Monday, 28 of July of 2014

Aerial Photography Tools

Aerial Photography Tools

Aerial photography has long been one of the provinces reserved only to those who had the means to get a camera up in the air. While it has been possible to put a light-weight camera on a remote controlled airplane, it also requires a lot of skill and finesse to work the controls so that the entire thing doesn’t come crashing down in heap of broken circuitry and tears. However, some enterprising companies are seeing that aerial photography is becoming more and more popular and have begun to design and sell small personal-use “drones” that photographers can put their cameras on and see them relatively protected or that have built-in cameras ready to go on them.

Rigs like the Parrot Bebop Drone are fairly easy to use and come with a design that is easily stabilized so that crashes aren’t as common with it as they are with novices testing out RC planes or helicopters (which can be both funny and frustrating at the same time). They also generally have a very good range on them while RC gear may or may not function well once it’s gone beyond line of sight.

However, these rigs with built-in cameras do have one severe draw-back that RC toys do not share — battery-life. The Parrot Bebop Drone has a flight-time of 12 minutes. One of the longest-lasting aerial photography drones, the Phantom 2 Vision+, can go for 25 minutes.

Now, if you’d really like to get into some aerial photography but don’t want a drone that’s going to need a recharge every quarter hour and you don’t want to have to master the intricate controls of a remote-controlled helicopter, there is still a possibility that offers a good bit of control, flexibility, and is not terribly expensive or risky. Helium balloons can do everything that a helicopter can do but without the need to fiddle with the controls so much or having to worry about losing buoyancy. Depending on how much helium you have and how many balloons you rig up, you can have your camera ascend to any height you desire. By attaching a string to the balloon(s) and holding on to it, you can guide them in the direction you want them to go or even manipulate the height a bit. Also, so long as your camera rig is sturdy and well-secured to the balloons, you don’t have to worry about it landing somewhere beyond your reach (unless you let go of the balloons, of course).

What are some ways you’d like to give aerial photography a try? Are you an RC-addict? A balloonist? A drone user? Or something else entirely? Let us know in the comments below!

– da Bird


Weekly Wrap-Up

Weekly Wrap-Up

It’s been another interesting week in the world of photography. Samsung, Olympus, and Nikon are announcing new cameras and putting proto-types in the hands of photographers and reviewers. There have also been a lot of photojournalists out covering the stories about the disaster in Afghanistan and the Ukraine. Seasoned photographers have also been doling out advice for photographers to use for Mother’s Day gift-making and for setting up photography businesses for those who are ready to plunge headlong into making their hobby make their living.

All of these stories and more were featured on our Twitter feed this week. However, if you’re not following us on Twitter then we’ll recap the highlights for you below.

That’s all for this week, folks. Have a great weekend and see you again next week!

– da Bird


Photo History: World War I

Photo History: World War I

One of my favorite news sources is InFocus from Atlantic Magazine. Today, I saw that they’re doing a series on photos of the World War One. The first World War (or the Great War as most Europeans call it) is actually a lot more important than many people realize. If it hadn’t been for Europe fighting itself into near-exhaustion from 1914 – 1917, then the second World War and the aftermath of it would have looked much, much different.

What I find most fascinating, though, about WWI is that it was really the first war to be photographed. Yes, there were photographers in the American Civil War and in the minor (compared to the later wars in the 20th century) wars of the latter half of the 1800s (Franco-Prussia, Spanish-American, etc). Photography was really beginning to come into its own in the early years of the 20th century and many people took for granted that cameras and photography would become rather widespread — albeit their vision of photography of the future bears almost as much resemblance to reality as the vision of life in 2015 will look like what Back to the Future II predicted. Still, looking at these photos of soldiers from WWI, it’s funny how much they look like soldiers today. Yes, the uniforms are different but any of these fellows, with a change of clothes, could fit in quite comfortably among their peers a century later. The postures, the behaviors, even the hairstyles wouldn’t be considered outlandish in this day and age.

Also, it’s interesting to see just how comfortable in front of the lens these men have become. Early portrait photography generally involved people looking stern and uncomfortable (somewhat due to the fact they had to sit or stand so still for ten to fifteen minutes for the photo to be taken). However, by the 1910s, people were comfortable enough with photography and it was no longer a rare, once-in-a-lifetime kind of event. Cameras had also become a good bit more mobile (though nothing like as mobile as they are today) and rugged so that they could be carried to the front lines and the trenches and used to capture the day-to-day nitty-gritty horrors of war.

What is your favorite era of photographic history? Let us know in the comments below!

– da Bird


Weekly Wrap-Up

Weekly Wrap-Up

It’s Friday and it’s been another week filled with news about new cameras and gear from Fujifilm and Sony. With the seasons changing, photographers have been out capturing the changing of the seasons and the news of the storms that have ravaged the Midwest and the South has been front and center on most people’s radars. The Smithsonian and National Geographic are also showcasing some of the best photos of the first part of 2014. And, photographers have been offering advice to novices on improving their knowledge of the field and cameras.

All of these stories and more were covered in our Twitter feed this week. However, if you’re not following us on Twitter, we’ll recap the top stories for you below!


That’s all for this week, folks! Have a great weekend and see you again next week!

– da Bird


Mobile Photography: What Do You Do With It?

Mobile Photography: What Do You Do With It?

Mobile photography has exploded in usage over the past couple of years, moving from being something on the very fringes of photography to becoming a respected field in its own right. There are mobile photography awards held every year now and the winners are often very talented photographers who can take non-high-end gear and make it work almost as well as a multi-thousand dollar camera. The camera built in to smartphones these days has gone from being a secondary feature to becoming something fairly important in its own right. Smartphone manufacturers are now working to learn from camera manufacturers how to squeeze the most performance out of their chipsets, sensors, and lenses. Some are even making snap-on lenses to help mobile photographers get the biggest bang for their buck.

For a great many people, their smartphone has replaced their point-and-shoot as their go-to camera. Are you one of those people? If so, what kind of photography do you focus on with your mobile phone? Do you take it with you when you hit the hiking trail, using it to capture landscape and wildlife photos? Or are you more action-oriented, taking your phone with you to record your feats of derring-do when you race down that dirt track on your bike, jump out of that airplane, ski down that mountain, or swim deep under the surface of the water? Do you take photos of day-to-day life in the city or the country where ever you live? Are you more of a food photographer or a portrait specialist?

Whatever you do with your mobile photography, we’d love to see your work. Feel free to share it with us over on Facebook! And let us know what you think of mobile photography in the comments below!

– da Bird


National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest 2014

National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest 2014

The National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest for 2014 is underway! Would-be entrants need to get their submissions in by June 30 in order to be eligible for winning. However, National Geographic does have some of the early contenders ready for viewing and InFocus was nice enough to select some of the best of these images for their article on the photo contest.

Personally, I would have a hard time choosing a favorite from these. They’re all so well done. I love the little Nenet boy – he looks so adorable all bundled up against the sub-zero temperatures. I also love the photo of the Aurora borealis. Then there’s the photo of the Magic Kingdom – I always love seeing diving photos of that from when it’s underwater. The Queen Mary 2 is also a great photo considering the vast difference in size between her captain and herself. The photo of the reserve on Mount Blanc is also very well done.

If you’re planning to participate, now’s the time for you to find that memorable photo and get it captured and sent to National Geographic! Or, if viewing great photos is more your thing, then keep an eye on this space as we will be following this contest and the Smithsonian contest quite devotedly. After all, there’s more to photography than gear and technique. Oftentimes, the end result itself is enough to talk about.

– da Bird


Weekly Wrap-Up

Weekly Wrap-Up

It’s been a busy couple of weeks in the world of photography. Not only have there been a lot of stories for photojournalists to cover — the sinking of a South Korean ferry and the continued military struggles in the Ukraine — but the past two weeks have held a myriad of holidays for different faiths around the world. So, photographers have been out and about busily trying to capture not only the top stories and the changing seasons but the images that mark some of the more festive occasions in the spring.

All of these stories and more were covered in our Twitter feed. If you’re not following us on Twitter then we’ll recap the highlights for you below!


That’s all for this week, folks! Have a great weekend and see you again Monday!

– da Bird


How to Photograph a Landscape

How to Photograph a Landscape

David Akoubian showcases the abilities of the Tamron SP 24-70mm VC lens to translate the landscape you see in your mind into your camera.

By Jenn Gidman
Images by David Akoubian

David Akoubian has had plenty of practice photographing the great outdoors. Whether he’s exploring the region around his Georgia home in the mountains or leading one of his photography workshops to the Grand Tetons or Apalachicola, Florida, David has a special love of nature that translates effortlessly to his photography.

For this series of images, David used the Tamron SP 24-70mm VC lens, a full-frame F/2.8 standard zoom that’s compact and lightweight for a day shooting outdoors. The lens features a nine-blade round diaphragm to create beautifully artistic bokeh; Tamron’s USD (Ultrasonic Silent Drive) motor drive for fast, accurate autofocus; and Tamron’s proprietary Vibration Compensation (VC) feature to help reduce shake.

Read on for some of David’s tips to get the most out of your landscape photography experience.

Choose the right lens.
When you’re selecting a nature and landscape lens, you want to pick a lens that’s incredibly sharp and has great compression/decompression abilities. The 24-70 VC was my lens of choice for this series. The resolution is unreal—it’s basically giving me medium-format resolution with my camera, which you can’t beat.

When I’m trying to stretch a landscape, the wide-angle end of the 24-70 gives me the decompression I need, “stretching” the landscape out and giving me the ability to use a compositional element to grab the viewer’s attention.

For example, in one of the vertical lighthouse images I took, I had my camera literally jammed down into the rocks. The rocks look so much bigger than the lighthouse itself, mainly because of that decompression factor.

© David Akoubian

The same thing happened in one of my shots of a river with little ferns in the foreground. I’ve been photographing that river for 30 years, and those ferns never showed up there until last year. It was a perfect compositional element—the ferns are maybe 3 inches tall, but they look huge in the foreground thanks to the decompression factor of that lens. The front of the lens is about 12 to 15 inches away from the ferns, so they look really huge; the river in the background looks almost small compared to the ferns in the foreground.

© David Akoubian

In terms of the compression aspect, if I had used the long end of the lens and gone back further, I would have been able to give the appearance that the ferns were almost as big as the river behind them. There wouldn’t have been that feel that I was way off in the distance. It would have appeared almost like you could reach out and touch the river right from the ferns, versus it being way back behind them in the background.

Evaluating a scene to increase visualization
Decide what kind of mood you’re trying to set. If you’re photographing a river, for example, ask yourself if you want to do a strong stop-action image with a faster shutter speed to show the power of the water coming down the river, or if you want to slow the shutter speed down and create a more relaxing mood.

You also have to think about how you’re going to process the image. What it’s going to look like straight out of the camera may be very different than how you want it to end up. By previsualizing and thinking it through, you may realize you want to add a little more contrast to make it a little warmer, for example, to match your original vision.

One trick I’ll use while I’m photographing a river scene, for example, is to squint to get an idea of what the water is going to look like for a roughly 1-second exposure. If I’m not getting the effect I want, I know I’ll have to adjust and slow down the water in my camera to achieve the effect I want.

© David Akoubian

Look for S-curves and C-curves and use “power points.”
My background was originally as a painter. I studied the Renaissance artists, who would look for C-curves if they were painting a male, S-curves if they were painting a female.

If you lead a viewer into a photo with a straight line, you create a feeling of uncomfortableness, because there’s a static left and right side. You want to break that up while still giving viewers a way to travel through the image. You don’t want them to struggle to have to go through the picture—it should be a smooth transition.

When I want to make a picture soft or relaxing, I’ll go for the S-curve look, since that’s thought of as a more feminine appearance. For example, that could be a river winding through a landscape. On the other hand, waves crashing against a shoreline with a lighthouse might appear more masculine—the land against the sea appears to make a backward “C” shape.

© David Akoubian

I also use power points. If you were to take a tic-tac-toe board and place it over your image, the power points are where those lines on the board intersect. A study was reportedly done that shows how our culture tends to read left to right, top to bottom, so your focus points are typically in the upper left and lower right of your frame. Ideally, in a perfect landscape shot, your image will be a lot stronger if you can set your power points up like that.

Step away from the camera, then return to the camera to verify the image.
A question I’ll often get asked: What’s your keeper ratio? How many of your images do you actually keep? You might think you’ve got a great shot, with ferns in the foreground and a river in the background, but then when you go to look through the viewfinder, you might see a big, bright rock or other distracting element in the lower left of the frame. When there’s something there in the viewfinder that shouldn’t be, recompose by changing your angle of view, blurring out the background, or deciding otherwise how you’ll eliminate those distractions.

Evaluate your exposure.
The camera is fairly limited; the human eye sees so much more of a range of light. Photographers will sometimes head out and take just one image of a particular scene; then they get back home and see that what they wanted to show in the foreground doesn’t pop out because the foreground is too bright. To avoid that, I put my camera on a tripod, take one picture exposing for the foreground, one for the background, then I blend them together in Photoshop. You can use filters in the field, but I feel you get more accuracy adjusting it in the computer.

Use HDR (high dynamic range) enhancement when it’s advantageous.
It makes sense to tap into HDR if you’ve got a scene when there’s not a distinct horizon line or line of contrast. That means the border between the dark and light parts of the image aren’t as clear. If I have a lot of light coming in from different points and don’t have that straight line that gives me a 1- or 2-stop image, I’ll create an HDR image so I can get up to 9 stops. I get the details I need in, then go back in afterward and add contrast to it so it doesn’t look too fake. You don’t want the HDR to take away from your point of interest; you want it to be complementary.

© David Akoubian

Use a self-timer/camera release and a circular polarizer for water scenes.
If you’re shooting waterfalls or a creek or river, any little movement will take away from the clarity of the image if you’re dragging the shutter to create that dreamy, creamy effect. You want to have your hands off the camera as much as possible. Use a self-timer or remote camera release to accomplish what you want to in the image.

I’d also recommend using a high-grade circular polarizer. That’s typically the only thing I’ll stick on the front of a Tamron lens. The polarizer will take the glare off of any shiny rocks in the water and also saturate the greens in your image to make them richer. Don’t use a low-end polarizer, though. You want to get a filter that’s equal to the quality of your lens. Otherwise it’s like using plastic wrap on a Ferrari to protect the windshield.

Slow down and don’t sweat the technical stuff.
I always tell all my students that to improve their landscape photography (or their photography in general), slow down a little. You take the time to select a lens and focal length, decide on your photographic elements, pick an angle from which you’re going to shoot. But when you create an image, you’re also capturing the mood and memory of that image—a moment in time.

© David Akoubian

Enjoy the moment, and let your camera do the technical work for you. Concentrate on the composition. Bracket if you need to, get the scene onto your sensor and onto your memory card, and worry about the little things you want to fix later. You can’t fix bad composition on the computer.

To see more of David Akoubian’s work, go to bearwoodsphoto.com.


Spring Photography

Spring Photography

Spring is a great time to get some beautiful photos added to your portfolio. With the flowers in bloom, the sun shining for longer, and the world warming up to tolerable temperatures, more and more people are getting active and going outdoors. The next two weeks host several major religious celebrations — Passover and Easter — which also have some very photogenic components. However, before you break out your camera and start snapping away, take some time to plan the best way for you to capture the images you want.

1) Consider going off the beaten path. Everyone is going to hit the garden and the local park. Instead, try finding a nature trail or some forested area where you can find real wildflowers. Just be careful not to trespass and not to inadvertently break federal law by picking protected flowers.

2) When capturing images of baby animals, remember that mothers tend to be protective…and not too far away.

3) Don’t feed the animals. Yes, it seems mean, especially if they walk up to the car (or bench) and make cute little human-ish gestures with their paws. Still, don’t feed them. If they get too used to people providing food, they won’t forage for themselves and that could not only cause them to be unhealthy (or to attack a human later), it could cause a population imbalance among their prey.

4) While not as dynamic in the color contrasts as fall is, spring is still an excellent time to get some very colorful photography done. Find a hill or cliff overlooking a well-populated forest and you’ll see what I mean.

5) Hummingbirds make great photographic subjects.

6) As spring gets closer to summer, you’ll get the chance to capture much more diverse and differing images than you would in any other season — including fall.

If you do get out to do some photography, share your photos with us. We love seeing them on our Facebook page!

– da Bird


Weekly Wrap-Up

Weekly Wrap-Up

It’s been another busy week in the world of photography. With the death of Anja Niedringhaus in Afghanistan at the start of the week, this week’s offerings have really focused on photojournalism. James Estrin swung by PDE to give advice to would-be photojournalists, the Smithsonian Magazine displayed their 2013 photography contest winners, and much time was spent looking back over the major events of the past twenty years — from the Rwandan genocide to the Cyprus revolt.

All of these stories and more were covered in our Twitter feed. If you’re not following us on Twitter then we’ll recap the highlights for you below!


That’s all for this week, folks. Have a great weekend and see you again next week!

– da Bird