Welcome to the first month of
“A Year of Photographic Exploration”
To kick this yearlong project off, I’ve chosen video production. I’m not talking about making movies or music videos. I have no aspirations to be the next Steven Spielberg or George Lucas. Although I do enjoy making short music videos. I’ll put links to a couple of my videos at the bottom just for fun.
What I want to learn during March is how to produce and edit short, good quality instructional videos. This is an area of video production that will be most helpful to my brand and business. And with the popularity of social media sites like YouTube and Facebook, it’s a topic a lot of people are interested in.
If you are one of those interested in making short movies or music videos, many of the topics I will be talking about over the next 30 days will transfer over to other areas of video production.
What Video Knowledge Do I Need and Where Do I Get It?
As mentioned in the introduction post, I do have some training and rudimentary experience in motion media which includes motion picture and video, but it has never been my specialty. I do a lot of reading though, take the occasional course, and watch videos by some of the up and coming cinematographers.
A recent course I went through is by the DIY Video Guy, Caleb Wojcik. His course titled, DIY Video Guide, gives in-depth coverage about a lot of things I will be attempting to learn this month. If you are at all interested in learning more about video production, I would recommend taking his course. Subscribing to my blog would be good too.
An up-and-coming cinematographer I enjoy watching is Devin Graham, also known as Devin Super Tramp. He’s huge on YouTube and is known for his high energy, high adventure videos. I enjoy watching his videos to study his treatment of the subject, how he shoots and edits the story, and to watch how he handles his Glidecam hand-held camera stabilizing system, which is the same as I use. Of course, Devin’s videos are outside the scope of what I want to learn this month, but I still learn a lot watching his videos.
What Video and Sound Equipment Do I Have and What Do I Need?
Today, almost any camera or cell phone has the ability to record video, some better than others. But I did mention that I want to produce good quality videos, so I had to take stalk of what I had in my arsenal of photographic gear.
For video cameras, I have two that I use. First, is my Nikon D7000 DSLR camera, which is capable of recording Hi-Definition video, as most of your better still cameras do in this day and age. Second is my GoPro Hero 2 that I use on land, air, and sea. I take my GoPro scuba diving, use it with various attachments on solid ground, and mount it to a radio control quad-copter to do aerial work.
For sound, I have a few microphones I’ve collected over the years including a Rode Videomic Pro, which mounts on top of my Nikon camera and a fairly cheap Giant Squid Audio Lab lavalier. As far as recording the sound, each of my cameras have on-board sound recording, and I have a very underused sound recorder laying around that I plan on putting to good use.
For lighting, I have a large 5-in-1 set of collapsible reflectors to use. I also have a small LED light which can be mounted on top of my Nikon or on a stand. The only thing I purchased prior to the start of this months experiments, was an extremely affordable continuous lighting kit from Amazon. This kit comes complete with three light stands, three light heads with five daylight balanced compact fluorescent lights each, and three softboxes. It’s a cool source of light (temperature wise) and can be used for both still photography and video work.
Lastly, there’s software to consider. There are a couple free video editing software options available if you are on a budget. Specifically iMovie for the Mac and Movie Maker for Windows. There are many paid programs, some reasonably priced and others costing an arm and leg. Like everything, the higher the cost, the more features and convenience you get. A couple midrange programs are Screenflow for Mac and PowerDirector for both Mac and PC. Adobe Premiere and Final Cut Pro are at the top of the heap, both in price and features. I’ve been using PowerDirector for several years now. I chose it based on reviews, price and features, and have been very happy with it so far.
Let the Exploration Commence
To summarize where I am starting from on this first of twelve photographic adventures.
I want to learn to make instructional videos. I have a very basic understanding of videography, but have recently taken a course on the subject at hand. I will be using my existing cameras, some cheap sound recording devices I had laying around, some lights and reflectors that I had, and purchased a cheap continuous light kit to augment my arsenal. All of my editing will be done with my existing Power Director software.
I’m looking forward to learning how to make instructional videos, but at the same time, have a little anxiety about it. Since I can’t afford to hire talent to be on camera, I’m going to have to be the talent myself. I have always hated being on camera and think I sound weird. But in listening to others talk, I’m in the majority. So I’ll just have to power through the fears.
I hope you decide to follow along in my journey. Maybe even try some of this stuff out for yourself. You really don’t need a lot of equipment to start. I’ve heard of one woman who is taping her iPhone to a sliding glass door with duct tape and making instructional videos for YouTube. You can’t go much more low tech than that, and yet she is still producing videos that people want to watch.
If you do decide to follow along and try some video production yourself, please share links to your videos in the comments section below this or any subsequent post.
For the next 12 months, I’ll be exploring and experimenting in various avenues of photography. What I am calling, “A Year of Photographic Exploration.”
My goal is to explore avenues of photography that I have little to no experience in. It’s my way of broadening my photographic knowledge and skills, and also a way to share my discoveries with you. Hopefully, you will find some encouragement in my writings and try some new things in photography yourself.
According to Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliners: The Story of Sucess, to master any subject takes 10,000 hours of practice. At 20 hours per week, this comes out to 10 years of study and practice. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have 120 years to master 12 areas of photography.
I believe the teachings of Josh Kaufman in his book, The First 20 Hours: How To Learn Anything Fast, are more in order for my Year of Photographic Exploration. Josh feels that with just 20 hours of focused, deliberate practice, you can go from knowing absolutely nothing to performing noticeably well. That’s just 40 minutes per day of study and practice over the course of a month. I can do that.
So what can you expect to see during the Year of Photographic Exploration?
Each month, I will select a new realm of photography to explore. During that month, I will learn, experiment, and write about my findings in roughly the following manner:
Introduction to the topic and what I hope to achieve.
Discuss the basic concepts of the topic as I understand them.
Explain what photography equipment is needed. (Note: The experiments I select will not require much above a very simple equipment setup. My goal is to learn and to teach, not to go broke.)
Make some first attempts in the subject to discover my strengths and weaknesses.
Study additional camera and lighting techniques in order to be successful.
Discuss the subject matter for the month and what is needed in the way of dealing with it.
Hopefully, conduct an interview with a professional that specializes in that months subject. (Maybe a Skype interview)
Discuss some intermediate and advanced techniques.
Wrap up the month with a summary including sharing some final images.
The 12 Photographic Experiments
March: Video Production - I chose video production first because I hope to produce one or two short videos to augment my writing each month. I do have some training and rudimentary experience in motion media, but it is far from being one of my strengths. I feel that video production is an increasingly important skill going into the future.
April: Strobist Photography - I would classify this as advanced flash photography. I feel competent handling one or two flashes at a time, but I am a rank amateur as compared with the likes of David Hobby or Joe McNally.
May:Milky-Way/Star Photography - I’ve been reading a lot of articles recently about milky-way and star photography. I’ve always been somewhat of a space nerd, so the subject matter appeals to me.
June: Car Photography - I have not done any car photography whatsoever. I’ve photographed a lot of aircraft, but no cars. I expect this subject to be a lot about dealing with car owners and also dealing with crowds at car shows.
July: High Dynamic Range (HDR) Photography - I feel like that last person to arrive at the party when it comes to HDR. It’s been a subject on my someday/maybe list, so I think it’s time to attack it.
August:Tilt-Shift Photography - Tilt-Shift fascinates me. I typically don’t do special effects photography of any kind, but I am very interested in tilt-shift and want to know more about it.
September: Time-Lapse Photography - Another subject that fascinates me, yet I haven’t found the time to experiment with it yet. Hopefully, September will be a good month to explore time-lapse.
October:Drone Photography/Cinematography - This isn’t exactly new to me. I’ve been flying radio control airplanes, helicopters, and quadcopters for over 20 years, and I have done quite a bit of aerial photography while in the Navy. I have not spent much time doing drone photography yet, even though I have a huge interest.
November:Smart Phone Photography (Instagram) - Smart phone photography has become prevalent in today’s society, and now with Instagram, its popularity with grow even more. I want to see what I can do with a smart phone camera. So far, I haven’t been overly successful.
December:Cinemagraphs - I just learned of cinemagraphs recently and find them intriguing. A still photo with just a hint of motion. I can definitely see the appeal of using these online to capture attention.
January:Water Drop Photography - I’ve played around with water drop photography some, but have been far from successful. In this arena, it seems to be less about the photography and more about controlling the water. But I could be wrong.
February:Macro Photography - I’ve done some macro photography over the years, but again, I wouldn’t call it one of my strengths. Nice thing about macro is that it can be done inside during the cold winter months.
Topics that didn’t get selected
It was tough selecting just 12 photography topics that were interesting to me. I find all aspects of photography and cinematography interesting, yet I had to make decisions. I am not locked into a few of them though. Here is a list of topics that didn’t get selected. If there’s enough interest in any photography topic listed or not, I would be willing to swap out one or two of the topics.
Nature and Wildlife Photography
Long Exposure Photography
So, there you have it. 12 photographic topics that I hope to learn about over the next year, experiment with, and share my findings here at Digital Photography Mastery. Hopefully I will learn a few things, expand my photographic repertoire, and encourage you to do some experimentation of your own.
“If you are out there shooting, things will happen for you. If you’re not out there, you’ll only hear about it.” – Jay Maisel
Just a short post to let everyone know about a fantastic opportunity to get your hands on a beautiful picture book for free.
Nature photographer Ian Plant just returned from a scouting trip to Costa Rica. It was so successful, that he released a new 40-page free picture book showcasing the monkeys, parrots, and all the other forest wildlife he saw there. He is now offering a workshop there as well!
If you follow Digital Photography Mastery, you know that I’m a huge fan of Ian’s. I’ve had a look through his Costa Rica book, and the photos are just gorgeous. I must warn you though that this is just a picture book. You will not find any of Ian’s photographic words of wisdom in this book.
This guest post was written by Judith Monteferrante, a retired cardiologist turned professional fine art photographer. This article appeared earlier this year on her blog as the January Photo Tips. I hope that you find the beautiful photography and great information valuable in your pursuits in animal photography. After reading Judith’s article, please be sure to check out her blog for more of her posts. And, if you’re also interested in writing a guest post here on Digital Photography Mastery, please contact me, thanks! –Wes
What makes animal or any wildlife photography special? What makes someone want to linger over an image? Emotion or feelings provoked by the image are often responsible. Memories also induce our minds to wonder, while good composition leads the way.
Let’s review six key elements that I believe add to this magic: eyes, patterns, reflections, action, environment and/or the young.
1. The Eyes have it!
It has been said that the eyes are windows to the soul. Eyes draw us in and evoke an emotional response. Eyes (or near eye) need to be in focus and it’s best if shooting at their level and not down. Eyes need to be at a good location according to rules of composition. For example, at an intersection point on the grid for the Rule of Thirds or in the top 1/3rd if a head shot or head and shoulders. A catch light is important as well, since this conveys a spark of life and a connection. Front lighting, flash with the white bounce card up or using the focused or zoomed beam of your flash with or without the Better Beamer to extend this distance.
2. Patterns or Symmetry create a graphic pattern
Learn to look for patterns and shapes. Zebra stripes are like fingerprints, and are unique for each animal. If the message of the image is this pattern, think of what distracts from this. Color does, so convert to B&W with a definite white and black point (pure white and pure back – to both edges of the histogram) with less in the midrange (or grey tones). If the grey tones remain, you would just have a color photo with the colors removed. Black and White images often reveals more about the subject by enhancing contrast and texture by control of the position of your light. Silver Efex Pro 2 has some great presets to try. Toned images such as Sepia add warmth and an old world feel. Adding texture or edging can increase the wow factor.
3. Reflections double the impact
Look to shoot after a rain storm or near a quiet body of water such as a puddle, pond or lake without sun shining directly on the water.
4. Look for Action that you can either freeze or blur
Avoid shooting when animals are eating with their head down or resting, usually in mid day. Most activity occurs in the early hours of the day or around dusk. When light levels are lower, it is easier to use a slow shutter speed and pan. With mid day light, freezing the action is much easier. Typical shutter speeds to freeze action would be 1/125 for large animals, 1/250 for medium animals, 1/500 for small animals or large birds and 1/1000 for small birds. Use continuous servo Auto Focus with predictive focus tracking and Continuous Low or High speed shutter release mode to follow action. Choose the auto focus area mode, such as Dynamic to track action and select the 21 focus point option! Read your manual, since options will differ depending on your camera. Panning for Motion requires a slower shutter: 1/60, 1/30 or slower and may require a low ISO, stopping down to a small aperture such as f/22-32 and / or using a Polarizing or ND filter. Target the subject’s shoulders or torso and keep the panning vector aligned with the animal’s direction of travel. Set for high speed shutter release, and move smoothly through he series, continuing the pan even after you have released the shutter button. Turn off vibration reduction during panning. Lots of trial and error so be thankful you are not shooting film!
5. Sense of place will help you tell a story
Environment is important in setting the stage and to create a sense of place. Dusk and Dawn, the Golden Hour, has always been important for the photographer, and getting up early and staying out late is required. During the golden hours, the sun is at an angle where it will illuminate mist, fog or dust, giving you a great golden glow when the weather conditions permit it. It is best to avoid cluttered background either with your position, by zooming in or by using a more shallow depth of field (shooting wide open – one or 2 stops smaller than the max aperture: such as f/4 to f/5.6 with an f/2.8 lens).
6. Everyone loves a baby or a family scene
Plan your trips around the time of year young can be anticipated. This generally means spring in the US but it is the opposite for Africa. For example on the Serengeti most of the wildebeest calves are born during a three week period, usually the beginning of February. The lioness will share the task of raising young with her sisters and multiple sets of cubs may be seen at the same time especially during our late summer to fall months in Kenya.
Enjoy and practice animal photography
Walk on the wild side
About the Author: Judith Monteferrante was a successful cardiologist for over 25 years, practicing in Westchester, NY, and specializing in heart imaging and female cardiac issues. Since her move to Massachusetts, she has been focusing fully on her creative side through photography on Cape Ann and her love of the garden. She completed a master’s degree in digital photography (MPS) in 2009 at the School of Visual Arts in NYC and former Artistic Director of the Rocky Neck Art Colony.
Judith has gallery representation in Gloucester, MA, in Peekskill, NY as well in Scottsdale, Arizona. She has won numerous awards and her work is in many private and corporate collections. Her main focus is on fine art– floral, the mature female nude, seascapes and wildlife. She also runs creative photography workshops and provides private instruction.
Tis the holiday season again. Lot’s of parties to go to. Lot’s of family and friends to visit with and talk to. Lot’s of great food to eat. As the officially, or unofficially, appointed photographer, it has fallen upon you to document the event for the historical archives. Since you are the one family member that always has a camera in their hands, you are the chosen one everyone will expect to make photos. But that’s okay. If you are like me, photography is a labor of love. It’s a part of you that happens as naturally as breathing. Personally, I enjoy making the photos more than I do the party or event itself.
Here are 12 things you can do to improve your holiday photos:
Check your camera settings
There is nothing worse than shooting for an entire day, or over an entire holiday season, only to discover that your camera was set wrong. Your ISO was set too high, so all of your photos have noise. Your white balance was set for fluorescent lighting. You had your camera set on shutter priority with a shutter speed of 1/30th of a second. Long story short, your photos end up looking terrible. So, before taking the first photo of this joyous holiday, check your camera settings. I learned a little Acronym from Scott Kelby to help me remember what to do. It’s called WHIMS. W-White Balance, H-Highlight clipping warning, I-ISO, M-Mode (JPEG or RAW), and S-Shooting mode (Aperture Priorty, Shutter Priority, Manual, or full Automatic if you desire).
All the artsy Christmas photos are neat, but Christmas is about family and friends. You will hear me mention more than once that your job as a photographer is to tell a story. In order to tell a story about Christmas, you must make photos of people. It’s alright to flex your artistic muscles some and do some Christmas photography not involving people. In most cases though, you want the artsy photos to be more of a supporting element to the story.
Focus on the eyes
This pretty well applies to any and all photography where people or animals are the subject. When people connect and form relationships, it’s through the eyes. That applies in person as well as in photographs. So, if your subjects eyes are tack sharp, it draws the viewer into the photo that much faster.
I realize that it’s not always easy to focus on the eyes, especially in low-light situations. There are some tricks that you can use in these situations. Focusing on a persons cheeks is a good substitute. The cheeks are close to the same plane of focus as the eyes. The front of someones shirt or blouse is going to be somewhat along the same plane of focus as the eyes provided the person is standing or sitting straight up. Particularly, the buttons or zippers on a shirt or blouse is usually easy to see and focus on. The bottom line is to find something along the same plane of focus as the eyes and focus on it. If you make a conscious effort on this, over time it will become second nature. You won’t even have to think about it, because you have formed a good photography habit.
Get rid of red eye
Everybody has seen red eye in photographs. Basically, when a flash is close to the lens, the light from the flash travels straight out, illuminates the reflective part of the human eye which appears red, and the returning light travels straight back into the lens. You can see the same effect by shining a flashlight at an animal at night. Only the colors vary depending on the animal.
The simplest way to get rid of red eye is to get your flash away from the lens. The reflection still happens, but the reflective red light travels at an angle that is not captured by the lens. If you are using a point and shoot camera, you don’t have a choice. The flash is permanently mounted. Although you can turn on red eye reduction, which uses pre-flashes to dilate the subjects eyes to minimize the red eye effect.
For DSLR owners, do not use the little pop up flash on your camera. Get a good quality flash, and either mount it on a flash bracket attached to your camera or learn to do bounce flash. Using a flash bracket, the flash will be higher which not only eliminates red eye, but it also throws any shadows downward and out of the photo. Using this technique does create somewhat harsh lighting though. I recommend and prefer using bounce light instead. Bounce flash not only eliminates the red eye, but it also creates a soft, even lighting. Bounce flash takes some skill though. You have to learn the techniques and practice.
You don’t want to put a wide angle lens on your camera and shoot from across the room. It’s okay to pop off a few like this, but only a few. When a photo shows an entire room filled with 10 or 20 people, there is no one subject. It’s a room full of clutter pulling the viewers eye in different directions.
A better approach is to get in close. The main subject needs to dominate the frame. There should never be an question as to who or what the main subject of your photo is or what is happening.
I’m a strong proponent of using shorter focal lengths on your camera, getting in close, and interacting with your subject. But at the same time, you don’t want to interfere or be a distraction. Sometimes it’s better to stay back and use a longer focal length. That’s where a good quality zoom lens comes in handy.
Get down at eye level
Christmas is for family and friends. Christmas is especially for the children. Do you want to make the photos of your children opening their gifts to really pop? Then get down at eye level with them or even slightly lower if possible. This rule applies to anyone or anything you photograph, including animals. We, as humans, connect with others through the eyes. It’s a whole lot easier to make that connection if we are able to look directly into the eyes. Being at eye level or slightly below also has the effect of adding power and dominance to your subject. Try it out and see what you like.
Unless someone is paying you to photograph a holiday event, you are just a family member or friend who happens to also be a photographer. Your primary responsibility during the holiday event is to be part of the group. Photography is secondary. With that being said, you still want to be able to document the party or event to the best of your ability.
For the most part, the photos you make will be the standard everyday holiday photos. Little Suzi opening up her Christmas present. Dad carving a turkey at Christmas dinner. Aunt Sue toasting the joyous holiday and a Happy New Year. But, there are always those special little moments when the unexpected happens. Little Suzi shoots egg nog out her nose because she’s laughing so hard. Aunt Sue has a little too much to drink and climbs onto Santa’s lap. These are the moments that make each holiday special and unique. This is where your skills as a photographer really have to shine.
Even though you are having a good time with family and friends, you need to stay alert to what’s going on around you. Keep your camera turned on and in standby, with everything preset to what you think you will need to document the event. Know where you are and where your camera is at all times. When the unexpected happens, grab your camera, move in, get the shot, and get out. If you’re Ninja enough, your family and friends usually won’t realize that you took a photo or two. They will be totally surprised later when they see the photos.
Do a group photo (use timer or remote)
I’ve read a few articles that say not to take group photos, because they are too contrived. I disagree with that. Yes, group photos may appear to be a little stiff and contrived, but down the road, you will be glad that you took a group photo. Of all the photos my Dad took when I was a child, I remember the group photos best. Dad setting up the camera with a timer and then running across the room to jump in the photo at the last second. It’s been 50 years now, and I still like looking at those group photos.
So for every party or get together, I recommend setting up some kind of group photo. Find a nice location to make the photo. Set your camera up on it’s tripod along with the flash. Gather the group together. Use your camera’s timer feature or a cordless remote. Then jump in the photo with everyone, and make a couple images.
I prefer informal group photos. It’s just more interesting letting people do their own thing. Of course, there will always be someone (bossy) who will try taking charge and arranging everyone. Let them. Then make some minor tweaks to make sure everyone can be seen in the photo. Who cares if someone is doing bunnie ears behind Uncle Ned? Who cares that little Timmy is making an ugly face? It makes the image unique and tells a story. If you are concerned with perfection, then try your best to do a very static, formal group. But then make a few extra images and just let people go crazy.
I recommend that you make any group photos early in the event. People usually look their best at the beginning. No family fights have broken out yet resulting in hurt feelings or people leaving. Hopefully everyone is sober at the beginning of the party. I would go for making the group photo within an hour of the designated start of the party or event. Coordinate with the event host to determine if everyone has arrived. The host is also a great help in gathering everyone up.
Do timed exposure of tree and house
Your Christmas photo story wouldn’t be complete without a nice photo of the Christmas tree and one of your decorated house. Okay, time to stretch those artistic muscles now. This is where it’s alright to make some photos without any people in the picture. However, if you can make a good photo of the Christmas tree or the decorated house and include some family or friends in the photo, well that’s just like icing on the cake.
I’m sure everyone has seen or heard of the Uncle or Cousin who brings a camera to every event and relentlessly photographs every single second. They are in everybody’s way taking pictures and nobody can see because they have flash blindness. Don’t be that guy (or gal). A good photographer is almost Ninja like. They get in, get the photo, and get back out. If they did it right, nobody even realized they were there. You don’t have to photograph every single second of the party. I typically have my camera and flash turned on and setting somewhere easy to access. If I see a photo opportunity, I grab the camera, pop off a couple of frames from different angles, then put the camera back down. You are there to spend time with your friends and family. Making some good photos is just a added perk.
Before and after shots – Tell a story
Every good story has a beginning, middle, and an end. A photo story is no different. Any holiday event or party is typically the middle of the story. Before the party, there’s preparations, which could last hours if not days. There are guests arriving. There are family and friends greeting one another. After the event or party, there’s mounds of discarded Christmas paper, stacks of dirty dishes, and exhausted family and friends laying around. All of these are key elements of your story, and I encourage you to document them. They will be a very small part of your story, but still very important. So, if possible arrive early to any event or party and plan to stay late.
Edit your photos down so that they tell your story
The family member who has to show a few hundred photos of the family vacation or Christmas day has always been a standing joke in movies and television. Of course today, with digital photography, it could be thousands of photos, or hours of video. Please, don’t force your family and friends to look at all of your Christmas photos. Your job as the photographer is to tell a story, and you only need a dozen or so good photos to accomplish that. Think of yourself as a photojournalist, telling a story from beginning to end, and you only have a two page spread to do it in. A term I’ve heard in the writing world is “kill your darlings.” Meaning, no matter how much you love all of those images you took, as a photographer it’s your job to kill off all accept the very best photos.
Here are other good articles I found on Christmas photography