Category Archives: event photography

Who is covering your back?

Image by AMagill via Flickr

A wedding is one of the events much like a shuttle launch, it’s not really a “do over” type of event. Once the GO button is pushed, you are pretty much committed to it one way or another. Oh, with enough money and effort, you can fake it well enough afterwards but you will not have the “magic” of the real event.

With that in mind, it blows me away that “professional” photographers will shoot a wedding without backup equipment OR people. I’ve had electronics fail at all times and sometimes, just because they bloody well decide to fail for no apparent reason other than to piss me off. Or, someone hits and knocks something out of my hands like a flash, a camera body hits something just right and now the shutter is jammed and so on. And you, the photographer, you can fail too. Bad food, getting sick, injured (had a friend got a spiked heel nearly punched through his foot once), twisting an angle while running to catch the bride and worse can be your woes. And no second shooter? That my friend, is a lawsuit that will happen.

I hear it all the time, ” I can only afford one camera”. Really? So you can afford being sued instead? If you can not afford backup gear, you have no business shooting weddings. At the minimum, you cannot afford the two hundred dollars to rent a 2nd body and lens? Then you really have no business do weddings. You need to come back to the business when you have a bit more cash and equipment. Having a 2nd body is a must have as is spare batteries, spare flash, spare flash cards and for myself, a second shooter. It’s a  hard cruel world out there and people are lawsuit happy enough without giving someone a gold plated excuse to sue you.

And brides, pay attention, if you do not ask the questions like “do you shoot with a second shooter” or “can I upgrade to a second shooter”, you get what you paid for.  A wedding shoot is very much a  partnership between the bride/groom and the photographer. The bride wants really nice pictures and the photographer wants and needs the help of the bride/groom to get them.

As a bride, you have a vested interest in how the photographer prepares to shoot your special day and you need to make sure that he/she takes the precautions that will cover most of the normal wedding day chaos. Somethings to think about and find your own comfort level about are:

  • Do you shoot on small or large capacity flash cards? There are two sides to this story, one is that large cards means fewer changes but more risk to losing images if the card is lost or damaged. Small cards mean less risk of losing it all but the photographer does need to be well versed in when to change the cards on the fly
  • Does the photographer use a second shooter as a matter of course or do you need to ask for it? For myself, I never shoot a wedding without one but some will unless you as the client make a point of asking for it (and pay for it) Without the second shooter, it’s almost a promise that some pictures will be missed. It’s hard to shoot the groom getting ready when you are shooting the bride getting ready just as example. Of course, if some bad happens like I mentioned early, the second shooter can be the hero of the day.
  • Does the photographer have some type of insurance such as with PPA (Professional Photographers of America) where if something bad does happen, things can be done to help make it right or at least better. I know of one photographer who had a card failure which held the bride and groom formals and the PPA insurance paid for a re-shoot of the formals. Not anyone’s “fault” but still, it was nice to get to reshoot the formals even if it’s not on the actual day.
  • Do you “connect” with the photographer? This is a blatantly obvious thing but funny how many folks just look at the price tag and go with that. A photographer that you connect with can really make some special magic happen or you can just get some average pictures from someone going through the motions.
  • Do you like the photographer’s style? again, a very obvious thing but again, many potential clients overlook this till they get their pictures up in the gallery and suddenly realize they hate the style. This is very important and very much goes hand in hand with the previous comment about connecting to the photographer. If you dont like the journalistic style, then it is very important that you understand this and fully understand the potential photographer’s style. If they shoot in the journalistic style, there will be problems by the end of the shoot, that is a promise. So pay attention to the photographer’s book (portfolio) and see what seems to be the dominate theme in their images.
  • The little things really end up mattering a lot when the dust settles. By the time the wedding is over and the honeymoon is a pleasent memory, not having images ready for Facebook or an online gallery or pre-sized images for email  will be a big deal. Trust me, I know this one 🙂 Having a DVD with several hundred images at 3,000 pixels each is a daunting task when you want to email some out to friends. A photographer should as a matter of course, offer up presized images for you or at least a selection of presized images. It is always the details that can tell you a lot about the potential photographer. Are they a “run and gun” where they shoot and leave you a DVD with the several hundred images or will they take the time to give you a DVD with a mix of images ready for Facebook, Flickr, email or whatever? This may or may not be important to you but it is important to know the answer up front and not after the event.
  • Now this last one is a bit touchy for alot of folks. Does the photographer use current technology? Now, before the hate mail starts let me define this a bit first. I’m not talking so much the camera since a camera is just a box with a hole in one end. What I am talking about is the overall image of the photographer. Is he/she using a five year old cell phone? Is he/she using Photoshop 3 while the rest of the world is using at least version 4 or now version 5? Has the photographer embraced a real workflow that uses some kind of image management software like Lightroom or Aperture? Why is all this techie stuff important? Because, photography or more precisely, image generation is a moving target in today’s world and the more current tools the photographer uses, the better chance you have to get really nice images assuming the photographer can take a good image. Good tools wont make a bad image good but it can certainly take a marginal image and make it very usable. This is why the better photographers are shooting with high Canon and Nikon gear instead of the low end camera bodies and lenses. This is why some of the best photographers and staff use the newest software  tools to be more productive and more creative in their work. This is why a good photographer can offer you as the customer, a wide assortment of products such as online galleries, specialty albums, custom picture packages and more without blinking an eye about it. The photographer who is shooting with lower quality gear, printing at Walmart/Costco and behind on their software can not compete in quality or selection of final goods. Your wedding is more than just a box of 5×7 prints from Walmart or it should be as it is one of the most special days of your life.
  • Finally, a odd thing for a client to think about since you  are mostly concerned about wedding images right now. Does the potential photographer shoot anything else? Or are they a one trick pony?  Some wedding photographers are very, very good at weddings and that is all they do but a photographer who has shot other styles of images can bring a wealth of knowledge to your wedding day ranging from artistic choices to overcoming technical challenges. Does the portfolio of the photographer have just weddings or do they show a well rounded photographer who can shoot portraits, shoot studio work, shoot lifestyle or other styles? In my eyes, a well rounded photographer will always win out over the one trick pony of a single style photographer in 95% of the time. To be sure you want to see a heavy selection of wedding shots but some others can add balance and show that the photographer is adaptable to multiple situations.

As you can see below, the image is NOT a typical bridal portrait and is not for everyone. But it IS my style and the final result was very well received. The image was taken in a conventional manner but processed in a newer set of software tools which lets me expand the creativity of an otherwise ordinary image. This is why you want to poke around a bit with the photographer to find out how they shoot, their workflow and just how do they expect to produce your wedding images.

River of Love Bride and Groom

River of Love

I have not even covered things like contracts, deposits and other important items. Not to worry, I will  in a later post cover some of these items and few I bet you did not think of.

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Time Lapse or Interval Recording

The new cameras that are out now have so many features and options that many of us just work out how to take the basic picture and call it a day. But there are some cool things if you dig a bit into the menus. You need to be a bit curious and willing to put in a little bit of time.

For example, on my Nikon D300, I can set up the camera for “Interval Recording” or what we all know as “Time Lapse” photography. This is where the camera takes a picture every X amount of time and then the stills get strung together as a movie. It’s a bit like stop action movies. And if you think about, digital camcorders and HDDSLRs are doing this at 30 images a second or more so it looks very smooth. We want to go the other way though in time lapse, we want to compress a given amount of time into a much smaller amount of time. For example, in my test video below, I shot for three plus hours at a frame every five seconds. This gave me something like 2,000 images at the end of the three hours. I used Apple’s QuickTime to stitch it all together as a movie. Then I imported it into iMovie and crop it a bit and added a sound track plus the eye candy at the beginning and end of the movie. My total time was under an hour to make this two and a half minute clip. And this is just the first test to see how well it worked. There are all kinds of applications for this style of photography, I know a wedding photographer who records the entire wedding and shows off a two or three minute clip which contains the entire cermony and the clients love it.

My equipment was pretty basic.

Nikon D300
17-55 F2.8 lens
Flashp Point carbon fiber tripod
Flash Point ball head
Carton of steel BBs to hang under the tripod

Software was also basic stuff

Apple Quicktime Pro
Apple iMovie

The settings were pretty straight forward. I set the camera to manual mode and locked the shutter to 1/125 and the aperture to F8. I like the ISO be auto-adjusted so the camera could compensate as the afternoon started to go twilight. I had the rig on the hood of my truck away from bikes, skateboards and little hands.

The Nikon D300 only does 999 images and then you have to reset it and start it over. You can get around this by using an external timer but that cost money and up to now, I had not spent anything. Go to Instructables to see how to make a TI graphing calculator into an interval timer. You can also find interval calculators for the iPhone such as this one by ClamClam Video.

I set up the D300 to shoot the smallest JPEG (2144×1424 pixels) which still exceeds the HD standard of 1920×1080 at 24 FPS. This gives me just a touch of room for some minor cropping which I did in my sample below.

Here are some pics taken with my G11 when I was setting up and testing the D300 before I shot the actual afternoon event. The first one shows the settings in the Nikon LCD window.
Interval Configuration

This one shows the basic set up using the carbon fiber tripod, ball head and D300 with battery pack.
Nikon D300 Interval Test

When you open Quicktime, you want to choose “Open image sequence”. You go to the directory of the images and select the first one. You then select the frame rate you want to use. The selection of 24 frames per second is standard for film and digital recordings use as high as 30 frames per second. Alot of web sized video use 10 or 15 frames per second. In my case, I could go as low as 12 frames a second and still have a decent frame rate for the video. I saved the file as the default MOV file because I knew I was going to put it into iMovie for further editing and clean up. I wanted as much data as I could get and I exported it from iMovie for YouTube.

Overall, my test was a success and very easy to accomplish. I already have plans to use this trick again in a more production manner and I can see how one might make a reel from it using several shoots tied together.

In the end, the only reason I did this was because I was curious about it and I thought it might be fun. You should try it. You might like it 🙂

You can see some very cool timelapse reels here at


Here is a way cool DIY to make a tiny circuit that will trigger your camera based on the difference from the first press of the shutter and the second one. it will run till the battery runs out.

How To Build The Smallest Intervalometer In The World

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It’s all in the wrist or how to shoot car races successfully

I think we photographers at times get caught up in the latest hardware or widget that promises to make us the hot shot photographer we want to be. And we then forget about some very basic skill sets that we knew at one time and should probably remember more often.

I had the chance to see the NASCAR AAA 500 out in Fontana this weekend in one of the private suites on the infield. Amazing view of the race, the cars, the sound and the action. I got very lucky to be there and to get to take tours of the pits and the garages so I made the most of it by bringing along my D300, 17-55 F2.8 and my “big gun, the 70-200 F2.8 VR. For the garage stuff, the 17-55 was cool but it was hopeless out matched trying to shoot the cars zooming by at 180 MPH. The 70-200 was my top gun for most of this effort and I got to experiment some since I had time on my hands watching cars go in circles for a few hours.

The track wakes up

Even at 1/2000 shutter, you could not get a clear shot of the cars while holding everything still. You had to, guess!!! you had to PAN the camera and pan it FAST. One of the most basic skills that I used to shoot these shots has me finding out that people are astounded that it works. I did have to make sure I was not going to clock my neighbors on the left side with the lens as I swung it around in an arc very fast. That 70-200 VR F2.8 is a solid and heavy lens, it would really do some damage to hit someone up side the head with it.

Number 33

What makes a good NASCAR or any racing car picture? In a word, motion! at 1/1250 shutter, everything was crisp and you could read the letters on the tires with a good smooth pan. But the car did not show any motion so it looked like a model placed on the track. At 1/800, you had crisp with the letters on the tires blurred. By the time I got to 1/250, it was sweet.. blurred track, blurred fans and blurred lettering but with a good pan, the car would be crisp. Now I had the money shots.

Close Quarters

Next tip was to shoot full manual and in RAW. Why? because the lighting changed CONSTANTLY and to get the fastest focusing and consistent shots, the camera needed to be locked down. RAW because of the random lighting, many times in post, I had to bring up or down about 1/2 stop to get the exposure right on the money. RAW let me do that and to really dial in the colors without fear of trashing the image like you would in a JPEG.

Next tip? Easy.. prefocus the camera and then let it fine tune it on the pan. This gets the fastest automatic focus you can get.. plus having it in continuos focus mode. If the camera has to waste time moving the focus from the middle of the range to the extreme end, you will miss the cars every time.

On fast subjects like these cars, dont forget to LEAD the subject, just shooting a gun. And shoot rapidly, I did 3 FPS which was plenty.. the guy behind me was shooting at 8FPS but then he also had the big assed 500MM and was probably getting paid to be there.

Still using Holley carbs

Dont forget that it’s a story and not just cars. Shoot the pits because that can be VERY exciting. I also shot quite a bit in the garages getting very interesting detail shots of the templates being used, car testing, cars on stands, mechanics working etc. All of this can really keep a persons interest as they go through your pictures.
Army's driver Ryan Newman and interviewer

Walk around, change locations to get different angles, 300 images from the same place will look BORING in short order.

Ready to roll

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Stabilize me

It used to be in the old days, you needed a shutter speed roughly the same as the focal length of your lens. So if you were shooting with a 200mm lens, you need to use about 1/250 to have a chance at a reasonable sharp lens. And telephones were the worst since their length amplifies the wiggles of unsteady hands, age, too much caffine and so on. If you were active, it was worse. You learned to pan very carefully, you learned to cradle the camera right up against your body like a gun. And you still ended up with fuzzy images.

Move up 20 years and now we have IS (Image Stabilization), VR (Vibration reduction) and other names for the same thing. Some work in the lens and some work in the body of the camera. It has become cheap enough that most new point and shoots have a form of it available. I can hand hold the lens at 1/80 and get a sharp image at a wedding without a tripod or monopod. In other words, I can get difficult shots much easier.

VR will not save the world in spite of the marketing propaganda. Sure, you can shoot at 1/10 F5.6 and get a sharp picture but whats the point if the subject is moving? Like kids at a party? So you get a sharp wall and a blur that was the kid running past.

But what does it DO? In simple terms, with the Nikon, there is a package of electronics that move the front element of the lens set actively to get the sharpest image when the shutter is triggered. On many Nikon DLSRs, you can hear a “clunk” as the system engages. I know alot of professional photographers who sneer at VR (I shoot Nikon, so I know this system) as a crutch and that “real” photographers do not use VR. To be honest, I did too for a while and then I thought VR would save the world but finally I understand that VR is just another tool that an help or hinder depending on how I use it.

For example, I spent quite a bit of money on a 70-200mm F.8 lens that is also VR. Why VR on a “fast” piece of glass you ask? Well, the lens can take amazinly sharp images but with the VR engaged, I expand my working range of settings. Instead of having to be still at 1/250 shutter, I can be in a car at 80 MPH and shooting 1/360 at F8 with the lens racked out at 200 mm and still get sharp images inspite of the car and the camera bouncing around on the roadway.

Lets take a look at VR (IS) and see when it’s useful. A typical arrangement for Nikon shooters is to use something like a D80/D90 with a 18-200mm F4.5 VR zoom. So the typical shooting would be something like ISO 1000 to 1600 to keep the noise manageable. So shooting at F4 which is wide open for this lens means in a semi-dark event, that you are shooting something like 1/20 of second shutter. It will be bad enough that the subjects will be moving but at 1/10-1/20 hand holding a zoom lens at something like 100mm on average means alot of blurry pictures. On the other hand, VR will at least give a clear image of what is not moving while you shoot. VR normally is like 3 stops.. so the 1/20 is really shooting at about 1/60 to 1/100 “apparent” shutter speed. It wont stop the action but the background, tables etc will be sharp. Where VR really shines is shooting something like a stage show with enough light that you will be shooting about 1/60 ish and you are shooting long like 100 to 200mm. The shutter is just fast enough to catch people standing still and the VR will give a good focus even at 200mm since the “apparent” shutter is around 1/200.

Here is a family shot taken at 200mm with a 18-200mm zoom shooting wide open at F5.6 and 1/100 shutter. Normally, this would have blurred unless taken with a tripod or supported some how. In this case the camera was held by hand and resting on my forearm. The VR gave a clear image with the low shutter speed relative to the smallish aperture.

Little Angels

VR is not a cure all and it does cost you some in clairity at least in the cheaper lenses like the NIkon 18-55mm VR and 18-200 VR. I always seem to see a bit of softness instead of a really sharp focus with these lenses. This even holds true for the expensive F2.8 VR but on that lens it is very dependent on how bright the image is. Shooting VR in good conditions gives a razor sharp image that you can count nose hairs with. In low light, it’s a bit fuzzy on the edges. But I got the image and it’s usable unlike shooting with it and not getting a usable image. I find that a high pass sharpening works wonders at cleaning up the edges.

Here is another shot where VR really makes a difference. I shot several pictures together by hand at night with the F4 aperture and about 1/30 shutter. Then I stitched them all together. With the VR, all of the images were sharp in spite of hand holding and the low shutter speed.

Christmas Block

VR works in the daytime also. One of my favorite lenses to shoot with for daily stuff is a Nikon lens that costs about 150 USD and looks like it might blow away in a stiff breeze. It’s scary light when you pick it up but it can really take some nice pictures when given a chance.

These images were taken with the 18-55mm VR and both images have sold. It is not always about the equipment.

This image of the Disney California Adventure Zephyr was taken by hand with a shutter of 1/2 second


This image was taken using a shutter of 1/40 and panning with the zoom at 18mm. Look how sharp the people and rocket is. Hard to believe it was a 150 dollar lens huh?

Rocket Ride

So the bottom line is that stabilization is your friend and even in a cheap lens, it can really make a world of difference. You just need to know the limits of VR (IS) and remember that some basic rules apply even with VR. Shutter speed is shutter speed, a slow shutter will give blurred motion to moving objects without or with VR enabled. Stationary objects work best with VR. VR is not perfect but it will certainly help.

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Jack Black and RSN Teen Prom

I can spill the beans now. I was able to shoot a charity event on Sunday where the guest of honor was Jack Black. The RSN Renal Teen Prom was held at Nortre Dame High School in Sherman Oaks and was an event for teens and guests who are in treatment for things like kidney transplants and dialysis. Virtually everything is donated to make this prom work out for the kids from the dresses to the sets, lighting, food and in my case, the photography.

The kids went nuts when Jack came out unannounced into the party about half way through. He was very gracious, signed a boatload of autographs and sang for the kids. Pretty cool of Jack to do this.

You can find out more at Renal Support Network

The calm before the storm Redo anyone? Lori Hartwell - Founder of RSN Teen Prom Everybody Dance! Lights, Camera and Action Jack Black getting primed for the onslaught Jack Black giving teens autographs Jack's Masquerade Mask

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