We are so incredibly fortunate to have vast landscapes to get loss in, mentally take a long journey through and if all syncs up, put a camera to our eye and record that moment. Depending where you are standing, it can be visual highway of excitement or a void of space. Those busy places are a bit easier to arrange in the viewfinder I find, giving the viewer an overload to soak up. It’s those spaces void of recognizable elements that challenge me probably why I seek them but rarely come home with any.
My journey through Yellowstone last month was special for many reasons, one was the quiet at West Thumb. There was basically no one in the park and with that, nature was able to blanket the region with snow that only the wind and critters explored. On the edge of Yellowstone Lake where it meets the heat of West Thumb, hot and cold meet and this past winter, the cold made a little headway into the heat creating these small windows into the lake. The light was pretty flat so the snow on the surface had no real texture. At the same time it permitted “seeing” into waters at the life below (there are fish there). These provided me these patterns that intrigued me so and as you walked about them, their shape would change. I do love snow and in this case, it left me with a photo opportunity where less … is more?
Just how close can your lens focus? That’s what MFD or Minimum Focusing Distance is all about. You might think this is something you only need to concern yourself with doing macro work, but it’s just as important in portraits, editorial, and wildlife photography. It’s how you can get great image size in a frame with a really short focal length. It’s MFD you combine with basic biology to create the dramatic shots with critters.
This photo of a White-breasted Nuthatch is your classic kinda shot. Nuthatches travel down a tree stashing seeds they’ve gathered in the bark. The pose you see is typical as they get ready to launch and take flight. What the nuthatch is hanging on in this photo is a peanut feeder, food being a killer way to get close physically to a critter (the basic biology). With the 180-400VR on a tripod, I simply kept slipping closer (took about 30 minutes) until finally I was within five feet of the feeder, the MFD of the lens, and was able to get this image size zoomed to just short of 300mm. What if the lens you own now doesn’t focus very close, simply at an extension tube (not a teleconverter) and you can radically make a difference.
If you have a backyard shooting gallery (for birds of course), then you don’t need a long lens to make the great shots. If this sounds like a great idea but you don’t know how to create a shooting gallery in your backyard, basic biology, or lenses, be sure to check out my class at the Wildlife Photograph Conference! But the bottom line, in wildlife photography, the speed of the lens is not as important to me but MFD is so essential!
As in literally, did not move my tripod and these are just a couple of the 900 images I captured in a couple of hours standing next to a building working a bird feeder. I was planted, quiet as a church mouse just watching and shooting. This is the simplest and most effective technique I know and can share for successful wildlife photography.
I saw photographers come and go, saw the light come and go, saw critters come and go. The only thing that didn’t come and go was me and my two companions I was shooting with. It’s the same strategy I’ve used since, forever. Sit still and let the critters come to me. When they can go about their life on their schedule, at their ease and you’re a quiet documenter to it all, the photographs just happen. It doesn’t take patience, just a passion for your subject and letting the story unfold. It’s easy, it works, all this and I never moved!
I received a bunch of emails asking about the wave images I posted on my IG account a few weeks back. The common thread was, “How’d you finish them?” The answer is really simple when you think about it, you finish them in post beginning with the light captured by the camera and then carrying that through to the print. Let me explain.
There needs to be some light, even the smallest amount coming through the wave. I selected this image to dramatically make my point as you can see the light on the horizon on the right. That light bleeds through the wave in the smallest amounts. That’s all you need as long as you finish for it.
The finishing for me starts and mostly ends in ACR (Adobe Camera Raw). It starts in the Basic Panel where the Raw file is loaded and my Preset is automatically applied. My Preset is simply the Standard Picture Control from the Z 6II. With that applied, I set the White & Black Point (Shift > double click on the White & Black slider).
Then the Contrast is added to separate the lights and darks of the wave. At the same time, the Clarity is moved forward. I work the two sliders in concert, one at a time until I get the look I want bringing a glow to the water. A tad of Dehaze is added and then the Highlights brought up by the above process are brought down a tad. Since I’m finishing for the light, it takes a matter of seconds. Then the image is opened in Photoshop.
This is where I do the last thing to finish the image. I run my Wave Recipe I created in Nik (here are all my Nik Recipes). And that’s it, that fast and that simple. The secret, shoot for the light, finish for the light. Hope the helps.
My entire career when I’ve headed out to photograph birds or mammals with a big lens, I’ve had a second body / lens on my shoulder. It’s actually real simple, Mother Nature is always putting on a show and while I love registering them forever on the thin emulsion of my mind, I want to share them with you. Out on the marshes of Skagit Valley to photograph the “Blonde” Bald Eagle, this gorgeous scene presented itself. Without that second body / lens (in this case the Z 6II / Z70-200f2.8) I wouldn’t have the story to share. It’s not a backup, but a primary landscape kit to complement the wildlife rig on the tripod. In my kit, that’s why the second body.
Some might be very tempted to crop the begiggers out of this image. Some might wanna Photoshop a photograph into this image. That’s because it is less than good, it has issues. But that’s not what I want to talk about. There are moments we are so fortunate to witness and capture out in nature that goes beyond the parameters of good or bad that simply need to be shared. An American Kestral on the wing eating the beetle it just plucked off the ground is simply a cool moment. Yep, I would love it large in the frame, would have loved much, much better light but I wouldn’t change the gesture, the story for a heartbeat. And that’s why I’m sharing it. Share your image, tell your story about your subject as you can change the world with your photography!