Thursday, May 21, 2015

Do I use filters on my lenses? I do to get the most out of my photos!

I get a lot of questions about filters and whether or not I ever use them. So this blog entry is all about filters, when I use them and why I use them.

Lets start with UV filters.

UV filters are clear filters which are mainly used to protect the front of our expensive lenses. In the past, I have typically avoided using UV filters on my lenses. And the reason for this is simple, I do not want to put another layer of glass between my subject and the end of my lens. I hate the thought of degrading the quality of my best lenses. The only time I religiously used a UV filter on my lenses were the times when I shoot NHL hockey games though a hole in the plexiglass. If a puck were to come through the hole (which does happen), I would rather lose the filter than the expensive lens.

But then, about 6 months ago I started playing with the Tiffen Digital HT (High-Trans Titanium Multi-Coated) filters. These are low profile filters that are incredibly clear. After using these for a couple of months, I am sold.

Here is what I like about these new filters:

* They are low profile, so they do not show up in my images.
* They are SUPER clear, and do not degrade my images at all.
* They protect the front of my lenses. I would rather break a filter than the lens itself.
* The rims are silver in color, which makes it easy for me to identify if my lens has a filter on it.

Now, let's talk about one of my favorite filters, which I have used and recommended for years. This is the circular polarizing filter. With Adobe Photoshop, it is possible to manipulate an image to get a look similar to various filter, but this is not true with a circular polarizer.  You see, the circular polarizing filter, just like polarized sunglasses, helps increase the contrast in the sky and bring out colors, but it also helps reduce glare.

Look at this first photo, taken with the Tiffen circular polarizing filter rotated so that there is almost no polarization. the clouds do not pop from the sky and you can see reflections coming off of the water.

And now look at the second photo, which was taken with the Tiffen circular polarizing filter rotated to get the maximum polarizing effect. The clouds pop in the sky and the water is MUCH more colorful. With the full polarization, you can see through the water, since the glare is significantly reduced.

I took this photo with the full effect of the circular polarizing filter so that you could see the two snorkelers, but also see through the water.

Here is another polarized photo showing the shallow water, with almost no glare coming off the surface of the ocean.

And here are two more photos showing a slightly less obvious use of the circular polarizing filter.

Again, look at the contrast between the clouds and the blue sky, and even the increased contrast in the water. It isn't that the first image is bad, it is just that the second image is stronger.

Most people think of circular polarizing filters being used in the situations I just showed you. But there is another perfect time to use this filter.

I always use this filter when shooting waterfalls or rivers. Why? Because it cuts the glare off all of the wet rocks. And trust me, that glare can be awfully distracting to the viewer.

For this shot, taken in Hawaii, I used the circular polarizer for yet another reason. You lose light when you rotate the filter. And in this case, the sun was coming up and it was getting too light to create a long exposure. Even at an ISO of 100, I could not blur the water enough. So, by putting on the circular polarizer, I was able to block some of the light and slow my shutter speed down. So...what if I wanted to block out more light and REALLY slow the shutter speed, even in daylight?

That brings us to the last filter that I almost always carry with me, and this is the Tiffen Variable ND filter. This filter is used specifically for cutting out light. 

This last photo was taken while the sky was still fairly bright, but I wanted to cut the light down to get a slow shutter speed at an aperture of f/7. I wanted this depth of field to have more focus on the waterfall closest to me. By cutting the light coming into the lens, I could slow things down and get this result.

So...for all of you who ask me if I use filters, the answer is yes. I use the Tiffen Digital HT Ultra Clear filters in front of each of my lenses, for everyday protection. And then in my camera bags, I always have a Tiffen HT Circular Polarizer and a Tiffen Variable Neutral Density filter.

If you have not tried using these filters, you really should. They are excellent quality and both the polarizing and ND filters can really make a big difference to your travel photos.


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, May 13, 2015

The faces of St. Thomas - Celebrating Carnival on the island

As you can tell from the last blog post, two weeks ago we were in St. Thomas for a little rest and relaxation. The primary purpose of the trip was to spend time with the family, but that does not mean that I was not shooting. Heck, taking photos for fun is how I relax.

Unbeknownst to us, we ended up on the island of St. Thomas during their celebration of Carnival. Some people might think that this is a bad thing (since the traffic in and out of the city was affected and there was not a rental car to be found). But, we thought that it was a good thing, and had fun visiting the Carnival celebrations numerous times.

Since I had my camera (Canon 5D Mark III with the 24-105mm lens) with me, I did my best to capture the people and atmosphere of Carnival.

On our first night on the island, we decided to go into town to see what this was all about. It was early in the evening and way before the crowds arrived. But after flying all night to get to St. Thomas, and getting very little sleep. we were not about to stay up too late. I took this photo to show the main area for food (well...most of it was for drinks). (Photographer's tip: I took this photo handheld, since I did not bring my tripod with me this evening. I turned the ISO up to 1250, set the camera for f/4, turned up the exposure comp to +1.3 and had a shutter speed of 1/13th of a second. I held on for dear life and squeezed off 3 shots. )

We were walking around the area and heard music coming from behind the stage area. After a minute, the group came out playing the local Caribbean music. We saw this cute little boy sitting on the front of this drum, and I just had to get a photo. I used a slow shutter speed (once again 1/13 sec) to get some motion blur on the hands of the drummers. Luckily the little boy did not move much, so he is still sharp.

Towards the end of our trip, the girls wanted to go back to Carnival to buy gifts for their friends. Since I am not a real shopper, I took advantage of this time to explore Carnival on my own. After only a minute or two, and seeing all the locals in the vending area, I knew that I had to capture the faces of these people. Each of them had so much character in their faces and clothes!

When I think of Rastafarian people, I think of someone just like this guy. He has the colors, the hair, the beard and even the ganja T-shirt.

It was fun to stroll through the area and grab shots of the locals interacting.

Along with the candid shots, I also would ask the vendors if I could take their photos.

While walking around, I came across the Carnival Queen...

...and the Carnival princess. Too cute!

And then right back to photographing the locals wearing their colors.

Ya man!

One of the booths was selling jars of jam, and I liked the fabric tops. I got in close and shot this.

There was a face painter there, and he was just finishing his composition on this little boy. I quickly moved to a position where I was facing the boy and grabbed this photo of his first inspection of his new face painting.

Sometimes the absence of color is just as powerful as the abundance of color.

Everyone was involved in Carnival, young and old.

It was our last day on St. Thomas and we happened to be there for the children's parade. This goes on for hours and hours, and we only caught a small portion of it. But I loved these two boys driving the mini police vehicle.

These last two photos were taken along the parade route.

It was really cool that we were on the island during this time. It gave us a chance to see the locals enjoying themselves and celebrating their heritage.


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, May 4, 2015

Taking a Phantom 3 Aerial Camera on Vacation!

I know, I know, I look like a total dork walking around with a Phantom 3 in a big old travel case when I am on vacation, but I just can't help myself. The video and stills that I can take with this aerial camera (drone) are just so cool that it is addicting!

My wife could not resist taking this photo of me at Magens Beach in St. Thomas the other day.

Hold on - let me regress for a second...

My daughter was granted a wish by Make a Wish and she wanted to go to the Virgin Islands. We brought along her best friend so that she could have more fun than just being with mom and dad. Any of you who have an 18 year old knows how that goes!

Of course, I brought along my Canon 5D Mark III to document her trip.

Here are some shots that I have taken with the DSLR:

This photo was taken on Day 1. My wife and I saw this cool wall and thought that it would be a cool background for the girls.

On Day 2, we hired a driver to take us around the island. At one of the scenic overlook stops, the girls took one of their (very many) selfies. I held my camera up and grabbed this shot over their phone.

At the end of Day 2, were ended up stopping at a restaurant called "The Green House" for some late night snacks and drinks. Here are Ali and Paige drinking a virgin Margherita (although the drinking age is 18 here and they could have had the real thing.) Shhhhh!

My daughter took this photo of me playing around.

At the end of Day 3, I brought the Canon camera and Gitzo tripod (with Acratech ball head) down to the beach in front of our hotel. I set it all up (zoomed the 24-105mm lens, pre-focused on Ali, set the right exposure, adjusted the flash power of the Canon 600 EX-RT, and set the timer mode to 10 seconds) and took a photo of the 4 of us.

After shooting the previous group shot, I decided that it would be cool to take a long exposure photo of the girls in the water. So I set up the camera for a 2 second exposure, told the girls to stay as still as possible, and then fired off this shot. I love the motion in the water, surrounding the girls who are tack sharp.

OK, so I brought the Canon 5D Mark III on the trip to capture all these types of photos, but I also wanted to capture some unique shots of her on this special get away.

Hence the reason for bringing the Phantom 3!

To show you exactly what I captured, here is a video that I took the other day while the girls were having fun on the beach in St. Thomas. Make sure to watch this in 1080p to see the full quality of the video.

Click the photo above to load the video

It is simple to travel with the Phantom. I have a travel case for it, and check it along with my other luggage. It is a little more to lug along with me, but as you can tell, this aerial camera brings a totally new dimension to photography!

What do you think?

Would you bring a Phantom with you on vacation like this?


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, April 29, 2015

The 2015 UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital Prom - The most rewarding and inspiring photography of my year

Many of you know that daughter has Crohn's Disease. And because of this, she has spent way too many nights in the hospital, especially for someone who is only 18 years old. For the last 6 years, she has been a patient at UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital, and they have treated her so well. For the second year in a row, they asked me if I would volunteer my time to photograph their annual prom. Last year I photographed (and blogged about) this. And this year, without hesitation, I agreed to do it again! You see, they have a prom for all the kids that can not go to their regular school prom. Either they are connected to various medical devices, in the middle of treatment, have a compromised immune system, or countless other reasons. They also invite previous patients to come and celebrate as well.

This year was especially cool, since it was the first prom at the brand new hospital location, and 12 of the San Francisco 49ers donated their time to share with the kids.

As the kids entered the hospital (via red carpet), they were greeted by the 49er players and escorted into the dance. Their parents are not allowed into the dance, but were invited upstairs for adult activities.

The 49ers would walk the kids over to a table to get their corsage or boutonnière.

The flowers, along with many of the clothes, food, DJ, and other entertainment were all generously donated by other organizations.

Here are a group of the San Francisco 49ers welcoming this beautiful girl, who is a cancer survivor.

They were very gracious and interacted so well with the kids.

As you can see from this photo, the parents were enjoying the athletes as much as the kids. (Photographer's note: It is important at events like this, that you look for the "other stories". Sure, the kids are the main subject of the story, but this photo, even from the back of the 49ers, helps to show another angle of the evening.)

Sometimes the family members would jump in for a photo as well.

This was a special shot for me, since this is my daughter Ali and her good friend Jamie (on the left). Last year my daughter was in the hospital during the prom but not allowed to go, since she was too sick. It was heart wrenching last year, but equally exciting this year that she could go.

Ali being escorted into the dance by Dillon Farrell (center for the 49ers). I love the way his 6' 5" and 300 pound frame makes Ali look so small. And what a great smile on both of them!

After escorting all the kids into the dance, the players joined in on the fun.

The kids thought it was so cool to have all these big guys on the dance floor with them.

As you can imagine, there were many selfies being taken during this time.

One moment which really stood out for me, was when one of the athletes went over to a girl and asked her to dance. Not only did she light up, but her best friend was just as excited, saying "my best friend just got asked to dance with a 49er!" Way to go guys!

This is a photo of my daughter and her friend dancing with some of the other kids. I was shooting this photo as a photographer and a proud father.

It was great to see these kids who have faced so much adversity, thoroughly enjoying themselves.

At one point in the evening, I decided to break out the Sigma 15mm fish eye lens to get a different perspective of the evening. I asked the DJ if he could encourage all the kids to raise their hands in the air, and grabbed this shot.

Another shot of Ali with other patients.

After the event was over, people starting packing up. But since I wanted to tell the whole story with my photos, I asked all volunteers if they would join me for a group photo. I took this last shot to show how many people it took to make this happen (and many others were not available at this time). One key person was late for the photo, and added in later. Can you find that person?

Overall, it was another amazing night at the hospital and one that I will never forget. These patients are an inspiration to all of us. And I can not wait to do it again next year!

For those photographers out there wondering what equipment I used to shoot this event, here is my list:

* Canon 1DX with the Canon 24-70mm II lens
* Canon 5D Mark III with the Canon 16-35mm II lens and Sigma 15mm fish eye lens
* 3 Canon 600 EX-RT flash units (one diffused on each camera and one remote on a 12' Manfrotto light stand)


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.