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Bentleyville 2010 Preview

Nathan Bentley, an Esko resident and Christmas fanatic has put on a free to the public, Christmas lights show for the past 10 years. During the first year in 2001, he estimated 7-8000 people walked through his yard to see his light show. Over the course of ten years, the amount of people grew, the light show got bigger and His electricity bill was through the roof.
In the second year, they bused over 70K people to his house. 8 years later, he has teamed up with the city of Duluth. The amazing light show is now hosted at Bayfront Park where it is still free to see, aside for parking fees collected by the city. Donations are accepted as well. Prior to the event taking place last year, they anticipated over 200,000 people would go through the display.

I set out to shoot the lit display last night, but they never lit the big pavilion or the huge tree (looks like a big cone). The tree is supposed to be the tallest or second tallest artificial tree in the U.S. from what I hear and is new to this year’s display.

I will be back to shoot it once it is in full swing but thought this one was worth sharing. I tried shooting from about 5 different vantage points all at different elevations and distance from the display and found this to be the most interesting.

For an in depth article by people who know how to write, read here and here.

My Photographic Journey. 6 years in the making.

It all started September 2004 when I got my first camera. It was a Casio QV-3EX 3mp “pocketable” digital camera that shot video. I believe it cost me around $400. I got it because I wanted to capture memories while hanging out with friends and snap pics while on vacation.
Unfortunately I do not have any images saved from this camera.

I used that camera pretty sparingly until 2005 when I upgraded to a 4mp Sony DSC-P73. I wanted a camera that would take better pictures and this camera had a 3x optical zoom, was much smaller than the Casio and took AA batteries. I put that camera in Flower Mode (aka macro mode) and went to town shooting flowers and close-ups of anything else around the yard. I couldn’t believe the pictures that camera could take. I loved it.

At the beginning of 2006 I decided I wanted a real camera, a Digital SLR. I wanted to be able to change lenses and I really wanted a camera that would take better pictures. I didn’t want to spend much money so I researched all available options under $1000. I looked at Canon, Nikon, Pentax, etc… I found out that Pentax was compatible with nearly every Pentax lens ever made and some of their glass was quite sharp and very affordable. Their entry level camera with 18-55mm kit lens was $500. I think I almost passed out when I clicked “Submit Order” and put it on my credit card.
I received the camera a few days later. Man was it sexy, it had an interchangeable lens, it made a shutter noise and it had a lens hood! I didn’t know what a lens hood was, but damn, it looked cool. I really thought I would be getting much better pictures with this camera, I mean after all it is a DSLR, not some measly point and shoot. I couldn’t have been more wrong. This camera was the most frustrating investment I ever made. I am not one to read manuals, so I started playing with it, shooting in auto mode. Shortly after I started using the camera, I heard that using auto mode defeated the purpose of owning an SLR camera. “You should be shooting in manual if you want to get the most out of your images” is what I kept hearing. So, I started shooting in manual mode. In the viewfinder,I saw a lot of blinking numbers and some weird meter bar thing that kept flashing and either moving to the far left or far right. Sometimes my camera would fire, sometimes it wouldn’t. I didn’t know why. I put the camera on my desk and it sat there most of the remainder of 2006. Some days I would pick it up and shoot a few things, only to become more frustrated than I was before.

This is when I joined an online forum and started posting my crappy images and asking for critique. At first I was hurt by what people were saying about my images. I almost sold my camera several times. Finally I decided to buck up and set my ego aside and really take in what these people were telling me. I would store those critiques and suggestions in my head and try them out the next time I shot. I started asking questions, started reading more about exposure, particularly Bryan Peterson’s “Understanding Exposure” book. Things kind of started to come together. The more I posted my images, the more critique I received, the more critique I received, the more I learned, the more I learned, the more I could apply to my photography. I started becoming less frustrated and more excited about photography. I was making better images, but still not sure, exactly how I was doing it.

Still, a couple years went by, I upgraded to a couple newer Pentax camera bodies and things really started to click in my head when I shot. I started understanding how to really nail exposures in the camera rather than trying to fix them in photoshop. I also, finally realized that the camera had nothing to do with taking good photos. I found out that it is the photographer that takes the good images. It’s the photographer’s learned skills and creative eye that make the images.

I still remember the day I shot this image. I finally figured out what exposing to the right was.

This image is where I learned about shooting just after sunset to bring out rich colors the eye can’t see.

I also started working on portraiture during my Pentax days.

My first lit shot, the day I got my wireless triggers.

My first time shooting another person. I was nervous as hell.

My second time shooting another person, still super nervous.

A little over a year ago I sold all of my Pentax Gear and switched to Canon. I wanted a full frame camera and Pentax didn’t look to have one in their future. I purchased a Canon 5D, which was first produced around 5 years ago. It had an amazing reputation as a Landscape and Portrait camera. I had heard nothing but great things about it and it was in my price range, so I went for it. I bought a Canon 17-40mm F/4 lens for Landscape shooting. I use a Pentax 70-210 F/4 that has been adapted to fit Canon EOS cameras as my mid-range telephoto. I have a Tamron 28-75mm F/2.8 as my all purpose lens and a Sigma 50mm F/1.4 as my portrait/shallow depth of field lens.

Here’s where I am today, getting the exposures right in the camera and making creative choices.

Shot of my Dad on white seamless

My Friend Amber.

Looking back over the past 6 years, I have realized a few things.

1. Photography is frustrating at times, it can be difficult and you never stop learning.
2. Although frustrating at times, when things start to click and you make your first successful image, the feeling you get is very rewarding , you realize all of the frustrating times in the past were well worth it.
3. Upgrading cameras every year is foolish and a waste of money. The camera does not take good pictures, you do. I know feel that you shouldn’t upgrade camera equipment unless you know that you have exceeded it’s limitation.
4. Stick with it, get frustrated, shoot, shoot, shoot, ask questions, embrace the feedback whether good or bad, keep learning, keep shooting and one day you will feel the rewards of the years and years of work and frustrations. Trust me, it’s well worth it.
5. I still get nervous before every portrait shoot. Once I get into the shoot, the nerves go away and I have a blast. I think if I ever stop feeling this way, I should hang it up.
6. Finally I have learned that I still have a long way to go and I am ok with that. The day I stop learning and stop pushing myself to create better images is the day I will sell my gear.

Homegrown 2010 – Ancillary Arts Night (Night Two)

The theme last night was Ancillary Arts Night.
First I visited the Homegrown Photography Exhibit and Music video show.
Here are my images from last year’s homegrown, in this Year’s Photo Exhibit.
All of the images will be moved to Teatro Zuccone for the remainder of Homegrown.
After the Photo Exhibit, I stopped in at Teatro Zuccone to get some shots of the Poetry Showcase.


A walk through my image processing

As you can see, my sensor needs a serious cleaning.
Too many lens changes over the past couple days.
Final Image
That is my landscape workflow in a nutshell, it isn’t the same every time. Lots of times I will adjust levels and color balance, but this was pretty true to what I saw already.
p.s. I forgot to add that, before sharpening I duplicate the layer, sharpen the top image and mask off the spots that do not need sharpening (such as water, clouds, etc..)

Cloverland Community Center

After first seeing images from Nate Lindstrom of the abandoned Cloverland Community Club nearly a year ago I finally got out there yesterday. Another local photographer, Justin Sinks joined me on the exploration. A couple locals stopped by to see what we were up to. Unfortunately over the last year or two, people have vandalized the building and removed many of it’s articles. Apparently up until a couple of years ago everything was pretty well in tact, including all of the dishes, school books, chalkboards, etc.. were all there. It is unfortunate.

Here are some of my images.








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Every Never is Now Tour – P.O.S, Dessa, Astronautalis and Plain Ole Bill – Pizza Luce Duluth, MN

Below is a selection of images from the last show of the Every Never is Now Tour.

P.O.S, Dessa, Astronautalis and Plain Ole Bill performed in front of a nearly sold out crowd at Pizza Luce in Duluth, MN. It was an amazing, high energy show with a lot of content. If you ever get a chance to catch one of these acts in your area, do yourself a favor and grab some tickets ASAP. Or, if you are looking for new Music, buy some of their albums, You won’t be disappointed.











Lunchtime Walk – Icebergs and Art

Lunchtime Icebergs and Art




Landscapes, How to Achieve “that look”.

Chances are, if you have ever attempted landscape photography you have had trouble capturing the view that you saw. You set your camera on a tripod, find your composition, take the shot and then what happens? The sky is partially or completely washed out, right? This is because the Camera’s sensor cannot handle the entire dynamic range that the eye sees.
So why are some photographers able to capture that dynamic range? There are several ways, but here I want to talk about Graduated Neutral density Filters a.k.a Grad ND’s. Grad ND’s are Neutral Density filters that fade from dark on the top side to clear on the bottom side. The reason for this is to keep detail in the sky while balancing that with the rest of the scene.
Grad ND’s come in several flavors and brands. You can buy circular filters which screw into the end of your lens or you can buy Rectangular filters that can be used with a holder or hand held in front of the lens.
I am a big fan of the Hitech brand 4×5 (4” wide x 5” long) grad ND filters. I am not a fan of the circular, screw in type for two reasons. Reason one, you have little to no ability to place the graduated line within the scene. Reason #2, with wide angle lenses, you get a fair amount of vignetting from the filter ring.
Here is an example shot I took covering half of my Canon 17-40mm lens (lens was set at 17mm) with a
3 stop Hitech brand grad ND filter. You can see the side that isn’t covered with the filter has much less dynamic range and the sky is fairly blown out, while the right side that is covered is much more balanced and has much more dynamic range.

Grad ND’s come in several strengths, a great place to start is with a 2 stop Soft Edge Rectangular grad ND filter.

Now, let’s say you do not have the money for a $60 filter but still want to try this technique. You are in luck. Chances are you have access to the materials in your house.

For this exposure I used my black glove as a grad ND. Believe it or not this technique works awesome.  A black piece of card stock will work as well.

Basically I just placed my glove in front of the lens blocking the sky and highlight areas in the mid ground for the majority of the long exposure. For last 1/3rd to 1/4th of the exposure duration I removed my glove so it would expose the sky and highlight areas. You will have to experiment with this to determine how long you need to block the bright areas of the image.

The key to this is to keep the glove moving, essentially feathering the “Grad ND” line so the transition is smooth. Also, you will want to make sure to not bump or move the lens.

Without using this technique or a Grad ND the exposure would look like this.

This animated gif will give you an idea of how I was moving my glove back and forth. Click on the picture to see the animation.

so how long an exposure would i need to be able to try to black glove a sunrise? so that i could expose a darker foreground with the sunrise

so how long an exposure would i need to be able to try to black glove a sunrise? so that i could expose a darker foreground with the sunrise

You want to use the black glove on the sky portion of the scene. Anywhere from 1 second or longer seems to work well. the shorter the duration, the quicker you need to be with removing your hand or black card.

A big help for trying this technique is to let the camera meter take a reading, then lock that reading. After the exposure has been locked, put your hand in front of the lens, position it to cover the sky, click the shutter and start feathering your hand or black card. Remember to keep your glove or card moving and get it out of the way before shutter closes.

Experiment with different durations. Let say your exposure time is 6 seconds, you may want to use this technique for 3-5 seconds of that exposure.

I hope this write-up has been informative. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions and I will try my best to answer them.

Please also read this Awesome post on Neutral density Filters by Andy Stockwell. It is chock full of valuable information and is a great read.

A quick guide for “Exposing to the Right”

Exposing to the right

First off we need to learn about the camera’s histogram and what it represents. “The Histogram is a tonal representation of the dynamic range within an image”, at least that is what Wikipedia says. In simpler terms it is a graphic representation of the image you took. The histogram shows all of the data within the photo.When looking at your histogram, keep in mind the left side represents the shadows (Blacks/darks) and the right side represents the highlights (brights/whites) .
Why is this important? If you overexpose the image like the image below,, all of your highlight information is gone, it is unrecoverable.

Find the button on your camera that looks like this
[+/-] This is the Exposure Compensation button.
The exposure compensation button can be used when your camera is in any Creative Exposure Mode. For example, you can use it while the mode dial is on P (for program), S (Nikon shutter priority), TV (Canon shutter priority), A or AV (aperture priority) modes.
Take your initial exposure, look at your histogram and adjust based on that information.
Hold the +/- button down while turning the main dial. (usually located by the shutter button)
So, lets say your histogram looks like this, the image is “Underexposed”
You want to expose longer to fill that histogram and get the data as close to the right without touching the right side.
The histogram is broken up into 5 sections. This is how I gauge how much compensation to add. In this case, the under exposed histogram above would appear to be near 2 stops underexposed.
I would then add +1.5 stops holding in the Exposure Compensation Button and moving the shutter speed dial until the top LCD shows +1.5.Now take another image and watch the histogram. You should be very close if not right on. By exposing to the right you are ensuring that you get the most data from that scene without over exposing.

If you “over expose” like the image seen below, simply add negative exposure compensation and shoot again.
You may be thrown off with how light  the image looks when reviewing in Camera. This is Okay, you will have more leeway to make adjustments when you post process the file, especially if you are shooting in RAW.

Another thing to keep in mind is that your histogram will look different from scene to scene but this is a good starting point.

for instance a scene shot in heavy fog may yeild a single spike of data in the middle of the histogram. there isn’t much of anything you can do about it in a situation like that, which is Okay. The reason for this is, there are no highlights and there are no shadows in the scene.

The same thing goes with taking a picture of a pile of coal, the histogram is going to be pushed very far to the left, simply because there are no highlights in the scene.

After some simple photoshop tweaks, you should end up with a nice, clean image.

For more detailed information on exposing to the right, visit  HERE

A Cold Morning on Stoney Point

A Productive -15°F (feels like -33F) Morning on Lake Superior

I arrived at Stoney Point thirty minutes before sunrise on 1-2-2010. I had checked the weather reports the night before and saw the temperature would be sub zero.  It may sound crazy, but I had been waiting for weather like this for a while. When the air temperature is much colder than the surface temperature of the water, you get a lot of steam. I was very happy to see this when I arrived. Because of the low cloud bank on the horizon I was able to shoot well past sunrise.