Dragging the shutter

Drawing shutter, Slow Shutter Speed

By slowing down your shutter speed (1/15sec) you can get some very interesting motion into otherwise static images

 

 

While in Washington DC last week I was able to get out one morning with my tripod for some early morning photography as the city came to life. I am increasingly drawn to longish exposures. For at least the last year or more I have been shooting all my moving water images with ND filters to draw out the exposure time and interject movement into the images. I experimented quite a bit this morning in DC with the same idea. Lengthen the time of the exposure with the tripod there to hold the majority of the scene crisp and sharp, while a small element within moved and created a sense of activity that would otherwise be lacking. This is one of my favorited from the day.

Filters Matter! or Why you need a good polarizer

Vu Filters, Circular Polarizer, VSCPOL77

Vu Circular polarizer removed the vast majority of the glare from the surface of the Canvas Gallery Wraps.

Every photographer should have a circular polarizer. It removes glare from reflective surfaces such as water, glass and canvas. In the examples above and below I adjusted the polarizer to maximum effect, then turned it until there was little or no effect. The difference is substantial. The glare in the image below would be very difficult/impossible to address in post processing.

Polarizer

Without the benefit of polarization, the glare on the surface of these canvas gallery wraps is quite distracting.

When buying filters you want to look for a well crafted product with a sturdy but minimal filter ring. It doesn’t take much for a filter to extend into the field of view and cause vignetting. The filters for Vu are constructed from German shott glass with beautifully machined threads in low-profile housings.

The effect is clearly visible through the camera, so you know when you have the filter properly oriented. Polarization works optimally at 90 degrees to the light source. So if you are shooting straight ahead and the sun is to your right at 90 degrees you should be able to get substantial polarizing effect. As you recompose moving more in line with the sun the effectiveness of polarizing will decrease. By the time you are aimed directly in-line with the sunbathe effectiveness is almost gone completely. If you have ever tried to polarize on overcast days, you probably noticed that no matter how you turned the adjusting ring, there was little or no change. cause polarization is so dependent upon the directionality of the light, overcast conditions result in the light being diffused or scattered to such an extent that there is no directional light to be polarized.

Nikon D4, iPhone 6Plus

Behind the scenes…how I was able to capture video that gave you the photographers eye view of the Vu Polarizer in action.

Some days it helps to be a MAC Group dealer. I needed to hold several different devices steady safely at one time. The laptop sits on a Kupo Laptop Table. The Nikon D4 is on a Induro BHL3s Ball Head mated to an Induro GLT304 Stealth Carbon Fiber Tripod equipped with a MCG23 geared center column. The iPhone 6+ is being supported by a Induro BHL2s paired with an Induro CT505 Carbon Fiber Trpod also with a geared center column. I thought it was an ingenious way to shoot video from the photographer’s point of view.

 

 

 

 

Want to shoot at the Prison where Shawshank Redemption was filmed?

Photo opportunities at the Mansfield Reformatory in Mansfield, Ohio

The movie Shawshank redemption was filmed in Mansfield, Ohio in the Mansfield Reformatory.

Last year I made two trips to Mansfield, Ohio to photograph the reformatory where Shawshank redemption was filmed. It is such an interesting place. As a reformatory it was chartered to educate and teach new skills to the inmates in an effort to help them find legitimate work once they were released. Inmates had the opportunity to learn carpentry in the furniture shop, masonry, and numerous other life skills. The prison closed in 1990 and has since been used in numerous movies, most notably Shawshank Redemption in 1994. A small part of Air Force One with Harrison Ford was filmed there in 1997.
HDR image of Ohio Reformatory

Access way “behind the cells” to allow for maintenance of the mechanical systems.

There are public tours of the reformatory available, but tripods are not allowed. Private group tours however are available and tripods are allowed during private tours. I strongly encourage you to find a private tour directed toward photographers and join in. You will have much smaller crowds to deal with and the use of a tripod is paramount if you want to walk away with really great images. I have arranged for just such a private tour on Monday, March 14th from 11am to 4pm. Most people make it a same-day round trip excursion from metro-Detroit area. You can join in for $75. IF you have a friend or spouse that wants to attend but not take pictures they may do so for $12 (cash the day of the tour). Contact us to reserve a spot (248) 608-8563 or Info@GetShotByBob.com

Solitary, HDR

This image was shot in the deep recesses of the prison, where I am told you never wanted to end up.

All of the images in this posting were shot as multiple captures and then later blended to gather to create the highly detailed images you see here. This technique is designed to allow a photographer to capture a broader “dynamic range” than one could with a single exposure. High Dynamic Range (HDR) is a contentious subject among many photographers. Mostly because it can lead to very surrealistic images depending upon the software and personal choices made during the post-processing portion of the job. I personally love to shoot and process HDR images because I can create images that simply would not be possible without the technique.

Ornamental metal stairway, HDR image

All metal staircase found in the private areas of the prison where the warden and his family would have lived.

Most cameras will allow you to capture a 3 frame “bracket” of images that will later be processed down into a single image using software. The darkest image should have no overexposed highlights and the brightest image should have good detail the deep shadows. Occasionally it is helpful to have 5, 7 or even more images in the bracket to fully capture the full range of brightness within a scene. The greater the range of brightness, the more beneficial it is to have additional frames in the bracket. If you camera only captures a 3 frame bracket, there is a handy app called Photo Buddy that can aid you in properly capturing larger brackets.

Grungy wall, peeling paint

Newspapers or other reading matter is not permitted

 

271 Seconds – Streaking Clouds

I have been experimenting with extreme time exposures.

This image was shot in early October while driving to Drummond Island.

I used a 10 stop neutral density filter and the resulting exposure worked out to be 271 seconds. The extremely long duration allowed time for the clouds to “streak” across the image. The tree also managed to wobble quite a bit during the exposure thus the unique shaky look.

This Winter I will be hosting a “filter” workshop. The factory rep from Vü Filters will be on-hand to assist and we will have a full selection of filters available for purchase at special rates for workshop participants. Stay tuned!

Stretching out time

Extreme Time Exposure

Want to improve? Get out there and play.

Photographed during a Night Photography workshop held in Denver, Colorado.

Oysters . . . Seafood in neon!

I teach numerous people in a variety of different ways. I often hear “there is so much to remember…how do you do it”?

The same way you manage to drive your car everyday without incident (hopefully). You do it repeatedly until muscle memory takes over. Have you ever rented a different car when you travel? The initial few minutes behind the wheel are a little awkward while you are finding and familiarizing yourself with all the controls, but once you do all is well.

Strolling a vibrant downtown with a camera is one of my favorite activities.

Clock Tower as seen from the Downtown Denver walking mall.

If you have to look for each setting on your camera every time you want to make a change, that tells me that you simply need more time playing…developing that muscle memory. I’m afraid there simply isn’t any shortcut. It come with time and experimentation.

The images in this post were shot during a Night Photography workshop I instructed a few weeks back in Denver, Colorado. It was the night of the Mayweather – Pacquiao boxing match. The weather was cooperating nicely and the city was bustling. Many of the women were still donning their Kentucky Derby hats from earlier in the day. All in all, it was a superb evening to be out and playing with a camera. Most of the workshop participants had never attempted night photos and were constantly delighting themselves with the images they were able to create.

Caribou Coffee along the Denver walking mall.

Coffee shop at night

You can read every photography magazine printed and watch youtube channels until your eyes bleed, but your photography skills won’t improve until you actually get the camera out and work it. Join in on my photo walks, or register for a workshop that piques your interest. Playing and experimenting are simply the only way you will develop the familiarity required to make you feel comfortable with your camera. Even more amazing, is that once you really learn your camera, you will be able to pick up any camera and very quickly acquaint yourself with the controls (just like a rental car) and make beautiful images.

Photography Contests harmless fun, or something sinister?

Bright Pink Water Lily

Colorful water lily on a serene pond

Time was when you could enter an occasional photography contest, share your work publicly and have an opportunity to win a little something at the same time.

Nowadays there is a little good news / bad news scenario surrounding photo contests. The good news is there are still some nice opportunities to participate in photo contests without having your images stolen out from under you. The bad news is, you have to be careful because many of these so called “contests” are simply image grabs designed to yield the promoter a nice cache of stock images.

Before entering any photo contest carefully review the fine print. More and more of them are now stating that any entry becomes the sole exclusive property of the contest sponsor! Some even have the nerve to charge an entry fee, while taking ownership of your images. It is not just the “winners” that they claim right to, but all entries.

If you live in Metro-Detroit, The Six Rivers Land Conservancy is sponsoring a good contest in the area. Their rules clearly state that you, the photographer, retain ownership of your intellectual property. That is a very good thing. Even better, they do not charge an entry fee. You can learn more about the contest here.

How to buy a tripod

Tripods come is a dizzying array of colors, sizes, materials, and price points. This is the first in a series of articles intended to aid in the process of choosing the right tripod for you.

Tripod, Carbon Fiber, Induro

Carbon Fiber Leg set

How do you begin to wade through all the choices? I would start by giving consideration to your budget. A good tripod will most likely outlast even the most active photographer, so think about this being a once-and-done type of purchase.

Think about how you plan to use your tripod:

  • What gear do you currently own;
  • What gear do you think you will eventually acquire;
  • Will you be hiking long distances;
  • will you be shooting outdoors in cold climates;
  • Will you want to shoot at ground level, or mostly standing;
  • How tall are you

How you answer each of the questions posed above has an impact on your decision. The list above is not all inclusive, but let’s get started by discussing why I posed those questions.

Night Photography at the Birmingham Carnival

Without a stable tripod, this time exposure of a spinning ferris wheel wouldn’t work.

When you start to research tripods you will find all serious brands provide load rating data as part of their specifications. You want to buy a tripod with sufficient design to properly hold your valuable equipment. The load ratings typically start around 15lbs and can range upwards of 80lbs. They are best viewed in relationship to each other rather than as absolutes. If you have a consumer DSLR like a Canon Rebel or Nikon 3000/5000 series camera with the kit lenses then your gear is relatively light. A entry level tripod will most likely meet your needs. But, do you have your eye on that next level camera and a few more lenses? If you think you are eventually liable to move up to a larger camera and lenses I would buy more tripod than you need today, and plan to grow into it.

Once you decide on a load range that you feel is right for you, the next consideration is material. Aluminum is most common. I have owned several wonderful aluminum tripods over the years. On the plus side, aluminum is relatively light weight and inexpensive. On the down side, it transmits vibration more readily than other materials, and it can get quite cold in winter climates. Conversely, carbon fiber is superior at dampening vibration, is extremely light weight, doesn’t get as cold if you will be working outdoors in winter conditions, but it can run 3x the cost of a comparable aluminum tripod.

Fountain in Birmingham, Michigan

Shooting from a steady tripod makes this long exposure possible.

The last item we will tackle in this first posting is height. A properly fit tripod should be a comfortable working height without having to raise the center column. A significant part of the benefit of using a tripod stems from the stability provide by those three legs. As soon as you raise that center column you loose much of that stability. Just like load rating data, most tripod manufacturers provide specifications on their websites. Be sure you are reading the information correctly. Often times the maximum height specification s with the column UP. Look for the height with the column in the down position. The other two considerations to keep in mind when reviewing height data is the closed height, and the minimum height. Closed height can be important if you plan to travel by plane and want to know if it will fit in your luggage. The minimum height specification will let you know how close to the ground you would be able to work. Watch for part II.

Note: I am now an authorized MeFoto and Induro retailer. Feel free to contact me if you would like to schedule a personal tripod consultation. We price match B&H!

Buy one good tripod and never have to replace it.

Tripod, Ball Head, Carbon Fiber
A quality ball head will go a long way toward making you love your tripod.

A tripod is a tool, and like any other tool it should make your job easier. If it makes life harder, then you need to re-evaluate the situation and find a solution. The tripod pictured above has been my go to choice for several years now.

Tripods come either as fully assembled kits, or as separate components made up of the legs and the head.

I like a ball head design for the ease of operation and tremendous flexibility that it provides. Unlike other designs that require you to adjust the head in several different planes independently, a good ball head allows you to loosen one control, adjust the head in all planes at once, and then retighten the head. When selecting your ball head be sure to get one substantial enough for the weight of your current camera, plus any gear that you anticipate acquiring in the future. If your camera is too heavy for the head you select it won’t be stable. The camera will “drift” (move slightly) after you lock the ball and your composition will change. This is frustrating, and entirely avoidable by making sure you buy a larger enough head the first time.

Arca-Swiss, Ball Head Clamp, Tripod

The Arca-Swiss clamp system will alleviate your camera twist issues.

The camera to tripod connection is another area not to be overlooked. Most tripods, even some otherwise excellent ball heads connect to the camera via the insecure 1/4-20 threaded connector found on the bottom of every camera. This small threaded attachment and the myriad of quick connect plate options based upon it simply doesn’t have what it takes to hold your camera securely. When I got frustrated with my camera wiggling around on my tripod I started searching for a solution. What I found is referred to as an Arca-Swiss style clamp. It is a substantial 2 inch plus wide clamp that grabs a corresponding plate connected to the camera body with interlocking dovetail joints. The real benefit of this design is not realized until you pair it with a dedicated camera plate designed to wrap around your camera in such a manner that it becomes impossible for it to twist. Granted, it isn’t a cheap system, but the finished result is so secure and enjoyable with which to work, that the expense will soon be forgotten and you will never look at your tripod the same ever again.

Ball Head, Arca-Swiss, Tripod, Nikon 70-200, Secure, Anti-Twist

Arca-Swiss “plate” for telephoto lenses with a tripod foot.

For longer telephoto lenses that include a tripod foot, there are accessory plates designed to lock onto the base of lens foot in such a manner that they simply cannot twist. The result is a secure connection that you will absolutely love.

 

Tripod, Carbon Fiber, Induro

Carbon Fiber Leg set

On to the legs! The legs are Carbon Fiber, which has several benefits. They don’t get as cold as Aluminum, which after the winter we just experienced is a significant benefit. They are about 35% lighter than Aluminum without sacrificing any rigidity or strength. One major factor to look at when selecting a set of legs is the number of leg sections. The more leg sections typically the smaller the tripod can collapse down for travel. Three leg sections are very common, but result in a slightly longer tripod which can be difficult to fit into luggage for air travel. I went with a carbon-fiber 4 leg section model that offers a nice balance of compact size, light weight yet still opens to a very comfortable working height.

Induro, Tripod, Ball Head, night photography

Induro BH1 – A capable ball head, and perfect companion to the superb Induro Carbon Fiber leg set.

Induro currently has a rebate on their high end carbon fiber tripod legs. I worked out a deal with a contact of mine and purchased 5 tripods and heads. I don’t foresee myself getting into the tripod business on a regular basis, but while the special was running I decided to try a few. A lot of people ask me what tripod to buy, so now I have a very nice option for them on-hand.

The legs are typically $395, and the head is another $160. With the rebate ($100 off) I am able to offer the assembled combination for $455 plus tax for a total of $482.30 If you are interested in obtaining one of the five please contact me.

 

Buying and using a Tripod

I bought my first tripod in 1979, and I sold it a few months later. Why? Simple it was poorly designed and made my life harder not easier. I have since bought numerous tripods for different purposes. This is the first in what will be several posts regarding tripods.

Night Photography at the Birmingham Carnival

Night Photography at the Birmingham Carnival

The image above is made possible by shooting with a sturdy tripod. To get the movement in the image, the exposure had to last for several seconds. I enjoy shooting from my various tripods, but I have spent a lot of time and a fair amount of money assembling the right tripod for the job. I instruct at workshops very frequently, and the single biggest problem I see workshop participants dealing with is bad tripods.

High Dynamic Range Image

High Dynamic Range image from Smokep Mountain N.P.

To create the image above, I shot a series of 7 “bracketed” images and then combined them into a single final image using software designed for just such a purpose. Using a tripod ensured that all 7 images would line up perfectly in the post processing software.

You need a rock solid tripod, and you need to be very familiar with how to set it up and adjust it. The more familiar you are with your equipment, the more you will be able to focus on your composition rather than your equipment.

My next installment will address selecting the right components or kit for your particular needs. I will take a few shots in the studio to demonstrate the various features to take into consideration when selecting your tripod.

Until then, keep practicing, and check back regularly for the next installment.

Bob

Raw vs. JPEG…my take on the situation

200704120087-Edit

I love the advent of the digital darkroom, and my ability to get creative with my final vision.

As I sit watching it rain, I found myself wishing for a nicer day. I decided to find a fun image of better times. Thus the picture above, from a wonderful day in Savannah, Georgia.

So what does this have to do with my topic RAW vs. JPEG? Well let’s see. Let me take a moment to point out that this is an extensive topic, and this blog post is intended to provide an overview. If you want to get into detailed evaluations of the potential of RAW files there are other sites that can get very technical.

When people ask me if I shoot RAW or jpeg I tell them that I predominantly shoot in RAW. Typically the next question is why? For me, the answer is that I have numerous post processing tools that I use to optimize my photographic vision and the more information I have in the original file, the more options I have when it come time to processing the image in the computer.

So what are the implications of shooting RAW?

  1. First and foremost, you need a software product capable of viewing and editing the RAW file. While most cameras capable of capturing a RAW file come with manufacturer supplied software to view the files, they don’t all come with software capable of processing the files. Even if they do provide software, the workflow often leaves a lot to be desired.
  2. You need to understand that your initial “capture” or file will seem a little lackluster compared to a jpeg. Jpeg’s are fully processed in the camera before being saved to the memory card, as a result the jpeg will typically have more punch. The RAW file is much less processed and more of an all encompassing record of all the photographic information related to the scene.
  3. The RAW file will be larger, take up more space on your memory card and computer hard drive because it contains more data.
  4. If you miss judge your exposure a RAW file will provide you more latitude to correct your image back to a useable state than will a jpeg.

How should you decide which one to shoot?

  • If you want to work on your images in the digital darkroom, RAW files contain more data, and hold up better to adjustment. (My post-processing workflow starts with my tool of choice – Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 5)
  • If you under or over expose, RAW files may give you the additional post processing latitude necessary to rescue an otherwise unusable image.
  • You plan to make enlargements and want to be sure you are getting the maximum file benefits that your camera has to offer.

What about shooting both? While most cameras capable of shooting RAW will also allow you to shoot RAW + JPEG, I am not a big proponent. It leads to twice as many file with which to download, organize and process. If you are a little leery of getting started into RAW processing by all means shoot both for a few outings to give yourself a safety net, but I think you will quickly find that shooting all RAW is not that daunting.

Thanks for reading my blog and say hello if we meet up in the real world.