I have a friend that moderates the Wildlife South photo forums. Jim is a retired photo editor that used to work for National Geographic. He has a love for photographing small birds and the Yellow Rumped Warbler, a little bird he’s nick named the “Butter Butt,” seems to be one of his favorites. Naturally when I get the chance I have to snap a few photos of these little birds to share with him. I had braved the cold the other morning, scraped the frost off of my windows, loaded the kayak and headed over to the reserve to photograph the wild horses. After spending some time with the horses I decided to head back to the kayak, make the paddle across Taylor’s Creek and go enjoy the warmth and comfort of home. On the hike back I noticed several of these handsome little birds and decided to make a few photos.
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Life and weather have conspired to keep me from getting out to do any shooting this week. I did, however, find some time to go through my files from my last outing and to work up a few photos. While portraits lack the dynamic energy found in the fight sequences I recently posted, it is interesting to get a close look at these beautiful wild horses. In this series I showcase a pretty mare with a severely tangled mane. I think the tangle adds a bit of character and helps with impart the feeling of “wild” to the viewer. See what you think.
When most people think of a wild horse fight they visualize the horses standing on there rear legs, hooves flailing and teeth gnashing… (kind of like in the post below this one). But in reality it doesn’t always work that way. They can clash with all four feet planted firmly, well semi-planted, on the ground. The photos below show a clash between two dominate stallions on the tidal flats. During this scrimmage neither horse ever reared up. Still the action was intense with mud and water flying in the air.
During the editing process I quickly recognized that I wanted to use a contrasty black and white treatment for the first image. I desaturated the image in “Adobe Camera Raw,” then opened it with Photo Shop. Next I applied some “smart sharpening” then used the NIK “define” plugin to tame down the noise a bit. Next I used the “detail extractor” in the NIK Color Efex Pro 4. I then zoomed in to do some dodging and burning by hand to create the look I wanted. The final step was to create a duplicate layer in “soft light” mode to add some “pop,” then adjust the opacity of that layer to taste. I then decided I wanted to do a series, selected the next two images and used the same workflow to maintain a consistent look between the three photos.
To those not familiar with horse behavior it seems to happen in a flash. Teeth gnash, sharp, hard hooves flail, thousands of pounds of muscle, bone and hide explode in a vicious battle over dominance and breeding rights. It’s a scene that’s played out for as long as life has walked the planet. For those that witness one of these epic clashes it is clear why Federal, State and Local laws set boundaries on how close humans can approach wild animals. You really wouldn’t want to be caught between a pair of these battling animals.
Those of us that pay our dues and spend hour after hour observing and photographing these magnificent animals, such dramatic events rarely just happen instantaneously. We’re able to read the pre-fight behavior, the posturing and taunting that takes place before the action begins. It’s that kind of intimate knowledge that allows us to be ready to capture these duels as stills and videos. This is a simple truth that applies to all wildlife photography; knowledge of your subject substantially improves the odds of capturing interesting, compelling images. To improve ones success to failure ratio one needs to do their homework and pay their dues.
So how does one gain knowledge and pay their dues if they don’t live near their intended subject or cannot commit the hours of observation? There are really three choices: Take your chances, go it on your own and hope to get lucky. Hire an experience guide to help get you in the right place at the right time. Sign-up for a photography workshop dealing with the subject you’re interested in photographing. Of course doing a little homework doesn’t hurt either. Read a few books and articles, watch some video, follow some blogs… in short gather some information to give you a head start in your quest to make exciting photos of wild animals in their natural environments.
The following is a sequence of images from a recent wild horse fight I witnessed.
– Move the horizon away from the center of the image.
By placing the horizon either low or high in the image frame you create a greater sense of drama for the viewer. Don’t be afraid to try putting the horizon a bit above or below the classic “thirds” locations. While your choosing a placement for the horizon take a little time to make sure it is straight. A tilted horizon rarely makes for a compelling landscape photo.
-Use a polarizing filter.
There are two advantages to using a circular polarizing filter when creating landscape images. One classic use is to cut down on reflections when shooting scenes with water or wet surfaces. These filters can also increase contrast and saturation in colors. They have an especially pleasing effect on blue skies.
– Think and compose in layers.
Consider the foreground, middle areas and background when composing landscape images. A strong element in the foreground can viewers enter an image and also provide a greater feeling of depth to your composition.
– Use a sturdy tripod.
In order to get focus throughout an image a small aperture is usually required. To reduce grain or digital noise landscape photographers use a low ISO. Both of these facts result in slow shutter speeds. Any camera or lens movement is bound to show when shooting at these kinds of settings. To help off-set these facts be sure to use a stable platform… a high-quality tripod.
– Use mirror lock-up or live view modes to reduce vibrations.
In order to show the what the lens sees in a Single Lens Reflex camera a mirror is used to reflect the view to the eyepiece. Before the shutter opens the mirror must spring up out of the way. When the mirror flips up it creates vibrations within the camera that can have an effect on the quality of the captured image. By using the mirror lock-up mode or live-view you can eliminate those vibrations from the photo.
I had so much fun adding textures to images that I decided to try it again. First I needed to choose a base image to work with. I don’t believe textures work with every image, though that may be more a matter of taste than science. I settled on a favorite shot from last winter to play with. After selecting a subject the next trick is choosing an appropriate texture to overlay. This choice can make or break the final product. Once settling on which images to work with the process is the same as I previously described. Here’s the step by step process I use in Photo Shop CS6 (you could use Gimp, Elements, Paint Shop Pro, etc.):
Open subject image in Photo Shop, open texture image, select and copy texture image, paste over subject image, adjust opacity to taste, use eraser tool at a low opacity and flow to clean texture off of subjects face, flatten image, create duplicate layer in soft light mode, adjust to taste, flatten image, apply vignette, flatten, and save.
It’s not a new technique. Layering textures on photos has been around for a long time. It’s an interesting effect that can take a documentary style photo and turn into a piece of fine art. The process isn’t too difficult. You’ll need some kind of image processing software… Photo Shop, Elements, Paint Shop or others. The software needs to be capable of working with layers. Open the image you want to work with. You’ll then open an image of the texture you want to apply. (Choosing the right texture for an image is the real art to the entire process). Place the texture on top of your photo as a layer. Adjust the opacity of the texture layer so the photo below it shows through. Your taste, goals and artistic vision will play a role in how much opacity you want. You may want to use an eraser tool to reduce or remove the amount of texture over key areas of your subject such as the face, eyes, etc. Once you’re satisfied flatten the image. At this point I find the image usually lacks a bit of “pop”… seems a bit flat and boring. I like to create a duplicate layer and select a mode such as “soft light” or “overlay.” Then, if necessary I adjust the opacity of this layer as needed to get the look I want. It’s really that simple. Below are a few photos I worked up recently using the process described.
When it comes to squirrels people either love them or hate them. Folks with bird feeders may see these quaint little rodents and thieving pests that are constantly stealing their bird food. Others find these creatures to be cute furry little animals. It’s all a matter of perspective. Personally, I kind of enjoy watching them. If you’re sitting in the forest, waiting on a deer, bear or whatever your target subject might be, squirrels can provide a great deal of entertainment. If you’ve ever sat in a blind for a few hours, waiting for your subject to present its self to your lens, you’ll understand the value of being entertained by small critters like squirrels.
A few mornings ago I had a spot staked out, waiting for a whitetail deer to present its self. Now mind you, I didn’t just walk out into the middle of the woods with no rhyme or reason, but I’m staking out a location I’ve scouted for signs of frequent deer travel. While waiting on a deer a couple of squirrels were kind enough to pose for me. Below are a couple of the resulting photos.
This morning I spent some time in the forest with little to show for the effort. The whitetail deer just were not cooperating. It happens. Seeing that my original plan wasn’t working out I made a shift in plans and headed to a spot on the river that almost always holds a few Mallard ducks. While this was almost like “shooting fish in a barrel,” it did provide a little tune-up for the approaching season. When shooting waterfowl it’s always a good idea to use a circular polarizing filter to cut down on reflections from the water. Of course, since I wasn’t planning on photographing ducks, I didn’t have the filter with me. Sometimes you just make do with what you have, apply your knowledge and skills and simply get to work. Plus there is a fairly decent polarization plug-in in the NIK suite. While I always prefer to get things right in the camera, the digital age gives us a lot of artistic options. So without further delay or explanation, I give you Mallard ducks.
I made it out again this morning to see if I could get a few more photographs of whitetail deer. While the conditions were less than wonderful I was blessed with the opportunity to make images of three separate bucks. Two of them with really nice racks of antlers. The downside of the morning is that it started out as a very overcast morning, at times including drizzle and a smidgen or rain. Those conditions force the use of a higher ISO setting than one would really prefer, coupled with slower than optimal shutter speeds. Never the less we make the best of the conditions we have, or go home and veg-out on the couch. That second option just isn’t acceptable to me. So without further delay here are some whitetail images from this morning.