Monday, January 11, 2010

On Taking Better Pictures

A little over a week ago, I wrote a post about cameras. The general gist of that post was that having a fancy SLR camera doesn't necessarily mean you will be able to take better pictures. Taking good pictures takes work. And practice.

I practice a lot. On Saturday, while Hubby was home baking cinnamon rolls, I decided to drive over to the Patuxent National Wildlife Refuge to try out my new teleconverter (think of it as a booster that increases the power of your lens).

The reason I wanted a teleconverter was to increase the power of my zoom lens. So I can get clearer pictures of stuff that's far away. When you use a zoom lens, every teeny tiny movement of the camera will make your image blurry. That means, in addition to a zoom lens, you really need a tripod. Even with a tripod, if you are not careful pushing the shutter, you'll shake the camera and blur your image. A cable release or remote (wireless) shutter release button is good to have, too.

Often, I don't have the time or inclination to drag all of that stuff out. Saturday, I did. And I managed to get a few good images.

I was really just playing around to see how well the teleconverter worked, i.e., does it really bring subjects that much closer? Will it allow for clear focus? Will I be able to use autofocus or will everything need to be manual? That sort of thing.

With the tripod and remote shutter release, it worked pretty well. There weren't a lot of critters around to try the long-distance bird shots, so I was just shooting pics of the grass and trees and stuff. That's when a bluebird couple decided to drop by.

They were far enough away that I couldn't see them well with my naked eye. I am pretty sure there was a Mr and a Mrs, but the Mr was being elusive. The Mrs sat still a tad bit longer, so I was able to get a few nice pics of her. (This might be a male. Females are usually much duller than the males. This bird is much duller than the elusive one, but the more I looked at these shots, the more I realized it isn't as dull as most of the females I have seen. But it could have been the light making her chest look more orange. Her head is sort of on the dull side. Here's an old pic of mine with a male and female side by side, with the male on the left. Bluebirds

The camera was on the tripod and I used the wireless shutter release for all of the above shots. Those two pieces of equipment really do make a huge difference.

I snapped this image of the woods as I was walking out, then I edited it with Photoshop Elements.

As I was shooting pics, it was getting darker and darker. I had to stop shooting when the flash kept firing and I realized I don't know enough about aperture and shutter speeds to capture any really good low-light images.

That's because I have become lazy. I have been relying way too heavily on my camera's automatic settings to do most of the work for me.

So, this morning I decided that I was going to limit my SLR shooting to the camera's manual mode. That will force me to become aware of and practice using the various aperture and shutter speed settings. I told myself I would not revert back to automatic until I'd mastered those two things.

And then this bird landed in our backyard...

It is a Red Shouldered Hawk. I was fortunate to catch a glimpse of it as it swooped in.

They don't land in the yard often. And, when they do, they never stick around long. Luckily I still had the teleconverter and zoom lens on the camera. I did not have time to set the tripod up or use the remote shutter release. And, I had to shoot through the window. I also didn't have time to fiddle with manual settings I know so little about, so I went back to automatic temporarily.

I did tweak the shots with Photoshop Elements slightly, but overall I was pleased with how well they turned out. Considering I was standing at the window just snapping away.

It wasn't exactly close to the house either.

Since I started feeding the birds again yesterday, the yard was pretty busy with birds and squirrels today. I thought it would take the hawks a while to notice the smorgasbord in our backyard, but was very pleasantly surprised when this one showed up. Usually, it's Redtailed Hawks that we see.

Anyway... this year I am going to be working on learning how to use aperture and shutter speeds manually. That means you'll probably be seeing a lot of pictures of odd stuff. But hopefully they will be good pictures. Then maybe by next fall I'll be able to take good eagle pics when they come back to Conowingo.

Speaking of eagles, have you checked out the nest cam yet (there's a link in the navigation bar on the right)? I just added a link to the osprey cam today. My favorite nature photographer, Jon the Nikographer, was kind enough to let me use one of his osprey images for the link button. If you haven't looked at his stuff before, you should check it out. He's really very good. You'll have to remember to check the nest cams periodically to catch a glimpse of the birds.


  1. Great shots! I like the third one that's taken through the trees.

  2. Wow, you are really getting good at taking pics!!!! Everyone loves your video (slideshow) too.
    PS I hope you have some more dog pics soon.


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