Shooting Fireworks

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Firework displays are fun to watch and I can’t possibly pass up any opportunity to make some images, so here are a few tips for shooting fireworks.

1. Turn the autofocus feature off on the lens. Move the focus ring to infinity. It’s difficult for most cameras to focus accurately and quickly in the dark. So pre focus ahead of time. To get the best accuracy, autofocus the lens you will use in daylight on something far away. Then turn autofocus off and tape the focus ring with electrical tape. Now you’re all set. You’ll notice the most accurate focus reads slightly off the infinity mark.

2. Use manual mode. You’ll be adjusting the shutter speeds to get the proper exposure. I don’t use the histogram for this type of photography, I just view the image on the screen to see how it looks.

3. I set my ISO to 400 or 800 and f stop to 4 or 5.6, depending on the lens. Depth of field is fairly irrelevant for this type of shooting. White balance to Auto.

4. Use a tripod. It gets tiresome to stand and hold the camera up at an angle for very long. Most firework shows last 30-45 minutes. A tripod that is taller than you is best, you don’t have to squat down at an awkward angle to look through the viewfinder. Once you know where they are shooting you can just stand back and press the shutter button.

5. Use a remote control or trigger release cord. I prefer the trigger release better as the remote often requires you to use it from the front of the camera. That is where the sensor is. If the camera is pointed up towards the sky, it may be awkward to use a remote. The trigger release attaches to a port usually on the side of the camera. Now you can just sit back and click the trigger when a burst goes up. Once I’m set up I don’t even bother looking through the viewfinder.

6. I use a wide angle zoom lens, 16-35mm. If you’re really far away you might need a telephoto. Fireworks can be quite spread out and you want to make sure you have plenty of space in the image for them to fill up.

7. Shutter speed will vary depending on how bright the fireworks are. Typical single shot fireworks came out well with an ISO of 400, aperture of 5.6 and shutter speed of 1-2 seconds. The image below was made with those settings.

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Whereas this image of a much brighter show was shot at ISO 400, aperture 5.6 and a speed of 1/3 second.

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Both images were shot at 24mm on a tripod with a Canon 5D MarkII set to Auto White Balance.

The finale can get quite bright, so bracket your shutter speeds faster so you don’t end up with a blown out display like this:

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Get there early to get a good spot and bring a red flashlight so you can see your camera and preserve your night vision. It may take you a few shots to figure out the best focal length, and shutter speed settings. But once you’re set you can sit back and shoot away!

If you live in the Charlottesville area there is a show tonight at dark at McIntire Park celebrating the Dogwood Festival.

 

Grooming the Scene

Spring is here, time to get shooting!   I love shooting the spring ephemerals. These wildflower gems pack a lot of beauty in a tiny package. However, due to their small size there may be a lot of distractions around them. I like my subject to stand out from the background. This involves choosing a subject that has as clean a background as possible. Despite your best efforts, there are usually distracting elements around your subject. It may be another plant, bright or dark spots, color, pollen, dead leaves, anything that draws the eye of the viewer away from the subject is distracting.

Distracting elements in the image below are sheen on the leaf, the leaf of another plant in the lower left and a dead leaf on the right leaf near the bottom.

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The first problem I addressed was the sheen on the leaf. This was resolved by using a circular polarizer. This removes sheen and lets the color of the subject come through. This is why everything looks better through polarized sun glasses.

The next thing I did was recompose slightly to the right and tuck the offending leaf out of the way. The rule here is ‘Tuck don’t Pluck’. This image was taken on public land, so don’t go messing up the environment and ripping stuff up. I often times gently tuck a leaf or blade of grass out of the way. Finally I removed the dead leaf on the right leaf near the base. I have no qualms rearranging a few dead leaves.

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This image is better but there is another leaf encroaching in the lower right corner. The color of the leaf draws your eye away from the main subject.

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Here, I’ve tucked the lower right leaf out of the way. It’s looking much better, but there is a tall green grass stem sticking up on the right side intersecting the tip of the right leaf and creating a competing line with the main subject. I tucked this out of the way and WaLa!

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The final uncluttered image with no major distracting elements.

Good nature photography takes time and patience. Compose and take a shot. Then review it! Ask yourself what worked and what needs improvement. Do you have distracting elements? If so can you groom them out of the scene without tearing anything up?

Grooming your scene helps the subject to stand out. Never pluck or damage surrounding plants.

Use a tripod! As you see this took several shots to get the final one. Having the camera on a tripod eliminates the need to find the perfect spot again and helps you notice some of the distractions prior to pressing the shutter button.

This series is of a Showy Orchis that I photographed at Ivy Creek Natural Area. Other local Charlottesville areas good for photographing wildflowers are Secluded Farm at Monticello trails and Preddy Creek Natural Area. Happy Shooting!

Larger than life

Spring Peeper
Spring Peeper – 100mm Macro lens

I like to photograph almost anything in nature. This past weekend I spend some time looking for salamanders and frogs. These guys are small and low to the ground, so how do you capture them?

First off you need to get low. Down on their level. This means the proper clothing and knee protection. I always wear my rain pants so I can wallow around in the mud and wet leaves. Knee pads or a garden pad are great ideas to protect your knees – we’re not getting any younger. A couple of Ibuprofen may also be in your arsenal to help with those aches and pains of getting low!

A macro lens, extension tube or close-up filters help you focus close and make your subject bigger if you’re using a DSLR or mirror-less system. If you’re using a point and shoot camera, then switch to macro mode. This is marked with a flower usually. This mode will allow you to focus closer. Try not to use the zoom when in the this mode, unless you can’t get close enough to the subject.

A macro lens is the best as it will render your subject life size on the sensor at it’s closest focusing distance. They have wonderful quality and a wide range of f stops, often opening up to 2.8. They also make great portrait lenses so you have multiple uses for them. They usually come in 50mm, 60mm, 100mm, 180mm, and 200mm focal lengths depending on your manufacturer. I prefer the 100mm for it’s size, distance to subject and  focal length. However, this may not be in everyone’s budget.

An extension tube is a great alternative that I used for years with my 70-200mm lens until I could afford the 100mm macro. This is a hollow tube that goes between your camera and the lens. It changes the focal length of the lens so it will now focus closer and it doesn’t impact the quality of the lens you are using unlike the close-up filters.  I also used it to great effect on my 400mm lens by reducing the 11.5 foot minimum distance. Now I was able to focus on a subject out in the water that I couldn’t get real close to but was closer than 11.5′ and still make him good sized in the image.

Bull Frog - 400mm lens with  25mm extension tube
Bull Frog – 400mm lens with 25mm extension tube

The cheapest method, but also lowest quality, are close up filters. These are essentially magnifier filters that enlarge the subject. They are an economical way to get started and see if you like this type of photography.

Armed with your set up, get low and get close. This brings your subject to life! You don’t want to have to crop 75-90% of your image to see your subject.

Marbled Salamander
Marbled Salamander – 100mm macro lens

 

Be ready to Grab Opportunities when they come your way

Last week I was working in my home office. It was a dreary, cloudy day, when suddenly I noticed this beautiful warm light filtering through the windows. I looked outside and the sun was beaming through the trees across the street. I’m thinking, “That’s really pretty, I should go see what I can do with it”. As I get up to go grab a camera, a friend calls. I chat with him briefly and then look outside again. “Well, I can still get out there in time, I think:.  Then I race downstairs as I am filled with a sense of urgency. Grabbing my camera, I head outside in my slippers and house clothes.

I loved the starburst effect through the trees, but the sun was getting too low to do much and the foreground by the trees was not great.The area behind my house is all new homes and construction, so there’s a lot of junk in the foregrounds. The clouds were quite nice, so I’m thinking, “Maybe the after sunset color will be good”. It’s so hard to tell sometimes. I wandered down the street as the sun sunk below the horizon, looking for a vantage point. There was great fog cover over the river in the background, but I couldn’t get up high enough to capture it. You can barely see it in the image I posted.

But you should never give up! I was wandering back when the clouds lit up. The image does not do it justice. Soft molten gold is as close as I can describe. I was shooting tree silhouettes, when one tree stood out from the rest. This was it! After a few test exposures, I was happy as a clam, changing compositions and enjoying every moment of a spectacular sunset as my husband was hollering for dinner in the background. “Just a few more minutes,” I holler back. He’s a good and understanding partner!

This is one of my favorite sunset images to date. You never know what will come your way, so don’t hesitate when it does. Run out and grab it!

11 Tips for Tide Pool Photography

 

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I love tide pools. When I was a kid on the west coast, nothing was more interesting and entertaining than seeing all of the critters in the pools. Today I live on the east coast where tide pools are few and far between and just not the same as out west. But whenever I get out to the West Coast, you’re sure to find me looking for a tide pool. I’d like to share some tips for tide pool photography.

1. Research! Use the internet to find cool tide pools. The west coast is littered with them, but they are not along every shoreline. So find out where they are.

2. More research! Know when the low tide is and even better look for the negative tides, often found around the full moon phase. This means the tide goes out further and you can get out further to more pools. Also know when the tide is coming in. You don’t want to get trapped out in the water or get hit by an incoming wave!

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3. Wear the right clothes. Tide pools are located in slippery, rocky, uneven terrain. Have good shoes that grip well and support your ankles. Bring an extra pair of socks. Waterproof pants are not a bad idea. Wear your sunscreen. A rain coat is also not a bad idea. It can be quite cold or hot out there, so check the weather.

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4. Not only do you need a low tide, but you need a fairly calm day. So check the weather, a lot of wind causes ripples on the water, which will not allow for clear images through the water. I prefer cloudy days to bright sunny ones – less glare. Stormy days are also not a great idea, go figure.

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5. A circular polarizer is your friend. There is a lot of glare on the water and even on the critters not in the water. A circular polarizer helps cut through the glare and get beautiful colors instead of a washed out foggy image.

Without Polarizer
Without Polarizer
With Polarizer
With Polarizer

6. A diffuser, umbrella or dark coat to cut even more glare. Even with a calm cloudy day and your polarizer you may get glare and reflections on the water you are shooting through. I have used a black wrap to great effect by blocking overhead light. A diffuser or neutral color umbrella can help on a sunny day.

I held up my dark wrap to block overhead light which eliminated glare and reflections.
I held up my dark wrap to block overhead light which eliminated glare and reflections.

7. Some critters look better under water. Anemones look like squishy dull blobs out of the water, but are graceful, vibrant creatures under the water, provided you don’t poke them!

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8. Tripod! Focusing through water, precarious positions, high depth of field, sharp images, use of a polarizer all do better when you use a tripod. This will slow you down and give you better quality images. So use your tripod or you’ll come home with a bunch of ‘almost’ images.

9.Lenses – I have generally used my macro lenses for tide pool images, but do not discount wide angle lenses to get nice shots of the environment. To tell a complete story, multiple focal lengths are best.

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Wide angle 17-40mm
180mm Macro
180mm Macro

 

10. Cleaning Kit. This is salt water and the legs of your tripod are bound to get wet. You may also get spray on the camera or lenses. Use a moist washcloth to wipe everything down when you are done for the day, including the bottom of your shoes.

11. Take your time. The terrain does not allow for quick movement; don’t hurt yourself. Also take the time to see what’s in the pools. There is an awful lot to see out there, both above and below the water.

Enjoy the experience and have fun!

I have 2 workshops with my friend Rod Barbee this summer that visit tide pools. The images above are from trips like these. For more information visit:

Olympic National Park, July 11-16, 2015

and

Newport on the Oregon Coast July 22-26, 2015

 

 

Techniques for Photographing Landscape – Layers

You’re out enjoying the vast beauty of nature all around you. It’s spectacular, you set up your camera and snap a few shots. You look down at the view screen and you’re… disappointed. That’s not what it looks and feels like, what happened? The experience of a place live is much different than the experience a viewer of your image will have. They don’t have the benefit of sounds, smells, the feel of sun, wind, cold, nor do they have the same emotions you have while immersed in all of this.  All they have is a 2 dimensional representation of what you saw and experienced. So it’s up to you to bring that landscape to life. To entice others that they wish they were there. That they can almost feel those other sensations.

One technique for landscape photography is layering. Imagine building a sandwich, you have a bread layer, a condiment layer, a layer of veggies and/or meat and then another layer of bread. Layering a landscape works much the same way, except you usually have a foreground layer, middle layer(s) and a background layer – usually sky. This technique keeps the image dynamic and interesting.

For this to work, all of the layers must have something of interest, such as color, texture or a strong subject element such as a barn, tree, mountain and so forth. If you include the sky it must be interesting. Look for color and/or dynamic clouds. A plain blue sky is often just as boring as a washed out sky. But it can be used as a layer in your image, just don’t include too much of it.

Now that you have some layers it’s time to proportion them. Is the foreground or background stronger? Are they equal in strength? You might emphasize a foreground and minimize the background or you might have equal amounts of each layer. See below for some variations. Mentally divide the layers into proportions.

The first image has a foreground layer of grasses with a strong element immersed in them. Then there are two thin layers of rolling fields and a small strip of blue sky. The sky is minimized as it is not that interesting. The truck element is the strongest part of the image and is emphasized proportionally.

Red Truck

This image has a foreground layer of grasses with a strong element, the barn immersed. Then there’s another layer of rolling hills and finally a sky. This image is more 50:50 with the sky as there are dynamic clouds and color.

Palouse Barns

Here the sunset lit house is minimized against a very menacing sky. There are only 2 layers, the foreground field with house and the sky. The effect and feel is quite different from the previous 2 images.

Palouse Farmhouse

The foreground of this image has color, texture and a leading line of tire tracks that leads the viewer into the vast landscape. The middle layer is a fallow field and the remainder 50% of the image is filled with an interesting sky of blue and clouds.

Palouse field

Here the image has a diagonal foreground triangle with the sign. A diagonal road line divides the foreground from the middle ground of fields and then another dynamic sky of color and texture.

Dead End Sign

 

Next time you’re out shooting landscapes, look for layers to include in the image. Then decide what is more interesting or powerful. If you’re uncertain, take several images emphasizing the foreground and then the background. One will more than likely stand out from the others. Good Luck and Happy Shooting!

All images above are from the Palouse region in Eastern Washington state. It’s a beautiful area for landscape photography. My friend Rod Barbee and I teach a workshop out there every summer. For more information and see more images from this area visit my website.

Photographing Lovejoy

This past weekend I tried my hand at shooting the comet Lovejoy. I had lovely clear skies Friday evening and caught my first glimpse of the comet. It’s a cool fuzzy green blob below the Pleiades. I trained my long 300-800mm lens on it, but it was hard to get much with the lens. It’s slow at f5.6, not ideal for astrophotography. Combining that with the long length meant I couldn’t use shutter speeds much fast than 2-3 seconds before the stars lost their pin point brilliance. My Canon 5D MarkII has good ISO quality up to 3200. 6400 was ok, but the HI and H2 were too noisy to use. I also forgot to pre focus the lens to infinity during daylight hours, so the first batch of shots weren’t great.

I pulled out my 70-200 f 2.8 lens and had much better luck. The infinity mark on this lens was spot on and the 2.8 aperture combined with less focal length allowed me to get longer shutter speeds and some decent images. So I’ve got a cool fuzzy green blob on a field of stars. I’ll take it!

Key points to remember prior to shooting objects at night with basic camera photo gear:

  • Prefocus all lenses to infinity and tape the focus ring down
  • Turn off autofocus
  • Have a red light headlamp
  • Shoot in manual
  • Use the widest aperture you have – a 2.8 or wider lens is best
  • Start with ISO 3200 and go from there
  • Take the lens focal length and divide into 500 for the longest shutter speed you can use without significant star streaks, ie 200mm into 500 is 2.5 seconds, 20mm into 500 is 25 seconds, 100mm into 500 is 5 seconds, etc…
  • Don’t even try this without a tripod
  • Use your cable release or remote control
  • Consider long exposure noise reduction, but this does double the time to take each image
  • Mirror lock up not really necessary as the shutter speeds are too long. Mirror lock up is best for speeds between 1/15 and 1 second long
  • Figure out ahead of time where your object is located in the night sky and have a star chart or app available to help you find it.
  • Find a dark sky location away from light pollution

One day I’d love to have a telescope to shoot through and the ability to track the earth’s rotation. Something to look forward to. In the meantime I’ll drool over the spectacular shots other astrophotographers got. See this link for some examples:

http://www.skyandtelescope.com/astronomy-news/observing-news/spot-comet-lovejoy-tonight-122920141/

Here’s my shot:

comet Lovejoy
Comet Lovejoy

 

Aurora Printing

Witnessing the Northern Lights is a once in a lifetime experience. Photographing them does not do them justice,but it’s an incredible reminder of my journey. I of course shot  hundreds of images, but after careful editing, I have about a dozen that I really like. They are brilliantly displayed on my monitor, but I want to make Christmas Cards for this year. So off to Red River Paper I go! They have a wonderful selection of paper options for cards, both glossy and matte finishes. While I have traditionally printed on matte papers for my fine art prints, I feel these images will look best on a glossy paper. Glossy papers along with photo black inks do a better job rendering black than a matte paper ink combo. Since these images have a lot of black in them, I’m going gloss.

Since I’m not sure which paper will work best I got Red Rivers Card sampler pack. I would also like to offer these images for sale as prints, so I decided to give the Polar Pearl Metallic a try. Metallic papers give an interesting 3D shimmer to the image on top of the glossy finish. The Aurora Borealis seems like a perfect subject for this!

I quickly got my papers. I had to change out my matte black ink for the photo black on my Epson 7800. Relatively easy process. Newer printers often have both ink sets installed, so you don’t have to go through it; saving you ink and time. However, I discovered my Epson 7800 doesn’t handle the small 7″ x 10″ size of paper for cards, so I tried using my Epson 3520 workhorse, the office printer. The workhorse Epson did a fantastic job of handling the card paper and rendering true colors just using the printers built in color management. Hooray, my goal of printing cards is still alive. I tested all of the glossy card options from Red River and decided on their most popular glossy card paper: Pecos River Gloss. It has a nice weight and great gloss with deep crisp blacks.

Now onto the metallic paper. I’ve wanted to try this paper for a while, but haven’t had a subject worthy of it, so here we go! I downloaded Red Rivers color profile for the paper and installed it. They have great directions to do this. It’s easy to do, you just need to make sure the profile goes in the right folder so Lightroom or Photoshop know where to get it. I’m using Lightroom to print everything by the way. The profile worked great. The prints had deep crisp blacks with accurate colors and brightness. I was quite pleased. I also enjoy the shimmery metallic sheen for the aurora. It brings them to life.

Choosing the right printer, paper and ink set can be daunting. It’s taken me lots of research and years to get to where I am. I started with Epson’s 1280 so many years ago.  So get a good photo printer if you want to do a lot of printing/selling and don’t be afraid to try some of the all in one models for simple jobs like making cards!

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Tales from the Northwest Territories – Bucket List – The Northern Lights

Aurora dances over Prosperous Lake
Aurora dances over Prosperous Lake

Nothing short of a divine experience, the lights play across the sky, dancing and writhing, expanding and contracting, undulating color changes. The stars shine so brightly, the Big Dipper pops from the sky, the Pleiades twinkle like I’ve never seen and the Milky Way flows a river of stars across the sky.

We had 4 wonderfully clear nights to experience the Aurora in Yellowknife, NWT. I look forward to more Aurora experiences next year. My friend Rod Barbee and I plan to run another workshop up there in September 2015. Let me know if you’re interested. You won’t regret it!!!

Not to mention there’s great fall color in the boreal forest, a couple of lovely waterfalls and even some wildlife sightings; we saw wolves, otters, beaver, eagles and fox.

Shooting the aurora is relatively easy, but does require a thorough set up. I highly recommend How to Photograph the Northern Lights . This book explains shooting this phenomenon in plain terms for all levels of the DSLR user.

Aurora swirls above
Aurora swirls above
Milky Way with aurora
Milky Way with aurora
Dancing lights
Dancing lights

 

 

Tales from the Northwest Territories – The Man Who Cried Bear

Bear Silhouette

Danny cried bear and our fearless leaders bounded off the road in our all-terrain minivans. Everyone quickly focused on the beast standing across a pond. It patiently waited there unmoving, with it’s mouth slightly open, gazing. Frame after frame was eagerly shot as everyone vied for position and tried to keep quiet. A few minutes into the shoot, we began to wonder why it had not moved a hair. Shooting stopped and images were reviewed close-up. I guess the fact it was a target of wood answered that question. Exclamations of amusement broke from the group as we noticed our folly. A grand joke upon us and much ribbing for the son of Badger – but he took it in stride. It was a good spot. At least my Bison silhouette was real, if no less elusive.