Tag Archives: tips

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 , , , , , , , , |

American Oyster Catcher in Flight

Just a simple, single image post today. Here’s a photo of an American Oyster Catcher in Flight near Beaufort, North Carolina. In reference to my previous post of tricks to improve your photography you may notice that I used the rule of thirds in selecting the placement of the subject, made sure the eye was sharp and in focus and left space in front of the bird for it to “move into.” Can you find any more of my “ten tricks” applied in this image?


American Oyster Catcher in Flight

Posted in Avian Photography, General Photography, Nature Photography, Wildlife Photography 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 , , |

When All Else Fails Get Creative

Yesterday didn’t go well as far as shooting days go. I forgot to set my alarm and over slept, so ended up blowing off the morning and running errands such as getting groceries and other necessities. For the afternoon I decide to head out on a section of the Neusiok Trail to see if I could find some interesting subjects. To be it was more a scouting trip than a trip where I had high expectations of getting some decent shots, but you never know. The hike was mostly uneventful without a lot of good opportunities to be found. I did, however, notice this plant with really large leaves and interesting patterns and textures in the leaf. I decided to try a few shots using my macro lens. Flat, natural lighting really wasn’t getting me the results I wanted so I decided to try backlighting it with the little LCD light panel I keep in my photo backpack. Sure enough the backlighting gave me the kind of results I had in mind. Depending on the distance I held the light away from the leaf, or the position under it, I’d get slightly different results. Below are my favorites of the leaf.

A backlit leafe makes and intersting abstract when shot with a macro lens.

Sometimes a little thinking and some creativity will result in a good image when nothing else is presenting its self.

Macro photography doesn't need to be restricted to pretty flowers.  The Croatan National Forest is full of excellent subjects.

Posted in General Photography, Hiking Trail, Macro Photography, Nature Photography, Photo Tip 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 , , , , |

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 , , , , , , , |

When All Else Fails Hit the Beach

Many of my favorite spots for hiking and photographing have become mud bogs. The rain this winter has been unrelenting. When conditions are like this you can suck it up and it slop along the muddy trails, stay home and daydream of an outdoor adventure, or do what I did, head for the beach. Unless the wind is roaring you can almost always find some kind of subject matter at the beach. Sanderlings, Sea Gulls, Brown Pelicans… something’s probably going to be there to photograph. Our beaches, however, can be a bit challenging. You need to know the area a bit to improve your odds of getting acceptable shots.

One important issues to consider when your goal is to take photos is the direction of the sun. Ideally the sun should be directly behind you for avian photography. If not directly behind you, mostly behind. Finding the right time of day and location can be challenging unless you’re familar with the local beaches. The next issue is knowing where to find the birds. You’re not necessarily going to encounter birds along just any stretch of the beach. The movement of birds… where they congregate… is largely dependent upon feeding opportunities. The birds are going to be where the food is. Knowledge of shoaling, water depths and tide schedules all play a big role in locating birds. By combining local knowledge of the beaches and some solid technique your chance of getting a few good images is greatly enhanced.

A while back I posted about the importance of being willing to get down and dirty to get interesting, compelling images. Sometimes that can lead to a bit of discomfort.  To capture these images of Sanderlings I was laying and sitting in very, very wet sand. My pants and shirt were soaked, the wind was blowing hard and the temperature was dropping quickly. Simply put, it wasn’t particularly comfortable. But the choice really comes down to whether you want to make interesting photos, or stay comfy. Honestly, depending upon my mood and how ambitious I am on a particular day, sometimes comfy wins the battle. But in most cases getting the shot will be worth the effort.

I’ve written about Sanderlings before so I’ll spare you a rewrite of information about the species. These images were taken near sunset, along the Crystal Coast as the birds were feeding and the tide was receding. In the first image the sun is coming over my right shoulder, resulting in more of a slide-lit image. I’m sitting with my elbows resting on my knees to brace the camera. I needed a slightly higher point of view in order to capture the reflection. In the second image I’m closer to eye-level with the bird and the sun is closer to being directly behind me. I also fired a flash to fill shadows and get a catchlight in the eye.

A Sanderly probes the sand for food as the tide recedes.

A Sanderling searches Atlantic Beach for a tastey meal.

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

A Different Point of View: Get Down and Dirty to Improve Your Photos

I thought I might change things up a bit and talk little about photography and one of the things that separates professionally made images for those shot by camera bugs. Now first let me clarify that I don’t personally think my wildlife photos are “all that.” But I am working to improve that segment of my work. I’ve been fortunate enough to receive a bit of advice from some accomplished wildlife photograpers plus have spent more than a little time reading some wildlife photography forums. I’ve learned a few things through these exposures… such as some of the things that sets professional shots apart from those taken by hobbiests. So, you might be thinking, what is it that seperates the Pros from the Ametuers? Well one asnswer is pretty simple: Point of view or, if you prefer, perspective.

Most shutter bugs snap pictures while standing erect. Now if you think about it, you’re taking a photo of a bird that stands a few inches tall while towering a few feet above. This results in a look that professional nature and wildlife photographer Jared Lloyd refers to as “the duck pond effect.” So for photographing a shore bird, wader or small mammal on the ground, don’t be afraid to lay on your belly to make a photo at… should I say it… birds eye view.

The photo below is of a Sanderling taken on Atlantic Beach in early January. In order to make this image I had my lens and camera mounted on a skimmer ground pod… a low platform used for low point of view images… laying on my belly. Some of the beach walkers looked at me like I was a little silly, but I think the results are worth a little embarassment in front of strangers. If you look through some of my earlier posts you’ll find some additional examples of getting down to the subjects level. So if you want to take your photography to… lame pun warning!… take your photography to another “level” don’t be afraid to get down and dirty.

A Sanderling is a small shore bird found along NC beaches.  Notice the low angle of view used to make this image.

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