Friday, 31 May 2013

Etiquette when working with a model

The first thing you need to do is find a model… where do you find a model without paying huge fees to a modelling agency? Kijiji, Craigslist or talk to other photographers in your area that use a model already.  I recently found a fantastic model that I will use time and time again on Kijiji. She had an ad on there saying she was looking for a professional model. If you live near me (Ontario, Canada) and you want a model that is absolutely "fantastic" contact Morgan (photo above) on her facebook page.

When you contact the model be specific about what your needs are. Remember, you do not know them and they do not know you. Lay out your requirements in detail so that they can make an informed decision on whether they want to model for you. It may sound like overkill, but you may want to do a boudoir photography shoot and they be uncomfortable with semi nudity or nudity.

The model release… this is as much about covering your butt as it is about the model protecting their reputation. Make sure the details are put in writing. What you will pay them, are you taking photos to build your portfolio in exchange for giving them images? Make sure that everyone enters into the situation understanding what both parties expectations are.

The environment for the shoot. You should make sure that you explain the environment to the model before the actual shoot. Where will the shoot take place, who will be at the shoot, is it private, in public etc… A word of advice. Have an assistant there for the shoot. It is always better to have someone there with you when working with a model… I may even go as far as suggesting you bring your girlfriend or wife if you are shooting a female model, or bring your husband or boyfriend if you are a female shooting a male model.

Working with the model. Never EVER take liberties when touching a model. Always ask for permission before you touch a model. “Can I move your hand?”, “Can I position your head the way I want?”

If you are working with a model for the first time this will help you gain repore and in the end get you the images you want… maximize the time you have the model for.

When the shoot is done make sure you follow through with what you promised. Models know other models and word will spread fast that you do not follow up on your promises…

I hope that gives you some useful information when shooting models… as for technique, well that is another post… LOL

Thanks for reading,


Thursday, 30 May 2013

Costumes, Props and Accessories for your Studio Photography

Something that is often overlooked and you might not think to include is placing props into a photo… take this photo above… if I just shot Morgan standing there it would have been just another photo. But taking that black shower curtain and draping it over her head added a new dimension and gave the photo a voice… that photo now has emotion and evokes a sense of peace.

So consider scouring through your house and consider picking up a bunch of props. If you take portrait photos for clients in your studio, having props there make the situation a less boring process for many people and having silly stuff for them to dress up and play with can be a great way to loosen everyone up and inject a little fun into the situation. Even if the ultimate goal of the shoot is a serious portrait, starting off with some funny props encourages your subjects to relax, become comfortable with you and be themselves.

You’ll also want to consider some more practical props as well. Such as a few pieces of stylish furniture you can quickly move in and out of the scene. Anything you can do to break the typical mould of studio photography will help your photography stand out.

If you are just shooting for your portfolio and for the experience of taking photos… take a trip down to the local costume shop… they have an abundance of costumes and cheap accessories you can pick up to enhance your photos. I am doing that next week. I will be picking up a replica dress from the movie, "The Seven Year Itch" and photographing a model with a fan placed beneath her so we get the blown dress look. While the photos are for a client, I also intend to have a little fun and try some new ideas.

Check back tomorrow when we address the main subject of your studio set up… lighting. There are a variety of lighting options, each coming with a different price tag and allowing you the creative control that will separate your images form the average photographer.

Please check out our lighting workshops that we hold 8 times a year.

Umbrellas, reflectors, softboxes... essential tools for your studio

So, now that i have you thinking about the space you would want to use for a home photography studio, and gave you some information on backdrops... lets look at lighting tools...

There are a few basic tools you can use to modify your light no matter if you are using natural light, flash, strobes or constant lighting. I could get much more indepth, but I figured we should look at the basics first to et you started.

Photoflex 5 in1 reflector
Reflectors are a great tool whether you are in the studio or shooting outside using abient lighting to light your subject. Reflectors do exactly what you would think; they reflect the light. Reflectors come in multiple sizes, can be white, silver, gold, black, or come in a multi disk kit where one reflector will have all these surfaces in one.

I would tend to go towards a multi reflector as it gives you all the necessary surfaces and somes in one convenient kit... they are also easy to stoare and collapsable so you can easily take them with you.

They also come in a variety of sizes and shapes. A search online will show you what options are available. Chances are you will be shooting without an assistant so you might want to look at a square or rectangle reflector. Thce and position than the circular ones. As for size of a refelctor for a studio... go with something larger than a 40" square... it casts more light on your subject that the smaller reflectors.

If you have been looking at various lighting kits might have you wondering whether you should go for an umbrella or softbox setup for your studio.

So which is better? There’s no absolute solution to this question as they both have pros and cons. Both essentially modify and filter light to make it softer and less harsh when it hits the subject.

Photoflex silver lined umbrella
Umbrellas are usually cheaper and fairly versatile. They often come with a reflective cover that allows you to shoot light into the umbrella and have it bounce back out or simply filter the light right through the material with the cover removed.  They come in different sizes and can be purchased with different colored canopies, each effecting light.

Umbrellas can spread light out over a wide area and are therefore great for large rooms or groups of people. Finally, umbrellas are quicker to setup and tear down than softboxes.

Photoflex strobe softbox

Softboxes tend to be a little pricier but they allow you to focus and control your light in a small area a lot better than umbrellas. These are perfect for when you’re shooting a single subject or are confined to a smaller area. Softboxes also make for much less distracting reflections than the shape you’ll get from the umbrella.

Photoflex Grid for Softbox

Light modifiers can be attached to both your umbrella or softbox. Modifiers can be diffusers, grids, egg carton style modifiers, etc… they take your lighting to a new level and should be something you consider when you get more experience with using a lighting source to photograph a subject.

Most professional photographers would prefer to have a few different sized umbrellas or softboxes to be used in various situations. Softboxes for example come in a variety of sizes and depth; each used for different techniques.... soft focus for just head shots, large, even lighting for models that are standing... the applications are numerous and you should consult your sales person at your local camera shop to get more information about what is right for your needs.

But if you have a limited budget and are just getting started, umbrellas are a perfect first step. check out Photoflex's website to see the variety of products that you can choose from.

A few other essentials for your home studio...
1 - fans to circulate the air or to use for effect in your images
2 - a low playing radio to create some ambient noise. Music creates a better mood.

Come back tomorrow when we discuss props and costumes for your model.

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Studio Backdrops and Backdrop Stands for Your Home Photography Studio

Backdrops are an important part of any photo that one is taking of a model or product. You want the focal point to be the model, not the clutter of a background... uneven colors, objects, bright lights. etc...

Any good studio has a few backdrops to take photos against. It’s probably a good idea to avoid Wal-Mart type photographic backdrops and instead opt for something simpler. Solid colors work, as well as something with a small amount of texture.

Backdrops commonly come in a variety of different materials and textures including muslin (cotton), canvas, vinyl, or just plain old paper. The cheapest versions are obviously the paper backdrops and typically start around $30.

If you want to go a little more professional, you can typically expect to spend $100-$150 on a tougher and more interesting material backdrop. Photoflex carries a variety of backdrops that you can see here.

You can get a decent backdrop kit complete with stands and carrying case from Photoflex for around $269. It’s called the “Photoflex First Studio BackDrop Support Kit

Of course, to start off you could take the poor man route and grab a bed sheet or some butcher paper and build a stand out of PVC pipe, but I tend to lean to a manufactured set-up. They are easy to use, will not fall apart like an ad-hoc set up and will hold a multitude of back drops… plus they are collapsible and portable. (Remember what I said in the last post about storage and space in your studio in the home?)

Come back tomorrow when we are talking about softboxes, umbrellas and other lighting accessories.

Setting Up Your Lighting Studio

Setting up a home studio can be extremely beneficial to any photographer. Whether you’re a professional portrait photographer or an amateur just starting to get into studio lighting, a home studio gives you a place to work and learn new things without putting the added dint into your bank account.

Over the week I am going to give you some things you should consider while you are creating your home studio set-up.  Then we will get into individual lighting techniques for a few days...

The Home Studio Space


The first thing to consider is creating a space. You do not need a large space, a 12 x 12 space would work. It would be tight, but doable… maybe empty out 1/2 of the garage and make your spouse park in the driveway or convert a spare bedroom into a make shift studio. (good luck with that conversation...LOL)

Ideally, you’ll want something with plenty of room to move around after it gets filled with studio or makeshift lights, your camera, a backdrop and other equipment. If your home is anything like mine it is probably full enough without a studio, so you will have to work with what you have until such time as you want, or can afford to rent some space.

You’ll want to choose a room where you can tightly control the lighting environment at any time of the day or night. Natural light can be a great tool but if your studio has a window, make sure you have a way to completely block off the light from affecting your shots… You can use thick vertical or horizontal blinds or thick fabric you can pick up at any fabric store in bulk.

Another thing you’ll want to consider is whether or not the room is climate controlled, especially if you’re going to be storing your equipment there permanently. Where I live the typical garage can stay well below the freezing point in the winter and exceed 100 degrees with the humidity in the summer… definitely not the ideal place to store thousands of dollars in photography equipment. But not only your gear can be affected, but your model will be under the hot lights while you are shooting… add humidity to that, and they will be standing in a puddle of water in no time… so consider the ambient temperatures and prepare for the change in weather!

The color of the space will also have an effect on your photos. Stay away from colored walls. Light bounces and colored walls will cast a colored hue on your images. You should try and stick to white or beige colored walls for your space… one other thing to remember about color… white reflects and black eliminates flash light… and the height of the room will impact the light. It’s a balance in your space that you will need to figure out through test shots to achieve the best lighting…

One final consideration is ambient noise. If you just shoot still photos than you’ll be fine with any room but if you’re ever going to shoot video you’ll want to choose a room far away from appliances or screaming kids.

Come on back to my blog tomorrow when we will be discussing “backdrops”

10 days of Lighting Tips and Tricks

For the next 10 days I am going to be re-posting some great tips and tricks on various subjects pertaining to lighting, shooting styles and setting up a home studio...

Yes, some will be a bit more technical, but most of my blogs will be short, informative and full of great information that will inspire you to grab some light sources, create emotion with some shadows and just have some fun...

Happy shooting everyone!!!


Friday, 24 May 2013

Species Spotlight - Dik Dik

A dik-dik is a small antelope in the Genus Madoqua that lives in the bushlands of eastern and southern Africa. Dik-diks stand about 30–40 cm (12–16 in) at the shoulder, are 50–70 cm (20–28 in) long, weigh 3–6 kg (7–16 lb) and can live for up to 10 years. Dik-diks are named for the alarm calls of the females. In addition to the females' alarm call, both the male and female make a shrill, whistling sound. These calls may alert other animals to predators.

Female dik-diks are somewhat larger than males. The males have horns, which are small (about 3 in or 7.5 cm), slanted backwards and longitudinally grooved. The hair on the crown forms an upright tuft that sometimes partially conceals the short, ribbed horns of the male. The upper body is gray-brown, while the lower parts of the body, including the legs, belly, crest, and flanks, are tan. A bare black spot below the inside corner of each eye contains a preorbital gland that produces a dark, sticky secretion. Dik-diks insert grass stems and twigs into the gland to scent-mark their territories.

To prevent overheating, dik-diks have elongated snouts with bellows-like muscles through which blood is pumped. Airflow and subsequent evaporation cools this blood before it is recirculated to the body.

The dik-dik lives in shrublands and savannas of eastern Africa. Dik-diks seek habitats with plentiful supply of edible plants such as shrubs. Dik-diks may live in places as varied as dense forest or open plain, but they require good cover and not too much tall grass. They usually live in pairs in territories of about 5 hectares (12 acres). The territories are often in low, shrubby bushes (sometimes along dry, rocky streambeds) with plenty of cover. Dik-diks can blend in with their surroundings, because of their dusty colored fur. Dik-diks have a series of runways through and around the borders of their territories

Dik-diks are herbivores. Their diet mainly consists of foliage, shoots, fruit and berries, but little or no grass. They receive sufficient amounts of water from their food, making drinking unnecessary. Like all even-toed ungulates, they digest their food with the aid of micro-organisms in the their four-chambered stomachs. After initial digestion, the food is repeatedly eructated and rechewed, a process known also as rumination, or 'chewing the cud'. Dik-diks' tapering heads may help them eat the leaves between the spines on the acacia trees, and the ability to feed while still keeping their head high to detect predators.

…information supplied by Wikepedia

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Species Spotlight - Bald Eagle

The Bald is a bird of prey found in North America. Its range includes most of Canada and Alaska, all of the contiguous United States, and northern Mexico. It is found near large bodies of open water with an abundant food supply and old-growth trees for nesting.

The Bald Eagle is an opportunistic feeder which consists mainly on fish, which it swoops down and snatches from the water with its talons. It builds the largest nest of any North American bird and the largest tree nests ever recorded for any animal species, up to 4 meters (13 ft) deep, 2.5 meters (8.2 ft) wide, and one metric ton (1.1 tons) in weight.

Bald Eagles are not actually bald; the name derives from an older meaning of "white headed". The adult is mainly brown with a white head and tail. The sexes are identical in plumage, but females are larger than males. The beak is large and hooked.

The Bald Eagle's natural range covers most of North America, including most of Canada, all of the continental United States, and into northern Mexico. It is the only sea eagle endemic to North America. Occupying varied habitats from the bayous of Louisiana to the Sonoran Desert and the eastern deciduous forests of Quebec, to New England, and heavy populations along the Pacific Northwest States of the USA and Provinces of Canada.

The northern birds are migratory, while southern birds are resident, remaining on their breeding territory all year. At minimum population, in the 1950s, it was largely restricted to Alaska, the Aleutian Islands, northern and eastern Canada, and Florida. Today, they are much more common (almost attaining their peak numbers pre-colonization in North America), and nest in every continental state and province in the United States and Canada.

Northern Bald Eagles will also congregate in certain locations in winter. From November until February, one to two thousand birds winter in Squamish, British Columbia, about halfway between Vancouver and Whistler. Another 5,000 to 8,000 winter in the Harrison and Fraser River area of British Columbia. This area is between Chilliwack and Harrison Hot Springs. The birds primarily gather along the BC Rivers as they are attracted by the salmon spawning in these areas.

If you would like to photograph these fantastic birds of prey during one of the most active times in their annual cycle, contact us. We run annual photography workshops during the November to January timeframe in the lower mainland of British Columbia.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

The Bald Eagle Migration in the Harrison River in British Columbia

I used to live within 20 miles of the largest migration destination of Bald Eagles in Canada... and then I moved away! What was I thinking????

From October to January, these majestic birds return to the Fraser River Basin to look for ideal nesting locations. Once found, they lay their eggs in February. It’s a pattern repeated every year, as the bald eagles follow spawning salmon along the Fraser and Harrison rivers.

Depending on the size of the salmon run, the number of eagles can be jaw dropping. The count in 2010 placed the number of eagles close to 7500 in a few kilometer stretch of the Harrison river. Talk about a photographer's playground.

I can remember when I lived there, sitting there watching eagles flying everywhere, and then to watch them interact with the bears that come down to feed on the spawn, well, that's a sight one never forgets.

I have been yearning to get back to the place I love so much... so, I set up some bald eagle workshops so I could share these incredible sights with you.

We will stay in the Fraser Valley... here you will have the best of both worlds... fantastic landscapes and one of the most beautiful birds in North America.

For these workshops I have partnered with two very talented photographers, Len Silvester and Jamie Douglas.

Len is one of Canada's premier nature and bird photographers and Jamie, another fantastic photographer that has inspired me for years... we just don't hold his Scottish accent against him (kidding Jamie)

Please consider joining us on these 4 day workshops.

To see the details, please click here...

Monday, 20 May 2013

Panning PhotographyTutorial

The skill of panning photography is going to take every ounce of patience you have. Almost every person I have talked to about this type of photography has told me that it wasn’t until they saw that “one cool photo” that they had that “AHA!” moment.

I was 13 when I stumbled upon this. Yes, stumbled, sometimes ignorance is bliss, and as a 13 year old trying to freeze images with high shutter speeds, my lack of knowledge produced an image that gave me some ideas.

Back then our family had a miniature poodle named Brandy. He was a bolt of white lightening when he ran out the back yard. One afternoon I was trying to freeze the dog’s motion for photography class with little success. After a roll of film and a tired dog that was fed up with my milk bone bribery; I discovered that I could freeze part the dog yet have the background blurred. (Insert my AHA! moment here)

This latchkey kid would now have a couple hours each day to work on getting this image perfected. Dozens of film rolls, a couple boxes of dog treats, and a few extra pounds on Brandy later, I got the shot... a dog, head and body in focus, legs a little blurred, mid stride, hovering over the blurred ground... “AHA!”

So, from my personal trials and tribulations, here are a few tips I put together to hopefully take your keepers from one out of five-hundred to one out of one-hundred.
Understand the basic concept. Panning works when you move the camera in perfect synergy with the subject. It’s not enough to just swing the camera from side to side. You have to move it in perfect synch with your subject.

Choose the right subject. Generally it is easier to pan with a fast-moving subject than a slow one. Sprinters running in a straight line are moving fast enough that you can pan smoothly with their motion. People walking are almost impossible; they are too slow to get much blur and it’s difficult to pan smoothly. Football players are tough because they move erratically. And running dogs, well, they are perfect because they just want to please...

Use Manual Exposure or maybe Shutter Priority metering. Whichever you choose, the object is the same. You don’t want the shutter speed to change while you are shooting.

Focus Tracking. It’s very important that all or part of your subject is in focus. You might like to switch focus to AI Servo mode (in Canons) or AF-C mode (in Nikons). In this mode, hold down your shutter half way to lock focus on your subject and start following your subject with your camera at the same speed. You can take several shots at once… the number of photos is dependent on your camera.

Find the right background. The background must have some detail in order to produce the pleasing streaks you will want. That is why the jet is a bad subject for panning when it is up against a plain blue sky. Nothing will look as if it “moved.” On the other hand, be aware that just one person in a white T-shirt can create an unsightly white blob in your photograph.

Pick a good shutter speed. This is important. The longer the shutter speed, the higher the probability your image you wanted in focus will blur. It becomes a balancing act. As a starting point, let’s go back to the example of the sprinters running across the picture. Try anything between 1/8 of a second and 1/60 of a second. Beyond 1/8 of a second it's really tough to get sharp. Above 1/60 of a second, the camera will probably stop too much action and ruin the effect. Except for faster moving objects like flying birds or jets. For that you might need 1/250 of a second for a bird and 1/500 of a second for the jet, and that brings us to our next problem.

Practice panning smoothly. A Fluid, smooth motion is the name of the game. No jerking, no rushing and done without hesitation. Start clicking the shutter before your subjects reaches the ideal point and then keep shooting after they pass that point. Good follow through is imperative. The best panning shooters literally go out and just practice the movement.

Use the viewfinder. Your viewfinder is your friend when it comes to panning. The best tip I can give you is to set the viewfinder to show crosshairs, then focus on the intersecting line of the crosshairs and follow the subject in the viewfinder. You will eat more batteries doing it this way, but it does help with the success ratio.

Try. Evaluate. Retry. Experiment! There is no right or wrong way to produce the desired results... set rules do not apply. But try it, have fun with it, experiment with camera motion.

A couple final words on “Panning Photography”.
Things do not always have to be totally in focus. This type of photography, in addition to showing motion of an object, can be an artistic type of photography. If the intent is to produce an image of just motion through camera movement, please note that it can be referred to as motion blur photography.

Lastly, you should technically not be able to have motion in a still photograph. This is a two dimensional form of art. But the act of panning will force a person to look at the image more closely, and they will until they come to realize: "That’s not a blurry picture; that’s a young boy taking a photo of the running dog he loves in the backyard. That’s cute!"

I hope I gave you your AHA! Moment! Now go out, try this, and “pay it forward” so the next person can have their AHA! moment.

Happy Shooting!

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Paris - The City of Love and Lights

The city of Paris has more familiar landmarks than any other city in the world. On your first visit you will arrive in the French capital with all sorts of expectations: cobblestone streets lined with sidewalk cafes, of intellectuals discussing weighty matters in these cafes, of romance along the Seine, naughty nightclub revues in a district called Montmarte and yes, if we are being honest with ourselves, we just might expect rude people who won’t speak English.

The truth is, if you look hard enough, you will find all of those. With an open mind you will actually discover is that Paris is enchanting, at any time of the year. It welcomes guests with open arms. I have been there six times, seen every season, met a lot of people, some which have become friends… and I came home thoroughly satisfied from each visit to the city of love and lights.

Getting to Paris: By air: Paris is served by three airports—Charles de Gaulle International Airport, Orly International Airport, and a regional airport, Beauvais. Chances are that you will be landing at Charles de Gaulle and you will need to take a €40 to €60 Euro taxi ride to your Parisian hotel.
By train: Paris is well connected to the rest of Europe by train offering high speed and normal trains such as the TER Regional trains, TGV (high-speed trains), Thalys, Intercity trains, and the Eurostar service. Getting off the train at Gade du Nord is the only experience I have taking trains. But a quick subway ride will take you right into the heart of the city.
By bus: The Eurolines company offers routes to other European cities.

Getting around Paris:Bus: The city has several hop-on hop-off bus tours specially run for tourists
By car: with dense traffic conditions, it is not a great idea to rent a car but driving may be an option if you are planning trips outside the city. Imaging this… you are driving up Av. Des Champs Elysees because you want to go to the Hugo Boss store, you miss your turn and immediately find yourself on an 8 lane roundabout that is circling the Arc de Triomphe and people are flying on and off at break neck speeds… and you get paralyzed with fear.
On foot: Walking in Paris is the best way to get around and explore the city. It is possible to cross the entire city in a span of just a few hours. For photographers it really is the only way to see the sites. Walk, admire, drink some wine, walk, admire, drink some wine, repeat…
Metro: Paris has an excellent subway train system with detailed maps of the surrounding area at each station. This would be my suggestion for travel around Paris. Look into a pass and use the Metro to get you around the city.
By boat: you can cruise along the Seine taking a circular route from the Eiffel Tower, down past the Louvre, Notre Dame, botanical gardens then back up the other bank past Musee D’Orsay.
Bicycle: You can rent a bike to explore the city. It can be much safer to cycle here than anywhere else. The government is actually planning to encourage the practice.

Where to stay in ParisThere are a few things you should consider before deciding where to stay in Paris. First, find out what area is right for you according to your visiting goals and personal tastes. Then choose accommodation based on your budget. I have stayed in hotels that are as much as €400 a night and I have stayed in flats for €100 a night. Honestly, I had a great time no matter where I stayed. Whether it was in bohemian district of Montmarte or right down on the Siene River near the La Louvre I enjoyed each visit.

The historical center of Paris is divided into 20 districts. I have put a map below for you to see what I am talking about. As you notice the city is split in the middle by the Seine River. Each of these districts is like a little village within the city with its own history, culture and way of life.

No matter where you stay in Paris, be prepared, you will walk a lot. You won’t realize it at first, but just the sheer amount of walking when inside the venues you will want to visit will be a lot. La Louvre alone can be quite a physical experience if you want to see it all (plan that over two days if you have time). Le Sacre Coeur is a 300+ stair climb to get to the top and the Notre Dame Cathedral is also a vertical hike to get up and swing from the bell like Quasi Motto did. So before you pack, think comfort or you will pay for it later.

There is accommodation for everyone in Paris, it goes from the bed & breakfast room if you want to get in touch with the locals, the cheap 2 star hotel that will be kind on your wallet, the holiday apartment for a feel at home experience or the glamorous luxury hotel if you want to treat yourself.

The Weather in ParisThe best weather in Paris is in spring (April-June) or fall (September-November), when things are easier to come by. The weather is temperate year-round. July and August are the worst for crowds. Parisians desert their city, leaving it to the tourists. Here are some quick facts:
The months June, July, August and September have a nice average temperature.
On average, the warmest month is July.
On average, the coolest month is December.
May is the wettest month.
February is the driest month.

I have been there in every season and found, as a photographer, there is no bad time to go. However, my favorite visits have been in September and March. You will get pleasing fall and spring weather and miss the majority of tourists. Regardless of what the weather is, if you are prepared, you will not have a bad day when you are in Paris.

OK, now that we have looked at the necessary details about the city, let’s get to the good stuff! Capturing a few of my favorite parts of the city in photos!

I have to say this, “Be prepared to wait your turn if you are doing the day time stroll with the camera around your neck.”

There are more photographers per square mile in this city during peak tourist times than I have seen anywhere else in the world. I have seen this happen all the time… a bus of tourists pulling up to the glass pyramid at Le Louvre, 100 people fall out of the bus and descend on the landmark like bees to a honey pot. It’s rather humorous.

My advice for the more seasoned photographer… go off hours. Apply the same photography principles here as you would at home. Shoot landmarks from 30 minutes before sunrise to ninety minutes after sunrise. Or, go at night and shoot ninety minutes before sunset to 30 minutes after sunset. Night photography is also amazing in this city. Some of my favorite photos have been taken at night when I have been to Paris.

The Eiffel Tower If you are taking photos to sell you should investigate the legalities of selling images or any French landmark, especially of the Eiffel tower at night. There has been much discussion surrounding this topic I would look into this before you attempt to sell anything. If it’s just for personal enjoyment and posting it on your website or sharing with your friends, you are fine.

You couldn't possibly visit Paris without seeing the Eiffel Tower. Even if you do not want to visit this world famous structure, you will see it from all over Paris. The tower rises 300 meters tall (984 ft); when it was completed at the end of the 19th century it was twice as high as the Washington Monument.

The cost to go to the top is approx €15, but its well worth the price to get some fantastic views of the city. Take up your wide angle lens for some breathtaking images and take a telephoto lens to get some different viewpoints of some of the local churches and structures.

The Catacombs The Paris Catacombs are a maze of tunnels and crypts underneath the city streets where Parisians placed the bones of their dead for almost 30 years. Prior to the creation of the Catacombs in the mid-1700s, residents buried their dead in cemeteries near churches as is still customary in most places.

But as the city grew, the cemeteries quickly ran out of space. Additionally, improper burial techniques often led to ground water and land near cemeteries becoming contaminated and spreading disease to those living nearby, so city officials moved to condemn all the cemeteries within city limits and move the bodies in those cemeteries elsewhere.

The decision was made to use an underground section of quarries in Paris, and the bones from Paris’ city cemeteries were moved underground between 1786 and 1788. The process was conducted with reverence and discretion – the quarry space was blessed before any bones were moved there, bones were always moved in a quiet parade of carts accompanied by priests, and these movements always took place at night. The quarries continued to be used as the collection point for the bones from Paris’ cemeteries through 1814 and now contain the bodies of roughly 6-7 million Parisians.

To get there by METRO the nearest stop which is Denfert Rochereau (either on line 4 or 6) in zone 1. Be aware before you enter that there is no flash photography allowed in the site, so to get any decent photos you either need to be able to hold a camera in dim light and shoot in a high ISO setting, or use a tripod and long exposure times, which is exactly what I did.

The staff is really helpful in shining torches at the skulls for you so that you could see in better detail but really, as much as they are just trying to help, this is more a hindrance and annoyance when you’re taking photos. I’d recommend a tripod and your own flashlight as that seemed acceptable to the staff, it also seems acceptable to be able to touch the remains as some people even pick up the bones and photograph themselves holding the remains (not my cup of tea personally).

The cost to get in is approximately €8, but well worth the price.

Le Louvre and Musee d’Orsay Le Louvre is housed in the Louvre Palace (Palais du Louvre) which began as a fortress built in the late 12th century under Philip II. The building was extended many times to form the present Louvre Palace. In 1682, Louis XIV chose the Palace of Versailles for his household, leaving the Louvre primarily as a place to display the royal collection, including, from 1692, a collection of antique sculpture.

In 1692, the building was occupied by the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles Lettres and the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture, which in 1699 held the first of a series of salons. The Académie remained at the Louvre for 100 years. During the French Revolution, the National Assembly decreed that the Louvre should be used as a museum, to display the nation's masterpieces.

Imagine… almost 35,000 pieces of art in one location; historically significant paintings, sculptures that stood proud thousands of years ago, and priceless artifacts you have only read about in a book. Many are right there for you to see, and photograph! YES, you too can walk home with a photo of “Whistler’s Mother” or “Mona Lisa” for €10 to €15.

A word of caution, keep the flash in the bag and do not bring out the tripod… They have signs that tell you that your flash will degrade the art… so not wanting to be the person that ruins a $1Million artifact, I always choose to handhold with high ISO.

I suggest you walk the museum with the camera set on 400 ISO or higher, f/2.8 and brace my camera on a folded coat to help eliminate handshake. Regardless how you do it, you will walk away with a lot of fantastic images for your own personal enjoyment.

Click here to see an interactive floor plan of Le Louvre. This will walk you through where art is located and give you a better idea of the sheer size of the building.

Musee d’Orsay The history of the museum is quite unusual. In the centre of Paris on the banks of the Seine, opposite the Tuileries Gardens, the museum was installed in the former Orsay railway station, built for the Universal Exhibition of 1900. So the building itself could be seen as the first "work of art" in the Musee d'Orsay, which displays collections of art from the period 1848 to 1914. For €8 you can spend as much time as you want admiring timeless pieces of art.

For those of you that appreciate the history of photography. There is a photography exhibit that shows photos as far back as the early 1800’s

The museum is not as large as Le Louvre but I found it just as inspiring as Le Louvre. The same rules apply for photographers, keep the flash in the bag and do not bring out the tripod… you are forced to handhold with high ISO. I have however seen a few people with monopods sneaking in a few photos here and there.

The rest of ParisThere is so much more to see and photograph. I could write and show photos for hours. These are just a few of my favorite locations. What I suggest, look at photos on flickr and go to the Parisian city website. There is an abundance of available information for anyone wishing to visit the city.

From fantastic graveyards, one in particular with the grave of Jim Morrison, the Sacre Ceour, Arc de Triomphe, the Oblisque, Notre Dame, and many, many more places. Your photographic opportunities are endless. Do some research, talk to people that have been there, and just go and enjoy yourself.

If you have any questions about Paris, please feel free to contact me through I have visited the city 6 times in the last ten years… and someday soon, will be back again walking the streets of Paris with my camera draped over my shoulder.

Join me on my next Parisian Workshops

Week One with Deborah Sandidge

Happy Shooting,


Saturday, 18 May 2013

Photography Gear to take for an African Safari

My first workshop in eastern Africa with Journey to Africa is in the books and I wanted to write a follow up article about what gear to bring having spent almost two weeks in the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater Conservation Area.

For my last workshop I packed up everything but the kitchen sink and brought almost the entire camera gear cabinet just to see what I would use, and not use. Surprisingly, I didn’t get a chance to use most of the gear that I brought with me.

So…. Here are my suggestions for gear to bring with you on a safari…

Two camera bodies… I brought a Nikon D7000 crop sensor camera and Nikon D600 full frame camera bodies. The D7000 crop sensor had the 150-500mm lens on the body the whole time and the full frame camera had both the wide angle and the 70-200mm lens on it depending on what I was photographing.

I attached a battery grip for D7000 for extended battery life and to give me an extra frame per second. It also eliminates the need to open your camera up when you are out in the field. Even close to the rainy season it can get dusty when out on safari.

I brought 6 Nikon EN EL15 batteries, 3 for each camera. Sometimes you will have power and other times the lodges conserve power and you may not get a chance to fully charge your batteries. Having extra battery power will ensure you have at least two days of shooting power.

Bring two battery chargers, a small power bar and international power converter. A power bar will allow you to charge two batteries and still be able to work and edit on your laptop. At some lodges, Ndutu for example, there are central charging areas where everyone plugs in the batteries to charge… so mark your batteries as I have seen these central charging areas packed with laptops, and battery chargers before bedtime.

You will easily go through 16gig of memory a day. You are constantly shooting animals and landscapes. I brought 6 - 16gig Sandisk Extreme PRO memory cards and 6 - 8gig Sandisk Extreme PRO memory cards. It offered redundancy and gave me enough memory if I needed it. Expect to take between 800 to 1200 photos a day while on safari. It may sound like a lot, but when you are shooting moving animals you can easy take 20 to 30 images in a few minutes.

Laptop and an external hard drive will give you two copies of your images… save one to your laptop and one to your external drive to ensure you have a backup.

Bring a tripod. I brought a Monfrotto 290 series tripod with pano head. (When travelling I put into my duffle bag that was checked)

Apex mini bean bag is a must. It stabilizes your camera on top of the vehicle when you are looking out the hatch. Some guides will have small homemade bean bags… a life saver for those that come that are not prepared.

External flash and flash extender. While there are minimal opportunities to shoot at night, having that flash illuminates animals in shade and will give you the reach you need to take better exposed photos when animals are not sitting in optimal light.

Bring camera straps for your camera. I brought black rapid camera straps for both my bodies.

Make sure you bring wired or remote control for cameras as there is fantastic opportunities for low light photography.

It is always a good idea to bring rain cover for my camera and lenses
Bring a wide angle lens, a medium length lens and a longer telephoto lens. I brought the following:
Sigma 12-24mm f4.5-5.6 for landscape photos - used extensively
Sigma 24-70mm f2.8 for walking around and landscape photos - rarely used
Sigma 70-200 f2.8 for close animals and portrait photos - used extensively
Sigma 150-500 f5.6-6.3 for the safari drives - used extensively

How to travel with your gear... I have both a roller bag and a large back pack. Both would work fine. The roller bag makes travelling easier and the back pack is easier when out on safari.

I hope that helps you in making your gear suggestions for your trip of a lifetime to Africa… or any other global destination.

Please check out my workshops at

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Species Spotlight - Kori Bustard

Kori Bustard in the middle of a mating call.
The Kori Bustard is cryptically colored, being mostly grey and brown in color, finely patterned with black and white coloring. The ventral plumage is more boldly colored, with white, black and buff. The crest on its head is blackish in coloration, with less black on the female's crest. A black collar at the base of the hind-neck extends onto the sides of the breast. The feathers around the neck are loose, giving the appearance of a thick neck. The belly is white and the tail has broad bands of brownish-gray and white coloration. The head is large and the yellow legs are relatively long. Females are similar in plumage but are much smaller, often weighing 2-3 times less than the male. The juvenile is similar in appearance to the female, but are browner with more spotting on the mantle.

The male Kori Bustard is 120 to 150 cm (3.9 to 4.9 ft), stands 71–120 cm (2.33–3.9 ft) tall and have a wingspan about 230 to 275 cm (7.5 to 9.02 ft). On average, male birds weigh between 10.9–16 kg (24–35 lb), averaging 13.5 kg (30 lb) but exceptional birds may weigh up to 20 kg (44 lb). Reports of outsized specimens weighing 23 kg (51 lb), 34 kg (75 lb) and even 40 kg (88 lb) have been reported, but none of these giant sizes have been verified and some may be from unreliable sources. Among bustards, only male Great Bustards achieve similarly high weights, making the male Kori and Great not only the two largest bustards, but also arguably the heaviest living flying animals. The female Kori Bustard weighs an average of 4.8 to 6.1 kg (11 to 13 lb), with a range of 4.3 to 6.6 kg (9.5 to 15 lb). Female length is from 80 to 120 cm (2.6 to 3.9 ft) and they usually stand less than 60 cm (2.0 ft) tall and have a wingspan of less than 220 cm (7.2 ft). The wing chord can measure from 58.5 to 83 cm (23.0 to 33 in), the tail measures from 30–45 cm (12–18 in), the culmen from 7 to 12.5 cm (2.8 to 4.9 in) and the tarsus from 16 to 24.5 cm (6.3 to 9.6 in). Body size is generally greater in the populations of southern Africa and body mass can vary based upon rain conditions.


Kori Bustards spend most of their time on the ground, though can forage occasionally in low bushes and trees. Being a large and heavy bird, it avoids flying if possible. This bustard is a watchful and wary bird. Their behavior varies however, and they are usually very shy, running or crouching at the first sign of danger; at other times they can be completely fearless of humans. This large bird has a loud, booming mating call which is often uttered just before dawn and can be heard from far away. Locally, they are regularly found with bee-eaters riding on their backs as they stride through the grass. The bee-eaters make the most of their walking perch by hawking insects from the bustard's back that are disturbed by

The male's mating call a deep, resonant woum-woum-woum-woum (Ginn et al. 1989) or oom-oom-oom (Sinclair & Ryan 2003) or wum, wum, wum, wum, wummm . This call ends with the bill snapping which is only audible at close range. They also utter a ca-caa-ca, repeated several times for up to 10 minutes. This call carries long distances. Outside of the breeding display, Kori Bustards are often silent. A high alarm call, generally uttered by females, is sometimes heard. They utter a deep vum on takeoff.

Information from Wikipedia

Photographs of lightning - tips and gear suggestions for getting the best photographs

On my recent trip to Africa I saw some distant lightning and it got me excited for some new lightning experiences back home and in South America.

If you are a photographer and a thrill seeker, taking pictures of storms and thunderstorms just might satisfy your desire to get out there and capture the raw power of Mother Nature.

I have done this a few times over this year, and I will say, “Once you track down a storm, the photography aspect of catching a flash of Lightning is the easy part. Set the camera up, preset the settings, pull out the remote and snap off a couple hundred images in the direction of a storm. The part that separates the amateur from the professional is identifying where the different types of Lightning are going to occur and matching that with an interesting and focused foreground.

Thunderstorms are an elusive occurrence in nature that is not stationary and will rarely co-operate with you. Not only that, but depending on where you live, most storms won't come to you - you'll have to go to them. So be prepared as storm and lightning photography will present a challenging pursuit for those who are so inclined.

There is a science to read weather patterns and forecast where storm fronts will occur, and I could give you hundreds of meteorology websites and publications where you could learn them, but for the sake of this article, we will stick with the basics and direct you to watch the weather network or look at environment Canada’s site for storms and lightning strikes. To Access this website in Canada please go to Another handy way to identify if lightening is in the area is to use your AM Radio and find an unused band. Lightening produces radio waves called sferics. Theses sudden pops and crackles are a good way to identify local activity.

But before you leave your house, remember some storm chasing gear. I would make sure that you have packed the following items with you any time you go out on a storm-shooting expedition.
•A flashlight as you will be out in the dark most times.
•A glow stick that you should tie on your tripod so that you can see where it is at all times.
•Insect repellent because many times you will be out in the country and with many heavy storms comes stale, humid weather that will bring mosquitoes.
•Take some cash for emergencies
•Take your charged cell Phone, some snacks and beverages for some long waits.
•Dry Clothes because if you are out of the vehicle, you will get wet more times than not.
•A rain cover for your camera
•A rain coat or rain suit to keep yourself dry

The Camera
Ideally, a DSLR with a 'bulb' shutter setting is the best for taking photos of lightning. Some less expensive DSLR or point-and-shoot digital cameras without a bulb function can be set on a fixed long exposure setting, such as 10 to 20 second exposures. I encourage you to check your camera's manual to see what the long exposure settings/maximum shutter speed times are. Ideally, an exposure time of at least 10 seconds is necessary for the best performance and versatility for any lightning shoot.

Cameras used in any type of storm chasing will have to endure harsh conditions and lots of abuse (especially moisture), so you may want to think twice before using your $2,000 camera to shoot lightning. Unless you've invested in a waterproof camera or proper protective gear as I have. Or, just go on eBay and buy a manual SLR for $150-$200.

The Exposure
It's hard to go wrong with an exposure of lightning. Aim the camera, hold open the shutter, and wait. If lightning strikes where you aimed, you got it! Usually you will go through dozens of frames before actually catching a lightening bolt, meaning that you won't actually have lightning in every picture on your disk (unless you're having a very good night). You might want to experiment with exposure settings for different scenes, but as a general rule, use the following:

Use the ISO 100 setting for best results in all lightning situations.

Rural Areas at Night: Focus at infinity, F-stop between F5.6 - F10. When lightning gets very close (within 1 mile, less than 5 seconds between flash-thunder), use an F-stop of F10 - F16. You'll also want to use F8 if you want to expose multiple bolts over a long period of time. In rural areas with little or no ambient light, you can leave your shutter open indefinitely until a lightning bolt flashes in your frame.

Urban Areas at Night: Focus at infinity, F-stop of F5.6 for a maximum exposure time of 10-15 seconds depending on the level of ambient light. Or, F-stop of F8 for 20 to 35 seconds. For best results, expose the scene as you would without lightning, and the lightning will take care of its own exposure when it flashes in the background. It is best to first do several test exposures of the ambient scene so see what works best.

The Lens
The lens you use is entirely up to you, but can vary depending on your location. I personally like to use a wider lens - typically my 11-22mm f/2.8, because it gives me more sky coverage without much distortion. A wider lens increases the chance that you will get a bolt to strike in the field of view. A telephoto lens can be useful for distant thunderstorms in areas with high visibilities such as the desert Southwest and the central Plains regions in the USA. In the east coast areas of Canada and the US, terrain and trees tend to obscure distant lightning on the horizon, meaning that lightning channels won't be visible until they are close - in which case you'll want to use the wide-angle configuration. But keep your telephoto lens on standby in case you get a photogenic distant storm.

It's also best to avoid the use of filters (ND, UV, etc) when shooting lightning. Additional layers of glass can cause reflections and 'ghosting' of bright light sources like lightning.

Tripod and Cable Release
You will need a tripod to hold your camera steady during time exposures. Virtually any brand and type of tripod will work, though generally, the more expensive brands tend to last longer and be more sturdy. But even a $20 tripod from Wal-Mart will get the job done.

You might also want to consider a small tripod or clamp mount that you can set up inside of your car, enabling you to photograph out of the window.

A cable release or shutter release is a small, flexible device that plugs into a camera's shutter trigger. In the case of a DSLR, cable releases are electrical switches with a cord that plugs onto a socket on the camera. A cable release allows you to open and close the shutter without touching/jarring the camera. Most cable releases have a locking device that lets you hold the shutter open for long periods of time hands-free.

Since the brightness of lightning, for all intents and purposes, is the same in any situation (day, night, urban, or rural), you will always want to keep your aperture between F5.6 and F11, regardless of any ambient light levels. Closing the aperture beyond F11 will allow for longer exposure times, but you will also be restricting the amount of light exposed by the lightning itself, which will result in thinner, underexposed bolts. In addition to that, any street lighting will then have a starburst effect.

Opening the aperture beyond F5.6 in most cases will overexpose or 'white out' the lightning channels (and even the clouds), resulting in wide, bright white columns of light enshrouding the bolts. You will find that some bolts are more intense than others - meaning that a strike may still overexpose at F8 or underexpose at F5.6. It is nearly impossible, however, to accurately predict how bright each strike will be, so just keep to the known averages. Not every bolt will come out perfectly.

Location, Location, LocationO
ften, the most difficult, frustrating, and time-consuming part of lightning photography is simply finding a good place to take pictures. You will usually need to 'scout out' and make notes of good places to shoot - preferably during the day before the storms arrive. Ideally, a good setup location needs:
1. An unbroken view of the sky. Unsightly power lines and tree branches across your photo usually will detract from the drama of the image. It's true that some photographers have incorporated power lines into their photos on purpose with very good results. But as a general rule, it's best to avoid any wires across your frame. Keep in mind that power lines are hard to see at night, and usually won't show up in your picture until you get your film developed. In most parts of the country, vantage points free of these obstructions are very hard to find.

2. Low ambient light levels close to the camera. Streetlights and car headlights will force you to either cut your exposures short or accept strong glares on your image. Keep this in mind when choosing a location. (This rule can be broken for special situations where you want to be creative).

3. Protection from the elements. Rain and lightning should be a concern when considering a setup location. Lightning is an obvious threat to your safety, while raindrops on your camera lens will reflect/refract light and ruin a good photo. Parking garages, highway underpasses, and large buildings can keep you and your camera safe from both. Setting up inside your car may be an option, but is one that provides less shelter from rain. Heavy rain or wind will end a lightning photo session, even at the best locations, due to fine mist and spray that forms as a result of rain splashing onto the ground. If your dedication levels are high, you can carry a rag out with you to wipe the lens dry every 15 seconds or so.

Breaking the Rules
These suggestions are only general guidelines for lightning photos. When the time and place is right, you might want to 'break the rules'. For instance, in some cases, there will be an object across the sky that will add to a photo rather than detract from it, such as a building, bridge or national monument like the photo of the Crazy Horse Memorial below.

In your lightning shot, you'll always want to include the horizon and part of the ground in your photo, rather than just pointing your camera up at the sky. Aside from lightning in urban scenes, use of the 'rule or thirds' is not always desirable, since the ground will usually be totally black in the exposure. You'll want more of a 4/5ths or 5/6ths sky, 1/6th ground configuration to give you more of a 'canvas' for the lightning to pose on.

For closer lightning, you might want to include a little more of the ground in the event that a bolt strikes nearby - allowing the lightning's contact point with the ground to be captured

Final Thought
Plan ahead and be patient! Always be ready for a storm- most of them will come up unexpectedly. Have your camera ready and memory card loaded. Figure out ahead of time where you can safely set up your camera.

There is no guarantee you will get a good picture every time. But, if you are persistent you will be successful.

Finally, I want to say… I am not condoning that you attempt this type of photography. It is dangerous and if you do so, it is at your own risk. I will not be liable for any personal injury or structural damage due to your lightning photography outing(s). Know what you are doing, and stay safe!

Lightning Adventure of a Lifetime
If you want to join me on the lightening photography experience of a lifetime, check out this workshop to Venezuela. I am going to see the Catatumbo lightening in October of 2013 with Len Silvester, ... Check out this link as I have put up photos of the Catatumbo Lightning...

Food that you eat on an african safari

One question that I often get from clients booking their African safari with the Photographer’s Lounge is what is the food going to be like on Safari?

The food is fresh and tasty. Our chefs will cook you some amazing meals with basic equipment. think hot and fresh breads + beef and veggie mishkaki [barbeque] using a coal grill + organic salad plucked from the garden right around the corner.

All food is well prepared. Our well trained camp chef and crew will come up with gourmet meals in the middle of the bush. They really want you to enjoy their culinary experience.

We can also easily accommodate any vegetarian requirements and any Halal requests.

On Safari you normally start off your day with a wake-up call. You can start really early should you have chosen to go on a sunrise morning game drive or morning walking Safari like you can do most days. On these days, our breakfasts are prepared and stored in a lunch box so we can eat at our leisure from a location out in the conservation areas… we eat amongst the roaming herds of animals and enjoy the sights with our fresh brewed coffee, tea and food.

If you choose to stay back in the morning, You will sit on your lovely patio and have your cookie or biscuits as we say and sip your hot cuppa tea or coffee listening to the sounds of the wild and watching the sun rise. A perfect morning on Safari!

A good breakfast to start off the day full of adventures. You are going to have an array of options. Cereals, variety of juices, eggs with warm bread sometimes cooked in the bush for a bush breakfast, bacon and potatoes and more.  Nothing like having the most important meal of the day with a great view in the Serengeti.

Game driving is tough! Our vehicles carry water, soft drinks, juice and snacks which you can enjoy during your game drive. In some areas, you can stop, set a table and enjoy your snack with the animals close by. Don’t worry. Our guides will choose an open area away from the thick bushes. Prepare to enjoy your mid-morning or afternoon snack.

For lunch, again we have our lunches premade if we are out on safari… The food is fresh, kept in a refrigerator in the vehicle and we place out a picnic table to serve you your lunches from different areas while we are out on safari.

Dinner time is always the best time. Together we sit back, discuss the events of the day over a chilled glass of wine or the drink of choice. We chatting with other Safari goers or share a meal with the camp manager and share stories that go beyond the parks you are visiting.  Bush dinners are also available for those who want a private dinner or just want to sit under the stars. Bon appetite!

Then tomorrow, the wonderful cycle begins again.

Please join us in April of 2014 when we return to the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Conservation area. See the details here...