It’s time to critique your work, and this week I am happy to switch it up again and get back to wildlife photography. The following rare shot was sent in by Tony Thundal from Denmark. He managed to capture this telling moment with his Nikon D90 in aperture priority mode with an aperture of F5.6 and a shutter speed of 1/250s. The lens he used is a Nikkor 18-200 VR II, presumably shot somewhere in the telephoto range.
The one thing I love the most about this photo is the stunningly crisp detail in the deer, and the fact that it is surrounded by a soft and hazy green grass. These two opposites work well with another. The deer’s surroundings mimic his emotions and add to the feeling of somnolence the photo portrays. It all works as one cohesive unit, and for that I applaud Tony.
You can create a photo like this if you have the right lens mounted to your digital SLR. I mentioned earlier that Tony used an aperture F5.6. Compared to most of the aperture range, this is a fairly wide open aperture. This means Tony’s depth of field is more limited than if he were to choose an aperture at a higher F-value (say F8, F11, F22 for example).
Intentionally limiting your depth of field
Why would a limited depth of field ever be a good thing? It is if you want to use a blurred out background to either draw emphasis to your subject or to create an certain kind of emotional atmosphere, as Tony successfully does. Whenever other elements in the background are too sharp and in focus, they can sometimes distract the viewer and draw attention away from the subject. When you blur out enough of the background, the subject comes through in a distraction free way.
Blur outs don’t just work well in wildlife photography. They’re awesome for portraits, macro photography, an almost everything else. Whenever you want to emphasize a subject in an otherwise distracting background, you can choose an open aperture and the background will blur away.
How aperture width affects depth of field
Different aperture values blur out the background more than others. Even at F5.6 in this picture, you can still see the makings of a grassy field with a few autumn leaves. If Tony had decided to get a lens that goes all the way to F2.8 or F1.4, the leaves would barely be discernible. You would only see green hexagons (a.k.a “bokeh”) interfering with one another, and it is questionable whether the entire deer himself would be in focus.
For those of you wondering, most starter zoom lenses in a digital SLR setup will get you as low as F4. You will then have to purchase supplemental lenses to get lower F-values. In general, the lower the F-value, the more expensive the lens. They get even more expensive if they can zoom. When you get your new digital SLR, play around with the starter kit first, and then buy supplemental lenses once you know you can only get the shot you want with a new lens.
Aperture priority mode vs. manual mode
You will also notice that Tony took this picture on aperture priority mode on his digital SLR. On cloudy and overcast days, like the day the picture was taken, this should work fine. Just select an aperture value, and the camera’s onboard computer will do the rest. Oh, and you’re going to want to make sure you focus on the subject and not the background. When your depth of field is as limited as it is with a wide-open aperture like F5.6 or F4, this can become an issue.
In other kinds lighting conditions, you are going to want to use your camera’s manual mode to get the shot. The process is similar to what you would do with aperture priority mode, except there is one extra step.
Start off by selecting the aperture you think will best portray your subject. Remember, the lower you go, the more the background will be blurred out. Next, use your camera’s built-in light meter to select the shutter speed. On Nikon cameras, the light meter is a little bar on the bottom that looks kind of like this (+ . . 0 . . -) The closer the bars get to the left, the more overexposed the image will be, and the more they get to right, the more underexposed it will be. Try to get it to balance out at zero by adjusting the shutter speed and leaving the aperture alone.
Once you have the right aperture and shutter speed combination, take the shot, review it, and see if you need to use a different aperture or shutter speed. You will know you need to use a different aperture if your subject is too blurry or if the background isn’t blurry enough. You will need to use a different shutter speed if the image is too bright or too dark. Keep experimenting until you find the perfect combination to create the emotion and atmosphere you envision.
Thanks again to Tony for this moment of bliss. The expression on that deer’s face is priceless! This photo should be in workplaces across the nation encouraging us all to take a moment and relax.
Keep sending ‘em in. I love seeing what all of you are capable of creating.
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