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Posts Tagged ‘photo technique’

The one filter that you absolutely, positively need in your bag is the circular polarizer. A polarizer is a filter that polarizes the light going through it to noticeably darken blue skies, reduce reflections and increase color saturation in your photos. The “circular” in its name means your auto focus and auto exposure systems won’t be affected by the polarized light and will focus and meter normally. Regular, non-circular polarizers are a little cheaper but won’t offer this extremely useful feature.

Polarizers are two pieces of polarized, coated glass that rotate relative to each other to increase or decrease the polarizing effect. Depending upon how much you rotate the filter, the effect can be subtle or quite dramatic.

Non-polarized, right, polarizer at max, left. Note saturated trees, sky at left.

Non-polarized, left, polarizer at max, right. Note saturated trees, sky at right.

The standard filter minuses apply here. Circular polarizers are expensive and will put two, not one additional layer of glass between you and your subject. (If you remember my earlier post about filters, you’ll remember that anytime you put glass in front of your camera, it causes some degree of image degradation.) Oh, and they’ll cost you at least one f-stop in exposure…depending on how much polarizing you do (i.e. if your base exposure is f/8, you’ll need to shoot at f/5.6 or thereabouts with a polarizer). Add to the pluses the added saturation, reflection control and the ability to double as a neutral density filter.

I think the pros outweigh the cons when it comes to polarizing filters.

Using a polarizer is simple, just rotate the filter as you look through the viewfinder. When you see the amount of sky darkening/saturation/reflection elimination you like, make the picture. Understand that if you change your camera’s orientation to the subject (i.e. change from a horizontal to vertical shot), you’ll need to re-adjust your polarizer.

I picked up a trick long ago that helps me quickly see where the maximum amount of polarization will take place. You simply make an “L” with your thumb and index finger, point your index finger at the sun and pretend your thumb is tracing an imaginary line across the sky. With that line in mind, the area of sky on the shadow side of your thumb will get the most benefit from the polarizer. A subject in front of that line will not see any benefit from a polarizer.

Hopefully, this photo shows how its done.

Hopefully, this photo shows the area of maximum effect.

So, if you’re still unconvinced about the value of a polarizing filter, borrow one from another photographer (that’s another benefit of attending photo walks…well-equipped photogs!) and give it a few turns (literally). I think you’ll see why I made room in my camera bag for this “must-have” filter.

Buy one.

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After spending the morning stomping around in the brush, I thought I’d share a composition tip. Once you’ve taken the time to line up your shot, don’t be satisfied with it. When shooting animals, I find myself stop trying to improve the shot once I have the critter framed in my viewfinder. It’s a bad habit I constantly have to push myself to undo. It’s a rare photo that can’t be improved by a slight change of position. Take a look at my first frame of a great blue heron on the hunt:

Not bad, but I’m looking past the obvious fact that it’s exposed well and in focus. Look at the background. It has more than a few distracting sticks and highlights. To clean that up a bit, I could either try to throw it out of focus a little more with a wider aperture or change my camera position. In this instance, I moved two steps to the left and moved those sticks out of the frame. Here’s my second try:

As you can see, it’s quite a bit different and the background is much, much less distracting. So, next time you’re out with your camera and are ready to press your shutter, try this visual exercise:

  • Move two steps to the right (from your original position), take a photo.
  • Move two step to the left, take a photo.
  • Back up two steps, move forward two steps, bend your knees (taking a shot each time, of course).

Don’t be happy with your first frame. I hope you see that changing your camera position even slightly can improve your photos. 

Feel free to share your experiences doing my little exercise here…

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Reality check here. The more time and effort you put into making an image better before the shoot by lighting the subject properly and setting the exposure and color balance correctly, the better your end result will be. Although shooting in the RAW format gives you the ability to correct most of these mistakes in post processing, getting things right at the moment of exposure is still the way of the pro. 

I hear more and more photographers say “I’ll fix it in Photoshop” whenever they’re confronted with a difficult lighting situation. Don’t be tempted to take the easy way out and pray that software can save you — you’ll find that correcting the error before the shoot is faster than fixing it later. 

So, take the time to light your subject, cover blemishes, take a meter reading and/or use the right color balance from the git-go. This “old school” approach is still your best bet for success. A RAW image well shot always trumps a RAW image made without thought.

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