See the Light! I try to see the Light where ever I may be. Sometimes the light is visible to the naked eye, as when we turn on a light in a dark room. Other times, the light may be a hidden light source that radiates through a person.
My photography is about seeing the Light, and yet 90% of what I shoot is athletes. Light, whether its source is internal or external, is what makes an excellent photograph. When both the internal and external sources of light are of exceptional character, the resulting photograph will be memorable!
Back in January, I published my initial thoughts about Canon's EF 300 2.8 IS lens. I had long heard about its legendary performance, and finally own one myself. Today, I took the lens out for my first football excursion of the season, and for as much as I was impressed with it in other applications, I am utterly blown away with what it does in the sport of football. Before getting to that, here are a few things that I saw with this lens in wildlife applications this spring:
Autofocus is accurate and fast
Given proper technique superb images are possible even with the 2x extender attached.
The lens has enough resolving power to bring out the details in every image. ... Now on to football:
When I left the house this morning, I determined that I would leave the 100-400 in the bag, but did carry a 70-200 with me "just in case." TO PUT THINGS IN PERSPECTIVE, I ended up taking a total of four photos with the 70-200. Everything else was with the 300. Until today, The 100-400 has been my "go to" lens for football. It gives me enough reach to get across the field, and was "good enough," but I was never really thrilled with the results. However, I always had the advantage of the zoom. That all changed today.
First, here is a shot from last year's scrimmage using the 100-400:
Not a bad image. But, as you read the remainder of this post, keep coming back to this shot for comparisons. Now, here is one from this year using the 300
No longer am I "aperture limited." At 400 mm, I used to be at f5.6, and unless I happened to be at optimum distance, the backgrounds tended to be enough in focus as to be at least a little distracting. The smaller aperture also meant that shutter speeds were slower, sometimes introducing motion blur. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, f5.6 also meant that the autofocus system of my cameras had less light available and therefore to not grab focus as quickly as with my other 2.8 aperture glass. Each of those detractors are now eliminated, and I am excited - thrilled - maybe even amazed by the significant jump in performance that I realized today.
In the above photo, notice the detail in the eyes behind the shield ... or the detail in the mesh of the jerseys. Resolving this much detail is far beyond the capabilities of lesser glass. Image quality is enhanced by the ability to use a lower ISO and faster shutter speed to capture the same image that I might have attempted previously. Do I miss the ability to zoom? of course, but that advantage is dramatically overshadowed by the other aspects of this fantastic lens. Yes, the superlatives keep flowing!
NOW ... today's scrimmage was a daylight event, starting at 10:00 a.m. on a mostly sunny morning; next week, I will take it for a test drive in evening / Friday Night Lights conditions where I anticipate that the results will be even more pronounced than they were today.
It is no accident that professional sports shooters use the highest quality, fastest lenses that are available. They simply resolve far more detail and allow the fastest possible shutter speed which in turn makes for higher quality images.
We have all heard of its legendary performance. Yet somehow, until you actually own one, the 300 2.8 IS sounds too good to be true. I know that the lens has been upgraded, and the reviewers insist that the EF 300 2.8 IS version II has improved both the Image Stabilization and Autofocus while shaving off weight. Some even claim that the image resolution is better in the new version. That all may be true, and if money were no object, I would own that lens today. But for those of us who do not have unlimited resources, a used copy of the first rendition of Canon’s famous performer is a relative bargain these days at little more than the cost of a 100-400.
I bought the lens used, and took it out for a test drive to basketball practice the evening that I received it. It was mounted to a 7DII since I find the 5diii AF inadequate for basketball. What did I learn?
In short, this lens looks like it is going to be a dream to use. Everything that I have heard about it is true! I can't wait to put it to "real world" use!
Picking up the camera, it feels solid, even more-so than its predecessor. It has the “look” of the 7D, (if you can quantify that) with the GPS antenna as a bump in the flash module. There is something more refined about the texture of the outer skin that is different. It is more of a matte surface than the 5D Mk III, and a huge improvement over the original 7D. The camera feels solid, and fits my hand nicely. Opening up its card slot, it has the same feel as the 5D MkIII, with a CF and an SD slot. It borrows the same battery compartment mechanism from the 5D MkIII, and that is a good thing. The new LP E6N battery takes a little longer to charge, but is of the same design as its forerunner, which was used in both the 7D and 5DIII. I am a little upset that the new battery grip is not out yet, but it will follow shortly.
The ON/OFF switch and mode control dial is the same style as the 5DIII, though I think it is stiffer. Turning on the camera, you are presented a simple time setting menu, which now allows for Daylight Savings time and time zone support. Maybe now I can keep proper time on my camera! Mine came preset to the “P” mode, making it simple for just about anyone to open the box and take a decent exposure.
Naturally, I started to think about how I shoot, which is normally not in the “P” mode, but most often either AV or MANUAL exposure. So, I switched the mode dial, looked through the viewfinder, and began experimenting … what I saw next is perhaps the most mundane yet most welcome addition. Any of the changes made with the top buttons now appear in the viewfinder as well as on the top screen. Formerly, only ISO and Exposure Bias appeared. When changing the AF mode and type (One Shot, multi, or rapid), White Balance, or metering method, these appear as red icons on the screen. ISO and Exposure Bias remain on the bottom where they formerly were located. Already, each detail of the camera feels more and more professional!
By now, it is dark, and my office is lit only by a single 40 watt bulb. Peaking out the window, I see the street light is on, and I focus across the street on the awning of my neighbor’s shop. The FLICKER warning appears, and I wonder how badly this is going to slow down my picture taking. I must confess, if it did slow me down, that time was imperceptible. At the same time, I notice the new AF symbol and Exposure meter on the right side of the viewfinder, ala Nikon, as I am in MANUAL mode. I despised my brother’s Nikon, and this new way of seeing the actual exposure is going to take some getting used to. The size of the bottom display where the exposure setting information is displayed is about the same size as the previous camera, and the right side exposure information is a bit smaller. The advantage of having both displays is that you can see where you are set AND where the exposure will land … not always the same, so this is a nice addition, but will take some adjusting to use.
The whole back of the camera looks exactly the same as the 5DIII with the lone exception being the additional AF toggle switch added to the joystick. This is a new feature which should add some ease of access to the functionality of the AF system.
Finally, I am ready to dive into the camera’s menu system, and I immediately feel familiar with the layout. Even though some items have been added, the menu system is essentially the same as on the 5D Mark III. Quickly running through the additions that stand out to me:
The advanced AF system in the 5D Mark III necessitated that every owner read the manual to figure out the capabilities of the AF system. That system has been expanded on the 7D Mark II. This is a professional level camera with very sophisticated controls. It can easily be the best point and shoot camera you can currently find, but once you dig in, the treats will make even a pro sports or wildlife photographer very happy.
With no additional tweaking, I pressed the shutter button in my dimly lit office, and the autofocus was quick to respond. At ISO 3200, the on-screen display of the shot looks like ISO 800 of old. That is VERY impressive! The color depth and line resolution at ISO 5000 are very usable, and even ISO 6400 is able to be pushed two stops without too much image degradation. On the down side, I will probably have to upgrade Lightroom in order to process RAW files.
If you are looking for a crop factor camera that has excellent low-light performance, strong auto focus system, and more features than you will likely use, this gem will serve you well. At $1799, it is not for beginners, though it will be a strong performer for them too. This camera is a tool designed for sports and wildlife shooters, with benefits for anyone who does not demand full frame. I cannot wait for my next game!
11-19-2014 EDIT: The BG-E16 grip arrived today. It is visibly better weather sealed, and matches the contour of the camera body better than previous grips, and the battery trays appear to be better designed. If I were to venture a guess, I'd say that Canon got a new "hand model" for the grip. It is bigger and heftier than its cousins, and the result is that my finger goes to the MFn button automatically rather than to the shutter release button. It will take some getting used to. While the grip adds all of the necessary functions, it is the first one that I have had that feels like an "add on" rather than an intentional piece to the camera.
FIELD USE: the auto focus system in this camera is killer! I have never used a 1DX, so cannot make a valid comparison, but it took very little time to adjust to this system from previously using both a 5D Mark III and a 7D. So far, I have only used the JPG files from the camera at the default setting, since DPP is a royal pain to use and Adobe has not yet released their support for the camera. That being said, I found ISO 3200 ideal for night football -- see photo below. (with flash. I wish the OCC 2 supported in camera control or the 600RT)
It has been quite some time since I wrote anything here because of significantly increased time demands from other things. Today, I find myself here inspired by Matt Kloskowski's month-long project of posting a picture a day edited only using Lightroom. Those who know me (photographically) know that I use Lightroom extensively, and as my primary post-processing tool. I believe it to be excellent for ingesting, cataloging, developing, and displaying my images. YMMV, but that is not the point of this post.
My point here is that there are two components to being able to "properly" develop a photograph, no matter the technology you are using. First is the artistic vision to know what you intend the outcome to be. Whether it is palatable to others is a completely different discussion, albeit an important one. But the fact of the matter is that you have to have an understanding of what you would like to have your photograph look like when you are finished manipulating it; some would say you should know this when you press the shutter button. What "general" fixes you want to make, as well as specific details like lightening only a face or bringing out details in a distant mountain help to make your pictures stand out. Those artistic decisions will, in turn, determine the tools you need to do the job. I have been using Lightroom for about 95% of my work for the past five years, though Photoshop, NIK software, Paint, ProShow, Noise Ninja, Pano Tools, Photomatix, Helicon Focus, DPP, and more occasionally make it into my workflow. Each tool has a specific task to help achieve my vision.
The other part of the formula is the technical mastery of the tools you are using. Back in the darkroom days, we had to know chemicals, papers, timings, etc. If you are still working with film, that technical knowledge is still required. If you have migrated to the digital age, the tools to accomplish the job have changed, and you need to know your way around the "digital darkroom." Just as technical knowledge is required at the time of image capture to determine shutter speed, f-stop, and ISO to make proper exposure, so it will be required when you finish working out the details in post-processing. It is not enough to know what contrast, tonality, and coloring you desire others to see, you now have to know how to make that happen.
Both of these skills take time to develop (pun intended!). That means we need to practice developing photographs just as we need to practice capturing the image! Just as most photographers will tell you that great photos do not depend on the brand of camera used to make them, so too your choice in software for post-processing. Choices have consequences in your capabilities, but there are many products that are available these days. Aperture, Lightroom, and Photoshop Elements are going to be the basics recommended by most people. Choose one and learn it the same way you learned your camera. Once you have mastered one, try something new ... the skills you learned will transfer even if the details are a little different.
If you want to see what is possible using only Lightroom, take a look at Matt's website http://lightroomkillertips.com/ and scroll through the "Lightroom Only Month."
Where do you go for a day of landscape and nature photography? Most of us have a handful of select favorite places that are often the same places that other like minded individuals tend toward. Tucker County is one of my such places.
With Canaan Valley State Park, Blackwater Falls State Park, Dolly Sods Wilderness Area, the Canaan Valley Wildlife Refuge, and the Little Canaan Wildlife Management Area so easily accessible, it would seem there is little need to look outside of these great photographic destinations.
And while there are, no doubt, many opportunities to set up your tripod in these areas, there is still more to see! Let's not forget that nearly all of Tucker County is in the Monongahela National Forest, and almost any drive is going to be scenic. A simple venture out of the park on Freeland Road brings you quick access to the Wildlife Refuge. A trip down Cortland Road crosses through scenic pastorals.
Simply getting out of the car and walking around a little bit will introduce you to breathtaking places. When I explored this area, I found the "living room" to a popular campsite overlooking the Blackwater River:
Or you might choose to get up close and personal with the flora and fauna of the region. A little stand of cotton grass and Rust Ferns absolutely fascinated me, and I spent about an hour in the bog enjoying them and the reindeer moss.
But not all of your photographs are going to be found where every other photographer has trod and planted their tripod legs. Knowing that I was short on time and needed to start towards home, I decided to take the long way, exploring WV Rt 72 to Parsons. I highly recommend this trip and the many potential side trips that lie within.
Here you will encounter the locals and find some great fishing and hunting camps. These are the real people from the area who can fill you in on the details, like why the maples are turning so early this year. The old timer that I spoke with had lived on the same farm for 86 years.
If you dare to venture off the beaten path, you might be lucky enough to encounter some of the beauty that is West Virginia!
Thanks to the membership of the Charleston Camera Club for voting me the Intermediate Photographer of the Year. Getting there does not come easily, yet it has been a joy! What was the last step to put me over the hurdle? Learning to print my own work. Here are the pictures that got me there:
First is Germany Valley. I took that photo because I had recently learned that this was the place in West Virginia that my ancestors had first settled. I went looking for this place and this photo to say welcome home. When printed on the back side of photo paper, the ink puddles and it comes out in a modernist painted kind of look. Some prefer it just the way you see it though.
Then there was the Monochrome Beauty. I learned a very important lesson with this one: display matters. A 90 degree turn would have moved it to first place.
Sometimes serendipity rewards you. Ernie Page had led me to these Pink Ladies Slippers in the Smokey Mountains on my birthday. After shooting them for about a half hour, I had to get up and stretch. When I turned around, there was a butterfly taking advantage of the pollen of this beautiful little orchid. In itself, this tells the story of the Delicate Balance in nature that literally is the hinge of life. Thanks be to God for camera remotes!
One of the best ways to find pictures is simply to ask. Last summer, I decided to head east and explore the area around Richmond, Virginia. I really did not know what was there, let alone what would be photogenic. I stopped at a little diner that had a great reputation and asked my waitress. Of all the possible places to go, she recommended a cemetery. I thought it was a little weird, but when I got there, I quickly understood why she recommended the Hollywood Cemetery. I would also commend this place to your photographic adventures. You can see the blog post that I did back in December on Remembering.
Almost every great photographer I know, have heard about or read will remind you that "luck favors the prepared." That quaint saying has born itself out in my pictures as well. When I have taken the time to do a little research, it sometimes pays off. Such was the case when I was asked to photograph this little church in Williamsburg, WV. What could have been just another boring picture of an old building ended up being a dramatic statement about the effectiveness of the institution and one of my personal favorites.
Other times, it pays to just stop and look around. Over Thanksgiving, I had taken my nephew out shooting around the Blackwater Falls area. It was a cold, wet morning, and his first visit to the area. While he was busy with the big water coming over the canyon wall, I looked at the intimate details.
Other times, you might be rewarded with more dramatic lighting effects in nature. This tree in the Tygart River Valley is lit by the late afternoon sun as the mountain behind it falls to darkness. Some want to see more of the detail behind the tree, but the natural lighting highlighting the tree itself is what made the scene stand out in my mind. Sometimes, mother nature provides the best lighting to separate subject from background!
Finally, All of the elements come together to make the picture of the year. Being there to press the shutter made this photo worthwhile even if it never came out of the camera. But how much more joy comes from being able to share it with you!
Now begins the journey to the next level!
A wonderful way to explore familiar territory is to look at it up close. I mean really close. That takes you into the world known as Macro Photography. Technically speaking, "Macro" (in photography) means a 1:1 or larger view. The image is rendered it's actual size on your camera's sensor. To get an idea of what this means: a quarter would fill the frame of your viewfinder.
There are some challenges inherent in this type of shooting. When you get that tight on your subject, every movement is magnified. A slight breeze looks like a gale force wind tossing your flower in and out of the frame. Photographing this single Rhododendron blossom took about an hour by the time I waited for the wind to settle enough to make the picture. All of the images on this page were taken using only natural light -- only because my flash was not working that day. You may wish to use some form of lighting to augment Mother Nature or to shoot in a studio where you can completely control the lighting and how much wind gets to affect your subject.
But this shot was not really a true macro, it was more of a "close-up." I used a 70-200 mm lens at 200 mm with 50 mm of extension tubes at f 14 for 1.3seconds. The extension tubes allow you to get in closer using your long lens. It helps bring the subject in, but if you know how big a Rhododendron blossom is, you know that I did not achieve a 1:1 ratio in this image. I did, however, fill the frame with it, which was my goal. I was able to use the hillside of the forest floor behind it to simplify the background since my polarizer would not neutralize all of the wet leaves that day.
Getting in this tight allows you to see details that you might miss on an ordinary day. Notice how shallow the depth of field appears in this shot. Even though I am at f11, the range of apparent sharp focus is very shallow. At 145mm with 50 mm of extension tubes on a full frame camera body, depth of field is measured in millimeters. Only a very narrow band will be in the area of apparent focus, allowing everything else to fade into non-subject.
The same rules of composition apply as in any other type of photography. You need an interesting subject placed in the frame in such a way as to hold the viewer's attention. Contrasting colors was a compositional technique that I played with to make the fly's eyes be the subject of this photo. At f 3.5 on a 100 mm macro lens, you can easily see the very narrow depth of field. Only the eyes and a narrow strip o the leaf are in focus. Yes ... this is a fly in the wild!
and this is a grapevine snail that I found on the trail. Be careful when laying down on a trail to take a picture of a snail though. My position evoked admiration from a fellow photographer, but the concern of another citizen who thought I might be in dire need of help! This little critter kept moving, so my shutter speed of .8 seconds at f 8 was a little long for many of the frames I clicked. Fortunately, there were a few that were still crisp and did not show movement. But even at f 8, notice how shallow the depth of field remains. Of course, the lens is only about an inch away from the snail!
All four of these images were made at an area that I visit regularly looking for larger landscape images. But capturing the intimate details forced me to stop and look around in a different kind of way. I had to turn off the auto-pilot and keep my eyes open for interesting things around me. The possibilities are endless!
I had the good fortune of spending a few days at Snowshoe resort in Pocahontas County WV this week, and got out to make a couple photos while I was here. All I had to do was lookout my window Tuesday morning to see the valleys below filled with fog
Later that evening, we were treated to a wonderful sunset as the clouds started moving in
Wednesday is the tradition train ride day, and several of us took the Cass excursion to Bald Knob on the open air steam locomotive powered train.
I also managed to get away and find a little bit of nature in the mountains
I know several of my photographer friends are getting away to Canaan Valley this weekend, just in time for Nature Photography Day. I hope you too are able to get out and enjoy some of what our beautiful natural world has to offer this weekend! Then don't forget to enter your pictures on the Nature Photography Day page on Facebook!
Does your camera have an HDR mode built in? If so, here is a cool trick I discovered:
BUT FIRST ... WHAT IS HDR? For the uninitiated, HDR is the technique of compositing several individual photographs into one in order to record the broad range of tonalities that your eye can see, but your camera is not able to natively record. In plain English: We can see about 10 - 13 stops in the range of the visible light spectrum, but our camera's sensors can only record about five of those stops. In order to record the full range of light, we can take several bracketed photos of the same subject and meld them together, compressing the tones that we have recorded into the range of tones able to be printed on paper. There are tons of resources out there available to teach you how to "do" HDR, and several very excellent software programs like Photomatix and Nik's HDR Pro that can help you put your project together.
Recently, camera manufacturers have been including an HDR function in the camera body that automates the process either partially or in its entirety. This feature has made it into both point and shoot and high end cameras. That really does help to take the guess work out of doing it yourself, though many allow you to still do any stage or the whole process manually, as well as in camera. One annoying limitation that I am stuck with (EOS 5D Mark III) is that I "only" get three shots auto bracketed. If I want to use more - seven for example - I have to do that manually. Check your camera instructions to learn more about how your camera does this trick.
Some use HDR to produce over-saturated contrasty images. other strive for more natural appearance when blending. The "normal" approach is to mount the camera on a tripod and shoot your bracket, whether manual or auto so that every recorded detail is crisp.
The fun variation that I was playing with today is to hand-hold the camera, holding it steady for the first two shots, then moving it for the third. I think this would probably work better with a camera like the D800 that allows up to seven shots. Here is one I played with today:
Everything you see was done in camera. The only post-processing applied in Lightroom was the crop to square. There is still some work to be done to finish this off, but it is a cool new trick with the soft edges giving a 70's painterly effect. It almost reminds of mom's old wallpaper! Some things that I didn't particularly care for include the -grayed out- areas, but that would easily be fixable. Soon, I will have to try the built-in multi-image function!
Mark your calendars! June 15th is Nature Photography day, an event promoted by the North American Nature Photographers Association that is open to everyone. The following is copied from their website:
The eighth annual Nature Photography Day will be observed nationally on Saturday, June 15. This day was designated by NANPA to promote the enjoyment of nature photography, and to explain how images have been used to advance the cause of conservation and protect plants, wildlife, and landscapes locally and worldwide.
In 2006, NANPA celebrated the first Nature Photography Day and placed it in McGraw-Hill's reference work, Chases's Calendar of Events. Many media and websites took notice. Since then, people throughout the North American continent--from overseas, too--have discovered numerous ways to observe and enjoy the day.
NANPA encourages people everywhere to enjoy the weekend by using a camera to explore the natural world. A backyard, park, or other place close by can be just right. Walking, hiking, and riding a bike to take photos are activities that don't lead to a carbon footprint. And fresh air can do wonders for the spirit!
Nature Photography Day Event
NANPA will be supporting Nature Photography Day by hosting a Facebook event page for your nature photos taken on June 15. Just get out there and take some photos, and then upload your best shot to the Nature Photography Day page. One photo per person, please.
You will need to have a Facebook account and you must "Attend" the Nature Photography Day Event. Facebook will accept photos up to 2048 pixels (on the long side), but these photos are downsized to 720 pixels for presentation with a link to the high-resolution version. So, unless you intend to make your high-resolution image available for public download, NANPA recommends you size your photo to 720 pixels on the long side before uploading.
This is not a contest, and no fee is charged for submission. Photos must be taken on June 15, 2013, within walking (or biking) distance of wherever you are. The time frame for uploads is June 15 through June 21.
Start making your plans for this year's Nature Photography Day! Here are some ideas:
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