Posts tagged ‘field techniques’

UAVs AND AERIAL PHOTOGRAPHY

Story and photography by Ralph Bendjebar

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), otherwise known as drones, have been in the news a lot lately, not always on a positive note. Reported sightings near airports, sport stadiums and large crowds or urban settings have caused alarm and consternation from public officials and the FAA, which has led to negative and (sometimes) alarmist coverage from news organizations. Of course, the problem lies with inexperienced and reckless users rather than with the exciting technology these UAVs offer for the gathering of unique and useful images and footage.

Tanzania-31503

Using a drone in Tanzania.

As an avid landscape and wildlife photographer with a background in commercial aviation (my day job), I became intrigued with the possibilities of utilizing UAVs. They can be fitted with stabilized cameras to record images and footage not otherwise obtainable except at great expense with manned fixed-wing aircraft or rotorcraft. The rapid technological advances that enabled adaptation of this technology to small UAVs from their larger military cousins have produced capabilities that rival ground-based camera systems. The latest is the DJI Phantom 3, which allows stabilized 4K footage and 12 MP DNG files. It also provides full camera control through a controller-mounted tablet. The DJI Inspire 1 Pro is fitted with a MicroFourThirds (MFT) sensor that takes 4K video, 16 MP stills and has the unique feature of interchangeable lenses. Thus the capabilities for capturing exciting and memorable footage and images have become a reality.

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FIELD TECHNIQUE: The Moon in the Morning

Story and photography by F.M. Kearney

T-138I enjoy shooting early on winter mornings. Besides capturing the beautiful light that occurs just before sunrise, I’m unencumbered by the masses of casual photographers and sightseers that tend to venture forth later in the day. Sometimes, however, I find that I’m out a little too early—long before sunrise or even the magic light of the day.

In the Northeast, too early means little more than bare branches dominate the scene. What initially might seem like a bleak subject, bare branches can reveal a multitude of creative options. Also, if the moon is out, it will shine like a beacon in the darkened sky and add even more interest to the shot. Read the rest of this entry »

FIELD TECHNIQUE: Be Careful What You Wish

Story and photographs by F.M. Kearney

Harriman State Park landscape shot with a fisheye lens.

Harriman State Park landscape shot with a fisheye lens.

 

A slight departure from my usual fare, this article is less about technique and more about a personal account of my first encounter with “real” wilderness.

Living in New York City, or any large metropolitan area, and choosing to pursue a career in nature photography can sometimes be an uphill battle. Local parks and botanical gardens are fine for floral portraits and intimate landscapes, but if you desire to capture anything resembling true wilderness, a venture beyond the confines of city limits is definitely required.

I’ve always longed to shoot images of unspoiled, snow-covered landscapes. One winter, many years ago, I decided to take a trip to upstate New York after a heavy snowfall. Like most city dwellers, I don’t own a car, so I took an early-morning bus to Harriman State Park. Located just 30 miles north of the city and encompassing more than 46,000 acres, it’s the second largest park in the state. I had been to this park many times in the past, but I always went to the populated Bear Mountain area on the east side. Read the rest of this entry »

FIELD TECHNIQUE: Capturing the Holiday Spirit Story and photographs by F.M. Kearney

Photographing outdoor holiday decorations is fun. It’s even better if you don’t have to deal with hordes of tourists tripping over your tripod. Probably best of all is when the decorations are in a natural setting that most tourists (and residents) don’t know about.

In addition to the annual, world-famous lighting of the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree in New York, there’s also the lighting of a slightly smaller display in Central Park. Each year, a flotilla of 13 trees is launched on a tiny “island” in the less-visited, northern section of the park. When I first saw it years ago, I actually thought it was a real island. I shot it at night and used the usual combo for best quality, i.e., low ISO and small aperture. As you may suspect, the results were less than successful. Although I didn’t detect it at the time, the subtle but constant movement of the artificial island ruined every shot due to the long exposures.

That was in the days of film when you were locked into a single ISO setting for all the pictures on the roll. Thankfully, today’s digital cameras are much more versatile. Not only can you change the ISO at will, but the resulting noise at the higher settings is much less than what you would have gotten with film. Additionally, more detail can be pulled out of the highlights and shadows due to their greater dynamic range capabilities. If the contrast is too strong, however, you may need to turn to HDR software.

Floating Christmas tree display at sunset Harlem Meer in Central Park New York, NY (HDR compilation of 5 images)

ISO 400, f/8

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Wildlife Photography ”Beyond the Perfect Portrait” by D. Robert Franz

Alaskan brown bear © D. Robert Franz

Alaskan brown bear © D. Robert Franz

 

Wildlife Photography ”Beyond the Perfect Portrait”

Text and Images by D. Robert Franz

For many aspiring wildlife photographers capturing beautiful portraits of their favorite birds or animals in the wild is often their primary goal. This is certainly an understandable and a worthwhile endeavor. When I began photographing wildlife over thirty years ago, I was inspired by the striking wildlife photos of Leonard Lee Rue III and Erwin Bauer. I carefully studied how they used the light, controlled backgrounds, and placed their subjects in the frame to create pleasing wildlife portraits. I pursued the perfect wildlife portrait relentlessly and over time accumulated a large collection of. As time passed I became less and less satisfied with my wildlife photography. I desired more evocative images with impact. I felt as though I really needed to elevate my images to a higher level. I will discuss some of the methods I’ve used to achieve that goal and continue in my evolution as a wildlife photographer.

Red Fox (Vulpes fulva) © D. Robert Franz

Red Fox (Vulpes fulva) © D. Robert Franz

A sure way to take your photography to a new level is to capture your subject in action and intense subject action can lead to a once in a lifetime photo. Capturing extreme subject action in still photography has never been easier. Most camera systems now have excellent autofocus capabilities which allow you to acquire focus of moving subjects. Modern digital cameras can now effectively utilize a higher ISO which allows you the ability to use high shutter speeds that were never before possible. Many cameras have frame rates of ten to twelve frames per second. This gives you the ability to capture the peak dramatic moments. Control of your shutter speed allows you to depict motion in a number of ways. Using a slower shutter speed can give your subject a bit of movement which helps depict motion whereas a high shutter speed will freeze everything. When the action starts fire away.

American elk or wapiti © D. Robert Franz

American elk or wapiti © D. Robert Franz

Dramatic weather also can lead to dramatic images. Falling snow, rain, fog and even wind driven sand can add interest to the wildlife image. Many photographers tend to avoid photographing in extreme conditions so when you capture images in such conditions they will be unique and that is highly desirable. Photographing wildlife when snow is falling is perhaps my favorite adverse environmental condition to work in. Dressing yourself as well as your cameras for the conditions allow you to work comfortably. There are some technical difficulties to overcome when the snow is falling. Autofocus becomes difficult. The heavier the snowfall the more likely the camera will attempt to focus on the falling snowflakes rather than your subject. I use a combination of autofocus and manual override of focus to achieve good results. Your camera will have a tendency to underexpose images during snowy conditions so using manual exposure or dialing in a plus compensation during auto exposure is required.

Exceptional light leads to exceptional images. The old adage of keeping the light source over your shoulder for a good photograph, while applicable in certain situations, is quite limiting. Most often now I try to capitalize on dramatic or unusual lighting situations. Today’s cameras allow me to get out earlier, stay out later and even photograph at night. Side lighting, backlighting, spotlighting and silhouettes are also great lighting techniques that help make your images stand out. The ability of today’s cameras to pull detail out of shadowed areas of an image while maintaining correct exposure on the highlights opens up many possibilities as well. With the advancements made in flash photography and the availability of infrared camera traps, never before seen behaviors and habits of nocturnal wildlife is another new and exciting genre of wildlife photography.

Mountain Lion in Yellowstone National Park © D. Robert Franz

Mountain Lion in Yellowstone National Park © D. Robert Franz

Spectacular surroundings will lead to spectacular images. Early in my career I used to adhere to the axiom of “less is more” in wildlife photography. I tried to isolate my subject from any distracting elements. While this is still a great approach for the perfect portrait I now find myself searching for a great animalscape. When you strategically compose wildlife in an already fine landscape image you create an image that will stand the test of time. These days I never go into the field without a second camera with a shorter lens attached, such as a 70-200mm, slung over my shoulder. You don’t want to miss a chance to capture a memorable animalscapes, as they don’t come around often.

Remember, always be looking for exceptional light and be ready for action. When it occurs take advantage of it. When the weather turns bad, wildlife photography can be good. Break out your camera and make the best of it. Find landscapes with wildlife in the scene to create memorable images. With this methodical approach to wildlife photography you can take your imagery to a new level.

Robert Franz has been a professional nature & wildlife photographer for over 25 years. With degrees in wildlife management and geology he has extensive knowledge of the natural world. During his productive career he’s published over ten thousand images and nearly two hundred magazine covers. In 2007 Digital Photography Magazine proclaimed Robert as one the worlds best wildlife photographers. Having a long standing love for the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem Robert and his wife Lorri moved to Cody Wyoming in 2003. For more information on his photo tours and nature photography visit http://www.franzfoto.com.

 

 

 

 

FIELD TECHNIQUE: Autumn Colors in the Digital Age, Story and photographs by F.M. Kearney

The morning started out under foggy conditions in the New York Botanical Garden. The autumn colors were at their peak, but they looked somewhat subdued as they disappeared into the mist. By mid-morning, the fog had almost completely dissipated and the sun was struggling to make an appearance. As I approached a couple of Japanese Zelkova trees, I noticed that a thick stand of bushes that used to be there had been completely cleared. This allowed me to view the trees from a totally new angle, which had previously been inaccessible. I positioned one tree directly behind another one—making the one in front appear as though it had far more branches than it actually did. From a wide-angle, ground-level perspective, I was able to include much of the colorful background. Also, the trees on the far left and right leaned inward just enough to create the perfect framing elements.

The sun wasn’t quite at full power yet, but it was strong enough to create some areas of high contrast. I did an HDR compilation of five images (+/- 2 stops, 0) to balance out the difficult light.

Fall foliage Japanese Velkova tree New York Botanical Garden (HDR compilation of 5 images)

Regular HDR

 

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FIELD TECHNIQUE: Let’s Be Careful Out There Story and photographs by F. M. Kearney

A shutterbug is washed out to sea by a sudden wave, while precariously perched on a precipice during a storm. Another is mauled by a grizzly after snapping a closeup of its cub. We’ve all heard stories like these of photographers putting themselves in harm’s way just to get a shot. I, however, choose not to go out like that—opting instead to place my equipment in the line of fire. Of course, I don’t want to lose that either, but it is better than the alternative. Read the rest of this entry »

FIELD TECHNIQUE: Nature to the Rescue Story and photographs by F. M. Kearney

I’ve never strayed too far away from the boundaries of straight photography. It’s not that I have anything against digital manipulations; it’s just that I’m not an expert at it. I consider my Photoshop skills to be intermediate at best.

In addition to nature photography, I also shoot urban images of New York City. I submit these photos to an agency that does a terrific job of licensing them to a number of large-mural and high-end wall art manufacturers. However, after each submission, my editor would ask for more—not more images, but something more than traditional photography. He explained that the trend today is for photos with texture, and straight photography doesn’t sell as well as it once did. The texture can be any type of pattern that is combined with the main image. Read the rest of this entry »

THE POWER OF MONOCHROME by Jack Graham

Juniper tree at Canyonlands National Park

Canyonlands National Park, Utah.

 

When reading this short essay, remember I have no plans to abandon color photography. My feelings are that both mediums have their place. Some images are better represented in color and others in monochrome. The principles of photography carry over to both methods. The only difference is in certain images, the lack of color and the power of monochrome can stand out when applied correctly. I also prefer to use the term monochrome rather than black and white. When viewing a black and white image, we are really looking at shades of gray, not just black and white.

When we think of monochrome photography we almost always think of Ansel Adams, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Minor White, Robert Frank, Paul Strand, Dorothea Lange and Edward Weston, just to name a few. We think of powerful images delivering a story clearly transmitted to our brains. We think of monochromatic images going back to the acceptance of photography as an art. Thank you, Mr. Stieglitz!

Alabama Hills and Sierra Nevada Mountains

Alabama Hills and the Sierra Nevada.

 

THE HISTORY OF FILM

Color film was actually developed in the mid-1800s but due to the primitive nature of the products, colors faded from the prints quickly. Just before 1900, if one had the money, one could buy the proper equipment to make color images. Only the very rich could afford to play in this process.

In 1935, Kodak brought to market Kodachrome. However because of the expense compared to black and white, color processing was not the norm until the 1970s, just 50 years ago! Interesting enough it was Polaroid who introduced the first instant color film in 1963. By 1970, color film was the norm for most “snapshots.” However, black and white film was still used by some photographers for the aesthetic nuances that it offers.

It was common for black and white photographers to do their own developing and printing. Color film was dramatically improved, but black and white photography continued to be used as a different method to tell the story, in unusual and powerful ways.

West Fjords Waterfall, Iceland.

West Fjords Waterfall, Iceland.

 

COLOR OR MONOCHROME?

Today I strongly feel that deciding to eliminate color, as an option in telling our story through photography, is a choice not to be taken lightly. It is important to decide, even before the photograph is made, if this image is a possible candidate for monochrome. I have made many images where color is actually a distraction from the strength of the image itself as well as subtracting from the meaning I am trying to convey.

Form, as well as texture, can be brought out in monochrome much stronger than in color. In monochromatic photography we are using our eyes and brains to look at the form of a subject, the texture of the subject, and not confusing ourselves with trying, at the same time, to decipher and process color.

When making color images we think about brightness, hue of color and more. With monochrome images we are only dealing with shades of gray. This is one reason why monochrome images can be exceedingly more powerful than color if produced correctly. Again, the process starts before the camera comes out of the bag.

Photoshop, or any type of computerized monochrome processing that we may be working with today, parallels what Weston and Adams did in the darkroom years ago. In many ways, monochromatic photography can exceed the power of color both in emotion and how the image is viewed and interpreted.

Sea stacks at Bandon Beach, Oregon.

Sea stacks at Bandon Beach, Oregon.

 

LEARNING TO SEE IN MONOCHROME

When working in monochrome consider using tone, brightness, texture and contrast within your image to tell the story and communicate your feeling. Consider that complementary colors like red and green can often look the same in monochrome. If the textures in a monochrome image are identical they become hard to differentiate. Using different textures within an image in monochrome is another way to bring out the feeling from the start. I find differentiating the depth of field of a subject in monochrome photography is more important than if photographing in color. Making one part of the image sharp and the other out of focus can really accentuate the image.

Using these concepts and techniques will get you on the path to seeing in monochrome and being able to deliver images with significant value, but there is much more to learn about making quality monochromatic images. Understanding the Zone system, proper processing technique for monochrome, as well as perfecting your printing technique are all important.

interior of old barn in Palouse, Washington

Inside an old barn in the Palouse.

 

SUGGESTED READING

Guy Tal’s Guy Tal’s ebooks on Creative Processing Techniques

Ansel Adam’s “The Negative,” originally published in 1981

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jack Graham has been a Professional Photographer and Photo Workshop Leader for over 20 years. For more information, and to view his portfolio, visit www.jackgrahamphoto.com. To read additional photography articles go to www.jackgrahamsblog.com.

FIELD TECHNIQUE: The Magic Hours, Story and photographs by F. M. Kearney

S_121Most nature photographers know that the best light of the day occurs during the first and last hours of sunlight—sunrise and sunset. During this time, the sun is low on the horizon, and its light travels through more of the atmosphere, creating brilliant shades of red, yellow and gold. For that reason, photographers fittingly refer to this time of day as the golden (or magic) hours.

I was recently in Atlantic City and captured “bookends” of the same day on the beach. In the morning, I shot a photo (above) of the sun rising above the Atlantic Ocean. When shooting directly into the sun, it’s best to use manual exposure. Auto modes will go haywire in this type of light. Although it’s been said many times before, some advice bears repeating: Never look directly at the sun in the viewfinder. This is especially true if you’re using a long lens, which will, of course, magnify the sun’s intensity. A spot meter, which measures a small portion of the frame, is also helpful. I spot-metered a clear area of the sky next to the sun, then locked in that exposure on manual. Read the rest of this entry »

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