Thursday, May 28, 2015

New York in Spring Time - From Park Avenue to Central Park

On my way back from vacation in St. Thomas a couple of weeks ago, I stopped in New York to do some presentations at B&H Photo. I decided to stay at a different hotel on this visit to The Big Apple, and I am glad that I did. I usually stay near Times Square, but this time I stayed on the East Side very near Park Avenue. And as you can see from the photos, Park Avenue was full of flowers in full bloom.

I saw these flowers and just had to get out and take photos. For all of these photos, I used my Canon 5D Mark III and the Canon 24-105mm lens. As you can see from this photo, I purposely slowed the shutter speed to 1/2 second to get motion in the taxi cabs which were going by in both directions.

I walked block and block to see if the different groups of flowers would offer a unique perspective. After taking some straight-on shots of the flowers here, I turned and framed the shot to include the famous Waldorf Astoria Hotel. I waited for a group of yellow cabs to drive in front of the hotel to take this photo.

And then...I zoomed in tighter to get a nice shot of the tulips on their own.

As I walked down Park Avenue, I was looking for different colored flowers.

What caught my attention here was the one yellow tulip amongst the purple tulips. I framed the shot to have the yellow flower off center, and made sure that the focal point was on that unique flower.

After shooting along Park Avenue, I headed to Central Park. I have photographed in the park many times, capturing this iconic location in Winter and Summer, but never during the Spring Time. As I walked through the park, I came across numerous tress that were full of cherry blossoms. But, for the most part, I was not thrilled with wide shots of these trees.

I wanted to show something more than a tree full of blossoms. So I got in close and shot this.

And I was walking through the park, I saw this lady walking towards me. I noticed that her hair perfectly matched the color of the cherry blossoms, so I asked her if I could take her photo. She graciously accepted. I like the fact that this is different from what everyone else was photographing that day in the park.

I took this photo to show the cherry blossoms against the cloudy sky. I knew that when I took this photo, I would be presented with a challenge. I knew that, by exposing for the sky, the cherry blossoms would be too dark (original photo below). But I also knew that I could correct this in Photoshop later. When opening the RAW image in Adobe Camera Raw, I lowered the highlight slider all the way to 0 and moved the shadow slider to +50. This simple adjustment changed the photo from what you see below to the photo above.

I stopped by the Bethesda Fountain, set up the tripod and took some shots with a shutter speed of 1/2 second to show a little bit of motion in the people surrounding the fountain. My goal was to get motion in as many people as possible, but not the bride and groom having their photo taken.

Another photo by Bethesda Fountain, this time using the lines of the staircases to my advantage.

And one last shot for you, from the boat trip that we took around Manhattan the next evening. We had pretty bad shooting weather during the day, with grey skies and minimal contrast. I didn't shoot much, but as the cruise was ending, there was a minute or two where the setting sun broke through the clouds. I stopped down a full stop to further darken the environment and took this photo facing New Jersey.

The next blog entry will show photos from my exclusive behind-the-scenes tour of Grand Central Terminal.


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.

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.


Monday, May 25, 2015

Photographing at Golden Gate National Cemetery on Memorial Day (using the new Canon 5Ds)

In honor of Memorial Day, today I made a visit to the Golden Gate National Cemetery, where more than 140,000 military people are buried. This is not the first time that I have visited this cemetery. You may recall that I photographed here twice before. Once back in 2010 and also on Memorial Day in 2013.

But I looked forward to going back this year, for two reasons. First of all, it is a great way to pay respect to those who gave their lives our country. And secondly, I enjoy photographing this amazing place. This year I was joined by my best friend, Glenn, who is also into photography.

Every year, on this weekend, the Boy Scouts place American flags at each grave site. Not only is this a beautiful was to show respect for all these lost soldiers, but it visually stunning. If you looked at the previous blogs from this cemetery, you will see what I photographed in the past. As is always the case, my goal was to capture something different this time around. I wanted find new angles, and also include more people this year. And this year, I happened to be traveling with a loaner Canon 5Ds, the latest 50 megapixel DSLR from Canon, and the some new Canon lenses

All of the photos in this blog were taken with the new Canon 5Ds and the new Canon 100-400mm II lens, unless otherwise noted.

As you can tell, I really like using selective focus here. I focus on one tombstone and then let the rest fall out of focus.

When looking for good location to photograph, I am typically drawn to the repetitive patterns. As I was taking these photos, I was constantly reminding myself that each of these stones represented a person. This was not lost on me, I promise you.

This particular location was one of my favorites. From where I stood, it appeared that grave sites spread out in a symmetrical pattern away from the center stone.

Just as I finished photographing the previous photo, I look up a nearby hill and saw this man walking amongst the tombstones. I noticed that he was wearing a hat that said "Navy" on the back.

Here is the power of the Canon 5Ds. This is a crop from the photo above, and you can perfectly see the Navy logo that I saw from a distance.

I introduced myself to him and asked if he was a veteran. He told me that he had served on a ship in Vietnam. His name is Phil and he is a really nice man. I asked him if I could take a photo of him, and he graciously agreed. This is one of the things I love most about being a photographer. It is the chance to meet new people and learn their stories. Without the camera in my hand, I am not sure that I would have the courage to go up and talk to complete strangers.

This first photo was taken using the new Canon 5Ds and the new Canon 11-24mm wide angle lens.

More photos showing the patterns of the cemetery.

This is a photo of my best friend (and former college roommate from a billion years ago), Glenn. He was shooting photos with me, so I grabbed some shots of him.

Here is another example of the advantage of shooting with 50 megapixels. This is a crop from the previous photo. Look at the clarity and resolution from this tiny crop. Wow!

This photo is intriguing to me, since the tombstones appear to be placed in random places. As you can tell from all the other photos, all the stones and placed in very orderly lines. But from the angle of this photo, you would hardly know that.

While shooting, a large group of motorcycles drove into the cemetery. I noticed that each of them had American flags on their bikes, so I grabbed some shots of this. Something different from the years past.

I asked some of the guys why they were visiting the cemetery and they said that they were paying tribute to numerous friends who were buried there.

Another shot showing the orderly placement of the grave sites.

I saw this gentleman, who was about to leave the cemetery, and I asked him if I could photograph him. I took some photos of him looking up at me, and then I asked him to look down at the stones. I prefer this shot since he was there for them, not me. His name is Blaine and he works for the U.S. Coast Guard.

This photo was also taken using the new Canon 5Ds and the new Canon 11-24mm wide angle lens.

Here is a photo of me shooting the previous photo (credit: Glenn Tokunaga).

Glenn and I walked around for more than an hour and then I spotted a memorial service out in the distance. He and I headed straight over to the service and caught the tail end. I saw these vets saluting and quickly grabbed this shot.

Since it was my goal to photograph more people this year, I made good on that promise to myself. I saw this guy wearing his Army cap and asked to photograph him. I had him move so that the cemetery was behind him, and took this photo.

I saw these three marines talking, and really wanted to shoot a photo of them. I waited for them to finish their conversation, and asked if I could photograph them. They agreed without any hesitation. I moved them down a hill so that I could photograph them with the grave stones in the background. I was a little hesitant to make them walk away from everyone for me photo, but as it turned out, everyone who was in the area started shooting photos of them in this spot. I guess I started something.

After shooting these photos, a nice man came up to me and introduced himself. His name is Francisco, and he is an avid viewer of the blog and my videos. (I guess my bald head and ugly face is recognizable.) It is always fun for me to meet people who share the passion for photography and learn from this blog and my online classes.

Francisco, thanks for saying hello and making my day. And to Phil, Blaine, the Marines and all the others who serve in our military, thank you from the bottom of my heart!


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.

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.


Thursday, May 21, 2015

Do I use filters on my lenses? I do to get the most out of my photos!

I get a lot of questions about filters and whether or not I ever use them. So this blog entry is all about filters, when I use them and why I use them.

Lets start with UV filters.

UV filters are clear filters which are mainly used to protect the front of our expensive lenses. In the past, I have typically avoided using UV filters on my lenses. And the reason for this is simple, I do not want to put another layer of glass between my subject and the end of my lens. I hate the thought of degrading the quality of my best lenses. The only time I religiously used a UV filter on my lenses were the times when I shoot NHL hockey games though a hole in the plexiglass. If a puck were to come through the hole (which does happen), I would rather lose the filter than the expensive lens.

But then, about 6 months ago I started playing with the Tiffen Digital HT (High-Trans Titanium Multi-Coated) filters. These are low profile filters that are incredibly clear. After using these for a couple of months, I am sold.

Here is what I like about these new filters:

* They are low profile, so they do not show up in my images.
* They are SUPER clear, and do not degrade my images at all.
* They protect the front of my lenses. I would rather break a filter than the lens itself.
* The rims are silver in color, which makes it easy for me to identify if my lens has a filter on it.

Now, let's talk about one of my favorite filters, which I have used and recommended for years. This is the circular polarizing filter. With Adobe Photoshop, it is possible to manipulate an image to get a look similar to various filter, but this is not true with a circular polarizer.  You see, the circular polarizing filter, just like polarized sunglasses, helps increase the contrast in the sky and bring out colors, but it also helps reduce glare.

Look at this first photo, taken with the Tiffen circular polarizing filter rotated so that there is almost no polarization. the clouds do not pop from the sky and you can see reflections coming off of the water.

And now look at the second photo, which was taken with the Tiffen circular polarizing filter rotated to get the maximum polarizing effect. The clouds pop in the sky and the water is MUCH more colorful. With the full polarization, you can see through the water, since the glare is significantly reduced.

I took this photo with the full effect of the circular polarizing filter so that you could see the two snorkelers, but also see through the water.

Here is another polarized photo showing the shallow water, with almost no glare coming off the surface of the ocean.

And here are two more photos showing a slightly less obvious use of the circular polarizing filter.

Again, look at the contrast between the clouds and the blue sky, and even the increased contrast in the water. It isn't that the first image is bad, it is just that the second image is stronger.

Most people think of circular polarizing filters being used in the situations I just showed you. But there is another perfect time to use this filter.

I always use this filter when shooting waterfalls or rivers. Why? Because it cuts the glare off all of the wet rocks. And trust me, that glare can be awfully distracting to the viewer.

For this shot, taken in Hawaii, I used the circular polarizer for yet another reason. You lose light when you rotate the filter. And in this case, the sun was coming up and it was getting too light to create a long exposure. Even at an ISO of 100, I could not blur the water enough. So, by putting on the circular polarizer, I was able to block some of the light and slow my shutter speed down. So...what if I wanted to block out more light and REALLY slow the shutter speed, even in daylight?

That brings us to the last filter that I almost always carry with me, and this is the Tiffen Variable ND filter. This filter is used specifically for cutting out light. 

This last photo was taken while the sky was still fairly bright, but I wanted to cut the light down to get a slow shutter speed at an aperture of f/7. I wanted this depth of field to have more focus on the waterfall closest to me. By cutting the light coming into the lens, I could slow things down and get this result.

So...for all of you who ask me if I use filters, the answer is yes. I use the Tiffen Digital HT Ultra Clear filters in front of each of my lenses, for everyday protection. And then in my camera bags, I always have a Tiffen HT Circular Polarizer and a Tiffen Variable Neutral Density filter.

If you have not tried using these filters, you really should. They are excellent quality and both the polarizing and ND filters can really make a big difference to your travel photos.


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.

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.


Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The faces of St. Thomas - Celebrating Carnival on the island

As you can tell from the last blog post, two weeks ago we were in St. Thomas for a little rest and relaxation. The primary purpose of the trip was to spend time with the family, but that does not mean that I was not shooting. Heck, taking photos for fun is how I relax.

Unbeknownst to us, we ended up on the island of St. Thomas during their celebration of Carnival. Some people might think that this is a bad thing (since the traffic in and out of the city was affected and there was not a rental car to be found). But, we thought that it was a good thing, and had fun visiting the Carnival celebrations numerous times.

Since I had my camera (Canon 5D Mark III with the 24-105mm lens) with me, I did my best to capture the people and atmosphere of Carnival.

On our first night on the island, we decided to go into town to see what this was all about. It was early in the evening and way before the crowds arrived. But after flying all night to get to St. Thomas, and getting very little sleep. we were not about to stay up too late. I took this photo to show the main area for food (well...most of it was for drinks). (Photographer's tip: I took this photo handheld, since I did not bring my tripod with me this evening. I turned the ISO up to 1250, set the camera for f/4, turned up the exposure comp to +1.3 and had a shutter speed of 1/13th of a second. I held on for dear life and squeezed off 3 shots. )

We were walking around the area and heard music coming from behind the stage area. After a minute, the group came out playing the local Caribbean music. We saw this cute little boy sitting on the front of this drum, and I just had to get a photo. I used a slow shutter speed (once again 1/13 sec) to get some motion blur on the hands of the drummers. Luckily the little boy did not move much, so he is still sharp.

Towards the end of our trip, the girls wanted to go back to Carnival to buy gifts for their friends. Since I am not a real shopper, I took advantage of this time to explore Carnival on my own. After only a minute or two, and seeing all the locals in the vending area, I knew that I had to capture the faces of these people. Each of them had so much character in their faces and clothes!

When I think of Rastafarian people, I think of someone just like this guy. He has the colors, the hair, the beard and even the ganja T-shirt.

It was fun to stroll through the area and grab shots of the locals interacting.

Along with the candid shots, I also would ask the vendors if I could take their photos.

While walking around, I came across the Carnival Queen...

...and the Carnival princess. Too cute!

And then right back to photographing the locals wearing their colors.

Ya man!

One of the booths was selling jars of jam, and I liked the fabric tops. I got in close and shot this.

There was a face painter there, and he was just finishing his composition on this little boy. I quickly moved to a position where I was facing the boy and grabbed this photo of his first inspection of his new face painting.

Sometimes the absence of color is just as powerful as the abundance of color.

Everyone was involved in Carnival, young and old.

It was our last day on St. Thomas and we happened to be there for the children's parade. This goes on for hours and hours, and we only caught a small portion of it. But I loved these two boys driving the mini police vehicle.

These last two photos were taken along the parade route.

It was really cool that we were on the island during this time. It gave us a chance to see the locals enjoying themselves and celebrating their heritage.


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.

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.