Archive for September, 2011|Monthly archive page

Learn Your Subject

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The single best way to learn about your subject is to observe them for yourself.  Books and articles are a great start and help a bunch, but nothing takes the place of experiential learning – it tends to “stick” better this way, at least for me. Now, you may ask, “I’m a photographer, here to take a picture, why do I need to learn about . . . drag racing, birds, airplanes, etc?”  Well, first off, it can be a lot of fun – but from the photographer’s perspective it can keep you from missing “the shot”.  Let’s take a look at an example.

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Consider the Egret above.  As I’ve mentioned before, action photography can be boring – and the morning watching this egret was no different.  Now, having observed these animals before, I knew the following points (which helped me find a egret in the first place)

  • It is common for these animals to hang out for long periods of time at sources of moving water, where it is shallow enough for them to walk.  Gently moving water at the edge of a river or stream is another favorite place (as it was for the egret in the vanity image at the beginning of this article)
  • When they lock in on a breakfast target, they move very fast.  If your camera isn’t already at your eye, it’s easy to miss most of the action.

This fellow stood in the same spot for a good 40 minutes, moving his head around, but not much else.  Now, since I was hand holding, keeping the camera at my eye was a non-starter.  Heck, even with a tripod I probably wouldn’t be scoping him out every minute.  Ok, so we’re faced with a conundrum . . . we know these guys move fast when the time comes, but it can take 40 minutes or longer before something happens – how do we know when to get the shot?

 

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He’s where the benefits of observation come in.  Notice in the image above that the egret has leaned his head slightly forward and is looking down – something has caught his attention.  It’s a subtle move, but I knew from observation that it indicated a “target” was located. (Hint, bring your camera to your eye now).  At this point, one of three things is likely to happen:

  • It could be a false alarm or the fish moved away
    • The egret’s head will move back to a more straightened posture
  • The target is close, and within reach of a strike
    • Thrusting his head in the water, a fish becomes breakfast
  • It’s a good target, but requires repositioning.  With the head still focused down, a step or two is taken before a strike.
    • Example in the image below.

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If you’ve been paying attention (and not watching the ducks take a bath), you’ll have enough time to deliberately bring the camera to your eye, focus and check your settings.  You’re ready if a strike happens.

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From strike, until the fish slides down the throat, can take only seconds.  So if you’re not ready, chances are you’ll miss the shot all together – or get a shot off – but it’s out of focus as you had to move too fast.

So take some time and get to know your animal subjects (same thing goes for any other subject, really).  It’s a great thing to do later in the day when you’ve lost the light anyway.  And here’s another tip, what you learn about one subject can usually benefit you with others.  As the shot below indicates, Great Blue Herons hunt in a very similar fashion, long periods of standing around looking, and about 10 seconds of pure action.

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I’ve noticed that Blue Herons will strike more quickly (you don’t usually have a bent neck as a tip off) and more aggressively – often spearing the target with their beaks.  What an amazing thing to watch!

Mark

Action Can Really Be Boring!

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That’s right, boring!  You can literally spend hours of waiting for a quick 5 minutes of pure action.  Patience is a virtue in nature photography.

On a typical eagle outing on the Mississippi River, it’s not uncommon to stand for 2 hours or more with literally no action except for the occasional eagle coming and going.  Then, seemingly out of no where, a silent command must go out to all eagles – it’s time to fish!!  For the next 5 to 10 minutes you’ll have all sorts of action everywhere, you won’t know where to swing your camera next.  This is the way it goes for me with most nature photography.

There are really two main things to keep in mind:

    • Do Your Homework. All the patience in the world won’t do you any good if you’re not in the right place.  Here are a few homework tips:
      • In the post Always Look Close To Home, I discuss how to find great opportunities right in your own area.
      • Investigate sun rise and sun set times in your area – also the exact position on the horizon the sun sets for that particular time of year.
      • Scout the areas for the animal activity you’re looking for.  If in a local, state or national park – the rangers or workers are invaluable information sources on what’s going on, strike up a conversation!
      • Spend time in the area.  Get out an take a walk, see a sunset or just hang out.  The more you are familiar with an area, the more you will notice.
    • Be Patient.Your research and scouting done, now you’re on site – waiting for the perfect picture.  Here are a few things to keep in mind:
      • It depends on what and where you’re shooting, but you’ll generally need to keep still.  (Duh!)  Unless you’re really good, the birds and animals will know you’re there – but will tend to ignore you or become used to your presence (to a point).  Hopping around, popping the top on a soda can or anything similar will greatly reduce your chances.
      • It will be common to have an entire trip that doesn’t yield any results – this is standard fare and where the patience really comes in.  If you’ve done your homework and know you’re in a good spot, then give it time.  The critters don’t always run on a perfect schedule.

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It’s also useful to keep in mind that you’re out in the field, probably in a beautiful place, enjoying the country-side.  Enjoy that for what it is, some of the best trips I’ve had resulted in not a single image – but a very peaceful and relaxing outing filled with fresh air!

See the light,

Mark

Don’t Take That Picture!

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I recently grabbed my camera and my wife one evening to catch a great sunset, only to find out I didn’t bring the requisite memory card with me (yea, rookie mistake).  So what to do now?

Well, I actually sat on a bench with my wife, held hands and watched the majesty of a great sunset!  It was a wonderful evening and reminded me that we need to take time and experience some of these moments – without your eye always stuck in a view finder.

The image leading this post comes from one of my favorite Bald Eagle locations and, as I think about it, I’ve never taken the time to put the camera down and just enjoy the moment.  I’ve never seen an eagle before three years ago – this was a “bucket” item for me and I have yet to take the time and just experience it.  This will change during the coming season – I’m going to take the time to see it with my own eyes . .  and enjoy a short moment in real life!

So a little advice, take the time for yourself every now and then – and enjoy living the moment!

Hmmm, ya know . . . now that I think about it, I know I had a memory card in that camera . . . . I wonder if my wife . . . ?   Naaa, I just forgot it!

See the light,

Mark

Make Lemonade!

Film Filter Goose

It happens to all of us, amateur and pro a like, you think you have a great shot in the field, only to get home and find out it’s just not quite right.  Maybe you blew the highlights a bit, or missed the focus, or . . .  take your pick, there’s a whole bunch of possibilities!   So what do you do now, trash it?

I don’t think that should automatically be the next choice – at least not yet!  If the image has some character, let’s get creative and try to save it!  Take a look at your image editor of choice (or plug-ins that work with it) and see what filters are available – just start playing around with the options – try black and white and go from there –  see what happens!  (remember, you were probably ready to trash the shot – so it’s not like you going to ruin it or anything!)

Glamor Goose

The shot above was almost completely “bad lemons” (blown highlights and out of sharp focus) but it had some character to it  These fellows were having a gentleman’s disagreement over a lady and the goose on the left seemed to be yelling directly in the the other chaps ear.

From the Imperfect Photographer’s Dictionary . . .

Bad lemons: all the sugar in the cupboard won’t make these images sweet!  A really bad lemon usually has three or more critical flaws (the geese above have two) or a particular flaw is exceptionally bad.  For example, if the focus was so terrible that you couldn’t identify the critters as water fowl, that would probably qualify!

This image was too cute, I had to do something to save it.  My personal choice in filters is Nik Color Efex Pro and the primary effect in the goose image is an effect called “Glamour Glow”.  Now it’s still not a great image – but I like the personality it has!  If an image is technically perfect, but boring, there’s not much you can do – but an interesting image will give you some latitude and allow some imperfections to be overlooked.

Give it a try the next time you end up with lemons, make some lemonade.   Checkout my “lemonade” gallery, I decided to get my own collection together!

I’ve included some links  to a few good creative filter packages, check out the trials and see what you think!

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