(This article was originally written for the North American Nature Photography Assoc. magazine Currents)
During these tough economic times, many conversations among photographers are not so much on the timing of desert wildflowers or Yellowstone’s elk rut, but rather a sharing of information about survival strategies. Editorial ad revenues are slumping and weakened sales in publishing have reduced photography budgets. By looking at your business strategy now, you might be able to develop a plan for the next year or so that will help you cope with the vagaries of the economy.
First, evaluate the photo excursions you have planned for the next 12 months. Do they include locations where you have never been? Are these locations in high demand or simply on your wish list? Do you need these locations for your existing markets because you’re missing sales? Rethink each trip.
If you determine that some of the travel you have planned will increase business then keep it in your plan. On close inspection, however, you may decide that some travel can be delayed or revised and you can apply those monies, instead, to marketing expenditures.
Instead of planning a trip to a place far away where you have never photographed before, consider altering your itinerary to visit proposed new national parks or wilderness areas that are closer to home.
Dramatically improve your flower photography by adding light from a wireless flash. If you photograph flowers, you can make them stand out by adding light from a wireless flash.
While it is not difficult to photograph flowers, like all outdoor nature photography, we are at the mercy of Mother Nature and that means we don’t always get the light we want. You can solve this problem by using a wireless off-camera flash. It can in many cases dramatically improve your photography.
When I know I am photographing wildflowers I will take my Canon 580EXII and the NPT-04 radio triggers and the Fotodiox mini lightbox to soften the light on flowers. Also, several light stands for multi-flash setups.
My strategy for lighting flowers is I want it to look REAL and not flashed because contrast looks really ugly. I usually use a 100mm macro lens for smaller flowers but today I am using a 28-70mm lens because these flowers are so big. I have set my aperture to f/5.6. and my ISO is 100.
The last thing is when you have a grouping of flowers instead this little mini lightbox won’t cover it. The solution is a larger lightbox like this 18×18 inch one. I am holding the lightbox over the flowers and the additional light brightened up these foreground flowers nicely. On this final photo I darkened the background by changing the shutter speed from 1 second to 1/4 second and that makes the foreground flowers stand out nicely.
There are so many techniques you can employ to get amazing shots. The near/far technique discussed on this site before can result in very impactful photos, for instance, while backlighting can be particularly useful for landscape photography. Learning methods and practices like these will give you the tools you need to capture beautiful images even when it might not be particularly easy to do so – which is what brings us to the subject of this piece.
In this piece, we’re looking not at more techniques, but rather at some of the trickiest shots you can aim to take. The following can all be very difficult, but also give you excellent opportunities to practice what you’ve learned and see what you’re capable of.
Conditions underwater are very different, which naturally makes this type of photography quite challenging. Plus, of course, you may have to swim and/or scuba dive, and given that you’ll be carrying equipment with you, you’ll need to be quite a strong swimmer. All the while, you’ll be thinking about your composition, and which scenes you can capture, and you’ll be adjusting to the fact that everything appears bigger, duller, and slightly distorted (remember, water absorbs light). Choosing which lens to use can be tricky, too, though there is no particular lens that can lay claim to being the best for underwater photography. You’ll have to figure that out along the way, which speaks to the larger point – that great underwater photography is largely about trial and error.
If you’re based in Oregon (or just a sports fan), chances are you’ve seen great photos of Damian Lillard taking over for the Trail Blazers, or Diego Valero playing for the Timbers. These photos capture people in action, and getting them just right is quite a challenge. Broadly speaking shutter speed is critical for these photos, and more specifically, using a camera’s sports mode (if it has one) is also recommended, as this can automatically configure an adequate shutter speed. Once you figure out how to set up your equipment for an action shot, all that’s left is to put yourself in a situation to catch scenes that will produce beautiful and interesting images. Sticking with sports, the online oddsmaking sites (which are visible in Oregon already, even if sports betting isn’t quite legal) are predicting a possible postseason berth for the Timbers and a strong season for the Trail Blazers, which means events concerning both teams should produce some relevant opportunities. Beyond Oregon in 2019 though, you can always find popular sports and major events that can present the perfect challenge in action photography.
Taking photos in poorly-lit conditions is quite the challenge, particularly for people who may not have as much experience. Something as simple as using the flash doesn’t always solve the problem and is unlikely to impress discerning viewers (or other photographers) with high standards. Instead, truly high-quality shots in these conditions require a mastery of the interplay between exposure, shutter speed, and aperture settings. Mastering low-light photography, therefore, takes plenty of camera know-how – and lots of practice. In this case, we can’t recommend something as simple as becoming a stronger swimmer or attending a popular sporting event as aa means of finding that practice. But there should be plenty of opportunities in your night-to-night life for low-light photography. Just remember to stay safe if you’re out taking pictures after dark!
Outdoor Winter Shots
The weather can be a formidable foe for photographer, and winter is perhaps the most challenging season. Just dealing with snowflakes falling from above can be difficult, not to mention light glaring off of snow-covered surfaces can present its own challenges. Then, often enough, there’s fog, which can significantly impact visibility. And on top of all of this, it’s cold, and potentially wet (which means you have to be mindful of your equipment as well). For the most part, you just need to grit your teeth and gut it out, doing your best to ignore the conditions and keep things normal. But just to be careful and keep your camera from the elements, make sure you place it in a camera bag while moving around. That way, whether you’re taking a photography break during a ski trip or skimpy wandering into the wintery woods behind your home, you can keep your equipment safe such that only you have to overcome the conditions.
As tricky as the above-listed photography challenges are, they can all be mastered. You may not need to try them all, depending on your goals as a photographer. But you can never have too much practice, and overcoming these kinds of conditions can make you better at whatever it is you ultimately want to do with your photography.
I had an assignment years ago to photograph a rafting trip on the Copper River from WR-SE to Cordova, Alaska, and it was one of the wildest places I have been.
One morning, we awoke to find our riverbank campsite flooding from rapidly rising water. We had about an hour to break camp before it was totally underwater and one of my last photos was my fellow guest standing on a patch of sand that was probably 6’x6′. We all got aboard and launched.
A couple days later the waters had subsided and left these amazing patterns in the soft mud. The guides said the cause was most likely an ice dam in the river, way up in the Chugach Mountains, has busted unleashing the water.
I was treated in the aftermath, to these amazing patterns along the riverbank.
I used my Canon EOS 1N and Canon 16-35mm lens for the shot with the lens set to 16mm. That made the foreground closer to the camera which emphasizes the foreground. I next processed the photo in Photoshops B&W adjustment layer.
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Here’s a photo from Pt. Imperial where I made the journey from outside the park to the rim before sunrise. It was a perfect morning with pretty clear skies.
I took the photograph before sunrise at 6:40 am which was 13 minutes before sunrise. When shooting pre-sunrise, if you start early when the alpenglow type light is evident, you have less contrast compared to the minutes before the sunrise.
When photographing wide-angle landscapes, often the goal is to make sure everything is in sharp focus. The reason is that usually, we do not like to look at out of focus areas of our scenes. While that shallow depth of field can be a powerful technique to get viewers to look at something in your composition that deserves all the attention, wide-angle landscapes can be more powerful when everything is sharp.
Looking at this scene, from Oregon’s Willamette National Forest, you see a scene using a great depth of field. But stop for a second and think about what your end goal would be for this scene. Is there anything you would want in focus and the rest out of focus?
The foreground maple leaves are probably what I would call the ‘star of the photo’ so they should remain in focus. In this case, the background could be thrown out of focus and that would support the approach of forcing viewers to look at the foreground maple leaves.
Making the background sharp and throwing the foreground maple out of focus would only create visual chaos because the foreground maple is so large in the frame. That big out of focus maple creates a visual roadblock that stymies viewers who want to look through the scene to the background.
The answer is to use the Near/Far technique of making sure everything is in focus. This supports the foreground elements and the background as the two areas of the scene are more visually in-sync.
I had a really fun photo assignment last month, photographing at the Royal Peacock Opal Mine in Nevada. This mine is a U-Dig operation where anybody can visit, buy a pass to dig in the mine, and hopefully uncover some amazing Opals.
These types of assignments are always fun, not only for what I get to photograph but also for the learning. The creation of Opals is absolutely fascinating, but rather than explain it myself, here is a quick explanation:
‘Opal is formed from a solution of silicon dioxide and water. As water runs down through the earth, it picks up silica from sandstone and carries this silica-rich solution into cracks and voids, caused by natural faults or decomposing fossils. As the water evaporates, it leaves behind a silica deposit. This cycle repeats over very long periods of time, and eventually, opal is formed.’ –Opals Down Under
What was explained to me, and I may not recall exactly, but this silica solution enters into the wood that is buried and estimated to be 12 – 15 million years old, and that wood eventually becomes petrified. Once the moisture leaves the solution, it becomes an Opal.
As I was hiking the desert this last winter, I spotted an area where rain had collected and created this pattern. What I thought was very interesting was how the mud was totally wet and then following the cracks, totally dry. It made for a nice composition was my feeling and I shot it with an iPhone.
But you can see by this pre-processed image below, the photo would not work without some good processing since it was totally flat looking.