The Best Camera for Outdoor and Wildlife Photography

Outdoor camera

Washington Landscape

Eagle

Landscape Photographer

Digital technology has been around long enough that I occasionally forget there are many people that have never used anything but small-sensored point and shoot digicams. I recently talked with an amateur photographer who was planning to discard his well-used point-and-shoot camera hoping that a DSLR would help him take better pictures. No, that’s not exactly right. He believed like so many others that a better camera would make him a better photographer. Actually, his question was, “What would be the best camera for outdoors and wildlife photography?” He is an outdoorsman and “needed the whole meal deal,” although I am not sure what he actually meant by that. Perhaps he wanted one camera that would be capable of doing everything.

What should be my advice to an aspiring wildlife photographer? I could give him my personal perspective, and I could suggest he search out wildlife and scenic photographer sites online to make his own decisions.

I will summarize what I got from a check of advice from avid wildlife photographers. Wildlife photography is harder on a camera than any other type of photography. Most of the time photographers will need to push the limits of their cameras. And, photographing wildlife will demand speed, resolution, and a well-built, quality camera, and, therefore, the best cameras for wildlife photos are usually the most expensive ones.

The photographer then should begin by looking at cameras that are durable, and capable of taking some bumping around, and be sturdy enough to take some abuse from the weather. And because the photographer would be shooting in all types of lighting conditions, especially low light, early in the morning, or at the end of the day, I would recommend looking at, and expecting to pay more for models capable of higher ISO.

Unlike a tiny digicam the photographer will need to concern him/herself with the lens, as well as with the camera. Personally, I would save my money on the camera and spend it on a quality lens. A saying I have heard over and over ever since I have been in this medium is that “it’s all about the glass,” referring to the lens. A photographer, like any craftsperson, needs the correct tools.

Then there is the discussion of full frame versus crop-sensor cameras when one is deciding on which is the best DSLR. Hmm…I think that’s a can of worms best left for later. There are enough confusing choices to keep a photographer awake at night with topics like which camera manufacturer, which model, and which lens. And I suppose there are also the possibilities with the new host of lightweight, mirror-less cameras making their way into photographer’s bags.

I plan on spending some time helping this about-to-be wildlife/scenic photographer make his own choice about his camera equipment. I would rather not be one of those that advise a particular manufacturer. That choice should be the photographer’s.

If we were able to ask Ansel Adams, one of the most famous scenic photographers, for his thoughts, he would say, “The single most important component of a camera is twelve inches behind it.”

I know that does not assist with the decision of what camera that photographer should get, but it does let him know that whatever he gets, he will absolutely need to spend time learning how to use it.

I always enjoy comments. Thank you, John

Chewy the Marmot and Chase Creek Falls

Chewy the Marmot

Chase creek Falls

Chase Creek April 2015

Path back to town

Spring is here. The weather has slowly warmed up I can see from my porch that the snow on the mountaintops is diminishing, so I decided it was time to visit a waterfall not far from my home.

I usually avoid waterfalls at this time of year because high volumes of murky, spring water rushing over the falls isn’t that photogenic and one never knows if the river’s bank will give away while you position your tripod. However, with the low volumes of water being reported I was sure that at Chase Creek Falls the interesting stream features like rocks and trees would be visible with the reduced water flow.

When I got to Chase Falls and parked my car I noticed a small sign along the trail that said to watch for a local marmot named “Chewy”. And sure enough, as I passed a large pile of very big rocks, there was a big marmot perched on top like some amusement park guard.

Marmots are usually shy when one walks near their burrow, but this rodent didn’t seem to be bothered in the least and readily posed for me as I hopped from rock to rock making portraits of him or maybe her. I did see a couple of immature marmots scurry out of sight; so I might be right thinking Chewy might be her instead him.

When I purchased my first DSLR years ago and began learning how to use Photoshop I remember saying to a friend that what I liked best was how easily one could crop without getting the degradation that came when cropping prints made from film. The problem with 35mm film was that anything shot over 400ISO was always grainy so that shooting wide and cropping later was usually disappointing. That’s why many photographers preferred medium or large format cameras to the tiny 35mm film.

I set my tripod up and focused my 24mm lens on the falls and shot wide.  I knew that when I viewed my images on my computer I would choose a crop that fit the rule-of-thirds without loosing much detail.

Modern DSLR sensors are much better in their ability to capture grainless detail at high ISOs than 35mm film was and even cropping away 50% of the picture doesn’t reduce the quality very much.

The low water level made it easy to scramble among the large rocks along the bank and chose a comfortable location to set my tripod up. I used a couple of neutral density (ND) filters so I could reduce my shutter speed to 3, then 4, 5, and finally 6 seconds to slow the water down and I chose a small aperture for lots of depth of field.

I have always enjoyed photographing that waterfall. I think I made my first photographs of it sometime in 1976, and I cannot recall how many times I have been back there since. I am fortunate to have a place like that so close to home where I can always find something to photograph.

With that I think I should end with a quote by a great Canadian photographer, Freeman Patterson, who says, “Seeing, in the finest and broadest sense, means using your senses, your intellect, and your emotions. It means encountering your subject matter with your whole being. It means looking beyond the labels of things and discovering the remarkable world around you.”

I look forward to comments. Thank you, John

Infrared photography moves a photographer far from the usual.

Horses in meadow

Monty Creek

Pritchard Barn

Spring pond                                                Pond Cattail

Monty Creek Church  Watch for Livestock

Sometimes it is necessary for me to get away from doing the usual things. My time as a photographer is spent being precise. I meter for the light and shadow, striving for the best possible exposure, and not much is left to chance.

On the Easter weekend I spent a day photographing a family Christening. My job was to take a creative approach to photographing that religious occasion and telling the family’s story. At an event such as a Christening nothing waits for the photographer and there is no time to correct omissions or mistakes.

The main rule for me was to keep out of everyone’s way, not to become a focal point of attention, and never to miss any thing that happens.

The next morning as I sat at my computer working on the post-production photo editing of the Christening my wife mentioned she would like to finish off the roll of film she had been saving for a sunny day. It didn’t take much convincing to ignore the day’s “to do” list and as I looked out at the clear blue sky I realized I needed something to take off the stress I had been feeling.

There is nothing quite like infrared photography. It is always an exploration when I use the well-worn Nikon D100 that I had modified many years ago to only “see” infrared light.

Vegetation appears white or near white. Black surfaces can appear gray or almost white depending on the angle of reflected light, and if photographed from the right direction the sky becomes black. The bluer the sky, the more the chance there is for an unworldly, surreal effect. And white surfaces can glow with a brightness that illuminates the sky.

I have written about infrared before, but for those that are new to this subject here is the gist of it.

Digital camera sensors are as sensitive to infrared light as to visible light. In order to stop infrared light from contaminating images manufacturers place what they call “a hot filter” in front of the sensor to block the infrared part of the spectrum and still allow the visible light to pass through. My infrared modified D100 has had that filter removed and replaced with a custom filter that allows for infrared only.

My wife wanted to visit a marshy area not far from our home that on wet years fills up with water, and is annually visited by birds, ducks, and geese. But this year’s early dry spring has not given the marsh much water, and when I walked up to the dam two ducks quacked loudly and flew away, and that was the only wildlife sighting for the day.

The back roads always have something to photograph, so we moved on and chose our subjects depending on the light. Linda was shooting with her old medium format 1950’s Ikoflex and was looking for interesting features like fallen trees and rock formations. That particular old film camera doesn’t have an automatic mode, or an in camera meter and requires a hand held light meter. I am sure the few passers by wondered at a woman standing roadside with a boxy thing hanging from her neck while she peered at something in her outstretched hand.

I just explored, and unlike Linda’s limited, 12 exposure roll of film, I had an almost endless supply of digital choice, and besides, infrared changes the way we see things. So I pointed my camera at anything that caught my eye.

I began this discussion with the words, “I spend my time being precise.” And “Not much is left to chance.” However, not so much with infrared. I only use the meter as a not-so-precise guide, and don’t worry about much else. I do try for interesting angles of the subjects I photograph, but sometimes I am in for a surprise when I bring the images up on my monitor.

Shooting infrared is always an exploration, a discovery and moves a photographer far from the usual.

I look forward to all comments. Thanks, John

 

10 Suggestions for Successful People Photography.

 

Constable Mike Moyer

Constable Mike Moyer.

Actor

Professional Actor

Actor 2

Professional Actor

 

I had an interesting discussion with another photographer over coffee this morning. He had brought his memory card with several different pictures and as we talked about his shots he asked, “What is your favorite photography subject?”

Like many other photographers, what I like best changes with whatever I’m currently photographing, and I enjoy photographing just about everything. But in truth most of my subjects in the past 40 years have been people. My reply was, “I enjoy photographing people.”

I’ve been employed doing many types of photography since I began earning my living as a photographer in the 1970’s. And I have worked as a photographer for all types of organizations photographing all types of subjects. However, most of the time I have photographed people.  I think most photography is of people.  We take pictures of our family, of friends, and of people at celebrations and other events.

His next question was, “how do you make a photograph that is more than just the usual snap shot?”

Here are my 10 suggestions that contribute to successful people photographs.

  1. When you take pictures of people look at them and pay attention to their appearance to ensure they look their best.  Don’t just rapidly take a photo and realize later that you should have had your subject adjust something, e.g., a necklace, glasses, a collar, or especially, that tie.
  2. Do three-quarter poses of single subjects. By that I mean turn their body so that they view the camera from over their shoulder.  Choose interesting and flattering angles or points of view. Avoid straight on or “up the nose” headshots.
  3. Focus on the subject’s eyes. When we talk to people we make eye contact. There is a greater chance of your subject liking the photo if their eyes are sharp and not closed or looking away. Ensure that subjects smile.  In my experience when subjects say they want a serious photo without a smile they appear sour or unhappy in the final photo. Do one of each as a compromise.
  4. Select an appropriate lens. Avoid short focal length lenses. On a full frame camera my favorite is 105mm. However, with crop-frame cameras I don’t mind 70mm. Longer focal length lenses create a flattering perspective.
  5. For portraits, an aperture of f/4 or wider will soften the background and make your subject stand out, but for group photos use an aperture of at least f/8 or smaller to increase the zone of focus (depth of field).
  6. Look at the background behind your subject especially when doing outdoor portraitures.  You don’t want the photo to appear to have something growing out of your subject’s head or to have objects in your photograph that are distracting.
  7. Pay attention to uncomplimentary shadows created by the sun, your flash, or other light sources.
  8. Get things ready first. Contemplate the poses before you photograph your subject. The best way to bore your subject and loose the moment is to make them wait.
  9. Tighten up the shot. Get rid of unwanted elements in the photograph that do nothing for it. If there is more than one person make them get close together.
  10. Talk to your subjects. The most successful portrait photographers are those who talk to and relate to their subjects.  We are dealing with people and we communicate by talking. Don’t hide behind the camera.

And as always be positive about the photograph you are about to make. Get excited. Your excitement will be contagious and affect those around you.

I appreciate comments. Thanks, John

My website is at http://www.enmanscamera.com

Rainy Day Photography

Last drop

Wet fir tree

Spring bud

Oregon grape

Rain drops

Reflection

Too many springs

Monday was another day of rain. It is spring here in the hills of Pritchard, earlier than usual, but it is spring and rainy days go with spring.

Rain doesn’t bother me much and had I thought about getting my camera and going for a drive up into the hills to see what I could find. However, as I walked through my wife’s garden on my way to the car I noticed all the drops of water hanging from branches and those leaves that made it through winter. The wet and foggy hills would have been interesting, but all those droplets were just waiting to be photographed.

How does one prepare to do photography in the rain? Put on a hat with a brim if, like me, you wear glasses. I also like rubber boots. Bring an old tea towel in your pocket to wipe the rain off your camera, and you are ready. Oh, and remember to keep the camera lens pointed down.

When the garden is dry I would usually put a couple of flashes on light stands, and add umbrellas so I can control the direction and quality of light. But when it is raining I prefer using my ring flash.

A ring flash fits tightly around the front of my 200mm macro lens and is perfect for building reflections on the droplets of water that were clinging to branches and sparse foliage that I wandered around photographing.

I expect many photographers prefer waiting out the rain and the unappetizing low, flat light on rainy days. I can understand that. Rain is such a hassle, and getting wet is uncomfortable. Nevertheless, that flat light, slight breeze, and wet conditions forced me to approach my subjects differently and I like that challenge.

In the low light of a rainy day we don’t think about light in the same way as we do on a sunny day. Everything is usually about colour, and how to deal with the contrast, especially on a bright spring day.

When the light is low one needs to see tonality and shape, and raindrops are a challenging element to add. In this instance there was also a slight, intermittent breeze.

I chose a setting that without a flash everything would be underexposed. That means I would only see my subjects when they were properly exposed and a flash is the best way to do that. Using my camera’s manual mode I selected 1/250th of a second and I kept my aperture at f/11 so I would have as much depth of field as possible when and if a branch shook back and forth in the breeze. I also switched my flash to a manual mode. The flash power would always be the same putting out the same amount of light. I then could control exactly how much light I wanted for each location.

I could have increased my ISO and shutterspeed if I had decided to only use natural light, but then everything would have been flat and it would have been hard to get a sparkle in the raindrops.

I know it can be disappointing to see those gray clouds on your day off when you had made plans to be out shooting. However, keep a positive attitude, remember you don’t have to go far, and with a bit of creative thinking and preparation you’ll be out having fun making photos, even in wet weather.

I always look forward to everyone’s comments. Thanks, John

About Black and White Photographs

Sax player

Cups and a mirror

Windows

 

Bronc rider

 

Tree

Sentinal after the fall

One of the fun things I like about photography is the endless conversations I get to have with both long time and beginning photographers, as they explore and re-explore this exciting medium. Last week I talked to photographers that wondered if reverting back to film would help them become more creative. And in the past few days more than one person has stopped by wanting to talk about converting their images to black and white.

When I started out with photography I spent most of my time shooting with B&W. I studied Ansel Adams’ books on his zone system, and Richard Zakia’s writings on tone control, and I read or looked at everything I could find to understand black and white photography and printmaking.

I began to understand exposure as of shades of grey, and got used to thinking about the subjects I photographed in tonal values instead of only bright colours. I remember a trick that one of my photography instructor’s suggested for those students that had trouble “seeing” contrast. He said we should “squint down to f/16 when we looked a subject”. I expect other students on campus wondered about the camera-toting students squinting up at the college’s clock tower after class.

I learned to previsualize, and as I selected my subject I would think about how I would process the film and make the final print. I might adjust the exposure rating and developing, as with the Zone system, and select different papers and alternate chemicals to change contrast or tonal values in the final print. Nowadays I do the same, but think about what I will need to do to enhance my image file with Photoshop.

Modern cameras capture images in colour, but that doesn’t mean we can’t previsualize the outcome; and converting a RAW colour file is really easy with programs like Photoshop, and my favourite, Silver EFex Pro. Converting that image to B&W stretches our creativity and forces us to visualize our world in different terms.

A black and white image is a matter for the eye of the beholder, the intuition, and finally the intellect. Of course colour is all that, but much of the time it seems photographers, overwhelmed by colour, just push the shutter seeing nothing deeper in a scene than the colours. A black and white photograph depends on its ability to communicate; it doesn’t need to rely on eye-catching colours for its visual presentation.

Black and white images don’t attract with a play of colours. To me they are subtle and make viewers think about the picture. The B&W image demands close attention to composition, lighting, perspective, and the context in which the image is shot

A 1950s photographer named Paul Outerbridge, once said, “In black and white you suggest. In color you state.”   And I remember another photographer saying that he believed shooting in B&W refined one’s way of seeing.

I am of the belief that those photographers that are good at black and white photography learn to exploit the differences in tonal elements in a scene and present viewers with successful B&W portrayals that make excellent use of shapes, textures, light and shadow, and the loss of those original colours becomes irrelevant.

For those that haven’t tried B&W image making, converting an image is really easy with programs like Photoshop and Silver Efex. Readers will find a new way of displaying work. Black and white will have readers visualizing the world in new and creative ways and who knows, like me I expect they will enjoy black and white photography.

 

I look forward to comments. Thanks, John

My website is at www.enmanscamera.com

Does Film Lend Itself Better to Creativity Than Digital?

Digital VS Film

Where does a photographer’s creativity come from?

 

This past week I received the following question, “is film a better creative format than digital?”

I admit that the discussion regarding film vs. digital isn’t really that common anymore. Yes, I talk with high school students that are using film in photography classes. Those discussions are mostly about how film works, about processing, and printing, or using different chemicals.

Sometimes an older person who stopped taking pictures in the 1980s will loudly tell me digital is unnatural, doesn’t look good, and is cheating. Cheating? That conversation is always humorous. However, it is one-sided and not really worth getting into because any opinion but theirs is going to be ignored.

However, this question wasn’t about which is better as a way of making photographs, it was about creativity, and that intrigued me. Creativity is about imagination, originality, and art.

My quick answer to that was that I liked both film and digital images. To me, film is a more “tactile” medium than a digital image, and I like the extreme tonality that a good photographer can achieve. I believe digital image files can have more sharpness and a lot more detail. Sometimes that is good, sometimes not. That also depends on the photographer.

In my opinion creating an image is what the photographer does. It involves deciding upon the kind of camera and medium one might use, but the camera and medium is just the vehicle for a photographer’s creativity. It is really all about the final image, and how one decides to produce that image for the best visual effect.

I think some times that too much is made about the process. The process is just that, a series of actions or steps that one takes to achieve a particular end. I guess what a photographer does to create that show-stopping photograph is truly interesting, but in the end it is really only about the photograph.

The idea that there might be something more creative in making an image with film than with digital doesn’t make much sense.

I remember all the possibilities we had with film. Imaginative photographers would select different types of film and change the way they exposed and process it. Photographers probably had shelves of different chemicals for both developing film and making prints, as well as cabinets filled with photographic papers, and all as part of their process to bring out personal creative vision.

Now photographers can shoot with cropped or full frame cameras, and instead of dedicated rooms filled with equipment, they load their computers with software programs to help them with their personal creative project.

When using film one would previsualize (a term coined by Minor White) how one wanted to produce the final image before releasing the shutter. And I think many still do that to reach their vision, except now photographers are thinking of programs like Photoshop or Lightroom instead of the chemical processes required with film.

There are some photographers that only know film, there are some photographers that only know digital, and there are those that are competent in both. And although they might use film, digital, or both, to produce an image, creativity comes from the photographer and not the process.

Maybe I should have just replied to that question about creativity with photographer Ansel Adams’ words, “You don’t make a photograph just with a camera. You bring to the act of photography all the pictures you have seen, the books you have read, the music you have heard, the people you have loved.”

I look forward to any comments readers have. Thank you, John

My website is at www.enmanscamera.com