50 shades of grey, but only one that matters.

There may be 50 shades of grey, but when we are talking about exposure the only one we’re concerned about is 18% grey. I would like to talk a little about how we can keep control of exposure when we are not in manual mode.

You may be ringt, but you may not be correct:

Exposure compensation is used to override the suggested correct exposure as calculated by your camera’s light meter. It is important to understand how your camera is determining what is the correct exposure. The meter in the camera is measuring the light in the scene and tries to balance the overall scene to a middle gray tone, also known as 18% grey.. If the main subject of your image is of a tone that is lighter or darker then 18% grey the calculated exposure will be under or over exposed. This is where exposure compensation comes in to save the day.

In order to use exposure compensation, you must be in one of the camera modes that allows the camera’s meter to make exposure decisions. This would include aperture priority, shutter priority, or the program mode. If you are in manual mode, exposure compensation will do nothing unless you have Auto ISO enabled. Basically, exposure compensation is only usable if the camera is incharge of making the exposure decision. Once the proper camera mode is selected, it will be possible to override the exposure calculated by your camera by using the exposure compensation.

Clear as mud:

So what does exposure compensation actually do? You know that it changes the exposure, but how does it do it? Does it change the aperture, shutter speed, or is it pure magic?

The answer is that it depends on what mode you have your camera in, and which camera you have. In general exposure compensation in various modes works like this…

  • Aperture Priority Mode – In Aperture Priority mode, exposure compensation changes the shutter speed. In this mode, you set the aperture and the camera sets a corresponding shutter speed. If you change the Aperture, your camera just sets another corresponding shutter speed, and there is no change in the exposure level. Exposure compensation gives you the ability to change the shutter speed (and the overall exposure value) while staying at the same aperture you originally set.

  • Shutter Priority – In Shutter Priority mode, exposure compensation changes your aperture. It is basically the reverse of Aperture Priority mode. You set a shutter speed, and the camera sets a corresponding aperture. Exposure compensation therefore changes the exposure by allowing you to change that aperture size.

  • Program – In Program mode, or P on your mode dial (no P does not stand for Professional”, exposure compensation usually changes the shutter speed. It is possible that your camera works differently, or that you can change how it works in the camera’s menu. This is a good excuse to read some of your camera’s instruction manual.

Snow White:

Let’s talk about when you might want to use exposure compensation. You may wonder why you’d want to change anything, if your camera is already determining the proper exposure level.

if the tones in your frame are darker than this 18% grey tone, the meter will show that there is not enough light for a proper exposure so it will overexpose the image causing the darker tones to become grey. Conversely, if the tones in your frame are lighter than middle grey it will underexpose the image causing whites to become grey.

SInce I live in a town with the nickname of Winterpeg, here is an example that I encounter for almost 1/2 the year. Taking pictures of a snowy scene. If I was to just trust the camera to calculate the exposure all that “wonderful” snow would come out looking grey. I need to add positive exposure compensation of up to 2 stops if I want the snow to be white.

How much is the doggy in the window:

Another common situation where you would want to use exposure compensation is when your subject is strongly backlit, and you do not want a silhouette. This will often happen when you have a subject standing in front of a window. This can really fool a camera meter. With all the light coming from behind the subject you may need to add 2 or more stops of compensation to get a good exposure of the subject.

Not all positive:

I have given a couple of examples of when positive exposure compensation would be needed, but when would you need to add negative compensation? Remember that the camera is trying to make everything 18% grey, so if your subject is darker then that you will need to add negative compensation. Let’s consider the following situation; you are taking a landscape image of a spectacular prairie sunset over a hay bale field. the sky is 2/3rd’s of your scene, but the bottom 1/3rd is the field. this dark field at the bottom will in most situations probably cause your camera to overexpose the scene as it tries to balance the different tonal ranges and bring some detail into the foreground. In this case let’s also assume that the focus is the sky not the field. You would have to dial in negative exposure compensation to preserve the colours and detail in the sky.

A Photographer should have complete control over the exposure process, but not all of us want to work in manual mode. Working in aperture or shutter priority can allow you to work faster, but by adding exposure compensation to your process, you can get the speed of other modes, along with the control of manual.

If you haven’t used exposure compensation before, give it a try.

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A couple of reminders. My 2020 calendars are ready to order at: https://www.wpotrebkaphotography.com/2020-calendar

Registration for my October 7th Goose Flight Workshop at FortWhyte Alive is now open at:

https://www.fortwhyte.org/event/goose-flight-photography-workshop/

There will not be a blog next week as I will be away from the computer.

Thanks again for taking the time to read my blog. Please click the like button if you like it, and as always please leave any questions in the comments and I will answer them.

The shot is not worth it!

Sometimes the best thing you can do iis to not take the shot. What I am talking about today is being an ethical wildlife photographer.

I once heard a definition of what ethics are, and it has stuck with me. it went something like; “Ethics are what you do when no one is looking, or when no one will find out what you did.”

Just by being out in nature with a camera, or even just hiking, we will leave an impact. To me, being ethical is trying to minimize this impact as much as possible.

On the beaten path:

be respectful of the land. Many areas where we photograph are sensitive to the footprints we leave. If there is a defined trail system, then please stick to the trail to avoid damaging fragile areas.

It is also important to respect the rights of the landowner and to get permission from them before entering their land to take an image. I’m only taking a picture is not a legal defense for trespassing. I have never had a landowner refuse me permission, and usually they know a better location then the one I saw from the road.

Not a lunch date:

The fastest way to remove the wild from wildlife is to offer food so we can get a photo. Yellowstone National Park’s website plainly states: “A fed animal is a dead animal—good or bad, the Park Service will destroy animals that are habituated to human contact and food.”

Predators such as foxes, coyotes, wolves, bears, owls, and other raptors learn rapidly to associate humans with food. They may get comfortable approaching humans for food, and this commonly ends in the death of the animal. No picture is worth that.

I am not your maid:

It always surprises, and upsets me on the amount of garbage left behind by those that “love” nature. Please, if you are out enjoying a natural habitat, don’t litter, and if you come across something that someone has left behind, pick it up. I am often in areas that would only be visited only by those willing to put in some effort, and can’t remember the last time I didn’t find some garbage.

Not a game of tag:

Sometimes it’s hard to tell when close becomes to close, but when the animal or bird actually changes its behaviour and moves away from you, it is a clear sign that you are to close. The best way to get close to an animal is to let it come to you. Know your subject’s behaviours, use a blind, or hide and let it continue with its normal behaviour patterns. If it does move away, don’t chase after it. try to figure out what you did to spook it so you don’t do that next time.

Everyone has different ethics, and I am not here to tell you that I am a more ethical person that you. All I can hope is that the next time you have a decision to make, that you think about what the consequences of you getting the shot are, not just how I can I get the shot.

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A couple of reminders. My 2020 calendars are ready to order at: https://www.wpotrebkaphotography.com/2020-calendar

and registration for my October 7th Goose Flight Workshop at FortWhyte Alive is now open at:

https://www.fortwhyte.org/event/goose-flight-photography-workshop/

Thanks again for taking the time to read my blog. Please click the like button if you like it, and as always please leave any questions in the comments and I will answer them.

Stickier than a 3 year old's hands after eating at IHOP!

My Sony gear has arrived, and I have been able to use it for almost a week. I would like to share my first impressions on the Sony A7iii and the Sony FE 5.6-6.3 200-600 G OSS lens. The A7iii has been out for awhile so there are more than a few reviews on the web and Youtube, and the specs are readily available, so I will keep this section to my experiences with moving from Canon to Sony.

More menu items then an Indecisive Restaurant

In my mind a camera is a camera. At its core you have to tell it what to do. This doesn’t change with the Sony, but how you do that is a very different experience. Yes, as everyone knows, Sony is a very menu driven system, but in my opinion there is a very good reason for this.

The level of customizability is staggering! You have the ability to change what every button, switch, and wheel does, so the menu options are bountiful. Is this different from the Canon? Yes, and I still am not fully satisfied with the way I have it set, but the ability to make the camera fit the way you work, and not the other way around is exciting. Already I can make changes and adjustments faster than I could do with my Canon.

I found that the menus can be intimidating and the language they use is less than intuitive. There is a great resource on Youtube for setting up your specific Sony camera. Mark Galer's Alpha Creative Skills channel is a must see. He has videos for every Sony Alpha cameras, master classes on specific topics and cameras, and even free downloadable e-books! If you have a Sony camera, do yourself a favour and check out his channel. Without Mark’s channel my transition from Canon to Sony would not have gone as smoothly. https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCd333V2AbeUItnE_fO1zRtA

The two things that I am enjoying the most are the EVF, with its WYSIWYG view of the world, and the AF performance. As you may have noticed I like taking images of birds. Usually I don’t have time to take a test shot of the bird, and then chimp the image to see if the exposure is correct. I would normally set a base exposure before the action started, and then make adjustments based on any changes to the lighting conditions relying on my experience to determine what those changes should be. With the EVF I can see what the exposure is before I press the shutter release. This allows me to make faster, more accurate exposure decisions on the spur of the moment.

The EVF does have its drawbacks, such ato see anything in the EVF you have to have the camera on and awake. Also it is not as clear as looking through a DSLR viewfinder, but the WYSIWYG outways any complaints. It only took an hour or two to completely adjust to the EVF, and now looking through a DSLR feels unnatural.

The AF performance of the Sony has left the biggest impact on me. In a word it is amazing! It did take some testing and practice to find the settings that work best for me. Once the Sony AF locks onto a subject it is stickier than a 3 year old’s hands after eating at IHOP! It simply won’t let go! It is fast, accurate, and the tracking is scary good.

I have been able to lock onto a Swallow that was too far away for any usable shots, but it locked on and tracked that swallow as it darted around the viewfinder. With the Canon I would have been lucky if the AF even found the Swallow, but the Sony locked on, and almost every single frame was in focus!

Is it perfect? No, but it is the best AF performance that I have ever used, by a long shot. It is also important to remember that this is with Sony’s entry level full frame camera, not it’s top of the line A9! The value for dollar with the A7iii is hard to beat, but I am looking forward to seeing what Sony does with the A9ii. This would be a good time to mention that Photo Central in Winnipeg now does financing!

There are some things that I am not as excited about with the camera. It is a little small for me, but I shoot with a grip, and that addition has helped a lot. It appears that Sony has realized this and has made it’s latest model, the A7Riv, larger. The only other thing I am missing from my Canon is battery life. With the EVF and back screen the battery life is not nearly as good as with the Canon 5Div. This doesn’t mean that I am unhappy with battery life. On the contrary, it has surprised me on how good it is, but it is just not as good as the Canon. I come home from a day afield and usually have lots of the charge left in the second battery in the grip. As a huge plus, I can recharge through the camera’s USB port, and keep shooting. This will be great If I am in an area where I don’t have access to power. I can simply use a portable battery pack to recharge.

Slice tomatoes so thin your in-laws will never come back.

The one word I would use to describe Sony FE 5.6-6.3 200-600 G OSS lens is sharp. Images are so sharp I’m sure you could shave with them. I can’t say enough good things about this lens. Before it arrived I had watched every review of it I could find, even ones not in english. They all said that they were surprised how sharp this lens is, and I think they were being conservative. It’s that good.

As well as being sharp its compact for a 600mm, it’ relatively light (very hand-holdable), and silent, The image stabilization is wonderful, and the zoom ring is a short through from 200-600. The real game changer is that the lens does not extend when you zoom! This allows me to us it on my gimbal head. Other zoom lenses that extend when zoomed are unusable with a gimbal as their centre of gravity changes when you zoom. This would cause the gimbal to become unbalanced and a nightmare to use.

The AF of this lens is snappy. It does have 3 focus ranges you can choose from to make it even faster. They are Full range, 2.4m-10m, and 10m - ∞. If you are using manual focus, the focus ring is smooth to easy to turn. Add to that focus peaking, and manual focusing becomes very fast and accurate.

For those who may use this for video, it is almost silent. I say almost because I haven’t used it for video so I can’t say if an external mic would pick up any sound, but I cannot hear anything, and I have tried.

I don’t understand why they don’t make the lens foot ARCA Swiss compatible. That would save me from having to by another plate to use it on my tripod. The other thing that would have been nice is someway to lock the zoom ring so I don’t accidently turn it. Neither are deal breakers, but rather minor complaints. I had to think hard to come up with these two!

Some people will complain about the minimum aperture of f/6.3 at 600mm. I don’t agree with these complaints. Lens speed costs money. This lens is $2600 CDN. The 600mm f/4 lens is over $10,000 more for just an additional 1 1/3 stops of light! You can even use this lens with Sony 1.4x and 2x teleconverters and retain full AF performance!

Yes it would be great if the lens was a constant f/5.6, but it is only a 1/3 stop difference. from 5.6 to 6.3 You can easily adjust the ISO 1/3 stop higher without any noticeable increase in grain.

A Better Mousetrap?

Change can be hard and scary. I was more than happy with the results I would get with my Canon 5D MKiv, 300 f2.8, and 2X iii extender, but there were times I would think that there must be a better way. In my opinion this combination is a better way. It will take some more time to get the settings to where I am happy, but the ability to adjust them to how I work is worth the headaches.

My original plan was to hold on to my go to trusty Canon setup for a month or two so I could decided if the Sony was a decision I could live with. It took less then a week to decide to sell my Canon gear!

If you shoot wildlife or action, and are in the market for a new setup, I would highly recommend that you look at the Sony offerings. I can’t think of a better value in camera gear right now given the features that the combination of the A7iii and the FE 5.6-6.3 200-600 G OSS lens offer.

Walter Potrebka

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A couple of reminders. My 2020 calendars are ready to order at: https://www.wpotrebkaphotography.com/2020-calendar

and registration for my October 7th Goose Flight Workshop at FortWhyte Alive is now open at:

https://www.fortwhyte.org/event/goose-flight-photography-workshop/

Thanks again for taking the time to read my blog. Please click the thumbs up if you like it, and as always please leave any questions in the comments and I will answer them.

Full Exposure

Hello everyone. Today I would like to talk about how I use the exposure triangle to calculate the my exposures. If you are not familiar with the exposure triangle it is a common way of associating the three variables that determine the exposure of a photograph: aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. you must balance all three of these to achieve a desired result, an adjustment of one requiring adjustments of at least one of the others. You must also remember what changing each of those will do to your image, and decide which changes you can make to create the image your mind’s eye is trying to create.

So let’s take a look at the three sides of the triangle and what each one will affect.

Side 1: Aperture

The Aperture number is a measure of how open or closed the lens’ iris is. A wider aperture means more light will be let in by the lens (f/2.8), simply because the opening is larger. A narrower aperture (f/22) allows less light to reach the sensor. But this does not explain what effect it has on the image.

The lens aperture is mainly used to control the depth of field of your image. The depth of field is the distance in front of, and behind your focus point that is in focus. The larger the aperture (f/2.8) the smaller this distance will be. For wildlife photography you would usually want a narrow depth of field to allow you to isolate your subject from the background, so I am normally at the smallest aperture I can. SInce I normally have the aperture set to the largest I have available, I don’t often use this to make changes to the exposure.

One positive of using a small aperture is since it allows the most light to hit the sensor, you are able to use a faster shutter speed or lower ISO.

Side 2: Shutter Speed

Shutter speed is a measure of how long the shutter remains open or how long the sensor is exposed to light. you might want to use a higher shutter speed is to stop motion, whether that be camera shake or a subject that is moving, allowing you to take the sharpest image you can.

To me this is a very important consideration. If your shutter speed isn’t fast enough to give you a sharp image, nothing else will save the image.

When I am working out an exposure I will take into consideration what shutter speed I need to create the effect I am looking to achieve. If I am looking to freeze the wings of a hummingbird, then I will need @ 1/2500 sec., but if I am taking a portrait of the same hummingbird sitting on a branch, then 1/250 would be more then fast enough. I always try to use as slow a shutter speed as I can so that I can keep the ISO as low as possible.

Side 3: ISO

ISO measures the sensitivity of the image sensor. Higher numbers mean your sensor becomes more sensitive to light which allows you to use your camera in darker situations. This sounds great! Why don’t we just shoot at the highest ISO are camera has? Because when you increase the ISO you also increase the noise in your images. This is where knowing your gear comes into play. You, and only you, can decide what is an acceptable amount of noise, and what the highest ISO you are willing to use.

This side of the exposure triangle is where I make most of my exposure adjustments for bird photography.

Now to put it all together

let’s look at an example of how I work through an exposure. For this example I will be trying to take an image of a hummingbird in flight. I want to catch it as it just gets to the flower, but before its beak enters the flower. I want the wings to be slightly blurred so there is a sense of motion to the image, but I want the rest of the bird to be tack sharp. It is a slightly overcast late July day @ 11;00 am. I will be using the camera in Manual Exposure.

First I will set my lens to the largest aperture available because I want to really blur the background and get the bird isolated in the image. This will probably be f/5.6. Then I will set the shutter speed to 1/1250 sec. as I know from experience this will give me the wing blur that I am looking for. So now I have two sides of the triangle set and I just have to figure out what ISO is needed to create the proper exposure.

At this point it is vitally important to remember what your camera is trying to do to create an exposure reading. It is trying to make the scene 18% grey. So knowing this I find a patch of green grass or leaves that are in the same lighting as the hummingbird will be in and take my exposure reading off of that. When you convert green grass or green leaves to grayscale they are close to 18% grey. I then set the ISO to a number that will give me a correct exposure meter reading.

Since I have used the largest aperture, and lowest shutter speed I can to create the look I am trying to achieve, I have also enabled me to use the lowest ISO possible to achieve the correct exposure. This will give me the sharpest image of the bird, isolated from the background, with nice wing blur, and the lowest noise possible.

Now I just need to wait for the humming bird to visit the one flower that I want it to! Most times the waiting is the hardest part!

A couple of reminders. My 2020 calendars are ready to order at: https://www.wpotrebkaphotography.com/2020-calendar

and registration for my October 7th Goose Flight Workshop at FortWhyte Alive is now open at:

https://www.fortwhyte.org/event/goose-flight-photography-workshop/

Thanks again for taking the time to read my blog. Please click the thumbs up if you like it, and as always please leave any questions in the comments and I will answer them.

What makes a good wildlife image?

In this blog I would like to discuss what I look for in my images when I am deciding what is a keeper, and what will never see the Develop panel in Lightroom.

When I get back from the field the first step in my workflow is to import the images into Lightroom. Once they are loaded, the culling begins, and I am ruthless. There are many, many reasons why I will delete an image, but I like to focus on the positive, so here are the top 3 things what I look for in an image.

Sharpness/Focus: This is the first thing I look at. Is the subject sharp? if not, then there is no reason to even look at it any longer. Even if everything else in the image is perfect, you can’t bring back an out of focus subject. For me, most times, it’s not even if the subject is in focus, but if its eye is in focus that will determine if I keep an image.

So what causes this? Many reasons, but the most common are missed focus, camera shake, and subject movement.

In a previous post, I talked about why and how I used Aperture Priority to get the fastest shutter speed. I do this to reduce 2 of the reasons above. Using a faster shutter speed will allow you to lessen the effects of camera shake and subject motion. One important thing to remember about using any image stabilization available on your camera, is that it will do nothing to reduce the blur caused by the subject moving. It only helps to reduce any blur that is caused by camera movement. The only way to stop subject blur is to use a faster shutter speed.

it is not uncommon for your camera to focus on the wrong subject, especially if you are shooting into a busy background with a fast-moving subject. To reduce missed focus I always shoot in continuous AF (Canon calls this AI Servo). This allows your camera to continue to adjust focus if your subject moves. I will go into more detail about AF setup in a future post

Background: The next aspect that I look at when evaluating an image is the background. To me this can really make or break an image.

If I have a tack sharp subject, but the background is very busy, or distracting, then that image will be deleted. What point is there in keeping an image of a subject if you can’t distinguish it from the background? If a viewer has to hunt for the subject, then in most cases that image has failed.

A couple of posts ago I explained how I work with the background when I am creating an image. One tip for the background, is to look past the subject when you are taking the image. Sometimes it’s as easy as moving a foot to the left in order to drastically improve the background.

Exposure: Some of today’s cameras have such a wide dynamic range that their ability to capture detail in the highlights and shadows amazes me, but even they have their limits.

This is where knowing your gear is extremely important. Knowing what you can recover in post production, allows you to make exposure decisions in the field. For example; I know that if I am shooting my Canon 5D MKiv at an ISO of 1600 or below, I can expose for the highlights and lighten the shadows at least 1.5 stops without causing the grain to increase to an unacceptable level.

So there we have the first three things that I use to cull my images. When I am culling my images I will scan all my images in this order. First I will look at all of them for sharpness. I will mark the un-sharp ones for deletion, and then when I have looked at all of the images, I will delete the ones I have marked. I will then repeat the process looking for background, and then a third time looking for exposure. This allows me to look at a large quantity of images and quickly get to a manageable number.

Then I will look closer at each image looking for the ones that are the best of the best. Those are the ones that I will spend my time on editing, and you hopefully get to enjoy.

Please leave a comment if you have any questions, or if you have a topic you would like me to cover.

Just a reminder that my 2020 Bird Photography Calendars are ready for order. Please click the link for more information. https://www.wpotrebkaphotography.com/2020-calendar

Lightroom Tip - Beyond the Rule of Thirds

I have no illusions of grandeur, when it comes to my Lightroom skills and knowledge, but I thought I would share with you something that I find very useful, easy to use, and a tool that I use on every image I produce. I use a Mac, so any shortcuts I describe will be for Mac.

The Crop Tool, and more specifically the Crop Overlays that you can use with the Crop Tool. To use the Crop Tool you will need to be in the Develop module. To set up how the crop tool displays Overlays go to the Tools Menu and select Tool Overlay. This will give you options on when the overlays are shown. Your options here are “Auto Show”, “Always Show” or “Never Show”, I leave mine set to always show. This way when I am in the Cop Tool, the overlay is always there to help me create an effective and pleasing crop. I have Lightroom set up so that the Rule of Thirds grid overlay is displayed by default, but you have other options. Seven of them to be exact.

The options are: Grid, Thirds, Diagonal, Triangle, Golden Ratio, Golden Spiral, and finally Aspect Ratios. When you are in the crop tool you can easily scroll through the options by pressing the letter O. Also, by pressing “Shift O”, you can change the orientation of the overlay.

When I am in the process of editing my images, I am always looking to increase the compositional appeal of the image. This usually involves cropping the image to improve upon the overall composition. One of the Crop Overlays that I use frequently is the Rule of Thirds. The key to using this is to try placing important elements of the image on intersecting lines.

When there is a strong diagonal aspect to an image I like to toggle to the Triangle Overlay. This guide is a diagonal line plotted between two corners, then two other lines meet it at right angles from the other corners. You can use the triangles to separate areas in the frame, or position points of interest where the lines meet. Don’t forget that you can hit Shift+O to change the orientation of the diagonals.

Another of the overlays I use frequently is the Golden Spiral Overlay. This spiral overlay is based on the Golden Ratio and the Fibonacci sequence. The use of this overlay is about placing important point in your image at the centre of the spiral (the animal’s eye), and spacing other points of interest using the curved lines as a guide.

The last Overlay that finds its way into my workflow on a regular basis is the Aspect Ratio Overlay. If you need to crop your image in different ways, for different purposes, the Aspect Ratio Overlay allows you to see several different ratios at once. You can customise which ratios are shown under Tools>Crop Guide Overlay>Choose Aspect Ratios.

While the crop overlay tool is not necessarily something that will speed up your workflow, or correct for bad exposure, it is a useful tool to visualize compositional rules. I find that by playing around in post production with the different overlays has allowed me to visualize them when I am in the field, and has expanded my understanding of some of the Rules of Composition.

I hope I showed you something new that you can use in your workflow.

Aperture Priority Mode for the Fastest Shutter Speeds

I was taking images of ruby Throated Hummingbirds the other day in variable lighting and another photographer asked me how I had my camera set up. It took awhile for me to explain my answer so they understood. What I do may sound counter intuitive, but it works.

When I need to shoot with the fastest shutter speed I can get, I switch my camera to AV or Aperture Priority mode. Yes you read that right. I don’t switch to Shutter Priority or Manual Mode, but Aperture Priority. Let me explain how I set this up, and why it works.

As I’m sure you are aware, there are three sides to the exposure triangle that we can adjust to get the correct exposure. they are Shutter Speed, Aperture, and ISO. I generally like to keep control of at least 2 of these. SInce I am letting the camera pick the shutter speed when I am in AV, I will select the aperture and ISO. Here’s how.

  • Aperture Setting: Since I want the fastest shutter speed, I will set this at the largest aperture that I can. This may be f/2.8, f/4, or f/5.6 depending what lens I am currently using. The number is not really that important to the other settings, just make sure that you are using the largest aperture you can. By choosing the largest aperture, you then can use the lowest ISO for the lowest noise, and the fastest shutter speed.

  • ISO Setting: Since I am letting the camera determine the correct shutter speed, and I have the largest aperture my lens is capable of selected, the ISO setting is very important to make this technique work. You have to select an ISO that will allow your camera to select a shutter speed that is in a range that will be appropriate for the situation. This is where experience, and knowing your camera and subject comes into play.

    • You need to know what the acceptable max ISO is for your camera. That is the highest ISO that will give you grain that you can live with. This is different for every camera, and every photographers taste. For me, on my Canon 5D MKiv, I will go up to ISO 6400. There are techniques to control the grain at higher ISO, but that sounds like a good topic for another post! The important thing here is to know what your limit is for the camera you are using.

    • You also need to know what shutter speed range is correct for your subject, and the shot you are trying to create. Since this started with my taking shots of hummingbirds, I will stick with that. For hummingbirds, It’s all about getting a nice blur in the wings to show motion, but having a fast enough shutter speed to freeze the rest of the bird. This will be @ 1/1000 sec. in most cases. So how do I pick the appropriate ISO? I will take an exposure reading off of something that is in the same lighting conditions that I expect the subject will be in. Grass, or green leaves work great. I then adjust the ISO to a level that will give me @ a 1/1000 sec shutter speed.

Now that you have the aperture and ISO set, your camera will give you the fastest shutter speed possible to give you what it thinks is a correct exposure. You may be asking; But what if the lighting changes on your subject, or the background? How do you quickly override the camera’s exposure? Both good questions. What I do is use Exposure Compensation to quickly make adjustments to the exposure, without changing any settings. On my Canon 5D MKiv, I can quickly turn the command dial on the back of the camera to under or over expose the exposure the camera has calculated.

Here is an example. Let’s imagine that I have set up my camera as described above, and suddenly the hummingbird flies into a bright shaft of light coming through the branches, but the background is still in shadow. This will probably cause the camera to overexpose the hummingbird, since the bright area, the bird, is too small to affect the overall exposure of the entire frame. All I have to do is turn the command dial three clicks counterclockwise to override the camera’s exposure by -1 stop. I don’t have to take my eye away from the shutter to do this, and since I know that every click on the dial is 1/3 of a stop, I can make an appropriate adjustment fast enough to even keep up with a hummingbird!

This technique takes practice, and a very good understanding of you gear, and how to use it, but once you get use to it, I bet you find it one of your go to techniques when the fastest shutter speed possible is what is needed to get the shot.

If you have any questions on this technique, please leave a comment.

Creamy, buttery, delicious, Backgrounds

Clean, Smooth, Buttery, Creamy, Delicious Backgrounds! Backgrounds? Yes backgrounds. In wildlife photography the background is just as, if not more important, then the subject. In most situation, the background is what separates a great wildlife image from just another snapshot. So how do we get those buttery backgrounds?

To get nice blurry out of focus backgrounds we need to understand how to control depth of field, then how to use that knowledge to our advantage. The depth of field is the area in the image that is in focus. Everything closer to the camera, or further from the camera, then this distance will be out of focus. Another thing to remember is that the further away from the area that is in focus the blurry it will be.

The first way, and the one most photographer use to control depth of field is the lens aperture. The basic rule is the wider your aperture or the lower your f-number is, the shallower the depth of field. In my photography I generally want as small of a depth of field as possible, so I use the widest aperture possible with my equipment. A 300mm lens focused at 5 meters at an aperture of f/22 will have a depth of field of close to 40 cm, but by just opening up the aperture to f/2.8 we can reduce the depth of field to just 5 centimeters! One benefit of this is it allows me to use the fastest shutter speed possible to freeze any movement.

The second , and less know way to control depth of field is through the focal length of the lens. The longer the lens, more millimeters, the narrower the depth of field will be at a given aperture. For an example of this, let’s take a look at the difference a 50mm lens and a 600mm lens at an aperture of 5.6 on a full frame camera set to focus at 5 meters. The 50mm lens will have a depth of field of approximately 4.25 meters, while the 600mm’s depth of field will only be .2.3 centimeters! This is why it can be difficult to get tack sharp focus on the eye of a small bird. If the camera focuses on its beak the eye will be soft.

The third thing to consider is the distance between your subject, and the background. The greater the distance between the limits of your working depth of field and the background, the more out of focus and soft any elements in the background will be.

So let’s look at how I use this information in the field. Imagine that I am looking to get an image of a Red-winged Blackbird singing on a cattail. After locating a subject I would then look for an angle that would allow me to place any background element as far away from the Blackbird as possible. I would then set my aperture to its largest setting and adjust the shutter speed and ISO to get the proper exposure for the bird. This setup would allow me to seperate the bird from the nice creamy, out of focus background.

One more tip. Most birds are creatures of habit, and will usually return to the same spot to sing, or area to feed. Take your time, asses the situation, find these spots, and then decide which one will give you the best background. Then set up the shot, and wait for the bird to return.