I made this photo in my friend Ozark Bill‘s backyard. I’m not much of a gardener but I sure enjoyed photographing all the great subjects he had. We were experimenting with an inexpensive method to light macro photos. I really like the way this photo turned out. Today, I’m going to explain how it’s done. I said this was an inexpensive technique, but that comes after your camera, macro lens, external flash unit, tripod, ballhead, etc… I was using a Canon DSLR with a 100mm f/2.8 Macro lens, and a 430EX flash for this shot. Mount the flash in the hot shoe and point the flash head up as if you were going to bounce the light off the ceiling. Here comes the inexpensive part… Take an empty Pringles can and cut a rectangular hole near the bottom so that it snugly fits over the flash head. Note: if you send an unopened Pringles can to me, I can return it to you empty. Adjust the flash so that the open end of the Pringles can points a few inches in front of your lens. Set up as you normally would on your subject and fire the flash when you take the shot. You may need to play with the flash exposure compensation in order to get the exposure dialed in. Just check your histogram and experiment until you find the right setting. The reflective interior of the Pringles can will direct and focus the light onto your subject. I think it’s a great technique. The only problem is finding room in my camera bag for my modified Pringles can.
Gulls are extremely common in the winter around here. This is one of the most common, a Ring-billed Gull. They’re also very tolerant of humans which makes them great practice subjects for your bird photography. I found this one in a parking lot and was able to drive to within a few yards of it. I spent a few minutes practicing manually focusing. At a nearby dam, there’s always a bunch of gulls flying around looking for baitfish. This presents a good opportunity to practice tracking and keeping birds in flight in focus.
It may not be gulls but I bet there are some common birds in your area too. Canada Geese and Rock Doves are a couple of species that come to mind. If you’re interested in improving your photography skills, try perfecting your technique on these easy subjects.
Wildlife photography can be challenging and getting close to wild animals is difficult most of the time. If animals like this Wild Turkey are not wary, they won’t last too long in the natural world. Getting close to them is hard; however, there is a group we can learn from: hunters. For some naturalists, the idea of hunting may not be very palatable but let’s explore this a little further. Both the wildlife photographer and the hunter are trying to get close enough for a “shot”. The main difference is the camera vs. the gun but the hunter has some advantages that some photographers overlook. Knowledge of the quarry, stalking/tracking skills, attention to the wind, camouflage, decoys, and calls are a few of the hunter’s tricks for getting close to animals. These skills can absolutely work for the wildlife photographer too.
I highly recommend checking out a show called Wild Photo Adventures. I’m not aware of any better example of the application of hunting skills to wildlife photography than the Season 2, Episode 4 show. If you’re interested in learning more about these techniques, you definitely need to watch this episode. You’ll learn more from seeing this demonstrated than I could ever write. This show is nothing short of inspirational. I’m gone…to buy myself a turkey call.
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.
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.