Backyard Photo Safari

People are funny. I think most of us are guilty of living by the old adage of “the grass is always greener”. Fishermen are always thinking that the big fish is around the next creek; while hunters obviously seem to think the bucks are bigger on the neighboring ranch or they wouldn’t put their hunting blinds right on the fence line. And photographers…well, our next great image is just a photo safari away. Even if we are not booking flights to some remote destination, how many of us drive for hours to photograph a subject, completely overlooking the abundance of photographic gems to be had in our own backyard? Too often I’ve been guilty of this so I now make a conscious choice to regularly photograph at home. I’m not saying I never drive long distances anymore, or that I don’t go on photographic ventures in distant places. I do and hopefully will always be able to do so, but as I just stated there are many photographic opportunities to enjoy at home. Granted, my current backyard is a little under 2 acres, whereas my former backyard was a small suburban lot. Honestly, that really doesn’t matter. Once I made a deliberate effort, I was able to capture some great images at both homes. The thing I hope you take away from the photos I share in this post is this…great images can be captured anywhere. All you have to do is realize how green the grass is at your own home…so put away the computer, turn off the t.v., and go discover the wilderness on your backyard photo safari. You’ll be glad you did!

Until next time, good light and keep shooting. — KEVIN

The images below are just a small sample from my current backyard. Click on the images for a better view.

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Downy Woodpecker. Canon 7D | 500/4.5 | f8 | ISO320

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Carolina Chickadee. Canon 7D | 500/4.5 | f5.6 | ISO640

White-breasted Nuthatch. Canon 7D | 500/4.5 | Canon 580ex fill flash at -2 FEC

White-breasted Nuthatch. Canon 7D | 500/4.5 | Canon 580ex fill flash at -2 FEC

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Ruby-throated Hummingbird. Canon 7D | ISO 200 | 70-200/2.8

Pine Warbler.  Canon 7D | 500/4.5mm | f7.1 | ISO 800

Pine Warbler. Canon 7D | 500/4.5mm | f7.1 | ISO 800

Tufted Titmouse. Canon 7D | 500/4.5mm |f7.1 | ISO 800

Tufted Titmouse. Canon 7D | 500/4.5mm |f7.1 | ISO 800

Eastern Phoebe.  Canon 7D | 500/4.5 | f7.1 |ISO 800

Eastern Phoebe. Canon 7D | 500/4.5 | f7.1 |ISO 800

The images below are from my old suburban backyard in Texas, taken by myself or one of my children.

Black-crested Titmouse. Canon 1DsMkII | 500/4.5 | f 5.6 | ISO 200

Black-crested Titmouse. Canon 1DsMkII | 500/4.5 | f 5.6 | ISO 200

Yellow Sunflower: Flowering Plants Category.

Yellow Sunflower: Flowering Plants Category.

Canon 7D | 50/1.8 @ f18 | 30 sec exposure | ISO 200

Canon 7D | 50/1.8 @ f18 | 30 sec exposure | ISO 200

Butterfly. Canon 1DMkII | 135/2.0 + extension tube

Butterfly. Canon 1DMkII | 135/2.0 + extension tube

House Sparrow. Canon 1DsMkII | 500/4.5 | f5 | ISO 200

House Sparrow. Canon 1DsMkII | 500/4.5 | f5 | ISO 200

White-winged Dove. Canon 1DsMkII | 500/4.5 | f 6.3 | ISO 200

White-winged Dove. Canon 1DsMkII | 500/4.5 | f 6.3 | ISO 200

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ImageSpotlight: White-breasted Nuthatch & Tufted Titmouse

Decided to stay home this Sunday afternoon and given how nice the day was, figured I’d spend some time in the back woods with my camera. Lots of birds in the area and these two featured here were frequent visitors. All images shot with a Canon 7D, 500/4.5, f8, ISO400. Click on each image for sharper view.

Until next time, good light and keep shooting. –KEVIN

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Fill Flash for Wildlife Photography

I don’t know a single photographer who owns “too few” accessories. The reality is that most of us are accessory junkies, accumulating some useful, but some quite unnecessary, things in the name of improving our photographs. However, one very useful and necessary accessory, particularly for wildlife photography, is an external flash. While many third party flash heads cost less and will work just fine with your camera, owning at least one dedicated flash is important, as it has been designed to communicate perfectly with your camera. Generally speaking, a single flash is rarely sufficient to act as a main light in wildlife photography. But we don’t really want our flash to be a main source anyway; except perhaps when shooting macro. For other wildlife applications, we simply want to use a flash as a fill light to illuminate some of the shadows and provide a catch light in our subject’s eye.

A great time to use fill flash is when the ambient light on the background is brighter than the light on the subject. You might be wondering if you could just adjust the camera’s exposure settings to make the subject brighter. You could. However, that would cause a new problem in that the background would also get brighter and potentially be overexposed. To avoid this, we need fill flash. The images of the nuthatch below illustrate this point. In these photos, the background is much brighter than the subject, which is lost in the shadows. A correct exposure for the background yielded an underexposed subject. Had I adjusted the camera settings to expose for the nuthatch, I would have overexposed the background and the viewer’s eye would have been drawn to the background since we know that our eyes are first drawn to the lighter areas in a photograph. To solve this issue, I simply added some fill flash. The result was a well-lit subject while the background remained correctly exposed. Notice the effect of the flash on both the bird and the bark. The shadows are filled in nicely and the details are brought out by the use of fill flash. Additionally, the catch light in the bird’s eye adds life to the image.

White-breasted Nuthatch. Canon 7D | 500/4.5| No Fill Flash.

White-breasted Nuthatch. Canon 7D | 500/4.5| No Fill Flash.

 

White-breasted Nuthatch. Canon 7D | 500/4.5 | Canon 580ex fill flash at -2 FEC

White-breasted Nuthatch. Canon 7D | 500/4.5 | Canon 580ex fill flash at -2 FEC

 

TECHNIQUES

So how does one use fill flash in the field? All you need is a DSLR and a dedicated flash capable of automatic flash metering and output (Flash exposure compensation) control. Enable the flash head’s high-speed sync, which allows camera and flash to work together at higher shutter speeds. Shoot in Av mode (aperture priority), which gives you control over aperture while the camera selects correct shutter speed to maintain ambient exposure. Keep an eye on the shutter speed. As you adjust the aperture, shutter speeds increase or decrease depending on the aperture adjustment you selected. Make sure to maintain a fast enough shutter speed to avoid ghosting or blurred images. Use FEC (flash exposure compensation) to adjust flash up or down as necessary. As fill flash for wildlife I often shoot between -2 or -3 settings. On bright days, I’ll start with -2 FEC. On darker days or when I’m in shade, I’ll start at -2/3 and adjust as necessary. Since I am shooting at -2 or -3 FEC, I use a better beamer which projects flash a little farther. Again, I’m attempting to open up the shadows in the image.

NOTE: Keep in mind that Fill Flash can be overdone. If you add too much flash, your shots can look artificial and overexposed. Aim for subtlety when using a flash and you’ll really improve your shots. The second nuthatch image still has some slight shadowing evident on bird and bark, but the fill flash is just enough to brighten the foreground, giving prominence to the subject in the frame.  I hope you have found this information useful.

Until next time, good light and keep shooting. — KEVIN