Make Images That Speak for Themselves

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There is a lot that goes into a photograph.  Vision, creativity, originality, emotion, heart, soul, and expression – to name a few.  Technical aspects like exposure, light, and composition come into play as well – but they are fairly minor when you take a step back and look at the big picture.

There are tons of folks out there who can take a technically good photograph.  Once you’ve learned how to operate your camera, you’re well on your way to taking technically great pictures.  And there is nothing wrong with a technically great picture – but in order to stand out from everyone else your image must be different.  It must ‘speak’ to the viewer.

The seven things I mentioned above that go into photographs aren’t something that you can be taught.  You won’t learn them at a workshop or in a book.  Those things come from within each and every one of us and at no point will they be the same for any of us.

In the photo above, I wanted to bring out emotion and animation in my subject – which happened to by my youngest son Daniel.  I wanted him to display something that only my wife and I get to see on a daily basis.  Something more than just the ‘smiling kid’ photo.

I’m a people photographer, so interacting with my subjects to invoke the emotions I’m seeking is how I get the job done.  I like photos that feel and look natural.  You can even achieve that from a more posed photo as well – and it takes nothing more than interaction.

If you’re not doing this already, the next time you’re shooting, talk with your subjects.  Talk about things that they enjoy or like – or even don’t like.  You’ll be amazed at the images you can capture when people are being themselves.

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Assignment: First Tomahawk Launch

Tomahawk MIssile Launch

Assignments can be boring and assignments can be a blast – literally!  This past week I was out shooting the first Tomahawk missile launch aboard the USS Sterett (DDG 104) off the coast of Southern California.  The test firings went well and I was able to capture a few good frames.

Shooting a missile launch is quite challenging and it happens very quick, so knowing your equipment and your technique are the key to getting the shot.  Timing and exposure are the two largest obstacles because you don’t want to miss the launch, and you also don’t want an under or overexposed photo that is completely unusable.

To counter the timing, I watched closely for the cell hatch to open as I knew I would have a few seconds afterward before the actual launch.  Exposure being the other challenge, I underexposed the ambient by 1 and 1/2 stops in order to ensure I would be able to retain some detail in the fireball that would surround the missile.

I also got to meet a fellow photographer, Carmichael Yepez who also there to document the launch.  He even put together a couple of videos from the launch, which was a nice addition to the photography.  Sterett launched two missiles, and on day one we shot on board the ship and on day two we were out in a Rigid Hull Inflatable Boat (RHIB), 500 yards behind the ship to capture the actions.  Carmichael’s videos capture some of the fun, as we proceeded to perform high-speed maneuvers in the RHIB after the launch in less than ideal seas.

Second Tomahawk Launch

The shot above was from the perspective we got while shooting in the RHIB.  It was a lot of fun and something that I hadn’t done before.

I also took the opportunity to take several portraits of the crew, including the two gentlemen that actually fired the two missiles.  I went for the bare bones as far as gear was concerned with my D90 and an SB800 triggered with CLS.  Came up with some cool stuff though, thanks to a couple of VALs (Voice-Activated Lightstands). 🙂

First Tomahawk Shooter

Second Tomahawk Shooter

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All in all, I had a great week and got a lot of shooting done.  I picked up some cool tips and tricks from my new friend Carmichael, and look forward to doing some more shooting with him in the future.  The only way to sharpen you skills and improve your photography is to get out and shoot and shoot and shoot and shoot and shoot some more.  Can’t say that enough.

Have a great week!

Playing Around With Sound

Being an owner of a Nikon D90 has enticed me slowly into the world of HDDSLR video. I have toyed around with it mostly, but as I continually work to make my photography better I have also done the same (at a much slower pace) with HD video and my D90. One of the components of a great video is great audio. And if you don’t know already, while the built-in mics in todays HDDSLRs are ok, they aren’t going to come close to providing great audio.

So I picked up a Zoom H2 personal audio recorder to help out. From the little bit of testing that I’ve done already, I am VERY impressed. I will have more to follow and you can expect a full post including some audio comparisons in the near future. Working with what’s known as a “double system” is a little trickier, but the end result is very worth the effort.

Photo above courtesy of Samson International.


Killer Camera Setup!

If you’ve been a reader of the blog for awhile now, you may remember this post from late December, 2008. As you can see from my iPhone shot above, it’s time to go out and play with the toys again.

In the shot, there are 7 video cameras set up – two high speed cameras that will be used to slow the footage down and two still cameras. The still cameras are Canon 1D Mk IIIs that are in customized gray Pelican cases. Once I have the finished product, I’ll post it here.


How To Whiten Teeth in Aperture 3.0

A reader of the blog (Linda) asked if I could explain how to whiten teeth in Apple’s Aperture 3.0, and rather than type out a lengthy explanation I thought I would just do a quick video tutorial.  So check out the 3:23 video below for my method of making teeth look their best while using Aperture 3.0.  And while I’m at it, if you would like to see a specific technique (photography, Lightroom, Photoshop, or otherwise) please leave your suggestions in the comments or send an e-mail my way with your request(s).  Enjoy!

Have You Seen My Assistant?

Having an assistant is very helpful while you’re shooting… especially when they don’t say a word. Ok, so I don’t really have an ACTUAL assistant, but I do have a furry little duck that accompanies my on my photo adventures.

My wife actually encouraged me to get one, but the little guy pictured above is a super-cool plush toy created from the main character of Aaron Johnson’s What The Duck cartoon. He’s fun to take along and photograph in strange and interesting places and there’s even a gallery on the WTD website where proud owners can showcase the photos of their own plush toy.

On a slightly more serious note, he does come in quite handy though. If I need someone to model while I set up my lighting or the shot itself, he’s willing to help out. In the shot above, I wanted to see how the ambient exposure would affect a subject’s face in the given setting. I already knew the exposure (think Sunny 16 rule), but if I wanted to underexpose the background a little I needed to know how the direct sun was going to affect my subject. Without having to put a model in the shot and have them move around a bunch, I could simply put my duck assistant in place and see the results.

Now I’m not saying that you have to surf over and buy one of these handsome little devils, but if you’re like me and like geeky photography stuff then be my guest! He doesn’t each much, but I stopped off to feed him at Pink’s Hot Dogs in Hollywood after a newborn shoot this weekend. C’mon, an assistant’s gotta eat too!


Full Frame or Sub-Full Frame Cameras: Which Is Right For You?

There are a lot of heated debates going around the interwebs about whether or not you should be shooting full frame or sub-full frame cameras. While I’m not really big on arguing over gear (especially on the internet), there are advantages that each format offers. In today’s post I’m going to talk about each sensor type in an effort to demystify some of the hype.

First off, both sensors are capable of providing outstanding image quality. Let’s get that straight right out of the gate. The sensors in today’s cameras are the best around – leaps and bounds ahead of where digital imaging was ten years ago.

Megapixels Don’t Matter
Camera manufacturers have been battling back and forth for years, bragging about how many megapixels their newest camera has. This is not much more than a sales gimmick. Megapixels translate to resolution, which only is a concern when making very large prints. A 6 megapixel sensor in a camera will yield excellent print results up to 20″ x 30″, and maybe even a little bigger.

In fact, the more pixels that you have on an image sensor, the less sensitive to light it will be. Think of it in terms of buckets of water. If I have a 24′ x 36′ surface, I can fit 864 buckets of water that are 12″ in diameter. If I use 6″ diameter buckets I can fit 1,728 buckets on the same surface area, but each bucket holds less water. Camera sensors work the same way in terms of how each pixel holds light.

Full Frame
Camera bodies that are considered to be ‘full frame’ have an image sensor that is 24mm x 36mm, the same size as a 35mm film negative. The advantage to these sensors is that larger pixels can fit on the sensor while retaining the same resolution as it’s sub-full frame counterpart. This also translates into better image quality at high ISO settings as there is less noise in the image.

Another advantage lies in the fact that full frame sensors don’t have a magnification factor. If you enjoy shooting really wide angle photos, a full frame digital camera will yield image results identical to a 35mm film camera in terms of composition. A 12mm lens is super wide, which really excites the wide angle fanatics out there.

Sub-Full Frame (APS-C or DX)
I know that I made full frame cameras sound really good in the couple of paragraphs above, but don’t worry because sub-full frame cameras have their advantages too. First off (and likely very important to most of us) is cost. Smaller sensors are less expensive to make and that translates into a less expensive end product.

Since APS-C or DX sized sensors have some sort of magnification factor (usually 1.5x or 1.6x), this means that you will get more bang for your buck out of your telephoto lenses. For example, Nikon DX bodies have a 1.5x magnification factor which means that my 70-200mm lens performs like 105-300mm lens. That extra reach really helps out if you are shooting sports or wildlife where the object is to get as tight a crop as possible on your subject.

Today’s smaller sensors still perform remarkably well in low light at high ISO settings. For example, the Nikon D90 and Canon 50D do an excellent job of keeping the noise low at ISO settings as high as 3200.

Which One Is Right For Me?
You are the only one that can really answer that question, but you should base your decision off of what you are going to be shooting in order to make a practical choice. If you are an architectural photographer that will be shooting buildings and indoor spaces, a full-frame sensor will net you the most gain because wide is REALLY wide. Wedding shooters will also appreciate the better high ISO performance since they are almost always shooting in low-light situations. If you shoot sports, wildlife or people, sub-full frame cameras will get you the most out of your longer glass. There are several sports shooters today that use a full frame camera for their wide shots and put their 400mm lenses on a full-frame body in order to take advantage of the magnification factor.

Given the advantages and disadvantages of each type of sensor, you simply have to choose the format that best suits your shooting needs in order to capitalize on your sensor type.