After taking way too many water ski photos over three days… over 10K pics… at the Malibu Open two weeks before. I really needed to have some fun before finishing editing them. It was the first day of vacation, and a very steamy Saturday morning and I set out to find some birds. As hot as it was, I wanted to stay in or near the car, did not want to travel too far, and I also wanted to play with flashes.
Last year about this time, I went to a spot and had some luck with hummingbirds after going to the beach and taking photos of surfers. This year without the hurricane swell from storms to capture more surfing first, the hummers would be fun and also perfect to set up some High Speed Sync (HSS) flash on a few of the plants to see what I could capture.
Below you can see one of the flashes on a stand near the flower\plant I choose to photograph. Either I got my shots the way I wanted, or not but I was setting up and hoping to get lucky. I stayed in the car down low out of view as much as possible, with only the lens hanging out of the windows with the camouflage lens cover. Trying to move it slowly not to startle any visitors. Staying in the the car around most wild birds makes a big difference how close you can get to them. Just saying… get out and walk around around birds that are not used to it, and you need a longer lens to get your shot.
Cool thing about hummingbirds is they feed a lot… and almost like clock work. Most on a 15 minute schedule, but every hummer can be a little different. Use your phone and time the hummers feeding cycle. Unless there is more than one or they happen to be sitting in the bushes near you, you can pretty much do anything for 10 minutes after they leave, but after that get low and hidden before they are expected back. If using flashes, it may take a little while before they don’t fly off when the flash goes off. But after the second or third time they usually are used to it and it doesn’t really bother them at all. I find the plastic defuser on the end of the flashes seems to work great on the speedlights and gives you a little better chance of getting a hummer by spreading out the light around the plants.
Take a few hours to get to know them, and watch for patterns and how they move and feed. After a while you will get a feel for where they will feed eventually. If you are too close to where they feed, they will not come, so backup… it is not rocket science. Having enough reach with your lens so that you can pick your shots and background while still maintaining your distance is key. That way you don’t get stressed or the birds.
Setting you a remote camera with a motion activated trigger with a feeder with one open spot for feeding and multiple flashes, on a tripod with a fixed background can also yield some great results even using a macro lens using manual focus, but I prefer the challenge of shooting them on the fly. Have a bad background… use the flash to black it out if you have to do so. Photos are not as natural, but I still like them.
All images shot with a Canon 5d Mark IV with a Canon 300mm f/2.8 L lens on a 2x converter with a pair of remote speedlights and a trigger.
In 2017, the Malibu Open was relocated to Trophy Lakes on Johns Island, SC. Trophy Lakes has been the home of many record braking slalom ski runs so it seems fitting to have some of the best skiers in the world come and show their stuff! Below are a few little images
If you follow my work, you know I love photographing people doing what they love to do. Nothing is better than a competitive level sport and especially if it involves water or jumping! The higher the level of competition, the greater the challenge and the more I like it. I have been going to Trophy Lakes for over 5 years photographing every competition I can to practice my photography. When the Malibu Open was announced that it was going to be in Charleston, I took vacation days to photograph the warmup day and following two days.
Usually, I will take photographs every weekend of something I enjoy to practice. I try to take at least 1500 images every weekend and have fun. If I can find a sports event I want to photograph, I will, or I’ll find some birds or something else to photograph. In September 2017 alone, I took over 20,000 photographs. This was high even for me and so far it was the month to remember for my hobby. Captured some of my favorite images ever, that month! We had three hurricane swells of surfing at the washout at Folly Beach, and most of the best days were on the weekend and most of them were not raining and/or blown out. All the same month, my son was playing his senior year of high school football every Friday night, and his girlfriend played Volleyball during the week.
Some of the sickest swell I’ve ever seen a Folly over three consecutive weekends in a row!
I was already getting tired from the long month of photo opportunities, but it helped that with the surfing I was using a mono pod, but then to finish of the month with over 5000 skiing photos in three days with a night football game on Friday in the middle just to up the anti a bit for the weekend.
My son #1 running out of bounds the game on the Friday during the Malibu Open.
And on top of all of this “practice” mostly on the weekend, finishing up the month photographing professional skiers happened to be the greatest photographic challenge I have ever faced. Why, because they are so dang fast and only going in a straight line for a fraction of a second. They are going generally just over twice the speed of the boat and slowing down in the turns, and the complete run is usually less about 24 seconds. Which amounts to over 72 MPH for men and 68 MPH for women during various parts of the course in various directions relative to the photographer.
Besides the speed, another challenge is that the light most of the day just sucks on sunny days. It is not like they start at 7:00 a.m and finish at 9:00 a.m. when the sun starts to get harsh like I normally would aspire to do. Taking creative images is a must, depending on the location, time of day, wind and weather. High key and low key images were required to get some of the shots at all with the harsh shadows and extremes. Depending on the time of day, in a single 20 second run, you can go from complete high key situation with backlit subject, to normal crappy washed out bright day light, to a low key situation with splashes and refractions being blown out all over the place. Sometimes I pray for clouds and the wind to stop for the 30 seconds during the run and to start back after it is over! Sometimes you do get a cloud and then end up with a backlit nightmare and have to make the best of it. And I try.
I could setup on one buoy with a tripod and and take one shot or series of shots of each skier in one spot per run…but if you follow my photography, that is just not me. I want to get two or three buoy shots and the runs in between if I can. Depending which camera I want 7-10 frames a second of action at each point. I also want to get in the best spot to take the shot depending on the light
And below are the skiers that I had the privilege to photograph in 2017. I think I got all of them once, but I did leave at around noon every day in 2017.
The best news is that in 2018 the Malibu Open is coming back to Trophy Lakes! I cannot wait to take many more skiing photos and attempt to stay past noon all of those days. I have to learn to pace myself and not take photos of everything that moves until I get tired, like normal. But that is the great thing about being an amateur photographer, if I want to go home at noon, I usually do. One of my cameras has over 250,000 thousand pics on it already, I hope it lasts the rest of 2018.
Learning photography is a journey. I’ve not met anyone that could wake up one day and say I’m going to be a “great” photographer by tomorrow, next week or next year. There are so many different aspects to be considered when taking a photograph that every one of them cannot even be learned at the same time. Some are technical, like getting sharp properly exposed images, learning the post processing software to use, but many are creative and open to interpretation. That last aspect is the real tough side of photography, putting your unique personal spin on your images.
In this case, I’m not talking about snapshots right now or phone photos for use in Social media. I’m talking about a photo that someone would eagerly pay money to have a copy , that they could look at every day, or one you would be proud to hang on your wall or maybe it looks like an image on a magazine cover. Learning all the different aspects of the photographic process needed to take unique attractive images takes time and lots of practice . It is often the case you will have to learn one layer of a process, before you even know about other things you need to consider and learn for the other layers of the process. (Pardon the pun there, for those that are familiar with photoshop already.) If you have been taking photos for any length of time, you know what I’m talking about?
Depending on your subject and light, you may want to freeze all motion, or you may want to blur certain aspects of your image. You may want to only parts of the image sharp and the rest smooth like butter using bokeh with a shallow Depth of field, or have the image in focus from front to back and have to use a tripod to hold the camera still to get the shot you wanted. I could keep going about the different aspects that we have to learn, manipulate and control while learning photography, but things being out of control is why I choose to capture sports. Getting a cool image when you cannot control the light or angle of a subject completely is fun.
That may sound odd, but there is a method to my madness. I want to practice all the aspects of photography that I have learned and explore new techniques, and subject or aspects all the time. At the same time, I want to challenge myself in order to grow. With sports one of the best teaching aspects, is that you are out of control 99% of the time for multiple aspects of the shot. You could be outside, in a gym, in water up to your chest, at the beach or in a field. You cannot always control your distance to your subject if there is a fence or boundaries that you cannot cross. Referees are always trying to keep me away! You often cannot control the speed of your subject or in many cases the direction it will move, or they direction relative to the light or sun.
It also seems like it never fails, that the higher level of sport, the less the photographer can control regarding the photograph, the faster your subject moves and the less time you have to capture that moment. With many aspects of the creating the image out of your control, you have to use reliable practiced technique along with a solid understanding of photography principles to capture those fleeting moments and get good actions shots. You have to have studied and know your subject you will be able to capture those emotional moments that come through from effort, focus, or relief. The better you know your subject and are passionate about your subject, the better your images will be.
So I chose to capture sports to become a better photographer, expand my skills, practice exiting skills and techniques, and challenge myself to capture high quality creatively exposed images in a more consistent fashion. At first, every sports photograph you take is a really a challenge to get in focus. Since most photographers don’t start out with professional glass or fast glass, it can be even a greater challenge. Starting out with faster glass or lenses that let in more light in for the shots.
After you start getting some shots in focus, then you can start getting the exposure correct and in sharp focus. That is when it started to get fun. Then you start exploring different compositions and angles depending on the sport. Then you start to get close enough to fill the frame and getting some images you are really proud of taking. After a while you will start to focus on limiting your depth of field for your focus on your subject to inches, less than a foot or a few feet, depending on your subject.
Depending on your dedication and the amount you practice, eventually, you can walk up to any sport or location and “intuitively” know where to stand. It is one of the most important aspects to know where the best place “to stand” that you are permitted access to get a great angle with the light at the best to get detail… or hightlights. You might be laying down or up a ladder, so standing should be considered a loose term. Next, you will “know” the approximate exposure that you want to start your shoot with to get the DOF you want.
I also found that setting your camera to a baseline configuration. Set everything back to what you shoot most. Use Lightroom and see what your camera is on most often and use that as your baseline. That way you can make the setting changes without even looking at the camera. Then you can start changing the settings from your baseline to get it where you want it for that shot.
Once setup, you can feel when the light changes, or a cloud passes between you and your subject, and adjust your exposure to compensate without looking or even loosing focus on your subject. You can zoom in and out as a subject approaches you at 50 to 70 mph almost stops and then suddenly turns away. For example, going from 200mm down to 70 mm and back out to attempt to fill the frame for the best view of your subject if shooting with a zoom lens.
I like to say “three times” to myself when I try a new sport or photography subject. I try to only need three times to shoot any sport or subject at any location, to get the most out of myself and my equipment. To attempt to capture that magazine cover moment that makes people look twice at the image and sometimes take the time to really study an image. They may only look at that special image for 10-15 seconds… but that is 7-10 seconds longer than they look at most images on social media. Do I really need three times? Heck no, at least not always, but it really depends on the sport, the location, and how many keeper images I want from each “competitor” or player in the sport.
I take photos of what I want, when I want, when I can! As a non professional photographer with a real job during the week, I have the luxury to do so. No one is paying me most of the time to take photos so I can take them anyway I want, but I practice hard and challenge myself every outing. I’m only “competing” with myself, but every now and then I end up at a great location, with great light and a spectacularly amazing subject, sports related or not. And with all my practice, I can see the photo in my mind before pulling out the camera and know what gear I need to use to capture that image, and can efficiently setup for the image to capture what I saw in my mind.
I often am asked when I’m out to take photographs if I am a professional photographer. Usually this happens when I am out to take sports photos. I walk out with my relatively large camera and sometimes other professional looking gear, depending what I am shooting that day, and it is a natural assumption that I am I guess. I do take my hobby very seriously which is reflected in my gear choices.
I’m usually pretty quick to say that I am not a professional photographer when asked, sometimes too quick, and have seen where I have put people off being so quick with my response. I often say “no I am not, I am taking photos for me”. Because I am and if I have my camera with me, I’m thinking of the photos I’m going to take next already. The best part of being an Amateur photographer, I take photos of what I want, when I want, when I’m allowed to do so and always have permission.
Why do I not want someone to assume that I am a Professional Photographer? I have the utmost respect for many professional photographers, and many that I consider friends. But why does my skin crawl at the thought of being a professional photographer? A professional photographer must take pictures of what their clients are paying them to photograph a majority of the time. A majority of the time, a professional photographer, or someone that makes all of their income directly from photography, is not going to have the opportunity to be taking photos of subjects they want to photograph when they want to do so. Of course some are lucky and do get to do so, but sometimes they are not even taking the photographs the way they want to take them. Also professionals are taking “marketable images” like landscapes or images they were paid to capture and in some cases were told what the outcome should look like. They are asked “Can you take an image of this subject and make it look like this image the client found off the Internet?”
There are a few photographers that are lucky enough and or good enough to take photos of only what they love all the time, but that is not the fate of most professional photographers. Booking clients, meeting with them, setting up for shoots, prepping for the next shoot, scouting locations, or editing the photos from past shoots to get them to their clients take up a lot more time than actually taking the actual photographs. the business side of photography is much more time consuming than capturing memorable images. The hard part is that this also limits their time to explore the subjects they want to photograph.
Also professional photographers can be under great pressure to “get the shot” for whatever purpose the image is needed that they were hired to capture. The magazine cover, wedding photos, newspaper, marketing shot, prints or online display that their clients want or need. That stress alone would keep me from taking wedding photographs for a living. Bridezilla stories scare me worse than horror movies.
As an amateur photographer, I am only competing with myself and capturing images that make me happy. Learning computer development software and expanding my skills and challenging myself creatively to capture unique images that are memorable to me. And I’m under no pressure, because if I go to any event or location and feel like my arm is tired, or want to be home by noon so I can take a nap, or eat lunch it is OK. Or if I feel like I want to take photos of something else, I will just go do so. I’ll follow the light anywhere if I think I can get a unique shot.
Sometimes, I’ll challenge myself though as if I was a professional photographer. Limiting myself to the number of shots or attempts to get the look I want. Attempting to capture what I would consider at least one image “worthy” of being a “magazine cover” or in a magazine of every competitor in an event. And I have to tell you that really does turn up the pressure, that I don’t envy. And if I didn’t love taking photos of the subject I’m photographing, I would not most likely consider doing so. If I really like the subject, it helps keep me focused on taking images and being creative, or consistent, depending on the subject.
It is funny though, if I’m asked if I sell my photos, I respond differently than if they ask if I’m a professional photographer. I’ll give them a card, if I remembered to bring any which I often don’t, and I tell everyone to visit my website and that I hope they find something they like. I really I hope they find images that make them want to look at them more than once. If they like an image of themselves and want to use it on their social media as their cover photo sharing an image of themselves, that is one of the greatest of compliments. Nicer when they buy the image without a watermark and still give me photo credit.
Would I love to sell enough images to pay for one of my cameras or lenses someday, or even better all of them even? I really do appreciate the purchases from my website that support my hobby. And I also mark my calendar for similar events, when I have a good time and purchases were made from going to an event. Is it nice when people like or recognize my work on social media? Of course it is, but it is not what motivates me to go out and take photos almost every weekend, always looking for new challenging subjects and take thousands of photos. I take photographs for me, and that is all the motivation I hopefully ever will ever need. Sharing what I capture is just a plus.
Now if someone likes my work and is wants me to take some photos for them, I’m not against the idea if it is a subject I’m interested. But I have a real job, so hopefully they can wait until my vacation.
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.
Selfie at Bulls Island boneyard beach in January.
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.
“A good photograph is knowing where to stand.”– Ansel Adams
This is one of my favorite photography quotes by Ansel Adams, but you have to take into account that he was a master landscape photographer. One of my favorite images of him is the iconic image of him on top of his car to capture an image. So when he said knowing where to stand, he was really talking about perspective. Moving yourself and your camera to have a unique view or finding the most flattering angles for a flattering image of your subject with a visually appealing composition. But also about the phase angle of light to provide contrast and detail in your images.
For sharper or more detailed images, knowing the phase angle of light and when a polarizer would be beneficial will make your images sharper and contain micro shadows that provide detail. Again, I’m not going to get technical about it, but learning how a polarizer works will help you know where to stand or when to put one on your lens. When shooting a living moving subject, I usually choose to leave off the polarizer filter. Reaching out towards the end of your lens to your subject might scare it off before being able to make the best use of it.
All of the images below were from an outing on Tuesday Nov. 24, 2015. I started out at the bridge and went to Magnolia Gardens. Almost everyday I go out to shoot, I have a rough plan or idea of what I’m going to practice. I know which lens I’m going to take with me when I leave the car and try to stay on task, but try to be flexible enough to see what is around and adapt also. It was initially a very cold morning and frost was on the ground when I left the house and I didn’t think any birds would be out early.
My goal for the morning was “eyeballing creative and balanced exposures” for some landscape shots. I was not going out to capture anything specific, but wanted to get some images without using the back of my screen or my histogram until I was done shooting at the location. Before leaving a location, I will look at the images to see how I did on the exposures and see if need to try again.
Why do I do this? If you “know” what the exposure should be approximately as you are walking up evaluate a shot, getting the camera setup the way you want it is much faster with less trial and error. So knowing where to stand becomes the hard part, and the exposure settings become second nature.
If you go out taking photos often, you will find that those special moments where the light, location and subjects are just right to create a unique and spectacular image are few and far between. Anything you can do to practice or be ready for those moments helps.
Recognizing those moments is one challenge and then being ready to take advantage of those fleetingly changing elements as efficiently and effectively as possible is another challenge that practicing and pushing yourself helps accomplish.
After my 2nd location of getting some trees and moss “eyeballing” exposures, I walked up towards my third spot. This thirds spot was a softball. I believe could almost shoot this location blindfolded I’ve been there so often, but as I was walking up I saw a immature little blue heron(Bert) that had been there a few times the last few weeks. If you follow me on facebook you would have seen some of the previous shots of Bert the last two weeks. I spent so much time with him, I gave him a name. lol When I saw him, I turned around and “ran” back to the car, all the while thinking about what I wanted to capture when I returned.
I had my 17-40 L lens on which is my goto landscape lens and knew I wanted more length. My previous visits with Bert, I had on my 300mm L IS f/4 lens, but a few times, I was able to get too close for the 300mm to have a DOF that I wanted. At 10 feet from your subject at 300mm at F/8 that is just over one inch DOF. (F/8 is where I start with my 300mm f/4 lens for the best quality image, corner to corner and I’ll blog about it later.)
I was planning to be closer than 15 feet and wanted a deeper DOF, so I grabbed my 70-200 f/2.8 L lens. It does not have IS, but is one of my favorite lens when trying to be creative. Also at 200mm at 10 feet, it has a 3 inch DOF at f/8 or 6 inches at 20 feet or at 100 mm 6 inches DOF at 10 feet.
As I headed back to Bert, I also knew that I wanted to get as low as possible to smooth the background and get the light reflected from the water at the strongest point possible. Also the lower you go as you get close the closer you can get before the bird feels threatened. Also you have to approach silently as possible. Getting any animal at eye level or just below is a great angle for wildlife. This is a wild bird, so it is going to go where the food is and it feels comfortable.
Since it was just above freezing, I was covered head to toe and I had on a black hoodie and gloves and the only skin exposed was behind my camera from the bird. I was able to follow the bird for about 90 minutes total some of that time, standing in the swamp behind a tree and at another point I laided down where I expected the bird to feed as it made its way around the edge of the water. I set up on where I expected the bird would feed and I would have an optimal view as long as nothing scared the bird away. I also laid down where I could see into the water and not the reflected area behind it. I did not need a polarizer in this case, to get the sharpest image.
This was one of those moments that I knew would not likely repeat itself with the same light angles and subject. I took 600 photos during the 90 minutes following Bert. 500 of those shots were practice, anticipating the birds movements, catching the angles of the eyes, the subtle tilt of the head. In this situation, I have a goal of 95% of the images to be in focus and on exactly on what I was aiming to be in focus, the eyes or the water droplets flying when eating. (I’ll blog about my editing process later and my 95% goal.) When I done and I could not hold my arms up or still any longer, it was time for me to go home.
In this case, it was not about standing to get the best image, it was about laying down and getting dirty next to some cypress knees and letting Bert come to me. I hope you have the chance to get to know your own “Bert”.
At 10 frames a second, there were only 10-20 seconds out of those 90 minutes that I was really looking to capture images of Bert that I thought were worth keeping. They are those moments that keep me going out to take photos every weekend. But all of them are just as important to learn from.
Can you spot any of the images that I considered keepers? I included only 4 shots of Bert that I would print. Please, let me know which ones you think are my keepers are with comments on the images of Bert.
I’m not a professional photog! I take pictures of what I want to, when I want to do so. I like taking pictures of people doing what they love which is usually sports, when I’m not taking pictures of what I love.
I could not imagine being a professional and having my model go to sleep.
I’ve wanted to get some more surfing shots for years, besides off the Folly Beach pier at sunrise. I read on Facebook that at contest was happening at 8:00 a.m. Water sports and splashing make for great splashes of light when taking pictures. Small drawback, Washout at Folly Beach is a “south” facing beach for the most part. I was looking into the sun from 7:00 a.m. until noon. Sunburn to prove it. Thank goodness for some clouds and little bit of fog early in the morning. Very challenging with changing light all day, but great practice.
The surf was like a washer machine leaving foam all over the beach and the wind was cool. But the surfers were eager to put on a show and do their best for the contest and for fun. Buy some prints or posters if you want.
On my second test with extension tubes I had a good time trying to make the coins a little more original. Also tried to have some food shots and a few ornaments. The most fun was the grain of salt on the popcorn.