Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Trip Alert... update #2

Lake Louise Before the Sun Goes Down
Banff NP - Canada
Canon 5D mark II + 24mm f3.5L TSE

WiFi has been both expensive and hard to come by, so my posts are likely to be few and far between.
It’s day number six and we have been living the schizophrenic weather of June in the Canadian Rockies. We’re currently at the Lake Louise Campground, and I do not have words or pictures that could possibly convey the beauty of this place. Yesterday we were up by 4:00 a.m. to catch a sunrise on Lake Louise and begin a killer hike to an alpine tea lodge. After hiking to the point of blisters and muscle aches, we decided to spend today searching for wildlife. The pre-dawn drive produced our first Grizzly photo op as well as some amazing landscapes. With no time to post-process work from the road, today’s post from the lake will have to do.
More for the Rockies when time permits...
Cheers, eh?
©2000-2012 / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Trip Alert

On the Road - iPhone

Summer is my shooting season. With school out, long days and brilliant light it's time for some road-tripping. We put 500 (plus) miles on the Jeep today and Tamy, Sequoia and I are now beat. Banff, Jasper and Kootenay are still a few days away, but that's the direction we're heading. I'm taking a break from posting tips until I return to the States, so until then, you'll just have to follow the travel diary.
Sunset at Camp - iPhone Shot and Processed with Camera Awesome

Hit the road and take some pics!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Tip #83: Tools (Part #1: Camera for a Nature Photographer)

Misty Morning (Cygnus buccinator) - Minnesota
Canon 7D + Canon 300mm f2.8L IS

The Camara
Like many experienced photographers, I have become the Google™ search engine for all things photography. When my non-photog colleagues, friends and family solicit input prior to making their purchase, I always respond with the same two questions:
  • What are your goals?
  • How much can you spend?
As a reader of this blog, I’ll assume that your photographic goals include travel and nature. While I make no assumptions about your budget, I’d like to suggest 5 key features to consider prior to making your purchase. The absence of one or more feature should not inhibit the pursuit of your art, however I have found that each of my suggestions have been invaluable in my own photography. 
Statue (Cygnus buccinator) - Minnesota
Canon 7D + Canon 300mm f2.8L IS
First and foremost, I am brand agnostic. I am not a “fanboy” for any one manufacturer and often ponder a move between systems. Were it not for my costly investment in expensive optics, it is likely that I would have switched brands many times throughout the past 25 years. Furthermore, my own brand complacency has facilitated a type of mechanical memory. Years of use with the same basic cameras now make the movement of switches and dials automatic, and allows me to capture images that I would have otherwise lost. 
Each of the features I suggest can be found in a variety of Canon, Nikon, and Sony cameras. Please note, I have purposely omitted Fuji, Leica, Olympus, Panasonic and Pentax from my list. While each of these manufacturers produce compelling cameras at a variety of price points, they do not support the needs of wildlife photographers. If you plan to restrict yourself to landscape, macro or travel, then all of the major manufacturers will meet your needs. However, if you plan to photograph wildlife and hope to acquire a long fast telephoto lens in the future, then it would be best for you to stick with Canon, Nikon or Sony. 
Take Off (Cygnus buccinator) - Minnesota
Canon 7D + Canon 300mm f2.8L IS
Five Essential Features in a Camera for the Nature Generalist:
Single Lens Reflex (SLR)
  • Nikon and Canon produce single lens reflex cameras with a reflex mirror that allows you to see the image as the lens “sees” it. Light traveling through the lens is reflected to the photographer via a reflex mirror and glass prism. This traditional design enables you to see how the light is focused and magnified by your optics. In contrast to Nikon and Canon, Sony makes SLR-like cameras have an electronic viewfinder (EVF). Light traveling through the lens strikes a sensor, producing an electronic image that is viewed through an eyepiece. The new EVF technology facilitates fast autofocus and high frame rates, but the need to electronically refresh the image produces a slight delay between what you see and reality. While the Sony cameras are fast and well suited for wildlife subjects, I have not adapted to the “TV-type” viewing experience. 
Complete System Approach
  • Purchase a camera that is supported by a broad system of lenses and flashes. While you may not want or be able to afford a 500mm f4 lens today, you may find that this is an essential focal length the future. Good cameras are supported by good systems that include fisheye lenses, fast zooms, ultra-telephoto optics, and tools for macro photography. Before selecting your camera, make certain that you check out the supporting cast.
Four or more frames per second (fps)
  • Wildlife moves fast and you will want to capture the decisive moment, flit of a wing, or strike of a predator. I have found that four frames per second will produce a burst that is just fast enough to nail the unpredictable moment. When considering the frame rate, also consider the size of the camera’s buffer. There is no point in buying a camera that can shoot 10 frames per second when the buffer can only hold 20 pictures... if you’ve made 20 shots in two seconds and must wait a minute for the buffer to clear, then you might as well be shooting at 1 frame per second!
Live View
  • When LiveView was initially introduced, I could not predict how it might influence my photography. The Canon 1D mark iii was my first body with LiveView. Lacking the ability to magnify the electronic image, I errantly disregarded this feature as little more than a novelty. Lack of foresight now makes me seem ignorant, as the current iteration of cameras include LiveView technologies that I could not imagine. When using LiveView an electronic image is projected on your LCD screen. This “Live” scene allows you to magnify the image ten times (10x) and permits accurate manual focus. Today, I use LiveView for 90% of my landscape and macro subjects. The ability to magnify the image, focus carefully and study the whole composition, helps me to “slow time” and produce more compelling images.
Mirror Lock Up
  • I have written about mirror lock-up on multiple occasions in this blog. To me, using this feature is the simplest way to maximize the quality of your optics. By manually moving the reflex mirror into the up position, you are free to trigger the shutter without introducing additional vibration. When accompanied with a tripod and cable release, it is easy to make vibration-free images with 30 second or longer exposures. Mirror lock-up is not a feature that you will find in any current (2012) Sony camera. This feature is not necessary because Sony uses a partially translucent mirror that allows light to travel through the lens and “reflex” mirror. As a result, there is no need for the mirror to move and thus no additional vibration... Advantage Sony!
(5 + 1) Weather Sealing
  • I know I said 5 key features, but I feel compelled to add one more to your wish list. A weather sealed camera will allow you to be less inhibited with your gear. Nature happens in the rain, snow, heat and cold. If fear of failure or damage inhibits your pursuit, then add weather sealing to your must-have list. I have found that even the least expensive SLR’s can survive some pretty rough weather. Try not to treat your gear as if it were something precious. See it for what it is... a conduit for sharing your vision.

©2000-2012 / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Tip #82: Let Life Happen

Commute - Stillwater Township, MN
Canon 5D Mark II + Canon 24mm f3.5L T/S E
Ever visit a home with young kids? Filter out the exuberant noise emanating from k-3 mouths and simply watch their world through your photographer eyes. Pure spontaneity erupts because life is a game. Young ones wander between the present and future, they live at the nexus between the material and the imaginary. They are the keen observers among us and transform the mundane repetitions of life into something fresh and novel. A dog encounter that needs to be controlled by the adult world is a butt sniffing fest that explodes into a type of laughter that I have long forgone in my adult life. Slides are castles, kiddie pools are lakes and yards are far flung lands that beg to be conquered. This old photographer can learn lessons from the neophytes, ...they let life happen.

Commute #2 - Stillwater Township, MN
Canon 5D Mark II + Canon 24mm f3.5L T/S

These images are an exercise in risk and patience:
  • Risk, because I chose to stop, shoot  and share. They are not from some rare exotic locale, nor do they expose the unfamiliar to the masses. In fact, these are pictures captured along my commute. I risk my credibility by sharing the mundane, yet each image is a moment in time where light and shadow seduced my eyes. 
  • Patience, because I had to stop, stare and think before taking the risk. The photos were shot from tripod, in wet waste-high grass at a time when I was not prepared for the conditions. Patience required a thoughtful lens choice, the manipulation of tilts - shifts - focus, and the burden of a cable release and mirror lock-up.
These are simple images, but simplicity can transform a moment and force the wizened to cross a line from the material to the imaginary. 
We all can learn lessons from the inexperienced among us. Neophytes have much to offer those who have stale eyes and forgotten about the beauty that can explode from the mundane... watch them play, they let life happen.
©2000-2012 / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Tip #81: Find Your Zone

Reflective Practice - St. Croix River, MN
Canon 5D + Canon 24-105L f4.0IS
At the nexus between time and creativity is an ephemeral moment that I call “the zone.” This is a place worthy of discovery, an opportunity to become lost in the process. Here, the laws of physics are distorted as time slows and vision is refined. The zone is our Emerald City - unobtainium - it is a destination where pictures are transformed into images and craft becomes art. I live for these fleeting moments, a chance to lose myself in a landscape and forget that life exists beyond the photograph. Find the time to let go, and embrace those rare opportunities to make the magic happen. 
©2000-2012 / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Tip #80: In Search of Simplicity

Widow Dragonfly (Libellula luctuosa) - Pine Point, MN
Canon 5D MarkII + Canon 100mm f2.8L Macro IS
As my worlds begin to collide, I now search for solitude and space. The split-personality that begins every September will soon merge into the “Me” I want to be. The bruce who was, is lost in the shuffle of expectation, obligation and responsibility. Students, polite with the newness and fear of their future, were respectful and dutiful. Nine months later, my act has grown tiresome and I am the used car man selling the unwanted wreck in a corner lot. A week stands between me and "Mr. L," it is a challenging time but I can see some light in a window at a distance.

Teak Shadow Dragonfly - Hacienda Baru, Costa Rica
Canon 5D MarkII + Canon 180mm f3.5L Macro 

On October 19, 2011 I embarked on what I call “Project 101.” This is my exercise, a personal journey to reflect on my own photographic process by offering a few ideas to stimulate yours. So as I struggle to grade a mountain of papers and motivate the unmotivated, I suggest that you search for some simplicity in your life. Take a walk with a camera in a quiet place, find a pattern that strikes a chord and contemplate the elegance in nature. 
I took a break from my mountain, I took a hike in the woods and I found the time to author this blog. Get out there and make some time to find yourself.
©2000-2012 / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission.