Learn how to make better images using the P.H.O.T.O.S. technique

Nature photographers love to be outdoors. The fresh air along the Pacific, cool autumn breezes in New England, the crisp winter air in Yellowstone, the cobalt blue sky and wildflowers during a Colorado summer and the sound of thousands of migrating wildebeest as they roam the Serengeti grasses make our juices flow. Whether we’re with photo friends or by ourselves, the goal is to have a great time and come back with great photos. Adopt the following six aspects of P.H.O.T.O.S. to make this happen more often. I used a combination of words to benefit both wildlife and landscape photographers so it’s a win-win:

P = Panning
H = Hyperfocal Setting
O = Open Up
T = Teleconverter with a Telephoto
O = Opacity
S = Software


Panning is a creative technique used to emphasize motion blur in moving subjects. Slower than normal speeds are incorporated to create the effect. The idea is to record the head of the animal in sharp focus while the rest of the body reveals motion. The background also shows motion as the camera moves along the same plane as the running or flying subject.

Hyperfocal Setting

Hyperfocal Setting is a technique used to maximize depth of field, primarily in a landscape, used in conjunction with wide-angle lenses and small apertures. Today, focus stacking and software are more in vogue to attain maximum focus. Simply put, attain the hyperfocal setting by placing the focus point one-third into the scene when you look through your viewfinder and stop the lens down to its minimum aperture. 

Open Up

Open up your lens when you make wildlife head shots to help throw the background out of focus. Backgrounds that are distracting compete with the viewer’s attention. When a portrait of an animal is created, make the image easy to comprehend why it was made—tack sharp animal with an out-of-focus backdrop. Open up also relates to exposure compensation, which is of great magnitude when you make images of bright or dark subjects, especially when a shadowed subject appears against a bright background. Always check your histogram!

Teleconverter With A Telephoto

A teleconverter with a telephoto is included in this tip because I feel strongly against attaching a teleconverter to a zoom lens unless the zoom’s maximum aperture is f/4 or wider. An f/5.6 or slower lens suffers in three ways when a converter is attached: sharpness values are compromised, the lock on speed and focus accuracy of a moving subject is compromised and the maximum aperture is made smaller, which inhibits the ability to throw the background out of focus. Feel very comfortable attaching teleconverters to prime telephotos or to those with f/2.8 or f/4 apertures.


Opacity relates to the density of a tone or color, hence I make a connection to the word exposure. The histogram is your greatest friend, so if you don’t have an intimate relationship with it, start one. I constantly check mine. Underexposed images emphasize grain and muddiness when they’re corrected in software. Overexposed images lose texture in the highlights and aren’t recoverable.


Software knowledge is key to maximizing what can be brought out when you optimize your RAW files. My belief regarding software is to learn one or two programs inside out and know exactly how they can help optimize your photos as opposed to owning every piece of software under the sun that simply takes up space on your hard drive.

To learn more about this subject, join me on one of my photo safaris to Tanzania. Please visit www.russburdenphotography.com to get more information.

Photography is what motivates me to move through life in a positive way. Photography is ͞All About The Light͟ and it’s the first thing I seek out before I press the shutter. Optimally, I pursue great subjects in great light, but if there’s an ordinary subject in great light, I still press the shutter. I love to share the photographic knowledge I’ve accumulated and I hope my enthusiasm is contagious so I can motivate others to feel the same way I do about my photography.