How to Choose the Correct Binocular for You

Buying a pair of Binoculars can be a difficult choice, mainly because we are spoiled for choice. There are many well known brands and even more obscure brands that manufacture great binoculars. Buying the right pair for you however, requires some circumspection.

Your decision should primarily be based on what you will be using the binoculars for; Is it for bird watching, game watching, sport, astronomy or just getting a closer look at your surroundings.

Your second consideration  should be where you will be using them. If you are static in a vehicle or watching whales from a balcony, the weight and size won’t be a major factor but if you are hiking you would want to get something compact and light.

Next you need to consider the magnification and the amount of light you require. The greater the magnification the narrower your field of view and the harder it is to focus. There are binoculars with built in stabalisation that counter the focus issue but it comes at a price. In good light most decent binoculars will do the job but in low light and in shadow the size of the objective (front) lens and the quality of the glass will make the difference. This is also where the last consideration comes in.

Your budget will play a determing role in your final choice. Better quality glass and sophisticated multi coatings add to the performance in most conditions but especially in low light conditions but it comes at a cost. There are however reasonably affordable Binoculars that perform extremely well. It is always a good idea to read the reviews.

Another great way of Birding is with a spotting scope. If you are Birding from a fixed position like a hide or balcony you can get even closer to your birds with a spotting scope. Here is some useful information about Birding with Spotting Scopes.

Camera Warehouse offer a great range of Binoulars at truly great prices.

For a complete insight into all the options and features to consider the link below gives a comprehensive overview of how to choose the Binocular for you.

https://www.wikihow.com/Choose-Binoculars

 

Landscape Photography

LANDSCAPE PHOTOGRAPHY

South Africa is spoiled for choice when it comes to landscapes. We have dramatic mountains, wide open spaces, deserts you name it. Looking at it often takes our breath away but why is it that our photographs often don’t do it justice.

Our eyes give us a perfect perspective when surveying a landscape but unless we know what we are doing a photograph will give us a flat perspective which takes all the drama out of the image. Getting the right exposure can also be a challenge with over exposed skies a common problem. What we want to do is create an image that replicates the image that our eyes took in. That is where the skills and the right equipment kicks in.

Our featured image was taken by Hougaard Malan, winner of the Landscape Photograph of the Year in 2016.

Expert Photography offer a Complete Guide to Landscape Photography

that will give you all the information you will need to set you on your way.

Lens Filters Q’s & A’s

My lens came with a lens cap, so why do I need a filter?

If you ask most consumer-camera owners why they keep a filter on their lens, a majority will most likely reply, “For protection.” Although filters do, in fact, protect the surface of your lens against dust, moisture and the occasional thumb print, the primary function of lens filters is really to improve the image quality of the pictures you take—depending on the filter you’re using and how you use it—in a variety of obvious and not-so-obvious ways.

Are there a few basic filters or do I need to buy many filters?

The most basic filters are ultra-violet reducing filters (UV), Skylight filters and protection filters, which depending on the manufacturer are either glass filters with basic anti-reflective coatings, or in some cases, merely plainclothes UV filters, which isn’t dishonest. To keep the front element of your lens clean and safe, any of the above will suffice, but if you’re looking to protect your lens and improve the image quality of your stills and video, you’re going to want to purchase a UV or Skylight filter.

Without UV haze filter (L); with UV haze filter (R)

UV filters, also referred to as Haze filters, are designed to cut through the effects of atmospheric haze, moisture and other forms of airborne pollutants, each of which contributes to image degradation. UV/Haze filters are available in varying strengths. If you plan on photographing near large bodies of open water, at higher altitudes, in snow or other conditions that magnify the intensity of ambient ultra-violet light, you should definitely consider a stronger level of UV filtration (UV-410, UV-415, UV-420, UV-Haze 2A, UV-Haze 2B, UV-Haze 2C and UV-Haze 2E). Depending on the strength of the UV coatings, UV filters appear clear, or in the case of heavier UV coatings, have a warm, amber-like appearance and require anywhere from zero to about a half stop of exposure compensation.

An alternative to UV/Haze filters are Skylight filters, which are available in a choice of two strengths—Skylight 1A and Skylight 1B. Unlike UV/Haze filters, which have a warm amber appearance, Skylight filters have a magenta tint that is preferable when photographing skin tones or using color slide film, which depending on the film stock often has a blue bias that is typically counterbalanced by the magenta tint of Skylight filters.

Regardless of their strength, skylight filters do not have any effect on the camera exposure, are equal to UV filters in terms of cutting through atmospheric haze and protect your lens against dust, moisture and fingerprints that can all be damaging to lens coatings if not removed in a timely manner.

I’ve found 52mm UV filters for as little as R150 and as much as R500. What’s the difference and why should one UV filter cost two or three times more than another?

Even though one UV filter might appear indistinguishable from another UV filter costing two or three times as much, the differences between them can be considerable, beginning with the quality of the glass used in the manufacturing process. Though one would suspect there’s little difference between one piece of glass and another, make no mistake about it—there’s glass and there’s glass, and the differences can make a difference in the quality of your images.

The primary criteria of good glass versus so-so glass are the chemical composition of the glass, how it was made and even where it was made. These are followed by the thickness of the glass (the thinner, the better) and the coatings used to minimize flare and maintain optimal color and contrast levels. Although the differences between an inexpensive filter and a pricier filter may not be all that apparent when photographing with a kit zoom lens, they become increasingly obvious when used with costlier, higher-performance lenses.

In the case of color and Polarizing filters, which typically consist of a thin layer of color film (or Polarizing material) sandwiched between two layers of glass, the film is usually bonded to the glass layers in pricier filters. This eliminates air surfaces and other irregularities that can negatively affect the optical purity of the filter when compared to less expensive filters designed to perform the same functions.

The other difference between entry-level filters and the pricier versions has to do with the retaining rings, which in the case of cheaper filters are invariably made of aluminum (a relatively soft metal) that are subject to denting and jamming if they’re not screwed on straight. Conversely, the retaining rings used on pricier filters are most always made of brass and as such are less likely to get jammed onto your lens or dent when they strike hard surfaces.

The bottom line is if you go the extra mile (and expense) by purchasing a better lens, you shouldn’t compromise the results of your investments by saving a few dollars on the filter.

What are Kaeseman filters and why are they priced noticeably higher than regular filters?

Kaeseman filters, which are invariably Polarizing filters, are manufactured with more weatherproofing seals than non-Kaeseman filters. They are worthy investments if your photographic interests include traveling to and working in damp, extreme climates.

Aside from UV/Haze and Skylight filters, what other types of filters should I consider for everyday picture-taking?

If you photograph landscapes—or any outdoor scenics for that matter—you should certainly have a Polarizing filter handy at all times. Polarizing filters are best known for making clouds seemingly pop out from darkened blue skies, saturating colors and eliminating glare and reflections from the surfaces of water, glass and other polished surfaces.

Without polarizing filter (L); with polarizing filter (R)

Polarizing filters are mounted in a secondary ring that you manually rotate while viewing your subject through the viewfinder until you dial in the desired level of Polarization. The downside of Polarizing filters is that you lose about three stops of light in the process of optimizing the image, but the results cannot be mimicked using Photoshop plug-ins or other forms of post-capture voodoo.

Polarizing filters are also available combined with additional filtration such as warming filtration (81A, 81C, 81EF, 85, 85B), Enhancing and Intensifying, Skylight, UV/Haze and a measure of diffusion.

Polarizing filters are available in two formats: linear and circular. Though they look and perform identically, circular Polarizing filters are designed specifically for use with autofocus lenses while linear are best used with manual-focus lenses. Circular Polarizers, on the other hand, can be used with AF or MF optics with equal results.

What are Neutral Density filters and how would I use them?

Neutral density (ND) filters are essentially gray-toned filters designed to absorb calibrated degrees of light as it passes through the lens. Most commonly broken down in 1/3, 2/3 and full-stop increments, ND filters are more recently also available as variable-density filters that you can infinitely adjust by rotating the filter on its mount as you would a Polarizing filter.

There are many applications for ND filters. Chief among them is their ability to allow you to shoot at wider f-stops under bright lighting conditions. ND filters are used extensively by filmmakers and videographers as tools that allow them better exposure control due to the limited shutter-speed options afforded by the cinema and video process.

ND filters also make it possible to blur the movement of pedestrian traffic and flowing water under bright lighting conditions by allowing you to drop your shutter speeds while maintaining full control of how much or how little depth of field you desire, based on the amount of ND filtration you place in front of the lens.

What’s the difference between Neutral Density and Graduated Neutral Density Filters?

Neutral density filters are even, edge to edge, in their degree of density while graduated neutral density filters are typically clear on one end and slowly build up density toward the opposite side of the filter. Graduated ND filters are most commonly used to even out scenes containing extreme exposure variations on opposite sides of the frame.

Without graduated neutral density filter (L); with graduated neutral density filter (R)

Examples of these types of scenarios include landscapes in which the top of a mountain is bathed in sunlight, while the valley below lies in shade; and multi-story atriums where the primary source of illumination is an overhead skylight from which the light gradually falls off as it approaches the lower levels. Graduated filters can also be used in evenly lit areas to darken the sky or foreground for stylistic reasons.

In addition to neutral graduated filters, colored grad filters are also available, and are useful for adding a touch of subliminal color into a scene while darkening the foreground or background.

Should I consider warming and cooling filters?

While warming (adding yellow to the scene) and cooling (adding blue to the scene) can be applied to an image file post capture in Photoshop or other image-editing software, there are still those—including film shooters, who prefer to filter the lens at the time the exposure is made.

Most photographers warm or cool their images for aesthetic or mood reasons. A bit of warming is often desired for portraits, or when photographing at midday during the summer months when the sun’s light can be bluer and harsh. Warming can also be effective when taking pictures on overcast or rainy days.

Conversely, cooling filters can be used to correct color in images in which the color temperature is too warm to suit your intentions. Warming filters include all 81 and 85-series filters, and cooling filters include all 80 and 82-series filters.

When using cooling, warming and other color filters with digital cameras, it’s important to set the White Balance to a setting close to the ambient color temperature, i.e. Daylight, Overcast, Tungsten, Fluorescent, etc., and avoid Auto WB, which will intuitively try to correct, according to its own parameters, the mood and tone you’re trying to establish. Auto WB may not render results that are in agreement with your personal vision.

I’ve heard landscape photographers talk about Enhancing and Intensifying filters. What makes them so special?

Enhancing and Intensifying filters are modified to cut some of the orange portion of the color spectrum, which results in higher saturation levels in reds and cleaner, less muddy interpretation of earth tones. They are especially popular for photographing fall foliage and landscapes.

I’ve seen photographers using red, green, yellow, and other color filters. Aside from making everything look red, green, yellow, etc, when should I consider using color filters?

While color filters do make everything look red, yellow, green or whatever color you might place in front of the lens, their most common use is for black-and-white photography.

When shooting black and white, the color of the filter being used blocks that color from reaching the film (or sensor) surface, which depending on the filter color and subject matter, can drastically change its tonal qualities. As an example, shooting through a yellow filter better delineates clouds against blue skies. Orange filters further darken blue skies and make the clouds pop more, and red filters darken blue skies even more and make the clouds pop out most dramatically.

Green filters on the other hand, are effective at improving skin tones in black-and-white portraits.

What are color-correction filters used for?

Color-correction filters, also called cc filters, consist of cyan, magenta, yellow, red, green and blue filters. Each of these is available in 10% increments and is used for modifying or correcting the color balance of mismatched or irregular light sources. The need for cc filters is not as great in these digital days as it was in the time of film. Nevertheless, they are still used by many photographers who would rather correct their images at the time of capture.

Without warming filter (L); with warming filter (R)

As with warming, cooling and other color filters, it’s advisable to avoid the Auto WB setting on your digital camera when using cc filters and instead choose daylight, overcast, tungsten, fluorescent or whatever setting is closest to the ambient lighting conditions under which you’re working.

Are there filters other than the glass screw-on types?

Aside from the glass screw-on filters most photo enthusiasts and pros depend on, there are also polyester, gelatin and resin filters, which are used for both creative as well as technical applications. Usually square or rectangular in form, these filters are most commonly used with filter holders or matte boxes that fit in front of the lens via screw-in or friction mount filter holder adapters. The filters are dropped into place in slots that keep the filters flat and parallel to the front lens surface in order to maintain optimal image quality.

Are polyester, gelatin or resin filters better than glass filters?

It depends on what you mean by “better.” If you mean sharper, some of these filters, especially the thinner resin and gelatin filters—depending on the brand and material—are optically purer than glass. They are also lighter to transport, and if you plan on purchasing an entire series of filters, these alternatives will be less expensive than a comparable set of glass filters.

These alternative filters are also handy if you have lenses with differing filter threads. All you need is a single set of step-down rings, starting with the largest thread down to the smallest size, to go along with the filter holder. (These same step-down rings can also be used with screw-in glass filters if you are using lenses with differing filter thread sizes—there’s no need to purchase multiple sets of filters.)

The downside however is that non-glass filters are easily damaged and in the case of gel filters, near impossible to clean when smudged by an errant fingerprint. So if you do go this route, be extra careful when handling them and by all means invest in a box of disposable plastic or cotton gloves.

What are slim filters?

Slim filters have narrow profiles and sometimes lack threads on the forward side of the filter ring. Slim filters, which are available in almost every filter size, are designed for use with lenses featuring angles of view wider than about 74°, or the equivalent of a 28mm lens. By utilizing a thinner retaining ring, the filter is less likely to vignette the corners of the frame. Depending on the make and model, many kit zooms require thin or slim-mount filters.

What other types of filters are there?

There are many types of creative and technical filters available for pros and serious enthusiasts alike. Included among them are filters that produce prism and star-like patterns, filters for close-ups, diffusion, infrared imaging, as well as contrast control. Their creative applications are up to you!

The Takeaway

UV / Haze and Skylight filters protect the surface of your lens against scratches, dust, moisture and fingerprints, which in the long term can harm the lens coatings. UV / Haze and Skylight filters also minimize atmospheric haze, which results in better overall image quality. Protective filters also keep dust, moisture and fingerprints at bay, but are not as effective in cutting through atmospheric haze.

The difference between an inexpensive filter and a pricier one has to do with the quality of the glass (the costlier filter most likely contains optically purer and thinner glass), the quality of the anti-reflective and color coatings and retaining ring (better filters have brass rings instead of aluminum).

Polarizing filters reduce or eliminate distracting reflections from the surface of glass, water and other polished surfaces, darken skies, make clouds pop from their surroundings and saturate color by reducing stray ambient glare.

Polarizing filters are also available combined with warming filters, enhancing filters and diffusion filters. Weather-resistant Kaeseman Polarizers are also available for use in extreme, damp climates.

Neutral density (ND)filters block varying degrees of light from striking the imaging sensor (or film) in order to shoot at wider apertures under bright lighting conditions, blur moving objects in the frame regardless of ambient light levels and allow for better exposure control when shooting video or film.

ND and Color Graduated filters darken or tint the top or bottom (or left and right) portion of the frame while leaving the opposite side untouched. They are useful for equalizing exposures of scenes containing extreme lighting variables on opposing sides of the frame, as well as adding an element of drama to an otherwise good, but not great, image.

Enhancing and Intensifying filters are useful for intensifying the color-saturation levels of reds and other earth tones, making them desirable for landscape and foliage photography.

CC filters allow you to incrementally adjust the color levels of your cyan, magenta, yellow, red, green and blue channels.

Though most photographers rely on conventional glass screw-in filters, lens filters are also available as square and rectangular filters made out of polyester, gelatin and resin. These filters, some of which are optically purer than glass filters, require holders and extra levels of care when handled.

If you plan on using one filter on several lenses, you should purchase a slim or thin version to better ensure it won’t vignette the corners of the frame when used on a wide-angle lens.

Introduction to Photography

The oldest photograph I have is a print taken of my Great Great Grandfather around the 1880’s. The first ever photograph of a human was taken almost accidentally in 1838. The picture is interesting not only from an historic perspective but also because it teaches us about one of the fundamentals of photography, time and movement. The equipment was obviously pretty crude at the time and it required a time exposure of ten minutes to get the image at all. The photograph was taken of the Boulevard du Temple in Paris. During the exposure there must have been a lot going on in the Boulevard,  horse drawn carriages  and lots of pedestrians, but you don’t see them in the image at all because they weren’t still enough during the exposure to make an impression. The only person you see and hence the first ever photograph of a human was the person in the bottom left side of the image who stood still long enough because he was having his shoes cleaned;

Photography Today

A little more than a hundred and fifty years later we have reached the stage where just about every one of us is walking around with a pretty sophisticated camera in our pockets. More photographs are now being taken every day than were taken in the whole history of the world up until ten years ago. The interest in, and the ability to take photographs has been one of the most significant products of the technological revolution. But is it Photography?

Photography is the art, application and practice of creating durable images by recording light. It is a recognised art form and a subject offered by art faculties in most universities around the world. Yet some of the worlds greatest and most successful photographers are self taught. It is the best hobby in the world because not only is it an art form and hobby in its own right but it compliments whatever other interests you might have. Smart phones might have presented us with the instant gratification of capturing just about every aspect of our lives and travels but they do not give us the control over light that is the Art of Photography. What they have done however is created an unprecedented interest in Photography. The digital era has given us easy access to the Art. In the era of film it was always and expensive and tedious business developing our images. We also only got one shot at it with often very poor results. Now in the age of Digital Cameras, once you have your equipment the cost of taking photographs is zero and the opportunity to learn the Art has never been greater.

As mentioned earlier Photography is the Art of recording light. Light in this context is what we see with our eyes. Everything we perceive through our eyes is the reflection of light off the subject we are looking at. Our brains interpret  and edit the light instantly to give us a sense of depth, movement, speed, and colour. Our brains also adjust the exposure and focus of the image we are interested in. The image we see can have tremendous meaning, it can have incredible beauty and drama and it can move us in a way that we would like to remember. The Art of Photography is to capture that image in the way we remember it. It strives to capture the beauty, the emotion, the drama, the movement and the colour of a moment in time that we would like to remember and share with others. It tries to replicate what our brains perceived through our eyes in that moment in time.That is the difference between a snapshot and photography.

The first step to becoming a photographer is to acquire the equipment that will give some control over light. It doesn’t have to be an expensive exercise. For example, even the cheapest DSLR or Mirrorless camera will give you exactly the control you need to practice and learn photography. My favourite photograph is a landscape I took in Scotland with a very basic six megapixel Bridge Camera. It has been printed on an A1 canvas and is hang on the wall in my study. As you advance in the Art or Hobby you will decide what you need along the way. With the correct equipment there is nothing you can’t capture, from Microscopic to Astral and everything in between.

Although the principles of taking good photographs and the skills required have not changed at all from the days of film, what has changed is the digital format of the images. The digital nature of our images has created a spinoff art form called digital manipulation. With editing software images can be simply enhanced to re-create what our eyes perceived in that moment in time or we can use the original image or images to create a unique work of art. New technology is giving us more in-camera control over things like depth of field and more visual control via interactive LCD screens but a bit of editing and sometimes make a huge difference to the final result.  I have given a before an after example below to illustrate what I mean;

Basic Editing

Creative Editing

 

First Steps

As you start your journey in the ART of Photography, like everything else in life one has to take the first steps. Darren Rowse of the School of Photography has some very Useful Tips to set you on your way. In further expanding your knowledge there are some very informative free tutorials online. You will also gain a wealth of knowledge by interacting with other photographers. Your Local Camera Club will offer some great opportunities to interact and learn.

Better Bird Photography

Better Bird Photography

By Andre Nel, Johannesburg.

May, 2019.

National Geographic photographer, Jim Richardson, is famous for saying: “If you want to be a better photographer, stand in front of more interesting stuff”.  However, as the acclaimed English photographer David Yarrow notes, gaining access to stand in front of interesting stuff is the hardest part of the photographic process.  We in South Africa are spoilt for choice when it comes to wildlife.  Birds are particularly accessible to us – many can be found in your own garden, so you can have easy access to great subject material to photograph.  Do not take this privileged position for granted – South Africa is one of the most biodiverse countries on earth and we have a greater variety of birds than the whole of Europe.  From my little house in suburban Johannesburg, I am visited by more than 40 species and if I am prepared to take a short ride in my car, my choice rises to hundreds.  South African photographers looking for interesting subjects need look no further than home and you don’t need a National Geographic budget.  One quiet, humble and elderly photographer whose work I have come to admire is Gerrit Lotz from Tugela Mouth, Natal.  With over 200 species of bird close to his home, he has chosen to specialise on photographing one – the Pigmy Kingfisher.  His seminal portfolio on the bird is both spectacular and unmatched – even by National Geographic.

Bird photographers come from a variety of backgrounds.  I was an experienced photographer simply looking for more interesting stuff to stand in front of.  Gerrit Lotz was driven by his passion for conservation of a little-known species and knew nothing at all about photography when he started.  There are also many ways of accessing birds and it is impossible to favour just one.  Some people like to hike and observe birds as they walk; some like to sit in a hide and others like to drive around.  All of them work – just pick the one that suits you best.  The same applies to equipment.  Some favour an expensive “great white” lens for birds, but cheaper alternative options are becoming available every day.  The key ingredient to a great shot is skill, not equipment.  If you do not believe me, look back at the great work done by Peter Ginn in the 1970’s, photographing birds with moderate focal lengths onto 35mm transparencies.  His work is exemplary, even by today’s standards.

Whatever reasons you have for wanting to photograph birds and whatever equipment you have, you would do well to learn from those who have walked the path before you.  My experience is that people in the field need on-the-spot advice when a great opportunity presents itself and since the biggest errors relate to lighting, background and pose, it makes sense to keep these in mind while you are shooting, because you cannot correct them later.  Ask yourself:  is my lighting appropriate?  Background? Pose?  In practice, paying attention to these “big three” points while shooting will make a big difference.  Let’s start with lighting.

The two photographs above were taken just seconds apart.  The one on the right is a good deal better than the other because there is a catchlight in the bird’s eye.  This small detail makes a huge improvement.  With birds, a catchlight is most easily achieved if the lighting is low, front-lighting.  Bird photographers will sometimes say: “Point your Shadow at the Bird” because of this.  Front-lighting is not the only form of lighting that is good for birds, but it has many beneficial qualities and is a good form of lighting to master.  It is a good place to start.

Background (and foreground) to your subject is also important in bird photography.  Try and chose surroundings that do not detract from your subject, as they do in the following shot.  Background is an important factor that is easy to overlook while shooting – you need to make a conscious effort to review your background in the viewfinder and adjust your shooting position to make corrections.

Finally, pose.  Avoid postures that look awkward and favour viewpoints that show the bird off well.  In particular, avoid photographing birds from underneath – this often happens in an attempt to get close to a bird in a tree.  That pose is rarely complimentary.

With the basics of these three points covered, let me consider some photographs where they have been applied mindfully.

Ravens are notoriously difficult birds to photograph, because they are dark and it is hard to capture detail.  Worse than that, they have a black eye set in black plumage, making detail even harder to resolve.  White-necked ravens, like this one, have a white collar that is easy to over-expose in one’s zeal to get detail in the blacks.  Classic early-morning front-lighting excels in situations like this one.  Combine appropriate lighting with a soft background and an interesting pose and the result is pleasing.  Although the subject is a common bird, the final result is mainly the product of careful execution of three things.

I wish to draw your attention to two additional factors which further strengthen this raven shot – the angle of view and the use of depth-of-field.  Both of these combine to give the image an engaging quality that captivates the viewer.  This illusive quality is hard to define, yet causes the viewer to ponder.  Engaging your viewer is one of the most desirable aspects that an image can have in today’s world, when we are spoiled for choice of powerful images.  In one of his books, David du Chemin refers to these “additional factors” as: “Layers of Awesome” and says that when multiple good points are combined into one shot, the resulting image gets stronger.

Some people have felt that the crop on this image is too tight – what do you think?  Be careful to answer from the heart and not the rule-book.  To me, the tight crop used here brings you into the world of the raven and makes the photograph more engaging.  An expansive crop, showing the bird as master of the sky would also have worked, but that would have been an entirely different photograph, telling a different story.  Not the story I want to tell.  Giving a “bit more” space all round would tell neither story.  It would follow the rule-book and satisfy the “paint-by-numbers” critics, but they are not the people I care to appeal to.  The tight crop I have chosen is intimate and was purposeful.  When you shoot with purpose, it shows and your images tend to be more powerful.

Let’s move on to another image.

Pause for a moment to observe that this image has the same attention to lighting, background and pose as the previous one.  In addition, we have a lovely perch here and some food – two extra bonuses, or “more awesome” as du Chemin would put it.  We have good detail in both the blacks and in the whites.  This is the result of careful exposure setting – avoiding over-exposure of the white patches in particular, while at the same time being careful not to “crush” the blacks into detail-less oblivion.

Note the use of shallow depth-of-field in this shot – the bird’s face is sharp, but focus fades off progressively towards the tail of the bird.  The viewer’s eye is immediately drawn to the sharp area, which is exactly where I want it to go.  How do you like that purposeful treatment of depth-of-field?  Some people have felt that closing down the aperture a couple of stops and putting the entire bird into focus would produce a “better” image.  However, I love this image as it is because it is more engaging and pulls your eye to where I want it and into the life of the kingfisher.  All of the parts that need to be sharp are pin-sharp – eye, beak, fish and droplets of water falling from the fish.  The rest of the image is sufficiently sharp for the secondary role that it plays.  My use of depth-of-filed here has been purposeful.

Consider, by comparison, the photograph above, which does use a smaller aperture to keep the entire bird sharp.  The “message” or “story” of this shot is entirely different to the previous shot.  Here, we have a majestic, almost regal pose that benefits from a different photographic treatment – one that is more formal and therefore less intimate and engaging.  The pose, composition, perch and even the crop are more appropriate to the formality.  Keeping everything in focus is a treatment that is appropriate to this shot.  This is not a better photograph than the last – simply different.  Nonetheless, both shots are purposeful in terms of the photographer’s intent and that is an important ingredient to the success of the photos.

Finally, as far as this portfolio is concerned, consider the hornbill above.  The core elements of lighting, pose, background and even intimacy are all there, but a new and vital element is the ant – because it is so small, it needs to be pin-sharp and needs to stand out against the background.  This requires a paper-thin depth-of-field and the plane of focus needs to include the hornbill’s eye and beak.  Once again, this execution is very purposeful and results in a strong image.

With the photos presented here, I hope that I have shown how a checklist of simple things to remember can be helpful in the field.  Once you have mastered them, you are free to add additional ingredients of interest to create compelling images.  All of these images were taken close to home, on a moderate budget.

Here are some additional images to evaluate against the criteria outlined.