Tuesday, February 28, 2012


My daughter providing a "facial" for Dad when she finds me pointing the camera at her.
  Since Saturday, when I posted my series of cheer photos from my daughter's cheer performance, I have been asked no less than 3 times what type of equipment I use to shoot cheer action photos. Although I was flattered that so many people were happy with my images, I thought it would be a great time to share some insight on how I get these photos. Even though my knowledge of photography is not that of a professional, I feel that I know enough to maybe make things easier for another budding photog.
  Even though equipment is a terribly important thing for a photographer, there is a lot more to getting quality action shots than just owning a DSLR. Lenses, exposure, white balance, focal length, location, etc.,

  The first thing that is essential is your DSLR. I shoot with a Canon EOS Rebel XS. This is a discontinued bottom entry level DSLR. This camera works well with one exception. The max ISO that I can shoot at is 1600. ISO is the sensitivity of  the camera's image sensor. For a better explanation, check out THIS article at Digital Photography School. DSLR's these days are getting awesome quality  at higher ISO settings and every camera that Canon sells will shoot at a ISO of 6400 or higher.
  Most cheer competitions are in gymnasiums and they are usually poorly lit. In order for me to get a shutter speed of 1/600 of second or faster, I have to shoot at max ISO settings. Unfortunately, this makes for some noise in the shots. I would rather trade noise for a blurry shot any day when it comes to action shots.
  This brings me to the next most important piece of equipment. You have to have a fast lens to shoot indoor sports. You need a lens that will shoot at an Aperture of f/1.8 to f/2.8 combined with the high ISO settings to get the shutter speeds necessary to stop action. I shoot with a Canon 85mm 1.8 USM prime lens and a Canon 50mm 1.8 II prime lens. These are both fast and very good lenses for these applications. I have found that these lenses have "sweet spots" for focal length. My 85mm is deadly accurate at a distance of 20-30 feet. The 50mm is really good between 10-20 feet. When I try shooting all the way across the floor with these, it is very difficult to get crisp focus.  Ideally, I would love to have a Canon L series 70-200 f/2.8 IS lens because not only is it fast, but it has a wide 77mm diameter and you have the obvious zoom and Image Stabilization capabilities. This lens is expensive though, $2000 or more, so business will have to pick way up before I can grab one these.
    Once you have your equipment and a general idea about ISO, aperture, and shutter speed, you then need to understand what it is you are shooting. Now I don't begin to think that I know everything about cheer competitions. I have been to and watched enough of them to know what to expect and also to know where the best spots in the gym are to shoot from.
  Obviously, the best location to shoot from is right in front, usually next to the judge's seats. It is usually centered on the court so coverage from left to right is fairly equal. This is also the direction the girls will be facing when doing their routines. This pays off heavily when the girls do their "facials", which is making faces to the judges and crowd. These are great to capture.
   I like to sit low on the floor as well. I have sometimes even laid flat on my belly to get an even greater angle up at the girls. The lower the angle I can get, the more dramatic it makes the stunt or jump that is done. It even makes it look like they are tossing the girls higher when they do basket tosses. It is also important when shooting little girls to get low or at least on their level. This is a usual rule for portraits as well.
  One thing that I really suggest is turning the camera in the portrait or vertical position. When I photograph people of any kind, I shoot in this position. You can completely fill the frame with your subject and people are taller than they are wide so it helps them look leaner. I'm not saying that you can't shoot in landscape, there are several occasions where this is needed, such as team pics, but I find that most of the time I am shooting in portrait orientation.
  Knowing the routine of the cheer squad performing is a big bonus! If I had not been taking Jocy to her practices and paying attention to where she was on the floor at each movement and set, I would have not gotten the facial pic of her at the top of this post. I knew that when they did their dance routines and cheer that she was going to be in the front left of the formation so that is where I sat. She found me pointing the camera at her and knowing the routine, I caught her making a cute face at me.
  In the second pic, Kalie Haynes turning and making a facial, I was completely lucky. I had no idea what was happening in their routine other than seeing them go through it briefly over to the side a bit earlier. I definitely had no idea that she was turning and strutting forward. I was just pointing the camera in that direction because I only knew a handful of girls on that squad and was rotating through each one of them and just happened to have the camera pointed at her when she did it. So luck counts too.
Applause Please!
  The toughest shots are of tumbling. Tracking and catching a tumbler is very difficult. The best way I can say is to try and get to the side of the tumbler and that way they are on a flat plane with you. If coming at you or going away from you, make sure you are shooting in AI Servo and it will help track the action for you. Timing is very critical at catching tumbling. Most of the time I catch them landing and bent over instead of jumping or landing on their handspring.
  Taking pictures at cheer competitions is just like any other aspect of photography, you must shoot as much as you can and experiment as much as you can to get the results you like. There is no one true set of rules. If you have remote strobes, which I will have someday, they are great tools. I don't have any so I will not delve into them in this post.
  I definitely don't have all the secrets and will never claim to. Hopefully, this will help the next person who wants to catch that basket toss, facial, or back tuck. Your comments are very welcome here. Good luck.

Saturday, February 25, 2012


Canon EOS Rebel XS, Promaster 19-35 lens @ 19mm, ISO 100, f/20, 2.5 seconds, Polarizer, ND400 Filter
  Thanks to the dark tint on my ND2-ND400 variable density filter, I was able to achieve 1-4 second shutter speeds out on the cliffs of Point Loma at 3:30 in the afternoon on a bright, sunny day.
  This was the very first location that Erik Kerstenbeck and I shot at Point Loma. Really love the horizontal carving of the cliffs created by years of ocean pounding.
  The 2.5 second exposure really made for a neat effect on the water that was crashing against the cliff wall in the far right of the shot. Almost a ghostly effect.
  This a 3 shot panorama stitched together in Photoshop Elements Photomerge Panorama.

Friday, February 24, 2012


Canon EOS Rebel XS, Promaster 19-35 lens @ 19mm, ISO 200, f/20, 2 minutes
  One of the main images that I was intent on taking was a night time skyline shot of San Diego with a reflection in San Diego Bay. Sunday evening, Erik Kerstenbeck showed me a location and boy did his suggestion pay off.
  Tuesday evening, my friend Ron Williams and I left a conference street party and drove to Erik's location. After first taking some shots further up towards the city I walked back to an area behind a small building with vending machines and rest rooms and found this angle.
  The floating dock in the foreground had several of these small row boats tied to it that people use to go out to their bigger boats/yachts anchored out in the bay. A two minute exposure really illuminated these row boats and even allowed them to float about a bit blurring them some. I actually like this effect. Don't know why, just do. The long exposure also caught some cloud movement right above the gorgeous, lit up skyline.
  Capping off the scene, all the way over to the right is the USS Midway aircraft carrier and museum. If I would have done a panoramic shot I could have fit the Coronado Bridge which was just off to the right of the Midway.


Canon EOS Rebel XS, Promaster 19-35 lens @ 19mm, ISO 100, f/16, 8 seconds
  A week ago Wednesday Erik Kerstenbeck and I explored around Crystal Pier in Pacific Beach, CA. Most of our initial time was spent under the pier due to rain falling on us when we arrived. As the rain subsided, we started venturing out from under the pier onto the beach. As I moved that direction, I couldn't resist this mess of kelp that was clinging onto this last piling as the ocean water tried to pull it away with every wave.
   Using my ND8 filter I was able to get an 8 second shutter speed and turn the waves into a virtual fog trying to engulf the kelp. The light at the end of the pier was almost ominous in the background.


Canon EOS Rebel XS, Promaster 19-35 lens @ 24mm, ISO 100, f/16, 1/4 second
  The very first and last stop for +Erik Kerstenbeck and myself on our Pt Loma photo excursion was Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery. Initially, the light was too harsh to go down to the rocks and cliffs of Pt Loma so we started photographing at the cemetery which is set up similar to other Veteran's Cemeteries with all of the headstones alike and in neat, long rows. The earliest recorded people buried in the cemetery were from back in 1846 from the Battle of San Pasqual for the California Territory. Very cool.
   When the kind park officer, with the gun holstered to his hip, asked us to leave Pt Loma's tide pools about a half hour before peak light, we stopped back at the cemetery, which has a gorgeous view with the Pacific Ocean as it's back drop.
   I was really drawn to this pair of trees silhouetting the incredible sunset and used them as bookends around it. The neatly aligned headstones in the foreground were perfect for leading the way to the background sunset.
Big thanks to brother Jim for applying some of his personal touches to help me even out the dynamic range through the shot.

Thursday, February 23, 2012


Canon EOS Rebel XS, Promaster 19-35 lens @ 19mm, ISO 100, f/16, 1/20 second
  One of the main things that stood out to me when Erik Kerstenbeck and I were shooting at Crystal Pier was the reflection the wet sand and surf. It was awesome.
  I tried all evening to catch this reflection, especially when the sun came out the sunset was so colorful. It seemed like I was also drawn to the scattering of kelp that littered the beach and seemed to be trying to escape the surf to stay on land. Even though I know that wasn't the case, it sure did seem like it. I photographed this little piece of kelp for a few minutes before I caught the water rushing back out to sea with a small trail behind it. Thus the kelp eluded the raging surf again. I also captured a bright reflection of the sunset and of Crystal Pier in the retreating water and sand.

Sunday, February 19, 2012


Canon EOS Rebel XS, Promaster 19-35 lens @ 19mm, ISO 100, f/20, 30 seconds
  The clouds were moving quite fast on Wednesday evening at Crystal Pier. This was right after a storm blew through and left Erik Kerstenbeck and myself with a stellar sunset.
  With the clouds moving fast I stacked a polarizer and an ND8 filter to help create a longer exposure. This particular image was a 30 second shutter. The long shutter speed almost flattened out the rough waves that were rolling in from the Pacific Ocean. The waves and the clouds seemed to be moving in the same direction. The same direction as the pier itself. The surf was giving off a great reflection of the dock and sunset as well. What a fantastic afternoon/evening at Pacific Beach.


  This statue stands in the parkway along the waterfront right next to the US Midway in San Diego, CA. It was titled Unconditional Surrender and sculpted after the Alfred Eisenstaedt photograph taken in Times Square on V-J Day at the end of World War II of a sailor kissing a nurse celebrating the end of the war.
  To me, this statue is a tribute to arguably our greatest generation. Unfortunately, there is talk of this wonderful statue being removed from the Port of San Diego waterfront. With the US Midway and a Bob Hope tributary statue sitting right next to it, they combine to make a great monument to our military. I hope it stays right where it is at.
  Very little processing done on this other than first converting to black and white and then using Photoshop Elements Vintage paper effect to give it that old time look.

Saturday, February 18, 2012


Canon EOS Rebel XS, Promaster 19-35 lens @ 19mm, ISO 200, f/16, 0.5 seconds
   As the sun came out on Wednesday evening while exploring Crystal Pier with Erik Kerstenbeck, we ventured out from under the pier to catch the sunset.
  Before I got too far out on to the beach, I noticed this little composition with the end of the pier blocking the setting sun against a beautiful blue sky. The contrast was great so I bracketed a few shots with this comp. and really loved the way the water was striking the last piling in the frame. I used a free HDR software called Picturenaut to do the processing and then some extra stuff in Photoshop Elements.

Thursday, February 16, 2012


Canon EOS Rebel XS, Promaster 19-35 lens @20mm, ISO 100, f/20, 2 seconds
  Getting away from the norm in today's post.
  First of all, Sunday Erik Kerstenbeck took me for a photo shoot at Pt Loma in San Diego, California and it was an unbelievable experience.  When he knew we were going to get together on Sunday, he asked me what I would like to shoot. I told him a rocky beach so that I could get some long exposures of the water running over the rocks.
  He did not disappoint.  The weather that afternoon was fantastic following a cloudy, drizzly morning. The only issue was that the sunlight was quite harsh and the fine officer that asked us to leave at 5:00 took away any shot of getting shots at peak light of the evening.
  We used variable density ND filters to help create some longer exposures and this particular shot was a 2 second shutter speed. I was terribly happy about it because I was trying to get some glare from the sun up in the right corner of the frame with these awesome rocks leading out through the surf.
  The true step outside my normal process was using QTPFSGUI to do some HDR processing on the image to take down some of the harsh light. I really liked what the HDR did for the light as well as bringing out some detail on the rocks and rushing water.
  It was a fantastic afternoon and we even got knee-deep in the surf before it was all over with.

Monday, February 13, 2012


Canon Rebel XS, Promaster 19-35 lens @ 19mm, ISO 200, f/20, 2 minutes
  Greetings from San Diego, CA. This is right out in front of my hotel room on the bay with the beautiful San Diego skyline in the background. It was very cloudy on Saturday and the clouds created a nice blanket over the city.
  More to come from here as I spent a fantastic day with Erik Kerstenbeck shooting down a Pt Loma on the Pacific Ocean.

Saturday, February 4, 2012


Canon EOS Rebel XS, Promaster 19-35 lens @ 19mm, ISO 100, f/16, 1.0 second
  Friday morning was one of the most beautiful sunrises that I've seen in a while.
  After dropping Jocy off at school I motored off down a familiar road and quickly ventured down to the water's edge where I found a row of tree stumps that in the summer time would be covered with water. This time of year the TVA keeps the water levels low and they are quite visible and lined the shoreline. I let them lead my frame all the way to the gorgeous light of the sunrise with it's streaking clouds. I didn't even have to use a long shutter speed to achieve it.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012


Canon EOS Rebel XS, Promaster 19-35 lens @ 19mm, ISO 100, f/13, 3 Exposure HDR @ -2 EV
  Tuesday morning started out extremely frustrating.
  It was a beautiful morning with the golden sun striking the clouds against a gorgeous blue sky. After dropping off my kids at school, I worked my way to work as quickly as I could to try and possibly get a shot of the wonderful color display.
  When I pulled into the drive I was behind 2 cars of vendors visiting and they were driving very slow up the guard shack. After I finally pulled around those 2, I scanned through the gate and proceeded in. I then followed another co-worker who was driving quite pedestrian-like (at least it seemed that way with me in a hurry). The lake test tractor then pulled in front of him towing a boat out to lake test. I was beginning to think that I would never get in and get a chance to shoot this sunrise.
  After the tractor and co-worker cleared, I quickly pulled into a parking spot near the boat docks and immediately started getting gear together. Then I was having trouble finding my quick connect for my tripod in my bag. All the while, the lake tester was giving me grief about getting up late and telling me I was going to miss it. UGGGGGGHHHH!
  After finding everything and running down to the lake's edge, I finally found a composition that I really liked even though the sun had already peaked over the mountains in the background. I decided I could still get a beautiful shot with a big sunburst and some lens flare against the still pretty blue sky and clouds.
  That's when I noticed something out of the corner of my eye to the right of the dock.  When I looked over there, it was a skunk.  REALLY! A SKUNK? I immediately grabbed up my gear and ran back about 20 feet to give this little guy plenty of room.  He then seemed to disappear. I elected to set up back where I had ended up and took a a couple of frames when I noticed my little friend coming out from under the dock on the left hand side and then scamper off into the open field next to the facility. Whew!
  I then moved back to my original position and started firing off some brackets knowing that I would not be able to expose the shot in a single image.
  Very happy with the composition, I texted my HDR guru brother, Jim Denham, and asked him if he would mind processing some brackets for me. He accepted and late last night I put them in our drop box for him.
  At 7:00am this morning Jim texted me back and had the results back in the drop box. As usual, Jim's processing equals the image I had in mind and I was extremely happy with the results