First Impressions of the Panasonic DMC-FZ1000 digital “bridge” camera.

1057135Panasonic DMC-FZ1000

I’m going to try and shorten today’s blog a little bit.  There has been a lot of buzz about this “little” camera and even I couldn’t wait to get my hands on one to test it out.  Well my friends…I have my hands on one!  I went out for about an hour today just to get a feel for it and I’ll share a few of those images with you.  But my first impression is that many of the other reviews I have read were nearly spot on and others I can’t help but wonder if they were written by “point and shoot” camera users.  I’m saying this because some of the reviews talk about how surprised at how heavy it is.  If you shoot with a DSLR and have been looking for the “second” camera, one that could double as the travel camera then you will find it to be on the lighter side.

P1000013RAW converted to jpeg only.  Shot at ISO 125, 1/1000 sec and f/2.8

I was very surprised at how well it handled the lighting and it’s very snappy auto focus.  I do mean snappy fast.  Many reviews also talked about it’s abundance of settings and how there needed to be a slightly better way of getting to those options.  I skimmed through the manual and then went out side.  I was able to pretty much learn how to quickly make adjustments (except turning the on camera flash to test it…had to read the manual for that…I’ll explain later…maybe) to settings as needed.  As every camera out there, there are some things that could be better but all in all not a bad start.

P1000026RAW converted to jpeg only. Shot at ISO 400, 1/320 sec and f/4.

The pictures I’m sharing today were shot with the FZ1000’s “standard” camera setting.  The “standard” or “neutral” setting in camera’s are often the preferred settings when shooting RAW.  These settings gives you better control in post production for your colors without loss (or very little loss) to detail.  Tomorrow I will be spending the day out putting it through it’s paces.  You won’t find charts and graphs in my reviews.  Why should I go through that kind of trouble to test a camera out when enough people are doing that already?  Besides, to me, the best test is the real world test.  I will be testing it’s many different settings and scene files as well as the still grab from shooting 4k video.  That review will be either next Friday or the following Friday.

P1000049RAW converted to jpeg only.  Shot at ISO 800, 1/60th sec and f/5/6

To finish off what my first impressions of this camera are, I have to harp on the body and construction of the camera.  I find it very strange that you would make a camera where the lens feels as if it was never meant for this camera body.  You this great glass that is incased inside a very solid feeling tube housing to to be coupled to a camera that feels cheap.  I know it doesn’t matter how if feels but rather how it holds up.  It’s here that I am like so many of my fellow DSLR users that we WANT that feeling of ruggedness.  I’m still scratching my head as to why the tripod mounting hole isn’t lined up with the lens.  I use a rapid sling strap (instead of the standard camera strap) which screws into the bottom of the camera and guess what…I had to take it off to be able to open the battery compartment door.  That is shameful Panasonic.  It’s bad enough that the SD card goes where the battery goes but that would be no big deal if the battery was easy to get to.  Speaking of battery doors.  This was another ball dropped by Panasonic.  The door has this little slide that you have to slide back to open it and when you close it you have to slide it back.  I haven’t used a camera  (heck not sure if ever) since who knows when that didn’t self lock with you closed it.  We’ll see if they make up for those short comings once I’m done testing it out.

Until the next time ~ R

Best ~ R

Myakka River State Park – Wildlife Photography

myr-canoeing-park canoeing in the Myakka River (photo taken off of state website)

When I was living in Florida Myakka River State Park was one of my favorite (late discoveries) trips to make for wildlife photography.  The park takes up part of Sarasota County (most of the park) and Manatee County.  The official address of the park is listed for Sarasota.  Of all the state parks and national parks I have been to this park is BIG in terms wildlife.  Every time I have been I have spotted deer, wild hogs, a bobcat, a gator (or two or many) and many birds.

myr-tower-park Canopy boardwalk  (photo taken from web)

Myakka-River-State-Park6-Sarasota Boardwalk (photo taken from web)

The park offers camping and boat tours but that isn’t the coolest thing about this park.  For me it’s the boardwalks (canopy boardwalk to be specific).  You have a boardwalk that takes you over the water and you have one that is suspended in the canopy of the trees.  Now, I grew up with camping in a tent, hiking, fishing and canoeing (and tubing) on the Withlacoochee River in Brooksville Florida (the part of the river that connects to Silver Lake) so I’m prefer to shoot from the ground rather than a boardwalk.  Getting your feet wet and dirty and watching for cotton mouths, rattle snakes and sneaky bold gators makes getting that shot that more special.  Besides, some of the best wildlife photographs are done at the animals eye level.

Citrus-Hiking-Trail-264x200 forest hiking trail (photo taken from web)

vPARKSc.jpg viewed from a river trail (image taken from web)

See, this park is more than just the lake and river but it’s about the forest too.  With plenty of trails (over 30 miles of hiking) that takes you along the edge of the river or through the woods you have to be ready as animals just tend to “pop” out of hiding (you get my drift).  Myakka River State Park does hold itself up for those into scenic/landscape photography (especially for sunsets) but it’s best for those with medium to long telephoto or zoom lenses.  Most of the birds, wild hogs and alligators you can get pretty close to (along with the campers bandit…the raccoon) it’s the other animals that you’ll find a challenge without a long lens.  Unlike many animals here up north, the ones down south tend to be a bit more skittish when it comes to people.  Once they spot you they’ll give you a couple of seconds to shoot and then they are gone!  If you are hoping to capture deer, the rare panther or bobcats then prepare to find a spot (look for animal trails) sit and wait.  A truly successful wildlife photographer will go all camouflage to blend in with the environment.

Now let me get to some word of cautions for shooting in Myakka River State Park (actually this is for shooting anywhere in Florida or southern states).  DO NOT feed the alligators.  I’ve seen people do this just to bait the gators in close to get pictures.  This is REALLY BAD news.  You might think a little isn’t gonna hurt but what you are doing is telling this king of the river that we are a food source.  Making them dangerous.  Now that I’ve said that, alligators are one of my favorite subjects to shoot.  I used to be really foolish back in the day when I first starting taking pictures.  I was one of those that was limited on money and could only afford medium zoom lens.  I didn’t do my own printing either (this was back when film was the only thing going).  So, I would venture to golf courses to take pictures of alligators.  They were so used to people being around that you often could walk within feet of them without the risk that they would rush back in the water.  What made me look crazy to many was the fact that I would lay on the ground and elbow crawl to them so I could get the tight framing that I wanted.  All was good until one day one of those gators decided to run back into the water.  Not so bad you would think but you are wrong.  I nearly had a heart attack.  I had him (or her) within my view finder and all it takes is a little movement for your subject to be out of the view finder and you couple that with a loud splash you can now imagine how I thought for a split second that I was had.  Anyway I used more caution from that point.  I had already had plenty of respect for them but even more so after getting an in person experience on their explosive speed.  Don’t let that discourage you though.  You can usually get great pictures from a boat or canoe and even from the bank of the river.  Of course when you are on the bank you have to be mindful of your surroundings.  Gators are like crocodiles in the way they hunt.  They approach from just under the water so they can still see the prey while their bodies stay concealed.  The approach is slow so as to not make ripples that will give them away.  Many of Florida’s bodies of water are stained and murky making seeing them once submerged quite difficult.  You can see gators year round in Florida but most will find a place to lay low during the winter time.  There is one particular time when you should take special care to give them the respect they deserve and that is during mating season (usually starting in April).  The alligators are on the move looking for mates.

The wild hogs in the area usually will ignore you BUT if you come across a momma and her babies then do not approach.  They are very protective and may charge you.  The males on the other hand are usually only aggressive when they are cornered and trust me.  You don’t want to be on the receiving end of one of those 6 inch tusk.  Just saying.

Florida has six poisonous snakes (but only four in the area we are talking about today) that you should be aware of as well.  One of those thankfully will usually give you plenty of warning if you get too close (thanks to the rattles on the tail) and that one is the Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake.  You are more likely to come across one of these within the forested areas of the park (I haven’t come across one yet being there but I do know they are there).  The second one is the Dusky Pygmy Rattlesnake also has rattle but their rattles are so small that more time than not you won’t even hear them.  The third snake on this list is the Florida Cottonmouth.  This guy (along with the next one but for a different reason) is particularly dangerous due to it’s coloration.  It easily blends in with it’s environment (usually nestled among fallen logs, trees and limbs) and found along wetlands and waterways.  Cottonmouths are also very adept to swimming and are often mistaken for a common water snake (non-poisonous).  How can you quickly tell between it and a harmless water snake is by the head (the easiest way).  Cottonmouths have a pit on the side of their head (water snakes don’t), viewed from above you can’t see their eyes (water snakes you can) and their eyes are slanted (water snakes are round).  The above snakes are part of the pit viper family which means they have a pit on the side of their heads.  The last snake on the list is the exception as it looks harmless but as beautiful as it is, it is also just as dangerous.  I’m talking about the Eastern Coral Snake.  The Eastern Coral Snake has colorful red, yellow and black bands.  It’s strikingly beautiful but beware.  These little guys (despite not having fangs) are potent.  As a relative of the cobra one would think they are just as deadly but according to research the Diamondback Rattlesnake is more dangerous.  This may be in part that a rattlesnake as fangs which allows it to easily give a full dose of it’s venom when it strikes when the coral snake actually has to chew to get through the skin.  Then again maybe the venom isn’t as toxic but who wants to find out. Right?  The coral snake can be found all over Florida and often is discovered under anything that protects it from predators (rocks, logs and the likes).  The two that I haven’t mentioned is the Timber Rattlesnake and the Southern Copperhead.  The ranges of these two are only as far south as north Florida.  The Southern Copperhead being mostly in the Florida Panhandle area.

While Florida is known to have one two species of poisonous spiders (widows and recluses) you probably won’t come across them on one of the hikes here.  What you will often see is a very large web spinning spider that we (Floridians) call “Banana Spider” but is more officially known as the Golden Silk Orb Weaver.  Despite the large size of the female and her bright colors they are harmless.  Sure they can bite you (as anything else when they feel threatened) but they are quite docile.  So don’t worry if you run through a web and don’t try swatting one off if it gets on you.  Just take a stick and prod it to leave you.

Anyway, if you want to see Florida and it’s natural beauty and abundance of wildlife then Myakka River State Park has to be on your list for places to go.  If you are into wildlife and bird photography then you will not be disappointed.

DSC_6567 photo by me from one of my trips to Myakka River State Park.

Best ~ R

Getting Wild!

DSC_0661 snowy egret feeding 2014

As a nature lover and photographer, if you are like me, you probably have dreamed of shooting for National Geographic or have a two or three page article about you and your work in a magazine like Outdoor Photographer but if nothing else to at least get the kind of shots you see in those publications.  Well, I wish I could tell you to follow these steps and you will be destined to get there but I can’t.  The truth is I can give you some pointers that will up you photographic game to get images that are more like those you see from those other guys but no matter what kind of skills you have it is extremely difficult to get published.  The field for aspiring professional wildlife/nature photographers is deep.  There are enough of those photographers who have put a lot of money out on their equipment in hopes that it will be what it takes to get them to that next level.  I’m like many of you out there that are either budget conscious or simply have a limited budget to work with (me being the latter).  Trust me, if I could, I would have a 600mm…minimum!  So what do you do if you don’t have $10,000 dollars to spend on a lens?  I’ll tell you.  Go to the zoo or get a third party lens!

Okay.  So, the picture of snowy egret isn’t in a zoo but it was shot with a third party lens that I was able to pick up for less than $1000 dollars.  It was shot with a Sigma 120-400mm lens and it saved me thousands of $$$$$!  If that is still out of your budget don’t worry.  You’re going to be okay as long as you can get a lens within your budget that has at least a 300mm reach on the long end.  The longer reach isn’t just to get you closer to the subject but it helps with creating a shallower depth of field too.

http:// grey squirrels

With out a long lens I would not have been able to get these two grey squirrels to pop and stand out.  Notice how the background is all blurred out forcing your eyes to only notice the squirrels?  That is one part shooting zoomed all the way in (400mm) and second part shooting at the widest aperture setting (what ever is the widest the lens allows…for this lens it was f/5.6).  Here is what is really cool.  Most of us are shooting with a digital camera that uses an APS-C size sensor.  For Nikon users that means you get a 1.5x crop factor with every lens you use (means a 300mm lens will be equivalent to a 450mm lens) and Canon users will get a 1.6x crop factor (300mm lens will be equivalent to a 480mm lens).  My opinion that is a big plus for using APS-C sized sensor cameras (saves money).

http://baboons

Another example of what you can get with a sub $1000 dollar (some are even under $600) lens is the picture of the baboons.  Now we are getting to the other part of wildlife photography for those of us that are limited on money (whether it’s for buying that big giant heavy lens or traveling to far away places).  This picture was taken at a zoo.  The baboons were still far enough away to make it challenging so this is where you have to start being creative.  I knew they were too far away to get a “professional lens” look when it came to the foreground and background bokeh (out of focus areas).  Looking around me I noticed that there was some vegetation growing with it’s leaves just high enough for me to shoot comfortably.  Using the leaves in the foreground to frame the primates I made sure to shoot wide open to keep the leaves out of focus so our eyes automatically travels straight to our hairy friends.  This picture also shows something else that is important in wildlife photography.  That is shooting as high of a shutter rate as possible (unless you have a specific creative effect you are going for) to freeze the action (as seen above) and shoot at the highest fps (frames per second) setting your camera allows.  Run off a series of shots when you feel the action is about to start.  You just might get that money shot!

http://lemur

Wildlife photography is often just being super patient and waiting but there are other times when it’s all about ending up at the right place at the right time.  The snowy egret and the grey squirrels are all about being at the right place at the right time while the baboons and lemur are about being patient.  Half of my day shooting is walking and seeing what I come across and the other is finding a promising spot, throwing down a folding stool and waiting.  When I’m shooting at a zoo I will dedicate a good 10 minutes to 20 minutes at animal exhibits with hopes of getting that shot.  For me that “shot” is either action shots or expression shots.  The pictures I have shared with you tells a story of some kind.  It doesn’t “pay” to take just a pretty picture.  There are million upon millions of pretty pictures out there.  With that being said zoo animals are often harder to get those kind of shots with.  It’s all about timing with those guys.  With patience it’s doable though.  Also remember that it doesn’t have to be action shots.  I was just about to leave the lemurs exhibit do to nothing all that special going on when this guy decides to stick his tongue out and luckily I was still at the ready.  A simple gesture allows us to form what ever story we want with him (most of it being quite comical).

An important note I want to share with you about shooting in zoos.  One is that you can’t just go in there with professional equipment and expect them to turn a blind eye.  Those really big expensive lenses will get you tossed out if you haven’t gotten an official okay by them (it’s likely not to happen the day of so plan in advance).  Using that third party lens or the “consumer” equivalent branded zoom lens want even get you a curtesy visit.  Last but not least…here is special tip.  When you are looking through your lens, before you press that shutter, look at the animal closely and see you spot it’s tag (all zoo animals from my experience have tags that is usually in one of the ears or a band on a leg if it’s a bird) and if you do, either wait for it to turn or know what you are doing in post to be able to take it out.  Remember, your goal is to give your shot the look of being out in the wilds…not in the zoo.

Happy shooting~R

An Interview with 3D Character Animator Antonio (Aquilino) Medina

2846_1043733185849_1887784_n

Hi everyone!  Okay.  So, today I have here an interview with Antonio Medina.  Antonio is a 3D Character Animator out of the Miami/Fort Lauderdale area.  Antonio started drawing at a very early age and as he grew so did his skills.  He is a graduate of the Savannah College of Art and Design where he was a recipient of the SCAD Art Honors Scholarship.  Only a year after graduating, Antonio had his first animation short film accepted into a few film festivals, which garnered a couple awards.  From there his career continues to grow.  Let’s see what Antonio has to say.

Robert – At what age did you discover your talent for drawing?

Antonio – Let’s just say I started the day I could grab a pencil.

R – What did you draw as a child?

A – Cars.

R – What boy didn’t?

A – True but it may have been a little more unusual in my case.

R – How so?

A – As a child, when I really wanted a toy, I used to draw them on index cards to add to me collection and while watching many Saturday morning cartoons, I used to bring life to these index card toy characters through my imagination.

R – That is truly fascinating and inspiring.  What kind of things do you draw as an adult?

Antonio – I draw characters and life portraits.

R – Were you encouraged to pursue a career in the arts?

A – Yes I was.

R – What do you think you would have done if not the arts?

A – If not for arts I would have done something with sports.

R – Wow.  Okay.  I was not expecting the sports angle.  You have us really curious now.  What sport would you have liked to done something with?

A – Basketball.  Let’s be clear here though.  I never played professionally or on any organized team.  Basically just pickup games.  I was never good enough for it to be anything more than a really fun hobby.

R – So if you were good enough for basketball do you think you would have gone that route instead?

A – No.  Art is my passion and life.  Probably why basketball was nothing more to me than a hobby.  My drive was art rather than sports.

R – Let’s talk about your current animation project “Another Tomorrow” that you wrote and are directing.  What can you tell us about the film?

A – It’s a film about a village where every month a person is chosen at random to willingly sacrifice themselves as food to a relentless creature to keep a village safe until a child refuses and jeopardizes the livelihood of everyone in the village.

R – Sounds so dark.  Do the people in the village actually get eaten?

A – You’ll have to wait for the finished product.

R – Had to ask.  Okay.  So what was the inspiration for the film?

A – Inspiration came from the film (the village) also through artwork from

little red riding hood.

R – Is this a short film or feature film?

A – It’s another short film.

R – Is it easy or hard to find voice actors?

A – It’s easy to find actors however finding the right actor is hard and fir

this film I went through many actors to get what I feel are the best fit.

R – When do you expect the film to be ready?

A – I have not have an expected due date for the film.

Thank you Antonio for taking the time out of your busy schedule to be a part of this blog.  I hope you continue to grow and find much success in the field of your passion and I truly look forward to seeing you short film “Another Tomorrow”.

You can learn more about Antonio (Aquilino) Medina on Linked In and here is a little something for you by Antonio and his team from around the globe…the beginning stages of “Another Tomorrow” and Antonio Medina’s show reel.

Best ~ R

Discovering What’s Around You

Today I’m going to talk about how to cheat in the world of close-up/macro photography.  You’re probably scratching your head right now thinking…”wait, the title says Discovering What’s Around You, what does close-up photography have to do with that?”…well, everything actually.

Today’s blog isn’t going to be long and lengthy and the tools are simple.  As long as your digital camera has the pixel count and image area to handle hard crops then you can do this type of photography without all the extra equipment.  You probably won’t even need a flash or you can use a white or silver (depending on how much extra light you need on your subject) bounce card.  Having a fairly good understanding of your image editing software is essential.  I’ll talk a little more about that in a little bit.  This is about how close-up/macro photography can transform your backyard, your local city park or your neighbors hedges into a whole new shooting landscape (of the smaller world around us).

http:// mushroom in a bed of mulch

The image of the mushroom is a perfect example of what kind of image can be captured in a very small space.  Composition is critical here though.  You have to be very aware of what is in the background as well as the foreground.  An easy way to do this is by shooting in liveview mode.  This should show you what your picture will look like.  With this particular picture, I decided to place the camera in a position that allowed for green shrubs to be in the background.  The trick here is to have the background blurred out enough so the shrubs don’t look like regular house shrubs and yet not so blurred that we don’t recognize it as some sort of plant.  This allows the mushroom to look as if it may have been shot out in the woods somewhere.  I will be honest here and let you know that this was shot with dedicated equipment BUT this is where your editing software comes to play. Right now I just want to show the different things that can be discovered and shot within easy walking distance of your front (or back) door.  I’ll talk software later.

http:// jumping spider

When shooting insects with a standard kit lens I would suggest shooting with your widest aperture to start with.  Photographing insects can be truly tricky with dedicated equipment and might come to be a little easier with your kit lens using the crop to get in close.  More times than not you want as much of your subject (insect) to be in focus while having as much of the foreground and background out of focus so the viewers eyes are only on the subject.  While it’s easier to get the blur you want for the foreground and background with dedicated lens or macro adapter rings it does make it more difficult to get enough of the subject in focus to satisfy most viewers.  The reason for that is the closer you get to the subject the shallower your depth of field will be.

http://bug on a leaf

I probably love close-up/macro nature photography as much as I love wildlife photography.  The exciting thing about the former is that on any given day you can come across an insect that you never seen before (or at least you’ve never taken notice of before).  It’s almost like you are documenting a new species (who knows…that could happen as well).  Even the common insects that you see all the time will come to have a whole new look once you study them through the lens of a camera as the picture of the jumping spider shows.

http:// daddy long legs

We have all seen daddy long legs.  Many of us have even held them (being one of the very few and sometimes only spider we will hold).  Now, take a picture of one, crop in close, sharpen the image up without ruining the aesthetics of the image and suddenly we see creature with long black legs and…fangs!  Doe’s it make you second guess all those times you held one?  Probably not but you get the idea.  The images I have shared are of subjects that are easily found in close to home if you just look.

So how exactly do you get these types of images without a dedicated setup?  Let’s start with your kit lens.  The best kit lens are the ones that have a reach of at least 105mm.  What I will share with you will hold true to everyone no matter what kind of zoom lens you have.  You want to get as close as your lens allows for focusing zoomed in to your subject.  The further you can zoom in and get close the more of your background and foreground will be out of focus.  With “kit” zoom lenses you should be able to shoot at it’s widest setting (usually f/3.5) and get the right amount of the subject in focus.  Here is a BIG warning though.  Most lenses (even professional lenses) are not optically at their sharpest when they are at their widest aperture.  To get the sharpest image that your lens is capable of producing usually requires shooting between f/5.6 and f/8.  Of course not every lens acts the same so I suggest that google search for test reviews of your particular lens and what f-stops gives the sharpest image.  There are times though that you may get a lens copy that wasn’t calibrated correctly and causes back focusing issues with your camera.  If you are getting constantly out of focus images (at least where you intended the focus to be) and you have even tried shooting with a tripod and remote shutter release then this could be the issue.  It can be corrected by you but it isn’t a quick and easy solution.  I won’t go into detail but you can find out how to do this by googling it.

Okay, so you have taken the picture and it’s now up on your photo editing software.  Before you start adjusting for sharpness, color and lighting I suggest you crop first.  Now you have cropped.  Now it’s time to adjust the exposure, contrast, highlights and shadow (but only if needed) then and only then should you start thinking about sharpening.  When you sharpen the image (if you feel it’s needed) you are sharpening for the subjects eyes and you have to be careful not to sharpen to the extent of making the image look digitized.  Only take it to the point of still looking natural.  Once you have your subject to your satisfaction it’s time to look closely at the foreground and background.  Are they both out of focus enough to the viewers eyes are automatically drawn to the subject?  If not, most programs that are out now have the ability to manipulate those areas only and blur them out even further.  Youtube is a great place to find tutorials on pretty much anything and everything that deals in image editing software.  Some companies even have it on their website.

So the point of this blog today is to, again, get you thinking outside of the box.  With practice and the right technique you can transform a back yard, front yard or your local city park into a photo mecca by going small.  The right composition, camera angle (to keep manmade objects out of the picture) and f-stop can make it look as if you went out on a photographic journey to the great outdoors somewhere far away.

One last note.  I mentioned in Monday’s blog about being prepared for snow and that the prediction for Wednesday wasn’t going to be anything to get excited about…well…that may have changed now that they are predicting anywhere between one to six inches.  THAT is enough to get excited about and snow pictures can make for great close-up work!

DSC_3426

Keep warm ~ R

Winter Photography

http://Central Park

It’s that time of year my friends.  That time where throwing off the warm blankets and crawling out of bed seem down right silly.  For the most part I don’t blame anyone with these thoughts.  Of course nothing is going to get done just laying in bed.  There are some things you can do to keep you photographic skills up during the time of year.  Even I don’t get out during the winter very often to shoot.  What does get me out though is right after a fresh snow has fallen overnight.  Of course for me it has to be somewhat significant coverage (not a “dusting”) but this is my preference.

Let’s talk briefly about when it doesn’t snow and it’s just too cold to go out shooting somewhat bare looking landscapes.  Set up a home table top studio.  These can be fun once you get going.  You can become creative and try some crazy ideas in a controlled environment.

http://Two roses without stems and shot glass with fruit punch.  ISO 640 @ f/10 and 1/80th SEC

http://diamond wedding ring on black reflective plastic. ISO 800 @ f/25 and 1/80th SEC

As you can see from the photos above you can continue to create, hone your skills and continue to develop a better understanding of you equipment.  You may think that you need a lot of things or specialized equipment for this but it takes less than you think (and cheaper too).  You can buy table top kits for less the $100 but they are usually limited.  Light output usually isn’t very good and the tent provided is usually small but they do offer other sizes too.

Then again you can make your own.  One way of doing (and this won’t limit much to the size of your subject) is set up a table next to a window.  If your window has a curtain rod then take the curtain off.  Take any color bed sheet (although black or white is the most popular choice for table top) and clamp it to the curtain rod and lay it over the table.  This gives you a large solid background allowing you to shoot many different size objects.  Next, the lights.  You can use either a couple of floor lamps, end table lamps or all of them for different lighting effects.  If you have them (and if not go get them before it gets too cold), I would use the LED bulb they have out now for regular Edison sockets as they have low heat output or the GE Reveal bulbs or any that have near daylight output, as they tend to be easier (for me) to adjust in Light Room.  Use at least a 100 watt equivalent as this will allow you to shoot at lower ISO and higher shutter speed to minimize noise.

Another way of doing this is by using the light from the window as your main light and a white construction paper or anything white and somewhat reflective) to bounce fill light.  You can make the back ground with the bedsheets by taking it to the wall (if you can live with a couple of small holes) or by using a tall enough object (such as a box spring) or objects (a couple of coat racks) to attach the sheet to.  You can also use large construction paper by taping it to the wall and and table to keep it stationary.  How you set it up depends on you.  Think out side of the box.  I’ve made this suggestions because there are many of you out there that do not own external flashes or continuous studio lights.

http://Rose with water drops. ISO 100 @ f/36 and 1/200th SEC

The two roses with shot glass and the ring were shot with a Nikon D800 and a Tokina 100mm macro lens and an inexpensive continuous studio light set that I purchased just for this on Amazon.com for around $300.  The rose with water drops was shot with the same camera but I used a Tamron 180mm macro lens and two Nikon external flashes.  The next picture (below) is one I shot with a lighting solution similar to what I have suggested for the truly budget minded.

http:// ISO 50 @ f/25 and 1/100th SEC

Rather than use external flashes, I used instead the camera’s built in flash at it’s lowest setting (so to help fill shadows and a floor lamp with an arm that extended over the flowers (as a main light).  This helped keep the stems from being to apparent and the background blacked out.  I then used LightRoom to complete the look by darkening the stems out so it was just the flowers.  Again, it comes down to shooting a lot and using a lot of different settings and light configurations.  Many time the best shots come by accident.  Just don’t forget how you got that shot for future reference.

I decided to talk about this mostly for winter photography because I had talked a bit about outdoor winter photography (shooting snow scenes) in an earlier blog.  Just a quick refresher though.  Plan ahead.  I watch the weather reports religiously (no matter what time of year so I can be prepared) to see what the snow predictions are.  As an example, this Wednesday they are predicting rain that may turn over into snow over night but it’s too early to tell just how much snow or if any will actually fall.  Of course we all know that temperature will play a big part as well.  It may be cold enough higher up but if not at ground level then forget the snow pictures.  If everything works out (which it often does here during winter) there will be enough days of a pristine white blanket covering everything and you better be prepared the night before so you can be up before the sunlight crest the horizon.  One set of foot prints in the snow can add to the pictures story but a lot of footprints is just a mess (though I prefer none).

Good gear to have is either a circular polarizing filter or a set of neutral density filters.  Thin insulated gloves that allow for easy camera holding, button pushing and dial turning.  Tripod is a good idea because there is always a good chance that your body will shake a little from the cold once in a while and this will help to battle that.  Snow pants are a great tool to have as well.  I use the term “tool” for them because they give you more warmth without too many extra layers (makes it more comfortable for walking a lot too) and the ability to get down on the ground for creative shots.

Those are my ideas and thoughts for you this winter.  The last thing you want is for your camera to collect dust, your creative juices to dry up and skills to dull.  So don’t let cold non-snow days keep you from continuously learning and developing.  Have fun no matter what.  This is what we do and love so it shouldn’t feel like work but rather the creation of art.

All the very best ~ R

An interview with VFX/FX artist Emmanouil Bampatsikos

Bampatsikos_Emmanouil

Meet Emmanouil Bampatsikos.  An up and coming VFX/FX artist that you should keep your eye one.  Emmanouil graduated from University of Kent  (Masters of Science / Digital Visual Effects) in 2013 and at his current age of 27yrs old it would seem he is a late bloomer.  Then again, when you look at his show reel, you might just think he did it at the right time for himself.  Check out his show reel below and decide for yourself.

Robert – Did you draw, sculpt or paint prior to getting into digital arts?

Emmanuel – No.  Believe it or not, I didn’t know how to do any of those things prior to pursuing this career.  Just the basics that your parents hang on the refrigerator door even though they’re not sure what it is you drew.

R – Why did you decide to go into the arts of VFX/FX work?

E – It was just my dream to get into the field of creating realistic effects for movies, ads and games and tried hard to achieve my targets. I love watching movies with visual effects, also creating ads and games, Thats why i started learning VFX.

R – For everyone out there who doesn’t know…Can can give us the difference between VFX and FX in short detail?

E – VFX is the general meaning of all the digital visual  artism. Including modeling, animation, texturing, compositing and many others. In all that, one more section is the FX, which means the effects specializing, like smoke, fire, explosions etc.

R – You graduated from University of Kent  (Digital Visual Effects) in 2013 and after only a year out of school you have already accomplished a lot.  I know that most people that graduate from film schools come to realize that the industry is saturated with film school grads and that breaking into the industry for pay is very difficult and can take a lot of time.  How were you able to get so much work so early?  Is it just that really good VFX/FX artist are in short supply?

E – As for myself, I did a lot to reach this level, especially during my master studies, and every day I’m hunting for more work. I want the different experiences and also I love this field so much. That’s why I can work hard. VFX needs fantasy and dreams and this is want I really like. My brain can’t stop working under these conditions. I didn’t have the chance from my university to get into the VFX houses but I’m doing freelance and have partners all over the world because I found the power to speak to each one without knowing them.

R – What part of VFX/FX work do you find the most challenging?

E – For me the most challenging field is the FX because you have to create realistic phenomenon which are around us and you have to create them as closer to the original.

R – Of all the VFX/FX software out there which is your favorite?

E – My favorite software is Maya from Autodesk, because I started working on it before 2 years and I believe after a long research and experiments to some softwares that is very strong for VFX. Also for effects is very strong and next versions will have more updates.

R – Which is your least favorite?

E – My least favorite is 3Ds Max at the moment, but this is not something standard. According to the needs, maybe I will need also 3Ds Max, which is also very powerful.

R – Which one was the hardest to learn and master?

E – According to my opinion the hardest to learn and master are Maya and Houdini.

R – Do you have a particular project that you have already worked on that you find the most  rewarding (not financially but rather personally)?

E – The two projects (My showreel and The video for the Kazakhstani museum), I sent you are for me and according to many opinions, the most rewarding, Also I’m working for a short film in US, with a team around the world and with target to get the short film to famous festivals.

R – Where do you hope to be in your career down the road?  Working solely as a freelancer or working with someone like Pixar?

E – My target is to work for some years in a big studio like Pixar, MPC, DNeg, Cinesite, Dreamworks, ILM etc. and then do freelancing for them remotely. This is my dream and my target. As for the moment I’m quite happy working as freelancer for so many stuff and keep myself so busy.

R – Do you have any advice to anyone who is considering this as a career path?

E – I’m advising all the people to follow their dreams and not what they have to do to make money or if they have particular jobs in their country. This is my advice in general. So for the field I believe that freelancing needs a lot of work until reaching a point and have so many customers and then have a good salary. But I believe that all should have an experience from a big studio. At least for some years.

All the very best to you all ~ R

Fall Photography

This time of year, when the temps begin to fall, I find myself struggling a little more with the desire to get out of the comfort of my bed and warm covers just to go and shoot.  Too bad to because this is one of the best times to go.

Not only do you get great colors of the changing leaves here in New York (and many other places)…

DSC_4806

but you also get migrating birds that are stopping over for a time before moving further south.

http://

I have come to learn that some of these migratory birds will actually stay here for the winter and then move on.  Besides these guys though, there are the usual suspects that are here all year and no less fun to photograph.

http://

Where is the best place to find our fine feathered friends?  For me, right here in New York City.  Of all the parks here, Central Park is probably the best.  It’s certainly the easiest.  Many of the birds here you can get pretty close to which is really nice for the photographer who is on a tight budget and isn’t able to throw cash down on at $8000 lens!

Central Park has areas that offer great fall foliage to photograph as well.  You just have to be willing to walk around and explore.  Other areas to note here in the city for colors and migratory birds are Forest Park in Queens, Prospect Park in Brooklyn and New York Botanical Garden in Harlem.  While these areas are easy for landscape photography they can be more challenging for bird photography.  This is where that nice big lens comes in handy.  What is the best focal length for birding?  The 600mm lens is probably the most common but you could get by with a 400mm lens coupled with 1.4 extender.   Of course, if you are shooting with an APS-C size sensor then that 400mm lens becomes the equivalent to a 600mm lens without an extender.  You could save a ton of money by going with a 300mm lens and an extender with that size sensor and you’ll have plenty of reach as well.

Of course, you still have to get yourself out of bed despite temps in the 30’s, if you are hoping to get the colors or the birds!  Don’t procrastinate though because the orange, red and yellows will be gone much fast than the those feathery flighty critters.  Good luck shooting (photographing)!

Best~R

Thinking Outside of the Box

Hi everyone.  Thank you for sticking with me.  I’m happy to be back and share one of my passions with you.  Today is going to be about photographing flowers and the practice of thinking “outside the box”.  One of the most common mistakes for those just getting into photography is photographing their subject in the center of the camera’s frame.  You see something pretty.  You look through the view finder.  The subject is in the center of the frame and you snap the picture.  There are some occasions where this might work but not often.  Not only will I harp on composition and the but also creative ways to shoot your subject.

http:// flower 1

The picture above (flower 1) has a soft dreamy look to it.  A peer of mine said to me at one time “it looks like a painting now…imagine how much more it would if it were on canvas!”.  Every time I go out and shoot I try to get my results in camera because I’m not a professional graphics artist.  My work with Light Room and Photo Shop is just basic enhancements right now.

The effect the I was able to achieve with the flower above is a mixture of having the right equipment and knowing how to maximize your camera’s settings.  For all of you who shoot with your camera phones…you’ll need to be really good with post production work to get this.  For everyone else (even those with point a shoot camera’s) this is obtainable.

http://

So let’s start with everyone who’s using point and shoot camera’s.  Most point and shoot camera’s have a macro setting thus allowing you to get closer to your subject.  The problem here is (at least from my understanding), most of those camera’s macro capabilities work only at the wide end of the camera’s lens zoom range.  This will make it difficult to get enough of the foreground and background out of focus for this type of effect.  Don’t worry though because there is a way to get by this obstacle without doing a ton of post editing…use a close-up filter.

Hopefully your camera’s lens has front threads that allow you to use screw-on-filters (or you’ll have to hand hold the filter).  I have read reviews of some camera’s who’s lens has what appears to be threads but doesn’t take filters so you may want to check your camera’s manual to be sure.  The close-up filter’s only objective is to allow you to obtain focus at a closer distance.  Your lens and f-stop play a big roll in how much of the dreamy effect you get.

Okay.  So you went out and bought a set of close-up filters and now you’re ready to go and shoot.  Great!  One piece of equipment I find to be very important when it comes to this type of work is a tripod and remote release.  Most everyone has a tripod (whether you spent $50 or $2000) but many do not have remote releases. Good news is, if you camera is able to accept remote release, you can get one for less than $10.  If your camera doesn’t allow the use of one or you don’t have a store close enough, again don’t fear, you can use your camera’s self timer feature.  The remote (or self timer) is simply to eliminate as much camera vibration as possible.  If you have a light weight tripod then I would suggest finding away to use your camera bag as a hanging weight.  This will help with vibrations caused by the breeze.

Now you are at the door.  Everything’s in hand.  Don’t go out yet!  Take the time to get your camera out first and check your camera’s settings.  Make sure that you turn off your camera’s macro feature because you have the close-up filters.  I’m not saying you can’t use them at the same time, I just want you to become comfortable with just the filters first.    Most of the camera’s out now allow you to shoot manual, aperture priority, shutter priority or use programmed scene settings.  Of course there is auto but no…you will stop using auto from this point on.  Right?  Right!  While I prefer complete control (using the manual setting) I want to make this as simple as possible for you until you get more comfortable with your camera.  With that being said…set your camera to aperture priority.  Now set your aperture to it’s widest setting (hopefully that will be between (f/1.4 to f/5.6 depending on the focal length you are shooting at).  The lower the number the more of your foreground and background will be out of focus.  Now let’s go out!

http:// flower 3

Now that you are out “in the field” and your camera is set up for shooting, it’s time to start.  Remember when I had you set your f-stop (aperture) to it’s lowest number?  This is so you have a starting point.  When you shoot, you will start there and with each picture (of the same subject) you will adjust the f-stop upwards one stop at a time.  I suggest that your last shot is at f/8.  This way when you get it on your computer you’ll be able to compare them and see what “feels” right to you.  Shooting for that soft dreamy look is a part of the “outside the box” thinking I mentioned but you want to constantly find ways to add more “punch” or “uniqueness” to your flower pictures.  We often will look for the “perfect” flower but this is where you have to really begin to look at what’s around you.  What do you think would be more interesting?  A perfect flower or a flower that has one petal that is bent?  The flower that is a little imperfect has character and a story to tell if it could talk.

http:// flower 4 (example of finding something with character or uniqueness)

I mentioned in an earlier blog about composition (rule of thirds) and I will continue to do so in other blogs.  It’s one of those elements that helps you go from “snap shooter” to a “photographer”.  I won’t guarantee instant professionalism but you will begin to stand out from casual shooters.  In the example of the first flower picture my point of focus is the green top of the middle stem.  It is the only thing I want in focus.  You’ll notice how the base of the the subject starts off in the lower thirds (both horizontally and vertically) and the point of focus ends up just to the right of being dead center (horizontally) but it’s top is in the upper thirds (vertically).  This is working with the compositional “rules of thirds”.  The flower (or point of focus) is not in the center of the frame.  It is at a point that allows your eyes to be drawn to it.

Other ways of getting more out of this style (and let me say that this can work with any style) is to look for uniqueness within the scene.  Sometimes you may even have to create that “uniqueness” by trying different camera angles (see example of flower 3).  That’s the beauty and fun of digital photography though.  You can try things out and shoot as much as you want without spending extra money (on film).  Another great piece of equipment to use (if you can) is an external flash (not your built in flash) AND a white and a black mesh screen.  You understand the flash but why the mesh screen?  A mesh screen cut into a square large enough to be rubber banned over the front of your lens will create a foggy/misty look providing that the mesh holes are big enough for the lens to focus on your subject.  Just go to your local lenin store and look at the material that is used to make veils.  This is also a great trick for portraits!

Now this is for everyone out there (point and shooters and dslr users)…another filter that will help you get this effect (if you are struggling to get it) is the “soft focus” filter or the soft focus lens for dslr.  Depending on how much you are willing to spend the lens of course will produce better results than the filter (but not by much).  You’ll still want to practice with using the lower f-stop range but the soft focus filter will get you quicker results.  If you are wondering…no…I did not use one (soft focus filter) nor do I own one but I understand what my camera and equipment can do.

For my fellow dslr users out there you have a few more options in equipment because you can change your lens and we know we can take screw on filters.  Besides the close-up filter we have the choice of using a dedicated macro lens, extension tubes or a bellows.  Bellows are great BUT a good one is not cheap so I have shied away from using those.  The cheap alternative (and I’ve mentioned this in another blog and it’s something that I own) is the extension tube.  They come in sets of three and can be purchased for less than $100.  They have no glass so there is no loss of image quality and you can use one tube or all three (which will really get you in close) at the same time.  Some support auto focusing but more times than not you’ll find that auto focusing in macro/close-up work is often frustrating (even if you are using a dedicated macro lens and no tubes).

Take a good look at the photo’s above.  You’ll notice that flower 2 (shot with a 35mm non macro lens attached to an extension tube) seems to have more depth (or separation) in the scene than flower 1 (shot with a dedicated 150mm macro lens) and flower 3 (shot with 70-200mm “macro” lens and extension tube).  Something that’s important to know in fine art photography (this also plays into filmmaking) is that the wider the lens (or the wider you shoot with your zoom…if you don’t have a prime lens) the more sense of “space” (the amount of space between your subject and everything around it) or separation.  In flower 1 and 3 you can see that those scenes are more of what we call “crushed”.  There is no sense of space or separation in relation to the subject and what is in front of it and behind it.

I know this makes it sound more complicated and involved just to get to this effect but it’s not.  Not really anyway.  If you have a zoom lens and an extension tube then just play around with different focal lengths.  Just remember the closer you can get to you subject (without being right on top of it) the easier it will be to get the dreamy look.  Use that LCD on the back of your camera!  Often when you are out in the field shooting flowers and such the the lcd is hard to see due to the bright sun.  A quick easy fix for this (because you are using a tripod) is to use an umbrella!  Not just any umbrella mind you.  No.  Look for umbrellas for baby strollers or lounge chairs.  These are great (except on really windy days of course) because they just clamp to the tripod leg and blocks the sun from the LCD screen.  In live view you are able to see the effects automatically your settings will render before you even shoot.  This will of course use up your battery faster but you are practicing and learning so who cares!

Here is the breakdown of each shot above to give you some starting point!

Flower 1…Nikon D7000, Sigma 150mm macro lens, external flash used with diffuser, f/5.6 @ 1/80th sec and ISO 200 (tripod and remote release used).

Flower 2…Nikon D800, Nikon 35mm lens, 12mm extension tube, f/2 @ 1/8000th sec and ISO 400 (tripod and remote release used but no flash).

Flower 3…Nikon D60, Tamron 70-200mm “macro” lens at 200mm, 12mm extension tube, f/5.6 @ 1/125th sec and ISO 320 (tripod and remote release but no flash).

A quick note on the Tamron 70-200 lens.  This isn’t a true macro lens but they (Tamron) list it as a macro lens because it allows you to get close enough to your subject for a 1:3 reproduction rate (most zooms allow for about a 1:6 reproduction rate).  A true macro lens is 1:1.

There you have it.  If you have any questions please don’t hesitate to ask and if you have an image that you took and would like feed back on it or would like it featured on the blog let me know.  Now get out there and shoot!

Best~R

I haven’t forgotten you

Hello everyone!

I want to apologize to everyone about the lack of activity on on this week.  I had to adjust my priorities this week.  My wife had hand/wrist surgery leaving her unable to use her dominate hand so I (the good husband I am *smiles*) put everything to the side to take care of her.  I’m able to make a little time for myself right now to jump on here and give you all an update and let you know that I will be back on schedule come Monday.

All the very best!

Robert