Friday, August 30, 2013

Sports Photography—The Day Before The Game

The day before a big game coverage like the Chick-fil-A Kickoff, I am getting my gear ready. Charging all the batteries and being sure I have all the gear packed before the next day.

One of the things we are now more aware of with digital cameras is front or back focusing of a camera. When the camera and lenses ship they have some tolerance which gives you reasonably acceptable images, but if you want to get the sharpest images, then you need to calibrate. This is from Nikon's website showing you the concept of calibrating that I am doing.

In the Nikon D4 menu you go to the wrench and then Fine Tune. You will adjust the settings here:

Watch this video on how you adjust your lens using Fine Tune on the camera. Sometimes it is easier to adjust the camera just +/- 10 or 20 points which might be all you need to do than to go and adjust 16 different focus points. Another point is you may have gone +/- 20 points and still need more adjustment and this is where the combination of the two can give you more range for calibrating.

This is OK with fixed lenses, but for zooms just not enough. Sigma allows you to calibrate even more than with the camera calibration.

I am calibrating the new Sigma 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 DG OS HSM | S lens today before the big day tomorrow.

I am using the Sigma Optimization Pro software coupled with the Sigma USB docking station to calibrate the lens in addition to using the Fine Focus on the Nikon D4 as well.

To check the focus point I am using the LensAlign Pro system.

I set the Camera and LensAlign Pro at the distance I will need to focus and then parallel to each other. The LensAlign direction help you set that up.

Then I take a shot at one of the four zoom positions with this lens: 120mm, 150mm, 200mm or 300mm. Then there are four different focus positions to also choose for each focal length you choose. When you have done all the possible combinations you will have 16 different customizable calibrations to get the sharpest image possible with your camera.

Here I am set for the closest focusing point for 120mm 
Now you will find that fine tuning your focus at 300mm and the furthest focus point at ∞ you have a long way to walk to setup the LensAlign Pro.

Due to the distance being over 100 feet from my deck the LensAlign was in the woods, so I used my Nikon SB900 on PocketWizard Flex TT5 and being triggered by the PocketWizard TT1 with the AC3 to help calibrate the flash.

I would do a test shot that might look like this and then I needed to zoom in on the photo to see the detail of where the focus point was for the photo.

Here you can see the focus point is actually slighting in front of the 0 where I wanted to be.

I open the Sigma Optimization software and put the USB dock on the lens replacing the camera.  This is why you need a tripod to do this, you need to lock everything down make the change and then reshoot to see if the custom change worked.

In the screen grab here you see I moved the focus point +4 further from the lens. They give you pictures to see what you are doing, which really helps.

After doing this a few times you can see where I ended up with focusing. Now you repeat this 15 more times with 120mm, 150mm, 200mm and 300mm at four different focusing points: Closest, Furthest and two in between.

Stay tuned for my results from the Chick-fil-A Kickoff with the new Sigma 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 DG OS HSM | S lens.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

College Football: My Gear

This is my gear that I will shoot with this Saturday covering the Chick-fil-A Kickoff between Virginia Tech and Alabama at the Georgia Dome.

Here is the list of gear
  • (2) Nikon D4 Cameras
  • 14-24mm ƒ/2.8 Nikkor
  • 28-300mm ƒ/3.5-5.6 Nikkor
  • Sigma 70-200mm ƒ/2.8
  • Sigma 120-300 ƒ/2.8 (old model in this photo, but will be testing the 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 DG OS HSM | S)
  • Sigma 1.4 converter
  • Nikon SB-900
  • Manfrotto 294 Aluminum 4 Section Monopod
  • Manfrotto by Bogen Imaging 323 RC2 System Quick Release Adapter w/200PL-14
  • ExpoDisc
  • Shure FP15/83 Lavalier Wireless System
  • RØDE VideoMic Pro
  • Zacuto Z-Finder
  • AWP Knee Pads
  • ThinkTank System for lenses using belt and harness
  • ThinkTank Memory Card Holder
  • ThinkTank Airport Security™ V 2.0 Rolling Camera Bag

I do have other things in the ThinkTank Airport Security™ V 2.0 Rolling Camera Bag, but the list is what I will work from.  

This weekend I will be getting from Sigma the 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 DG OS HSM | S brand new lens that sells for $3599.  I will be shooting it and comparing it to past results with the first generation 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 that I already own.

Stay tuned for my review from the weekend of putting it through the paces of covering the Chick-fil-A Kickoff game.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

College Football—Getting Something Different


Most photographers covering a college football game for a publication get a press pass that give them sideline access to the game. This let's them get those photos that the fans cannot see from their seats. The idea is simple, if you want your photos to be better get closer.

What I like the most about getting tight photos like this of the defense taking down the running back is you can see their expressions. I think this helps tell the story. Capturing the emotion of the players really helps engage the audience.

The downside to these photos is that every photographer who is given access to cover the game gets the same photos. Look on the sidelines of any college or pro football game and just start counting all the photographers and video cameras. It will surprise you as to how many are there to capture the game.

Turn around 

If you are on the sideline, just turn around and look for moments from the fans. You see they can tell you as much about the excitement as the players.

From the Stands

Don't shoot an entire game from the same perspective. Mix it up. I like to go up high and shoot down on the field for a different perspective.

Before the Game

Arrive early and capture some of the pre-game activities. Here I capture three generations all showing how proud they are of being apart of the game.

Mix It Up

The tradition at Georgia Tech is the Ramblin' Wreck comes on the field every pre-game home football game. I really don't need the same shot every single week to look the same, so I moved around looking for a different view of this tradition.


There are traditions like the Ramblin' Wreck and at The Citadel the Summerall Guards half time performance that are just as important to cover as the game itself.

While capturing the Summerall Guards makes for good photos you still need to make the most of the day.

Arrive Early

When you arrive early you can get the photos outside the stadium and capture the pageantry of the day.

The Corp all marches over to the stadium and attends the game together. Capture this early and you have something different.

Fans hang out to see the teams arrive and you can show the excitement here.

Many college bands play mini concerts before the game for the fans. Go find these events and show how this is truly a community event involving more than just the football players on the field.

Show how families are involved by capturing face painting of kids.

Look for Different—Not Better

Don't get caught up on capturing a better photo always. Sometimes the most effective photo works because it is different. People are not use to seeing that perspective or moment.

This is an example of a different photo. Not all that interesting, but the access to behind the scenes will make someone stop and maybe read that caption.

Sometimes using a special lens will help you get something "different" as I did here with a fisheye lens of the fan trying to catch a winning ticket in a booth.

Now if I shot most all the shots that day with the 16mm fisheye lens the photo here wouldn't be different, so do so sparingly.

For more tips on covering the story read some of these blog posts:

Oct 02, 2008
Variety – Make plenty of photos from different angles. In addition to using the zoom actually get closer and farther away from the subject. Make wide-angle and close-up photos. Try some without flash, some with direct flash ...
May 01, 2011
A high angle is usually successful today because it is unique to our everyday lives. Seldom are we tall enough to see this angle, so it looks different than you just walking around. Even the lady in this mural is looking from ...
Nov 08, 2011
For the photographer I recommend trying shooting all day with an extreme wide angle lens like a 20mm or even wider. If this is your normal lens of choice try something different like a macro or extreme telephoto. It is forcing ...
Apr 27, 2012
Delivered on time; Invoiced in a timely matter. "Second Mile Service" possibilities. Early delivery of images; Well packaged presentation of the images; WOW factor photos. Different angle than they have seen before; Maybe a ...

Jan 04, 2009
A telephoto lens and a wide-angle lens help us to tell the same story in different ways. The choice of which lens is like a writer choosing which words to use. It depends on what needs to be said. A telephoto lens not only ...

Monday, August 26, 2013

Time for Kickoff events

Rib eating contest at Slope's BBQ to kickoff the Roswell High School football season with the community.

Back to school

Around the country schools have either started or getting ready to start.
[Sidebar] I wish the first day of school was the same around the country. It would make for easier planning for vacations and coordinating of calendars.
Maybe it never was all the same, but I felt like we all started back around Labor Day at one time in our country history.

Communities plan parties around events celebrating. One example is while the kickoff football games for college come this weekend the parties have already begun.  This is a chance for the cheerleaders, football teams and bands to get out in front of their fans and help start the rally cry early.

Importance of Ritual

In creating and experiencing personal ritual, you can find strength and comfort in your life, gain perspective, and move deliberately into your future. People engage in rituals with the intention of achieving a wide set of desired outcomes, from reducing their anxiety to boosting their confidence, alleviating their grief to performing well in a competition – or even making it rain.

Ritual and ceremony provide a sense of “before and after” and people come away knowing their lives have been positively touched by the experience.

This year my daughter celebrates her first time with High School rituals as a Freshman. Each year she celebrates them it will be done as a way to count down and help her move towards her future.

Create your own rituals

Going out for ice cream is something that has been done in our family. My earliest memories are with my grand parents and all of us getting in the car and going to get some ice cream.

Honestly from a miser perspective it makes no sense to drive to an ice cream shop and spend on one ice cream cone what you could have bought a few for if you had gone to the grocery store.

Doing this with family created lasting memory for me. Another memory I had with my grand parents was my grand mother making popcorn on the stove.

The one I cherish the most was our family devotion time. I remember all of us taking turns reading the devotional and reading all the missionary names that we would then pray for as well as for our own family and friends.

To be a ritual it must be done more than once and preferably all the time.

Rituals for business are how we deliver performance. You most likely already have some rituals like coffee time, lunches, and other things that are part of your daily routine.

Maybe you need to create some big events each year to help your company grow. A simple birthday celebration of the company is a way to have a party and maybe take a moment to commemorate the growth from the previous year.

Successful sports coaches typically use rituals to build social bonds between team members. It brings team members' external networks into the family.

I know many companies give out rewards at annual meetings [Rituals]. They invite the spouses to these events often so the spouses may see the rewards and encourage their spouses to work hard so next year they can win the cruise.

What is your kickoff event for this year?

This is the question that I am asking myself. I don't have any formal rituals and therefore I don't really take the time to celebrate what I have accomplished and then taken the time to formally make the necessary changes for the future.

This will be the 32nd year of me covering football. What will be different this year? Stay tuned this week as I tell you how I plan to do some things the same and some things differently. 

Monday, August 19, 2013

How to take photos and never need a model release

Nature Photography

Become a nature photographer and you can publish your work. As long as you don’t photograph people or private property you can take pictures and publish them without any problems.

I guess this is why so many people like photographing our national parks. If you however, photograph someone’s property then you cannot publish this without his or her written consent in the form of a property release.

If you photograph a private ranch for instance with a barn on it, that property owner can come after you for publishing photos of their property.

News Photography

Become a news photographer and not only get your work published you can also get a byline. The First Amendment protects your right to take photos and publish them.

The First Amendment contradicts people’s right to privacy if you are in a public space for news reporting and social, political and economic commentary. Basically as long as the photographer is standing in a public space then anything they can see from that spot is legally protected to photograph for news reporting purposes.

This is how the paparazzi get photos of celebrities and not break the law. If they are on a mountain road overlooking a celebrities backyard and they shoot with a long lens it is OK to do.  Same with being in a helicopter since the airspace is legal as well.

If you want to photograph people and do so without getting model releases you can work for one of these news outlets because you are working for the greater good of society.

The greater good is really more about taking photos of things we need to know to make our communities safer or we need to know about to protect our rights from those who are trying to take those away. So photos of traffic accidents help the community put up traffic lights at intersections which reporting has shown to be dangerous.

Photographs showing companies’ polluting our streams or illegal dumping that is documented have held them accountable. Just think of the reporting of the Exxon Valdese and BP’s oilrig in the gulf that polluted our water.

You don’t publish your photos

If you never publish your photos in print or on the web, but just take them and leave them on your computer for example, then you don’t need a release. Basically you are not using them in a way that impacts the subjects or property.

How it is used is the issue

So to summarize you taking the picture isn’t the issue for needing of a property release or model release, it is how you use the photo that determines the need for a release.

One simple way to think of it if you publish a photograph for trade or commercial purposes you always need a release to protect you from a lawsuit.

When You Need A Release

Hopefully you see if you want your photos seen you most likely need a release. This is an earlier post I did that will help you always have a model/property release with you at all times.

Mountain Top Experience is good, but you will need more

Grandfather Mountain Camera Clinic 2013 faculty from left to right Stanley Leary, Chuck Burton, Lauren Carroll, and Roger May.
Grandfather Mountain is North Carolina's top scenic attraction

The camera clinic, originally organized in 1952 by Hugh Morton, invites photojournalists to Grandfather Mountain each August to discuss the nuts and bolts of good photography and relevant topics and trends in the field of photojournalism.

This year there were four presenters, Chuck Burton, Lauren Carroll, Roger May and myself, on a variety of topics.

Chuck Burton talks to the group about "Seeking The Different."
Seeking the Different

Chuck Burton started his talk with a couple of photos showing how difficult it is to find something unique. His first photo was a photo in Washington DC a few hours before Hillary Clinton was to address a congressional panel on the Benghazi Attack. In the middle of the photo was the large desk with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton name. In front of the desk were about 20 cameras on the floor, each one holding the place for a photographer.

Chuck then said in this situation you are asked to come up with something unique.

Then he followed it up showing a photo of all the remote cameras on the basketball game and he didn't have a place to put his. Chuck then taped two AA batteries together and on the bottom of his camera to get a photo from the floor. Next photo is the cool shot he got. Then he showed us the next game how there were now 5 camera on the floor doing the same thing.

The point is that shooting every day as an Associated Press photographer he is always "Seeking the Different" in order to keep the readers engaged. Photography isn't about THE mountain top experience, rather it is about a lot more than that. You do shoot a great photo and then just kick back and collect the lottery winnings.

Roger May gives his presentation “The Importance of the Personal Project and Managing a Kickstarter Campaign”

Roger May's North Carolina license plate is "DOCUMENT." How appropriate for Roger. His kickstarter project "Testify: A Visual Love Letter to Appalachia" is his journey to document his heritage in the mountains of West Virginia.

Roger helped all of us realize that the personal project is quite therapeutic and after pouring your heart and soul into such a project you would like to share it with the world. Many of these personal projects don't really have an appeal of companies to publish because they don't help promote their company directly.  So, one of the best ways today to publish a book on your work is through crowdsourcing.

Crowdsourcing is, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the practice of obtaining needed services, ideas, or content by soliciting contributions from a large group of people, and especially from an online community, rather than from traditional employees or suppliers.

Kickstarter is the website that helps artists with crowd sourcing.

Community Newspapers

Lauren Carroll presented on “Shine a Light Where There is None: The Importance of Community Newspapers.”

Lauren talked about how much she just enjoyed meeting people from the community and this allowed her to shoot sports, features, and even news. While she doesn't like putting a camera in people's faces during tragedy Lauren explains to her subjects how she wants to tell their story to the community.

On top of Grandfather Mountain looking towards Charlotte, NC from the mountain.
Business practices

I spoke on “Making Money as an Independent Photographer.” The reason I called it "Independent" and not "Freelance" is due to my friend Kenny Irby pointing out how maybe the word FREElancer communicates the wrong thing.

After the presentation many folks came up and said you know your talk would apply to every business.  Since many in the audience were not full-time photographers and had other careers they even commented how some of my points were helping them with some business decisions they needed to make.

The reality is that reading business books on starting a small business would apply to photography.

Coin operated binoculars at Grandfather Mountain with the "Swinging Bridge" in the background.
Coin operated vision

Everyone invested to go to the top of Grandfather Mountain and hoping this will help their vision for the future. It helped to see the bigger picture and from a different perspective.

Now that we have all been too the top of the mountain we now need to move forward and take what we learned and let it help shape our direction.

Mile high above sea level on top of Grandfather Mountain and on the Swinging Bridge.
Do you lack sense of direction?

Maybe you need to put some quarters in a workshop for you to help see your future more clearly.  Go and find a workshop on something you would like to learn more about.

Couple of ways to create your own workshop. If you like someone's work and they don't offer workshops, approach them and ask if you could pay them for a day of their time to teach you something that they do.  You never know they just may take you up on it.

I teach on a variety of topics around photography. If you are interested in a personal workshop or getting a few friends together to split the costs then give me a call. Here are some of the topics I teach on and if you think of something not listed here, give me a call.

  • Business practices for the photographer
  • Hot shoe flash lighting
  • Studio lighting
  • Location Lighting
  • Portraits
  • Poising
  • Product Lighting
  • Missions Photography
  • Humanitarian Photography
I loved playing King of the Mountain as a kid, so this is just me being a kid again on top of Grandfather Mountain.
The More

Famous National Geographic Photographer William Allard gave a presentation at a conference I was attending. Afterwards a young kid came up to Allard and said he needed this for inspiration. 

William Allard turned to some friends and said you know we need one of these about every three months to keep all of us inspired.  Remember the workshops and seminars are there to inspire, but we must take this inspiration and do something with it.

When you come away from a workshop you need to have an action plan of what you are going to do differently than before the workshop.

Maybe after hearing Chuck Burton speak you decide to try one new angle on a sporting event each time you shoot that you haven't done before. You might take a few minutes and go into the stands to shoot or maybe spend more time shooting the bench rather than the action on the field.

After hearing Roger May you decide to take on a personal project. You might even want to photograph your heritage like Roger.

Some people may have listened to Lauren Carroll and decided to look for stories in their community rather than trying to plan a trip around the world.

Did the Mountain Top Experience do more than just bring a tear and touch your heart? If so, then we will see some activity in your life that shows the changes.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Overcoming boredom in photography

Bucket List

Do you have a bucket list. This is a list of things you want to do before you die.

The Bucket List is a 2007 movie starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman.  The two guys they portray in the movie are terminally ill and you follow them on their road trip with a wish list of things to do before they "kick the bucket".

Maybe you have a list of things to do. I have a small list myself of things I would like to do.

Hobby and bucket list

Many people take up photography as part of their bucket list. They then may have another bucket list for things they want to photograph.

To a certain point this is perfectly normal for many people. For some of these people once they know how to take a picture sometimes means time to move on.

Bucket list can lead to boredom

If your purpose is just to figure out how to make a certain kind of picture and you accomplish this, then you may quickly become bored with photography.

How to overcome the boredom

You may need to acknowledge that you really had not thought to why you picked up photography except that you thought it would be fun. You may even be a professional who feels burned out. Your goal was to be a staff photographer for some publication and now you have arrived.

First you must acknowledge you have hit a plateau in your career. You have realized your goal and now need to look to the future and find a new goal.

Second you need to decide what you want to accomplish next.

Third I would work to make mastering photography gear not the end goal, but rather using photography to do something else.

My goal

I want to use my storytelling skills to help organizations reach their goals more effectively due to my photography.

A good example is my work with Just Coffee. I helped them tell their story a few years ago. I believe it did help organizations and people to understand what they are doing and get involved by buying their coffee.

Here is the package I created. The purpose was for groups to show this at their meetings and introduce the concept to their members.

Another group I helped was Chick-fil-A. This franchise owner had date nights with his daughter as their special time together. He realized how this is something missing for many families and so he created a Daddy Daughter Date Night at his restaurant. All the dads and daughters had to do was sign up and show up. They created the entire event for them.

Questions on the table to help start conversations with the dads and daughters and photographers taking pictures to help to remember the evening. My goal was to capture the event in a way that helped other franchise owners want to duplicate the event. But when you talk about it you really miss the emotional component that photos can bring. So, I photographed it and they shared it on their intranet at Chick-fil-A and it went viral.

Here is that package.

What keeps me going is helping others tell their stories and there is no shortage of opportunity here. Had I made all my goals about mastering a technique I would be bored and had given up photography and moved on to something else until I became bored again.

Make your goals about serving others and you will always have a reason to celebrate.