Category Archives Guest Blogger

Thank you Scott and Brad for inviting me to be the guest blogger this week.  It is quite an honor.

I have photographed a wide variety of sports throughout my 25 year career including the Olympics, U.S. Open and French Open tennis, PGA Tour golf and college football.  However, I am probably best known as a motorsports photographer, which typically represents about 70% of my corporate and editorial work in any given year.  With the racing season now in full swing I thought I would offer some insights on how I approach a typical assignment.

Most of my 2011 racing season will be spent covering endurance sports car racing – these are high-tech, multi million dollar prototype cars with the typical race lasting between 6 and 24 hours.  The 12 Hours of Sebring and the 24 Hours of Le Mans are two of the best known sports car races.  LeMans is the Indy 500 or the Daytona 500 of sports car racing.

I prefer shooting sports car racing for a number of reasons.  The venues are great – whether shooting in Monterey, California or Imola, Italy – no two tracks looks the same.  The tracks are road courses, so the cars turn left and right, and go up and down hills. Le Mans, for example, is 8.5 miles long and much of the track are public roads through the French countryside. And the races take place rain or shine. Shooting in great, magical light is the norm, especially at the longer races.  At the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the sun sets around 9:45 and rises at 5:45.  These races give the photographer a rich, ever changing palette. Locations are only limited to your imagination.

My kit for most assignments consists of three Nikon D3s bodies, a 500mm f/4, 70-200mm f/2.8, 50mm f/1.4, 24-70mm f/2.8, 14-24mm f/2.8, two 1.4x tele-converters, two SB-800 flashes, two 77mm circular polarizer filters, a 52mm drop in polarizer, a Singh-Ray Vari-ND filter (1-8 stops of neutral density, two spare camera batteries, and a Nikon remote trigger.  All of this gear, with the exception of one camera body and one flash, is carried in a Think Tank International Roller (yes it all fits!); and the other body and flash go into a Think Tank Airport Check In along with my laptop, card readers, and external drive.  I carry both of these bags on board, so if my luggage gets lost, I can still work.   My checked luggage carries a monopod, battery chargers, magic arms, super clamps, and radio slaves.

Photo Mechanic and Photoshop are the two most used programs on my MacBook Pro (15 inch, anti-glare Matte screen).  I use three different online photo library systems, depending on my client’s needs – Photoshelter, PhotoCore, and MagImagebank – and charge every client for the space they use on these systems.

I feel the key to good photography is location.  I always try and scout every track, even if I have been there 30 times before.   And quite often my scouting is from the public viewing areas or something off the beaten path.  Photographers David Burnett and Bernard Asset were big influences early in my career. Burnett said if 50 photographers were in the same location looking the same way, he would turn in the opposite direction and seek out an angle others did not see.  Frenchman Bernard Asset thinks much the same way.  He is like a sniper, working alone away from the pack of other shooters, but returns at the end of each event with killer images.   So part of my scouting routine is to seek unexpected, undiscovered locations – which could be in the middle of the woods, the top of a building, or simply driving my SUV to a spot and standing on the roof for a different perspective.  The dented roof is well worth the results.

I also feel it is important to tell a complete story with my images.  Motorsports photography is far more than shooting cars on the track.  It is important that my photographs give the viewers a sense of place, a feel for the ambiance, and insight to the people who encompass this sport.

I receive a lot of questions regarding technique.  I have some general rules, but like every rule in photography, I break them all of time.  But here are a few guidelines.

a) When shooting head on or font 3/4 car shots, the aperture needs to be at  f/6.3 or f/8 to insure the front of the nose to the drivers helmet is sharp.  This is important when shooting for corporate clients who want to see their sponsor logos clearly.
b) The majority of my head on or front 3/4 car images are shot at 1/640th or 1/500th of a second.  I want the tires to be moving and shooting faster than this usually freezes the car too much.  It is a race car, it is not a parked car.  The exception to this is ground level shots at the Indy 500.   The cars are going 230mph, the cover the length of a football field in one second – shutter speeds need to be at least 1/1250th and the wheels are still have motion.
c) Change your angle.  Race cars are low to the ground,  shooting them from a standing position tends to get boring in a hurry.  Shoot as low as possible, shoot as elevated as possible, anything to give you a different perspective.
d) As the weather gets warmer, heat haze becomes an issue when shooting ground level.  The easiest solution is to shoot from an elevated position, above the heat haze.
e) Experiment with slow shutter speeds – 1/125th to 1/15th of a second should be part of your comfort zone.  And don’t just shoot pan shots at slow shutter speeds.  Front and rear 3/4 angles work great with slower speeds, especially if you find a corner where the lead car is exiting the corner in one direction and another car is entering the corner from the opposite direction.

Motorsports photography is the best place to take chances, experiment, and to stretch yourself.  If you mess up a shot, wait a couple of seconds and another car will be in your viewfinder.  Take advantage of this.

I hope to see you at the races!

Rick Dole

You can see more of Rick’s work over at DolePhoto.com


Above photo: © Greg Lawler

My name is Chris Orwig and I am a photographer and a teacher. While this post is about photography, my goal is not to help you take better pictures but to help you become more creative and alive. I hope to stir things up a bit with a few simple ideas, some pictures and quotes. Here’s to breaking out of our routines and to starting something new!

WHO WE ARE
Photographers are an interesting bunch. We are different and diverse yet bound by a common desire to capture and captivate. The best photographers are those who have discovered the key to a full and vibrant life. It is the insight that comes from making photographs. For by doing this we discover that life’s small mysteries and moments can be magnified. Somehow we get more out of life with a camera in hand. When we take pictures, we see more clearly, we remember more deeply, and we live more fully.


Above photos: Jeff Johnson is an accomplished photographer, big wave surfer, mountain climber, skateboarder, and adventurer. He is not one to settle for the ordinary life.

WHO WE AREN’T
I like things that are hand made—my young daughters’ drawings, pencil-written notes, and the old driftwood gate in our backyard. There is something special about those things that cannot be mass-produced. This interest is one of the reasons I make pictures. As photographers, we aren’t technicians who repeatedly follow the same steps. We create our own path. We are driven to create something that is one of a kind. We want to expresses our unique voice and vision. It is something we have to do. Taking pictures satisfies an internal thirst. It is an essential part of who we are. (more…)

Next Chapters

I’d like to show you how two events helped to propel me into changing my thinking and improving both my life and my photography.


Here’s what I looked like as a young tyke

On Valentines Day of 1984, my mother passed away. I was in high school at the time and lived with her and my brother, as our parents were divorced. That day I was forced to start a new chapter in my life. I suddenly started to think a little more independently and started to focus a bit more on how my future might unfold.


Multiple exposure light painting lit using flashlights and sparklers

After high school, I enrolled in college where I tried to conform to the expectations that I receive an official education (since I didn’t have an obvious alternate path), find a reliable job and build my career. Near the end of my college experience, my live-in girlfriend decided to leave me and move in with my best friend, which was quite a shocker. That was the second jolt that caused me to re-evaluate my life and correct course. At the time, I was planning to become a graphic designer and continue on a traditional trajectory toward career success. That’s when I decided to start another new chapter in my life.


I’ve followed the full length of Route 66 many times. Here is one image of a series I hope to one day publish in a book on the subject

At that time, I stopped focusing on using design to make a living and started focusing on how I could design my life. I realized that I was in the driver’s seat of my own life, and should be steering it in the direction of my liking, regardless of what other people thought was the right thing to do.


Stitched panorama of waterfall in Iceland

That’s when I quit my job and started teaching Photoshop full-time. I designed a brochure, rented the Adobe mailing list, did a mailing and waited to see if people would sign up for my seminar. I had no idea if anyone would show up, but was happy to see that dozens of people decided to give the seminar a try.


Two monks at a temple in Burma

After being jolted twice, I didn’t need any more external motivation to get me to design my own lifestyle and start a never-ending quest to optimize my life. Back then, I would read at least 52 books a year (one a week) in an attempt to feed my never-ending thirst for knowledge.


Northern Lights shot in Iceland

I’ve shifted enough that I now make creating new chapters a regular part of my thinking. Here are a few other the other chapters I’ve designed over the last few decades:

1) Moved from Minnesota to Colorado to enjoy the mountains and get to a mellower climate and great views, even though I didn’t know anyone in the area.
2) Moved into the mountains of Colorado to escape the city (which I was visiting three times a month with my seminars).
3) Moved onto a tour bus so that I could explore America and photograph all the areas that I’d been dreaming about.
4) Found a special woman to share my life with and began to adapt in an attempt to create an optimal lifestyle for both of us.


Packed all my possessions into a tiny trailer and went off to live full-time in a tour bus

My next chapters will include restoring and then living on a vintage bus (details at creativecruiser.com) and eventually living on a yacht that is capable of taking us around the world.


1963 Flxible Starliner that’s being restored and will eventually become our new home

I would have never imagined that I could design my own lifestyle as much as I’ve been able to, but it all came down to having the desire and not being afraid of taking chances.

Photographically, I’ve had many chapters, all that seem to overlap, and I’m constantly searching for my next chapter. Some of the things that I’d consider to be photographic chapters include: experimenting with light painting, exploring HDR photography, following the full length of Route 66 multiple times, developing unique panorama techniques, and using Photoshop to help direct a viewer’s eye through my images.

The above video is of a 14-shot stitched panorama that was created in Bagan, Burma.

I’ve found this “next chapter” mindset to be one of the most life-altering things that has ever influenced me and I think that adopting it has the potential to radically transform your life. What’s it going to take for you to start designing the next chapter of your life?

What is calling for the largest change in your life? Your mind, your relationships, your finances, your body, your photography? How important is that compared to watching TV or playing X-box games, or doing whatever you do to merely fill your time?


Canons in Moscow

Here are a few books that have been essential in my process of taking control over my destiny: Linchpin by Seth Goden, The Four Hour Work Week by Timothy Ferriss, Your Money or Your Life by Joe Dominguez


Birds at Bosque Del Apache, New Mexico

-Ben Willmore

blog: WhereIsBen.com
photography: TheBestofBen.com
training: DigitalMastery.com
vintage bus restoration: CreativeCruiser.com

Hello Scott and friends of Scott:

Forgive my intrusion today. I feel especially bad taking you away from Scott’s amazing photographs of guys with sculpted abs and veins popping out of their luridly developed biceps. (Good grief, I’ve got to get my comparably itsy-bitsy jiggly-wiggly body into a gym!)

But today, I offer you a body of an entirely different nature.

This body is round. Round as one half of a baby’s bottom. With rings around it. And it has a name that you might have heard of: Saturn.

Aw, don’t you feel better already? No six pack, no gruesome musculature. Heck, you can achieve a body like this just by lying in a tub all day and eating donuts.

But here’s the catch. Saturn is not something you’ll get a chance to photograph. Not in this lifetime, or the next, or the one after that. Perhaps you’re thinking, “You don’t know, I might. Some smart genius person could invent a commercial hydrogen cruise liner and I might buy a few tickets and take the kids and we can all shoot photos out the window of the Lido deck.” In which case, you’re nuts. Saturn is 8.5 times farther away from us than the Sun. You planning on taking the kids to the Sun? What is wrong with you?

And yet this image, it’s the real thing. It’s 100% got-my-geek-on scientifically accurate, with surface texture and ring opacity data straight from NASA, JPL, and Caltech.

And it’s created, not using a camera, but entirely from scratch. In true 3D space. Using Photoshop CS5 Extended.

I’ll say that again: You need Photoshop CS5 Extended, not the standard non-3D version of the program, to follow along. Otherwise I give you everything you need. Including those scientifically accurate data files and a wickedly detailed step-by-step video:

The video lasts roughly 28 minutes. But believe it or not, it goes by fast. And by the end, your mind will be blown. Let me clear: Your skull will fracture, your head will leak blood, and there will be bits of brain all over the walls. Which is actually a good thing, because after some light mopping, your few remaining bits of brain will magically grow into something 8.5% larger than what you had before.

Of course, I mean that figuratively. But keep a mop handy just in case.

And let Scott and me know what you think!

–Deke

Developing Personal Projects

As a fine artist, I advance my career with personal projects. Personal projects also create a clearer direction for and develop greater meaning in my life. My life would be unfulfilled without them.

You don’t need to have a fine art career to benefit from personal projects. Many commercial photographers find that personal projects re-energize them, add purpose to their lives and quite often lead to new assignments or whole new streams of income. Many amateurs, making images purely for the love of doing it, find greater satisfaction and personal growth through personal projects.

As an artist who mentors other artists in workshops and seminars, I’ve often been called to speak about the importance of personal projects; how to find them, start them, develop them, complete them, present them, and promote them.

Here’s an overview of what I share.

Personal Projects

Defining a project is one of the single best ways to develop your body of work. When you define a project you focus, set goals, set quotas, set timelines, create a useful structure for your images, collect accompanying materials, and polish the presentation of your efforts so that they will be well received.

Focusing your efforts into a project will help you produce a useful product. A project gives your work a definite, presentable structure. A finished project makes work more useful and accessible. Once your project is done, your work will have a significantly greater likelihood of seeing the light of day. Who knows, public acclaim may follow. Come what may, your satisfaction is guaranteed.

Create a mission and set goals.

Define the purpose of your project and what you’d like to achieve through it. Many times, people adopt the mission and goals of others without first checking if those goals are personally beneficial. Some have professional aspirations, others don’t. Your goals will help you determine projects and timelines that are appropriate for you. The few moments (or hours) you spend clarifying why you’re doing what you’re doing and what you’d like to see come of it will save you hours, months, even years by ensuring that you’re going in the right direction – a direction of your own choosing. When you take control of your personal projects, you also take control of your life.

Make a plan to achieve your goals.

A plan will help make your project a reality. A simple action plan is all you need to get started. Action plans define the steps that are required to achieve completion. Action plans should be clear and practical. Action plans should be flexible; odds are, things will not go exactly according to plan and you’ll need to modify your plan to accommodate surprises, both pleasant and unpleasant. Reality happens. Grace happens too. Having defined what you need to accomplish, your unconscious will go to work on the task, generating many ideas. You’ll find yourself ready to make the most of unexpected opportunities as they arise.

Set a timeline.

A timeline can be used to combat procrastination and/or distraction and encourage you to produce work. Set realistic timelines. Unrealistic timelines simply produce frustration.

Identify where and when you’ll need and who will help you.

While many artists define and produce projects themselves, some artists engage a curator, gallery director, publisher, editor, agent, writer, or designer to help them realize a project, in part or in whole. Finding the right collaborator(s) can improve any project. Above all, seek feedback. Seek feedback from people with diverse perspectives whose opinions you value and trust. One thing you can always use, that you can never provide for yourself, is an outside perspective. People with different perspectives may identify ways to improve, expand, or extend the reach of your project. Remember, feedback is food for thought, not gospel. In the end, all final decisions are your decisions; it’s your project.

Stay focused and follow through.

You can work on multiple projects at a time. Be careful that you don’t get scattered. Starting projects is easy. Finishing them is hard. Make sure you’re working on the best project. List all your possible projects and identify the ones that are most important and the ones that are easiest to finish. If you’re lucky enough that the same project fits both criteria, focus all of your efforts there. Otherwise, you’ll have to strike a balance between what’s practical and what’s most important to you. Only you can decide this and the balance is likely to shift as time passes and circumstances develop. Look for a common theme among projects. Often your projects will be related. Focus your efforts in related areas. It’s very likely those areas have greater relevance for you than others. Your work will be perceived as stronger and more cohesive if your projects relate to one another, implying evolution.

What’s your project?

A project is a wonderful thing. It gives direction. It brings clarity. It increases productivity. It produces tangible results. It brings personal growth. It presents your work in the very best light. You and your work deserve this. Pick your projects well. They define not only how other people see you but also what you become. You are what you do. Take the first step today; make a commitment to create a personal project. (Write something right now – put your words somewhere where you’ll constantly be reminded of them and can continue refining them!)

You’ll find an extended version of this content and many other related resources here.

Now, let me speak in more specific and personal terms, as a way of sharing a few more of the insights I’ve found over the many years I’ve developed personal projects. (more…)

First off I would like to thank Scott (and Brad) for inviting me back as a guest blogger.  It was an honor the first time and it’s an even greater honor to have another opportunity to be here again.

Before we get started, here’s a little bit about me…

I am a professional wildlife and nature photographer. My images have been published in Outdoor Photographer, Outdoor Photography (UK), Photoshop User, Elements Techniques, and Layers magazines. My work also appears regularly on Audubon calendars and National Park Service postcards, calendars, and posters. I lead popular wildlife photography adventures in North America.  I am also a moderator for the Nikon Digital Learning Center on flickr. Prior to working as a professional photographer, I spent more than two decades in photographic sales, helping pros and hobbyists decide which equipment suited their particular needs.

In the book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell examines the factors that contribute to the making of highly successful people in many fields.  There are the genetic and the geographic factors but it’s the 10,000 hour rule which states that “A person must put in 10,000 hours of work on some skill to become not only proficient at but, in the top of their field.” That got my attention.  If you do the math that’s 250 weeks at 40 hours per week, factor in a two- week vacation and that’s five years working full time to become proficient at any one thing. Thinking along those lines led me to ponder the four stages of consciousness known as the Conscious Competence Ladder.  If it takes 10,000 hours to become proficient at one thing, what are the stages along the way that track our progression?

Unconscious Incompetence (You Don’t Know that You Don’t Know): At this level you are blissfully ignorant: You have a complete lack of knowledge and skills in the subject in question. On top of this, you are unaware of this lack of skill, and your confidence may therefore far exceed your abilities.1

I traded in my accordion for my fist SLR when I was ten years old.  My dad handed me one of his Pentax Spotmatic cameras with a 50mm f/1.4 lens attached.  I stood there looking at my dad and back at the camera, at my dad, the camera, dad, camera, dad… now what!  Little did I know at the time that the hobby I was about to embark upon would take me on a journey that would shape my life and career.

I didn’t have a clue what to do with this object in my hands. I was an Unconscious Incompetent.  I didn’t realize just how little I knew about the workings of my new camera.  I knew that it made photographs but I had no idea what dials to turn, what buttons to push, what was involved in adjusting the camera so that an image would be made.  Not just any image but an image that was composed and exposed properly.  One that represented my experience at the moment I clicked the shutter; an image that took your breath away when you looked at it, one that brought the scents, the sounds even the taste of the moment flooding back.  An image that transports your viewer to that precise time and place at the moment you clicked the shutter…

How did my dad get the exposure right every time?  How did my mom make images that captured my imagination, took my breath away with their vibrance and beauty?  It looked pretty simple: aim, focus, center the needle by turning a couple of dials, fire, wait a couple of weeks and when the yellow box arrived from the lab, review all the beautiful images.  But wait, where did those beautiful images go?  And, what was this out of focus,  shaky, underexposed, poorly composed junk that was mounted in little cardboard frames with my name on them?

Even with my first weak attempts, I was captivated.  I couldn’t get enough of this thing called photography.  I saw something, I aimed my camera and viola!, I captured a moment in time with the click of my shutter.  My camera became my constant companion over the years.  I had found a wonderful way of sharing my world with others through my images but, I had a lot to learn about f-stops, shutter speeds, ISO, depth of field, focal length…is your head spinning as fast as mine did at the mere thought of learning it all?

But wait, stop and think about that last sentence, if your head is spinning, you have moved to the next level of Conscious Incompetent!  At this point I knew that I had a lot to learn, that I knew so little about making beautiful images.  I was conscious of my photographic incompetence and was taking steps to become competent.  So, I immersed myself in photography.  I went to my dad for guidance on the technical aspects of photography, I joined the local camera club, I got a part time job in a camera store; I lived, breathed, and slept photography.  It was my life.  Photography opened doors for a shy little girl. As photography editor for my high school yearbook, I was given carte blanche to go where I wanted, when I wanted.  I was right there on the sidelines of the games, I prowled the hallways clicking photos of fellow classmates, I attended many school functions with my trusty Pentax along at all times.  I wasn’t shy when I had my camera in hand.

Conscious Incompetence (You Know that You Don’t Know): At this level you find that there are skills you need to learn, and you may be shocked to discover that there are others who are much more competent than you. As you realize that your ability is limited, your confidence drops. You go through an uncomfortable period as you learn these new skills when others are much more competent and successful than you are.1

Over the years I got better and better as I shot more and more.  With each series of failures, came the few successes that drove me to keep photographing.  I learned what works and what doesn’t by pouring over books and then by trial and error.  I learned about f-stops and their relationship to depth of field…

I also learned the basic differences between the different shutter speeds.  Knowing when to select a fast shutter speed to stop action…

or a slow shutter speed to blur motion…

and the relationship of ISO in the equation.  Low ISO for higher resolution, needs more light, tripod, fast lenses…

Or, high ISO for low light, which results in some noise

Through hard work, determination and a great deal of curiosity, I was progressing from a Conscious Incompetent to a Conscious Competent.

Conscious Competence (You Know that You Know): At this level you acquire the new skills and knowledge. You put your learning into practice and you gain confidence in carrying out the tasks or jobs involved. You are aware of your new skills and work on refining them. You are still concentrating on the performance of these activities, but as you get ever-more practice and experience, these become increasingly automatic.1

I now felt skilled enough to make creative images of my chosen subjects.   I could anticipate behavior and be prepared to capture the peak of action, I knew how to take control of the settings on my camera, how to work the light and create pleasing compositions.  I was constantly aware of my settings and their effect on my images, all the while watching for unusual behavior, combining photographic skills with knowledge of my subject put me in position to capture peak of action…

Unconscious Competence (You Don’t Know that You Know – It Just Seems Easy!): At this level your new skills become habits, and you perform the task without conscious effort and with automatic ease. This is the peak of your confidence and ability.1

After all the years I have invested in bettering my craft I feel that I am at the top of my game when it comes to wildlife and nature photography, I have reached my comfort zone.  And yet, I still have so much to learn.  Each time I pick up my camera it is with the anticipation of what the new day will bring, what wonderful moments will present themselves for me to document for the viewing pleasure of myself and many others who follow my work. At this stage in my career as a wildlife photographer I feel that I am a Subconscious Competent as I don’t feel that I am unconscious when I photograph but rather that I run through the technical functions sub-consciously in the back of my mind while concentrating on my subject rather than worrying about my camera settings.  That doesn’t mean everything I do is perfect but, it does mean that when the action is hot and heavy, I move quickly and naturally through the settings on my camera, selecting the aperture/shutter speed combo that best captures the defining moment.

or the subtle beauty in a scene…

I look forward to each new challenge that presents itself and to improving my skills to best capture a given moment in time so that you, too may enjoy the magical moments in nature that I am fortunate enough to experience…

Where is your photography on the Conscious Competence Ladder?  Are you blissfully unaware of all that you don’t know and happily clicking away?  Or, are you aware of all that you don’t know and frustrated with this lack of knowledge that will take your photography to the next level?  Are you on top of your game and sub-consciously operate your camera to achieve the best exposure for the given situation?  Do you still stop and think the settings through before proceeding?  Wherever you are in the photographic process, remember that it’s the journey, the people we meet along the way and our reaction to life experiences, not the destination that makes us who we are today.

In a few words, share what subjects you like to photograph, where you feel you currently are on the Conscious Competence Ladder and why…

Thanks again for tuning in and following this thread to the end.  Be sure to say hi if you see me in your travels.

LaurieExcell.com/blog
EquipmentLady.com
Snapshots to Great Shots: Composition

1Quoted from the Conscious Competence Ladder at Mindtools

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