Details & Problem Solving

I love drawing paralells between nature photography and life.  It has always seemed to me, that life (the non-spritual side) is and always has been about taking care of the details, and solving those daily problems that plague us all.  We begin each day by solving the problem of what to wear or eat.  We do our job knowing that it is our attention to detail that will make us either a success or a failure. Problem solving and paying attention to detail.  Those two concerns are without question the “nuts and bolts center” of our photographic universe as well.  The “art” of photography has much more in common with the spritual life that we either do or do not choose to live.

It is the water drops that  make the first two pictures.  I would have made both of these images with or without the droplets, but I did observe their occurrence, and I did set out to capture them in my photos.  The Northern Shoveler has only a few drops showing, but they add some visual stimulation to the photo. It helps to imply the motion or action that is occurring. The drops in the photo of the Black Skimmer, while they are somewhat light in tone, help tell the story of how these birds earn their living by skimming the water searching for food.

I photographed the Shoveler in full sunshine and used my preferred ISO of 100 because of that fact.  I wanted to stop both the action of the duck and any water droplets, which meant I selected a shutter speed of 1/640th.  That selection was made by choosing an aperture of 5.6, which meant I needed to get myself almost paralell to the duck.  This allowed that narrow depth of field forced by the 5.6 aperture, to keep the whole duck in focus.   Detail and problem solving.

The Skimmer was photographed on a somewhat dark and dreary day.  400 ISO provided me with a 1/1000th shutter speed and a wide open aperture of f4.  Once again keeping my camera parallel with the bird allowed me to keep the whole bird in focus.

When does absence of detail actually become a detail?  When you are paying attention to a scene, and make a conscience decision to leave something out.  By my composition and my decisions as to how I would use the light that was provided for me, I was paying attention to all of those little details in an effort to leave some of them out.  It did not stop when I got home because there was a badly out of focus blossom in the lower left hand corner of this picture.  I digitally removed the flower which contained no useful information.  In a “detailed” effort to limit the details in this picture, I realized my composition would have to included that detail-less blossom.  I decided before I made the picture that I would remove the extra flower when I got home.

There are times when details help impart important information about your subject.  This Herring Gull was enjoying what was left of a very dead fish. Strong, clear light and a very close viewpoint meant that I could show all of those details that would help tell the story.  For those of you who know anything about fish, you may be able to ID this one from the photo.  Carp is what comes to my mind.

If paying attention to details makes for a better picture, then we have to train ourselves to notice those details when they exist in front of our eyes.  I could have just continued to photograph those big and beautiful autumn scenes that were in front of me, but I did not want to miss any details that I might find on the forest floor. This leaf lying on a bed of moss is all about details.

Almost every picture we make provides another problem to solve. This backlit Chukar meant there would be an exposure issue to overcome.  As I slowly drove up in my car, I immediately (years of photography) changed my camera settings from my normal multi segmented aperture priority, to manual spot metering so I could take my reading from this (shadowed) side of the bird.  Having it on manual meant that my reading would stay constant as I recomposed my image. I did add two thirds of one stop of light to this image via opening up my exposure (f stop) that much. The gray parts of the bird were photographing just a bit too light.  I made a literal adjustment on the exposure dial. I did not use the plus or minus compensation adjuster.  When you are using manual exposure add or subtract light manually as well.  Problem solving is one of the parts of photography that I enjoy the most.

Many problems arise do to lack of attention to details, and therefore they can be solved by simply paying more attention.  I was photographing this Sandhill Crane up close through the open window of my car.  I made several shots and then thankfully I reviewed what I had done on my camera viewing screen. The out of focus foreground grasses were covering the face of my subject.  This can be a shockingly easy mistake to make.  I took the throw pillow I was using for support, and tipped it up on end.  This was more than enough of a height increase (with my 500mm) to clear the face and body of the grasses.

We certainly can’t foresee or plan for every detail that crops into one of our photos. This male Greater Scaup was preening nicely when he suddenly popped up a few feathers so he could dig a little deeper as he preened.  It is surprising how much more engaging this photo is than those that have all of his feathers laying neatly down.

This portrait of a male Goldeneye is pretty much like hundreds of others that I have made over the years.  The one difference is the wide-eyed expression on his face.  I would love to say I planned it that way but sometimes you are dependant on your subjects to do something different.

The act of making a picture is a pretty easy thing, and if making a good one was also easy I doubt any of us would feel any satisfaction with our results.  It is all of those little details that make the big picture complete, and all of those solved problems that allow us to feel like the finished picture is truly ours.

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