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Behind The Shot: Patriotic Expression

30 Jul
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Have you ever spent the 4th of July at an airport?

Travel has it’s unfavorable flavors sometimes. When I dropped off the car at a local hotel for a week of parking near the airport, the lady at the desk asked about my Independence Day vacation plans as she pulled up the paperwork . . . No, not for me this time. After a fun-filled weekend with friends and family for the WV FEW, the 4th of July needed to be a normal day of business. I thanked her for making the 4th of July a day of work herself . . . as well as the fellow who drove the shuttle to the airport. I could feel for them.

I must say, if you’re going to spend a holiday at an airport, Pittsburgh is the place to do it! It’s spacious and peaceful. They play classical music too. After seeing my brother Daniel off on his early afternoon flight to Dallas, I got to spend a few hours there before my late afternoon flight took off for Sacramento.

The layover in Las Vegas, however, was a different story. The annoying sounds of countless slot machines and the unceasing frolic of vacationing crowds was almost humorous.

Watching fireworks from the plane, though, as I took off on that last leg of the journey, actually turned out to be something interesting. Not necessarily photogenic, just unique. Little bursts of light erupting simultaneously from multiple points across the cityscape sprawled out below . . . it was, interesting. With a travel-weary smile, I reclined my seat in an attempt to get some sleep, grateful that the firework show was the only unexpected event of the day.

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Patriotic Expression
Parking lot in Sacramento, California
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As it turned out, though, it wouldn’t be the last firework show of the season.

After a full and fun week leading the ACTION Photography Team for the Sacramento Family Conference (which I wrote about in The Photography Team That Kept Growing), and with the long return flight to the East Coast planned for the next day, I was enjoying the randomness of post-Conference, brain-fried conversation with Jonah, a photographer friend from the Sacramento area, while we cleaned up the classroom together. I may tire of taking pictures (especially if it’s of basically the same thing day in and day out during a Conference), but I don’t ever seem to tire of talking photography (especially when the friend you’re talking with is big into phone-photography and is showing you how to utilize your new phone’s manual camera settings.)

At some point, the topic of fireworks comes up. Any shows going on this weekend? As a matter of fact, yes! The California State Fair is just down the road . . . it actually started tonight. No way. Jonah’s says he’s free for the evening. And has a car. Why not?!

With permission (and after the classroom was all cleaned up), we took off! Before long we found ourselves in a Chase bank parking lot just outside the fairgrounds, chatting about life, photography, cars . . . ah, I couldn’t have asked for a more relaxing conclusion to a fantastic week! And the firework show that ensued added a nice, dramatic—patriotic—exclamation mark.


Photographing fireworks is a lot of fun and a Making the Most of Your Vacation video available only to PRO Members is in the works that will explain how to capture them artistically. But for now, here are a few of my favorite shots from the California State Fair fireworks show:







Best Shots From My Brothers Wedding!

21 Jul
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My brother got married on Saturday!

As brother to the groom, I found myself in a peculiar position. I was supposed to be both a groomsman and a photographer at the same time! It would have been totally impossible to fulfill both of these roles if it hadn’t been for a photographer friend who enthusiastically volunteered to step in and take my place as photographer during the parts of the wedding where I was supposed to be in the pictures. It worked out very well!

Here are a few of my favorite shots (from both of us photographers) and some comments on why I like them or how they were taken:

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Look at that background!! This took scouting.


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Being a July wedding (and it being common knowledge that bridesmaids take longer to get ready than groomsmen), it was too hot and humid to photograph the bridesmaids outdoors at the appointed time. So, we were forced to shoot indoors. Coming up with a unique angle and pose helped to compensate for the less-than-ideal surroundings.


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Color, symmetry, contrast, almost perfect height-order . . . ah! Somehow it’s hard to stop looking at this shot it’s so perfect. Good choice of color, Daniel & Kathryn. 🙂


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From a burst of shots, but the focus, expressions, positions and up-close subject placement make this one stand out from the rest. There’s a lot of random chance that goes into wedding photography, but I did have control over choice of lens, camera settings and shooting position (squatting vs standing).


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The sister of the bride recommended this perfectly beautiful spot for the couple shots after the ceremony. I like to include surroundings when they are picturesque. Perhaps that’s the landscape photographer side of me coming out . . .


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What’s a wedding shoot without a full-body shot of the bride?! The surroundings called for a centered pose.


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Never seen such a happy Daniel in my life. 🙂  Made sure to get the decorated ring finger real prominent in there.


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Had to re-take this shot after showing it to the bride for suggestions . . . first time around the dress was covering up some of the flowers. It looks much better this way.


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Another important close-up. Love the the multiple applications of layering, depth and contrast here.


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It helps to have helpers around. While I was taking other shots, a helper ran around scouting other locations I hadn’t been to before. This was one of his finds. I purposely positioned myself so that the depth-creating leaves drooping in from the top fit in the empty space of sky like a piece in a puzzle.


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Just trying more creative things here. This was not my idea originally. Always helps to keep an eye open for creative wedding shots!


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I wasn’t about to leave without getting a shot with my brother and new sister! Can you tell we wore ourselves out? 🙂

How Slight Rearranging Can Make All The Difference In The World

15 Jul

When I returned from the Sacramento Family Conference, my brother asked if I would be available to do a quick photoshoot of his family. Of course! With such adorable nieces and nephew, how could I turn that down?!

There were some specific things for which they wanted to use the pictures, so we spent a lot of time setting up. Once everything was set up, it took some more time to get the kids positioned and engaged and happy and smiling at the camera. The whole process takes time.

And when so much time is taken to get an initial shot, it’s difficult to remember to take even more time to do the slight rearranging that will make the shot the best it can be.

Here’s what I mean. This is an initial set up:


It took a long time to get this arrangement set up. Everyone was ready to move on to something different. But after shooting it, I really didn’t like it. Plus, I really wasn’t positive if I had captured good expressions with all the kids. I had taken so many pictures, surely one of them would have all three kids looking happy! But I wasn’t positive. (And as it turns out as you can see, I hadn’t captured one.) So I decided to take even more time to do some slight rearranging. I’m glad I did!


When working with families with small children, I just have to expect and plan for things to take a long time. And then more time on top of that. Yes, it was a quick photoshoot because I didn’t do any more than just two poses, but it wasn’t quick in the amount of time that was taken. If there’s anything I’ve learned from years in landscape photography, quality is better than quantity, regardless of the genre.

Here’s a second example. The only other pose I did that day of the whole family:



See the difference?

I’m learning to take my time. To take time for set up. To take time for smiling kids. And to take time to rearrange. It can make all the difference in the world!

The Photography Team That Kept Growing!

11 Jul


One photography instructor, praying for the Sacramento Photography Team new;
One photographer signs up early—how exciting that there are two!


Two photographers waiting, hoping for more sign-ups to see;
A regular registration comes in—all are glad that there are now three!


Three photographers hoping, registration open for just one week more;
A fourth photographer signs up last minute—we hold our breath, there are only four!


Four photographers, almost canceled, not enough folks for hosting live;
When a last minute request comes in—so grateful that there are five!


Five photographers assembled, on Tuesday for orientation, tips and tricks;
Someone pokes their head in the door—before you know it, there are six!


Six photographers happy, amazed at the amount signed in;
The sixth photographer’s friend wants to learn too—making a total of seven!


Seven photographers gathered, for devotions the next morning at 8:00;
A new registrant walks in the door—we can hardly believe there are eight!


Eight photographers thankful, praising God for a large group so fine;
A helper from COMMIT can’t help but join the team—making a whopping grand total of nine!


A team of nine photographers strong, excited to be learning and shooting;
I’ve never seen a Photography Team quite like this—one that just kept right on growing!


Looking forward to God putting together the final Photography Team of the year in Green Lake, Wisconsin, August 30–September 2!

How Do I Make This Composition Work?

05 Jul
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During the CAPTURE Alaska workshop back in 2014, we stopped to have a chat with Alaska landscape and lifestyle photographer Jeff Schultz at his studio in Anchorage. Jeff’s work has been published all over the world, he founded Alaska’s largest stock agency, Alaska Stock Images, and has served as the official photographer for the celebrated Iditarod dog-sled race for more than 30 years. We learned a lot from Jeff during our stop!

And I continue to learn from him. On his blog. Here’s a particularly insightful post he wrote recently . . .

Cropping, composing; vertical, horizontal; long shutter, fast shutter; sun’s going down . . . oh how do I make this look good?!

I was recently out looking for and shooting some spring landscapes. I found myself 50 miles south of home at Portage Lake, hoping that there might be some icebergs in the lake—and sure enough, there was. The light was nice and low and the icebergs were close to shore. I hiked down to the lake and began as I usually do, handholding the camera and composing images before putting the camera on the tripod—which slows down my creativity composition exponentially.

After shooting a number of frames, both vertically and horizontally, from high and low and different areas, I settled on a vertical shot. Because of the water, I wanted to do an extra-slow shutter speed to make the water more silky and interesting rather than stopping it, which to me would make a more boring image. Having set up the tripod, figuring out the hyperfocal distance and the long exposure time, I made the image.

On first glance on the screen it looked great. But as I magnified the image on the screen, I saw that the icebergs had moved much more than I thought they would and than could see with my naked eye. I now saw that they were actually floating, very slowly, from right to left, moving every so slightly out of the frame. I quickly did some recalculating and shot a few more frames, at much faster, but still somewhat slower shutter speeds, hoping to get a good image out of pure luck that would work.

As the bergs moved, I had to as well. I moved down the lake shore and recomposed an image in horizontally and set up the tripod in a hurry. So much for a relaxed landscape shooting experience. I did the same thing here, using several different shutter speeds where I hoped to get the ice bergs still, but the water moving to give a somewhat silky look. I shot these scenes for a good 40 minutes, attempting everything I could think of. Here’s the trial and error results. All of these images are shot with a Canon 5D Mark III and a 16-35mm f/4 lens.


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This first shot is the first experiment I did. Shot at 20mm, f/18, ISO 200 for 2 minutes with a 10-stop Neutral Density filter and a 3-stop hard edge Singh-Ray Galen Rowel graduated Neutral Density filter. Way too long of an exposure to keep the icebergs very still at all. Though it does show motion. Might be something . . . but I thought it was too blurry to be any good.

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For one of the next shots I made, I used a shorter shutter speed. 1/13th of a second, ISO 500 at 16mm, f/20 with the 3-stop hard edge Singh-Ray Galen Rowel graduated Neutral Density filter. The icebergs are sharp and I like the composition somewhat, though the cut-off mountain on the right bothers me. Still I thought something was missing . . .

Click here to finish reading the story on Jeff’s blog!

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