How I Got the Shot(s): Revisiting Lake Placid with New Technology

Way back in 2010 (when I was still in high school) my parents and I made a trip to Lake Placid, New York. This beautiful mountainous region of New York is rich with a plethora of gorgeous photographic opportunities. I shot a ton while we were out there. This was several years prior to my formal photographic training so many of the images were admitabley terrible, but some held up. After I started selling prints on my fine art website I decided to revisit many of my older nature, landscape, and wildlife images from years past.

Since 2010 the technology used to create panoramics have improved greatly. I had attempted to create panoramic images using Photoshop back in 2010 (shortly after I took the images) but the results weren’t that great since I was trying to manually stitch the images together. When I revisited these images in 2017 I used the newer technology available to me to easily stitch  these images together using Lightroom. The advancements in the technology made it easy for me to create these stunning panoramics from old images. One of the reasons I am able to still work on these older files and get better results with the newer technology is because I shoot in RAW. Shooting with the RAW file format gives you more flexibility when retouching your images and is a practice I highly recommend.

This panoramic consists of several images shot from our hotel balcony. Shot using a Nikon D200 with a Nikon 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 AF-S VR Lens on a Velbon metal tripod. The stitching and further retouching was done in Lightroom and Photoshop seven years after the images were shot. ISO 100 70mm f/16 1/13 of a second shutter speed.

This still image was shot during the same sunrise as the above panoramic from the same location. Shot using a Nikon D200 with a Nikon 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 AF-S VR Lens on a Velbon metal tripod. ISO 100 116mm f/16 1/80 of a second shutter speed.

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How I Got the Shot: Jerry A Study in Gesture

I read an article recently (that can be read here) that I fully agree with. The article deals with technical precision versus emotion in photography (and specifically how your clients view this). The author argues that emotion is more important (especially to clients) than technical precision in photography.

When I was a student at the Hallmark Institute of Photography I shot very conservatively and did everything by the book. This is one of the reasons I graduated with the highest academic honor (highest grades through the entire year). My work was always very technically precise (correct exposures, any blemished retouched out, etc). As I’ve grown older and started to understand the craft of photography better I’ve started to realize the important of gesture and expression in photography. Even though I still try to have all my images be as technically correct as possible, adding gesture to imagery is something that I’ve learnt is very important (and something I hope to become a hallmark of my work).

In the article mentioned above the author talks about how he was originally surprised at how many high school seniors have friends (of a similar age) shoot their senior portraits. This is actually something I did quite a bit back when I was in high school. Even though I didn’t have the technical photographic ability that I would later develop at Hallmark many of the images had that gesture and expression encapsulated in my later work. This was because of the connection I had with the subject. People close to another person can more easily get good expressions out of the aforementioned person than a complete stranger can. This is one of the reasons older images of mine shot of friends still hold up because of the expression and gesture I could get in the images due to the subject and I’s closeness. This is another reason I recommend friends or siblings coming to senior portrait sessions because they can help get those natural expressions out of subjects which someone not as close to them can’t.

An example of the aforementioned portraits which have great expression and gesture is this old senior portrait of my friend Jerry. During his senior portrait he and I were joking around telling jokes and what not. This allowed me to get a genuine expression out of Jerry. This image was later published in PDNedu mostly due to the expression. The image was shot in open shade next to a barn his parents owned with a wide aperture (small f number to throw the background out of focus).

Shot using a Nikon D200 with a Nikon 50mm f/1.8 lens handheld in natural light. ISO 200 50mm f/2.8 1/350 of a second shutter speed.

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How I Got The Shot: Bryana

 

This image almost never happened. I shot this photograph while I was a student at the Hallmark Institute of Photography. I was in Phase 3 (kind of like 3rd semester) at the time. We (us students) were all stressed out with the short deadlines and high standards which needed to be met to graduate. At this point we were working on our Phase 3 Electives. These images could be anything related to our main emphasis of our final portfolio (of which mine was portraiture). I was set to work with model Bryana (a student and model attending the University of Massachusetts) an evening after my classes were done. She needed a ride so I offered to pick her up at her home. My Garmin didn’t take me anywhere near where she lived, and her home was missing any clear distinctions that it was the proper address, so it took several phone calls to finally get to her home. Once I got her back to the studio the shoot when amazingly. I had borrowed the floppy hat from another student earlier that day. I used four lights to lit Bryana. The first key (or main) light lit her face. Two others were rim lights separating her from the background and bringing out the textures in the hat. The last light was a subtle background light adding further separation between Bryana and the background. The key light and rim lights were modified with strip boxes (tall narrow softboxes). All the lights were Profoto strobes. In post I did some dodging and burning as well as turning the image black and white. I also added a slight split toning in Lightroom which makes the darks in the image have a slight brown tone. I intentionally do this on most of my work to make the images more warm and inviting. I even use a similar technique on my color images.

Shot using a Mamiya 645 AFD with Leaf Aptus 22 Digital Back and 150mm lens. Lit with four profoto strobes, three of which with strip box modifiers, one with a grid with a diffuser. ISO 50 150mm f/8 1/60 of a second shutter speed.

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How I Got the Shot(s): Pets Over the Years

 

When I was a student at the Hallmark Institute of Photography one of our assignments was to photograph a pet portrait. Prior to this I had very little experience photographing pets after this I ended up loving photographing pets. This image of Feona the golden retriever was shot for my final portfolio at Hallmark. When my clients arrived Feona was super rambunctious. The skies that day looked stormy but thankfully the rains held off. My clients brought two of their dogs with them but didn’t think they would get any photos of Feona because of how wound she was. I set up a Profoto strobe with a white reflective umbrella. I had my clients direct Feona to a picnic table where I had Feona sit briefly. I was down on the ground and shot up towards Feona getting the dramatic sky in the background. I only got a few shots off before Feona lost her patience and jumped off the picnic table. This image ended up being my favorite from the session and remains one of my favorite pet images that I have shot. Later in post I retouched the sky to make it more dramatic and blue. The contrasting colors between the blue clouds and Feona (who is yellow of course) is one of the things which made this image work.

Shot using a Canon 5d Mark III with a Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 Lens. Lit with a Profoto strobe and a white reflective umbrella triggered with Pocket Wizards. The aforementioned gear was provided by the Hallmark Institute of Photography. The gear mentioned after the later images in this post is the gear I actually own and use now. ISO 100 64mm f/10 1/125 of a second shutter speed.

 

After I moved back to Michigan in 2013 I decided that I wanted to put together a pet portfolio. A former client (who had a plethora of pets) offered to have me photograph them. This shoot resulted in some of my favorite pet images to this day. My favorite image from this shoot was a profile image of one of my client’s dogs. I lit the image in the same way I would lit a profile image of a person. The dog sat on the deck while his owners kept him from running off. My Alienbee B1600 strobe was placed to camera right on the lawn in front of the deck and facing the dog. When shooting pes you need to be very patient. Luckily this dog was pretty chill. He allowed me to get several frames with him in this spot before getting sick of modeling.

Shot using a Nikon D600 with a Nikon 80-200mm f/2.8 Lens on a Feisol Carbon Fiber CT-3371 Tripod with a Kirk B3 Ball Head with a Kirk L Bracket. Lit with an Alienbee B1600 with a white shoot thru umbrella triggered with Radio Poppers and powered with a Vagabond Mini. As I’ve stated in past posts I quit using Radio Poppers in 2016 and now use cheaper but more reliable Yongnuo triggers.  

 

In early 2014 I shot some images of my friend and fellow Hallmark alumni’s cat Sadie in Weidman, Michigan. I used one of her backgrounds, lights, and softboxes for this image which was shot in a fairly tight space. This image remains one of my favorite cat images.

Shot using a Nikon D600 with a Nikon 50mm f/1.8 Lens. Lit using a Calumet Strobe with a Cowboy Studio softbox (this softbox and strobe belonged to a friend of mine; the Cowboy Studio equipment I have used is consistently horrible and I would not recommend it).

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How I Got the Shot: Ian the Welder

 

The title of this blog post sounds like it could be a Primus song.

When I studied at the Hallmark Institute of Photography our professors Gregory Heisler and David Turner would take us once a week to different locations to teach us location lighting. We got to go to a variety of locations such as a paper mill, and abandoned industrial building, and an airport to do shoots. The lighting techniques I learned during these classes are things I use almost every shoot.

Shortly after graduating from the Hallmark Institute of Photography with the highest academic honor I was commissioned by the 515 Gallery in downtown Clare, Michigan to shoot images for their “Junk it” opening. Ian, who is a junk artist and high school art teacher, was commissioned to create a sculpture from various scrap metal and other “junk” brought in by the community. I was commissioned to photograph the people who brought in “junk” with the “junk” they brought in; as well as, photographing the still lives of the “junk” itself and Ian creating his sculpture.

I drove to Harrison, Michigan (where Ian lived) fairly late at night (around 10pm) for the shoot at his home. I looked around his work area (a large barn) to figure out where to get the shot. He had his welding equipment set up. I set up my tripod and an Alienbee B1600 Strobe with a standard reflector attached. I set the strobe (another name for flash) to camera right and behind Ian to separate him from the black background. Without adding the additional light Ian would have blended into the background so I wanted a light to give a clear outline to his body. I wanted Ian to be entirely lit by the flash and the welding equipment so the background would go black making the smoke stand out. Because I knew Ian’s face (mask?) would be lit entirely by the welding equipment I had to guess on what the exposure would be for this. I figured trying to meter that with a handheld meter was a bad a idea. I got the exposure right for the strobe and guessed on the face exposure. I set my camera up on my Feisol Carbon Fiber tripod, then focused on Ian. Then I looked away (to avoid eye damage from the welding equipment) and had Ian start welding as I snapped images without looking at him. I nailed the exposure on the first image. It was actually the first image from the shoot which I ended up retouching and putting in the show (the image which is featured in this post). We shot several other images but none were as good as the first. In post I cleaned up the image further (adjusting the smoke a bit) and did some dodging and burning (lighting and darkening specific parts of the image) as well as giving it the black and white treatment. I later printed the image on metal for the show (at that time using Miller’s Professional Imaging). This remains one of my favorite portrait images to this day.

This image was shot using a Nikon D600 with a Sigma 28-70mm f/2.8 lens on a Feisol Carbon Fiber CT-3371 Tripod with Kirk B3 Ball Head and Kirk L bracket. Lighting wise I used an Alienbee B1600 Strobe with a standard reflector powered by Paul C Buff Vagabond Mini Lithium Battery Pack. The lights were triggered using Radio Poppers (which I highly advise against using, especially with Alienbee). I am now using Yongnuo 506N-II Flash Triggers which are way cheaper and way more reliable than Radio Poppers. ISO 100 44mm f/4 1/125 of a second shutter speed.

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How I Got the Shot(s): Invasions via iPhone

I was a late adapter to the smartphone thing. I got my first iPhone in late 2013 after my burner pay as you go phone quit receiving calls and messages for an unknown reason. One thing I loved about the old burner phones is their longevity and durability. If you dropped one of those old phones the sidewalk would crack but the phone would be fine. I got that first iPhone 5s to last (almost exactly) four years and now use an iPhone 8 (I miss the headphone jack). I know use my iPhone all the time for mostly business related tasks and have even put together a series of nothing but iPhoneography shot using my (older) iPhone 5s (currently there aren’t any photos in the gallery shot with the newer iPhone 8).

Back in 2015 I found an app called Matter which allowed you to add all kinds of unique 3d shapes and graphics to your images. I decided to mess around with adding these shapes to my (mostly) iPhone images and a few shots taken with my Nikon. These shots have (weirdly I think) been really popular and many people haven’t been able to figure out how I got the image. I usually take a fairly drab original shot (a road, path, fence, sky) and add the unique shape to it later in post.

Shot using an iPhone 5s. ISO 32 4.15mm f/2.2 1/200 of a second shutter speed.

Shot using an iPhone 5s. ISO 32 4.15mm f/2.2 1/125 of a second shutter speed.

Shot using an iPhone 5s. ISO 32 4.15mm f/2.2 1/1900 of a second shutter speed.

Shot using an iPhone 5s. ISO 32 4.15mm f/2.2 1/4600 of a second shutter speed.

Shot using a Nikon D600 with a Nikon 80-200mm f/2.8 Lens. ISO 50 80mm f/4 1/500 of a second shutter speed.

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How I Got the Shot(s): Fireworks Over the Years

Over the years I’ve always tried to make a point of photographing fireworks each year around the fourth of July. I started doing this back in high school. Once you get the hang of it fireworks actually aren’t that difficult to shoot. I usually use a tripod and a long exposure when photographing fireworks. I usually start with my camera settings around ISO 100 f/11 with a 3 second shutter speed and adjust my exposure from there. I also use a tripod if I’m using this exposure. I press the shutter when the firework is lower in the sky and wait for it to explode while the long exposure captures it. I’ve used everything from telephoto lenses to fisheyes when photographing fireworks and will usually change lenses multiple times

 

One of the first firework images I shot that I was happy with was back in 2010 when I was in high school. With some practice it is actually quite easy to get one of these classic simple firework shots. I used a longer lens and with some practice was able to get just that one firework in the frame. This was shot at Bay City during their annual firework display.

Shot using a Nikon D200 with a Nikon 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 Lens on a Velbon Metal Tripod. ISO 100 70mm f/11 3 second shutter speed.  

 

Shortly after graduating from the Hallmark Institute of Photography in 2013 I also got to shoot that years fireworks in Mt Pleasant. I partly used these fireworks as an excuse to get used to my new camera at the time: the Nikon D600. I had been using a Canon 5d Mark III when I was a student at the Hallmark Institute of Photography and wanted to make sure I was familiar with the Nikon before shooting a wedding a few days later. This is another traditional firework shot using the same technique described earlier.

Shot using a Nikon D600 with a Sigma 28-70mm f/2.8 Lens on a Feisol Carbon Fiber CT-3371 Tripod with a Kirk B3 Ball Head with a Kirk L bracket. ISO 100 28mm f/11 3 second shutter speed.

 

 

 

 

In 2016 I decided I wanted to experiment with doing some different things with fireworks. I shot several of the standard firework shots early on and then moved on to trying something different. This year I was in the parking lot of the Soaring Eagle Casino with other firework spectators. The cars reflected the explosions as fellow spectators watched the fireworks. I turned my camera to the cars and spectators instead of the fireworks themselves. These lead to some of my favorite firework images to date. I used the same technique I used to shoot the normal fireworks shots but focused on the silhouette of the person instead of the fireworks themselves, and let the background and the foreground get filled with both the fireworks themselves and their reflections.

Shot using a Nikon D600 with a Nikon 80-200mm f/2.8 Lens on a Feisol Carbon Fiber CT-3371 Tripod with a Kirk B3 Ball Head with a Kirk L bracket. ISO I00 200mm f/10 3 second shutter speed.

Shot using a Nikon D600 with a Nikon 80-200mm f/2.8 Lens on a Feisol Carbon Fiber CT-3371 Tripod with a Kirk B3 Ball Head with a Kirk L bracket. ISO I00 200mm f/10 3 second shutter speed.

 

 

In 2017 I got to photograph the Beaverton fireworks with my second shooter Nikki Robinson. Her and I were planning on going to the Midland fireworks but decided last minute to go to Beaverton instead. We went down close to the water so we could get the reflections of the fireworks in the water. Instead of using a long lens like years past I used a fisheye lens (not something I usually own or have in my arsenal) to get both the river and the fireworks in the image. I waited for the man in the boat to sail into the part of the frame I wanted and fired off several images as the firework arose. This ended up being my favorite image from the evening. The addition of the landscape and people into the scene made the image far more interesting than just the plain firework image.

Shot using a Nikon D600 with a Nikon 16mm f/2.8 Fisheye Lens on a Feisol Carbon Fiber CT-3371 Tripod with a Kirk B3 Ball Head with a Kirk L bracket. ISO 1600 16mm f/16 2 second shutter speed.

I hope to photograph more fireworks as the years go by and find more interesting compositions like I did in 2016 and 2017.

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How I Got the Shot(s): The Rainy Weddings and Engagements

When I was a student at the Hallmark Institute of Photography during Phase 1 (similar to the first semester) almost every time we had a shooting assignment outside it would rain. It rained so much my class had a hard time getting used to shooting when it was sunny out. Due to this I am no stranger to getting caught in the rain during a shoot.

Usually when it rains (or looks like it is going to rain) the client will chose to postpone the session (there is no extra charge for this). With some shoots (like weddings) or distant location shooting rescheduling can be difficult or impossible. When I first shot Sean and Melissa’s engagement session at Camp Anna Berens in Greenville, Michigan it was cloudy (making for a beautiful light in the forest) but the rain was holding off. After a few shots closer to our cars we ventured deeper into the woods. Then a torrential downpour started. Luckily they were good sports about it and had fun kissing and running thru the newly formed puddles. My gear is weather sealed so I had no problem continuing to shoot in the rain. The soft light diffused by the rain clouds and feathered by the dense forest made for beautiful light despite the circumstances.

 

Shot using a Nikon D600 with a Nikon 80-200mm f/2.8 Lens. ISO 3200  (higher than I usually like to use but necessary in these lighting conditions) 86mm f/2.8 1/50 of a second (longer than I usually use with this lens hand held but it was dark and still worked because I held the camera steadily).

 

Shot using a Nikon D600 with a Nikon 80-200mm f/2.8 Lens. ISO 3200 80mm f/2.8 1/125 of a second shutter speed.

 

Shot using a Nikon D600 with a Nikon 80-200mm f/2.8 Lens. ISO 3200 120mm f/2.8 1/160 of a second shutter speed.

Two months later Sean and Melissa would get married and have the getting ready and reception at the same place I had photographed them for their engagement session. And just like during the engagement session it rained. We had to make a few minor last minute adjustments (like where to have the group shots) but otherwise the wedding still turned out great despite the showers.

 

Shot using a Nikon D600 with a Nikon 80-200mm f/2.8 Lens. ISO 1250 105mm f/8 1/100 of a second shutter speed. Lit with a Yongnuo Speedlite YN560-II with Westcott Pocketbox 8×12 and triggered with Yongnuo 506N-II Flash Triggers.

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How I Got the Shot: The Cockeyed Nuthatch and His Stardom

When I first got started in photography I photographed primarily nature (part of this was due to my location and the fact that I didn’t have a driver’s license at the time). I still love photographing nature but don’t get the opportunity to as much as I’d like. When I was a student at the Hallmark Institute of Photography my primary focus shifted from nature to portraiture. I now primarily focus on portrait and wedding photography.

Out of all the images I have photographed in my career the above image of this upside down nuthatch has been the most published. This image has been published in The World of Photography Volume 1 (2010), Audubon Magazine January/February 2011, Nature’s Best Photography Spring/Summer 2011, and Photographer’s Forum Best of Photography 2012. The reason for the images popularity is because the nuthatch is upside down. This image wasn’t flipped in post. Nuthatches naturally feed upside down like this.

Here is an excerpt from an article I wrote about the nuthatch for the Nature’s Best Photography Students blog back in 2011.  

“I personally love both bird and wildlife photography. It provides a greater challenge and satisfaction than shooting a non moving subject such as a landscape or macro. Last summer I sat in front of my mom’s bird feeders for hours waiting for the ideal shot. Many of these common birds will lose their bashfulness if you sit near them long enough. After about an hour I had gotten several pleasing images of woodpeckers and the especially sociable chickadees, but I had yet to get a gratifying image of the white breasted nuthatch. These little creatures were far more skittish than their playful peers. Every time I lifted my Nikon D200 with Nikkor AF-S VR 70-300 to my eye all the nuthatches would flutter away in a chaotic frenzy. After about another thirty minutes the beautiful nuthatch returned. I slowly lifted my Nikon to my eye and rattled off a few shots. I happily obtained the nuthatch performing an action unique to its species. Most people think that I rotated this image, but this bird is actually hanging upside down from while it feeds.

Because I caught this bird performing a unique action it has become one of my favorite and most published shots. I shot this image at f/8 which is one of this lens’ sharpest apertures, but it still created a silky smooth bokeh due to the close proximity of the subject. Bokeh is a Japanese term meaning the out of focus part of an image. Wider apertures – like f/2.8, f/4, or f/5.6 – will create creamier or smoother bokeh. Simplicity is the key to creating stunning wildlife images. Too much clutter or lack of a strong subject area and diminish an images appeal. Also remember to focus on the subject’s eyes. When I was new to photography there were several bird images I’d taken which would have been great shots, but the eyes were out of focus and the wings were. A strong sharp subject with a non-distracting background will result in a great wildlife image.”

The original post I wrote for Nature’s Best Photography Students back in 2011 can be found here. I wrote several other articles for this blog but had to quit in 2012 because I experienced problems with the website.

Shot using a Nikon D200 with a Nikon 70-300mm AF-S VR f/4.5-5.6 lens handheld. ISO 500 300mm f/8 1/320 of a second shutter speed.

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How I Got the Shot: The Raccoon That Started it All

A lot of people ask how I got started in photography. So much so that I wrote a few blog posts detailing my journey here. In brief I started doing photoshop contests on the now defunct worth1000.com per the recommendations of a friend for church. My photoshop entries on the site did horrible so I figured I’d give their photography contests a try. I did much better in these and decided to take up photography. I saved up money from mowing lawns (and later photoshoots) to buy various photography equipment.

It was after a trip to the Fred Meijer Gardens in Grand Rapids, Michigan that I decided I really wanted to be a photographer for a living. I was walking around with a monster metal tripod, a relic of my dad’s from the 80s which helped me briefly develop some nice biceps in ninth grade that I’ve since lost. Attached was a used and refurbished manual focus only Nikon 70-300mm lens on a Nikon D40. A fellow visitor waved at me to come over near him. A baby raccoon popped his head out of the leaves just long enough for me to focus and dial in a proper exposure. This was the first image I had taken that I was really happy with. After seeing this image I decided this is what I wanted to do for a living.

Shot using a Nikon D40 with a used and refurbished NIkon 70-300mm on a metal Velbon tripod. Metadata has been lost due to a hard drive crash and how I used to manage files in the past.

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