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

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.

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

Breaking the Ice-Shooting portraits in foreign lands

By Amy Novotny

During a recent photography tour in Mongolia, I was exposed to a wide variety of photographic opportunities–landscapes, wildlife, night, street, event, and portrait.  The first three types of photography were easier to accomplish since we did not have to ask permission or be as concerned with privacy issues.  With street photography, this could be minimized by not focusing on a specific person or groups of persons, as shown below.

Image: Kazak women walk down the street market before it opens in Bayan-Olgii, Mongolia.

When taking photos of events or festivals, part of the price of admissions was a photography permit, so I was assured that I would not offend anyone while firing the shutter.  In these situations, I often nodded my head and held up the camera a little to get approval, as I did in the photos below.

Image: Aisholpan sits on her horse with her golden eagle at the Golden Eagle Festival in Bayan-Olgii, Mongolia.

Image: Kazak woman sits with her grandchildren watching the festivities at the Golden Eagle Festival in Bayan-Olgii, Mongolia.

The difficult and often most meaningful shots came when I wanted to capture a portrait of a random person or family to show part of the culture.  As we found out, Mongolians are a peaceful people with a nomadic lifestyle in the countryside.  The country comprises of approximately 3 million people, of which almost 1 million live in the capital city, Ulaanbaatar, and the rest in the countryside or small towns.  They have a quiet demeanor but a calm curiosity.  I wanted to demonstrate this in a photograph but at the same time, respect their culture and way of life.

Image: Mongolian Kazak man enjoys traditional Mongolian tea in a ger in Sagsai, Mongolia

Image: Mongolian man was curious about the camera in Tsengel, Mongolia

A couple strategies worked in my favor and I was able to capture the beauty of these people and their emotions.  Since we had an interpreter with our group, I asked him how to say “Hello,” “My name is…,” and “What is your name?” in Mongolian and Kazak.  Those three simple phrases opened the world to me when the interpreter was not present.  I became a person with a sense of realness instead of just a camera.  I could get closer to the person or even photograph families.

Image: Mongolian Kazak women sits in her ger with her son in Sagsai, Mongolia.

Image: Mongolian girl cares for her younger brother in Tsengel, Mongolia.

I also learned to show the person the image I took of him or her to gain his or her interest.  This sometimes backfired on me if I was trying to capture a serious pose, but I didn’t mind seeing the spark of a smile. Most times, the person wanted more images taken.  Families also gathered around me to see the images of their loved ones.

Image: Mongolian family gathers around me, curious about the camera in Tsengel, Mongolia. Image by Rick Jacobi.

This strategy helped with shy children as well as they realized what a camera could do.  The connection made during these moments made the images even more meaningful.

Image: Mongolian toddler was curious about the camera as his mother washes dishes in Bayan-Olgii, Mongolia.

Although these strategies — a head nod, learning a some foreign phrases, and showing what a camera can capture–were performed in a land where I did not speak the native language, I imagine they would work in our country as well.   Connections are priceless.

Amy Novotny is a Volunteer Trip Leader with Arizona Highways Photo Workshops.

Twitter: @amynovotnyaz

Instagram: @anovotn


Summer’s Little Secret

By Amy Novotny

Arizona’s late summer months are often known for their hot humid weather and monsoon storms, but they also represent the season of hummingbird migration to the high country. Areas including Sedona, Madera Canyon in the south, and the White Mountains out east become popular corridors for these little birds migrating south for the winter, much to the delight of both photographers and the general viewing public. Both Madera Canyon and the White Mountains have visitor centers–Friends of Madera Canyon Visitor Information Center and Sipe White Mountain Wildlife Area–set up with hummingbird feeders to encourage flocks of these little birds to visit and feed. This also allows the birds to become used to human observers.

Image: Sipe White Mountain Wildlife Area Visitor Center.

For photographers, these are great locations for hummingbird photography, as chances of catching a bird in flight increases significantly. Each region caters to slightly different populations of hummers. During this season, 6-7 species can be spotted in Sedona.  The White Mountains are known for rufous, black-chinned, broad-bill and calliope while Madera Canyon hosts up to 15 different species including those found at Sipe White Mountain Wildlife Area.  For catching the hummers with the blur in the wings to portray the speed of their wings, a handheld camera setup can work in good light.

Image: Sipe White Mountain Wildlife Area Visitor Center hummingbird feeder

However, to stop the action and freeze the wings in mid flight, such as the image below, a more elaborate setup is needed with flash units at various angles to provide enough light to allow for a correct exposure at a high shutter speed.

Image: Rufous hummingbird at Sipe White Mountain Wildlife Area

Multiple flashes are also important for minimizing shadows that appear with a one-directional light source. Additional props used to capture aesthetically-pleasing images include native local flowers such as thistle or salvia and a soothing background. The background can be a blown-up image of a flower, the sky, greenery or even a poster board spray-painted with colors found in nature. This type of background keeps the focus on the bird by minimizing background details or distracting branches. It also helps to keep the light even across the image.

Image: Hummingbird photography set up at Sipe White Mountain Wildlife Area

After setting up the props and a flower with some dribbles of sugar water, photographers can focus on the flower and then sit back and watch the show before them. Soon observers will learn to recognize the behaviors of the hummers as they defend, attack other hummers and feed off the flowers blooming in these regions.

Image: Rufous hummingbirds feeding and demonstrating defensive behaviors at a thistle flower at Sipe White Mountain Wildlife Area

Image: Rufous hummingbird attacking another hummer feeding at a thistle flower at Sipe White Mountain Wildlife Area

The next several weeks are a great time to visit these little creatures while enjoying cooler weather.

Amy Novotny is a Volunteer with Arizona Highways Photo Workshops

Twitter: @amynovotnyaz

Instagram: @anovotn


Images taken while assisting as a Volunteer Trip Leader for Arizona Highways Photo Workshops’ High-Country Hummingbirds workshop taught by instructor photographer Bruce Taubert in August 2016.  Although the workshop is not being held this year, the opportunity to photograph these little birds still exists.


Sedona: http://www.hummingbirdsociety.org/hummingbird-festival

White Mountains: https://www.azgfd.com/wildlife/viewing/wheretogo/sipe/

Madera Canyon: http://www.friendsofmaderacanyon.org/birding.html

Using Live View for Composition

Author: Amy Novotny

Live View is a great tool featured on many new digital cameras and serves many purposes. It can help with focus, with shooting scenes in which the camera is higher or lower than the photographer, and with composition.

With landscapes and macro shots, Live View allows for greater control in manually focusing and creating sharper images. With auto-focus, the camera attempts to focus on a spot but might not be able to narrow down the focus to the specific object desired, especially if the scene contains a lot of different elements or objects.  This can lead to the focus being on a nearby object even if that object is not the desired focus point.  After switching to Live View, the photographer can then zoom in on the specific object that needs to be in focus and manually focus from there.


This can be used in macro photography as well when images are focus-stacked and the focus needs to be adjusted in slight amounts over multiple images and then be combined into one image that is fully in focus.


Live View can also help with shooting images in which the photographer cannot have his or her eye at the viewfinder. This can be beneficial if the photographer wants to photograph a scene that requires the camera to be much higher or lower than the photographer has access to. For instance, in the scene below, the Great Horned Owl was perched high in the canyon walls of the slot canyon, Canyon X. It was impossible to move further away from the bird due to being in a narrow slot canyon. Furthermore, having the camera on a tripod on the ground would not allow for the owl to be in the frame, so the camera was raised above the photographer’s head and Live View turned on. The shot was framed and composed in this manner and allowed for a clear image of this bird.


This tool can be useful in composing images that have a lot of detail in the scene. In the two scenes below, it can be difficult to find a way to isolate aspects of the canyon walls or balance the multitude of sunflowers in the scene. In both cases, Live View was turned on and the camera was swiveled on a tripod until the desired composition was seen. Various angles were attempted and slight adjustments were made to account for all the various shapes in nature. The resulting images were achieved through this method and possibly would not have been seen without Live View.



This is a great tool to experiment with and can even help capture sharper images that requires less post-processing or cropping.

Amy Novotny is a Volunteer Trip Leader with Arizona Highways Photo Workshops.

Twitter: @amynovotnyaz
Instagram: anovotn



Benefits of Facebook Photography Groups

Author: Amy Novotny

Photography workshops and classes are a great way to learn general photography and various types of photography, such as landscape, macro, portrait, etc., in a condensed period of time. Arizona Highways Photo Workshops hosts many workshops that provide this service as well as help people meet other photographers that they can later use as resources or as buddies to go out shooting. At times though, it is nice to learn little tidbits of information on a daily basis or to seek out opinions of other photographers who have “been there and done that.”  Social media is a great way to achieve this goal.

Two social media groups on Facebook provide a great resource for photography information. Both the Nikon Digital Camera and Photo Enthusiasts and the Canon Digital Camera and Photo Enthusiasts groups allow for great discussion of photography or camera gear for their respective brands. As a Nikon user, I belong to the Nikon group and peruse the group site daily. There are strict guidelines for posting on the news feed including limiting photo uploads to three per day, listing the shooting details of each image and providing respectful comments and criticism. The site monitors do a great job in removing visitors who violate these rules.

This site has served me in several ways: providing me ideas on composing photos, helping me learning camera settings for different types of photography outside of my comfort zone, and helping me choose new gear to purchase. Originally, I joined the group in hope to hone my skills in various types of photography since I started out learning landscape photography. A friend had recently asked me to take senior portraits of her daughter and my brother’s wedding was fast approaching. I needed ideas on lighting, location and camera settings. The site contained many photos from contributors all over the world for senior portraits both indoors and outdoors as well as other creative portrait photography.  I came away with many ideas and had success.

When I decided to upgrade my camera from a Nikon D5500 to something with more versatility, I debated going to a full frame or remaining with a cropped-sensor camera.  Since many people had posted questions regarding this, I searched the group site and found many posts on the pros and cons of each camera type from users in addition to academic articles about the differences.  Once I narrowed down the sensor type I wanted, I had to decide on the best camera for my needs and budget. I posted a question on another user’s post for the first time and received a nice response. This was encouraging, as the turnaround was quick from a couple photographers who had both cameras that I was interested in and could easily offer advice on each.


Lastly, I wavered on a lens and had read many technical articles on the old and new version of the Nikon 24-70 mm lens. I still couldn’t decide, so I posted the question on the group site to see what photographers had found through their experiences. The response was wonderful and informative. I felt no hesitation in the decision I made after that and greatly appreciated the service this social media site provided.


The benefit to this site is that I can interact as much or as little as I want and still learn.  While I still feel that in person workshops and classes are the best way to learn a type of photography or learn how to photograph a location, these social media groups are a great supplement to further anyone’s photography.

Amy Novotny is a Volunteer Trip Leader with Arizona Highways Photo Workshops.

Twitter: @amynovotnyaz
Instagram: anovotn

What to do in the heat? A day at the zoo.

Author:  Amy Novotny

As summer kicks in full swing, light becomes harsher and opportunities to shoot in softer light become earlier or later in the day. In some regions and cities, such as the Phoenix Metropolitan Area, shooting sunrise and sunset can even be daunting with 90-105 degree weather at those times of the day. However, the zoo is still a great place to practice photography. The different environments allow a photographer to capture a variety of wildlife shots while experimenting with different camera settings. Here are some considerations for shooting at the zoo:

  • Photographers can make the most of their time by planning the trip around the time of day. Early morning and late afternoon/early evening make great times for shooting in outdoor exhibits when animals are most active. A higher f-stop (f/8 in the image below) will allow you to get multiple animals in focus.


  • If the zoo offers a safari ride, this can provide a great chance to capture images of animals up close without having to worry about metal fencing interfering in the shot (especially if the animal is too close to the fence). At the Wildlife World Zoo in Glendale, AZ, for example, visitors can photograph ostriches, various oxen and deer as well as larger birds and warthogs on the safari train. The open-air carts make photography easier with the ability to change directions of shooting quite easily.


  • Researching the zoo ahead of time can also provide opportunities for personal or close encounters with animals, often around feeding time when activity level is higher. It is a good idea to keep the shutter speed higher than 1/500 sec for sharper focus (1/2000 sec in the image below).


  • When the weather becomes warmer in the afternoon and the animals settle down for lazy summer naps, photographers can head indoors to the animal exhibits to get some action shots. This setting allows for some practice of flash photography through thick glass. For those without external flash and bounce plates, a tissue held in place with a rubber band over the in-camera flash can suffice to lessen the glare and allow for nice images. It is important to place the lens on the glass and shoot in Manual Exposure Mode so that you can adjust the shutter speed to synchronize with your flash speed and choose the ideal aperture for depth of field (f/8 and 1/200 sec in the image below).


  • Some zoos also have aquariums that provide yet a different opportunity to capture animals during the midday heat. Tropical fish give off beautiful colors and shapes that make for appealing images and an opportunity to work on composition. Some considerations in this setting are to avoid flash, use Manual Exposure Mode, start with a lower f-stop of f/5 and a shutter speed around 1/125 sec, and adjust settings according to the histogram (f/10 and 1/125 sec in the image below).


  • The big cat enclosures provide a great opportunity to practice making the wire fences disappear in the images. Patience is a virtue in this situation, as it can take some time before felines lift their heads, yawn or move from their napping positions. When trying to make the fences disappear, it is best to use your longest focal length lens and get as close to the fence as possible with the smallest f-stop/maximum aperture (200mm focal length at f/5.6 and 1/500 sec in the image below). The animal must be far from the fence as well so that you can focus on the animal instead of the fencing.


  • Many of the larger animals evoke emotions that draw us in and allow us to relate to them. Because of this, the zoo can serve as a great setting for photographing emotions: sadness, curiosity, caution, etc.


  • As the afternoon turns into evening, the water fowl in a pond or lake provide great action images with a softer light. After the water fowl finish their evening meal, they often dunk under water and rise up to flap their wings. These behaviors along with the colorful reflections of light on the water surface can create some beautiful compositions. As the light dims in the evening, it is important to adjust the ISO to a higher number of around 800 to allow for correct exposure (f/5.6 at 1/1000 sec with ISO 800).

A full day of photography can be had in the heat of the summer and at the zoo. The opportunities are endless for those wanting to practice various forms of photography and enhance their skills.

Amy Novotny is a Volunteer Trip Leader with Arizona Highways Photo Workshops.
Twitter: @amynovotnyaz
Instagram: anovotn