You have heard us say on numerous occasions that there is no such thing as bad light, just bad use of available light. So, when the sun goes down, turn on your night vision, grab your camera, and go frog hunting.
Photographing amphibians after dark presents some unique challenges. My choice of weapons is a 100mm f/2.8 Macro lens, a 580 EX Speedlite set on E-TTL, an Off Camera Shoe Cord, and a pinch light.
After dark, I don my headlamp and go out hunting eye shine. In Costa Rica, I was looking for red eye shine to help me locate Red Eye Tree Frogs. Any headlamp or flashlight will suffice when looking for eye shine. The trick is to keep the light source close to the level of your own eyes so that the reflected light is visible. Once the frog is located, the headlamp is of no further use since the light will be blocked when you put the camera up to your face.
Autofocus is useless in the dark because the camera will simply search for the focus and never lock in. Manual focus is the only alternative under this circumstance. Depending upon the size of the frog, I pre-set my focus for 1:1 or 1:2. My left hand holds the Speedlite off-camera, and my right hand holds the camera. So, how do you manually focus the lens when both hands are full? Think rangefinder camera. While looking through the lens, alter the camera-to-subject distance until the subject appears sharp. When the subject is in sharp focus quickly, but smoothly, fire the shutter. This technique takes a bit of practice, so you might want to try this on stationary subjects like twigs or rocks prior to working with jumping frogs.
The Speedlite provides the only illumination. As stated earlier, the headlamp has been turned off. How do you focus on a subject in the dark when you have your headlamp turned off? This is when a simple little device, a pinch light, comes to the rescue. This is a micro light that usually attaches to a keychain. However, if you attach the pinch light with Velcro to the side of your Speedlite, it will serve two purposes. As you hold the Speedlite and squeeze the pinch light at the same time, the light falling on the subject from the pinch light will allow you to see if the subject is in sharp focus and will also act as a modeling light. As you move the Speedlite around, the angle of light will change and you will be able to better predict the best placement for the flash. When you are pleased with the light direction and your subject is in sharp focus, take the shot and enjoy the results.
Mary Lindhjem and Mollie Isaacs of Awake The Light Photo Tours and Workshops can be found at www.awakethelight.com.
As nature photographers we strive to get good compositions with stunning colors and birds and animals with the utmost detail. There are many challenges that we face to make the most out of the subjects that we find. The amount of light, the angles of the light and of course the ability to get into position to get the composition that we desire. With all of that in mind, our equipment that we are tasking to get the job done may get taken for granted. I watch as some rush off to purchase the latest models of cameras with the most frills and the highest megapixel count they can get. Then they slap a lens on and off they go to take pictures. I treat my cameras and lenses as tools and I find that I need to assess what type of photography I am doing and then apply the right tools to get that job done. In order to apply the tool I need to understand the tool. So, I have to read the manual and become acquainted with what the camera bodies and lenses will do and what they will NOT do. I also need to make sure they are properly calibrated. I have been finding that there may be many photographers that are struggling to get sharp images and they are going to workshops and getting one on one training to try to help their technique when their problem is having camera bodies and lenses that are not calibrated.
Most are probably familiar with lens and camera body selection for scenics versus wildlife. However, it is probably worth mentioning a couple of basic premises in each case. For scenics and macro we are looking for wide angle lenses and closer to full frame camera bodies and often higher pixel count in a quality camera body will give better detail. Higher ISO performance is not normally needed in this situation as most of the shooting is done of static objects from a tripod. Historically, for birds and other wildlife we are looking for telephoto lenses that are fast and camera bodies that are often of crop format and good higher ISO performance. The camera bodies best for wildlife can also be utilized for scenics. However, the reverse is not often true. But-there are getting to be more exceptions to that (Nikon D3s, Nikon D4 and Canon 5D MK III, Canon 1Dx). I am finding that having a full frame camera that is robust in megapixels as well as capable of high ISO without noticeable noise is far better for wildlife than crop body cameras-but that is for a separate article. Once we have selected a camera, the first order of business is to study the manual to find out the camera’s features and learn how to set the various settings. Once one has developed a familiarity with the camera body and lens, then the very next order of business is to calibrate them to make sure the camera/lens combination is actually focusing on the plane of the sensor. There are many methods to accomplish this calibration but I find the use of FoCal or Lensalign the most effective methods. FoCal is a program offered by Reiken Technologies and it requires the camera to be tethered to a computer for the testing. The testing does not take long and the test results are generated as a pdf report complete with graph of the results. It gives quantitative and qualitative results. Once the lens is calibrated to the camera body it is amazing how well cameras and lenses shoot wide open aperture. The beauty of FoCal is that it also allows one to experiment with various tripods and mounting systems to see what effects the focus performance of their camera and lens system.
Once those steps are accomplished, then it is time to practice shooting and use friends for critique to hone the skills.
Have you ever thought about why you photograph? What makes you drag yourself out of bed at an ungodly predawn hour of the morning to catch a sunrise, hike miles with a heavy camera bag, or face public ridicule by twisting yourself up like a pretzel in a public garden to get just the right angle for a flower shot? Why do we do these things?
I have been thinking about this quite a bit lately, trying to give words to what I feel about my work. Itʼs not easy, because if I was gifted with words Iʼd be a writer and not a photographer! :) I make photographs because doing so has become a large part of who I am. Itʼs my passion, and my voice. Itʼs my way of showing the world what I see, its how I share the song in my heart. At this point, I donʼt think you can really know me if you donʼt know my work.
Start thinking about why you make photos, it can help direct your vision and strengthen your images. If youʼre going to say something with your work, say something that matters to you.
Kathleen Clemons is a New England based professional photographer, living on the beautiful coast of Maine. She is known for her creative use of natural light and unique, stunning compositions. She has a passion for making photographs, and loves to teach others how to improve their photography skills. Her work is represented worldwide by Corbis, Getty, Fogstock, Chromazone Images and The Jaynes Gallery.
You don’t need a pro-line DSLR to get great macro images. There are alternative to macro lenses but to achieve the best results consistently, I recommend you use a dedicated macro lens. I mostly use the Sigma 180mm macro but I also use the Sigma 70mm macro when I work in tight spaces such as aquariums. I almost always use a flash powered down in the field and my two go to flashes are the Canon MT24 EX Twin Lite and the Sigma EM-140 DG TTL Macro Ring Light Flash. Both allow me to move around and compose without the tripod and give excellent results when hand holding. Most speedlights will work as well but you need to get them off the hotshoe and use a reflector or second one synced to achieve the best results. A pop-up flash will work as well in a pinch but the lens often gets in the way of the flash output or fires over the lens. There are many macro lens options out there. I have found that the camera and 180mm macro lens combined with the twin lights or ring light is too heavy for most women to hand hold, so you should consider the weight of the lens before committing to a purchase. Every macro bag should have a 5 in one reflector/diffuser kit but other options are aluminum or gold foil and I have even used stainless steel pot lids when indoors as a reflector! I also use a macro filed support clamp when in the field to hold stems of flowers in place without damaging them or stray blades of grass or foliage out of the way. Spring loaded clothespins can also help do this job so throw a few into the bag.
The best light conditions for macro photography are bright overcast. At all times avoid direct sunlight and splotchy or uneven light! Bright overcast conditions or indirect light provide a wonderful even light that makes the colors more vibrant but unfortunately, this isn’t always what we encounter when we are out in the field. This also usually necessitates the need for slower shutter speeds which generally doesn’t allow for maximum depth of field. You can build yourself a windscreen but it is cumbersome and doesn’t allow much flexibility. Adding a flash to your image (explained more below in settings) is the easiest way to overcome most of those issues in the field but a big secret for many pro photographers is that we take our macro photography indoors!!! Using a window indoors that has indirect light, even on a sunny day, allows you to work your subject in a comfortable environment and give you maximum control over lighting. I mount my camera on a tripod and use reflectors and even pot lids and aluminum foil to get the desired lighting effects. The example below shows my simple set-up and one of the images I took using that set-up. I do not want you to dig up plants in the wild!!! Cut flowers and many other blooms are available year round so I simply go out and get a bunch! Many garden centers and nurseries even carry native wildflower in season so I simply purchase them and bring them indoors for some photography. The added benefit is that I will plant them and reap the benefits of the flowers or plants for years to come.
Over the years of my teaching photography, I have found that most people are unsure of how to get maximum depth of field when it comes to their macro images! Most people use f/8 or wider and this leaves their images unsharp from edge to edge due to the DOF falloff. When they try to go to f/11 or f/16, the shutter speed is so slow that they get blurred images from either their subject moving due to wind or hand-holding. A simple solution to hand-holding is to get the camera and lens on a tripod but often, many places do not allow them! The best solution to that problem is to just use a flash!!! When hand-holding, I simply set my camera to f/22 for 1/100th of a second and use the Canon MT24 twin lights and power them down. I also set my ISO very high to 800 to maximize the available ambient light and try to balance the flash so it just acts as a fill and freezes any movement when I hand hold. At 1/8 power, the flash speed is around 1/6000th of a second! Fast enough to freeze almost any motion! This allows me to hand hold in most places where they don’t allow tripods and allows me to move about freely and compose quickly especially with skittish subjects like butterflies. This is where the extra reach of the 180mm macro lens helps as I don’t need to get as close!
The biggest mistake I see many macro photographers make is having cluttered or unpleasing backgrounds. When working in the field, I spend more time looking for a pleasing background than I actually do taking the picture! If I find a subject that I would like to photograph, I spend some time cleaning up unwanted debris from my subject and make sure I have a pleasing background. One solution for unpleasant backgrounds is to get closer!!! By focusing on the inside of the water lily below, I was able to eliminate the other distracting elements around it yet convey the beauty of the water lily.
If you still can’t find a pleasant background or get closer, there is another very simple solution…….bring one over to your subject! You can use some bark or a pleasing log or rock that you find close by and place it behind your subject. An even easier solution and one that will work every time is to bring your own background!!! That’s right; take a picture of a beautiful sky, bark, or some out of focus foliage. Print it on matte paper and mount it on some mat board. Place it behind the subject you want to photograph and you have a perfect background guaranteed every time! Just remember to keep the background about a foot or two behind your subject and that you need to have the flash off to the side to avoid casting shadows on the printed background. In the image of the cicada killer I moved the cicada to an open patch of grass and waited for the cicada killer to land on it. In the image to the right of that, I used one of my sky backgrounds and placed it behind the bloom. It was all photographed in the comfort of my home using the set-up shown above.
Remember that in macro photography everything can be a light source. In the Gerbera Daisy image at the top, I used a powerful flashlight to give the illusion of the sun combined with the twin lights powered down to illuminate the back side of the flower. In the image below, I used my old light table to backlight the flowers and give it a high key look and used some led lights to open up the center or the sunflower.
I hope you can join me on my macro workshop on Sunday from 2-4pm where I will share even more of my tips and tricks for you to explore in the fun filled world of macro photography.
The first step to creating a dynamic image is finding an attractive subject. Water, in it’s different forms, is one of my favorite subjects, because of the limitless possibilities it offers a photographer to create interesting and unusual images.
Backlighting is one of the many techniques I like to use when photographing water. There are multiple benefits of backlighting in the image above. The angle of light enhances contrast in the scene and heightens the drama. The runoff from the geyser shimmers and the mist has color. The resulting image is more dynamic than if the scene was photographed from the opposite perspective, with front lighting. It is important to choose the right angle when using this technique. Had I chosen to shoot directly towards the sun, there might have been too much contrast and some parts of the water might have lost detail. By choosing an angle that kept the brightest light just out of the composition, I was able to take advantage of the backlighting without having to deal with an extremely challenging exposure.
Often as photographers we concentrate on capturing what we see and don’t see as a set of functional requirements. We look to the basic rules of thumb, the elemental rules of design and the overall mechanical functions of the camera. We balance our light and consider our backgrounds our depth of field and all the things that we have been told make a good photo, a competition worthy photograph. But that still does not bridge the gap between what makes a good photo and what makes a work of art. For that we need more…. Is it possible to luck into it an artistic image? Sure. Even a broken clock is right twice a day. But if you want a better ratio of successful images that go beyond the good competition photograph to actual art, you need to understand what makes a photograph art.
Most people think of a photograph as a 2 dimensional representation of a 3 dimensional world. In many ways that is true, but if you are talking about true art, that description falls very short. If photography was simply 2 dimensional, then we would see only the flat plane that is the paper and not the story recorded there. It is however through an optical illusion of depth, provided by layers, lighting, converging lines or perspective that gives a sense of depth or a third dimension in our photos. And what about using techniques such as slowing the shutter and panning with a bird or slowing the shutter on a stream, or freezing a splash or a humming bird’s wings? This adds yet another element too, one of time, or a 4th dimension. Thus to say that photography is merely a 2 dimensional representation of a 3 dimensional world is already grossly inaccurate. Yet we still have not described the difference between a good competition photo and a work of art.
So what is it that bridges the gap between a competition photograph and a work of art? Some have called it “staying power” or “the wow factor”. It likely has many other names as well, but I have yet to hear it defined. In fact many have said it is indefinable. I disagree. I call it the 5th dimension. Before you laugh consider this. If we describe the other factors in photography in a matter of dimensional space, why not this factor too? Of course, mathematically speaking that would literally be the space-time fabric of M-theory, and would take volumes of books to explain mathematically using Kaluza-Klein theory or reading the works of Gerad ‘t Hooft. However, I mean to use the term in more of the layman’s vernacular: The explanation of the unknown or beyond natural perception. As described in Rod Sterling’s The Twighlight Zone.
That which we often fail to grasp and have such difficulty in describing can be summed up as the unified effect of all parts to tell a common and compelling story. If we can agree that all photos tell a story, and the fact that our use of settings in the camera, filters on the lens, the very lens choice itself, the way we process our photos, our perspective and our choice of design and elements present in the photo all lend to or distract from that story. If we can agree on that then the 5th dimension in photography, that which takes a photo from a good photograph to a work of art, is the sum-total dimension of the image, the ability to represent all 5 dimensions in a 2 dimensional object. It is the unification of all 4 previously mentioned dimensions in your photograph so that they work together to enhance the feeling portrayed or the story being told. It is the Space-Time Fabric of the image, a means by which all parts and dimensions are architected by the photographer to tell one unified story. This is what creates “the staying power”, “the wow factor”, the essence that transcends a good competition worthy photograph and raises it to the level of true art.
I have been photographing flat cut Rocks going on a couple months now and how easy is that with flat field, and subject not moving. So wrong, as it has been a challenge for me; getting the right rocks, glare, shine, not shiny enough, scratches, faults in the rocks, lacking depth of field, lighting and more.
Equipment I use: Canon EOS Mark III 5D, Live view, 180mm Macro, Extension tubes, sometimes 1x – 5x Macro Lens, Tripod, Really Right Stuff Ball Head, Long mounting plate, 2 soft boxes, black velveteen mounted on form core.
Purchasing rocks on E-Bay is a start, but networking with others in the field of rock collecting, and photography will net some great subjects to photograph. I met Mike Hoover, Fox Island Washington through his wonderful knives he makes with stone handles. He has been a wonderful source of rocks for me to photograph. Also the Gem Shop in Bandon, Oregon.
Once you have a rock to photograph place it on the black backdrop keeping everything level with the tripod, rock and camera. Look at the subject and decide what you want to capture the in live view I refine my composition and get the focus manually. Checking at 5x the final focus.
I have to wet the rock, and keep it wet, with water or mineral water to bring out the colors and help to eliminate the scratches. I set a standard ISO of 320 and f/22 for the greatest depth of field. Using a 10 second delay I will take the picture and make sure that I am away from the camera and all movement has settled down.
If you want to learn more come to my program and learn how to get sharp images at even 4 times life size, cross polarization, lighting from under agates and so much more.
The end of August through September is a great time to go out and photograph spider webs hanging with dew. The best way to find webs is to be in the field about a half hour before sunrise. Then simply walk toward the brightening sky in the east. This will backlight all of the webs causing them to light up like Christmas trees. You will be amazed by just how many spiders there are. I have heard estimates of over 1,000,000 spiders per acre of meadow!
For the shot accompanying this post I went in close, choosing to work just a tiny section of the web. The flower that you see in each of the drops is actually the background of the picture. Each of the drops acts like a lens bringing the flower into focus within the drop. I made sure my depth of field would cover the entire web but still allow the flower behind to be recorded as an out of focus blur of color. Although I wanted the viewer to be able to recognize the background as a section of the flower within the drops, I didn’t want it to be instantly recognizable. In this case I was at f16 with a shutter speed of 8 seconds.
Obviously my camera is on a good sturdy tripod and there can be no wind. In fact, when I was making this image I got everything all setup and the web was swaying in a gentle breeze. I looked around and none of the other grasses in the meadow was being affected by this mysterious breeze? It then occurred to me that on this cool morning my body heat was creating a small convection current and this tiny breeze was enough to affect this delicate subject. Once I realized this I moved further away, and when everything settled down I tripped the shutter using a cable release.
Recently I have been using the Oil Paint Filter in CS6. I was using Pixel Bender when I had CS5 which is the Photoshop filter plug-in that you can download free from Adobe Labs. Either one will help you create the look above.
I start off with a photograph that has what I like to call a natural flow, one in which the subject just feels good to my eye. The above tree was captured at Valley Forge National Park in Pennsylvania.
Start by duplicating the layer (Ctrl J) so that you can reveal some of the details selectively from the image below via a layer mask. Next apply the Oil Paint Filter by going to FILTER> OIL PAINT. I don’t use or recommend any set values; just move each of the sliders until you get the look you want and then click OK. At times you may get an edging around your subject and/or an unpleasant textured background that looks like some kind of 1960’s stucco. I don’t care for either effect and I use a layer mask to evict them. Use a soft brush at approximately 50% opacity to dull the edge and the background just enough to make any halos disappear. Then flatten the image. Next, apply a texture overlay to the entire image by hitting FILE> PLACE> and then choosing a texture from your files. Photoshop will bring it in and lay it right on top of the base layer with the Transform Tool already active so that it can easily be re-sized (using the Place Command in Photoshop is my new way of bringing in a texture overlay). Once you fit the texture on top of the base image use one of the Blend Modes in the Layers palette window to blend the texture with the base image. Begin by trying either “Soft Light” or “Multiply”. Then use a layer mask to fine-tune the texture application. My final tweaks consist of a Contrast and/or a Curves adjustment and some work with Nik Color Efex and/or Topaz Adjust 5.
It is relatively easy to make a “best of” portfolio. It is a bit more difficult to create a cohesive portfolio of 5-10 images that tell a story. Brooks Jensen, the editor of Lenswork Magazine calls these cohesive small portfolios simply, folios. I like this idea and believe shooting for a folio can hone your ability to see. Rather than searching for “the” image you’ll be engaged in the location, area, building or whatever you’re shooting and will start to see in a new way. You will begin to search for a story and your work will get stronger.
I’m a fan of www.500px.com, the photo sharing website. One of their new features is “Stories”. I am enjoying, learning and inspired by them. I even posted a story and it was more difficult than I thought. It forced me to think about which images worked best together. Did they convey the story I had in mind? Were they my strongest images?
The next time you’re at a favorite location, think folios and see what happens. Don’t feel pressure to complete this project in one day. It may take repeat visits. In fact, the process of coming back home and reviewing the images is a good one! This critical evaluation will lead to new ideas and most assuredly stronger images on the next visit. Wait till you have enough images to make a cohesive folio and then present that on your website or Facebook page and see what the response is. I think you’ll be surprised.
The images included in this post are all from the abandoned Klotz Silk Mill in Lonaconing Maryland.
John is a Bucks County PA based award winning freelance photographer who has a passion for leading workshops and tours throughout the country and around the world. John is a passionate photographer who has had images used in books, on album covers and in a number of magazines. Most recently, John was invited by Dewitt Jones to be part of his www.healingimages.org project. You can see John’s work at www.barclayphoto.com
A selection of twenty-five beautiful nature photographs were chosen by this year’s judges as the 2013 Nature Visions Traveling Exhibit. The traveling exhibit is made up of the images that were unanimously chosen for the annual expo and varies in size from year to year. These twenty-five images are the very best of the nearly […]
A selection of fifty-three beautiful nature photographs will be on display at the George Washington University campus in Ashburn. The address is Innovation Hall, 45085 University Drive, Ashburn, VA 20147 The exhibit is free and open to the public. From Sunday July 28 to August 30 the Traveling Exhibit will be on display at the Washington School of Photogra […]
Thank you to all of those who participated in the 2012 Nature Visions Photography Exhibit. The exhibit consisted of over 270 images that were juried in from close to 800 images. These images are from the participating camera club members. If you are interested in joining a camera club and participating in next year’s expo […]
Thank you to all of those who participated in the 2013 Nature Visions Photography Exhibit. The exhibit consisted of over 326 images that were juried in from close to 850 images. These images are from the participating camera club members. If you are interested in joining a camera club and participating in next year’s expo […]
This slideshow features the 53 images unanimously selected for the 2012 Nature Visions Photo Expo exhibit. There are approximately 300 images in the show each year. In 2013 we are adding an Open Exhibit of approximately150 images entered by our club members. Nature Visions is the premier nature photography exhibit in the Mid-Atlantic region, featuring […]