Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Photographing Action Sports Events - 10 tips

Whew!  Hope everybody has had a wonderful holiday season so far.  There’s just major one left, happens on about the first of January and I’m sure you know what I’m talking about!  It’s got me thinking about what’s left of 2010 and what’s ahead in 2011.  I’ve got all sorts of fairly sensible resolutions.  So I can keep an eye on my progress, I’ve written a few down.  But that’s not what this is about!  I’ve been blogging about landscape photography recently and I feel like changing gears (pardon the pun) here on the blog a bit.

Roger Lee Hayden powers the Kawasaki MotoGP bike out of turn 5 at Laguna Seca during his one-off ride in 2007. 
As usual, thinking about the future has me remembering the past somewhat fondly, and there’s something that I hope to do in 2011 that I’ve done quite a bit in the past.  It’s been a few years since I attended any major motorcycle race events, and as I prepare to hit a few races this year I’ve started to formulate a photographic strategy to maximize the chance to come home with some memorable images.  
As I look over images I've shot in the past, and in an effort to move toward some new kinds of images this year, it’s worthwhile to take stock of where I’ve been in the past.  Several things emerge as strategies to help me come home with lots of good images.  I’m going to share ten tips for shooting at large action sports events.  I’ll use motorcycling in the following tips but these will generally apply to any kind of action sports event.  
I’m going to assume you, like me, are stuck behind official boundaries.  Press access is not available to most of us, yet many outstanding photo opportunities exist.  With that in mind, here are my top 10 tips for photographic success at events this year.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Lost Highway

The other morning I was out for a short run when Bon Jovi’s Lost Highway played over the iPod Shuffle.  Sometimes life gives you a good moment.  This was one of those.  Felt like goin’ on forever.

“I’ve finally found my way, said goodbye to yesterday...I’m bustin’ loose, I’m lettin’ go, out on this open road.  It’s Independence Day on this Lost Highway.” 

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Evening at the Isaac Hale Beach Park, revisited

Sitting in the airport in Hilo, just about to board the plan for HNL then on home.  Looking through the LR3 library, working on keywording and ranking, etc.  Thought I'd share this image from last night's sunset.  Sort of a precursor to yesterday's blog post, and not really what I felt like I was there to do, but thought it was interesting anyway.  The composition is identical to the previous image as it was difficult to safely crawl around on the wet lava in the dying light.  

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Twenty second slice of Paradise

Everybody has someplace special, somewhere they call Paradise.
D700, 16-35 f4, polarizer and Singh-Ray Vari-ND, 20 seconds at f11.

Rainbow Falls

Nikon D700, 16-35 mm f4, polarizer plus 2 stop hard Singh-Ray neutral grad.  That, and a bit of work in Lightroom.  

Had a great day chasing waterfalls.  Here's Rainbow Falls along the Wailuku River, practically downtown Hilo.

Saturday, December 4, 2010


We were having breakfast on the Lanai as the sun came up this morning.  Something caught my attention on the wooden post nearest the table.  As Hawaiian visitors for the last half a century will agree, it’s not unusual to see geckos around dwellings.  Precisely how they arrived on these islands is not known, but several species of small geckos have been commonplace since at least 1940, perhaps long before.  Polynesian imports, the usual suspects are various shades of grey, beige and brown, and all look quite similar.  They’re highly nocturnal, becoming active only after the sun sets and often seen hunting bugs near porch lights late into the evening.  This morning it took a few seconds for the situation to correctly register in my brain - “Hey, it’s not dark, and this one’s GREEN!”  Wahoo!!!
Since long before my first visit to the Hawaiian islands I’ve been aware that a few species of Day Geckos run wild there.  Indigenous to Madagascar, individuals of a couple of species, including the Gold Dust Day Gecko (Phelsuma lauticauda) and Orange-Spotted Day Gecko (Phelsuma guimbeaui), were released by hobbyists.  More recently Giant Day Geckos (Phelsuma madagascariensis) appeared and persist in at least one neighborhood in Oahu.  A long time ago, in what seems like a different lifetime, I kept a prolific pair of Giant Day Geckos and have been a huge fan ever since.  
This morning we were in for a tiny, orange-flecked, green thrill as we were visited by a tiny Gold Dust Day Gecko.  One of the smaller species, these little guys give away absolutely nothing in flash to their larger cousins.  Distant as they may be to their native Madagascar, it was really exciting seeing one “in the wild”.  
My camera was nearby on the tripod, having finished a quick flurry of activity while the sun rose this morning.  Poor Suzanne was thinking I might sit still long enough to have one complete meal without interruption.  This morning, no luck!  I dashed for the camera, yanked it off the tripod, swung through the bungalow to change the wide angle zoom for the 105 mm macro, cranked up the ISO, squeezed down the aperture, and hoped there would be enough shutter speed to avoid motion blur.  The bright sunlight would help.  I slowly crept up on the tiny lizard and mashed the shutter, focusing manually and hoping like mad there’d be a sharp frame.  

Tech: D700, 105 f2.8 macro lens, f11 at 1/1000th, ISO 800.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Checking in from the Big Island

Hello from Hilo, HI!  Arrived at our rented cottage last evening after an uneventful but long-ish day “on the road”.  It was already fully dark, well past dusk.  No way to get here earlier in the day given our arrival time in Hilo as well as the need to pick up a few groceries.  Pulled in the driveway and was impressed with several things, most of which involved the remoteness of the location and the not-unrelated lack of light pollution.  After quickly unloading I knew it was time to make a few exposures of the amazing night sky.  Shot just a handful of images then started a longer exposure which might have showed some nice star trails if it hadn’t started raining about 20 minutes into the shot.  Felt a bit silly for not having fitted the camera with some rain gear, but it wouldn’t have made a difference anyway because the lens was pointed at the sky.  Bailed on the long exposure, which is going to have to wait for the weather to clear or another less rainy location from which to shoot.  In any event, the first few frames turned out nicely and I thought I’d share.

Technical details: D700, 24 mm f1.4, 30 seconds at f1.8, ISO 1600.  Focused on infinity and taped the focus ring.
Spent the day scouting around a bit, but the weather was uncooperative as the landscape was beautiful.  Huge surf at the coast, incredible flora everywhere.  Can't wait to get out and make some more images.  For now, however, it's time to fire up the grill.  Have Israel on the iPod, fire on the grill and the chorus in the rainforest is warming up.  More to come...

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving

Hoping everyone has a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday.  And some good pie.  ;-)

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Fall Desktop

I'm a little conflicted.  I'm sort of bummed that the best fall color here in Boise is quickly passing.  But the good news is that there is already snow in the peaks north of town.  Fall is quickly showing hints of winter, and that means it's almost time to get a fresh coat of wax on the skis.

Before that happens, however, enjoy a nice fall desktop.  October almost got away from me but I thought I'd bring out a seasonal image to download.  I've made it simpler this time, just click on the image and you'll be able to save it.

Backlit maple leaves in the fall sunshine.
Until next time!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Freestyle BMX in the park.

It's gorgeous in Boise right now, clearly fall is in the air and the foliage is about at its peak.  So yesterday morning I went out and chased down a few images of fall.  (Here's a link.)  It was an inspiring start to the day, but I realized what I really wanted to do was shake off the scenics and dig into some gnarly action.

There's a kick-ass skate and bicycle park just up the road from my house and that turned out to be the ticket.  Met some dudes who can really wick it up and we were set!  

Some of the key elements I wanted to accomplish was to set the athletes out from their environment.  There are many ways to put the emphasis on your subject, including depth of focus, careful clean background selection, contrast, etc.  But my goal was to use lights.  I love the look when you overpower mid-day light with strobes to add drama, but that's hard to do with small flash unless the working distance is really close.  It's possible, but not within enough space to allow BMX riders to pull their tricks.  In order to be able to light them and still leave room to move, I waited until the sun was low and the light levels dropped a bit.  The lights themselves make an appearance in some of the images.  Some folks might find that distracting but I left them in there, as I think they add a cool element of style.  

Know what? Enough details, let's get right into the images!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Nik's HDR Efex Pro

Spent a little time playing around with Nik's new HDR program this afternoon and had some thoughts and images to share. I'm no HDR expert by any means, but even a cursory examination reveals there's a lot going on here for everyone from rank beginner to seasoned artist.   My initial reaction is that this program is going to be a great addition to the image manipulation toolkit.  The feature set is remarkable!  You can get an idea of what's available for your image in this screenshot.

Screenshot of Nik's HDR Efex Pro

Let's start at the beginning.  How do you get started in HDR Efex Pro?  I've become a Lightroom 3 user in the last few weeks, so that's where I begin.  Start by selecting a series of images with differing exposures.  There are a few ways to go from this point, but I'd suggest hitting the export button in the lower left.  This brings up an export dialogue where you can select HDR Efex Pro from the Nik Software preset.  This is set up right out of the box, as the program is installed, with the correct parameters including JPEG or TIFF and appropriate color space (AdobeRGB is the default but you can select sRGB and ProPhoto RGB if you desire).  Just hit Export when you're ready.  Lightroom creates the TIFFs and opens HDR Efex Pro right up for you.  The HDR program takes if from there, assembling a basic image.  

Continued after the break.

Friday, October 8, 2010

A big day for HDR

Although I find myself drawn to a fairly "photo-realistic" style, with generally not much in the way of image manipulation being done, it's hard to avoid the fact that HDR-style photography can be a very powerful tool for some images.  Late last evening I got an email from the great folks at Nik indicating that their new, eagerly-ancipated program, HDR Efex Pro, was ready for prime time.  
Over the last few months we've seen some great previews of what will be possible with this program, and being familiar with other Nik products I knew that this was something I was going to want.  Well, today's the day.  If you're interested in what HDR, and more specifically HDR Efex Pro can do for you, head on over to the Nik site and have a look!
I've got some images to go process.  Maybe I can put some samples up later tonight.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Desktop image downloads

Today I'm starting what will hopefully be a fun monthly event.  I'm going to start periodically offering download of a photo which can be used as a desktop image.  To kick things off, I've put what I think is a pretty neat image of the Garden of the Gods in Lanai in a password-protected gallery on my website.  After clicking the link, you'll be asked for a password.  Enter the word "Facebook", work through just a couple of prompts and you should have a great new image to use on your computer's desktop.  


Tuesday, September 21, 2010


I remember back in the day when every picture taken was magically turned into a print at the local drugstore or camera shop.  In a way, it was easy, just dropping the roll off at the counter, filling out the order on the back of the envelope, then checking back in a few days.  But if your experiences were anything like mine, the prints rarely matched our expectations.  First, not nearly every picture was ever intended to see the light of day.  There were just too many "do overs" that no one needed to see.  Second, even for the shots wherein things seemed to line up perfectly, the little 4 x 6 rarely seemed to meet up with my vision for the image.  Ultimately I've decided that I was leaving too much up to the printers.  They were great at producing a perfectly average exposure and saved most of us from ourselves a lot of the time, let's admit.  But great prints need individual attention to detail, and mass production just wasn't a way to get down to the good stuff.

My frustration with the lab development and printing process was peaking at just about the time digital photography became available to the masses.  All of a sudden here was a practical, accessible, relatively affordable way to have complete control of the negative, from capture to print.  Never mind the discussion about when digital may or may not have exceeded the quality of film, digital brought so much control that my images were almost immediately closer to what I'd envisioned when squeezing the shutter.

Several years later, we're almost completely accustomed to viewing images on electronic devices.  We've got a million ways to share and enjoy images, and in my opinion the world is entirely better for it.  I love the instant gratification of sharing an image literally seconds after it was made.  Yet I continue to come back full circle.  The view on even my 24 inch monitor doesn't approach the pleasure of holding a freshly minted print in my hands and watching the light play off the surface.  No, certainly not every image should be printed.  But when you just nail that image, when things come together just right, there's something special about immortalizing that image on paper that really brings satisfaction.

No doubt, taking control out of the hands of the technician operating the print machine at the drugstore has meant that we've had to acquire some new skills.  Now, if the print sucks, there's no one to blame but ourselves.  But what else do you have to do with your life if not to continue to learn, adapt, move forward?  There's literally not one moment, if we're alive and breathing, that we have the right to sit and be complacent, to stop growing.  I'm personally so much a happier camper with the ability to have such an effect across the whole imaging process, I'm completely happy to accept responsibility for the results.

And with that in mind, I am glad to announce the availability of prints on  For a long time I've wanted to have a place where these are available, and that day is finally here.  As you click around, you'll notice a "BUY" button.  Click there to check on size and finish options.  There are currently a limited number of images available, but that will change with time, and before long I hope to have hundreds of images available from which to choose.  Until the collection is more completely filled out, feel free to inquire about a specific theme or location, I may have just what you're looking for even if it's not available on the website yet!

I'm sitting here looking at a fresh 16 x 24 print of the taro fields in Kauai.  I can't help but think back when the first thoughts of this image crossed my mind.  It's an amazing process: conceiving of an image, going out and capturing it, preparing the file with lots of care for a print, then holding the end result in your hands.  I have to say, the print of the taro fields is WAY beyond what I felt could be accomplished.  I'm completely happy with it and I know, if you see it first hand, you'll enjoy it too.  The metallic finish is out of this world!

I'd love to make a custom print for you, just click on your favorite, make an order, and you'll have an amazing print in your hands in just a few days.

Until next time...enjoy the photography in your life!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

A point, proven again.

Once again, with Photokina less than a week away, the camera manufactures are releasing new gear at full-tilt and marketing departments are at full song.  Not that there's anything wrong with that, I love new gear as much as anyone!  But it matters much less than they'd have you believe.  As David duChemin constantly reminds us, craft and vision are much more powerful tools than any specific gear we use in our photographic endeavors.  Case in point, Chase Jarvis' recent time with a pre-production version of Nikon's latest camera, the D7000.  If you take the time to become just a little bit familiar with his work (go ahead, have a look around his site, I'll wait here), you'd notice that the ridiculously amazing images and video he produced with this camera look very much like the work he produces with cameras five times as expensive.  Clearly the new kit was up to the task of helping him and his crew express his vision.  But more importantly, no matter what camera he uses, his images will be absolutely recognizable, absolutely at the upper extent of what's possible with a camera and lens.  Point proven, again.

New gear!

Seems like the last-minute information leaks were just about right on, once the official announcements were made.  The new D7000 looks like a LOT of camera for the money.  Lots of great features, and like Chase Jarvis said, ergonomic features are even more important than "specs" when it comes to making great images.  Go take a minute and check out the amazing images and video he and his crew put together.  (So this is what he was up to in Palm Springs a few months ago, eh?)

The 35mm f1.4 lens should be fantastic, though that's just not my favorite focal length.  Nikon shooters who prefer primes should be ecstatic with the recent introduction of the 24, 35, 85, and the rebuilt 50mm from not too long ago.  The upgraded 200 f2 will remain awesome, no changes to the optical formula are specified.  I've not shot with that lens but I hear it's a really neat piece of glass.  Maybe need to rent that sometime...  After recently acquiring the new 24mm f1.4, I sure intend to rent the new 85 and take it for a spin.

I'm trying to decide how excited to be about the new SB700 speedlight.  In appears likely to improve on most every aspect of the SB600, which already represented a lot of flash for the money.  I'm encouraged by the increased power, new interface including switches (in the manner of the SB900) to control the flash mode (for example, master, remote, etc) without having to enter the menu, and the fact that the SB700 can now function as a master.  The off-camera flash guru Strobist expressed dismay at the lack of a PC jack, but that's probably not important if you are able to work within the CLS system and avoid Pocket Wizards.  The SB700 costs a fair bit more than the SB600 but is still cheaper than the SB900 and that probably helps it remain a fairly good deal for a lot of folks.  You know, I think I'm starting to like this new strobe already.

Hmm, so I think that's enough gear stuff for one day.  All the new stuff looks great, honestly, and we already knew that our old stuff wasn't really holding us back anyway.  I'm heading out to shoot!

Until next time.

Edit: As was the case for the SB900 versus the SB800, it looks like the SB700 may not be more powerful than the SB600.  It can be difficult to tell, based on that information is published. 

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Almost "showtime".

Well, here we go, folks.  Looks like tonight's expected announcement from Nikon may be the last announcement before Photokina.  Nikon Rumors has posted leaked images from tonight's expected announcement and there's some tasty stuff in there!  The D7000 looks really good, with what appear to be great ergonomics, nice build quality, and perhaps most usefully, what appear to be a couple of custom settings banks accessible from a dial on the upper left.  If, like with most recent Nikons, the sensor produces nice images this should be a huge hit.
I'll personally be watching the lens and speedlight news more closely.  A new 35mm f1.4 lens is expected and, if it's anything like the recent 24mm and 85mm primes, should be outstanding.  The SB700 is long overdue and should be a nice upgrade from the SB600.
My first meeting in the morning isn't too early, so I'll be staying up late tonight awaiting the official announcement.  Specs will be interesting to read, as usual.  And although there's always the possibility of disappointment when specs meet reality, it has to be said that most of Nikon's products lately have been fantastic.