When I have been working inside all week without even a window to look out I feel a Nature Deficit Disorder* creeping over me.
A day of outdoor photography with a few good images to put on my wall or as screen saver helps me get through the next week. Not every snapshot is wall worthy. Those images that had a good plan become favorites. Even with a plan it is good to adjust it when a better opportunity presents itself.
Great images are in the mind of the beholder. I can take a picture of a precious baby praying mantis on a lavender leaf with perfect light and focus and my wife would slam the computer on the ground and stomp it as if her life depended on it. Her Entomophobia does not let her enjoy nature the same way I do.
It is my humble hope this will inspire you use your camera to help battle your Nature Deficit Disorder* too.
Step 1: Create a Plan
Planing a photo shoot can be as complicated as you wish. As you become familiar with an area you can make better plans. If I want images of bears I am not going to go to the airport parking lot.
A plan may be to shoot a sunset. A more advanced plan is you notice a cloud band and plan to take a canoe to a lake where the tree stumps are flooded at sundown. This requires more logistical in you plan. Which canoe to take, what paddle, PFD, survival gear, water proof case, which tripod and what camera and lenses are some of the items to consider in the plan.
Step 2: Be Flexible in Your Plan
I planned to take early morning pictures at low tide in Coos Bay. I knew the minus tide would be good for sneaking up on creatures. I packed my shovel nosed canoe and a pointed paddle, baler, sponge, kneeling pad and two survival bags. The Nikon DSLR D3100 camera and the 55mm X 200mm lens. Included was a tripod, drinking water and snacks.
I have discovered if you set up to approach animals facing backwards low in the canoe and hide both hands on the far side of the canoe using a "D Stroke". This limits the amount of movement they can see. "D" Stroke
Paddling backwards and avoiding eye contact confuses animals and elicits their curiosity. Seals are used to stealing fish by following boats. Paddling backwards makes them follow you where you can easily photograph them.
Using the tide and wind allowed me to ghost past the seal haul out for me some close up shots. I was pleased with my nature connection when I noticed far off a creature moving along the beach. My vision was not good enough to ascertain what it was but knowing the habits of raccoons I suspected it was a raccoon searching for breakfast.
Time to change plans. I abandoned my seals and began to look for an ambush spot I could get to before he made it to my section of beach. The mud flats were covered in oyster shells and would make a lot of noise if the waves scraped the hull against them. I opted to anchor using my paddle in the mud. That plan required a pointed paddle for such an event. Pointed Paddle. I set the camera on sport setting and auto focus. Using one hand to hold the camera with my arm around the planted paddle I began taking pictures on burst. The other hand alternated to help hold the camera, zoom and put pressure on the paddle shaft to keep me from turning in the wind and current. The busy raccoon was focused on finding something to eat. Since I was sitting as low as possible in the canoe with the wind in my favor I appeared to be a log. The wave action made enough noise to mask the sound of my shutter clicking. When he stopped a few feet away I switched to video. You can see how much the camera was moving in the bouncing canoe. Raccoon Video
Step 3: Compose Your Image
Ask yourself, "Self what is this a picture of?" Is it a moon in the mist? Is it a tall ship at night? What if it was both the bow of the Hawaiian Chieftain with the lines highlighted by the moon through the mist.
Dramatic nature images can be done with natural light. In order to capture images in low light levels it really really helps to have a tripod. The fall maple leaf in the river was shot in the rain. I protected the camera with an umbrella while the tripod was in the water. The fall river images can be quite varied.
Step 4: Triage
When I came back from a morning estuary paddle I had 352 images and some video. I begin the edit using the free software Picasa by Google. I start doing a triage. I decide if this image is bad, able to be improved, or good as it is. Then I delete all the bad ones. Star the good ones and edit the, "able to be improved," ones.
The fist Blue heron shot is a cull, the second one is, "able to be improved," and the in flight Blue Heron is good.
Step 5: Picasa
Picasa has many options and did I mention it is FREE software from Google. It is easy to do simple edits like look at an image and select the I'm Feeling Lucky. This does an automatic adjustment of contrast and color balance. It is not always what you desire but it is easy to undo. If you prefer to manually edit it is easy.
Select Crop, and manually drag a box around the best area. Sometimes I crop in thirds. With 1/3 of the best portion of the image aligned vertically and 1/3 of the best part of the image is aligned horizontal.
When shooting on overcast or foggy days the use of the Saturation brightens the muted colors.
Select Save after your edits or the image will revert to the original image.
Step 6: Picasa Edits
The top navigation bar has menus that open with more options. The half dark/light sun is where you can edit contrast, highlights and color balance.
Their are three dozen special effects to choose from under the paint brush icons. Some favorites are Warmify, Saturation, Focal Black and White, and Pencil Sketch.
Don't be afraid to try them as everything is easy to undo.
Step 7: Edit Till It Makes You Happy
When shooting from the hip it is rare to have all the camera settings perfect. Film Speed, shutter speed, focus, zoom, white balance and camera movement all can degrade an image. Shooting at a high resolution or large file size permits you to adjust and crop to the best part.
The original beach party included the layers of blue hills and a group of Cormorants. Both of those are interesting elements but the close cropping shows the seals in action better.
To add a sense of movement. I took a series of 10 images adjusted the settings and cropped them to similar size then created a movie clip of them going in the water.
Step 8: Have Some Fun
The rules are simple if it makes you happy to view your images you are a success. If it brings joy to someone else to share vicariously in the treatment of your Nature Deficit Disorder you are a hero.
* Nature deficit disorder refers to the phrase coined by Richard Louv in his 2005 book Last Child in the Woods