Monday, August 4, 2014

Shooting Clouds

It's that time of year where Arizona is in Monsoon Season. That means that the weather is changing each day with the increased dew points bringing in afternoon and evening thundershowers (or massive dust storms called "Haboobs"). Unlike the rest of the country these weather patterns are usually short lived and result in amazing cloud formations. Sometimes the clouds are dark and foreboding, but mostly they just generate beautiful billowing cumulus clouds with blue sky beyond. Now, why are clouds so important to a photographer? Many times in the Southwest photographers are faced with beautiful scenic panoramas that are surrounded with clear, blue sky that is, frankly boring.
Storm Clouds Backlit by the Sun

As a fine art photographer I like to have my images reflect the most pleasing of compositions and that means that a boring or overcast sky would need to to replaced to make the best looking large fine art image.  Many afternoons during Monsoon season I will drive five minutes down the road from my home to capture a library of cloud photos that can be used to impart a certain look in a photograph being created at other locations. 

Arizona Sunrise


Other times might require a sunrise or sunset mood over a scene.   I sometimes shoot real estate shots for local realtors and these often require sky replacement to enhance the image.

A side by side comparison of one of my photographs with sky replacement.  What a difference it makes.

Avalon Bay with Clouds
Avalon Bay Overcast


More examples of cloud pictues that I have taken this month.




I currently have about 700 cloud images in a folder that I can use in a variety of circumstances to enhance an image.  The beauty of Arizona is that many locations that I shoot come with their very own beautiful cloud formations in the shot as I originally capture it.



Disclosure: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally or believe they will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.” See my detailed disclosure at: My Disclosure

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Small LED, off camera, battery and AC, bright, cheap

The holy grail of off camera lighting is to have a small unit, bright, inexpensive and works with either battery or AC power. Until recently the major component of AC power was driving up the cost of LED lights. Quite recently I discovered several components available on Amazon that could make for a great off camera LED light. For several years I have used a battery powered light from Amazon, the Newer 160CN. I paid less than $40 for several of the units, but they only worked on batteries (6-AA) and they had to be changed about every 3 hours during a shoot. 

Very recently I found that Amazon has started selling an add-on power supply for CN-160 light.  This power supply has an AC to DC Switching Power converter that attaches to a dummy battery component that converts regular AC power to 7.5 v 2 amp DC power to power the LED lights. The light is rated at 5600K, 660 Luminous flux (according to the manufacturer).  It is pretty bright and when aggregated together is good for just about any studio purpose. 
It is very light weight and does not require you to modify the light and you can still use the batteries if you are on location.  This part costs less than $16.

This makes a complete AC powered LED light for around $56.

I also picked up another part: a Triple Hot Shoe Adapter that will allow me to aggregate two or three of the LED light into one adapter to place in a soft box or umbrella setup to increase the overall light and soften it at the same time.  The triple adapter is less than $16 on Amazon. 

Triple Holder with 3 LED lights (lights not included)


The best I have seen for an AC powered LED light is around $600-$900 for some of the more well known brands. 

This unit would be ideal for a small head shot production facility and provides continuous lighting with very good color rendition. 




Disclosure: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally or believe they will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.” See my detailed disclosure at: My Disclosure

Friday, July 11, 2014

My love/hate relationship with the Epson R3000 Printer

An many of you know I have posted several articles about the Epson R3000 printer.  I have been very impressed with the quality of the prints and they have been great for fine art prints in art shows that I have been featured here in Arizona. 

However, I have now given up on the printer after only 2 1/2 years of usage.  I have detailed the ongoing issues with maintenance of the printer in previous blogs and was able to overcome most of the problems.  But finally, the head clogging (ink clogging the heads) made it so that I could not get a reliable print from the printer.  I sent the printer off to an Epson Authorized repair facility in California (I could not find an authorized dealer in Arizona) and received a quote back that was for more than the cost of a new printer.  The main issue was in the print head itself.  On the Epson R3000 unit the print head is NOT a consumer replaceable unit-it must be replaced by an authorized dealer and the cost for the dealer for the print head alone was around $400.  Add the labor and that placed the repair quote for more than $700. 

After getting the quote I started to research my options and I could have just bought another R3000 printer, but I thought why should I reward Epson for designing a printer that I could use for less than three years. 

So, I looked at the Canon Pixma line of printers.  Their reviews said they were on the par with the Epson products.  But, a big difference was the print head on the Canon Pixma printers is a consumer replaceable unit with a cost of under $100.  The Canon Pixma Pro line is similar to the Epson R3000 and 3880 line of printers with the Epson 3880 being a wider format printer.  The Pro 1 is a 12 ink printer, the Pro 10 is a 10 ink printer and the Pro 100 is an 8 ink color printer.  The Pro 1 and Pro 10 printers were a little over my price range (list price of $999 and $699 receptively).  I chose the Pro 100 printer at a list price of $499, but B&H Photo had a $300 mail in rebate for the printer at the time I purchased it.  That made the price to me about $199! You can see the specs on the printer at:
http://shop.usa.canon.com/shop/en/catalog/printers-all-in-ones/professional-inkjet-printers/pixma-pro-100

I received the printer about a month ago and have been totally impressed.  The quality of the prints is on par with the Epson inks and it seems that the ink usage is a little better than the Epson.  The printer is quite heavy (43.2 lbs) and is built like a tank.

The specifications include:
Printer TypeWireless Professional Inkjet Printer
FeaturesAirPrint
Auto Photo Fix II
Borderless Printing
Optimum Image Generating System

Photo Printing
Grayscale Photo Printing
Wireless Printing
Print Speed (up to)8" x 10" Image on A4 with Border:
Approx. 51 seconds seconds6
11" x 14" Image on A3+ with Border:
Approx. 1 minute 30 seconds6
Number of Nozzles6,144
Print Resolution (Up to)Color: Up to 4800 x 2400 dpi4
Black Up to 4800 x 2400 dpi4
OS CompatibilityWindows® 7, Windows 7 SP1, Windows Vista SP1, Vista SP2, Windows XP SP3 32-bit
Intel processor
Mac OS® X v10.5.8 - 10.9.x7
Standard InterfacesWireless LAN (IEEE 802.11 b/g/n)
Ethernet
Hi-Speed USB
PictBridge (Cable not included)
Ink CompatibilityCLI-42
Ink Droplet SizePicoliter Size 3pl
Ink Capacity8
Paper Sizes4" x 6", 5" x 7", 8" x 10", Letter, Legal, 11" x 17", 13" x 19"
Paper CompatibilityPlain: (Plain Paper, Canon High Resolution Paper
Super High Gloss: Photo Paper Pro Platinum
Glossy: Photo Paper Plus Glossy II, Photo Paper Glossy
Semi-Gloss: Photo Paper Plus Semi-Gloss, Photo Paper Pro Luster
Matte: Matte Photo Paper

Fine Art Paper: Fine Art "Musem Etching"; Other Fine Art Papers
CD/DVD: Printable CD/DVD/Blu-ray Disc
For additional compatible papers, click here
Maximum Paper Size13" x 19"
Output Tray CapacityAuto Sheet Feeder: 150 Sheets of Plain Paper
20 sheets Photo Paper (4"x6"); 10 sheets (Letter/8"x10"); 1 sheet (A3+)
Manual Feeder: 1 sheet of Photo Paper (all sizes)
Noise Level ApproxApprox. 38.5 dB(A)
Physical Dimensions27.2" (W) x 15.2" (D) x 8.5" (H)
Weight43.2 lbs.
Power Consumption19 W (2.3 W Standby)
Warranty1-Year limited warranty with InstantExchange Program. 1-Year toll-free technical phone support.14
Software IncludedSetup Software & User's Guide CD-ROM
PIXMA PRO-100 Printer Driver
My Image Garden12: Full HD Movie Print, CREATIVE PARK PREMIUM13, Fun Filter Effects and Image Correction/Enhance are accessed through My Image Garden
Print Studio Pro
Quick Menu
  I titled this post as my love/hate relationship with the Epson R3000 printer and I have to honestly say that it was a very good printer for the way I used it for 2 1/2 years.  If I would have expected to only get that amount of time with the printer I probably would not have purchased it or I would have purchased the larger 3880 version and got a few more years use.  Of course, the 3880 has the same issues as the R3000 regarding the print head, but the 3880 does have a user replaceable waste ink reservoir that is not present in the R3000.  That may have increased the lifetime of unit.  But I did not know any of these issues when I purchased the printer. 

This post is certainly only my opinion of the printer and I want to state that other users my have a different experience than I had.  Perhaps the marketplace for ink jet printers is such that one should expect to replace the unit with a new one every two years and maybe that is acceptable to some buyers.  I have an expectation that is grounded around a HP LaserJet that I expected to run for 5 years or more.  I don't want to start a fight on the internet about this issue. My opinion is only one person and it may or may not be representative of other photographers.   I just want to urge all of you to research your purchases carefully and buy according to those opinions that are from your experience or from those that you trust. 
Disclosure: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally or believe they will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.” See my detailed disclosure at: My Disclosure

Thursday, July 3, 2014

The Story of Popular Sports Photos

I have been most fortunate in being able to photograph some of the most famous athletes of our time.  Sports photography is a most specialized form of photography.  While most any camera and lens combinations can capture good sports photos, great sports images require cameras that can capture images with a high burst rate, a fast shutter speed and a lens that is both fast, sharp and able to shoot in low light.

One of my most popular photographs is of All Star and future Hall of Famer  Josh Hamilton sliding into home while he played for the Texas Rangers (he now plays for Los Angeles Angels).  I have been honored with the ability to photograph MLB's Spring Training games at Surprise Stadium in the Cactus League.
This iconic image shows Hamilton sliding into home during a collision with Henry Blanco of the Arizona Diamondbacks in a Spring Training game on March 23, 2011.  This type of home plate collision has been diminished with new rule changes starting in the 2014 season.  Ironically Hamilton broke his arm in the regular season missing 7 weeks of the season before returning in time to help the Ranger's in the World Series (losing to the Saint Louis Cardinals in 7 games).

Credentialed and professional photographers can shoot from the playing field in "photographers wells" that are located in and next to the dugouts on each side of the field.  The closest well to home plate is approximately 50 feet from the plate and at the same level as the field.  There is another well inside the outfield side of each dugout that is slightly recessed below the level of the field, but not as low as the bottom of the dugout. 

The camera settings for this shot were 1/2,000 sec, f/4.0, ISO 200, 200mm shot with a Canon 7D and a Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8 IS II USM lens.   The fast shutter speed stopped the motion of the ball in mid-air and froze the dust particles flying up from Hamilton's cleats.  The sharpness of the lens is evident in the detail of the large tattoo on the forearm of Hamilton. 

In baseball the first most important factors in a professional level sports image is the speed of the shot (I captured 9 frames in the sliding sequence in 2 seconds with the money shot being the 3rd frame in the set).  The second important factor is the reach of the lens and its sharpness level.  The Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8 IS II USM is considered one of the fastest and sharpest lens in the Canon line.

I set my camera on high speed continuous shooting. In my experience, for professional level baseball players, I try to time the start of the shutter clicking when I see the pitcher start his windup.  This might seem early, but today's pro baseball pitchers are throwing so fast that this is the only way I can come close to capturing the ball in the frame around the batter.  This allow for some delay in my reaction time and then I can start the sequence of the capture frames.  Now I shoot with a Canon 7D camera that has a burst rate of approximately 8 frames per second.  This assumes I am shooting with raw or jpeg settings (not raw plus jpeg which takes longer to save to the compact flash card).  In baseball I generally get 4-9 frames before I stop the sequence of shooting.   

The next shot I wanted to highlight in my sports series is a shot I made of Andre Agassi playing in the Championship Round against Todd Martin at Surprise Stadium in the Cancer Treatment Centers of America Tennis Championship (Outback Champions Series).

Tennis, like baseball is a photographers game of access and position on the court.  In this case, I was credentialed by Surprise Tennis Center to be on the court for the championship round meaning I was sitting on the court almost dead center of the net.  The challenge, as in all of sports shots is one of shutter speed, burst speed and in this circumstance overcoming the afternoon sun.

The camera setting were 1/2000 sec f/5.6 at 300mm, shooting with a Canon T1i camera, and a 75-300mm f/4-5.6 USM lens. This was early in my career of sports shooting, but showing that you don't need the highest end of cameras to shoot sports at a professional level.

I set my camera on high speed continuous shooting. In my experience, for professional level tennis players, I try to time the start of the shutter clicking when I hear (yes, I listen for the crack of racket on the ball) the serve.  This allow for some delay in my reaction time and then I can start the sequence of the capture frames.  Now I shoot with a Canon 7D camera that has a burst rate of approximately 8 frames per second.  This assumes I am shooting with raw or jpeg settings (not raw plus jpeg which takes longer to save to the compact flash card).  In tennis I generally get 6-14 frames before I stop the sequence of shooting.  I tend to keep shooting after the return in case I get a great look of triumph or defeat. 

This is another shot showing Agassi in the same match on the opposite side of the court. 

A sampling of other sports shots I have captured over the years are displayed below.

John McEnroe








Anna Kournakova


Yu Darvish
Paige Mills-Centennial High School, now playing for Utah State University




Disclosure: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally or believe they will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.” See my detailed disclosure at: My Disclosure

Monday, June 30, 2014

The Story of Sedona Fall

At some time in a photographer's career there comes a series of photographs that set the bar for all of those that are to follow. For me, Sedona Fall is one of those photographs. This popular photograph has so many of the characteristics of a great image. First of all, it is defined by the light, the sun peaking through a hole in the clouds to illuminate a shimmering brilliance of fall colors. The light is what grabbed me first as my wife and I were driving back into Sedona from Oak Creek Canyon on Thanksgiving day.

 Getting the Shot 

“It always starts in the camera!”. There are many photographers that say that it—that illusive perfect photograph—is only about what you capture in the camera. I am not a purist along that line of thought. I believe that the camera is an important part of capturing what you see with your eyes. Today’s cameras have the ability to come very close to capturing what a human eye can see. But, I believe that what the eyes see and what the brain processes (the emotion of a scene) are far more that the mere technical ability of a camera sensor to process. Visualization and planning for the photographs are important. For instance, that beautiful sunset you captured yesterday will be replayed in your mind with much more intense colors as soon as it has faded from your view. I will start with one of my most popular photographs “Sedona Fall”.

Photo 1 - Original Out of Camera
This [photo 1] is what the original looks like right out of the camera.

Photo 2 - After Post Processing







And this [photo 2] is what I believe that my mind saw on beautiful Thanksgiving afternoon. Sedona Fall, the story: On Thanksgiving Day 2008 my wife Valerie and I had enjoyed a fantastic feast at the Los Abrigados Resort in Sedona.

The weather was overcast with periodic showers throughout the day. I had with me my new Canon Digital Rebel, my first digital camera with a whopping 6.3 megapixels. We decided to take a drive up Oak Creek Canyon in hopes of getting a few photographs. The weather was providing little assistance in lighting for any good photographs. We got a few shots of low hanging clouds around the Slide Rock area, but decided to head back to town.

As we crested over the last hill dropping into Sedona I saw the most amazing light on the oak trees lining Oak Creek. I quickly pulled off, across traffic, to a small turnout and started looking at the scene. As you can see in the Google Street view snapshots the pull off area was fairly small, but looked out over the city of Sedona with the Red Rocks in the background. 

Google Earth snapshot of location

Google Street View










I had never seen the leaves on the trees this late in the fall, but this year was extremely hot and remained so late into fall. A couple of times in my photographic life I had seen light shimmering off the leaves and reflecting the sun that had peeked through a hole in the clouds. I knew this light was fleeting and it was necessary to shoot quickly before the light dissipated. We both jumped out of the car and I grabbed my tripod in case I needed to take a longer exposure.

I took 18 frames at various shutter speeds and apertures. And then, just as quick as the light lit the trees like they were on fire, the light dropped behind the clouds and turned the scene into a monochromatic mush. I have gone back to that location on Thanksgiving ever since and have never seen the combination of leaves still on the trees, the unique coloring of the post-fall colors and the spectacular light that made the leaves shimmer and glow. After this series of images I continued to shoot around the Bell Rock area getting more quality photographs. These examples show how God can show off his most beautiful creation after a thunderstorm and rain. This is one of those photographs that a photographer gets once in a lifetime.
Camera Information: 1/640 sec, f/5.0, ISO 100 at 43 mm on a Canon EOS 18-55mm kit lens on a Digital Rebel (300D) 6.3 megapixel.
The "Story Behind the Photo" series will tell the story of how I captured and processed several of my most popular photographs.  These individual segments will be compiled into several instructional seminars that are schedule to be performed in Arizona starting in September of 2014.  Watch this blog for further information on both the stories and the seminars.



Quotes about Photography


“To photograph is to hold one's breath, when all faculties converge to capture fleeting reality. It's at that precise moment that mastering an image becomes a great physical and intellectual joy.”
― Henri Cartier-Bresson, The Mind's Eye: Writings on Photography and Photographers

“I take pictures because I enjoy capturing the enduring beauty of God’s creation. I've taken thousands of photographs over the years and many of my photos occurred because of something I call the “Moment of Light.” That mystical moment in time, while standing in the beauty of nature, when the framing, the lighting, the peak action, and the colors all come together...and at that instant I press the shutter to capture the image for all of time.”
― Randy Jackson




Disclosure: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally or believe they will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.” See my detailed disclosure at: My Disclosure