Category Archives: 40D

Air Shows with my 60D

Recently I wrote about using my Olympus E-M5 at an air show, and I mentioned that I would share my thoughts about using my Canon 60D in another post.  Well, here it is!

I’ve been using Canon DSLR’s at air shows for many years now.  Starting with my Canon XT, then my 40D, and now my 60D.  It’s been quite a while since I’ve used that XT, but going back through my photos I see that the results were mixed, in other words – not that good.  Some of it was due to the XT being very slow.  Slow to focus and a slow frame rate (3 fps approx.).  Most of it was due to my lack of skill or technique.  It was easy to fix the “slow” camera part, I bought the 40D.  The 40D was superior in every way compared to the XT.  And to be fair, I went back to my archives of 40D air show photos, and they were indeed better.  At least most of them.

How do I know they are better?  Good question!  I have a very bad habit of keeping almost all of my photos, good and bad.  Unless they are very, very bad, I tend to keep them.  This may seem like a silly waste of hard drive space, but I actually do go back to them and try to learn what went wrong.  In almost all instances, the fault was with me.  Poor technique.  If I could consistently follow a plane in the air and pan smoothly while firing off a few frames, I’d usually nail a couple of them.  If I was off by just a little, the camera wouldn’t focus where I thought it should and I would miss the shot.  Then it would hunt back and forth trying to lock on.

Fast forward.  The 40D has been replaced with the 60D.  I’ve been to many air shows and other aviation related events and practiced.  My results have been improving and overall I’m pleased, both with my equipment and my technique.  The 60D is perfectly capable of air show photography, within it’s limitations (and mine).

What limitations?  Another good question!  I’ve shot alongside some very talented photographers, and some high dollar equipment.  Hopefully this doesn’t come across as gear envy because I certainly don’t mean it that way.  But being a guy that likes gear (yes, I still do believe that it’s the photographer that makes the photo), I can’t help but notice some of the differences.  It doesn’t really matter what the other guy is using (usually a high dollar Canon or Nikon), I can just tell that they may not have the same limitations with their equipment as I do with mine.  I’m ok with the limitations and try to work within them (just like I do when I use my E-M5).

The Canon 60D isn’t quite obsolete yet.  It is still being sold in many camera stores such as B&H and Adorama.  It is however, at least a few years old now and a generation behind in technology.  Does that mean it can’t be used anymore and it’s time to upgrade?  I’d have to say no!  While the processor and sensor aren’t the latest and greatest, I find the image quality to be more than acceptable.  The 60D has a great auto focus system (phase detection) and in AI Servo mode, does a very good job of tracking a subject.  There aren’t as many focus points available as in the newer models, but I tend to keep mine on the center points anyway.  I’d say the biggest limitation is the frame rate (fps).  The 60D tops out at 5.5 fps.  For fast action photography, that’s on the slow side.  In fact, when the action is really heavy, I’ve missed some shots during peak times because it happened in-between frames.  It doesn’t happen a lot, but it does happen.  Knowing this and working with this particular limitation means that I need to anticipate the action a little more, and time my shots better.

I’ve been told that my 60D is more of a landscape camera than an action camera.  That may or may not be true.  I’ve used it for Little League games, auto racing, and yes, landscapes.  I think of it more as a very versatile tool, able to be used for more than just special situations.  The same thing goes for one of my main lenses, a Tamron 200-500.  I love the reach of this very large lens, but it is also slow.  It takes it a while to lock focus, especially if it starts hunting back and forth.  Sometimes I’ll switch it to manual and dial it in just to get it back in the game.  Is there a remedy for this?  Probably not with this lens.  I think I’m going to rent a Canon “L” lens for the next air show.  I actually had an “L” lens in the past and there is a difference.  The “L” lens is quiet and lighting fast in comparison to my Tamron.

To sum it up, I’d like to say that both my Canon 60D and my Olympus E-M5 may not be the best tools available for what I am using them for, but they aren’t the worst either.  Each one has its strengths and weaknesses, like all cameras.  To be successful you need to know your equipment and work within its limitations.  If you’re wondering what you may be missing by not having the latest and greatest, then consider renting.  If you can afford to chase technology or want the latest/greatest, then by all means go for it!  For me at least, I’m going to work with what I have.

Here are some of the results from my last air show using my 60D at the LA County Air Show.

That’s it for this post, until next time – Happy Shooting!

What’s New Is Old

If you’ve followed my work on either Google+ or Facebook, you know that I’m very interested in black and white photography.

Not only am I interested in black and white photography, I’m branching out and doing my best to recreate the same look and feel as some authentic,  antique black and white and toned black and white photos.  You may even think I’m obsessed with it (and you might be right)!

I’m not going to go into the mechanics of how to do black and white, or processing to give an image a vintage look.  There are plenty of resources available for that.  Youtube is one of the best places to start.  This is more about my thoughts behind the pursuit of creating these type of images.

To start off, what makes a good candidate for black and white?  For some folks, it’s a street scene.  For others it’s an interesting face.  For me, it’s old buildings, aircraft, and other antique or abandoned items.  That’s not a hard and fast rule, just something that works for me.  Every once in awhile a seascape or landscape will also work in black and white.

There are many tools available to help you create the perfect black and white image.  Yes, some cameras have this feature built in, and sometimes you can get some good results this way.  Personally I find shooting all originals in color and in RAW works best for me.  I prefer to do my conversion on the computer.  It’s very easy to convert a color image to black and white, but very difficult or next to impossible to convert black and white to color.

My favorite tool for black and white work starts with Photoshop.  But while Photoshop is very versatile, there are some plugins that make it even better.  Perfect Effects by OnOne Software is one of my most used tools.  Nik also makes a plugin called Siver Effex Pro that I like, but lately I’ve been using another Nik tool called Analog Effex.  These plugins also work with Lightroom if you happen to have it.

In todays world of bright vibrant color, why work with black and white?  It’s hard to explain.  I’ve always been amazed with the work of Ansel Adams.  The mood that he created with his richly toned black and white masterpieces was amazing.  In some ways, he captured the raw drama and emotion of a scene without color getting in the way.  Sometimes the tone and textures of a scene are brought out in a way that color just can’t do.  And when it’s done right you may not even notice that it’s black and white.

One last thing regarding the tools – which camera did I use?  My opinion is usually that the camera doesn’t matter, and I’ll stick with it here too!  Most of these were done with my Canon 40D, but in one case, I used my Olympus E-M5.  I really don’t think it matters that much.  I could just as easily have used my wife’s Canon S95 point and shoot.  Just use what you have and concentrate more on capturing the scene rather that what you have or don’t have in the camera bag.

While black and white isn’t for everyone, you may still want to give it a try.  You just never know when you are working an image and it jumps up and grabs you in a way that it just couldn’t when it’s in color.

Before I close, I want to let you know that the good folks at OnOne are still giving away Perfect Effects 8  for free.  That’s right, FREE!  Just click on the link and you’ll be able to download your copy.  Try it, use it, love it!

Here are some of my most recent examples:

That’s it for now.  Until next time – Happy Shooting!

When It Works!

P-51D

The image above is a North American P-51D (aka – Mustang), from the 2010 Planes of Fame Airshow in Chino California.  The reason I choose this photo is because it illustrates the title of this post “When It Works”.

What exactly works in this photo?  A couple of things in this case.  The 1st is the moving aircraft is relatively sharp, you can even see the pilot in the cockpit.  And the 2nd thing is the prop, it’s very nicely blurred!

Whether you’re taking pictures of moving cars, planes, kids, or dogs, there is one technique that will help you capture a sharp image of your subject, and that is Panning.  Panning, along with adjusting some of your camera settings, will put you in a position to increase your odds at getting some great images!  Please note that I said “increase your odds”, not guarantee!

Let’s talk about camera settings first.  I use Canon gear so a couple of the terms may be a little different if you use Nikon or Sony or another brand.  You’ll need to look in your camera’s manuel for your specific camera.

One of the 1st settings that I change on my camera is the Auto-Focus mode.  For moving objects, I like to use AI-Servo.  For Canon, this means continuous auto focus.  When I push the shutter down half-way, and the camera focuses on my subject, it will continue to adjust focus as the subject moves.

The next thing I do is adjust my camera to either Aperture Priority or Shutter Priority.  For events such as a baseball game, I’ll use Aperture Priority because I want to control the depth of field (how much of the scene is in focus from before the foreground to the subject, and the background).  Airshows are when I use Shutter Priority.  The reason for this is because I want to use a slow shutter speed on older propeller driven aircraft to get the props to blur.  In order to achieve this, I usually shoot with a shutter speed of 1/160 of a second.

And now let’s talk about the tricky part – Panning!  When you use a slow shutter speed with a moving object, you usually end up with fuzzy photos.  Typically you’ll want to use a fast shutter speed (the rule of thumb is to go no slower than the focal length of your lens, i.e. 300mm lens, set shutter speed no less than 1/300 of a second).  Here’s an example of what happens with you use a fast shutter speed with moving prop-driven aircraft:

P-40 Warhawk

Notice in the photo above how the propeller is almost frozen.  While there’s a hint of motion blur, I’d still call this shot a failure (especially if you compare it to the photo of the P-51 at the top of the page).  The body of the plane (a P-40 Warhawk) is mostly sharp, but the shot overall does not meet my criteria of a successful, “keeper” because of the prop.

The difference in camera settings are subtle, but enough to kill this image.  For some reason I changed the shutter speed to 1/800th of a second.  Why would I do this?  Beats me, it was too long ago to remember!  More than likely I just wasn’t paying attention and forgot to set my camera correctly and just started shooting when the action started.  It happens to everyone!

Here’s another example of what happens when the camera settings are off:

Heritage Flight

The shot above is of a Heritage Flight.  This is when older WWII Warbirds fly with something more modern, an F-16 in this example.  Again you see that the bodies of the planes are mostly sharp, and so are the props.  I was disappointed when I saw this and checked the settings to see that I had left the shutter speed at 1/200th of a second.  Just enough to stop the propellers and loose the blur.

There is one success to take away from my examples, and that is the Panning technique I spoke of.  In all 3 photos, the bodies of the planes are mostly sharp.  That’s because in spite of my shutter speed, I employed this technique to keep my subject sharp and in focus.  By tracking my target as it passed in front of me, having the camera set to continuous auto focus, pressing the shutter and following through as it passed by, I was able to achieve the desired result – a sharp photo of the body of the plane even with a slow shutter speed.

Fortunately I’ve had a lot of practice over the years.  I really like things that go fast and have been able to try many camera settings while taking pictures.  The one common thing about photographing things that move is the Panning technique.  I use Panning for fast moving objects when using slow shutter speeds to keep them in focus.  I also use Panning for fast moving objects when using a fast shutter speed to freeze the action at that critical moment.

The trick is to practice, practice, practice.  You could try it out in your backyard with your kids, or with your dog.  Try setting your shutter speed slow, and see if you can get your dog to chase a ball.  As your dog is running, start Panning, press the shutter and follow through the shot.  If you were successful, the dog will be in sharp focus and the background will be streaked and blurred.  If not, everything will be streaked and blurred.  But that’s ok, just try again!

Here is an example of using a fast shutter speed and Panning for a kids Baseball game.

Baseball, sliding to 2nd

I used my Canon 60D with Tamron 200-500mm lens with these settings:

  • F/5.0
  • 1/2500 sec. shutter speed
  • Aperture Priority
  • ISO 400
  • AI Servo
  • Focus point set to center
  • Partial/Spot Metering
  • High speed shutter – 5.5 frames per second

As the kid sliding to 2nd base began his run, I started to Pan.  I pressed the shutter as he centered in my viewfinder and continued to Pan as he ran down the baseline.  The result is the photo above.  There were others; some had the player cut off, out of frame, blurry, or not in the peak moment.  It was this photo that I felt was the most successful in capturing that peak moment of action with the ball just entering the 2nd baseman’s mitt, and the opposing player sliding into 2nd with a spray of dirt frozen in the air.

If my explanation didn’t make sense, here’s a link that might help – Panning (camera).

I hope this helped a little.  If not, or you have questions, go ahead and post them and I’ll do my best to answer.

Until next time – Happy Shooting!