Ten days ago, I was biking in the Everglades National Park, working hard to get some photographs of the Great Egrets and Great Blue Heron in flight. I write to you today from my desk in Pennsylvania, because my efforts paid off and I have more images to share!
For you photographers out there, I had to use ISO 2500 in order to freeze motion with a shutter speed of 1/1000 and keep the aperture wide enough to achieve enough depth of field that the heron would not fly out of my focus zone too quickly. My camera is the Nikon D800, with the Nikon 70-200 mm lens, handheld. When birds take flight, it is a challenge to keep them sharp in the final image.
The success of this image reminds me of why I prefer still photography to video: with a print, one can freeze this moment to enjoy forever. All of these camera settings worked to create an image you can enjoy as a 10″ x 10″ print, available on my website.
“Ghost Tulip” is my own affectionate name for this unique tulip that reminds me of the Ghost Orchid, the elusive tropical orchid that blooms in Florida in mid-summer. Seasonal Florida residents can’t catch a glimpse of the ghost orchid, since they have months ago fled to northern climes.
My good friend Sharon was patient with me as I composed, focused and captured 64 photographs at the Phipps Conservatory Spring Flower Show. I shared with her my thoughts on photographing flowers.
“I’m mainly concerned with finding good compositions here. The background must be simple yet show some depth. If I choose a single flower to dominate the composition, it’s helpful to have a second flower play best supporting actor, to echo the main actor, but play a secondary role, as in this composition,” I added.
Later, “I mentioned that a star pattern is always a good thing, as is an S curve or a diagonal.”
“Why?” she asked. “Ha, ha, good question,” was my reply.
It’s certainly a challenge to photograph birds in flight. Your shutter speed must be fast enough (1/1000 second) and your depth of field sufficient to keep the birds in focus (f/20), as they won’t stop for you to capture your photograph. I used an ISO of 800 on a bright sunny day, to allow me to shorten the shutter speed and dial down the aperture. It helps if the birds are flying roughly parallel to your focal plane, rather than toward or away from you. And it takes practice. These beautiful birds look amazing as they come in for a landing, too.
Grand Teton National Park is such a strong magnet for landscape photographers, that many of the popular lookout points are quite crowded for sunrise and sunset. Tripods legs are interlaced, and I consider myself lucky if the people around me are cooperative and friendly. If an inexperienced photographer starts to set up in front of another photographer who has established his spot, look out! There will be fireworks.
Our workshop group of nine had this spot on the edge of Jenny Lake to ourselves. Check! When we first arrived on the lake shore to see a bright blue sky and backlit mountains, I wasn’t sure how much I liked the location. We had carefully climbed down a rocky hillside, carefully making our own path over boulders and downed trees. I moved to the right and left, looking for foreground elements to create an interesting composition.
As we waited for the sun to sink lower and lower, the show began. Our group became very still when the orange light show reached its peak, and every photographer tried to perfect a long exposure.
As I packed up my gear, I could hear others murmur, “Did you see that reflection on the water?”
Landscape photographers understand that shooting directly into the sun, even at sunset, creates such extremes of brightness and darkness that it is difficult to make a successful image. The foreground falls into shadow, while the sky becomes impossibly bright. What to do?
Photographers planning to shoot sunset in Grand Teton National Park face this challenge every day, because all views of the mountain range face west. While today’s digital software can help brighten the shadows and darken the highlights, it ain’t easy!
One approach is to wait until the critical moment when the sun touches the edge of a tree or a mountain in the foreground. If you set your camera manually to a small f-stop such as f/22, the sunlight will refract and create a brilliant sunstar. I like this technique, as it gives punch to the scene.
Reflections in the beaver pond as well as the V shape of the trees that flank the mountains give this image a peaceful symmetry.
After this capture, I packed up my tripod and camera quickly, for soon it would be dark.
A meadow full of lupines stretch far into the dark edge of the woods. Here are a few compositional tips. When you frame a photograph, it is a good idea to consider the foreground, middle ground and background, letting the foreground elements lead your eye through the frame.
Shallow depth of field makes the three well lit lupines in the foreground stand out. The countless lupines in the middle ground tells the story that the meadow stretches out a long way, and the dark background at the upper left allows the eye to exit.
Did you notice the star shaped leaves in the lower center? This helps to balance the composition. Did you notice the lack of distracting elements — Nothing that distracts or detracts from the main subject?
As you consider these factors of light, fore/middle/background, S curves, shapes, lack of distractions and depth of field, you are well on your way to learning how to create a dynamic (rather than a static) image.
“Okay, perfect. Now, stand up straight with one foot in front of the other, step into the sunlight, look at me, and hold it right there.” Snap!
If only a wild bird would follow directions like that! If only a beautiful roseate spoonbill would show up when you go out with your camera hoping to capture something interesting. In the wild, the photographer shows up often and prepared with know how and good equipment hoping that the birds and the events will happen someday.
When it is time to process a digital image, some experience with Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom comes in handy. I was grateful to be prepared when this Roseate Spoonbill and I met at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary.