Tag Archives: techniques

Anole on a Cattail

The title of the post pretty much says it all.  I was working a forest road for interesting flora when I spotted this little guy perched on the head of a cattail.  I just couldn’t resist making a few images of it.  The lizard cooperated nicely and allowed me to approach closer than I expected.  Of course I started making shots from a bit of distance then slowly worked closer and closer until my subject finally got tired of me and scurried on down the stalk and into cover.  The temptation, of course, is always to move in nice and close from the beginning.  That’s a really good way to end-up without an image to show for the effort.  Slow, diligent movement while observing the animals reaction and alert level is the key to success regardless of the size of animal you’re attempting to photograph.

Green anole in the Croatan National Forest.

Green anole on a cattail head.

Green anole.


Posted in General Photography, Macro Photography, Nature Photography, Uncategorized Also tagged , , , , , , , , , |

Dramatic Rim Lighting Image

Probably not too surprisingly this image looks quite a bit different than it did when it came out of the camera. Obviously it was a color shot when the photo was made. But there was certainly more work involved that a simple conversion to black & white. For example I used a Nik plug-in in Photo Shop bring out more detail in the image. As is done with virtually every image you see the photo was sharpened, contrast was adjusted and in this case some manual burning and dodging was done to increase the drama of the image. One could argue that the image is no longer a nature photo because of the work done during post processing. That’s fine. I understand that position. In fact I’m alright with the image being referred to as a piece of art if you prefer.

If you’d like to know more about my post-processing techniques, including how to produce an image like this, and if you’d like to photograph wild horses you might be interested in my Wild Horse Photography workshop this fall. Workshop Page.

A dramatic photo of a wild mustang in black & white.

Posted in Banker Horses, General Photography, Nature Photography, Photo Tip, Wild Horses Also tagged , , , , , , , , , , , |

Black & White Wild Horses

I usually do my black and white conversions manually (and likely will continue to do so in the future), but I’ve heard so much about the Silver Efex Pro 2 module in the Nik software bundle that I decided to play. In addition to the Silver Efex Pro 2 module I used the Detail Extractor in Color Efex Pro 4 and reduced noise using the Define 2 module. One thing for sure, the Nik software has the ability to make ones workflow easy.

True to her name, Marleigh, this wild mare has a dreadlock in her mane.

Two wild mustangs feeding on the tdal flats.

Neck detail of a wild horse.

Wild horse with a wind blown mane.

wild mustang photos

Posted in Banker Horses, General Photography, Nature Photography, Photo Tip, Wild Horses Also tagged , , , , , , , , , , , |

Sometimes the “Wrong” Lens is Just Right!

Usually when I want to take close-up photos of plants and flowers I reach from my trusty 100mm macro lens. But recently I decided to play around with doing some close-up work with a wide angle zoom. Instead of mounting my macro lens I reached in my bag and pulled out my Tokina 12-24mm wild angle lens for the job. This lens has a very short minimal focus length allowing me to get a reasonably sized image of the subject. In the case of the images shown below the front of element of the lens was probably only 3 or 4 inches away from the subject…AT MOST! The disadvantage of this lens choice is that you have to work much closer to the subject than if using a longer lens. Honestly, I frequently use a 1.4x teleconverter with my macro lens to either allow even greater magnification or to allow me to work from further away. There is an advantage to using the wild angle lens for close-up work though. The perspective is quite different using this lens when compared to that of a longer lens. Below are the results of this endeavor. I hope you enjoy them.

Fern shot in the Croatan Forest using a 24mm wild angle lens.

Sometimes you need to think out of the box to create unique images.

Southern blue flag iris shot with a wide angle lens.

Wide angle of a wild flower photographed in the Croatan National Forest.

Posted in General Photography, Macro Photography, Photo Tip, Wildflowers Also tagged , , , , , , , , |

Ten Tricks to Improve Your Nature Photography

It would be nice if there were some magic pill that would make one an excellent photographer. The fact is that no such pill exists. However, by apply a few simple tricks you can make drastic improvements to your nature and wildlife images.

1) How Low Can You Go?

When you view a pair of photos of a similar subjects together… one taken by an amateur the other made by a professional photographer… you can usually pick the pro’s shot quickly just based on the perspective of the image. The professional shot will almost always be from a low vantage point. The amateur shot, on the other hand, will almost always be taken from the perspective of a person standing upright. Get low to add drama to your images.

2) Subject Eyes Sharp & In-focus.

It’s been said that the eyes are the windows to the soul. In our everyday interactions we look into the eyes to check for things like honesty, empathy, warmth. It’s how we make a connection with other living beings. Having eyes sharp and in-focus helps viewers to make a connection with our photographs.

3) Get the Safe Shot then Experiment.

Novice or dyed in the wool pro we all do it. We see images that move us and visit the same locations to try our own hand at making a memorable photo. There are locations that have been photographed thousands, even millions of times. Images of these locations are usually similar… iconic. When visiting these locations go ahead and get the “safe shot,” that iconic, expected view we’re all used to seeing. Then experiment. Try different angles. Look for a view that hasn’t seen before. Go low. Go high. Go right or left. Take a hike. See if you can find an angle of this all too familiar location that hasn’t been worn out.

4) Rules Were Made to Be Broken… But Not Without Reason

If you visit many photography forums you’re bound to see a lot of posts by people proclaiming the virtues of breaking the rules. Often times their posts include an image… usually an image that doesn’t work. Being a rebel is great but be sure you have a reason for it. Compositional rules are based on centuries of artistic experimentation and observation. These guidelines work for a reason. Study about composition. Learn the various guidelines and apply them to build stronger images. Only then will you recognize those rare opportunities where breaking the rules will result in a stronger photograph.

4) Fill The Frame.

This isn’t earth shattering advice. It’s likely you’ve heard it before. There’s a reason for that, it works! Filling the frame with the subject is especially important when shooting a subject where there’s a lot of clutter around it. The clutter creates distractions that will divert the viewers eyes from the subject. By filling the frame with your subject you isolate it, focusing the viewers attention on it.

5) Include Negative Space!

In the last tip I suggested you needed to fill the frame of your photograph with the subject. But you’ll notice I included a qualifier; “where there’s a lot of clutter around it.” There are times that negative space can contribute to a stronger image. When photographing animals viewers may feel more comfortable when there’s some space in front of the animal for it to “move into.” Similarly the artist can create some tension, drama or mystery by putting negative space behind the animal and having it facing out of the frame.

6) Try a Vertical Orientation for Landscapes.

You should be familiar with two terms used when printing a document or image with your computer – Portrait and Landscape orientation. Landscapes are traditionally wider than they are tall while portraits are usually the opposite. Using the portrait orientation to photograph a landscape can produce an interesting and unique image of a tired, frequently photographed location.

7) Be a Photo Maker Not a Taker.

There are two kinds of photographers in this world, the takers and the makers. Takers aimlessly fire away, giving little if any thought to what the resulting image will look like. In contrast, a maker takes some time to study their subject, making decisions about perspective, point of view, and composition before pressing the shutter button. In order to consistently make good photographs you need to be a thinking photographer… a maker not a taker. Take a little time to look things over before you set-up your camera and tripod.

8) Gather Knowledge First, Pixels Second.

Most likely your best photos will be those made of subjects you’re familiar with. Whether you photograph animals, landscapes or specialize in macro imagery the more you know about your subject the better your photos are likely to be. Knowing a location, when the best light falls on it or having knowledge of a particular species of animal gives a photographer a huge advantage over those that have to depend on luck.

9) Don’t Be Afraid to Shoot in Bad Light.

Many photographers put away their gear when the golden hour passes. Learn to embrace and shooting in harsh light. Perfect lighting and conditions are a bit rare. If you make a habit of only shooting in the best of conditions you may have a problem when you make the photographic trip of a lifetime. If conditions are less than ideal and you’re not used to photographing in them you’re unlikely to bring home any decent images. Make a habit of shooting in tough conditions and you’ll have the knowledge and skills to salvage your trip.

10)) Learn to Use Post Processing Software.

It doesn’t matter whether you use Elements, Photoshop, Lightroom or some other software, post processing is nearly as important as your camera work. The images you see presented by your favorite photographers have likely received more work in in post than you think. Vignettes are added to concentrate the viewers attention on the subject, distractions are burnt down or cloned out, shadows darkened, highlights brightened, colors corrected… saturation, vibrance and white balance tweaked. Simply put artists have been making adjustments to their images as long as photography has existed. What was once done in the darkroom or with an airbrush is not done on the computer. Post processing is part of the artistry of photograph. Don’t expect your images straight out of the camera to have a chance of comparing with the work of an artist who knows how to use software to produce the results they wanted.

Posted in Education, General Photography, Photo Tip, Uncategorized Also tagged , , |

Intoduction to Kayak Photography: A How-to Ebook

Now available for instant download, my “Introduction to Kayak Photography” is a basic guide to using kayaks for nature photography. Presented in PDF format the book consists of five chapters: Choosing a Kayak for Photography; Gearing Up for Kayak Photography; Camera Equipment Considerations; Making Useable Photos from a Bouncing Little Boat; Finding and Approaching Wildlife. Concise and direct, there is a lot of useful information packed into 20 full-sized pages for only $4.99.


Cover shot of new ebook.


USD 4.99 / Download

Posted in Business and Administration, Ebooks, Education, Kayaking, Uncategorized Also tagged , , , , |

Using Super Zoom Lenses

100-400mm EF f/4.5-5.6L IS USM Telephoto Zoom Lens - Bonus $25 Gift Coupon Included w/Purchase! 200-500mm SP AF F/5-6.3 Di LD (IF) Zoom Lens for Canon EOS 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6D ED Vibration Reduction Nikkor Lens 200-500mm SP AF F/5-6.3 Di LD (IF) Zoom Lens for Nikon D-Series

I received a nice email that I answered this morning. Gray wrote to compliment my photos, mention an interest in my workshops and to ask about what lens I use for my wildlife images. It seems he’s been using a “super zoom” lens for about a year and is having a challenge getting sharp images with it. I know that this is something a lot of folks struggle with so I thought I’d do an article on the subject.

When I use the term “super zoom” I’m referring to a zoom lens with a long telephoto reach… say at least 300mm… and a wide zoom range… maybe 200mm or more. There are many popular and affordable lenses in this class offered by after-market manufaturers like Sigma, Tamron and Tokina. Additionally most camera manufacturers offer OEM lenses in this class. They are attractive to budget minded folks and for those who need some versatility in the equipment they carry afield. While this article is directed at zoom lens use, most of the techniques discussed also apply to shooting with fixed focal length telephoto lenses as well.

Let me start by saying you can never expect a zoom lens to match the resolution, sharpness and contrast you’ll get from a prime (single focal length) lens. That’s a matter of mechanics and physics that’s going to prevent that level of performance. For the convenience of versatility you pay a bit of a price. That’s not to say you can’t make quality images with these lenses. You most definately can. There have been many images published and that have won awards that were made with this class of lens. It’s a matter of knowing your equipment, using good technique and a quality post processing workflow.

As a general rule these lenses do not produce their sharpest images when used at their wides aperature settings. (Remember, smaller number equals wider or open aperature… larger number equates to a smaller or stopped-down setting). Individual lenses will vary a bit but usually you need to set your aperature at around f/7.1 or f/8.0 to enjoy the sharpest results. Image quality may start to drop-off at aperatures above f/16 due to refraction. Work within that range and you should be seeing the sharpest results you can expect from your zoom lens.

Shutter speed is an important aspect in long lens use. The standard advice is to shoot at a shutter speed equal to or faster than the focal length of the lens. For example if you’re shooting a 300mm lens your slowest shutter speed used should be 1/300 of a second. This is a rule of thumb and like most rules in photography, not set in stone. If you’re using a sturdy tripod and applying good “long lens technique” you can get away with a bit slower shutter speed. When hand-holding a long lens you may need to use an even shorter shutter speed.

One of the issues involved in making sharp photos when using a long lens is that there are vibrations that travel up and down the length of the lens barrel that creates blur in the final image. The vibration can come from mirror slap while taking the photo, from wind blowing against the lens and even from how one trips the shutter release. There are several techniques that can be used to counter these vibrations. Hand shake or subject movement can also casue blur. Any movement is severely magnified by long lenses resulting in blurred photos.

Using a tripod whenever possible will go a long way towards making sharp photos with a super-zoom lens. It’s important to use a tripod that is designed to be sturdy enough for the weight involved and to use a quality tripod head as well. There are a number of well-built ball heads and gimbal mounts on the market that are suitable for use with a long lens. Simiarly there is a wide variety of suitable tripods available. There’s more to using a tripod than just putting your camera on top of it and shooting. It’s important to use proper long lens technique as well.

When making photos with a long lens on a tripod push your face up against the back of the camera. An eye-cup can be a nice addition for this technique. The idea here is that you’re using your face as a vibration dampening device. Also rest your hand on top of the lens, about at the point where it attaches to the tripod head or slight further out. Again your using your hand to dampen vibrations. Rest it atop the lens much as if you were laying your hand in your lap. A lot of photographers will position themself in a manner that allows their elbow or arm to make contact with the tripod or mount. Again, the goal is to dampen vibrations. There are also several proponents that suggest that one of your legs makes contact with the tripod leg. When you trigger the shutter don’t just poke at the button but roll your finger over it. The idea is limit motion and vibration to insure the sharpest image possible.

One last consideration. Zoom lenses are seldom at their sharpest when used at the maximum focal length. A zoom lens with a maximum focal length of 500mm will usually be a bit sharper around 400mm to 450mm. While reach is important there can be advantages to pulling back a bit from the longest reach. As with all man-made items individual lenses will behave a bit differently. You need to get out, shoot and experiement to find how your version behaves.

While there is some compromise involved in using super-zoom lens for bird and wildlife photography with proper technique and a little knowledge they can produce high-quality images. Spend some time in the field experimenting and taking notes on settings, learning what does and doesn’t work with your lens. Whenever practical use a tripod and always use good long-lens technique to see a real improvement in your telephoto images. For an excellent source for quality tripods and tripod hears check out Outdoor Photo Gear. Obviously the tricks, techniques and technical considerations needed to make sharp, compelling photographs in the field are topics covered in my various photography workshops. While an article will go a long way to getting you started on the right track, nothing beats receiving input from an observant instructor.

Posted in Business and Administration, Photo Tip

Camera Simulator: A Great Learning Tool.

I came across a link to this neat online photography educational tool while visiting the Carolinas Nature Photography Association’s member forums. If you’re somewhat new to photography or are used to point and shoot cameras rather than the Single Lens Reflex (SLR) cameras that the pros use this is a wonderful learning tool. By adjusting camera mode (aperature priority, shutter priority or manual modes)and/or adjusting the various settings then clicking with your mouse you can see how your selections affect the final photo. It’s a great tool for learing the relationships between shutter speed, aperature, and ISO. You can even choose to “use a tripod” and see how that affects the image. I’d highly recommend this for novice photographers, use in photography classes and for anyone struggling with these relationships. The best part, it’s free! Visit the Camera Simulator here.

Posted in General Photography, Photo Tip Also tagged , |

Black Skimmers in Flight

Most of us that photograph birds are a little bit jealous of these creatures. Unlike us they are not bound to the ground but have the ability to soar, seemingly effortlessly, through the air. (Of course they may be jealous of us and our opposable thumbs but that’s another story.) Because of our fascination of these flying creatures it’s only natural to want to photograph them in flight.

When photographing birds in flight is my goal I set my camera in manual mode, meter the sky and then adjust to overexpose by 1/3 to 2/3 of a stop. It’s a formula that works. In the case of the shots included in this post I was stalking and shotoing seated birds, but was more than willing to take arial shots when the opportunity presented its self. In this case I was shooting in AV (aperature priority for the Nikon crowd) but, unlike what I ususally do for static subjects, I had the focus in AI Servo mode to track moving targets. In this case I I have exposure composition dialed in for a +1/3 exposure. It’s not as accurate as the manual method, but works nice when off-hand shooting both static and flying birds.

The images below were shot Wednesday morning on Bird Shoal in the Rachel Carson Estuarine Reserve. There was a wide varitey of birds on the shoal but I was really focusing on the Black Skimmers. I find them a fascinating bird. I hope you enjoy the images.

A Black Skimmer glides a few feet above the sand on Bird Shoal along North Carolina's Crystal Coast.

A Black Skimmer soars above Back Sound along North Carolina's Crystal Coast.

Posted in Avian Photography, Nature Photography, Photo Tip Also tagged , , , , , , , |

Does Camo Help When Photographing Wildlife?

I recently participated in a thread in the forums over at Naturescapes about the value of using camo for wildlife photography. I thought I might share my thoughts on the subject here also. The following is a slight rewrite of my reply over there. (If you’re not familiar with Naturescapes.net, it is one of the larger online communities that is dedicated to nature photography).


Camo is simply one tool of many in the nature photographer's toolbox.Whether discussing lens coats and tripod leg covers, or clothing, blinds and hides, camo is simply one tool of many available to the wildlife photographer. There is a time and a place where it will make difference. While how big of an effect it has is going to depend on the species and even on the individual animal, it can be a benefit. Waterfowl, for example, are going to be extremely shy of humans. I doubt you’re going to visit any of the national wildlife reserves that are known for waterfowl while wearing street clothes and have a great deal of success, unless you’re sitting in a blind and if in a blind, obviously, you’re using a type of camo. After all, you’re talking about photographing an animal that is hunted relentlessly during its migration from the north. They’re going to be shy of humans and for good reason! Of course the resident Mallards on the duck pond at the local park are going to be a totally different story. Those birds are used to receiving handouts from people. All you really need to photograph those kinds of birds is a handful of corn and a camera.

Many people are under the impression that all animals are color-blind.  Of those that think that way many wrongfully believe that color-blind animals see in black and white.  While it’s true that most mammals have some degree of color blindness, they don’t see the world as black and white.  Many mammals are red-green color blind.  What that means is they cannot distinguish the color red from the color green.  This is one reason why deer hunters can successfully hunt while wearing safety orange hats or vests.  Other mammals, bears for example, are believed to have excellent color vision.  Birds and most reptiles also have good color vision.  In fact they probably see a greater range of colors than we humans do!  So understanding what colors your intended subject can see and may react to is a worthwhile consideration when preparing to go out into the field.

When dealing with wildlife there’s no doubt that movement and noise are bigger factors in not scaring away your subjects than clothing color and pattern. I’ve seen some amazing images where the photographer positioned them self on a shoal during a rising tide… bellying down in the sand before the birds arrived… then waited patiently and quietly for birds to approach. By the same token, I’m sure that’s a more successful technique in tan/sand colored clothing than if one were wearing hunter orange. While planning, patience and stillness plays a huge role, seeming to fit into the surroundings doesn’t hurt. I’ve also seen some marvelous photos taken by folks wearing “street clothes,” though usually not brightly colored togs. They sit patiently still, waiting for the animals to approach them. But even with the greatest patience and stillness, I don’t doubt that blending in the surroundings would even result in more close encounters of the wildlife kind.

A lot of my photography is created from a kayak. I have a bright yellow boat. I get very close to a lot of birds in that thing, but others want nothing to do with it. Honestly, my next boat will not be a bright color like that. I do think it’s a hindrance at times. I also hate that most kayak gear is brightly colored. Try finding a paddle/splash jacket that’s not bright yellow, red or blue! The kayak industry seems to overlook a potentially valuable market; hunters and nature photographers. When I replace my boat I’ll be looking at camo, “sand,” dark green or blue boats. Those seem to make the most sense in the environments where I shoot. While the animals will certainly still be aware of my presence, I suspect that my presence will seem less alarming to them. It’s not so much about being unseen as seeming non-threatening to your subjects.

Honestly, I doubt a little camo on a black lens makes a lot of difference. But then again, what can it hurt? On a big, honking white lens? Well common sense suggests that all that white can’t be good for stealth in a natural setting. In the end, whether one wears earth-tones or camo may not be the biggest factor in their success in the field. But it is a tool that can help. Why not give yourself every possible advantage you can? Time in the field with a camera is much too short and infrequent to not try to maximize your chances.

Posted in Nature Photography, Photo Tip, Wildlife Photography Also tagged , , , , , |