Saturday, October 18, 2008

It's The Little Things

Sometimes, as we're walking around, looking for something to photograph, you can literally stumble over, and miss some of the best subject matter.

I do it all the time.....searching for some dramatic, grand scene, or a hillside of vibrant color. It's easy to miss some great shots.

A couple days ago in New Hampshire, our workshop group was driving around, on a return trip to what had become one of our favorite shooting locations. A remote hilltop, recommended to us by Howard Bean, an 85 year old, life-long resident of Wolfeboro.

We all jumped out of the cars, happy to return to this wonderfully diverse shooting spot.

Everyone hustled off to the exact place they had in mind for the special image that might have been missed on the previous trip. The lighting and time of day were different, so the possibilities for variety were excellent. And, as often happens, the students will ask me for lens recommendations and some other technical info.

"Wide angle" I answered, without hesitation. This place has some of the most amazing trees and color I'd seen anywhere. Great foreground, mid-ground and screamed for the wide shot.

As my wife, Sue, and I stood at the rear of the van, unloading our gear, she asked to try the macro lens I'd been raving about. I couldn't imagine what she had in mind, but dug it out of the vest pocket, and set her up with my 90mm close-up special.

I ran around grabbing all the shots I could, before the sun poked thru, and ruined the soft light....yet, I noticed, 45 minutes later, that she was still in the same area that she started out. Kneeling on the wet ground, tripod legs splayed out, with the lens inches from the ground.

Curious, I asked her to play back, on her LCD screen, some of the images, so I could see what was going on. I couldn't believe the shots she was getting! Beautifully composed, technically perfect, photographic art! From someone who really doesn't spend much time shooting.
She never ceases to amaze me. Being basically an artist; she's simply using the camera as another tool.

The photo of the acorn, shown above, is one from that series. Shot at f/45 for 8 seconds at 100 ISO. White balance on SHADE....using the built-in self timer to avoid camera movement.

Be sure to look in the Archives section for even more Lessons

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Fall Color Photos From Wolfeboro, New Hampshire

This panoramic image is the result of stitching 11 vertical images together. The technique employed basic, textbook stitching fundamentals. Camera leveled on a tripod. Aperture and shutter speed locked in at the same settings for all 11 individual shots. White balance also not polarizer, and the focus set to approximately 15 feet and set to manual, to avoid any shift in focus.

The image below is also stitched. But, in this case, I shot the individual shots horizontally, because I was using a long telephoto lens, and shooting thru telephone wires. The wires were running horizontally, immediately above and below the scene.

The shooting conditions have been perfect for our workshop here on the shores of Lake Winnipisaukee.

Nearly peak color in the leaves, and a mix of clear and cloudy skies, along with virtually wind-free weather has provided the ultimate in photography potential for our group.

Here's a sampling of what I got over the last few days. Most of these were shot with Tamron's newest zoom .....their 18-270mm Vibration Controlled lens.

Be sure to look in the Archives section for even more Lessons

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Fall Color is Amazing

We've arrived at our lakeside cabin in New Hampshire, and the fall color is just at peak.

If you've got the flexibility to make a spontaneous trip here, nows the time.

We're in the Lakes Region, and at Lake Winnipasaukee.

Photos to follow soon. Today, we'll head for the southern Maine coast,
and get some lighthouse photos.......

Friday, October 10, 2008

New England Fall Color

My wife and I will be boarding a plane shortly.......we're taking a red-eye from Long Beach to Boston.

Once we recover, the shooting will begin. All reports, so far, indicate we should be in for some great leaf peeping, as the locals call it.

Our workshop group will be staying in a lakeside cabin with wi-fi, so, we'll be able to post some images along the way.

After the workshop ends on Thursday, the 2 of us will head to Cape Cod for the first time for, hopefully, a romantic weekend.

Editors note: no photos will be posted from the Cape.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Outdoor Portrait in Austin, Texas

Earlier this year we spent a weekend in Austin, doing a workshop for Tamron and Bogen, which was hosted by Precision Camera. Austin is a real cool town....great mix of old and new. And, of course all the great music and food!

The video posted below shows some of the techniques needed for doing a portrait outdoors using a couple soft boxes on stands....both powered by 4 AA batteries. They are actually on-camera flash units which have been adapted with brackets and transcievers, to work as remote, studio quality light sources. Very simple stuff....

Waterfall and Marsh in Germany

Last fall, I joined my wife Sue, on a visit to her former stomping grounds in the German Alps. Specifically, the Alpine village of Garmisch. We had almost a week together, immediately following a workshop we conducted in Venice, Italy. What a great place to visit and shoot!
The photo above is a stitched panoramic, taken from a hilltop in Garmisch. It's actually 8 individual vertical shots that were stitched together in Arcsoft Panorama Maker Pro....unbelievably east to do the computer work with this program. Each shot was at f/8 for 15 seconds, with the white balance set for Tungsten.

We'd get up early and head out in the rental car, with no particular destination in mind. We always found some great subject matter.

A couple times, she grabbed the video camera, and we did an impromptu lesson.......we've got them ready to look at.....just click on the middle of the screens below.....

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Ely Minnesota Workshop

I used to wonder what the big deal was regarding the lakes in northern Minnesota. People who vacationed there talked about the place with reverence. Photographers claimed the scenery and light was like no other place. The fishing, of course is legendary.

I've been there for the last 4 consecutive years.....always in late September. And, now I know what all the talk is about.

Regardless of the current weather conditions, or how the fall-color is progressing; there really is something magical about this place. In particular the remotely located town of Ely. Right next to the Canadian border, this special place keeps calling me back, along with many others.....year after year.

On this last trip, we were lucky enough to get introduced to a real local, who showed us around to all his favorite places. This type of assistance has it's inherent risks. Too often, you can get dragged around on a wild goose chase.

Not this time. Far from it.

Chuck Wick, an Ely resident, has been there for most of his life, and REALLY knows the outdoors. Like no one I've ever met. Not just the special locales to visit for photographs, but he's intimately familiar with all the local flora and fauna. And, with his gentle, soft-spoken advice, we had a first rate naturalist with us, for several days, as our personal guide.

One of the highlights of the week was to be able to venture off to visit Sig Olson's legendary cabin at Listening Point. From what I could figure....Sig was the John Muir of the region. Do some online research, and you'll be pretty amazed at his writings and introspective lifestyle.

Some of the shots here were taken inside the cabin. I really wanted to capture the feel of the place, even though the lighting conditions were pretty bleak. But, this is a situation when really long exposures to capture the details in the shadows....and letting the highlights blow totally out works well. The histograms on a couple of these are pretty scary.....massive spikes at the far right side....along with the flashing overexposure warnings covering most of the frame. But, there's times when basic rules are broken....and this is one.

I shot the ambient scene from the foot of the bed a couple ways. The first version is using an 18mm lens at f/11 for 3 seconds. Good shadow information, and the windows are completely blown out. The slightly varied second version has the added touch of a NIK software filter....their Classic Soft Focus. It's pretty fact, you might not notice too much of a difference when viewing the images at the small size....try clicking on em, for a larger view, with more detail.

Then, just because I had the flash units along, we tried another, more conventional version. Using enough flash power on the interior from two, off-camera boxes, we were able to bring the light levels up high enough to shoot at f/11 at 1/60th second.....which gave the interior a totally different look....but, allowed us to record proper detail in the areas immediately out the windows.

Sig was quite the renaissance man...writer, philosopher, fisherman, avid canoeist, and conservationist. He died in '82, and the cabin is almost exactly the same as when he last was there.

I wanted to capture the true ambiance of the tiny, cozy, small apertures and long shutter speeds were the solution. The 11-18mm lens was a real blessing for these shots. It's nice that we now have the use of wide glass for the APS sensors. It was a long time coming.

I found his vintage, fishing tackle box, sitting on a shelf. I couldn't resist the temptation to open it and see what kind of lures the guy used. The gear was almost an exact replica of my grandpa's arsenal from forty years ago. There were still the paint chips on the topwater plugs from the repeated attacks by the toothy Walleyes! All I did was walk out to the front steps, which were covered with pine needles, and sat it down. A perfect background for this timeless relic.

On another venture, Chuck invited us to his residence in Ely. I was thinking, maybe grab a cup of coffee and shoot the breeze. Not so. More situations emerged as photo fodder! Apple trees in his back yard were being drizzled by the late afternoon rain. And, attached to his house was a classic log cabin style living room. It looked like a scene out of Country Living magazine.

This interior shot of this killer room proved to be a real challenge. Not having any flash units with me, there appeared to be no way to pull it off. The dynamic range between the extremely bright sunlight in the yard, and the deep shadows in the dimly lit room was extreme! A quick in-camera metering session indicated 6 stops difference. Not gonna happen.

Then, I remembered HDR and my newly acquired Photomatix software......perfect solution. I quickly set up the tripod, and did a series of six varying exposures, all at the same aperture....f/16. The exposures were spaced in one stop increments from 1/30th for the exterior to one full second for the darkest portions of the interior.

It's amazingly simple with this new program....just drag the bracketed files into the window, and let it chug away. The results right out-of-the-chute were almost perfect!

The image above was created using the same technique, and the Photomatix assist. It's hard to believe it, but you're looking at the interior of a Yurt....which, in case you don't know, ( I didn't) is a portable, and sometimes temporary housing structure. This particular one was erected by Chuck and friends. He tells me it comes in kit form....and it sounds fairly simple to construct. It's on an elevated wooden platform, and enclosed in an insulated canvas skin. No electricity in his....but, there's a wood stove and kerosene lamps. With a rooftop vent, and flexible plastic windows. It can handle the Minnesota winters. Enough said.

Back inside the lakeside cabin, I spotted this great wooden chair......sitting literally almost in the dark. The time exposure at ISO 100 was 10 seconds at f/11. Daylight white balance.
Handheld.........yuk-yuk. This baby is gonna look great once I find time to do a B&W conversion in the new NIK Silver EFX Pro software

Spotted this unusual Birch tree on a trail back from one of the many un-pronouncable waterfalls in the area. Overcast and almost raining, the soft light was nearly perfect. A small opening in the wooded area immediately behind the camera provided just enough direct light to cause the small highlights in the wet bark.
Can't wait for next September.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Flash-Fill Portraiture

Right before the weekend at the Minneapolis Arboretum, I conducted a workshop near the Canadian border in a small town called Ely. Famous for being at the entryway to the Boundary Water Canoe Area. It's the last bit of civilization for those heading north into the backcountry.
And, in the fall, we had the place to ourselves.....great scenery, leaves changing color, and even some early morning fog on the lakes to make things perfect!

The photos below show some of the before-and-after examples of portrait lighting, using battery powered soft boxes, very late in the day. The subjects had their backs to the, without the help of the flash units, all we'd get is a silhouette.

These 2 photos show Dan and Linda Borders, on the deck of a Yurt........yes, I said yurt, right at sunset.

These next 2 pictures show our lighting set-up, and Chuck and Marty Wick, who actually live in Ely, and are the proud Yurt-owners.

Here, you can see where the lights were placed for the overall lighting pattern....
Pretty standard for a studio set-up. Off to the right is the main light....slightly above the subjects. And, behind them, to the left is the light that's serving a couple purposes: hair-light and, also as a side-separation light, so they don't blend into the darker background.

We shot a couple minutes of video to show how the session on the middle of the screen below to watch the demo...

On the video clip, you can't see the second was just too far to the left to be captured by the video camera. The power set on the Metz flash units was done manually, for exact repeatable results. The main light was at 1/4 th power, and the back light was set at 1/8th. At these low power settings, recycle times are instantaneous.

The Minneapolis Bee's

A couple weeks ago I had the good fortune to be able to conduct a Tamron Photo Weekend at the Arboretum, right out of Minneapolis. This is the 4th time we've done this event with National Camera, and it's amazing how much fun it still is to repeat the basic same agenda.

This is a real high end chain of camera stores with employees who are shooters, printers, along with a handful of geeks, just to keep the mix alive. More impressive is the fact that most of the staff has been there for all 4 years....which is like a lifetime in retail camera sales. This sure says a lot for the owner.

For being so late in the season, it seemed like summer on the day of the field session. Tons of great flowers, and insects everywhere. Perfect macro conditions. So, out came the tripod, and my favorite close-up lens....the 180mm by Tamron....even though the event was sponsored by them, this is still my lens of choice....even when no one's looking. To get a feel for the resolution of this baby...double click on the image, and you'll get a closer look.

The ambient light was decent, but with the bee's cooperating so well, it made for a very slow pace of shooting. We were all able to frame up a perfect specimen of the flowers....and just wait for the inevitable insect to land. When these guys get focused on pollen, there's no distracting them.

Since there was no sense of urgency in the capturing of images, I decided to kick it up a notch and add some off-camera flash to make the lighting perfect. A big soft box in REAL tight would be just what it needed, and the Elinchrom EZ Box fit the bill. I had one of these set-up with my Metz 58 flash unit, and triggered by the Skyport transcievers.

With the camera mounted on a tripod, I was easily able to manually hold the box just above and right on the verge of being "in-frame". With the light source in this close, we got some really great highlights on the bee's and the flowers. And, using an off camera flash from a point-blank distance, it enabled me to be able to overpower the sunlight, darken the background, and best of all, decide which direction I wanted the light to be coming from. Pretty cool stuff.
Most all of these shots were taken at ISO 100 with the white balance set for Daylight.
Shutter speed was typically at 1/200th and the aperture was around the f/16 area.

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