Greetings! The end of the year is almost here and it is time to assess how you’ve done with respect to your photographic goals. Have you accomplished everything that you wanted to accomplish? Have you improved your skill level over the last year? I hope so. If not, then keep at it. In fact, for 2010, resolve to spend more time learning, studying and practicing photography. There are many ways to learn about photography, but the best way to become a better photographer is to practice. The more you shoot, the better you get. It is that simple.
To that end, I urge you to read through this month�s newsletter and use it as encouragement to get out and try some new photographic techniques. Take the GOAL Assignments and Photo Technique articles and see how they might fit into your photography. I love challenging myself and I hope you do too.
October and November were very busy months for us here at Out There Images, Inc., so I wasn�t able to produce a November newsletter. Sorry about that! It wasn�t that I was lazy or anything, just � busy.
During October I led eight sold out workshops in New York and Washington DC, which were great fun. All the workshops had wonderful participants attend from all around the USA. During my time in Washington DC I was able to spend a day shooting video and stills with my Nikon D300s down on the National Mall. I am really having a great time learning how to incorporate HD Video along with stills in my travel photography. It is a great challenge and video is definitely becoming more mainstream as we head into this new decade.
November was spent freelancing as the technical editor on three new travel photography book projects for Wiley & Sons Publishing. Although I�m not the author, it has been an honor to work with Wiley and I�m very much enjoying the process. Additionally, I�ve been forging plans for a couple of new photography books that I�ll be writing myself. I�ll talk more about these new books at some point in the future.
My family and I spent the second half of November in Maui, Hawaii. I toured the island scoping out new locations for future travel photography workshops. Maui is a beautiful place and should really be on everyone�s list of places they need to see. From the green forests to the sandy beaches to the 10,000� Haleakala volcano, Maui has something to offer every photographer. You can see some of the photographs from the trip on the blog. Our family celebrated Thanksgiving Day by boogie boarding in Makena during the morning, taking family portraits on the beach in the afternoon and then eating turkey for dinner. It was wonderful.
I have quite a few new workshops posted over at the Nikonians Academy. During the first three months of 2010 I�ll be running workshops in Atlanta, Orlando, Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay area. Next year, I�ve also scheduled two big Photo Safaris to Tanzania. The first will be in May of 2010 and the second will be in November 2010. Beyond these workshops, I�ve also posted some fantastic new courses with professional photographers Michael Mariant, Winston Hall and David Tejada. You can see these workshops at www.nikoniansacademy.com.
October/November GOAL Assignment: Incorporate Video into Your Photography
Your October/November GOAL (Get Out and Learn) Assignment was to put together a short multimedia film that incorporated both sill photography and video from your camera. How did it go? My hunch is that it proved to be much more of a challenge than you first expected.
As I mentioned in October�s GOAL Assignment, we are at a crossroads in digital technology. We are now witnessing a convergence between video capture and still capture. Many of our cameras these days have HD video capability built into the camera. For example, my Nikon D90 and D300s both have the ability to capture 720p HD video at 24 frames per second. Point and shoot cameras from just about every manufacturer also have the ability to shoot video.
Since these two technologies have come together, it is easier than ever to produce simple multi-media presentations that incorporate still photography, sound, and video. Putting together multi-media presentations has also become quite a bit easier since almost every computer, whether it is a PC or a Mac, comes with free video editing software.
Macintosh computers ship with a free program called iMovie. Its interface is simple and it allows you to incorporate music, voice recordings, video clips, transitions, titles, credits and still photos. The program also has more sophisticated editing functions such as Ken Burns effects and black and white conversion.
On the Windows side, Microsoft has included Windows Movie Maker in Windows XP and Vista. Windows 7 will require you to download a new version called Windows Live Movie Maker. It does many of the same things as Macintosh�s iMovie, including incorporating video, stills, audio voiceovers and music tracks. It also allows you to create special effects, transitions and titles/credits.
Most of the free video editing programs allow you to output your video file in numerous formats and numerous resolutions. For example, iMovie allows the output of multimedia files as low definition for easy mobile downloading (480 x 320) or as higher definition for HDTV, DVD or broadband internet downloads.
Shooting video with a dSLR or point and shoot camera takes a lot of additional skill over shooting with a traditional video camcorder. The first attempts I made at recording video with my Nikon D90 were dismal failures. Seriously, they were utterly disastrous. I just didn�t fully grasp the need for an excellent support system along with slow, fluid camera movements.
It is fairly easy to hand hold a video camcorder with decent results. However, hand holding a dSLR while recording video is definitely not recommended, since doing so will almost always result in an extremely shaky video.
To counteract the shakes, I�ve had to purchase (or make) much more complicated support systems for my cameras such as fluid video heads, shoulder mounts and steadicam rigs. There are ways to lower the cost of supporting your camera, but these always require a DIY (do it yourself) approach. I�ve made a bunch of my own video support tools, but none of them match what you can buy commercially. Companies like Red Rock Micro, Zacuto and Steadicam make some very nice equipment for shoulder supports, focusing systems, tripod heads, etc.
Traditional camcorders have made recording video relatively simple due to the large depth of field and excellent built-in shake reduction. To get around the shaky video from dSLR cameras, you can use image stabilized a VR lenses, but they just don�t work well in my experience. The better approach is to create a stable �platform� for your camera. The most common ways to stabilize your video camera is by using a shoulder stock. Another simple way is to hang a monopod underneath the camera and place additional weights at the base. This dramatically dampens the quick, shaky motion which ruins video capture. The key is to make sure there are absolutely no sudden movements in the dSLR. If there are sudden movements, then your video will be almost unwatchable and cause your viewers to become nauseous. Nothing is worse than having a bunch of people in your living room turn green from watching your vacation videos!
In the two video examples I show to the left, I didn�t have a full support system (i.e. tripod or shoulder stock), so I did everything possible to slow down movement in the cameras. I propped my elbow on a rail, I used a tiny Bogen minipod or I set my camera on my camera bag. Another approach I�ve used is holding the camera out in front of my body and walking with bent knees, using my arms as shock absorbers; kind of like holding a baby with a smelly diaper.
After you�ve conquered the shakes, you�ll need to conquer the narrow depth of field (DOF). The big advantage to shooting video with a dSLR over a traditional camcorder, is that you can use a big aperture while recording. This allows you an incredibly narrow depth of field and gives your movies a cinema-quality feel reminiscent of the silver screen.
When you watch a movie such as Batman, a common approach by the director is to focus on Batman while he is talking, then change the focus to The Joker when he starts to talk. This approach requires the camera operator to rotate the focus ring on the camera in real time as the conversation is happening. Most autofocus systems on dSLR cameras are not capable of performing this function, because they don�t intuitively �know� where you want to focus next. Therefore, you need to do the focusing manually.
Manually focusing cameras is a skill that photographers have gotten away from in recent years. If you are going to become proficient at dSLR video, then you�ll need to re-learn how to manual focus. An inexpensive and easy solution to this is to actually put tape markers on the focus ring to know exactly where to rotate for focus. Have your actors/models stand in a prescribed location, and determine where the focus points are on your lens. Then, put a piece of tape on the focus ring and you can do the focusing by feel.
The more expensive way to manually focus lenses for dSLR video is to buy something like a Zacuto Reversible Z-Focus unit (http://store.zacuto.com/Flippable-Reversible-Z-Focus.html). This uses a gear mechanism to rotate your camera�s focus ring and is much more accurate. However, the price is much higher than tape at $1,675!
Another thing videographers do to improve focusing is to always look through the viewfinder, rather than only looking at the LCD screen. Now, this represents a difficult problem for dSLR users because your only view of the action is via the rear LCD screen. To solve this problem, I encourage you to buy some sort of accessory viewfinder. The viewfinder I�m currently using is the Hood Loupe 3.0 from Hoodman (www.hoodmanusa.com) and it is priced very reasonably at $79.00.
Ok, so onto the videos shown to the left. The first video (http://vimeo.com/7969859) is a one minute clip taken during my October visit to the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. They have a great butterfly pavilion that is open to the public. On most days of the week, you�ll need to pay a small entry fee, however if you go on Tuesdays, they open the pavilion for free! All photos and video were captured with a Nikon D300s.
You�ll notice the narrow depth of field in many of the shots. I photographed most of the close-up images at f/2.8 while the wider angle views I shot at around f/5.6 for more depth of field. Shooting at f2.8 makes it very hard to keep your subject in focus while filming, especially if the subject moves quickly like a butterfly. In this video, I had to shoot about 10 minutes of video in order to find about 15 to 30 seconds of time when the butterflies stood still long enough to keep them sharp. It was a greater challenge than I had anticipated.
The second video (http://vimeo.com/7949635) is a 30 second blurb taken at our local county fair in Puyallup, Washington. All photos and video were captured with a Canon G9 point and shoot. While the G9 doesn�t shoot HD video, it still has high enough quality for web viewing. I like the added dimension given by the video and I especially like the screams of happiness from the Giant Slide. This type of ambiance you�d never get from just still photos.
Another thing that you�ll notice about the Canon G9 video from the Puyallup Fair, is that it has quite a bit of depth of field during the video. This is because of the very small imaging sensor. Because of the greater DOF, you don�t have to work as hard at critical focus.
As I delve deeper into the world of dSLR video, I always like to learn from others who do it well. Here�s a link to a fantastic short film taken with the brand new Nikon D3s on the Sports Illustrated website: D3s LINK
Ok, so now you have a few tips to get you going on incorporating video with still photography. It is time for you to produce your own multi-media slide show.
December GOAL Assignment: Holiday Event Photos
Event photographers have one of the hardest jobs in the world. They are paid to create beautiful photos of people in dark rooms and under terrible lighting. Therefore, when asked to photograph an event like a party or a wedding, most photographers wisely turn and run away.
Not you though! Nope. This month, your GOAL (Get Out and Learn) assignment is to take some fantastic (professional quality) photos of a holiday event. Capture the people, atmosphere, food, lights, candles and action. I�ll be doing the same thing right along with you and will even post some of my Christmas and New Years events during the month at the blog (www.outthereimages.com/blog).
Now, get out there and create some amazing photographs!
Photo Techniques: Big Foregrounds
Quite a few readers of this newsletter and our blog have recently sent me links to their online galleries. I�ve seen some stunning work and I�m always inspired by viewing other people�s work. A few folks have asked me to comment on their landscape photographs. While reviewing their images, a common theme developed. I found that some of their landscape images could be greatly improved by one simple addition: a big foreground subject.
Landscape images tend to work very well if they have three basic elements.
1. A strong foreground
2. An interesting middle area
3. A well defined background subject
Arranging your photo this way will help to draw the viewer�s attention from the lower part of the photograph to the upper part of the photograph. The viewer will start by looking at the foreground, then work their eyes up the photograph until they see the background element. Typically, the background element is the main subject of the scene. For example, it might be a mountain range like the Tetons or it might be the Pacific Ocean at sunset.
Most photographers do a great job of including the background subject in their photos. Think about it; if you are taking a landscape photo of the Tetons, you are probably going to include the Teton Mountains. It goes without saying that you�re going to include the mountain range in the image.
Photographers also tend to do a decent job of including a middle subject area in their photographs. The middle subject area in a mountain photo might be a green field or an alpine meadow. In an ocean scenic, the middle area might include the sandy beach or a boardwalk. However, I�m not always convinced that photographers always consciously include an interesting middle area in their photos. My gut tells me that a lot of times, the middle area is included in the image because it happened to fall within the edges of the frame.
Now, assuming that your photo has an interesting background subject and middle area, the next order of business is to find a great foreground element. In fact, for a landscape photograph to really look phenomenal, it really needs to include a strong, prominent foreground element. Not including a large foreground subject is one of the biggest mistakes that new landscape photographers make. Small foreground elements cause their photos to lose visual impact.
Look at the example photographs to the left. You can see that the images with the larger foreground elements are more intriguing than the same image with a smaller foreground element. When I shoot landscapes, I make it a point to get as close as possible; and then I get closer. Sometimes, the foreground element is literally touching the front of the lens hood.
Here�s what I do to get close to the foreground subject:
– Use a wide angle lens between 10mm � 24mm
– Kneel in the dirt
– Lay down
– Open my tripod legs so the tripod is low
– Remove the tripod�s center column
– Bend over while hand holding
– Step closer
– Get so close to the foreground subject that you can smell it
– Stand in the water (wear sandals or hip waders)
I know that the above techniques aren�t exactly earth shattering suggestions; however they are necessary if you want to get the best shot. I�m always amazed at how far people will travel to get to a beautiful destination, but they are timid about getting down into the dirt in order to get the shot.
Getting closer to your foreground element makes the photograph more visually impressive in a variety of ways. First of all, this technique serves to fill the frame with color. In the first examples of the Maui photos to the left, the green leaves help both photos. However, in the second image, the larger green leaves fills a massive portion of the photo with great color. Second, this technique will show a significant amount of texture and detail in your foreground. The viewer will tend to look at the photo longer because you�ve provided so much more information. Third, getting close to your foreground gives the landscape a much larger feel. Everything feels bigger and grander simply because the foreground element looks larger.
The two seascape images to the left do a good job of illustrating this concept. The first seascape was from a bluff, looking down to the ocean waters. It has a background (the ocean) and a middle ground (the rocks), however it lacks a solid foreground. In order to capture the foreground, I had to scramble down an old lava flow to get down to the beach. The second seascape was taken down on the sandy beach, right next to the rocks.
I soon found that if I wanted this foreground rock to appear large in the image, I was going to have to stand in the waves. So, I set my tripod into the sand, and took long 30-second exposures while the waves washed around my feet. A few of the waves were bigger than I expected, so I had to pick up the camera to prevent it from getting soaked from time to time. I like the fact that you can see detail in the lava rock as well as in the water in the second photo. Again, a large foreground element helps the image become stronger.
So that�s the straight scoop about foregrounds. Keep them big and your images will definitely improve. Now it’s your turn to get out there and take some great landscapes.
I�ve finished up all the workshops I�ll be leading in 2009 and I�m looking forward to the rapidly approaching 2010 season.
Do you have a hankerin� for wildlife photography in 2010? Come along for a photo safari designed specifically for photographers, by photographers. I have designed every aspect of these trips to maximize photographic opportunities. We are planning to be in the right spots at the right times to take advantage of wildflowers, green foliage, animal migrations, baby animals, sunrises, and sunsets.
Here are four wildlife photo safari trips I have planned for 2010:
1. Triple D Game Farm wildlife models photos “California Special” in April, 2010
2. Tanzanian Africa Photo Safari in May, 2010
3. Triple D Game Farm Baby wildlife models photo shoot in Montana in June, 2010
4. Tanzanian Africa Photo Safari in November, 2010
I�ve already posted these adventure trips to our 2010 Nikonians Academy schedule at www.nikoniansacademy.com.
Of course, we are also scheduling quite a few traditional workshops such as the Nikon D300s/D300, Nikon D700, Nikon D3/D3x, Nikon D80/D90, Nikon Wireless Flash, Capture NX 2, HDR Photography and more! You can find more information here: www.nikoniansacademy.com.
One of the newest and exciting workshops I am creating is a class on using Nikon dSLRs for HD Video. The class will show how to properly record video and audio while using simple software to create great video projects. These new workshops will start to crop up around the USA in the second half of 2010.
Private instruction is a very popular way 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, exposure theory, and more. Many of our customers have requested specific topics and we have tailored our private tutoring to their needs. Call (253) 851-9054 or email ([email protected]) if you have questions about this option.
I hope this month�s newsletter encourages you to get out and improve your photography. If you need more inspiration during the month, then be sure to check out our blog at www.outthereimages.com/blog
Out There Images, Inc. – “Get Out And Learn!”
PO Box 1966
Gig Harbor, WA 98335
email [email protected]