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Jim Zuckerman’s


January 2014

• Exposing for snow • Birds in flight • Creative blurs • Creating a starfield • Student showcase • Photo tours


T aTable b l e ooff CContents ontents

4. 9. 14. 17. 22. 24. 26. 29. 33.


Exposing for snow Birds in flight Creating a starfield Creative blurs What’s w rong with this picture? Short and sweet Ask jim Student showcase Back issues

Happy New Year to everyone! I hope your New

Year will be filled with good health, happiness, and lots of great photo opportunities.

Even though the Christmas season is over, I wanted to share with you a thought I have about gift giving. While it is certainly true that a gift given with kindness and/ or love is something to cherish, there is a lot to be said for giving yourself a gift. Whether it be for Christmas, a birthday, or just because you want to treat yourself to something special, it’s a great way to make yourself feel good. And there is no better gift than a camera or some other piece of photographic equipment for this reason: Photography helps you document special moments in your life. At the end of our lives, what we hang on to dearly are our memories. When you intently focus your attention, your creativity, and your artistry on capturing an event in your life, that memory stays with you on two levels. You’ve got the visual record, and the emotions that are attached to that picture are more poignant, more clear, and more memorable than millions of other moments in our lives that fade away because we didn’t take the time to take a picture. So, photography is much more than simply capturing pretty pictures. It helps keep alive cherished moments that otherwise would diminish or be lost entirely. That’s why when there is a house fire, after people and pets are rescued, it’s the pictures that come next. Give yourself a gift soon -- something that will enhance your photographic abilities so you can continue to preserve the memories of your life. 3

Exposing for I

S n o w

f you don’t know how exposure meters work, snow photography is a problematic and mysterious endeavor. Normally, without any comensation or adjustments, snow pictures turn out dark and disappointing. The snow looks gray and muddy, and if you include people, animals, or other objects in the picture, they look decidedly underexposed. First, let me explain how light meters work for those of you who are not quite sure. All light meters are programmed to give you a correct light reading when they detect middle gray (i.e. middle toned) subjects, such as the tree bark in the Sequoia trees, below. Examples of middle toned subjects or middle toned areas of pictures are a blue sky, blue jeans, green grass, neutral colored rocks, and mousy brown hair. The key to getting consistently good exposures, with or without snow, is to be able to identify middle toned portions of your images. You then take a light reading from this


part of the picture with the spot mode funtion of the camera, lock that reading in place with AE Exposure lock, and then re-compose and take the picture. The photo below of Mt. Arenal at sunrise in Costa Rica shows four areas within the red circles that are middle toned or very close to it. You could derive a perfect exposure if you took a light reading from any one of these areas. When it comes to snow, there may not be any middle gray areas to choose, especially in a snow storm (or the aftermath of one) where everything is covered in white. The picture on the bottom of the next page of Monument Valley is an example of that. The reason snow pictures turn out dark is because the meter assumes that the white stuff is middle toned, thus it tries to darken the picture so the snow has the same tonality as middle gray. Obviously, this is not what

you want. The meter can’t know that the snow should be much lighter than middle gray. The method that many photo instructors teach is that you should set the exposure compensation feature built into the camera to + 1 1/3 or + 1 2/3 f/stops -- in other words, the strategy is to lighten picture by a certain amount to compensate for the expected underexposure. The reason I don’t agree with this method is because there are many scenarios where this guideline isn’t entirely accurate. There are many types of snow compositons: overcast light on snow, bright mid-day sunlight on snow, sunrise and sunset where the low angled light skims the surface of the snow, shots where two thirds of the composition are barren trees with no snow at all while the ground is covered in white, patchy snow, etc. How can one guideline cover all of these various scenar-


ios? Obviously, it can’t. My approach is much more user friendly, and you get what you see. I suggest you take one shot using any of your exposure modes (aperture priority, shutter priority, and Program are faster than manual) and then examine it on the LCD monitor on the back of the camera. From there, use the exposure compensation feature to tweak the exposure in 1/3 f/stop increments until you like the exposure. It’s that simple. If you aren’t familiar with the exposure compensation feature in your camera, learn how to use it. Study your manual or do a search on youtube for an explanatory video. It is one of the most important tools you have to work with; it is a guarantor for consistently perfect exposures. Not necessarily with the first shot, but definitely with the second or third shot.





UPCOMING PHOTO WORKSHOPS Winter Wildlife Workshop Hinckley, Minnesota Jan. 31 - Feb. 2, 2014

Baby WildlifeWorkshop Hinckley, Minnesota June 13 - 15, 2014

Baby wolves, skunks, bobcats, lynx, foxes, bears, and more

Frog & Reptile Workshop Close-up encounters with poison dart frogs and exotic reptiles in St. Louis, MO.

Jan. 25-26, 2014

The Pantanal, Brazil: Jaguars at the river’s edge plus caiman, giant anteaters, monkeys, pink dolphins, and unbelievable birds.

November 8-20, 2014


Strategies for Shooting

Birds in Flight


f you feel frustrated when you try to take pictures of birds in flight, join the crowd. We all do. In my opinion, it is the single most difficult thing to shoot in nature photography.

Here is the problem: You want to fill the frame to a certain degree so the bird looks impressive without too much cropping, but by doing that with a long lens, depth of field becomes minimal. The bird is moving fast, and keeping the bird in focus is a daunting challenge. With the reduced depth of field, it’s tough to get a winning picture. Doable, but tough. Compounding the challenge is exposure. If the bird is flying against a bright sky or the patchy lighting of tree branches against the sky like the macaw, below, taken on my Costa Rica photo tour, or against middle toned marsh grass, the background affects the exposure significantly. You can feel defeated at the outset simply because the obstacles to getting a


good picture seem insurmountable. Expect to trash a lot of pictures as you look for a few good ones. This is a given. The Solutions Here are the strategies I use to get pictures of birds in flight. Other photography instructors and pros may have different methods, but these have worked for me. 1. I always use a relatively high ISO. 100 or 200 are never a good idea for bird photgraphy, and certainly not for birds in flight beause a fast shutter speed is required to freeze the action. Sure, you can do blurs with slow shutter speeds, and that’s fine. I do that, too. But the real accomplishment is to get the bird sharp. Therefore, I recommend a minimum of 400 ISO, and sometimes you’ll have to go much higher. The noise problem can


be mitigated with post-processing software such as Nik Dfine 2.0 or the new Luminance slider that’s part of Adobe Camera RAW with Photoshop CC. In the meantime, though, use a shutter speed fast enough to freeze action. How fast is that? 2. For slow moving birds, such as the African white pelican, below, coming in for a landing, 1/320th of a second is about the minimum I would use. That’s what I used for this image. For birds that soar, like vultures and eagles, you can use 1/250th of a second or faster. For birds that flap their wings at a fairly fast pace, such as the goliath heron from Ethiopia and the roseate spoonbill from Florida, both on the next page, I prefer to use shutter speeds in the 1/1000 to 1/2000 range. This guarantees that every feather will be sharp. If the light is low, such as on an overcast day

or at sunrise and sunset, the ISO may have to is more important. Assuming you are shooting be 1600 or more to get a very fast shutter speed. with a long lens -- 400mm or more -- the differWhat about the lens aperture? ence between f/5.6 and f/8 is negligible, but doubling the shutter from, say, 1/500th to 1/1000th 3. When shooting birds in flight, depth of field can make a big different in rendering the bird is a luxury. In my opinion, a fast shutter speed in flight sharp. Therefore, I almost always shoot


wide open. in other words, if the maximum aperture of the lens is f/4, that’s what I use. I put the lens on aperture priority at f/4, and this gives me the fastest shutter speed possible given the ISO and the ambient light.

be tack sharp.


1. Turn all of the autofocus points on. As the bird flies, the wing spread is likely to be picked up by some of the points. This helps the lens lock onto the bird. I usually only use the center focus point for most subjects, but with birds it’s essential to use all of them.

The real challenge, of course, is focus. How do you keep a flying bird sharply focused as you shoot? This is the single most challenging thing to attempt in nature photography. The pictures you see in this article are sharp, but what I am not showing you are the thousands of flying bird pictures I’ve trashed because they weren’t sharp (or because the wings were not spread out nicely). That’s just the nature of the beast, so to speak. Expect to throw away most of your images in the hope that you’ll have one or two outstanding images that just happen to


I use several techniques that help me get sharp pictures of birds. They don’t always work, of course, but they are the only methods we’ve got.

2. Use a gimballed tripod head such as the Wimberly Head (inset photo below) when shooting with a long lens. Super telephoto lenses are heavy, and when used with a normal ballhead they won’t have the smooth action you need to follow flying birds. In addition, when you loosen the ball the lens wants to lean over. You will

spend time trying to re-orient the lens and find the bird in the sky, and in those few moments the pictures will be lost. 3. Use autofocus tracking in an attempt for the camera to continually focus on the bird. This works well if the birds are flying across your vision, such as the flamingos, above, and for a bird that flies relatively slowly. When birds fly toward the camera, autofocus tracking can work sometimes, depending on the camera, the speed of the bird, and how large the bird is in the frame. The closer the bird is to the camera, the faster it seems to move and the less likely you’ll be able to maintain good focus on it.

a branch). Pre-focus on a point a few feet in front of it. Set the frame rate on your camera to the fastest possible (such as 6 frames per second), and when the bird approaches that point in flight, press the shutter and keep it depressed until the bird is past that point. Hopefully one or two pictures will be sharp. This is the technique I used for the macaw in flight on page 9. §

4. For birds flying directly at the camera, try to predict the flight path (sometimes this is possible by studying the way it is perched on 13



f you don’t live in an area where shooting a real starfield is feasible, or if you just haven’t taken the time to do it, you can create a would-be starfield at home. It doesn’t look exactly like the real thing, but for special effects purposes where you combine it with other elements, it gives the allusion of reality To do this, go to a drug store or a local crafts store and buy some glitter. It comes in different colors, and I recommend getting small vials or jars of silver, gold, blue, and red. Next, get a piece of black velvet. One half yard of fabric is fine. Sprinkle the silver glitter on the


velvet, and then add a little of the other colors. Stars are seen through telescopes exhibit various colors depending on the stage of their life cycle, such as blue giants, red dwarfs, and yellow dwarfs. That’s what these colors represent. To photograph the glitter, use a star filter placed over the lens so each of the bright pieces of glitter produces that radiating light effect. If you feel that’s too much, you can simply photograph the glitter without a filter. Light the glitter with either an off-camera flash or a photoflood light source placed to the side. Use a tripod and f/11 and make sure the back of the camera is parallel with the starfield. This will insure you have maximum depth of field. §


E-books to help you take better pictures Click on any ebook to see inside






ne of the first techniques we learned in photography when we got our first camera was how to blur moving subjects with a slow shutter speed. What is unique about this technique is that we can’t ever see this abstraction of reality with our eyes. Only a camera can capture it. So often we get so focused on getting pictures sharp (which is what we want most of the time, of course) that we forget to think outside of the box and try something . . . different, fun, unorthodox. When you first tried bluring moving subjects, you probably tried a passing car or a child running in a park, and that’s fine. But the technique can be applied to so many more compelling subjects that I encourage you, from time to time, to experiment with creative blurs because a lot of great images can result. Shutter speed choice



Which shutter speed you decide to use depends on several factors: 1. How much abstraction you want. Generally, I use shutter speeds between 1/30th of a second and one full second. The faster shutter speeds obviously show more detail in the subject, while long exposures abstract the image more. Don’t abstract your subject so much that it is completely unrecognizable. Completely abstracted color is fine, but that’s really a very different technique than what I’m suggesting you try here. 2. The focal length of the lens. Long lenses make moving subjects appear to move faster. Therefore when using a telephoto lens to blur motion, the shutter speeds that have given me the best results are between 1/10th and 1/30th of a second. The picture of carnival in Rio de Janeiro, right, and the galloping white horse of the Camargue in France, below, were both


taken at 1/15th. 3. Whether or not you pan with the moving subject. The relative speed between a subject and a camera is lessened if you pan. If the camera is stationary and the subject runs or flies past the lens, the apparent speed will be much faster. Therefore, you should do some tests if possible beforehand to determine what shutter is necessary for the effect you want. For the African white pelican above, I panned with the bird. My settings were 1/30, f/18, 200 ISO, 500mm lens plus a 1.4x teleconverter equalling 700mm of focal length. 4. If the subject is stationary and the camera moves. If you shoot flowers, models in colorful costumes, and other subjects that aren’t moving, you can shake or rotate the camera during the exposure and create a blur. Or, you can

change the focal length of a zoom lens during the long exposure as I did in the portrait of a participant in the Venetian carnival, above. In these scenarios, it’s important to give yourself enough time to make the camera or lens movements. I recommend shutter speeds in the 1/2 second to 1/8th of a second, again depending on how much abstraction you want. For this portrait i Venice, I used 1/2 second at f/32 with 100 ISO. § 19

New OnLine Course: LEARNING TO SEE by Jim Zuckerman

The ability to ‘see photographically’, to really grasp how your camera and lenses capture a subject or scene (which is different than how we see with our eyes) underlies successful picture taking. It is the bottom line that you’ve been looking for to take that quantum leap forward in your photography. When you register for this new course, you will be given download links to eight easyto-understand lessons that look like beautiful mini ebooks. At your convenience, you can study the material and then upload your photos for a professional critique by Jim. Included in the course is a phone call once a week to discuss your submissions or any other aspect of photography you want -- what new equipment to buy, advice about airline travel, problems with flash, or anything else. This course can be purchased directly from Jim’s website by clicking RIGHT HERE. The great thing about online courses is that they can fit into any schedule. Life gets in the way at times, and Jim puts no limit on the time you can submit your work for his critiques.


LEARNING TO SEE online course The 8 lessons that comprise this course are: Graphic design, Backgrounds, Depth of field, Patterns, Natural light, Color, Composition, and Motion. These lessons are beautifully illustrated and full of concrete steps to dramatically improve your photography.


What’s wrong with this picture?


ad this been the only picture I was able to take of this summer tanager in Costa Rica, I would be thrilled with it simply because it’s such a beautiful subject. But when the bird came to the feeding station of papaya and bananas at the lodge I was using, it posed for at least 20 minutes, giving me a lot of photo opportunities. I took this picture with on-camera flash, and even though the colors in this image really pop, the depth and dimension of the small bird have been diminished. It looks flat. One could say that the ‘modeling’, or the ability to see the natural contours in the body of the bird, have been compromised. In addition, there is an artificial look about this picture as if it were taken in captivity -- which it wasn’t. I think most photographers would be very happy with this image, and in fact I saw another photo tour group in which everyone was using flash. The problem was that the light level was very low. Even with an ISO of 3200, my shutter speed was 1/100th of a second at f/8 with a 500mm f/4 telephoto and a 1.4X teleconverter, giving me 700mm of focal length. I was using a tripod, but this shutter


was still too slow for the focal length. I didn’t want to go above 3200 ISO, so I took a few dozen shots hoping that some would be sharp. I took the picture above, then, with only the natural, ambient light of the jungle. The shadings of color in the bird appear to be more natural, and the very subtle shadows that give a subject depth are visible. To me, this is better. I know there are times when we have no choice but to use on-camera flash, but in this case I feel that the diffused and natural lighting is more realistic, more attractive, and it produces a more appealing picture. You may disagree, but that’s how I see it. One interesting aspect of the flashed picture is that the background did not go black. Had the bird been very close to the camera, say 10 or 15 feet away, the flash would have turned off once it illuminated the bird and the background foliage would have become black. Because the bird was about 35 to 40 feet away, the light was able to spill over to the trees.


SHORT AND SWEET 1. When the light is flat and the colors are wintry, add

some color to spice up the image. This adds a strong focal point. If the colorful subject is large enough (this wrought iron bike isn’t), it provides a middle gray area from which to take an accurate light reading.


Consider getting an app for your iPhone or iPad that shows you where the sun rises and sets at any location in the world. This will give you the ability to advance plan your shooting given the direction of the light. For example, the famous row of houses on Steiner Street in San Francisco is a late afternoon shot.


2. A great time to photograph flowers is right after a

rain when the water drops on the petals are large and natural looking. Yes, you can spray a flower from a bottle, but it doesn’t look as natural as when it rains. Make sure you use a tripod for macro photography.

4. The technique of combining abstract images with faces can produce remarkable images. In this case, I used a shot of autumn foliage with a portrait from Indonesia, and then I darkened the periphery with the burn tool in Photoshop. Just make sure that the texture image doesn’t eclipse the face. §

Photography Tours 2014 - 2015 WHITE HORSES, FRANCE April, 2014


GREENLAND June, 2014

KENYA August, 2014

INDONESIA August 2014

POLAR BEARS October 2014

THE PANTANAL, BRAZIL Novomber 8-20, 2014

JAPAN February, 2015

BURMA (Myanmar) April, 2014


MOROCCO March, 2015

PARIS/LONDON April, 2015

Check out the itineraries and photo galleries from these and other tours:



Every month Jim will answer a question from his online students, from people who participate in his tours and workshops, or from subscribers to this magazine. If you have a question you’d like Jim to answer, please drop him a note at


Jim ... I am currently in your online course Learning to See, and for the depth of field assignment I took this picture with a 300mm lens. I used the ‘focus stacking’ technique to get maximum depth of field. I shot 23 pictures of this subject and then merged them together in post-processing. Was this too many shots? Could I have done the same thing with fewer exposures?


: No, this is not too manyk shots. Telephoto lenses have very shallow depth of field, and that means that the more images you take of the subject (as you focus from the back to the front in tiny increments), the sharper the composite will be. The focus stacking method gives you the ability to use the sharpest aperture on the lens which is usually considered to be f/8. At f/8, then, you can get complete depth of field. You did everything right here. If you had used fewer frames, I think you would have compromised the perfection of this image. You may not have seen any difference looking at the picture as you see it here, but if you enlarged the digital file in Photoshop to 100% and examined it closely, I think you would have seen some areas that were less than sharp. §

© Maria Coulson


Indonesia Photo Tour August 17 - 30, 2014

Balinese dancers • active volcanos • fashion festival


Get professionalcritiques critiques of yourof work Get professional your work with Jim’s online courses with Jim’s online courses Learn composition, exposure, Photoshop, beginning fundamentals, techniques in low light photography, flash, making money in photography, and more at your convenience and on your schedule.

28 20

Student Showcase

Each month, Jim features one student who took beautiful and inspiring images on one of his photography tours or workshops. It’s really fascinating how photographers see and compose such different images even though we may go to the same place. Everyone gets great images on my trips.

Dr. Charles Curry, Orlando, Florida

India photo tour, Namibia photo tour, frog workshop

All of these images were taken with an iPhone and manipulated in-camera with and app.

Š 2013 Dr. Charles Curry



Dr. Charles Curry, Orlando, Florida

Š 2013 Dr. Charles Curry



Dr. Charles Curry, Orlando, Florida

Š 2013 Dr. Charles Curry



Sat. & Sun., March 22-23, 2014

Photoshop is a photographer’s best friend, and the creative possibilities are absolutely endless. In a personal and ‘homey’ environment (I have a very cool classroom setup in my home), I start at the beginning -- assuming you know nothing -- but I quickly get into layers, cutting and pasting, plug-ins, using ‘grunge’ textures, modifying lighting, and a lot more. I promise to fill your head with so many great techniques that you won’t believe what you’ll be able to do. I go over each technique several times to make sure you understand it and can remember it.

creative ideas that will inspire you to produce amazing images with the pictures you’ve already taken.

Photoshop instructors approach teaching this program from different points of view. My approach is to be as expansive in my thinking as possible in creating unique, artistic, and compelling images. In addition to showing you how to use the various tools, pull down menus, layers, and so on, I spend a lot of time giving you

Contact me if you would like to participate in the workshop and I will tell you how to sign up ( All you need is a laptop and a lot of your pictures. If you don’t have a laptop, I have two Mac Book Pro laptops I can loan out for the duration of the workshop. §


I live in the Nashville, Tennessee area, and if you fly into the airport (BNA) I will pick you up. If you drive, I’ll give you my address and you can find my home on Mapquest. For the $450 fee, I include one dinner in my home (prepared by my wife who is an amazing cook and hostess) and two lunches, plus shuttling you back and forth from my home to your nearby hotel.

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published by Jim Zuckerman, all rights reserved © Jim Zuckerman 2014 email: physical address: P.O. Box 7, Arrington, TN 37014 34

Photo Insights January '14  
Photo Insights January '14  

A magazine devoted to creative photography and Photoshop published by Jim Zuckerman.