Thursday, July 26, 2012

Shooting Products

Today I did product shots for a wonderfully talented woman who makes incredible handmade wearables. Hats, toques, mitts, bracelets - all sorts of stuff. It is amazing how much time and energy goes in to creating such beautiful things.


Even though I got a sneak peek today, I can't wait to see the website when it's up and running and check out all these gorgeous creations.

Keep shooting.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Calgary Stampede Fireworks, Part III

Last Sunday marked the end of the 2012 (centennial) edition of the Calgary Stampede and also marked the end of my fireworks shooting, at least for a little while.

In keeping with my theme of trying to discover and shoot from different locations during the 10 day event, I found myself shooting right from the Stampede grounds. It was my intention to find a spot that incorporated some of the action of the park with the amazing fireworks show. I had a lot of time to kill before the fireworks began so I started taking pictures of the midway. I really got lost in the moment and didn't do a good job of tracking the time. When I finally did, I had about 30 minutes to go before show time. As I searched around for a good spot, I checked the time again, now I only had about 10 minutes before the fireworks. Turns out the big clock on the grounds was wrong! My pace quickened and my search became more desperate. Everywhere I turned I could see people filling up the "good" spots. I saw nothing I really liked. But finally, on a last minute gamble I decided to set up on the outdoor concourse that wraps around the southeast part of the Saddledome. It was all I had.

Only minutes after I set up the first few preliminary bursts shot in to the sky marking that the grandstand show was concluding and the main fireworks event would be close behind. I used those bursts to adjust my settings and frame my shot. This is what I got.


It wasn't the best location nor was it the best shot but I did get something I liked. And, like they say, there's always next year.

Keep shooting.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Calgary Stampede Fireworks, Part II

After Friday night's mosquito infested fireworks failure from Nose Hill, I decided to try a different spot for Saturday night. Although Friday night's quest fell short it was good in the sense that I got to see fireworks exploding from all quadrants of the city and even better, it helped me pick my Saturday night spot.

My Saturday night firework quest landed me a bit closer to home than Friday night. Once again, my partner Jen and I mounted our faithful steeds (bikes, not horses) and made the trek to our spot. The great thing about having a partner along for the shoot is that they can swat mosquitos while you set up the gear. And, the good part about that is mosquitos LOVE me but really don't care to nibble on Jen so it works out pretty good for everyone.

Despite Jen's vigorous swatting efforts the mosquitos were winning so I had to relent. I jumped back on the bike and made the quick ride home for more bug spray. On the ride it began to rain. Jen was at our spot watching the camera so I was confident she would pull out one of the many plastic bags I packed and cover the gear. Upon my return I switched from the garbage bag she used to the Op/Tech DSLR Rain Sleeve to shield the gear from the rain. OK, let's quickly talk about that. The Op/Tech Rain Sleeve is seriously the best bang for the buck in moderate rain protection out there. You get two sleeves for about $8 and they are beefy enough to be re-used several times before needing replacement. I have taken mine out in snow and rain and they work great! Now, I likely would not take them out in a massive downpour but heck, I would not be out making pictures either, so it's nothing I worry about. If you need basic wet weather protection for your gear, check them out.

Back to the shoot...
The rain wasn't too menacing for the gear but the rain also meant cloud cover and cloud cover was exactly what I needed to get the shot I envisioned. My camera position was not the greatest for getting clear shots of the fireworks but I knew that. What I wanted was what I saw on Nose Hill the previous night. I wanted to capture the wash of colour behind Calgary's downtown and maybe catch some of the light and reflections bouncing off the buildings. The cloud cover was perfect for collecting all that light and sending it back to the camera.

As the first few bursts of fireworks exploded in the sky, my suspicions were confirmed, my spot was not the best for capturing the fireworks themselves. I waited patiently for the finale, snapping a few frames here and there. And then about 10 minutes later as fireworks flooded the sky my colours and light were revealed and this is what I shot.


I have one more night of fireworks shooting before Stampede wraps up for another year. If the weather holds, I hope to be shooting the fireworks right from the grounds. It should be awesome.

Keep shooting.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Calgary Stampede Fireworks, Part I

The Calgary Stampede is a great time to create some great fireworks pictures. For ten nights, the sky above the Stampede grandstand is set a blaze in a fantastic display. This being the Stampede's 100th Anniversary the fireworks are being set off simultaneously in the four quadrants of the city on weekends. I did not catch that action on the first weekend on Stampede but I did manage to get some great shots nonetheless.

Below is my favourite from the first Sunday of Stampede.

A Great Spot…

Getting good fireworks shots starts with having a great location. I had scouted out Sunday's location months before Stampede. I knew it would be a great spot. It had all the pieces. It was very close to where the fireworks were being launched, it had a clear view to downtown so there would be a good background and the Elbow River was in the frame which meant great reflections. I was so sure it was a great spot I arrived about an hour and a half before the show just to make sure I got my spot. Much to my surprise, I was the only person shooting at that spot.

If you Google how to shoot fireworks you will get about a million articles to get you started but I will share a couple of tips that may not be as common.

Tip one: Set the white balance to tungsten. I shoot a lot of night photographs of cityscapes and by far tungsten gives me the best results. Fireworks also seem to look best using tungsten white balance. But the best reason to use tungsten is it makes a night sky very blue. Of course, it won't work on a pitch black sky but if there is still some blue in the sky, tungsten will make it very blue, which looks great.

Tip two: My faithful sidekick and partner was beside me on this particular fireworks shoot and her advice was "make sure you get the first one because it's going to be the best". By "best" she meant it will be the cleanest, clearest sky. As subsequent fireworks are launched and burst apart in their colourful explosions, the sky becomes a cloudy mess of smoke which reduces the clarity and perceived sharpness of the entire image.

She was right, the first ones were the best.

Keep shooting.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Canada Day 2012 Fireworks

Canada Day means fireworks and fireworks means I have to get my butt out there and take some pictures because, well, that's what I do.

This year the City of Calgary decided to launch the show from the Centre Street bridge. The City also announced that this year's fireworks would be bigger and higher in the sky than previous years. I missed the fireworks in 2011 but I do remember 2010 being somewhat of a disappointment. So, with the City's announcement of a better show I was pumped to get some great pictures.

Location Scouting...
On the afternoon before the fireworks show I hopped on my bike and went out location scouting. I was excited that the show was to be bigger and better but I was conceded about getting a good spot amongst the throngs expected to turn out. Perhaps my biggest worry was the Centre Street bridge itself. The City has been working on a major project along the river pathway and the bridge got a big lighting upgrade this year. The bridge has now been outfitted with state-of-the-art LED lighting. I can honestly say the lighting looks great, especially compared to the crappy, yellow, dim lighting it replaced. However, from a night photography perspective it is a bit of a nightmare. The bridge is so bright now it absolutely blows away anything near it. So, if you expose for the bridge, everything else is dark and if you expose for the buildings, lights and traffic around the bridge then the bridge itself is a big blob of white light. I was worried that if I framed my shots with too much bridge in the picture I would end up with fireworks and a big blob of light, which would be terrible.

During my scouting, I looked for angles where the bridge was diminished but the fireworks would be clearly visible. I was also looking for angles where I could get the downtown office towers in the background. I biked to a number of different spots before settling on a location, down low, right by the river. I thought it would be perfect for catching the incredible colours reflected off the water. I was set.

Last Minute Decision...
About an hour and a half before the fireworks show, I was reading about the evening display. The City said that these fireworks would be much higher than in years past so that people wouldn't need to get close to the bridge to see them. Based on that I made a last minute decision to change spots. It was definitely a tactical error.

I got to my new spot about an hour before the fireworks were set to go. There were numerous other photographers on the ridge with pretty good set ups so I figured I had chosen wisely. About two minutes before the fireworks were to begin the Centre Street bridge lights were shut off. Dang, they never said anything about that! OK, well, I was still in a good spot for the newly improved fireworks show. A couple minutes later the first burst of light hit the sky. Hmmmm, it wasn't very high. It was followed by another, and another, still not very high. OK, now I was disappointed. I changed my location thinking the fireworks would be BIG and TOWERING above the bridge and the city and neither panned out. Oh well, it was a good show and I did manage to get a shot or two I liked. I'll get it next year, well, unless they pull another fast one on me.

Keep shooting.