Category Archives: technique

My Pre-Thanksgiving Post

Yes, I’ve posted this before.  In fact, for a few of the earliest years of this blog, I posted this each Thanksgiving.  I almost consider it a public service announcement… Smile

Enjoy – and have a great Thanksgiving!

How to Carve a Thanksgiving Turkey.

Review: Jeremy Cowart’s Lifefinder DVD

Though typically not much of a video watching guy – I’ve picked up a few lately.  Much of this is catalyzed by the fact that not many of these great instructors land in the Pacific Northwest with great frequency – and when the do – it’s been pretty difficult for me to free up my schedule to make the trip up to Portland.   So – I ordered a copy of Jeremy Cowart’s Lifefinder DVD – and it landed in my mailbox the week between Christmas and the New Year.dvd review

There’s about 4 hours of video between the two DVD’s in the box.  The first DVD has a lot of odds and ends on it – ranging from Jeremy’s raw workflow to a bit on “projects of purpose” to an interview with Zack Arias.

On the first DVD – I really liked the his segments on “Projects of Purpose” and “Tour / Travel Photography”.

The second DVD is worth the price of admission.  It covers 9 shoots where you get the chance to watch Cowart in action.  Of most value to me was listening to his attention to detail on model placement within the scene (walls, textures, subtle buildings in the background) and his conversations with the models.

If Jeremy is not yet on your radar – check out his website – I think you’ll dig his work.  He’s definitely a talented photographer – and it’s great to get this chance to look over his shoulder.

And if you’re looking to work on your people photography (especially out of the studio) – just jump straight to the second DVD.

If I had one request – (and this is definitely not a “must”) it would be to put two copies of the video on the DVD – one to play on your PC – and one that could be copied to your portable electronic device of choice.  Kelby does this with his lighting books – and it has allowed me to watch or review the video without always having to be sitting at my desk.

Bottom line: if you’re working on your lifestyle or environmental portrait skills – this one is highly recommended.

Check Out the New PhotographyBB!

Issue #45 of the digital magazine PhotographyBB is now available.  This new issue is packed with a number of different photo articles – and best of all – it’s free!

On top of that – I had the opportunity to be a guest author this month – writing an expanded version of my 11 tips for shooting hot air balloons.

You can find Issue #45 and all of the back editions here (just a heads up – registration required – but I found it to be pretty straightforward).


From the Archives: Finley HDR

Well – I was digging through images for another project – and stumbled on to this photo that I made a few years ago.  It was one of my first attempts at high dynamic range photography (HDR) – and was taken down at the Finley Wildlife Refuge on an early morning.

The funny story behind the image?  The blue heron off to the left – halfway through the exposures – decided to get up and walk out of the frame.  Fortunately – it didn’t really impact the overall image.

This was probably my first attempt at “art” – and regardless if it worked or not – I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for this image.   Maybe it’s the moodiness – maybe it’s the blue heron looking back at the tree.

So – here you go – one from the archives.  Enjoy!

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11 Tips for Photographing Hot Air Balloons

The great thing about hot air balloon festivals is that there are no “back stage passes”.  Unless you happen to have a seat in a basket – everyone has the same vantage point.  And – I really don’t think it matters if you’re using a Holga, point and shoot, SLR, or imaging satellite – there are great images to be had.  But – shooting a launch is work.  It’s busy – it’s furious – and the whole gig can be done in 60 minutes or less.NW Art Air 2010 - Friday - low res-1

On the other hand, it can be tough to even know where to point your lens – as there’s simply so much stuff happening all around.  Now that I’ve shot a few of these – I’ve gathered a few tips that work for me.  So – in no particular order:

  • Again – it’s busy if you’re standing among 40 (or more) hot air balloons.  There’s color, noise, and a heck of a lot of photographers.  Try to take all of that mayhem – and simply pick 3 or 4 balloons that you’d like to focus on during the morning.  If there’s a little break in the action – you can NW Art Air 2010 - Friday - low res-2shoot the ones right next door, too.  Of course – you don’t need to have this list in hand when you arrive.  Simply pick a colorful one when you arrive.  When that one has launched – or you have the photos you’re looking for – just go pick the next one.
  • While you’re looking at your 3 or 4 balloons throughout the morning – look around at the horizon.  There’s a lot going on – and during a break in the action – those are the times to get your “big scene” shots.
  • If you can only pick one lens – go wide.  Your wide glass (zoom or fixed) will be more versatile while you’re there shooting.  Of course, there’s a place for long lenses, too.
  • The event is so short – try to limit your lens changes (in fact – I might recommend not changing lenses at all).  And the fewer lenses you have – the lighter your camera bag – and the easier it will be walking around.

balloons - albany art & air 2009-9

  • Try to minimize the visual clutter.  There’s a lot going on at a hot air balloon launch.  Try to leave some of it out of the frame.
  • Unless you’re looking for something creative (e.g. long exposures or graduated ND filters) – try to leave the tripod at home.  With everything happening so fast – you’ll want to be more agile.
  • A polarizer will help (though – I admit – I often leave mine in the bag).
  • Shoot from the hip.  Many of my photos are shot from about knee or ankle height.

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  • Shoot on burst mode – sometimes in that moment between shots – there can be a subtle change that will simply make the photo better.
  • Know where the sun is at.  Will you be backlighting your balloons – or will you have that beautiful morning light fall on the face of each aerostat?
  • Be polite, smile – and have fun!  There are a lot of other photographers out there, too.  Share that great spot.

hot air balloons - NW Art Air - 2010 - low res-31 And just in case you were wondering – yes, I underexpose many of my hot air balloon photos.  It can do a few things:

    • It can clean up the foreground clutter by making much of it near black.
    • More of the morning color can be highlighted.
    • I happen to like the architectural elements that silhouettes can add to an image.

Hope that helps.  And if you have more tips – please don’t hesitate to leave them below.

Saturday Afternoon at the Rodeo

Headed on out to the Benton County (Fair &) Rodeo on Saturday to shoot a few photos.

Have I mentioned before that I think Team Roping is probably the most difficult rodeo event to shoot?  If so – let me say it again…

And – the last shot?  Well – that’s from the last ride of the weekend – an 84 point performance by Charlie Skidgel on Disco Dog – to take it all home.  One heck of a performance.

So – in no particular order – here you go.

“Back Stage”

Benton County Rodeo - 2011 - for the blog-1Just never know exactly what you’re going to get when you aim a lens at steer wrestlers.  Really a lot of fun to photograph.

Benton County Rodeo - 2011 - for the blog-6

Saddle broncBenton County Rodeo - 2011 - for the blog-4 Team Roping

Benton County Rodeo - 2011 - for the blog-9

A little barrel racing (and a little fun with a longer exposure). Benton County Rodeo - 2011 - for the blog-10 Bull Riding.

Benton County Rodeo - 2011 - for the blog-13 Benton County Rodeo - 2011 - for the blog-16

And – well – since you stuck around this long – I thought maybe I’d pass along something I tried on Saturday that I think worked pretty well.

As it turns out – it’s not always easy to keep track of what order riders actually ride (for example – Chase was third on the list for bull riders – but he rode last).  Often – a quick snapshot of the scoreboard before or after the ride will help – but – at small rodeos like this one – there’s no scoreboard.  On Saturday – I happen to put a small Zoom H2 on a Gorillapod and wrapped it onto a fence and just let it run for the length of the show – just for fun.  It not only delivered a great soundtrack – but I used it to confirm the rider / bull combo for the 84 point ride.

7 Resources on (small flash) Lighting

One of the challenges I gave myself for 2010 was to get better at portraits.  As it turns out – I’ve recycled that challenge in 2011…

photo sketch0001 - croppedAs part of that goal – I also want to learn to light better.

And that has led me to look for resources on photon slinging.  So – while I’m knee deep in tutorials – I want to pass along some of the best resources that I’ve stumbled onto over the last couple of years (and, by no means, should this list be considered complete or exhaustive).  These are just texts (and one DVD) that I’ve found to be both accessible and packed full of great information.

But – before I turn you loose on the list – I should probably let ya’ll know that I’m not looking to fill a studio with strobes.  In fact – quite the opposite.  I’d like to learn to light effectively with minimal gear.

So – in no particular order – 7 resources on lighting:

  • Zack Arias’ OneLight Field Guide.  You can read my review here.
  • Zack Arias’ OneLight Workshop DVD.  Still working through this.
  • Scott Kelby’s Photo Recipes Live: Behind the Scenes.  And as it turns out – Kelby has just released Vol. 2.  But the gem in this book is Kelby’s ease and style in the videos.
  • Syl Arena’s new book – Speedliter’s Handbook.  Do you shoot Canon and Canon flashes?  Here’s your book.
  • Strobist Photo Trade Secrets by Zeke Kamm. Now – I’ve only been looking through the first volume – but imagine 24 photos along with their Strobist lighting diagrams (and make sure to check out Strobist’s Lighting 101).
  • Joe McNally’s Hot Shoe Diaries.  This is a great book.  It’s probably too early to call this a modern classic on portable lighting (OK – so I won’t) – but you can read my review here.
  • Seeing the Light by Mitchell Kanashkevich.  This ebook is available on Mitchell’s website – and is an excellent primer for in-the-field lighting.

And for a great primer on portrait photography –check out DPS’s Essential Guide to Portrait Photography ebook.

Did I miss any of your favorites on flash management (or do you have a favorite on portrait photography)?  If so – I’m listening.  Let us know below.

7 Not-so-Obvious “Necessities” in my Camera Bag

It seems every photographer has a few extra “necessities” in the photo bag that can either help the shoot go easier – or that’s in there for those “just in case” moments.

Of course – there’s the always present camera(s), lens(es), lens cloths, filters, biz cards, small notebook, pencils/pens, memory cards, batteries, and maybe even a water bottle or camera manual.  But I’m talking about the other items wedged down into the corners – likely not taking up too much room – and not weighing all that much.crab shack-107

And that’s an important point – space is limited in the bag– and who really wants a heavier camera bag?  As it turns out – all of my “extras” probably add up to about the size and weight of two decks of cards.

(Long side note: I have been known to make backpacking gear decisions with the kitchen scale in hand.  Not that my backpacking list is “ultra light” – but it’s amazing how a few “extras” can quickly add up to a few pounds.  Now – I haven’t yet weighed all of my camera gear – but I try to take a similar approach when packing my photo bag.  And – just in case you were wondering – my current grab-and-go bag is the ultra cool Think Tank Retrospective 10 – it’s small, durable, and great looking – holds a lot of gear – but doesn’t allow me to throw in the kitchen sink.)

So – in no particular order – seven extras that have become standard gear:

  1. Gum. Or sometimes it’s Altoids.  Right now – it’s one of those popping fresh flavors by Orbit.
  2. Multi-tool. Sometimes it’s the ever handy Swiss army knife – or an older model Leatherman Wave.  I also think the Leatherman Squirts are cool – and much smaller than either of the tools I have.  Just be sure to take your multi-tool out when you’re ready to hop onto a plane.
  3. Small sandwich bag. Mostly used to hold full memory cards on a long shoot – so as to keep them from floating around somewhere in the bottom of the bag.  Another option that a  lot of folks like is the Think Tank Pixel Pocket Rocket.
  4. Large freezer bag. This corrals extra memory cards, batteries, and will sometimes have another lens cloth in it (can never have enough lens cloths).
  5. Earplugs. It took me some time to finally realize this was a good thing to permanently add to the bag.  From motor sports to concerts to any event with really large speakers that you may find yourself under – earplugs can make it so much more enjoyable.  The little disposable foam ones work great.  I picked mine up at the Home Depot.
  6. Moist Towelette. Cuz’ sometimes your hands can get filthy – and it’s important to keep shooting.
  7. Headlamp. Sometimes a shoot goes through dusk – and it’s important to find your way back without a sprained ankle.  The nice thing about a headlamp – it can double as a flashlight – but a flashlight can’t double as a headlamp.  I prefer the small LED ones – and I think Petzl makes a pretty durable product.

Bonus:  Filter wrench. OK – this one is pretty new to the bag.  Didn’t even know they existed until recently.  Handy for those difficult to remove filters.

Hope that helps.  But now I’m curious – anything indispensable in your bag?


(And if you’re wondering – the photo has absolutely nothing to do with the article.  As I didn’t have a photo of my camera bag – I just fished this one out of the archives.)

Wallpaper: September 2010

September already?

Well – regardless of my shock – here’s the new wallpaper.  This photo is from the Friday morning hot air balloon launch at the annual Northwest Art & Air Festival – held just last weekend in Albany, Oregon.

Now I could try and talk up “vision” and “skill” in getting this image – but in reality – there’s no secret sauce here – I was just experimenting.  Flat on the ground, looking up, wide angle, handheld, and underexposed the scene by a stop or two (or something like that).

Hope you enjoy it.  And, as always, all feedback welcome.

Available for download in four sizes: 1920×1080, 1366×768, 1600×900, and 1600×1200.

sept 2010 - low res

Benton County Rodeo 2010

Benton County Rodeo - a few for blog - low res-1Had a chance to shoot a little rodeo on Saturday afternoon.  And while I was out there – I worked on a some things – such as a few new angles (for me) – and some panning.

Benton County Rodeo - a few for blog - low res-5For example – I typically don’t sit near the start of the roping events (nor to the side – for that matter) – and during tie down and breakaway you’ll most likely find me at the far end of the arena – shooting straight on – but Saturday afternoon – that’s exactly where I was sitting.  And I was close enough to the action that the 70-200mm was too long.  So – I worked with the 17-55mm – and some panning techniques.

As for the panning – I should have re-read my notes / exif data from the Philomath rodeo.  For some reason – caught up in the moment – I set the shutter speed at 1/20 – instead of something better suited to horses – say near 1/40 or 1/50.  As it turns out – while panning cars or bikes or even people – the motion of travel is relatively smooth.  With horses – not only are they moving straight ahead – but they also jostle up and down – adding to the challenge.  I’m still middlin’ on the image below – but I include it here to show my homework.

Benton County Rodeo - a few for blog - low res-2

And speaking of the 17-55mm – it’s been a great lens (picked it up shortly before Willamette Celebration) – and hopefully I’ll cobble together a review in the not too distant future.  That said – it’s not a perfect lens (is there a “perfect” lens?) –but, so far, I’ve really enjoyed shooting it.  It’s sharp, focuses reasonably fast, and the images look great.  On the 50D – I really appreciate the 17mm.

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