Head towards the light.

My Last 2 entries have been about getting the best results when shooting in difficult lighting conditions.
The first entry covered dark and over cast conditions, followed by rain, then the second shooting with back lighted subjects.
Both are difficult situations to find yourself in, but very rewarding if you can conquer the conditions and now we have this latest entry, where we had a mixture of harsh, bright over cast conditions, followed by the soft golden light of evening, all in a matter of hours.

As I drove my way into the city, the weather was not looking flash at all and it was not looking like being on the improve for the next few days either.
This was bad news as I was on the way to the airport to pick up Gavin from the South Island.

The one thing I can’t prearrange in my workshops is the weather, but what I do promise, is that we will do whatever we can to make the best of any situation and we will be learning along the way.
Gavin had booked a 2 day workshop with me so this was going to be a challenge.

Meeting up with Gavin at the airport I bundled him into the car and fled the city out to the kapiti coast, north of Wellington, we were hoping desperately for a break in the weather.
We made our way north until we reached the little town of Waikanae and we headed for the Waikanae estuary and the adjoining waimanu lagoon.
The weather was abysmal and we parked up and continued our conversation about all things photographic and drank coffee from flaks as the rain pelted down outside the car, but at least if the rain abated we would be Johnny on the spot and all ready to pounce at a moment’s notice.
As we talked gear and techniques and ate our lunch, the weather started looking like it was on the improve and eventually the rain eased off and we decided that it was fine enough to venture outside the car.
We decided to stick to the handy waimanu lagoons area as there are always a variety of birds present and if the rain returned, we could make a mad dash for the car.
I will do a full article on this gem of a place and what it has to offer at a future date, but for now we are just looking at one nights shoot and how it unfolded.

Pointer number 1, harsh overhead lighting.

Over the space of an hour the clouds thinned somewhat, which left us with bright, harsh, over cast conditions overhead.
Often when shooting on, or over water, or at flying birds overhead, these conditions lead to underexposed subjects, as the light exposure system in your camera picks up the bright overhead light and sets the exposure to compensate so as to not to turn the sky into a great big detail-less white blob.
The same often applies for on the water shots, depending on your angle to the sun, as the water on bright overcast days often reflects the bright overhead sky.

You have 2 choices here, you can try to compensate by using spot metering or try shooting one full stop of light over the in camera calculations.
You may end up with little detail in the over exposed water or sky, but your subject should be in the ball park and not appear as a dark detail-less silhouette.

Most people use the evaluative or average metering system in camera, which is fine when the lighting conditions are more evenly spread.
If left to the camera and evaluative metering, what you normally end up with under these conditions is more of a silhouette of your subject, that will have little detail and will be full of digital noise if you try to lighten the subject up in your image processing programme.

This is because the camera will take into account the brightest portions of the scene and compensate by trying to average out the light to give an even exposure throughout the entire image, hence the term average.
As the camera will try to take a stab at the average light exposure taking the brightest and the darkest readings into consideration and shoot for the middle ground in most cases the harsh bright white sky, or water over whelms the metering system causing it to underexpose the entire image.

Learning to use spot metering where the light sensor ignores all other light calculations and concentrates on just a very small portion of light in the centre of the image where your subject should be, helps overcome this.
However spot metering is not guaranteed to work and it’s not the only way of skinning the cat.
Learn to manipulate the exposure system by forcing the system to shoot stops of light either above or below the systems choice.
This technique is called over compensating and when you learn to use it, it gives much more reliable results.
You can fool the camera into thinking its taking a even exposure but with you over riding the system, you dictate the final call.
In most cases, one full stop of over compensation is enough but experiment with your camera.
Getting to know your camera is vital to your photographic journey.
Practice, practice, practice, till you have a pretty good idea how your camera thinks.

This first image is of a Reef Heron and is is cropped off the top, but shows that the camera has exposed for the bright background and not the main subject.

If I try to get a good exposure on the bird in lightroom I am going to end up with a very much less that ideal image, as the sensor did not record enough detailed information in the birds feathers as the shutter was not allowed to remain open long enough to absorb the correct amount of information to give us the detail we need for a pleasing image.

Click on the images to see bigger versions please.

The Reef Heron in this image is underexposed because of the bright background and will result in an image with excessive digital noise if I attempt to brighten it up.

The Reef Heron in this image is underexposed because of the bright background and will result in an image with excessive digital noise if I attempt to brighten it up.


What we end up with is digital noise (all the little blobs of colour and dots of black where the sensor could not record any colour and feather detail.
lightroom is good at noise reduction but not God, you cannot create detail if its not there in the first place

This is a 100% close up of the reef heron.

with this kind of digital noise if you try to eliminate all of it you will also loose all the detail

with this kind of digital noise if you try to eliminate all of it you will also loose all the detail


No amount of wish full thinking is going to turn poor old mr Reef heron into a wonderful image.

Below is an image I shot on the day with gavin in similar conditions, of a Weiweia or New Zealand dabchick.
I over exposed the bird by 2/3rds of a stop and ended up with an acceptable image even though the water came out really bright the subject is more important.

Because of the bright overhead conditions reflecting off the water, I over exposed this shot by 2/3rds so the main subject would be correctly exposed.

Because of the bright overhead conditions reflecting off the water, I over exposed this shot by 2/3rds so the main subject would be correctly exposed.

I also shot 2/3rds over for these male and female pāpango or scaup and ended up with a pleasing image that I was able to work with.

Pāpango the New Zealand scaup or Black Teal(Aythya novaeseela

Pāpango the New Zealand scaup or Black Teal(Aythya novaeseela

Back to the story

Slowly as the day wore on the clouds dissipated and the sun poked its nose out and at last we had the light we craved.

Now we were starting to get a few shots and we moved around the ponds recording the comings and goings of the water fowl and shags.

A little shag

A little shag

Pointer number 2, the big lens .

Gavin was about to learn a harsh lesson, he had a 400mil lens with a 2X converter on board, which gave him bigger than the equivalent of a 800 mil lens, taking the crop factor of his camera into consideration.
I couldn’t convince him to ditch the converter which would have cut his shutter speed in half at any given f.stop.
Also at over 800 mils the chances of finding flying birds in the view finder and focusing on them were almost impossible.

As expected Gavin did find it impossible to focus on the flying birds or even find them in the view finder and many opportunities were lost.
1. Learn to know how to use your new lens before going on a trip, know its limitations and yours.
Practice on getting your subject in that viewfinder, without that skill, you are not going to be a happy camper at the end of the day.
You must practice with your long lens; it takes a lot of time to learn how to master a big lens.
2. Know when to use it and under which conditions.

A pied shag approaches its nest

A pied shag approaches its nest

When I realised that Gavin was really struggling, we looked for more suitable subjects, mainly ones not flying lol.

I have wanted images of female Scaup in this kind of light and I was presented with a few opportunities so I went to work and got down low, almost at eye level but still high enough to get the idea of water movement.
I’m not shy when it comes to taking my own shots when hosting workshops because sometimes action speaks louder than words and when people see how to do it , they tend to click onto things quicker.

A female pāpango or New Zealand scaup

A female pāpango or New Zealand scaup

Then it was onto a pair of kuruwhengu or shoveler ducks that were paired up and displaying to each other.
I have a love affair with Shoveler ducks or kuruwhengu at the moment.
They are very cool ducks and the males have a beautiful plumage.
The light was going off the orgasmic scale as far as bird photographers are concerned, soft golden light, ideal conditions.

A male shoveler duck or kuruwhengu

A male shoveler duck or kuruwhengu

A female shoveler duck or kuruwhengu

A female shoveler duck or kuruwhengu

A Male and female shoveler or kuruwhengu

A Male and female shoveler or kuruwhengu

resting
Kuruwhengu The Australasian shoveler (Anas rhynchotis)

The birds were very obliging and after a while we left them to relax and headed off to other parts of the pond.
There was a group of male scaup with one lonely female with them and they were up to something Ive never seen before, bobbing up and down out of the water and franticly threshing their webbed feet under the water making bubbles on the water’s surface.

There was a  group of male scaup  with one loney female with them and they were up to something Ive never seen before, bobing out of the water and franticly threshing their webbed feet under the water making bubbles on the waters surface. The one lone female centre back.

There was a group of male scaup with one loney female with them and they were up to something Ive never seen before, bobing out of the water and franticly threshing their webbed feet under the water making bubbles on the waters surface. The one lone female centre back.

Then they all took off in short flights around the pond in little groups and I got some shots Im very pleased with.
The light was fading and the shutter speed was a tad slow to freeze their wings but still I like the hint of motion in this image.

The light was fading and the shutter speed was a tad slow to freeze their wings but still I like the hint of motion in this image.

The light was fading and the shutter speed was a tad slow to freeze their wings but still I like the hint of motion in this image.

Pāpango the New Zealand scaup or Black Teal (Aythya novaeseela

We slowly made our way back to the car and was met by a Little black shag or kawau Tui in brilliant golden light so it was the perfect ending of a difficult day.

Little black shag in the last of the golden light.

Little black shag in the last of the golden light.

Some Whitebait fisherman had their white bait net in the water so I fired off my last shot of the day and we jumped in the car and headed home for a feed of fishinchips, a few wines and to look at the images we had taken that day on my computer.

fishermen fishing for whitebait

fishermen fishing for whitebait


It absolutely persisted down the entire 2nd day so we spent the time looking at images and processing techniques on my computer all the next day till it was time for Gavin to jump on his plane back to Christchurch.
Although we had not enjoyed good weather both days, Gavin went home a happy man.
He had learnt quite a lot that will stand him in good stead for his future journey with camera in hand and I had thoroughly enjoyed his company and felt I had made another friend in the photographers’ world.

To see more about my workshops , here is the link

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3 thoughts on “Head towards the light.

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