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As I was thinking about the different styles, I wondered if we realize our own style. Are we aware what our style is? Do you try and develop "your own style"or do you just wander through different styles? Is style the opposite of pornography: you know what it is but you don't know it when you see it? I think that style is something we develop as we grow into our particular field of art. It is much like a muscle. As we work on it, our style becomes more defined, more easily recognized. In today's era of branding and marketing ourselves, we need to stick out from the rest of our fellow artists. If I ask you, "WHAT IS YOUR STYLE" could you answer? If you cannot, then you're not taking full advantage of your skills. You're not developing your art to it fullest. Now I'm not asking what type photographer you are. You could be a street photographer, or someone who photographs nature, people, night images, travel or landscapes. You still will develop a style. Well, at least in my opinion you should if you want to stand out.
When I first started out as a photographer, I read all the great photographers' books I could find. I was mostly into nature back then, so the photographers who were some of the gods (at least my gods) were : Adams, Rowell, Porter, Muench and Shaw. All great photographers that I did and still do look up to today. Some of my early film work tried to capture their style. Not a bad thing but I just mentioned five distinctive photographers and I was knowingly and unknowingly copying their work. I do not mean I went to the same places and tried to find the exact spot where they stood and set the same readings on my camera. What I mean is that I would try to use their influences to shape my work. This is not a bad learning tool. I am not saying it is the wrong thing to do. What I am saying is that you eventually need to take ingredients from the greats and from all other areas of life to make your particular style, sing.
For years I really could not answer the same question I asked you. I really didn't know my style. How do you define your style? How do you create your own style? Heck, at times I was just trying to learn the science of photography; how to get a proper exposure, how to insure a sharp image, is the lens cap off? Believe me, I was just trying to get an image that was in focus, properly exposed and interesting.
Photography, (painting with light), is a mixture of two distinctive fields: science and art. These two fields do not usually seem to go side by side. But in photography, you must master both sides. If you master just the science part, you will get sharp, well exposure images. But they will not have any soul. They will not hold the interest of the viewer.
Have you ever eaten in a restaurant and after say to the person that ate with you, "The food was okay. It was cooked just the way I asked and seasoned all right but I'm not really in a hurry to go back." The person who prepared your meal was a cook but not a chef. He fed your stomach but not your soul. You would eat their food if you were starving and none other was available but you would not even think about going back to the same restaurant again and spending your money. It is the same with your photography and other art. If you do not learn the art, if you do not have "it" in you, then your images will never quite have what people will want to see over and over again.
On the other side, if you "see" the world through the eyes of an artist but do not learn the science of photography, you will have the same problem, maybe worse. You might compose an image that no one else saw that particular day, even though they were standing next to you, but if your exposure is way off or your image is blurred then people will not ever "see" what you saw.
You might ask me, what's your style? Do you know what it is and what influenced it in you?
I think I do. My style is based in three parts:
Composition, Color and Contrast. Let's take them one at a time.
COMPOSITION; I realized over the last few years that I tend to compose my images, both in camera and in post production, in what I guess would be now called 'letter box'. Did I just develop this when the new letterbox TVs were introduced? No, it started way before that. When I was a young boy I loved the movies. Like many young boys, I particularly liked westerns, especially John Wayne westerns: movies like the "The Searchers" and " In Her Hair She Wore A Yellow Ribbon". These movies were shot in the western United States and the imagery included the beautiful full expanse of many of the western canyons and prairies. In the "Searchers", directed by Jon Ford, parts were filmed in Monument Valley Arizona and Utah. I did not realize till years later what an influence these films had on me. The "Searchers" in particular, I believe influenced my early years in many ways. It is a wonderful complex film. Ford depicts racism in the way the Indian are portrayed. The lead character, Ethan Edwards (Wayne) searches for his niece who has been abducted by Indians. So many emotions are going on in this film below and above the surface. I honestly think it helped shape my feelings on racism. In later years, I would move to Arizona and visit some of those same valleys. It is an area that is still very dear to me.
A few years ago, I noticed that I was composing many of my images in a cinematography style heavily influenced by this and other films of the era: the wide letterbox view. Why do I like this so much? I like the full story it tells. Roma from the Bridge at Castle Sant AngeloRome is a wonderful city full of history and great food. Not to mention the wine !!
I want to convey what I saw, a person or animal in the forefront of an expanse of scenery but showing the viewer what the person or animal is seeing. Not just nature images but even in street photography it is possible. I think this young women is the most interesting part of this image. Cropping it this way allows her to be the focal but you get to see where she is, what she is seeing. It tells a story.
This is a very subtle difference but I think it brings more focus on the egret, eliminating some of the water.
This was cropped in camera. I could have used a different lens, come closer and made the bride and groom the main focus. But they really were not the story I was trying to tell. What the story was is having all their family and friends there to celebrate with them. The wider angle accomplished that.
You might have noticed that in all but this last image I used the "Rule of Thirds" which is one of the most often used rules of composition. I almost always use the rule of thirds but not always. These rules are made to be broken in the appropriate image. Which is the appropriate image? I believe that's up to the photographer's eye, part of their style. I also believe we should make images that we like (unless we are being paid for a particular project to be photographed a particular way).
The rule of thirds is part of my style. To understand the rule of thirds imagine the lines of a tic tac toe board on top of my images here, other then the last one. Although I could make the point that in the last one the main point of interest is not the bride and groom but the young very demonstrative young man to camera right point at them. The most important part of the image should fall in one of the four intersections of the Tic Tac Toe board.
As you can see composition is a large part of my style and I photograph with that in mind for every shot. Then when I import into Lightroom the first thing I decide on is if I want to refine my compositional choice.
In my next post, I will deal with the second part of my style; Color
I really enjoy the challenge of photographing birds in flight and people seem to love seeing images like the one above. I am always asked how I capture these images and truth be told there is a certain level of skill involved. It is not all skill, the time of day, the equipment used and your camera settings are all equal components. I will explain how I make my images. Now I said, 'my images'. Others might have other ways of photographing these magnificent birds in flight. This is what works for me and what I teach people in my workshops. I think, if nothing else, using these tips will give you a strong foundation to enhance your skill level.
Unfortunately you will need certain equipment and that equipment will be expensive. It is just the price of doing business. I use all Nikon products. I am not saying Nikon is the only cameras or lens you should use. There are many great cameras and lens companies. Canon is one that comes to mind but there are others. My camera is a D300s and I have had it for about twelve years. The lens I used for all these images was a 80-400 VR (vibration reduction) with a variable aperture 4.5 - 5.6. This combination works great for the way I photograph.
A Great Egret Photographed in Saint Augustine, it was about to land on that limb. A Great Egret SoaringThese are the most elegant birds in my opinion. A Great Egret Flying, is so graceful A Great Egret Flying Overhead
This is the one area that I receive the most questions about, so for all of those who have asked, here are the answers.
MY ISO is always 200-400 when shooting in my favorite time which is early to mid morning. What is ISO? Okay, a fair question but if you have been shooting for a while and don't know, I would be shocked.
In very basic terms, ISO is the level of sensitivity of your camera to available light. The lower the ISO number, the less sensitive it is to the light, while a higher ISO number increases the sensitivity of your camera. The component within your camera that can change sensitivity is called “image sensor” or simply “sensor”. It is the most important (and most expensive) part of a camera and it is responsible for gathering light and transforming it into an image. With increased sensitivity, your camera sensor can capture images in low-light environments without having to use a flash. But higher sensitivity comes at an expense – it adds grain or “noise” to the pictures.
I try and always shoot the birds at 1/1200 up to whatever the light allows me at the lowest ISO.
You should increase the ISO when there is not enough light for the camera to be able to quickly capture an image. Anytime I shoot in really early morning (right after sunrise) or in cloudy weather, when the light is low, I push my ISO up to usually 800. You do need to worry about "noise" but there are many great Noise Reduction Programs out there including the Lightroom 5 and up. Many times the noise will come in the high contrast areas (under the bird's wing in the shadow area). As you gain experience you will learn what combination of ISO and F stop (aperture) works best for you. Your starting point should be to set the widest possible aperture (5.6) My reason for this setting is depth of field and allowing the most light to hit the camera sensor which will enable you to shoot at higher speeds (1/2000 sec). Most times when photographing a flying bird, I want a small depth of field. This will make the birds look sharper and pop off the page.
I could write many words on Exposure Mode but I won't. I am writing about birds in flight and my method. I use Aperture Priority 99.9% of the time, maybe more !!
Why Aperture Priority? Because in bird photography, we are often shooting in lower light with a longer lens. A longer lens will usually be slower (at least the ones most of us can afford). That means you need to keep your aperture set at its widest usable setting to gain speed.
Aperture-Priority mode is therefore the best setting for almost all bird photography because it lets you fix a wide aperture and have the camera set the shutter speed.
I know some will say that a pro should shoot in only 'Manual' That way I have total control. True, but it is much slower for most of us and that is one reason you bought your expensive camera for the computer and sensor to work for you.
Remember we said that shutter speed will be set by your expensive camera in Aperture-Priority? With that comes a warning. It is important to be aware of your shutter speed. There are limitations on the shutter speeds that you can use hand held with a long lens. A good rule of thumb is that you can only hand hold a lens at a shutter speed that's at least the inverse of the focal length; a 400 mm lens needs a shutter speed of at least 1/500 of a second, UNLESS !
What are you saying Jim? There is an unless? Pray tell what is it? What I consider is one of the most important advances in bird photography and even more important as I get older, Vibration Reduction. Remember I said my lens had a Vibration Reduction setting? It is unfortunate that image stabilized lenses often come at a premium because some photographers opt for the cheaper lens without image stabilization. Especially for telephoto lenses, your image stabilization will be absolutely vital to the success of your photography of birds in flight.
My workshops go into metering in more depth. Here I'll touch on it because it is important. Metering is how your camera determines what the correct Shutter speeds and Aperture should be, depending on the amount of light that goes into the camera and the sensitivity of the sensor. Back in the old days of photography, cameras were not equipped with a light 'meter' which is a sensor that measures the amount and intensity of light. Photographers had to use hand-held light meters to determine the optimal exposure. Obviously, because the work was shot on film, they could not preview or see the results immediately which is why they religiously relied on those light meters.
Today, every DSLR has an integrated light meter that automatically measures the reflected light and determines optimal exposure.
Matrix Metering or Evaluative Metering mode is the default metering mode on most DSLRs. It works similarly to the above example by dividing the entire frame into multiple 'zones' which are then all analyzed on individual basis for light and dark tones. One of the key factors (in addition to color, distance, subjects, highlights, etc) that affects matrix metering is where the camera point is focused. After reading information from all individual zones, the metering system looks at where you focused within the frame and marks it more important than all other zones. There are many other variables used in the equation which differ from manufacturer to manufacturer. Nikon, for example, also compares image data to a database of thousands of pictures for exposure calculation. I sometimes use Spot or Centered metering but will save that for another day.
Autofocus Mode: DSLRs normally let you choose between One Shot AF mode and a continuous or AI Servo mode. This mode locks on to the subject you focus on and continues to track the subject as long as the shutter is half pressed.
Since birds are normally moving continuously, you should use the second option most of the time. Exceptionally, you may want the additional control of the first mode, e.g. to enable you to fix your focus while recomposing your shot. Personally, I never use this option: for control over composition, I normally use alternative AF points.
In addition to using the central AF point, DSLRs typically let you select one of four or eight additional AF points distributed around your viewfinder. In bird photography, 99% of the time you should be focusing on the bird's eye. By using alternative AF points, you can do this whilst positioning the bird in the frame in such a way as to give a good composition. Frustratingly, camera manufacturers place the alternative AF points in the central portion of the field, and so this technique gives limited composition options. If you wanted, for example, to place the bird's eye at the extreme top-right of the image, you would need to revert to an alternative technique such as using the AF lock button (my preferred option), using One-shot AF or using manual focusing.
An additional focusing option built into DSLRs is the ability to make all AF points active so that, for example, a flying bird could be tracked by any AF point that you could manage to get on to it. This can be useful for birds flying in a featureless sky, but can be more trouble than it's worth if a bird is flying against a background of trees or sea, because the camera tends to focus on these rather than the bird. For this reason, I don't normally use this setting.
In Continuous or AI Servo mode, the camera will probably automatically select 'predictive AF', if this feature is available. This feature predicts where a moving subject will be at the exact point of exposure and focuses accordingly. If it's not set automatically, make sure you select this option.
Drive Mode; (very important)
In addition to taking a single exposure when you fully depress the shutter release, you will certainly have a continuous shooting mod. USE IT!!!
This is one of the reasons that I capture some of these amazing images with the wings frozen at angles you would not normally see. I see a bird approaching or about to leave its perch and I start shooting till it is out of range, sometimes bending my head backwards shooting straight up. I understand you will have more images to go through on your computer but your chances of stopping at one and being amazed is greater in my opinion. In the film days (if you don't know what film is ask your grandparents), it was expensive to buy film and process it. Now shoot away. All you're spending is time and if you do not enjoy it, you might want to stick with point and shoot cameras.
These next three images were all shot between 8:38- 47 sec. and 8:38-49 sec.
Great Blue Heron in Flighttaken at 8;38 49 seconds I would consider all of these keepers. If I tried shooting one at a time, I might have made one of these images.
All right. These are some of my tips for photographing birds in flight. I have used a 70-200 VR also which is a little cheaper but you will need to get closer to the bird. In post production, you can always crop. I will touch on that in another post. Let me know if you use these tips and how they worked for you.
The Roseate Spoonbill was a bird I did not know about before I moved to Florida and another great reason to move here. The Roseate is a bird that people mistake for a flamingo because of their bright pink color. You would think that its pink coloring would be its most distinctive characteristic but it is not.The most distinctive characteristic of the roseate spoonbill is its long spoon-shaped bill, as you can see in the image above that is one strange looking bill but highly efficient. Spoonbills consume a varied diet of small fish, amphibians, aquatic invertebrates, and some plant material. They feed in the early morning and evening hours by wading through shallow water with their bills partially submerged. As a Roseate Spoonbill walks it swings its head back and forth in a sideways motion. When the bird feels a prey item it snaps its bill closed, pulls the prey out of the water, and swallows it.
Other characteristics is its white head and chest and light pink wings with a darker pink fringe and very long pink legs. The roseate spoonbill is about two and a half feet in length with a wingspan of about four and a half feet. Both males and females have the same plumage and coloring. The male is slightly larger than the female and its bill is a little longer.
The roseate spoonbill nests in colonies. Males and females pair off for the breeding season and build a nest together. They build large nests of sticks lined with grass and leaves. The nests are built in trees. The female spoonbill lays two to four eggs. Both the female and the male incubate the eggs. The chicks hatch in about three weeks and fledge in around 35 to 42 days. Both the male and female feed the chicks until they are about eight weeks old. Young roseate spoonbills have white feathers with a slight pink tinge on the wings. They don't reach maturity until they are three years old. A great place to see them up close is at the St.Augustine's Alligator Farm. They have a rookery and during the months from March through August many of the great birds we see in Florida, including the Spoonbill can be seen there as they fly in and out building their nest, hatching their eggs and feeding the chicks till they are ready to fly off. There is an admission fee but if you are a Nature photographer or just want to see these birds up close it is well worth the cost. But you can also see them in many areas of Florida and in many communities or wetlands
This image was taken at a pond in my community in Port Saint Lucie about a mile walk from my house.
The roseate spoonbill can be found on the coasts of Texas, Louisiana and southern Florida. It is also found in the tropics and in Central and South America. If you live anywhere in these areas, they live in mangrove swamps, tidal ponds, saltwater lagoons and other areas with brackish water, go and look for them. They will not disappoint, as you can see in these images.
One of the many great things about living in Florida is the amazing variety of birds. If you're a nature photographer, it's even more so. I had seen some of these wonderful creatures but not all of them. Today, I am starting a series of photo essays that I hope will inform my readers with pertinent information plus our images of these beautiful birds.
Today we will start with, in my opinion the most elegant, of the birds of Florida. The elegant Great Egret is a dazzling sight in many a North American wetland. Slightly smaller and more svelte than a Great Blue Heron, these are still large birds with impressive wingspans. They hunt in classic heron fashion, standing immobile or wading through wetlands to capture fish with a deadly jab of their yellow bill. Great Egrets were hunted nearly to extinction for their plumes in the late nineteenth century, sparking conservation movements and some of the first laws to protect birds.
Great Egrets are tall, long-legged wading birds with long, S-curved necks and long, dagger-like bills.
In flight, the long neck is tucked in and the legs extend far beyond the tip of the short tail. All feathers on Great Egrets are white. Their bills are yellowish-orange and the legs black.
Great Egrets wade in shallow water (both fresh and salt) to hunt fish, frogs, and other small aquatic animals. They typically stand still and watch for unsuspecting prey to pass by. Then, with startling speed, the egrets strike with a jab of their long neck and bill.
You’ll find Great Egrets in both freshwater and saltwater habitats. They are colonial nesters, typically placing stick nests high in trees, often on islands that are isolated from mammalian predators such as raccoons.
A FEW FUN FACTS;
The Great Egret is the symbol of the National Audubon Society, one of the oldest environmental organizations in North America. Audubon was founded to protect birds from being killed for their feathers.
The oldest known Great Egret was 22 years, 10 months old and was banded in Ohio.
The pristinely white Great Egret gets even more dressed up for the breeding season. A patch of skin on its face turns neon green, and long plumes grow from its back. Called aigrettes, those plumes were the bane of egrets in the late nineteenth century, when such adornments were prized for ladies’ hats.
Great Egrets fly slowly but powerfully. With just two wingbeats per second, their cruising speed is around 25 miles an hour.
Not all young that hatch survive the nestling period. Aggression among nestlings is common and large chicks frequently kill their smaller siblings. This behavior, known as siblicide, is not uncommon among birds such as hawks, owls and herons and is often a result of poor breeding conditions in a given year.
These birds are smaller than a Great Blue Heron but larger than a Snowy Egret.
I hope you enjoyed reading about these wonderfully elegant birds and seeing our images of them. They can be seen all around Florida and especially in our area of the Treasure Coast. In fact I think they are part of the treasure!!
“Dodging and burning are steps to take care of mistakes God made in establishing tonal relationships.”
“There are no rules for good photographs, there are only good photographs.
If I said these words to many people, including (the 'PURIST Photographers'), they would say I was cheating, that my images were not 'honest'. They might have that opinion of me BUT I didn't say these words. The great Ansel Adams, the man most photographers consider the best landscape photographer of all time, did say them. Ansel is considered by most photography scholars to be a great photographer and a Master Printer. He would spend the whole day in the darkroom working on a single image. He would dodge and burn all his prints and would use an enlarger to crop around the edges of his prints. Am I saying that I feel any image manipulation is alright? Nope, at least not for me. I will extract something out of my images but would not, as an example, add a elephant to a beautiful river scene. Do I object anyone else doing that? Yes, unless they tell the viewer upfront. Is this me doing one thing but saying another? I do not think so. You may but that's okay.
RAW shooters: The RAW format is actually what your camera sees. It creates a big file with all the required raw information, untouched, and delivers it to you for your processing pleasure. I would guess that almost all professional photographers shoot in RAW.
A RAW image is seriously an ugly image. The colors are bland and lack contrast and saturation.
A RAW image is equivalent to a negative. It needs to be processed to make the true picture appear. The difference is that the darkroom has been replaced by a software on a computer. It takes less space and does the same thing without the chemical fumes.
I will now try and walk you through my Post Processing Steps for one image. It could and most likely would change for another image.
The picture above is a RAW file that I have imported into Lightroom 5. You can see it is not a very attractive image.
This next picture, made from a Raw file, has been processed it in Lightroom's Develop module. You can see some of the adjustments I have made in the right panel and also on the left in the history section. I am not going over each adjustment individually because quite frankly, it wouldn't be much help to you unless you were working on this same image. You can see that I adjusted almost every slider in the basic section on the right including cropping to a 8X10 size image. By doing so, I eliminated the twig in the bottom of the picture (not the only way I could have taken it out). In the history section, you can see that I adjusted the Camera Profile Section. I always adjust that section for every image.
To get a more JPEG-like starting place for your raw image, here's what to do; Go to the develop module and scroll down to the Camera Calibration panel. There's a Profile pop-up menu near the top of this panel where you'll find a number of profiles based on your camera's make and model (It reads the image file's embedded EXIF data to find this). Not all camera brands or models are supported but most recent Nikon and Canon DSLRs are along with some Pentax, Sony, Olympus, Leica and Kodak models. (Lightroom is adding more each year) These profiles mimic camera profiles you could have applied in-camera (but are ignored when you shoot in RAW). The default profile is Adobe Standard which looks pretty average, if you ask me. (THIS LAST PARAGRAPH IS TAKEN FROM SCOTT KELBY's LIGHTROOM 4 BOOK) Scott's books are a must read for new Lightroom users, in my opinion)
I use one of the profiles in this image called the Camera Landscape profile. When I am photographing nature or landscapes, I always use this profile. Try it once and I think you will make it a 'must do' adjustment. You can see a major improvement in the image already but I am not through.
By the way, a little suggestion from me when your using LR 4 or 5. The Noise Reduction Section is fantastic. I no longer use a third party program to reduce noise because that's how good it is. The Sharpening Section though really improved over previous editions of LR is not my first choice for most images. I feel that Photoshop's Smart Sharpening is far superior.
If you look in the basic section, you can see a Highlight slider and a Shadow slider which is basically a way to dodge or burn your images. Ansel would have loved these sliders, to a point. The sliders Dodge and Burn globally, which means they address the whole image not just a part. With some other tools in LR , PS and third party products, you can do spot adjustments. I'll mention one of these coming up. But now onto Photoshop, which I travel to by right clicking my mouse and picking export to Photoshop.
We are now in the Photoshop editor. I will extract some small things that bother me using a combination of the spot healing brush and content aware tool. In this image, it was some of the dark spots of dirt. From here, I will then export the image into a third party filter named Color Efex Pro 4 by Nik Filters (this is my go to digital filter).
The filter I use the most is the Tonal Contrast Filter which has four settings. The Fine Setting or Standard Setting are my usual choices depending on the image. The other filter that I use in almost every image is the Darken/Lighten Center filter. With this, I have more control over which small sections I want to burn or dodge. It's a great tool. I think Ansel would be using it today.
After I am finished in Nik, I travel back to PS where usually all I have left is sharpening in the Smart Sharpen Tool. In this Screen Shot, you can see my settings for this and most landscape or nature images. I am not saying this is the only setting or the best one. It's just mine.
At this point, I would move back to LR to do a final check on the image. If satisfied, I would export it to one of my external drives.
I would like to make a few final points. The title of this post includes the words 'MY Post Processing Steps'. In NO way am I stating that this is the best or the singular method and you need to follow from point to point. I am just saying it's my way and it's an answer to questions people have asked about how I post process and what tools I use.
If you follow my post, you may have noticed that I do not call my images, pictures. The reason for this is that I feel what comes out of the camera is indeed a picture. But it's not until I work on it, making it the best I can, that produces the final product. In my mind, then, it's an image!!