Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My!

Happy Monday Zensters and new readers, I hope you all had an enjoyable weekend. We’re going to start out the week with a Photography Tip that’s both challenging and fun. Today’s post takes us to the zoo.

The zoo not only gives us a wonderful opportunity to photograph wildlife, it’s also a great place to photograph people and their interactions with the animals. It provides a great place to not only practice your photography skills but it also will teach you to overcome some obstacles as well. Today I’ll share some tips to get the most out of your trip to the zoo.

lion

Prepare for the trip

Your success is going to depend on how well you’ve prepared. You’ll be doing a lot of walking and standing on your feet so it’s probably a good idea to travel as light as possible and wear a comfortable pair of shoes.  The best time to take photographs at the zoo is early in the day or late afternoon. This is when the animals are going to be most active giving you the best opportunity to get a great shot. Find out when feeding time is, that’s a great time to get good action shots. I would try to plan your trip during the week when the crowds will be far less than they are on the weekends. You can also try calling your local zoo, some allow photographers early access to the park for a fee, giving you the opportunity to shoot without interference.

Pack your camera, extra batteries and memory cards, you’ll be taking a lot of photos. Most of the photos you’ll shoot will probably require a telephoto lens with a focal length of 200-300mm. You’ll also have some opportunity to get closer shots of wildlife behind glass exhibits, or your zoo might even have a butterfly garden. In these cases, a lens in the 50-70mm range will come in handy. Hopefully you have a zoom such as a 70-300mm or 80-200mm in which case, one lens will be all you need to carry that day. Whatever lens or combination of lenses you decide to take, make sure you have a lens hood for them all. You’ll be shooting in all kinds of different light and dealing with the sun from all kinds of different angles. The hood will help eliminate lens flare you might encounter.

I am going to recommend leaving your tripod at home. It’s going to be cumbersome, especially if the park ends up being crowded that day. Not only will it take up a lot of room, you’ll have issues of people, especially kids, accidentally bumping into or kicking it as they attempt to get a closer view of the animals. If you absolutely feel the need to bring a tripod, take a monopod instead.

Arriving at the zoo

Hopefully the day you arrive is a beautiful sunny day, the park is not crowded and you’ve arrived early. If it’s overcast, don’t worry, you’ll still be able to get some great shots and not have to worry about harsh shadows or battle the sun in certain angles. I would just try to keep the dull sky out of the shot the best I could. If it’s raining, well, I don’t know about you but I’m going home and scheduling for another day.

So, you’ve decided that all conditions are perfect and you’re going to spend the day. The very first thing you should do is get a map of the zoo and plan your route. It’ll help you decide which exhibits you want to visit and the easiest routes between them. Sometimes the feeding times are listed on the map as well so you can plan accordingly. Of course, no trip to the zoo is complete without walking past the antelope exhibit and asking “What’s Gnu?”

Lights, Camera, Action

Here are some tips to help you make the most out of your day and capture the best images possible.

1- Be Patient. Rarely will you walk up to an animal exhibit and see them posing, ready for you to take the shot. Animals will seldom stay in one spot for very long. Spend some time around the exhibit, watch the animals as they interact and move around. You might just catch the perfect moment by being patient.

2- Eliminate fences and other distractions. You want to create the illusion that these were taken in their natural environment. Items such as fences, doors, ropes with tires, etc, will take away from the image. Try to find a vantage point that focuses on the animal and it’s habitat.

3- Fill the frame. As shown in the example below, try to use as much of the frame as possible for an interesting composition. You don’t need to see the whole picture to know it’s a lion, but it’s a great perspective of a lion up close. Elephants, zebras and giraffes are great subjects for up close, filled frame shots.

lion-nose

4-Include people in your shots. Don’t forget to look around and observe people as they interact with the animals. You can heart-warming images, as shown in the photo I took at the Aquarium in Corpus Christi (below) or humorous shots of people mimicking the animals they are observing. Be aware of what’s going on around you, you might be surprised at what you’ll catch!

screen-shot-2017-01-22-at-7-51-27-am

5- Be courteous. Please keep in mind that the others in the park have as much right to the zoo as you do. The fact that you have a camera with a big lens on it does not give you preferential treatment. I’m only mentioning this because I have witnessed photographers being extremely rude which only gives the rest of us a bad name. I’ll refer back to tip #1- Be patient.

 

Hopefully your day at the zoo produced some excellent images. Maybe they were just “ok” and you’ll evaluate what you could have done better and return with a better game plan. Sometimes it just about being at the right place at the right time. Whatever your results, you spent the day outside, in a beautiful park with your camera. Now I ask you, what more could you ask for?

 

Thanks for reading.

 

 

 

 

 

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Out of This World: Astrophotography

“Before we invented civilization our ancestors lived mainly in the open out under the sky. Before we devised artificial lights and atmospheric pollution and modern forms of nocturnal entertainment we watched the stars. There were practical calendar reasons of course but there was more to it than that. Even today the most jaded city dweller can be unexpectedly moved upon encountering a clear night sky studded with thousands of twinkling stars. When it happens to me after all these years it still takes my breath away.”
― Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space

 

I’ve decided to expand my horizons (pun fully intended) and explore the world of Astrophotography. While doing research on another topic, I happened to come across an astrophotography website and became enamored with the photos.

Milky Way over the Watchman in Zion NP

One website led to another, and then another, and another. Soon I was watching YouTube tutorials and ended up going down that long vortex before finally declaring, “You know what?? I can do that!”  With that, I began to make a list of what I need to begin my journey.

The first thing on that need list is, obviously, a camera. The cameras I have are more than adequate to do the job. For the sake of anyone that might be interested, you’ll want a camera that will let you manually adjust all settings (ISO, Shutter Speed, aperture, etc), with the ability to snap the shutter remotely.  In addition to the camera, spare batteries are a very good idea, long shutter times will drain batteries rather quickly.

Second on the list, and probably just as important as the camera- A good sturdy tripod. The cheapy Wal-Mart/Wolf camera/Best Buy special is not going to fly here. You want zero vibration. The camera should feel cemented on the tripod with no movement whatsoever. So far I’m feeling pretty good as I check the first two items off the list.

Continuing down, we come to item #3. The lens. I read a lot of differences of opinion regarding the best lens to use when shooting the night sky.  Ranges from 10-20 mm seem to be the recommended lens with a preferred aperture of f/2.8. I’ve read many articles that stated if you don’t have a f/2.8 lens, an f/4 should suffice. Either way I was good. There is no need for a new lens in my future. Well, there’s always a need for a better lens, I just can’t justify it this time around.

So, with my list successfully checked off, the excitement begins!  I begin to pack my camera bag. I choose the perfect camera, pack in a couple of batteries, grab my Bogen tripod, and take a 10-20 Nikon wide-angle lens and carefully place it next to the camera. The adrenaline is rushing as I shut off the lights inside the house as I walk out the front door. The horn blasts twice as I press the remote to unlock the Toyota as I approached.

Then, two things hit me. One quite literally, the other figuratively. A: It’s raining. and B: I have no earthly idea where I am going. I live in the middle of the city. Another thought occurred to me while I stood there, dejected, getting soaked in the rain, looking up at the sky. “When was the last time I actually saw the Milky Way??”  I could not recall the last time I saw a black night sky.

shawshank

 

To be continued.

 

Tomorrow,  my search for the Milky Way.

 

 

 

 

 

Express Your Vision, Show Your Talent-Adobe Lightroom

Greetings again Zensters and new readers!  Today we’re going to talk a little bit about post-production, more specifically, Adobe Lightroom. This is probably catered more towards the new photographer, but if you’re using another program to edit your images, or you’re currently using Lightroom but not 100% proficient, the following information might help you out as well.

lightroom-6

So what’s the difference between Lightroom and Photoshop??  Short answer- about $500. I joke, but honestly, to beginner photographers and even professionals, Lightroom is more than enough to edit and create stunning images. Is there a real difference between Photoshop and Lightroom?  You bet. A great explanation on the differences can be found here.

Lightroom is available to download a couple of different ways. If you go to the Adobe website, you can actually download a free trial which I believe lasts 30 days if I remember correctly. You can then “lease” their Creative Cloud package which includes Photoshop for $9.99/mo. US. The Creative Cloud Photography plan gives you Lightroom for desktop, mobile, and web, plus the latest version of Adobe Photoshop CC and new mobile apps like Photoshop Fix — all for just US$9.99/mo.

Lightroom is also available to purchase as a stand alone program for about $150 US. Amazon had the lowest price I found, you can download it directly or buy the disk to install.

create There are 2 big reasons I really like and recommend Lightroom for your Post Production work.

1. It creates a catalog of all the photos you upload and gives you the ability to quickly find a photo based on the parameters you requested. For example, I can do a search for every photo I’ve ever taken in Mexico and Lightroom will show every photo from Mexico I uploaded to Lightroom. I can even go as far as finding even photo I ever shot using a 50mm lens. When you’re dealing with thousands of photos, this is a big deal.

2. It is a non-destructive edit. This means that what ever I do to an image in Lightroom, the original never gets touched. This means that I can go back months from now and have the ability to visualize it in a different way. Most other programs use the original and make changes to it. Unless you had a copy of the original, it would be lost.

 

Learning Lightroom

There are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of online tutorials on Lightroom instruction. Some are bad, some are boring, and I wasn’t finding anything that really caught my attention. I sifted through the seemingly endless array of videos and websites until I stumbled upon a YouTube site hosted by Anthony Morganti. Of all the videos I’ve watched online, his were by far the most informative and easiest to follow along with. His series of Lightroom 6 / Lightroom CC Training Videos take you from the very basic introduction to all the advanced features of Lightroom in a language that is easy to understand. In addition to the Lightroom training videos, there are another 70+ Lightroom quick tip videos, Photoshop training videos and much more. I highly recommend paying a visit to Morganti’s YouTube channel and take a look. It’ll save you hours of searching, trust me on this.

 

Well, that’s your Enlightenment for today. Thank you for reading, I hope you enjoyed. Now get out there and create!

 

Namaste

 

 

** I would like to let you know that I have not received any sort of compensation for recommendations or review from Adobe, Amazon or Anthony Morganti. My passion is Photography and my motivation to teach others is pure. 

 

 

 

 

Quick Tip: It’s all in the bag.

In today’s Quick Tip I’d like to talk about something you might not even have considered- your camera bag and camera strap. You probably have a nice fancy bag and strap embroidered with the Nikon or Canon logo, and you probably paid good money for them too. You want the world to see that you are proud of the label on your camera. NO YOU DON’T. STOP IT.  Besides the fact that you, as a photographer, want to blend in with everybody, you are putting a target on your back for potential thieves. Nothing is going to lure them in quicker than a brand new shiny bag with the possibility of  it containing thousands of dollars of cameras and lenses. If it can happen to professionals, it can happen to you.

thief

 

There are plenty of options to minimize the risk of theft. Find a beat up old camera bag at a garages sale or swap meet. I found a camouflage messenger bag on Amazon for less than $20 U.S.. Get a plain unassuming camera strap. At the very least, put black tape over the logos on your bag and strap if you absolutely have to have the one you’re using. The point is, stand out less. Don’t put a target on your back. Most importantly- Keep aware of your surroundings.

 

Be safe out there.

 

 

 

It’s Hip to be Square

Hello Zensters and new readers. Today I’d like to talk a little bit about composition and more specifically, the square format. Once available only to those that shot Medium format cameras, the advent of programs such as Photoshop and Lightroom let you convert those digital images without loss of image quality.

Currently, your camera produces images in an aspect ratio of 3:2 giving you a nice rectangle image and one you’ve been accustomed to using in your composition. You’ve learned the Rule of Thirds and compose all your shots accordingly. (Of course, I am making an assumption if you are not familiar with the Rule Of Thirds, click here for a Wikipedia overview).

ratio

Things are a little bit different when you talk about composition in a 1:1, or square format. Subconsciously, we look at rectangle photos from left to right scanning the image for the subject. On a square photo we tend to look at the center and then around the image. The Rule of Thirds does not apply on 1:1 crops. Square crop lends itself to the subject being in the center of the photo.

square-iphone-photos-1
Photo courtesy of @allophile

Take advantage of geometrical shapes while you compose. Look at the photo above and Vivian Maiers photo below. Note the repetition of squares and rectangles in the photos…

vmajier-square
Vivian Maier/John Maloof Collection

…and the use of triangles in the photo below. Powerful stuff.

Untitled, May 16, 1957
Vivian Maier/John Maloof Collection

The square format works very well with black and white images because there are no colors to distract you from the subject and the geometric patterns in the photo. If you love shooting B&W, I would strongly encourage you to experiment with this format. The results can be stunning, especially when mounted and framed.

Look at some of your past work that you weren’t completely happy with. Try recomposing using the 1:1 crop, you might be pleasantly surprised and come away with a couple of more “keepers”.

Keep this in mind next time you’re out shooting. It’s a great tool to get those creative juices flowing and get you looking at familiar scenes in a different way. Get out there. Experiment. Have fun.