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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!

Sports Posters

May 30, 2013  •  Leave a Comment

It seems that just about everyone has a camera these days, and those little digital cameras make some mighty fine photographs!  They are even very capable of making excellent sports pictures ... something that not too long ago would have been thought impossible for the average parent.  Yes, today, everybody can be a professional sports photographer - at least for their own child, and especially in a sport like baseball where there is plenty of light to get the shot.  So what do you do to make something beyond ordinary? 

That, of course is the difference between the parent and the pro.  I have already posted "How To" tips for shooting baseball, basketball, and football; that is not what this article is about.  This article focuses on what to do with those photos once you have them. Sometimes a special moment will stand out, like this first collegiate touchdown.

Cody Sneed Poster

For the past couple years, I have provided a custom poster to each senior on the baseball team. 

It is a memento like none other they will receive.  Each poster is unique to the player, yet it has common elements.  My only directive from the coach was that it had to fit in an 8x10 frame.  Knowing your limitations and intent is the real key to putting together a successful poster.  Just like taking a picture, a sharp image of a fuzzy concept is not going to be successful. 

First, select the photos you want to use.  For the this one, I chose a picture from each of his four years in High School.  Each of the photos must be able to stand on its own if your poster is going to be successful -- in sports images, that usually means that action, eyes, and the ball are in the shot.  In creating these posters, sometimes I have had to limit the drama or tension in original so that focus is retained on the individual.   One of the downfalls I have seen -- and been a victim of, is to clutter the page with too many pictures. 

Drew Jones-2013

Placement of the pictures gets you into design territory.  “The basic elements of design include color, line, shape, scale, space, texture and value and these are the fundamental pieces that make up any piece of work.”  Graphic Artists go to school and specialize in things like this, but there are a few simple rules that can help anyone design like a pro:

  1. Use an odd number of photos.  Even numbers tend to make it look stagnant.
  2. Keep the viewer's eye on the page. The principle of closure sounds simple enough, but there are literally hundreds of tricks to do this, and the better you get at visual communication, the more likely you will get paid for your work!  The same compositional rules that you use for taking photographs applies to making composites ... the rule of thirds, golden mean, Fibonacci Spiral, color contrast, complementarity, etc. all developed from successful visual artists like Rembrandt, Michelangelo, Monet, Wright, and Brockmann.  
  3. One thing you do have to be careful about is consistency of exposure and color balance when you are putting multiple photos on a page.
  4. Since these are specifically action posters, make sure the action always directs inside.  ie:  don't have the player running or throwing the ball off the edge of the page!

You probably also notice that there is a background, not just a plain color that the photos sit on.  I will take pictures of abstractions of the sport throughout the season to build a library of possible backgrounds to use on poster like this. Sometimes, the background provides enough information that more text is not necessary!  In this example, the WVSSAC logo on the baseball fills in the blanks.  Likewise, the blue is close enough to the team colors to be meaningful, but different enough to allow the jersey to stand out.

Other considerations you will get into include font style and size if you are going to place text on the page.  Kent University has a good, easy to understand page for getting started with design, including typography.   Of course, you will need the software to assemble all of these elements!  Although others also allow you the flexibility and freedom to make these posters, the standard that is used by graphic artists around the world is Photoshop.   you want to learn Photoshop?  That is an endeavor that will take much longer than a blog post!

 

 

 

 

 


Bridges

May 17, 2013  •  Leave a Comment

Living in a river valley means that I have bridges all around me.  Most of the time, I take them for granted.  As a matter of fact, I drive across them every day!  Yet, if I step back and take the time to actually look, these structures of wood and steel can provide some interesting material photographically. 

 

One of the bridges in my neighborhood just happens to be a very significant tourist attraction.  I guess that happens when you are surrounded by natural beauty.  The New River Gorge Bridge, near Fayetteville, WV forever changed the face of the local economy and made travel through southern West Virginia much easier -- some would even say possible.  Today, thousands of vehicles cross that bridge everyday, and most of their drivers think nothing of it even though it is the longest single span arch bridge in the western hemisphere. 

 

New River Gorge Bridge

There are a few people who will venture into the gorge below now-a-days that the journey is not required.  Most travel by tourist bus to and from their rafting site, though some who cannot or will not take the plunge purposefully experience the 40 minute drive that used to be the norm in order to cross the river.  Either way, those adventurous souls get to see the bridge from a different angle. 

New River Gorge Bridge

Now that I am not able to take the whitewater adventure trip, I really wish I had my camera with me way back in 1980 when I first experienced the view from the river.  It was the most perfect optical illusion I have ever seen.  For the above photo, I am standing on the old bridge about a half mile upstream from the Gorge bridge.  The first time I saw this sight, I was finishing up my first whitewater adventure, and the illusion that the smaller bridge was directly underneath the large bridge persisted until we were literally underneath of it.  That was perhaps the beginning of my learning to see.

 

If we choose to, we can view common everyday objects from a different vantage point.  Take the next photo for example.  It is an interstate bridge that I have traveled quite frequently. It is functional; it gets me across the river without getting wet, and many might be content to see and experience it in that way.  But if you look for beauty, even in the functional things around us, it is likely that you might just find it!

Kanawha River - Haddad Park

 

But living in southern West Virginia means that there are streams that must be crossed all over the place.  Not all of the bridges that we have are meant for vehicle traffic!

 

West Virginia

 

Though I had been in the neighborhood several times, I recently discovered this beauty in the middle of the forest thanks to a tip from a friend and fellow photographer.  Ironically, one part of learning to see is learning to listen!  She told me how to get there, and so I ventured further than I had previously gone and was greatly rewarded.

 

West Virginia

 

On that same day, I continued playing with my newfound fascination with bridges.  And on the way home stopped at an old familiar site.  Railroads were central to the economic development of the area in the 1800's through the modern day, as that is the best / easiest / most cost effective way to transport the coal out of the region. 

West Virginia

 

But, as I said previously, there is beauty hidden within, if we only open our eyes to see.  Here, I used a fisheye lens to present this standard subject in an exciting way.  It tells an especially important tale of how long the history is with these bridges, how difficult a task it could be to traverse the rivers underneath, and the challenge of moving through the mountainous terrain.  Yes, bridges are a crowning necessity in southern West Virginia!  They have carried us forward for many years.

 

Gauley Bridge Rail Tressel

The old train depot at Gauley Bridge is a fine example of the past leading into the present.  As we see the grass growing through the little used section of tracks, we begin to visually understand how a once thriving industry and economy has all but abandoned the present. 

 

Railroad Bridge at Gauley Bridge

 

As the steel rusts, and the grass grows taller, we are reminded of the strength of the people who have gone before us, and the robust mining economy that once existed in these parts.  If we have eyes to see it, we also can experience the vision of a bright future, one that lies just beyond the bend of the old tracks that have brought us this far. 

 

But I speak of pictures of course! 

 

 

 

 


My Camera is on the kitchen table

May 11, 2013  •  Leave a Comment

I ran out the door quicker than I should have, and as I was driving down the road to hear Lewis Kemper speak, it suddenly occurred to me:  "My camera is on the kitchen table."  That thought would come back to haunt me.  I had meant to grab it on the way out, but sometimes these things happen.  I got delayed leaving home, and still had at least three visits to make before the 4 p.m. talk.  Mr. Kemper gave a nice talk on how his career unfolded along with a nice showing of some of his work.  Then at the end of his talk, he unexpectedly issued an invitation to all present to join him for an evening shoot at the state capital. 

I don't know about you, but its not every day that I get to work alongside a world class photographer.  Even though I didn't have a camera, I reasoned I could just tag along and watch him work.  After all, just to see what he does, how his mind composes a photograph would be an inspiration.  That it was.  A Q&A with him and looking at the LCD on his camera was very revealing.  I might add that it also was very re-assuring!  Given the same common location and situation, he and I composed the frame very similarly. 

 

When I asked this much-published nature photographer what he did when confronted with common scenes such as the state capital building, he said "I just try something most people wouldn't do.  I used a 17mm Tilt-Shift lens" to get both the dome and the bell on the same plane of focus.  While framed nearly the same as most people who visit the capital, his shot was certainly distinct. 

 

At the reception, I must have looked dejected when I told a fellow club member that I had left my camera on the kitchen table.  "No problem!" she replied, "you can use one of mine."  My day was brightening up!  Then she listed off what she had available, and one particular camera piqued my interest.  "I'll take the converted 20 D" I told her.  I had been wanting to try IR photography for several years, and this was my shot!  I shot the evening with an IR camera and a kit lens.  I had forgotten how difficult a 20 D could be.  The screen is small and AF slow, but it was a joy to use.  The best camera to use is the one in your hands! 

I have wanted to try Infrared Photography for some time.  The way it renders black and whites is distinctive, and the leaves and spring flowers on the trees at the capital would really set things off. 

Sunset on the Capital

Except the flowers had not yet bloomed, and the trees were not covered in leaves.  That turned out to be a good thing for this shot!  Learning to see the world in IR was what this night had become for me.  One of the things I learned was that you really don't need a speedlight, a flashlight works wonders!  and if you can paint with it, even better

West Virginia

 

 

Later, on the UC side of the river, he and I saw the same thing at literally the same moment .... the only difference was that he had the lens to capture that moment with him.

 

West Virginia

 

My initial experiments with IR photography have really sparked an interest.  I think I am going to have to save up for one of these!

 

 


Meeting a Master

April 19, 2013  •  2 Comments

I recently had the opportunity to spend some time with Vincent van Gogh's Stairway at Auvers.  It was an amazing experience!  Here I was standing in the busy Saint Louis Art Museum with hundreds of people passing me by, yet there was an intimacy with that work. The technical mastery of composing an image on canvas and communicating the calmness of the ladies contrasted so sharply with the frenzied cacophony of pain within the artist that I could not help but to be moved with his work.  And so I stood there.  And stood there.  And stood there. 

van Gogh

How could this collection of paint on a piece of canvas hold my attention for so long?  How could it communicate as much about the artist as it did his subjects?  The longer I stood, the deeper the connection grew and the more questions I had.  But these are not the kinds of questions you would ask, or get answers to, in art class.  These are the kinds of questions that arise the further you engage art -- whether it is your own creation or that of someone else. 

 

In this encounter, much as those I have had with other Masters, I got to meet a man who died nearly a century before I saw his painting.  Visiting museums and traveling to different places, I have met many of these famous artists, and whether their work is a display of the glory of God or of the terror of living, I have been educated in each of these encounters.  Their art has the ability to draw me deeper into the subject they portray and deeper into myself.  I recall the first Michelangelo statue that I saw, The Pieta (Mary holding the dying Jesus).  Even though I was separated from it by 10 feet, I felt the intimate connection to the story he was telling as well as his own personal devotion and faith.  A little later, I saw a statue of St Paul carrying his cross, and it held my interest in the same way.  Michelangelo knew how to connect with the viewer's emotion as well as his intellect. 

St Peter_3036-Christ-with-cross

The contrast that I want to note is that there was another statue, very well done, across the sanctuary from Michelangelo's.  It did not have the same kind of compelling quality that the Michelangelo did.  It was very well done, but it just didn't have that intangible connection.  The same thing happened with the paintings in the room next to Monet and van Gogh.  I could easily walk away from a lesser artist.  But each of the Masters hold my attention.  They have something to say.  (Whether I want to listen is an altogether different question!)

 

As I reflect on these encounters, I am beginning to understand my craft of photography a little more deeply as well.  By having the opportunity to engage world class art first hand, we get an education in what the good stuff is really like.  I am able to see  first hand that real art is indeed a form of communication involving not just mastery of technique and showing the subject matter, but also the artist and the viewer, and all three points of contact are essential.

As I was standing in front of that van Gogh, I had to wonder whether the artist meant for himself to be so prevalent in his painting.  And as I ask that question, I am forced to consider how I have inserted myself into my photographs.  Just as van Gogh's thick paint, bright colors, and squiggly lines made himself present in the ladies' quiet walk on a peaceful street, a trained eye can also find traces of the artist in the photographs he takes. 

 

 

 

 


Primary Issues in Image Sharpness

March 21, 2013  •  Leave a Comment

Darkness and LIght

(EOS 7D, 17-40 @ 24mm, f8, 1/600, ISO 400, 5:36 pm)

There is an old saying …. You cannot make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. That truism holds for photography as well. In order to make a good finished product, you have to start with a quality image. When we are talking about image sharpness, photographers are specifically talking about the definition of edges. Critical parts of the image will be razor sharp … that is, you can easily tell the difference between this and that.

Image sharpness starts even before you press the button on your camera. As Ansel Adams was fond of saying, “There is nothing worse than a sharp image of a fuzzy concept.” The essence of photography is being able to communicate a specific moment to those who are not present, or to interpret it for those who are there.  Entire lifetimes can be spent in pursuit of the one perfect image, and many of us have a difficult time translating our vision into a photographic print.  But this article is not about photographic vision, it is about making certain that what we do capture is decent enough to display.

Once you have the concept, exposure, and the composition of your image figured out, there still remain the technical aspects of making a sharp image. These begin even before the shutter is released. Here are some things that can help improve image sharpness:

_MG_4446

  • Use a sturdy tripod. The sharpest images are captured when the camera is not moving.  Even the slightest movements of your body are exaggerated by the camera, therefore, we use a tripod to be a steady platform for the camera. If you cannot use a tripod, get as much support as possible to steady the camera. If it is windy outside, use your camera bag as a weight to keep the tripod from moving.
  • You might try using the “mirror lock-up” function on your camera so that the shutter does not introduce movement to the camera.
  • Using a cable release gets your hands off of the camera and reduces the amount of camera shake introduced by pressing the shutter release button. If you do not have a remote control or cable release, try the self-timer.
  • Use as low an ISO as possible.  While higher ISO's are much improved in today's cameras, they still do not resolve as much detail as the base ISO of your camera.
  • Having the proper shutter speed and aperture are part of the formula.
    • The aperture will give you sufficient depth of field so that everything that is supposed to be so will appear in focus.  Or, an out of focus background will help the primary element in your photo stand out.
    • Shutter speed should be at least 1 / focal length, especially if you are not using a tripod, to eliminate blur that can be introduced by lens movement. For macro and super-telephoto lenses, double that speed until you have mastered your technique.

Once you have done everything right and captured a “tack-sharp” image on film (or your memory card these days!), you are well on your way to getting a sharp print. If you have not succeeded in doing that, the rest of this discussion will not really help you a whole lot. There is only so much that can be done to salvage an image that was not properly made.  In other words, the best thing that you can do to ensure a sharp image is to brush up on your field techniques!

West Virginia

 

 

The remainder of this discussion is about what to do in the digital darkroom (your computer) once you have properly captured an image. There are equivalent techniques used for film, and that is where these tools and techniques were originally developed, but most people are shooting digital these days.  Most who are shooting Fine Art images shoot in the RAW format so that they can tweak every last bit of information out of the data their camera has captured, and by its very nature, a RAW image needs to have sharpening applied.  It can be argued that it is not needed if you shoot jpg, because the camera has already applied sharpening to your image, but even there, some tweaking is often needed.

What is sharpening and what does it do?  In a nutshell, sharpening enhances the edge contrast to make these edges better define the subject of a photograph.  It makes the differences between tones slightly more distinct so that the line is better defined and appears more dimensional.  Sharpening cannot fix poor focus or camera shake problems, it is limited by the data you present.  Good sharpening, properly done, is said to be invisible.  It simply counteracts the effects of processing pixels to make the edges as distinct as they are supposed to be.  Sound vague?  It probably should.  Until you have seen properly sharpened images, you are likely to think the soft ones you have printed are just fine.  Once you make the adjustment yourself, you very quickly begin to notice the difference.

There are several methods to choose from when sharpening your images, and like most things in photography, the choice is yours. A simple Google search for “image sharpening” returns over 11 million hits.  You can choose to use only the most basic sharpening that is applied automatically, or you can tweak every last detail. It is a very simple fact that the larger you print, the greater the need becomes for custom sharpening to be applied.  Sharpening is not VooDoo Magic, but it does require some study and practice to perfect.

Bruce Frasier and Jeff Schewe (pixelgenius.com) are the acknowledged experts when it comes to image sharpening, and Frazier’s book, “Real World Image Sharpening” is still the textbook of choice for digital image sharpening. Without going into detail, (you can read Frazier's book) the principles that he uses are the basis for the sharpening algorithms that are found in several software packages, most notably Pixel Genius’ PhotoKit Sharpener, NIK software’s Sharpener Pro, and all of Adobe’s products (Lightroom, Photoshop, and Elements). No matter which package you ultimately decide to use, it will take practice to perfect your post-processing technique. This includes noise reduction and image sharpening.  A good website tutorial on sharpening can be found at http://www.cambridgeincolour.com/tutorials/image-sharpening.htm.  (check out their full range of tutorials!)

A sharpening workflow includes:

  1. RAW Pre-sharpening and Noise Reduction
  2. Content specific or creative sharpening
  3. Print Sharpening

 

SOFTWARE TOOLS

There are dozens of software packages available to accomplish these tasks, and even the free ones available online offer at least basic functionality. I am not going to argue about which is best, or even appropriate for you. Use the tools you find most comfortable. I am most familiar with Lightroom, which uses Adobe’s Camera RAW engine. In Lightroom, there are several places you can adjust sharpening that correspond to Frazier’s 3 step sharpening theory (I believe Aperture and most others do similar things):

  • Clarity Slider & Details tab. These are global adjustments to the whole image that control local contrast, sharpness, and noise reduction. The Lens Corrections tab also has bearing, as Chromatic Aberrations can also affect image quality.
  • The touch up tools such as the adjustment brush and the graduated filter are for “Content Sharpening.”
  • Print dialogue automatically calculates final sharpening for output type and size

Although Lightroom and Aperture produce “good” results, finicky users are always going to end up wanting more from their images.  Photoshop allows you to use your personally preferred method for both noise reduction and sharpening. You can use one of Photoshop’s built in sharpening methods, write your own action, or buy a plug-in. The built-in methods are adequate, but not excellent. Actions are much faster in the long run, but most still need customized. Plug-ins are specialty tools that have been developed for this function and usually work exceptionally well. I use all of the above, but for everyday use, I find the level of control in Lightroom to be adequate. Only as I print larger Fine Art prints do I need to use the custom tools, layers, and masks that Photoshop provides. Your mileage may vary.

  • Photoshop & Elements.  Filter>Tools>Sharpen (or Noise for Noise reduction).  The tools here have improved dramatically with each new version of Photoshop, and there are many ways to achieve proper sharpening using them.  If you do not have a third party plug-in, you can still get excellent results by learning to properly use what is here.  The Unsharp Mask tool is the preferred choice for sharpening, and you must be very careful with the noise reduction tools, as they will all soften your image.  Even Gimp has a version of this built in, so you really do not need to spend a lot of money to get what you need!
  • Photoshop Actions.  Actions are the way to go for repeated tasks and can make image sharpening much simpler.  There are sharpening actions you can buy, or you can write your own.  I have actions for Capture Sharpening, High Pass, High, Medium, and Low frequency detail sharpening, and Mid-Tone contrast enhancement.  One size does not fit all, and even when using actions, I have to tweak the results.
  • Plug-ins and Stand-Alone software.  These guys specialize in image sharpening and noise reduction, which by now you have figured out is not an easy thing.  There are several excellent titles available for controlling noise and sharpening your image, and most are available for a trial download, so try out a few before you buy so that you get something that is both comfortable to use in your workflow and produces results that you like.

If you are going to spend the money on tools like Photoshop, NIK Software’s Sharpener Pro, PhotoKit SharpenerPhoto Ninja (formerly Noise Ninja), Neat Image, Topaz, etc, know that you are going to have a learning curve and make sure that you are going to get your money’s worth. Work with your tools and try various methods to find out what works best. There is no single tool or method that is exclusively able to produce excellent output, it is the operator who does that! All of the above (and more!) are tools to help you achieve the best possible print from your image. 

CAVEATS:

  1. Knowing what a properly sharpened image looks like takes a lot of looking. Study the photographs of photographers you respect. Sorry, but online viewing is not particularly helpful in this regard, you need the real deal. Pay particular attention to the details, and what the in-focus part of the picture looks like. Do yourself a favor and also look at poorly sharpened images so that you know what they look like too. 
  2. Apply the correct amount of noise reduction and sharpening. Too much noise reduction, and your crisp image goes soft, too much sharpening and it has ugly halos or gets crunchy.
  3. Use the tools you’ve got. Before investing in expensive software or falling for every advertisement that crosses your screen, learn to use the tools you already have. Most of the time, with a little research you can learn the tricks to do the same things. One of the fundamental rules of photography is to learn to use the tools in front of you before moving on.
  4. Read and study. These are not easy topics, and most of us would rather be shooting, but some homework is necessary. For example, different sharpening is needed for different sized prints, different papers, and different printing processes. This can be a VERY in-depth study.  You might also find that different sharpening approaches work better for specific applications. 
  5. Looking at your images on your monitor is not the same as looking at prints. You will learn to judge what level of on-screen sharpening works best in print by trial and error, comparing your print to the on-screen version. 

Happy Shooting!

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Baseball is here!

March 13, 2013  •  Leave a Comment

By the time the basketball tournaments were underway, folks were asking me about baseball and softball! Sorry I haven't had time to post anything until now.

The "rules" for shooting baseball are the same as for any other sport: combine action, emotion, composition, and light. Rarely do all of these come together in front of your camera though, so try for as many as you can. But the very first consideration is always safety.

SAFETY: Baseballs can be deadly.  They hurt and leave bruises on your thighs and give concussions or worse when they hit your head.  Bats do break, and pieces go flying.  Make sure that you are out of bounds at all times, and be extra careful the closer to home plate that you are. Safety netting will slow the ball down, but will not be of much protection to you or your lens if you are pressed up against it and the ball comes your way. If you get access to the photo wells at Stadiums, be extra careful, as balls do come your way ... usually at 90 mph or faster. One of the best tools for self-protection is to use the dugout as a barrier between me and the ball; I literally hide behind it and use it as a shooting blind! NEVER go inside a dugout without permission. Falsh photography is prohibited, as it can blind the fielders and endanger them.  If you are using remotes, they cannot protrude onto the playing area, even if mounted out of bounds.

ACTION: Fortunately, baseball is predictable as to where things are going to happen. Let's look at some of the specifics:

  • We know that the pitcher is going to throw the ball every time; we even know the direction he is going to throw it! Think about the particular view that you want of the pitcher though. My personal favorites are head on shots taken from behind the catcher. But you have to think of safety too: AT ALL TIMES, YOU MUST STAY OUT OF BOUNDS, Not just off the playing surface. If you are not sure about where that line is, ask me, a coach, or an umpire. Generally speaking, if you want to have access that is beyond where the other fans are able to go, you need permission from the umpire and coach at all levels of play. At tournament time, you'll need a press pass.  Since you need to be so far away, that means that you will need a "long" lens most of the time.  Yes, I have, and can shoot baseball with a wide angle, but if you are going to isolate a player or action, you need something like a 100-400, or a 300 2.8 or longer. For softball and Little League, you can get away with a 70-200.

_MG_6342

  • Most of the time, batters are trying to get to first base. That gives you an excellent action opportunity to catch your favorite player running the bases. Try framing the kids running to first base vertically since most of them are taller than they are wide. The bonus here is that you can shoot them hitting, running, and sometimes sliding from the same location ... just behind first base! This position also gives a pretty decent view of the short-stop fielding the ball and throwing to first, and the second baseman tagging the runner.  Be careful though, there are a couple angles where you might be in the line of a wild pitch to the first baseman!

_MG_2111

                                                    (sorry I cheated ... this one is running to third base on a base-hit!)

  • Once you get to know a team, you have a pretty good idea of who is going to do what. As a photographer, you have to somewhat think as a coach does, knowing where everyone is and anticipating thier next move. That is particularly important if you are trying to get the shot of a player sliding into third, for example. When will they steal the base? When will they dive back to safety? When will the pitcher check a runner?  Who is likely to hit to the left fielder?  Knowing all of these things will help you learn where to be in order to get your shot.

5287

  • Generally speaking, the positions for shooting are:
    1. Unobstructed access points. It is always better if you do not have to shoot through something!  Fences and netting do soften your image.  That being said, if you have a fast lens and are focusing further away, you can shoot through the fence and not have too much of a problem.
    2. First Base, Third Base, Home Plate. Knowing when to be at each of those locations is the trick!
    3. In softball, remember that the field is shorter, and thus the play is faster even though the pitches are slower.
    4. You might try something from the outfield, but unless you have an 800mm lens, you are only able to shoot the outfielders, and for them, I usually try to be somewhere along the foul line beyond the infield so you can still see thier face.  If you do have that 800, you already know how to use it, and will get a more awesome batter shot than I ever will!

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EMOTION: shots of players celebrating after a big play are always winners. Shots of emotion after losing can be extremely compelling, but be careful about sharing those. To add drama to ordinary pictures, get up or down. Getting a different angle is a simple trick to add mood. You add the feeling of power and strength by laying on the ground to shoot the slide into third base, for example.

Valley Baseball

COMPOSITION: All of the rules of composition still apply, and your shots will be more compelling if you are able to add compositional elements.

  • The easiest to apply is the rule of thirds ... simply wait for action to happen at the intersection of one of the power points in your viewfinder! Yes, that means that you are not always chasing the action, but rather setting up and waiting for it. Know what you want to capture. You will have far fewer frames to review at the end of the day, but what you do have will be much better shots.
  • Of course, the rules say that you have to have the eyes in focus, and ideally, you have peak action that includes the ball!

_MG_3074

Here, the opponent's eyes are in the shot, and the runner's eyes are implied.  Peak action and the ball make up for not having the runner's eyes.  The conflict of the moment is great because the call has not yet been made.  If you already know safe or out, the shot is too late!

  • Remove distracting elements. Many ways to do that! Use a fast lens, get low to the ground, shoot from above, change your camera position.
  • make sure the players have room to move in the frame.

_MG_3952

LIGHT:  As photographers, we already know what light can do for an image; the word photography translated literally means "light writing."  Yet, most of our pictures fail to consider, let alone capture this essential dimension.  But when we do .... the results can be stunning!  One of the things to consider with Baseball is how to best take advantage of the light that you are given on the day the game is being played.  Is it bright overcast?  Is it hard mid-day light?  Is it directional light?  Can you be where you need to be to take the greatest advantage of that light?  You might be treated to a sunset colored sky with stadium lights and a field full of activity or you might be given beautiful Rembrandt portrait lighting or you might get bright overcast. Use what lighting you have to your best advantage, because once the stadium lights come on, you are done unless you are at a major league field.

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Finally, especially with younger kids, you might want to look for something other than the planned on field action.  They can provide you with much entertainment whether they are playing the game or just being kids!

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Image Review

February 17, 2013

How good are your pictures?  I was going through my collection of pictures from the last few years, and learned alot in the process.  Taking the time to seriously review your images allows you the opportunity to see if you are as good as you thought you were.  I am not.  The more that I learn about photography and art, the more I realize that I really have a long way to go.  In eight years worth of photos, I have racked up a grand total of 11 pictures that I like.  Granted, this only counts the travel / landscape / fine art genre, and I primarily have been shooting sports for the past five years, but still .... eleven?

According to one pro that I talked to a few years back, that is probably a pretty good average.  He said that if he got one excellent photo a year, he was happy.  The thing is, my one may not even rate in this guy's portfolio!  My eleven photgraphs come from a collection of almost 28,000 images taken over the past eight years.  As I reviewed them, any number of reasons kept me from rating images higher than I did.  Some were soft, others were not properly exposed or out of focus.  Some were just plain boring.  I found myself knocking some of the ones I rated a few years ago down a notch or two.  I even deleted some that were marked as keepers because I would be embarrassed to have anyone find them in my collection!   Truth be told, I should probably delete about 25,000 more.  I'd still have plenty of memories remaining, and the albums would be far easier to look through. 

One of the things that I realized was that it took me four years of shooting before I was really able to go out and find an image on my own.  (This is with no formal training.  I suspect that those who go to school for these things might catch on a little quicker!)  That's right, in the first four years, I have exactly one image that I rated a 3 or better that was taken on my own.  I have three others in that same time span that were taken while out with others.  Lesson here:  I do better when playing with others!  You might too.  There is great value in workshops and camera club outings in that they challenge you to stretch your limits.  Do that while your passion is still young and burning, and you will have a great head start.

By the way, my favorite image from that time was taken in Kingston, Jamaica on a Mission trip.  Technically, not perfect, but it is expressive.  We were at a small school on the wrong side of the tracks in third world conditions, and at lunch time, the kids from this poverty stricken area enjoyed playing with the big college guys.  Matt just was not sure what to make of all the chaos, but the girls loved him, and getting their pictures taken.  (ISO 3200, f5.0, 1/80th)

Calaloo School

Lesson two:  ALL of the pictures I have ever taken needed me to learn more.  Even looking at the ones I like, I am confronted with those nagging thoughts about what I could have or should have done differently.  To be at a location at a different time, to use a flash, to move the camera three inches to the left .... the list goes on.  Yet rarely was I limited by the gear I carried.  Yes, even back when I had a lowly 8 megapixel camera with a mid-level lens, it was not the gear that I posessed, but the knowledge and skill that I lacked that limited me.  Same can be said today.  .... so it really is not the gear that makes the photographer.

Here is an example: 

July 16 Tuolmne Meadows IMG_4417

 

If you look closely, you can see that there really is not much detail in the trees and bushes on the far side of the lake.  I chalk that up to camera shake (I didn't lock the mirror up for the 1/10 second exposure on my 20D) plus the wind rushing across the mountain top kept the leaves moving.   This was three days in to Michael Frye's "Hidden Yosemite" workshop back in July 2005, and I was proud of myself for getting the exposure correct!   

To this day, water is one of my favorite things to photograph.  It inspires me in all of its forms.  Here it is even in this NYC skyline photo. 

City at Night

and again in this intimate photo of violets taken in the Cranberry Glades

West Virginia

To be a nature and landscape photographer requires that you make time to be out in all kinds of weather, sometimes even when people far wiser than us stay home or take shelter.   That is when you can capture the best mood and drama.  Being able to express that mood, what captured your emotions, the reason for triggering the shutter in the first place is what makes for excellent photographs.  The rest is simply the technical expertise that allows us to do so. 

Whether we are shooting people, places, or things, three things coming together at the time of making the image is what will transform it from an ordinary snapshot into a photo that evokes a response in others.  Those three elements:

  1. Strong design.
  2. Expressive moment.
  3. Great light.

Williamsburg, WV churchDarkness and LIght

 

Low lying fog would have knocked this image out of the ballpark, but even without it, you get a strong sense of conflict with the ominous storm clouds in strong contrast to the brightly lit church.    It is a landscape scene that sets the stage for the battle between the forces of light and dark, aka:  good and evil.  Any other time and this would have been just another quaint country church. 

Now that I have the basics under control, its time to get the creative juices flowing.  My prayer is that when I revisit this task in three, five, or ten years, I will have a whole lot more than 11 images that I like from that time frame.  My guess is that I will.   :) 

 


Basketball Lights Explained --- UPDATED 2-2-13

January 28, 2013

Almost anyone who has ever tried to photograph basketball at anything below NCAA Division I levels has struggled with low light conditions that are inherent to high school gymnasiums.  Yes, they are bright enough to play the game and for spectators to watch, but our camera sensor (or film) is not quite as sensitive as our eyes.   I will admit that the newest Pro level cameras do a pretty excellent job, but still not quite there.

ISO 3200, 2.8, 1/400 on a 30 D

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That is where sports strobes come in.  Those who have watched me develop as a sports photographer over the past few years have seen me use any number of different setups to augment the light at the venues I regularly shoot.  Each of these has brought varying degrees of success, and today I use whatever I think is going to produce the best result in the location I am shooting.  

 

The first attempt to provide additional light to the caves called high school basketball courts came in the form of speedlites attached to the camera.  Of course that worked.  It also gave a very definite look.  The suject was bright, sometimes too bright, and there were the occssional weird shadows and persistent problem of red-eyes which meant more time spent after the game at the computer.   Not so much a good idea.  Besides, flash photography is not permitted on the baselines in the NCAA.  Even where it is permitted, I try to avoid it so that players and coaches cannot blame me when they miss their shots.

(This shot is actually more recent, at a D-II game where the lights were almost non-existent.  I used on-camera flash away from the baseline, and you can see the ugly effect it leaves.  If I can, I now prefer to avoid this light.  --- ISO 6400, 2.8, 1/500, 5D III) 

IMG_5638

They say the devil is in the details. The detail here is that in order for flash photography to be effective in stopping action without ghosting, you need to be 2 1/2 stops above ambient. With on camera flash, your shutter speed cannot be fast enough to stop the action becuase your camera's sync speed is at most 1/250 of a second, and you rely on the fast duration of the flash to stop the action. Unfortunately, that often leaves the background falling into darkness and un-natural sahdows in order to achieve that 2 1/2 - 3 stop difference.  The alternative is to use the HSS mode to turn your flash into a fill flash at any shutter speed.  That works very nicely, especially in making colors consistent, but you have to use a faster shutter speed (1/640) to stop the action and a flash that will cooperate with you.  Notice in this shot how there is still motion blur in the fingers at 1/500 and softness because I am at ISO 3200, but the ugly shadow is gone.

ISO 3200, F4.0, 1/500, fill flash, 7D

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So I got the speedlights off camera with a radio trigger.  Essentially, that is what I have been doing ever since, with variations in lights used and their placement.  Due to limitations of the gym, I used to only be able to hang lights on the side that the spectators were on, and even at that, not always able to get them out of the way where I wanted them.  That always resulted in harsh lighting that came from one side.  In this shot, I am using two Canon 580's mounted at the same location, one pointed to the top of the key, the other aimed high at the wall to reflect some light.  Lots of problems with the image, AF didn't have enough light to work properly, and so it was often slow.  At ISO 1250, only the part lit by the flash is really legible.  The rest has lots of noise because it was brought up in Lightroom.  I just prayed that nobody would really look close to see how poor the shot was!

_MG_8513

Sometimes it worked, sometimes not.  Pronounced shadows were a fact of life, and I was never really satisfied.  When I started using sport strobes, I had the power to light the whole gym by bouncing the light off of the ceiling.  That helped reduce the harshness, but I was still limited in what and where I could shoot using that light because of mounting locations.   For example, I usually was not able to get good cheerleaeder shots because they were on the side with the harsh lighting.  When I did shoot them, they were usually nuked. 

(ISO 400, 4.5, 1/250, 7D  --- The sports strobes allowed me to bounce the light, but only from one side of the gym, leaving ugly shadows)

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Next, I found a way to hang lights on opposite corners, and that made a huge difference.   I started shooting with two high powered sport strobes on opposite corners of the gym.  The lights are pointed at the ceiling at the top of the key, one with an 8 inch reflector, the other with a deep 11 inch reflector.  I started using the 11" deep reflector so as to avoid the flare of that light in my lens when shooting towards it.  The 8 inch allows me to have some hard light hitting the players while still reflecting light off of both the ceiling and the wall.  The end result is light that sculpts out detail without being overly harsh.  Having light on the far side means that colors are all vibrant and I no longer have a dark background.  It also means I have a backlight to give separation to my subjects.  Still have to be careful about shooting into the light, but it can give some unexpected character and added drama. 

ISO 200, f4, 1/200, strobes on opposite corners

IMG_5485

 

Finally, I managed to get balanced lights by attaching to the conduit on the wall and bouncing off the ceiling to give good, even light to the near side of the court, and usable light to about 3/4 court.  Only downside is that I have to hurry up and move the lights at half time and between games.  That does get to be a bit of a pain, but the light is just soooooo sweet! 

IMG_6869

 

That is the story of lighting one particular gymnasium.  Another gym presents very different requirements.  This shot is using the strobes mounted near the ceiling aimed at the top of the key on the opposite end of the court from where it was taken.  Daytime window light added the backlight I needed.  I upped my ISO from 200 to 500 to shoot down court.   (ISO 500, 2.8, 1/250, 7D)

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Every gym that I have tried lighting has a unique solution, and I often try different setups.  Each has particular strengths and weaknesses photographically just as they do for the players on the courts.  Thanks to having another photographer around who knows how to use sports strobes, I no longer take any location for granted, even one that I regularly shoot.  My job is to See The Light, where it is, where it is not, where it can be and what it will do.  When I am successful in doing that, I am able to capture the action in front of my lens and hopefully make images that are memorable.

 


Division II Basketball

January 25, 2013

Out here in small town USA, I Am usually shooting single A high school or NAIA sports venues.  These do not have the lighting standards that NCAA D-I or NBA level courts have.  That goes without saying!  Over the years, I have developed my coping mechanisms to deal with that, and consider myself very much at home under less than ideal conditions trying to capture peak action.  Tonight, I was dealt a whole new deck of cards!

That's right, I got to shoot a game for my alma mater, a Div II school, and the venue was the University of Charleston, another Div II school.  Now, I am not going to say it was dark in there, but the referees were using flashlights.  I have been in community Rec centers that were better lit than that place!  I never thought I would say this, but the lighting in most of the WV single A high schools is better that what I had tonight, and the WVU Tech gym is light years ahead of UC.  (I can't wait to shoot at the state basketball tournament again!)  The light on the floor was uneven, to the extent that it was usable at one end of the court, but almost non-existent at the other. 

I didn't bring my lights tonight, only one speedlight, which I (gasp!) mounted on camera and used about half the time.  The gym posed more problems than usual for me, but I still managed to come out with a couple decent shots.  Thank God for the newer cameras that have managable noise levels even above ISO 6400.  I had to shoot ISO 16,000, 2.8, 1/500 to get a reasonable exposure.  The few lights in the gym cycled badly, so that meant touching up white balance on every single shot when I got home .... Oh, and that ISO 16,000 ... that means 30 MB file size for each shot.  At least there was enough data to be able to use for developing. 

Perhaps the most amazing thing was that the auto focus worked!  Yes, even though there was barely enough light to read a book, the AF system on the 5 D Mark III was able to work.  I can't say that it kept up, since I ended up deleting at least as many I as were in focus.  Yes, it was slower than normal, but it still worked!   That thrills me for the possibilities next year when football season rolls around and I am shooting in those kinds off conditions again. 

 


Getting Organized

January 21, 2013

©-7376 How many pictures have you accumulated over the years?  How do you keep track of them all? 

These are actually important considerations at the very beginning of my workflow.  In the digital age, it is possible to keep every photo you have taken.  The price of hard drives is now relatively cheap, so the cost of storage is not going to hold you back.  The last few days, I have been without a voice, so I took advantage of the time to clean out my archives and get everything properly organized.  Looking back, I even learned a few things about my photo habits.   Since its all fresh in my mind, I thought I'd share with you. 

First off, I have to admit that I have not always used my current organizational system.  I had read the wisdom of others long ago, and through time have gradually accpeted many of thier recommendations.  Digital Asset Management is not a new topic, and really should be an automatic part of the workflow for any photographer, and it all begins as you import your photos onto your computer.  Hpw you name them and where you store them matters.  Keep in mind here that I am not talking about photo sharing or display, but rather the way to keep track of those pictures that you really want to be able to find when you forgot where you put them. 

There are two parts to my archival workflow:  the physical placement of files and the cataloguing of those files.  Each supporrts the other.  One trick that I have adopted is to use the date in my nested folder structure.  Some photographers use this date code on each picture.  A personal caveat:  I maintain a completely separate physical directory structure for sports images, but it follows the same principles.  Here is how it works, regardless of image type: 

[YEAR]

    -  [MMDD-place or Event] ---  image ####.

    -  [MMDD-place or Event] --- image ####.

file structure

If you are simply storing JPG images, they are easily visible in the folders, but if you store your RAW filies, you may not be able to easily see the picture just flipping through your drive.  Besides, if you have an extensive collection, or have retained multiple versions of a particular picture, looking at a collection of jpgs may not be enough for you to easily find what you are looking for.  Especially when you have thousands of images.  That is where my use of Lightroom comes in handy.

Sure, Lightroom is a RAW image processor, but it is much more.  Lightroom allows you to assign "keywords" to your images, and these are stored right along with the picture.  Other programs are able to do the same thing, so program choice is up to you, but Lightroom is both an industry standard and what I am familiar with.  (Mac junkie like Aperture)   I am able to find pretty much any picture, and narrow it down very quickly with the combination of directory structure and keywording.  How does it work? 

When ingesting images from the camera to computer, I apply keywords -- any combination of words or numbers that will be both standardized and meaningful.  I have some files with upwards of 20 keywords stored with them that will help me search later.  For example, the following image

09-16-8174

has these keywords: coffee, food, drink, cappuchino, cup, restaurant, cafe, table, Italy, Capri, 2011, travel, heart, vacation, relax.  Your keywords have to be meaningful to you, but consider that you might end up wanting to search for an abstract idea, a shape, or emotion sometime later. When importing, I assign keywords common to all images, then add individual keywords later. 

With over 38,000 images in my VHS Sports folders alone, it becomes fairly important to have meaningful keywords assigned to images so that I don't need to spend hours looking for photos of Tasha from the last four years.  Imagine this project:  you want to make a single "Memory Mate" type poster for an athlete that highlights all four years of High School.  With my system, I can search for the school, sport, and jersey number within each of the designated years.  Since I have also rated the pictures way back when I first processed them, I can also narrow the search down to the best images from each year very quickly.  No need to look through thousands of images, with this system, I only need to check out a dozen or so to find what I am looking for.  How long does it take you to find a single image?