It’s been a while since we had a tip for beginners, so here is a quick post for the wildlife photographer. It’s not uncommon for friends of mine to see a photo like the one below and for them to ask where I took it. Quite frequently my response to them is, “From the window of my car.” They usually laugh thinking that I am joking and then I tell them that I’m serious. If you take many wildlife shots, you will quickly realize that oftentimes, animals are acclimated to cars and if we stay inside them, we don’t stress them as much and they don’t flee as fast.
While a good, sturdy tripod is often best for stabilizing your gear, there are times when a monopod is more convenient and/or can be a big help in supporting larger camera/lens combinations. In keeping with Nasim’s mention in the Focus and Recompose Technique article that we would be doing some posts on basics and Tips for Beginners and since we have had a couple of monopod reviews, it occurred to us that some people may not know how to use a monopod properly, so we decided to share some pointers. The main differences between the three methods that we will discuss here is where you place the foot of the monopod.
Method 1: Straight Out in Front
Most people will first use this method as it is the logical way to use a monopod. With their own legs standing square and spread to approximate shoulder width, they will put the foot of the monopod roughly centered between their legs and straight out in front of them so that the foot of the monopod forms a triangle with the photographers two feet. This more or less mimics a tripod with two legs supplied by the photographer and the third from the tripod. To increase the stability, the wrist strap should be utilized by using it to firmly seat or push the monopod foot into the ground.
Fast prime lenses offer a number of advantages. They are great tools in many situations – whether you need discretion, low-light performance, portability or aesthetics, there’s a lens for every taste. However, these strong advantages also come with certain issues. When used wide-open (meaning at maximum aperture), many prime lenses render extremely shallow depth of field. In normal lighting conditions modern AF systems are capable of focusing accurately. In low-light environments, our DSLRs start to suffer, which reduces our chances of capturing sharp images. Because of this, missed focus is often mistaken for lack of general lens sharpness by beginner photographers. In this article, I will introduce you to several tips on how to use fast lenses in low-light environments, which hopefully will make you feel a little more confident when using them for your photography needs.
Tips on Shooting in Low-Light Conditions
1) Calibrate Your Lenses
The first step you need to take in order to focus accurately in any light, is to make sure that your lens(es) can focus accurately in general. Front and back-focusing has become a very known issue recently. It has become especially visible with higher resolution sensors – they are most unforgiving if you miss focus even slightly. If you want to know why these issues happen, please read our How Phase Detection Autofocus Works article where we explain everything thoroughly. If you want to identify whether your gear has any of these problems, read our How to Quickly Test Your DSLR for Autofocus Issues article.
One of the requests we have been getting lately from some of our readers has been to provide more simple and easy to understand photography techniques. So far this year we have covered a lot of complex topics that are for more advanced users, thanks to such new fine tools as the Nikon D800. So for the remainder of the year, we decided to focus on photography basics again, covering simple and basic techniques and tips for beginners. In this article, I will go over the focus and recompose technique, which can be quite useful when photographing in various environments – whether shooting in low-light situations, or composing your shots with the subject in the corner of the frame. I personally use this technique quite a bit in event photography and it saved me a number of times when the light conditions were extremely poor and my camera could not properly focus.
1) What Recomposing Means
Before I talk about this technique, let me first explain what the word “recompose” stands for in photography. When you take a picture, you carefully frame your shot and place your subject somewhere in the frame before you take a picture. In other words, you compose the shot. Recomposing simply means framing your shot first (for example to acquire focus), then moving your camera to re-position your subject somewhere else in the frame.
In continuing the excellent guest posts that we have previously posted, we are introducing a local landscape and wildlife photographer, Russ Burden. Russ is an excellent photographer and loves to teach as you can tell from his article. We would like to thank Russ for taking the time to share with us ideas to consider as we strive to improve our photography. Enjoy.
Guest Post by Russ Burden
As I sit back and relax, I can still hear mama’s words, “Watch out what you do today because someday your background may come back to haunt you.” Was mama psychic? Did she peer into a crystal ball knowing of my passion for photography? Was she a closet photographer versed with knowledge about how important a background check is?
You see, learning how to eliminate background distractions in a photograph is imperative. As meticulous as one can be in composing a perfect subject, if the background isn’t treated with equal care, the end result will not be successful.
A while ago, I posted an article explaining the Brenizer method panorama. Ryan Brenizer is a NYC based wedding photographer and the “father” of Bokeh Panorama, or Brenizer panorama, technique, which allows one to achieve an otherwise impossibly shallow depth of field at a given angle of view. While I did my best to explain how it all works, it’s often better to see how one does it once than read about it ten times. And who to better do it that Ryan himself?
So here are a couple more tips for those of you interested in learning this technique, followed by Ryan’s much more understandable and professional explanation.
1) Remember Composition and Light
While Brenizer method panorama can help even the most simple and dull photograph look amazing, any eagle-eyed photographer will be able to tell you’re just trying to fool people by using simple aesthetics, such as bokeh, which has nothing to do with your skills as a photographer, only the lens you’re using. Light, Subject and Composition are the main aspects of an image, even when it’s 9463-ish pixels wide and has the most beautiful background blur you’ve ever seen. Work on it – find the best light, the best pose or lack of one, and work on your composition skills – Brenizer method is there to improve your photography and give you more creative choice, but that’s all it can do. The rest is, once again, up to the living, breathing creature holding the camera with a lens set wide open.
A while ago, I posted an article asking for your feedback. We were all very thrilled to see so many of you comment (even though I didn’t get to answer all of the comments, we already have a list of things we will be working very hard on during the coming months). One suggestion, made by Marcin (thank you!), was of particular interest to me. “What inspires us?”, he asked. Let me rephrase that – who inspires us?
Learning something new is vital for any aspiring photographer, not to mention how interesting it can often be. But then there is a question – whom to learn from? There are a lot of photography forums and blogs around, both with good and not-so-good content, and it can take quite some time for one to differentiate them accordingly. Luckily, just when I was starting my wedding photography business about two years ago, I came across Ryan Brenizer’s blog, and from him I learned one of the best techniques I’ve seen around – the Brenizer method panorama.
Panoramas have been around since film days, and there were actually cameras specifically designed to take such images by using a longer portion of film than conventional 35mm or medium format cameras. Today, most point-and-shoot cameras, as well as some mirrorless and DSLR cameras, are capable of taking panorama images automatically, and, frankly, the result can often be spectacular. So what is so special about this so-called Brenizer method panorama? Well, take a look at the following image.
I took this photograph using my Nikon D700 camera and a 20mm lens set at f/0.5, and gave the full 80 megapixel image to my clients in case they wanted to print large, for those of you curious enough to ask. It was a very fine day and an amazing wedding. No one truly cared about the oncoming rain, least of all the gorgeous bride with her makeup and hairdo. As I was…
Hold on. A 20mm f/0.5 lens? This can’t be right… Can it?
One of the most exciting things about running a photography site is getting to know people from all over the world. Holger Wagner, a nature photographer from Germany, contact me about two years ago on photographing birds in Florida. After reading my articles on how to photograph birds and my post on Florida birding near Orlando, he contacted me for suggestions and my favorite spots.
After he came back from his trip, he sent me some stunning pictures that he captured in Florida. While browsing through his website, I checked out some of his other work and within minutes, I realized that I am looking at the work of a very talented photographer. I immediately emailed him again and asked to write a guest post, because I felt that his photography had to be shared with the photography community. Unfortunately, he got extremely busy with traveling and photography, so he did not have a chance to do it then. During the last two years, he kept on sending me his beautiful pictures. So a couple of weeks ago I sent another request and I was finally able to persuade him to write a guest post, along with some of his beautiful pictures. Enjoy!
Dear photography friends and readers of the Photography Life blog,
This is my first guest post ever and it’s an honor for me to write here. English isn’t my first language, so I apologize for any grammar mistakes in advance.
My name is Holger Wagner and I live in Aachen, Germany. I am a professional photographer that enjoys nature and loves photographing landscapes and wildlife. I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to visit some of the most beautiful photography places in the world throughout my career. The US Southwest, with its breathtaking landscapes, Florida – a birders paradise, Iceland and Norway in Northern Europe are some of my most favorite places to shoot.
My online research on how to capture birds led me to this informative site. Nasim not only shared some very useful tips in his birding articles, but when I contacted him, he was even kind enough to share his special and favorite destinations in Florida. This helped me so much in preparing my trips carefully and to come home with more “keepers” than I ever expected.
What photography means to me is always to capture the beauty that surrounds me. It is the light, the colors, the composition and the mood in every particular situation. With my Nikon DSLR, I always shoot in RAW in 14-bit to get the best out of every single image. With that said, I post process all my images carefully. Subtle, yet significant, is my goal with each image. I always follow my own quote “Releasing the shutter button is just the beginning of a great photograph”. As photographers, we are all artists as well, whether we create stunning portraits, commercial, wildlife or landscape images. We live in this beautiful digital age that gives us all the tools we can try and find out what works and what doesn’t. It is all bound to our own taste and style, our own appreciation and interpretation of beauty.
I’d like to show you a couple of my images here with some information and if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to get in touch with me. I would love to get some feedback.
When I got started with landscape photography, I went to the beautiful Southwest region of the United States. The amazing sandstone formations in Utah and Arizona are so unique, that I immediately fell in love with them. Until today, it is one of my favorite places for shooting landscapes.
Here is a tip I would like to share with you that can help when you feel overwhelmed with beautiful landscapes. As photography enthusiasts, we are so passionate, that we see all this great scenery and just want to capture it all at once in its grand beauty. Sometimes it works great, but I mostly try to simplify and narrow the focus. This is a composition rule that always works as I found out. Here I photographed the Vermillion Cliffs in Arizona as a single scene with a wide-angle lens:
We had a very ambitious storm last night, and where there’s a storm, there’s often lightning. Nasim has a detailed article written on “How to Photograph Lightning”, so if you hear there’s a storm coming in your area and you want to grab some amazing shots of it, Nasim’s extensive article will help you be prepared from the start.
When the storm hit, I didn’t have a tripod anywhere near me, but you don’t always need one if you just want to take a spontaneous photograph through an open window or a balcony. While I’m not usually one to photograph lightnings (or landscapes, for that matter), I still grabbed my old-ish D300 (still a great camera I use at weddings) with a AF-S 17-55mm f/2.8G lens mounted, set it to its widest setting of 17mm, closed down the aperture to f/8 (the wider the aperture, the thicker the lightning will be, but you’ll need to compensate using slower ISO setting or a ND filter to block some of the incoming light from the flash) and, after setting it to manual focus only, focused at infinity. My camera was set to Auto WB, ISO 200 (base setting for my D300) and Bulb setting in manual exposure mode (M).
How important is sharpness? Recently I noticed, in my business, not so much. Of course, some shots, group portraits in particular, require a certain level of detail preservation edge to edge. Yet in most cases, at least for me, sharpness is second-place to aesthetics, and thus I will most often choose to photograph at the widest aperture I can.
Whenever we read a lens review, it almost seems as if the one thing a huge part of potential buyers care about the most is its “sharpness”. While that is quite understandable with older fixed focal length, and especially zoom, lenses, where the so called optimal apertures between f/4 and f/11 had to be used to resolve as much detail as possible, the way I see it, resolving power is slowly reaching its peak (a sort of a “speed limit”, if you like, when it doesn’t matter how much potential top speed or horse powers you car has, because the top speed allowed is quite enough), after which any kind of additional sharpness will most likely be meaningless. The reason is simple – these are not “f/8 and be there” days anymore. Modern lenses are just that good.
I took the shot above using my 50mm f/1.4G wide open at f/1.4. Check the 100% crop – if you look past the low contrast B&W conversion and high amount of grain added during post processing, there’s plenty of sharpness there and the lines are well defined where they need to be, without looking over processed.