200
Chillin Brown Bear, Katmai National Park Chillin Brown Bear, Katmai National Park
The bears I encountered in Katmai National Park were primarily catching salmon, eating salmon or resting. I thought this bear chillin on a mound of dirt looked humorous.
 
600mm  f/4.0  1/800s  ISO 1250
Lion's Mane Jellyfish, Seward, AK Lion's Mane Jellyfish, Seward, AK
I encountered numerous lion's mane jellyfish (Cyanea capillata, AKA the giant jellyfish or the hair jelly) while walking the docks at Seward Harbor in Alaska. With a Canon EF 24-70mm f/4L IS USM Lens mounted to the Canon EOS 5Ds R, I was focused on harborscapes and was not expecting small subjects such as jellyfish. While I could have gone back to the SUV for the 100-400mm Lens, I was able to find a couple of these subjects just below the dock, allowing me to occasionally get close enough to fill much of the 70mm frame.
 
By photographing a lion's mane that was near the surface with a circular polarizer filter cutting the reflections and by adding some contrast in post processing, I was able to get an underwater look from a surface-captured image. In post, I removed some debrise in the water and increased saturation a bit to brighten the colors. Hard to see at this resolution is the small jellyfish, one of the lion's mane jellyfish's prey, just out of tenacle reach toward the left side of the frame.
 
70mm  f/8.0  1/125s  ISO 400
12mm Environmental Portrait and The Making of My First Selfie 12mm Environmental Portrait and The Making of My First Selfie
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.
 
12mm  f/11.0  1/200s  ISO 200
Fall Aspens in Sunlight at Oxbow Bend, Grand Teton National Park Fall Aspens in Sunlight at Oxbow Bend, Grand Teton National Park
Wildlife photographers can spend many days or weeks working with the same subject at the same location and, due to ever-changing behaviors of their subjects, they can continuously capture unique images. Sports photographers have unique action at every game/meet/match/race/etc. at the same field/track/event location. Street photographer are always finding new entertainment at the same locations. Wedding, event and portrait photographers have a steady stream of new subjects coming through the same locations. But you, landscape (and cityscape) photographer, usually find the same subjects in the same positions each time you go back. However, you still have reasons for going back.
 
Basically, you most often go back in hopes that something might be different this time.
 
Perhaps you didn't get it right the first time. You didn't provide adequate depth of field or didn't focus to the right distance to keep everything in the image sharp. Or, perhaps you want to use a wider aperture lens to better define the primary subject. Perhaps the focal choice was not ideal and part of the scene was cropped too tightly. Maybe you were too close or too far away and didn't get the ideal perspective. You want to move up/down, left/right or closer/farther to get it right the next time.
 
You now have better skills. Closely aligned with getting it right this time are your improved photography skills. You are now better at reading a scene and better able to select the composition, perhaps including a foreground element or better aligning the background within the foreground framing.
 
You go back to work on your creativity. The more bored you become with photographing a scene, the more likely you are going to find a creative new way to photograph it.
 
You go back because you have better gear. While we sometimes think that camera and lens technology is not moving forward fast enough, what is available today is far better than what was available not long ago. Taking your new camera(s) and lens(es) to a past-visited favorite location is an easy recipe for bettering your portfolio. Your higher resolution, lower noise camera and sharper lens will create results that look better, especially at high resolution. Taking a circular polarizer filter, a neutral density filter, etc. that you did not originally have can make a huge difference in your repeat visit results.
 
You go back in hopes for better weather conditions. You hope for better skies, a better sunrise, a better sunset, better clouds, more/less fog, less (or possibly more) wind, warmer light, etc. Everyone loves a fiery sunrise or sunset and those don't happen every day – you might need to go back repeatedly to find these. Fog? Some locations have it with some regularity, but many others have it only occasionally.
 
You go back because the timing is different or better. You may have better water flow, creating better waterfalls that give images a completely different look, one well worth the effort of a revisit. The seasons of the year provide a very different look to many locations. Spring brings bright green foliage and (usually) good water flow. Summer brings darker foliage and warmer weather (required for the snow to melt enough to access some areas). Late summer and fall brings amazing color to the trees in many areas. Winter brings snow, completely redecorating the landscape.
 
The timing of the visit also dictates the position of the celestial bodies. Go back when the sun, moon and/or stars (the milky way) are better aligned. Perhaps the sun shines between two mountain peaks at a certain time of the year. Perhaps you want to go back when the milky way is best aligned over a scene. The same applies to the moon with a specific desired phase and position.
 
Perhaps the scene has indeed changed and is no longer physically the same. While there are not usually macro changes occurring to landscape without a significant environmental disaster (such as a tornado, hurricane, fire, etc.), micro changes frequently happen. Trees fall, erosion occurs, sediment moves in streams during strong flows and fields have a different crop in rotation. If the scene is significantly altered, new images will be more current than those taken before the alteration. Before and after photos may be valued in this case.
 
Sometimes, you go back just because things can happen. Wildlife showing up can add a prize-winning element to any image.
 
If you are considering going back, the location is probably amazing and somewhere you love to be. That alone is a great reason to go back as just being there is awesome. There is no reason why the same location cannot be enjoyed time and time again. If you like the location that much, perhaps you want to share it with a friend or friends.
 
You go back because the location is a known entity. You know that it is repeatedly good for a quality image – an image worth sharing is sure to come out of the effort.
 
You go back for practice. If the location is relatively close to home, visiting the location to practice skills and technique prior to a big photo trip is a great idea. Unlike riding a bike, more like distance running, photography requires practice to stay in top shape. It also affords the opportunity to test the camera gear that will accompany you on the trip.
 
Again, a primary reason to go back is that something might be different this time and the reason that different is desirable is for, minimally, variation and, ideally, for bettering. Photographers are constantly striving to better what we have already done, to raise the bar, to take another step forward in our passion/profession.
 
The previous time I visited Oxbow Bend, Grand Teton National Park, was convenient, but not so well-timed for photography. It was mid-summer (not bad in itself). The sun was high and the leaves were green. The sky was forest fire-hazy. While my cameras and lenses were the best-available at the time, they were not as good as those I'm using today. While I was happy with my results at the time, they do not hold nearly as much value to me from a photographical perspective now.
 
Late this past year, I was blessed with a revisit to this very photogenic location. And, the results from my revisit were much higher grade in many accounts. Though I'm missing the moose that was in my first set of images (it was so small in the frame that I didn't know it was even there until reviewing the images back at home), but my late summer (photographer's fall in this location), early morning timing for the second visit to Oxbow Bend combined with my now-current camera gear and 9-year-upgraded skillset turned in much better results this time around. I'm sharing one of my favorites with you today.
 
70mm  f/8.0  1/100s  ISO 100
Kissing Bears Kissing Bears
Seemed like the appropriate photo to post on Valentine's day. This is a mother brown bear playing with/training her second year cub. I think they are trying to make a heart shape together.
 
600mm  f/4.0  1/1600s  ISO 1250
Bugling Elk in the Frost, Rocky Mountain National Park Bugling Elk in the Frost, Rocky Mountain National Park
The sound of a bull elk bugling is music to my ears and I followed that music to locate this big boy in the dark. As soon as the Moraine Park meadow opened that morning, I was on my way to find this bull and that move proved quite productive.
 
While the golden grass in the meadow provides a photogenic, non-distracting base for an image at any time of the day, it is lighter in color when frost-covered and other colors take on a stronger contrast at that time.
 
Not so photogenic was this bull's right eye. He had apparently been injured in a fight and the camera-facing eye was not very attractive-looking. Obviously, I fixed that problem.
 
When I'm selecting down images, I'm constantly watching for issues in those selected for keeping. When an issue is found, I look for the fix in an image captured just before or just after the selected image. The issues I'm referring to here are many, including not-optimal subject framing and blinking as common ones.
 
With frames of the bull facing the other direction captured in the take, I was able to find one that enabled me to copy the eye, flip it horizontally and integrate it into my preferred image by pasting it in, transforming it (rotating in this case) to match the original eye and masking out the unneeded portion of the copied image (most of it). The portion of the eye that was repaired in this example is small, but without the flesh showing, the image is far more attractive (especially since our eyes are drawn to subjects' eyes).
 
The astute in the crowd have noticed that the horizontal pixel dimension in this image exceeds that of a Canon EOS 5Ds R image. Using the same image the eye fix was taken from, I manually stitched some additional border onto the left side of the frame by matching the details in the grasses and then blending the transition to offset the slight brightness difference caused by peripheral shading.
 
If the subject is important to you, don't worry about taking too many pictures. Not all will be optimal and having too many great images is a desirable problem.
 
600mm  f/4.0  1/640s  ISO 400
The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge
The Little Red Lighthouse, officially named Jeffrey's Hook Light, is a small (40'/12.2m) lighthouse located under the eastern span of the George Washington Bridge (AKA the Great Gray Bridge) in Fort Washington Park, Washington Heights, New York City. The official name of this lighthouse was surpassed by the name given it by Hildegarde Swift and Lynd Ward in their famous 1942 book The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge. This book was one of my wife's childhood favorites, so ... it was fitting for me to have this location on my photo bucket list and circumstances worked out for me to cross off this line item.
 
Typically, big city landmarks are readily accessible and easy to visit. While the first applies to this one, for a non-local without a bicycle, the second ... not so much. The problem is the lack of local parking and the significant roads and railroad tracks separating Fort Washington Park and the Hudson River Greenway from the rest of the city in this area.
 
There are two entrances into Fort Washington Park. I chose the more-northern 181st St option over the southern 158th St entrance as it appeared logistically better. Parking at one of the closest parking garages, Alliance Parking Services (for GPS, use 649-699 W 184th St, New York, NY 10033) resulted in a just-over 1 mile (1.6km) hike to the lighthouse. The landscape in Manhattan and many other parts of New York City is mostly flat, but Washington "Heights" wasn't given its name without reason. While not a mountain by most people's definition, the ascent and descent into the park, over and under the roads and tracks, is noticeable under the weight of a heavy pack.
 
Loaded into my MindShift Gear BackLight 26L for this trip was the following:
 
A pair of Canon EOS 5Ds R DSLR bodies
Canon EF 11-24mm f/4L USM Lens
Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM Lens
Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM Lens
Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM Lens
Gitzo GT1542T Traveler 6x Carbon Fiber Tripod with a Acratech GP-s Ball Head mounted.
Numerous accessories, food, plenty of water, warm clothes.
 
I hand-carried a second tripod, my current-favorite Gitzo GT3542LS Systematic Carbon Fiber Tripod with an Arca-Swiss Z1 Ball Head mounted.
 
This gave me two complete camera setups with plenty of focal length overlap in the range I expected to need the most. The redundancy was first and foremost to allow me to take twice as many photos during the short time period within blue hour that I was most-targeting. This shoot consumed most of a day (I arrived home at 2:30 AM) and with the small extra effort of taking a second camera setup, I was getting nearly twice as many photos when the exposure durations hit 30 seconds (with an additional 30-second-long exposure noise reduction) during prime time. I would start one image capture and go attend the second camera setup, located far enough away for a different composition, but close enough that I had a close watch on it from a security standpoint.
 
Backup in case of failure was the other reason for the second complete camera setup. I was investing heavily enough (time and other costs) in this trip to warrant a backup.
 
The Little Red Lighthouse shoot went as planned. Arriving late in the afternoon, I climbed around the rocks for an hour or so, trying to decide what compositions would be best for prime time. I ate, rested and went to work as the sun set behind the GWB.
 
As the sun set, the balance of sky brightness to the light hitting the lighthouse transitioned from silhouette to nearly the opposite. By shooting continuously during this time, I could select my favorite look later. A darker background is always an option, but a brighter sky is not available again until another day (without some post processing techniques).
 
For this image, I opted for the 11-24L lens set to 11mm to provide a dramatic perspective that included the entire river span of the bridge. To see a sample result captured from the other camera, with a lens choice made for a reason, one that you may not have considered (not focal length or sharpness), check out the pic I creatively titled The Little Red Lighthouse.
 
11mm  f/11.0  30s  ISO 200
Great Horned Owl in Nest Cavity Great Horned Owl in Nest Cavity
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.
 
1200mm  f/11.0  1/500s  ISO 800
On the Ledge at R. B. Ricketts Falls in Ricketts Glen State Park On the Ledge at R. B. Ricketts Falls in Ricketts Glen State Park
The timing was perfect for a visit to Ricketts Glen State Park. The new beech tree leaves were coming out with their light spring green color looking great. It had rained a significant amount the prior day and the forecast was for rain all of this day.
 
Waterfalls, of course, thrive on rain, rain saturates the landscape, rain requires clouds and clouds ensure even lighting, and also helpful is that rain keeps the (smarter?) potential park visitors at home and out of images. On this day, I had the Falls Trails completely to myself until I was hiking out near dark.
 
Rain also makes photography a bit more challenging. I was wearing Gore-Tex clothing (boots, pants, and jacket) that kept me completely dry. At least dry until I overheated a bit while hiking up out of the canyon at a fast pace with quick-drying clothing resolving that problem quickly after I was back in the car. I carried a large umbrella to work under (awkward but very helpful) and had a microfiber cloth readily available to wipe water drops from the front of the lens. When shooting waterfalls, a microfiber cloth is often needed regardless of the rain situation. Note that nano-coated filters are easy to keep clean and easily worth their additional cost on days like these. The camera and lens were in an inexpensive rain cover that I was evaluating and that is now on the to-replace list as it was not "waterproof", leaving the camera and lens wet enough that a towel was needed (get a LensCoat RainCoat). This is an example of when weather sealing can save the day.
 
The Canon EOS 5Ds R and the Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM Lens were the only camera and lens that came out of my BackLight 26L on this day. It was the perfect combination for this image and all of the others I wanted. Also in the backpack was an EOS R and RF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM Lens. The BackLight's rear access meant that cameras could be swapped without setting the backpack down on the very wet ground and without taking the rain cover off.
 
I've mentioned that I rely on my tripod for personal support at times and this was one of those. Working up onto this ledge over wet rocks was not easy and a Really Right Stuff TVC-24L Carbon Fiber Tripod saved me from a serious fall when my footing broke loose. The ledge position meant that the lower tripod legs were planted rather far below me, making every inch of the "Long" length of this tripod very useful. Saving my images by cutting reflections and increasing saturation was a Breakthrough Photography circular polarizer filter. Had I forgotten this filter, I would probably have just turned around and gone home.
 
Overall, it was a great day in Ricketts Glenn SP. I'll likely be sharing more of the images captured on this day at some point.
 
With 24 named waterfalls, including some of the most photogenic falls around, Ricketts Glen State Park is waterfall photography heaven. I spent over 45 minutes capturing a variety of compositions of this falls alone and finally forced myself to move on, leaving some options for another day. If you are interested in photographing with me here, I need to know. This will likely be the destination for an upcoming waterfall photography workshop!
 
16mm  f/11.0  5s  ISO 100
Photographing Sports with the Canon EOS 5Ds R Photographing Sports with the Canon EOS 5Ds R
While the Canon EOS 5Ds R is not marketed as the ideal sports camera, it is what I've been using for my spring sports photography so far this year. The reason? I sold my Canon EOS-1D X to fund the purchase of a Canon EOS-1D X Mark II. At the time of the sale, the 1D X Mark II was " ... scheduled to begin shipping to authorized Canon USA dealers in April 2016." [Canon Press Release] My spring sports photography starts in mid-April, so I thought the odds were good that I would have a 1D X II in time or just into this season.
 
B&H currently lists the expected 1D X II availability as May 1st. While this is only 1 day past "April", it is also 1 day past worst case from the press release's expectation.
 
So, I have been using a 5Ds R with a BG-E11 Battery Grip for spring sports photography. For this purpose, the 5Ds R has only one limitation. As we know, this camera has a great AF system and it has no problem tracking fast action. The image quality this camera delivers is likewise excellent and, with extreme resolution, high resolution images remain even after heavy cropping. This means that a focal length or focal length range can effectively be used to cover a much greater percentage of the field than the 1D X II will be able to.
 
That one limitation I referred to is the frame rate. Capturing frames at 5 fps is not fast enough to catch the ideal moments happening during a play, including providing the ideal capture of stride position for a running athlete. The workaround is to time the shutter press with what is expected to be the ideal point of the play. Using this tactic, anything happening prior to the initial shutter press will of course be missed. The first shot timing takes more skill than simply holding the shutter release down, but can be effectively used and once practiced, can be used very effectively.
 
I still hold the 5Ds R shutter release down after the initially timed press as additional good shots are often captured subsequently, but capturing at 10, 12 or 14 fps makes a huge difference in getting the ideal shot while reducing the skill needed to do so. While the 5Ds R is delivering great sports images for me, I anxiously await the 1D X II.
 
600mm  f/4.0  1/2000s  ISO 160
Snowcapped Mountains in Denali National Park Snowcapped Mountains in Denali National Park
There is no shortage of mountains in Denali National Park. However, a layer of snow adds greatly to how they look. Snow especially contrasts against the darkest-colored mountains.
 
Bright white snow and very dark rock can potentially be an exposure challenge. When photographing landscape under full sunlight with snow in the frame, setting the ideal exposure usually involves bringing the image brightness level up to the point where the brightest snow has a tiny area of blinkies showing on the LCD (be sure that these are enabled). This insures that detail remains in the snow while shadow/dark areas have as much color information as possible.
 
You may have noticed that this image is not showing as full-dimensioned for the Canon EOS 5Ds R used to capture it. This image was not cropped (the 100-400mm lens was not set to its longest available focal length), but as is often the problem with long distance photography, heat waves caused enough degradation that I opted to reduce the image size by 66%, using downsampling to improve image sharpness.
 
Note that I did not use a tripod for this capture. This lens' image stabilization system combined with a solid three-point sitting position (elbows on knees and forehead pressed into eye cup) were very adequate for sharpness in this regard, and a B+W HTC circular polarizer filter blocking less light than a standard filter also contributed to this run-and-gun shot.
 
349mm  f/8.0  1/160s  ISO 100
Baby Cottontail Rabbit in a Log Baby Cottontail Rabbit in a Log
This is a wild baby cottontail rabbit photographed in the studio using a Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L IS USM Macro Lens. Yes, there are some inconsistencies in that statement. The 100mm macro is not a first choice for a serious photographer photographing wild rabbits and ... why is the wild rabbit in the studio? Let me explain.
 
First, apparently the dog couldn't help itself and had to show us a baby cottontail rabbit (called a "kit") from a nest it found. Golden retrievers have soft mouths and she gently delivered the rabbit to the front door unharmed. The baby rabbit was so cute that a few photos were a requirement.
 
To create a natural scene, I took a decorative piece of driftwood and placed it on the shooting table along with a couple of ferns sacrificed from the flower bed just outside. With control over many aspects of the image, the 100mm macro lens was the ideal choice in this case. The 100 L is one of my MFU (Most-Frequently-Used) around-the-house lenses because of its versatility (great image quality, relatively small size with a light weight, image stabilization, 1:1/1x magnification ability, ...). It seems that there is always a subject available for this lens.
 
A large softbox and studio monolight is always beside my shooting table, ready to light whatever small or medium-sized subject that shows up. From lenses to backpacks to ... baby rabbits. A light source significantly larger than a close subject creates a soft light, lacking hard shadows. In this case, the light was a bit too soft for my taste, making the scene appear somewhat unnatural. Adding a few exposure adjustment layers with creatively painted layer masks (in Photoshop) created a more-natural unevenness (digital flagging) to the lighting. Of course, an octagonal catchlight in the eye is not going to say "sun" to anyone.
 
The rabbit (mostly) cooperated and after capturing a few photos, the kids asked Sierra (the dog) to find the nest. I thought that request was unrealistic and that the rabbit was orphaned, but ... Sierra took the girls to the middle of a nearby field of thick grass and impressively used its nose to point out the covered nest. The rabbit was reunited with its siblings with ... an unbelievable story to share.
 
100mm  f/11.0  1/160s  ISO 100
Lightning Photography Tips Lightning Photography Tips
Let me first say that photographers (myself included) tend to overlook safety too frequently when attempting to capture the perfect shots. Lightning is extremely dangerous and strong caution is advised when attempting to photograph it. That said: Summer is the season for lightning.
 
A couple of days ago, my wife came in from walking the dog at nearly midnight and said that I had to go out and see the lightning in the distance. A quick check of the weather radar showed that a strong thunderstorm was going to graze us and even though my body said "No! It's time for bed!", my brain knew that this was a great opportunity and that the potential photos, if realized, would last far longer than my tiredness.
 
I quickly assessed the focal length needs and mounted a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM Lens on a Canon EOS 5Ds R. Lightning strikes tend to be random in location and, with the extreme resolution of the 5Ds R, I could afford to shoot with a wider focal length and crop into the frame for the shorter and more-distant lightning bolts. Lightning bolts also vary greatly in brightness and the f/2.8 lens gave me plenty of latitude for exposure settings.
 
I grabbed a tripod, remote release and a tiny flashlight. I went out the door and spent the next hour capturing lightning strikes.
 
Note that rain protection for both you and the gear is a very good idea as rain typically accompanies thunderstorms. In this case, my shirt became the gear protection and I simply got wet.
 
When it is very dark out, lightning photography is not too difficult. Frame the scene in the direction of the storm (consider incorporating some foreground) with a level camera. Turn off image stabilization (if available) and switch to manual focus. Establishing accurate manual focus in the dark can be challenging, but a street light, a light on a distant tower or even a star (if visible) can work.
 
Attach the remote switch (needs to be able to lock the shutter open) to the camera and set the camera's mode to "B" (Bulb). The shutter speed will be established by the duration of the remote release press. With the dark sky contributing very little light to the exposure, the image brightness will be determined by the lightning and its illumination of the clouds in combination with the selected ISO and aperture settings. Lightning bolts are very bright, but because of the varying distance and intensity of the light output, some trial and error may be necessary to dial in the most-optimal settings. I'll throw out a starter setting of f/4 and ISO 400.
 
You may decide that turning off the camera's long exposure noise reduction is advisable as dark frame capture is time consuming.
 
Once the camera is setup, open the shutter using the remote release and wait for lightning to strike. After a strike, release the shutter and immediately open it again.
 
Bryan's Law of Lightning Photography: The best lightning bolts are guaranteed to occur in the brief period of time that the shutter is closed between exposures.
 
You may find that you want to start a new photo after a period of inactivity to reduce long exposure noise in the images. Leaving the shutter open for multiple strikes is an option, though a risk is that parts of the image, generally clouds near an area of recurring lightning activity, become overexposed. You may find it more optimal to combine specific images later during post processing.
 
I captured more lightning strikes in this 1 hour storm than I have in any storm I previously photographed. The results were definitely worth an hour of lost sleep. This image, my favorite of the take, is a single exposure practically straight out of the camera (slight cropping and Picture Style change).
 
While the nighttime lightning photography technique is relatively easy, daytime lightning photography is much more challenging. Daylight lightning photography procedures are not dissimilar from normal daylight photography, but the problem is that relatively short exposures are required to achieve proper image brightness and short exposures are hard to time with a lightning strike. To catch a bolt of lightning in daylight requires FAST reflexes (or better, a lightning trigger) and a camera with a short shutter lag.
 
Give lightning photography a try – the results will be ... "striking."
 
28mm  f/6.3  3.6s  ISO 100
Old Boat on Bambarra Beach, Middle Caicos, Turks and Caicos Old Boat on Bambarra Beach, Middle Caicos, Turks and Caicos
While exploring Middle Caicos, I came across this great little old boat on Bambarra Beach. I opted to go wide and move in close, emphasizing the boat relative to the rest of the landscape. As I worked the scene, I continued to move in closer and lower until ... cue the pelican ... I settled on this shot.
 
The Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM Lens is a great beach and seascape lens option, with or without a tripod.
 
Whether or not to use a circular polarizer filter when using the widest angles of this lens on a full frame body (and similar angle-of-view-equivalent focal lengths on APS-C format bodies) is a question that one must ask themselves. At very wide angles, a CPL filter can create an unevenly-darkened sky and tastes for such vary widely. One strategy is to shoot in the middle of the day. A high sun places the most-darkened portion of the sky evenly over the horizon. This provides a more-evenly darkened sky within the frame, as seen in this image.
 
While there is some gradient in this sky, I much prefer the CPL look and the high sky-to-boat contrast over the lighter sky (which naturally has some gradient even without the filter).
 
16mm  f/11.0  1/100s  ISO 100
The Little Red Lighthouse The Little Red Lighthouse
To get the story behind this image, be sure to read the comments for the image titled The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge. As you learned from that page, I had a choice of two great lenses to use for the 28mm focal length this picture was captured at. The question is: why did I choose the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM Lens over the Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM Lens?
 
At the f/11 aperture, the image quality difference between these lenses is unimportant, but ... I did change lenses from one to the other for a specific reason. The 24-70 L II, with its wider max aperture, creates noticeably larger stars from the point light sources in the image, the individual lights. While the results from both lenses would be great, I wanted the extra sparkle that the 24-70 L II would provide.
 
Compositionally, I moved in as close to the lighthouse as possible (making the "little" lighthouse appear large) while keeping some separation between the lighthouse top and the bridge. I retained the entire leftmost part of the bridge along with some wooded area (Fort Lee Historic Park) in the frame, but excluded a skyscraper located just outside of the frame.
 
28mm  f/11.0  30s  ISO 400
Ben Franklin Bridge, Philadelphia, PA Ben Franklin Bridge, Philadelphia, PA
The Ben Franklin Bridge in Philadelphia, PA has been on my to-photograph list for a long time and earlier this year, I was technically able to check this attraction off of my list (I decided to keep it on the list for images from a different angle).
 
Having not been to this location before (aside from driving across the bridge), I needed some daylight time to scout for the evening's photos. I knew the basics of the area based on my research, but onsite finalization of the plan is usually needed. Even though very far from the bay and roughly 90mi (150km) from the Atlantic Ocean, this location on the Delaware River is tidal. I knew that there was a tide and that the tide would be going out during my shooting time (incoming tides require more concern). What I didn't know was the significance of the water level change. My scouting determined that locations close to the early evening water appeared best and I had lots of flowing water in the foreground for the image I envisioned.
 
As prime time approached, I watched the water level rapidly decrease a significant amount until my side of the river became nearly empty. There was nothing I could do about the situation and I was not about to attempt walking out into the quicksand-like muck. As photographers must always be ready to do, I embraced what I had to work with. The good news is that, as the water level dropped far enough, I had wet mud and pools of water that nicely reflected the bridge and city, creating a look that I may like even better than the image I had visualized.
 
On a good day, Philadelphia is an over-3-hour drive for me. The ideal time of the day to photograph the city lights with at least a little color in the sky is only a small fraction of that time duration. Life is busy and when it comes to good images, more is rarely worse than less. If you are a professional photographer, you count on your images for your income. If your primary income is not generated by photography, you probably cannot spend as must time in the field as you wish. To maximize your image volume relative to effort expended, perhaps close to a doubling effect, run two complete camera setups.
 
If you read my Canon EOS 80D review, you saw an image showing one angle of the Ben Franklin bridge. With a very short period of time to capture images and each image taking approximately a minute to capture (a 15-30-second exposure followed immediately by a same-length long exposure noise reduction process), having at least a second complete camera and tripod setup nearly doubled my images for this evening. While the 80D and Canon EF-S 18-135mm IS USM came out of the MindShift Gear BackLight 26L later in the evening, I mostly used the 5Ds R and EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II on a Gitzo GT3542LS with an Arca-Swiss Z1, set up close to the bridge.
 
About 100' (33m) to the north, I had another 5Ds R mounted to an EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM Lens on an Gitzo GT1542T Traveler with an Acratech GP-s Ball Head as my second primary camera and lens combination.
 
I very frequently utilize a pair of cameras when shooting landscapes and cityscapes before sunrise, after sunset or even when working with strong neutral density filters under bright sunlight. The process is simple. I find a unique composition for each camera. Upon finishing one camera's setup and triggering the shutter release, I run to the other camera (well, I sort-of ran and stumbled over the big rocks in this case) and did the same. By the time I return to the first camera, it is usually finished or nearly finished with its processing. I quickly evaluate the image captured, make any adjustments I feel are warranted and repeat the process.
 
If running two camera setups not immediately within reach, safety for the gear must be considered. I wouldn't call the area below the Camden, NJ side of the Ben Franklin Bridge the safest I've been in. It was dark, there were no other people around and I kept a very close eye on the second camera setup, watching for anyone sketchy approaching. Having the cameras setup this far apart gave me very different perspectives of the bridge and city vs. simply different framing of the same perspective. The 5Ds R would permit strong cropping to achieve a similar framing adjustment, so I wanted something completely different from the second camera.
 
With so many images that I like captured that evening, I struggled to pick out one to share (part of the problem of having perfectionist tendencies). Three months later, I forced myself to pick one. This was it. Hope you like it and hope even more that you can increase the number of great images that you capture.
 
30mm  f/11.0  15s  ISO 400
Sunset at Three Mary Cays, Turks and Caicos Sunset at Three Mary Cays, Turks and Caicos
Mixing brilliant turquoise-colored water with a dramatic sunset is not so easy. The ideal light to bring out the water color is from a high overhead sun and that is of course not available at sunset. However, the water in some locations is amazingly colored enough to still show turquoise even at sunset. Three Mary Cays in North Caicos is one such location.
 
Most of the west side of North and Middle Caicos islands is inaccessible without a boat, leaving few good locations for mid-winter sunset photography (with the sun setting farther north mid-summer, more northern locations can work well at this time of the year). Of those remaining locations, the shoreline by Three Mary Cays presents very nice winter sunset views. And, the shoreline and islands all have the character I was looking for.
 
Three Mary Cays is amazingly beautiful and also amazing is how seldom it is photographed by serious photographers. Online scouting revealed very few images and I spent two evenings watching the blazing ball drop into the Atlantic Ocean at this location with no one else as far as the eye could see.
 
While the cloud moving over the sun helped significantly with the brightness balance in this image, I still opted to use an HDR technique to balance the overall exposure.
 
It has become rare for me to photograph landscapes without the Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM Lens in the pack. This lens delivers amazing results every time. Well, at least every time I do my part of the job correctly. It is hard to believe that my other primary piece of landscape kit, the 5Ds R, is now over 1-year-old. #lovingthiscamera.
 
16mm  f/11.0  1/40s  ISO 100
Sunset on the East Coast Beach, Island Beach State Park Sunset on the East Coast Beach, Island Beach State Park
East coast beaches are usually better situated for sunrises than sunsets and Island Beach State Park, just south of Seaside Park in New Jersey, is usual in this regard.
 
A habit I have while photographing at the edges of the day, is to make regular glances to the east, "watching my back". While that habit may apply to safety in some locations, I'm referring to the lighting and color in the sky. It is natural for us to watch and photograph the sun rising or setting, but often great images are found behind you at these times of the day.
 
While photographing the colorful post-sunset sky to the west on this evening, I took that glance to the east. What I saw was that the color in the sky was visible toward the north while the rest of the easterly scene was very evenly lit. The ultra-wide 14mm focal length lens' angle of view was sufficient to capture that color along with the Atlantic Ocean and lots of sand in the foreground. To add some foreground interest, I moved in close to the sand fence post, placing it approximately 1/3 into the frame with the beach fishing party framed between it and the dunes to the left.
 
While the lighting was rather even, I still used a combination of three 1-stop-different exposures combined via a manual HDR process to darken the brightest portion of the sky relative to the rest of the beach scene.
 
Capturing a colorful sky is just one of the many reasons that your kit should have 14mm covered.
 
14mm  f/11.0  3.2s  ISO 100
Isolated Red and White Poppy Isolated Red and White Poppy
I recently mountain biked to a nearby wildflower field and spent a very enjoyable end of day with the Samyang 135mm f/2 ED UMC Lens (and a large black bear that also showed up). The Samyang 135 is not a macro lens (it's not a good bear lens either), but this lens is great at creating a strong background blur and that is precisely what I wanted this evening.
 
The sun had set, giving me even, low contrast lighting, and the wind had practically stopped, allowing sharp images to be made without clamping the flower stems in place. I worked along the edge of the field (to avoid damaging the flowers), looking for compositions that could work. This white-trimmed brilliant red poppy caught my attention and I found an angle and background combination that I liked.
 
When photographing people and wildlife with shallow depth of field, the eye(s) are nearly always the right focus point. When there are no eyes, more difficult decisions sometimes need to be made. In this case, I set the lens to its minimum focus distance and moved in so that the front edge of the upper set of petals was in sharp focus. I later second-guessed my decision and focused on the top edge of the closer flower petal, but ... in the end, I liked the first choice best. The very shallow depth of field covers more of the flower and the stem (also known as a leading line) is more prominent in this version.
 
The Samyang 135mm f/2 ED UMC Lens performed excellently for me this evening. This lens holds lots of creativity-unleashing potential (and it is a very good value).
 
135mm  f/2.0  1/25s  ISO 100
Chasing Rainbows with the Sigma 100-400mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Contemporary Lens Chasing Rainbows with the Sigma 100-400mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Contemporary Lens
When a unique weather pattern arrived with numerous little rain storms showing on the radar, it seemed like a good time to go trail running with the lightweight Sigma 100-400mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Contemporary Lens. After photographing some distant storms from a high vantage point, I took a direct hit from one of them. But, that was good news. Rain storms make rainbows and this one delivered superbly.
 
Also delivering superbly was the Sigma 100-400. While a telephoto zoom may not seem like a first choice for landscape photography, this focal length range is excellent for that purpose (and many others of course). And, using a telephoto lens for rainbow photography is often a good idea.
 
It was a good night for a run with the camera. In addition to some intense rainbow images, I brought home a large number of nice dramatic sky images including at sunset – and got some exercise.
 
100mm  f/9.0  1/50s  ISO 100
Photographing Birds and Other Wildlife on the Water and Ground Photographing Birds and Other Wildlife on the Water and Ground
The ideal height to photograph wildlife, especially birds not flying (perched, standing, walking, swimming, etc.) is most often when the camera is level (pitch) and the bird is properly framed. Basically, this is the same level as the subject.
 
If the bird is on the ground and the ground is flat and void of visual obstructions, getting flat on the ground is a great option and a ground pod is a great support for this position.
 
If the bird is in or on the water, getting to their level immediately becomes more complicated. The embankments of most water bodies are raised at least somewhat over the water and that makes it hard to get down to bird-level from outside of the water. If possible, and you are OK with the risks involved, getting in the water can be a great way to get down to close to the ideal level. Still, the comfortable/safe height of the camera (and likely the tripod head) above the water usually leaves the bird at a still-lower elevation.
 
The next option is to get farther away. If the bird is near you, the camera will be angled downward more than if the bird is farther away. Of course, moving farther away means the bird is smaller in the frame. That is, unless a longer focal length is used.
 
Very long focal lengths are ideal for bird photography for a couple of reasons. The obvious reason is that they make the bird appear large in the frame from a less-frightening (mattering only to the bird usually) distance. The other reason coincides with one of the reasons for shooting from a level: to strongly blur the background.
 
Long focal lengths magnify the background blur, giving images a more-strongly blurred background that makes the subject stand out. Aside from the perspective making the bird look good, shooting from a lower position pushes background farther into the distance, farther outside of the depth of field and making your long focal length lens blur powers even more magical.
 
For this image capture, I was wearing chest waders and a Gore-Tex coat and sitting in the water up to my elbows (where the Gore-Tex jacket became an important part of the wardrobe). The temperature was in the 40s F (single digits C) on this day, so I had many layers on in addition. The tripod was positioned so that the apex was just above the water line and I was bent over to reach the viewfinder. Note that I'm not saying that a low shooting position is comfortable, especially after over 4 hours of not moving. But, what is comfort when making a good image is at stake?!
 
Being as low as I could go and using a long focal length (840mm) on a full frame body provided a great background blur right out of the camera. Of course, it is hard to take a bad picture of a subject as beautiful as a wood duck.
 
840mm  f/8.0  1/1600s  ISO 2000
Remote Shelikof Strait Coast of Katmai National Park Remote Shelikof Strait Coast of Katmai National Park
Plane rides are often a means to an end, but this one was so much more. Flying in a float plane over the Shelikof Strait and along the remote southeast coast of Katmai National Park was ... breathtaking. And those breathtaking sights were very photo-worthy, but not without complications.
 
Airplane windows are not designed with photography in mind and there is some non-optical glass between the camera and the subject. Reflections, uneven contrast reduction and color toning (mostly in the sky in this frame) were among the complications. After an initial attempt at cleaning up the image, I revisited it a number of times over the nearly 1 year that has passed since this flight. The incredible scene was worth the extra effort that went into post processing, but ... I'm still not sure I have this right.
 
70mm  f/8.0  1/1600s  ISO 500
One of the Most Beautiful Places on Earth: Moraine Lake, Banff National Park One of the Most Beautiful Places on Earth: Moraine Lake, Banff National Park
I have long admired images of Lake Moraine in The Valley of the Ten Peaks, Banff National Park (Alberta, Canada), especially those taken from the Rockpile. While huge numbers of great images have been captured here, none of them were captured by me. That is, none until recently.
 
The Rockpile (ascended via the Rockpile Trail) is a foreground-rich location overlooking an amazing turquoise glacier-fed lake that, when the wind is not blowing, reflects the close, steep, craggy, with-character mountains beyond it. I was blessed to spend 3 very early mornings at this location (and would return in a heartbeat). One quickly forgets the 3:00-4:15 AM alarms (followed by 11:30 PM bedtimes) when reviewing Moraine Lake images.
 
For this composition, I moved in close to a carefully-selected large rock. This rock, with plenty of leading lines, appears to fit into the edge of the mountain reflections like a puzzle piece, with even the notches appearing to align with reflected peaks. With the large mountain weighing heavily on the top left of the image, the large foreground rock is positioned proportionally higher on the right to, along with the shaded trees, aid in the overall image balance. Required for this perspective, and not visible in this image, are the tripod feet (and me) precariously positioned on the top edge of several different rocks.
 
With the mountain peaks being directly hit with sunlight and the dark evergreens being in deep shade, the dynamic range in this scene was extreme. Thus, I was shooting bracketed exposures. A camera's built-in HDR feature is a good way to capture bracketed exposures, but ... I didn't want the in-camera-generated JPG image and didn't want to wait for that composited image to be created.
 
My favorite method of shooting bracketed exposures is via the camera's AEB (Auto Exposure Bracketing) feature. Simply select the number of bracketed images desired and the desired exposure difference between them. Each image captured in succession, up to the selected number of bracketed frames, will have a different exposure (ideally for landscapes, the shutter speed is varied), insuring that all parts of the scene are adequately exposed in at least one of the frames.
 
To speed up the capture, select and use the camera's high frame rate (burst) mode. When the sun is rising, speed matters for HDR captures (this is a manual HDR image). The line between sun and shade moves quickly and ... that line becomes hard to composite if time lapses between captures. With AEB selected, a high speed burst will stop after the selected number of AEB frames.
 
I usually have MLU (Mirror Lockup) enabled when photographing landscapes, avoiding any possible vibration caused by the mirror raising. However, using MLU adds a short, but undesired, delay between the frames captured in an AEB burst. There is a better way: Live View is another method of achieving MLU. By using a remote release with Live View and high frame rate (burst) mode selected, one press of the remote shutter release (pressing and locking the release button down for long exposure brackets) captures the set number of frames in very fast succession (without the mirror moving).
 
Depending on the Lake Moraine scene and scenario, I was shooting 5 or 7 frames varied by 2/3 or 1 stop. From most sets, I deleted all except 3 or 4 images with the exposure variations needed remaining available. This image was created from three exposures.
 
Due to packing restrictions, I nearly left the Canon EF 11-24mm f/4L USM Lens at home. Upon arriving at Moraine Lake, I was SOOO thankful that I had it with me. Aside from using the Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM Lens on a second camera and tripod setup some of the time, the 11-24 was the only lens I needed at this location. And, it performed extremely well as did the Canon EOS 5Ds R camera I used behind it.
 
11mm  f/11.0  1/6s  ISO 100
First-Light Buck, Shenandoah National Park First-Light Buck, Shenandoah National Park
Many of you know that I usually consider the ideal wildlife light to be from behind me, directing my shadow toward the animal (though keeping it outside of the frame of course), but that is just another of the many photography rules looking for an opportunity to be broken.
 
It was a great start to the day. I had found this beautiful large-bodied 10-pt buck right away in the morning while there was barely light enough to see it. The buck was staying close to a calmly-feeding doe and defending against the occasional intruder. I was ready to photograph as soon as there was enough light to make it worth attempting.
 
When the buck moved, I would also change position to what I felt would be photographically optimal (often moving farther away as it approached) and was able to stay with the buck until the sun rose high enough to directly light it. It was at that point when the buck made a short charge to contain the doe, deterring it from going toward a distant intruder. The buck ideally stopped on the crest of a hill. The sunlight was hitting the deer nearly horizontally and I was up-light in position, but ... I saw the background that I had been looking for and that became the higher priority for me.
 
Shenandoah National Park is known for its many mountain ridges and incorporating them into a white-tailed deer image background is a great goal, but one that is not so easy to achieve, especially with the narrow field of view that a 600mm focal length presents. The lighting was making hard shadows, but the intruding buck was positioned toward the sun and that meant this buck was watching toward the sun, easing the shadow issue.
 
Selecting the to-share image from the couple-of-minutes take was challenging and I eventually narrowed the choice down to two. In the other example, the buck had its head turned even farther to the right with its left ear angled back, resulting in no shadows on the head. While that pose made the deer appear larger, I opted for the wider rack perspective shown by the more-toward-the-camera head angle.
 
Especially cool is that, with the Canon EOS 5Ds R's extreme resolution, I can crop this image down to a tight full-body portrait and still have about 24 mp of very sharp resolution remaining.
 
600mm  f/4.0  1/500s  ISO 100
Peyto Lake, Banff National Park Peyto Lake, Banff National Park
My pre-trip research placed Peyto Lake, along the Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park, high on my to-photograph list. With a strong glacial flour flow in the summer, this lake takes on an amazing turquoise color, with Caldron Peak and Mt Patterson providing exclamation marks behind it.
 
To get the high sun position required to light up the lake color, a late morning or early afternoon-timed shoot was determined to be best. Of course, summer is the peak tourist season for this location and tourists come here in droves (and buses) ... and this time of day seems to be best for many non-photographers as well.
 
Combine this common timing with a relatively small viewing area at Bow Summit and, even though a hike is required, the place was packed. Upon working my way to the front corner of the platform, I took some photos but soon determined that somewhere below deck would work better. Even down there was challenging with people sometimes walking up and sitting right in front of the camera. Patience paid off when a thunderstorm rolled in and created some great drama in the sky and contrast on the lake. No, even the approaching thunderstorm did not chase the crowds away, but patience and my position worked out for the capture of an image that I was happy with. Then, I ran back to the safety of the SUV.
 
The Canon EOS 5Ds R and the Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM Lens were the perfect combination for this location. The Gitzo GT1542T Traveler 6x Carbon Fiber Tripod (now GT1545T) and Acratech GP-s Ball Head were my choice for their light weight, small size and rigid support. As usual for middle-of-the-day landscape photography, I was using a circular polarizer filter for this capture.
 
16mm  f/11.0  1/80s  ISO 100
Adorable Sleeping White-tailed Deer Fawn Adorable Sleeping White-tailed Deer Fawn
Upon seeing this image, what was the first word that came to your mind? Does the dictionary-present "Aw" stretched to "Awwwww" count?
 
Being tame, this adorable 1-day-old fawn had zero concern with my presence and that opened up the opportunity to capture some unique-perspective close-up images. When it became obvious that she was going down for some solid sleep time (about the only time fawns become motionless), I swapped the Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Lens for the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM Lens and moved in close. The close perspective emphasizes the fawn's head, ears and hoof, making them appear large in proportion to what is farther away. As those are especially cute parts of this little animal, that perspective works well.
 
Having a still subject was only the first challenge solved and several others remained. Shooting under a high tree canopy created several additional challenges for this capture. First, it was rather dark at the ground level. Second, the backlit, light-spring-green-colored hardwood tree leaves created a green cast on the scene. And, as the breeze moved the branches, spots of direct sunlight was intermittently hitting the subject, causing bright hot spots in the image.
 
Using a monopod braced against my leg allowed me to shoot at a relatively-long 1/25 second shutter speed, addressing the darkness challenge. The color cast had to be removed during post processing and I had to revisit the color balance adjustments over a period of time until I grew comfortable with the result. I may change my mind about the color adjustments tomorrow. The last challenge was resolved with careful timing of the moving shadows, avoiding most of the hot spot problem.
 
As is so often the case with photography, the effort was worth the reward.
 
50mm  f/8.0  1/125s  ISO 2500
Johnston Canyon, Banff National Park Johnston Canyon, Banff National Park
The weather on much of this day in Banff National Park ranged from poor to terrible (including wind and strong thunderstorms). I knew that, if the rain at least mostly stopped, this was the perfect time to visit Johnston Canyon. The ground would be wet and colors would appear very saturated with a circular polarizer filter cutting reflections. The lighting would be void of hard shadows and ... would (somewhat) reach into this cave.
 
Johnston Canyon is typically packed during the short summer tourist season, but a late-in-the-day arrival timed just after a heavy thunderstorm (waited in the SUV for it to pass) meant that the trail was nearly void of people. Also, few people venture down the steep, slippery (at least when wet) slope to this cave and very unique land formation at the bottom of the canyon. A downside of the late day start meant that I had to run most of the trail, stopping only long enough to grab the occasional photo.
 
My initial plan (if I could find the cave in the first place) was to include the top of the interesting chunk of land in the frame, but that view included a bit of sky in the background. I went ahead and captured that set of images, but was undecided about the extreme difference in brightness the sky created. To eliminate the sky from the frame, I moved back/up into the large but shallow cave until the top of the cave blocked the sky.
 
As I find so often to be the case, the Canon EOS 5Ds R and the Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM Lens were the perfect combination for this landscape situation.
 
19mm  f/8.0  5s  ISO 100
Ben Franklin Bridge as Seen from Camden, NJ Ben Franklin Bridge as Seen from Camden, NJ
Earlier this year, I posted a Ben Franklin Bridge image and talked about running back and forth between two camera setups during the shoot. At that time, it was requested that I share an image captured by the second camera and ... I am crossing that request off of my to-do list with today's post.
 
As is often ideal for cityscapes, the timing for this image was such that just a touch of color remained in the sky and the sky brightness balanced nicely with the city lights. With this camera's closer-to-the-bridge perspective, the closest bridge support was emphasized and the broad dark line from the underside of the bridge leads deep into the frame. The river keeps the bottom of the frame somewhat clean (giving the image a foundation) and many of the city's best-known tall buildings are framed between the two in-the-river supports, adding interest to the frame. (full disclosure in case you go here: I removed a small conduit from the center of the bridge support for a cleaner look.)
 
With good gear and basic skills, this image is not that challenging to capture and as is often the case, being there is the biggest key to success.
 
45mm  f/16.0  30s  ISO 200
Wilcox Peak, Jasper National Park, Alberta Wilcox Peak, Jasper National Park, Alberta
The Wilcox Pass Trail is one of the highest-rated trails in Jasper National Park (Alberta, Canada). While I have not hiked most of the trails in this park, I have hiked a lot of trails and can say that this is one of my favorites.
 
The 6.8 mile round trip hike (we stretched it closer to 10 miles) starts just below the tree line and quickly ascends above it into the alpine meadows. From that point on, the views are continuously excellent. The Athabasca Glacier, a significant toe of the Columbia Icefield, is always visible to the west and a multitude of mountain peaks surround the entire area.
 
For this hike, I opted to go light on the gear. I packed a single Canon EOS 5Ds R and a pair of lenses (Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS and EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II Lens) into a MindShift Gear BackLight 26L (I'm loving this pack – it goes everywhere with me) along with other essentials including food, water and additional clothing (always recommended when hiking at high altitudes – and needed on this hike).
 
If I hike this trail again, I will have a second camera body along as I spent too much time changing lenses. The primary driver for the lens changes were frequent wildlife encounters and telephoto landscape photo ops interspersed with wide angle landscape opportunities. To take advantage of all situations, I was constantly changing between the two lenses I brought.
 
Yes, another camera body would have added a bit of weight to my kit (the reason I didn't take it), but I probably exerted more energy changing lenses than I would have simply carrying the additional camera body. And, changing lenses at a high altitude often means wind, which often means risk of dust finding its way onto the sensor, leaving spots in the images. Fortunately, the 5Ds R did a great job of avoiding the dust and I had no cloning tasks to add to the post processing of this hike's take home.
 
I selected this image to share with you because I like how the lines in rock and the clouds point (lead the eye) to Wilcox Peak. As you likely already guessed, the 16-35mm f/4L IS was used to capture it.
 
Absent from my short gear list above is a tripod and for weight reasons, I was sans tripod on this hike. While the 1/80 second shutter speed may seem easily hand-holdable at 16mm even on a 5Ds R, that was not the case as the wind was very strong. Image stabilization proved quite valuable to me in this situation.
 
16mm  f/11.0  1/80s  ISO 100
Lake Louise, Banff National Park Lake Louise, Banff National Park
Lake Louise, referred to as the "Jewel of Banff National Park" is high on most of the park visitors' must-see lists. Fortunately, for many at least, is that it is easily accessible including large parking lots just a short walk away. Unfortunately, it is so popular that these lots fill up early and the easy-to-access side of the lake becomes very crowded even early in the day.
 
Photographing this lake wasn't my highest priority, but I did want some decent photos of it. After spending the early morning at Moraine Lake, I headed over to Lake Louise at roughly 8:30 AM. While there were plenty of people here already, the crowd was considerably thinner than later times of the day (the icy boardwalk also helped thin the summer crowd). The crowd was thin enough that I was able to capture a clear view of the foreground rocks and the glacier-fed lake still looked like glass (prior to the lake filling with canoes and the wind picking up). The beautiful mountains reflected where the lake was shaded and a glowing turquoise color showed where the lake was directly illuminated by the sun.
 
While I captured a variety of images, I found the round rocks at the edge of the lake to make a nice foreground and selected a red-toned rock as the standout. Once again, the 11mm field of view proved very useful.
 
Note that this is an HDR image.
 
11mm  f/8.0  1/250s  ISO 100
Sometimes, Everything Comes Together Brilliantly – Monster Bull Elk Sometimes, Everything Comes Together Brilliantly – Monster Bull Elk
Wildlife is unpredictable – and too often lives up to the "wild" in its name. Getting warm light from a very late day sun to hit an animal directly from behind your back (shadow pointed to the subject) with a good background is challenging. Having the animal be an incredibly-large bull elk and the background be maple trees in peak red fall color definitely increases the image value to me. Having the broadside bull scratch itself with its antlers, aligning the shoulders within a green portion of the background, the antlers within the glowing red section of tree and the head in front of the brightest background (high contrast draws the viewer's eye) was more than I thought to pray for.
 
This huge 9x8 bull elk had been bedded in the sage and grass. The sun was setting rapidly and while I captured many images of the head and antlers rising above the obstructions, I really wanted a full (or nearly full) body image in this setting. Fortunately, that happened. I was in a great position when the elk stood up. However, the bull's head, looking forward, was in the shade of trees on the horizon behind me. The back scratch was precisely what I needed to leave only the legs in the shadows, completing the image.
 
While I prefer to use completely manual settings, the light falling on the subjects was changing frequently and the shots were often being captured in haste. So, I opted to use manual mode with Auto ISO for much of my elk photography on this trip. The color of the elk bodies and their environment was neutral enough in brightness that, at most, only a small amount of exposure compensation was needed. In this case, I exposed this image 1/2 stop brighter than needed. The 5Ds R did not have any trouble recovering the red channel pixels that exceeded a 255 RGB value. This brightness adjustment left just a tiny patch of red pixels retaining 255 values, though even more headroom is available.
 
Based on the movement of the elk at the time of capture, ranging from standing (often looking at me) to running away, this exposure method meant that I could simply roll the top dial to select the shutter speed I needed for the scenario (to keep the image sharp) while keeping the ISO as low as possible. If only one elk was in the frame, the aperture was nearly always intended to be set at f/4, so don't read anything into my f/4.5 actually used aperture for this image. I must have inadvertently (sounds much better than "user error") adjusted the rear control dial at some point during the action. Bull elk are huge and at the distance required to keep the entire elk in the frame, f/4 was still not shallow enough to completely erase the background in most scenarios encountered.
 
The 600 f/4 is a large and heavy lens. Using it without support is asking for a shoulder injury. While a tripod with a gimbal head is the ideal support for this lens, I find a strong monopod (with twist-locks for quietness) to be much faster to setup and adjust. This speed is very important for positioning in wildlife photography as the subject seldom stays in place for very long. Setting up fast and quietly can mean the difference between getting a great shot and getting no shot.
 
As you may have guessed, I have recently returned from a photography trip. This one was a 10-day wildlife and landscape adventure to Idaho and Wyoming. As usual, the trip was exhausting but amazing. The in-the-field experience is not only great fun, but also extremely important in fully understanding how gear works in the situations it is designed to be used in.
 
This trip featured the new Canon EOS 5D Mark IV DSLR camera that arrived just prior to my leaving. I rotated the 5D IV and a pair of Canon EOS 5Ds R bodies between the primary lenses I was using at the time, namely the EF 100-400mm L IS II and EF 600mm L IS II for elk and other wildlife. The 5Ds R happened to be behind the 600 on this day and the resulting image is incredibly detailed, but I would not have been disappointed to have had the 5D IV behind this lens at this time. It too is a great camera. My 5D IV is quickly approaching 10k frames and completion of its review remains a very high priority.
 
600mm  f/4.5  1/1600s  ISO 640
Oxbow Bend in the Fall, Grand Teton National Park Oxbow Bend in the Fall, Grand Teton National Park
There are few landscape photography locations more popular than Oxbow Bend, near Moran in Grand Teton National Park. This location is especially favored during the week or two in late summer when the aspen trees take on their brilliant fall colors. However, on a calm morning with interesting clouds in the sky, those colors are just icing on the cake.
 
When the wind dies down, most often early and late in the day, the Oxbow Bend area of the Snake River becomes glassy and only the jumping fish and feeding ducks remain to mar the mirror-like surface of the water. The highlight of this location is Mount Moran along with the other nearby mountain peaks and a telephoto lens best emphasizes distant mountains. I took a few telephoto pics here, but ... I couldn't resist framing the scene wider, including the reflections of the photogenic clouds present on this great morning.
 
I always say that a great landscape scene can be made greater by reflecting it and I think this theory holds true at Oxbow Bend. Within this theory, vertically centering the top edge of a large reflecting surface (such as a body of water) usually works very well.
 
Even though there are many dozens of photographers targeting Oxbow Bend at sunrise, there is plenty of room for everyone to find a good shooting location. Schedule your presence here for mid-late September (this image was captured on the 19th) if you want the yellow aspens in your frame.
 
41mm  f/8.0  1/30s  ISO 100
Don't Forget to Look Down! Don't Forget to Look Down!
My day trip to Ricketts Glen was carefully planned. A pair of calls to the park office gave me redundant information. Both individuals indicated that the leaves in the falls ravines were going to be peak and one said that the water flow was good (that was necessary for waterfalls of course). This information aligned perfectly with the weather forecast calling for very light wind (enabling flora to remain still for long exposures), heavy cloud cover (keeps lighting low and free of harsh shadows) and light rain likely throughout the day (keeps the crowds at home, out of the frame and provides saturated colors).
 
After driving 1.5 hours in the fog, I arrived to find ... no wind. The leaves were indeed peak, but they were peak at the top of the mountain – not down in the deep falls ravines. The fog cleared to a mostly sunny sky and my opinion of a good water flow differs greatly from the person I talked to.
 
Fortunately, there are always great photo opportunities in this park. And, after photographing in the early morning shade for over an hour, the clouds eventually came and were present for a number of hours, creating good light.
 
Especially high up in the falls trails, there were some good leaves, but ... many of them were on the ground. However, the ground can be a great place to photograph leaves, especially when they are wet from a stream they have fallen into or nearby. During the fall, especially late in the local fall foliage season, look for colorful leaves on the ground that can be worked into an image.
 
Don't forget to use a circular polarizer filter to reduce glare and increase saturation of these leaves. The Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM Lens was the only lens I used this day. I didn't need a focal length that it didn't contain and the image quality coming from this lens is very impressive.
 
35mm  f/11.0  6s  ISO 100
The Chapel of the Transfiguration, Grand Teton National Park The Chapel of the Transfiguration, Grand Teton National Park
There are few churches with a view comparable to that from The Chapel of the Transfiguration in Grand Teton National Park. I'm thinking that this view would be a strong distraction from the sermon.
 
The next time you visit Grand Teton National Park, make sure that The Chapel of the Transfiguration is on your to-photograph list. It is as attractive outside as it is inside. Morning is the best time of the day to photograph at this location as the tall mountains go dark when the sun sets behind them. A visit timed for the right week (late September) results in brilliantly colored aspen trees for the mid-ground layer of interest (though the aspens are only barely visible in this image).
 
Obviously, I went inside to capture this photo. My goal was to see the mountains through the window while capturing most of the interior of this little log-constructed church. My preference was to see the mountain peaks in the window and this meant a low shooting position at the back of the sanctuary was required. That position seemed to work well for the rest of the scene, so I went with it.
 
Though a steady stream of people were coming through the little church, there were enough breaks that patiently waiting was all that was needed to capture a wide range of exposures. Because the dynamic range was extreme, the wide range of exposures were required. I later used a manual HDR technique to composite several of those images into a balanced final result.
 
The Canon EOS 5Ds R and EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM Lens were the perfect combination for this photo.
 
16mm  f/11.0  2.5s  ISO 100
Fern-Covered Rock and Hidden Falls, Rickets Glen State Park Fern-Covered Rock and Hidden Falls, Rickets Glen State Park
Wildlife photographers can spend many days or weeks working with the same subject at the same location and, due to ever-changing behaviors of their subjects, they can continuously capture unique images. Sports photographers have unique action at every game/meet/match/race/etc. at the same field/track/event location. Street photographer are always finding new entertainment at the same locations. Wedding, event and portrait photographers have a steady stream of new subjects coming through the same locations. But you, landscape (and cityscape) photographer, usually find the same subjects in the same positions each time you go back. However, you still have reasons for going back.
 
Basically, you most often go back in hopes that something might be different this time.
 
Perhaps you didn't get it right the first time. You didn't provide adequate depth of field or didn't focus to the right distance to keep everything in the image sharp. Or, perhaps you want to use a wider aperture lens to better define the primary subject. Perhaps the focal choice was not ideal and part of the scene was cropped too tightly. Maybe you were too close or too far away and didn't get the ideal perspective. You want to move up/down, left/right or closer/farther to get it right the next time.
 
You now have better skills. Closely aligned with getting it right this time are your improved photography skills. You are now better at reading a scene and better able to select the composition, perhaps including a foreground element or better aligning the background within the foreground framing.
 
You go back to work on your creativity. The more bored you become with photographing a scene, the more likely you are going to find a creative new way to photograph it.
 
You go back because you have better gear. While we sometimes think that camera and lens technology is not moving forward fast enough, what is available today is far better than what was available not long ago. Taking your new camera(s) and lens(es) to a past-visited favorite location is an easy recipe for bettering your portfolio. Your higher resolution, lower noise camera and sharper lens will create results that look better, especially at high resolution. Taking a circular polarizer filter, a neutral density filter, etc. that you did not originally have can make a huge difference in your repeat visit results.
 
You go back in hopes for better weather conditions. You hope for better skies, a better sunrise, a better sunset, better clouds, more/less fog, less (or possibly more) wind, warmer light, etc. Everyone loves a fiery sunrise or sunset and those don't happen every day – you might need to go back repeatedly to find these. Fog? Some locations have it with some regularity, but many others have it only occasionally.
 
You go back because the timing is different or better. You may have better water flow, creating better waterfalls that give images a completely different look, one well worth the effort of a revisit. The seasons of the year provide a very different look to many locations. Spring brings bright green foliage and (usually) good water flow. Summer brings darker foliage and warmer weather (required for the snow to melt enough to access some areas). Late summer and fall brings amazing color to the trees in many areas. Winter brings snow, completely redecorating the landscape.
 
The timing of the visit also dictates the position of the celestial bodies. Go back when the sun, moon and/or stars (the milky way) are better aligned. Perhaps the sun shines between two mountain peaks at a certain time of the year. Perhaps you want to go back when the milky way is best aligned over a scene. The same applies to the moon with a specific desired phase and position.
 
Perhaps the scene has indeed changed and is no longer physically the same. While there are not usually macro changes occurring to landscape without a significant environmental disaster (such as a tornado, hurricane, fire, etc.), micro changes frequently happen. Trees fall, erosion occurs, sediment moves in streams during strong flows and fields have a different crop in rotation. If the scene is significantly altered, new images will be more current than those taken before the alteration. Before and after photos may be valued in this case.
 
Sometimes, you go back just because things can happen. Wildlife showing up can add a prize-winning element to any image.
 
If you are considering going back, the location is probably amazing and somewhere you love to be. That alone is a great reason to go back as just being there is awesome. There is no reason why the same location cannot be enjoyed time and time again. If you like the location that much, perhaps you want to share it with a friend or friends.
 
You go back because the location is a known entity. You know that it is repeatedly good for a quality image – an image worth sharing is sure to come out of the effort.
 
You go back for practice. If the location is relatively close to home, visiting the location to practice skills and technique prior to a big photo trip is a great idea. Unlike riding a bike, more like distance running, photography requires practice to stay in top shape. It also affords the opportunity to test the camera gear that will accompany you on the trip.
 
Again, a primary reason to go back is that something might be different this time and the reason that different is desirable is for, minimally, variation and, ideally, for bettering. Photographers are constantly striving to better what we have already done, to raise the bar, to take another step forward in our passion/profession.
 
The previous time I visited Oxbow Bend, Grand Teton National Park, was convenient, but not so well-timed for photography. It was mid-summer (not bad in itself). The sun was high and the leaves were green. The sky was forest fire-hazy. While my cameras and lenses were the best-available at the time, they were not as good as those I'm using today. I was happy with my results at the time, but they do not hold nearly as much value to me from a photographical perspective now.
 
Recently, I was blessed with a revisit to this very photogenic location. And, the results from my revisit were much higher grade in many accounts. Though I'm missing the moose that was in my first set of images (it was so small in the frame that I didn't know it was even there until reviewing the images back at home), but my late summer (photographer's fall in this location), early morning timing for the second visit to Oxbow Bend combined with my now-current camera gear and 9-year-upgraded skillset turned in much better results this time around. I'm sharing one of my favorites with you today.
 
16mm  f/11.0  1s  ISO 100
Running Red Fox Kits – Anticipation Gets the Shot Running Red Fox Kits – Anticipation Gets the Shot
I had been watching this pair of red fox kits (what baby fox are called and not to be confused with the kit fox species) at a relatively close distance, within photo range, for perhaps an hour with essentially no good images captured. They were running, resting, wrestling, eating (the mom or dad would occasionally bring them captured food), nursing and simply being extremely cute.
 
While I was thoroughly enjoying watching the adorable babies, I of course wanted photos to take home. The problem was the thick brush including vines, trees, limbs, grasses, etc. constantly obscuring the view and creating hard shadows that were nearly as problematic as the obstructions. There were very limited unobscured areas to shoot into at this location and the kits seemed to seldom go into these.
 
At one point, the kits started running together in a big circle. I saw that the arc, if followed, was going to lead them through one of the small openings. I told the small group I was with to get ready, followed my own advice and when they hit the opening, I hit the shutter release.
 
The result of anticipating the shot was one of the few images worth processing I captured on the trip and anticipation is often the key to successful wildlife photography. Wildlife is frequently moving and determining where that movement will correspond with a good composition is often what is required for good results.
 
600mm  f/4.0  1/1600s  ISO 160
Pennsylvania State Capitol Senate Chamber Pennsylvania State Capitol Senate Chamber
There are only a small handful of DSLR lenses that can take in a view this wide. Basically, excluding fisheye lenses, the Canon EF 11-24mm f/4L USM Lens or one of the three Sigma variants including the latest, the Sigma 12-24mm f/4 DG HSM Art Lens are your choices.
 
With the senate recessed for the holiday, I made a visit to this location to give the Sigma 12-24 Art a workout. The angle of views afforded by this lens are a blast to use and with the widest, I was able to capture a great deal of the French Renaissance architecture in the senate chamber.
 
While the 12mm angle of view was great to have, the bright lights were a bit of a problem from an exposure standpoint. But, they were very beautiful and I wanted to see some of the detail in them. Thus, an HDR technique was needed.
 
The primary image was captured at 2.5 seconds with a second image captured at .4 seconds (2 2/3 stops darker) to retain some of the detail in the lights. It can be very challenging to composite two images captured at such drastically different brightness while retaining a natural appearance, but here is a technique that proves rather easy.
 
First, stack the two images in Photoshop with the brighter image on top. Then add a layer mask to the top layer and select the layer mask. Select the brush tool, select black as the color and reduce the opacity to something low, such as 10%. Select a brush size appropriate for the area that needs detail added (areas too bright in the original exposure) and adjust the brush hardness as desired (softer may be better in this situation). Then paint the blown areas until just the right amount of detail shows through. The process is easy and the results appear natural.
 
When photographing a symmetrical scene such as this one, it is usually desirable to have the scene perfectly centered in the frame (for perfect balance) and to have the camera perfectly centered in the room (to avoid perspective-caused converging horizontal lines) and horizontally level (to keep horizontal lines parallel to the frame borders). As you can figure out from the resulting image dimensions, I cropped this image very slightly from the top left to perfect my capture. Note that no distortion correction was used. Even at 12mm, this lens is a good performer in this regard.
 
12mm  f/8.0  2.5s  ISO 100
Buck Looking Back, Big Meadows, Shenandoah National Park Buck Looking Back, Big Meadows, Shenandoah National Park
Did I ever tell you that the Canon EF 200-400 f/4L IS Lens is really sharp? My daughter and I had one evening and one morning to photograph deer in Shenandoah National Park. The evening presented us with primarily darkness including dense fog and light rain (and wind), but the morning proved much nicer.
 
This decent-sized 7pt buck tending a doe amidst the short red saplings in Big Meadows was a grand find on this morning. We worked around the deer to get the morning sun at our backs and, as best as we could, stayed within ideal photo range of it for over an hour. The buck was very attentive to the doe and gave us some nice behavior images. In this image, the buck had been cleaning its back (see the ruffled fur?) and stopped to look at the doe.
 
I used the Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS Lens for this image. While my preference for wildlife photography is the look that the EF 600mm f/4L IS II Lens provides, the 200-400mm focal length range has proven more useful to me in this park, primarily because of the need to work in front of obstructions. Fortunately, image sharpness is something this zoom lens does not sacrifice. Take a look at this 100% crop from the ultra-high resolution EOS 5Ds R:
 
Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Lens Crop Sample
 
This image was captured at 400mm with a wide open f/4 aperture (to create as much background blur as possible). The RAW image was processed in DPP 4 using the Standard Picture Style with sharpness reduced to only "1". While the camera is extremely sharp, its resolution is unforgiving to lens quality. The 200-400 L is definitely 5Ds R-ready. It is simply a very impressive lens.
 
400mm  f/4.0  1/800s  ISO 100
Amazed Pronghorn, Grand Teton National Park Amazed Pronghorn, Grand Teton National Park
The obvious reason to use high speed burst mode to photograph wildlife is because wildlife moves and you want to capture the ideal body position and behavior. Use your fastest frame rate to capture the frame with the perfect body/angle/leg/wing positions against the best possible background. When the wildlife is in fast action, that motion is obvious and further discussion is probably not warranted. But, the motion can be more subtle – I'll call it "micro-motion" – and micro-position differences matter.
 
One of the most frequent subtle wildlife motion issues I encounter is blinking and birds especially cause me grief in this regard. The bird may appear completely motionless, allowing you to take your time to set up for and capture the perfect shot. The image looks great on the LCD, but when you get home and load the images, you realize that the nictitating membrane is covering half of the eye (this is not technically "blinking", but the problem is similar). While this issue can sometimes be remedied in post processing, correction is challenging and time consuming even on the easiest repairs. If 5 or 10 images of the same scene had been captured in rapid succession, the odds are very good that at least one of them would have had a clear eye.
 
Another issue I find problematic is animals chewing their cud. Even when I'm aware that this is happening, it can be quite challenging to capture a single frame without the animal's fast-moving lower jaw in a strange and usually detracting position. Ear position is a similar issue. Certain ear positions are often preferred and since these features are often moving, a burst can help capture the optimal positions.
 
Sometimes it only takes a subtle movement to make a big difference in the desired catchlight in the subject's eye. One of the frames captured in a burst may have this key difference, giving that particular image the extra sparkle needed for greatness.
 
Did you ever have an image degraded by something passing through the frame? This is often a photobombing insect or bird that shows up at just the wrong time. While these can sometimes be removed in post processing, that is not always the case and even if removal is possible, the process may prove time consuming. Grasses blow in light wind, passing into out of ideal positions. Leaves on trees do the same. A frame burst may contain an image void of the undesired objects.
 
Speaking of the blowing, most wildlife photography takes place outdoors and there are many factors out here trying to reduce your image sharpness, including wind. Not every frame may be sharp, but an increased number of images brings an increased chance that sharp images are in the mix.
 
On occasion, I find that I need to merge two or more images from a burst to get the ideal subject framing. Especially when using a long telephoto lens not locked down on a tripod, I often get a modest variety of subject framing in a burst set. While the differences may not be big, I sometimes find it optimal to add a side of one frame to another image to provide the ideal framing or to expand the frame. This is an especially good option to use if the focal length is too long and the scene is being cropped too tightly.
 
Even when not moving fast, wildlife is often moving. Capturing just the right point in time can make a big difference in wildlife imagery and using the camera's burst mode may be all that is necessary to bump your image quality up a notch.
 
In this regard, a camera with a faster frame rate has an advantage over those with a slower rate. The Canon EOS 5D Mark IV used for this capture has a faster frame rate than any 5-Series predecessor, but the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II and Canon EOS 7D Mark II make the 5D IV seem slow.
 
Using a high frame rate-capable camera in high speed burst mode greatly increases the volume of photos captured. Be ready for this and be heavy handed when selecting down the keepers. It is OK to delete good images (and far better to have too many good images than missing the optimal one). You probably can't use them all – keep only the best.
 
Humor has a value in wildlife imagery and a high speed burst rate is advantageous for capturing humor. I photographed this pronghorn having a sit-down dinner (it was eating the green plant in front of it) in Grand Teton National Park in very heavy wind. This wind was so strong that I was having trouble keeping the animal in the 600mm frame. Yes, I had the hood on the lens, increasing the wind load, but it was raining lightly and rain was hitting the front lens element even with this giant hood in place. By using burst mode, I came away with a very satisfying set of sharp, well-framed keepers from this encounter, including this humorous one.
 
I can still hear him saying "Is that a Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS II Lens?!"
 
600mm  f/4.0  1/1600s  ISO 1600
Hitting the High Note, Whistler, British Columbia Hitting the High Note, Whistler, British Columbia
The girls were my support staff on this trip and we rolled into Whistler late in the afternoon after a challenging 10 hour drive through western Canada. We checked into the hotel, unloaded, drove to the other end of the village to park in the free lot and began walking back through the village to find dinner. The girls were a bit vague about what we were doing on this end of our trip ("Whistler" wasn't a location they knew much about) and they were quite awestruck as we came into the beautiful and impressively-designed Olympic village. Fitting were the Olympics rings being one of the first sights seen in the village as the 2016 summer Olympics were scheduled to begin a few days later. To be at one of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics venues was very fun to them.
 
I knew that our schedule was tight (and I was really tired and hungry), so I tried to keep moving them along (vs. stopping at every shop we were walking past). We finally found a restaurant (with reasonable prices and still open), ate and went back to the hotel. It was nearly midnight until we got to bed and that meant the morning was not going to be an early one as I needed enough sleep to drive to Vancouver the next night.
 
By the time we packed in the AM, finished breakfast and waited in line for lift tickets, it was afternoon and we arrived near the top of Whistler at about 2:00 PM. As we got off of the gondola, we noticed a sign stating that the last lift ride down was at 5:00 PM. While it would have been nice to know that piece of information before heading up the mountain (and even better to know it the night before), the 6 mile (9.5km) High Note Trail was a high priority and we were determined to make loop trail hike happen. We had another line and chair lift to go before hitting the trail head and we proceeded. So, we were left with about 2.5 hours to do the moderately difficult hike with photos of course being the primary goal.
 
Although I had the MindShift Gear BackLight 26L loaded with several lens options, I mounted the Canon EF 24-70mm f/4L IS and left the pack on my back for the duration of the hike, due to the time constraints. That lens mounted to the Canon EOS 5Ds R worked great for the scenery encountered on this hike. I hadn't brought a tripod along and, with image stabilization doing its job, I didn't need one.
 
If photographing landscapes during the middle of a sunny day, I nearly always have a circular polarizer filter installed and did on this day. By cutting reflections, these filters significantly increase saturation, making colors "pop".
 
The hike ended up being mostly a run with stops for photos while trying to resist some of the constant photo temptations along the way (for time reasons). At about 7,000' (2,133m) in elevation, the view over the valley 5,000' (1,524m) below (including the turquoise-colored Cheakamus Lake seen in this image) was continuously spectacular. The timing of this trip, to coincide with wildflower season, was also perfect. I captured numerous images I liked and, though exhausted, made it back to the lift in time to ride down. That was a very good thing as hiking the 3 mi (5 km) down the steep mountain would have been rough at this point.
 
24mm  f/11.0  1/50s  ISO 100
A Quick Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art Lens Portrait A Quick Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art Lens Portrait
What would a Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art Lens review be without a sample portrait? The problem was that the schedules of my most-potential subjects were crazy and the weather had been mostly not very nice since the lens arrived.
 
When I saw my best opportunity, time was short, it was raining lightly and with the associated heavy cloud cover, outdoor lighting from the massive overhead softbox was very flat. Fortunately, the giant softbox makes lighting easy (and the f/1.4 aperture means that the low light levels were a non-issue). All that was needed was a form of shade to give some direction/shape to the light. I simply had my subject stand at the edge of a porch roof. The white columns and white window trim background was able to be melted away with the aid of the shallow depth of field this lens can produce.
 
The diffusely-blurred and neutrally-colored background does not compete for attention with the primary subject and the red scarf adds just a touch of Christmas color.
 
When capturing portraits with a very shallow depth of field, the closer eye minimally needs to be in focus. If the subject is looking directly at the camera, both eyes can be in focus, but if there is any other head angle, a decision needs to be made and the closer eye should get priority. At this lens' minimum focus distance with the maximum aperture in use, even the eyelashes will not be sharp when ideal eye focus is achieved. Pushing the plane of sharp focus to the closer iris or very slightly farther away will give the best look to the image (shifting focus slightly closer makes the eyelashes sharper, but the more-distant eye becomes even more blurred).
 
The camera height for this portrait was slightly higher than the subject's head angle. This camera angle keeps the subject's mouth (mostly) in focus (another desirable goal) and usually provides an ideal portrait look. Having the subject shift their head toward the camera slightly helps tighten the skin around the jaw line and un-squishes the neck area. At least for female subjects, I often ask for a slight head tip as also seen here.
 
The Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art lens is an awesome choice for portraiture. It makes a great look easy to capture.
 
85mm  f/1.4  1/250s  ISO 100
Tufted Titmouse in a Basket, Isolating with 85mm f/1.4 Tufted Titmouse in a Basket, Isolating with 85mm f/1.4
An 85mm lens is usually not my first choice for bird photography, but ... I can be an opportunist. When this shot presented itself, I saw the opportunity for demonstrating this lens' minimum focus distance combined with the look of the 85mm focal length and f/1.4 aperture. The shallow depth of field makes the tufted titmouse stand out in an image containing many potentially distracting details.
 
Aligning the edge of the bird within the gold ribbon also aids in isolating the subject and the Christmas-decorated basket "ties" the image into the season.
 
85mm  f/1.4  1/200s  ISO 200
Finding Curves at the Pennsylvania Capitol House Chamber Finding Curves at the Pennsylvania Capitol House Chamber
It is early spring and, at least here in the mid-Atlantic and farther north latitudes, the outdoor landscape is looking rather bleak right now. The snow is gone and the green has not yet come. That makes this is a great time of the year to focus on indoor photography and interior architecture is one great option. And when photographing interior architecture, an ultra-wide angle lens becomes especially useful.
 
Most of us photographers love curves and the Italian architecture in the Pennsylvania House Chamber is filled with them. While cameras are not permitted in this space when the house is in session, selecting a non-session day cleared that roadblock. Moving to one side of the balcony gave me an angled view across the room that sent ceiling lines arching into the frame.
 
Got 12mm in your kit? That is the full frame focal length you will need to capture this image and many others like it. The Sigma 12-24mm f/4 DG HSM Art Lens on a full frame body executes this image (and those similar to it) extremely well. Even though the aperture used was not extremely narrow (f/8), the entire image is within the 12mm depth of field and the Canon EOS 5Ds R's extreme resolution was fully utilized with essentially no visible impact caused by diffraction. This image is tack sharp from corner to corner.
 
Notice that the columns on the sides of the image are vertically straight (or very close to being so)? While it is easy to have these lines angling inward or outward when using a focal length this wide (and that is sometimes a desired effect), a vertically level camera will render vertical lines parallel to each other and these lines can be parallel to the frame borders as long as the camera is horizontally leveled.
 
Spend your money on gear, not admission fees. One of the great things about the PA state capitol building is that admission is free. While you may not live close to this specific capitol building and will not likely find it alone to be worth a plane ticket or all-day drive to get there, your own state capitol building may offer the same deal. I didn't check all 50 USA state capitol buildings (or any outside of the USA), but many others also have free admission.
 
Get your ultra-wide angle lens and go photograph some interior architecture!
 
12mm  f/8.0  4s  ISO 100
Fall Morning at Schwabachers Landing, Grand Teton National Park Fall Morning at Schwabachers Landing, Grand Teton National Park
Schwabachers Landing in Grand Teton National Park is a huge favorite location for photographers, especially in the fall. There is good reason for this of course. The Grand Teton range is incredible from many vantage points, but with several beaver ponds making reflections possible, Schwabachers Landing offers twice as many mountain peaks in images captured here.
 
I captured many composition variations here, but in this simple example, I wanted to emphasize the distant mountains and the 53mm focal length was effective at keeping them large in the frame. Though wide angle focal lengths also created nice compositions here, the mountain peaks were rendered small and much less significant.
 
The angle of the mid-September morning light is rather flat on this mountain range, but I think that the color of the trees more than offsets this time-of-the-year deficiency.
 
53mm  f/8.0  1/160s  ISO 100
After the Storm, Rainbow Over Mudjin Harbor After the Storm, Rainbow Over Mudjin Harbor
I recently shared an image showing an Incoming Storm Over Dragon Cay. That image came with a promise. My promise was to share the loved-by-everyone landscape photography element that a back-lit rainstorm holds promise for. A back-lit storm, once passed, becomes front-lit and that is the recipe for a rainbow, the referred-to strongly-desired element.
 
As soon as the rain stopped, I left my cave shelter (going out into the high winds) and there was the rainbow, complete with supernumerary bands (a stacker rainbow) and a slight second/double rainbow. I found a vantage point offering a photogenic view looking away from the sun (as that the requirement for the rainbow to be visible). I mounted a circular polarizer filter to the excellent Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM Lens, framed the scene, rotated the filter to get the brightest rainbow and captured a series of images.
 
It was a great feeling to have confidence that some solid keepers were on the memory card as I drove back to the villa for second breakfast. I saw at least one rainbow on every day of this trip, saw several of them on most days and was able to capture some of them in nice photos.
 
Of course, seeing many rainbows means that there were many storms. Planning enough days at a location can be the key to successful outdoor photography – just to make sure that you get some storms worth photographing. Of course, one can never spend enough time at some locations.
 
16mm  f/8.0  1s  ISO 100
Alert Bull Elk Alert Bull Elk
While stalking elk on this ranch, I was focusing on areas with the potential for fall maple tree colors in my backgrounds. The sun had set, but the light, though somewhat dim, was still very nice when I noticed antlers approaching in the distance. I was working in heavy sage a moderate distance out from the maples and this bull's approach was as I would have directed.
 
I captured many images of the bull, but I selected this one to share for a few reasons. One was that I didn't cut off the antlers even at this relatively close distance and that the bull was large in the frame was another. That the bull is alert with a head angle that reflected the sky in his eye, adding some life to the image was another. I also like the body position displayed here. The bull is mostly broadside but approaching and his head and antlers are about 1/3 of the way into the frame facing toward the 2/3 side for good balance. While the animal itself is beautiful, a beautiful background adds greatly to an image.
 
When photographing antlered animals, I frequently try to keep the complete antlers in the frame, preferring the legs and sometimes the body to be cropped if desired.
 
600mm  f/4.5  1/800s  ISO 1600
How to Photograph a Flock of Flying Snow Geese How to Photograph a Flock of Flying Snow Geese
I've wanted to add an image of a densely-packed flock of flying snow geese to the porfolio for a long time. But, it was not until this year until I accomplished this task.
 
The first priority for photographing a flock of snow geese is ... to find a flock of snow geese. For many of us, when flocks of snow geese arrive is based on the birds' migration patterns. Find where these flocks typically travel and time your visit with theirs.
 
A good method of determining when the birds have arrived (or are expected to arrive) is to use wildlife management area status reports, including the historical reports as history in this form tends to repeat. While these reports are great aids to finding the flocks, remember that an entire population of these birds can completely leave an area within minutes. A location that is great on one day may be completely empty the next.
 
With a warmer winter than normal, the snow geese migrated early this year and, at the urging of two friends, I too went early. The location was Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area. Located at the border of northern Lancaster County and southern Lebanon County, Pennsylvania, this WMA is an about-2-hour drive from my house. While this is not a famous snow geese bucket list location that photographers most-target, the population at this location was estimated to be at least 50,000 on this day. And, that's a LOT of geese.
 
Mostly the white geese were swimming on the small lake, appearing as a large iceberg, or they were feeding in a nearby field, causing a small hill to appear snow-capped. While the huge numbers of geese in either of these two environments were interesting, the real show happened when they flew as a group. Even if one wasn't paying attention when the geese took off, a low thunder-like rumble was unmistakable and, if the flight path was overhead, the sky would darken (and an umbrella may be desired for protection from the strafing).
 
When photographing an individual bird, framing decisions are made in an at least somewhat more-controlled manner than when photographing a flock of birds. One reason that geese flock together is to make it more difficult for a predator to single out one bird as its prey and these flocks can have the same effect on photographers. With seemingly random chaos occurring, how does one create an attractive image?
 
Here are some thoughts for the flock:
 
The first thought is to simply go back to the basics. Start with focal length selection.
 
Perspective comes into play, but if you are photographing a flock of now-flying geese, it is likely too late to get a different perspective. Plan for that earlier, but ... geese always fly wherever they want to and predicting where they will fly will often be challenging. Predict as best you can (they like to take off and land into the wind) and react quickly to what happens.
 
How far away are the geese, how large is the flock and how wide of an area are the birds covering? If it is a small flock a long distance away and the birds are densely packed, a longer focal length will likely be best. That is, best unless more of the landscape is desired to be in the frame in order to create an environmental-type image. If the geese are close, the flock is large and/or the birds are widely spread out, a shorter telephoto lens might be a better choice.
 
For my Middle Creek WMA shoot, the birds went where they wanted to go, access was limited and even if it wasn't, moving fast enough to catch a flock of geese required some form of powered mobility. So, embracing what was available was, as often is, the thing to do. To handle this situation, I had a full frame Canon EOS 5Ds R and 600mm f/4L IS II Lens tripod-mounted using a Wimberley Tripod Head II. In the MindShift Gear FirstLight 40L at my feet was a second 5Ds R with a 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II mounted. When the flocks were far away, I used the 600. When the snow geese storm moved overhead in big numbers, I grabbed the 100-400. And when the squall became widespread overhead, I had the EF-M 15-45 on the EOS M5 ready to catch that scene as well.
 
Note that I started out this day with a 1.4x extender behind the 600mm lens, but quickly determined that the heat waves were too strong and sharp results were not possible at this magnification. Even at 600mm, many of my distant images were not tack-sharp until after the sun went low enough in the sky to end the heat source creating the air disturbance. So, yes, it is very possible to have too much focal length even if that focal length is more ideal for the scene as the additional magnification may be wasted.
 
The shutter speed required for sharp birds depends on how fast their details are moving across the pixels on the sensor. A large-in-the-frame bird moving at high speed across an ultra-high resolution imaging sensor requires a much faster shutter speed than a small-in-the-frame bird sitting on the lake does when using a lower resolution camera. Aperture and ISO settings are then balanced for depth of field and noise with the desired brightness being the other side of the equation. In regards to brightness, use care to not blow the white highlights on the birds, leaving no details in the white. If the birds were flying, I was mostly using a 1/1600 shutter speed and an aperture of f/8 or narrower was usually best to keep more birds in focus. Once the light faded, I began experimenting with much longer shutter speeds for a panning motion blur effect.
 
Bryan's Law of Bird Photography: The frame in a high speed burst containing the perfect wing position, head position, background alignment and lighting will time perfectly with the bird's blink.
 
When photographing birds, using the camera's high speed burst mode is often the rule. Especially with multiple birds in the frame, having many images to select from is going to be a big advantage for many of the above reasons.
 
I usually use only one specific AF point or one point plus the surrounding points. But, when a huge flock of geese is filling the frame, using the all-points-active can work very well, allowing you to concentrate on composition while the camera figures out which of the closest birds should be focused on.
 
Composition always matters and usually, the goal is a balanced composition. When such a huge flock of birds is flying, you need to figure out what a balanced composition is very quickly and see that in the frame no later than as it happens. The bottom line is that, unless you are shooting for someone else, if you are happy with the image, you nailed it. But, we are always trying to improve our skills and there are some composition variants that work well for the snow geese storm.
 
If the goose density is extremely heavy, just fill the frame with the geese and shoot away. Singling out specific birds is very challenging if they are not large in the frame and you are unlikely to notice the background through all of the geese. The huge quantity of birds essentially becomes a pattern and everyone likes pattern images, right?
 
If possible, determine which direction (in relation to the camera) the birds are flying and focus on your preference. I prefer an approaching side view, but all of the other directions have their own photogenic advantages, showing differing views of the geese bodies. If a large flock is flying within a location, such as over a lake, they may fly in a circular motion and you may sometimes have a choice. So, be ready to identify what you are looking for.
 
If the birds are not dense enough to hide the background, the background showing through must be considered in the composition. If the background is mostly a solid color, such as the side of a mountain, there may not be much concern in that regard. The background will be evenly colored and that often works well for flock backgrounds. It is hard to go wrong with a blue sky background for the white birds and images with birds flying against a sunset sky often look great.
 
Contrast draws the viewer's eye. If the background includes strong lines of contrast, such as where the land and sky meet or a waterline (often present where there are waterfowl), it is good to carefully position these lines in the frame. Use your landscape photography skills here – perhaps taking advantage of the rule of thirds.
 
When sitting or swimming snow geese flocks take off, they often peel away from one side of the flock in a surprisingly orderly fashion. The line between the stationary and flying birds can be incorporated into the composition.
 
When the birds are not filling the entire frame, additional compositional elements must be considered. Where the flock is positioned in the frame is a big consideration and again, the rule of thirds may be a good choice in these cases.
 
In the image I am sharing here, I could have filled the entire frame with a rather-high density of geese, but chose to include the water in the very bottom of the frame. I often like to keep a clean bottom frame border, giving the image a base to be built upon. Having the water in the frame in this case meant that some geese can be seen landing in addition to those still in flight.
 
When the flock was farther away, I often kept additional frame borders clean (void of geese) as well (especially the top border).
 
Especially if using an ultra-high resolution camera, don't forget that you can crop the image to create a better composition later.
 
Lighting always matters. At this location, I arrived early in the afternoon, giving me time to do some on-site scouting and planning to be ready for the late-day, low-angle, warm-colored light. Again, the birds fly when and where they want to fly and good images can be made at various light angles, but the sun at your back, your shadow towards the birds, early and late in the day is usually a sure-thing for wildlife lighting conditions. As mentioned earlier, shooting into the sunset can also work well, but be very careful to not look at the sun through a telephoto lens as serious permanent eye damage can occur. On a clear day, the sky opposite the nearly-set sun will also turn pink, creating a pastel background for your birds.
 
While a cloudy day will not provide the same illumination, the giant softbox effect from a cloudy sky results in a soft light with a lower dynamic range for greatly-reduced shadows and easier to control exposures. Ultra-bright, solidly cloudy skies may cause a background brightness issues when the birds are above the skyline. In this case, consider exposing the sky to be pure white for a high key effect. Or, there is nothing wrong with a gray background and silhouetting the birds is a strategy that can work.
 
At the onset of this trip, one of my goals was to capture frames densely-filled with geese, perhaps even with no background remaining. While I don't think any of my images were completely void of background, many images have multiple thousands of geese in them and some have very little background remaining. In addition to getting some fun images, it was a great learning experience and it was especially great to experience this phenomenal nature event.
 
Now, check the forecast and go find your own snow geese storm!
 
600mm  f/8.0  1/1600s  ISO 500
Garter Snake Garter Snake
I know, some of you are thinking that snakes are creepy and that putting any thought into photographing them is ... completely wasted effort. Even if that is your thinking, stay with me here as you can likely apply the same thought pattern to a different subject, one that you find more photogenic. If you scroll your browser past the snake image, you even won't have to look at it while reading.
 
The story starts with me brushing my teeth (you didn't see that one coming, did you?). I looked out the bathroom window and noticed this cute garter snake lying on top of a weeping spruce tree. While garter snakes are common here, they are usually on the ground and are seldom cooperative. So, it is unusual to have the opportunity to photograph them in such a nice environment.
 
The weather was perfect for this opportunity. It was a very cloudy day, meaning that I had soft light to work with and the camera angle decision was not going to be light-driven. After checking to be sure that I could approach at least reasonably close to the snake without it being immediately frightened away, I decided to move forward with an attempt at photographing it.
 
There was no action involved here, so the frame rate didn't matter and the Canon EOS 5Ds R is nearly always my preference in such situations. For lenses, I observed that I had a limited working distance and I knew that getting too close would send the snake looking for a safer location. Interpretation: I needed a telephoto focal length, but not the longest available.
 
I quickly narrowed my choices down to the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L IS USM Macro Lens and the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens. I decided that the snake would not likely tolerate me being close enough for the macro lens' close-focusing advantage to be a benefit over the 100-400 L II's already very good maximum magnification ability and I wanted to be able to adjust my framing to the positions I was able to get into along with the scene available at that perspective. Basically, I'm saying that a zoom range was preferable. The macro lens' wider aperture would allow me to create a stronger background blur at 100mm, but the 100-400 easily wins the background blur contest overall due to its much longer 400mm focal length and the longer focal length provides a longer working distance at its maximum magnification. I mounted the 100-400 and began working with the scenario available to me.
 
Using a tripod was going to be too great of a challenge due to the in-the-tree location of the snake. Thus, handholding was going to be optimal and image stabilization was once again proved highly valuable.
 
The lighting was relatively constant, but it was changing with enough frequency to make a manual exposure challenging. Also, because I wanted to use a wide open aperture, the variable max aperture of this lens increased the manual exposure challenge. While I still technically used manual exposure mode, I opted to lock in my shutter speed (I was in unstable shooting positions and counting on some assistance from image stabilization) and aperture (I selected f/4.5 with the lens at 100mm and let it auto-adjust to the max available at longer focal lengths) with Auto ISO becoming the auto exposure parameter. Because the colors in the images were relatively neutral, the camera's auto exposure system worked great with the brightest colors, the yellow lines in the snake, being right where I wanted them at the right side of the histogram.
 
When photographing a potentially-fleeting subject, I quickly capture some good-enough images to have the safety shots on the card. Along with having those safety shots, I can quickly check the exposure and other settings before moving in closer. Upon reviewing these images, I immediately noticed that reflections were impacting color saturation on the snake and that meant a circular polarizer filter would, as it frequently does, provide a significantly improvement in image quality. I slowly backed away from the snake and went back inside to get the filter.
 
With the filter installed and properly adjusted, I was happier with the results and began to work the composition more seriously, including approaching closer to the snake.
 
Finding the proper perspective is often the key to creating the best composition and the longer I photograph a subject, the better I can determine what the best perspective is. Moving closer/farther, up/down or around the subject can significantly change the juxtaposition of the subject and its surroundings, significantly changing the resulting image.
 
To jump start the composition process, I wanted the snake's head to be facing in a direction other than away. That factor eliminates about half of the potential camera positions. A sideways-facing head can work well and a slightly-toward-the-camera angle is usually a great choice. That the snake was on top of the tree removed much of the below-the-subject camera position options.
 
The background is always a huge key to good composition and using a telephoto focal length is useful in both reducing what remains in the background and blurring what remains into obscurity. I adjusted my position to take in a variety of background colors and textures and also worked my position around the snake to get different angles on the main subject. Eventually I went for a step ladder and tried some downward angle compositions for some variation.
 
Another compositional opportunity available to me was that, with no discernable horizon or other sense of levelness showing in the frame, I was free to rotate the camera as I desired and that adjustment could change the entire balance of the snake in the frame.
 
Every so often the snake would move slightly and I was able to work with a modified scenario for a period of time. The snake cooperated for about an hour – long enough for my arms and shoulders to get tired from holding the camera in awkward positions. Then the snake abruptly dropped from sight and it was game-over.
 
As so often is the case, the 5Ds R and 100-400 L II proved to be the perfect combination for this purpose. With a bit of unexpected rain occurring during this shoot, I was happy for the camera and lens' weather sealing protection, meaning I could simply keep shooting without worry in that regard.
 
Just an hour of shooting not only gave me some of my best-ever garter snake pictures, but it also provided a great practice session. Simply spending an hour photographing something that interests you around the house can keep your photography skills fresh along with teaching you new ones. So, get out there!
 
263mm  f/5.0  1/200s  ISO 1250
Spring Garden Street Bridge View of the City of Philadelphia Spring Garden Street Bridge View of the City of Philadelphia
When planning for a big photo daytrip, I usually have a packed-full itinerary carefully planned out and select the day based on the desired weather matching the forecast along with various other factors. But, sometimes even very careful planning does not work out.
 
This particular day had set up perfectly and I executed the plan, making the roughly 6-hour round trip drive to Philadelphia.
 
Upon arrival, I immediately discovered that preparations for the NFL Draft ceremonies, including installation of multiple enormous covered stages, had completely taken over the art museum, including the parking area I was planning to use. The backup plan was implemented for parking and the art museum, one of my intended subjects, quickly hit the questionable list.
 
The morning and early afternoon were forecasted to be cloudy and I drove in rain during much of the trip into the city. While that might not sound like the ideal forecast for city photography, the cloudy skies were going to provide ideal light for interior photography at a large church. Soft light coming in the windows would add life to the interior, but direct sunlight burning highlights into an image would be avoided.
 
Upon arrival at the church, I found the doors ... locked. The church's website said it would be open. The city employees watching over the area contacted their superiors and were told that the church was supposed to be open. Some church employees were even trying unsuccessfully to get in. About two hours later, the church was still locked and I gave up the wait, moving on to scout for later opportunities.
 
A blue hour ultra-wide angle view of the art museum entrance was on my to-photograph list for the day, so this was the next shot to be scouted/planned for. Because this view faces somewhat into the setting sun, the ideal blue hour timing was slightly later than another blue hour photo I had planned. I worked through the NFL Draft construction project and a security worker permitted me to go to the top of the art museum steps (the ones "Rocky" climbed) behind the main NFL Draft stage. Unfortunately, upon arriving at the top of the steps, I discovered more large tents covering most of the main entrance. Scratch primary photo #2 from the list.
 
Scouting the view from the Spring Garden Street Bridge was next on the list. The goal was to photograph the downtown skyscrapers bathed in the warm late day light and a clear sky to the west was needed for that. The skies were forecasted to clear in the afternoon but I was not optimistic of the clearing happening in time. Finally, in late afternoon, the heavy clouds quickly moved past, showing a beautiful blue sky.
 
I arrived at this location quite early and set up two tripods with a pair of Canon EOS 5Ds R cameras with Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II and Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II lenses mounted. I waited, watching the perfectly clear sky with highly anticipated success, but alas, just minutes before the sweet light happened, a cloud bank rolled in and shut down the light, erasing major photo goal #3.
 
With three of five planned image series already failed, the day was not shaping up well, but two photo goals remained. Fortunately, the cloud bank that shut down the city-in-sweet-light image did not make it past the city before darkness and photo opportunity #4, the image shared here, was a home run.
 
The ideal blue hour light only lasts a few minutes and the ideal time is often easier to best-determine when reviewing the images on a computer at home, so I simply shoot constantly through that short time window. However, a clue to when the time is ideal is when proper f/16 exposures are between 15 and 30 seconds.
 
Why f/16? Live View with DOF preview showed that I had enough depth of field at f/8 and the images would have been sharper if captured at that aperture, but ... I like the star effect that a narrow aperture creates from the city lights. The straight lines from the city buildings sharpen nicely even at f/16 and I seldom regret this aperture choice for this purpose.
 
Because I was shooting from an elevated bridge, the camera was able to be leveled (for both pitch and roll), a requirement if keeping the edges of the buildings vertically straight is desired. Another takeaway from this image is that telephoto lenses are great for cityscape photography. Telephoto focal lengths keep distant subjects large in the frame and the city skyscrapers were a primary subject, so keeping them large was desirable.
 
With the blue hour past and a good set of images captured on two cameras, it was time to make photo #5 happen. The goal was a nighttime photo of City Hall from the center of S. Broad St. and getting there required a 1.6 mi (2.6km) walk. I had been carrying a heavily-loaded MindShift Gear BackLight 26L (including two tripods) all day, but ... whatever it takes is the motto of many photographers. I could rest on the drive back home.
 
Upon arriving at City Hall, I discovered huge – you guessed it – NFL Draft banners adorning each side of City Hall. While a photo with the banner may have been good for memories of the event happening in this city, it was not what I wanted. I was tired and opted to simply walk back to car.
 
So, out of 5 potentially great series of photos, I brought only one home with me. While that batting average is not very good, I'm happy with the images I did get and another positive spin is that ... I will not need to do much research to make another day-filled photo itinerary for this city with a hopefully-more-productive result. Alas, the NFL Draft will forever be a memory as there it is, advertised on the large blue billboard near the center of every frame I captured here.
 
88mm  f/16.0  20s  ISO 100
Bull Elk Singing, Rocky Mountain National Park Bull Elk Singing, Rocky Mountain National Park
This large bull elk is singing my favorite Rocky Mountain song.
 
I took a little time to process a few images from my fall Rocky Mountain National Park trip and thought I would share one that I liked.
 
When elk are standing, their antlers rise far above their heads, meaning that wider framing (longer subject distance or wider focal length) is required to fit the entire animal within the image borders. However, when elk bugle, they tilt their heads far back, bringing their antlers much closer to the rest of their body, allowing a tighter portrait to be created. Although I was positioned for a tightly-framed image of a standing bull, I was still able to crop modestly for a large-in-the-frame elk.
 
Most often, the head is facing forward, positioning one antler on each side of their body. For this bugle, the elk's head was turned to the side, allowing both antlers to fit comfortably into a tight portrait. I liked how that pose came together with a beautiful animal in great light.
 
Of course, the Canon EOS 5Ds R and Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS II USM Lens delivered amazingly as well.
 
600mm  f/4.0  1/1250s  ISO 125
Cathedral of St Patrick, Harrisburg, PA Cathedral of St Patrick, Harrisburg, PA
I have photographed the beautiful Cathedral Parish of St Patrick (Harrisburg, PA) one time prior, but a clear sky on that day meant sunlight streaming through the stained-glass windows created hotspots that were detracting even with HDR processing. With the extreme wide angle Venus Optics Laowa 12mm f/2.8 Zero-D Lens in my hands and a rainy day forecasted, I knew where I was going.
 
To get this image, I laid flat on my back directly under the center of the ceiling with the tripod positioned low, just above me, while I meticulously adjusted the camera angle to find the perfect alignment. The low linear distortion of this lens was a great aid in this challenging task.
 
There are currently very few lenses that can replicate this image. None of them are as small and light as the Laowa 12 and none of them have so little distortion.
 
12mm  f/8.0  3.2s  ISO 100
The Sun The Sun
On August 21st, 2017, over much of North America, the moon is going to cover the big fireball, creating a spectacular sight (weather conditions permitting of course). Start preparing now – photographing the sun is not difficult and likely is affordable to you.
 
Read through the Solar Eclipse Photography Tips posts and don't miss the Meade Glass White Light Solar Filter review to learn how this image was created.
 
This image is moderately cropped from a 1200mm full frame capture.
 
1200mm  f/8.0  1/400s  ISO 100
Big Bedded Bull Bugling in Rocky Mountain National Park Big Bedded Bull Bugling in Rocky Mountain National Park
Rarely does photographing wildlife subjects (and human ones also) at eye level not work well. Bull elk are very large animals, but when they bed down, a standing position may yield a downward camera angle. While I don't always mind a downward camera angle, it is frequently not my first choice. So, when they go down, consider taking the camera down with them. A lower position increases the likelihood of catchlights showing in the eyes.
 
It was raining lightly during much of the time I spent with this bull. There are a lot of benefits for photographing wildlife under cloudy skies, but such images typically have relatively low contrast and often respond nicely to a small contrast increase during post processing. A slight saturation increase is another adjustment that frequently helps images captured under heavy clouds.
 
There are now two openings remaining for the September elk in rut photo tour, one for each week. It's not too late for you to join a small group of passionate wildlife photographers pursuing these awesome animals and the beauty of RMNP. Photographers at all skill levels are invited to join!
 
"Bull Elk in Rut and Much More", Rocky Mountain National Park
 
  • 1 Opening: Sun, September 15 to Sat, September 21, 2019
  • 1 Opening: Sun, September 22 to Sat, September 28, 2019
  • Sign Up for September 2020
Contact me to sign up!
 
Photographers at all skill levels are also invited to join me for these tours:
 
Fall Landscape in Acadia National Park Instructional Photography Tour
 
Tue, Oct 15 through Sun, Oct 20, 2019
 
"Whitetail Buck in Rut and Much More", Shenandoah National Park
 
Sun, November 10 to Wed, November 13, 2019 and/or Wed, November 13 - Sat, November 16, 2019
 
Contact me to sign up!
 
600mm  f/4.0  1/400s  ISO 1000
Capturing the Little Green Heron Capturing the Little Green Heron
This little green heron was hunting for early morning breakfast in a relatively thick-growth area over shallow, duckweed-covered water. While the bird was not at all concerned about my presence, I was struggling to acquire a clear view of it, and finding a good body angle along with a pleasing background aligned within such an opening was especially challenging. When the bird hopped up onto this dead limb and walked to the end of it, pausing to determine its next move, I at least had a few seconds with a relatively still bird.
 
And at that moment, I had two of those three goals met. The heron was horizontal to the camera and the background was distant with good color. The foreground obstructions were the remaining issue.
 
I shifted my position enough to get a clear view of the bird's head, focused and held the shutter release down for a short burst (always photograph birds in high speed burst mode as you, minimally, never know when a nictitating membrane is going to come across the eye). When reviewing the result, I was pleasantly surprised to see how well the Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS II USM Lens faded the foreground obstructions into a "dreamy" look. Note that calling any kind of photo effect "dreamy" always put a positive spin on an effect that might otherwise be used to downgrade an image, but ... I do like how this one turned out with this photo having a unique appearance.
 
The lighting conditions for this shoot were ranging from direct early morning sunlight to full shade. I was using Manual exposure mode with the aperture set to wide open (f/4) and ISO set to Auto, allowing the camera to adjust to the lighting conditions as needed with me adjusting the exposure composition as lighting situations required. While shooting, I could quickly adjust the shutter speed by simply rolling the top dial. When the bird was about to strike at prey or otherwise move, I quickly selected a fast shutter speed (such as 1/1600 or higher).
 
Of course, when the subject was in full shade, as seen here, 1/1600 meant a very high ISO and that of course means higher noise level in the image. When the bird paused at the end of this dead limb, I quickly rolled the shutter speed down to 1/400 with ISO 2000 being camera-selected. Full frame ISO 2000 looks great. And, that is my little green heron story for today.
 
600mm  f/4.0  1/400s  ISO 2000
Art Sculpture at Maryland Science Center, Inner Harbor, Baltimore Art Sculpture at Maryland Science Center, Inner Harbor, Baltimore
Baltimore's Inner Harbor is a target-rich environment and this location became a daytrip destination for giving the Sigma 14mm f/1.8 DG HSM Art Lens a workout.
 
I found the art sculpture in front of the Maryland Science Center entertaining and made it my focus as the sun set. I wanted the art sculpture to be framed against the sky, providing a colorful, clean background. I also wanted the city skyline framed above the brick walkway below and the bricks would provide a solid base for the overall image.
 
Those wants meant a position between the science center and the art sculpture was required. That I wanted the art sculpture rendered large relative to the other subjects in the composition meant that a close perspective was required and that meant it was a perfect subject for the 14mm lens I was evaluating. With the wide 14mm focal length on a full frame body, I was able to set up on the science center side of the art sculpture, keeping the science center's roofline just outside of the frame.
 
The time-of-day took care of giving me the right light and colors for this single-exposure capture. With some layers adjustments applied, I didn't need to incorporate the additional exposure-bracketed images I captured.
 
The image quality delivered by the Sigma 14mm f/1.8 DG HSM Art Lens is very impressive, even when mounted on an ultra-high resolution Canon EOS 5Ds R camera.
 
14mm  f/8.0  1/5s  ISO 100
How to Process Solar Eclipse Exposure Bracketed Images – A Simple HDR Technique How to Process Solar Eclipse Exposure Bracketed Images – A Simple HDR Technique
How to Process Solar Eclipse Exposure Bracketed Images – A Simple HDR Technique Like scores of others, you (probably) and I photographed the solar eclipse this year. While partial solar eclipse images are easy to process (simply make them bright without blowing the red channel), the total eclipse images when bracketed, are in a different league in terms of complexity. So, like me, you are probably now asking, "How do I process the exposure-bracketed total eclipse pictures?" While there were many articles teaching us how to photograph the eclipse, those telling us how to process the images we captured during totality are scarce.
 
A great solar eclipse photography strategy is to extensively bracket exposures during totality, when the corona becomes visible. While the corona is relatively bright just outside the edges of the moon, it becomes very dim far away from the sun. Of course, with the sun being 93 million miles away, the word "far" takes on a significant meaning.
 
While I hoped I could simply load a set of bracketed-exposure images into my favorite HDR software (Photomatix or Photoshop) and be finished, the results returned were not acceptable to me for a couple of reasons. The primary problem was that the software did not properly align the moon (it moves across the frame in subsequent images), creating ghosting and still did so even if I pre-aligned the moon in each image. I could have overlaid the moon from a single frame, but ... I still wasn't satisfied with the overall look of the results.
 
In the end, after numerous trial and error attempts, I settled on an easy, relatively fast way to merge the results in Photoshop as my solution. Note that there are many techniques that can be used to process a stack of bracketed total solar eclipse images, so don't think this is the only option. But, this technique is easy and it produces a nice result.
 
Hopefully you captured your images in RAW format for the highest quality and in that case, processing those RAW files into 16-bit TIFF format is the first step needed.
 
Next, the images need to be loaded into layers in Photoshop. I use Adobe Bridge for this task, browsing to the folder the files are located in, clicking on the first of the series and shift-clicking on the last to select them all. Then select the "Tools" menu, "Photoshop", "Load files into Photoshop Layers ..." and a new Photoshop document will open with all of the images stacked in layers.
 
Unless you were using a tracking mount, the moon disk will need to be aligned in the layers. I simply moved each layer into identical position. Click on the layer and move it using the move tool. Toggle layer visibility of the image containing the targeted moon position for use as a guide and use the arrow keys to slide the layer being adjusted into position.
 
Once the images are properly aligned, crop the image as desired. Trimming away the missing edges and centering the sun was my decision.
 
Next, Order the layers from top down in darkest to brightest sequence. Because I set up the camera to shoot brackets from darkest to brightest (using three custom modes), this sequencing happened automatically for me.
 
Select the first/top layer and shift-click on the second-to-last layer. With all except one layer selected, reduce the layer opacity using the "Opacity" box at the top of the layers palette. Try starting at 20% and adjust to taste from there. I suggest keeping the image on the bright side at this point.
 
Making the opacity adjustment (likely) immediately produced an image that looks decent, but one ready for some contrast adjustment. Click on the top layer and create a new adjustment layer. The adjustment layer type you should select depends on your Photoshop skill level, but it needs to be a contrast-adjusting layer type that you are comfortable with, curves being the most powerful and levels being very easy. Use the adjustments the selected tool offers to bring life into the image. If using curves, try selecting two points to create an S-curve that darkens the darks colors and brightens the light (though likely only slight brightening is needed if the layer opacities were set low enough). If using levels, try reducing the mid adjustment slider. You may find that adding multiple adjustment layers is helpful. The beauty of adjustment layers is that they are non-destructive and can be created or deleted at any time.
 
Because the edges of the moon become brighter as the exposure becomes increases, the edges of my moon were not as crisp as I liked. Also, Baily's Beads were one of my favorite aspects for the solar eclipse and they were only found in the images captured just before C2 and just before C3. So, I incorporated an additional layer into the top of my layer stack and used a layer mask to make only the lunar disk and Baily's Beads visible. This means a black mask (use CTRL-I with a newly-created mask selected), with the desired visible attributes painted white (I used the paint brush). Another option for sharpening the moon is to duplicate one of the existing layers (CTRL-J), likely a darker one, giving it a 100% opacity and a layer mask with only the lunar disk made visible.
 
A technique that can be used to bring out some contrast in the corona is via Photoshop's High Pass filter. There are a number of ways to do this, but here is one of them:
 
Select and combine all layers by clicking on the topmost layer, shift-clicking on the last and pressing CTRL-E. Then copy the combined layers to the clipboard by press CTRL-A to select the entire image and then pressing CTRL-C to copy it. Next, undo changes until one step back past the layer-combining step. Select the top layer and press CTRL-V to paste in the copied combined layer.
 
With the new layer selected, desaturate it by pressing CTRL-SHFT-U. Implement the High Pass filter selecting from the menu: "Filter" > "Other" > "High Pass...". From the High Pass filter dialog, adjust the radius until it seems like the results will work well, with a low value being good for sharpening hard edges such as the border of the moon and a high value being good for adjusting overall image contrast, such as the corona.
 
The next step is to change the blending mode of the High Pass layer to "Overlay" by using the blending mode drop-down list founds at the top of the layer palette. The opacity of the High Pass layer can be adjusted to reduce the amount of effect and a mask can be used to hide undesirable portions of that layer. You can create a second or even third High Pass layer if you think it will help.
 
Adjust individual or smaller groups of layer opacities is another step that can be taken to optimize the final appearance.
 
For the total solar eclipse HDR image shown here, I combined eight 1-stop-bracketed exposures (out of 14 captured) using opacity values of 100% on the bottom (the brightest frame), 25% for the next three up, 20% for the next three up and 30% for the darkest layer on top. The top layer has a layer mask that allows only the center of this frame to show with a strongly-feathered border creating a natural transition to the layer below (one click in the center with a very large, totally-soft paint brush tool selected).
 
With so many options available, you may decide it worthwhile to create multiple versions of your HDR image and that is a great idea. You worked hard to prepare for and capture the solar eclipse, so having multiple images processed differently simply increases the reward.
 
1200mm  f/8.0  1/1250s  ISO 100
The Irix 11mm f/4 Firefly Lens Finds Center at the Cathedral The Irix 11mm f/4 Firefly Lens Finds Center at the Cathedral
When the Irix 11mm f/4 Firefly Lens showed up, I had a couple of subjects immediately in mind for it. The Cathedral Parish of St Patrick in Harrisburg, PA was one of them and on the next very-cloudy day, I made the trip to this beautiful place.
 
Why did I need a cloudy day to photograph the interior of a church? Any direct sunlight shining through the windows creates overly bright spots on the interior. While daylight was needed to light the inside of the church and bring life to the stained-glass windows, strongly-diffused sunlight creates a far more even light than direct sunlight.
 
Perhaps the biggest challenge to creating an image like is perfectly aligning the camera to the ceiling. With the centered framing, the camera must be positioned precisely below the subject in the exact center of the frame. Often aiding in finding this exact position are tiles and other structural elements that help indicate where the center of the floor is.
 
I had another aid in this case. The gold-colored subject dead center in the frame is a chandelier that hung far below the ceiling. When I saw the gold chandelier centered in the blue and gray area of the ceiling behind it, I knew that the camera was perfectly centered.
 
Centered, however, did not mean squared. The Really Right Stuff TVC-34 Carbon Fiber Tripod and BH-55 Ball Head were especially helpful for this part of the endeavor. I wanted as much of the ceiling in the frame as possible, so I fully retracted the tripod legs, which, with the precise construction of this model, meant that the tripod was level. Similarly-precisely-constructed is the BH-55 ball head and with the stem fully against the bottom of one of the drop notches, the camera was directed straight up.
 
With the camera centered and angled straight up, only final adjustments were needed. The camera still needed to be rotated within the notch (adjust the camera so that it is visually straight up to get started) and then I simply rotated the tripod on the ground, keeping the camera in its centered location, until the viewfinder showed that it was squared with the ceiling. Yes, panning adjustments could have been made using the head's panning feature, but rotating the camera around the head moves the camera slightly from its centered position, meaning that the tripod would need slight repositioning anyway. So, I simply adjusted the tripod position to begin with. Using a Canon Angle Finder C made finalizing the absolute straight-up framing much easier (as would a vari-angle LCD).
 
Focusing with this manual-focus-only lens was simple. I turned the focus ring to the slight detent/bump at the infinity focus mark and everything in the frame was in focus. The 11mm depth of field is huge at normal subject focus distances and this haptic-feedback setting works for a large number of uses, including with wider apertures than the one used here.
 
This is an HDR image, processed with Photomatix.
 
I left the cathedral quite impressed with the Irix 11mm f/4 Firefly Lens. The angle of view it provides is amazing and my first impression is that image quality is very good, especially for the very low price of this lens.
 
11mm  f/8.0  3.2s  ISO 100
Regulus, Diamond Ring and Total Solar Eclipse 2017 Regulus, Diamond Ring and Total Solar Eclipse 2017
One of my goals for the 2017 Total Solar Eclipse was to bracket exposures ranging from no-blown-color-channels to as bright as I could create. Using three custom modes set for AEB (Auto Exposure Bracketing), I was able to capture 21 images with exposures ranging from 1/8000, f/8 ISO 100 to 1 sec, f/4 ISO 800, covering over 18 stops of exposure difference.
 
You may have noted that I was using an f/2.8 lens and could have opened up one stop wider. I decided that vignetting at f/2.8 took away most of the wider aperture advantage in the periphery and, with the sun creating the most light in the center of the frame, I periphery brightness was what I needed most from this frame. So, I opted to stay with f/4.
 
A number of the darkest images in the set proved too dark to be useful. In the brightest image, all three channels were blown in nearly half of the image. Thus, I felt successful in meeting that goal.
 
There was of course a purpose to that goal and that purpose was to create an HDR image that made as much of corona visible as possible. While I also had a 200mm lens deployed with the same purpose, the 400mm angle of view fully contained the maximum corona able to be captured under the slightly hazy Tennessee skies.
 
To create this image, I stacked 14 exposures using (essentially) the solar eclipse bracketing procedure I recently shared. I think that I could continue tweaking this result indefinitely, but ... it is time to label it "finished" and move on to all of the others.
 
In this case, you could say that I got a "star" for effort.
 
400mm  f/8.0  1/1000s  ISO 100
Inside The Chapel of the Transfiguration, Grand Teton National Park Inside The Chapel of the Transfiguration, Grand Teton National Park
The Chapel of the Transfiguration is a little chapel with big character. And, the view out the window of this Grand Teton National Park place of worship is surely distracting to anyone attending a service here.
 
After waiting for a clear moment in the (relatively light) crowds, I squarely-positioned (or nearly so in a questionably-square old building) the Canon EOS 5Ds R-mounted Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM Lens in front of the window and captured an exposure-bracketed set of images ready for manual HDR processing.
 
With the mildly-complicated post-processing work completed, the dark building still seems like a dark space but the easily-visible log lines lead the viewer's eyes to the centerpiece, the window-framed Grand Teton mountain range fronted by fall-color glory and a silhouetted cross.
 
This camera and lens have been one of my most-used combinations since they were released. The image quality they deliver is simply impressive and the range of angles of view provided by 16-35mm are extremely useful, especially for landscape photography (or perhaps interior architecture photography in this case?).
 
16mm  f/11.0  .5s  ISO 100
9/11 Tribute in Light, Brooklyn Bridge, One World Trade Center and Manhattan 9/11 Tribute in Light, Brooklyn Bridge, One World Trade Center and Manhattan
I spent some time researching the optimal destination for my daytrip to New York City with photographing the 9/11 Tribute in Light as the primary goal. While the lights can be seen from anywhere with a view over the city, I was looking for something especially nice. I decided that the perspective from the Manhattan Bridge, as shared here, was the ultimate one for a variety of reasons.
 
The first is that I would have an elevated view on the city. This means the river would fill a larger portion of the frame (all things equal, water surface area fills more of the frame as the camera gets higher). Because the tribute lights need to go straight up through the frame, the camera needed to be level for both pitch and yaw. While a tilt-shift lens could have solved this issue, shooting from a higher elevation permits a higher framing of the scene.
 
What can be seen from this location was another reason for selecting it. Starting on the left side, Jane's Carousel is always an attractive element to have in a NYC frame. It is also hard to go wrong with the Brooklyn Bridge, One World Trade Center and the rest of the South Manhattan skyline, any of which individually make great subjects. Even the Statue of Liberty can be seen through the bridge cables on the left side. I didn't plan on the American flag being prominently featured on top of the bridge, but it is very fitting to have it in this scene.
 
Having water in the frame means reflections and this location had that feature. While the water was not still, there are still reflections and the reflected light colors were smoothed by the long exposure
 
The Manhattan bridge span is a very long one and that meant the position on the bridge needed to be selected. Because bridges move when traffic crosses them, I like to photograph over the piers where the amount of movement is minimalized. Using online maps, I verified that there was a walking area for crossing the bridge and I could see the location of the piers. I also determined that one of the bridge piers provided alignment of the tribute lights so that each was behind the pointed top of a skyscraper. That same pier appeared to also provide the best perspective of the city overall.
 
The plan was to arrive at Brooklyn Bridge Park (seen in the left side of this image) early enough in the afternoon to scout the primary shooting location and to find secondary locations for later use. I walked the park down to the end of Pier 1, back up to beyond the Manhattan Bridge and then proceeded up onto the bridge. The online maps clearly showed a walkway across the bridge and that was indeed present. But what I couldn't see was the high fence that bordered the entire walkway, from one end to the other. I was disappointed, but it was early and I went forward with my scouting plan on the bridge.
 
As I moved farther out onto the bridge span, I realized another significant problem, one that I thought was a show-stopper. This bridge had a very significant amount of vibration and when I arrived to the pre-selected pier, I discovered that this location was not insulated from that significant movement. However, I also discovered that someone had cut small holes in the fence at two places at this pier. While the holes gave me the view I needed, I didn't think there was a chance of getting a sharp long exposure image after dark.
 
I decided to walk the rest of the bridge span into the city. I found one more hole in the fence over the pier on the Manhattan-side of the East River, but the vibrations were no better at this location and the view from the first pier was as I wanted. I decided to head for solid ground, but upon arriving at the preferred bridge pier, I decided to attempt a long exposure image through the hole.
 
I set up a camera and lens and installed a 10-stop neutral density filter with a circular polarizer filter to simulate darkness. I was shocked to find that 30 second images were rather sharp. I was timing the image captures between the (very loud) subway trains passing and the long duration of the exposures were allowing the vibrations to equalize out of the final result.
 
As I was mentally finalizing my plans to come back for sunset and blue hour photos, another photographer arrived and began setting up at the other hole in the fence. It was only about 4:00 in the afternoon and sunset was not until 7:11 PM. But ... if other photographers were arriving already, I decided I need to stay the duration to retain my optimal shooting location.
 
The other person was very friendly, additional photographers began showing up and the time passed quickly. While waiting, I determined that a very-carefully placed camera and medium-sized lens without a hood could *just* fit between the about-4" diamond-shaped metal crossbars at the bottom of the fence and I was able to deploy a second camera and tripod I had along.
 
The 90-second image shared here was captured just after 8:00 PM with the shutter being opened just after the ferry entered the frame, creating a long streak of colorful lights.
 
This is a single-frame capture with the Brooklyn Bridge Park area being brightened slightly. The blue channel was boosted for a cool look and saturation was increased to bring out the colors.
 
Check out the 9/11 Tribute in Lights Reflection with One World Trade Center for more of this day's adventure.
 
24mm  f/16.0  90s  ISO 100
Frosty Bull Elk, Rocky Mountain National Park Frosty Bull Elk, Rocky Mountain National Park
While the subject is always very important, the background usually consumes a significant portion of the frame and that means it too is important. One background option is to blur it away and the Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS II USM Lens is a master at that task. Still, bull elk are very large animals and even 600mm f/4 does not completely erase the background when the entire animal is comfortably in the frame. At long environmental portrait framing distance as seen here, the background is going to be recognizable.
 
Another great option is to utilize brightness to separate the subject from the background. Having a subject in direct sunlight and the background in complete shade is one of my favorite wildlife photography situations.
 
An evenly-patterned background often works well. In this case, the distant evergreen forest provided that option.
 
For this image, the combination of long focal length, wide aperture, distant background, strong brightness difference and evenly-patterned background all work together to make the bull elk stand out and look good. It was nice of this large, frost-covered bull elk to stop at the top of a small ridge, turn his head and exhale into the early morning sunlight for me.
 
I did not have time to get closer to this rutting bull before he went over the edge on his way to find cows. That meant I simply had to accept the framing available at the time and that was not bad at all. The entire frame was good and with the ultra-high resolution Canon EOS 5Ds R behind the lens, I had a lot of options available for cropping. I struggled to select the one to share and eventually opted to modestly crop the image to show the elk larger in the frame.
 
600mm  f/4.0  1/800s  ISO 400
The Philadelphia Blue Hour The Philadelphia Blue Hour
Fifty mm lenses are useful for many subjects and one of the great uses for tilt-shift lenses is architecture. From a previous Philadelphia visit, I knew where this focal length would work well with plenty of architecture in the frame.
 
The procedure for capturing this image is a rather standard one for me. Scout the location (already had this step done). Show up before sunset with a pair of cameras, lenses and tripods. Set up both using two significantly different focal lengths (cropping can effectively handle smaller differences in focal length, especially when using a 5Ds or 5Ds R camera) and begin photographing the city using a level-on-both-axes camera and a sharp f/8 aperture as the sun sets.
 
When the lights come on, I adjust the aperture to f/16 to gain the starburst effects from the lights. This aperture is not as sharp as f/8 due to the effects of diffraction, but details remain sharp enough (ideal would be to merge the areas of an f/8 image with the star effects of an f/16 image). Also, soon after the lights come on, I begin capturing an underexposed frame periodically so that I could later use it to pull the brightness of some of the lights down (the gridded triangle roof top was especially bright). I adjust the exposure as necessary as the sky darkens and when there is nearly no color left in the sky, I usually pack up and head home.
 
In the end, I usually archive most of the earlier-captured images as the images captured within the ideal 5 minutes of the blue hour are usually my most-preferred. Usually, the perfect timing exposure is f/16 for 30 seconds at ISO 100.
 
50mm  f/16.0  30s  ISO 100
World Trade Center Transportation Hub World Trade Center Transportation Hub
The World Trade Center Transportation Hub, or "Oculus", is a relatively new addition to New York City and, immediately upon seeing the unique architecture of this structure, looking something like a monster coming out of the streets of the city, my to-do list grew one line longer.
 
I was in the city for the PhotoPlus Expo and with the expo closing at 5:00 PM on weekdays, I always have time to go to a location not too far away, do some quick scouting and set up for a blue hour photo shoot (especially if I cut out of the show a little early). This year, I made that location the WTC Transportation Hub.
 
Upon arrival, I walked around the hub, looking for the best photographic angles with blue hour imagery being my primary objective. You are now looking at one of my favorite images coming out of that effort.
 
The first concept to share here is that the ultra-wide 16mm full frame focal length allowed me to get close enough to frame the entire structure without obstructions and because I was close and the hub was the closest building, perspective made it appear large relative to the other buildings. I included the crosswalks in the foreground because I liked how they balanced with the fins of the hub. Along with the crosswalks come a pair of streets that nicely frame the hub.
 
Another key to lack of obstructions in the frame came from the multiple-frame 8-second exposure composite. Moving people were blurred out of view during the exposure and those not moving were often in a different location in another frame captured just before or just after the primary one. The longer exposures come naturally when the sky starts getting darker and balancing with the lights (though a neutral density filter can also be used). The narrow f/16 aperture also helps extend the exposure time. I didn't need f/16 for the deep depth of field it provides, but in addition to extending the exposure duration, I like the starburst effect f/16 creates from bright lights, such as those on the police car on the left side of the frame.
 
And that brings me to another point. Before you attempt to recreate this image, check on the tripod rules for this location. As I was capturing the last frame included in this composite, with the tripod legs set narrow, between my feet (for both safety and courtesy reasons), the police officer drove over and stated "This is New York City. Tripods are not allowed on public property." Well, I have read (and experienced) otherwise, but ... some jurisdictions have their own rules (I'll have to research this one). I was tired, not interested in creating an issue and ... I already had the image I wanted. So, I moved on, though wishing that I had brought my Feisol TT-15 Mini Tripod along to make subsequent images significantly easier to capture.
 
16mm  f/16.0  8s  ISO 100
Signal Mountain, Oxbow Bend, Grand Teton National Park Signal Mountain, Oxbow Bend, Grand Teton National Park
Have you heard of Oxbow Bend in Grand Teton National Park? That answer is most likely "Yes!" Oxbow Bend is a mandatory bucket list location for any photographer remotely interested in capturing landscapes. Aside from being incredibly beautiful with a potentially huge mirror surface in the foreground waiting double that beauty and create vertical symmetry, you can drive up to this large area alongside the Snake River and photograph with little or even no hiking involved. The imagery to effort ratio is potentially huge.
 
This is not the first image I shared from this morning and place (and I have more favorites yet unshared). But, with ever-changing cloud patterns, new scenes were continuously presented and a huge range of focal lengths could be utilized to isolate only what is considered positive to the composition. On that latter note, at the time this image was captured, I was having trouble determining what should be isolated. After capturing a variety of images, I opted for a 2-image panorama framed to include the most of the amazingness in one pair of images. I figured that, after creating the higher resolution stitched image, I could later decide what the final crop should be.
 
24mm  f/8.0  1/80s  ISO 100
Jellyfish Invasion, National Aquarium, Inner Harbor, Baltimore, Maryland Jellyfish Invasion, National Aquarium, Inner Harbor, Baltimore, Maryland
Here is a winter photography tip for you: Go underwater! Going underwater may not sound like something you want to do in the winter, though destinations close to the equator may be sounding very inviting right now. Your local aquarium may be a much more realistic pseudo-underwater destination that can provide great entertainment, good education, comfortable temperatures and of course, interesting photos.
 
My nearest aquarium is the National Aquarium located in Inner Harbor, Baltimore, Maryland. My youngest daughter and I spent an enjoyable day exploring the many exhibits together and wisely, she took a book along. Some of my primary photo subject were in the Jellyfish Invasion exhibit and Mikayla found time to get a little reading done while waiting for me there.
 
To go with this post, I've created a list of 6 Aquarium Photography Tips. Read the tips, grab your gear and go visit your nearest aquarium.
 
The Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS II USM Lens is a great general purpose lens and it worked very well at this location.
 
105mm  f/4.0  1/125s  ISO 5000
Canon 200-400mm f/4L IS Lens and the 1-Day-Old White-tailed Deer Fawn Canon 200-400mm f/4L IS Lens and the 1-Day-Old White-tailed Deer Fawn
A baby animal photo elicits an "Awwwww" response more frequently than perhaps any other subject. And for a good reason of course – baby animals are just sooooo cute.
 
I find whitetailed deer fawns to be among the cutest baby animals and when a tame fawn became a photo opportunity, I of course made full use of it. While tame is extremely helpful for photographing a wildlife subject, tame does not mean that subject is easy to photograph.
 
Unless feeding, fawns are mostly in constant motion. That is, until they lay down. Newborn fawns spend a significant amount of time lying down, but finding them doing so can be very challenging as they usually pick a hidden location. That means getting a clear photograph of them in this position remains challenging.
 
Fortunately, this particular location choice gave me a window of opportunity.
 
My lens choice was the Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Lens. The reason I chose this lens, aside from its excellent overall performance, was for the focal length range combined with the wide aperture. The fawn was in dark woods (heavy tree canopy) and there were plenty of obstructions that I needed to be in front of. Having the focal length range gave me the ability to adjust framing as desired, allowing me to fit the entire fawn in the frame, while keeping the obscuring brush behind me.
 
The f/4 aperture is the widest available in a zoom lens of this range and I made full use of that feature on this day. The fawn was still moving its head enough to warrant the 1/400 sec. shutter speed and a proper exposure at f/4 needed ISO 5000.
 
When the right opportunity occurs, it only takes a short period of time with the right subject to get a card full of great images. When that happens, I become challenged to select one or a few favorites to share. And, that was the case with this fawn. I finally decided to share this one because I liked the overall body position and because the eye is so prominent. Hopefully, the adorable little fawn invoked an "Awwww" from you.
 
320mm  f/4.0  1/400s  ISO 5000
Red Fox Looking Sly Red Fox Looking Sly
I was positioned between this red fox's den (and her two kits) and her feeding grounds with a good sun angle for an approach. She had recently brought home dinner and would always go right back out to hunt again and that was the case this time. I knew that she was coming, but I was not able to see her as her distance closed due to the thick brush.
 
Suddenly, she hopped up on this log, in plain view at a close distance, stopped and looked back while being lit by a late afternoon sun. I couldn't have orchestrated her behavior any better.
 
I grabbed a quick burst of insurance shots and quickly moved the selected focus point for a better composition. Being able to quickly change focus points is a key skill for wildlife photography. The fox being close, made the framing tight, but in the seconds it paused, I was able to capture enough images to build this panorama, adding a small amount of border to the top and left side of the primary frame.
 
This particular fox's mottled coat and head angle along with the bright sun causing her to squint produces an especially sly look.
 
600mm  f/4.0  1/1600s  ISO 125
Bull Elk in Rut – Was I Too Close? Bull Elk in Rut – Was I Too Close?
This bull elk was in full rut, was not in a good mood and he was looking for some cows to steal (could be a Charlie Daniels song). This is an un-cropped image captured with a 600mm lens on a full frame body and under many circumstances, I was waaaay too close. What you can't see in the frame is both a Rocky Mountain National Park ranger directing visitors and vehicles and my rental SUV between the bull and I.
 
The meadow at Moraine Park is closed from late afternoon until morning and that means most photography opportunities in that location are then found alongside the road. That also means heavy competition for viewing positions when elk are present and finding a parking spot can be challenging at those times. A 4x4 vehicle with some clearance is helpful in accessing the more challenging parking opportunities (think rocks) and the rangers are also helpful, and especially helpful is preventing people from stopping in the middle of the small road, which of course still happens and creates long traffic jams. Increasing my safety were the people more "bold" (being nice here) than I.
 
At the moment this picture was taken, this solitary bull was about to cross the road. The ranger parted the crowds and I took cover behind the SUV. Because the meadow is lower than the road, the bull had been lower than camera level. While good images can be made from a higher level, eye-level is often ideal and that height was reached as the bull approached the road.
 
A catchlight in the eye adds life to an animal and that light usually comes from the sun and/or sky. There was no sun at this time (it was dark and rainy), but the more-upward angle helps to get a stronger sky reflection, lighting up the eye.
 
I could not adjust my position and was using a prime lens. That meant this subject was going to be cropped in the frame. While I like having the entire subject in the frame, I also like tightly framed portraits. Full subject framing of wildlife is usually easier to accomplish and when tighter framing avails itself, especially with an animal like this one, I usually take advantage of that opportunity.
 
When cropping a subject, there is often a variety of creative options. But, I most often want the eye in the frame. Keeping the head in the frame is often a next priority and ideally, giving the subject some space on the side of the frame being faced (the gaze weights that side of the frame). In this case, my next decision was determining how to adjust the vertical framing and more or less antler was the question. I find antlers very interesting and opted to go big on the antlers, smaller on the body. However, I left enough body showing to send the back line and a portion of the body out the left side of the frame and kept enough space below the chin to include the reverse-curving lines of the beard.
 
In this case, the elk's head, the primary part of the animal, falls approximately on the intersection of the right and lower 1/3 grid lines. The photographic rule of thirds often works well for composition, but ... I more frequently first approach composition from inclusion/exclusion and balance perspectives. What I find is that the rule of thirds can frequently later be applied to my results.
 
In general, the tighter the framing, the faster the shutter speed needs to be. For an image to be tack sharp, the exposure duration must be short enough that no details cross over to another pixel. It was dark out and I wanted to keep the ISO setting down. The 1/320 second exposure used here was a compromise and I tossed many images from this encounter due to motion blur. In the end, this was my favorite image from the series.
 
600mm  f/4.0  1/320s  ISO 1600
Alert Whitetail Buck, Shenandoah National Park Alert Whitetail Buck, Shenandoah National Park
This 10 pt whitetail buck has a doe locked down during the rut and he is very intent on warding off any competition. During the rut, whitetail buck have their heads in alert positions a much higher percentage of time relative to normal, providing increased photo opportunities.
 
Notice the rather-slow-for-wildlife 1/200 shutter speed used here. This image was captured late in the day and the lighting was dark. With some images of the buck already on the card (my insurance shots), I was going for higher quality images. The longer exposure enabled a lower ISO setting, but especially with a moving subject, the sharpness rate percentage is decreased with the longer shutter speeds. Taking that chance paid off nicely for this image with a touch of noise reduction making this ISO 2000 result look very smooth.
 
600mm  f/4.0  1/200s  ISO 2000
Whitetail Buck Wrapping a Pine Branch Around Its Face, Shenandoah National Park Whitetail Buck Wrapping a Pine Branch Around Its Face, Shenandoah National Park
Did you ever see a whitetail buck wrap a pine branch around its face? The rut brings out the best in unusual whitetail activity. This buck is creating (or freshening) a scrape used for communication purposes at this time of the year and the location selected for a scrape typically has a scent branch just above it.
 
Only a couple of spots remain open: join me for the "Whitetail Buck in Rut and More workshop in Shenandoah National Park!
 
600mm  f/4.0  1/1600s  ISO 250
Bull Elk and Rocky Mountains Bull Elk and Rocky Mountains
When the landscape is attractive, incorporating it into your wildilfe photography is a great idea. The Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens is my go-to lens for this scenario. The focal length range keeps both the animal and the background large in the frame and provides plenty of framing flexibility.
 
A partly cloudy day sometimes provides ideal lighting. This image was captured just before the shadow of a cloud reached the bull elk, leaving the surrounding background dark, helping the bull and its antlers stand out.
 
158mm  f/9.0  1/1600s  ISO 1250
The Right Light in Owl Creek Pass The Right Light in Owl Creek Pass
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.
 
50mm  f/9.0  1/180s  ISO 100
Beautiful Bull Elk, Rocky Mountain National Park Beautiful Bull Elk, Rocky Mountain National Park
When there is a choice, I nearly always go after the elk with the nicest antlers. While everyone has opinions on what "nicest" means, I generally look for overall size (bigger is better with age, genetics and nutrition aiding this aspect), symmetry (or character if something unusual is present), shape (classic shape with long curved tines and a big whale tail) and color (dark with ground-polished white tips is perfect).
 
This bruiser checked most of those boxes and in this position, his primary flaw, a missing G2 (second point from the base) on the left side, is nicely hidden. This 6x5 had not long ago lost a fight with a bull with antlers that were smaller overall. In the battles, it is often the size of the elk's body that matters most and this one needed to go eat more. He is still talking to the nearby herd with a bit of food still in his mouth.
 
This pursuit started not too far from the car, but I eventually ended up on a ridge a good distance from where I parked. When a light rain ensued, I was thankful for weather sealed gear as I did not bring a backpack and would not have been pleased to have to leave a subject as nice as this one.
 
I usually use a shutter speed faster than 1/400 second when photographing elk. But, elk usually move slowly while bugling. So, I grabbed some immediate insurance shots and then rolled the shutter speed down to go after lower noise images. Manual mode was selected with a wide open aperture and auto ISO adjusting for the shutter speed change I made.
 
600mm  f/4.0  1/400s  ISO 400
Milky Way and Perseid Meteor, Island Pond, T15-R9, Maine Milky Way and Perseid Meteor, Island Pond, T15-R9, Maine
Welcome to Island Pond, located by Red River Camps in Deboullie Public Reserved Land of T15-R9 in the North Maine Woods. That this location is a nearly 1-hour drive from the grid and paved roads should help set the scene. Along with natural beauty, what you get here is a dark sky and at this time in August, a beautiful view of the Milky Way and the annual Perseid Meteor Shower.
 
Aside from the effort required to get to this location, this was a very easy image to create.
 
  • Mount the camera and lens on a solid tripod
  • Manually focus the lens on a bright star using fully-magnified live view
  • Adjust the composition as desired with the camera leveled for roll
  • Dial in a manual exposure of f/1.8 (use your widest available), ISO 6400 and 30 seconds (a stretch)
  • Set the camera to its high-speed frame rate
  • Plug in a remote release
  • Capture a test image and verify that it looks good
  • Lock the release button down (press down and slide forward)
  • Return later
The camera continuously captures images, hopefully with perfectly-positioned meteors in them. These frames can also be made into a time-lapse.
 
After setting up the first camera, you have plenty of time, so set up a second camera the same as the first, capturing a different composition.
 
On this night I had three camera setups with four of what I consider the best night sky lenses available. One of the cameras was a Nikon model and the only Nikon-mount star-capable lens I had along (not a Nikon model) showed a serious image quality problem, leaving two cameras in operation.
 
I mentioned that the 30-second exposure was a stretch and that is what happens to the stars at this focal length, exposure duration, and imaging sensor pixel density combination. They get stretched.
 
A blur is created when details in an image move across pixels on the imaging sensor, regardless of the reason why that happens. As we all know, due to the earth's rotation, stars are moving across the frame when the camera is in a fixed position. The longer the exposure, the more they are magnified (longer focal length lens) and the higher pixel density the imaging sensor has, the more that star blur will be visible at the pixel level.
 
Note that when final images are viewed and compared, the imaging sensor's pixel density-caused blur becomes equalized. For example, if you are printing at 8" x 12", the pixel density factor no longer matters in regards to the star trail blur created by two different resolution, equal-sensor-sized cameras.
 
Also, note that not all stars move at the same rate relative to the camera position. For example, the North Star (Polaris) does not move at all. If you are primarily including the northern sky in the frame, you might be able to use longer exposures than if your camera was directed west, east or up. There are star blur rules that can be helpful, but photography skills rule. Analyze your results as soon as they are captured and make adjustments as needed.
 
I mentioned having 4 of my favorite star lenses along with me. They are my favorites, but the perfect star lens, at least from a lens in the realm of affordability for most individuals, does not exist. All lenses have at least some issue keeping them from reaching perfection and corner performance is typically their biggest limiting factor.
 
This image was captured with the Sigma 14mm f/1.8 DG HSM Art Lens. It is a great choice for this purpose.
 
For star photography, ultra-wide angles are helpful for taking in a greater area of the sky and allowing longer exposures before star trails become visible, though ultra-wide angles produce rather small stars. Ultra-wide apertures (that produce sharp enough image quality to be used) create a brighter image in less time or at a lower ISO setting. The Sigma 14mm Art lens has those two features.
 
The worst case: even if the entire night's shoot was a failure, just hanging out under a starry sky would be totally worth the time and effort.
 
14mm  f/1.8  30s  ISO 6400
Rocky Mountain National Park is Calling You! Rocky Mountain National Park is Calling You!
When a great animal is found, staying with it can lead to great images. Sometimes, it can lead to a lot of great images.
 
When photographing wildlife, the stay or go decision is often a tough one. The subject in front of us may not be entertaining for relatively long periods of time and the thought that a better opportunity may be nearby runs through our minds. On this day, staying was the right decision.
 
There is only one opening remaining for the September elk in rut photo tour!
 
Consider joining a small group of passionate wildlife photographers pursuing these awesome animals. Photographers at all skill levels are invited to join!
 
"Bull Elk in Rut and Much More", Rocky Mountain National Park
 
  • 1 Opening: Sun, September 15 to Sat, September 21, 2019
  • Filled/Wait List: Sun, September 22 to Sat, September 28, 2019
  • Sign Up for September 2020
Contact me to sign up!
 
Photographers at all skill levels are also invited to join me for these tours:
 
Fall Landscape in Acadia National Park Instructional Photography Tour
 
Tue, Oct 15 through Sun, Oct 20, 2019
 
"Whitetail Buck in Rut and Much More", Shenandoah National Park
 
Sun, November 10 to Wed, November 13, 2019 and/or Wed, November 13 - Sat, November 16, 2019
 
Contact me to sign up!
 
600mm  f/4.0  1/1250s  ISO 200
Lessons from a Mule Deer Buck, Rocky Mountain National Park Lessons from a Mule Deer Buck, Rocky Mountain National Park
My favorite camera mode is manual mode. But, when lighting conditions are changing rapidly, it is often helpful to get the camera involved in the decision-making process via auto exposure. When using auto exposure, most often I'm still using manual mode, but with auto ISO being selected.
 
In auto exposure modes, the camera must be able to guess the proper exposure, or close enough that the result can be adjusted to perfection during post-processing without detriment to image quality (increased noise for example). When photographing deer, a subject rather neutral in relative brightness, in their natural environment, the camera often gets the auto exposure right. Wildlife photography is usually very challenging, involving unpredictable action and fast camera work, and having the camera take care of the exposure can make the difference between getting a great shot and getting nothing. With the exposure being determined by the camera, I can focus on getting the shot.
 
When the camera can guess the exposure with good accuracy and auto ISO in manual mode is being used, the shutter speed alone can be rapidly changed as needed to produce a sharp image. For example, if an animal that has been in fast motion (requiring a fast shutter speed) pauses and stares at something while motionless, a quick roll of the top dial can increase the exposure times to allow lower ISO settings be taken advantage of.
 
One thing I need to focus on is not getting too close to my wildlife subjects. While getting close enough to wildlife is a common challenge, being over-successful, getting too close, can sometimes be an issue. Wildlife subjects often need some space around them in the frame, some breathing room. Getting closer means a stronger background blur, but in this case, it meant not enough breathing room around the mule deer buck. Fortunately, Photoshop helped me increase the canvas size, adding some background to the perimeter of this image.
 
Another teaching point illustrated here is the catchlight in the buck's eye. In practically all images containing an eye, catchlights will add positively to the result, giving sparkle and life to the subject. Catchlights can be created with flash lighting, but when photographing wildlife, the sun, or at least the bright sky, is my favorite catchlight source as it usually provides the most natural appearance.
 
For catchlights to happen, something bright, often the sun/sky, must be able to reflect in the subject's eye. Think about the animal's rounded eye reflecting such and the camera angle needed for that to happen. The subject's head position can make a difference with a raised head increasing the chances for catchlight reflections. Your position can also make a difference. The lower your position relative to the subject, the more likely you are to get catchlights reflecting the light source. When the sun is the catchlight source, the lower the sun, the better the odds are that it will reflect in the eyes. The more exposed the sky is, the better the likelihood of a reflection.
 
In this example, I had a catchlight. However, with just a slight amount of the sky reflecting in the top of the deer's eye, it was a weak one. Using an exposure adjustment layer in Photoshop, I added a mask that was entirely black (not affecting the image) except for the little catchlight and then slid the exposure adjustment slider slightly to the right to increase the brightness, affecting only the catchlight. This tiny adjustment made a noticeable difference in the final result.
 
I'm always looking for an entertaining or at least unusual behavior to capture in wildlife images. This buck's large rack added points to the entertainment factor, but its behavior was rather boring — it was mostly feeding. While smelling the small plant is not dramatic behavior, it does speak to this animal's keen sense of smell and its ability to communicate in this way. The huge rock behind the buck provided an out-of-the-norm background for the image and the position of the antlers allowed all of the points to be seen. Thus, this image was my pick from this session.
 
A reminder: there is only one opening remaining for the September elk in rut photo tour in Rocky Mountain National Park. While elk are our primary subject, we'll be opportunistic, taking advantage of other wildlife that avails itself as illustrated here.
 
Consider joining a small group of passionate wildlife photographers pursuing these awesome animals. Photographers of all skill levels are invited to join!
 
"Bull Elk in Rut and Much More", Rocky Mountain National Park
 
  • 1 Opening: Sun, September 15 to Sat, September 21, 2019
  • Filled/Wait List: Sun, September 22 to Sat, September 28, 2019
  • Sign Up for September 2020
Contact me to sign up!
 
600mm  f/4.0  1/1250s  ISO 1250
Bull Elk Posing in Rocky Mountain National Park Bull Elk Posing in Rocky Mountain National Park
The rut is the perfect time to get great bull elk poses. This bull was without a harem but staying close to a larger bull that has one. These satellite bulls are constantly watching for their opportunities to move in.
 
What is the best technique for composing an image of an entire animal? While this answer can quickly become complicated and is situationally dependent, a simple strategy that often works is to center the entire animal in the frame and open up to the side it is looking toward. In this example, the elk is looking almost straight at me, but with its head angled slightly toward the right of the frame, adding weight to that side, I positioned the elk slightly to the left of center to create an overall balance.
 
Picture yourself here! As recently shared, I have added a second week for the Rocky Mountain National Park workshop. Photographers at all skill levels are invited to join!
 
"Bull Elk in Rut and Much More", Rocky Mountain National Park
 
  • 2 openings: Sun, September 15 to Sat, September 21
  • Possibly 1 opening: Sun, September 22 to Sat, September 28
  • Wait List or Sign Up for next year
Contact me to sign up!
 
600mm  f/4.0  1/1600s  ISO 160

Buy Now  ►  I highly recommend B&H Photo – Shopping here supports this site!  Rent Now  ►   View Sample Pictures

My Recommended Canon EOS 5Ds R Retailers
B&H Photo
Adorama
Amazon.com
Beach Camera or BuyDig.com
the Canon Store (new or refurbished)
eBay (Choose trustworthy sellers only)
* Buy Now - $200.00 rebate available from Apr 28 - Jun 1
(Using the links on this site to make any purchase provides support for this site)
Rent the Canon EOS 5Ds R
LensRentals.com
LensProToGo
(Using these links for your rental supports this site)
The Tip Jar
This site and my family depend on your support. Can you help right now?

Please share this page!

Share on Facebook! Share on Twitter! Share on Pinterest! Email this page to a friend!
Help  |  © 2019 The Digital Picture, LLC  |  Bryan CarnathanPowered By Christ!