Tuesday, April 15, 2014

How I photographed and created the composite of the "blood moon"

As many of you know, last night I photographed the "blood moon". I thought that I would go outside my house, shoot some photos for 15 minutes and then go to sleep. But that did not happen, as I continued to watch the moon transition from a full moon to a red moon.

For this shoot, I used a Canon 5D Mark III and the Canon 100-400mm lens with the Canon 1.4x extender. I mounted all this on my Gitzo tripod, using my new Acratech ballhead (which I love). I used a cable release to take the photos, so that I did not have any camera movement during the exposures.

I used the live view mode of the Canon 5D Mark III to manually focus on the moon. I love going to live view and then using the 10x magnification to see the fine details. This makes the focusing that much easier.

I started by shooting the beginning stages of the lunar eclipse. As I watched the moon cruising across the LCD of my camera, I saw an opportunity to shoot many photos and then combine them. I watched the movement and determined that one photo every minute and 45 seconds should work well. So...for the next hour and a half, I sat outside and shot photos at this interval. Every 8 or 10 shots, I would have to reposition the camera, since I was shooting at a focal length of approximately 600mm and the moon would go out of my frame.

After shooting all the photos, I loaded them into separate layers in Adobe Photoshop. The easiest and fastest way to do this, was to go to "File" and then choose "Scripts" and then "Load Files Into Stacks". This would bring a group of photos into layers automatically. I loaded groups of 8 or 10 at a time, just like I shot them.

I then created a layer mask for each layer, and used my Wacom pen tablet to paint in each phase of the moon as it moved across the sky. The image above shows the first sequence that I put together.

This photo shows the last 6 photos that I added to the composited image.

Once I had created each of the groupings, I then had to combine all of them into on large (500MB) image. I used the natural path of the moon to determine where the next group would line up.

Here is the final image showing the full eclipse of the moon, and the transition to the blood moon.

Not only was it well worth the time, and staying up late, but something really amazing happened last night as I sat outside and shot the photos. One might think that I was all alone, sitting in my driveway at 1am, but I was actually shooting with hundreds of friends. In between each frame, I would get on my iPhone and share my settings, see everyone else's comments, and see what other people were capturing. It was truly amazing to see the power of social media, as so many people from around the world were sharing with each other. Yeah, the moon was really beautiful, but the camaraderie and shared passion for photography was even better. For those of you who were there with me last night, thanks for keeping me company!

Monday, April 14, 2014

Photographing the "Blood moon" tonight

I am not sure if I will be able to photograph the "blood moon" tonight (since the weather may not cooperate), but I thought I would give some ideas and tips for those of you wanting to shoot this tonight.

Here are my tips for you:

* Use the longest lens that you have. Preferably something in the 300-600mm range.
* Mount your camera on a sturdy tripod.
* Switch your camera to manual focus and focus on the moon.
* If you have live view on your camera, use this to lock the mirror and zoom in to fine focus.
* Set your camera to an ISO of 1600 (depending how dark the moon gets - you might go lower)
* Unless you have very expensive lenses, you will likely have an aperture of f8 (or smaller).
* Set your camera in Aperture Priority and shoot one photo. This will be your starting point for the rest of the shots. Switch to manual mode and keep the same aperture as you had in AV mode. , If the moon was blown out (too bright) in the AV shot, use a faster shutter speed than the camera used in AV mode.  If the moon if too dark, use a slower shutter speed than the camera used in AV mode. You can try different shutter speeds to get the best possible exposure.
* Make sure you have a decent shutter to avoid motion blur. Yes, the earth is spinning and any shutter speed more than a couple of seconds will create a blurry image.
* Have your "blinkies" turned on to show if you are blowing out any part of the photo.
* Use a cable release or the timer mode of the camera to avoid any shaking of the camera from your hand.
* Have fun and share what you get!

I know that it this will happen late tonight (in the U.S.), but hey, any good photo is worth it!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

My friends at Photodex made this cool Olympic video using my photos

My friends at Photodex asked me if I was going to create a video of my favorite photos from the latest Winter Olympic. I really wanted to do it, but just have not had time! Then they offered to build the video for me. I uploaded the files to them using Dropbox, and they put together this awesome video showcasing some of my favorite shots from the Sochi Olympics. I really love the way the music and effects add to the my photos!

Video re-caps like this are such a cool way of showcasing a series of images in a new and exciting way. The video was made using their ProShow Web video slideshow tool. Give it a watch, feel free to share with others, and let me know what you think in the comments!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Photographing Motorcross for the first time - so much fun!

A couple of weeks ago, I went with my family as they did a walk for charity. We got to the fairgrounds (where the walk was located) about an hour before the start time. They were content to hang out by the starting line, but when we arrived, I saw these motorcycles racing out in the distance and I just could not help myself. I had my Canon 5D Mark III and 28-300mm lens ready to go, so I broke away for 45 minutes and had a field day shooting photos of these guys.

I have never photographed motorcycle racing and I am no expert in this sport. But, I always say that a good photographer should be able to shoot interesting photos of almost anything, if they know how to control the camera and know how to frame a shot. So...I set the camera to get me a shutter speed of at least 1/1000 second and walked to a position where I would have a good background. I walked to the edge of this one turn and waited for a rider to come by. Since there were a lot of distractions behind the pile of dirt, I got down low and tried to avoid all of that in the frame.

I would watch the riders coming around the track and try to key in on the riders that were fast and aggressive.

I made sure to stand in the same direction as the sun so that I would not get shadows on the rider's faces. I laughed when I saw this photo, because the rider was looking directly at me instead of the course. I know that if I were on that bike, I would be looking ahead!

After shooting many photos with the subject centered, I moved the focal point to the far left of the camera so that I could frame the photo like this. I have the rider off to the left with the trail of dirt coming off the rear tire to the right. For those of you wondering, I shot all these photos in servo focus mode since the riders were at varying speeds and distances from me, and I kept the focal point on the rider.

I walked around the track photographing the big guys, and then came across this little track for the beginner riders. I saw this little guy, who couldn't have been older than 6 years old, who was cruising around the track and I just had to get a shot!

The older riders had completed their race and it was time for the younger kids to have a go at the big track. I was amazed at how good these kids were.

They could get a lot of air even on these smaller bikes!

In this photo you can see all the background distractions I was talking about at the beginning of this blog. It was almost impossible to shoot wide shots without seeing all these power poles and power lines. Not the best background, but this photo does show the height of this kid's jump.

For these shots, I moved the focal point to the far right, so that my subject would be heading out of the frame.

I then returned to the same turn where I started shooting and grabbed some photos of the younger kids coming through. I picked these photos since they show action. The front tires are off the dirt and there is debris flying from the back of the motorcycles. The challenge with shooting any motor sport, is that, by freezing the action, it might look like the rider is just stationary on the bike. For this reason, it is imperative to have the rider leaning into a turn or showing the bike in motion. This tells the viewer that the rider is moving and not posing on the track.

Another rider checking me out from high in the air. :)

After catching many photos from the side of the jumps, I moved to a position where I could shoot photos of the riders straight on. I zoomed the lens to 300mm and shot photos of these guys at the height of their jumps.

If you know me, you know that I love shooting anything new. And I really had a great time photographing these riders. I hope to head back to this local track during the summer to get some more photos. Next time I will bring the Canon 1DX and an even longer lens. I may even bring a remote camera with a 16-35mm wide angle lens to position on the track. So many photo opportunities and so little time to get them!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Photographing events and telling the story with photos

This past weekend I photographed my first Bar Mitzvah since returning from the Olympics. As I spent the day capturing photos, I realized that shooting a local event like this is similar to photographing the Olympics. The goal is to tell a story with the photos. And, no matter what I am photographing, my goal is to have fun and find unique photos for my client.

I am writing this blog to explain my thought process in setting goals for a shoot, and how I execute to make them a reality.

Whenever I shoot a mitzvah or a wedding, even if the weather is not ideal, I like to start with photos outside. To me, there is nothing better than ambiant light photos taken in a natural setting. To start the day, I took Sam outside the Temple to shoot some portraits. I like to do this with just the child and myself, as I find that having this one-on-one time helps to build a rapport with them. It also keeps all the other family members from distracting the already nervous kid. Since it is the beginning of Spring here in California, the colors of the leaves were great. I asked Sam to go around the maple bush and shot this over the top of the plant. (Canon 1DX, Canon 70-200mm, f/2.8, 1/250 sec, ISO 200)

Once I get nice photos of my main subject, I add in other family members. In this case, I asked Sam's brothers to come outside and join us. I saw that the light was coming in from behind this bench, and wanted to use this hair light for the boys. Yes, I am jealous that they have so much hair, and wanted to emphasize that in the photo. (Canon 1DXCanon 70-200mm, f/5.6, 1/80 sec, ISO 100)

After taking photos of the kids, I then invited mom and dad to join in. In this case, I placed mom and dad behind the kids to add some dimension to the photo. I am not a big fan of everyone in a line. There are times when it does work, but most of the time I find it one dimensional. (Canon 1DXCanon 70-200mm, f/3.5, 1/160 sec, ISO 160)

After shooting many photos outside, we moved into the synagogue to photograph Sam with the Torah. I did take some photos with a diffuser on my flash, but I really wanted to get more dramatic lighting on him. For this photo, I pointed the Canon 600 EX-RT flash at the wall to my left, and bounced the light off the wall and back at Sam. See how the right side of his face (our left) is brighter than the left side. This contrast of light on his face makes the photo so much stronger than an evenly lit subject.  (Canon 1DXSigma 85mm, f/1.4, 1/100 sec, ISO 320)

And again, I added in the rest of the family to get some group shots inside. Often times, I will repeat many of the same groups inside and out, since I like having a variety of photos in such different environments. Canon 1DXCanon 70-200mm, f/2.8, 1/80 sec, ISO 320)

One of the biggest challenges for us photographers is trying to capture the true personality of our subject. And even though Sam is a confident boy with an outgoing personality, most of the time he would force a smile. Even though I don't know him well, I could tell that this was not the "real him". I did my best to get him to relax, but he was too nervous about the upcoming service and not feeling it. So I asked him not to smile, which yielded better results.  (Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 24-70mm, f/2.8, 1/200 sec, ISO 640)

Guess what happened when I captured Sam in the unposed photos? Yes, you can see the real smile on his face. I was standing in the back of the synagogue shooting with the Canon 100-400mm lens (using the Canon 5D Mark III due to the silent mode of the shutter), and this allowed me to zoom in and capture Sam's real personality.

No matter how hard I tried, there was no way that I was going to get this smile out of him in a posed photo. You will notice that I also turned the camera to shoot this photo in portrait mode. I like to do this to show some of the people in the temple, and again, to add something different from the standard "safe shot".

I never use a flash when shooting a bar mitzvah, but with great window light like this, I wouldn't want it! Look how nicely lit Sam is, as he walks through the Temple with the Torah. I had the Canon 70-200mm lens mounted on the Canon 1DX and shot this handheld at ISO 3200.

The key to photographing events is the ability to capture the key moments.

And you need to be ready to do this at any moment. It is that split second where mom and dad crack up, and it is our job to grab that slice of time for them to remember forever.

After the service was over, I was photographing the luncheon when I swear that I saw Mark Zuckerberg. I thought "Nah, that can't be the founder of Facebook at this Bar Mitzvah, right?" But then I remembered that my client is an executive at Facebook and they are friends. I photographed my good friend, Steve Wozniak who founded Apple Computer, and recently had the founder of Google at one of my events, and now the founder of Facebook. Who's next?

Anyway... after the luncheon wound down, I found a nice restaurant in the area (where I could sit by a power outlet) and started going through all the images from the first half of the day. I built a slide show of all my favorite photos and edited one to print and frame for the family. Yes, I have set up a mobile printing station in my truck, with the Epson R2000, power inverter, and a pack of 13x19" Velvet Fine Art Paper. So cool!

And then it was party time. This family chose to have their party at the Hiller Aviation Museum. I had not photographed there before, and was really excited to shoot in this unique environment.

This is not your typical backdrop for a party, but I live for photographing new things. I was running around like a kid in a candy store.

After checking out the entire museum, I walked back behind the building to see where the catering was set up. And I saw the front end of a Boeing 747 sitting there. All I could think was "I need to get the family in this plane to take some photos!" I walked around and saw that the door in the back (where the plane had been cut) was locked. But, if you know me, you know that this would never stop me from a cool photo opportunity.

After the family arrived, I went and asked the manager of the museum if we could open the plane to take some family portraits. She readily agreed and we were off to check out the inside of the 747. We started downstairs in First Class, where we took some photos of them standing up and in the seats. As I was shooting, I heard the woman, who opened the plane, say something about the cockpit upstairs. Oh yeah - we had to shoot a family portrait there! (Canon 1DX, Canon 24-70mm, f/2.8, 1/100 sec, ISO 640, Canon 600 EX-RT)

We all climbed up the circular staircase to check out the cockpit. And I was excited to see that there were 5 seats. One for each of the family. I placed the Bar Mitzvah boy in the pilot seat, and without any direction his brothers jumped into the next seats. Mom and dad took the spots closest to me and we got this cool shot. This was definitely one of my favorites from the day. The only thing I didn't like was the bright white "blown out" light coming from the windows. At that point, I figured that I could easily add some clouds to the windows when I got home to Photoshop. I will show you exactly how I did that in a minute. But first, lets get back to the party. (Canon 1DXCanon 24-70mm, f/5.6, 1/60 sec, ISO 640, Canon 600 EX-RT)

They had some really great lighting in the main area of the museum. This is where all the dancing took place. Armed with my Canon 5D Mark III and 16-35mm wide angle lens, I positioned myself right by the chair, anticipating this big moment. I took a lot of photos since the spot lights were all over Sam, making it very difficult to get a clean, properly metered shot of him. Earlier in the evening, I spotted a balcony area above the museum and I found out how to get to that location through a back staircase. Once I got my shots from up close, I ran back to grab my other camera with a Canon 24-70 lens and made a mad dash upstairs to shoot some photos over the crowd.

This photo was taken from the balcony area, looking down at mom raised in the chair.

I always look for good locations for portraits, and I found this spot to be ideal for this group shot. I had a clean foreground, the Kittyhawk plane above, and great colors in the background. I shot this with the Canon 1DX using a diffused 600 EX-RT flash mounted on the camera.

At the beginning of this blog I told you how tough it was to get a smile out of Sam. Well...that was not the case during the photo montage, as he watched a 10 minute video of him growing up. I set the 5D Mark III to ISO 5000, turned off the strobe on my on-camera flash, using the on-camera flash to wirelessly trigger my remote flash on a stand to my left. This lit Sam's face perfectly and really shows the emotion in his face.  (Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 70-200mm, f/2.8, 1/40 sec, ISO 5000)

Using the same setup, I took photos of mom and dad watching the photo montage. More great emotion.

Towards the end of the evening, I went back to my favorite portrait location and took portraits of many of the couples at the party, including mom and dad.

I like to end my day with one last parting shot of my subject. I asked Sam to sit down and give me that "I did it!" pose, and we got this. I think it is a fitting ending to a really great day for this family.

Now...as promised...I am going to show you how I took the cockpit photo and fixed it up.

This is the original photo, with the windows very over-exposed.

I went into my photo collection to find a photo with a good cloudy sky. I found a shot that I took in Colorado many years ago. I then grabbed a good wide selection of the sky and copied it onto a new Photoshop layer, over a duplicate layer of my main photo.

I then created a layer mask on the family portrait shot and painted the new sky into each window pane. This is where the Wacom Cintiq 24" HD makes a huge difference, with me painting in the new layer on the actual photo. My wife took this photo of me working on the Cintiq, as I carefully painted along the edges of the airplane window.

After I had the sky painted into the windows, I took one more look at the photo and saw one more problem. David (the father), had bright sunlight on his leg, which was a bit distracting.

I then reprocessed the RAW photo in Adobe Camera Raw and exposed to darken David's pant leg. I then copied that small portion into a new layer and moved it over the bright section, and voila!

Once again, here is the finished photo. 

I hope that this gives you an idea of how I shoot events, and how I process my photos afterwards. Honestly, it is such an honor to be invited to capture family history for others. I just love getting home, downloading all the photos, and seeing what I shot. And then, taking good photos and working on them, making them even better. But what is even better is waking up on Monday morning to an email from the family saying "The photos are AMAZING!!!!!!!". It doesn't get any better than that!