Picture of the Week 49 – Devil


Canon EOS 5D ,Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM
1/80s f/4.0 at 27.0mm iso3200

This is from the final dress rehearsal of “A Beautiful Star”. The final dress rehearsal is usually my one chance to get all the images of a production I want, because in earlier rehearsals something is usually not quite ready (costumes, backdrops, special effects, lighting, etc.), and copyright restrictions often preclude photography at the performances. So, the pressure for me is on… 🙂

This shot is of Lucifer (the Devil) re-emerging from hell after having been thrown out of heaven. He has revenge in mind and wants to mess up God’s beautiful creation. His first victim, Eve, is in the background, and his means, the forbidden fruit, can also be seen.

So, it’s clear that to tell the story we need to see all the elements. A small change in my position or in the camera angle could have easily caused for example the apple to be blocked from view. Also, as I explained last week, knowing the play ahead of time is indispensable, because moments like these are all too fleeting.

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Picture of the Week 48 – Raining Cats and Dogs


Canon EOS 5D ,Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM
1/320s f/5.6 at 24.0mm iso3200

This coming weekend (Dec 7-9), the Village Church Community Theater is performing “A Beautiful Star: An Appalachian Nativity”. It’s a great Christmas play with wonderful bluegrass music.

In this scene, Noah just gathered the animals and his stubborn wife into the ark when, according to the script, it starts raining cats and dogs. The stage crew had fun with that line, of course, and made it rain stuffed toy animals from above the stage. A fun moment to catch, if you are prepared.

Being prepared for a shoot, or even a single picture, is the point I’d like to make with this picture of the week. When I photograph plays, I wouldn’t dare show up at a dress rehearsal without being really familiar with the play. If I had done that here, I would have never been fast enough to catch the toy animals in mid-air. I often read the script before I come to even the first rehearsal, and I always attend a number of them. I make mental notes on particular moments to capture, as well as where to position myself for certain shots. Without this preparation, I’d miss out on a lot.

No matter what type of photography you are interested in, knowing as much as possible about the subject or object before you even pick up a camera will help you get better photos. For landscapes, you’ll want to know how they change with the seasons and how the light changes throughout the day. For portraits, knowing your subjects will help you capture them in meaningful and characteristic ways. When shooting sports, you obviously need to understand how the game works, where the action happens, etc. I could go on, but you get the idea. Do your research before you aim your camera and press the shutter.

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Picture of the Week 47 – Bromeliad


Canon EOS 5D ,Canon EF 28-105mm f/3.5-4.5 Macro II USM
1/30s f/11.0 at 105.0mm iso800

We saw an interesting bromeliad at the Botanical Building in San Diego’s Balboa Park. I was intrigued by the spiked flower with a shape that reminded me of the sapphire tower in the San Diego Botanic Garden in Encinitas.

I was struggling to come up with a good composition, which is tricky since the flower spikes point in all directions. Not satisfied with my attempts, I finally thought of trying to shoot straight down onto the flower.

Looking at the EXIF info (1/30s at 105mm), I must say I was probably somewhat lucky to get a sharp image. Conventional wisdom says to use a shutter speed at least as fast as the inverse of the focal length, so at 105mm I should have used 1/125s or faster (e.g. 1/250s). Image stabilization (IS) found on many lenses these days gives you a couple of extra stops of hand holding capability, but the lens I used didn’t have IS.

Just about the only thing I did in post processing was to darken the border of the image and brighten the center to help draw the eye towards the colorful flower and diminish any distraction from the background. There are many ways of doing this, but currently my favorite and most convenient way is the “Darken/Lighten Center” filter in Color Efex Pro.

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Picture of the Week 46 – Mandarin Duck

Canon EOS 60D ,Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM
1/800s f/4.0 at 145.0mm iso800

This pretty Mandarin duck is one of our favorite subjects at the San Diego Zoo.

This time it was displaying some interesting behavior. I’m not sure how best to describe it but it was rapidly opening and closing its beak. The obvious guess would be that it had something to do with impressing the other sex, but I don’t really know. 🙂

Technically, there’s not a whole lot to say about this shot. Since the beak was moving so rapidly, it took a couple of frames to capture it with the beak open. Also a fast shutter speed was required or else the beak would have been blurry from the fast motion. Since the duck was in the shade, it took a higher ISO (800) and a fairly large aperture (f/4.0) to get a fast enough shutter speed. The large aperture also reduced the depth of field, such that the water in the foreground and background is creamily out of focus.

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Surprise Engagement Party

When Erica arrived at her parents’ house after a lunch date with her boyfriend Mark, she had no idea that he and her parents had arranged a surprise engagement party. He proposed in front of dozens of friends, she said yes, they celebrated, and you can watch it all on this video.

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Picture of the Week 45 – Ferruginous Hawk

click image for full size

Canon EOS 60D ,Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM
1/800s f/5.6 at 125.0mm iso800

As a special treat, I am giving you this week a full sized photo rather than just the size that fits into this blog column. Click the photo above to see a larger picture. Depending on your browser, you might then see a magnifying glass or (+) sign and have to click again to see the image in its original, full resolution.

This adorable bird is a hawk during a training talk at the San Diego Zoo’s Safari Park. I believe it is a Ferruginous Hawk, the largest hawk in the United States.

The Safari Park has a wonderful bird show that features many kinds of birds in free flight, often right over the audience’s heads. In this talk, however, they focus on telling visitors how they train the birds to perform their tricks. This hawk was one of the stars of the training talk.

I just couldn’t decide whether to show you the full size image, or a cropped version. On the one hand, I wanted to include the keeper in the shot, because I love his expression, which is just full of admiration for this magnificent bird of prey. On the other hand, it would be a shame not to show more detail of the bird and its beautiful feathers. So, click on the image to see the full size and enjoy it all. No extra charge. 🙂

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Picture of the Week 44 – Grape Leaves

Canon EOS 60D ,Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS
1/320s f/8.0 at 23.0mm iso200

After a wine tasting near Los Altos last weekend, I was trying to get some interesting shots of the vineyards. In the area that was immediately accessible to visitors, I couldn’t quite come up with an interesting composition on a larger scale, so I decided instead to try a close up shot. The result is this Picture of the Week.

The colorful leaves are strongly backlit by the sun, such that the sun shines directly through the leaves and turns them into a translucent object. This really brings out the colors. At the same time, however, it is very important not to get any direct sunlight onto the lens, since that would lead to a dramatic decrease in contrast, would wash out the colors, and most likely result in ugly flare artifacts.

The solution was to carefully position the camera such that the direct sun is blocked by one of the branches. Post-processing of this image was fairly modest. I actually slightly decreased the overall contrast and boosted the shadow exposure, since otherwise some parts of the leaves would have come out too dark.

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