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.
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.
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. Continue reading →
I was recently given the opportunity to field test the new Nikon AF-S 600mm f/4E FL ED VR Lens in Alaska, one of my favorite places for wildlife photography and a place where I lead several photography tours each year.
I am extremely impressed with this lens. I’ve demonstrated a few of my favorite new features in the video review below including images, video, and time-lapse. Thank you for watching and I hope you enjoy this review.
Aaron Baggenstos is an Award-winning professional wildlife photographer from Seattle, Washington. Aaron specializes in leading photography tours and workshops in Alaska, Yellowstone, and the Pacific Northwest including Canada.
His photographs have been recognized by National Geographic, Nature’s Best, and the Audubon Society. Most recently, thirteen of his images were chosen for the final round in the prestigious 2015 BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year.
Aaron’s new limited edition coffee table book Pacific Northwest Wildlife is available at retailers ranging from Barnes & Noble to Costco and on Amazon.com. His two previous books Wildlife of Juanita Bay and Wildlife of Lake Washington were instant regional bestsellers and all display Aaron’s awe-inspiring wildlife images.
In the Fall of 2011 Aaron co-hosted two episodes of the hit PBS television Series “Wild Photo Adventures” with Doug Gardner which aired internationally on PBS.
Along with guiding tours and instructing photography workshops over 100 days a year, Aaron also enjoys public speaking and presenting slideshows. To date he has spoken at multiple Audubon chapters and birding groups, National Wildlife Refuges, book stores, and other local interest groups.
Through his work Aaron hopes to inspire others to photograph, enjoy, and take action to protect, local and worldwide ecosystems.
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 →
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 →
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.