Matt Shell

Check out Mylio!

Since starting my blog, there's one category of question I get more than any other.  Matt, people say (cause that's my name), what do you do about backing up your images?  This is a question that is near and dear to my heart.  I take it very seriously and I have about four different ways I back up my work.  You can search my blog for back up solutions using the box in the upper right corner,  cause I've written about it before, but now I have another options to add to the list and it's a unique and frankly, a pretty awesome product that's a whole lot more than just a back up solution.  It's called Mylio and it is a new way to see, share, organize and protect your photo life. All of your photos. All of your devices. Viewable, shareable and most importantly... backed up!

Now, to be honest, I've just started using it and I'm only using the free trail version, but so far it's been very impressive.  Also, since I already have a complete back up solution for my photos, I don't use Mylio for backing up, but the point is I could if I wanted to.  However, even without using the back up capabilities, it still has a lot of value to me.

So, what is it.  Well, Mylio helps you gather, organize and access all of your photos so you can enjoy them on all your computers and other devices, with or without the cloud. So if you have photos on your computer, you can view and share them on your phone, or tablet.  And, if you have photos on your phone, you can view, manage and store those photos on your computer.  You're probably wondering, what about Facebook, Instagram, etc.?  Yes, those too!  It's gathers ALL of your photos together.  All of them.  So your photos are always available to you on all of your devises, and if you want... backed up too! On top of all of that, you can even use Mylio to edit your photos if you want... even RAW photos.  It does it all.  It's like the Justin Timberlake of the photo software world (without the singing and dancing).

Whether your photo library is the source of your livelihood, or it's just a combination of photos from your goal of hitting every dive bar in America, Mylio is the only photography management software system that allows you to organize and access large photo libraries anytime, anywhere.  Mylio automatically manages multiple copies of your photo library. Your new photos are protected because Mylio automatically copies them to several devices, hard drives or the cloud.

Currently I only use Mylio to sync all of my photos from all my different devices in one place.  So my thousands of photos in my Lightroom catalog, the hundreds of photos on my phone and the dozens of photos from my iPad (let's be honest... who uses their iPad to take pictures) are all synced with Mylio, so when I open the program on my computer or the app on my phone, all of my photos are there.  If I wanted to, and I wanted to pay a little more, I could tell Mylio to sync all of my original photos and back them up, which would be a great back up solution.  Right now it's just gathering previews of all my images and storing them in one place.  Mylio's protection service works with your ideal backup strategy: local or remote devices, hard drives, the Mylio Cloud Service, or all of the above. Your photo library is yours. Your photos and information are always private and the promise it will never be shared, so your photos in all those dive bars around the country are safe.

Whether it's a family vacation or a professional photo shoot, Mylio protects your photos on multiple devices, even when you're on the road... even if you have limited or no Internet access, so when you return, your photos are automatically in your photo library, organized and ready to view. I've got to admit, I've tried to quickly create a photo folder on my computer and check on my phone before it could be synced, but sure enough, even when I immediately checked my phone, the sync had happened and the new folder was already there.

Mylio works with what you have, complementing your Lightroom, Photoshop or Aperture workflow. Import photos and collections from Facebook, Flickr and iPhoto. You can quickly share any photo or album on Facebook and Flickr.

Try Mylio today for free or learn more by clicking the button below.

Oh,and let me know what you think or if you have any questions!  I'd love to know if others think it's as cool as I do!

Series: Behind the Photo

As many of you know, I spent the last week of January in London, and what many of you probably don't know is that I LOVE London.  The people, the food (yeah, I said it. The food in London has really become fantastic and we had some great meals) and most of all the architecture.  I love the buildings.  Each and every one of them look like they could be the focus of a beautiful photo.  I love how you could go into a Starbucks (not that I did) and it could be housed inside of a thousand-year-old building.  I mean the Starbucks I often go to near my office is in a building that's nine years old. So when I found out I'd be going to London, I made sure to pack in a way that would allow me to bring my photo equipment.  I even got a new bag for the trip that would allow me to bring everything I needed for photography but in a smaller bag.  I went with the Lower Pro Runner 200 AW Backpack and I'm really glad I did.  It's the perfect size for my camera and the three lenses I wanted to bring, which included the honking 70-200 2.8, which as you might now, is a pretty big lens.  After the lenses there's still room for some extra batteries, the charger, memory cards and a case with some filters.  It's a great bag for traveling and I highly recommend it.  Not too big, not too small... just right.

Anyway, let's get to the photo.  I chose this photo today because I have received a lot of questions about it and, frankly, it was a bit of a challenging photo to take.

To be honest, I thought pictures of the Parliament building and Big Ben all pretty much look the same.  From this distance, there isn't a whole lot of options for shooting the building.  You can just get Big Ben, or get the bridge and the clock, or part of the building and end with the clock, but I've always wanted to have a few good photos of this building.  Ever since I first visited London, I wanted to come and get this shot and this was my opportunity.  So, even though I didn't love the creativity needed for this shot, I really wanted the photo.

To make it a little different, I decided to make a panorama.  For more info on how to make a panoramic image like this, type "pano" in the search box above and my previous blog posts on the subject should come up.  Anyway, I decided to shoot a pano.  Now, in order to get the soft, silky water I knew I was going to have to use some pretty long exposures which means having a really good tripod is a requirement.  I took 7 photos, all overlapping by about a third and took them vertically to allow for the most leeway when using Photoshop to put them all together.  If you shoot horizontally, you have less photo at the top and bottom to work with. When you use a good tripod, this is less of an issue since you're pretty much staying on the same horizontal plane, but it's still a good idea.  I shot in manual mode so my camera wouldn't change the exposure if one image was a big brighter or darker than the others.  If I shot on Aperture Priority, I'd run the risk of having different exposures for one or more of the photos, and when you try to stitch them all together you'll run into problems.  Problems that can be fixed, but it's harder than it needs to be. So I shot each photo at 25 sec at f/18 and ISO 100. To get the 25 seconds I had to use a ND filter because it was already too bright when I took this shot.  For this image I used a 10-stop ND filter from Hoya and it worked like a charm.  I chose this exposure to have the shutter open long enough to make the water look soft and creamy but also so I didn't have the aperture closed down all the way to f/22 to maintain maximum sharpness.

Some people asked how I got that soft even blue sky.  Well, this photos was taking at around 6:00 in the morning, so the sun hadn't come up yet.  This is what we call the blue hour, which in the morning is before the golden hour and makes for really interesting and beautiful photos. I think photos look really sharp and clean at this time. 30 minutes later, the light totally changed and looked like this photo below.

So now the question is, if I was taking 25 sec exposure, how did I get that boat to be so sharp?  At 25 sec, it should just be a blur whizzing by, right? So did I take a fast exposure of just the boat and use Photoshop to put it in?  Nope!  Wanna know the secret?  Okay, but don't tell anybody... the boat wasn't moving.  It was anchored right there in front of the building.  Worked out great, huh?

After using Photoshop to stitch all the photos together and then to add some contrast and sharpness, erase a few dust spots on my sensor and clean-up some of the ugly scafolding that you can see still on the left of the photo... Voila! You can see the final image above and I really dig it.  I've waited a long time to get it and it was totally worth it.  Of course half the fun is getting up early, taking photos, then walking to the Borough Street Market for breakfast and coffee.  It's amazing how much a hot cup of coffee can improve your photo taking abilities on a freezing cold, London morning.

Babies got back... button focus.


Back button focusing allowed me to take this photo and two others of the same subject without refocusing since the distance from the camera to the shutter didn't change.

Over the past couple of weeks I've become a huge fan and advocate for making the change to focusing with the button on the back of your camera instead of pushing the shutter button down halfway, commonly referred to as back button focus.  It was one of the most revolutionary changes I ever made to how I take pictures.  It seems like such a small thing, yet it's a huge difference in the way you take pictures and how your camera focuses.  This should really be the standard setting on all cameras, cause once you try back button focusing, you're gonna like it.  In fact, you'll probably even love it!  If you're one of the people who have never tried this -- STOP EVERYTHING NOW and do this. You'll thank me :).  If you don't love it, let me know and I'll buy you lunch... but not an expensive lunch.  Let's say a sandwich and a drink... but no chips.  Okay chips, but no dessert.

One of my biggest frustrations when shooting photos is having to refocus ever time I recompose the shot.  When you're taking a bunch of pictures in a short amount of time, this can be really time consuming, frustrating and just an overall pain in the ass. The biggest thing that has impacted my images in the realm of focus is switching from using the shutter button to control focus to using the back "*" button to control focus. And if you're a Nikon shooter and don't have a "*" button, don't worry -- there is still hope for you. :).  Making this change takes some getting used to, mainly because for the first few times you try this after switching, you'll probably keep expecting your shutter button to do the focusing out of habit.  The problem is after making the switch, you're shutter button is only going to activate the shutter... WHAT IT'S SUPPOSED TO DO!!   

For this image I focused by using the back button method.  Put my camera on a tripod, locked in my focus, then took this picture and a few others  I recomposed three or four times but never had to refocus the camera.

The idea is to separate the focus function from the shutter function. I love it because when I'm shooting a stationary portrait, or some situation where the camera to subject distance is constant, I can lock in the focus (push the * button with the focal point on the spot I want in focus, then let go of the button) and shoot away, even re-composing, and the focus will stay dead-on. This has also freed me up from constantly changing my focus points and always refocusing every time I take a new shot, even though I didn't move the camera more that a little bit, or in some cases, not at all.  I'd still have to refocus because the act of focusing was attached to the shutter button. This was one of the most frustrating things I ran into when I used the ‘shutter half way down method of focusing. Sure you can lock in focus by holding the shutter half way down, then focus will stay locked as long as you hold your shutter in shutter-limbo. But then you have to hold your finger there! If you let go or accidently lift your finger just a little bit, the camera will refocus as soon as you press it down again. Or press the shutter a little too hard and you will take a picture before you’re ready. I now leave the center focus point selected and recompose after locking in the focus using the "*" button on the back of the camera. 

In the situation of a moving subject, I also like the back button because it allows me to track the subject and still get consistent focus. 

RC answers a question on what is the back focus button. He talks about how to set your Nikon or Canon to back focus and explains why you'd want to.

If you want to try back-button focusing, you need to change some of your custom functions. You can very easily search online for the directions for making this change to your particular camera.  I found the directions for my 5D Mark III in about three seconds and made the change in about six seconds.  It may have actually been seven seconds, but I was a little distracted.  You should notice that your camera will focus when pushing the * button but when you push the shutter button, your focus will not be impacted. 

Please let me know if you have any questions, or need any help making this change.

Depth of What???

When you are new to photography, there are tons of things to think about when you're taking a photo.  The shutter speed, the aperture, light, what you had for breakfast, etc.  Literally tons of things.  One of the more misunderstood terms is depth of field, or DoF.  You may have heard the term depth of field, but if you are new to photography you may not yet be taking advantage of how it can enhance your photos. A basic definition of depth of field is: the zone of acceptable sharpness within a photo that will appear in focus. In every picture there is a certain area of your image in front of, and behind the subject that will appear in focus.

This zone will vary from photo to photo. Some images may have very small zones of focus which is called shallow depth of field. Others may have a very large zone of focus which is called deep depth of field. Three main factors that will affect how you control thedepth of field of your images are: aperture (f-stop), distance from the subject to the camera, and focal length of the lens on your camera. Here are some explanations and answers to other common questions concerning depth of field.

How does aperture control depth of field?

We talked about aperture in a previous post.  If you forgot, or never read it, use the little search box in the upper right corner of this page and search for "aperture."  Anyway, aperture refers to the access given to light from the lens to the camera sensors. The size of your aperture (the diameter of the hole through which light enters the camera) controls the amount of light entering your lens. Using the aperture (f-stop) of your lens is the simplest way to control your depth of field as you set up your shot.

Large aperture = Small f-number = Shallow (small) depth of field
Small aperture = Larger f-number = Deeper (larger) depth of field

I know this can sound confusing.  Large things equal small numbers and vice versa.  WTF?  Just remember that the lower your f-number, the smaller your depth of field. Likewise, the higher your f-number, the larger your depth of field. For example, using a setting of f/2.8 will produce a very shallow depth of field while f/11 will produce a deeper DoF.  If you're not totally confused now, read on.

Now what about focal length?

Focal Length refers to the capability of a lens to magnify the image of a distant subject. This can get crazy complicated, but the simple answer is that the longer you set your focal length the shallower the depth of field.  Come on, that one is pretty easy, right?  At least easier than that DoF stuff above.

Wait, distance controls depth of field too?

The closer your subject is to the camera, the shallower your depth of field becomes. Therefore, moving further away from your subject will deepen your depth of field.

So when should I use a shallow depth of field?

Using a shallow depth of field is a good way to make your subject stand out from its background and is great for portrait photography. Shallow DoF can also be useful anytime you want the subject to stand out from its surroundings, like wildlife shots. This is also useful because many wildlife photo opportunities are low light situations, and increasing your aperture size will give you more light. Shallow depth of field is also very often used in sports photography, where many times you want to separate the athlete from the background to bring attention to them. The result of this should also help give you a fast enough shutter speed to freeze the action.

In this example, notice that the eyes are totally sharp and in focus?  That's where I wanted focus... for the eyes to be sharp.  However, the background right behind her is soft and out of focus.  That's a shallow depth of field.

Okay, I think I got it, so when should I use a deep depth of field?

Easy... Landscapes, period.  Okay, not period.  There are tones of examples where a deep depth of field would make sense that are not landscapes, but in general... landscapes.

Notice that everything is in focus here... from the front of the image all the way to the back... miles away.  that's a deep depth of field.

Hope that helps.  It's a concept that took me a while to understand, but once I did, I feel like i immediately became a better photographer.  If nothing else, when you're at a dinner party, talking about DoF will really make people think you know what you're talking about.  Try it, I promise it works.

Series: Behind the Photo

So, here we are again.  It's the Friday before a weekend where I feel like I should be creating  a blog entry, but I didn't really feel inspired by anything in particular.  So I decided just now to create a new series called Behind the Photo.  First of all, if I'm going to be honest, I didn't just think of this.... I thought of it yesterday, but that's not important.  So now when I'm inspired to do a blog post and don't have anything in particular I feel like writing about, I'm going to pick a photo or two that I really like, or has some special meaning, and I'm going talk about what went into creating that image.  It may be once a month, or it may be once a week, but I'll try and keep these coming, because cause I know when I was learning photography, I wanted to get every bit of info from other photographers.  I wanted to know why they made the choices they did and what went into creating their images.  This will be my attempt at helping readers get into my head.  Good luck in there.

So this entry's photo choice was a no-brainer as far as I'm concerned.  Anybody who knows me knows I'm a really big Giants fan.  I love those guys and last night was one of the most fun, exciting games I've ever seen.  In the last inning the Giants won with a walk-off homer by the most unlikely of heroes, clinching the National League Championship and sending them off to Kansas City to face the Royals in the World Series.  Since I'm still thinking about that game and the excitement is still coursing through my veins, I wanted to talk about one of my shots of the Giants from the game I went to in Milwaukee in August.  Since Angel Pagan is out for the season and will miss the World Series, I thought I would choose one of the photos I have of him from that game.

So this is the photo.  Angel Pagan taking his swing at the plate in the first inning of the game against the Brewers.  In fact, this was actually the first batter of the game.  There is a roof over this stadium and I didn't know how that would affect the light as the game went on, so I tried taking a lot of pictures right away, before they closed the roof and the light changed.  First thing to notice is that this picture was taking with my Panasonic micro four thirds camera and not my Canon 5D.  I was traveling with only a carry-on and frankly, i didn't know if they'd let me take a big camera into the game, so I thought it was safer to just bring this.  It doesn't take as good of pictures, and it's much slower to shoot and to focus, but it's better than nothing and I couldn't risk my Canon 5D being not allowed into the stadium.

This photo was taken at 1/640 sec at f/5.6, ISO 1600 and I used a 45-200 lens at 78mm.  Anything jump out at you?  Yeah, me too.  Why the heck would I use ISO 1600 for a shot outside?  Well, good question, I'm glad you asked.  You'll notice my aperture was wide open for the lens at 5.6.  That was going to get me the most shallow depth of field and would let in the most light.  For this shot I was mostly concerned about shutter speed, because I didn't want to bat to just be a blur as he swung.  So, even though it was outside, we were in the shade and it really wasn't that light in the stadium.  That ISO was required to get the shutter speed fast enough to freeze the bat.  In fact, if you notice, the bat isn't tack sharp.  I was trying to get a bit of movement, but I wanted a clear shot of the bat and not a bat-blur, which is a term I just made up.

Another suggestion when you're taking sports photos... take lots of pictures.  It's hard to predict where the players are going to be, how fast they'll be moving, how long they'll be standing there, etc.  So to remove as many variables as possible, take a lot of photos.  You can always toss out the ones you don't want when you're done.

The above image is a perfect example of why you should take a lot of photos when you're shooting sporting events.  This shot was literally taken 10 seconds before the above image.  In this image, Pagan didn't swing at the ball and the catcher took longer to get into position so the photo is much less dramatic.  Now, it's also cropped differently, but you can see that the image itself is totally different and doesn't have the movement or the emotion of the photo above it. 

This image didn't take a lot of post processing and everything I did do was done in Lightroom. You can see the untouched photo below.  The first thing I did, which is the first thing I always do is take down the highlights and open the shadows a bit.  There wasn't many shadows to open, so I didn't do much with that slider.  After doing that I bumped up the vibrance a bit and then it was almost all dodging and burning.  After the dodging (lightening) and burning (darkening) and a little bit of noise reduction, I added a vignette to the whole image and that was about it. Voila, we're done!

So take lots of photos, decide what you want your photo to look like and make camera choices that will deliver those result and... most importantly... GO GIANTS!!!!  Next week is gonna be exciting regardless of what happens, but at the end of the season, no matter what happens, I'll have a bunch of great photos of the Giants losing to the Brewers in Milwaukee. ;-)

I must be in the front row!

"I must be in the front row," said Bob Uecker in that once famous commercial.  Well I got news for you Bob... The second row is just as good!  As anybody who's read this blog more than a few times knows, I'm a big San Francisco Giants fan.  In fact, my whole family is.  That means that not just me and the people who live in this house, but my parents and my in-laws are big fans too!  Well, although we've been to tons of games at AT&T park (where the Giants play) and many with my parents, my in-laws have never been.  With them living in El Dorado Hills (about 2 1/2 hours away from San Francisco), they’ve actually never made it out to AT&T park for a game.  Well, we were gonna fix that.  We were at their house visiting a few months ago (and had a bit to drink, which is an important fact in this story) and Joanna, my wife, decided it was time they went, so she was determined to find them good seats.  After a little bit of searching, she found 2rd row, right behind home plate for $100.   An unheard of price for that location, right? She decides to buy those tickets for me too for my birthday (it’s the day before the game), cause who could pass up those seats for that price?!  So we’re all going to see the Giants play in the best seats I’ve ever had and for my in-law’s first time.

Well, fast forward a few weeks and my Father-in-law calls to say he knows why the tickets were so cheap... They're away game tickets. Before we could say "wow, that was stupid of us" my wife had already found us flights and hotels in Milwaukee for the game. So last week we all boarded a flight and headed to Wisconsin to see a baseball game.  Pretty awesome, right?  

I decided to bring my Lumix micro four thirds camera which I have been using a lot lately.  I don't like the quality of photo it takes, or the speed it focuses nearly as much as my Canon 5D, but it's really easy to travel with and that was important for this trip.

So after a day of travel and some good midwestern beef and beer, we went to the game.  The seats were incredible and I knew there was going to be some great photo opportunities.  Once the players started coming out of the dugout, I started shooting and I didn't stop until the game was over.  Shooting sports is much harder that shooting, say, portraits, cause the subjects seem to be always moving, but you get used to it pretty quick.  Since the sun was out and the dome on the stadium was open, I had plenty of light so I could shoot pretty fast.  This really helped with the sharpness of the photos.  Focusing was another problem cause the players are moving from one place to another all the time.  It really helped to predict where the subjects were moving, so I could focus on where they would be as opposed to where they were.  If you know a runner is going from 1st base to 2nd base, focus on 2nd base so you're ready for the shot when he gets there.  If you're shooting the pitcher, you know he's going to go through his motion and fall forward toward the plate.  So instead of lining up the pitcher along the left side of my photo, I lined him up against the right side, so when he was done with his pitch and he had fallen forward, he was right in place along the left side of the photo.

You can see some of my favorite photos from the day below.

Best story ever, right?

I've gotta admit, I don't usually like this kind of treatment, where a black and white image has only one part of it in color, but I think it works in this image and focuses the viewer on the iconic orange and black of Susac's uniform.

Alien Skin Exposure 6... Exposed!

As you probably know if you've read my blog with any regularity, I really like plugins.  I use them with Lightroom and Photoshop and find they make editing photos a lot more fun.  They allow you, in all honesty, to do a lot of the same things you can do in Photoshop, but you can do them MUCH easier and usually a lot faster with the right plugin.  Now, I'm pretty capable of editing photos in both Lightroom and Photoshop, but I couldn't even begin to tell you how to simulate a light leak or duplicate the look of old Polaroid film in either of those programs.  I'm sure there are plenty of people who can, but I'd much rather be out taking photos than learn how to do that stuff.  That's where plugins come in, and specifically, Exposure 6 by Alien Skin.  I have been using Exposure 5 for quite a while, but just recently upgraded to 6 and love it.  Alien Skin Exposure 6 was announced a few months ago and so far is turning out to be really popular, intuitive, and a great investment for the cost.  Today I thought I would share with you some of my favorite features from the version of the highly functional software.

I’ve often thought that retouching is an art, and if you want to do it right, you cannot take shortcuts. However, there are a few plugins that I think make editing faster, easier and provide exceptional results (you know I couldn't live without my Nik Silver Efx Pro for black and whites).  Once I found Alien Skin Exposure, I found that I can work along side plugins to make my workflow quicker without taking a hit on the quality of work I’m trying to produce. No longer do I need to make complicated curves adjustments to my images when I’ve found that the same can be done using the sliders and presets within Alien Skin Exposure. Most importantly, I've found I can do all sorts of effects that I could never duplicate.

The interface is really intuitive and easy to learn.  Users of other photo editing software will find Exposure 6  looks really familiar and should take very little time getting used to all the sliders and buttons.

Perhaps the biggest upgrade from Exposure 5 to 6 is the speed of the software. It was a small issue, but when the software is designed to speed up your workflow process, it’s counter intuitive when it slows it down and Exposure 5 was pretty slow. They’ve since done an overhaul to the image processing engine, allowing you to quickly see previews far faster than before. Not only will this help with batch processing, but will also allow you to view different tones and film presets quickly and effectively, to help decide on your editing process and direction.

Included with Exposure 6 is a whole new set of tools to adjust Exposure, Contrast, Highlights, Shadows, Clarity, Vibrancy and Saturation right within the toolbar. This allows you to make simple adjustments within the software, rather than having to add layer masks and other tools before or after the fact. Paired with the new controls, is a nice new darker design that is easier on the eyes and gives a cleaner aesthetic to the software.

As I mentioned previously, I love the light leak feature and the ability to tone them down and adjust them as needed. Well they’ve decided to add even more light leaks, borders and textures to the release of Exposure 6, allowing you to customize your your images even further. While many may avoid these additions like the plague, claiming that light leaks are ugly, overdone and too artificial; I can contest that I’ve used them with a lot of success on many images in the past, and when done correctly…can really add an extra dimension to your photos.

In this image I used Exposure 6 to give it a look as if it were processed on old Polaroid film and added some light leaks and a slight sun flair.  The whole process took less than five minutes.

Easily the most hyped update to Exposure 6 is the addition of the bokeh settings within the software. Essentially, you’re able to adjust your depth of field and add realistic bokeh to your images based off of the lens you were using at the time of the photo shoot. While this could result in artificial looking bokeh, if done correctly and used lightly, it can end up looking great

Again, if you’re looking for an Adobe Photoshop plugin that is truly worth it, you cannot go wrong with the Exposure plugin by Alien Skin. Exposure 6 brings new features to the already beloved Exposure 5, while speeding up the entire system in the process.  I highly recommend the software to those who have not given it a try. 

Exposure 6 is now available for $149, but can purchased as an upgrade from any of the previous versions of Exposure for only $69. If you can't make up your mind, there's even a free demo.  Try it, I promise you'll like it and if you don't, I'll give you your money back, but just on the free trial.  I'm that confident.

Taking Photos at Touristy Places

I know it seems like I've been doing a lot of glamorous traveling the last few months... okay, I have.  That was a bad way to start this out.  Let me try again.  

I've been doing a lot of cool traveling the last few months and almost every time I've brought my camera and without a doubt, every time, I've learned something.  One of the really became aware of was how to take a picture at popular tourist locations. As photographers, we often find ways to make interesting images that are different from the norm by taking our cameras to out-of-the-way places that haven’t been flooded with photographers. But what about those times when you’re heading somewhere that has been photographed millions of times already? Is it possible to create interesting photos of tourist destinations? I work with a view of the Golden Gate Bridge and almost every day I think about new and interesting ways to shoot that bridge that haven't been done a million times already. Or, as many of you know, I work at Lucasfilm and we have a pretty well known status of Yoda in front of our office and it's gets photographed at least 100 times a day... and ALL of the photos look exactly the same.

Let’s consider how you can make an interesting photo, at a famous location.  

#1 First, cover the usual

Although we want to make photographs that go above and beyond the usual tourist snapshots, that doesn’t mean you’ll want to ignore those vantage points entirely. You’re at the location and you’ve probably seen the postcard photo a hundred times, but this might be your first time there with your camera. You got to take the shot everybody is expecting and then go find the more unique shots.  You can be sure that when I went to Australia, the first thing I shot was a picture of the Sydney Opera House with the bridge in the background.  But once I took that shot i started walking.  I walked all around the Opera House, looking for a more unique and interesting shot.

Everybody takes this shot of the bridge.  Try something different!

Like this!

#2 The Usual… with a twist

Try to mix it up a bit. How about that usual shot but with some sort of twist? Is there an element you could add to the composition for context? How about What would the usual shot look like if you got there before everyone else? Could a lack of people improve your shot? Do some research and see if there are any early entry or behind-the-scenes options.  Going somewhere by boat?  Get the boat in your shot, or a shot of people getting on or off the boat.  At Disneyland?  Include your ticket stub or ice cream in your shot.  At Disneyland I love to get shots that include the iconic Mickey ears.  They make for great photos.

#3 Turn around and look behind you

Here's a biggie and you've heard me say it many times.  Well, you don't hear me, so you've read about me saying it many times. I’ve made many photographs simply by turning around and looking in the opposite direction to where everyone else is pointing their cameras. Could you get an interesting photo of Marin while most folks photograph the Golden Gate Bridge from the north? As someone is photographing a sunset over the ocean, what if you turned around to see what the golden light is doing to the scene at your back? This has ended up being my favorite shot more times than I can remember.

I've shown this shot before, but the point is this was what I saw when I turned around from what I was actually shooting.  I never would have seen it if I was just focused on the shot I came for.

#4 Look for details

Capture the expected, famous images. Get one with the whole Golden Gate Bridge in the frame. Go wide and ensure you have a photo of the full height and breadth of the Arc de Triomphe or the Sydney Opera House.

After you’ve done that, look for details. Instead of all of the Eiffel Tower, how about just the top with a cool foreground ? Take a look around at signs. I love including signs from foreign places in my photos? Is there something old and worn out that helps tell the story of the location? Is there something fresh and new? Is there something new AND old?  Okay, I don't know what that would be, but you get the idea. Whether you use a zoom lens or just “zoom with your feet” and walk closer, get up close. Photographing a ship in port? Get a shot of the rope wrapped around the cleat at the dock. Hiking to a waterfall? Fill the frame with the area where the water hits the rocks, and get a photo of the trailhead sign as well.

So, I think the goal of this post is pretty clear.  Go out at take that shot of the Grand Canyon, Hollywood sign, Mt. Rushmore, Empire State Building, etc., but don't stop with that expected photo.  More your feet, walk around, look up, look down and take some unexpected photos that are yours alone.  They will end up being much more special to you and more interesting for others to view.  Good luck!!

The Beaches of St. Maarten

So it turns out that St. Maarten doesn't just have great people... they have a few great beaches too!  I'm assuming nobody remembered or even read last week's post, so I figured I mention a few of the key facts again.

The island has over 70km of coastline, has 37 beaches, and as I mentioned last week, is located between the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. St. Maarten features some of the world’s finest seascapes. From unspoiled, quiet shores to lively hubs of activity (with plenty of places to buy stuff... trust me, there are places to buy stuff everywhere and we found all of them), every single one of St. Maarten’s beaches is totally unique and reflects the rich diversity of the island itself. The 37 beaches on the island are so beautiful, they rank among the finest in the Caribbean.  There's plenty of water activities to participate in, from diving, surfing, windsurfing, kitesurfing and fishing... or if hanging out on the beach and basking in the sun is more your style, you can do that too.  There's something for everyone and although we spent a lot of time playing in the ocean and laying in the sun, we found time to go diving, snorkeling and even swam with the dolphins in Anguilla.  I highly suggest making the day trip Anguilla if you ever find yourself in St. Maarten.  Not only is it another country with beautiful beaches and really good food, but it's another place to buy stuff and apparently this family will never pass up an opportunity to shop.

I've got to admit, as relaxing and fun as laying on the beach was, I enjoyed taking pictures of it even more.  So here are some of my favorite beach pics from the island.  Hope you enjoy!


Not all the beautiful views are found during the day.  Stay out for the golden hour, right before sunset, and stay for sunset.. it makes for spectacular images.

 A slow shutter speed (this was shot at 16 sec.) is what gives the water in this shot such a soft, dreamy look.  Water is a really fun thing to shoot with a slow shutter speed.

The problem with taking photos of beaches in St. Maarten is they're most often covered in people.  Get out early or stay late... you'll have the best light and a better chance of finding an unpopulated area.

In St. Maarten there are awesome views of a beach all over the place.   This wasn't the greatest view but I thought made for a really interesting image.  

Literally saw this tree off the side of the road as we were driving back to the hotel.  Made a u-turn and went back to shoot this scene.  Glad I did cause I would have been sad to miss this image.

Don't forget to look around and don't always just shoot what's in front of you.  Get down on the ground, or do what I did for this image... look up.  You never know what you'll see.