Monday, December 31, 2012

Jeff Cable Photography - Best of 2012 year-end video

I just posted my year end video featuring my favorite images of 2012 (shown in chronological order). I hope that you all enjoy it, and I hope you have a great 2013!

Happy new year!!!

Lake Tahoe and Mammoth Lakes - Some beautiful snow in the High Sierras

On December 27th, the family made our somewhat annual trip to Mammoth Lakes, CA for a little skiing and R&R. The drive from the San Francisco Bay Area could not have been any better. No snow until the very end of the 7 hour drive and no traffic at all. On top of that, we had some amazing scenery as we drove through the Sierras.

We had perfectly blue skies as we drove through the Lake Tahoe area. The trees were all covered with fresh snow from the previous night's storm and it was just beautiful. I had to stop to get some shots of this.

A sun flare shot (Photographer's note: To shoot a sun flare shot, have your aperture set for f16 and move yourself so that you see just a small amount of the sun peeking through the leaves.)

Mother Nature sure paints a pretty site!

Normally I would not shoot a landscape shot including a plowed road, but this was just too pretty (even with the road) not to photograph.

As we approached Mono Lake, we pulled over at the vista point and admired the great cloud formations over the snow covered valley.

We arrived at the Mammoth house at 3:30pm and after unpacking the truck, my wife saw this amazing sunset. I grabbed my Canon 1DX with the 24-105mm lens and grabbed some shots.After shooting the sunset shots, I walked back towards the house and saw the moon just starting to rise above the mountains and in between the trees.

I ran back to the house and quickly switched to the Canon 100-400mm lens and shot some moon rise photos. (Photographer's note: Normally I shoot my night shots with a tripod, but since I didn't have enough time to set everything up, I shot this handheld. I set the camera into manual mode at an aperture of f5.6 at 380mm. I chose an ISO setting of 500 and a shutter speed of 1/400 in order to avoid blowing out the moon, but also to give me a fast enough shutter speed to handhold the shot and not make it blurry.) looks like this will be the last blog of 2012. Looking back my blog posts from this year, I feel incredibly lucky to have experienced so many amazing things. I have had a chance to travel all over the world and meet so many interesting people. I have also heard from so many of you, the blog readers, with great questions and feedback. I would like to thank all of you for being part of this ongoing journey through life! I hope that you all have a great New Years Eve and a positive and eventful 2013.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Our Holiday Photo - How I added our dog to our family picture

December is a really busy month for us photographers, since so many of our clients reach out to us for their annual holiday photos. I try my hardest to capture family portraits for any of our friends or family who request them. I also end up editing a whole lot of family photos from this past year's events, as the requests come piling in. With all of this happening, it is sometimes difficult for me to capture my own family portrait. There are times in the past, when we have sent out a photo of our kids (which is much easier for me to shoot), but it is always nice to have the whole family if possible. So...this year, on Thanksgiving Day, while spending an hour capturing family photos for extended family members, I set up my camera and asked one of our relatives to shoot our family portrait.

He did a great job of holding the camera steady, and his framing was pretty good, but after seeing the images, I was a little unhappy with the gaping hole in the middle of our group. If I had been shooting the image, I would probably have asked my son and I to move a little closer to each other, but I was not shooting and couldn't tell until later in the evening and it was too late to re-shoot.

A week went by and I decided to play with the image a little more, and then it hit me! Our new puppy, Cooper, was not with us on Thanksgiving and needed to be added to the image. And that hole in the middle would be a perfect place for him. So I decided to take an OK image and make it better.

Here are the steps I took in order to make this happen...

This is the original RAW file. The first thing I needed to do was to make adjustments to the exposure and contrast.

Step one: Using Adobe Camera RAW, I brightened the image by half a stop and added a little contrast.

Step 2: I needed to shoot photos of Cooper to drop into our family photo. Trying to keep the lighting the same, I took Cooper outside in my backyard to use natural light and a little fill flash (just like we did on Thanksgiving Day). I knew that I needed Coopers front paws to be raised so that it would look natural behind my wife and daughter. I put a wood bench in front of him and my wife kept his attention with some treats. As you can see, I shot plenty of frames to try and get him looking at the camera and with that perfect expression on his face.

Step 3: I found the photo of Cooper that looked best, and, using the lasso tool in Adobe Photoshop CS6, did a rough outline around him and copied that part of the image.

Step 4: I pasted the image of Cooper into a new layer onto our family photo.

I could have dropped in Cooper without resizing him, looking a little like the old cartoon "Clifford The Big Red Dog", but decided that I should make it look a little more realistic. :)

Step 5: Using the Transform feature, I re-sized the layer so that Cooper would not be "Clifford the Big Red Dog" huge.

The size is much better now, but you can see that I still have a ways to go.

Step 6: I create a Layer Mask for Cooper's layer and paint out the background surrounding the dog and make sure that my wife and daughter are not covered by any of Cooper.

This is what the image looked like with Cooper in place, but the image is not complete yet. There were a couple of small distractions in the photo (garden hose, stray leaves, shadows...) that I removed.

Step 7: I ran a Photoshop Plugin called "Portraiture" to smooth our skin a little bit. Some people might think that this is cheating, but hey, I am just using it slightly, and we do look better! :)

Step 8: For the final step, I cropped the image to a 5x7 aspect ration to drop into our holiday card. 

And there you have it. A fairly simple way for you to add your pet into your family portrait. Actually, I think this is probably easier than trying to take the same photo with all five of us. Cooper is still a puppy and not all that obedient or calm. I am not sure that he would have stood still for this shot, and I can almost guarantee that the four of us would not have been as calm if he was in the middle of us all. 

I hope that this helps all of you aspiring photographers to make a better family portrait in the future. 

Happy holidays everyone!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Minneapolis - Some interesting architecture in the city

You might recall that, about one month ago, I wrote a blog about my trip to Minneapolis. In that blog, entry I concentrated on the many reflections that I saw around the city.

On that same trip, I also made a quick trip out to the Weisman Art Museum at the University of Minnesota. When researching interesting things to photograph in Minneapolis, I saw this interesting building which was across the river from my hotel. Amazingly, when asking people for directions to this museum, not one person knew what I was talking about. Thanks to my iPhone (yes - using Apple's Maps app), I was able to find the place and take some photos of this unique structure.

I am not a huge modern art fan, but I was really captivated by this architecture. What was most intriguing to me was that, with even the smallest movement to one side or another, the photos of the building would take on a completely different look.

I mostly shot wide images of the museum, but also tried to key in on certain areas of the building. For all of these shots, I used the Canon 5D Mark III with the 24-105mm lens. Since it was fairly overcast at the time, I set the camera to ISO 400 to keep my shutter speed fairly fast.

For this shot, I moved farther to the left, and closer to the building. This allowed me to capture the name of the museum in the frame and also let me tilt the camera up to include the cloudy sky. Notice how this view of the museum shows only one window, whereas in the frames above (taken only feet away) show numerous windows.

A tighter shot from the same angle as before...

Just before leaving this location, the clouds dissipated just enough for the blue sky to peek through. This time, shooting from the right side of the building, I was able to show yet another perspective and get some color in the skies above.

I have been to Minneapolis many times, but had never heard about the Mill Ruins. A friend told me that this would be a cool place to shoot images, so I drove back over the Mississippi river and headed to Mill Ruins Park.

The Mill Ruins Park is located on the west bank of the Mississippi River and is a newly renovated park area. Walking around, you can see what is left from the 19th century flour mills. I had no idea that this area was once one of the worldwide leading producers of flour.

You can see the Guthrie Theater in the background, with the cantilevered "Endless Bridge" which juts out from the theater. 

Here is another view of Mill Ruins district, with the ruins in the foreground and newly revitalized office and living space in the background.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Canon 5D Mark III Silent Mode: Why doesn't Canon promote this more?

I was one of the many people waiting for the Canon 5D Mark III to come out. I had been using the 5D Mark II cameras for many years and wanted to see some things updated, specifically:

* Cleaner images at higher ISOs
* Faster frame rate
* Better LCD on the back of the camera

When I saw that all of these had been addressed with the 5D Mark III, I ordered one camera to evaluate. As it turned out, I really liked the new features of the camera and the improved user interface. All was good. And then, after reading the manual and playing around a little more, I stumbled on the silent shooting mode. "Huh? What the heck is this?" I thought. And so I gave it a try.

Oh my goodness, this feature is amazing! Some people may not care about a silent mode, but since I spend a lot of time shooting inside temples and churches, in an environment where the sound of a camera shutter is distracting, this is HUGE. Seriously, this feature is a real game changer for me!

I can not tell you how many times I have shot images of a religious service and had the clergy look back at me with that disapproving look. Well...that does not happen any more. Some DSLR cameras have silent modes that frankly aren't that silent.  Heck, even the Canon 1DX supposedly has a silent mode, but it sounds like a machine gun compared to the 5D Mark III. I actually tried using the 1DX inside a temple a couple of weeks ago and that did not go well. After only shooting 4 images, I got that "look of death" from the Rabbi. Hmmmmm... I won't do that again.

In my area, there are numerous venues where they allow video capturing but not still photography. Sometimes they will give me a good reason for this rule, but other times, they just say "that's the rule" with no further explanation.  With the silent mode of the 5D Mark III, I can ask for permission to shoot in "video mode" and fire off stills without disrupting anyone. As I said , this is a game changer! I can now shoot images in venues where many of my competitors can't.

This is not only an amazing feature for people shooting weddings, bar mitzvahs, quinceaneras, or other quiet events. This would be perfect for those wildlife photographers who want to shoot photos of a skittish animal. Or better yet, how about those photographers trying to take pictures of a Tiger? Tiger Woods that is. He is always complaining about the photographers taking photos of him when he is about to hit a golf ball. Sure, the burst rate of the camera goes down from 7 frames a second to 3.5, but in most cases, this is still a good trade off.

With all of this said, I should mention that when I am not shooting in a quiet environment, I still prefer to shoot in normal continuous mode. Why? Because I really like to hear the shutter in action. I have been shooting long enough that I can judge my shutter speed by the sound of the shutter. 

So big question to Canon is: "Why aren't you guys promoting this feature more in your marketing materials?" This particular feature is a unique selling proposition against their competitors. Now, when people ask me my opinion on the 5D Mark III, this is my first comment. Yep, even more so than the clean shooting at ISO 3200.

I am curious to know if other 5D Mark III users have had similar experiences. All I know is, I am silently happy as can be! Shhhhhhhhhhh.

Here is a video file for you to play to see and hear the difference between the regular shooting mode and the silent shooting mode of the Canon 5D Mark III. (I should also mention that the shutter is actually quieter than this video makes it sound.)

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Photographing a child with special needs / Giving the gift of images to a deserving family

I feel that the most important aspect of being a photographer is to capture history in images. Once in while, there comes an opportunity to capture a really special moment in a family's history. A couple weeks ago, one of our neighbors, who we have known for many years, asked if I could shoot family portraits for them. What makes this special is that they have a 11 year old son named Jeffrey who is non-verbal, uses a wheelchair much of the time, a walker some of the time, and only in the past few months has he gained enough confidence, stability, and strength to make several attempts at walking short-distances unassisted.

As it turns out, having a child with special needs like this, makes it very difficult for them to get family photos. They had tried getting photos at a local department store, but they limited the studio time and number of shots to the point where they could not get a nice photo. They also did not have the ability to edit the photos to the level that was needed.

I saw this as a great way to give back to a family that has endured so much. And here is how we made it all happen...

We started the photo session with the family sitting down. This put less pressure on Jeffrey and got everyone used to being in front of the camera. 


Being comfortable with his walker, we then moved to that for a while. (Photographer's note: You will see that there were distractions in the background. Knowing that I could control much of the shoot, but not everything, I focused more on Jeffrey and figured that I would remove those in post production.)

I love this shot of Jeffrey as he approached mom and dad. You can see the happiness in his face. This is one of the edited photos for the family. 

Then it was time to try and get some photos of Jeffrey walking on his own. Most of the time, I am very picky about my shooting location and backgrounds, but in this case, it was more important to find a flat surface for Jeffrey since he can not easily navigate any bumps or slopes.

As you can see, my wife Annette was on hand to help out. She was there to spot him, working as hard as possible to keep him safe and stay out of my shot.  


Annette knew that I could remove her from the image using Adobe Photoshop, so she stayed fairly close to Jeffrey as I fired off photos.

And it was a good thing she was close by. Jeffrey only went down once, but it reminded us all how difficult this was for him.


With Annette completely out of the frame, I was able to capture images of Jeffrey as he walked on his own, towards his parents. This was a huge moment for them, and I was excited to be there capturing this for them!

Interestingly enough, Jeffrey had much better balance while holding the leash of his companion dog, Kodiak.

Here is a cropped final image of Jeffrey and his amazing supportive brother, Adam, walking the dog towards me.

 And then we had the whole family get together and walk towards me.

All this walking was tiring for Jeffrey, so we let him take a break and concentrated on getting some images of the other family members.

Mom, dad and Adam.

After shooting images of the three of them, dad picked up Adam and was playing around with him. Re-framing quickly, I shot this photo of the two guys with great smiles.

After a while, we had Jeffrey stand up again and stand next to mom. I shot numerous photos of him looking at me (or Annette who was getting his attention while standing behind me), but really loved this shot of him looking up at mom. 

We were finishing up the photo session when I noticed Jeffrey's wheel chair, which was on the grass 20 yards away. I ran behind the wheelchair and then asked mom and dad to walk away from the chair with Jeffrey. For this shot, I focused on the three of them and let the wheelchair go out of focus. Jeffrey just happened to turn back and look my way for a fleeting moment and I grabbed it. (Photographer's note: I always shoot in continuous mode so that I never miss a shot. For this session, knowing that it would be more challenging than most, I actually used my Canon 1DX and sometimes shot at 12 frames per second to make sure that I captured as much as possible.)

This was my favorite shot of the day. Focusing on the wheelchair this time (and drawing attention to Jeffrey's name embroidered on the seat), I shot more images of them walking away. I love the symbolism of this photo with Jeffrey and his parents leaving the wheelchair behind. I hope that someday in the future, this becomes a reality for them.

It was the end of an hour long shoot and we had captured everything we wanted. At my wife's suggestion, we had the whole family lift their hands in celebration.

I for one feel very fortunate to live the photographic dream, getting to travel the world, go to the Olympics, and experience many joyous occasions. But sometimes even I take things for granted. Things like walking, talking, playing sports and doing everything that I want to do. Not everyone has that ability. I think that it is our responsibility to give back to those less fortunate than ourselves and share our craft and passion with those who can benefit from what we have to offer. After working on this project, I can tell you that I felt like the lucky one, not because of my health and mobility, but because I was invited to be a part of this special moment.