My introduction to underwater photography came three summers ago on a cruise with the family. One of the activities we knew we wanted to try was snorkeling. I found out that I didn’t care much for snorkeling itself or at least that I wasn’t very good at it. However, making photographs underwater was incredible. If I’d had more practice, I know I’d have returned with more good images.
My solution for taking a camera underwater was to buy an underwater housing made by Canon for my G9. I was a little nervous but the housing performed flawlessly and I soon felt pretty confident with it. The advantage of a model-specific housing is that every single control on the camera can be manipulated via waterproof buttons and actuators. The housing also included a flash diffuser to make the built in flash work with the housing. This worked out much better than the waterproof disposable film cameras we also had.
Since my trip, I’ve used the housing a few times near my landlocked home. It’s great for shooting when it’s raining or while boating. It also works well for shooting into the water. I am very interested in using it more in freshwater. Several years ago, I assisted a researcher with locating endangered freshwater mussels in a river. Exploring the river with a snorkel and mask was an eye opening experience and I would have gotten some great photos if I’d had the gear at the time. By writing about it, I’m promising myself that I’ll try it this year.
If you’re looking for new and unique subjects, give underwater photography a try. I think you’ll be as amazed as I was at the possibilities.
Vignette refers to a loss of brightness and/or clarity in the corners of an image. As a creative tool, I think vignettes are one of the best options we have to help the eye navigate through the composition. It’s definitely not a technique you would want to use on every image but for some, it can be very effective. In my example photo, I added a rather heavy vignette to illustrate the effect. When I look at this image, the brighter areas of the water attract my attention and this leads me from the top left to the lower right and around the rock. The vignette also keeps me from trying follow the water out of the scene. All of this is subjective but take a look and see if it works for you too.
Although quite common in these parts, the Kestrel is one bird that has eluded my lens for a long time. It seems like every time you spot one on the roadside, it’s gone as soon as your foot touches the brake pedal. My friend Ozark Bill and I have joked about this happening to us over and over for several years. I finally found one tolerant enough to let me get a few images. As if it were still holding back a little, the best I could get was this over-the-shoulder glare.
I’m holding out for what I think would be the iconic shot of this species. Kestrels are known for hovering in place while hunting. I think the perfect shot would be to catch one in mid-hover. Of course I’d need to be close, even closer than this. Then the Kestrel should be facing east, bathed in beautiful morning light. A rainbow in the background would be nice. A pot of gold where the rainbow ends at my feet would be even better!
I have several photographic goals like getting the hovering Kestrel shot. I could probably buy the exact image I described, less the pot of gold, on one of the micro stock sites for a buck but it’s not about having the image, it’s all about making the image. As Chief Dan George said, I will “endeavor to persevere”.
I’ll take this small victory but you’re still on my list Mr. Kestrel.
Sometimes potential images present themselves to you in unusual ways. This image is a good example. I had been out making images of solitary birds. When I noticed that I had the opportunity to get close to this flock of blackbirds, my first thought was to try to figure out how to isolate an individual. Fortunately, I was able to stop and realize that the real subject was the flock itself. It was fun to watch them fly right, left, toward me, and away from me. I chose a long lens to show some detail on a few birds and let the rest go abstract. I panned along with the moving flock, shooting in continuous drive mode.
There is a principle in physics called inertia that describes how objects resist changing what they are already doing. I think this can happen to photographers too. Always be looking for an interesting subject and new ways to shoot it. Sometimes the true subject isn’t what you think it is at first.
I thought this fallen tree in a nearby lake was an interesting subject. See my favorite shot below.
Now take a look at my first shot.
Both images were made around dusk, just a couple of minutes apart. The only difference between the two is that I added a little fill light using my flash to my favorite image (TTL at -1 flash exposure compensation is a good starting point). I almost always carry a speedlight in my bag for times like this. Most people associate flashes with portraiture but they have their uses outdoors too, macro photography being the most apparent use. Without the added light, the tree lacks detail and warmth. I particularly liked the way the flash brought out the moss growing on the tree. I could have come close to achieving the same effect in postprocessing but not without creating some other problems. I believe the better you can make the image in the field, the easier it will be to work with in postprocessing. The results are usually better too.
Every year when winter sets in, we get some great avian visitors here in the Midwest U.S. These Trumpeter Swans are but one example. It’s a great time to get some cool bird photographs. First, you’ll need to figure out where to find them. There will be hotspots where these birds gather and there’s no better source for this information than local birdwatchers. Check with birding clubs, conservation agencies, or online resources like birding.com.
Once you find them, get ready to have some fun. This is the time to bolt on your longest lens, turn on your high speed continuous shooting mode, and take lots and lots of photos. Not every capture will be a prize winning photo but that’s OK. You want as many choices as you can collect in order to improve your chances of catching the definitive moment. Try to keep your shutter speed in the 1/1000 range or faster for flying birds and use AI Servo focus mode to help you stay focused on them. Be sure to take extra batteries and memory cards too because you’ll go through them much faster than in other kinds of shooting.
Back at home, don’t let yourself become overwhelmed with sorting through a large number of images. Use the rating feature in your software to narrow your choices by process of elimination. Promote your better images with a higher rating and weed out your mistakes with a lower one. You may need to look through the images several times but if you remain patient and objective, you’ll end up with a handful of your best photos to work up in post processing.
I hope I’ve inspired you to go out and give it a try. I have but one warning – it’s addictive. You may find yourself wishing winter lasted a little bit longer.
I saw this Green Heron stalking its prey at a nearby lake. The thing I liked about this image was the chance to make an environmental portrait. This stealthy bird is well hidden, perching on a downed branch among the foliage. A few moments later, it lunged for its meal. I really enjoy bird photography but it can take many hours of observation in the field to get an opportunity like this. Patience is key as is being ready to nail the composition, exposure, and focus at a moment’s notice. My tip for today is not novel and quite frankly may be boring to some of you. Read your camera’s manual and understand what each button and menu option does. Practice activating features and changing options that you’ll need in the field. It will pay off when opportunities present themselves.