Back to the Basics #1 and More… « Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

Back to the Basics #1 and More...

I have made almost 8,000 comments on BNP (www.BirdPhotographers.Net) over the past year and a half and I am amazed at how often folks with equipment costing more than $5-10,000 are unaware of many of the fundamentals.  In an effort to rectify that situation, and to help everyone improve, I will be posting a series of “Back to the Basics and More” pieces here on the BAA-Blog.   The “and More” tips will be for the intermediate and advanced photographers.

We start today with a simple premise:  tall skinny subject almost always belong in vertical frames while subjects that are longer than they are tall usually do better in a horizontally oriented frame.  When  you are handholding your gear, it is a simple matter of turning the camera on one end, framing the image, and pressing the shutter button.   With telephoto lenses mounted on tripods the lens itself needs to be rotated in the tripod collar when you wish to work in vertical format.  Loosen the knob, rotate the lens barrel as needed, and then tighten the knob.   I use a bubble level in my hot shoe mount to ensure that my images are square to the world.  You can find info on the Kaiser Duplex Spirit Level here:

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Tripod-mounted Canon 180mm macro lens with the EOS-1D MIII. ISO 320. Evaluative metering +1 stop: 1/200 sec. at f/9.

Notice: I rotated the lens in the tripod collar so that the long, tall blossom would fit easily into a vertical frame.   And More:  this image was created at 9:45am on a clear morning.  To avoid the harsh light I shaded the blossom with a large reflector that I held above my head.  As the background was still sunlit I should have added two stops of light to the suggested exposure rather than the one stop that I did add.  I lightened the image during the ACR conversion.  You can click on the pickerelweed blossom above to see a larger verion of the image. 

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Canon 800mm f/5.6L IS lens with the 1.4X II TC and the EOS-1D MIII. ISO 500. Evaluative metering +2/3 stop: 1/500 sec. at f/10.

Sparrows have long, relatively low profiles so they often look best in a horizotal frame.   Working at f/10 I was able to place the central focusing sensor on the bird’s breast and create a sharp image.  To see this Savannah Sparrow image larger, simply click on the image above.    And More: to tone down the highlights on the perch I used Select/Color Range/Sampled Colors and clicked on the brightest parts of the perch.  Then I softened the selection using Refine Edge, created a layer mask (Control J), added 10 points of black to the whites in Selective Color, and ran a 15% Linear Burn on the layer. 

You can find a great tutorial on using Refine Edge in the Educational Resources Forum at BPN here:  In addition, there is tons more of free,  on-target info in ER.   Think of it as emergency treatment for what ails your photography!

Please let me know what you think of this new feature and feel free to suggest additional topics.

15 comments to Back to the Basics #1 and More…

  • Lee Wuenn

    This is great. I printed the tip on toning down hightights (Sparrow’s Perch) because I won’t be able to remember when I need it, but had to guess the page. Wound up printing two pages. Page numbers would be a help. But thanks for the info.

  • Lance Peters

    Fantastic Idea Artie – Can never learn too much 🙂
    Will you also be adding them to the Educational Resources forum??

    • Hey Lance, Great to see you here. I am not planning on it but once I get a few under my belt I will put a blog link there. See you on BPN!

  • Kent Wilson

    I tell all the photographers I meet, mostly members of the camera club I belong to, that BPN is the best deal going in photography. I’ve given one gift membership to a friend, and will recommend memberships as raffle prizes at our year-end party.

    I’ve been taught so much from the wonderful people aty BPN. I won’t say “I’ve learned” but I have been taught. My execution of the lessons is less than perfect.

  • Kent Wilson

    Excellent idea, Artie. I can use all the help I can get! I have at leas one image that I can apply the tip in this installment to for selecting and toning down the highlights of a perch.

    Thanks, and thanks for BPN.

    • You are most welcome. The Educational Resources forum at BPN is full of great tutorials and is sadly underutilized… And it is all free.

  • Will be back on BPN soon, been battling health issues for a few months. Am in Maine for the summer, so look for loons, shorebirds, etc.

  • Thaks both for your kind words. Keith, I have been missing you on BPN; where have you been?

  • Reviewing basics … And More … is always helpful. I especially like your one-sentence primer on toning down the highlights “Then I softened the selection …”, a pedagogical gem, Artie.

  • Great idea. Every bit of info helps.

  • Thanks Wren. Lots more coming soon. Do you subscribe to our RSS feed?

  • Wonderful idea to present a series on the basics. I can always use that, because I don’t have as much time to practice as I’d like, and thus don’t internalize the way would with regular repetition. I’m sure the are others in the same situation.