Saturday, February 25, 2012

Photo tips hidden in EXIF data

Musk Ox at Cabela's in Hamburg, PA
I have taken hundreds of images of preserved animals at Cabela's stores across the US and even a number at such live exhibits as the San Diego Zoo but I've always been in awe of wildlife photographers who bring back stunning images from photoshoots in the "bush".  I noticed this article about an African photo safari in the NY Times so, of course, had to take a look since I am still very much a novice at photographing animals that are "in the wild".  Unfortunately, the photographer offered very little insight on his techniques other than to recommend a good telephoto lens with a range of at least 80 - 400 mm.  He actually borrowed one from Nikon for this particular shoot.  He also recommended a monopod (less cumbersome and quicker to set up than a tripod I guess) and lots of memory cards and an extra battery (I actually take two extra batteries with me).  But his 21 image slide show includes each image's EXIF data which tells me quite a bit although I have to make some assumptions. 

First of all, I notice that almost all of his images except the first one are taken at F 5.6.  I assume he is using aperture priority mode to give him a healthy depth of field with at least some focus definition to emphasize his subject. 

Then I noticed that he increased his ISO (he keeps referring to it as ASA which threw me at first since that is usually considered a film light setting not a digital light setting) to 1600 whenever he was working in the low light of morning or late evening.  He did not include any information about post production so I assume his camera does not have significant noise issues or he used noise reduction settings in his camera or software in post or both.  I also couldn't tell if he experimented first with other settings to gain a particular shutter speed or not.  He comments on the shot of a male leopard in early morning that he preset his "ASA" to 1600 to achieve a high shutter speed of 1/3200 but the leopard does not appear to be moving fast so he probably could have used a lower ISO setting but either didn't have time or didn't bother to change it. 

I recently joined the Emerald Photographic Society and the group went on a field trip to Hull-Oakes Lumber, a steam-powered sawmill up by Bellfountain, Oregon.  After the field trip, one of the group members took me to Finley Wildlife Refuge just outside of Corvallis, OR and we discussed pointers on bird photography.  I remember that she said she was told you should try to adjust your camera so you get a minimum shutter speed of 1/1000 of a second to freeze the wings.  But the NYT photographer includes a picture of a weaver bird that he shot at a "high" shutter speed of 1/500.  However the detail is a little soft around the edges of the wings so obviously he should have asked for tips from Kathy!  He had plenty of wiggle room since his ISO was set only to 200. 

Of course he seemed to be paying close attention to the Rule of Thirds (or cropped his images with that in mind).  One of the images was an interesting silouette of a topi.  He placed the land portion of the image in the lower 1/3 of the picture and left the rest of the image as sky.  It works well even though the sky only has faint high cirrus clouds. 

The photographer said he had little experience photographing animals but his experience with photography was enough to ensure a series of images that any wildlife photographer should be proud of.  I wonder if I could get anywhere close to his results on a field trip to Wildlife Safari, an animal preserve near Winston, OR about 1 hour's drive from my home?
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