Think Small for Travel and Nature Photography

Photo by Rob Knight

Photo by Rob Knight

 

I’m sure you’ve heard the tern “mirrorless” camera by now. A mirrorless camera is a digital camera that uses interchangeable lenses like a conventional DSLR, but it uses the LCD on the back of the camera or an electronic viewfinder (or EVF) to frame a photo instead of a traditional optical viewfinder. Without the optical viewfinder there is no need for a complex prism and mirror box, hence the term “mirrorless” camera.

Over the last three years I have gone from playing around with mirrorless cameras to ditching my DSLR kit and shooting mirrorless full-time. I shoot Panasonic LUMIX Micro Four Thirds cameras because of their amazing image quality, small form factor and the extensive selection of Micro Four-Thirds lenses.

The Micro Four-Thirds system Includes cameras and lenses made by both LUMIX and Olympus, as well as several third party lens manufacturers. Micro Four-Thirds was the original mirrorless system and I think it offers considerable advantages to those of us who have to carry all of our gear on our backs. Here are a few of the reasons I use LUMIX cameras and why you might want to think about a smaller kit for your next photo workshop.

 

Red-eyed Tree Frog by Rob Knight

Red-eyed Tree Frog by Rob Knight

 

1. First and foremost, they make beautiful images. When I began shooting mirrorless cameras my regular gear was a full-frame Nikon kit. I was sure that the images from the smaller cameras couldn’t compete with my professional gear. In reality I discovered that my mirrorless cameras produced beautiful images that I could easily print or sell as stock photography. That was two sensor generations ago, and the current generation is even better. The LUMIX GH4 and GX7 produce professional quality images that easily stack up against bigger DSLR’s.

I also found that I had my camera with me more often because it was smaller and lighter. That meant I was getting shots I would have missed before because I simply didn’t want to bother with my big camera kit. That is really important when you’re traveling. If you bring equipment that is difficult to carry you might be tempted to leave it behind and miss out on photo opportunities.

2. There’s more to the size of a mirrorless camera system than the sensor. There is a lot of buzz lately about full-frame mirrorless cameras. They have the same size image sensor as a Nikon D810 or Canon 5D Mark III. The rub for me is that with a larger sensor comes larger lenses. A small camera is fine, but for me smaller lenses are better.

The Micro Four-Thirds sensor is smaller than full-frame, so the lenses are much smaller than their full-frame counterparts. LUMIX lenses like the 12-35mm f2.8 and 35-100mm f2.8 offer the same field of view as the standard 24-70mm and 70-200mm lenses on a full-frame camera at around one-third the size and weight. For wildlife shooters the LUMIX 100-300mm f4-f5.6 offers a 600mm equivalent lens that is around 6” long!

 

Photo by Rob Knight

Photo by Rob Knight

 

3. A smaller sensor generally offers greater depth of field. Some portrait photographers claim that this is a shortcoming of the Micro Four Thirds system, but for nature photographers it can be an asset. More depth of field means that I can shoot with a wide aperture and get more of the image in focus. Shooting with a wide aperture (low f-stop) allows you to use faster shutter speeds to freeze action and lower ISO settings for less digital noise. That is a combination that spells more keepers when it comes to shooting wildlife.

For landscapes the greater depth of field means it’s easier to get your foreground, middle ground and background in sharp focus. The smaller sensor with the excellent wide angle Micro Four-Thirds lenses makes for a great landscape photograph combination.

4. I didn’t start shooting video with my still camera until I got a LUMIX camera. I had DSLR’s with video recording capability, but it was pretty complicated and I never really used it. Mirrorless cameras (especially the LUMIX line) make it easy to capture fantastic HD video, and in some cases even super high-res 4k video.

I don’t have to switch my camera into video mode to record a motion picture. I simply press the shutter release for a still picture, or the red movie record button to record broadcast-quality video.

This allows me to shoot video the same way I shoot my still photography: I look for an interesting subject in appropriate light and create an interesting composition. If the subject makes a good still photo I hit the shutter. If the subject is better captured in moving pictures than I record a few seconds of video. For me the process is about telling a story whether it means still photographs or moving pictures. My LUMIX cameras get out of the way and allow me to capture whichever medium is appropriate for the subject I’m shooting.

There are other ways to get your images moving besides HD video. The cameras I use also capture slow motion video and time-lapse image sequences right in the camera. Just like regular video clips, these tools allow me to respond to my subjects and easily create whatever I envision.

I find many of my clients and workshop guests either shooting with mirrorless cameras or extremely curious about what mirrorless cameras have to offer. The combination of high image quality and portability offered by the Micro Four-Thirds system is perfect for a lot of photographers who like to shoot while they travel. My LUMIX gear allows me to carry all of the lenses I need along with one or two camera bodies without ever having to worry about weight restrictions or size limitations. Maybe you’l find a mirrorless camera kit to be the right fit for your next photo adventure.

Article by LUMIX PRO Rob Knight
If you have any questions about small camera systems, please feel free to contact me at rob@robknightphotography.com or visit my website at robknightphotography.com. You can see what LUMIX cameras are capable of first hand if you join me on one of my workshops like the Ecuador Photo Safari with Wildside Nature Tours.


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Creating Silhouettes

This image of a shorebird at sunset was captured on the west coast, in San Diego.

This image of a shorebird at sunset was captured on the west coast, in San Diego.

Silhouettes use shape and contrast to create a timeless, dramatic and often emotional image. Lacking detail, a photo is taken to its simplest structure, however, to create the best silhouettes a bit of technical know-how mixed with the artistic eye is needed.

As with many photo techniques there are multiple ways to get the desired effect, so I will share my favorites. Start with these suggestions and modify them to your needs as you incorporate them into your personal style.

These Great Blue Herons were active well before sunrise, when the pre-dawn pinks and blues were just beginning.

These Great Blue Herons were active well before sunrise, when the pre-dawn pinks and blues were just beginning.

These courting Great Blue Herons were cooperatively active at sunrise in Florida.

These courting Great Blue Herons were cooperatively active at sunrise in Florida.

This image of a single Great Blue Heron was taken the day after the image above. Every day can be very different in the same location!

This image of a single Great Blue Heron was taken the day after the image above. Every day can be very different in the same location!

First, with your camera on a tripod, position yourself so that your subject is placed in front of the bright part of the scene, without distractions blending with the subject (like a tree branch across the face).

Next, using the aperture-priority mode of your camera is often best in this case, determine if you want the background to be as sharp as possible (like the big ball of the sun in the images to the right). If so, use a small aperture like f/16 or f/22. If you want your background out of focus use a larger aperture like f/2.8 or f/4.

Most cameras have an ‘evaluative’ or ‘matrix’ metering mode which reads the light throughout the scene. If using this mode, begin by setting your exposure compensation to EV -2.0. This may need to be adjusted according to the contrast of the scene. An EV of -2.0 will make your subject black, as desired, and help eliminate any clipped highlights so you have proper color throughout the scene.

This sunset was over an island off the coast of Honduras.

This sunset was over an island off the coast of Honduras.

This sunset over Cape May Point looks tropical.

This sunset over Cape May Point looks tropical.

Cape May Point is a wonderful place to photograph. An EV -1.0 was perfect for this capture.

Cape May Point is a wonderful place to photograph. An EV -1.0 was perfect for this capture.

Another option would be to use your cameras ‘spot-meter’ mode and place the meter’s spot on the brightest part of the scene. In this case, using the manual mode is best to be sure that your exposure settings do not change when you compose your image.

This frog was lit from behind by the sun. Though the sun is not in the image, it was bright enough to give me this silhouette using an EV -1.0.

This frog was lit from behind by the sun. Though the sun is not in the image, it was bright enough to give me this silhouette using an EV -1.0.

Sunsets and sunrises are not always needed for a background. Here the palm fronds and tropical leaves were lit by the sun.

Sunsets and sunrises are not always needed for a background. Here the palm fronds and tropical leaves were lit by the sun.

As shown in the above two images, you do not always require a sunset or sunrise as long as it is a bright background with few distractions.

You may need to do some clean-up in post-processing, but remember, creating the best image possible in-camera will give you the best image possible after post processing.

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Understanding Light: Patience 2

Wind River Sunset Silhouette

As the sun slipped behind the mountain, it offered a wonderful silhouette.

While backpacking through the Wind River Range, WY in the early 1990′s, we climbed through Cube Rock Pass to Peak Lake on an overcast, rainy day. Although the scenery was beautiful, the flat light and messy conditions did now allow for much photography. We set up camp above Peak Lake and began dinner preparation late in the day. Just as we were ready to eat, the clouds began to part and reveal our surroundings.

Peak Lake in clouds

This images shows Peak Lake in cloud cover.

As the clouds opened, revealing the sky and welcomed sun rays, I dropped my meal and grabbed my camera and tripod… set up along the lake, taking a few images as I waited for the right moment. Remember… 1990′s were still the film days. I was using Kodak Ektachrome E100SW.

Peak Lake clouds parting

As the clouds parted I tried different exposure combinations… exposing for the sky, the clouds and the reflection in the lake and the rocks.

The above image was exposing for the sunlight falling on the rocks… but really it was the ‘shapes’ of the rocks against the sky that caught my attention, so I under-exposed to make the rocks a silhouette, giving me the final image at the beginning of this post.

–Kevin Loughlin

Nikon N8008s
Tokina 20-35
Kodak E100SW film
Exposure info not recorded

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Understanding Light: Patience

Adirondack Canoe

I waited, patiently, for the clouds to pass in front of the sun for this image.

Understanding light along with the patience to study and wait for the light to be just right is a key element to creating images others will enjoy. The image above was taken using Kodachrome 200 slide film, two decades ago while on a multi-day canoe trip, with a friend, in the Adirondacks of New York. Over the years it has been one of my most popular sellers.

The image was not a pre-planned set-up. My camping buddy had risen earlier than I did that day and when I heard him paddling about, I unzipped my tent to the chilly morning and saw the sun ablaze over the mist-covered lake. Once I set up my tripod I found I could not get the angle I wanted on the scene, and as I played I took just a few images. It was film after all.

Adirondack Canoe - full sun

This image was how the scene appeared when I first set up my tripod.

As I watched my friend paddle around a bit, the glare from the sun’s reflection was very prominent. However, I noticed that the clouds were moving slowly east and as I waited patiently for the right position over the sun, I told my friend to put his hat back on. A small detail, but well worth adding. I took a couple more images. Film, remember? and was happy with this final image… clouds helping to reduce the sun glare. The mist over the lake. My friend, paddling the canoe in his favorite hat.

–Kevin Loughlin

Nikon N8008s
Tokina 20-35 @ 35
Kodachrome 200
Exposure info not recorded

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Birder? Photographer? Birdographer!

Three-toed Woodpecker

Three-toed Woodpecker photographed by Kevin Loughlin during our Grand Tetons Spring Workshop

Many birders have become photographers… and vice versa… What about you?

Three-toed WoodpeckerBack in the old days of film photography, the line between birders and photographers was very clear. Most birders did not want to be bothered with carrying the extra equipment and photographers didn’t bother with binoculars.

This still holds true to a point, however, the line is much more blurred these days, especially when you take into account the innumerable digiscoping fans. In fact, the digiscoping ‘craze’ of 2005, in my opinion, introduced photography to many birders.

Mainly as a way to ‘prove’ their sightings, birders got hooked on digiscoping and it is even more popular today with scope manufacturers making accessories to help digiscopers get better images.

Digiscoping quickly led many birders to upgrade their compact cameras to DSLR cameras in order to have a lot more flexibility and higher quality. AFter all, trying to keep a high magnification scope on a fidgety warbler or a hawk in flight is extremely difficult! Once DSLRs, with their interchangeable lenses and high-speed drives hit the market, the quest higher quality photography gained even more popularity.

Fast forward to 2014 and we see birding festivals offering nearly as many photo workshops as birding field trips. Many birders have become photographers, but it is surprising how many photographers have gotten hooked on birds as their favorite wildlife to capture in pixels. Workshops to learn how to better capture hawks in flight or hummingbirds attract folks who may not be able to identify what they are shooting, but they are having a great time getting their images. With many, this has led them to wanting to know more about their subjects and eventually wanting to photograph different species in different locations… a photographic life list if you will, rather than just a written list. A birdographer is born!

I have to admit… I kinda started out this way. I enjoyed drawing birds as a kid in the 1960′s, and after getting my first camera at age six, birds were one of my favorite subjects. It wasn’t long before I was leafing through my mother’s Peterson Guide to figure out the birds I was photographing and eventually I was looking up all the birds I was seeing whether photographed or not! I remember getting my life American Woodcock while skateboarding around Promised Land Lake in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania. Yes, I was carrying my camera, with my brand new (pre-owned) 300mm Accura lens on my Minolta SR-T 202. I was 15, so I did not yet have a driver’s license–skateboarding and bicycling were my only mode of personal, wheeled transportation to get to my favorite photo locations.

But I digress. Back in the early days of Wildside, I was offering photo instruction on all of our birding trips, plus offering photo workshops and tours. Of course, using film, participant did not know how well they did until a few days after getting home. Now we have instant gratification as well as instant learning tools, which can make a photo workshop even more fun and much more productive than they once were. Thanks to these new technologies, Wildside has added a lot more photo workshop opportunities… many of which are geared toward birds (without ignoring other wildlife, too).

Whether a birder with a camera or a photographer that likes birds… all birdographers will enjoy a number of our upcoming workshops!

–Kevin Loughlin

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98% Patience for Great Nature Photos

Anyone who has joined me on one of my nature photography workshops or has read my book knows this formula… 98% patience, 1% luck ands 1% skill is required to be successful at nature photography. Waiting for hours in a blind for wildlife to appear or for the light to be ‘just right’ can taxContinue Reading

Pack Up or Keep Shooting?

Not every photo opportunity is perfect. Sometimes we are in the right place at the wrong time of day or in bad light for the subject. In some circumstances we may just pack up our gear and choose to come back at different time of day, or a different day, to get the image weContinue Reading

Shooting in Extremes

Nature is always going to throw you a curve ball from time to time. For me last week, this curve ball took the shape of a massive snowstorm that barreled across the western mountains of Wyoming dumping loads of powder and dipping temperatures into the single digits. Add to this the howling winds that cameContinue Reading

Photographing Shorebirds in Cape May NJ

Growing up along the beaches of the Outer Banks of North Carolina, I have always had a fascination with shorebirds. Maybe it’s the difficulty that most birders have in identifying these little guys. It could of course be the hilarious behavior of some species like the sanderling that scurries up and down the beach withContinue Reading

Bring on the Stars!

Humans have always been fascinated by the stars. As far back as we are able to see into the anthropological past, humans have told stories, created myths, and interwoven their beliefs of heaven and religion with the stars. We have used the stars to track time, the changing of the seasons, and have used themContinue Reading