Category Archives: Photo Tip

Fox Kits: A Little Luck and a Bit of Field Craft

When I visit my favorite photography areas I usually do a bit of scouting after I’ve made the shots I planned for. Last winter I came across a fox den while scouting. I made some mental notes of the location with plans to revisit it in the spring. A few evenings ago I was photographing wild horses. The horses were being less than animated and, honestly, I already have thousands of images of wild horses with their heads down feeding. The clouds in the sky weren’t overly interesting and I didn’t see the prospect for good sunset shots being very high either. With those considerations in mind I decided to call it an evening and head back to my kayak. However, I thought I’d go a bit out of my way and see if there was any sign of activity around the fox den. Activity there was!

As I slowly and quietly moved into a position where I could get a peak at the fox den I noticed the outline of a hear with pointy little ears through the tall glass. Not only was it an active den the kits were outside! The problem was from my location I didn’t have a clear view of the den. The den was hidden behind tall grass. To make matters work the sun was directly behind the den. The only chance I’d have to get a shot would require repositioning myself for a view of the den. Now foxes have a reputation for being shy, evasive animals. In my experience it’s an accurate reputation. In order to get a shot I’d have to move into a position where there was no cover and do so without spooking the little foxes. I figured my odds were low but I just had to give it a try.

First I noted the wind direction and plotted a course that would keep me down wind of the den. I looked at the route and could see that I would be out of view of the foxes… unless they moved up on top of the dune above their den. I set a goal of the to of a small dune about 150 or 200 feet from the den that would give me a clear view of the foxes. Upon reaching the spot I was a bit surprised to see the foxes were still outside the den. One stared intently at me as I sat very, very still. After what seemed like a long, cold stare the little mammal went back to business. For the next forty-five minutes to an hour I’d take a few shots, push my tripod and camera a foot or so in front of me, scoot up behind it and take a few more shots. Slowly I inched closer and closer to the kits. I managed to work within about one-hundred feet of the little guys before that light became too dim to shoot.

I’m a little surprised that I was able to get that close to these wild animals. I wasn’t inside a blind nor was I wearing camo. My clothes were earth tones but foxes, like other canidae, are color blind. The two things I had working in my favor was wind direction and the fact that the sun was directly behind me. Try looking directly into a low, setting sun and you’ll understand how difficult that can make things. I’ll check these images up to a small dose of apply field skills and a big helping of luck.

Wild fox kit in front of its den.

Fox kit on the Outer Bands

Foxe kits on the North Carolina coast.

A pair of young foxes in front of their den along the NC coast.

Fox kts.

Wild foxes at the Rachel Carson Estuarine Reserve

Also posted in General Photography, Nature Photography, Wildlife Photography Tagged , , , , , , , , , , |

The Rule of Thirds: A Rant

There is a discussion about “the rule of thirds” taking place on a popular nature photography forum. I must admit I’m a bit surprised by some of the responses. Many of them show a general misunderstanding of the concept. The following is my reply… perhaps better described as my rant.

I must admit I’m a bit surprised by what seems to me to be a general misunderstanding of the “rule of thirds.” The recurring arguments against it are all very related – “wasted pixels,” “too much negative space,” “the subject is too small in the frame” and so on. “Thirds” does not dictate that the entire subject has to be placed on an intersect or along one of the vertical or horizontal lines. Many times it’s just placing an important portion of the subject on an intersect. An eye being a wonderful example, or maybe the head of the animal. Even with no environmental space in an image, an extreme close up, “thirds” can be applied. Additionally, it’s not just about the interest points. Placing an object being photographed along a vertical or horizontal line of “thirds” is an example of using that compositional concept.

After doing a little googling I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised if a lot of folks don’t completely “get” the rule of thirds. I looked at a lot of online articles and most of them used images where there was a lot of negative space surrounding the subject as sample images. There were a few exceptions here and there. Very few. I did find a couple of articles that did a bit better job with explaining the concept and with the sample photos used. I’m including the links below.

http://jakegarn.com/the-rule-of-thirds/

http://ruleofthirdsphotography.com/

In this article the author discusses ways to “break the rule of thirds.” He starts out with a few examples of images using “thirds” followed by examples of breaking the rules. The problem being roughly half of his images that are supposed to be examples of breaking the rule actually embrace it! If you look you’ll notice things like the eyes along on near a horizontal line of thirds, an upright along the vertical line, a horizon on or slightly below a horizontal line of thirds, a blur of movement along a horizontal guide line of “thirds.” Other examples, while breaking “thirds,” simply embrace other compositional concepts. (The rule of thirds is not the only compositional guide we should be familiar with.).

https://www.photocrowd.com/w/10-three-ways-break-rule-thirds

“Thirds” is but one of many, many compositional concepts. There are many times that an image will work well without applying “thirds.” But in almost every case of breaking “thirds” another compositional concept (or two or three) has been applied. I’ve mentioned this book before but I’ll recommend it one more time: “The Photographers Eye: Composition and Design for Better Digital Photographs” by Michael Freeman. http://www.amazon.com/The-Photographers-Eye-Composition-Digital/dp/0240809343. It is an excellent, understandable study on composition.

Also posted in General Photography Tagged , |

Repetition: A Compositional Tool

As photographers most of us have had the “rule of thirds” beaten into our artistically thick skulls. So thoroughly is this concept drilled into us that we frequently miss other wonderful compositional opportunities. One compositional concept that is frequently overlooked as to do with repetition. Repeating shapes or objects can be a strong compositional tool. Sometimes repetition will allow and otherwise mundane subject to be an interesting image. Combine repetition with other compositional concepts such as the use of lines and diagonals to help strengthen the impact of such images.

Below are a couple recent images of a sand fence found along the coast of North Carolina. Honestly there’s nothing glamorous about this subject. As subject matter goes a sand fence is not colorful, rare, or particularly beautiful. Yet they can be an interesting subject. What these photos have going for them, at least in my mind, is the repetitious pattern created by the fence combined with the stark contrast of light and dark plus the strength of lines. Take a look and see what you think.

A sand fence .along the Carolina coast

Simple concepts such as repetition, lines, and contrast can combine for interesting compositions..

nautical art for sale

Also posted in General Photography, Landscape Photography, Uncategorized Tagged , , , , , , , , |

Shoot or Don’t Shoot: A Question for Workshop and Tour Leaders

The question was raised on a popular nature and wildlife photography forum as to whether workshop leaders shoot make photos when leading one of these programs. I thought I’d share my reply on my blog:

As a participant every workshop I’ve attended the leader also did some shooting. Most times their shooting was limited in comparison to that of the participants, but they did shoot. These, however, were always workshops aimed at wedding or portrait photography, employing paid models to demonstrate using lighting or shooting in certain situations/locations. In nearly every case there was classroom time involved during the workshop and a critique session at the end. I really had no issues with the leader making photos. They kept the level low so they could observe and make suggestions to the participants and were available to answer questions 100% of the time. FWIW I’ve never taken a nature/wildlife targeted workshop.

As a workshop/tour leader I shoot. I don’t have my face glued to the back of my camera the entire time we’re in the field. In fact I’m fairly selective about what I shoot when leading. After all, I’m leading the group because this is a location I’m intimately familiar with. I shoot in these locations a lot. I spend a lot of my time observing our subjects (wild horses) and the participants. I make suggestions, answer questions. I alert the folks in my charge when I see an interesting situation developing. Obviously I don’t let my own shooting get in the way of my doing my job. I have a responsibility to get the photographers in my charge in front of the horses, to impart some information about the horses, the environment and photography in general, and to try to make sure no one does anything to endanger themselves of the animals we’re photographing.

I offer two kinds of experiences; a “tour/safari” and a “workshop.” They are not one in the same. For a “tour/safari” my primary job is to get the participants in front of the subjects. They are hiring me for my expertise at finding these animals and to handle the logistics such as transportation and meals. Tours are for experienced photographers that don’t feel they need a lot of hand-holding and direction. They’re confident in their camera and compositional skills. They need to be given opportunities, not a lot of instruction. Obviously, at least in my mind, there’s little reason for me not to shoot during these kinds of outings. If they have a question or need my input, all they have to do is ask.

The other experience I offer is a formal workshop. For a workshop there’s going to be some classroom time involved. Instead of a pre-trip briefing given during a tour, we’re going to spend the first morning learning about the history of these animals, the rules concerning interaction with them and we’ll discuss things like lens selection and composition. My assumption is that someone that signs up for a workshop is looking to improve their photography skills as well as getting photo ops with the wild horses. During our first session in the field I’ll shoot very little, but I will shoot some. I’ll be observing everyone, analyzing the strengths, weaknesses and needs of each individual. Just as when leading a tour, I’ll be alerting folks when things are going to get interesting, be responsible for locating the animals and be dealing with the logistics of the thing. As the workshop progresses I’m usually able to shoot more and more… but again, while being very selective about what I shoot. Near the end of the workshop, but before the last field session, there’s another classroom session. This session is all about composition and post processing. It includes a critique session. I do this prior to the final field session with the idea that the participants will be able to apply what they learn to their final shooting opportunities. During that last field session I’m answering questions if asked, but not offering unrequested input. The idea is to let them try to put it all together on their own.

Keep in mind there’s an educational aspect to the leader shooting. By observing how the leader shoots… things such as tripod height, lens selection, long lens technique, etc… the participants can gain some insight into maximizing their photographic opportunities during their tour or workshop. The short and sweet – I shoot. I shoot more during a tour than during a workshop but I shoot.

Also posted in Banker Horses, Education, General Photography, Guided Tours, Nature Photography Tagged , , , , , , |

Eastern Phoebe

While I was photographing the Yellow Rumped Warblers the other day I was blessed with another visitor. A lovely little Eastern Phoebe perched on a bare branch, watching to see what I was up to. Obviously this was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. The Eastern Phoebe is a member of the flycatcher family. This handsome little species of bird was the first to be banded in the United States. In 1804 John Audubon, (yep… that Audubon), attached a “silvered thread” to the leg of an Eastern Phoebe so he could track its return in the following years. A year round resident of the Carolinas, these pretty little birds winter farther north than other flycatcher species. These small birds will use buildings and bridges for nesting sites, a trait that has allowed them tolerate urban growth into their natural habitat.

Photographing small birds is one of the few situations where I like to have my camera at my eye level. For shooting most wild subjects I prefer a low point of view but birds are often perched high in the branches of tree. A shot taken on at eye-level with the subject always has more impact than a shot taken at an extreme upward angle. For this series the Phoebe was perched very close to my eye-level making a good situation even better. I made these shots with a Canon 7D and a Sigma 50-500mm lens mounted atop an Induro CT314 tripod.

13_Nov_11_EPheobe01_cfb

Eastern Phoebe at the Rachel Carson Estuarine Reserve Yawnig Eastern Phoebe

Eastern Phoebe

Also posted in Avian Photography, General Photography, Natural History in the Carolinas, Nature Photography

Wild Horses Clash: Drama on the Tidal Flats

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.

Wild horses clash in a vicious battle on the tidal flats along the North Carolina coast

Fighitng wild stallions, North Carolina Outer Banks

Wild horses of the Outer Banks

Also posted in Banker Horses, Education, General Photography, Natural History in the Carolinas, Nature Photography, Wild Horses, Wildlife Photography Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Wild Horse Fight Sequence

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.

A clash of titans - a pair of wild stallions fight on the tidal flats near Beaufort, North Carolina

Wild horses battling over the right to breed on North Carolina's Outer Banks

Wild mustang fight near Beaufort, NC

Wild horses in combat along the Outer Banks of North Carolina

Dueling wild mustangs along the Crystal Coast of North Carolina

The wild horse fight ends

Also posted in Banker Horses, General Photography, Natural History in the Carolinas, Nature Photography, Wild Horses, Wildlife Photography Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Five Tips for Making Better Landscape Photographs

– 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.

Also posted in Education, Landscape Photography Tagged , |

Another Wild Horse With Texture Applied

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.

Wild horse stallion with texture applied.

Also posted in Banker Horses, Education, General Photography, Nature Photography, Wild Horses, Wildlife Photography Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Applying Textures to Photographs

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.

Overlaying a texture on a photography can have a dramatic affect on it's look and feel.

Applying textures to photography to create digital art is a simple process.

Photograph of a wild horse with a texture applied.

Also posted in Banker Horses, Education, General Photography, Nature Photography, Wild Horses, Wildlife Photography Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |
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