Photo Insights January '14

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A magazine devoted to creative photography and Photoshop published by Jim Zuckerman.

Text of Photo Insights January '14

  • 1 P H O T O I N S I G H T SJim Zuckermans

    January 2014

    Exposing for snow Birds in flight Creative blurs Creating a starfield Student showcase Photo tours

  • 2T a b l e o f C o n t e n t s

    4. Exposing for snow9. Birds in flight14. Creating a starfield17. Creative blurs22. Whats w rong with this picture?24. Short and sweet26. Ask jim29. Student showcase33. Back issues

    Table of Contents

  • Even though the Christmas season is over, I wanted to share with you a thought I have about gift giving. While it is certainly true that a gift given with kindness and/or love is something to cherish, there is a lot to be said for giving yourself a gift. Whether it be for Christmas, a birthday, or just because you want to treat yourself to something special, its a great way to make yourself feel good. And there is no better gift than a camera or some other piece of photographic equipment for this reason:

    Photography helps you document special moments in your life.

    At the end of our lives, what we hang on to dearly are our memories. When you in-tently focus your attention, your creativity, and your artistry on capturing an event in your life, that memory stays with you on two levels. Youve got the visual record, and the emotions that are attached to that picture are more poignant, more clear, and more memorable than millions of other moments in our lives that fade away because we didnt take the time to take a picture.

    So, photography is much more than simply capturing pretty pictures. It helps keep alive cherished moments that otherwise would diminish or be lost entirely. Thats why when there is a house fire, after people and pets are rescued, its the pictures that come next.

    Give yourself a gift soon -- something that will enhance your photographic abilities so you can continue to preserve the memories of your life.


    Happy New Year to everyone! I hope your NewYear will be filled with good health, happiness, and lots of great photo opportunities.

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    Exposing for S n o wIf you dont know how exposure meters work, snow photography is a problem-atic and mysterious endeavor. Normally, without any comensation or adjust-ments, snow pictures turn out dark and disappointing. The snow looks gray and muddy, and if you include people, animals, or other objects in the picture, they look decidedly underexposed.

    First, let me explain how light meters work for those of you who are not quite sure. All light meters are programmed to give you a correct light reading when they detect middle gray (i.e. middle toned) subjects, such as the tree bark in the Sequoia trees, below. Ex-amples of middle toned subjects or middle toned areas of pictures are a blue sky, blue jeans, green grass, neutral colored rocks, and mousy brown hair.

    The key to getting consistently good exposures, with or without snow, is to be able to identify middle toned portions of your images. You then take a light reading from this

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    you want. The meter cant know that the snow should be much lighter than middle gray.

    The method that many photo instructors teach is that you should set the exposure compensa-tion feature built into the camera to + 1 1/3 or + 1 2/3 f/stops -- in other words, the strategy is to lighten picture by a certain amount to com-pensate for the expected underexposure.

    The reason I dont agree with this method is because there are many scenarios where this guideline isnt entirely accurate. There are many types of snow compositons: overcast light on snow, bright mid-day sunlight on snow, sunrise and sunset where the low an-gled light skims the surface of the snow, shots where two thirds of the composition are bar-ren trees with no snow at all while the ground is covered in white, patchy snow, etc. How can one guideline cover all of these various scenar-

    part of the picture with the spot mode funtion of the camera, lock that reading in place with AE Exposure lock, and then re-compose and take the picture.

    The photo below of Mt. Arenal at sunrise in Costa Rica shows four areas within the red cir-cles that are middle toned or very close to it. You could derive a perfect exposure if you took a light reading from any one of these areas.

    When it comes to snow, there may not be any middle gray areas to choose, especially in a snow storm (or the aftermath of one) where every-thing is covered in white. The picture on the bottom of the next page of Monument Valley is an example of that. The reason snow pictures turn out dark is because the meter assumes that the white stuff is middle toned, thus it tries to darken the picture so the snow has the same to-nality as middle gray. Obviously, this is not what

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    ios? Obviously, it cant.

    My approach is much more user friendly, and you get what you see. I suggest you take one shot using any of your exposure modes (aper-ture priority, shutter priority, and Program are faster than manual) and then examine it on the LCD monitor on the back of the camera. From there, use the exposure compensation feature to tweak the exposure in 1/3 f/stop increments until you like the exposure.

    Its that simple.

    If you arent familiar with the exposure com-pensation feature in your camera, learn how to use it. Study your manual or do a search on youtube for an explanatory video. It is one of the most important tools you have to work with; it is a guarantor for consistently perfect exposures. Not necessarily with the first shot, but definitely with the second or third shot.

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  • w


    Winter Wildlife WorkshopHinckley, MinnesotaJan. 31 - Feb. 2, 2014

    Baby WildlifeWorkshopHinckley, MinnesotaJune 13 - 15, 2014

    Baby wolves, skunks, bobcats, lynx, foxes,bears, and more

    Frog & Reptile Workshop Close-up encounters with poison dart frogs and exotic reptiles in St. Louis, MO.

    Jan. 25-26, 2014

    The Pantanal, Brazil:

    Jaguars at the rivers edge plus caiman, giant anteaters, monkeys, pink dolphins,

    and unbelievable birds.

    November 8-20, 2014


  • 9Strategies for Shooting Birds in FlightIf you feel frustrated when you try to take pictures of birds in flight, join the crowd. We all do. In my opinion, it is the single most difficult thing to shoot in nature photography. Here is the problem: You want to fill the frame to a certain degree so the bird looks impres-sive without too much cropping, but by doing that with a long lens, depth of field becomes minimal. The bird is moving fast, and keeping the bird in focus is a daunting challenge. With the reduced depth of field, its tough to get a winning picture. Doable, but tough.

    Compounding the challenge is exposure. If the bird is flying against a bright sky or the patchy lighting of tree branches against the sky like the macaw, below, taken on my Costa Rica photo tour, or against middle toned marsh grass, the background affects the exposure significantly. You can feel defeated at the outset simply because the obstacles to getting a

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    good picture seem insurmountable.

    Expect to trash a lot of pictures as you look for a few good ones. This is a given.

    The Solutions

    Here are the strategies I use to get pictures of birds in flight. Other photography instructors and pros may have different methods, but these have worked for me.

    1. I always use a relatively high ISO. 100 or 200 are never a good idea for bird photgraphy, and certainly not for birds in flight beause a fast shut-ter speed is required to freeze the action. Sure, you can do blurs with slow shutter speeds, and thats fine. I do that, too. But the real accomplishment is to get the bird sharp. Therefore, I recommend a minimum of 400 ISO, and sometimes youll have to go much higher. The noise problem can

    be mitigated with post-processing software such as Nik Dfine 2.0 or the new Luminance slider thats part of Adobe Camera RAW with Photoshop CC. In the meantime, though, use a shutter speed fast enough to freeze action. How fast is that?

    2. For slow moving birds, such as the African white pelican, below, coming in for a landing, 1/320th of a second is about the minimum I would use. Thats what I used for this image. For birds that soar, like vultures and eagles, you can use 1/250th of a second or faster.

    For birds that flap their wings at a fairly fast pace, such as the goliath heron from Ethio-pia and the roseate spoonbill from Florida, both on the next page, I prefer to use shutter speeds in the 1/1000 to 1/2000 range. This guarantees that every feather will be sharp. If the light is low, such as on an overcast day

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    or at sunrise and sunset, the ISO may have to be 1600 or more to get a very fast shutter speed. What about the lens aperture?

    3. When shooting birds in flight, depth of field is a luxury. In my opinion, a fast shutter speed

    is more important. Assuming you are shooting with a long lens -- 400mm or more -- the differ-ence between f/5.6 and f/8 is negligible, but dou-bling the shutter from, say, 1/500th to 1/1000th can make a big different in rendering the bird in flight sharp. Therefore, I almost always shoot

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    wide open. in other words, if the maximum aperture of the lens is f/4, thats what I use. I put the lens on aperture priority at f/4, and this gives me the fastest shutter speed possible giv-en the ISO and the ambient light.


    The real challenge, of course, is focus. How do you keep a flying bird sharply focused as you shoot? This is the single most challenging thing to at