Glenn Woodell: Blog https://glennwoodell.zenfolio.com/blog en-us (C) Glenn Woodell (Glenn Woodell) Thu, 15 Apr 2021 03:28:00 GMT Thu, 15 Apr 2021 03:28:00 GMT https://glennwoodell.zenfolio.com/img/s/v-12/u495168359-o14880184-50.jpg Glenn Woodell: Blog https://glennwoodell.zenfolio.com/blog 90 120 Stacking Canon Series III Extenders https://glennwoodell.zenfolio.com/blog/2021/3/stacking-canon-series-iii-extenders If you had previous versions of the Canon extenders, you were able to stack them together and get extra magnification. In many cases, the extra hit to the aperture made this pretty useless and some people don't even care to use them at all. But as camera sensors have improved dramatically, it's becoming more effective to use them individually and even together.

With the latest extenders, the Series III, you can no longer physically attach them together because they protrude slightly into the rear of the primary lens. And because the extenders have a lens element that is flush with the rear of the extenders, you cannot mate them together. Fortunately, Canon saw fit to put a protective rubber ring on that protruding element so you will not damage your optics if you try to mate them together or with a lens that is not designed to take an extender.

For those of us who crave focal lengths longer than 1000mm and who have the gear and the experience to get decent images at the extra long focal lengths, there is a solution, and it's got a spin off as well. By using a simple 12mm extension tube in between the extenders, you can provide the space necessary to mate them.

stacked extendersstacked extenders

I started off using an off-brand extender and although it worked, the connection was a little sloppy. For about four times the price, you can get a genuine Canon one. For the extra money you get a nice little drawstring bag and both a body and rear lens cap. You also get a better fit.

In the photo above, you can see my 500mm/f4 lens with a Series III 2X Extender, followed by the Canon 12mm extension tube, and a Series III 1.4X extender. That's a lot of connections but it is surprisingly tight.

So, how well does it perform? Like it was made to work that way! And here is one of my first examples using it in this configuration. A handheld shot of a pair of eagles at 1400mm (1412mm technically). Shutter speed was 1/1600 and ISO was 3200 at f11 on a Canon R6. I cropped this vertically from a horizontal shot so it's only cropped slightly on the left and right sides.

eagles with stacked extenderseagles with stacked extenders

And what's the tradeoff - because there is always a tradeoff. Well, you lose your ability to focus at infinity. But unless I'm shooting the moon or the sun, my new infinity is so much farther away than I would normally shoot, that it's effectively unchanged. I am still able to focus at an object five miles away!


And the spinoff I mentioned is that I can leave the extension tube on even when not stacking extenders and it reduces my minimum focusing distance. It's not huge but it reduces it from 11 feet to about 9-1/2 feet. This difference can determine whether or not I grab the shot of that bird that just landed nearby.

If you have a good prime lens, consider getting an extender and even two so you can stack them.

 

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(Glenn Woodell) extenders extension tube https://glennwoodell.zenfolio.com/blog/2021/3/stacking-canon-series-iii-extenders Sun, 21 Mar 2021 22:23:50 GMT
Watermarking, Logos, and Copyrights https://glennwoodell.zenfolio.com/blog/2021/1/watermarking-logos-and-copyrights frame your subjectframe your subject

One question I see quite often is, "Should I place a watermark on my images?". The answer is quite individual and highly debated and can be very complicated. I'll touch on the basics here and show you what I do.

Watermarking is a way to leave a logo or some sort of identifier on an image, usually to try to prevent others from stealing or copying your work. It is often a semi-transparent logo or set of words that is placed across the center of the image. There are some digital watermarks that are not visual but rather are embedded in the data of the image.

One thing I really do not like to see is a watermark or a signature placed over the best part of the image as I have illustrated below. To me, it totally detracts from the image. You may think you are increasing security by doing so, but in my opinion, you are taking away so much of the image, especially in terms of composition.
 

watermarkwatermark
Often confused with watermarks is a signature or a logo that serves as an identifier for the photographer. Although it can be used as a layer of protection for your images, it is most often placed as a way of simply identifying the artist.

Either or both of these methods can be used on your images but don't expect that you will be solidifying your copyright by using them. For the vast majority of photographers, nothing is going to stop people from stealing your work. I have come to the conclusion that I am not going to spend much energy tracking those who may use my work without my permission.

quilted jazzquilted jazz With the various social media platforms in existence, images are "shared" on a regular basis, most of which are without any intention to steal my glory. Only in the most blatant cases will I make a fuss about it.

For the most part, I choose to share freely but I do have my name on my art images, mainly so others will know who originated it. As my images are shared freely, my name goes along with them.

ospreyosprey

A case where that failed was that of a local online newspaper that grabbed one of my images for an article. What was strange was that rather than crop off my name, they use the entire image and actually took the time to "clone out" my name. It would have been so much simpler had they just contacted me and asked to use the image. I would have even sent them a high quality version. Instead, they literally stole the image, cloned out my name, and offered no byline. During our first conversation, they said they could not make any corrections to the image but after mentioning my attorney, they quickly accepted a high quality version and replaced it on their site.

logo cloned outlogo cloned out So, what is most appropriate as a photographer? It depends. In many cases, such as with printed publications, photographs are used without any watermarks or signatures but rather credit is usually given immediately below the image. In other cases it may be mentioned at the beginning along with the author of the article. For advertising, usually the images are purchased under a license and no credit is given at all. Note that you rarely see image credits on television ads or in pamphlets or other printed advertising matter.

4656_p4656_p Stock photographers can make a living out of licensing images, none of which will ever be credited to the photographer but for which money can be generated on a regular basis. In any event, you should work out those details in advance but just expect that names and logos are likely not going to be on the actual images.

After generating many different logos for my photos, I finally decided to just "sign" mine with a digital signature. All attempts at generating something useable myself on Photoshop failed miserably so I purchased a signature from PhotoLogo.

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You may have seen some of their ads. You select a few basic style descriptors about what you want, you pay the fee, and they send you a series of image files (large, small, black, white, transparent) that you can then drop onto your images with most any editing program. It's a little strange because you do not get to choose your final design but you can reject it. In my case, it was pretty much what I wanted and so much better than I could have done myself.

1Dx horizontal1Dx horizontal

To apply my logos, I use one of two signature templates I set up a Photoshop files where the bottom layer is gray and the top layer is the signature. One is in vertical layout while the other is horizontal. I simply copy my desired image onto my clipboard and then open the corresponding signature file into Photoshop. I then paste my image on top of the gray background so the logo is on top. I resize the logo as needed, such as when the image is smaller than my template, and I crop it. I simply flatten the layers and I'm done.

I place mine in the lower right corner. Other places include the bottom center and top center. The left corner looks off balance to me for some reason.

A watermark can be applied in much the same manner except that you reduce the opacity so some of the image shows through. Like I already mentioned, I personally do not like watermarks and would only use them if I were sending images to someone for review who I would not trust. You see these on school photo proofs but it doesn't stop people from copying the images anyway, complete with the watermark intact.

Below are some examples of my older signatures that I've retired. 09750975 .

10849869_10204472628989492_7568621333057176621_n10849869_10204472628989492_7568621333057176621_n coliseumcoliseum bird feederbird feeder

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Watermarks, signatures, and logos are a great way to let others know you were the creator of your images. Just realize that using them will not prevent unauthorized use. Use whatever works for you and try not to let the bad apples out there keep you from showing your work.

Be sure to check out my other blog articles for useful photographic tips and techniques.
 

 

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(Glenn Woodell) copyright logo Watermark https://glennwoodell.zenfolio.com/blog/2021/1/watermarking-logos-and-copyrights Sat, 09 Jan 2021 18:04:38 GMT
Focus Stacking in Photoshop https://glennwoodell.zenfolio.com/blog/2021/1/focus-stacking-in-photoshop The Canon R series of mirrorless cameras, as well as various bodies from other manufacturers, feature focus stacking, which is the ability to take and then combine multiple frames of a scene and create a much greater depth of field than that which can be obtained by simply shooting with a smaller aperture. Although this is not new, and can be performed manually on any camera, many newer cameras offer the ability to take the multiple shots while changing the focus in incremental steps. The tricky part is the combining of the multiple images into one image with the different focus points combined. Here I will present the method I use with Photoshop.

The image I chose for this was a watch placed about six inches in front of the camera. I used a Canon EF 50mm/f1.8 lens (nifty fifty) and a 20mm extension tube so I could focus close enough to fill the frame. The exposure settings are irrelevant but for the sake of the impressive image quality of the Canon R6 and the built in image stabilization, I was shooting at ISO 3200 handheld at 1/100.

The process can be broken down into two steps: 1) the shooting with the focus automatic focus adjustments and 2) the combining of the multiple images into one.

For the Canon bodies, the first step in preparing to take the shots is to enable the focus bracketing.

0101 Go to the 5th page of the red camera feature menu and select Focus bracketing and enable it.

 

0202 The Focus bracketing set up menu is not so straight forward since the values are all relative and not absolute. You guess the maximum number of exposures and select the Focus increment (smaller is better quality but more frames). I enable Exposure smoothing to keep the exposures constant across the sequence. The camera is now set up to take as many frames as are needed (up to the max you specify) in order to cover the scene.

Start by focusing at some point at the near field of the subject.

R6__8348R6__8348

One push of the shutter button starts the sequence. It's entertaining to watch the focus ring on your lens as the camera quickly goes through the frames and the lens moves throughout the process. When it's complete, you have a series of individual frames but taken at different focus settings. In the case of macro photography, it is very likely that none of the individual images are useful. Make sure you disable the feature when you are finished because it remains enabled until you either disable it or turn off the camera.

 

0303 At this point, I edit the images in batch like i would for any individual one, including noise reduction and sharpening.

Begin the process of combining the individual frames by opening them into a stack in Photoshop.

0404 Click on File- Scripts-Load Files into Stack.

0505 In the dialogue, click to align the source images.

0606 Once they are all loaded, you will see individual layers. Now select all of the layers.

0707 Now click on Edit-Auto-Blend Layers.

0808 In the dialogue, make sure to select Stack Images and check Seamless Tones and Colors and click OK. The images will become layer masks and all you have to do it flatten the image which leaves you with the resultant image with all the frames combined.

83488348 Just treat the image like an other and you are done. This example was the result of 34 individual frames. Since this was a moving subject (the second hand) you can see that it took about three seconds to capture the images.

Be sure to check out my other blog articles for useful photographic tips and techniques.

 

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(Glenn Woodell) depth of field focus focus blending focus stacking PhotoShop https://glennwoodell.zenfolio.com/blog/2021/1/focus-stacking-in-photoshop Sat, 09 Jan 2021 00:05:24 GMT
Thoughts on the Mirrorless Revolution https://glennwoodell.zenfolio.com/blog/2021/1/thoughts-on-the-mirrorless-revolution A Revolution?

I call it a revolution because I think it is the logical next step in photography.

In the early days, mirrorless was sold as a lightweight and compact alternative to the heavy and bulky DSLR bodies. I saw right away that this was not completely true. While the bodies were indeed more compact and lighter, when you started to attach lenses, and adapters, extra batteries, there really wasn't much of an advantage. Add to that the horrible electronic viewfinders, I figured it was going to be a while before I got my first one. I needed a lot more encouragement.

Why a logical next step? Sensor-based everything! It never made much sense to me to have a metering system, and especially a focusing system, that was not integral to the actual focal plane. Before the technologies were available though, the only alternative was either a dual lens set up of the twin lens era in the late 1920's or a reflex housing like many of us enjoyed during the SLR and DSLR days. They worked and they gave us an identical view of what the film or sensor was "seeing" for the most part. And with mechanical shutters and mirror boxes wearing out and the costs to have them replaced, it was time to remove the mechanical bulk much the way Tesla is removing the internal combustion from the automotive equation.
 

Not impressed

I held a few of the early mirrorless bodies of several makes and was so turned off by the fake look through the electronic viewfinders. I heard everyone talk about how small and light it was - when paired with their bulky 100-400mm lenses. My prime lens is a 500mm/f4, often with a 2x extender behind it so a smaller body is almost useless to me. In fact, I like a bulkier body to hold. So these early products were duds in my opinion. For a compact and lightweight snap shooting camera, I already had one smaller that would also make phone calls and wake me up in the morning.
 

The Solution is in the Software

My career at NASA involved developing software for digital imaging. Not the editing type of software like Photoshop, but the kind that is hardware-based and built into imaging systems for aircraft, for real-time processing during poor visibility flying. Our goal was to make the processing faster while making the hardware more compact and energy and computationally efficient. Focal plane processing was our end goal. I retired as the program money dwindled and priorities shifted so I never got to see the end.
 

The R6 Arrives

Fast forward to 2020 with the introduction of the Canon R6. I had been watching the market for some time but had not been impressed with the offerings. Coming from the 1Dx line and currently shooting a 1Dx MkII, nothing offered me much over what I already had. Finally, the R6/R5 that came out in the summer of 2020 caught my eye mainly because the amazing auto focusing that was now offered in the 1Dx MkIII was added, but expanded to include detection and tracking for animal eyes. The 1Dx MkIII was limited to human eyes.

Why the difference? After a couple of simple experiments, it seems the camera first detects a human face (some of the related work I was involved in at NASA) and then locates the eyes. Same with animals, especially birds (and cats and dogs as well as I have heard). Pattern recognition is an important first step in facial detection software and we are starting to see it in consumer photographic equipment now. Being that my main interest is in capturing wildlife, and the focus on the eye is so important, I was excited to see something that may increase my "hit rate" on my favorite genre of shooting.

So, after watching the roll out of these two products very closely, I decided to get the R6, mainly because of the larger pixels (larger pixels = greater signal-to-noise ratio = better low light performance) and the difference in price. Had I been interested in high definition video or had I not already been in vested in big glass, I would have leaned toward the R5. But coming from an amazing 18MP 1Dx and the even better 1Dx MkII with 20 MP, the R6 was a no-brainer to me. I ordered mine with the battery grip and the Kirk L-bracket, something I like for all of my bodies. There went the compact size and light weight of the R6.


In the Hand and out in the Field

My first impressions with the R6 were nothing short of amazing. My description continues to be that it's a "game changer". The image quality is no less than what I'm used to but the autofocus features make this a must-have camera for almost anyone, in my opinion. In just a few minutes with it in my hand, and with the first short venture out into the field, I couldn't say enough good about the performance and the features, especially for wildlife.

video-1606580669

Crude cell phone video of the rear of my camera, showing how the animal eye tracking picked up the egret's eye as soon as it was visible.

Some of you may have seen the cell phone video I shared on Facebook, and in another blog post here, showing the back of my camera, as it picked up and focused on the eye of a preening great blue heron, and then continued to lock in on its eye as it moved. Gone was the need to focus and recompose - for two reasons. Firstly, the focusing area on this camera now has over 6000 locations as opposed to 61 for the 5D MkIv and goes nearly to the edges of the frame! And secondly, the tracking works so well, that all you need to do in most cases is compose your image and let the camera take care of the focusing for you. Those of you using back button focus may even find yourself forgetting to hit the back button because the tracking works so well, you may think it's also focusing for you. I found myself doing that while shooting eagles at Conowingo Dam. Fortunately I realized it early and corrected myself. But you may find that in many cases you can revert back to shutter button focus - Gasp! Yes, this camera is really that good.

eagle landing sequenceeagle landing sequenceThe eagles of Conowingo Dam. An eagle landing at 20 frames per second. The animal eye autofocus detected and tracked this eagle as I followed it through its landing.

The eagles of Conowingo Dam. An eagle landing at 20 frames per second. The animal eye autofocus detected and tracked this eagle as I followed it through its landing.
 


The only con I can come up with at this point is the viewfinder. While it is so much better than any I had seen of other brands (I admit I have not seen them all) in some cases, it does not render highlights very well. After all, it's an 8-bit jpeg representation of a 16-bit+ real world scene (when you factor in human dynamic range compression). But in most cases it looks wonderful and perfectly natural.

Notable Features

This article would be too long if I were to list all the great features of this body, like the articulating screen that allows you to select your focus point (and save your knees), and the touch screen capability, useful for so much of its operation. But I will go over a few of the features I expect to be enjoying.

Amazing Autofocus!
First of course is the amazing autofocus system. Not only is it fast but it's accurate and it seems to know what I want the subject to be. Only in a few cases have I had to do manual selection. But in a wildlife setting, it almost always picks out the animal, and if it cannot find it's eye, it will place a focus box around its head. I used it for a studio session and the human eye focus was perfect. With multiple people in the scene however, you have to do some manual selection among eyes, but it does detect that there are multiple eyes from which to choose. I did notice something about the way it tracks eyes. It apparently needs to detect a human face first. It's also obvious that this software was developed before the COVID-19 pandemic that has placed so many people behind masks. With a mask on, the subject's eyes cannot be found! Pull the mask down and it instantly find the eyes.

76967696Great blue heron at ISO 12,800. The automatic animal eye detect immediately locked in on the eye even in the low light at f8.

Great blue heron at ISO 12,800. The automatic animal eye detect immediately locked in on the eye even in the low light at f8.
 

Still use your older lenses
Next is the ability to continue to use your older EF lenses. All you have to do is pick up one of the EF to RF adapters for under $100. This is one of the cases where you are fine to go with an aftermarket product if you are using lightweight lenses since it's nothing more than an extension tube with electrical contacts that pass through it. I got one of the Vello ones from B&H and removed the tripod mount because it was in the way. And since the focusing is all done on the sensor and not by in intermediate set of optics, gone is the need for lens calibration! It worked great but it was rather sloppy when paired with my heavy 500mm/f4 lens and in fact, I lost connectivity occasionally, enough to disable my auto focus and make my image stabilization for haywire.

I ordered a Canon one and the fit was so tight that once locked into place, it feels like the adapter is part of the camera body. And the connection with my lens is much tighter too.

Image Stabilization
Another great advantage of the R6/R5 bodies is that they have really effective in-body image stabilization or IBIS. So even if you have the Canon 400mm/f5.6 lens for example, (a wonderful wildlife lens!) which has no image stabilization built in, once you couple it to the R6, you now have the benefit of the IBIS. And as an added benefit, if your lens does have IS, you now get the benefit of both!

Real-time exposure preview
Not unique to any brand or body but most of the mirrorless bodies allow you to preview the image before you take it. Even the DSLR bodies had that (Live View for Canon for example) but with the electronic viewfinders, it now becomes almost standard that you see what your exposure is before you press the shutter button. This is especially helpful when using exposures outside of the normal, human vision range such as when shooting slow exposures or those of dark scenes at very high ISO vales. Autofocusing with dark scenes is now easier than ever. When shooting with strobes it helps to turn this feature off. Otherwise your scene will likely be dark and otherwise not indicative of your final exposure.

Autofocus Loss at f8
In the lens department, now gone is that nasty minimum aperture limitation of f8. Well, since it's moved to f22, it's all but eliminated. That means that those of you with the 100-400mm/f5.6 lens (or the 400mm/f5.6 mentioned above) can now get the 2x extender and still have autofocus at f11.

Shutter Choices
Next is the electronic shutter. We've all experienced the silent shutters of our cell phones. Well, you now have it with the R6/R5. It so quiet in fact that during high speed bursts you will immediately lose track of how many you have shot. The nice extra is the presence of a real, mechanical shutter. This is useful when shooting under flickering lights and when your subject is moving very fast. I used the mechanical shutter during the studio session I mentioned because there were other lights in the room. And even the mechanical shutter is amazingly quiet.

Battery Life
The battery life on this body is severely underrated. Canon lists it at something like 380 exposures per charge at best. My day on the rail at Conowingo was seven hours long. I had not yet received my battery grip so I was relying on one battery, with ten backups, from my 7D MkII and older 6D, I had amassed. To my surprise, the one battery outlasted me. I shot just over 3400 images and the first battery was still going. Now, with a battery grip holding two batteries, and two backup batteries, I may be on battery overload.

Focus Bracketing
Focus bracketing was available on the R and the RP but it's new to me in the R6. It's simple to set up and perform and after a few minutes of testing, I'm hooked. It allows one to easily take multiple images while the camera automatically moves the focus distance deeper into the scene. In the end, you're able to produce one frame, blended from multiple shots, so you get it with all the sharpest edges combined. Like shooting at f5.6 but getting the depth of field of f64 or higher.

77967796Example of focus bracketing. 50mm at f5.6 with the effect of having shot at f64

Example of focus bracketing. 50mm at f5.6 with the effect of having shot at f64.


Affordable High ISO Performance
Great high ISO performance. This is not new for high-end bodies, but for the first time, it's available to those who don't buy in to the professional level gear. For $2400 for the R6, you're getting essentially the same image quality you can get on the 1Dx MkIII which would cost you nearly $6000.


Support of Multiple Aspect Ratios
For those who do portraiture or who otherwise end up with 4x5 aspect ratio images, there is a nice feature which allows you to see cropping bars inside the viewfinder so you don't compose improperly and end up having to fix the image in post or end up cropping grandma's head and shoulder out of the picture.

cropping in viewfindercropping in viewfinderExample of automatic cropping, in this case 6x6, for an Instagram session.

Example of automatic cropping, in this case 6x6, for an Instagram session.
 

I used this when doing a recent studio job where the final product was to be on Instagram, with all the images being square. Easy. I just selected the 6x6 (not sure why it's not 1x1) crop and it tossed up bars in my viewfinder, making it easy to see what was going to be in my final product. And although it captured the entire frame, when bringing up the images in my RAW editor (Adobe Camera RAW), it automatically cropped them square for me. All I had to do was slide them around to center them the way I wanted. And since the client also wanted the full frame shots, they were all still there as well. The closest thing I had to this with my 1Dx MkII was an extra focusing screen onto which I had etched lines in a 4x5 aspect ratio.


Summary

The mirrorless revolution is less about removing the mirror and so much more about moving the essential photographic processes - focusing and metering - to the focal plane. It comes at a time when additional features can be added to control things that were reserved for the darkroom or the computer desk. At least for me, the time has come for me to start taking advantage of what these newer bodies have to offer. I'm expecting totally professional models to come out soon but it seems the big two (or three) manufacturers are trying to drag some of the old school photographers like me into the market to get a taste of it before the pro models come out, hoping to keep us loyal to the brand. So far, it's working for me.

While the 6D was an amazing body for it's time, being a slight step up in image quality over the 5D MkIII at half its price; the 1Dx was definitely a truly professional body; and the 1Dx MkII was the next step, the R6 has now taken over as my primary body. It's hard to think I've just pushed my beloved MkII into the second slot in my bag. But with all the great features of the R6 and the same image quality, it's not really a tough decision.

Be sure to check out my other blog articles for useful photographic tips and techniques.
 

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(Glenn Woodell) autofocus Canon R6 metering mirrorless https://glennwoodell.zenfolio.com/blog/2021/1/thoughts-on-the-mirrorless-revolution Sun, 03 Jan 2021 21:39:48 GMT
First Impressions of Canon's Animal Eye Tracking https://glennwoodell.zenfolio.com/blog/2020/11/first-impressions-of-canons-animal-eye-tracking Game changer. Those were my first words after a few test shots.

I'm not going to cover the differences between mirrorless and DSLR bodies. That's a totally separate conversation. But this is my very first mirrorless body. I purchased it primarily because everything I had read told me that the eye tracking was so fast and accurate. I had gotten tired of passing on great shots of wildlife solely because the eyes were not in sharp focus.

Once I got the camera set up and I figured out how it all worked, at least well enough to take some test shots, I went into the field to shoot some familiar subjects. I was immediately blown away by this body's ability to pick out an eye, even in a busy and obscured scene, and stay on it. I'll have to do more testing but I think I can say that some people may be urged into going back to shutter button focusing after handling one of these.

These two examples were meant to be very typical. They are both uncropped. This first one is a classic shot of a great blue heron. This gives you a baseline of the scene I Was shooting. 1/400 seconds at f4.5 and ISO 1250. I was shooting a Canon 500mm/f4 Series II in Tv mode and auto ISO. The eye is dead on. I could have done this with almost any body but the acquisition was almost immediate and it stayed on target, even when I panned around the scene. Focus and recompose will become a thing of the past in many situations as this camera focuses as you compose and does it well. No more moving your focus points around the screen, PLUS the focusing area covers almost the entire frame! 02740274

Here's the challenging example. Same bird but obscured by branches and twigs, some that pass right over the bird's head. This is obviously a shot that most people would not take but I did for the sake of experimentation. Having a large, f4 aperture, makes "seeing" around such objects much easier. ISO 2000 on this one but pretty much the same specs as the other shot. The lower contrast over the head is due to multiple branches passing over it.

The animal eye tracking found the eye and locked on it despite the presence of so many obstacles. All I had to do was point and focus. No selection of focus points or areas. The camera looked over the scene and picked out the most likely candidate for its target and it did it so much faster than I ever could have done. And as I panned around the scene, the focus remained locked on the eye. Not on the same plane, but on the actual eye. In another example not shown here, as the bird turned its head, moving the eye closer to and farther away from the camera, the focus stayed locked on the eye and adjusted for the small differences automatically.

04170417

This crude cell phone video shows just how quickly the eye gets picked up and then tracked. Canon's 1Dx MkIII has human eye tracking but it is not designed to work on most animals. The new R6 (and the R5) have added animal eye tracking. There is an option to track either which seems to work very well. I guess you might select one over the other if you had both in the same scene, i.e, dog in the scene with people. But for wildlife photography, the selection for either seems to work well.

I did note that the human eye tracking began to fail when the subject was wearing a mask which covered the nose and mouth. But that's another experiment one day maybe.

video-1606580669

I purchased the R6 solely to be able to acquire focus lock on wildlife quickly and accurately. So far, the tests I've done prove that it does that and does it better than I had expected. This is a game changer for me.

Be sure to check out my other blog articles for useful photographic tips and techniques.
 

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(Glenn Woodell) animal Canon eye focus mirrorless R6 tracking https://glennwoodell.zenfolio.com/blog/2020/11/first-impressions-of-canons-animal-eye-tracking Sat, 28 Nov 2020 17:21:37 GMT
The Elk of Great Smoky Mountains National Park https://glennwoodell.zenfolio.com/blog/2020/11/the-elk-of-great-smoky-mountains-national-park 52405240

I made my first trip to the Oconaluftee area of North Carolina a few years ago and had a great time shooting the herd of Manitoban subspecies of elk (Cervus elaphus manitobensis) that lives in the area. The eastern elk that originally inhabited much of the east coast was killed off by over hunting, with the last one killed in 1877. In 2002, a herd of elk were transported into the Cataloochee area by the National Park Service and have flourished ever since after breaking up into several herds.

In addition to the elk in the area, which are easy to photograph since they are used to being around people, the scenery of the national forests of the area are remarkable and worthy of a trip just for their beauty. Between the majestic views, rocky mountains, roaring streams, and accessible waterfalls, this is an area that is worth a trip...or three.

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For this trip, I had a couple of specific photographic goals in mind. Rather than capture the traditional elk portraits, I wanted a shot of one backlit by the morning sun, in the cold air, and a picturesque shot of one crossing water. After three days, I managed to come home with both of those trophies.

I chose to stay in the Cherokee area since it is so close to the visitor's center of Oconaluftee, the spot where a fairly large herd tends to hang out, totally unbothered by the presence of people and traffic. Upon arrival, my photo-buddy, Phil, and I made our way to the visitor's center. This was a first for him so I doubled as tour guide. Before we even got to the large grassy field where the herd is known to frequent, I spotted an elk down in the Oconaluftee River, in the human-populated area of town. We quickly pulled over and I grabbed my 500mm lens and headed for the river's edge. I had no luck seeing around the thick vegetation along the bank so I hurried up stream to where I had seen the elk. I really didn't want to get too close because I didn't want a shot of the top of her head, but rather a profile with some of the scenery to go with it.

No such luck. It turned out that there were eight elk making their way across in various places and we were right on top of them on the high bank. As they made their way across, it was difficult to get a decent shot through the thick growth and even harder to make any decent compositions out of it. I managed to fire off a few shots and I got my elk crossing the water but I knew it was not going to yield any satisfying images. Just more portraits.

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Once all the elk had made their way across the river, and then into a small field across the street, it was obvious that the show was over. They were all grazing in the grass, with their heads down. I had gotten elk crossing water but not the way I had wanted.

We made our way to the visitor's center area. It was mid-afternoon in November so the sun was already getting low. In the mountain valleys, the sun drops behind the mountain peaks and the shadows take over early in the day. At the Oconaluftee Visitor's Center, there is a large, narrow field, bordered by the road on one side and a thin strip of trees that line the river on the other. The elk spend the day up in the highlands and come down to graze in the mornings and the evenings. Along the side of the road is a parking area with plenty of space for cars to park for viewing. Of course that doesn't stop people from stopping in the middle of the road, blocking the traffic behind them.

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The view itself it spectacular. Add 50 or so elk and it becomes pretty exciting, especially during the rut, when the elk are all on hormonal overdrive. We were here at the end of the rut so there wasn't as much action going on and the crowds were thinned out accordingly. When shooting here, one can easily shoot from the window of their car but it's much better to get out and set up along the side of the road, either with a tripod or by just walking back and forth, handholding.

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Since elk are grazers, like deer, they spend much of their time with their heads down and not really providing a wide variety of photogenic poses.

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For shooting here, there really is no wrong lens choice because the elk can be right at the edge of the road or tucked along the back side of the field. Zooms can be a good choice but I always grab my 500 prime just because it's my favorite lens.

In most of the groups you will see in the Fall, there are likely to be a few juvenile bulls with small racks along with plenty of cows and a few large bulls with the 10-point plus racks. Usually one is the dominant, often the largest one, and takes claim to all the females, keeping check on them and any other bulls nearby. Watch for the patriarch to chase away any other bulls that get too close or otherwise challenge his dominance over the herd.

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As the sun drops and the shadows begin to spread across the field, shoot quickly because the light drops off rapidly. But be prepared for an early rise the next day as the elk will be out before dawn.

On this next day, we decided to head to Cataloochee Valley where another herd resides. It was about an hour drive from Cherokee and included driving over some pretty steep, narrow, and winding, unpaved roads. Transmission braking is suggested as the grades get pretty heavy in some areas. Once in the valley, it opens up to green fields, not unlike that of Oconaluftee.

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When we got to the ranger's station, we spotted wild turkeys in the road ahead of us and a sow and two cubs in the field. As we were there before the sun had come over the peaks, the light was still quite low, calling for slower shutter speeds and all the things that come with lower light shooting. The mother had found something to eat and was sharing it with her cubs. We kept our distance so as not to interfere. Cubs are usually playful and entertaining but these were too hungry to do anything but wait for Mom to prepare breakfast.

With the turkeys now out of sight, we headed down the road to a clearing where we saw a couple of elk in the heavily shaded field. We drove farther, past the old Palmer Chapel and found the old Beech Grove school house. The road was blocked for repairs for all vehicular traffic so we parked and explored the school building. It was built in 1901 and was used until just after 1940 when the park was established.

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Like with many public attractions that are not policed, graffiti and carvings have taken over.

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There was still a sense of presence as it seemed that class had just taken a break a day or two ago. The desks were still in place and the floors were clean.

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With the road closed off, we headed back toward the field and were greeted by more than 20 elk who were just emerging from the heavily wooded area and pouring into the field. The sun was directly behind them and the shadow of the mountain peak was shortening and being replaced by the golden glow of the morning sun by the minute.

With the early air almost freezing, the warming ground was glistening with frost, almost blue from the sky above. You could easily see the breath of the elk as it was backlit. This was the scene I had hoped to capture.

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There were about 20 elk emerging from the woods. Several juvenile bulls, plenty of young cows, and two large bulls. The first of the large bulls put on a pretty good display, walking close to us as it grazed in the field. Several juvenile bulls alternated between grazing and practicing their sparring techniques, likely not even knowing why they would ever be using them.

49964996 If elk can be cute, these two definitely were. The larger of the two approached the smaller one very slowly yet very methodically while the other stood as if to be wondering what was about to happen. As the distance closed between them, they both lowered their heads, almost in a ritualistic way - definitely not in an aggressive manner - and continued to get closer and closer.

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They eventually came head to head, rack to rack, and stared one another in the eye, in a way that was almost endearing. They nudged one another back and forth a little, rattled their horns, nudged a little more, and then the smaller one finally took a step backwards and ended the encounter, looking at the instigator as if he were puzzled about what had just taken place.

08170817 At the far end of the field, well behind the rest of the herd, stood the patriarch bull and one cow. Although it was at the end of the rut, there were likely still some opportunities for last minute romances or at least this fella seemed to think so. He patiently followed her toward the rest of the herd as they both grazed and took their time meeting up with the others.

08470847 Meanwhile, the other large bull, who was with the majority of the herd, took advantage of the opportunity to check in on some of the cows who were unattended. Here he solicits some attention from a cow with a full belly who had laid down to do some necessary cud shewing. His advances did not pay off as he was pretty much ignored.

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As the dominant bull approached the herd, the smaller one stepped away from the ladies and gave the larger one plenty of room. The patriarch was constantly watching his challenger's every move. They seemed to get along fine as long as the rules of the hierarchy were followed.

With the bellies full, most of the elk were now resting or moving farther away and spreading out. And with the harsh sun now in command, we decided to make our way across the border, into Tennessee, to Cades Cove, a popular spot for wildlife and scenery viewing.

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This was my second trip to Cades and with a controlled grass burn in progress and with half the day behind us, there was no wildlife to be seen.
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On our way out, we ran into a small group of wild turkeys who didn't seem to mind a little bit of attention.

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As we made our way back to Cherokee, we took some time out to watch the sun drop behind the peaks as the shadows once again took over the land.

57465746 The next day, our final day in the area, we ventured back to Oconaluftee in search of my second photographic goal - that of capturing an elk crossing the river in a picturesque scene. We parked and took a sometimes-paved trail that ran along the river bank. Covered with lots of exposed roots from river erosion, it was a tough walk to make with gear while in a hurry. The sun was already getting high and the elk that were in the field were heading toward the water in search of the highlands.

57565756 The vegetation was thick and difficult to see through. As we approached a group of elk, we set up next to the river bank in hopes of a crossing. Several large cows who were eating tree bark noticed us and kept a watchful eye on us. One of the young cows was especially curious of our presence.

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While watching the river, we saw several cows with their young and several solitary ones make their way across the swift but shallow water to the bank on the other side where they soon disappeared into the woods.

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I noticed some activity down in the water in front of us and saw my very first mink as it came up out of the water and paused on a downed tree to check us out. Not expecting to find small critters, I was underequipped for a great shot of this little guy. He then plopped back into the water and disappeared under the swirling currents.

And then finally, I saw a large bull - the patriarch - approaching the river, but much farther away from the others. I didn't think I could pull off a shot that far away and through the heavy foliage. But for just a few seconds I saw the shot I had wanted.

57345734 After making his way into the water, he slowly walked across, pausing every few steps to check on his herd. Finally, he walked to where several trees looked like they were about to give in to the constant erosion of the shoreline. The fog from the morning mist was drifting over his head, the deeper water gave way to the shallows, and I had just seconds to take my shot. Success!

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With a little time left before we had to hit the road, we ventured a very short distance past the visitor's center to Mingus Mill. Built in 1886, it is one of the first grist mills to use a turbine rather than a water wheel to harness the power of the nearby water flow. It was closed to visitors but I managed to get a sneak peek inside through a hole in the door. Click on the image below to see a short video.

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Once on the road home, we stopped by a couple of waterfalls that were within easy reach of the highway. Just down the road is Soco Falls. It's a double cascade where the Soco river splits. The observation deck provides a nice view but if you are brave (or stupid) enough to climb down the rocks, with the assistance of weathered and worn ropes, you can get a very different and worthwhile view as seen below. Click on the second image below to see a short video.

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A little later down the road, and with a worthwhile detour into the Pisgah National Forest, we came upon Looking Glass Falls, another worthwhile treat. Like Soco, it's very easy to access but much less treacherous if you go beyond the observation deck. Click on the second image below for a short video.

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For me, photography has become a matter of setting goals and then seeking them out. It's like hunting, but with a camera. It's about watching and learning about the wildlife in front of me. It's about taking home that experience to relive over and over again. For me, this short trip was a success.

I'll go back to the area again but likely with different goals in mind. For now, I can revel in the satisfaction of having planned to capture two scenes. Scenes that I could not guarantee but ones I had thought to be reachable. I succeeded, or was rather lucky - this time. Probably a little of both.

Be sure to check out my other blog articles for useful photographic tips and techniques.
 

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(Glenn Woodell) bull Cataloochee Cherokee Elk falls fog glass Great herd looking mist mountain Mountains Oconaluftee river rut Smoky soco sow valley wildlife https://glennwoodell.zenfolio.com/blog/2020/11/the-elk-of-great-smoky-mountains-national-park Thu, 26 Nov 2020 19:19:42 GMT
Notes for Photographers about Proofing for Your Clients https://glennwoodell.zenfolio.com/blog/2020/11/notes-for-photographers-about-proofing-for-your-clients 68106810

One of my former clients called me last night about some concerns he was having with some proofs from a studio session with another photographer. He sought my honest and unbiased opinion on whether or not I thought he had gotten his money's worth in the shoot. This has since made me aware of how prevalent the problem can be based on how your clients view the images you send them.

Years ago, you sat down with your client and viewed contact sheets or proof prints that were accurate representations of the final prints. Now we have more and more options for sharing images with clients but time and time again, I'm seeing problems with how different people choose to view their images, especially as more and more people rely on mobile devices, especially cell phones.

In this latest case, he sent me the proof link and I viewed them on my computer after having downloaded the full files onto my computer. My former client was complaining about what he described to me as excessive compression artifacts, especially since the file sizes were noticeably small, only about 350kb. This of course raised an eyebrow with me until I saw that the images were all done in a studio, with a nearly white background, and very dark clothing with little detail. In other words, the scene was perfect for heavy compression ratios because of the lack of details.

It took me a while but I finally realized that we were also looking at the images in two totally different ways. He was viewing them on his phone in an app while I was directly viewing the files, and even pixel peeping, on my computer, in Photoshop, where they looked fine to me. When I suspected that the mobile route was causing some issues, I looked at them on my phone and noticed a stark difference between the two displays. What looked fine to me was looking poor on my cell phone. The client was right to be concerned but naive to have been looking at them on his phone.

In another case, I noticed that some of my images were being used by a client for event notices on Facebook, as if often the case. Upon close examination, I realized that the images suffered from heavy compression artifacts and an increase in contrast - nothing like what I provided. I knew my quality was much better than what was being viewed by me, as well as countless others!

In this case, he was not downloading the full resolution files but unknowingly capturing only the thumbnails. When I realized the problem and had him download the full files, the postings on Facebook looked great, just as I had provided them.

So, make sure that your clients are not taking shortcuts and are viewing the actual files. In each of these cases, both I and the other photographer could have lost customers due to a simple technical detail.

Be sure to check out my other blog articles for useful photographic tips and techniques.
 

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(Glenn Woodell) client compression download proofs https://glennwoodell.zenfolio.com/blog/2020/11/notes-for-photographers-about-proofing-for-your-clients Thu, 26 Nov 2020 18:06:54 GMT
A Day in the Life of Mimsey Mack https://glennwoodell.zenfolio.com/blog/2020/11/a-day-in-the-life-of-mimsey-mack I met Mimsey at one of the local open mic events. Being both a photographer and a performer in the local music scene puts me in the middle of a lot that is going on. Mimsey lives on the other side of the creek as I call it. The Hampton Roads harbor separates me from the more populated area where most of the music happens. On this particular night, she had come over to Hampton to perform at Sarah's Irish Pub, a place that had become the weekly social hub of the area musicians, or at least the older, more established ones. The younger, college crowd tends to have their own spots they frequent.

I was captured by Mimsey's unique style of music - a solo performance of covers and some of her originals, mostly done with a harsh, punkish spin, and with a thin sound from her single-coil Strat and no other accompaniment, making her vocals stand out on top. While most everyone is pretty reserved, being mostly older folk, Mimsey stood out with her high energy sound and a beaming smile to go with it. It was the beginning of a friendship as we bumped into one another at the different events in the area.

Fast forward a few years and I had grown accustomed to seeing some of Mimsey's cell phone selfies, often of her shadow as she's doing some unassuming task like walking her dog. The shadow play was always entertaining to me. But one image really grabbed me. It was a nude selfie turned grayscale and was so harsh yet so calming. It was one of several she had taken of herself. Mimsey had revealed that she was tackling some pretty heavy internal challenges. That one photo though, moved me to find out more about the woman behind the shadows. I decided to spend a day with her and present a pictorial expose of sorts.

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It took me a while to approach Mimsey about what I wanted to do. I didn't know her that well and to inquire about taking photos of a woman who had just posted a nude selfie made me feel a little uneasy. But she was totally intrigued with what I had in mind and we made a date to sample some of what goes on during a day in her life.

I fully expected to shoot a series of dark and depressing shots as I probed her personal life, but was pleasantly surprised that it was almost impossible to break her away from her cheerful smile. She is always upbeat and energetic, both on stage and now, before the camera, inside her home. And don't let the black leather jacket fool you. She's got a tough outer edge that's tempered by such a friendly and always-smiling inner soul.

Mimsey still lives in the same aged, Cape Cod house house in Norfolk she grew up in. She has six children, all of whom have moved out on their own. She lives alone with the dog, Maya, and the cat, Tiny Baby. She shares her time between her primary home and a secondary one she recently discovered in New York City where she travels often to join friends up there for musical performances.

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Talking with Mimsey is like talking with a big kid who is eager to taste all that life has to offer, minus the naivete. It's hard not to admire her appreciation of music and the people who make it up. For someone who has spent a lot of time on stages and in front of so many strangers, she was a little shy of the camera.

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Mimsey's older sister, Amy, is an artist and painted a portrait of their older sister, Ellen, as part of an art assignment. Although all of the family was involved in the arts in one way or another, Ellen went to Oberlin Music Conservatory and received a masters in voice performance from Yale University. She sings classic, opera style and is the only one that pursued music professionally. Mimsey became a physical therapist, one of her other passions.

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On one of the walls in her house are displayed photos of her father, Dr. John E. MacCormack. A man of many talents and accolades. In Mimsey's own words, "Those are pictures of my dad, Dr. John E. MacCormack, professor emeritus at ODU He was from NY state, Purple Heart Recipient WWII, Eastman School of Music undergrad, Columbia University PhD. He was born 1919 (15 years older than my mom) I'm the youngest daughter. He was french, Italian, Irish. He was raised in a socioeconomic low household with many siblings. He graduated at age 15 and played "fiddle" in NYC and then attended until the war. He used his GI Bill to complete his education. He was told to switch to viola when he was at Eastman. I spent my early childhood, going to the symphony, opera and University rehearsals with him. I was enamored with the music. He started the ODU symphony, conducted it. Was principal violist at Norfolk Symphony and Virginia opera. He also played in the Feldman Quarter and other musical groups. We had many musicians in my house in my early childhood.

He passed away in 2000 after a brief struggle with pulmonary fibrosis. He was very charismatic.. and passionate about music- practiced for hours a day. I loved watching him shine his shoes before a performance - I was like a puppy. The music really filled my soul ❤️"

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She still sleeps in her childhood bedroom where little has changed over the years.

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A busy day with Mimsey starts with getting ready, usually in the kitchen while coffee is brewing.

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In a little corner of her kitchen sits this family portrait. To meet her, you'd have no idea she raised six children, mostly by herself.

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In addition to playing music in the local communities of Hampton Roads and New York City, she has a small clientele of those who take advantage of her massage skills.

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Mimsey often performs during the day with gigs at area assisted living and senior residential facilities. She is seen here, teamed up with fellow musician, Bernie Mayer, singing Christmas carols to residents.

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Back in her room, Mimsey tells me of the darker side of her past - one filled with physical and emotional abuse from her former husband as well as some demons within her family, and finally her battle with breast cancer.

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As she tells of her roller coaster past, she picks out an outfit for her evening outing.

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Mimsey usually loosens up her musical creativity by spending a little time working with her drums and her vocals.

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Only when probed about her abusive marriage did she trade in her beaming smile for a more solemn look. But it didn't last for long.

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This dark and narrow stairway which leads to Mimsey's area of creativity and relaxation is brightened by the colorful steps that lead the way...

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...to a much brighter and more magical place. Her upstairs studio.

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From the colorful settings to the presence of music everywhere in the house, it is quite obvious that Mimsey has decided to let the positive in her life outshine any negative of the past.

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On this particular night, we rode out to one of the local open mic shows where local talent hangs out and new people are encouraged to take the stage. A setting where we first met, several years prior.

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Check out Mimsey's Redemption, featuring one of her original songs. You can follow her on Facebook as well as on Instagram.

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(Glenn Woodell) https://glennwoodell.zenfolio.com/blog/2020/11/a-day-in-the-life-of-mimsey-mack Fri, 06 Nov 2020 03:37:43 GMT
Alyssa Channelle https://glennwoodell.zenfolio.com/blog/2020/6/alyssa-channelle Alyssa Channelle was chosen to join other local artists to decorate the exterior of the building housing the Contemporary Art Network building in Newport News. You can find her on Instagram @alyssa_channelle. Read more about her here: https://www.alyssachannelle.com/about

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(Glenn Woodell) https://glennwoodell.zenfolio.com/blog/2020/6/alyssa-channelle Wed, 03 Jun 2020 12:23:09 GMT
Tripod Foot Issues with Canon 500mm/f4 II https://glennwoodell.zenfolio.com/blog/2020/5/tripod-foot-issues-with-canon-500mm/f4-ii I just turned over my beloved Canon 500mm/f4 L IS USM lens for the Series II version. I've only had it for a couple of days but the first thing I did was to add a tripod foot that has the Arca-Swiss groove in it. These are made by Wimberly, Really Right Stuff, Kirk, and a few others. I chose the Kirk version because of the nice grip surface they offer for hand carrying. The one I had on my earlier version was always slippery.

Here is the 500 mounted on my gimbal head with the original foot and a short plate added. It is not balanced at all and needs to move at least another inch.

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True to Kirk products, this is beautiful. Very well made and easy to install (sorta). It comes with a very nice T-handle wrench that you can add to your tool collection. The ONLY issue I have with it is that it merely copies a very poor design by Canon. Since the 500mm/f4 Series II lens is so much lighter than the Series I, especially in the front, the foot should have been located more rearward. I guess Canon decided to let the end users add their own plates. The Kirk design replicates the Canon design for the most part. Although it does add a little extra foot rearward, it is not enough to obtain a proper balance of the lens and body when using a gimbal.

With the Kirk design, you have to slide extremely far forward, with very little engagement, in order to balance. And with the 2x extender, you must remove one of the stop screws to make it work.

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The remedy here is to mount the Kirk foot in reverse so that you have enough room to slide forward on your mount. Note that the mounting plate has a step and you must install enough washers on two of the screws to keep the them from bottoming out and preventing the collar from rotating.

Here is a Canon 1Dx MkII with no extender.

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Here is a Canon 1Dx MkII with a 2x extender.

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So, it will work for me, but Canon put out a poor design in the beginning and Kirk merely improved on their design by a very small margin. Note that Really Right Stuff and Wimberly make products that have the same foot shape and location and are therefore no better.

If you decide to replace your foot, I would suggest putting a small amount of thread lock on all of the screws so they don't work loose.

If Kirk (and the others) had made their feet extend to the rearward about 2", it would be a five-star product. I wouldn't be complaining if I had gotten it from Wal-Mart or some bargain shop, but Kirk (and Canon), we expect better than this.

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(Glenn Woodell) foot gimbal Kirk tripod https://glennwoodell.zenfolio.com/blog/2020/5/tripod-foot-issues-with-canon-500mm/f4-ii Fri, 29 May 2020 03:10:32 GMT
Using Nikon Lenses on Canon Bodies https://glennwoodell.zenfolio.com/blog/2020/5/using-nikkor-lenses-on-canon-bodies Many of my fellow photographers know that I don't get wrapped up in the brand wars. In fact, I got my feet wet on Minoltas before moving to Nikons and then to my current investment of Canon gear. I have a small collection of various gear, some I used and some I just picked up, on display in a cabinet in my home. It basically collects dust and occasionally gets pulled out for some specific discussion or some reflection of days gone by behind the viewfinder.

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I recently saw a product that caught my eye. It's an adapter that allows one to mount Nikon F-mount lenses onto Canon EOS-mount bodies. While you lose all electrical connectivity, including auto focus, it offers an inexpensive way to get some use out of some of the best glass ever offered to the consumer photography market. And because the Nikon mount is smaller in diameter than that of Canon, it allows the lenses to sit in the correct location so you don't lose your infinity focus. You can't just throw a lens in front of a camera body or else you end up with the same effect of adding an extension tube. You have to get closer to focus at the expense of losing your infinity.

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So, being the experimenter that I am, I ordered one of these adapters and went out for some test shots. Above is the screenshot from B&H, where I purchased the adapter.

In use, it's pretty simple. The ring first attaches to the rear of a lens with a Nikon mount and locks into place. You have to remember that Nikon lenses load backwards you you have to twist in a counter-clockwise direction. I read about some similar products that lock on even more securely with a set screw. The assembly then attaches to your Canon body like any other lens.

The lens I chose for the test was an old Nikkor 500mm/f8 mirror lens that was produced between 1968 and 1983. Optically, this is an amazing lens but in use, it's pretty limiting because there are no auto focus versions or any that have any sort of image stabilization, something really needed in a lens this long. But it's so crazy light and compact and because it uses mirrors rather than lenses, there is no chromatic aberration which means the images are quite sharp.

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There wasn't much to the test. It worked as advertised. Manually overriding an auto-focus lens is a whole lot easier than trying to do 100% of the focusing. And because there is no electrical connection between the lens and the body, one much use one of the automatic modes or fully manual. I chose my usual shutter priority.

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Focusing was tough - just like in my early days. So, why did I choose birds in flight? Just out of habit I guess. In the end however it all worked fine. The images are virtually indistinguishable from those I took alongside with my 500mm prime.

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In this final example, I an using an old 60mm Nikon micro lens on my 1Dx.

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So, consider one of these simple and inexpensive gadgets if you happen to have oddball lenses laying around that you may want to use. It's a shame that so much good glass is just not getting used anymore and so much of it is really inexpensive to purchase.

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(Glenn Woodell) adapter canon lenses nikkor https://glennwoodell.zenfolio.com/blog/2020/5/using-nikkor-lenses-on-canon-bodies Sun, 24 May 2020 00:22:04 GMT
To use Image Stabilization or not https://glennwoodell.zenfolio.com/blog/2020/5/to-use-image-stabilization-or-not Just as the question of whether one should protect their lenses with UV or clear filters has been one of opinion rather than fact, my experience has been that when shooting with tripod-mounted supertelephoto lenses that have Image Stabilization or IS (Vibration Reduction or VR for the Nikon world), in the image quality department, is equally based on opinion rather than fact. I for one, like to do real world tests, as I have done on the use of extenders (teleconverters), and when comparing different lenses and such. This is one such real world test on IS.

For a little background, it's been clearly a rule of thumb, and even printed in instruction manuals, that when using a lens on a tripod, you always turn of the stabilization. My experience with several super telephoto lenses shows the contrary - that it is either better to leave it on or there is no degradation to the image by leaving it on. Furthermore, the ability to keep the focus point on target, something very tricky when trying to focus on a single eye for example, is highly aided by the use of a stabilized image.

My experience has been that for lenses like the 500, 600, and 800mm supertelephotos, that are either too heavy to hold reasonably steady and whose narrow angle of view is such that even your pulse of blood through your arms will cause movement, it is best to leave it on all the time. The logic is that if these are really not hand holdable lenses by design (turn off your muscle-man mode for a moment) and therefore designed for tripod use only, and if you are supposed to turn off the stabilization when using a tripod, why would they even have some form of image stabilization at all?

I have never seen a case where the IS has caused any issues in my image quality, but being the experimenter that I am, I decided to perform a little test while I was waiting for a bald eagle to do something other than just sit on a branch and use up my memory card with duplicate images. So I shot some identical images with and without the stabilization engaged and have presented them here for your study.

95759575Original, uncropped image, taken with Canon 7D MkII, Canon 500mm/f4 lens, and 2x extender

This is the test image, uncropped. I used a Canon 7D MkII with a Canon 500mm/f4 IS lens, and a Series III 2x extender with the IS engaged. The lens was mounted on a heavy Really Right Stuff carbon tripod using a heavy gimbal head. This is my normal shooting setup. I followed up with a second set of shots but with the IS turned off. Exposures for both sets of images were identical since I shot in manual and the images were taken merely seconds from one another. They were tan in RAW and processed with identical values including my usual noise reduction and sharpening.

IS comparisonIS comparisonHeavy and 100% crop of images showing no apparent difference between using image stabilization or not

I laid heavily cropped portions side by side and then included the 100% crops. I cannot tell any difference in quality between the two images. I don't think that use of IS adds or detracts from the final image quality. I have experienced this for several years but this is the first time I have done an actual experiment with two identical scenes. I will add that for the first version of this lens at least, the IS noise gets picked up on the internal microphone when shooting video and it's quite annoying. So I turn it off when I shoot the occasional video, if I remember to that is.

I have shot with both the original and the Series II 600mm/f4 as well as the 800mm/f5.6, and have come away with the same conclusion: there is no apparent, real-world difference between using stabilization or not on these supertelephoto lenses when using typical shutter speeds for wildlife. Some may argue that for longer exposures, the stabilization may become a factor, but in my experience, other factors, even a very slight breeze, is more than enough to cause the entire camera system to move.

If your experience is different, I'd love to hear from you. I only present this to show what my experience has been by presenting specific examples.

 

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(Glenn Woodell) image reduction stabilization supertelephoto vibration https://glennwoodell.zenfolio.com/blog/2020/5/to-use-image-stabilization-or-not Thu, 14 May 2020 02:33:14 GMT
Wildlife Ethics https://glennwoodell.zenfolio.com/blog/2020/5/wildlife-ethics Crowd around a robin or try to feed a pigeon and no one will care. Throw a stick at a snake or swat a spider and you will hear no complaint. But come within 500mm lens range of barred owl or a family of foxes and someone is sure to have a fit, both for good reason...and none at all.

31683168A blue dasher dragonfly. A common site in the warmer months, and usually easy to photograph...if you're quick.

 

It's spring time and there are nests and nestlings, gooses and goslings, and all sorts of mothers and motherings. It's a great time to be a wildlife photographer. And with Facebook and the many posts we make sharing our finds, there comes a time when we have to give some thought to giving out locations of the more sensitive critters, realizing that some are more reactive to our presence than others.

 

5689_11x145689_11x14Elk from Tennessee. Like bison, they can be unpredictable and have been known to injure those who get too close.

Like all wildlife photographer should do, I try to learn a little about what I am stalking and eventually shooting before I get out in the field. While many animals are not bothered by the presence of people, some will take flight as soon as they see a vertical creature. And then there are those that we need to approach more carefully and in a non-threatening manner. This approach could take minutes, hours, or days. I usually start by making a slow approach that is not directly at the subject of interest but I try to keep a distance while watching its response to my presence. If it seems comfortable, I will approach it a little closer, usually not making eye contact. If I see an unfavorable response then I will either stop or retreat. In most cases, within a few minutes, I have gained a comfortable rapport and can begin gearing up for the shots.

70647064The tallion stands guard as his mare feeds nearby. The wild horses of Corova Beach in North Carolina are easy to photograph once you find them but by law you are not allowed to harass them or get within 50 feet of them.

I like to share findings with friends and especially other photographers, some of whom may want to get some shots as well. For most of the usual subjects like osprey, eagles, shorebirds and the more common wildlife, I usually post photos later in the day and give pretty specific locations. Or I might call or message fellow photographers and invite them out to join me. But for the more sensitive wildlife, those which may run off, relocate, or those where I may interfere with their normal activities of catching prey, finding a mate, building a nest, or raising their young, I am not so public with my findings or I will not share my photos or information until after the opportunity has passed. As a wildlife photographer, I have a lot of respect for what I am capturing and I will make sure that my behaviors will not impact it. But as much as we all try to protect wildlife while also capturing it, we are bound to run across others who are either overprotective or who don't share the same respect.

I got a really nice series of shots of a barred owl, in one of the local parks, over a period of several days. Owls are pretty cherished to shoot because they can be so hard to find. And of course with a crowd of photographers all clicking away at one time, it's possible to make a deleterious impact on them, often without even realizing it. Barred owls however are quite comfortable around people and in this case, a mated pair had set up a nest in the hollow of a tree, right at the edge of a very busy hiking/jogging trail, replete with dogs and relatively loud portable music devices. For days they flew between the tree and the bog, collecting food for their young, while we all enjoyed getting great shots of them in flight, capturing prey, or just posing.

4129_11x144129_11x14Barred owl sunning in the ivy

It was only a matter of time before someone had reported that photographers were collecting around these poor owls and threatening them with their presence. Although I never saw any evidence of that, eventually the area was roped off and no one was allowed to stop for photos. Of course the barking dogs, chatty hikers, and noisy music players were allowed to continue. Sometimes you can help educate those who come by to inquire but in other cases, you are stuck with people who don't care about knowledge and just make decisions with no recourse.

06440644Barred owl nestling, sticking its head out to see what was going on

A more recent case is that of a den of red foxes with young kits that was close to a walking area. After security guards noticed that a few photographers were gathering for photos, one of them became concerned that we were drawing attention to them which might attract others who would be tempted to get much closer for shots with smaller cameras and cell phones and may even try to pet or feed them. About all you can do in these cases is comply and be decent about it. In an attempt to help keep the crowd of photographers at a minimum, I chose to not share the location of my photos and even wait to post them to the local public. And once I got the photos I wanted, I decided I was not going to return, allowing space for other photographers in order to lessen the crowding.

58255825The father red fox watches over two of his six kits in the morning sunlight

The problem of people getting too close to wildlife is not only a problem for the wildlife, but in many cases it can be dangerous or deadly for the people. The national parks where large wild game are seen are especially prone to injuries and occasional deaths from wildlife. During my trip to Yellowstone I saw plenty of people who ignored the warnings and got too close to wildlife, primarily the bison. I never saw anyone get injured but these people got a lot closer than I was willing to get and I considered them lucky. Bison especially, can be unpredictable and can close the gap before you realize you are in trouble.

26171720_10212260316197976_7381930549369430390_o26171720_10212260316197976_7381930549369430390_oA Florida scrub jay shows a little love. They are notorious for being so unafraid of humans that they will...I'll let this photo speak for itself.

I use approrpiate lenses in order to get the shots I want without having to get too close to my subjects, either for the safety of the wildlife or for my own. But even more important is keeping wildlife wild. I don't ever want to let my desire for a shot become more important than the safety and well being of what I enjoy so much.

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(Glenn Woodell) ethics too close wildlife https://glennwoodell.zenfolio.com/blog/2020/5/wildlife-ethics Mon, 11 May 2020 02:19:00 GMT
Cropped versus Full Frame Bodies https://glennwoodell.zenfolio.com/blog/2020/5/cropped-versus-full-frame-bodies
In photography, you often ask or get asked, what's better. This or that body or lens or some other piece of equipment. My opinion is almost always that it really depends on what you are going to be doing with it.
 
For example, there is a lot of debate as to what is better - full frame or cropped body. My answer is usually preceded with a question about what that person is going to be using it for. Some people will speak of "upgrading" to a full frame body when they are really very different tools. One doesn't upgrade from a hammer to a socket wrench. They are different tools and although there can be overlap, each one can have advantages over the other.
 
In the case of crop sensor cameras, I have thoroughly enjoyed my Canon 7D MkII even when shooting with it alongside my 1Dx and now my 1Dx MkII. As new bodies are developed and become affordable, many of us may be behind, technology-wise, since not all of us can afford to always have the latest and greatest that just came out. I know I don't have that luxury; my newest body now being four years old at the time of purchase.
 
So, what is better? Full frame or cropped body? The questions I ask are what will you be shooting, with what lenses, and under what circumstances? When I'm out shooting dark scenes such as live music, I always carry full frame bodies because I need to maximize my performance at much higher ISO values than normally encountered otherwise. I carry two bodies when I can so I don't have to switch lenses as often, something I can hardly afford when shooting fast action under a short time constraint. The image below was shot with a full frame Canon 6D at ISO 12,800.
 
6D at 12800 Spiral Fracture6D at 12800 Spiral FractureCanon 6D at ISO 12,800
 
 
And what's high to you is likely not high to me at all. Many will set their upper limit on their cameras to 1600. I see that as a total waste of great technology. You can read my blog post about shooting a crop body at 12,800 and decide for yourself.
 
Besides, what are you to do if the scene calls for a higher ISO? Do you just not shoot or do you just underexpose? I am going to keep shooting.

When I'm shooting wildlife, my needs change and so do my tools. I'm usually shooting from a tripod and at a higher shutter speed but I am usually shooting under a lot more light. My ISO values may still be somewhat high because of the slower aperture of supertelephoto lenses, often with teleconverters added to them, and the desire to stop action. But a scene at ISO 8000 outside and during the day is a lot more cooperative for suppressing noise than one in a dark concert arena.

For added reach, and when I have plenty of light, my go-to body is my cropped 7D MkII. While some complain about noisy results, I find that I can get beautiful images pretty consistently. Consider this image taken at ISO 1600 and f8 with a 2x teleconverter.
 
4071_11x144071_11x14Barred owl shot with Canon 7D MkII at ISO 1600

When shooting early in the morning, under heavily overcast skies, or in otherwise subdued light, my tool becomes the 1Dx or now the 1Dx MkII. I found that the older body we pretty comparable to the cropped 7D MkII at ISOs below 3200. But now with the newer MkII model, the ability to turn off the anti-aliasing filter improves my sharpness substantially. But even its performance has its limits as I shoot smaller and/or more distant subjects where the 1.6 crop factor becomes as advantage with the older 7D MkII. I believe the jury is still out about at what ISO the tradeoff becomes with the newer body. It may be that the sharpness gain and lower noise outweigh that 60% extra reach.
 

But for the more affordable full frame bodies like the 5D and 6D series, my experience shows that they are equal partners with the 7D MkII in the image quality department and the latter should be considered as a great companion for much general purpose and especially wildlife photography that many of us enjoy.
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(Glenn Woodell) 1Dk 1Dx MkII high ISO wildlife https://glennwoodell.zenfolio.com/blog/2020/5/cropped-versus-full-frame-bodies Tue, 05 May 2020 01:18:36 GMT
Right Place at the Right Time and with a Camera in Hand https://glennwoodell.zenfolio.com/blog/2019/9/right-place-at-the-right-time-and-with-a-camera-in-hand
frog 11_pfrog 11_pLittle green tree frog on American flag This one image pretty much sums up what photography is all about. It's about being ready for the right moment. I've already mentioned this in my post about what the best camera is, and this one image is a perfect example of that.

It's no secret that many of my images were taken with my cell phone and this is no exception. I had walked across the street to check on a neighbor's house while they were out of town and noticed that their flag banner in their yard had been flipped over by the wind. I reached down to flip it back over only to reveal a little green tree frog had been hiding under the fold.

I immediately pulled out my cell phone and snapped a couple of shots before a cicada flew in and chased away the frog - and then flew away. In just a few seconds the scene was totally different and unworthy of a photo.

When I got back to my house and viewed the few images I managed to grab, I picked one out and did a few basic edits, mostly making the background a little less obvious. In just a few minutes I had a nice shot, totally appropriate for the Memorial Day weekend it was.

Next time you are shopping for a cell phone, consider the camera as one of the most important features since it's likely to be more readily available than any of your other cameras.

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(Glenn Woodell) https://glennwoodell.zenfolio.com/blog/2019/9/right-place-at-the-right-time-and-with-a-camera-in-hand Mon, 02 Sep 2019 03:26:06 GMT
A Taste of India https://glennwoodell.zenfolio.com/blog/2019/7/a-taste-of-india---under-construction One afternoon, while leaving a music event with my girlfriend where we were shooting, we drove by a large Indian festival that was open to the public. It was an annual event called A Taste of India and it grabbed our attention enough that we parked and went inside to see what it was all about. We walked through several rooms that were filled with vendors selling all sorts of Indian clothing, jewelry, and accessories. There were children, families, people of all ages milling around and buying up the merchandise.

The rooms were awash with color as all of the rooms were filled with items that were bright and saturated with color. Pastels were not to be found here. There were necklaces, shoes, wraps and more wraps. I’m sure they are not called wraps but that’s what they did. Men’s clothing and women’s clothing of all sizes. Accessories I could not identify. It was all here and all so colorful.

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As we ventured out into the hall, there were tables set up with more jewelry as we found our way to the entrance to the main event – the food and the dance.

I know I’ve never seen so much color all in one place. The music was upbeat and energetic. On the stage was a team of dancers. Puzzled by what was going on, we asked some others nearby and discovered that the main event was the Bhangra dance contest among teams made of primarily college students of Indian and non-Indian descent. What I noticed right away was that absolutely everyone, on stage and off, was smiling and having a wonderful time.

Those who were not competing or not competing at the time, were out in the audience singing along and cheering for those on stage.

I instinctively went into live music mode and started shooting as if it were an assignment.

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Having just brought in a general purpose zoom lens and realizing this was so much bigger and more exciting than either of us had realized, I eventually went back to get the rest of my gear. I would need a second body, my double strap, and my fast 70-200 zoom.

During my usual reconnaissance mission of checking out the entire scene for photo opportunities, I ventured to the side and then behind the stage. I don’t break rules when I’m shooting and I always try to be respectful of others, especially those who paid to see a show, but I am well aware that when carrying big photo gear, people instinctively open doors for me, often literally, and invite me in for the best shots. This was no different.

The various teams were corralling to the left of the stage and although some of the teams were wearing similar costumes, the bold colors made them all look the same when they mingled together. And mingled they did. It was refreshing to see so much camaraderie among the competing teams. They applauded for one another and offered wishes of success before taking the stage for their acts.

Just as the teams were excited, so were the individual performers. It was evident that this was the biggest event of the year – the one they had all worked toward.

There were a lot of families that had come to help out and watch, both young and old.

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Although there was plenty of Indian food of all types to be had, the main attraction was the dance competition.

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The demeanor of the contestants varied from nervous and bored to excited for the young ones, and just plain excited for the college team members and other adults.

The dances ranged from traditional Indian folk dances to more modern hip hop style and included classical and what they call Bollywood dance.

Most of the dances that we saw were very upbeat and involved a lot of spinning, jumping, and the use of all sorts of accessories to make noise or just look really flashy. I can only assume that many were patterned after traditional musical instruments and hunting or fighting implements.

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At the end of the competition, the winners were announced and congratulated by all, especially by the competing teams. It was a display of good sportsmanship at its finest.

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Interested in getting better pictures? Consider one of my private or semi-private clinics.

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(Glenn Woodell) https://glennwoodell.zenfolio.com/blog/2019/7/a-taste-of-india---under-construction Wed, 24 Jul 2019 00:56:59 GMT
New York City Perspective https://glennwoodell.zenfolio.com/blog/2019/7/new-york-city-perspective  

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New York City is a fabulous place to go with a camera. There is no shortage of photo opportunities, whether it be the many fabulous buildings towering above your head or the never-ending supply of people who live, work, and visit there. On a recent visit there, I decided to make a project of sorts by carrying only two lenses; a 15mm fisheye, one that Canon stopped selling several years ago, and a 16-35mm super wide zoom. Buying the fisheye was one of my best purchases ever. It allows me to get totally immersed in a scene and it gives an almost-human field of view. The super wide also has an all-encompassing view but keeps distant detail from disappearing completely as in the case of landscapes.

The fun part about using such wide lenses is that I can include people in the frame without them realizing they are part of the scene. When it looks like I’m shooting over their shoulder, I’m in fact making them the primary subject, bringing the entire scene in with them.

Tall buildings are especially fun to shoot with extremely wide lenses. Because it exaggerates the perspective as compared to other lenses, I can capture foreground detail and immense backgrounds. With a little tilt in the vertical, I can reach the tops of nearby buildings yet capture the street scene below.

In order to use these lenses properly, you really do need to get close to nearby objects. And although they capture a rectilinear scene in a curved manner, I can choose whether or not to correct for the geometry, straightening heavily curved lines, or leaving that amazing, surreal perspective intact. Landscapes with these lenses are breathtaking, especially if there are some features in the sky. And the depth of focus is huge, allowing me to have an infinity just barely an arm’s length away.

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As in any large city, the possibilities for striking crowd shots in New York City are nearly infinite. There is a colorful mixture of local business people, those who live here or who commute, those who call the streets their home, and those who come from afar just to visit this magnificent place. Although I was clearly a visitor, carrying around big camera gear, at times I felt like a foreigner to a distant country as the languages spoken around me were only occasionally recognizable.

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With such wide lenses, it’s easy to shoot from the hip without even focusing. Especially with the fisheye lens, since the geometry is so distorted, unless there is a horizon in the scene, it’s just not necessary to worry about whether or not your shot is level. I enjoy the fact that the camera orientation is determined by the scene composition because it leaves a lot of room for unique shots of otherwise familiar scenes.

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Above is a perfect example of including people in the foreground without concern that they will politely step out of your picture, thereby ruining your scene. Wide lenses give you the freedom to shoot totally candid pictures, often before the scene elements change or disappear.

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Correcting for the geometry causes the severely curved lines to straighten. The amazing perspective makes it appear as though buildings are leaning toward the center. As this image demonstrates, New York City is one of lots of color.

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When walking among people, I love the ability to catch them totally unaffected by the presence of my camera. I was nearly stepping on the heels of these two businessmen while taking this shot. But by shooting so closely to them, it allowed me to capture their details and plant them in their surroundings much more effectively. Almost any other lens would have lost the enormity of their scene. It helped turn what would have just been a snapshot into a photograph.

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New York City has more open areas for people to just relax and get away from the masses than I had seen in previous visits. Like other large cities, there is a confluence of so many different people, each with very different reasons for being where they are. In the evenings, the cityscape is quite different. The many business people and visitors go home while others remain indefinitely, trapped in their fight for existence.

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A visit to any big city is surely worthy of a trip to the top for a very different view. Rather than fight the long lines at the Empire State Building (center above), I ended up at the top of the Rockefeller Center, almost as high, where I got a good view of lower Manhattan to the South, New Jersey to the West, Brooklyn to the East, and Central Park and Harlem to the North.

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In New York City, there is no shortage of visitors from all over the world. The most common foreign accents to be heard however are from India and Asia. Here, at the top of the Western world, the noise of the busy city is replaced by the wind and silence of people taking in the breathtaking view. There was, at least for a few minutes, a transformation from the hectic and almost survivalistic, shoulder-to-shoulder nature of the ground below to that of a more relaxed and almost philosophical one above.

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I’ve never driven in a big city like this but surely there’s a science to it, especially during the day. After a while you become almost immune to the nearly constant horn honking as drivers, mostly taxis and delivery trucks, try to exert their meager right of way over the constant flow of people around them and the almost nonexistent flow of traffic in front of them. And the occasional wail of emergency sirens makes you wonder if help ever arrives in time, with all the people and cars each pushing along on their own important journeys.

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Despite the busy and hurried nature of the business, banking, and shopping districts, Chinatown was one of normalcy by comparison. Here, mostly older people collected together to enjoy games or play music of their people. Those who weren’t participating were watching with just as much concentration.

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Along this narrow back street, many cooks and shop employees were seen relaxing, away from the customers, and catching up on some personal time or the news of the day, usually with a cigarette in hand…

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…while back on the front, someone was always at station, trying to get a piece of the American dollar, luring shoppers and hungry patrons into their stores and restaurants.

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(Glenn Woodell) fisheye New York City NYC https://glennwoodell.zenfolio.com/blog/2019/7/new-york-city-perspective Wed, 24 Jul 2019 00:56:00 GMT
Walking Tours https://glennwoodell.zenfolio.com/blog/2019/7/walking-tours

One of my favorite photographic things to do is to simply walk around urban areas and look for scenes grab my attention. They can range from wide, scenic views to detail shots of something that just happened to catch my eye. Some of the cities that I like to frequent include Hampton, Norfolk, and Richmond, all of which have their own unique visual signature.

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Richmond is just over an hour away and provides plenty for the photographic eye. The old downtown area has been going through a revitalization in recent years but much of the old is still there and is being preserved. On this particular day, the sky was a perfect mixture of blue sky and white clouds providing plenty of sunshine and shadows to work with.

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There is so much to see here that one trip is not enough to even scratch the surface. Consider checking out the Shocko Bottom area. Park there and just start walking and you will find a plethora of architecture and style to keep you busy behind the lens all afternoon. It took a fisheye lens and three different exposures to capture this street scene.

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If you park at the locks you can walk along the canal to start your journey as there is a lot to please the eye there. Wide lenses will be necessary to capture the all that is around you. I usually carry two full frame camera bodies, one with a 16-35mm zoom and the other with a 70-200mm. I keep the fisheye handy for the extreme views that I always seem to find. Here, you’ll find lots of people walking, jogging, or biking along the canal.

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Where the canal goes under the roads, you can find all sorts of interplays between light and shadow, with little surprises around every corner. Here, the fisheye came in handy for this all-encompassing view.

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Be sure to check out the pipeline walk along the rapids of the James River. With ever-changing views, this is a must-do. Here again, wide lenses come in handy with the downtown coming into view. A narrow stairway leads down the bank of the river to the half-mile long pipeline where you have an easy walk, complete with hand rails and a sturdy metal walkway. Beware however that after the first quarter mile or so, both the rail and the walkway terminate, leaving you with only the curved, bare concrete pipe itself and the water below. It’s quite shallow when the water level is low but that can change drastically as the river swells with the flow.

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Back up to the road level, you are greeted once again with lots of exciting architecture. Above is the train station that is worthy of a walk inside.

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Like Richmond, the warehouse district of Charlottesville still has plenty of old buildings mixed in with the new. Here, from beneath this trestle, a solitary ribbon seems to mark an area of needed repairs.

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Nighttime in a city can be fun to shoot because it’s so much easier to see what’s going on inside lighted building. Here, a woman is getting her hair styled in the Ghent section of Norfolk. Lens hoods are especially helpful when shooting through glass as they greatly reduce reflections from behind.

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Norfolk’s neon district, also in the Ghent area, is full of colorful wall art and graffiti from local artists as well as neon lights and light sculptures.

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Of course the downside to shooting at night is the low light available. I shoot with f2.8 lenses, usually wide open, which makes for shallow depth of field. I used a 70-200 for the shot of the artist above, after asking him to try not to drop paint on me.

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Once a year, there is a neon celebration where some of the businesses become evening art galleries. This is a macro shot of one of the neon sculptures in one of the galleries.

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Toward the downtown area of Norfolk one can find the historic NorVa. It started out as a Vaudeville theater in 1917 before becoming a movie theater in the 70s. It then became a men’s gymnasium and finally the live entertainment theater as it exists today. It has hosted the likes of James Brown and Prince.

 

Although it’s not a large city by any means, downtown Newport News has a few high rise apartments. A moderate length lens is plenty for capturing it all around you.

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Newport News forms one half of the lower peninsula of Virginia and is bounded by the James River and the Hampton Roads harbor. In addition to a very large shipyard, the Navy keeps a few crane ships anchored right by the downtown area. This is a sunset shot of one of those ships.

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Also in the downtown area of Newport News are several old churches.  A 16mm shot under clear blue skies reveals a stark contrast in this shot.

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The other half of the lower peninsula is taken up by Hampton and is my home town. This fisheye view of the downtown area shows the old post office on the left contrasted by a new bank building on the right.

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Just a short walk away is the waterfront on Hampton Creek where you can find several seafood businesses that have been operating here for many years. These are the boats of the Amory Seafood Company. Another fisheye view brings the boats together to frame Hampton University on the opposite shore.

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This view captures the Virginia Air and Space Center in blue and the historic Hampton carousel under the Christmas holiday lights.

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(Glenn Woodell) Hampton Newport News Norfolk Richmond https://glennwoodell.zenfolio.com/blog/2019/7/walking-tours Wed, 24 Jul 2019 00:54:48 GMT
Software https://glennwoodell.zenfolio.com/blog/2019/7/software

Here I present information about the software I use or have reviewed. Rather than regurgitate marketing materials provided to me, I will offer my own experiences and opinions after having used the various products myself.

Photoshop/Adobe Camera RAW
Part of the Adobe Creative Cloud, Photoshop CC as it is now called is only available by a monthly subscription of $20. Many software companies have made the move to subscription only. The advantage is that you are always updated with the latest version while the disadvantage is that you are constantly paying for the service. Personally, I think it is a good deal even though the price has recently doubled. There are some alternatives for free but you get what you pay for in my opinion. It is hard to beat the many thousands of free online tutorials that are made only for Photoshop (or Lightroom), something you just don’t get with the less popular software. Add to that, the local knowledge base, and it’s hard not to go with the crowd.

I call Photoshop the great tool box of image editing. It has pretty much everything you need to create amazing images and artwork. Like any toolbox however, it can be overwhelming when you first open it and see all the tools and functions available. Realize that you only need a few of these to get started. And for me, even after quite a few years of using it, I still only use a small fraction of what’s there. So don’t get overwhelmed but relax and just use what you need.

I group Adobe Camera RAW (ACR) with Photoshop because they are an integral set of tools that I use to start on any image editing. When I open a RAW image into Photoshop, it opens into PS but also opens ACR where my image first appears. It is here where I do almost all of the tonal edits to my images. The ability to have presets is useful once you develop your own style of editing, especially if you have a large number of images that were taken under the same conditions.

Once I have finished with ACR, my image then opens into PS proper where I perform my final processing, usually noise reduction and sharpening, and final touchups including any cloning of problem areas, and then adding my watermark.

For me, Photoshop is an indispensable part of my editing process. I use it to launch several plug-ins including Fisheye-Hemi, Noiseware, Photo Lemur, and Topaz Adjust.

Lightroom

Like learning a new language, switching to a new software platform can be painful. Lightroom comes to you as part of the Adobe Creative Cloud. I have tried to make the switch a couple of times but I found it to be futile. It does a nice job of categorizing your images for you but if you already have your own method for doing that then you may find LR to be as frustrating as I did.

Many swear by it just as others do Photoshop. I think it has a simpler interface for those who are new to image editing but it lacks many of the sophisticated tools that you will likely end up wanting to use. You can easily open images from LR into PS for that. But again, I’m so used to the PS environment that it’s hard for me to make the change and I’m completely happy with that.

To download a free trial of Adobe Creative Cloud and start using it today, click here:
https://www.adobe.com/products/photoshop/free-trial-download.html

Photomatix Pro

One of the standalone programs that I use frequently is Photomatix Pro. This is a nice companion for combining multiple exposures when you use auto exposure bracketing to construct high dynamic range (HDR) images. Although many cameras provide in-camera HDR, they typically output as JPEG, making any further edits highly destructive and in the 8-bit color space as opposed to the 16-bit of RAW. With Photomatix, you load your RAW images and select the blending parameters and it outputs a 16-bit image that you can then further manipulate in Photoshop or your favorite editor.

54935493 The Grand Tetons from Schwabacher Landing The Grand Tetons using Photomatix Pro. Three exposures taken 0.7 eV apart. The Grand Tetons using Photomatix Pro. Three exposures taken 0.7 eV apart.

To download your free trial and start using Photomatix Pro today, click here: https://www.hdrsoft.com/download.html

Fisheye-Hemi

Adobe Camera RAW offers automatic lens corrections which loads profiles for correcting the geometry, light falloff (vignetting), and other shortcomings that many lenses have. Especially when using fisheye lenses, I often prefer the corrections offered by the plug-in, Fisheye Hemi, especially when people are in the scene. In many cases it renders the geometry better and doesn’t seem to chop off as much of the original scene as the built in profile does. Of course sometimes I prefer not to correct for any of the geometric distortion of the fisheye, preferring that surreal look.

22732273Fisheye image in New York City, geometry-corrected with Fisheye-Hemi.
Fisheye image in New York City, geometry-corrected with Fisheye-Hemi.

To download and start using Fisheye-Hemi today, click here:
https://imadio.com/products/prodpage_hemi.aspx

Noiseware

This is another plug-in for Photoshop and one that I use on EVERY image edit. I turn off all of the noise reduction and sharpening provided in Adobe Camera RAW and do it all in Noiseware. For me, it tends to reduce more noise and do it in a more graceful manner. And since I often shoot at ISO values well above 5000, I depend on good noise reduction and subsequent sharpening.

2-7D-ISO-12800-820x10242-7D-ISO-12800-820x1024Shot at ISO 25,600 and using Noiseware for noise reduction
Low light scene using Noiseware for noise reduction and sharpening

To download and start using Noiseware today, click here:
http://imagenomic.com/Products/Noiseware

Photo Lemur

Photo Lemur is another plug-in to Photoshop and one that I haven’t had a lot of use for, probably since I have extensive experience in editing the types of images I capture regularly. I will be using it more, to see what it may offer me, especially in the snapshot department, where the images are less artful or technically challenging. Family shots with my cell phone come to mind.

To download a free trial and start using Photolemur today, click on the link below:

PhotoLemur

Topaz Adjust

Adjust is one of several offerings from Topaz Labs. Designed more as a set of one-touch preset filter, it offers some really fun effects, most of which I find do not fit into my usual toolbox. If you can imagine it, you can probably find it in Topaz Adjust. As an official affiliate of Topaz products, please support me by clicking on the link below to download your trial version or to purchase.

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Cy Curnin of The Fixx with Topaz Adjust for increased sharpness.

To download a free trial and start using Topaz Adjust today, click here: https://topazlabs.com/adjust/ref/236/

Topaz Studio

If Topaz Adjust has a lot of offerings, then Topaz Studio is a whole world of offerings. I find it to be pretty memory intensive for my laptop work but if you need a wide variety of artistic renderings of your work then you are bound to find it here. Another plug-in, it is accessible directly from your filters menu in Photoshop.

 

To download a free trial and start using Topaz Studio today, click here:
https://topazlabs.com/trials/ref/236/

Topaz Studio
 
 
 
help
 
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(Glenn Woodell) https://glennwoodell.zenfolio.com/blog/2019/7/software Wed, 24 Jul 2019 00:53:03 GMT
Resources https://glennwoodell.zenfolio.com/blog/2019/7/resources---under-construction Listed below are the resources I use on a regular basis. I hope you find them as useful as I have.

B&H Photo has become my first choice in Internet purchases for new gear. I used to alternate between them and Adorama but the slowness of Adorama’s website has just turned me off for now. I typically only use these two for new gear because the prices are right, they are fast, they have great return policies, and they don’t hide extras like factory warranties. I’ve heard horror stories with many of the other dealers out there.

Adorama, like B&H, offers the best prices and reliability.

Ken Rockwell offers very detailed and helpful reviews on his site. I use it extensively. You can help him out by clicking on the links in his article when you make your purchase. You usually get free items like bags and monopods by going through him. Just be warned that he sometimes has strong opinions about how you should use your gear. Otherwise it’s a great resource that I highly recommend.

DPReview is another great resource to use when shopping for gear. I especially love the side-by-side feature comparisons and the amazingly in-depth performance studies given in great detail.

I look to eBay for used gear purchases. Why buy used? Well, when you have the choice between an $11,000 new lens and a $5,000 used one that looks new, eBay is a good place to check out. Just beware of scams and always, always, always use Paypal.

Roberts Camera is one of the good shops I have found that lists great used gear on eBay often.

If you are bewildered with the many autofocus options on Canon’s new 7D MkII, don’t feel alone. Check out the article by Steven Blanden or another one by Nasim Mansurov. For birds-in-flight shooting, check out this article by Tim Boyer.

The following are some fun pages of some of my friends:

Wendy Podmenik Darugar Photography
Pixgirl Jenn
Jim Hansen

Interested in getting better pictures? Consider one of my private or semi-private clinics.

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(Glenn Woodell) https://glennwoodell.zenfolio.com/blog/2019/7/resources---under-construction Wed, 24 Jul 2019 00:50:57 GMT
Teleconverters https://glennwoodell.zenfolio.com/blog/2019/7/teleconverters

The old adage that you don’t get something for nothing applies here. Teleconverters are short lens extensions that attach between the lens and the camera body. They multiply the focal length, usually by a factor of 1.4, 1.7, or 2.0, thereby magnifying the image. Since the aperture is a function of the focal length, it multiplies the aperture by the same factor. The result is that you lose light. You also lose image quality.

So why would you want to use something that seems so deleterious to your images? You can still get decent image quality if you understand the shortcomings of teleconverters and when you should and should not use them. It is also worth mentioning from the start that any teleconverter that can be had for under $150 is probably not worth using at all. A good teleconverter will cost you almost as much as a decent lens. The Canon ones are right at $430.

 

1-teleconverters-1024x5751-teleconverters-1024x575

Canon Series III Extenders

It is always best to put a high quality teleconverter behind the highest quality lens you can get. This usually means a fast, prime lens, i.e. one that’s f4 or f2.8 and has a fixed focal length. Putting an inexpensive, off-brand teleconverter behind a $400 zoom lens will probably yield images that would not be suitable for even web-based display, especially if you are used to enjoying sharp images.

 

2-8287-TC-778x10242-8287-TC-778x1024Great egret at 500mm and 1000mm with addition of 2X extender
 
Great egrets taken with and without 2X extender

A technical advantage of using a lens with a teleconverter rather than a longer lens is twofold. One, you get the added flexibility of being able to remove it should your subject move closer to you and two, with a teleconverter, you retain your close focusing distance. So whereas a 400mm lens may only focus as close as 15 feet, a 200mm lens that normally focuses down to 9 feet, will still have the same ability to focus down to 9 feet with a 2x teleconverter installed. In this way you can do macro photography with a long lens, something usually reserved for short lenses.

3-green-heron-2x3-green-heron-2xGreen heron shot using 2X extender

Green heron at 1000mm (500mm lens plus 2X extender)

I often couple my 500mm f4 lens with a 2x teleconverter for a resulting system of 1000mm at f8. This is a powerful combination but it is quite slow. I would never consider hand holding this. For one, it is quite heavy, but because of the extreme magnification (think narrow angle of view), very small movements will induce blur into the image. So since I’m always using a tripod and a gimbal mount and this lens has good image stabilization, I can easily shoot even in reduced light at this aperture.

4-cormorants-at-2x4-cormorants-at-2xCormorants at 1000mm, with a 2X extender

Cormorants at 1000mm (500mm lens plus 2X extender)

One way to get around the aperture loss is to mount a long lens on a cropped sensor camera body. In this way you get the effect of a 1.6X teleconverter but you don’t get the aperture loss. You do however get a loss due to sensor noise, especially at higher ISO values. I purchased a cropped sensor camera body just for this setup. I use it for almost all of my long lens shots. In fact, the images seen on this page were shot with that body, where the effective focal length (as compared to a full frame sensor) is 1600mm!

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(Glenn Woodell) extender teleconverter https://glennwoodell.zenfolio.com/blog/2019/7/teleconverters Wed, 24 Jul 2019 00:50:10 GMT
Backlit Scenes https://glennwoodell.zenfolio.com/blog/2019/7/backlit-scenes One of the rules of beginning photography is that you never shoot into the light. One of my suggestions is that you learn the rules but then you learn to break them creatively and this is one of those situations where you can get dramatic images by understanding what’s going on with backlit scenes.

 

1-backlit11-backlit1 NASA gantry at sunrise

Film and digital cameras do not have the dynamic range to be able to capture the brightest brights and the darkest darks all at the same time in one exposure. They have a range of lightness values that they can capture while still resolving the many slight brightness variances across the entire range. This array of lightness values is called the dynamic range. There are techniques you can use to either reduce the dynamic range of the scene or grab multiple exposures that capture it all.

Let’s start with the easiest scenario. One in which you don’t really want to capture it all. Backlit scenes offer wonderful opportunities to capture very dramatic images. As in the example above, I exposed for the mid range and bright areas in order to let the lows go dark and make a nice silhouette. These are pretty easy to do. They almost take themselves since the bright background will almost certainly dominate and cause you to underexpose the foreground completely. And if it’s not dark enough, you can always make adjustments in post-processing.

By now, I hope everyone is already shooting in RAW rather than the default JPEG format. RAW allows you to work with the data that the camera captures, which is 16-bit rather than the reduced 8-bit format. What that means is that your brightest and your darkest values are divided into 65,535 different shades of each of the three colors, red, green, and blue versus the 256 levels that you get with 8-bit data. Even though your output to a screen or a printer is going to be limited to 8-bit, operating in the full 16-bit allows you to decide how that large amount of data gets squeezed into that narrow output. You can recover apparent saturations and clipped data where detail would otherwise be lost.

So, what can you do to change the dynamic range of the scene? The easiest is to use light modifiers (reflectors) or flash to add light to your subject if it’s not too far away.

2-backlit22-backlit2

Gratiot Lake Road lit from behind

In this image, by Wendy Podmenik, the subjects were heavily backlit by the strong sunlight coming through the fiberglass panels behind them. I held a gold reflector off to the photographer’s left, to direct some of that light back on to their faces. Without the reflector, the subjects would have been very dark and although they could have been lightened up in software, noise would quickly start to increase, thereby lowering contrast and saturation.

The most common method of reducing the dynamic range of a scene is to use flash. I’m not a big flash user. Unless it’s done properly, it can look harsh and unnatural. There are people who specialize in flash photography and I’ve certainly done my time in a studio under controlled conditions, but I prefer to use available light which almost always looks more natural.

A more complex method of compressing the dynamic range of a scene is to take multiple exposures and then combine them in software to create a result that essentially lowers the highs and raises the lows from what is essentially a much wider dynamic range image than any one by itself. There is a lot of software out there to do this. I use PhotoMatix Pro with limited success. Sometimes it just brings out too much noise for my liking. But when it works, it works well.

3-photomatix3-photomatix

A scene captured with three different exposures and then combined in software

So, what do you do when you can’t modify the scene and you can’t take multiple exposures? You do your best to place the dynamic range of your sensor within the dynamic range of the parts of the scene that you want to capture. I have a lot of experience with doing exactly that from shooting live music. This is, by far, the hardest type of photography I have ever shot. Not only is the lighting often backlit, but it is almost always changing in color and intensity (faster than you can make decisions about it and react), it’s either way too bright, or no where enough, your subject is almost always moving, and there is often fog generated which reduces the scene contrast.

For my live music shooting, I use a Canon 6D body. It has the best high ISO performance of almost any other camera on the market and surely the best of any in its price range. I have found that for so much of the backlit scenes on a live stage, I like to shoot in aperture priority with my lens wide open at f2.8. I set my ISO to automatically adjust as needed in order to keep my shutter speed up as high as possible. High is a relative term because many of my shots are made with a shutter speed of less than 1/50 and that’s at ISO values of 6000 all the way up to 12800.

Since I’m wanting to keep as much of the source light from saturating as possible, I often underexpose by 1 to 2 eV levels using my exposure compensation dial. This does often underexpose my subject but the highlights are less likely to saturate because of it.

4-backlit54-backlit5

Kenda "Obi Wan Kendabi" Legaspi of The Creepshow, lit primarily from behind

Here is such an example. There were bright lights behind and to the left, coming over her shoulder as the primary illumination, with almost no light from the front. Had I not added exposure compensation, my camera would have metered for the dark face and the lights behind would have been horribly overexposed. What’s deceiving is that I lowered the highlights, making the scene look evenly lit. By keeping the lights within or close to the dynamic range of the camera, I was able to bring up the darker areas, while taking advantage of its superior low noise performance.

Pretty silhouettes are actually quite easy to shoot. It’s when you want to preserve detail in both the highlights and the darks that you need to think ahead by either modifying the existing light or exposing in such a way that you can recover seemingly lost values during software processing.

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(Glenn Woodell) https://glennwoodell.zenfolio.com/blog/2019/7/backlit-scenes Wed, 24 Jul 2019 00:49:11 GMT
Extension Tubes – The Poor Man’s Macro https://glennwoodell.zenfolio.com/blog/2019/7/extension-tubes-the-poor-man-s-macro

While photography is often quite expensive, there is one thing you can do that will cost you little but will greatly enhance your photographic tool set. Macro photography involves capturing images that are near life-size or greater than life-size. There are all sorts of macro lenses and associated equipment for great macro work but it can get complicated and expensive very fast. So I always tell people to invest in a set of extension tubes. But contrary to my normal philosophy of sticking with the brand of the camera body that you shoot, I go way off track to suggest that you get the least expensive set you can find. Just make sure it has all the contacts that pass the lens information back to the camera. A decent set can be had for about $80 and it will make a world of difference in your capabilities.

1-extension-tubes-1024x3971-extension-tubes-1024x397 Set of three inexpensive extension tubes

To give you a quick primer on camera optics with respect to close focusing, you can follow along with a little test of your own. Pick up a small lens, just something that is easy to handle. Mount it on your camera body and note the closest that you can focus. It could be two feet for example. Now, remove that lens but hold it in place, just in front of the mount, and look through the view finder to see how closely you can focus. But rather than move the focus ring, move the camera-lens unit closer to the subject until it comes into focus. It should be noticeably closer. Note that as you move the lens away from the camera body, you have to move closer to your subject in order to get sharp focus.

This is the principle behind the extension tubes. All they do is mount the lens farther from the focal plane of the camera. This is what’s going on inside your lens but it has a range based on its size, price, and design. Macro lenses are optimized to be able to move the internal components farther at the expense of weight, size, and price. Their optics are also optimized for close focusing.

In use, leave your focus ring along and instead, focus by using the zoom ring (unless it’s q prime lens of course) and by moving closer to and farther away from the subject. It takes a little practice to get the hang of it but by playing with the two, you can select a magnification that you want and achieve good focus.

The extension tubes offered by your camera body manufacturer will not work any better but will cost three or four times more. The knock offs, as long as they pass the electronic signals between the lens and the body, will work just fine.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that macro is just for small subjects. I always carry a short extension tube with me, even when shooting with big lenses. Often times I’m set up with my big 500mm lens (which has a minimum focusing distance of just over 12 feet. Fine for the vast majority of what I shoot with that lens. But if a humming bird were to come within ten feet of me for example, I’d never be able to get the shot. With the extension tube, I can quickly reduce my minimum focusing distance and get the shot.

2-baby-doves2-baby-doves

Uncropped shot of baby doves taken with a 300mm lens and a short extension tube

In this example, I wanted a close up of some baby doves but I couldn’t get very close without disturbing them. A long lens allowed me to shoot from farther away but because of the minimum focusing distance of the lens and where I wanted to shoot from, I could not achieve proper focus. A extension tube solved the problem.

So, why don’t we just keep the extension tubes mounted all the time? The caveat is that they really shift the focusing range, not extend it. So although you can focus closer with one mounted, you lose on the other end. Your ability to focus far away disappears. This is akin to putting on reading glasses and then trying to walk around while wearing them.

3-macro-flower3-macro-flower

Uncropped image of dogwood blossom taken with 70-200mm lens and extension tube

Get yourself an inexpensive set of these little gems and open up a new chapter in your shooting.

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(Glenn Woodell) closeup extension tube macro https://glennwoodell.zenfolio.com/blog/2019/7/extension-tubes-the-poor-man-s-macro Wed, 24 Jul 2019 00:48:23 GMT
Back Button Focus https://glennwoodell.zenfolio.com/blog/2019/7/back-button-focus With most cameras, the shutter button performs three functions. A half press starts the autofocus and analyzes the scene for the metering, and a full press releases the shutter. In many situations, having one button do all of these tasks is fine. But in situations where you want a little more creativity, especially where you have a moving subject, separating the focus from the image capture may be more useful.

Most DSLRs today allow you to redefine the functions of many of the camera’s controls. You can use this feature to move the focus activation to another convenient location, the most popular being one of the buttons on the rear of the camera, within easy reach of the thumb. This is referred to as back button focus. It’s a little tricky at first since it’s foreign to think of focusing separately but once you realize how liberating it is, it becomes natural.

Consider the following example where you have a small subject, the singer’s face, that is constantly moving. It makes sense to switch your camera’s focusing mode to constant. For Canon, it’s called AI Servo. In operation, you follow your subject around, placing the focus point on your subject while holding the back button that you redefined for focus activation. Once you have the scene you desire, you can either release the back button, thereby locking focus so you can recompose for your desired composition, or, if your subject is in constant motion, you hold the back button (that’s where the AI Servo mode comes in handy) and shoot away with the shutter button.

1-bbf1-bbf

Cy Curnin of The Fixx.

In this case, I was using the center focus point and was following the face, waiting for a pose that I wanted to capture. With my thumb on the back button, the focus system was constantly adjusting focus (AI Servo) while I was waiting to snap the picture. When the time was right, I simply released the back button, holding the current focus, quickly recomposed the frame, and pressed the shutter button to get several shots.

You can certainly shoot by focusing with the shutter button but separating it does give you the freedom to choose to focus when you want and lock focus quickly by releasing the button. It is especially useful when you are shooting different compositions of a scene but your distance to the subject is not changing. Keeping the focusing separate from the shutter release keeps you from inadvertently focusing on the wrong part of the scene. It’s also handy when other objects are entering the scene and may interfere with your focusing.

It takes a little while to get used to separating the focusing from the shutter release but once you get used to it you will find that you have more control over your camera. All of my camera bodies are set up in this manner now. If you are happy with your current operation then separating focus and shutter release may not be for you. If you decide to give it a try, check YouTube for all sorts of tutorials on your specific camera model.

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(Glenn Woodell) back button focus https://glennwoodell.zenfolio.com/blog/2019/7/back-button-focus Wed, 24 Jul 2019 00:47:37 GMT
What is RAW? https://glennwoodell.zenfolio.com/blog/2019/7/what-is-raw I’ll cut right to the chase. If you’re not shooting in RAW yet, you should start doing it…yesterday. And once you get the hang of it you will wish you had started earlier.

To go over some numbers for illustration, your camera is capturing the lightness information from a scene in 16-bit. That means that the range of lightness values from the darkest black to the brightest white is 2 raised to the 16th power, or 65,536 (in each color band or in grayscale). But unless you’re shooting in RAW, your camera is only putting out a total of 2 raised to the 8th power (8-bit), or 256 different values per color band. The advantage of shooting in RAW is that if you do your processing in the 16-bit domain, you can recover so much more detail out of your images than the built-in processing can, much the way Ansel Adams and others took a wide dynamic range negative and massaged it to fit a narrow dynamic range piece of paper.

The camera manufacturers do a great job of developing processing algorithms for automatic image adjustments for JPG output but when doing your own processing you have so much more control over what your final image looks like. Although you can do some processing on 8-bit JPG images, you can never get close to what you can do with the RAW data from the camera.

This graphic demonstrates the difference between 8 and 16-bit information in just a grayscale image. Computer displays cannot truly replicate 16-bit data but this is a representation of how much information you lose by not shooting in RAW. The fine differences get reduced greatly.

To think you are being a purist by taking an image directly out of the camera via JPG is to let an algorithm make sharpness, lightness, and contrast decisions for you. The same holds true for taking a RAW image as is, with no processing. ALL images need some adjustments because of the degradation introduced by the lenses and electronics. They are being done on the JPG images, just by generic algorithms any not by you, the one who witnessed the original scene.

The tricky part with working with RAW images is that you can’t see the extra data directly because the current display standard can only deal with 8-bit data. In order to work within the RAW domain, you use the same sort of histogram in your processing software (i.e. LightRoom, Photoshop, Adobe Camera RAW, etc.) that you have in your camera to visualize what’s going on in the image and modify the histograms by way of sliders and numerical inputs, which in turn show up on your screen.

With no processing, images look dark and lifeless, the colors are muted, the white balance is off, and although you cannot see the noise, there will be plenty of it evident. All images also need a little bit of sharpening and contrast adjustment.

Consider this image of a great egret. Without any processing, the entire image is dark and devoid of any detail, all of which I remember seeing. The white areas should be as bright as they were in the direct sun.

 

3-RAW3-RAW Unedited, RAW image

When you do your own adjustments, you get to decide what details show up in the highlights and the dark areas. It may seem as if you have created data when you have only optimized the data that the camera had captured. The details that you will see were there all along but they were effectively hidden by the narrow range of lightness values until you pulled them out and decided for yourself how they should fit within the narrower, 8-bit output file. You also get to decide how much sharpening and noise reduction to apply, both of which are necessary to some degree.

4-RAW4-RAW The edited result

In the processed image you can see all of what you saw when you viewed the scene. The whites are white and bright and the darks are dark but no so much that the detail is lost.

In the live music example below, the scene was monochrome, being lit with only red lights. I decided to turn this into a grayscale image but I was able to do it the way I wanted to – the way I remembered seeing it. I saw all the detail that is seemingly lost in the red, unprocessed version. By working with the data that was already there I was able to produce something that was very close to the original scene, just without the color.

People have written books on the subject of processing so I won’t go into any more detail here. Just know that by shooting in your camera’s default JPG format, you are losing precious information that you could have used to make a much more vibrant and dynamic image.

If you don’t understand processing software then by all means shoot jpg and have fun. Just don’t lose sight of the full power of photography by doing your own processing. Sure, you can over do it and make things look fake, but at best you want to reproduce the scene as you saw it and not as the algorithms think you did.

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(Glenn Woodell) editing histogram processing RAW https://glennwoodell.zenfolio.com/blog/2019/7/what-is-raw Wed, 24 Jul 2019 00:46:54 GMT
What is Noise? https://glennwoodell.zenfolio.com/blog/2019/7/what-is-noise Noise is false data due to extremely small electrical signals that are not generated by light from the scene but are caused by interference or energy from other sources. It’s the demon of all digital photographers. It’s the digital analog of film grain. The primary source for imaging sensor noise is heat with the electronics, primarily amplifiers, adding it as well. This is why the most sensitive sensors in powerful telescopes are cooled to extremely low temperatures, often by liquid helium, to temperatures close to 270°C (-454°F).

1-noise1-noise Sensor noise, exaggerated for clarity. Image should be totally black,

This is an image generated from a CMOS sensor noise test I did. You’re seeing individual pixels that had non-zero values in either the red, green, or blue channels. They should all be black (zero value in each of the R-G-B channels) but extremely low signals are almost always present (called noise). The procedure I ran forced these tiny differences to be exaggerated greatly so they could be easily visualized. This is a 586×386 section of the much larger sensor array and it shows that the noise is not exactly random but has some patterns to it.

2-noisy-image2-noisy-image Noisy image

So, what does normal noise look like in images? Take a look at this cropped section of a larger image, snapped at a concert. The lights were lower than the usual low and mostly from behind the subject. The noise is what’s causing the grainy look throughout much of this image.

There are ways to remove the appearance of noise but the best way to combat noise is to not get it in the first place. Easier said than done, especially when you are forced to shoot in low light situations. Fast lenses, slow exposures, full frame sensors, and external illumination are about all that you can turn to minimize the effects of noise when you don’t have enough light.

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(Glenn Woodell) grain noise https://glennwoodell.zenfolio.com/blog/2019/7/what-is-noise Wed, 24 Jul 2019 00:46:06 GMT
Sensor Sizes https://glennwoodell.zenfolio.com/blog/2019/7/sensor-sizes

Confused about all the different digital sensor sizes? Don’t feel alone. There may be more than you realize. Take a look at the chart below. The blue outline is the standard 35mm format which is actually 24mmX36mm.

1-sensor-sizes-compared1-sensor-sizes-compared

The many different sized digital sensors compared with full 35mm film

On a 35mm DSLR, the sensor size determines how much of the normal scene gets captured. A cropped sensor as it’s called captures more of the center part of the scene while a full frame sensor captures a wider view. Cropped sensors usually have about as many pixels as their full frame counterparts but they have a higher pixel density and the pixels are smaller. The higher spatial resolution provides a magnification factor.

The Canon APS-C for example has the magnification equivalent of 1.6X that of a full frame. This can be a real advantage for long lens shooting. A 500mm lens on an APS-C body for example gives the same view as an 800mm lens on a full frame as demonstrated in the windsurfing image. That advantage is quickly lost on the other end of the focal length range however.

2-full-versus-crop12-full-versus-crop1 Zoom advantage of cropped sensor

A 20mm lens, a super wide with an angle of about 94°, becomes the equivalent of a 34mm lens with an angle of view of only about 63°. This becomes a huge issue when shooting in cramped spaces where you can’t step back far enough to get the shot as demonstrated by the lighthouse staircase image.

3-full-versus-crop23-full-versus-crop2 Disadvantage of cropped sensors

Another drawback to the smaller sensors, since they usually have smaller pixels, is that these small pixels gather less light and therefore their signal-to-noise ratio is less. The result is poorer performance at higher ISO values – noisier images.

So, when deciding on a camera, which one is better? Well, that all depends. In my case I use both full frame and crop sensors but I use them in such a way as to get the advantages of each. For all of my low light work, where my ISO values will be 3200 and up as high as 12800, I use my full frame Canon 6D. And for my long lens work, I almost always grab the 7D MkII with the cropped sensor. With the long lenses I’m almost always shooting below ISO 3200 and I get to take advantage of the magnification factor.

For a really good and entertaining narrative on the many different formats, take a look at “Crop or Crap” by Zack Arias.

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(Glenn Woodell) https://glennwoodell.zenfolio.com/blog/2019/7/sensor-sizes Wed, 24 Jul 2019 00:45:14 GMT
My Gear https://glennwoodell.zenfolio.com/blog/2019/7/my-gear My Gear

When it comes to camera bodies, I am very brand-non specific, having started with Minolta, moved to Nikon, and then to Canon. My firm belief is that they all make great products. I’m sure I would be just as happy shooting Olympus as anything else. I’ll save the boring story about how I ended up with Canon gear in my hand because it’s totally irrelevant today. I do suggest however that whatever you decide as your basis, sticking with the brand name lenses gives you the absolute best performance possible. Having said that, I’m very loyal to third-party brands that produce great accessories. I don’t want to get out with my gear and have something fail when I need it the most so I’ll share with you what I have found that has worked for me.

1-my gear1-my gear

Some of the cameras I’ve retired

Minolta bodies owned (all film): SRT-101, X-700, 700 Maxxum, Weathermatic
Nikon bodies owned: F3HP (X2) (film), D70s, D1 X
Canon bodies owned: Rebel T4i, T5i, 6D (two), 7D MkII, 1DX
Camera bodies used for work: Nikon F4 (film), Kodak DCS200, Canon 1Ds MkII, Canon 1D MkII N, Canon 1D X
Canon 6D
Canon 1Dx
Canon 7D MkII
Canon 1Dx MkII

My current gear bag is made by Lowepro and it’s probably 15 years old. That in itself should be a good testament to the brand. I’m rough on it as I carry it around almost every day of the year. I’m in and out of it constantly and have never had one problem with it whatsoever. If I ever need another one I’m likely going for another Lowepro. So, what’s in that bag?

I currently carry a Canon R6 body with a battery grip and a Really Right Stuff L-bracket. The power of the R6 is its outstanding image quality and its highly advanced auto focusing system that can detect and track the eyes of humans and many animals. My primary use for this body is live music and wildlife, where the subjects are always in motion and the lighting is always very low.

2-my gear2-my gear

Extreme telephoto shot of a bald eagle taken with 7D MkII, 500mm lens, and 2X teleconverter

Also in this bag, I usually carry a Canon 70-200mm f2.8 Series II. I call this a bread and butter lens because it has such a wide variety of uses. It’s heavy but you don’t get something for nothing. It’s very sharp for a zoom and the fast f2.8 aperture allows me to shoot some pretty amazing scenes. The tripod collar is convenient and the lens hood is sturdy.

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Looking for birds with my 70-200mm lens -Image by Wendy Podmenik

I usually only carry two other lenses in this bag. That’s my Canon 16-35mm f2.8 and my 24-30mm f2.8. I’ve always loved the perspective that a superwide lens gives me and the fast, f2.8 aperture of this lens makes it perfect for live music and other low light shooting.

Also in this bag is my Canon 2X Extender Series III. The Series III is noticeably sharper than the Series II, and my 2X is sharper than my 1.4X if you can believe that. So it stays in my bag and is almost always coupled to my big lenses.

I also carry a Hoya variable neutral density filter, extra batteries, a 12mm extension tube for closer focusing in a pinch, extra tripod plates, the usual lens cleaning supplies, and ear plugs for the loud music shoots.

The battery grips are a must for me. They make handling the bodies so much more comfortable, they retain the natural controls for vertical shooting, and they hold twice the battery power.

The Kirk and Really Right Stuff L-brackets really make the camera-battery grip combination solid, they provide for a robust mounting platform for my shoulder straps, and they have integrated, vertical and horizontal Arca-Swiss style plates for tripod mounting.

 

4-my gear4-my gear

Image of Steel Panther from my 15mm fisheye lens

The three other lenses I keep handy are the Canon 50mm f1.8, the Canon 85mm f1.8, the Canon 15mm f2.8 fisheye, and the Canon 1.4X Extender Series III. Although I rely heavily on Canon products and their wonderful support via Canon Professional Services, my extension tubes are inexpensive Kenkos. I keep the 20mm and 36mm tubes in this bag as well. I now have a 12mm Canon one that I use along with my heavier lenses.

Outside of my bags I have the items that are too large to fit. My pride and joy is my Canon 500mm f4 Series II lens. That was my retirement gift to myself. It is so amazingly sharp, and with the Series III Extender added to it, it is still amazing. I rarely shoot without the teleconverter attached which is why it stays in my primary bag. When using this lens I usually use a reflex sight mounted to the camera’s flash mount, to aid in target acquisition due to the narrow angle of view this lens offers.

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Using my 500mm f4 lens on a gimbal mount. Image by Jim Hansen

Next in line is my Canon 300mm f2.8 Series II (sold in 2020). Like all of Canon’s (and probably the others’ as well) prime lenses, this thing is just phenomenal. It’s small enough and light enough to carry around for a while and can be handheld with not too much trouble.

For the longer hikes, I have a Canon 300mm f4. Much smaller and lighter than its f2.8 big brother, it’s very compact and comes with an integrated lens hood. It also focuses closer than many lenses of its size.

6-my gear6-my gear

Both 300mm lenses, the f4 version on the left is much smaller and lighter (and much less expensive) than the f2.8 version. Click for large image.

I recently upgraded to a very nice carbon tripod. I was amazed at just how much stability it gave me over my previous, aluminum one. I now use a Really Right Stuff TVC-33 tripod with one of their leveling bases and a quick release mount. I also got one of their very nice ballheads for scenic shots.

Occasionally I pull out my Manfrotto monopod. It’s handy for the 300mm days when I may be in a crowd and where a tripod is just too much.

For the supertelephoto lenses, I use a Custom Brackets gimbal on my tripod. If you’ve never used a gimbal with a long lens then you are in for a real treat. The cheap knockoffs can be had for under $100 and are fine for the lighter lenses. The gimbals, seen in the photo of me above, balance the lens about its center of gravity, making it easy and comfortable to move around with just a finger and it stays where you put it. This is great for wildlife shooting where you’re doing a lot of panning.

And finally, I am hooked on Black Rapid straps. I have the Sport, which I use when I’m just carrying one body, and the Double for most of my live music shoots and street touring, where I’m carrying two bodies.

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My Black Rapid Double strap in use, carrying two 6D bodies and 70-200mm and 16-35mm lenses.
Image by Wendy Podmenik

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(Glenn Woodell) https://glennwoodell.zenfolio.com/blog/2019/7/my-gear Wed, 24 Jul 2019 00:44:17 GMT
Tech/Tips/Opinions https://glennwoodell.zenfolio.com/blog/2019/7/tech/tips/opinions Here, you will find articles about photographic and photo imaging techniques, tips for getting better images, and honest opinions, in red, that you are free to ignore. This will be a living document in that it will constant grow as I add more to it.

  • General Tips

1) Always carry a camera with you!
The best camera is the one you have with you. I’ve shot plenty with my cell phone, many of which you’ve probably seen but didn’t realize I hadn’t used my fancy DSLR. Even a $5000 camera is worthless if you’ve left it at home or you can’t get a lens on it in time to catch the shot.

 

1-1085076_10201032120058919_827594954_o-11-1085076_10201032120058919_827594954_o-1 An image from my cell phone

2) Understand the limitations of your gear as well as its advantages.
Your $500 cropped sensor or point and shoot camera may not work well for concert photography but that doesn’t mean it won’t be perfect for macro or landscape work. Some of the gear we are using today is far better than most of the professional gear that the masters used decades ago.

3a) Learn the basic rules of photography.
They will help you make great photos quickly. The rule of thirds is one of the best and easiest to employ and get immediate results.

 

2-thirds-12-thirds-1 Classic use of the rule of thirds

3b) Learn to break the rules creatively.
Once you learn how the basic rules can help you, start trying to break them creatively.

3-no-rule-of-thirds2-13-no-rule-of-thirds2-1 Rule of thirds ignored here

4) Think about different perspectives and points of view.
Stop being a pedestrian and start getting into your images. Bend your knees and climb on things. Shooting children or pets? Shoot from their level. Or climb a step stool or a ladder. Just a little change in point of view will make your images stand out and not look like everybody else’s.

4-perspective-14-perspective-1 Try shooting from the point of view of someone else for something different

5) Start shooting in RAW…yesterday.
Unleash the full power of your digital camera. Most cameras capture in 16-bit. Why throw that information away when you can take advantage of it? When you do you will immediately wish you could go back and reshoot everything you ever shot in RAW.

6) Get good editing software.
Good software is cheaper than ever and there are plenty of choices. The camera is only half of the image. Learn how to use the other half. Where Photoshop used to be expensive, it is now affordable and there are so many useful tools in it as well as those made for it. It and LightRoom are tool boxes. Learn how to use at leas the basic software tools. Youtube is a great resource for learning.

7) Crop in-camera if you can.
Don’t be lazy and depend on cropping in software to get you up close. Move your body or use a longer focal length to fill the frame. Just like using all of the dynamic range the camera has to offer, use all of the pixels.

8) Process consistently.
Try to do your processing in the same ambient lighting conditions. It will help tremendously with getting consistent results.

9) Calibrate your screen.
Most computer screens are too bright and too blue (to make them look appealing in the store) plus you are trying to edit a transmitted image (display) to eventually become a reflective image (print). A good calibration will ensure that you are getting an accurate rendition of your work. And if you don’t calibrate your screen, calibrate your eyes. Using a file from which a print came out the way you like, bring up that image occasionally to make sure your ambient light is giving you the correct visual perception.

10) Share your work.
Don’t let your images go to waste but share them with others. It helps spread enthusiasm, encourages others to shoot and share, generates conversation, and you will probably end up learning something in the process. And who knows? You may even inspire someone else to pick up a camera.

11) Print your work.
Images certainly look good on a bright monitor but there is nothing as satisfying as seeing your images on paper. Make sure your monitor is calibrated so you can get accurate rendition. And if you don’t have a local pro shop to support, stick with whatever you find that you like so you can get consistency in your prints.

5-print-your-work-25-print-your-work-2 Part of my home gallery

  • Hardware-Specific Tips

1) Use a lens hood on every lens. They are sometimes an option but almost always a worthwhile one. They reduce flare from light sources outside of your angle of view and the greatly reduce the chance of your front element getting damaged from impact. There may be times when you need to remove the hood but 99% of the time it will save your lens and your images.

7-no-lens-hood-1-1024x6837-no-lens-hood-1-1024x683 Here, a lens hood would have gotten in the way

6-no_hood-16-no_hood-1 Using a lens hood would have kept the sun from hitting the front element and producing this flare

2) Use lens filters when you need the specific effect. Do not use a clear filter to protect your lens. (See #1 above) Why spend big money for the best glass, only to put a $25 piece of glass in front of it?

3) Get yourself an inexpensive set of extension tubes. Check out my article on using them.

4) Stop turning your camera off.
Your camera is designed to turn itself off after periods of inactivity and even so, it will use very little power in standby. I turn mine on when I mount the lens and I turn it back off when I put it back in the bag.

5a) Use your focus limiter switch for faster autofocus operation.
When the focusing ring of your lens only has to travel a short distance, it greatly reduces the amount of time spent searching for a focus lock. Don’t miss shots because your AF is somewhere else.

5b) Turn off your image stabilization for high shutter speeds for faster autofocus operation.
This may not be useful for supertelephoto lenses.

6) Use Live View for precise focusing of dark scenes.
When the scene is too dark for effective autofocus operation, turn on your live view and manually focus. It is so much easier.

7) Tripods are a pain to lug around but they do their job and do it well when needed. Consider a monopod as an easier alternative in many cases. And compact, lightweight tripods are convenient but many are hardly better than hand holding. A good, sturdy, aluminum one can be inexpensive and do the job very well.

8) A good strap can often be more comfortable than the factory-supplied one hung around your neck. I’m currently using single and dual shoulder straps from Black Rapid which attach to the camera or lens tripod sockets for a much more balanced carry.

8-straps-18-straps-1 I may look like a goon but I'm comfortably and conveniently carrying two heavy camera bodies and even heavier lenses. Image by Wendy Podmenik

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(Glenn Woodell) Extension tube lens hood strap https://glennwoodell.zenfolio.com/blog/2019/7/tech/tips/opinions Wed, 24 Jul 2019 00:43:10 GMT
Clinics https://glennwoodell.zenfolio.com/blog/2019/7/clinics 1- clinics1- clinics

Tundra swans in flight

If you are stuck in a rut with your photography or would just like to take it to the next level, consider taking one of my private or semi-private clinics. Taught in Newport News, I can answer all your questions, give you individual instruction on the topics you need work on, and let you see exactly how I capture my images.

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The Grand Tetons

Topics can include basic camera operations, understanding light, focusing, composition, exposure, back button focus, bracketing, High Dynamic Range shooting, proper gear selection and handling, and software processing, all in an unintimidating environment. Don’t give up because your pictures don’t look as good as you would like. Don’t think you need to purchase expensive gear. Let me help you to use the equipment you already have to get better images than you’ve ever had before.

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Sun rising behind the gantry at NASA Langley Research Center

Private sessions last approximately two hours and cost as low as $50 for a classroom setting. On-location or field settings are as low as $100. Bring a friend or two (up to five in a group) and everyone gets a discount. Forget something we covered? No worries. After the clinic, I will make myself available to you for followup questions and image critique concerning any of the topics we covered.

4127b4127bSteel Panther in Concert at the NorVa in Norfolk, Virginia (Not available for sale) Steel Panther

Contact me for a free consult. Once I find out what it is you would like to achieve and where you are now, I can tell you how I can help.

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(Glenn Woodell) classes clinics lessons https://glennwoodell.zenfolio.com/blog/2019/7/clinics Wed, 24 Jul 2019 00:42:09 GMT
Trip Report: The Eagles of Conowingo Dam https://glennwoodell.zenfolio.com/blog/2019/7/trip-report-the-eagles-of-conowingo-dam

If you are looking for a great trip where you can see plenty of eagles, and not just from below, then consider a day at Conowingo Dam. It spans the Susquehanna River in Maryland, just before it meets the Chesapeake Bay.

1-conowingo-map1-conowingo-map Google map of the Conowingo Dam area, showing the curved viewing area to the left of center

2-conowingo-eagle-fight2-conowingo-eagle-fight A pair of juvenile bald eagles battling over food

As the energy needs increase throughout the day, operators open flood gates, releasing water and fish that inadvertently get sucked through the turbines. The eagles have figured out that the pickings are easy and they hang out on the downstream side, waiting for snack time.

In addition to eagles, with many juveniles, you can expect to see varieties of seagulls and cormorants as well. The eagles numbered more than 50 on our first trip there in November of 2015. Most were sitting in the trees and on the rocks on the far shore, outside the reach of even the longest lenses, but there was almost always some action going on in the air over the water. Although much of the action was still pretty far away, sometimes the air battles and chases brought them well into the view of traditional zooms.

The most common lenses there on this trip were the 600mm/f4 and 500mm/f4, about equal in quantity. There was about an equal number of 800mm and 400mm lenses and a scattering of smaller primes and zooms. We had an assortment of bodies and lenses for the distant shots as well as for the nearby birds in flight.

I took advantage of the Canon Professional Service’s evaluation program and took along a new 800mm/f5.6 lens. This image shows our arsenal for the day. Lenses from left to right are 80-200/f2.8, 400mm/f5.6, 300mm/f2.8, 500mm/f4, and 800mm/f5.6 while the bodies included three 6D’s and a 7D MkII.

3-lenses-1024x7393-lenses-1024x739 The gear for the day

The 500mm with the 7D MkII body gave me the full frame equivalent focal length of an 800mm lens. I also carried a 300mm/f2.8 on a Black Rapid strap to capture the close flybys and the occasional eagle that landed in one of the trees behind the viewing area. The 200mm was also fine for some of the closer opportunities.

4-0079-1024x6834-0079-1024x683 Big lenses lined up just after sunrise

Upon arrival at 6:20 in the morning, the parking lot was already close to full and there were about 50 people lined up along the rail on the lower platform. We managed to find a spot on the rail toward the dam. We soon discovered that this was not a great spot but we were still better off than many.

5-0058-1024x5145-0058-1024x514 Our viewing station at the end of the rail

Although most of the action is said to happen when the gates open and fish come floating to the surface, stunned by their journey through the generators, we were lucky to see it start well before that as air battles were launched every few minutes. The seagulls were numerous as were the cormorants but the eagles were the ones who engaged in the battles. The cormorants mainly looked for easy pickings near the dam as they perched on the concrete wall while the seagulls either joined them close to the dam or scavenged below the fighting eagles farther out.

6-20151115_090815-1024x5766-20151115_090815-1024x576 Big glass everywhere!

The prime spot for viewing seemed to be the center of the curved, lower deck, the one we were on. There is an upper level which is a little farther from the shore and a fence which runs between the parking lot and the bank. By mid-day, there were about 70 people on the upper and lower concrete areas and about an equal number on the rocks along the shore and along the fence above them. The upper concrete area has a handful of individual observation stations that are great for staying away from the crowds. They are just higher and farther back from the rail where we were.

7-0069-1024x5487-0069-1024x548 The late arrivals, lined up along the fence

In just over eight hours of shooting, we each shot about 2000 images. Many were duds with focus and framing issues but many others were great shots, capturing amazing action like never before. Like I usually do with birds in flight, I used multipoint focus and AI Servo with back button focus. I wavered between wide open at f4, and stopping down to f8 in order to decrease the number shots with poor focus.

8-0106-1024x6838-0106-1024x683 Overflow photographers on the rocks

I would suggest bringing a folding chair and some snacks since you won’t want to give up your spot once you get set. The late arrivals were frantically searching for good places to set up. Although you can set up on the lowest level, which is below the rail and toward the dam, you may need to move once the flooding waters rise after the gates are opened. The water can get surprisingly rough and even splash onto your feet a little.

9-conowingo-juvenile9-conowingo-juvenile One of the many juveniles seen at the dam

There are numerous websites that have all sorts of useful information for shooting here. Both the Bella Remy guide and Rick Blom’s guide on the Hartford Bird Club page are worth checking out.

Interested in getting better pictures? Consider one of my private or semi-private clinics.

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(Glenn Woodell) bald eagle Conowingo Dam eagle https://glennwoodell.zenfolio.com/blog/2019/7/trip-report-the-eagles-of-conowingo-dam Wed, 24 Jul 2019 00:41:05 GMT
A Warm Winter’s Day https://glennwoodell.zenfolio.com/blog/2019/7/a-warm-winter-s-day Have you ever ventured out on an unusually warm day, during an otherwise chilly winter, only to find that your long-lens images are not so sharp? It’s probably not you but what you’re looking through.

As a windsurfer, I used to love to get one of those Spring days in the middle of Winter, where short sleeves and the beach were calling my name. I quickly found out that the strong winds blowing the trees were not so strong down at the water. Or rather they were, but they were extremely gusty. I could feel the warmer gusts of air hitting me. It made for frustrating sailing and it makes for poor visibility over long distances with your photography as well.

Consider this cold day image of the James River bridge taken at a focal length of 1000mm on a full frame Canon 6D. That high rise is four miles from the camera. Not bad considering it’s a prime lens with a 2X teleconverter added to it.

convection 2convection 2Sharp image on a cold day

Across the James River at 1000mm on a cold Winter’s day

Now consider this exact same scene, but a few days later, on an unusually warm day. Same camera…same lens. Nothing seems to be sharp.

convection1convection1Same scene a few days later

Across the James River at 1000mm on an unusually warm Winter’s day.

As the warm air struggles to mix with the cooler, more stagnant air that it is trying to replace, it roils in like a tumble weed, bouncing across the water and the land. As a fluid, air has a particular density but it changes with its temperature. We all know that hot air rises and cold air settles. As this warm air moves in and tries to displace the cold air, you end up with a mix of different densities (temperatures) along your line of sight. You won’t have any problem over short distances, but as your viewing distance increases, you ability to get a sharp image decreases. I’ve see this affect scenes over distances as little as 100 yards.

convectionconvectionImage degradation over a short period of time

An example of turbulence over a short distance and a fraction of a second.

In this example, I was shooting over a distance of only about 120 feet and I held the shutter long enough in high speed burst to get two shots. Even though these were only a fraction of a second apart, the distortion due to the turbidity in the air is apparent. In the image on the left there is nothing that is truly sharp. Many of the shots that day were not usable because of the poor air quality. It was a cold day that warmed up quickly in the strong sun. Although it felt good, this heating of the ground caused sufficient mixing of substantially different air densities to make for a frustrating day. And to make matters worse, this can easily happen in warmer weather, especially if you are shooting over roads or other surfaces that collect heat from the sun.

Astronomers are well aware of this phenomena and their weather reports include an entry for the visual quality. So when the warm winds blow on those unusually pretty days. Don’t be surprised if your normally-great gear seems to be not so great.

Interested in getting better pictures? Consider one of my private or semi-private clinics.

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(Glenn Woodell) Convection sharpness https://glennwoodell.zenfolio.com/blog/2019/7/a-warm-winter-s-day Wed, 24 Jul 2019 00:39:47 GMT
The Calm Before the Storm https://glennwoodell.zenfolio.com/blog/2019/7/the-calm-before-the-storm This image tells a little bit of a story. I shot it about 20 minutes before the start of DEJA’s tribute to Pink Floyd’s, The Wall, at the Virginia Beach Museum of Contemporary Art. It shows lead singer John Coleman and bass player Jimmy Wiseman, relaxing before the show. This was to be a compete recreation of the entire album, solely by the band, while the muted video played in the background. It was complete with all the sound effects, lots of props, and pretty ladies singing in the back. This was the second time I had seen the production so I know a huge amount of work went into it before they ever stepped on the stage. The full impact of this image is just not complete without seeing the show. But what is telling is the apparent calm of these two gentlemen, who I knew were anything but calm.

I had been asked by the Tidewater Musician’s Alliance to come shoot some of the background photos. There was already an over abundance of photographers who had come to shoot the show itself so I was not going to add to the mayhem. I chose my usual body for low light, my Canon 6D. In order to keep things simple in the crowd that I was expecting to have to navigate, I decided to carry one body and one lens, my Canon 16-35mm.

When shooting in and around live music, one can never expect to have much light. And not only is flash distracting to everyone, it kills the color that is so much a part of the event. So I’ve made it standard practice to expect extremely challenging conditions.

For this particular shot, I ventured out between the curtains from behind the stage. I had wanted to get a shot of the empty theater but I was too late for that and the lights were already heavy on the stage. As I turned around, I saw John and Jimmy standing there and I quickly took aim. Knowing the reflection on the floor was going to saturate, I dialed in -2/3eV with the thumb wheel on the rear of the body, grabbed focus on John, and snapped off the shot. Two seconds later, John turned and walked off, Jimmy stepped farther out of the scene, and someone else walked in through the doorway. I took the second shot but I knew it was a dud, leaving just the one as a potential keeper.

RAW capture of DEJA backstage

RAW capture of DEJA backstage

Initially, it looked like the floor was completely blown out but I figured I could recover it all. I did a pretty heavy crop on it since at that distance, my 35mm was just not enough, but I had not had enough time to walk the distance to get what I wanted. I didn’t even have time to set the aperture, otherwise I would have never sacrificed that much light for a shot like this. After the usual lowering of the highlights and a little increase on the shadows, I set the white balance on John’s arm, clicking around until I was happy. I reduced the saturation a little because the color just made it too happy and I wanted to reflect the quenched tenseness of the scene.

2-RAW settings2-RAW settings

DEJA RAW settings

I can’t say enough good about the high ISO performance of the 6D. An ISO of 12800 and a shutter speed of 1/10 second gives you an idea of how much light I had to work with. Having recently started doing all my noise reduction and sharpening in Noiseware, I had those defaults in Adobe RAW turned off. The image cleaned up very nicely and I ended up with exactly what I was hoping for.

1-89031-8903 John Coleman and Jimmy Wiseman, moments before showtime

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(Glenn Woodell) https://glennwoodell.zenfolio.com/blog/2019/7/the-calm-before-the-storm Wed, 24 Jul 2019 00:38:52 GMT
The Best Camera… https://glennwoodell.zenfolio.com/blog/2019/7/the-best-camera

P-Bass_Charger1P-Bass_Charger1 You’ll never hear me falling for one of those Canon versus Nikon debates. I started off with Minolta in the film days and then made my way to Nikon professional gear for many years. It wasn’t until about half way through my photographic journey that I ended up with Canon gear in my hands. I won’t even tell the story of why because it doesn’t make any difference today. Even so, I’ve always said that the best camera is the one in your hands and this photo is another perfect example of that.

Canon? Nope.

Nikon? Nope.

Samsung! A three year old Samsung cell phone.

And the editing I did afterward? Absolutely no tonal or exposure edits. Natural garage lighting. The only edit was to clone out the protective rag underneath the guitar headstock. I didn’t even do any sharpening or noise reduction. Yes, cell phones have gotten that good if you know when they do and do not perform.

So don’t get caught up in the debates but more importantly, make sure you always have a camera with you, no matter what it is.

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(Glenn Woodell) https://glennwoodell.zenfolio.com/blog/2019/7/the-best-camera Wed, 24 Jul 2019 00:38:00 GMT
Should I be Shooting in Manual? https://glennwoodell.zenfolio.com/blog/2019/7/should-i-be-shooting-in-manual
1-54931-5493

The Grand Tetons taken at a small aperture to get increased depth of focus

This is a huge pet peeve of mine. I’m constantly seeing novice and even beginner photographers struggling with shooting in manual mode because someone told them they should. That’s akin to having a tool box full of tools but being told you’re not a real mechanic until you do all your jobs with a hammer.

I shoot with a Canon 1DxMkII. That’s Canon’s most sophisticated body ever (at the time) and it comes with the two “semi-automatic” modes that most professionals use the most, shutter priority (Tv) and aperture priority (Av). The Tv stands for time value while the Av stands for Aperture value. Nikon users will see S and A instead. There is manual of course for when that’s needed.

So, when does one use manual mode? It’s entirely up to the photographer. There is no right or wrong way to shoot. I often use manual when I have a scene where the lighting is not changing. Even then I will use one of the other modes first to get my initial meter readings and then shift into manual. For example, if I’m shooting a subject that is moving, I may want a shutter speed of 1/1000. I’ll start in shutter priority and let the camera choose the aperture (and maybe the ISO). I’ll take a test shot or two and look at my histogram to see if I’m getting the result I want. I’ll then move into manual with the corresponding aperture and ISO.

I work alongside photographers in the concert photo pit, some who shoot all night in manual. I’m not sure how they do it with the lighting that is changing so rapidly but they end up with great shots. I do the same but I either choose the slowest shutter speed I want or the greatest aperture, letting the histograms tell me if I need to dial in any exposure compensation. My histograms show after each shot (blurry but I can see the position and shape) and I can see them without moving my face away from the shooting position. This allows me to quickly dial in compensation as needed.

Note that you cannot use exposure compensation when in manual on some bodies. You must make adjustments to shutter speed, aperture, or ISO. In essence, shooting in one of the semi-automatic modes but dialing in exposure compensation is very similar to shooting in manual. I just think it is much easier to let the camera’s sophisticated metering help me determine the best exposure rather than rely on guesswork to get started.

In my lessons, I teach the various shooting modes but I never throw my students into the deep end by telling them that they have to shoot in manual, mainly because it’s just not true. I think it’s funny that we rely on auto focus so heavily yet some of us think it’s cheating to use auto exposure. Actually, I use autofocus to get close but I manually override it often to get the focus exactly where I want it.

The shooting modes are among the various tools available for us to get the images that we want. There is no right or wrong way to achieve the desired result. Each of the auto-exposure modes is very useful in different situations. Learn them all, figure out what works for you, and don’t be swayed by the way others shoot or how they tell you that you should be shooting.

Interested in getting better pictures? Consider one of my private or semi-private clinics.

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(Glenn Woodell) aperture priority Av Manual exposure shutter priority Tv https://glennwoodell.zenfolio.com/blog/2019/7/should-i-be-shooting-in-manual Wed, 24 Jul 2019 00:37:12 GMT
Print Your Images! https://glennwoodell.zenfolio.com/blog/2019/7/print-your-images

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I get to enjoy my photography four different ways. The first is when I frame up each scene. This is when I’m creating the image. This is when the magic happens…or doesn’t. And, especially with wildlife, even if I don’t get the shot, I enjoy the scene – the story developing through my viewfinder. Even if I don’t take any winning shoots home, I still get to enjoy the experience.

The second part of enjoying photography is when I get home and select and then process the best images. This is where I often see details I didn’t initially notice. This is where I get to take an otherwise bland photograph and turn it into the harmony of color and lighting that saw in the original scene.
 
The third reward is when I print some of my favorite shots. Images always look better on paper than on the screen, especially when printed around 12″.
 
The fourth reward is when I pick the best of the best and print them and then frame them and hang them in my house. It lets me enjoy the photos indefinitely and remember the experiences of shooting them in the first place.
 
So I will tell all my fellow photographers again – print your images!
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(Glenn Woodell) https://glennwoodell.zenfolio.com/blog/2019/7/print-your-images Wed, 24 Jul 2019 00:36:15 GMT
Shooting through Glass? https://glennwoodell.zenfolio.com/blog/2019/7/shooting-through-glass How many times have you seen a bird or something interesting outside and taken a picture through the glass and felt underwhelmed afterward? Or tried to get great shots of those fish or reptiles behind glass in an aquarium and thought you had done something wrong? The only thing you did wrong was to shoot through the glass.

Consider this simple test. I made sure my front door glass was very clean and shot some test images – some though the glass and some with nothing in between. I shot several of each case and chose the best of each. I used a Canon 7D MkII body with one of Canon’s sharpest lenses, their 300mm/f2.8.

Although I shot these in RAW, I did no processing afterward – no noise reduction or sharpening.

1-shooting-through-glass1-shooting-through-glass

Image on the right was taken through clean glass

Note that the image on the left is sharper than the one on the right. And this was shortly after doing a thorough cleaning of the glass. This is also fairly expensive glass door. Your results will be even worse shooting through double pane windows like are found in many houses today.

I’ve shot a lot of yard birds from inside my house and I’ve learned to not shoot through the glass. In the case of a robin family that had built a nest on the backside of a bush, next to my house, my only choice was to shoot from inside. In order to get the sharpest images possible, I lowered the upper half of the window and through the opening above.

2-1675-1024x6852-1675-1024x685 Robins shot through an open window

You may not always have the luxury of avoiding glass but when you have to shoot through it you want it as clean as possible and you want to shoot directly through it, normal to the surface, and not at an angle. There’s a reason your house windows are not as expensive as your camera lenses. They are not made of optical glass.

Interested in getting better pictures? Consider one of my private or semi-private clinics.

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(Glenn Woodell) through glass through window https://glennwoodell.zenfolio.com/blog/2019/7/shooting-through-glass Wed, 24 Jul 2019 00:35:25 GMT
Creative Cropping https://glennwoodell.zenfolio.com/blog/2019/7/creative-cropping Most people probably don’t consider cropping for other than “zooming in” on their subject or adjusting the composition a little. That’s what I used to do. But I have learned to use cropping in creative ways, in order to bring out my subject or tell the story even better.


We’re all so used to the 2×3 aspect ratio of our 35mm format-based cameras as well as the 4×5 aspect ratio of the classic 8×10 frame. But these “standards” were determined a long time ago and were set up for general situations.
The world around us does not always exist in these aspect ratios. Although our vision covers roughly a 2×3 aspect ratio, what we actually concentrate on is less like a rectangle and more like an oval, and it changes based on the amount of light available and what we’re actually concentrating on. Night vision for example is very different than fully-illuminated, daytime vision and how much periphery are you noticing when you’re reading a book?
So although most of my images end up being based on either 2×3 or 4×5, I am not afraid to venture outside of this norm. After all, I figure that the vast majority of my images will never be seen in a frame, much less a “standard” one.

23912391 Consider this image of a crowded intersection in New York City. This is a fisheye shot but I cropped off the top and bottom to let the view take in the width of the scene.


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In this image of a snowy egret, I shot and then cropped such that the bird was off to one side even though the subject was pretty much symmetrical. My intent was to grab the attention of the viewer by presenting a symmetrical subject in a conflicting frame or scene.


To the contrary, sometimes the 2×3 aspect ratio works better than anything else I could come up with. Consider this “as shot” image of a cow and her newborn calf. The long focal length allowed me to fill the frame with the scene perfectly. I was able to get a good balance of all the components at the time the image was acquired.

Although your in-camera composition will likely work for most of your shots, don’t rule out some creative cropping later. Cropping to 4×5 is always a good first alternative but keep an open mind for more drastic vertical and horizontal compositions.

Featured image: Great blue heron taken at Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Sanabel Island, Florida Canon 1Dx with Canon 500mm/f4 lens and 2X teleconverter

Interested in getting better pictures? Consider one of my private or semi-private clinics.

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(Glenn Woodell) https://glennwoodell.zenfolio.com/blog/2019/7/creative-cropping Wed, 24 Jul 2019 00:34:36 GMT
Afraid of High ISO Values? https://glennwoodell.zenfolio.com/blog/2019/7/afraid-of-high-iso-values Well, you shouldn’t be. While it is true that full frame sensors are better at high ISO imaging, you can get decent images with cropped sensors if you can get some control over your noise reduction. You can learn a little about noise in this article.

The first step is to shoot in RAW so you can manage your own noise reduction and sharpening, which work hand-in-hand. As you increase your noise reduction your image will need some extra sharpening. While shooting in JPEG lets the camera take care of it all for you, you can get much better results if you do it yourself.

Consider this image of a cormorant made with a cropped sensor camera. I was shooting an f4 lens and using a 2X teleconverter, so my fastest aperture was f8 which is pretty slow compared to most lenses. I had been using the built in noise reduction and sharpening found in the Adobe Camera RAW editor but I have since switched to Noiseware which gives me much better performance.

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You can see in the data listed at the bottom that I was shooting at a whopping 12800 ISO! But after proper noise reduction and sharpening I ended up with a very satisfactory image.

While I prefer to shoot at lower ISO values, I don’t worry too much about it. I know I’ll have to lose a little bit of detail in the end but I can still come out with a nice image after using the proper tools.

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Interested in getting better pictures? Consider one of my private or semi-private clinics.

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(Glenn Woodell) https://glennwoodell.zenfolio.com/blog/2019/7/afraid-of-high-iso-values Wed, 24 Jul 2019 00:33:35 GMT
Is Big Glass Really that much Better? https://glennwoodell.zenfolio.com/blog/2019/7/is-big-glass-really-that-much-better So I’ve been lugging around a heavy 300mm f2.8 lens with me in addition to my 500mm f4 that I can’t seem to leave in the car. And sometimes I’ll toss in a wide angle or a 70-200. Eventually I decided that when carrying around so much gear, and/or on long hikes, I might be better off carrying a slower version of the 300. So I picked up a Canon 300mm/f4 in the used department and have been carrying it in lieu of its big brother. As a test, I decided to do a side-by-side, real world test to see how they stacked up against one another.

1-300-vs-3001-300-vs-300

The 300mm f4 on the left is much smaller and lighter than the f2.8 version

In the weight category, the f4 version definitely wins. It is very light, weighing in at 2.6 pounds as compared to the 5.18 of the f2.8 version. It’s also quite a bit smaller at 8.7″ long by 3.5″ in diameter versus 9.8″ and 5.0″ and this doesn’t include the lens hoods.

For the image quality test, I shot multiple frames of several scenes with the two lenses on a Canon 7D MkII body with both lenses at their widest apertures. I chose the best image from each, among the groups of many, and processed them identically.

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Comparison between f4 and f2.8 versions of Canon's prime lenses

It doesn’t take a whole lot of inspection to see the differences between the two images. The f2.8 version is sharper, has more contrast, and shows more detail. So yes, big glass is better…optically. But is it worth the extra weight? For me, that’s gonna depend on my energy level and how much gear I’m willing to carry. I’ll still grab for the dependable f2.8 first but the f4 will make for a nice companion in some situations.

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(Glenn Woodell) https://glennwoodell.zenfolio.com/blog/2019/7/is-big-glass-really-that-much-better Wed, 24 Jul 2019 00:32:33 GMT
Image Sharpness – Part III https://glennwoodell.zenfolio.com/blog/2019/7/image-sharpness-part-iii We covered getting the image into the camera so now we’ll talk a little about what you do once you’ve acquired it.

Signal-to-Noise Ratio (SNR) is a techy sounding term for referring to what you want in your image as compared to what you don’t want. SNR is a ratio of the lightness values to the intrinsic noise values that your camera generates. You sometimes see noise as multicolored specs that show up when you lighten dark areas of an image. A camera with a higher SNR will tolerate more brightening than one with a lower SNR. And as handy as cropped sensor cameras are for giving you some free magnification, nothing in life is really free. Because the pixels in a cropped sensor camera are physically smaller than those of a full frame camera, they don’t collect as much light, so by definition, their SNR is always going to be less.

But all is not lost when using a cropped sensor camera, even if you underexpose. Hopefully by now you are shooting not in the default JPEG format, but in RAW, so that you can take advantage of the full dynamic range of the sensor of your camera. Although the learning curve for working with RAW images can be a daunting task for sure, the advantages are more than worth the effort. And if you’re not shooting RAW, you can still use much of the same software on your JPEG images. There is a lot of wonderful software available today that helps you take advantage of your camera and its features and especially can reduce the noise while adding some sharpening at the same time. Without getting into a technical discussion of JPEG images, just understand that the file format itself does add artifacts to your image that you have no control over.

Processing your images is where the magic of digital photography is leaps and bounds above that of traditional film and paper photography. Inexpensive and sometimes free software allows us to do things that were either too time consuming or near impossible in the darkrooms of yesterday.

Image blur and poor focus are hard to correct for in the processing. Both create a broadened or almost double edge. Contrast and sharpness however can be greatly enhanced, and should be since they are reduced intrinsically by the camera’s optics and electronics. And although the noise that is generated cannot be completely eliminated, it can be greatly reduced. Just realize that noise reduction tends to soften an image so sharpening will almost certainly need to be applied as well.

Especially with a lower SNR camera, you want to reduce your underexposing of your image. In the film days we were told to “shoot to the right” meaning we were to overexpose a little to make sure we didn’t generate excess film grain in the dark areas. That’s not so true today with the higher SNR cameras. I actually shoot to the left, making sure I don’t overexpose my highlights, knowing that the little noise that does show up can be mostly taken care of with my noise reduction software.

And finally, related to sharpness, contrast can be easily increased in a image as can general exposure and white balance, i.e., making sure your whites are white. This can be useful when you have a shaded subject that is illuminated solely by a blue sky. Since the illumination source is primarily blue, your subject will have a blueish cast to it which should be corrected in your processing.

While the software available to us today allows us to take full advantage of the capabilities of our digital cameras, we really need to make sure that we are starting with the best image possible. Maximizing sharpness and contrast while reducing image and camera blur can be done with some practice and the correct supporting equipment. You don’t have to buy the most expensive of everything but you do want to make sure that you are allowing your equipment to perform as best as it reasonably can by understanding its shortcomings and how to overcome them.

Interested in getting better pictures? Consider one of my private or semi-private clinics.

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(Glenn Woodell) https://glennwoodell.zenfolio.com/blog/2019/7/image-sharpness-part-iii Wed, 24 Jul 2019 00:31:32 GMT
Image Sharpness – Part II https://glennwoodell.zenfolio.com/blog/2019/7/image-sharpness-part-ii In Part I we covered blur induced by the subject as well as by the camera system. Now we’ll talk about other contributors to image sharpness.

Poor contrast can be the result of severe convection in the air, particulates in the air such as water droplets (fog), smoke, or dust, flare from light entering the lens at extreme angles, very dark scene (low key), very bright scene (high key), or from poor lens optics.

Although long lenses are very nice for shooting over long distances, they cannot overcome the poor optical quality of the air in between the camera and the subject. Even the best lens will only be able to capture what it has to “see” through. Beware of cool air over land that is heating up. As the heat rises (low density) it will try to mix with the cooler air (higher density) above and density has a huge effect on light (it bends it), and will tend to blur the edges in your scene, thereby reducing the contrast. Just moving to a different location where you are not shooting over the warm ground may be all that is necessary. In many cases though, you have no choice but to accept the poor quality or come back another time.

Inadequate depth of focus can greatly reduce image quality, especially if you are near your illumination limit and are restricted to using your lens wide open. If you can afford to stop down at least a little, you can get more of your subject in proper focus and help to correct for other focus inadequacies. Don’t be afraid to let your ISO creep up a little, especially if you are using good noise reduction software in your processing. I have some fine images taken with a cropped sensor camera at an ISO of 12800! Moving away from your subject, while keeping the focal length the same, can also increase your depth of focus as can switching to a cropped sensor camera.

Improper focus can be tough to tackle. Although auto focus has made amazing advances in recent years, it does not know what part of the image you want in focus. You may have to make minor manual adjustments, something I almost always do anyway. Poor vision or the use of glasses, multi-focal especially, may hinder your ability to achieve proper focus. I prefer to wear my contact lenses rather than my progressive glasses when I shoot, for this reason. Also, you may have a technical issue with your camera or lens that prevents them from achieving focus within specifications. All of these issues can work together to further degrade an image.

Poor or dirty optics can further reduce image quality. You’ve probably heard that it’s best to put your money into your lenses rather than your camera bodies and this is still quite true. The best camera out there can’t do much but capture the image that is coming through poor optics. Teleconverters are a common source of poor image quality. You want to get the very best teleconverter you can afford to put behind your expensive glass. The same holds true for filters. Personally, I don’t use any filters for wildlife photography. While some people swear by a UV or clear filter for protection, I use my lens hood for that. It also does a great job of reducing lens flare from unwanted sources of light.

Make sure you keep your lenses as clean as possible. Fingerprints, smudges, rain, condensation, splashes, etc. can all add up to reducing your contrast and sharpness and therefore reducing image quality. It is useful to carry basic lens cleaning supplies with you. And speaking of condensation, when shooting in warm, humid areas, be mindful of trying to use a cold camera when you step out of an air conditioned car. You could easily spend the next ten minutes waiting for your lens and camera to warm up enough to drive off the moisture. It takes extra long when using large aperture lenses.

Next we’ll talk about the camera sensor itself and some software resources.

Interested in getting better pictures? Consider one of my private or semi-private clinics.

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(Glenn Woodell) https://glennwoodell.zenfolio.com/blog/2019/7/image-sharpness-part-ii Wed, 24 Jul 2019 00:30:38 GMT
Image Sharpness – Part I https://glennwoodell.zenfolio.com/blog/2019/7/image-sharpness-part-i All photographers want their images to be as sharp as possible. There are several factors that can contribute to unsharp images. Blur from subject movement, blur from camera movement, lack of contrast, inadequate depth of focus, inaccurate focus, poor or dirty optics, and low signal-to-noise ratio all contribute to degradation of an image. I’ll take each of these issues and describe what they are, how you can avoid them, and what you can do about them during processing.

First a little primer. Image sharpness is a factor of a number of things but visually, we see things as being sharp when we can easily discern edges. Proper focus definitely helps but even a perfectly focused image can appear out of focus or blurry if the contrast is low enough that edges are hard to detect. Try reading in dim light for a real-world example. One of the first steps in some image detection and recognition systems is to detect the edges. Much of the work I did in my professional career was that of improving image brightness, contrast, and sharpness, all of which play together to create an optimal image.

blurblurAn example of intentional blur

Blur from the motion of your subject is sometimes hard to control, especially if your shutter speed is already limited by the amount of light, aperture, and usable ISO values you have at your disposal. Always try to keep your shutter speed as high as possible in order to minimize motion in your subject.

Obviously, having the fastest lens and the camera body with the best high-ISO performance is a help but it can also be expensive. Although some inexpensive zoom lenses are very handy, investing in something like the very popular Canon 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 or the Canon 400mm/f5.6 prime lens may be worthwhile. In addition to being a little faster, the optics are guaranteed to be better too.

Blur from camera movement can come from several sources. Hand holding, using an inadequate tripod, having the camera or tripod resting on a moving object, motion from the camera’s mirror, or motion caused by shakey hands or improper shutter release.

Hand holding is fine as long as you follow the rule of thumb that says you want the shutter speed to be as fast as the reciprocal of the focal length. So if you’re using a 400mm lens, you want your shutter speed to be at least as fast as 1/400s. You can certainly get away with shower shutter speeds but when you are getting close to or below this threshold, consider holding your breath, resting against a tree or a solid object, resting your elbows against your chest, and locking the camera against your body as tightly as possible.

I used to avoid using tripods and I’m still not fond of them but after seeing the results I can get by using them, I am rarely seen without one. In fact I finally broke down and paid big money for one that will probably outlive me. But the quality and stiffness of this system is now so much better than anything I ever had before. And with the big supertelephoto lenses I use today, I was way overdue for such a steady support. Most affordable tripods will be made out of aluminum but the better ones are made out of carbon. They are a little lighter than their aluminum counterparts but they are so much stiffer which is important when using heavier cameras and lenses. Also the higher quality ball heads and gimbals are usually well worth the money spent. The used market often offers some good deals.

Using a high dollar tripod doesn’t guarantee great results. You also need to consider the surface you are on and whether or not there is wind hampering your stability. Be careful when shooting on piers or walkways, especially if joggers are frequent. You can sometimes feel every footstep of people who are several hundred feet away and if you can feel it, your camera can too.

And just when you think you have the most stable platform available, your hands can introduce vibrations as well. Consider a wireless shutter remote or at least using the timer which is built into most cameras. Wireless remotes can be had for very little money and are wonderful for reducing shake with long lenses and they can work while in your pocket, making cold weather days more tolerable.

In the next part we’ll talk about some of the optical degradations to image sharpness.

Interested in getting better pictures? Consider one of my private or semi-private clinics.

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(Glenn Woodell) https://glennwoodell.zenfolio.com/blog/2019/7/image-sharpness-part-i Wed, 24 Jul 2019 00:29:46 GMT
What’s the Best Tripod? https://glennwoodell.zenfolio.com/blog/2019/7/what-s-the-best-tripod I often get asked, or read in forums, about what the best tripod is. Like many things in life, what’s best for one person is not necessarily best for another. Only you can define “best”. And, best may change over time as your needs change.

My philosophy about photo gear is pretty much all the same. What’s best is what you are willing to drag out with you. The most expensive tripod is worthless if you never care to take it anywhere. You can read my article about what the best camera is here.

Like most others, I started out hating tripods. After 35 years, I still dislike using them but I have realized what they can do for me so now I use one when I need one, which is much of the time. Here I will present some options for you to consider. It would be worth taking the time to read my three-part article on image sharpness before continuing with this one.

When I started shooting with lenses longer than 200mm and more than five pounds, I felt satisfied with the images I was getting by using a monopod. The monopod is quite useful because it greatly reduces the larger, low frequency movements of the camera-lens assembly – those movements induced by your arms, your breathing, and by the wind to some degree. The monopod also serves as a walking stick while hiking and could be a good item of self defense against wildlife or even other people should the need arise.

Me, using a monopod with a 600mm lens in my early days. Please ignore the goofy hat.

The nice thing about a monopod is that you can get a really good one for not a lot of money. Even the highest priced monopods are not going to be able to compete with an inexpensive tripod so I would never consider putting much money in one. Carbon ones are probably overkill since they are not saving much weight.

For the ultimate in stability, the full tripod is a necessity. Ask any serious amateur astronomer where a good chunk of their investment is and they will tell you it is in their telescope platform. Stability is a must for them and for those photographers who use long lenses, shoot in low light, or do both at the same time, it is imperative that you have a solid support.

I see many make the same transition that I did – starting out with a lightweight tripod. No one wants to carry a heavy one and the professional ones that are lightweight are quite expensive. So many are drawn to the “travel” tripods because they reduce to a pretty small size. Please resist the temptation to get one of these. They are lightweight and compact because their legs are thin and they use multiple sections to get them to a usable height. Even at their tallest length, they are usually a little short for shooting at higher elevations because they force you to bend over to compose your shots and they offer little stability over hand holding.

Using my 500mm f4 lens on an aluminum tripod with a gimbal mount. Photo by Jim Hansen.

Next is the regular line of aluminum tripods that don’t have the “travel” designation. Any of these is probably a good place to start. Even some of the best brands offer models that won’t break the bank. A good one can be had for under $300. I suggest buying a set of legs and selecting a head separately. It doesn’t even have to be of the same brand. Most tripods in this range accept almost any head.

The next step up is the carbon variety and this is where the prices start to jump. Carbon products take more time to build but they result in more stability than what aluminum can provide and they do it with less weight. The downside is their price. Although some can be had for reasonable prices, the professional level ones can easily set you back $900 and that’s for just the tripod legs.

Me, with my long lens and high quality, carbon tripod

I resisted moving to a carbon tripod for a long time. Once I got my 500mm prime lens and realized the quality I could get with it, and especially with the 2x extender connected, I really gained a lot of appreciation for higher ISO values of today’s bodies, image stabilization, and the software available to take a decent image and make it wonderful. But I wanted to shoot at lower ISO values…in lower light…and at objects that were moving. And with the heavier gear, the aluminum tripod that I had gotten used to lugging around with me was no longer stable enough for me.

The first time I literally touched one of the high end, carbon tripods, I was immediately sold on the concept. These tripods feel rock solid and not flexible like their aluminum counterparts. And with one of the quick disconnect bases, you can easily separate the heads from the legs and have a much lighter and more transportable system.

A white ibis hunts for a snack alongside a willet at Little Estero Lagoon, Florida, taken at ground level at 1000mm.

Like with many of the other photographic components, it is usually safe to pick a reputable retailer and start with your budget to find appropriate brands and models. What works for me may not be what you would prefer. I will say that once I made the tough decision to spend the big money on what I thought was just an accessory, it made me realize that the high quality tripod is an essential part of my collection of gear. And because these are at the top of the upgrade scale, they are hard to find on the used market.

Scouting for pictures the banks of the James River in Richmond. Photo by Wendy Darugar.

Whereas I used to avoid using my tripod, even when I had it with me, now it pretty much stays in my truck, whether I am shooting or not. I just don’t leave home without it anymore.

Today, my most prized items are my 500mm prime lens and my carbon tripod. Together they do more to optimize my image quality than anything else I own.

Interested in getting better pictures? Consider one of my private or semi-private clinics.

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(Glenn Woodell) https://glennwoodell.zenfolio.com/blog/2019/7/what-s-the-best-tripod Wed, 24 Jul 2019 00:28:41 GMT
Anatomy of a Promotional Shot https://glennwoodell.zenfolio.com/blog/2019/7/anatomy-of-a-promotional-shot When doing work for a client, it is important to understand what the images may be used for in the end. Although you are being hired to take a quality image, it is often for a very specific purpose, something that needs to be completely understood and taken into consideration before you start snapping. Remember that although you are being hired because of your abilities, your task is not to make your photography shine but to make your client or their product shine.

In this case, with the band, Runnin’ Shine, the image was to be use for promotion, primarily on social media. The two major platforms for advertising in the local scene are Facebook and Instagram. While Facebook can handle images of almost any aspect ratio, Instagram images are primarily square. The photographer needs to take these final use requirements into consideration. Photographers are taught to compose in-camera and take as tight a shot as possible. For many end uses, a tight shot will look great but be unusable.

I captured all of my shots with plenty of empty space around them to allow for cropping of various aspect ratios and placement of graphics. While I took this one horizontally, I shot all of the scenes vertically as well. Facebook in particular uses several different sizes. For example, an image for an event notice is best at 1920 by 1080 pixels, profile pictures are square, at 180 by 180, while cover photos are nearly 2:1 at 828 by 465. 1-AC0V28851-AC0V2885

Original image as captured, with plenty of extra space around the subjects. Not a great final shot but perfect considering what the image will be used for,

I considered the effect of depth of field in this scene to single out the band’s centerpiece performer while still providing adequate focus of the others. Depth of field is a product of not only aperture but also focal length and distance between the viewer and the subject. Although I could have made sure everyone was in focus, the intent of this shot was to single out one while still allowing the others to be an important part of the shot.

In this case, I chose wide open at f2.8 to provided the shallow focus. Because I was relatively close, a short focal length (57mm) allowed the background to come in just the right amount. Had I used a longer lens and shot from farther away, it would have put the background too far out of the focal plane. Camera bodies that have depth of field preview can be useful for seeing the result at stopped down apertures.

Note that I used excessive negative space. I did this to allow for expected, subsequent placement of text/artwork. In some of the images from this shoot, I placed the empty area to the left while I placed others to the right, depending primarily on specific scene composition. 2-2885 event photo2-2885 event photo

Resulting image appropriate for a Facebook event photo., cropped and resized to the optimum pixel dimensions for Facebook and logo added. Click on image for larger version.

In arranging people in a group shot, it usually looks better to have them sit or stand closer together than they would be if they were in a natural, social setting. Most people like to have some breathing space around them but for photos, it usually looks better to close the gaps between people as much as possible, without making them look crowded. Note that I closed the gaps on either side of the central figure as well.

When using props like the old truck in this case, it is not always necessary to include its entirety, especially if it is large. Note also that I did not include the entirety of the barn. For this shot, the subject is the band while the props were merely accessories. It can be confusing to see more than one subject in an image. Allowing too much of the barn or the truck would have detracted from the band members.

A final consideration is point of view. While I could have taken this shot from normal standing height, I chose to crouch down a little and take it from mid-height. A higher point of view would have looked too common and more like a casual snapshot. Other options include shooting from below, looking up. Shooting from any sort of angle, especially with a wider angle lens can sometimes distort scenes and the subjects in them to the point of being distracting. My job was to highlight the band – not my photography, the latter of which should speak for itself in the final product.

A great image should be a win for your client as well as for you, the photographer.

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(Glenn Woodell) https://glennwoodell.zenfolio.com/blog/2019/7/anatomy-of-a-promotional-shot Wed, 24 Jul 2019 00:26:52 GMT
Silent Sentinel https://glennwoodell.zenfolio.com/blog/2019/7/silent-sentinel 1-27021-2702

While driving back and forth from the restoration shop, where my old muscle car was being reassembled, I kept seeing an old, abandoned house sitting in the middle of a field, where new houses were encroaching at an alarming rate. I had ideas of shooting this house at night, against the star-lit sky. But being 30 minutes from my house, in a direction I rarely travel except during the day, of course I kept forgetting about it. That was more than a year ago.

Finally, after seeing some of my photo-friends post shots of the Milky Way from the North Carolina Outer Banks, I decided I had to get the shot while the scene still existed.

It was chilly and windy but the skies were clear. Perfect for getting a dark sky with some surrounding light effects. The crescent moon was nearby. Bright enough to illuminate the house but too high in the sky to be able to see the majority of celestial ecliptic, so I decided to keep it just out of view.

I loaded up the 1Dx with my trusty 15mm fisheye and set it at f4 since I knew it would be a challenge to focus against a dark sky and a house with very little contrast. I started with an ISO of 1000 and bracketed by 2/3 of a stop at five shots to figure out where I wanted the final exposure to be. This final shot was at 30 seconds and includes a few aircraft traces, lights from neighboring communities, and traffic along the highway.

I don’t know how much longer this house will be standing, or when the neighboring houses will destroy the beauty of the scene, but for now it is etched in my mind and in the digital world.

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(Glenn Woodell) https://glennwoodell.zenfolio.com/blog/2019/7/silent-sentinel Wed, 24 Jul 2019 00:26:37 GMT