More often than not books and workshop leaders (myself included!) tell you to always use a lens-hood to protect the front element of the lens and to prevent flare from entering and, thereby, softening and degrading image quality. As an aside, I’ve never understood UV filters as “protection” filters. Protection from what? Unless you’re working near the coast with the threat of salt spray, why stick a cheap bit off glass infront of an expensive lens?!
There maybe times when backlighting is so extreme that you may even need to use your hand or, by using a remote release or self-timer, cast your body’s shadow over the lens in order to cut-out this “problem” and retain the punchy-contrast of the scene before you. But why not, on occasion, let flare happen? By doing so, the image becomes softer, more pastel like and in some cases provides a truer representation of the image that first caught your eye.
I’m not going to beat around the bush, in my humble opinion, THE most useful function to be added to a digital camera for landscape and close-up photography, is Live View! Notice, I said digital camera. Such things as depth of field preview and mirror lock-up have been around for years but LV is an entirely digital add-on. Before LV, focusing, even with sophisticated AF lenses, was troublesome. AF’s wonderful for action but when shooting close-up where the focus on small areas has to be bang-on, I would never rely purely on autofocus. Why? Well, take this scenario, illustrated with the image, below, of a dew laden wood anemone photographed at sunrise. I wanted to shoot it with the lens wide-open (f2.8) to limit the depth of field and create something a little different to the standard “anemone with petals open” shot. It was imperative that the very front lip of the petal was to be sharp and no-where else. Not halfway up the flower but right at the front! With the lens on AF, it may get me close but I couldn’t be sure. You can always check the image after the shot to check, can’t you? To a degree, yes, but not with any certainty. With LV, I can magnify the image on the monitor and focus with confidence.
And here’s how I did it while photographing this chalkhill blue butterfly. There were numerous factors which forced me to use a relatively wide aperture. The proximity of the background and the nagging breeze. Chalkhill blues are tiny so, once again, it was essential that the focus was very accurate. Unlike the shot of the anemone where, due to the depth of the image, I didn’t have to parallel the camera to the flower, in this instance, I simply had to get the camera back completely square on both the vertical and horizontal axis, if I was to be certain of edge to edge sharpness.
After much jigging around of the tripod, I composed the image and got the camera as parallel as I could. I then activated LV.
Using the + (magnify function), as if you were magnifying the image when reviewing, I zoomed all the way as far as it would go and then, using the scroll wheel, moved the magnified area to the head of the butterfly. With the lens on MF I carefully focused on the eye. When this was done, I scrolled to the tip of the wing.
If the wing required a focus adjustment, I knew the camera wasn’t quite parallel so, depending on whether the wing tip was closer to or further from the plane of focus, I would adjust the tripod accordingly. This exercise was repeated on all parts of the butterfly until I was happy it was pin sharp throughout. Now, if the conditions were perfect….still, background several metres away, I could have used a smaller aperture of, say, f16 and allowed a little for parts of the wing to be fractionally out of alignment since there was every chance the depth of field would have taken care of it. But, with such a wide aperture, you just can’t take those kind of risks. Once you are done with LV, de-activate it and, if you have it, use mirror lock-up. If you take a picture with a slow shutter speed of around 1/15 sec with LV activated, there is every chance your image will have signs of vibration, resulting in a soft image. There are few disciplines in photography more technically demanding than close-up. Technique, technique, technique. A photographer with inferior equipment using a solid tripod, utilising LV focus, mirror lock-up and a cable release will invariably produce superior results than a photographer with the most up to date gear using a sloppy technique.
LV for landscape work can be equally useful. For the most part, AF works perfectly well on focusing on a specific spot that you want to be sharp. But, when light levels are low and the subject you want to focus on lacks contrast (AF lenses require contrast or an edge to lock-on), autofocus struggles! So, all you need to do is the same as above. Turn off AF and activate LV, magnify the image, scroll down to the part of the scene you want to focus on and do so manually. De-activate LV and use mirror-lock up. Simple! Below are a few more examples where I used Live View to be sure of accurate focusing.
I thought it was about time I tried my hand at Time Lapse. It’s pretty simple, really. Just a matter of finding a suitable subject such as a sunrise or sunset, setting the camera to Interval Timer and letting it run!
My first one, here, is of a sunrise over Oare Marshes, in Kent, taken just a few days ago. It’s a spot I know well and have visited many times over the years. When planning the sequence I wanted it to run longer leading up to the sunrise than after since this is when you get the most subtle changes of colour in the sky. 10 minutes after it has risen, the sky just burns out and overexposes the image. You need to bear this in mind when working out your initial exposure. With the camera on a firm tripod, set everything to manual – focus, white balance, exposure – and, after reviewing your initial test exposure, underexpose it by a stop. This will then take into account the increasing light levels as the sun rises. If you don’t, you’ll end up with the final part of the sequence being washed out. It helps if you shoot RAW as it has greater tolerances to exposure than jpeg. This may sound obvious, but make sure you have enough card space for, say, 200+ images and that your battery is charged! The camera (Nikon D300 and 12-24mm) was set to take a picture every 5 seconds for 30 minutes. The time lapse between each image will ultimately be dedicated by your subject and and how many images you can put on your card!
I then processed the images in LR 3 and PS4 (remembering that any adjustments to a picture must be done to all) and converted them to jpeg (1024×768). I put it all together in Windows Live Movie Maker with the frame transition set to 5 fps. WLMM really is a piece of cake to use. Trust me, if I can get my head around it, anyone can! I guess you can do the same thing in Quick Time. Ideally, I’d like to have it set to music or the various marsh birds calling. The latter seems to be more realistic, something I could do on a mobile phone to begin with, as opposed to the former where there are copyright issues. I’m very much a beginner with TL but I’m looking forward to a steep learning curve over the following months!
It’s great fun and I can see huge potential with all manner of subjects. I’m currently compiling a list of possible sequences which will, of course, be shown here and on facebook. By the way, if you haven’t already checked out my wildlife photography page, please do, as this is where I show my images straight from the camera, so to speak. You’ll find the link to the page just on the right.
Last week, I received some rather good news. My image, below, of a female glow worm, glowing has just been awarded Highly Commended in the Environmental Photographer of the Year and will appear in the exhibition at the SW1 Gallery in London. It’s the first time I have entered this competition and, with over 10,000 entries from 105 countries, I’m pretty chuffed!
She was photographed at a local nature reserve, here in North Kent, where I have been an assistant warden since it’s conception in 1990. They only appear along one particular path which we have aptly named, and not terribly creatively, The Glow Worm Path! So, I spent a number of evenings this summer looking and “trying” to photograph them. They are extremely small and especially tricky to do justice to as you want to illustrate the glow while at the same time, provide just enough illumination to show what she looks like as she has the most beautiful pink markings.
After spotting one in a favourable spot (i.e. not in a thicket!) I then, over the next 30 minutes set up the camera and experimented with shutter speed times and flash output and angles. This is the one I preferred the most as it was as much about the shape of the leaf and lighting as it was about the insect. I hope you like it too.
An extensive article I wrote for Practical Photography magazine titled “Discover Winter Wetlands” can now be read from my website by clicking on the image below.
In it Igo through the variety of subjects which can be found and techniques employed when working on an area such as this from using different lenses, hides and even appropriate clothing to keep you working in what can often be, in a such an open landscape, freezing conditions. I hope you enjoy reading it and perhaps, for some you, pick up a few useful tips along the way!
About Robert Canis
Robert Canis is a professional photographer specialising in the natural world.
Read more about Robert Canis