Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Animal Photography

Photographing animals has always been an area of photography that I have wanted to explore, so recently I set out with my camera with the intention of capturing portraits of animals. Not only did I develop my knowledge within this area of photography whilst conducting this project, I managed to produce some impressive portraits of animals which you can see in this post. I have also included a section within this post titled, `Top Tips for Photographing Animals`.

To take my photographs, I went to my local zoo called `Drusillas Park`. This zoo has a diverse range of animals with lots of different enclosure settings, allowing me to produce a good variety of photographs. Although the zoo was extremely busy, because the weather was sunny, which doesn’t happen often in England, I was still able to take some good photographs.

For all of the photographs included within this post, I used my Canon EOS 500D DSLR camera, with my Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM lens. This lens was my most important piece of kit when I went out on my shoot, as it allowed me to zoom right into the subject, so that they would fill the frame, resulting in a really focused shot. The USM (Ultra Sonic Motor) featured in this lens, helped me a lot when I was taking my photographs, as it enabled me to keep my subjects in focus, as it would adjust the focus accordingly, whenever the subjects moved.

Here are three of the images that I produced for my animal photography project:

Click on the images to enlarge them.

`Wondering...` - Douglas Benge
I have titled this photograph, `Wondering…`, as this is what the lemur appears to be doing in the image, thinking and wondering. I took quite a few photographs of the lemurs when I went on my shoot, but this photograph was the one that had the most natural character within it. I really like the composition of this shot, as the lemur looks into the empty space at the top right hand corner of the image, which in turn is thinking space for the viewer. I added two textures to this photograph, to try and create a texturally rich image; I think I have succeeded, as this photograph of a lemur is full of colour tone and rich textures.

`Unknown` - Douglas Benge
I have titled this photograph, `Unknown`, as it depicts a bird perching on a branch, but you can’t tell what type of bird it is, as I have photographed it from behind whilst its head was tucked down into its chest. I really like this element of mystery that this photograph has, as it draws you into the image, as you try and work out what this `creature` is. I have used a dark texture on this image, to create the illusion that it is night time. After I placed this texture onto the image, I erased the area of the texture that could be seen over the bird, resulting in the image that you see before you, where the bird appears as if it is glowing. The abstractness of this photograph helps to create a more powerful image, that isn’t just another standard animal portrait.

`Rainbow Lorikeet` - Douglas Benge
I have titled this photograph, `Rainbow Lorikeet`, as this is what the image depicts. The natural colours within this photograph are beautiful and vibrant, which is why I chose to use a multi-coloured texture over the original photograph, to add to these rich colours, and to create a photograph with more tone. I really like how the lorikeet is looking directly into the camera lens in this image; it adds an element of interaction to the photograph, as we are able to look at him directly in the eye. When I was photographing this lorikeet, because of its small size and the fact that it kept moving, it was difficult to keep focus on this birds face, but with some patience, I managed to produce this shot where the lorikeets face is in focus.

I was inspired by the photographer, Pauline Fowler, to produce my animal portraits in the way that I have. Pauline has produced a photographic series titled, `Exotic Animals`, which features photographs of animals such as zebras, tigers, and monkeys, that have all been manipulated in Photoshop, to create really rich textured images. To create this effect for her photographs, Pauline uses layered textures; these textures include her own photographs taken of light on water, greenery, skies, and some free textures that she downloads from the internet. I highly recommend that you visit her website and take a look at her `Exotic Animals` series. Here is the link:

Top Tips for Photographing Animals:
  • Be patient! – Patience is probably the most important thing you can have when photographing animals. You need to remember that animals are their own beings, so they aren’t going to do exactly what you want them to do. In order to produce natural animal photographs, you need to be patient, and need to wait for that natural spontaneous moment, it will be worth it.
  • Experiment with different angles – The size of an animal will affect the angle that you photograph it from, so be prepared to get on the ground in order to get that perfect shot, especially when photographing small animals like pets. Photographing your subject from the best angle, can turn an ordinary photograph into a really impressive image.
  • Photograph your subject early or late in the day – Photographing animals in strong midday sun isn’t ideal, and animals are generally less active at midday if the weather is warm. So, you should get up early or wait until later in the evening, in order to photograph your subject in the `golden hour`, the first and last hour of sunlight in the day. This will allow you to produce images that have a beautiful warmth to them, and will also allow you to take some stunning back-lit photographs.
  • Focus on your subject’s eyes – Having a sharp focus on the eyes of a subject is important in any kind of portrait photography; this same principle applies when photographing animals. Different animals will have different shaped and coloured eyes, so a sharp focus on these eyes will allow you to see them in great detail. Remember, “Eyes are the window to the soul”.
  • Try to avoid using flash – If you were to use flash when photographing an animal close to you, their eyes in the photograph would be an undesirable bright green colour; use natural light to photograph your subject, as this will create a softer photograph that has better tonal qualities than an image where your subject has glaring highlights from the use of flash. If you are at a zoo, and are photographing animals though a glass screen, you should definitely not use flash, as the flash will reflect off the glass, resulting in a bright, glaring image.

    I hope that these tips will help you when you go out to take your own animal photographs.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Panoramic Photography

Panoramic photographs are created using a technique within photography that uses editing software like Photoshop, to capture images with elongated fields of view. This means that photographers can capture images with a field of view of up to 360 degrees. The technique of creating these photographs is very simple and yet can produce some really impressive images.

If you want to know how to create your very own panoramic photographs, there is a step-by-step guide included within this blog post.

Here are my panoramas that I produced for my panoramic project:

Click on the images to enlarge them.

View from `The De La Warr Pavilion` - Douglas Benge
This panoramic photograph that I have taken depicts the view out to sea from the grounds in front of `The De La Warr Pavilion`. It was produced from a total of nine shots, all taken with my camera in the portrait position. The subjects composed on the left and right hand side of the photograph, are Bexhill’s promenade domes, as the promenade runs along the seaside and passes in front of `The De La Warr Pavilion`. The other prominent subjects within this image are the three flags that appear in colour in this photograph, creating a more interesting and engaging image. The flag that is in the centre of the image, creates a strong and dramatic contrast to the dark and gloomy sky that is situated behind it. This creates a very powerful focal point to the image and really helps the flag to stand out. This is a wide angle panorama which probably has a field of view of around 160 degrees. In a way, it is the emptiness within this photograph that makes it so powerful as a panorama; it allows thinking space for the viewer and creates a more focused image, as the subjects in the photograph frame and focus your attention to the flag that is standing along in the centre of the scene. After I edited the image into grey-scale in Photoshop, I used the `Burn Tool` to darken certain areas of the sky and also used the `Dodge Tool` to lighten areas of the sky. I used these tools to create a really moody backdrop to the panorama, as the original sky featured in the photograph wasn’t very dramatic or contrasting at all. I think I succeeded in creating this moody and atmospheric effect.

Wallers Haven - Douglas Benge
This panorama depicts a section of the river `Wallers Haven`. It was produced from a total of seven photographs, all taken with my camera in the portrait position. I chose this river as the subject for one of my panoramas, as I thought it would be really interesting to capture the full length of this particular section of the river, in just one panoramic photograph. I have managed to do this and have consequently produced a panoramic image with a field of view of around 175 degrees. The river is the focal point of the photograph and creates an eye-line to the image, as we firstly look to the top of the river, the furthest left point of the image, before following the river through the photograph to the furthest right point of the image, where the river disappears out of view. This eye-line creates an engaging photograph. I edited the colours within this photograph by adjusting the saturation level of the image. I recognised that the unedited version of this panorama, had colours and tones that would work well if I were to brighten them up and increase the vividness of them. By adjusting the saturation level, I have produced an image that is strong in colour tone and has a beautiful colour palette, from the blues to the greens to the yellows etc.

The De La Warr Pavilion - Douglas Benge
This panoramic photograph that I have taken depicts `The De La Warr Pavilion`, a grade one listed modernist building that houses a contemporary art gallery and auditorium. I produced this image from a total of six photographs, all taken with my camera in the portrait position, to help create a taller panorama. I have framed this image so that `The De La Warr Pavilion` is the focal point, as it is situated in the centre of the image and stretches out to the left and to the right side of the photograph. After I had created my panorama in Photoshop, and was happy with the stitching that had taken place, I edited the image into looking like an `old fashioned` photograph. I really love creating images that look as if they were taken using an old fashioned camera, and look like they have been developed as an old photograph would have been developed. To create the `old fashioned` effect that I was looking for, I edited the image into grey-scale and increased the contrast levels of the image, to produce a panorama with deeper black tones. I then created a new layer and placed a scratched texture onto this layer; I used this scratched texture to try and replicate an old scratched negative film. I then created another layer and placed a glass plate negative texture onto it. I added this texture to the photograph as I wanted to try and create the illusion that the photograph had been developed in a darkroom, as this was the old fashioned way of developing images. Finally, I added a vignette to my image, to create a subtle frame around the photograph.

How to Create a Panorama 

To create beautiful panoramic photographs, you may think that you need lots of expensive camera equipment and editing software, but I can assure you that the process to producing a panorama is not as difficult or expensive as you think. The basic principle to photographing a panorama can be summed up in these simple steps:

  • Firstly, choose something to photograph, for example, let’s say you want to photograph a landscape scene
  • You would then set your camera to `Manual` mode and would take some photographs until you found the correct exposure level for the scene. You need to use `Manual` mode as when you produce a panoramic image, you need to take a number of different shots; by taking them on `Manual` mode, you take the images with the same exposure level, ensuring that the photographs can easily be stitched together in Photoshop later. If you were to use `Auto` mode to take the shots, your camera would adjust the exposure level for each photograph without your control, meaning that when you came to stitch the photographs together, your final image wouldn't look like one photograph, you would be able to see that you produced it from however many shots
  • Once the settings on your camera are ready, you can begin to take your photographs. It is best to take panoramas holding the camera in the portrait position, as you will get a taller and deeper image than if you were going to photograph your scene with the camera in the landscape position
  • If you have a steady hand, you can take your images without the use of a tripod, but it is probably better to use a tripod to produce really level photographs that can be stitched together more easily in Photoshop
  • Now your camera is set up on the tripod in the portrait position, work out where the beginning point and end point of your panorama is going to be. Then, pan round between these points and make sure that everything is level within the frame
  • You can now head back over to the beginning point of your panorama and can frame up and take the first photograph. When you have taken this photograph, if you are going to pan from left to right to take your next image, in your head you need to divide your image into five vertical sections, then, look at the last section, the last fifth, and remember a subject that is within that section
  • Now, move your camera around to the right so that the subject that was in the last fifth is now in the first fifth. This is basically ensuring that overlapping is occurring when you are taking your images. This is important as you do not want to crop anything out when taking your photographs, otherwise, there will be a noticeable gap in your final panorama
  • Once you have taken this image, you do exactly as you did for the last image you took: remember a subject that is in the last fifth of your image, move the camera round to the right, making sure that the subject you remembered is now in the first fifth of your frame. You keep following this process until you reach the end point of your panoramic scene
  • Now you can go into Photoshop and can begin to stitch your images together.

There are many tutorial videos on `YouTube` explaining how to use Photoshop to create a panoramic photograph, just type in: `How to Create a Panorama in Photoshop`.

Top Tip:
`When taking the individual photographs that will make up your panorama, make sure that your lens is slightly zoomed in. This will ensure that there is no geometric distortion within your images, as this will make it difficult to stitch the images together in Photoshop.  
If you have a standard 18mm-55mm lens for your Digital SLR camera, adjust the lens so that it is set on the 24mm mark; this amount of zoom should prevent this distortion from occurring within your images.`

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

An Essential Guide to Buying Your First Digital SLR Camera

“What should I look for when buying my first Digital SLR camera?” I hear you ask. Well, in this post I have written an essential guide for all you budding photographers out there who are looking to buy your first Digital SLR camera.

Buying a Digital SLR camera can seem quite daunting at first, with all the complicated terminology and fancy buttons, but don’t panic! This guide will see you through the step from a digital compact to a Digital SLR camera.

Firstly, what is a Digital SLR camera, and what does `SLR` stand for? It is quite simply a Digital single-lens reflex camera. This means that it uses a mechanical mirror system, along with a pentaprism to direct light from the lens to an optical viewfinder positioned at the back of the camera. If you want to learn more about how a Digital SLR or DSLR camera works, then there are plenty of websites with all the information you will need to understand the mechanics of these cameras.

The main differences between compact and DSLR cameras are the price and the ability you have to change lenses. A good compact digital camera could cost you between £40-£80, a good DSLR camera would cost you around £400-£600. As you can see, there is quite a difference in price, but trust me, if you choose the right DSLR, it will be worth every penny. The other difference between a compact camera and a DSLR is the ability you have to change lenses. A traditional compact digital camera will have a lens that is fixed to the camera; you can’t take the lens off and fix another one to the camera. However, new compact models are being released at the moment with interchangeable lenses. With a DSLR camera you can change the lens whenever you want, as you may need a different lens depending on what you are taking photographs of. For example, I have a standard 18mm-55mm lens that I use for day-to-day photography, but I also have a 70mm-300mm telephoto lens for photography subjects like wildlife. There are so many different lenses available to you once you buy a DSLR camera. However, these lenses do come at a price; photographers will always tell you that lenses are more expensive than the camera itself, this is true as prices can range from £100-£2000 for a single lens. Nevertheless, lenses are a whole new topic of discussion.

Here is a list of features you should look for when browsing for a Digital SLR camera:
  • Look at the specifications of the camera and make sure it is between 14-18 mega-pixels
  • Look to see if it has all the functions you think you will need, e.g. macro mode, portrait mode, night mode etc.
  • Make sure it has `Manual` mode; the setting where you can set all the controls yourself
  • Make sure it has a good sized screen on the back of the camera, to view your photographs on
  • See if it has `Live View` mode; this will enable you to see your subject framed on the screen of the camera, before you take the photograph
  • Try and buy a camera that comes as a `Kit`, this means that it comes with a standard lens, normally a 18mm-55mm lens
  • Make sure the camera is quite heavy, but not too heavy; this means that it is well built and will be less likely to break if you were to drop it

Now you know this, do your research! Research is so important when buying an expensive product like a Digital SLR camera. Look on lots of different websites and review sites of cameras that you might be interested in. Once you have conducted your research, choose at least three cameras that you are really impressed by. Then, print out the specifications for each camera and compare them in terms of price and features etc.

Hopefully you will now have one camera in mind. The next stage is very important: go to a shop and try it out! The camera you want may not fit comfortably in your hands, and you may find it difficult to operate. This is a very important step to complete, as you need to be able to operate your camera quickly and effectively.

With a bit of luck, you will now have chosen your first Digital SLR camera! Now, go on different websites and look at the different prices they have for the DSLR you have selected. I would strongly recommend looking at the website of your local camera store, as they are likely to offer you a better deal when it comes to buying the little extras that you may want for your new DSLR camera. Another bonus of buying from your local camera store is that if you are having trouble with your new camera, you can just pop down the road and ask them for expert advice on the matter. They are also more likely to have a better camera fixing turn-around than all these big electronic stores, where you may have to get your camera sent off and could have to wait weeks before you can get it back.

Most importantly, remember to have fun when browsing for your new Digital SLR camera, and hopefully you will find the one that is perfect for you! 

In case you’re wondering, my Digital SLR camera is a Canon EOS 500D, which I bought with an 18mm-55mm kit lens. It’s a great camera and records full HD video which is an added bonus! I would definitely recommend Canon Digital SLR cameras to any beginners to the Digital SLR world, as they are so easy to use and produce extremely impressive photographs. Please visit my other posts for photographs I have taken with my Canon EOS 500D DSLR camera.

Happy snapping with your new Digital SLR camera!

I couldn’t publish a post without a photograph, so here is an image I took for a photography competition; I won 2nd prize for this entry. I entered this photograph into the category titled, Without Words:

`Without Words` - Douglas Benge
Click on the image to enlarge it.

If this photograph isn’t making any sense to you, then read the title of the image, `Without Words`, and then look at the photograph very closely. You'll soon spot the connection.