By John Mariana
From my perspective, successful nature photography is comprised of two very different elements. Understanding the role that each one plays in the process is critical. Capturing the photo is clearly important, but so is our thought process for presenting that image.
The camera, of course, is only a tool. Yes, it is the tool we use to capture nature images, but the tool itself does not create the image or provide the final presentation. Our own in-the-field experiences, our training in composition and the understanding of the elements of “good images” are the critical aspects for the capture. Composition, special light, depth of field, shutter speed and good exposure represent the craft of the capture. These should become second nature to you, so when a special nature opportunity presents itself, you are prepared to capture it.
Capturing moving animals and birds in flight requires good depth of field as well as a fast shutter speed to freeze the action. For flying birds, I typically use f11 at 1,000th of a second to capture sharp details from wing tip to wing tip. I will try to focus on the eye and use focus tracking for multiple captures as the bird or animal is moving. Also, I always shoot images in raw format. You can capture both raw and jpeg images simultaneously, but those raw images will provide many more pixels. And those extra pixels will give you the ability to crop the image and still produce quality prints.
Positioning yourself is also critical, but too often overlooked. Locate a position where the background is simple, distant, or shows an environment that brings special meaning to the capture. Then you are prepared.
Once you’ve captured quality raw images, the next step is determining your final presentation. This step is accomplished with software, not in the camera. Certainly, today’s cameras have very good software for adjusting light, shadows, color and more, but the best method is to simply capture the best raw pixels in the camera and then use software to enhance the captures. I use Photoshop, Topaz Modules, DXO modules and Luminar NEO to enhance my images. Those enhancements involve cropping, sharpening, color enhancement, vignetting, dodging shadows and burning some highlights. I use these tools to bring the eye of the viewer instantly to the main subject. Post processing is the difference between just presenting an image and presenting an image with real impact.
Happy Little Green Frogs
Darcy Elleby Pino conducts workshops in Costa Rica, where I assist her. This image (“I’m So Happy”) was one of several that I captured as a 3-inch tree frog was climbing a Bird of Paradise plant. Timing is everything with these opportunities. I made sure I had good depth of field for the frog’s body, and I darkened the background with a small amount of highlight behind the frog. The face is highlighted to bring the viewer’s eye instantly to the frog’s face. Compositionally, the frog dominates the center of the image, breaking the rule of thirds, but is in the upper third of the image.
Images with instant impact are the most appealing. This image has been cropped, and the highlights increased, so that the viewer looks instantly into the face. This presentation also has increased contrast to emphasize the three-dimensionality of the frog and the entire image. The frog seems ready to jump out of the image. This elicits emotion in the viewer. Winning images are those that have great composition, instant impact and elicit emotion.
The next image (“Hi Honey, I’m Home”) is a composite made from two separate frog photos. I created this image to tell a story and elicit amusement. Still, the image demonstrates the use of highlights, dark background and good depth of field to capture the details. The very dark bakcground creates the three-dimensionality of the frogs.
It is quite easy to capture a beautiful bird when it’s just sitting on a branch. This image was captured at a zoo, of a bird behind glass. However, it’s been enhanced in many ways. Originally, the image contained distracting branches, the background was not appealing, and the light was from above. Using the gradient background emphasizes the erectness of the bird. Meanwhile, enhancing the color of the head and beak immediately brings attention to the upper portion of the bird.
Hummingbirds are perhaps the most difficult bird to capture well. The best hummingbird images show detail in the wings and are difficult to capture. Understandably, depth of field and shutter speed are critical. Place yourself in a position where the bird has been flying and you have a good background and light. Then, patience and timing are required to seal the deal.
Note the sharpness of the wings, the body and the head in this photo. The curve of the stem on the flower brings the eye up around and back to the hummingbird. Capturing these tiny speedsters requires lots of time watching the same flower and waiting patiently as the bird flits around. But if you’ve done your homework, that patience will be rewarded.
From early September to late October, the male elks in Cataloochee Valley, Tennessee, offer a great opportunity for photographers. This is a prime location to capture big bulls as they gather their females. They often butt heads with other large elks to protect their territories. The best time to capture images is the early morning, just as the sun is rising and casting beautiful beams of light. This image is a panorama of three images as the elk turned to look at me. I had positioned myself near the open field because of the light rays there, and I waited. Timing is critical.
Early morning mist often fills the fields before the sun rises high enough to burn it off. This large elk stood very close to the female and searched for other females to add to his group. For this photo, I waited until the bull stopped eating, lifted his head and turned it toward the female. It made for a special moment.
This image was captured during early spring in Cades Cove in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Again, I found the position I wanted, on a hillside with the farm in the distance and the sun creating a burst through the tree limbs. Patience, patience! I knew the location from previous occasions, positioned myself and waited. Eventually, a doe brought her young offspring into the pasture to feed.
One of the most delicately beautiful flowers is the Magnolia. But the special beauty of this flower can be fleeting. Once the bud opens and the flower unfolds, it is pristine for only one day. By the second day the inner areas begin to fall out. I first tried to capture pristine magnolia blooms on the tree, but it’s very challenging to be in the right position at exactly the right time. So, I recommend removing a bud from a tree, taking it home and placing it in water. The next morning the flower will begin to open. Place it in front of a plain background, near an open window with soft light. With the camera on a tripod, make several captures at different levels as the petals are opening. This first image was placed against a white backdrop and the close-up capture emphasizes the beauty of the shape of the flower.
In the next photo, using a black backdrop emphasized the overall shape and beauty of the bloom. It was critical to preserve the detail in all the white areas. This was accomplished by utilizing very soft light from a side window. As the bloom continued to unfold, multiple images were captured. When all the petals have unfolded, a beautiful gold center pod is revealed.
The Magnificent Beauty of Yosemite National Park
Yosemite is one of the most beautiful of all the national parks, and I have visited there at least 50 times. As you enter the valley and look at the 2,000-ft.-high cliffs all around you, you understand why this park is so special. The Merced River runs through the center of the valley, providing great reflections of the famous mountains and waterfalls.
Winter is spectacular in Yosemite. The mountains are covered with snow, creating a stunning three-dimensional look, and the pine trees are highlighted by the clinging snow. Panoramas are the best way to capture the entire scene. Depth of field is critical for all the details from foreground to background. As I studied Bierstadt paintings, I discovered a compositional “must” for photographers. I call it “a place to stand.” When the viewer has a place to “stand” in your image, that viewer will feel the emotional experience of being there. But if there is not a place to stand, the viewer is only looking at an image.
The Coastal Lights
The coasts of Massachusetts and Maine are filled with special lighthouses, stretching from Boston through Acadia National Park in Maine. Morning light is very good for capturing these iconic structures, and late day can be special when the beams from the lighthouses can be seen against the darker sky of sunset. A A tripod can be used to capture several images at different exposures, with a high dynamic range image. This provides details in the shadows and in the highlights. You never want to have photos with “blocked up” shadows or “blown out” highlights.
These are a few of the ways I approach capturing and presenting images. By concentrating on the nuances of these two different steps, I believe you can continue to improve as a photographer.
John Mariana is a well-known photographer and educator who has conducted numerous workshops across the United States, Scotland and Tuscany, as well as volunteering time to speak at functions, museums and photography groups. He has specialized in large print images and published two books. John is also a founding member of the Booth Photography Guild at the Booth Art Museum in Cartersville, GA. You can find his website at: www.marianaphotography.com
Northern Parula. Photo by Michelle Hamner
Georgia Audubon’s Birding Missions
By Michelle Hamner
As a frequent user of the hashtag #shi**ybirdpics to describe my own (lack of) nature photography skills, I’m a great admirer of those who can create in-focus, well-framed photographs that somehow convey the personality of their avian subjects. The bird and nature photographers that I have met possess some of the deepest wells of patience imaginable (much deeper than I can claim), which they use to hone their craft. Some of my most enjoyable outdoor explorations are with my quite-accomplished nature photographer friend, Marlene. We balance each other well, I think; her by documenting the birds we see, me by helping to keep her “on” the bird we’re tracking through the canopy.
The past 18 months of Covid-19 lockdowns, social distancing and postponed events have, understandably, sent many of us outside looking for a bit of respite from homes that now double as offices and schools. At Georgia Audubon, we saw membership numbers spike in 2020 as people across the state discovered and rediscovered nature and, in particular, birds.
Birdwatchers and nature photographers, ranging from the casual to the obsessed, have long shared common ground. A curiosity in our surroundings drives us to add just one more feeder to the backyard, or to test out just one more lens.
Eastern Meadowlark in Coweta County. Photo by Michelle Hamner
Georgia Audubon has been fortunate to enjoy the support of bird and nature enthusiasts, including amateur and professional photographers, from our founding as the Atlanta Bird Club in 1926, incorporation as an independent chapter of National Audubon known as Atlanta Audubon Society in 1978, and finally through our expansion to a statewide organization known as Georgia Audubon in 2020.
As part of our commitment to tackle conservation concerns affecting the state’s birds and priority habitat types, Georgia Audubon’s staff and board of directors recently adopted a new strategic plan. Over the next three years, this plan will guide our work to not only protect the natural resources that birds and other wildlife need across the state, but also to bring the wonder of birds and nature to new audiences, especially to communities that have been historically excluded from outdoor recreation opportunities and important environmental policy discussions.
Primary among our concerns are the ways in which climate change and increased development are affecting key habitat types and communities across Georgia. Climate-exacerbated events such as warming, drought and flooding are changing landscapes faster than birds can alter their own behavior to adjust. The recent Climate Report by National Audubon indicates that if we are unable to mitigate current warming trends, Georgia’s own state bird, the Brown Thrasher, will be extirpated from the state completely over the next several decades. What’s a state to do when it loses its own state bird?
Due to our decades-long success at local community-building through our membership and partnership structure, Georgia Audubon has a great advantage when it comes to raising public awareness of these issues (and others). In particular, partners such as members of the Georgia Nature Photographers Association have been invaluable by allowing us to use their own landscape, wildlife, community and bird photographs for more impactful story-telling.
Magnolia Warbler. Photo by Michelle Hamner
At its core, Georgia Audubon is a science-based organization looking to make a large-scale conservation impact across the state. But its strength lies in our ability to communicate broadly, and that hinges on our ability to make birds and nature accessible and relatable to people of all backgrounds and skill levels. So whether it’s joining one of our free public field trips through a local park or nature preserve (www.georgiaaudubon.org/field-trips), tuning in to an online webinar introducing participants to nature photography, or participating in our six-week-long deep-dive into ornithology through our Master Birder program, there’s a place for all at Georgia Audubon.
We welcome GNPA members who may wish to learn more about volunteer photography opportunities at Georgia Audubon, as well as from members who are interested in assisting us with additional opportunities to reach the public with our stories. As someone who only in the past six years came to truly appreciate (and slightly obsess over) the diversity of birds found here in Georgia, I know firsthand the difference that helpful mentors in the field played in welcoming me to the flock. I hope you’ll join us so we can strengthen our mission to protect Georgia’s birds.
Here are a few opportunities GNPA members may wish to explore:
- Join Georgia Audubon as a member. Enjoy $5 off an annual membership with code GNPA. georgiaaudubon.org/joinrenew
- Interested in sharing your nature and bird photography with Georgia Audubon to help us spread the word across Georgia? Contact Dottie Head, Director of Communications, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Join one of our free public field trips. Our field trips are suited for beginners and experts alike and generally operate at a “birder’s pace.” Most field trips offer great photography opportunities in the field, with many of our members always looking to compare notes with fellow nature photographers.
- Stay up-to-date with all of our current workshops at
By working together and learning from one another, we can do an even better job of understanding and protecting the birds we love in Georgia.
Michelle Hamner is the Director of Development at Georgia Audubon, a position she has held since 2015. She lives and primarily explores in Fayette County with her husband, two sons, and three short-legged dogs. She is also part of the Georgia Audubon Travel Program team, organizing and leading small-group birding trips to regional, domestic and international destinations. Michelle’s “spark bird” that got her hooked on birds is the Sandhill Crane, and her favorite birding destination is the Georgia coast. Every now and then, she says, the stars align, the lighting is just right, and she manages to capture in-focus photos of birds with her Nikon COOLPIX P900.
Hellebore Bud, taken with LensbabyVelvet 56 lens, 1/4000 shutter speed, ISO 400.
By Jamie Konarski Davidson, New Life Photos
In the world of flower photography, styles of interpretation run from documentary to artistic to abstract. Each approach has its place and purpose. And there is no “mutually exclusive” clause that says you, as the visual artist, must use only one style.
Of course, the technical aspects of photography are important. A clearly defined subject in a well-composed and well-exposed frame matters, no matter what photography style you prefer. So knowing how to achieve a technically correct image is vital. Once you are comfortable in the technical aspect, you can veer in the direction of your own creative vision. Knowing how to operate your camera without a litany of “whoops,” fumbling or fiddling will help you find your way in all areas of photography, not just among the flowers and gardens.
Snow Drops, taken with Tamron 28-300 VC lens, f/6.3, 1/160 shutter speed, ISO 250, on tripod.
For starters, it helps to create a goal for your image. If you know what you want to achieve, that vision will help guide your choices. For example, if you want tons of detail, choose small apertures (f/8 – f/22). If you prefer shallower depth of field and selective focus, choose wider apertures (f/1.8 – f/8). Depending upon your goal and closeness to subject, you may need to make adjustments. If you’re uncertain, use multiple apertures and focus areas. Experiment with exposure compensation to find just the right look. Stepping out of “auto-everything” gives you control over the results. Each choice hinges on your goal. So be the driver behind your images.
Recognizing Your Style
We all have leanings in how we approach our subjects. Sometimes, they are led by profession (i.e., conservation) and other times by personality (left/right brain). My style, especially with flowers and gardens, leans strongly toward the artistic and interpretive zone. Yet, I’m not averse to the documentary image. Photography is my passion and therapy, and my images reflect that.
Orange Tulips, taken with Nikon 24-200 lens, F/4, 1/320 shutter speed, ISO 160, on tripod.
With three macro lenses and a roller bag full of Lensbabies, I embrace getting close and discovering hidden gems within blooms. I tend to get “lost in the folds” of florals, and must remind myself to take reference images so I can later identify the flowers as they evolve from macros into abstracts that celebrate colors, shapes, lines and textures. There are times when all I can say is that the subject is a flower, but the “big picture” escapes me. If this happens to you, start the habit of taking the reference photo before you start or before you leave a subject. An environmental portrait never hurts.
The Intentional Approach
There are times when we’re in a field of flowers or gardens that overwhelm our senses. Awestruck, we don’t know where to start. When this happens, stop. Settle down, be where you are and take it all in. Don’t just plant your camera and tripod somewhere and start mindlessly shooting. Open your eyes and mind. In the middle of that ocean of blooms, look for the one that holds your attention.
Before you start shooting, ask yourself, “Who’s the star? And the supporting characters? And why?” Move around your subject. Find the best angle and perspective. Where do you need to be? What lens do you need? How do you make the light work for the subject? What gear do you need? Gather your tools, and now, begin connecting with your subject. (Keep in mind, this approach applies to more than flowers).
Peony and Iris, taken with Tamron 90 VC lens, f/3.3, 1/1000 shutter speed, ISO 100, handheld with Vibration Control on.
When I identify the “star” and the “why,” I usually work from the “big” (smaller) picture inward. I’m likely choosing a macro lens, making sure I have diopters ready to add, along with my tripod, diffuser/reflector set and small flashlight or Litra cube with diffusion dome. Most of these accessories fit inside the diffuser case, which I attach to a belt loop or my camera bag with a carabiner. And I nearly always use a circular polarizer for my flower and nature photography. The only time it’s off my lens is when I’m indoors or the light is so low that it’s not helping to temper glare and sheen off my subjects. By the way, a macro lens is awesome but is not required for flowers. Telephotos and wide-angle lenses work as well.
Pharsalia Yellow Peony, taken with Nikon 24-120 lens, f/8, 1/50 shutter speed, ISO 250, on tripod in shade with gold reflector.
If I don’t have a “star” in mind, it’s entirely possible that I’m “crap-shooting” and will go home with images that elicit a “What was I thinking?” reaction. Time in the field with beautiful flowers is precious and therapeutic. I want to see emotional impact in the frame. And while all images won’t “speak” to me, there’s always one that stands out. Remember that a slower pace allows for more depth in exploration. More frames in the camera do not guarantee success. More time with your subject almost always does. Slow down. Don’t leave before the party starts.
We Are ‘Mostly’ In Control
My perfect world for flower photography would look like this: The skies would be bright overcast; all the flowers would be in their best condition (though I am drawn to broken petals and bent blooms); there would be no wind; and the rain would only come before I arrived, so I’d find fresh drops on leaves and petals. There would be ladybugs, grasshoppers, caterpillars, butterflies and bees in all the right places, sitting perfectly still for their close-ups. Oh, and I’d find green tree frogs tucked in the flowers, just waiting for me. Yup, dream on! We can’t summon the perfect settings on command. Sometimes (rarely), we’re blessed with some of the best conditions. So when we head out, we need to put on our “happy face” and our “problem-solving cap” and move forward.
Magnolia Plantation, taken with Lensbaby Velvet 56 lens, f/1.6, 1/640 shutter speed, ISO 200.
Recently, I encountered several amazing gardens in Georgia (Gibbs Gardens) and North Carolina (Tryon Palace Gardens & local arboretum). The first line in Charles Dickens’ “Tale of Two Cities” echoed in my mind. There was bright sun and no clouds one day, perfect overcast the next, and twice I had varied light with almost constant breezes. In other words, an excellent time to find a cactus to photograph. It was a reminder that we are not in charge of the sun, the wind, the rain or any other planetary influence. We are only in charge of our own response.
On the sunny days, I look for flowers that lend themselves to the light, or find blooms in shaded, wind-protected areas. I work bigger scenes where the light is balanced and manageable. On the overcast days, I look for blooms that are beautiful to me because of their colors or shapes. In all cases, I am on alert for clean backgrounds without distractions, or ones that complement the subject (the “star”). On breezy days, I choose apertures that give me faster shutter speeds, increase my ISO and embrace the softer, more abstract look. I sometimes ditch the tripod and practice a rocking motion with my eye glued to the viewfinder, pressing the shutter as the select area came into focus.
Canna Motion, taken with Nikon 24-70 lens, f/16, 1-second exposure, ISO 100, handheld.
Brightly lit areas are easier to manage with a diffuser (or if you’re lucky, a random cloud). Wind is less manageable. In public gardens you can’t bring wind breaks and plop them in well-tended beds (unless you enjoy being asked to leave for not respecting the efforts of the gardeners). If it’s your garden, have at it. Cut the flowers, bring them inside and have a field day. While you’re at it, be open to trying new techniques. Motion blurs and multiple exposures offer creative ways to deal with moving subjects and changing light.
Go Beyond The Name With Abstracts
It is freeing when you know that you (and the viewer) don’t have to identify the flower by name. Rather, simply capture the essence of the blooms. This approach releases you from the tack-sharp requirement, but not from considerations like visual flow or relationships of colors, textures and lines. Are the flowers blowing (or whipping like crazy) in the wind? How about slowing down your shutter speed and letting them create a canvas wash of color? (You might need a neutral density filter to accomplish that, but it’s probably in your bag.) With abstracts, I work areas of focus that look best in the frame. It’s not a rule-of-thirds approach, but rather finding a place for the eye to rest momentarily before traveling throughout the frame.
Tulip Abstracts, taken with Nikon 70-180 micro lens, f/9, 1/100 shutter speed, ISO 400, handheld while laying on ground.
Best Thing To Bring To The Garden
Regardless of how you approach flower photography, there’s one thing that you must not leave at home or in the car. PATIENCE is the virtue that is always critical in flower photography. If you wait, the light will change, the wind will calm down, people will move out of your scenes, and there’s always another flower waiting for your attention. We’re in the middle of a season that’s ever-changing, with new waves of colors and textures and patterns arriving each day. Embrace those evolutions!
Jamie Konarski Davidson is an award-winning freelance photographer, educator and presenter with a passion for capturing the beauty of the natural world. She is a Lensbaby Ambassador, often working in florals and abstracts. Her images range from macro and abstracts to intimate, grand and rural landscapes. Jamie is a long-time member of North American Nature Photography Association (NANPA) and Carolinas Nature Photographers Association (CNPA). Via New Life Photos, she leads photo workshops throughout the East Coast.
A Little Blue Heron landing at its evening roost, photographed with the Induro GIT 404L tripod-mounted SONY 600mm GM, the 2X teleconverter, and the a9 ii. I didn’t discover this great sunset spot until I was forced to stay home because of COVID.
By Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART blog
Covid-19 has taken its toll in the past year, and created hardships for many of us. But during this time, like many of you, I’ve tried to take advantage of photographic opportunities that are close to home.
I am blessed to live in a development in central Florida called Indian Lake Estates (ILE). Please don’t ask me where the estates are because there aren’t any. Our development is about 70 miles west of the Atlantic Ocean at Vero Beach, and about 100 miles (as the crow flies) east of the Gulf of Mexico at Fort DeSoto Park in Pinellas County. I’ve lived there since 2001, when I was looking for a home and was intrigued by the fact that I found more than a few Sandhill Cranes feeding right along Park Drive, the main road that leads down to a large lake.
A Black Vulture coming in to land at my road-kill café, taken with the handheld Canon 100-500mm (at 500mm) and the EOS R5. It took me a while to figure out the best R5 AF method for birds in flight, but now I’m very confident in my lightweight Canon rig. And with the 1.4X teleconverter, I often use it for close-up work with tame birds. Canon mirrorless owners should check out the R5/R6 AF e-Guide.
Lake Weohyakapka, more commonly known as Lake Walk-in-Water, is about a two-minute drive from my house. Every year, you can find pairs of nesting cranes, lots of Red-shouldered Hawks, a few Bald Eagles, hordes of vultures, Great Horned, Barred and Eastern Screech Owls, a variety of herons and egrets, a very few shorebirds (including the wintering Killdeer), and a smattering of resident, wintering and migratory songbirds. In the two decades preceding the pandemic, I’d photograph at the lake fairly often in some years, but almost never in years when I was traveling the world extensively.
But since March of 2020, I have practically lived at the lake. I visit almost every morning and in recent months, I head back down for sunset.
A five-day old Sandhill Crane chick, photographed handheld with the SONY 100-400 GM lens and the a7r iv. With 61 million pixels, sharp a7r iv images can handle fairly extreme crops with ease. Because the chick is on a small rise, the background is beautifully out of focus.
In March, a pair of cranes at South Field hatched two chicks that quickly grew into handsome colts. As I was watching them every day, I learned that they would swim back and forth across a small canal each morning and afternoon. That discovery helped me make some good images of the swimming colts. But near the end of March, one colt disappeared, and then the other. I had been seeing a fox in their marsh…
On May 10, the day dawned cloudy and grey. For several months, I had been seeing a single crane standing in the same spot in a handsome stand of marsh grasses. Several days before, I had walked out into the water and seen that the bird was actually on a nest. I thought that it might be sitting on a clutch of infertile eggs. That day, I had the SONY 600 f/4 GM lens on my Induro GIT 304 tripod topped with a levered-clamp FlexShooter Pro. I had nothing better to do, so I walked out into the lake and waited, taking a few images of the adult. Suddenly, a tiny chick appeared; it had been roosting in the feathers on mom’s back! The little one walked around and around the adult as I quickly photographed it.
Then the chick snuggled back into mom’s feathers and disappeared. I stayed for another hour, hoping for another development. Eventually the adult stood up. In the nest beneath her was a cracked eggshell and a tiny, sopping-wet, just-hatched chick. I thought, “I’m gonna be famous,” but before I could push the shutter button even once, the firstborn chick, which had been thrown off mom’s back when she stood up, ran into the nest and pecked its new nest mate ferociously, driving it out of the nest where it disappeared into the marsh grasses. All in the blink of an eye. I was reminded that, for the most part, bird photography is not easy.
Anyhoo – as my dad often said – one of the two young cranes survived and continues to do well. Because of the pandemic, I had the privilege of photographing the Mother’s Day family for 10 months, something I never would have done otherwise. I was there when one of them hatched, watched them quickly grow, and witnessed the surviving colt fledge and take flight with its parents.
Another benefit of staying close to home is that I learned some new spots at ILE, locations that surely have been good for years but remained undiscovered by yours truly. My favorite is a sunset location where, with the right wind (northeast is best), you can photograph small wading birds flying into their evening roost with brightly colored skies and water as the background.
A five-month old Sandhill Crane jumping for joy, taken with a handheld SONY 200-600 G lens and the a9 ii. The bird in this image is either the chick in the first image or its nest mate. It is amazing how fast they grow! I was standing near the edge of a canal so that I was on the same level as the birds.
During these months, I’ve also had the chance to play with a Canon R5/RF 100-500 rig. Though I am fully committed to SONY, I had fun with the lens and quickly decided to write an R5/R6 AF e-guide, which has been well received. I purchased the rig and, at present, am almost finished writing a complete Canon R5 User’s e-Guide.
So don’t get me wrong; the pandemic has challenged the lives of almost everyone. But in keeping me at home, it’s opened the door to some opportunities that I might have never found in a normal year. And for those, I am grateful.
Spatterdock blossom photographed with the tripod-mounted SONY 100-400, the 1.4X TC, and the a7r iv. Shot at 1/6th second at f/8 with the self-timer.
Arthur (Artie) Morris is widely recognized as one of the world’s premier bird photographers, photographic educators, and photography tour leaders. His photos have been exhibited at a number of prestigious institutions. Before becoming a full-time bird photographer, he taught elementary school in New York City for 23 years.
His book, The Art of Bird Photography , is the classic how-to text on the subject, while the follow-up, The Art of Bird Photography II (916 pages on CD only), covers the digital aspects of nature photography. He is also a co-founding publisher and now sole owner of the online educational community, BirdPhotographers.Net, where honest critiques are done gently ($40/year). Artie also authors the BIRDS AS ART blog, which offers extensive free information geared toward becoming a better nature photographer.
Before the pandemic, he also led BIRDS AS ART instructional photo-tours and photo-cruises. He currently is offering a Galapagos trip in summer 2022 (those interested can contact him via e-mail.
Photographers can use his B&H affiliate link to save 3% and receive free second-day air shipping from Bedfords Camera by using the BIRDSASART code at check-out. Doing so will often entitle buyers to free or discounted Camera User’s or educational e-Guides.
Photo by Jamie Anderson
By Jamie Anderson
When people see an awesome photo of the night sky or the Milky Way, the first thing they typically ask is, “What camera settings did you use?” Well, that’s certainly part of the equation for doing this type of photography, but there are a few other considerations as well. Let’s take a quick look at seven tips for taking great night sky images.
First, you should know that you probably already own most or all of the photo equipment that you’ll need for these shots. Most images can be created with a single long exposure. All of the photos in this article are either single-shot exposures or panoramas of single shots stitched together.
Photo by Jamie Anderson
To begin with, you need to find a dark location, and the darker the better. Getting away from city lights is a necessity, because there is simply too much ambient light in urban areas to see the stars. In fact, a single streetlight in the area can spoil your attempt. All of the light generated by manmade sources (sometimes referred to as light pollution) will block your view of the stars and, in particular, the Milky Way. DarkSiteFinder.com is a helpful website that can help you find dark sites (see https://darksitefinder.com/maps/world.html#4/39.00/-98.00). On this map, you can see the problem with light pollution in the eastern United States. But take heart, it’s not impossible. On the east coast of Georgia for example, communities keep the lights dimmed so the sea turtles will come ashore and lay their eggs. Also, we’re often pointing our camera to the east, southeast or south to capture the Milky Way. This is away from the city lights and out toward the darker ocean.
The best time for star photography is during the new moon. During this phase, the moon is actually in front of or near the sun. So at night, the moon will be out of the way. A full moon, on the other hand, can ruin your shot if you’re attempting star photography, because its brightness will overwhelm the night sky. (However, a photo of the full moon itself can be pretty impressive in its own right). For Milky Way photography, you’ll need to know when the Milky Way is up at night. In particular, you’ll want to know when the “galactic core,” which is the brightest part of the Milky Way, will appear in the night sky. It rises and sets like the rest of the celestial objects in the sky. In the early spring, early-morning hours are best. At midsummer, midnight to early morning is best. In early fall, about 1.5 hours after sunset is prime time. In the winter, unfortunately, the galactic core is actually up during the day and sets before sunset. So spring through fall are the best times for photographing the Milky Way.
Obviously, you need clear sky conditions in order to see the stars. Even a partly cloudy night can ruin your view. However, if the weather report says “mostly clear,” it may be okay. Sometimes the clouds dissipate at night, and an incoming cool or cold front can clear away the clouds, creating great opportunities. You may just want to step outside the house and look up at night to see if the sky is clear. If you can see stars in the city, you’ll see a lot more when you get to your dark location.
Here’s a list of some of the equipment you’ll need:
- Camera body that works well with high ISO (in the 3200 range)
- Wide-angle lens with a wide (fast) aperture in the f2.8 range
- Sturdy tripod (think long-exposure photography)
- Shutter release (optional, for taking the photo with hands off the camera)
- Normal stuff for photography – spare batteries, cards, lens cloth, etc.
Photo by Jamie Anderson
To figure out the proper setting for your camera and lens, let’s start with the 500 Rule:
500 / Focal Length / Crop Factor = Maximum Exposure Time (in seconds)
The 500 Rule estimates the maximum amount of time that you can expose your camera for the stars at a certain focal distance before “noticeable” star trails begin to occur from the earth’s rotation. Yes, with this type of photography, you can get noticeable camera movement just from the rotation of the Earth! Of course, “noticeable” is often a matter of opinion and varying degrees (“barely noticeable” to “very noticeable”). As with all mathematical equations, an example can help. Let’s use the equation for a 24mm lens and a full-frame camera. So, 500/24mm = 20.833, or about 21 seconds maximum exposure time before “noticeable” star trails begin to occur. If I have a Canon crop-sensor camera, on the other hand, I would need to divide the 21 seconds by a crop factor of 1.6 (the Nikon Crop Factor is 1.5). So, 500/24mm/1.6 = 13.02, or a maximum exposure time of about 13 seconds.
THE OTHER SETTINGS
Ideally, minimum settings at 24mm are f2.0, ISO 3200, and a 20-second exposure. These settings on a full-frame camera body will work really well. However, if you can’t meet just one of the settings, you’ll need to adjust something else. For example, what if your lens only goes down to f2.8? A movement from f2 to f2.8 is a full “stop” of exposure, which cuts your light in half. So, in order to compensate, you would need to double your exposure time to 40 seconds OR double your ISO to 6400. A good compromise might be to increase exposure to 30 seconds and adjust your ISO to 4000. If your lens aperture will go to f1.4, that would represent a full stop from f2.0 and provide twice as much light. You could then decrease the exposure time to 10 seconds OR adjust the ISO down to 1600. The good news is, once you find the correct settings for your lens and camera body, you can use the same settings every time you do this type of photography.
Other Settings to Consider:
- Obviously, use Manual Mode to control all the settings we’ve been talking about thus far so the camera doesn’t change them automatically.
- Turn off Auto Focus OR use Back-Button Focusing, and make sure you don’t press the Back Button accidentally (more on focusing in a minute).
- Set White Balance using the Kelvin setting. A setting around 5500 will give you the natural-looking black skies. I dial it down to 3500 because I like the cooler blue-looking night sky. In my opinion, it works better with the light pollution.
- Turn these settings OFF:
- High ISO Noise Reduction
- Long Exposure Noise Reduction
Photo by Jamie Anderson
NOTE: The light meter in your camera is useless for this type of photography. You are overexposing a completely dark scene, so just rely on your manual settings.
You’ll also need to learn how to focus in the dark. Your autofocus will have a hard time focusing, but it may not be entirely useless. If there is a bright light in the distance, autofocus may actually be able to focus on it. In the scene above, there is a bright light on the horizon. This might actually be enough light for autofocus to work. You can autofocus on any bright light as long as it’s a long distance away, and your stars will also be in focus.
What if you want to make sure the objects in your foreground are in focus? In this situation, create some distance between your camera and the foreground object so both your foreground and the stars in the background will be in focus. As a general rule, stand at a minimum of one foot per focal distance from the nearest foreground object that you want in focus. So, if you are shooting at 24mm, stand at least 24 feet away from the foreground object. If shooting at 14mm, stand at least 14 feet away. One method for focusing on the foreground object (with autofocus) is to have someone stand parallel to the object and shine a flashlight back to your camera. You can then focus on the flashlight, which is the same distance away from the foreground object.
The best method for focusing goes like this:
- Put your camera in live view, then zoom in 10x.
- Shine a bright flashlight on the foreground object.
- In live view (zoomed in 10x), use manual focus and focus on the area where you are pointing the flashlight.
- Take the camera out of live view and make sure your lens is on manual focus.
You may be surprised, but you can actually get the foreground tack-sharp using this method.
Like any photography skill, astrophotography takes some trial-and-error at first. Once you determine the proper settings for your camera and lens, then you can experiment with different locations and setups.
A word of caution: I do recommend having a buddy with you when you’re doing this type of photography, unless you are very familiar with the area and know that it’s safe.
I look forward to seeing your new astrophotography images! If you have any questions, I can be reached at: Jamie@CoastalGeorgiaPrints.com or visit my website: www.CoastalGeorgiaPrints.com.
Jamie Anderson is a native of Savannah, Georgia, and enjoys photographing the one hundred miles of barrier islands, inland waterways, and historic sites known as Coastal Georgia. He currently volunteers as the Coastal Chapter coordinator and is a member of both the Conservation and Communications committees.
Finding Inspiration for Your
Winter Landscape Photography
By Charlotte Gibb
With the last autumn leaves fading, it’s time for photographers to turn their attention toward winter landscapes. But unlike other seasons, freezing temperatures and snow can make winter photography particularly challenging. Not only do we need to suit up in cold-weather clothing to stay warm, but we also have to keep our gear dry. (Editor’s Note: Be sure to see Charles Glatzer’s article this month on cold-weather clothing here)
The effort, however, is well worth the trouble. Winter’s low angle of light creates more dramatic scenes than at other times of the year, and snow, ice, and frost can transform a landscape into pure magic. Best of all, shorter days means there’s more time to savor that first cup of coffee in the morning. So bundle up, grab your gear and get out there! Here are some ideas to get your started as you wander through the winter landscape.
Among my favorite subjects to photograph are forests and trees. In spring, trees are lush with new growth and colorful blossoms. Autumn, of course, brings a stunning transformation of leaf colors. But it’s winter that reveals the fascinating skeletal structure beneath those leaves, which makes trees a wonderful subject to study this time of year. Lines are a powerful compositional tool, and the bare branches of trees are rich with lines. Look for trees with interesting shapes and lines that can be used to lead the eye through the composition. Sunny days create an opportunity for dramatic, contrasty scenes, (Another Dry Winter) while cloudy or shady conditions soften the scene for a completely different mood (Sisters).
Another Dry Winter
Look for color contrast
Winter landscapes can tend toward the monochromatic, so look for colorful subjects in the bleak landscape to break up the monotony. Color is a wonderful design element to use as a focal point. Warm and cool colors, used together in the same composition, create depth and color harmony.
Convert to black and white
When the available color isn’t particularly interesting or fails to contribute to the composition in a meaningful way, try converting the photo from color to black and white instead. Black-and-white photographs depend on tone and contrast to direct the eye through the composition, rather than hue and saturation. With color eliminated from the picture, the photographer is challenged to create interest in the subject using only tone, line, texture, shapes and luminance values. When the subject is laid bare of color, the photograph must be strong enough both in subject and composition to hold up in monochrome.
Awhanee Meadow Cottonwoods in Snowstorm
Keep it on the cool side
Winter is associated with the cooler part of the color wheel, so experiment with color balance. You can either adjust your white balance in camera to a cooler tone, or adjust white balance later when you process your photos (if your images were captured in RAW). And, what better time to emphasize cool, wintery tones than photographing during the “blue hour” — that magical time of day just after sunset or before sunrise when the camera interprets the light as a beautiful shade of blue?
Ghosts in the Water
Don’t let a snowstorm stop you from getting out with your camera. Some of the best winter photography conditions occur when the snow is fresh and falling. Try a fast shutter speed to freeze the action of the falling snowflakes, or experiment with longer exposures. Don’t underexpose a snowy landscape. These types of scenes benefit from a slightly high-key effect, emphasizing the whiteness of the landscape. Just be sure the highlights are not clipped by checking your histogram or watching for “blinkies.”
Winter ice on the Merced
Abstract compositions are readily found in nature, but only in winter can one of my favorite subjects can be found — ice. Put on a macro lens or a long lens and zoom in for a unique perspective.
Winter in the Grove
Revisit familiar subjects
If you have a favorite composition that you created in another season, go back and photograph your subject again during the winter. Observe how the change of season affects your composition. Notice the subtle change in the color temperature and angle of light.
I hope these suggestions help you create some beautiful winter landscape photographs this season. It’s always such a pleasure to share my insights with my friends from GNPA. Stay well, everyone!
Editor’s Note: To read Tom Wilson’s article this month about shooting landscapes right now at Georgia’s Banks Lake NWR, click here.
Charlotte Gibb is a nature photographer with an eye oriented towards the subtle and sometimes overlooked elements of nature. Her images are frequently symbolic, using form, line, shape, color, and textures found in the natural world to tell a deeper story about the wilderness. As a speaker and educator, she draws upon her art education and many years as an art director and graphic designer to help other nature photographers create more meaningful and satisfying work.
Charlotte is a contributing writer for several photography publications and has been a keynote speaker for camera organizations across the country (including GNPA and Canon). Her work has won both national and international awards. A native of California, she can usually be found tromping around the wilderness areas of the Western United States.