Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Learning the finer art of Patience

There are times when I like getting as one in nature and capturing wildlife or landscapes pictures. Don't get me wrong, I'm still passionate about being a photojournalist and a sports shooter, however, getting lost in nature is refreshing at times. Waiting for the sunlight to be in the right position, or an animal or bird to come within your frame sometimes is a test of patience.

While in the Navy and stationed in Pensacola, I became friends with another photographer, who happened to be a avid deer hunter. While I liked to shoot deer with a camera, he, on the other hand was a compound bow hunter, was looking for a hunting companion and started giving me lessons. 

It was pretty neat going out in the afternoons and flinging arrows at deer targets and after a few short weeks I was ready for my "first" kill.

I didn't care about getting up at dark thirty, driving out into the woods and waiting in the cold for hours in hope of bagging a deer, but after a few hunts I was become comfortable while our in the woods. At times we often saw deer, however, they never came within bow range.

When I returned home my wife, Amy , would inquire, "Is Bambi safe, how about it's mom and dad?" So, I told even through we didn't bag us a deer, it was a lot fun, getting out early, watching the early morning ground mist burn off with the rising sun, listening to the birds and getting as one with nature.

Rick talked me into trying another technique, tree stands. Not only were you able to get a higher vantage, but at higher level your human sent would be harder to detect and if  you applied some nasty smelling liquid called "Deer in Heat", hopefully would bring deer withing shooting range. He selected an area with plenty of deer runs, we both chose trees at opposite runs, climbed up a tree and set up the stand, sat and waited.

It wasn't long before I got lost in my thoughts while scanning the area for deer, watching the sunlight reflecting off the wet leaves really brought out the beauty and contrasting fall colors of the various trees. I wished I was holding a camera instead of a bow.

Suddenly, a shout broke the tranquility of a peaceful morning, "For Christ sake will you shoot that deer!" I looked down and noticed three or four deer, not 20 yards from me munching berries off a bush, but after hearing Rick's outbreak, their little white tails rose and off they disappeared down the trail from where they came.

Once again I could safely tell Amy, "Bambi's parents were safe." It was a quite ride home, until Rick finally broke the silence. "What were you thinking, why didn't you shoot the deer?" I went into detail about getting lost in my thoughts while enjoying nature's beauty.

That morning was my last bow hunt.  I'm still the "great white hunter" and instead of a bow, I hunt with a camera. I did, however, come away with many lessons learned by spending hours in once location, but more importantly, I learned that sometimes it takes patience and time to capture that special photograph.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Capturing story telling travel photos

If you are like most photographers who fill up digital cards with photographs to put together a personal vision of your travels or, you might be assembling a power point/slide show in hopes that they will wow folks, and if you have hopes of someday impressing travel section newspaper or magazine editors and art directors with your story telling pictures, then you will need to educate yourself on how to take better travel pictures. One way that might help is to study the magazine content.

Photography and travel go together like peanut better and jelly. Many of us like to travel to places filled with beautiful landscapes and interesting people and for most part; your photographic journey begins just beyond the front door.

At an recent slide show I presented on travel photography, a person asked, “I’ve been to some of the same places as you and own some of the same equipment as you do too, but my photographs aren’t as good as yours. Why?”

The only difference I’ve come across between professionals and amateurs are, that the professionals think before they photograph. A scene I’ve witnessed more than once shows the difference: A camera-toting tourists, spots a scene worth shooting. He momentarily breaks loose, throws his camera to his eye, fires off a few images and then returns to his group.

The difference? A professional photographer will always leave his family at home when they are out working. Only kidding, I’ve know National Geographic photographers who have taken their family along on six-month-long assignments. My wife and family have been on vacations from the Grand Canyon, to Hawaii, Tokyo, Hokkaido’s Ice and Snow Festivals to bullfights in Portugal and to the Panamian rain forest. And when it comes to having to wait for me to get that “shot”, they’ve got to be the most patience family in the world. Besides, it helps to find a hotel with a swimming pool and hot tub for them to relax and play in while I’m out photographing.

My wife says I’m interesting to watch as I photograph. Why? Because, I’ll study the scene to either take mental notes or to jot them down in a notebook. Then taking time to walk here or there, climbing up high or stooping low to find a choice angle and location from which to shoot from, and then only to decide to return later for the beautiful colors of early morning or evening lighting.

Here’s some tips I’ve prepared by learning the hard way, from experience making “mistakes” in the field.

Research in advance of going, spend time at the local library or on the Internet and earn all about your destination. Look for information on cultures, customs, weather, history, politics, wildlife, industry, sports and festivals. You’ll get an idea on what types of photographs you’ll be able to take, what equipment you’ll need as well as what to wear and how to get around.

Using light. Light is the strongest element in photography. Study travel magazines and you’ll notice most of the photographs are either taken in the early morning or late afternoon hours. That’s because the quality of light during these times is much more pleasing to the eye, because it’s warmer with deeper shades of red, orange, yellow. Shadows are also longer, adding a sense of depth to the height and width to the scene you are photographing.

Take photographs that tell the whole story of your travel destination. This means packing your wide-angle and telephoto lenses and photograph people, landscapes, wildlife, flowers, markets and buildings. Shoot a wide variety of indoor and outdoor pictures. Photograph everything, even the food you eat! And be ready to shoot under any lighting conditions.

Ask yourself what’s unique about this place. Editors and art directors often look for establishing shots, the trademark that “says something about your travels in visual terms. Get an idea on what to shoot, go to a local card shop and look at picture postcards of the area’s landmarks.

Great pictures are make, not taken. A photographer studies the scene and chooses the elements/subjects to include in the scene. Don’t be afraid to crop in your viewfinder, only adding your real subject and capturing that only. It’s very tempting to include too many elements in a picture because of the beauty of a scene. Being selective with what elements you add will make a more dramatic image. Think about making a picture rather than taking a picture.

Look for different angles in your shooting. There’s no rule that states that all photographs must be shot from eye level. Take a variety of images of your subject shot from different locations. Change photo angles and switch lenses, as this will change your photographic view as well.

Keep your subjects interested. Most travel photos will be of people in various situations. You’ll find that people make the most interesting photos and you need to find a way to communicate with them. I carry a foreign language dictionary for each country I visit and learn some phases that might help when I want to photograph someone. Speaking a phase of the local language gives the subject a chance to warm up to you.

Dare to be different and break the so-called rules of photographic composition and be creative. Listen to your instincts and shoot pictures from the heart! 

Monday, July 25, 2011

Love for the game

I spent last six days last week (July 16-22) covering the West Central District 2 Big League Baseball Tournament in Silverdale, WA. The 16-18 year-old players  from Arizona, Washington, Northern and Southern California, Hawaii, Nevada and Oregon were competing in a tournament where the winner advanced to the World Series played in Easley, South Carolina. In the six days, I shot over 9,000 frames during the 16 games and here are a few of my of my favorite images. While most games were pretty much lopsided victories, some were close, including the championship game between the California teams. With the score tied 1-1 going into the bottom of the 7th inning Northern California scored the winning run on a wild pitch throw by the Southern California reliever. Good luck to the Northern California team, do West Central District 2 proud.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Being there is what matters

One phase a photographer doesn’t want to hear is, “Hey, you should have been here earlier!” This is just what I was greeted to from the front desk clerk as we checked into the Grand Canyon Lodge.  

We planned to arrive a few hours or so before sunset at the South Rim so that I would have ample time to setup and take pictures of one of the Worlds Seven Wonders basked in what photographers call, “magic light.”

It was so cloudy I didn’t think there wouldn’t be any picture taking possibilities, but the clerk mentioned that weather conditions constantly change around the canyon and he’ll ring the room if there’s a break in the weather.

Settling in for the evening, I attached the camera on a tripod and waited. Sometimes, we’re blessed with a little luck and a few minutes later I received the call, only to run outside to see the canyon surrounded by clouds and being lit by a ray of sunshine. However, I was able to capture a dozen shots before the canyon was once again socked in.

There’s another saying photographers’ use, “It’s 95 percent being there and five percent dumb luck.” In this case that phase was all too true.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

A mighty "damn fine weekend"

“Diane, It’s 10:38 AM on Fathers Day and Toshiro and I are on the back deck of our Port Orchard home, located on the Kitsap Peninsula, some 58 miles from Seattle. We are enjoying the last fire in our 10-year-old terra cotta chimenea. After the fire dies, it will become a garden planter.” This  the type of recording FBI Agent Dale Cooper (played by Kyle MacLachlan) dictated to Diane on his tape recorder. As you can tell, I watched one too many “Twin Peaks” episodes yesterday. My son, Trevor, sent me the Twin Peaks The Definitive Gold Box Edition for a combination birthday/Fathers Day present. I know if anyone who hasn’t watched Twin Peaks should download the pilot series and you’ll found out just how fantastic it is. I'd recommend you watch this on a moonless night near a forest, or on your living room sofa chair with a cup of  “mighty fine damn hot black coffee” and a piece of cherry pie.

Today, I received as a gift a half dozen tomato plants and a
pond liner. Guess I know how I’ll be spending the rest of the afternoon.

Many thanks for my family for making this a “mighty fine” Birthday/ Father’s weekend.

What’s gonna be for Christmas perhaps... The complete box set of
“Northern Explosure"?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Making the best of a bad lighting and background situation

My good friend Randy Romo has been after me to take senior photos of his son, Tanner. However, since April we’ve had typical Pacific Northwest rainy and gray weather in the Puget Sound region.

When the weather was good for those few days, Tanner was off playing high school baseball for South Kitsap or for his Narrows Select Baseball team.

This weekend the weather was perfect. I was able to capture some nice senior portraits of my son Colin, dressed in his prom attire, in our backyard. Around 5:30 with the setting sun filtering through the trees and shrubs making for beautiful lighting, I set up a three speed light studio and took some pictures. Now this tuned out nice.

However, the only day I could take pictures of Tanner was Sunday morning at about 11:00. Horrible sun, however, we found a somewhat shady spot in his grandfather’s yard to make some pictures.

I set up three Canon 580 portable speed lights, using CTO warming filters, did a few test shots, adjusted the output flash of each strobe to match the ambient light and bingo - got the correct lighting. Most of my camera and flash setting were ISO: 50, Aperture: 3.5, Shutter: 1/250 and Exp. Comp.: -1.3.

In spite of the sun and background, these didn't turn out so bad. I would have rather taken them in the beautiful evening magic light, as I did with Colin, however some things just don't go your way. Sometimes it takes a little extra effort to get that good “natural” lighting.