Tuesday, December 16, 2008

TNT Leukemia and Lymphoma Society Training Update

First I would like to thank everyone that has donated to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS) thus far. Your donations are going to a truly worthy cause. For those that haven't heard, I have joined the Team-in-Training (TNT) to raise money for LLS research and patient family support by collecting donations as I prepare to run the Shamrock Half-Marathon in March.

I am excited at how much you have contributed and the support that you have provided. As many of you know, a few weeks ago I suffered what was thought to be tendinitis in my ankle. A visit to my doctor confirmed as much and I was advised to lay off of it for a week before starting back up on my running. When the pain didn't subside after a couple more days, I decided to pay the Atlantic Physical Therapists (APT) a visit for a second opinion. I'm glad I did! APT has a stellar reputation in Hampton Roads.

This past Saturday morning I met with PT Jenn Cigna for an evaluation and after a series of tests, she advised me that the ankle pain was a symptom of a much worse lower back injury. I'm not really surprised as I have had issues with the lower back for years; however, I thought my regular workouts were mitigating it. Turns out that during my workouts I was compensating for weaknesses in certain muscles by placing more stress on others. This caused my running mechanics to be way out of whack to put it technically. The issue didn't really raise show itself until I increased my training runs to 8-miles. The weaker muscles finally gave out with the constant pounding.

So for the next 3 to 4 weeks, I will be undergoing physical therapy 3-days a week plus daily workouts to strenghten the weaker structures, stretch the tight muscles, and correct my form. When I renew my running program, it will be a short 2-months out from the main event. Oddly enough, this gives me even more incentive to cross the finish line on March 22.

Here's the thing... I can quit and within a few weeks, the pain would naturally subside and I can go about life as usual; however, the whole reason I started on this journey was to support those fighting a horrible form of cancer. It is painful and life draining and they do not have the option of saying "that's it, I quit, I'm just going to take it easy from now on." Instead they wake everyday knowing that they will have to face the pain of the disease and the sickness brought on by the treatment.

I had the chance to meet a few of our honorees and what overwhelmed me most was the strength of their spirit and the positiveness of their outlook on life. Simply put, I can't quit, it's not an option. Whatever it takes to get me to that finish line pales in comparison. So if that day in March comes and I'm still hurting, I will still finish regardless of how long it takes me to get to that line.

All I ask of you is that you support the LLS with a donation. The easiest way is to click the Donate Now button on My TNT Page. Become a member of a team trying to find a cure so that those with LLS may one day cross there own finish line free of the disease and live long, healthy pain free lives.

I wish everybody a Merry Christmas and wonderful holiday season. May the new year find you in great health and with the love of your families and friends.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Merry Christmas - 200 Santas Style

If you ask me a couple of days what I was doing this weekend, you probably would have received the answer that I was thinking of bailing on a volunteer photo job in order to ice and stretch a sore achilles tendon I strained earlier in the week. Thank goodness I didn't or I would have missed what has got to make the top-5 events that I have photographed. 200 hundred Santas, 7 bars, and unseemly amounts of alcohol converged into what has to be one of the funnest and funniest events of the year. The 2nd Annual Santa Granby Street Bar Crawl was founded to raise money for ALS. It truly was an awesome night out.

Iso 800, f/4.0, 1/80, 29mm

What is amazing about photography is that every shoot I end up learning something new, either technical, technique, or simply creativeness. Last night was no exception. The first thing I learned was to be seriously humbled by the power of the Nikon SB-900 (coupled with the D300). We (and when I say we, I mean me and 200 Santas!) started off at Hell's Kitchen (and yes, the irony of a Christmas function starting at Hell's Kitchen is not lost on me) before moving on to Velvet. In between, I was thrown a curve ball. My buddy Shawn that invited me to this little soiree had told me that he wanted a group photo. I assumed that he meant OUR group. Imagine my shock when 200 Santas grouped up across the street from the bar for a "group" photo. Snikeeessss!

Iso 800, f/3.5, 1/60sec, 18mm

I took a couple of deep breaths and stepped into the middle of Granby Street armed with only the camera and a single strobe. Even more, the strobe was pointed straight up and being bounced off of a Lumiquest diffuser. I thought momentarily about taking the Lumiquest off, using straight flash; but for some reason, I didn't, not really sure to be honest. While we held up traffic, I snapped 4 shots, hoping to heck that there may be something I could salvage after the fact or bury depending on just how bad it turned out.

Iso 800, f3.5, 1/60, 18mm
Wow! That's really all I can say about the true power of the SB-900! A single strobe, BOUNCED off of a Lumniquest reflector, lit the entire group perfectly. I've seen - geez, I've done - group photos on a smaller scale with multiple strobes that did not turn out nearly as good as these shots did. I'm utterly amazed!

As for the rest of the night.... you can check it out in the 2008 Santa Bar Crawl gallery. Next entry should be on using rear-sync flash for event photography. You would be surprised that a large number of the photos in this gallery were shot using a shutter speed of 1/3 seconds, not to mention the rest were at 1/40 sec! Very cool. Happy holidays!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Learning the Hard Way - Sara, Richard, and Family

All right, here's the background. A few weeks ago I did portraits of a friend's twin 4 month old infants and they loved the photos so much that they invited me back to shoot their family portrait. When I say family, I mean husband, wife, and SEVEN kids ranging from the twin infants to college students. The first thing that threw me was the height difference between the children. There are pretty big age gaps between them as well. I now I understand why you find very few posing books with illustrations of how to handle a group like this diverse.

Iso 200, f/8.0, 1/30 sec, 18mm

I manage to get them in some sort of order and begin shooting using the setting sun and a single SB-900 thru a Photoek Softliter for fill when I notice that my exposures are all over the map. At the start, I metered the background, set flash to TTL, and dialed the flash down a stop, a routine I'm getting comfortable with. Except, I fire the shot it looks very overexposed. I adjust the flash to -1.3 and shoot again only to find it overexposed again. I adjust to -1.7 and fire. Holy mackerel Batman! It is seriously underexposed! At this point the babies squirming, the younger kids are getting restless, and the older ones are having texting withdrawals. I adjust once again back to -1.0, fire, and perfect exposure. I'm feeling good until the next series of shots totally flake on the exposures.

Iso 200, f/8.0, 1/30 sec, 29mm
Have you guessed what is going? C'mon, take a second, I'm sure it will come to you. tick tick tick .... got it yet?

Iso 200, f/8.0, 1/20 sec, 48mm

Of course it didn't hit me until I left their house and was driving home. In the chaos of getting them set, I totally forgot to follow my little checklist with one of the items being the bracketing compensation. My last shoot was HDR brackets of 5 stops. Ugh! I never reset it. Actually, didn't even think about it. 80% of the photos went straight to the recycle bin. Another 10% found there way there in the last 48 hours. I didn't shoot that many to begin with so I'm now seeing if I can salvage the few remaining.

Yea! We are DONE!!!!!

Iso 200, f/8.0, 1/60 sec, 18mm

Lesson learned: Reset the camera to a standard setting at the end of each shoot. Don't wait till later, don't pass go, don't collect $200 - if you do, you may end up in jail. Okay, that was a horrible use of the Monopoly rhetoric; however, in all seriousness, it can save you from an incredible embarassment!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Lynchburg Soccer Game - Lessons in Sports Shooting

Sunday afternoon Skyler had her last soccer game of the year and I was excited to be there to see it. Not only is Skyler on the team but the team is coached by her father, my brother-in-law Jake. I figured this was a good time to break out the Bigma and practice my sports shooting. A little known piece of history is that back in 1991, I made my first venture into photography sales shooting little league football. That was back in the film days and after this weekend, I'm surprised that I got any images back then that were reasonably good!

I forgot how difficult it was to follow the action, adjust for changing light, and attain sharp focus on the spur of the moment. The latter may have actually been easier back then because we had trained ourselves to manually focus lightening quick. The autofocus, at least on the Bigma, doesn't react that fast (although it is still impressive for the type of lens). If I had a split screen, I may have switched to manual but since I didn't, I decided to stick with the auto.

The next issue is focus hunting in continuous mode. While linear or solo sports are fairly easy to get a lock on and track, a bunch of 7-year old girls wearing like colors and running in a pack causes the focus to jump from person to person. I switched over to selective focus for a good portion of the shoot knowing that I was going to miss a few shots because the focus took to long to lock.

One of the keys to sports photography is knowing the game so that you can predict where the action will occur and be ready to focus on that spot. At first this doesn't sound like a big deal; however, when you are looking through a 400 - 500 mm lens, your field of view is super narrow and you cannot see all of the action on the field. The great sports photographers have mastered keeping there non-shooting eye open and trained on the field. I haven't mastered this ninja trick yet. Instead I follow the player that I believe, based on experience, will make the play.

A team of 7-year old girls absolutely wrecks this plan because the playbook gets tossed and anarchy generally overtakes the field as soon as the ball is in play. The good thing is that they are not that fast. The best plan of attack is to follow the ball. You can guarantee that they will generally converge in a pact wherever the ball ends up.

During the game, I made one major mistake and forgot to set my camera to shutter priority. I was still in aperature priority from some shots that I took before the game. I was also set to iso 200. Instead of shooting at an action stopping 1/800 - 1/000th of a second, I fired away most of my shots at 1/180th. It wasn't apparent until I got the images into post and the motion blur was prevelant. In hindsight, I would have bumped the iso up to 400 (it was semi-cloudy/strong sun mix) and set the shutter priority to 1/1000th sec.

Luckily, I did manage some keepers although I missed some awesome shots! Next game I'll be sure to go over my checklist beforehand. If you haven't shot a sporting event, you go down to the local rec field on a weekend and take a couple hundred photos. It is excellent practice regardless of the style of photography that you prefer.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Mountain Top Portraits

While up in Blue Ridge Mountains on Sunday, Dea, Jake, Skyler, Caleb, and I took the opportunity to take a few family portraits (well, I hid behind the camera. lol) after we finished breakfast. We drove up the Parkway, stopping at various overlooks to see if they offered a nice background. Most of them had far too many distractions to make a decent backdrop; however, we luckily found a few that worked out great.

Iso 200, f/11.0, 1/180 sec, 50mm

Of course (and there's always an of course), there were the normal little gremlins. In my haste to load my gear into Jake's Explorer, I grabbed the wrong light stand meaning that I would have to handhold the remote flash and I wouldn't be able to use the Softliter. The latter wasn't as much of an issue because the wind was blowing at 30 knots and the umbrella probably would have taken a trip down the mountain side. Thank goodness for the Nikon SB-900. I set the exposure based on the background and then used iTTL for fill-flash. The light balanced well and wasn't too overly harsh.

Iso 200, f/11.0, 1/180 sec, 50mm

Dea, Jake, and the kids were real troopers. In addition to the heavy wind, the air temp hovered around 40 degrees. I was shocked that I didn't have to clean up much nasal drip in post! Fly away hair on the other hand was a bit of a nightmare to clone out.

Iso 200, f/11.0, 1/180 sec, 62mm

I have one more set of images coming out of this trip of Skyler's soccer game. I should have them up in a day or two.

Iso 200, f/11.0, 1/1250 sec, 22mm

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Blue Ridge Parkway - Peaks of Otter - Bedford, VA

On Saturday, I drove up to Lynchburg for a 2-day vist with Dea, Jake, Skylar, and Caleb. It was a great visit. Skylar and Caleb are as adorable as ever and took great pleasure in beating up their uncle Trav. It also gave me a chance to shoot a ton of photos including landscapes, portraits, and sports.

Iso 200, F/11.0, 1/750 sec, 20mm - 5 image HDR

The first set that I have to share are high dynamic range (HDR) landscapes that were taken on Sunday on the Blue Ridge Parkway. We made the hour drive to the Peaks of Otter Lodge for breakfast. I know it seems like a long way to go to get breakfast; however, it was definitely worth it. The food was good and the lodge and views were spectacular. I can't think of a better place for a weekend getaway whether it be for photography or just an escape from the daily hustle and bustle of life.
Iso 200, F/22.0, 1/180 sec, 18mm - 5 image HDR
Seeing that we missed the peak of the season by a couple of weeks, most of the trees were well past their transition and the leaves had either turned brown or had completely fallen, providing a captivating landscape of dieing vegetation intersparsed with brilliant yellows and oranges. When most people think of fall color photography, they immediately imagine images loaded with bright, perky colors. I decided to take this session in a different direction, illustrating the darkening change to winter. This concept was further emphasized seeing that I was shooting in the worst light imaginable, midday sun. To compensate, I chose to bracket my exposures by (5) 1-stop increments and then merge the exposures in Photomatix Pro to create a single HDR image.

Iso 200, F/11.0, 1/1000 sec, 22mm - 5 image

If you have an upcoming weekend that you want to steal away for a romantic weekend or to just recharge your batteries, think about heading up to the Lodge. It is well worth the trip! Over the next couple of days, I will be posting the portrait and soccer photos shot over the weekend as well. I'm also planning an upcoming post on HDR. Check back soon.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

LLS Team-In-Training Update

The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society Team-In-Training fundraising and training kickoff meeting for the Shamrock marathon/half-marathon is this Thursday night. I'm excited to report that we have already raised over $1000, more than half of the $1900 goal that we had set 2-weeks ago. The generosity and caring leaves me speechless! Special thanks to those joining the team recently including: Jill Beninato, David Rogers, Sara and Richard Gerloff, Shannon Tipton, Marsha and Len Rutherford, and Gretchen Reid.

While the contributions have amazed me thus so far, something happened this past weekend that nearly left me in tears. My 10-year old niece called me Saturday afternoon to say that her younger sister, two of the their friends, and her had heard about the TNT from their meemama and decided to take action. The little entrepreneurs delved into their craft kits and began making jewelry. They then created poster board LLS signs and decorated their red wagon before going door-to-door, selling their creations for $2 each. Within an hour, they had raised $30 and completely sold out their stock. Savannah and Meggie later told me that next weekend they are going to rebuild their inventory and are not planning on stopping until they raise $100. Think about just how awesome that is to hear!

Earlier today, I was reading an article on cancer in the latest issue of Men's Health. It listed lymphoma as one of the most common for men. One in 46 will pass from it. Of those that contract it without it being Hodgkins related, there is less than a 26% survival rate. Advances have been made in finding a cure and the dollars raised by TNT have contributed to both the necessary research as well as helping assist the families that are already dealing with the cancers. Unlike many organizations out there, LLS & TNT guarantees that 75% of their donations go directly to the programs for research and assistance programs. Please visit our TNT webpage for more information on our progress or to make a donation. We look forward to you joining the team in finding a cure!

Monday, November 3, 2008

Saturday's Beach Portrait Session

Saturday afternoon I had the pleasure of photographing two very nice families down at the VB oceanfront. They were a referral from Jill Beninato over at Sit.Stay.Smile Photography. Jill specializes in pet photography and digital art; so if you have a 4-legged critter at home, you will want to stop by her site for a visit.

The families requested some journal style shots as well as the standard posed portraits, posing a big challenge in that it was a bluebird day without a cloud in the sky to diffuse the sun. In order to tame the harsh light, I used a Nikon SB-900 fired through a Softlighter II and a 7' bounce panel for additional fill. The setup was easy enough for the portraits but journal style shots would be tough. Luckily Sophie, a friend's daughter, volunteered to help out. What a life saver! I bet she never expected to be chasing kids around the beach holding an umbrella on a 8' stand. :-) Here are a few of images from the session:

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Gabrielle and Grant - The Twins

On Sunday, I spent a couple of hours shooting photos of my friends Sarah and Richard's 4-month old twins. This was definitely a change from the haunting image I did a week ago!

Iso 200, 50mm, f/1.8, 1/750 sec

How on earth can something so small and seemingly immobile make you work that hard to keep up? As expected, most of the time one would be cranky and the other happy and then they would switch roles. Patience may just be one of the most important attributes that a photographer may possess.

Iso 200, 50mm, f/1.8, 1/750 sec

I did learn a very valuable lesson - do not use a new lens for the first time in shoot! I just purchased a Nikon 50mm f/1.8 specifically for portrait work. Sunday morning, I took a few shots with it to see the depth of field but only viewed them on my LCD and did not download them to my computer for viewing. In hindsight I should of because it would have clearly showed me just how razor thin the depth-of-field was going to be. The result is that a few of my favorite compositions found their way to the recylcle bin for being out of focus. Although I really wanted a shallow DOF, I should have opened up a bit more and shot f/2.0 - 2.5.

Iso 200, 50mm, f/1.8, 1/750 sec

I am happy with the collection of photos that were keepers. The photos were processed in Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop. A few variations in processing were thrown in including a couple cross-processed and monotones. I'm looking forward to sharing these with the clients and getting their feedback.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Team In Training - Leukemia and Lymphoma Society

I'm excited to say that I am embarking on one of the more important, maybe the most important, activities that I have committed to in my life. I have joined the Team In Training (TNT) for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS). TNT was founded 20-years ago to raise money to help victims of blood cancers with the ultimate goal being to help find a cure. In exchange for training assistance for endurance sports such as marathons, bike races, and triathlons; athletes commit to raising a certain amount of dollars in donations to support LLS programs.

On March 22 I will be running in the Yuengling Shamrock Half-Marathon at the Virginia Beach oceanfront. My pledge between now and then is to raise $1900 for LLS. My goal is to exceed that mark. The decision to take on this challenge was not a light one. It seems that everyday we are bombarded by one organization or another asking for donations. I wanted to put my support behind an organization that has made a real difference and has proven that it will continue to do so in the future.

Please take a moment to visit my Team In Training web page. In addition to links to information on TNT and LLS, it contains a journal of my related activities, gifts that are being offered for donations, and a place for you to provide a donation if you are inclined. I look forward to you becoming a member of the team!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

A Mother's Nightmare: The Baby Collector

Okay, I openly admit that this is one of the most disturbing photos that I have taken and to believe that it came on a day that I walked in a benefit for ALS survivors is almost as scary. The catalyst was the latest round of the Digital Grin competition series with the subject being the interpretation of a Edgar Allen Poe poem about a nightmarish dream. As soon as I read it, I formulated the the image in my mind.

Getting the image was another story unto itself. I planned to do it last weekend but was unable to get around to it. I figured I had plenty of time and I would do it the following Saturday. The only problem is that while I had the skies I wanted, the winds were blowing at gale force last night. This may not have been an issue had it not been for the fact that I couldn't find a model to pose for me. So instead I spent yesterday running around getting costumes and creating custom flash brackets for the job, knowing full well that I would get one shot at this photo.

ISO 200, f/3.5, 1.5s, 18mm

After the ALS Walk post-party, I headed over to Nimmo church off of General Booth and Princess Anne. It provided the exact setup that I needed - an old fashioned graveyard backed by a church. The winds were still blowing at 15 knots which meant that the light stand with the Nikon SB-900 and Softlighter II took a tumble multiple times, even with two sandbags weighing them down. To complicate matters, I got to play both photographer and model, meaning that I had to don a three layer costume and work the camera. Can you say fun???

The idea was to create the image of Death taking a child. Maybe I listen to The Smiths "Suffer Little Children" far too much but as upsetting as the image was to create, it fit the assignment that I was shooting. I really thought this was a failed attempt until I saw the results and it sent a shiver down my spine. Regardless of how I do in the competition, I'm happy with how this image turned out.

Monday, October 6, 2008

2 Days in a Row with a Miss - Tough Weekend

Having botched Saturday evening’s shoot for a photo to enter in Digital Grin’s DSS 9 competition, I drove out late yesterday afternoon to Lynnhaven Inlet. The image that I was looking for was a silhouette of one of the local fisherman throwing a cast net backlit by the setting sun. First glitch occurred when I got down to the northern bank of the inlet, a place usually teaming with net fishermen, only to find that there were none. Looking across the inlet, I saw 3 men throwing their big nets repeatedly. It then occurred to me that not only was I on the wrong side in terms of subjects; I was also on the wrong side in order to shoot into the setting sun. There wasn’t enough time left for to drive to the other side of the inlet, find parking, and get my equipment down to the beach before I lost the light I needed.

Iso 200, f/5.6, 1/100 sec, 200mm

I decided to work with what I had on my side the inlet and ended up with a couple of shots that were decent but in no way good enough to place in the top-10 of the competition. After much debate, I decided to enter the above shot anyway just to get feedback. I liked the colors in the landscape image below but it just didn’t have strong subject to standout.

Iso 200, f/3.5, 1/30 sec, 18mm

DSS 10 began this morning and it looks even more difficult. The theme is “Illustrating Text” with the interpretation being left wide open. This should be interesting.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

So what happens when things don't come together the way you planned?

OMG, this is inevitable! You plan out a shoot as meticulously as you can. Every detail is scoped - time of day, direction of light, flash units, white balance, models, on and on and on. Then the time comes and everything falls apart.

Iso 200, f/6.3, 1/60 sec, 62mm, Nikon SB900 + Vivitar 285HV for fill

The sun is setting on the opposite side of the field than you expected (oh yea, go check out the site a couple of days in advance at sunset). The 5 volunteers you requested turn out to be twenty 14 year olds on a short break from a birthday party that have to return within 15 minutes. Your cornfield turns out to be a mudfield. You go to set your flash to tungsten and see there is no tungsten setting. Who knew that incandescent is the same thing? You have to shoot 30 minutes before the light is in the sweet zone. And for some reason, the sky is absolutely void of clouds!

Iso 200, f/6.3, 1/60 sec, 31mm, Nikon SB900 + Vivitar 285HV for fill

This was the scenario that I ran into last night while shooting a photo for the latest Digital Grin competition. This round is especially difficult because the photos cannot have any post processing, everything has to be straight out of camera and shot at sunset or sunrise. I had been viewing the entries posted throughout the week and out of the first 50, the majority were some variation of the sun rising or setting. I decided that I needed something a bit more action based with a story behind it in order to be a front runner. The plan was to create an image of people stealing potatoes from a field at twilight. I know it sounds strange but in my mind, it played out pretty cool.

It would have been awesome; however, everything went wrong from the start. The thing that did work was my brother-in-law playing the part of the king of thieves. Even though I knew at the time that the image wasn't going to come together, I went ahead and shot several frames. When I uploaded them, my suspicions were confirmed. The sky was colorless. The depth was off. The "models" were all over the place. What is the next step? Salvage what's left.

Iso 200, f/6.3, 1/60 sec, 44mm, Nikon SB900 + Vivitar 285HV for fill

I dropped the idea of entering any of the images in the contest and decided to play around with them as composite portraits. Amazingly, I was really happy with how these came out after working them in Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop CS3. The bottom line is that I missed my contest photo for the evening but came up with some personal images that were far better than I imagined!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Stealing or Free Marketing: Business on the Web

Lately I have been reading complaints on various message boards about people downloading photos from the photographers’ websites and using them on their own personal websites. The main target of the rants has been kids downloading photos and posting them to their MySpace or Facebook pages. I didn’t really give it much thought until last night.

ISO 200, f/5.6, 1/2500 sec, 112mm

Over the weekend I did an extensive shoot of surfers at the VB oceanfront and posted the images to my website after several hours of processing. During the shoots, I gave out my cards to several surfers and parents alike so that they could view and potentially purchase some of the photos. This is nothing different than I have done in the past to much success. Sunday night I received an email from one of the surfers complimenting the shots and requesting if I would be willing to send him a few for his MySpace page. He said he would give me full credit for the shots. My initial thought was to give him the “that is what the personal download sale item is for” response. Instead, I saw it is an opportunity to reach more people that normally would never know that my site existed. The next day I emailed him a set of photos optimized for the web and requested that he caption each with my name and site address. Also I requested that he send me his MySpace address so that I could verify it looked correct.

The next day I received an email back thanking me for the photos and a link to his account. I checked his page and everything looked cool and the fact that he set one of my photos as his primary picture was somewhat self-satisfying. Then another photo caught my eye. For those not familiar with MySpace, other users are allowed to post messages to your main page. Each message is marked with an avatar, a small picture representing the person that posted the message. One of the messages displayed another one of my photos of a different surfer as the avatar.

I take the normal precautions to protect my photos. My galleries are locked for downloading so that if someone attempts to right-click the gallery to choose “save photo”, they will receive a message saying that the photos are copyrighted and protected by law. Each photo is also marked with my copyright and website address. I do not, however, place a big watermark across the entire photo because I’d rather the public and perspective clients to be able to view the image in its entirety prior to purchasing. Anyone with any computer knowledge knows that there are a plethora of applications out there that enable users to take screen shots of images without physically downloading the image from the site. In doing so, the user knows that they are doing something wrong and more than likely illegal.

So what was my response? Initially I was steamed and began to contact the initial requestor to help me track down this individual so I could demand the images removal and threaten any sort of legal action. Instead I clicked through the link to the posters site and into his photo gallery and saw that under each photo, he also provided my name and website information. Here is where each of us has a choice to make in what is in the best interest of our business. I could make a fuss and loose several potential future sales or leverage these sites for their marketing value. I guarantee that each site probably receives 100 times more hits than mine, especially from people that share the same interests. If just a few of those hits account for a few sales in the future, then it is a benefit to me.

I can understand photographers getting upset at photos being taken from their sites without their permission or purchase. Several measures can be taken to make it difficult to do so but with technology advancing, we will never be able to stop it from happening. I’ve had a few friends in the business (especially high school and little league sports) go as far as to take down their galleries and conduct only in person showings. To me this only limits the audience of potential buyers as well as increasing workflow time better spent shooting more events. Doesn’t it make more sense to find a way to positively use these sites as a vehicle to increasing future business?

Monday, September 29, 2008

Surf Photography Tips and Short Recount of My Thrashing

What an awesome weekend! Saturday morning I woke up early to meet some old friends down at 79th street and surf the product of hurricane Kyle that had passed far offshore on its way to New England. It was the first time that I had been in several years so looking into 5 – 8’ swells in a heavy downpour from the deck of a borrowed 8’2 egg was a little intimidating at first. I was late getting into wave 1 and suffered the not so forgotten experience of getting pulled over the falls. The next wave I pearled, burying the nose and getting launched head first into the pit. Wave 3 closed out on take off and sent me on another freefall to the bottom before unloading the lip on me. Just as I was beginning to wonder if the ocean was going to continue to punish me any further, I caught a nice, chest-high wave that I was able to carry through the section and kick out of without any further damage. No big cutbacks or airs, just that great weightless feeling of gliding across a wave face. Now I have to scrape up $600 to buy a new board (I sold my last one when I moved back to Raleigh from Atlantic Beach.)

Iso 200, f/7.1, 1/1250 sec, 500mm

Following the session, I grabbed breakfast at Mary’s while I waited for the rain to subside and then headed back to 79th street to shoot some photos. I’m still blown away by how much the kids nowadays have progressed in their surfing, doing things that were barely imaginable when we were their age. After a couple of hours, I drove to south beach to catch Jackmove playing at the 24th street stage as part of the Neptune Festival activities. I’ll say it again – these kids absolutely rock. If you are interested in VB local ska band that puts on a great show, there is none better.

The concert wrapped at 3:00 so I made my way down to 10th to shoot a few at the Neptune surfing contest hosted by the Eastern Surfing Association (ESA). Although the contest is not on the same scale as the East Coast Surfing Championships (ECSC), it is well run and the primarily local talent was tearing up the unusually good surf. I returned early Sunday morning to find that the conditions had improved overnight the contestants were putting on a show. The greatest, though, were young kids. They have no fear whatsoever. Just think that a 6’ wave to them must look like Pipeline on the North Shore of Oahu.

A few surf photography tips:

1. Play the angle. One of the most challenging times to take good surfing photos on the east coast is early morning to midday when the sun is predominately backlighting the surf. Most people get home and are disappointed that all they captured was a silhouette of joe surfer. While this can be artistic at times, a whole shoot coming out this way is frustrating. In this case, look for the angle that gives you the most light on the wave face. This means that instead of shooting directly offshore, you may need to walk up the beach a bit so that when you shoot back, the sun is at a 45 degree or so angle to you. The shadows will be prominent but lessened to a degree.

2.Use exposure your compensation. You are going to have to except the fact that you are going to loose some highlight detail shooting into the sun in order to gain some shadow detail in your subject. Cameras just cannot capture that range of exposures in a single image. Camera meters, while much improved and more intelligent, will still expose for the highlights the majority of the time. You have a couple of choices. The least recommended is spot metering the subject. The reason I don’t like this method is that the action moves fast and keeping the meter spot on the subject in mid action is not easy. The preferable method is to adjust your exposure compensation from +0.3 to +1.0 depending on conditions. Your camera will meter the scene normally for the highlights but then adjust to allow more light to be available for the exposure and bring out detail in the shadows.

3. Focus. Continuous focus tracking is a must.

4. Know the game. This is true in any sports photography. Knowing the sport will help you be prepared to catch the peak (no pun intended) moment when it occurs. In surfing, you can usually tell by the way a surfer attacks the face of the wave. If he or she is making elongated carving turns, you know that you should be readying yourself to capture vertical lip bash or a roundhouse cutback. If, on the other hand, the surfer makes a series small, pulsating turns to increase his or her speed, then there is great chance that he or she is setting up to launch a big air. By knowing the sport, you have a better chance of catching the money shot when it happens.

Iso 200, f/7.1, 1/800 sec, 500mm

5. Burst mode. Surfing is quick with moves being completed in succession before you have the opportunity to press the shutter release more than once. Set your camera to burst mode. If you follow step 4 and know where the action shot happen, firing 3 or 4 rapid continuous frames as the surfer gets to that position enables you to improve your chances of capturing the big move.

6. Look for other opportunities. Just because you are shooting a surfing contest, not all of your photos have to be of surfers tearing up a wave face. Make sure you shoot a few frames of the contest area, surfers lining up for their heat, and anything else that hits you as interesting. One of the best images that captured this weekend was of a fog bank that rolled in on 79th street. When I shot it, it was more for amusement but turned out being one that I’m sure will go on the wall eventually.

Iso 200, f/7.1, 1/1600 sec, 500mm

7. Saturation. Surfing contests are filled with color. If you are a JPEG shooter, set your camera to vivid and really pop those colors. If you shoot RAW, you can play with them during processing.

8. Aperture. Depending on lighting conditions I prefer f6.3 – f7.1. It gives me plenty of light and keeps depth of field relatively shallow when zoomed out.

9. Speed. 800 sec – 2000 sec. In other words, as fast as possible in order to stop action. I generally shoot iso 200 since water tends to be a digital noise magnet or else I would bump it iso 400 and fire even faster.

10. But I don’t own any big glass….. While its true that 500mm – 1000mm lenses are needed to capture the outer breaks, your standard kit lenses or point and shoot is completely good for more onshore stuff, especially those arial moves that take place in the shorebreak. As a matter of fact, some of the best subjects to help hone your skills are skimboarders. Good ones pull moves in the surfline equivalent to that of surfers and because they launch from the dry sand, they will be in range of your lens.

Next time your bored and lacking in inspiration grab your camera and head down to the oceanfront. Believe it or not, people are out there year round. It is not only fun, but it will go a long way toward improving your technique and reaction time for photographing other fast moving subjects like wildlife or car races.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Great Senior Portrait Advice from J. K. Mann!

It is not often that I post twice in one day. Let's be honest, I have trouble posting 2 days in a row so it must be something worthwhile to get me to do so! Jeff Mann just posted a great article on his site regarding tips on taking senior portraits that I feel will be beneficial to photographers of all levels.

Photo courtesy of JKMann Photography

Jeff has perfected the art of the senior portrait and it is awesome that he is willing to openly share some of his techniques on location selection, lighting, posing, and camera settings in what can be a competitive field. He has a gift for seeing great portraits before ever clicking the shutter and his images have become a standard by which portraits are measured in the Digital Grin community. It probably helps that he has a beautiful family to practice with on a regular basis.

Photo courtesy of JKMann Photography

After reading the article, take a moment and peruse his galleries. I believe that you will be impressed with not only his portrait work but also his other images. Jeff has been willing to assist other photographers with his advice and critiques. I know I owe him a lot of credit for the improvements that I have made in my own images. Thank you for sharing Jeff.

Essential Websites for the Photographer

There are a multitude of resources dedicate to photography and post processing of images. As expected, the internet contains thousands of sites dedicated to the subject. You can find websites providing all you need to know about Holga Cameras to others on infrared photography. There are a few though that I visit almost daily and highly recommend to any photographer or digital artist for the quality of their instructional content, inspiring images, and occasional freebies. For those that have been around for awhile, I’m sure that these are already in your bookmarks but if not, definitely mark them (or in the case of blogs – subscribe) for future reference. You will not be disappointed.

Digital Pro Talk
David Ziser is a very accomplished and well respected wedding and portrait photographer; however, his abilities are not limited simply to people. He seems to have mastered that art of capturing any subject. Digital Pro Talk is David’s blog and it contains an unprecedented wealth of information for the both the aspiring photographer and the advanced hobbyist. David will often follow up a written entry on specific techniques with a very thorough and well produced video on how to apply the technique. Anyone that has seen David’s bridal portraits has probably had to pick their jaw off of the ground. The great thing is that the same techniques used for bridal images can be applied to everyday portraits. For those in the business, David provides weekly valuable insights into how to operate and market a successful business. Lastly, the site also contains a wealth of links to other related sites for inspiration, equipment reviews, and post processing tutorials. This should be your first stop each day!

Iso 200, f/9.o, 1/125 sec, 32mm

Lightroom Killer Tips
Matt Kloskowski is one of the original “Photoshop Guys” from the Photoshop User TV and in addition to still doing episodes for the show and managing his Photoshop Killer Tips site; he has devoted a lot of time and effort to his Lightroom site. I am finding more and more that I am doing the majority of my post processing in Adobe Lightroom and very seldom pulling images into Adobe Photoshop unless there is something that I must truly customize. Lightroom 2.0 has made this especially true with its new adjustment tools. By relying on Lightroom for most of the processing, my workflow has sped up dramatically, a real time saver when processing hundreds of photos from an event shoot like a surfing contest. I’ve gotten to the point that I now recommend Lightroom 2.0 as a first purchase before getting Photoshop CS4. Anyway, I got off-track so more about the site. Matt provides a wealth of information, tutorials, and even downloadable presets that you can apply to your own images. Like David, he also posts regular links to inspiring sites and product recommendations. He has a casual, laid back style and regularly replies to emails and comments on his postings. Even if you do not own Lightroom yet (I’m sure you eventually will), this is a great site to visit on a regular basis.

The Strobist blog can be described as everything that you need to know about lighting while on a budget. A few years ago, several photographers discovered that with a bit of creativeness and a good understanding of light and subject, they could create amazing images using portable hot shoe flashes that rivaled those created with high-end studio strobes. The Strobist site walks you through the courses Lighting 101 and Lighting 102, which provide easy to understand explanations on lighting gear and techniques from the beginner to the advanced user level. There is even an associated Flickr gallery where you can post your results as well as view the images created by others. In addition to the lessons, there are many informative posts on everything from advanced lighting techniques to do-it-yourself lighting equipment projects. Regardless if you have an unlimited budget and the greatest lighting gadgets, the Strobist site can still provide you with some valuable information.

Iso 200, f/11.o, 1/250 sec, 62mm

Photoshop User
Opening disclaimer is that to view the majority of content on Photoshop User, you have to join the National Association of Photoshop Professionals (NAPP). It costs approximately $100 a year but in addition to the site access, you get a subscription to Photoshop User as well as technical support and discounts to most of the major photographic equipment and software suppliers. The site contains hundreds of tutorials and videos as well as portfolios of other users. It is worth the cost to sign up. If you choose not too, though, you can still access Photoshop User TV, a weekly half-hour show lead by the likes of Scott Kelby, Dave Cross, and Matt Kloskowski in addition to several others. The shows are part tutorial, part news, and part product review. There is a little corny humor but it is all in lighthearted fun.

Well as previously mentioned, there many more sites out there, definitely some that I will feature in future posts; however if you were to check only 4 sites a day, I’d make these a priority.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Notes from the Air Show

Iso 400, f/8.0, 1/1250 sec, 500mm

Yesterday I went out to Oceana Naval Air Station for the air show to shoot some photos. Arriving early, I was directed to a prime parking spot approximately 1 mile from the entrance. To be fair, they had shuttle buses running but it was a nice morning and I needed the exercise; so I loaded my Sigma 50-500mm lens bag onto my camera bag, grabbed my monopod, and hiked across the concrete tarmac to show. At the entrance I was stopped by a very big soldier carrying a very big gun who informed me in no uncertain terms that camera bags were prohibited. The guy in front of me slipped by with his but I figured protesting would at best get me kicked out and at worst…well I didn’t really want to think about it.

Iso 400, f/25.0, 1/160 sec, 500mm

I hiked back to my truck, attached the Sigma to my Nikon D300, put my memory cards in my pocket, and left everything else behind as I walked back to the show. I didn’t realize my mistake until I got to the entrance a second time. Leaving everything behind included my monopod. I briefly considered making a third trip; however, I opted to forgo it and shoot handheld. For those that haven’t had the pleasure of holding a Bigma, it weighs over 5 pounds. It doesn’t seem like much but after 5 hours, it begins to wear on you.

It has been years since I attended an air show. Living near the base, we see the jets all day long and when an air show comes to town, we can usually see a lot of the performances from a distance. It doesn’t in any way compare to actually being there. If you haven’t gone to one, I highly recommend it. From the graceful agility of aerial acrobatics to the sheer power of the jets as they fly just off the deck is breathtaking. Watching the F22 Raptor perform was as beautiful as it was down right terrifying.

Iso 400, f/20.0, 1/320 sec, 500mm

Here are few tips that will help you come away with an enjoyable experience and images that really sing:

1. Arrive early. The gates to the show opened at 8:00 a.m. By the time I arrived and made the multiple trips to my truck, I got in at 9:00 to find that the best spots were already taken. At the very least, you want to get a location right up against the barrier so that you do not have anyone between you and the airstrip. You will be surprised at how low some of planes pass by.

2. Travel light. As previously mentioned, camera bags were not allowed so carry your camera, lens, monopod, and memory cards only. You can get away with individual lens bags attached to your belt or a photo vest if you have one. I wasn’t planning on changing lenses so I only took the one attached to the camera. Also, you will be carrying your equipment all day and you will appreciate the lighter load as the day wears on.

3. Wear comfortable shoes. Walking shoes, hiking boots, or any shoe that offers a lot of cushioning. The viewing area is usually on concrete. After a few hours, your legs and feet will thank you.

4. Bring a chair. You can get a folding chair at any sporting goods or department store for around $10. The chair collapses and slips into a carrying bag that is allowed into the show. Aside from obvious purpose of allowing you to rest you feet and back for a few minutes between performances, the chair serves a much more important role of staking out your territory. As soon as you arrive, place your chair at your selected location right up against the barrier. This will enable you to roam the base and still return to your spot without having someone else move in on it. In all honesty, you will spend very little time actually sitting in the chair.

Iso 400, f/6.3, 1/2000 sec, 370mm

5. Big glass. Most of the planes will make some passes close enough to get a good image with 200mm zoom but if you really want to optimize your opportunities for some great shots, you need to bring something in the 400mm – 600mm range. A cheaper alternative is to purchase 1.4x or 2x teleconverter. Make sure though that the teleconverter that you purchase will work with your camera’s autofocus.

6. Focus selection. Most DSLRs now come equipped with selective and continuous focus. The former locks focus when the shutter is depressed halfway so that you can recompose without the focus shifting to another target. Continuous focus, on the other hand, does just what it sounds like – continues to adjust focus as the subject moves. For the majority of your shooting at an air show, you will want to use continuous focus.

7. Focus points. DSLRs have come a long way in a short amount of time when it comes to focus options. Most allow the user to select a point or a set of points for the camera to use to calculate focus. On the Nikon D300, I use 21 point focus for fast moving subjects. The camera focuses on a single point; however, if the subject moves out past the point in the frame, the camera automatically shifts focus to one of the 20 other points surrounding the primary. Check your camera manual to see what options you have.

8. Vibration reduction. Turn it off. Why? Whether in camera or lens based, VR will slow focusing. Unless you are panning motion shots, you will be shooting at shutter speeds that make VR irrelevant. Since it is not needed, turn it off and allow the camera to gain focus acquisition as fast as possible.

Iso 400, f/25.0, 1/160 sec, 500mm

9. ISO. I found that 400 iso allowed me to shoot at 1/1250 second or faster. I probably could have gone as low as 200 iso; however, large, dense clouds kept moving in and out of the area. I didn’t want to miss a great shot because my shutter speed adjusted to a setting too slow.

10. Settings. I found that I was most comfortable shooting aperture priority set at f/6.3 for the stop action shots. Doing so allowed the shutter speed to adjust for changes in lighting due to cloud cover or bright sun. For panning shots, I remained in aperture priority but set anywhere from f/16 – f/32 in order to bring down the shutter speed create motion blur. I wasn’t worried about the increased depth of field since the background would be blurred regardless. At f/16, I had a shutter speed of 1/250 – 1/400 sec which was good to get that nice radial blur on propellers while still keeping the overall image sharp. At higher f-stops, my shutter speed dropped to 1/80 – 1/120 of a second which is great for panning shots with a lot of motion blur. I definitely need to practice this more as tracking a jet fighter approaching the speed of sound while hand holding a 5 pound lens is fairly difficult.

11. Monopod. Don’t leave it in the truck! For panning shots, it is absolutely a necessity to keep the panning smooth and the image sharp. I got a few right handheld but botched the majority of them by having my hands shake the lens up and down while trying to follow the subject.

12. Take a break. Every now and then, put the camera down and take a look around. There is a lot of neat stuff to see at a show and while resting your eyes, you may come across another image that you hadn’t originally thought about.

I ended up leaving the show before the Blue Angels took to the sky in order to get home in time to catch my Bears choking another victory away in the fourth quarter but I was pretty happy with the majority of the images I created. Processing was fairly straightforward and quick. After importing them into Lightroom 2.0, I ran tone, contrast, and vibrancy adjustments on the first image and then synced the other 300 images. I then ran through them and flagged each as pick or discard. I filtered the picks and made minor adjustments to exposure and shadows before exporting them to jpegs and uploading them to my 09/21/2008 Oceana NAS Air Show gallery.

Next an air show is town, get out there shoot a few. It is a great time.