Photo Tips and Stories (Page 4) RSS Feed for Photo Tips and Stories

 Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Do you leave room for words?

Leaving room for words is a great excuse to pull out when focal length limited, so be sure to keep that answer ready for when the situation dictates. However, many uses for photos, especially paid uses, involve adding words.

If the subject fills the frame, overlaid words can appear awkward, with subject lines and details competing with the message. Leaving space, especially strongly blurred space, permits aesthetic message presentation.

I create invitation cards for an annual sportsman's banquet. While wildlife portrait images are plentiful in my collection, message-ready images are less so, and I've been working on changing that balance.

For this bighorn ram image, a relatively long subject distance, very distant background, long focal length, wide aperture, and low shooting position combine to provide adequate smoothly blurred space for inclusion of a message.

It is usually easier to be farther away from an animal but don't let the distance lower the quality bar. Many of the same factors important to close portraits still apply. Look for good light and body position — and spectacularly large horns are advantageous.

We encountered this big boy in Badlands National Park. Observation showed that he was eating the yellow flowers. Moving into position for the next flower patch made preparation easy.

Heatwave distortion is frequently encountered when shooting at long subject distances in direct sunlight. The solution here was to shoot many images at a fast frame rate. Periodically, a photo with a sharp sheep head was captured.


A larger version of this image is available here.

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Post Date: 10/11/2022 10:23:27 AM ET   Posted By: Bryan
 Monday, October 10, 2022

I did not set out to photograph coyotes this evening, but Rocky Mountain National Park sometimes produces the unexpected.

While waiting for a herd of elk to do something interesting, movement in the tall grass caught my eye. It didn't take long to determine that a coyote was on the hunt. However, it was mostly obscured by the grass. Autofocusing on the coyote was impossible, and focusing on the grass at precisely the same distance was nearly as challenging.

Then, the coyote made a pounce to catch a rodent. On heightened alert, I readied to hit the shutter release on the next leap. This process was mostly waiting with little shooting, but it only takes one successful sequence to get the desired image.

As the coyote cleared the grass, a Sony Alpha 1 shutter release press instantly locked the FE 600mm F4 GM OSS Lens's focus and tracked through the leap.

Yes, this leap also resulted in dinner for the coyote. Of course, that dinner was mostly hidden by the grass.


A larger version of this image is available here.

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Post Date: 10/10/2022 9:56:09 AM ET   Posted By: Bryan
 Thursday, October 6, 2022

I just returned from over two weeks of chasing the elk rut (and landscapes and nightscapes), including nearly two weeks of leading small photography groups in Rocky Mountain National Park.

With the incredible performance of the cameras now available, selecting a small number of images to share is daunting, to say the least. The image shared here was low-hanging fruit. Why do I like it?

The subject is a good starting point. Elk make great photo subjects, and this bull is an especially great specimen, having a big body and a large set of antlers, with all points visible. Also, all four legs are partially visible (no overlap).

Bugling is one of the primary elk rut activities, and this bull, angled slightly toward the camera, has his nose up and curled back. The high head position better facilitates a catchlight.

The cloudy sky provided even lighting void of harsh shadows.

The 600mm f/4 compression and shallow depth of field combined with a low shooting position render the foreground and background strongly blurred, making the subject stand out. At the same time, the juxtaposition of the blurred items is complementary to the bull.

While working on a monopod is significantly more demanding than working on a tripod, the monopod permits fast position adjustment that makes captures such as this one possible.

When photographing wildlife in dim light levels, it is advantageous to use a relatively slow shutter speed to enable optimally bright images with a lower ISO setting for less noise. However, motion-blurred subjects are not usually acceptable.

Elk seldom move fast when bugling, and the bugle usually lasts long enough for a quick adjustment before shooting. However, once the bugle is completed, the bull may suddenly chase after another animal. This fast action requires a significantly faster shutter speed.

I use manual exposure mode with the ISO set to Auto to enable quick shutter speed adjustment. A quick roll of the top dial takes the camera from still motion to fast action shutter speeds in a fraction of a second, with the ISO automatically adjusting as needed.

To accommodate auto exposures being affected by bright grass or a dark forest (both seen in this image), I adjust exposure compensation. That adjustment is simply the turn of a dial on the Sony Alpha 1.


A larger version of this image is available here.

 
Camera and Lens Settings
600mm  f/4.0  1/320s
ISO 400
8640 x 5760px
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Post Date: 10/6/2022 12:02:17 PM ET   Posted By: Bryan
 Sunday, August 28, 2022

When two wide-angle f/1.4 lenses promoted as ideal for photographing the milky way (an addicting pursuit) show up in the same box with a dark, cloudless sky predicted for the next evening, you drop everything and drive hours to the darkest sky location in the region. In this case, that location was Cherry Springs State Park, an International Dark Sky Park, near Coudersport, PA. After a few hours of sleep and especially after loading the photos from the memory cards, you forget about arriving home at 2:30 AM.

The two lenses were the Sigma 20mm F1.4 DG DN Art Lens and the Sigma 24mm F1.4 DG DN Art Lens. The 20 and 24mm ultra-wide-angle focal lengths are ideal for framing the heart of the milky way, and the ultra-wide f/1.4 aperture allows sufficient light to reach the imaging sensor in the exposure time necessary to prevent star trails.

Here is the Cherry Springs State Park Milky Way at 24mm.


A larger version of this image is available here.

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Post Date: 8/28/2022 7:00:00 AM ET   Posted By: Bryan
 Sunday, May 1, 2022

When other serious photographers are photographing you instead of the amazing scene in your viewfinder, your sanity feels questioned.

Despite appearing big in this image, Lathe Arch is relatively small. Making it appear large in the frame requires getting close to it relative to the background. Getting close from the best side of this arch offers very few options, and gaining this vantage point required getting into a small opening between the large, abrasive granite rocks.

The tripod legs were spread straight out, straddling the crevice, and I was thankful for sturdy boots that were not crushing my feet despite being wedged between the rocks. I was mostly hidden from people walking by but was apparently photo-worthy to a couple of photographers that noticed me.

The widest focal length available on the mounted lens was 15mm, and that angle of view was not nearly wide enough to capture the entire arch and the supporting rocks beside it. Thus, a panorama was called for.

I suspected that this scenario was coming and often have a Really Right Stuff MPR-CL Rail with Integral Clamp in the bag. The rail mounted on the vertical side of the L-plate allowed the lens to pivot over its nodal point, ensuring that the foreground details aligned when stitched together. While nodal alignment is not essential when the foreground is distant, this foreground was very close.

There was a lot of blue sky above the arch, but much of that was framed (and cropped) out of this image. The 22mm focal length provided a sufficient vertical angle of view. The finished horizontal angle of view was determined by the sum of the camera angles used for the pano.

The next issue to resolve was the inadequate depth of field. The closest foreground rock was immediately in front of the lens, while Lone Peak and the mountains beside it were far away. This scenario calls for focus bracketing, an easy strategy with the Canon EOS R5.

I considered adding HDR bracketing to the already complicated capture and processing but didn't — and didn't regret that decision. The R5's dynamic range easily handled this scene.

After dialing in a manual exposure that barely avoided red channel overexposure, the camera was rotated to the left-most side of the capture, autofocus was acquired on the nearest point of the rock, and the set of focus bracketed images was captured. The ball head base was not close to level, so the panning base could not be used for the lateral movement. The ball was loosened, and the camera moved using the thirds gridline to locate the next position. Moving the bottom-left thirds gridline intersection to the former position of the bottom-right thirds line intersection provided a considerable 2/3 frame overlap between image sets, with the electronic level ensuring the camera remained level.

A 1/3 overlap is usually adequate, so moving the bottom-left thirds gridline intersection to the former position of the bottom-right line leaving the frame would have been more efficient.

Additional sets of images were captured until the complete width of the pano was finished. The result was five images per focus stack and four focus-stacked image sets for the panorama.

Creation of the final image involved processing the stacks and then creating the panorama from the four stacked images. While this process may sound complicated, it was simple. The computer did all of the work.

Capturing this image was high on the awkwardness scale, but as usual, I barely remember the discomfort, and the image will bring back the great memories of this morning long into the future.


A larger version of this image is available Here.

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Post Date: 5/1/2022 7:00:00 AM ET   Posted By: Bryan
 Sunday, April 24, 2022

This morning's sunrise delivered the highly desired pink sky to the west as I was overlooking the incredible landscape from Zabriskie Point in Death Valley National Park. That is a perfect combination, right?

What if the colorful sunrise sky color does not match the tone of the landscape? Warming the sky reduced its purpleness, bringing the color tones into closer alignment, but does the pink sky complement the yellow and brown landscape in this example? Or, does that combination clash?

Attractive distant details abound at Zabriskie, making foreground details easy to overlook. This composition takes advantage of the lines and texture in a nearby rolling hill just off the point.


A larger version of this image is available here.

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Post Date: 4/24/2022 7:00:00 AM ET   Posted By: Bryan
 Monday, April 18, 2022

Most often, a wildlife silhouette opportunity comes unexpectantly and is fleeting.

Because the sky is typically very bright relative to the subject, the camera's meter usually selects silhouette exposure settings that lead to underexposed images, and correcting the underexposed images during post-processing yields increased noise.

To quickly acquire the right camera settings this opportunity, rules are ideal. For example, with a blue sky in the background, instruct the camera to create exposures X number of stops higher than it thinks is necessary.

Unfortunately, too many rules are needed to accommodate all scenarios. The primary reason that auto exposure + EV rules do not work is that the percentage of the frame filled with the subject and foreground changes dramatically, possibly during the same opportunity if varying exposures with a zoom lens. Also affecting the exposure rule is the sky color, ranging from bright white to deep blue or even the darkness of storm clouds.

While spot metering on the focus point can result in a more stable exposure basis for rules to work from, even animal color varies. For example, black bears are considerably darker than mule deer.

Mirrorless cameras with electronic viewfinders programmed to show the actual image brightness make establishing the ideal silhouette exposure settings considerably faster and easier than doing the same with a DSLR. While I often have the EVF histogram turned off due to interference with my brain's compositional abilities, that tool clearly shows the selected exposure, especially the bright side's available dynamic range. Even without the histogram enabled, the brightness can be discerned by looking at the brightest areas on the EVF.

What is the ideal silhouette exposure? That answer depends on the final look desired. If the animal and foreground are to be pure black, expose the sky to the preferred brightness. If a high key look is desired, expose for a normal animal brightness, letting the sky become blown — pure white and blinking on the LCD.

To gain the most post-processing latitude or if you don't want to decide what the final image should look like while frantically trying to capture the momentary opportunity, use the expose to the right strategy. Create an exposure that pushes the histogram graph lines to the right edge of the chart. There will likely be some small areas of the image showing over-exposed blinkies during image review, but not large areas of blinkies indicating loss of detail. The goal is to retain detail in the highlights while capturing as much detail as possible in the shadows.

If photographing landscape, an HDR technique would be implemented for this scenario. Unfortunately, animals tend to move before the multiple exposures can be recorded. If your animal is motionless and your camera is locked down on a tripod, bracketing exposures is a great option.

The expose to the right option was chosen for this bull moose image capture. The sky is bright but still blue. Using Photoshop, the moose was selected and brightened slightly.

The Canon EOS R5 and RF 100-500mm F4.5-7.1 L IS USM Lens get the credits for this capture. This combination is perfect for many wildlife photography pursuits.


A larger version of this image is available here.

 
Camera and Lens Settings
270mm  f/5.6  1/200s
ISO 800
8192 x 5464px
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Post Date: 4/18/2022 10:21:08 AM ET   Posted By: Bryan
 Sunday, April 10, 2022

The remoteness of the beautiful Ibex Dunes in Death Valley National Park is a big advantage and a big drawback.

The advantage part is that few people make the effort required to get there, and the Ibex dune field is often untracked.

The drawback is that these dunes are located near ... well, nothing. The drive from Furnace Creek took nearly two hours, with very few services encountered on the way, and the last 10 miles are narrow dirt and sand roads that require differing vehicle classes depending on the current conditions (including at an intermittent stream crossing).

The adventure does not stop upon arrival. The dunes are over a mile from the road, but they are massive and easily visible from the road (a generous term for it by this point — more like a trail), and the hike to the dunes is not difficult. In contrast to the size of the dunes, the vehicle is tiny and may not be visible from the dunes. A small angular mistake on the way out could mean a significantly longer walk and perhaps a night in the desert.

That adventure aspect was avoided with a GPS pin, an old-school compass reading, and a feature on the mountain opposite the dunes noted.

On this afternoon, a solitary set of tracks led through the low area between the untouched northern and southern dune fields. After photographing my way around the dunes, I settled into the selected sunset location to catch the day's last rays.

As I shared in the last dune image, the Canon RF 24-70mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens on a Canon EOS R5 proved the optimal choice in the Death Valley National Park dunes. While focal lengths outside this range had compositional opportunities, the 24-70mm angles of view enabled emphasis on the close subjects while keeping the background details relatively large in the frame.

The R5's focus bracketing feature made complete depth of field easily obtained for every image. Four f/11 images were required for this 48mm focus stacked final photo.


A larger version of this image is available here.

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Post Date: 4/10/2022 7:00:00 AM ET   Posted By: Bryan
 Friday, April 8, 2022

While the individual grains of sand in a dune likely have some color variation, those grains blend together at typical landscape photo distances, leaving most dunes a single color. A single color does not alone make an interesting photo. Therefore, shadows rule in the dunes — they are necessary to add intrigue.

Shadows are created by uneven lighting, and the early and late sun angle brings on the desired strong directional lighting (barring clouds).

Taking a dune image to the next step means finding great shadows, and footprint shadows do not fit into my "great" definition (unless the footprints are an intentional part of the composition).

Rarely is wind appreciated for photography, and it is especially unwelcomed when photographing landscapes. However, I celebrated as a significant wind storm blew through during the drive from Las Vegas to Death Valley National Park. The dust and sand were dense enough to severely impact visibility at times, rocking, and properly initiating the brand new Toyota RAV 4 rental SUV.

Why celebrate a wind storm in the desert? The wind erased ALL of the Death Valley dunes' footprints, replacing them with fresh, seemingly unending and highly photogenic ripples in the sand.

The Canon RF 24-70mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens on a Canon EOS R5 proved the optimal choice in the Death Valley National Park dunes. While focal lengths outside this range had compositional opportunities, the 24-70mm angles of view enabled emphasis on the close subjects while keeping the background details relatively large in the frame.

Still, the depth of field available (at apertures not impacted by diffraction) from this focal length range was often insufficient. The R5's focus bracketing feature was the solution to that problem. With focus bracketing enabled, the smallest increment specified, and the number of shots set far above what was ever needed (the camera automatically stops at infinity), the R5 proved itself foolproof, automatically delivering the complete required range of sharp focus bracketed images at nearly a 100% rate (and I probably caused the 1 or two insufficient sets). Walk up to a scene, select the composition, position the focus point on the closest subject (the closest sand), and press the shutter release. This strategy takes away the careful attention to the depth of field otherwise required and facilitates images not otherwise possible.

Do you ever struggle to obtain the ideal white balance? I do, and this image challenged me. Unfortunately, adding the needed contrast creates a bright yellow glow that I've been attempting to neutralize. This image is one of those likely to get re-adjusted in the weeks and months to come.


A larger version of this image is available here.

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Post Date: 4/8/2022 8:55:59 AM ET   Posted By: Bryan
 Sunday, April 3, 2022

Zabriskie Point in Death Valley National Park is one of those locations that evokes the kid in a candy store emotion for landscape photographers.

Ordering the chaos in a beautiful scene is a frequent landscape photography challenge. While details abound at Zabriskie Point, these details are more easily ordered than most. In addition, there are so many strong shapes and colors here that direct light becomes much less important. While Zabriskie Point's morning and evening light is especially attractive, some of my favorite images were taken before sunrise and after sunset.

Having so many great compositions makes selecting a few favorites to share a mental challenge. Of course, culling many images would have been easier if I had approached the area in an orderly manner. Instead, I opted to revisit subjects for a fresh take, ensuring an open mind to find the best options. Still, I'm certain that a return trip would generate new compositions in this target-rich environment.

A pair of Canon EOS R5 bodies with Canon RF 24-70mm F2.8 L IS USM and Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8 L IS USM Lenses mounted provided the ideal angle of view range for this location and, of course, outstanding image quality.


A larger version of this image is available here.

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Post Date: 4/3/2022 7:00:00 AM ET   Posted By: Bryan
 Thursday, March 31, 2022

A June sunrise image of The Loche in Rocky Mountain National Park requires a 2.7 mi, 1,056 ft elevation gain hike in the middle of the night. Getting location information on a relatively remote lake early in the season is challenging, but there was a report of open water, so my daughter and I set off for an adventure.

Upon arrival, the report proved technically correct. However, ice prevailed in the target location. While the ice would have been an OK foreground (these mountains can make nearly any foreground work), a reflection was the big benefit of hiking to a lake.

Moving to a nearby small area of open water accomplished the reflection goal. Here, a twisted tree and its roots, along with rocks flowing into the scene, provided additional foreground entertainment at this location.

Back to the leading question: Why don't I use graduated neutral density (GND) filters?

I'll start with the answer to a more basic question, what is a graduated neutral density (GND) filter?

Since Wikipedia already created this answer, I'll share it here:

"A graduated neutral-density filter, also known as a graduated ND filter, split neutral-density filter, or just a graduated filter, is an optical filter that has a variable light transmission. Typically half of the filter is of neutral density which transitions, either abruptly or gradually, into the other half which is clear. It is used to bring an overly-bright part of a scene into the dynamic range of film or sensor. For example, it can be used to darken a bright sky so that both the sky and subject can be properly exposed. ND filters can come in a variety of shapes and sizes and densities and can be used in all types of photographic applications from still photography, motion photography and scientific applications."

Here is the big problem. In general, graduated ND filters have straight lines of transition. However, these filters are primarily needed outdoors, and the outdoor landscape transition from dark to bright is seldom a straight line — unless a large body of water or a great plain fills the background. It is unrealistic to create filters for every horizon shape, and especially wide-angle zoom lenses usually have focal lengths with geometric distortion that further complicates the needed transition shape.

While soft transition GND filters better hide the dark to light transition, the final image seldom hides the unnatural brightness change.

Round threaded GND filters are available, and logically using one requires the brightness transition to be placed in the middle of the frame — another big limitation. To vary the location of the brightness change requires rectangular filters sized much larger than the front of the lens. While the density transition is still in the center of these filters, the larger size means they can be positioned off-center, placing the brightness transition anywhere desired.

Rectangular GND filters can be handheld during the shot, though avoiding movement against the lens requires a steady hand, and holding the filter slightly off of the lens permits light leaks (that may or may not matter). A filter holder provides a better solution optically, but the large rectangular filters require even larger filter holders.

Purchasing the complete set of transition types (hard to soft) and densities required to ideally mix the various lighting levels encountered, along with a filter holder, is expensive. In addition, the functional set is somewhat burdensome to carry and time-consuming to set up.

What is the alternative? Capture the scene in two or more exposures (if necessary, as processing a single image to differing brightness may be adequate), and blend the results using an HDR technique. A straight transition line is no longer important, and the adjusted areas do not need to be contiguous. Any brightness transition rate can be used (hard to soft), and the rate can vary in a single image.

Additionally, all focal lengths and lens sizes are supported, from a circular fisheye to the longest telephoto lens available.

I can often tell when a GND filter was used for an image, and usually, the result is not my favorite. Not everyone shares my view, and that is OK.

There are a lot of graduated ND filters sold, and sometimes only a graduated ND filter can get the job done properly. A primary advantage of graduated neutral density filters is that action transcending the density change (waves on an ocean, for example) remains perfectly aligned. Another big filter advantage is that post-processing is greatly reduced or eliminated, and those recording video or JPG format still images need to capture the final brightness.

Circling back to the image shared here. There are no graduated neutral density filters in the shape of the shadow line. Also, the perfect filter to match the digital graduated neutral density processing needed to darken the sky, excluding the tree. That filter, of course, does not exist. Thus, I don't carry it — or any other variant.


A larger version of this image is available here.

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Post Date: 3/31/2022 7:00:00 AM ET   Posted By: Bryan
 Sunday, March 27, 2022

This background story and the low-level lighting information post became too long to share here, so please visit the Low-Level Lighting Mobius Arch, Milky Way at Alabama Hills, CA page for the full details.

A larger version of this image is available on here.

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Post Date: 3/27/2022 7:10:00 AM ET   Posted By: Bryan
 Sunday, March 20, 2022

I was in Lone Pine, CA and the Alabama Hills facing the prospect of a clear sky at sunset. While blue is one of my favorite colors, some clouds in the sky with a fiery glow are an even better end-of-the-day option.

The sun setting in a clear sky casts a beautiful warm light, ideal for landscape imagery. However, the Sierra Nevada Mountain range, including 14,505' Mount Whitney, the highest mountain in the contiguous USA, blocks the warm color temperature of the late-day sunlight long before it reaches most of this valley and its formations.

There is one reliable way to get a colorful sky during a clear sunset. The Belt of Venus will rise opposite the sun with the earth's shadow following it, and reflecting the Belt of Venus in a body of water doubles the available color.

Mono Lake is over 2,600' higher than Lone Pine, CA, home of the Alabama Hills. This location has a less-obstructed west view and lacks the close tall mountains to the east. That combination provides early visibility of the Belt of Venus, where it appears strong in color

Photographing the tufa tower limestone formations at Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve had long been on my to-do list, so the second round of adventures for this day began.

Upon arriving at the lake, the car thermometer said it was cold out — upper 40s or low 50s? However, it was too hot in the sun to dress warmly.

I opted to go light, grabbing a tripod, two cameras and lenses in Lowepro toploader cases, and no extra clothes. The plan was to scout for the optimal sunset shot, return to the car for everything else, and then capture the selected sunset scene.

After finding a location that worked for the reflection plan roughly a mile into the adventure, I no longer had the energy to make the rather difficult two-mile round trip to retrieve the warm clothes (and flashlight).

The pair of Canon EOS R5 bodies mounted to Canon RF 24-70mm F2.8 L IS and Canon RF 100-500mm F4.5-7.1 L IS Lenses were perfect for the opportunities presented, and the Really Right Stuff TVC-24L Mk2 Carbon Fiber Tripod and BH-40 Ball Head held them solidly.

The expected temperature drop was a concern, but I was still very warm. The neutral density filters were still in the SUV, but the smooth water left nothing moving to blur.

Eventually, the sun went low in the sky, the tufas had warm light on them, and many photos were captured. However, the real show began when the Belt of Venus and the earth's shadow moved into view. The Belt of Venus and its reflection nicely framed the tufa formations and their dark blue earth shadow background. This show was over in minutes, but working fast with two cameras provided many image variations within this timeframe.

The show would have been over fast regardless of the sky progression because the temperature plummeted into the 20s as soon as the sun set, and shivering made tripod use mandatory. As the dirt road was closer than the car (and the flashlight was in the car), I opted for a direct path to the road, expecting that the opportunity for getting lost would be reduced and hoping that firmer footing would be gained. It didn't take long for this decision to be deemed questionable, and the "Would anyone ever find me if I went down in the massive, over-my-head sagebrush that I was climbing over?" question entered my mind.

Fortunately, the story has a happy ending, and the Belt of Venus provided the desired sunset color on this evening. Keep this sky color option in mind for your next clear day sunset — or sunrise — shoot.


A larger version of this image is available here.

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Post Date: 3/20/2022 7:00:00 AM ET   Posted By: Bryan
 Sunday, February 20, 2022

Recently, I shared another weasel image from Rocky Mountain National Park. Today, I share what it was looking for. More specifically, the weasel was looking for this ground squirrel's young to take back to its own young.

Wildlife encounters often provide the opportunity to capture multiple images. While capturing multiple images of the same pose is a good idea, ensuring that minimally one is sharp, with ideal focus and lack of motion blur, there is little value in having more than one image of the same pose and subject framing in the keepers folder. However, photographing a different pose (or scene framing) has great merit. Different is good, and better is ... even better. Therefore, constantly look for ways to improve upon your images already on the card.

While ground squirrels are not too difficult to photograph, they are not always posed on a rock with a distant green background as nicely as this one. After aligning the subject against a distant background while maintaining a favorable body position (angled slightly toward the camera) and capturing the insurance (or memory) shots, improving upon what was already captured became the goal.

The ground squirrel was sounding an urgent alarm to the rest of the family, and its mouth briefly opened very wide with each warning chirp. Simply timing the shot for the toothy chirp added that extra something I was looking for, evoking emotion, at least in context with the weasel story.


A larger version of this image is available here.

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Post Date: 2/20/2022 7:19:40 AM ET   Posted By: Bryan
 Wednesday, February 16, 2022

I shared a pair of weasel images (Curious Weasel, Weasel Carrying Ground Squirrel) captured while hanging out with (mostly waiting for) a pair of weasels in Rocky Mountain National Park. One of my favorite aspects of these images is the strong background blur that makes the subject boldly stand out.

While many of you following this site might find this advice basic, the basics are important, especially for those starting out, so let's talk about some background blur basics today.

1. Get Closer to the Subject

Moving closer requires a shorter focus distance. The shorter focus distance takes the background out of focus, increasing the blur.

2. Position Against a More Distant Background

Positioning the camera and lens so that the background is farther from the plane of sharp focus increases the blur. Orienting the shooting position to avoid the closer background trees, rocks, buildings, etc., makes a more significant blur happen.

3. Use a Longer Focal Length Lens

A longer focal length increases the magnification of the background details, which increases the blur.

4. Use a Wider Aperture

A wider aperture creates a shallower depth of field. That effect increases the background (and foreground) blur.

5. Use a Camera with a Larger Imaging Sensor

A full-frame camera takes in a wider angle of view than an APS-C model using the same focal length lens. A wider angle of view requires a 1.5x (Sony) or 1.6x (Canon) longer focal length or a position considerably closer for the subject to remain the equivalent size in the frame. Both of those options are already on this list.

Today, the interchangeable lens most adept at blurring the background is the Sigma APO 200-500mm f/2.8 EX DG Lens set to 500mm f/2.8. However, a reality check after looking at that behemoth's price and specs (B&H | Adorama | Amazon) leads us to consider the second most background blurring capable lens. The next best choice is one of the 600mm f/4 options.

While not small or inexpensive, the 600mm f/4 lenses reward the owner (or renter) for their expense and carrying effort by creating differentiation in their photos. A 600mm f/4 lens on a full-frame camera, such as the outstanding Sony FE 600mm f/4 GM OSS Lens and Sony Alpha 1 Camera combination used for this example can melt the background into a pleasant color blur. That blur can make a subject pop from even a busy, distracting environment.

Keeping small subjects such as the weasels relatively large in the frame makes the getting close blur aspect happen by default. Of course, keeping these hyper little creatures in the frame at this distance is quite challenging. Fortunately, I guessed right at this time, being in the ideal position when the weasel paused to look around.


A larger version of this image is available here.

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Post Date: 2/16/2022 10:21:58 AM ET   Posted By: Bryan
 Monday, February 14, 2022

A late May snowstorm left a dusting of snow at lower elevations in Rocky Mountain National Park. The ponderosa pines filtered the snow, leaving an interesting pattern of white among the trunks, which called for a photo. I always look for excuses to include these red-colored trunks in the frame, and the snow opportunity seemed a good one.

Thick clouds provided even lighting, but the bright white sky seemed to detract from this composition. Thus, keeping the sky out of the frame was a goal, and achieving that goal meant selecting a long enough focal length to exclude the white.

The three tree trunks positioned 1/3 into the frame worked well for the foreground, and the camera position was adjusted to optimize juxtaposition of the remaining trunks in the frame. A fully leveled camera kept the trunks as straight in the frame as possible.

With the desired composition established and locked down on a Really Right Stuff TVC-24L Mk2 Carbon Fiber Tripod and BH-40 Ball Head, the remaining issue was achieving the desired depth of field. For this image, I wanted everything in the frame to be sharp. Unfortunately, at 35mm, that was not happening at the still-sharp apertures (I seldom use an EOS R5 aperture narrower than f/11).

Fortunately, the Canon EOS R5's focus bracketing feature made capturing the motionless scene in sharp focus easy. Focused on the closest foreground in the frame with Focus Bracketing enabled, the camera automatically captured the set of photos necessary to cumulatively have the entire depth of the scene in sharp focus.

Selecting the stack of images and then the Depth Compositing Tools menu option in Canon Digital Photo Professional (DPP) created the all-in-focus 16-bit TIFF file that was further edited in Photoshop. Primarily, spot sharpening some of the merged image seams in the image finalized the stacking task.


A larger version of this image is available here.

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Post Date: 2/14/2022 11:15:14 AM ET   Posted By: Bryan
 Thursday, February 3, 2022

I tend to overshoot. While taking too many photos ensures that the optimal shot is on the card, that practice adds to the mental and time challenges of culling the results. The performance of the Canon EOS R5 and RF 600mm F4 L IS USM Lens combination increases that challenge.

In addition to getting the optimal shot, the extra images are sometimes useful for additional purposes. One of those purposes is illustrated here, making panorama processing possible.

After selecting the favorite animal position, I decided that including more background would improve the composition. The two selected images were manually merged in Photoshop.


A larger version of this image is available here.

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Post Date: 2/3/2022 12:47:36 PM ET   Posted By: Bryan
 Wednesday, February 2, 2022

We were at the gold mine to photograph picas, but the picas were not especially cooperative. However, a willow ptarmigan, a far less common subject for me, came by to show off his incredible camouflage, posing for a few photos.

As is often the case, the Canon EOS R5 with the RF 100-500mm F4.5-7.1 L IS USM Lens mounted was an ideal combination for this opportunity.


A larger version of this image is available here.

 
Camera and Lens Settings
500mm  f/7.1  1/400s
ISO 320
7340 x 5345px
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Post Date: 2/2/2022 9:58:35 AM ET   Posted By: Bryan
 Tuesday, February 1, 2022

Bull elk fights are exciting to watch, but most don't end well for one competitor or from a photography perspective. When elk fight, they lower their nose down, leaving the most important parts of a wildlife composition, the eyes and heads, occluded by the thick, tall grass common in the fight venues.

Another frequent hindrance to a good elk fight photo is being in the right position to photograph a single bull with a long prime lens. A second bull in the frame often requires at least twice the working distance, and the fight may be over by the time that distance is traversed. Also frequent is for one elk's back side to turn toward the camera, blocking all of the action.

The story was different on this day. The versatile Canon RF 100-500mm F4.5-7.1 L IS USM Lens was mounted on the EOS R5 when the fight broke out, and the grass and weeds were thin and short.

Despite the excitement, I remembered to roll the shutter speed to 1/3200 (M mode, auto ISO, wide-open aperture) to freeze the action. The lens was zoomed to a focal length that contained the erratic action and focused on the mix of antlers and heads. Holding the shutter release down in continuous shooting mode ensured that this short fight produced a solid number of keeper images.

In this image, both bulls' eyes are visible, and the flying dirt helps to portray the intensity of the battle between these big bulls. Adding to my interest are the seemingly indifferent cows, along with the calf leaping out of the danger zone on the right side of the frame.

I often process my images to honor the original 3:2 aspect ratio, but that practice is not always optimal unless the end-use dictates such. Elk fights are often compositionally wide, and in this case, a wide crop seemed appropriate.


A larger version of this image is available here.

 
Camera and Lens Settings
176mm  f/5.0  1/3200s
ISO 320
7096 x 3999px
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Post Date: 2/1/2022 12:30:54 PM ET   Posted By: Bryan
 Sunday, January 23, 2022

Elk calves were at the top of this Rocky Mountain National Park photo trip priority list. However, finding portrait volunteers was quite challenging. Challenge does make success sweeter.

Elk calves spend most of their time bedded, and bedded calves are much harder to find than those up on their hooves. Another challenge was finding the angle to photograph a bedded elk calf. The babies often go down amongst dead trees, brush, and other obstacles, and often, there are no good angles.

The camera angle shown in this image was the only one that worked for this calf, one of only a few bedded calves that were optimally photographable during this week.

Baby animals bring a cuteness factor to images that is hard to beat. So, start making plans to find the babies this spring.


A larger version of this image is available here.

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Post Date: 1/23/2022 7:00:00 AM ET   Posted By: Bryan
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