Bee Technical

I’ve been photographing a long time, since I was ten or eleven years old. I became “serious” in my late twenties. “Serious” usually means you are making carefully considered photographs.

This is a “serious” photograph of mine. I took it for fun and profit. I think it has commercial value. I hope it is profitable. I’ll post it, but I am not sure where yet.

I present it here with a few general details. I have my own way of working developed over decades photographing. Maybe it will be instructive and help you in some way by learning what I did to make this photograph.

I don’t recall how long I watched the bee fly among the mums. Insects don’t wait on you. This worker was constantly moving. So the Number 1 photographic technique I apply is patience. It may look odd to people who happen to see me just standing there, camera to eye, finger on the shutter release, not doing anything. However, I am doing something. I am waiting and watching.

I usually take the camera off automatic when photographing nature. I do not fire away like a machine gun, hoping that I hit something. Think about it. To me there is little creativity in the machine gun approach?

My nature photography method is different from my wedding and portrait photography, and from my sports photography. If I am photographing a wedding, especially when making a group photograph of the family, there’s always someone with eyes closed or with some odd look. There is nothing more fleeting than human expressions. So once I have the lighting and composition set, I take several images in a burst, and pick one with the best expressions. If I photograph a basketball game, I will use active focus, follow the action or lead the action to where I think it will be, and fire a burst.

Back to the bee.

In order to take the camera off automatic you must understand the relationship of aperture, shutter speed, and the ISO. One setting impacts the others. I won’t go into a tedious description of it here.

ISO first. I set it to 400. I do not let the camera set it. I have to be aware of what effect the ISO will have on quality, shutter speed. Do I want the image “grainy” (digital signal noise)? Do I want blur or not. The lower the ISO, the less digital noise you introduce to the image (higher quality), but the more the image is affected by motion and blurring if you have a fairly small aperture like f8. If the available light is low, then you try to compensate with a higher shutter speed, but the camera may not try to set that. Just be aware of it. Your photos will let you know.

Next, I set the camera to aperture priority and the lens to f8. I allow the camera to set the shutter speed. I don’t want it trying to average things out to the algorithm determined by collecting images from a million happy consumers.

The camera I used is a Nikon D3400. It is a very capable, consumer oriented camera, and very inexpensive compared to others. I don’t think it matters too much whether you use Canon, Nikon, Sony, Leica, or whatever. My opinion after having photographed with many, many different brands is… OPINION ALERT… Nikon makes the best reasonably priced professional equipment and Canon makes the best consumer cameras. I have use both brands for 30 or 40 years. I won’t argue about it. Use what you like.

The lens was one of Nikon’s consumer zooms, a 55-200mm G, not a macro. It is very light, and inexpensive. Nikon puts them in their D3400 and D3500 kits. This image was taken with the zoom set at almost 200mm. I back off the maximum settings because you’ll usually find the best performance and image quality if you shoot somewhere in the middle. That goes for zoom range and f-stop.

I had the D3400 and lens set to manual focus. Again, manual focus, not on automatic, which is way too slow for a moving insect. Here is where a little more expensive camera body might help, but I would still shoot nature manually focused. It’s a bit of a pain, because the lens has a tiny focusing ring. But get your thumb and finger on it and let it rest there. At f5.6-f8 and 200mm, you have only a tiny bit of depth of field. A soft background sets the subject apart and draws the eye to it.

I photographed this hand-held. No tripod. That probably breaks one of the cardinal rules about nature photography. I will often use a monopod which also works as a hiking stick. I will sometimes use a tripod. But most often I shoot hand held. My hands are still steady, even with a SLR, down to about 1/10 to 1/15 second. I can move around a lot more quickly with just a camera.

Is there luck involved? Was there luck with this shot? I don’t much believe in luck anymore. I believe in practice, preparation and experience. I believe in GOD at work. I cannot count the number of times times I felt Him very close by. When I “get that shot” or whatever you call it, in that instant, that is when I feel Him closest. It’s a deep feeling in my soul. I don’t apologize for it. I read about Henri Cartier-Bresson, the famous French photographer. He made those wonderful, iconic, sometimes surreal black and white street images. He was an atheist, part of the Humanist Photography movement. Believer or Atheist, it is my firm belief that you can’t get away from the Imago Dei.

Now the Big Secret, which is not secret, I photographed in RAW (NEF) format, not jpeg. Almost all the adjustments in exposure, contrast, highlights, shadows, noise reduction and sharpness were done in Photoshop Elements RAW image processor which is part of both Elements and the much more expensive Adobe Lightroom. (Get Elements on sale for $69 a couple times a year).

If you want really good photographs with detail in the highlights and shadows and nuanced color, learn how to work with a digital “negative” to control everything.

I brought up the image in Elements Editor. It recognized the NEF format and started the RAW processor. I cropped the image, then I adjusted exposure, contrast, blacks, shadows, clarity. I adjusted sharpness and luminance noise. You must adjust exposure in the RAW processor in order to bring the highlights under control and not lose detail in a big, honkin’ color blob. (BTW that happens a lot in automatic mode shooting jpeg format.) Then I opened the image into the regular Elements editor. I set the image to 8 bit color depth, then I adjusted lighting and contrast. I added selective sharpness here and there. You don’t have to add any more general sharpness, but only to select areas to set them apart.

Posted here is the “Web” version, which isn’t the highest quality. But you don’t need much for presentation on the internet.

Nikon’s original professional digital SLR, the D1 was released in 1999, and the D100 followed closely behind. The owner of the studio I worked at then told me, quote: “Hey we are going all digital, just to let you know.” So I paid $2000 for the D100, and I continued working. Today, you don’t really have to get a $1500-2000 camera body or a $1000 lens to capture great photographs. Not only are cameras obviously expensive, the designated pro models weigh a ton. Some people need them. I also have a D7500 and an older D90. I have to think about return on investment.

I heard there’s no cost justification for a hobby. If there were, there would be no bass boats.

If you are interested in learning more from me, I offer reasonably priced, private and small group classes.

~ by Bill on July 11, 2019.

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