Greetings folks and happy March! Can you believe that a new season is already upon us? For those in the Northern hemisphere, we are celebrating Spring and those of you in the Southern hemisphere, you are looking forward to Fall. Depending on where you live on the planet, Spring equinox is about March 21st this year. The term equinox is derived from the Latin words, aequus meaning equal and nox meaning night. In simple terms, on or around March 21st the sun spends equal amount of time below the horizon and above the horizon. Those who study this astronomical stuff know that true equinox happens a few days before March 21st, but who�s counting right? If you are interested in the astronomical explanation, here�s a neat article from www.space.com columnist, Joe Rao (http://www.space.com/spacewatch/050318_equinox.html).
What does this have to do with photography? Well, for me, I always take this time of year to reinvigorate myself towards outdoor and nature photography after a long winter. One of my annual traditions is to get outside on the first day of spring and take some great nature pics. I encourage you to do the same. Do you have a plan for photography that day? Make a plan and take some photographs! Use this as an official excuse to get outside and create beautiful photographs.
In other news, our workshops around the USA with the Nikonians Academy (www.nikonians.org) continue to be big successes. We�ve just finished up teaching in the San Francisco Bay area and in Los Angeles. This month, we�ll be teaching down in Houston and Dallas, TX. While there, I�m going to be sure to take a few days to do some photography for my stock files.
Our April workshops with Out There Images, Inc. are just about sold out, however, we still have seats available in our 4/20/07 iTTL Flash workshop in Seattle. Sign up now to reserve a seat!
Keep in mind that if you can�t make one of our flash workshops, we have written a great eBook on the subject called �Using the Nikon Creative Lighting System� and you can buy it here: www.outthereimages.com/publishing.html.
Finally, I�m putting the final touches on three new Camera Setup Field Guides. These will be published for the D2X, D200 and D80 cameras. We already have the D70 setup guide here: www.outthereimages.com/publishing.html. You�ll be able to download these for free from our website, or you can send us some money and we�ll mail you a laminated copy. Check back in a few days for these to be posted. If they aren�t posted by March 6th, it just means that I took my kids hiking rather than doing my official business work!
February GOAL Assignment: Show the Motion
Last month, I asked you to Get Out And Learn by trying to take some photos that include deliberate motion blur. This is one of the toughest photographic assignments to tackle because it is so difficult to make motion blur look good. I promised I�d spend some time showing you some tips on motion blur, so here goes:
1. Pan at same speed as subject. In order to make the subject look sharp with the background blurry, you need to rotate your body at exactly the same rate as the moving object. Look at the photograph to the left of the bicyclists. This was a shot for a magazine assignment on athletes who were competing in the Nike World Masters Games. I took this shot at about 1/60 sec. and panned with the athletes as they rode by me. I shot the photograph out the window of my truck and used the window frame as a brace while I panned. You can see that even at 1/60 sec. the background blurred out nicely.
2. Have at least one element in the photo sharp. As long as something in the photograph looks reasonably crisp, then the photograph tends to �work�. If everything in the photograph is blurry, then it sometimes just looks like the photo was a mistake. For example, if the eyeball is sharp, but everything else is blurry, the photo tends to work. If everything is blurry, then the photo usually doesn�t work.
3. Choose the appropriate shutter speed. This sounds obvious, but actually getting the right shutter speed can be pretty difficult to nail down. There are lots of variables here that go beyond just taking the shot at the appropriate shutter speed. For example, a person running at 10 miles per hour isn�t just moving forward at that speed, he is actually moving forward and up/down and left/right. That might require a faster shutter speed to freeze their body motion while still allowing for a blurry background. At the other end of the spectrum, bicycle moving forward at the same speed isn�t moving up/down left/right, so you can probably get away with a little bit longer shutter speed as long as you pan correctly with its motion. Here are some rules of thumb, but as you know, rules are made to be broken. Just use these as a starting point and as you get better with your technique, you can choose longer shutter speeds:
a. Person walking: 1/30 sec.
b. Person jogging: 1/60 sec.
c. Person sprinting: 1/125 sec.
d. Slow dancing: 1/10 ~ 1/30 sec.
e. Bicyclist: 1/30 sec. ~ 1/125 sec.
f. Flying bird: 1/30 ~ 1/125 sec.
g. Car @ 60mph: 1/30 sec. ~ 1/125 sec.
h. Airplane @ 200mph: 1/125 sec. – 1/500 sec.
4. Use a flash with Slow Rear curtain sync. There are lots of times when you want to include action in your photo, but also want some semblance of sharpness. In these situations, I use my flash and set my camera to Slow Rear curtain sync. This allows the shutter to stay open long enough for the ambient light exposure, then pops the flash at the end to give the photo a �focused� look. The example photograph I have here was taken for a magazine assignment on tracking your fitness plan with a Pocket PC (handheld computer). The woman in the photo is the owner of the gym, and she wanted me to photograph her for the shoot. You can see that there is a little motion blur in her hand, but also that the rest of the photo appears sharp. This is due to the flash firing at the end of the exposure. I get the benefits of motion blur from a longer shutter speed and also the benefit of the flash that freezes motion.
5. For waterfalls, and flowing water, you generally want to leave your shutter open for at least � second or longer. I find that when taking these photographs, it is best to try a few different exposures at different shutter speeds. You�d be amazed at how different a waterfall looks at � second versus 2 seconds. The photograph of the waterfall was taken in the Columbia River Gorge at about 1 second from a tripod. At the ocean, you also want pretty long shutter speeds (1 sec. ~ 5 sec.) to get that silky look. However, you can get a little bit of motion blur with shorter speeds. The photo of the ocean wave here at Seaside Oregon was taken at 1/20 second as the waves moved in. I handheld the camera down low to the water and then quickly moved before the waves soaked my shoes.
6. Try to blur the clouds. Look at this photograph of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge taken at night. There was a fairly low layer of clouds moving across the sky that were lit up by a full moon. I set my exposure for a shutter speed of about 20 seconds so the moving clouds would add a sense of motion to the big bridge. I really like the look and feel of this photograph.
7. Blur automobile traffic. Since I�m on a bridge kick today, here�s another shot of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge taken right at civil twilight. Here, I set up my camera on a tripod and used an exposure of 20 seconds to blur all the cars as they crossed the bridge.
8. Toss your camera. Don�t throw it away, but throw it into the air! This is a lot of fun, but it isn�t for the faint of heart since it involves throwing your camera into the air while taking a photograph. You can create some neat, impressionistic photographs this way that really serve to get your creative juices flowing. I like to use a little digital point and shoot camera and set it for self timer. I trip the shutter, count down the seconds for the timer and then just before the shutter opens, I throw the camera into the air and hope for the best. Here are some shots I took this morning with my Nikon Coolpix 5600 (Actually, it is my son�s camera. Don�t tell him I did this with his camera or he�ll turn around and throw my D2X into the air for his own experiments). For some other neat camera tossing photos, go to www.flickr.com and enter the search term �Camera Toss�.
March GOAL Assignment: Photograph a stranger.
Photography is all about pushing your skills, boundaries and comfort level. The only way to improve your skills is to take pictures every day! So, my GOAL (Get Out And Learn) assignment for you this month is to take a photograph of a complete stranger. Yes, you heard me right � go up to someone you don�t know and ask to take their photograph. Just tell them that you are on assignment from Mike Hagen and are working on your photography. I think you�ll be surprised at the response you get! You may just find it addicting enough to do it a second time (and a third time and a fourth time).
In next month�s column, I�ll publish some photos I took of complete strangers and talk about some issues that may crop up such as model releases, how to photograph strangers, different approaches, etc.
Photo Techniques: Shooting at an Aquarium
Last week I had a great opportunity to spend a few hours at the Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport Oregon (www.aquarium.org). They have thousands of tanks, displays and live-animals to interact with. They even have an underwater viewing corridor called �Passages of the Deep� where you walk through a giant tank filled with sharks, fish, eels, sturgeon and a giant ling cod.
Taking great photographs in an aquarium can prove to be very challenging because most of the time you are photographing through thick panes of glass which can greatly distort the animals. Also, you are constantly fighting reflections from ambient light and from your flash. Here are some great tips for you to use when you go to photograph at your next aquarium.
– Push your lens up to the glass. This prevents unwanted reflections from the house lights as well as from your flash. Be careful that your font lens filter doesn�t scratch the surface of the aquarium or the aquarium staff might just throw you out on your ear! I typically remove any filters or lens hoods when doing this, so I can get my lens closer to the aquarium walls.
– Shoot directly through and at right angles to the aquarium glass. This prevents unwanted distortions from the glass that you�d get if you shot at an angle. Glass in some parts of the aquarium is 4� – 6� thick, so you�ll get significant softening unless you shoot perpendicular to the pane. Look at the photo of the yellow cod. The shot was focused properly, however because I shot at a fairly steep angle through the glass, I ended up with a blurry cod rather than a sharp cod! There�s nothing worse than a blurry cod.
– Use a macro or close up lens. Lots of the aquarium tanks are small and the fish are pretty close to the front glass. If you are going to push your lens up close to the glass, then you�ll need the ability to focus very close. I like to use Kenko (www.thkphoto.com) extension tubes for this purpose, however just about any macro lens will work great!
– Use a fast lens – f2.8 or 1.4. Many times, trying to hand-hold your camera with a slower lens (i.e. f5.6) means shutter speeds in the 1/10 second range or longer. This is a recipe for a blurry photo! If you have a faster lens like f2.8 or f1.4, then you�ll be able to get faster shutter speeds. Along with this, you might still have to increase your ISO. For most of the shots here, I used ISO640 and still achieved nice, pretty photographs.
– Include ambient light and flash to improve the look of the photo. Look at the two photos on the left of the Passages of the Deep viewing corridor. The first photo shows what an image looks like with just flash. The subjects are washed out and there is no view into the aquarium. The second photo shows the same shot with the camera set to Slow Rear sync and a very low power flash setting (-2.0). This setup allows the ambient light to burn in, but still uses a bit of flash to lighten the foreground.
– Use an off-camera flash. In the photos of the shrimp, jellyfish, black striped fish and orange anemones, I handheld a SB-800 flash away from the camera body. I set my camera for Slow Rear sync, ISO 640 and then dialed down my flash output to -0.7. Since I was using Slow Rear sync, my shutter speeds were down around 1/20 sec to 1/60 sec. This shutter speed is just at the lower limit of my ability to hand-hold my camera, so I was sure to brace myself against a wall or the aquarium glass to steady the camera system. Additionally, I watched the animals very carefully to make sure they weren�t moving when taking the picture. Finally, I was sure to keep the flash a long ways away from the camera, so I didn�t get any reflection off the glass.
Digital Tidbits: My Simple Checklist for Every Photo Shoot
After decades of amateur photography, 9 years of professional photography and 5 years of teaching digital photography workshops, I have come to the conclusion that photographers tend to forget camera settings every once in a while! That of course is the most obvious statement of the year, however it has profound impact on how we operate as photographers.
In just about every workshop I lead, someone invariably speaks up at the end of the day and says with exasperation, �Ugh. How do you remember all these settings!?� This just means that they have come to the fantastic realization that in digital photography, there are literally hundreds of settings, knobs, buttons, menus and dials to adjust in order to customize the camera. Also, every situation requires a different group of camera settings. This blessing is also a curse, because it is too easy to forget a single item from the list. Sometimes this item has very little impact on your photograph. Sometimes, the item has a huge impact on your photograph.
Speaking from personal experience, I have lost track of the number of times that I�ve messed up irreplaceable shots because my camera settings were incorrect. When I first started photography, I used an Argus C3 film camera that had a manual film advance. Unfortunately, the film advance wasn�t coupled with the shutter release so if you weren�t careful, you could keep tripping the shutter on the same frame of film. There were many trips where I thought I had taken a full roll of 24 images, only to have found that I actually had 18 shots with 6 of them double exposures! Back then, I set up a simple check list that I would always follow to prevent double exposures. My shooting sequence was 1. Take picture. 2. Advance film. 3. Cock shutter release. This simple checklist meant that the next time I took a photo, it would �land� on a new piece of film every time.
Years later, after I turned pro, I frequently found that I would put my camera down after a day of shooting with all my settings adjusted from my last shot. This usually meant that my last shot was late in the evening with a long shutter speed, high ISO and some exposure compensation dialed in. The next morning, I�d start my day taking photos and it would take me half a dozen pictures to realize that all my settings were off! After a near disaster with a corporate photo client (who will remain unnamed!), I made a pact with myself that I would no longer take photographs unless I followed a camera checklist every single time.
So here it is. My checklist is very simple to follow and if you have a Nikon SLR camera, it is even simpler to carry out. My checklist is to simply press each and every white-labeled button on the exterior of the camera. Pushing all the white buttons will quickly show you most of the important settings on your camera. I start with the lower left on the back of the camera and work my way around the top and front of the camera. Specifically, I press the following buttons: QUAL, ISO, WB, Autofocus Pattern, Exposure Mode, Metering Mode, Exposure Compensation, AF-C/S/M switch, Shooting Mode, Flash Mode and any other white labeled button that I forgot to mention.
When you push these buttons, the top LCD screen will show you how the camera is currently configured. For example, pushing the ISO button will show you what ISO value you have set in the camera. If you had just finished shooting a sports match at ISO 800, and you are now going to photograph a landscape scene, it would be wise to change it back to ISO 100.
If I have more time available before the shoot, then I will go into my camera�s menu system and check all my custom settings. This can be a real chore on a camera like the D2X or the D200, since there are literally hundreds of settings you can choose from. Rather than make changes for each situation I come across, I set up programmable menu banks that I can pre-set to general topics such as �Landscape� or �Sports� or �Portrait�. This makes it easy and quick to setup my camera for different shooting situations.
I run through my �white button� checklist every time I change location, lighting conditions or venues. This is important because the simple act of going from one room to the next can involve a change to white balance and ISO. Changing venues can mean changing the auto-focus system from AF-S to AF-C and then also changing the auto-focus pattern from single area to group dynamic. The act of pushing each white labeled button on the camera forces me to make a conscious decision about each camera setting. It takes less than ten seconds to do this in the field and the benefits are that I don�t have to go back and fix my mistakes later on. You know the famous 13th Century quote by Henry de Bracton, �An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.� How true it is.
Nikon iTTL Flash Workshops
Our next iTTL workshop is scheduled for April 20th in Seattle, WA and still has some seats available. After that, we have one scheduled on May 12th in Portland, OR. These are some of our most popular workshops and we�ve only set up a few of them for 2007. If you’ve ever been frustrated trying to get your flash photography to look natural, then you need to attend this workshop. We spend all day learning the ins and outs of the Nikon’s SB600 and SB800 flashes. You’ll never again have to struggle with these flashes. More info at: www.outthereimages.com/ittl_workshop.html
We are offering topics such as D80/D70, D2X, D200, Nikon Capture NX and Nikon iTTL wireless flash through the www.nikonians.org. We�ll be running them in cities such as San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, Las Vegas, Houston, Dallas, Boston, New York, Washington DC and Chicago. Throughout the year we�ll also be adding more topics and cities as we add qualified instructors. Our dates are posted here: www.greaterphoto.com.. If you are thinking of signing up, you had better hurry since we have already sold 50% of the seats for the entire 2007 schedule! There are a few workshops that are already completely sold out in various cities.
D80 and D70 Workshops
We have now combined our D70 and D80 workshops for 2007. We�ve scheduled them in the Northwest for Seattle, WA and Portland, OR areas through Out There Images, Inc. Additionally, we�ll be offering these through the Nikonians (www.nikonians.org) in cities all across the USA. Go here for more details: www.outthereimages.com/D80_workshop.html or www.outthereimages.com/D70_workshop.html.
Nikon D200 Workshops
The D200 is an extremely popular camera and for good reason! It is one of the nicest cameras I�ve ever used. We are going to offer D200 workshops in Seattle, WA and Portland, OR and are also offering an extensive workshop schedule with the Nikonians around the USA. Our first D200 workshops in the NW are scheduled for January 2007. Go here for more details: www.outthereimages.com/D200_workshop.html
The Art of Travel Workshops
Join us for a photographic adventure in 2007! Learn how to turn your next vacation into an artistic event with our Art of Travel Photography Workshops. The locations we have right now are Columbia River Gorge waterfalls and spring bloom 4/26/07 ~ 4/29/07 and North Cascades NP/Mazama 9/20/07 ~ 9/23/07. The Columbia River Gorge workshop in April is completely sold out and has a waiting list. The North Cascades workshop in September still has seats available. Beyond these travel workshops, we are considering adding more throughout the USA in other pretty locations. Go here for more details: www.outthereimages.com/travel_workshop.html
Each month, more and more of you are signing up for private workshops. These have become very popular and are an affordable way for you to learn specifically what you want to learn in a one-on-one environment. During these sessions, we are able to work specifically on your own photographic needs and at your own pace. Available topics are Studio Lighting, Nature Photography, Wedding photography, Photoshop, color management, digital workflow, flash photography, portraiture, etc. Many of our customers have requested specific topics and we have tailored our private tutoring to their needs. Call (360) 750-1103 or email ([email protected]) if you have questions about this option.
Thanks for all your great emails and communication. Stephanie and I work hard to get back to each of you as fast as possible. We love this business and look forward to hearing of your travels, experiences and photo encounters. Now, get out this month and take some great photographs!
Out There Images, Inc. – “Get Out And Learn!”
PO Box 1966
Gig Harbor, WA 98335