Saturday, December 31, 2011

My Favorite Images of 2011 (A Video)

To continue the tradition...here is a 5 minute video highlighting my favorite images of 2011. I hope that you enjoy viewing the show as much as I did capturing the images throughout the year.

(To see this video larger, click on the YouTube icon and watch it there in 720p)

I am sure that 2012 will be a great year, full of memorable moments and amazing experiences. I hope that I can capture those in images to share with you all. Happy New Year to you all!

Friday, December 30, 2011

Boise, Idaho: Christmas lights around the capital

As you can see from the previous blog entries, I spent part of last week in Boise to shoot some videos for Lexar / Micron. I posted some images showing some creative ways to use your camera to make Christmas lights more interesting. The following image is a combination of two shots (taken while on a tripod). I decided that I liked the unfocused lights on the Christmas tree, but wanted everything else in focus. So...I combined the out of focus photo and the in focus photo to make this image.


And, as the year winds down and we get ready to take down all of our lights and decorations, I thought I would post a couple of my favorite images of the capitol, which I took over two evenings.


The first evening, I went around and took numerous images of the capitol building. It was after 10pm and the night was very dark (not to mention the cold - brrrrrrr).
 

I love the way that the purple lights from the tree light the sidewalk below. This photographed beautifully in contrast to the white lights of the building.


And then, the following evening, I went back to the Capital building and tried some more images. I timed it earlier so that I could capture the deep blue sky just after sunset. Since I had already photographed in this area the night before, I had some ideas of where I wanted to shoot in this better light. (Photographer's note: It is always advantageous to scout out an area, if at all possible, so that you know the best vantage points, when you have a short amount time with "perfect light" to work with.)

I shot this image from the edge of the street to not only capture the building, but to get the street sign peeking in the frame.


And then, to add something different to the image, I went behind a barren tree and shot this image, using the branches of the tree as a foreground element.


This last shot has a funny story. I was shooting images from many different vantage points, and was looking for another foreground subject, but could not find anything else that interested me. I thought to myself "I wish I had someone sitting on that park bench." Then I thought, "Hey - I could sit there, if only I had brought a flash with me." It didn't take long for me to realize that I had my iPhone 4s which has a flashlight app, and that I could leave the shutter open for 30 seconds and insert myself into the photo. So that is exactly what I did. I set up the camera on the tripod, set the exposure for 30 seconds, hit the shutter and then hurried over to the spot and sat there with the iPhone light shining up towards my face. Goofy but fun to try. :)

Monday, December 26, 2011

Idaho Steelheads ECHL Hockey: A chance to shoot images from the bench

Last week, while in Boise for some other business, I decided that, since the Idaho Steelheads hockey team was in town, I would head over and check out the game. I talked to a friend of mine who works for the team and he said "Hey - do you want to shoot the game for us?" I thought about this for a little bit, since honestly I was torn between shooting more hockey or just relaxing and watching the game for the pure pleasure of it. But, after much thought, I decided to shoot the game, and I am glad that I did.

There were three reasons that I decided to photograph the game. First of all, my passion for photography won out. Secondly, even though I did not have my 70-200 2.8 IS lens with me, I knew where I could borrow one easily. Lastly, after talking to my buddy, Britt, he said that I would have full access to shoot from the bench with no glass in front of me. The thought of shooting this high level of hockey without having to deal with a small hole in the glass (or shooting through the glass) was intriguing.


A nice "cluster" of guys working in front of the net. I also like the fact that the puck is clearly visible in the far left of the frame.



One of the advantages of shooting from the player bench, is that everything is happening right in front of me. Even during the down times, I could shoot images of the guys as they talked strategy and listen in.


This image (above) was taken with my iPhone 4s during one of the times when the play had stopped. This shows you where I was standing during the game. Why did I take this with my iPhone? Because I only had one lens with me for the game and that was a 70-200. Not wide enough for this shot from this vantage point. :)




After the Steelheads scored a goal...the celebratory gathering.


Gotta love the beard on Chris Hepp!

Another goal...another celebration.




Pure concentration from the goalie as he awaits the inevitable shot from the Alaska Aces player.


As I mentioned earlier, it was fun to have so much freedom while shooting this game. I was shooting from right next to the players bench, with no glass separator between us.


I could shoot really nice images of the coaches at work and even had full access to the locker room between periods and after the game. I can guarantee you that I do not get this level of access when shooting the NHL or Olympics.

As a hockey player myself, I found it really interesting to hear the discussions and colorful talk on the bench throughout the game. Great stuff!


The game went into overtime shootout, and Marc Rancourt made this great goal, to make it 1 to 0 in the shootout. From this shot, it does not look possible that he snuck the puck past the goalie's outstretched leg, but he did.


Jerry Huhn, the Steelheads goalie, played an awesome game against Alaska. Here is a shot of him stopping one of the Aces as he tried to make a backhand move.


This is the type of shot that I am always looking to capture. This was the final shootout goal of the game with Derek LeBlanc sneaking the puck five hole on the Alaska goalie. You can see the puck getting past their goalie as it makes it way to the back of the net.


Game over and time to congratulate each other. I shot a couple images of this, but this one really stood out from the others. Why? Looking right into the middle of the group, you see Ian Lowe, with his perfect hockey smile (missing teeth). That makes the picture! :)


After the game, I followed the team into the locker room and captured a couple of images of Coach Sauter giving his post-game speech. As you can imagine, it was an upbeat speech after a very good, and exciting game.

Thanks to Britt, Coach Sauter and the rest of the Steelheads organization for letting me be a part of the action for the evening.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Creative photography during the holidays - Having fun photographing lights!

Check out this cool image. Would you believe that this is just another Christmas tree, photographed in a different way? Well...it is true and I am going to tell you some cool ways to take your everyday holiday lights and make them into your own artwork.


OK. Let's start with the basics. You need a bunch of holiday lights and a camera which lets you control the focus and shutter speed.


The first image was taken from this Christmas tree. This is one of the "normal pictures" that I took when first approaching this tree. I set the camera on my tripod, focused on the tree and took this. It is pretty, but not spectacular, and my first thought was "how do I make this more original?".


So...I turned off the auto focus on my DSLR camera and manually set the focus to purposely blur the lights. I liked the results, but this started me thinking about other ways that I could turn this tree into something even more. And then the fun really began!


If you are a regular reader of my blog you have undoubtedly seen me use my zoom during a long exposure to create some cool effects. I did this once again, but like the image before, wanted to push myself to get something better. And after going back to my computer and looking at these images, I decided to go back to the tree to try making some more "art".


For this image and the rest of them in this blog entry, I did not use a tripod, but handheld the camera to shake things up a bit. For this image, I once again put the camera in manual focus mode and made sure that the lights were very much out of focus. After doing this, I then combined that with the zoom effect, where I zoom the lens during a multi-second exposure (typically between .5 sec and 1.5 sec).


This image was taken like the one above, but I extended the length of the exposure (1.5 sec) to create more blur. Hopefully, at this point, you are seeing what I was thinking. Continually asking myself "OK, that was cool, but what else can I do?" There were people in the area who asked me what I was doing. I showed them the images on the LCD of the camera, and after seeing their overwhelming positive reactions, I knew that I had some images to share with all of you.


After shooting the out-of-focus images, I decided to try and shoot some images in which I would handhold the image and change the focus during the exposure. You can see the results of this technique by looking at the smaller focused points of light within each of the blurred lights.


Next, I kept with the out of focus setting, but instead of keeping the camera pointed at one part of the tree, I moved the camera back and forth to create the waves of color that you see here.


...And again with a longer shutter speed.


I then tightened the focus a bit more and swept the camera back and forth as I moved it down a portion of the tree to create these snake-like shapes.


I even tried moving the camera straight up and down the tree to see if that would be interesting.


I saved this image for the end of the blog (as I often do) because it is one of my favorites from the evening of shooting. As you can see from this photo, I had a pretty tight focus on the lights of the tree, and twisted the camera during the exposure, hence the circular pattern. But, it wasn't until I got back to my Mac and saw the face in the middle, that I realized how cool this was. Do you see it? It looks to me like a smirking cartoon character right in the middle of the circular lights. No planning, just great luck!

I encourage everyone to try these techniques, to find the enjoyment and amazement that I did last night. If you do, make sure to share your images with me!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Family photos: Some ideas on how to take better photos for the holidays

Towards the end of every year I start getting phone calls and emails from friends asking for family photos. There is nothing more gratifying than capturing nice images for family friends, who otherwise may not have them. As I looked through all of the images, I thought that I would do a blog post about family portraits to help give some tips for others to use.

All of the images that you see here were taken in the same small park by my house. I have not photographed in this spot all that much, but try to come up with a different location for my friends each year. I picked this park because the trees still had fall colors and their was ample sunlight and shade for me to pick good shooting locations.


This was one of the first shots that I took of Dave (one of my hockey teammates) and his clan. This is a nice "straight-on" shot of them. We had the younger kids sit in the front to add a little more dimension. I am not a huge fan of the straight line "firing squad" look. :)
 

After shooting the first grouping, we repositioned the family to try something different. 


Then we searched for a tree with interesting bark to try something a little more fun. We started with the parents in front and then had the kids go around behind the tree and peek out from behind them.


Remember how I just said that I usually do not line up families in a straight row? Well... part of photography is about breaking the rules. So, this time I broke one of my own rules and had them line up and hold hands for this shot.


Walking through the park, we came across this area of grass which was covered with fall leaves. I asked the kids to lay down and hold hands and then, using a 24mm lens, I pre-focused the camera and held it out directly over them and fired off this shot. (This was our favorite from the session and the image that they used for their holiday card.)


But, we were not finished yet. It was time for the kids to have some fun. I asked each of them to pick up a bunch of leaves, and then on my count of three, to throw them in the air. My wife, who was there helping out, asked the parents to stand in the background. It was a great idea and a nice addition to the photo. (Photographer's note: For all of the images in this blog post, I used an on-camera flash generally set to -1 stop. For this particular image, due to the fact that I needed a fast shutter speed of 1/1600 to freeze the action (and my camera and flash only sync at a maximum of 1/200), I set my flash to high speed sync mode. Without the flash, the kids would have been silhouettes, due to the bright sunlight coming from behind them.
 

The next day, I returned to the same park to photograph more friends. Since this was a smaller grouping of people, I decided to put them in a place where I could use the late day sunlight as hair light.  This is a totally different look from the images above, and really works well for them.


The last family of the weekend was coming from their company holiday party, and we had to work fast, as the sun was setting and I was losing my light. As we got out of our cars, I noticed that the late afternoon sunlight was hitting the golden leaves of this tree, and thought that it was make for a nice background. So we started in this spot (literally 5 feet from the street).


Later, when looking at this image on my computer, I wondered what it would look like in black and white. So, using NIK Silver Efex Pro, I converted the image to see how it would work. I liked it, but thought that it needed a little more.

First, using Adobe Photoshop, I created a layer mask and brought back the colors in the family, while leaving the background B&W. The results were interesting, but not quite what I was looking for. 


Trying something a little different, I then lowered the opacity of the B&W layer to reveal a little of the color in the background. I like this better than the pure contrast of color and B&W in the image above. It gives a hint of the color in the trees, but maintains more of the attention on the good looking family.


Whenever I photograph families, I always shoot candid shots in between the formal poses. I love this shot of their daughter as she looked up at mom. There is no way that I could have gotten this "real smile" in a family pose. No way!


Talk about real emotions - I love this shot! Like the family the day before, I asked Mike and Bonnie and the kids to pick up leaves and throw them in the air. What do I love so much about this shot? Look at the emotions of the kids and they throw the leaves. Doesn't this just scream "pure happiness"? I especially love the expression on their son, with his hands outstretched  and him looking to the sky. Upon first look at this image, I was a little disappointed that Bonnie was not throwing leaves at the same time as the rest of the family, but as I continued to look at the photo, I realized that the look of her enjoying her daughter's excitement was even better.

Like I said at the beginning of this blog post, nothing is more gratifying than capturing nice images for family friends.