Thursday, September 4, 2008

Photo Talk: Not Taking Zoo Pictures

At first you might think this is some kind of posting about how it is only a cool photo if it is taken in the wild. On the contrary...I am not one who thinks taking a photo in a zoo is wrong. As far as I am concerned, I love to capture God's creation and help express its beauty...zoo or in the wild.

This post is more about taking photos in a zoo and not having the photo look like a "zoo" photo.

I have seen many posts at various websites where the photographer has taken lets say a photo of a lion and forgot to exclude rocks, fences, and people. The shot may be a winner with an expression or action that is priceless but with all the other distractions it turns out not to be a "money shot".

I am still learning everytime I go off to a zoo. Not only do I learn more about photography but I also learn more and more about what zoos in my area are even worth going to.

I like to see large, natrual looking enclosure and evidence that the animal is well taken care of. I also like to check out the lighting situation and make a plan as to what animal I want to photograph when.

It is funny...almost every zoo I go to says - "The bears are more active in the early morning and mid evening". It cracks me up because the zoo does not open until 10 am and closes at 5 pm. LOL...I can never figure out why they tell me such things.

So anyway...after you spend a little time figuring out what you want to do and when, it is time to crack open the gear and get rockin.

You best have a decent size zoom. Something you can get nice and tight with if need be. I have a Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L which can do the trick sometimes but there are times I add a 1.4 teleconverter to get a little distance.

Recently I added a Tamron SP AF200-500mm F/5-6.3 Di LD (IF) Ultra Zoom to my arsenal. I am very pleased with the zoom factor but it is not nearly as clear as my Canon L. I knew that when I purchased it so there is no real surprise.

I would certainly plan on using at least a monopod. Once you get used to shooting with one they are really quite handy. I personally would recommend a ball head of some sort so you can stay versatile with horizontal and vertical shooting.

When I use my bazooka...oh...Tamron 200-500mm it is certain I will need a tripod. I have tried to hand hold this thing but it is just better with a tripod.

Depending on the effect you are looking for, I generally try and stick with fairly fast shutter speeds - at least above 1/800th. You never know when an animal is going to blink, move, or turn their head.

Dont be too afraid of mid day lighting. Depending on the animal and how you adjust your exposures, it can really add character to the shot.

Another good practice it to switch your camera to burst mode. I like to take 2-3 shots in a row so I can ensure I am catching what I want to catch. If you have luck like me the first shot the deer closes its eyes. The second shot it sticks out its tongue. Maybe the third shot will be the winner.

I do a lot of zoo shooting. If you have any questions please feel free to drop a line.

Keep your strap around your neck and happy clickin!!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Photo Talk: Shooting In The Raw

RAW file format that is...Sheesh...what kind of guy to you think I am?

When I first really started getting into digital photography I shot in JPEG mode. My camera at the time - Canon 300D was scary enough let alone trying to understand whatever the heck RAW meant.

As I read more and more articles I started to feel intimidated. All these pros are shooting in RAW format and I thought maybe I was too much of a novice to shoot like the pros.

Then one day I thought...what a bunch of bunk!! I can shoot RAW just like anyone else. Well let me tell you this...I will never shoot in straight JPEG mode again.

Right now I shoot in both JPEG and RAW mode. Without downloading a special viewer, my Windows XP does not preview RAW so I use the JPEG as a polaroid so to speak.

With RAW you are basically have the ability to take the photo all over again. If you underexposed, you can adjust the exposure compensation. If you have a little wash out, you can recover some of the detail. If you need a little fill in lighting, that can be done too. Oh and the two adjustments I love the most - adjusting blacks and vibrance. It is amazing what can be done with a RAW image.

So whats next? Well after you work your RAW image you can bring it into your photo software. I use Photoshop Elements 6. Once you bring it into your software you can make any further adjustment and save the image as a JPEG or PNG, or any other file type your software allows.

You see, RAW is the image you photographed in its rawest form. JPEG files are compressed. A good way to think about it is - When you click the shutter the camera captures the raw image. If you are in JPEG mode your camera does the "photo processing" which results in the JPEG you see on your screen.

My understanding is that each camera company captures the raw image in a different fashion, with different data. The same goes for JPEG. Each camera "processes" the image in a different way.

Think back to those old film days. Did you ever get photos back from the developer that were a bit blue? Or too bright? Too dark? Did you ever wish you could process the film yourself?

Well yippee howdy do!!! That is what you can do with RAW. You start with the "digital negative", make your adjustments, bring it into your software, customize it as you see fit, save it as a JPEG and you just processed your own photo!

Lets put this all together with some sample photos at the different stages.

This is the RAW image taken at the time I snapped the shutter. It was a rather overcast day with little or no sun to speak of. I knew saturation would be a challenge. Rather than select some kind of custom shooting mode in my camrea, I decided to try an ensure acceptable exposure.

The next image is after I made some adjustment in the RAW Converter software. I use the one in Photoshop Elements 6.

As you can see the photo is starting to take some shape. The next and final image is my final adjustments after I brought the RAW image into Photoshop Elements 6.

It really is not scary at all. If you are not shooting in RAW format you should really give it a try. If you can put your camera in JPEG + RAW, that way if you find you dont like working the RAW image, you still have the JPEG and did not lose the shot.

If your camera cannot shoot in RAW format, that is unfortunate. I have heard there are some point and shoots beginning to support RAW. Then again you may just be happy as a lark with JPEG. In that case dont sweat it...keep on clickin!!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Photo Talk: Shooting Modes - Which to choose?

Depending on the type of photos I am taking, I may switch between four different shooting modes. For each photographer the shooting mode of choice is most likely a personal preference. Here are some of the modes I use and when.

In most cases when shooting landscapes I like to be in Aperture Priority. My subject is not moveing so I have a little more time to calculate how I might want to shoot the scene. With my selecting the f/stop and letting the camera determine the shutter speed, I can move from scene to scene and maintain the desired depth of field. I almost always am shooting a landscape with a tripod so I worry much less about shutter speed.

I also like to use Manual Mode, especially if I am shooting waterfalls, rivers, and streams. In general I like water looking a bit smooth. Not too much...there are some photos that just a little too much "cotton candy" effect. I do my best to try and keep a little bit of a good thing, if you know what I mean.

I find myself in Program Mode and Shutter Priority when shooting wildlife. Depending on the subject they can tend to move a bit and be unpredictable.

I have actually had a lot of success in Program Mode. In Program I can still override the apreture with the flick of a wheel. The Canon 30D also has exposure compensation made easy by spinning an adjustment wheel.

I do some portraits and am getting into them more are time goes on. Where I shoot most people photos is at events and such. When shooting at events I am strictly in Program Mode. I need the camera ready and ready fast. Getting that "money shot" of a child takes cat like speed. I cant be fumbling around with all kinds of calculations.

I am still learning as probably most of us are. Certainly there are different reasons to be in different modes. If you have a camera that has RAW capability, switching it to RAW is not a have bad idea.

If you are in RAW you can make up for some exposure errors or miscalculations fairly easy. To some it may sound like cheating. I say Iam being smart embracing the technology.

Drop a line, give me your thoughts, tell me the modes you like and why.