Nature Photography Tips

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:

Vermilion Cliffs Wide

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Rocky Mountain High – Canadian Style

My wife, Tanya, and I recently vacationed in the Canmore/Banff area of Alberta, Canada. We settled on this location after reading a variety of reviews and looking over some stunning photos of the many attractions and wildlife. We planned a series of activities that would take us to some of the most scenic, historical, and cultural locations, provide some challenging hiking expeditions, and enable us to take a “few” photographs along the way. After receiving a new Nikon D800 (review), which I tested thoroughly, I was eager to put it to work in the field. Most of the photos in this article were taken with the D800, although some were shot with my infrared D90 (converted by Lifepixel.com). For those of you reading this on an RSS feed, you may want to consider linking to the main Mansurovs site, as there are quite a few photos associated with this post.

From Calgary To Canmore

We flew into the Calgary airport, and after renting a car, began the 74 mile drive from the Calgary Airport to the town of Canmore. This trip is an interesting study in transitions. Near Calgary, everything seems to be under construction. Bulldozers, heavy earth movers, building cranes, and construction signs dot the landscape in every direction. The terrain is pretty flat apart from a gentle mountainside slope on the western side of the city. Off in the distance, we could see some purplish mountains but didn’t have a good sense of their scale. 25 miles or so outside of Calgary, the scenery changes quite a bit. Green rolling hillsides of farm land become the dominant theme, with the familiar golden yellow hay bales lining the bright green fields. The purplish mountains have risen in stature quite a bit and we quickly realize that they are far different than those we left behind in western Pennsylvania. We also unfortunately discover that there are few exits for gas or food!

At the 50 mile mark, the landscape is changing quite a bit. Those little purple mountains seem to grow larger by the minute. Green fir trees that seem to have been cloned, now begin to populate the landscape like huge blades of grass. At the 60 mile mark, we are at the base of the mountains. The term “majestic” doesn’t quite rise to the occasion in describing what we now see. The mountain peaks require you to edge closer to the car window and strain your neck in order to see them. Even in August, we can identify snow patches that never completely melt.

The road begins to roll gently as we wind toward the valley between the mountain peaks. The number of signs warning you about the local wildlife population increase, and based on the fences that line the woods along the road, we suspect that the signs are not to be taken lightly. We had taken 3 exits hoping to find a restaurant or gas station only to conclude that the notion of modern facilities next within 25 miles of the exit is a mirage. We begin to imagine that grizzly bears and wolves have posted these exit signs to lure gullible travelers, low on gas and food, off the main highway where the animals can leisurely dine on them.

Within 5 miles of Canmore, we are deep into the mountains that seem be growing larger before our eyes. I am constantly trying to keep my eyes on the road as the rocky towers on both sides of the road continue to command my attention. By now, we are seriously wondering if we have been transported to another planet, since it couldn’t possibly be part of the one which we came from. Soon we arrived at the Falcon Crest Lodge, which proved to be the excellent “base camp” for our adventures.

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iPad 3 Wallpapers from Nikon D800

I decided to post a couple of iPad 3 (a.k.a. the “New iPad” or just “the iPad”) wallpapers taken by the Nikon D800 while I am working on the upcoming Nikon 85mm f/1.8G lens review. I am hoping to publish it within the next few days, so that I could start working on reviewing the Canon 5D Mark III and some high-end Canon lenses. These images were requested by our readers in higher resolution and since the new iPad has a whopping 2048×1536 pixel retina display, I thought it would be better to extract them in a bigger size. They should also work as wallpapers for the original iPad and iPad 2, but obviously the images are not going to be as detailed…

iPad 3 Wallpaper 1

1) Click here to download the wallpaper version in 2048×1536 resolution

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Images from Another World

I just came back from a trip and wanted to share some of the images that were taken with the Nikon D800. Since I did not have a chance to shoot much with the D800 before the trip, my Nikon D800 Review had very few sample images, some of which were pretty bad for my taste. But as I have already pointed out, I had to publish the review before my trip, because our readers kept on sending me emails on a daily basis, asking when the review will be available. It is still a work in progress, so I will be updating it with more information this week. Check back the review occasionally and you will find more valuable information with plenty of details. Some readers requested me to provide more image samples and comparisons with the 5D Mark III and the D700, so I will do that later this week as well.

Back to the images from another world – the below images were taken with the D800 and Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G, Nikon 24mm f/1.4G and Nikon 85mm f/1.8G lenses, in a remote location of New Mexico, known as “Bisti Badlands”:

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A Window of Opportunity

When photographing various places and landscapes, I sometimes make a note of a location or a spot that I particularly like, so that I could come back and take pictures later. Often times you will find a really beautiful scene, but poor lighting conditions, bad timing, lack of proper equipment or other circumstances might prevent you from capturing the perfect shot. There are numerous locations that I saved as my “favorites”, which I try to go back to and recapture when I have a chance. Sometimes I come back with nothing, other times I might get lucky and come back with a picture I actually like. I might even visit the same place in different seasons to get a completely new look, like in this set of pictures.

Here is a picture of a cool-looking entrance at Castillo de San Cristóbal that I photographed in 2010:

Castillo de San Cristóbal - 2010

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Nikon D800 vs D800E

Now that both the Nikon D800 and Nikon D800E are available, many of our readers are wondering which one to get. In this Nikon D800 vs D800E article, I will explain differences between the two cameras and talk about which camera to buy for which situation. Both cameras are identical, except for one major difference, which is why there is a price difference: the Nikon D800 has an anti-aliasing filter, while the Nikon D800E does not. In short, an anti-aliasing filter effectively removes Moiré (see below on what Moiré is), so the Nikon D800 will not have any problems with it, while the Nikon D800E cannot deal with it, so you will have to deal with it in post-processing.

What is Moiré?

Moiré pattern occurs when a scene or an object that is being photographed contains repetitive details (such as lines, dots, etc) that exceed the sensor resolution. As a result, the camera produces a strange-looking wavy pattern as seen below:

Moiré

(Image courtesy of photo.net)

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Best of 2011 – Landscapes (Part 2)

This is part 2 of my 2011 landscape favorites. Please note that some of the images you will be seeing in the “Best of 2011” wallpaper collection have already been posted earlier last year in various articles, but in much smaller resolution. If you are looking for technical data, like Camera type, Lens and Exposure information, you will find it in the EXIF data. Summary of cameras used for the below images: Nikon 1 V1, D5100, D7000, D700, D3s and Sony A65.

Enjoy!

Colorado Fall Colors

1) Colorado Fall Colors 1920×1200 Widescreen Wallpaper

Canyonlands

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Best of 2011 – Landscapes (Part 1)

Happy New Year! The Mansurovs are back after a short holiday, with some photos to share from 2011. At the end of each year, I go back and start reviewing what I have photographed. It is a very long and painful process, because I have to sort through tens of thousands of images and pick the ones that I think are worthy of getting published as wallpapers on our website, in addition to being featured in our portfolio (I know, the images in the portfolio are very old, but I am working on updating it). While the process is very time consuming, if you have not gone back and reviewed your images from last year, I highly recommend that you do. It is a great exercise to re-evaluate your work and understand your weaknesses. You should be a better photographer now than you were a year ago, so see what you like and you don’t about your pictures. Are you seeing a significant improvement in your work? How do the images from last year compare to the images from the year before? Once you pick your favorites (which you should limit to 100 images max and don’t forget to flag them in Lightroom), invite your friends and family to look at your images. If you have any photographer friends, ask them to help you out with this. Tell them to be very critical and only pick the images that communicate with them. Let them vote on each images and give a star rating from 1 to 5. Walk out of the room and come back when they are done. Filter Lightroom by 5 stars and see how many images you are left with. Then ask your friends/family to tell you why they chose those particular images, find out what they felt about each photo. Also ask them what they feel is missing in each image they picked – perhaps there are some things they see that you did not see before. Trust me, this kind of feedback is invaluable. It is OK if the feedback is very harsh – you should welcome any criticism. In fact, you need to learn to be very critical of your work.

This is the first part of my 2011 landscape favorites. Please note that some of the images you will be seeing in the “Best of 2011” wallpaper collection have already been posted earlier last year in various articles, but in much smaller resolution. If you are looking for technical data, like Camera type, Lens and Exposure information, you will find it in the EXIF data. Enjoy!

Sunset Rainbow

1) Sunset Rainbow 1920×1200 Widescreen Wallpaper

Mono Lake Sunrise

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Best Nikon Lenses for Landscape Photography

What are the best Nikon lenses for landscape photography? After I posted my last article on “Best Nikon Lenses for Wedding Photography“, I have been getting many requests from our readers to also talk about lenses for photographing landscapes, nature and wildlife (another post on best Nikon wildlife lenses will be published soon). In this post I will not only talk about which Nikon lenses I believe are the best for photographing landscapes, but also when I use a particular lens, along with plenty of image samples from each lens. Please keep in mind that the information I present below is a personal opinion based on my experience so far, which is subject to change. No third party lenses are presented either, although some Zeiss, Sigma, Tamron and Samyang lenses are phenomenal for landscapes. If you have a favorite lens of yours for landscape photography that is not listed below, please feel free to add a comment on the bottom of the page with some information and links to pictures (if you have any that you would like to share).

1) Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8G

I want to start out with a lens that I have a love and hate relationship with. On one side, the Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8G is one of the sharpest lenses ever produced by Nikon. It has phenomenal optics (center to corner, throughout the frame and aperture range), beautiful colors, super fast autofocus and an extremely useful focal range for wide-angle photography. On the other hand, it is a heavy, bulky and expensive lens that cannot accommodate filters. Sadly, not just circular filters and filter holders but pretty much any kind of hand-holdable filter. Its round front element shape and the built-in lens hood just make it impossible to use filters. Sure, you can buy a filter holder system from Lee and other manufacturers for this lens to accommodate filters, but it is not cheap and you would have to purchase a set of large 150mm filters, so forget about using your existing filters. I really wish Nikon allowed us to use small replaceable filters close to the lens mount, just like on telephoto lenses and this lens would have been irreplaceable.

Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8G ED

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Must-Have Filters for Landscape Photography

While I was photographing the beautiful scenery of the Glacier National Park at sunrise, I realized that some filters are pretty much required to get good results when photographing landscapes. While many photographers think that some of the built-in tools in Lightroom and Photoshop can simulate filter behavior, making filters redundant in the digital age, some filters in fact can never be simulated in software, while others help in getting even better results in post-processing. If you do not know what filters are and what they are used for, I highly recommend reading my “lens filters explained” article before you continue to read this one.

1) Polarizing Filter

B+W Circular Polarizing Filter

A polarizing filter is a must-have tool for landscape photography. It is typically the first filter landscape photographers buy to instantly improve their pictures and and add vividness and contrast to them. A polarizer can reduce reflections from objects such as water and glass and can be used to darken the sky, bring out the clouds and even reduce atmospheric haze, making the scene look much more vivid. For all normal lenses that have a filter thread in the front, you can get a circular polarizing filter, also known as a “circular polarizer”. A circular polarizer is very easy to use and once you attach it on the front of your lens, all you need to do is rotate it clockwise or counter-clockwise to get a different amount of polarization. Polarizing filters work by blocking certain light waves from entering the lens. Rotating a polarizer allows certain types of light waves to pass through, while blocking other ranges of light waves. Thus, you could turn a sky from light blue to very dark blue or increase/decrease reflections by simply rotating the filter.

The effect of polarization cannot be reproduced or simulated in post-processing, especially when dealing with natural reflections. Take a look at the below image:

Move mouse over to see with and without polarizer

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