Monday, March 24, 2014

March Madness: Nature Photography

Collegiate basketball fans unite once again in front of their high definition TV's and in sports bars cheering on their teams and players.  Pre-game predictions, post-game analysis, office squares and water cooler verbal volleys resonate everywhere you turn.

In Michigan, it's really heating up indoors now that Michigan and Michigan State are in the Sweet Sixteen.  And that's about the only place you'll find heat in Michigan this year.  Our chilly, snow-laden winter has extended from November through today. March 23 was a not-so-sweet sixteen degrees this morning.

There are advantages to a late winter thaw in March.

Red-neck Grebe has a Catch
Nikon 7100, 150-500mm, f/9, 1/500 sec, ISO 250
Last week at Stoney Creek Metro Park, it was another bitingly cold morning.   A Red-necked Grebe delighted in frolicking and fishing in icy waters for his morning breakfast. As much of the lake was frozen, this pushed a diving duck into closer photography proximity.  A major score as a photographer and a new addition to my birding life list.

The teams that make it so the Sweet Sixteen don't get there with luck.  There are countless hours studying game plays, listening to the coach as he lays out the strategy, watching tapes of their opponent, athletic conditioning drills and time on the floor.  The players spend many hours training with their teammates and many hours individually honing their skills.

As evolving photographers, we commit to hours of studying, practice, time in the field and then back in front of our computers reviewing our game day in the field.  We play in conditions that sometimes other seriously think we have achieved our own level of  'madness.'

In the serious cold, our field time may be a little bit shorter.  This can be readily be replaced by reviewing 'game tapes' that can improve our editing skills.  We spent a lot of time snapping nature, let's ensure we bring out the beauty that captured our eye in the field.

Easy to find post processing tips can be accessed on You Tube.  Type in your topic and a whole host of videos will emerge.

Additionally, as a Lightroom 5 user, I recently discovered from another photographer friend, informative, easy to understand videos that have quickly enhanced my post-processing skills.  The George Jardine video tutorials contain 23 different segments concentrating on the tools in the Lightroom 5 Develop module.  You can easily select which one you want to review or playback again at any given time.  Time spent with these videos can help you produce a game winning image.

Female Wood Duck
Nikon 7100, Sigma 150-500mm, f/9, ISO 250, 1/800 sec
Today I drove back to Stoney Creek Metro Park only to find that the thaw had started from warmer temperatures this past week.  The Grebe moved on.

Initially, I planned to head back home.  If I had succumbed to my inner voice of "it's too cold to be out here,"  I would have missed another wonderful March Madness nature moment.

My game strategy for the day needed be altered.

I executed a course correction and headed to Paint Creek Trail in Rochester, Michigan.  Hoop there it was!  Moving among many mallards, was a sweet and beautiful female wood duck.  The equivalent of a three-point shot.

Happy Shooting and enjoy March Madness!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

'Rose-Colored' Lenses

The white snowy sights of winter fade away.  Snow piles melt into puddles, rooftops dribble with melting icicles and the soft, wet earth squishes underneath our feet. Overhead, blackbirds and robins begin cackling for spring mating partners.

Yes, I am ready for spring to burst on the scene.  Yesterday would not be fast enough as we just experienced another eight inch snowfall this week.  The frightful weather looks like we should be asking "how many days until Christmas" instead of "when is spring going to get here?"

As in previous winters, we plan to venture to El Dorado, Arkansas, a small, vibrant, historic oil boomtown, to visit my family.

A dose of Arkansas, The Natural State's sunshine, flowers, bluebirds await our return. Southern gardens any time of year are always awash with a variety of vibrant colors and textures.

But for a photographer, their spring time offers that little something extra.


Prissy-Pink Rose
Nikon 600, 105mm, f/9, ISO 160, 1/500

Roses of prissy-pink, scarlet and coral shout "come photograph me",  as almost any angle can offer delicious shades and tints.

It was this time of year, two years ago that I started photography.  And some of the first images were roses.

Do you need a macro lens to capture close-up details?  While I never leave home without my Nikon 105mm macro for close up work, I continue to produce colorful garden eye-candy images with my standard 24-85mm kit lens.

So how do you photograph a rose?

Mom's Coral Rose in the Secret Garden
Nikon 5100, 55mm,  f/8, 1/60sec

Come Photograph Me
Nikon 5100, 105mm, f/18, ISO 400, 1/30 sec
  1. From directly above, from a forty-five degree angle looking down, straight on the side and from underneath looking up a bit.  And then any other angle you want to try.  Get close, step back.  Capture a portion of the rose, the whole flower and then broaden the range to include multiple roses.  This is a playground, enjoy
  2. Using Aperture Priority mode, use multiple f/stops at each of the angles mentioned in #1.  The lower the f/stop number, the shallower the depth of field.  At an f/stop of 3.5, the tip of the petal or the center is in focus and the rest is softly muted.  At an f/stop of 16, more of the flower will be in focus, including some of the background.  Note to self:  always check for dead leaves, brown spots and other distractions before you start capturing images.  
  3. The Rule of Thirds may or may not be applied.  While it is a good guide, each rose and how you capture the image will determine the final product.
  4. Processing.  You've captured many roses.  The ones you know don't like, delete right away.  No reason to clutter memory.  Then take a another close look at your work.  Which ones do you want to process?  Select a few and start making your adjustments.  Lightroom 5  and other post processing software tools (including those provided with your camera) can bring your roses to life as you observed in the field or create dramatic art using your image as the base.

Spring is fast approaching.  Are you ready to see the world of roses through your lenses?  

Happy Shooting!

Monday, March 10, 2014

Photography "Therapy"

Yes, I've been one of those who needed 'retail therapy' from time to time. Those mindless moments where you escape deadlines and stress factors at work.  My need for 'retail' therapy whether in a mall or online has forever been replaced.

What has taken its place?  Photography Therapy!

"After the Meeting Walk"
Nikon 600, 105mm

This is probably not a new phrase, and I'm sure other photographers feel the same way.  Picture this, (no pun intended).  A prolonged week of meetings continues with direct reports assisting in presentations, proposals and personnel discussions. This is capped off with yet one more Friday afternoon conference call at 4:00 p.m.  Many of these discussions are held in a square, non-descript beige work cube, conference room or if we are lucky, an office with a view of other concrete buildings.

Sunrise, Before the Meetings Begin"
Nikon 600, 14-24mm

Don't get me wrong, I love my career.  However, I believe in working to live. Part of living is not thinking about work when you're not working.  That can be a bit difficult for many of us, particularly if we do not find and pursue our own interests and passions.

Weekend "Work"
Nikon 5100, Signa 150-500mm
Photography therapy launches me into the outdoors and mother nature's emotional whim.  Downtime is spent with azure waters absorbing sunset, sunrise landscapes and wildlife in the woods.  Or the essence of time is lost while capturing flowers and foliage with hues, shades and textures that make Sherwin Williams and Benjamin Moore Paints wince with envy.  

So how can you find your photography therapy?  

The answer is quite simple.  What do you like to do with your spare time?  

Do you enjoy cars, travel, your kids' sports, pets, fashion, cooking, gardening, baseball cards, fishing, or collecting?  If you answered yes to any of these and have considered 'photography' as something to do, you may have picked the place to get started.  

Borrow, rent or purchase a camera and start here.   Take many, many images looking up, down and straight on with your identified subject.  Download to your computer and see what you've created.  

Your therapy may have just begun.

And for those who still hunger for a bit of retail therapy.  No problem.  There are plenty of cameras (Nikon), bags (TenbaTamrac), lenses (Sigma LensesNikon lenses), tools (Lightroom 5, Nik Software), and how-to books available to shop for online (Amazon) and in local stores (Woodward Camera in Birmingham, MI, and a local retailer near you).


Thursday, March 6, 2014

Travel & Photography: What Do I Bring?

Seriously?  Anhinga in St. Petersburg
Nikon 5100, Sigma 150-500mm
An upcoming business trip to a location serving sunshine and eighty degrees is on the horizon.  It's
our biannual global meeting.  Many hours will be spent in a low-lit conference facility absorbing crucial facts, figures and plans while fighting air conditioning.

I get to leave Michigan's tundra to only to experience Florida's artificial chill.  Seriously? Pack a sweater?

All is not lost.

During the week, there will be moments of downtime.  Early morning will share rose-tinted sunrises, a walk through an aqua blue harbor complimented with sea-faring birds cackling in the breeze.

It's decision time.  The majority of us tend to stress over 'what to wear to the meeting' and other work events.

Photographers also have to balance, "What camera and lenses do I bring?"

Balance is Never Over-Rated, Willet on Jacksonville Beach, FL
Nikon 7100, Sigma 150-500
For me, checking lenses and cameras is simply out of the question.  Over a million miles of travel have reinforced the guideline of 'if it matters, don't check it or don't take it.'

There's the challenge of managing carry on size as only two items are allowed.  Weight from a personal injury standpoint is always a consideration.

For bird photography,  it's easy.  I'll need my Nikon 7100 DSLR and two lenses:  Nikon 70-300mm and my Sigma 150-500mm.  That's about eight pounds.

Do I really need both?  Yes.

While fellow business partners are still sleeping, I'll be wandering the harbor chasing sunrises.  For those, I prefer to use my full frame camera (Nikon 600).

Another decision point.  I can only take two more lenses, with four to choose from.  The process of elimination?  My 24-85mm lens would serve well as getting some wide angle images and also act as a general purpose lens - done.  The last lens is my 105mm macro, never travel without it.  The wide angle and portrait lenses will sadly remain resting at home.

Sunscreen Needed, white Ibis near St. Petersburg Pier
Nikon 5100, Sigma 150-500mm

Knowing the size of your plane is important.  It's an important guide in organizing and packing your carry-on.  How I pack for small regional planes versus jets are a bit different.

Regional carriers:  A small backpack and another small carry on bag.  Under-the-seat storage is small and the overhead storage space allows for small-to-midsize messenger or computer bags.  If you have a 20" or larger roller, it's getting checked at the gate.

I've recently discovered the Tenba Vector Backpack.  At two pounds, it'll hold a camera, laptop if needed, my small purse and a few lenses.  Everything inside is flexible and attaches with velcro.  Sensible, easy and the cadmium red is a nice change from the black bag.

My second, over the shoulder carry-on will hold my other camera and my large lens in their stock storage cases. Tenba's light weight collections of Vector Daypacks and the Discovery Daypacks come in weights of 1.8 to two pounds.

Their Discovery Daypacks are on my watch list.

Watch List....  yellow-crowned Heron in St. Petersburg Pier, Florida
Nikon 7100, 70-300mm
Jet carriers:  Like the regional carriers, I always wear a lightweight backpack because I'll need it when I'm going out to shoot.  However, with jets I can take a few more lenses.  My Tamrac Expedition bag is huge, and holds most of my gear.  Fully loaded it's a hefty thirty pounds.  When my husband travels with me, this bag is going with us.  It's perfect for road photography trips.  At home this bag keeps my gear safely stored and organized.

When I'm solo, I use the Tenba Vector Backpack and pack the heavy lenses, cameras in storage cases inside a 21" Samsonite lightweight spinner.

What about work attire?  Not a lot of decisions needed and definitely not as much fun to pack.

Happy Shooting!