Monday, December 29, 2014

Did you or someone you know get a new DSLR for the holidays? Time to get out of Automatic mode!

It is that time of year when lots of lucky people received a new DSLR for the holidays. Most of them will take out the new camera, put it in Automatic mode, and start shooting.

The problem is, they are now holding a bigger and more expensive point-and-shoot camera.  If they knew even a few tips, they could take so much better photos!

Last year, along with B&H Photo, I created this video:

The 15 Features of Your DSLR That Every Photographer Should Know

This is a free class to help you or your friends get the most out of your DSLR camera. It is aimed at the novice and intermediate user, and should be easy for most people to understand. If you are one of those lucky people to get a new DSLR, and are new to photography, check it out.

People often ask me why I let B&H post these videos at no charge, and the reason is, I love photography and want to spread the passion to others. More than money, it is so rewarding to get email messages from people all over the world who have learned from this and my other free videos. With some simple tips, like those in the class, it can change the way people take photos and yield much better photos. And then, they too might see how creative they can be with these amazing cameras.

If you know someone who just got their first DSLR, or has had one stuck in automatic mode for many years, let them know about this video. I am proud that this video is now the most viewed classroom video on the B&H YouTube channel with more than 670k views.

And also, remember that you and your friends can enter your email address at the top right of this blog to get an email any time I write a new blog post.

Happy holidays and happy shooting everyone!



If you are interested in purchasing any camera equipment, please click here to go to B&H Photo, as I get a referral from them if you enter this way. I would really appreciate that.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Costa Rica - Our 6th and final day of photographing wildlife

It was our last full day in Costa Rica, and we planned on spending the first half of the day in Manuel Antonio National Park and then driving back to San Jose, where we would fly out the next morning. We packed up the car and I was pulling out of the hotel exit when my friend Steve, said "stop the car!" I was startled and asked him what was happening. He pointed his finger up towards a rope that was traversing the road, and there were a couple of squirrel monkeys crossing the rope. We both hopped out of the car and grabbed our cameras, but I saw the two monkeys moving out of site and figured that I would not get a shot of them. Then I looked to my right and saw about 30 more monkeys waiting to make the same crossing. Cool!

The tough part of shooting in a humid environment is getting the camera adjusted to the humidity. The camera had been in my air conditioned hotel room and air conditioned car, so when I pulled it out to shoot, the lens and eyepiece immediately fogged up. I kept wiping the 100-400mm lens to try and clear it, but as soon as I wiped it, it would fog up again. Most of the monkeys crossed the rope before the lens adjusted and I could get this shot. I did not take the time to clean the eyepiece, so I just ignored the blurry view through the camera and shot, knowing that the final image would be fine. I was happy to get some clean "unfoggy" shots of these little guys.

And then we were back in the car and off to the National park.

We had yet to see a howler monkey, but I knew they were around. The sounds from these monkeys, which are the second loudest animal in the world, woke me up earlier in the morning. Not too long after we entered the park, we came across a couple of the howler monkeys and I got this shot. At first I thought he was flipping me off, but when looking through the 400mm lens, I noticed that this was not the case. Phew!

We encountered more lizards. I really loved the bright green colors on this one.

The day before, I brought my Canon 1DX, Canon 7D Mark II, 100-400m lens, 24-105mm lens, 100mm macro lens, a flash and some other accessories in my backpack. But I thought I would try something different on this day. I only brought my Canon 1DX, 100-400mm lens and the Canon 500D Close-up lens (that looks like a filter). This really lightened the load for me. And because I had the 500D close-up attachment, I could use the 100-400mm lens as a long zoom or a macro lens. Very cool! This shot of a dragon fly was taken with a 100-400mm lens. Normally, the closest focusing distance of this lens would be 6 feet, but, using the Canon 500D "filter", I took this only inches from the insect. Not too shabby huh?

Here is another lizard shot. What makes this different from the other lizard photos, is that I could see his entire body. I moved to a place where I could see him from head to tail and framed the shot to accentuate the curve of his body. As always, I made sure to keep the focus on the lizard's eye, and then I let the rest fall out of focus.

Using the same 500D close-up lens, I took a macro shot of this rather large spider.

And look at the detail in this crop of the previous photo.

This isn't a very good photo of this grasshopper, but it was the best I could do. This tiny insect was probably 15 feet from us, and I used all of the 400mm reach of my lens, along with a tight crop in Photoshop, for this. The colors of this grasshopper were amazing, with a blue head, green body, and orange / yellow legs.

On or second day in Manuel Antonio Park, we saw a couple more sloths. They don't move much, so getting them doing any activity was a treat.

I like this photo of this sloth peeking through the leaves.

My last photo in the park was of this grumpy lizard. I think he was having a bad day. :)

Before leaving the park, I decided to launch the Phantom 2 Vision+ drone to get an aerial shot of the park. I just love how I can get a totally different perspective with the aerial camera.

We then left the park to make the 2 1/2 hour drive back to San Jose. But, one of the people I met in the park showed us photos of crocodiles, and I asked where he saw them. He told us about a bridge (around the midway point of our drive) which was known for all the crocs living below. It was easy to find, since there were signs warning about the crocs and numerous cars parked on either side of the bridge. We stopped on the far side of the bridge and walked out to the middle of the bridge. There were some really large crocodiles living in the river below.

I think this croc was waiting for us to throw some food to him, but I don't think he would find a Canon camera very appetizing.

Using the Canon 100-400 lens, I was able to get in pretty close to these guys. I wanted to get more photos of these guys, but could not get any closer. It was time to break out the Phantom 2 Vision+ again.

I flew right by these guys, but tried to highlight the biggest one, which is right in front of the camera. They called this crocodile "Mike Tyson". I also captured some pretty cool video of the crocodiles and will try to put together a video soon.

 Here is an aerial shot from high above the bridge. It is so pretty there.

When going back to where the car was parked, to switch between the camera and the drone, someone pointed up into a nearby tree and said that some macaw had just flown in. This was the first time that I have seen these in the wild, and I shot a bunch of photos. This was one of the first shots I took.

At one point, a couple of the macaw flew into the same tree.

I moved to a location where I could get both of them in the same image, and waited for them both to have their heads up.

I shot many photos of the macaw, looking at their different positions and trying to get a pleasing balance of the two birds. This was one of my favorite photos, with the birds criss-crossing each other, creating a nice balance to the image. The only problem was that there was a lot of sky showing through the tree, causing the viewers eye to be distracted from the birds. While shooting the photo, I knew that there was nothing I could do about the bright spots at the time.

But...I also knew that I could fix this in Photoshop.

This is the same image, but I have filled in the bright spots. I used a combination of the spot healing brush and the clone tool (taking leaves from other locations in the tree). Look at both images and I think you will agree that the retouched photo is much stronger.

Well...that is the last of the blogs from this trip to Costa Rica. I hope that you all enjoyed joining me, albeit virtually, for this trip. I hope to announce a workshop in Costa Rica sometime in the next year or so.


If you are interested in purchasing any camera equipment, please click here to go to B&H Photo, as I get a referral from them if you enter this way. I would really appreciate that.


Thursday, December 18, 2014

Costa Rica - Day 5 - Another awesome day of photographing monkeys sloths and more!

It was our fifth day in Costa Rica trip, and our first day visiting Manuel Antonio National Park. Unlike our previous locations in Costa Rica, this area was much warmer and had a lot more humidity. And luckily, we had clear skies with no rain.

Upon entering the park, we were stopped by countless people trying to get us to pay for parking and hire a guide. Even though this was a bit of a "hard sell" approach, we did stop and hire someone to guide us through the park. Having walked through the forest in Monte Verde without seeing much wildlife, we were hopeful that having a guide would add to our experience in Manuel Antonio. Our guide, Jorge, spoke good English and proved to be a valuable asset for the day. If it wasn't for him, we would have missed 90% of our day's photo opportunities.

My main gear for this day was the Canon 1DX, and 100-400mm lens.

Now...join me as I take you through our first day in this National Park. It was a photographic bonanza!

(Canon 1DX, Canon 100-400mm lens at 390mm, ISO 2500, f/5.6, 1/200 sec)

We entered the park and walked along the trail, often stopping for our guide to show us creatures that were hidden in the trees and leaves. This lizard was hanging out on one of the large leaves, and we photographed him from the side. But when I walked under the tree and saw the silhouette of his body, with his face peeking out, I preferred this composition. This is one of my favorite shots from the trip.

(Canon 1DX, Canon 100-400mm lens at 285mm, ISO 2500, f/5.6, 1/20 sec)

Here is another creature that our guide spotted, that I would have never seen.

After seeing lots of reptiles, I was wondering if we would see any monkeys. I woke up to the sounds of Howler Monkeys coming through my hotel windows, and was hoping to see some of these guys.

And then, we walked down to the beach and picnic area and saw some raccoons scouring for food.

(Canon 1DX, Canon 100-400mm lens at 400mm, ISO 2500, f/5.6, 1/200 sec)

Just after shooting this photo of a raccoon, I looked up to see a couple of white-faced monkeys on the tree 10 feet from me. I was VERY excited to photograph these primates in the wild.

(Canon 1DX, Canon 100-400mm lens at 400mm, ISO 2500, f/5.6, 1/640 sec)

I quickly focused and started shooting photos of this guy in the tree. I was not sure how long they would stick around, and wanted to get some nice shots of them.

(Canon 1DX, Canon 100-400mm lens at 330mm, ISO 1000, f/5.6, 1/160 sec)

I moved around the tree to different positions, which gave me different backgrounds. In this case, I had foliage far in the background which helped me isolate the monkey.

(Canon 1DX, Canon 100-400mm lens at 275mm, ISO 2000, f/5.6, 1/160 sec)

And then it got even better, when this adult monkey showed up with a baby on her back. Most of you know that I am really passionate about my photography, but you should have seen me at this point. I was in photographic heaven. :)

(Canon 1DX, Canon 100-400mm lens at 370mm, ISO 2000, f/5.6, 1/250 sec)

I think I was moving around more than the monkeys (but not swinging from any trees).

(Canon 1DX, Canon 100-400mm lens at 275mm, ISO 1250, f/5.6, 1/1250 sec)

The baby stuck out it's tongue. I don't think this was directed at me, but...

(Canon 1DX, Canon 100-400mm lens at 400mm, ISO 1250, f/5.6, 1/1000 sec)

This is one of my favorite photos of the monkeys, with this adult hanging out on a tree branch, seemingly checking out the scene.

(Canon 1DX, Canon 100-400mm lens at 250mm, ISO 1250, f/5.6, 1/100 sec)

Here are four photos taken within seconds of each other. I just love the bond between the two primates.

(Canon 1DX, Canon 100-400mm lens at 370mm, ISO 1250, f/5.6, 1/1560 sec)

(Canon 1DX, Canon 100-400mm lens at 400mm, ISO 1250, f/5.6, 1/160 sec)

(Canon 1DX, Canon 100-400mm lens at 285mm, ISO 1250, f/5.6, 1/80 sec)

Look closely at the baby in this shot. Doesn't it's face look like that of an old man?

(Canon 1DX, Canon 100-400mm lens at 180mm, ISO 1250, f/5.6, 1/125 sec)

Here is a wide shot showing how they use their tails to grab the tree.

(Canon 1DX, Canon 100-400mm lens at 180mm, ISO 1250, f/5.6, 1/125 sec)

This is a crop of the previous photo. This is a good example how a crop of an image can tell a completely different story. No tail in this shot, but a great back-to-back pose from my subjects.

(Canon 1DX, Canon 100-400mm lens at 220mm, ISO 1250, f/5.6, 1/100 sec)

As soon as I saw these three monkeys grouped like this on the tree branch, I quickly zoomed out and framed this shot. Yep, more favorite photos!

(Canon 1DX, Canon 100-400mm lens at 220mm, ISO 1250, f/5.6, 1/100 sec)

(Canon 1DX, Canon 100-400mm lens at 275mm, ISO 1250, f/5.6, 1/160 sec)

This monkey yawned, and I focused quick enough to grab the sot. No, those are some teeth!

(Canon 1DX, Canon 100-400mm lens at 400mm, ISO 1250, f/5.6, 1/250 sec)

Good photography means that you are always ready to capture the scene unfolding in front of you. In this case, the monkeys were on the move, and making their way from one tree to another. I waited for them to be in between both trees and got this shot.

(Canon 1DX, Canon 100-400mm lens at 400mm, ISO 160, f/5.6, 1/640 sec)

After shooting hundreds of photos of the monkeys, someone pointed out this iguana that was near the beach. He was in perfect light, so I walked around to the bright side of the reptile and shot this.

(Canon 1DX, Canon 100-400mm lens at 210mm, ISO 2500, f/5.6, 1/160 sec)

We decided to hike farther down the trail along the edge of the beach, as we had a couple of the white-faced friends follow along with us.

(Canon 1DX, Canon 100-400mm lens at 275mm, ISO 2500, f/5.6, 1/200 sec)

And yes, I could not help myself, and kept shooting more photos of the baby.

(Canon 1DX, Canon 100-400mm lens at 320mm, ISO 1600, f/5.6, 1/40 sec)
As we hiked back to where we started, we passed another raccoon who was resting on this log. We have raccoons where I live, but you rarely see them during the day. This was a nice chance to get a photo of this animal up close and in good light.

(Canon 1DX, Canon 100-400mm lens at 400mm, ISO 2500, f/5.6, 1/250 sec)
We then hiked back away from the beach and deeper into the forest. Once again, we found some cool reptiles.

(Canon 1DX, Canon 100-400mm lens at 285mm, ISO 640, f/5.6, 1/160 sec)
At one point, we stopped for water, and I looked up to the see this spider web. If we had been in this spot 30 minutes before or 30 minutes after, this scene would not have presented itself this way, but we were lucky, with the sunlight perfectly hitting the web.

(Canon 1DX, Canon 100-400mm lens at 400mm, ISO 640, f/5.6, 1/200 sec)

Before going to Costa Rica, I had never even heard of a sloth. But after searching for one for many hours, it was cool to finally see one of these strange creatures. It was a good thing that I had the Canon 100-400mm lens, since this guy was really high in the tree. BTW, you can tell that this is a male, since only the male sloth's have this striped pattern on their backs. (Photographer's note: Since the sloth was surrounded by so much open sky, it was hard to meter him correctly. In evaluative metering mode, which most cameras are defaulted to, the bright sky would cause the sloth to be a silhouette. So I changed the metering mode of the camera to spot metering to make sure that the sloth was properly exposed. I knew that the sky would blow out, but that was a trade-off I was willing to make in order to get the sloth lit correctly.)

(Canon 1DX, Canon 100-400mm lens at 400mm, ISO 640, f/5.6, 1/100 sec)

Here is another shot of the sloth up high in the tree. I swear that this animal looks like bigfoot.

On day 2, when I photographed the tree frog, I thought that I had already hit the highlight of my trip. But having a chance to photograph the monkeys in the wild was equally exciting to me. At this point, I could have gone home happy, knowing that I had some cool photos for my collection. But we still had one more day.

Stay tuned for the blog of our 6th and final day in Costa Rica.


If you are interested in purchasing any camera equipment, please click here to go to B&H Photo, as I get a referral from them if you enter this way. I would really appreciate that.