Friday, May 30, 2014

Little Surprises (Or, why you should always take your camera)

The first problem of photography is locating your subject - and that's what this week's post is about.

As much as is reasonably possible, you should always try to carry your camera with you.

This is because opportunities have a nasty tendency of popping up when you least expect them. A walk around your apartment complex suddenly becomes a photo session; you spy an unusual bird in the walmart parking lot (this has happened to me); your friend brings her adorable puppy to a party, etc. All of these situations make for great photography, but not if you don't have your camera.

Late instar grasshopper

This is the guiding principle of street photography, but we hardly think of it for nature photography. It's as if "nature" has retreated to its own little place in the world, and we can't encounter it unless we go specifically looking. Well, I contend that this is a false notion. Due to encroachment and habitat loss, urban wildlife are becoming more adaptable and more common.

Grasshopper nymph

Of course, as you shouldn't be surprised to hear at this point, insects are the queens of urban animal life. Small and highly adaptable, insect species flourish where other animals are unable to survive. This means that there is likely a whole safari of creatures waiting outside your front door.

...Have you gone to look yet?

Grasshopper nymph

 I wanted to highlight these little grasshopper nymph pictures because I took them in a flower pot outside my apartment door. To clarify, it's not a garden; it's a single flower pot. And it's not even my flower pot. Having my camera on hand whenever I go outside allows me to capture unexpected critters like these. And hey, they look pretty cool, right?

So how about you? Are you glued to your camera, or do you tend to leave it at home?
Insects not your thing? Check out my article on bird photography.

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Monday, May 26, 2014

Bird Photography - Tips & Tricks & Unasked-for Advice

Due to exams, this week's post is rather belated. Whoops. Oh well, enjoy :)

My love of photography began with a simple, black Nikon point-and-shoot, and I immediately was unsatisfied with it. Earth-bound, its short focal length was a poor choice for capturing anything but the largest of subjects. I desired a telephoto lens desperately; I wanted to photograph birds.

Black Skimmer

However, birds can be challenging subjects for even experienced nature photographers. At the same time, the allure of dramatic photography is great, and these are animals that are worth the extra effort to photograph. 

So what would you tell me if I have never photographed birds before, but want to start?

As with many fields of photography, it's important that you begin with the correct equipment. You will need a telephoto lens and a tripod sturdy enough to support your gig. How long of a lens? Well, basically the longest one you can afford! You will need a lens in the range of 300-600mm. If you intend to shoot songbirds and other small species (or birds in flight from a distance), you'll want the 600mm glass. If you're more interested in photographing heavy water birds or large game birds, you can survive with a shorter lens. Don't forget you can purchase a teleconverter to increase your lens power if you want.

Snowy Egret

Okay, so let's say that I have an appropriate lens. Now what?

Well, you of course need a location to shoot. One of my favorite places is Anastasia State Park, but a quick google search should produce the best birding locations in your area. Try different areas, making sure to scout out several locations before you give up.
The other two considerations are season and time. Early morning is best for nature photography for many reasons. Not only are you shooting during the best lighting conditions, but you also are out at peak bird (and other animal) activity time. So your best bet of finding your subject is to get up early.
Yup, no one said that nature photography was easy.
Additionally, bird species will vary seasonally in your area. For example, winter is a very good time for bird photography in Florida as many migrants fly through on their way to South America. Do a little research about your local bird populations.

Wood Stork

Assuming, then, that I manage to wake up early enough for this, do you have any advice for actually photographing birds?

Well, yes. If you aren't familiar with shutter speed and aperture, you should read my Intro to Photography Part 1 and Part 2 articles before continuing. 
Okay, ready?
When you are shooting birds or other animals, you have to deal with the fact that your subject just doesn't care that you are photographing them. That's right - they don't give a damn if they ruin your shot by moving, or looking the other way, or generally being rude. What's that mean for you? You want a fast shutter speed so you can capture these rapidly-moving animals and avoid the dreaded motion blur. 
An easy way to ensure you are always shooting at the fastest shutter you can is to set your camera to "aperture priority." This setting means that you pick the aperture, and the camera's computer will automatically calculate the appropriate shutter speed for you. Keeping your lens "wide open" (setting it to the largest aperture) will allow you to shoot the fastest. This eliminates the problem of you fiddling with complicated settings while your subject flies away. Oops.

Ruddy Turnstone (Winter Plumage)

Final Considerations:

Please remember, that as a nature photographer, you are a visitor in someone else's home. Many species of animals are sensitive to human presence and encroachment. If your presence is causing an animal to change its behavior, you are too close. Please be respectful, have fun, and maybe learn something!

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Friday, May 16, 2014

One Small Square

Continuing my mini-series about insect photography this week, I've decided to talk a little bit about biodiversity. Last week, I wrote about the importance of developing a theme or a purpose for your work. Well, one of my personal themes is to showcase the local biodiversity available within easy reach - right in your backyard, if you will.
Wheel Bug Nymph (as far as I can tell - correct me if you have a better idea!)
This is part of the beauty of insects - they are weird and wonderful, and a lot easier to access than classic "great" subjects of animal photography (eg, lions, elephants, etc). If you haven't spent some time looking at our six-legged neighbors, well, you're missing out. Insects are the most successful group of animals in existence. In fact, there are more species of beetle alone than of any other animal.
Ironically, I don't have any beetles in this post. Whoops.

Why are Insects Important?

Insects are an important group of animals for many reasons. Firstly, they form the base of the food pyramid, supporting small mammals, birds, and reptiles. These smaller vertebrates (insects, as you may recall, are invertebrates) can then support larger predator animals, which, eventually, support us.
Additionally, insects directly support the human population by pollinating most of the fruits and vegetables we enjoy. This is why colony collapse disorder, in honey bees, is such an important issue. If the honey bee disappears completely, the negative impact on our food supply would be catastrophic.

Ok, so I screwed up here also, and didn't manage to include any honey bee images. How about a carpenter bee?

What does this have to do with photography?

As photographers, we have the choice to use our skills to bring awareness to different issues, whether they be social, political, or environmental. Don't be defeatist and think that no one wants to hear your opinion - with photography and other visual arts, you can show people your opinion, and force them to think about current issues. I believe that this is the best use of nature photography, to inspire people toward greater environmental stewardship and engagement.

So what's with the title?

Well, now it's time for you to try a little experiment for yourself (did you try the challenge in last week's post?). You will need a notebook, a macro lens if you have one, your smart phone, or some other device capable of recording what you see. Pick an area of ground - it can be a flower patch, a tree, a stream - and sit. I hope it's a nice day outside where you are! Watch what comes by - fish, mammals, insects - and record them. When's the last time you did something like this? How many species did you find? This is a measure of your local biodiversity, and a reminder that, without your help, it may vanish, forever.

Great Purple Hairstreak
So, what's your passion? Whatever it is, remember that there are many ways you can help forward progressive causes in today's "information age." Don't be silent.

Interested in insects? See my insect photography tips.

Want to see more tips? Check back every Friday for a new post. Click here to follow me on Tumblr and here to follow me on Bloglovin! Don't forget you can also use the nifty sidebar to subscribe via email or RSS feed

Friday, May 9, 2014

Perspective & Photo Challenge

The Art of photography is just as much a challenge as the Skill of photography. Photography hangs in a strange world, a balance between the vision of the artist and the abilities of the equipment. This is another post about the Art of photography. (You can read my last post about the art of photography here.)

Little bug, big world
One of the struggles of artistic photography is to produce images that are more than just physical documentations of the subject. Sometimes this seems easy, but other times it can be more difficult. This begs the question:

How can I push myself to produce more artistic images?

There are, of course, many answers to this question. One thing I would suggest would be to determine what your goals as a photographer are. What are you trying to convey to the viewer? Are you trying to persuade them, amaze them, terrify them? Or are you trying to capture abstract emotions, melancholy, love, peace? It's up to you, but there's very little chance of achieving your goal if you don't have a clear idea of what it is.

So, besides having a "mission statement" for my work, what else can I do?

Photography is, of course, a visual art. Ergo you must force yourself to produce visually unique and captivating images - you will not be able to achieve your goal if no one wants to look at your work. 

Do this exercise.

I've mentioned this somewhere before, but a great trick to force yourself to expand your visual horizons is to constrain your subject matter. What does that mean? Simple: make yourself take 10 (or 5, or 15, or 20) different images of the same subject.

Dramatic backside view
Challenge yourself to think of different "themes" for each shot, and push yourself to demonstrate different aspects of your subject in each frame. This brief series I've done involves a Reduviid nymph (I believe it is a Wheel Bug but I cannot confirm this). Each picture is distinct in evoking emotion in the viewer, although they were all shot on the same morning, at the same location, of the same insect.

Detailed side view
When I look at these images together, they form a story (for me) about the Wheel Bug nymph. It's small, but is a ferocious predator (look at that vicious proboscis!), and is patterned beautifully. Other people probably look at them and think, "gross, that looks terrifying, why would anyone go near that thing???"

Well, to each her own. If you aren't that person alluded to above, you may want to check out my post on insect photography here.

What do you think about this challenge? Are you going to try it weekend? (If you do and  you upload your photos somewhere, feel free to leave a link in the comments. I'd love to see!)

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By the way:

Friday, May 2, 2014

Entomophilia: Insect Photography Tips

By now, I've spent a lot of time on the blog talking about insects - about how much I like them, what great macro subjects they make, and how beautiful they are. However, I don't actually have a post in which I discuss tips for insect photography, so I thought I would remedy that today.

Hairstreak butterfly

Tip #1: If you haven't already, you may want to read my post on macro photography basics.
This is because, in case you hadn't noticed, insects are small. If you want to capture the intricacies of insect bodies, you will need macro equipment. The basic rules of macro photography apply, of course, regardless of your subject matter. I won't cover these here because they've already been covered, but feel free to post questions if you have any!


Tip #2: Find you some bugs!
Now is an excellent time to find insects. As the weather warms, larvae hatch and adults wake from hibernation. The best time to photograph insects is, unsurprisingly, in the early morning. There are two main reasons for this. Firstly, the light is best in the morning. This should always be your favored shooting time. Secondly, it's coldest in the morning. Okay, okay, I know I just said that now is a great time for insects because it's warming up. However, insects are fast little buggers. It can be very difficult to capture sharp macro images when your subject is buzzing around so quickly you can't even see its wings beating. Shooting in the morning allows you to take advantage of the slowing effects of cold on insects, increasing your chances of getting the shot you want.

Okay, that sounds reasonable, but, where can I find some cool bugs?
Well, if you can't find bugs, you aren't looking! There are more insects on the planet than any other animal. But, I understand that many of us have grown to ignore insects; the literally fly under our radars, out of sight, out of mind. You'll have to break this habit.

Insects can be found in pretty much every habitat there is, but a flower bed can often be the easiest place to start hunting for bugs. Find a spot that you like. It's even better if multiple plant species populate your flower bed - the more species of plants there are, the more species of insects will likely be attracted. You might have to sit for a little while, but soon your brain will start recognizing the multitude of flitting, buzzing, and feeding critters around you. From then on, just hone your awareness.

Skipper Butterfly
Any other advice for photographing insects? As in, how can I avoid getting stung?
Ah, the stinging question! I get it a lot. Truthfully, the vast vast majority of insects are completely harmless. Don't believe me? Pick some up! They're generally pleasant to handle, surprisingly. Of course, some insects do bite and sting - notably bees and wasps. I won't discourage you from trying to photograph these animals, though, as I believe that they are very beautiful.

In fact, bees and wasps (order Hymenoptera) usually won't sting unless they feel threatened or you invade their territory (ie, damage a nest). Granted, if you bump into one accidentally they may think you are attacking them and thus retaliate. So I would recommend keeping relatively still to photograph stinging insects.

Feel free to leave any questions about insect photography below, and, as always, thanks for reading!

(Did you see my previous post on landscape photography with a smartphone?)

Want to see more tips? Check back every Friday for a new post. Click here to follow me on Tumblr and here to follow me on Bloglovin! Don't forget you can also use the nifty sidebar to subscribe via email or RSS feed