Saturday, June 30, 2012

USA Gymnastics Olympic Trials in San Jose, CA - Women's Day 1

Today was a first for me in many regards. It was the first time that I have photographed gymnastics, and it was the first time that I have photographed a real event with the Canon 1Dx. It was also my first day shooting the USA Gymnastics Olympic Trials in San Jose, CA. It wasn't the first day of competition, but I was traveling out of state and could not return until last night, so today was day one for me. I missed the first day of the men's competition but will be there for the finals of that tomorrow. So...on to the pictures.

I photographed most of the competition from the floor level, but made a good decision to head into the stands to shoot some wide shots to set the scene. I waited for this gymnast to position herself in the middle of the floor so that I could get the name of the competition in the background. 

Honestly, I found that many of the gymnastic events were challenging to photograph. Even with an amazing camera like the 1Dx which captures 12 frames a second, it was tough. Keeping the focus on the athlete as they move quickly around the venue is a challenge.
Here is Nastia Liukin performing on the parallel bars. I remember her from the Beijing Olympics, but after her performance this evening, it does not look like she will be heading to London.

I spent most of my time photographing the gymnasts on the balance beam. I have always been amazed at what these kids can do on this small plank of wood. Crazy, but beautiful!

Most of the photographers (Sports Illustrated, AP...) were on the other side of the beam, but I preferred to have my own spot to try and get something different.

Did I mention that these girls are crazy? :)

Although not the best photo of the night, I really liked this image with Gabby Douglas peaking through her hand.

As you can see from all of these images of Gabby, she provided some great expressions when she was on the balance beam.

Here one of the gymnasts loses her balance.

The floor exercise was fun to watch but difficult to shoot. Again, it was very difficult to track their movement without having the camera focus on the background. I will work on this in the next couple of days to see if I can improve my percentage of sharp photos.

Gabby gives us another great smile after she nailed her performance.

The crowd was really into the competition, and as always, I was looking around to get shots of them.

Then, when the day of competition was over, it was time to head back into the press room to get shots of all of the gymnasts. I did take portraits of each of them, but always enjoy taking pictures which include the press, to show what happens behind the scenes. OK - time for bed. Look for images from the men's competition in the next blog post.

Monday, June 25, 2012

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Thursday, June 21, 2012

Why you should not put an SD card in your Canon 5D Mark III (if you shoot to both CF and SD and care about speed)

I am going to start this by saying that I really like my Canon 5D Mark III cameras and use them for shooting everything including Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, landscapes, portraits, sports and more. But just after receiving my two cameras I started to play with the memory slots and experimented with the best way to use both memory card slots. My first thought would be great to shoot RAW images to both cards as a backup measure, and my second thought was...I could shoot RAW to the CompactFlash card and JPG to the SD card.

Well...after some testing I have determined that, if you care at all about high speed shooting or clearing you buffer quickly, YOU DO NOT want to put a card in the SD slot. Why? Because, for some reason unbeknownst to me, Canon decided to build the 5D Mark III with one very fast CF slot which supports the newer UDMA7 protocol and a standard SD card slot which does NOT support the high speed standard (called UHS - for Ultra High Speed). This is really strange because many other cameras have come out with UHS1 compatible slots over the last year. Without UHS support, the top speed that can be achieved by the SD card is 133x. This is true even if you purchase a 600x SD card and insert it in the camera. The best you will get is 133x

 So...the only reason to use a really fast SD card is for faster downloading after the shoot.

At this point, you might be thinking, "why would the SD card slow down all of the data transfer of the camera including the CF card?" It turns out that the camera will default to the slowest card inserted. So, if you have a 1000x CF card in slot one and any SD card in the second slot, the very best buffer clear that will achieve is 133x. When shooting sports or any type of images with burst mode (6 frames per second), this is crippling. I want to shoot a bunch of images, have the camera clear the buffer as quickly as possible, and then keeping shooting more. Why would I want to clear data at 20MB per second when I could be transferring at 90MB per second or better? For this reason, I almost never use the SD slot in the camera. I want to take full advantage of my Lexar 1000x Professional CompactFlash card.

If you are a photographer who shoots in a studio or does not shoot in burst mode, this may not be a big deal. But if you care about clearing your buffer, you need to be aware of this.

One more thing. Most of the time, this is a hardware limitation and can not be solved with a firmware upgrade. Even more of a disappointment!

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Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Photographing a swim meet in a totally different way: Using a slow shutter speed

Read almost any article or watch how-to videos on shooting sports, and the most important thing that will be stressed is to have a really fast shutter speed to freeze the action. Although that is generally true, today's blog post is going to intentionally break that rule. Why would I do that? Because in photography, it is fun to break the rules in order to capture images that are different from the masses. 

This first image of my daughter swimming is your typical "frozen image" with a shutter speed of 1/2000 sec. Yep, with that shutter speed, you can freeze every drop of water and nail the action as it unfolds. But after shooting many of my kids swim meets, I thought that it would be fun to slow the shutter speed of the camera and see what would happen if I panned with the swimmers to get some motion blur. After all these years of shooting, I have never done that shooting swimming, until now!

I shot this first image at 1/50 sec which is MUCH slower than the photo above. The trick to shooting this type of photo is to pan (point your camera at the swimmer and move with them) at the exact same speed as they are traveling. This is not for the faint of heart and will not yield a great image every time.

Notice the blurring of this girl's hand as she reaches out for the next stroke. There is motion in her hand, her arm and the water, but her face is still perfectly in focus. This takes some practice, but will provide you with images that are very unique.

For this photo, I tried slowing down my shutter speed to 1/30 sec to show even more motion in the shot. When doing this, it makes it even harder to get the swimmers face in focus (because you have to be perfectly in sync with their motion and they can not be moving their head very much), but shows even more motion in her body and the water. (Try clicking on the image to see it larger and to see that her goggles are perfectly sharp with everything else in motion.)

Also taken at 1/30 sec, this photo really shows the amount of water splash coming off of the swimmer. Normally, since her face is not very sharp, I would have ignored this shot, but I really like the splashing of the water that would not be visible if shot at 1/2000 sec.

In this photo, if you look closely you will see the wall of water being separated by the swimmer's forward motion.

I found that this technique worked very well when shooting the backstroke. Since the swimmers generally have their arms rotating in a straight position, and their face exposed nicely, you can get nice sharp images of the swimmers expressions but get a lot of motion in their arms.

This last shot, which was taken at 1/60 sec really shows the turbulence in the water surrounding the swimmer. Not only can you see the swirling water around her body, but you can not help but notice the water splashing out from her head.

All in all, I think that this is another great example of why, in photography, it is sometimes good to break the rules. Clearly the photos were very different from images I had shot before, and I had a good time shooting them. Would I try this at the Olympics? Probably not during a race where I have to capture the key image, but I might try this during one of the practice sessions in London. We will have to wait and see. :)

Friday, June 8, 2012

Family portraits: There is nothing better than shooting images for friends

Last month, before my trip to China, I had a chance to visit my good friend, Lauren, and her family. I had to stop by their house to drop off some things, and I figured that I would bring my camera along to capture some images of them just days before she had their third baby. I brought my new Canon 5D Mark III, a 70-200 2.8 lens and a flash. That was all I needed. The good looking family did the rest!

I called Lauren ahead of time and told her that I would take some photos, and when I arrived she had the kids dressed up in cute outfits. I looked around the front and back yard and found a spot that I really liked. We had rain clouds in the skies, so I had nice even light to work with.

I loved this blossoming tree in their front yard, so we went out there and started shooting.

I started shooting pictures with Lauren in the background, to hide her baby bump.

There is nothing better than real smiles!

And then after shooting numerous photos, I asked the kids if they were excited about their upcoming baby sister, and they immediately turned away from me and payed attention to mom's stomach.

Her son then got down and gave mom and baby a big hug. Too precious!

I was shooting images of the kids only, but asked EJ and Lauren to step in so that I could get at least one family photo.

Along the front of their yard, I saw these pretty purple flowers, so I asked the kids to come and sit down on the sidewalk so that I could take each of their portraits in front of the flowers.

Having photographed the kids a couple of times in the past 3 years, it is amazing to watch them grow up in front of my camera.

I usually don't ask kids to do anything in particular, since I like to capture them as they are. But in this case, I asked them for a big thumbs up, and they obliged.

After shooting all of the other photos, I looked around to see if there was any other good spots for portraits, and saw this low hanging branch. I had Lauren and EJ lift the kids onto the branch and then quickly move out of frame. As you can tell, there is no shortage of personality with these two twins. Kids like this make a photographer's job really easy.

After spending 20 minutes shooting these images, I headed back to my office to download and see what we had captured. I sent some quick edits to Lauren and she was thrilled. After sending 3 or 4 photos, Lauren asked me for more since she enjoyed them so much. I sent many to her (including the ones in this blog).

Five weeks ago, Lauren gave birth to their new baby girl and her sister took the images and made a photo book as a gift for Lauren's Mother's Day gift. I had lunch with Lauren this week and saw the book which has many of these images as well as some photos of the new baby. It was awesome. For those of you who are photographers, you probably already know this, but there is an amazing feeling when we can capture family history as a gift for our friends. Now I look forward to photographing the 5 of them!

Congratulations to Lauren, EJ and the family!

Friday, June 1, 2012

China trip: Last but not least - Zhouzhuang, "The Venice of the East"

Before leaving China and heading back to the United States, I had time to make a trip out to one of the most famous water towns in China, a place called Zhouzhuang. This is a small residential town with lots of water ways intersecting the buildings. I have not been to Venice in Italy, but I assume that this is similar in some ways, but definitely not the same for food or culture!

We arrived in Zhouzhuang during the afternoon, and as expected, we encountered grey skies and warm temperatures. I was immediately impressed with the rustic buildings and the history of this location. I shot many images as we walked around, but the grey skies made it difficult to capture great images in this town. But, I had researched this town before my trip to China and figured that evening shots would be better than daytime photos. I got that one right! For this reason, I arrived to the town later than most of the crowds and saw more people leaving as I was entering. This meant that I would have less crowds in my photos and that I would have night skies to shoot in the hours to come. This also allowed me time to scout locations for the best evening photos.

This particular spot is very famous in Zhouzhuang, since one of China's famous painters, Chen Yifei, painted his "Twin Bridges" painting from this location. I like this spot because I could include the bridges, the water, the buildings, and the flowers.

I really loved this spot (taken from atop one of the many bridges) since it was so tranquil. I made a mental note to come back to this spot later in the evening, just after sunset. You will see that image when you scroll down. (Photographer's note: If you are visiting a location for what might be the one and only time, and you have a some time, scout out good shooting locations and return when the light is optimum. This is not always possible, but with good planning, you might be rewarded with some amazing photos!)

In the back of Zhouzhuang, we came across the Chengxu Temple.

The Chengxu Temple was built between 1086 and 1093, during the Song Dynasty, and has some beautiful architectural details.

It is hard not to be impressed with the amazing colors inside the Temple.

Our tour guide explained that these locks were tokens of love. People can purchase these special locks and fix them along the railings in the Temple, as a token of their love for those special people in their lives.

All the boats in Zhouzhuang are driven by hand, without any motors. This really helps maintain the serenity of the town and add to the romantic ambiance. 

It was getting late, and we only had time for a 30 minute boat ride, but it was nice to sit down for a little bit and enjoy the town from this vantage point.

And then, after some dinner, the sun set, the lanterns were lit, and it was the perfect time to capture my much anticipated night shots!

I was surprised to the see some of the boats arriving and they were decorated with lanterns. A really nice, and unexpected, element to add to the photos.

Back to that "scouted location" on the bridge to get the night shot.

One of the advantages of shooting images like this after sunset, is that the sky turns a deep blue and hides the daytime grey colors. Not to mention the fact that the red/orange lights on the bridge and buildings add a perfect accent to the blue.

I moved quickly from one spot to another, to capture as many different images as I could in the 15 minute window of time, in which I had the perfect light.

I finished shooting images at 7:15pm, which was perfect timing, because we had tickets to a 7:30pm show, which was located only a 5 minute walk away from where I ended.

The "Zhouzhuang In All Seasons" show was very good. It was a much larger production than I expected, with a large cast which included many of the town's residents. I was also happy to find out that they allowed photography without any restrictions.

We had seats that were dead center, two rows from the front, which was a perfect vantage point for all of the action.
There were times when the show seemed like a Chinese version of Cirque De Soleil.

As the title "Zhouzhuang In All Seasons" might have given away, the show portrays this area of China in all four seasons.

Spring time farmers dancing. (Photographer's note: Most of these performance photos were taken at ISO 6400 or higher with the new Canon 5D Mark III. This allowed me to shoot with shutter speeds of 1/500 at f5.6 and capture the action. This would be very difficult to shoot with an older camera.)

Winter time with the falling snow.

Summer time is the last season depicted in the show. And speaking of the "end of the show", this is the final post from my trip to China. It was another great trip to the Far East and one that I will never forget. Thanks for joining me along the ride.