A Few Basic Digital Camera Tips

Get to know the innermost workings of your camera so it’s like second nature. Learn all the dials and switches on your camera so well that you can work them without looking at them. Don’t get stuck fumbling around trying to locate and change the settings while something great is happening right in front of you and you can’t pull off the shot! I just had to say that……. There, now that I feel better, let’s move on!

Camera Set-up – Initially, let’s start by discussing how to properly set up your DSLR camera internally. Shoot in RAW whenever possible – RAW contains the most file information and range of colors available, with no compression as is the case when you choose JPEG. JPEGs are “compressed” in the camera, which means that many of the similarly colored pixels are discarded in favor of a smaller file size, reducing overall image quality, somewhat. If you need to have JPEGs, select both RAW and JPEG in your camera settings and it will record both for you. Simply store away your RAW files to use later if you intend to print. Set your color space to Adobe RGB, (not sRGB) which will match the Adobe PhotoShop 1998 setting. Adobe RGB contains millions more color variations than sRGB, and you can convert the image to sRGB later if needed.

White Balance – When shooting in raw, I personally set my white balance (the color temperature of the light in the image) to 5560 Kelvin in the camera, which simulates the old film days where the true color of the light in the early or late light turns warm. This setting does not affect the actual raw file, only the view colors on your camera’s rear monitor. If you cannot set your camera’s white balance to 5560, set it to the “Flash” setting (5500) which is only a little off from the 5560 Kelvin setting. Automatic white balance (where the camera determines the correct white balance) also works quite well in most situations. All these white balance settings can be corrected later on in an editing software such as PhotoShop CS, Elements, Lightroom, etc. in raw format, but not so easily in  the jpeg setting. It is more important to get your jpeg white balance settings more accurate than in the raw format.

Histogram – Use your Histogram! This tool is invaluable and is your exposure’s best friend! Keep the histogram graph favoring the right side but  don’t let it “hit” (this is called “clipping”) either left or the right side of the graph on the screen. This will result in a good exposure with nothing blown out in the highlights, while keeping as much detail as possible in the shadows or dark areas (left side of the histogram) of the image. I also use my “blinky” which is a highlight overexposure setting on the camera that blinks black and white on the monitor if an area in the photo is over-exposed (in conjunction with the histogram).

In Camera Sharpening – I don’t do any sharpening in the camera. PhotoShop and other editing programs (Lightroom, Elements, Aperture, etc.) do a much better job of this after the fact. Besides, this is the last thing you do to your image based on size output and resolution before you save and actually use the image.

Photographing Wildlife in the Spring

Yawning Owl Redphase Eastern Screech Owl in Sycamore February 2010We are beginning to see signs of Spring in the hill towns of Western MA but Winter is holding on in Northern Maine where we will be moving to in a few short weeks. Certainly the recent high temperatures are keeping us from photographing the usual snowy landscapes and suspended icicles. In the valleys and lower elevations it is a good time to photograph wildlife. Keep an eye out for Screech Owls sunning themselves at the entrances to tree cavities facing southwest. Finding them is a challenge. This is where your state bird listserv comes in handy. Often times local birders will post locations or word gets out that one of these fascinating creatures has become fond of a particular daytime roost.
If you are lucky enough to find such a spot, patience is the name of the game. What you are waiting for is an opportunity to capture the behavior of anything but a sleeping owl! It can take hours if not days to get an image that I am happy with while waiting for a wing stretch, eyes opened, or a yawn, in just a momentary blink of the eye. If you are really lucky a Blue Jay or an ornery Chickadee, not appreciating the Owls presence, will display its feelings by “mobbing” (as it is called) the Owl. If the Owl sticks around long enough to hold its ground you may get an interesting image. Most times they just drop down into the cavity until the offensive bird gets bored and flies off to its next unsuspecting victim.

Moose Prints Gallery RenovationsAbout now Anita and I are feeling a bit like this “Yawning Owl” – tired! We just returned from Millinocket where we started the first round of renovations on our new home and Gallery space. With the help of trusted friends and talented contractors we raised ceilings, removed plaster and lathe, widened doorways, replaced plumbing, modified wiring and hung sheetrock. As you can see from this image it got pretty messy. Actually we are further along with renovations than expected and plan to have the gallery open for the June Workshops which brings me to the next subject.
It is not too early to register for my Maine Photography Workshops as spaces seem to be filling faster than in previous years. Our workshops offer an unparalleled opportunity to photograph the Katahdin Region of Maine including its spectacular landscapes and magnificent Moose. These all inclusive workshops (lodging, meals, and transportation to and from shooting locations during the workshop) make the most of our time together. There is no formal classroom instruction. Other than an afternoon break, we are in the field from sunrise to sunset. The most difficult decision you will have is whether you should attend in the Spring or Fall.
June (Spring in the North Woods of Maine) and now July provide opportunities to photograph a world coming to life after a long Winter. Moose feed heavily in the ponds this time of year, often times along side their cinnamon colored calves. Bull Moose antlers are covered in velvet and can grow as much as an inch a day. Picturesque indigenous wildflowers, rushing waterways, boreal birds and other fauna also provide inspiration and opportunities to learn new skills.
September and October workshops coincide with the Moose Rut and spectacular Fall color that the region is noted for. Now those 35 pound calves from Spring have grown a bit weighing about 400 pounds. The massive Bull’s antlers are finished growing, the velvet having been shed for the mating season. This is the time to capture these magnificent creatures in courtship and mating behavior with a backdrop of Fall color.
Several hundred participants of all skill levels have already taken my workshops. Whether it is a well planned all-inclusive Getaway Weekend or customized private one on one instruction you are guaranteed to learn new skills while exploring all that is unique to the region. Plan to attend one of my workshops in the North Woods of Maine this year and who knows, you may decide you like the area as much as we do.