Hi Gang: Google+ (which I just saw today referred to as “a photographer’s paradise” by another G+ user), is now open to the public, and I’d like to invite you to follow me (well, add me to your circle) there.
I post more often there than anywhere else, because the whole community and concept is so conducive to photographers, and if you haven’t had a chance to try it…well…now’s your chance. Plus, it’s free which is sweet!
Here’s the link to my Google+ page.
I hope you’ll stop by if you get a chance. :)
As a National Geographic photographer, I often focus on animals that are out of the spotlight. It could be a rare stream fish, a tiny plant or even an insect. I choose things that are in trouble, often at the hand of man, in order to help them out; my photos are often the only national attention these things will ever get. So, I’m really on a mission to let the world know about the least among us before it’s too late.
A couple years ago, I did a story for NGM on the Endangered Species Act. From that came a book called Rare: Portraits of America’s Endangered Species. While all the images in the book have a story behind them, two stand out in particular.
The first concerns our only federally endangered fly. What good is a fly, you ask? If you eat fruits and vegetables, and have heard that bees are in steep decline these days, you would know the answer already: flies are very important pollinators. Besides, if we’re pushing even flies to extinction, what does that say about the health of everything else we share the planet with? When we save endangered species, we’re actually saving ourselves.
Logistically, this fly picture was quite hard to get. The animal is quite rare. In fact, it took 4 1/2 months just to get a federal permit for a biologist to catch one so I could photograph it. Once we got our permit, I waited for the call that some had been spotted on one of the last vacant lots where they live in southern California and then drove a mobile studio from my home in Nebraska all the way out to Los Angeles. We were allowed to catch only one, by the way, so if it got away during the shoot, too bad. Neither the biologist nor I slept a wink the night before. Despite our nervousness, we got our fly pictures.
The second image that stands out for me is of an animal that’d I’d known of and wanted to meet since I was a little boy; the California condor.
I’d read about the condor back in the 1970′s while in grade school. The largest flying bird in North America, it hovered close to extinction for decades. At its lowest, it numbered fewer that 20 individuals. It was the ultimate endangered species.
Through captive breeding, biologists have now pulled this bird back from the brink. Though still quite rare, today it numbers more than 300 individuals, with many flying free again in California and the Desert Southwest. Talk about life and death, this was high drama indeed.
Getting access to such a high-profile species wasn’t easy though. I’d been doing studio portraits at dozens of zoos around the country for many years when I got a call from a friend at the Phoenix Zoo. Seems a condor had flown into the Navajo Bridge and had broken its wrist, meaning it would be unable to fly again and would either be kept as a breeder or an educational bird. It was being kept in a recovery pen there for a few weeks with its broken wing wrapped, so if I could get there, the zoo folks said I could photograph it. I went right away.
I set up a couple of softboxes and a piece of black velvet in the back of its pen and spent about 20 minutes with him. The bird was enormous and ancient looking. During the shoot, the condor looked this way and that, confident, not scared, and not really that interested in me or the camera in my hands. But he did give me one moment, a few seconds where he looked into the camera lens and stared intensely. Perhaps he simply saw his reflection, but that look, and the fact the bird had a beautifully-colored head that’s really unusual, made this one of the most popular photos in Rare.
For me, the opportunity to photograph the bird was both a thrill and a great life experience — I’d finally gotten an audience with the most famous of all endangered species, the bird that I’d been thinking about literally since childhood. It doesn’t get any better than that.
You can see more of Joel’s work at JoelSartore.com, follow him on Twitter, find him on Facebook, and keep up with him on his blog. Signed copies of Joel’s book, Rare: Portraits of America’s Endangered Species, are available here or by calling 402-474-1006.
Yesterday, in my post about my first football shoot of the year (link), I mentioned that if some of the players wind up in the shade, that I remove the blue tint that appears over anything white (like their jerseys, helmet, the stripes on the ball, and so on) in Lightroom (or Camera Raw). Anyway, I had a few questions about it, so I thought I post a quick tutorial. Here goes:
Above: Here’s a great illustration of the problem: when the team winds up on a part of the field that’s covered in shadows (as seen here), their white jerseys (and anything white for that matter) get a deep blue tint over them. However, you can see from the photo, that in a few seconds part of the team will be running in the daylight in front of them, which puts part of the image in shade, and part in daylight, which creates the double-white balance problem).
STEP ONE: In Camera Raw (shown here) or in Lightroom’s Develop Module, get the Adjustment Brush, then over in the Adjustment Brush panel on the right side, lower the Saturation amount a bit (as seen here), and set everything else to zero. Now, with the Auto Mask checkbox turned on, start painting over the white parts of the player’s jersey’s (here’s I’m painting over #67′s jersey and pants, and you can see the blue is going away as I paint.
STEP TWO: Continue painting over anything that’s tinted blue (here I painted over all three players in white, but to finish this off, I’d have to paint over the “5″ on #5′s jersey as well. Now go and compare that with the image at the top of this post and you’ll really see the difference.
STEP THREE: Of course, since they’re in the shade, the whole image is really dark, so you might want to increase the Fill Light quite a bit, and the Exposure a little bit (as seen here), so the players aren’t “in the dark..”
(Above: Here’s the typical type of shot you’d have to apply this technique to—where part of the action is in daylight [one white balance] and part is in shade [they look too blue]. If they all stayed in the shade, you could just change the overall white balance, but for some reason you can’t get these guys to stay put. ;-) ).
That’s all there is to it. Hope that helps.
(Above: It’s not a composite, and the background hasn’t been blurred in Photoshop. It’s the 400mm f/2.8 doing what it does best).
On Saturday, I got to shoot my first football game of the year, alongside my buddy Mike McCaskey, as the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame routed the Michigan State Spartans 31 – 13. It’s was a day made for shooting football—65° at game time with bright beautiful skies.
(Above: In the 2nd half the sun gets low enough that about half the field is in shadows, and anything in white turns blue. So, I get Lightroom’s Adjustment Brush; I lower the Saturation slider quite a bit, then I paint over the blue areas in their jerseys, shirts, gloves, etc. and they return to white.).
Shaking The Rust Off
I was really rusty—not having shot football since last January, and it took me until about the 3rd quarter to finally start getting back into the groove.
(Above: I was positioned at the goal post, shooting down on my knees, as the teams came down the tunnel to enter the field right before kick-off, and this Michigan State Offensive Guard didn’t seem particularly pleased to see me).
I shot the entire day in Aperture Priority mode at 200 ISO, at f/2.8, which gave me shutter speeds anywhere from about 1/2,400 of a second up to 1/8000 of a second.
Camera Bodies and Lenses
I used two bodies: A Nikon D3s with a Nikon 400mm f/2.8 lens, mounted on a Gitzo monopod, and a Nikon D3 with a Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 lens.
(Above: Notre Dame Quarterback Tommy Rees scrambles during the 3rd quarter. He’s probably thinking, “I’ve got to get to the sidelines,” and I’m thinking “Don’t run into the shade—-this would make a great two-page spread). ;-)
Why I love shooting Day Games
It’s a “set it and forget it” kind of day. You choose your settings before game time, and you never have to change them again—the entire day. It leaves you free to focus on trying to get the shot.
(Above: Nobody gets any love from field goal shot but I like this one because it’s right at the moment of impact. I was actually hoping for the shot a split-second after this, but at least this one has some movement. I focused on the holder with my 400mm, and waited for the kicker to run into the frame).
(Above: I’m amazed at how few facemask penalties get called, because when you’re shooting at 400mm, you see them all the time).
(Above: In the third quarter and beginning of the fourth we had some really great light, but my the middle of the fourth, the entire field was almost in the shade —notice how the parts of the tackler are already looking blue).
(Above: For once that day, I was in the right place. Every touchdown happened at the opposite end of the field I was on except for this one which happened right in front of me. I had switched to my 70-200mm f/2.8 when they got inside the 15 yard line, where I got this frame. The play was reviewed, but the touchdown stands).
(Above: At the end of the game the team meets at the far end of the field, and they sing their Alma Mater, and that’s where I got this frame, on my tip-toes holding the camera above their heads and firing my camera one-handed. Right after I shot this, I hear a text message alert, and a friend from Birmingham texted me, “Are you shooting the Notre Dame game? I think I just saw you on TV. You were behind the players singing holding your camera up high? Yup—that was me!).
A great way to start the season
Even though I got off to a rusty start, it was such a fun day, with such great weather, I didn’t really mind that it took me like three hours to get into the groove. Now that the rust is off, I can’t wait until my next shoot (though I’m not sure when that will be. I’m doing my seminar in Portland today, and in Los Angeles tomorrow).
My thanks to my buddy Mike for letting me shoot with him, and to all the great folks with Notre Dame Football for giving me a really fun day of shooting. Football is finally here—-yeah, baby!!! :-)