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Photographing Wildlife In Action

Photographing Wildlife In Action

All Photos by Mark Buckler

By Mark Buckler

I’ve spent nearly 40 years (I started at a young age) working with wildlife in one professional capacity or another, either by performing field research studies or through photography. When it comes to photographing animals, my preference is to capture their behavior in some type of action. I’d much rather photograph a flying bird than one perched on a branch, because it’s a much more dynamic image. This doesn’t mean that I won’t shoot wildlife portraits – just that my priority has always been to capture action.

But to get those compelling action photos, I’ve learned that you need to be properly prepared. Here are a few suggestions that can help:

Pre-set Your Camera

Contrary to what you see in many documentary films, wildlife action can happen without much warning and is often very fleeting. If you’re not prepared, you will likely miss it. That’s why you need to preset your camera in order to capture these wild moments whenever they occur, because you won’t have time to adjust your camera each time. This means presetting your camera to faster shutter speeds, larger apertures and higher ISO settings. Larger apertures will allow more light to reach the camera’s sensor, which in turn allows you to shoot at faster shutter speeds. Those wider apertures have the added benefit of reducing your depth of field, allowing the background and foreground to fall out of focus and therefore draw more attention to your subject.

Faster shutter speeds, of course, will allow you to “freeze” the action in front of you. Determining the necessary shutter speed depends on how quickly your subject can move. For instance, for most birds in flight, I like to shoot at a minimum of 1/2500 second, because this will freeze the flapping wings of most birds. However, much of the time (if the light allows) I will be shooting at speeds even faster than that. It’s important to realize that, in many situations, sharper images are the direct result of faster shutter speeds.

Consider Your ISO

If you’re going to photograph wildlife, you will need to get over any fear of shooting at higher ISO settings. Wildlife is often the most active early and late in the day, when there is little available light, so you will need to shoot at higher ISOs in order to achieve the faster shutter speeds you need to freeze the action.

Many photographers are overly concerned with the increased noise levels associated with shooting at higher ISOs. I don’t worry much about my ISO level; I simply shoot at whatever ISO is going to give me the proper exposure at my desired shutter speed and aperture. It is critical, however, to get proper exposure at high ISO settings so that you don’t end up revealing excessive noise and artifacts in the shadow areas. Modern cameras have sensors that are much better at handling noise at higher ISOs. Noise reduction software can also be used during image processing to help alleviate that pesky digital noise.

Autofocus and Frame Rate

You will want to rely on the power of autofocus to capture sharp images of moving animals.  Specifically, you will need to use continuous autofocus when photographing a moving subject, which will help keep the focus locked on your subject. Continuous AF, coupled with a high frame rate (number of frames per second), will help you capture stunning images of wildlife behavior and action. If you are using a mirrorless camera, however, you need to make sure that you are shooting within a frame rate that is compatible with your continuous AF. Just because your camera is capable of shooting at 60 frames per second doesn’t mean that continuous AF will function at that level.

Manual Mode

This is a topic for a more detailed article, but I am a firm believer that shooting in full manual mode is the best way to photograph wildlife, especially action. If the light is consistent and you have the right manual settings, you will get the right exposure in manual mode regardless of the tonal composition of the image and the background. With wildlife photography, the tonal composition is often changing because the animals are in constant motion, with backgrounds that change from shadows to sunlight and back again. In essence, manual mode allows you to set-it-and-forget-it and not worry about changing shutter speeds, apertures and ISO; you can simply concentrate your effort on the animal’s behavior.

Know Your Subject

As with any genre of photography, the more you know about your subject the better you will be able to portray that subject in an image. This is particularly true with photographing wildlife action. Many animals provide clues that can indicate a particular behavior is about to happen.  This can be something as simple as reading the body language of an animal or maintaining an awareness of certain types of actions that will allow you to anticipate specific behaviors.

For instance, a bathing duck is likely going to sit up on the water and flap its wings to expel water from its feathers. And of course, a photo of a wing-flapping duck is much more compelling that one of a duck simply sitting on the water. If you are hoping to photograph a bird taking flight, it’s important to know the wind direction, because birds are almost always going to take off (as well as land) into the wind. The more you learn about your subjects, and watch for cues, the better you will be able to anticipate their actions and capture them in motion.

 

Mark Buckler is a professional photographer who leads photo tours around the world, including near his home base on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. His background in wildlife biology and teaching promotes immersive and engaging photographic learning adventures. You can follow him on Facebook and Instagram (@markbucklerphotography) and Bucklerphoto.com

 

 

Don’t Leave Home Without It:  Your Spares and Repair Kit

Don’t Leave Home Without It: Your Spares and Repair Kit

Photo by Eric Bowles.

By Eric Bowles.

As nature photographers, we need to be prepared for just about anything out in the field. That’s why, through the years, I’ve learned that one of the most important things I can pack for any photo outing is my Spares & Repairs kit.

What’s that? For me, it’s a zip-lock bag that contains solutions for all the problems I might run into in the field (and for all the workshop participants or friends who may be with me). It goes beyond just a spare battery and memory card. Instead, it’s a small bag with all the replacements and tools for things I might lose, break, or need to repair on a trip. My kit is like an insurance policy covering all of the problems I’ve encountered through the years – including the solutions I wish had been with me at the time.

You should put together a Spares & Repairs kit that suits your particular needs. But to get your started, here’s what’s in mine.

My kit starts with the thing I lose most often – lens and body caps. It’s such a nuisance when you lose a cap, and it adds some risk that you will scratch your lens elements or expose your camera body to dust. I carry a rear lens cap that fits all of my lenses, and the 1-3 most commonly used front lens caps. I also have an extra camera body cap. These items don’t need to be branded OEM parts. You can buy a set of three third-party lens caps for any size at about the same cost as one lens cap from your camera’s manufacturer. I carry 82mm, 77mm, and 62mm spare lens caps. That’s not enough for every lens, but it covers the ones I use most frequently.

Next for me is a set of tripod wrenches. You know, those small wrenches you need to tighten or adjust your tripod legs or the hub. A floppy tripod leg can be a horrible nuisance, so you need to be prepared. Gitzo uses a special star-shaped wrench, while others may use hex keys or Allen wrenches. Just be sure you have the types and sizes you need. Also be sure to carry the wrench you need to tighten or remove camera and lens plates if necessary. After all, a good camera plate doesn’t do you much good when your camera is spinning around loosely. I also pack a spare tripod foot; it’s not something you need often, but it can be a real nuisance if you lose yours.

On the subject of tools, a handy item for me is a set of small screwdrivers. This is an easy-to-find item often used for computer repairs or eyeglass repairs, but it can be very useful for tightening a screw on your camera mount or on a lens foot. On my 70-200mm lens, for example, the foot mount is attached to the lens with four small screws, and if they are loose my lens will not be stable even on the best tripod. If you are dealing with a loose screw, there is a risk it will loosen again, so I also carry a small tube of Blue Loctite as a thread locker. Just a fraction of a drop is enough to hold a screw in place. Don’t use the Red Loctite, which requires heat to loosen.

I like carrying some basic cleaning supplies as well. Start with a bulb blower to clean your sensor. Dust can be a problem, so at the very least, carry a blower in your bag. I use a Giottos Rocket Blower to handle most dust on my sensor. It’s also great in the field just in case you get something on your lens or camera that might scratch the glass if you rub it. Add a small microfiber lens cloth as well. This is an all-purpose item that not only cleans lenses, it can double as a lost lens cap. For lenses, I carry a handful of Zeiss lens wipes, the small alcohol-based wipes intended for optical lenses. These wipes are perfect not only for removing dust and fingerprints, but they work very well with rain, mist, snow or frost on your camera or lens. Alcohol is used in anti-freeze to prevent freezing, but it also dries more quickly than water.

Let’s remember a few basics that are probably already in your bag. These are items you can’t live without and are probably not in a Spares kit, but you better have them. Start with an extra battery and memory card. If you use more than one type of memory card in your cameras, keep at least one old card for each format (this is a great use for old cards). Have you ever left your camera battery sitting in the charger at home, or a memory card in your card reader? Having spares of these items can save a lot of stress. If you are traveling, the other critical item is a battery charger with any cables required. Finally, if you wear glasses, be sure you have an extra pair in your camera bag for emergencies.

So, what’s in your Spares & Repairs kit? Everyone will make their own decisions about what is important. But before your next trip, make sure you have the supplies you need to handle the unexpected.

 

Eric Bowles is a former president of GNPA, a professional nature photographer, and director of Nikonians Academy. He leads bird photography workshops for Nikonians, Chattahoochee Nature Center and Georgia Audubon in addition to his own programs.

 

 

GNPA’s on INSTAGRAM!

GNPA’s on INSTAGRAM!

GNPA photographers create amazing images, and we want to share them–so we’ve created the new GNPA_PIX Instagram page to offer a new way to network, learn, and be inspired by the outstanding work our members share.

GNPA_PIX is a curated page, where our moderators post selected images. And we’d love to feature your captures!

To let us know when you’d like an image featured on GNPA’s page, post it in your Instagram account and use the hashtag #gnpa_pix on your Instagram post. And don’t forget to follow our account, too.

Ready to see what GNPA_PIX is all about? Here are some quick tips to get you started:

  • Follow @gnpa_pix to see every post from @gnpa_pix.
  • Follow #gnpa_pix to see every post that uses this hashtag – every time someone else uses this hashtag, you will see the post, whether it is “featured” on GNPA’s page or not.
  • Add hashtag #gnpa_pix to your posts to give GNPA permission to feature your image AND to make your post visible to everyone who follows our hashtag.

But remember… If your account is “Private,” only your followers will see your post, even if you use #gnpa_pix.

Come check us out, and look for more Instagram Tips and Tricks soon!

(Copy and image by Jenny Burdette)

Expand Your Skills With Outdoors Flash

Expand Your Skills With Outdoors Flash

Photo by Annalise Kaylor

Try These Techniques to Supplement the Sun

 

By Annalise Kaylor

Nature and wildlife photographers have the best and brightest light at their disposal – the sun. But most great things have their less-than-good sides, too, and the sun is no exception. The overhead sun, from midday through the late afternoon, creates harsh shadows. Every photographer has experienced seeing their subject in the perfect location, but badly backlit or facing a less-than-ideal direction. As a result, many outdoor photographers give up on midday shooting, and bring out their cameras only when the natural light is at its most favorable.

However, the addition of a flash to your kit creates a whole new world of photographic opportunities. To many, the mention of flash photography conjures up memories of harshly lit snapshots with red eyes and unflattering, overblown highlights. But when used – and understood – in a meaningful way, the addition of flash can take your work to the next level and provide you with many more options. What is photography, after all, if not the art of reading, manipulating and capturing light?

In nature photography, there are essentially two types of flash photography that come into play: using the flash to add a bit more light to your scene, and using the flash as a primary light source. Both techniques are worth practicing and can be applied to every form of nature photography, from the tiniest macro shots to migrating songbirds to the most magnificent landscapes.

Without a flash (left), the flower looks flat. By adding flash reflected from a bounce card, it comes alive. Photos by Annalise Kaylor.

 

 

 

Adding Flash Adds An Exposure (Kind Of)

When using flash, you’re working with two exposures to create one frame – one exposure from your camera and one from your flash. Your camera exposure is always reading the natural, or ambient, light in the scene. The flash exposure will always be focused on lighting the subject of the scene. The easiest way to remember the difference between the two exposures is that your camera should be set to expose for the background of your image.

In-camera exposure for the background is what every photographer is already familiar with: if you want a brighter, lighter background or you want to have some of the environmental context of your location easily visible, you set your camera exposure for that background. If you want a background that is darker and allows your subject to be more prominent, then you reduce the exposure to create a darker background.

With added flash and a slower shutter speed controlling ambient light, the flower in the second photo is more pleasing. Photos by Annalise Kaylor. 

 

 

 

Manual Or Through-the-Lens Flash?

Adding flash to the mix offers two options: manual flash exposure or through-the-lens exposure, also known as TTL. Manual exposure with flash is just like it sounds, since the photographer chooses the settings of the flash. While there is no hard and fast rule as to which is better, manual flash tends to be the best option for static, non-moving subjects like flowers and some macro subjects. Generally speaking, if you are using a tripod and taking a fair amount of time to compose your scene around a subject, manual flash offers the most control.

Through-the-lens, or TTL mode, is ideal for moving subjects. This mode puts the camera and the flash in communication with one another, and the flash is reading the light through the lens of your camera, constantly judging the distance between your camera and your subject. As it gathers that information, the flash is adjusting itself accordingly to give you the best flash exposure possible based on the data it receives from your camera.

Using Modifiers With On-Camera Flash

Gone are the days when a photographer sets the flash in the hot shoe and blasts their subject with direct light from the flash alone. Not only does this look harsh in the final image, there are also ethical concerns about ambushing wildlife with a bright flash of direct light. Any time the light from your flash is coming from the same direction as your camera, less will always be more.

Flash modifiers are a great way to add another layer of creativity and control while using artificial light.

The larger the source of light, the softer and more natural the light will be. A spotlight, for example, is small and round with all of its light funneling through that very small opening. On the other end of the spectrum, a large picture window, with a sheer curtain hanging in front of it, will diffuse the light all around the room, creating a soft and even wash of light. This is the same reason a bright sunny day creates harsh shadows, while an overcast day creates even lighting all around. The same principle applies when adding a modifier to a flash.

Lavender with no flash at all (left), and lavender with direct flash mounted on the camera (right). Both images have issues. Photos by Annalise Kaylor.

 

 

 

Most flashes come with a small white card built into them – a  “bounce” card that slides up from the back of the unit, allowing the flash to be positioned straight up while the light bounces off this card and forward toward the photographer’s subject on the other side of the lens. The small surface area of this built-in bounce card isn’t ideal, however, so adding a larger, third-party flash modifier creates higher-quality light. This can be a white bounce card with a bigger surface area, or a plastic or silicone globe that diffuses light all around. In a pinch, I’ve even bounced my flash off the white lining of my raincoat!

The same flowers as above, but this time a bounced fill flash creates a more appealing exposure. Photo by Annalise Kaylor.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the opposite side of the spectrum is focusing flash. By nature, when you set off a flash, the light scatters everywhere. Focusing that light using a modifier, like a grid over the top of the flash or a set of barn doors, directs your flash much like a spotlight at a theater, where the star of the show is illuminated while everything else fades away into the shadows.

Moving The Flash Off Camera

Even more creativity is unleashed when you move your flash off the hot shoe atop the camera to somewhere completely off-camera. Wireless flash transmitters (triggers) are lightweight, fit in the palm of your hand, and allow you to place your flash anywhere in relation to your subject to achieve virtually any lighting setup. The transmitter sits in the hot shoe of the camera while the flash is placed anywhere nearby to achieve the desired effect. It may be positioned off to the side, strapped to a tree, handheld above the subject, or anywhere one pleases.

Moving the flash closer to the subject will result in a higher-contrast image with well-defined edges and shadows. Moving the flash farther away from the subject will create softer edges and an overall more balanced look. Off-camera flash allows the photographer to light a static subject from any angle for a dramatic effect, or even create the illusion of sunlight on an overcast day.

All of the modifiers that can be used with a flash while it’s on the camera can be used when the flash is off-camera, as well. Plus, most wireless triggers work with up to three off-camera flash units, creating myriad lighting scenarios with the addition of each flash.

Books have been written about using flash for nature photography, so this short article certainly can’t cover every aspect. But photographers looking to elevate their work will find a whole new world of creativity and versatility by adding flash to their toolkit. On-camera or off, with a modifier or without, the combination of options is endless. While there is nothing that compares to making a perfect frame in the perfect light of day, being able to make one’s own light comes pretty close.

 

Annalise Kaylor is a staff photographer and video producer at Habitat for Humanity International, a job that takes her around the world creating visual stories of human resilience. Annalise is a Georgia Audubon Master Birder and spends her free time birdwatching, hiking, kayaking and working in her native garden. A member of GNPA, she is based in Atlanta and lives with her partner Bill and their two dogs, Frank and Susan.

 

 

Tips for Nature Videography

Tips for Nature Videography

 

Extracting Images and Video Focus Stacking

By Tom Simpson

Ever since video capabilities were added to smart phones in 2007, the popularity of videography has soared. Nikon introduced video in its D90 model in 2008, Canon followed suit with its 5D Mark II, and now virtually every camera allows you to shoot video.

Even so, many photographers’ experiences with videography are still limited to their cell phones. That’s unfortunate, because today’s DSLR and mirrorless systems provide far more versatility than phones, as well as higher-quality video performance. If you haven’t taken advantage of these capabilities in your camera, you should.

Here, we’ll take a look at just two ways to utilize your camera’s video capabilities: Extracting quality still photos from a video, and using video for focus stacking. Both options can offer valuable tools for nature photographers.

Extracting a Photo from Video

Each camera has its own settings for video functions, including resolution quality based on pixels.  Typically, those include full HD (high definition) video, which provides an image of 1920×1080 pixels per inch. But higher resolution (i.e., more pixels per inch) became common after 2012 when the Canon EOS 1D C introduced 4K video (about 4,000 pixels per inch), and Panasonic brought 4K to mirrorless cameras in its Lumix GH4 in 2014. Nikon’s first 4K DSLR was the D500 in 2016. Now, 4K video is common in most cameras (and some can even shoot 6K and 8K).

These increased resolutions created the ability to extract high-quality still images directly from your video. Recording at 24 or 30 frames per second, video images can capture action must faster than the frames-per-second rate for burst shooting. It can also do so for much longer periods of time, achieving 30 or more minutes of continuous shooting. This provides potentially hundreds of individual images within an action sequence, offering the ability to find that one “special” shot.

Bringing your video into Lightroom or Photoshop is pretty painless, and you can easily scan forward and backward, frame by frame, to choose a still image. Then, using the sequence of Edit>Copy>Paste>Save, you can save a single image for additional processing. With 4K video, your frame will be about 8.3 megapixels, which is easily adequate for an 8×10-inch image at 300 dpi. But if your photo is not going to be viewed in a “nose-to-image” environment (such as in a gallery), you can go much larger, likely up to 15×30. If you’re shooting 6K video, a single frame will be about 18 megapixels and allow a 10×20 image at 300 dpi. And with the latest AI plug-ins such as Gigapixel, you can enjoy substantially higher quality in these bigger enlargements.

For example, when shooting at a popular south Texas ranch a few years ago, I had focused on a dragonfly that was repeatedly landing and taking off, at some distance from our blind. When I viewed the video later, I realized that what I had not noticed through the lens was why the dragonfly had been making such frequent fly-arounds and landings. As the image below shows, the dragonfly was being attacked by a pair of parasitoid wasps, commonly called “dirt-daubers.” Had I been shooting single or burst shots, it is very unlikely that I would have captured this specific action, since it was a very brief moment in about three minutes of video, or a single frame out of about 4,300.

Wasps attacking a dragonfly. Photo by Tom Simpson.

Video Focus Stacking (using Helicon Focus)

To achieve conventional focus stacking, you typically use a tripod to capture multiple shots of a scene or subject – at slightly different focus points for each shot – and then combine those images into a single, completely focused photo that shows the subject in full depth of field. This can be done manually by repeatedly adjusting the focus through a successive series of shots taken as cross-sections of the scene or subject. These are then transferred into other software (such as Photoshop, Helicon Focus or Zerene Stacker) for post processing.

More recent cameras – including several Olympus and Panasonic models, Canon EOS RP, and Nikon D850, Z6 and Z7 – can actually complete this stacking process in-camera. In either case, the successful finished image requires that every fraction of the scene or subject be captured in focus before being “stacked” together. Skipping any cross-section or plane of focus will noticeably reduce the quality of the final image.

Video focus stacking, on the other hand, avoids the need to take all those individual shots, and assures that all cross-sections are captured, in focus, and included in the stack of images. The process, as with any focus stacking, works best with the camera on a tripod. Simply set your focus point at one extreme of the total depth of field, such as the nearest portion of the subject. Press the record button to begin the video and then, as you’re recording, carefully turn the focusing ring all the way through the complete depth-of-field that’s needed for the subject. Turning the focusing ring through the entire focal range, without moving the camera, may take a little practice at first. Once you reach the other end of focal range, stop the video.

Post processing can be done in Photoshop, Zyrene or Helicon, but only Helicon is ideal because you can import the video directly into the software to render your final image. As seen below, Helicon has an “Open Video” tab, which is used to import your video stack into the software.

 

Then, by clicking on the “Render” tab in the lower right corner (above), the final transformation takes place, as all the individual video frames are merged into a single image with full depth of field. The resulting image can be saved and processed just like any other photo.

This video shows the complete video sequence of a pitcher plant in Maine. The final photo shows the resulting image, captured in Helicon from over 250 video frames. The software rendered this final image in less than 25 seconds.

Maine pitcher plant. Photo by Tom Simpson.

As you can see, creating single images from video – whether from a single video frame or via focus stacking – opens up some fascinating options for nature photography.

Tom Simpson grew up in Nashville and earned biology degrees from MTSC, LSU and FSU. Following service in the Army Chemical Corps and academic positions at Wake Forest and Agnes Scott College, he began a 40-year career in environmental consulting. Now retired, his photography interests include photomicroscopy, macro, landscape and wildlife, with particular interest in nature videography. He shoots primarily with Panasonic mirrorless cameras. His family includes his wife, Cindy, three daughters and seven grandchildren.

 

Eight Tips for Photo Contests

Eight Tips for Photo Contests

Pre-dawn mist in the Okefenokee. Photo by Eric Bowles

By Eric Bowles

Many GNPA members participate in photo contests, online competitions, or gallery submissions of various types.  But once you submit your images, you may not have a good idea of how they are evaluated, what the selection criteria are for winners, and what you can do to improve your odds.  I typically judge more than a thousand images a year for various competitions, critiques, and contests, and I’ll share some tips and observations.

Follow the rules
Most contests are strict about the rules.  Photos that fail to follow the rules are routinely removed from the judging early even if the image has merit.  There are some small mistakes that can be frustrating – including a signature or watermark when it is prohibited, submitting images that are outside geographic restrictions (an African lion in a contest for Georgia and adjoining states), late entry, etc.

Don’t push sliders too far
There is a trend toward highly saturated images, particularly in online competitions.  Excessive vibrance or saturation can easily go too far and cause an image to fail in the eyes of a judge.  The same is true for other sliders and edits – clarity, contrast, texture, and sharpening can all be used excessively and create detail beyond what is needed.  Sharpening or increasing contrast in an out of focus background can detract from an image.  Consider applying some of these adjustments locally rather than globally.

Oxbow Bend is a heavily photographed location. Even a well-composed image with peak fall color is relatively common, with hundreds of similar images being made each day. Photo by Eric Bowles.

Be Interesting / Avoid Common Images
There is nothing wrong with making your own photos of common subjects – we all like landscape images of Sparks Lane in the Smokies, Yosemite from Tunnel View or Gates of the Valley, or iconic formations in Arches, Zion, or Canyonlands.  These classic locations have been photographed by millions of photographers, so for your image to stand out, it’s subconsciously being compared with the best of those millions of images.  What will make your image stand out as spectacular and unique compared to those well-known images?  Look for exceptional images or unique views of common subjects.

A Great Egret is a common subject, but the unusual head position, tight composition, angled feathers and brilliant breeding plumage make this a winning image. Photo by Eric Bowles.

Key Moments – Behavior or Action
Wildlife images have their own common subjects – wading birds are big, slow, and abundant so they are easy to photograph.  If a judge sees 3-4 great egret images in a contest, only a spectacular image will be selected.  The same is true for common mammals.  What makes your bear, elk, deer, lion, or elephant image unique?  In national contests, photographers look for perfect timing on key behavior.  Two thirds of the images are showing feeding, fighting, courtship, or similar behaviors with perfect light and timing.  A simple portrait can be successful, but it needs to be extremely well done.  Think about it this way – is the image unique because you rarely see it, or unique for someone who lives in the area and photographs the subject on a daily or weekly basis?  Look for unique images of uncommon subjects or unique timing that makes an image special.

Watch the Details
It’s easy to look at a good image and fail to notice little details that make a difference.  I recall one image that had a sharpening halo around the subject of what was otherwise a great image.  A recent entry was produced as a high key monochrome image for an exhibit and it had wonderful content and composition.  But it also had magenta and green chromatic aberration that could have been easily removed.  Sensor dust spots always need to be removed.  Small details – reflections, unwanted color, bits of debris or trash, etc. – can make a difference and should be addressed to show your best work.

While generally a good image, the butterfly is slightly clipped. That’s a major flaw and would prevent this image from doing well in a serious competition. Photo by Eric Bowles.

Watch the Edges
Before you finish with an image, check the edges.  Ideally, you’d check the edges when you make the image, but be sure to check the edges when you are deciding to submit an image.  Is there anything cutoff by the edge of the frame?  Does it look intentional?  Do the edges of the frame attract attention to a distraction or something that might be outside the frame?  Do you have spots of bright colors or extreme contrast at the edge of the image?  Normally you want to focus the eye on your subject, and avoid taking the eye to the edge of the frame.  Be careful to compose and crop with intention and avoid clipping.

Pre-dawn mist in the Okefenokee captures wonderful soft colors and reflections. By 9:00 a.m., however, the mist is gone and this same scene would be rather bland. Photo by Eric Bowles.

 

Choose the Time of Day or Season
I often see images of landscapes or wildlife made during the middle of the day.  I wonder if the photographer chose that time of day because it was the best for the image, or because of convenience.  We all understand you may not be able to photograph during the golden hours or when there are great clouds and color in the sky.  With contest submissions, the time of day or time of year is a choice.  For wildlife, breeding season can bring great color and behavior.  With birds, look for breeding plumage, courtship and displaying behaviors, or similar timing to show your subject at its best.  With other mammals, breeding season brings action that is uncommon at other times of year.  Adult bears are healthy in the early fall as their coats are glossy and they are eating to prepare for hibernation.

Don’t Expect Every Judge to Have the Same Perspective
Judges usually have similar perspectives, and with conversation bout an image, they can form a consensus opinion.  But each judge has their own expertise and views in how an image is assessed.  Some judges will have hot buttons that immediately reject images.  Others have subjects they see or photograph regularly, and may have strict standards for what makes a good image.  Don’t worry if your image is Best of Show in one competition, and not even a finalist in another competition.  Judges and competitions are different.  Competing images may be different.  You’ll get a better idea of how judges view your image if you have multiple perspectives.

The nice thing about competitions is they are supposed to be fun.  It’s a good way to share your images, get feedback, try out new ideas, and possibly be recognized for your photography.  But above all, make sure you have fun sharing your images and seeing the work of others.

Eric Bowles is an Atlanta-based professional nature photographer and photography instructor. He is curator for the GNPA Gallery at Chattahoochee Nature Center and regularly judges programs for GNPA and other camera groups. In 2020 he judged exhibits for the Booth Museum Photography Guild and the Blue Ridge Arts Center. Formal training includes the judging school for PPA’s International Photo Competition. Eric is President of GNPA and a board member of the North American Nature Photography Association (NANPA).

 

 

 

 

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