The hot, humid weather of summer here in Eastern Ontario is the Time of the Dragons! I love all kinds of dragonflies, damsel flies, and the like. Their flying is unique, owing to a hind wing and a fore-wing of different sizes. They fly in amazing patterns, they manifest amazing colors, and they eat mosquitoes and deer-fly, so whats not to like?
My advice to students on photographing these winged beauties:
1. Bring a long lens if you can. I find students often fall into the mindset that since these are insects, you should be using a macro lens only. By all means, try using that macro lens. However, if you get too close to a dragonfly--if you can get close--your shadow, your presence, your movement will send them flying off. I like to use a long lens (Canon 100-400 mm lens) and shoot as close as that lens will let me focus.
2. I mount my Canon 7D and Canon 100-400 mm lens on a Carry Speed strap, which goes right onto my Really Right Stuff mono pod head and mono pod. This set up allows me to carry a heavy leans and camera setup for many long hours on what is sure to be a very hot, very humid day. After the first five kilometers, I appreciate the strap setup to allow me to carry the heavy camera, mono pod extended, ready to go from walk and carry to stop and shoot supported in seconds for the best, blur-free shots.
3. You have to go where the dragonflies are. My favorite spot locally is a dam spillway off the Ottawa River, where a nature conservancy has groomed and not-so-groomed trails for a day long hunt. Once you hit the woods and shade, I find the species choice and volume of species drops by 80%. You have to stay in the hot sun, so sunscreen, hats and bug spray are big parts of my day. And you have to be near water and/or swamps generally. So yuo'll want bug spray, at least I do........
4. On the topic of bug spray! Be so very cautious! The active ingredient, DEET, will adversely affect and degrade the delicate plastics and even the carbon fiber of expensive tripods. I am extremely cautious and mindful as to spraying myself once I arrive at the site, with all my camera kit in the car while I stand 20 feet from the car spraying legs, arms, etc. I wear a Columbia hot hat, a baseball style cap that wicks and cools. I like this over the floppy sun hats, because when I go to take a shot, I can spin the cap so the bill doesn't hit the camera, kinda like watching the German U-boat commanders twirling their caps as they pressed their faces to the periscope in the late night WWII movies.
5. Carry ready to shoot. My method is to carry my Canon 7D with my Really Right Stuff mono pod and mono pod head attached to the base plate of my Canon 100-400 mm lens. This is attached to me with a Carry Speed strap (neoprene is super comfortable and the Carry Speed system allows you to transition from tripod to mono pod to free carry in seconds). As I walk, my mono pod is extended, the lens and camera riding the head of the mono pod, and the strap allows me to quickly bring the mono pod and camera to the shooting position, since the dragonflies move around like jeweled rockets and you have to be ready to position, focus, frame and shoot in an instant.
Other than that, since you'll be shooting in bright sun on hot summer days, bring the usual sunscreen and water. I generally carry a knapsack for day long outings and stow snacks, as much water as I can carry and extra camera kit. Here are the results. Thanks for reading.
We're well into summer, so if you live in Canada, chances are as a photographer, you're taking full advantage of the conditions to get out often with your camera. For this post, I want to quickly cover three main areas of outdoor work:
1. General landscapes.
3. General flora and fauna
So, my general rule is, if you're not outside in the heat, the bugs and all that nature offers, you won't get the photos you hope to. Shots like the flying osprey (opposite) aren't captured sitting in front of my laptop. My rule is to try and capture one picture that I like once a day. Obviously our lives are busy and priorities must and all that, but without impinging on your responsibilities in life, try and get out as opposed to thinking that getting out won't be worth the effort.
(i). Use the best lens you can afford for the purpose. For landscape, this means generally wide angle, with higher quality optics than are found in the basic kit-lens level . If you want to make landscapes your priority, consider spending a bit more scratch and getting at least a Canon 17-40 mm L series, which is sub-$1000 and not outrageously expensive in the lens world. For birds, I use the Canon 100-400mm zoom. Used properly, this lens gives amazing results. When I was researching this lens, I read some comments that the review had bought a "soft copy" and was upset. Further research almost always reveals user error. I can take stunning shots and horrible soft shots in the same morning with this lens. Not because of the lens, but because of the mechanics of telephoto zoom lenses. Tripods are a must to prevent minute shake, otherwise you'll end up relying on the image stabilizer and wide apertures to get faster shutter speeds to compensate. The result will be less pleasant images. Big lenses are really hard to hold still to get sharp images of birds at tree tops, so a solid, solid tripod is a must.
For general flora and fauna, I stay within the 24-105 mm focal range, with a macro lens handy for those amazing close ups of flowers and insects. Again, with macro work, a mono pod or tripod is key. Stable platforms = clear images. When you try to skimp on using a tripod, you try to increase shutter speed to avoid blur by increasing the ISO (and increasing your digital noise and distortion) and opening the aperture too wide, changing depth of fields in unwelcome ways.
(ii). Dawn and dusk. If you want those beautiful photos that seem to have that intangible quality, you really need to head out at dawn and dusk. The summer light for me between say 09:00 am to 7:00 pm is just too harsh, too bright. That isn't to say that you can't get keeper shots at high noon. Its just my experience that my best shots are caught at the soft edges of dusk and dawn. Birds are out, and my best bird shots are always at dusk and dawn. Even grass and leaves look better bejeweled with dew.
(iii). Consider filters. I use a wide array of filters. These include filters to pick up different color in the ambient light out there (http://www.singh-ray.com/goldnblue.html). I often stack filters, using a Singh Ray Blu n' Gold at the base of the stack in a Cokin P sized filter, with a Singh Ray Color Intensifier and followed by a Singh Ray Graduated Neutral Density Filter (half clear, half dark to block out the bright sun, with the neutral density reducing the amount of light coming into the camera without changing the color of the light). This effect of using multiple filters in landscape work can have very pleasing results.
(iv). Tripods! If you can use a tripod, you'll generally get much clearer shots. Especially at dusk and dawn, the prime shooting times, light is lower and the temptation to use higher ISO levels and wide apertures will adversely affect your shot. Too low a shutter speed, and you lose sharpness to hand-held blur. If you try to compensate with a super wide aperture, you may have enough light for a hand held shot, but the wide aperture may give a very shallow depth of field, which is anathema to wide-vista landscape shots. Use a tripod, meter the scene in various areas, and if you have to shoot a t 1/3rd of a second at f/18 and at an ISO of 100 for lots of nice, creamy detail in RAW, then you can. Image stabilization just doesn't do it all the time.
When shooting birds with big, long lenses, you need a tripod. Without argument. The tripod allows you to properly steady the lens since your bird will often be a speck in your frame, even out to 400 mm. You can't hold a lens steady to avoid blur at that range. Think you can?
Try holding a laser pointer aimed at a wall 6 inches from you. The laser dot looks pretty stable. This is you shooting hand held at a close subject using a short focal length lens.
Try holding that laser dot fixed at 100 meters now. What happens to the steadiest of hands? The laser dot is jumping all over the place. Similarly, when you try and hand hold a long lens that's stretched out to its max focal length to capture a distant bird or fox, the lens shake at your hand of millimeters translates into much greater shake at the distance of your subject, just like that laser dot jumping around at 100 meters. So use a tripod! And if you have the luxury with a still animal like a great blue heron, use the live view feature of your camera to get perfect focus, then shut off the auto focus, shut off the live view and snap the picture.
Not to flog a product, and I receive nothing from the company in exchange for this this, but I have made the ultimate tripod commitment and went with Really Right Stuff (http://reallyrightstuff.com/Index.aspx?code=46&key=fr). They are an all-American company, with all of their product, "down to the tiniest screw" as they say, made in the USA. You can always reach a customer service rep there by phone or e-mail, with outstanding results. There are definately less expensive options out there, but I cringe when I have students come out with me using $70.00 tripods with maybe a 8-10 lb load rating, using their $2000 DSLR and commensurately expensive lenses. Like putting tires guaranteed to blow out at load on a $100,000 Lamborghini.
But let me say this, with emphasis; When you buy from RRS, you only pay once!
Let me explain; I have a DSLR and expensive 100-400 mm Canon lens that ride on my RRS ball head and tripod set up. When I'm in the field trying to get the perfect bird shot, I carry my camera on my tripod, extended, so I'm ready to shoot supported (critical with long lenses) at a second's notice, which is all the birds, foxes, and other critters give you. Once I'm done and its back to camp, I'll pack the tripod and camera away in my camera knapsack. The point it is, RRS can guarantee that if I properly set up and regularly check my tripod, I can carry my camera over my shoulder all day in complete confidence. My last monopod head disconnected without warning from the body of the monopod when the cheap brass connector screw just sheared off without warning. If that happens on safari or on a trip, you're out your expensive camera and lens while traveling on a long-planned, expensive trip where you plan to take a lot of photos. Imagine.
So, I chose to pay once for a lifetime tripod and ball head setup, get excellent customer service and then proceed to work the shit out of my tripod in the field, in rain, snow, heat and hills, without one scintilla of concern that my tripod will let me down.
Use the best lens for the task that you can afford. Get out early (I mean crack of dawn!) or at dusk for the really amazing light. Try to use filters on your landscape work, experimenting with the less expensive options on EBay before moving to the more expensive pro-grades like Lee and Singh Ray. Finally, use a tripod as often as you can. I also have a Really Right Stuff monopod for my long lens when birding, on days that I don't feel like lugging the full monty tripod when its brutally hot and humid. Any support--like a monopod--is better than no support. Tripod is best however. And as often as possible You'll be surprised.
And get out there! You don't get good shots sitting in front of the television!
Best of luck, I welcome questions and dialogue comments on this blog.
Some pictures of my California trip that I missed and had not yet posted. Coronado is a beautiful spot, and for my last night in California, was worth being there for the sunset.
I used (over used) my Singh Ray filters, creating color, contrast and light separation. The Blu 'n Gold filter creates blues and golds, the A13 adds a bit of red-pink warmth, the Sunset Strip adds a layer of gold-pink to the clouds and sky, the split neutral density filters hold back some of the sky brightness to keep the darker foreground and the brighter sky in better balance, and the color intensifier ups the earth tones.
I know, I know. You can use too much makeup, right? Ahh, it was the last night of my first ever photo trip/visit to California, and I perhaps got carried away.
Use a tripod, the sun will set quickly and long shutter speeds will be required.
Thanks for looking,
A simple technique, where you hang a flashlight from the ceiling, and set up your camera on a tripod or flat on the floor beneath. Using a shutter release cable and shooting on Bulb Mode (so I could do an exposure longer than the pre-set of 30 seconds on other modes), you set the flashlight swinging, and hold the shutter open with the shutter release cable for about 60 seconds. The swinging light will record as a spirograph. Different light colors require different shutter speeds, so you have to experiment a bit.
I visited Southern California recently, and stayed with a friend who lives just outside of San Diego. The reason for the trip, which had been put off for several years, was an article I read in Popular Photography magazine, where the photos of Jon Cornforth and the spring wildflower blooms in Anza-Boreggo State Park. My friend, also an avid photographer, told me that he lived within a reasonable commute to Anza-Boreggo, and that we should make the trip.
I only had six days available, so we visited the Pacific shoreline near Imperial Beach after I arrived on Sunday afternoon, Balboa Park on the Monday, Anza-Boreggo at dawn on Tuesday, Joshua Tree National Park on Wednesday, day off Thursday, and Cabrillo National Monument and the tidal pools on Friday.
My goal was to get some very unique shots of the desert, and since our travels took us to three types of desert (Sonora, Colorado and Mojave deserts), I had the opportunity to hit a wide range of images.
Things I learned:
1. Dress for the desert. Even in March, even in a "dry" heat, you need serious hydration for a day on your feet. Sunscreen and a very light, very floppy sun hat are key.
2. Spend time in advance of the trip doing your reconnaissance of where you want to shoot. As I said to one park ranger, I flew 5000 kilometers to be there, and had one sunset in Joshua Tree National Park to get the images I wanted. You can't be improvising when time is so short. We checked on-line resources, so as to have exact spots in mind for our shots, then made sure we were in position about 30 minutes ahead of sunrise and sunset. We checked out potential sites during the heat of the day when it was too bright and too hot to be rock hopping, and made sure that our spots provided opportunities for sunset shots facing west to the horizon, as well as structure such as mountain or hills opposite (east) that would provide opportunities of sun-drenched geography as the sun set. Once that sun starts to set, your opportunities change by the second.
3. Bring polarizing filters. The sun is incredibly bright from about 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. in the spring. We were in place to photograph key geographical sites at sunrise, then went for breakfast, then back to the desert to hike and shoot until lunch, keeping out of the sun until about 3:00 p.m.
4. Bring your lens hoods. One for every lens. If you don't usually use a lens hood--and you should--you really need to bring them for desert daytime shots. The flare you'll get in some shots will kill your photos without lens hoods. I like to take the occasional timed exposure using my Singh Ray Infra Red filter. Its a 77 mm filter and its so opaque, it requires a 2-3 minute exposure even in broad daylight. Any shot that long without a lens hood will be toast. Even shot exposures of the ocean will be affected if you don't use your hood.
5. Tripod. I brought my traveling rig, a Gitzo 1542T with a Really Right Stuff BH-30 ball-head. Its not got the height I'd like, but its light and rigid and provides an excellent platform for dawn and dusk shots. Its light enough to backpack all day in the heat. You really don't want to travel great distances only to come home with blurry shots. Use the tripod.
6. Backpack. You need a means to tote all your camera, lens, tripod and other bits here, there and everywhere. I used my Thinktank Streetwalker (yeah....nice name....) knapsack; its not as rugged as an F-stop Mountain Series, but it does extremely well in both urban and back-country settings. Its well-made and well-designed, with straps that remain comfortable and fits as carry-on (critical!) luggage so that my camera and lenses are always with me when flying, This is a very solid, very comfortable pack. My only gripes are that the base doesn't have a waterproof membrane like a Hypalon material, and there's no designated spot for a water bladder. Small points. The bag is highly recommended as it is very well-designed and made.
7. Plan ahead. I looked at sites we would be visiting online, and spent a lot of time before traveling determining what kind of pictures I would like to take. The desert sunrise pictures meant bringing specific filters (Singh Ray Sunset filter, Singh Ray A13 filter, split neutral density filters, Singh Ray Blu 'n Gold filter, Singh Ray Color Intensifier), as well as my tripod, shutter release cable, lots of memory cards....you get the idea. Look at pictures of where you are planning to visit, determine in advance what unique or original shots you want to take, and plan to bring the necessary equipment. Planning is key, because once you're there and that sun is rising, you don't have time to improvise.
So that's it. I took about 1500 images in 6 days. I trimmed a great deal of fat once I got home and started putting all my workflow through Light Room 4, but better to take the shot and see how it looks once you get home. I don't travel at this time with a laptop and all the accoutrements, so I wait until I get home to process my shots. My memory cards stay on my person at all times when traveling (get a Domke Photog Vest!!! Its like wearing an extra suitcase!).
Winter is a great time for photography; the sunrises and sunsets are better now in my opinion than at any other time of the year. On the really cold, dry days, I find that the quality of the light is amazing. There is less humidity in the air, so there's less water vapor present to refract light, resulting in a clarity and special quality that only the really cold days of winter can bring.
Winter Shooting Pros:
(1). Plan your outings on winter shoots. If I have to hike a distance to get to the scene (mountain tops, etc), I'll dress in layers of Under Armor, so that I stay reasonably warm and dry on the long, active excursions. I will also use my Cotton Carrier (http://buy.cottoncarrier.com/cotton-carrier-camera-vest-p/635rtl-s.htm) on the winter treks; listen, its hard walking in snow, and even with snow shoes you're likely to fall if you're hands are always balancing a heavy DSLR. Invest in a Cotton Carrier, and you can walk hands free with your DSLR on your chest. Cotton Carrier also sell excellent little lens bags, which are perfect for day trips where you'll be humping in the snow on your snowshoes; they hold a decent sized lens, plus a bunch of filters, car keys, whatever you need on a day trip.
(2). Boots that are warm enough do not exist, not when you stop for extended periods to try and capture shots of wildlife, or take timed exposures of northern lights or sunrise/sunset shots. If you stand long enough, even the warmest boots on the planet will leave you with cold feet. So I use those air-activated hand/foot warmers on the really cold days. Worth their weight in gold.
(3). If you're not going to be active, i.e. you have all your kit in your car, and you're stopping on quiet country roads to take timed exposures at dawn, dusk or at night, you're going to get cold standing around. I overdress, wearing my "hell-froze-over-and-I'm-warm" Canada Goose parka and hat. You can always unzip and let heat out if you overdress, but if the wind's up or the temps are below 0 Fahrenheit, you can't seem to get warm when standing around doing timed exposures. I suggest you overdress.
In conclusion, winter shooting poses a lot of challenges. Its difficult to get from here to there because you have to walk through snow; its cold, and you and your equipment really don't like to be out when it gets below 0F/-32C. Everything takes longer to do, lenses frost up, electronics pack in and stop working or misbehave, and have you tried setting up a lighting scenario in snow? That all said, I love shooting in the winter. I like the cold if I'm dressed for it, I love the air quality as it relates to photos, and I love the special feel of a photo taken at dawn or dusk on a blistering cold day. It just looks so beautiful. So get out and shoot the winter! Life is short, photos last.
December 21st, 2012, and the Apocalypse has arrived in snow form here in Eastern Ontario. We've got about one foot (30 cm) of heavy, wet snow so far, with predictions for continued snow, heavy winds and dropping temperatures. Those ancient Mayan soothsayers could really make accurate predictions. Then, I couldn't post on the 21st, because our internet was out. Today, December 22nd, our power was out most of the day. But the power's back, and so am I. For the 2 readers of my blog, this is riveting news.
Anyways, while the world will likely still be here tomorrow (which means I have to go back to work...dammit), I can share photos taken of the day of reckoning, since it illustrates some issues with taking photos on snowy days.
Weather extremes; the snow was falling very heavily today. Big, wet, lazy flakes that actually made a small noise when they landed, they were so large. So, even though my Canon 7D has a degree of weatherproofing, it pays to protect your investment.
Weather proofing your DSLR; I use an Op/Tech Rain Sleeve (http://optechusa.com/rainsleeve.html). This is a made-in-the-USA product of simplicity, low-cost and general effectiveness. It's a transparent plastic bag, shaped to cover any model of DSLR, with pretty much any lens you can imagine. I use a lens hood on my lens in this sort of weather, and with gaffer's tape, the best friend of any photographer, I secure the Rain Sleeve over the lens so that the plastic stays in place. The Rain Sleeve comes with a string and tightening spring to allow you to snug the plastic over the lens hood, but I find it never holds well enough. By using small strips of gaffer's tape to attach the plastic sleeve to about 6 points of contact on your lens hood, the sleeve stays in place to protect your lens from getting wet. Once you're done your day, the gaffer's tape removes without any residue on your lens hood. You have to play around with the plastic sleeve on the lens hood to prevent vignetting, the darkening around the edges of your image that come from having something (a filter holder a plastic Rain Sleeve) at the edge of your lens. Just arrange the sleeve, tape it to the hood, look through your view finder, and if there's vignetting, re-arrange the tape and plastic until you have a clear field of view.
I tear a small hold in the sleeve where my view finder is. If you don't, when you try to frame your picture, looking through plastic will distort your field of view. I make a small hole in the sleeve, put the hole around my viewfinder cup (I use a Hoodman viewfinder cup, which is larger than average) and this way my camera is largely protected from rain and heavy snow. If I'm going to be walking a while, and if the snow or rain is hitting hard, I just pull the hole away from the viewfinder, to keep it covered with plastic. If you don't, the viewfinder will fill up with moisture.
Carrying in rain and snow: carry your camera with the lens facing down at all times unless you intend to take an exposure. The best way to keep your lens free of rain and snow is to keep it pointing away from the sky. When I want to take a shot, the camera comes up (I carry on a BlackRapid RS7 strap, an outstanding design that allows carry in fairly demanding circumstances with my right hand holding the camera lens down (http://www.blackrapid.com/products/curve). If I'm in the backwoods for a long day, I'll generally use my handy Cotton Carrier to keep my camera on my chest, hands free, but when I need to put a plastic Rain Sleeve on the camera, its just easier to carry it on a strap, even in the backwoods. Which is where I went to photograph snow on this Day of Apocalypse.
Metering your scene for snowy days; exposing for snow; shooting in the snow presents a lot of challenges. The snow obviously reflects a lot of light, making it bright and generally hard on your eyes. I'll talk about taking photos on bright sunny snowy days another time; for cloudy grey days or when its actively snowing like today, you want to set a custom white balance in your DSLR's shooting menu, or if you shoot with a Canon DSLR, use a white balance preset; there are presets for cloudy days, shade, full sun, etc. You can try setting custom white balance in your menu by shooting a picture of an 18% grey photo card or white card, in the ambient light you'll be shooting in, but I find the results much better honestly when I use a custom preset or shoot on automatic white balance.
I always shoot on manual mode; I meter for the lighter-of-center aspect of my photo. Not the brightest area, not the darkest, but just slighter brighter than the mid-point of the scene. That way, I avoid under exposing the dark areas if I meter on bright white snow, and I avoid over exposing the snow by metering on too-dark an aspect of the image.
I generally will use a polarizing filter on snowy days, to help take a bit of the bite and glare out of the light reflecting into my camera. When I have a plastic sleeve taped to my lens hood, I can't get a filter holder on the lens, so the only filters I use on days like today are those that screw onto the lens directly.
Other than that, snowy days present the following challenges:
And have fun! The End of Days doesn't happen every year!
Be safe and keep your camera going, even when the world is ending.
Photographers tend to specialize in order to catch a certain market segment. As a result, there are photographers who create their entire business around shooting weddings, others exclusively do boudoir work, still others do family portrait work.
In addition to landscapes, I've been shooting figure figure athletes since starting my photography endeavors after making the Shawshank Redemption-like break from forensics a few years ago. Each segment of the market has its challenges, both from the technical point of view, and from the aspect of dealing with varying personalities effectively to get the best result.
My approach to photographing figure athletes is predicated on the three foundations of a successful endeavor:
1. Service: I make it a point to speak with the client or communicate via e-mails, to determine what they want from the shoot. A client will often have a general idea of some of the photos they want to come away with, but you really need to ask refining questions, explore what they want and provide them with a service that fulfills their wants and needs. To accomplish this, I will always write out a shooting schedule, which is a document that outlines where and when the shoot will take place, terms, approximate timelines for specific venues, and general orientation. I will e-mail this to the client, and discuss any changes they wish to make until the schedule is agreed upon. Prior communications will have established the general clothing and wardrobe aspects, so that I can plan out backgrounds and screens to compliment the clothing choices.
2. Convenience: Its important that the service not only meets the needs of the client, but that the client can walk into the shoot and everything is ready to go. Since my studio is portable, I can shoot outdoors, at a client's residence or at a mutually-agreed upon venue. The client arrives, and we go through the series of venues that were drawn up in the shooting schedule. Once done, there is nothing for the client to do but wait for the finished product (which is usually an archival-grade DVD of the shoot's images after post production in Photo Shop). I will mail the DVD to the recipient, so again, they don't need to drive somewhere to pick up their photos.
3. Building Loyalty: Its important to treat people the way you want to be treated. I make a point of answering questions, calls and e-mails in the quickest fashion possible. If I can't answer a question, I will research it until I do have an answer. If someone expresses an interest in having a session done, I make all the information they need available to them, then I let them be; I don't hound someone who's unsure if they're ready for a session, I don't post images of clients unless I have their permission to do so, and I offer incentives to returning customers.
Key aspects when photographing figure athletes:
So, until the next shoot, stay safe and keep shooting. You'll never get that perfect shot with your camera tucked away in its case.