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.
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.
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.
Our youngest turned one year old recently and on her birthday I wanted to capture a “good” portrait. It would be her “official” one-year picture. Of course I decided to try something I hadn’t done before — a high-key portrait with a white background — which ensured it would take three times as long as something I’m already comfortable doing. I don’t have white seamless paper and I don’t have a proper background stand. So…I have a huge (12′ x 20′ I think) white polyester background that I picked up on clearance for $20-ish. I draped this over the back of a couple of chairs (with my subject being only a couple feet tall I didn’t have to worry about the height). My main light was a speedlight into a reflective umbrella at high camera left, triggered by an Elinchrom Skyport. I placed a large white reflector on camera right and used a speedlight behind the subject to light the background.
My first issue was to decide how I wanted the background to actually look. Blown out? Super smooth (problematic with the deep creases in the freshly unpackaged cloth and being draped over uneven chair backs)? Don’t worry about it and fix in post? From a quick internet search I learned that I couldn’t simply iron that polyester cloth and get rid of the creases in a few minutes. In the end I went with an aperture that blurred the background somewhat but provided a safe depth-of-field for the shots. My daughter was far enough from the background so it would be reasonably out-of-focus and I could reasonably edit it in post for a few shots if desired. The background light was adjusted “to taste”. I had planned to shoot with a much brighter background but the light was too uneven (no surprise when trying to light with a single speedlight in the center).
The shot above was taken as a test during setup. The hair and clothes are a mess (hadn’t prepped her yet) — but it’s cute and I decided that this is actually one of my favorites. The only edits were crop, slight WB adjustment, sharpening around the eyes, vignette, and the removal of a small scratch on the skin. I really like the way it turned out overall even if the background isn’t ideal.
For the second year in a row I’ve taken pictures for my daughters’ volleyball team. The individual shots were pretty much a piece of cake and they turned out great. The set up for those involved spreading a neutral-colored paint tarp on the floor to eliminate the red glow on the girls’ skin, standing the girls on a stool, setting up one speedlight (triggered with Elinchrom Skyports) shooting through a white umbrella for the key light, a strobe flashing the gym behind the girls to add light to the background, posing them with a volleyball, and firing away. These went very quickly as there was no change in setup between each girl. The gym is horrible for pictures but was workable for these individual shots.
We also goofed with some dramatic shots with the girls looking serious and got the shot above. The main light is the same speedlight-thru-umbrella held nearly on axis with the camera (slightly toward high camera left). The back light is simply a speedlight plopped on the floor. These took longer to get the girls set and posed, and as you see above, we never got the posing or the spacing quite right. We didn’t have all day so I had to take what I could get as they say. There are lots of photographic flaws but the girls and parents are plenty happy with the pic, which is what really counts.
I did some basic processing in Lightroom then headed to Photoshop to grunge out and darken the background (mostly with curves), do some very minor edits and retouching, noise reduction, and add the text.
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.
We recently spent a week at a family camp and one of the activities was rappelling from the top of a 45′ tower (or you could climb the other side of it). My eight year old couldn’t get enough of this. He was absolutely fearless and did it over and over. I made him stand for the portrait above before he bounded up the stairs so he could do it once again.
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…
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.
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.
Ever since taking Raul Touzon’s workshop I almost never shoot using auto white balance (AWB). The camera rarely gets the white balance correct when it guesses, and the photos from a single shoot are often inconsistent in color when they are shot with AWB. If they are going to be “wrong” when AWB is used, you might as well guess wrong yourself by choosing one of the manual white balance modes — at least the images will be consistent with each other.
Ideally one would shoot an image of a gray card (or a similar type of product) which has a known color and use it either to set a custom white balance in the camera or to sample it in software to do an automatic adjustment. If I don’t use a gray card, I pick a WB mode (my default is “daylight”) and shoot everything with that. In Lightroom I either sample a white point to fix up the WB or I adjust it to taste (I might even want to make it wacky here and there).
The shot above was snapped in the kitchen while I was testing my newly-repaired camper. Canon had changed all my default settings of course and I don’t even remember what WB was set in the camera. No matter, I simply used the WB eye dropper to sample one of the white polka dots on my daughter’s dress. The image above is the result — straight out of the camera except for the white balance.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 🙂
I’ve been very delinquent in taking the picture above — my youngest girls in their matching winter dresses. Between the baby’s sleeping schedule, weather, and that general “don’t feel like doing it now” feeling that we all get (wasn’t just me) we haven’t gotten these done. I took the day off today and I made it a definite to-do item for this morning when our infant (“Dolly” as we often call her) is usually happiest. We ended up pushing it a little — Dolly was ready for bed by the time we were done.
The usual caveats apply: I don’t like this or that, I’m not happy with the light (we waited too late in the morning), I don’t like the setting/background, and I’d change/fix/tweak many things. There wasn’t so much posing as there was “Hold her and look at the camera quick before she gets fussy”. However, my wife says: “I don’t care about the professional photo — I just want a picture of them together with their dresses so get it done”. It’s hard for me not to try to make everything as professional looking as I can, however meager my attempts may be.
Exposure was a bit tricky. The dark skin, light skin combination was challenging to balance (always takes some effort in our family pictures since we have four races and a wide range of skin tones). I chose to use no additional lighting — we just wanted to get this done and not fiddle with triggers, umbrella, and adjusting flash power. The sun was in and out of the clouds which affected the exposure dramatically. Ultimately I determined my exposure by metering Dolly’s light skin to avoid blowing it out (I shot in manual mode). For my taste we couldn’t go any brighter than you see above and we got sufficient exposure in the dark skin so we could make do. There were of course the usual difficulties in getting two children to look good at the same time. The littlest didn’t cooperate very well — she wasn’t a complete crank but wasn’t her usually smily self. In the end I ended up swapping a head to get them both looking good. I lightened the dark skin a bit more and tweaked the image with several curves, exposure, and saturation adjustment layers.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
My son leaping out of the water pretending to be a monster. I love how the motion makes his hands look like claws. And the mask? Well, nothing needs to be said.
It was in the middle of a bright sunny afternoon — terrible time for photographs. I used a flash so that I could dial down the ambient a bit. We took several shots like this, using a fast-ish shutter speed but not so fast that it froze all motion. In post I processed things pretty heavily in Lightroom — lots of contrast and clarity.
On a still day Austin’s Lady Bird Lake (still Town Lake to me) is a great spot to shoot the growing skyline (note yet another construction crane gracing the view) and get great reflections off the water. I met an out-of-town friend at Lou Neff Point this morning and was surprised to find that the lake was completely overgrown with a plant called Eurasian Water Milfoil. In hindsight I might have expected it as we had seen a lot of milfoil while kayaking on the lake recently but even then I wouldn’t have expected so much of it on the surface. Adding to the disappointment was that the forecast of “some clouds in the morning” wasn’t to be (until well after sunrise anyway).
Well, we were there and figured we might as well shoot some “stuff”. We fought off the mosquitos and fired away. I decided to shoot a panorama in order to increase the resolution a bit. I shot 3 frames — each bracketed +/-1 stop — and used Nik HDR Efex Pro to create very subtle (IMO) HDR images. Photoshop stitched them together nicely and I used several curves and saturation adjustment layers to tweak the final image.
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.
Taking pictures of flowing water is always fun but it requires a bit of experimentation. Of course the definition of a “good” result is completely subjective — Do you want to completely lose the definition of the water? Completely blow out the water’s highlights? Freeze the motion or splashing of the water? All of those things are cool at times. My objective in these pictures was to open the shutter long enough to show the motion of the water yet keep some definition in some of the individual streams/strands of water as it flowed over the features of the water park (i.e. not turning all the water into a plain white blur).
There’s no one method to use when doing this. My ideal aperture would be something around f/11 to be in the sharp range of the typical lens and have reasonable DOF. However, I don’t own a neutral density filter so I sometimes have to stop down to be able to open the shutter as long as I’d like (I used f/16 in these photos, f/22 in some of the others I took). Sometimes I’ll use my circular polarizer (gets me 1.5 to 2 stops). I pick a shutter speed next — via experimentation to get the definition (or lack of) that I’d like in the water. ISO is ideally 100 but I’ll vary that as necessary. Then I play around with all three exposure variables until I get “good” results, the definition of which varies from outing-to-outing.
Composition options were endless in this park, but rather tricky. Unless I was zoomed in very tight on a feature, the angles were such that something always looked out of whack. When one feature was nicely framed, something else was awkwardly framed. It made it rather interesting…
Post-processing was simple Lightroom tweaking.