Digital Photography: Photographing Nature in the Spring

Showy-LadyslipperSpring is a wonderful time of year.  Everything is so fresh and new.  With the weather warming up, now is the perfect time to get out and start shooting what Nature has put forth for us.  But first, let’s cover some guidelines or rules-of-thumb before we start shooting.

Guidelines for Photographing Nature

  •  Shoot lots of photos.  This pertains to all seasons and all types of photography.  Two things happen when you shoot a lot.  First, by the law of averages, you will get some good photos.  Second, by using your equipment more, you will become more familiar with it and you will see your photography improve.
  •  Get outside.  By getting outside more, you will discover more about the natural world and how the different aspects all work together.  Get outside when other people don’t.  Many great shots are taken in the early morning, late in the afternoon, or right before bad weather.  The cause of the great shots is the dramatic lighting that occurs during these times of day and weather conditions.
  •  Find an unusual viewpoint.  Don’t just stand up and take photos.  Get high, look low, lie down on the ground, peer out from behind a tree or bush.  Look for that unusual viewpoint that will capture a fresh view of an old subject.
  •  Keep the composition and background simple.  Highlight your subject by eliminating the distractions.  If you are shooting close-ups, move around until your subject stands out from the background.  By getting low and shooting up, you can sometimes use the sky as a background.  Or by shooting down the ground becomes the background.  If your subject is a lighter or darker light than the background, the background will fade into shadows or highlights.
  •  Use selective focusing.  By zooming in on your subject with a telephoto lens and using a wide aperture, you will have the subject in focus, but the background will be blurry.  This technique works well if you can’t get rid of a distracting background. 
  •  Hurry up and wait.  To shoot that magical photo, you have to invest the time.  Sometimes you have to wait until the dew forms on the flower petals or wait until the sun and clouds create that just-right lighting effect.  While waiting, you also get to see Nature in all its glory.
  •  Don’t get caught with your camera down.  Sometimes you happen to witness a magical event unfolding before your eyes when you are not out waiting for it to happen.  Always have your camera with you and ready for the unexpected. Many of the great photos taken were simply being at the right place at the right time and having a camera ready to capture the moment.

What To Look For

  • Different ways to frame your subject. Look for natural items you can use to frame your subject.  Branches, bushes, rocks, tall grasses and trees are just some of the items found in the natural world that you can use to frame your shot. 
  • Experiment with the placement of your subject. Move the subject around in your viewfinder and see how the perspective changes. Zoom in and zoom out to see how it will look with little room around the subject or lots of room around it.
  •   Texture.  To appreciate texture, get close to your subject.  Notice the roughness of the tree bark or the ragged edges of the blades of grass.  Texture is accented by cross lighting – light shining across the subject from either side.  Cross lighting happens naturally by shooting when the sun is low in the sky- by shooting either early in the morning or late in the afternoon. 
  •  Meaningful juxtaposition.  Use shapes, color, contrast or texture to accent your subject.  The smooth texture of an orchid petal against the rough texture of tree bark will intensify the smoothness of the petal.

Spring is a great time of the year for photographers.  Dust off your equipment and head outside.  By using the tips and techniques in this column, you will increase your chances for that once-in-a-lifetime shot. 

Posted in Digital Photography Tips, Digital Photography Videos

Digital Photography: Shorebirds

White EgretIn this article, we discuss how to photograph shore birds. Like any other wild subject, photographing shore birds can be challenging, but knowing how to approach them can help you by lowering the learning curve.  Shorebird photography is a numbers game where the more you shoot, the more you are likely to get some great shots. If done right, I think photographing shorebirds is one of the easier wildlife subjects.
If you have never seen a shorebird, they are birds with long and slender bodies, long skinny legs, flat feet and elongated beaks. Because their diet consists mainly of fish, crustaceans, insects and other small organisms found along a shore, in mud or shallow water, that is usually where you will find them – narrow strips of shore that lines oceans, rivers lakes and wetlands where food is plentiful.
Shorebirds are fun to watch with them running back and forth with the waves, rummaging along the shoreline searching for food, or just sitting in a group asleep away from the waters edge.

Approaching Shorebirds

First, use a telephoto zoom lens that goes out to at least 200mm or more. This way you can fill the frame easily without having to get too close.  Spotting shorebirds is not as difficult as with other types of wildlife as you won’t have any obstructions between you and your subject. However, this can turn into an awkward situation as the birds can easily see you.
The birds are quite wary about the height of a moving object, ; the taller the object they are seeing, the warier they get. So you will be able to get closer if you get down to their level and move slowly if at all. With this said, be sure to wear clothing that you won’t mind getting dirty or wet, because you will be right down in the shallow water. Also position yourself so that the birds will be in front of the background you want. Then start moving toward them.
Instead of trying to walk straight up to them, try getting down on one’s belly and slowly crawl towards the birds. Not only does this make approaching the birds easier, it will get you more appealing compositions taken from the bird’s-eye level. Just be sure to keep your camera dry from the waves moving in and back out.
shorebirdApproach slowly only moving a few feet at a time; don’t make any sudden or jerky movements. rest for a few minutes between moves. Watch the birds reactions. When you get within approximately 30 feet or so, you might see some uneasiness in some of the birds. If this happens, don’t try to get any closer; stay low and wait till the birds adjust to your presence. It might take 5 to 15 minutes before they are comfortable with you being there. Patience will win out; you will gain the birds confidence and they won’t fly off or move away from you. Once you get close enough to fill your frame, slowly set up your camera, compose your shots and take pictures. , there is no need to hurry, if nothing unnatural happens the birds are going to be at the same spot the whole day.
Because shorebirds are more leery of creatures approaching from the shore than those approaching from the water, photographers have had success by actually getting into the shallow water and approaching shorebirds from that side.

Shorebird Photography Tips

Shorebirds range in size from about the size of a sparrow to the elegant herons. Smaller birds are normally found in larger groups while the large shore birds my be alone or with one other bird of the same species. These large wading birds are very predictable and knowing a little bit about their habits will help you get much better shots. If you are trying to get flight shots, find the direction the wind. Like an airplane they will take off and land into the wind.
If you are going for reflection shots, you can compose so that you only have the full reflection of a bird in the water or you can photograph both the bird and his reflection. Of course, the water has to be smooth to get good reflection shots.
Early morning photography produces the best colors, so try to get into position before the break of dawn. The angle and quality of light this time of day makes a huge difference in your photographs. The early morning soft light brings out the beautiful palettes of colors of any bird, especially when the sun is at a low angle, and directly behind you. The soft light brings out the subtle detail in all the color tones while the front lit light illuminates every part of the bird facing the sun. Also in the early morning, you have a better chance it will be still with no wind.
shorebird1Try to isolate a single bird or a small group of birds from the rest of the flock. This will give you a strong create a strong focal point and subject for your photo. If you can, avoid having distractions, such as other birds, in your background. This can be difficult at times, but it is here that patience wins out again; if you wait patiently, you will be able to get individual shots as the birds move around on the shoreline.

Capture Action or Behavior Shots

Patience again prevails here; wait for the bird to do something interesting. They often tend to stretch their wings, or they will take to flight. Don’t worry, they most likely will be back if you did not scare them into flying away. Birds tend to periodically take flight and then come back.
The of the best compositions has the bird(s) facing you. It’s also best if you can catch the bird tilting its head toward you. As with all wildlife photography, focus on its eyes. If the eyes are in focus, it is apt to be a more successful shot.
If you gain the confidence of the birds they will always return and land near you even if someone else disturbed them by walking by too close. In some cases,  the birds might even move closer to you during the natural course of their feeding. That is the advantage of having a zoom telephoto lens. You might have to rack it in if they get too close.

shorebird2The best advice when photographing shorebirds, is to have patience and fun with it. It is a richly rewarding type of photography that will have people ogling over your beautiful pieces of art!

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Window-lit Portraiture

Cat-looking-out-the-windowBy using the light from just one window, you can create great portraits. A north-facing window is a good choice if you want a soft even light. Set your white balance to shade or cloudy setting to take out the blue cast.

For a stronger more directional lighting without the blue cast, choose a west or south-facing window. Use a white balance setting of daylight.

Using a window, that provides a strong directional sidelight, accents skin texture.  If texture is the desired effect in your portrait, great, however, many times we want to minimize the texture effect and we do that in a couple of different ways.

Tone down the light with a layer or two of sheer drapery material or move the subject farther away from the window.  To further minimize the texture effect, and to achieve a soft focus look, use a diffuser filter.

Window-lit portraits come in two basic forms, posed and environmental. For posed head and shoulder portraits, use an 85mm to 105mm lens. The resulting slight compression effect of lenses in this range provides for facial feature enhancement.

For full and half-length portraits, use a 50 mm lens.  When shooting the posed portrait, use a narrow depth-of-field, such as f4 or f5.6 so the background will be blurry and cause a distraction.

The most popular sitting for posed portraits is the three-quarter profile.  This results in the half of the face facing the bright light on one side and much less light on the far side of the face.  This pose works well if the subject has a broad or wrinkled face, prominent ears or any other facial defect affecting only one side of the face.

A variation of the three-quarter profile is the side profile.  With this pose, the sidelight is illuminating the half of the subject’s face directly facing the light. This results in an accented texture effect and works well for a subject that one would expect to have a weathered face such as a rancher, fisherman or anyone having spent much of their working life outside in the sun.

If you are not trying to minimize facial features, the three-quarter or side profile shot can be taken as previously described or you can add light to the shadow side of the face by using a white piece of posterboard as a reflector.

The amount of light reflected back onto the shadow side of the face is controlled by how close, or far away, the reflector is placed from the shadow side of the face.  If you are going to add light to the shadow side of the face, you want the amount of light added to be about one-third as bright as the light illuminating the window-lit side of the face.

Front-lighting, light shining directly in the face of the subject, is better lighting for subjects having a long nose, narrow or double chin, or prominent forehead.
Also, in these cases, a better pose is having the subject looking directly at the camera.

The environmental portrait is the second type of portrait shot.  In this type of portrait, the subject is doing something and not just looking at the camera.

Examples would be the subject reading a book, sewing, tying flies for fly fishing, etc.  Whatever the subject is doing is usually consistent with what people who know the subject would expect that person to be doing.

Because more of the person’s surroundings are included with this type of pose, a wide-angle lens in the 28-35mm range is a good choice.  A 50mm lens can be used if you have sufficient room to work.  Also, with environmental portraits you want the background and/or foreground to remain in focus, so use an aperture of at least f8 or greater.

The farther away the background is from the subject, the more depth-of-field you will need.  Here, you don’t want the background blurry because it helps tell the story.

Also, experiment with perspective.  Don’t be afraid to shoot from a higher or lower angle than normal eye-level position.  This can result in excellent photos with a different look.

Environmentals are a more pleasing type of portrait.  They are visually more stimulating than the subject just looking at the camera.

Finally, select a “warm” white balance setting such as shade or cloudy for accurate skintones.

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Boudoir Photography – It’s Not About You the Photographer!

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A boudoir photography shoot can be a trying time for a woman. With most women being self-conscious about their bodies anyway, be sure to set them at ease by complementing them and keeping to the topic of the shoot. Most women prefer working with a female photographer or at least have a female friend present during the shoot. If you are a male photographer, encourage her to have a friend present.

Prior to the shoot, discuss with your client the feeling that she wants her photos to convey. Be sure to ask her what she thinks are her best features and then work out the poses to accent those features.

Outfit Selection

While corsets and bustiers are a popular choices, other great choices include well-fitted bra-and-panty sets, sexy leggings, nylons, garters and cute baby-dolls pajamas. Have your client bring three outfits and multiple accessories. Accessories can include jewelry, hats, veils or a sexy pair of heels or boots. Also to personalize her photos, suggest she brings something her significant-other gave her.  Don’t overlook his dress shirts, ties, work clothes, baseball caps. If he is in the construction business, why not suggest putting on a work belt with some tools!

 

Location

While there are other settings you can use, one of the best for a boudoir photography shoot is still a bed. Use a white or light colored sheet as these create a great contrast against skin tone. You can also use the same color sheet to cover unwanted distractions such as a bed head or foot board.

Keep  sheets bunchy and wrinkled. Not only will you fight a losing battle trying to keep them wrinkle-free, but the ruffled look adds to the mood of the shoot. You can do a sexy or sweet shoot depending on the poses your client wants and the amount of skin she is comfortable with exposing.

 

Poses

As far as poses, there are six basic one you can use:

  • Lying on the stomach facing the camera.

  • Lying on the back, head toward the camera.

  • Kneeling down facing the camera.

  • Full length figure

  • Head and cleavage.

  • Arms raised above head or playing with hair.

  • And of course, variations of the above poses. Use your imagination!

Session Length

For a one-hour shooting session, give yourself at least two hours of working time. Because it takes awhile to set-up and figure out which lighting and angles will work the best, and usually some time for your client to warm up to the camera, total time takes about twice as long as the shooting time.


Lighting

There are two types of lighting used in boudoir photography shoots – natural and artificial. Of the two, natural is best, so be sure your shooting location is close to windows or French doors that can let in lots of light. If you don’t have enough natural light coming in, use the ceiling lights and lamps for additional light or bounce your flash off of the ceiling. If you are using multiple light sources, be sure to set your white balance setting accordingly. 

Finally, if you keep the setting light and airy, and keep the focus on the shoot, boudoir photography shoots can be a lot of fun both for you and your client.

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8 Steps to Picture Perfect Digital Photos

John Ford's PointI still remember it well – having to take several frames of film using different camera settings to ensure I got at least one good one, if not the perfect photo. Because with film photography, you never knew what you really had until you got your slides or negatives back, so it was necessary to use this “trial and error” technique as many times you could not go back and reshoot the subject.

Nowadays, with digital SLR cameras, photographers can instantly view their images and if they are not right, shoot them again while there using different settings; just delete the images not on par. This verses film whose main drawback was needing to shoot many variations of an image and then having top pay to process all of that film. And to get maybe one or two good shots. That made the price per each shot kept mighty expensive.

SLR stands for Single Lens Reflex. The name implies the use of lenses and a mirror. Mirror reflects light entering the lens up into the viewfinder. Thus, a photographer can estimate how the image will likely appear when displayed on a computer monitor or printed. Moreover, a SLR camera uses separate lenses that can be interchanged depending on the subject and how much angle of view is needed. Hence, with the flexibility of DLSRs, it is easier to capture images with more depth-of-field options.

Here are some helpful tips that will definitely aid owners of DSLR cameras in capturing a perfect image using the new art of digital photography.

1. Normally, people take full body shots against a background. However, it is more appropriate to take a shot from shoulders up or an upper body one because in full-body images, the subject ends up looking small because they are so far away from the camera.

2. Use the Rule of Thirds by placing the subject of to one side or the other from center. If the person is looking one way or the other, be sure to place the subject so he/she is looking toward the center of the frame and not out of it.

3. The law of optics remains the same regardless of which camera you are using. For instance, if the sun is behind an image, the picture will be a silhouette. If light is in front of the image, the picture will appear squint unless there are sunglasses on. Try to shoot in the early morning or late afternoon, when the sun isn’t as intense and you get that nice soft golden light.

4. When using a polarizer, be sure that the source of light is perpendicular to the object.

5. Change your white balance setting from auto to cloudy when shooting bright landscapes and outdoor portraits. This will “warm” up the colors in your images.

6. Even though it is sunny, you may want to use fill flash especially if the subject is wearing cap that casts a shadow over the face or if you subject is in open shade.

7. Zoom in to emphasize a certain asset or characteristic of the subject being captured and to have your subject “fill the frame”.

8. Practice. Practice. Practice.

It suffices to say that the techniques in getting the perfect shot have not changed. However, using digital cameras and employing this new art of digital photography have simply improved photo shooting by making capturing pictures easy for everyone. However like anything else, the more you do it, the better you will get at doing it and you images will show for it.

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Digital Photography: Learning to See

Body Language Photo 1Have you ever thought what compels you to stop and shoot a photo or series of photos? I often wonder what draws me to a scene?  Why did I stop here instead of a mile back or a mile further down the road? I have yet to find these answers before I shoot the scene, but going though this process below usually reveals why I stopped here. Before shooting, I usually run through these considerations:

Perspective and Format

Do I want to shoot it as a wide-angle, zoomed in tight or as a close-up?  Does the subject look better when shot from a higher angle or lower; from the left or right? Do I want it in a vertical format or horizontal? Each perspective and format creates its own  look and feel.

Lenses

Which lens I choose will be determined by what I’m trying to say photographically.  If I want to isolate a subject with very little of the surrounding area, I’ll use my 80-200 mm zoom telephoto.  If I want to include some of the surrounding area, then I’ll choose my 28-85 wide-angle zoom.  If I want a perspective similar to what the human eye sees, then I would shoot it at 50mm.  Finally, if I want to come in really close on an object in the scene, then I would use my 105mm close-up lens.

Subject Placement

Once I have selected my lens, then I have to decide where I’ll place the subject in the viewfinder.  I know it won’t be right in the middle.  But, by using the Rule of Thirds, I would place the subject on one of the intersecting points created when I visually divided my viewfinder into thirds both vertical and horizontally.

Lighting

Next, I’ll determine how I want to light the subject.  If I want to accent the texture, I’ll sidelight it, however, if I want to de-emphasize texture, then I’ll front light it.  Finally, if my subject is translucent or if I want a silhouette, then I will back light my subject.

Scale

If I want to show how large (or how small) my subject is, or how far away it is from where I’m standing, then I’ll put something of a known size in the foreground off to the side.

Horizon

Watch the horizon.  When shooting horizons, don’t have the horizon centered in the photo.  Give the area you want to emphasize the most room in the photo.  So, if your subject were the sky or something in the sky, then the area above the horizon would get two thirds of the room in the viewfinder.  If your subject were below the horizon, then that object would get the two thirds.

Framing

Framing a scene consists of using something, natural or manmade, to surround a subject or at least come in from one or both sides and the top.  Framing allows you to use one object to look through at another. When doing this, the most common mistake photographers make is not getting close enough to the subject.  If you are not close enough to your subject, the subject gets lost in the framing. The second most common mistake is having cluttered edges of the frame.  In other words, having unwanted items intruding in from the edges of the photo.  Always check for this before snapping the shutter.

Another choice you have to make is whether you are going to shoot the scene horizontally or vertically.  Most scenes are best shot vertically if the subject is vertical, such as trees, waterfalls, etc.  However, if the subject runs horizontally, then that is the best way to shoot it.  Horizontal subjects include mountains, deserts, clouds and seascapes.

Shutter Speed and Aperture

Two of the last considerations you have to make are shutter speed and the aperture.  If your subject is stationary, then the shutter speed is not much of an issue.  However, if you intend to show motion by either freezing it, blurring it or by panning, then shutter speed is definitely a consideration.

On the other hand, if you are concerned with how much depth-of-field you will have, then your interest will be in which aperture to use.

Now you have all the considerations and decisions that must be made, once you are drawn to a scene.  If you systematically go through all these items, your resulting photograph will show what drew your interest to this subject.  Lastly, don’t be afraid to experiment and break away from tradition.

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