Friday, June 11, 2010

The Digital Revolution - Embrace the Technology

I have always considered myself more creative and less technical. However, since I made the switch from film to a digital slr in 2003, I see that I am becoming more balanced between technical and creative. It took awhile for me to completely understand the relationships between lenses, aperture, speed, iso and light. Understanding this relationship was made easier with the instant feedback provided by digital slr's. Once you understand how these elements work together it is really like someone turns on a light switch. Now I see the light!

There are not really any excuses for people to not take advantage of the technology in digital slr's. You can experiment with settings and exposures to see what works best. I almost exclusively shoot aperture priority because I like to control depth of field in my images. I now pay more attention to the histogram and make sure it is exposing properly. I control the iso according to how much noise is acceptable or what setting will allow me to capture the image. I also keep an eye on the shutter speed to see if it will allow me to stop motion or provide a sharp image.

If I let the camera do all of the work for me, I could literally focus on just the subject. I think this causes photographers to be somewhat lazy and not pay attention to the details in the technical settings. I think that digital slr's are significantly reducing the amount of time it takes to go from being a good photographer to a great photographer. It is important to note that this requires a good eye for composition. I'm not sure if you can train for composition other than study those who have mastered composition and see how they create their images. The other option is to just do what you like and develop your own style.

In the digital world take time to explore and don't be afraid of the technology, sit down with that owners manual and begin to explore the possibilities. Read, learn, watch, explore, play, experiment and grow as a photographer.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Holy Macro

If you want to capture the colors of spring and summer it is not necessary to go any further than a nearby garden. Lucky for me I have a beautiful garden in my back yard. So I simply grab my Canon 40D SLR and my 100mm Macro lens and head out into the back yard. In the garden you will find plenty of interesting subjects to photograph. Anything from delicate leaves on a fern to colorful flowers or insects.

Macro photography requires the appropriate gear to capture macro images. A true macro is 1:1 reproduction and a true macro lens will provide that to you. However, there are some other options that will get you close, like purchasing a set of Kenko Extension Tubes and using them with an existing telephoto lens in your collection.

I prefer to use a true macro lens and I use the Canon 100mm Macro along with my Canon 40D. You will also need a solid tripod, cable release and set your camera to mirror lock-up. I prefer to shoot in natural light and in the outdoors. This requires a combination of overcast and preferably no wind. Gather your equipment, mount the camera to the tripod, attach your cable release and you are ready to shoot.

One important thing to remember when shooting macro is that you have a very shallow depth of field. If you remember that your digital sensor is a flat plane and that when aligning your subject to shoot, it is best to keep the elements you want in focus to be parallel to your sensor. This may require moving around your tripod and camera to get this aligned to capture the look you desire. Once you have your subject aligned, you will need to turn off auto focus and be very precise with your focus. It is at this point you need to make sure that there is no movement of your subject because even the slightest of breeze will blur your image because it is highly magnified. So often I position myself to block the wind or find a box or piece of cardboard to deflect any slight breeze.

Before clicking the shutter on the cable release, you may want to determine if you want a very shallow depth of field (f2.8 - f4.5) or maximize the depth of field to have more elements in focus (f22 - f32). These f-stops are for my Canon 100mm lens, your settings may very depending on the speed of your lens. If you are shooting with a digital slr, you can experiment with several different settings until you have the look you desire. It is important to play close attention to everything in the background because even one shiny leaf may be a huge distraction in a macro image. Hopefully these tips will help you fine-tune your macro skills and open up a whole new world to explore.

Click here to see my flower portfolio.



Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Call of the Loon

If you have spent any time around Lakes in the Northern part of the United States and Canada, you are familiar with the sounds of the common loon. Their various calls and vocalizations are a bit strange and in fact sound almost maniacal, which helps explain why they are called "Loons". However, soon you become comforted by their haunting calls as they bring back fond memories of warm summer days spent at the lake.

I have been asked many times - How do you possibly photograph these beautiful birds? A few things are helpful, a big zoom lens, patience, calm and great light. I recommend spending time on the water viewing the behaviors of the loons. Learn their calls which are used to communicate, warn of danger, or remind passing loons that this territory is taken. This will help you learn when you are too close or are frightening the birds. It seems that loons are generally curious about humans and often will approach close to your boat. This is especially true if you are quiet and in a small fishing boat or canoe. If you find you need to get closer to the loons I would recommend using an electric trolling motor. This will allow you to move closer without scaring the loons or making them feel threatened. Again, pay attention to their behavior as they will let you know when you are too close for their comfort.

For a successful shoot there are a few key ingredients: locating your subject, good light and a great location. Common Loons provide some unique challenges because they are difficult to get a proper exposure without blowing out the highlights. Keep an eye on your histogram to make sure that you are not overexposing your images. This is why lighting is key. Take advantage of "The Golden Hours" which generally is the 30 minutes before and after sunrise as well as the hour before sunset. It is during this time that you will find the light to be very warm and soft that makes any subject look better. In addition, calm waters create for a nice reflection so pay attention to the background and if possible navigate your boat to where the sun is at your back and the loon is in front of your boat. This will help to illuminate the Loon as well as show-off their unique red eyes. Try to get low to the water to capture the images closer to their perspective and click away to your hearts delight. Lastly, enjoy the memories you captured.

Gear Used:
Canon EOS 20D
Canon 100-400mm Image Stabilized Zoom Lens (hand-held)

To see my extensive loon gallery click here

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Oh Deer!

My favorite subject to photograph is wildlife. I have always had a connection to animals and photographing them is just a natural extension for me. On a recent trip to Glendalough State Park in NW Minnesota, I came across a corn field with a resident heard of roughly 30 white tail deer. It was about one hour before sunset and the light was wonderful.

I found a place to park my car and used a line of trees that was adjacent to the corn field to provide some cover for me as I moved. It also helped that I was moving down wind of where the deer were feeding as deer have a very acute sense of smell. I attempted to quietly approach the deer without snapping twigs or making too much noise. Even with my near silent approach, some of the deer got a little spooked and left the field for a nearby wooded area. This left me with about 10-12 white-tailed deer remaining.

I spent the better part of 40 minutes standing with my 100-400mm Image Stabilized zoom lens held up to my eye. This served a couple of purposes, one was to be ready for any shot that might present itself and the other is that it covered-up my face. The deer couldn't quite recognize me as a human being, but were curious about the clicking sound. So we did an elaborate dance of me moving slightly closer and them responding by raising their tails and being on alert. The deer would gather closer together and then one of them would approach closer to me to see if they could determine if I was a threat to them. After doing this slow acceptance dance back and forth, they seemed to accept my presence.

The light was really fading fast and I determined that I would just start walking into the field parallel with the deer. When they stopped and seemed a little anxious I would freeze (still with the camera held up to my eye) and they relaxed and continued eating. I was able to approach within fifty or sixty feet, which was a nice distance for my 400mm zoom lens. This allowed me to get some wonderful images of this deer family which consisted of a young buck, doe and two fawns.

Understanding the behavior of the animal you are photographing is important to being able to capture wildlife images. I have learned that it requires an incredible amount of patience as well as a non-threatening posture and avoiding direct eye contact. If you are able to practice these methods, I think you will find that your success rate with wildlife images will increase.

Equipment used:

Canon EOS 20D

Canon 100-400mm Image Stabilized zoom lens



iso 400-800

shutter speeds: 1/60 - 1/500

If you are interested in seeing other wildlife images, please visit my website:

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

What's All the Buzz About

What's all the buzz about? Bees and lots of them! When you are standing in the middle of a large field of sunflowers there are bees everywhere. In fact, I now understand where they came up with the term "Busy as a Bee".

My latest photo shoot was in the middle of a huge field of sunflowers. Among the many challenges of shooting these beautiful sunflowers is the slightly unnerving constant buzzing of bees. Once you realize that the bees are busy polinating and not interested in stinging photographers it is easy to focus on the task at hand. The other challenges related to shooting sunflowers are the sheer size of the plants (most over seven feet tall) causes them to move with the wind and pose some composition challenges with getting a good angle/perspective. Lastly, the darker center of the flowers tend to make it difficult to get natural looking exposures.

On this particular day the lighting was very strong and back-lit with brilliant blue skies. Certainly a striking composition if you can get the proper exposure. To help even out the exposure I used my built-in flash to provide a little fill lighting which helped illuminate the center of the flower while still including the wonderful back-lighting of the petals.

It was quite a sensation being literally surrounded by big sunflowers, of which most were over my head. While I was taking some larger overall views from my car, I noticed a deer that started jumping up in the adjacent wheat field, so I shifted my focus to this beautiful whitetail doe. I ended up pursuing this deer to see if I could get a better photo opportunity. As I was walking along the edge of this field I also noticed a lot of monarch butterflies and a few small birds. Lucky for me the deer did make another appearance and this time I was ready!

While I was standing in a pocket surrounded by sunflowers on three sides I heard this very loud humming and I thought it surely must be a monstrous bee! I turned around to see this hummingbird looking at me and hovering less than two feet away. It just seemed very curious and looked me over pretty good before continuing on its way. It was actually too close for my lens to focus and therefore I didn't get the picture. However, I was fortunate enough to capture another curious bird that posed nicely while sitting upon a sunflower. What a treat for the senses both visually and audibly. Nothing like connecting with nature in the middle of a field of sunflowers!

Specifics on this shoot:

Camera - Canon EOS 20D Digital SLR
Lens - 100-400 f4-f5.6 Image Stabilized Lens
Tripod - (None used) all images were hand-held
Flash - Built-in flash was used for fill lighting
ISO - 100-200 (Sunflowers)
ISO - 400 (Deer)
Exposures - varied from f5.6 to f16 depending on the focal length and desired depth of field.
Shutter speed - 1/125 - 1/500 S. The action shots of the whitetail deer was shot at 400 ISO, at f7.1 and shutter speeds of 1/1000.

Click here to view my Sunflower Gallery

Thursday, July 26, 2007

This one is for the birds!

I have attempted on many occasions to catch birds-in-flight. Notice the word "attempted" as the rate of successful images is not that great. If you have the appropriate gear and combine with the good techniques you should be able to get some quality images.

I don't want to understate the difficulty of capturing birds in flight, even the fastest digital SLR in the world may have some difficulty capturing birds in flight. For best results you would probably want to try using a Canon EOS 1DS Mark III paired with a Canon 500mm IS lens. Okay, some of you might not have the budget for a $4500 camera body and a $5500 lens. Luckily there are some more affordable options that provide some decent results. For this particular photo shoot I was using my Canon EOS 20D ($1500) and using my Canon 100-400mm f5.6 Image Stabilized lens ($1500).

Summary of challenges:

Lighting – you must have enough light to obtain the fast shutter speed to stop the action. If the light is too bright, you subject might be overexposed. Try for mid-morning light.

Camera – Fast lens, Image Stabilization, Camera with a large buffer and burst mode

Lens – Large zoom or fixed lens 400-600mm, fairly fast glass (f4-f5.6) and image stabilization. These lenses are quite expensive.

Shutter Speed – Must have a fairly high shutter speed depending on the wing flaps of the bird you are photographing, smaller birds flap their wings fast and generally larger birds flap their wings less or glide. I think most stop action of bird wings will require a minimum shutter speed of 1/1000.

Continuous Shooting (burst mode) – the ability to shoot 3-10 frames per second Focus – ability to focus quickly and track the bird in your viewfinder. This is sort of like looking through a telescope while tracking a jet airplane.

See images of birds in flight (Trumpeter Swans - Monticello, MN)

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Fireworks - Images and Techniques

I missed my opportunity to photograph the fourth of July fireworks this year and last. Lucky for me I had one more great opportunity and that was on Saturday night at the Minneapolis Aquatennial Fireworks.

I had to adjust to shooting from a new location, which presented a few challenges because I didn't know where the fireworks would provide the best angle for viewing and photography. Unfortunately, the spot I initially selected was not a good location. So I quickly moved my camera and tripod to a couple of locations before finding the best location. I didn't do too many really long exposures because there was a pretty strong wind and I didn't want that to ruin the exposures.

Tips for shooting fireworks -

Equipment Used:
  • Canon EOS 20D

  • Canon 17-85mm Image Stabilized Lens

  • Tripod

  • Cable Release

  • ISO 100 (best color)

  • F16-f22

  • Bulb Setting (manual mode)

  • Image Stabilization turned off

  • Manual focus set to Infinity

  • Exposures of 3-15 seconds
Please feel free to checkout my new images Fireworks Gallery .