Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thankful for my family, photography and life!

It is Thanksgiving here in the U.S. and we are all stuffing our face with way too much turkey, ham, sweet potato, and pie. But along with all that food, this is the time for us to think about what we are most thankful for.  Here is what I am most thankful for:

Thankful for my family

Like many of you, I am thankful for my family, my friends, my health, and my job. If it wasn't for my family, I would not be able to do the things I do. People think that I am the creative one in the family, but if they know my wife, they know that she has more creativity than I ever will. My son is growing up fast and has become the video expert in the family, exploiting my 5D Mark II cameras like never before. My daughter is now second shooting with me and learning the craft quickly at the young age of 16. Our dog, Cooper, is the only one in the family who is not part of the photo business, other than being one of my models, but we are working on that.

Family is the most important thing in my life, but I feel like I have many photography things to be thankful for as well.

Thankful for capturing history

Whether I am photographing someone's bar mitzvah, wedding or the Olympic Games, I am so thankful for the ability to capture history. For those of us who shoot professionally, we should remember that we are not just photographers, we are historians. I feel honored to photograph people during their special occasions.

Thankful for the people I have met
Traveling the world with my camera, I have had the chance to meet really amazing people along the way. Sure, I am a very outgoing person who is not afraid to talk to strangers, but I am always amazed at how many people will come up to me and ask about my camera gear or ask what I am shooting. This has started some really interesting conversations, and lead to many new friendships. And I cannot forget the outstanding photographers like Moose Peterson, Joe McNally, Scott Kelby, Jay Dickman, Nick Didlick, RC Concepcion, and others who have helped me along the way and inspired me to keep pushing myself. I have also made great friends in the industry many of whom have given me some cool new products to play with. (And, since I am about to do a huge give-away on Facebook in the next week or two, you will get a chance to win some of this cool new equipment for free! )

Thankful for being able to influence others

It was about 3 years ago that B&H Photo asked me to come speak at their store in New York City. I did a couple of presentations for them at their location, and then they asked me to fly back to present some more, with them capturing the newer presentations on video for their YouTube channel. I had no idea whether anyone would watch the videos, and honestly did not think twice about having the videos posted on their YouTube channel.

Here we are a couple of years later and the videos have been watched almost a million times. Why is this so exciting and what do I have to be thankful for? I am thankful that I get to spread the passion of photography to so many people!

The last couple of years have been strange for me, as my life's experiences are being shared across the world, with more than 30,000 people reading this blog every month. Oh...and I am very thankful for all of you who keep inspiring me to continue the blog posts. The blog started as a way to share my photos and stories with friends and family. And now with so many people reading along, I sometimes feel selfish, as I write about me, my photography, and my exploits. But, I am thankful for having something to share with you all.

Thankful for your feedback

From the B&H videos, this blog and my posts Facebook page, I have have received countless email messages from people who have been influenced by my teaching. People are surprised that I read every message and respond to everyone who writes to me. There are times when this gets overwhelming, but when reading these messages, it is so inspiring for me to see what others are doing with their photography. Thank you to all of you who have written to me with feedback.

Here are some samples of recent emails:

"You did not take my photo, We haven't even met but I wanted to thank you for everything you've taught me! I have learnt SO MUCH from your videos on YouTube and cannot thank you enough."
Haytham - Cairo, Egypt

"I just thought I would take a moment to tell you how much I enjoyed your B&H video about the 15 tips to become a professional photographer. I woke up at 4 am ( couldn't sleep) and watched the entire video! I have to tell you that I was inspired after watching your presentation to dig deeper into my Mark III to learn more on the photography side of things which I know will help in my video production! What you do is great and inspiring and has lit a fire under my ass!"
Andy - Ontario, Canada

"I just wanted to let you know you have made a big impression on us people just getting into the fun of photography. Thanks for all you do and the affect on people's lives that you don't get to see."
James - location unknown

"I have just started with a DSLR, and thanks to your lectures, I was able to take my dream nightshot in my hometown, Budapest, Hungary. Thank you so much for all your efforts in making photography enjoyable for beginners. You are absolutely the best teacher on the net."
Gabor - Budapest, Hungary

Thankful to see the world in a new way

I have been traveling around the world for almost 20 years now, but it wasn't until I started photographing that I truly saw the world. Photography has opened my eyes to the world and let's me see the beauty in my surroundings.

I look back at my photo collection and I see images from China, Australia, Brazil, Japan, Chile, Korea, Canada, England, France, and cities all around the United States. I am thankful for the opportunities I have had to see so much of the world, far beyond what most people ever see.

Thankful for life's experiences

As I make my final plans for the upcoming Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, I am reminded of how lucky I am. People think that I get paid a lot of money for shooting the Olympics, but the truth is, I am usually lucky to break even on this endeavor. I shoot the Olympics, because of the experience, not the pay. I always thought that experiencing the Olympic Games would be a "once in a lifetime" opportunity. And here I am, about to be a part of my fourth Olympic experience. I am very thankful for this opportunity.

I hope that all of you have a lot to be thankful for, and for those of you in the United States, I hope you have a great Thanksgiving holiday!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Pregnancy photos: A gift to my niece and her family

It was a little more than 6 months ago when we got the phone call informing us that my niece was pregnant. She was very excited to give us the good news. And, of course, having an uncle who is a photographer, she asked if I could shoot photos of her pregnancy photos. Now...this is not my specialty, but I readily accepted the challenge and looked forward to photographing her at this special time.

Since Katie and her family live 3 hours from us, we had to plan a time that worked for her and my travel schedule. She is due on Christmas Day, so the time was getting tight. As it turned out, last weekend was the best time, so they drove down for the day.

I set up a pop up Westcott backdrop (using the black side) in our living room and set up a couple of Canon 600 EX-RT flash units, and we had some fun. I used two camera bodies, the Canon 1D X with a 70-200 lens to shoot tight shots and a Canon 5D Mark III with a 24-70 II lens to shoot the wider shots.

Since Katie is due on Christmas Day, we thought it would be fun to use a large bow on her stomach, signifying the perfect gift which was coming. I had Katie lay down on the floor, and I got down low to the ground to shoot straight across her. I had both flash units pointing up and at angles, effectively bouncing the light off of the walls and ceiling. (Canon 5D Mark III, 24-70 II lens, ISO 800, f/5, 1/50th sec, -0.3 exposure comp)

I wanted to try something different, shooting a photo of just Katie's stomach and not including her head. This photo makes her baby bump the subject of the photo without competing with her pretty face. I had her raise her right leg to create a better body line. This was one of my favorite shots of the day. (Canon 1D X, 70-200 II lens, ISO 1000, f/5.6, 1/60th sec)

They surprised me and brought their puppy with them. This little puppy was so cute, that I just knew we had to get her in the photos as well. With a little bit of encouragement, we were able to get her to rest on Katie's stomach and I got this shot. (Canon 5D Mark III24-70 II lens, ISO 1250, f/4, 1/60th sec, -0.3 exposure comp)

My wife, who always has great ideas, asked their daughter to write "It's a boy" on this chalkboard. We had her hold it up and kiss her mom's stomach. This was definitely a favorite of mine and is now on my home page. (Photographer's note: In the original photo, her daughter had tilted to board and it had glare from my flash. I saw this on the LCD of the camera and had her tilt the board slightly, so as to avoid the glare. But this particular frame was so cute, with her expression, that I took the board from a subsequent frame, using the clone tool in Adobe Photoshop, and dropped it on top of the glaring board from the original shot.) (Canon 5D Mark III24-70 II lens, ISO 500, f/5, 1/80th sec, -0.3 exposure comp)

Then it was time to get everyone involved. (Canon 5D Mark III24-70 II lens, ISO 1250, f/4, 1/200th sec, -0.3 exposure comp)

Nothing against Chris, but I like the cowboy hat on Katie. :)  (Canon 5D Mark III24-70 II lens, ISO 1250, f/5.6, 1/40th sec, -0.3 exposure comp)

Before they drove down to our house, they had prepared well, with different changes of clothing and they even brought this box and wrapping paper. We put Charity into the box and I asked her to pop out just enough for me to see her face. She had fun with this.  (Canon 5D Mark III24-70 II lens, ISO 1250, f/4, 1/60th sec, -0.3 exposure comp)

My daughter could not resist the puppy, and wanted her photo taken with her new best friend. (Canon 1D X70-200 II lens, ISO 800, f/5.6, 1/60th sec)

After we shot a bunch of photos in our makeshift studio, we headed out for some late afternoon photography in the fall colors. My wife had spotted this cool park in Cupertino, CA (near Apple's headquarters) which had this awesome line of trees which were in full color. This is a photo of Katie and her father (my wife's brother) comparing their stomachs. (Canon 1D X70-200 II lens, ISO 250, f/4.5, 1/200th sec, -0.3 exposure comp)

Charity was having fun playing in the leaves, so I asked her to lay down and shot this photo over her. (Canon 5D Mark III24-70 II lens, ISO 250, f/4.5, 1/200th sec, -0.3 exposure comp)

Since we already had Charity laying in the leaves, we asked the entire family to get in on the shot. I held the camera high over them and shot this "blind". (Photographer's note: This is one of those shots where you hope your focal point is on someone's face and that you have the camera centered on everyone. I usually take 5 or 10 shots to make sure everyone is looking at the camera and I will periodically check the LCD of the camera to see if I am shooting from the center position.) (Canon 5D Mark III24-70 II lens, ISO 400, f/5.6, 1/125th sec, -0.3 exposure comp)

I think we spent a total of 3 hours shooting all of these images, and then, when we were done, the mayhem began when a big old leave fight!  It was a lot of shooting, but we had a lot of fun in the process. (Canon 5D Mark III24-70 II lens, ISO 400, f/5.6, 1/200th sec, -0.3 exposure comp)

Congratulations to Katie, Chris and the extended family!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

A great deal on my favorite lens of all time!

For those that might have missed this, or not seen this. B&H Photo is selling the Canon 70-200 F/2.8 IS II lens for $500 off. It was $2499 and is now only $1899, and it includes a 4% Reward and free shipping.

In my opinion, this is the best lens that Canon has ever made. I use this lens for almost all of my portrait photography.

Click here to check this out!

I think this is only good for another couple of days. If you are a Canon shooter and do not have this lens, now is a good time to jump on this.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Hey Canon DSLR users: Count your shutter releases!

I don't know about you, but for the last 10 years I have always wondered how many shutter releases I had on my cameras. I even had a friend offer to buy one of my older cameras, and I told him "you don't want my used cameras, since I probably have shot this past the shutter warranty."

Well...a couple of weeks ago I saw something on the web that intrigued me. It was an application for my Mac that would show me the shutter count of my DSLRs. And amazingly enough, the app is called ShutterCount. I know, I know, you are thinking, "how did they come up with that name?"

This application costs only $2.99 on the Apple App Store and it works very well.

Here is a screen shot of the application showing the shutter count of my Canon 1DX. (And, yes, I blurred the serial number)

The application is very easy to use. All you need is a standard USB 2 cable (and one comes with each camera). You download ShutterCount, connect the camera to your computer using the USB cable, and then launch the app. You may have to power cycle the camera (turn it off and on) for the software to see the camera. At that point, you are shown the camera model, serial number and shutter count. So handy!

Interesting that one of my 5D Mark III cameras has so many more shutter releases than the other. When I travel, I usually grab the same camera, which probably explains why one has so much more use than the other.

You can see that my Canon 5D Mark II cameras worked hard for me with 250,000 shots between the two bodies.

If you are like me, and own Canon cameras and a Mac computer, check out ShutterCount. For $2.99, it was a no brainer!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

New York City - Fall Colors in Central Park

With all of my travels, it is frustrating that I do not get a chance to get out and shoot fall colors very often. While traveling to New York City a couple of weeks ago, I had a chance to get out and shoot for a couple of hours. I was hoping that Central Park would be at the height of color, but that was not the case. There were limited locations with fall color, but those small areas still proved to be beautiful!

(Canon 5D Mark III, 28-300mm lens, ISO 500, f5.6, 1/200 sec, -.3 exposure comp, Lexar 1000x CF)
I saw this statue amongst the red and orange leaves, but wanted more in the photo. I moved to a location where I had a tree with green leaves in the foreground, and shot through those colors to create a dramatic contrast in colors. I photographed this at f/5.6 to make sure that the primary focus was on the statue, using the leaves as secondary subjects.

(Canon 5D Mark III, 28-300mm lens, ISO 500, f5.6, 1/320 sec, -.3 exposure comp, Lexar 1000x CF)
The light was trickling through the upper canopy of trees and hitting this branch. I walked by and noticed the awesome light on these leaves. It is times like this that I love being a photographer. If not for photography, I would probably have walked by this and never noticed this simple beauty.

(Canon 5D Mark III, 28-300mm lens, ISO 500, f5.6, 1/400 sec, -.3 exposure comp, Lexar 1000x CF)
More pretty fall colors... You will notice that I shot most of these images at -.3 exposure compensation. This is a great way to accentuate the colors in the trees and the sky. It is also a great way to protect your highlights to make sure that the bright areas of your photos are not blown out.

(Canon 5D Mark III, 28-300mm lens, ISO 200, f5.6, 1/320 sec, Lexar 1000x CF)
As I mentioned, there weren't that many trees showing fall colors, so the ones that has color were attracting a lot of attention. I was attracted not only to the color of the leaves, but also by the way that all the people were rim lit by the sun behind them.

(Canon 5D Mark III, 28-300mm lens, ISO 200, f8, 1/250 sec, Lexar 1000x CF)
It wasn't just the fall colors that attracted me. I saw this one plant and got in really close to show the repetitive patterns of the leaves. I just love finding natural beauty in small places.

(Canon 5D Mark III, 28-300mm lens, ISO 400, f5.6, 1/500 sec, Lexar 1000x CF)
OK, this might not qualify as natural beauty, but on the edge of the park, I came across this light post and had to shoot this photo. I really like the one white pigeon amongst the rest.

(Canon 5D Mark III, 28-300mm lens, ISO 100, f5.6, 1/125 sec, -.3 exposure comp, Lexar 1000x CF)
Back into the park again, I saw this old light that was side lit against the fall colors. This is a simple photo, but it is also a good example of how standing close to an object and shooting at the right aperture can draw the eye to the sharpest part of the photo.

(Canon 5D Mark III, 28-300mm lens, ISO 500, f5.6, 1/200 sec, Lexar 1000x CF)
And then as I continued to walk through the park, I came across this woman painting a Tupelo tree. It was not long before this, that I thought "I need a good subject to photograph in this surrounding" and here she was.

(Canon 5D Mark III, 28-300mm lens, ISO 500, f5.6, 1/160 sec, Lexar 1000x CF)
And of course, I went up to her and introduced myself and asked her about her painting. Her name is Patricia Melvin and she does amazing work which can be seen here.

(Canon 5D Mark III, 28-300mm lens, ISO 500, f5.6, 1/160 sec, Lexar 1000x CF)
I walked around and photographed her from different angles, making sure to include the scene and her interpretation of the surroundings. She also had some other bags of supplies which were blocking the wood easel. I politely asked if I could move them out of the frame to shoot this wide shot.

(Canon 5D Mark III, 28-300mm lens, ISO 500, f5.6, 1/800 sec, Lexar 1000x CF)
I especially love this shot of her unfinished painting and her pallet. I showed this to my wife (also very artistic) when I got home and she said "wow - I love her pallet!!"

(Canon 5D Mark III, 28-300mm lens, ISO 500, f4.5, 1/320 sec, -0.3 exposure, Lexar 1000x CF)
And lastly, here is a photo showing mother nature's pallet. So awesome!