photographers – when was the magical moment when you first got hooked?

I’m sure we all have similar stories – how we got hooked on photography, and it became less of a mild interest, and more of an over-riding fascination. A fascination bordering on compulsion, where you felt you just had to take photographs of everything around you. What was the moment where you realized you’re hooked on photography?

Let me kick this off then – My own interest in photography started somewhere during high-school years. I was an avid nature enthusiast as a child, devouring anything to do with animals and nature. From this I was also a keen bird-watcher.

My dad had a Praktica camera. In fact, it was the Praktica Mat model. Praktica cameras were made in East Germany. Solid in every aspect, and not as sweet and lithe as the Japanese cameras. But as a first camera, I loved using it. My first proper camera that was mine, and not just borrowed from my dad, was a Pentax ME Super, but I digress. My dad also had a Tokina 300mm f/5.6 with stop-down metering. This clunky old lens was my first step in trying to photograph animals and birds … and I soon realized that photography was far more interesting than passively observing animals.

That’s where it started for me. I steadily became more and more interested in photography, but there was one moment where I knew this is it, WOW!

I was kneeling on the bathroom floor, the windows blacked out with towels in a make-shift darkroom … and I was developing my first B&W print from the first roll of B&W film that I shot and processed myself. As that first image sprang to life and that white sheet changed into a black-and-white – an actual photograph! – that was it. Pure magic.

That first photograph I printed was of a Dalmatian we had as our family pet. I loved that dog! Disney had it right in how wonderful Dalmatians are. While I still have that original B&W negative, it is in deep archive. And by deep archive, I mean some random box deep somewhere in the basement. Instead, here is another photograph of another Dalmatian I had years later.

The photograph at the top is of Brakko, who was one of two dogs that I owned way back when we lived in South Africa. (This is from early 1990’s.) I used him as a test subject when I tried out my brand-new used flashmeter that I had just bought. The light is from an off-camera speedlight diffused through an umbrella that I lay on the ground.  Very simple lighting.  That guarded look on his face is because he wasn’t sure about an 80-200mm lens pointing straight at him.

Of the photos I took of him, I loved this very tight crop, with his eye the only bit of color in the frame .. aside from him not having had a bath in weeks and weeks.

Ok, your turn. Let’s hear about your moment when it just hit you that photography is something I just had to do.

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photo session w/ PocketWizard MiniTT1 & FlexTT5 & AC3 ZoneController

My friend Carol Beuchat, who works as a professional dog photographer, is back in New York for this year’s Westminster Dog Show. Some of you may remember the portrait we did last year of Chanel, a champion whippet. Carol asked me to help her again with portraits of Keegan, an Irish Water Spaniel, who will be competing at the Westminster Dog Show.

Keegan’s owners wanted some photographs with New York as a backdrop. I immediately thought of doing this on the Jersey side, with a grand view of Manhattan across the Hudson. I had just received a set of the brand new PocketWizards which offer wireless TTL control for Nikon cameras.

I specifically wanted to use this as a TTL setup, because I knew we would have to work fast, and I would have to control everything from my camera. The previous night the temperatures in New York had dropped to a bone-chilling 5 degrees Fahrenheit (-15 Celsius), and there just wouldn’t be time to run to and from the light setups, and change settings. It had to be done from the camera …

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pet photography

I had the pleasure challenge recently of photographing this super-cute Jack Russell terrier of clients of mine.  Sundae just loves snow!  So after one of the heavy snowstorms, we went to a park where I could photograph her acrobatically snatching at bits of snow hurled at her.  She was very fast!  Even with the Nikon D3 set to maximum burst rate of 9 frames-per-second, I could barely get 2 frames before she was back on the ground.

So there were a few challenges.

– I needed a responsive camera, and a lens that focuses fast.  The Nikon D3 and the brand-new Nikon 70-200mm f2.8 AF-S VR II (B&H) took care of that.  This lens is surprisingly fast to focus for such a large optic.

– I needed a very fast shutter speed, and enough depth-of-field.  A few initial images showed that I was getting movement blur even at 1/2000th of a second.  I therefore pushed up my ISO to 800, and settled on 1/8000 @ f5 for the majority of the photo session.

– focusing modes.  With the D3 set to AF-C (continuous focus mode), and 51 AF points, I let the camera control most of the focusing for the session.  For a few more static images, I did flip to AF-S mode to be sure of exact focus on her eyes.

– I was again surprised by my success rate.  To compensate for how difficult it was to get a neatly composed shot of Sundae, I completely over-shot and had to wade through more than a thousand images to pick the best for my clients.  Of those, about 250 were solid keepers, so it was tough to pare the selection down further to just give the best and most representative shots.

exposure metering.  The metering was actually the easiest part of the photo session …

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off-camera wireless TTL flash setup for a portrait of a show dog

A friend of mine, Carol Beuchat, is a photographer who specializes in dog portraits and dog shows.  She was at the recent Westminster Dog Show, and needed to photograph this beautiful whippet, Chanel, for a magazine cover.  Since it was in Manhattan and it was ice cold freezing outside, we had to photograph the dog indoors.  The hotel lobby where the attendees to the dog show stayed would have to be the setting.  And would have to make a great setting.

The one foyer of the hotel had these gleaming metal elevator doors.  Carol carefully figured out the image’s background in relation to where she would let the dog’s handler hold the dog .. and positioned herself there with a long lens.  (Canon 70-200mm f2.8 IS )

Since the dog would easily become bored, we had to figure out the exact place we wanted the dog to be, and also figure out the lighting well ahead of time.  Once we were ready, the Chanel’s handler would bring her down, and position her.  A few frames … and  Carol would have the shot.

We had to be meticulous about the setting-up – and still be very flexible during the actual shoot …

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