Shoot Like a Pro

2Georgian Bay, in Ontario, Canada, is one of my favorite places on earth. It’s also an awesome sea kayaking destination (which is why it’s one of my favorite places to take my cherished Klepper Aerius II Expedition). The place is filled with islands, and you can camp wherever you like, for free, and it you ask me it doesn’t get any better than that.

The granite on the outer islands is beautiful, but can look a little dull or harsh in flat light so I waited for warm evening light to capture this image. I had my tripod-mounted Canon 5DII set up with a 17-40mm f/4 L cranked to its widest setting. The tripod came in handy not so much for stabilization, but for careful composition and making sure the horizon was perfectly level. I shot a number of frames of just the scene itself, but when my friend Guillermo walked into the frame I realized that having someone in the photo added a sense of scale the image was previously missing. Compositionally, it also balanced out the tree-studded island in the top left. I pointed the camera down to get as much of the smooth granite as possible, while also retaining a slice of water and some clear blue sky. This image was used by Explore magazine as a double-page spread to open an article I wrote called “Back on the Bay.” ISO 100, 1/100 at f/8.


8This is one of my favorite Spanish travel images. I took it at a human castle competition in Tarragona. It’s held every two years, and is one of the most incredible things I’ve ever seen. Talk about teamwork! I also shot a video of the event (I’ve been to the competition twice, and the second time I shot video almost exclusively) which has been viewed on YouTube and Vimeo over 1.5 million times. (Check it out on my video page.)

So, getting back to the photo. I shot from every conceivable angle, including right among the castellers at the base of the tower. But in the end I decided to shoot from above. The event is held in the city’s bullring (I think they found a much better use for the venue) and so I went to the top balcony, which was restricted to media only. The first time I went to the event, I hadn’t arranged for a press pass, so I used a time-honored method for getting access. I just walked right in like I owned the place. (It helps to have a lot of camera gear hanging around your neck.) The view from the top gave me what I wanted–a background filled with a sea of people and color. Because this is what this event is all about–people. Human beings, working together.

This was the final human castle of the day, being built by the perennial winners of the event, the Castellers de Vilafranca. So, unlike at other times during the event, when each team is doing their own thing, all eyes were watching the final castle go up. I positioned myself so that the frame also included the coach, seen with his right hand up, shouting directions with a little body English. There wasn’t a ton of light, but I needed all the depth of field I could get, so I cranked my Canon 5D up to ISO 1600. I used my trusty 70-200mm f/4L IS lens, set to 81mm, so the EXIF says, and exposed the image for 1/125 at f/8.


3On assignment for Explore magazine, I travelled to the town of Pont-Rouge, a small town near Quebec City, to shoot a feature article on ice climbing. Using wide-angle lenses, I shot the climbers from below, looking up at these massive daggers of ice, but truth be told I wasn’t completely satisfied. I got tons of images, and after a long, cold day, I was ready to pack it in. It had started to snow quite heavily. I was walking back to my car when I turned around for one last look and saw this lone climber. I used a telephoto lens and shot at a small aperture to emphasize the blizzard-like conditions. I was happy, for once, that the climber was not wearing colorful clothing. I feel the monochrome aspect of the image (this has not been converted to black and white) adds to the drama of the scene. Canon 10D, Canon 135mm f/2L. ISO 200, 1/250 at f/11.


9The town of Laredo, in northern Spain, hosts a prestigious horse race every year, complete with imported English thoroughbreds and jockeys. The town’s long, wide beach provides a magnificent backdrop. In short, a great opportunity for some unusual shots. The thing is, I had no idea they were holding the race. It was just one of those serendipitous travel moments. I pulled up in my car to see the beach, saw something going on, and went to investigate. As luck would have it, I was just in time–the race was about to start in 20 minutes.

The first thing I did was look for the best background. I walked down the course and chose a spot where the sea cliffs dominated the scene. I framed the shot the way I wanted, then waited for the horses. Autofocus wasn’t going to work since I didn’t want to pan the camera with the horses. With panning, I wasn’t going to be assured of getting the composition I wanted, which I had carefully chosen. It was going to demand a fast reaction–galloping horses run at 30 miles an hour. I would have preferred to have a camera with a faster motor drive, but I didn’t, so instead letting the motor drive do the work, I chose to anticipate the action as best I could and go for one, decisive moment.

There was plenty of light, but nevertheless, I dialed up the ISO to 1250. That way, I could shoot at 1/2000 of a second, which was necessary to freeze the action. I prefocussed manually where I hoped the horses would be and used a small aperture to give me some leeway room for my guesstimate. Canon 5D, Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS (at around 140mm). 1/2000 at f/11.


1In the Dolomites of northern Italy, mountaineering is made a little easier due to iron cables bolted into the rock. This via ferrata, in Brenta, is one of the most spectacular. But as beautiful as it is, it’s not always easy to capture what you want since you’re limited in moving around to where the via ferrata goes. It’s not so easy to back up or move forward on this kind of terrain! I had taken quite a few POV shots, with my climbing partner Jaime (pictured above) either in front or behind me. But what I really wanted was a shot where he was in the distance. The trick here was to plan ahead and see the shot. Although I’m relatively close to him, distance-wise, it would have taken me at about 15 minutes to reach him, since the trail, if you can call it that, winded along a deep canyon in a giant arc. When you’re traveling in the mountains, there’s not always time to go back to a spot so pre-visualizing is crucial. I let Jaime go on by himself, and waited until he got there. I wanted to get the shot as he took a step across the giant crack that splits the mountain. Using a vertical composition increased the feeling of height. The shapes of the three different rock walls, with the triangle of the distant one in the center, makes for a harmonious composition. I also like its simplicity. There’s only rock and sky and climber. Canon 5DII, Canon 17-40mm f/4 (set to roughly 20mm). ISO 200, 1/180 at f/6.7.


5I shot Pamplona’s iconic running of the bulls for an article I wrote for Explore magazine in 2005. Proper research and networking were vital in order to get a spot on a balcony where the start of the fiesta takes place. Luckily, through a friend of a friend, I was able to secure a spot overlooking the main square. That was more than half the battle. But to get far enough out to exclude the awnings below me, I had to lean over a lot farther that I would have, had a friend not been holding on to me! Officials say the square reaches maximum density when there are five people per square meter. Looking at this image, that seems about right. Canon 20D, Canon 15mm fisheye. ISO 200, 1/350 at f/6.7.


6On a foggy morning in British Columbia’s Great Bear Rainforest, the salmon fishing suddenly shut down and it was soon apparent why. When the pod of killer whales cruised into the area, I reached for my 300mm. Even though some of them passed directly beneath out boat, I wanted to capture the surreal feeling of being out on a foggy ocean with these amazing mammals, which is why I particularly like this shot, from afar. Simple images like this one have an inherent dynamic quality because your eye moves back and forth between the only two elements in the frame. Although the water was calm, the boat I was on was moving around a bit, so I had to use a fast shutter speed. Also, the boat in the image and the killer whale were not perfectly aligned so I wanted as much depth of field as possible. The answer was the ISO, which I dialed up to 800. Canon 5D, Canon 300mm f/4L, 1/750 at f/8.


4In Galicia, the northwestern region of Spain, every year locals gather for an even called the Rapa das Bestas, which can be loosely translated as ‘the shearing of the beasts.’ In a nutshell, Spanish style cowboys corral hundreds of free-range semi-wild horses and trim their manes and tails while also treating them for parasitic infestations. It’s pretty crazy. Basically, once they’ve got the horses penned in (no small task on its own) they wrestle them to the ground mano-a-hoof, trim their manes and tails, while vets spray them against parasites and generally inspect their health. As you might assume, there are injuries to the cowboys, but it’s a point of pride and besides, fiestas in Spain are like that–lots of danger involved. Although I did get some good shots while in the ring with the horses (not a very pleasant place to be, surrounded by dozens and dozens of untamed, highly nervous, kicking horses), my favorite image came from outside the ring. Whenever there’s movement in the subject you’re photographing, you’re faced with a choice: use a shutter speed to freeze the movement, or not. In this case, I thought a slow shutter speed would better convey the action and intensity. I tried to pan along as one of the wranglers jumped on the back of a horse, with a helper in the background holding on to its tail. This kind of image requires a lot of luck, and there are usually a lot of unusable shots as a result. But every now and then it works out. Canon 5D, Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS at 70mm. ISO 100, 1/32 at f/13.


7This photo was used by Outside magazine as their featured image on their back-page “Parting Shot” department. I later sold it many times, to clients as varied as a Gore-Tex rainwear manufacturer to Asian banks selling credit cards. (Don’t ask my why this would make people sign up for a credit card, but at least one person thought it might and I’m happy they did.) It’s a very popular shot because hey, everyone likes dogs, and black labs especially. I shot it while on assignment in 2003 for Outdoor Canada magazine. I’ve wanted to get a good shot of a dog shaking off water for a long time, but it’s practically impossible! You never know when they’re going to shake or where, exactly. Unless, unless, you happen to be at an event like the Canadian National Retriever Trials Championships, as I was. At these events, where judges score the dogs on a number of factors, one of them is style, and the dogs are trained to bring the prize to their master, release their grip on it, and then shake. So I knew when and where it would happen, and the competition went on for four days, with a field of 200 dogs competing, so I had lots and lots of chances to get what I was after. (I have to say, though, it still wasn’t that easy!) I positioned myself to include a dark background in the frame to emphasize the water droplets–take a look at the image, without that it wouldn’t have been nearly as good) and I chose a shutter speed that would stop most, but not all of the movement. I think the slightly blurred ears add a lot to the photo. Despite having the huge advantage of knowing when and where the shake was going to take place, it hundreds of frames before getting this one, my favorite. Canon 10D, Canon 135mm f/2. ISO 100, 1/180 at f/6.7.


‰õ0On assignment for Canada’s National Post newspaper, where I wrote a weekly feature-length column, I spent a week aboard a museum-quality replica of Captain Cook’s HMB Endeavour. We sailed from Gig Harbour, Washington, to Vancouver, British Columbia. I got lots of great pictures. Climbing the main mast, dangling over a yardarm a hundred feet off the deck, furling sails in heavy seas, tired sailors in the galley trying to get food onto their forks as the plates danced across the tables. But the one image I needed that I didn’t have was of the ship itself, which is not easy to do when you’re on it. I realized this from the start of the trip, and I mentioned it to the Captain. He said he’d try to figure something out.

Three days later, he did. We were under full sail and the ship, as usual, attracted a lot of other boats. He waved one of them over, and asked them for a favor. Would they mind taking a photographer on a spin? I had no idea this was going on until people started calling my name. “Hurry!” they shouted. I grabbed my gear, making sure I had everything I needed, then carefully negotiated the exposed ladder on the Endeavour, and jumped on to the pitching speed boat. (Herein lies another tip: remember your boy scout training and always be prepared!) Turns out the two guys on board were off-duty cops doing a little crab fishing. They were super nice. I had little time to get the shot I wanted. I told them to get away from the boat a little, and get me on the other side of the ship so the light was not flat. There were lots of other boats around so we had to make two passes at it since I wanted the Endeavour to be the star of the show. On the second pass–which takes a while with a ship of this size–it all came together. The side lighting helps give shape and roundness to the sails, and having the sun in the frame give the image a certain timeless, majestic quality. This image has been licensed dozens and dozens of times, selling for all kinds of uses since it illustrates more than one concept. Canon EOS-1N, Canon 20mm 2.8. I shot this on Fuji Velvia slide film. Exposure unrecorded.