Friday, March 28, 2014

Spring Medly: Spring Nature Photography Tips

Spring Nature Photography

So, depending on where you live, it is either already Spring or just about to become Spring. The photographer's year restarts, flowers bloom, and suddenly even people who aren't nature photographers want to be outside. The calendar turns.

The return of warmer temperatures means that there is a flurry of animal activity happening, providing ample opportunity for even the off-season photographer to snag a few nature pics. But, let's be honest with each other - you probably aren't excited about producing the same trite images of daisies you captured when you first picked up a camera at age 12. Indeed, there is more to Spring nature photography than flower buds.

Think about the changing season.

Spring hasn't begun in earnest yet where you live? Good! A world in flux makes for interesting photographic opportunities. Here, dried winter leaves are rendered against a background of soft spring green. Strong golden backlighting brings more interest to the picture, evoking in the viewer a sense of sunrise, of the beginnings of spring.

Remember that with spring blooms come the animals that rely on them.

You didn't really think I was going to publish a post about spring without including photos of insects, right? While I love detailed macros of insect life (see my post here), spring gives an abundance of opportunity to capture insects interacting with their environments. 
Here you can see a bee sneaking nectar from the base of a flower.
There is a strong tendency in nature and macro photography to get as close as is physically possible to your subject. While this technique also produces stunning images, don't forget to add variety to your work by stepping back one in a while.
I particularly love the metallic blue of the insect against the pink flowers.
Try to incorporate contrasting colors into your photographs.

Spring is full of so many colors, it can become a bleary visual racket. If possible, make use of your color wheel and try to compose images with colors that belong to the same family. Or, be even more daring (ooh!) and combine contrasting colors to add spark to your images.

White-Lined Sphinx Moth
Here you can see how the rich purple of the flowers plays against the orange-red warning markings on the moth. This contrast makes both colors appear more vibrant to the viewer.

Ok- that's all I've got; it's your turn now! Is it spring where you live yet? What is your favorite thing to photograph in springtime?

You can read last year's post about Spring photography here.

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Friday, March 21, 2014

Let's Go to the ZOO!

Zoo Photography Tips & Tricks

As I've mentioned before on this blog, I'm a big proponent of "accessible" nature photography. I don't believe it is necessary (or sufficient) to take exotic trips to Africa or the Galapagos to produce excellent images. However, staying at home in the US means that many of us never get the chance to see impressive big mammals or fantastical birds - except, of course, when we go to the zoo.
Jacksonville Zoo, FL

I believe that zoos are important for many reasons. Firstly, they do extensive conservation and breeding work, allowing threatened and endangered species to maintain viable wild populations. For example, zoo breeding programs are responsible for saving the red wolf, a species that was driven to extinction in the wild by 1980. Captive breeding programs allowed for the species' continued existence, and the wolf is now being reintroduced today.
Additionally, zoos allow for conservation issues to be made large and tangible to the public, encouraging public support for wildlife conservation.

Okay, on to the photography.

Is it possible to get "natural" looking photographs in a zoo?

Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Different zoo setups will either help or hinder your quest if you are intent on acquiring "natural" looking images. Here are some tips:

1. Bring your telephoto lens - having a long focal length will allow you to take close portraits of the animals, excluding distracting, man-made backdrops. This is a unique opportunity to take close-up images of animals you would not likely be able to get close to in the wild.

African Stork - Jacksonville Zoo, FL

2. Arrive early - this serves two purposes. One, you will be able to catch any remaining "good" lighting (the downside of a zoo is that many of them do not open early enough for photographers!). Two, you will be able to avoid crowds and thus have access to prime shooting spots.

3. Scout your location - if you intend to visit a zoo for photography purposes, look for one with open enclosures, free-flight aviaries (where there will be no mesh between you and the birds), and enclosures with natural mixes of animals. If you only have access to one zoo, look around for the best vantage points before you start shooting.

Sloth Bear - Fort Worth Zoo, TX

So far, you are making this sound difficult. Why should I bother?

Zoos allow unparalleled access to exotic species, baby animals, and interesting behaviors. It is worth braving the crowds and sticky popcorn for! Also, there are interesting photojournalistic opportunities to be had, as zoos are one of the best places to view animals interacting with people.
Baby bongo - Jacksonville Zoo, FL
How do you feel about photographing in zoos?

Check out my photography basics guide: You can read Part 1 here.

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Thanks for reading!

Friday, March 14, 2014

Compose Yourself - Photography Basics, Part 3

Photography Basics Part 3: Composition and the Rule of Thirds

Read Part 1 and Part 2

In the previous installments of this series, we've talked about shutter speed and aperture - the foundations of a technically good photograph. However, we both know that there is more to an excellent image than high technical skill. This week, we will talk a little bit about the art of photography.

What does composition even mean?
"Composition" refers to the way elements are arranged in the frame. One of the difficulties of photography is learning to actively "see" all of the items in the frame. The brain naturally has a tendency to filter out superfluous or distracting items in the field, while you are acutely focused on your subject. It may not be until after you get home and are reviewing your shots that you realize your cousin Bob's red hat is glaringly present in the corner of each image. Learn to critically evaluate the scene as you are shooting to avoid these types of errors.

What is that "rule of thirds" thing you mentioned in the title?
The Rule of Thirds is a classic rule of art that helps organize and define what makes a particular composition pleasing, or not. The Rule is simple: divide the frame into thirds both ways, so that you have a grid. Your subject ideally should sit at any of the intersection points in the grid. Make sense?

Here is an example.

You can see that I am close but not exact in aligning the top right flower with the grid.
Here is another example:

The idea is not necessarily to be perfectly aligned with the grid (although if you are that good at geometry, more power to you), but rather to avoid plopping the subject dead center.

Why is a centered shot bad?
A "centered" composition can deaden an image, as it leaves no room for the viewer's eye to wander about the frame. The eye is automatically drawn to the center of the image, where it stays. In an off-center, or rule of thirds obliging image, the eye starts at the center and then is engaged to move around the frame by the off-center subject.

So, what you are telling me is, I should never use a centered composition?
Well, no. There are some instances in which a centered composition can produce a very dynamic image.
Fort Worth Zoo
In this example, the heads of the rhinos are centered, while their bodies act as "interest points" spanning away from the main subject. The viewer's eye fixes initially at the central point, then is drawn out to the edges of the frame, and back again into the center. The central placement of their heads visually "draws" the image together.
A center-heavy composition also emphasizes balance, symmetry, and peace. In short, there are no hard rules, although the rule of thirds is an excellent guideline, particularly for beginners.

Don't forget to read Part 1 and Part 2 of Photography Basics.
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Friday, March 7, 2014

Under a Somber Sky: Lighting Tips

The morning greeted me with a chill silence, grey and damp. Clouds blanketed the sun and the heavy humidity stuck to my skin. I shivered and zipped up my sweater.
Today would be a great day for macros.

As photographers, we worship the light, chase it, cater to it, long for it. However we must not forget the utility of cloud cover. Clouds allow for soft, diffused light that coaxes the vibrancy from flower petals and greenery. In harsh daytime light, many of the subtle colors of flowers get washed out or overwhelmed by the sheer intensity of the light. Heavy cloud cover prevents this problem, allowing for brilliant portraits. 
Of course, with the heavy clouds overhead the problem of darkness follows - it may be too dim to get the fast shutter speeds needed for sharp images of quick-moving insects or birds. Thus, I mostly stick to shooting flowers in these circumstances - but that doesn't mean you have to.
Diffused lighting allows for the delicate color palette of this flower to be captured without the "bleaching" of the white petals produced by bright overhead sunshine
A morning with heavy cloud cover provides other opportunities as well. The lack of sunshine means that morning delicacies such as dew hang around longer, as the light needed to evaporate them is missing.
Here you can see not only the dewdrops, but how vibrantly the blue and yellow tones have been rendered.

Dew drops are always a treat to discover because they add another layer of detail to macro subjects. The layered textures in the above photograph create new interest in an image that otherwise would rely on color and composition only.

Finally, soft morning light allows for more detail to be rendered in textured subjects, versus harsh, overhead midday light. Strong noontime lighting will destroy the subtle shadows of fine textures, such as the veining on this leaf above. Note also the richness of the color tones afforded by the overcast lighting.

What do you think about photographing under cloud cover? What is your favorite kind of lighting? I talk about evening lighting in this post.
If you enjoyed this post, you can find me here on Tumblr or follow me here on Bloglovin'. In addition, you can utilize the snazzy sidebar items to subscribe via email or RSS feed. Check back every Friday for a new article!
Thanks for reading!