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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Autumn In Alaska

Tips from the Field, Denali National Park, August 2010

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It can be pretty wet in Denali in the fall, but we photograph rain or shine! The wet tundra shows saturated colors and dazzling early-morning frosted berries and bright leaves. Although today’s pro-level bodies and lenses are well sealed, a rain hood for your photographic equipment is very helpful, and it’s important to keep from transferring moisture from your hands and clothing to your gear.

The Ready Photographer Captures The Prize
It’s such a simple idea: Be ready for the unexpected. Yet I continually see good photographers miss the “money shot” because they weren’t ready. While traveling in the bus, I kept two wildlife setups ready from the first moment. Next to me on the seat was a Canon EOS 7D with a 100-400mm lens; the combination offered a wide range of focal lengths, a 1.6x crop factor to extend that range and a fast 8 fps. The camera was set for the immediate lighting conditions and an ISO appropriate for the camera and the anticipated action—in this case, wildlife—so typically an ISO of 400 and either ƒ/5.6 for low or early light and ƒ/8 for a brighter day, which offered the luxury of stopping down slightly for additional sharpness from the lens and a bit more depth of field. The camera was set to aperture priority to give the fastest shutter speed based on the lighting and the ƒ-stop. The relatively light setup can be handheld and was ready at a moment’s notice.

At my knee, holstered in the Lowepro long-lens bag, was a Canon EOS-1D Mark IV with an EF 500mm ƒ/4L image-stabilized lens with a 1.4X tele-extender. This rig was ready for more distant subjects and even faster action with its 10 fps capture rate. The lens could be handheld or steadied on the window frame of the bus, but it was better applied when placed on a tripod outside, or atop the vehicle. This camera/lens was also preset to the proper ƒ-stop shutter speed and a slightly higher ISO of 800.

Thinking ahead counts with accessories such as memory cards, batteries and cable releases. Taking these necessities along with you in a vest or pocket can keep you in the action instead of hoofing it back and forth to your bag in the bus. Likewise, staying ready for the outdoor conditions, with rain gear and hats in place, saves time when you need to be off that bus and on the job!

The DSLR Video Component
Eight of the 10 photographers in my group carried DSLRs capable of high-def video, but most of them hadn’t used the feature and were looking forward to exploring it during the Denali workshop. On this trip, we were rewarded with some unusual wildlife behavior, and by the end of the week the group had generated a number of excellent video clips.

There’s a lot to learn when a still photographer undertakes video capture, and it’s not all about the technology; it takes a different mind-set, and I find it difficult to do both video and still photography at the same time. When you’re encountering some interesting moose bull/cow interactions, it’s hard to choose the unknown (video) over the tried and true (stills), so it really pays to practice at home before you get out in the field. But if your goal is to show the behavior, video is the better tool, and it can greatly improve your ability to convey the full story to your viewers. Two essential pieces of equipment will facilitate your success in capturing video with your DSLR: A loupe affixed to the camera’s LCD (such as the Hoodman 3.0 loupe and cinema strap or crane) will allow you to focus precisely under even the brightest lighting conditions, and a simple fluid tripod head enables you to follow action smoothly.


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