Essential Night Landscape Photography Tips from Chris Burkard

chris burkardToday’s post comes from extraordinary surf and landscape photographer Chris Burkard, who we recently featured in our short film, Arctic Swell. Chris has made it his life’s work to find wild, remote destinations and then capture the juxtaposition of humans in these environments. The world is an oftentimes harsh, humbling, and magical place, and Chris wants to photograph it all.

He shares his essential night landscape tips below. You can browse his portfolio and print store on his site.

It’s hard to beat the enchanting feeling of star gazing at a clear night sky.  You soon become lost in its beauty like a giant kaleidoscope full of shooting stars, planets, and glow from the setting sun or nearby cities.  I’ve traveled to countless countries over the past ten years and some of my fondest memories occur long after the sun has set.  Whether it’s camping near my home in Big Sur or witnessing a rare northern lights show in the Arctic, I’ve had the privilege and challenge of documenting these night landscapes.

My introduction to night photography happened when I took a road trip in 2006 along the entire California coastline.  My friend Eric Soderquist and I spent over two months on the road in his Volkswagon bus in search of waves in every California county.  The trip was later turned into a book, The California Surf Project, and looking back through its pages you can see some of the early stages of my night photography.  Camping under the stars literally every night made me that much more appreciative and eager to capture the beauty of the night sky.  Fast forward 8 years and I’m still drawn to these dark moments where my friends and I are huddled around a campfire in Iceland or getting lost in the magic of the northern lights in Norway.  Photographing in the dark certainly requires some adjusting but here’s some tips to prepare you for the next time you’re shooting night landscapes.   

Night Landscape Photography Tip 1: Get Away From the City

Photo Credit: Chris Burkard
Photo Credit: Chris Burkard

The farther you are from city lights the clearer you will be able to see stars and the less light pollution you’re going to have. The photo pictured above was shot in Big Sur, CA a few hours from any major cities.

Night Landscape Photography Tip 2: To Infinity! 

Photo Credit: Chris Burkard
Photo Credit: Chris Burkard

Set your focus to infinity or focus on far away light sources to make sure you get the sky in focus.  If you want to focus on your subject shine a light on them.

Night Landscape Photography Tip 3: Trial & Error

Photo Credit: Chris Burkard
Photo Credit: Chris Burkard

Don’t be afraid to test settings to see what works best.  The beauty of working with digital cameras is that you get instant feedback.  I usually open my aperture as wide as it will go (f/2.8 or wider) and then vary my ISO depending on how bright the sky is.  In this particular photo I exposed for 30 seconds at f/1.8 and 400 ISO.  I like to keep my ISO as low as possible.

Night Landscape Photography Tip 4: Frame Up

Photo Credit: Chris Burkard
Photo Credit: Chris Burkard

Remember that the sky is your hero in the photo.  Try framing the sky in the upper 2/3 of your image and then vary your angle depending on the scenario. With the northern lights creating a really dramatic light trail I framed up.  You could do the same with the milky way or stars in general.

Night Landscape Photography Tip 5: Expose Long & Short

Photo Credit: Chris Burkard
Photo Credit: Chris Burkard

Long exposures are going to leave you light trails and short ones should make the stars nice and sharp.  Try both methods for variety in your imagery.

Night Landscape Photography Tip 6: Bring a Headlamp

Photo Credit: Chris Burkard
Photo Credit: Chris Burkard

You can use a headlamp to light up your tent or even light paint a tree or waterfall.  Practice the amount of light that you are shining out of your headlamp because it is easy to wash out the picture with too much light.

Night Landscape Photography Tip 7: Add a Subject

Photo Credit: Chris Burkard

Adding that human element to a picture can give it a sense of perspective and depth. Play around with where you place the subject in your frame.  The less busy your framing is the better.

Night Landscape Photography Tip 8: Mind the Moon

Photo Credit: Chris Burkard
Photo Credit: Chris Burkard

If you want to have clear stars shoot underneath a new moon or when the moon is below the horizon.  If the moon is out you can play with the effects that it can have on your photograph. Use it to backlight trees or your subject but be careful not to let it wash out your picture.

Night Landscape Photography Tip 9: Use a Tripod

Photo Credit: Chris Burkard

Or a rock or the hood of your car.  A tripod is you’re most crucial piece of night photography gear.  Joby makes great camping tripods cause they are small and packable.  I also recommend a remote so you can make sure your shots are even more stable.

Night Landscape Photography Tip 10: Stay Up Late

Photo Credit: Chris Burkard
Photo Credit: Chris Burkard

Night skies are often darkest and most active late into the night.  I’ve seen tons of meteor showers and northern lights shows way past midnight.  Set an alarm and wake up if you have to or use a remote to take photos periodically throughout the night.

Want More?

Check out our short film, Arctic Swell, to see Chris Burkard and pro surfers Patrick Millin, Brett Barley, and Chadd Konig brave sub-zero temperatures in the Arctic Circle.

Links to love:

SmugMug Films: Extreme Filmmaking by Devin Graham

Today we proudly release the third episode of SmugMug Films featuring YouTube superstar and extreme sports videographer Devin GrahamWatch it now and subscribe to see future installments as soon as they’re live.

Devin Graham has always loved adventure. From traveling with his father to snowboarding with his friends, he’s enjoyed experiencing all life has to offer. Even after two severe injuries, Devin didn’t lose his love for extreme sports; instead, he decided to keep experiencing them–only now from behind the lens, sharing through YouTube the unique, wild, and extreme adventures he discovers all over the world.

Portrait of Devin by Jarvie Digital

How did you get started in film?

I started making videos when I was a little kid. My dad had this huge camera that used VHS tapes that I would borrow, and he was always hesitant about letting me take it because it was the only one we had. I would break them from time to time, but it allowed me learn.

I used Legos to make little stop-motion movies essentially–I hit record really fast and took a picture of a couple things, then I’d stop tape, move the pieces, and take a couple more shots. I’d also make music videos with my siblings.

Once I got to Boy Scouts, I was able to get the cinematography merit badge. We learned how to edit on a turntable, which was very slow editing. Later I volunteered at a cable access studio. After that, my senior high school project required us to make a creative video, so I made a snowboarding video with my friends, and that’s where I learned linear editing, how it’s done today.

If you were filming snowboarding in high school, your interest in extreme and unique adventures must have started early!

Definitely. I got a lot of that from my dad, who was a big outdoors person. He loved camping. He loved hiking. And I’ve always loved extreme sports, especially snowboarding, which I did constantly. I’d go out with all my friends and film us all snowboarding together. Then I’d come home to edit on the computer, so I taught myself how to edit digitally that way–back when computers were really slow and it’d take weeks to put together a 30-second clip.

Scenes from Devin’s adventurous youth

With your love of extreme sports, do you participate in any of the adventures you film today?

When I was filming my snowboarding videos, I actually broke my back and then my leg, and I was told I would never be able to do that kind of stuff again. But I loved it, and I was able to figure out how to stay involved through filming. I pretty much stay behind the camera now. Occasionally I’ll participate in something that won’t hurt my back. Generally, I come up with ideas and then let my friends, who are the professionals, handle the action so I don’t chance popping my back out of place.

Goodness! May we ask how you injured yourself?

I broke my back and leg in two different trips, a year apart. My back injury happened during a snowboarding jump on a tabletop I was trying to clear. It was 70- or 80-feet long, and I didn’t go fast enough. I spun and landed from high up–it would be like falling from a couple stories and landing on flat ground. My vertebrae squished in an L2 compression fracture.

My leg broke during snowboard camp. I was on a trampoline of all things, and I landed on a spring. It popped the bone out of my leg. They had to stick a rod down my leg, and I had to go through surgery, but it never stopped me. When I recovered, I went right back into filming extreme sports.

Scenes from Devin’s adventurous youth

Wow. Seeing your behind-the-scenes videos you’d never know. You’re running and jumping along with these folks!

Yeah, my original goal was to tell feature film stories for Hollywood on the big screen. Then I made the decision to create wedding videos on the side to help with finances. When I started studying other wedding videos, I realized they all used static shots. I wanted my wedding videos to look like something out of a movie. And with movies, the camera is always moving.

I heard about Steadicams and things that allowed you to get those moving shots. After lots of research, I bought a GlideCam and started using it on everything I did, including the fun things I did with my friends. That led to using the GlideCam for the extreme sports videos, which require me to always keep moving!

You make it sound simple, going from weddings to extreme sports, but it sounds like quite a transition!

It definitely was a transition. I was filming weddings on the side while I was going to college for film. While I was working on my studies, I discovered the power of social media and YouTube. I was able to transition at the right time and find my niche with extreme sports, which people would share. Then companies around the world started asking to hire me to do bigger and better projects for television. YouTube opened the door to all these opportunities, and it’s been great ever since.

How do you handle lighting while you’re doing all this running around?

For me, there’s no science behind it. I just film what I feel looks good. Since we’re a one- or two-man team at most, we don’t have time to light things. That’s one of the reasons I shoot outside: you don’t need a whole crew to light things. But we do time all our shoots around the sunlight, filming during the golden hour when the sunlight’s looking its best.

Behind-the-scenes photo by Dustin Bess Photography

With such a small team, do you use additional cameras, or are you just running around everywhere to get all those angles?

We’re literally just getting every shot we can think of, running from one thing to the next. Especially when we have only an hour of sunrise or sunset. In addition to the GlideCam shots, we’re also using GoPros now since the quality has gotten so amazing. With those we use a GoScope, which is basically a pole we can hook the GoPro on to. We’re all about making people feel like they’re part of the action, and the GoScope allows us to put the viewer in the position of the athlete.

Any other essential gear?

We use two cameras as our main cameras: a Canon 5D MkIII and a Canon EOS-1D C. Ninety-five percent of our shots are with those and 5% are from the GoPro cameras. For lenses, the majority of our shots are done with the Canon 16-35/f2.8 L series. The rest of the time we use a Canon 70-200/f2.8. With the 16-35, we can be everywhere. We’re always choosing epic or amazing locations, and the wide-angle shots make the viewer feel as if they’re there.

We’re curious about your settings since you’re moving around so much. Do you shoot any of this manually?

We’re working on new videos once a week, which doesn’t allow a lot of time to edit, so we try to do everything in camera. Generally we’re shooting everything at 2.8 with ISO around 100 and shutter speed around 4000. We also use a B+W polarizer, which makes the skies super blue and the greens super vibrant as well.

As far as focus goes, we do everything manually. When shooting video, you can’t do automatic focus because the focus will be pulled all over the place. So we set the focus and then try to keep our subjects the same distance from us. If we move in close, we just change the focus.

Scenes from Devin’s adventurous youth

What are vital things you look for when framing a shot?

I try to have movement in the foreground as well as in the background because it gives the shot more life. If nothing is going on in the background, I’ll have someone run by or shoot a water gun so it feels like there’s as much action going on as possible. Then I’ll look for good lighting that makes the person or location pop the best.

How do you maintain your framing so well while you’re running along with the action?

Years of practice! When I started I wasn’t very good with the GlideCam, but now that I’ve done it so much I don’t have to look at the camera anymore. I can instead look where I’m going and get a good sense of what I’m filming.

What do you feel is important for telling a great story in film?

I always try to create mystery in the first 15 seconds of any video I do. This involves close-ups so we don’t reveal exactly what the viewer is going to see. For example, in the rope-swing video, you see someone walking in a close shot, then you see them setting up something, and it makes you wonder what they’re doing. Then, at that point, it’s all about making the viewer feel like they’re a part of the action and showing them something they’ve never seen before.

I feel so many people are stuck in their office space looking out the window, and they want to experience life, so we try to give people experiences they potentially would never have.

Could you walk us through your editing process after a shoot?

We’ll spend a day shooting and then it usually takes a week to edit the video with music and sound. The music I use is stuff my friends compose. And our sound design is done by a guy in England. It’s really just straight-up editing.

We always have an idea of how we want a video to play out, but once we start editing we get a better scope for it. We lay out everything on a timeline and go through every shot one by one–it’s a discovery process all over again. Then we’ll spend a couple of days fine-tuning and putting sound in.

Often we’re editing on the plane when we’re coming back from a shoot. The world is my office.

Scenes from Devin’s adventurous youth

That sounds like it can be tiring. How do you keep going?

It is definitely tiring, which is why we’re super selective about our projects. We don’t do anything that we’re not going to be passionate about. And that’s the only reason we can do what we’re doing–when we travel it’s almost a vacation because we love it so much. We’re hanging out and making a video with friends, and we’re just having fun. We get to see the world doing that.

Any advice you’d give to someone who’s looking to get started with filmmaking?

Go out and constantly shoot and constantly learn. A lot of people wait to get accepted on projects, so they never end up shooting. But what I discovered is by doing a video once a week, we’re constantly growing as filmmakers. It’s okay to fail as a filmmaker. Make a lot of mistakes and learn from them. And content is more important than any gear you can or cannot afford.

What do you love most about what you do?

It gives me amazing opportunities to work with amazing people. I get e-mail from people around the world thanking me because it’s given them a reason to go outside and do things they’re passionate about. I once got a letter from someone who said they were going to commit suicide but then remembered my videos; he said the videos gave him a reason to be alive because these were all things he’d be missing out on. For me, more than anything, the reason I do what I do is it gives me an opportunity to give back to the world and show how amazing life really is.

Portrait by Jarvie Digital

Find Devin online:

Adventure Photography: Is it Worth the Risk?

We hope that many of you are out there enjoying your summer and spending time with the people you love most. This week we’re talking to  Smug friend Kelsey Gray: climber, world traveler, photographer and author of Alaska Rock Climbing Guide. He’s well known for doing heart-pounding stunts like cliff jumping – stunts that most of us will only ever enjoy in his photographs. So we had to ask the burning question: Why do you bring the camera and is it really worth the risk?

Photos by Kelsey Gray Photography

Climbing to Live

My first foray into climbing was back sometime around 2002 when I took an indoor rock climbing course at the Alaska Rock Gym through the University of Anchorage Alaska. Before that time, I was purely a gaming nerd who had gained almost 65lbs after high school eating cheeseburgers and pizza. With the occasional challenge of who can drink the most ketchup or eat the most salt packets, those were some very unhealthy years. During a routine doctor visit (also partially due to the emotional issues that come with being overweight and with an astronomical blood pressure), my doctor said that if I didn’t get off the computer and fix my blood pressure I would probably have a stroke by 30. I was 20 and that didn’t leave me much time.

After the indoor course, I enrolled in the outdoor course and found that to be even better. I soon after began climbing outdoors with a friend from Era Aviation, where we both worked. Later that year I began climbing with John Borland, who would introduce me to many areas around Hatcher Pass as well as becoming a great climbing partner and friend.

Enter: Photography.

Sometime during my first few years of climbing I became more interested in hiking peaks. My uncle, Dano Michaud, had dragged me unwillingly up a peak called Harp Mountain and the 1000+ft glissade (natural slide down the snow) hooked me. That summer I climbed peak after peak and soon realized that explaining the beauty of the areas was simply not enough. I needed to show it.

My very first camera was a small point and shoot with no screen and not enough megapixels to warrant labeling it on the front. I’m pretty sure it came free with a printer, which was also terrible. After a few trips I realized I needed a better camera. I upgraded to a Fuji Finepix F700 which worked for me for a long time. I then moved on to a Fuji Finepix S9000 before finally making the jump to SLR with the Canon 20D. After the 20D I moved on to the Canon 50D (which was later stolen from my car), and finally to my current camera the Canon 7D.


During my years of climbing I have learned some important lessons about myself, and how I view life. I am never more confortable than when dangling from a cliff with the sun setting and the wilderness expanding in my view. I’ve often said that the journey is not the summit but in the adventure, which I’m pretty sure is a mashup of others quotes, but I can’t discount the great feeling of having made it as high as I can go without actually flying into the air. When I reach the top of a peak or climb and look out over the expanse I have a ritual that I try to do as often as possible. It is as follows:

1. Close your eyes and wait for at least 30 seconds. Let all the emotions, feelings, failures and successes wash into you. Reject nothing.
2. Open your eyes and star directly ahead. Everything washes away, and I can’t help but feel that I was not meant to have a wall in front of me. Cubicles were not meant for us.

Climbing rocks by Kelsey Gray

Help or Hinder?

There are times when I won’t bring my camera climbing and I usually regret it. The hairy times when the sheep dung really hits the fan is when the camera seems to really come into use, if not for just recording the trip for my own memory. The worst time to have a camera attached to you is when jammed into an off-width. This is the climber term for anything that you can’t wedge your body into but is too big to use a single hand or fist to climb. It’s probably the most uncomfortable situation most humans will ever find themselves in. A 60m off-width can feel like you’ve just run a marathon, sprinting, while holding a log over your head. (If you’re curious about just what an off-width has to offer then Google for the video, “Boogie Till You Poop.”) Add climbing gear to your harness and it becomes worst; add a camera and you’ll pray it doesn’t shatter.

It is not easy to bring a camera as large as a Canon 7D up a climb, especially with consideration of the lens size. I usually stick with the kit lens that comes with the 7D, the 18-135mm, it’s not the best lens but it is light and easy to carry. I would upgrade to a better lens, except I’m always spending all my money on travelling. I like to carry it in a waist pack that I often clip to my harness, just in case it comes off. I know others who use backpacks but I don’t like having to take it off to get my camera out. That is my general kit for all adventures. Not much, but just enough so that I don’t feel burdened by it. The camera is there for my use to record everything that I wish to keep for myself or show to others, so I’ve had to take a rather lenient stance on its value. If I consider it gold then I’ll never bring it to the truly dangerous adventures. There are times I almost have to convince myself that my camera is already gone before I bring it, then I just try and make sure it stays in one piece. This allows me to continue to bring it to the most dangerous situations.

Adventure climbing mountains by Kelsey Gray

Worth the Risk?

There are others in climbing that are much more advanced in climbing photography than I. I’ve often marveled at their ability to get paid to do the things I’m paying for! But with everything comes risks, such as the photographer that was with Johnny Copp and Micah Dash, two amazing alpinists that died in an avalanche, their photographer (Wade Johnson) by their side. I’ve often had to decide just what is it I want to do, how far do I take this hobby that has become a driving force in life? I’m still figuring that part out. I have found that half of the reason I travel is to take photographs. If I were to lose my camera today it would probably take quite a lot of self-reflection to pull myself from the loss, even if I have the illusion that the loss is already imminent.

Like many other climbers I am driven too heavily by emotions. I would love to say that most of my travelling began as a desire to see the world and experience new things. The truth is that many of my travels have been fuelled by escape, the desire to escape the emotions that come with a loss, whether it is a relationship or the death of a loved one. Over time it has had to change as those emotions were hidden, or in my current case I found someone who truly makes me happy in life. Previously I spent much of the time travelling the world alone, a few of the trips included others. Now I try to share it with others, those who I travel with and those who I get to show through the photographs  I take.

Stay safe, wherever you are this summer! If you’re playing it safe at home or at the office, you can get your thrills from the other installments in our Photography Perspectives series.

Are You Fit Enough to Be a Photographer?

It’s summer. Are you ready to hit the road with your tripod, lenses, and all your bags in tow? Sadly, many photographers don’t realize how physically demanding photography can be, or only realize it when they get left behind at the trailhead. 

The truth is that everyone from sports photographers to momtographers can benefit from better balance, muscle toning and proper breathing. We talked with our good friend, fitness expert, clinical exercise physiologist and professional trainer Jeffrey Kazmucha about why being fit is so important for everyone… especially photographers!

At SmugMug, we care a great deal about health and we think you should, too. This is just a small sample of what Jeff suggests; you’ll find the complete article (including step-by-step fitness plans) right here in our Resource Center

Baldy and his big lens
SmugMug’s president, co-founder and veteran triathlete, Baldy.

Photographers = Athletes?

Photography is a physical activity. The act of taking photos requires a photographer to be calm and cool, cautiously breathe, correctly kneel, sit or stand to eliminate fatigue and postural intolerance, and hold a camera of a certain weight in different angles and heights while focusing or zooming in on moving or steady targets – ALL to get epic results.

Then a photographer is asked to not only do these skills and traits quickly but to do them rapidly in changing climates and crazy terrains (e.g. shooting the Mavericks) and with a camera plus accessories and bags that weigh as much as 50+ pounds for more than a few hours of time. Wow!

Why fitness?

It is proven that a more fit and in-shape person is able to perform at a higher level of greatness and success. They also perform fewer errors and are less likely to have debilitating or restricting bodily injuries, such as back pain, joint sprains or muscle strains.

I challenge you to stand in the ocean with the water at the height of the thigh or waist and take a non-blurry, steady picture. If being fit is beneficial to our bodies and our work, how do you feel about your fitness level? And do you know what exercises or which exercise programs are best for you to do to be in shape?

Photo by Kevin Harrington

Be Fit. Be Ready! Train for that Time.

The exercise science and fitness industry is evolving and revolutionizing the way we see and treat our bodies as machines and moving temples, BUT I feel photographers and photography professionals are given less than essential and optimal instructions and suggestions on desk and field ergonomics, postural positioning, dietary planning, exercise programming, fitness participation and work-related rehabilitation, restoration and stress management methods and techniques.

Breathing Method: Abdominal Breathing

Breathe using the diaphragm to help your body be calm and to easily regulate your body’s reactions and thinking. It’s called Abdominal or Diaphragmatic Breathing.

  • Place a hand on the chest and the other hand on the stomach. Take a deep breath so air travels in through the nose. Please be sure the abdominal or diaphragm versus the chest inflates with air to cause the lungs to expand and stretch.
  • Then HOLD for a few or more seconds and SLOWLY exhale ALL the air through the nose. Practice 6 to 10 deep, slow breaths per minute for a few or more minutes.

Try to do this daily for six to eight weeks and you will notice more balance, calmness, coordination and self-control. You can do this at any time of the day, especially while doing photography, and at night.

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

With Abdominal Breathing and in consideration of the body and camera positions, it is important to improve neck stabilization for increased head and neck control and postural stability. During inhalation (Breath In), place and push the tongue up into the roof of the mouth which activates and strengthens the jaw, head and neck muscles, especially the stabilizers. While exhaling (Breath Out), let the tongue lower to the floor of the mouth.

It’s important to not neglect the tongue. The tongue is a large and powerful muscle that when it’s used properly it can dramatically assist the diaphragm in helping to move significant amount of air in and out of the lungs and muscles.

Body Positioning: The Athletic Stance

An athletic stance is a standing position that allows you to maximize your balance, power, speed and strength while decreasing risk of injury. The athletic stance can vary depending on the activity or sport and the respected defensive or offensive reason.

  • Keep the eyes and head up and look forward. Align about 60% to 80% of the middle of the head’s sides with the shoulders. Also align the back of the head with the back of the each foot’s heel. This enables or provides the recommended 60:40 ratio of body weight distribution on the balls of the feet that gives slight abdominal tension and helps maintain some lumbar and thoracic back tension as well.
  • Lift the chest up. Tuck the chin down toward the sternum.
  • Lower the shoulders and pull them back toward the spine.
  • Put the back in a considerably slightly arched, straight position.
  • Bend the knees approximately 90 degrees.
  • Place feet approximately one to two inches wider than shoulders.
  • Place feet parallel and put a little more body weight onto the balls of the feet, or try to evenly distribute the weight as much as possible.

The athletic stance of a photographer follows the same guidelines or principles as athletes of other sports, such as archery, basketball, golf and weight lifting. In all, the athletes in the aforementioned physical activities or sports have a common stance that allows balance and equal distribution of body weight to happen during functional or static movements that provides optimal levels of balance, endurance, power, range of motion, speed, stability, strength and quickness. This applies to ALL photographers, too!

Body Positioning: The Athletic Staggered Stance

The athletic staggered stance is performed just as the athletic stance with a slight variation.

  • Simply stand in an athletic stance and place one foot slightly behind and the other foot slightly forward, respectively. The center of the body’s hips and trunk will be directly between the feet underneath. And the feet may also be placed slightly wider.

The athletic staggered stance is the PREFERRED and primary athletic stance (in my favorable and professional opinion) because it:

1) allows for a proper and quicker shift of body weight with activity-related movements

2) causes the core, hips and thighs to share the body weight stresses and workloads

3) more easily forms and maintains a neutral spine

4) reduces back and shoulder stress and biomechanical “wear and tear,” and

5) significantly improves balance and stability

The athletic and staggered stance’s advantages and biomechanical or ergonomical solutions are summed up in totality as giving MORE assistance plus ENERGY that yields REDUCED shear stresses and total work.

Body Positioning: Kneeling Stance

The kneeling stance is secondary to the athletic staggered stance. It is performed slightly differently but provides the same benefits or preferred reasons for it to be used as one of the primary stances. The kneeling stance is divided into two position: the initial position is the Tall Kneeling Position that progresses to the Kneeling Split Stance.

The Tall Kneeling Position:

  • Kneel down.
  • Draw in the abdominal muscles and squeeze the gluteals, hips and thighs.
  • Keep the chest lifted and pull the shoulders back and down toward the spine.
  • Gently bend the knees and position the hips above the ankles of the feet.

The Kneeling Split Stance: 

  • Continue the Tall Kneeling position, above.
  • Lift a leg and, with the hip flexed 90 degrees and knee flexed 90 degrees, place the respected foot flat on the floor in front.
  • Maintain the body’s posture throughout the movement.

Body Positioning: The squat

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

The squat is the single most important body position and exercise that can and should be performed regularly. When properly executed the squat can primarily condition the gluteals, hamstrings, hips and quadriceps muscles and similarly develop the core, costal ribs, lower legs, such as the calves, lower and upper back, shoulders and trapezius muscles. Moreover, it strengthens the bones, ligaments and tendons throughout the core, lower and upper body.

When proper form is used it is an essential exercise for developing and maintaining muscle mass, power, stability and strength, and lessening the amount of shear stress on cartilage, fascia and joints such as the knees and spine. What is more, it is a vital position for life and photography.

  • Stand in an athletic stance with feet shoulder width apart. The toes can be turned slightly outward or may be parallel.
  • The arms and hands can be at the side, behind the head (Prisoner’s Stance) or placed out in front in a straight line.
  • Flex the hips and lower the body backwards sitting into them. The knees will flex next. Lower the body towards the floor until thighs are parallel to the floor.
  • Keep the chest and head up, feet flat on the floor and the knees in align with the toes.
  • Pause. Return upward to START by driving the body straight up engaging the core, having the eyes and head up, keeping the upper body relatively straight and thrusting the hips forward and underneath. It’s a controlled, powerful movement.

The squat’s depth can depend on joint range of motion, muscle flexibility, pains and strength levels. All squats, such as the quarter-, half- and full-depths squats and deep squats have their advantages and disadvantages, but it is important to exercise in the proper range and progressively increase range over time.

Other than the athletic staggered stance and the kneeling split stance the squat is the most important exercise for daily physical activities, life and recreation or sports. Most physical activities are performed squatting. How many times do we sit and stand? How often do we pick up a camera or camera gear, etc. off the floor surface? How often in a photography shoot do we sit to take the shot and wait? These actions or movements are squats.

The more a photographer is conditioned and prepared to squat via squatting the longer he/she will be able to endure a squat to hold a camera and take photos with less risk of injury or strain to joints, muscles ligaments and tendons.

How long can you hold a squat? Tick…Tick…Tick…

Photo of Ivan the Smugger by Jim Patterson

In Conclusion

The athletic stances will be easier to do after much exercise, training and practice over time. The goal of any physically active person is to make athletic or physically active related skills and traits an unconscious habit. Therefore, a photographer who is unconsciously competent does not have to change their position or camera angles and think about the body’s ergonomical position or stance, body weight distribution, posture or stabilization while taking photos.

Whether kneeling, lying, sitting or standing the photographer who is physically conditioned and trained does not have to risk an injury or sacrifice giving up something (injury or passed time) for a paramount picture. You train not only for fitness and health, but for the moment to be camera-ready and shoot for an extended period of time for the sake of one or more perfect pictures. You cannot afford to be or to have weaknesses.

This is just the tip of the iceberg for fitness for photographers! Hop over to our Resource Center to see the full article, where we’ve included detailed stances and positions for more stable shooting, as well as a complete training plan for aerobic conditioning.

Stay fit, stay calm and make sure that you get the shot!  :)

SmugMug Success Stories: Kent McCorkle Photography, LLC

The Sportsman: Kicking Off a Second Career and Having a Ball

Name: Kent McCorkle
Position/Title: Owner/Photographer
Company: Kent McCorkle Photography, LLC
Location: Metro Atlanta, GA
Market: Sports (professional, college and high school), plus local news and company-sponsored events
Bragworthy Factoid: Earning back his initial investment in his SmugMug site within a few months of launching his business.
SmugMugger since: 2004

Career Highlights…

  • First time being accepted by a media wire service to cover sports.
  • Breaking into Division I college and professional sports.
  • Seeing his work published in Sports Illustrated, on ESPN and in other national publications.

Favorite Features…

Making the most of a moment

Kent McCorkle knows the exact moment he became a photographer. After more than 30 years working in the corporate world, raising a family and flirting with image-making, everything changed with a single email. Although he had enjoyed capturing youth sports, vacations and other personal moments for years, he hadn’t thought seriously of working for profit. Then he was contacted out of the blue by an architectural design firm about photos he’d shot and posted of antebellum homes during a family holiday. Interest sparked, McCorkle quickly sold them the images for publication in a book. Fast-forward to today: McCorkle has settled firmly into sports photography, fashioning a second career out of his passion for capturing exciting moments in youth athletics. Riding the digital photography wave and fueling his interest with online support resources, he honed his skills and bided his time. “The idea of selling photographs had never crossed my mind…[but] after the surprise of selling my first photographs, I began to wonder if parents might be interested in purchasing the sports-action photographs I had been taking of their kids.”

Fit to print

Along with technical mastery, McCorkle has acquired a deep knowledge of the byzantine world of sports photography. His advice for the aspiring and uninitiated? Get your feet wet covering youth sports before attempting Division I college and professional athletics, both of which require extensive credentialing. “The first step is to gain lots of experience photographing sports at lower levels,” he says. “Develop a portfolio that shows your best work. Standards for acceptance by wire services are very high. Compare your work to what you see in major sports publications. You can also visit media wire service websites and see examples.” Photographers must be affiliated with approved media companies to shoot higher-level sporting events; the sports governing associations license the images for distribution. McCorkle suggests honing your craft by connecting with other photographers. “Even at high school games, you may have opportunities to pick up tips and learn techniques from more experienced photographers.”

SmugMug and sports

Citing SmugMug’s “remarkable” customer service, continual innovation and “flawless” order processing, McCorkle considers the service foundational to his business model. From the outset, SmugMug helped McCorkle streamline his burgeoning business needs. He especially likes the one-stop shop aspect. “I started with SmugMug because it offered the ability to create a gallery-based photographic website and sell photos. Order placement and fulfillment were the clinchers for me,” he says. He continues to add SmugMug features to his arsenal, sometimes evolving his workflow to take advantage of SmugMug’s conveniences. “I was slow to get on the Proof Delay bandwagon because every image uploaded to my galleries had been fully post-processed and I considered them print-ready,” he points out. “But then I started using it in order to allow me one last chance to make sure everything is right.”

Pounding the pavement

McCorkle’s business acumen has proved invaluable since his transition to photography. Underscoring the importance of building multiple revenue streams and diverse customer segments, he has cultivated clients ranging from athletes’ families and high school booster clubs to local news outlets and national publications including Sports Illustrated and ESPN. “In all but one case, my freelance work with newspapers resulted from my making initial contact with either the editor, sports editor or publisher,” he says. “Sometimes a simple email expressing your interest in working with the paper is all that is necessary to get the ball rolling.” McCorkle adds that persistence and patience are key. “Each time that I’ve expanded the types of sports I photograph or my customer base, I’ve followed a simple principle from my corporate career. Stated simply, it is ‘gentle pressure, relentlessly applied,’ ” he says with a smile. McCorkle markets his business in creative ways, ranging from hardcopy business cards he passes out while shooting games to requesting links to his portfolio on booster club sites to emailing booster officers gallery links and asking that they forward them to coaches, parents and fans.

Love what you see? Check out our other incredible SmugMug Success Stories.

SmugMug Success Stories: Glossy Finish

Goooaaaalll! Glossy Finish Scores With Assists From SmugMug and Social Media

Name: Haim Ariav
Title: President & Founder
Company: Glossy Finish
Location: Jacksonville, Florida
Market: Youth Sports
Bragworthy Factoid: Official swag-maker for the Florida High School Athletic Association
SmugMugger Since: 2011

Career Highlights…

  • Services 250,000-300,000 customers annually
  • Shoots 40,000-50,000 gorgeous images per event
  • 5 million+ images generated over last 5 years
  • Client list includes AAU, AYSO, Babe Ruth, Cal Ripken, Pop Warner, Triple Crown Sports, United Soccer Leagues USSSA and ESPN Wide World of Sports

Favorite Features…

Born of a brain fart

Glossy Finish was born five years ago when Haim Ariav was suddenly inspired to build a mobile photo lab in a trailer and cart it to sporting events, enabling families to view, purchase and retrieve photos on-site. Ariav, a classically trained photographer, saw an unfilled niche: recognizing that, as a “want” industry, photography was taking a hit in a rough economy, he set out to re-brand memorializing athletic moments as a “need” by making it easier to enshrine kids’ sports glory. Redefining how images are delivered on-site is the foundation of Glossy’s business model, unique in the sports photography vertical.

The post-game show

But on-site sales aren’t Glossy’s sole revenue stream. After an event, Ariav’s team uploads its treasures to SmugMug’s cloud and follows through with additional distribution via SmugMug’s labs. Online sales, a significant supplement to Glossy’s revenue stream, run smoothly on SmugMug, along with back office functions. “We rely on the website for 100% of our revenues for events that don’t utilize the mobile lab,” Ariav says. “Using the SmugMug infrastructure, reliability and scalability are key for us. Having access to the various products offered by the labs is a huge opportunity for us to carry out our online strategy.” Ariav’s team uses online proofing to boost non-mobile sales. “Different events may not warrant the use of our patent-pending mobile lab,” he points out. “The success of those depends on customer satisfaction with images and ease of purchase. SmugMug allows us to deliver a successful experience.”

Scoring points with social media

Ariav endorsed SmugMug’s decision to allow digital downloads to have watermarks. “We felt it would facilitate our ability to brand ourselves on social media,” Ariav says. “We wanted to have a presence on social networks like Facebook and Twitter, where so much photo sharing takes place. We know how important printmarks and watermarks are to both our business and our creativity.” Ariav milks every branding opportunity he can out of SmugMug’s tools, even while focused on image protection. “Printmarks turn images from just a photograph into a memory,” he says. “Our logo is also typically part of the printmark. Watermarks deter people from stealing, but we also use them as a way to show what [clients’] prints will look like with the printmark. We are always marketing and trying to keep up brand awareness.”

Owning it from field to check-out

Outlining a strong customization strategy for site design and gallery organization, and a reliance on SmugMug’s advanced customization tools, Glossy also has the Cart Branding feature firmly in the “on” position: “Branding is a huge part of what we do best, which can be seen in our website customization. We [use] Cart Branding so our customers know they’re getting a great Glossy Finish product. We also use the box sticker. We want customers to know who they are getting a package from and, most importantly, thank them for their order.”

Less work, more profit

Ariav used to blanket events with trigger-happy shutterbugs. Now, by sending sales teams to pre-sign customers, he may only capture four or five kids out of 20, but the average order has increased from $25 to $125. “It’s okay not to photograph every player on every field at every game,” he says. “We focus only on those that want and love our photos. It works better for the customer and us.” With SmugMug’s help, this focus on time-saving extends to online sales: “We try to keep pricing as uniform as we can to lessen confusion on our end,” Ariav says. “With the introduction of pricelists it is much easier to organize pricing throughout the site. Now I can set up pricelists for sales and simply move galleries around once the sale is over.”

Making friends with the moms

After cutting overhead and moving from the flea-market, on-spec approach to a more profitable, streamlined system scaffolded on a $20 deposit credited toward purchase, Ariav saw opportunities to reach a larger audience without snapping a photo. Envisioning his business as “an exclusive entertainment club,” Ariav created custom lanyards customers could don at soccer tournaments, showcasing that their kid’s athletic prowess was immortalized by Glossy Finish. The result? A flood of visitors to his trailer.

Taming the technology beast

Photographers didn’t used to discriminate when it came to capturing contacts; Glossy worked hard to collect home addresses and emails. Now, Ariav plays smarter, relying on texting select targets for marketing blasts. His on-site blitzes are wildly successful. “If we have a slow period, we can ping them and—boom!—the trailer fills up. We have a direct connection to our customers. And when we’re done with an event, we have more contacts in our database for future direct and instant marketing.”

Interested in seeing more SmugMug Success Stories? Look here and stay tuned for more as we have them.

Photog Tip of the Week: Sell Smarter with Smart Galleries by David Evertsen

Today’s guest post is by sports shooter and Smugger David Evertsen of Phabulous Photos. Any event shooter understands how tricky it is to manage and organize large volumes of files, particularly when parents, friends and fans are beating down the door to see photos and buy prints. Since the fall sports season is ramping up, we thought this post would help you manage your workflow and feed happier customers. Here’s how he used a program called Photo Mechanic and SmugMug’s Smart Galleries to give his fans the pictures they want to see.

by David Evertsen

For the past 3 or 4 years that I have been shooting high school sports there’s been one hurdle: Parents only want to see their own child when looking through sports pictures on my site. While they enjoy looking through the galleries, it’s a completely different story when it comes to choosing prints to buy. Sports galleries are quite large and it becomes a chore for parents to look through everything to find shots just of their child.

Then think about how one photographer shoots many games per sport, several sports at a time and the problems start to multiply.

I’ve used Smart Galleries from time to time on my site combined with simple keywords assigned in Lightroom, but I needed something more powerful that could help simplify the keywording process without writing a sentence for every image. Here’s a solution that worked for me.

Step 1.  Build your Code Replacement file in Photo Mechanic

I started working with some other photographers that are required to caption and upload images to a newspaper or press site and noticed they used a product called Photo Mechanic from Camera Bits. Photo Mechanic uses something called Code Replacement. This feature is perfect for photojournalists and sports photographers: they create a simple code replacement file that acts as a library, so that they type a few keystrokes and the info (like name, position, team and number) is automatically entered into the captions. This means fast, consistently accurate information with minimal work.

First I need to show you what code replacement is and how it saves me time. Code Replacement is a form of short hand that allows you to enter in anything you want by only pressing a few keys.

Here is an example of five of keywords I put on an image:

1; bk1 ;Kevin Kyle; Boone Varsity Baseball; 2010-2011

And here’s what that means, so you can do something similar for yourself:

  • 1 – Players Jersey Number (used for reference in file)
  • bk1 – A SmugMug keyword I use to build my Smart Gallery
  • Kevin Kyle – The player’s name.
  • 2011 – Year, also used to build my Smart Gallery.

Now what keys did I press to get the bold line above added as a keyword in Photo Mechanic for the picture?

1” and “\

How this works: You build a master list of shorthand codes you want to use and define which keyword terms you want entered when you type each code. This is just a simple text file that Photo Mechanic will use to automatically plug in keywords when you type the right codes.

Tip: Remember that SmugMug keywords have to be an minimum of 3 letters to work unless you enclose them in quotes.

Step 2. Choose Your Keywords

Let me show you what I had to think out before I built my code replacement file. You’ll want to write up keywords and macro codes that make it simple for you to remember but are specific to each event you shoot. I had to create a master list of sports that I use all year round so I don’t mix up the schools and sports. That would cause disaster!

Here are a few additional example sports in the same format as the above example:

bl Boone Boys Varsity LAX
bjl Boone Boys JV Lax
bgl Boone Girls Varsity Lax
bt Boone Track
bs Boone Varsity Softball
bjs Boone JV Softball

Make the codes easy to remember – after all, the point of this is to make your job easier.

What does the Code Replacement file look like? My file is really long and includes all the sports I shoot. As the seasons start the numbers and names of the players per sport are added. The final file can contain many schools and many different sports. Here are just a few other examples:

bk1 1; bk1 ;KEVIN KYLE; Boone Varsity Baseball; 2010-2011;
bk2 2; bk2 ;FRANK  THOMAS; Boone Varsity Baseball; 2010-2011;
bk3 3; bk3 ;TRIPP CABLE; Boone Varsity Baseball; 2010-2011;
bk4 4; bk4 ;MITCHELL BOMBER; Boone Varsity Baseball; 2010-2011;

Tip: Use semicolons between the terms to ensure that they get entered as complete keywords in the SmugMug gallery when I upload.

Step 3. Create your Smart Galleries

Smart Galleries are an easy way to automatically group together your photos by keyword. At the beginning of each year I go in to the season and set up a team subcategory (Under a custom school year category) and then individual Smart Galleries (one for each player).  In this case, I’ll use one Smart Gallery to pull in the photos with the “bk1” and “2010-2011” keywords in one place.

I make one gallery for each player on the team. Then I go into settings for each gallery and add Rules to pull in the keywords:

Rule #1: Include > My Photos > Keyword > 2011
Rule #2: Include > My Photos > Keyword > bk1

Then I’m done. Setting up the Smart Galleries takes a little time at first but you only have to do it once.

Step 4. Apply your codes in Photo Mechanic

Next I finish my post processing. I do my adjustments and use Lightroom’s bulk keywording feature to automatically enter the first portion of the Code Replacement macro, bk\ , to all of my files. This saves me time later.

I then open Photo Mechanic, click on the folder I created when I exported and double click on the file information. Up pops the info window where I can save and change the keywords. Then I press “1\”. The opening “\” (added by Lightroom to all my files) and the closing “\” (that I just typed into Photo Mechanic manually) means, “look up in your designated code file and insert the following line.” The string of keywords gets entered:

1; bk1 ;Kevin Kyle; Boone Varsity Baseball; 2010-2011

SmugMug indexes only 30 keywords per photo so take it easy on the number of keywords, lest you run out. I use about five, as shown here.

When I am done with the keywords on each individual image I click the Save button in the info pane and it brings the next one up. I do not keyword every player if I can’t tell who they are or if they are on the opposing team; they are not the primary focus of the shot.

It takes only about 10-15 minutes at the end of my processing to add the keywords.

Step 4. Upload Your Photos

I then use Photo Mechanic to upload to the team gallery and my work is done. When all the images are uploaded I make a lot of customers really happy because the Smart Galleries automatically pull in the specific photos I’ve set for them. I did the initial leg work but SmugMug does all the heavy lifting for me. I realized how important this was for sales when I set the Gallery Download price for my galleries and sold a bunch of player-only photos.

Each sport is different and the complexity varies by how many players are on each team. But even if a player plays only a few times in the season, you can easily find them by keyword. Then you can keep looking to shoot more shots of them later in the season.

I hope this helped you learn how to do something that will make your customers able to find the pictures they want to see and purchase them easily. I have talked to people on the Digital Grin forums that are using this workflow for all types of sports where the participants have numbers. Quick Code Replacement combined with Smart Galleries saves you time and helps drive up your sales.

Good luck!

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