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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!

5D Mark III Initial Impressions

January 09, 2013

Having just received the camera, I took it out of the box and used one of my 7D batteries to get it setup before taking any pictures.   To do so, I accepted the date / time settings, checked the firmware, then attached it to my computer for accurate date & time settings that would be in sync with my other cameras, then methodically went through all of the available settings through EOS Utility software.  Once that was completed, I did the same thing with the camera’s menu system.   Determining your optimal setup will go a lot faster if you take the time to read the manual (you will also understand the limitations and possibilities of the camera much better!)  There are so many variables that you can adjust, and most are straightforward, but some of the naming conventions need more explanation than can fit on a 3” LCD screen.  Others are complex, like the AF Cases, and need detailed explanation and experimentation to figure out what they do.  That being said, Canon has produced an excellent PDF guide to all of the AF menu settings for the EOS 1DX, which is identical in this regard to the 5D.

In an ideal world, I would like to be able to use EOS Utility to set ALL of the camera functions and menus via my computer, not just the few currently allowed.  This would give the distinct advantage of being able to spell out the advantages and differences that each setting makes -- and how they affect other settings -- while you are making them.  As the menus grow more and more complex, this really should be on the table for a camera at this price point.  

Viola!  The camera is ready to use.  Well, actually it is pretty much ready to use out of the box.  But now, it is set up the way that I think I want it.  An hour later, I’m off to a basketball game to test things out.  I’ll be shooting with my trusty old 7D and my brand spankin new 5Diii.  Original plan was to use the 17-40 on the 5 and the 70-200 on the 7D.  That plan quickly changed when I realized just how wide that would render my frame!  So I switched things up and put the 70-200 on my full frame 5D and the 17-40 on my 7D, essentially rendering it a 24-70.  Having used that for a game, I can see why it was so popular with sports shooters on full frame or 1.3 bodies … it really does hit a sweet spot under the basket, and I may just keep using this setup for a while! 

The 70-200 felt comfortable and responsive on the 5D, but it was difficult giving up that little extra reach I have enjoyed with this lens on my 7D.  Due to the layout of the gym that I am shooting in, I am extremely close to the base-line, and doubt that I practically gained much on the wide end, but time will tell. 

Shooting tonight was not my typical night out.  I was testing a new camera and trying a new technique (back button focus) while using a new lighting setup.  Lots of variables, and lots of potential for things to go wrong.  My first impressions:

  1. 5D Mark III camera is amazing.  It feels a little heavier than my 7D, but fits my hands well, and feels rock solid.  It operates that way too.  After getting it set up, it just works the way you want a camera to.  Everything is in the right place, and the viewfinder is nice and bright.   I particularly like the new “lock” button on the mode selection dial, and the fact that when I lock the other dials, I can lock both aperture and shutter knobs from being accidentally changed.  Battery life looks like it is going to be good - after 428 shots, it still has a 75% charge.  Some speed junkies will complain that the “motor speeed” is only 6 fps.   Even with sports, this is not a limitation to my style of shooting, since I rarely “machine gun” a target.   I was a little concerned that my max sync speed was reduced to 1/200th, but that is not an issue.  Those coming from a crop body will be impressed by the full frame coverage, and previous 5D owners will be stunned with the very usable AF system.   AF is fast, but does not feel much faster than my 7D with the 70-200.  It is, however far more accurate a greater percentage of the time.  When going through my images later, very few were deleted because they were not in focus.  I do think AF is going to shine when paired with lesser lenses, and may improve once I experiment with the AI Servo cases.  I should, however, be careful in passing judgment on the AF performance since I was also trying Back Button AF for the first time. 
  2. Speaking of BBAF, it worked much easier than I had thought.  Previously, I was using the shutter button for AF, metering, and release, and the * button as AF-Stop.  That was working pretty well, but after just one game,  I have been sold on the Back Button AF method.  My only gripe about it is that changing the AF points is not as easy now since my thumb is already occupied.  I also think I will go back to “normal” AF with wide angle lenses.  Back button seems more suited to the long lenses.  (see the Canon Learning Site for more information on BBAF)  My major limitation tonight was not BBAF, but that my grip had not arrived in time for the game.  There is good reason that the 1 series bodies have a vertical grip built in!

As I start looking through my images in Lightroom, I am absolutely stunned.  Shell-shocked.  Flabbergasted.  The list of adjectives could go on.  There is simply no comparison of these images to those that came out of any digital camera I have previously owned.  I knew to expect better subject/background separation because of the full frame body, but I was not expecting the superior file quality in absolutely every respect to be this dramatic.    A love affair is beginning!  Let me count the ways:

  1. ISO - I shot at 800 tonight, and there was no perceptible noise.  I could see the smudges on the backboard, but not the usual digital artifacts adding to it.  That means that cropping in tighter will not be a problem …. Except that I usually shoot pretty tight to begin with!
  2. Skin tones are beautifully rendered.  I think this is the first time I have had perfectly rendered skin tones right out of the camera.
  3. Details are far superior.  Not just because I have more megapixels to record them, but have less noise, moire, CA, and pretty much any other kind of aberrations or artifacts.  This camera makes use of the higher LPM resolution of my “L” glass.
  4. Dramatically better Auto White Balance means less tweaking later.
  5. Bokeh - not just the circles of light in the out of focus areas, but the way that subjects stand out in front.  They become more three dimensional.


There is great truth in the saying that you should invest in quality glass rather than chasing camera bodies.  The Lens will make or break your image no matter the black box it is attached to.  Quality lenses will be a requirement when using a camera of this quality.  It will show the weaknesses of inferior lenses, and I am glad I have the “L” glass for this camera simply to keep up with its resolving power.  That being said, there does come a point when the camera body itself makes a difference.  Going from a crop body to a full frame body makes a huge difference in your lens performance, especially in the out of focus areas that make a picture pop in just the same way as stepping up from a Kodak Instamatic to a 35mm to a 4x5 camera did in the film days.  It makes a great deal of difference in pixel density and pitch and all kinds of technical ways that I am not qualified to talk about but influence the quality of the output file.  You’ll notice smoother gradations in color changes, better detail  bright whites, less noise in the shadows, and faithful color representation throughout.  In short, you finally will capture what you saw through the lens.   What I can say without reservation is that stepping up this far makes a difference in the pictures that you are able to capture.   

Be forewarned that processing the RAW files from this camera will require a fast computer and lots of hard drive space.  The provided software will yield optimal results in processing, but Lightroom 4 (ACR 7.3) does a pretty good job at rendering them as well.   This camera is for the serious photographer who is willing to invest not just the money to buy it, but also the time to learn to use it properly, and appreciate the results it helps produce even if others cannot see the difference. 

Winter at Canaan Valley

December 27, 2012

So you've arrived at your Christmas Vacation.  A time to relax, take a break from all of the craziness of the last couple weeks.  No ball games to worry about, the work is almost done for the year. Of course, being a photographer, I scouted the place when I got here.  The deer are photographer friendly, and some may even pose for you. 


And then the snow comes.  My plans for soaking in the hot tub have been interupted.  (I still soaked every night after shooting all day)  Actually, I was rather ecstatic that I could get a few days of exercise without having to pay my physical therapist!  Doing therapy this way is a whole lot more fun than visiting an office, and for those who have been following my recovery, this pushed my limits to the extreme, and gave me confidence that the recovery is doing what it is supposed to.  Every muscle in my body got a workout!


But I digress ... I decided to avoid the food and beverage snaps I saw my breakfast buffet companions sharing.  The slopes wouldn't open for three more days, so no photos from the slopes or sauna, just simple landscapes.  What do you see when it is 20 degrees and snowing with a strong wind trying to blow you over every step of the way?  I pretty much tried to stick with patterns and simple compositions, attempting to reduce each scene down to its essential elements.   ...   There was a cluster of trees I had spotted the night before that could tell the story of winter very well by themselves. 


As I said, patterns stick out this time of year




But then came along another view:


I think it's the first image that I have taken that shouts BLIZARD!  This was taken at mid-day, with snow flying in the 30 MPH breeze.  And you can feel the cold - heck, I just shivered uploading the image!  Now, all I had to do was get the car back to the road .... it only took two hours to go 50 feet. 

Then as I explored, I was reminded that life goes on, even when the temperatures fall and modern conveniences are most appreciated.  I wished that my insulation was as good as the cattle's, but as you can see, most of them are smart enough to stay close to home .... unlike thier photographer of the day!


The National Widelife Refuge is an essential part to Canaan Valley, and while I did see a flock flying overhead, I didn't spot any of the smaller birds while I was here


The trees which will soon bloom and bear fruit again are barren


and down the road, water continues to flow over Blackwater Falls



But make no mistake, the road to get there is not easy to travel


I guess putting it simply, winter photography is no picnic, but well worth the effort!


So get out there and shoot this winter, bring home some pictures you'll be proud to hang on your wall and be able to brag to your friends ... "Yeah, I did that!"




December 19, 2012  •  Leave a Comment

How do you incorporate ideas into your photography?  Photography is a visual means of communications, and many of us want that communication to be quite literal.  We like pictures of our smiling children playing with thier young canine friends.  I recently took on an assignment to photograph a "part of the whole," and used a piece of history do so. 



With the theme "Parts of the Whole" in mind, what do you see? 

When the image was presented, some thought perhaps the tombstone was only part of the whole cemetary.  That was about as far as the assembled group managed to see the theme.  Allow me to explain why I selected this image:

Parts of the Whole echoes through this image both literally and figuratively, and may well be an insight into the collective imagination of our country.  The literal display of parts includes the obscured tombstone:  you cannot see the entire thing, nor can you see the entire name or even dates of birth and death.   Even the flag that blocks the details can only be partially seen because it is curled over upon itself.  The back - side light is only partially visible ... notice the prominence of shadows in this image echoing the tombstone's symbolism of death.  Of course, it is only a very small part of this cemetary, much as the Private is only a small part of the entire army he was fighting for.  All of these literal elements are right in front of your eyes.


But the literal interpretation is only the beginning.  The image was taken at Hollywood Cemetary in Richmond, Virginia.  On my recent visit there, I was impressed with how dearly the citizens there hold on to thier Civil War memories and heritage.  Yes, this to me that it not be made into a moody presentation, that would obscure the vividness of the the conflict that is so real to the people of this region.  To them, it is not something that happened in the distant past, but a very present reality that continues to shape who they are. 

How is it that this young soldier, killed in battle 150 years ago is still so magnificently cared for?  Certainly this young man's life was more than "soldier."  The lawn is meticulously mowed, the flag carefully placed, and the marker looks as though it could have been planted this year.  We can say what we want about "those southerners who hold on to the idea of the War of Northern aggresssion," but they do honor thier dead.  They do remember thier past.  "Remembering Our Past" was the title that I assigned to this photograph.  Speaking figuratively, this photo convicts each of us of our own prejudices, whether positive or negative.  That flag itself is a strong emotional component no matter which side of the idea it represents we might find ourselves.  Even the Confederate flag denotes a part of the whole, for though for a time our nation was divided, all who lived under that flag both before and after lived under another standard, the Stars and Stripes.  We tend to hold on to and treasure selected parts of our memory, both individually and collectively.  Some who have seen this photo were moved to tears when they recalled distant relatives lost in the Civil War long ago or even in recent conflicts around the globe.  It brings into consciousness the sacrafice that young men have been willing to make for thier country, which in itself is part of our whole history. 


Images that are strongly composed rarely settle for the literal interpretation that we want to first assign to them.  The author wants us to see more, ususally something about ourselves or about an important cause.  The next time that you encounter a piece of art that you cannot understand, stop.  Try to understand the image in light of the things you do know about it:  What is the Title, What is the theme?  What is the apparent subject matter?  What is the author trying to say?  Then step back and let it sink in.  Allow the cognitive functioning that God gifted you with to churn about and see where that takes you.   You might just be stunned by what the photographer, the painter, or the sculptor is saying.  And if you are really lucky, you might learn something about yourself in the process!


Review Time!

December 12, 2012

As college students are preparing for thier final exams, I thought this would be a good time to look back and review myself.  I took advantage of a home-bound day to go through some old images. and boy was I surprised! 

When you actually stop to take a look at the pictures, it is actually pretty easy to see the progress (or lack thereof!) that you have made.  The evidence is right in front of you!  I had a lot of opportunities to shoot back in 2006, so I got out that year's collection.  What amazed me was the amount of images that I had decided back then might one day be worth another look.  I ended up deleting almost 1/3 of the pictures that I had kept!  Some were poorly focused, others simply lacked focus; some were so far off on exposure that they were not even worth thinking about salvaging.  Composition was poor in many, and the list of photographic errors of the bunch was just too long to enumerate!  If I was really honest, many of the ones I saved were more memories than photographs.

Here are a few of the ones that I deleted today:

spring rain



Like I said, I am embarrassed that I even kept these!  Even with that, not everything I shot back then was a disaster.  There were certainly more than a few shots that I got to see again for the first time and am am glad that I kept:




Why do I admit this publicly?  Well, its a lot like the exams our students are taking.  We cram in so much stuff that it really does not have time to sink in and make a difference at first.  Even though I "knew" what makes a good exposure and composition, I had not mastered the technicalities of making it happen consistently.  I really had not developed my own eye or way of seeing. If I was really honest, very few of my images from back then were very compelling.  Most were just a guy with a camera exploring.  That is not to say that they were snapshots -- far from it!  Some succeeded, some were mistakes; some were very horrible mistakes.  But it is through this trial and error process that we learn our photographic vision and skill.  Just like in the moral life though, I am not advocating that you go out and try to make mistakes -- plenty will come your way! 

But you cannot sit around and just wait for photographic skill to pop into your head.  You have to try things.  Some will fail, some will succeed.  And when you undertake these projects, you will not know which is going to be which until you have tried.  And if you then take the time to look back and see your journey, you will learn even more. 

3968 Brandon on the Beach

One of the most helpful things you can do is to hang out with other like minded people.  We do it all the time in our clubs and churches and it seems to work well there.  So too with photography.  Hang out with photographers who can help you learn.  Join a camera club.  Participate ina workshop.  Ask the opinions of people who will give you honest feedback.  They will help you to improve far more than browsing some internet sites.  And chances are, you'll have a lot more fun!

Team Photo Day

November 27, 2012  •  Leave a Comment

I got to shoot the VHS Boys Varsity team photos today, and what a great experience!  First, hats off to what looks to be an awesome team this year.  They have some good leaders back and have added a little size up front.  Play smart, and you'll be on a roll! 

For the shoot today, we had to take the standard picture that you see in every basketball program you have ever picked up.  Not very exciting, but necessary for the upcoming tourneys.


Then we moved on to make some great pictures of these young athletes.  I used a processing technique to give them a gritty edge that will be needed for the team poster.   All it takes is a few mouse clicks, and Spencer looks 10 years older!


Dante gave me this look on the very first click of the shuttter!


These guys made it so easy, all that was missing was the sweat.  I can't wait to see the poster!  Check this year's team out at


Printing your pictures

November 15, 2012  •  Leave a Comment

Eventually, you get to the point where Walmart and Ritz simply cannot match the quality you expect in your photographic prints.  The quandry then is what to do?  The first step I took was to go to an online photographic lab.  They allow you to upload your photos and will promptly ship them back to you.  Prices and quality will vary greatly, but there are many great labs available.  I have used MPIX ( for my mail order printing needs for many years with great success. 

If you have a special photo that you need printed to hang in a musem, or are a wedding photographer that does not want to mess with the details of printing, I reccomnend going to PPS ( in South Charleston if you are in the neighborhood.  Clayton and his associates will take very good care of you.  It is what I do when I need to make a print larger than my printer can handle, and where I used to go for all of my fine art printing needs.  There are many other high end printers out there, but I believe in supporting local businesses when I can. 

This summer, I got a great deal on an incredible printer (Canon Pixma Pro 9000 Mk II). After the rebates, the price of my wide format printer was free! Now that can be a dangerous thing for a photographer! Why? Well, since getting my printer, I have been experimenting, learning the differences in papers and what the different settings will do. The cost of paper and ink will add up!  OK ... I know that I am not most people when it comes to photography; most people will simply use thier home printer to crank out a bunch of small prints and be very happy with the results. Of course, most people would not be spending $500 on a printer either, but like I said, I am not most people, and most who read this blog know that!! Come to think of it, if you have read this far, you aren't like most people either!

At this point, I have to confess that I am still very new to printing photographs, and there is much to learn.  But I also believe that the process of getting here is similar to that of most photographers.  As you grow in this craft, you learn that the more control you have over each step of the process, the better the end result.  First, its a point and shoot where we learn to press the shutter button, then we learn the details of exposure and composition.  After that we move on to developing our pictures and posting them for others to see.  Finally, we delve into the art of print making, matting, and framing. 

It is an art, and I know people who have earned advanced academic degrees in this one discipline.  I am not there yet!  But, here is a short list of the things that I have learned about printing over the last couple months:

  1. Prints are prints.  Sounds simple enough, eh?  but here is the reality:  we are mostly accustomed to looking at our digital photographs on an electronic display of some sort.  Whether it is a computer screen, HDTV, or the latest hi-res mobile touch-screen, they are still screens.  When we put those pixels on paper, something magical happens.  They take on a feel (literally an figuratively!) that is not on the screen.  I have also found that details of the picture are reproduced differently on paper too.  Some of that has to do with the brightness of our displays as compared to paper, but other things can also jump out too.  Distracting details become the center of atttention and essential elements disappear.  When we were satisfied with glossy prints from someone else's printer, those things never really mattered because it took days to get the picture back.  Now, I see it in minutes and can quickly determine if it was teh result I wanted.
  2. Color Management is essential and complicated.  It is not enough to calibrate your monitor, there is also profiling your printer and paper if you want the colors to be precise.  Learning to use the complex tool that is your printer actually has a steep learning curve, and the printer driver alone will make your head spin.  There is the "easy" button, but you will not have fine control unless you go through the painstaking process of learning the details.  In the end, you can produce the same result every time only by learning the nitty gritty details.   
  3. Papers matter.  If all you have ever seen is a Ritz print, you will never know the joy of a great photograph.  Every paper reproduces your picture in a slightly different way, and the hunt for the perfect paper is a challenge in itself.  Fine art papers produce stunning results (if you have a good photo to start with!).  4x6 glossy becomes a thing of the past.  The paper can add life by the subtleties of its texture and the way it disperses ink on the page.  Let's face it, we're not talking about newsprint or copy paper here! 
  4. Different sharpening needs to be applied to your print depending on output size and paper type.  I have known this for a long time; I read Bruce Frazier's book several years ago.   I even used the theory when sending out prints to the lab.  Now that I am printing myself, I can see it in action and decide PRECISELY how much sharpening to apply. 
  5. As a practical tip, buy or make 4x6 sheets of each paper that you use.  I use these for test prints to see how close I am to getting the results I want. 
  6. Every printer has its strengths.  I love my color laser printer, but would not even dream of using it to make a photographic print!  Conversely, I would not dream of using my Pro 9000 for printing documents, the ink cost would kill me!  It does excellent work, but I know that it is not the best at black and white prints, Epson does much better there.  The point is this:  make sure you know what your needs are before you spend big money on a new toy just to find out it is not right for you. 

If you are interested in learning more about the art of fine art printing, I suggest the Rocky Nook book "Fine Art Printing for Photographers."  It is a couple years old (2008), but presents excellent and detailed information that is timeless.  The other book I mentioned is Bruce Frazier and Jeff Schewe's "Real World Image Sharpening."  both are excellent resources that will guide you to making the most out of the already excellent photographs you have waiting to be put to paper!

Football 2012 is over

November 12, 2012

The boys at Valley gave a good run this fall, and all of us are proud of you!   It was my pleasure to cover the teams once again and record some memories for many of you.  They were carried in the newspaper, some may show up in the yearbook, and thanks to the parents who buy prints to support me in this endeavor.  We were all treated to some great memories thanks to your efforts:

From the first snap of the game



On Offense 











or defense







you certainly brought us excitement all season long!



Thanks for the memories guys! 


Each game has its own gallery and can be found online at



An amazing lens!

November 03, 2012  •  Leave a Comment

Thanks to Paul, I was able to use the most amazing lens the other night for football.  I am talking about Canon's 400 mm f 2.8 monster.  11 of the 15 photos I submitted to the paper this week were from that lens! 


To be sure, there are certain limitations to using this beast.  It is heavy to lug around and and does not offer any zooming capabilities.  That means that you do not move around following the action in the same way as with my usual arsenal.  BUT, these design limitations also bring out the strengths that this lens gives the sports or wildlife photographer.  My venue was a very darkly lit HS football field (ISO 3200, 2.8, 1/250th in the bright areas, ISO 6400, 2.8 1/320 in the dimmer places for you photo geeks). 

There are a couple downsides to using this lens:

  • It is large and heavy, about 18 inches long and 12 pounds before you attach a camera to it. You absolutely need a good monopod, because all movement will be magnified, and that includes camera shake.  I turn off IS, but YMMV.
  • Being stuck at 400 mm  means you are literally watching the game through a straw.  I missed a few shots because I was watching the action unfold through the lens.  To master this lens, you really need to use both eyes.  And to shoot the game, you really need a 70-200 (which I traded to use this lens  :) in addition to the 400.  Pro sports photographers lift weights and juggle to get ready for game night!  Where I normally carry two cameras, I now understand why the pros carry three. 

What made this lens such a joy to use? 

  1. Instant acquisition of focus.  There was only one time that the lens had to hunt for focus so long that I noticed it.  If I owned the lens or used one regularly, I would very much enjoy the <Focus Preset> feature and <AF Stop> buttons on the lens. 
  2. An aperture of 2.8 means that the backgrounds were beautifully blurred, eliminating all the distractions that ordinarily hide back there.  That translates to sharply focused subjects that are easily separated from the background.
  3. Incredibly sharp detail.  Yes, calling this lens "razor sharp" is appropriate.  Since my personal style is to shoot "long and tight," I can quickly see the difference between this beast and the 100-400 that I normally carry.  
  4. Color faithfullness.  Not only were the details in sharp focus, but the color distrtibutions were correct.  This was perhaps the first time that I did not have to color correct a whole bunch of pictures when I got home.

You really only notice these things when you can actually compare the results you get with inferior equipment.  I usually use a 100-400 mm lens that is pretty good, but much slower than the EF400 2.8.  Now I know what my pictures would look like if I had the better gear .....


I guess its time to win the lottery!

A Little Fun

October 22, 2012  •  Leave a Comment

The other day, I got to shoot soccer ... specifically, a U8 league team!  Most of the time these days, my photographic time is tied up with the older kids.  You see the updates quite often are in the middle school, High School, or college level sports pages on my website.  But every now and then I get an invitation to cover something a little different. This time it was 2nd grade girls playing soccer, and boy was it fun!

The girls were having the time of thier lives.  Everyone on the team got to play about the same amount of time.  Some were focused and competitive, others just playing in the mud.  It was so refreshing to see the sheer joy on a little girl's face when she scored a goal or did some other amazing feat. It was also a pleasure (at least in the game I was shooting) to see parents that were supportive rather than critical of thier kids and coaches. 

As they get older, we see more and more parents living vicariously through thier children and grandchildren, unable to accept defeat, and being very poor sports.  Some days, I wonder whether I am at a school event or a longshoremen's gathering.  It was downright refreshing to see coaches laughing with the girls rather than yelling at them; teaching rather than ridiculing.  It brought back my own memories of Little League when we got to go out for ice cram after the game no matter what the score was.  I stand in admiration of those adults who give up thier time to be with a bunch of kids that they may or may not have been familiar with prior to thier current gathering.  These adults set a model of service to the children that will not be forgotten, and if they do thier jobs well, will teach them how to win no matter what the scoreboard says. 

Sports Schedules

October 22, 2012  •  Leave a Comment

I have added a link to the VHS page on Maxpreps (CBS Sports High School coverage site) so that you can easily check the upcomingf schedule for Valley High School!  Just click the link on the top of the page to get there!