To Master Photographer Bill H

Jul 14th, 2006, 07:27 PM
  #1  
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To Master Photographer Bill H

Your photos are so exceptional that my first, second and third reactions were almost to give up on my excitement about taking flora and fauna shots during our upcoming trip to Southern Africa in October. Now that I'm trying to achieve some equalibrium, I've recognized that I just might be able to study your pictures and learn something from them. Aside from your basic technique and "eye," one of the first observations is that you have tended to present your bird shots with a nearly monotone background. Will you share your thinking about that?
Mediatorr is offline  
Jul 14th, 2006, 08:58 PM
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Thanks Mediatorr, we really appreciate the compliment ... though I think if you saw the great images the two pros on the January trip brought back you'd demote us from "Master" to "Apprentice"

"you have tended to present your bird shots with a nearly monotone background. Will you share your thinking about that?"

If you mean 'why did we do it this way' it's because we think the bird stands out better from a clean, blurred background.

If you mean 'how did we do it', the answer is we have big telephoto lenses (500 mm with 1.4x or 2x converters, so up to 1,000 mm) and these have very shallow depth of field. So ideally we look for a bird perched eye-level or higher with no brush right behind him ... the further away the background is the more blurred or impressionistic (or 'monotone' as you put it) it becomes. If we're close to the bird and the background is say half as far behind the bird as we are from the bird then the background typically blurs nicely (that is, if we're shooting at 20 ft and the background is clear to say 10 ft it will be totally out of focus and give this effect).

So if you can call up the bird page from April, with the fourth image (Pied Kingfisher) there is not enough blurring because we're probably 30 ft away and the bank behind him is probably 7-10 ft from his perch. On the third page of April birds the White-headed Buffalo Weaver is about 5-7 ft in front of the brush and so it's out of focus but not completely blurred, almost like brush-strokes. In the image following the weaver (shot 50 ft and 30 seconds later) the Eurasian Roller has grass behind him probably 30 ft away so the background is totally out of focus. So it mainly depends on the distance to the background.

All of these were shot from a jeep with a very stable mount, we just ride around with the gear on the roof and watch for birds ... the driver has worked with us enough to know pretty much where to stop and then we might ask him to move a foot or two in either direction to line it up just the way we want it for the right background.

Bill


Bill_H is offline  
Jul 14th, 2006, 11:04 PM
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What isn't in the picture is just as important as what is.
regards - tom
cary999 is offline  
Jul 15th, 2006, 12:39 PM
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Bill, you'll have to show us those pro's photographs if you want us to sccept that you are not, indeed, a master! Your images are beautiful.

Mediatorr, shallow depth of field is an effect I love too though it's not always easy to achieve without the skill, knowledge (and to a certain degree, the equipment) that Bill has.
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Jul 15th, 2006, 02:10 PM
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"Bill, you'll have to show us those pro's photographs if you want us to sccept that you are not, indeed, a master!"

Here is one of the masters ...

http://www.birdsasart.com/toddkenya/index.htm (Kenya)

http://www.birdsasart.com/toddtanz06/ (Tanzania over several years ... we were in the jeep with him two days in January and I recognize some of those Ndutu lions!)

Now you know what a full time pro who was born in Tanzania and has taken 19 photo trips can do ... he's the master!

Bill
Bill_H is offline  
Jul 15th, 2006, 03:11 PM
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Bill:

WOW! Those are amazing...thanks!

Cyn
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Jul 15th, 2006, 04:32 PM
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Mediatorr -- I really appreciated your post. When I was a little girl I studied piano. I started winning a few local piano competitions in my age group. My Mom took me to hear a concert by a child prodigy who was only a few years older than I. A few minutes into the concert I started sobbing uncontrollably because suddenly I realized I could study piano for the rest of my life and I would never be that good, so there seemed to be no point. Fortunately I got over it...but I must admit that when I looked at your photos, Bill, I had another moment of, "Forget it, never mind, I give up. I'll never be as good as that guy!" I thought it was just me but then my husband had the same reaction, and now Mediatorr too! It is encouraging to know I'm not alone. Bill H. -- Thanks for sharing the master's photos. They are indeed astounding. I would be curious to know who the master thinks of as "the master."
lisa is offline  
Jul 15th, 2006, 05:23 PM
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Bill,

My wife and I are in awe of those photos. Thanks for the links. That's an Arthur Morris site, isn't it? If so, no surprise to see that quality there.

John
afrigalah is offline  
Jul 15th, 2006, 05:46 PM
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The Todd photos. On the last set, Tanzania, I found the photo data interesting. First, almost all with very very long focal length, 900mm or more. Almost all using aperature priority (Av) mode. Some with program mode, none with shutter. ISO varied widely, this he had to set (I think on D2X). So knowing he had selected the aperature (Av) he had to make a rough calculation for ISO thinking about what shutter speed he wanted. And then set the ISO. Bill H, is this his thought process?
I would guess EVERY photo was cropped. That shows his artistic abilities and the importance of Photoshop. I would also find it most interesting to see his original images and compare those with his final ones. That would be a great learning opportunity.
I have 6 weeks to learn how to do this before going on safari
regards - tom
cary999 is offline  
Jul 15th, 2006, 07:21 PM
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"That's an Arthur Morris site, isn't it?"

John, good eye ... Art was the other pro leading the trip. I didn't put links to his (excellent) shots up since they are interspersed with his pitches for various products and services and some resent that, but if you go to his site and check the Bulletins you'll see reports and photos each Jan/Feb for Tz and Sept/Oct for Kenya the past 3-5 years.

I learned how to photograph birds from Art, he's one of the world's leading bird photographers. Todd knows Africa better though.

Bill
Bill_H is offline  
Jul 15th, 2006, 07:51 PM
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Hey, I told you guys once you saw the pro's images I'd be demoted

"almost all with very very long focal length, 900mm or more."

Tom, he had a 600 mm lens (and a 200-400 f/4 VR lens) ... on the Nikon digital body the sensor is smaller than 35 mm film so there's a 1.5x multiplier to get the equivalent field-of-view ... so 600 mm with the Nikon D2x gives 900 mm equiv in 35 mm terms ... he also has tele-converters to go even longer (most of our shots were with a 500 mm, 1.4x converter and a Canon body with 1.3x sensor multiplier, but we went with the 2x a lot for small birds ... this is 1,000 mm optically, 1,300 mm in terms of 35 mm f-o-v).

"So knowing he had selected the aperature (Av) he had to make a rough calculation for ISO thinking about what shutter speed he wanted. And then set the ISO. Bill H, is this his thought process?"

With lenses this good ($5,000 - $8,000 each) you typically work in Av mode and set the aperture wide open (there is little quality drop off wide open, unlike with cheaper lenses). Then you hope you can use a low noise ISO, typically 200-320 for these cameras ... then if the shutter speed is fast enough you're in business. When the sun is out this is almost always fast enough. So you watch the shutter speed if you think the lions will fight (made sure I was 1/1,000th sec there) or if the light is gone and if it's too slow you bump the ISO higher, reluctantly. When the sun is up these ISOs are fine (we used to use only ISO 50 and 100 speed film so ISO 250 digital feels like free money).

We shot almost all of our shots below ISO 400 but a few at 800 and a very few at 1,600 (hornbills late at Manyara in the deep forest, for example). You can use a noise reduction program like Noise Ninja or Neat Image (what I use) to clean up the noise on the high ISO shots. So that's the line of thought ... wide aperture, sweet spot ISO if possible, watch the shutter speed and if it's too slow bite the bullet and up the ISO. If the shutter speed is safe sometimes it's smart to stop down the aperture one stop for more depth of field, and with the 2x converter I like to stop down one stop from wide open if possible, but typically the aperture is wide open for the animal shots.

>I would guess EVERY photo was cropped.

Actually a lot of them weren't cropped (all are reduced for the web). Especially with the 200-400 he can crop in-camera by zooming, and I think he has three sizes of teleconverters to switch the focal length on the 600. He sells a very nice T-mount that fits on top of the jeep so you can change converters etc as if the camera were on a tripod.

"I have 6 weeks to learn how to do this before going on safari"

My number one tip is to skip the breakfast at the lodge so you are out on a game drive every day at 6 AM

Bill


Bill_H is offline  
Jul 15th, 2006, 08:26 PM
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Thanks Bill,
I will try the same strategy, choose Av then try to keep shutter speed as high as possible. Free ISO, I know, I used to shoot Kodachrome and Ektachrome slides. And you also learned to frame the shot exactly.
But, but, skip a meal??? That's really pushing it
Thanks again.
regards - tom
cary999 is offline  
Jul 15th, 2006, 09:32 PM
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Yes Bill, I know Art's work, even taken advice from him. It would be wonderful to be half-way to his standard.

John
afrigalah is offline  
Jul 16th, 2006, 12:12 AM
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Bill, Thank you very much for taking the time to reply so thoroughly. While I understand the depth of field issue, the examples really demonstrate the points you made about the distinction between the distance to the subject as compared to the distance to the background. Todd Gustafson's wonderful pages were also very helpful in this respect because of the fact that the exposure data was posted. By the way, I'm certain that Todd would acknowledge that you are much more than apprentices. I was also wondering to what extent you like to use Photoshop to finish off your photos
Mediatorr is offline  
Jul 16th, 2006, 08:54 AM
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Bill, Those photos are amazing. The birds really are beautiful, and so many and I LOVE those Cheetah pics - it definately looks like he / she was about to end up inside the jeep!!
Thanks so much for posting.
Imelda
OnlyMeOirish is offline  
Jul 16th, 2006, 02:55 PM
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Bill,

How did your group travel on aircraft with its camera equipment...was it all check in luggage, carry on, or a mixture of both? If it was check-in, did you feel the need to disguise it, such as putting valuable-looking cases inside tough but scruffy bags?

I've always taken my cameras and lenses in the cabin, after being warned about the high risk of theft. Lugging anywhere between 10kg and 17kg of gear into crowded planes for eight flights in a single trip is not much of a picnic, but I couldn't bear to let the stuff out of my sight.

I did bury my big lens inside my check in luggage for one international flight. I mentioned how concerned I was about the lens to the woman on the check in counter and she told me to unpack it and take it on board with me.

John
afrigalah is offline  
Jul 16th, 2006, 05:41 PM
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"How did your group travel on aircraft with its camera equipment"

We were only on the large planes (to Amsterdam then KLM to Arusha) ... everyone seemed to have a laptop bag and a Lowe-Pro bag (we have PhotoTrekkers) that holds the 500 f/4, two bodies and a couple of smaller lenses. These are carry-on legal on KLM but over-weight ... they did not weigh them though.

One guy packed a Nikon D2x and 600 f/4 in a suitcase (maybe $13,000 worth of gear) and that bag didn't arrive in Arusha, nor the next three nights to Tarangire, nor the first night at Manyara ... finally arrived the 2nd night at Manyara and everyone thought the gear would be gone, but darned if it wasn't there and in good shape. So when we went back in April I chanced shipping a 300 f/4 L lens in checked bags and it was fine.

"did you feel the need to disguise it, such as putting valuable-looking cases inside tough but scruffy bags?"

With x-rays I don't think this works any more ... here's the story behind all the thefts of camera gear at Nairobi airport (I know 3 people who lost big lenses there, they had to ship them in checked bags because of the British Air policy of very limited weight hand-carry bags) ... I was told this ring of thieves in Nairobi was busted in a sting after a friend of a high official had his gear stolen ... dunno ... http://www.poelking.com/wbuch2/koffe...%20nairobi.htm

Bill


Bill_H is offline  
Jul 16th, 2006, 06:58 PM
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That's very interesting, Bill. Thanks.

We've had to be more careful about the weight of our camera bags in recent years. The airlines seem more likely now to weigh them, and on one occasion my wife's bag was overweight and she had to transfer some camera gear into a friend's bag...luckily, his was underweight. The small charter aircraft to and from camp can be a problem, too...understandably, you can be made to pay for an extra seat, and I'm quite happy to do so.

The reference to film at Nairobi was particularly interesting. Most people use digital nowadays, including my wife, but I still use film and do my best to avoid the x-ray machines even though the chance of slow film being damaged is pretty slim. I actually managed to get my film hand-checked at every airport both ways on my last safari (Adelaide, Perth, Joburg, Maun and return) but on other trips it has been hit and miss...it depends on the staff on duty and how busy they are. Most are quite sympathetic and helpful if they can be, and none has ever been really difficult on any of my trips. I was very grateful to the SAA check-in woman who told me it was OK to remove my heavy lens from the suitcase and take in on board.

John
afrigalah is offline  
Jul 17th, 2006, 01:58 AM
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Thanks for sharing those - though I maintain that you too are of a similar level. Remember that most of those pros share only a handful of shots from each trip - if you take your top 10 shots they compete well with those of these "masters".

Kavey is offline  
Jul 17th, 2006, 10:09 AM
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Inspiring at the very least. I feel privileged to be able to experience those photos. Thanks for sharing.
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