Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Gift of....... STOPPING

         Sadly, we live in a world that seems to be moving faster and faster. We're all in a hurry to get some where, and we seem to have little patience for waiting for anything. Our devices are getting faster, while our personal time is getting shorter. Most of us work far too much, and we play far too little. Like I said, "Sad."
        Recently, I found myself in Richmond, Va., where I spent several days exhibiting my photographs and enjoying some time with fellow artists. The morning I left for home, I awoke before dawn and decided to hit the road for home. Leaving long before sunrise, I found myself traveling south along Interstate 95, which has to be one of the busiest and most boring highways in all of America. Driving through the darkness of predawn, while listening to a local PBS radio station, I certainly wasn't thinking about doing any photography.
       That changed, however, when just before daybreak, I caught a distant glimpse of a small pond in a rural area of what appeared to be farm country. It was that hour of the morning just before dawn when the smallest hint of light begins to show itself and reveal the forms in the darkness. It's the time of the morning that grabs the attention of photographers, and it grabbed me hard.
       With no place to stop, I found the next exit and decided to attempt to find the pond I had seen a mile or two back. Like some homing pigeon, I took the first gravel road and headed back in the direction I thought the pond to be. Still more dark than light, I wound my way back into the darkness and eventually found myself at the edge of this incredible slew.
       The cold air of the morning was causing a fog to form over the waters, and as the light began to break across the pond, magic began to happen. Angles of light began to play on some trees, while leaving others in the darkness. Fall colors sprang from the leaves of Oaks and Maples, and a single solitary duck lay still in the waters just feet from me. Magic........that's the only way to explain it. Magic!
       I could have drove on that morning and made it home a couple of hours sooner. I could have talked myself out of making the extra effort. I could have considered the cold weather outside and made a different choice, but I stopped. I stopped, I captured some amazing images, and I said Thank You. I can't imagine a better way to start the day.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Hummingbird Hints

      I've had lots of folks asking me about my Hummingbird photos, and I thought I would just take a moment to share some ideas with everyone.  These are difficult subjects to capture, and I have a few little tricks that might help.
      First and foremost is to encourage everyone to put out some hummingbird feeders. Simple sugar water will do the trick nicely, but think carefully about where you place them. You want them some place with a clear view, and you want to place them near other plants. I use "attractor plants" to help me lure them into the garden. By planting bright red flowering plants in pots, you can easily move them around your garden into areas with pleasing photographic backgrounds. While these plants may not be a favorite food source for your hummingbirds, they will still act as an attractor to bring the birds into the garden, where they will quickly locate your feeders. Once you get the birds coming to the feeders, you can reposition the potted plants to areas that share the "flying space" with your hummers. Suddenly you'll discover the wonderful images you can capture, where hummers and flowers appear within the same frame.
      When shooting hummingbirds, you'll need to crank up the ISO on your camera. I suggest at least 800iso, and I often shoot in the 1600iso range. This is important, as you need to set a shutter speed of at least 1000th of a sec, and preferably even higher. Most of my hummingbird images are shot at between 1500th to 1/2500th of a sec. This will stop the action in mid-air, and produce the pleasing level of detail you need. As for focus, most of today's cameras offer excellent continuous focus mode shooting. I recommend setting the focus to your cameras tracking mode, and let the camera do its' thing. In most cases, you'll be rewarded with a high percentage of well focused images.
      I hope this helps some of you take better hummingbird shots. Nothing replaces hard work and lots of practice, so get out there and make some pictures. Good Luck.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Making Weather Conditions Work for You

      When weather conditions make it difficult to think about photography, it may just well be the time to get off of the sofa and grab your gear. Experience has taught me that some of the best photo opps can open up for us when we least think it possible. Sometimes we miss wonderful opportunities for prize winning images, by simply not getting out there and embracing the weather the day has given us.
      One of the many tricks that pros have learned is that humidity (often in the form of rain) can produce wonderfully saturated colors in our photos. Moisture has a way of bringing out rich colors in our photographs that look natural and pleasing to the eye. If you take a close look at leaves or rocks after a soaking rain, you'll notice just how saturated their color has become. This, of course, can be an asset to a nature photographer. Many of my best images are "wet images." Not only are they rich in color, but made more interesting by the water droplets that add to the overall interest of the image.
     The Bluebird image above is a classic example of how weather conditions can work on our behalf. Not only has the rain given us water droplets and enhanced our colors, but the fog that often comes after a rain, has worked to soften our background and assist in bringing our focus to the forefront of the image. Weather Works folks. Rather than fight it.......embrace it. Trust me, your images will thank you.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Old Images......New Life

        More and more I find myself searching through old images in hopes of finding something good that I may have overlooked months or even years ago. It's easy to miss something, when you shoot the huge number of images that I do each year. While I make every effort to carefully edit my images promptly after returning from a shoot, sometimes I just simply download the images to an external drive and forget about them. It's just one of those things that happens when dealing with large volumes of images.
       The image above is one of those  shots that somehow got lost in the archives, and only recently got rediscovered. It's always fun to stumble on to one of these shots and make the connection all over again. It's almost like being on location and getting the chance to reshoot the image.
       One thing that I continue to discover is just how good some of the older digital cameras were in their ability to capture wonderful images. This shot was taken with my old Canon 30D and my trusty Canon 100 - 400 L lens. This combination was my "go to" gear just a few years ago. Like so many of us, I have upgraded my equipment several times since then, but this image makes me ask the question "Why?" The old camera did a great job, and I have to say that it still does. Perhaps we all need to dust off some of the old gear and see what it can still do for us. 

Thursday, February 20, 2014

On the Wing.....

Sandhill Cranes 600mm f.5.6 @ 500th sec.
Osprey 600mm f.4 @ 750th sec.
Hummingbird 300mm f2.8 @ 1500th sec.
      Action photographs can be extremely challenging, but not impossible if you keep your wits about you and concentrate on the action before you. Whether photographing sports, race cars, air shows, or wildlife, it's technique that matters most. In this case, understanding the importance of shutter speed and how it can affect the final image.
      Most of us tend to underestimate how fast things happen. Our eyes have an amazing ability to stay with the action, regardless of its' speed. For the most part, the human eye can discern incredible detail even when an object is moving. But, of course, even the eye has its' limitations. Our cameras can help in this regard by stopping the action for a closer inspection. That is, in large part, the fascination with "stop action" photography. By freezing a moment in time, we give ourselves a chance to see what the eye may have missed, and see that moment with amazing detail.
      When shooting action subjects, it important to shoot in Shutter Priority Mode. This allows the photographer to select a specific shutter speed to match the action of the scene. The faster the shutter speed, the more chance you have of freezing your subject. However, faster shutter speeds demand more light. Fortunately, many of todays' newer cameras have the ability to produce wonderful images in very low light situation. By simply increasing the ISO setting, we can now achieve some very high shutter speeds. Most actions shots are going to demand shutter speeds in excess of 1/250 of a sec.. In fact, I often find myself shooting in the range of 1/1000 to 1/2500 of a sec. to stop the action of flying birds. Even with those speeds, not all of the images make the final cut.
      If action photography is your game, then your next camera purchase should take a serious look into the low light capabilities of the camera you're considering. As a bird photographer, the ability to shoot at ever increasing ISO's is a primary factor. Producing "clean" images at 1600 - 3200 ISO is a dream come true. Fortunately, that dream has become a reality, and the images of the future will just keep blowing our minds. What a fun time to be a photographer!

Selective Focus for Impact

 600mm lens @ f 4
300mm lens @ f2.8
      There are lots of ways to add impact to our images, but my personal favorite may well be the simplest. Shooting in Aperture Priority Mode is a great way to control backgrounds and force the viewers eye immediately to your primary subject. Opening your lens' aperture to its' widest setting will cause your photos background to go soft and concentrate the focus on the main subject of the image. For me, that generally means that my birds are going to be sharply focused, while my backgrounds are going to appear extremely soft. Nothing really earthshaking here, as portrait photographers have been using this technique since the beginning of time. While landscape shooters tend to want everything in the image in sharp focus, lots of wildlife photographers seek just the opposite.
      Your lens are going to dictate just how well you can execute this technique. Better lens have wider aperture settings, and that translates to even softer backgrounds. There's a good reason we pay more for lens with openings of 1.4 to 2.8. They focus faster, and they simply give better results. However, experiment with whatever you have in your bag, and I think you'll be surprised with the results. Happy Shooting. 

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Ask Yourself The Basic Question

     I have often been asked for advice in helping amateur photographers make the leap from hobby to professional photographer. This is a difficult one for me to answer, as my answer is not usually what people want to hear. But.....as they say, "The truth will set you free."
      Let me begin by saying that very few individuals should actually contemplate such a move. Quite frankly, the odds are stacked against you, and most will be completely shocked by the capital investment that must be made if you want to succeed. I'm not talking about cameras and lenses, as that is what most amateurs focus on in the beginning. The real expenses come from travel and exhibition fees, not to mention printing supplies. Those things alone would bring many to their senses. Even more.....it's the dedication and the time one devotes to the craft that can be daunting.
      We all tend to think we have great images that others will want to purchase. Sadly, this is not actually the case for most photographers. Often what we think is great, well, it's not "great" to the general public. That incredible image you have that makes you weep at the sight of its' beauty, might get zero reaction from the general public (the folks with the money in their wallets). My experience is that most photographers, and that includes really good photographers, haven't got a clue as to what images will succeed in the marketplace. How many times have I seen young photographers fail, not because they aren't good photographers, but because they are lousy editors. While they may have countless images in their files, they just can't seem to pick out the right images for display and sales.
      So, let's now get to the big question. Do I love this thing called photography? Do I love it so much that I can't live without it? Do I love it so much that I'm willing to take huge risks to make it happen for me? Do I love it enough to spend most of my time "working" at it? Finally, Do I love it enough to be open to failure? Passion does not always translate to success. We need to know this going into any adventure. Photography is no different.
       I love seeing individuals succeed in life. I especially love seeing artists succeed. Success is not something we are promised in life......it is something we earn through hard work, and it is often attached to a kind heart. My advice........Dream large, Work hard, and let your heart be gentle in all things. Good Luck. 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Moment of Capture
        Sometimes a click of the shutter just doesn't tell the whole story. Even with the best of gear, it's ultimately the eye of the photographer that makes or breaks a photograph. Luck rarely plays any major role in a meaningful image. Planning and persistence are far more significant than the luck of being in the right place at the right time.
        This image was taken a few days ago in a location that I have been visiting for several years. This exact spot has been a favorite of mine, and it's been a location that calls to me often. I can't begin to tell you how many sunsets I have witnessed in this precise spot. Some have been beautiful, while others have been disappointing, but all have been important in making "this" photograph. What I have learned through countless shoots have taught me lessons enabling me to make this image possible. Because of previous successes and failures, I came prepared for this image with the right lens and the knowledge needed to make this exposure. Experience does count, and practice does make perfect. Pushing yourself toward perfection can be a tough road, but the end of the road can be an incredible adventure. We all have it within us to improve and grow, and it's our personal challenge to follow our own road to success. It's time to start your journey. I wish you success. 

Monday, February 3, 2014

Shooting White...exposure issues and more
        As many photographers can tell you, it can be very difficult to get great shots, when much of your frame is filled with white or near white. Modern exposure meters in our DSLR cameras are programed to balance our exposures in a manner that tends to underexpose images like the one above. The camera's meter sees the image and immediately decides the image is too bright, and then underexposes it in a way that it thinks is going to give us a better image. However, what we end up with is an image that is often at least two full stops under what is needed to record the image as we see it in the moment of capture.
        The solution is a simple one......we need to set our exposure compensation dial for +2 stops, and we end up with the correct exposure for the scene. No great brain drain here, but something we need to remember. Of course, shooting in RAW can make this correction a simple task. If you're shooting in jpeg format, however, you'll need to keep this in mind at all times.
         With the image above, the reverse is true. The meter reads the majority of the frame as being dark and tries to lighten the image by opening the exposure by one or two stops. The result is that the whites get over exposed, or sometimes referred to as "blown out." By setting the exposure compensation dial to minus one or two stops, this type of image is once again properly exposed.
Final Thoughts:  Too many photographers are just plain sloppy with their exposures. The digital age of photography has made it far to easy to "correct things after the exposure is taken." I believe that is a huge mistake. There is just no replacement to hitting the exposure on the head with the original image. Your photos will be so much richer in so many ways if you take the time to do it right the first time. If you really want quality images, then you need to put forth the effort to nail the exposure. Don't be one of the "sloppy" photographers. We have far too many of them amongst us already.

Experimenting With Still Life
      I'm always looking for new ways to highlight my feathered friends, and lately I've been having some fun with a radio frequency remote shutter release. This is one of the toys that I've looked at for years, but only recently added to my arsenal of photographic tools. It simply enables us to capture images, while not actually sitting in front of the camera. From the comfort of my favorite leather chair, I can activate the shutter and capture images that would be nearly impossible any other way.
     My son-in-law, without knowing he was doing so, inspired me to experiment with some still life scenes. He recently had an assignment to create some still life images for his employer, and I was blown away by their beauty. That lead me to begin thinking along those same lines regarding my own work. How could I put my love for birds together with the beauty of a classic still life image.
     I ended up putting together a grouping of some antique objects that I've collected, and placed them in a setting of soft light ..........and then introduced some "bird seed." It didn't take long until I had attracted a suitable subject, which resulted in the image above. From the comfort of my (indoor) chair I clicked the shutter, and I'm now thinking about all sorts of new uses for my remote shutter release. Watch for some interesting images in the weeks to come.