My Favorite Subject to Shoot

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By Steve Russell

With today’s equipment and technology, photography has become so simple and ubiquitous that anyone can take photos. Whether you use a $6,000 professional model camera or your cell phone, you can capture photos. However, all the equipment and technology available won’t guarantee that you will take good photos. That has to come from your “eye.” Not just the eyes you see with but your internal eye that can see and compose a photo that has interest, a story and is pleasing to the eyes of others. If you’re a beginning photographer I urge you to spend most of your time and effort on developing your “photography eye.”

Photograph anything and everything. Discard the ones that are terrible. You know the ones; a thumb or finger over the lens, way under or over exposed, etc. Keep the ones you don’t like as well as the ones you do like. From time to time, look back at the ones you didn’t like and reassess them. Two things will happen. As you develop your “eye” you will look at the photos differently and you will change your personal standards for what makes a good or bad photo.

Another thing that will happen is that you will come to realize what subject or subjects you enjoy photographing the most and what you don’t enjoy very much. You’ll consistently capture more photos that you really like in some subjects and it’ll feel like you just can’t ever capture a good image in others. Whether you capture good images because you like a subject or you like a subject because you have the greatest photography success with it doesn’t make any difference. The exercise will help you develop as a photographer and will help you find your favorite subject or subjects.

If you’re a regular reader of Beyond Megapixels you know that my primary photography interests are outdoor or wildlife photography and portraiture. While this may seem like an odd combination, I think it’s a relatively normal transition because photographing animals is actually taking their portrait. At least that’s my excuse for combining the two.

I don’t do well with street photography because I don’t have the “eye” for it. I don’t really “see” the image that is there waiting to be captured. As a result, most of my street photography scenes look like snapshots. I do okay with architectural photographs but for the most part my architectural photography is more like travelogue photography. Mostly a photograph that would have the caption, “I visited New York and saw the Statue of Liberty and here’s the photo I took to prove it.” Not a formula for successful photos.

Put me in the outdoors or in the studio and I immediately see lighting without having to think about it. I envision the image before I capture it. In fact, I’m usually looking for a particular look or looks when I’m photographing. I’m in my photographic element and I’m very comfortable. It’s no longer work, it’s fun.

Within wildlife or outdoor photography my absolute favorite subject has to be birds. Big birds (not the yellow one), small birds, raptors, passerines, etc. Birds are my favorite. When asking myself why I enjoy photographing birds I developed the following reasons:

There is a huge variety of birds. Large and small, colorful and monochromatic, beautiful and ugly (at least most people think some of them like vultures are ugly). There are waders, divers, dabblers, seed eaters, insect eaters, and almost every color under the sun.

They are difficult to photograph. Small birds are almost never still and because they’re small you need a really big lens to get a good photograph. Large birds like owls, eagles, hawks, egrets and others can remain still for long periods of time, but it’s really difficult to get close to them. Another excuse for a big lens. It’s not uncommon for a bird photographer to take a few hundred photographs in a day and get only a handful really good images.

Milton Heiberg is a wonderful photographer that lives in Orlando, FL. For most of his career he owned a studio in Manhattan. His photographs have been published in numerous magazines including National Geographic. He is on the faculty of the Digital Photo Academy and the Crealde’ School of Art in Winter Park, FL where I was fortunate to take two of his classes. In February Milton posted an article and photo on his blog about photographing an African Weaver Finch. Here’s what he had to say about the experience:

The title of this photo should be patience and persistence. It’s an African Weaver Finch taken at Animal Kingdom, in Orlando, FL. These birds move quickly. By the time you frame them at the nest, they are gone. After a frustrating half-hour of missed and mediocre shots I was ready to give up, when it dawned on me that a given bird will come to the same nest repeatedly. It will usually approach from the same direction. So I picked out the best specimen, located the nest, and got into the best position. Then I waited another 10 minutes. Using my Canon 7D at 8-frames/sec, for another 5 or 6 tries, I was able to get one shot where the bird was actually facing the camera and calling—within a burst of about 20 frames. The other 19 had pretty color, but not as much substance. The other 500 were thrown away.

You can see the resulting photo by clicking on this link, African Weaver Finch. I urge you to visit Milton’s Blog and look around. He has some amazing images of a Belted Kingfisher and a Roseate Spoonbill.

In his paragraph about his experience, Milton also points out something else that is critical to successful animal photography and especially bird photography. You have to be familiar with the behavior of your subject. If you know the bird’s behavior, you can anticipate what it will do next and be ready. You have to know your subject so it requires preparation. Even so, like Milton said, you will discard a large number of photographs. That’s what makes it so rewarding when you get a really good one.

Tomorrow, I’m going to piggy-back off this article and talk about how to overcome Photographer’s Block. See you tomorrow.

Photo Credits:

Blue Tail Bee Eater by najeebkhan2009 on Flickr Creative Commons
Griffon Vulture by Leo Reynolds on Flickr Creative Commons
American Bald Eagle by Mytimemachine on Flickr Creative Commons
Northern Cardinal by Mytimemachine on Flickr Creative Commons
Osprey, Green Heron, Black-neck Stilt and Blue Wing Teal by Steve Russell

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