Q&A: Are your images “Sharp enough” or “Sharp!”

Does it matter if all your images are tack sharp?  Well, that depends on what you want to do with your images.  Or who and how you plan on showing them to others?  For posting on the web and on social media… sharp enough is usually good enough.   Facebook, Instagram, and other social media formats shrink and compress the image files and the images don’t always look great even from a really sharp image… but a good quality image does help it stay looking good when the are done with it.   Also it is important to note, when editing a really sharp image that is properly exposed, over editing them is not always as apparent so the overall image looks much better also when done.

Below are two images taken within the same exact second with a 5D Mark 4, using a Canon 300mm f/2.8 lens using a 2x converter for a total of 600mm.  A 5D Mark 4 takes 6.6 to 7 frames per second, so that is not surprising.  And for a fast moving subject like birds in flight, depending on the angle, they can really challenge the auto focus systems of any camera and photographer, because it takes both to get a sharp image.  Technique being way more important more often than the camera for moving subjects, even with newer cameras are getting better all the time and lenses with image stabilization that recognize panning motions help as well, but good technique will increase your “keeper” image rate drastically.   You don’t need a $10,000 dollar camera to take great photographs of most subjects on a sunny day, but try a moving subject or even a subject sitting still in a snow storm.

Both of the images were 1/2000, ISO 1000, and f/7.1 at 600mm so the technique had to be spot on since the bird was coming at an angle off to my slight right so it was almost coming toward me.  The closer it passes, the faster it will appear to be moving, and the harder it is to keep the focal point on the eye of the subject and the depth of field was getting smaller.   The eagle was coming by for a relatively low close flyby, but thank goodness not too close, and I was handholding the camera, which I usually do when out shooting birds in flight, or birds period unless I’m in a blind type situation.   It was about 25 degrees out and sunny, so the air was clear and free of moisture that can add haze to bird in flight images and why the sky was so blue.   It was a two pair of gloves day with everything covered including my eyes with sunglasses.

The first thing I look at is the “catch light”, which can be in the birds eye or on other reflective parts of the bird.  You would be surprised how often, there is a catchlight on the claws or beak on bright sunny days.  Sometimes, the catch lights are on drops of water near the birds face, but in most cases if you have a small catchlight that doesn’t look like an over exposed blurry square, that is a great sign you have a really sharp well exposed image.

20180108 Snow days 20181320
Sharp eagle closeup!

Sharp enough for most…when not 3x regular size as it is below.

20180108 Snow days 20181321
Dull eagle close up… sort of

After that, Start looking at the feathers and the depth of field to make sure the image is clean.  The longer your lens and the larger your aperture the smaller your Depth of Field (DOF) relative to distance to your subject.  And for the bird you also have to pay attention to the Plane of Focus as well.   If you are using more than the single point of focus, your camera will focus on the closest point to the camera of your subject, like the tip of the wing.  If you have a shallow DOF, which you likely do shooting birds, then you may get a great photo of the wing closest to you and the body of the bird is out of focus.  For most photographers, it takes a lot of practice to keep a single point of focus on the head, eye or a centered focal point of the subject to keep your small moving subject.

When evaluating my images the uniqueness of the behavior gives some breathing room to allow for the images being less sharp.  But that is mostly for images posted to the web, large prints are not as forgiving.

Next, look for the lines around the edge of the head or subject center of focus, is it a really thin line enlarged, or a little wide… thin is good.  Below is the sharp image that the was focused very well .

20180108 Snow days 20181320-2
Sharp actual image

Below is the image that is sharp enough for the web or Facebook, but cropped a little closer to make it easier to see, it is not as clean as the image above but doesn’t look that bad.

20180108 Snow days 20181321-2
“Sharp enough” for web or small images

I take photos of what I want, when I want and post what I want all for me.  I use Facebook to look back at previous years to see where I went to take photos, and look back and see where I had fun.    I like taking photos of moving subjects, because of the many challenges associated with moving wildlife and sports.

My photographic journey is for me.   Most days I go out shooting for just for the practice and to be ready when the light, subject, and I are all in sync and can capture something cool.   And if you follow me on Facebook and Instagram, you will know, I share shots from every weekend, when I go to a contest or just go for a walk.   I’ve met some great people and made some friends along the way, but in the end,  it comes down to is the image sharp enough for me?

Below are a few more quick edits, mostly eagle shots, from the same morning Jan, 8th in Green Pond, S.C. as we were thawing out from a really odd long cold spell for the area.  I had hoped that the freeze would make all the birds hungry and the fish slow, and I got lucky.  I took over three thousand photos that morning.  I could clean them up, likely a lot, but they are sharp enough from me.   Even after taking photos for over 30 years,  my best photos to me are the ones I will take next time!

20180108 Snow days 20181789
Egret toe drag, was one of the shots I was trying to get that morning because the water was so smooth!
20180108 Snow days 20182509
The ice broke up my of the eagle reflection on this dive, but I was not too broken up about it.
20180108 Snow days 20182568
Again, the ice broke up the reflection and the egret was just glad he was not the fish.
20180108 Snow days 20184834
Snatch and grab.  I had slowed down the shutter to 1/800 of a sec to help show some wing tip motion and it worked out great on the splash of the fish.

 

20180108 Snow days 20184863
Eagle going for the fish in the ice.   I missed the next shot, I was so close, and they duck their head and lower their wings when they hit the water unlike osprey that go right in, so I missed a few shots at this angle, but I know for next time now.
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Getting a new camera?

Why should you get a new camera?  Besides, because you want one, what are the logical reasons for getting a new or “better” camera?

You have to ask yourself some questions.  Have I reached the limits of my current camera? Are you not able to get the shots you imagine because of the camera or your technique?  New cameras can compensate for some technique flaws, but not all.

  • Newer cameras are faster some taking 10-20 frames per second, but if your timing is off and you don’t know your subject, faster doesn’t matter.
  • Newer cameras can take photos with less noise, if you set the proper or correct “creative exposure” to capture the scene in it’s best light.
  • Newer camera have more megapixels, but will create just as noisy of an image, if you don’t set the proper creative exposure to capture the scene in it’s best light.
  • Newer cameras have better dynamic range, if you set the proper creative exposure to capture the scene in it’s best light.
  • Newer cameras or lenses have better image stabilization to help keep the camera from shaking, but if you don’t hold your breath or hold your camera properly camera blur impact even the best of photographers if they get lazy.

Getting proper or creative exposure comes with practice, so does holding the camera still, and taking advantage of all the features of newer cameras.    So back to my original question… the logical and simple reasons for needing a new computer, I mean camera.

  • You take hundreds of thousands of photos and your camera wears out completely.  I know pieces can be repaired and replaced, but the chance of failure increases with use, just as much as it increases with the lack of use or proper maintenance, and could fail just when you needed.  So replacing the camera before it fails, may be necessary if you really use your camera often.
  • Cameras and lenses abilities to focus are electrical driven with motors and other things.  Just like a vacuum cleaner or a laptop they need to be replaced or tuned up.
  • The best reason, would be that your creative goals out weigh your camera\lens combination’s abilities to capture the images you imagine.  The abilities to function  in extreme conditions regarding the light, or lack of it, environmental conditions or subject matter.   The speed of your subject, size, distance to subject, diminished light sources or the locations can greatly determine the abilities of the camera\lens required to capture the image.

I always wanted a Full Frame professional camera.  But none of the logical reasons made making the purchase of a Full Frame camera required to make quite that expensive of a camera purchase.   I could capture images of great or even good enough quality of what I wanted with the crop sensor cameras I had.  I bought really fast lenses that allowed me to capture images in low light with good quality.   So what made the difference for me?  What requirement did the crop camera or a 7D Mark II not meet, that prompted me to move to a Full Frame camera?

Night games of high school football for my Son’s Senior season were the reason I needed to move to Full Frame.  And I’m glad I did make the move.  Doing so enabled taking pics of volleyball in the gym as well as to expand other creative areas of my photography.

Do you need an expensive camera to capture great images.  As usual, that depends.  A sunny day on a baseball or soccer field, no you don’t.   Consumer cameras with basic kit lenses will take great images during normal daylight if properly exposed geared towards the strengths inherent to them.      ISO 100, f/8 and auto shutter speed fast enough to stop motions enough to make good images and you can hardly go wrong and it all comes down to composition and technique.    In fact, capturing memorable photos almost always comes down to composition and technique… even with a great camera.

20170831 football game 3 loss 20177824
Last Football game with 5DM3, son receiving the kick off, ISO 2500 no problem, but I wanted even cleaner backgrounds, so I sold the 5DM3 and bought a 5DM4.
20170818 Cole Football Game 1 20172973
Son’s first touchdown of the Senior season, with the 5DM3
20170822 Volleyball Game 1 20174544
One of the first Volleyball games with the 5DM3

 

20171110 Foodball Game 2 2017 1143
My son lined up for a kick off.
20171110 Foodball Game 2 2017 1497
My son blocking a pass… look at that 5DM4 background.  This was taken handheld.  Going handheld allowed me to get closer, safer without a monopod to get in the way of a rapid retreat.  
20171110 Foodball Game 2 2017 0760
My son going in for a touchdown, leaving the defense in the dust . 

 

 

The Full Frame adventure begins 5D Mark III

I picked up a slightly used 5D Mark III on 5-30-2017 and sold it on 9-5-2017.  After having a Rebel XT, T2I, 7D and 7D M2 which are all 1.6x crop sensor cameras, I decided I wanted to get a full frame camera to take sports photos at night and in the gym.  I also wanted it for portrait work someday, but mostly for the low light ability and reduced noise at higher ISOs on the football field for my son’s senior year.  It was one of the best decisions I have ever made regarding photography for me.  (Buying my 300mm F 2.8 was the best decision I ever made, also for working in challenging light and for sports, but that is a different story.)

Why does a Full Frame camera have less noise in the images? Physics.   Larger sensors with larger pixels means more light hits the sensor or each pixel on the sensor, which means a full frame sensor can gather more data per pixel, render images with improved dynamic range with less existing light.

Does that mean a Full Frame Camera is best for you?  Not at all, and it is not always best for me either.  I will not be giving up my 7D Mark II with over 230,000 actuations on it any time soon, or until the 7D Mark III comes out if it is even faster with better image quality.

So why was the 5D Mark III a great camera for me, and why did I sell it only three months later?  Well it is easier to say why I sold it.  The buffer for sports shooting was why I sold it.    At only about 6 frames per/sec the buffer would fill up before I hit ten seconds and I would miss shots.  After 20-30 shots shooting JPG, yes practically holding down the shutter, I was hosed and had to wait for a few seconds for the buffer to clear, or shoot in slow bursts timing for key moments.    If I shot RAW files… it would freeze up after three seconds or less and have to wait for the computer to write the images to the memory card.

Was the full buffer all bad?  No, shooting in bursts and focusing on key moments is a great skill to practice and a skill that should be developed.  But when your son playing football his Senior year, runs over half the football field, stiff arming defenders, and spinning away from tackles, that buffer was unacceptable.  I wanted my 6 frames a second, or more, of the entire length of the run.  After the third game, the 5D mark II had reached it’s limits that did not meet my needs, which is the only time I would buy a new camera.   I wanted them sharp, well exposed, minimal noise, and I did not to miss a moment.

But the 5D Mark III was an incredible camera and I captured some wonderful images with it as I got to know it’s limits and mine using it.   These are in order from the last one taken to images on the first day I had the 5Dm3.

20170905 Volleyball 20179412
Last Volley Ball game with the 5DM3 –  Gym lights are very challenging.
20170831 football game 3 loss 20177824
Last Football game with 5DM3, son receiving the kick off, ISO 2500 no problem even with the limited lighting on the high school football fields.  some like this one were pretty bad. But you can see the sweat and water from the wet field flying off of him.  
20170822 Volleyball Game 1 20174544
One of the first Volleyball games.  Marywhit had a great serve!  
20170818 Cole Football Game 1 20172973
Son’s first touchdown of the Senior season, captured with the 5DM3.  Yeah Baby!  lol
20170813 Magnolia Gardens 20172450
Owl taking a bath… iso 2000 or so
20170716BOTANY BAY 5D 20177307
Flutterby and flowers with the 5Dm3 on a cloudy day
20170715BOTANY BAY 5D 20176875
Painted Bunting with 5Dm3
20170709Donnely 5D 20176676-Edit
Macro bee with the 5DM3
20170709Donnely 5D 20176125
Pair of skimmers with 5Dm3
20170708Donnely 5D 20175632-Edit
Egret coming in for a landing with a high key lighting situation. 5Dm3 handled it perfectly as I wanted it to and without the noise in the shadows on this challenging shot.
20170704Donnely 5D 20174647
5Dm3 with 300 f 2.8 with a 2x converter…or at 600mm hand held.
20170704Donnely 5D 20174559
Skimmer going by and I was really wishing I had a larger buffer that day!
201706105D Trophy Lakes 20172987
practicing panning at 1/250 of a sec at Trophy Lakes 
201706105D Trophy Lakes 20172750
Got down to 1/50 of a second panning with the 300 f 2.8 and the 5DM3 hand held and still one of my favorite panning shots to date! Skier is going behind the boat at about 34 mph. 
201706095D Trophy Lakes 20172009-Edit
nice splash with the 5Dm3 doing some panning practice
201706085D backyard 20171296
Backyard friend looking good… and the only shot likely taken on the tripod out the back door.
201706025D Wahine 20170002
Surf pics at the folly beach wahine classic
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folly beach wahine classic
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folly beach wahine classic surfers and birds… that is a good day.
201705315D TEST8915-Edit
Another day another owl with the 5Dm3
201705315D TEST8442-Edit
Little Flower action with the 5Dm3
201705315D TEST8423
Landscape test when first getting to know the 5Dm3 at Magnolia Gardens

I have all L lenses for my Canon cameras.  Picked most of them up used, but I love to shoot with them.  And the 5Dm3 just loved every piece of glass I owned.  The Auto focus was a challenge to get used to, since it was slower than I was used to with the 7Dm2. Most of the dials and switches were very close to the 7Dm2, so learning how to configured the manual setting at anytime without looking, or even in the dark when I picked it up before sunrise was very easy.

In the three months I had the 5Dm3 I put about 16,000 shots on it and besides the buffer filling up and the slower focus with less focus points, it was a workhorse and helped me to have a great three months.    Also helped me to slow down, and focus on technique again and gave the 7Dm2 a rest after working so very hard for me since purchased.  (Still works like a champ.  The 7Dm2 being faster at everything, had me a little spoiled with the speed of focus and 12 frames a second.   And it was a great way to get into shooting Full Frame and appreciating the differences.  If I was a wedding photographer, two of those would have been all I ever needed.

Well the Camera (5DM3) did not meet all of my needs.  And the 5D Mark IV has an unlimited JPG buffer at 7 frames/second, and since I shoot most sports in JPG format I felt it would be a great fit.  (It was and that will be another post.) I did consider the 1DXm2, but at over $5,000 and me taking photos for fun, it was a little hard to sell even to myself.  It is a full frame and shoots 14 frames a second and I could really have used that a few times in the last three months, but for the price and image quality of the 5Dm4, it ended up being a great fit.

Check out more of my work at My web site www.carymcdonald.com and through Black Friday images are on sale.  All purchases go to help pay for the cameras and future camera gear and all support is appreciated.

 

Wow! I have been bad about blogging, but I have been out shooting pics!

I have a lot to share about the last year and will be putting up some more posts very soon about what I learned and what I captured. I was also captured by friends and a selfie to start with at the beach at sunrise in the first pic on Bulls Island, Magnolia Gardens,  Bear Island, Folly Beach (a lot) always with a camera and on a mission.  And was fortunate to be with lots of great photographers all year.

ME ag magnolia
At Magnolia Gardens walking down the dike by the boat with Guenter Weber
in the marsh
In my nemesis taking photos of skimmers in July. Kathy Hare

 

me at the beach again again again again
At the Wahine Classic – Matt FotoMatt Drobnik
me taking photos of skiing
At Trophy Lakes withJim Killian
me at the beach
Hurricane swell at almost sunrise with Kathy Hare 
me at the beach again
At Folly Beach Washout with Trey Hopkins 
me at the beach again again
At Folly again, pic by Wade Spees from the Post and Courier
me at the beach again again again
At Folly Beach with Jim Hasapis

I went full frame with two camera purchases, one was for only a few months.  Picked up a new camera bag that holds more gear at the same time making shoots a little more flexible without having to go home, or back to the car, which holds both cameras.

Had some wonderful opportunities to shoot some spectacular events along with some new sports, including nature at its finest with epic surfing conditions for three weekends in a row, a world class ski event called the Malibu Open and my son’s senior year football season.  (He did excellent and came out of it healthy! I could not be happier.)  All in the last three months and my shoulder hurts pretty much all the time right now, and I don’t care.

Expanded my skills to include what I thought turned out to be some great group portrait work trying to take some memorable team photos of my son’s high school teams, for the fall season, which included, of course, his football team photo that came out almost exactly the way I planned out of the camera.  And taking lots of photos of the rest of the seniors that have been a part of our lives that we have watched grow up for the last 14 years along with our youngest son.

I also learned more editing skills in Lightroom and Photoshop this year.  Many of the above were on my years to do list.  A few were surprises that really made my year an epic year for photography for me, and going to be hard to top next year, but I’m sure I will.

I found some subjects that I want to take photos of a lot more of next year (waterskiing) and try to focus on a little more.     I think I see some travel is very likely next year to achieve those goals as well.

This past weekend, I did a complete overhaul of my website and looked back on a wonderful year and with Thanksgiving right around the corner, it is really fitting how thankful I am for the year I had.

Below is the link to my updated website and I will try to get to writing more posts more often.  Take a look at the updated website and thanks for the purchases and support.

www.carymcdonald.com

Q&A: Why should I shoot in RAW + JPEG

Why should I consider shooting RAW + JPEG even if I’m a beginner?  Well that depends on you?  Do you plan to print and sell your work?  Are you delivering images to someone that hired you?  Do you plan on getting serious about photography in the future?  Are you starting to use Photoshop along with Lightroom and getting into actions, advanced selections, or luminosity masks?

If I knew when I started that I was going to eventually really get into learning the “digital darkroom” the way I was into my B&W enlarger and attempting to expose paper creatively, I would have shot RAW + JPEG on many occasions that I just shot JPEG.  I would have archived the RAW photos of what I considered the best photos to CD or DVD and saved them forever, going back with the different versions of digital software as it improves and seeing what kind of detail or drama that could be enhanced.

Why, let’s face it, some of what you and your friends consider your very best photographs are some of the easiest you were ever able to take.  What I would call a snapshot in many cases, but a perfect snapshot image just happens sometimes.   You jumped out of your car or happened to be standing in just the right spot, and grabbed a moment.  You lifted your lens or looked through your camera at just the right time and captured that perfect sunrise, sunset, bird or action shot as a quickie pic as you were just passing by.  Maybe it was just your father’s or mother’s photo at a sporting event, or your kids in just the right light with a perfect smile or funny face. But it was a shot of something you love, because that is why you took it.

JPEG files use lossy compression or irreversible compression and that means once the camera takes the initial image and decides what it wants to keep and what it wants to throw away, the data is gone…  You may have lost all your highlights,  all the detail in your shadows or some of the dynamic range that the JPEG creation code, thought was insignificant to the image.   Your 12-50 MB RAW image just became a 3 MB image of a white bird on display taken with the intention of being a high key exposure and the JPEG made a bird ghost image.  JPEG files can be adjusted, but to make a really professional printable image that pops, some minor or major editing may be needed.

I fully believe that getting the exposure correct or even creatively correct in camera is or should be the goal and/or aspiration of every serious photographer.  Don’t get me wrong, I shoot 99% manual out of preference, and I have learned to drive by or walk upon a scenic, low light situation, night time action shot, long exposure situation, or any outdoor available light subject and in 90% of the cases or more, I can set my camera to capture the exposure, and can “see” where I “need” to stand to make the most of the existing light and compose the shot I like I see it captured before snapping a shot, and then take a shot and be confident, I’m within and F stop or two of what I want to capture, before I lift the camera.  If possible, I also try to take a few followup shots from other angles just in case… but after lots of practice, many times that first shot is the one I like the most.  But if you don’t see the subject from the “other side” you may miss some incredible light to capture something unique.

I was not always adept at reading the light and getting the shot I wanted the way I wanted.  Every now and then, I come across a shot from years ago that was shot as a JPEG with auto white balance,  that I really liked that I could have cleaned up to make a fine print in Photoshop with a minor tweak and the more I learn about Photoshop, the more I could fine tune.  But I’m finding that JPEGs having already disposed of the extra information stored in the RAW file not used in the rendering of the file, can make that small tweak a major job or impossible when editing a JPEG.

That being said, I also am working on learning the ever increasing capability of the digital darkroom or Photoshop.  Photoshop is my number one goal this year for improving my photography skills, and the second is portraits which ties into my deep exploration of Photoshop.    Even the great photographers darkened the corners and the skies to bring out more contrast in images on the enlarger before developing the image on a specific paper to get the look they were looking to produce.

Built in Camera settings on the Canon 7D Mark ii with Sunflowers

When using a Canon Camera, it has a few built in JPEG or JPG image processing options, that can be set to tell the camera how to process the RAW image file at the time of capture.  It uses these settings in combination with the White Balance selected,  and saves the file as a JPEG, in camera and drops all the extra information and compresses the file after getting rid of the excess baggage that all the other presets save into the RAW file.  This JPEG creation process also is a lossy compression image option.  The process of creating the JPEG file drops detail and adds compression artifacts that need to be repaired to have an image that is captured as a JPEG look as good as a RAW image file.

When shooting some sporting events,  I’ll shoot JPEG to make editing the images after the event easier.  If the weather and light is constant, then applying the knowledge of how each preset can impact the JPEG process, letting the camera’s software process the image, saves time when processing the images after the event.    If I shoot JPEG,   I like the finishing touches that  Topaz’s Dejpeg 4 and Topaz’s DeNoise 6 provide as additional tools in combination with Lightroom CC.  They help refine the images, or clean them up, to get the final image quality that I would want for a print or to display on a really large detailed monitor.  If you are not a photographer, you may not even notice the improvements.  

If you elect to shoot JPEG, knowing how each setting impacts the final image really helps you to determine which setting to use.  Changing them later in Lightroom, is possible, but it can degrade the quality of the final output.  When the original  JPEG file was created, in camera, it dropped all the other information captured in the RAW file that would have been used to support the other White Balance Settings optimally, for example.  And that could have been used for other settings.

If you shoot RAW, you can take some RAW files and look at how each of the settings would have impacted the final images in Lightroom yourself.  But if you don’t have access to Lightroom CC, below is the same image capture today in RAW, but exported multiple times, only changing the settings that the camera would use to help create the JPEG file, based on how the camera was configured at the time of capturing the image.  Some of the differences are very subtle and some are easily noticeable.

Since RAW files do contain all the image details and data captured at the time the file was created, pushing the limits of editing images created in difficult light or even with the exposure slightly off can be addressed without the loss of image quality.  Try to brighten a really dark JPEG file, and the noise can make it look pretty rough, but with RAW,  lightening a file by a F-Stop or two, is usually not an issue.

20160626- 2016 - Donnelley WMA-CameraStandard
Camera Standard As Shot WB
20160626- 2016 - Donnelley WMA-CameraPortrait
Camera Portrait – As Shot WB
20160626- 2016 - Donnelley WMA-CameraNeutral
Camera Neutral – As Shot WB
20160626- 2016 - Donnelley WMA-CameraMonochrome
Camera Monochrome – As Shot WB
20160626- 2016 - Donnelley WMA-CameraLandscape
Camera Landscape – As Shot WB
20160626- 2016 - Donnelley WMA-CameraFaithful
Camera Faithful – As Shot WB
20160626- 2016 - Donnelley WMA-AdobeStandard
Adobe Standard – As Shot SB

The rest of the images below all are shown with the Camera Standard, but I chose each of the Preconfigured White Balance settings.  White Balance is set based off the Temperature of the light and a Tint setting and deserves a whole article someday, maybe.  If I get around to it.

20160626- 2016 - Donnelley WMA-CameraStandard_Auto_TEMP4050Tint+30
Camera Standard – Auto WB Temp 4050 Tint +30
20160626- 2016 - Donnelley WMA-CameraStandard_Flash
Camera Standard – Flash WB
20160626- 2016 - Donnelley WMA-CameraStandard_Flourescent
Camera Standard – Flourescent WB
20160626- 2016 - Donnelley WMA-CameraStandard_Tungsten
Camera Standard – Tungsten WB
20160626- 2016 - Donnelley WMA-CameraStandard_Shade
Camera Standard – Shade WB
20160626- 2016 - Donnelley WMA-CameraStandard_Cloudy
Camera Standard – Cloudy WB
20160626- 2016 - Donnelley WMA-CameraStandard_DaylightWB
Camera Standard – daylight WB

Maybe you never shoot an image in RAW, or take the time to learn all of the default camera settings and how they impact your shots.   But knowing a few of the more important ones, and how they impact your final images may help to save a life time of memories in a more vibrant light.

2016 – Folly Beach Wahine Classic photography

I used to love the time out on my long-board and just sitting there waiting to catch a wave. I was never that good and my family doesn’t let me forget it, but I had fun and it was good exercise, which was what mattered.  I sold my three surf boards to cover some of the cost of camera equipment in 2012.   I had decided that I wanted to make photographs every weekend so I gave up surfing.

I still get exercise, but mostly, I was missing the somewhat regular trips to the beach.  Sunrises at the beach are great, but one day I happened to be out for a sunrise and ended up at the Washout for the  Icebox open in 2015.  After that I was hooked on photographing surf contests, they are a great way practice with moving subjects, changing/challenging light, and I was at the beach.  Below is one of my images from the first day photographing a surf contest and which likely got me hooked.

Ocean Surf Shop team rider Erik Kirby

On the weekends, when nothing else was going on, I started going to free (for me) surf contests.  I was already going to shoot kite/wake boarding, water skiing and other fast moving sports to help me practice capturing images.  Capturing a moving subject using manual camera settings, using the proper exposure, having creative compositions, and with tack sharp focus efficiently is what I’m practicing every time I go out to shoot.

Surfing contest give me the chance to capture people doing something are passionate about and I have met some cool folks.   I am almost always using the camera in manual mode and almost always in the morning to catch the best light of the day, but may stay at a sporting event longer than I would taking nature photos.  I will switch the camera to Aperture priority or Shutter priority as the subject and light permit after setting the exposure compensation, but the light. colors, and angles have to be almost constant. If one person has a white shirt and the other has a black shirt, that can ruin the shots.  Waves being completely dark one second and then completely white, also makes shooting anything but manual almost a gamble to get the right exposure.

Any given weekend,  I’ll take about a thousand photos an outing on  Saturday and then again on Sunday, if possible.    Most days just for practice and in the hopes of being in the right place at the right time to capture something unique or cool.   95% to 99% of the shots I take of sports I would consider snapshots.  At each location or camera angle relative to the subject , there is usually a small area that works correctly for each set of possible exposures , especially if you are trying to be creative and capture something unique.  It is like playing a game with zone coverage.  Each area around you has a different correct exposure, and you have to anticipate where the action will be and have your camera set up for that zone.  Turn 45 degrees to the right and your camera settings may get a completely white or black image if you don’t completely reset them.

@ Folly Beach Wahine Classic

On a normal day, I’ll go out for two or three hours after sunrise, and then I’m heading home to see what I captured and make notes on what I have learned.  At sporting events,  a lot of what I’m doing is paying attention to where to stand relative to the subject, in reference to the sun, to get the best image by getting the best angle on the subject.  If someone is watching me, they may see me hold my hand out and look for my shadow and the strength of the shadow.  I do that when I feel the temperature change on my skin or I move to a new spot to take photos of a subject.   I’m checking for changing light conditions, which can be caused by a passing cloud or in some cases stormy dark clouds.

You have to always be aware of your light, and also know what settings it may take to get the shot, when the light is not optimal or just plain bad. Being ready to capture that shot for a moment that could elicit a response when a person views it.  There are many times at sporting events, I see an individual’s personal moment and they could be having a once in a lifetime feeling for themselves or their family.  And on occasion, I’m not ready, and it is a waste of time to even point the camera in that direction because of the lack of quality light or me not being ready.

At the beach, or when taking photos at any sporting event, like mentioned above, if you turn 45 degrees in any direction the light will almost always be vastly different, changing the entire image’s exposure requirements, composition, and most importantly the quality of light on the subject.     Standing, dropping to a knee, sitting, or laying down to get the right angle of light on the subject can make a huge difference in the quality of the final outcome.

Light reflecting off of water or splashes is one of my favorite things to try to capture in different ways.   Knowing how the angle of the light is going to change the water’s appearance in an image takes a great deal of time and practice.  Will it look like a mirror, capture a mirror reflection, or be dark blue\green, or will it come out clear or almost white with just a hint of color?  How is the sky’s color going to interact with the water droplets flying through the air, ripples, or waves as they pass?  Knowing that can make or break an image as well.

Over the two days at the Folly Beach Wahine Classic, I took over 5000 photos hand holding my 7.5 pound lens and camera combination.  So it is also a great workout as well. lol

One goal at the Folly Beach Wahine Classic was to make as many shots as possible that would/could be cool as action posters!   And also be able to use as many of those as possible, straight out of the camera. Only straighten and maybe crop and be done with the editing.  I was able to get a few that I thought worthy.   I also was trying to capture entire rides or waves if possible.  End to end. Got a few of those too.

I’m in my own little world most of the time when I’m out taking photographs so I thank everyone for making me feel welcome while I’m there at the Folly Beach Wahine Classic and other surf contests at the Washout.  Did I tell you I like splashes?

kate-barattini-in-the-wahine-classic

 

Photo tour with Doug Gardner on Lake Marion

Took a few pics at Lake Marion with Doug Gardner and a few friends one a photography tour.  We had a great time.

Also I included a few other photos from the same weekend at Magnolia Gardens.  See if you can tell which are which.

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Perfect Light, Interrupted

As as a photographer, you might have noticed that I practice a lot. Always in the hopes of great light and cool subject coming together and capturing something that I want to look at over and over again. Maybe someone else too, but that is really not important.
 
Primarily I shoot handheld or on a monopod, so technique and knowing my limitations and my gears limitations is paramount. How slow of a shutter speed can I hold my 300mm on a crop camera, and constantly have sharp focus? (3 out of 4 shots at 1/15’s of second with my new lens, so far on a good morning.)
I also walk or drive around thinking about what the camera settings would need to be to capture images of things passing by.   What lens would I use, what time of day I’d want to try to capture the image.  Or if I have my camera, I’ll “guess” the settings and take the shot to see how close I was to what was needed.  It is a fun way to pass the time between real subjects.  So I take more photos than most photographers everywhere I go.  But that’s OK.  Like I said, it is practice for those rare moments of great light and cool subject.
 
I also spend a lot of time studying my subjects or shooting it repeatedly, if living,  so I know if it has any patterns of movement, being able to anticipate what it is about to do, because, if you see it through the lens, it is over already and you missed it.  Different birds have different hunting habits and knowing how they are going to move and how fast, really helps to know when pressing the shutter, might catch something cool.  
This morning the light was perfect, diffused natural light provide by some clouds and some soft 20160501- 2016 - Magnolia Gardens-35early morning sun.  I was also having a great steady morning.  My warm up practice shots were going well.  My first 50-200 shots are warm ups everyday, as a part of my daily or weekly practice process.  I was still shooting some of my warm up shots, when I noticed something was about to happen, and got a bad photo of the one that got away.
I was starting to catch some images in great light that I liked.  The three attached are RAW shots out of camera, with crops only.  No cleanup or sharpening yet.  If you know your digital processing, all RAW images need to be cleaned up.  Out of camera, RAW images are like a digital negative image straight from the sensor without sharpening or any normal cleanup added that is done to JPG files in camera automatically.
Now, ready for something cool to happen, and hopefully capture it, everything was great and I was ready, or at least I thought I was.
Just then the phone rings, and my son had a small car emergency and in seconds I’m running out of the swamp, leaving perfect light and a few interesting subjects for another day.  Glad I at least got to finish my practice shots and grab a few pics I like to look at, before the phone rang.   See more of my practice photos at www.carymcdonald.com .
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Last shot before the phone rang.
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Hypnotic Peacock Photo by Cary McDonald — National Geographic Your Shot

Peacock at Magnolia Plantation w watermark.jpgI wanted a certain smooth background for a peacock photo, and needed to get as close a possible with the smallest DOF I could at 300mm and f 2.8, so I knew I had to get between 18 and 20 feet to have about a 1 inch sharp DOF. I needed the shade to get the tail the way I wanted and I had to be at eye level to get it so I was going hand held. Third day following the birds around and this is what turned out. I want to do it again at about 22 feet.

Source: Hypnotic Peacock Photo by Cary McDonald — National Geographic Your Shot