Archive for the ‘Photography Tips & Techniques’ Category

Yellowstone National Park Southern Loop Map and Photography Tour

Yellowstone National Park Southern Loop Map and Photography Tour

I visited Jackson, Wyoming in August 2010 and had the pleasure of touring around the Grand Teton National Park area and the southern loop of Yellowstone National Park.  I had plenty of time to explore and feel like I found many of the top scenic and nature sites in the area.  I put together this pdf file which contains an annotated map of Yellowstone’s southern loop with some of my favorite photos fromeach location.  Each site is designated with a yellow star that you can click on to provide a brief description of the site.  There is also reference to a “Slide #”, of which the slides can be found below the map and possess a few sample photos that I took from each area.  Obviously, there is nothing quite like experiencing a destination for yourself.  But, I hope this resource serves as a mini tour guide to help you prioritize your photography trip to the Yellowstone.  

Click below for the pdf file or right click to download (WARNING, this is a huge file (15MB) due to the size of the map and photos.  It may be easier to download this file for viewing versus doing so in your internet browser window.  Also you will need adobe acrobat reader to view the pdf file)

Yellowstone National Park Southern Loop Map and Photography Tour

See also a similar map for Grand Teton’s National Park (below):

Grand Teton National Park Map and Photography Tour

I would be happy to answer any questions you might have.  Enjoy!



Grand Teton National Park Map and Photography Tour

July 28, 2011 4 comments

Grand Teton National Park Map and Photography tour

I visited Jackson, Wyoming in August 2010 and had the pleasure of touring around the Grand Teton National Park area and the southern loop of Yellowstone National Park.  I had plenty of time to explore and feel like I found many of the top scenic and nature sites in the area.  I put together this pdf file which contains an annotated map of Grand Teton National Park with some of my favorite photography spots.  Each site is designated with a yellow star that you can click on to provide a brief description of the site.  There is also reference to a “Slide #”, of which the slides can be found below the map and possess a few sample photos that I took from each area.  Obviously, there is nothing quite like experiencing a destination for yourself.  But, I hope this resource serves as a mini tour guide to help you prioritize your photography trip to the Jackson, WY and Grand Teton National Park area.  I would be happy to answer any questions you might have.  Enjoy!

Click below for the pdf file or right click to download (WARNING, this is a huge file (17MB) due to the size of the map and photos.  It may be easier to download this file for viewing versus doing so in your internet browser window.  Also you will need adobe acrobat reader to view the pdf file)

Grand Teton National Park Map and Photography Tour

For more photos from my trip to Wyoming see the links below:


Feel free to leave your feedback or personal experiences.  Check for future updates for a similar map of Southern Yellostone Park.

DX (24 x 16mm) vs. FX (36 x 24mm) Formats : What does it really mean?

May 31, 2011 9 comments

DX vs. FX Formats :  What does it really mean?

The question about what “DX” and “FX” formats really means and how it applies to digital camera sensors and lenses can be a topic that is difficult to understand for those who are new (and even not so new) to digital photography.  I was also puzzled by these concepts when I first heard people refer to the “crop ratio” of a DX format camera compared to 35mm standard; how a lens’s magnification was “increased” with DX format cameras compared to full frame, etc.  There are plenty of very good explanations of these topics on the internet, probably many better than the one you are reading.  But this is my way of thinking about it and hopefully after reading a few explanations like this one, you will also understand.   I have tried to simplify the explanation and concepts for all levels of photographer who might be reading this, so if some of the more technical aspects are not precise, please remember this.

First of all, I think it is important to understand the concept that camera sensors are compared to the 35mm format film format (also called “full frame”).  In digital world, sensors with the same size as these full frame film cameras are referred to as having a FX format sensor.  By definition, FX sensors are the same size as the full frame 35mm film camera had, which measures 36 x 24mm.   You can see a representation of this sensor size on the diagram below that I found on the internet.  So to recap, the terms “35mm”, “full frame” , and “FX” all refer to pretty much the same thing as far as this review is concerned, and for the purpose of this explanation I will use them interchangably.   Currently, full frame sensors are found in FX format “professional level” cameras like the Nikon D3s, Canon EOS-1D Mark IV, or Sony Alpha 900. (ie. they have sensors that measures ~36 x 24mm)

Now it’s also important to understand that there is another smaller digital sensor size used in many, if not most, digital SLRs today  called “DX format”.  These DX format sensors are sometimes referred to as “APS sensors” which stands for Advanced Photo System.  Regardless what you call them, the DX format sensors are defined as having a size of 24 x 16mm.   Any of you math wizards who are reading this might have notived that 24 multipled by 1.5 equals 36 (24  x 1.5  = 36).  So, basically the full frame (FX) sensor is 1.5 times bigger than the DX format sensor.  This is where you get the 1.5x conversion factor that people refer to when discussing FX and DX format sensors (though you also see 1.6x or others multipliers depending on the exact sensor dimensions).  In this case size does matter 🙂  Most of today’s popular entry level and semi-professional cameras have DX sensors including the Nikon D300s and Canon 7D.

Below is a nice scale diagram from Art of the ( ) that shows the relative sensor sizes of both Nikon and Canon cameras.  You can check out their youtube video on this subject at:

One point I would like to make before going on is that all pixels are not created equal.   It always bugs me when someone who knows nothing about photography ask how many megapixels my D300 has (12MP by the way) and then replies, “oh my point-and-shoot digital camera has more megapixels than that.”  Clearly these peope don’t understand the basics of digital camera sensors, but you will after reading this.  Most digital camera sensors are made up a continuous series of photoreceptors that measure the intensity of light and then convert this measurement into a color.  Details about the color filters that allow only certain wavelengths of light to be measured and how these filters are arranged on the sensor, which allows it to extrapolate the surrounding color intensity is was beyond the scope of this reiew.  But there are plenty of nice in depth reiews on how camera sensors work on the internet.  Here is a nice diagram to give you an idea without a length explanation..    

Anyway, back to the concept of megapixels…A digital sensor with 12 megapixels has 12 million photoreceptors that are then represented by 12 million pixels, usually described in their horizontal and vertical axis (for example 4288 x 2848 is the number of pixels in the width x height of the sensor).  Though both a digital point-and-shoot camera and digital SLR with 12 megapixels have the same number of photoreceptors, these sensors are far from being the same!  The SIZE of each photoreceptor (pixel) is vastly different between a point-and-shot, DX, and FX sensor.  For example, a point-and-shoot camera has a sensor around 8 x 6mm (or smaller) in size, comparent to a digital SLR DX format sensor of 24 x 16mm, or a full frame sensor of 36 x 24mm.  The individual photosensors on the point-and-shoot camera is much smaller in order to be “squeezed” all 12 million onto such a small sensor.  the photoreceptors get bigger as the size of the sensor increases.  The bigger the photoreceptors are, the more sensitive they are to light (I think of it like buckets in the rain.  A point-and-shoot camera has small open buckets that will catch less rain that the larger FX sensor that has large open barrels to collect rain.  This is sort of the same for photoreceptors collecting photons of light.)  This is one major reason why larger sensor cameras perform better in low light situations with less noise caused by increasing the ISO.

Now that we have covered DX and FX camera sensors, how about the camera lenses?  This is actually pretty simple.  DX format lenses are designed internally to project the image onto an area the size of a DX sensor (24 x 16mm).   FX (full frame) format lenses have a different internal design that allow them to project the image onto a larger are the size of a full frame (FX) sensor (36 x 24mm).  This is not to say that you can only use DX lens on a DX format cameras and FX lens on a full frame cameras, because this is not so.  In fact, in general (with some exceptions) either format lens can be used on either DX or FX cameras.  The resulting image will differ in each of these circumstance however, but we are getting ahead of ourselves and there will be more time to explain this concept later.  Take a look at the diagram below to get a better idea of what I was saying in this paragraph.  Notice that the FX lens has a larger circular area which represents the image that the lens is sending to the FX sensor represented by the rectangle.  The DX circle is smaller and represents a smaller portion of the image that is conveyed to the DX sensor represented by the rectangle.

Before I go any further though, it is important to understand that a lens’s focal distance does NOT actually change regardless if it is DX or FX format or shot on DX or FX sensor cameras.  Again, repeat after me… “a lens’s focal length (which is printed on the side of the lens) does NOT change based on the type camera body you put it on.”  For example, a  60mm DX lens is still a 60mm lens, even if it on a FX body.  Now you might be saying to yourself…”hey wait a minute, you’re wrong.  I was told that a 60mm lens would become a 90mm lens on an FX camera body because of the 1.5x conversion factor thingy”.  Well you would be half correct if you thought this…half wrong because the lens is still “technically” a 60mm lens, and half correct because the image that a 60mm DX lens would produce on a FX sensor camera would be the same as that of a 90mm FX lens shot on a full frame (FX or 35mm) sensor camera.  This is a result of the 1.5x conversion factor from the size difference between the DX and FX sensors.  Still with me?  If not, take time to read over this last part one more time.   Then take a look at the photos below to hopefully, walk you through the logic.

The photo below is from a FX lens paired with a full frame (FX) camera sensor.   Just for the sake of the example, let’s say it is a 60mm FX lens. Because both the lens and sensor are FX format, you are seeing the entire scene that was projected and captured on the 36 x 24mm sensor.

Compared to the photo above, the photo below.  Obviously the photo below is a “closer crop” of the above photo.  There are a couple of scenerios that could be true to give us this crop related to the DX/FX discussion (ie. excluding the fact that I could have walked closer to the mountain 🙂  Anyway, the photograph below could have been taken with a 90mm FX lens on a FX camera to give a closer crop of the mountain at 90mm.  However, the other possibility is that the photo below was taken with a 60mm FX format lens on a DX sensor camera.  This latter sceneria with the DX camera sensor would result in an image that would be 1.5 times “cropped”, and thus the same as the 90mm FX lens on the FX sensor camera (remember 60 x 1.5 = 90).  Read on to discover why this occurs.

Here is how it works.  See the image below.  The yellow outer line represents the full frame (FX) camera sensor measuring 36 x 24mm.  The inner red box represents the size of a DX camera sensor which is 24 x16mm, which is 1.5x smaller than the full frame (I know it says 1.6x but it’s basically the same).  As mentioned before, a FX format lens is designed to project the entire scene onto an area the size of a FX sensor (36 x 24mm).  The FX lens will do this regardless if the camera has a FX (36 x24mm) or DX (24 x16mm) sensor.  In other words, the image that is projected onto a DX camera sensor by a FX lens is actually too big for the sensor.  As a result, all of the image information outside of the 24 x 16mm area of the DX sensor is lost (gone forever), but the central portion of the scene is recorded on DX sensor.  This results in an image that appears cropped by a magnitude of 1.5 times, but without the loss of the file size that would result from actually cropping the full frame photo  in post-processing. Below are some more scenerios to further explain…

FX lens on a FX camera sensor or DX lens on DX sensor:

When you use a FX lens with a FX camera sensor (ie. full frame on full frame) or DX lens with a DX camera sensor, things stay pretty straight forward.  In this situation the lens is designed to project the scene onto either the area of a FX or DX camera sensor, respectively.  So, your 60mm lens would give you the results you would expect for a 60mm lens.

FX lens on a DX camera sensor:

The next scenerio is probably the most common that people run into.  You have a FX lens and shoot it on your DX format camera.  For example, I do this often when I use my FX format Nikon 70-200mm f2.8 lens on my DX format Nikon D300 camera.  This is where the 1.5x conversion comes into play.  In this situation, you have a full frame lens (FX) which is designed to project the entire scene over the size of a full frame (FX) sensor (36 x 24mm).  However, your camera has a 1.5x smaller DX sized sensor.  As a result only the information (or portion of the scene) within the center is actually recorded by the sensor.  The remaining image information on the periphery of the DX sensor is lost.  Look at the photos below to get a better idea of this concept.  As described the FX lens would project this entire scene to what it “thinks” is a FX sensor.  However only the central portion of the scene in the red box is recorded to the sensor and the remaining peripheral image is not recorded.  The resulting photo from this combination would look like the second photo below, where your 60mm FX lens results in an image the same as a 90mm lens.

Based on this, it is easy to understand that many nature photographer often prefer a DX format camera paired with a FX lens to give their lens “additional reach” without loosing megapixels from cropping.  I mention this because the same image could be aquired by cropping a photo during postprocessing by 1.5x times that was taken with an FX lens on FX camera.  But, this causes you to reduce the file size of your final photo.  For example, if your DX format camera is 12 MP, then your final image is 12MP.  On the other hand, if your FX camera is also 12 MP and you crop the full frame photo to match the 1.5x conversion, then you have lost all the peripheral image and are left with a smaller file (~8MP).  If you plan to print large, this could be a problem.  It’s also worth mentioning that it makes sense that landscape photographers would prefer full frame (FX) lenses on FX camera sensors in order to get the entire scene in the photo, verus having it “cropped” by a DX format sensor.

A DX lens on a FX camera sensor:

The last scenerio is probably less common.  This would be if you have a DX format lens like the Nikon 18-200mm and use it on a professional full frame (FX) camera like the Nikon D3s.  So now, you have a lens that is designed to project only the central portion of the scene onto a smaller DX sensor.  However, we are now talking about a camera with a larger full frame sensor.  The resulting image from this pairing is represented by the photo below.  Now only a DX sized image is being transmitted to the center of the larger FX sensor.  No parts of the scene from outside the DX area (24 x 16mm) is being transmitted to the periphery of the FX sensor.   Fortunatley, most FX cameras have a “DX format” mode and often will automatically recognize that you are using a DX format lens.  One negative to this DX format mode is a loss in total megapixels of the final image  since it is only using information from the central portion of the sensor.  Here is a specific example…the Nikon D3s is normally 12.1 megapixel camera when shooting full frame (FX)   In DX format mode on the D3s, photos are only 5.1 megapixels  (also why it shoots faster frames per second in DX mode).

The final photo from the full frame camera “DX Format Mode” would look like the one below, which is only the central portion of the scene.  Though it would look similar to the FX lens on DX camera photo above, it is a smaller file size because it is only from the central portion of the FX sensor.  This is in contrast with the FX lens on DX camera photo which would still be the entire file size since it was taken from the entire DX sensor.

Well I hope that makes this topic at least a little more clear to some…  Feel free to leave comments or feedback.

Also, I must admit that I shoot exclusively with DX format cameras at the time of writing this, so the photo examples were all taken with a DX camera (Nikon D300).  Photos were cropped to give them the correct proportions for this review, but all of  the concepts are still true.  I put this “disclaimer” at the end so as to not confuse anyone before reading.  I am currently waiting to see what line of cameras Nikon will come out with next before deciding if FX is right for my needs.

Thanks for reading


Digital SLR Market Share – November 2010

January 27, 2011 Leave a comment

Here is another interesting article from  It discusses the current and potential future market share for the digital SLR industry.  I thought it was interesting and wanted to share…

How a Camera Lens is Made??

January 27, 2011 Leave a comment

Have you ever wondered how a camera lens is made?  Why does it take them so long to get new lenses back in stock?  Well I was curious about this and found some pretty interesting resources that I thought I would share…

This link is to a website/blog that contains videos with detailed description on how the Canon 500mm lens is made.  Though I am a Nikon man myself, I am sure the process is very similar.

Here are the lens manufacturing steps mentioned in the videos at the link above on

  1.  Material blending
  2.  Pre-fusing
  3.  Melted glass allows to cool naturally
  4.  Cut the glass into pieces
  5.  Fusing
  6.  Mixing
  7.  Churning
  8.  Clarification
  9.  Homogenization
  10.  Shape the glass into sheets
  11.  Shaping and pressing process
  12.  Grinning processes
  13.  Heating the glass and form its shape by pressing (by hands or by automatic machines)
  14.  Annealing
  15.  Further polishing
  16.  Rough grinding that produces that curved surface of the lens
  17.  Fine grinding
  18.  Polishing and surface curvuture adjustment
  19.  Optical inspection
  20.  Clean with ultrasonic washing machines
  21.  Alignment
  22.  Coating
  23.  The Lens assembly process itself (done by hand for Canon L lenses)

Below is a link to another website with an overview of how a lens is made…

The comments below are from a dpreview forum in which the person posting was discussing why is takes so long for lenses to come back in stock (several months)…

Post: “Seriously, keep in mind these lenses are built by hand by a select few specialists at Nikons plant in Sendai, and that the manufacturing process for the bigger lens elements take something like the better part of a year. Big chunks of glass like the biggest lens elemenst in these beasts has to be left alone for long periods to see if there are any problems in them before you invest much work (and thus money) in processing them further.

So why do they have so few people building lenses like these?

Mainly because training new such specialists take many, many years. I was at the Jenoptik plant in Southern Germany a few years back. The specialists putting the finishing touches on their most high quality lenses (they make stuff for satellites among many other things) must have something like 25-30 years of experience before they were entrusted with their job. Making a 600/4 is probably not as demanding, but it is still a work that take years and years of training to qualify for. So stepping up the workforce for building stuff like this is not something you do quickly.

Well, one might then wonder why has Nikon been caught off guard with to little manufactureing capacity?

Think about Nikons recent history. As late as mid 2007 Nikon had poor sales of all their big lenses, mainly because something like 85% of the professionals (who buy the bulk of lenses like these) shot Canon back then. I remember at the press event for the Eos 1Ds Mark III (just a couple of days before Nikon presented the D3) Canon presented statistics from the worlds three largest image agencies – close to 90% (88% if I remember correctly) of the images being submitted to them at that time came from Canon cameras. Nikon was down and out in the pro market just three and a half years ago …

It was probably only somewhere in early 2008 it was clear to Nikon what a landslide success the D3 had become. Even if Nikon suddenly started a crash programme to increase their manufacturing capacity for high end gear, well, it still takes years and years to train people to build equipment like this. And they they also at the same time have to find enough skilled and experienced people to build all the D3, D3x and D3s cameras (who are also hand built) and all the other hand built big lenses like 400/2.8, the 500/4, and not least the 200-400/4 who was suddenly in such high demand.

In short: Nikon has in the last few years had a landslide success in the high end market. Inceasing manufacturing capacity for that kind demanding products is not easy to in a hurry (and probably not a good idea either – hurrying and quality rarely makes a happy couple).

But, I wholeheartedly agree that Nikon need to rethink their information strategy … Just keeping quiet when customers get irritated is never a good idea. Particularily customers looking to spend serious amounts of money.” updated 12-28-10

December 29, 2010 Leave a comment

Well I finally had a chance to update my website where I posted many of my photos.  Up until yesterday, most of the photos were from last year.   Feel free to check it out if you are interested at:


Ten Tips for Better Nature Photography

December 9, 2010 Leave a comment

Ten Tips for Better Nature Photography

1.   Proper Technique Always Wins:  

You will hear photographers talk about “proper technique” until they are blue in the face.  You will also hear them say that without proper technique, even a top of the line $5000 digital SLR camera with a large $6000+ prime lens will not ensure that you get good photographs.  In fact, when using longer length prime lenses (300mm+), proper technique is even more important.  So what is proper technique?  I think of proper technique as referring to all of the things that you can do as a photographer to ensure that your camera is as stable as possible for every shot (ie. attempting to eliminate camera shake).  When doing handheld shots, it means making sure you have a comfortable, balanced, and stable stance or kneeling position, with proper placement of hands on the camera and lens, and proper placement of your arms and elbows with regards to your torso.  A proper stance will allow you to get better photos with less camera shake artifact and you will be less fatigued after a long day of shooting.   Another aspect of good technique is knowing when to use proper support tools like a monopod or tripod, and when to use features like wireless shutter release.   Many times, especially in lower light situations and when slower shutter speeds are required, a tripod or monopod becomes practically a requirement to get the best photo possible.

The group of photographers below all know the value of using a tripod when possible to eliminate camera shake.

2.  Composition/Point of View:

Before taking that next photograph, ask yourself “is there a more interesting angle I could shoot this from?”.  Composition and creative angles/point of views are part of the art of photography.  Some photographers master this more than others and as a result produce photos that stop people in their tracks.  Myself being primarily a nature photographer, I try to keep this in mind.  Many times this means that I will have to kneel or even lay on the ground to get a perspective that I feel will be more interesting or pleasing to the eye.   For example, lets say there is a bird on a low-lying tree branch in front of you.   If you take the photo from a standing position then you will be shooting down on your subject, a perspective that is a bit boring in my opinion.  However, if you were to kneel to the eye level of the bird, then you will end up with a more interesting photo.   The background is also something to remember to consider when choosing you shooting point.   It is difficult sometimes to remember to check your background before you take the photo when you are concentrating on the subject, but an awareness of background will improve your photos.   Of course some things can be removed in post processing by photo editing programs, but a severely cluttered background will detract from the photograph.  I took the photograph below while lying on my stomach in order to get at the iguana’s eye level.  This direct angle to the iguana’s eye makes for a much more interesting photo than if I had taken it standing and he didn’t seem to mind too much.

Below is a photo of a photographer, Tim Timmis, who isn’t afraid to get a little dirty in order to get an eye-level photo of his favorite shore birds.  His photos are pretty amazing and interesting because of this (in my opinion) but see for yourself at

3.  Look for the interesting photo:

This is sort of related to composition and point or view, but takes things a step further.  When photographing a subject like a bird or other animal, you can basically categorize photos into three types of shots.  The most basic, entry-level photo is the “identification” photos.  These are the pictures that anyone with a digital point and shoot camera could take and the ones that I quickly tell people “oh I just took that one so I could look the species up later”.   In other words, they are not very special photos but do prove that you saw whatever species the photo is of.  These photos will have average composition and average appeal.  The next type of photo, and probably a step up, are the portrait shots.  These are usually closeups of the animal’s face that will reveal details that are not seen by the unassisted eye.  For this very reason, there is an increased interest factor involved in portrait animal photography, since they reveal something that most people are not accustom to seeing.  Finally, the top-tier, grand slam, “once-in-a-lifetime” photos are the type that we should all strive for.  In order to get a top-tier photograph, you need to capture the animal in it’s natural environment (or at least without visible signs of human existence) AND capture the animal doing something interesting that most people would never have seen if you hadn’t captured it.   This top level of photograph take into consideration the subject, subject’s surroundings, the background, and how they are all related.  This is something to think about next time you are looking for your next best photo. 

Below is a pretty regular looking, “entry-level” photograph that I took of a Brown Pelican sitting on a wooden piling.  Overall it is a nice, in focus shot but could have been taken by pretty much anyone who owns a camera.

Below is an example of a portrait shot of a Wood Stork which is a little more interesting than the one above it because it shows the details of the birds unusual looking head and beak that most people are not accustomed to seeing.  The photo was taken in a what to try an accentuate the beak.

I wouldn’t call the photo below a “once-in-a-lifetime” shot but it does have an increased interest factor, with the reddish egret looking as if he is auditioning for Dancing with the Stars.   I think it’s the tango.  A photo like this is harder to come by and suggests that the photographer (me) had to do at least some planning and preparation to capture it.  Overall, there is pretty good composition and the bird is in sharp focus.  One of my own criticisms would be that I wish I had use a larger aperture to more effectively throw the background out of focus.  This would have eliminate the wood pieces that are a bit distracting to the eye in the background.

4.  Shutter Speed:

Understanding shutter speed is important  for multiple reasons.  First of all, high shutter speeds can help offset small amounts of camera shake when shooting without a tripod.  This is especially important with longer focal distance lens (300mm+) since every tiny vibration  is amplified as the length of the lens increases.  More importantly though, shutter speed gives you the creative ability to control your subjects movement.  Fast shutter speeds of 1/1000 to 1/1500sec will stop most bird’s wing movements in their tracks, resulting in a completely still image. I say most birds because some species like hummingbirds may require shutter speeds greater than 1/1500sec to spot motion.  Most bird photographers expect to see sharp results and a lack of motion in bird photos.  Only when it is in the creative or artist interest of the photograph should motion be allowed to show into the photograph (in most cases).  The risk of allowing too much motion blur into your photo is that it  might come across as just a poorly shot, out of focus photo versus the artist masterpiece you were going for.  I think there is a place for motion blur though and one of my favorite photos from my recent Wyoming trip is a panning shot with slow shutter speed (1/80 sec) of a bald eagle in fast pursuit of an osprey.  In this photograph (below) the speed of the scene and motion is definitely visible in the photograph and would only be possible with a slower shutter speed.  However, since it was a panning shot, the head (focal point) is in focus.

In contrast to the photo above, the photo below was shot at a shutter speed of 1/1250 sec, which allowed for the Brown Pelican to be completely frozen in time (except for the very tips of his wings which show some motion blur).

5.  Aperture:

Understanding aperture is another important aspect of successful photography.  From a practical note, it is important to also understand the aperture strengths and weakness of your lenses.  If you own a large aperture lens, let’s say a f2.8, but the lens is a bit soft when shot wife-open at f2.8, then you may want to force the camera to avoid f2.8 when possible by shooting in aperture priority or manual modes.   Also, know what f-stop each of your lenses is the sharpest…many”sweet spots” of lenses are at f8 to f9 (this is true for my Nikon 70-200mm f2.8 VRII).  Now for some of the more technical aspects of aperture…  Overall the aperture is going to determine not only how large the opening (diaphram) will be that allows light to reach the sensor, but also it will determine the depth of field of the photo.   Depth of field is a key concept to grasp in order to better decide how to manipulate your camera’s aperture to give the type of photo you desire.  First, understand that larger the apertures are actually represented by a smaller f-stop numbers (for example f2.8 is a large aperture), and this large aperture will result in a smaller the depth of field.  In other words, if you are shooting with a large aperture like f2.8 then there will be a narrow depth range that will be in focus both in front of and behind your focal point.  Your distance to the subject will also play a role in this, but that’s another discussion (In general the closer you are to the subject, the more dramatic the aperture changes with affect the depth of field).   The opposite is also true about aperture…  That is that smaller apertures are represented by larger f-stop numbers (for example f20 or higher is a small aperture),  and this small aperture will result in a  larger depth of field.  In other words, if you are shooting with a small aperture like f32, then there will be a larger depth range that will be in focus both in front of and behind your focal point.  If you are new to photography then read this again to yourself a few times and then get you camera out and experiment for yourself.  That is the only way it will make sense, as this concept is a bit counterintuitive at first.  Mastering these concepts will give you more control over the final result of your photos versus using a wait-and-see approach.  An example below shows two photos of a college ring.  The first photo was taken at a  larger aperture of f4 which has a shallow depth of field.  You will notice that only the central focal point is really in focus, while the rest is rendered out of focus.

The photo below is a photo taken of the same ring but this time with a  very small aperture of f51 which results in a  large depth of field.  As you can see, now the entire ring is practically in focus.

6.  Know Your Subject:

I think this is true for all photography but especially true for wildlife photographers.  Knowing your subject and understanding their behaviors will allow you to capture more “once in a lifetime” photos by giving you better ability to anticipate the shot before it happens.   You will hear this said for sports photography too…obviously it would be important to understand the sport before you try to photograph it.   It’s also important to know how skittish your subject(s) are by nature in order to get a better idea of how to approach and photograph them.  Most of the time this knowledge comes with time, patience, and observations.  Over time you will start to recognize patterns in behavior that can help you know what action might be coming next.  When trying to capture a truly unique photo, any advantage is helpful.  In the photograph below, I was able to capture about 20 in focus continuous frames of the juvenile yellow-crowned night heron catch lunch (from the initial strike of the water to the final gulp).  I attribute this photo to the fact that I was ready and waiting to start shooting when the action started mainly because I have watched these birds behaviors enough to know when their eyes are fixed on their next meal.  the sort of observation will also make you appreciate you subjects more as you learn the little quirks in their behavior.

7.  ISO:

Friend or Foe?…it all depends on how you use it.  In a nutshell, the ISO refers to the sensitivity of you sensor.  You have the ability to turn this sensitivity up from a baseline of ISO 100-200 on most cameras, all the way up to ISO 102,000 on cameras like the Nikon D3s.  The positive aspect of increasing ISO is that you have more flexibility to shoot in lower light situations.  The negative aspect of increasing ISO, is that you will see the effects of higher ISO as noise or graininess in your photographs.  The higher the ISO, the higher the noise.  This noise becomes more apparent especially if you need to crop your photos, and instead of a tack sharp image, you will start to notice grainy haze of the photo’s pixels.  Overall, it is important to find the useable limits of ISO for your specific camera model that will give you results that you are happy with.  Typically, larger sensor full frame camera bodies do better at higher ISOs compared to smaller sensored DX format cameras.  However, there is enough variation between each camera model that a photographer should discover his or her own ISO boundary for their camera.  Also, don’t forget to reset you ISO each time you are done shooting.  There is nothing more annoying than shooting at ISO800 or high all day in good lighting simply because you forgot to lower from the previous evening’s low light shoot.

8.  Understand your lighting conditions:

Know where your light is.  Sounds basic but this is probably one of the most important things to remember during every shot.  People have written entire books on lighting and how to use it to your advantage.   For practical purposes as a nature photographer, front lighting is what you strive for most of the time.  Front lighting is when the sunlight (or other light source) is shining on the surface that you are photographing.  When shooting outdoors, this typically means that the sun is behind you (photographer) and shining on the front aspect of your subject that you are facing.  This is the lighting I strive for in 99% of the situations.  It is also important to be aware of where the light will be during different parts of the day.  Depending on the access to various locations, you may need to plan a photography session based on the time of day that the sunlight will shine in the “right” direction.  Backlighting, on the other hand is when the light source (sun) is behind the subject and shining in your face.  In addition to being really annoying to have the sun blinding you and unpleasing lens flare that will likely results, backlighting is usually only preferred for silhouette work or to show the sun shining through a translucent object.  Most of the time though, back-lighting will lead to underexposed photos because you camera’s sensor is fooled into thinking it is extremely bright and choose the exposure accordingly.  Below is an example of “soft & warm” front lighting in the early morning hours.  In this particular photo (below) the knowledge of the location with respect to the sun was very important since there is only one direction you can shoot from (ie. there is only water on the other side).

9.  KNOW your equipment:

For some people who are a bit technologically challenged, this may be the hardest tip of all to follow.  Thinks of it like online dating…

First, you need to do your homework about the person by reading their profile carefully.  This is equivalent to reading your camera’s manual with the camera in hand or buying one of the many third party books that are published on your specific camera model.  If you don’t like to read then there are also instructional DVDs that will walk you through every function of you camera. These resources can really help you get to know the functions and features of you camera (ie. your camera’s potential).

 Next, you need to actually go out on a date with the person you are interested in to get to know them.  This is the same as taking your camera out and actually putting those functions and features you learned about to the test.  When I first got my camera, I actually made a list of objects/features that I wanted to test out with my camera.  Practical experience with your camera will help you remember what features are available and how to access them when needed.   Personally, I tend to forget things if I am not actively using them from time to time.  I think this is especially true of functions on your camera that may be buried in the menus…Speaking of menus, many cameras allow you the ability to customize your menus and function buttons to better suit you most frequent photography  needs or shooting situations.  Take advantage of these options!

Finally, if you like the person you start dating then at some point one thing will lead to another.  If “it” does happen then you will want to practice, practice, practice to make sure you are good at what you are doing.  This concept is the same with photography.  Going out to shoot only when conditions are perfect or only on certain days of the week will limit your progression as a photographer.  When possible, challenge yourself.  Make a point or even schedule  times to take photographs every day if possible, regardless of the conditions.  Obviously, this is almost impossible for most people who work, have families, etc (which covers most of us)…but it is still work striving for.  If nothing else, the more you shoot in different situations and conditions, the better you will understand how to manipulate your camera to suit those conditions and thus give you the results you want.

10.  Introduce yourself to photo editing software

Few photographers, none that I know, are complete purist and refuse to do any post-processing or photo editing on their photos.  On the other hand, the vast majority of serious photographers understand that at least some minor post-processing is a necessary part of the photography process.  Much of this need to edit your photos can be related to your in-camera settings.  Almost all digital SLR cameras today give you the ability to set values for options like saturation, hue, contrast, sharpening, etc.  Also different camera manufacturers have different ways of rendering the final image file that can lead to differences in features like image sharpness.  So, I would suggest that any beginning photographer find a program that he or she is comfortable with and use it when needed.  I think Adobe Lightroom is a pretty good and easily usable program that will allow you to do many edits to your photos.  On the other end of the spectrum of complexity would be Adobe Photoshop CS5, in which you to use for years and still not know every feature.  Personally, I find that most of my images will end up with at least a touch of sharpening and contrast adjustment before they are considered “finals”.   I tend to keep my in camera sharpness level at about the middle of the range, because I notice less noise/graininess when shooting in RAW than I do if the sharpening is maxed out.  AS far as my post-processing workflow, I tend to compare similar photos at 100% crop to find the sharpest image from that series, and then I edit that one photo.  I actually rename the image file after processing and designate it with a “F” for final and then a description like “ORIG” for original crop or “crop8x10” for an 8×10 cropped photo.  So after editing, I end up with one unedited file (ie Image2006) and one file with the added tags (ie Image2006F ORIG) that I store on an external hard drive and backup to burned DVDs every few months.  Then at the end of each year, I make a “year in review” photography book using (though any book printing service would do).  Each year’s book has a pictorial story of the years events and can be used as a coffee table book.  It becomes a real conversation piece when you have guests over. 

Well, I hope that some of you reading this found it at least a little bit helpful and learned something.  I know that many of the concepts were basic and perhaps common sense at time. But, when I first started in photography, I read numerous reviews, blogs, books, etc in order to learn from other people’s experiences and expertise.  Happy shooting!

For a pdf  (printer friendly) copy of this article click here: Ten Tips for Better Nature Photography by Eskue 

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