Another piece to the Panasonic DMC-FZ1000 puzzle

Monday I was able to get out and do some more test shots with the Panasonic DMC-FZ1000.  This time I shot in jpeg so I could test out the camera’s special effects and styles.  I promised to have some more images from an outing at Sands Point Preserve (shot by my wife GraceAnn with the Panasonic DMC-FZ1000) and you will get that at the end of this first grouping of photos.  Now let me share some images of Times Square here in New York City.  Next to each image will be what special effect setting was used.

P1000587Distinct Scenery effect

P1000588Bright Blue Sky effect

P1000589Glistening Water

P1000590Glittering Illuminations

P1000591Soft Image of a Flower

P1000592Appetizing Food

P1000593Cute Dessert

P1000594Monochrome

P1000596High Key

P1000597Low Key

P1000598Sepia

P1000600Dynamic Monochrome

P1000601Rough Monochrome

P1000602 Silky MonochromeP1000603 Impressive ArtP1000604 High DynamicP1000605 Cross ProcessP1000606 Toy EffectP1000607 Toy PopP1000608 Bleach EffectP1000609 Miniature EffectP1000610 Soft FocusP1000611 FantasyP1000612 Star Filter P1000613Sunshine (this effect is supposed to give the effect of shooting towards the sun without actually doing so).

P1000631still grab from 4k video

A few words about these test shots that I feel I need to tell you about.  First thing is that some of the creative settings (and maybe all but not sure yet) do not move with the RAW file for processing in editing software (not even the one that comes with the camera).  Supposedly you can shoot the effects in RAW and then change them to jpeg in camera and it will retain the effect used.  I haven’t tried that yet but I do know that my wife shot in RAW while on the beach using the Star Filter effect and when I transferred it over to an external hard drive for editing, the effect never came over.  In editing the image looked like any other image and converting it to a jpeg made no difference.

Also, on top of the camera, there is a dial and on the dial you have two (2) settings where you can find these effects.  Both have monochrome settings and settings that allow you to produce the “star like” effect that one might want from reflective surfaces.  In fact there are a total of three such settings.  A bit of an over kill here.  There are some other settings I have not tried out yet.  There are a series of effects for shooting portraits along with a few for night scenes and a few others not worth mentioning because I will not try those out.  The last photo is pretty impressive due to the fact that it came from the camera’s 4k video (now that is a big plus).

That is it for now.  Below you will find more images shot with the Panasonic DMC-FZ1000 from the Sands Point Preserve.  Don’t forget!  No post for next week as I’ll be on vacation.

Warmly ~ R

P1000283 P1000208 P1000209 P1000233 P1000242 P1000283 P1000297 P1000336 P1000450 P1000513 P1000555 P1000559

Sands Point Preserve – The Guggenheim Estate

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A castle on Long Island and just a short drive from Manhattan?  Really?

First let me say that for me to personally anoint this place as a “photographers paradise” will require another visit.  This time during late spring or early summer when the leaves are back, flowers are in bloom and birds are hanging around.  Despite the lack of wildlife (at least a variety of birds other than the common house sparrow and the seagulls on the beach) it was still a good start due to being on a cliff that overlooks Hempstead Bay.  Not only do you have the elevated view but a path that takes you down to the rocky beach too.

DSC_4508 a view of the castle from one of the many walking trails.

DSC_4464one point on the beach.

We didn’t get a chance to check out the inside of the homes here but we did walk all of the trails.  They have a man made pound that was iced over (really didn’t feel this was worth taking a photo of) and an abandoned building near the pond on the other side of a walking bridge.

DSC_4515abandoned building near pond

On one of the many trails you will also come across another bridge that is photo worthy.

DSC_4506another bridge on a walking path.

Earlier I said that this was a good start.  Maybe I should have said a nice start instead.  It’s a beautiful estate but not quite what I was hoping for (I’m pretty demanding in my expectations as a photographer though) but I can say that this place is great for non-photographers.  The trails are great.  One the trails is a fitness trail with workout station at different points.  The other thing that makes this place great is the fact that they allow you to bring your dog (granted it must be kept on a leash at all times).  Whether you are on the trails or the beach you are able to bring your dog along.

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It’s $10 dollars per car load to get in (which is great if you car pool and are not alone) and plenty of picnic tables to enjoy your lunch outdoors.  Our day here was met with very little foot traffic which makes for a great outing.  Whether this is due to the time of year or not I don’t know but I will have that answer soon once it warms up.  I also have to point out that getting here had to be one of the easiest drives that we have done on Long Island.

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I look forward in bringing more to you on Sands Point Preserve once it warms up but until then get ready for Friday’s blog.  I will be continuing my discussion on the Panasonic DMC-FZ1000 with more images of Sands Point Preserve.

Best ~ R.

Long Exposure Magic

DSC_4405 ISO 100mm f/16 @ 126.0 SEC ND filter 3.0 (10 stops) and CL Polarizer.

Long exposure photography can create magical looking images.  As with everything thing else in photography there is a good mixture of technical knowledge needed as well as creative vision to conceptualize what it is you are wanting to create.  The technical side to this involves not only knowing what your camera is capable of from the inside but he extra equipment that will be needed.

I’m sure you can guess that a tripod, of course, is a must (or something solid that doesn’t move to set the camera on).  Two other things you’ll want to have (if you don’t already) is a remote shutter release and a Neutral Density filter.  The filter is where things can get confusing and tricky because they make some many different grades of it.  They range from 0.1 (.3 stop of light reduction) to 4.8 (16 stops of light reduction).  The images that I am sharing today you’ll easily be able to tale which ones were done with a ND filter and the ones that were only with a polarizer filter.

P1000156ISO 125, f/3.6 @ 1/1600th sec no filter

DSC_4391ISO 100, f/14 @ 70.0 sec, ND filter #3 and CL Polarizer

How do you feel when you look at the photo of the New York City skyline shot at 1/1600th sec compared to the one shot at 70 sec (70 seconds)?  Gives the second photo more of a “painting” feel without the need for photoshop (or any other software editing program).  With that being said you will still need to do a little work in post when it comes to shooting long exposures due to noise.  Of course you can set your camera up to reduce the noise in camera, it’s just something that I do not prefer myself.  I like to have complete control of my final output.  You’ll just have to test how well your camera processes it internally and see if you like the results.

P1000184ISO 125, f/8 @ 1/200th sec no filter.

DSC_4407ISO 100, f/18 @ 122 sec, ND filter #3 and CL Polarizer.

On the next two pictures what I want to point out is the reflection of the lighthouse.  Even though I cut this image short, you’ll notice how the reflection of the lighthouse on the water is barely recognizable but in the second photo it is more defined due to the smoothing out of the water.  There are many ways that shooting with long exposure (and having the right tools) can help create more interesting photos. Let’s get back to that tripod for a second because this is very important due the length of exposures you will often be working with.  Use either a heavy duty tripod (something weighty) or find a way to hang your camera bag off of the tripod to give it more weight for sturdiness.  This will make the difference in everything in the frame that is stationary and should be in focus stays in focus.  The day that I shot these photos (shooting along the walk of Roosevelt Island towards New York City skyline) it was quite breezy and sometimes down right gusty.  Thankfully my tripod has a hook on the bottom of the center column and was able to hang my bag on it.  That is one of the problems with shooting up here during winter time and that it is usually breezy or windy.

DSC_4397ISO 100, f/18 @ 179.0 sec, ND filter #3 and CL Polarizer.

What are some of the different ways to use long exposure photography?  As I’ve demonstrated here you can use it to smooth out moving water in waterscapes but you can use it for light painting, moving car streaks, creating abstracts, star streaks and removing people (or other moving objects) from your scene without the need to be a photo editing guru.  I will be making this particular subject a three part series with one being a mixture of light painting, nighttime car streaks and creative abstracts.

Everything about photography requires getting out there and shooting…a lot.  It takes practice and patience when you are really trying to hone your craft and become more and more of an artist.  Most of my waterscapes are shot in daylight after the sun has come up and before it begins to set.  The amount of sunlight you have working against you (and how much of the smooth “painting” effect you want) will depend on what ND filter you will use.  As you noticed, I also used a CL  (circular) Polarizer filter along with a ND filter.  I do this because polarizers are great for waterscapes plus it also added an extra degree of light cut-off.  See, unless you were shooting a night scene, you will have to use a ND filter to be able to get this effect.  With out one you’ll never be able to slow down your camera’s shutter (or use the “bulb” function) enough without blowing out (white out of image) the photo.  Remember when I mentioned that ND filters come in different degrees of light cut-off?  That’s because you lighting may dictate that you need a 0.3 (rather than 3.0) to get the effect.  Photographers who specialize in this type of photography will have a set of ND filters.  If you buy a set or you get a few different ND filters you’ll then have the option of even stacking them together to allow for even longer exposure.  I have even seen someone use them at night to shoot the stars.  I mentioned the “bulb” feature on your camera half way of this paragraph and if you are not sure what that is…no worries.  It’s simply a setting to be used with a remote release that allows you to hold the shutter open for how ever long you want.  Most cameras will only allow for the shutter to stay open for a certain amount of time on it’s on but gives this option for you as the photographer to decide how long the shutter needs to stay open.

Every shot that I shared with you showing the effect of long exposures were done on the “bulb” mode (and I ALWAYS use a remote release for this).  The exposures were too long for the camera on it’s own.  You’ll just have (again) practice.  Tiffen offers a kit which gives you a set of 3 filters and is a pretty good set to start with and as I mentioned you can stack the filters when needed.  Another type of ND filter that is out there that you’ll no doubt be tempted to get is the variable ND filter.  This filter is two filter together with one of them able to rotate.  As you turn the front element the filter lightens and darkens gradually.  This is great up until you get to the darker points of its rotation.  Once you get to that point it will start to shift colors producing unpleasant photos (this is from my own experience for what I have used and what I’ve read about other users of other manufacturers).  My opinion is to stick with individual filters.  Before you buy a filter (or filters) please read the user reviews.  The last thing you want to do is buy a filter and end up not happy with it’s clarity results.

Check out Wednesday’s post.  I will be talking about the trip we took out to Sands Point Preserve with some photos we took and give you my opinion on how this rates for a “photographers paradise”.  I will be taking time off after this Friday for a much needed vacation to go and visit family and friends that I haven’t seen in 2 years.  So the following week there will be no blogging from from me but will be revamping with some exciting things when I start back up (especially when it warms up!).

Best ~ R

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Day 3 with the Panasonic DMC-FZ1000…well some of the day anyway…

Due to the fact that we have been having less than ideal outdoor conditions lately, I have been forced to look for “windows of opportunity” and jump in and shoot when it’s there.  It’s because of that I’m still not ready go give you my personal thoughts on this camera BUT I WILL share a few images that I was able to grab today from Roosevelt Island in New York City.  Please not that I did not use any filters.  The images were shot in RAW and converted to jpeg with slight touchups in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 5 (unless otherwise noted).

P1000182 P1000189 P1000190 P1000194 P1000195 P1000196untouched in post other than jpeg conversion.

I have to say one thing though and that is that I’m very impressed with how this camera meters the lighting.  This would be difficult for most cameras it this Panasonic was darn close.  More shooting to come tomorrow and Saturday with Saturday’s photo outing being extra special.  Going somewhere on Long Island that has a castle and I look forward to telling you all about it on Wednesday.

Best ~ R

Connetquot River State Park Preserve…another nature paradise.

DSC_6531 Part of the Connetquot River

This is a beautiful state park.  It has plenty of trails. Some that are on asphalt and many on the beaten path through forest.  The Connetquot River runs through that park where a trout fishery has been established.  My wife GraceAnn and I had just finished up some business in the area early (again) and was looking for something to do (or a new place to see).  Of course I utilize my smart phone to look up parks within a 20 mile radius of where we were at.  Luckily for me the Connetquot River State Park Preserve came up as being really close and I’m a sucker for state parks.  I had my basic camera gear so if nothing else I would be able to get a few shots to decide later if this is a place to come back to.  Unfortunately though it was summer (normally a good thing for me) and at peek tick season.  Of course when we pulled in there were warning signs posted all over that they were experiencing a higher than normal tick infestation.  Of course this was a last minute decision thanks to being done early from an earlier commitment and did not have bug spray for this.  No worries though because the gate guard was kind enough to let us use hers.  So after a liberal spraying ourselves we set off to explore the park.

p1130339_44a taken from the web

The first thing you come to is this incredible estate lodge.  Do to the fact that we didn’t have all day we chose not to go inside so I have nothing to report about the coolness of the building other than what you see here.  We will be going back, though it may being during winter due to the ticks.  Speaking of winter, you can even do cross country skiing there.  There are plenty of wildlife (so we are told) but the only thing we experienced were some water fowls.  It is truly scenic when the trail hits the river area.  Most areas you can even see the bottom making the water seem very inviting.  Trout fishing is very popular here (with permit only) thanks to the fishery.  I think (but I can’t confirm right now) that fly fishing is only allowed (which I am eager to learn).  I will have another report (and maybe a small documentary about the park if I can get the permission) at another time when I can go there and spend a full day.  If you are there for just sightseeing then the entry fee is only $8 per car but you have to leave your four legged friends behind (thankfully we left our dogs at home).  No biggie considering the tick problem they had.  Check it out though just plan wisely your trip.  Summer…take bug repellent!

connqresize4 taken from web

Best ~ R

More pics taken with the new Panasonic DMC-FZ1000

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This isn’t my “official” in-the-field review yet.  My intentions were to have had a full day of testing most (if not all) of the camera’s vast shooting options.  Unfortunately I wasn’t able (rather not willing) to do that.  It turned out to be just too cold for something I wasn’t receiving some kind of compensation for.  The short time I was out in the field I was able to find a couple of weaknesses of the camera so far.  Nothing that would put it off the list yet but things to be considered.  So far I have found that it’s focusing has pluses and minuses as well as noise at higher ISO but the latter is to be expected in camera’s with smaller sensors (though this sensor is bigger than most which shows in the photo quality).  I won’t go into details today as I want to save that for the final report.  From the shots I have done so far does have the camera leaning to being a great travel camera but what I want to know is will this be a great camera for vacationing pros or budget minded pros looking for that second or third camera.

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Until next time ~ R

First Impressions of the Panasonic DMC-FZ1000 digital “bridge” camera.

1057135Panasonic DMC-FZ1000

I’m going to try and shorten today’s blog a little bit.  There has been a lot of buzz about this “little” camera and even I couldn’t wait to get my hands on one to test it out.  Well my friends…I have my hands on one!  I went out for about an hour today just to get a feel for it and I’ll share a few of those images with you.  But my first impression is that many of the other reviews I have read were nearly spot on and others I can’t help but wonder if they were written by “point and shoot” camera users.  I’m saying this because some of the reviews talk about how surprised at how heavy it is.  If you shoot with a DSLR and have been looking for the “second” camera, one that could double as the travel camera then you will find it to be on the lighter side.

P1000013RAW converted to jpeg only.  Shot at ISO 125, 1/1000 sec and f/2.8

I was very surprised at how well it handled the lighting and it’s very snappy auto focus.  I do mean snappy fast.  Many reviews also talked about it’s abundance of settings and how there needed to be a slightly better way of getting to those options.  I skimmed through the manual and then went out side.  I was able to pretty much learn how to quickly make adjustments (except turning the on camera flash to test it…had to read the manual for that…I’ll explain later…maybe) to settings as needed.  As every camera out there, there are some things that could be better but all in all not a bad start.

P1000026RAW converted to jpeg only. Shot at ISO 400, 1/320 sec and f/4.

The pictures I’m sharing today were shot with the FZ1000’s “standard” camera setting.  The “standard” or “neutral” setting in camera’s are often the preferred settings when shooting RAW.  These settings gives you better control in post production for your colors without loss (or very little loss) to detail.  Tomorrow I will be spending the day out putting it through it’s paces.  You won’t find charts and graphs in my reviews.  Why should I go through that kind of trouble to test a camera out when enough people are doing that already?  Besides, to me, the best test is the real world test.  I will be testing it’s many different settings and scene files as well as the still grab from shooting 4k video.  That review will be either next Friday or the following Friday.

P1000049RAW converted to jpeg only.  Shot at ISO 800, 1/60th sec and f/5/6

To finish off what my first impressions of this camera are, I have to harp on the body and construction of the camera.  I find it very strange that you would make a camera where the lens feels as if it was never meant for this camera body.  You this great glass that is incased inside a very solid feeling tube housing to to be coupled to a camera that feels cheap.  I know it doesn’t matter how if feels but rather how it holds up.  It’s here that I am like so many of my fellow DSLR users that we WANT that feeling of ruggedness.  I’m still scratching my head as to why the tripod mounting hole isn’t lined up with the lens.  I use a rapid sling strap (instead of the standard camera strap) which screws into the bottom of the camera and guess what…I had to take it off to be able to open the battery compartment door.  That is shameful Panasonic.  It’s bad enough that the SD card goes where the battery goes but that would be no big deal if the battery was easy to get to.  Speaking of battery doors.  This was another ball dropped by Panasonic.  The door has this little slide that you have to slide back to open it and when you close it you have to slide it back.  I haven’t used a camera  (heck not sure if ever) since who knows when that didn’t self lock with you closed it.  We’ll see if they make up for those short comings once I’m done testing it out.

Until the next time ~ R

Best ~ R

Myakka River State Park – Wildlife Photography

myr-canoeing-park canoeing in the Myakka River (photo taken off of state website)

When I was living in Florida Myakka River State Park was one of my favorite (late discoveries) trips to make for wildlife photography.  The park takes up part of Sarasota County (most of the park) and Manatee County.  The official address of the park is listed for Sarasota.  Of all the state parks and national parks I have been to this park is BIG in terms wildlife.  Every time I have been I have spotted deer, wild hogs, a bobcat, a gator (or two or many) and many birds.

myr-tower-park Canopy boardwalk  (photo taken from web)

Myakka-River-State-Park6-Sarasota Boardwalk (photo taken from web)

The park offers camping and boat tours but that isn’t the coolest thing about this park.  For me it’s the boardwalks (canopy boardwalk to be specific).  You have a boardwalk that takes you over the water and you have one that is suspended in the canopy of the trees.  Now, I grew up with camping in a tent, hiking, fishing and canoeing (and tubing) on the Withlacoochee River in Brooksville Florida (the part of the river that connects to Silver Lake) so I’m prefer to shoot from the ground rather than a boardwalk.  Getting your feet wet and dirty and watching for cotton mouths, rattle snakes and sneaky bold gators makes getting that shot that more special.  Besides, some of the best wildlife photographs are done at the animals eye level.

Citrus-Hiking-Trail-264x200 forest hiking trail (photo taken from web)

vPARKSc.jpg viewed from a river trail (image taken from web)

See, this park is more than just the lake and river but it’s about the forest too.  With plenty of trails (over 30 miles of hiking) that takes you along the edge of the river or through the woods you have to be ready as animals just tend to “pop” out of hiding (you get my drift).  Myakka River State Park does hold itself up for those into scenic/landscape photography (especially for sunsets) but it’s best for those with medium to long telephoto or zoom lenses.  Most of the birds, wild hogs and alligators you can get pretty close to (along with the campers bandit…the raccoon) it’s the other animals that you’ll find a challenge without a long lens.  Unlike many animals here up north, the ones down south tend to be a bit more skittish when it comes to people.  Once they spot you they’ll give you a couple of seconds to shoot and then they are gone!  If you are hoping to capture deer, the rare panther or bobcats then prepare to find a spot (look for animal trails) sit and wait.  A truly successful wildlife photographer will go all camouflage to blend in with the environment.

Now let me get to some word of cautions for shooting in Myakka River State Park (actually this is for shooting anywhere in Florida or southern states).  DO NOT feed the alligators.  I’ve seen people do this just to bait the gators in close to get pictures.  This is REALLY BAD news.  You might think a little isn’t gonna hurt but what you are doing is telling this king of the river that we are a food source.  Making them dangerous.  Now that I’ve said that, alligators are one of my favorite subjects to shoot.  I used to be really foolish back in the day when I first starting taking pictures.  I was one of those that was limited on money and could only afford medium zoom lens.  I didn’t do my own printing either (this was back when film was the only thing going).  So, I would venture to golf courses to take pictures of alligators.  They were so used to people being around that you often could walk within feet of them without the risk that they would rush back in the water.  What made me look crazy to many was the fact that I would lay on the ground and elbow crawl to them so I could get the tight framing that I wanted.  All was good until one day one of those gators decided to run back into the water.  Not so bad you would think but you are wrong.  I nearly had a heart attack.  I had him (or her) within my view finder and all it takes is a little movement for your subject to be out of the view finder and you couple that with a loud splash you can now imagine how I thought for a split second that I was had.  Anyway I used more caution from that point.  I had already had plenty of respect for them but even more so after getting an in person experience on their explosive speed.  Don’t let that discourage you though.  You can usually get great pictures from a boat or canoe and even from the bank of the river.  Of course when you are on the bank you have to be mindful of your surroundings.  Gators are like crocodiles in the way they hunt.  They approach from just under the water so they can still see the prey while their bodies stay concealed.  The approach is slow so as to not make ripples that will give them away.  Many of Florida’s bodies of water are stained and murky making seeing them once submerged quite difficult.  You can see gators year round in Florida but most will find a place to lay low during the winter time.  There is one particular time when you should take special care to give them the respect they deserve and that is during mating season (usually starting in April).  The alligators are on the move looking for mates.

The wild hogs in the area usually will ignore you BUT if you come across a momma and her babies then do not approach.  They are very protective and may charge you.  The males on the other hand are usually only aggressive when they are cornered and trust me.  You don’t want to be on the receiving end of one of those 6 inch tusk.  Just saying.

Florida has six poisonous snakes (but only four in the area we are talking about today) that you should be aware of as well.  One of those thankfully will usually give you plenty of warning if you get too close (thanks to the rattles on the tail) and that one is the Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake.  You are more likely to come across one of these within the forested areas of the park (I haven’t come across one yet being there but I do know they are there).  The second one is the Dusky Pygmy Rattlesnake also has rattle but their rattles are so small that more time than not you won’t even hear them.  The third snake on this list is the Florida Cottonmouth.  This guy (along with the next one but for a different reason) is particularly dangerous due to it’s coloration.  It easily blends in with it’s environment (usually nestled among fallen logs, trees and limbs) and found along wetlands and waterways.  Cottonmouths are also very adept to swimming and are often mistaken for a common water snake (non-poisonous).  How can you quickly tell between it and a harmless water snake is by the head (the easiest way).  Cottonmouths have a pit on the side of their head (water snakes don’t), viewed from above you can’t see their eyes (water snakes you can) and their eyes are slanted (water snakes are round).  The above snakes are part of the pit viper family which means they have a pit on the side of their heads.  The last snake on the list is the exception as it looks harmless but as beautiful as it is, it is also just as dangerous.  I’m talking about the Eastern Coral Snake.  The Eastern Coral Snake has colorful red, yellow and black bands.  It’s strikingly beautiful but beware.  These little guys (despite not having fangs) are potent.  As a relative of the cobra one would think they are just as deadly but according to research the Diamondback Rattlesnake is more dangerous.  This may be in part that a rattlesnake as fangs which allows it to easily give a full dose of it’s venom when it strikes when the coral snake actually has to chew to get through the skin.  Then again maybe the venom isn’t as toxic but who wants to find out. Right?  The coral snake can be found all over Florida and often is discovered under anything that protects it from predators (rocks, logs and the likes).  The two that I haven’t mentioned is the Timber Rattlesnake and the Southern Copperhead.  The ranges of these two are only as far south as north Florida.  The Southern Copperhead being mostly in the Florida Panhandle area.

While Florida is known to have one two species of poisonous spiders (widows and recluses) you probably won’t come across them on one of the hikes here.  What you will often see is a very large web spinning spider that we (Floridians) call “Banana Spider” but is more officially known as the Golden Silk Orb Weaver.  Despite the large size of the female and her bright colors they are harmless.  Sure they can bite you (as anything else when they feel threatened) but they are quite docile.  So don’t worry if you run through a web and don’t try swatting one off if it gets on you.  Just take a stick and prod it to leave you.

Anyway, if you want to see Florida and it’s natural beauty and abundance of wildlife then Myakka River State Park has to be on your list for places to go.  If you are into wildlife and bird photography then you will not be disappointed.

DSC_6567 photo by me from one of my trips to Myakka River State Park.

Best ~ R

Getting Wild!

DSC_0661 snowy egret feeding 2014

As a nature lover and photographer, if you are like me, you probably have dreamed of shooting for National Geographic or have a two or three page article about you and your work in a magazine like Outdoor Photographer but if nothing else to at least get the kind of shots you see in those publications.  Well, I wish I could tell you to follow these steps and you will be destined to get there but I can’t.  The truth is I can give you some pointers that will up you photographic game to get images that are more like those you see from those other guys but no matter what kind of skills you have it is extremely difficult to get published.  The field for aspiring professional wildlife/nature photographers is deep.  There are enough of those photographers who have put a lot of money out on their equipment in hopes that it will be what it takes to get them to that next level.  I’m like many of you out there that are either budget conscious or simply have a limited budget to work with (me being the latter).  Trust me, if I could, I would have a 600mm…minimum!  So what do you do if you don’t have $10,000 dollars to spend on a lens?  I’ll tell you.  Go to the zoo or get a third party lens!

Okay.  So, the picture of snowy egret isn’t in a zoo but it was shot with a third party lens that I was able to pick up for less than $1000 dollars.  It was shot with a Sigma 120-400mm lens and it saved me thousands of $$$$$!  If that is still out of your budget don’t worry.  You’re going to be okay as long as you can get a lens within your budget that has at least a 300mm reach on the long end.  The longer reach isn’t just to get you closer to the subject but it helps with creating a shallower depth of field too.

http:// grey squirrels

With out a long lens I would not have been able to get these two grey squirrels to pop and stand out.  Notice how the background is all blurred out forcing your eyes to only notice the squirrels?  That is one part shooting zoomed all the way in (400mm) and second part shooting at the widest aperture setting (what ever is the widest the lens allows…for this lens it was f/5.6).  Here is what is really cool.  Most of us are shooting with a digital camera that uses an APS-C size sensor.  For Nikon users that means you get a 1.5x crop factor with every lens you use (means a 300mm lens will be equivalent to a 450mm lens) and Canon users will get a 1.6x crop factor (300mm lens will be equivalent to a 480mm lens).  My opinion that is a big plus for using APS-C sized sensor cameras (saves money).

http://baboons

Another example of what you can get with a sub $1000 dollar (some are even under $600) lens is the picture of the baboons.  Now we are getting to the other part of wildlife photography for those of us that are limited on money (whether it’s for buying that big giant heavy lens or traveling to far away places).  This picture was taken at a zoo.  The baboons were still far enough away to make it challenging so this is where you have to start being creative.  I knew they were too far away to get a “professional lens” look when it came to the foreground and background bokeh (out of focus areas).  Looking around me I noticed that there was some vegetation growing with it’s leaves just high enough for me to shoot comfortably.  Using the leaves in the foreground to frame the primates I made sure to shoot wide open to keep the leaves out of focus so our eyes automatically travels straight to our hairy friends.  This picture also shows something else that is important in wildlife photography.  That is shooting as high of a shutter rate as possible (unless you have a specific creative effect you are going for) to freeze the action (as seen above) and shoot at the highest fps (frames per second) setting your camera allows.  Run off a series of shots when you feel the action is about to start.  You just might get that money shot!

http://lemur

Wildlife photography is often just being super patient and waiting but there are other times when it’s all about ending up at the right place at the right time.  The snowy egret and the grey squirrels are all about being at the right place at the right time while the baboons and lemur are about being patient.  Half of my day shooting is walking and seeing what I come across and the other is finding a promising spot, throwing down a folding stool and waiting.  When I’m shooting at a zoo I will dedicate a good 10 minutes to 20 minutes at animal exhibits with hopes of getting that shot.  For me that “shot” is either action shots or expression shots.  The pictures I have shared with you tells a story of some kind.  It doesn’t “pay” to take just a pretty picture.  There are million upon millions of pretty pictures out there.  With that being said zoo animals are often harder to get those kind of shots with.  It’s all about timing with those guys.  With patience it’s doable though.  Also remember that it doesn’t have to be action shots.  I was just about to leave the lemurs exhibit do to nothing all that special going on when this guy decides to stick his tongue out and luckily I was still at the ready.  A simple gesture allows us to form what ever story we want with him (most of it being quite comical).

An important note I want to share with you about shooting in zoos.  One is that you can’t just go in there with professional equipment and expect them to turn a blind eye.  Those really big expensive lenses will get you tossed out if you haven’t gotten an official okay by them (it’s likely not to happen the day of so plan in advance).  Using that third party lens or the “consumer” equivalent branded zoom lens want even get you a curtesy visit.  Last but not least…here is special tip.  When you are looking through your lens, before you press that shutter, look at the animal closely and see you spot it’s tag (all zoo animals from my experience have tags that is usually in one of the ears or a band on a leg if it’s a bird) and if you do, either wait for it to turn or know what you are doing in post to be able to take it out.  Remember, your goal is to give your shot the look of being out in the wilds…not in the zoo.

Happy shooting~R