“Wherever you go, go with all of your heart”—Confucius
Few things compare with the joy of discovering something new about this world. The best of these discoveries often change the way we live our lives.
Teaching outdoor photography allows me to share that joy with like-minded travelers. I invite you to
share my joy of discovery.
Digital photography makes returning from a trip home with dramatic photos—a sure thing. Everyone with a DSLR, some hiking boots, and laptop and a few lessons in Lightroom and PhotoShop can do it.
Start by setting your capture mode to RAW—so you have big files with the most possible information. Set your camera’s operating mode to manual—Do not be intimidated.
You will master the equipment within a week of “hands-on” days in the field, and a few hours each day
at the computer. This guide will make it easier for you.
Digital Photography Teaches Itself
Unlike shooting on film, digital photography is
the perfect endeavor for “self-teachers”. (And folks like me who require instant gratification!) No longer do photographers wait days for processed film and then get disappointed when they have returned home from their adventure.
With today’s digital camera (DSLR or Mirror less), you will view your results immediately after you press the shutter —and you will learn to make instant corrections with a few simple tips.
Activate the “histogram chart” to appear on the camera’s playback mode. This is the first step in preventing future exposure mistakes. Find your live view button then press the zoom button to check focus before you shoot. Do the same with your playback image—zoom in and check it for tack sharp focus.
Already, you have just begun, and now, by remembering to do these two steps –every new shot you take will better than the last.
Manual Mode Will Get You To The Moon
Why we don’t just dial the camera into automatic mode?
Think about astronaut and first man on the moon, Neil Armstrong.
Mission control had Neil’s Lunar Module, locked in Auto Mode. That’s right, just like your camera, when you allow it to make decisions for you.
Thankfully, Neil was a highly talented, experienced and trained test pilot with nerves of steel!
With sixty seconds of remaining fuel and the NASA computer guiding the way, Neil saw his spacecraft headed for a deep crater filled with boulders.
Being a true hero, he spoke into his radio, “Houston, ‘I’m going manual’” and he saved the day by steering past the trouble that the computer did not see.
“Going manual” made possible his next transmission, “Houston, the Eagle has landed.”
I know– this analogy is a bit self-important for
a photography e- booklet, but here’s my point.
In digital photography, you don’t need nerves of steel to “go manual”, just read on.
Mastering Focus for Landscapes
Your DSLR has a “live view” mode. This is perfect getting landscapes perfectly focused. Just target in on an object one third of the way into your frame. Press zoom button. Zoom in all the way, and focus on a an important detail, using manual focus mode. If the light is too low to see your target (like a star) just increase the ISO until you can see through live view, and then change it back.
Mastering Focus for Wildlife
Shooting wildlife like birds requires that your autofocus be set to its “pinpoint” and fast continuous modes. You’ll find these settings in your menu and on the side of your telephoto lens. This is the situation where you look through the top viewfinder and track the eye/head of your target. It takes some practice and luck. Smooth panning with a monopod or tripod attached to that giant telephoto will help a lot.
You will press the shutter and burst through 20 or 30 frames. If you get a handful of tack sharp subjects from this series, you are doing as well as the experts.
Already, we have mastered focus, and as Karen Carpenter sang, “We have only just begun.”
Playing the Piano Is Easy
In my favorite TV commercial, Harry Connick Jr. pitches online lessons. He says,
“Learning to play the piano is easy, there are only twelve notes!”
His optimistic promise makes be smile every time I hear it. Why? Because in Digital Photography— there are only four notes to learn… and then… “You can indeed, perform a concert for your friends!”
White Balance, ISO, Shutter Speed and Aperture (F-Stops)
These are the four notes we must learn to play a song:
White Balance, ISO, Shutter Speed and Aperture.
White Balance—White balance is expressed in degrees Kelvin from 2,000 or so to 8,000.
Set it at 4,750 for a normal daytime look. You can experiment and make a scene warmer (like a sunset) by boosting it to 5,500 or more. You can also dial it down to 3,000 and give your image the look of a cold, blue horror film. I suggest you set at 4,750 for outdoor photography, and not worry about it. You can alter the temperature of your capture later in Lightroom.
ISO is just as simple. ISO is like the old “ASA” film ratings. ASA 100 was the best film for sunny days and full-fidelity reproduction. ASA 800 was down right grainy, but useful in near darkness. Set your ISO to 100. At 800 or higher, your image will be grainy. Only in extreme low light, like Milky Way photography should you boost ISO from 1,000 to 4,000.
Shutter Speed is a bit more complex, but not a problem if you know a few “markers”. Here they are: At 1/4000th of a second you can freeze a hummingbird’s wings. At 1/1000 of a second you can freeze a slow moving Heron’s wings.
At lower than 1/160 of a second, you introduce “camera blur” into your photos when hand held.
At about 1/30th of a second to 10 seconds you can make waterfalls and ocean waves look smooth and velvety. Beyond 20 seconds, your Milky Way stars will become “trails” instead of “pin points”. At 30 seconds, you can make the walking masses in front of the Taj Mahal or Eiffel Tower disappear completely! Yes, as long as they are moving, this works.
Here’s the complex part: As you open the shutter for a longer period of time, more light comes into the camera and will overexpose your image if you don’t make complimentary adjustments to Aperture.
This is a dance you can only learn by doing. You can’t just read about a sequence of dance steps, go out and do the Tango on Dancing With The Stars, can you? No, you have to get out and dance to learn to dance.
Your meter will tell you where to start. You then take a shot, look at the playback and histogram and refine with each exposure. Even the pros do this. Did you think you had to memorize a formula or consult a chart? No, most everyone in photography is just like you, an artist not an engineer.
Aperture is expressed in F-Stops.
This is hard to get your head around, but here it is:
You have F-stops indicated on each of your lenses, and
shown on your camera’s information screen.
F 1.4 means the lens opens to a very large diameter when the shutter opens. F 16 means the lens opens to a very small diameter when the shutter opens.
F 1.4 allows a lot of light to hit the sensor. F16 does not. So 1.4 is perfect for night sky photos. F16 is perfect for bright daylight.
But here’s the rub. At F1.4 the image you create will have “shallow depth of field” . This is perfect for a human or wildlife portrait where you want your subject to be sharply focused but the background blurry without details to distract. Lens with low F-stop numbers like F1.2 to F2.8 are called “fast lenses.” They are costly and are the “Holy Grail” of equipment for making backgrounds that have “soft balls of light” called “Bokeh” . They are also a must for capturing low light pre-sunrise, post sunset and the night scenes that make the jaw dropping landscape images.
The F-16 setting provides large depth of field. This is what a Landscape Photographer wants—sharpness all the way from the nearby alpine blooms to the distant mountaintops.
Using Aperture and Shutter Speed In Concert
Before you make a picture, you the artist, must make a decision. What is my priority? Depth of field or shutter speed? A sharp valley front to back? Or making that Grizzly Bear stand out from the busy forest background?
Lets say it’s the standing Grizzly Bear we want to showcase in a portrait. We first set a low F-stop for shallow depth of field and then adjust the shutter to have a good exposure. If she is splashing up Salmon on the riverbank, we might give priority to shutter speed like 1,000 of a second to freeze the action. Then, adjust the
F-stop to make the correct exposure.
Landscape photos most always require a high F-stop like F-16. But, there are no rules. Photography is an art, and you may wish to make a picture where the
Hundred -year old Mormon barn in the foreground is sharp and the Teton peaks are blurry. To do this,
just dial in an F-stop under F5 or so and revise your shutter to be faster to compensate. (Just check your meter). See, its trial and error, and you will learn it fastest by doing it. Soon you will be doing the Tango!
Thank Goodness For Lightroom!
I realize the common expression is “Thank goodness for Photoshop.” But, outdoor photographers do most of their work in Lightroom, because it’s easier to learn.
After tweaks are made in Lightroom, then you can send over your panorama to be stitched together in Photoshop, or your star images to be stacked together.
Photoshop does these tricks quickly and easily.
Here’s why post-processing is so important.
You can under-expose an image a few stops in your camera, and back at home, Lightroom or Photoshop can fix it. Many pros even do this on purpose.
However, you cannot over expose an image. This is why you must check the histogram after each burst of shots.
I dislike “computer talk” so here is my simplistic take on the pixels that contain an outdoors scene.
Think of your RAW image capture as a thick, multiple-
layer ice cream sandwich of pixels.
The shadows are dark chocolates, the mid-tones caramels, and the highlights vanilla.
The histogram which we use on both our camera and in Lightroom, is a rectangle that has a curve within it depicting the shadows, mid-tones and highlights contained in the capture.
The right side of the rectangle shows the Highlights.
If the highlights curve melts into the right border, you have “burnt out the highlights”. In fact if any “ vanilla” in your histogram curve is touching the right side in any way, your image has a hole in its sandwich of pixels, that cannot be fixed. In this white void, there are no pixels that Lightroom can find to manipulate. This is why we use filters when we shoot into the sun!
Shooting into the sun is fun!
I love pictures with the sun in them. This is why
we upgrade our kit and buy a filter system that holds graduated neutral density filters. I know, you were hoping that Photoshop and Lightroom’s graduated filters will fix all of your photos.
But, as we have just learned, without pixels to work with—Post processing programs can’t fill a hole created by the incomprehensibly bright disc of sun. Even ultra white clouds, searing water sparkles and reflections on glass windows look a lot better through a neutral density filter. The ND filters are the best investment a landscape photographer can make.
The graduated ND filters are half clear and half dark. The dark part darkens the bright “sky” part of the scene, while leaving the shadow filled “valley/stream” part of the scene bright enough to be attractive.
Landscapes shot without filters are boring. Period.
Without filters, my shots would be downright awful.
Long Exposures Convey Motion
Now, that we have the cool filter system, we can really have some fun. Long exposures taken in the daytime require a filter that darkens an image by 9 to 15 stops.
Long exposures at night may require a 6 stop neutral density filter or none at all.
Why? Because we are going to leave the shutter open for maybe a few minutes or more, so that the street people blur, clouds turn to mashed potatoes and dirty ocean spindrift turns into soft cotton candy. If we add flash (Rear Curtain) at the end of the exposure, we can now add the speeding train into our composition, or the Olympic high hurtle champion as he or she soars toward a gold medal!
We will talk in technical detail about this soon.
But first lets take a mental break.
Phi and the Golden Ratio
This wouldn’t be a proper “artsy” e-book without some
art talk, so here we go.
In 1,200 A.D. a mathematician from Pisa,
Leonardo Fibonacci, noted that spiraling shells,
pine cones and flowers, reflected a common pattern of proportions. 0,1,1,2,3,5,8, 13,21… This became known as the golden ratio and later led renaissance architects like Palladio and painters like DaVinci to create designs pleasing to the human eye.
In your beginning photography class someone told you about the “rule of thirds” as a guideline for landscape composition. The “rule of thirds” is for first timers.
Now that we know about Fibonacci, his Phi grid, which has the center lines slightly inward, and the Fibonacci spiral, which looks like a nautilus shell, our photos will be a bit more dramatic that the “rule of thirds” folks. The other rules are “framing” like shooting through a window and “leading lines” as in
getting the meandering stream to start at the bottom of the frame and lead the eye up and across the image.
Enough talk about rules because there is something much more important than rules to discuss.
Lets study the real masters of photography. They had not only technical expertise, but also a higher purpose that drove them to excellence.
Ansel Adams hiked his wooden box camera
all over Yosemite and came back with large negatives. Impressive? Not to Ansel. The reason: Cameras don’t capture the dynamic range that the human eye sees.
So, when he printed his pictures, he perfected the art of “dodging and burning” to make the snow scapes bright white, the skies deep black, and the granite rock faces—you guessed it—granite!
Today, we take our RAW captures into Lightroom, and use the multi-purpose dodging and burning brush to selectively open shadows, deepen skies and create the dynamic range of tones that our eyes see, and modern DSLR and mirror-less cameras have yet to distinguish.
This is the one tool you need to master in Lightroom. So important it is, I will say it again: The multi-purpose adjustment brush. This magic instrument is Ansel Adam’s dodging and burning tools on steroids. With this little laser lights saber, you can not only change the exposure of the area you brush over, but at the same time, tweak the color temperature, contrast, shadows and highlights.
With a few experiments, you can make that flying Egret brighter, whiter, warmer and sharper and then paint the swamp darker, murkier, softer and colder! In short, you
are isolating your subject from its background and creating a two-dimensional image that appears to the viewer as three-dimensional!
John Muir and Jacques Cousteau
Since we are talking about the past and the future of photography, we need to mention
that two of the world’s greatest conservationists used
the power of images to mobilize the masses. This
fact can inspire us to follow suit.
John Muir wrote hundreds of letters to Congress before a photo he personally delivered convinced Congress to get off their (fill in the blank) and declare Yosemite a National Park.
It was an early photo of Yellowstone that moved a young Theodore Roosevelt to explore west and later as president to add Yellowstone to our list of protected national treasures.
Underwater photos are just as important.
In the days of my childhood, Jacques Cousteau, and the crew of Calypso dove off the side of their ship with camera in hands, to record schools of squid, sharks, porpoise and whales. Soon afterward, TV watching baby boomers like myself were putting Ecology bumper stickers on their VW microbuses.
The tradition that Muir, Adams and Cousteau began, we can continue as individuals. We don’t have research vessels and network money—but we do have amazing cameras, laptop computers and our own personal broadcasting channels: Instagram, You Tube and… (ugh) FACEBOOK.
So, when you pick up your camera think:
What is my higher purpose?
Pre-Visualing The Shoot
My too many decades career as an uptight advertising agency owner and creative director taught me an important lesson. Nervous I was, and should be when client’s money was at stake. We did not go to a shoot without a storyboard. We pre-visualized and planned every detail of the shot in advance.
The lighting, the composition, the action, the story, what equipment to pack—all of this is stuff must be visualized and planned BEFORE you land on location.
Once the money shot is safely “in the can”, only then you can wander about, be as free as the wind or whatever, stop to look creative and —make insipidly pretentious statements like; “Quick everyone, I see a moment happening!”
Oh yes, and be sure to have a double in your bag of every piece of equipment that can fail. Gear will fail on every shoot. Cold weather shortens battery life.
Humidity brings out “camera goblins”. Its all part of the game.
Wildlife Portraits are the same as Human Portraits.
Studio photographers aim the camera eye-level with their model. They fuss with a “key light” moving it around slightly above the eyes and slightly to the side to flatter the shape of the face. This main light reflects back to the camera in the subject’s pupils, revealing life and personality. They call it “catch light.” Without catch light, sparkling in their eyes, people photos have the warmth and personality of Great White Shark close-ups.
It’s the same principal for bears and birds, but without the light stands and artistic drama. Get low on the ground if needed, get on the animal’s level , move until the sun (your key light) illuminates your target’s eyes and focus exactly there.
The really “hot shot” fashion photographers; add a “kicker light ” behind the subject to create a halo outlining the model’s hair.
We outdoor photographers can do that, too. Just move yourself around until that Moose or Anhinga is three quarters to the rising sun. You’ll know you are in the right place when feathers become illuminated in wondrous detail and animal fur glows like…like
I can’t think of an analogy, but I’m sure the studio photographer has one. .”Golden candy swirls of lightness”! “Frozen drops of sun wash”
You get the point. Get your feet wet to get the angle.
Electric fans and dry ice? No thanks, we outdoor types wait for the wind and the fog.
Depth of Field for Environmental Portraits
When you review your vacation album, does your family seem to blend into that busy Italian street scape
rife with chaotically parked cars and tourists, overhead wires and vendors clamoring around that historic fountain?
If only you had blurred the background with shallow depth of field!
It’s the same with that Egret holding a fish in its mouth.
All the viewer wants to see is the Egret’s sharp eye,
beak and his wiggling snack.
The lake, the grass, the trees, the lily pads and the canoeing couple should be a soft blur
of glowing color that photographers call “Bokeh”.
Lets make a panorama!
After you’ve tried unsuccessfully to get the entire Teton range into your wide-angle frame. It’s time to learn to make a Panorama.
With your camera on a tripod, take a series of
exposures from left to right with a third of the frame overlapped. Or, if you are really calm and cool, put the shutter speed above motion blur territory (1/160 of a second) hold your breath and be a human tripod. Before you start the series take a photo of your hand, so you can find this related series easier in the Lightroom library string.
Retouch the first image of the series in Lightroom. Highlight this one and the subsequent images in the sequence, press synchronize and viola! You now have congruent ingredients for a panorama. Put them in the same file and open Photoshop. Under the Photoshop tab at top,
Get the drop down menu that has the command “automate”. Press this and the “merge” option.
Check off the boxes to align the images and hit browse to identify your panorama pieces. Once in the program, you just press “Merge Into Panorama”.
You new image might have some raggedy angles. Just crop it into a rectangle and save. You now have a stunning panorama! Any ridges or defects can be corrected in Photoshop with the cloning tools. (Like making the clouds run across the seams of the image)
Lets Go Shoot The Sunrise Over The Ocean!
Shooting the sunrise is deceptively difficult to get right.
First, you get better results, “pre-sunrise” or in the first moments the disk of the sun breaks the horizon. Then, things go downhill very quickly as within minutes, the sun is too bright to shoot. So here’s the fire drill.
A. Prepare camera/tripod night before fto ensure
fast set up in am. Sunrise lasts only a few minutes.
Your starting preparations are ISO 100, 9-stop ND filter holder and filter. Low tripod, remote shutter release or 2 second delay. F-stop 16 or higher. Bring a headlamp this is essential to operating your
camera in the dark.
B. Configure tripod low at edge of highest wave run-up.
For front to back sharp focus, set F-stop high F-16)
(Keep other gear on blanket high above the waterline!)
Have a soft fiber cloth and water bottle in pocket for removing sea spray that will accumulate on your filter and attempts to ruin your images!
C. Focus using Live View and zooming into an object one-third into the frame. Then slide in your filter.
To avoid camera shake set your shutter to 2-second delay if you aren’t using a remote trigger.
D. Shoot a test shot and check histogram. Vary shutter
speed until histogram is center/slight left balanced with no highlights clipping. If it is pre-sunrise and extremely dark, you may increase ISO as needed.
E. A great image requires capturing a reflection in the
wet sand and water. Time your shutter release with
receeding water. When the disk of the sun is fully
above the horizon line on a cloudless morning,
you will not be able to hold the highlights for very long, (3-5 minutes) and will have to recompose to eliminate the disk of the sun or use the “Black Card” technique. (Moving a black card over the brightest part of the frame for 50% of the exposure time)
F. Remember to re-focus every time you change your
G. In Lightroom, you will need to drop highlights and
and open shadows selectively with dodge
and burn tool. When opening shadows, consider dropping the black point to regain a natural look. Increasing vibrance and sharpening
are also common options. A graduated top to bottom filter will help an over exposed sky.
The dodge and burn tool can help you bring out
reflections. Experiment slightly with the white balance slider to achieve desired warmth.
Ultimately, you want the audience to NOT NOTICE
your retouching, but be blown away by the
image on its merits. No over-saturated images!!!
Lets go shoot some birds in flight!
After a few weeks of filling cards with birds just standing about in the water, it dawned on me that the “money shot” –is the “in-flight” capture.
And so, I had to learn how to tweak the continuous auto-focus on the camera menu in order to highlight only a small area the size of a birds head.
(Otherwise the camera will focus on the tip of the wings, or the body, or the feet, etc.)
The shot you want should have the bird’s eye tack sharp and 95% of the feathers from wingtip to wingtip, beak to talons, bow to stern etc.
The tricky part is learning to track the focus point on theat bird’s very small eye!
Plan on using your high speed multiple image capture mode and pan as smoothly as possible.
If 30% of the frames are sharp–you are doing well.
Now, if you want a soft focus background to isolate the subject–
work in the F4-F8 range of depth of field.
I suggest using a monopod or tripod , and a shutter speed of 1,000th of a second.
This may be impossible if the light is low. So at this point, I make the dreaded decision to up the ISO sensitivity from 100 (where every pixel is clean) to upwards of 500.
I can maybe get away with high ISO’s of almost 1,000 on the Nikon D850–if I later correct grain with luminosity smoothing in Adobe Lightroom.
As far as compositions go, I really like the backlit look–sun rays outlining each feather.
To achieve this angle, you must move around a lot in relation to your subject.
It helps to be in a park where photographers are not limited to set up on a boardwalk!
I prefer to roam in the wild without boardwalks. Wet sneakers make better photos.
To get that perfectly black background, some retouching is necessary with the “Dodge and Burn” tool in Lightroom.
Lets dip a GO PRO and dome port in the water!
It’s wonderful to photograph boats moored at a dock. But, how much more fun is it to capture at the same time, the crazy goings on beneath the surface!
The GO PRO HERO 7 with a dome port makes a great starter underwater housing.
You can place it half underwater, view the scene on your cell phone and press the shutter app on your smart phone. The result is a capture with a wide-view landscape above, a waterline through the center portion of the frame, and an underwater scene below.
Find a clear lake or beach with sparkling water. Go around mid-day when the sun’s rays penetrate furthest down into the water. Bring some chum in you want to attract fish into your scene. Here are a few tips I have learned.
1. Human saliva is better than Rain X for keeping drops off the port dome. Yes, go ahead and lick the port—its
better to be a little embarrassed on than to spend hours removing droplets with Photoshop.
2. This is wide angle photography, so the subjects have to
be within a few feet of the dome. Bring lots of fresh
chum to attract the fish!
3. The rule of thumb “expose for the highlights” requires
locking the exposure target on the brighter sky portion of the frame and then using the dodge and burn tool to
lighten up the underwater world.
4. With a pole and a smart phone, you can view, compose
and fire the shutter while kneeling on a floating dock. You won’t get wet, but possibly a bit seasick.
5. Engaging the Hero 7’s burst mode makes it possible to catch the split-second feeding frenzy.
Get Your Feet Wet!
My favorite places on earth include water—the ocean’s edge, the bend in a shallow river, the base of a waterfall, a waterway to reflect a night cityscape.
Give me a partially submerged sandbar to stand on, or a spit of river stones tred across. If I’m touching water, I am happy. If I’m getting my feet wet while taking photos, life is perfect.
Waterscapes make the best photos. The happiest sunrises are reflected across the sea, the spindrift tossed by the breakers and in the wet sand that sparkles after a retreating wave.
The best night cityscapes are amplified across a glass-smooth lake.
The most engaging mountain landscapes are transversed by wandering rivers and streams. The dramatic most wildlife portraits
occur in the roiling rush of water.
Airborne H2O is just as great for photography. Mist, rolling fog, low clouds and rain are nature’s smoke machine!
Water is a magnet for light. Its surface reflects light. Often transparent water appears to glow from within.
Water’s presence turns work to play. When it rushes across stones it hums a tune that lowers one’s blood pressure. When it cascades into a pool, it infuses the air with head-rushing gulps of sweetened oxygen.
Stressed? A Waterscape Photography Workshop
Will Reset Your Life
Waterscape and Landscape Photography combine the positive effects of exercise and mindful contemplation. And, it all happens while enjoying immersion in nature.
The therapeutic effects seem amplified when you are part of a small group of folks who share your passion for nature, wildlife and photography!
In the comfort of a guided group, you stand alongside dramatic waterscapes and ocean shorelines ,cypress knees and pristine wetlandsand often and a personal transformation occurs:
You feel the breeze, sense the changes in light, hear the wildlife and the rushing waves.
Your body and mind begin to relax and you are calm yet alert while waiting for the perfect photo.
Looking at the world through a camera makes you hyper-aware of your surroundings.
The work-a-day world melts away, as a “big picture” view of the natural world takes over.
I know this sounds a bit “new age” or like the babblings of someone who claims to have been abducted by aliens.
All I can tell you, is that this happens to me. Outdoor photography, has replaced my anxiety filled former life to a purpose driven new one.
Along the way, I have met great people,
discovered new places, and
best of all, come home with photographs to share!
For workshop dates go to: www.FloridaPhotoWorkshops.com
to learn more about photographer, Bob Gibson