Friday, April 27, 2012

Wireless Adventure Photography

Let's face it, being a photographer is a great gig.  The opportunity to "walk in the shoes of others," learn about life while making pictures, getting up before dawn reaching locations before anyone else, experiencing that glorious light all to ourselves is our bonus check.

How great photographers approach their craft usually includes a few common denominators. The most typical? Problem solving. How do I get that shot? Sounds simple enough, right? More often than not it is. The idea that is. But, where most fail, is they decide not to execute the necessary efforts to get there. They leave it in the idea phase. There's millions of great ideas. Taking the time to carry it out is the most crucial step. And, its work.

How can I capture a moment like no-one else? What do I need to make this happen, what special equipment, trips to the hardware store, assistants, waterproofing, shock resistant material, auto or manual, duck tape, helicopter, so on and so on. These are good questions and investigating how you accomplish this elevates your vision to photographic reality.

The key for young shooters is to think big. Don't let your goal be dampened by saying "I don't have this or know how to do that." FIND A WAY! Your vision gave you an idea, so follow it up. What you learn from this will be another vise-grip in your visual tool bag. And, I promise you'll revisit it time after time solving other photographic problems.

One of my favorite techniques is the use of remote triggering. Mounting a camera on top of kayak and triggering from a bridge or shoreline to capture action, clamping my camera on the wings of an airplane and firing remotely as the pilot banks a turn, digging a hole in the ground and placing a camera in the path of stampeding buffalo. All these options give me the chance to create something new, a different perspective that places the viewer in places they have not experienced before. Plus, its damn fun trying this stuff.

The challenges as you can imagine are plentiful. But remember, this is problem solving and a big part of your job. Don't let the fact that its tough at times to figure out the what, when, where & how deter you. Once the solution is found, its easy........and rewarding.

One of the most beautiful examples of problem solving I've seen recently are the images of Minneapolis Photographer Paul Nelson and his bird images. (  and the underwater dog photography of Seth Casteel ( Both shooters have approached their subjects using different techniques but the end results are simply off the charts cool as hell.

There are a number of ways to use remote triggering devices to achieve the desired photographic results. I've mounted cameras on the back of backboards in basketball games, wings of aircraft, the bumpers of cars, bridges, kayaks, tree's, and am currently working on remote set-ups in the forest to capture wildlife on popular game trails at night.

 Some devices use infared beams to trigger the shutter, others use wire connections (although these are mostly obsolete) and the more common is the wireless trigger. Other options include using a intervalometer that is a separate unit or even built into some higher end cameras. These are popular with time-lapse photography (see previous blog post here).

Take a internet trip into You Tube and you'll find all kinds of homemade recipes for creating remote triggers that work quite well, but also companies like Pocket Wizard make exceptionally engineered products that are trustworthy ( Also, popular with bird watchers and outdoorsman is the Reconyx brand ( These mount to tree's or rocks and can be used to capture wildlife in the field. Another one, I believe this is one used by photog Paul Nelson is THE TIME MACHINE (

You've done your job when you hear the accolades and comments like "you've got the greatest job in the world." No need to tell them how tough it was to get it. It comes with hard work and the conclusion to an idea. On a side bar thought.....For you young shooters, this is important too..........get a dayrate that is fair when taking on such assignments. Your time is money, just like the client. You use resources, time and energy to capture that split-second. Don't back down on getting paid for it.

In the end, finding a way to best capture what you are trying to say visually isn't always easy.
But, its always worth it.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

HDR-Is It Real Or Not?

MICKEY'S DINER, above,  in downtown St. Paul, was manipulated on purpose to help define its unique positioning among the skyscrapers. The renowned diner has a storied history and the combination of color and b/w seemed to aid in visually describing its presence.  (Click on images to enlarge)

Pick up any newspaper, photo magazine, or dive into a feisty photography forum, and most likely you will see a discussion about HDR Photography.

The expanse of stories will range from its appropriateness in editorial publications to the incredible creative vision shooters bring to their imagery. What I've noticed over the last few years is how the definition of HDR has kinda morphed into something other than was it was originally introduced.

HDR, or High Dynamic Range, was a great tool allowing photog's the ability to extend the range of tonal values through a series of exposures combined into one. Bracketing several exposures to keep the highlights in check and bring out shadow areas, using HDR software gave the opportunity in difficult lighting situations the advantage of having all the desired tonal values in our photograph. Always a frustration to photog's to see it with our eyes, but full well knowing the limits of our medium were problematic. Wonderful software programs like Photomatix Pro provided a valuable tool. I have seen amazing HDR images particularly in architecture and landscape photography.

Holy smokes, a shooter can stroll into a fabulous hotel lobby in Morocco, see all those gorgeous mosaics and polished marble floors with windows running 20 feet high and be able to capture all the tonal values using HDR. In some ways, I guess it's the modern day equivalent to Ansel Adams Zone System using exposure & development to master complete tonality in a pre-visualized scene.

But, it seems when folks discuss HDR today, it less about the bracketing of exposures and more about the usage of colorful presets to manipulate and create super-duper dynamic images. It's so tempting to rev up the colors, contrasts, grain, vintage looks, whatever on some of your photographs. Chances are if you want it, a special effect is there waiting for you to click a button and see how your image reacts.

 The photograph of the Fulton Harbor Bait Stand in Fulton, Texas did not need any HDR ramping. It was a stormy scene in the twilight hours with bright neons and rain. Perfect for a natural shot. Yet, a slight boost in vibrancy using HDR Efex Pro gave it a bit more punch.

Superb programs like HDR Efex Pro, from Nik Software, make the process of creating fun. With all the presets available, you simply click on each effect, find the one to your liking, tweak it if you wish, and your altered image is banging at the door to be shared.

Therein lies the biggest controversy under the umbrella of HDR. Not that an image has been altered or gone too far in appearance, but ultimately where its being presented. Its my opinion that any image taken for documentary, news, or journalistic purposes cannot be altered. If an image is altered and used in an editorial publication, it needs to be captioned as such.

The biggest abuse of this seems to be in landscape photography. Why? Because an image can be made more dynamic and interesting than it was in real time. After the debacle last year over the News coverage of Iceland's volcanic eruptions, images were juiced up in saturation to accentuate the glow of the spewing lava, but in reality the scene was flat and tame in comparison. This is misleading to a audience seeking truth in coverage. Its a line that can't be crossed in this type of photographic coverage, no matter how cool it looks. Its place is to be real. And, its time to go old-school in the most traditional of approaches and just be there at the right time. Be a photographer, not a technician in post-processing.

Some publications today will even ask the photog for RAW files if an image appears to be over-manipulated for verification. Let's face it, the credibility of the publication. Its not a bad idea.
However, let's say an editorial magazine hires you to do a photo essay on State Parks. It allows you the freedom to create images any way you choose. You might choose to shoot the entire essay in over-the-top HDR imagery as a visual style. Its how you wanted to shoot the essay. Even though this is in an editorial publication, this approach is a personal vision and totally acceptable. Where the line might be crossed is if the photographer's work included within the collection of "straight" images of some of the State Park's natural gifts, images that are enhanced through software. When this happens, what can the viewer believe is real or not real.

Now, I will be the first to admit that I still cherish the hunt of making real photographs. Doing my homework, being at the right place at the right time, allowing instincts and purpose dictate what I'm trying to say visually. Its what I still do professionally and I never mix the real with the experimental in the magazine work I do.

That said, I'm also a visual artist. Experimentation has from the very start been part of my interest in this medium. From the days of darkroom work, creating multiple images in what master photographer Jerry Uelsmann did in his painstaking "Saving Silver" process, to sepia tones warming a photograph, to today with the multitude of iPhone app's allowing us to create images on the fly with numerous image flavors to choose from. Its exciting and creative.

We have more options for visual expression than ever before. While the economic model of being a photographer has changed forever, its also a very exciting time to be a photographer. Experiment away, make the boldest, most outrageously creative images your imagination allows. I know I will.

But, I think a line has been drawn in the sand on what's real and what's not real. Its up to us shooters to understand where that line exists.


And, my favorite way of shooting. The natural gifts of light, movement of the swirling currents along the shores of Lake Superior make a beautiful, natural photographic capture.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Minnesota Twins Fans at Home Opener in Time-Lapse

Thanks for all the emails about this quick TIME-LAPSE sequence created of baseball fans streaming into Target Field for the Home Opener of the Minnesota Twins in downtown Minneapolis.

I enjoy photographing crowds and this was a good opportunity in a festive environment (even if they did lose the game!) to observe the river of people flowing towards the ballpark.

I won't go into deep detail on this process since there's no substitute for experience, but here's a few tips to get you going. Once you create your first time-lapse sequence, your brain quickly fills with ideas that will take you out shooting feeding that creative energy.

For the one created here, I shot 500 frames at 3 second intervals. I'm using my Nikon D3 and in the Shooting Menu I scrolled down to Interval Timer Shooting. Check your owners manual for this camera and the camera you have for add'tl detailed info. To capture this many images it took 25 minutes. 60 seconds divided by 3 fps (frames per second) = 20 x 500 = 25 minutes.

Once the images are captured, I load them into Lightroom, and for the purposes of speed and efficiency, I converted them all to 72 dpi. Once converted, I placed them in a folder on my desktop and opened Quick Time Pro, a $30 software program that turns the images into a Quicktime Movie. To see how this is done, there are several wonderful videos on You Tube with good lessons on creating Time Lapse movies.

As an alternative to Quick Time Pro, you can also use Lightroom. While Lightroom does not have a 24 fps preset (which is the most desired fps) you can get one free from Sean McCormack at and download the presets in a Zip file and load into LR. Thanks Sean for creating this. Follow his simple instructions and your on your way.

I tried several different fps and as expected, the 24 fps were the best for this. When I dropped down to 10 fps the time-lapse appeared choppy and too slow. While I could see more of what people were doing, the flow was off and not pleasing. I jumped to 50 fps and I got tired just watching all the people run so fast. So, settling into 24 fps worked well. There is enough time to see the flow, watch what people were doing and not lose interest.

If you have time-lapse settings on your camera, take the camera out for a walk and give this a try. You could even train the lens on the birdhouse in your backyard and shoot 500 frames per second as they feed their babies this Spring. Of course, with time-lapse you will need a tripod, and turn off the auto-focus. I've done exposure both ways, on manual and auto. Both worked fine. I'd prefer manual, but in the case of clouds moving back-n-forth over the sun, exposures changed 3-4 stops. That's too much of an exposure swing. Keeping the camera on auto allowed for good exposures of my main subject through-out the 500 frames.

Go out and have fun. Think stars, storms and streets. You'll be amazed at the world seen in a time-lapse sequence.