Memories ….. of times past, of events that maybe had an impact on our lives, of happy and fun times, of struggles and hardships perhaps. Recollections stored in our brains which over time become faded, recalled in less and less detail and even, on occasion, recited very differently to how it actually happened. What an absolute shame to slowly lose the truth of these special occasions. To lose the ability to recall how happy or sad we were, not being able to ‘see’ those vivid colours, textures and contrasts and failing to use these memories as inspiration and motivation.
Sadly, we can’t just turn back the clock and experience these things again, exactly as they happened. All we really have left are our memories and recollections to draw on and as mentioned, these tend to diminish and become more indistinct the older we get. Photographs are a superb medium for keeping alive all those wonderful memories and more importantly the accuracy of those memories.
I have four very large albums with photographs dating back to when I first began hunting and fishing in my teens. I treasure these four volumes very much as they hold accurate records of trips, scenery, good times, bad times, great mates and so much more. They chronicle many years of ‘ME’ and include most of the things that I love doing, am passionate about and are close to my heart. Every one of those hundreds of images holds so much information which in turn keeps alive or rekindles a multitude of other information that my mind has retained (but perhaps let ‘lapse’) from all those years ago. So even though it was over twenty years ago, it really does seem like just last week when I witnessed the awesome sunrise over the Inland Kaikouras when I was 23, or watched my good friend Aaron take his first pig and first deer with the bow, viewed the rolling, sinking fog as it flowed over a vertical bluff in slow motion as though it were water cascading over a waterfall or taking my younger brother into the Marlborough high country to secure his very first chamois. All these many wonderful moments were accurately recorded simply by taking a camera into the hills.
Memories - My younger brother, Nick, with his very first chamois ….. ‘back in the day’ ( Image is a scan of a print).
Throughout the following articles I’ll be dealing exclusively with the digital format of modern cameras. Not that I have anything against film of course, just that by far the majority of hunters, anglers (and people in general) own and use these types and are most familiar with them. Within that digital format the two most commonly used types of cameras are the ‘point and shoot’ and the ‘DSLR’ (digital single lens reflex). A point and shoot has many of the same features as its bigger brother but is probably not as flexible or accurate with those features. A modern point and shoot is very capable indeed and suits a vast majority of people. Now I’m no technical expert but I hope to explain in an easy to understand manner some of what I have learnt during the last three years from when I first became interested in photography. Hopefully it will include a few things to help you record quality images of those special events, moments, people and places for all time.
The built in software and programming of any modern point and shoot camera has the ability to receive and process digital image data and churn out astoundingly good photographs straight out of the camera and all for only a couple of hundred dollars. These types of cameras, which can reach upwards of a thousand dollars, really are only designed for ‘snapshots’, as such. Of course most have many of the same dials, modes and settings as a more expensive DSLR and can give the user quite a reasonable amount of manual control but at the end of the day they generally won’t consistently produce the quality of images and have the flexibility of a DSLR. There are two main reasons for this. One is the sensor size and quality. When the shutter button is pressed, the shutter opens and the sensor is exposed to light (the scene/subject being captured) and digitally records it. A DSLR sensor is generally larger and of better quality than the one in a P&S and capable of netting higher quality data. Secondly, the lenses used on point and shoots, because they are built in, cannot match the quality of detachable DSLR lenses. The glass used to produce the elements inside the lenses are of lesser quality and as P&S’s are designed to be compact, relatively inexpensive and easy to use, there are limitations as to how large these elements of the lens can be. A larger lens allows more light in thus better control of image quality.
Photographs/images (exposures) taken with a digital camera, whether it be a point and shoot or DSLR, are influenced by three main factors – aperture, shutter speed and iso setting.
Is the size of the ‘hole’ that lets light into the camera. That is, how much light is allowed to enter. Obviously the larger the aperture (hole), the more light will be thrown onto the sensor. Another effect of aperture is the depth of focus – how much of the scene is in focus. A larger aperture (small number) will create a narrow field of focus, produce nice out of focus, smooth backgrounds and isolate the subject from the back ground. Conversely, a small aperture (large number) will give a much greater area that will be in focus which is ideal for the likes of landscape shots where, usually, you want the whole scene from foreground right to the back of the image nice and sharp.
By using ‘Av’ (aperture priority) on the main dial you set the aperture size and the camera will select the necessary shutter speed for a good exposure.
Wild Rabbit, Marlborough – Large aperture, narrow depth of focus. This image of two early morning rabbits shows the effect of a large aperture which results in a narrow depth of focus of only a few inches. You can see that the head and shoulders of the rabbit in the foreground are in sharp focus yet the rest of the scene is blurred. (Aperture f/7.1, shutter speed 1/320, iso 800)
Shutter Speed –
As it suggests, is how long the shutter stays open for. This determines the length of time that the sensor is exposed to the light (let in by any given aperture). In dull, dimly lit situations such as late afternoon/evening, dull overcast days or under a canopy of bush the shutter speed will need to be slower (open for longer) to produce a correctly exposed image. And on the other hand, on clear sunny days or when the scene and/or subject is very bright such as a snowy landscape or beach scene, the shutter speed will be a lot faster to gain that same exposure.
Both these two ‘ends of the spectrum’ have their uses beyond just gaining a correct exposure. Slow shutter speeds around half a second to 2 seconds are great for those smooth, silky waterfall images. Night sky landscape shots of 30 seconds can gather in enough light to bring detail to the terrain and also bring out the stars in the sky. Leaving it open for even longer will create elongated ‘star trails’.
Intentional blur caused by these slow speeds can be used to give a sense of motion also. eg, the wing tips of a bird in flight or a moving animal. The most common use of really fast shutter speeds is to freeze or stop motion and action. Birds in flight, running water, trees and vegetation affected by wind or even an angler casting a fly line are all examples where fast shutter speeds will negate any unwanted blur or motion.
When using the ‘Tv’ (shutter priority) setting on the main dial you choose the shutter speed and the camera will select the required aperture to properly expose the scene.
Night Sky, North Canterbury – Slow shutter speed. This long exposure of 14 minutes and 20 seconds is long enough to elongate stars and blur the Milky Way. All this is caused by the earth’s rotation during the time of exposure. (Aperture f/4, shutter speed 862 seconds, iso 100)
Mallard Hen, Marlborough – Fast shutter speed. I knew this duck was holding up but would eventually break from the trees in a mad dash for escape, as they do. From experience I knew that I’d need a very fast shutter speed to properly ‘stop’ moving birds and up around 1/2000th to ‘freeze’ water droplets. I opened up the aperture as wide as it would go to ensure that the fastest possible shutter speed was attainable. (Shutter speed 1/2000th, aperture f/5.6, iso 800)
I’ve used the term ‘iso’ a couple of times already. In a nutshell it is the camera sensor’s sensitivity to light. Each upward notch on the iso dial doubles the sensitivity of the sensor. For example, an iso setting of 200 is twice as sensitive as iso 100 and iso 400 is two times more sensitive than iso 200. So effectively you’re doubling the sensor’s ability to record what light it receives from the shutter speed/aperture combination. However there is one disadvantage to using very high iso settings … that of digital ‘noise’. Images will have a very ‘grainy’ look to them the higher the iso goes, sometimes to the point where the photograph will appear to be somewhat out of focus. A trade-off is required here depending on how much noise is acceptable to you. In my opinion a noisy, sharp image is better than a not so noisy, out of focus one caused by slow shutter speed and camera shake. So don’t be afraid to crank the iso right up if necessary especially if you have a once in a lifetime shot in front of you.
Red Stag, Marlborough – early morning, overcast, dull and under the bush canopy. For this image I had the iso cranked right up to 2500, aperture wide open at f/5.6 and could still only manage 1/50th of second shutter speed with those optimal settings which is almost too slow to be hand holding. In the above small printed image the noise or grain caused by high iso is not all that obvious.
Below is a tight crop of the stag’s head where the heavy noise is clearly seen.
As mentioned ‘the big three’ (aperture, shutter speed and iso) all contribute to how the image is exposed. A supposed ‘correct’ exposure is based on what the camera’s programming thinks is correct. Modern digital cameras are pretty darn clever but they can also be really dumb at times. One example is a back lit animal, (sun or lighting behind the subject) or a very bright background. A camera’s meter will expose for this overall bright scene and subsequently the subject and/or foreground part of the image will be under exposed (dark with no detail). The camera doesn’t realise that you want the deer in the foreground exposed well. Now is the time you have to take control over the beast by getting out of the ‘auto’ mode and start experimenting with the use of these three very important features … shutter speed, aperture and iso.
A specific situation/scene you’re trying to capture is not the only circumstance where you have to override the camera’s programming. From time to time you may want to try for a creative image which might need vastly different settings, away from the camera’s normal way of thinking. The absolute best approach to learn what effect each of the ‘big three’ has on exposure is to just experiment with settings and take note of how each one individually affects the shot. Or work back the other way by taking a picture first using the auto mode, review the settings the camera chose for that image and then go into one of the manual modes and change one or more of those settings.
One great advantage of digital is that we have instant verification of our shots so we can immediately see the result of our chosen settings. Moreover, image storage in the form of memory cards is vast in terms of space and cheap in terms of price. So, make use of these technologies by experimenting with settings and features, take lots of photos and learn from each setting change you make.
Understanding the ‘big three’, as I’ve labelled them, is crucial to producing good images and improving on those good images. As you become more familiar with your set up and how everything operates (ie, interaction of the ‘big three’ and their effect on each other) you’ll soon discover the ability to create consistently great images of how YOU (not the camera’s programming) envisioned them. There are many books and online information discussing exposure. They will contain considerably more information and greater detail than I have gone into here but as I say, learning about (and more importantly understanding) aperture, shutter speed and iso is an all important step to producing great images. Quality images which record all those special moments and occasions in our lives that we can now relive, recall and remember just as it was.
To finish up this first article I’d like to just list a few things that will help keep your equipment in good working condition. As with most modern (not to mention expensive) electronic equipment, common sense is really the key thing here.
1. Buy a ‘rocket blower’ for removing dust and unwanted particles from the camera body and lenses. Use it regularly. NEVER wipe dust off a glass lens element with a dry cloth or shirt sleeve … you will scratch it.
2. If you have to clean the glass element use proper lens cleaning liquid and lens cloth but only after dust has been blown away.
3. Always replace the lens cover when not using the camera.
4. As hunters and anglers we inherently enter difficult and rough terrain where tripping, stumbling and falling is common. Make use of the neck strap ALWAYS … it’s there for a reason.
5. When placing your camera on the ground position it well away from clumsy feet. If possible drape a shirt or such like over it especially on windy days.
6. Padded cases, bags and backpacks are a very worthwhile investment. Use them whenever transporting your gear and ensure all the zips and buckles are done up securely. (I learnt the hard way).
7. Purpose built carry bags etc are often impractical when out on the hill or river. The best option I’ve come up with is a homemade neoprene bag or cover constructed from an old 2-3mm wetsuit. The gear goes inside this and then into a waterproof, roll-top drybag. I also place a silica gel bag/s into the drybag to absorb any moisture.