Picturing perfect times outdoors

Mar. 23, 2013 @ 10:36 PM

Spring is almost here and we’ve passed the winter doldrums.
My least favorite time of year is February; it’s early to fish and too late to hunt. By February, I’m getting tired of the cold weather and when I hear the birds and frogs singing in my little hollow, it makes me long for spring even more.
Last week, to escape the cold and conduct some business with the Southeastern Outdoor Press Association, Cherie and I took a little trip across the Deep South. I’ve already reported about the trip but today I was looking at some of the pictures.
Photos are a wonderful way to preserve memories and I take a lot of photos, both for my writing and out of a desire to preserve memories. Today, I was looking at photos for another writing project when one of the pictures caught my eye. The photo was of Cherie at Southern Woods, a quail plantation in Georgia.
Cherie was holding her gun, three dogs were pointing, and a quail was about two feet off the ground, wings extended, in flight, with the dog still frozen in point, his nose about five feet away. The focus of my photo was Cherie and the other dogs. I accidentally caught the bird. Unfortunately, I’d lowered the resolution of my camera and the cropped in picture wasn’t as clear as it would have been otherwise.
Modern cameras are miraculously good. I began taking photos at age 16 with a 120 roll film Yashica twin lens reflex camera. I shot black and white, mostly of pretty girls, and never knew if the pictures were good until they came back from the developer. Later, I did wedding photos and waited nervously for three or four days for the processing of my color shots. Eventually one-hour labs sprung up across the country but the cost of taking each photo was always a consideration for me on my limited budget.
Now, we have digital cameras and what wonderful cameras they are. I’m currently using a Fuji HS 20, a camera that costs considerably less than the 35mm Pentax I used to use, and it’s ten times more camera. Over the last few years, through computer technology, ordinary people have gained the ability to shoot really great photos and manage them with cropping and exposure control. We have technology available to anyone that far surpasses the most sophisticated camera equipment 20 years ago.
To properly utilize that equipment though, you have to use that equipment to your best advantage. Cameras like my Fuji have extreme long zoom lenses. In the seventies, when I was shooting a lot of 35mm, a long zoom lens was a status symbol. I learned that a wide angle lens was more useful and it’s even more so now. I almost never zoom in for a shot, and if I do, it’s never more than 200mm. In the old days, we used a zoom lens to crop the picture since we had little ability to do so on our own. Now, cropping is easy using the many photo managing software systems for digital photography. Now, with cameras capable of super high resolution, we can crop the photo much further out to allow us to pick out individual faces in a group or a rising quail just off a pointer’s nose.
Almost everyone today uses a digital camera and most still have a film mindset. Here are a few tips to help you take outdoor pictures everyone will admire.
Take a lot of shots. In the film days, every shot cost money. With a digital camera, every shot is free until you chose to print it and I never print photos, they work better on the computer or TV screen. If the photo is posed, take two shots as a minimum. I generally take three or four, and more if more people are in the photo. How often do you get a picture of someone in mid-blink looking like they’re blind drunk? I also shoot posed shots with and without flash.
Most cameras will allow you to use forced flash, meaning the camera will flash the shot even though there’s enough light to make the photo. Forced flash fills in shadows and brightens the colors making the photo much more vivid and deep. Also, always think of where the sun is. Photographers should rarely shoot with the sun in their face. In bright conditions, it may be hard for your subjects to keep from squinting. If this is the case, change the angle slightly but watch where the shadows fall.
Shoot with the highest resolution. If your camera will shoot at 16 megapixels, set it at 16 megapixels. High resolution photos can always be resized for sending them in emails and high resolution photos can be cropped to get the best framing for the shot. The photo I took of Cherie and the bird could have made three great individual photos, all cropped out of one, if only I’d had the resolution set higher. Memory cards are cheap; buy a big one and take high resolution photos. You never know when you’ll get the shot of a lifetime.
Wide angle is best. With the camera set at high resolution, a wide angle shot leaves you lots of options for cropping on your computer. Wide angle shots have always been best for scenery shots. No matter how amazing the detail in the distance is, it’s almost always better in the context of what surrounds it. With your camera set at high resolution, you can crop around the details provided they make a great picture. Remember though, settings wider than about 50mm will distort straight lines, so they won’t work for buildings and other structural objects. I have a rubber band around my zoom tube as a stop to keep me from accidentally going too wide. If I need to go wide for a panoramic shot, I just move the rubber band.
Don’t forget to save the original. Before I alter my digital photos, I make a copy and modify it. This way, if I decide I did the wrong thing, I can always go back and start over.
Take advantage of the best light. The best light for outdoor photos is almost always early and late. Just after sunup and just before sundown, the sun’s light is filtered through the Earth’s atmosphere. This creates a softer, mellower light.
Outdoor photography is a wonderful opportunity to have fun and record memories. It can be rewarding and even profitable if you just happen to get the right shot. Spring is here, chances for great pictures abound. Use these tips to record your outdoor experiences. The photos you take will be a pleasure to you and others for years to come.

Dick Jones is an award winning freelance writer living in High Point. He’s a member of the board of directors of the Southeastern Outdoor Press Association. He writes about hunting, fishing, dogs, and shooting for several NC newspapers as well as national magazines and websites.  If you’d like to have him speak to your group, he can be reached at offtheporch52@yahoo.com or offtheporchmedia.com