Know your Equipment and Location

By David Halgrimson

Since moving back to Minnesota I have been researching places to go for photo opportunities and found a couple near where I live. One is Swan Park in Monticello Minnesota 15 miles west and Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge 25 miles north of my home. Both easily accessed.

We moved back to MN in November just when the Trumpeter Swans were starting to return to a section of the Mississippi River in Monticello. They stay from November thru February when they mate and leave for their nesting locations. The Swans along with geese and ducks like this area as the river is open due to a power plant on the river to the north and because for the past 30 plus years they get free breakfast and lunch. The Swans are the main draw at Swan Park, a very small park, maybe 40 feet wide, overlooking the river where the birds spend their days, eating, mating and fighting.

For more information on the park and the swans visit this site, http://www.monticellocci.com/pages/Swans.

About knowing the location, not just the Swan Park location, but any location. When visiting in August I went to check out Swan park only to find out there are no swans there in august, but now I knew right where to go when they returned… scouting day one. Once settled after our move, I went back and was pleasantly surprised by not only the swans, ducks and geese but the sheer numbers of them. As the story goes, over 30 years ago there were only a handful of swans and now there can be as many as 2,700 on any given day. I needed to know how to get the best view, what equipment and clothing would be best, it’s dang cold here November thru February. Because people are not allowed down at the river’s edge the area is somewhat secluded, so a good winter coat and stocking hat, warm boots and most of all special gloves. I went through three different sets of gloves to find those that would somewhat keep my hands from freezing. I found mittens with internal gloves that fold open to reveal gloved fingers and thumb to operate the camera. The glove portion of the index and middle finger have a special coating that allows for touch screen operation. Still, my fingers get very cold and I need to warm them occasionally. Next, what kind of lighting might be best for the subject. This day was bright sunlight and I found that the white swans had a good chance of blowing out the histogram, maybe a cloudy or partly cloudy day would work better or perhaps lens filters might help… scouting day 2. Oh, yes I did take pictures.

So now about knowing your equipment. On scouting day 2 I took my Lumix GX8 with a 40-150mm f/2.8 and a 300mm f/4 prime lenses and no tripod. The birds are very active, swimming, diving, taking off, landing, fighting and feeding. A slow shutter would not work but how fast should it be? I tried 400-500 with some good results for the swimming and feeding but needed much faster for the flying, landings and takeoffs.

The Lumix and lenses being new to me and not having used it for birds before, I was not quite sure what settings to use so experimented with a number with mixed results and not to my personal standards. I also found the 300mm a bit too close for many of the shots but great for the birds coming in or taking off…scouting day two.

40-150mm, f/4, ISO 100 1/640th hand held

40-150mm, f/4, ISO 400, 1/2000th hand held

40-150mm, f/4, ISO 400, 1/2000th hand held

Not quite as sharp as I wanted as can be seen here. Part of that is the aperture of f/4 giving less DOF.

I went home to review my images and decided to do some research on best settings for the camera and lens combinations. After some testing and experimenting and finding the settings I thought would work best for me, I decided to setup a custom setting for wildlife on both camera bodies. This included the shutter speed, aperture, ISO, high speed burst and more, this way when I am shooting birds and fast moving subjects I don’t have to remember settings I can just set the camera(s) to custom 1 and start shooting and making small adjustments as needed from there.

Now with all the scouting complete and camera settings configured it was time to return for a real shoot. I took both camera bodies, one with the 40-150mm and one with the 300mm and, yes, a tripod. I used the 300mm on the tripod for the birds in the air and the 40-150mm hand held for the action on the water.

All the scouting, researching, testing and camera setup paid off big time. I went on a bright but cloudy day, cameras all ready, my warmest gloves, set up the tripod with the 300mm, hung the other around my neck and started shooting. The results were to me more than I expected.

300mm, 1/2000th, ISO 400, f/8 tripod mounted

300mm, 1/2000th, ISO 400, f/8 tripod mounted

40-150mm, 1/2000th, ISO 400, f/8 hand held

40-150mm, 1/2000th, ISO 400, f/8 handheld

40-150mm, 1/2000th, ISO 400, f/8 handheld

As can be seen in these the DOF and sharpness are much better. This is due to the faster shutter and and smaller aperture settings.

Know you equipment and do your scouting, it pays off in the long run.

Check out Arizona Highways PhotoScapes at https://photography-workshops.directory/photographer/arizona-highways-photo-workshops/

David Halgrimson is a Volunteer Photo Guide with Arizona Highways PhotoScapes

A Good Time to Switch to Manual–An Example

By Amy Novotny

Knowing when to switch to manual mode can be difficult these days with digital SLR cameras making it easy to capture images in Aperture or Shutter priority modes. It is often taught to use Aperture priority for controlling depth of field in landscape photography and Shutter priority for fast moving scenes including animals or sports. However, at times, it is desirable to control both depth of field through the aperture and the shutter speed to produce an image.

As a photo guide for Arizona Highways PhotoScapes, I was assisting instructor Beth Ruggiero-York with the Photograph the Charm of Cape Cod workshop this past September. We were photographing a beautiful boat scene in the early morning fog that started out so dense that the boats were hardly visible. Participants started out in Aperture mode since the scene was still and they could control the depth of field to capture both the foreground and background in focus. ISO was set at its lowest setting to reduce noise. Because the light was so low in this setting, the camera adjusted the shutter speed to longer durations to be able to capture the scene at the correct exposure. This worked extremely well since there was minimal to no breeze and the water was calm.

Nikon D750, ISO 100, 70mm, f/8.0, ⅕ sec.

Soon, however, a duck glided into the scene and changed everything. Now, there was movement that needed to be captured, but if the same settings were used, the duck would be blurry as shown below. The shutter, in this case, was open too long to freeze the motion of the duck.

Nikon D750, ISO 100, 70mm, f/8.0, ⅕ sec.

The shutter speed had to be increased in order to capture a sharp, in-focus duck. This was a great time to switch to Manual mode. I could keep the same depth of field that I had previously used because I wanted all the boats in focus but I wanted a faster shutter speed of 1/160 to freeze the slight gliding movement of the duck. Manual mode allowed me to set both of these to what I desired and I could then adjust the ISO to allow for the correct light metering and exposure. It worked and I was able to get all the elements of the image sharp, in-focus and with the exposure I was looking for.

Nikon D750, ISO 1600, 70mm, f/8.0, 1/160 sec.

This is just one example of many that would encourage me to switch to Manual mode quickly during a photography shoot.

Amy Novotny is a Volunteer Photo Guide with Arizona Highways PhotoScapes.
Twitter: @amynovotnyaz
Instagram: @anovotn
http://www.amysimpressions.com

Images taken while assisting as a Volunteer Photo Guide for Arizona Highways PhotoScape’s Photography the Charm of Cape Cod workshop taught by instructor photographer Beth Ruggiero-York in September 2017.

How to Get Better Wildlife Photos

By Amy Horn

I have dreams capturing wildlife photos on an African Safari. It’s not in my travel plans yet, but if I get the chance, I want to be ready! If this is an experience you are planing, you may want to prepare too. How do you prepare for such a phenomenal experience? Practice. This sounds obvious, but do musicians perform without practicing? No, they don’t. So, if you have a trip planned to photograph wildlife, practice locally to master the technique and your equipment. Here is an example of practicing: in a Nature Photography class I teach at NAU, I took my students to a local pond to photograph waterfowl. The waterfowl are accustomed to people and are not easily startled so this gave the beginning wildlife students a little more time to get each shot. I challenged them to capture images in flight and static scenarios. After spending 90 minutes at the pond they had a much better handle on reading behaviors of the waterfowl, settings on their camera to use and being prepared for the fast movement. Keep practicing and focus on the following techniques for stronger wildlife images.

  1. Know your camera – Our cameras are amazing. Whether you own a DSLR, mirrorless or even a mobile phone camera, know your gear! The drive mode on your camera captures a burst of photos giving you several images to choose from. Set the focus for your subject. If the birds are in flight, use continuous focus and select several focus points. The camera will assist you in finding the subject. Some cameras offer focus tracking. Research your camera by reading the manual or watching videos on your manufacturer’s website to select the best settings for wildlife.
  2. Be ready – If you are chimping on your LCD panel viewing your last shot, then you will miss the shot right now. Keep your finger on the shutter and the camera up to your eye. There is nothing worse than missing the shot!
  3. AvocetComposition – We connect more with wildlife images when we are at their eye level. So get low and focus on the eyes. If your wildlife is moving, always leave more room in the frame in front of the animal so that they can “move into the frame.”

Whether you have an African Safari planned or want to capture other wildlife, have a little fun at your local pond to master your equipment and camera techniques.

Amy Horn is an Instructor with Arizona Highways PhotoScapes

Front Yard Photography

By Megan P Galope

If you’re searching for a subject to photograph, sometimes you don’t have to look further than your back (or front) yard. There are the usual plants and flowers, but if you pay attention, you may find something more interesting. A few weeks ago, I went out to get the mail. When walking under the tree in our front yard, I noticed something on the ground. Upon further examination, it appeared to be owl pellets (along with bird poop):

I looked up with the hopes that I would see some evidence of an owl, and this beauty was looking down at me:

Dr. Hoo (a great horned owl) has been coming to visit a few days each week ever since. It pays to pay attention, because you never know what you might find in your front (or back) yard!

Megan P Galope is a Photo Guide with Arizona Highways PhotoScapes.

What is my photographic specialty?

By Jon Vemo

To quote a photographer I’ve followed for some years, Rick Sammon, “I specialize in not specializing.” Why limit yourself, why focus only on one or two particular photographic genres, when there is so much that life offers? Sure there may be things that you are more interested in or passionate about – and that’s OK. But when it comes to creating images, I, like Rick, prefer to be open to whatever I find of interest.

Like so many people that carry a DLSR or one of the new mirrorless, when out with my camera, I am often asked about what I do and what my specialty is. I’ve tried to answer this in many different ways, but I have recently landed on, “I photograph life around me” – meaning what I see or whatever is happening around me that I find interesting. I enjoy a beautiful landscape, I am intrigued by unique people I see on the street, an object with unique lines or appearance, or any other activity that I find interesting.

The colors, the smells, the people of a vibrant public market…    

Pike Place Market, Seattle, WA

Several years ago while visiting the tulip fields in Washington’s Skagit Valley, I came across a tulip growing from a highly unlikely spot…

Skagit Valley, WA

I do not really consider myself a bird follower, however when presented opportunities to make an image of natures more majestic winged creatures, I am quick to reach for my camera…

   

Sonoran Desert Museum, Tucson, AZ

I am also often intrigued by lines, leading and otherwise, and applying different techniques to create that unique image;

Boyce Thompson Arboretum, Superior, AZ

Boyce Thompson Arboretum, Superior, AZ

And especially the beauty of the Pacific Northwest coast;

Oregon Coast, Oregon

So my advise to those starting out in their photographic journey (as well established photographers seeking inspiration), is not to limit yourself to a particular form of photography. Go after the images that interest you, what excites you. After all, it’s about following a passion and what interests us, and we shouldn’t limit ourselves on the images that we create.

Jon Vemo is a Volunteer with Arizona Highways PhotoScapes

Finding and Photographing the Wild Horses on the Lower Salt River

By Sara Goodnick

Wild horses are beautiful and challenging to photograph, and there are several locations in Arizona where they may be found. By far, the easiest access to them is on the Lower Salt River NE of Phoenix.

To get there, from Hwy 87 going north towards Saguaro Lake, take the Bush Hwy exit and follow the signs. From Apache Junction, take Usery Pass to Bush Highway, and from Mesa it can be reached via Power Road.

The horses tend to be found near water unless it has rained a lot and there is plenty of green grass. The best places to find them are at the Coon Bluff Recreation area, the Phon D. Sutton Recreation Area, the Blue Point Recreation area, which is around the bridge over the river, and the Butcher Jones Recreation area. However, they can sometimes bee seen from the road in other places.

They are not fearful of humans, but do not approach them closely or offer them food! If they get too used to begging it will end badly for them as eventually someone will be kicked or bitten, resulting in their removal or destruction.

Being prey animals, not predators, they will usually run away if frightened. If cornered, those teeth and hooves can be deadly, so please keep a safe distance, and keep your dogs and small children under control. Horses will kill dogs because they are similar to coyotes and wolves, which threaten their young.

They spend a lot of time eating, so take your time to observe them while waiting for some action, or interaction among them. Don’t frighten them or try to get reactions from them-its not ethical. They need their energy and attention for survival.

Best lens to use is a 70-200mm, fast shutter speed of at least 1/800th sec. or faster, and the best ISO and aperture to go with that. Tripods are not needed, but a monopod can be useful.

What to wear: hiking boots, long sleeved shirts, long pants. This is rough country if you leave the roadside. The saying, “Everything out there stings, sticks, or bites”, has truth to it!

Plan ahead. The developed parking areas require a permit that you must purchase outside of the Tonto National Forest Recreation Area. Some of the local stores carry them, so check online. If you are over 62 years of age, you are eligible for a permanent Senior Pass ($80 – new fee as of August 2017) that will get you into all of our National Parks and Monuments, as well as other places.  You just display it on your dashboard when visiting. Theses passes may be purchased online or at certain fish and wildlife offices.

Sara Goodnick is a trip leader with Arizona Highways Photo Workshops.

Wildlife photography–Increasing your chances of capturing an image!

By Amy Novotny

Recently, a friend commented that he had moved away from wildlife photography to landscape photography because it was hard to find wildlife and then even harder to capture an image of a moving animal. He mentioned that he would go out searching and might get a shot or two but then get frustrated so he switched to landscape scenes.  Although I love landscape photography, I have begun photographing more wildlife during the hot summer and I mentioned a couple suggestions to him that have helped me in the past couple months.

First of all, speaking to biologists or searching the website of the Arizona Game and Fish Department are great ways to gain some knowledge of where animals will be and when they will be most visible to humans. This past May, Bruce Taubert, wildlife biologist and photographer took a small group of us to the desert to photograph western Screech owls and elf owls. His knowledge of the owls’ territory and their activity level at this time of year led to a great night of shooting.  He knew that the birds would respond to calls and the approximate height of where they would perch in the trees, making it easier for us to photograph in the night sky.

Images: Elf owl, Western Screech owl, Elf owl. Taken in the desert in Cave Creek, Arizona.

Learning animal behavior can also be a huge asset in saving time finding animals and even capturing an image of a moving animal.  Recently, I was out photographing bighorn sheep in the canyon surrounding Canyon Lake, Arizona.  The Arizona Game and Fish Department had set up a boat tour at the beginning of July to search for the sheep. Even though it is typically the hottest time of the year for Arizona, this is the time when the mating season is underway and sheep can be seen going down the walls of the canyon to drink from the lake. Sure enough, within minutes of being on the boat, we came across a herd of sheep halfway up the canyon. The boat driver recommended waiting to watch the sheep, as he suspected that they would climb down to the water. To our delight, his knowledge of animal behavior was accurate and helped us get the opportunity for some close up shots of the sheep at the water’s edge.

                       
Image: Bighorn sheep climbing back up the canyon walls surrounding Canyon Lake, Arizona

Knowledge of animal behavior is also critical for capturing moving animals. This is especially useful in bird photography when trying to capture a bird in flight. When trying to photograph a roadrunner in flight, I studied his behavior for a bit and learned how he turned his head and changed his body position just prior to takeoff. Although it was still difficult trying to capture the little guy in motion, having some knowledge of his tendencies increased my opportunity of getting a shot.

      

Images: A Greater Roadrunner begins to dive and then dives off the branch to the ground at the Pond at Elephant Head Ranch in Amado, Arizona.

Workshops, such as those offered through Arizona Highways Photo Workshops, are great ways to highly increase your chance of capturing images of wildlife because the professional photographers have done all the research for you and gained special access to areas.  However, when workshops are not an option, other sources exist, such as Bruce Taubert’s book, “Wild in Arizona: Photographing Arizona’s Wildlife” that describes when and where to find certain wildlife throughout Arizona. The Arizona Game and Fish Department website also has email newsletters of wildlife viewings throughout the year.

Amy Novotny is a Volunteer with Arizona Highways Photo Workshops