Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Composition and Light
       Unlike most bird photographers, I'm not really interested in capturing a "portrait" of a bird. I think that kind of photo is fine to perhaps illustrate a bird ID guide, but it falls way short of stretching the boundaries of fine art imaging. My goal has always been to capture images that look more like a painting than they do a simple bird photograph.
       As I have mentioned so often in this blog, "Photography is about composition and light." Truly meaningful images need to demonstrate the use of both if they are to achieve any success in the field of art. Snapshots are just that.......quick snapped images with little thought or planning. Fine art photographs require thought and skill, and I think a special kind of eye. The artist eye is one that sees within a subject a sense of space and time. The artist looks at light and how it plays with the subject. He or she makes decisions based upon a visual composition, and how the light source reacts to that composition. The artist looks for lines and curves within the composition and how they add to or subtract from the impact of the image. The artist/photographer restrains from the "snap" of the shutter until the compositional elements resolve themselves in his or her eye. The magic moment comes only after all of the artistic details have been worked through in the viewfinder. At that single moment, an image is born........and with luck and skill........a work of art. 

Monday, January 28, 2013

Do We Really Need All of the New Gear?
       After years of answering questions regarding what kind of camera gear I use, I think it's time to share a few thoughts regarding this subject.
       Like so many of you, I enjoy learning about all of the new technical stuff that is being loaded into all of the newest cameras. Today's cameras are capable of doing so much more than just taking a simple photograph. Simply put, they are more like a computer than just a camera. The higher end cameras can now record video, do in camera HDR, in camera panoramas, auto adjust for dynamic range, and countless other tasks. Depending upon your own personal pocketbook, you can pretty much find one that will do just about anything you want. The question, however, is just how much do we really need?
      The photo above is one of my top three selling images, and it has held that title for nearly eight years. By today's standards, it was shot with an antique camera. Not really, but would you believe a six mega pixel APS sensor. While we have all been convinced by the manufactures that we need a full-frame 20+ mg. sensor, the simple truth is that we don't. Good photography is about composition and light, not about mega pixels. Although the image above was shot with the Minolta 7D and its' 6 mg. sensor, I am still continually printing the image at 20 x 40 inches with remarkable results. In all of the years that I have exhibited the image, no one has ever suggested that it was in any way inferior to those shot with my newest gear.  Why? ........because the image speaks for itself. It does not reflect the voice of the camera, but rather the heart of the photographer. The eye and the vision of the man or woman holding the camera will always trump the camera being held. I hope all of you will remember this lesson, and that you'll decide to spend your money on seeking out great images rather than filling your camera bags with more gear. I love new cameras.......but I cherish making new images with whatever camera is in my hand. We are not limited by our gear, but only by our dreams.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Pulling Back and Taking It In.....
      Sometimes we are tempted to reach for the long lens and fill the frame of our image with what our brain tells us is our subject, but occasionally we need to take a moment to reflect on the entire scene. As photographers, we need to "slow down" and allow our hearts to speak to us. Too often, the messages we receive from our brain are of a technical nature, but those from the heart are of a softer side.......and perhaps a more artistic side.
     In the photo above, while roaming the countryside near Yellowstone National Park, I came across this quiet pond, which had been formed from recently melting snow. I was taken by the serenity of the place, when suddenly an Elk stepped into view. I happen to have two camera around my neck, one with a 400mm telephoto attached and the other with a 17 - 85mm zoom. Instinctively, the brain told me to grab the long lens and capture the detail of the bugling elk, but instead I raised the wide angle lens and captured the entirety of the scene. This image best takes me back to that moment in time and the splendor of that morning. The image conveys the vastness of the mountain range and speaks to the wildness of the place and the animals that live there. Had I selected the telephoto lens, much of the story would have gone untold. As nature photographers, our mission is to share the entire story with our viewers, thereby allowing them to "feel the moment." Happy Shooting.
What's Really Important.......
click on image to enlarge
      Nature photography is often about making decisions. We have to ask ourselves what is important in an image, and why are we shooting this image. We make decisions about lighting angles, f stops, shutter speeds, iso settings, and so much more before we even hit the shutter. Too often, however, we shoot without making the most important decision of all........."What is it I am trying to convey with this photo?"
      While I am a bird photographer, I like to think that my images are about so much more than birds. I consider myself to be an environmentalist and an advocate for conservation of our natural resources around the planet. I love the world in which I live, and I attempt to share that love in my photographs. Nature has provided me with an amazing life, and it seems only fair that I should be working to give back to the cause of protecting  our environment.
    I look for images that bring the beauty of our surroundings into our homes and offices. More often than not, I am blown away by the simple splendor that shows itself in all aspects of nature. The often ignored ditch along the side of the road can hold a special moment in time just waiting to be discovered. The lesson for us all is to simply slow down and allow ourselves to see what is already there. Another lesson is to look beyond our intended target to see that which surrounds us.
    In the photo above, the movement of the little warbler caught my eye, but the real beauty seemed to be in the weeds that formed a natural frame for the bird. In this photo the question becomes "Was the target the bird or was it the weeds?" Both are beautiful, and each compliments the other. Nature is like that in all things. We need only to look closely, allowing our eyes to see the whole picture......not just what we thought was the target of the shot. Happy shooting folks.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Shooting With the Long Lens

click on images to enlarge
       As a professional bird photographer, I am forced to carry some very long lens. Unfortunately, these lens are both heavy and expensive, but without them I simply could not do my job. The kinds of images that I pursue require keeping a discrete distance from my feathered subjects. Anyone who has ever attempted to photograph birds can testify to just how difficult it is to get your shot without spooking the subject.
       My arsenal of glass includes the Canon 100 - 400L, Canon 300/ 2.8L, and the Canon 600/ 4L, along with several more that rarely get used. These three incredible lens are my "tools of the trade." All three do an outstanding job, while getting abused on a daily basis. In freezing cold, burning heat, and pouring rain, they continued to do the job for which they were designed. These lens are rugged optics designed for working professionals, who risk almost anything to "get the shot."
      The beauty of the long lens is their reach, and their ability to make distracting backgrounds disappear. Not only can you reach out to the subject without disturbing it, but because of their extremely limited depth of field, you can isolate the subject from its' background. Nothing takes your eye to the subject like a truly blurred background. It forces the eye to see your target in a way that makes the image explode. There just simply is no replacement for this effect.
      I'm often ask about various lens that someone might be considering for purchase. My advise is the same for everyone. Simply put.....Quality Costs.  There's no getting around it. Regardless of which camera system you may use, buy the best your budget can afford. Anything less will disappoint you.  

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Losing the Color and Capturing the Mood

         I certainly don't claim to be a black and white photographer, as my photos tend to be extremely colorful. However, occasionally a scene calls for something different. Over the years I have learned that fog is often best shown in black and white. The example above makes the point of which I speak. The photograph is more about composition than it is about color. On this very grey morning, as I paddled my kayak across the lake, the fog set in and created a mood that caused me to stop seeing color and only see shapes and forms unfold before me. When this Osprey appeared out of the dense fog, I knew I had my shot. With my camera set on AServo mode of focus, I managed to keep the Osprey in focus as he flew directly toward me. A split second after hitting the shutter he quickly changed directions and left the frame. While the shot was originally taken in color, I felt the absence of color best portrayed the scene as I saw it unfold. Using Lightroom 3, I converted the shot to black and white. In this instance, I feel that the conversion best takes me back to that moment in time, when just me and the Osprey shared the solitude.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Magic Minute Before Sunrise

           None of us like leaving the warmth and comfort of our beds in the morning, but unless we push ourselves to do it, we eliminate our chances of capturing some of the very best light of the day. For this photographer, the fast moving minutes that proceed a sunrise can be the magic moments of our lives. Just minutes before the sun shows it face for another day, it shares its' most intimate of light. While the wind has not yet begun to blow, and while the clouds still hold onto a bit of moisture, some of the most amazing scenes unfold to those of us on sight and prepared to make lasting memories.
          Today we have some wonderful cameras that permit us to shoot images in very low light with truly incredible results. My Canon 5D Mk II is always along on these earliest of morning shoots. Even at 1600 iso, my images are clean and noise free. What little digital noise  may be present can easily be removed with a bit of software noise reduction. I am rarely disappointed with the final images.
         The goal for me is to capture the image and reproduce it as I saw it in the moment. Exposure is critical to accomplish this goal. With the use of today's technology, we can quickly check our exposures with the onboard histogram of our cameras. It leaves little excuse for any of us to miss the correct setting for a perfect exposure. The soft glowing colors of the morning light demand that we get the exposures correct "in camera", rather than relying on software to make correction later. If you want the image to appear as you witnessed it, then make sure the exposure is correct.
         Finally, do not leave the tripod at home.  YOU NEED YOUR TRIPOD !  No excuses. And, don't forget to throw your cable release in the bag as well. These kinds of images require that we use proper technique. It only takes a few seconds longer to get it right. Happy shooting.