Saturday, July 30, 2011

Nashville, Tennessee: Local Music and the Grand Ole Opry (Charlie Daniels Band)

I was in Nashville, TN a couple of weeks ago and made sure to check out the local music as much as possible. Trust me, there is a lot of music happening in this town! I flew into the city and landed at 9:30pm. I took a taxi straight to Broadway Street and met up with some friends at Rippys. It was one of the hottest days of the year and we were sitting in this open air restaurant melting, even at 10pm! The food was OK but the entertainment was great. We were sitting right by the small stage and decided to shoot images of the band that was playing, because...hey...that is what we do right?

This is an image of Anna LaPrad, who was singing that evening. She is a really pretty girl with a great voice. I purchased her CD from her and it is very good.

What is better than a full rack of ribs, a couple of beers, great music and a chance to shoot images? Other than the sweltering heat, this would have been darned near perfect. :)

I looked at the table next to us and saw Anna's mother (who was visiting from out of town) and shot this image of a proud mother watching her daughter performing. I know this because I went over to her and offered to send images to them. (Photographer's note: Whenever you happen to capture nice images of people, you should offer to send the images to them. It is a really nice gesture and always appreciated by the individuals.)

Her guitar player taking the lead while Anna took a break.

You can get more information on Anna LaPrad here. Check it out.

And then the next evening, we bought tickets and visited the Grand Ole Opry House. This was nothing like I expected. I was expecting a full concert, but not knowing much about the Grand Ole Opry, soon learned that this was a live radio show and featured numerous bands who played a couple of songs each. (Photographer's note: For those of you out there who want a chance to photograph live entertainers, this place is perfect! Not only do they let you bring in cameras, they also let you come right up to the front of the stage to shoot. Yep, it's true! The only restriction is that you have to return to your seats in between acts.)

We got lucky and happened to be in town for one of the better line ups. There were a total of 10 bands playing on that Tuesday night, with The Charlie Daniels Band as the headliner. Here is a shot of Karen Fairchild, performing with the band "Little Big Town".

Jimi Westbrook, also from the band Little Big Town, doin' his stuff.

The next performer was long time artist (so they tell me) George Hamilton IV. It is really strange that in between each act, there is an announcer who is pitching products. "This part of the show is sponsored by Cracker Barrel...blah blah blah."

Next up was the band "Gloriana". This is a shot of Rachel Reinert belting out a tune.

 And another member of Gloriana performing.

Here is a shot of Craig Morgan working the crowd. You can see the crowd of people up at the front of the stage, mainly taking pictures with their cell phones.

Here is Little Jimmy Dickens who, at the ripe old age of 91, happens to be the oldest living member of the Grand Ole Opry. He performed a couple of songs and told some darned funny jokes along the way.

And then it was time for the headliner, The Charlie Daniels Band. I made sure to get to the front of the stage as soon as he came out.

And Charlie Daniels did not disappoint. At 75 years old, he still has it. He played for at least 30 minutes and still can work that fiddle like nobody else.

He finished his set with "The Devil Went Down to Georgia", which was awesome! This is a picture of him performing that number.

Overall it was a great night. Even though I am not the biggest country western fan, it was fun to be at the famed Grand Ole Opry and to see some really great musicians. Being able to photograph them up close was a real bonus!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Photographing the 2011 Women's U.S. Open of Water Polo 2011

Yesterday was the final day of the Women's U.S. Open of Water Polo 2011 and I was there to capture the Bronze medal match and the Gold/Silver medal match for USA Water Polo. The tournament was held in Lafayette, CA on a beautiful sunny afternoon (but not too hot).

I got to the venue about an hour before the bronze medal match to meet my contact from USA Water Polo and to check out the pool, the light and get the lay of the land. I shot half of the preceding game, to check camera settings and prepare for the medal rounds.

I had a couple of different options for shooting this event. I could either put the camera in Aperture Priority and determine the optimum aperture for the event, or I could put the camera in Shutter Priority and dial in something like 1/1000 sec to freeze the action (letting the camera determine the aperture). I actually shot in both modes depending on my mood. Since the event was outside and it was a bright day with an abundance of light, I had a lot of choices. Of course, this also meant that I was dealing with harsh shadows on the athletes. (Photographers note: Whenever you shoot outdoor sports, make sure that you are sitting on the same side of the game as the sun so that you have more light on your subject's face.)
When shooting water polo matches, you need to be ready at any given moment, since the action is almost nonstop. And like any good photography, focus is key. I made sure to focus on both the offensive players and defensive players depending on what was happening in front of me. In the above image, you will notice that I focused on the eyes of the goalie to draw you into her concentration.

Most of the images that I captured during the day were tight shots using the Canon 100-400mm L Series lens mounted on a Canon 1d Mark IV. But, there were times when I would pull back and show a wider view of the action. In this case, it worked out perfectly with the shooter, defender and goalie actively involved in the play while the others watch on.

Having a camera that can burst at 10 frames per second really helps for shooting a fast sport like this. This allows me to frame the shot and burst images at the peak of action, freezing the action at that perfect moment.

These girls are amazingly powerful athletes, often lifting half of their bodies out of the water to take that blazing shot at the cage.

In the shots above and below, you will notice that the focus is on the eyes of the athletes.This is critical in sports photography. (Photographer's note: I find that it is best to use the center dot or a cluster close to the center and set the camera to servo focus for these types of events. Since I did not want every image to have the subject dead center, I would periodically move the focus point to the right or left of center. This is true for both of these images.)

This was one of my favorite shots of the day, highlighting the goal keeper, Emily Feher, who was also the MVP of the tournament. It captures her at the height of the action as she lunges to her left to stop this shot by the Santa Barbara team.

And then it was time for the medals to be given out. USA Water Polo wanted images of each of the winning teams, but the lighting was harsh and I had just a short amount of time to figure out where we would shoot the team photos. Since there was no shady area, I decided to set them up in front of the pool, with their backs to the sun and fill flash them. (Photographer's note: Never have your group facing directly into the sun, since they will end of squinting and you will have harsh shadows on their faces. Instead, turn them away from the sun, meter the background and use your flash in TTL mode to light them. I even had one of the girl's fathers come up to me and say "Uhhhh...don't you want them facing the sun?" and I politely said, "Don't worry - I am a photographer. I got this." That cracked me up.)

The Bronze medal team from Stanford.

The Silver medal team from Santa Barbara.

The Gold medal team from New York (NYAC).'s home page of the USA Water Polo web site features my shot of the Gold medal team.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Camping at Patrick's Point - Amazingly clear night skies

If you have been following my photography for a while, you know that I love shooting images at or after sunset. There is something special about capturing images when the light is low the world takes on a different look. (Photographers tip: Most people put there cameras away as soon as the sun goes down. Resist that temptation! As long as you have a tripod or a sturdy area to rest your camera, try taking some long exposures to see what you can come up with. It is well worth the effort, I assure you.)

It was towards the end of our trip and I wanted to get a nice shot of a sunset from Agate Beach. As I was walking down the trail to get to the beach, I saw that the sun was setting in a perfect position for me to shoot through this foliage. I set up the tripod and shot 4 exposures of the sunset, and then merged them into one HDR image using Photomatix Pro.

This shot was at the tail end of sunset on the fourth of July, as we prepared to shoot off (legal) fireworks on the beach with the kids. I set the camera so that I would have a nice long exposure, yielding some motion in the waves.

Speaking of long exposures, once it got dark, the kids pleaded with me to slow the shutter and capture fun images of them with their sparklers. I had taken these types of images of them years ago, and they remembered that, and wanted more. Who am I to refuse my kids and their friends? This is a picture of my daughter's best friend Danielle, who joined us for the week of camping. I asked her to move the sparkler to form the first letter of her name.

We had some small fireworks, which didn't do much to light up the night skies. But not far down the beach, another group was setting off these huge displays. I turned my camera (mounted on my tripod) to face the other fireworks, and grabbed some cool images using their heavy investment of explosives. :) (Photographers note: The best way to capture fireworks is to mount your camera on a tripod, set the camera to "bulb mode" and use a remote trigger so hold open the shutter to capture multiple bursts.)

On July 5th, we were lucky enough to have a beautiful clear night. This was perfect because, on our last night there, I really wanted to capture a "star trail" shot. But before I could capture that, I needed to wait for the sunlight to be completely gone and also wait for the moon to drop below the horizon. Myself and a couple of our friends were watching the moon going behind the trees and someone asked me if my 400mm lens was like a telescope. I answered "not really" but realized that I had my 1.4x teleadaptor in my bag, so I grabbed that, connected it to the 100-400mm lens to add some additional magnification. Combining this with the ability in live-view to zoom in 10x, we could see the craters of the moon. People were blown away with the clarity. And...of course, I was shooting images as we were watching the moon set. (If you click on these images, you will be able to see the craters even in these small images.)

I talked about framing in some of my other blog posts. I could have taken the picture above with just the moon in the frame, but chose to move my tripod so that I would have the tree to the left and the moon to the right. It makes the image much more interesting and gives it a sense of place.
Finally, both the sun and moon had left for the night and it was time for me to capture a star-trail shot. I looked for a location where I could see a lot of the sky, but also frame the image with some of the large trees which surrounded us. I then set my camera on my Gitzo tripod, aimed the camera straight up (using my 24-105mm lens), put it in bulb mode and locked the remote for a 10 minute exposure. It turned out that 10 minutes was not enough, so I tried a 20 minute exposure. Still not good enough. 11pm, I decided to lock the shutter for an hour and see what happened. Actually, I was concerned that the Canon battery would not last that long, but there was plenty of power for this long exposure. So 62 minutes later, after sitting there and marveling at the clarity of the night sky, I closed the shutter and looked at the final image on the LCD of the camera. Pleased with the results, I slipped into my sleeping bag a happy camper (pun intended).

Friday, July 15, 2011

Camping at Patrick's Point - Wildlife in and around the park

Patrick's Point State Park is now known for the abundance of wildlife, but they have their fair share of critters in the area. In the many times that we have visited the park in the past, we have never seen rabbits in the park. Well...this time we saw hundreds of them. You know what they say, if you see 2 rabbits, there are probably a lot more nearby.

 This little guy was nice enough to pose for me right by some yellow flowers. Very nice indeed.

This black crow was a frequent visitor to our camp site and he really liked this particular moss covered perch.
Speaking of frequent visitors to our campsite, there were 3 or 4 of these guys that would visit every afternoon at approximately 3pm.My sister-in-law was trying to identify them, so I shot some pictures to help her figure out the correct species. This little guy came down out of the trees and landed on one of our camping chairs, in perfect range for my Canon 100-400 lens.

Just 20 miles North of Patrick's Point, you can find the largest herd of Roosevelt Elk in North America. I have photographed them before, but never seen them in the water, until this trip. We were getting ready to take a hike into Fern Canyon and I saw this big buck from the parking lot. I could not resist the temptation to photograph this big guy, so I asked my very patient family to wait for 15 minutes while I hiked into a better position and shot this photo.

Then...after our Fern Canyon hike, we returned back to the parking lot area and I made my way out to photograph a couple more of the Roosevelt Elk who were still grazing in the area.

All of these wildlife images were taken with my Canon 5D Mark II and 100-400 L Series lens, using Lexar 600x Professional CF cards of course!

The next blog (last from this trip) has some of my favorite images of sunsets and star-filled night skies. I guess I was saving the best for last. Stay tuned. :)

Monday, July 11, 2011

Camping at Patrick's Point - Seeing this area from a different perspective

In the last blog post, I showed up-close images taken with my macro lens. In this blog post I am highlighting some images that were taken from a unique perspective, or taken with using a foreground or background to support the rest of the image.

I saw this photo opportunity right after arriving at our camp site. We had bright blue skies and the sun was lighting this great bloom of Queen Anne's Lace, and I just had to shoot some images of this. I wanted to shoot this from a unique perspective, so I got down low and shot straight up into the flower. 

Later that evening, as the sun departed from Northern California, I grabbed this shot. I could have just shot a picture of just the sun going down into the ocean, but thought that I would frame the image with some of the local foliage and fallen tree branches.

The next day, we traveled into Ferndale, CA to have some lunch and see some old friends. I took a walk and saw this lone flower growing in front of these pretty purple flowers. I positioned myself so that the flower was towards the bottom of the image (using the rule of thirds) and shot at an aperture (f4) that would make it the only flower that was perfectly in focus.

When hiking through the giant redwood forest, I wanted to capture the majesty of these old growth trees. Pointing the camera straight up, I shot this image at f16 to create the star burst effect from the sun, which was barely visible through the canopy of trees. (Photographers note: Whenever you are taking pictures, especially in an area like this, it is always a good idea to look up, down and all around you to see what might be interesting. It never ceases to amaze me how many different images can be achieved from one spot, just by looking in all directions.)

As my wife was scouring the beach for agates, I took this photo of the seagulls on the edge of the water line. I really like the complete calm of the gulls with the rough sea directly behind them. Again, the foreground and background work together to tell a story and create the image.

Just after shooting the seagull image, I thought that it would be cool to lay the 5D Mark II down on the rocks to get a totally different perspective of the beach. This placement of the camera really magnifies the rocks and helps the viewer understand that this is not your usual sandy beach. I shot this image at f13 because I wanted most everything to be in focus, with just a hint of blur in the foreground and background.
I also though that this would make a cool video from this spot, so I put the 5D Mark II into video mode, waited for a family to get into the frame, and shot this. Pretty cool stuff.

Look for wildlife photos and cool night shots in the next 2 blog posts.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Camping at Patrick's Point (very North in CA) - Macro photography

We just returned from 5 days of camping in Patrick's Point State Park and had a great time. While my wife and kids were searching for agates on Agate Beach, I was searching for cool pictures along the trails of the state park. Having been to the park many times in the past, this time I decided to focus on macro photography for a portion of the trip. (Photographers note: There is nothing better than putting yourself on assignment. Think of an interesting topic and spend some time searching out those shots. Since I had photographed here before and already taken many of the "standard images", I wanted to try something different. This also forced me to walk much slower and look at details which I would never have seen in the past.)

This park is known for the abundance of banana slugs, much to my kids entertainment and disgust. Most people take images of these creatures from afar and avoid getting too close to these slimy guys. I used my Sigma 70mm macro lens (sometimes with an extension tube) to get right into their world up close and personal. (You can click on the images to see them larger.)

Our camp site was surrounded by flowering plants, which meant that I did not have to go far to key in on the bees which were hard at work collecting pollen. (Photographers note: When using a macro lens and shooting up close like this, you will want to choose an aperture of at least f11 to give you some wiggle room in your depth of field. This is especially true if you are using an extension tube with your macro lens. I find it easier to turn off auto focus and instead focus manually and slowly lean in and out of the shot to try and nail the focus.)

This macro shot captures the bumble bee with his tongue deep into the flower. It also looks like he is looking right into the lens of the camera.

I found this little guy hanging out on a leaf and was captivated by the iridescent colors showing on his wings.
As with any good photography, composition is very important. I saw this sprout which extended above the others and was perfectly framed by some green ferns in the background. I used the macro lens and set the aperture to blur the ferns while keeping the forground plant in perfect focus.

As I walked slowly along the hiking trail, I came across a banana slug on a tree trunk. I looked at it and determined that it was not photo worthy. But, then I looked up and saw this tiny little mushroom growing out of the trunk. Even though this mushroom was probably no more than one inch wide, the macro lens helps to get us up close to show the details that we might not ever see otherwise.

I saw these beautiful yellow flowers and thought that they might make a nice picture, but it needed a little more. Then I came across this fly who was hanging out, obviously waiting for a portrait session, so I obliged. The large red eyes and the colors in the wings really worked well against the bright yellow pedals of the flower.

This last macro shot is probably my favorite of the collection. Honestly, it was not my intention to get this insect in the shot. I was leaning down to take an image of the purple flower and then this little guy flew into the frame. I quickly repositioned and fired off some shots to try and get the insect in perfect focus. (Photographers note: Not all photos can be perfectly planned, and that is OK. Learn to adapt quickly to any situation and you will capture some really nice shots to add to your portfolio.)
Look for more images from this trip in the coming weeks. I gave myself some other assignements which included:

1. Capturing images from a different perspective
2. Wildlife in and around the park
3. Night shots (sunsets, the moon and star trails)