Thursday, January 29, 2015

Bern Switzerland - One day in this beautiful city

Continuing my photos from our vacation in Switzerland, today's blog features photos from the beautiful city of Bern.

We only had one day in Bern, but really enjoyed our time there. One of my followers on Facebook, who lived nearby, came and showed us around. It was really cool to have a local show us the area, but it was equally great to meet someone who lives so far away but follows my work.

This was a shot from one of the bridges in the city. For this, I used the Canon 5D Mark III with the 24-105mm lens. I liked this particular angle and decided to come back and take a night shot from here.

Here is a shot from the same location later in the day. Normally I would wait for the sky to get darker, but the church (which is the main subject of the shot - even with the scaffolding) was not lit up, so it just went dark as the night moved in. Bummer!

I did turn the camera around and shot this photo, with the lit building. I really like the way the yellow building pops against the pink and blue colors in the night sky.

The next morning, before leaving the city to stay with friends, we went up to the rose garden area so that I could get some shots over the city. This was the wide view from the rose garden, taken with the Canon 5D Mark III camera and the Canon 28-300mm lens.

Using the most of the reach of the zoom lens, I zoomed in to 235mm to grab this shot of all the chimneys. I love the repetitive details in this shot. Even though the wide shot is pretty, I like this composition better, because it is different from what most people would shoot from this location.

And then...I wanted to get a unique shot from high above the city, so I broke out the Phantom II Vision+ aerial camera.

Even though I liked the wide shot of the city with the DSLR, I liked this shot even more. It really helped to fly up high above the tree line and get a view down on the old city. It is this type of shot that makes me love the aerial camera even more. It is a totally unique view and so breathtaking.

Oh, and I should mention that in the morning, before we headed out of Bern, we needed our caffeine fix. We walked over to a Starbucks but it was not open at 9am. (Hey, this is Switzerland, not America.) At first we were bummed about this, until the concierge of the hotel suggested that we go to Einsteins Cafe. This is an amazing coffee place located in the same building where Albert Einstein lived. If you are in Bern, stop by there. It was great food and drinks in a cool setting!

If you are interested in purchasing any camera equipment, please click here to go to B&H Photo, as I get a referral from them if you enter this way. I would really appreciate that.

And also, remember that you and your friends can enter your email address at the top right of this blog to get an email any time I write a new blog post.


Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Rheinfall, Switzerland - Aerial photos from the DJI Phantom 2 and photos from the ground with my Canon 5D Mark III

I am now back in Europe visiting France and Scotland. And as I was getting ready for this trip, it occurred to me that I never finished posting photos from my last trip to Europe in October. So...I am going to post numerous blogs from my last trip to Switzerland and France.

One of our first stops was Rheinfall which is close to the border of Germany and Switzerland. When we arrived in Zurich, the weather was pretty dreary, so I figured that photographing the falls would be better in this weather than photographing the city. We checked in to our hotel and then immediately hopped back in the car and made the one hour drive to the falls.

Rheinfall is the largest waterfall in Europe. Nowhere as big as Niagara Falls in between the US and Canada, but there were some cool rocks in the middle of the falls which were unique. This straight-on shot was the most appealing to me. I took this photo with the Canon 5D Mark III and 28-300mm lens at a slow shutter speed (3/4 sec) to show the motion of the water.

My wife and I walked around and I tried to find some other cool angles from which to shoot the falls. I saw this rainbow appear, and quickly set up the tripod and took some photos. Seeing that the rainbow was hanging around for a little while, I shifted to a better position to include not only the rainbow, but also the Swiss flag. I like having the flag in the shot, because it tells the viewers of this image which country the landmark is in.

I looked for other good wide photo positions of the falls and frankly didn't see anything that thrilled me. I did find this one tight shot which I liked, so I set up the tripod, went for a 1/2 sec exposure and took this. (Photographer's note: Whenever I take photos of waterfalls and rivers, I almost always use a circular polarizing filter. There are two reasons why this filter will make your photos better. The first is that this polarizer will filter out some of the light coming into your lens, making it easier to capture photos at slow shutter speeds during the daylight hours. Secondly, this filter will help to reduce the glare coming off of the wet rocks, which can be very distracting in the photo.)

All this was fine, but I really wanted to show off the falls better than what I was getting with the 5D Mark III, so I said to my wife "I am going back to the car to grab the Phantom 2 Vision+ aerial camera". She thought I was crazy to fly it over the falls, but I am glad that I did, because this yielded some really unique photos.

This is the shot that I really wanted, showing the really interesting rock formations in the middle of the river. I tried capturing these from ground level and it lacked the drama that you see here. Gotta love the Phantom 2!

I was standing on a ledge on the building you see on the far side of the Rhein river. In order to show the entirety of the falls and some of the surrounding area, I sent the Phantom up high and away from me.

This shot was taken on the return flight back to where I was standing. I wanted to get a shot of the rocks and the staircase leading to the top.

And here is a shot high over the Rheinfall building.

After shooting all this aerial footage, I flew the Phantom 2 back to me and packed it up. I took it back to the car, packed it up, and then went looking for my wife (who usually stays far away from me when I fly this thing!)

I was meandering around when she came to find me. She told me that she had been walking through a really pretty cemetery, and that I should check it out. And boy, am I glad I did! This had to be one of the most beautiful cemeteries I have ever seen.

The flowers which lined the rows of gravestones were just spectacular. Since I like dimension in my photos, I angled myself so that I would have repeating patterns within the multiple rows of gravestones.

My goal here was to capture the colors of the flowers, but also include the church steeple off in the distance.

If you are lucky enough to visit Rheinfall, make sure you find this cemetery, which is located adjacent to the main building.

If you liked the still photos here, you should check out the video I posted, showing this waterfall and other cool places, called "Flying over Switzerland" which can be found here.

Stay tuned for more photos from Switzerland and France.


If you are interested in purchasing any camera equipment, please click here to go to B&H Photo, as I get a referral from them if you enter this way. I would really appreciate that.

And also, remember that you and your friends can enter your email address at the top right of this blog to get an email any time I write a new blog post.


Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Mammoth "Night of Lights" - Great fireworks over the ski slopes

It was right before Christmas and my family headed to Mammoth Lakes, CA for some winter fun. On our first night there, we joined my good friend Moose Peterson and his lovely wife, Sharon, for the Mammoth Lights fireworks show, which happens at the base of the ski slopes.

I had never seen these fireworks before, but was looking forward to grabbing some photos of the show. Normally I would bring a tripod for shooting fireworks, but I knew that space would be limited and I did not want to turn this fun family event into a photo shoot. So this time, I decided to shoot everything handheld, using the Canon 1DX and 24-105mm lens. I am now exclusively using the BlackRapid straps, which meant that I was comfortable with this beast hanging off of me for the entire evening.

Before the fireworks started, they had a whole bunch of skiers come down the mountain in formation. They criss-crossed through the snow grooming machines, which were parked on the mountain in the shape of a Christmas tree. I shot this at 1/40th of a second to try and add a little bit of movement to the skiers.

What made this a really cool experience, is the location of the fireworks. As my daughter said, it was one of those rare times when you go to see fireworks and they are blowing off right in front of you. So many times you get to a location to view the show and the fireworks are much farther than you expected, or behind a lot of trees or buildings.

I took this photo at 28mm to stay nice and wide. I had the ISO set to 1600, went -1 on the exposure compensation, and just held the camera as still as I could. The shutter speed on this photo was only 1/10th of a sec, but it is still very sharp.

As you can see, I took photos in both portrait and landscape modes, but always included the ski slope. Why did I do this? Because, what makes this different from most other fireworks shows is the location. If I do not show the location, it would be less dramatic.

While shooting the fireworks, I would try to shoot photos at the apex of the burst. But I was also careful not to shoot when there were too many fireworks going off at one time, This creates a photo with too many "subjects" and typically creates an over exposed shot.

This photo was one of my favorites, with really great colors in the fireworks. You will also notice that, at the time, all the ski lifts had flares on the chairs, creating a nice frame of red lights on either side of the slope.

I have had many people email me about shooting fireworks, and also asking how I take these photos with such a slow shutter speed.  With some practice, good shooting position, proper holding of the camera, and steady breathing, you can shoot good photos with relatively slow shutter speeds, like this one at 1/15 sec. While shooting, I generally left the ISO at 1600 and the aperture at f/4, but I was experimenting with different exposure compensations. This one was taken with only -0.3 exposure comp.

This last shot was taken at 1/125th of a second. You might be wondering how the shutter speed went from 1/15 sec in the previous shot to 1/125th on this photo. Well...two things changed. First, I changed the exposure comp back to -1 (which buys me some shutter speed). Secondly, there were more fireworks in the air giving me more light to work with.

I hope you enjoyed the photos from this fun event, and I hope that all of you had a great holiday break and a happy new year.


If you are interested in purchasing any camera equipment, please click here to go to B&H Photo, as I get a referral from them if you enter this way. I would really appreciate that.

And also, remember that you and your friends can enter your email address at the top right of this blog to get an email any time I write a new blog post.


Friday, January 2, 2015

Some of my favorite photos from 2014 - A look back at last year

Wow - hard to believe that it is 2015 already! Where is the time going?

As I do at the end of each year, I go through all my photos and pick some of my favorites to put together a slideshow. This year, my good friends at Photodex helped me put together my compilation of some of my favorite photos from 2014.

You can click on the graphic above or click here to see the 5 minute video. The video starts with numerous photos from Winter Olympics in Sochi and then roams through the year. I hope you enjoy viewing them as much as I did shooting them!

And...Happy New Year to all of you.



If you are interested in purchasing any camera equipment, please click here to go to B&H Photo, as I get a referral from them if you enter this way. I would really appreciate that.

And also, remember that you and your friends can enter your email address at the top right of this blog to get an email any time I write a new blog post.


Monday, December 29, 2014

Did you or someone you know get a new DSLR for the holidays? Time to get out of Automatic mode!

It is that time of year when lots of lucky people received a new DSLR for the holidays. Most of them will take out the new camera, put it in Automatic mode, and start shooting.

The problem is, they are now holding a bigger and more expensive point-and-shoot camera.  If they knew even a few tips, they could take so much better photos!

Last year, along with B&H Photo, I created this video:

The 15 Features of Your DSLR That Every Photographer Should Know

This is a free class to help you or your friends get the most out of your DSLR camera. It is aimed at the novice and intermediate user, and should be easy for most people to understand. If you are one of those lucky people to get a new DSLR, and are new to photography, check it out.

People often ask me why I let B&H post these videos at no charge, and the reason is, I love photography and want to spread the passion to others. More than money, it is so rewarding to get email messages from people all over the world who have learned from this and my other free videos. With some simple tips, like those in the class, it can change the way people take photos and yield much better photos. And then, they too might see how creative they can be with these amazing cameras.

If you know someone who just got their first DSLR, or has had one stuck in automatic mode for many years, let them know about this video. I am proud that this video is now the most viewed classroom video on the B&H YouTube channel with more than 670k views.

And also, remember that you and your friends can enter your email address at the top right of this blog to get an email any time I write a new blog post.

Happy holidays and happy shooting everyone!



If you are interested in purchasing any camera equipment, please click here to go to B&H Photo, as I get a referral from them if you enter this way. I would really appreciate that.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Costa Rica - Our 6th and final day of photographing wildlife

It was our last full day in Costa Rica, and we planned on spending the first half of the day in Manuel Antonio National Park and then driving back to San Jose, where we would fly out the next morning. We packed up the car and I was pulling out of the hotel exit when my friend Steve, said "stop the car!" I was startled and asked him what was happening. He pointed his finger up towards a rope that was traversing the road, and there were a couple of squirrel monkeys crossing the rope. We both hopped out of the car and grabbed our cameras, but I saw the two monkeys moving out of site and figured that I would not get a shot of them. Then I looked to my right and saw about 30 more monkeys waiting to make the same crossing. Cool!

The tough part of shooting in a humid environment is getting the camera adjusted to the humidity. The camera had been in my air conditioned hotel room and air conditioned car, so when I pulled it out to shoot, the lens and eyepiece immediately fogged up. I kept wiping the 100-400mm lens to try and clear it, but as soon as I wiped it, it would fog up again. Most of the monkeys crossed the rope before the lens adjusted and I could get this shot. I did not take the time to clean the eyepiece, so I just ignored the blurry view through the camera and shot, knowing that the final image would be fine. I was happy to get some clean "unfoggy" shots of these little guys.

And then we were back in the car and off to the National park.

We had yet to see a howler monkey, but I knew they were around. The sounds from these monkeys, which are the second loudest animal in the world, woke me up earlier in the morning. Not too long after we entered the park, we came across a couple of the howler monkeys and I got this shot. At first I thought he was flipping me off, but when looking through the 400mm lens, I noticed that this was not the case. Phew!

We encountered more lizards. I really loved the bright green colors on this one.

The day before, I brought my Canon 1DX, Canon 7D Mark II, 100-400m lens, 24-105mm lens, 100mm macro lens, a flash and some other accessories in my backpack. But I thought I would try something different on this day. I only brought my Canon 1DX, 100-400mm lens and the Canon 500D Close-up lens (that looks like a filter). This really lightened the load for me. And because I had the 500D close-up attachment, I could use the 100-400mm lens as a long zoom or a macro lens. Very cool! This shot of a dragon fly was taken with a 100-400mm lens. Normally, the closest focusing distance of this lens would be 6 feet, but, using the Canon 500D "filter", I took this only inches from the insect. Not too shabby huh?

Here is another lizard shot. What makes this different from the other lizard photos, is that I could see his entire body. I moved to a place where I could see him from head to tail and framed the shot to accentuate the curve of his body. As always, I made sure to keep the focus on the lizard's eye, and then I let the rest fall out of focus.

Using the same 500D close-up lens, I took a macro shot of this rather large spider.

And look at the detail in this crop of the previous photo.

This isn't a very good photo of this grasshopper, but it was the best I could do. This tiny insect was probably 15 feet from us, and I used all of the 400mm reach of my lens, along with a tight crop in Photoshop, for this. The colors of this grasshopper were amazing, with a blue head, green body, and orange / yellow legs.

On or second day in Manuel Antonio Park, we saw a couple more sloths. They don't move much, so getting them doing any activity was a treat.

I like this photo of this sloth peeking through the leaves.

My last photo in the park was of this grumpy lizard. I think he was having a bad day. :)

Before leaving the park, I decided to launch the Phantom 2 Vision+ drone to get an aerial shot of the park. I just love how I can get a totally different perspective with the aerial camera.

We then left the park to make the 2 1/2 hour drive back to San Jose. But, one of the people I met in the park showed us photos of crocodiles, and I asked where he saw them. He told us about a bridge (around the midway point of our drive) which was known for all the crocs living below. It was easy to find, since there were signs warning about the crocs and numerous cars parked on either side of the bridge. We stopped on the far side of the bridge and walked out to the middle of the bridge. There were some really large crocodiles living in the river below.

I think this croc was waiting for us to throw some food to him, but I don't think he would find a Canon camera very appetizing.

Using the Canon 100-400 lens, I was able to get in pretty close to these guys. I wanted to get more photos of these guys, but could not get any closer. It was time to break out the Phantom 2 Vision+ again.

I flew right by these guys, but tried to highlight the biggest one, which is right in front of the camera. They called this crocodile "Mike Tyson". I also captured some pretty cool video of the crocodiles and will try to put together a video soon.

 Here is an aerial shot from high above the bridge. It is so pretty there.

When going back to where the car was parked, to switch between the camera and the drone, someone pointed up into a nearby tree and said that some macaw had just flown in. This was the first time that I have seen these in the wild, and I shot a bunch of photos. This was one of the first shots I took.

At one point, a couple of the macaw flew into the same tree.

I moved to a location where I could get both of them in the same image, and waited for them both to have their heads up.

I shot many photos of the macaw, looking at their different positions and trying to get a pleasing balance of the two birds. This was one of my favorite photos, with the birds criss-crossing each other, creating a nice balance to the image. The only problem was that there was a lot of sky showing through the tree, causing the viewers eye to be distracted from the birds. While shooting the photo, I knew that there was nothing I could do about the bright spots at the time.

But...I also knew that I could fix this in Photoshop.

This is the same image, but I have filled in the bright spots. I used a combination of the spot healing brush and the clone tool (taking leaves from other locations in the tree). Look at both images and I think you will agree that the retouched photo is much stronger.

Well...that is the last of the blogs from this trip to Costa Rica. I hope that you all enjoyed joining me, albeit virtually, for this trip. I hope to announce a workshop in Costa Rica sometime in the next year or so.


If you are interested in purchasing any camera equipment, please click here to go to B&H Photo, as I get a referral from them if you enter this way. I would really appreciate that.