Monthly Archives: March 2013

Fun With A Big Honkin’ Lens

Becky And The Lens

I’m going to be traveling to the Katmai Peninsula in Alaska later this year to photograph the brown bears (aka grizzly bears) during the salmon spawning season. You’ve seen those photos of the bears standing in the waterfalls while the fish literally jump into their open mouths, right? Well, that’s where I’m going. Needless to say, I am totally stoked (and near broke after paying for the entire trip). Which is why I will be renting (not buying) a 500mm lens to take with me.

Oh, I’ll be taking other lenses too, but that 500mm is going to be special for me. It’s 100mm longer than my 100-400mm lens, and it’s a prime. Prime lenses (aka fixed-focus lenses) on the whole, tend to be sharper than zoom lenses (not always true, but for the most part, yes). This lens that I am renting is going to be a little on the weighty size and –well – it’s gonna be a big honkin’ lens that requires a special tripod head called a gimbal head.

I figured I should perhaps get used to working with such a lens, so I went to my favorite online lens rental outfit and plunked down the money for a 3-day rental of the Canon 500mm f4L lens. Now, this is not the lens I will be taking with me on my Alaska trip. That lens will be the Mk II version of this lens. However, even the rental price for the Mk II version for a 3-day jaunt was more than I wanted to spend at this particular point in time – I’d just paid for my Alaska trip, including airfare – which is why I also did not opt for renting the 600mm lens. Instead, I stuck with the original version of the 500 (which has since been discontinued but you can still rent it).

I wish now I would have measured the lens (with its lens hood) so I could add this to the description, but I was so excited when I received the rental package that I never once thought about anything other than attaching it to the gimbal head and taking it out for a spin.

What’s a gimbal head? Well, it’s a tripod head (just like a ballhead or a panhead) that screws onto your tripod legs. A gimbal head not only accepts the weight of a large and heavy camera/lens combo, but it allows one to move such a combo up and down and around with the lightest of movements. The thing about a gimbal head, though, is that – unlike a ballhead, which allows you to move your camera over all angles in order to get a level position even if the tripod legs are not level – you must get that tripod level to begin with, because the gimbal head itself is not moveable like a ballhead. Oh, I can pan the camera up and down and left and right, but I can’t make the minute sideways or oblique adjustments to get it level on a gimbal if the tripod legs are not already level. You’ll see what I mean from the following photos.

Yeah, so did I mention that the lens is heavy? It weighs 8.5 lbs. I attached it to my Canon 1-DX which weighs about 3.5 lbs. This combination is far too heavy to carry around my neck while walking along a path, so I did what I have seen other photographers do. I carried this combo on the tripod, which I hefted over my shoulder.

Becky Hefting The Lens

Carrying The Tripod

Yeah, I’m smiling for the camera in these photos.  In reality, the only time I was smiling while carrying this behemoth setup was inwardly at all the neat photos I planned on capturing.

After my three days were up, I noticed that my left shoulder and arm had quite a number of bruises on them, which were from traipsing around with this setup. I was also pretty sore from the shoulders down to the waist (I am 5’2” and not a bodybuilder). The weight issue was so worth it, though. So how am I going to be packing this for my Alaska trip? That will be a blog post for the future.

I probably would have never rented this lens for the three days except that I live so close to Brazos Bend State Park and the Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge. So, guess what kind of images I captured?

Bird On A Wire CROP

Bird on a wire.  Looks like a red-tailed hawk.  Maybe  juvenile.  Not sure.

Black Bellied Whistling Ducks and American Coots

Black-Bellied Whistling Ducks and American Coots

Killdeer On The Road

Killdeer

Little Yellow Mystery Bird

A Meadowlark, I think…

Turtle

Turtle

Sunning

Sunning.  The day before, there were several alligators near each other and their mouths were open and they were emitting this deep, reverberating rumbling noise to warn each other off. They also rumbled whenever a big bird got too close, and they always rumble whenever a human gets too close.  In this image, though, this guy’s mouth was open to help regulate its temperature (yes, alligators do that).  Apparently, those three reptiles were in accord for the moment.

Lets Rumble

Now this alligator was definitely rumbling at the other alligators.  And it’s the kind of rumble that you can hear quite a distance away, yet it sounds like it’s right next to you.   A bit unnerving unless one is standing high above the gator that is doing the rumbling.

Tree Shrooms

Tree ‘shrooms

Yawn

A yellow-crowned night heron yawning (well, that’s what it appeared to be doing since it wasn’t making any noise when it opened its beak).

Crawfish Lunch

An egret and a crawfish lunch.

Light Snack For A Little Blue Heron

A little blue heron with a crawfish almost as large as the bird!

The local “lunch stop” that is catty-corner to the observation tower on 40-Acre Lake in Brazos Bend State Park is a plethora of different birds.  Egrets and herons are quiet and stealthy and then suddenly, they lunge into the water and bring out some morsel of food.

Three Ibis And A Frog

Three ibis and a frog.  Ibis are not stealthy like egrets and herons.  They constantly move about the water as they poke their long beaks around in the water until they find something – like this frog (Nature:  eat or be eaten).  I was tickled with this image not only because of the frog catch, but also because I have a white ibis in three stages of feather pattern.  The ibis on the far left is a juvenile.  The ibis with the frog is in its summer moult, and the ibis on the right is an adult.

Quite A Mouthful

Quite a mouthful.  This crawfish was ready to do battle with the ibis.

Grebe

Grebe

Grebes

Harbinger

Redbird

Cardinals – harbingers of spring.  My mother calls them “redbirds”.

Walking Away From Me

The only great blue heron I saw that day…..walking away from me….

Blowing In The Breeze

Jeweled Webbery

Natures Jewelry

Web In The Wind

Natures Jewelry

Natures jewelry:  raindrop bedecked orb weaver’s webs gently blowing in the wind.  I saw lots of these on the road leaving Brazos Bend State Park.

After processing the images from this lens, I must say I am impressed with the resolution quality. No, I don’t think the 500mm f4L original version is quite as sharp as, say, my 70-200mm f2.8L Mk II, but it’s pretty sweet nonetheless. And, if I am this impressed with the original version of this lens, I can only imagine how it will be with the Mk II version that I’ll be taking with me to Alaska.

Becky And The Lens_U9A9764-2

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Filed under Brazoria NWR, Brazos Bend State Park, Equipment, Photography, telephoto lens, Wildlife Refuge

HAPPY ST. PATRICK’S DAY!

Happy St Patricks Day

Happy St Patricks Day

Happy St Patricks Day

Happy St Patricks Day

Happy St Patricks Day

Nothing like a little green beer to celebrate the day!  Rainbow

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Filed under Holidays, St. Patrick's Day

Working On That Flash Photography Thing

Wireless-Manual-1/4

Once upon a time, I used to think of myself as only a landscape photographer.  Then, one day, I offered to photograph my nephew’s wedding as a wedding gift to them from me.  One thing led to another and I have now photographed several weddings, a wedding reception, a model portfolio, a bellydance portfolio, a couple of different dance troupes, my oil & gas company’s Dilley TX field office party and several years’ worth of King’s Feasthall / King’s Winetasting / Texas Renaissance images.   This all being done in addition to my regular , non-photographic day job.

For the majority of my images, I prefer using natural light as opposed to flash; I would increase the ISO and utilize noise reduction software during the post processing.  Oh, I  did use flash for a number of photos, but not many of them, since I have not been that enamored with flash photography.  Why?  Well partly because I don’t like the harsh shadows, partly because I know it bugs some people to have a bright light flashing in their face a lot, and partly because I am not very experienced with flash photography.

I am, however, totally enamored with light quality, quantity, and control of these two elements.

Because I currently have at least one, possibly two future weddings to photograph in 2013, along with an unknown number of portrait sessions, I finally bit the bullet and purchased Canon’s Speedlite 600EX-RT along with the Canon Speedlite ST-E3-RT  wireless flash transmitter and a couple of studio lighting props.   Practice makes perfect, so  I executed a number of  test shots of me (since I was the handiest human subject) that I’d like to share with you all.

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Note:  the majority of the images in this post only have sharpening and portraiture applied to my pretty little face via the post process, as well as removal of glare spots on my glasses.  The lighting is as it was out of the camera.  If I made any changes (say, lightening up some of the shaded spots on my face), I made mention of that.

Also, for some reason, the photos inserted into this post have a bit of a murky, green or off-color tinge to them.  If you click on each photo, it will take you to this photo on my website, where the color is true.

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I already owned a Lastolite Ezybox 24×24 softbox and stand, but haven’t been that thrilled with the results during the times I used it (again, remember I don’t have much flash photo experience under my belt). So, I decided to order a couple of other lighting accessories:  the Gary Fong Lightsphere and some sort of umbrella  lighting setup.

Sure, I know that I could have probably created a DIY lightsphere using a plastic milk bottle at a fraction of the cost of the Gary Fong version, but I didn’t feel like taking the time and effort and the lightsphere really is a pretty nifty item that fits quite well on my flash unit.

Becky-Straight Flash

Here’s the image with the flash straight out of the box.   I was pleased to see no harsh shadow.  The light was a little bit  harsh, though and  I was not so pleased with the resultant white balance.  Did it occur to me to set the camera’s white balance on something other than AWB?  Hell no!  It didn’t occur to me until after I’d run through a number of test shots.

Lightsphere_MontanaHat

Here’s an image using the Gary Fong Lightsphere.   Remember, not much experience with flash, have I (I say in my best Yoda voice), so to get a result like this made me pleased and proud, indeed.

The following day, I started working with my new umbrella and stand.  I ordered the Westcott 7’ parabolic white umbrella with 8’ stand. Um…ok…when I received the umbrella and unfurled it for attachment to the stand, it was *then* that I realized just how wide 7’ is.   I couldn’t raise the stand up too high or else the umbrella hit against the ceiling.  My spare bedroom is not a studio and the ceiling isn’t that high.

Lighting Setup #1

Ah well, size  issues aside, I went ahead with my tests.  The tripod, camera, umbrella and flash were on one side of the bed while I stood on the other side against the wall with the shutter release cable in my hand.

My flash was set up ETTL Manual and I was using my Canon 5D Mk III with a Canon 24-70mmL II lens.  The flash frequency was set at 1HZ  and the output was initially at 1/128.

Wireless-Manual-1/128

My reaction to a flash output of 1/128:  bleah.  Plus, that damned white balance looked horrible.  Not understanding flash output at all, I set it to 1/4 and my result is the very first image you see on this blog post, right beneath the title……a bit too bright.  But, at least I’d fixed the white balance by setting it on Tungsten.

Wireless-Manual-1/8

Output of 1/8

Wireless-Manual-1/16

Output of 1/16

Wireless-Manual-1/32

Output of 1/32

Now, in addition to the flash setup, I also had an overhead room light, two tall floor lamps (one on each side of the room), and a nightstand lamp to my left (that would be camera right).

Three Lights plus flash thru umbrella

So, here is a shot of me with the flash through the umbrella, at a flash output of 1/32.  This photo above was taken with all of the lights on. The only issue I found was the fact that the upper left side of my face was a little shaded.  Since I still wasn’t totally happy with the results, I decided to do something different with the umbrella.  I turned the umbrella and flash around, so that the flash would bounce off of the umbrella and the bounced light (rather than the light straight through the umbrella) would fall upon the model (aka Me).

Lighting Setup #2

Lighting Setup #2

Originally, I wanted the flash higher above the camera.  Unfortunately, the umbrella’s size precluded that little experiment (I’ve subsequently ordered a 32” umbrella).  That seven-footer kept scraping against the ceiling the higher I raised the light stand.  In the end, I kept the umbrella behind and to the right of the camera, just a little bit above the tripod setup.  I also decided to experiment with turning the various other lights off and on.

Nightstand and Flash

This shot was taken with just the flash bounced off of the umbrella, and the single nightstand lamp.  Sort of film noir-ish….or sort of sinister, depending upon your outlook.

Nightstand-Window Tall Lamp-Flash

This photo was taken with the flash, the nightstand lamp, and the floor lamp next to the window to the camera’s right.

Nightstand-Window Tall Lamp-Flash-Layers

I took the photo above this one and lightened up the shaded parts of my face a bit as well as lightened up the overall composition, in Photoshop.

Lamps-No Overhead -  plus Flash

I then turned off the overhead light, but kept both floor lamps and the nightstand lamp on while using the bounced flash.

Lamps-Overhead-Flash

This shot was using the bounced flash and all of the lights turned on.  My left side was a little on the cool side, while the right side was much warmer.  Nothing that couldn’t be fixed in Photoshop.  I should have tried using my large gold reflector to compensate for the cooler color on my left side, but I honestly didn’t think of it at the time.

Ok, so during all of these experiments, I noticed that I literally needed to keep an eye on the glare and little reflections the flash created on my glasses.  The glare was minimal and I managed to fix this issue in Photoshop.  This is something that can be normally corrected in-camera when looking through the viewfinder and telling a glasses-wearing model how to move their head to eliminate those pesky reflections.  It’s a little more difficult, though, when one is the model in front of the camera, getting the composition in focus with a shutter release cord.

There is so much to learn about lighting for photography.  I’ve only just taken baby steps. More testing will be in my future.  I’ve not only ordered a Westcott 32” white umbrella, but also a Westcott 32” soft silver umbrella.  Oh, and I’ve noticed something else, thanks to my sister pointing this out.  Makeup really helps!  Lipstick, mascara, foundation, blusher all add color and definition and keeps the model from looking washed out.  Compare the earlier images in this post (you can tell the earlier ones because I am wearing a different necklace) to the later ones.

Photographer Extraordinaire

I still love landscape photography, but I’m really glad I have branched out and am stretching my talents to improve upon my existing photography skills by focusing on more than just landscape photography.

Stay tuned! Winking smile

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Filed under Equipment, Flash Photography, Photography

A Telephoto Landscape, Arches National Park, UT

199  La Sal Mountains Telephoto Landscape

I know this is a sort of cop-out, but in lieu of a full-blown blog post (which I am working on regarding flash photography), I wanted to post the link to my latest article in the Photography in the Parks column of the National Parks Traveler website. I have noted before that I share space with another photographer. She generally has her articles posted near the end of the month while my articles are posted at the beginning of each month. Here’s the latest dealing with the use of telephoto lenses for landscapes. Check it out if you are interested.

http://www.nationalparkstraveler.com/2013/03/photography-national-parks-use-your-telephoto-lens-those-park-landscapes22872

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Filed under Arches National Park, Landscape, National Parks, Photography, telephoto lens, Travel and Photography