Avatar of PaulS

by PaulS

Urban Mothing. A Quick Guide.

July 28, 2012 in Photo Course by PaulS

If you’ve got a Butterfly bush or any pollinating plants in your garden why not venture out after dark and check the moths out and try and get a shot or two.

Firstly, it’s going to be dark (10pm onwards is a good time to be out) so you’ll need to “adapt” your camera. It’s all very technical but I’ll try and make it as simple as possible. Tape a torch to it!! That’s it really. This won’t illuminate the subject enough to take a shot but it will allow the camera to see what you’re shooting and to autofocus on it. To take the shot you’ll need to use your flash and some manual settings. Turn the camera to manual mode and select and iso speed of 400. Now set the shutter speed to 200/250th of a second and an F-stop of around 8 with a normal lens and 13 if you’ve a macro lens. Try a few test shots. If the image is bright turn the flash down a bit and vice versa if it’s dark. Don’t forget to set the white balance to flash mode.

There are quite simply thousands of different moths in the UK. See what turns up in your garden. Here’s some from mine last night.

I’ll let you have a go at IDing them. Here’s a clue. One’s a type of Footman and one’s not a moth ;)



Avatar of PaulS

by PaulS

Anatomy Of A Landscape Image.

January 23, 2012 in Photo Course by PaulS

So Don (Lammie) asked for some info on the landscape shots I posted from Mapperley Reservoir. I’ve not got the exact details of this shot but I can give you some generic settings I use for landscapes, and no doubt used for this.

Firstly this is a single image, and it was originally a j-peg (I didn’t use RAW when I took this). To get this effect I’ve used filters and I’ll explain about them later. The only difference nowadays is I use RAW. J-peg images contain around 256 colours whereas RAW’s contain thousands. Therefore images can be printed at larger sizes with much more detail.

So firstly equipment. I’ve used my slr (it would have been a Nikon D90 back then) and a wide angle lens, more than likely my Sigma 10-20mm. I’ve also used a tripod and a remote release. Don’t worry if you haven’t got a remote, just use the self timer then you won’t get any camera movement when you press the shutter. Because I’ve used a tripod I’ve gone for the lowest iso the camera had, iso 200. The lower the iso the less noise (grain) you’ll get in the shot. It will give a slow shutter speed but again because we’re on the tripod it’s irrelevant.

My next job is to open the lens right up to somewhere between F16-F22. This will ensure the shot is sharp front to back. Remember the lower the F-number the less in focus, the bigger the more in focus. I generally now select auto white balance. I’ll now go to aperture priority and select spot metering. this is the mode where the camera decides on what shutter speed to use by reading the light that only hits the little square in the middle of the viewfinder (check your camera manual on how to set spot metering). I’ll now move the camera around the scene below the skyline. You’ll notice the shutter speed keeps changing, quicker speeds in the lighter areas, slower in the darker. I’ll choose a speed somewhere towards the slower end but not the very slowest. For example the darkest parts of the shot would be around 4-5 second exposures, the lighter around 1 second. I’ll probably use three seconds. I’ll now point the camera at the sky, not the very brightest bit, just to the side of it. I might have a shutter speed of around 1/30th of a second. Because we have different exposure times for the land and the sky I’ll now select a neutral density graduated filter to use to even this difference out. A neutral density (ND) filter is neutral grey in colour so won’t alter the colours coming through it.

These are ND graduated filter.

As you can see they are half shaded pieces of glass that slide onto the front of your lens via an adapter to even out the  exposure difference between the land and the sky. As you can see they come in different shades of grey from light to dark. So how do you know which filter to use? It’s simple really. Every time we double or half an exposure time we call that a stop. For example The difference between 1 second exposure and 8 second exposure is three stops. 1 doubled is 2, 2 doubled is 4, 4 doubled is 8. Three steps three stops!!

So for the shot above we need to work out the difference between our land and sky, 3 seconds and 1/30th second. So 3 seconds halved is 1.5sec, 1.5sec halved is 1/75 sec, 1/75 sec halved is 1/30th sec. 3 steps three stops. So we use a 3 stop filter. This will be a fairly dark filter, similar to the one on the right.

We now slide the filter into the adaptor and place the darker part over the brightest bit of the shot, the sky. We’ve now effectively fooled the camera into thinking the exposure for the sky is the same as that for the land.

I now switch to manual mode and dial in F16 and 3 secs exposure. Without the filter the sky would be bright white as its exposure time was only 1/30th second but by using the filter to darken it it should be exposed perfectly. I’ll now focus about a third of the way into the shot. This should give you a good focus front to back (it’s what’s called the hyperfocal distance. The point where the lens attains maximum focus). All that remains is to take the shot.

It’s worth mentioning ND filters come in many different styles. There are ones with a hard edge where the dark part meets the light and others with  soft edge where the dark gradually blends into the light. Hard edged are mostly used over water, such as the sea where you get a very straight horizon. Soft edged are used in scenes like this where things protrude into the sky and you don’t want them to be to dark. ND grads usually come in 1,2&3 stop versions. You can combine a 3 and a 1 to make a four but don’t go to extreme or you’ll get nasty color casts in your shots. Filters are made by various companies. Cokin produce a very good range at a good price whereas Lee are the Rolls Royce. For most Cokin will be absolutely fine.

Check out the Cokin or Lee websites for more info on the different filters and holders.

Hope that’s of help to you. If anyone wants any more info please ask and if anyone would like to meet up in the field and go through all this in real time just let me know. As you probably know I do photography forums for DWT so am quite used to showing people how to use their cameras.



A Bit Of Heath Robinson Or Blue Peter !

January 22, 2012 in Misc, Photo Course by Bennerley

This photo was taken using my Raspberry.


I read about a guy who took a small piece of lint-like material and with needle and thread [remember that !] and made a small envelope that fitted over the flash. Now I am definitely no expert on photographic accessories but I wondered if this improvised set-up might work ?

Avatar of PaulS

by PaulS

DIY Flash Diffuser.

January 18, 2012 in Photo Course by PaulS

It’ll not be long before the first of the spring flowers and insects start to emerge and I know you lot like to photograph them. Here’s a great way of improving your macro shots without breaking the bank.

It’s often necessary to use a flash when shooting macro. Most of us use the pop up flash on top of our cameras. This however can result in a very harsh light and some nasty shadows. The solution to this is to use a ring flash. These are flash units that fit to the end of your lens and throw a ring of light, virtually eliminating shadows. They are however very expensive, £300+ for a decent one. There is however a very inexpensive way of emulating the ring flash. Make a flash diffuser! You’ll need sticky tape, an elastic band, scissors or craft knife (please get adult supervision when using them ;) ) and two juice cartons as below.

Other brands are available!!

Firstly take the cardboard container and place it on top of your camera.

You need to cut the carton to a length that is equal to the back of your camera to the tip of your lens. Cut the carton so as to remove the pouring end.

Next, pop up your flash and measure how wide and long it is.

At the opposite end to the end you just cut measure a square equal to your flash’s area and cut it out. as the diagram below.

Your box should now fit on top of your camera with the flash popped up, like this.

Right, you now need to cut a square of plastic out of the stippled plastic container. This needs to be about and inch bigger all round than the end of the cardboard box. Carefully stick the plastic onto the end of the cardboard container. Your efforts may well be more aesthetically pleasing than mine.

All you need to do now is place your diffuser on top of your camera and secure it with an elastic band.

Don’t worry about the lens hood at the end of the lens. What you’ve done with the diffuser is to channel the light down the length of the box so the flash is now coming from the end of the lens (like a ring flash). The stippled plastic is now going to scatter the light particles and reduce the amount of direct light that is thrown. So what about the results??? Here’s three shots taken with the camera flash, the ring flash and finally the diffuser. All are taken using exactly the same settings, for the purpose of this all auto.

The first is with the pop up flash.

The pop up flash has created a very dark directional shadow behind the subject. There’s also a dark shadow down the side of the saxaphone.

The next shot is using a ring flash.

As you can see the ring flash has virtually eliminated shadows, producing a clean image.

So what about the diffuser?

As you can see it’s eliminated the harsh shadow, throwing it further back and has also lessened the shadow on the saxaphone slightly. Not quite as good as the ring flash but at £300 less not bad I think you’d agree!

I’ve very quickly made this one up but there’s nothing stopping you taking a little more time and creating something a bit better. You could even spray or paint it black and it would look very professional indeed.

One thing you may need to experiment with is the plastic on the end of the box. Depending on how bright your flash unit is you may need to build up several layers of plastic. Just have a play and see what works for you.

Hope that’s been of some use and I hope to see some great results posted once the spring gets going.



Avatar of PaulS

by PaulS

Editing Digital Images.

January 9, 2012 in Photo Course by PaulS

In response to a comment Maggie made saying my shot, taken at exactly the same time, was brighter than her I thought I’d run through how I edit my shots. It’s quite possible because I was using a different lens and camera that my image was naturally brighter but I’ll explain how I got from start to finish. The whole process below usually takes less than five minutes and my record for editing was 25 shots in an hour.

All the below is done using Adobe Photoshop. Everything mentioned should be generic to most versions, including later versions of Elements.

There are loads of different editing techniques. This is my method. It’s not the be all and end all,  just my way of doing it. It works for me but might not be to others taste. The results usually aren’t to shabby though!!

This is the image straight out of the camera. I always shoot in RAW. Before I go into how I edit it here’s a little description on how it was taken. As you can see it was a dull but brightish cloudy day. It’s very easy to end up with a very dark subject when shooting up into this sort of sky. I use aperture priority set at around F8. I then use centre weighted metering & aim the camera lower down the tree. Once I have an exposure reading for the tree I lock the exposure. The reasoning for this is the bird is similar tones to the tree. Using iso 800 this has given me a shutter speed of 1/2000 sec. This a nice and quick so will freeze any movement. Pointing the lens directly at the bird first and letting the camera decide the shutter speed would have resulted in a shutter speed of 1/4000 sec. This much quicker shutter would have made the bird much darker as less light would have hit the sensor.

So, back to the editing. I open the shot up in Adobe Raw convertor. I’ve zoomed in to 100% and centred on the bird (I’m not interested in the background with a shot like this, it’s all about the subject). I now alter a number of the sliders on the side of the viewing pane. Firstly I’ve increased the exposure by around +45 as the histogram was showing a bit of under-exposure. I’ve then used the recovery slider to tone down the whites and the fill light to lighten the darker areas. I’ve also lightened the blacks slightly. I then use the brightness slider and add a little overall brightness to the image. Next I’ll add a touch (+20) of vibrance to the shot. I’ll then add some sharpening (+40) and use the noise reduction tool (+30) to get rid of some noise.

The image now looks like this.

I now open the image in photoshop. First job is to crop the image. I click the “front image” tab. This means when I crop the size of the image doesn’t reduce. Basically pixels are copied to keep the amount the same.

The image now looks like this.

I’ll now open a levels layer and adjust the sliders around the histogram as required. This shot needed the blacks slider moving right slightly and the mid tones slider moving left a bit. I then add some colour saturation (+10). Next job is to clone out the branches in the bottom corners. Finally I’ll add a touch of unsharp mask and then sharpen edges. The final image then looks like this.

So there you have it. It’s worth bearing in mind a RAW file is absolutely no different to an old film slide. All of the editing I’ve done, apart from the sharpening as film didn’t need this (film cameras didn’t have a moire filter that softens shots), was regularly done using chemicals in the dark room. Don’t think cloning out the branches is only possible in digital. Chemicals could be used to mask out areas or they would simply be cut out and the negative re-photographed and developed.

All of the above is only possible if the original shot is taken correctly. It’s possible to edit most shots but the more you do so the more you destroy the original information. All the adjustments I’ve made are tiny and haven’t effected the detail in the original to much. Having said that even this amount of editing would prohibit the size this could be printed to. It’s fine for web posting.

If anyone wants any further advice just drop me a line.



Avatar of PaulS

by PaulS

Macro photography

February 5, 2011 in Photo Course by PaulS

The spring is rapidly approaching and the flowers and the insects will soon be out. But what’s the best way to photograph them. Let’s look at some tips, techniques and equipment that will help you get that killer shot.

Macro photography doesn’t have to be the realm of only the specialist photographer. The smallest compact cameras will produce superb results as they invariably come with a dedicated macro setting. When we talk of macro photography we can split it into two categories. Firstly there’s close up photography. This usually involves shooting plants or insects in their entirety with an ordinary camera lens. Then there’s true macro which uses a specialist lens to isolate part of the subject. True macro can open up a world unseen by the naked eye but does need some practise to perfect.

Garden spider. Glad their not six foot long!!

Ragged Robin.

So let’s look at close up photography. If you’ve got a compact camera set it to macro mode and zoom it out as far as it will go. This way you’ll get a shallow depth of field (subject in focus and background blurred). All you need to do now is press the shutter and you should get reasonable results. Of course a compact is never going to be as good as an SLR camera. If you’re using a SLR use the longest lens you’ve got. Telephoto lens’ offer shallow depth of field whilst still offering fairly close focusing. I typically use a 70-300mm zoom lens. This has a minmum focus distance of 90cms. Zoomed out to 300mm this is close enough to get the subject to fill enough of the viewfinder. If you’ve got a bridge camera just zoom your lens out to its longest setting. This will work in exactly the same way. Your camera needs to be set to the following settings. Aperture priority, spot metering, iso around 400 and as small an F-stop as you can get. F5.6-F8 should be fine to blur the background. One important thing to remember is at these setting you will be getting very little of the shot in focus (around 5cms at most) so having the camera steady is a must. The beanbag I mentioned in the wildlife articles can be useful for plants but a tripod is better for insects. You’re subjects will need to be static so mobility is not such an issue.

Small Tortoiseshell warming up on a flower.

Don’t forget to get the undersides too!!

Here’s a few little tips that will help you get the better shots.  Firstly insects. You need to get out early in the morning when the temperatures are still cool. Insects invariably can’t fly unless they are a certain temperature. If you’re up with the larks you’ve a better chance of getting the subjects whilst they are static. You can find though Butterflies will bask on plants at any time of the day. They just have the ability to shoot off  if you disturb them. UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES CATCH A BUTTERFLY AND PLACE IT IN A FRIDGE TO MAKE IT TORPID. IT’S CRUEL AND YOU’RE A MORON !!

For flowers try to pick a windless day. Any breeze can cause movement in your subject and cause it to be blurred when you shoot it. One way to combat this is to carry a piece of card with you.

A sheet about this big is ideal. You can use it to shield your subject from any breeze or you can put it behind your subject to produce a clean background. The fivers for scale by the way.

Light can also be a problem. Most plants invariably cast a shadow from the flower to the stem. An easy and cheap way to combat this is to use a reflector.

One’s like this, purchased from any camera shop will fold up and fit in your pocket. You can also make one yourself. The piece of card you’ve got can be covered on one side with foil.

Reflectors will do what they say, reflect light to part of the subject in shadow. So if you’ve got strong shadows place the reflector on the ground angled in such a way some light bounces back onto the underside of the subject. A bit like this.

No reflector used.

Reflector used. Notice how the shadows have been greatly reduced.

So that’s the basics of close up photography. As with any form of photography it does take a little practise to get the hang of it but once you’ve mastered your camera there will be no stopping you.

Six Spot Burnet Moths mating.

Common Hawker in flight.

Fungus species.

So let’s look at true macro photography.

Common Darter eye detail.

If you’re the owner of a SLR you can attach a dedicated macro lens. These will have incredibly shallow depth of field (around 5mm-1cms in focus) and the ability to focus from only 30cms away meaning you can fill the viewfinder with only part of your subject.

Macro len’s are very difficult to use. The settings we used for close up can be used for macro but bear the following in mind. Your camera needs to be rock steady as any movement will move the point of focus. A tripod is a must. Some macro photographers even go as far as to use a cable release or remote and lock the mirror up whilst shooting. I’ll explain. When you look through the viewfinder of a SLR you are looking through the lens via a mirror. When you press the shutter button the mirror flicks up to reveal the sensor. In your menu you should have a mirror lock up function. You’ll need to read the manual and see exactly how yours works but it basically does what it says. It locks the mirror out of the way so it produces no vibration inside the camera. A cable release or remote will activate the shutter without you having to touch the camera, again reducing vibration. With a dedicated macro lens doing the above can make all the difference as the tolerence in focus can be minute.

Light is also dealt with differently. For serious macro work you’ll need a ring flash.

This is a flash gun that sits on the front of your lens. It ensures you throw no shadows onto the subject.

The ringflash has produced a shot with no shadows. Notice how shallow the depth of field is. Only around 1cms at F11.

Ringflash can be expensive (£300+ for the one above). You can use an ordinary flash and the reflector I showed you above. This will bounce some of the flashlight back up. Another tip if you’re using a normal flash is to put a diffuser on it. This is an opague plastic cover that softens the light a bit.

If you’ve got a built in flash on your camera put something like tissue paper in front of it. It will do the same job.

True macro can not only pick up minute detail in your subjects it can also be used to create some stunning abstract works. The shallow depth of field means you can use some of natures natural beauty to create something a bit different.

Cornflower detail.

So there we have it. Once again I hope the article will help to inspire you to get out and explore the wonderful world of nature and hopefully record it. If you do get some exciting shots why not post them into the gallery for others to enjoy.

Please feel free to ask any questions and if I can answer them I will gladly do so.

Have a great spring!!


Avatar of PaulS

by PaulS

Photography Tutorial Part 3. Composition

December 18, 2010 in Photo Course by PaulS

The Little Owl above was chosen by BBC Wildlife magazines website to head their Birdwatching section. So out of the thousands of images they have why does a shot like this get chosen? We’ve already talked about exposure, sharpness and camera settings to capture a good shot but the thing that can set your images apart from the rest is composition. Lets look at some of the basics.

When we take a shot we try to follow a few simple rules. One of the key ones is the rules of thirds.

The grid above represents this rule. Imagine your shot split into the nine sections. What you are looking to do is to put your point of interest on one of these lines. Lets look at the shot below of the Waxwing.

Now lets add the grid.

You can see now the subject sits nicely on the thirds with the head on one of the crossovers. This makes for a much more interesting image to look at and also gives the subject space to look into. We can apply the same rule to portrait shots too. Here’s one of a Coot.

Again let’s apply the grid.

Again the subject is nicely in the third and by positioning it at the top of the frame we have given it some room to move into.

You’ll notice with all the above shots the birds are only around 1/4 to a 1/3 of the image. Don’t worry about filling the frame with the subject. If you follow the rules you don’t need your subject to be any bigger than this. You may on occasions though want to fill the frame with your subject. Maybe something like this.

For a shot like this I’ve chosen to put the head in the centre of the image. This gives maximum impact and draws the viewers eye straight away. You can apply the same rule if you’re doing a head shot.

Again to maximise the impact the head is in the centre. You could have the head a little higher if you like to put it on the thirds, both would work fine.

Another important aspect of composition is perspective. This is the angle at which you take the shot. The most important rule as far as perspective is concerned with wildlife photography is to capture you’re subject at eye level. This can mean having to get down low but the efforts are worth it. Take a look at this female Tufted.

As you can see we’ve had to get down and dirty in the mud for this but the efforts were worth it. We’ve got right down to eye level which has given us a nice recession into the shot and put the viewer in the water with the bird. A shot like this will have far more impact than one taken looking down on your subject. Of course you don’t always have to get so low.

A nice head high flower saves the knees (and the laundry) but whatever the subject eye level works best, even if it’s just the flower.

OK, so lets look at some more things that can help improve your shots. Something that might not always be possible but can help an image alot is a nice clean background. Take this shot of a Comma Butterfly.

The butterflies were flitting around these Thistles so I deliberately chose one with nothing behind it other than the field and sat and waited. Eventually the Comma came and sat on my plant and I got the shot. Wildlife photography can be a bit like this. A bit of thought and a lot of patience can pay dividends. I’ve ended up with a shot that has no distractions and shows the Comma perfectly. This isn’t always possible but if you are deliberately going out to shoot a specific subject it’s something you need to think about when planning your shot. Another important aspect is light. Ideally you want to be positioned with the sun somewhere behind you or slightly to the side.

Having the sun in this position will ensure you’ve got no unwanted shadows on your subject and will give a nice catchlight in the eyes. You can also use the sun coming directly from the left or right.

This can create some nice shadows and add a nice contrast to your shots. A more advanced technique is to shoot directly into the sun. You’ll need to manually set your cameras exposure for the brightest light but the results can be very interesting.

All of the above rely on bright sunny days but being in good old blighty we sometimes don’t get that many. Don’t despair though. Some subject benefit from duller days. If you’ve got a particularly dark subject it can be advantageous to capture these on a dull day to reduce the contrast to a level your camera can easily cope with. Take this Jackdaw for example. Very difficult to do on a bright day but much easier when it’s a bit duller.

All of the above have been taken with fairly static subjects. But what do we do if the subjects moving. We can tackle this in a couple of different ways. We can either use a high shutter speed to freeze the action.

Or why not try using a slow shutter speed to capture the movement. You can either keep the camera still and let your subject move.

Or you can follow the subject with the camera. This is called panning and does take a bit of practise. Here’s an example from Shipley Park.

You mean you didn’t know there were Lions in Shipley Park!!!

The two shots above show how we can start to make our images more into visual art than simple record shots. It’s always worth looking for opportunities to do this. Try to capture something a bit different if you can. I like the abstract qualities of this shot.

Silhouette shots can also create interesting images. You need a strong subject for this though and  Red Deer are perfect. Just set your camera to expose for the sky and you’ll get some great results.

Look for opportunities to make your shots interesting. Take this shot of a Grey Heron.

It’s a great record shot but with a little thought and you can turn it into something a little more interesting.

The reflections in the water add texture and make the shot more interesting.

If you’re lucky enough to get the chance try and capture images that tell a bit of a story. It’s not hard to imagine what’s happening here.

And you don’t need to go as far as Shipley Park to capture the thrill of the hunt.

Kirk Hallam’s just as good!!

Finally lets look at what you can do after you’ve taken the shot. Cropping your image can create an interesting image. Take this shot of a Common Tern.

I’ve removed all the empty sky around the Tern and given it lots of room to fly into. It’s made a really interesting shot. This style of crop is called a letterbox crop. You can also use a square crop to add impact to your subject, as with this Blue Tit below.

So there you have it. Some of the basics of composition and how a bit of careful planning can help lift your shots from simple snaps to something others will enjoy viewing.

I hope the series has been some use and I hope it’s inspired some to dust there cameras of and get snapping. The beauty of modern photography is the fact it costs nothing to take a shot and view it. Why not get out there, enjoy some of the wonders nature has to offer and just maybe you’ll be lucky enough to get that winning shot.

All the best!!


Avatar of PaulS

by PaulS

Photography Tutorial Part 2. Camera settings

December 12, 2010 in Photo Course by PaulS

In the second part of the series we’ll look at some of the functions of the camera and how to best use them for wildlife photography. We’ll also look at the histogram and explain how it tells us if a shot is exposed correctly. Whilst looking at the info below I would have your cameras manual handy so you can look up the various points and how your camera deals with them.

One of the key elements of a good wildlife shot is having a subject in focus with the background blurred. This helps the subject stand out more. The is called depth of field. We can set the depth of field by setting the camera to Aperture priority. Aperture is simply the hole in the lens the light passes through. This hole is measure by an F number. Depending on your lens this number will go from F2.8 right up to F32. The key thing to know is what these numbers mean. Basically the lower the number the less of the shot will be in focus and the higher the number the more. Have a look at this shot of a Rock Agama. This has an aperture of F2.8. As you can see there is very little in focus other than the head, which is what we look for in most wildlife shots.

We’ve thrown the background nicely out of focus and made the subject stand out.

Now look at this shot of The Roaches. This is taken at F16.

As you can see this is sharp front to back. This is why we typically us high F numbers for landscape and low for wildlife.

Here’s a couple of shots to show the difference correct use of aperture can make. This shot of a Long Tailed Tit is taken at F16

It’s a nice shot but the bird is hard to see against the background foliage. Compare it against this shot taken at F5.6

See how the subject now stands out beautifully against the background. Job done!!

Focus is a key aspect of wildlife photography and a big mistake most people make is having their focus set to single servo. This is the mode when you half press the shutter you get a little peep to say your subject is in focus. Wildlife is invariably moving around and by the time you’ve locked the focus and then taken the shot the subjects moved and it will no longer be sharp. This is even more obvious when we are using shallow depths of field as described above. Instead, set your camera to single area continuous servo. The focus will now track your subject as it moves keeping it in focus all the time. In single area autofocus mode the little square you can see in your viewfinder is the point where the camera is focusing.  Both the above setting are auto focus. There is also a manual focus but with modern cameras auto focus is very good and much quicker than you can focus manually so don’t bother with this.

Another golden rule of photography is shutter speed. The faster the shutter speed the more we can slow any movement in the subject. What you are typically looking for is a shutter speed at least equal to the focal length of your lens. 300mm lens =1/300second shutter speed. So how do we set a fast shutter speed. Low F numbers will give faster shutter speeds than higher ones but a way we can increase shutter speed is by increasing the ISO setting.

ISO is (or was) the film speed. Lower ISO film (ISO 50-100) needs more light to develop thus slower shutter speeds. Higher ISO (ISO 400-800) need less light hence faster shutter speeds can be used. Digital cameras still use ISO numbers. To get a quick shutter speed I would recommend using ISO 400-800. Bear one thing in mind though. The higher the ISO number the more grainy the image. This is called noise. Some cameras will go right up to ISO 3200 with no loss of image quality but it’s best to try a few test shots and see how high yours can go.

So we now know how to set the camera to get shallow depth of field & sharp images. There are a couple of other little features you might want to look at. One is white balance. This is the function the camera uses to measure light temperature. Different light sources have different temperatures. Look at the settings your camera has and take some shots using the different white balance settings. See the differences in colour! You want the colours in the image to be correct. I would recommend you set white balance to either auto or daylight. Most cameras have a cloudy setting but this can make the pictures a little red in some models. With auto or daylight you should have natural looking shots. The other feature is metering. This is the function the camera uses to measure light and to set exposure. There are usually three setting. Area, centre weighted and spot. I would recommend centre weighted. This will expose for the subject in the centre of the shot but allow for a nice exposure of the background.

So now the cameras all set up and you take a shot. How do you know if the exposures any good? The histogram.

You’ve probably seen a little graph in the LCD screen on your camera. This is the histogram. It tells us how well a shot is exposed and the range of tones in it. It looks a bit like this

As you can see it shows us the distribution of tones in a shot. Above is an ideal histogram. A few dark tones, a few light tones and a good spread of mid tones. Note how the graph dips at each end. This means we have captured all the available detail. Lets put this with a shot.

So we can see we’ve got details in the blacks and not burnt out the whites. Now here’s a couple of incorrectly taken shots.

This shot is overexposed. As you can see all the tones are over to the right and because the graph doesn’t come back down we’ve lost detail in the lights. An underexposed shot will look similar but with the tones all on the other side.

The histogram will not always make the perfect arch but it doesn’t mean the shot is no good. Take the shot below.

As you can see there are a lot of dark tones in this shot but the difference between this and an underexposed is the fact the graph dips at the end showing we’ve got all the tones. The same can happen with an image with lots of lighter tones.

Again the graph dips at the end so we haven’t lost any detail. So if the camera gets the exposure a little bit wrong first time what can we do to correct it? We use the exposure compensation button. Incidently, I would always recommend you take a test shot or two before you start shooting in earnest. You can then ensure your images are good right from the off.

All cameras have a function called exposure compensation. This increases or decreases the esposure the camera has chosen. If you take a shot and it’s over exposed use the exposure compensation and dial in a negative value. If the test shot is under exposed dial in a positive value. Check your manual to see how your version of exposure compensation works. One tip I would suggest is you slightly under expose your shots. This way you will not loose any detail in the whites, the hardest thing to correct post shot. I normally use -0.3 to -0.7 under exposed.

So there’s a few basics of setting up your camera. I know it’s a little complicated but one of the benefits of digital is it costs nothing to take a shot. Just keep referring to your manual and keep taking shots. You’ll soon be taking full control of your camera!

In the last of the series we’ll look at how you can move away from taking snapshots and by using light, composition and perspective  make your shots stand out from the crowd. In the meantime have fun practising what we’ve talked about above.


Avatar of PaulS

by PaulS

Photography Tutorial Part 1. Equipment and camouflage

December 6, 2010 in Photo Course by PaulS

In the first part of this series Paul Shaw looks at how to improve your wildlife photography and what equipment will help get good results.

I’ve been taking wildlife images now for longer than I care to remember. I’ve been fortunate enough to win a few competitions and have had some of my work used in BBC Wildlife magazine & website, Derbyshire Life, Wild Derbyshire and have recently been asked to supply images for new interpretation boards along the Erewash Valley Trail. So I thought I’d share some of the things I’ve learned in a short series of articles which will hopefully help you get the most out of your wildlife photography.I’m going to start by looking at some of the equipment that will help you get better images.

Now you don’t really need a camera like this to get great shots. What you do need though is a camera with a lens that will zoom out to at least 300mm. This will give you around 6-8x magnification. This is enough reach for most situations. It’s also a focal length that is widely available at an affordable price. It’s true to a certain extent you do get what you pay for and 300mm lens’ can vary in price from £100 right up to £4000. It’s more important though to know how to work the camera and we’ll look at that in the next article. One of the most important things with photography is holding the camera steady. The image above shows how you should hold the camera to keep it as steady as possible. With longer focal lengths the risk of camera shake is greatly increased and this is the main reason images look blurred. Here are a few bits of kit that can help with this.

A bean bag is ideal for carrying around. It can be put onto any surface and you can rest your camera on it to keep it steady. You fill it with sand or rice but I prefer to use bird seed. I’ve always got something at hand then to scatter around to bring the birds in.

If you want a lighter option you could try a monopod. This much like a ski/walking pole. You fix the camera to the top and effectivley turn yourself into a tripod. Great for use on the move.

Finally there’s the tripod itself. If you go down this line bear in mind you will need a special head to fix the camera to which is freely moveable in all directions. These heads can cost as much as a camera and lens. Tripods are best used in static situations as they can be a bit heavy to carry around.

I said above 300mm lens’ are good for most wildlife photographic situations. You do though still need to get fairly close to your subject. This is were cammo comes in.

A really useful bit of kit is a scrim net.
I wouldn’t be without mine as it’s relatively cheep, lightweight to carry and sets up in seconds.

If you want a bit more comfort you could always get a portable hide. This one is suitable for two people and is easily transported in its own rucksack. I’ve got some awesome shots whilst using this hide. If you are serious about wildlife photography it’s a bit of a must have.

Finally there’s cammo clothing. This is a winter suit, worn on this occasion so you can see it against the summer foliage. You’ve got full mobility in this kit so it’s good for moving around the edges of scrapes or through woodland. And as most animals have limited colour vision you can see how it can break up your outline giving you a bit more chance of getting that winning shot. Even if you don’t go for the full cammo look it’s alway worth wearing dull or natural coloured clothing. It draws less attention to yourself.

So that’s a quick look at some of the kit you might want to consider if you’re looking to get better results from your wildlife photgraphy. As I mentioned earlier next time I’ll talk about some basic settings your camera needs to be set to for wildlife photography and we’ll also look at the histogram and how it can tell you if you’ve got the perfect shot.

Wildlife Photography Tutorials

December 6, 2010 in Latest News, Photo Course by ChrisLuv

Paul Shaw has kindly offered to write a series on photographing wildlife, he has vast experience as a photographer and has had his work published in several magazines. Part 1 of this serial is available now here or the whole series will be added, as its available, from the new menu we’ve added to the top of the site.

Check back soon for the next installment. I’m sure you’ll all join me in thanking Paul for his hard work on putting this together.