Brian Wancho technology executive and photographer

27Sep/12

Three Days in Kauai – Day Two

Note: This is the second in a three part series documenting a quick trip to the island of Kauai in July of 2012. If you haven't already done so, please read Day One.

Tubing

Day two was scheduled as a relatively relaxing day when compared to day one and day three. The day begin at Kauai Backcountry Adventures where we prepared to go tubing. This company offers a variety of rugged adventures on the island. We selected tubing because it offered a relaxing way to see some of the interior parts of the island.

After a brief orientation, we loaded into what appeared to be soviet-era personnel carriers and headed in to the backcountry. On the way to the tubing launch point we stopped at a scenic overlook that gave a good view of Mount Wai'ale'ale.

Day 2: Mount Wai'ale'ale

This is the wettest spot on earth with over 450 inches of rainfall annually. It is almost always covered in clouds, so it is rare to actually see the mountain.

The guides did a good job pointing out various natural features along the way. They also showed us a few locations where scenes from some movies were filmed.

The canals were constructed to divert water to the sugar cane fields. The plantation is no longer operating and is used for a variety of purposes including experimental farming things like genetically modified corn.

Day 2: Tubing the Canals

We entered the water at the launch point via a small ramp. The water is very cold, but the freezing sensation quickly subsides.

The canal is mostly very slow moving and relaxing. The canal travels through several tunnels along the way. The tunnels were carved out of the rock when the canals were built.

The tour company provided helmets (complete with light) and gloves to help keep us from injuries caused by collisions with the edges of the canal or the tunnels.

Day 2: Tubing the Canals

The guides instructed everyone to leave their lights off as we entered the final tunnel. They told us that it was because the lights would attract moths which would attract bats, but later confessed that they just wanted us to experience the tunnel without light.

After we completed the ride, we boarded the vehicles and headed to the lunch area. This area was a picnic area next to a river that feeds a lagoon. The entire area overflowing with green.

Day 2: Lunch in a Lush Valley

The tree in the picture above caught my eye because it was covered in moss and ferns.

After lunch we got back in the vehicles and headed back to the starting point.

Wailua Falls

We had a little time before we needed to be at our next activity, so we took the short drive to see Wailua Falls. This waterfall currently consists of twin falls which empty into a large pool below. The road is at the upper level, so we were able to view the scene from above.

Day 2: Wailua Falls

There is a trail that leads to the pool below, but time didn't permit us to make the journey.

Na Pali Sunset Dinner Cruise

Our next activity was a sunset dinner cruise along the Na Pali coast. We select a tour from Holo Holo Charters.

The boat departed from the southern edge of the island and quickly powered around to the Na Pali coast near the northwest portion. Once the boat reached Kalalau beach, it turned around and slowly made its way back along the coast. The turnaround point is within sight of the area we had hiked the day before.

Day 2: Cruising the Na Pali Coast

If you look closely in the photo above, you can see tents on the beach.

During the next portion of the tour, we slowly cruised along the coastline as the captain pointed out features along the way.

For the final part of the tour, we made our way back to the south side of the island in time to watch the sun set and have a champagne toast.

Day 2: Sunset Cruise

Continue to Day Three

 

Filed under: Photography, Travel
6Sep/12

Three Days in Kauai – Day One

Note: This is the first in a series of posts documenting a recent trip I took to the island of Kauai. It was a very short trip, but my wife and I managed to pack our time there full of activities as we celebrated our wedding anniversary. Hopefully these posts will offer some help to anyone else who is interested in taking a quick trip to Kauai.

We started our day at the Waipouli Beach Resort. We had a few minutes to walk to the beach before we started our first activity of the day.

Day 1: Morning on Waipouli Beach

The beach was small, but stunning. The weather on this side of the island tends to always be windy, so the beaches are not very appealing to tourists. This is good for photographs.

Snorkeling

Our first activity of the day was snorkeling. We selected a morning tour provided by Kauai Z Tourz. It launched from the south side of the island near an area that is know for sea turtle activity.

The photo below was taken at our launch point in Kukuiula Boat Harbor.

Day 1: Kukuiula Boat Harbor

The tour company used a 24 foot inflatable zodiac boat to take us out to the dive point.

An underground cave at this location provides the ideal habitat for the sea turtles. They live in the cave and frequently surface for air. At any one time there were several turtles on the surface and a few in the process of surfacing or diving. The turtles are not aggressive at all, which allowed us to get very close to them.

Day 1: Snorkeling with Turtles

After our snorkeling adventure we spent a little time in Waimea eating lunch and shopping. Before we left we stopped by the Waimea State Recreational Pier.

Day 1: Waimea State Recreation Pier

Hiking the Pihea Trail

Our next activity was a hike along the Pihea trail. First, a little background on the layout of Kauai. The roads on the island allow access to nearly the entire shoreline with the exception of the northwestern section. The roads are shaped like a horseshoe with the gap on the northwest side of the island. Several State Parks and Natural Area Reserves exist in this area, including Waimea Canyon. To travel from the western edge of this section to the other side, you have to drive all the way around the island. At the shoreline, this area is the rocky cliffs known as the Na Pali Coast.

Waimea Canyon Panoramic The road to the trailhead follows the edge of Waimea Canyon.
(Click to view larger

There are several hiking trails that begin at the end of the road on either side of the natural area. The trail that starts on the Western edge and heads East is called the Pihea Trail.

Day 1: Pu‘u O Kila Lookout

The trail starts at the Pu‘u O Kila Lookout at the end of Highway 550. The elevation at the location in the photo above is about 3,750 feet above the ocean below.

Day 1: Hiking the Pihea Trail

The trail starts out fairly easy with just a few moderate areas. The weather changed dramatically several times during the hike, ranging from sunny to cloudy and rainy. It's best to be prepared for all types of weather on this hike.

As we continued, we noticed that the people coming the other direction were very muddy - some were covered in mud. We joked to each other that maybe those people just didn't know how to avoid the puddles.

As we progressed, we realized that it wasn't the skill level of the other hikers that left them covered in mud - it was the difficulty of the trail.

We followed the trail all the way to the Pihea Lookout. Unfortunately, cloud cover at this point made it impossible to capture the entire view.

Pihea Vista

We decided to back track a bit and take a fork in the trail that we had passed. This fork took us to the Alaka‘i Swamp Trail. This trail leads inland into the valley opposite the shoreline. The terrain changes dramatically from cliffs to tropical swamp. Much of the trail is made of wood planks that are installed above the swamp below.

Day 1: Alakai Swamp Trail
We followed this path for about an hour until it began a series of switchbacks descending into a valley. At this point we determined that we would run out of daylight if we went any further and we knew that daylight would be required to traverse some of the more treacherous sections of the trail on the way back. We decided to turn around.

We made it back to the start of the trail just as it was beginning to get dark. Our shoes and legs were covered with the markings of an adventure.

Day 1: End of the Trail

View the photos from this post on Flickr.

Continue to Day Two

Filed under: Photography, Travel
29Jun/12

How to Photograph Fireworks

Here are a few simple tips for capturing stunning images of fireworks this 4th of July.

Street Festival Fireworks

Required:

  • Sturdy tripod
  • Camera that will allow manual focus and manual exposure

Optional:

  • Remote shutter release or exposure delay mode

Configure your camera for standard long exposure photos. This includes the following settings:

  • Base ISO (100 or 200)
  • Auto-ISO off
  • Long Exposure Noise Reduction (if available and necessary)
  • Flash off (shouldn't have to say this)

Compose your shot to include a reference point to give the fireworks context. Photos of fireworks in a black sky are not as visually striking as photos that include buildings or land features. If you are setting up prior to the show, estimate the way the fireworks will fit in the composition of the scene. To keep things interesting, place the main point of interest off-center.

Set the focus point on the object nearest to where the fireworks will be displayed and then turn off auto-focus. This will prevent your camera from searching for focus each time you press the shutter.

Using spot metering, set your exposure based on the land features. Start with something like f/10 and 20 seconds at ISO 100 (10 seconds at ISO 200) and adjust from there. Once exposure is set, lock it so it won't automatically change based on the brightness of the show. If you are relatively close to the show, you may need adjust your aperture to f/16 or f/22 to make sure the entire scene is in focus. Adjust the shutter speed as needed to get proper exposure.

As the show starts, watch the launch point for flashes of light as the fireworks are launched. Start your exposure when the fireworks are launched so you can capture the light trails given off by the fireworks as they climb through the air. If your timing is right, you should be able to capture the launch and the explosion.

Street Festival Fireworks

As the show progresses, check your results and make adjustments to exposure, composition, and focus as necessary. Make changes to your focal length and switch your orientation from horizontal to vertical just to keep things interesting.

Post Processing Tips

Depending on your camera, you may need to use some or all of these post processing tips:

  • Increased black level (this helps remove smoke and provide contrast)
  • Noise reduction - especially in dark areas
  • Sharpening - to bring out details in explosions
Because fireworks are captured as thin lines of light, make sure you size and sharpen your image based on its intended use. Otherwise, the fireworks will appear mushy instead of sharp.

View more images from 2011 on Flickr

View images from 2012 on Flickr

Filed under: Photography, Tips
27Jun/12

Underwater Photography

In preparation for an upcoming trip where I will have an opportunity to go on a snorkeling tour, I purchased a waterproof case for my camera.

There are a range of solutions for waterproof camera housings ranging in cost from  just under $100 to well over $1,000. When compared to the high cost solutions, the low cost solutions are rated for shallower use, do not offer as much access to the camera controls, and are less reliable. For my purpose, the low cost solution works well.

DiCAPac WP-S10 Waterproof Camera Case

After doing a little research, I selected the DiCAPac WP-S10. The product is essentially a thick plastic bag that is shaped like a camera. It has a finger insert for operating the shutter and two for operating a zoom lens.

The bag is plenty big to fit the bulky D700 as well as the smaller D90. It comes with foam inserts that can be used to position the camera in the bag so the lens lines properly. I found that putting two inserts below the camera and another folded in half on the left side worked well for the D700.

My initial plan was to use the case with the D700 and the 24-70 zoom lens. While the lens fits well in the case, the finger inserts are too far forward to properly operate the zoom ring. Additionally, because the lens extends slightly when moving above or below 50mm, and there is no zoom lock switch, I found it difficult to keep the lens set at anything other than 50mm. That being the case, I decided to just use the 50mm f/1.4 prime and not worry about the extra effort of controlling the focal length of the lens. I installed the lens with its hood to keep it from bumping against the front of the case.

Before I put the camera in the water for the first time, I followed the instructions on the case and tested it in the bathtub. Two hand weights played the part of the camera and helped keep most of the bag under water during the testing. After about 20 minutes under water I opened the case and found it to be completely dry.

Camera Controls

The bag makes it difficult to control the camera's settings once it is all sealed up. I usually rely on my ability to reach the buttons and both command dials when I shoot, so some adjustments would be necessary.

The finger insert that is used to activate the shutter can also be used to turn the front command dial with some difficulty. The rear dial, however, is unusable once the camera is in the bag. Other buttons and switches are difficult to use as well, so I recommend getting your settings right before you seal it up.

For me, pre-setting some shooting options means that I had to give up on flexibility and take advantage of more of the automatic settings  that the camera offers. Lack of access to the rear command dial throws manual exposure out as an option. Lack of easy access to the focus ring on the lens throws manual focus out as well. Other controls I was concerned about included metering modes and AF modes.

I normally use spot metering along with single-point continuous focus tied to the rear AF-ON button. This allows me to select a focus point, meter it, and adjust as needed. Sometimes I grab the metering information from one point in the scene and then move the focus point to another to set focus. None if this is easy with this bag.

For my first few shots, I switched to Matrix Metering and Auto Area AF mode. These settings mean the camera will attempt to set the exposure based on what it thinks is best for the shot and it will choose the focus points automatically as well.

After a few shots, I worked my way back to spot metering and single point AF. I grew more comfortable with using the camera's buttons through the case, so I was able to move the focus point to where I needed it to be.

Waterproof CameraNikon D700 - ISO 200 - f/4 - 1/8000 sec.
Nikkor 50mm f/1.4

 Technique

One thing I didn't think about is how shooting underwater would affect my technique. I have certain breathing patterns that I've adopted over time which don't work well under water. Apparently, I like to take a deep breath just before I push the shutter release.

The case also made adjustments to my holding technique necessary. I felt like I had much less of a firm grip on the camera and that resulted in difficulty in framing shots.

Waterproof CameraNikon D700 - ISO 200 - f/2.8 - 1/8000 sec.
Nikkor 50mm f/1.4

I think, at least in murky water, the big advantage of the waterproof case is the ability to get near-water shots that would otherwise be very risky. When I previously took pictures of my kids using an inflatable water slide, I avoided some shots because I didn't want to get the camera too wet. With this case, that is no longer a concern.

White Balance

I found it very challenging to get the white balance correct. There is no setting that will work for all photos because the white balance changes based on the clarity of the water and how deep  you are.

Underwater White Balance

The image above shows what the camera thought was a good white balance next to the adjusted image. I found a value around 8300K with a tint adjustment toward magenta worked well, but I'm not sure I am settled on the final result. I may risk it and take a gray card underwater once to get a reference shot.

Image Quality Impact

The case affects image quality in a few ways. The biggest problem I had was keeping the edges of the lens housing out of the picture. Many of my shots had a dark area in the upper left where the lens housing had intruded on the photo. Because the housing is built to expand to accommodate lenses up to 6 inches, shorter lenses can cause photos to suffer from this issue.

The other problems I had related to the impact of the extra piece of glass in front of the lens. It seems to me that the photos are a little low on contrast when compared to photos taken without the case. I'm not certain this is directly related to the case itself or if it is a function of the underwater conditions or the lens that I was using. More certain, however, is the impact of the water drops and marks that appeared on the front element. They can be easily washed off, so it isn't a huge problem - just something to watch out for. I also noticed a cloudy film had appeared on the front element after a little while. I'm certain it is related to the chemicals in the water. It contributed to a cloudy appearance to many of the photos. Like the water stains, it was easily removed.

Conclusion

I found the DiCAPac WP-S10 to be a reliable option for waterproofing my camera. It doesn't have many of the features of the professional cases, but it provides a cost effective solution that gets the job done. I hope to capture many interesting images near and under the water now that I won't have to worry about getting the camera wet.

Waterproof CameraNikon D700 - ISO 200 - f/5.6 - 1/2000 sec.
Nikkor 50mm f/1.4

View more images on Flickr

Filed under: Photography, Reviews, Tips
21May/12

The UTEP Pick Axe Sculpture – Again

I've tried to photograph this sculpture three or four times already. On my previous attempts, I arrived too late to get nicely balanced sunlight and artificial light. On my most recent attempt I arrived about half an hour before sunset so I was able to get some much better photos.

UTEP Pick AxeNikon D700 - ISO 200 - f/8 - 1/25 sec.
Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8 @ 20mm

The photo above was taken with the amazing 14-24 f/2.8 lens. This lens allowed me to be very close to the subject yet still capture the surroundings. Anything shot at such a wide angle will exhibit stretching near the edges, but I think that adds to this shot by pulling the viewer in to it.

As I waited for the sun to set I was internally debating whether this was the best location or not. Part of my goal was to capture light trails from passing cars as it became darker. On my previous visits to this location I had identified four potential locations it could be shot from. The one in the photo above was appealing to me because it was at a 45 degree angle to the top edge of the sculpture. The viewer can see both the top of the pick axe and the side at the same time. Other angles do not provide this benefit.

UTEP Pick AxeNikon D700 - ISO 200 - f/20 - 15 sec.
Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 55mm

Eventually, I decided to go across the street. I still shot the sculpture from the same angle, but from further away. At this time I switched to the 24-70 lens. One thing I don't like about this angle is the One Way sign as well as the other signs in the lower right. On the plus side, this position allowed me to capture lights from cars as they passed by.

I tightened the aperture down to f/20 for the purpose of allowing me to keep the shutter open long enough to capture some light trails. I could have accomplished the same thing with a neutral density filter - if I had remembered to bring it.

Side note: Less than one in 10 cars that passed by knew how to navigate the traffic circle.

UTEP Pick AxeNikon D700 - ISO 200 - f/16 - 15 sec.
Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 55mm

As the sky darkened and artificial lights turned on, the scene changed significantly. When setting exposure I found it was helpful to meter near the windows on the bookstore in the background. This helped me pick the right settings to get a well exposed scene.

After the sun fully set and I was satisfied that I had a few good captures from the my current location, I walked over to the nearby parking garage and climbed almost to the top floor.

UTEP Pick AxeNikon D700 - ISO 200 - f/10 - 20 sec.
Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 140mm

I wish I had started out in this location. This is the composition I was looking for.

I switched to the 70-200 lens, to make up for the distance I had moved from the subject. This has the side effect of making the subject and background appear closer to each other than they would if I was closer to the subject using a shorter focal length.

The next time I get a chance to photograph this sculpture I will start from my final location and I also hope to take a few photos from the pedestrian bridge seen in the background in the image above.

View the set on Flickr

Selected images are available for purchase on ElPasoStockPhotos.com

Filed under: Photography, Tips
17May/12

Food and Event Photography – Mother’s Day Brunch

I took some photos of the Mother's day brunch at The El Paso Club for use on their facebook page and website. Here are some samples along with my notes on how I approached this task.

My approach involved making several passes through the event with a different focus and a different lens. Each pass would attempt to capture a different aspect of the event and the food that was being served.

Step 1: Wide Angle/Environment

I started with the 14-24mm f/2.8 lens. This lens has the ability to capture the scene in an entire room at once. The images it produces can be very dramatic or they can look cartoonish due to the wide field of view.

El Paso Club Mother's DayNikon D700 - ISO 200 - f/8 - 1/5 sec.
Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8 @ 19mm

The first thing you may notice is that the people on the other side of the table are blurred. This is due to the slow shutter speed, which is a function of the aperture setting of f/8 and the amount of available light.

Because of the slow shutter speed, I had to use a tripod. Another notable setting was the use of Exposure Delay Mode which delays the exposure a bit after the mirror flips up to minimize the impact of vibration on the image.

Chilled Salmon
Nikon D700 - ISO 200 - f/8 - .4 sec.
Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8 @ 24mm

A characteristic of this focal length is that it shows you the environment of your subject. Not only do you see the fish on the platter, you see the space behind it.

Step 2: People/Actions

The goal of the second pass was to capture service as it happened. I was looking for scenes of people getting their food, chefs making it, etc.

For this pass I used a combination of the 24-70mm f/2.8 and the 50mm f/1.4. The 24-70mm was useful to capture scenes that were happening quickly because I could adjust the focal length quickly.

El Paso Club Mother's DayNikon D700 - ISO 2000 - f/2.8 - 1/60 sec.
Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 62mm

Some notable changes to the settings during this phase are: Increased ISO to 2000, opened aperture to f/2.8, set shutter speed at 1/60. Now that I moved from using a tripod to handheld, I had to compensate for the need to have a faster shutter speed. The combination of the wider aperture and higher ISO make the faster shutter speed possible.

SeafoodNikon D700 - ISO 320 - f/2.8 - 1/60 sec.
Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 70mm

The wider aperture of f/2.8 (as compared to the first pass at f/8) allows me to control the focus of the viewer by showing them what is important while also giving a sense of context. In the photo above you see that the seafood in the foreground is the focus, but the people in the background and the hand on the right let you know that this is a real event and not just a staged photo of food.

Cropping the scene with the heads of the people in the background was intentional. Their identity is not important to the scene and they likely did not attend this event with the expectation that their face would appear in promotional items for the club.

Step 3: Details

For this step I used the 50mm f/1.4 exclusively. My goal here was to capture some of the details of the presentation at the event. I wanted to focus on an item and have everything else be blurred out. The wide aperture on the 50mm lens makes that possible.

Fruit SculptureNikon D700 - ISO 200 - f/1.4 - 1/200 sec.
Nikkor 50mm f/1.4

The shallow depth of field allows me to control what you pay attention to in the scene. Even the tray in front of the fruit is out of focus in this image shot at f/1.4. Additionally, the wider aperture allowed me to put the ISO back down to 200 and still get a shutter speed of 1/200 sec.

DessertNikon D700 - ISO 200 - f/1.4 - 1/100 sec.
Nikkor 50mm f/1.4

The photo above is another example of how an extremely shallow DOF allows the image to communicate a sense of priority to objects while still leaving the subject in context. You know that the objects in the foreground are forks, lined up like they're ready to conquer that chocolate cake, but their shape and shiny-ness doesn't compete with the cake because they are out of focus.

El Paso Club Mother's DayNikon D700 - ISO 2500 - f/1.4 - 1/60 sec.
Nikkor 50mm f/1.4

View the entire set on The El Paso Club's Facebook page
Selected images on Flickr

Filed under: Photography, Tips
11May/12

Using Tonal Contrast (Clarity) on a Portrait

Tonal Contrast in Nik Software's Color Efex Pro is similar to the Clarity adjustment in Lightroom. It adjusts the image by adjusting the contrast in the three areas of shadows, midtones, and highlights. I believe the clarity adjustment in Lightroom is mostly focused on midtone contrast.

When used in a moderate to heavy way, this adjustment has the potential to make an image almost HDR-like. This is why I frequently use this adjustment on landscape images.

I had never considered using it on a portrait until I shot the image below.

The texture in the brick is a little flat and boring. I wanted to see if adding some midtone contrast would help.

I was really pleased with the results. The bricks on the wall and ground have much more texture to them. The subject's hair now has more highlights and the photo has a much better feeling of depth.

I think I'll be using this adjustment much more frequently in the future.

Filed under: Photography, Tips
8May/12

High School Senior Portrait Session

Here are a few photos from a recent shoot with a high school senior.

We started out in the studio with some traditional cap and gown portraits.

Senior SessionNikon D700 - ISO 200 - f/8 - 1/160 sec.
Nikkor 50mm f/1.4

Lighting was as follows:

  • Key: Rectangular soft box camera right
  • Fill: Umbrella camera left and high - closer to the side of the subject.
  • Background: Gelled flash behind subject

All triggered using the Cactus V5 system.

After the formal photos were out of the way we had a little fun with the subject and his guitar. Here is one of the more dramatic photos.

Senior SessionNikon D700 - ISO 200 - f/8 - 1/160 sec.
Nikkor 50mm f/1.4

Lighting was similar to the first portrait except the gel on the background flash was switched to a deep brown. If I had the chance to do this again, I would have added a light for his hair and I would have ironed the backdrop.

For the second part of the session we met downtown to get some more creative shots.

Senior SessionNikon D700 - ISO 200 - f/3.2 - 1/200 sec.
Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 120mm

Lighting for this shot was an umbrella camera right. The sun to the right of the frame and near the horizon, so it provided good edge lighting as you can see in the subject's hair. The difficulty I had with this shot was controlling the reflection from the flash coming off the body of the guitar.

As the sun was setting we moved toward a nice brick wall.

Senior Session
Nikon D700 - ISO 200 - f/3.2 - 1/200 sec.
Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 90mm

The light here is a combination of natural sunlight masked by a tree with a flash in an umbrella camera left. This scenario caused two different colors of light, but I think the effect is nice. If I had to do it over again, I'd probably try using a gold umbrella instead of a white one.

Overall, I think the session went well and we got some good photos for the student and his family.

View the entire set on Flickr

 

 

Filed under: Photography
28Apr/12

Downtown El Paso at Night from the Roof of City Hall

El Paso from many years ago

Have you seen this photo?

I was starting to notice the same old photo of downtown El Paso on various websites and on email newsletters. While I thought it was a flattering image of downtown El Paso, it is obvious that it is very old and it has become distorted along the way. I decided that I wanted to recreate this photo.

The first task was determining where it was taken from. It's obviously from a high vantage point above most of the buildings. By looking at the arrangement of the buildings as well as considering the building that is missing, it became obvious that the photo was taken from the roof of City Hall.

The next task was getting permission to access the roof one evening to take the photo. That turned out to be easier than I expected. A few emails between me and a few people at the city yielded the permission I needed.

I watched the weather for a few days and picked a day that had high potential for low winds. Clear skies or partly cloudy skies would be ideal as well. I invited my coworker, Tony Casas to come along for the adventure.

In the equipment department, I packed everything I had. My plan was to run two cameras at the same time so I could double my potential number of exposures.

We arrived at City Hall at about 6:40 and were promptly greeted by the security guards as we had been instructed. One of them quickly showed us to the roof access door and left us. When we got to the roof, we examined the various potential locations from where we could shoot. One unexpected kink in the plan was the height of the wall that surrounds the roof. It was taller than 2 of our 3 tripods. We were able to find a way to use the window-washer mounting posts to boost the height of our tripods. For me, this meant my camera was higher than my head - which presented a challenge with camera operation.

Tony took this photo of me. I never looked down.

You can see from the photo above that there is no way for me to see through the viewfinder. This was the first time I've ever used the live view feature. It took me a little while to figure out how to get it to display all the information I needed.

Because of the difficulty we had getting our tripods set-up and the breeze, I decided that I wouldn't use my second camera. I didn't want to see the wind knock it over and watch it crash to the ground 12 floors below.

In addition to recreating the photo at the top of this post, I wanted to capture some panoramic images. This required that the camera was as level as possible so the resulting images would be straight. I found the virtual horizon feature on the D700 useful, but not critical.

As we waited for the sun to get closer to the horizon I took a few photos to check framing and exposure.

There are three potential shooting times during this time of the day (names I made up based on the color):

  • Gold
  • Blue
  • Black

For each of these periods my goal was to shoot one wide, one tight, and one panoramic image. The required exposure times dramatically increase during the late part of the Blue period and during the Black period. My original plan was to use two cameras during this time to capture more photos, but the wind and tripod difficulties made me scratch that plan.

Gold

Downtown El PasoNikon D700 - ISO 200 - f/10 - 1/80 sec.
Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 27mm

I found that the 24-70mm lens gave me the appropriate range of field of view to create wide as well as tight pictures.

Downtown El PasoNikon D700 - ISO 200 - f/8 - 1/80 sec.
Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 70mm

I selected a spot on the roof that would allow me to see a significant amount of the County County Courthouse. The tradeoff was the Abraham Chavez Theater would be more difficult to include in the images.

Downtown El Paso - PanoramaNikon D700 - ISO 200 - f/10 - 1/60 sec.
Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 32mm
Cylindrical Projection

Each of the panoramic shots is a series of 3 to 6 images stitched together using Hugin. With images with this wide of a field of view there are tradeoffs. The image above uses a Cylindrical Projection method that keeps buildings in proportion at the expense of horizontal lines. Notice how San Francisco Street curves near the edges of the image.

Downtown El Paso - Panoramic - RectilinearNikon D700 - ISO 200 - f/10 - 1/60 sec.
Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 32mm
Rectilinear Projection

The Rectilinear Projection above keeps the horizontal lines straight at the expense of significant distortion in the buildings. Notice the difference in the width of the Camino Real hotel.

Gold to Blue

Downtown El PasoNikon D700 - ISO 200 - f/10 - 2 sec.
Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 29mm

Just after the sun sets the sky begins to turn darker blue. Sometimes light shades of pink and orange appear as well. This is the time just before the street lights turn on.

Downtown El PasoNikon D700 - ISO 200 - f/13 - 1.6 sec.
Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 70mm

Blue

Downtown El PasoNikon D700 - ISO 200 - f/10 - 10 sec.
Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 24mm

As the sky becomes darker and more artificial lights turn on, the scene really begins to become dramatic. The longer exposure that is required also creates some interesting light streaks from the passing vehicles.

Downtown El Paso - PanoramaNikon D700 - ISO 200 - f/10 - 8 sec.
Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 35mm
Cylindrical Projection

Blue to Black

Downtown El PasoNikon D700 - ISO 200 - f/10 - 15 sec.
Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 26mm

As the sky darkens, deep blue is replaced with purple. Artificial lights take over as the primary light source which creates a challenge for getting proper white balance and exposure.

Black

Downtown El PasoNikon D700 - ISO 200 - f/10 - 20 sec.
Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 24mm

The final shots of the night show a nearly completely black sky and almost 100% artificial lighting on structures.

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Filed under: Photography
15Apr/12

Photography Lessons from a Middle School Track Meet

Here are my photography notes from my daughter's recent track meet. I used the opportunity to test a few techniques that I had used in the past as well as some new ones.

Key techniques:

  • Pre-set Focus
  • Manual Exposure
  • Continuous Shutter Release
  • Composition
High Jump

The first event I photographed was high jump. The peak of the action in this event happens in one location, so this is a great opportunity to practice pre-setting the focus point.

High Jump at Track MeetNikon D700 - ISO 200 - f/2.8 - 1/3200 sec.
Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 200mm

The photo above was taken by pre-setting the focus point on the center of the bar. I use a technique called "Back Button Focus" to separate the activation of auto-focus from the press of the shutter. This lets me pre-set the focus and know that it won't change when I press the shutter release. Without this technique, the camera would likely have gotten confused and focused on the viewing stands behind the action.

The second challenge in the photo above is getting the exposure correct. Normally, I would use spot metering in aperture priority mode so the camera would adjust the shutter speed as it feels necessary. I use spot metering because I find that it eliminates some issues when scenes are back-lit as the viewing stands effectively do in the photo above. However, because the scene is very high contrast - from the black of the track to the white of the viewing stands, I found it best to use manual exposure. I found that the gray on the mat was very close to 18% gray, so I spot metered the mat while I set the exposure. I found somewhere between 1/2500 and 1/3200 with an aperture between f/2.8 and f/3.2 produced well exposed images.

The final challenge in the photo above is catching the action. I found that the best way to catch the action was to take advantage of the "Continuous High" shutter release mode on the camera. My configuration lets me take up to 8 shots per second when the shutter release button is pressed. I would watch through the viewfinder and hold the shutter down as soon as I saw the subject enter the frame.

High Jump Event at Track MeetNikon D700 - ISO 200 - f/3.2 - 1/2500 sec.
Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 200mm

Another challenge I wanted to try was to vary the composition of the photos. I did this in two ways. First, as is obvious in the photo above, I took some vertical shots of this event. I like the fact that the vertical shots show the entire story from the ground to the sky. Also, as you can tell from the very bottom of the image above, I was very low when I took this photo - I was actually sitting on the ground. I've found that sports photos taken from low positions tend to give the best results.

Another aspect of composition is the viewing angle from which I took the pictures. Looking at the two photos above, you can see that I moved more toward the side of the event for the second photo. I like the perspective the second position gives the photo. I took a few other photos from behind the front edge of the mat as well.

1600 Meter Relay

The next event that provided a learning experience was the 1600 Meter Relay. Unlike the high jump, the location of the action is not known in advance, so the pre-focus technique will not work here. Using Back Button Focus, I was able to press the AF-ON button continuously during the photos below to ensure that the camera maintained a focus lock as the subject was moving.

1600 Meter RelayNikon D700 - ISO 200 - f/3.2 - 1/1600 sec.
Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 200mm

As with the High Jump photos, manual exposure worked best because of the potential for automatic exposure to be tricked by the wide amount of contrast in the scene.

1600 Meter Relay - Final LegNikon D700 - ISO 200 - f/3.2 - 1/2500 sec.
Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 200mm

There was a fence around this portion of the track so I couldn't get low to the ground like I would have wanted. I did, however, vary my composition to create the image above. I always have to force myself to give the subject room in the composition. I tend to want to capture as much detail of the subject as possible, so that means I try to always zoom tight. A photo like the one above is more about telling a story than conveying detail. The empty space in front of the subject gives you an idea that she has a place to go - a path ahead.

Filed under: Photography, Tips