Archive for ImageMaker Adventures

ImageMaker Adventures: The Holy Grail

Join Ken as He Adventures to Photographic Serendipity

The first time that I heard about the “Holy Grail” was in 1975. I was introduced to the Grail by a very wise team of friends called, “The Monty Python”.

What actually is a “Holy Grail”?

A Holy Grail is the top of the heap, the big kahuna, the Mac daddy, the grand poohbah, the cherry on top of the sundae, the star atop the tree! In short, it’s one of the best photographs of your career.

I am always after a holy grail, yet it’s not uncommon to be unaware of what the grail will be, or when, or how it will reveal itself.

I practice something called pre-visualization. I see images in my mind before I go out to try and capture those images or similar ones. Effectively, the pre-visualized image becomes my goal; in this case a visual goal. Every time that I go out to photograph, I have a goal. That goal can be determined by a client or self-assigned. Regardless of where your motivation comes from, set a goal for yourself and always strive to reach your goal. I do each this each and every time that I pick up a camera.

With a goal in mind, sometimes I have to wait for hours before I make a picture, waiting for that one important element to arrive or appear to complete the composition. There are other times when I grab images very quickly, sometimes from the hip because the “decisive moment” is upon me! That “decisive moment” could mean that you are photographing sports, an emotional moment at a wedding, or trying to capture some fleeting light. Always being prepared is a real asset when the decisive moment occurs.

I’d like to share a recent experience while photographing in Phoenix, Arizona. Most of the country understands that the southwest desert is generally the hottest portion of the US. For 9 months of the year, the valley of the sun is the envy to most of the rest of the country; warm, blue sky days for 300 days a year. The great sunny weather brings golfers, baseball spring training, race car teams here to test, as well as hot air balloons to fill those blue skies every morning.

Now I want to talk about the other 65 days a year when Phoenix is an inferno. Each day, the heat grows and mixes with a moist monsoonal flow from Mexico, drenching the normally arid air with dew points of 55 degrees and above. This is Monsoon season: a very short 8 weeks when most Phoenicians escape the heat and head to places like San Diego to relax and be cool. Others, like me, are eager to be out in the heat, watching the clouds bubble in the sky until they become giant thunder heads, producing exciting weather and picturesque skies.

A byproduct of thunderstorms is that they often produce lightning…. visible cloud to ground lightning, photographically interesting lightning!

The monsoons this year have been scarce, with very few storms actually making it to the Phoenix area; they’ve mainly been taking place in the mountains of Arizona. So rather than having miles and miles of flat, open land dotted with Saguaro cactus as a foreground, we are having to shoot in between tall, overcrowded pine trees that offer minimal visibility and very few roads on which to follow the moving storms; picking an area to photograph a storm has been challenging.

There are many decisions that need to be made in order to find a good place to photograph a storm. Studying weather patterns is the primary element in finding an area to capture storms. This particular day I saw a pattern that suggested there was a good chance that a line of storms could develop about 100 miles from Phoenix, so that became my target area. Once I arrived in the area, I started scouting for views through the pines that would allow me to see the storms and make imagery… should they produce lightning.

The location I finally settled on was perfect. The view to the southwest had storm cells slowly dancing by for two hours, producing many lovely lightning strikes. Once the storm cells moved on, I thought to begin the drive back down to Phoenix with the hope to intercept another storm, hopefully near sunset.

Another decision had to be made about where I could find a storm cell and a very strong foreground. That is the recipe for success when it comes to good landscape photographs. Once I descended from the pine laden hills, I was literally in a valley between two sort of tall mountains. I saw a storm not too far ahead and as I did, I found my foreground. A grand Saguaro cactus stood tall and proud with the slow-moving storm gathering strength behind it. To the immediate right of the desert sentry stood a rainbow diffused by the rain falling.

I pulled over as quickly as I could and got out of the car to set up my cameras to capture what I hoped to be a monumental image. I already had 2.5 strong elements in front of me as I set up one camera horizontally to capture the saguaro, the rainbow and a very warm sunset color cast upon the cloud by the last light of the sun creeping down to the horizon in the western sky.

I then setup my 1D X Mark II to capture a vertical, tightly cropped frame. While photographing lightning storms, I like to compose a safe image and then take a bit of a compositional risk by going in very tight with fingers crossed. I am not a photographer who likes to compose a wide view and then crop the image in tighter if lightning strikes.

I got it! The Holy Grail today was a composition with an extremely rare combination of a sunset with a saguaro cactus, flanked by a glowing rainbow and accented with a cloud-to-ground lightning strike!

I’d like to stress the importance of using a memory card that you trust so that when the opportunity for a “Holy Grail” image presents itself, you know that the card is ready to perform without issue and the image will be safely captured and stored. I’m happy to know that all of my camera bodies are loaded with Delkin BLACK series media.

Be prepared, be educated, be smart, and be happy and blessed when Serendipity comes along for the ride!

My Equipment:
Delkin Devices 128GB BLACK CF and SD Memory Cards
Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8
Canon EF 28-300mm f/4.5-5.6
Lightning Trigger IV
Canon EOS 5D Mark IV (Pre-Production Unit)
Canon EOS-1D X Mark II

Ken SkluteAbout Ken:

Ken Sklute has been honored as one of Canon’s Explorers of Light, a designation shared by only 51 top photographers worldwide. Ken has enjoyed a diverse career photographing people, professional sports, architecture, weddings and landscapes.

During Ken’s 42 year professional photography career he has accomplished the title of “Photographer of the Year” in 32 out of 38 years in the states of New York, Arizona and California. In addition, Ken has been awarded 14 Kodak Gallery Awards, the Kodak Gallery Elite award, WPPI Grand Award for Weddings and 15 Fuji Masterpiece awards, amongst many other awards.

ImageMaker Adventures: The Summer Aurora Adventure

Join Ken Sklute as He Shows You What It Took To Capture This Breathtaking Photo

Ken Sklute Swim Meet

Let me begin with the fact that there are little, if any, lessons available in chasing the Aurora Borealis.

Chasing it is. It all begins with watching the forecast. Like weather that we experience on a daily basis, the aurora forecast is similar. It is constantly changing. You need to be familiar with the resources that are available in order to forecast the sun, the solar winds as well as the cloud cover in the area that you will need to travel to. This all becomes the easy part.

The basic challenge is, where on earth to go see the best light show. Once I figure out where the weather should be clear, the difficult decision becomes where exactly to go in order to find a beautiful foreground that will end up defining and giving dimension to the colorful background.

Recently, the sun began to show solar flare activity and the solar wind was increasing; the combination caught my eye. In addition, a notice was sent out by the space weather forecasters letting us know that we should be in for a brief, but spectacular show in the northern sky. Where to head became the quick thought. I’ve been lucky in Minnesota this year, though not this time as it looked like rain was in the forecast for days in the heart of the USA. My next choice was the Pacific Northwest, Seattle to be exact. The forecast put a huge smile on my face; days and days of clear blue skies were ahead. “Perfect. One ticket to Seattle please!” It is a terrific time to leave the furnace-like heat of Phoenix behind me, as it will be a record-setting weekend of 118 degrees!

Seattle and the populated surroundings tend to be too light for a dark sky, so I plan to drive east, crossing over the Cascade mountains into the eastern Washington farmlands where the area is flat and dark. Dark is the key. Today we will have virtually black skies, without a moon rising or setting during the brief period of summertime darkness.

My regular destination to capture the Aurora would be somewhere near the Arctic circle, generally dark and very cold. During the summertime, the earth’s pitch changes and as we rotate, the normally dark area becomes the land of the Midnight Sun; it is light for most, if not all, of the night. Up in northern Washington, darkness will come in at about 11PM and start to show the morning glow at about 3AM. That makes for a short night with the sunrise occurring just before 5AM.

Extremes. Witnessing extreme weather generally involves extreme temperatures. The wintertime chase of the Aurora typically takes me into areas where temperatures reach -30°F, so the equipment that I choose to bring along has to be extreme. I count on the best digital media in the world to capture my imagery: Delkin BLACK. The Delkin BLACK memory line is made for extremes; as soon as you pick up the card, you are aware that you are holding a card designed and built to last in extreme conditions. The desert farmland areas here in Washington can reach up to 100°F during the day. The cards are made to withstand heat, cold, as well as that unfortunate time when you either drop it, trample it or even run it over with your automobile.

As dark finally begins to happen, I will already be in place, awaiting the skies to come alive. I spent the better part of the later daylight hours searching for an interesting foreground in order to have a very strong composition. As I scout the area, I’m constantly entering interesting locations that I think will work into my GPS, so that I can pull them up when I might need them, which could and should be when the star of the night sky appears.

Without a foreground and a place for your viewer’s eye to come to rest, the image will look to be moved over quickly. As remarkable as the Aurora can be, without a center of interest or primary subject, there will be nothing holding you in the photograph. I search for windmills, naked trees, abandoned buildings and so on to become the strength of the image design. When the Aurora arrives, it will simply bring the image to life, adding depth and dimension to your creation.

I’ve come home to one of my most favorite and spiritual locations. I would like to believe that my spiritual leader led me here on the summer solstice of 2015. I now return one year later, June 2016, for hopefully another evening with my muse, the Aurora at this beautiful location.

As I approach my destination, I’m happy to see that not much has changed since my last visit, with the exception of the no longer fallow field located behind this great abandoned house. As I pull into the short driveway, I notice I’m being carefully watched by a family of owls that seem to call this farm their home. Mounting my 200 – 400mm + 1.4 teleconverter onto my Canon EOS-1D X Mark II, I captured a few images of my new friends before the waning light faded.

This unique night finds the Aurora arriving soon after the sun sinks below the horizon and the sky turns from rich blue into the darkness of this moonless night.

I will be photographing with two cameras tonight to capture different perspectives of the light show in the sky. This will allow different lenses, compositions and the ability to create panoramas or focus stacked imagery.

My style of photography often includes a foreground element to provide depth and dimension to the colorful presentation in the sky. I now have both cameras set up and ready. I’ve done a few tests and am now just waiting for the lady to arrive.

She arrives in a very subtle, but colorful display and remains with me until the eastern sky began to show hints of the sun returning.

During this brief time together, I was able to create a few different compositions, both vertical and horizontal, a 14 frame panorama and a beautiful time-lapse before she had to be on her way.

Please look into Delkin Devices’ BLACK line of digital media and be on the lookout for more of my adventures here on the Delkin blog!

To see more of my work, please visit my website at SerendipityVisuals.com

Ken SkluteAbout Ken:

Ken Sklute has been honored as one of Canon’s Explorers of Light, a designation shared by only 51 top photographers worldwide. Ken has enjoyed a diverse career photographing people, professional sports, architecture, weddings and landscapes.

During Ken’s 42 year professional photography career he has accomplished the title of “Photographer of the Year” in 32 out of 38 years in the states of New York, Arizona and California. In addition, Ken has been awarded 14 Kodak Gallery Awards, the Kodak Gallery Elite award, WPPI Grand Award for Weddings and 15 Fuji Masterpiece awards, amongst many other awards.

ImageMaker Adventures: Dive In with Ken Sklute

Join Ken Sklute as He Shows You What It Took To Capture This Amazing Photo

Ken Sklute Swim Meet

I like to teach my students that photographers are actually problem solvers. Making decisions all day long, we figure out what lens, what ISO, what WB, shutter speed, aperture and so on. I often pack tripods, monopods, and many camera mounts to have with me, just in case. This photo session one hot, humid, summer morning had me searching thru my accessory bag to provide me with mounts to record images “out of the box” so to speak.

I reached into my bag of the Fat Gecko™ family of accessories by Delkin Devices®. I have a variety of Fat Gecko suction mounts, tree or pole mounts, a vice mount and their awesome KaBoom™! The KaBoom is a sectional carbon fiber pole that can be used to get as small camera up high or in this case, down low, underwater!

I love adventure and capturing adventurous imagery. I fly a hot air balloon, a Cessna, chase tornados, the aurora borealis, photograph 300 mph race cars and more! I tell you this because the one thing that I do not like is water. I like water but I just don’t go into it. As I was covering a swim event recently, I wanted to come back with some unique angles and impossible places to get to during swim practice. My KaBoom and Fat Gecko mounts to my rescue. I cannot affect the swimmers while photographing this swim team so these tools become an integral element in making the shot work.

I scouted a few locations where I could walk along side the swimmers and not actually run into any obstacles myself. one of the first camera positions that I chose would be directly overhead of a swimmer. I had no tall bleachers or any other way of adjusting my height, so I mounted a camera on the Kaboom. This allowed me to place the camera directly over the swimmer while they did the backstroke. (See photos 1- 3)

As the swimmers turned to change their stroke, I reached out and placed the camera just clear of the swimmer’s arm. That way, I could frame the image with their hand and arm around their face from a perspective that gave me a very intimate point of view.

I enjoy the perspective of showing the swimmer in his or her environment, not necessarily the traditional tight telephoto shot from afar. I wanted to feel the water splashing as that powerful stroke came from overhead and crashed into the water, propelling this young athlete thru the water. That camera position two feet away from the swimmer gave me that feeling. (See images 4-5)

While still using the multifunctional KaBoom, I decided to add a second length of carbon fiber section to give me the proverbial 10-foot pole. As I walked alongside the swimmers, I submerged my camera under the water with the lens tilted up to see those dedicated athletes from a perspective below them, looking up into the backlit scene—allowing me to watch them stretch through my frame. In most cases, I created a diagonal composition to help with the suggestion of movement through the camera frame. (See images 6-8)

I wanted to create various camera angles to provide diversity to my collection of imagery. While the athletes took a break, I placed a camera on a Fat Gecko Dual mount to the inside of the pool and under the water. I thought this placement would compliment my other coverage to show the swimmers making their way to the wall and actually turning to continue their lap of the pool.

The last angle that I chose to capture was the swimmer diving into the water, right over my camera. I mounted the camera to the diving board support with a Fat Gecko Strap mount. This mount is used to attach cameras to trees, poles and other roundish types of supports. (See image on the right)

I absolutely love my Fat Gecko family of camera mounts that allow me to be able to create “Impossible shots made possible” by using Delkin Devices!

Ken SkluteAbout Ken:

Ken Sklute has been honored as one of Canon’s Explorers of Light, a designation shared by only 51 top photographers worldwide. Ken has enjoyed a diverse career photographing people, professional sports, architecture, weddings and landscapes.

During Ken’s 42 year professional photography career he has accomplished the title of “Photographer of the Year” in 32 out of 38 years in the states of New York, Arizona and California. In addition, Ken has been awarded 14 Kodak Gallery Awards, the Kodak Gallery Elite award, WPPI Grand Award for Weddings and 15 Fuji Masterpiece awards, amongst many other awards.

ImageMaker Adventures: Zero to 250 MPH with Ken Sklute

Journey with Ken Sklute as He Shows You What It Took To Capture This Amazing Photo

Ken Sklute Drag Racing

Believe it or not, I began my photographic career because I fell in love with the look, sound and smell of professional drag racing! I was lucky enough to be taken under a driver’s wing as he introduced me to what would become my lifelong passion.

I would go to the racetrack as often as the funny cars raced, that is, if my ride would take me on the 50 mile, one-way journey. I admired the warriors that drove these 2,000 horsepower cars down the quarter mile at 200+ mph. From those early days, I have always wanted to capture images of these pilots in their 7-layer nomex fire suits and masks as they were strapped to the chassis, becoming one with the car as it blast down the 1,320 foot course. But back in the 1970s, cameras were large, heavy and early in their development.

I’ve spent many years photographing these now 300 mph missiles, joining the NHRA tour of 24 National Event stops across the USA for 8 years at the beginning of the 21st century. I began working for some of the top teams in the NHRA, providing them, as well as accounts like the Associated Press, daily images for their websites, handouts to fans, and use in newspapers and press releases. I always pushed the envelope as best as I could, returning with images that were different from the rest. But due to the limitations of the race series, the safety factors involved and the importance of minimizing the weight of the car, which affects speed, I wasn’t able to accomplish the ultimate image that I had seen in my mind’s eye for decades.

Fast forward to this year and the technological advances that seem to continue to make the impossible shot possible!

I recently attended a race in Boise, Idaho, during which I was going to attempt to quench my quest of photographing those earthbound pilots as they blast down the track at g-forces similar to fighter pilots. Embracing some of the finest camera mounting tools that Delkin Devices continues to create, I reached out to fellow New Yorker, Tony Bartone, and his nostalgia Top Fuel dragster to quench my 40 year old desire. Working with Delkin’s lineup of Fat Gecko products, I was able to mount multiple cameras to the car in ways I never could have before; I found it remarkable to be able to position my tools virtually anywhere I wanted. I safety wired the cameras and mounts in case these 5,000 horsepower machines rattled them loose, but I’m happy to say that not one mount ever moved once placed on the cars!

My favorite image of the race was of Tony as he muscled his dragster down the drag strip from a perch that was right in front of him; using a wide-angle lens, I was able capture the man and his opponent in the other lane, slowing down from the 250 mph run. What a sight! Onboard images allowed us to see things we weren’t able to see before. With the help of Delkin’s Fat Gecko camera mounts, I now have perspectives on a race car that until today were previously impossible to capture.

Using a variety of Fat Gecko camera mounts, I was also able to mount cameras on several other types of cars. Check out the images below to see how the Fat Gecko Dual mount and others were used. In addition, I also outfitted the cockpit of my storm chase vehicle with several other Fat Gecko mounts to keep my instruments handy. I use Delkin’s Fat Gecko Smart Phone Bracket to keep my phone in view, the weather radar on my mounted iPad at my fingertips to continually monitor the changing course that most storms take, as well as a GPS and Dashboard camera to complete my instrument cluster. With Delkin’s innovative Fat Gecko products, I can safely organize my tools for optimum guidance during the often crazy chases.

Ken SkluteAbout Ken:

Ken Sklute has been honored as one of Canon’s Explorers of Light, a designation shared by only 51 top photographers worldwide. Ken has enjoyed a diverse career photographing people, professional sports, architecture, weddings and landscapes.

During Ken’s 42 year professional photography career he has accomplished the title of “Photographer of the Year” in 32 out of 38 years in the states of New York, Arizona and California. In addition, Ken has been awarded 14 Kodak Gallery Awards, the Kodak Gallery Elite award, WPPI Grand Award for Weddings and 15 Fuji Masterpiece awards, amongst many other awards.

ImageMaker Adventures: Chasing Storms with Ken Sklute

Journey with Ken Sklute as He Shows You What It Took To Capture This Amazing Photo

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I have photographed many fun and unique subjects in my career, but one of my most favorite subjects to photograph are those that are remarkably challenging to capture: lightning, lava, the Aurora Borealis, tornados, etc.

I currently live in Phoenix, AZ and have been Monsoon chasing for many years now. Monsoons have dust storms, “Haboobs” if they are large enough, and dramatic lightning storms that are magnificently photogenic. Successfully capturing storms isn’t simply a matter of going outside when you hear loud thunderclaps and see the sky light up. Storms roll in, and continue rolling elsewhere once it leaves you. The most difficult, yet most important, part is planning. My planning stages require me to watch the weather both present and forecast. Chasing lightning storms is a technique of watching and understanding trends in weather patterns.

Tornado chasing requires an inordinate amount of decisions to be made, based upon many conditions in the atmosphere. A slight change and nothing may occur. The first decision that we made was to head west from our northeast Nebraska base for the night. We had just completed an exhausting day of chasing and encountered a total of 11 tornados. We also needed to choose between a possible F5 tornado, destroying more of the saturated towns of Nebraska, or head 3 hours west to a rather rural, open, few roads, grazing community near Mullen. After a few minutes of discussion, we elected to avoid the possible devastation and drive towards the beauty; it wasn’t a hard decision to make.

The drive was amazing. We drained a full tank of gas as we drove through mist, then thicker mist and finally into what looked like a dense fog, all not conducive for tornadic structure. We watched as the lead storm went up and quickly collapsed. We then headed towards the southern storm that was 45 miles ahead of us and closing in quickly on the lone southern direction road. Ahead in the distance, we watched as the cone formed and soon made contact with the ground. Knowing how briefly a tornado may live, we stopped to grab a quick image and then drove closer!

As we blasted down the road, I recognized something in our lane several miles away; it was unclear what it was from where we were. As we got closer, I could see that it was an overturned 18-wheeler; we sped even faster now. First on the scene, we ran to the flipped rig. Once we got to it, we witnessed the driver, in a cool and unflustered manner, kick his way through the shattered windshield. We offered help, but he was calmly in control of the situation. Meanwhile the storm was in motion and moving away from us. We got back into the car and watched the funnel nearly rope out and then descend again right in front of us, all while golf ball sized hail started pummeling us and then the car. The impact was deafening and luckily our windows remained unbroken. We were now at the foot of the funnel, witnessing it receding back into the cloud.

At this point my buddy looks over to me and asks, “How do you feel about blasting underneath the storm in order to get ahead of it? It’s pretty dangerous.”

With my face pressed up against the windshield, I watched as the clouds churned. Finally after a few long seconds, I responded, “Let’s go for it!”

Jeremy’s foot immediately went to the floor as we accelerated to the SUV’s maximum. I maintained a close watch on the sky with my face pressed against the windshield for total vision of the clouds above us. After journeying down the road for several miles, we finally reached a safe zone. The cone was now behind us.

After studying the road system, it became clear that we needed to drive an hour or so south and then east in order to intercept the Super cell again. We were just hoping that the cell would have enough stamina to last and make it to the crossroads, which we determined was the best area to capture it from. We would also have escape routes in all directions, just in case the storm changed direction. Storms can either strengthen, weaken or remain the same strength. They also continue to move across the ground, sometimes on a continuous path or other times changing direction dramatically. You always need to keep an eye on what the storm is doing in order to maintain a safe position, as well as do your best to keep a specific area of the storm visible, which often means shifting locations from a few feet to miles away.

Once the rotating wall arrived from the northeast, we were ready for the encounter. I have to say, we were not disappointed; it was simply beautiful. We were facing westward, looking right into the setting sun as the approaching tornado spun and belched cloud to ground lightning. We were thrilled, as it seemed that the twister had lost its forward momentum, sitting in front of us for an hour. As I had two cameras firing, capturing unique cloud to ground lightning in every configuration, I could not imagine this scenario in front of me. I had captured a majestic spinning super cell, producing a tornado that was framed by a gorgeous cloud to ground lightning bolt.

– – –

The series of images were captured using a Canon 5D Mark III and Canon 1DX, both with 14mm f/2.8 lenses, mounted on ReallyRightStuff BH-55 ball heads. Images were safely written to Delkin Devices 64GB CF 1050X UDMA 7 Cinema memory cards.

Ken SkluteAbout Ken:

Ken Sklute has been honored as one of Canon’s Explorers of Light, a designation shared by only 51 top photographers worldwide. Ken has enjoyed a diverse career photographing people, professional sports, architecture, weddings and landscapes.

During Ken’s 42 year professional photography career he has accomplished the title of “Photographer of the Year” in 32 out of 38 years in the states of New York, Arizona and California. In addition, Ken has been awarded 14 Kodak Gallery Awards, the Kodak Gallery Elite award, WPPI Grand Award for Weddings and 15 Fuji Masterpiece awards, amongst many other awards.