How do you photograph an animal so elusive that the biologists studying them have never even seen the species themselves? The answer is simple: SLR camera traps. Photographing wildlife with a camera trap seems easy in concept. Place a camera trap in the wilderness, let it sit there, and have it take amazing pictures while you relax at home. This isn’t quite the case. One of the hardest parts about camera trap photography is getting your set-up to work like you want it to. The camera and flashes have to be ready to take a picture at a moment’s notice, but it also needs to conserve batteries enough to last for an extended period of time. And then everything has to be safe in a serious down drench. Continue reading →
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. Continue reading →
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
When I hear someone say, “I hate flash images,” it typically tells me they feel uncomfortable or do not fully comprehend how to use flash effectively. Many people state that they can always tell when flash is used as the images have a “flashed” look to them. By this they mean that the subject appears overly bright and unnaturally lit within the image. By applying varying levels of flash output, we are able control the degree of subject illumination independent of the ambient light. Keeping the flash and ambient exposure separate in your mind will help you better achieve your goal.
The image of the heron on the nest (above) is a good example of how I use flash to balance ambient light. Here are the steps I took to make this image using flash.
1. First, I used my in-camera spot meter to check the yellow background highlight and I set my exposure 1.3 stops above the mid tone (in this case, my exposure was 1/250 sec at f/8 at ISO 200).
2. Next, I focused my lens on the subject and read the distance scale on my lens (in this example, 10 ft). Since my flash was on the camera, the flash-to-subject distance was the same as the lens-to-subject distance (10 ft).
Where to check the focusing distance on your lens.
3. Then, I set my flash to manual mode, which allows me to control the flash output independent of the exposure. I used the Select button on the back of the flash, turning the dial to place the black bar even with the subject distance. (Note: Strobes will vary by manufacturer. Some use buttons, others wheels, or a combination of both to alter the flash output.) Altering the flash output moves the distance scale, and that is what you are concerned with at this point. Do not be concerned if the scale says 1:1 or 1/128. Just make sure the distance appearing on the scale (10 ft in this example) is the same as the focus distance on your lens (10 ft).
A few examples of where to find the focusing distance on your flash. Flashes set to manual.
TIP: When you zoom to alter your lens focal length, the flash will also zoom to evenly illuminate the field of view. If you take a given quantity of light and squeeze it into a narrower or wider area, the output of the flash (known as the guide number) will vary. Thus, you will need to adjust the flash power each time you change the focal length of your lens. I suggest you manually fix the flash zoom to the widest focal length you plan on using. No worries if you are shooing a fixed lens.
If all other factors remain constant (f/stop. shutter speed, ISO and background illumination), both the background and the subject will be perfectly illuminated.
If you want to get a firm grasp on how to use flash effectively, consider taking Charles (Chas) Glatzer’s STL Tech Series Flash Seminar. Chas’ work has been celebrated internationally with over 40 prestigious awards for superior photographic competence demonstrated through photographic competition, advanced education, and service to the profession. His images are recognized internationally for their lighting, composition, and attention to detail and have appeared in many publications worldwide including National Geographic, Outdoor Photographer, Popular Photography, National Parks, Discover Diving, Smithsonian, Professional Photographer, Birder’s World, Birding, Nature Photographer, EOS, Digital PhotoPro, and many more.
Moonlit Night at Park Avenue, Arches National Park. Sigma 12-24mm lens @ 12mm, f/4.5, ISO 100, exposed for just over an hour. Photo by Roman M. Kurywczak
I have been photographing nighttime landscapes for about 20 years now, capturing images of star trails like the one pictured above with good success (even in the film days). The arrival of digital cameras and their high ISO capabilities has allowed me to push the boundaries of nighttime landscape photography and allowed me to capture the milky way and stars just as we see them. I released my e-book on that subject in February 2011 but wanted to revisit some of the images I had captured with the Sigma 12-24mm lens. The above image is the newest version of my cover shot, but this time the illumination you see is from just the moon. A rock solid tripod and ballhead are a must for this genre of photography. A wide-angle lens is also a must; the Sigma 12-24mm lens is now my lens of choice for my Canon 1D Mark III bodies. For those of you with crop sensors, the 10-20mm F3.5 EX DC HSM should be your go to lens, but keep in mind that any wide angle lens will work (Tip: you should be around 20mm max on a full frame sensor with the settings I will be providing). Continue reading →
The rivalry burns on. Which is better: Canon or Nikon? Or, these days, Fuji, Sony or Pentax? Before you get ready to argue the virtues of your beloved brand, hear me out. No matter where your allegiance lies, isn’t the best camera the one you have with you?
The one I always have with me these days is the HTC One M8. Yes, HTC of cell phone fame. And my new favorite medium for sharing photography is Instagram. The purists out there have probably stopped reading at this point—after all, what artistically viable photography could come from a cell phone, be posted on a frivolous social media platform and have any real merit? Continue reading →
Marsh Landscape, Fishing Bay Wildlife Management Area, Maryland
Or, why I never get to take an afternoon nap during my photo shoots
In the film days of yore, I always counted on an afternoon nap during my photo shoots on nice sunny days. The high contrast of a sunny afternoon proved too much for film to capture details in both the highlights and shadows. Since I didn’t want to shoot under those conditions, what else was I to do but check the inside of my eyelids?
Thanks to digital technology those napping times are over, but I can’t complain about this new digital stuff. The one advancement I love that has raised the playing field in nature photography is high dynamic range (HDR). Continue reading →
As I was editing a batch of images from a shoot in Death Valley National Park, I had an uncomfortable feeling that even though the content was spot-on, some images were not as pleasing as I thought they would be when I shot them. The scene was just too vast, and the eye was distracted by the image composition. Continue reading →
“Drones,” my article on the commercial use of drones for photography, appeared in the Fall 2013 issue of Currents. While at that time it seemed clear that such use was prohibited under existing FAA Advisory Circulars and Policy Statements, a recent decision (March 6, 2014) by an administrative law judge with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) ruled that the FAA had not undertaken the required steps to give legal effect to those circulars and statements. Thus, at the moment there is no federal law, regulation, policy or circular prohibiting the use of drones.
The March decision involved a $10,000 fine imposed by the FAA on photographer Raphael Pirker who used a drone to film a commercial at the University of Virginia. While the FAA has repeatedly claimed that flying a drone for commercial purposes is illegal, this was the first and only time the agency had attempted to impose a fine.
For the moment, at least, there appears to be no prohibition on the commercial use of drones for any purpose, including, as one commentator noted, for “beer deliveries”—at least under federal law. But before you begin sending your drones skyward to indulge in a commercial or noncommercial photographic undertaking, be sure you check state and local laws. Many state legislatures and local governments have been considering laws to restrict their use, and some laws may already be in effect.
It is unclear just what the FAA will do next, but it is likely to appeal or establish an emergency rule to prohibit commercial use of drones until it can develop appropriate regulations covering such use as it has been directed to prepare by Congress.
Bernard Friel is a charter member and past president of NANPA who also served on the board of the NANPA Foundation. A retired lawyer, Bernie has been a serious nature photographer for more than 50 years.