Thursday, August 30, 2012

Winners for August Photography Scavenger Hunt

And the winners are...

But first a sincere thank you to our judge, Brett Perucco, for taking his time to choose his favorite images from this month. We very much appreciate it!

Be sure to drop him a thank you line at his email or on one of his social media sites. All links can be accessed at his website

Book see the collection
photo by Lydia Juengling

Couple see the collection
photo by Jacquie Oermann

Dirt see the collection
photo by Barbara Flint

Lines see the collection
photo by Leslie Vitela

Wild see the collection
photo by Michelle Anne

And the winning overall image is...

photo by Michelle Anne
Oh, but wait! There is a sponsor's choice winner as well!
photo by Tyann Marcink

Congratulations, Michelle and Tyann! Be sure to message Kent Weakley about your e-book!

And don't forget to head over to Kent's blog for a wealth of information on creating photographs. Check out his awesome e-books and amazing classes!

Our participating photographers on their Facebook page, blog, or website.

Lynn Wagner
Kashmira Briggs
Michelle Anne
Karlene Hoch
Lydia Juengling
Kayla Schaefer
Gussie Schmitz
Tyann Marcink
Barbara Flint
Kendall Schwentker
Leslie Vitela
Jacquie Oermann
Bailey Kirkland

Graphic for the winners to use: 

Friday, August 10, 2012

Story Behind the Shot {Adam's Lightning}

Lightning Show
Washington, Missouri

The story behind the shot.. 

photo by Adam Gerdes

Around 9:15 I left from visiting some family in New Haven to head to Washington. The storm was well underway at this point, and the whole drive I was probably looking more at the sky than at the road, running every open field and hillside through my head.. planning out the best location to bunker down and get some shots. It wasn’t until I made it to Washington and dropped off my passengers that it hit me, “Go to the riverfront, dummy.” So that’s what I did.

My son, Blayke, decided he wanted to come along. He’s almost 9. I thought it might be a good way to spend some quality time together and let him see what goes into making a picture. It didn’t bother me to have someone to hand me things I needed, either.

9:50 or so we headed downtown. I was in a rush to get there and get set up, so some city speed limits may or may not have been exceeded..

When we crossed the tracks I could see that the majority of the strikes were in perfect view if we set up facing East/ Northeast, and parked the suv at the very end of the lower parking lot facing west parallel to the river. That let me pop the hatch open and have a bit of shelter from the rain, which was just starting to fall at this point. I couldn’t get set up fast enough. Screwed the camera on the tripod, extended the legs, squared up best I could, plugged in the shutter release, flipped her on and made sure it was on Manual. Last thing to do was turn the shutter release to bulb and get a solid focus, which I used the bridge lights to help me do.

Now, let me pause here for a minute to drive home a point: Don’t get in such a hurry that you forget to check your settings. Not just the ones you think you need to change, but all of them. Take 20 seconds, go through each and every one, and double check them before you even think about clicking the shutter. I’ll explain why later..

photo by Adam Gerdes

So now we’re set up, sort of. It was completely dark in front of me and I couldn’t really make out much detail in my viewfinder except for the bridge. I had my lens wide, at 15mm. If I had it to do over, I would have shined a light in front of me to see what was in the foreground, and moved over a bit. I’ll get to that later, too.

Here are the basic settings to shoot lightning and fireworks.

RAW vs. JPEG: Always shoot in RAW if you can, ESPECIALLY at night. If you don’t know why, google RAW vs. JPEG and learn about compression

TRIPOD: If you don’t have one, don’t waste your time until you get one. Check resale shops if you’re strapped for cash. Amazon is my go to place for budget shopping, but a good tripod won’t set you back that much. Important thing is that it locks down solid, and having a hook to hold a weight is a big plus when it’s windy. Don’t hang the weight from the tripod, lay the weight (camera bag works) on the ground and tie it to hold the tripod in place. Honestly, a little shakiness probably won’t ruin your photo. The lightning or fireworks act as a flash and freeze things in that moment. Where you’ll run into problems is long exposures where multiple flashes freeze things in multiple places. Best to get everything solid first, but if you bump the camera a bit, don’t fret too much.

ISO: 100, maybe 200 depending on conditions. You may have a better camera than me, so 400 or 800 may be fine if for some reason you need it, but for most of us 200 will be the max

F STOPS: F10-F13.. You can experiment with this, but stop down as much as you can to keep things sharp. Focusing usually isn’t easy at night, so this will help keep things from going blurry.

FOCUS: I never focus to infinity while shooting at night. I’ve read a lot of other tutorials that tell you to do this, but I always focus on a distant light until it’s as clear and sharp as I can get it. Go all the way to infinity and then back, just a “hair”. That’s a good starting point, and if you don’t have a light to focus on, shoot a test shot and see where you’re at. Spend enough time to get a proper focus or you’ll be very disappointed when you pull up your images later.

SHUTTER: Depends, but shoot in  BULB mode if you can. I use a cable shutter release. The most important thing is to keep your hands off the camera as much as possible. If you don’t have a release, you can get one from Amazon for under 10 bucks. Otherwise set it to delay for a few seconds, to let any vibration dissipate before the shutter opens. Wireless shutter releases can work too, but you won’t be able to shoot in BULB. Go order a cable release. Til it comes in the mail, start with 30 seconds and see what you get. Might have to bump up the ISO to 200 or shoot at f10 or a stop or two lower to get enough light (that’s compromising your photo’s quality).

Now, if you’re shooting around bright lights, like in a city setting, 30 seconds may get you an overexposed image. This is where the experimentation on your part comes into play. I know of a storm photographer in Chicago, Nick Ulivieri, who keeps his shutter speed the same for composing multiple images later on in software, and his speeds are around 5-10 seconds because it’s so bright. It’s a good point that if you want to do panoramas, or any other composing of multiple photos, to keep the shutter speed the same. I don’t do that, I hold my shutter open until I get the strikes I want. How you do it depends on you. I think that covers everything on that…

FRAME: Look around! It’s dark, but it won’t be when you’re exposure is done. Things like bushes and trees, cars, etc. can add something to your photo you might not have anticipated and/or want. I usually shoot wide at 15mm. Shooting wide for distant lightning can sometimes leave you with a photo that you’ll want to crop into a panorama size, so mix it up and see what works best for the conditions. If you do change focal length, don’t forget to refocus! I like to shoot wide first and check my first couple of shots to see where the majority of the action is, and frame tighter in to that area.

ACCESSORIES: Some things that will make your life a lot easier… A lens hood, UV filter, micro fiber cloths, lens pen, Rain Sleeve.. Storms bring rain and wind, which will ultimately end up on your lens. Make sure you have something to wipe it off with without smudging. Alcohol helps too once the water is gone. If you have a lens hood, I’d put it on to help keep some of the drops from hitting the lens. The lens pen is something you should always have, as well as a filter. I don’t recommend it, but if I get drops on the lens and there‘s some intense action going, I’ll take the UV filter off and keep shooting while I clean it. A Lens Sleeve will keep the rain off your camera and most of your lens, but a bag with a hole cut out will do too.

Now back to the story….

About 10 minutes into shooting, the wind and rain really picked up. Blayke was actually getting a little worried. Trash cans were blowing across the parking lot and rain was coming from every angle. I ended up ducking inside the back and pulling the hatch down while we waited for things to settle down. While waiting, we turned on the radio, talked, cleaned the drops off the lens, and looked through the 5 or 6 shots we had. Due to the rain and a shortage of strikes, the photos were all pretty dark. It seemed like forever, but after probably 15 minutes of intense storm action before we were able to set up and shoot again.

The wind was calm, rain down to a drop every few seconds, and after another few minutes the strikes across the river were back in full view.  At exactly 28 shots since we first arrived, we got a bit of a shock. Not literally, it was just that everything had been off in the distance, so far we could barely hear the thunder. Then it hit, just on the other side of the bridge. Two strikes within a few seconds, so bright it made us squint, and we heard the thunder loud and clear. I couldn’t wait to see it on the camera.

When I showed it to Blayke, he said, “WOAH! COOL!” while his eyes popped out of his head. That really made him see that sitting there, being bored, usually pays off if you wait long enough! We sat for another hour or so, shooting almost constantly as the storm lingered in the distance. One good shot after another after another. We moved our setup over to get a better view of the bridge and shot some more. Those actually ended up being my personal favorite, here’s one of them:

Photo by Adam Gerdes

When we left, we got to the tracks to find a pole across the road and fire crews blocking the road. I had to ask the story a few times and never fully understood it, but someone pulled a guide wire and light pole down, and one way or another, got taken down the tracks. I took a few shots of the damage to offer to the newspaper, and met some folks I hadn’t seen in years that had gotten caught on the river while the storm rolled through. We talked and I took more pictures, gave them my business cards, and finally Ameren cleared the area and we were allowed to leave.

All in all, it was a great night. I got to spend quality time with my son. We talked a lot, learned a lot, had a lot of fun, and got some great shots in the process. When we got back, he went to bed and I stayed up to go through all the photos and edit them. At first look, I loved every one. I was excited to share them around and posted a few on Facebook. Turns out others liked them more than I did, and the shot at the top of the page went viral. I had stayed up late editing.. so when I woke up, all the notifications, shares, likes, comments, were waiting for me. By the end of the day, the “likes” on my page almost doubled. I couldn’t believe it had taken off the way it did. I hadn’t even fully finished editing the photos! There was a lot of work to do and the one photo was getting shared at least every 10 minutes! I felt pretty good about that, it’s always nice to see your work appreciated, especially when you’re not really that well known or are just getting started. But, the moment was sort of bittersweet. I realized the mistakes I made..

Remember when I said “I’ll explain why later”? Well here we are.. What did I do? I goofed, bigtime. I didn’t check all my settings. I shot the entire night in medium JPEG. Yeah… really.

I ALWAYS shoot RAW, but earlier I had been messing around with some lighting and had a card almost full, so I turned it to medium so I wouldn’t run out of room. So every time you shoot, if the action is already underway and you’re anxious to get started, take that minute and check every single setting one by one. The one you forget to check might be the one that makes you cuss later.

So what’s the big deal with shooting medium jpeg? Well, nothing, really. Not for normal shooting that isn’t that important. The problem is the compression jpeg uses, the lack of data, technical stuff like that. Basically, I shot wide, and wanted to crop in tight to the bridge… but thanks to jpeg, didn’t have a clear enough picture to print anything above an 8x10 at the quality I would want. Had I just checked, I would’ve set to RAW, and would have had much much more room to play with cropping and adjusting exposure, etc.

That’s all I can say about that really. It was very disappointing to have snapped such a powerful photograph to find out later that I can only show it in a quarter of it’s glory. It was an important lesson to learn, and hopefully you can take something from it and really focus on the proper steps to get set up before you shoot.

All isn’t doom and gloom, though. I put a lot of work into post processing the photo to remove the bush from the foreground, which allowed me to crop it differently than I would have wanted, and will have more than enough pixels to fill a large print! That was my other point to get to: you have to see what’s in the foreground before you really get to shooting. If you can’t see with available light, take a long exposure and check it thoroughly. Make adjustments from there. I could’ve been 10 feet to the left, shooting on RAW, and the photo that blew up on Facebook would have been out of this world!

That’s all I have for ya, hope you enjoyed reading about my night shooting the storms, and how I got the shot. Hope you learned a thing or two about shooting at night, and wish you luck if you decide to give it a try. Just be sure to check those settings.. ;)

Adam Gerdes

You can visit Adam's work at Adam Gerdes Photography.

For a tutorial on photographing lightning, visit Marcink Designs.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

August Photography Scavenger Hunt

Here are your categories:

Rules and FAQ

  • couple
  • dirt
  • book
  • wild
  • lines

For social media (Pinterest board, Google+, etc.) use #FCAPaugust2012.

Let us know you are participating by joining the Facebook event.

For this month, prize is only for the top winner. Prize will be announced later. 

Judge will be announced at a later date.

All category winners, as well as the top winner, will receive a special FCAP graphic to display on their website (or blog, Etsy listing, etc.) that they are a winner.

This round will be for August. Submissions are due by 11:59 p.m. on August 22nd.

Submission guidelines:

  • All images must be submitted by email only. Please email to Be sure to attach all 5 files in one email.
  • Name your file with your initials and the category (i.e. TMwild.jpg)
  • Please resize your image to 1000 px on the long side. If you could change the dpi to 72dpi, I would greatly appreciate it. This will make your file size around 1mb to 1.5mb. (PicResize is a free online tool if you don't have a program at home to do it.)

Here are the rules again, as well as answers to most questions. If you have a question that is not listed, please post a comment below or on Facebook, or email Note that I updated the time frame of when the submitted images can be created - you may now use photos taken from up to 2 months before the current round. Also, images must be submitted by email to be included in the judging.

For inspiration, here is a list of entries from previous months.

If you would like to sponsor a future month, or know of someone you can ask, please let me know! Just email with the information.

Winners for June/July Photography Scavenger Hunt

And the winners are...

But first a sincere thank you to our judge, Dave Beckerman, for taking his time to choose his favorite images from this month. We very much appreciate it!

Be sure to drop him a line at his email or on one of his social media sites. All links can be accessed at his website beckermanphoto.

Bounce see the collection
photo by Lynn Wagner

Chair see the collection
photo by Karlene

Fair see the collection
photo by Karlene

Flag see the collection
photo by Michelle Anne

Gold see the collection
photo by Angie Atchley

Graffiti see the collection
photo by Lynn Wagner

Ice Cream see the collection
photo by Barbara Flint

Siesta see the collection
photo by Angie Atchley

Tracks see the collection
photo by Michelle Anne

Vacation see the collection
photo by Tyann Marcink
And the winning overall image is...

"Tracks" by Michelle Anne

Congratulations, Michelle! Be sure to stop by Sweet Designs by Mandi to claim your 4 pack of yummulicious cupcakes!

Our participating photographers on their Facebook page, blog, or website.

Lynn Wagner
Kashmira Briggs
Michelle Anne
Kayla Schaefer
Gussie Schmitz
Tyann Marcink
Barbara Flint
Angie Atchley
Jayme Litts
Adam Gerdes

Graphic for the winners to use: