Field Techniques

This Birding Life by Budd Titlow

Sage Grouse Males Fighting  © Budd Titlow

Sage Grouse Males Fighting © Budd Titlow

This Birding Life is a new monthly column by NANPA Member Budd Titlow. 

SAGE GROUSE – Happy Hour on the High Plains

Image and Story By Budd Titlow

Sometimes Mother Nature provides a perfect microcosm of human life.

Many years ago, I was invited to observe an annual ritual that had all the elements of happy hour at your favorite neighborhood bar. Totally full of themselves, the males were strutting around in tight circles with their hairless chests puffed out. As they walked, they repeatedly made burping and belching sounds while aggressively posturing toward any other males that came too close to their domains. Meanwhile, all of the females skittered demurely in, out, around, and through all of the absurdly displaying males—acting as if the showboats didn’t exist.

Rather than watching patrons in a dark, after-work bar, I was driving along a Colorado high mountain sagebrush prairie at sunrise next to a “lek,” which is, appropriately enough, the Swedish word for “play.” And the clientele I was observing were chicken-sized wild birds known as sage grouse.

The largest grouse in North America, sage grouse live on the high plains of the American West—at elevations of four thousand to nine thousand feet—including populations in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, South Dakota, North Dakota, Nevada, Utah, eastern California, and western Colorado. Read the rest of this entry »

The Bio Blitz Concept For Photography by Kevin Fitzpatrick

Bio Blitz © Kevin FitzPatrick

Bio Blitz © Kevin FitzPatrick

Text and Images by Kevin FitzPatrick

A Bio Blitz is a short (usually one-day), intense team effort to discover as many different life forms as possible in one location. This often involves researchers and the general public working together to identify as many species as possible in a 24-hour period. To date, I have photographed over 45 Bio Blitzes from California to Maine and have done four with National Geographic.

For me, the Bio Blitz compasses all that I want to communicate to my audience about conservation and biodiversity and is a wonderful way to communicate with students and their parents about science! Depending on where they live, young people might get a chance to try their hand at species identification, photography, wildlife sketching, writing about nature, or the discovery of the natural history of their area. No two Bio Blitzes will be the same, as each one will be a reflection of the local environment. It is an opportunity for youth to not only enhance their appreciation of the environment through photography, art and exploration, but also to engage in true citizen science. This can be done through the iNaturalist Mobile Application, which makes use of the Encyclopedia of Life’s Species Collections, allowing participants to document species and upload their observations to a collective map that is available freely online. Read the rest of this entry »

The Magic of Flowers by Donna Eaton

I wanted to capture all the interesting & beautiful details of this Dahlia so I chose an aperture of f/32 and filled the frame with the flower. Nikon 105mm lens, tripod, 1/30sec. f/32 ISO800. ©Donna Eaton

I wanted to capture all the interesting & beautiful details of this Dahlia so I chose an aperture of f/32 and filled
the frame with the flower. Nikon 105mm lens, tripod, 1/30sec. f/32 ISO800. ©Donna Eaton

Text and Images by Donna Eaton

When first entering a flower garden I begin to enjoy the colors, the smells and the beauty that surrounds me. As I explore the garden I start to really concentrate on the individual flowers and start the to see all the wonderful details. Flowers are a lot like people. They have faces, quirks, flaws and unique characteristics that give them personality. I look for the ones that have that something “special”. Maybe it’s just a petal that’s curved a certain way, or a color that is irresistible. As a former ballet dancer, I am drawn to the flowers that have a sense of movement and that give me the feeling that they are “dancing”. Read the rest of this entry »

7 Tips for Air Travel with Gear by Jeff Parker

© Jeff Parker

© Jeff Parker

Image and text by Jeff Parker

1) Disguise your gear. 

You don’t want your bag to scream “Expensive photography equipment inside!” so make sure it looks like any other bag—or, make it look worse (perhaps you can even have a bit of fun making it look “extra” undesirable).  Cover up or remove any easily recognizable logos like “Canon” or “Nikon.”  A bit of black electrical tape works well. 

2) Invest in the right bag.

When it comes to photography, it seems you can spend money endlessly, but I discovered through lots of experience that having the right bag for your gear constitutes money well-spent. And it’s even better money well-spent when the bag has wheels and when your “personal item” bag (e.g. your camera backpack or laptop case) has heavily padded straps. With that said, always double-check that your flight won’t be on a commuter-sized plane requiring you to check in that carry-on bag!

3) Bring only what you need.

Find out the carry-on weight allowance and work backwards from there. If you’re really organized you can keep a list of how much each piece of equipment weighs and tally it up as you pack (beginning with the weight of your bag, of course). Think in terms of what you’ll primarily photograph rather than what your secondary subject will be and pack accordingly. If you’re not sure, ask your photo-tour operator what equipment he/she recommends. 

4) Carry on all but the tough stuff.

Lugging your gear around as carry-on can get tiring so, after a while, checking it in might get tempting. When temptation arises, watch workers load and unload luggage from a plane; that should convince you to check-in only your toughest stuff (such as your tripod and head).

5) Prepare for security.

As you prepare for security open camera cases and any other equipment bags to make everything visible.  That minimizes handling of your sensitive gear by curious security-line personnel.  And don’t worry about memory cards; simply traveling through the conveyor belt won’t hurt them. 

6) Get on first.

When making reservations, request a seat near the back of the plane as these rows normally board first.  (Note: There is now one airline that boards aisle seats last no matter what the seat number is, so it’s best to check with the airline when booking.)  Now that airlines charge for checked-in bags, passengers tend to push the “carry-on” limit to the limit – this makes overhead-bin space not only tough to find, but tough to procure close by. With thousands of dollars’ worth of equipment inside, you definitely want your bag not only safely secured but secured in sight.  

7) Don’t forget to pack a change of clothes.

Remember to carry-on a change of clothing (and a toothbrush!) in case your checked-in luggage doesn’t arrive when you do.  In doing so, think in terms of what you can “pack” into the clothing you’re wearing.  You don’t want to be uncomfortable, but you might be able to store a few items in a photo vest that you are wearing to save on other carry-on space. A clean T-shirt fits into a large pocket (and doubles nicely as an appreciated small pillow or arm-rest padding on a long, international flight).

 

For more from Jeff Parker and Explore in Focus, check out his website and Facebook page. Jeff leads photo tours around the world and has upcoming workshops in Texas, Costa Rica and many other great locations. 

Multi-flash Hummingbird Photography by Nate Chappell

A Sword-billed Hummingbird (left) and a Chestnut-breasted Coronet battle over a hummingbird feeder. © Nate Chappell

A Sword-billed Hummingbird (left) and a Chestnut-breasted Coronet battle over a hummingbird feeder. © Nate Chappell

Images and Text by Nate Chappell

Photographing hummingbirds in flight in countries like Ecuador and Costa Rica with natural light or with just one flash can be very difficult. The reason – most of these birds live in the cloud forest where there isn’t much light due to both shade from trees and cloud cover. One solution for this, which creates beautiful flight shots, is a multi-flash hummingbird setup. By setting up several slave flashes set to 1/32 or 1/16 power around a hummingbird feeder or flower you can produce stunning images of hummingbirds in flight. The reason is that the flashes are actually synching at speeds of 1/8000 to 1/12,000 of a second changing the effective shutter speed from what is on your camera – let’s say 1/200 sec to the lightning fast speed of the flashes synching. The key to this is having the flashes produce all of the light, otherwise you will be mixing ambient light and flash lighting. In that case the 1/200 sec shutter speed will affect the image by causing blurring in parts of it. So you need to have your camera’s exposure set to at least -3 or -4 stops below the ambient lighting.Another helpful component is to have an artificial background – often a large printed photograph held a few yards behind the mutli-flash setup. Read the rest of this entry »

From Photography to Filmmaking: Crafting an Auditory Experience

Green Heron (Butorides virescens) on Cypress knee. Big Cypress National Preserve.

Green Heron (Butorides virescens) on Cypress knee.

In last month’s column in From Photography to Filmmaking, we started to think about sound and how sound can help to shape and craft our story. Today, I’d like to expand on that a bit more and walk you through how I put together the audio for my latest short film from my project Filming Florida.

I spent the first few weeks of the year filming and photographing in south Florida and spent four or five mornings working in Sweetwater Strand in Big Cypress National Preserve. My latest short film explores the transition from night to dawn in the swamp. When I was filming this particular piece, I went about things a little differently since I was also using this as an opportunity to test out a bunch of new equipment. With all the testing of a new camera, I was not focused on recording audio. As a result, two days before the planned release of the film, I had a fully edited film, but it didn’t have any audio to go with the visuals. This afforded me a very interesting exercise–setting out specifically to record audio that matched the visuals for the film. I’m not saying that this is the best way to do it, and in fact I’d much rather capture high quality audio while I am filming, but it was a valuable experience. Take a moment to watch the film and then I’ll walk you through my approach.

Read the rest of this entry »

From Photography to Filmmaking: Starting to Listen

Small American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) laying in vegetation on edge of water.

Small American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) laying in vegetation on edge of water.

 

This is the third entry in the From Photography to Filmmaking monthly column by Drew Fulton.  To see the previous posts, visit the archives.

Photography is primarily the pursuit of a single sensory experience that of vision. We talk about composition, exposure, and focus. As we start to think more about using the moving image to tell stories, this all encompassing pursuit of vision all of a sudden must also include another sense. We have to start to listen!

During this busy holiday season, I challenge you to take a few minutes to close your eyes and just listen. I think too few of us really listen to the world around us. Take a moment and sit on a bench in the mall while doing your holiday shopping and just listen. What does the laughter of a child or the wail of a tired infant tell you about the scene? What about the distant rumble of a vacuum or the swish of an opening and closing automatic door? What sounds add to the story? What distracts you?

Read the rest of this entry »

Low Light Visions by Nevada Wier

© Nevada Wier 2014. Kerala, India: Fire dancer, Theyyam Festival. Canon 5DMarkIII,    Canon 16-35mm f/2.8,   1/125sec at f/3.5,   ISO 1600 Shutter Priority. Evaluative Metering. Daylight White Balance. Flash not fired.

© Nevada Wier 2014.
Kerala, India: Fire dancer, Theyyam Festival.
Canon 5DMarkIII, Canon 16-35mm f/2.8, 1/125sec at f/3.5, ISO 1600
Shutter Priority. Evaluative Metering. Daylight White Balance. Flash not fired.

 

Nevada is one of the featured keynote speakers at the 2015 NANPA Summit taking place in San Diego, California from February 19th – 22nd. To learn more about the Summit and to register for this exciting and inspirational event, please visit  www.naturephotographysummit.com

 

Images and Story by Nevada Wier

Photographing in low light is particularly challenging, but immensely satisfying — if you can overcome the difficulties. However, it is these kinds of situations that stimulate me as a photographer. I know that it is these times when it is more possible to create what I call a “snowflake photo”: one that no one else has in his or her portfolio. So I seek out the difficult light and perspectives. Of course, that also means that the chance of failure is high; I have to work extra hard in these situations. I am on alert, paying attention, anticipating the action and seeking out whatever light is available.

One is definitely constrained by the quality of their equipment. Sorry, an iPhone is not going to be the camera of choice for photographing at night or inside a hut lit by a candle – unless you are going for an abstract with high noise. Many digital camera sensors are not able to produce a relatively noise-free image at an extremely high ISO. Unless you have a top-of-the-line camera that can handle 1600 ISO or more, the highest exploitable ISO for most cameras ranges between 400–1600 ISO. Another limiting factor is the lens. If you are using a zoom lens that has a minimum aperture of f/4.5, it is going to be problematic. Not only will you not have a fast enough shutter speed, the lens will not be able to quickly and accurately focus in dim light. And, it is critical to pay attention to the focusing. During the day in strong light focusing quickly is easy and accurate; it only takes a quick press of the focus button to be accurate (I use the back * button on my Canon for focusing and to set a specific focal point). In low light it is important to squeeze the focus button until you see the focus alert signal in the viewfinder. Sometimes I have to use manual assist. Occasionally I need to shine a flashlight on my subject so I can focus.

Sometimes I use flash but not for a primary source of light, rather to pop color or stop the action with a slow shutter speed. A flash is always a secondary source of light. I usually go to the highest ISO that I am comfortable using and on my Canon 5D MarkIII I rarely go above 1600 ISO; if I can I much prefer to stay at 800 ISO or lower. I photograph primarily on Shutter Priority, but in low light I sometimes switch to Aperture Priority when I want to stay at a wide-open aperture. However, I do like slow shutter speeds (and I’m not afraid to hand-hold at ½ sec. or slower) in combination with flash, either for panning or having a flash stop the action within a blur, so there is sharpness within a sense of motion. I carry a number of different gels for my flash so the flash outputs blends seamlessly with the ambient light. I usually keep my white balance on Daylight unless there is an abundance of red, and then I use Auto (red is a difficult color to desaturate, it tends towards purple).

I make sure my exposure is absolutely perfect; better too light than too dark. I constantly check my histogram. At a high ISO you do not want to have to lighten your image in post processing and expose ugly noise. Honestly, I rarely use a tripod. I don’t like to walk around with them. The photographs I’m showing you on this blog are all hand-held. In fast moving situations it is difficult to use a tripod, and in crowds – forget about it! Knowing how to use flash appropriately is a big key to success.

Barranquilla, Colombia. Carnival.

© Nevada Wier 2014. Barranquilla, Colombia: Carnival.
Canon 5DMarkIII, Canon 24 f/1.4, 1/50sec at f/3.2, ISO 1600.
Shutter Priority. Evaluative Metering. Daylight White Balance. Flash Fired.

I mentioned earlier that it is important to anticipate so that one can be in the front of a crowd. I am used to “wiggling” myself into a good location. There is a fine line between being assertive and aggressive, but I don’t want to end up in the back of a huge crowd.

I expect a lot of failures; in fact I mostly have failures in these kinds of situations, as they are technically and often socially difficult. However, all I need is one great image! I try as many shutter speeds as possible; depth of field is not a critical concern to me at these times. I try slow shutter speeds with or without panning, usually with the flash on. I turn the flash off and work with natural light. I try everything! I always say, “If you don’t try, you don’t get”. And, often what one gets is that magical snowflake image.

Bagan, Myanmar: Ananada Festival.

© Nevada Wier 2013. Bagan, Myanmar: Ananada Festival.
Canon 5DMarkIII, Canon 24 f/1.4, 1/100sec at f/4, ISO 1600.
Aperture Priority. Evaluative Metering. Daylight White Balance. Flash Fired.

 

Nevada Wier is a multiple award-winning photographer specializing in the remote corners of the globe and the cultures that inhabit them. Her journeys have her crisscrossing the world in search of compelling travel experiences and images. To read more about Nevada, view her extraordinary photography and get information about her photo workshops and tours, visit her website at www.nevadawier.com.

 

From Photography to Filmmaking: Stories in Motion

A Snowy Plover sits among the dunes on a Florida beach in front of one of many condominiums.

A Snowy Plover sits among the dunes on a Florida beach in front of one of many condominiums.

This is the second entry in the From Photography to Filmmaking monthly column by Drew Fulton.  To see the previous posts, visit the archives.

When I first started to dabble in the world of the moving image, I didn’t think much about the storytelling side of things. I simply started shooting what was essentially a moving photograph rather than a video clip. What do I mean? Basically, I took all of my experience as a photographer and applied that to making video. I didn’t make any changes to the way I composed or created images. I simply did what I had always done except now I was making videos! I won’t say that this was totally wrong, but it sure was far from right. Let’s take a few minutes to really think about how our audience watches video and the fundamental differences between watching video and looking at a photograph.

Read the rest of this entry »

Photographing Water in Motion by Jennifer Wu

 

Iceland waterfall - vertical

Iceland waterfall: Canon 5D mark II, 24-70 mm lens at 24 mm, f/16, Shutter speed .6, ISO 100. I used a polarizing filter. Smooth effect. © Jennifer Wu

Text and photos © Jennifer Wu

Photographing moving water at varying shutter speeds produces different looks, from a silky effect to frozen detail. When photographing the ocean surf, waterfalls, streams or any moving water, I often bracket the shutter speeds to create a variety of results.

In the vertical waterfall image in Iceland, above, the water appears smooth and gauzy. The horizontal image of the same waterfall, below, presents more detail, permitting more shape with enough blur to endow the shot with a sense of motion. I like both effects, so I vary the shutter speed to get more or less detail. When bracketing the shutter speeds, review each image on view screen to judge the results.  If you see silky water with no detail where it is all white, move to a faster shutter speed. If there is too much detail where the water looks like ice, use a slower shutter to add enough blur for a velvety water effect.

Iceland waterfall - horizontal
Iceland waterfall: Canon 5D mark II, 24-70 mm lens at 24 mm, f/16, Shutter speed 1/10, ISO 100. I used a polarizing filter.
More detail in the water with a faster shutter speed. © Jennifer Wu

 

Shutter Speed Choice:

How fast or slow the water is moving is a factor to help decided shutter speed for the amount of blur or detail. A slow versus fast moving stream will have different effects at the same shutter speed. In addition, wider-angle lenses show less apparent motion compared to a telephoto from the same distance.

Several factors to help decide the shutter speed:

  • The flow rate of the water – slower shutter for more blur with slow moving streams
  • The amount of blur or detail you want – slower shutter for more blur
  • Distance to the subject – the water flow appears faster the closer you are
  • Focal length of the lens – slower shutter for wide-angle lenses for more blur

Waterfalls all fall at the same rate weather they are a faint stream or large waterfall. They gain momentum with the distance. The air resistance is the only factor that will effect the rate of water falling.

I photographed the waterfall in Iceland while leading a photography tour with Jim Martin. In the horizontal image, I used a .6 second shutter speed for a satiny effect, while the vertical image has a 1/10 shutter speed to show more detail.

waterfall detail with rainbow
Yosemite waterfall with rainbow. Using 1/125 of a second or faster with a medium telephoto lens helps stop the action on a waterfall and give it some detail. Photographed with the 70-300mm lens at 244mm, f/11, 1/250 second, ISO 200.
Polarizer used to enhance the rainbow. Be careful as you can make the rainbow disappear when completely polarized. © Jennifer Wu

 

In Yosemite, 1/125 of a second contributed some detail in the fast moving waterfalls. By contrast, I prefer 1/15to 1/30 of a second to smooth the slower moving water on the floor of water the valley.

Use a really fast shutter speed to stop the action of moving water. For waves at the ocean, I use around a 1/1000 of a second to get the detail in the splash.  Each droplet freezes.

In the next examples, the ocean images have a 10 to 13 second exposure to blur the water, transforming the surf into a fog.

Morro Bay rocks and surf, 10 second exposure.
Morro Bay rocks and surf, Canon 5D mark II, 24-70 mm lens at 24 mm, f/16, 10 seconds, ISO 100.
I used a 3-stop neutral density filter and a polarizer to smooth out the ocean surf. © Jennifer Wu

 

Tripod: Using a STURDY tripod will be necessary for the slow shutter speeds. They are still a good idea for higher shutter speeds as they aid in fine-tuning the final composition. Keep in mind it is often windy at the base of a waterfall or around the ocean surf. Weigh down the tripod if necessary to avoid vibration or tipping.

Exposure: when taking a photograph, I decide whether the shutter speed or f/stop is the most important and set that first. Normally, I use manual mode and set the shutter speed first, followed by the f/stop.  Next, I set ISO, ideally the native ISO for the camera, such as ISO 100 for Canon, or 200 for Nikon. Native resolution produces the least noise.  If the shutter speed is too slow, I raise the ISO to the proper exposure.  Finally, I add a filter, as discussed below.

Shutter Speed:  In order to get slow shutter speeds for the satiny effect, try photographing in low light conditions since full sun may demand too fast a shutter speed for slow motion. For example: photograph at low light near sunrise or sunset on sunny days, with the subject catching the first or last rays of light. Exposure it easier when he water is in the shade; be aware that your color temperature will change, shifting toward blue. Overcast conditions work well most of the time.

Filters: Using a polarizer will reduce your shutter speed time by about two f-stops. Turn the polarizer to see the effect on shiny rock surfaces and note how the reduced glare reveals detail and form. However, be careful when using a polarizer so as not to take out desired colorful reflections. Neutral density filters (not graduated neutral density filters), grey in color, will reduce the light to the sensor, allowing for a slower shutter speed.

Morro Bay sunset, 13 second exposure
Morro Bay sunset: Canon 5D mark II, F/16, 13 seconds, ISO 100.
I used a 5-stop neutral density filter to obtain the softness of the waves. © Jennifer Wu

 

Ideas: Water in all its forms is a dynamic subject open to many approaches. I like photographing streams in the shade with green leaves reflected onto streams in the afternoon (Yosemite’s Fern Spring is good for that). Photographing along Yosemite’s Merced River at sunrise provides the opportunity to capture the warm reflections of the mountains in the river. Fall colors, the leaves lit with sun and the water in shade reflect leaves, is a perennial favorite.

Tips for keeping the lens dry:Use a lens hood to keep spray off the lens. Carry a hand towel or pack towel to dry the camera and tripod when you return to the car from the shoot.Use a chamois cloth to wipe the droplets off the lens. Chamois are used to wipe cars dry and it works just as well on the lens. If you are in heavy spray from waterfalls, the ocean or from rain, it is helpful to carry a small sized soft absorbent pack towel to wipe the lens of most of the water, then use the chamois as it will otherwise get soaked too fast and become useless.

Tips for cleaning sea spray: First, use an air blower (not canned air) to remove any bits of sand or dust that might scratch the lens.

Next, wipe down your camera and lenses with a damp cloth to clean off the salt from the sea spray. Do this as soon as possible.

If you do get sea spray on the front element of the lens, use some lens cleaning fluid on a wipe or tissue and use that to remove it. Use lens cleaning solution and do not use abrasive or solvents. Wipe in a circular motion from the center outward. Do not put fluid directly on the lens. If it is very misty, bring the fluid and wipes with you to the ocean.

Another option is using a UV filter when at the ocean to protect the front element of the lens from the salt in the sea spray and you can clean the filter after the shoot in the same way as mentioned above.

Clean the camera eye-piece in the same way if it is needed.

Have fun photographing moving water and creating inspiring images!

Smooth Wave, Morro Bay, 0.4 second exposure

Smooth Wave, Morro Bay, California: Canon 5D mark II, 70-300 mm f/4-5.6 at 135 mm, f/22, 0.4 second, ISO 100. © Jennifer Wu

 

Jennifer Wu, a professional photographer since 1992, is best known for her nature, landscape and night photography. Jennifer was named by Canon USA to the elite group of photographers, The Explorers of Light. View more of her work and check out her book and workshop offerings at www.jenniferwu.com

Jennifer will speak on “Nature’s Elusive Beauty” in one of the breakout sessions at the 2015 NANPA Summit taking place in San Diego, California from February 19th – 22nd. To learn more about the Summit and to register for this exciting and inspirational event, please visit www.naturephotographysummit.com 

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