Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Tip #45: The Correct Exposure

Impala on the Mara - Masai Mara, Kenya
Canon 7D + Canon 300mm f2.8L IS

There is no one correct exposure in nature photography. Understand how “over-exposure” can excite an image by isolating your subject and underexposure can deepen shadows and add drama to an image.

©2000-2012 BTLeventhal.com / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Tip #44: Go Manual...

Opuntia in Bloom - Badlands National Park, South Dakota
Canon 5D + Canon 100mm f2.8 USM Macro @ f7.1

Manual focus and manual exposure will slow you down. When you turn off the autopilot and assume the controls, you also create the opportunity to study the composition and think about the light. In the end, you’ll stop taking pictures and begin making images.
Winter Ice Cave - Osceola, WI
Canon 5D Mark II + Zeiss ZE 35mm f2.0 @ f22
©2000-2012 BTLeventhal.com / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Tip #43: Add Light to White

Shades of White
Canon 5D MarkII + Canon 17-40mm f4.0L @ 17mm

It’s been a long and cold day. Frozen to the core you wait for the light, the mist rising above an icy river, or a fleeting moment that crosses your path. You bury yourself in the snow to create a natural hide or lie prone on the ice to frame a dramatic composition. Regardless of how you contort your body, wrestle with the tripod or endure the cold, your suffering is for naught if you can’t nail the exposure. 
White subjects on a bright background will appear to confuse the meter and confound the photographer. Knowing how your camera “perceives” the light is the key to making your white subjects white. 
Ice Falls
Canon 7D + Canon 300mm f2.8L IS
Our eyes see reflected light - radiant energy redirected from a subject onto the retina. This reflected light is the same light that strikes the camera meter. Unfortunately your camera lacks the brain you have, and cannot distinguish bright from dark, or highlight from shadow. In the place of a brain, the meter is calibrated to a standard.  The standard, middle gray (often incorrectly described as 18% gray), allows the photographer to predict the way light will be translated into the final image. What follows are three key concepts about reflected light striking the meter:
  • The meter averages the reflected light and suggests an exposure that makes your subject neutral (middle gray).
  • Because white is lighter than middle gray, your meter will suggest that you underexpose a white subject. If you underexpose white, the subject appears to be middle gray.
  • Because black is darker than middle gray, your meter will suggest that you overexpose a black subject. If you overexpose black, the subject appears to be middle gray.
Trumpeter Swan (Cygnus buccinator)
Canon 1D MarkII + Canon 300mm f2.8L IS
To make white subjects appear white, you must first realize that the meter suggests how to make them middle gray. This is the the moment of liberation, as once this is accepted as fact, your brain can define the correct exposure. When photographing white subjects, do the following:
  • Switch the camera to manual.
  • Fill your frame with the white subject or use your built-in spot meter to meter white. 
  • Choose the aperture and shutter speed that balances your exposure.
  • Now follow Tip #43 and Add Light to White... To do this, compensate for the middle gray calibration by adding 1 and 2/3 to 2 stops of light to whatever your meter suggests. 
  • For example... if the meter suggests that the “correct exposure” is a shutter speed of 1/500 second and aperture of f/5.6, you should change your shutter to 1/125 (that’s plus two stops...) at f/5.6. Alternatively, you can keep the shutter speed fixed at 1/500 second and change your aperture to f/2.8 (plus two stops). Either exposure adds two stops of light, and you will have added light to white.
©2000-2012 BTLeventhal.com / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Tip #42: Know the Biology

Danaus plexippus - Spring Migrant
Don’t underestimate the power of knowledge, the acquisition of which often takes time and careful study. As photographers seeking to capture intimate details in the natural world, opportunities are lost whenever we fail to make the intellectual investment. 

Asclepias tuberosa

Prior to our travel to Tanzania in 2008, we purchased field guides, photographic essays, and Hemingway novels about Africa. I studied the work of masters, and scoured the pages of old National Geographic magazines in search of inspiration. In photography, the moment of capture is an ephemeral thing; preparation leverages our opportunity to slow time.
Danaus plexippus - Brief Encounter
Mated pair
The image maker knows natural history and can anticipate the way climate, light and seasons influence behavior. This type of knowledge empowers the nature shooter and sharpens their vision.
Asclepias syriaca - Fruit of Labor
Seed Dispersal
Before photography, I was a field ecologist. I studied pelagic birds in the arctic, rodents in the desert and migratory butterflies that are iconic visitors to the midwest. Real scientific knowledge allows for an insight that other photographers lack. My vision is unique, my approach is deliberate, and knowledge is a secret weapon.
The posted photographs tell a story about a species and its North American habitat. Careful study of the species and its niche made each of these images possible.
©2000-2012 BTLeventhal.com / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Great News... and many Thanks!

Link To The Nature Conservancy Photo Contest Site
We would like to thank all of our friends, family and blog followers who cast a vote in the Nature Conservancy Photography Contest. Our image of two Red-eyed Tree Frogs (Agalychnis callidryas) climbing an Easter heliconia (Heliconia wagneriana) received the most votes. Because of you, the picture will be featured on the cover of the Conservancy's 2013 Calendar. Tamy and I have been long-time supporters of the Nature Conservancy and the work they do to protect threatened habitats. We'd like to encourage you to consider the plight of vanishing ecosystems as our human population continues to expand. By supporting non-profit organizations like the Nature Conservancy, Sierra Club, World Wildlife Foundation, Audubon Society and the National Resource Defense Council (NRDC), you are protecting our biological history and the biodiversity that defines our tiny blue marble in this vast universe. 
One More Frog
Tight Rope Walker - Caribbean Slope, Costa Rica
Canon 5D markII + Canon 300mm f2.8L IS @ f3.5

©2000-2012 BTLeventhal.com / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Tip #41: No Excuses!

Ice Cave - Apostle Island National Lakeshore, WI
Canon 5D Mark I + Canon 20mm f2.8 USM
It’s early... I’m tired... It’s hot... I’m cold... It’s raining... I’m sick... Nothing to shoot... The light is flat... It’s a long drive... I have the wrong camera... My lenses suck... The subject’s boring... I’m hungry... It’s late... I have work to do... Nobody cares...

Tree Bones - Tamarack Nature Center, MN
Canon 5D Mark II + Canon 24mm f2.8

So there it is, an incomplete list to justify your unmotivated disposition. I’m sure that there are as many excuses as there are photographers. Get it out of your system, make it a good whine, now grab the gear and practice your craft. No Excuses!
©2000-2012 BTLeventhal.com / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Tip #40: Simplicity

The Simple Life - Kelly Farm, Minnesota
Canon 50D + Canon 17-40L

The following photo-tip builds on a prior discussion about photography and the art of extraction.
Our capacity to experience the essence of a place, stretch the landscape, or focus on subtle details can be attributed to the computational complexities of the human brain. Well adapted to a world of bright lights and deep shadows, our visual cortex is the largest system within the cerebral hemisphere. Like our ancestral primates, whose evolution relied on careful navigation throughout the narrow branches of a tropical canopy, visual acuity is the difference maker. A misperception of distance or branch location is the difference between finding food or being food. We, the giant and most populous primate on earth, are sensory mongers. Like the iconic astronomical arrays that dot the New Mexican landscape, we are satellites for auditory, visual and olfactory inputs. Collectors and interpreters of stimuli, the brain is our filter. 
Morning Layers - Tamarack Nature Center, Minnesota
Canon 7D + Canon 300mm f2.8IS L

You, the photographer, must learn to be a filter. With inputs emanating from all directions, the photographic artist needs to decide what to exclude. A cluttered image littered with too many subjects or random movements will distract your viewer from the intent of your vision. Photography is a deliberate process in which the image maker contrives the intent by defining what to subtract from the observer’s field of view. Here in lies the art of photography ...we seek to simplify the infinite complexities in the visual landscape.
©2000-2012 BTLeventhal.com / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Tip #39: Macro in 3D

Lupine Bloom - Tamarack Nature Center, MN
Nikon D2h + Tamron 180 f3.5 Macro @ f4
I have a love/hate relationship with macro photography. I loathe the patience required of the photographer. It is the infinite wait between breezes, ephemeral light, and shallow focus that inspires a short-lived rage. However, I love the details that can be extracted from the near microscopic, obscure, and cryptic. The delicate trichomes (tiny hairs) on the surface of leaves and poisonous spines that envelop larvae captivate my imagination. Razor sharp edges in the foreground contrast with blurred details in the background as leaves or bodies fall out of focus. Layers form when telephoto lenses are combined with large apertures and short focal distances. The soft bokeh at full aperture (out of focus regions) enhances the point of focus and makes an image "pop." 
Tip #39
Make it 3D - Use Your Macro or Telephoto at Maximum Aperture and Minimum Focus 

©2000-2012 BTLeventhal.com / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Tip #38: The Vertical Landscape

Fall at the Falls - Gooseberry Falls State Park, MN
Canon 1Ds markII & Canon17-40L @ 28mm
Here is one simple way to shake up your landscape photography... rotate the camera and shoot vertically. With our eyes lying flat on a horizontal plane, we take it all in and see nothing very well. We live the panorama and reproduce this perspective poorly with our tiny cameras. It is rare that I see the untrained photographer who flips the body and shoots the vertical landscape. Should you risk breaking your paradigm, you might find that you will enjoy a more restrictive perspective and the ability to focus the attention of your audience.

Tip #38: Flip that Camera and Shoot the Vertical
©2000-2012 BTLeventhal.com / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Tip #37: Live the Moment

Red-Eye Tree Frog - Caribbean Slope, Costa Rica
Canon 5D Mark II + Canon 180mm MacroL

What follows is a retelling of the Zen view of Past - Present - Future...
Strolling through a bamboo forest, a zen monk is consumed by the beauty and harmony in nature. He banks left through a narrow wood and sees a tiger in the distance. Fearful of his fate, the monk begins to run. Instinct, adrenaline and hunger makes the tiger give chase. The tiger bounds through the forest with ease and begins to approach the monk who now labors with every step. 

Fleeing with all of his speed, the monk discovers that it is all about to end. You see, the forest terminates at a cliff. 
Giving little thought to the ramifications of his actions, the monk hurls himself over the edge. As gravity pulls him down he spots a tree snag emerging from a rocky shelf. Reaching out, the monk catches the snag and rejoices in his good fortune. 

The tiger, frustrated, now sniffs at the monk from above, while the monk ponders a way to descend the remaining 15 feet. Looking down, the monk now observes that another tiger has arrived and waits from below. 
Thinking he will wait them out, the monk secures his body to the branch that now hangs precariously between the two hungry tigers. It is at this point that two mice scurry out of a crevice in the mountain and begin to gnaw away at the branch.
From the corner of his eye, the monk spots a ripe, red, and luscious strawberry growing on a nearby vine. He Grasps a the tendrils of the plant in one hand, and plucks the strawberry with the other. Tossing the ripe fruit into his mouth, the monk thinks to himself.... delicious. 

Zen teaches us that we can’t run from our past nor fear our future, rather, we must embrace and savor the now. 
The way I see it, photography is about the experience. We need to learn how to silence the peripheral noise that clutters our minds, unlock the shackles of our past, and worry less about the future. Grab a camera, find some light, and live the moment. 
©2000-2012 BTLeventhal.com / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Tip #36: Study Images

Black Rhinoceros - Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania
Canon 1D MarkII + Canon 300mm f2.8L IS + 1.4x Converter

This may be cliché, but I’ll say it anyway... study lots of photographs. 
Seek out the images that inspire wonder and compel you to ask the big questions: 
“Where was it taken?” 
“When was it shot?” 
“How’d they do it?” 
When I began making photographs in the late 1970’s, I became a book seeker. I’d visit local shops, used book stores, swap meets, libraries and garage sales in search of old books and magazines about photography. I was the bargain book boy compulsively looking for images to study. A connoisseur of texts by nature photo masters like Adams, Rowell, Lanting, Muench, Wolfe and Brandenburg, I also reveled in unearthing the work of obscure or lesser known photographers. It wasn’t the personality that I was seeking to emulate, it was the imagery being produced by talented seers of the nature. 
Winter Spring - Marine on St. Croix, MN
Canon 7D + 300mm f2.8L IS
With the ever-rapid expansion of the internet, photo web-galleries, photo-streams, and photo-social network sites, it has never been easier to find amazing work to study. As a photographic enthusiast for more than thirty years, I am still on a mission to study the images produced by masters of this craft. I am forever amazed by the things people see, the way it is interpreted and passion inherent in their work. 
Tip #37: Study Images - The work that precedes you - The work of your peers - The work yet to be done.
Fall Migration - Crex Meadows, WI
Canon 7D + 300mm f2.8L IS

©2000-2012 BTLeventhal.com / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Tip #35: Twilight Can Be Magic

Twilight in Joshua Tree - Joshua Tree NP, California
Canon 5D MarkII + 15mm f2.8 Fisheye
Twilight occurs between dawn and sunrise or dusk and sunset. With the sun sitting just below the horizon, light scatters throughout the upper atmosphere and gently illuminates the land. I live for the twilight hours; this is the time when birds sing and crepuscular species are out and about. The soft light brings out the magic in an otherwise rugged landscape that is too contrasty to photograph during the day. You need to prep for your twilight shoot. Pre-scout the landscape for a strong photographic subject or key point of interest before the sun begins to set. Be prepared to work fast and know how to use your camera as the twilight hour is an ephemeral event. Effective twilight photography will require a sturdy tripod, remote release, and patience. Just when you think the moment is over, wait it out. Just prior to darkness the sky can turn indigo, magenta, or green... there is just a bit of magic dust in the physics that illuminates the landscape.
©2000-2012 BTLeventhal.com / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission.