Who am I trying to please?
I think that I’m beginning to understand why so many photographers are shooting their photos with the aperture of their lens close to wide open, and only parts of the subject in sharp focus, it’s a snob thing.
Grand Rapids has a large camera club, reputed to be the oldest in the United States, so I decided to check out their website to see if it would be possible for me to attend their meetings in order to get some feedback as to how my photos stack up as far as quality. Well, they feature a photo of the month, and what did this month’s photo just happen to be? A male cardinal. Cool, there’s some nature photographers in this group was my first thought, but then I read why the person who picks the photo of the month picked that particular photo.
The judge chose that photo because in their words, “the photographer did a good job of focusing on the bird’s head and used a shallow depth of field to blur the background”.
I guess that it doesn’t matter that the majority of the subject, the cardinal, is blurred as well.
Then I read the blurb from the photographer who shot the photo, and it turns out that they have a spot outside their garage set-up with a bird feeder to attract the birds and a fake branch attached as a place for the birds to perch on their way to or from the feeder, and the photographer shoots their photos through an open window of the garage.
Okay, I guess that the fact that the situation is controlled by the photographer is okay with me, but that’s not how I photograph birds.
I figure that I have about three seconds (if I’m lucky) from the time a small bird perches somewhere to when they move to another location as they look for food. During that three seconds, the birds do not sit still, they are twisting and turning as they look for food, and/or possible predators. If I move too quickly getting the camera pointed at them, the birds will spook and fly off, so that leaves me little time left to get the bird in focus and the exposure set, and no time to be fooling with the aperture to get the perfect depth of field.
Sometimes, I luck out.
By the way, these were shot using the Canon 7D Mk II, 300 mm L series lens, with the 2X tele-converter behind the lens, and the images have not been cropped. Any one who says that you can’t get a sharp photo with the 2X extender behind a good sharp lens hasn’t learned how to use one properly, as you can see. These are as sharp as a tack.
Anyway, I began to wonder when and how bokeh (the out of focus background in a photo) became more important than the subject of the photo. More importantly, I began to wonder who decided that, and why.
I think that I have at least part of the answer.
In one of the how to become a better photographer videos that I watched recently, the presenter began one of the segments with the admonition to quit photographing everything as if you’re using a point and shoot camera.
That may require a little explanation for some readers. Because of the physics of light, camera lenses, and sensors, the compact digital point and shoot cameras have a much larger depth of field at any aperture than does a digital single lens reflex camera (DSLR). The same holds true with the cameras in cell phones, it’s almost impossible to get something out of focus while using one.
So, back to the presenter in the video. At the time I watched it, it didn’t dawn on me, but he went on to say that we’ve spent a lot of money on a DSLR and lenses with wide apertures, which are more expensive than lenses with smaller maximum apertures, so we should use those wider apertures to throw the background out of focus and to get great bokeh. Now I get it, why the bokeh in a photo has become so important, it’s a snob thing.
You want the perfect bokeh in a photo not because that’s what most of the general public prefer, it’s to let your fellow photographers know that you’re using a DSLR with an expensive lens attached to it! That’s why it’s become what the judges in a photo contest look for, so that they know that you’re a “real” photographer, using “real” equipment, and not a point and shoot, or horrors of horrors, a cell phone.
I may be wrong about that, but I don’t think so. Wildlife photography videos with presenters who actually make their living photographing wildlife in the wild, and not in animal parks or baited animals, present another side to great photos. They say that you don’t always have to fill the frame with your subject, that there are times when you should include some of the animal’s surroundings to let people who see your photos know what types of habitat that particular animal prefers. They say that it’s even better if you catch the animal engaging in activities, so I suppose that these would count towards that.
Maybe these photos, of a warbling vireo singing, aren’t so bad after all.
So what if I didn’t get the aperture perfect to completely blur the background. I’m showing that this species likes to stay under the leaf canopy, and sing their little hearts out, even in the middle of September.
By the way, those were also shot with the 7D Mk II, 300 mm lens with 2X tele-converter at ISO 6400, and not cropped at all.
Other than a lower ISO, so was this one, which according to all types of experts, should be the perfect photo. I got the bird so that it more than fills the frame, and it’s engaged in an activity, eating, plus, the background is completely out of focus.
Wait, that can’t be a perfect photo, I didn’t have time to change the focus points, so the subject is centered in the frame, and besides, it was shot in the middle of the day in full sun, and one is never supposed to photograph anything in during the middle of the day in full sun, even if there are no harsh shadows in the photo. You have to shoot in diffused light.
Maybe the light is too diffused in that photo, but it’s still better than the dappled sun in these photos.
But, at least the background is out of focus in all three of those. 😉
It looks as if I’m going to have to do a better job of training the birds that I photograph so that they pick better places to perch as I shoot them.
Now I’m being silly, but there are times that I have to be silly to make a point to myself, and the point is, who am I trying to please with my photos? Is it the photo critics who use one set of criteria to judge photos, or is it lovers of nature that prefer images that display what nature means to them as they see it?
I really see no reason that I can’t shoot both types of photos, as I’ve been able to put in this post. I’ll continue to shoot the same style of photos that I have been, and when the opportunities arise, shoot images with the birds isolated completely from a blurred background.
Whether the background is blurred or not, I really like getting a chickadee to fill the frame, so that when I switch Lightroom to display the image full screen on my 27 inch iMac, the image of the chickadee is the size of a crow, and you can count every fiber of every feather.
I did have a chickadee get even closer to me, so close that if I had pressed the shutter release, you probably wouldn’t have been able to tell what the object inside the lens hood was. That’s right, I had a chickadee land inside the hood of the 300 mm lens, as I was holding it. I wouldn’t be surprised if the time came when I was able to shoot at least a few birds close-up while using the 100 mm macro lens. That’s the real secret to great photos, getting close, no matter what length of lens you have, the closer the better.
To get that close, all that I did was to sit in one spot for a while under the shelter at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve so that I was in the shade, and move as little as possible. It wasn’t long before the birds featured here, and several other species, were coming and going as if I wasn’t there. The 2X tele-converter does allow me to shoot great portraits, when the birds pause long enough for the camera and lens to focus. I missed quite a few opportunities because of the slow auto-focus, but by sitting still and partially hidden, I had more than ample opportunities that day. But, as I am so prone to do, I’m going off on a tangent here, time to get back to the point that I was making about the standards used to judge photographs these days.
Photography is supposed to be an art form where the photography is free to express themselves through their photos, but the way that I see it, if you’re going to gain any critical acclaim, you have to shoot photos that fit the current fad of the time, and right now, that means an isolated subject with a creamy smooth bokeh in the background. The critics will reject any other style of photo, the only room for artistic expression at the current time is what a photographer does to the images in post-processing. For the most part, that means how far the photographer is willing to push the bounds of believability as they post-process their images.
I’ll have more thoughts on getting closer to wildlife, and post-processing in future posts, for right now, I’m going to go on with the train of thought that I had about shooting both styles of photos, my own style, and occasionally shooting photos in the style that may please some of the critics, if they were to ever see any of my photos.
I hadn’t reached this point in my thinking when I made a decision to begin shooting more landscape photos, even if there were buildings and other man-made objects in the scene. I made that decision because I need the practice shooting landscapes. If I wait for the perfect scene, then I wouldn’t have the skill required to capture it when I had the chance, so I’ve begun shooting scenes like this.
Or this one, and this one has the added feature of letting the readers of my blog become more familiar with the one of the places I go to photograph birds.
I don’t want to get into every detail of how wastewater is treated there at the Muskegon County wastewater facility, but the grassy cells are flooded in a rotating manner, at which point they become small man-made marshes which filter contaminants out of the water. When the grassy cells aren’t flooded, they are like a wild grassland, complete with wildflowers.
And, the flowers attract insects.
I threw that last photo in here as it was going to lead to a discussion on lenses, but I’ll also save that for other posts. For right now, I’m going to just post a few more photos.
That’s an image that I wish that I could display in a larger format. I just love the color blue that the sky takes on at dawn when there are few clouds to catch the color of the rising sun, throw in a few twinkling stars in the sky, and the sun’s first rays starting to bring out the green of the vegetation, and that’s one of my favorite sunrise photos so far, even though there’s not much red, orange, or pink in the sky or clouds.
Also, by shooting with my wide-angle lenses more often, I’m learning that just a few millimeters of focal length changes the scene dramatically.
I’ve also been playing with silhouettes of flying birds against the colors of the sunrise.
Heck, I’ve been trying all different types of photos at dawn.
I wasn’t sure whether I should shoot this next series as silhouettes, or go for the best exposure of the duck(s) as I could get.
It wasn’t until the duck got airborne that it finally quacked for me.
I waffled a bit on these, as I was shooting them, I thought that I was shooting the best photos of my life in some respects.
But after looking at them for a while, I began to think that they were over the top, too much of a good thing.
Now, I’m back to thinking that these are great again.
Although, I still think that this next one is too much of a good thing.
No matter which direction you shoot at dawn, there’s great light to be found, so I tried this wildlife and landscape combination.
One thing is for sure, these are the most artistic collection of photos that I’ve ever put in one post before, maybe I should have spread them out more? I hope to continue working on more artistic photos, without giving up on the way that I have been photographing things, until I figure out how to strike the right balance.
That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!