Friday, May 13, 2011

Nature Photography.......With elements of Man

Click on photos to enlarge

Many years ago, actually much longer that I care to remember, I read an article by one of the nation's top nature photographers. In that article, he made this statement, "Nature photos must never show the hand of man." Like many nature and wildlife photographers, the author believed that true nature photography should not contain anything that would show the presence of man. I think that may well be a mantra of many photographers today, but it is not one that I believe has any meaning for me.

We live in a world that is becoming increasingly populated everyday, and the "hand of man" is certainly a part of our everyday lives. I believe that nature photos should show us all of the story, not just the most pristine elements of the natural world. I believe that as we adapt to our surroundings, so do our animal and plant friends. Excluding images that show us mans encroachment upon nature would be like showing us only pictures of farmers and not of people living in major metropolitan cities. People have adapted and so has the animal kingdom. Granted, we still like to see "animals in the wild", but I think we need to see animals living connected to man as well.

With that thought in mind, I love to capture images that use objects created by man to highlight my wildlife subjects. Rather than detract from the image, I often feel they can add interest to a photograph. I think they can dramatically enhance a compositional element, and make a connection between the wild subject and the viewer. In this regard, I think we bring the viewer closer to our subject and make the image relate to a wider audience.

There will, of course, always be those who feel that man has no place in a nature photo, but my personal belief is that man is just one more species living on this planet we call earth. We are just as much wildlife as any other species, and we can learn so much from observing the natural world around us, and all the elements included in that world.

Click on Photos to enlarge.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Making Directional-lighting Work for You

I am always disappointed with images that look flat. Images captured without some kind of directional lighting leave me wanting more, and I rarely even bother firing the shutter when I don't feel some kind of emotional response to my light source. Photography is all about capturing a subject in some kind of meaningful, if not magical, lighting situation.

When it comes to bird photography, we are working with soft little round subjects that really need to be lit in some special way that will enhance the natural form and texture of the bird. Without this kind of lighting, our subjects can easily be lost into the backgrounds. While my photos very often try to make the surroundings just as important as the bird, I still want my birds to be focal points within the photo. To make that happen, I need lighting that brings the viewers eye to the soft feathers of my main subject.

Sometimes, no matter how hard I try, I just can't make an image pop. If I don't have the lighting I need, I know my image is going to be disappointing, and I might just as well not shoot. Yes, we have the ability to do so much now in post-processing, but nothing can replace the impact of original lighting. There is just no denying that truly great photos are all about light. I hope all of us can keep that in mind as we struggle to make those magical images we dream about.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Research and Planning the Shot

For many years, I carried my camera around looking for great shots. Then one day I discovered that I had a new skill .........I could design a shot........I could anticipate a shot.........I could wait for a shot..........I could allow my vision to be realized on film, and that was the day that I became a photographer. After years of hoping for the shot, I discovered that I could scout a location and make plans for a shot that was pre-visualized in my mind. From that point on my images took on a new sense of passion, and the excitement for me as a photographer grew immensely.

This shot of Harris Neck Wildlife Refuge was taken at dawn, after making several previous trips

to the refuge without any meaningful images. The location drew me over and over again, but my timing was never right. It seems like something always managed to prevent me from getting the shot I wanted. Then, one evening while sitting in my hotel, I saw an image in my mind of what I wanted from this location. I asked myself, "What would you do if you were painting this scene?" Instantly, I began composing an image in my mind of what my painting would look like and asking myself how I could get it in the camera. I knew the light was the key, and that sunrise was going to be my best chance of capturing the birds in the rookery. That meant getting on location early and using a small portable blind. While still dark, I hiked into the marsh, set up my blind and waited. As daybreak came, so did my shot. Perhaps not exactly as I had pictured it in my mind, but very close.......and maybe even better.

My images today are not usually "by chance." Rather, most of them are well thought-out and planned. In doing so, I make myself aware of light and of composition. I place myself in a ready position that is going to give me the scene I want, and I wait for the light. Sometimes I get to click the shutter, but so many times I simply enjoy the morning without getting the shot. Not every outing has to produce a winner. Sometimes it's enough to just enjoy what's in front of you.