The only way to get better is practice, we all know this to be true. Photography is no different. With techniques changing every day it becomes even more important to keep shooting. One of the biggest problems with that is the need to be in the office working making it unable to practice and play. It sucks, but we all have to go through it. The solution is finding ways to shoot while sitting in the office.
Now I love playing Xbox, nothing more stress relieving than playing a good shoot’em up game, but that’s not quite what playing at work I was referring too. It’s the other shooting! Outside the window is a treasure trove of images that takes nothing more than imagination to capture. For instance, outside my window is a poplar tree surrounded by flowers and aspens. Yes I know it sounds lovely, it’s just the mountain talk. The tree has been trimmed in certain spots to give the best shooting vantages possible. Does it change with the seasons, of course, does the light in the afternoon differ in the morning making some branches better than other, absolutely, do the birds not land on the branches I want…only when they want to be annoying.
One of my best friends isn’t on facebook, but sitting in my camera bag. It’s the Nikon 600f4 and is my primary bird and small mammal lens. I have been on many great adventures with that lens in my bag and more are coming. When I’m stuck at the desk writing, processing images, working on the blog, etc, it will normally be up on the tripod and pointed out the window. Shooting out the window with a long lens makes it real easy to keep sharp and to experiment. Amazingly enough no neighbors have said anything yet about the 6 sticking out from my room. Moving on!
Besides having a nicely trimmed tree, it is essential to have two forms of attraction for anything wanting to be brought in, food and water. A bird bath is the best thing that can be used to attract wildlife to the most drab of yards. It needs to be in a spot that is easily found and also somewhat tucked away. Under a tree, bush or grasses is best. Next would be a feeder of some sort. Depending on one’s area differs in what can be brought in. Up here in the mountains we have Black Bears, and they love to get into the feeders, so hanging feeders work well for us because they can be easily moved around. Ground ones due bring in the squirrels but are easy targets for the bears.
The great thing about the yard being filled with wild flowers is that it brings in a lot of hummingbirds, Allen’s, Blackchinned, and Rufous are most common. There are a few other species like the Calliope but they are rarely seen. Hummingbird feeders can be used to replace wild flowers and are more useful for controlling where the birds will land. Hummingbirds are tricky little things to work with, I’m certainly no expert. But there are some helpful tricks that I know of to get started with.
Moving aside from hummers for the moment and continuing on with setup; when placing any feeder or bird bath it is crucial to watch the background from where you will be shooting. Since these are controlled scenarios it is easy to fine tune them as much as desired. Removing branches, trimming unwanted grass and leafs, all of this is important when working with the yard. It may sound time consuming but it really isn’t and once it’s all done it is easy to keep maintained. Most importantly, keeping everything filled is crucial.
Flash is probably the scariest of camera tools to be used when you don’t know anything about it. i can honestly say that I’m still one of those people without much experience in the area. In reality it is very simple to use when practiced with and this is one of the best times. My 600f4 is always mounted on a Wimberley swing arm tripod head, when setup. This type of tripod head makes it easy to swing up, down, left and right, while being stable enough to not always need hands on. The flash arm for the SB-800 is attached directly to the Wimberley head so that it is out of the way of any movement from the lens.
Settings in the flash are going to differ depending on how far away the subject is to you, which includes angles either up or down. For instance the amount of light needed for a Panamint Chipmunk on a stump that is eight feet away on the ground is not going to be the same for a hummingbird that is eight feet away but five feet up in a tree. Now there is no magical number that works best in every scenario, I can say that most often it is negative exposure compensation in the body and negative in the flash. We want the flash to be doing the work but not in control.
Flashing little animals and a big lens sticking out the window, amazing I don’t get more phone calls. Why all the work? The idea of flash with critters is too increase the color making them look better. The difference is quite obvious but not always necessary. When working with large game for instance it really isn’t practical to be using flash, from the shear size of the critter to the amount of light needed to make a difference. Plus it just ain’t easy holding a flash while working with a Bison.
For more information on how to work with flash and ways that it can help here are a couple sites that might be useful.
The birds and mammals are great fun but not always predictable to work with so the other great subjects to work with out the windows are the afternoon skies. Numerous times I have sat out on the deck or out the front door and photographed the clouds in the neighborhood. It seems like one of the greatest challenges to work with is making great shots while being surrounded by other houses. Unless you want to spend a lot of time in post removing the houses, learning to shoot around them is always fun.
Working close up, with a good mid range lens like, the Nikon 70-300Vr, is great because it eliminates the junk that is not necessary while still capturing what is important. For me going wide while working with houses just doesn’t work, it just isn’t stimulating enough to have in the shot. Unless you have a really big backyard I would steer clear of doing pano’s.
It’s always amazing being able to look out over the Sierra’s and seeing the greatness that remains. At this point I have lost track of how many times I went out trying to get a simple blog post for the next day and being amazed of what came out of just shooting the afternoon light. It’s nothing more than repetition that improvements can be made.
The whole point of shooting from the work space is really too have fun, as well as to not get rusty; If we forget why we began shooting than there really isn’t any point left to shoot. Finding fun at while being stuck at the computer is hard, no doubt, but if you get good at that then any trip you go on will seem that much better.
Here are a few more sites that might be of help to work with the critters outside your window.