Digital and Nature Photography (needs updated!)

Back when film was the thing we had to worry about it was did I bring enough to capture all I was going to encounter? I threw a few packs of AA batteries in the pack and I was ready to go. I had prepaid film mailers that I would drop in the mail at the local post office so I would not have to lug around exposed film. Digital opened up a whole new world of opportunities for image capture as well as setting us up for failure if we don’t know enough about the new digital world. Having been 100% digital now for about 6 years, I have learned some tricks that I will share with you here on my blog. Technology is changing from day to day, so if there is something out there as of today’s writing, it will be obsolete in a week or so. Let’s just start at some basics for now.

Digital Camera Care

Digital cameras are much more delicate than our film camera’s that we used in the past. The image capture part of the digital camera is the CCD or CMOS chip that has an electric charge to it. It is a great place for dust to go and spoil your CCD or CMOS chip. So when changing lenses it is recommended to turn off the camera and when changing the lens have the camera body and lens pointing towards the ground and not up in the air. This will reduce the chance of dust and debris getting into the camera and eventually working it’s was to the camera’s sensor. Sensor cleaning is not hard to do, just not something you would want to do in the field. A camera change bag can be used in places where there will be lots of wind and the weather is bad. It’s a good idea to be familiar with the sensor changing procedure of your camera or at least have the manual to guide you through the process. Have your sensor cleaning supplies with you (sensor swabs and cleaning solution). In now way are you ever to use canned air to clean off a sensor. Let me repeat that once again, do not use canned air to clean your camera’s sensor. Use a small ear syringe to blow dust off the sensor. Bottom line is follow the manufactures instructions for cleaning a soiled sensor.

Foul Weather Gear

At McNeil and other places in Alaska the weather is unpredictable and can change at any moment. You need a good camera pack that has a rain fly as well as made out of material that is weather resistant. Carry a small hand towel in your camera bag to dry off your equipment in case it gets wet. There are several good bags out there such as the Lowe Pro Trekker and Nature Trekker that offer good weather protection for your camera gear. I took the Pro Trekker to Alaska many times and have been in the rain for days at a time and my equipment stayed dry the whole time. Good bags are expensive, but so is your equipment! There are also some good foul weather covers for camera’s and lenses. These come in handy when waiting for wildlife such as bears at McNeil. I made one out of nylon, Velcro and some water proofing spray. It was compact and light weight and cost about $10 to make.

Batteries to spare….

Digital cameras are power hungry! Cameras vary from using lithium ion batteries to AA batteries. There is no place to recharge in the wilderness unless you have a solar charger or are in your vehicle. Rechargeable batteries are not that great in holding a charge over weeks and weeks, but have more power output than store bought batteries. One thing to do is do a fresh charge on all your batteries the day before you head to the wilderness. This will give you the maximum use out of your batteries. Turn off your LCD on your camera; you don’t need to see every shot that has been fired. Just spot check your images every so often to save the juice on your batteries. I can go about three days on two Li – Ion batteries on my Canon 10D. When you are not shooting, turn your camera off to save your batteries. It should be no problem to go a few days into the wilderness to photograph wild life on a few extra batteries. If you can’t afford extra ones, borrow from your friends and other photographers you know. My friend Kevin brings his 10D just as a backup and I use his batteries in the case I run out. Kevin still shoots film and is still playing with the digital experience and that works for me!

Storage

If you shoot in RAW, which you should, these files can really eat up the disk space on your cards. Compact flash is so cheep now that you should not have any problem having enough cards to capture your images and keep them on the cards till you get back to civilization. If you don’t have enough cards, you can always upload to a laptop or other portable device to store your images till you get back to the hotel or home. Have a spare card that has nothing on it for camera repairs. What I do is have a spare 128 meg flash card that is formatted and is good. Sometimes if a file gets corrupt or there is a write error in the process of capturing the image and the camera will hang up. Sometimes the only fix is to put a fresh card in and format to fix the error. Some cameras will stop working when they reach the number of 999999 or something like that. You will need a new card to fix this problem so you can keep shooting. It will lock up till the condition is fixed.

White Balance

If you are shooting jpeg and want your image colors to be right you need to make sure you are shooting in the right mode. Pick sunny, cloudy, overcast, or what ever the conditions are, but what ever you do don’t use auto white balance. Auto white balance is wrong about 80% of the time. I have had photographers come to me at the studio and complain about colors being off and having inconsistent images. They were using auto white balance and every time the model would change clothes the camera would “see” different colors from the subject and would adjust to that white balance. Result was very milky dull skin tones. The fix, is to custom white balance in the light you are shooting in. You can use a white card, a zebra card, or an expodisk to do accurate white balance. With jpeg images, you don’t have that much latitude to make adjustments to your image. The best solution is to shoot RAW and take control of the white balance within Photoshop. RAW is the best way to shoot and you can do a lot more with your images in post processing than you can in jpeg. They are bigger files and you can’t take as many images on a card as you can jpeg images, but you will have so much more control over the final image. Practice and see what settings and techniques you like to use. Compare images and print them out to take a good look at the differences in the techniques and pick what works best for you. As a photographer that works with images everyday, I can tell you it takes a lot of time to fix bad images. Get your images right the first time and your photographic experience will be much better. Digital has a big learning curve, but it’s not that hard to do if you take a few minutes to look and experiment with your camera.

Exposure

Well as most people have learned with digital the exposure is much more critical than when we used to shoot film. You need to be right on with your exposure because there is not latitude in the digital image. IF you over expose and blow the highlights, they are gone! There is no bringing back that image, it is gone. It is a lot like when we shot slide film in the film days. Expose for the highlights and not blow them out. Metering on medium toned subjects and knowing how to meter in various conditions. If you have a tricky situation do several different exposures if you are not sure of what is going on in the scene and use it as a learning tool. Shoot RAW! You have a better chance of pulling off a bad exposure with RAW than you do with a jpeg image. Just because you are shooting RAW, does not mean you can ignore good exposure. The less you have to do to an image, the better that image will be. That’s enough for now. I will go into more depth with each of these subjects as time permits. Enjoy!

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