Benny Gettinger: Photo-Graphic Artist

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Higher Expectations

CZ75’s 12ga “Upland Ultralight” Shotgun

A few weeks ago we visited our friends in Ohio. We happened to have some of our photo equipment with us, so Brad recommended that we take a few photos of this CZ shotgun for an article he is writing about it. I’m always interested in shotguns, so I was excited. When I picked up this particular gun, I was shocked at how incredibly light it was. The “Upland Ultralight” weighs only 6 lbs! It was a pretty good fit for me too. I wanted to take some photos of it, but I also wanted to shoot the thing!

Shooting the CZ Upland Ultralight

Brad testing the CZ Upland Ultralight

Being winter and rainy, there wasn’t a great place outdoors to take photos of it, and the backdrops we brought were only good for a little girl (who we were planing to photograph the next day). So we found a white sheet to put it in front of. I wanted to hurry the photo shoot because I wanted to have enough time to shoot some clays with it.

When I download the photos to the computer, I was very unhappy about the result. The Upland Ultralight is somewhat of a no-frills shotgun, so to have it in front of a plain background was a huge mistake. I could not in good conscience submit those photos for Brad’s article. So this past weekend, I drove back up and brought some good backdrops etc., and we did it right.

I think I learned my lesson about doing things half-way. I never want to let myself down like that again!

A Hunt in the Wilderness of Maine

 

Sunrise over First Roach Pond

“This is the perfect backdrop,” said my good ol’ buddy Brad as we descended towards the Bangor International Airport. We had been planning this trip to Maine since spring, and it was to be my very first hunting experience with my new Browning BPS shotgun. Actually, it would be a lot of firsts for me: first time hunting birds and rabbits, first time hunting on this HEMISPHERE even, first time to set foot in Maine, and first time to eat duck for dinner. The hilly landscape in Maine was covered in vibrant fall foliage, and we had a great view from the jet.

In the midwest you really don’t hear much about Maine. Other New England states get a lot more attention. I feel ignorant for saying this, but I didn’t even realize there was any “wilderness” at all on the East Coast. Every time I’ve been out east it has been to crowded places like New York City, Washington D.C., etc., but Maine is the most heavily forested US state. It’s 90% trees! So it’s understandable that it has some great hunting grounds too.

Brad was writing an article about hunting grouse and hare in Maine, and I came to take photos for it. But I think I did more hunting than shooting, if you know what I mean.

 

The forest floor covered in moss.

We arrived at the Northern Pride Lodge on Friday afternoon around 3 – just enough time for a short grouse hunt. Our guide Wayne found a suitable spot. I don’t think I was mentally prepared for just how dense the trees really were. When I looked at the edge of the forest I thought, “I can’t fit in there!” but I looked over and my companions were already inside, so I closed up and plunged in. It was really hard to weave through the poplars and deciduous tamarack trees with a big heavy gun and a big heavy camera. Besides the density of the plant life, the ground was also very rough. Big rocks, tree stumps, fallen trees, and even streams all laid under a thick, fluffy bed of moss. At one point I stepped through the moss into a stream. As I walked, my shoe came off and my next socked step was into ANOTHER stream. Wayne graciously offered to carry my camera which I gladly accepted.

Being without my camera I realized that now, instead of following the action and taking photos, I WAS the action. How do I take photos of that? In sporting magazines I see a lot of photos with hunters and their dead animals, but not a lot of photos of the actual hunt. This is where I try to be different with Brad’s articles. I don’t think many journalists get to have a photographer follow them around while they hunt. But since I was hunting too, I couldn’t get a lot of those action shots.

On Saturday morning we were ready to hunt some snowshoe hares. Wayne roused the five beagles, and we headed back into the woods. The dogs chased bunnies around the woods all morning, and after hiking all throughout a 1.5-mile radius I hadn’t gotten a single glimpse of a rabbit. Finally, at about 2:00 in the afternoon I saw one hop over the brush. The next hop was met with a well-timed BANG! I eagerly approached my first-ever rabbit, but the dogs were more eager than I. Before we knew it, all five dogs were divvying up the quarry. Eventually we were able to harness all the dogs, and gather the parts of the rabbit. After 6 hours of hunting, and only one rabbit, the hunting party couldn’t help but laugh with resignation. Brad wasn’t laughing though. He was very concerned because we really needed a photo of a rabbit, otherwise he couldn’t sell the article! He was able to hold all the pieces together though, and I got a photo that worked with very little Photoshop clean-up. I saved a foot.

We ate a very late, very delicious lunch. The dogs were completely worn out after their long run, so a continuation of the rabbit hunt was out of the question. We spent the rest of the afternoon hunting more ruffed grouse.

By Saturday night, I had bagged two ruffed grouse and one snowshoe hare. The sun was setting over the picturesque mountains as we headed back to the lodge. Miraculously, my lens was without a scratch, which is more than I can say for my Browning BPS.

Early Bloomers

Sunflower Field

Every fall here on the farm we have a small patch of sunflowers. This year, however, the boss-man decided that he wanted them to be planted all along the 5 miles (or so) of walking/running paths. After they had been planted, he told the farm manager that he wanted them to be in full bloom on October 2nd. Unfortunately, they had been planted about a month too early. When they bloomed last month, boss-man was very dissapointed because he had promised that there would be sunflowers for the 5k run/walk which will take place tomorrow.

He was determined to hold true to his word, so he sent me out to take photos of the flowers with the intention to have them printed on huge 4’x8′ signs which we will position along the path.

The signs arrived yesterday – 10 of them. I gotta say, it’s pretty neat seeing my photos blown up to humungo size.

Up a Creek Without a Flash

Fog on the lake illuminated by lighted bouys.

Yesterday evening I was on assignment 2 hours from home at Laurel Lake in Kentucky. There was a dinner taking place on a houseboat there, followed by a speaker, and then a small live performance. I arrived precicely at 6:00 pm. As I was getting out of my car, I started gathering the equipment I brought down: Camera body/lens, extra camera battery, extra flash batteries….. my heart sank as I realized that I had left my flash at the office. 

Live Performance on the dock.

The dinner and the speaker for the evening would be inside the boat, so I figured I would have plenty of light for high-ISO shooting. The scary part would be the live musical performance outside on the marina after dark. The band had stage lights, so I knew that would be fine, but I was sure that I would need to take photos of the small audience (20-30 people) as well given the intimate setting. The big concern then was how to light the audience. Thank God for the guy in charge of the boat! He showed me how the awning above the marina had rows of LED rope lights. Not much light output really, but at least it was SOMETHING. 

Thankfully, I shoot with a Canon 5D mark II and the 24-70 f/2.8L . Shooting at f/2.8 was a big help, but even better was the 5D’s ability to shoot at ISO 25600. If not for that, combined with Lightroom 3’s amazing noise reduction, I would be completely screwed. 

The 952 pictures I took turned out fine, and nobody will be the wiser. But without professional equipment, it would have been a failure. 

After the evening festivities were over I was released to go home. As I walked down the quarter-mile dock I noticed that fog had settled on the water, and was backlit by lighted bouys. Being without a tripod, I rested the camera on a post, and took a 10-second exposure at f/2.8 ISO4000. I wasn’t sure if it would turn out becuase I could feel vibrations on the dock from foot traffic. I try to get at least one good creative shot whenever I go on assignment, even if it’s just some boring dinner. 

PS – I also made a wallpaper of this photo if you’re interested.

My Sick Obsession with Clouds

The cirrus clouds this morning.

I know, I know… clouds are just masses of gaseous water, but I am somehow fascinated by them. It understandably bothers my wife when I’m driving because I can’t help but look up at the sky when a formation catches my eye. Clouds are just so moody and packed with personality! There are stormy, angry mammatus clouds; epic, powerful pileus clouds, and light-hearted cirrus clouds (my favorite). In landscape photography, the types of clouds and their formations set a distinctive mood.

At work, I have taken up the practice of building a library of cloudy sky pictures. I do this so I can enhance my photos in a way that gives them a desired feel, or simply to add texture to an uninteresting sky.

  

Often, as I’m taking photos to build up my library, I come across a cloud pattern that I just fall in love with. Those become wallpapers for my computer screen. I can’t help being so interested in clouds because they’re constantly changing. On a windy day they change right before your eyes. Every day the sky looks different. It’s impossible to have the same clouds twice.

My love of clouds extends to sunsets and sunrises. Have you ever noticed that the things that make a sunrise or sunset incredible are the clouds? It’s the clouds reflecting and refracting the sunlight, not necessarily the sun itself. Often the sunset is even more vibrant when the sun is just out of view and it’s only the clouds in the sky.

I know, it’s a sickness.

Coon Huntin’

Release the Hounds!

Last week my good buddy Brad Fitzpatrick contacted me about taking some photos for another article he’s working on. Brad is a freelance journalist who has written articles for magazines such as: Gun World, Gun Digest, African Sporting Gazette, Sports Afield, and the list goes on…

Barking up the tree.
Barking up the right tree.

My wife and I have taken photos for his articles before, but this particular shoot presented a unique challenge: photographing coonhounds on a hunt in complete darkness. Since racoons are nocturnal, the hunt takes place in the middle of the night. The dogs were English Coonhounds from Woodstock Kennels in London, KY.

My goal was to capture these coonhounds in action, but with a unique look. As Brad showed me, most photos of coonhounds at night are taken with a harsh, bright direct flash, leaving the background completely black. This is understandable because you can’t take studio lighting out on a coon hunt. I decided that in order to get any kind of unique shot, I would have to bring better lighting than simply a direct flash.

I packed three speedlite flashes: 580EX, 580EX II, and a 430EX. I set the 580EX II to “master” and the other two flashes to “slave”. The master was mounted to my camera, and the other two were held on either side of the subject(s). I set the light output ratio of the master:slave to 1:4 so my direct flash would just be fill light. High speed mode allowed me to shoot at 1/400 seconds, so the quick dogs would be sharp. When the master flash fires, it triggers the slave flashes via infared signal, similar to a TV remote control.

The coonhounds change the sound of their bark to tell the hunter that they caught a racoon.

Even with a fairly simple plan in my head, the actual shoot was still quite a challenge. Once the dogs were loose, there was no stopping them! Once they had “tree’d a coon”, they would put their front legs up on the tree, and howl and bark at the animal they had trapped. My plan was to stand on a bucket (for the added height) and shoot down wide-angle on the barking dog. The problem was, the dogs would revolve around all sides of the tree, mostly on the opposite side of the tree as my bucket. Also, every time they revolve to a different position, my lovely assistants would have to change their positions to achieve the 3-point lighting scheme I described earlier.

The article will appear in Outdoor Life later this year, or at the beginning of 2011.

Business Travel

I’ve been doing a bit of traveling lately with work. Although I don’t like being away from my wife, I do get excited about seeing parts of the country that I’m not familliar with. No matter what the shoot is for, I can usually sneak away to take a few fun photos just for myself.

We have a division in Alliance, Nebraska. Now you may think you’ve been to the middle of nowhere before, but until you’ve been to Alliance – you haven’t. I was born in Nebraska, and I have family in Nebraska, so I thought I knew what it would be like. But the “panhandle” is worse than Kansas. Anyway, Alliance has a world-famous tourist attraction: Carhenge. It looks just like Stonehenge but, you guessed it, built with cars. I thought it would be a fun spot for an HDR, and I was lucky enough to happen upon it near sunset (just after actually, but it worked out thanks to Lightroom 3’s noise reduction).

Carhenge

"Carhenge" in Alliance, NE (2-exposure HDR)

More recently, work sent me to Clarksville, TN where we have a big railroad construction job going on. We built a bridge across a creek there, and I was trying to take photos of it. I saw that nearby there were tall stacks of bundled up railroad ties. They were in the perfect spot for me to get some good elevation, and look down on the roadbed we had put across the bridge. So I climed up these tar-covered planks (further ruining my jeans) to get a good shot. It was a great shot of the bridge, but when I was up there I found the ties to be much more interesting. The blackened wood and harsh shadows prompted me to take this as a 3-exposure HDR.

Railroad Ties
Obviously I modified in Photoshop, but after climbing up there that’s how it felt!

 

Sidetracked

Yesterday I set out on a 3-hour drive to one of our locations in Kentucky to try to capture next year’s calendar photo (2009 photo, 2010 photo). We had a very specific shot in mind for the late evening, so I had a bit of extra time to explore the countryside, and perhaps collect a few pretty pictures. But after the shoot was over and I was on my way back to the hotel, I passed a scene that was the prettiest I saw all day. A gorgeous sunset lightly illuminated a farm that was quite a distance from the road I was on. I did a U-turn and parked. Luckily I had the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 L plus a 1.4x teleconverter with me from the shoot. I knew that the sky, though not seeming very bright to my eyes, would overpower the dim farm. I took 5 photos from a tripod with different shutter speeds – dark to light. Today when I got home I merged them into an HDR photo, and did some split toning in Lightroom 3.

5-exposure HDR, then processed in Lightroom 3

My First Gun

Browning BPS

My Browning BPS shotgun. There's an inlay of two pheasants on the left side, and three ducks on the right.

Today I am a proud new owner of a Browning BPS 12 gauge pump shotgun. I’ve been wanting to get a shotgun for a couple years now, but it had just in the back of my mind. It wasn’t an impulse buy, but this weekend seemed like the perfect time to get it. My wife was hosting a baby shower at our house, so we had some friends come in from out of town. The guys were planning to go shooting while the women-folk had the party. One of those guys was my good friend Brad Fitzpatrick. Brad is a genius when it comes to firearms. I figured he could help me make a smart buy before we went out to shoot clay pigeons in the afternoon.

So this morning Brad and I hopped in the car, picked up or friend Dan, and headed up to Evans Firearms in Lexington, KY. I knew that I wanted a pump action, and I wanted a nice wood stock. After we looked around a bit we noticed that Evans actually has a pretty great selection of used shotguns. First I asked to see one of the Remingtons, and the guy handed me an 870. I like how they eject the shell out of the side, but the only wood finish I like from Remington is on the Wingmasters. They didn’t have any used, and they’re probably a bit out of my price range anyway. Then I asked to see the Browning. I hadn’t noticed before, but when he pulled it from the rack I saw that it had a really neat inlay design on either side. On the left are two pheasants, and on the right are three ducks. Very pretty. After being reassured by Brad that it was indeed a great gun, I decided to buy it.

We took it home and disassembled it to clean it. Brad looked down the barrel and, I believe his words were, “This is literally the most disgusting barrel I have ever seen.” But we cleaned out the dust and grime, and it sparkled like new. Brad guessed that its first owner had never fired it.

When we went out in the afternoon to shoot I really fell in love with it. It’s a lot more fun to shoot with your own gun instead of borrowing one. And I’ve never shot better! This will be a fun new hobby.

Stop and Smell the Roses

I’ve done a lot of driving this week. I went up to eastern Ohio for my wife’s family reunion, down to the Kentucky/Tennessee border for work, and up to central Indiana to see my sister and her newborn baby. Each trip took several hours of drive time, and I found myself very anxious to get home. But driving over long distances can reveal fun new places to explore and take photographs. It can be so tempting to let the desire to arrive at my destination take over, but I think it’s valuable to take the time to get a little sidetracked.

The sun sets over an Indiana cornfield.

Abandoned building in Paris, Kentucky