Jun 30, 2009

Quick Pics - That Sunset

What a beautiful sunset to round out the first half of 2009. For me, this year is best divided into two parts anyway, so here's to a great 2009.2.




Happy Shooting

don j

Jun 28, 2009

Fireworks Shooting Tips

OK, a quick google search will get you lots of tips for photographing fireworks.  Since you are already here, here is my $.02 worth of advice...

Location, Location, Location...
First, you have to pick your shooting location.  Many times the best place for photos is not the best place for just watching.  Look for places with other elements to give your shots a sense of place.  A city skyline, waning sunset, landmarks, and people can make your fireworks shots more visually appealing.

My fair city's display happens at a park with a nice pond.  The still water provides a nice reflection and makes for unique photos.
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First and foremost, you have to keep the camera still.  A tripod is best, of course.  If you have no tripod, find something to rest your camera on and do your best.

This shot was taken holding a small point & shoot camera on the arm of a folding chair.
July 4 Temple, TX 

It is hard to know exactly where the fireworks will be exploding, so start with a fairly wide angle setting.  After the first few shots, you will be able to more accurately frame your shots to fill the frame.

Point and Shoot  notes...
Any camera will do.  Seriously, almost every point & shoot camera has a "fireworks" mode, and from my experience they work pretty well once you get the timing down.  If you can't find a specific fireworks mode, use one of the "nighttime portrait" modes. 

Turn off the flash.  The flash is only helpful if you want to light up something in the foreground to go with the fireworks.  The fireworks mode on most cameras has the flash disabled.

Timing.  On P&S Cameras, the fireworks mode is all about timing.  You get a 1-2 second shutter speed, so it will take some practice to release the shutter at the right moment to catch the bursting shells.

DSLR Notes...  
Manual Focus.  Your camera cannot focus on something that isn't there, so don't let it try.  You can generally set the focus to "infinity" and be safe.  If you are really close to the action, pick an object to focus on that is a similar distance to the fireworks and focus there.

ISO, Shutter and Aperture...
This can get complicated, but here is a good place to start..
ISO 200, aperture at f8, shutter 3 seconds.

Work the shutter speed up and down and see how things look.

If your camera has "Bulb" setting, this will allow you to control how long the shutter is open.  As long as you are holding the button, the shutter is open.  A remote shutter release really helps here, so that you don't accidentally move the camera while pushing the button.

Watch through the viewfinder...
When taking photos, you give up part of the enjoyment of watching the show so that you can capture images for later.  Watching through the viewfinder allows you to frame your shots well.

Check your LCD often...
Fireworks events last long enough that you can try lots of things.  Look out for over-exposure (if the fireworks just look white, reduce your iso or move to a higher aperture setting)

Longer Shutter speeds are fun to get more explosions into the shot.   Wind is not your friend here though... 

Here are some shots and notes from Saturday...  I will try to improve next weekend!

The Gear...  Canon 5D, 24-70mm zoom lens, tripod and remote release.
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This is the scene at Seagoville Central Park... nice pond, a stage, and some unfortunate car and street lights.  I was tempted to move, but decided to stay in this general area because I was with my family...
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A six-second shutter opening at ISO 400 left nice color in the sky, but the wind caused a lot of streaking.
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I moved down closer to the water to capture reflections.  The first spot had a lot of moss by the shore.  This is a 5 second exposure, still a lot of wind motion there.
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A move to the left got me away from the moss, and placed the fountain as a more central element in the shot.
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I wanted to include the a sense of the whole event, so I moved back and shot really wide to get the carnival in the shot.  That did not really work as you can see... to much in the way and the street light is very distracting.
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While photos of fireworks are fun to look at, they will all look the same, year after year, and get boring really fast.

to take your photos to another level, include something else into your photo that sets the scene into this event, this year, this experience that you are sharing.

I was happy to have my wife, one sister, two nieces and mom and dad with me.  This isn't technically a very good shot.  Lots of lens flare, not great composition, lots of distractions.  Still, it is one of my favorites because it puts the event into context and time.
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OK, so go shoot some fireworks..  just remember to keep it steady, have fun, and try to work in some elements to put it all in context.

Happy Shooting

don j

Jun 27, 2009

Quick Pic - Fireworks

Fireworks in Seagoville's Central Park came a week before July 4, which is fine by me.  Since it is not a huge fireworks show or other large attraction, it is good to schedule it on a night with less competition.

Here is a quick pic... I will post about getting fireworks photos by Monday.
Seagoville Carnival-200

Happy Shooting,

don j.

Jun 26, 2009

Quick Pics - Carnival

The carnival has rolled into Seagoville.  While the excitement of actually riding the rides left my system several years ago, the  photographic opportunities are just as exciting for me now.

After watching Nacho Libre, I really felt like I needed to do something productive to make up for the wasted time, so I headed over to see what was going on...

With all of the movement and lights, I love to play with slow shutter speeds...  This is panning with the merry-go-round horses at 1/6 second.
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The other way to show motion is to have the camera still while the objects move...  Of course, it is good to keep something still in the frame for reference.  Otherwise, it just becomes abstract art.  I was glad the ride operator turned so we can see his face.  This time the camera is on the tripod, almost 1/2 second exposure.
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This lady was pretty good with darts... three throws, three hits.
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My favorite shots of the evening were with this ride operator.  We talked a bit about how few people were showing up and spending money.  I hadn't really thought about the effects of the recession on carnies.  It seems that carnival ride spending would be very first out of the budget.
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Of course it did not help that it was really hot out there too.

Everybody come out and bring a few bucks, watch the fireworks tomorrow night, and of course, bring your camera!

Happy Shooting,

don j.

Jun 23, 2009

Traveling Cameras

Cameras and vacations are inseparable, but you don't want to bring back boring trip photos do you?  This will be the first of a few posts about camera considerations when you are heading out of town or out of the country.

Last weekend the wife and I had a great getaway to visit some friends in the Texas hill country.  Some kayaking, German food, shopping, cookout food, more kayaking, historical sites, and finally, some photography.  

I took a camera of course, but there is always a balancing act between taking lots of good photos and taking time to enjoy other things.

If you want to be intentional about your photography, it is a good idea to think about what you are trying to do photographically before you leave...

Must Haves, regardless of where you are going or type of camera...
Camera Yes, I have forgotten to take a camera before, and that is miserable.  You never see so many great shots as when you are sans camera.
Batteries/Charger For the camera, flash, and any other toys.  Go ahead and charge the batteries before you leave too.
Cleaning tools Lens Cloth, dust blower, etc.

Invest in a "just right" camera bag that you won't mind carrying around.  Make taking the camera easy so that you will actually have it with you.

The bag that I carry most is a Lowepro Slingshot 200.  This bag will fit one DSLR, two zoom lenses, a flash, and all of the accessories I might need for everyday shooting.  It is also quite comfortable for trekking around all day.  Click on the pic to go to flickr for notes with each piece identified.

Packing Considerations
This was to be a relaxing getaway to visit some friends of ours, not just a photo expedition.  With that in mind, I tried to think through the trip to decide what would be most useful without becoming a burden.
One Bag
I wanted to take one easy-to-carry bag.  I did not want to leave it in a car as we shopped or ate, and risk theft or heat damage.
Lens Range
When taking only one camera and one bag, it is good to get as much lens range as possible.  I took two zooms with a total range of 24-200mm, which worked out pretty well until I tried shooting some birds.
Because I knew that this trip would be a lot of moving around, I did not bring my tripod.

And I wish I had taken...
A Point & Shoot (waterproof if possible)
The camera quality on cell phones is getting better all the time, but for me, a good point & shoot would have been good to have, especially going on kayak trips.  I do not have the nerve or funds to replace cameras due to my own stupidity.  Unfortunately, I also cannot afford an underwater housing for occasional use.  I am considering the Canon D10, which looks perfect for anyone on an adventure involving the outdoors.
A Small Tripod
A Gorillapod or similar small tripod would have been nice for using the self-timer or just steadying the camera in lower light.
A Reflector
I did some outdoor shots for my friend, and he was wearing a hat....  Having a reflector would have expanded my options greatly.
A 50mm lens
Everyone with an SLR should buy a "fast 50."  The f1.8 versions for each brand are  under $100, and they will allow you do do so much fun stuff with short depth-of-field.  No excuse, I should have taken it along and had some fun with it.  They also help out when the lighting is dim.

The Results
Six o'clock in the morning and we are off... Luckily, my wife is a scrapbooker who is willing to put up with early morning photos to document the trip.  For this shot, the light above the garage serves to light her face with the sunrise coming up in the background.  I should have had her face into the light a bit more, and had her move a bit further to the right so that the kayak is not going through her head.

US President Lyndon Baines Johnson is buried at his family ranch, which is now a federal park property with an active living history project.  It is free, and worth a stop if you are close by.

I have not visited any other presidential grave sites, but considering LBJ's large legacy and style, I expected something grander.  As photos go, not much to do here but take a snapshot, although I did like how the big oak framed the shot.

The historic farm provided lots of photo fodder like very fresh produce...

Barns are always good, and even better with a fully stocked tack room bathed in sunlight.

One of my favorite tricks is using slow shutter speeds to blur some motion in the frame.

First.. I really liked the look of the basic frozen frame.  I took several shots, and managed to capture my friends' son looking out toward the street.

Slow the shutter down, and he is movin'!

One of my favorite shots was a complete snapshot, holding the camera down at kid-level.  

I don't think we were supposed to touch the cars, but when he threw his arm up up on the fender, it was too good to pass up.  

The hummingbirds were active in the mornings, which was fun to catch.  If I had paid attention to my ISO setting, this might go from a pretty snapshot to a salable photo.  The 200mm lens was also a bit short for this, and this shot is cropped down to about 1/4 of the original frame.

My friend wanted some photos with one of his champion Chesapeake Retrievers... but time was limited and we had harsh afternoon sun.  We went to a nice park with a shallow stream and lots of trees.  It worked fine for man and dog, but backgrounds were trickier.

The river looked great to the eye, but in the camera, the sun made it very bright compared to the subjects.

When that happens, look for something that is also in the shade, or even darker than the subject.  The trees worked pretty well.

And then, playtime for the dog and photographer...

Next week, Shooting fireworks of course!  Our community fireworks event will be Saturday June 27, so I will share tips and results before July 4 gets here.

If you read all the way down here, Thanks!

Have a great week, and happy shooting,

don j

Jun 16, 2009

Dallas City Arts

A surefire way to get some interesting photos is to attend an arts festival event.  Dallas' CityArts did not disappoint last weekend.  It was a great eclectic mix of folks, music, art, fun stuff, and heat.

Heat?  Yes... the acclimation to summer has not really set in yet.
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I recommend the evening for these things.  I may still be dehydrated.

Some of the art was cars
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And some was people
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Some art was music
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There was some "Do It Yourself" art
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And "Don't try this at home" art
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Beautiful moving art is always good
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And kid art is good too
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Intriguing inside art gave us time to cool off a bit
Discovering Sculpture

Curious outside art was....   curious
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I even brought some beautiful art from my house!
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So much art, it could really wear you out
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Any time you get a bunch of people together, interesting photos can happen.  Snapshots? Yes... but also good opportunities to practice watching backgrounds, waiting for expressions and catching moments quickly.

Happy Shooting

don j.

Jun 10, 2009


As a bit of a wanna-be photojournalist and weather geek, having large storm systems roll through the region makes me a bit antsy.  Sitting home with lightning flashing in the distance proved to be too much to handle, so I grabbed a camera, tripod and shutter release cable and found a bridge to sit under.  I like to sit by a road so that the long exposure times also give me a trail of lights for visual interest and perspective.

First thing to note for Lightning photography is that you cannot wait until you see a bolt to push the shutter button.  Patience is the name of the game.  

You have to manual focus your lens, so choose whether to focus on something else that will be in the frame (for visual interest), or set it out to infinity to get the lightning bolts as clearly defined as possible.

After that, it is a matter of taking a lot of pictures and some good luck.  Inevitably, great strikes will happen between frames, off to one side or the other, behind you, and as you are driving away.

Some of the lightning will just light up the clouds.  If you put something in the foreground of your shot, even that can be interesting.

Point and shoot cameras can be somewhat effective with a lot of patience and luck.. use the "fireworks" preset for longer shutter speed.

I took a 14mm lens on a Canon 40D in hopes that the wide angle would catch more sky in each shot.  This worked, but the lens is also very prone to flare from direct light, so there was a lot of interference from the car headlights.  Also, these pictures are all cropped down a lot from the original wide angle view.

Here is one from June of 2008, this time looking at an approaching storm.  This was without a tripod, so you can see that the foreground elements are fuzzy.
June Lightning

Without a tripod, it is possible to use the dash of your car and shoot through the windshield.  Use a t-shirt or sandbag to keep the camera positioned.  
June Lightning

Well, enough of that.  If you can get out to shoot safely, lightning photos can add some electricity to your portfolio.

Did I just say that? 

Happy Shooting,

don j.