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Archive for June, 2008

There are countless articles, blogs and even books devoted to the digital photo workflow. Most deal only with what to do from capture to downloading your images to the computer and then from the computer to the printer. While that workflow is important, it’ll also leave you with a full memory card and a camera set for your LAST assignment, not the next assignment. Since I like to start an assignment with my camera set the same way every time (partly due to latent OCD on my part), I follow this post-assignment workflow:

  1. After making sure the images on your memory card have been safely copied to your hard drive and your backup drive, format your memory card in the camera, not in your card reader.
  2. Charge your camera battery and your backup battery. Might as well charge your flash batteries now while you’re in the mood.
  3. Set your ISO to 200, or whatever ISO setting gives the best quality. For my EOS 1D MkII, it’s 200.
  4. Set exposure compensation to zero. I often set this to a couple stops underexposure if I’m shooting with flash, so it’s important to change it back.
  5. White balance to auto white balance mode (AWB).
  6. Motor drive mode (if you have one) set to continuous. (because I shoot a lot of action)
  7. Exposure mode set to aperture preferred. (because I like to choose my own f-stop, thank you)

While you’ll probably want to modify this list to suit your own gear, the general concept remains the same. Going through this post-shoot routine allows me to start my next assignment confident in knowing my camera has a blank memory card, fresh batteries and is set to my baseline settings — leaving everything ready to go for the next assignment.

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I love air shows. The sheer power of modern jets and the history behind WWII warbirds pulls me to an air show like a moth to a flame. Since not shooting daily (I’m a desk-bound editor now) has made me a bit rusty at covering such events, I thought I’d shoot one to keep the skills sharp. After spending a fruitful afternoon shooting high-speed, state-of-the-art jets along with vintage propeller craft, I learned the hard way that these two subjects need to be approached in two completely different ways. Case in point is the photo below:

Propellers not spinning

Of course, it’s tack sharp (no autofocus needed, I’ve still got mad focusing skills). Yes, it’s properly exposed and shot at almost peak action. Note the propellers. They were turning (and quite rapidly, too) a lot more than the propellers frozen in time shown above.

Ouch! In the heat of the moment, I forgot to crank down my shutter speed from the 1/6000th of a second needed to shoot an F-15 Strike Eagle demonstration and, while that shutter speed was more than enough to freeze a streaking jet fighter, it was overkill for these slower propeller planes. The eye (thanks to persistence of vision) sees the props as spinning disks, not the frozen blades I captured. To fix this, when shooting spinning propellers or helicopter blades, knock your shutter speed down to 1/250th of a second or so (experiment!) and pan with the aircraft to get a nicely blurred, spinning propeller. I certainly won’t forget, next time.

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I conducted my first “photo walk” last weekend at a local air show. I met with several local amateur photogs and shared my knowledge and love of photography with them. I was particularly taken aback by a comment from a photographer about how she “could never take photos as good as mine” because she was using a non-DSLR, point-and-shoot camera.

P-51D Mustang

This casual comment started a lively discussion about how the person and not the camera is the most important ingredient to great photography.  Sure, a multi-thousand dollar camera will allow you to have greater control over your photography, but without an eye for lighting, form and composition, it’s just an expensive necklace.

What to do? Adapt your photography to the gear you have in hand now. For example, point-and-shoot cameras are good for portraits and landscapes. DSLRs will allow more lens choices (at a price) and faster captures —  allowing better sports photography. Master the gear you’ve got, don’t set it aside because it’s not “good enough.” Explore all possibilities and potential of your current camera….and keep shooting.

B-17G Wright Cyclone

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Next time you find yourself uninspired about your work, try grabbing ONE lens from your bag and use it for everything you shoot that day. Just that one lens, nothing else. All day. The last time I did this exercise, I used a 50mm macro lens. It forced me to concentrate more on making the most from then lens I had and not on what lens might have been the “right” lens for the situation. Don’t despair if you’ve only got a point and shoot camera, you can do the this exercise too … just use one zoom setting for everything. So, grab a wide-angle, a telephoto or a normal lens and just do it. It’s a great way to reinvigorate your visual thought processes…..and it’s fun too!

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Photo contests have been out there as long as there have been cameras. We photographers are a strange breed in that we crave recognition for our work. Contests are just one way we get that validation. While it’s true that photo contests are a great way to compare your work with other photographers, it has also, sadly, become a source of income and rights-grabbing for the contest promoters. Protect your work and read the contest rules CLOSELY. Too many contests require you to hand over the rights to your work regardless of whether you win or not…in addition to paying an entry fee! Don’t get me wrong, there are still plenty of reputable contests out there for pro and amateur shooters alike. Protect yourself and read the contest rules and disclaimers thoroughly before plunking down your money and losing the rights to your own photos. If you want validation and critiques of your work, you can always post your work on Flickr or any of the other photo sharing sites on the Internet — where opinions are free.

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The title says it all. When working with people, your photos will improve substantially if you spend the time to get to know your subject before taking your gear out of the camera bag. I recently photographed the head of the local Red Cross and surprised her when I showed up with no camera in hand. Instead, I talked with her for 2-3 minutes, got a quick tour of her office (on her insistence) to check out the available lighting and built up a rapport with her. THEN I went to the car, grabbed my gear, a couple light stands and went to work. Her stress level was much lower after the initial meeting, we had an easier time chatting during the shoot and the results were worth the extra effort. This is the reason why the best portraits are often shot by friends and family. Photographing a relaxed subject makes a difference. Try it the next time you have a portrait assignment. 

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There are very few books about the craft of photography on my bookshelves. This is because I’ve found that most books about photo technique are boring, repetitive and poorly written. Basically, they’re not worth much more than a quick skim-through and definitely not worth taking up valuable shelf space.  That said, Kirk Tuck’s book, Minimalist Lighting is a welcome exception.

Minimalist Lighting coverI picked up this book on the recommendation of David Hobby’s Strobist.com web site and found it to be both worth the money and inspiring. Tuck makes a living shooting executive portraits and this book shows how he goes about producing high quality portraits with a minimum of equipment. At first glance, the book seems to be awfuly Nikon-centric but upon further reading the information given works with any flash system, not just the big N. The book is a great starting point for advanced amateurs wanting to improve their multi-flash technique and take their photography to the next level. As a pro with over 25 years of experience, it served as a great refresher course in using the new generation of small handheld strobes to do the same work I used to do with larger, high powered studio strobes. It was also motivation for me to take my strobes out of their cases and apply his lessons to my shooting style. Tuck provides shopping lists of recommended gear as well as plenty of examples of the portraits he made using his techniques. Of course, he includes lighting diagrams for every shoot to explain how he lit his subjects. It’s not a thick book (128 pages) but it’s written in a conversational style that’s easy to read and digest. If you’ve always wanted to become more comfortable using multiple flashes, this book is a perfect first step

Here’s an example of the lighting you can do with three Canon strobes and a patient spouse: 

Diane portrait

Is it any wonder my copy’s dog-eared already?

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