Know your Equipment and Location

By David Halgrimson

Since moving back to Minnesota I have been researching places to go for photo opportunities and found a couple near where I live. One is Swan Park in Monticello Minnesota 15 miles west and Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge 25 miles north of my home. Both easily accessed.

We moved back to MN in November just when the Trumpeter Swans were starting to return to a section of the Mississippi River in Monticello. They stay from November thru February when they mate and leave for their nesting locations. The Swans along with geese and ducks like this area as the river is open due to a power plant on the river to the north and because for the past 30 plus years they get free breakfast and lunch. The Swans are the main draw at Swan Park, a very small park, maybe 40 feet wide, overlooking the river where the birds spend their days, eating, mating and fighting.

For more information on the park and the swans visit this site, http://www.monticellocci.com/pages/Swans.

About knowing the location, not just the Swan Park location, but any location. When visiting in August I went to check out Swan park only to find out there are no swans there in august, but now I knew right where to go when they returned… scouting day one. Once settled after our move, I went back and was pleasantly surprised by not only the swans, ducks and geese but the sheer numbers of them. As the story goes, over 30 years ago there were only a handful of swans and now there can be as many as 2,700 on any given day. I needed to know how to get the best view, what equipment and clothing would be best, it’s dang cold here November thru February. Because people are not allowed down at the river’s edge the area is somewhat secluded, so a good winter coat and stocking hat, warm boots and most of all special gloves. I went through three different sets of gloves to find those that would somewhat keep my hands from freezing. I found mittens with internal gloves that fold open to reveal gloved fingers and thumb to operate the camera. The glove portion of the index and middle finger have a special coating that allows for touch screen operation. Still, my fingers get very cold and I need to warm them occasionally. Next, what kind of lighting might be best for the subject. This day was bright sunlight and I found that the white swans had a good chance of blowing out the histogram, maybe a cloudy or partly cloudy day would work better or perhaps lens filters might help… scouting day 2. Oh, yes I did take pictures.

So now about knowing your equipment. On scouting day 2 I took my Lumix GX8 with a 40-150mm f/2.8 and a 300mm f/4 prime lenses and no tripod. The birds are very active, swimming, diving, taking off, landing, fighting and feeding. A slow shutter would not work but how fast should it be? I tried 400-500 with some good results for the swimming and feeding but needed much faster for the flying, landings and takeoffs.

The Lumix and lenses being new to me and not having used it for birds before, I was not quite sure what settings to use so experimented with a number with mixed results and not to my personal standards. I also found the 300mm a bit too close for many of the shots but great for the birds coming in or taking off…scouting day two.

40-150mm, f/4, ISO 100 1/640th hand held

40-150mm, f/4, ISO 400, 1/2000th hand held

40-150mm, f/4, ISO 400, 1/2000th hand held

Not quite as sharp as I wanted as can be seen here. Part of that is the aperture of f/4 giving less DOF.

I went home to review my images and decided to do some research on best settings for the camera and lens combinations. After some testing and experimenting and finding the settings I thought would work best for me, I decided to setup a custom setting for wildlife on both camera bodies. This included the shutter speed, aperture, ISO, high speed burst and more, this way when I am shooting birds and fast moving subjects I don’t have to remember settings I can just set the camera(s) to custom 1 and start shooting and making small adjustments as needed from there.

Now with all the scouting complete and camera settings configured it was time to return for a real shoot. I took both camera bodies, one with the 40-150mm and one with the 300mm and, yes, a tripod. I used the 300mm on the tripod for the birds in the air and the 40-150mm hand held for the action on the water.

All the scouting, researching, testing and camera setup paid off big time. I went on a bright but cloudy day, cameras all ready, my warmest gloves, set up the tripod with the 300mm, hung the other around my neck and started shooting. The results were to me more than I expected.

300mm, 1/2000th, ISO 400, f/8 tripod mounted

300mm, 1/2000th, ISO 400, f/8 tripod mounted

40-150mm, 1/2000th, ISO 400, f/8 hand held

40-150mm, 1/2000th, ISO 400, f/8 handheld

40-150mm, 1/2000th, ISO 400, f/8 handheld

As can be seen in these the DOF and sharpness are much better. This is due to the faster shutter and and smaller aperture settings.

Know you equipment and do your scouting, it pays off in the long run.

Check out Arizona Highways PhotoScapes at https://photography-workshops.directory/photographer/arizona-highways-photo-workshops/

David Halgrimson is a Volunteer Photo Guide with Arizona Highways PhotoScapes

Photo Workshops vs. Photo Tours – What’s the difference?

By David Halgrimson

Have you had an opportunity to take a photography workshop? And, was it really a photo workshop or was it a photo tour? There is a difference!

A workshop is a learning experience to not only take you to great places for photo opportunities but also to guide and assist you in capturing superb images by locating the best places at the perfect time, seeing the light, identifying the best compositions, using proper camera settings and much more. A great workshop will provide group and one-on-one instruction with guidance from top photographers who make their living in photography and provide strong, approachable instruction. Image critiques, evaluation, and feedback from instructors and peers are some of the additional advantages of attending a notable, high-quality workshop.

On the other hand, a photo tour usually takes you to ideal locations, but leaves you on your own. This can be great for those who just need to get there, do not need any special assistance, and prefer limited interaction with others; it really leaves the learning process strictly to you, through trial and error.

When attending a workshop you not only get interaction with the photographer, but also the chance to share with the fellow participants, which in itself is a learning experience.  It is a perfect opportunity to develop camaraderie with individuals who share the same creative passions in photography and learning.  Whether you are a beginner or advanced photographer, Arizona Highways PhotoScapes offers some of the best workshops around with the most exceptional photographers in the business.  The photographers intimately know the workshop locations, and will get you to the best spots at the most opportune times, then help you get your finest shot possible – all while encouraging you to take your creative vision a step further than before.

Being an Arizona Highways Photoscapes Volunteer Trip Leader for the last 11 years, has only encouraged my feelings on the truly exceptional benefits that transpire on an AHPS Photo Workshop.  I continue to encourage others to take advantage of these opportunities, as I know first-hand just how valuable they can be.

Tetons NP Wyoming

White Sands NM New Mexico

White Sands NM Balloon Festival New Mexico

Death Valley NM California

Palouse Washington State

For more information on these prime photography workshops through Arizona Highways PhotoScapes, check out their website at https://photography-workshops.directory/photographer/arizona-highways-photo-workshops/

David Halgrimson is a Volunteer Photo Guide with Arizona Highways PhotoScapes

Watch that White Balance

By David Halgrimson

When shooting, we need to watch the White Balance settings on our camera. White balance controls the color cast in an image. A color cast will come from the color temperature emitted by the light source. The color temperature can create a warm, reds and yellows or cool, blues, feel in an image. This can be controlled in most cameras by selecting from multiple White Balance settings such as Sunny, cloudy, shade, tungsten, fluorescent, flash, and custom where the actual color temperature number can be selected.

Why is this important? Well, the camera does not see light quite as well as the human eye and may add color to an image that was not seen by the photographer when taking the image. For instance, when shooting indoors under florescent lighting the camera will add a blue tint to the overall image and tungsten light will add a yellow tint which in most cases will not look good for portraits or people in general. Another example is shooting images with bright whites such as a winter scene with snow. Even with the White Balance set to the best possible setting our cameras like to think of bright white as light gray.

What to do? First, be sure to check the White Balance setting on the camera before shooting and set it to the current lighting. Next, if you do post processing of your images it would be best to shoot in RAW. When shooting in RAW you can adjust the White Balance as needed or wanted. You can change from a cool blue to a warm red tint with one quick adjustment.

Here are two images taken in bright snow, the first one has a blue cast the second has been adjusted for the white snow but still has a warm cast due to the reflections from the rocks.

There is far more to knowing White Balance than covered in this short blog so hit the internet and search for White Balance and you will find enough info to boggle your mind. Don’t’ let it overwhelm you though, keep it to the basics and your images will be great.

David Halgrimson is a Volunteer Photo Guide with Arizona Highways PhotoScapes

Photographing with Extension Tubes

Author: David Halgrimson

Here is a little info on using extension tubes to get that super close shot.

An extension tube is used on a lens to allow for getting closer to a subject. It is mounted between the camera body and the lens. They come in many sizes, i.e. I have a 13mm, 21mm, 25mm and 31mm. They are hollow, no glass, and simply move the lens closer to the subject.

There are two types that I am aware of, those that have electronics which allows for auto focus and those without electronics. You can guess which is less expensive. Typically, manual focus will be used anyway as focusing becomes very sensitive the closer you get to the subject. The disadvantage of none electronic tubes is no adjustment for aperture unless the aperture can be set on the lens. The cost is very reasonable, a set of three starting around $40 and up unless Canon, Nikon or other brand names are preferred.

Extension tubes can be combined, i.e. a 13mm and a 25mm for a total of 38mm. The larger the mm of extension used the closer the lens can be to the subject. There is some light loss from using extension tubes and this will have to be adjusted for in the camera.

The use of a tripod when using extension tubes is almost a must as focusing becomes very tricky.  Extension tubes are great for flowers, insects and any other small subjects.

I took these photos using the camera with no extension tube and then with 4 different tubes, 13mm, 21mm, 25mm and 31mm, I did not combine any. A Canon 5D mkII and a 24-105mm lens was used and the focus ring was set to the Macro area of the lens and ISO was 100 for all the images here. The camera was on a tripod and was not moved,

© David Halgrimson — This first image was taken with no extension tube attached, the settings were 70mm, f/7.1, 1/800th and about 10 inches from the subject.

© David Halgrimson —  The second image was taken using a 13mm extension tube, and settings of 67mm, f/7.1, 1/320th and about 9 inches from the subject.

© David Halgrimson —  The third image was taken using a 21mm extension tube, and settings of 67mm, f/7.1, 1/320th and about 5.5 inches from the subject.

© David Halgrimson —  The fourth image was taken using a 25mm extension tube, and settings of 70mm, f/7.1, 1/320th and about 4.5 inches from the subject.

© David Halgrimson —  The fifth image was taken using a 31mm extension tube, and settings of 73mm, f/7.1, 1/100th and about 3.5 inches from the subject.

I started getting shadow on the subject the lager I went with the extension tubes so this is something to keep in mind. Also, focus was getting more difficult and DOF was getting very narrow, I did not try other aperture settings, this is another thing to be aware of. This was not an exact science experiment, I only wanted to show what an extension tube can do for getting those very close shots.

David Halgrimson is a trip leader with Arizona Highways Photo Workshops.

Clouds, Clouds and more Clouds

Author David Halgrimson

A favorite subject for me to photograph is clouds. We don’t get them very often here around Phoenix, but when we do… oh my they can be great! This August I was out walking in our neighborhood, looked up and saw some spectacular clouds.

Not only were the clouds great, but the sun rays showing around them were some of the best I have ever seen. Thinking they would probably be gone by the time I got home to get my camera I took my time and just enjoyed looking at them as I walked. Thankfully however, the clouds and rays were still putting on their show when I got home so I grabbed my camera and started shooting!

I shot for about half an hour and captured 75 images. The hardest part was to avoid getting parts of houses and trees in the images so I had to move around a lot! I was on the sidewalk, in the middle of the street, my backyard, front yard etc., to get the best angles. I used a Canon 5D MKII with a 17-40mm and a 24-105mm lens. Camera settings were 1/80th to 1/125th, ISO 100 and f/22. Some post processing in Lightroom to bring out the rays the way I saw them.

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Always look up!

David is a trip leader for Arizona Highways Photo Workshops

 

A Photo Documentary In My Own Backyard

Author:  David Halgrimson

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The start once discovered about 6 feet tall on April 17

Right in our backyard we have an agave, quite a large one at that. One day while checking on things I found the Agave was sprouting a single shoot from its center which resembles an asparagus spear. By the time I noticed it, it was about five feet tall. After doing some checking I found out agaves are monocarpic, meaning they die after flowering. Agave americana, the most common agave in the Southwest, has the common name “century plant” because it supposedly takes a century to bloom. I decided I would record its last act and started shooting on April 17th 2016 and every day after. That lasted awhile and then when it just kept growing I started shooting less and less. Now it is November and it is still with us. It stopped growing taller but is now growing more flowers.

It has been very interesting and has become a photo project for me. I now watch the weather and sky’s for interesting events and ways to shoot this wonderful plant. I can do this photo project all from home and it “just shows to go ya”, there can be interesting photos right where we are.

The images, except one, were all taken with a Sony Nex 5N mirrorless camera and either an 18-55 or 55-210mm lens. The final image was taken with a Canon 5D MKII and a 24-105mm lens. No tripod just hand held. The first image was taken on April 17, 2016 and the final image was taken on October 28th.

Thought it was done and on the way-out but, more flowering on October 28

Thought it was done and on the way-out but, more flowering on October 28

It has topped off at 14-15 feet and is still hanging in but starting to lean a bit so I guess I am not done either, I have plenty of sensor left to record it to the very end. I also understand it will be a hard piece of wood when done so I think I will find a place to keep it as a decoration.

David Halgrimson is a trip leader with Arizona Highways Photo Workshops.

When the photo opportunity is right…..

Author:  David Halgrimson

One thing I have found is that when a photo opportunity is right, it hits you like “Wow this is good”, right then is the time to drop everything listen, observe, take your time if possible and get the shot. We all see things whether it is a planned shoot or just something spontaneous but it grabs us and we feel it in our bones. It does not happen every day, week, month but when it happens we just know. It’s not because of owning great equipment, it’s not because we got it technically, it is just that gut feeling, that “Wow”. If it has not happened for you yet, keep at it, it will come, just beware it does not happen often but the more you work at it the more chances you will have. I have been on week long shoots where nothing has inspired me but then that one shot comes up and your whole being lights up and you can’t wait to get home and see the image large on your computer screen. That’s what keeps serious photographers going and if you play golf it is the same thing as getting that one shot out of eighteen holes that brings you back. It can’t be beat!

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© David Halgrimson

I have worked with and watched many professional photographers and I can see the excitement in their eyes, actions when that, “got it” hits, the energy changes not just for them but for everyone around them. I have had that feeling and it is unexplainable, beautiful and powerful and I could see others with me when they see what I got.

If it hasn’t happened for you yet, just keep shooting, keep looking, where ever you are there are things of beauty waiting for you to capture it for yourself and others.

Here are a few of my trophies two of which were winners in high profile magazines and the others winners in competition.

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© David Halgrimson

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© David Halgrimson

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© David Halgrimson

David Halgrimson is a trip leader with Arizona Highways Photo Workshops.