Tundra swans at sunrise in a San Joaquin Valley marsh
Happy Valentine’s Day!
This photograph of tundra swans seemed appropriate today. Swans mate for life, so you always see them in pairs, or in a small group when parents are joined by their young cygnets. The two subjects of this photograph were undoubtedly a mated pair.
One of the challenges of photographing these swans was that they kept their heads underwater for long periods of time while they were feeding. Periodically one of their heads would pop up briefly, but then plunge underwater again, and it was rare for both swans to have their necks raised at the same time. I expended many pixels trying to capture moments when both swans had their heads up. Even when I managed to catch both of them with their heads visible, often one of the swans would have its back to me, or be in some other awkward position.
But I stayed alert and patient, and eventually things came together. Both swans lifted their heads for maybe ten seconds – an eternity, it seemed – while I held down the shutter button. At one point the swan on the left even turned its head and looked back at the swan on the right. Perfect. That little gesture made a big difference in the photograph by creating a visual connection between the two swans.
Oaks and redbuds in the fog, Mariposa County. A sharp lens, good technique, and the 36-megapixel sensor on my Sony A7r captured an incredible amount of detail in this photograph; I’ve printed it up to 40×60 inches with great results.
I’ve been getting a lot of questions lately about Canon’s new 50-megapixel cameras, the 5DS and 5DS R. These models haven’t been released yet, but many Canon users are wondering whether they should upgrade.
Since these cameras aren’t available for testing yet, it’s hard to say anything definitive about them. But since I bought my 36-megapixel Sony A7r over a year ago I’ve learned a lot about working with high-resolution cameras, and some of those lessons might be relevant to people who are considering buying one of those new Canon models, or a 36-megapixel camera like the A7r, Nikon D800, or Nikon D810.
Aspens and morning sunlight, Inyo NF, CA, USA
I’ve always felt that the best photographs capture a mood or feeling. It’s easier to convey a mood when the weather gets stormy, but how do you capture a mood on a clear, sunny day? The answer, I think, is to go with it—to emphasize the sun, the blue sky, and the brightness of the day. Find the visual elements that say “beautiful, sunny day,” and highlight them.
One way of doing this is to include the sun in the frame. Nothing says “sunny and bright” like the sun itself. But putting the sun in your photograph brings challenges. First, you’re likely to get lens flare. This is not the end of the world—in fact, many photographs use lens flare to great effect—but sometimes the flare can be distracting. The other challenge is getting the exposure right.
Dogwood blossoms, Yosemite. These backlit flowers stand out cleanly against a dark, shaded background.
Light Against Dark
Many of the most effective photographs share a simple lighting concept: they either place a light subject against a dark background, or a dark subject against a light background.
This first photograph of two dogwood blossoms is a perfect example of a light subject against a dark background. In fact the background isn’t just dark; it’s completely black, so there’s nothing to compete visually with the flowers. The contrast creates a simple and dramatic image.
This light-against-dark situation is what makes photographs of Horsetail Fall so striking when conditions are right. The waterfall stands out because it’s brighter than the surrounding cliffs – and, of course, because of the color.
Creek descending through a granite basin. The sun was hitting the rocks just beyond the top of the frame, reflecting the gold color into the water, and even onto some of the polished rocks on the right.
When people think of photographing a reflection, they usually think of a mirror reflection, like a mountain reflected in a tranquil lake. I’ve done my share of those, but I think it’s often more interesting to just look at the colors, textures, and patterns on the water’s surface.
During my just-completed Hidden Yosemite workshop we had many opportunities to photograph reflections of all kinds. The accompanying photographs represent a mini-gallery of reflection photographs that I made during and just prior to the workshop, with extended captions to explain the thought process behind each image. Most of these are not mirror reflections; instead, they’re focused on the water’s colors and textures.