Neutral Density Filters For Portraits

portrait grossinger photography

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When doing portrait work in photography I sometimes wish to use very fine depth of field control and shoot at f/1.8 or even f/1.4.  Since I use studio flash units I am limited to setting the shutter speed to 1/120th or less. I generally just set the shutter speed to 1/60th and adjust the aperture according to the desired result. I shoot in full manual mode when I do studio work, so that more or less eliminates using large lens apertures unless I use a neutral density filter. In this case I resorted to a ND 8X in order to properly balance shooting at f/1.8 at 1/60th of a second. For my type of photography I find little use for the lighter filters such as 1X or even less. When I need a ND filter it’s because I’m trying to do some dramatic lighting with a slow shutter speed and large aperture combination.


The effect of a large aperture is to give you a more soft and forgiving image, well suited for portraits. You can totally eradicate the background. In fact, in this image the focus on the ears is already very soft in comparison to the eyes. Keep the eyes sharp. Always.

The neutral density filter is one of very few that I carry because I can’t duplicate it’s effect in Photoshop. I always carry two 8X filters when I am out and about.

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Visit the zoo for colorful photography

colorful bird grossiner photography

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There is nothing like a splash of color to brighten any photography portfolio. Visit your local zoo and photograph some colorful birds! I photographed this beautiful pair using a Sony A-350 DSLR, Tamron 200-500mm zoom. ISO was 400, aperture set to f/5.6 with the camera choosing a shutter speed of 1/800th, fast enough for hand held photography. I used a zoom setting of 330mm to give me some distance from the birds.

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Sometimes you have to get dirty to get close

dirty pictures grossinger photography

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Sometimes you just have to get dirty in order to get close to the action. Dirt race tracks are one of those places that give you the choice of getting a poor picture or getting the right picture.

grossinger photographyWhen confronted with this type of situation I would rather go home with no pictures than put up with poor pictures.

Click on image for a worser view

The only other choice is to get close enough to stick the lens through the fence. Whenever I go to events like this I try to get a pit pass. That generally doubles the price of admission but to me it’s worth the money to be able to wander around, talk to mechanics and drivers and then get the close-up race shots.

Get close, get dirty, get the picture! race car grossiner photography

I’m no pro but that does not mean I have to accept bad shooting conditions. Yeah, I got a bit dirty, looked a bit foolish but I went home with the pictures! Situations similar to this one come up all the time. Sometimes you have to get rude and push, other times you have to beg and whine, while most of the time opening the wallet with some cash will get you the desired results.

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Attend a Rodeo for cool action shots

Saddle Bronc Riding GrossingerPhotography

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Rodeos are a great event to attend if you want to catch some really cool action photography. Lila and I attended the “Daddy of them all” in Cheyenne Wyoming. This is definitely worth attending. Even though we had to fight our way through that crapper called the “Pueblo to Ft Collins” corridor. That is what I call it. Massive traffic and pollution with the really horrid part being Denver. What a crapper! Colorado Springs is a close second. If you can avoid that stretch of I-25 then by all means do so. For me that will be a trick if I ever go that way again because I-25 starts in Las Cruces, New Mexico and runs right up to Cheyenne. OK, enough of the complaining. One drive thru Denver and you will know what I mean.

Cheyenne has what it calls “Frontier Days” Where an entire week is devoted to Rodeo, Parades and attractions. Even the nearby F. E. Warren Air Force Base gets into the act with some fine displays of days gone by.

rodeo rider grossinger photographySitting up high in the bleachers can give you some odd perspectives as in this case. Horse and rider look like they fell out of the sky.

Click on the images for a better view.

All of these pictures were taken with the Sony A-350 and the Tamron 200-500mm lens. Usually I had the lens set at around 300mm. That was all that was needed to bring the action up close and still give me some wiggle room. I set the camera on ISO 400 so that I would have plenty of shutter speed shooting at f/6.3. As usual, I had the camera set on aperture priority because I know I can control the shutter speed just as well this way as going to shutter priority. I like determining the exact aperture, it’s gives me comfort.

The rodeo was held during the middle of the day, so light was no problem. This is something you have to look out for. Far too many rodeos are indoors or run in the evening when the low light makes it tough to get a decent picture. I avoid those events because they are too frustrating. Cheyenne is bad enough because you are not allowed to bring a monopod or tripod into the stands and you are not allowed to be anywhere except in your assigned seat. Be prepared for a lot of hand held photography.

Sure there is a lot of run at a rodeo! Even Elvis made a short appearance riding sand skis. Kids of all ages got a kick out of this act.

So, if you ever get the chance be sure to attend a rodeo and take along some extra memory cards.

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Nice dogie!

Bite meThis is the kind of image that “grabs” people.

I have just returned from a long weekend trip to Cheyenne Wyoming for their Frontier Days celebration. Lila and I had a super time with the rodeo, parade and open house on F. E. Warren Air Force Base. Anytime you have a chance to go to this super event TAKE IT!

The photos I’m showing today were taken at an Air Force Police Dog demonstration. I started this series with the picture that has all the women cringing. I wanted to get as close to the action as possible, but of course when you attend one of these “tourist things” access is always restricted. I used the Nikon D5000 with the Nikkor 18-200mm zoom. This lens does most everything for me and captured most of the images during my stay in Cheyenne. As the commercial says, “don’t leave home without it”. I set the ISO to 400, lens at f/9 and shutter speed at 1/400. Of course I was shooting in aperture priority, which I find to be the best shooting mode for me.

photo of police dogThe dog seemed to be really enjoying the training demonstration and really sank his teeth into his role. The whip is only used as a noise maker and not to beat the dog. These dogs “win” every training exercise in order to make them absolutely fearless. In shooting this series I had the camera set to multiple image capture but still waited for that “Kodak moment”. Of course I was looking for teeth and aggressive behavior. I got plenty of both. The dog and his trainer were fabulous and put on a great show.

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Click on image for a better view


police dog photography

Plenty of action makes for interesting photography! I want to thank the excellent bunch of dog handlers and especially the Air Force Police Dogs for the great demonstration they put on.

One more image for the road:

Click on image for a better view

I love the way the dog goes eyeball to eyeball in this picture.

Strong Fast and well trained police dog

This had to have been a scary experience even for the trainer.

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I went to this tattoo festival

man with tattooOne thing about tattoo festivals. If you are into photographing faces with character, then you are in the right place.

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Lila and I attended a tattoo festival that was wall to wall with interesting faces and people.

Shooting conditions won’t be prime but the interesting goings on more than make up for that.

Click on image for a better view

I used the Nikon D5000 with a Nikkor 18-200mm lens. No flash, so I set the ISO to 1600, f/5.6 at 1/20th with vibration reduction on. Since these photos will never be turned into any kind of prints, I figured I could get away with photographic murder so to speak. For photos that are to be displayed primarily on the net or from an IPOD type device this type of shooting is just fine. I do pay heed to the ultimate use of my images. If I think I will display them at a photo show or gallery then I go about taking the pictures in a different way.

radical hair style grossinger photographyClick on image for a better view

The action at this festival was both indoors and out. Sometimes I would follow a person outside and then go back in, as was the case here, so I snapped the picture with the same settings as the first one but at a shutter speed of 1/1250th. The nice thing about shooting with Nikons is I have no fear of high ISO numbers.

Beautiful woman grossinger photographyClick on image for a better view

This picture illustrates one of my guiding principles that I never break. When I see a beautiful woman I take pictures of her. End of story. I will ask and most of the time will get lucky and have the lady pose for me, as was the case here. It’s a crime against humanity to pass up a picture like this. Never pass up a shot like this!

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The House Of Red Neon

red neon joe grossinger advertising restaurant

I have been meaning to photograph this striking Chinese restaurant for months now. Every time I drive east on I-10 at night I see it just south of the freeway. This image is a 9-image HDR I created using a Nikon D90 camera with my favorite walk-around lens, the 18-200mm Nikkor ISO was 400. When photographing for HDR I like to be in aperture priority so that the depth of field does not change with the different exposures. I set the D90 to bracket 3 images at 2 f-stops apart. After those 3 images were taken I set the exposure compensation to -2 stops and then finally to plus 2 stops. That gave me a total of 9 images for a range of 18 f-stops. Using a steady tripod is an absolute must for this kind of photography. I use the Manfrotto 055XPROB Pro with the Manfrotto 804RC2 head. For general photography, not using extremely heavy lenses, this is an excellent combination in price/performance. I also use this combination with the Sony A350 and Tamron 200-500mm lens with total satisfaction.

I always photograh with the camera set to RAW file mode. I process the RAW files using DXO Labs Optics Pro 6. DXO, which  does the heavy grunt work with the images and saves them in JPG format. I generally only work with JPG files and save the RAW files as my negatives. This procedure saves me an enormous amount of time and effort.

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grossinger photography red neon

This is a single image photo taken around the same time using the same equipment with the aperture set on 7.1 and .62 second shutter speed.

Click on image for a better view

Which picture is “better” comes down to a matter of personal taste. Lila likes the single exposure because in her words “it’s cleaner”, while I like the HDR for the tonal range. Lila has a valid point because in the second image many of the distracting elements such as cars and handicapped parking signs are subdued and hidden.

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Turn Day Into Night

grossinger photogaphy day to night filter

Turn day into night with the CAVISION 4X4 Glass Filter. The one I used came from B&H with their stock number CADFN1.244

This filter is not a regularly stocked item, so if you order it be prepared to wait weeks for it’s arrival.

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As soon as it arrived I went out and ran a bunch of tests on it. I was actually keen to find out if it would make my dream of turning the sky really dark when I did a HDR. I’m sorry to say it does not. So I ran some experiments in different white balance setting but here again I was mostly foiled. The picture above was taken with auto white balance. I made no adjustments except to crop and re-size. Click on the image if you wish to see it larger.

click on image for a larger view

The above image was shot with the white balance set to tungsten. This setting is the only one that had any real affect when I ran through the different wb options.

To back up a little, let me tell you about this filter. It’s a heavy glass square, 4 inches by 4 inches. No frame just glass. The filter comes wrapped in an excellent microfiber cloth. This then goes into a heavy canvas case. I thought the packing was high quality. Now I have to tell you that in my 30 years of photography I have never had a burning desire to turn day into night, so I’m not sure how much use I will get out of this $50.00 item. It is rare, as you can imagine what with B&H not even stocking the filter. It’s primary use is in the motion picture industry where Hollywood sometimes has to turn day into night.

Click on image for a better view

I snapped the above picture in the brilliant El Paso sun and made no adjustments other than to crop and re-size.

grossinger photography day for night filter minus 2 f-stopsClick on image for a better view

With this image I set the camera minus 2 f-stops. This seemed to have a more realistic night-time effect. The filter came through with those beautiful blue-hour tones. In all my playing around with this filter I came to the conclusion that it’s a great tool for some creative and artistic photography, but is not suited for everyday type shooting for any reason other than you just want to turn day into night.

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More Speedway Photography

Bringing out the racer photograph grossinger photographyWhen I spotted this car being brought out from the top of the trailer I knew I had a funny caption. Of course the Barnett Harley-Davidson team was very professional and did not drop off the deep end.

Click on image for a better view

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I photographed this with the Nikon D5000 and my walk around lens, the Nikkor 18-200mm. ISO was 400 because this was late in the afternoon and with a lens aperture of f/9 I was able to shoot at 1/320th. The vibration reduction on the Nikkor comes in really handy for this kind of shooting.

dirt track racing photography grossingerClick on image for a better view

The races started around 7pm, so it was starting to get a bit dark. I took this picture with the Nikon D90 and set the ISO to 3200. I don’t worry much about high ISO settings with my Nikons because the noise even at ISO 3200 is very low. My advice is “don’t sweat the ISO – get the picture!” I was shooting with the 18-200mm vr Nikkor set on f/9 in aperture priority and that gave me a shutter speed of 1/500th. Some folks would choose shutter priority when shooting this kind of scene and that’s fine but I like to keep things simple and stay in aperture priority. If I want a faster shutter speed I simply go to a larger lens opening (smaller f/number). I could be perfectly happy if the only choice my camera gave me was aperture priority. The only other shooting mode I use is manual for my studio work.

grossinger photography dirt track racing Click on image for a better view

I was about 100ft or 30 meters from the action. See those mud balls on the cars? They were on me as well. It’s the price you pay. I was feeling a bit foolish about the mud balls but as I looked around there were about 10 other brave souls watching the race from this close distance and of course they were wearing mud balls as well but I was the only one taking pictures!

into the turn grossinger photography
Click on image for a better view

I snapped a lot of photos when groups of cars were in the turn, that seemed to give me the best action feeling.

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A Fine Day At The El Paso Speedway Park

Portrait of a beautiful young lady Grossinger Photography

Lila and I had a great time at the El Paso Speedway.

I met this gorgeous young lady at one of the cars being prepared for the race. Her eyes are so beautiful I just had to get this shot.

I took this picture with the Nikon D5000 and the Nikkor 18-200mm lens.

ISO 400 f/9  1/250  70mm Aperture Priority

It would have been a crime against humanity to pass up this gorgeous woman.

Click on image for a better view

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The Speedway is a photographer’s paradise!

When we arrived at the speedway about 2 hours early I checked into getting access to the pits. This is crucial at one of these events because some of the best photo ops take place before the race when you can talk to the drivers, mechanics and fans.

A helping hand Grossinger Photography

Nikon D5000 ISO 400 f/9  1/16oth  29mm aperture priority

I like to get in close!

Click on image for a better view

A moment of contemplation Grossinger Photography

Click on image for a better view

I used the same setup for all of these images. The D5000 with it’s swiveling LCD  makes composing a snap and the 18-200mm Nikkor is a super “walking around” lens.

Beautiful woman grossinger photogaphy Click on image for a better view

This young lady was actually posed like this when I walked up and asked if I could take her picture. All I had to do is ask her to turn her head a bit for a better composition. I think the background helps this image a lot. Beautiful women and cars are a natural match.

American Racer grossinger photography Click on image for a better view

Mud Removal Service grossinger photography Click on image for a better view

This young man was taking off a lot of mud the car picked up from the last race. El Paso Speedway is a dirt track that gets watered down just before the race. Yeah, I came home with quite a bit of mud on me. The price you pay for getting close to the action.

Racing El Paso Speedway Grossinger Photography Click on image for a better view

I told you I would get to the actual race. I did get very close to the action. Close enough to get mud all over me.

Tension grossinger photography Click on image for a better view

Slinging mud grossinger photography Click on image for a better view

My final photo for this post shows a car sliding into the turn and slinging mud.

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