Tag Archives: technique

Be prepared … …for the unexpected

This morning when preparing to go out for the early dog walk I decided to go down by the river as I’d passed a heron recently on that route, standing barely 15 metres away in still water. I didn’t have a camera on that occasion – today was going to be different.

Of course, having the camera along meant that I didn’t see the heron but what I did get was completely unexpected:

a pair of deer


a pair of deer standing in a grassy clearing beside a stand of trees.

My preparation for something I had anticipated allowed  me to get this shot with the minimum of fuss and was taken within seconds of spotting the deer.  Apart from taking the camera along, how had I prepared and how had that prepared me for the unexpected? Let me explain…

All of my preparation was for seeing the heron, but that also perfectly suited the scenario that I faced here. Before I left home I put on a 55-200mm lens and also fitted the sling harness to the camera allowing me to carry it securely across my body but readily available to pull up and take the shot. As I anticipated that the heron could quickly take off I needed to be ready with a shutter speed fast enough to catch the action and avoid any motion blur from camera shake. I also wanted to have an aperture that would give me a safe depth of field to make sure focus should be OK. I set the camera to manual mode and opted for 1/400sec at f/8. All well and good, but what about ISO? My camera has the option to set ISO to automatic, which is what I did. That way, I can shoot with my preferred shutter speed and aperture and allow the camera to determine the ideal exposure by adjusting the ISO. I find that using evaluative metering tends to work well with this, though I almost always need to make some exposure adjustment in Lightroom.

Therefore, being prepared to shoot the heron, I was also happily prepared for this unexpected sighting of deer. All I had to do was lift the camera, switching it on as I did so, quickly frame the basic composition and shoot. All done within a few seconds. I’m not a wildlife photographer but I do know that it generally doesn’t give you time to set up and carefully consider what settings to go for – being prepared is the key.

Having got that photo, I spotted that there was some cow parsley (I think) just a pace pace or two in front of me. I thought that a shot taken through that would provide an interesting foreground bokeh. As I crouched to frame the shot the deer became nervous and made a bolt for it so I just pressed the shutter release as I was also moving . Here’s the resulting shot:

deer on the run

and we’re off…

It’s not the greatest wildlife shot ever as all the movement that was going on has combined to result in a less than sharp image, but I wanted to demonstrate the bokeh effect that I was wanting – only with stationary deer!

And here is what I shot through for the image above; the gap just right of centre…

cow parsley

Cow parsley

Keep those shutters firing, look out for the unusual and be prepared for the unexpected.


Settings, bleh!

It’s kind of funny the way people are often interested in what camera settings you used. Do you find that?

It’s largely irrelevant, because you can’t go out to the same location at roughly (or even precisely) the same time of day, dial in the same settings and hope to get the same results. Why’s that then? Well, there are so many other variables: the weather conditions will affect the air quality and clarity, it may be overcast when originally it wasn’t, others will probably not be using the same camera and lens and even if they are, they might respond differently; and those are just some of the variables. On top of that there’s the post-processing to factor in.

What’s more important is knowing how to use your settings to get the results you want knowing how your particular kit behaves.

Let me talk you through the above three photos all of which were taken on the same night in Perth, Scotland. I had been to the location before with just my iPhone to take some scoping out shots and get a sense of what I wanted to come back and shoot properly. That pre-shoot visit was really helpful in allowing me to get a sense of how the lighting was working, the scale, and some preferred vantage points. Based on that, I began to think about what kind of shots I wanted to achieve and how I would go about getting them.

For the shots across the River Tay, I was certain that I wanted to soften the water and therefore blur the reflected light which would offer a contrast to the sharper definition on land. To achieve that, I knew I would need a long exposure. However, I also wanted to minimise grain (or noise, if you were raised in the digital age) which might be an issue with a long exposure at night. I opted to shoot at ISO 100, knowing that the relative lack of light sensitivity at this setting would push for a longer exposure. So, I’ve now considered ISO and exposure time (shutter speed) leaving the issue of aperture. Here, I was mainly concerned to shoot near the sweet spot of the lens, the aperture where the lens is sharpest and performs best. For the lens I was using that was going to be somewhere between f8 and f11. So, I opted for aperture priority, setting that to f10 on an ISO setting of 100. I then had a look to see what the camera was choosing for an exposure time. For both shots across the river, that was coming in at around 30 seconds which I was happy would be long enough for the effect I wanted, and so it turned out. Had it been longer, I might have had to consider changing the ISO. It’s a juggling act.

I used the same basic thought flow for the shot of the catering van but I wanted something more subtle here. The plan was to include some human interest but in a way that a slow exposure would blur the movement of the people. However, an exposure time of 30 seconds would be too long and could almost render the people invisible. I was looking for something nearer five to ten seconds, but also wanted to shoot within the sweet spot range and keep the ISO low. In the event, the lighting here allowed me to shoot at f8, stay at ISO 100 and get the kind of exposure time I needed. I’m certainly pleased with the result.

Post-processing was fairly light touch, really and done only in Lightroom. I’ll often use Photoshop for sharpening, but in this instance Lightroom did all I needed. One of the issues with night photography with the range of lights here, is that some areas had highlights that were just too bright so I needed to treat them specifically with the brush tool.

So, there you have it. Don’t be too bothered about what settings anyone used for their photos. I know it’s interesting and I’m as culpable as anyone for often providing that information, but it actually tells you relatively little that’s actually all that useful. Better to understand how to use the settings to achieve the shot you want, whether that’s in a very structured pre-planned way or in the moment when a composition lies before you.

Most of all, have fun and enjoy the good feeling of pulling off a photo just as you envisioned it.

Happy shooting.

A compromise of composition

Kelpies, sculpture, installation

The Kelpies

I don’t know about you, but I usually find myself bristling when I hear or read the words, “…it’s all about…” because I find it seldom is that exclusive. I was on the verge of titling this blog “it’s all about compromise” then had an argument with myself. I’m pleased to say I won.

I am not, therefore, going to say that photography is all about compromise, though that features in so many ways, not least finding the best compromise of ISO, aperture and shutter speed. What I will say, is that this blog is about the compromise of composition.

This was the third time I had photographed these magnificent sculptures called The Kelpies, but my first visit in winter. I like to find different ways of seeing and photographing subjects so set out to look for something unusual. Walking round the side I notices a canal boat moored up with smoke  rising from it’s chimney. I thought that might offer an interesting composition contrasting the ephemeral nature of the smoke with the solidity of the Kelpies.  How then, did this end up as a compromise of composition? Ideally, I’d have preferred to position the boat more between the sculptures to balance the scene a little more and provide more of a leading line. I was physically unable to do so as, to get more to the right, I would need to climb a fence and engage in trespass, which I thought to be a bad idea. That said, had I been able to position the boat as I wanted, I’d have lost contrast on the smoke with it positioned against the sky, and it was the smoke that had captured my compositional attention. I did feel, however, that the fading daylight in the background offered an interesting contre-jour shot and the grey of the winter sky reflected the steel construction of the Kelpies.

The grasses on the left of shot are also something of a compromise. Ideally, I’d have left them out of shot but it wasn’t possible to do so on location with the lens I was using. I debated removing them in Photoshop but decided to leave them in as I didn’t feel they were too distracting. I did, however, remove a lighting pole which was directly in line with one of the Kelpies and definitely spoiled the shot. One compositional advantage of shooting from behind, is that I eliminated the power lines and pylons which are in full view from in front.

I think the lesson here is to accept that sometimes, maybe more often than not, we photographers have to accept compromise in our compositions and the job is to make the best of what we see. Personally, I like to do that with the least manipulation in post.

This was shot at ISO-400, 1/000 sec, f/8 with a focal length of 18mm. I used an auto white balance with the intention of colour correcting in Lightroom if necessary. I used Lightroom to make basic adjustments to highlights, contrast and toning (among others) and used Photoshop to remove the troublesome lighting pole.