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Ask The Pros!

The Saber at sunrise, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. Patience is your best tool when dealing with light and the environment. Waiting for just the right conditions can pay off big time.

OP online readers were asked for the questions they wanted answered the most, and here are the answers, direct from OP contributing photographers.

The Community section of OP on the web is an interactive area for readers, photographers and the OP editors to compare thoughts and ideas on photography, with topics like gear, wildlife, software, great photography spots and more. Recently, we opened a discussion there for our readers to send in their most pressing and unanswered questions, which we then submitted to some of the world’s most famous professional nature photographers. From digital cameras to the best lenses to the aesthetics of nature photography to how these pros got their start in the first place, we received countless amazing submissions, and here we compile some of the best. Be sure to visit the forum to discuss the answers and to submit even more questions for future articles!

Q. I’d like to know how or if there are ways that a great sunrise, sunset, morning fog and other sought-after conditions can be predicted with any degree of accuracy. I’d love to have a list of things to look for in the morning, during the day and in the evening that might be indicators of a good photo opportunity on the horizon.
—Paul Stewart

A. Paul,
There’s no foolproof method of predicting when great light will occur, but there are clues if you pay attention. Colorful light at sunrise and sunset occurs when the air is clear and clean. Air molecules scatter the blue light out of the beam of sunlight, leaving the warmer tones to continue straight ahead and illuminate your subject. Haze, humidity and dust scatter all wavelengths equally, reducing or eliminating the selective sorting of wavelengths that leads to great light. One quick test of air clarity is to extend your arm and place your thumb over the sun. If the sky is fairly blue right up to your thumb, the air is clear; if a blazing white patch of sky surrounds the sun, the day is less promising.

ask the pros
This rattlesnake image has a fresh perspective. A web search revealed that most images of rattlesnakes are of them rearing or coiled up. To me, this shot has great light, composition and clarity, but then takes it a step further by showing a unique perspective.

Storms usually wash dust and haze out of the air for a day or two, which is one reason shooting right after a major storm is often rewarding. Clouds, of course, can block sunrise or sunset light no matter how clear the air, but they also add interest to otherwise bland skies. For that reason, clouds reduce the chances of getting a shot, but increase the chances that if you do get a shot, it will be a good one. One final piece of advice: You never know what’s going to happen until it happens, so you just have to go and find out.
—Glenn Randall

Q. As a professional, you’ve built up quite a collection of amazing photographs. What are the most important elements you look for when sorting through images in order to choose your favorites? For instance, how would you select which ones to enter into competition?
—Matt Angiono

I have three words that I always keep in mind when editing images: composition, clarity and light. With composition, I’m looking to create an interesting composure of the scene unfolding before me. I look for anything in the image that doesn’t have importance to the image’s theme. If there’s anything that detracts from the photo, it’s sent to the trash. Clarity has two definitions for me. Is the image as tack-sharp where it should be, usually the subject? And, does the image communicate a clear meaning to the viewer? Will they understand what I wanted to achieve with the image I’m presenting to them? Finally, light isn’t necessarily the drama of the light in an image, but rather if I used the available or artificial light in the photo to best illustrate my subject and give the viewer something more.

As for entering competitions, images need to contain everything I just mentioned, and then they need a little bit more. Anytime that I enter a competition, I look at the winning images of the previous years. Then I pick images that I’ve shot that take it one step further—a more interesting composition, different perspective, super-dramatic color or light, or something that I haven’t ever witnessed.
—Jay Goodrich


The crisp detail of this Australian rock art panel approaches or surpasses 35mm though shot with a digital camera.

Q. I have both digital SLRs and film SLRs. Which is the best for scenery photos with pro lenses?
—Dennis Ternent

A. Dennis,
It sounds to me like you could go either way on this question, so I’m going to guess you don’t have a strong love for the “look” of film. Some people just like film better, and I admit to liking it quite a lot, too. Having said that, I’m now an avid digital photographer. Detail, which is important to most landscape photographers, is excellent in most high-megapixel digital cameras. The other advantages of digital? Never running out of film in the field, using high ISO, HDR, no developing and scanning costs, managing focus and always knowing you have a correct exposure in the field, just to name a few.

A final big advantage to digital image-making for landscapes is what can be done in the digital darkroom. With Adobe Lightroom, photographers have more control than ever before over the finished product and can make excellent prints quickly and easily. When I worked only with film, it might have taken me months to introduce a new image to my retail gallery. With Lightroom, I can make prints and sell them on the same day the image is shot. The future of landscape photography is with digital imaging, and I think it will be a great one.
—Tom Till

Q. How can I become a wildlife photographer?
—Autumn Kuhn

A. Autumn,
First, give yourself time to become good. Slow and easy wins the race. Next, be very observant. While not totally accurate and often staged, wildlife documentaries can provide great insight into the way critters react to people and cameras. Look at the light and how it changes the way a critter comes across on film. Lastly, hook up with biologists. I’ve made no secret that the success I’ve enjoyed for the last 30 years comes from all the knowledge biologists have shared with me.
—Moose Peterson

Q. I am considering upgrading my Nikon D80 (which is a great camera) to the Nikon D700 because it is an FX format. If I want to advance my skills and produce the best possible images (keeping in mind I am still an amateur), which format would you recommend? (Money is somewhat of a consideration.)
—Dick Karch

A. Dick,
If you are happy with your D80, you need to ask yourself why get a D700. The so-called full-frame sensor has become this odd goal for photographers, yet most photographers will never see a difference in image quality. The full 35mm-size sensor does offer advantages in better high-ISO performance and the ability to use fast wide-angle lenses at their normal angle of view. However, for standard nature photography shot at normal ISOs, you would be hard pressed to see any difference on prints less than 16×24 inches.

The APS-C-sized sensors today are excellent. They also have some big benefits. You get a smaller camera and a magnification factor for lenses, which will get you more power from smaller, less expensive lenses. The D300 is less expensive than your D700 choice, would be less weight to carry on your shoulder and back, would act like your D80, would give you outstanding image quality and would upgrade your camera to the latest technologies.
—Rob Sheppard

Q. I have both digital SLRs and film SLRs. Which is the best for scenery photos with pro lenses?
—Dennis Ternent

A. Dennis,
It sounds to me like you could go either way on this question, so I’m going to guess you don’t have a strong love for the “look” of film. Some people just like film better, and I admit to liking it quite a lot, too. Having said that, I’m now an avid digital photographer. Detail, which is important to most landscape photographers, is excellent in most high-megapixel digital cameras. The other advantages of digital? Never running out of film in the field, using high ISO, HDR, no developing and scanning costs, managing focus and always knowing you have a correct exposure in the field, just to name a few.

A final big advantage to digital image-making for landscapes is what can be done in the digital darkroom. With Adobe Lightroom, photographers have more control than ever before over the finished product and can make excellent prints quickly and easily. When I worked only with film, it might have taken me months to introduce a new image to my retail gallery. With Lightroom, I can make prints and sell them on the same day the image is shot. The future of landscape photography is with digital imaging, and I think it will be a great one.
—Tom Till

Salvia flowers separated from the background with a flash.

Q. I’ve been attempting to do detailed photos of bugs and blooms, but I’m having problems with the thin depth of field. Would pulling back create deeper depth of field? What do you recommend for these shots?
—Arthur Raynolds

A. Arthur,
This is definitely a challenge for everyone. No matter what you do, depth of field decreases as you get closer to the subject. That doesn’t mean you should back up, though. Yes, depth of field would be greater, but you’d also have to crop your photo to see the subject better, and depth of field would drop again. Depth of field also declines when you make an image bigger, which cropping is doing. Plus, cropping can affect image quality because of noise issues and because you’re using less of your original image.

A few things you might try: First, become conscious of the plane of your camera. Look carefully at many close-ups by pros, and you’ll notice that the subject is parallel to the camera. Often by tilting the camera slightly, you can get more in focus because you’re tilting the plane of focus as you tilt the camera in order to better match the subject angle. Also, a flash up close allows you to shoot at small apertures or ƒ-stops to get the maximum depth of field possible. In addition, flash essentially eliminates camera movement during exposure, so sharpness is enhanced. Another answer is a specialized technique that only works if the subject isn’t moving. You shoot from a tripod and change focus of the subject from front to back as you take multiple photos. Then bring the group of images into the computer. Photoshop CS4 and Helicon Focus are two programs that allow you to extend focus in depth by combining all the sharp parts of your series of photos into one image.
—Rob Sheppard

This image of Niagara Falls was 26.59 MB as a CRW RAW file. When the file was opened, it expanded to 60.2 MB. The file was sized to 7×4.7 inches for this article, which made it 8.41 MB, and then compressed as a JPEG to 540.5 K using a quality setting of 8 to send over the Internet. You never know what size a file will need to be, so shoot with the largest setting at either RAW or JPEG.

Q. I’m shooting JPEGs with my 50D that are larger than 4 MB. How can I reduce size without compromising quality?

A. Kay,
You can choose a smaller JPEG capture size from the camera’s menu, but you’ll compromise the quality. Beyond this, the answer depends on how you want to use your files. If you want to make large prints, you want the largest file size possible so you should shoot in RAW or at the highest-quality JPEG your camera allows. If you want to maintain a high-quality file at a smaller size for sending or viewing over the Internet, bring your image into processing software such as Adobe Photoshop or Elements and compress it to a smaller JPEG after optimizing it. (I’d still save the master file at the initial capture size.) If your reason for wanting a smaller file is due to limited storage space, I’d opt for buying more storage rather than downsizing the files. I just purchased a 1.5 terabyte external drive for $109.
—George Lepp

Q. What would be a good, all-purpose gear setup for an amateur photographer on a budget?
—Steven Latulipe

A. Steven,
Budget means different things to different people. I think the best way to approach this is to have a very clear idea of how much money you’re willing to spend and that will help answer the question. Buy the best equipment you can afford—one D-SLR camera body (it doesn’t matter—Canon, Nikon, Pentax, Sony), one wide-angle zoom that gets you down to at least 28mm, one telephoto zoom that takes you to at least 200mm. A sturdy tripod with ballhead, a polarizing filter and memory cards. Photography today usually means computer equipment as well, most importantly the software and computer system you use to open and work with the images. I use Photoshop CS4, but it’s an expensive program. Photoshop Elements, Adobe Lightroom or Apple’s Aperture all are good options. You’ll have to invest some time to research these choices to see what might be best for your needs and budget.
—Daryl Benson

Q. Which do pros prefer, Canon or Nikon? Which is more common in the professional world of photography?

A. Ryan,
The easy answer is, of course, yes! Pros do prefer Canon and NikonÖand a few shoot Olympus and Sony, too. Truthfully, a pro could shoot with any major brand today. The reason for any preference has little to do with quality, but a lot to do with comfort with the gear and system needs. Pros who have been shooting a long time usually started with a brand years ago and are comfortable with it. Plus, it’s very expensive to switch brands. Both Canon and Nikon have a full range of cameras, lenses, flash and other accessories to make a pro’s work easier. Olympus also has been hard at work creating a complete system with that same range of gear, plus Sony is striving to do that, too.

I have shot with all of these brands, and the images all look good. My preferences are based on how the gear fits my unique needs as a photographer. I happen to like Olympus for travel because of the system’s size (and I do a lot of travel). I also like it for close-ups because of the tilting live LCD of the E-3. I still have and use a Canon system for when I need lower noise at higher ISO settings and for specific focal-length needs (such as a fast 85mm lens), but I could easily be satisfied with Nikon, as well.
—Rob Sheppard

Q.What would you say is the best type of camera for wildlife photography? Digital or film, and what brand?
—Elizabeth Pletzer

A. Elizabeth,
Brand is really not important, but the person behind the camera is. No secret, I’m a Nikon shooter, and the D3 with its buffer upgrade is the best machine for wildlife photography in my honest opinion. All cameras have bells and whistles, which are really easy to get lost in. Focus on the solid basics: weight, AF, speed in low-light situations, frames per second and write times, and you’ll be good to go!
—Moose Peterson

Q. What way would you start to promote your photos?
—Lucy VanSwearingen

A. Lucy,
The first things to consider are to whom you want to promote your images: local galleries and shops, specific interest groups (such as conservation organizations, bird enthusiasts or residents of a specific area), interior decorators, mainstream media, advertising agencies, etc., and what products you plan to offer (e.g., stock images, fine prints, illustrated articles or workshops). Knowing your target audience will help guide your marketing strategy, pricing and other business decisions. In all cases, maintaining a professional attitude is essential to success. Establish a business brand, register your business with the appropriate agencies in your area, print business cards, etc. These days, a professional-looking website also is a critical marketing tool and a great way to present your portfolio. You can start building your resume by submitting images and articles to local and national publications, exhibiting your work in local galleries, coffee shops, restaurants, or other venues in your area, or contacting local businesses that may be interested in using your work to decorate offices, brochures, etc.
—Guy Tal

Q. How do you get inspired to create unique images when there are so many locations that have been photographed so many times in so many conditions?

A. Dave,
One answer is to look harder. During a fall trip one year in Colorado’s San Juan Mountains, I stopped at a pullout along Red Mountain Pass, a paved road popular with leaf-peepers. The view down the valley was stunning, but the foreground leaves were poor. I was about to leave without shooting when I looked up the slope to my left, and saw a beautiful grove of reddish aspen just 300 yards away that would make a great foreground for the classic view down the valley. I returned the next morning to shoot in better light and watched with amusement as car after car of photographers stopped at the pullout, glanced down the valley and left without making a single capture.

Another answer is simply to go where other photographers don’t. Often that means flexing more boot leather. Put more than two miles between you and the nearest parking lot, and the number of serious photographers drops off by 95 percent. Roads weren’t built for the convenience of photographers, and there are many great locations that require a little sweat. Or go when it’s frosty outside. Gear up for the cold, then learn to deal with it. Or do both. I recently did my second multiday winter shoot at the famed Maroon Bells. In summer and fall, when you can drive the access road, there can be 100 photographers lined up on the shore of Maroon Lake. In winter, the road is closed by snow six miles below the lake, so I threw my winter camping and camera gear in a mountaineering sled and hauled it like Scott of the Antarctic up to the lake. My reward? I had one of the most magnificent locations in North America entirely to myself.
—Glenn Randall

A. Dave,
You answered your own question. I try to create unique images, and for me a given location provides a set of graphic elements, not a scenic opportunity. I often draw what I hope to shoot on the trip while still in my living room, but once I arrive, I always discover unimagined opportunities. The key is to look for compositions, not to merely document scenery. A good photographer could shoot a book in Yosemite Valley without ever capturing an image of a cliff or a waterfall.
—Art Wolfe

Startled by the sudden appearance of a gray wolf, a caribou herd instinctively reacts. By using a polarizer to slow shutter speed, Wolfe was able to capture a kinetic response in a still frame.

Q. I’m an old-school film guy, and I’ve just switched to digital. I can’t seem to get a good longtime blur shot with my digital camera. Do I need to use a filter? If so, what types of filters do you recommend?
—Charlie Smith

A. Charlie,
There really isn’t any difference between digital and film so far as I know when it comes to slower shutter speeds, until you get past a minute or so. Try these steps to get a good blur.

First, use the slowest ISO and the smallest aperture, e.g., ISO 50 and ƒ/16. Shoot on a cloudy day or when the water is in shadow. A polarizer cuts between one and two stops while tamping down glare. This should allow you to get the effect you want.
—Art Wolfe

Q. I have a Nikon D40. The lenses that came with it are kit lenses and are very serviceable, but I would like to get a little closer to my subjects (birds, wildlife). Should I be looking at a 70 to 300 mm? Or is the new Tamron 18-270mm lens a better choice?
—Linda Gibas

A. Linda,
Most modern lenses are of excellent quality. Still, as a general rule of thumb (with some exceptions), the larger the zoom range, the more compromises need to be made in the optical design. These compromises can manifest themselves in reduced resolution, increased distortion, flare, chromatic aberrations and other factors that may decrease image quality. Your decision should balance the comfort and flexibility of the larger zoom range against the higher image quality generally associated with the shorter range.

Since you mention a desire to photograph birds and wildlife, you also may want to consider other elements that will contribute to your success. Features such as large maximum aperture, focus speed or image stabilization (vibration reduction) should be factored, as well as a sturdy tripod and a good flash unit. At 300mm, you’ll still need to get fairly close to smaller animals and birds to fill your frame. If wildlife is a primary goal and exotic telephoto lenses are not in your budget, you may want to consider options like the Sigma 50-500 EX DG HSM or 150-500 DG OS HSM, or the Tamron SP AF 200-500, all of which will give you significantly more reach and can be found at around $1,000 or less.
—Guy Tal

I was able to exaggerate the blue cast in this dusk photograph of a Bamboo forest by selecting the tungsten mode (3200K), in the white balance control on my camera. Before digital this would have been done by putting an 80A blue filter in front of the lens.

Q. I will soon be upgrading in the D-SLR market again but still have a Nikon F3 from my early student years with plenty of filters. I know that many of the D-SLRs have “built-in” filters, but I would think good quality filters are more desirable. Are there any real differences in the new digital filters vs. my SLR filters? And if so, do they all need to be replaced or only specific types like a polarizer?
—Kathleen LaFollett

A. Kathleen,
I used to carry about 40 different filters with me when I shot film (most of those were graduated filters of various densities, transition rates and colors). I now carry only three filters: 1) regular circular polarizing filter, 2) Singh-Ray Gold-N-Blue color polarizing filter, and 3) Singh-Ray variable neutral-density filter. The effects of these three filters are difficult, if not impossible, to replicate digitally. Traditional filters, no matter how good their quality, are crude tools. They must be put in front of the lens and usually apply their effect indiscriminately to the entire scene. Digital filters offer much more control without the extra expense or weight. I now use bracketed exposures instead of graduated filters to balance bright areas of a scene with darker ones in Photoshop. Instead of using traditional warming or cooling color filters, I now use either the white-balance settings on my camera or the color-temperature control in the software I open the digital files with (Adobe Camera Raw) to selectively apply color to a scene.
—Daryl Benson

Q. I am just starting out with selling my photos and am wondering about ways other than my website to get my photos viewed and sold?
—Joseph Christy

A. Joseph,
I’d suggest starting with magazines, as they are the best way to get your images seen by huge numbers of people—and drive people to your website. When I was starting out, one of my very first submissions actually was to Outdoor Photographer. I submitted a few landscape images along with an article about a local area and they published it a few months later. Getting published in a magazine is one of the best forms of marketing—and you get paid for it, as well. Many photo editors also will allow you to include your website address in the photo credit which is another great way to drive potential clients and those interested in your work to your website.
—Michael Clark

To fit the contrast range in the scene (which the human eye can see, but my camera’s sensor can’t cover in a single exposure), I needed to combine two exposures. I then proceeded to clone two offending white branches that distracted from the composition.

Q. It seems more and more lately that digital manipulation is the answer for a good photograph. I understand that a certain amount of processing must be done, but where’s the line drawn?
—Warren LaFever

A. Warren,
The answer is: It depends. Let me first address your initial statement. While it may seem that such manipulations are a recent trend, in fact, they’re not. Techniques such as cloning, contrast adjustments, even exposure blending, have been around for almost as long as photography itself. There’s also no good way to define the proverbial line. The amount of acceptable processing depends on characteristics of each individual image and on its intended use, whether journalistic or expressive.

To put your mind at ease, manipulation is never really a substitute for vision and good field technique. It takes a skillful hand to apply just enough processing for the image to be successful. Go too far, and you’ll likely offend your viewers’ sensibilities. Computer engineers use the term “GIGO” (garbage in, garbage out), which also applies in photography—no amount of processing can make a bad image good.
—Guy Tal

Q. What is the best piece of advice you can give out?

A. Take the time to become thoroughly skilled in the operation of both your photographic and image-editing equipment. By knowing the full range of their capabilities, you’ll be able to previsualize the possibilities inherent in any photographic situation. In the age of digital, capture and processing are completely interrelated. What you can do in the digital darkroom should be in your mind when you plan your shot. Ansel Adams said it like this: ìThe negative [the digital capture] is comparable to the composer’s score, and the print to its performance.î With a full complement of skills, you’ll have much greater freedom to apply your creative vision.
—George Lepp

Q. Is photography as fun as people say it is?

A. Katrina,
Absolutely! I get to travel to some of the most breathtaking places the world has to offer and see and capture images of extraordinary wildlife, landscapes and plants. The travels create tall tales that can be told to anyone willing to listen in any bar in any part of the world. I get to meet people from all walks of life and interact with them about a common passion that many people never get to feel, and I get to witness what Mother Nature provides every morning and every evening. With that said, there’s an incredible amount of work involved in becoming a professional photographer, and even more to stay in the eyes of your clients. However, if photography is what you truly love to do, then it’s not really work at all. It’s like waking up as a kid, and getting ready to go out and play with your friends—every day for the rest of your life.
—Jay Goodrich

Q. I was wondering if you knew of anything to protect my Canon Rebel XSi while outside in a storm from rain and maybe dirt or hail? Is there anything that would provide me flexibility and wouldn’t get in the way too much? Thanks!
—Nathan Edmiston

A. Nathan,
If you’re trying to shoot in heavy-rain conditions, only an underwater housing could really protect the camera sufficiently. There’s still going to be rainwater on the housing in front of your lens causing distortion, so I don’t know how well this would work. My strategy is simple, put the camera in my weatherproof backpack and wait it out. For intermittent showers, I carry a couple of motel shower caps that I quickly put on the lens to protect it. Exposing a camera to hail and a lot of blowing dirt is just not a good idea. My Canon EOS Mark III has a very tight construction to prevent water and dirt from entering. If shooting in this type of weather is important to you, you might consider one of those bodies.
—Tom Till

Q. I am off to Mt. Rushmore and Yellowstone this fall! Which two lenses would be best?
—Arthur Sullivan

A. Arthur,
Twenty years ago, I heard well-respected pro Boyd Norton answer a similar question. “If you can only carry three lenses” he said, “go for impact. Bring a 16mm fisheye, a 500mm telephoto and a 50mm macro.” Fast-forward through 20 years of zoom-lens improvements, and my answer is slightly different. I’d bring my Canon 16-35mm ƒ/2.8L II, my Canon 70-200mm ƒ/4L IS and my Canon 50mm ƒ/2.5 compact macro. If forced to drop one, I’d reluctantly lose the 50mm macro, although it weighs only 10 ounces. Bear in mind I’m primarily a landscape shooter, and my lens choices reflect that fact. Photographing Yellowstone’s abundant wildlife probably will call for the longest telephoto you own. At Mt. Rushmore, you’ll probably put a variety of focal lengths to work: wider lenses for establishing shots, longer lenses for details.
—Glenn Randall

The view out of the tent from 20,000 feet on Aconcagua in Argentina. The temperature was -35° F and didn’t seem to hinder the camera at all.

Q. I’m looking for information or recomendations on cameras and equipment that can handle below-freezing or below-zero temperatures.
—James Chilcote

A. James,
In my experience shooting ice climbing, skiing and mountaineering in frigid conditions, all the way down to -40° F, I’ve found that modern digital SLRs do quite well, especially the pro models. When the temps are above 0º F, you’ll have no problems with most D-SLRs, save for the batteries not lasting as long as normal. Keep a spare battery with you in a warm pocket and trade them out every half-hour or so. The main problems you’ll run into below 0° F are keeping the batteries warm and the LCD from freezing, which can happen.

To overcome these issues, I usually tape a chemical hand warmer over the battery compartment—either on the bottom of the camera or on the grip. I try to keep it as far away from the back of the camera as possible since heat will increase the amount of noise produced by your imaging sensor. In super-cold environments (e.g., -20º and below), this is less of a concern. To keep the LCD from freezing, I occasionally warm it up by holding a hand warmer on the LCD. I don’t tape it onto the LCD because it would start to heat up the CMOS or CCD sensor. I’d also suggest going with one of the top-tier cameras from any manufacturer because they have better weather sealing, which should help in the cold.
—Michael Clark

Q. What would be the downside of using stacked circular polarizers for a poor man’s variable neutral-density filter? To my eye, it looks like it would work great! Any thoughts before I invest?
—George N. Koerber

A. George,
Yes, stacking the polarizers will work, but at a significant loss of clarity. The more layers of glass and coated surfaces you shoot through, the greater the degradation of the image. Whatever time and expense you’ve put into selecting a high-quality lens will be undone by this action. Your expensive lens is only as good as the glass you place in front of it. The variable neutral-density filters available today are very thin and of very high optical quality—hence, the high cost. A less expensive option is to buy two reasonably priced neutral-density filters (I suggest a 3-stop and a 5-stop) and use them one at a time. In a pinch, you could stack these two, but you’ll likely lose some quality.
—George Lepp

Q. I will be in Moab, Utah, this weekend and want to shoot the full moon rising at Delicate Arch. I have an Olympus 510 with three lenses (70-300mm is my big one). Any tips for shooting the full moon against a colorful surrounding? Thanks!
—Kelly Horne

A. Kelly,
The moon is really tricky. It’s a small object in the sky that’s usually very bright compared to the landscape. Remember that the moon is getting hit by full sunlight as bright as daylight, yet the dusk landscape, for example, is getting dark. Many of the shots you’ve seen with a large moon were done as double exposures in the days of film or with two shots in digital then merged in Photoshop. One shot is of the landscape shot normally; the moon shot is done with a telephoto lens to make the moon look big.

It’s possible to get a large moon and the landscape in one shot, but conditions have to be just right in order to do that. You have to do this when the moon is near the horizon right at sunset. Then the sun will be lighting your scene and the moon in the same way, allowing an exposure that captures both well. You also need a telephoto (300mm would be okay) to get the moon large enough to see.

It’s possible to simply get a moon in the shot. In that case, it might be a white spot because it’s so bright for the exposure. The key to this is to get the moon large enough (i.e., use the right focal length for it and the scene) and have it appear in an interesting part of the composition. The latter isn’t always easy, as the moon won’t simply move into the position where you need it! Finally, you can shoot HDR (high dynamic range). With HDR, you take several exposures, one to get the moon at the proper brightness, one to get the landscape at the proper brightness and one or more in-between. Then with a program like HDRsoft’s Photomatix or LR/Enfuse, you bring that range of exposures into one photo resulting in an image closer to what you actually saw compared to the limitations of the camera.
—Rob Sheppard

Q. What is the most important piece of gear you carry into the field?
—Joe Castillo

A. Joe,
It may seem counterintuitive, but it’s not camera gear. As a photographer working outdoors, being comfortable in whatever the elements bring my way is very important. I need to stay dry, warm or cool, and be protected from insects that can be deadly as well as annoying, and from sun that can cause cancer. The gear also has to perform in off-trail situations, and protect me from sharp rocks, thick brush and stream crossings. With that in mind, my most important gear is my clothing and boots. I think I know almost as much about foul-weather gear as I do about camera equipment, and I probably have almost as much money invested in the clothing as I do in cameras and lenses.

A unique perspective is one tool for visually communicating the wonders we’re so fortunate to witness, as you can see in this image of foliage in Vermont.

Skimping on this part of your equipment can be life threatening. It pays to research these products and spend as much as you can afford. Running a strong second as critical equipment is a tripod. I think most serious photographers are getting the message that a tripod is not a pain-in-the-neck cross to bear, but an integral part of the image-making process. Also, with the digital revolution, it’s difficult to do HDR, focus management and digital pans without one. With ballheads and the great quick-release mounts now available, using a tripod is easier than ever. Don’t fool yourself into thinking you can get great images on a regular basis without a good one.
—Tom Till

A. The thing between my ears! Successful photographers have to think, analyze and find solutions on the fly to the problems in front of the lens. Wildlife photographers have to do this not only for the photographic craft, but the biology they’re seeing, and translate all that experience in a single click to their audience. And, of course, connected to that brain has to be a heart. Passion is the key to grabbing the viewer’s heartstrings!
—Moose Peterson