Misc

Kauai Silhouette

Image

I was experimenting with silhouettes early one morning in Kauai, HI.  The camera was triggered with a wireless shutter release (was thankful I didn’t have to scramble back and forth through the sand and rocks using the self-timer).  I’m sure that someone thinks that there’s only one right way to shoot silhouettes but my preference is to error on the side of slightly overexposing relative to a completely black silhouette.  This varies based on the background but I want to make sure to get enough detail in the non-silhouetted portions of the photo.  Of course I could composite multiple exposures but I find it simpler to use Lightroom and/or Photoshop to reduce the exposure in the appropriate areas to get a complete silhouette if that’s what I’m after.  Often there’s no need for this extra work though — I usually can get I what I want in-camera (I did with this one).  Shooting brackets isn’t a bad idea either if you’re unsure.  The textures were added via OnOne Perfect Photo Suite.


Longhorn Open 2013

Paola Longoria

Paola Longoria   24mm, f/3.5, 1/800s, ISO 3200

The 2013 Longhorn Open (annual racquetball tournament at the University of Texas) featured the #1 ranked women’s racquetball player in the world, Paola Longoria.  Learn how to consistently hit shots like the one above and you’re one step closer to a #1 ranking.  I decided to take a few pictures on the final day of the tournament — just to see how they’d turn out.  I shot in manual mode and played around with the balance between aperture (depth of field), shutter speed (freezing the players and the ball), and high ISO (noise considerations).  The lighting was actually pretty good in most of the courts, allowing “reasonable” settings.  Most of the courts didn’t have any viewing area except from above.  That isn’t so great for pictures but I was just experimenting anyway.  Focusing was another challenge and I frankly never figured out a good strategy.


Family Tradition

Our Traditional Family Christmas Portrait   35mm, f/8, 1/40

Our Traditional Family Christmas Portrait 35mm, f/8, 1/40

It’s only the second year we’ve taken this photo, but we’re calling it a tradition anyway.  We once again piled wrapping paper on ourselves and snapped a family photo.  No one is posed — “sit down, grab some wrapping paper, and smile at the camera”.  I used f/8 to get sufficient(ish) depth of field and the lighting is simply an on-camera flash bounced up and behind the camera.  I have a wireless remote but used the self-timer for this shot (I had forgotten to get the remote out and everyone was just ready to get the pic done and go make breakfast).  I ended up having to photoshop a new version of myself and one of my daughters into the shot — that’s standard operating procedure in our family shots it seems.


One More Sleep ‘Til Christmas

Christmas Portrait

Christmas Portrait

Our traditional Christmas Eve consists of consuming a meal of assorted sausages, cheeses, and crackers while watching Muppet Christmas Carol.  We always have a fire going in the fireplace no matter the weather — it’s usually cool enough.  The final hidden presents are wrapped and placed around the Christmas tree and all go to bed with great anticipation.

This year my wife had Christmas pajamas for all the “littles” (some of which are growing to be “middles”).  She asked me to take a photo of the kids just before bedtime and the result is shown above.  I shot from (roughly) the kids’ eye level and used either manual or shutter-priority mode (can’t remember) with a 1/4 CTO gel’ed flash bounced off the wall/ceiling behind me.  In the upper left hand corner you can see the well-lit wall reflected in our glass doors.  Had this been a more “official” shot I would have switched angles, bounced the flash over my other shoulder, etc. in order to minimize the bright reflections.  The littlest one only has so much patience though so we to fire off some shots and call it a day.


Fall Decorations

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Fall Decor 50mm, f/1.4, 1/1000s

We had yet another perfect weather day here in Texas — it’s been an awesome fall.  The middle of November and it was somewhere around 80 degrees.  The morning was a crisp 60-ish which was perfect for a run.  Despite not having the same type of seasons as we did where I grew up in the Midwest, I still think of fall or autumn in the same way and it still reminds me of fall colors (we get a *little* of that) and fall decorations.

My mom is a master of outdoor gardening and decoration.  The picture above shows a typical decoration she would make for the house.  This one adorned her outdoor shed.  Others like it were mixed in with all the decorations around her house.

Going for the extreme bokeh (love the colors in this photo) I used my 50mm lens at f/1.4.  The focus distance was relatively close which adds to the effect.  Often the bokeh in shots with the 50mm (the Canon f1.8 and f/1.4 at least) can be a bit ragged for lack of a better term.  In other words it doesn’t usually come out silky smooth like you’d get with a 70-200mm lens at f/2.8.  However, it turned out pretty good here.


Hey, Take My Picture!

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Hey, Take My Picture

A friend and I bought photo passes to the Wings Over Houston Air Show last weekend.  The folks in Houston really do it right too.  The photo pit was right on the flight line, roomy, and had a great riser platform to get well above the fence.  They provided coffee in the morning, soft drinks and lunch — even sunscreen.  Well done.

It’s easy to go crazy at an air show and fill up a half-dozen memory cards.  From the sounds of the shutters around us I think some guys did that in fact.  Eight to ten frames per second, firing away every time a plane was in sight.  My friend and I were much more conservative in our shots.  I came home with barely more than a card full of shots.  It’s nice to not have so many photos to go through when I got home.

The shot above is Major Henry “Schadow” Schantz, pilot for the F-22 Demonstration and Heritage Flight team (more on the Heritage Flight some other time).  It was pretty cool being right next to the plane as it went by and getting a nod (and a finger-point) from the pilot.

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Da Bears!

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Monday Night Football

I had no idea until now that I haven’t posted in almost two months…I have had zero time for photography and blogging…for all sorts of reasons.  I knew it had been a “long time” but not this long.  I finally log in to WordPress and find some of the formatting changed, all sorts of cool posts from others that I’ve managed to miss, and oddly enough — I’m getting more hits on the blog than when I left (not that I’m all into that, but it’s interesting nonetheless). My top posts every week are still the Domke F2 review and the Hill Country Wedding.  Interesting.

Having grown up a Chicago Bears fan I jumped on the opportunity to go to the Bears vs. Cowboys game last week Monday.  Given the insane cost I’m not likely to do that again anytime soon unless I win the lottery…and I don’t play the lottery.  It was a fun time with my son, daughter, and some friends.

The picture I’m posting today was taken with the trusty Canon S90 that I purchased from my friend Mike Connell.  Yeah, I know there’s almost nothing related to the Bears in the photo except that this is where they were playing…oh well.  I’m finding the S90 pretty handy for situations like this — where I either don’t want to lug a big camera around or they aren’t allowed yet I still want some manual control over the exposures.  Cowboys Stadium has a 3″ lens rule so I’m sure I could have brought my DSLR in with certain lenses.  However, I don’t want to risk the hassle of walking up with a DLSR and being told mine isn’t allowed — then what?  Argue with them and maybe win but if I lose I have to haul it back to the car, risk having people see me lock it up in the car, etc.  The S90 will do just fine…


Beep, Beep

Let Me In?

For several weeks now we’ve had a road runner showing up on our back porch.  The first few times it showed up it went around finding dried cicada shells (or whatever they are) and eating something out of them.  There aren’t any more shells around that I have seen but the road runner still shows up here and there.  Today it walked right up to the back door and peered in.  We have two sets of sliding doors in the back and as the road runner walked between them (out of view) I grabbed the camera off the table — I had left it there after snapping some pics of my daughter yesterday.  I managed to get in position before the road runner was back in view and when it showed up at the other door I was able to take some pictures without scaring it off.

The backlight was really bad and the reflections on the glass caused some greenish weirdness but if you’ve ever been around road runners you know they’re very skittish and you don’t get them looking in your back door every day.  I was grateful to snag a few pics regardless of the quality.


The Crew

20120728_WoodBurning

The Crew

We recently had visitors and it was a good opportunity for the kids and their visiting friends to have some fun making fires.  Fire, chainsaws…fun stuff indeed.  We were sure to capture some pictures of them together since they live 1000+ miles away and don’t get to visit often.  I used the tripod and wireless remote to get the group shot above.  They were supposedly going for the serious look in the photo below but they never could manage it.

The image above is actually a crop of a larger Brenizer pano that I attempted.  It would’ve been a cool Brenizer except that the smoke in the background varied so much as the individual frames were being taken.  That led to some odd-looking stuff in the final stitch (some of which is actually evident, but not too obvious, in the photo above).  Little puffs of smoke blurred the image in some (small) places which looked rather unnatural.  I didn’t bother saving that larger view.

For safety reasons we keep the fires small and don’t constantly add new “fuel” to them.  This gives the kids plenty of time for play and exploration — they have a blast out there.  There are imaginary forts under the trees, deer tracks to follow, scorpions to find under rocks, and snakes to (pretend you want to) find.  We haven’t run across any rattlers or coral snakes at our place yet but they’re certainly around.  Fortunately I’ve only seen them dead on the road when I’m out running rather than live in the yard.


Chair Abstract

Chair Abstract 50mm, f/1.4, 1/50s, ISO 200

Just like the kite photo I recently posted, this image is out of the ordinary for me — I don’t shoot many abstract or fine art types of photos.  During the week I picked up my Canon 5D mkii from being repaired [related sad story below] and yesterday got a chance to fully check it out.  I popped my 50mm f/1.4 lens on the body and started plinking.  As I sat at our little breakfast table I opened the lens up completely and started shooting through the rails of one of the chair backs.  There were a lot of colorful things in the background which were nicely blurred by the wide aperture and close focus distance.  I then started shooting while moving the camera up and down, resulting in the image above.  I rather like it.  The image is straight out of the camera except for cropping.

So the sad story is this:  This year I decided to try shooting some pictures at a fireworks show.  I’d never done it — I’d rather concentrate on *watching* the fireworks and it just seemed like a headache overall.  Before the fireworks we attended a BBQ dinner catered by the Salt Lick and as dusk fell I hauled out the camera and tripod and began getting set up.  I put my wireless remote into the cameras hot shoe, put the camera on the tripod, then proceeded to adjust the length of the tripod legs.  I heard a loud crash — my 5D mkii hitting the pavement from a height of about 5 feet.  Looking on the bright side, the camera had turned over on the way down and landed flat on the wireless remote which was in many pieces all around us.  That definitely spared me from the damage I could have had.  The camera “worked” here and there but mostly gave an error.  It would even randomly try to focus the lens — when the power switch was off!  Anyway…a couple hundred dollars later I have my camera back refurbished and sporting a new shutter box and mirror assembly.  I managed to put all the remote pieces together but it was dead as a doornail.


The Lone Kite

Lone Kite

I’m not much for the minimalist thing in general but I’ve always liked this picture.  It was taken from the beach — looking inland over the dunes — in Port Aransas, TX.  While swimming and fishing with the kids one evening I happened to look back and see this kite all by itself in the sky.  I’m not sure what else to say other than “I though it was kind of cool”.  Adding to the cool factor IMO was the clear sky.  Normally we photographers like dramatic skies but that would take away from this scene in my estimation.


Storm Panorama

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Storm Panorama 70mm, f/5.6, 1/180s, ISO 200, 10 frames

It’s pouring rain again tonight.  Lots of lightning and thunder too…awesome.  Last night after the rain I noticed some clouds to the east so I shot about 20 handheld frames along the horizon.  The above image was cropped from the resulting stitched panorama (probably about 10 frames worth).  I did some basic contrast adjustments in Photoshop after the stitch then went back into Lightroom.  I’d recently seen a very cool cloud/lightning image done in black and white and decided to go that route with this one.  I used the channel mixer in Lightroom to adjust the image to taste.  In very rough terms that meant darkening the blues and brightening the reds.


Working (Young) Men

I Think I Need A New Hat…

IMO an important part of growing up is learning how to work.  I’ll say the caveats up front: We’re not slave drivers, we have a lot of fun too, blah, blah, blah.  We’ve finally had our burn ban lifted since we’ve been receiving some rain lately.  Our burn pile has been growing, and growing, and growing — especially since it includes an old carpenter ant tunneled playscape.  The boys have been anxious to get the fire going (all boys are pyros, no?) so I put off the rest of my to-do list and spent the afternoon burning.  Once it was stoked we really couldn’t add wood very fast (at least not if we wanted to keep it under control) so the boys played in the wood pile and one even built a mini fort inside the pile.  I reminded him to watch for snakes and he just said, “All I see is sticks”.  After a long pause I heard him mutter, “But I guess the snakes match the sticks…”.

I had my daughter bring out my Canon 50D so I could grab some pics.  I had only snapped a couple and it started to rain so that camera got put away.  I would have liked to switch lenses as the telephoto lens compressed the scene a bit much for my liking, but the weather didn’t cooperate.  [It was a typically unpredictable Texas weather day: hot and sunny in the morning, thunderstorms whipped up and it poured, went back to bright and sunny (and humid), and as I write I hear thunder again]  I did get out my Canon S90 later and got a couple more pictures.  The top photo was the 50D, bottom was the S90.


Under The (Harbor) Bridge

Harbor Bridge flies high over the Corpus Christi Ship Channel and whenever I’m in this parking lot (Texas State Aquarium) I find this vantage  — and vanishing — point rather interesting.  I finally snagged a picture of it on our last trip.  It wasn’t prime time for photography but the cloud cover helped.  There are probably many interesting views and compositions to be had here.  The title comes from the Red Hot Chili Peppers song…I always think of it when I’m here.

The image is an HDR made from 3 frames.  Using HDR helped keep the sky in check somewhat and bring a *little* out of the shadows.  I always try to keep plenty of “dark” (i.e. shadows) in my HDRs.


Armadillos Again

My son spotted these little nine-banded armadillos in our back yard last night so we walked out and took some pictures.  Armadillos don’t spook all that easily — maybe because they have their face buried in the dirt half the time (notice the dirty snout) — so we walked up pretty close and they worked their way toward us.  I squatted down to take pictures and after a few seconds one of them stopped rooting in the dirt and walked right over to me like a dog who wanted to be scratched — stopped about a foot and a half from me.  I had a “hey this is cool” thought but immediately switched to “I don’t want some wild animal messing with my kids”.  I decided to pick it up by the shell like my older son used to do but as soon as I moved he bounded off (Armadillos do a kind of bounding hop when they want to move fast).

On our land there’s plenty of wild landscape for armadillos to root around in but many people find these to be quite a nuisance.  They’re not quite as destructive as a wild hog but armadillos can destroy landscape beds in a hurry.  Sometimes an armadillo takes a liking to particular flower beds and revisits them night after night until the homeowner has had enough and…well, never mind 🙂


Happy Independence Day!

Love 24mm, f/13, 20s

I wish I had a photograph with some deep meaning behind it (maybe I’ll come up with one tomorrow), but all I have is this shot taken two years ago.  My wife was out of town over the July 4th holiday so I sent this to her.  This was my 2nd or 3rd try — kind of challenging to write backwards neatly in the air.

Hope all my U.S. friends have a great holiday!


Jesus Loves The Little Children

The Line 70mm, f/6.3, 1/200s, ISO 200, flash

I’m sticking with the pool theme for this post.  We recently were invited to swim at a friend’s pool (cheers all around from the kids) and I decided to lug the camera along to get some pictures.  It was 5pm and the sun was high in the sky.  Fortunately when the kids were on the diving board the sun was slightly behind — meaning that if I could manage to get *enough* light reflected off the kids’ faces it would at least be *even-ish* light.  Coming up with that light — while saving the background somewhat — was the first challenge then.

Belly Flop!!! 70mm, f/6.3, 1/500s, ISO 200, flash (high speed sync)

The next challenge was the huge dynamic range in the skin tones.  In the song “Jesus Loves The Little Children” the line goes “Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight”.  We didn’t have “yellow” but we had red, black, and white figuratively speaking.  If you light for the lightest skin the darkest skin might be way too underexposed.  Expose for the darkest skin and the lightest gets completely blown out in the bright sunlight.  The challenge was to maintain the best balance in the situation — via my camera and flash settings.

(Most of) the Gang 70mm, f/4.5, 1/200s, ISO 200, flash

My gear: Canon 5D mkii, Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 L, and Canon 580exii flash gel’ed with a 1/4 CTO.  I started out using shutter speeds of 1/200 to 1/250s to stay within the sync speed of the flash.  This was reasonable for much of the action and gave me quite a bit of flash power, which I needed when shooting from these distances (50’+).  Remember that the light follows the inverse square law — double the distance and you are only left with 1/4 the light.  Later I switched to using high-speed sync which allowed shutter speeds up to 1/500s to freeze the action but reduces the power that the flash can put out.  Both methods were effective in their own way.  With the 5D mkii I also had ISO as a lever.  I didn’t want to go too high with it (but I did use up to 3200 some of the time).  A higher ISO also reduces the need for so much flash power but you pay in noise.  Note that sometimes when using flash in bright light you *can’t* go very high with the ISO because the flash sync speed is a “long” shutter speed (relative to the overall brightness in the scene) and is allowing a lot of light to hit the sensor. In summary, I can’t tell you what the “best” settings are for a situation you might be shooting, but hopefully I’ve given you enough info to jump start your thoughts and get you experimenting with it.  Keep in mind that in the evening the light changes rapidly so you’ll have to adjust for that as well.

Jump! 70mm, f/6.3, 1/320s, ISO 200, flash (high speed sync)

In Lightroom I still had to use an adjustment brush to even out the exposure of the faces a bit (in most pictures).  All in all, I was very happy with the way they turned out.  The important parts of the backgrounds were preserved and the kids are exposed well enough.  There’s always plenty of room for improvement though.


Family Portraits…Another Lesson Learned

(Mostly Salvaged) Family Portrait

As much as I don’t want to post my mistakes — especially the really stupid ones — they can be helpful to look back on and point out to others.  It depends on the natural light situation of course, but in a portrait like the one above I often use a single strobe through, or reflected from, an umbrella placed above-camera.  This may be to provide a catchlight in the eyes, a bit of fill in the eye sockets, some overall light, or all of the above.  I occasionally use a bare strobe (well, sometimes with a gel but no other modifiers) to give a hint of a rim light on the shoulders to help separate the subjects from the background. My daughter typically holds this in position behind the subjects when I use it.  During a recent family portrait shoot on the grounds of the Texas Capitol I pulled a real boneheaded move with this light.

Just before we shot the pose above (which fortunately wasn’t the “preferred” pose) I got my rim light strobe out of the bag and quickly tested that everything was working (flash on, remote trigger operational, my guesstimated manual power set).  All was well so I dropped it in the grass and we set to arranging people and reminding the kids not to watch the squirrels running around.  We shot a bunch of frames to make sure we caught everyone looking their best-ish and moved on to our next pose.  I had decided not to use the rim light because the separation from the background seemed fine.

To my horror, when I loaded the pics up on the computer at home, I noticed that all the shots of this pose had a bright light in the grass and two of the subjects were lit like they were being blasted by the sun.  Well, they *were* being blasted — by my portable sun as you see in the picture below.  I had left it turned on and the trigger active…probably at 1/4 power.  Oops.  I couldn’t believe I had not noticed this while chimping my test shots.  My (young) daughters didn’t point it out — one didn’t even notice and the other assumed that I intended to use the flash that way.

Needless to say it was a big mistake.  While this was not the ideal pose we wanted to keep one from this set.  I was fortunate enough to have a reasonable fixable frame in the bunch so I went to work.  Switched a head, toned down some of the effects from the misplaced strobe, and made the other usual edits.  I believe the photo *is* completely salvageable given enough effort and time and I may work on it for practice in the future.

Lesson learned.  Chimp and look around the *whole* frame — Check everything…check again.

Unedited Frame


I’m Eight, Darling!

Eight 24mm, f/5.6, 1/100s

Many of my local photo friends will understand the reference in the title.  If you don’t…then never mind 🙂  We celebrated another birthday today and my son asked me when we were going to take the “eight picture”.  I didn’t know what he was talking about until he reminded me that we had taken a picture of him holding up fingers representing his age each of his last three birthdays.  I’m glad he remembered.  We spent the day with immediate and extended family playing games, opening presents, eating cake and ice cream, and jumping on the trampoline with the sprinkler.

Photo stuff:

Top photo: Manual mode, on-camera flash bounced off the porch behind me for fill, basic edits in Lightroom.  It was taken early in the morning when the light was really soft.  I took two versions of this photo — one with the face in focus, one with the hands in focus (this one is our traditional picture).  Of course we want photos with his face in focus but we take lots of other pictures on the kids’ birthdays.

Bottom photos: Manual mode, on-camera flash in high-speed sync mode, with 1/4 CTO gel, pointed directly at the kids, basic edits in Lightroom.  Taken in the middle of the afternoon when the light was at its worst.  I used the flash in order to even it out a little bit.  I don’t (totally) care for the look — maybe could go to 1/2  or 3/4 CTO gel and/or dial down the flash a bit — but it’s better than not using the flash at all IMO (I did some non-flash shots too).  I could play with the white balance, etc. too and try to come up with something better but I’ve captured what I want…

Jumping 40mm, f/7.1, 1/500s

Acrobatics   28mm, f/9, 1/500s


Our Little Armored Friend

This little armadillo lives in a hole next to our driveway.  Technically it probably lives in a network of holes and tunnels near our house.  We rarely see him but one day as we were packing up the car he just sauntered on by as if we weren’t even there.  I decided to post these shots when I thought about the fact that many around the country (and world) never get to see an armadillo.  We most often see them as road kill but occasionally get the pleasure of watching a live one.  My son and his friends used to catch them — it’s not really that hard. You just need to be sure that you grab them in the right spot because they have some serious claws 🙂


Wouldn’t Mind Some Rain

While we’ve gotten much more rain this year than in past years, we could use more. I’d love to see the sky go black, hear some good thunder, and feel the rain coming down again. During one of our spring rains my daughter and I had lunch at the Whole Foods mother ship (as we sometimes call the headquarters) and walked around downtown Austin in the rain. I went monochrome, super contrasty, and dark/moody with this shot of my daughter walking along Lamar Blvd. For most of our walk I had to keep the camera put away — too much rain — but we had a lull here.


Memorial Day

Many have given their lives for our freedoms…I’m grateful.  War memorial at DKR Texas Memorial Stadium at the University of Texas.


Dark Down Below

Stairway to nowhere…looks kind of eerie down there.  HDR of an outdoor staircase in Snohomish, WA.  One of many random(ish) shots I took while my wife was enjoying a massage in town.  In keeping with my view that many HDR guys (and gals) go too far and bring out too much detail in the shadows, I tried to process just enough to give a sense of what’s down there without bringing it out completely.


One If By Land, Two If By Sea

All I could think of when I saw these two conversing on the street in Boston: “One if by land, two if by sea! C’mon, lady, how hard can this be to remember?!” Heavily cropped, but not much processing on this photo otherwise.