Saturday, November 6, 2010

Surf's Up Dude: Go Find an Action Subject!

This time of year is kind of an off time for scenic photos outdoors--at least here in New England. The leaves are pretty much gone, the pumpkins have been picked and the days are getting shorter. But there is a lot of sports action at this time of year--football is in full swing, the outdoor rinks will be frozen soon and, believe it or not, there are still people playing in the water.

I photographed windsurfer Mike Colombo off of the seawall in Stratford, Connecticut last weekend and it was quite a challenge to get a good sharp photograph of someone moving so incredibly fast. The day was a bit gray and the wind was really blowing, so just holding the camera steady was a challenge too; I tried using a tripod but the windsurfers (there were probably 6 or 8 there) were whipping by so fast that the tripod, while great for holding my 70-300mm lens steady, did slow down my reactions a bit. This photo was shot using the tripod (a Manfrotto 3021), however, because Mike was heading right toward me and it was easy to predict where he was heading.

The keys to stopping this kind of action and getting good focus are to set your camera to its highest burst rate (if you have that option) and to place your autofocus in the "continuous" mode. In this mode the camera will continue to fire whether the focus is exact or not, so it's a bit risky, but at least the camera won't balk when you press the shutter. I shot this with a Nikon D90 and I have to tell you, most of the frames are extremely sharp and well focused--and I give a lot of credit to Nikon's predictive autofocus. I also give some credit to the fact that last summer I spent a lot of time photographing high speed subjects, including the Blue Angels and really practiced with the various focusing/metering/burst combinations. You can't just show up and start shooting with action subjects like this, you really need to study the action modes in advance and keeping working at it.

In my next posting I'm going to show you an incredible shot of Mike in a near collision with a U.S. Coastguard boat...a very exciting shot! And trust me, the collision would not have been his fault!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Exploiting the Power of Diagonal Lines

When I was looking for an image/idea or today's post, I came across this shot of a "scarf dancer" (I don't know what her real title would be) that I shot last summer. The performer is a member of the family of acrobats that travel with Tino Wallenda and the Flying Wallendas. The thing that struck me about this shot, other than the very symbolic-looking Easter/spring colors (a good topic for another posting), were all the powerful diagonals in this shot. The ropes, her body, the scarf--all have a very powerful diagonal orientation. Even within the lines of her body are several very bold diagonal lines.

In terms of composition, diagonal lines emphasize power, strength and the feeling of impending movement--while horizontal lines, for example, bring to mind concepts of stability or balance, diagonals are better at creating a feeling that things are changing. If you look at a see-saw, for instance, you inherently know that when two people get on it, the balance is inevitably going to shift and the mind picks up on this idea whenever it sees diagonals, whether we realize it or not. You feel the same type of implied motion if you see a person walking up a hill--there is a much more dynamic feel to the scene that if you were to photograph that person walking down a flat sidewalk--yes? It's interesting to think of the psychological implications that something as simple as the direction of a line can impart to a composition and how you can change peoples' interpretations of a scene just by the way that you orient the lines within the frame. And, as with this scene, any time you multiply the number of lines, you intensify those feelings.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Audubon's "Birds in Focus" Contest Deadline is September 7th!

Before I tell you about the contest (and the fast-approaching deadline) let me tell you that this amazing photograph was made by Rob Palmer and was not only published on the cover of Audubon magazine, but was also featured in my book Winning Digital Photo Contests. It was actually one of the first photos I chose for the book and the minute that I saw it I knew I wanted it in the book! The intensity of this moment, so perfectly captured, is what bird photography is all about. (Photo Copyright Rob Palmer.)

OK, now, if you're a bird photographer and you haven't already entered this year's Audubon contest (which is co-sponsored by Nature's Best Magazine--a wonderful nature magazine that features some of the best work in the world, beautifully reproduced), then now is the time: the contest closes on September 7th. One interesting note here is that there is a fee if you enter online, but if you mail prints, it's free to enter. So read the details and see which works best for you--but keep the deadline in mind.

Here's the info, direct from the contest site:

Each participant can submit up to 10 photos, so you have 10 chances to win. Your winning entry will appear in the January-February 2011 issue of Audubon and in Nature’s Best Photography.
Deadline: September 7, 2010
Professional (18 or older who has made $5,000 or more in past year on photography)
Amateur (18 or older who has made between zero and $4,999 in past year on photography)
Youth (13 to 17 years old as of May 15, 2010)
Two ways to enter:
1. Submit your digital photographs online and pay a fee: CLICK HERE
2. Mail paper prints for free: CLICK HERE
No purchase necessary. Contest begins 05/15/10 and ends 09/07/10. Must be at least 13 years of age and a legal resident of the U.S. or Canada (excluding Quebec) to enter. Entrants under the age of majority must get permission from their parent or legal guardian to enter the Contest and provide payment information. See Official Rules for complete details and how to enter without paying the entry fee. Void where prohibited.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Big Fun! Rhode Island Air Show: June 26 & 27

If you're looking for something really fun to shoot this weekend and happen to be in the New England area, head over to the Rhode Island National Guard Open House & Air Show--one of the best air shows in the country. I spent two days at the show last summer and had the time of my life and took a lot of fun photos. (You can read about my shooting experiences last year here and here.) Shooting air shows is a great way to practice your high-speed photo techniques and to get very close to some spectacular aerial demonstrations. The Blue Angels won't be there this year, but there is a very full roster of amazing acts--including the USAF Thunderbirds--the Air Force equivalent of the Navy's Blue Angels.

The show gates open both days (Saturday and Sunday) at 9 a.m. and the shows begin at 10 a.m. And here's the amazing thing: the show and parking are FREE! There is a $10 requested parking fee, but that money is a donation to the Hasbro Children's Hospital and is completely voluntary. (And if you have an RV there is on-site camping on a first-come, first-served basis.) Cameras and video cameras are more than welcome (and there are lots of static displays to shoot), but coolers are not. There are tons of food vendors right in the show and I had the best burger of my life there last year! (Seriously, the very best burger I've ever had and I've had a lot!)

The weather looks pretty good for the weekend, though there are some showers predicted, but the weather people have no idea what they're talking about, so if you have the weekend free, go see the show! Rhode Island is a beautiful state and you'll have fun rain or shine.

There's a ton of info on the show site, but here are the directions if you want to quickly print them out:

From Points North:
(Providence, Boston) - Take I95 South to Exit 9 - RT 4 South, North Kingstown, East Greenwich (left exit). Off of RT 4, take Exit 7B (Quonset) Stay on RT 403. RT 403 will become Roger Williams Way. After the 3rd traffic light on Roger Williams Way take a left onto Conway Street. Follow signs to Air National Guard Base.

From Points South:
(Connecticut, New York) - Take I95 North into Rhode Island. In RI take Exit 8A (RT 2 South, West Warwick) Stay on RT 2 South until 1st traffic light. Take a left at the light and prepare to stay right. Merge onto RT 4 South. Off of RT 4, take Exit 7B (Quonset) Stay on RT 403. RT 403 will become Roger Williams Way. After the 3rd traffic light on Roger Williams Way take a left onto Conway Street. Follow signs to Air National Guard Base.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Give Your Sunsets a Great Foreground

It's easy to look at a pretty sunset or sunrise and think that nature will do all of the work for you when it comes to photographing it. With all that color and drama, what's not to like? But you can improve any sunset/sunrise by simply finding a good foreground to place in front of it. Because you want the colors and cloud patterns (or sky reflections, if you're near the water) to dominate the shot, you want your foreground subject to be simple, yet interesting. Also, because it's likely that your foreground will end up entirely in silhouette, you also want a subject that's bold enough to be reduced to lines and shapes and still add interest to the photograph.

I took this shot of the rigging in a commercial fishing boat in Galilee, Rhode Island and I really like the way the complex web of stays and ropes creates such interesting patterns. It took me a while to find the shot though--even though I had been scouting around the harbor an hour or so before sunset. I was really hoping to get a shot of a boat pulling into or out of the harbor, but all the boats were tied up for the night. After walking around the marina in a slight state of panic for what seemed like an eternity (it was probably only about 10 minutes), afraid that I might miss this great sunset and not get a good shot, I looked up into the rigging of this boat and knew it would make a great shot. I planted my tripod on the dock and fired off a few dozen shots as the sky grew more intense and then started to fade, shifting my position slightly after each few frames.

Scouting ahead of time is the real key to finding a good sunset foreground. I've always found it's better to sacrifice an hour of late-afternoon shooting to do more scouting if I think there's going to be a great sunset, because I know that the combination of an interesting foreground and a great sunset make really pretty photos. Better yet, scout earlier in the day, at midday perhaps, and just be sure you get back to your sunset location in time to catch the sky show.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Go Catch Yourself a Full Moon!

Seeing the full moon rise above the treetops as I worked in my garden yesterday evening reminded me of this shot I took last summer at Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge in Virginia, so I went and dug it out to share. Photographing the full moon is actually pretty easy: just use the longest lens you have (I used a 70-300mm Nikkor which is the equivalent of a 450mm when it's fully zoomed on my Nikon D90 body) and put your camera on a sturdy tripod. You must use some kind of a land reference (here just a snippet of dunes at the far side of a small bay) in order to provide some sense of scale for the moon--otherwise it's just lost in the sky and you can't tell how big it looks. As far as exposure goes, I trusted my D90's matrix metering for this shot, but I did shoot in RAW so that I could adjust the exposure and white balance after the fact. I did tweak both, but only a small amount (I made the sky a bit bluer and I brightened the shot about one stop). The great thing about shooting a full moon is that you get a few days where it's pretty full each month--and you get a new chance each month!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Lighthouse Point Park: Great Local Location!

If you live in the Milford area and you're looking for a great picture-taking idea, check out Lighthouse Point Park in New Haven. The park is beautifully situated at the entrance to New Haven harbor and the lighthouse itself is very nicely maintained and just pretty as a picture. There is also a great old carousel just across a small road from the lighthouse and plenty of nice beaches. A great place to wander and photograph at sunset because the lighthouse faces west and so gets gorgeous late-afternoon lighting. I shot the scene here just as the sun was setting and you couldn't ask for nicer light. Day passes are $10 for nonresidents or you can buy a season's pass for $50--worth it if you plan to visit more than five times during the summer. The parking is very close to the lighthouse and carousel.