Polar Bear mom with cub, Spitsbergen, Norway.
With the tripod-mounted Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 500mm f/4G ED VR II AF lns (Black), the Nikon TC-14E II 1.4x Teleconverter for D-AF-S & AF-I lenses ONLY, and the Nikon D4 digital SLR body. ISO 800: 1/1250 @ f/11.
Thick overcast light. Mom and the cub were walking around, so the easy thing to meter was the white background. I metered a bright area and–working in Manual mode–placed that tone at + 1.7 stops. Since the light was not changing, all that I had to do then was wait for a good pose.
Image courtesy of and copyright 2012: John Shaw.
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John Shaw was one of several who inspired me three decades ago. His gorgeous flower images that featured pristine blossoms–I remember lots of purple and pink ones–set against out-of-focus green backgrounds stuck in my mind and served as the springboard for what would become the BIRDS AS ART style. Thanks John.
Early on, John’s The Nature Photographer’s Complete Guide to Professional Field Techniques, published by Amphoto Books in June 1984 was my bible and fueled my dream to do a bird photography book for the same publisher. That dream led to the publication of “The Art of Bird Photography; The Complete Guide to Professional Field Techniques” in June, 1998. In the 1990s John Shaw’s Business of Nature Photography guided me through the difficult early years of my career; bible #2. Thanks John.
Over the year’s John has become a friend, joining me as a guest co-leader on both a San Diego and a Fort DeSoto IPT. Thanks John.
After posting “Learning to Think Like a Pro In the Field,” a reader of both of our blogs e-mailed John letting him know that he was mentioned in my blog post. As a result, I received the e-mail below from John.
John Shaw on Exposure/A Guest Blog Post
Since my name was brought up in this discussion – and since I got an email asking about my thoughts on metering the gull photo – I’ll toss in my 2 cents worth.
In manual mode, the meter simply takes a reading of whatever you point it at. Adjust the settings for one tonality (the sky, and only the sky, in this case), then aim the meter at another tonality (the gull, which is a different tonality), and the meter will give a different answer. This has always been true. The meter would only give the same answer if the two different areas you metered happened to be the exact same tonality. If the entire scene is in the same consistent light, as it is in the gull photo, you could meter anything, place it as whatever tone you wanted it recorded as, and everything else would fall along the tonal scale. Why not pick the easiest area to meter?
As to my long-ago comment that “white is white,” I’ll stand by that statement. After all, a white shirt is a white shirt, even at night in your closet. It doesn’t change. It may have less light on it, but it’s still white. What does change is how you meter that “white” and where you place “white” on the tonal scale.
Some points that are adding to the confusion here are related to the fact that we no longer shoot film. Back in those days, the Fuji Provia in my camera had the same tonal response and dynamic range as the Fuji Provia in Artie’s camera. We cannot assume this with current digital cameras. Different sensors, even in the same camera brand, have different tonal responses, and vastly different dynamic ranges. And, just to confuse the issue even more, most of us shoot RAW and ETTR. But how does the histogram on the LCD (which is a histogram of a thumbnail jpeg created on the fly) relate to the histogram of the actual RAW file when it is opened in Photoshop? You might want to take a look at my recent blog post, ETTR to the Far Right. Sometimes I think we’re lucky to get an image at all.
One big point: notice that Artie is using “evaluative” metering. Nikon calls this “matrix” metering. In both cases, the camera actually runs a software program that evaluates the tonal range of what it is metering. But the two companies use very different “evaluation” programs. Meter the same area with a Nikon and with a Canon, both in “evaluative,” and the answer will probably not be the same. You need to learn what your camera does. To make a very minor point, Artie should have said “this is what I did, based upon my Canon’s evaluative metering.” If I had shot my Nikon D4 with his suggested 2 1/3 stops open off the sky, I would have definitely burned out the sky.
So, how would I have metered the grey sky/gull situation with my Nikon? OK, I’ll use matrix metering in manual exposure mode. By using matrix, which reads the entire frame, I need to aim the camera at a large area of consistent tonality. The light gray sky is the obvious easy answer. With my D4 I would open up about one and one-third stops. But I’ll bet that if we compared actual shooting exposure, both Artie and I would be close to the same. We just have gotten there different ways.
Thanks John. John is of course correct. When I photograph with Nikon-user James Shadle at Alafia Banks on his custom pontoon boat, the Hooptie Deux, we have a good laugh when it turns out that we are both working at the same exposure values (always within a third stop of each other at worse) despite the fact that we use different methods and obviously different in-camera meters. And do note as I have mentioned here and elsewhere that while Nikon folks do not need to add as much light in low light/light toned situations they need to subtract more light when working in bright light/dark toned with brilliant white situations as in the image featured here. Nikon folks would have been very close to -3 stops to come up with a good exposure on the displaying Long-tailed Duck image featured there.
In a follow-up e-mail John wrote referring to the Pintado Petrel image:
If I had used an autoexposure mode, the meter would have read the sky when that was behind the bird, then read the lighter toned clouds when those were behind the bird, and consequently given two different exposures. But so long as all were in the same light, there should be only one exposure.
John and I had a nice pre-SuperBowl chat this morning by phone. We both agreed that digital capture offers far more exposure latitude than film ever did, and we chuckled at the online experts who claim otherwise. We agreed that too many folks with expensive gear do not take the time to study their craft, and in the same vein, that many folks simply do not take the time to study and learn the intricacies of their in-camera meters.
I can’t tell you how much fun it is to chat with a friend who was and remains an idol of mine.
Learn more about John at his website here. Those who are interested in learning even more about exposure will find John’s recent blog post, “ETTR to the Far Right”, of great interest. His most recent blog post, “Eleven False Statements,”is both a hoot and filled with important truths for digital nature photographers.
Here’s #6: You can evaluate exposure by looking at the image on the camera’s LCD. You can adjust the LCD’s brightness on almost all DSLRs, so exactly which level of brightness would be “correct?” Sorry, not true at all. For that matter, the camera LCD most certainly is not a color corrected and calibrated monitor. You can evaluate composition; you cannot evaluate color or exposure. You definitely should use the histograms for exposure information.
I hope that that sounds familiar to all who have been on a BAA IPT.
Questions for John
I am pretty sure that John would be glad to answer any questions left in the Comments section when he has a bit of time.
SW FLA IPT
Speaking of IPTs, we are, due to two recent cancellations, able to offer a huge late registration discount to the first two lucky photographers to respond. Call me today at 863-692-0906 or call Jim or Jen at the same number asap during the week.
SW FLA IPT. FEB 16-21, 2013. Introductory slide program: 7pm on 2/15. 6-FULL DAYS: $2999. Co-leaders: Denise Ippolito and Robert Amoruso. Limit: 10/Openings 2.
Payment in full is due now
This is my bread and butter IPT; learn the basics and the advanced fine points from the best; escape winter’s icy grip and enjoy tons of tame birds! Subjects will include nesting Great Blue Heron and Great Egret, Mottled Duck, Brown and White Pelican at point-blank range, Snowy & Reddish Egret, Tricolored Heron, Yellow-crowned Night Heron, Osprey, wintering shorebirds and plovers, gulls and terns, & Burrowing Owl. All ridiculously tame. Roseate Spoonbill, Black-bellied Whistling Duck, American Oystercatcher, and who knows what are possible.
Click here to learn more about this IPT.
Pines West Camera Club EOL Program
I will be presenting “A Bird Photographer’s Story” for the Pines West Camera Club in Pembroke Pines, FL at 7pm on February 12, 2013. The program, sponsored by Canon Explorers of Light, is free and open to the public. Click here for additional details and scroll down for directions.
Fort DeSoto Morning In-the-Field Workshop/One Slot Left!
Fort DeSoto In-the-field Workshop: FEB 25. Pre-dawn -10:30am. Strict Limit 16/Sold Out:wait list only. Includes a great working lunch: $275.
On Monday morning, February 25, Denise Ippolito and I will be co-leading a morning In-the-field Workshop at Fort DeSoto, south of St. Petersburg, FL. We should get to photograph a variety of very tame herons, egrets, gulls, terns, and shorebirds. Spoonbills possible. There will be lots of individual and small group instruction. We will cover exposure and histograms, seeing the situation, creating sharp images, and lots more. Each registrant will have a personalized gear and set-up check. The more questions you ask, the more you will learn.
A great working lunch at the Sea Porch Café on St. Petersburg Beach is included. All are invited to bring a laptop along for image sharing at lunch. After the workshop, all are invited to send us three 1024 wide or 800 tall JPEGs for critiquing. Call 1-863-692-0906 to register or send us a Paypal. Either way, be sure to note that the payment is for the Fort DeSoto In-the-Field Workshop.
Weekend Creative Nature Photography Seminar, Tampa, FL: February 23 & 24, 2013: $149 Limit: 50/Openings: 2
Best to register soon as there are just 4 seats left. The In-the-field Workshop above follows the Weekend Creative Nature Photography Seminar. You are invited to join Denise Ippolito and me on the weekend of February 23-24 on the outskirts of Tampa, FL for a great weekend of fun and learning. Learn to improve your photography skills, your skill at designing images in the field, your creative vision, and your image optimization skills. Sunday critiquing session. Click here for additional details and the complete schedule.
On all blog posts, feel free to e-mail or leave a comment regarding any typos, wrong words, misspellings, omissions, or grammatical errors. Just be right. 🙂
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