Wednesday, August 23, 2017

The Rain Forest of Costa Rica - A week of photography on the Osa Peninsula (The first two days)

Last week was an adventure for myself, my wife and daughter, as we made our way South to Costa Rica for a week. The goal of the trip was to scout out the photographic opportunities on the Osa Peninsula for future photo tours. And as you will see from this blog post and the others to come, this is an amazing place to photograph and experience for yourself. And yes, I will be leading tours to this location starting THIS year! You can see that here.

We started our trip flying into San Jose, Costa Rica and spent the day there relaxing by the pool and then enjoying the late afternoon lightning storm.

The next day, we headed back to a small terminal next to the main airport and hopped onto a small airplane to make our way to Puerto Jimenez and ultimately, Crocodile Bay Resort. This would be our home for the week and our photographic base.


We loved the views from the plane, and even spotted a rainbow over the coastline. Armed with my Canon 5D Mark IV and Canon 24-105mm lens, I was able to get some decent photos out of the window of the plane.


The flight also provides amazing views of the rain forest from the air. I saw this meandering river and loved the patterns amongst the trees. This aerial views were so amazing that this flight ended up being the highlight of the day for the family.

But there was so much more to come...


We got to the resort and got settled into our rooms. We then had a really nice lunch and then walked the property to see what photo opportunities we could find. In the first 5 minutes of our walk, we spotted these two Scarlet Macaw in a nearby tree. It so incredible to see these colorful birds flying in the wild. At this point I had switched to my Canon 1D X Mark II and Canon 100-400mm lens.


Since the resort is called Crocodile Bay, we had to check out the crocodile pond. We all walked over and found these American Crocodiles lounging. Just as we were viewing these guys, a light rain started falling around us. But hey, it is the rain forest, and we just kept moving ahead.


Across the crocodile pond, there was a tree full of Cattle Egrets. I isolated this one Egret fanning his wings to keep them dry. Once again, we were all captivated by the beauty of these birds.


The property of the resort is filled with native foliage, and I had a great time capturing photos of the flowers.


I saw the curve and color of this Red Ginger plant and framed this shot.


There is a certain simplicity in this photo of a single Zinnias flower amongst the green background.

After we toured the property, we headed in for dinner (since it gets dark around 5:30pm by the equator) and relaxed for the evening. The next day we were heading out with Dennis, our guide, for a full day of wildlife photography in the rain forest.


We piled into the Toyota Landcruiser and started our day. But before we even left the property, Dennis spotted this Striped Basilik Lizard on one of the fence posts. Now that is an awesome face! (Note: If you go to Costa Rica, you need to be with a guide. Without a trained expert, you will miss 80% of the wildlife in the area. We are just not trained to see all the hidden gems. They are! Of course, we will have guides with us on all my photo tours.)


While viewing the Lizard, Dennis also spotted this baby Green Iguana in a nearby plant.


About half an hour later, we were driving along a remote dirt road looking for monkeys, when we spotted this Northern Tamandua (in the anteater family) climbing a tree. For all my longer zoomed photos, like this one, I was using my Canon 1D X Mark II with the Canon 100-400mm II lens. I kept both of cameras in aperture priority mode, using the best aperture I could get on this lens. At 400mm, this meant that I was usually photographing at f/5.6. I would watch my shutter speed, and if it was too slow or too fast, I would adjust the ISO accordingly. For this particular photo, I also recommended that we all adjust our exposure compensation up 1.3 stops to bring the Tamandua out of the shadows. For those of you who don't understand all this, join me on a trip and you will learn this quickly.


The next animal we spotted was a Brown-throated Sloth. I have no idea how Dennis find these animals, since I had a hard time spotting it, even after he pointed his laser pointer at the exact location. But I can tell you this...my daughter was very excited to see the sloth for the first time.


We were in the same spot where we stopped the vehicle to photograph the sloths, when Dennis pointed out the Golden Silk Orb-weaver spider which had captured a Cicada in it's web. I switched to my Canon 5D Mark IV with the Canon 100mm macro lens to get this shot. (Note: If you are going to Costa Rica to photograph the wildlife, I highly recommend you bring a macro lens with you. If you join me on my tour there, Canon has agreed to loan your choice of cameras and lenses at no cost to you!)


As I have mentioned in previous blog posts, I have never really been a "birder", but after being to Africa and Costa Rica, I totally get why people love photographing birds. There are some amazing species out there! Here is a photo of a Yellow-throated Toucan hanging out in the trees above us.


Dennis found these two Tropical Screech Owls hanging out on a tree branch. I took a bunch of photos of these two and was happy to have a nice sharp image here. I was editing this back at the room at Crocodile Bay when my wife spotted something that nobody else had noticed. There is a baby owl peeking out from the feathers!


Here is a tight crop of the same image so that you can see the baby.


The next animal that we spotted was a White-nosed Coati, which is a member of the raccoon family. I had never seen one of these before, and it was fun to capture a new species in my camera.

Weirdly, we had not seen any monkeys for the first half of our day. But then our luck changed...


The first species of monkey that we saw was the Black-handed Spider Monkey. They were swinging from one tree to another, and we all enjoyed watching their acrobatics.



In the distance, we could hear Howler Monkeys...


We drove towards the sound and found these Mantled Howler Monkeys in the trees.




I waited for this howler to look up and got this photo with light in his eyes.


At one point, while photographing the Howler Monkeys, I looked over and saw Bryan, Bryce and Dennis all shooting at the same spot. I tilted my camera to get all of them in the frame and took this shot of them. Look at that concentration!


Almost everywhere we went on the Osa Peninsula, we came across massive amounts of Leaf-cutter Ants. They are really small (they are ants of course) but they are really interesting to watch. These ants are carrying large payloads for incredibly long distances, and many times there are other ants hanging onto the leafs and going along for the ride. I switched back to the Canon 5D Mark IV and Canon 100mm macro lens to get some shots of the ants while the others were capturing more images of the Howler Monkeys.


As the afternoon progressed, the clouds and rain moved in. This is very typical in the rain forest, with clear skies for the first half of the day and then afternoon rain showers. But the weather was warm and the rain light, so it does not hinder anything. We stopped by a local beach and I switched lenses on the Canon 5D Mark IV to my Canon 16-35mm lens and took some photos of Ali (my daughter).


I also had one of the other guys take a photo of the three of us. Hey - I had to prove that I was there too!


As we drove away from the beach and made our way back into the rain forest, we saw another pack of Spider Monkeys. Once again, Dennis pulled over and we all jumped out of the Land Cruiser to see if we could get some shots of these monkeys as they swung on the tree limbs above us.


Taking photographs of these monkeys is a bit of a challenge for the following reasons:

* Many times we are shooting in low light. Even during the day, the heavy foliage in the trees above significantly lowers the amount of ambient light under the trees.

* The monkeys move really fast as they move from one location to another.

* Often times the abundant foliage gets in between the animals and us and does not allow for a clear shot.

* If the rain is falling, it is a challenge to point the lens up high and not get water drops on the front of the lens.

* The light behind the monkeys is often times much brighter than the animals so it is tough to meter the subject correctly.

Even though all these challenges exist, I look forward to teaching my photo tour attendees the best way to mitigate these circumstances and get great photos.


As always, I am using back button focus (servo mode and single focus point) to lock in the focus on the monkey's eyes.



These monkeys have the best expressions.


I was busy trying to get good photos of one the monkeys when I heard Dennis say "Here comes one with a baby on it's back." I quickly moved the camera to isolate these two and got as many photos as I could, before they swung off to another tree limb and out of sight.


At this point, we had seen 3 of the 4 species of monkeys that live in Costa Rica, and we were happy with that. Heck, it was our first full day there. The light was fading and we decided to head back to the resort.

But 10 minutes later...


...we saw a large pack of Central American Squirrel Monkeys hopping along a fence. There were probably 20 monkeys jumping from fence post to fence post. If we had arrived about 30 seconds earlier, it would have been an awesome photo. But by the time we got out of the vehicle and achieved focus on these guys, it was too late. But we were glad to see the 4th species of monkey and still got some photos of them in the trees.

Overall it was an amazingly full day of photography, and one that I hope to share with many of you in person.

I am excited to say that I will be leading numerous photo tours to this same location starting this November.

Here is why I think this will be an amazing trip for you all:

* It is an unspoiled area and it is truly Costa Rica without any large hotels or tourist traps. This is the real rain forest. No ABC stores around to sell you T-shirts.
* It is easy to get to Costa Rica from the US with many people having a flight of less than 6 hours.
* There is a large variety of photo opportunities for you, including, animals, insects, foliage, scenery, and so much more.
* We are based in one locations so there isn't constant packing and unpacking.
* The resort is very nice, with great food, great people and all that is included in the package price.
* The resort has a conference center with projector, screen and tables where we can all to work together. This is a perfect room for me to teach workflow, Photoshop, and more. There is also a pool and I plan on having at least one informal class there too!
* The cost of this trip is very reasonable and therefore more affordable for the average photo enthusiast.
* We are limiting the guests to 12 so that everyone can learn.
* I have selected great times to visit this location. It is not the height of the heat.
* As I mentioned earlier in the blog, Canon has offered to loan you equipment at no cost to you!

If you would like more information on the Costa Rica Photo Tours, click here.

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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.
__________________________________________________________________________
If you are interested in purchasing ANY equipment, please click here to go to B&H Photo, as I get a referral from them if you enter this way. It does not change the cost to you in any way, but it helps me keep this blog up and running.
__________________________________________________________________________
Check out my upcoming photo tours to amazing places around the world.
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Sunday, August 6, 2017

Photographer's web site do's and don'ts: My advice for looking your best!

Lets face it folks, this Internet thing is here to stay. And dare it to say I think that someday people will shop online, get their news, and do their banking from home. What - that has already happened? Of course it has. The web is a powerful thing and it is imperative for us photographers. It is a place where we can show off our work and attract new clients.

I am writing this blog post to help all you photographers get the most out of your web sites.

Why is our web site so important?

We are photographers and our job is to create stunning images. Not only is it fun to share those images with the world, but posting these photos on our web site is also a way for us to gain new clients. My goal with my own web site is to highlight my favorite current photos and show the breadth of what I photograph. I want prospective clients to see my best work and think "I want this guy to be my photographer." Remember the old days when you would drive by a nice big building with a company name on it and think "wow, they must be successful"? Well...today your web site is that building and you need to impress people with it!


First impression

The first place that people will land will likely be your home page. Make darned sure that your home page has your best work and that you are showing it off the best you can. Some photographers like to show off their images as large as possible, with the image getting larger as the browser is enlarged. I personally don't want that. I want my home page images to stand out, but I don't want them so big that people can screen grab them and steal them. But I do want the photos to be large enough to wow the visitor.


Oh, and be wary of the order of the photos on your home page. If you only shoot weddings, make sure you have your best wedding photos as the first images that come up on your home page. If you shoot weddings and senior portraits, have great images of both on your home page. And make sure that those images highlight your shooting style. Remember, most people are not going to stay on your home page for very long, so you want to wow them with the first 2 or 3 images, because they may not last much longer than 10 seconds. I am a strange photographer and shoot a little bit of everything. I have had many people say that I should have a different web site for sports, weddings, bar mitzvahs, senior portraits... but I like showing that I can shoot a lot of different genres. It may not be for everyone, but I like it. But, with that said, I have put thought into my home page images. I lead with one of my favorite Olympic photos (to show that I have photographed high profile events like the Olympics) and then I have a mitzvah image, a senior portrait and a wedding photo following soon afterwards. It is all calculated.


Organizing your web site

It is imperative that you organize your web site so that your viewers can find what they want, and find it easily. I have separate portfolios for each type of photography I specialize in, and even have a separate additional menu item for Bar and Bat Mitzvahs. The reason for the separate call out, is that a large majority of my photography income comes from these events and I want to highlight that to prospective clients.


Keeping your web site updated

I see many photographers who have web sites that look like they were created back when Netscape was the popular browser. The sites look stale with tiny little images and 10 different fonts on one page. This is not going to help these people get new clients.

Even those people who have nice web sites need to make sure to update those sites with current photos. Hopefully you are improving each time you shoot, and you want to show off your latest and best photos. I know some really good photographers who are currently representing themselves poorly because none of their newer better photos are on their web site. This is a shame.


Only put your best photos on your site

This is probably the one mistake that I see the most with new photographers. They think that they need to have 40-50 photos in each of their portfolios. If you are new to the photography business and only have 5 great wedding images, then only have those 5 on your site. Remember, us photographers are judged not by our best photos, but by the weakest. If you have 5 great images in your wedding gallery and then a bunch of sub-par photos, you will lose the interest of your prospective client.


Be consistent

As you build out your website, try and keep everything as consistent as possible. Try and use only one font throughout the site if you can.

There is nothing more distracting than reading a web page that has 10 different fonts scattered throughout the page.

I also try and keep the images the same size so that things look cleaner. You can see this on my workshop page, where all images are 500 pixels wide.

Choosing a web service

I created the first Jeff Cable Photography website with Apple's iWeb application. It was easy to create a decent looking site, even if it was very limited.

From the Way Back Machine (2006)

I was OK with that site (screen shot from 2006 above) until Apple announced that they were no longer going to develop the application and that it would not run on future operating systems. Then I was in a panic to find a better solution that would give me the look I wanted, the power to do more than just show photos, but also be simple enough for me to administer it myself. After a ton of investigation, I decided to go with Zenfolio, and I have been loving it ever since. About 5 years ago I even became one of their Ambassadors.

The interface is not perfect, but it allows me to administer my own site easily. This is really important because I am a control freak and don't want to hire someone else to do my day-to-day maintenance of the site. If I just took a cool new shot, I want to put it on the home page immediately, bot wait for someone else to get to it.

When I used iWeb to design my site, I was forced to do all my website updates on one computer. Since I did everything on my desktop Mac, I was not able to update the site remotely. For some people this may not be a big deal, but for me, I really wanted to update the latest Olympic gallery while I was in that city actually photographing the Olympic Games. I remember sitting in the airport in Russia, heading to Sochi, and updating my site from my Macbook Pro. It was so liberating!


Selling from your web site

In the old days, when I was still designing my web site using iWeb, I had to use a separate hosting company for all my client galleries. It was a cumbersome and a not-so-reliable solution. Now I am using Zenfolio for my client galleries as well, and I love that those galleries are integrated into my overall site.


So now everything has the same look and feel, and I can easily sell photos from my site. (For those photographers who say that prints are dead, I would disagree. I have received two print orders while writing this blog post.) I also made sure to purchase my own domain and link it to Zenfolio so that my visitors see "jeffcable.com" and not "zenfolio/jeffcable". As much as I love Zenfolio, I want people to see my brand, not theirs. Having my own domain also means that I have an email address at jeffcable.com and not gmail or Yahoo. I know that this is not a huge deal to people, but I feel that a true professional has an email address at their own domain. And do I scoff a bit at that person still using an AOL email address? Yep.


Link to your social media pages from your website

It is important to link all of your online properties together. With that in mind, make sure you have links to your social media sites on your web page. And have links on your social sites that point back to your website.



Tell your story

Most photographers have an "About" page on their website that tells a little bit about them. You can choose to write this in first person or third person. Either way is acceptable. For this page, it is best to try and tell your story and help people understand who you are and what makes you different from everyone else. I find this to be one of the more difficult pages to create and maintain, because you have to try and write all about yourself.


Make sure your web site is mobile optimized and does not use flash

There was a day when it was recommended that your web site be "mobile friendly", but those days are over. Today your website HAS to be able to be viewed on mobile devices and should not use flash. Google even announced that as of this year they would not show sites that were not mobile optimized. This would be a problem for me since I am not a web developer, except that Zenfolio handles all of this for me. Zenfolio has tons of different templates, and all are mobile optimized. Sometimes I will play with these to see what my site would look like in those templates (without publishing it for real).


SEO

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization, and this is very important for helping to drive people naturally to your page. Make sure that you add keywords to your web pages so that the Internet search engines (like Google, Yahoo, Bing and others) can find you.



You will notice that every page on Zenfolio has an SEO box where I can put SEO keywords.


Things I have on my site that you may or may not include

As I mentioned earlier, I am breaking some of the unwritten rules with my own website. For one, I do not show one specialty, and have portfolios for many different genres of photography. Even though I have contemplated a change in this regard, I have decided that I have a wide viewership and want to leave them all on my site.



I also have the following pages on my site:

* Gear page - highlighting the gear I use, since so many of you ask about that.
* Sponsor page - because I love all these companies and want to give them a shoutout
* Workshop and Appearances pages - highlighting upcoming photo tours and presentations
* My Videos - all my free videos teaching photography in one place
* Jeff's Sponsor Deals - this is the newest page on the site to help pass on special deals to all of you


Time for you to create or improve your website!

If you are interested in trying Zenfolio for yourself, you can save up to 28% off the regular annual pricing by clicking HERE.

I know that this is a lot to take in, and heck, if you made it this far, I am proud of you. I have spent many years building and refining my website and I hope that all my success and failures has given you the insight to improve your own site.



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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.
__________________________________________________________________________
If you are interested in purchasing ANY equipment, please click here to go to B&H Photo, as I get a referral from them if you enter this way. It does not change the cost to you in any way, but it helps me keep this blog up and running.
__________________________________________________________________________
Check out my upcoming photo tours to amazing places around the world.
__________________________________________________________________________

Friday, July 28, 2017

How to take some fun and creative photos with speedlites and MagMod modifiers - My SNL photo shoot

A while back, I had a client ask me to shoot some portraits of their son in preparation for his Bar Mitzvah. It is not uncommon for me to do a portrait session for a sign-in board or book, but this family wanted something completely different. Their son's name is Niles and the theme of his Bar Mitzvah was Saturday Niles Live (playing off the TV show Saturday Night Live).

As part of this theme, they wanted me to take photos that were similar to what SNL would do on their TV show. I loved the concept and embraced the challenge!

The first thing I did, was go to my DVR and bring up a bunch of past episodes of Saturday Night Live. I was looking specifically for the colors of the backdrops, the poses and even the layouts that they were using.

Here are some examples of what I saw on the TV show:

Property of SNL and NBC

Property of SNL and NBC
I saw these images and thought "I should be able to do this."  I just needed to figure out an easy way to replicate their look.

I did not want to bring a ton of equipment to their home, so I needed to figure out the best way to shoot these portraits without bringing a ton of equipment to the client's house. And it turned out to be pretty simple and effective.

Here is my equipment list for the shoot:

* Manfotto Light Stands (2)
* Lastolite Magnetic Background Support
* A Lastolite Black/White backdrop
* Canon 600EX-RT flash units (3 to be used and one as a backup)
* Canon ST-E3_RT Speedlite Transmitter
* Canon 1D X Mark II camera
* Canon 24-70mm II lens
* MagMod Basic Kits (2)
* MagMod Grid
* MagMod Creative Gel Kit

And that was it!

I started by setting up the white backdrop on the Lastolite Magnetic Background Support bar. God, I love this thing!!!! It is one of the least expensive items in my gear and a godsend. I then set up the 3 Canon flash units. I had the main flash on my left (Nile's right), and another flash to my right. The third flash was placed on the floor (and then moved to a nearby coffee table) behind where Niles was standing. It was pointing at the white backdrop.  Then I had to get them at the power levels that worked for me.

First, I wanted to determine the right camera settings and power to the flash on the background.


As you can see, these were not the optimum settings! This was taken at ISO 800, f/4, 1/100 sec with the Canon 600EX-RT flash in TTL mode. Way too bright!!!


I then changed the camera settings to ISO 400, f/4, 1/200 sec and kept the flash in TTL mode. Much better! Now I was getting the gelled background colors on my white backdrop. The goal was to change out the colored gels and create different backgrounds behind Niles without having to purchase and bring different colored backdrops. It also would have been a lot harder to change out a bunch of backdrops vs. changing a colored gel on a flash head.



OK, now that I had the background flash figured out, I needed to figure out the power to the main light and fill flash. I started with a normal portrait, just to test the lighting and power levels. This was one of my test shots. I liked everything about it, except for the harsh shadows on the left side of his face. To solve this problem. I moved my main flash and powered up the flash on the left side of his face. I placed MagMod grids on both of the front lights to make sure they were lighting Niles without spilling the white light on my colored background.

OK - so now I had the flash power figured out and the camera settings where I wanted them, and it was time to get some portraits.


I placed a green gel on the back flash and then asked Niles to have some fun with me. He loves drama and had some fun expressions for me.


After taking some portraits against the green backdrop, I changed to gel to purple and we started up once again. Remembering some of the SNL poses I had seen on my DVR, I asked Niles to give me some different looks.


After shooting a bunch of portraits of Niles, I looked around the family room to see what was laying around. I saw this big nerf gun and had Niles use that as a prop.



His mom was standing in the room with us and suggested that he hold one of their family books.


So we had some fun with that as well.


I asked Niles what other colors he wanted to be put onto the white backdrop and let him pick some gels to pop in to the MagMod gel holder. Here he is giving me his Trump imitation in front of a red background.


Then we combined the red and yellow gels to get this orange color. Looking through the camera, Niles reminded me a lot of Macaulay Culkin from the "Home Alone" movie. I had him give me that look too.


I asked Niles to tell me about his other hobbies and he mentioned drumming. I asked him to get his drum sticks for some more fun poses.


I took all kinds of fun poses with Niles, and even asked him to do some quirky things like putting the drumstick in his nose. Why did I do this? Because many of the SNL photos I had seen on TV has this type of quirky look and he was a funny kid who could pull it off.


A little later, I went back to the green gel and took more photos of Niles with the Nerf gun.


He picked up a guitar and posed for more photos. I had a lot of photos with him looking at me, so I changed it up and asked him to look away from the camera for this shot.

This whole shoot took about 90 minutes from setup to tear down. I then got home and posted all of my favorites to a Zenfolio gallery for the family to review.

The family picked out their favorites and then asked me to complete the process by adding the SNL lettering.

Here are the final images:









After I completed all of the SNL treatment to the photos, I sent them to their party planner. 


About a month later, it was mitzvah day for Niles, and you can see that the photos were put to good use. Here is his signature board that I designed for them.


They had a large video wall by the dance floor and used the images for that as well,


It was a great party with Niles performing his own skit and dancing the night away with his friends. The Saturday Niles Live theme was a huge hit, and I was proud to help them create the photos. Not only was it great to create the images that the family wanted, it was fun for me to try something completely new and different. 

If you are into photography, I encourage you to give this a try. It would be a fun weekend project for you! You do not need the big old expensive Canon 1D X Mark II camera for this, but you will need some flash units that work together wirelessly.

I hope this inspires you to try a new lighting project of your own!

__________________________________________________________________________
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.
__________________________________________________________________________
If you are interested in purchasing ANY equipment, please click here to go to B&H Photo, as I get a referral from them if you enter this way. It does not change the cost to you in any way, but it helps me keep this blog up and running.
__________________________________________________________________________
Check out my upcoming photo tours to amazing places around the world.
__________________________________________________________________________