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Animal Photography Tips

The Morning Light

Rick Gerrity, DPA Instructor in NYC and NJ, adding a splash of drama of this man on a horse. The morning light brought it home. 1. Time-Morning Light 2. Place of photo – Costa Rica 3. Name of Photographer and which Digital Photo Academy teacher is in-Rick Gerrity Digital Photo Academy instructor in NYC/NJ 4. f/stop-f 5.6 5. Shutter Speed-1/1600th sec 6.Back story- This image was made while leading a workshop with my business partner DPA Instructor, in Atlanta, Rob Knight in Costa Rica concentrating on freezing motion. 7. Lens- 35-100mm on a Panasonic Lumix GH4 8. How one might succeed with a version of the image if all they had was a cell phone- With a cell phone one may follow subject while pressing the shutter button creating a blurred background. A cell phone may or may not freeze the motion. Panning will ensure a sharp subject. 9. Photographer’s Strategy- Teaching the importance of lighting, being patient and getting the shot.. Composition regarding the rule of thirds..

Critique from Harry Wendt of and Digital Photo Academy Team-Sarah Corbin – “Galloping through the Marsh”

"Galloping Through the Marsh" taken in the Camargue, France. Copyright 2011 Sarah Corbin You’ve made a lot of really nice decisions here, Sarah. First, we like the sepia tone. We were wondering if you chose to shoot in monochrome or if it was a post-process choice. A lot of pros will tell you to make the choice in the camera to shoot monochrome, instead of it being a computer edit. You’ve done a great job of capturing these wild horses in their own world. Composition-wise, there really are no suggestions for you here. This is a really nicely layered image with the water in the foreground, the horses and splashing water in the mid, and the reeds and trees in the background, all which bring our eyes back to the subject. Geographically, we would advise you that there are still wild horse and pony herds in Tonto National Park, near Saguaro Lake in Arizona (though these are going to be relocated), and along the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Artistically, we would recommend you look up Robert Farber and Bobbie Goodrich, both of whom photograph wild horses. You might also be interested in the work of Paul Caponigro, who shot wild white deer. He was born in 1932, and a world renown master shooter and father of accomplished photographer, John Pajul Caponigro. The high shutter speed and 5.6 f-stop are both great technical choices. The shutter speed is going to stop the action of the horses and water splashing. The 5.6 aperture is enough to keep your subjects within your depth of field, but keep your foreground and background out of focus. My suggestions on technique would be that if you shoot a little lower shutter speed (anything over 1/1000s should stop the action) you could lower your ISO, increasing image quality and decreasing noise (not that any noise is seen here, just a note). We looked at your other images on your site and see that you make good post-production choices. We also liked the profile picture of the horses that we saw. We were wondering if you used a brush (Mylio will have brushes as of Monday) to burn in the background behind the horses a little? If so, was it a conscious choice to leave some shadow in the bushes immediately surrounding the horses to help them stand out, or was that just a lucky coincidence? Either way, it really helps the white horses pop out of the background.

Horse hooves

From Don Peters/ DPA instructor in Chicago To view more of his images please visit Look down.   In a horse barn in Charleston, S.C., I admired the head of a mighty Clysdale, waiting for his next turn to pull a tourist carriage through the city streets.  His head was, well, a horse’s head—magnificent, but it didn’t strike me as a particularly compelling image.  When shooting, I routinely “work the scene,” with my eyes prowling for the unobvious. Looking down in the stable, at once I noticed something striking….the beast’s lower, powerful legs…which, to me, were compelling.   To me, the solid, gritty hooves of this mighty animal “told his story” more than his handsome head and fancy leather and silver livery.  (Nikon D300 with 18-200mm Nikkor lens at 75mm, ISO 400, 1/250 at f/8)  

Tail of the whale

From Don Peters/ DPA instructor in Chicago To view more of his images please visit They say that timing is everything.  On a whale watching excursion in Sitka, Alaska from a small boat, I quickly learned the rhythms of these mighty leviathans.  Breaching the surface after minutes below, they would slowly roll together through the sea for about six or eight times, filling their huge lungs with air.  Seemingly on cue, the entire pod would suddenly take one higher-than –normal roll, arching their backs and then dive again, together, into the depths.  At that final moment, they would display their flukes, as if waving goodbye.  A fast (1/4000) shutter speed in the moving boat was necessary to freeze the tail—and the water streaks and droplets cascading down, just before the tail disappeared below the waves.  Also, setting the camera in “burst” mode (10 frames per second) increased the chances of getting a “keeper” shot.  As photographers, we need to learn the simple cycles of nature to be ready for these moments---and to understand and overcome our own impatient tendencies!  (Nikon D300 with 18-200mm Nikkor lens at 200mm, ISO 800, 1/4000 at f/4.5).  

Rhino at zoo

From Don Peters/ DPA instructor in Chicago To view more of his images please visit Catching this rhino, moving about his mostly contrived zoo enclosure was a tough one.  Fortunately, I was able to finally position myself in such a way as to eliminate the “clutter” of the man-made artifacts in the background (and foreground), to give the shot a more natural look.  Also, the “gesture” of the animal made this shot, as this mighty and bulky beast took a moment to lower himself on one foreleg, reminded me of a portly old man reverently genuflecting in church.  (Nikon D300 with 18-200mm Nikkor lens at 180mm, ISO 400, 1/500 at f/4.5)  

Lion in a zoo

From Don Peters/ DPA instructor in Chicago To view more of his images please visit I love shooting animals…with my camera.   However, as a “city boy,” it’s tough.  Sometimes I get out of town and actually find animals roaming about, but much more often, I find fabulous creatures to shoot at the zoo. The challenge is to remove the “zoo” from the shot.  Background is everything since often it’s something else in the frame that gives the zoo away.  This problem can be handled somewhat by a blurred background (using a wide aperture (e.g. f/4), but if the animal is far away from the camera, the lens optics and the laws of physics often defeat that idea.   So, I’ve found the key is to “zoom with my feet,” to move about to get that perfect line-up between the camera, the subject and a non-descript background.  And, of course, some blur or other post processing technique can be used later to conceal any remaining clutter. Here, this noble lion “cooperated” by lying stationary and I was able to position myself between he and some “zoo rocks.”   My patience was rewarded when Leo looked my way for a moment and I was able to capture the noble “gesture” of the king of beasts, looking out over his kingdom.   Patience is key in animal photography.  We must patiently wait until that creature offers a gesture, or displays an attitude.  Often this is a subtle thing.  Taking lots of exposures will increase your odds of capturing “the moment.” (Nikon D300 with 18-200mm Nikkor lens at 200mm, ISO 400, 1/500 at f/4.5)  


 From Frank Siteman/ DPA instructor in Boston To view more of his images please visit: I don’t think I’ve ever gone out shooting when I haven’t met a dog worthy of having it’s photo taken.  One technique which nearly always works is to get down to the dog’s level.  This isn’t to say that other unique angles won’t work, but what makes this particular image stand out is that “in your face” factor that you get when looking slightly up at him. I used a relatively short (24mm) lens and came in as close as I could, without altering the situation.  In doing so, I accentuated the nose and diminished the relative size of the ears.  I felt that this gave a slightly goofy, yet pleasing, feel to the photo.   Significant post production work included a NIK HDR application in conjunction with silhouetting the dog and treating the background as a separate entity. I was obviously not going for reality here, but rather a hyper-reality. To that end, I blurred an already out of focus background, while significantly sharpening the dog, except for areas (eyes, muzzle and nose) which wanted to remain crisp.   When shooting animals, it’s always helpful to have their person, as well as a helper, around.  The owner can get his pet’s attention and your helper can hold a fill card for you.  It’s important that the fill card, or reflector, does not alarm the animal however, and I’ve found that with some animals it’s best to use a bright reflector which works from greater distances.

Shallow depth of field

 From Frank Siteman/ DPA instructor in Boston To view more of his images please visit : A boy and his dog…..  Sure it’s a cliche, but for a good reason.  When a photo shows emotion, it’s successful.   One difference between a painter and a photographer is that a painter starts with an empty canvas and puts down on it what he or she wants to present.  A photographer on the other hand, starts with a full canvas and must eliminate what is distracting or unwanted.   In this photo, a relatively long focal length (200mm) was used at a wide aperture (f/2.8) to ensure that there would be a very shallow depth of field.  The focus was on the catch-light, or twinkle, in the dog’s eyes.   The sun was relatively low in the sky and I positioned the boy and his puppy so that they were illuminated from behind.  That produced a rim light that separated the subject from the already out of focus background.  It makes the image come alive.   I typically use a large reflector, made from a rigid foam insulation board (with an aluminum foil surface) and cover over 50 percent of it’s surface with gold spray paint.  This reflector can work from great distances, but must be catching direct rays of sunlight in order to bounce them back.  If there is an overcast sky, it will need to be much closer to the subject to work, but the gold warms what would be the reflection of a cool sky.   Again, a post processing affect was employed on a separate layer (with a mask) to selectively alter areas of the image and to create a painterly look.

Capturing the shot

 From Josh Anon/Digital Photo Academy  instructor in San Francisco To find out more information on Josh please check out: "This monkey shot is special to me because it would be hard to get now.  Jigokudani park in Japan, the now famous park where the macaques sit in a hot springs, has gotten incredibly crowded to where there are crowds of people there nearly all the time.  While it’s still possible to get close to the monkeys, it’s gotten much harder to get a wider shot (45mm on a full-frame camera) like this where you’re close to a monkey so that he’s big in frame and also capturing the environment.  The mix of those elements is what makes this shot special.  It provides a more intriguing visual story by providing context to the subject, and the monkey’s almost-human face lets us read his peaceful expression.  The mist in the background also helps with the context by letting you tell there are other monkeys in the background without drawing your attention to them. Canon EOS 1Ds with Canon EF 24-105 f/4L IS at 45mm.  f/16, 1/80 sec, ISO 320."

Beyond Equipment

From Josh Anon/Digital Photo Academy instructor in San Francisco.   To find out more information on Josh please check out: "It’s easy to become gear-obsessed with photography, but you don’t always need the best and biggest gear to capture a great shot.  I was in the Galapagos shooting for a client, and there were a few snorkel excursions where I couldn’t do any shooting for the client.  The only personal camera I brought was a Sony RX100, and I had a Nauticam housing and small light so that I could use it while snorkeling.  I came across a penguin resting at the surface who let me swim fairly close, and having spent hours underwater in the Falklands trying to capture a penguin underwater, I knew this was a unique opportunity.  To make sure the penguin was properly exposed while shooting up against the bright sky, I set my light to act as a fill.  Then, I held my breath and dove underwater, coming up below the penguin.  I could only take one shot since my strobe was slow to recycle, so I waited until the penguin filled the frame.  I managed to get three tries before the penguin swam away, and this was my favorite since he looked at me.  Sony RX100 at 28mm in a Nauticam housing with strobe.  f/6.3, 1/250 sec, ISO 125."    

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