Exploring Ideal Photography: Fact AND Fiction

Fact AND Fiction? Most times when these two words are used together the connector is OR.

While many things in photography can use the OR as the connector, there are just as many where the subject can be both Fact AND Fiction.

Photo of bird bathing by Andy Long
© 2011 Andy Long. All rights reserved. Even if it takes a few days of waiting for the action, it’s well worth the wait when some good bathing action does happen.

Here are a few photo topics where fact AND fiction apply.

1. Tidal waters will always have birds in the area.

FACT: When a photographer finds a combination of low tides and birds great photographs may be the result. If planned properly, you can capture some wonderful behavior shots of birds hunting their prey in these shallow water areas.


Photo of Great Egret catching a fish by Andy Long
© 2011 Andy Long. All rights reserved. More often than not, if you are at a good known location at low tide, some feeding images can be captured.

Now add good weather with a colorful sunrise or sunset and you have the makings for stunning reflection and silhouette images.

Silhouette photo of bird flying over the water at sunrise by Andy Long
© 2011 Andy Long. All rights reserved.

Sunrise at tidal areas can present some great opportunities to capture nice color in the water and stark silhouettes.

Photo of bird bathing by Andy Long
© 2011 Andy Long. All rights reserved. Stopping the bathing action creates stunning bird photos.

FICTION: You see the water, but where are the birds? A very windy day will keep the birds hidden somewhere beyond the view of the camera—we don’t enjoy the wind and neither do they.

Just because a particular location is known for its gathering of birds, it does not mean you will find them. They can also find another spot to go for a few days.

2. Hot weather and a watering hole will produce good bird bathing photographs.

FACT: For pure behavior images, this is a great combo. Here is a good example: head to the ranches in South Texas during the month of May when the temperatures are approaching 100 degrees. With that kind of heat, birds will want to take a bath to cool off, and known water holes make an optimum location for photography.

At some point in time, there will be the action you desire, but you have to be ready for it. Be prepared with the right camera settings. Stay alert and be ready for the quick action when it does occur, so you can make the best photos.
FICTION: There is an old saying that states, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” Just because the water is there does not mean the birds will indulge you with their bathing routine.

At most of these Texas ranches there are three or four water holes and the birds could very easily use one of the other ones. Do your research and locate some of the other possible locations so that you can make a change if needed.

3. Peak time of the year is the best.

FACT: It is easy to research the peak time of the year for a particular subject and schedule a trip to that location. Most of the time, scheduling your trip at THE optimal time will produce terrific results. Your trip may be for wildflowers, fall color, the running of the salmon, wildlife mating season, or… Regardless, being at the right location and at the right time increases your chances of creating some incredible photos.

FICTION: Ever changing environmental conditions are shifting when peak times occur for a variety of subjects. For example, what used to be a very predictable bighorn rut time around Rocky Mountain National Park has changed significantly over the past years. It’s no longer possible to predict the rut time with accuracy from one year to the next.

Photo of fall color at Maroon Bells, Aspen, Colorado by Andy Long
© 2011 Andy Long. All rights reserved. Knowing when peak season typically occurs leads to being there at the right time to get some great color.

4. There were great photo opportunities here last year, therefore it will be a good place to go this year.

FACT: Many photo spots are good year after year. Knowing this is why many people trek to Yellowstone National Park every September for the elk rut or to Maroon Bells outside of Aspen, Colorado, for fall color.

FICTION: Weather can wreak havoc on fall color and wildflower seasons from time to time. In addition, other factors might bring unexpected changes to an area. For example, the current condition of Yankee Boy Basin in Colorado has changed because cow parsnip and corn stalk plants are taking over several of the fields where paintbrush, columbine and other flowers previously flourished.

Landscape photo of snow on mountain by Andy Long
© 2011 Andy Long. All rights reserved. What’s good one year may not be good the next year. The year before, this snow-covered field was filled with wildflowers and grass.

5. A rainy or snowy previous season is good for the current season.

FACT: Many seasonal nature settings do depend on the previous season’s precipitation. A good fall color season is dependent on a rainy summer so the tree’s root system contains moisture. As fall approaches, a freeze assists in the dying process. A very dry summer does not bode well for good fall color.

For wildflowers, a rainy spring or a snowy winter soaks the ground and brings the seeds to life.

FICTION: Not all weather is good as too much snow can kill a wildflower season. This was the case this year at Mount Rainier in the state Washington. A record snowfall left the peak season with three feet of snow still on the ground at the base of the mountain. This area is usually great for fields of flowers with the mountain in the background, but not this year.

Lots of snow can also make for difficult waterfall photography. Unusual amounts of snowmelt and runoff can cause the water to cover picturesque rocks.

6. A sunny day is best for photography.

FACT: A beautiful blue sky over a hillside of aspens or a snow covered mountain makes for some great photos. Nothing beats good light on wading birds scooting around in the water. Good sunlight adds shadows to many scenes creating a feeling of depth. Anyone who has ever been to Arches National Park near Moab, Utah knows how important light is to bring out the colors in the rock formations.

FICTION: Sometimes a nice overcast day is great for wildflower photography, as soft light makes the colors seem richer. Waterfalls are another subject best photographed on cloudy days. Glare on the water and rocks diminish and longer shutter speeds will smooth out the flow of the water.


Photo of raindrops on a leaf by Andy Long
© 2011 Andy Long. All rights reserved. A sunny day shows the sparkle of raindrops and make them pop in the image.

Photo of sand dunes by Andy Long
© 2011 Andy Long. All rights reserved.

Being told that one area was very poor for fall color,
a trip was rerouted to the Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado – for sure the subject would be there.

Black and white photo of sand dunes by Andy Long
© 2011 Andy Long. All rights reserved. Photoshop is a great tool to use to turn an image into black and white.

7. Tips about a great place always pay off.

FACT: Talking with other photographers about what they have seen and photographed can lead to some great opportunities. If a planned location’s peak time has changed or the conditions are not what they could or want them to be, you can now explore a new location.

FICTION: What might be good for one photographer is not necessarily good for the next. Getting information about a different location for a good patch of wildflowers can lead to a road where only a couple of flowers are found scattered here and there. Their ideas may not match your own and the detour may not be worth it.

8. It can be fixed in Photoshop.

FACT: Many things can be fixed in Photoshop, but it is not possible to “fix” an image that is not right in the first place. Photoshop cannot fix an out of focus shot and it cannot fix an extreme under- or over-exposed image. Try to get it right in the field and then do any minor tweaks necessary in Photoshop.

FICTION: Depending on postproduction, too much Photoshop work changes the art from photography to computer manipulated art. While some work is done in Photoshop and other related programs, depending on one of those programs to correct every image creates bad habits that will decrease one’s technical ability in the field.

9. Program mode is best for everyone starting out in photography.

FACT:  In certain situations where you’re not quite sure what settings will work best to get everything right, program mode will evaluate the scene and set everything the way the camera thinks is correct. The majority of the time a good image will be the result.

FICTION: Learning how to use your camera in Aperture or Shutter Priority or Manual Mode will make it possible for you, the photographer, to make the photo you want rather than relying on the average settings chosen by the camera.

Photo of water rushing over rocks by Andy Long
© 2011 Andy Long. All rights reserved.

The glare off the rocks was removed by using a polarizer.

Close-up photo of leaves by Andy Long
© 2011 Andy Long. All rights reserved.

Here the histogram is way left making the background dark and the green a bit to the left to help saturate the greens.

10. Polarizers are designed for making a blue-sky “pop.”

FACT: At the proper angle, 90 degrees from the sun, a polarizer will help pop a blue sky. Be careful with a very wide-angle lens when not fully at 90 degrees as there will be some fading at the left and right side of the composition. At very high altitudes, a polarizer can make the sky over saturated and look very unnatural.

FICTION: There are other uses for a polarizer besides making a blue sky bluer. It is helpful for taking glare off rocks in the water and on some wildflowers and trees. A properly polarized fall color photograph can make the color appear more saturated.

11. The histogram needs to be a little right of center.

FACT: Many photographers go by the saying, “Right is Right.” If the whole bell curve is to the right, but not clipping on the far right, there will be less noise when making darkening or saturating adjustments in postproduction work.

FICTION: If your preference is to have a little more saturation to begin with, then having the histogram slightly left and making no adjustments works fine. Also, there are certain times when under-exposing is the desired effect, such as getting a little faster shutter speed for birds in flight or smoothing out flowing water.

12. With IS (image stabilization) and a high ISO, a tripod is no longer important anymore.

FACT: Image stabilization was designed to allow photographers to be able to hand-hold a camera and make sharper images than ever before. Some newer cameras have extremely high ISO settings and the technology has improved to the point that it does not create as much noise as would be expected.

FICTION: Nothing works better for making the sharpest image possible than using a tripod. This way you know the camera will not move. The use of a cable release or timer will eliminate the possibility of the camera moving when pressing the shutter button during longer exposures. Just a slight movement will result in a soft (out of focus) image.

Photo of mountain scene with wildflowers by Andy Long
© 2011 Andy Long. All rights reserved.

A tripod and a long shutter speed will give you maximum depth of field.
Your may not always be lucky enough to have ideal photographic conditions when you go out with your camera, but with some preparation, alternate plans and a flexible outlook you can obtain some terrific photos.

by Andy Long
First Light Photo Workshops
All text & photos: © 2011 Andy Long. All rights reserved.

All written content (and most images) in these articles are copyrighted by the authors. Copyrighted material from Apogee Photo Mag should not be used elsewhere without seeking the authors permission.

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