The New Nikon D5 Just Rocks!

in State College on Friday, April 29, 2016.

Reina Furuya catches a line-drive against Michigan in State College on Friday, April 29, 2016.

I cannot say nearly enough about the new flagship Nikon D5 camera body. Words just cannot do it justice. The photos I am producing are clearly focused and capture the action I need in my sports photography. In fact, the new focusing system is clearly a standout. I am accustomed to using the 3D tracking mode when focusing on athletes. When I turned this feature on in my new D5 I was amazed at the difference from my D300 and D7100. It just rocks! I am getting more consistently focused images even while the subjects are moving at breakneck speeds. If the focusing upgrade was the only improvement this new camera offered, it alone would be worth it.

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Like with any new camera body, it takes a while to learn all the nuances and differences. However, moving from my older D300 and D7100 was a breeze in getting me shooting initially with the D5. It is comfortable in my hands and has all the common external buttons, dials, and features I need when shooting sports. It was a very smooth and easy transition so far for me. I am still reading through the manual to learn more about the new camera body but I can tell you this was the best purchase I made in a long, long time.

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The high ISO settings sound almost unbelievable. I still need to experiment more with these settings, but I am not seeing much, if any, noise in the settings I’ve been using so far. This was one of the reasons I decided to purchase this camera. I shoot sports most of the time and some wildlife, so lighting is difficult much of the time in my shooting conditions. Indoor field houses, high school gyms, and high school football stadiums are common places for me to shoot. Unfortunately, the lighting is usually not so good and I always seem to be pushing the envelope with the higher ISO settings in my D300 and D7100. The D7100 was definitely a big improvement that I noticed right away, but it still was not perfect, especially when shooting with my Nikon 200-400mm f/4 lens. Now, I cannot wait for the next indoor sports season to see how this D5 performs. Outdoor sports already were well under way when my D5 arrived, so it will be some time before I get to make these tests in-depth.

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My New Nikon D5!

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Today I received delivery of my Nikon D5 from my good buddy, Dave, at Stroudsburg Foto Shop! I am now charging its battery and hoping to have some photos from the D5 posted soon. I am so psyched!

I also had the privilege of meeting Jason Farmer when I picked up my new camera. He is a great photographer from Scranton, PA and is doing things I only dream of with wildlife video and sports photography!

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My First College Game Photo Assignment

Lock Haven v. East StroudsburgSaturday I photographed the Lock Haven v. East Stroudsburg college football game–my first college photo assignment. It was a thrill to be on the college scene and it was Homecoming to boot!

I arrived early enough to obtain my credentials at the gate. This is definitely a different scene than my usual Friday night high school football games. I also had just enough time to watch both teams in their pre-game warmups. I like to do this in order to determine who the main go-to players appear to be for each team. I also like to determine whether the quarterbacks are right or left-handed.

The National Anthem was sung and both teams took the field to much enthusiasm in the stadium. Being on a college field on a Saturday afternoon was almost surreal! I quickly gathered my composure and settled in to photographing the game. As expected, I found the daylight shooting time to be much easier than my typical high school Friday nights under the lights. It was cloudy at times, which did cause some different problems. The clouds would open up and bright sunlight illuminated the players. Then, as the game progressed, dark shadows from the bleachers draped onto the field. I concluded after the shoot that in those conditions I might have been better off using the Auto-ISO setting.

Lock Haven v. East StroudsburgNevertheless, I was able to capture some quality photographs of the game. I enjoyed the abundant and glowing light, which appeared through the clouds at times. I also prefer to compose the action photos tightly. Backgrounds were a problem, even at a college game. Some empty bleachers, vehicles at the one end of the field, and other distracting backgrounds came into play at times for me. Backgrounds are critical for a quality sports photograph and I was successfully able to work around these problems some of the time but not always.

I also found myself better able to capture the eyes of the players in the daylight. This is one of the three main criterion for a “What makes a football photo great,” according to Peter Read Miller in his book, On Sports Photography. I highly recommend this book as a resource for sports photographers. It is chock full of great info and tidbits of information to shoot sports more successfully. I am finding it extremely useful in my current photo endeavors and re-read the football chapters again before going out to shoot this college game on Saturday afternoon.

One thing I quickly agreed with Peter Read Miller about was the struggle to photograph a football game between all the officials. There are more referees at a college game than in a high school game. They were all over the place! I found myself having to move upfield ahead of the play more than typical for me. I also agree with Peter that the end zone was the sweet spot much of the time as the teams were driving for a score. Using my 200-400mm f/4 lens was invaluable. I was proud to sport my Nikon cap from my position alongside the field because my Nikon equipment was helping me capture some amazing photographs!

Lock Haven v. East StroudsburgThe college game is longer than a high school game, so endurance was more of a consideration than I originally imagined. My knees were more achy than typical as a result. Wearing kneepads certainly helped, as I prefer to keep a low profile in my shooting position. I just think this makes for a much better perspective when shooting football, and just about any sport for that matter. Take a knee (or two) when shooting a game and you will see a big difference!

The college game is also faster than a high school game. I found it more difficult to track the receivers and be on time when they caught a pass from their QB. I did get better as the game progressed, but it was definitely a challenge. In the future, I need to learn more about the QB’s tendencies and who his main go-to guys are in important downs. Knowledge of the game and the teams’ tendencies are invaluable.

All-in-all, my first photo assignment at a college football game was successful. The newspaper printed one of my photos of the ESU quarterback who had a big day. He passed for 462 yards and four touchdowns in this game! My tight photo of him winding up to pass down field was the winning photo picked by the editors.

Now, I cannot wait for my next college day assignment! It was an absolute blast and I can’t wait to do it again! I am sure I will learn more and keep perfecting my sports photography skills.

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Nikon 200-400mm f/4 — My Go-To Lens!

Pleasant Valley v. Lehighton

Out of the last 21 sports photographs I had published, 16 of them were captured with my 200-400mm f/4 zoom lens. This means that 76% of these published photos were taken by this lens.

I knew I wanted this lens over two years ago and even long beforehand. It was my dream lens and I saved for 3 1/2 years to be able to purchase it. The anticipation was almost too much to bear at times! I was sold on this lens by Lennie Rue III and his son, Len Rue, Jr. I read their book, How to Photograph Animals in the Wild. I read and reread this book, but I paid particular attention to all the photographs and with which lens they were captured. Overwhelmingly, a major majority were captured with the 200-400mm lens.

I also knew the 70-200mm f/2.8 was working at the time as my primary wildlife and sports photography lens, but it just didn’t have enough reach. The 1.4x extender helped, but it just hardly seemed to be enough. I convinced myself that I needed the 200-400mm lens. Then I started to save my pennies for it!

Now, after 1 1/2+ years of use, I can honestly and convincingly say that this was definitely a wise purchase for me. I use it on nearly every shoot and it is my go-to lens for both sports and wildlife photography.

I really like the zoom lens because I can compose different shots depending on how far away the subject is from me. This is particularly helpful in baseball. Let’s say that I am on the first-base side of the infield. From this location I can photograph the third baseman, the shortstop, the second baseman, the pitcher, the batter, and the catcher. This is nealry 2/3s of the team! Now these position players are not all at equal distances from my location, but with a simple twist of the zoom barrel, I can compose a pleasing composition on any of these six players.

Similarly, I find the zoom feature a great tool in wildlife photography. Patience is the key in wildlife photography. Staying still in one location is often helpful and the zoom lens gets put into a lot of use in this scenario.

I typically keep the 200-400m lens on my monopod or tripod. It can be handheld, which I do on occasion, but my preferred method is to mount it on a support. This makes using it a joy rather than a burden.

When I am shooting sports, I am almost always on my knees with this lens on a monopod. I rest my left hand on the barrel of the lens and can quickly zoom in or out depending on my need. I always remember: righty tighty to zoom in closer to my subject.

The lens is clear, too. The photographs it produces are excellent when printed or shown on a computer screen. It focuses very well, and it even has a memory position to store a select pre-focused location. With the touch of a button, the lens focuses to that memorized distance. This is great for plays at second base, for example. I can be shooting the batter and then quickly press the memory button and the lens is in focus for a play at second base. Sweet!

Yep, the 200-400mm f/4 Nikon lens is now my go-to lens for sports and wildlife photography. I am very glad to have it in my lens arsenal!

Wet Elk – Don’t be Afraid of the Rain!

I traveled to the beautiful mountains of Elk County after making sure that Hurricane Sandy didn’t do any damage around our home. My departure was only delayed a day and a half due to the hurricane. The forecast didn’t look promising, but I ventured out anyway. I was blessed with one of the best elk photography trips and I didn’t mind getting a little wet. Elk were everywhere, I’m assuming since the worst of the storm already passed. The conditions were excellent for wet elk photography!

You can see some of the rain drops in most of these photographs when you click on and enlarge the photographs. I think it makes a cool effect. I also like the detail of the wet fur that comes out in these photographs. Many photographers prefer fair or sunny weather. Snow and rain can potentially damage our electronic camera gear, too, so many wildlife photographers simply don’t venture out into the wild on rainy or snowy days. I think this is a big mistake. The Nikon gear that I own is weather sealed. The manufacturer says so, but I’ve also tested this out in some severe conditions on my own. Recently, I had to walk about a mile in a heavy rain with my tripod, camera, and lens riding over my shoulder. Everything was soaked when I got back to camp! I dabbed the excess water off my gear with a towel and then allowed it to all dry out slowly. The result was some interesting and different photographs and gear that was ready and workable without any damage.

This photo (above) is a case in point of what I’m talking about with the wet weather wildlife. Just look at the detail in the forehead of this cow? You can also see the raindrops come down alongside her. And the fact that she has a mouthful of nature-food adds some action to this photograph. Rainy weather does require wide open apertures and oftentimes higher ISOs. Some photos will be unusable, but the effort is definitely worth it to me!

Don’t let a little rain hinder your spirit. Grab your camera gear and get out there anyway! Wear good, warm rain gear and you’ll be able to stay out longer. After all, the wildlife do not seem to mind the wet weather and they present perfect subjects if you take the time and energy to be out there with them!

Baseball Photo Shoot

The weather is breaking into spring-like weather and the baseball season will soon be under way!

Yesterday I spent the morning photographing the player portraits for their yearly program. It is always fun to be around the players to sense and hear their excitement and witness their enthusiasm on the brink of a new baseball season. This was one day after try-outs were finished so there was a sense of relief in the air but also a real sense of anticipation as well. These boys are ready to put their game on the field!

On a personal note, our son James made the varsity team as a sophomore and we couldn’t be more proud of him! The above photo is James posing for his player profile, which will appear in the baseball program that will be handed out this season.Isn’t that quite a game-face?

 

Behind the Scenes on this Photo Shoot

This year instead of a basic, boring background like a brick wall, I used the team’s newly created logo and made a banner to serve as a backdrop to the player profile photos. A few setup steps in Photoshop and the banner was off to the printer. When it arrived I inserted metal grommets into each corner so I could then attach the banner to my two backdrop stands. I set this up in the locker room, which served as my studio for this shoot. The boys were getting their uniforms for the season, which made this a convenient time for the photos to be taken.

I also set up my main light source off to the side of this backdrop at about a 40-degree angle and up high. My SB-900 speedlight was used remotely and I attached it behind an Ezybox to disperse the light over the subjects. This softens the light in a pleasing manner and avoids any hotspots in the photos. I also attached the dome diffuser to further diffuse the light. One test shot and I was ready to go! I really enjoy using Nikon’s off-camera flash setup. It’s quick, easy, and very effective!

Once back in my office, it was time to edit the photo shoot. First, I examined each player’s photos and used Lightroom’s Survey View to quickly narrow down the options and pick the best photo. This was repeated for each player on the Varsity and then the Junior Varsity team. Next it was time to do a few adjustments to the photos. I started on the first photo and then synched these edits across the entire collection to apply them to the rest of the photos. Since my setup was controlled and consistent, my sync was also consistent. I like Lightroom for this kind of process, too!

Finally, I renamed each photograph with the name and number of each player. This will help the layout guys when assembling the baseball program for printing. Now I am sending all the files to a DVD to send in to the school tomorrow.

It’s been a busy weekend but it was fun! The photo shoot went well and I am pleased with the results. I hope the players and their families agree!

 

Recent Trip to Elk County, PA

Last week my son, James, and I ventured to our favorite spot–Elk County, Pennsylvania. Oh, I know this doesn’t have the romantic sound like Yellowstone, Big Sur, or The Everglades have, but it is the home of a herd of elk here in Pennsylvania and we have a little camp that we like to frequent up on Winslow Hill. We thoroughly enjoy viewing, observing, and photographing the wildlife–especially the elk! I’ve been going to Elk County, PA for over 20 years now and we just cannot seem to get enough! Fortunately for me, James shares this passion with me!

So last week we spent three days there and we had a blast!

On one of our “elk runs,” where we drive to the spots which seem to hold elk, James spotted a cow right alongside the road. I could not see it at first because the guard rail blocked my view. I stopped so James could snap a few quick photos while no other vehicles were coming down the road and I scanned the road ahead for a place to pull off. Stopping on the main thoroughfares and blocking traffic is a nuisance, in bad taste, drives the locals absolutely nuts, and is illegal. Still, some elk observers get so excited about seeing the elk that they simply forget some of the basic rules of elk-viewing etiquette. I quickly found a place to safely pull completely off the road and then we walked back toward the cow with our cameras. James was out ahead of me and once he got closer to the cow I immediately saw that she was accepting of his presence. She was busy eating grass and only looked up once to see who was there and then just went back to eating. We spent approximately 20 minutes photographing this cow elk and she never once showed any sign of alarm or fear of us. We photographed to our heart’s content and she made a most excellent model!

Eventually another car came by and parked safely on the opposite side of the road to get a closer view and capture a few photographs, too. Again, the cow took a glance at her new neighbors and simply went back to feeding in the grass. Photographers and clicking cameras were simply no big deal to her! As the sun continued to get lower in the August sky, she slowly fed away from us. We captured some nice, close photos and were blessed to spend quality time with such a beautiful mammal. Her summer coat shone brightly in the early evening light and all was well in her world and in ours. Nature and wildlife are incredible!

Can you begin to see why James and I enjoy Elk County, Pennsylvania so much? Here are two photos I captured that evening with my old, backup camera the Nikon D70. The old boy still works and captures some half-way decent images. I cannot think of any better way to spend a summer evening!

No Photos but Wow, What an Evening in the Field!

My son, James, and I recently purchased a portable blind at Cabelas. The main reason for the purchase is so I can photograph the birds here in my backyard. I inadvertently left the blind up in the mountains on a previous trip, so we decided to put it to use this past Wednesday evening. We practiced setting it up and packing it up while we ate supper around the campfire. It is not a fancy blind but it seats two comfortably. So off we went to give it a try. We assembled the blind and weren’t in it very long when James said, “There’s some elk.” Sure enough, there were four cows over on a distant field and then we spotted a bigger herd of elk just to the right of these first four. There were 40 elk in all! We also had deer come to within 50 yards of our blind. It was a very productive field test and we had a great father/son evening on the mountain!

We did see some elk this week. The highlight was Thursday morning when we saw an 8×8 bull–the biggest bull we’ve seen so far this year. Unlike our previous trip, we did manage to see more bulls, for which we were thankful. Their velvet is coming off and the bulls look uncomfortable with strings of velvet hanging all over their antlers and down in their eyes!

I will post some photos of our trip this coming week, but I think I jinxed myself. My most recent blog entry was about preparation. Well, I guess I jinxed myself because I got to camp with James on Monday around midnight only to realize I forgot my D300! I’ll bet Moose Peterson never did this! Thankfully, I did have my backup body–my old D70 and James let me borrow one of his lenses. I will post some of my photos in upcoming blog posts, but James definitely got much better photos than I did this trip! I guess I was just so excited for this trip that I overlooked grabbing and packing my camera bag into my truck. I even had it on my packing list! I can think of several words to describe what an idiot I am, but none of them are printable!

Now I really can’t wait to get back to the mountains of Elk County!!!

You Just Never Know

This past Friday I drove to Norfolk, Virginia to pick up my son from Sea Cadets Boot Camp. He was there for the past two weeks so I was there to attend his graduation and pick him up. He also wanted to tour the USS Wisconsin afterward.

I gladly attended his graduation ceremony but was not nearly early enough for my liking. I usually like to get to an event with plenty of time to spare so I can check out the best photo shooting angles, the lighting, check out any obstacles, and more. Well, the graduation ceremony location changed due to impending bad weather and heavy traffic were both reasons to delay my early arrival. I think I arrived about 15 minutes before the scheduled ceremony began.

I was given a program as I entered the facility, which was actually a hangar and now a makeshift graduation hall. I looked for my son’s name to figure out which company he was in so I could be close to him. I eventually found his name on the very back page and noted that he had some fancy brackets around his name. This indicated to me that he might be receiving some kind of award or recognition, so I positioned myself up near the side/front of the room to get a shot of his face if this actually happened.

The ceremony started. It was difficult to hear the speakers because sound doesn’t travel well in a hangar. A few cadets received awards and then the biggest, most prestigious award was being announced. It was the Battalion Honor Cadet Award, which is awarded to the most impressive cadet who is a cut above the others–above over 170 cadets in this particular case. They announced the recipient and sure enough it was our son, James Shank!

This proud papa kept his composure and shot away with the Nikon D300. I was equipped with a 24-70mm f/2.8 lens and a SB-900 speedlight. Here are two photos I snapped as James received his award and then was later marching with his company.

James checked out of his barracks, we grabbed a quick snack at a convenient store and headed over the USS Wisconsin. This battleship has a gloried history and is now open for topside tours. We had purchased our tickets online days before I departed for this trip to be sure we had a spot on a tour this specific day. The tour was led by a veteran who served on another Iowa-Class destroyer. He was fabulous and we learned a whole lot of details about this ship and how it was equipped for battle over the passing years. This ship saw active duty in World War 2, Korea, and the Persian Gulf!

Here are two photos I took on the deck of the USS Wisconsin, an amazing battleship with an impressive record of service.

The events of this day reminded me that you just never know what’s going to happen or what you might see, so have your camera ready at all times. I had hoped for better preparation and an earlier arrival, but all in all it wasn’t a bad day!

Lens Fixed!

I have the Nikon 2.8/f 70-200mm lens and I love it. However, in the past year or so I’ve been having problems with it. The autofocusing mechanism wasn’t working correctly. It worked sometimes but then it wouldn’t–and as you can suspect, it always quit working at the absolute worst time!

The problem was when trying to focus on an object that was near infinity. I found myself using the override focusing ring way too often. In fact, it felt almost like I was using a manual focusing lens. This was okay for some subjects, but elk, deer, and baseball players were often out of focus. I was not a happy photographer!

Part of my dilemma was when to send out the lens for repair. It was under warranty, but I need this lens most of the year. Sports, wedding, nature photography and photo trips all require the ability to have my favorite lens within reach or on my camera body. I finally decided to send it out after my trip to the mountains over the New Year holiday.

The process was very simple. I first consulted the Nikon website to read all the directions and made sure to follow the directions. I sent it out, insuring the package and waited. I was told by others that it could often take well over six weeks to get a repaired lens back. This worried me but I bit the bullet and sent the lens out. Happily, I could see the progress Nikon was making with my lens online. This was very helpful and kept my fears at bay. I could see that my lens arrived to their facility in New York. Then it was being examined. Once the problem was located, I was informed that they were waiting for parts. Finally, it was in for the actual repair and then it was it shipped back to me. The whole process took less than a month.

Now the lens works beautifully. I cannot wait to try it out at a baseball game, but there’s still too much snow on the ground for that to be a possibility right now. So I am hoping to get the mountains soon so I can put the repaired lens through the paces with the elk.

All-in-all, I am very pleased with the repair service Nikon provided me. I was not happy that the lens needed repair, but in the end, it was handled well and quickly. Nikon definitely stands behind their product and now I have a well-functioning lens back on my camera again.

Go Nikon!