Sunday, January 30, 2011

Top 8 Tips to Improving Lightning Photography-Part 2

Yesterday I wrote a blog about the Top 8 Tips to Improving Lightning Photography that included the first 4 tips. Below is the complete list of 8 tips that I hope will help all Lightning chasers everywhere! All the shots below were from a shoot I did while on a Carnival Cruise ship in the Caribbean from 1:30am to 5am. More shots from this shoot can be found on the previous blog posting.
  1. Find a way to stabilize your camera (tripod is the best option....but it's also a lightning rod)! You can either be a little crazy like me and assume that when it's your time to die it's going to happen no matter what, or you can set it on a tripod, turn on your self-timer or intervalometer and reduce your chances of getting hit by lightning by walking away from your camera.
  2. Set your exposure for when the lightning hits, otherwise when it does hit your shots will be severely overexposed if you are exposing for the night sky without taking into account the immense amount of light the lightning shines into the sky. You will have to experiment for probably 10 minutes in shooting to get this right. How do you do it? You mount your camera, open the shutter up for at least 4 seconds and wait for lightning to hit in the frame of your shot during the shutter being open for 4 seconds. Start adjusting your settings to get the right exposure.
  3. SLIGHTLY underexpose the image. It's much easier to raise the exposure in Lightroom, Aperture, etc. than it is to try and fix an overexposed shot. PLUS, when you do get that shot where there is a lot of lightning you run the risk of overexposing that shot if you aren't slightly underexposing. 1 or 2 stops under should do the trick.
  4. Manual Focus- don't even try auto focus for these shots. You will miss it every time because the camera will have try to focus each and every time you press the trigger. And the worst part is it won't be able to focus because you are pointing at a big dark sky. What you need to do is auto focus your lens on something else around you (like the light from a lightpole), then change your focus to manual on your camera. No light poles around you? Use your car lights, flashlight, anything to shine light on an object that's not too close to you to be able to get your focus correct.
  5. Aperture- don't go with a wide aperture, it will be even more difficult to focus and there is a large chance that elements in your image will be out of focus as a result. If you leave your shutter open long enough you won't need a wide aperture.
  6. Wide lens- use a wide lens if possible. For the shots I took this evening I used a Nikkor 24mm lens. For a few shots I used a Nikkor 50mm but didn't use it for very long. Why? Because a wide lens is much better to create a bigger "canvas" for God to paint with lightning. Simply put, you have a much better chance capturing lightning with a wider lens.
  7. Low(er) ISO- I shoot with the D3 which is famous for it's amazing ISO sensitivity. Despite that when I shoot lightning I really don't need a high ISO because I am using the long shutter (usually 5 seconds or more) to allow the amount of light I need in. I lower the aperture because I know with night shots I want as little noise as possible in the shot for post processing purposes. Using a D3, a low aperture for me is anything under 2000. For other cameras I highly recommend keeping it under 1000.
  8. Patience- you might get lucky and get the shot of the century after 15 minutes....chances are you won't. That is due in large part because you are at the mercy of where the lightning strikes, fortunate that your shutter is open when it strikes, and it takes time to get your settings correct to account for a subject matter (lightning bolts) that aren't in the frame when you are making your settings.





Saturday, January 29, 2011

Shooting Lightning Photography- Top 8 Tips to improving lightning photography Part 1

So I was on a big Carnival Cruise ship this week in the Caribbean and at about 1am I look out my window and see big flashes of light filling the sky. I immediately thought, "That has to be lightning," so I decided to see what I could capture. I have had some great shoots with lightning over the years but this was truly unique. Why? Because I've never had a lightning storm hit while I was on a ship in the middle of the ocean...and we were heading straight for the storm.

I grabbed my Nikon D3 and my monopod. I left my tripod at home for the trip and had to figure out a way to be able to shoot lightning on a moving ship, in a storm, with lots of wind and rain, and virtually no way to keep the camera still to get the shots I needed. So using my monopod I "Jimmy-rigged" the camera and monopod to the railing of the ship using my camera strap to secure it. I have included some pics to show you what I did. I get a lot of questions regarding how to shoot lightning photography. So to help I have created The Top 8 Tips for Taking Lightning Photography:

  1. Find a way to stabilize your camera (tripod is the best option....but it's also a lightning rod)! You can either be a little crazy like me and assume that when it's your time to die it's going to happen no matter what, or you can set it on a tripod, turn on your self-timer or intervalometer and reduce your chances of getting hit by lightning by walking away from your camera.
  2. Set your exposure for when the lightning hits, otherwise when it does hit your shots will be severely overexposed if you are exposing for the night sky without taking into account the immense amount of light the lightning shines into the sky. You will have to experiment for probably 10 minutes in shooting to get this right. How do you do it? You mount your camera, open the shutter up for at least 4 seconds and wait for lightning to hit in the frame of your shot during the shutter being open for 4 seconds. Start adjusting your settings to get the right exposure.
  3. SLIGHTLY underexpose the image. It's much easier to raise the exposure in Lightroom, Aperture, etc. than it is to try and fix an overexposed shot. PLUS, when you do get that shot where there is a lot of lightning you run the risk of overexposing that shot if you aren't slightly underexposing. 1 or 2 stops under should do the trick.
  4. Manual Focus- don't even try auto focus for these shots. You will miss it every time because the camera will have try to focus each and every time you press the trigger. And the worst part is it won't be able to focus because you are pointing at a big dark sky. What you need to do is auto focus your lens on something else around you (like the light from a lightpole), then change your focus to manual on your camera. No light poles around you? Use your car lights, flashlight, anything to shine light on an object that's not too close to you to be able to get your focus correct.
Full list of the Top 8 Tips for Improving Lightning Photography including tips 5 thru 8 are coming next as well as many more shots from this shoot!!

The best thing for you to do is simply look at this like a fireworks show from the heavens and fully take it in. For this shoot in the Caribbean I shot for 3.5 hours. Many times I truly just marveled, yelled, "WOW!" and instead of getting frustrated (which is easy to do), I just enjoyed something truly remarkable. Hope this helps anyone trying to capture lightning bolts or strikes during a lightning storm. If you haven't done it before give it a try and you will LOVE it.
Nikon D3, 5 seconds at f/13.0, ISO 1250 at 24mm.
Nikon D3, 5 seconds at f/13.0, ISO 1250 at 24mm.
Nikon D3, 5 seconds at f/7.1, ISO 2500 at 24mm.

I didn't have a tripod with me so I improvised by tying my monopod to the ships railing...


Friday, January 28, 2011

Jason Lanier Photography Workshops- Questions and Answers

Workshop Questions: I was asked some questions regarding the workshops we offer and I thought I'd post the questions and answers in case other have the same questions.

1. Q: When we register do we pay the $100 registration fee at this time? A: Yes, the $100 is required to register for the course and you are sent a link to pay with credit/debit card. The link is active for 7 days to make payment, if you don't pay within 7 days your registration won't be valid. So make sure to pay so we can see you there!

2. Q: Are there limited spots available, if so how many? The workshop size is determined by the amount of attendees we have signed up 1 month before the workshop, that way we can choose the appropriate venue to hold the workshop. It is recommended to sign up ASAP in case we do find a venue that we REALLY want and the space might be limited.

3. Q: I have a point and shoot camera. Do I need to have a DSLR for your workshop to be beneficial? A: You DO NOT need to have a DSLR prior to the workshop as the time we spend together might actually help you determine what is best for you depending on your needs. My workshops will show you the tools I use like Adobe Lightroom, Photoshop, Nikon cameras, different lenses, etc. Having your camera for the model shoot will make that part extra fun but you will learn a lot regardless of whether you have your gear before or after the workshop.

4: Q: What skill level does that apply to? A: Truth is I have had people from all skill levels come to my workshops and from what they've told me that have all benefited from the information given. I take lots of questions so that gives a lot of different people the opportunity to get the info they need. I really do structure it so people who are just hobbyists to full time photographers can benefit from our time together.

Any more questions please let me know!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Fashion Shoot in Maui

Rollerskating in Paia, Hawaii- this image was taken last year at a shoot I did in the little city of Paia which is located on the island on Maui. This was such a fun shoot because with my busy schedule I don't get to do a lot of fashion shoots but this was one I just couldn't pass up. The model wore pigtails with a total vintage rollerskates and the outfit to boot.

We had a location planned but the original location had to be moved because there was actually a fire in the dried out sugar cane blocking the road to the location where we were going to shoot. So needing to find a new location we drove down the road and found this little rustic laundromat that was just perfect.

When we went to the laundromat there was a man there holding his dog and we asked if we could use it in the shoot. The model wasn't used to using rollerskates, so once we put the leash in her hand and the dog starting moving, so did the model. The picture as seen is a true capture of her losing her balance and falling down after the dog changed directions. There are some things you can't create on your own, and capturing someone falling is something that you can't fake. At the same time a pedestrian walked by and witnessed the fall which I also loved in the shot.

I had to stand in the middle of the road to get it but it was totally worth it. The model wasn't harmed at all in the making of this picture. I hope you like it!

Camera settings: Nikon D3, shutter 1/500 at f/9.0, ISO 640 at 28mm. Flash did not fire.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Wedding Photojournalism and Posing- Can They Co-Exist?


I often get asked, "So, you don't do any wedding photojournalism, do you?" I always chuckle a little at this question but I understand why people ask me. They see my photography and assume it's all posing, grand landscapes, etc. My response is always very simple, "Of course I do wedding photojournalistic photography, in fact 80% of the images from my weddings are photojournalistic."

Why? Well, it's very simple. With the way a wedding is constructed if you tried to to do anything more than 20% posing, you would interfere with the natural flow of a wedding and truly screw up the wedding for the clients, guests, etc. I find the photographers that can do BOTH a photojournalistic approach AND have the talent and ability to be able to be able to pose and create are the most sought after photographers on the market.

I have had clients request for 100% photojournalistic wedding photography, and you might be surprised that I have very happily accepted and honored those requests. They are choosing me for the style in which I shoot the photos, even though they are done in a journalistic way. I still add my creativity and own style to the wedding, the difference is that it's completely 100% unposed.

Conversely I have a lot of weddings where the client wants a lot of my posing and "signature" look where of course I'm very happy to oblige. In my opinion posing is more difficult than photojournalism because YOU as the photographer are responsible for making the shot correct, and if you don't get it right the client will indeed hold you responsible. With photojournalism the pressure is to get the shot right as it happens, because there are no "go backs." You can't say to the client, "Hey, would you mind having that incredibly emotional moment again? My camera settings were wrong and I screwed up the shot."

When I have consultations with my clients and they say they want completely photojournalistic photography I qualify their statement by asking:

  • Do you want group photos?
  • Do you want photos of you two looking at the camera?
  • Do you want pictures in front of anything in particular?
  • Do you want to make sure I get shots of you WITH anyone in particular?
99% of the time they answer, "Yes" to at least 2 of these questions at which point I explain that I will have to have some interaction at the wedding to make these things happen. In this day and age I have found that the majority of wedding couples just don't want BORING wedding photography like from the 1970's and 80's where some of the images were truly horrific. They feel they have to ask for photo-journalism wedding photography because they are scared if they don't that their pictures will turn out like their parents.

The answer is that wedding photojournalism and posing not only can co-exist, but they must co-exist. The vast majority of clients in the wedding market require it for their wedding. Having both gives the wedding clients the most comprehensive coverage they can possibly ask for, giving them something they will remember and love forever.

Camera Settings: Nikon D700, 1/320 at f/5.6, ISO 800 at 200mm. Shot at a wedding in Maui, HI, January 8, 2011 by Jason Lanier Photography.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Wedding Detail Shots- getting the stuff they will forget


I always tell my clients that they spend SO much time planning, preparing, spending, stressing, and finally getting married that it's my job to make sure I capture all of that so they will never forget it. I was married almost 11 years ago to the most amazing woman in the world. I have a pretty good memory but I can honestly tell you I can't remember the food served (I think it was Mexican food or something), I can remember about 3 of the songs the DJ played, and the decorations are a total blur.

If I didn't have the pictures that I have from my wedding I would remember even less. Due to my personal experience me and my team of photographers take great patience and time in getting the shots of all the things that you have worked so hard to create. My favorite comment from my clients is after the wedding when they see the images they say, "Wow, I didn't even know that happened, or I didn't remember we did that!"

For this shot in particular this is a bouquet that sat in the window at the Keawali Church in Maui for the wedding I shot there in January 2011. The sunlight was coming in and I just loved the contrast of the beautiful flowers against the window, and I made sure to frame it inside of the window frame and walls. It's a simple shot, but I love it. As the experts say, the quality is in the details, and wedding photography is no exception....

Camera settings: Nikon D700, 1/160 sec at f/3.8, ISO 1000 at 28mm. Flash did not fire.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Learn To Take Better Pictures Workshop coming to Pensacola, FL!!


New Workshop Announcement- Saturday April 23, 2011 in Pensacola, Florida! We are very excited to announce our newest workshop coming up in three months in beautiful Pensacola, FL where I have shot many weddings and have some truly great friends. Our workshop will be from 10am-2pm, 2 hours in the classroom and 2 hours on a model shoot where we can put our newly acquired tools to test.


Cost of the workshop is $100 per attendee and can be paid via debit/credit card and also by check. There are two things I can guarantee you from our workshops...you will leave with knowledge you didn't have before that you can use in your shooting, and you will have a ton of FUN! To register send an email to info@jlpros.com!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Taking (not making) great pictures

More and more I'm going to be posting images from my weddings and shoots that contain the before and after shots to give a better understanding on some of my photo techniques and to show that you must "take" great photographs, you can't "make" great photographs.

I always say that you can't make a good photograph great, you can only make a great photograph a little better. We're not talking about full on graphic design where you bring in fake skies, different backgrounds, etc...because that's not photography, that's just graphic design. Many times I'm asked where I get my backgrounds. I NEVER use backgrounds in my imagery, truthfully I take a lot of time to make the NATURAL background look great and shoot it properly. For that reason I'm sharing this image from a wedding I shot in Maui, HI in January 2011.

In order to make this image the way I wanted it I had to make sure to shoot it at the right time of day, use the sun the naturally light the bride, and remove any debris from around the bride. I hate spending extra time in PS cloning out things I naturally should have taken care of BEFORE I took the shot. Do I use photoshop to fix acne for example on a brides face that will be the cover of the album? Of course I do. But that's something that's unavoidable. My biggest point in writing this is that photoshop needs to be saved for the unavoidable things, and that any thing a photographer can do before taking the shot is their responsibility to get right.

Any questions please let me know!

Friday, January 21, 2011


Sydney Opera House Breakdown "Cinderella"- this is an image of a wedding I shot in Sydney Australia in May 2009 that I get a lot questions about so I thought I would do something a little different and show a before and after. At a recent wedding one of my photographers asked me if I had the "guts" to show a picture before it was photoshopped. I love "dares" and I thought for this picture it would be instructional so I'm showing the before and after so you can see the difference.


I always tell my photogs that good images can't be made great, only great images can be made a little better. In this day and age of photoshop SO many photographers make the mistake of saying, "Oh well, I'll fix it in photoshop." When I first started I was very dumb and said the same thing. If you want to become a great photographer than you need to hone your skills and not use PS as a crutch. It's a great tool but you have to get the shooting part right. Become a professional photographer than a professional editor, THEN you are DANGEROUS. Enough with my rant.


I used a tripod to capture this image, my video guy to shine light on the bride and groom, put a video light next to her shoe to illuminate it, cropped the image a little, used some dodge and burn, and blurred the sky some. Settings: Nikon D3, shutter 1/80 at f/1.8, ISO 6400, 20mm. Hope this is helpful!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Photography Workshop in Shreveport, Louisiana


I am pleased to announce that we have scheduled another "Learn to Take Better Pictures" workshop in Shreveport Louisiana on April 9, 2011. Photography workshops are such an important part to learning photography as they present an opportunity to learn inside and outside of the classroom. I have tried to fashion my workshops from what I think will be of greatest benefit to my students. I base the itinerary, topics, and the way I present the information from the many workshops I have attended, trying to take out all the things that I didn't find very helpful, and amping up the things that I found to be awesome.

One thing is for sure. My workshops are fun, I allow lots of questions, and I focus on making it very real and tangible. I don't give out information that I don't think will be very helpful. I also don't have a problem sharing what I know because I believe that there are so many clients out there, and so many weddings to shoot that there is no reason to be guarded with what I know.

Perhaps the best thing about the workshop is the fact that we do a hands-on photoshoot. Many times I've been on workshops where there is a model and you kind of stand there and just watch what the instructor is doing. During my workshops I go to great lengths to explain what I am doing. I give opportunities to those that want it to practice on the models and I give tips that will help that photographer to improve their technique.

Come to have fun, come with a lot of questions, and learn to improve your skills! If you're interested in a workshop in your area please email me at jason@jlpros.com and we can come to your area next!!