Masterclass :: Wildlife Photography

Assignment: Inspiring Vision

“Photograph wildlife with the aim of inspiring others to share your love of living creatures in the wild.  Use every trick in the book to provide an insight into behavior and to create the most stunning image you can: amazing lighting, dynamic colors, and careful framing.”

— from Digital Photography Masterclass by Tom Ang

Results

Free, American Bald Eagle in Flight

Free, American Bald Eagle in Flight

As a Chicago-based fine art landscape and architectural photographer, I’m used to photographing things that stand still, or at most move no more quickly than the sun or the clouds.  I’m accustomed to having time to think, to visualize the composition, to move around and look for the best light and shadow to realize an image.

So an outing on a cold February Saturday to Lock and Dam No. 14 on the west bank of the Mississippi River near Le Claire, Iowa to photograph eagles in flight was very different from my usual routine.  But hey, shouldn’t everyone have a few eagles in their portfolio?

There was even a guy with a fish slingshot made of 1/2 inch iron pipe and bungee cords to fling bait out in the river to attract the eagles.

My daughter Helena came along on the trip, and she aimed our huge rented 300mm auto-focus lens to track the soaring birds as proficiently as Tom Cruise in the movie Top Gun lining up a Russian fighter jet.

As they say in the Visa commercials …

  • Tank of gas for round trip Naperville, IL to  Le Claire, IA:  $25.00
  • Weekend Rental fee for 300 mm Nikkor Auto-Focus Lens:  $60.00
  • Time with my precious daughter Helena:  Priceless

Tips for Photographing Birds in Flight

  • Shoot RAW format if possible
  • Set to MATRIX EXPOSURE METERING
  • Set to SHUTTER PRIORITY mode, 1/1000th is ideal for flying birds
  • Set to CONTINUOUS AUTO FOCUS
  • Set to AUTO FOCUS AREA / MULTI POINT FOCUS TRACKING
  • Set to CONTINUOUS SHUTTER RELEASE MODE
  • Adjust EXPOSURE COMPENSATION as needed after viewing LCD Histogram

Once your camera is set up correctly, it’s your physical shooting technique that makes the great shots. Channel Tom Cruise!

Masterclass :: Key Camera Controls

Assignment: City Lights

“Find a location that offers a variety of colored lights, such as street furniture, shops, restaurants, and offices.  Choose somewhere safe to walk around so that you can concentrate on capturing the brilliance of city lights.”

— from Digital Photography Masterclass by Tom Ang

Results

Open

For this assignment, my goal was to take photos in the “magic evening hour” (the hour before sunset), and in the dark of night, in a city environment, and notice the effect of varying camera settings, exposures, perspectives, and viewpoints.

I almost talked myself out of venturing into “bustling downtown Naperville” on a soggy January Saturday night, initially not too hopeful due to the uninteresting gray sky light just before sunset.  However, as darkness ensued, I began to “see the light” (pun intended) and the benefits of the dark.

Darkness (and the right ISO and aperture settings) allowed for longer exposures, allowing blurring, zooming, seeing light where it is hidden.

Darkness focused the eye on what light there was, allowing seeing things not noticed before in daylight.

Darkness and wet pavements created backlit landscapes where the sun could not.

Darkness allowed underexposing and darkening out the parts of the frame I did not want to record, to emphasize the parts I did.

Below are 8 more images that show some of these concepts.  Enjoy, especially the last one of ducks whose meditation is being interfered with by a crazy night-wandering photographer!

Keep the Lights On

Keep the Lights On

Naperville Night Mural

Naperville Night Mural

Star Stores

Naperville Night Abstract

Line Up

Line Up

Brick Texture

Brick Texture

Glamour Sticks

Glamour Sticks

Meditating Duck

Meditating Ducks

Keeping my word to myself, continuing these Masterclass assignments — even if it looks like the weather is not up to my “expectations” —  is bringing me lots of unexpected FUN!  And with the miraculous warm weather (46 degrees) to keep my fingers from freezing,  and the shimmering wet pavements and puddles to bring out reflections — it’s as if the universe is conspiring to make me HAPPY!  Who knew?

Masterclass :: Exposure Control

Assignment: Still Life

“Using as few or as many light sources as you wish, create an atmospheric still life.  Experiment with the arrangement of every element in the composition, from the objects themselves to the background and foreground, until you find the best picture possible.  Control the lighting and shade meticulously so that no manipulation of tone, color, or object is later needed.  Try various exposure settings to learn the effect on tonality of varying the placement of  midtones.”

— from Digital Photography Masterclass by Tom Ang

Result

Here is my best photo from the shoot, using careful arrangement of the orange, lemon, tomatoes, and plant leaves.  I chose diffuse side lighting, shot at a 100mm focal length from about 3 feet away, fairly level with the subject.  There is no manipulation of  tone or color.

Commentary / Learnings

For this assignment from Tutorial 2 :: Mastering Your Camera :: Exposure Control, I took photos in our home of an arrangement of a sliced orange, a sliced lemon, and some cherry tomatoes, with a background of green plant leaves.  Some observations that may help you in doing this assignment:

  • Composition – I experimented with other objects and arrangements, including adding an apple and two colors of grapes on a teal plate, adding a glass of water and a vase of flowers, using my wife’s scarves draped about the plate and background —  but this made the frame larger and the background more difficult to control.   It also seemed more cluttered.  Simpler is better.
  • Viewpoint – I varied the viewpoints by using lens lengths from 18mm to 200 mm, and by shooting level with the fruit as well as from about 18″ higher.  The chosen viewpoint makes the viewer feel intimate with the fruit, but not too!
  • Lighting – Varying the light had the most dramatic effect.  In direct sunlight, lit from the side, highlights and shadows were much more pronounced.  The exposure range made it difficult to avoid blowing out the highlights and yet still not go to complete black in the shadows.  This soft lighting gave the fruit the sensuous look I was after.
  • Camera Setup – All shots were from a tripod.  This allows you to take a shot, view it in the LCD monitor of the camera, evaluate the objects and make small adjustments to the objects and placement within the frame, while keeping the frame and exposure constant.
  • Exposure – All exposures were manual, using spot metering, the final aperture at f/11.  You’ll want to check highlights and histogram after each shot.
  • Time –  to set up, shoot, and put away, 2 hours

Other Tips

If you’re  going to do a lot more still life photography, you’ll want to make life easier by getting set up with the following:

  • dedicate a room to it that has a direct exposure to the sun, with a light white curtain to diffuse the light.
  • have small tables or platforms that can be adjusted in height.
  • have something to create and hold different background cards or curtains.
  • have some modeling clay and toothpicks handy, which can be used to hold objects in place in the composition.
  • have at least two lights and light stands.