Archive for the ‘winter’ Tag

Review: Mike Moats Macro Photography

IMG 4800

Don’t ignore macro photography just because it’s winter!

Springtime is usually the most popular time of year for macro work – everything blooming and coming to life and all – but don’t ignore the winter months, it’s my favorite time to shoot macro.

A nice winter morning (after a fresh snow fall or especially after an over night refreeze) can yield great opportunities.  Keep your eyes open for some of these subjects:

  • Snow or ice settled on top of branches, winter berries or left over shells – like the opening image in this post
  • Puddles on the trail or along the banks of small streams and rivers that have frozen over night – look for trapped leaves, air bubbles and unique patterns (this is my personal favorite)
  • Mother Nature’s overnight composition work in the leaves and pine needles that were blowing around.  It’s a special delight to find a contrasting light colored leaf that landed or bent in a unique way around a darker one

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Are you new to macro and looking to give it a try?  Then check out Mike Moat’s Website.  Mike is a self taught, outstanding photographer who specializes in macro education.  In addition to his blog and clinics around the country, Mike does a really good down to earth instructional series in his books.

I can highly recommend his Creating Art with Macro – ebook, it’s what I turned to as my first instructional tool into the macro world.  The first couple of chapters rehash some of the typical camera basics, but after that it’s all macro.  Mike’s writings are down to earth and easy to read in a nice simple format.

Check Mike’s stuff out, if only to subscribe to his blog – I’m sure you’ll find it worth your time!

Stay in focus,

Mark

The Real World – Cold Weather Shooting Tips

Snow Owl 2011 02 13 7980

3 years of cold weather shooting (down to -23F) has taught me a thing or two.  Here are a few rock solid tips – some you’ve probably read a few times, along with a few that will be unique!

Camera and Gear

  • Moving from cold to warm – and vise versa
    • Probably the most common topic addressed, my answer is very simple – pack your gear in a photo bag, and leave it there for a little while. For example, the pack will be warm when leaving your house and will allow the camera gear to gradually cool down in the car or field.  The same concept works when going back into the house – I take my memory cards out of my camera/bag (and anything else I want to get to immediately) and then let the bag sit for a few hours in the warm house.  The camera gear will gradually adjust to room temperature.
  • Keeping your breath in check on a really cold day (this is the really big one)
    • Use a lens hood  – the shorter the lens the more critical this tip is.  Your breath (even straight from your nose on a really really cold day) will roll around and frost up the front of your lens – and there is no easy way to get it off without warming up the lens.  This is a real killer just as the sun starts to crest above the horizon on a fantastic cold weather sunrise shoot (yea, ask me how I know about this!)
    • Use some “Scope Dope” to help keep your LCD clear.  This stuff does a pretty decent job on the LCD and an ok job on the view finder.
    • Use a Hoodman Eye Cup to keep your breath away from your view finder.  Actually turn it vertical like in the image below for the best results, it does a great job of keeping your view finder fog/frost free in all cool to cold weather.

MCT 01 2012 01 02 2012 2034

The Photographer

Feet

  • Keep your feet warm, dry – and on the ground where they belong
    • Don’t slip!  There are now plenty versions of the YaK Trax seen in the image below.  Get a pair, they work wonders on ice (including ice that is hidden below a layer of snow)  There are even versions now that have actual spikes.

  • Dry feet are happy feet!
    • If you’re in wet or snowy conditions, it goes without saying to at least have water-proof boots/shoes.  In light snowy conditions (1″ – 3″) consider a simple pair of elastic leg gaiters (as seen above) to keep the snow out of the top your boots.
    • In heavier snow (greater than 3 inches and up to 7 inches) try some of the Neos brand products.  The image below shows me using the Neos Trekkers in water but they do the job in snow as well.  Warmer versions are also available – to cover both the “dry” and “warm” requirements.  And yes, you CAN COMBINE the Neos product with Yak Trax.

Iphone blue herons 4 4 10 2010 04 04 55 original

Hands

  • My hands are the hardest body part to keep really warm.  Before I talk about gear, here is the most important tip I’ve learned over the years – once your hands (fingers) get cold, you’re in trouble.  Get out of the cold and get them plenty warmed up again.  So the best tip is to have your hands fully warmed up before you set foot outside – “gear up” in advance so you move into the cold with maximum advantage.
    • 1st layer of protection – liners with pockets for warmer packs.  The pockets locate the warmer packs on the back of your hand, above your blood vessels, enhancing the warming impact for your fingers.
    • 2nd layer of protection – primary winter gloves, water proof with thinsulate or other warming material.  How heavy this primary pair of gloves are is up to your personal needs.
    • 3rd layer of protection – Mega Size Hand Warmers. Depending on how cold it is, I’ll keep 2 or 4 of these in my coat pockets.  Hands go in the pockets when not in use and I’ll actually hold these mega warmers in my hands (between my hand and the camera) when I’m doing extending shooting in really cold weather.

Body

  • Keeping your core body temperature up helps you stay warm longer.  So similar to your hands, get toasty (without sweating) before you head outside.  Staying dry is a very critical component of staying warm, and layers are the other key.
    • 1st layer of protection:  Light duty long underwear made of water wicking material (not cotton) to help you stay dry
    • 2nd layer of protection: Medium duty long underwear is added as a layer to increase warmth
    • 3rd layer of protection: Heavy duty long underwear is added (depending on how cold it is)
    • 4th layer of protection:  Outer shell winter coat this is roomy (with your layers on) wind and water proof.  Collar protection and an insulated hood are a must as well

Head

  • Your head is one of the primary places heat escapes your body, so keep protection on and layer it as much as needed.  I’ll typically wear a full face mask and my winter coat’s insulated hood.  When it’s needed, I’ll add a neck gaiter or a warm cap.

IDMkIV L D14 2011 01 15 2522 Original

 

Staying warm is not only the safe and smart way to shoot in the winter, it’s also the path to great images.  When you’re warm and comfortable, you can place all your energy on the task at hand – getting some great shots!!

Stay in focus,

Mark

White on White

Excerpt from “The Shooter’s Blueprint” Series

MCT Vanity Owl

I’ve received a lot of questions lately due to a guest post I did on Photographer Rick Sammon’s Blog regarding capturing a white subject on a white background.  Especially with winter around the corner for some of us, I hope the tips below help.

Shooter’s Blueprint

White Subject on White Background

The settings will vary depending on what the exact scenario is, so let’s use the parameters below.

NewImage

The trick to this shot is to expose as far to the right as you possibly can, without blowing any highlights out.  With a white subject, you want your data to be almost entirely in the right third of the histogram.  Anything less than that and your whites will start to look muddy, and correcting them will result in less than stellar results.

Blueprinter’s disclaimer – there is always more than one way to accomplish something, this just happens to be the way that works for me.  All adjustment references are related to Apple Aperture software – other packages have similar adjustments.

Camera Setup:

  • Exposure Program: Shutter Priority
    • Aperture is not an issue with this shot – there is only one subject and it is fairly far away.  (Depth of Field on this shot was around 1.5 feet)
  • Shutter Speed: For a moving subject, 1/1,000th is minimum – I chose 1/2,500th for these owl shots
  • ISO: 400
  • Exposure Compensation: 1.67ev
    • It’s takes time to get a feel for this, just remember what you’re trying to accomplish (exposing for the whites, as far to the right as you safely can and no blown highlights) takes practice.  It was a bright day and a lot of white in front of me – I started at 2.0ev and came down slightly after consulting my histogram. (oh yea, take test shots before the feathers start flying!)
  • Focus: AI Servo (Canon speak for continuous)
    • I used a cluster of focus points in the right of my frame as this owl was making his runs into the wind (right to left).  Using the right points allows me to leave room in front of the owl.
    • When focusing on a white subject, find some contrast to lock onto (that’s how most focus systems work)  The Owl’s upper chest with the dark bands was perfect and roughly on the same plane as his head and eyes.

Original RAW Shot

MCT Raw owl

Original Histogram

Raw histo

Post Processing:

  • White balance: Tweaked slghtly
  • Black point: Adjustment cranked up about halfway
    • Just shy of blocking the dark claws
  • Definition Slider:Moderate adjustments (up to half way)
    • Be careful not to blow any highlights out in the process
  • Shadows Adjustment: Moderate to high adjustments here returning depth and detail
  • Levels Adjustment:Basic adjustments as needed for accurate balance.
    • Be careful of a blueish color cast bleeding over into the subject
  • Sharpening: To personal taste and output goals

The adjustments above yielded the results below.

Final Image

MCT Final owl

Final Histogram

Final Histo 1

Your digital sensor captures more detail in the right third of the histogram, so the goal here is to get as much of this “white” data in that area – without blowing any highlights – I know, it’s a thin line to walk, but you can get ever closer to it with practice.  Post processing (Black Point, Definition and Shadows adjustments) then allows use of this maximum data to adjust as needed and end up with a great shot!

One Final Tip . . .

This technique is accomplished shooting raw – so don’t go by the image on your camera’s back screen as reference in the field (it will look washed out).  Rather make sure you didn’t blow any highlights (no “blinkies” in your histogram) and create your final image in post.

Have fun and stay in focus!

Mark

Keeping your Feet on The Ground

And your behind off of it!

This was my first real winter shooting off-trail and in the snow and ice.  My primary goals were to keep dry, comfortable and everything (both me and my equipment) in one piece.   Several items helped accomplish this: long underwear, good boots, winter socks, gaiters and “Yak Trax”.

The Yak Trax are basically snow chains for your feet, easy to put on and comfortable to walk in.  They stretch easily around your shoe (various sizes are available) and secure firmly in place to give you increased traction in snow and ice.  I’ve put them to good use this past season and never once had a problem with them – work very well, as advertised.

The traction they provide on pure ice is incredible!  With these things in place, I was able to traverse solid sheets of ice with minimal effort and keep both my gear and myself safe.  I highly recommend them as a great addition to your winter hiking kit or as part of your winter emergency kit.  They’re also pretty easy on the wallet and can be found at many locations for around twenty dollars.  Two thumbs up from me!!

A Picture is Where it Finds YOU!

Quick as a flash!

A slow, lazy day taking pictures can get interesting real quick – make sure you’re ready when it does!  We were out shooting eagles last month and they spent most of the afternoon just hanging out in the trees being lazy.  Then out of no where an eagle came shooting over my shoulder, grabbed a fish, turned around and flew off!

Luckily I had my backup camera with my 400 lens slung over my shoulder, I quickly grabbed it, focused and shot as the eagle passed over my head.  Even more lucky (or maybe you could say “prepared”!) I had setup my backup camera when I got out that morning – and reset the exposure compensation a couple times during the day.  What turned out to be a great shot could have been a total miss if I didn’t keep my equipment ready for the conditions.

Lessons learned – be ready, just in case, for when the picture finds you.  The old expression holds true – luck favors the prepared.  Hey, someone tell my wife!  I really can be trained!!

A Picture is Where You Find it!

It's Cold!

On a very cold snowy day over the recent holidays, I went out for a wonderful walk in the fresh snow.  It was going to be about 3 miles and I was eagerly anticipating some great shots of birds in the snow.  As it turned out, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.

Returning home I was bummed out!  What a waste of my time – not even a single shutter snap!  As I walked into the house, grumbling to myself about the poor time I just had, I happened to look out the window – and look what I saw!  This poor Dove sitting right by the heated bath trying to warm up – what a great natural shot – and it was just waiting for me!

I should have enjoyed the wonderful winter hike for what it was, if a picture presented itself – great – if not, enjoy the walk itself!  The pictures will be waiting for you when they’re ready – you don’t always have to work so hard it – especially if it can start to take the fun and wonder out of the hobby.

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