Tag Archives: Tripod

Timing Is Everything

Have you ever wondered why photos of the same place can look so different?  Maybe you’ve seen some stunning photos of a place you’d like to visit while browsing a magazine or online.  Once you’re there and taking some photos of your own, you notice that they seem kind of blah.  Keep reading, maybe I can help.

Like the title of this post suggests, timing is everything!  One of the biggest differences between your blah photo and one from someone else that is drop dead gorgeous is the quality of light.  What does that mean?  For me it has always been referred to as the golden hour.  This usually refers to the hour after sunrise and the hour before sunset.  The sun is low in the sky and the light can take on a rich, golden tone.  Of course this depends on where you are and what season you’re in.

Once the sun starts climbing, the light becomes more harsh and contrast increases.  That once beautiful scene can turn into something much less appealing (photographically speaking).  The dynamic range (the difference in light between the highlights and shadows) increases beyond the cameras ability to capture it.  You end up having to choose which one to base your exposure on, leaving you with either blown out highlights or black shadows with no detail.

One of the ways to continue photographing a scene when the sun starts to climb is to employ HDR (High Dynamic Range).  Typically you would make 3 exposures of the same scene (camera on a tripod is best), and merge them in post processing software like Photomatix.  HDR can help you create some wonderful mid-day shots that were at one time very difficult.  Some restraint is necessary to keep your image from taking on a cartoonish appearance.

That’s enough about HDR.  I’ve talked about it quite a bit in previous posts and you can look in my archives if you want to read more.  A google search will also take you to some very knowledgable folks with a lot of info on the subject.

Getting back to timing, there’s really nothing quite like capturing a scene early in the morning.  The air is fresh and clean, and the sun starts to paint everything in rich golden light.  Sounds wonderful doesn’t it?  Unfortunately it doesn’t always work out this way.  There are times when the sun just seems to pop up and the golden hour turns into the golden minute.  I’m sure there are some very good technical reasons for this, but I won’t try to guess as to what they are.  When this happens, I try to make the best of it.  There are times when the magic just isn’t going to happen and there’s nothing you can do about it but enjoy the rest of the day.

Luckily there’s one more chance in the day to try again.  Just because the light wasn’t great in the morning doesn’t mean it won’t be fantastic in the evening!  Conditions change, and you need to adapt.  Keep an eye on the sky and get ready.  Sometimes all it takes are a few clouds to turn a blank, boring sky into a breathing taking sunset!

Keep in mind the time that the golden hour happens is related to where you are.  If you are up in the mountains it’s going to be later than if you are on the flat land.  The sun has to get high enough to get over the mountain peaks.  It can also happen that sunrise may not be the best time for golden hour photos as sunset.  It can help you choose the best time for photos by doing some research.

The whole point of this post is to help you increase your odds of capturing that knock out photo.  I’m not saying that you can’t get some great mid-day shots, it can just be more difficult.  There are certainly many photographers that buck the odds and post some truly fantastic mid-day shots.  I’m trying to point out that you stand a better chance of hitting that home run by working with the golden hour light.

Here are some examples.  These are all from one of my favorite places for photography, Morro Bay.

I hope the examples above give you an idea of what I’m trying to describe.  There are a couple of photos that are blah, at least to my eyes.  There are also a few that really seem to work.  How do I know?  Hundreds of hits on various photo sharing websites!  It pleases me that other people/photographers also enjoy some of my work.  It motivates me to get out of bed and get out there to make more!

That’s it for this post.  Remember, timing is everything!
Until next time – Happy Shooting!

Air Show Photography, What I’ve Learned

This post is about some of the things I’ve learned about photography at air shows.  I’ve been fortunate enough to have attended quite a few over the past 10 years, and I’ve done 2 so far this year with one more to go next month.

Arrive Early
I can’t stress this point enough.  Air Shows can get very crowded, but I hold to this old adage, “the early bird gets the worm”.  This simple phrase contains powerful wisdom, not just for air shows, but for many things in life!  Regarding air shows, be there when the gates open.  You’ll have less people to deal with if you want clean photos of the planes on the ground.  And you can stake out your spot early.  I usually find a place somewhere along the front of the fence line, either where the planes take off or land.  It seems that the majority of the crowd arrives very close to when the show starts, and will pile up behind you.  While most of the action is in the air, over head, I still prefer to have an unobstructed view of the runway.

Photo Access
To get the best access available as a non-working professional photographer, check to see if the air show you want to attend offers a photographer’s access/pass.  This year, 2 of the 3 shows I have attended offer this option, the LA County Air Show (Photo Tour Pass) and the Chino Planes of Fame Air Show (Sunrise Photo Pass). They do cost more, but in addition to allowing a limited number of air show enthusiasts sunrise access to all of the planes, they also include things like preferred parking and lunch.  The other benefit is that you will be in the company of other like-minded air show photographers!  I noticed how courteous the group at the LA County Air Show was and appreciated it.  They understood and respected each other’s space as we all worked our way around the planes trying to nail that keeper shot!

Be Prepared – Weather
I’ve attended air shows when it was cold and wanting to rain, and also when it was close to 120 degrees on the tarmac.  Watch the weather reports and prepare accordingly!  Feeling miserable while trying to catch the action at an air show is a recipe for lousy pictures.  If you know it’s going to be hot, don’t forget your sunscreen.  A wide brimmed hat offers better protection from the sun than a baseball cap.  And one final thing, wear comfortable shoes!  This should go without saying but I’ve seen everything from high heels to thin designer sandals.  There can be a lot of walking and standing at an air show, and having happy feet can be the difference between getting those perfect shots to wanting to just go home and soak your feet.

Be Prepared – Gear
While this really boils down to personal preference, I think a little planning ahead can help lighten your load.  Unless you’re going to go straight to your spot and sit there for the entire air show, you may want to narrow your gear down to the essentials.  What exactly are the essentials?  Good question!  It depends on what you are interested in.  Is your main focus the static displays on the ground?  If so, you may want a wide angle lens.  Do you want to get shots of the planes in the air when they fly by?  A good telephoto lens would be in order.  The gear I bring will fit into 1 bag (Lowepro Slingshot 202 AW). I’m able to put my Canon 60D, Tamron 70-700 and 200-500mm lens inside.  There’s also room for my Olympus E-M5, 7.5mm fisheye, 17mm, and 45-200mm lenses.  Finally, I bring a small tripod for my E-M5 (for the early morning, low light photos).  In addition, I have 2 batteries for the 60D, and 3 for the E-M5.  Each camera has a 32gb SD card, and I bring along several 16gb cards as back up.  One last thing regarding gear – don’t forget a light weight folding chair!

Be Patient
Unless a special area has been set aside for you, the general public will be everywhere.  It seems that some people have no sense of personal space, and will try everything to squeeze in and around you, including trying to go under you.  Some are polite, others are oblivious and don’t understand why you may be getting angry with them.  And unfortunately I’ve seen some photographers get pretty rude too.  Believe it or not, I personally try not to get upset.  If it’s a kid that just wants a better view of a pilot walking by or a plane taking off, I’ll usually let them in for a few minutes.  This also goes for an elderly person that is having trouble seeing the action from the back of the crowd, but only if there’s enough room!  My 200-500mm lens with it’s large lens hood has bonked more than one person standing too close when I’m following the planes in the air.  I’ve also found it best to work together with a couple other photographers to stake out our spots, and watch each others gear when someone needs to step away.  It sure beats lugging all of your gear with you to the porta-potty!

The Pictures
What should you take pictures of?  Depends on what you are interested in.  I’m not trying to be vague, but there is a lot going on at an air show and the photography options are varied.  Obviously there are the planes, both on the ground and in the air.  There are also the pilots and ground crews working on the planes.  There’s action on the ramp with planes getting ready to take off and on the other end where they land.  And don’t forget the crowds!  Sometimes you can get some interesting shots by including the crowd.  Look for angles and scenes not typically photographed, like the MC of the event and all of his equipment.  I got lucky once and got some great shots of a model dressed in a WWII outfit standing near one of the planes! There are literally thousands of photos of air shows with planes in the air.  Try to make yours stand out by being a little different.

The Results
In the end, you want results, pictures you are proud of and want to share!  With some preparation your odds will increase and hopefully you’ll come home with memory cards full of keepers!  Here are some examples from my last event, the LA County Air Show.

Blue Angels, Pilots
Blue Angels Pilots, Canon 60D , Tamron 200-500mm lens.


Air Show Performers Getting Ready
Air Show Performer getting ready, Canon 60D, Tamron 200-500mm lens.
Fly Wing & Blue Angels
Flying Wing passing in front of the Blue Angels, Canon 60D with 200-500mm lens.
Blue Angels, Flying in Formation
Blue Angels flying in formation, Canon 60D with Tamron 200-500mm lens.


P-38 Lightning, Sunrise
P-38 Lightning, Sunrise Olympus E-M5 with Panasonic 45-200mm lens.
Blue Angels
Blue Angels heading out, Olympus E-M5 with 45-200mm lens.

That’s it for this post!  If you liked it or want to see more photos, you can follow me on Facebook.  Just click the link on my page!

Until next time – Happy Shooting!



60D vs E-M5 at an Airshow

This post is about a real world comparison between my Canon 60D and Olympus OMD E-M5 at the LA Count Airshow. My little review is not scientific nor is it heavy in the technical specifications of each camera. It is just my experience between these different types of camera and how they performed for me at a fast action event.

I was really looking forward to this airshow.  When I found out they were offering special photographer access (for a price) I jumped at the chance.  Having a very limited crowd of like minded photographers and access to all of the plane on the field for sunrise was not something I was going to pass up.

A couple of days before the event, I started getting my camera gear organized.  I made up my mind that I was going to bring both my Canon 60D DSLR and my Olympus E-M5 Mirrorless to this event.  It was immediately apparent that the 60D with Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 and 200-500mm lenses were going to get heavy.   My E-M5,  45-200mm Panasonic, and 17mm f/1.8 Olympus lenses were beautiful, sleek, and  lightweight in comparison.

There was a good reason to bring my beast of a DSLR and it’s large lenses along.The last airshow I attended, I brought just one camera, the E-M5.  I did manage to get some decent shots, but my keeper rate was low.  Continuous autofocus/tracking performance was poor to say the least.  There is a work around, and for me that was to use just one center focus point, set the camera to single shot autofocus and the full 9 frames per second.  I’d pan along the path of a plane and when the time was right, I’d press the shutter for several frames.  I’d usually get one, maybe two frames clear and in focus if I was lucky.  The E-M5 is lightning fast when locking on with the single point autofocus, so even with a moving target you stand a chance of getting a frame or two in focus.

Cable Airshow, Olympus OM-D E-M5
Cable Airshow, Olympus OM-D E-M5
One of the things that caught my attention for the LA County Airshow was the Blue Angels were going to perform.  For loud, fast paced action in the air I don’t think it gets much better.  In addition to the Blue Angels there were a number of other types of planes including some of my favorite WWII warbirds.  This was going to be a great place to use both cameras.

The morning started off with wandering around the static displays, and my using the E-M5 on a tripod.  I really enjoyed how quick, light, and easy to maneuver this combination was.  Unfortunately I had to carry around my boat anchor of a camera bag (stuffed with the Canon gear).  For this type of shooting (objects that don’t move) the E-M5 was perfectly suited.  I went back and forth between single exposures and multi exposures for HDR.

Blue Angel #7, Sunrise
Olympus E-M5 with Panasonic 45-200mm lens. HDR image.

When the action started, I continued to use my E-M5.  I really wanted to test it and see if everything I had read online about it’s poor tracking autofocus performance was true.  I have to admit that very early on I became discouraged.  Even with some of the slower moving aircraft, the E-M5 would miss, and completely loose focus, hunting back and forth, struggling to find the subject again.

Olympus E-M5, Out of Focus

This is what it looks like when I got my 60D and 200-500mm Tamron lens out.  The 60D was set to AI-Servo (continuous autofocus):

A4 Skyhawks, Canon 60D
Canon 60D, 200-500mm Tamron Lens

As the airshow progressed, I used the E-M5 less and less.  It was just too frustrating to keep missing shots.  The 60D on the other hand would lock on to the planes quickly, and as long as I tracked along smoothly, it would stay locked on.  I think the only real problems were related to my technique, and the wind.  It was very windy that day, and my Tamron 200-500mm lens with lens hood is quite large.   When the wind would gust and I was pointed vertically following a plane, I would actually bet bounced around and pushed off track.  It was annoying but not a show stopper!

There was a time not too long ago that I thought about selling the 60D and related gear.  I really don’t enjoy lugging it around.  There have been times when after a long day of shooting the weight of it starts taking the fun out of what ever event I was participating in.  So far, I’ve been able to use my E-M5 for every other type of photography I’ve attempted.    Unfortunately it isn’t suited to fast action.  Yes, I know this has been discussed on various forums, but I’m a funny guy.  I need to see for myself whether the chatter is legitimate, or folks not really knowing what they are doing and blaming the equipment.  In this case, they were right.

The question is, what am I going to do about it?  For now, nothing.  I did think about selling the Canon gear to fund purchasing the newer Olympus E-M1.  The E-M1 is supposed to have fixed the focusing issue by utilizing a hybrid system including both Contrast Detection and  Phase Detection auto focus.  The reports on the photography forums have been generally favorable.

Maybe I’ll believe them this time!  In the meantime, here are a few more photos from the airshow:

P-51C, Take Off
Red Tail P-51C, Canon 60D & Tamron 200-500mm Lens
B-25 Mitchell
B-25 Mitchell, Canon 60D & Tamron 200-500mm Lens
Blue Angel 5, Take Off
Blue Angel 5, Take Off Canon 60D & Tamron 200-500mm Lens
High Speed Pass, Blue Angels
High Speed Pass, Blue Angels, Canon 60D & Tamron 200-500mm Lens
Blue Angels, Breakaway
Blue Angels, Breakaway Canon 60D & Tamron 200-500mm Lens

Hopefully my dilemma and comparison has helped answer some questions you may have had.  If nothing else, you may want to keep your beast of a DSLR if you enjoy fast action photography.  Or if you don’t want to keep it, you may want to check out the Olympus OMD E-M1.

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