National Monument - Bosque del Apache Bird
20 Photography Tips
Get Out Of The Car
It seems simple enough - doesn't it?
I've come to the conclusion that most people are inherently lazy when it
comes to taking photographs.
When you get out of the car your entire view of the world changes. You
see things you never saw from inside the vehicle. Take the time to pull over for the photography right
now - instead of thinking that there is a better image just around the corner. Don't pass up one image to take another. This is
a big mistake since you seldom come back. Don't wait until you are stunned by the beauty of something
to take photographs - go out and find the stunning beauty just off the road
or out in the meadow.
Sometimes you can't get out
of your car - maybe at a bird refuge where your car is your best blind or
possibly the grizzly bear is uncomfortably close to the car already.
In those situations invest in a good bean bag or small pillow
to rest your camera on while shooting through the open window - thus giving
you a stable platform to shoot from. Window mounted tripods are tricky
and cumbersome and difficult to get shooting quickly with.
Use a Tripod
Using a sturdy tripod whenever possible is the difference between shooting
professional quality images and shooting snapshots. A tripod will improve
your photography because it improves the sharpness of your images by reducing
vibrations during the exposure. If I could take all my images with a
tripod I would. Can they be clumsy at times - yes, can they take precious
seconds to set up - yes, are they heavy - yes, are they worth it - absolutely.
A sturdy Induro tripod, while not cheap, should last through many
years of rugged use. Buy a tripod that rises to about your eye level with the
camera attached. Bending over to look through a short tripod is
aggravating and painful. Also, buy a tripod that allows the legs to flair out so
it can be either set up low to the ground, or on uneven terrain.
Anytime your shutter-speed drops below the length of your lens (like 1/250
second with a 300mm lens) a tripod is an absolute must for reliably sharp images.
Aperture Priority Mode
Aperture Priority Mode (A
on a Nikon, Av on a Canon) is an easy setting you can use
in most photography situations. It means that you set the aperture, or
f-stop - to the appropriate setting and let the shutter-speed be set by the
camera. Why use this setting? By only needing to change the f-stop
you minimize the amount of time it takes to change the camera's exposure
settings. You decide what is most important in the image -
without changing any other control. Small F-stops like f13 or f16 mean
greater depth-of-field and slower shutter-speeds, while large f-stops like
f2.8 or f4 mean faster shutter-speeds and less depth-of-field.
The other Camera Exposure Modes like P or S or the
other variations do exactly the same thing - setting combinations of aperture
and shutter-speeds by which mode you select. One control for everything is
much easier and quicker.
Focus on the Eyes
What is the first thing that draws your
attention when you look at a grizzly bear photograph, or at the snapshots taken
of your child? The life of an animal or a person is found
in its eyes. The eyes of the subject are magnetic and attract our attention
immediately. Whether you shoot wildlife or people you focus on the eyes of your
subject. If your subjects eyes are in focus the rest of the image will appear
in greater focus – even if its not. Our mind overrules what we see and we are
left with an impression of greater sharpness – hey, it’s true.
One of the great mistakes we can
make as wildlife or portrait photographers is to “zone” focus the camera –
placing the focusing grid on the largest part of the subject without regard to
its eyes. In the case of photographing wildlife – say an adult bull elk, this
focusing habit can put the eyes of your subject more than 18 inches out of exact
focus. Of all the places on an animal or bird, the eyes will show the lack of
sharp, clear focus the most.
I find myself framing
photographs in terms of focusing grids and eyes. I’ve learned to rapidly change
the focusing grid in order to guarantee its placement on the eyes of my
subject. Modern digital cameras provided many focusing grid locations but
adjusting the active grid when needed can be difficult to learn. Publishable wildlife
images or printable portraits mean sharp eyes. Practice changing the
focusing grid location until you can do it without thinking about it.
Shoot at Eye Level
Shooting at eye
level to your subject isn't always easy, especially with critters on the ground
or up in a tree. But shooting from eye level gives respect to your subject
and an equal amount of importance with the photographer. Shooting at a
down angle (photographers POV) implies the photographer is somehow superior to
the subject - not in all cases, but certainly when it comes to living critters.
Sometimes that means shooting from your stomach, possibly your knees, or
kneeling. How many times do parents stand above their children and ask
that they look up for a picture. Shoot from their level.
Too many people get locked into
horizontal images of every subject in front of them. Let the
subject dictate the horizontal or vertical angle of the camera.
Vertical images are typical in photographing individuals, sports, and some
wildlife and scenic photography. Fill your frame with the subject and
get closer - and shoot verticals. Personally, I look at verticals
being more portrait oriented photographs - no matter what I'm shooting.
Bridal portraits or elk portraits - it doesn't matter. Horizontal
images are more environmental in their nature. Turn the camera vertical and get
closer - now your shooting a portrait image of the person, minimizing the
For those of you budding
professional nature photographers - vertical images are Magazine Cover
Images. If you want to be published - then try to grab the best image
offered by a magazine - the COVER Image! The second best images in a
magazine are full-page images . . . also verticals.
Rule of Thirds
The rule of thirds is an easy
compositional guide. If you take the area
of the film or sensor and equally divide it with two additional lines
vertically and two lines horizontally - you have an area divided up into
thirds. Where those lines cross each other are considered powerful
intersection points in composition. For example, if you are shooting the
Grand Canyon from the rim, don't place the horizon line in the middle - place it
at either the top third line (to emphasize the canyon) or the bottom third line
(to emphasize the sky above the canyon). Simple.
This compositional rule can
add a great deal of impact and balance to a photograph that would otherwise
just be a snapshot. Check out the sunset silhouette image in the
Bridal Gallery. Their vertical bodies are my two vertical composition
lines and the horizon and setting sun are close to the upper horizontal
Many of the newer digital cameras
have a compositional grid in the viewfinder. Turn it on in the menu. Get used to paying
attention to it and use it to improve your compositions, or at least keep your
horizon line square. If there is
no grid then many times the auto-focusing points in the viewfinder form a
Animals Doing Animal Stuff
Nothing is more boring than an animal just walking along, sauntering across a meadow. We have all taken countless images of this
type of inaction and sometimes you really have no options. Learning about the animals you photograph allows you to anticipate their
movements and put yourself in a position to shoot the best images possible.
I was in Yellowstone recently and ran across a typical black bear walking
parallel to the road - dozens of photographers shadowing him along the road
as he moved. A hundred yards farther up the road a hillside came down
and forced the meadow into a narrower bottleneck. I drove down and
parked and set up in a position to safely photograph the bear as he walked
towards me in the bottleneck. Bears don't want to climb hillsides if
they don't have to, so I figured he would follow the contour of the hillside
past the road - which he did. With the other photographers running down
the road in pursuit the bear walked right past me giving me plenty of time to shoot much better
images of him walking and looking into the camera. Other photographers
breathlessly arrived - too late to get the shot I did - and continued to
photograph him as he walked across the next meadow. Dull.
Centers of attention -
like den sites or nests, food sources, meadows with mating activity, etc. - can put a photographer in the best position to
shoot quality images of animals doing animal stuff.
Fill Flash for People
Nothing looks worse than
shooting people that are squinting into the sun. Not only is an image
like that unprofessional, but it casts the subject with the worst possible
look on their face - contorted eyes and cheeks. It is a simple thing
to put the subjects back to the sun - then use either a built-in flash or a
hot-shoe mounted flash to fill the shadow now on the subjects face.
doing this your subjects eyes are wide open and they have a normal look on
their face, and nice balanced skin tones.
Fill Flash can be used in wildlife photography to light small
subjects and as fill for those hidden in the shade.
It is a must have piece of equipment in macro photography as well - such
Shoot Fast Lenses
What is a fast lens and why should I buy them? It is a lens with a large
initial f-stop, such as F2.8 or F4. For example, I shoot a Nikon 500mm f4 Silent Wave
Motor Telephoto lens - this is a very FAST lens for its
length. I shoot a Nikon 80-200 F2.8 Zoom lens - another fast lens.
If my 80-200 Zoom lens was f4 or f5.6 - it would be considered a SLOW
lens. Fast lenses let in a lot of light and are crucial for three
1. Fast lenses allow you to shoot earlier in the morning and later
in the evening at a given shutter-speed. 2. Fast lenses give you a brighter viewfinder to compose in and to
focus on your subject with. An f2.8 lens lets twice as much light in
as a F4 lens. 3. Fast lenses allow you to use a lower ISO
setting, which improves image quality.
Slow lenses are entry level, or consumer grade, lenses only. They aren't made to the same quality as
faster, more expensive lenses. Spend your
money on a fast lens and watch the quality of your images increase.
Used fast lenses can always be found on E-bay, or similar sights. If you
shoot Nikon, buy Nikon lenses - same with Canon.
Choose a Camera System
When you buy a camera body you are really buying
a camera system. You are buying into a system that will either provide
all the types of equipment you might want, or one
that will force you to go to off-brand equipment makers to fill the gaps.
There are two main camera makers today that offer full systems to their
photographers - Nikon and Canon. They offer camera bodies, lenses,
flashes, and accessories that fit into any photographer's needs. Also,
they are at the front of the technology curve in photography and can be counted
on to incorporate that technology into new camera equipment.
lenses are black - Canon are white. So, your choices are as clear as
black and white. Personally, I shoot Nikon. I think they are the
most rugged cameras incorporating the best technology in the world.
The best way to buy a tripod is without a head. More important than the
tripod itself, the tripod
ball head with a snap-in plate quick-release system makes your photography
easier. A quick release
plate attaches to the bottom of either your camera body or your telephoto
lens. The plate can be quickly snapped and locked onto the
quick-release ball head. By moving a lever
the camera/lens and its attached plate quickly snap off the tripod - leaving
it open and ready to be snapped back on quickly. Arca-Swiss heads are very
There are some important do's and don'ts to buying a useful head. I
learned by sad experience that the more levers a ball head has the more
problems it causes. One lever minimizes the number of movements I have to
make in order to get shooting photographs quickly.
The bigger your prime telephoto lens the bigger your ball head and
quick-release plate should be. I spent more
money on the ball head I use than the tripod itself. Recently I've gone to
a Wimberley Head for my 500mm lens.
Set the Correct ISO
The ISO Speed is simply an indication
of how sensitive the camera meter will be to light. Low settings, like
50-200, will produce fine, nearly grainless images which are great for
enlargements. These settings will give you slower shutter-speeds but
better images, hence the need for the tripod. Use an ISO setting that is appropriate for the intended subject. Groups of people, portraits,
landscape photography are perfect for this low ISO range. Also, if the
light is good - some wildlife photography as well.
Higher settings, like 200-400, provide higher shutter speeds to capture
action photography in poorer light conditions. These settings will still
produce good images - but add some "noise" to
the images. Cameras, like my Nikon D4s, will produce amazing results
at ISO 3200, and higher.
Use the ISO setting as your final
adjustment to achieve the shutter-speed the subject needs. Only subject
movement or extreme low light requires high settings, otherwise lower ISO
settings will work on your tripod. I never use Auto ISO settings, I'm
smarter than the tiny chip in my camera and am better able to choose the correct
Which to Shoot in,
JPG or RAW?
Many professional photographers will shoot RAW for everything. All images
are initially taken in the raw format by the camera sensor. When you have
jpg quality selected for the image, your camera processes that raw image into a
jpg, compresses it and saves it.
RAW - Shooting in raw mode (NEF in Nikon and CR2 in Canon) retains the
maximum amount of information that the image contains. Images aren't
compressed or processed in-camera. They are large files and eat up loads of space not only on
hard-drives, but more particularly on compact flash cards. Suddenly, a
32 gig CF card isn't what it used to be. If you don't mind the additional
processing time involved and quality is a huge issue to you, then raw is for
you. Shooting in raw mode often slows down the camera's ability to process
images quickly, thus affecting your speed of
shooting. A program like Photoshop has much more power in processing
images than does your camera's built-in processor.
JPG - Shooting in high-quality jpg mode means the camera processes
the image and compresses the
image. JPG files are 8-bit images and can display only 256 levels of
brightness. The image can then be taken directly into a processing program,
e-mailed, even printed without any further work. Because they are
compressed they take up less room on hard-drives and shooting cards.
If you would rather minimize computer
processing time, storage space required, and overall ease of use, then shooting
jpg's is for you.
I shoot the highest quality I can, so I
shoot in raw exclusively.
This gives your image processing software the most data in which to convert the
image to another format, like a tiff or jpg.
Photographs tend to be like children - we protect and save the good shots as well
as the bad. What this creates over the years is thousands of
unprintable, unpublishable, really unwanted images that clog our hard drives
and back-up systems. They make it difficult to find the gems amid the
rubble of poorly executed photographs. Delete them, delete them,
delete them. When I get back from a shoot I usually go through three edits
before I feel like I have a grip on what I really have.
1. Edit for out-of-focus, blurry, bad exposures, unanticipated lens
flare, and just plain poor images that are technically defective.
2. Edit for images with subject problems, like: animals with closed eyes,
heads obscured by branches, cluttered backgrounds (like with cars when your
shooting bears in Yellowstone), or other things that degrade the image subject.
3. Divide the remaining images into two directories - label one Good
and the other Fair. Once divided, delete the Fair sub-directory.
Don't allow yourself to have an emotional connection to poor images, unless of course,
their your kids. Ok, keep those.
Ruthless editing keeps your image library filled with only your best, most
images is an intensely personal thing. Don't allow clients or others to
edit your photos. Only show them the post-edit images, they don't need to
see your mistakes or take a sudden liking to poor images you would prefer to
Process your Images
When you shoot a digital image you have just begun the process of creating a
printable or publishable image. Whether you shot in raw or jpg you need to process those images on your computer to bring
out their full beauty, sharpness, and impact. Try not to get behind in
processing because there is a point where you won't want to go back and process
benefits from good image processing. Taking your CF card out of the camera
and to a store and printing the images limits the possible quality of the
photographs you have taken.
Shoot with a Professional
You get to a point in your photography where you
feel like you have hit a wall. Your images aren't as exciting as you would
like, maybe your composition skills are suspect, or your images aren't as sharp as they
should be - it's time to get help.
Participating in a digital photography seminar, going on a 1 day regional
workshop, or even a multiple day safari with a professional photographer will
open your horizons and show you a better way of doing things. It allows
your technique to be refined and your basic photography habits (equipment,
camera settings, etc) to be tweaked and improved.
So many folks who have gone to my seminars or done the workshops/safaris comment
about learning the correct way to do something they have always done wrong.
They learn to get into action quickly, look for subjects within the big picture,
and thoroughly photograph a subject from all angles. They learn how lens
choice affects perspective, and how to apply the creative controls that are
at their finger tips.
Go to the
Photo Safaris page to review upcoming events and sign
up for a photographic adventure.
I have two back-up, 4 TB external hard drives in a dual RAID system.
Then, I have another 4 TB drive that I alternate backing up
my entire photography library once every three weeks or so.
Of course, I also have a my entire photography library on one of my 4TB internal
hard drives as well.
Never keep your RAID or your back up external hard drives connected to your computer if
you aren't backing things up. A shorted-out motherboard could compromise a
plugged in back up hard drive connection - permanently.
Don't Forget Your Field
Field equipment might vary for everyone, but there are several useful pieces
that everyone should bring along. Bring gardener's or plumber's knee pads
to save your knees in rocky or thorny terrain. Have thin shooting gloves
handy when temperatures get chilly
and carrying that aluminum tripod is freezing you. A hat, lip balm, sun
screen, bug repellant, extra water, snacks and candy - will all help with long
hours in the field shooting. A small jeweler's tool kit, electrical tape,
tripod leg nut tool, etc - all come in handy eventually. See my
Field Check List Page.
There are a lot more things I carry in my vehicle. I have a small box
(about 18"x15"x15") in the back with an extra blanket, flares, hand winch, tow
ropes, flat repair, etc.
Taking multiple images, at different exposure
settings, guarantees you a close to perfect exposure. Not all scenes are
easily evaluated by the camera's sensor - and those that are problematic could
be poorly exposed if you don't bracket your images. Without going into a
lot of writing about this, simply read your manual about bracketing - usually
called AEB (Auto Exposure Bracketing) and follow the steps to activate it this
When you can tell that a scene will fool the meter, like lots of snow, make
an intelligent estimate on how much light to add and use your exposure
compensation (eV) control to add it. Then when you activate the AEB it
will bracket your images around that eV setting.
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