A Few Tips For Nature and Wildlife Photography

Guest Blog Post by Peggy Bechtell

Nature or Wildlife Photography

Camera Settings: Aperture priority, f4 to blur background, ISO 800, Drive Mode. F11-F16 for surroundings – carry large black plastic bag to lay on the ground. Often my camera is on a tripod with pistol grip head for tracking.

Stance: Eye level with animal or below = grandeur
Back to the wind with birds – they take off and land into the wind.
Soft Front light directly facing animal with for close-up face shots, and eyes of big cats.
Sidelight = nice texture for fun and feathers.
Backlight = silhouettes, reflections, and glow around the animal.

What to watch for: Patterns of behavior. Birds move differently just before flight. They will often start looking around with more agitation just before takeoff. Eagles generally poop before take-off. Watch wildlife for a while to learn their patterns which almost always repeat. Anticipate behaviors and start firing before the anticipated behavior occurs.

If you see the behavior in your viewfinder, you have missed it.

Patience, Patience, Patience. It is fun to just sit back and enjoy the animal you want to photograph. You will learn a lot, enjoy a lot, and know when to take the picture. For tracking, practice focusing and firing on moving broom, then the handle.

Where to focus: On the eye of the animal when there is a catch light in it = tack sharp face

Where to get information on wildlife: PSA has a membership service which puts you in touch with photographers in the area you are going to.
Fixers (Guides) are available on the internet for areas and animals you want. Local farmers and rangers often know about local animals, the best locations and times of day to see them.

by Peggy Bechtell – bechtell@comcast.net

 

Reviewing Images

A Second and Third Look
Through Your Images

After a long trip to Africa or Alaska, where you have taken many images, and hopefully some specials ones. Upon first review, you go through your images and think you got all the best ones marked out. Sometimes you are so excited you potentially could miss an image that’s really a star. One of the best ones of your trip.

Bald Eagle In Flight
Bald Eagle In Flight

I actually flagged this one and rated it, but never did anything with it until now. Sometime a second pass, or a third pass through your images after a reflective period of time gives you some gems out of rough stones that are most of your raw captures.

This image is one of my best Bald eagle in flight images. I would not have recognized it as a jewel, if I did not go through my 2014 Alaska trip images a second and a third time.

Also, with the advance in post-processing techniques, sometimes an image doesn’t appear at first glance to be something that can be truly great. Now, I look at raw files from the point of view of what is possible and how I can make the image closer to what I saw at the moment of capture.

So it pays sometimes not to give up on an image, and to keep your raw files instead of permanently deleting them.

With storage so cheap, you can keep the rejects as long as you want. One of my friends, use to laugh at me for keeping all my slides, even the ones that were a bit blurry. She would be laughing at me now as well.

Here though I found an image that I really like. One that I could have easily deleted and been gone forever. With technology forever changing and getting better, it pays not to be too hasty in deleting images.

I am going to get a scanner soon, and scan some of my old slides, ones that have the prospects and could become great with a little post-processing miracle.

I just can hear my friend saying, “yeah, really” to this, knowing that I probably never will. We will see…

Selecting A Winning Photograph

Ghost Boat, A Retrospective On The Past
Ghost Boat, A Retrospective On The Past

ANALYSIS CRITERIA

IMPACT —————COMPOSITION—————-TECHNIQUES

IMPACT — GETTING THE ATTENTION OF YOUR VIEWER

  1. COLOR — Appealing Color Palette
  2. SHAPES — Varied Size and Shape
  3. MOOD — Exposure To Match Mood
  4. STORY APPEAL — Clear Storyline
  5. CUTE APPEAL — Watch Out for Cliche
  6. ORIGINALITY — Don’t Copy Style

COMPOSITION — HOLDING THE INTEREST OF YOUR VIEWER

  1. Strong Leading Lines
  2. No Distracting Bright Areas
  3. Uncluttered Image
  4. One Prominent Subject (Ken, used to use the phrase, “Queen of Spades”, when he judged) I use the phase “Queen of Hearts”
  5. All Elements Directing Inward

TECHNIQUES — APPROPRIATE TECHNIQUE FOR IMAGE

  1. Professional Detailing — Touch-up, ETC
  2. Sharp & Diffused Areas Defined
  3. Perfect Exposure for Mood and Lighting
  4. Care in Use of Proper Filters
  5. Care in Use of Photo Manipulation
  6. Good Choice of Lens
  7. Mask (Crop) or Duplicate To Change Format

*By Ken Eugene
10-25-92

Remembering Ken Eugene

*Ken Eugene was a longtime photographer and member of Peninsula Camera Club, and saw service in WWII. The club’s award, the Parks-Eugene Service Award, for outstanding contributions and excellent service to the club is named for him. I won this award in 2000, and I have one of Ken’s sailing images frame for my contribution to PCC, gracing my walls of my apartment. In remembrance of him, I have included two of my images taken during the America’s Cup competition in San Francisco, during August 2013.

Artemis America's Cup Boat Makes An Extreme Turn In Front of Alcatraz
Artemis America’s Cup Boat Makes An Extreme Turn In Front of Alcatraz

Here is more information about Ken and his life from long time PCC member Lois Shouse.

Ken was an avid Sailor and served crew on sailing ships like the ones that competed in the recent S.F. races (the older sailboat version, not the catamaran type). He had many talents. He created parts for camera equipment – attachments to tri-pods, quick releases, etc. He was always willing to share his knowledge freely and help other photographers. He was always ahead of the times in what he was trying in photography. He was doing adjustments to slides before Photoshop came along, but he took to it like a duck to water. Ken taught Photography free at Little House in Menlo Park for years. He was always willing to give of his time to share his love of photography with others. He was truly worthy of having the Peninsula Camera Club honor him by adding his name to our Service Award. He served the club for about 20 years, and was a mainstay of our social and field trip life.

 

Selective Focus

Selective Focus

A camera’s vision is not quite like ours. As a photographer you need to see the world as a camera see it. One of the differences is that the eye focuses constantly, and we see everything in focus from near too far. With a small aperture selection like f22 and a wide-angle lens, you can almost get the focus of the human eye, where everything is sharp and in focus. This focusing is good for landscape photography, where you usually want to see all elements of an image sharp from foreground to background.

Another way is to use selective focus: emphasizing a particular part of an image, making the subject of the image stand out; singing its visual song. This is a powerful technique to draw the viewer’s eye to the subject, where the photographer wants the viewer’s eye to go. The eye is drawn to the sharp focused subject surrounded by the blur area containing the rest of the image. This seeing is as the camera sees not as the human eye sees. Controlling the aperture size is the key to controlling the depth of field and selecting the focus area–what’s sharp and not sharp within the image.

Here is an example of selective focus; I entered this image in my camera club recently. This cheetah image was taken at the San Diego Wild Animal Park.

I did not use a small aperture like f22 to render the whole portrait of the cheetah sharp. I used instead an aperture of f5.6, so my depth of field with my 600 mm lens and with 1.4 tele converter was shallow, leaving the neck and parts of the shoulder slightly soft. This makes the alert cheetah’s face and eyes seem very sharp, more so because the rest of the body is slightly soft. The story and impact of the image is the face, the alert expression, and those penetrating eyes. Penetrating eyes that look into the soul of the animal! With selective focus, these features are emphasized to the viewer. Subtle in its effect, but nonetheless greatly contributes to the overall success of the image.

Also, it should be noted that this image was taken after sunset late in the evening, so I needed to use a large aperture and a high ISO of 800, just to obtain the proper exposure… My camera was on a tripod and with the animal not moving; I had a choice of using a sharper aperture, and slower shutter speed. My goal for the image was to focus on the face and the great intense stare. Choosing an aperture with a small and shallower depth of field gave me the critical focus on the face, very slightly blurring the neck and shoulders, making the face really stand out and sing.

Why not make the neck blurrier? That would make the face stand out more. I think if you did that; it would make a face on a blurry body (a post it or cut out look), and the blurriness would attract the eye and away from the face you want the viewer to see. A completely burly neck doesn’t work well for this type of animal portrait.

Why not make the image completely sharp? Well, yes, for a nature interpretation, you might want a completely sharp image. I believe this makes the image more a record shot, rather than an artistic presentation.

This selective focus technique is used a lot in macro photography, flower photography, and many other types of image making as well. The uses are endless, so make sure you apply this technique to your photography.

PS: This image won best of show at my camera club’s week night competition…

Creating A Grand Scenic Image

Landscape Photography
(Creating a Grand Scenic)

Landscape photography is harder than you think. To create beautiful, sweeping, stunning grand scenic imagery is one of the most difficult types of photography. Most beginners include too much into the picture, leaving an image without focus and without a main subject—a subject that stands out and grips and tugs at your heart and emotions. Another common complaint for beginners is the term “record shot”. It used to describe an image without power and a strong subject where a photographer is literally is just recording the scene in front of his or her camera.

In addition, a “record shot” does not use or encompass some common photographic techniques: like leading lines, the use of a “S” curve, using shadows to add drama, contrasting colors with the use of late or early morning light, dramatic large foreground elements that stand out and contrast with the background, the rule of thirds to position the subject in a more pleasing compositional position, and finally to create a three dimensional image from a two dimensional medium. These aren’t all the ways to make a “record shot” into an image that you would proudly want to frame big and place prominently on your living room wall, but these are some basic techniques you can use to improve your landscape photography.

Diagonal lines add tension and are less static than horizontal or vertical lines, think of a diagonal line as of a fence leading you to the main subject, making the image more three dimensional. Ask where your eye goes! It should go to your main subject…

Another approach is to use a wide angle lens up close to make a foreground element more prominent. This works exceptionally well with wide angle lenses, creating within an image a foreground, middle ground, and background that give depth to the scene.

Graduated neutral density filters are essential tool for shrinking the range of light down to what your digital camera sensor can handle without clipping the highlights. Nowadays you can create graduated neutral density affects in the post processing as well as make many other targeted adjustments to an image. However, it is preferable to get the exposure correct in the first place.

Landscape photography is a big subject and takes lots of time, so study and practice creating images approaching those of the best landscape photographers of today and of years past. Study the master landscape photographers, their techniques, their style, and their compositions, Photography is an art, and has many principles and visual techniques that’s applied in painting and other forms of art. Study color too, the color wheel, and its relationships, complimentary color as well as pastel colors, good use of color can make or break a grand scenic image.

Location and timing, that perfect landscape light, is a crucial ingredient to a great landscape photograph-warm low light from the magic photographer’s hours, early or late in the day. Photography is all about light! Many successful and famous landscape photographers will find a location, but continue to come back to it many times for the right light, pre-visualizing the possibilities from a midday scout trip.

Bad weather can establish mood and drama, clearing or incoming storms offer fleeting but incredible moments to capture special scenic images, so spend more time photographing in spring, fall, and winter, and less time during the all blue skies and harsh light time of summer.

Take these ideas and incorporated them into your landscape photography, get out into nature with your wide angle lens and into the beautiful natural world and make some exciting grand scenic images. Make it more fun too, by taking a friend or friends with you…and smell the wildflowers, feel the earth and let it touch your soul and heart—inspiring your photography!

Procedure To Darken Or Lighten Areas Within An Image

Procedure to Darken or Lighten Areas within an Image

By Bruce Finocchio

(Dodging and Burning Tip For Photoshop)

  1. Open Image Within Photoshop
  2. Hold Down Alt Key while clicking on New Layer Icon in Layers Palette
  3. Within New Layer Dialog Box Select Soft Light or Overlay Mode
  4. Check the Fill With Overlay or Soft Light Neutral Color 50% Gray Box, this will create a new layer filled with 50% Gray in the Layers palette
  5. Set Foreground Color: Black to Darken, White to Lighten (To switch from black to white or back, click the little rotating arrow on the top left of the black and white color box in the tool palette)
  6. Select Brush Tool, and size and type depending on area to dodge and burn (Use keyboard shortcut: open “[” bracket to decrease brush size, and close bracket “]” to increase brush size)
  7. Change Brush Opacity to 10 to 20, the sets the strength effect; these are general settings and can use more or less if desired (The lower opacity setting the lesser the effect)
  8. Paint areas where change is needed, key is to be very subtle, don’t overdo
  9. Click on the Dodge and Burn (Gray Filled) Layer Eye Icon to Observe the Changes

Close up of Original image without any darkening or lightening adjustments.

Using the above procedure I lighten the iris of the eye and darkened the pupil for added contrast. I also lighten some of the face feathers around the eye. The effect is subtle but yet enhances the photo, making the eye dramatically stand out.
“After all, the eye is the light of life”.

(Original image After Post Processing)
What do you think?

  • This Procedure I learned from Tim Grey many years ago….

Graduated Neutral Density Filters

Upper Yosemite Falls from the Swinging Bridge—sky exposure reduced with a 3 stop graduated neutral density filter.

Graduated Neutral Density Filters

Graduated Neutral Density Filters are an essential and indispensable tool for the Landscape photographer.

These filters come in rectangle sheets with gray color on the top portion to clear on the bottom portion of the filter, with an area of less dense gray in the middle.  Their purpose is to hold back the brighter areas of an image like the sky, reducing the dynamic range of the image. Since the eye can see a considerably greater range of light than can be recorded by a digital sensor, or film, particularly slide film, these filters help reduce the range of light bringing detail to the shadow areas.

Ring type graduated neutral density filers with a half portion gray are not very useful for most situations, since they do not allow placement of the transition.  With the rectangle sheet type and a filter holder you can slide the transition to the desired place within the image. Even hand holding the filter you still can place the shaded area precisely where you want; this is not possible with the ring type filter which only has center placement—half and half portions, half grey and half clear.

A scene with great contrast and dynamic range, the dilemma is what do you expose for, the highlights or the shadows. A typical scene at sunset or sunrise, where the sky is very bright, expose for the sky, the shadows are typically very dark and hold very little detail.  The graduated neutral density filter can equalize or reduce the range of exposure, so highlight areas are not blow out when exposing for the shadows, conversely shadows aren’t black and devote of detail when exposing for the highlight areas.

These filters come in various degrees of strength, referring to how dark is the gray section of the filter, and how much light is blocked. This measurement is called stops, i.e. two stops or three stops, with three stops being darker or holding back more light than a two stop filter. Neutral Density filters also have another measurement term referring to how gradual the gray area of the filter fades to clear. For hard stop filter, the area of demarcation is sharp with little or no faded area. Soft stop filters have a much greater area of fade from gray to clear; a much greater transition area for a softer blending effect.

Overall, graduated neutral density filters greatly help in reducing the range of light, allowing detail, color, and texture in both the highlights and shadow area within an image.

Many manufacturers make these types of filters including Cokin, Tiffin, and Singh Ray. With many variations and intensities, hard and soft stops, reverse type where the gray density is in the middle section of the filter.

The larger “P” size filter can also be used as a complete neutral density filter to reduce harsh light areas as well as darkening light colors, increasing color intensity and saturation.

Remember; when that grand scenic with a wide range of light is in front of your lens do not forget this indispensable filter.

Of course, in today’s digital world, you can create the same graduated neutral density effect digitally, that’s worth a whole another post.