Monday, May 27, 2013

Time for the second curtain.

OK, this is a bit of an advanced topic but one that fun to try.   It's called second curtain flash, rear curtain flash or show sync flash.  I mentioned it to a friend and accomplished photographer Saturday night and he had never heard of it.   That made me think maybe I should blog a bog on the second curtain.

First, a little explanation of how a camera shutter works.   There are two halves called curtains and they work just like a curtain would.   Before you click the shutter release the curtains are closed and no light is reaching the sensor.  Imagine a stage with the curtain closed.  The place where the two curtains meet is all the way on one side of the stage.  When you take the picture the first curtain slides open exposing the sensor (stage) to light.  Once the time determined by the shutter speed has been reached the second curtain slides across closing the shutter.  Unlike a theater curtain this all happens very quickly around 1/60 of a second.    But if your shooting under low light conditions you might have a long shutter speed.

First / second curtain setting determines when the flash fires.  By default the sequence of events (first curtain) is as follows
  1. First curtain opens
  2. Flash fires right away
  3. Second curtain closes after a period of time
 When the camera is set to second curtain the events are slightly different
  1. First curtain opens
  2. Flash fires after a period of time (shutter speed)
  3. Second curtain closes
Under most conditions this makes little difference to the photograph.  It does make a difference when the subject is moving and you use a flash.   When the flash fires it produces a bright light for a very short time, which freezes motion.   If you shutter is open longer than the time the flash is on then any movement will create a ghosting effect.  You know, the blurs where people moved while you were taking a longer exposure.   First or second curtain setting determines where the frozen image is in relation to the blur.   With first curtain you get the sharp image when the flash goes off, then the blur.   With second curtain you get the blur then the sharp image.  Confused?  Take a look at this image.

In this image the car is moving from right to left.  I shot from a tripod with a 1.3 second exposure and my flash set to second curtain.  During the 1.3 seconds the car moved across the frame leaving streaks (it was moving slow).  Then the flash fired and froze the car in place on the left side.   To me this seams like a more appealing image than with first flash in which case the car would have been frozen on the right with the blur moving to the left if front of the car.

 Here's a second example with a 0.6 second exposure.  It was much later at night than the first image, which was a dusk where there was more ambient light.

The can see the driver is frozen talking on her cell phone  (not a good idea) but the tail lights create a cool cartoon blur effect.

Want to see more examples?  Do a google earch for second curtain flash images. If you want to read more check out Neil van Niekerk's blog.

 I'm pretty sure most cameras have this feature but it may be down deep in the menu.  Another case where you want to get your camera manual out and actually read it.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Trying New Things

Last weekend I splurged on myself and bought a new lens.  I found a good deal on a refurbished Canon 300mm f/4 L telephoto.   This is the same model I rented when I went to Reelfoot Lake back in February.  I really liked that lens and have become tired of carrying around my heavy Sigma 80-400 zoom.  This is the lens I plan on taking with me when looking for wildlife shots.

Today was the first chance I had to try it out.  I went out exploring the yard planning to use it to get some bird shots.  I filled the feeders and waited.  While I was waiting I noticed our recent rainstorms had knocked the dogwood flowers down and there were several on a shrub in the back yard.  What the heck, I had my camera and 300 lens so I decided to see what I could get.   Now this is not how I would have taken this shot if I had planned it.  I would have had my tripod, macro lens, and cable release to get as sharp a picture as possible.   Being too lazy to go back in the house I shot the flower petals handheld about 9 feet away with a 300mm lens.

1/400 second, f/5.6, ISO 640 using Canon 7D

I'm pretty excited about the way this came out.  The best part is I tried something new.  

I've traveled great distances to many interesting places to photograph.  I've attended workshops and learned a great deal at each one.  One thing I have learned is you don't have to go to a workshop or travel to exotic places to improve your photography.  One of the best exercises is to limit yourself to a small area and only one lens.  It forces you to use your eye to look for interesting subjects and compositions right under your nose and to think differently when composing a shot.  It makes you move past the obvious and easy shots.   As with anything else, the only way to improve is to practice.  

It's starting to look like rain again.  I may be back out taking this shot again shortly with rain drops of the leaves and petal.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Are you an iconic photographer?

One of the first trips June and I took with my first DSLR (a Canon Digital Rebel XTi, which I still have)  was to the Canadian Rockies in Alberta.  We've been to a lot of different places since then but the Canadian Rockies is still my favorite place to visit.  I remember taking a lot of photographs, including this one of Spirit Island on Maligne Lake.
It's not really an island, but if you position yourself correctly and compose the shot just right it can appear to be an island.   This is one of those shots everyone takes.  To get the shot you either have to hike for a couple days or take a boat tour.  The boat drops you off right next to the island and gives you just enough time to walk to a spot to get "the shot" before it's time to get back in the boat and head back to the other end of the lake.

Spirit Island is what I call an Iconic Photograph - the image everyone who has been there has taken and you can find hundreds or thousands almost identical copies on the internet.  Try this - go to and type "spirit island maligne lake" in the search box.  When the list of results comes up click images and see what you get.   On one trip to Zion National Park I found myself standing shoulder to shoulder with dozens of other photographers to take an Iconic Picture of The Watchman from the Canyon Junction Bridge.  Even National Geographic photographers give in to temptation and take iconic photos, such as Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park at sunrise.  Every place has them and they are not to be missed.  When planning a trip that I may only get to take once I prepare my hit list of iconic photos I want to take while I'm there.   I'm in the final stages of planning a trip to Washington State and Oregon and have created  quite a list of iconic photo spots to hit.

While I will take the Iconic Photos, lately I've become more interested in finding something unique and different and less interested in the images made by hundreds or thousands of photographers before me.  I try to find subjects and compositions that I won't see on other people's websites, facebook, etc.   Here's a quote from one of my favorite photographer/authors:.

"The more I study photographs from the past century -
the incredibly short lifespan of our art so far - the more
convinced I am that everything’s been photographed,
that our challenge now is to manipulate light, lines,
and moments in the frame in a way that expresses our
unique view of those so oft-photographed subjects. "
- David duChemin - Photograph Issue 2

I don't know if everything has been photographed, but it's getting harder and harder to create unique photographs.  Here's some photos I took in 2012 and some suggestions on avoiding the iconic photography rut.

Even when you are at one of those iconic spots, open your mind to different angles or subjects.  On this morning I was in the Smoky Mountains at one of the best places to photograph the sunrise.  When the sunrise didn't happen I had fun taking long exposure photos of cars going by on the road.  Not what I went for but a different take on a familiar location.

Slow down and look for something or someone outside of the main action.  In this case I was taking photos at a Revolutionary War Reenactment and discovered this man resting on a bench outside one of the cabins.   An interesting expression on his face and that red vest and green hat are a great combination of contrasting colors.

Walk a ways off the beaten path.   I was at Roan Mountain with a group of friends for sunrise photographs.  Afterward we walked down the road just a little way and found this just off the road.  People were driving and walking by about 15 feet away and never looking down where we were getting this image.

Look for small details with interesting shapes, lines and colors.  This is a section of McDonald Creek in Glacier National Park.   Although hundreds of people take photos here every day, I bet you won't see this one anywhere else.  It tells a story of how the rocks have been worn smooth and the curve carved by the blue glacier fed river.  Here's another of small details in the same river.

Look beyond the obvious.   I was on the Blue Ridge Parkway for the fall colors.  When I took this the sky was blue and the colors brilliant, but I found the the lake with leaves on the surface and a reflection of trees to be more interesting.  I think I got some strange looks when I was taking pictures looking down when the obvious iconic picture was up.

These are just some examples and suggestions.  You might want to read this article on Lightstalking - Travel Photography - A Different Point of View.

There are interesting subjects all around us.  If you look you will find all God's creations are interesting and worthy of being photographed.  All we have to do is open our minds, slow down, get off the beaten path, look for the details and look beyond the obvious.