Category Archives: Technique

Dinosaurs Alive! Assiniboine Park Zoo, Winnipeg

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More images from the life-sized dinosaurs at Dinosaurs Alive! at Winnipeg’s Assiniboine Park Zoo.  These are great for practicing wildlife photography technique.  They move very slowly and don’t require long telephoto lenses.  I treated these like any wildlife close up or environmental portrait, just without my usual long lenses.  In fact, most were shot between 16 and 70 mm on a full frame camera.  Lighting and exposure can be a little tricky because of the midday sun angle, but any modern dslr or mirrorless camera can recover highlights and pull out any shadow detail.  So if you can, shoot in RAW and you will end up with some pretty unusual images.

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Whirlpool, Whiteshell Provincial Park, Manitoba

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A very long exposure of the whirlpool of flowing water at Rainbow Falls in Whiteshell Provincial Park, Manitoba.  This was slowed by about 12 stops using a very strong Neutral Density filter and polarizer for a 30 second exposure.  Several Labrador Retrievers were in the water at the time, but because they remained in motion disappeared from the frame with only a slight photoshop touch up to remove their ghosting.

Quick draw photography

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This is one of those fleeting moment shots it can pay to be ready for.  If your fortunate to have a camera with custom presets like the Canon 5D mark lll or similiar you can program one of the 3 presets ready for action shots like this.  I really set it up for quick tracking images of my dogs, so 400-800 ISO, servo-tracking for focus, a wide open F-stop of 2.8 etc.  Your settings may vary of course, depending on lenses, personal preference etc.  But it can mean the difference of quickly changing from still single shot landscape mode to fast tracking action shots in a single click of the dial.  This was shot onboard a foggy ferry crossing of Lake Huron, Ontario.

One room school in HDR

20130511-_E6A1614_HDRIt took me years to finally warm up to high dynamic range photography.  I still use this technique very sparingly and only when it really needs it.  I still see far too many cartoonish, overly saturated images that to me seem way over processed.  But when faced with extreme conditions like the image above, it can be a great technique if not overdone.  Other then blending multiple exposures by hand there is no way to capture the deep shadows and very bright window light in this image of an old schoolhouse.  This was shot with a tilt shift lens for perspective correction and a 5 shot HDR.

Lake Winnipeg waves in motion, Loni Beach, Gimli, Manitoba

Three different shots of Lake Winnipeg’s wave action, shot near Loni Beach and Gimli Beach.  These were all done using a panning technique, although this can be somewhat replicated in photoshop, anything I can do in camera and not behind the computer is always preferable.  I spend too much time sitting at the computer as it is.   Besides I think the results are better and more natural when captured on location.  Numbers 1 and 3 are horizontal pans.  Number 2 more of an experimental wobbling of the tripod, but the clouds and water turned out interesting.

Summer holidays at the cottage, Lake Winnipeg, Gimli, Manitoba

Gimli Beach on Lake Winnipeg, an hour’s drive north of Winnipeg.

With my wife’s nephew in for a visit from Thunder Bay, Ontario, and him suffering from extreme boredom of hanging out with a couple 40 somethings, we decided to venture out to a friend’s cottage in Gimli.  More specifically Loni Beach, just north of the resort town.  The day trip was short, since we had left Wallace and Angus at home and needed to get back to them before too late in the evening.  Rather then my usual landscape and nature images, I got a chance to photograph what for many sums up and depicts summer vacation and cottage life.  That would be kids having fun in the good old outdoors.

This was as close as I got to having all three still at the same time.

A couple of real hams, no problems getting these two to pose, but the dark lighting proved a bit challenging for kids that don’t stay still for long.  Even shooting with the very fast canon 85L nearly wide open at f1.4/1.6 I had trouble freezing the action at iso400/800.  Yes, I know I could up the ISO but rarely go to 1600, unless really necessary.

Little Kahuna

I’ve written before how as a photographer you can get fixated on technically perfect images.  Which of course as a pro is a necessity, but it can also impede the creative aspect of photography.  I know I can be guilty of this, just have a look back at one of my earlier post entitled ‘The Rule Breaker’, with the motion blurred image of the moose from Jasper National Park.  Well here is another example.  A slow shutter speed, out of focus shot, very difficult to capture.  Shot at f1.4 at ISO 800, with the slow focusing 85L and full frame Canon 5D mark II.  Not an action or sports photographer’s combination for sure, but it does capture the movement and context well.

Loni Beach, Manitoba on Lake Winnipeg

Man’s best friend, The Forks, Winnipeg

Two best friends sharing a park bench at The Forks in downtown Winnipeg.  I really like this image, not only because of this wonderful dog, but the fact he and his owner are glancing at each other as they watch passers-by.  Photography is much about timing and this is a prime example of that fleeting moment that can disappear very quickly.  The sun also manages to filter through the trees creating a nice catch light in this beautiful Golden Retriever’s eye at just the right moment.

Canon 85L/1.2, are the pricey primes worth the hefty price tag.

Debates over lens choice rage all over the internet.  Normally I don’t get involved with this sort of thing, but recently it got me thinking about my own choices.   First off let me just say, I truly believe the photographer is primarily responsible for the quality of his/her work.  Yes, I know it’s a cliche’, but it is true.  That’s not to say that equipment isn’t important, of course it is, but far too many photographers in my opinion become almost obsessive about there own equipment choices.  Like anybody I like shiny new things and wonder if the next great gadget is going to improve the quality of my work.

When the 85L mark II came out I was already the proud owner of a perfectly good canon 85/1.8.  A terrific fast lens, with a very attractive price.   After much consideration I decided to upgrade to the L version.  At roughly five times the price, it is a major investment.  So, are fast primes like the 85L, 50L, worth it?   Only you can decide, but here is my take.

The 85L is superior to my original 85/1.8 in image quality, I have no doubt, when used properly wide open it can produce stunningly vibrant images, that pop off the page.  Shots in near dark situations, unattainable by other lenses, can be made in available light.  This lens coupled with the 5D mark II, make an awesome combination.  But the 85L is certainly not perfect.  Much has been made of the slow focus speed, which really doesn’t bother me.  After all this is designed as a portrait/creative lens and that is exactly how I use it.  The 85/1.8 kills it in focus speed, by the way.  The 85L also has a pretty long minimum focus distance, something to consider if that is important to you.  It can also produce some serious purple fringing, with tricky lighting, especially back lit subjects.

The fringing can be pretty severe wide open, requiring some post processing work beyond the fringe removal tools in Lightroom.   But, I knew this in advance and the 85/1.8 and my 35/1.4 also exhibit some serious fringing.

Shooting wide open on the fly or candid’s can be tricky, forget focus and re-composing, depth of field is so shallow often only covering the eye lashes or single eye.   Slight subject movement or photographer sway will challenge you with shots at F1.2.  With the 5D, I use the central focus point, and have become much more aware of my holding technique.  Others report they have had good results in Servo mode.  I suppose the focus system on a 1 series may be of some use in this situation.

So I’ve been blabbing on about the deficiencies of the 85L, but when you spend some time learning the lens’ intricacies it can give amazing results.  Is it worth the price over the 85/1.8?  To me it is, of course I have to say that because I laid out the cash already.  But this is not a justification to myself for the purchase.  The 85L is really a niche lens, but what it does well, I believe it delivers.  I look at it like this; if you don’t plan on shooting between F1.2 – F2.8 then why bother, any 70-200 will serve you and be more versatile.  Then there is the 135L, also worth a serious look.  If 85 is your focal length, the 85/1.8 is definitely better bang for the buck and is an excellent lens in it’s own right.  It’s much cheaper, focus’s faster, lighter, and is plenty sharp.  I’m covering only Canon here, but Leica, Nikon etc. all have similar offerings.

On a side note, just because you can shoot at F1.2 doesn’t mean every shot should be taken at such a shallow depth of field.  Use the ability creatively.

This is one man’s opinion and is not meant to be a review of the 85L.  Keep in mind I only care about real world results, I don’t pixel peep and don’t follow MTF charts.

Dramatic Photography with backlighting and the silhouette

Sunset over Mt. Rundle, Banff National Park, Alberta

Often as photographers we are fortunate to get those magical lighting situations, where the sky or background is stunningly lit, but the foreground is deep in the shadows.   This is when it’s time to really concentrate on the silhouette or backlit shot.  Sure if it’s a landscape you could bracket, or blend multiple exposures, or create a HDR image, but I often revert to a silhouette of the foreground, particularly with people or any movement in the image.  Silhouettes can be very dramatic, often creating a powerful visual statement.   So remember to expose for the background and give it a go.

This is a shot of a group of birdwatchers during fall migration, at Fort Whyte Centre in Winnipeg.  It was extremely dark and this shot was actually taken handheld at an aperture of 1.2, fast enough to freeze the birds in motion against the evening sky, but still include the birdwatchers in the foreground.

Woman strolling a Lake Winnipeg Pier at sunrise.

Fall harvest on the Canadian Prairie at sunset, near St. Leon, Manitoba.

The ‘Rule Breaker’

When this female moose ran by on a foggy fall morning, in Jasper National Park, I fired off a quick shot.   When I checked my settings, I was instantly disappointed.  Shutter speed was only 1/25 not nearly fast enough to freeze motion, the histogram showed blown highlights and I only managed a single frame.  We went about our morning exploring the shoreline of Maligne Lake, and getting a few interesting images.  When I returned home and viewed this on a large monitor, it began to grow on me.  It seems that when I shot this image I was fortunate to have panned along with the moose, creating a decent motion blurred effect and the head was still relatively sharp.  A skill I don’t often employ, something a Formula 1 race car photographer would be particularly good at.

As a professional photographer, who submits images to stock agencies, it’s very easy to get fixated on the technically perfect image.  That’s not to say you shouldn’t understand as much as possible about the technical aspects of photography, but to me photography is more a craft than anything else.  Part technical and part artistic, of course the latter is always subjective, and you will never stop learning the details.  Many great photographers push the limits, or ‘break the rules’ to produce some awe-inspiring images.  Many won’t tell you how many of their images are absolute failures.  I have had my fair share, that’s for sure, but on this one I got lucky.