Last week my buddy John who I traveled Central America with, and who I will be traveling again with soon, sent me a message on facebook telling me to check out his banner photo. It was a photo from Yosemite, a shot of Yosemite valley. I looked at it and wasn’t all that impressed with it and actually kinda wondered why he used it as his banner photo when there are so many other great photos out there of the same spot. I told him it was a nice shot and left it at that. I was really thinking it was too dark, there is no contrast in the sky, and there is too much water. He responded, telling me it was one of my shots and I needed to protect my images better on Smugmug. Anyway it made me go through my Yosemite album from 2010 along with a few others removing bad photos that I once thought were great shots. I was surprised how many bad shots there were. I have become a much better photographer since then and most of what I have learned is from talking with other photographers and trial and error. Here is what I have learned makes for good photography.
SHOOT IN RAW
Shooting in RAW format is the single most important change I have made. RAW format saves a lot more data, 25mb of data vs 8mb. This means that more can be done with the photo in the post processing areas such as color correction. When shooing in JPEG it is difficult to bring out the colors and make the image look as seen in real life. All professionals from wedding photographers to wildlife photographers shoot in raw. It makes life much easier.
PAY ATTENTION TO SURROUNDINGS
Even at the beginning of the summer I would get excited about everything I saw and would try to get as tight of shot as I could. I wanted the close up shot where you could see a flee on the bears nose if it was there. Now I still like to shoot some tight shots but I prefer to get more of the surroundings. Brings out more emotion in the images. There are millions of close up shots of wildlife but there are very few shots where you feel like the landscape is the main focus with an animal in it as a bonus. Tom Mangelsen represents this the best.
I was planning on getting a 500mm lens this spring but instead I think I am going to get a arsenal of smaller, high quality lenses.
KNOW THE CAMERA
Two years ago I really did not know much about the camera and didn’t take the time to learn about it. I was happy with the shots I was getting and didn’t take the time to improve. There was pretty much just one setting I used and most things were on auto, like ISO, a big No-No. I have much more control of the image now so there is less post processing needed. If I want to blur the background of a close up on a bears face, I can shoot for that. If I want everything in focus on a landscape shot, I can do that to. I don’t leave it up to the camera and hope to get lucky. All manual baby!
Knowing the camera, and getting lucky is 75% of the battle. You also have to have good equipment. Good glass is key and very pricy. I have made some pretty hefty investments in camera gear in the last year and another big investment is in the works. It well worth the price. Cheap lenses do not pull in enough light, are slow, and do not get the ultra sharp image desired. Sure you can get lucky once and a while but more times than not you’re going to get frustrated. I know I did for the first two months here in Jackson. I wound up getting a job to pay for a 100-400L series lens from Canon. It was a great investment.
Wildlife photography is about knowing your gear, being prepared, putting in your time in hopes to get lucky. To get that one in 10,000 shot that will sell or at least look good on your wall. When shooting wildlife you have to work with what is presented to you. Lighting, surrounding, distance, weather, animal cooperation, and your preparedness all have to work with you to get that one shot. If one thing is out of whack it could, and usually does, ruin your whole image.
Getting lucky involves putting in the time, and practice. I still mess things up all the time. I messed up the Northern Lights the other night. They were out of focus because my widest angel lens in not the best quality so Auto Focus at night doesn’t work and Manual Focus at night in nearly impossible. A big part of getting good images is going where what your looking to capture is the densest. If you want to capture an image of a grizzly catching fish your going to go to Alaska. If you want an amazing shot of the sandhill crane migration, your going to go to somewhere along their main migration route. It just makes sense. You have to put yourself in the best place possible to get the shots you want. That is why I am here in Jackson hole. I can find Grizzlies most days in the summers, wolves are not that hard to find either but getting them close is another story. Elk, Moose, Coyotes, Fox, Bald and Golden Eagles, and Bison can be found anytime, usually within an hour. Wildlife is so dense here it is almost guaranteed. What is not guaranteed is getting in a photo worthy spot. You gotta get lucky. To increase your luck you have to spend a lot of time in the field.