Since cloudy or severe clear-blue-sky days are more the norm where I live in Colorado, I welcome days of fog, mood, haunting skies and drama with open arms, even if I’m making wildlife photos. For what I call Wildlife in the Environment shots—images made with wide angles that show the animal in its habitat—mood adds a mysterious quality and allows them to stand apart from photos made under “ordinary” conditions. It’s with this in mind I devote this week’s Tip of the Week to wildlife photos that resonate mood.
The Headshot vs. the Environmental Shot
Wildlife photographs that exude mood most often depict the subject in its entirety. It’s tough to express mood in a headshot. Great full-frame portraits made at early and late light bathe subjects in golden light. Expression in the eyes is of great magnitude, especially when the animal’s eyes make a solid connection with the viewer. But the moody wildlife shot needs to show some part of the landscape to reveal atmospherics. This is much easier to accomplish when a full body shot or wider is made. Don’t be afraid to include a lot of the landscape at the time of capture. It’s best to have that option when you edit your files after the shoot. It’s with this in mind, I encourage you to capture your RAW files at various wide focal lengths and make your final decision as to which one works the strongest when you get home.
Show the Weather
If it’s snowing, make photos using varying shutter speeds so the moving flakes take on different moods. Do the same if there’s a light rain. Will the drops or snowflakes look better if they’re frozen or if they streak? If fog is prominent, show it off. Be careful of your exposure if it’s backlit. Prevent blowing out delicate highlights by monitoring your histogram. Shadow detail can be recovered in post-processing, but if highlights are blown out, detail is void. When in doubt, err on the side of underexposure and continue to view the histogram. Noise, if not too excessive, can always be reduced. If there’s color in the sky, be sure to include it in your composition. If it’s convenient and practical, use a grad filter to tone it down. Always monitor the red channel at sunrise and sunset. Warm tone hues clip much faster. The luminosity channel averages the RGB channels together. If the sky is vibrant orange, red and yellow, the red channel will prove most accurate. Be careful to protect your camera gear and front element against the conditions. Water and electronics aren’t compatible. Keep your gear covered so rain or snow can’t get into sensitive areas, and be cognizant of any water that falls on the front element that needs to be wiped off.
Include What’s Necessary
In regard to composition, Exhaust All Possibilities: Make at least four photos of every scene—a vertical in tight, a vertical shot wide, a horizontal in tight and a horizontal shot wide. Doing so allows you to capture just the animal with the mood or the entire scenic with the animal and the mood. It’s best to have all options to cover all bases. If your zoom has enough range, make a very wide and telephoto capture to further broaden your possibilities. Use the rule of thirds to place the wildlife subject and then balance the rest of the composition with elements that enhance it. Don’t overlook reflections since fog often appears when the air doesn’t move. If there’s a still body of water, a puddle, or another reflective surface, be sure to include it in the frame.
Visit www.russburdenphotography.com for information about his nature photography tours and safari to Tanzania.