I am generally a fan of semi-automatic exposure systems when looking to photograph wildlife. Specifically, I begin most outings with the camera in Aperture Priority Mode, and having an extra 2/3 stops of lights dialed seems to work pretty often. However, as soon as I see a tricky lighting situation through my viewfinder I will try to get into Manual Exposure Mode as quickly as possible.
A macro photograph of an Orange Sulphur butterfly in New Jersey. This backlit capture was made using the Tamron SP 90mm VC 1:1 macro lens and the Canon EOS 60D DSLR.
Camera settings: 1/200th F/5.6 ISO 200
Above photo is a handheld capture with one of my typical rigs for closeup photography, the Tamron SP 90mm VC lens and the Canon EOS 60D. The goal with this backlit photo was to get a good amount of illumination showing on the butterfly itself. To achieve this, some of the brightest parts of the scene are pushed out of gamut because of the dynamic range restrictions of DSLRs. As cameras are programmed to expose for the median tonal range of an image, it would require a significant increase in exposure compensation to get what I was after. Turning the knob to Manual Mode and dialing in my desired settings was a much more succinct process.
“Blowing out the highlights” is not always a sin in my book, as I’ve learned to “see how a camera sees” and envision the end product. Indeed there is some detail loss on the fringes of the butterfly and also on the petals of the flower, but in this case I think that adds to the “warm” feel of the image.
This is a recent DSLR image made in Ocean County, New Jersey. I had seen examples of long exposure photography that exhibited substantial cloud blurring but I hadn’t pulled many off before this. I still would like to increase the length of this type of shot to minimize shape definition but that will require use of Bulb Mode on the camera and even less light hitting the sensor.
A long exposure DSLR photo facing westward a couple of minutes after sunset. Some low cloud formations briefly reflected vibrant pink and orange hues. Nature photograph taken in New Jersey using the Tamron SP 10-24mm Di II Lens + Canon EOS 50D.
Above photo was taken with the tripod mounted Canon EOS 50D camera and the Tamron SP 10-24mm Di II LD lens. A Hoya 77mm HDx400 HMC filter is screwed onto my lens thread. This 9-stop Neutral Density filter greatly lowers the amount of light that reaches the camera’s sensor. Exposure time is 30 seconds at F/10 ISO 100. Mirror Lock-Up and Camera Timer were also set on the camera to reduce loss of sharpness from vibration of the camera’s mirror or from my hand pressing the shutter button.
I recently shot a few very short HD DSLR Video clips of one of the more common and easily recognizable wading birds in New Jersey, a Snowy Egret. My personal goal for wildlife still photography had as been 2 archival quality captures of any subject that I found interesting. Archival quality captures to me means focus is spot-on, exposure will not require significant post-processing, and the composition is pleasing to my eyes. I also try to avoid repetition in my photos. I’ve “upped the ante” on my nature shooting goals, and will now also try to film 1 or 2 quick sequences when I am in the outdoors.
Back to the point, I had been shooting all of my recent photos with a ballhead on my tripod. Having no experience with fluid tripod heads, but realizing their importance in the video industry I started doing some research. I already have Manfrotto RC2 quick release plates attached to most of my cameras and lenses so I wanted a fluid head that was designed for the RC2 plate. I wound up purchasing a Manfrotto 128RC Micro Fluid Head and it has remained atop my 055x ProB tripod ever since. This allows me to perform the steady panning motions needed for dynamic video work.
The above video was filmed using the Tamron SP 150-600mm VC Lens and the Canon EOS 7D. Manual video mode settings include: ISO 100 F/14 and the Shutter Speed set to 1/80th. I muted original audio from the clips in post-processing because of the loud hissing of the wind. Guitar playing is me strumming my Washburn D10 Guitar, and I ended up recording this with my Samsung cellular phone. Audio post-processing involved noise reduction, addition of a Phaser Effect, and overall Volume Reduction. Video post-processing included trimming video segments, cross-fade transitions between shots, contrast enhancements, and split-tone color processing.
Plenty of terms for the type of DSLR photography illustrated in the main image below and to tell you the truth I don’t even know what to call them. Panning blurs may be the most logical terminology in my opinion. Anyways, I often forget how much I enjoy looking at this type of capture. It seems to boil the bird down to its very essence: shapes and colors.
Photo demonstrating intentional use of a slow shutter speed along with panning of a telephoto lens.
Picture taken using a Canon EOS 7D and the Tamron SP 150-600mm VC telephoto lens. Tripod lens collar is mounted to Manfrotto 055xProB tripod and Manfrotto junior fluid head. Camera settings: focal length at 600mm, Manually set shutter at 1/30th, aperture at F/14, ISO 100, Camera RAW, Auto White Balance, VC On, Servo Focus Mode, High Speed Motor Drive. Photography location: Ocean County, New Jersey. Atlantic Ocean that is…
This type of photo can sometimes be performed in Aperture Priority mode by using a low ISO and large Aperture number to slow down the shutter. The shutter speeds that usually work best for me are between 1/13th and 1/50th. Your mileage may vary. My goal when preparing for this kind of shot is to get a good amount of definition on the wildlife while emphasizing some motion (in this case the wing beats). I also want a nice bright exposure that will retain a lot of details in the highlights but still have my histogram as far to the right as possible for maximum detail. Compositionally speaking, I may be looking to place the bird prominently in the frame without cutting off any appendages or I may want try to include some scenery like showing the bird flying across the water’s surface. There is a great deal of trial and error in this style of photography. Patience, persistence, and studying other photog’s successful photos will go a long. way.
When I first began doing photography, I thought that the prime objective was to freeze all action to record a moment in time. Getting a sharp capture of a fleeting moment can indeed be difficult, whether it is a closeup view of the supermoon rising on the horizon, a sports photograph like a MLB baseball player nailing a fastball, or a bird photo like trying to shoot a tiny Tree Swallow mid-air. There is also great validity to having motion within your frame. In some cases, this can evoke moods like quickly fleeting action or on the other hand, serenity.
DSLR Nature Photograph from New Jersey showcasing how motion caused by wind can express time and add further dynamics to an image.
The above image was taken recently at the New Jersey Shore using a tripod-mounted Canon EOS 60D camera and the Tamron SP 90mm VC 1:1 F/2.8 Macro Lens. Camera settings in manual exposure: 2.5 seconds F/7.1 ISO 100. VC off (lens stabilization motor), Mirror Lock-up, 2 Second Timer, One Shot Autofocus (near the middle of the grass), and Auto White Balance.
I think the crescent moon has a really great distinctive shape, a shape I generally associate with a peaceful sky. The grass that I have included within the frame is typical vegetation of the mid-Atlantic shoreline, so this gives a nice sense of orientation for the viewer. For others, the grass may be reminiscent of a prairie or meadow. The back and forth motion of the blades of grass tell us that time is passing, and also gives the photo a much softer edged appearance than a motionless capture. I did shoot several similar frames, but in the other images I actually felt there was too much motion and not enough definition on the grass.
Several of our local species of butterflies like to rest on whatever flat surface they can find. I often see butterflies in the middle of dirt trails, dirt roads, and gravel roads. Probably a nice place to bask for a cold-blooded life form, but not necessarily the ideal scene for a photograph.
A closeup view of a small and interestingly marked native butterfly of New Jersey.
DSLR photo of an American Copper butterfly using the Tamron SP 90mm VC 1:1 F/2.8 Macro Lens and the Canon EOS 50 DSLR. Camera settings in Manual Exposure Mode: Shutter at 1/50th Aperture at F/5.6 and ISO 200. Autowhite Balance is selected (my typical default), RAW file size, One Shot focusing in Continuous Drive Mode. VC (in-lens stabilization) On.
This dainty insect is actually sitting on an unattractive dirt trail here, but the camera’s angle of view disguises the surroundings. To get this view I am lying prone on the ground (a very common posture for good wildlife photographs) and the camera is pressed to my face. I will often fill the frame as much as possible while trying not to have the subject looked too cramped within the image frame. I did have to angle the Canon 50D slightly downward to keep the butterfly’s legs in the photo.
Using the “focus and recompose” technique, I pressed the shutter halfway down after initiating autofocus directly on the butterfly’s eye, and then I angled the camera until the lens hood of my macro lens was touching the ground, but the camera body was not. This low and close-focused perspective has disguised the fact that myself and the butterfly are surrounded by a trail of non-photogenic packed dirt.
I won’t try to take any credit for getting a fly to land next to this Gray Treefrog metamorph. I will take credit for being in the right place at the right time and shooting a lot more frames than your average photographer.
Chance encounters of the macro type
Photography equipment: Tamron SP 90mm VC F/2.8 1:1 Macro Lens + Canon EOS 50D, handheld. Shutter speed 1/250 Aperture at F/5.6 ISO 200. One shot focusing with continuous motor drive active.
Luck was on my side, because the fly got so close to the frog that both of their eyes are in focus. I actually have a frame where the fly puts one if its feet on the frog’s face, but the whole frame is blurred so that won’t be seeing the light of day. ….Unless you want to PayPal me $200 🙂
One can never expect unlikely interactions like this to occur, but as Arthur Morris has stated “When unexpected action happens, press the shutter and hope for the best”. Good advice if you ask me.
Below we have a photo of a small, harmless, and downright cute Eastern Fence Lizard. A native reptile of New Jersey that is widespread within its habitat, but generally not familiar to residents of Northern New Jersey.
A closeup photograph of a wild New Jersey reptile taken with a Tamron macro lens and a Canon DSLR.
Photo taken with the Tamron SP 90mm VC F/2.8 Macro Lens and the Canon EOS 7D. Camera settings: Shutter at 1/100 Aperture at F/3.2 and an ISO speed of 200. One Shot focus mode, camera handheld, VC On, RAW image format, manual exposure mode, auto white balance.
F/3.2 is not the punchiest aperture of my lens, but it does yield acceptable sharpness. Shallow depth of field was very important to me in the making of this photo. My “go to aperture” for macro of F/5.6 brought a lot more detail in the foreground AND the background. The impact of this photo is in its simplicity and having prominent background shapes and textures strongly detracts from this type of “mid-day silhouette capture”.
Clearly with the sun high in the sky and without cloud cover, the natural illumination of the subject is going to be uneven with a large contrast between the shadows and the highlights. Many established photographers would call this “bad light” or “problematic light”. This is not necessarily the easiest condition to create impactful photos in but by manually exposing for the subject’s mid-tones and shooting into an uncluttered background I’ve created a minimalistic photo that evokes thoughts of desert climates.
Closeup photos of butterflies make for effective images because these insects are inherently “cute” or “beautiful” to us homo sapiens. Probably has to do with their harmless nature or being harbingers of warm weather. An important part of a quality butterfly photo is a clear view of the insect generally with minimal distractions in the nearby foreground and background. An attractive perch also makes a world of difference.
A recent butterfly macro photograph taken in Ocean County, New Jersey.
The above image was taken recently at Jakes Branch County Park in New Jersey. Equipment used: Tamron SP 90mm VC F/2.8 1:1 Macro Lens and a Canon EOS 7D DSLR. Handheld photo with the lens-based stabilization (VC) turned on. Camera settings: 1/160 shutter, F/7.1 ISO 200. More often than not I will shoot butterflies with an aperture of F/5.6 because it is one of the sharpest apertures of my particular macro lens. With sufficient planing of the camera, this can get a decent amount of depth of field on the subject as well. In this case, I decided to go with an aperture of F/7.1 to increase my chances of getting the eyes of both Sachems in focus. Still not an easy task with 2 moving wildlife subjects.
I shot approximately 12 frames very similar to this one, but each time I would angle the camera body very slightly to the left or right and try to get the eyes of both Skippers aligned to my focus point. When I magnify this particular frame on my computer I can see the detailed cells of the eyes on both butterflies without blur, so for me this is a keeper.
I went out with my friend Joe today so that I could challenge myself to some action still and motion footage, his challenge was to land some skateboarding tricks. There are plenty of variables involved in getting quality extreme sports shots, so I was happy to come home with a few that I liked it.
Joe popping a skateboard trick off a hip at the skatepark.
Above is a capture of a frontside popshuvit. I like the frame because you get a nice view of the board in rotation and it’s good some good elevation too!
I was using the Tamron SP 70-200mm VC F/2.8 lens mounted on my Canon EOS 50D. This combination gives me a fast focusing telephoto lens on a reliable camera with a fast motor drive. I decided to shoot this frame in a vertical (portrait) orientation, because I think that put more emphasis on the subject in this case. Other camera settings: 1/1000 shutter with an aperture of F/5.6 and an ISO speed of 200. I opted for a medium aperture of F/5.6 to get a decent amount of depth of field on Joe but to also provide some separation from the background. An ISO value of 200 gave me a fast shutter speed, but also provided a nice grain-free image. The exposure was dialed in manually to give me full control over the ambient lighting. Tamron’s VC (Vibration Compensation) helped steady the viewfinder for the photo and reduce instances of camera shake.