Sunday, July 25, 2010

Photographing kayakers and rafters on the Payette River in Boise, Idaho

I spent most of last week in lovely Boise, Idaho. Even though I make many trips out there, this was the first time that I had a chance to get outside of office buildings and actually see some of the surroundings that I have heard about.

We spent two days up at the Payette River, one day scouting locations for a Lexar video shoot and another full day shooting video and still images. Since we were doing more "fun stuff" than usual, I flew my son out with me to see what it is like to record 4 videos in 2 days. Most days ended with us eating dinner at 10pm or 11pm.

I shot this image on the first day as we were scouting out the rapids called "Staircase". This was one of only 4 rafts that we saw that evening, but I caught this image of them high-siding a rock and almost flipping.

Here is another raft going down Staircase with a canine passenger in the back seat. Notice that he is mid-air in this shot. :)

As we were driving back towards Boise, leaving the Payette River (just by a one store town called Banks), my son looked up and noticed the moon peaking over the mountains. It was really weird having the sunset at 10pm each night.

And then...on Wednesday we started shooting the video (using 7 cameras). We hired 6 experienced kayakers / rafters to tackle the Class 4 rapids for us.

If you look closely at the shot above, you will see one of the two Hi-Def waterproof video cameras (mounted to the front of the raft) that we used for the shoot. These are the very cool GoPro cameras. Amazingly, we did not lose either of the two cameras through the entire day of shooting.

These guys (and gal) put on a great show for us and had a blast hanging with us for the day. A little extra spending money and free beer at the end of the day!

We had them shoot the rapids, exit the river, walk their kayaks back up the road and do it all over again. I think we had them do this at least 3 times before we got what we wanted. They were all great sports.

This is one of my favorite shots from the day. I climbed down to the lower rocks along the edge of the river, crouched low to shoot right over the water (set the camera to focus at the upper portion of the frame) and captured the intensity of the water, with the kayakers about to tackle the rapids.

After we got all of our shots of them tackling the rapids, we went back up the river to the launch area to get some footage of them launching into the river. The more experienced boaters go down this very steep ramp and shoot into the water.

I shot this with the Sigma 15mm Fish Eye lens. A fun portrait shot to end the day.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Photographing smoke - Too much fun!

As many of you know, last week I decided to try photographing water droplets with some create reflections. I had so much fun doing this (with my son by my side) that it was time for a new challenge. This time, I decided to try capturing the beauty of smoke. So...of we the store to buy sticks of incense.

Using one off-camera flash to "freeze" the motion of the smoke, we were able to capture some really cool shots. I don't think I will ever see a plume of smoke the same way again. As we shot these images, we were just amazed at the beauty of the patterns.

Here is a picture of the setup. I started by draping my black Westcott backdrop over a curtain rod. (I actually have their backdrop stands which I love - but was too lazy to use them.) I had one Canon 580EXII flash set up to the right of the smoke (being triggered by the new pocket wizard TT5). I wrapped the Honl flash modifier around the flash so that the light would not hit by lens or the backdrop. You might be wondering why there is a banana on the table. Well...I could not find anything to stick the incense into, so I grabbed a banana, poked the incense into the thing, and voila, an incense stand. I pre-focused the camera on the stick of incense, turned out the lights in the room, and using a flashlight to see the smoke patterns, I started shooting to get the right exposure settings (covering the flashlight each time).

Look closely at each of the patterns. They are so amazing.

Since the room was very still (after closing the door and turning off all the fans), I would wave my hands gently or blow slightly towards the smoke to give it movement.

I am not sure how I got this cool smoke curl at the top of this one, but I love it!

The blue color of the smoke was not something that I changed in Photoshop, it was a change to the white balance setting of the camera (set to Tungsten). The only modifications that I made in Photoshop were, erasing some of the specs of dust that were also illuminated and darkening the blacks to hide any imperfections in my lighting.

This one looks like it has repeated scrolls in it.

For this pattern, I had my son move the banana (incense holder) back and forth just a little bit to create the movement in the smoke.

It might be the result of breathing too much of this incense, but this last image sure looks like a genie rising out of the smoke, doesn't it? I want to take this image and add a genie bottle to the bottom but have not had the time yet.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

More studio shooting with Bridget as my model

Last week, I was still working to fine tune my studio lighting here at the house. I asked my neighbor, Bridget (since she has been my model for many years now), if she could come over and help out. always, being the willing subject and having to endure my trial and errors, she came by for a little studio time.

We started by shooting images against a white backdrop with 3 lights. I had one large softbox on my left side (with a strobe behind it), a smaller softbox on the right with a Canon 580EXII attached, and then another Canon flash on the floor behind Bridget to help illuminate the white backdrop.

Then after shooting for a while, I decided to add some color to the image by placing a colored gel on the floor flash to change the white background to a more colorful back drop.

With this shot (above) I added a purple gel to the flash and set the exposure of the camera to accentuate the color.

This is an illustration of the setup, so that you can get a better idea of the lighting placement. (BTW - this image was created using a free App called Strobox on the iPhone)

For this last shot, I added one more flash (behind Bridget and to her left) to give some hair light. As you can tell, we also changed the gel color to a pink gel to compliment the pink in her shirt.

The lighting setup is still a work in progress, but I am getting a little closer to being happy with the results.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Shooting images of water drops - fun stuff!

As a photographer, you always want to get outside of your comfort zone and try something new. With that in mind, I set out to try something new this weekend. After seeing a very cool image of a water drop that was posted by another photographer, I thought that I should give this a try.

The end results (some of which you are seeing here) are really cool, but it took a ton of images and trial and error to get these keepers. I took almost a thousand images with my Canon 5D Mark II in burst mode, hoping to get the water droplets in the right moment of action.

In many of the images, I had either no drops of water or nothing of interest in the frame. In others, I had the drops of water but they were out of focus or lit incorrectly.

You will notice that each image has a different color reflection in the water. I was pointing the camera at the bowl of water, but I was trying different pieces of wrapping paper in the background (and pointing the flash at the paper) to get fun reflections off the water.

In the shot above, I actually moved one of my wife's potted plants behind the bowl of water. The green and purple that you are seeing in the water is a reflection of the leaves and flowers. For all of these images, I used the Sigma 150mm macro lens.

Sometimes I would catch one drop of water coming down (from the plastic bag suspended above the bowl) and other times I would catch multiple drops.

It is amazing how beautiful water drops are. I was amazed at the shapes and patterns that I captured with the camera. All frozen at 1/200 sec using the flash to freeze the action.

You will notice that I changed the angle of my camera to get different looks. In the close-up shot (2 above) I was shooting almost directly across the water. In this last image, I was shooting from above, looking down at the water. In this image, the ripples were caused by a preceding drop and then this drop was just about to impact the same spot.

As I look back at all these images, it is hard to believe that I was using clear water. It looks like I used color additives or Adobe Photoshop, but trust me, this was all reflected colors.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Photographing a swim meet

Today was another one of the kid's swim meets and I decided to break out the camera gear and shoot some images for the first time this season. As I walked around the pool deck, numerous people asked me the best way to set up their DSLR for shooting this sport. I thought that I would blog the information to share with others.

The key to shooting most sports is to freeze the action. I generally like to have a shutter speed of at least 1/500 to freeze the action. In this case, being outside and with lots of light, this is not very hard to achieve. I set my camera to Aperture Priority (AV on the Canon camera) and set my aperture to f8. This gave me plenty of shutter speed (1/4000 at ISO 320) but also gave me a little more focus area as opposed to shooting at f4 or f5.6.

Along with a fast shutter speed, you want to make sure to have your camera in the servo focus mode as opposed to the single shot focus mode. With this setting, your camera will stay in focus as your subject is moving towards (or away from) you. The one challenge when using this mode with swimming is that many times your camera will try to focus on the splash and not the swimmer. Keep your focus point to the center point to make your focusing faster and more accurate.

Another thing to keep in mind is your subject matter and your perspective. Here are some pointers that might help you get a better shot of your favorite swimmer.

* Don't just shoot images from one side of the pool. Move around and try shooting straight down the lane (if you can stand in that position).
* Get low to the pool. I mostly see people shooting images from a standing position which is not nearly as good as getting low to the action.
* Look at the sun and try to shoot images for the sunny side to avoid harsh shadows.
* Look for different angles to shoot from, thinking about your foreground and background. In the image below I decided to shoot through the legs of a swimmer (on the platform getting ready to take the next leg of a relay).

I hope that this will help you get better shots the next time you are photographing poolside!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Studio Shooting - Stepping way outside my comfort zone

I have photographed lots of different subjects; people, landscapes, wildlife, events and goodness knows how many other situations, but the one environment that I have avoided until now, is the studio. Well...last week I decided to try something new and step into a studio. Yep...big lights, soft boxes and backdrops. I have avoided this type of shooting for two reasons, firstly I do not have a whole lot of extra room at my home to set up all this equipment, and secondly I love shooting in natural light. But, as in any career growth, I decided to learn a new skill.

I visited a local studio where I could try out this foreign style of shooting. We had a model named Nicole who was patient with me as I experimented with the different lighting options.

This is a whole different beast from shooting outside. There are many advantages. For one, I could control all of the light and not have to rely on the lighting of Mother Nature and light modifiers. I could also shoot day or night and have the same results. That is nice. The clarity and contrast of the images was amazing when I was shooting with big bright lights and a white background.

Funny enough, my favorite image from the evening was this shot that I took of Nicole outside the studio. It was towards the end of the day and the sun was low. I asked if we could shoot out by this pretty plant (growing on a cyclone fence by the parking lot) and she agreed. I guess I really am a natural light photographer at heart. :)

I came home that night and decided that on the following day I would finally break out the studio lights, soft boxes and light stands that have been sitting in their original boxes for the last couple of years. Since my kids would have nothing to do with this experiment, my neighbor (and "other" daughter - Ali's best friend), Danielle stepped in as my guinea pig. As you can tell from the not-so-perfect white background, I have some work to do still. But at least I broke out the big lights and have started learning something new!