Wednesday, 22 of October of 2014

Great Places for Late Summer Photography

Great Places for Late Summer Photography

The school year is getting ready to begin over the United States within the next few weeks. Some places will be starting later than others. That means that this is really the last chance for summer photography trips so, you’ll want to go to some place that is within driving distance for you. Not to fret, though, regardless of where you live, there’s some place special within at least a day’s driving. We’ll go over a few of the biggest ones for you below from west to east and south to north.

1) Sequoia National Park — Located in central California, this park is home to General Sherman, the largest tree on Earth, along with many other famous redwoods. Accommodations surrounding this park are easily found and easy to get to considering that it is one of the major tourist sites in California that isn’t one of the beaches or in the larger cities.

2) Crater Lake Park — For those who are big on landscape or astrophotography, Crater Lake in Oregon is the perfect place to go to. Best suited for those who prefer the outdoors, this is a great spot to visit for hikers and campers who don’t mind roughing it if they want to see the best places the site has to offer.

3) The Grand Canyon — In western Arizona, the Grand Canyon is one of the most famous places to visit in the United States and is also one of the most photogenic. There are plenty of things to see and do when visiting the Grand Canyon and local accommodations run the gamut from college-student budgets to five-star resorts.

4) Yellowstone National Park — Everyone should visit Yellowstone eventually. Located in northwest Wyoming, this national park has plenty of natural beauty to capture and many accommodations accustomed to handling large numbers of travelers to this nature preserve. If Yellowstone isn’t your thing, though, there is always the Grand Teton Park, Devil’s Tower, Fossil Butte, or Hot Springs State Park.

5) The Alamo — One of the most famous places to visit in Texas, the Alamo is a great place to learn a little history and get some photos of the monument itself as well as the surrounding area. However, Texas is a big state and if the Alamo isn’t your cup of tea, you’re sure to enjoy the Sixth Floor Museum in Dallas, the museums in Houston, any of the Six Flags parks around the state, or the Pleasure Pier in Galveston.

6) Overland Park Arboretum and Botanical Gardens — This is an absolutely beautiful place to visit in Kansas. It’s a great way to show different flowering plants, trees, and more to children as well as a great place for some spring and late summer photography as the changing seasons have a profound impact on the plants.

7) Mount Rushmore — Located in South Dakota, Mount Rushmore is a great place to visit, learn a little American history, and get some great photos of a natural and man-made site all at the same time!

8) The Natchez Trace — A highway in Mississippi that runs alongside the historic Natchez Trace, this is a great place to see some very diverse terrain and plants and, if you’re the rugged outdoors type, walking the path of the historic trace is a great way to get back in touch with nature and with your ancestors. If that’s not who you are, though, there are plenty of historic sites and parks in both Natchez and Vicksburg along the Mississippi River, beaches down in Gulfport and Biloxi, William Faulkner’s home in Oxford, and the birthplace of Elvis Presley in Tupelo.

9) The Cumberland Gap — A beautiful stretch to see in the Appalachian Mountains, the Cumberland Gap is in Kentucky and quite easy to reach. If this isn’t your thing, though, there are other great sites in Kentucky such as the historic birthplace of Abraham Lincoln, the Mammoth Cave, the Lost River Cave, and Churchill Downs.

10) Arlington Cemetery — Located outside of Washington DC, this is a great place to visit to pay your respects to those who have gone before you in the Armed Forces. It is also located near the Pentagon, Mount Vernon, Monticello, and Washington DC if you’re up for a good road trip through historic America.

11) Atlantic City — Whether you’re there for the beaches or the gambling, Atlantic City in New Jersey has something for everyone. However, if you can’t find amusement there, Coney Island is just a few hours away which is another great place for a late summer vacation and for some photography!

What are some other places you’d add to this list if you could? Let us know in the comments below!

– da Bird

Appropriate Photography Behavior at Memorials

Appropriate Photography Behavior at Memorials

There are places that can sober anyone when their names are spoken. Gettysburg. Verdun. Normandy. Auschwitz. Iwo Jima. The poppy fields outside of Flanders. The Highland Clearances Memorial. The USS Arizona. The Vietnam Wall. These places all contain commemorations of some of the most horrific evils that men can inflict upon each other. That makes theses places that are somber, deserving of respect, and usually very quiet. Having visited several of these places, I can tell you that people fall silent upon entering them. Voices are kept to a hushed tone and only used at need.

Photography is common at many of these places and, until recently, photographers or visitors who brought cameras were careful to engage in photography in a manner that was respectful and not disruptive or discounting of the sobriety of the site. However, in recent days, “selfies” and other inappropriate photography techniques have begun to crop up at these places. Therefore, we have a few tips for anyone considering visiting one of these sites or one similar in order to help them avoid committing a grave faux pas.

1) Photography isn’t always allowed — Some sites don’t allow photography at all or only allow it in specific areas out of respect for the memorial and for the departed. Don’t break this rule even with your mobile phone. Sometimes the restriction on photography is done to encourage crowd flow and to keep people moving through the memorial instead of letting them clump up. Sometimes it’s done to protect the area as repeated flashes can cause damage to paintings over the years.

2) Dress comfortably but appropriately — Some famous sites — especially in Europe — will not allow visitors in who are dressed inappropriately. Notre Dame de Paris will turn visitors away if they are wearing tank-tops, short shorts, mini-skirts, crude t-shirts, or other attire deemed inappropriate for a grand cathedral. Make certain you check to see if there is a dress code and, even if there is not, you dress appropriately. Tennis shoes are generally acceptable — especially if you’re going to be walking — and heels are generally forbidden for the damage they can do to the floor.

3) Respect the quiet of the place and the other visitors — It may sound a bit crazy but when you enter a place like Gettysburg, the Memorial cemetery at Vicksburg, or the memorial for the USS Arizona, you can feel the weight of the years pressing on you. It makes you quiet and reflective. Respect that. Where photography is allowed, feel free to take photos. However, do so in a manner that doesn’t make light of the site itself and doesn’t cause problems for other visitors.

4) Pay attention to the signs — Signs aren’t always just put up to tell you where to go or to explain what happened at a particular part of the site. Sometimes they’re up to warn you about a potential danger such as the signs on the beaches at Normandy that warn of treacherous footing or tidal activities. Pay attention to what they say and if they tell you not to enter or pass beyond a certain point, don’t ignore it even if it would be a great place to stand and get a photograph. That’s a good way to fall into a sinkhole in some places.

5) If you’re uncertain as to whether or not something would be appropriate, don’t do it — You’ll never hear laughter on the USS Arizona or when you pass beyond the gates at Dachau or Auschwitz. Levity has no place when you’re looking down at the rows of headstones in Arlington, VA or Normandy, France. Watching the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace or the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier isn’t a time to engage in horseplay or to try to get close for snapping a few photos.

6) Take a selfie at a memorial site and post it online only if you want to look really, spectacularly stupid and have it haunt you for years — The teenage girl whose selfie at Auschwitz set off an online firestorm might not regret it and might think she did nothing wrong now but give her ten years. She’ll be embarrassed to have done it and her “fame” for it will probably cost her down the road. People who do the same at other memorials — the 9/11 memorial, Normandy, Arlington, and more — will look back and wonder what they were thinking to engage in such self-centered and silly antics at a place where the focus of their thoughts (and their cameras) should not have been on them but on the event that made the site a memorial in the first place.

If you’re going to visit a major historical site, it would be a good idea for you to understand the importance of that site and to treat it appropriately. Otherwise, the photos you take there today may not make treasured keepsakes but instead could become testaments to shame later on down the road.

– da Bird

Weekly Wrap-Up

Weekly Wrap-Up

It’s Friday again bringing us to the close of another busy week in the world of photography. This week saw plenty of action in traveling around the world from the end of Ramadan to revisits of Tienanmen Square. There were also several big announcements by Canon on new cameras aimed at the new photographer and some break-downs of their lenses as well as higher-end gear.

All of these stories and more were covered on our Twitter feed this past 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

Drone Photography Gear

Drone Photography Gear

Drone photography — a type of aerial photography that is done using some kind of remote-controlled flyer (hence “drone”) — is becoming more and more popular. Early adopters in this field were forced to modify remote control airplanes or helicopters or to build their own kits which, of course, generally required a good bit of knowledge of electrical engineering, aeronautics, and the physics of lift and flight. However, as the field has become more and more popular, amateur kits have given way to more professional set-ups such as the DJI Phantom Series which features drones with two, three, or four rotors.

Now, before you get all excited and rush off to order one of these so you can send your nicest camera up in the air, take a step back and let’s go over some basics and advice for getting started in drone photography.

1) If you’re not already an experienced remote control (RC) helicopter operator, become one — Flying a photography drone will take some practice even if you’re experienced in handling RC helicopters. However, if you’re not experienced in that, then you’ll want to become proficient at it before you start flying a much more expensive drone with your camera attached to it. Go to any toy store and purchase an inexpensive helicopter and practice with it — indoors (but in a large, open room) at first and once you have mastered take-off, landing, and basic maneuvering, take it outdoors on a non-windy day.

Trust me, you’ll be less upset if you destroy or lose an inexpensive toy than you would be if you destroyed or lost an expensive drone + camera.

2) Find a drone photography group or an RC helicopter group and get some tips — These are the people who can really teach you about local air conditions and how to deal with things like wind, humidity, atmospheric pressure (especially if you’re living in a mountainous region), and how to handle or stabilize a craft. They can also give you a lot of advice on how to deal with birds and flying insects that might take exception to your drone.

3) Learn the rules of where you want to fly your drone — Not every place is open to drone photography. Certain national parks forbid the use of drones in specific areas of the park or even in the entire park. Some cities forbid the use of drones near certain buildings or landmarks. Some have rules on when drones can be flown and at what height. Check with a local photography group or a local RC aircraft group in the place you’re planning to visit to get the rules for their locale. Ignorance of the law will be no excuse if you get caught.

4) Even where permitted, some people will freak out — Even if the park or city you’re photographing is perfectly fine with drones zipping about, some of the people there will not be. Chances are that if you engage in drone photography long enough, you will have someone alert the authorities. If you’ve followed #3, you’ll know if you’re in the right or in the wrong. However, you may want to make certain you have some connection to photography legal groups such as PINAC in case you run afoul of an overzealous law enforcement officer. If you are asked to stop or to explain yourself by another citizen, remember to be polite and be willing to promise not to film or photograph them if they ask.

It should go without saying but don’t fly your drone close to houses or apartment buildings as you can quite quickly run afoul of both trespassing and peeping Tom laws if you do this.

5) The conditions on the ground are not always the conditions above the ground — Just because it’s not windy where you are doesn’t mean the wind isn’t blowing once you get a few dozen feet up. Pay attention to your craft and respond to what’s going on around it, not what’s going on around you.

Drone photography can be very fun and can net some unique and interesting photos and video footage. However, before you get started, it’s a good idea to study the craft a bit. Going into your first drone photography run prepared can help save you a lot of stress and money further down the road!

– da Bird

Sports Photography Tips

Sports Photography Tips

With the summer weather reaching its height and the school bells preparing to ring in the next school year, it’s time for many sports to start their try-outs and pre-season (or post-season) practice sessions. Football is the biggest one in the United States at the moment but baseball, basketball, tennis — and for the non-athletes, marching band — are also in the mix even if their official seasons have a ways to come before they start. That means that it’s time for parents and sports fans to gear up to capture the action. Our friends over at have a great in-depth guide on perfecting sports photography but we’d like to give you a few quick and simple tips to try from the stands if you’re not one of the lucky few who can get access to the sidelines.

1) A lens can, in a small way, make up for not being on the sidelines — If you’re trying to get the best action shots you can, you’ll want to be as close to the action as you can be. However, access to the sidelines is a very difficult thing to come by especially at college or professional sporting events. So, if you know you’re going to be in the stands and if you know you’re not going to be allowed to get up and move or choose your own seats, carry the following lenses with you: a wide-angle lens (to get good shots of the venue and the overall match), a mid-range zoom lens (great for if your seats aren’t too far away from the sidelines), and a telephoto lens (good for if you’re far from the action). Using these can help bring the action in closer to make up for the fact that, physically, you’re not in the thick of it.

2) If you’re not a sports fan, take the time and effort to become one — If you’re a parent or a friend who is just wanting to record the game or get shots of your particular player, then there isn’t a need for you to be able to quote NFL stats, to be able to recite the Baseball Rulebook, or to know the history of Wimbledon. However, even if you are there just to support one (or a few) players and get some shots of them, it will definitely be to your benefit to have a good understanding of the game and to be able to make a few predictions about how certain strategies might play out. Yes, yes, in football, every team’s own playbook is a heavily guarded secret. However, it’s still worth your time to learn how the various downs are decided, if a pass is likely to be an interception, an incomplete, or a fumble, how base-stealing works, and when a penalty shot will be granted for a foul if you’re going to photograph football, baseball, or basketball games. Knowing the rules will help you determine where the action has the best chance of happening within the next few seconds, allowing you to focus in on it — especially if it’s your child or friend who’s going to be in the thick of it.

3) Get a tripod. Get a tripod. Get. A. Tripod — Sports are fast-paced and there’s very rarely a do-over. If you missed a shot, you’re not going to get a chance to get that same shot later. The very nature of sports is going to require you to use a fast shutter speed, a high ISO, and a wide aperture. These three things together mean that camera shake — even if your camera’s chip has built-in image stabilization — will be a factor. Eliminate it by getting a tripod.

4) Be aware of the situation around you — While you’re not going to be on the field of play (seriously, would you want to drag an expensive camera and lenses out to where the players could ram right into you and break it?), if you’re on the sidelines, having the players or the ball hit you is a possibility (and in baseball having the ball hit you in the stands isn’t out of the realm of reality). However, no matter where you are, there are going to be other people there. If you’re on the sidelines, it will be other photographers, coaches, referees, and players. Do your best to stay out of the coaches’ and refs’ way because they have a better reason for being there than you do. Other photographers will probably be fairly courteous but expect a good bit of jostling and competition for the best spots. If you’re in the stands, try to make certain that your photography isn’t causing the people behind you grief by making it impossible for them to watch the game. Also, if you’re filming or shooting from an aisle, keep an eye out on people going to and from their seats and on kids running around.

5) If you’re allowed into a practice session, be doubly aware of your surroundings — If you are photographing a practice or a try-out event where you’re allowed onto the field and can actually get within a few feet of the athletes, make certain you know what’s going on around you. In high contact sports like football especially, it’s easy to get accidentally bowled over or run into by the players who are focused on doing whatever their coach has set them to working on and not whether or not there’s a photographer in their intended path. A good grasp of practical physics and geometry can help you figure out not only where to be for some shots but also where not to be.

Follow these general guidelines and take the time to read up on some more in-depth sports photography tips and you should be able to come home from the next game with respectable shots to show off. If you have any questions or further tips, feel free to leave them in the comments below!

– da Bird

Weekly Wrap-Up

Weekly Wrap-Up

Another busy week in the world of photography has come to a close and this week has been especially filled with advice, announcements about events, and breakdowns of photography gear and cameras. Photographers such as Scott Kelby, schools like MIT, and events like ShutterFest have all had big news stories this week aimed at helping create more photographers and helping current photographers hone their skills in the craft. In addition to these stories, Sony, Panasonic, and Olympus have all released major updates to gear, firmware, and cameras. And, as always, photojournalists around the world have been covering the big news stories from the Malaysian flight crashing in the Ukraine to the last sailing of the ship Concordia.

All of these stories and more were covered in 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 on Monday!

– da Bird

So, Why the Make-Up?

So, Why the Make-Up?

This has been a question buzzing around my mind for a while whenever I would sit down and start really analyzing television shows or movies since I have vague ambitions of one day writing my own TV series. In between noting the camera switches, scene change techniques, staging, and the story-telling aspects, I started noticing that everyone was wearing make-up on camera and that every major actor had an assigned and named in the credits make-up artist.

So, me being me, I decided to try to figure out why this was going on without resorting to Google. After several theories that ranged from “plausible” to “completely bizarre,” I finally broke down and sought the wisdom of Google. As it turns out, some of my more plausible theories were pretty close. Therefore, I’d like to share some of my theories with you and explain where I got things right and where I got things wrong.

1) Theory: Make-up hides blemishes which is why everyone’s using it — What I got right: it is indeed used to hide blemishes even on men. Though most men do not wear make-up in day-to-day life, when on camera, it’s generally applied to them to smooth out things that will only be noticed during close-up shots such as uneven coloration or small scars. What I got wrong: the idea that it was done out of the actor’s (or the director’s) sense of vanity or personal aesthetics. It’s got nothing to do with overall good looks and more to do with cameras not being as kind or as clear as eyeballs.

2) Theory: To hide sweaty foreheads — What I got right: having worked in theater growing up, I knew that the stage lights can get very warm. Base and foundations were used to mask the sweat a bit and to keep foreheads, noses, and chins from shining. The same thing applies on camera — the lights are just as hot (if not hotter) and the actors are standing under them for much longer. What I got wrong: nothing. My guess here was spot-on.

3) Theory: To enhance colors — What I got right: I know that women generally wear make-up to bring out their natural colors and beauty (and any girl who slathers on war-paint to try to hide an imperfection quickly learns that she’ll look like a circus clown). Eye shadow, eye liners, and mascara are all selected to bring out the natural color of the irises and draw attention to them. Rouge is used to bring out a healthy-looking blush and glow for the cheeks. Lipstick is used to complement the eyes, cheeks, and to enhance the lips. The same things apply for on-camera make-up but even more so. Since cameras tend to flatten effects and high-definition cameras can even overemphasize natural imperfections, make-up is used to bring out colors in the eyes and lips and to keep the actors from looking sallow and washed out. What I got wrong: the application process for on-camera make-up is a lot more involved than the application for normal or even for stage make-up and takes into account a lot of other factors ranging from time of day, time of year, natural and artificial lighting, lighting gels, and whether the shots will be ranged or close-ups.

4) Theory: Because there’s a shortage of natural zombies walking around — Okay, this one really goes more into masks and make-up for special effects. I’ll confess to an early fascination with the original Planet of the Apes movies and having spent hours studying them trying to figure out just how they made the masks for the chimps, gorillas, and orangutan actors look so convincing (this was in the days before all of the documentaries on this came out). In cases like this, make-up is required to achieve a look that nature did not grant us. For actors who are playing zombies, characters with animalistic features, supernatural characters, or other characters that fall into the “not quite average human” mold, make-up becomes a vital, lengthy, and complicated thing to get them looking the way they need to in order to bring their character to life.

However, in this same vein, actors who are playing certain kinds of characters will often make use of different make-up techniques in order to bring out certain things about the characters. For instance, in The Crow Brandon Lee wore face-paint and make-up we normally consider reserved for the goth crowd. In the Batman films with the Joker, the actor wore clown make-up.

What are some of the things you’ve wondered about actors and on-camera make-up? Let us know in the comments below and we’ll try to tackle your questions in a future entry!

– da Bird

Photography Is Not A Crime

Photography Is Not A Crime

…though the way some police officers and building security guards act, you’d think it was.

Just last week, a Buzzfeed reporter was in Washington DC photographing some rather strong examples of really terrible architecture. While the greatest example of terrible architecture infests Turtle Bay in New York, Washington DC does have several great examples to warn architectural students of what not to do in designs and reporter/photographer Benny Johnson set out to capture some of the worst ones for his readers.

However, in all but one case, whenever he approached a public building and began photographing it from the sidewalk or other place accessible to the public, police or security began to harass him about taking photos of the buildings. This is not unusual — photographers who are trying to capture specific buildings or specific parts of buildings with their cameras are often harassed. Photographers who have been filming or photographing police in public are also generally subject to harassment, illegal seizure of their equipment, and illegal destruction of their property.

So, what is one to do if one is out and about photographing subjects and security or the police start causing problems? First things first, be certain you checked with the public relations or media relations contact for the building (or agency in the building) ahead of time and got their permission (or at least their “sure though you don’t need permission”) and try to get it in writing (such as an email). Showing that to security guards can sometimes get them to cool it or give them something to tell whatever manager has gotten feathers ruffled over someone standing outside taking photos. If that doesn’t work and you’re asked to move along, just move along and make plans to post about it online later. That’s generally much more effective than trying to stick around and argue your point.

If, however, you’re ordered to hand over your camera or delete certain photos, politely but firmly refuse and ask them what probable cause they have to believe that your camera captured illegal actions in flagrante (one of the few exceptions that allows police to seize a camera and inspect its footage). Generally, if you know your rights and are confident in them, this will get your harasser to leave you alone. However, if security or the police begin forcibly grabbing your equipment from your hands or wrestling you to the ground over it, don’t fight them. Don’t touch them at all if you can avoid it — touching a police officer even if it’s just to shake his hand can be considered “assaulting an officer.”

Once the incident is over, post about it online. There are several websites dedicated to photography rights and to documenting official abuse of them. Find the one you feel most comfortable at and join in the discussion there. If you were seriously injured or if you suffered a loss of very valuable property due to official misconduct, you may want to consider hiring a lawyer to sue for damages. The Supreme Court has ruled that the First Amendment right to photograph public spaces and officials in public — even police officers — is so well-established that officers cannot claim “good faith” qualified immunity for harassing photographers. What that means is that your lawsuit can and will go ahead and the police officer will not be able to just say “I thought I was correct on the law” to protect himself.

Over all, when out photographing, if someone asks you to stop what you’re doing, politely ask why. Private spaces and private buildings can and often do have reasons to stop photography unless it’s done in a way to ensure that no trade secrets or individuals are visible. However, public and governmental building exteriors enjoy no such protection and can be photographed with impunity. Just be polite, be smart, and pick your battles with officials carefully.

– da Bird

Weekly Wrap-Up

Weekly Wrap-Up

Another Friday brings a close to another interesting week in the world of photography. This week has seen highlights from on-going troubles around the world to fierce storms sweeping the Pacific, from the anniversary of the Lunar landing to the beginning of the 101st Tour de France. On top of all of these big events, photographers and camera makers have been discussing some of the latest updates to photography and photography editing software as well as new cameras and new gear slated to come out in the latter part of 2014.

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 will recap the highlights for you below!

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

– da Bird

Astronomy and Astrophotography

Astronomy and Astrophotography

Every day we Tweet out the images from NASA’s Astrophoto of the Day as our final tweet. These images are sometimes shots of the night sky from Earth showing things like the Milky Way, planets, the moon, or the auroras (Boreal and Australian), or just the stars. NASA also occasionally posts storm photography taking by storm chasers on Earth or satellites or astronauts orbiting Earth at some distance.

However, for the most part, the vast majority of images that NASA posts are images that only NASA could post. They’re images from the space telescopes that show distant galaxies, nebulae, the planets in more detail than any commercial scope could render, asteroids and comets, the sun and solar flares, and phenomena we didn’t dare dream was possible prior to the start of the Space Age.

So, how is NASA able to get these wondrous photos of things that aren’t just a little bit distant but so distant the amount of space between Here and There is impossible for the mind to conceive?

1) Space telescopes have REALLY big lenses — We’re talking lenses that are measured in meters and yards, not inches or millimeters. No human-wielded camera has the kind of optical power that one of these has (and humans who have a really hard time holding up a camera with a lens taller than they are).

2) Space telescopes have extremely precise lenses — The lenses you get for your camera are very precise but the lenses that NASA has built make your lenses look shoddy. That’s because the lenses for a space telescope have to be almost inhumanly perfect in order for that lens to observe distant lights unseen by the human eye.

3) Space telescopes can stay pointed at one place for a long time — On Earth, we’re subject to rotation. Once every 24 hours, we’re able to focus on (roughly) the same point of the sky. However, in space, telescopes can focus on the same part of the sky for weeks or months, allowing them to do the kind of long exposure photography that just isn’t possible on Earth.

4) Space telescopes work alongside a lot of other cool instruments — The photos we see on APoD aren’t the exact photos the telescope captured. Sometimes they’ve been colorized based on information gleaned from another instrument such as a radiation meter an infrared/ultraviolet imager. The colors are also added by a computer programmed to render them out in colors that the human eye would recognize if the human eye were capable of, you know, functioning as well as a space telescope.

Those are just some of the reasons why space photography (which should be distinct from astrophotography if you ask me) can do so many things that photographers on the planet’s surface can only dream about doing. If you’re an astronomer (or astrophysicist) or just a photographer, we’d love to hear your thoughts on astrophotography in the comments below!

– da Bird