Wednesday, August 18, 2010


Since I was in high school I’ve enjoyed shooting fireworks displays/celebrations. Just about every year I try to get out and shoot different fireworks displays. I always like to look for the unique versions. In my opinion, the big brand fireworks shows with big city skylines all look the same. Last year I found this show and shot if from down on the bridge.

This year I chose to climb this hill to gain a perspective that would include the bridge I shot from the year before. Wow, what an angle! You have the time exposed car lights stream through the frame, along with the boats on the water cruising and anchored watching the show. Of course the main thing is the fireworks display going of in the middle of all this. Off in the distance you can see the show for the city of Austin, Texas. This show is on Lake Austin sponsored by Austin Country Club.

Here’s how I shot this scene. It all starts with the angle. When shooting events where you get just once chance to get the shot, I always scout my angles out ahead of time. The day of the shoot, I arrive early to make sure I secure my preferred angle before anyone else does. In this case I was set up ready to shoot three hours before the show. I had my assistant hold the position while I went to this great Mexican food dive to grab some spicy food to go along with the show I was about to shoot. I still shoot with a Nikon D2x for one reason…four kids in college! Attached to my D2x was a Nikon 17-35mm 2.8 zoom. My camera was attached to a Gitzo tripod with the graphite legs and a Gitzo ball head. Using Nikon’s cable release I would shoot my exposures ranging from 30 seconds down to 5 seconds at F-8 up to F-16 always at ISO 100. The actual setting depends on the frequency of the fireworks burst along with the overall scene. One thing you need to watch for is burst frequency. At the start of the show, the bursts start out slow. At times they will increase in frequency of burst and then slow again. Always at the end there is the grand finale which if you’re not careful, you will overexpose your shots.

I like to use the aperture to control the over all scene with and I use the shutter speed to control the look of the fireworks with…shot burst and long trailing burst. My favorite exposure for fireworks is ISO 100, 15 seconds at F8 plus 2/3. Usually the trailing of the fireworks is just the way I like it, The 15 seconds allows for three burst and the illumination of the three burst is just right for just under F11. At least it has worked for this scene for the last two years.

One last thing to note, In Post you can curb the contrast levels by using a little Shadow/Contrast control in Photoshop. It’s also fun to play with the layering capabilities Bibble offers, which I prefer over both Aperture and Lightroom hands down!

I’ll be teaching a fireworks workshop on New Years Eve in Austin, Texas. For more info you can check it out at

Don't forget to checkout my workshops at we can use your mom on a workshop shoot.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Aprils "2 Minute Workshop"-Time Exposure Portraits

I have several very hard working interns and when I can I like to set up a photo shoot as a private workshop for them to say thanks for their hard work! So, recently we made arrangements with a carnival company to shoot on one of their Ferris wheels. Since my seventy something mom is the craziest actress I know, I asked her to be our model. As you can see, she came up with a great outfit and some scary make-up.

My favorite portrait lighting style is something I call Time Exposure Portraits. Basically, this is where we light our subjects using a moving background, usually with artificial commercial lighting and drag the shutter so the background exposure is properly exposed. In this case, we will use the Ferris wheels movement as our background. The Ferris wheel basket we had also had a center poll mounted roof. Perfect! This will be a great place for me to mount my Nikon SB-800’s set on remote from. Using a couple of Manfrotto Majic Arms with Super Clamps on one end and a flash shoe mount on the other, I hung my lights on each side of the basket. They were placed slightly in front of my subject, pointing at her and locked down with diffusers.

I waited until dusk to start shooting and we shot through dusk to complete darkness. Since the lights were so close to the subject, we only needed about 25% power. Using the SU 800 Commander on my camera, I dialed down the flashes. I was also shooting with a Nikon D2x and a 17-35mm 2.8 zoom. The iso was set at 100. My f stop was F11 and when we started, the shutter was dragging at 1/10 of a sec and at complete darkness the shutter drag ended up at 4 seconds. Oh yeah, one last thing…I had the shutter set to go off at the end of the shutter, which is called a rear curtain sync. This means the shutter opened first and at the very end, just before the shutter closed, the flashed triggered. I also hand held the camera.

One little backend story… When I recruited my mom for the shoot, I had only told her we would be shooting at a carnival. When we got in the Ferris wheel basket for the first time, I could tell she was upset with me. Since there were interns with use, she was quiet, but her eyes said “Your Dead when I get through with you”. I think we all have moms with that look. When the operated cranked up the wheel and we jerked to a roll, my moms eyes almost popped out of her head and she screamed in complete terror. She then explained to us she had a sever fear of heights and had never been on a Ferris wheel before. So, the fear looks are not all acting on her part. As you can see, the shoot was a huge success and we all got some very funny photos…at my moms expense! Thanks Mom, now I know you really do love me. I’ll make it up to you on Mothers Day. I have a sky diving shoot I’d like to use you on:) Don't forget to checkout my workshops at we can use your mom on a workshop shoot.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Two Minute Lighting Workshop #2

In the not to distant past, I taught what is my favorite workshop to teach, "Masters Of Light". I won’t make some cheap pitch here for the workshop, but here is the url to my workshops in case your interested… I wanted to teach my students how to think wildly out of the box. My neighbor is Willie Nelson’s Golf Pro and he looks like he could be wild, but in fact he is gentle as they come. Well, unless you really piss him off and from what I’ve seen that is pretty hard to do. Anyway, I recruited Jeff to be our “Bad Ass Harley Model”. However, rather than shoot the typical location static portrait, I wanted my students to learn how to shoot action portraits using remote lighting. First I demonstrated the shoot with my Nikon D2X (yes, I’m a bit behind on updating my equipment. It’s called having too many children in college at the same time:). I also used the Nikon SB800’s. I mounted my camera on the back gate of my SUV using a Bogan majic arm. The Nikon master SB800 was attached to my camera's hot shoe, but the flash itself was in the off mode. I also attached another SB800 to the frame of the Harley using a Bogan Super Clamp. I've also connected the camera to my computer so I could control everything remotely from the front seat. I’ve left the flash in the shot so everyone can see its placement. For publication, I've photoshoped it out. From here, we took off and cruised 6th street in Austin, Texas. Jeff followed with his cig hanging from his lips. Oh yes, I also dragged the shutter for one second. Dragging means to set the flash to trigger at the end of the shutter setting and in this case it was one second. My aperture was around F 8 and the iso was set at 100. My zoom was set at 24mm. As we cruised, sometimes we would hit small bumps and the camera would bounce a little, adding to the unique wild look of the photo. Now that’s how you shoot a “wow” portrait. Again, this is my favorite class to teach.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Story Behind The Photo #2

Years ago I shot a story on "Babies born addicted to crack". It was a very rough assignment and life changing for me. In the photo above this mother was brokenhearted her babies death sentence because of her addictions. Normally, I try to stay out of the story, but when I get nudged by God to try and comfort her, I obey. I had the shot and knew it, so I put my cameras away and began to tell her she could be forgiven. She was absolutely convinced she was going to Hell. I always keep a bible in my camera bag, so I pulled it out and spent an hour going through multiple scriptures about Jesus Christ's love for her. I knew of a church service in that town that night, so I loaded her and her family up and took them to the service. Only God would know that he had brought a preacher from New Zealand who preached on prostitution and drug use. It was tailor made for this family. After the service she and her baby received prayer and she gave her life to Christ and asked for His forgiveness. I wish all my assignments where like this!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

What makes a "Pro Photographer"

For years and in college I was taught the definition of a "pro photographer" was when one starts to get paid for shooting photos. Perhaps in some ways this could be considered true. However, when a photographer claims to be a "Pro", that photographer is communicating that he can be trusted to shoot the same quality work he presents in his portfolio or website!!! The photographer that can do this 99% of the time is a true "PRO PHOTOGRAPHER" and is qualified to claim so.

The problem is this, I and many true pro photographers I know through the years and especially these days are having to come behind these "wanna be pros" and clean up their messes. It damages the reputation of our industry and people begin to think "well hell, I can just do this myself if this is what pro work is"!

Personally, I would like to see the photography industry adopt the same system plumbers use. If you are serious about becoming a professional photographer, but have not established you skill set consistently, then you need to call your self an Apprentice Photographer. Once you have establishes your skill set to be able to consistently deliver the same work quality in your portfolio and on your website and say have done so successfully for multiple clients over year or two's time, then you should call yourself a "Pro Photographer". Before that day, do yourself and the industry a favor and let your clients know you are still establishing your skill set as a photographer.

Just my two cents worth. Let me know what you think!

Kevin Vandivier

Monday, January 4, 2010


When I was growing up, most people kept their opinions to themselves unless asked. It was just polite. Today, people vomit opinions constantly...behind others backs. To their face its always niceties. Before, when you did ask for some ones opinion, you got it...the truth, good or bad. Today, it's all about BFF (for you older folks, thats Best Friends Forever). How can we grow when people only say the bad things behind your back instead of to your face. Personally, I'm looking for true opinions. The more detail, the better. So, I'm asking for your opinion! What's wrong with this picture?