We have made our way to the magical place and found the most rare of birds, the biggest bear and the most spectacular sunrise poking its glorious light over yonder peak. Our favorite camera is ready to shoot, batteries charged, a new storage card and the right lens is on with the cap off. Click you go and nothing happens. "Format card" blinks in your viewfinder. "Oh crap! how do I do that? where is my book? crap, crap, crap!" or worse, you cry in frustration.
Before you go out on a shoot, fire a few test shots at home. We are using digital equipment and it doesn't cost anything to waste a few shots to make sure everything is working properly. Delete what you shoot and begin your trip. Even before the trip, I will preset the camera's settings such as "white balance, aperture, ISO," then, put the long lens on the camera. While wildlife shots are what I am looking for, I am also looking for pleasing environmental and scenic photos. Generally with the latter shots, you have time to change your lens before the light gets away on you, unlike most wildlife. If you have the short lens on the camera and the otter pops out of the water beside you, it would be rare if you had the time to dig your long lens out of the bag, change and be ready to shoot before the critter is gone. Of course, if money is no object, you may have a camera with a long lens and a second body with the shorter lens with you.
White Balance is one of the settings that you can program into most cameras by pushing a couple buttons in your camera's shooting menu. This setting is telling the camera photo processor what kind of light you are shooting in. Cloudy, Sunny, Flash illumination, Artificial neon lights or automatic settings all help achieve different photographic results. These settings may need to be adjusted through the day as light changes, but start your day with what you are going to be doing. On my camera, I have the ability to take a photo and then change the white balance setting to get an idea of what each setting looks like. You can become very "artsy" with this if that is what you want to do. Until you feel comfortable with the various settings, most cameras can be set to "automatic" and you will get fairly decent results. If you are shooting in your "Raw" format, some post processing programs will also adjust your white balance.
Set your "ISO" setting as the ambient light changes through the day. The higher the ISO is set, the more light will get into your camera processor and so the faster shutter speed you can shoot your picture. The faster the shutter speed is, the more likely you will get less blurry photos due to your shaky body or quick movements of the critters in front of you. Generally, the higher ISO you shoot, the more likely you will get some degradation of photos because of "Noise," or colored dots and undesirable grainy pictures. Shoot at the lowest ISO you can to get great quality photos, even in big enlargements.
I shoot most shots in a setting called "Aperture Priority." This setting allows me to get the depth of field I want; that is what is in focus in your photograph. The wider you open your shutter, say F-5, a smaller area will be in focus. At F-22, you will have almost all of your picture in focus. The camera will automatically adjust the shutter speed to compensate for the light coming in to get a properly exposed picture. The wider your aperture is set, then your shutter will fire quicker thereby stopping speed and body shake helping to make a clearer photo. The smaller your aperture is the slower will then be your shutter, making some shots impossible. If you want that shot, the only option is then to use an external flash or raise the ISO to the point where you are satisfied with your results, but you may have too much noise to end up with a contest winning shot.
If there is plenty of light, I will set the camera to "Shutter Priority" where I can adjust how quickly I want the shutter to fire. If you are taking a picture of a Hummingbird flying, you need to get that shutter up to around 1/1500 of a second to stop the wings. That requires you to open your aperture as much as possible to get the proper depth of field, possibly raise the ISO to something like 800 or more, or use a flash, even in daylight.
There are many other settings you may want to use in the more expensive cameras. Camera manufacturers have all advanced way beyond the old brown Brownie box we used to use. We are really carrying around mini computers that have the amazing ability to record what we are seeing in front of us. Most camera allow you to shoot in an "Automatic" mode if you want to and get some great photos. When you start playing around with the settings, you increase the likely hood of getting better photos more consistently. You do need to practise and play with your machinery, read your manual and shoot with people who have similar equipment. There are some good courses to take through colleges and some camera shops. I also enjoy reading many of the camera magazines available at the grocery store or the books in the photo department of your bookstore and library. Some great tour companies also put on great photography only tours where you go to a very exotic location to take pictures under the guidance and instruction of a photo professional. Join an active camera club in your town if you are interested in socializing with like minded people and critiquing photos.
Photography is a great hobby that can be enjoyed by all people. Get out there and record what is happening in the world around you. You are recording history. Who knows, you may even be able to sell a picture one day.
If anyone has any tips, please pass them on in the comments section.
To be continued...