Archive for the ‘General Photography’ Category

Make Notes – Tip 2

MCT 01 2012 01 16 2012 2070 Make sure you remember to plan those “memorable” images to come

How often do you pass by an object or a certain location and say to yourself “wow, this would be a great picture if only ______” !  Fill in the blank: “good light”, “cloudy day”, “it was wet”, “it was dry” . . . . and so on.  Well, here’s an opportunity to make some of your own luck.  Create a “shooters to do list” and add your new found opportunity.

When you find that special something, follow these steps:

  • Snap a cell phone shot of the scene or object:
    • If you’re using a relatively new phone, not only will you have a reference image (like the opening shot in this post) but you’ll have the GPS info embedded, enabling you to find the location in the future.
  • Use a voice recorder app on your phone (or make paper or mental notes) to note the best shooting direction, lens you’ll want to use and what unique elements you’d like to have for the image.  In the above tractor image, it was already late fall with some snow on the ground.  I visualized an overcast day just after a fresh snowfall so that’s the conditions I figured would look the best for this shot.  Here are a few examples of elements you may desire for your future plan:
    • A certain time of the year, like fall – or maybe the dead of winter when everything is barren?
    • Would the shot be better in early morning or late evening?
    • Could it be a nice “rainy day” shot?
    • Should you wait for a foggy morning?
    • Are you looking for a bright day with shadows just so – or would a totally overcast day be better?
  • When you return home, build a quick record of your planned “shoot”.  Doesn’t have to be fancy, even just placing the info on a single sheet in a word processor will do.  Save it electronically along with a calendar reminder or just print it out and keep your planning file the old fashioned way.
Tractor planning

With a little bit of advance planning when you find something of interest, you’ll be able to return at the right time and capture a great photo.  The tractor shot below is what I ended up with about four weeks after I took the original cell phone picture and envisioned the “perfect” shot.  I also had a ball in the process!

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So the next time you see potential – make your own luck!

Stay in focus,



Friday Funnies – February 1st

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Don’t you YELL at ME, Sonny . . . . I’ll Snatch Ya BALD!

That’s a juvenile Sandhill Crane on the right, getting some “training” from a parent.  The beginning of the fall migration season is a good time observe unique behavior as the adults are finishing up some final lessons with the kids before the big trip.  Some species will stay with their parents throughout the first year while most begin to go their separate ways.

Stay in focus,


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Cold Weather Shooting Tips – 2012 Version

Snow Owl 2011 02 13 7980

4 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.
  • Battery Power – I’ve never had trouble with battery power in cold weather – and I keep my spare battery in my outer most pocket for easy access.
    • My spare battery is easily accessible, but it is also kept company in my pocket by Mega Size Hand Warmers to keep them warm – along with my hands when I stick them in there.
      • Open those hand warmer packs in advance of heading out into the cold, they take 5 to 15 minutes to warm up to full strength.

MCT 01 2012 01 02 2012 2034

The Photographer



  • 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.

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  • 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.


  • 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.  If the “core” of your body starts to get cold, it will quickly contract and divert warm blood from your extremities, sucking the heat right out of your hands and feet
    • 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 that is roomy, (with your layers on) wind and water proof.  Collar protection and an insulated hood are a must as well


  • 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.  That’s me below in full cold weather gear! 

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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!!

IDMkIV L D14 2011 01 15 2522 Original

Stay in focus,


Duck Bill Do’s and Don’ts

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The Little Things Make a Difference

The opening image isn’t perfect from a composition standpoint (I don’t like the dark line running right across this Wood Duck’s head or the contrast change running through his head) but the angle and position is pretty good.  Good eye and head position compliment the upright pose of the bill, turned slightly towards the camera and the gap between the beak and the body looks natural.

Discussed below are a few of the things to avoid.

Aperture 2

This first image is a non-starter, the top of the log cuts right through the head and bill.

Aperture 3

The second image has the bottom line of the bill “merged” with the top line of the body – doesn’t appear natural and is a little disruptive.

Aperture 4

The third image is better, there is separation between the bill and the body – but just a sliver.  Again, this is a little distracting to the eye.  The composition (in the opening photo) has more separation and a more upright head angle, producing the best overall image.

As your photography improves, you should begin looking for these types of details in the field – and understanding when to pull the trigger.  It comes with practice and will naturally get better with the more images you take.  You’ll notice things like eye contact and head angle – when the background is not working for you and when various elements are pleasingly separated.

Stay in Focus,


Air Show Tips – Shutter Speed


An ultimate shot for me!

P-51 Mustang captured at 1/160th of a second on a low and fast pass.

Generally speaking, you can shoot jets at a very high shutter speed – unless you’re looking for a certain type of effect (more on that later) but with prop driven planes it’s important to shoot slow enough to show as much motion in the propeller as possible.  Yes, this is easier said than done – as the Mustang in the shot below illustrates.

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Quick Tips

  • Determine you current “stable” panning shutter speed
    • Start at 1/750th and begin working down from there
  • Practice good panning techniques
    • Plant your feet shoulder width apart
    • Keep your elbows tucked in
    • Pick a spot on your target and keep one specific focus point on that spot
    • Pivot at the waist
  • Gradually start to slow your shutter
    • Different airplanes will have different “sweet spots” – as high as 1/350th of a second all the way down to 1/60th of a second

Take a look at the shot below taken at a later air-show and compare it to the “frozen” Mustang above.  Sharp focus is maintained but with a nice pleasing blur in the Mustang’s prop.  You don’t get the feeling that the aircraft are just hanging in the sky but rather a good sense of motion.

Birds of a Different Feather


Generally speaking, you can use a high shutter speed on jets – makes for easier shooting and with a jet’s speed you may need it.  There are times, however, when you’ll want to reduce your shutter speed based on background and simliar situations.  The shot below is a good example, higher shutter speed for the jet worked just fine – but a slower speed would have significantly blurred the background creating an even greater sense of speed.

IDMkIV Air Show 2010 09 11 7280 Original

One last consideration for slower shutter speeds, be sure you’re not dealing with three axis movement.  You can manage a shutter when:

  • the plane is moving closer or farther away from you (autofocus does this)
  • the plane is moving forward (a good panning technique handles this one)

However, if the plane is rotating, rolling or pitching up dramatically at the same time it’s moving forward – you’ll start to pick up some blur as you can’t pan in multiple directions.

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Have fun and don’t get discouraged, it takes time!

Stay in focus,


Soldier’s Angels – Known by All

Black TeamGolden Knights Black Team LOVES Soldier’s Angels! 

I recently had the privilege to accompany the Army’s Golden Knights Parachute Team on a jump at the South East Wisconsin AirFest in Janesville Wisconsin.  It was a privilege and an honor to hang out with the Black Team. (The Golden Knights have two demonstration teams — Black and Gold)


You can’t help but admire these young men (their average age is 26) when you consider they represent the best of the best, coming from active duty units. They are seasoned parachutists with hundreds or thousands of jumps under their belts and put on one heck of an arial show.  (Want to learn a little more about the Golden Knights, checkout  this  post.) 


These guys are a popular attraction, not just for the great arial stunts they perform but for the time and energy they spend on the ground with the general public.  After each jump they’re always available to meet and greet the public and sign team pictures.


They certainly know who Solider’s Angels is . . . !

During my brief time with the team, I had the chance to ask about Soldier’s Angels – the mere mention of the name brought instant recognition, appreciation and stories about boxes, letters and “goodies”.

Haven’t heard of Solider’s Angels yet?  Want to help, get involved or learn more?  It’s a very rewarding experience and highly valued by our soldiers, airmen and marines.  Learn more about the organization here.

One young soldier recanted a story about a previous deployment where his unit had so much support from their angels that they were able to use some of the supplies to take with them on good-will missions out to the local villages, greatly enhancing their position and even further easing their jobs.

Soldier’s Angels is so respected that one jumper asked to carry the group’s flag with him into the air.  He placed the flag shown in the opening picture into his suit, close to his heart and jumped with it.  That flag returned with them to their operating base – and will continue to serve as a daily reminder of how much we care about them.


Preparing for Flight

While the jump team practices the upcoming maneuvers and synchronization required, the ground crew and pilots ensure the plane and all equipment is ready to go.  Safety of the crew and passengers is priority number 1.


The Golden Knights travel to shows and jump from their own aircraft.  The jump plane used for appearances away from their main base is usually the C-31A Friendship as seen below.


 Photography in the Air

In-flight photography was a real challenge (that’s me below) due primarily to the tough lighting conditions.  You’re shooting within a dark cabin along with a bright light peaking in from windows – or blasting in from the open doors.

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A high ISO was mandatory if there was to be any chance of success.  You also have to be quick on your settings as the jumps begin, the exposure settings were night and day different – literally.  As with any other shoot, prepare yourself (as much as you can) in advance.  Visualize the images you think you’ll be making and plan for the settings and conditions.  As always, luck is a big part of it – but never forget, “luck favors the prepared”.

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Take some time and check out the links below.  Make sure you catch up with the Golden Knights at a show this summer.  And if you’re not already a supporter of Solider’s Angels, pay them a visit.  Being a supporter has been one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done.  Some of our “adoptees” have become life long friends we will always cherish.

Golden Knights Solider’s Angels

Stay in focus,