Thursday, July 23, 2015

Photographing a Swim Meet - Proper camera settings and creative ideas to help you get great photos

Both of our kids have been swimming for our local swim club since they were 4 years old. And last weekend was the last meet for my daughter. That means that, after 16 years of waking up early on Saturday mornings to watch the kids swim, we have hit the end of the road. Both kids have now aged out of the swim team.

Most people at our club know that I am an Olympic photographer, which means that people are always asking me to photograph these types of events. And for those of you who photograph sports, you know that when shooting these events, you actually miss most of the meet. I end up concentrating on the focus, composition and everything photographic, but miss the race itself. So...for many of the last meets, I chose not to bring the camera, and to just be dad.

But since this was our last swim meet, and the big final meet of the season, I decided to bring the camera and capture as much as I could.

I am going to share some of the photos with you all, and also share the camera settings and thought processes so that you too can capture nice photos of your own.

Here we go...

My daughter in action
The first stroke is butterfly, which happens to be my favorite event to photograph. Why? Because the swimmers come out of the water quite often and look straight ahead. For that reason, I usually position myself straight on to the swimmer. And most often, when I am photographing a fast moving sport like this, I will aim for a shutter speed of at least 1/1000 sec. In this case, I put the Canon 7D Mark II in aperture priority mode, set the ISO to 250 (which is still VERY clean) and set the aperture to best that the Canon 100-400 II could get (usually f/5 - f/5.6). This gave me ample shutter speed to freeze the action.

Using the fast shutter speed freezes the swimmers and the water around them. In order to keep the swimmer in focus,, I set the camera to servo focus mode and I move the focus point to the upper center. If you do not know how to use servo focus mode, read your manual and try this. It is almost always the best way to get good photos of sports action. Get that focus point right on the face of the swimmer and fire away. The nice thing about the Canon 1Dx and the Canon 7D Mark II is that they can take photos at a very fast frame rate. Something in the area of 12 photos per second. This really helps you get photos at the peak of action.

I would shoot photos at different points of the swimmer's stroke. This would give me a nice variety of photos, not always having the swimmer looking directly at me. This shot clearly shows the muscles of this young man.

When shooting a swim meet, don't only capture the action. Have some fun and look for other good shots.

I saw the reflection of the Stanford swimming pool in this man's sunglasses and zoomed into for this photo. This is way more interesting than a straight shot of the pool, don't you think?

For backstroke, I decided that the photos would look better from a high position. So I climbed to the top of the stands and shot down from this location. For this shot, I turned the camera and I adjusted the 100-400mm lens all the way back to 100mm (on this crop sensor camera) to include most of the swimmers diving into the pool. When shooting this way, I changed the aperture to f/11 so that they would all be in focus. Even at this narrower aperture, I still had a shutter speed of 1/640 sec.

I also zoomed the lens in tight to isolate some of the swimmers diving back from the edge of the ppol.

Just like in the butterfly stroke, I will often shoot photos at different times during the swimmer's race. In this case, I chose to shoot photos as the swimmer was still underwater and just about to break the surface to start her backstroke.

I also took some backstroke photos from the pool deck. As you can tell, this yields a completely different look than the shots from up above. Don't be afraid the move around and try different shooting locations. I really like the veil of water coming over Rachel's face on this shot.

With all of the distractions at this end of the pool, I did not take too many photos of the kids diving in for the start of their race. But it is a good idea to get some photos of this, since it is an important part of the meet.

The breast stroke in an interesting event to photograph, since the swimmers come out of the water quite often and get their faces low to the water line. Much like the butterfly stroke, I usually choose to shoot this from straight on.

Some shots with them high out of the water and some not...

And then there are the mishaps. I always feel bad for the swimmers who have to complete with their goggles out of place. But it does make for some interesting photos.

I have seen many kids swim with their goggles off, but never seen anyone chewing on them as they swim. :)

And...of course, you have to photograph the little ones. They are just too darned cute!

The last stroke is freestyle, which is best captured from the side of the pool. Shooting from the side of the pool means that you can see the swimmer's face. The biggest challenge with this is when some kids only breath to one side. If they breath on the side away from where you are standing, this may mean that you can never get a shot of their face.

I usually shoot when the swimmer is directly across from me, but in this photo. I waited and shot from a position behind this young man. This let me get a shot of his face through his outstretched arm.

You might be wondering how many photos I shot over the 8 hour time period of this meet. Using the high speed shooting mode of the Canon 7D Mark II, meant that I had a lot of photos to sort through that evening. Turns out that I shot 64GB of photos (3000 images in MRAW). Luckily I was using the Lexar 128GB 1066x Professional CF card so I had plenty of room to spare. I pared through the 3000 photos, using Photo Mechanic, and kept my favorite 1200. I then went through and marked the 400 photos that I would share with the club members. I did some quick retouching in Adobe Lightroom (mostly cropping and making small exposure adjustments) before uploading them to my web site for everyone to download and enjoy.

As a recap, here is what I recommend for camera settings for a swim meet:

* High speed shooting mode (this could be anywhere from 3-14 photos per second depending on the camera)
* Servo focus to help keep the swimmer in focus as they swim to and away from you
* Keep a shutter speed of at least 1/1000 sec for all fast action (adjusting ISO and aperture to get this shutter speed)
* If you know how to shoot with back button focusing, do that. I did for all these photos. If you do not know about back button focusing, check out this video.

And some other non-camera reminders:

* Move around to get different perspectives
* Be creative and look for interesting reflections and details
* Be polite to the people around you, especially when moving in front of them to get a shot.
* Have fun

I hope this helps you get some great shots of your own!


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, and my monthly newsletter .


Friday, July 17, 2015

Photos from the ground and the air at Union Valley Reservoir in Northern California

Earlier this week, I was able to carve out some time to join my family for the annual camping trip to Union Valley Reservoir. This is is a really nice spot, not too far from Lake Tahoe. But unlike Tahoe, this is a quiet little spot with very few people and wide open spaces. And you know that I brought my Canon DSLR (5D Mark III with the 24-105mm lens) to capture photos. And this time, for the first time ever, I also brought along my DJI Phantom 3 Advanced to get some aerial photos and videos of the lake and the some water sports action.

Heck, I didn't even make it to the camping site before launching the drone. As I drove up Ice House Road, heading to the reservoir, I decided to pull over and get an aerial shot of the surroundings. I loved the big puffy clouds and endless trees.

My family and my wife's extended family and friends, had been camping for 5 days before I was able to join them. I arrived on Saturday afternoon and tried as hard as I could to slow down. If you know me, you know that I move at a fast pace, and it is not easy for me to slow down and relax. One way that I do relax is when I break out the camera and capture photos. This allows me to slow down and take in the scenes around me.

This was one of the first photos that I took at the reservoir. The water level is much lower than normal due to the drought that we are suffering from in California, and there is new vegetation growing on the extended shoreline.

The next morning, I woke up early to take the dog for a walk. As we started our walk, I looked out over the reservoir and saw this perfectly still water with these great reflections. I walked straight back to the camp, grabbed my camera and started shooting. I almost didn't turn around for my camera, but I am really glad that I did. This was the only time that I saw the water so still and really like this photo. The dog was not happy, but I made it up to him with a really long walk a little later. (Photographer's note: I decided to include the boat in the photo for a couple of reasons. It helps show the scale of the rocks and trees and the red color really pops from the bottom left of the image.)

Later in the afternoon, the overcast skies had cleared and we had more of those really nice clouds. I decided to put the Phantom 3 back up in the air to get some wide aerial shots.

These aerial shots really show the decreased water levels. And this is the beginning of summer. I can only imagine what these same images would look like in another month or two.

Just for fun, I decided to rotate the camera of the drone straight down on our beach setup.

On the second day, I did a little impromptu photo class for my nephew's girlfriend, Julie. She really loves photography, and it was fun to share the photo passion with her.

As part of the lesson, I decided to get my nephew, Shane, into the fun. I was showing Julie how to use an external flash to create directional light. Using Shane as our model, I moved him next to one of the white camper shells, had him look towards the camper and bounced the flash off of the white wall. This was taken in broad daylight, but I used the manual settings of the camera to darken the scene. (Canon 5D Mark III, 24-105mm lens, ISO 100, f/13, 1/200 sec, Canon 600 EX-RT flash in TTL +1/2 stop)

On Monday, I decided to take some risks with the Phantom 3. I figured that with all of my experience flying the drone, that I could shoot video of the kids on their wakeboard from the back of the boat. I had a blast following them, shooting video, as we motored around the reservoir.

These are a couple of screen grabs from those videos. (I am hoping to have the videos edited and posted soon.) I just love the unique perspective that these aerial cameras bring to us photographers.

Late in the afternoon, on our last day at Union Valley, I saw this white reflection on the water. I had to move to a different location to find the source of that reflection. There was this huge cumulous cloud out in the distance.

As night fell, Julie asked me if we could do some night shots. And you know that I LOVE night photography! I went to my car and grabbed the Gitzo tripod with the Acratech ballhead and cable release from my trunk.

It was time to capture some night shots of the AMAZING sky!

(Canon 5D Mark III, 24-105mm lens at 24mm, ISO 2500, f/4, 41 sec)
Julie and I walked down to the beach area, away from all the lights of the campfire. I set the Canon 5D Mark III on the Gitzo tripod and set the camera at .... We tried different settings to determine the best for this scene. I prefer to use lower ISO settings, but this meant that my shutter speed would be longer and the stars would be streaked (showing the Earth's movement).

(Canon 5D Mark III, 24-105mm lens at 24mm, ISO 6400, f/4, 20 sec)
This was my favorite night shot, showing the Milky Way to the left of the silhouetted trees. Spending most of my time in cities, I rarely get the chance to see a sky lit up like this. I am not sure what caused the orange light just over the mountain tops, but assume that it was light from a distant town. But I love the detail in the night sky.

This is one of those photos can can not tell the full story. As we stood there, waiting for the camera to capture each image, it was so mesmerizing. Looking up at all those stars, so bright and colorful, it didn't even look real.


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, and my monthly newsletter .


Monday, July 6, 2015

A new video taken from my DJI Phantom 3 Aerial camera (Drone)

I just posted a video that I edited last weekend. This was taken with the DJI Phantom 3 Advanced (Drone) flying over our local swim meet. It really shows what a cool new perspective you can capture with an aerial camera. You can click on the video shot below or see it HERE.

I combined shots from high above the pool and low enough to see the swimmers in action. I would have flown even lower except that it would have disrupted the swimmers and probably irritated some of the parents as well. I might try that shot with just one or two of the older swimmers during a practice some time.

My goal was to get videos and still shots that I could not get from my normal vantage point (on the ground). I have photographed these swim meets for many of the 15 years that my kids have been swimming for our local swim club, and it was so cool to be able to see the competition from above the swimmers for the first time.

The last sequence shows the final relay (15-18 year olds) and it shows how impressive these kids really are. I especially love the butterfly stroke (at 3:30 in the video). You can really see the power in their strokes.

I hope you enjoy 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, and my monthly newsletter .


Wednesday, July 1, 2015

How to photograph fireworks - something to think about BEFORE the 4th of July

I have received numerous questions from readers asking how to properly photograph fireworks. As the 4th of July is only days away, I thought I would help you all get better photos from this year's fireworks show. And the good news is that I can point you all to last year's blog entry.

You see, last year, I posted a blog on photographing fireworks, but I did so on the 5th of July (using the previous night's photos as examples or what to do and not do). And yes, there were numerous comments from readers saying "I wish I had known this last night." is your reminder to check out the "do's and don'ts" of photographing fireworks You can check out that blog entry HERE.

In the mean time, here are some of my favorite fireworks photos:

In Beijing, during the Opening Ceremonies of the 2008 Summer Olympics

Fireworks over Niagara Falls (from the Canadian side)

Fireworks over Melbourne, Australia

A celebration of the 125th anniversary of the Statue of Liberty in New York

Another shot from the Statue of Liberty celebration

Christmas celebration in Mammoth, CA.

In case you missed the link to last years blog, it is HERE.

To all of you in the US, have a great 4th of July!

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, June 25, 2015

High above New York - The view from the top of the new Freedom Tower (World Trade Center)

Last week I was back in New York City to record a couple more video presentations for the B&H Photo's YouTube channel. Both of the presentations should be posted online in the next week. Keep an eye out on my video page.

As you know, whenever I am traveling, I love to go out and shoot photos when I am not working. This trip was no different.

As luck would have it, my brother and his family were in NY on vacation with a couple of days of overlap. Since I have been to New York more times than I can count, I became their tour guide. I presented at B&H Photo late in the afternoon, and then met up with my brother and his family to go out and walk the city.  Since I was playing tour guide and not wanting to slow them down with my photography, I took only my Canon 5D Mark III, 24-105mm lens and (gasp!) no tripod. At one point, we were crossing a street (I think it was Lexington Ave) when I looked up and saw this color in the sky. I set the ISO of my camera to 2000, which gave me a shutter speed of 1/100 sec. I shot as wide as I could (24mm) to get as much of the purple sky as I could. I used the buildings to frame the shot.

As we continued our walk down Park Avenue, I turned to get this shot of the Helmsley and MetLife buildings. Even though it had gotten darker, I kept the ISO at 2000 and held tight as I took the photo at 1/15 sec.

The next day, after meetings, I met up with Dave and the family to visit the World Trade Center. If you read the blog a lot, you know that I have visited here many times. But this time, things were different. The new Freedom Tower is open and visitors can go to the One World Observatory at the top. That was our plan!

We purchased our tickets for the One World Observatory, but had an hour to walk around before our time slot was called. I walked them over to the two fountains (placed where the original twin towers once stood). Since I have photographed these fountains many times, I decided to shoot something different, focusing on the names of some of the victims, with the new subway station in the background.

We also walked over to Ladder Company 10 which is the fire department right next to Ground Zero. I stood across the street and framed the camera to include the two garage doors. I set the ISO to 100 and the aperture to f/22. This gave me a slow shutter speed of 1/13 sec. My goal was to wait for a small number of people to walk into the frame and get some motion blur. As luck would have it, this gentleman walked into the frame, wearing this hat. Perfect!

When walking back towards the Freedom Tower, we passed by the 9/11 Museum. I saw these two Port Authority policemen and liked the composition of them and the reflection behind them. After looking at this on the computer, I determined that this would look better in black and white. Using NIK SilverEfex Pro, I did the conversion.

Funny story. I posted this photo on my Facebook and Instagram pages, and the one office (closest to me) happened to come across this, and emailed me asking for the photo. Of course, I was more than happy to send the photo (in color and B&W) to them. He said that the photo "has become a real hit at my department." I love that.

As we approached the Freedom Tower, I looked up and saw these dramatic clouds in the sky and reflecting off the buildings.

This is the worker's entrance to the Freedom Tower. I really liked the colors here, so I stood back across the street and waited until I had a clear photo, without cars or people walking through the frame.

And then it was time to go up to the 102nd floor...

The elevator ascends 102 floors in only 45 seconds. But the real treat is the virtual reality video show inside the elevator which depicts the area through the last couple of centuries. The video begins with renderings of what this area would have looked like before anyone inhabited the area, and then transitions through the years with all the buildings being added (and sadly subtracted).

My first view, after exiting the elevator, was of the lower East Side of the city.

And then I moved to a vantage point to capture images of the upper East Side, which included the Brooklyn Bridge and Manhattan Bridge in the foreground and the Williamsburg Bridge far off in the distance.

For all of these photos, I used the Canon 5D Mark III with a 28-300mm lens.

I really wanted to get a clean photo of the fountains below us. I stood as tall as I could and strained to get a clear shot without any reflections. This is the best that I could do. You can see some reflections in the lower left hand portion of the photo. (Photographer's note: For all you photographers looking to get the best photos from the top of this building, or any building where you do not have outside access, bring a large hood or dark shirt to shield the light around you. I am hoping to make another trip to this vantage point, with a lens skirt.)

I took this vertical shot to show the distance between the World Trade Center and midtown. Unfortunately, the weather had deteriorated and midtown was not as sharp as I would have liked. But, you get what you get...

For this horizontal shot, I zoomed in a little closer to midtown, and I used some tricks in Photoshop to increase the contrast in the distant buildings.

You are probably looking at this photo and thinking "what the heck was Jeff focusing on?" Here we were, 102 stories above the ground and I see a bug crawling on the outside of the window. And I was thinking "Hey, if this bug flew all the way up here, it deserves to be photographed and put on the blog." Maybe it will see this and ask for a copy of the photo. :) BTW - I shot this at f/14 to make sure that the city was recognizable behind the bug.

Before leaving the 102nd floor and heading back down, I quickly grabbed this shot to show you what it looks like on the observation floor.

After making the 45 second descent, we walked over to the Brooklyn Bridge.

I have photographed here many times, and was not really taking too many images. Until...

I saw this really eclectic couple coming towards me, and I quickly raised the camera and started taking some photos. I didn't even have time to switch to servo focus, so I had to keep refocusing and shooting in quick succession. Like the police shot, I decided that this photo was stronger in B&W, except that I really liked the bright colors the couple were wearing.


I created a layer mask in Photoshop and make a "selective color" shot. I know that some people are cringing right now. When I posted this on Facebook, someone (Jamie - I am talking about you) already gave me some grief about it. But I like to play around with the photos I take, and this one works for me. Go ahead, chime in. What do you think? Too gimmicky? Fun?


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 or send a newsletter.