Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Setting photographic goals for your next trip

As many of you know, I am currently teaching a workshop here in Sydney, Australia. We have had a fantastic time so far with excellent weather and a ton to shoot. But as I continue teaching each day, it has reminded me of some things that I wanted to share with all of you. Since I have been shooting professionally for almost 15 years now, I tend to take a lot for granted, and forget that some of the things I take for granted are not inherent to others.

What am I talking about? Even though camera settings, composition and the technicalities are important, I am actually referring to the goals you set for yourself.

What I noticed over the last week is that, even though the workshop attendees need help with camera settings and composition, they are missing the first step of the process. They have not pre-planned any photo goals for the trip.

You see, before I travel, I almost always set goals for what I am hoping to accomplish with my camera.

Before my last trip to Africa on safari, I made a list of goals that I wanted to accomplish. It looked something like this:

* Teach attendees more about workflow and composition
* Shoot wider to show the environment
* Shoot really tight on an animal to show the details of their feet, trunk, nose, mouth...
* Take more portraits of people
* Do more motion panning to get motion blur on moving animals

And before this trip to Australia, I made the following list:

* Teach the attendees the importance of keeping your camera completely steady, exposure compensation and shutter speed (for night shooting especially)
* Get a nice straight-on shot of the opera house covered with projected lights
* Get a wide shot of the Sydney Harbor with and without the colored lights
* Shoot from different vantages points to get unique perspectives of the bridge and opera house
* Shoot more video along with the thousands of still photos
* Roll the zoom during exposures to get more unique photos
* Bring the drone to get some aerial shots of the region
* Make sure that the attendees and myself come home with at least 20 epic photos for our collections

Regardless of whether all of these are achieved, it is helpful to have these goals in place before you travel.

At this point, you may be thinking "What if I have never been to this place and don't know what to expect?" For that, my response is twofold:

* If you are going on a photo tour with a leader, make sure they help you set some goals for the location.
* If you are going somewhere new on your own, do your research on the Internet and find places you want to visit, and photos that you want to capture. Make a list of those for future reference. I should also mention that, if you do see a great photo on the Internet, don't just try and copy it. Challenge yourself to shoot something even better.

If you are traveling with a group of other photographers (or meet them on your travels), make sure to talk to them and share ideas. You can definitely learn a lot from each other. Heck, I am continually watching what others are capturing and using that as inspiration. Don't think that just because we are "professional photographers" we have all the ideas and answers. We don't.

There is one goal I ALWAYS set for myself before every trip, and that is to be UNIQUE! I want to push the limits and try to find a photo that is truly different from anything I have seen before. This does not mean that I pass up on opportunities to get nice photos from common locations, but it means that once I get that common shot, I try and push the limits to find something even better.

Here are some goal ideas you can set for yourself:

* Find a unique angle or location to take your photo (remember to look up, down and in all directions for best shots).
* Frame your photos with tree cover, landmarks or other nearby features (like the image above).
* Set an optimum time of day or night to try and capture your photos.
* Try focusing on something other than your main subject (like the image below).
* Learn a new feature on your camera.
* Try a new lighting technique with your meter or flash.
* Meet people from the area and learn something interesting about the location (and capture an image of that person).
* And of course, BE UNIQUE!

I hope this helps you before you head out for your summer vacation or whatever travels are in front of you.

It is almost time for sunset here in Sydney and I am back to checking the goals off my list!

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.
If you are interested in purchasing ANY 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.
Check out my upcoming photo tours to amazing places around the world.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The evolution of a good night photograph (from the Sydney Harbour Bridge)

Hello everyone from beautiful Sydney, Australia!

I am here to teach a photo tour for the next week and a half, and we are going to be doing some out-of-this-world night photography. But in preparation for this, I wanted to share my first "real" night shot with you all, and tell you how I got the shot. (To clarify, I did take a night shot from my room and posted that on social media the other day. But that was a jet-lagged lazy shot from my hotel room. This is the real deal!)

While scouting for good photo spots for this week's photo tour, we were driving across the Harbour Bridge, from North Sydney back into the Central Business District, and I saw that there was a slight gap at the bottom of the fence along the entire span. I figured that this could yield a great wide night shot of the city.

So, my plan was set. I was going to walk onto the bridge and see if this shot was as good as I hoped. As you will read, most of what I planned did not happen, but I still got the shot I wanted. This blog post is all about how I got around the obstacles and obtained the shot.

Here is how it all went down...

Sunset here is really early right now, with the sun setting at 4:58pm. I left my hotel room at 4:15 so that I could walk up to the bridge and get into a good photo position. 

The first thing I noticed was that the gap in the fence was great, but there was a metal ledge right below the gap, rendering that almost useless for a wide shot.

The other thing I noticed was that, due to all the vehicles on the bridge, it was moving quite a bit. The movement would not allow for a long exposure, since it would shake the tripod and create blur in the final image.

Looking ahead, I saw the first pylon and figured that since it was the structural part of the bridge, firmly planted into the ground, that it would not move at all. And so I headed to that pylon.

As it turns out, I was correct. No movement at all, and here there was a gap under the fence without the ledge. Perfect, right? Well...not quite. The gap in the fence was too high for my tripod and I also noticed that the camera would have to be pushed forward on the cement wall to get the wide shot I wanted without getting the wall in the shot. So...the tripod would not help here.

I took the camera off the tripod and slipped the it under the gap in the fence and held onto it tightly. I really did not want to drop the Canon 5D Mark IV into the water below! 

I rested the camera on the ledge and noticed that it would need to be hanging OVER the edge of the ledge to get the best composition. I tried this and also determined that I needed something about 1/4 inch thick to rest on the right side of the camera to get my horizon straight. I found something in my camera bag that would work, and shimmed the camera to be straight. Each time I took a photo, I kept my hands right by the camera to make sure it would not blow over, but I was also careful not to touch the camera when the shutter was open.

This is my test shot, taken with the Canon 24-70mm lens. After looking at this shot, I determined that the Canon 16-35mm lens would be best for my shot.

You will notice that the sun was still setting at this point. This is why I went up to this location early. I wanted to find the best shooting location and work out all the details so that, when the best light was in front of me, I could get the shot I wanted.

I changed lenses and turned on live view of the camera to see what I was getting. And then I waited for the ambient light to drop and the city lights to come on.

Here is the a second test shot, now using the Canon 16-35mm III lens. As you can see, I had colors from the sunset, but the buildings were all dark. And so I waited even longer. The wind was howling around me and I was really cold in my shorts and a T-shirt. But there was no way I was going to leave this position and miss my shot. Not after all this!

At 5:20pm, the light was great and I started shooting once again. I used Live View on the back of the camera to check my composition and also to zoom in and check my focus. I did numerous exposures at different shutter speeds, watching the movement of the ferries to get trails of light in the harbor. I took this particular shot at 5:27pm. The shutter was open for 25 seconds (camera at ISO 100 and aperture at f/13).

Looking at the back of the camera, I knew I had the photo I was looking for! I took a couple more photos, just to be safe, and then headed back to the hotel to retouch my shot. Using Adobe Photoshop, I darkened the sky just a little bit, adjusted the exposure on the buildings, and also cropped some of the top and bottom out of the final image.

Voila - I got what I wanted!

It can't even tell you how much I love doing this. It took more than 90 minutes to get this shot, and it was so worth it. I stood there, high above this beautiful city and captured it in it's glory. Some people like buying souvenirs from their trips, I like coming home with photos like this.

And folks, this is just the beginning. Starting tomorrow, Vivid Sydney starts and you will see why I am here to teach this week! Those blog posts are coming soon. Stay tuned.

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.
If you are interested in purchasing ANY 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.
Check out my upcoming photo tours to amazing places around the world.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

New York Botanical Gardens - A day of incredible photography all by myself, and just for fun!

As you may know from the last blog post, I was in New York recently. I had been there for 4 days and completed my presentations at B&H Photo and our photo walk on Ellis Island. Thursday was my last day on the East Coast and I was supposed to have a meeting with one of my buddies at Canon. As it turns out, he had to cancel at the last minute, which left me with a free day. When at dinner with other friends two nights before, they had mentioned how beautiful the Botanical Gardens were, and how they had the Chihuly glasswork on display. This sounded like an awesome spot to photograph, but I was not sure how difficult it would be to get from downtown Manhatten to the gardens in the Bronx. One quick Google search and I saw that it was a quick train ride away. That was simple enough, so I decided that this would be my adventure for the day!

I walked from my rented apartment to Penn Station and grabbed a train from there. Less than 45 minutes later, I was at the New York Botanical Gardens. The weather was overcast, which was perfect for me. I am not a fan of heat or humidity, especially when walking around for hours, and and it made for less hard shadows when shooting.  I decided to travel light, and only brought my Canon 5D Mark IV and Canon 28-300mm lens.

As I approached the entry gate to the gardens, I saw this amazing scene and knew that this was going to be an epic day of shooting. Wow! Before even entering the gardens I grabbed the camera out of my ThinkTank Streetwalker HardDrive backpack and took some photos of these flowers and cherry blossoms.

I gladly paid the $23 to enter the gardens and started my search for good photos. One of the first things that caught me eye was this beautiful Chihuly glass sphere. It was mounted right in the middle of a grass area. I saw some other people photographing the glass sculpture from right in front, but I wanted something more interesting. I walked around and found a tree with blossoms about 100 feet away. I positioned myself so that the sculpture was "framed" by the blossoms and took this photo.

(Photographer's note: As you can see from this photo, I try to find unique positions to take my photos. There is nothing wrong with taking the "obvious" shot, but then do yourself a favor and push yourself to find more unique photo positions. Think about your foreground and backgrounds when framing your shots. Also, think about your desired aperture. I took this photo at f/9 so that the blossoms would be somewhat visible and not too blurred. If you are not sure of the ideal aperture, try taking the same photo at different aperture settings and determine your favorite later.)

I walked into the rock garden and saw this tree with blossoms on the branches. I zoomed the lens to 300mm and took this photo with the nearby tree in focus and the distant tree slightly out of focus (at f/5.6).

I did not bring a tripod with me on this trek, but I knew that I wanted to blur the water in the rock garden. I rested the Canon 5D Mark IV on a nearby sign, changed the settings to ISO 100 and f/22 to take this photo at 1/8 second.

While walking around the gardens, I always do my best to look at the details that surround me. With all the amazing colorful flowers, it is easy to miss other good photo opportunities. I saw these water drops on some nearby leaves and captured this shot. I like the simplicity of this photo.

What a cool display designed by Dale Chihuly. One of the other advantages of the overcast weather, and the fact that it was a weekday, is that there were less people to contend with when taking the photos. (I did remove a couple of people from this shot using Adobe Photoshop.)

I watched some people taking photos of this sculpture, but all of them were shooting it in it's entirety. I got up close and zoomed in to highlight the area where the glass met the wood. I think this is as interesting, if not more interesting, than the wide photo.

 Then I was back to photographing the flowers...

I walked around the flower beds, looking for good vantage points to shoot from. I was looking for scenes like this one, where I had different colored flowers in my foreground and background. I positioned myself low on the pathway and took this photo.

I saw this one yellow flower poking up amongst all the others, and framed this shot using the rule of thirds. I took this photo at 300mm at an aperture of f/5.6 to make sure that the yellow flower would be the only one in perfect focus, therefore drawing your eye right to my main subject.

When teaching photography, I always challenge my subjects to tell me their main subject in their image. For this shot, I focused on the flower in the center of the frame and made that my subject. This is a great image for teaching photography, because you will notice that all the flowers look similar, but your eye is drawn to the one in sharp focus!

Here is a photo taken from a higher position...

...but then by lowering myself, I now have a totally different background.

Seeing these flowers with their tall stems, I rotated the camera to take this photo in portrait mode.

I was surrounded by endless color, but still able to find the beauty in these white flowers. I walked around these flowers and looked for an interesting formation, where the flowers filled the frame of my shot.

More color, but this time I set the flowers off to the left of my frame and let the tilting flower take you off to the right side of the image. Did your eyes move from the left side of the photo to the right?

I walked over to the conservatory and saw yet another Chihuly sculpture in front of the building. All I could think of was "How the heck do they transport these across the country without breaking them?"

I took three different photos of this sculpture, the first one being a fairly wide shot.

I then zoomed in and took a tighter shot of the sculpture.

Lastly, I zoomed in even further to show detail on just one piece of glass. Seeing the detail in the one piece of glass makes you appreciate the work involved in creating this piece of art.

Walking around the courtyard of the conservatory, I positioned myself in a place to capture the glasswork and the reflection of the building in the water pond.

I have always loved photographing reflections. When I look at this photo, it just makes me wonder what this scene would look like with blue skies and big puffy clouds.

I photographed this yellow and red glass sculpture dead center to the atrium of the building, but did not like the composition. I then moved to an off-center position and liked it better.

Again, trying to find unique photos of the Chihuly art, I got up close and focused on the glass while still showing you the building in the background.

While walking inside the conservatory, I came across this one cactus and liked the way that the one flower was growing off-center on the top of the cactus. Even nature follows the rule of thirds! :)

 I really liked the way that the Botanical Gardens integrated the Chihuly glass into the gardens.

I saw this towering cactus inside the conservatory and thought that it would make a cool photo. I focused on the center of the plant and let the focus fall off on either side of the plant.

It was nice having the garden to myself, to enjoy it without distractions. At this point, it was close to 2pm and I needed to grab some lunch. The food at the NYCG was actually pretty darned good. I sat outside and enjoyed my sandwich while looking at all the images on the back of my camera. I was having so much fun, and felt so fulfilled, having all of this to shoot. Having covered most of the gardens, I did not think that I would see even more to photograph, but I was wrong.

I walked towards the back of the gardens and was blown away by what I saw.

Seeing the foliage, I felt like I was walking around in a painting.

Isn't this just amazing?

I walked by this one tree and watched the pedals falling to the ground. I backed up as much as I could, and took this photo at 28mm, so that you could see the bed of flower pedals at the base of the tree.

I then walked up to one of the branches and positioned myself as high as I could, to shoot down, letting the bed of pedals be my background.

As I made my way up a hill, I saw this man painting. As I almost always do, I walked up to check out his painting and asked if it was OK to take some photos of him creating his art. I took some photos of him and then gave him my business card and told him to email me and I would send him the photos.

As I walked away from him, I saw the opportunity to frame him with the cherry blossoms.

I took a bunch more photos, and then went back to show him the new photos. He really liked them and promised to reach out to me. His name is Adriatik and he did email me. I retouched the photos and sent him the high-resolution images for him to keep.

This was nature's painting right in front of us.

There is a hillside inside the gardens called the Daffodil Hill and this is something to behold.

Even though this tradition started almost 100 years ago, in 2015, the curators of the garden set out to plant one million daffodil bulbs. These bulbs will join with those that have been blooming there for decades.

At this point, I had been walking around the gardens for almost 4 hours and was getting tired. But with this beauty in front of me, I was not about to stop.

I watched this bee flying from one flower to another and shot a bunch of images to capture it mid-flight.

I saw this boat full of Chihuly glass balls and it reminded me of the art I had seen last year, at Chihuly's exhibit in Seattle. But that exhibit was inside, and this offered a different perspective of the same glasswork.

More use of reflections...

Before I exited the Botanical Gardens, I walked to the Mertz Library to see the Chihuly exhibit, located inside.

More awesome art...

And then it was time to head back to Manhatten for my dinner meeting...

...but not before taking one more photo of the flowers, as I exited the gardens. I actually walked back to the entrance gate and told the nice people at the front that it was the best $23 I had ever spent.

It was just an amazing day of photography, and totally filled my "creative cup". It was fun spending a day shooting photos for no other reason, but for the enjoyment of doing so. Since I was alone, I could take as much time as I wanted at each location, with no guilt in doing so. The weather was great. The gardens were incredible. I was able to capture cool photos. What could be better? OK. Maybe next time I will bring my family and friends. :)

Oh...and in case you are wondering how much I walked that FitBit Blaze was keeping track of that for me.

And yeah, I know. I didn't sleep much. But how can you sleep with all this in front of you?!

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.
If you are interested in purchasing ANY 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.
Check out my upcoming photo tours to amazing places around the world.