Over the years that I’ve been writing the Outdoor Photographer Tip of the Week, I’ve covered myriad topics. I’ve banged out beginner tips, illustrated intermediate ideas and aided the advanced. If you’re a follower of these tips, I thank you. If you’re new to them, welcome. I usually cover a single topic and provide information accompanied by a number of photos to provide examples. I’m changing it up a bit this week by sharing three quick tips covering different subjects. Consider them a quick reference for the given subject.
Quick Tip #1—Action
Use ISO Strategically: Better image quality is attained with low ISO. But when you photograph action and the light is low, you have to raise the ISO. Run tests to determine where your tolerance for noise is maximized. Full frame sensor cameras handle higher ISOs better than crop sensors. Let the size of the enlargement dictate the ISO relative to the amount of noise that’s produced.
Purchase Fast Glass: Lenses with apertures of ƒ/2.8 / ƒ/4 allow more light to strike the sensor than variable aperture lenses that stop down to ƒ/5.6 or slower. The more the lens can absorb light, the higher the possible corresponding shutter speed. Obviously, high shutter speeds are needed to freeze the action. Remove any filter that may absorb light such as a polarizer.
Get Creative: When all else fails with regards to obtaining a fast shutter speed, go with the flow. Use a slow shutter speed to your advantage. Rather than try to freeze the action and have it look like a mistake, pan with your subject to create an artistic feel. Zoom the lens during a long exposure to give an explosive look. In other words, let the slow shutter speed work for you. “Exhaust All Possibilities.”
Quick Tip #2—Travel
Zooms for Efficiency—Weight Vs. Quality: Given the quality of today’s lenses, quality issues aren’t what they used to be. A light way to travel is with a 16-80mm and a 70-200mm. One of those lenses should have a wide aperture of ƒ/2.8 to get good results in low light. Evaluate what possible photo ops you may encounter and let that dictate the lenses you need. If you might make a few images of animals, is it worth carting around a heavy long lens? You must live with the decision, so put time and effort into deciding what to bring along.
Research: Holland is known for tulips. BUT, what if you assume they bloom all year, you randomly choose some dates and it turns out to be the worst possible time to visit the fields? The desert bloom is a spectacle to behold as is fall color. BUT, at what elevation do the trees live that determines when they change? At what latitude do they reside that determines when they change? At what time of year does the desert bloom and what dictates a good year from a bad idea? First and foremost, do research!
Flash: Travel photography most always includes making images of the people. A number of those pictures might have to be created midday—the worst possible light if it’s sunny. To tame the contrast, bring a flash to add light to the shadow areas of the face. This becomes even more important if the subject wears a hat. Even in open shade, flash can be beneficial to add a highlight to the eyes. If people photography is high on the list, be sure to pack the flash.
Quick Tip #3—Natural Light Portraits
Bright Overcast: Great portrait light occurs on bright overcast days. The light mimics the wrap-around effect of a studio strobe enclosed in a softbox. The contrast is soft, which makes it easy to produce an evenly and well-lit portrait. If you encounter bright overcast conditions, take full advantage.
Look For Open Shade: If the sun shines bright, look for an overhang, a large tree, the side of a building or anything else that provides soft even shadows. The effect will be the same as if it’s bright overcast. Be aware of specular highlights that may appear in the background. The viewer’s eye will be drawn to the bright areas instead of the person’s face. Bright areas are very distracting.
Modify the Light: Flash can be used to tame contrasty light. It illuminates the darker parts of the subject’s face, which in turn helps reduce bright highlights. The end result is a more evenly lit photo. A reflector can also be used to create the same contrast-reducing effect as a flash, but using a reflector when traveling is a bit unwieldy. Finally, a large diffuser can be held over the subject to provide soft even light for a tight headshot. It’s best to work with an assistant if you use a reflector or diffuser.
Visit www.russburdenphotography.com for information about his nature photography tours and safari to Tanzania.