10 Tips For Awesome Firework Photos

Fireworks 4bannnerJuly Fourth is just a couple of  days away and I always get a few questions about the best way to photograph firework displays. Here are my Top 10 Tips for capturing the color, drama, and the spectacle celebrating our nation’s independence.

1. Do Some Recon
You’ll need to know in advance where the launch site is located and the best shooting location to include some interesting foreground elements that will provide scale and setting.  I like to include the western sky when possible since most shows start shortly after twilight. The long exposure required for the pyrotechnics allows some of the last remaining color in the sky to register on the sensor. Arrive early and claim to claim your spot…

Fireworks 5

2. Use a Tripod
You’ll need to secure your camera to eliminate any movement since photographing fireworks at night requires long exposures. I usually start around 2 seconds and vary the shutter speed throughout the evening for different visual effects.

3. Use a Remote Release
When using a tripod,  you should always use a remote release. This eliminates vibration and enables you to time your exposure for the peak moment of the mortar bursts. It will also be necessary if you decide to shoot in “Bulb” mode.

4. Compose the Image
Start shooting horizontal and with a wide-angle lens to capture landscape versions that include the foreground and the last remaining light in the west. Switch to vertical and capture the entire launch from ground to sky. In both cases remember to keep the horizon level. Finally, switch to telephoto and fill the frame with the aerial burst.

Fireworks 4

5. Pre-focus Your Lenses
After setting up, use the last remaining daylight to prefocus on the launch site. Prefocus each lens you’ll be using during the show and then turn the Auto-Focus off. Tape down the focusing collar with gaffers tape or blue painters tape to prevent it the lens from slipping out of focus. Once the show starts, it will be very difficult to focus the lens and you may waste precious time trying to get sharp images.

Fireworks 1

6. Nail Down the Exposure
10 seconds @ f/11 ISO 100   Manual mode
OK, that just a starting point, but you MUST shoot in Manual mode and set the exposure yourself. I like to use a longer shutter speed to record the light trails and then change the f/stop to adjust the brightness and maintain the color. Lock down the ISO and aperture and change the shutter speed to change the look of the fireworks bursts. Long exposures create trails, short exposures stop the movement and freeze the elements in mid air.

7. Shoot In “Bulb” Mode
Sometimes I shoot in “Bulb” mode to get very long light trails. Press the remote release button as soon as you hear or see the mortar shooting into the sky and leave it open until the burst dissipates. This will usually take several seconds and the resulting light trails are very dramatic. Since the aperture is actually controlling the exposure, you can still record vibrant colors of the burst.  To record multiple bursts during a single long exposure, cover the lens between launches. It takes a bit of practice and a little luck, but the results can be spectacular.

8. Shoot Early
Be prepared to start shooting at the very first boom.  Most pyrotechnicians set off a “salute” mortar to gauge the wind direction and to signal the crowd that the show is about to begin. This will be your cue to drop the beer and brats and grab the remote release. With some luck, the wind will be blowing away from you. If not, start shooting early because the smoke from the first few mortars will render subsequent images quite hazy.

9. Shoot Often
Shoot as many photos as you can.  Don’t spend a lot of time “chimping” (Bing it…) but periodically check your photos for exposure, composition, and sharpness. Just don’t overdo it and miss a great shot.

10. Experiment…Firworks 2
After you have photographed a few keepers, change it up a bit…

  • Change your shutter speed to shorten or lengthen the light trails.
  • Set your camera’s white balance to Tungsten and Fluorescent to change the color.
  • Zoom in during a long exposure on one of the burst patterns.
  • Change the focus during a “Bulb” exposure from blurry to sharp to get cone-like effects from every point of light.
  • Include water, trees, and other landmarks to create more compelling compositions.
  • Shoot with a wide angle lens and ask a friend to stand in the foreground to create a silhouette.

Fireworks 00Bonus tips:

  • Bring a flash light. Add a red filter to preserve your night vision.
  • Bring extra batteries and memory cards. It sucks to run out of power or memory just before the Grande Finale.
  • Turn off your flash. It won’t have any impact and only annoys your neighbors.
  • JPEGs are okay. RAW is better. Less noise and artifacts / More control in post-processing.
  • Turn off the Image Stabilization (IS) or Vibration Reduction (VR) on your lens.
  • Put some reflective tape on your tripod to improve it’s visibility to others walking near your site.
  • Pack a cooler with water and snacks…

~

FenwayFlag

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Choosing the Right Lens

The most common question I hear upon arriving on scene at nearly every photo workshop photo opportunity is;

“Hey Jeff, what lens should I use?”

Palouse-Barn-01-sm
Palouse Barn | 105mm | 1/250sec @ f/8 ISO 400

In most cases, I’ll recommend the lens that will provide the best composition, but I always encourage the attendees to bring along a couple of different lenses to create different variations of the scene. Nearly every landscape will provide opportunities for wide-angle, normal, and close-ups interpretations.

Palouse Barn  300mm  1/160 sec @ f/8  ISO 400
Palouse Barn | 300mm | 1/160 sec @ f/8 ISO 400

During one of my recent Palouse Photography Workshops, our group was up before sunrise to capture the first light on the iconic Palouse Barn. Being respectful of the freshly sprouted Winter Wheat, we remained on the shoulder of the highway and used a variety of different lenses and perspectives to quickly compose and capture various images this amazing barn at dawn.

01 Barn
Palouse Barn | 11mm | 1/250sec @ f/16 ISO 200

Changing position, lenses, and framing creates a diverse collection of images, but it requires vision, dexterity, and the discipline not to “over-capture” 30-40 frames of the same exact scene. By coaching attendees to change their location and focal length, they all captured a comprehensive collection of the Palouse Barn and the surrounding wheat fields in pristine early morning light.

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For more information on the  2015 Palouse Photography Workshops, visit the Workshops page at www.jeffreymgreene.com .
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Spring Forward!

Changing the time on a Leica M-P Type 240


Tomorrow is the second Sunday of March and that means that tonight we set all of our clocks ahead one hour to Daylight Saving Time. (Spring Forward, Fall Back)

The Good News is that we all get an extra hour of daylight in the evening to follow our photographic pursuits.

The Bad News is that most of us will waste a rare sunny Sunday morning running around the house setting all of our clocks forward one hour.
As you make the rounds don’t forget to reset the time on all your cameras too…

Tempus Fugit…

New Years Photo Resolutions 2015

Traditional Lion Dancers / Bellevue Square, WA
Leica M-P [Type 240] w/ 50mm f/2 APO Summicron ASPH
1/180 sec @ f/4.8 ISO 1250
http://www.leicastorebellevue.com/

Gung hay fat choy!

I’m waaay behind with my writing this year so I thought I would post this article to coincide with the Chinese Lunar New Year. That being said, along with all of the New Year Resolutions that many of you are making (and likely breaking by now…), I thought I would add a list of resolutions that you might actually enjoy. Here are my Top 10 Photo Resolutions for 2015

1) Start a 365 Project

01 Blipfoto

This is a challenging project where most photographers start off strong capturing a daily photo, but then fade after about four or five weeks. It’s demanding and requires diligence, but it also prepares you to view the world with a heightened sense of awareness. You’ll become more attuned to your surroundings always on the lookout for a worthy photo to post.  One of the best places to post your project is on Blipfoto which is designed specifically to accept one photo per calendar date. It’s free and the community is very supportive and complimentary towards its members.

2) Print Some Enlargements

The digital age with all its benefits and advances has a major drawback when it comes to viewing images. Most photographers are storing their images on their computers (more on that in #4 below) rarely to be seen unless it’s posted online somewhere. One of the best ways to preserve your images and share them with your friends is to print some enlargements and frame them. When you run out of wall space you can then…

3) Make A Photo Book

03 Photobooks

There are a lot of options for producing a slick photo book, ranging from very basic to custom masterpieces, that’s only limited by your imagination.  All of the major self publishers (I like Blurb) offer a myriad of templates and designs that suit most occasions and themes. You can make a book for vacations, birthdays, and holidays then, at the end of the year, create a retrospective annual of your family’s activities.  To manage all that you’ll need to…

4) Get Organized and Back Up Your Images

Data-Recovery-1

This resolution may not be fun, but the time and effort invested in organizing your photos will pay off in the long run.  I organize my family images in an annual folder (Family Photos 2015) with numbered monthly sub-folders (01 January 2015, 02 February 2015…).  This narrows the search based on the date of the event and saves a lot of time otherwise spent clicking and opening folders and files.

This is also the perfect opportunity to purchase a couple of external hard drives and archive your images on a daily basis.  If there is one true adage in the digital age, it’s this,

“It’s not a question of “if” your computers’ hard drive will fail, but “when”.

Save yourself a lot of heartache, dirty looks from the family, and endless self-loathing by making the effort to back-up and archive your files. Check out my Back Up Your Memories article for more detailed information regarding storage and archiving solutions.

5) Share, Post, and Publish

The internet is a great way to share your images with family and friends and there are lots of online resources to facilitate the publishing of your photos. Facebook, Flickr, Twitter are the “Big 3″ and they all offer options for sharing, posting, and adding comments. It’s a great way to share news of family events and to get feedback on your latest images.

A cautionary note: Facebook and other online services implement strict Terms of Service (TOS) that explicitly give them all rights to use your photos as they deem fit. It’s mostly a protective legal measure but you need to be aware of it …

6) Take Your Camera Everywhere

Just do it… You can’t take great images without a decent camera, and a cell phone doesn’t quite cut it.  It’s certainly better than nothing, but a real camera will provide more creative options that will produce higher quality files and allow you more control over shutter speed, aperture, and ISO.

7)  Embark on a Photo Safari

07 Safari

One day, one week, one month… it doesn’t matter. Plan a trip somewhere with the sole purpose of photographing the essence of that location. Treat the excursion as a photo assignment where you must deliver images to an editor that provides a variety of different angles, views, and subject matter from that locale. Be sure to include some people shots and to change lenses and locations often. This mindset will help you capture many different perspectives of the area and prevents you from getting into a rut and returning home with 317 photos of the same statue…

8) Enter A Photo Contest

Photo contests are a fun way to keep your creative juices flowing and maintain a competitive edge. The odds are stacked against you, and the judge’s choices often defy all logic, but it’s still a thrill to enter. Start out with contests that are free, but consider reputable fee-based contests that offer more prestige and recognition. Always be aware of what the rules require, and what rights the sponsoring organization claims when you submit your photo (usually Rule #6).   Most newspapers also sponsor a “your best shot” type of contest that is easy to enter. The Seattle Times offers the Reader’s Lens contest that can be entered online here.
TIP: Don’t even think of submitting a sunset shot to a photo contest. Trust me, I’ve judged a lot of contests and most sunset shots go straight into the trash…

9) Try a New Photo Technique

baywoodpano12x36

Panoramas, black & white, infrared, pinhole, 3D… There is a wide selection of different techniques and effects that you can experiment with to keep the creative juices flowing. If you prefer to do something unique and different with pictures you already have on file, then I recommend purchasing The Photojojo Book.  It contains treasure trove of creative DIY type photo projects that will keep you busy on those days when it’s just too bleak to go outside and shoot.

10) Take a Class or Workshop

07 Sunset Photogs

The best way to learn or improve any skill is in a hands-on environment at the feet of a Master. You can watch all the YouTube videos you want, but attending a workshop is the most efficient way to hone your skills.  I offer a series of classes each month on a wide variety of topics ranging from Basic Photography to Advanced Speedlite seminars.  I also lead several “destination” workshops each year in various locales around the US. Check out the Workshops section my website (www.jeffreymgreene.com) for the latest updates.

~

There’s your top 10 photography resolutions for 2015.  I look forward to doing many of these items myself and hope you do too.  Happy New Year!

-Jeff Greene

My 2008 Self Portrait Project

366-2008_Mosaic2

7 Tips For Photographing Tonight’s Lunar Eclipse

The second lunar eclipse of 2014 occurs this evening and can be viewed from most of North America. This eclipse occurs two days after the moon’s perigee and means that the it will appear 5.3% larger than the April 15 eclipse.  Weather permitting, this should be a great opportunity to photograph a “blood moon” eclipse.

(1) Determine the Time of the Eclipse

Penumbral Eclipse Begins:
Partial Eclipse Begins:
Total Eclipse Begins: 
Greatest Eclipse: 
Total Eclipse Ends: 
Partial Eclipse Ends:
Penumbral Eclipse Ends:
1:15 AM       Pacific Daylight Time (PDT)
2:14 AM
3:25 AM
3:54 AM
4:24 AM
5:34 AM
6:33 AM

2) Use a Tripod & Shutter Release.
Nothing is steadier than a good quality tripod and although your exposures will be surprisingly short, if you’re using a long lens, you’ll need to keep it as steady as possible.
TIP: If you forgot your remote release, use your DSLR’s 2-second timer.

_MG_9277 SQ

3) Choose the Right Lens
For close-ups a focal length of 200mm is quite good, but a 300mm or 400mm is better… If you have a 2x converter, use it. For most shots you’ll want to fill the frame as much as possible.
However, if you are including scenery, than a normal or wide angle lens will do nicely.

4) Shoot in Manual Mode
Most photographers overexpose their moon photos when they rely on the camera’s auto modes. The moon is actually quite bright. Think about it, it’s being illuminated by the Sun so the Sunny 16 Rule is a very close estimation. Once the eclipse starts and the moon gets darker you will have to make some adjustments.

Lunar Eclipse JMg
Total lunar eclipse / December 10, 2011
Exposure: 1.6 seconds @f/5.6 ISO 1600

5) Shoot Wide Open
Select the widest aperture on the lens so you can use the fastest shutter speed possible. Remember, the earth is rotating and a long focal length will amplify movement.

6) Compose and Re-compose
Because of the aforementioned rotation of the earth, the moon’s position in your viewfinder will constantly shift. Make the necessary adjustment to keep the moon centered.

7) Create a Multiple Exposure of the Entire Eclipse
Capture multiple exposures of the entire eclipse sequence to create a montage. Mount your camera with a wide angle lens, compose the scene with some interesting foreground, and capture an image every 15 minutes. Afterwards, you can blend the different phases of the eclipse into one single image using Photoshop.

Four stages 800px

It takes time, patience, and a willingness to forego sleep for most of the night, but photographing these total lunar eclipses is a rare event. That being said, tonight’s eclipse is the second in a tetrad of four lunar eclipses spanning two years. If you miss tonight’s event, you’ll have another shot in April and October 2015.

Fiat lux!

-Jeff Greene

Clean Your Own Camera Sensor

dust banner

Sensor dust.  The scourge of  DSLR photographers everywhere…

The hot, dry summer months, along with increased camera use during vacation adds up to lots of dirty sensors. Considering that most photographers have likely never cleaned their sensors,  it’s a sure bet that most digital cameras in use today have a significant amount of debris on their sensors.

“Not me. I take great care of my camera…”

Not your camera, you say? Trust me, if you have never cleaned your sensor, it’s filthy – you just don’t know it.  And don’t say to me, “But I never take the lens off…”  either…  Camera systems are not hermetically sealed. All brands and models are prone to contamination when used regularly.  Ironically, the bigger the sensor, the more likely it will attract dust.

Since most photographers shoot  between  f/4 and f/11, they don’t realize that their sensors (actually, the anti-aliasing filter protecting the sensor) are dirty.  At that range the depth of focus is relatively shallow so any dust on the sensor may not be visible. Once you start shooting at f/16 and smaller, it’s quite likely you will start noticing dust spots. Especially in areas that have consistent tonal values, ie:  the sky.

Should you send your DSLR in for cleaning,
or should you attempt cleaning it yourself?

Frankly, it’s not that scary or difficult and you can easily clean your own sensor with the right materials.  The first step is to determine if you  actually NEED to clean the sensor at all. Although there’s certainly some dust on it, you should only attempt a cleaning if there’s visible dust on your images.

First, check your DSLR sensor for dust…

Don’t be fooled by the dust you observe in your viewfinder.  That’s actually on the ground glass prism and does not show up on your images. You need to create a test image to accurately determine if there’s is dust on the sensor.  Here’s a step-by-step process I use:

1) Attach your longest lens and rack it out to it’s maximum focal length.

2) Set your lens to manual focus. Now focus the lens to its closest distance.

3) Set your camera to Aperture Priority (Av) at it’s smallest aperture (ex: f/22, f/32) at ISO 200.

4) Take a photograph of a neutral colored / non textured subject. I usually photograph a patch of clear blue sky, or a piece of paper.

IMPORTANT:
The image should NOT be in focus and a long shutter speed is OK.

5) Review the image on your camera’s LCD monitor.  Zoom in to 100% magnification and inspect it.  If you’re at home, it’s easier to review the test image on your computer.

6) If you see some blurry dark spots, those are dust specks on the sensor.

clean spots

Time to Lean? Time to Clean!
Dry Method or Wet Method?

There are many different methods for cleaning sensors and much debate on which method is best.  Generally speaking, they’re categorized as either  “Dry” or “Wet”.  The “Dry” method uses a blower (not compressed air!) and/or and special brush. The “Wet” method uses a special methyl alcohol solution and swab. The most challenging jobs will require both.

Visible 2157 800px  Dry 2159 800px

Cleaning Your Own Sensor

1) Determine if you really need to clean the sensor by reviewing a test image shot at the lens’ minimum aperture (f/22 – f/32)

2) Activate the Manual Sensor Cleaning mode on your DSLR .  Make sure the battery is fully charged before starting.

3) Use the “dry method”  first by using a hand-held blower such as Giottos Rocket Air Blaster to dislodge any loose dust particles. It’s best to face the camera in a downward position while blowing off the sensor.

Blower 2153 800px

 4) If needed, continue by using one of the many specially designed sensor-cleaning brushes. These are use micro fiber bristles that are specially treated for cleaning sensors. Do not use a small paintbrush. Those are too harsh and will scratch the sensor.

For stubborn dust specks still remaining, you’ll need to switch to the ‘wet” method using a swab wetted with sensor cleaning solution.  I prefer using Sensor Swabs (Type 2 for cropped sensors / Type 3 for full-frame sensors) and Eclipse Solution.

5) Apply a very small drop of the Eclipse solution to the SensorSwap and, working quickly, swipe across the sensor in a firm and smooth motion.  The motion is similar to running a squeegee across a window.  I work from left to right, then pivot the swab, and then work back right to left.

6) Discard the swab. Do not use it again. Don’t even think about it.  If the sensor requires another pass, use a fresh swab.  Repeat as needed.

Cleaning your sensor can seem like a daunting task, but with the right tools, the instructions above, and some basic common sense, you can save a lot of time and money by doing it yourself.

Fiat lux (mundi)…

-Jeff Greene

5 Cool Features on the New Canon EOS 7D Mark II

 
By Jeffrey M. Greene

Canon has finally upgraded it’s popular EOS 7D DSLR with the new Canon EOS 7D Mark II.

The 7D Mark II has a pro-level set of cutting-edge features
and a robust, ergonomic design. The new 20.2 Megapixel APS-C
CMOS sensor with Dual DIGIC 6 Image Processors, plus a host of
new and refined capabilities, makes the EOS 7D Mark II the
perfect camera for photographers looking for a pro-grade APS-C DSLR.

Here are 5 significant upgrades:

20.2 Megapixels
APS-C CMOS Sensor utilizing Dual Pixel technology.Canon 7D Mark II

65 point auto-focus system
All cross-type 65 pt sensor utilizing Canon’s ‘Intelligent Tracking and Recognition’ (iTR) focus system.65pointAF Eagle

10 frames per second
When shooting in continuous mode. Shutter rated for 200,000 actuations.10fps bike

Dual memory slots:
For Compact Flash and SD (SD, SDHC, SDXC) memory cards.CF and SD

GPS
For geotagging images with longitude, latitude, and attitude…
Very useful when logging photo trip locations and details.
Geotagged

Most retailers are now accepting pre-orders with the first orders expected to be available on November 28th…
Canon EOS 7D Mark IIbody only   $1799.00
Canon EOS 7D Mark II w/ Canon 18-135 f /3.5-5.6 IS STM     $2149.00