New Year’s Eve Fireworks Over Pagoda

674a3310For those of us who live in Berks County, the Pagoda that sits atop Mt. Penn is one of our most popular landmarks. For photographers, it is a great place to photograph any time of day, and any time of year. Having grown up in Reading and living here for more than 30 years, I have visited and photographed this location dozens of times. But New Year’s Eve last year was the first time that I was out at midnight, ringing in the New Year photographing the fireworks display above the Pagoda that has taken place annually since 1998. The tradition began that year as we celebrated the 250th anniversary of Reading, PA. I’m not one that readily enjoys cold weather, so being out at midnight in the cold has not been on my list of fun things to do-although it was on my Photo Bucket List. Last year the temperatures were warmer than normal, so 40+ degrees seemed like a great time to get out with a group from a local camera club and check another item off my list. From our location on an opposing mountain, a strong wind was blowing, making it feel much colder than it was-and causing the fireworks to fan out to the side. The show lasts about 15 minutes, but the burst are continuous, colorful and gorgeous over the red glowing lights of the Pagoda. 674a3280

Equipment: You need to use a tripod. Get over it and move on. Maybe you did get lucky once or twice photographing fireworks with your cell phone, but that’s all it was-luck. If you want a great, sharp image of fireworks, your camera needs to be mounted on a sturdy tripod. You will also need a cable release to trigger the shutter. I find using a wireless remote cumbersome when trying to photograph the spontaneity of fireworks displays, so I only use a cabled remote that plugs into the camera. You will then want to shoot in Bulb Mode, which allows you to keep the shutter open as long as you want.

674a3282The procedure I use is the same that I always use to shoot fireworks. Aim the camera in the general direction that I believe the fireworks will go off in. Use a focal length that will allow for plenty of room in the frame-you don’t want your fireworks to be cut off or extend out of the frame. Set your ISO to 100 or 200, and start with an aperture around f/11. You will most likely have your camera mounted for vertical images. You could also shoot horizontally, but you will need to leave much more room in the frame, which in this case will render the Pagoda very small. When you hear the burst go off,  open the shutter by pressing the button on the cable release. As the burst dissipates, I cover the lens with a dark-preferably black baseball cap-if I was sharp enough to remember to bring one;) Because I have forgotten so many times, I just keep one in the trunk of my car. I cover the lens in between bursts with the hat, because I like to have several fireworks bursts in each frame. Some people use Photoshop to put several bursts together in one image; I prefer to do it right in camera. If you were to leave the lens open for several bursts without covering the lens, then anything that is lit-in this case the Pagoda, will receive too much light and be over-exposed. So, open the lens for first burst, cover with hat, pull hat away just before next burst explodes. If you were lucky enough to have the bursts open at different points in the sky so they were not overlapping one another, then keep the lens open for a third burst, then close. After three bursts, it is likely that the next will overlap an area that was already covered, and will not work as well for the image. If the second burst overlaps the first in the same area of sky, I just close the shutter and start again.

674a3275When it’s finale time, the real challenge begins. Fireworks burst during the finale tend to overlap one another a lot. Once the finale starts, I close the lens down at least one to two more stops, and close the shutter much more quickly. It’s a technique that takes a good amount of practice, but can yield some awesome results.

Due to the confinements of inserting images within this post, images are shown as squares instead of their actual dimensions. Please click on images to see full frame.

Whether you are out shooting fireworks or cozied up inside, have a safe New Year’s Eve, and blessed year to come!

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Posted in Landscape and Nature

Take Your Skills To The Next Level By Photographing Something Different And Challenging!

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Every photographer has certain things they gravitate towards and enjoy photographing. Makes sense-few of us want to force ourselves to do something we don’t enjoy doing. But sometime that is EXACTLY what we need to do in order to learn and grow! I have been taking pictures for over 40 years now. It would be easy to think that I know everything I need to know about photography-but that is the furthest thing from the truth or my thoughts! I subscribe to newsletters from photographers of all different genres of photography-even those that I don’t normally gravitate towards-such as product and food photography, weddings and portraits, etc. Sometimes I even read articles on new born baby and child photography, although that might be one of the last things I would pursue;)

I also make it a point to continuously challenge my self to get out and shoot something I have never done before, or something I am not particularly good at. Without fail-every single time I learn something that helps to take my skills to the next level. I love photographing sports. A few years ago I had the opportunity to photograph swimming, diving and water polo. These are three of the most challenging sports-in my mind, to photograph. You are dealing with fast action in low-often mixed light, and your main subject is almost entirely hidden by water! Even if you are spot-on with your focus, each movement is shrouded in water-which makes it difficult to get a great shot of the athletes face. At the end of the day, there are far more throw-aways than keepers, but the ones that did turn out give you a much greater sense of pride. I signed on for every opportunity I could to photograph those sports over and over, and each time I got better and better at anticipating the action, getting sharp focus on my subjects, finding creative ways to render the action in front of me. As a result, I would now have no fear if asked to photograph one of these events for pay.

I had never heard of The Velodrome- which is a pro cycle racing track in Trexlertown, PA, when a friend first mentioned it to me a few years ago. In fact, I had no idea what the name even meant. (It’s an arena for track cycling, featuring steeply banked tracks consisting of two 180-degree circular bends connected by two straights, which transition to the circular turn through a moderate easement curve. Glad you asked! 😉  The Velodrome – or T-Town, as the track is also known, is the most famous cycling brand on the planet (according to their website), and has been home to the best field of international cycling competitors each summer for the past four decades. The track hosts the world’s premiere weekly racing series each summer, as well as national championships.

Though I enjoy riding a bicycle, I had never followed pro cycle racing as a sport. Enter an opportunity to attend an event. A few photo buddies and I met at the track, and as the racers began taking warm up laps, we began photographing the action from a variety of locations, using a variety of techniques. I was instantly hooked! At speeds of up to 50 MPH, the action is exciting and intense! So is trying to capture that action with a camera! You don’t need pro gear to get the job done, but you do need quick reflexes, and a good understanding of the fundamentals of photography, i.e. shutter speeds, apertures, ISO, and how they work together to freeze the action and how to render it as a blur to show motion. It is also good to know which lenses will give the best results, whether or not to use a flash, and how to set the camera to best capture fast moving action. My first time out, in about a two and a half hour time frame, I shot over 1000 images! The keepers from that night were about 300. The rest were either blurry or I had missed peak action. To be fare, the best way to photograph the action, is to set the camera on continuous drive, choose the focus method that works best for you, pick a point of action and fire away! If you are Panning-the technique of using a slower shutter speed and following the action with your camera while continuously shooting, you will likely get several bad images at the beginning and end of each burst that you shoot. Successful images, in this case, are ones where the subject is sharp, but the background is rendered as a soft, motion-streaked blur. This is one of the most creative, but challenging techniques to try to master. Which is precisely why I LOVE shooting there!

If you would like to challenge yourself and take your photography skills to a deeper level, then join me for a workshop coming up on August 19, 2016 at the Valley Preferred Cycle Center, or Velodrome as it is more widely known. We will have special passes giving us access to all areas of the track-including the infield and finish line! We will photograph from approximately 7 to 10:30 pm. The cost is only $85, which includes admission, access passes, and instruction the entire time of shooting! This workshop is for photographers of all skill levels. Hands-on instruction will be given before and during the start of racing. This workshop is a must for anyone who loves sports, loves to photograph sports, has kids in sports, and even for those who may not be into sports, but want to gain a deeper understanding of how shutter speeds and apertures work together to create compelling images. Are you up for a challenge? Then join us for this workshop. More info and registration info can be found here: http://www.valeriehoffmanphotography.com/product/pro-cycle-racing-at-the-velodrome-friday-august-19-2016-7-9pm/       Or click on “Workshops”, then choose “Pro Cycle Racing at the Velodrome”

 

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Think Spring!

IMG_9981The temperature hit 60+ degrees today! It was rainy, and there is a serious storm blowing outside, but there is hope in sight! It is no secret that I don’t fully appreciate winter. I get cold below 55 degrees! I much prefer sunny and 70 to anything else. Not only do I look forward to the warmer temperatures, but as predominantly a landscape and nature photographer, I just can’t wait for the beauty of spring. When flowers start blooming, and the trees are showing off their spectacular colors, it’s time to dust off the camera and get out shooting!

Living just East of Reading, PA, I am in close proximity to an unbelievable amount of gardens. Longwood Gardens seems to be everyone’s favorite, and for good reason, as there is something to see there year round. But a lesser known garden is only a few short miles down the road and over the border into Wilmington, DE. Henry Francis du Pont purchased Winterthur (pronounced Win-ter-ter with the H being silent)  from the E.I. du Pont estate in 1867. The gardens were created for his own pleasure, which he appreciated viewing from the 175 room house that now makes Winterthur world-famous for its collection of antique American furniture and decorative objects. Though I have toured the mansion-which is now considered a museum, my love of the place remains in the gardens. Very different from the formal gardens of Longwood, Winterthur has rolling hills, wooded paths and larger garden spaces throughout the property. March is supposed to be one of the best times to visit, as a section of the woodland known as the March Bank explodes with white, yellow and blue blossoms. To date I have not made it there to witness the beauty of the March Bank, but I have been there in April, when daffodils and other early spring flowers cover the ground. The Redbuds are amazing, as are the cherry blossoms and magnolia trees. Winterthur has some of the oldest Magnolias in the country, and they are spectacular to see.

IMG_0574A few weeks after the magnolias begin to fade, the true star of the gardens-Azalea Woods, begins to explode with color. Eight acres of azaleas and rhododendrons bloom in May beneath a canopy of very tall trees. At the base of the trees you will find trillium, blue bonnets and more. It is breath taking, and a photographer’s paradise! The azalea trees also surround the mansion, and are gorgeous framing elements for the reflection pool.

If I have gotten you excited to make a visit here for yourself, consider joining me on one or both of the photography workshops I will be offering here over the next few weeks. The first will be Saturday April 11th, 2015, and the second will be Saturday May 9th. Both treks are timed to capture the peak bloom times (I hope), as described above. We will have special access to the gardens first thing in the morning-3 hours before the rest of the guests being arriving, to be able to photograph in the soft early morning light. More details can be found under “Workshops and Classes”. Photo enthusiasts of all skill levels are welcome. There is a limited number of spots, to keep a high student-to-instructor ratio. Both treks are on sale until the end of March! So don’t wait, sign up today!

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Posted in Landscape and Nature

How I Got the Image – Sunflowers, Aug 7, 2014

IMG_4511It all started when I tried to wake up at 5:30am. The alarm went off, but I was in such a deep sleep, I literally had no idea what the noise was. When I finally figured it out, I was still too sleepy to get up. Around 7 I finally made an attempt to be awake, but was in such a trance-like state, that I walked into the wall!
When I made it back to my room to get dressed, I heard the little voice trying to help, saying, you need a bra (I know, TMI, but stay with me-it gets better☺.
OK, so I reach for a piece of clothing and try to put it on, but it’s a pair of shorts! Well that’s less than useful I say, but I hear Jonny Depp’s voice from Pirates of the Caribbean saying it ☺ When I finally figured the wardrobe issues out, I grabbed my gear and headed out- at 8am. The goal was to be there for first light!
So, I set the address with Google maps and off I go. 20 minutes later I arrive in a subdivision, with no sign of the car wash where the field is, or the sunflowers themselves. GoogleMaps doesn’t have a clue! So I drive around. How hard can it be to find an acre of sunflowers, I say to myself. A half hour later I stopped to ask a walker. She finally got me on my way to about a mile down the road. When I arrived, the sunflowers were in full sun-but gorgeous, right off of a small road, easily accessible. So off I go.IMG_4529
First thing I do is mount my camera on my tripod, and notice that I have no polarizer on the lens. I ALWAYS HAVE A POLARIZER ON MY LENS! I store them that way. If I was shooting at the end of the day without it, I ALWAYS clean my gear and put it back together the same way-WITH THE POLARIZER ON THE LENS! Not only was the filter not on the lens, it wasn’t even in the bag! Really?! INCONCEIVABLE! (funnier if you hear the voice from Princess Bride☺
So, camera comes back off the tripod and I now switch from the 17-85 to the 70-200-which, has a polarizer on it☺ I pick up the lens by the tripod collar, and it falls out of the collar – thankfully into my camera bag. Well, that was less than useful, the voice says again. Who the heck used my gear last-it obviously wasn’t me! Says I.
IMG_4545So, now I’ve put the lens back together, got it on the camera, got the camera on the tripod-everything was a challenge this morning, and I begin to set up a shot, when a swarm of little gnats sets in. And they begin to hover. And they are in my eyes and trying to get up my nose! And they stay. The entire shoot, which lasted about 45 minutes.
Once I made peace with my new little friends, I actually began capturing some very cool images. It just shouldn’t be so hard to functional in the morning☹

If you go, be careful not to blow out the yellow channel. Check your RGB histogram to make sure that all colors are within the right side of the histogram edge. Also, watch your shutter speed if there’s wind-which there likely will be if you begin shooting several hours after the sun comes up. You’ll also want to make sure that you have at least   1/500 sec  or faster to capture the flight of bees. They will be in and out of your composition the entire time-you might as well be ready for them.
And, watch your background. Look for distracting elements poking in and out of the frame, or across your flowers.
Experiment. Do overall field shots. Then get closer. And closer. And closer, still. Did you bring your macro lens? If so, then put it on and REALLY start exploring the flowers.IMG_4601
Shoot from the back. And the side.  And every other angle you can come up with. Be creative!
And for goodness sake, don’t shoot everything at eye-level like an amateur! Change your camera level. Shoot up. Use the blue sky as a background. Blue and yellow are complimentary colors, so these photos will have major visual impact.
If there is a bee on the flower, IMG_4706not only do you need a fast shutter speed, but you need to make sure to put your focus point on him-or her. Have fun with that-they don’t sit still for a second. You have to keep refocusing-constantly. Your best bet is to focus manually. By the time you move your focus point, the bee has moved again-or he’s gone. Save yourself some frustration.

And remember, depth of field disappears the closer you get to your subject. So, f/22 from across the field gets everything in the scene in focus-if you set your focus point correctly. BUT, from a foot away, f/22 will not get the bee and the flower in focus. Choose one. It’s gotta be the bee. Ultimately, when dealing with bees, I’d say you need at least f/8 or f/11 is you’re not parallel to the flower, and at least 1/800 sec shutter speed. So, you are likely going to need to bump your ISO up to 400-or more. (perish the thoughtJ

And when you’re editing your hundreds of images- if you have a bee, and the bee isn’t sharp-throw it away. You’ll hate it every time! Seriously. Trust me. That’s all the wisdom I have for now. I’m going back to bed now before I hurt myself.

P.S. These are RAW images are straight out of the camera with absolutely no editing.

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Hello world!

The “Hello World” title seems funny, knowing this will likely only reach a small corner of the world. It’s still kind of exciting to think of all the possibilities that await. What to write for your first post? Maybe an introduction? You can read some basic info about me under the “About” heading on my website. As time progresses, hopefully we’ll get to know one another more. This Blog will be about photography and life. I hope you will subscribe to these posts, and enjoy reading them as much as I will enjoy sharing the things that matter most to me.

I am a photographer. I LOVE photography! I have been passionate about it all my life. It never gets old for me. And what’s exciting is that there always seems to be something new to learn. Many of my students find that overwhelming at times. I find it ironic how much time I spend in the learning mode, since I spent most of my school years underachieving. When I am not out shooting, I am at my computer searching for places to shoot. I was born and raised in Reading, Pennsylvania, but spent almost half of my life-in Lansing, Michigan. In February of 2013 I returned to the Reading area. One of the reasons I moved back was to get away from the severe winters. I think I somehow managed to bring winter with me, though:(  (A funny story for another time). It is overwhelming how many fantastic places there are to photograph here in North East PA, not to mention the accessibility of so much more within a few short hours drive. I have a binder bursting with options for Photo Treks. Narrowing it down to where to go is no easy task. Since I really just launched my photography teaching business, I recognize and appreciate the need to start small and stay “local”. I’ve also come to realize that most people do not adventure out nearly as often as they would like, and they are as excited about the possibilities as close to home as I am. If you are in the area and would like to join me on a photo adventure, take a peak under the “Workshops” section, where you will find upcoming Photo Treks as well as smaller Photo Walks which will begin in the month of May.

My first, and greatest passion, is to pursue God. I want my images to reflect His glory. But more importantly, I want my life to reflect His mercy and grace, and love. I struggle with that a lot some times-especially with my family. They are the primary reason I moved back to PA. I realize that in the grand scheme of things, my life and my photography will probably not matter to all that many people. And that’s okay. What matters to me, is do the people God has placed in my path-both family and friends, know that I love them? If so, then that will be a life well lived.

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