Wednesday, March 4, 2015

An amazing San Francisco sunset!

Recently, my wife and kids were out of town and I decided to take off on my own and shoot photos for an evening. I don't know about you, but I love taking photos strictly for the pleasure of doing so. I was not taking these for an ad campaign or another job, but strictly for the love of photography.  And wow, I picked the right evening and the right location to take photos on this particular day!

The previous evening, I was driving and saw a really pretty sunset, and I wondered if it would be as pretty the following day. After meeting with clients and editing some images, I decided to take a chance, and drive an hour north to San Francisco to see if I could grab some nice night shots of the city.

As I drove up to the city, I saw clouds moving in, and wondered if they would enhance the sunset or obscure it. Only time would tell...

I arrived in San Francisco around 4:30pm and drove up to Twin Peaks to checkout the view and check the visibility.

(Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 28-300mm lens at 100mm, ISO 320, f/5.6, 1/1000 sec)
This is the view of San Francisco from Twin Peaks. And as you can tell, visibility was excellent! I took some photos with the Canon 5D Mark III using the Canon 28-300mm lens. I really like this lens since it provides me with a great range of focal distance. This photo was taken at 100mm, but I did shoot wider and tighter photos.

As I was taking photos up at Twin Peaks, I was careful to watch the time. I use an app called "Sunset" on my iPhone and knew that I had limited time before the sun was going to set. I had a 20+ minute drive to Treasure Island and did not want to miss the best shooting time.

I drove across the Bay Bridge and immediately after taking the Treasure Island exit, I saw a turnout. I parked the car there and decided to fly the DJI Phantom 2 Vision+ for a shot of the bridge and the city.

Taken with the DJI Phantom 2 Vision+ aerial camera (with built-in camera)
I flew the aerial camera up over the tree line and just caught the setting sun dropping down behind San Francisco. The setting sun was casting a perfect golden light on the Bay Bridge. I took a handful of photos and videos before realizing that I might be missing a good sunset. I quickly packed up the drone and drove down the hill to see this...

(Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 28-300mm lens at 85mm, ISO 320, f/8, 1/250 sec)
It was only a two minute drive down the hill, but I saw this sky and hauled butt to park the car, grab my gear and start shooting. You see, I have been to this area numerous times before but NEVER seen a sunset like this over San Francisco. For those of you who live in the area or have visited, you know that this is a rare occurrence I had my 5D Mark III, the same 28-300 lens, my Gitzo tripod and Acratech ball head. I was ready to go! The photo above was the first photo I captured. And when I looked at the LCD of the camera, I was blown away! The clouds were so perfectly placed over the Golden Gate Bridge, reflecting the sunlight and still showing some of the blue sky.

(Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 28-300mm lens at 65mm, ISO 100, f/8, 1/25 sec)
And it just kept getting better! The people there must have thought I was a crazy man. I was standing there, shooting one photo after another, all while smiling and saying "holy crap - this is amazing!"

(Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 28-300mm lens at 28mm, ISO 100, f/7.1, 1/13 sec)
Normally I would not shoot a photo showing so much sky or water, but I zoomed out to 28mm to capture the entire scene. I really wanted the Golden Gate Bridge, the sunset and the San Francisco skyline all in one shot. I knew that I could always crop this later if need be.

(Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 28-300mm lens at 28mm, ISO 160, f/10, 10 sec, -0.7 exposure comp)
After shooting in the direction of the sunset for 25 minutes (and loving every second of it) , I turned the camera to capture the Bay Bridge and city in the last bit of evening light. So pretty! (Photographer's note: On this photo, you will notice that I did crop some of the water and sky out of the photo. I want to show the deep blue sky and the reflections in the water, but once the water or sky go too dark, they did not add to the photo. I cropped the water to just below the bridge reflection and the sky to where the deep blue ended and the black took over.)

(Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 28-300mm lens at 28mm, ISO 160, f/13, 10 sec, -1.0 exposure comp)
In the last remaining light of the sunset (now 6:30pm), I grabbed this shot of Coit Tower. The challenge of getting this shot was metering the camera as to not blow out Coit Tower, but make sure that the sky and water were still exposed correctly. This involved a little bit of tweaking in Adobe Photoshop to darken the tower and brighten the rest of the shot.

(Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 28-300mm lens at 28mm, ISO 160, f/16, 8 sec, -1.7 exposure comp)
At 6:45pm, the last of the deep blue sky was gone and the night sky had taken over. But not wanting to stop this incredible shooting experience, I walked over to the other side of the island and shot this photo of the Eastern side of the Bay Bridge. This is the new span which was opened less than a year ago.

(Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 28-300mm lens at 28mm, ISO 100, f/7.1, 1/13 sec for main image)

This final shot is one of my favorites, and one that I have already had made into a large metal print (which I may make available to purchase. Email me if you are interested in one.) It is hanging behind me as I write this blog. This is a composite of numerous photos which you saw above. It is the wide sunset shot, now cropped to show less of the sky and water. I have taken the lit buildings from the other photos (taken when it was darker) and dropped them into place, one at a time) so that I no longer have a silhouetted city. The colors and composition of this photo just make me smile, not to mention the memory of that great evening of shooting!


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.


Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Les Gorges du Pont du Diable - Photos from a cool gorge in France

Not too long ago, my wife and I were staying with friends in Switzerland, and decided to make a day trip into France to check out the Les Gorges du Pont du Diable. Our friend had heard about this gorge and we decided that it would be fun to check out. Our friend warned us that it might take many hours to drive around Lake Geneva. But, heck, we were in no hurry and looked forward to seeing the area. So off we went, heading north along Lake Geneva (past Montreux) and into France. It was a small road which ran alongside the lake, but we had some beautiful views like the one below.

If you drive around Lake Geneva, you will see many more vineyards on the Swiss side, than you will on the French side. I was not expecting that!

After 3 hours of driving and stopping to take photos, we came to the gorge. You pay at the top, by the parking area, and then you start a fairly long walk down through the trees until you get to the opening of the gorge.

This was one of the first views from the entry to the gorge. I looked up and loved this view of the trees through the rocks. (Photographer's note: Luckily the trees covered enough of the space to neutralize the light coming through. Otherwise, it would have been difficult to expose the shot for both the dark rocks and the bright sky.)

It was a good hike down to the lower levels of the gorge. Here you can see the pathway that goes along one side of the crevice.

The years of flowing water have polished the rocks.

I like this photo because the people on the walking path give you a sense of scale for this large scene.

The color of the water was aquamarine, surrounded by green moss and red leaves.

I zoomed in to highlight the small red leaves on the smooth rocks.

After leaving the gorge, we continued our drive along the river, heading back towards Lake Geneva. We had overcast skies which were perfect for capturing the river at a slow shutter speed. So I convinced my wife to let me stop and shoot some images of the river. While setting up for the shot, I saw these kayakers coming through a gap. I quickly changed my settings to freeze the action and shot some photos of them.

And here is the photo taken with a 1/2 second shutter speed. I framed this shot to show the changing colors on the far tree, with the flowing water going around the mossy rocks.  It had just started sprinkling when I took this shot, so I had less ambient light and no harsh shadows.

All in all, it was another fun day of exploring in this amazing area.

(All the photos here were taken with the Canon 5D Mark III and Canon 28-300mm lens)

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, February 17, 2015

Join me in Africa to photograph a Safari!

You may have seen my announcement on Facebook earlier today, but in case you missed that, I want to share this big news with all of you.

For the last 5 years I have had so many people ask me to do a workshop. But with everything going on, I just did not have the time to take this on. And if you know me, you know that I am very passionate about photography, but not the best travel planner (just ask my wife). But then I started talking to the amazing people at M&M Photo Tours about partnering with them, and everything fell into place. 

M&M Photo Tours has a long history of putting together amazing photo tours. They have done this trip many times and they know the best places to stay, the best times and places to shoot. In other words, they have the contacts and experience to do what I could never pull off.

For many years people have asked me what my dream trip would be, and I have always answered "An African Safari". If you have been thinking the same thing, maybe we can make that dream trip come true together. Here is what I am looking forward to:

* Day after day of photographing amazing wildlife
* Photography instruction - sharing my knowledge with all of you
* Editing instruction - sharing my tips for fast workflow and retouching
* Meeting new people and sharing our passion for photography
* Seeing new places and wildlife
* Having fun

So many people have asked me to do a workshop, and now I am so happy to share this news with you. You may have seen me teach online or we may have communicated through Facebook or email, since I work hard to share my photo knowledge without holding back. Now we may be able to meet in person and share the same passion.

The trip will be from Jan 11th to the 25th in 2016 and includes everything including all airfare, lodging, safari, guides, instruction...

You can find out more about this trip here.

Come join me for this once in a lifetime experience!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Getting credentialed for the Summer Olympics in Rio De Janeiro

There are 541 days until the start of the Summer Olympics in Rio De Janeiro, and today I found out that I will definitely be fully credentialed to shoot for Team USA once again.

Since this will be my 5th time going to the Olympics, it was not as much of a surprise as in years past, but the elation of seeing that email from the U.S. Olympic Committee was almost the same as the first time I got the confirmation.

If you read the blog regularly, you know that I have a real passion for photography, and I really appreciate the opportunities that this art has brought to my life. I get to travel to amazing places and see historic events, and I will never take this lightly.

I get so many emails and comments on the Facebook page from people who dream to have this opportunity, and I know that I am a lucky person. But the good news is this, unlike other people who travel to the Olympics alone, I get to bring all of you with me (well...virtually).

Just like in years past, I am planning on blogging each day from Rio, sharing my photos and behind the scenes stories with all of you. And I am sure that this Olympics will have a lot of both!

We are still a year and a half from our trip together, but I look forward to sharing this amazing experience with you all once again.

Adeus por enquanto,



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.


Wednesday, February 4, 2015

With all the new DSLR cameras shooting at high ISOs, is f/4 the new f/2.8?

For the last ten years, I have always leaned towards purchasing high quality lenses that let me shoot at f/2.8 or better. But, as you all know, these lenses tend to cost a lot more than their counterparts which top out at f/4.

Why have I preferred f/2.8 lenses?

Mainly for three reasons:

1. I love shooting at wide apertures to blur the background and give me great selective focus on my subject.

2. Quite often the more expensive f/2.8 lenses have the higher quality glass and yield the best images.

3. These lenses let me shoot at faster shutter speeds in low light situations (dark events and dimly lit sports venues mostly).

The first point still stands, and there is no substitution for a narrow depth of field, especially when shooting portraits. The really "fast" lenses can shoot at apertures like f/1.2 or f/1.4. And  I still love shooting with these lenses at events to separate my subject from everyone else.

The second point is still true in many cases, but there are plenty of excellent lenses that max out at f/4.

But the third point is becoming less relevant, with the advent of newer cameras. The reason is this...the newer cameras now let you shoot at crazy high ISO levels with very little digital noise.

This photo was taken with a Canon 5D Mark II at ISO 3200 at f/6.3 at 300mm. 
Look at the photo above. This was taken at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, TN. I brought in my Canon 5D Mark II, with a consumer grade Tamron 28-300mm lens (figuring that there was no way they would let me shoot with a big old pro lens). I shot this at f/6.3 all the way out at 300mm. I cranked up the ISO to get me a shutter speed of 1/125 sec.

Lets look at an example from 10 years ago when I was shooting sports indoors. Back then I was using a Canon 20D and would never have pushed the ISO about 800, because the image quality degraded too much. So I would set the camera to ISO 800. I would then mount my Canon 70-200 2.8 lens on the camera and set the aperture to 2.8. But even then I might only achieve a shutter speed of 1/100 second. Yikes! Not nearly fast enough to capture a fast action hockey game. If I were to use a variable aperture lens and shoot at f/5.6 it would be even worse!

Today, I am using cameras like the 1DX, 7D Mark II, or 5D Mark III and I can push the ISO to levels of 10,000 and still get usable images. So having a fast lens is not as necessary.

This photo was taken at ISO 1250 at f/4
I mentioned the advantage of f/2.8 with the narrow depth of field, but sometimes that can work against you. If I am shooting a hockey game at f/2.8, it is likely that the athlete I am focusing on will be in focus but all the other athletes will be out of focus. This is not always ideal. There are times when I want to photograph a group of athletes and have them all in focus. In this case, I would probably want to shoot the photo at f/5.6 or f/8. But if I am indoors and at a low ISO, this would be darned near impossible. With a high ISO, this now becomes possible. we have to have a f/2.8 lens to shoot sports? I don't think so.

As a matter of fact, I really like using the Canon 100-400mm for sports since it is light weight (compared to the really big lenses).

But, my dream lens from Canon is the 200-400mm lens with the built in teladapter. It is f/4 all the way from 200mm to 400mm, and if I switch on the teladapter, I can shoot all the way to 560mm at f/5.6. And, if you read my blog a lot, you know that I love using zoom lenses, so that I have options in how I compose a shot. I used a prototype of this lens at the London Olympics and a shipping version in Sochi, and the image quality was just great!

I have heard people say, I would not use the Canon 24-105mm lens because it is an f/4 lens and not f/2.8, but I have used that lens for years and had excellent results. It is very sharp and has a nice focal range to shoot wide or closer in.

So...if you own a newer DSLR camera, and are looking for a new lens, you might be able to save some money with one of the less expensive lenses and capture good photos even in low light.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this subject.


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.


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.