Greetings folks! In my entire lifetime, I don�t think I�ve ever seen a year fly by as fast as 2009 did. Looking back over the year, I am grateful for all the opportunities I�ve had to enjoy my passion of photography. I�ve very much enjoyed working with many of you face to face during workshops while traveling. My hope is that 2010 will allow you to take more time to enjoy the thrill of photography.

I�ve already written down my goals and plans for 2010 that include new photo projects, editorial writing, books, videos and travel. I encourage you to do the same! In fact, if you�ve been waiting to start a new photography project or kick off a new photo business, then don�t wait. Just do it. There are a million excuses for waiting, but the longer you wait, the less you do. Act on your passion and learn a new photographic skill this year. I encourage you to set lofty goals for your photography and to work hard at achieving them.

New Book
I have contributed a chapter for a new book called The Wild Side of Photography, Unconventional and Creative Techniques for the Courageous Photographer. It is currently published in German through dpunkt.verlag ( and will soon be published in English through Rocky Nook in April, 2010 (

My contribution was for a �how to� section on how to achieve a Lensbaby look with Vaseline and a UV filter. The book is filled with 22 tutorials from a number of authors on everything from kite aerial photography, to hacking your camera�s operating system, to high speed photography, to 3D stereo photography. You can order the German book now at Amazon, or you can pre-order the English book through Amazon.

Finally, you can also buy a signed copy of either version through us on our own website .

Atlanta and Orlando Workshops are Close to Selling Out
Our January/February Nikonians workshop dates in Atlanta and Orlando are selling very quickly and are close to selling out. You can find these at For those of you in the Los Angeles area, we have also just posted a series of workshops at Samy�s Camera ( on 2/25/10 to 2/28/10. You can read more about our workshops at the end of the newsletter.

New Firmware for D300s, D3, D3x, D700

If you haven�t read the blog yet, Nikon just posted new firmware for the D300s, D3, D3x, D700 cameras. The fixes include support for 64GB cards, improved white balance, changes to auto focus tracking lock on (menu a4), some GPS improvements, and some other bug repairs.

Here are the links to download your camera updates:
D300s A/B 1.0.1
D3 A/B 2.02
D3X B 1.0.1
D700 A/B 1.0.2

December GOAL Assignment: Holiday Event Photos

Your GOAL (Get Out And Learn) assignment last month was to take some great holiday event photos at the Christmas, Hanukkah, and New Years gatherings you attended. Many times when we attend big gatherings, we want to capture the event with our camera. People at parties always seem to be having a great time and taking photos is a fantastic way for us to relive the event in the future. Unfortunately, it seems like we always come home with washed-out, blurry photos of Uncle Felix eating fruit cake. A photo of Uncle Felix eating fruit cake is bad enough, but Uncle Felix with a fuzzy over-flashed fruit cake is really bad!

Whether you know it or not, event photography is one of the hardest jobs in the known universe. As a photographer, you are supposed to create flattering shots of guests in very unflattering lighting conditions. It seems like events and parties are always held in dimly lit rooms with incandescent or fluorescent lights and really high ceilings. Add to this, the fact that everyone is moving around talking, dancing and singing, and you have a recipe for a photographic disaster.

A friend of mine was showing me some photos he took at a party last month with his point and shoot camera. Sadly, almost all the shots were either blurry or they were blown out from his flash. In fact, most of the people in the photos weren�t even recognizable. After crying on my shoulder for a few minutes, he asked me for some tips on how to create better photos at parties, so I spent some time explaining my approach. Here are the ideas I shared with him as well as a few more:

(By the way, I posted some additional event photos over at the blog)

– One of the most difficult things to overcome at a party is the dim light. The human eye can see just fine in the darker rooms, but our cameras require long shutter speeds in order to capture enough light. These longer shutter speeds frequently result in blurry pictures. One solution to this problem is to crank up your camera�s ISO to at least 1600. If your camera allows you to go even higher, like 3200 or 6400, then do it. You�ll pay a small penalty of additional noise and grain, but at least your shots won�t be blurry from camera movement. There are lots of easy software programs out there to help eliminate high ISO noise, but there isn�t a software program on the planet that can fully repair a blurry photograph (if you know of one, send me a link because I could use it!).

– Use a flash, but use it off-camera. Holding your flash away from the camera body is imperative if you want to have decent looking flash shots. Generally speaking, if you keep your flash attached to the camera, then you are at risk of creating the evil and terrible �flash face.� You know � something that looks similar to death warmed over, but blasted with direct flash (see the excellent example photo to the left). Yeech. The best methods for getting your flash off the camera are either by using a TTL extension cable or by triggering your flash wirelessly. I prefer using Nikon�s wireless system for the SB-600, SB-800 and SB-900 flashes. I�m able to trigger my remote flash with my camera�s pop-up flash and hold my remote flash off to the far side of my camera with my left hand. This serves to provide excellent side lighting which creates nice shape and form on the subject�s face. Trust me, this method produces much better photos than �flash face�.

– Use a flash diffuser. The purpose of a diffuser is to soften the light from the flash and spread it out over a larger area. This will almost always result in a much more pleasing image than shooting with direct flash. If I�m traveling and need to go really lightweight, then I just use the diffuser that I came packaged with the flash. If I want a little more professional look to my images, then I use a product like the (Harbor Digital Design Ultimate Light Box). The Ultimate Light Box lets you really shape the light by sending some of the light to the ceiling and some of the light to the subject. It is a great product and should be in everyone�s camera bag.

– Use slow sync flash to capture the background along with the foreground. Many party pictures look like they were taken in a cave because the background is so dark. The way to get around this is to use a slow sync setting on your camera. If you also set a high ISO value like 1600 or 3200, then you�ll be able to include the ambient light while also having a relatively fast shutter speed. This technique is great for incorporating the background while using the flash to properly light the subjects in the foreground.

– Get close to the action. I don�t know why, but lots of photographers are intimidated by getting too close to people at a party. Perhaps it�s that we don�t want to intrude on their good time, or maybe it�s just that we don�t brush our teeth very well. Whatever the reason, we just need to get over it and fill the frame with our subjects. The closer you get, the better you can see the person�s emotions and the better you can see the details. My approach is to generally tell the person what I�m doing, then take a step towards them with my camera up to my face. Invariably, they will react in a positive way that produces a wonderful photo. Every once in a while, they throw their drink in my face, but even then, I get a great photo of wine splashing on my lens!

So, taking great photos at parties and events is achievable. Trust me. You can do it. It all comes down to a few simple factors; high ISO, off camera flash, diffusion, slow sync and getting close. Now, get out there and get your party on!

January GOAL Assignment: Thoroughly Explore a Subject
January�s GOAL (Get Out And Learn) assignment is to spend some quality time with one of your favorite subjects. I want you to take photos of something you are interested in, many times over many days. Everyone knows that in order to consistently create better images, you have to spend more time taking photos. So, this is your excuse to spend a lot of time photographing your favorite person, place or thing.

The example photos to the left are images of a Shelby Cobra that I snapped down in Kissimmee Florida last year. I spent quite a bit of time photographing this beautiful muscle car from different angles, hoping to come away with a nice shot. At the end of the photo session, I was happy with my shots, but knew I could do better if I spent more time with the car. So, there�s the challenge. Let�s all go spend a few hours over a few days with our favorite subject and see how much your photographs improve. I can�t wait to get off this computer and go shoot some pics!

Photo Techniques: Use the Sun to Create a Strong Backlight
Tradition holds that your photographs shouldn�t have any offending bright areas in the background of the image. The common consensus is that a photograph shouldn�t have any specular highlights behind the subject because they distract the viewer�s attention from the subject.

For example, if you are photographing surfers, the best quality lighting occurs when the sun shines directly onto their faces. In other words, the sun would come from behind the photographer, towards the surfers. On the West coast, this means that you�d generally be photographing at sunrise. On the East coast, you�d be photographing at sunset. But, what happens when you are on the wrong coast at the wrong time? What do you do?

In my case, I recently spent a few weeks in Maui, Hawaii where I had a great opportunity to take some images of skim boarders. I drove down to Big Beach in Makena to watch world class wave riders pull some sick moves. I started up a conversation with a few of the guys about skim boarding and soon they were asking me about my cameras and photography. After a few minutes of chit chat, I asked them to show off for the camera, and that was all it took. I spent the next few hours snapping away with my Nikon D300s and my Nikon 70-200 f2.8 while they catapulted themselves off the Pacific Ocean waves. What a blast.

As the afternoon went on, the sun began to fall lower and lower in the sky until the skim boarders were in full back lighting. My first inclination was to stop shooting because of the incredibly high contrast. All I could think about was the fact that my photos would have lots of bright highlights in the background and that the skim boarders would be silhouettes. Unconscionable.

Then, I told myself �Wait a minute. Break the rule and see what happens.� Once I got over that mental block, I had a heyday making images in full backlighting. I wanted to do everything possible to maximize the backlight look, so I kept shooting to see what might turn out.

One of the technical difficulties of getting decent shots in strong backlighting is achieving the proper exposure. Because the background light is so bright, your camera will respond by decreasing the overall exposure. This results in the photograph becoming dark and uninspired. The fix is to increase exposure by a bit. In these photos to the left, I added between 2/3 of a stop and one stop of light to get the spraying water looking bright white. Since I was in Aperture Priority at f2.8, I used my exposure compensation button to increase the brightness. If I was in Manual exposure mode, I would have increased my shutter speed by 2/3 of a stop to achieve the same thing.

The back lighting caused the skim boarder�s bodies to become simple shape and form due to the silhouetting effect. I really liked the graphic shapes as they flew through the air. The more I shot, the more excited I became and the better my shots became. Towards the latter part of the afternoon, the evening clouds obscured the sun prior to sunset. I had big plans for photographing a boarder in front of the setting sun for the �ultimate backlighting� boarding photo, but Mother Nature had other plans. I took a few more shots in the flat light, then decided to pack up my gear. I waved the hang loose hand sign to the skim boarders, exchanged email addresses and went on my way.

My backlight photo session at Maui�s Big Beach reminded me of a few important things about photography:
1. You can make excellent images in any light at any time.
2. Don�t dismiss the photo because the light isn�t right. Work with it and see what happens.
3. Backlighting can result in dramatic, graphic images.
4. Never be afraid of introducing yourself to new people. Who knows what might come of it? I made some new friends and I captured some great images.

Workshop Updates
The 2010 workshop season is rapidly approaching and I�ll be down in Atlanta later this month running workshops with the Nikonians Academy. Immediately after Atlanta (1/28 � 1/31), I�ll be in Orlando (2/4 � 2/7), then off to Los Angeles (2/25 � 2/28). If you are considering Atlanta or Orlando, move quickly since these classes are close to selling out. Los Angeles currently has a bit more room.

Atlanta 1/28 � 1/31
Orlando 2/4 � 2/7
Los Angeles 2/25 � 2/28
New York 3/18 � 3/21
Boston 3/25 � 3/28
Mariposa/Yosemite animal shoot 4/6 � 4/11
Seattle 4/16 � 4/19
Houston 5/20 � 5/23
Dallas 5/27 � 5/40
Portland 6/10 � 6/13
New York 10/14 � 10/17
Washington DC 10/21 � 10/24
Tanzania Wildlife Safari 11/4 � 11/16

Our Nikonians Academy workshops include Nikon D300s/D300, Nikon D700, Nikon D3/D3s/D3x, Nikon D80/D90, D3000/D5000, Nikon Wireless Flash, Capture NX 2, HDR Photography, travel, adventure, wildlife and more! You can find more information here:

My Nikonians Academy travel and wildlife/animal photography trips are:
1. Triple D Game Farm wildlife models photos “California Special” in April, 2010
2. Day at the Ranch, a dude ranch photo shoot in Mariposa, CA in April, 2010
3. Tanzanian Africa Photo Safari in November, 2010

Finally, we have our annual North Cascades Art of Travel photo workshop scheduled for 9/23/10 to 9/26/10. This will be run through Out There Images, Inc. Here�s the link for this workshop:

Private Tutoring
I continue to run quite a few private workshops for people who want to learn in a one-on-one environment. These are great for folks who want to focus on specific topics related directly to their interests. Topics have included product photography, learning your camera, Lightroom, Capture NX2, wedding photography, Photoshop, color management, nature photography, digital workflow, macro photography, location portraiture and many others. I also regularly consult with businesses, schools, organizations and museums to assist with their photographic and digital workflow needs.

Call (253) 851-9054 or email ([email protected]) if you have questions about private tutoring or consulting.

I greatly appreciate your feedback and kind words. I strive to inspire you with new ideas and techniques that will encourage you in your pursuit of photography. If you need more inspiration during the month, be sure to check out for regular updates, tips and commentary.

Best regards,

Mike Hagen
Out There Images, Inc. – “Get Out And Learn!”
PO Box 1966
Gig Harbor, WA 98335
email [email protected]
office: 253-851-9054
mobile: 360-750-1103
fax: 206-984-1817

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