For this Photo Tip of the Week, I want to lighten things up a bit yet still provide information that can up your photo game. The idea came to mind when I heard someone mention a tried but true, often used statement: There are two sides to every story. This got me thinking. Each of you who are reading this is a hard-working photographer and you care about the craft. But what about non-photographers? I provide for you a look at what we do from their perspective in regard to how hard we work, how difficult it is to bag a great image and other aspects. Enjoy the read.
The Wildlife Photographer: I finally got THE SHOT I wanted after driving the same road for days, getting out of bed at 4:30 a.m. to arrive at my destination by sunrise, hoping the subject will be close to the road, hoping its head angle goes hand in hand with the angle of the early-morning sun and appears in an environment where the background is clean with no distractions. To have all these factors fall into place takes dedication, effort, energy, out-of-pocket expenses, sleep deprivation and, most of all, an investment in time spent with the animal.
The Outsider: I really like your photo of the ______. It must be nice to simply take your camera with you on a trip, point it at a subject and come back with a great image—you guys really have it easy and you get paid to do it. What a cushy life!
Reality: As a wildlife photographer, you know the hard work it takes to get “the shot.” The light has to be right, which translates to the hour after sunrise or the hour before sunset. Use these times to make your best images. Be persistent. Great behavior isn’t captured every minute of every day.
The Wildlife Photographer: I want to capture peak action of a predator/prey hunt in the Serengeti. I’ve followed the same group of animals for days with no luck. I drove the park a myriad of times with no luck. I looked out the window and saw thick, low-level clouds but went out anyhow hoping for an opening. I secured all the necessary permits so I could drive where I want. On the sixth day, I got an image that was close, but another animal walked into the shot at the peak moment and photobombed the event. I won’t give up.
The Outsider: Cool man—did you use your iPhone to get that shot? I carry mine with me all the time and I’m always in the right place at the right time. How cool it must be to make photos like that every second of every day. Don’t you get tired of capturing great photos like that all the time?
Reality: As with many jobs, an outsider’s perspective of what needs to be done in any job is skewed, but for some reason, it’s emphasized in what we do. People don’t realize everything needs to fall into place to make the perfect capture. Don’t let this fact impede you. Be persistent. Go out even if it’s cloudy. If you don’t go into the field, you’re guaranteed to not get the shot.
The Wildlife Photographer: I cashed out my retirement fund a bit early, but paying the penalty so I can finally purchase that 600mm lens is so worth it. I’ve longed for it for years and I can’t wait to bring it into the field. It’s heavy, big and unwieldy, but for what it does, I’m fully “IN.” After seeing the results, it was worth every penny of the $12,000 it cost.
The Outsider: Dude—you must have great equipment to get a photo that good. I bet you spent at least a couple hundred dollars on that monster lens. You have to carry that around? Sweet—it saves you time in the gym. I wish my job was as easy as yours.
Reality: The speed and wide aperture of a long prime lens provide a certain “look” to an image with regards to the bokeh. The ƒ/4 aperture allows you to shoot in lower light or use a faster shutter speed to freeze action. The tradeoff is the cost and need to carry it, but both are worth it. An expensive word processing program doesn’t make a novelist a better writer nor does great equipment make a photographer better. Learn to use what you own to the fullest extent to make the best possible images you can.
The Wildlife Photographer: I’ve been to the same location numerous times but never had the light, clouds or drama at sunrise or sunset the way I envision the end result. I continue to return in that I want that perfect RAW file. I will get it someday. After numerous attempts, that day has come and I got the capture for which I’ve longed.
The Outsider: Yo—I really dig using Photoshop. Have a look at my iPhone of this photo. I took it like a year ago and I’ve gotten better using Photoshop since. I’m rocking it now. I took the sky from this photo and combined it with this scene. It’s easy—you guys must do it all the time. If you’re interested, pay me like $100 I can show you how to do it.
Reality: Photoshop doesn’t turn a bad RAW file into a prize-winning shot. Granted, areas can be cloned and skies can be swapped, but for those who rely on getting it right in camera, stay true to your ethic. Software keeps getting more powerful and more intuitive, which is great. Use it to your advantage, but if you do move, swap or combine images, come clean about them.
Visit www.russburdenphotography.com for information about his nature photography safaris to Tanzania.