Category Archives: Photo Tips

5 Camera Settings to Improve Your Photography

Compelling images don’t just happen, they are created. By initiating the 5 simple camera settings listed below, you will noticeably improve the quality of your photographs. Refer to your camera’s Owner’s Manual for specific instructions.

Shoot RAW Files

Shooting in RAW format is perhaps the single most important setting a serious photographer can make. (See my article ‘Why Shoot RAW Files.’) RAW files produce the greatest possible visual information and offer you the most creative latitude in post-production. RAW files are your digital negative and require a RAW converter such as Adobe Camera Raw or Capture One Pro to process the image. There is a bit of a learning curve to using this processing software, but the time investment is well worth your effort. You can fine-tune every aspect of the photograph, and correct issues like chromatic aberration, vignetting, and lens distortion. If your interest is black and white imaging, the RAW format offers the greatest tonal control. You will find many fine tutorials online.

As always, get the exposure right in-camera. Avoid the ‘fix it in post’ mentality. This is counter-productive and diminishes your workflow. In most cases, I spend less than 5 minutes processing an image.

Shoot in Manual Mode

Shooting in Manual Mode gives you complete and total control over the final image. Make photographs rather than take snapshots. By allowing the camera to make your creative decisions, you are limiting yourself to a pre-determined (and average) set of parameters, which will most often yield average results. Dynamic images are never average. Take control of Exposure, Aperture, Shutter Speed, ISO, and Depth-of-Field.

Set your camera to Manual Focus. Don’t rely on the Automatic Focus setting. More often than not, your images will be out-of-focus because the camera is unable to decipher what elements are important. By focusing manually, you control depth-of-field, as well as selectively focusing on the key areas in the photograph, like a subject’s eyes in a portrait.

Select the Adobe RGB Color Space

Set your camera’s color space to Adobe RGB (1998). Most cameras are set to sRGB by default. sRGB was created to ensure consistent color reproduction as an image is transferred from the camera to a device, such as a monitor or printer. It is the smallest color space, and yields the least amount of color information. Consequently, some colors in an image are discarded and won’t reproduce when printed. Adobe RGB, on the other hand, has a much larger color gamut (spectrum of colors).

Set the White Balance Manually

Set your White Balance manually based on the light source in which you are shooting. Each lighting type has its own color temperature and color cast. A proper white balance setting assures accurate color reproduction in an image. White balance can be fine-tuned in post.

Use a Low ISO Setting

By using the lowest possible ISO setting, you minimize the amount of digital noise in an image. Digital noise generally equates to a degradation in image quality, and while noise can be used to creative effect much like the grain in film, it is more often undesirable. Shoot at ISO 100 whenever possible. If this means having to use slow shutter speeds, consider a tripod. If you need to freeze action in low-light condition, you may have to boost your ISO setting, but try to keep it at ISO 400 or lower. By shooting in RAW format, you have a Noise Reduction slider which renders a viable solution to the problem.

I hope this article has been helpful in the on-going quest to improve the quality of your photographs. Please contact me if you have any questions, comments, or suggestions. Until next time…happy shooting!

Bruce

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Why Shoot RAW Files

RAW Files vs JPEGs

RAW files are your digital negative. Like film negatives, RAW files contain the greatest range of visual information and offer the greatest latitude in post-production. RAW files are uncompressed, unlike the highly compressed jpeg file, which discards information to reduce file size. Once that information is lost, it cannot be retrieved. RAW files offer a much greater dynamic range (the ratio of brightest tones to darkest tones) and allows for greater detail in both highlights and shadows. An 8-bit RAW file contains 16.8 million possible colors, whereas a jpeg contains a mere 256 colors. That is fine for web images, but unacceptable when printing or publishing images.

Fontana Theater JPEG

Unprocessed JPEG

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fontana Theater RAW File

Optimized RAW File

RAW files require a RAW converter such as Adobe Camera Raw or Capture One Pro. I have used both, and while there is an argument for each, I choose to use Adobe CC because it is what I am most familiar with, and also I use other programs in the Adobe Suite like InDesign and Premiere Pro.

8-Bit or 16-Bit Depth

As previously mentioned, an 8-bit image contains 16.8 million possible colors, which would seem more than adequate when printing an image, but there are situations in which tonal differences are so subtle that even this many colors doesn’t produce a smooth transition. This step from one tone to the next can create a noticeable effect known as banding. Saving the processed file as a 16-bit image produces a staggering 281 trillion colors and greatly reduces the incidence of banding. This is beneficial in rendering smoother and more subtle tonal transitions in large continuous areas such as a blue sky. Be aware that a 16-bit file is twice as large as its 8-bit counterpart. Save your optimized image as an uncompressed TIFF file.

Unprocessed JPEG

Unprocessed JPEG

Optimized RAW File

Optimized RAW File

Why Convert to DNG Files

RAW files are proprietary to the particular make of camera in which they are shot. Canon RAW files (CR2) are different than Nikon’s (NEF), which are different from Olympus files (ORF). As software continues to evolve, these various formats eventually become obsolete and unusable. The DNG format is Adobe’s attempt to standardize the RAW file so that it can always be opened regardless of a camera’s make or when the file was created. Whenever I work with a RAW file, I convert it to a DNG file and save it in its own folder. That way, I have a workable file ten or twenty years down the road.

I prefer to shoot RAW files + large jpegs (See your camera manual). This gives me a ready-to-use image right out of the camera that I can immediately send to a client if necessary without having to post-process the photograph. It also aids me in making early editing decisions, such as eliminating out-of-focus shots or comparing image composition. Always strive to properly expose the image in-camera. Meter using an 18% gray card, then bracket. This will greatly reduce the amount of time you spend optimizing an image—and that equates to more time in the field actually creating photographs. Backup all your files regularly. Redundancy is king. Store your files on multiple hard drives (at least two), and store one of those devices off-site to protect you, heaven forbid, from fire or natural disaster. A safe deposit box is optimal.

I hope you find this article informative—and if you aren’t already shooting in RAW format that it has convinced you to start doing so.

Please contact me with any questions, comments, or suggestions. Until next time, happy image-making!

Bruce

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Shooting Action Photography

action-photography-1Action can be described as any scene which incorporates movement. Action can be as slow-moving as a person walking, or as fast-moving as a race car barreling down a straightaway at 200 miles per hour. Capturing action’s peak moment is a combination of experience, artistic vision, and desired result.

Action photography requires preparedness and doesn’t wait for the photographer to ready her- or himself. Before leaving the house, I like to go through a mental checklist of the equipment I will need for an upcoming session. This might include items like a speedlight and portable light modifiers, polarizing and neutral density filters, lens hoods, a tripod or monopod, spare memory cards, and extra batteries for both camera and flash. Be prepared for any emergency. Do you need a second camera body or second flash in the event one fails? If you don’t own a spare, consider renting from a reputable company such as BorrowLenses. Be certain your gear is clean—particularly lens elements and view finder. Anticipate all the possible shooting conditions and adjust camera settings accordingly ahead of time—white balance, ISO, shutter speed, and aperture—then fine-tune as required once you’re at the event. Is the day clear and sunny? Is it overcast and threatening rain? Will you be shooting indoors or under stadium lights at night? This may seem obvious, but more than once I have begun a session with the incorrect white balance or shooting mode only to discover my error after the fact.

One of the big advantages to digital photography is the ability to take test shots and view the results immediately. Arrive early if possible to make any final exposure adjustments and select a vantage point. Use an 18% Gray Card to determine accurate exposure. If your subject is a high-speed race car or an Olympic diver, it is a good idea to position yourself so that the subject is entering the frame as opposed to exiting it. Apply the rule of thirds, and avoid placing your subject in the center of the frame. This accentuates the action, and is generally more visually appealing. If you want to freeze action, use fast shutter speeds (1/500 second or faster). If depth-of-field is critical, use small apertures (f/8 or smaller). Keep ISO settings as low as possible (ISO 100-800) to minimize unwanted noise. I always recommend shooting in RAW format, as this allows for the widest range of image optimization possibilities in post-production. The RAW file is your digital negative, and requires some kind of image-editing software such as Adobe Camera Raw. I shoot everything in RAW + Large Jpeg (See camera manual). This way, I have a workable image without having to expend the time required for processing RAW images.

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Crisp, sharp images are not always the most desirable or aesthetically pleasing, nor do they necessarily best convey action and sense of motion. Slow, hand-held exposures are a very effective way to communicate motion. Experiment. Try very long exposures (1 second or more) while panning. If you are shooting in bright daylight, you may need to use a variable neutral density filter to reduce the amount of light entering the lens. I use a Tiffen Variable ND filter. This also allows you to use larger apertures, which enable you to isolate your subject while blurring the background. If you have a zoom lens, try zooming in or out during a long exposure. Using a flash in combination with slow shutter speeds at night offers a variety of interesting effects, and the results can be quite dramatic. Be sure to turn off image stabilization when panning or zooming. Most of all, get out and shoot as often as possible—anything and everything. You will become a far more competent photographer as a result.

If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions, please contact me. Until next time, happy image-making!

Bruce

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Memory Cards—A Basic Overview

Memory cards are the photographer’s digital equivalent to film. The most common types of memory cards include SD (Secure Digital, up to 2 GB of capacity), SDHC (High Capacity, up to 32 GB), SDXC (Extra Capacity, up to 2 TB), and UHS (Ultra-High Speed) cards. Two factors determine how memory cards are rated. Speed rating measures the maximum reading and writing transfer speeds to and from the card in megabytes per second (MB/s). Class rating measures the minimum sustained speed needed to maintain an even rate of data transfer onto the card (particularly important when shooting hi-def video). Class 2 cards have a minimum transfer rate of 2 MB/s, while Class 10 cards transfer data at a minimum of 10 MB/s. UHS Speed Class (Ultra-High Speed) appeared in 2009 and utilizes a new data bus, so UHS memory cards are not compatible with non-UHS devices.  SanDisk’s recently released UHS-2 cards offer write speeds of up to 250 MB/s or faster. Note that performance may vary depending on your particular host device. Check manufacturer’s specs for your specific camera. A card’s capacity is designated in gigabytes (GB) or terabytes (TB) and refers to the amount of data a particular card can hold.

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When selecting a memory card, purchase only quality, reputable brands such as SanDisk or Samsung. Because this is your ‘film’ equivalent, you don’t want to scrimp just to save a couple of dollars. At the same time, they can get very pricey, and there is no need to buy the most expensive card. Buy memory cards from reputable dealers only, and beware of counterfeit cards. Most manufacturers offer some kind of warranty. SanDisk offers a limited two-year warranty on its products, while the Samsung 64 Pro Plus offers a ten-year limited warranty. Keep in mind that warranties are no guarantee that a card won’t fail—and should it fail, only the replacement of the product is covered. Loss of images can still occur. SanDisk claims its cards have a Mean Time Before Failure (MTFB) of 1,000,000 hours.

Like film, precautions must be taken when using and storing memory cards to avoid the corruption of data or loss of images. When using a memory card for the first time, it should be formatted for your particular camera (See owner’s manual). Be sure your camera is turned off before installing or removing the card to prevent accidental data loss. A small lock switch on the side of the card allows you to prevent the accidental deletion or overwriting of data. Do not touch the gold contacts on the back of the card, as this may cause corrosion and interfere with the transfer of information. Do not fill the card to its maximum capacity, as this may corrupt data and cause the loss of data (a mistake I have personally experienced). Avoid exposing memory cards to extreme heat or cold. Store them in their supplied case, or a quality memory card wallet, like the Pelican 0915 Memory Card Case (purchased separately). If you do happen to lose data on a card, there are several fee-based online recovery options available, including DriveSaver Data Recovery.

When downloading photographs to the computer, I prefer to remove the memory card from the camera and insert it into the computer’s SD slot. Properly eject the memory card before removing it. If your device doesn’t have an SD slot, you can tether your camera directly via the camera’s supplied USB cable. Be sure the camera battery has enough charge to complete the process. Your third option is to purchase a memory card reader. I’m a minimalist in everything I do, so the last thing I want to do is carry around another piece of gear, especially when traveling. Unless it is your only option, spare yourself the expense and additional hassle of a card reader.

Redundancy is king! Backup your images to at least two devices before erasing them from the memory card. Please note that erasing a card does not remove protected images, whereas formatting deletes all images, including protected images. It is recommended to format the card periodically to optimize performance.

Please contact me with any comments, questions, or suggestions. I’m wishing you an enjoyable Summer. Until next time, happy image-making…

Bruce

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Backcountry Photography Tips

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My Faithful Marmot Tent

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hello, I am writing from the confines of my tent and listening to the sharp staccato of raindrops pelting the fabric just inches from my ears. It has been raining for the last three days, with only brief and intermittent breaks in the precipitation. I have been camping on the North Fork of the Sacramento River for over three weeks now (the same place I camped for five weeks last Summer), and I am wanting to photograph this special area that has been my home for several weeks. Backcountry photography requires the right gear, and experience using that gear. Equally important is the willingness and mental preparedness to endure Mother Nature’s sometimes lengthy inclement bouts, for they almost always provide outstanding photographic opportunities, but patience and a sense of humor is key.

Staying safe, warm, and dry is primary. Your comfort will dictate how productive your photo efforts will be. Shelter for most people means a tent. Choose a small, quality, lightweight model—large enough to accommodate you, your pack, and your camera gear, yet light enough that you’ll actually carry it. Condensation on the tent’s interior is a natural occurrence and poses a challenge to staying dry, even when it isn’t raining. The ability to vent the space can help to alleviate this problem. Keep clothing and sleeping bags away from tent sides, and avoid bumping the fabric as much as possible. Dress in layers—and absolutely NO cotton! Cotton retains moisture and has no insulating value. Be prepared for any kind of weather regardless of the season. Don’t rely on forecasts. Mount Shasta has seen snow on the Fourth of July.

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North Fork, Sacramento River, Northern California

With today’s sophisticated electronics, camera’s are far more vulnerable to the elements than the manual film cameras of old. Even with a weatherized pro-level camera system, precautions need to be taken. Weather-resistant carrying cases add a level of insurance. I have a Lowepro Toploader Zoom 50 AW II for my Canon EOS body and moderate zoom lens. I also have small protective soft cases for each of my lenses.

I am a minimalist in everything I do. I rely on experience more than gear, particularly when camping in the backcountry. Unless I absolutely need it, I don’t carry it. I have the same attitude regarding camera gear. I bring only what I need to do the job. That means a camera body and two lenses—a 10-18 mm ultra-wide zoom and an 18-55 mm zoom. This covers the majority of shooting situations and keeps weight and space requirements to a minimum. I also carry a fully-charged spare battery and second memory card. Occasionally I use a circular polarizer or neutral density filter, but I find with digital photography that I am less prone to using filters.

Maidenhair Fern, Northern California

Maidenhair Fern, Northern California

A tripod is an essential piece of equipment. Some of the most compelling image-making happens after sunset. Many fine, lightweight tripods are available. I recently purchased a Davis and Sanford Traverse with a BHQ8 Ball Head. Turn off any image-stabilization when using a tripod. Use a remote shutter release or self-timer to avoid camera-shake. Use a lens hood to protect the front lens element from precipitation, as well as the occasional bump.

Sometimes it’s the little things that mean the difference between an enjoyable outing and a disastrous one. I always carry a large, heavy-duty trash bag in my pack. They’re light and offer excellent rain-protection in the event of a sudden downpour while hiking on the trail. That has kept my pack, clothing, and camera gear dry on numerous occasions. Also, pack a couple of one-gallon zip-lock storage bags for water-proof security. They serve as a rain-guard in drizzly conditions. Plastic film canisters are one of the greatest storage containers ever conceived. They are water-tight and pack easily. Keep memory cards, lens tissue, and/or your Bic Mini safe and dry.

Accidents do happen! When I recently purchased a new Canon system, I enrolled in the SquareTrade 2 Year Drops and Spills Protection Plan. At $92 for the two years, it’s cheap insurance. Canon will repair or replace damaged equipment, as long as the item isn’t lost or stolen.

Please contact me with any comments, questions, or suggestions. Until next time, happy image-making!

Bruce

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Black and White Photography Basics

Black and White Photo Tips

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Black and white photography is very much its own art form. The process of creating black and white images requires the photographer to think and see differently. Even the viewer’s experience is a different one. Black and white is an especially dramatic and impactful medium. By applying a few basic principles, you can create stronger, more compelling black and white imagery. Digital cameras offer so many creative possibilities and black and white imaging benefits greatly with today’s technology.

Black and White Photo Tips The first step to improving your photography is to shoot in a RAW format, whenever possible. The RAW file is your digital negative and it gives you the most creative control over the final image. Adjust your camera’s white balance, as this is particularly important with black and white imaging. Shoot in color mode, then convert your image to grayscale in post. Use the lowest ISO setting possible. This helps keep detail sharp and noise to a minimum.

Composition is fundamental to strong black and white image-making. Be mindful of the rule of thirds, but don’t apply it mechanically. Use visual weight to create balance or tension in your composition. Look for interesting patterns and textures, strong converging lines, and contrasting light and shadow. Think and see in black and white. Look for scenes with a wide range of tones. Does a particular shot call for a shallow depth-of-field or is sharpness throughout the image a preferable choice? Experiment. Try different lens focal lengths. Bracket your shots. Many digital cameras allow you to do this automatically.

Neutral Density Filters reduce the amount of light entering the camera and increase exposure times. They are used to create the veiled effect of flowing water and soft clouds. ND filters decrease depth-of-field by allowing wider apertures. They are also used to decrease the ISO setting in bright situations. A Neutral Density filter can reduce the light up to several stops, permitting very long exposures. Use a tripod on any exposure longer than 1/30 second, and lock up the mirror and use a cable release or self-timer to eliminate camera shake. Also, be sure all image-stabilization is turned off whenever the camera is on a tripod. This will give you the sharpest possible detail.

I welcome your questions, comments, and suggestions. If there is a particular topic you would like to see covered, please contact me and I will attempt to address it in a future post.

Until next time, happy image-making…

Bruce

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Photographing Wildflowers

Photographing WildflowersPhotographing wildflowers is its own art form–much like portraiture or wildlife photography. With the most basic camera equipment, you can create stunning and compelling floral portraits. The key to successful wildflower photography is less about equipment and more about spending time in the field. Flowers bloom in the Spring and Summer months and the window of opportunity is often very short. More time in the field equates to better photographs.

Photographing WildflowersTechnique is the single most important component in creating any compelling image. Photographing wildflowers usually requires close focusing distances and controlling depth-of-field is critical to the final feel of your photograph. A shallow depth-of-field isolates the subject and provides a soft background, while increasing depth-of-field brings a greater area into sharp focus. Use a tripod and cable release whenever possible. Pay attention to composition. Look for simple backgrounds free of competing distractions. Shoot during the golden hours–that hour just after sunrise and the hour just before sunset. Rainy and overcast days provide a diffuse light and increased color saturation. Do your homework. Research flower-rich areas near you. Study your subject and return until you have adequately captured it. Experiment. Try different and unusual perspectives. Wide-angle and telephoto lenses can yield striking results.

Photographing wildflowers is a specialized pursuit. Three items can enhance your creative possibilities. The first item is a macro lens. A true macro lens provides magnifications up to 1:1. This means that if you photograph a small object (say, a penny) at the lens’ closest focusing distance, the image projected onto the camera’s sensor is life-size. Macros generally come in two focal lengths–50mm and 100mm (Exact focal lengths vary slightly from manufacturer to manufacturer). The 100mm lens allows a little more distance between camera and subject. You are less likely to cast a shadow upon the flower and depth-of-field is increased. Extension tubes are an inexpensive alternative to a macro lens. Extension tubes are hollow tubes which mount between your lens and camera body to shorten the minimum focusing distance. They often come in a set of 3 and can be used in varying combinations to achieve different magnifications. Extension tubes work particularly well with short to moderate telephotos. The final piece of equipment is a ring flash–a circular flash unit which mounts to the front of the lens. Low light can be a challenge in macro photography. A ring flash resolves that issue.

I welcome your comments, questions, and suggestions.

Until next time, happy image-making…

Bruce

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Photographing the Urban Landscape

Urban Landscape

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Urban Design, in its finest examples, ranks among humanity’s highest achievements. An organic fusion of form, function, and aesthetics, major urban centers offer unique and varied photographic opportunities. Cities have it all–big skylines, people, traffic, and an endless source of image-making. I love photographing the urban landscape. It’s challenging and exciting. I marvel at the mix of architectural styles and each city has its own unique flavor. For me, the urban landscape is another world!

The majority of the Earth’s inhabitants live in large urban centers. Cities represent all that is great and all that is failing in human society. The larger the metropolis, the greater the disparity. It is largely people that make cities so interesting. People add a highly dynamic component to the urban landscape and are a constant fascination. All the same things that excite a nature photographer–beautiful light, color and texture, and strong composition–can be found in any city.

Photographing the Urban Landscape

I relate to the streets. Wherever I am–be it L.A. or San Francisco or Portland–I love being on the streets, feeling the city’s pulse, its energy…mingling with the people. For me, that means traveling light and shooting on the fly. A Canon 35-105 zoom mounted on a film body is my workhorse. A small camera bag with a Canon 24mm f/2.8 superwide-angle, a Canon 200mm f/4 telephoto, a flash, and, depending on the situation and location, maybe a small, lightweight tripod. The 24mm is a must-carry lens. It’s small and compact and adds a lot of versatility. The 24mm is sharp, fast, and has tremendous depth-of-field. This lens really shines in tight shooting situations and I love its characteristic distortion. The 200mm telephoto works well for photographing people and can be hand-held. This lens allows for a very shallow depth-of-field–excellent for isolating a subject and creating a soft, diffuse background that is so pleasing. It also allows for some working distance between you and a potential subject. This is helpful when you want to capture people in the act of being themselves.

Because cities are places of great activity, extra awareness, caution, and preparedness are required on the part of the urban photographer. Your personal safety and the safety of others requires it. Be aware of your surroundings, at all times. You may be walking around with thousands of dollars strapped around your neck. Pay attention. Strive to remain inconspicuous. Wear casual, comfortable clothing and shoes, and be prepared for changes in weather. A small, heavy-duty trash bag works well to keep things dry in a pinch. They are lightweight and ultra-compact. That being said, bring an extra.

Photographing the Urban Landscape

As you explore your cityscape, look for unusual perspectives and vantage points. Cities are marvels of verticality and many unusual vantage points await. Night scenes can be especially beautiful when offered in a new and fresh way. Experiment. Try long, hand-held exposures. Look for visually compelling textures and repeating patterns, as well as strong converging lines. Keep compositions simple. Less usually equates to more. Apply all the same principles to photographing the urban landscape that you would to creating a good nature photograph. Light is everything! Pay attention. It can make or break your image.

It is sometimes a fine line between creating art and becoming an invasion into somebody’s life. Please be considerate of the people you photograph. Cities are home to great suffering. Allow every woman and man their dignity. Before you take any photograph, put yourself in the other person’s place. Ask people if it is alright to photograph them. Most people will likely welcome your request.

Please contact me with your comments, questions, and suggestions. Also, let me know if there is a particular topic you would like to see covered.

Until next time, happy image-making…

Bruce

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Photo Tip #10: Photographing Wildlife

Photographing Wildlife

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photographing wildlife is a challenging and highly rewarding pursuit. Wildlife adds a magical element to any nature experience. Most of us interact with some form of wildlife on a daily basis. With some basic equipment, a little preparation, and a focused effort, you can achieve outstanding results–and often within a relatively short distance from your home.

While wildlife photography usually conjures up images of exotic locations like Kenya or Alaska, the lower 48 states are rich with wildlife. We are fortunate here in America to have such an extensive system of national parks, state parks, and wildlife refuges throughout the country. These preserves are often havens for wildlife in a world of increasing habitat loss. Yellowstone is the crown jewel of national parks and boasts the highest concentrations of wild animals in the contiguous U.S.. The Yellowstone ecosystem is comprised of some 28 million acres and claims some of North America’s most impressive species–including grizzly bears, wolves, elk, and bison. Living here in Mount Shasta, I am blessed to have the Klamath National Wildlife Refuges just an hour away. The Klamath Refuges are a major stopover along the Pacific Flyway and home to the largest wintering population of bald eagles in the lower 48. Millions of birds migrate through the Refuges every Spring and Fall. Many areas throughout the country offer similar opportunities for photographing wildlife.

 

Photographing Wildlife

When we think of wildlife, we tend to think of the larger and more obvious species–but let’s not overlook the small and seemingly commonplace. Several photographers have opened our eyes to the beauty and wonder of the myriad tiny creatures with whom we share this Earth. Every living organism is a miracle of creation, and as unique and fascinating as any other when observed closely. Insects comprise the largest number of species in the animal kingdom–over 1 million recognized species worldwide. North America alone is home to more than 88,000 species of insects, so don’t overlook them as potential subjects. They are among the planet’s most fantastic critters. Check out The Smaller Majority, by Piotr Naskrecki. The photography is stunning!

You can shoot exceptional wildlife photographs with the most basic equipment. The majority of cameras come standard with some kind of zoom lens. Longer focal lengths have more reach and allow you to work at greater distances from your subject. Animals tend to be wary of humans and some are simply too dangerous to photograph at close range. If you are serious about wildlife photography, a 300 to 500mm telephoto is optimal. Many camera manufacturers sell telephotos up to 1200mm. These lenses get quite pricey. At these long focal lengths, you want the very best glass you can afford. Even a 200mm length can yield professional results. Roosevelt Elk (above) was taken handheld with a Canon 200mm f/4 telephoto lens. Canon now offers a 70-200mm f/2.8 image-stabilized zoom. This is an exceptionally sharp and versatile lens and is excellent for photographing wildlife or people, landscapes or cityscapes.

 

Photographing Wildlife

Teleconverters mount between the camera body and lens to increase focal length. They are available in 1.4x and 2x. A 200mm f/4 telephoto with a 2x teleconverter becomes a 400mm f/8 lens. I always recommend using a tripod and cable release with telephotos.

It isn’t necessary to spend thousands of dollars on long telephotos to capture striking wildlife images. Vision and imagination are the primary components to strong image-making. More gear does not equate to better photography–it simply means more possibilities. A 50mm lens in the hands of a competent photographer can yield dramatic results. A macro lens is specifically designed for close-up photography and works especially well with small amphibians, reptiles, and insects, as well as wildflowers. Macros usually come in two focal lengths–50 and 100mm. An inexpensive alternative to the macro lens are extension tubes, which increase the distance between the lens element and sensor, offering up to larger-than-lifesize magnification. They commonly come in a set of three (12, 20, and 36mm) and can be used in varying combinations to achieve different magnifications. Many photographers use a ring flash to light their subject. Any external flash will work if you’re in need of one. You may also want to use a flash diffuser to soften the illumination.

Great photographs rarely just happen. They are typically the product of hard work and dedicated effort–years in the field, studying and knowing the subject. A little homework here can mean the difference between seeing wildlife at all and coming away with an exceptional image. Do your homework and have a plan. For me, one of the great joys of photography is the continual education I receive. Mother Nature is the ultimate educator and we, as human beings, stand to learn much about ourselves through observing nature.

 

Photographing Wildlife

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Animals are usually most active in the early morning and evening hours. Spring and Fall are times of great activity. Fall is the mating season. Elk and big-horned sheep are in the rut and banging heads for mating rites. Spring is a time of renewal and rebirth. Moose are calving and myriad birds are hatching. These are dynamic seasons for a wildlife photographer. For that very reason, they also warrant caution. These are wild animals and the seemingly most docile creature can turn frightfully dangerous if approached. Always give animals plenty of distance, and be especially wary of animals with young. For them, survival is a serious matter.

It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of a grizzly bear peering down your lens. First and foremost–remain aware of your surroundings and your safety. With that ingrained, pay attention to the image-making part of the process–composition and lighting. Scan the viewfinder for any distracting elements and eliminate them. Think ahead to the finished photograph. Do you want to isolate the subject against a soft background or do you prefer maximum depth-of-field for sharp detail? Do you want to freeze motion or accent it with a long exposure? Anticipate where any action might occur and be ready. As the light changes, take meter readings and make test shots. If you live in close proximity to wildlife habitat, make repeated trips and look for new and interesting vantage points. Take note of the light throughout the day and throughout the seasons. Animals, like human beings, are part of their environment. Look to place them in their surroundings. It can provide a telling insight into the nature of the animal.

A few last words–and for some of us, I am overstating the obvious–wild animals have an extremely acute sense of smell. If Fido has just ridden in your lap for the last 150 miles, any animal will know it. Avoid using scented products–shampoo, soap, and laundry detergent. No colognes or perfumes. Women should also be aware of their cycle when in the wild. It can attract curious and sometimes unwanted visitors. If you’re photographing grizzly bears in Glacier National Park, carry pepper spray and hope you don’t have to use it.

The continued survival of hundreds and thousands of species of wildlife all around the world are stressed with a rapidly declining habitat, pollution, and other environmental pressures. Please be respectful of all the creatures you encounter. Give them ample space. NO photograph is so important as to stress an animal in the making of it! We are privileged to bear witness to the processes of nature. And when it comes down to it, in the wild, we are the visitors.

Check out the work of Frans Lanting. This man exemplifies fine art nature photography in a way that few are able!

I welcome your comments, questions, and suggestions.

Until next time, happy image-making…

Bruce

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Photo Tip #9: Using Filters

Using Filters

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Filters are an important and often overlooked piece of photographic equipment, yet they are essential to the image-making process. In this article, I will discuss a basic set of filters that every nature photographer should have in her or his camera bag. I won’t go into the use of ‘creative’ or special effects filters, as they serve an entirely different function and are not relevant here.

The camera and the human eye see differently, and filters, when judiciously applied, help to render a scene more as the eye sees it. They can help to balance exposure in difficult light, reduce glare and reflection, and improve color saturation and contrast.

The first filter any camera shop will try to sell you is either a UV or Skylight 1A filter. These filters offer mild haze reduction and slightly warm the cool bluish cast normally associated with daylight. Their biggest pitch is lens protection. One photo guide by a prominent publication suggests that “many pros keep them on the lens for protection.” I disagree–and I know many seasoned pros who will tell you ‘No’ to the UV filter. It’s another glass surface to reflect and bounce light. If a filter doesn’t serve to enhance the image, don’t use it. As for lens protection, don’t strike your lens on things. A filter is no insurance. Use your lens cap. I once inherited a zoom lens with its bent UV filter permanently affixed. Forget attempting to use any other filter with that lens. If you should crack a filter’s glass element and can’t remove the filter, how good is your lens anyway? Starting at $25 each (and up to $300), the camera salesman would love to sell you all three sizes to fit your array of lenses. If anyone needs UV or Skylight filters, I have a dozen of them I never use!

Two suggestions regarding filters. One–buy only high-quality filters. They are an optical component and all filters are not created equal. B+W, Cokin, Hoya, and Tiffen all offer professional-quality filters. The second suggestion is to avoid stacking filters. More glass means less optical clarity and the reflection issue is multiplied.

The single most important filter in your kit is the circular polarizing lens. When I use a filter, 99% of the time, it’s a polarizer. A rotating ring allows for increasing and decreasing the amount of polarization. A polarizer deepens blue skies and helps to bring out detail in clouds. It also helps to increase color saturation and contrast. A polarizing lens reduces reflection on glass, water, and snow. Try rotating the ring to get the most accurate and pleasing results. With reflective surfaces, the polarizer works best at a 45-degree angle. When shooting the sky and clouds, a 90-degree angle from the Sun is optimal. This filter can be used for both color and black and white photography.

Using Filters

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Probably the second most important filter in your bag is a Graduated Neutral Density filter. This filter allows less light to enter one half of the glass, without altering color. They come in 1-, 2-, and 3-stop differences. (ND 0.3, ND 0.6, and ND 0.9, respectively) This is extremely helpful when you encounter a scene with a shaded foreground and brightly lighted sky. A 2-stop (ND 0.6) Graduated filter will generally bring most situations into balance. If you have a question as to which filter is best for you, take a few meter readings next time you’re in the field. Determine the exposure differences throughout the scene–specifically, between shaded and brightly lighted areas, such as the sky.

My third recommendation is a Solid Neutral Density filter. The solid filter reduces the amount of light entering the lens equally throughout the image. This is especially helpful if you’re wanting a wider aperture for decreased depth-of-field, or to increase exposure time to create the soft, veil-like effect of flowing water. These filters are available in a wide range of densities, from 1-stop up to 6-stop reductions, and work very well with moving clouds and surging oceans. Cokin offers a filter system, as do a number of manufacturers, consisting of a filter holder, adapter ring (to fit specific lens diameters), and the filter itself–usually a square (4″ x 4″) or rectangular (4″ x 6″) pane of optical resin. These filters are lightweight, scratch-resistant, and optically coated. The big plus: no glass to shatter in the backcountry. This system allows you to position the filter up or down in the holder, which is nice when using the Graduated filter. And no having to buy (and carry) four filters to fit each of your lenses. Purchase the relatively inexpensive adapter ring and you’re golden.

My next recommendation is either an 81A or 81B warming filter. This slightly pinkish filter works well for portraits, as it warms skin tones and is especially beneficial on overcast days. This is one of those filters I don’t use a lot, but there are those occasions when it is indispensable. I prefer the 81B for its additional warming effect, though this is purely a personal choice.

Using Filters

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are three additional filters which I will recommend. These are all black and white contrast filters–and while they are somewhat specialized, I want to give them mention. I suggest when you shoot black and white that any filtration occurs in the shooting process. Don’t rely on image-editing programs, such as Photoshop, to add filter effects after the fact. The #8 Yellow and #25A Red filters are both used to increase contrast in landscapes, particularly the contrast between clouds and sky. The Yellow filter darkens the sky, yielding a more accurate tonal rendition in black and white. The 25A produces a more dramatic, exaggerated contrast in water, sky, and clouds. The #11 Green filter is used to render accurate skin tones in black and white portraiture. It also improves the tonal rendition of foliage. As always, I recommend bracketing to guarantee the optimal exposure in your image.

B and H Photo/Video has an overwhelming selection of filters. Have fun and experiment. Filters add an entirely new creative dimension to your image-making. I’m wishing you well!

Please contact me with any comments, questions, or suggestions.

Until next time, happy image-making…

Bruce

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