Archive for the ‘Tips’ Category

Ok every since I saw my first hummingbird show up this year I have been dying to take a good photo of one. My first photo is not great and is a male sitting on a branch. But I wanted one in flight.

Ruby Throated male Hummingbird

So I looked around on Flickr and got a few tips. My next try was ass backwards. I set up six flashes triggered by Nikon wireless CLS around a feeder and blasted the poor hummingbird on full power while my Nikon D300 was set to a shutter speed of 1/8000.

Hummingbird Setup

This resulted in these photos. Note there is still motion blur in the wings.

Humming Bird

Humming Bird

Turns out I made a few mistakes. First FP Sync has issues. Again more tips and help from the Flickr community.

According to John Groseclose. Checkout his photos. They are great.

“If you’re trying to “freeze” motion, FP Sync isn’t the way to go. Since it turns the flash into a constant light source for the 1/300 or so it takes for the complete transit of the shutter slit across the sensor, you will still end up with blur.If you’d used an ND filter to knock down the ambient to black instead of using the high shutter speed to do it, you’d be using the flash duration of 1/1000ish at full power instead of the 1/300ish of the FP Sync. And since FP Sync loses a lot of power anyway, you might even be able to drop the flash power to 1/16 or so, and get a flash duration of 1/10000 or shorter (see page 122 of your SB-800 manual for the power/duration listings).

See webs.lanset.com/rcochran/flash/hss.html for details.

“You’ll want to get to a point where the ambient light is *zero*. If you shoot without flash, the scene should be *black*.

Then add flashes until you have enough to see the bird at a good exposure. That’ll freeze it.

At 1/250, f/8, ISO 400, you’re almost shooting for direct sunlight (f/16, ISO 100, 1/125 is “Sunny 16″.) Turn your ISO to 100, shutter to 1/250, and hit f/16. Don’t be afraid to crank your power up – the Metz 48 shouldn’t exceed 1/1000 at full power, and 1/2000 at half power.”

According to Michael Roy a.k.a. digitaldirectphotos.com. Checkout his photos and setups. They are awesome. Maybe buy his calendar.

” the ghosting appear because too much light hit the sensor. if you disconnect the flashes, everything should be almost black… if not ghosting appear. 1/16 should be ok for the flashes…, i would increase the f stop to f14 to f20 lower the iso to 250… the flashes have to be close to subject… use a patio umbrella or shoot when it is not in full sun… just like in studio.”

I really needed to reduce my shutter speed to 1/250 (i.e., no FP sync). Second I needed to decrease the power of the strobes down to say 1/16 power. The lower power settings actually allow the strobe to fire faster. This is where I am learning that when the strobes are the primary light source their speed is actually the important factor in the exposure. In stead of six flashes I am now using three on stands set around the feeder. Finally some of the blur was from my wide open F stop. I closed down that F-stop to the point that without flash, the photos were black. The next photos show this. Note that I have much better motion stop less blur.



Also note the black background. I wanted a beautiful background. So again more tips from Flickr community. I put a piece of black foam core behind the feeder. I took an out of focus shot of my day lillies, printed that on a piece of plain paper and taped that to the foam core behind the feeder. Finally I took one more strobe and used it to light the background. This resulted in the following photos. I learned this trick from digitaldirectphotos.com as well.

Here are the backgrounds I have used so far.

Yellow Day Lilly Background

Pink Cone Flower Background

With these background I got the following photos.



So I haven’t seen the male come back since my first photo and I sit around for hours and I am lucky if the female comes around once or twice. Today there were two females and they came around much more frequently and did not seem affraid of the flashes. One just about flew up the camera lens and into the house. My understanding is that by mid August the offspring will be leaving the nest. Cross your fingers. But this is sure a lot of fun. Now the next challenge will be changing up the backgrounds to see what I can get.

Yea I finally had a male show up. It happened so fast I didn’t even realize it until post.

Hummingbird on Gold

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Night Train (HDR) Western Maryland Scenic Railroad (HDR)

Who doesn’t like trains? They are a massive symbol of a great industrial age. Their importance to America‚Äôs Manifest Destiny is undeniable only surpassed by the age of flight. If you like photographing trains there are many wonderful opportunities nearby in Maryland and Pennsylvania. Here in Maryland we have the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Museum and the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad. In Pennsylvania you can find the the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania and the Strasburg Railroad.

The B&O Railroad Museum makes for a great day out and is conveniently located in Baltimore. It has 40 acres showcasing a number of historic railroad buildings including the historic Roundhouse and a huge collection of locomotives and rolling stock. The Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania is a two hour drive to Strasburg Pennsylvania near Lancaster. It hosts five acres of locomotives and rolling stock from 18 different Pennsylvania railroads.

Although the museums are great, I really prefer the challenge of photographing living breathing moving locomotives under full steam. Two and a half hours away In Cumberland Maryland they run steam locomotive rides during the day. You can ride the train but you will get the best photos watching it come and go. If you choose to ride the train there is a car that has openings where they store bikes that you can lean out of the train and get some shots. There is even a curve in the track where you can shoot the front of the train from the back of the train. Just watch out or you will get a mouth full of coal ashes.

I got my best photos when the train arrived for boarding and departed for its run to Frostburg 32 miles away. Then I drove to Frostburg to photograph the train arriving from Cumberland. The highlight in Frostburg is watching the locomotive being turned on the turntable. You need a wide angle lens to get the whole train in the frame. I used a 17mm. While the train is lying over in Frostburg there are great opportunities to walk to the front of the train and photograph it on the tracks before it heads back to Cumberland. This was a great opportunity to shoot some HDR shots of the train. In fact it is almost a necessity. If you expose for the train the sky is white. If you expose for the sky the train is black. HDR to the rescue.

As a bonus I stayed and photographed the mystery dinner theater train leaving and returning from Cumberland that night. This is not a steam train but a diesel train. Where else can you stand on a train track in the middle of the night and get a long exposure of a train up close headlight beaming into the night. Make sure and bring a tripod.

Across the street from the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania is the Strasburg Railroad. You can ride this train as well but the ride is 20 minutes in one direction, they turn the train, and 20 minutes back. I did not like photographing the train on departure because the locomotive is hooked to the cars backwards. I got my best shots by driving two mile down the road and finding a crossroad that intersected with the train track. I waited for the train to return and photographed it going through the Amish countryside. As soon as the train passed I drove back to the station and just barely got back in time to photograph the train returning to the station. The last train of the day will pull up to the water tower providing a great opportunity for photography before they tuck it away for the evening.

Published in the Bowie-Crofton Camera Club newsletter

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For an upcoming photo contest at the Arundel Camera Club with the theme of Still Life, I created my own rendition of the traditional wine and cheese still life.

_DSC0232 _DSC0227
_DSC0229 _DSC0225

I used a Metz48 behind and under the table to light the wine bottle and glasses by aiming it at a black background with white boarders on each end. I used a SB800 to light the cheese and grapes with a gobo to keep from lighting the wine bottle and glasses. Since I used Nikon CLS to remotely trigger the Metz and SB800 I also used another gobo to keep the on camera flash from lighting the wine bottle and glasses. Then I used colored gels to change the background color and thus the color of the wine bottle and glasses. I don’t like the red. The blue has an interesting effect of making the wine bottle nearly black.

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Peppers, originally uploaded by bmthomas.

To light the peppers I used a SB800 Camera right high though white umbrella full power. To light the background and turn it green I used a green gel on a Metz 48 at 1/2 power aimed at a black backdrop. Black backdrops seem to work better at reflecting the gel color. I sat the peppers on a sheet of black Plexiglas. Black plexi seems to work much better than glass on a black cloth. See the following photo for the setup shot.


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I started playing around with HDR photography last year after Ferrell McCollough came and did a lecture at my camera club. Check out his book Complete Guide to High Dynamic Range Digital Photography.

So what is HDR? Well basically the range of light that a camera’s sensor can process is limited. The challenge is to get details in the the highlights and the darks without blowing out the highlights or turning the darks black. The classic example is to get details in the forground photographers often blow out the sky creating ugly white detail free skies. Often photographers can compensate with graduated filters to reduce the range of stops of lights in a scene.

Here is an example. I had to bracket my exposure in this scene of the Western Maryland Railroad. I took the following seven shots to create the above photo. Note that none of the photos alone capture the scene but combining the best of each, I was able to create the above.


F7.1 Shutter 1/320 sec ISO 200 24mm Exp Bias 0



F7.1 Shutter 1/2500 sec ISO 200 24mm Exp Bias -3 F7.1 Shutter 1/160 sec ISO 200 24mm Exp Bias +1



F7.1 Shutter 1/1250 sec ISO 200 24mm Exp Bias -2 F7.1 Shutter 1/80 sec ISO 200 24mm Exp Bias +2



F7.1 Shutter 1/640 sec ISO 200 24mm Exp Bias -1 F7.1 Shutter 1/40 sec ISO 200 24mm Exp Bias +3

I used Photomatix Pro to combine these seven exposures into the final image. You can download a trial but it will watermark your images. Look for a discount on the purchase of Photomatix Pro at Ferrell McCollough’s website.

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Deer Silhouette

Originally uploaded by bmthomas

I entered this in the Arundel Camera Club Novice Digital Open Competition on 1/14/2009 but did not place. The judge said I should clone out the birds in the sky. There are three birds that look like birds and are reflected in the water. According to the judge, all of the other birds looked like dirt and should be cloned out.

Here is a cleaned up version per the judge’s comments.

Deer Silhouette

What do you think?

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Since the copy of Helicon Focus I downloaded is good for 30 days, I thought I would try some more experimenting. Here are three more shots I put together with Helicon Focus.

Yellow Tipped Tulips (Helicon Focus)

Wet Macro Pink Tulips (Helicon Focus)

Pink Tulips (Helicon Focus)

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Christmas Balls (Helicon Focus)
Originally uploaded by bmthomas

Setup: I used a green geled Metz 48 behind and below the table at 1/4 power bounced off of a black background. I have a SB800 on a stand through a white umbrella camera left at 1/10 power. The gold ball is much more reflective than the red and green. I had a gold reflector on the right. Flashes triggered via Nikon CLS.

Christmas Balls Setup

So the challenge with this shot it that I could focus on the gold ball but the red and green balls were out of focus due to the limited depth of field.

Christmas Balls

or I could focus on the green ball but the gold and red balls were out of focus. This was probably the best of the three images.

Christmas Balls-2

Finally I could focus on the red ball but the gold and green balls were out of focus.

Christmas Balls-3

During a recent photo contest at the Bowie-Crofton Camera Club, the Judge Tony Sweet suggested that I could have used a program called Helicon Focus to put together a series of photos each one taken focusing on a a different part of the scene to create a final image that had greater depth of field.

So I downloaded a trial of Helicon Focus to put these three photographs together and create the final image which shows all three Christmas balls in focus.

Of course you need to shoot each shot from a tripod and manually focus. I was a little curious how Helicon would handle my hand held reflector on the right. Looks like it did a good job.

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Lotus Pod

Originally uploaded by bmthomas

I entered this in the Bowie-Crofton Camera Club Advanced Color Print Flower Competition on 1/5/2009 but did not place. The competition was stiff. Not only are flowers a popular subject but the judge was Tony Sweet.

The judge said I should have used Helicon Focus. Helicon Focus is a program that combines multiple photographs each taken focusing on a different part of the scene together to create a final image with a better depth of field. Of course to do this you would have to shoot on a tripod and manually focus.

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When I started using a Digital SLR one of the first things I did was buy a tripod. Everything I read said I needed a tripod if I wanted to create sharp publishable photographs. Then I learned how to lock the mirror up and got myself a cable release.

Over time I have gotten lazy about using my tripod. I now have a couple of Vibration Reduction lenses and I find myself trusting the VR and trying to hold the camera steady by bracing against something.

Well I guess I learned a hard lesson this week. I was competing in a flower photography contest at the Bowie-Crofton Camera Club . The judge was none other than Tony Sweet ( www.tonysweet.com ).

Well the end result was that Tony threw out three of my photos for not being sharp. This was one of the photos that he considered not sharp enough. Remember this is a digital version and he was judging the printed version of this flower. I always seem to have more problems with color prints than digital.

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