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Jim Zuckerman's Blog
Overcoming the laws of optics
Sunday, February 17, 2019
Overcoming the laws of optics

One of our morning sessions with the snowy owls occurred with a dramatic sky backdrop. God-rays are spectacular, but when using a telephoto lens for a nearby subject, the background is guaranteed to be out of focus due to the limitations of optics. If you want to show the drama with everything in focus -- as our eyes see it -- the only way to do it is with a composite in Photoshop. Lightroom can't do this; this is why learning Photoshop is so important in photography. So, I carefully selected the owl from another shot using the quick selection tool along with the lasso tool working at 300% to make sure the selection was precise and perfect. I then feathered the edge 2 pixels, copied it to ...

Uncropped action shot
Saturday, February 16, 2019
Overcoming the laws of optics

The wing formations and body language of snowy owls are fascinating and beautiful, and they change every millisecond. The ideal scenario is to capture these gyrations with frame-filling compositions, but it's extremely hard to do that because the birds move very fast -- especially the males -- and to lock on and maintain focus with a tight, telephoto shot is tough. In this instance, I got lucky. My lens combination was 400mm with a 1.4x teleconverter, giving me 560mm of focal length. This is totally uncropped. The male snowy was diving for a mouse, and the contrast between the white bird against the steel gray-blue sky was ultra dramatic. My settings were 1/3200, f/11, and auto ISO which ...

Male snowy in flight
Friday, February 15, 2019
Overcoming the laws of optics

Male snowy owls are harder to capture than females because they fly much faster, and mature males are almost pure white. With a light sky or a white snowy background, the autofocus mechanism is challenged to track the birds in flight. I used all my focus points and AI servo for the AF settings, and of course I'm shooting at the fastest frame rate on the Canon 1Dx Mark II, which is 14 fps. I composited the owl with a background so I could have the best of both worlds -- an environmental portrait where both foreground and background are sharp. I selected the snowy owl from its original sky background with the pen tool in Photoshop for the most precise accuracy, and the settings for the shot ...

Snowy owl in flight
Thursday, February 14, 2019
Overcoming the laws of optics

We had a great day today photographing snowy owls. The lighting was exquisite late in the day, and we were able to capture side lighting and edge lighting on the birds. In addition, the wind was just strong enough to force the owls to use beautiful wing formations to fly. This produced amazing pictures. In this shot, I left the original background and cropped the image to zoom in on the owl. Owls can't move their eyes in their heads; instead, they have to swivel their entire head to see in various directions. That's why owls look over their wings to see what's beside them. My settings here were 1/3200, f/11, auto ISO (which turned out to be 1000), and I used a 100-400mm lens with a 1.4x ...

Symmetry in a snow storm
Wednesday, February 13, 2019
Overcoming the laws of optics

I began my snowy owl workshop in Canada today. When it comes to photographing wildlife, every experience is unique and different from past encounters. This shot of a male snowy owl is unlike anything I've captured in the past. It shows the ferocity of the wind-blown snow in the background, and the wing position of the owl offers rare symmetry as it was taking off. I composed the bird in the center of the frame to underscore that symmetry. I took other shots today where a snowy owl filled more of the frame, but I like this particular framing because it gives a sense of the frigid environment in which these birds thrive. My settings were 1/3200, f/11, and auto ISO which in this case, with ...

2x teleconverter
Sunday, February 10, 2019
Overcoming the laws of optics

Most photographers hesitate to use a 2x teleconverter due to the fear of losing too much quality in the image. As long as the shutter speed is at least the reciprocal of the focal length (meaning if the focal length is 1000mm, the speed of the shutter should be at least 1/1000 or faster), I've had only very good results with a 2x. This is an Abyssinian roller I photographed in the Masai Mara Game Park in Kenya, and I used a 500mm telephoto along with a 2x teleconverter. My settings were 1/1000, f/11, and 200 ISO, and as you can see, it's tack sharp. In addition, I cropped the original 47.5 megabyte file (taken with the Canon 1Ds Mark II in 2007) down to 12 megabytes, which further attests ...

A classic view
Friday, February 08, 2019
Overcoming the laws of optics

This is the view of the Grand Teton range that Ansel Adams made famous. I took this shot from the same place he stood 77 years earlier. In Adam's black and white photograph, the trees far below were not as tall as they are now. The S-curve of the Snake River is completely visible in his picture. Now, only part of the serpentine river can be seen from this vantage point. It's still a stunning composition, and the contrast of the snow-covered trees with the golden sunrise tones on the mountains is beautiful. This is a 5-frame HDR composite, handheld. I wanted to make sure both the highlights and the shadows showed enough detail. The fast frame rate of my Canon 1Dx Mark II (14 fps) meant that ...

Making it perfect
Thursday, February 07, 2019
Overcoming the laws of optics

This is the picture I really wanted from Yellowstone. An eye-level shot of a snow-covered bison plus a beautiful background. Unfortunately, due to the limitations of the laws of optics (i.e. the laws of physics), it's not possible to use a 560mm focal length lens and to largely fill the frame with the subject while, at the same time, rendering the background sharply focused. We never see out of focus background with our eyes. That is a manmade construct. So, to create what I wanted, I put two pictures together: the snowy landscape and the bison. My camera settings for the bison shot were 1/800, f/16, and 1600 ISO, and my lens combination was a 100-400mm Canon lens with a 1.4x teleconverter. ...

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