Wednesday, June 29, 2016

A visit to Yosemite - one of the most beautiful places in the world!

A little while back, my wife and I took some time to ourselves and drove to Yosemite to spend 3 days. This amazing National Park is about a 5 hour drive from our house, but so worth the drive. And for the first time in years, we were there without our kids or any work obligations, so we were free to do whatever we wanted.

We got up early on our first day and made the 4 hour drive to the park entrance. After a couple of stops. we arrived at Tunnel View around noon and I was excited to see blue skies and nice puffy clouds. And for the first time in a long time, due to the large amount of rainfall we had in this El NiƱo year, the waterfalls were all running full.

For this trip, I mostly relied on my Canon 5D Mark III and Canon 28-300mm lens. I grabbed that gear and took the first photos of the trip.

(Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 28-300mm lens at 35mm, ISO 160, f/5, 1/500 sec, -0.3 exposure comp)

I know...this is a very photographed spot, but regardless, it is so beautiful, it is worth every photo. I loved how the clouds were creating ever moving shadows on the valley floor. For this shot, I waited for the sun to open up on part of the valley floor and El Capitan.

(Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 28-300mm lens at 100mm, ISO 320, f/5, 1/500 sec, -0.3 exposure comp)
After taking the obligatory wide shot from this iconic spot, I then zoomed in to 100mm and isolated different subjects from this vantage point. This photo shows Bridalveil Falls on the right, with Halfdome off in the distance to the left of the frame.

(Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 28-300mm lens at 70mm, ISO 160, f/5, 1/800 sec, -0.3 exposure comp)
Here is a tighter shot of El Capitan with a combination of sunlight and shadows on the face of this amazing rock. I framed this shot to make El Cap my subject, but wide enough to include Half Dome and the clouds.

We then drove down to the valley floor to meet up with my wife's twin sister and husband. But they had not arrived yet, so we decided to do a little sightseeing on our own. I saw this patch of water in the meadow and immediately made my way there, hoping for a decent reflection of Half Dome. As you can see from the photo, this worked out well. My goal was to shoot with a slow enough shutter speed to neutralize the ripples in the water (caused by the light winds), and bring out the reflection even more. I grabbed my new Tiffen Circular Polarizing Filter and blocked some of the light coming into the camera. At a low ISO of 100 and an aperture of f/18 (with the filter on), I was able to get a shutter speed of 1/4 sec.

(Photographer's note: For those of you who like to take photos in amazing places like this, and wish for cloudless skies, think again. If you look at the previous photos, you will notice how the clouds add to the composition of the photos. If these skies were all blue, these photos would not be as interesting.)

While taking photos in this spot, I was approached by a couple different people who were blog readers and recognized this ugly face. It is always fun to talk to people who read and learn from the blog. My wife took this photo of me and this gentleman (John Hearne) after we met and talked photography for a while.

(Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 28-300mm lens at 300mm, ISO 100, f/5.6, 1/320 sec, -0.3 exposure comp)
We did eventually meet up with our relatives (cell phones are spotty in Yosemite) and went with them to check out some sites early in the evening. We were looking at Yosemite falls and admiring the large amount of water that was pouring down to the floor below. Having photographed these falls before, I knew that a full length shot would not be as interesting as a tight shot, so I zoomed all the way to 300mm and took this shot at the base of the falls. I loved the way that the water was hitting the rock wall to the right. Normally I like to photograph waterfalls at slow shutter speeds, but I took this photo at 1/320 sec to freeze the water careening off the rock face.

Since we were back in the same spot as Annette and I had visited earlier in the day, I thought I would take another reflection photo of Half Dome. I liked the way that the last sunlight of the day was hitting the face of Half Dome.

I decided that this would be a good time for a shot of the four of us. I set up my Gitzo travel tripod (with Acratech ball head), put the Canon 600 EX-RT flash on my camera to light us, and set the focus. I used an aperture of f/8 so that both us and the background would be in focus. I then set the timer for 10 seconds and ran into the shot.

(Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 28-300mm lens at 50mm, ISO 100, f/4, 1/1000 sec, -0.3 exposure comp)
Our second day did not provide the same nice weather that we had on our first day. I asked my wife if we could stop and take another photo. She looked out the window and then at me and asked "Why?" I wanted to take a similar photo to what I had taken the day before to show you all the difference that a day can make. This time we did not have any blue skies and the whole scene was flat. Not nearly as picturesque! It just goes to show that, as much as we can control the cameras, a lot of nature photography involves factors that we can not control.

(Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 28-300mm lens at 300mm, ISO 100, f/22, 1/2 sec, -0.3 exposure comp)
Whenever I am in a place like Yosemite and the weather is overcast, I look for scenes that would be better in flat light. The absence of bright light allowed me to take this river scene at a 1/2 second shutter speed, showing the motion of the water.

In previous trips to Yosemite with or kids, we did not do a whole lot of hiking, but since we were on our own, we took full advantage of our 3 days in the park. On this second day we decided to hike up to Vernal Falls. This was a fairly strenuous hike and involved climbing a lot of water soaked steps, but it was well worth it. I took this shot to show Vernal Falls, but also the steps leading up to the falls.

About half way up the steps, I came to a spot with a great view of Vernal Falls. The big challenge here was finding a spot to set up my tripod (without blocking others) and also having a spot that was somewhat out of the way of the blowing mist (to keep my lens clean). There was a lot of water blowing in the air, which required me to turn the camera away from the falls, and clean the filter after every shot.

In order to show the motion of the water, I once again set up the camera to as slow a shutter speed. Setting the camera to an ISO of 100 and an aperture of f/18, I had a shutter speed of 1/2 second. The Tiffen Circular Polarizing Filter also helped me cut out some light, and also reduced the amount of glare coming off the wet rocks.

(Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 28-300mm lens at 28mm, ISO 100, f/22, 1/2 sec, -0.7 exposure comp)
I am not sure how, but we let my brother-in-law convince us to climb even higher and hike back the long way. I was getting a little tired at this point, but happy to stop and get this shot. I looked down at Vernal Falls and saw this rainbow at the base of the falls and had to take this shot!

After hiking to an even higher elevation, I looked back and saw Nevada Falls in the distance. With this massive rock jutting high into the sky, it made for a perfect composition with the rock and falls. I also took a couple tight shots of the falls, but didn't feel that they were nearly as interesting without the rock formation.

We were hiking through the meadows early on our third day and I saw this sole tree sticking out at the base of Yosemite Falls and zoomed in to 300mm to grab this shot. It looks decent in color, but after converting it to B&W (using NIK SilverEfex Pro - which is now free for everyone) I liked it much better.

After breakfast, we met up with my wife's cousin, who works in Yosemite. He had the day off and offered to take us to some really cool trails that were not on the maps. This is a photo of me in one of those locations. Pretty awesome view. Thanks Brian!

From this same spot, I decided to take a series of photos to combine in a panorama. I made sure to shoot from left to right, and to include everything from Yosemite Falls to Half Dome. This is a 700MB file on my computer.

On our second hike of the day, we headed to the base of El Capitan and climbed the "nose". Here is another photo of me in this location. What! Three photos of me in one blog post? Sorry about that. :)

Brian is an accomplished rock climber (hence the reason that he is living in Yosemite right now), so I asked him to climb for me. Using the Canon 24-105mm lens. I shot at 24mm and got down as low as I could to the ground. Brian was not that high off the ground, but the wide angle lens exaggerates the height in this shot. Trust me, Brian was not about to climb El Cap without any ropes.

For out third hike of the day (and yes - I was exhausted by the end of the day), we hiked to a hidden water fall. Along the way, we passed Mirror Lake. I took this first photo to include Half Dome in the shot.

This second shot of Mirror Lake does not include the famous rock, but shows a nice view of the valley opening where we were heading.

(Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 28-300mm lens at 300mm, ISO 100, f/4.5, 1/800 sec, -0.7 exposure comp)
As we hiked along the edge of Mirror Lake, I looked up and saw the moon just over the top of Half Dome. What an awesome combination of subjects! As you can see, I took both a wide shot and a tight shot of this scene.

(Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 28-300mm lens at 300mm, ISO 200, f/6.3, 1/1000 sec, -0.3 exposure comp)

We reached the hidden water fall at 7pm. I set up and took a couple of photos before packing up and heading back. We were starting to run out of light, so time was limited.

I hope you enjoyed "our" visit to Yosemite.

FYI - This will likely be the last "regular" blog entry before I go into full blown Olympic mode. From this point on, you are likely to see blog posts pertaining to the upcoming Olympics in Rio De Janeiro. And then, once I arrive in Rio, you will be seeing blog entries every day.


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. It does not change the cost to you in any way, but it helps me keep this blog up and running.

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 or send my monthly newsletter.


Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Does it frustrate you that the Photos program on your Mac tries to import images every time you insert a memory card? If so, you need to read this!

For the last couple of months I have been frustrated every time I insert a memory card into my Mac. It doesn't matter whether I was using my MacbookPro or MacPro desktop machine. Every time I would insert a memory card, the darned Apple Photos program would pop up and ask me if I want to import the photos. Argghhh!!!!

As many of you know, I don't use the Photos program since it is not designed for professional use. I rely on Photo Mechanic for all my downloading and culling and then Photoshop CC for my retouching. It was driving me crazy having the Apple program interrupting my workflow and costing me valuable time. With the Summer Olympics less than 6 weeks away, and having really tight deadlines, I absolutely HAD to find a way to solve this problem.

Previous Internet searches found had a bunch of recommendations(like unchecking the "Open Photos" box and quitting the application), but none of them had worked.

But, after a lot of searching, I found the solution!

A photographer in Australia found a simple solution, and it works!

Here is what you do:

* Open the Terminal program on your Mac. If you don't know where this is located, just go to Spotlight (which is the magnifying glass at the top right of your menu bar) and type in "Terminal"

You will then see this:

Double click on the Terminal application to launch it. You will see this:

Copy this string of text:

defaults -currentHost write disableHotPlug -bool YES
At the Terminal window, paste in that string of text and hit return. Voila - the problem in solved!

You will not see anything in the Terminal window that confirms the change, but it will be fixed from that point on.

If you ever want to reverse this change and go back to the default settings, you can paste this string into the Terminal window:

defaults -currentHost write disableHotPlug -bool NO
I hope this helps all of you as much as it helped me!

Thanks to Ben Fon for finding this fix and PetaPixel for posting this online.

Feel free to share this with all of your Mac photo friends.


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. It does not change the cost to you in any way, but it helps me keep this blog up and running.

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 or send my monthly newsletter.


Thursday, June 16, 2016

San Francisco - The Painted Ladies, The Haight, and The Golden Gate Bridge

Funny that I am sitting here in New York City writing a blog about my home town of San Francisco, but I have so many photos and stories to share with you all that I am running behind. My cousin and his family were visiting San Francisco a couple of months ago, and their daughter, Sydney, wanted to learn more about photography, so I spent the day with them up in the city. It was a great time, shooting and hanging out with them.

While I was teaching Sydney, I was also taking my own photos, so this gives me a chance to share the images with all of you.

I picked them up from the Ritz Carlton, where they were slumming it for the weekend, and drove straight over to the Painted Ladies. These are a famous group of victorian homes that many of you have seen on the TV show "Full House". The weather was overcast, which actually helped to make a better photo in this case. No harsh shadows to deal with.

Along with taking the "standard shot" that everyone takes, I was using my Canon 5D Mark III, and zoomed my Canon 28-300mm lens all the way to 300mm to get this photo of City Hall peaking out from behind a couple of the victorians.

And then we were off to the Haight Ashbury district to take photos of the graffiti and surroundings.

You can't go to Haight Ashbury without taking a photo of the street signs!

I love the art painted on the side of the local businesses.

...and then...there were some of the characters there...

I saw these guys and asked them if I could take their photos. They were totally cool with that, so I took some quick portraits.

After getting some lunch in the Haight, I drove them over to Fort Point, located at the base of the Golden Gate Bridge.

I was teaching Sydney about composition and framing. I took this first photo standing straight up to show her the perspective. But the shot is lacking a strong foreground.

For this second shot, I got down low and included the rusty chain as a foreground element. Notice how the curve of the chain helps to frame the bridge?

I was also showing Sydney how zooming into a shot changes everything. As luck would have it, the fog was slowly rolling in, constantly changing as it passed by the North Tower of the bridge.

I waited for this sailboat to get close to the bridge and took this photo. I wanted to show Sydney how the boat would "finish" this shot. it turned out, the top of the North Tower also popped out from the fog just a little bit as the sailboat approached. A perfect moment.

Note: I posted this photo on my Facebook page, thinking that it was a decent photo, but not expecting much feedback. As it turned out, this photo had more than 1000 likes and a ton of comments. I was pleasantly surprised by this reaction. It just reinforced that photography is subjective, and even I can not predict what will be widely admired or disliked.

Here are a couple more photos of the bridge, fog and sailboat.

After shooting all these photos, I wanted to show Sydney that there is always a way to push further and get a shot that most people do not have.

I was talking to her when I saw the bridge reflecting in her sunglasses. Perfect!!! I had her turn at just the right angle to get the bridge reflection in both lenses and took this shot. I love how the dark blue glasses make the scene look totally different from the grey skies that were reality.

We had a great time catching up after not seeing each other for a couple of years, hopefully Sydney learned something about her camera and photography, and we got some fun photos too. That makes for a great day!


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. It does not change the cost to you in any way, but it helps me keep this blog up and running.

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 or send my monthly newsletter.


Wednesday, June 8, 2016

A review of the new DJI Phantom 4 - Flying over San Francisco, the new Apple Campus 2 and more

If you have been following the blog for a while, you know that I love all types of photography. But I have to say that using drones to get aerial photos is one of my favorite things to do. And, although I have never claimed to be a videographer, it is the rare time that I love shooting and editing video.

A little while back, I got my hands on the new DJI Phantom 4 aerial camera (also known as a drone) and been taking it on some day trips to capture photos and videos from unique perspectives.

My first flight with the Phantom 4 was a flight by the Bay Bridge in San Francisco. Even though it was a fairly windy day, you would never know that from the steadiness of P4 gimbal. The 4K video looks stunning directly from the camera.

Here is that video:

Click on the image to watch the video
My second flight was over the California Coastline. And on this day, it was INCREDIBLY windy. So much so, that I had to launch the Phantom 4 from behind my car so that I could get it in the air without blowing over. Even in this blustering wind, I was able to maneuver the drone exactly where I wanted it. Compared to the Phantom 2 and Phantom 3, this new version seems to be easier to fly and the battery lasts noticeably longer.

Here is the video of a big wave crash, as I followed the wave in towards the beach:

Click on the image to watch the video
For my third flight, I was back in San Francisco to speak at the Canon Learning Center. I drove up to the city early so that I would have time to fly the drone. I ended up at the Ferry Building and thought that this would be the perfect place to try some of the new features of the Phantom 4 and accompanying software.  The updated software has a host of new features, one of which can automatically follow any object or person. More on that later. The one new feature that I was most excited to try out was the auto circling feature. And wow - this worked out beautifully!

Check out this video flying over the Ferry Building:

Click on the image to watch the video
As you can see, I was able to fly a perfect circle around the Ferry Building. In the past, I have tried this countless times, but have always found myself either over or under rotating. But now I can set a center point in the software (on my iPad), fly the Phantom 4 out to the distance I desire, set the speed and direction and fly perfectly around that point. Here is what I did for this video. I flew the P4 directly over the clock tower of the Ferry Building, set that as the center point, and then let the software do the rest. I am now in love with this new feature!

I mentioned the auto tracking feature. but I had never actually tried it. I took a break from writing this blog and went outside to give it a try. My wife was going to walk the dog, so I launched the P4 about 15 feet over them, trained the camera on them, tapped the iPad screen to identify them as my subjects, and hit "Go" on the screen. Here is what the Phantom captured. A nice smooth following of them. Pretty cool!

Click on the image to watch the video

You may remember that in March of 2015 I flew my Phantom 3 over the construction site of the massive new Apple Campus that they are building in Cupertino, CA.

Here is that video:

Click on the image to watch the video
Below is a new video taken last weekend, using the Phantom 4. You can see that they have made quite a bit of progress on the building. And DJI has made a lot of progress on their drones. Not only is the newer drone easier to fly, but you will also see that the still and video quality is significantly sharper than before.

Click on the image to watch the video
Along with capturing video, I also made sure to grab some still photos as well. I love that the Phantom 4 lets me shoot both RAW and JPEG images. 

Whenever people see me flying the Phantom, they alway come up and ask me the same two questions. The first question is: How hard is it to learn to fly these things?  For the which the answer is, It is really easy. The drone has GPS built-in, and the controls are incredibly easy to work, so it is actually simple. The second most common question is: How long does the battery last? The battery on the Phantom 4 seems to last about 25 minutes, which is really very adequate for most of what I shoot. I do recommend buying a second battery to give more flying time.

There are a couple of other upgrades to the Phantom 4 that I am very happy about:

* The camera gimbal are built MUCH better than on previous models. This makes them much less vulnerable to damage in event of a crash.

* I love that the battery has a new charing port which can attach to the charging cable much easier than in the past. And the cable can be inserted in either direction, and still charge the battery.

* The new more powerful motors allow for the Phantom 4 to move at speeds up to 40mph (in Sport mode).

* The Phantom 4 does have a front facing obstacle avoidance system, which is really comforting to know. I actually tried this out, flying the Phantom directly towards my house. As it got within 4 or 5 feet, I heard an audible alert on my iPad and the drone halted it's forward progress.

* I like the smooth plastic finish which seems easier to keep clean.

At $1399 the Phantom 4 is not an inexpensive piece of equipment, but for what it does, I think that this is a bargain. I pay this type of money for a good lens, and the Phantom 4 includes the drone itself, camera, lens, gimbal and remote. The only thing that is not included is a tablet or phone, which is necessary to fly. But most of us have one of these anyways. I love how these devices make it possible for me to easily capture awesome quality video and still images to share with you all.

I should also mention that, even though the content captured is super cool, they are just plain fun to fly. I know, I know...I am just a big kid. :)


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. It does not change the cost to you in any way, but it helps me keep this blog up and running.

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 or send my monthly newsletter.