Monday, October 19, 2009

Instructor's Tip: Wildlife Photography

Photo by Russ Burden

I hope you enjoy this week's "Instructor's Tip" by one of my favorite instructors, award winning nature photographer Russ Burden. To learn more about how Russ captured the above image, join him on one of his photo tours. Visit Russ Burden Photography to get more information.

Wildlife Portraits

Besides running nature photo tours to some of the most glorious scenic and wildlife rich locations in our country, another aspect of my business is portraiture. Whether it’s a portrait of just one person or a huge extended family, I persevere to capture the image in the best light, with the best composition, with the best background, with the optimum lens, and with the best expression. Well what does this have to do with wildlife portraits? Many of my nature photographer friends ask a similar question regarding why I get involved with people portraiture and weddings when I have a strong love for nature photography. My response is always the same. First off, I’m behind the camera which makes me happy regardless what I shoot. But mostly, if you really think about, one helps the other. What difference does it make if I’m trying to capture a great head shot of a mountain goat on Mt. Evans vs. a pleasing portrait of Aunt Sally? For both, I’m taking into consideration all the aspects I referenced at the top of this paragraph. My goal will always be to capture the essence of the animal / person I photograph. Besides, each has a big plus - I can always direct the people I photograph to smile or move to a better location and the animals I photograph never complain that I photographed them from their bad side!

As with a large majority of nature images, the best are made when the sun is low on the horizon close to sunrise and sunset. Mid day light is too harsh with severe contrast issues of dark shadows under the nose and chin in addition to eye sockets that often reveal no detail. Early and late light is soft and warm in tone and provides a much more pleasant image. I try to front light my animal portraits as much as possible especially when bathed in the warm glow of first or last light. Sidelight works, but one side of the face may go too dark depending on the color of the animal and if there's anything bouncing light back onto the shadow side of the face. Here’s the bonus - portraits look fantastic shot in overcast light which can’t be said for most scenics.

Take a class with Russ or a fellow Digital Photo Academy instructor in your area, check out the Digital Photo Academy. I took Russ' intermediate and advanced courses last year, and he continues to be a strong source of knowledge and encouragement as I progress in my photography.

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