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Several times I have been asked how it is that my long-time career as a sports photographer gels with the wildlife and nature work I now mostly shoot. The fact is that there are a great many similarities.
First let’s look at the equipment… Pretty much identical, rapid-focus cameras using large telephoto lenses.
Second… similar techniques, long periods of waiting around with not much happening while trying to maintain a high level of concentration so you don’t miss the decisive moment!
Nikon D2x, 600mm f4 lens, mounted on a Gitzo tripod with Wimberley head, 1/3200th sec ISO 200 @ f5.6. You can certainly shoot low slowly flying birds from a tripod but it’s much harder to acquire focus and stay locked on than with hand holding. Here, as I was still shooting with a D2 series camera that does not handle high ISO settings as well as more modern cameras, I have opted for a larger aperture than I would choose today.
One area of wildlife photography where all the above is particularly true is in capturing images of birds in flight. Often fast moving, unpredictable, with difficult lighting, much the same as with so many sports events.
My preferred lens for in-flight photography is the Nikon 500mm f4, either with or without the TC-14 1.4x converter, and occasionally the 200-400 f4, more often than not hand held with image stabilization turned on, depending on the size of bird I am working with and the distances involved. I never use the converter on the 200-400, which slows down autofocus to an unacceptable level. This technique results in more ‘keepers’ than using the 600mm f4 on a tripod with a gimbal head. The 600mm is just way too heavy to hand hold, at least for me, not being a muscle-bound body builder!
Just like photographing high-speed sport it’s essential to set your camera effectively to freeze the action (unless of course you are going for intentional blur, but that’s a whole other subject – coming soon!) I never let my shutter speed drop below 1/2000th sec, adjusting my ISO settings to ensure that I stay at this speed or above. Remember, birds can be very high-speed subjects, often cruising at 30 mph, and can reach enormous speeds of 60 mph or more when diving or hunting. I will generally stop my lens down to around f8 to give a good depth of field and also because this is the ‘sweet spot’ on my 500mm producing the sharpest corner to corner images. Unlike sport and ground-based wildlife subjects – where I will often use my telephotos wide open (largest aperture) to limit depth of field and isolate my subject from the background – this is rarely necessary with in-flight photography as, in the majority of cases, your subject is against the sky or is already distanced from any discernible background.
Nikon D3s, 500mm f4 lens hand held, 1/2500th @ f8, ISO 800. Look for the unusual bit of action such as when this bird dips his toes into the lake..
With my Nikon bodies I use continuous autofocus, AF/C (AI Servo on Canon) and select 9-point autofocus when photographing single birds, or 51-point 3D-tracking when shooting more than a single bird. I always use the highest frame-per-second rate possible and, like capturing sporting action, will often shoot in short bursts.
Shooting birds in flight I almost always use manual exposure, unlike sport where my preferred method is aperture priority. Primarily, in sport, I generally aim to keep my subject isolated from the backgrounds which, most of the time, are fairly constantly lit. With in-flight photography, backgrounds can constantly change as you continue to shoot; i.e. the birds move from blue sky to white cloud, or from a dark vegetation background to a more open area, and it’s really important that the exposure is based on the bird and not on the background. To set my exposure I get in position and shoot a few test shots ensuring my minimum 1/2000th sec is achieved, checking my histogram, and adjusting my shutter speed and ISO to move the histogram to the right without it actually touching the right-hand edge and blowing out highlights. It is essential to keep detail in the brightest, often white, part of your subjects.
For white balance I invariably just leave the setting at auto. As I shoot 100% in RAW format, I can always change the white balance in post production, if I need to – which is rarely. I find it all too easy when manually setting a white balance to forget I’ve done so and end up with extra work on a whole bunch of photos.
Technique for birds in flight
Even though my Nikon lenses autofocus extremely rapidly, you often have little time to acquire sharp focus as a subject might suddenly appear. To ensure the most rapid focus I will, if at all possible, find a subject that is at approximately the same distance as I predict my subjects might appear and pre-focus on that. This means that when a bird appears in the right zone my lenses have little work to do in locking on to the bird and I find I am shooting sharp images way earlier. I always use the rear focus button on the camera and not the half-depressed shutter button, as I like to decide when the cameras actually focus on the subject… Another throwback to how I shoot sport.
If you can, keep your selected autofocus points on the eye of the bird, which is easier with large birds than with rapidly moving, smaller subjects. When photographing more than one in-flight bird, ensure that your focus points are on the leading bird, because if the leader is ‘soft’ and the following bird(s) is sharp, it produces a very strange look.
Nikon D3s, 500mm f4 lens handheld, 1/2000th @f8, ISO 320. When shooting more than one bird ensure you focus on the leading subject. Also remember that many birds have large areas of white colour so it is essential that you don’t blow out your highlights.
Just like shooting sports, with birds in flight it is essential to develop good panning technique. You MUST keep the lens moving, locking your subject in the same position in the viewfinder as far as you can, and keep shooting. A common error is to shoot every image with the bird dead centre in the frame. I often shift my focus selection points slightly to one side of the frame or the other depending on the flight direction, to allow space for the bird to move into. This generally gives a much more pleasing composition. The best bird images, particularly with larger species, tend to be when the wing is at the highest or lowest position during the flapping motion, aim to hit this spot consistently.
Nikon D3s, 500mm f4 lens with 1.4 teleconverter (effective focal length of 700mm) hand held, 1/2000th sec @ f8, ISO 1200. Try and time your shots so the wings are either fully elevated or fully down, relatively easy with soaring birds like this vulture
Perhaps more-so than with other forms of wildlife photography, it is practically essential to shoot with the sun at your back with a useable arc of around 30°. Backlit and sidelit subjects rarely work well as you will invariably end up with very harsh shadows. The angle of the sun is also a huge factor. Photographers talk about the golden hours, around two-and-a-half hours after sunrise and two hours before sunset, when the light has a soft even feel and has a golden glow that lends itself well to all wildlife subjects. A further advantage of a low sun angle is that it will often result in a great catchlight in a subject’s eye. In general, high sun angles during the middle part of the day are not workable if the sun is out, but you can extend the shooting day with more overcast conditions.
Nikon D3s, 500mm f4 lens with 1.4 teleconverter (effective focal length of 700mm) hand held, 1/2500th sec @ f8, ISO 800. Give a little more space on the side of the image that your subject is facing to allow room for it to ‘move into’
Another weather condition to keep in mind is wind direction. Birds, like aircraft, will tend to take-off and land into the wind. Absolutely the best conditions for in-flight bird photography is when both the sun and the wind are at your back.
Nikon D3s, 500mm f4 lens with 1.4 teleconverter (effective focal length of 700mm) hand held, 1/1600th sec @ f8, ISO 800. Birds take-off and land into the wind, try and have both sun and wind at your back
Remember, like all photography, the foregoing suggestions are guidelines and not set-in-stone rules! I still experiment with different shutter speeds, camera movement, lighting angles etc. but, my experience has been, that using the above guidelines will generally produce the most pleasing images.
I returned a couple of weeks ago from the 5th Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan where I worked as Photo Manager for the Equestrian Events and as part of the Official Photographer team for other sports. An ‘interesting’ experience for sure as I got to photograph a few sports that I had never seen before, even after 35 years+ as a sports photographer. In fact, when I found out I was going to the Games I actually had to look up several of the martial arts as I had never actually heard of them.
After an incredibly long journey of almost 40 hours I arrived in Ashgabat – pity my baggage did not also arrive! (It would be three days before it was found at JFK and another day before it arrived in Ashgabat). Fortunately my essential photo equipment was all carried as hand baggage. The first thing one notices on arrival, apart from the heat, is the incredible whiteness of the city. Ashgabat was entirely destroyed in an earthquake in 1948, one of the most powerful ever recorded, with reports varying between 110,000 and 176,000 deaths. This resulted in a rebuilding programme that has seen every single building clad in white marble. More marble here than any other city on earth. What is remarkable is that this tragic event was not reported to the world until after Turkmenistan gained independence from the USSR in 1991.
The sports facilities constructed in the centre of Ashgabat are truly remarkable – worthy of any world class event, and again completely clad in white marble. Spent the first few days getting to know my way around before the Games actually started.
Opening ceremonies were of the highest order featuring a wide range of Turkmen culture and ending in a spectacular firework display.
Unfortunately the following day I came down with a bad bout of ‘Turkman Tummy’, a condition shared at some point with just about every person working at the games, and which, unfortunately lasted to some degree throughout the two weeks of competitions and even after I got home.
However, I continued to be able to work and covered a range of interesting competitions, including weightlifting, belt wrestling, kick boxing, sambo and even snooker.
The final day allowed myself and a colleague to venture out with the aid of a local taxi driver (read Government minder) to see some of the local colour and architecture. One must be extremely careful photographing in this country, no images with police or military personnel, and great care when photographing certain monuments – if in doubt ask and if told no accept this without question.
A little background
Turkmenistan is bordered by Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan and Iran, very much a desert country mostly dominated by the Karakum Desert. It is certainly subject to an authoritarian regime, ruled closely by current president Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow (a self avowed sports fanatic), who’s photo appears in just about every room of every building, bus, taxi, and sports facility. I’s an Islamic state, although fairly moderate, and was once an important stop on the silk road. It declared itself a state of permanent neutrality in 1995, a state recognized by the UN.
Recently while covering the World Junior Taekwondo Championships I was approached by someone asking what my ‘camera settings’ were. I quickly rattled off what I was using “1/1250sec, f2.8. at 4000ISO set manually”. The gentleman replied I must be using old lenses as he did not need to set his ISO nearly this high as all his lenses had ‘stabilization’ so he could shoot at much lower settings and get higher quality pictures, 2-3 stops lower and still handhold “no problem at all” so he was only using 640 ISO.
Now, I am always happy to engage in discussions about photo technique and equipment, just not in the middle of an important competition where I am working, so told this person I needed to concentrate on what I was doing but would be happy to chat if I had the time after competition had finished. Unfortunately I never saw him again so was unable to point out the errors in his thinking.
First would have been – why was I choosing to use 4000 ISO. Of course, had I thought it prudent I would have loved to use a lower setting. The choice of 4000 ISO was to give me a shutter speed high enough to freeze the action when the athletes engaged in their fast kicking movements. This required a minimum shutter speed of 1/1000sec. If I had lowered my ISO to the same 640 that this person was using and assuming I still wanted to make a correct exposure at f2.8 (the maximum aperture of the lens I was using) my shutter speed would have dropped to around 1/250th sec – not nearly fast enough to freeze the action.
Nikon D4s, AF-S 70-200 f2.8G ED VRII lens, 1/1000 @f2.8 6400ISO – This was on an outer mat where the light was even worse than the main mat hence 6400ISO
Now comes the misconception that I have heard many times since Nikon and Canon brought out their stabilized lenses – I can shoot at much lower shutter speeds and still freeze the image. NOT SO!! What VR (Nikon’s Vibration Reduction) and IS (Canon’s Image Stabilization) actually allow you to do is to avoid camera shake at slow shutter speeds – this has nothing to do with freezing the action.
If you need 1/1000th sec shutter speed to freeze the action and have no movement blur you need 1/1000 sec, period. No amount of vibration reduction or image stabilization will affect this in any way.
By the way – pretty much every lens I own has VR, including the Nikon AF-S 70-200 f2.8G ED VRII lens I was using that day. And the VR was turned OFF. I find my images are actually sharper with it turned off when using fast shutter speeds. I only ever turn VR on if hand holding at slow shutter speeds (who said better to get a decent tripod?) or if I am working from a moving platform such as a boat, helicopter or vehicle.
Since being back in British Columbia we have had our hummingbird feeders out and have seen more of these mini wonders than in any previous year. We have been filling the feeders every day and if we are a little late the birds soon mob us as soon as we go outside and let us know.
One feeder is situated on our upstairs deck, overlooking the garden and this is jealously guarded by one male Rudous Hummingbird who sits nearby waiting for intruders. As soon as another hummer appears anywhere near the feeder he rockets across the garden and there ensues a round of astonishing aerial combat – this is ‘Atilla the Hum’ who terrorises the rest of the hummingbird flock. However as soon as he is otherwise engaged other birds will rapidly take the opportunity to visit the feeder.
Photographing hummingbirds can be a little challenging – their wings beat at some 60-70 times per second, and can fly at 25-30 mph in normal flight and attain 60 mph when they make their spectacular dives. Fortunately they are also able to hover virtually motionless when feeding and are the only bird that can fly backwards.
Even with today’s modern DSLR’s and their ability to shoot at shutter speeds of up to 1/8000th sec this will still not be fast enough to get those wings completely frozen. In addition to obtain these fast shutter speeds you will often need to dial up the iSO setting resulting in loss of image quality, and open up the lens to it’s maximum aperture resulting in limited depth of field. The answer is to use high speed flash to freeze the action.
My technique for high speed flash
There are number of ways to set up for high speed flash, but here is my method. (When I talk about high speed flash I am using regular camera speedlights, not studio strobes)
I set all my flashes to manual. Some photographers use TTL but I find that for this sort of work I prefer to have complete manual control. The main reason for this is that flash is providing 100% of the illumination for the photograph, therefore, once you have your camera and flash settings giving a correct exposure, you are not subject to any changing light conditions so you can be guaranteed that every exposure will be the same.
Flash duration is directly related to the output setting on the flash. The table below gives the power output and corresponding flash duration for settings with a Nikon SB910 Speedlight. Other Speedlights will be broadly similar including those by other manufacturers.
As you can see, when you dial down the power, the flash duration gets progressively shorter, and these durations are way faster than any camera shutter. So how to put this to good use.
I also set my camera to manual mode when using high speed flash. Again, once you have a correct exposure there is nothing to change and you need to gain complete control for this first stage.
You need to determine a base exposure – this is an exposure at which the camera will register no ambient light in the image. (To help with cutting out ambient light it is helpful if your subject area i.e. the feeder and background are in a shady area rather than full sun). Start by setting your camera to it’s lowest ISO setting, which will additionally give the best quality in your file and the fastest flash synchronization speed. (Nikon and Canon users should not use high speed flash settings as, to achieve these fast synchronization speeds, the flash emits multiple burst of light that will have a slightly stroboscopic effect and result in blurring of the wings – the very thing we are seeking to avoid). Turn off your flashes, focus on the feeder and take images adjusting your camera aperture until you get a completely black frame, i.e. no image registering at all. I generally find something in the order of ISO 200, Shutter speed 250th (my fastest sychronization speed) and an aperture of around f11 does the trick in a shady location.
With regard to lenses you need something that focusses relatively closely whilst allowing you to remain far enough form the feeder to not disturb the birds. Something in the 300mm to 400mm range is ideal. I pretty much always use my 200-400mm f4 for these shoots as it focusses right down to 2m (6.2′) allowing frame filling shots of these tiny birds.
Finally – use a tripod! You cannot possible hand hold a long lens, focus and frame the birds with any degree of accuracy.
Placement of the flashes
Note that I say flashes – you need more than one flash for a number of reasons. First, the output is going to be dialled right down so output is going to be low (although we are going to compensate by placing the flashes close to the subject area). Second we need to light from multiple directions to avoid shadows, and third we are going to need to light the background otherwise it will register as jet black (although this in itself can lead to interesting photographs).
Many articles will show setups with between five and seven flash heads but you can certainly get great photos with as few as three as I will demonstrate. (Note that because you are using fully manual settings you do not need thousands of dollars worth of camera brand flashes – a few cheaper models with manual settings will easily suffice such as those made by Vivitar and others).
Your flashes do need to be close to the subject area as your flash output is going to be low and will not have a lot of reach, around 12″ to 18″. To use a three light set up I place two of the flashes at around 45º with one set slightly higher than the other to give a balanced light, and a third above the background pointing straight down.
Most modern flashes also have a zoom setting. I set the two flashes in front of the subject to their maximum zoom settings to concentrate the throw of light and the background flash to 50mm to give a bit of spread over the background.
I generally start with an output setting of 1/32 or 1/64th, either of which will give an action freezing flash duration for a hummingbird wing. Take a photo, doesn’t have to have a bird in it, simple image of feeder or a flower head in the correct location will do just fine. Check the exposure on the camera and watch for flashing highlights and blown out area on your histogram. Adjust your camera aperture (never the shutter speed) until you have a spot on exposure.
You are going to need a method of firing the flashes. I use Pocket Wizard Radios along with some flashes set to fire using IR slave. You can also use a sych. cord to one flash and set others to fire using either built in optical slaves or cheap add on optical triggers. Check your manuals to see what works for you.
Feeder set up
To attract the birds it’s best to set up at a feeder station they have already been habituated too. Hummingbirds are remarkably tolerant, allowing you to be very close whilst they feed. When you start shooting don’t simply fire away every time a bird arrives at the feeding station. Give them a break once in a while and allow them to feed without the flashes popping of every time they get near. It is amazing at how quickly they will get used to the flashes and other ‘stuff’ you have placed near their feeder.
Start by placing the feeder to one side of the frame. Cover any feeder holes you don’t want them to visit. If your feeder has perches remove them as the hummingbirds will provide better subject material as they hover rather than sat on a plastic feeder.
Once the birds are habituated you can start changing things up. I usually start by placing suitable flowers close to the feeder which can give the illusion of the birds feeding on the flowers. (Make sure you only use flower heads that the hummingbirds would normally visit to avoid a false looking image). The ideal way to position your blooms is to use a Wimberley Plamp. (http://www.tripodhead.com/products/plamp-main.cfm) The next step is to remove the feeder completely and replace it with a suitable tubular shaped bloom. Grab a syringe (I have often been described as a photo junkie!) and some sugar water and ‘inject’ the flower bloom with sugar water. They may be confused for the few few visits but will soon latch on to the idea that the bloom is fill of nectar. Regularly re-fill the bloom to keep them coming.
Sit back and wait for the hummers to arrive and make great images.
Throughout the PanAm Games I had, as my constant companion, a Nikon 1 V3 mirrorless camera along with a 10-30mm lens and FT1 lens adaptor, courtesy of Nikon Canada. This camera boasts an 18megapixel 1″-type sensor with no AA filter (offering a multiplication factor of 2.7 for your regular DSLR lenses, but more on that later. It can blast through images at 20 FPS, captures 1080/60p video, and features wi-fi connectivity through an IOS or Android Ap.
How did I find it – in short absolutely incredible – by far the best small lightweight camera I have ever handled.
18.4MP CMOS sensor
20 fps with continuous AF and subject tracking
NEF Raw and JPEG file capture
3″ tilting touchscreen with 1.04M dots
1080/60p video capture
Wi-Fi connectivity with IOS and Android smartphone connection
In Canada the camera is delivered with the additional grip and the electronic viewfinder both of which aid the feel of a traditional DSLR.
Without even referring to the instructions manual the controls on this camera will be instantly familiar to any Nikon DSLR user. The same as any DSLR the camera offers all the conventional shooting modes, programmed auto, aperture and shutter priority, as well as metered manual.
As a DSLR user I always find it difficult to compose my images using the LCD screen on the back of a compact camera. With the 1 V3 you have the option of using the supplied electronic viewfinder, which I never took off the camera. I had no trouble composing my images on the electronic finder, although viewing an electronic version of your subject material takes a bit of getting used to
The Nikon 1 V3 has a hybrid auto-focus system that combines 171-point contrast- and 105-point phase-difference detection systems. The Nikon 1 V3 to focus extremely quickly in good light, even on a moving subject. As the light levels drop, the camera switches to contrast-detect AF which, which is not a fast as contrast method but still fast enough for every situationI encountered. The camera that decides which AF method to use – the photographer has no influence on this.
Shooting sequences, even in 20 FPS mode, resulted in almost every frame being pin-sharp, impressive stuff!
As a sports photographer I thought great, 20 FPS and quickly switched to this mode. I just as quickly switched back to single shot mode for all but real action situations as I realized I was shooting 15-20 almost identical images of fairly static subjects. Even though I have got my workflow tuned to a fine art I still don’t want to look at dozens of essentially identical shots!
Of course, the proof of the pudding for any camera is the quality of the images it captures. Here I was far from disappointed. Shooting with both the Nikon1 10-30mm lens and using the adaptor with a range of DSLR lenses produced spectacular results.
The FT1 adapter provides some really unique shooting opportunities. Mounting a super telephoto and the 2.7 multiplication factor results in one monster lens. Take for example the image below shot with a the V1 and a 500mm f4 a windsurfer competitor. That’s a 1350mm f4 lens – this shot was taken from approximately 500 meters away!
Nikon 1 V3 plus FT-1 adapter, Nikon 500 mm f4 lens 1/1600th @ f5, 400 ISO, aperture priority automatic mounted on Gitzo tripod with Wimberley head.
Close ups are also a joy to shoot with the extremely close focusing distance of the supplied 10-30mm f3.5-5.6 zoom of only 0.7ft (0.2m)
Overall, this is the the small camera I have been searching for. It offers unparalleled versatility, is light to carry everywhere you go, and produces professional quality images.
One feature I loved about this camera was it’s built-in wireless capability allowing me to transmit images across to my iPhone using the free Nikon Wireless Mobile Utility ap, the images appearing almost instantly in my photo library. Perhaps this is the answer to me doing more with Instagram!
Ok, I know, this blog has been pretty stagnant over the past 12 months. A little thing called the PanAm Games and my role in making it the best PanAm’s for photographers kind of got in the way.
Well, I am officially no longer the Photo Chief for the Games, the Parapan’s finished a week ago and I am back, for the time being, to just a sports photographer. What does the future hold? I really have no idea. For the immediate future I am shooting Blue Jays (here’s hoping they make the playoffs and extend the season) Baseball and other sports for some major national and international clients and will be doing some other shooting work in the coming weeks. I am also currently working on a new range of workshops – more on that soon.
Nikon D4s, 300mm f2.8 IF-ED lens, 1/2500th @ f3.5, ISO 6400 – hand held
As for the Games – from the press perspective it was a great success. I had an amazing team of venue photo managers who worked ridiculously long hours, under sometimes trying circumstances, to provide the photographers with the best possible photographic opportunities – a task that they pulled off with spectacular success.
Nikon 1 V3, 10-30mm zoom, lens at 10mm, 1/25th at f3.5 @ISO 1600, hand held
Coming soon to this blog:
Shooting with the Nikon 1 V3 – This spectacular little camera was my constant companion during the PanAm Games. See my review of it’s performance.
Review of the new Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 400mm f/2.8E FL ED VR for the start of the NHL (Ice Hockey for non North Americans) season
Details of a new range of workshops to start in fall 2015
Please also check out the main web site at https://peterllewellyn.com where many new images will be filed over the next week.
As you might gather from the above it is my intention to stay in Toronto, at least for a while. There are a number of things I am working on that might dictate where and what I will be doing next, all will be revealed in due course.
Today’s post was supposed to be about photographing the World Women’s Team Squash Championships at Niagara on the Lake, about 130k from Toronto. I had gone there specifically to see the all glass show court which is the same one that will be used in next years PanAm Games in Toronto and also made a side trip to the Welland Canoe course where the canoe sprints would take place.
So this evening I popped a brand new 32GB Sandisk Extreme Pro card into my also brand new Sandisk Imagemate USB3 card reader. The card reader flashed for a few seconds but no card appeared on the computer desktop. Tried again – same result. Tried my Lexard card reader, nothing, not even a flicker of life from the card. I put the card back in the camera – it’s unreadable. After a quick Google Search I discovered a potential problem, bent pins in the Sandisk Imagemate reader and there it was, one of the end pins bent in.
This is a common problem with this reader as evidenced by the number of pages dedicated to this on the internet. The design of this card reader is, quite frankly, appalling. The card only goes into the slot a very short way, therefore it encounters the pins almost immediately and it is almost impossible to insert the card squarely, result, bent pins. What’s worse is that the bent pins corrupt the card rendering it totally useless. It now won’t mount onto the desktop so I can’t even run any data recovery software to try and save the images. What a wasted day!
The card now can’t be read or formatted by the camera so it’s going to have to be replaced – I’ll let you know how that goes. As for the card reader itself, I have only one piece of advise – DON’T BUY THE SANDISK IMAGEMATE ALL-IN-ONE USB 3.0 CARD READER
If you need a new card reader I highly recommend the Lexar Professional USB 3.0 dual slot reader, a much better reader all around.
The last week has been really busy in Toronto, covering three Major League Baseball games and one Major League soccer. Tuesday and Wednesday saw me at back to back baseball games with the Toronto Blue Jays hosting the Boston Redsox. The Blue Jays are desperate for wins to stand any chance of extending their season into the playoffs. Unfortunately on Tuesday the were given a lesson by Boston who came out 11-7 winners, although the game went into an 11th inning, the fourth time in a row that extras have been necessary to get a result. Wednesday saw Toronto get their revenge with a 5-2 win, but frankly time is running out for the Jays. Both of these were night games and I was once again able to put the Nikon D4s through it’s amazing high ISO paces.
Nikon D4s, 500mm f4 lens on Gitzo carbon fibre monopod, 1/1250 @ f4, ISO 3200, exposure set manually
I set the exposure manually for all night games. The D4s at 3200 ISO renders an image quality similar to the D3s at 800 ISO
Regrettably, I had to hand the D4s back to Nikon on Friday, but I hope to have one in my hands permanently before too much longer.
Nikon D4s, 500mm f4 lens on Gitzo carbon fibre monopod, 1/2500 @ f4, ISO 1000, exposure set manually
Nikon D3s, 16mm f2.8 fisheye lens, 1/640th @f5.6, ISO 500, handheld
I wanted to take advantage of the amazing evening light falling onto the CN Tower before the game and decided this was an ideal opportunity to get out the fisheye – a lens I don’t use too often but this was a natural choice for this shot
Saturday was the start of a long weekend in Canada with Monday being Labour day. Today was back to major league soccer for me and frankly my worst experience of shooting sport in Toronto, although this had little to do with the game itself.
First it was a good job I left myself plenty of time to get to the game, I always like to arrive early to ensure the technology is all working correctly and to shoot any pre-game images. Paid my $3 token on the bus at for what is normally a 20 minute ride to BMO field for the game. 30 minutes and 400m later I got off again and decided to leg it. Traffic was at an absolute standstill and actually walked past 4 other busses by the time I got to Exhibition where BMO field is located.
Now, imagine having a 20,000 seat soccer stadium with a premier league match and plonking it in the middle of the biggest fair you can imagine! I hadn’t realised that the event causing all the traffic chaos was the Canadian National Exhibition, one of the ten largest fairs in N. America, attracting 1.4 million visitors, most of which I think were there today! Then,to make matters worse, I discovered that because I didn’t have a ticket to the game, as I collect my accreditation at the ground, I had to pay $30 to get in to the exhibition grounds, one expense claim going to USA Today! So, instead of arriving 45 minutes before the game as planned I got in about 5 minutes before kick off so I didn’t get any pre-games photos. To cap it all it was the worst footie game I have ever seen, Toronto played like a bunch of schoolkids, giving away the first two goals in the first 5 minutes. Finally, as the second half began it started to rain. Who says sports photography is glamorous?
Nikon D3s, 200-400 f4 lens at 240mm on Gitzo carbon fibre monopod, 1/1600 @f4, ISO 1600, aperture priority automatic
The 200-400 is now my standard lens for soccer for daytime games, I switch to the 300 f2.8 for night games where I need the extra stop of speed
My final shoot of the week was today’s baseball game at Rogers arena which was important for a reason other than the game itself. This was the last game that all time baseball great Derek Jeter of The New York Yankees will play in Toronto. Jeter is estimated to be the richest player in Major League Baseball with a net worth of some $185,000,000. although the web is full of articles about his net worth, his many glamorous girlfriends and the fsct he built the largest house in Tampa Florida it his extraordinary exploits on the filed that will remain his major claim to fame.
Nikon D3s, 500mm f4 lens on Gitzo carbon fibre monopod, 1/1000 @f4, ISO 500, aperture priority automatic
This season is his 20th in Major League baseball for the New York Yankees and he is both their captain and a major figure in all the Yankees recent sucesses. Throughout the season each opposing team has provided a gift to Jeter, Toronto presenting a check for his foundation for young sports development. Jeter did not score today and the Jays finished the series with a win.
Nikon D3s, 200-400 f4 lens at 400mm on Gitzo carbon fibre monopod, 1/2000 @f4, ISO 1000, aperture priority automatic
Post match I was sitting sorting images and transmitting to USA Today when news came in of the firing of Toronto FC Manager and the whole coaching staff – what a surprise! It has subsequently become apparent that star British player, and the man who was supposed to bring glory to Toronto, Jermaine Defoe may be on his way back to Europe possibly to London club QPR.
While all this is going on in Toronto my wife Jean is in Normandy France covering the World Equestrian Games (WEG) or, as it’s become known, Worst Games Ever! To read of her exploits in Caen go to www.jeanllewellyn.com
Last week I worked the Men’s ATP 1000 Tennis Event in Toronto, The Rogers Cup, for USA Today sports Photos and Reuters. Featuring almost all the top male players in the world with the exception of Rafa Nadal who withdrew before the start with an injury, this is one of the leading events apart from the Grand Slam tennis tournaments. Nikon Canada provided me with one of the new Nikon D4s bodies to test during the event.
Nikon D4s, 500mm f4 lens on Gitzo monopod, 1/5000th @ f4, ISO 500, aperture priority automatic
First let’s look at the D4s. This is not a camera to buy unless you have deep pockets as it’s currently listed at $6,999 on the Vistek.ca web site. For this you get a fully featured pro body, 16.2 megapixel, 11 frames per second (1 frame faster than the D4) and full 1920 x 1080 video recording, and is aimed squarely at sports wildlife and news photographers.
Nikon D4s, 300mm f2.8 lens on Gitzo monopod, 1/1250th @ f2.8, ISO 5000, aperture priority automatic
The new processor, the Exspeed 4 processor gives faster performance than the previous version and allows shooting up to 200 JPEGs or 104 raw files before the buffer is filled, 30% faster than the previous D4. This processor is not only faster but has also brought huge improvements in quality, particularly at high ISO settings, ISO sensitivity now runs from ISO 100-25,600 instead of ISO 100-12,800 which can be extended as high as 409,600 (nope, not a typo) if you ever feel the need to take photos in near total darkness!
Autofocus is the same as used in the D4, the Advanced Multi-CAM 3500FX, which has 51 AF points and ‘3D tracking’. More on this later.
Controls and menu settings are similar to previous Nikons’ so any Nikon user will soon become very familiar with this camera. The first thing I did was head straight over to the autofocus settings and set things up for continuous AF, with 3D tracking on. The camera tracked more than capably shooting at 11fps and practically every frame was in focus. The coolest feature is that when shooting at 11fps while in 51-point AF with 3D tracking mode activated you can actually see the AF point changing in the viewfinder, enabling me to focus on a players face and the focus point would stay on that face as it moved around in the viewfinder. I also set up the camera to only operate the autofocus using the AF buttons. As soon as releae the AF button the autofocus sensor jumps back to the point you had previously selected.
Nikon D4s, 200-400mm f4 lens set to 360mm on Gitzo monopod, 1/2000th @ f4, ISO 640, exposure set manually
(Note how s’quashed’ a tennis ball gets when these guys hit it – no wonder they need to change the balls regularly)
So, how does it all work in practice – well let’s just say I don’t want to give this camera back to Nikon. In short, it is the most amazing camera I have ever laid hands on. The 16.2 megapixel captures gave plenty of room for some quite severe cropping and still have an image size with plenty of data. Now, in principal, I like to shoot my images as full frame as I possible can, and you may well ask why would this be any different for tennis? Well, it’s simply that there are so many background distractions around the court including, linesmen, ballboys, chairs, and water containers to name a few. While shooting a fast moving athlete it’s difficult (read impossible) to avoid all thee distractions. At the Rogers Cup the various officials are a real distraction as they all wear red, the one colour that always stand out above all others. Therefore, cropping images, became a big part of the editing process before sending each batch to the USA Today Sports Photos feed.
Nikon D4s, 200-400mm f4 lens set to 400mm on Gitzo monopod, 1/2000th @ f5.6, ISO 640, exposure set manually
You can see the images that made the final cut at http://peterllewellyn.photoshelter.com/gallery/Tennis/G0000ixiJqYXvfZM/
Now, if I can just make those lottery numbers come up tonight perhaps I can afford a couple of these beasts!
(THIS ARTICLE IS NOW REDUNDANT AS APPLE HAVE DISCONTINUED APERTURE)
I know I have been down this road before but with the continuing delays with Photomechanic’s promised image database I have once again found myself comparing Aperture and Lightroom as my primary raw conversion and databasing software. In the past I have continued to come down on the side of Apple’s Aperture, which I have been using since the product was first launched in 2005 but since spending a couple of months playing around with Adobe’s Lightroom 5 I have finally decided to drop Aperture and convert to the Adobe product.
What has caused this change of heart after being a staunch Apple supporter for so long?
First a breakdown of the main reasons and then some details on how the decision was arrived at. There are a number of features that have really led to this decision.
The latest raw conversions from Lightroom seem to offer better shadow detail and slightly more accurate colours than the current version of Aperture
better plugins for Alamy and Photoshelter
better use of NIK software
healing brush works much better than equivalent in Aperture including the new visualize spots
smart Previews offers offline working on images
Looking at each of the above in turn.
Raw conversions – Over the years I have used many different Raw converters, including Aperture, Nikon Capture, Phase 1, and early versions of Lightroom. Each has it”s own strengths and weaknesses but in all honesty there is now little to choose between them. As I mention above the latest version of Lightroom has improved shadow detail in conversions, but as I now make regular usage of other add-ons, particularly NIK software, I would be happy doing conversions in any of the above
Lens corrections – Lightroom’s ability to correct for anomalies in different lenses is a powerful fature and sorely lacking in Aperture
Plugins – Photoshelter runs my on-line database and Alamy is my major photo agency. Although Aperture has plugins for upload to both services the equivalent’s in Lightroom 5 are considerable more powerful, particularly in their ability to track submissions, including finding images that are already uploaded. This makes it much easier to keep trck of which images are on which service.
NIK Software – Although 9 times out of 10 I will open an image in Photoshop before applying NIK filters on the odd occasion that I want to simply apply a quick adjustment such as detail extractor (which I now use on just about every wildlife photo) Lightroom opens the images into NIK much quicker than Aperture.
Healing brush – The new healing brush tool and it’s ability to paint over an area rather than just heal a spot is a major improvement over the equivalent in Aperture.
Gradient tool – I am not a big user of filters in my photography. In fact the only filters you will normally find in my bag are a polarizer and a neutral grad filter. However I have become a big user of the grad tool in photoshop. The ability to not only apply an exposure compensation filter but to also apply any coloured graduation you wish and to apply multiple filters makes this an incredibly useful tool. There is currently no equivalent in Aperture.
Upright tool – I am not much of an architectural photographer and do not own any PC lenses so it is very helpful to have this tool available on the odd occasion that I need to straighten a building or correct converging verticals. It makes a pretty good job but be careful not to produce an artificial looking image.
Smart Previews – honestly have not used this tool yet, but, I am about to spend 18 months working away from the office (more details to follow in next post!!) so it may be very useful not to have all my drives attached. Smart previews allow you to work on your images offline, including making all adjustments which are then applied to the original images when the drives are re-attached.
As far as being my on-line database is concerned there is little difference in the performance of complex searches between Aperture and Lightroom 5 and I would be very happy with either one.
Overall it is the combination of all of the above minor details that have added up to enough of a difference make the switch.
Remote and robotic cameras are becoming an increasingly important tool in the arsenal of equipment used by sports photographers in their search for ever more unique images. First, just to explain the difference – a robotic camera is a fully controllable unit where the camera may be manned, tilted, zoomed, focused, exposure setting altered etc, in fact, just about everything a photographer could do with the camera in his hands apart from changing the lens. Robotic cameras are generally placed in position before the first day of competition and remain there until after the event has finished, in other words for the Olympics they may be in position for many weeks. A remote camera is one that is placed in position and set up by the photographer, it is fixed in that position and the photographer fires the camera by wire or radio signal. A remote camera is generally set up just before the start of a days competition and removed at the end of that days sport.
For many years now photographers have been placing cameras in locations where they cannot physically be and firing them by a variety of means, including cable, infra-red and wireless and the 2012 Olympic Games saw more remote cameras than perhaps ever before.
The major photo agencies, including Getty Images, AP, AFP and Reuters invested heavily in remote camera technology for London, including purchasing and installing a number of completely robotic cameras. We had been involved throughout the test events in checking the viability of fully robotic cameras and how they could be operated and both Nikon and Canon finally produced workable models in time for the Games.
However it was not just the cameras that had to be installed, in many cases well before the first athletes set foot in any arena, but also miles of Cat 5 and Cat 6 data cables, power supplies, control points, and in most cases the cameras could not be assessed after the start of competition so any failure meant that whole unit may be out of commission for the rest of the Olympics. As many of the cameras were positioned either above the field of play or above spectators every installation had to be carefully checked by our staff to ensure that it was safely rigged, and that every piece of equipment that could become detached had it’s own safety cable, much of which can be seen in the image above.
To operate the robotic cameras special stations were set up so the photographers could get an overall view of the sport. Although one can set up the camera by using a computer screen to check the angles, zoom and focus, it is not yet possible to use the screen successfully to fire the cameras as there is too much delay in viewing the monitor pressing the fire button and the shutter actually actuating. Therefore, once the cameras were set, the photographer has to view the action and still press the fire button manually according to what he sees. The big advantage however is that a few seconds later the image is on the screen and he can then make instant adjustments to the camera settings if required.
As the technology improves I think the use of robotic cameras will become an even more essential part of the image taking process for the big agencies. The average photographer will have to stick to the use of standard remotes as the cost of robotics will undoubtedly remain prohibitive for most.
The more traditional remote cameras were still used in many locations such as the image below which is directly in front of the photographers moat at the finish straight of the track.. These were again fired either by directly connected wire, in many cases also transmitting the image back to the photographers computer, or by Pocket Wizard radios. The issue with radios for firing cameras at an event like the Olympics raises all sorts of problems, and is not always entirely reliable due to the huge amount of radio traffic across all frequencies at every venue. In fact the use of wireless internet connections using dongles was frowned upon for the same reasons. The most effective internet connections being a wired Ethernet connection from the working positions.
In some locations and sports, particularly the equestrian jumping events there was a further problem with remote cameras. Due to the close proximity of the cameras to the sport itself, and in this case the horses, the noise of multiple shutters firing simultaneously became an issue. Consequently we had to insist that cameras placed in these location had a sound deadening device fitted (known as a blimp) These had to be either a soundproof bag such as the Camera Muzzle or a completely soundproof box such as those used on film sets. Incidentally, the camera muzzle is an extremely useful tool for wildlife photographers under certain circumstances.
All photographs in this article courtesy of Dillon Bryden except where indicated.