Regardless of the subject matter you photograph, it’s good to have lots of tricks in your hip pocket. Knowing they’re there is comforting. If you’re a seasoned veteran, it’s good to review the basics to keep them ingrained. If you’re a beginner, it’s good to learn and apply as many as you can comfortably absorb. The beauty about photography is learning is unending. Whether it’s reinforcing what you’ve already learned or trying out something you’ve never done, the “aha” moments never cease. Having just returned from leading one of my nature photography tours, there were three scenarios among my participants that kept repeating themselves. Hence the reason for my choice of the following three tips.
Histogram (wildlife and scenics): check your histogram often. Over the years, I’ve seen a trend develop. In that I grew up shooting slide film, it’s a bit disconcerting. Many photographers no longer worry about nailing the perfect exposure. Too many feel it can be corrected in post production. While this may be true to some extent, the more perfect the initial capture, the better the end result. If the photo is underexposed, noise appears in the shadows. If it’s overexposed, highlight detail is sacrificed. Either circumstance robs the image of its potential. The most common error I encounter among my workshop participants is they expose the image to look saturated on the LCD. Invariably, this creates an underexposed file. A simple check of the histogram shows too many pixels on the left with not enough on the right. If you are guilty basing your exposure on the LCD, I implore you to use your histogram. A digital capture is about electronic pixels. The histogram represents the math of that capture and directly reveals exposure data. While it may not “look” as good on the LCD, it provides far more information to evaluate your exposure.
Shoot for HDR (scenics): A digital sensor is capable of capturing a limited range of contrast. But by making a series of exposures where one is based on the meter reading, a second is underexposed to record highlight detail, and a third is overexposed to record shadow detail, the dynamic range can be expanded. Software such as Nik HDR Efex Pro and Photomatix synthesize the series of exposures into a single capture that reveals detail in the shadows, mid-tones and highlights. The effect can be achieved in Photoshop using layers but it’s time consuming and detailed. It’s essential the exposures are aligned so it behooves you to place the camera on a tripod and set it to auto-bracketing. This ensures the series will be in registration. Depending on the contrast range, the under and over exposed images can be either one or two stops. If the technique is new to you, create a series of five images starting with 2 stops under / 1 stop under / on the meter reading / 1 stop over / 2 stops over. As you create more and more HDR photographs, you’ll learn just what range nets the best effect.
Watch for Behavior or Interaction (wildlife): Photographing animals in the wild is a thrill. When they allow you to enter their space, providing it’s safe, it gets even better. I used to think there could be nothing more desirable than getting a frame filling photo of a wild animal. But as time went on and I captured more of these types of shots, I wanted something different - I wanted action, movement, interaction. These are the images that have more impact and drama. Images of animals simply standing in their environment are very common. To get the action shots, be patient and persistent, wait for the optimum moment the animal does something and the result will be an image with more interest. More than likely it will be fleeting so it’s essential to keep your eye glued to the viewfinder and your finger on the shutter. Yes, it’s work, but rewards come to those who work hard.
Visit www.russburdenphotography.com for information about his nature photography tours.