This time of the year I always become unproductive as I get sucked into all the year end top ten lists. I really do. I do not know why I enjoy them so much but if I saw a link to the top ten bathroom soaps of 2011, I know I would click it. So two years ago, I created my first top 10 list and it has grown from there. With this list I am going to take you behind the scenes a little and show you how I captured and created some of my more technically difficult photographs of the year. My thought process on how to define technically difficult was this: The process it took from “seeing” a photograph in my head, to actually getting the exact end result I wanted. Some of my favorite photograph were when I had no idea what the exact outcome would be but I put myself in the best possible situation and it worked. I am not including any of those, as I relied on a little luck to make it make happen. All these photographs I went into the environment with a specific direction and  I executed it exactly how I wanted. Now enough blah blah blahing… off to the photos!


Disappearing People

In long exposures, 5+ sec, you can make most moving objects “disappear” against a static back ground. It is a technique that I also have used in nighttime cityscapes to make people on a street disappear as well. You want to get that “perfect” photograph but people keep wandering in your shot? Stabilize your camera and raise that shutter speed and its amazing what you can do. These two photographs were taking just seconds apart and the 2nd photograph had the exact same amount of people on the floor.

ISO 6400   f/2.8    1/20 sec   25mm   no external lighting


ISO 100   f/10   13 sec   25mm   no external lighting

Shelf Cloud over Rockford IL

This photographs was by FAR my most viewed photograph the past year as it spread pretty fast over facebook. You can see my original blog post about this photograph here. My family and I were at dinner, walked out and saw the black cloud coming right as us. We were only a few minutes from home, so we shot back to our place to get ready for it. On the way home the tornado sirens started going and I could start to make out the shelf cloud as it got closer. I had my camera on my desk and with no time to change lenses or grab a tripod, I took what I had, ran out and fired off a series of photographs. I brought all them into photoshop and started the stitching process. Dealing with 6 raw files all interlaced gave my computer an aneurysm and it took waaaaay longer to process than I wanted. When I realized that the .tif file I had created was 1.6GB, yes GB, I understood why.

I later learned that the reason, the sky was green was because that cloud was full of hail. The hail refracts the light and you get the green. Jayden still talks about the “green” cloud as MAYBE 15 seconds after this photo, while we were running inside, it started to rain and 45 seconds after the photo, the hail was coming.

6 photographs at ISO 1000   f/4.0   1/60   24mm   no external lighting

I even managed to catch a 2nd shelf cloud later in year as well, check that one out as well!


Blue sky at night

This is probably the easiest technique to replicate as it only requires you to be ready to shoot at the perfect time. No advanced settings or processing. Every clear night, right after dusk you have about 5 to 10 minute window to achieve a deep blue sky rather than a black sky. To your eye, the sky will appear black, to the camera, it appear dark blue. I absolutely dig using this natural effect as I feel it makes the photograph more interesting. Take a look at some of the best city line night shots, the ones you will find your self drawn too are almost always going to have the deep blue sky rather than a black sky.

ISO 2000    f/3.5   1/15   24mm   no external light

Sunrise at The Pavilion

I took this photograph as part of series I did for Orchard Ridge Farms (Copperstone Inn and The Pavilion) ::shameless plug #1:: and there was two difficult parts to this photograph. The first being lighting, in this case the sunrise. I was in charge of photographing 80 acres of amazing property, yet I only had one sunrise to work with. So I had to make a choice on where to devote that time too. I chose this spot on a hill as it was a place where many couples have and will continue to choose to leave their life of being two people and start their lives as being a couple. It is a special place to many but at this time of day, it is a photograph that will show those people the exact spot they chose to get married at, in a completely different way than they have ever seen. The second difficult part? The ridiculous amount of mosquitoes I had to deal with while crouching in bushes and waist high grass!!

ISO 100   f/7.1   1/30   16mm   no external lighting

The Garter Toss

It may not look like much but there is TON going on with this from a technical standpoint. There is two distinct layers to this photograph, the groom in the foreground and the guys in the background and each of those two are lighted independently but at the same time. I achieve this by using two flashes, one on camera that has its exposure set semi automatically by the camera and one off camera that has its exposure set completely manually. The on camera flash is set to ETTL mode but that flash I have manually underexposed by 1.6 stops in camera because I am still getting a little extra light added by my 2nd flash, which is off to my right and set to fire at a constant 1/64th power. The result is the on camera flash is bounced off the ceiling and filling in the groom, while the off camera flash lights the guys in the background and adds a depth to the groom by lighting his left side.

ISO 640   f/2.8   1/125 sec   24mm   two external flashes


If you have seen this photograph before but can not remember where, its because it is in the GO section of the Rockford Register Star as an advertisement for Franchesco’s ::shameless plug #2:: most Fridays. I took this in the frantic few minutes I have to photograph a reception area that has all the candles lit and water in the glasses but has not allowed people in. I almost never have time to setup up advanced lighting or even set up my tripod, so I have to be creative with the time I do have. The next time you go to Franchesco’s and are in the ballroom, look at the ceiling. It is has pattern of deep wood beams that form almost a grid. To get this photograph I bounced my flash off the ceiling to achieve the lighting top down on the cake and grid kept the light from spreading to the whole ceiling and lighting other parts of the room. I set my camera to let in the rest of the ambient light from the uplight of Luxe Production’s ::shameless plug #3:: lighting and boom!

ISO 2500   f/2.8   1/20sec   32mm   one on camera flash


I was warned about this shower….

For this photograph, we are going to jump back the Copperstone Inn and the shower that almost kicked my butt. When I was speaking to the owner Rich about what were some of the things he wanted to me focus on, he warned me about this shower. He really wanted a photograph that showed how amazing this shower was with the multiple heads and body spray. The trouble is, well, you are in a shower. Fisheye lenses were out of the question, they create weird distortion. A 17mm TS-E lens on a full frame Canon 5D II was no where near wide enough, the lighting was as good as a shower, I had to keep everything in focus which meant high aperture and long shutter times…. I probably sat in the shower for 20 minutes just trying to game plan this photograph. I ended up setting my Gorilla Pod tripod on this tiny shelf about chest high with my 17mm TS-E lens on. I took 4 photographs while changing the shift on my lens and trying not to move my camera. Each photograph I had to run out of the shower and fire my shutter remotely. Then once at home, I had to spend about 3 hours trying to stitch the photograph together by hand so the shower grout lines would match and try to keep distortion to a minimum. Once I got that done, I WB adjusted and was very glad to move on!

4 photographs at ISO 400   f/20   13sec   17mm   one on camera flash

Reception Tables from the Balcony

This just looks like your typical, lean over the balcony and shoot the reception tables photograph, right? Well it is actually 3 photographs merged into an HDR, which is not really that technically advanced and something I use a lot of. What makes this photograph technically difficult is the balcony itself. This photograph is of the Figg Room at The Clocktower Resort, taken from the balcony over looking it. What this photograph does not show is that the balcony has a set of planters that are about 3 feet deep in front of it. My arms are no where near 3 feet long so that means…. yup. I had my camera on my tripod, straight out in front of me, hanging way over the edge and with one hand, hold the whole rig steady as my other hand fired my shutter remotely to get the 3 photographs needed for the HDR. Want to make yourself nervous and sweat profusely? Hold $5000 worth of camera on a tripod 40 feet in the air with one hand while all the guests from the wedding are staring at you during cocktail hour. Welcome to my world 😀

3 photographs at ISO 100   f/13   0.6sec   24mm   no external lighting

Shooting into the sun on a beach

I have had the opportunity to travel to some amazingly beautiful places to photograph weddings, from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico to Key West Fl and this year I went to Sarasota FL for my 11.11.11 wedding. While having your wedding ceremony nearing sunset on the beach while facing the ocean is very beautiful, it is pretty much a photographers nightmare. You are shooting directly in the sun, the sun is then bouncing off the water and sand directly into your camera as well. So there is an overabundance of light which usually means, you have to shoot in a high aperture to cut down on the light as your camera will be maxing out its 1/8000 shutter in no time. The result is photographs that have little depth to them and end up looking like guest took them with their iPhone. Which is of course something I want to avoid at all costs. Enter in HDR and some creative editing. It allowed to shoot into the sun, at a low aperture and still let in enough like to have the people be visible and not just their shadows.

3 photographs at ISO 50   f/3.5   1/3200sec   24mm   no external lighting


At many of the weddings I photograph, I try and get a good photograph of the venue that would also be a good album ending photograph. Capturing the stars as they appear to rotate around the star Polaris has let me capture many great photographs. For this photograph I found Polaris in the sky, I setup up my tripod, my remote timer, my camera and a beach chair. Once I got all the photographs onto my computer, I used photoshop to merge them into one and ta da!

40 photographs at ISO 200   f/5.6   30sec   24mm   no external lighting

The “dip” at night

This is one of my favorite photographs of the year and will show up in another top 10 list soon. From a technical standpoint this is a solid shot but nothing like the shower from earlier. Light is one flash on camera, aimed right at the couple -2 stops and one right behind the couple at 1/2 power straight up. The toughest part is making this happen in a reception environment. I am very conscious of the couple and their wedding day, while I am there to photograph their and tell their story, I really do not want to become PART of their story. At the reception and after the sun has gone down, there is so much going on and sometimes I have even completed shooting for the day. This is a photograph that had been bouncing around in my head for a long time and I just could not get the right situation for it. When it finally came together, wow, it came together. I had a couple that asked me to stay late into the night, a couple that late into the night they were still ready to have their photograph taken 😉 a night with good weather, trees that had lost most of their leaves so the light could travel further up the tree and finally a slight breeze of wind in the right direction to pull the bride’s veil away from her body.         B     O       O      M      !

ISO 1000   f/2.8   1/60   24mm  one on camera flash and one external flash

So there you have it, my most technically difficult photographs of the year. I hope it gave you some insight into what it takes to get to some of the photographs I get over the course of a year. Stay tuned as the next top 10 list is going be my favorite wedding photographs from 2011!



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