Wednesday, June 27, 2012

A Great Lesson from Food TV's Good Eats

I watch a show on The Food Network called Good Eats.  The host is Alton Brown and he discusses a large amount of cooking gear and equipment (in addition, to delivering amazing food facts and cooking techniques.) The consistent thing about Alton's gear recommendations is he loves equipment that can multi-task.  Why have a piece of gear that can only do one thing.  If that is the case, to do three tasks you need three different items.  With multi-tasking, one piece of gear does all three jobs.

If you do a lot (or even a little) travel photography the concept of gear "multi-tasking" is hugely important.  In the ideal world it would be simple to take all of your gear everywhere.  There would never be carry-on limits, space or weight issues, and we would all have our own photo Sherpa.  In the real world, we are often forced to take fewer items in order to meet the travel reality.

I found myself in just such a situation on a recent photo trip to Alaska.  I normally carry a tripod along with a ball head and a gimbal head.  Turns out if I took both my bag would have been 50+ pounds and I did not want to pay the penalty.  I decided on just the gimbal since I knew it would work for my long lenses and also provide basic ballhead functionality (although not quite as efficiently.) 

Even with that I ended up wanting to shoot a macro shot from directly overhead my subject.  My first plan of attack is shown below.

As you can tell, probably not the best way to shoot.  Not only is the platform unstable but my ergonomics are horrible.  This is a really easy way to hurt your back and take a bad picture at the same time.  So I needed to innovate.

My solution was to multi-task my gear.  I know I had a great tripod (Really Right Stuff TVC-33) and my gimbal (RRS PG-02).  I decided to see if I could make it work in this macro situation.

After looking at the PG-02, I took the vertical support arm and turned it around.  This allowed me to support the camera and point it straight down at my basket sea star.  I had never done this before and did not know the PG-02 could do this.  What I found is exactly what Alton Brown talks about on Good Eats; another great use for a piece of gear designed for something a little (or a lot) different.

Although I had good support, my ergonomics still, for lack of a better word, sucked.  Before I destroyed my back, I finally settled on what you see below.

Tremendous support, good ergonomics, and a different view of a basket sea star.  After these shots were taken I switched over to an EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro for closer shots (an example is the first shot at the top of the post.)

So here is to Alton Brown, Good Eats, and multi-tasking. 

As you all know I love Really Right Stuff gear.  This shoot made me an even bigger fan of the RRS PG-02.  Good luck making this happen with any of the other gimbal heads out there.

Fiat Lux!

All shots of me are courtesy of Marc Muench, Leanna Telliard-Stern, and Gina Ruttle.  Thank you!

Basket stars multi-task as hair!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Go For It: Pixels are Free

One of my favorite expressions with digital photography is "pixels are free."  With no cost, photographers should enjoy complete freedom to experiment and play.  If you have an idea for a shot, go for it.  If it works, great.  Take what you did and make it a part of your photography. 

If it does not work out, no big deal.  But use the results as a completely free learning experience. Go to school and figure out what was the issue/s.  Can you make a small adjustment or do you need to go back to the drawing board and plan again. 

I recently found myself in a situation where I honestly did not know how the results would turn out.  I wanted to shoot a series of images for a landscape panorama in rapidly falling light levels.  I had the Canon EF 800mm f/5.6L on my 5K Mk II; a combination not often used for panoramas.  To make matters worse I was on the back of a moving boat.  Not only was it moving forward and slowly rocking side to side but we were in a regular ocean swell so we were slowly heaving (up and down.)

Not the best situation but pixels are free so I went for it.  The results from the 42 shots are shown below. 

This is the panorama after the stitching process.  If you follow the bottom (or top) you will notice a nice sine wave pattern.  That is the boat going up and down with the ocean swell.  My camera support was rock solid (RRS TVC-33 and PG-02) but the boat was out of my control. 

At this point I had a nicely stitched panorama even though it is somewhat ugly in terms of how everything lined up.  But it worked and did not cost a thing. 

After a little cleanup, I had a usable, huge panorama to optimize.  For a free experiment, I will take it.

Fiat Lux!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Rick's Day in the Barrel

Rick Sammon demonstrating the "proper" technique for donning a survival suit.  Enjoy, we did.

Hope to have you join Rick and I in Alaska.

Fiat Lux!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

LR 4 Local Adjustments - Adjustment Brush Example

A quick demonstration of an effective and efficient local adjustment workflow using Lightroom 4's Adjustment Brush feature to optimize Exposure and White Balance.  Although Lightroom is the example software the exact same process is available in Adobe Camera Raw.

Fiat Lux!

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Canon 5D Mk III Auto Focus Performance

 Canon 5D Mk III, EF 400mm f/2.8L, ISO 200, f/5.6, 1/2000

A quick post to describe my experience with the new auto focus (AF) system on the Canon 5D Mk III.  Bottom line up front, dramatic performance increase when compared with the 5D Mk II and equal to the 1D Mk IV. 

I spent a few days shooting with the Mk III and putting the AF system through some real world action shooting.  You can easily read all of the technical specifications, beeps, and squeaks on many other blogs, I will give you my simple man's take on the AF performance. 

The Mk III is a leap forward for the 5D series in terms of AF.  There are numerous modes and configuration options but you will find the best performance in demanding action situations when you select the Single Point AF mode.  In this mode you choose the appropriate AF point, engage AI servo with proper back button focus techniques and track your subject.  Although this mode does not engage some of the advanced AF logic and new tracking "assist" features, it will deliver the best performance. 

With that said, using a single AF point is not the simplest way to track and focus on a moving subject but, with practice, it is hands down the best.  As always, we do not shoot in a vacuum and the specific shooting situation may require or force you to another mode.  Depending upon the circumstances and variables you may get excellent performance with those as well. 

I consider the 5D Mk III's AF performance to be equal to that of the 1D Mk IV and clearly superior to the 5D Mk II's and 7D's.

I look at action AF performance looking at one main variable (assuming a relatively consistent subject path), track crossing angle or TCA.  TCA is the angular difference between where the camera is pointing (in aviation terms, where the camera is pointing is your effective "track") and the track of your subject.  TCA may be either high or low angle, from a shooters perspective low angle is when a subject is in front of your lens and tracking directly towards or away from you. High angle is when the subject tracks in a perpendicular manner across your shooting direction. 

Varying TCAs, when combined with subject aspect and speed, generates the multitude of tracking conditions necessary to get a good feel for what a camera can do.  I will do a more detailed post with images and some diagrams regarding these topics soon. 

For reference, the image at the top of this post is a 90 degree TCA at a high rate of speed.  The second image is low TCA. 

Fiat Lux!