Saturday, January 30, 2010

This Is Halle - And This Is Her Bat Mitzvah!

How did I come to be here? Well, my wife and I were heading down to California to visit family. Prior to going, my wife's uncle asked me if I’d like to help him shoot some “portraits” for one of his friends. Sure, I said, no problem. Once I got there I found out that we would actually be shooting Halle’s Bat Mitzvah. I’ve never been to a Bat Mitzvah before; it sounded like fun!

Halle and her family were awesome! Halle loved the camera and the camera loved her, too, not to mention her little sister, brother, cousins etc.

Now, I'm not Jewish so this was quite a new experience for me. I learned that what we were shooting was the full dress rehearsal on the day before Halle’s Bat Mitzvah ceremony as cameras are not allowed in the synagogue during the actual service. This was a good thing because we pretty much had unfettered access to shoot as much as we wanted throughout the rehearsal.

The Rabbi was fantastic and made sure that we got the most out of shooting. He kept reminding everyone that this was the only time for photos so remember to make it look like the real thing. He was also extremely helpful in pointing out the best vantage points for certain parts of the ceremony (I suspect this wasn't his first Bat Mitzvah).

Overall, this was a great experience. I got some good shots and some not so good shots, but I also learned a lot about what works in these situations and what doesn't.

Oh yeah, one of the best parts - I have a chance to do this again in 2 years for Halle’s sister’s Bat Mitzvah! So Mari, if you’re reading this, have your people call my people and let’s see if we can work out the details.

Okay here’s the techie stuff... Things moved pretty fast, so now I understand what a "run & gun" situation is like. I tried to keep things simple by shooting in manual so I could make adjustments on the fly. Shot with a Nikon D300 and 24-70mm f2.8, wide shots used the 10-24mm f3.5-4.5 and I used an SB900 attached to the hot shoe in rear sync mode.  

Below are my favourites; hope you enjoy!


Sunday, January 24, 2010

Spent Last Week in Southern California

I missed blogging last week...I was in beautiful sunny soggy Southern California. We flew into San Diego on Tuesday with 30mph winds and torrential rain (El Niño, is up to his old tricks and creating some pretty brutal weather for the southwest US).

At the San Diego airport, once you leave the baggage claim area you have to head up the escalator and over the pedestrian bridge to get to the rental car shuttles. Well, this was okay since it's all covered. Next you have to take another set of escalators back down and head over to the shuttle pick up area. This is wide open so you expect to get wet but you take solace in the knowledge that the shuttle area has large awnings for coverage. Although you think that you're somewhat protected from the rain you're not... not when it's raining sideways. We got soaked in less that 5 minutes.

Picked up the rental car and the guy at the desk indicated that I really need to drive safe since they don't get this kind of winter storm weather in San Diego all that often. I mentioned that I'm from Canada where "winter storm" means more than just a lot of rain and that we Canadians are used to driving in bad weather. However, since San Diego County does not have any storm drains (they don't usually get a lot of rain) the water tends to build up on the roads and hydroplaning becomes a significant problem.

Anyway, it rained every day for the 4 days we were there... so much for the sunny weather we were hoping for.

Here's a flashback from a couple of years ago when the weather was a little better. This is the view along Torrey Pines State Beach as you head south out of Del Mar. As it should be in So rain!

 Canon Rebel XT, 17-85mm @ 72mm, 1/60 @ f16



Friday, January 15, 2010

I'm a Big Scott Kelby Fan

If you're a photographer and you regularly use Photoshop (who doesn't) and you don't know who Scott Kelby is... well, you should.

Scott Kelby is probably most well known as one of the "Photoshop Guys"(along with Dave Cross and Matt Kloskowski). However, he's also a talented photographer with an unfailing desire to teach anyone who will listen about anything related to photography and digital arts.

Close to everything I know about Photoshop and Lightroom has come from either one of Scott's videos/books or his blog In fact, the first Photoshop Elements book I bought was by Scott Kelby (I have to admit, at the time I really didn't know who he was... but I should have).

Scott has a simple way of teaching that cuts through all of the unnecessary verbiage (aka BS) that a lot of instruction books come with. He has also amassed a stable of amazing talent for Kelby Training. You can find everything from Photoshop, Lightroom, digital design to general photography and lighting techniques. It's well worth the investment so check it out at

You can also find a lot of free tips at Photoshop User TV. If you're still looking for more then you should consider joining NAPP (National Association for Photoshop Professionals). At last check there were over 60 pages of tutorials.

By profession, I work in learning and performance so I really appreciate "just in time" learning (hey, we're all busy and sometimes we need to get in quickly, grab what we need and move on). Well, that's what you get with pretty much all of the resources mentioned above. You can spend hours going through as much content as you wish in one sitting or find exactly what you need quickly.

Tons of learning so I hope you check out some of these resources.



Saturday, January 9, 2010

"Webster's Falls - Dundas, Ontario"

There are many waterfalls in Southern Ontario and a lot of them are in the Hamilton area. This one in particular is one of my favourites. This is Webster’s Falls. Located in Dundas, Ontario, it is one of the largest waterfalls in the region with a drop if approx. 22 metres.

Getting down to the base of the falls is a combination of inlaid stone steps and steel steps. Once you’re at the bottom, it a matter of carefully navigating your way through either dirt/mud or along the wet rocks to find a good position to shoot.

For the image above, I was able to find a good vantage point without getting too wet from the spray (close but not too close). I found a solid place to set up my tripod. The great thing about tripods with extendable/adjustable legs and a good ball head is that you don’t need a totally flat surface to set up (believe me, there was nothing flat where I was standing).

I shot this with a Canon Rebel XT with a 17-85mm at 17mm, f10 @ 1.6 seconds using a 2 stop neutral density filter. I wanted to use a slower shutter speed to get that silky feeling in the water. I was still learning a lot about photography back then. I realize looking back that I might have been able to get away with stopping down to f22 and still have achieved 1.5 seconds or longer on the shutter. Oh well, live and learn. But I really loved how this turned out. This is still one of my all time favourite images.

For the next image, I left my tripod in the same spot and just rotated the camera to my right to capture some of water flowing out of the base of the falls. (Canon Rebel XT with a 17-85mm at 17mm, f14 @ 2 seconds using a 2 stop neutral density filter).

One of the many tips I picked up early is after you have shot your target subject, always turn around and look behind you. Essentially, get to your location, find your subject, set-up and take the shot. After you have your shot, and before you walk away, turn your camera around and look behind you, or beside you or just in a different direction than your initial target subject. You might be surprised what you see. I can tell you from experience, I have gotten some better photos from doing this spontaneously than from planning my initial target subject.

The image below is one of those times. After shooting the waterfall, I turned around and had a look behind me. I liked what I saw so I moved around a little to try and get the composition I wanted. It was quite a dreary day so I processed this image in kind of a split tone black and white to change the mood a little. (Canon Rebel XT with a 17-85mm at 41mm, f10 @ 1.3 seconds using a 2 stop neutral density filter).



Monday, January 4, 2010

Gear Talk - What Do You Shoot With?

I get this question a lot from others who are curious as to what gear I used for a particular photo. So I thought I would share my gear list and little bit about how I got here:

Nikon D300 + Grip
Nikkor 24-70mm f2.8
Nikkor 70-200mm f2.8 VRI
Nikkor 10-24mm f3.5-4.5
Nikkor 18-200mm f3.5-5.6 VRI
Nikon SB900

I switched to Nikon in mid 2009. Previously, I was shooting with a Canon Rebel XT and when it was time to upgrade I realized that I had a tough a choice to make, stay with Canon or move to another system. This was late 2008 after Canon had launched the 50D and I thought it would be a no brainer to go ahead and pick one up. I’m not an impulsive buyer and I like to research things before I buy. That’s when I started looking at the Nikon D300 as a comparison to the 50D.

Moving to another brand or system is not something to take lightly. Once you get more heavily into photography you realize that you’re essentially buying into system of lenses. Lenses, and I mean high quality glass, can get expensive. In most cases even more expensive than the camera body. In addition, lenses will only fit the brand they are made for (i.e. Nikon for Nikon, Canon for Canon etc). So, if you’re considering getting serious about photography this is something you will want to give serious thought to. Once you have a significant investment in glass, it makes it hard to switch. In addition, lenses don’t get upgraded at anywhere near the frequency of camera bodies so most, if not all photographers, stick with one system and maintain a cache of lenses and follow the camera body upgrade path.

A couple of factors that influenced my decision were not only did I want to upgrade the camera body, I also wanted to upgrade the lenses. That decision opened up my options to look more closely at both the 50D and D300. I finally decided on the Nikon. Not to be read as a slight against Canon, I loved my XT and I think Canon makes great cameras, it just came down to feature set and ergonomics and the D300 just felt better to me.

The main reasons I chose the D300 are:

  1. It felt better in my hands. I know it sounds corny but don’t rule this out as a key decision point. If you’re going to be holding a camera for any length of time, it better be comfortable in your hands.
  2. The ergonomics felt right. The buttons are laid out well and I like that I can access many of the camera’s functions without having to go into the menus which is a huge benefit for making quick changes.
  3. Nikon’s wireless Creative Lighting System or CLS. I think Nikon is leading the market with wireless flash. There are 3 main options for wireless flash: you can use the pop-up flash on the D300 as a commander to fire a remote (i.e. SB900/800), you can use the SB900 as a straight on flash, a commander unit to trigger other remote flashes or as a remote itself or you can use the SU800 commander to trigger your remote flashes. Oh yeah, all of this done with i-TTL and you can control all of your speedlights from whatever commander option you choose. It’s a pretty slick system.

So now it’s out, I’m a Nikon shooter. However, with all that being said it’s good to keep in mind that the overall objective of any photographer is to make a picture and there’s so much more to making pictures than the camera you use. It’s creative process from pre-capture to capture to post processing. The camera is just a tool that helps you achieve your objective and any camera can do that regardless of who makes it. Remember, the camera doesn’t make the picture, the photographer does.


Friday, January 1, 2010

¡Próspero Año Nuevo! - Happy New Year!

¡Próspero Año Nuevo! Happy New Year everyone! Can't believe that it's 2010 already. I can't believe that it was only 10 years ago that the "Y2K bug" was going to bring the world to a screeching halt. Look at us now.