These guidance notes are to provide some tips and tricks that may aid you if you are struggling with an aspect of your photography or just want to increase your photographic knowledge. It is primarily based on my Wildlife photography experience but a lot of the guidance is relevant to general photography as well.
A few people have commented that they want to this journal. You could this News article to bookmark it.
If you don't calibrate your monitor how do you really know what your image looks like or what other deviants images look like? Are you selling prints on dA? if you haven't calibrated your monitor how do you know what they look like? Are you doing yourself, and your customers, a disservice?
The strip shows a range of greys from pure black to pure white. You should be able to see a clear difference between each shade of grey, ranging from pure black (left) and pure white (right).
Along the top of the strips are alternate patches of black and dark grey. If it looks solid black to you (look very carefully), your monitor's brightness setting is too low. Increase it until you can just perceive the difference between the grey and the black squares.
Other viewing tips
* Usually, set the contrast of your monitor to its maximum.
* Reduce the room lighting and try to avoid reflections in the monitor.
* Set the monitor to display "millions of colours" or 24/32 bit and preferably been switched on for at least twenty minutes.
If you are very serious about colour photography and selling your work then consider investing in one of the hardward based calibrations systems available on the market. They aren't cheap but they remove any doubt.
Image Workflow from the Camera to the Web
When you take a image on a digital camera it is just the first step in the process to produce the final image. Not doing these basic steps is not doing justice to your photography.
a. This is a very, very basic process that ALL digital images would benefit from when resizing images for the web.
b. I use variations of the workflow including high pass filters, selection masks and layers for more localised control ... the list goes on.
c. I know 99% of you that do process your images will do it differently to me. This isn't the only way, it isn't even the right way, it's just my way.
but first Calibrate your monitor
If you shoot in jpeg mode then jump to Step 2 and at Step 6 save as a processed unsharpened aRGB 8bit TIFF processed master. I would highly recommend shooting in raw mode to maximise the quality of your images.
1. Using your Raw conversion program adjust the White balance and exposure and export the image as a 16bit Adobe RGB (aRGB) TIFF file. This becomes my TIFF master. I always use the TIFF format as it doesn't compress and destroy any detail in the image.
2. If I need to use noise reduction I would do it now using something like Neat Image or Noise Ninja. I would not recommend applying noise reduction to every image. Yes, the programs reduce the visible noise but they also remove detail so apply it selectively.
3. Crop, if needed. I prefer, if at all possible to get the final image in the camera. Cropping just throws away detail.
4. Use levels and curves to finalise the tonal range and colouration.
5. Check at 100% magnification for dust bunnies, remove them with clone tool or healing brush.
6. Save as an unsharpened aRGB 16bit TIFF processed master. Using the TIFF format prevents lose of quality as there is no compression used.
7. The Raw file and the two TIFF files are now backed up on an external Raid protected network server.
8. Convert the unsharpened file to sRGB 8bit mode. If you leave the image in aRGB mode and save the image the colours when uploaded will look very pale and washed out.
9. Resize the image to 1000 pixels on the longest size. This is my preferred size as I use it on my website, it could be smaller.
10. Final operation before the save is Sharpen using the Unsharp mask. I use Amount 100, Radius 0.2, Threshold 0 as my basic settings in Photoshop (PSP would be Radius 0.2, Strength 100%, Clipping 0). These setting apply a small amount of sharpening to the image which I then repeat until the image is as sharp as I need it. Doing the sharpening operation in one big step tends to degrade the image.
11. Repeat step 10 a number of times viewing the image at 100% magnification until it looks slightly too sharp and then undo a couple of sharpening operations.
12. Using the 'Save for Web' option I optimise the file size to 200kb and save the 8bit jpg file ready for upload. Others will use the 'Save as jpeg' which retains the EXIF data in the file.
Circle of Fear
Animals, including ourselves, have a natural circle of fear. As you approach an animal it will normally watch you getting closer and gradually becoming more afraid and at some point will either run/fly off or attack you. You have just stepped inside its circle of fear. The size of this circle is very variable and depends on the attitude of the animal at that moment, is it aggressive by nature? Is it timid? Is it hungry or injured? Etc.
If you sit quietly and let the animal approach you this circle of fear becomes much smaller because the animal has more control of the situation. Taking advantage of this will allow you to take photographs at a much closer distance giving you higher quality images.
Fill the Frame
Try to always frame the subject in the camera so you do not have to crop the image significantly. In order to do this you may have to move closer to the subject or wait for the subject to come closer to you. Moving closer will increase the likelihood of disturbing the subject so waiting for it to come to closer to you is always better. Please remember we should all coexist with wildlife and should not disturb them just for the sake of a photograph.
Camouflage doesn't necessarily mean wearing full-on camo gear from head to toe. What camouflage does is minimise the impact your presence has on an animals behaviour by either reducing your visibility or breaking up your outline. Wearing drab coloured clothing can be just as effective as a camouflage outfit. I would recommend wearing gloves as the white flappy things on the ends of your arms can cause animals to react instantly as you move them around. Think about carrying around some light weight scrim netting that you can throw over yourself and camera gear.
Predicting a Birds Flight path
Birds hate to stand or fly at low level with the wind behind them and will naturally land and take off into the wind, they will also perch facing the wind. You can use this behaviour to position yourself relative to the birds you wish to photograph and improve the chances of getting the image you want.
To help you get good in-flight bird photographs it is important to consider the flight path of the bird. If the bird is coming towards you the auto focus or manual focus will need to track the bird whilst you take your photographs. Again it is important to at least focus on the birds head to get the best image. A better option can be to position yourself so the birds are flying across in front of you so that the distance isn't changing dramatically.
You don't need to use a very high shutter speed for photographing birds in flight unless you want the bird to appear very static in the image. Some motion blur on the wingtips will give the viewer a sense of movement. With a good panning technique it is possible to get very attractive flight images with shutter speeds below 1/30 second.
Correct Exposure for In-flight Birds
If the background is constantly changing from land to sky using an auto exposure mode will result in poor incorrectly exposed images. Try switching to manual mode and taking an exposure reading off of a neutral grey subject which is in the same lighting condition as the subject you want to photograph, something like grass is always a good choice. Then shoot in manual mode rather than use Av or Tv modes and the EV compensation. If the subject is lightly coloured manually reduce the exposure by 1/2-1 stop, if it is dark coloured then increase the exposure by 1/2-1 stop. Using manual mode in this way will give you better control over the exposure of birds in-flight. Remember the underside of a bird in flight will normally be in shadow so an increase in exposure is usually required.
Catch the Light
The best photographs of wildlife are rarely taken at midday with the sun directly overhead. At noon the sun throws harsh nasty looking shadows that spoil most photographs.
Early morning or late afternoon with the sun lower on the horizon provides the wildlife photographer the opportunity to take beautiful warm images with attractive lighting.
Slightly overcast days with high cloud are good for photographing animals that have a high contrast.
Dead or Alive?
Without a catch light in the eye an animal photograph appears lifeless. A catch light can be natural or generated by the careful use of flash or it can be photoshopped which I personally hate! If there isn't a catch light in the eye I typically throw the image away.
Most wildlife photography is taken with long focal length lens from 200mm up to 600mm or greater. The depth of field with the magnification produced by these lenses is very limited so the point of focus is critical. The eye of the subject is, with very few exceptions, the critical area to focus on. If you allow the lens to auto focus on a subject it will typically focus on the chest or side of the subject which means the eye isn't pin sharp. If you can, either use manual focus or auto focus on the eye and then use focus lock so you can recompose the image. If the eye isn't sharp then bin the image.
To Flash or not to Flash?
Used correctly the effects of using flash shouldn't be noticeable in the final image. What you can get from using fill-in flash is a catch light in the eye and a localised edge contrast boost which gives a perceived increase in image sharpness. It can also be used to balance the exposure of a back lit subject.
Get Up Early
Most flying insects cannot fly until they have warmed up. Take advantage of this fact by getting up very early and find your subject before they can fly away. It is possible to get extremely close when the insects are still too cold to fly. Cold mornings can also bring dew which can look very attractive on a dragonfly or butterfly.
Low and Slow
Approaching insects very slowly and crouched down or even crawling can get you into position close to the subject. It isn't easy to achieve but with practise it can be done and the rewards are great if you keep trying. Remember, do everything slowly, move your hands, arms, legs body and head very slowly and you will get some great images. Also ensure that your own shadow never moves over the insect or it will be gone before you can even blink.
Shoot at Eye Level
Get down level with the subject. This view point is much more appealing photographically.
Raw or Jpeg?
If you shoot hundreds of images a day or just take photographs for the web then Jpeg maybe all you need to use. If you are more selective and want the maximum control over your work then Raw is the best option. You will have the best quality image files to work with to produce quality photographs. If you can't afford more cards to allow you to shoot in Raw all the time then be more selectively, delete more and shoot less images.
Adobe aRGB or sRGB colourspace?
You should always use aRGB in the camera as this will provide you with the maximum colour information.
If you shoot in Raw this should be turned off as you will get much better results sharpening your images in software. If you shoot in Jpeg then leave a small amount of sharpening On.
Pre-visualise what you want your final image to look like before taking the photograph. Remove anything that doesn't add to the photograph before you take it. Think about what point of view and field of view you want, what depth of field you want, the shutter speed, what iso rating you want to use. Do you need to use a filter to balance the exposure across the image?
Use the manual functions of the camera so you take the picture you want rather than accept the picture the camera gives you.
Prime or Zoom Lens?
Prime lens will always give you higher quality images than a zoom lens. The design of a zoom lens is full of compromises which affect quality. Dont be lazy, use your feet to zoom if you can.
Cropping the Image
By getting the framing and composition right in the camera before you take your photograph you will get the maximum quality achievable with your camera. Do not crop the image in software unless you absolutely have to as the quality and resolution of the final image will be reduced.
Get the Horizon Level
If you have to rotate an image in software to correct a tilted horizon you are losing quality because the software has to interpolate every single pixel to correct the fault. Get it right before you take the photograph. You can buy a cheap spirit bubble that sits on your camera to get the horizon level.
Most tilted horizons are high on the right hand side of the image because when you are shooting hand held and you depress the shutter you push the right hand side of the camera downwards which causes the problem.
Use a Tripod
People claim they can shoot down to ridiculously slow shutter speeds hand holding their cameras and still get quality images. My response would be, if they want to fool themselves into thinking that then it is their loss. Every single image taken by anyone would benefit from the camera being supported by a tripod, monopod or beanbag.
Using a tripod gives you the ability to select the shutter speed, the aperture and iso rating that you want to use rather than have to use because of the limitations imposed by you on yourself if you elect to not use a tripod.
Using a Cable Release and Mirror Lockup
Any camera movement will reduce the detail in your images. By using the mirror lock facility on your camera, if you have it, you can remove the vibration caused by the mirror flipping up at the start of an exposure. Using a cable release will remove any camera movement caused by touching it during the exposure. If you don't have a cable release then you can use the 2 or 10 second timer built into most cameras.
Holding your Camera
If you have decided that you don't need a tripod then please learn how to correctly hold your camera to get the best from it.
If you are shooting hand held you can use the motor drive ability of your camera to improve the sharpness of your photography. Rather than take a single image try taking two images at a time without lifting your finger from the shutter button. The second image is almost always sharper than the first.
Buy a better camera or a better lens?
The quality of your final image is primarily determined by the quality of the lens you use. If the lens is of poor quality then no matter what camera you use the final image quality will also be poor. So, if you are in a position to afford a new body or a new lens I would always consider the lens as the higher priority.
Use the Histogram
The only accurate way to check the exposure is to use the histogram display of the image taken. This histogram will tell you if you have underexposed (too much of the histogram will be on the left hand side and nothing on the right hand side) or overexposed the image (too much of the histogram will be on the right hand side and nothing on the left hand side)
The LCD preview display on a camera gives you an indication of the image you will get. However you will notice in the camera menu that you can change the brightness of the LCD. Once you have got an image that is correctly exposed, according to the histogram, you can adjust the LCD brightness to give you a better preview of the final image. This does not mean that you can then rely on the LCD, the histogram is still better.
Under exposing an image is seen by a lot of photographers as a way to avoid blowing the white highlights in a subject or getting a faster shutter speed. This is true BUT the downside of doing this is the significant increase in the amount of noise there will be in the image when you correct the exposure in software. This noise will be very visible in the dark and constant tone regions of an image.
"Expose to the Right"
By maximising the exposure you will increase the amount of detail and reduce the amount of noise in the final image. You should always try to "Expose to the Right"; i.e. increase the exposure until the histogram spread reaches the right hand side of the graph BUT does not go beyond the right hand side. It is very important to note that if you increase the exposure too much you will lose the detail in the white areas of the image which is called blowing the highlights. In this situation any information in the blown region is permanently lost.
UV and Skylight Filters
People buy these filters to protect the front element of the lens. However, this introduces two more glass surfaces that the light has to pass through which can degrade the image by lowering the contrast and introducing flare. If you want the best quality image fit a good lens hood and don't use UV filters.
This journal will be updated on a regular basis and will hopefully develop into a journal that you can use for reference. Anyone who wishes to add to this guidance from their own experience should note me `Photosbykev and I will happily add your tips to the guide. Please note that the focus of the journal is for dSLR users but some of the guidance will be applicable to film and compact point & shoot camera users.
Other photographers will use different techniques and some will totally disagree with some things I may say. Thats fine by me, if you are happy with your images who am I to argue with you. If these guidance notes help one person improve then I am happy
"I don't give a Feck " Now the link works lmao
As part of the long term vision for deviantART a significant review of all of the categories on dA has been done over the last several months, this review is called Project Streamline. Some streamlining has already happened and now it is the turn of Photography > Animals, Plants and Nature (APN) Categories.
The News article is here and I would appreciate my watchers push the word out to their watchers so we can get everyone informed.
Gallery Director for
Animals, Plants and Nature