TIP 4: CREATIVE BLUR... by Akhil Menon

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Are you trying to create some pictures with a difference? or perhaps in your early days without knowing camera settings properly, did you create some artistic blur shots accidentally? Well, let's put some method into this madness. In this photo tip, I will briefly discuss some techniques into achieving creative blur that can leave your images aesthetically impressive and appealing. 

There are mainly two types of blur effects that can be created optically using a camera and a tripod/beanbag/support is a must to avoid unexpected or unpleasing results. If you are shooting in broad daylight, you may need an ND filter or polarizer to attain slow shutter speeds at wide open apertures which are vital to such effects. Shooting during early mornings or late evenings with less light can be beneficial to this technique and help avoid use of filters.

1. PAN Blurs:
This is achieved by combining a slow shutter speed with camera motion to create a sense of speed around a moving object. It is a way to keep your subject in focus while blurring your background. Panning is usually done on a subject moving horizontally, such as the flamingo in the picture. It takes practice to achieve the effect but the first step is to keep a shutter speed between 1/20th to 1/100th of a second. Keep camera on tripod and follow the subject slowly as if you are tracking them, in the direction of their movement while clicking your frame. It can easily take a lot of frames and adjustments with the shutter speed before you get the desired effect.

2. Zoom Blurs:
This is performed by zooming into your subject during a long exposure. Shutter speed can vary from a second up-to 1/20th of a second. It is recommended to keep the subject and focus point in the center of the frame to create the blur streaks leading to the subject. A stationary subject like a grazing zebra or even your pet cat/dog is ideal for trying this type of shot.

I have had great fun trying such shots and received really great feedback on them. I hope this tip is helpful for you to go ahead and try similar shots. Would love to see some results you achieve, feel free to comment or message me with your results. Happy Clicking!

TIP 3: SHOOTING PERSPECTIVE : EYE-LEVEL OF THE SUBJECT by Akhil Menon

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This may seem like a very simple idea, but it is a very important and strong tip in wildlife photography or videography. Wherever and whenever possible, try to shoot a subject at their eye-level (or to their "real world" perspective), to get a more appealing image for the viewers eye.

For me, sometimes this means I have to get to a more elevated position, such as the top of a hill or climb trees even, to shoot certain subjects such as Birds perched on the canopy (branches) of trees or even lie flat on the ground trying to capture a bird/animal on the ground. However the difference it makes to a frame is just world's apart.

You can see this well-illustrated in the example of the image that I shot of an Egyptian Nightjar from the car (Top) and lying flat on the ground (Bottom). Of course, sitting in the comfort of my air-conditioned car in the desert heat, was the easier click and I took the least amount of effort to capture the frame as the bird was not disturbed. However, the amazingly camouflaged bird is almost difficult to spot and the image is not very impressive as does not stand the subject out against the background. Now, getting down and lying flat on the ground without getting noticed by the birds, took a lot of attempts before I found myself a patient subject, who did not fly away. Also, the ground was harsh and sprayed all over with dry thorns from the desert shrubs and pokey stones, which struck my skin (hurtful of course) or got stuck to my clothes which is a lot of work cleaning up to avoid getting hurt, further.

But all this effort was well-worth it, at the end. In otherwise a very dry habitat, I managed to get a lot of green bokeh (background blur) for the subject from distant shrubs only because I took the eye-level shot. Additionally, as the ground was uneven, adjusting my position also allowed me to blur out the foreground to a good extend, allowing me to put more focus and detail into the bird. The eye-to-eye perspective helps better connect the viewer to my subject as well.

Now, with a high-angle shot to the eye-level, the subject will appear smaller or weaker (lesser impact). This is often used to achieve a different perspective or a miniaturizing shot for example shooting a cluster of insects or people from top of the building. A low-angle shot to the subject's eye-level, will help make the subject appear bigger or more dominant. A very good example when a low angle shot works well to add drama would be that of an Elephant, standing tall. An eye-level frame of the same Elephant would be neutral and not add much drama or appeal. So try all angles possible to nail a good appealing perspective.

Eye-level photography perspectives are not just limited to wildlife but to any kinds of photography that involves a subject. So please think about this tip while composing your frame before you shoot your next subject. Happy Clicking!

TIP 2: KNOW YOUR GEAR AND PRACTICE... by Akhil Menon

 This White-throated Kingfisher image was shot many years ago when I was just starting wildlife photography with a 70-300mm lens and 500D body. The image was shot at noon and hence the bright patch of light on the beak. 

This White-throated Kingfisher image was shot many years ago when I was just starting wildlife photography with a 70-300mm lens and 500D body. The image was shot at noon and hence the bright patch of light on the beak. 

When one of my images get popular on social media, one of the questions I am asked more than often over comments is "what gear was used to capture the image?". Being able to afford or having expensive gear is definitely useful when it comes to capturing images more easily and perhaps with better results in difficult lighting and scene situations. But I strongly agree in the quote "the best camera is the one you have with you" and I am not saying that just for the heck of it. Camera or even a camera phone, after-all is a tool and the "person behind the camera" can make a big difference. The fact that great and really moving wildlife pictures were captured in the past too, when the equipment was not as advanced as of today, goes to prove this point. 

Currently, I am using the top-of-the-range gear from Nikon and I try to tap the maximum potential from it but I have to point out strongly that I started with basic gear too. My very first camera was a Canon 500d which in those days could be regarded as an entry-level prosumer grade DSLR camera and my go-to lens for wildlife was the Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM Lens which is a kit lens.

I feel that with even this basic equipment, I was able to capture some great shots. I agree that my struggle for good shots was definitely much more but I spent time to learn the optimal settings of the camera, the limitations of my lens/body, the best time to shoot and use it to my advantage. With time and practice with this gear, I found out some limitation of it such as:  

  • Keeping an ISO less than 1500 resulted in less noise which meant better image quality for post process later
  • The sweet spot with the lens for sharpness was between 100mm-200mm, so I always tried to shoot within this range even though I could go longer
  • As it was a cropped body I had to maintain a shutter speed equivalent to 1.6 times the focal length) to get steady shots. So if I am shooting 200mm on lens, I try to maintain minimum shutter of 1/320th of a second (200x1.6)
  • Since the lens had a minimum aperture of 5.6 at 200mm, in order to isolate the subject more, I used to position myself in such a way that there was a lot of gap between the subject and background whenever possible to get the most amount of bokeh (background blur)
  • It was best to shoot golden hour shots in the mornings after one hour from sunrise and one hour before sunset for best golden hour shots. Any earlier in the morning or later in the evening, the low light performance was bad and noise crept in. 

So I would urge all the photographers to try and understand the limitations of your gear through practice and work around to create beautiful images rather than blaming the equipment you have. "Sometimes the journey of learning/practice is more exciting than the destination of images".

Please feel free to use the comment section below for any additional questions or feedback.

TIP 1: RESEARCH/PLAN BEFORE SHOOT by Akhil Menon

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It is imperative to do some research before you make a trip to a new place or plan to shoot a new subject. This applies to all types of photography -wildlife, landscape, portrait, fashion or even wedding photography. It is always good to review similar images on google to draw inspiration or to try something not done before your shoot.  This research could be anything from learning subject behavior and interests, best shooting vantage points, the time of day to shoot, position of the sun at different time of the day etc.  A lot of photogs have dream frames in their head before they attempt a shoot. Proper research and plan can go a long way to getting that perfect shot.

In my recent trip to Papua New Guinea, we had the challenge of shooting the Raggiana Bird of Paradise. These birds are canopy birds meaning they are always perched high up in the trees and they are only active for a certain time in the morning and afternoons. The only way to shoot them is upwards through thick trees. The first day was a total disaster for me in terms of images as I was unprepared. Shooting through trees and the birds erratic movement was difficult to follow. But on observing the birds behavior, reviewing my bad images from first day, moving around the forest floor and spotting good vantage points of the birds perch helped me nail this amazing shot on the second day. Being able to have a good presence of mind and thoughtful nature always helps with photography