with Lorelle and Brent VanFossen

Basic Nature Photography Chapter 8 – Nature Photography Tips and Advice

We’ve put together a collection of articles to help you with your photography, whether it be taking it to the next level to start selling your work, or simply expanding your creativity. For more articles and information on nature photography, visit our web site at www.cameraontheroad.com. It hosts more than 500 articles on nature photography, travel, life, and more.

Digital Camera Tips

Digital photography techniques are no different than traditional photography techniques. Just because your camera is a technological whizbang, it is still a camera. Learn the basic fundamentals and then you can play with the gadgetry and technology.

Photography is about capturing the light, and when the picture is important, bracket your exposure to make sure you get the shot, especially when you are not sure of the end result. With no chance to repeat your photograph, why take a chance? Photographers do this with traditional film, and so should you.

The quality of a digital image is based on the resolution and size of the stored image. When space is limited, there are ways to save space. Most digital cameras record image files in JPEG format using a variation called Exif, which includes extra information such as picture-taking conditions, camera settings, color encoding information, sounds recorded when the picture was taken, and even Global Positioning System (GPS) information. Exactly what is saved with the image depends on the model of camera. These extra bits of information, while helpful to the photographer, do not improve the quality of the image but they do add to the file size. Check your manual to determine which bits of the information you can leave out when saving an image.

After you have made your digital photographs, you have to transfer the images from the camera’s storage unit and into a computer. Create a master directory for your images, categorized in folders by subject matter. Then create another folder in which to save your manipulated and resized images. DO NOT EDIT YOUR ORIGINAL IMAGES. Always work on copies. Backup the originals for safekeeping in their original format.


Hand holding
Experiment on the same subject with the same composition and exposure photographing it by hand holding out away from your body and then against your face, and finally on a tripod. Compare the results by zooming in to check sharpness.
In general, many digital cameras tend to overexpose by a small degree. To check the meter of your camera, find several subjects ranging from extremely dark to very light and photograph them at your meter reading then compensating for the light value. Compare your exposure results to reality. Then photograph a middle-toned subject by bracketing from what the meter suggests and then over- and underexposing. Which results match the reality best? This information will help you determine the accuracy of your meter.
Recomposing in the Camera
A digital camera makes recomposing much easier after you’ve taken the picture. Concentrate on composing before you snap the shutter. You get better picture quality when you crop with the lens than you get with the digital cropping.

Making $$ Doing What Comes Nature-ly?
The Business of Nature Photography

You’ve spent a lot of money on equipment, classes, trips, film and processing. This hobby should start paying you back, right? Thinking about turning your hobby of photography into a business?

bizmags.jpgA photography business is just like any other business – it’s a real business. You need to get a business license, pay taxes, set up an accounting system, monitor inventory, advertise, solicit, and spend a lot of time in the office (not outdoors).

Reports from professional photographers say from 70% to as much as 95% of their time is spent doing the book work and office work and not out taking pictures, the real reason they got into photography in the first place.

Turning professional, you are entering a highly competitive field. It is a complex and diverse marketplace. Your competition will run the gamut from the occasional seller and hobbyist to huge corporate publishing houses. You have your choice of specializing or not. You can sell your work to anyone who wants it, or specialize in selling only editorial or print work. You can diversify your clients to include the whole commercial advertising market or narrow them down to only the note card and stationery market. There are so many ways photography is used in business. Ever consider having one of your images on a coffee mug? On a watch face? What about on the tail of an airplane?

Income and asking prices vary depending upon the market. A sale to a magazine may not earn you as much as a sale to an ad agency, but 100 sales to a magazine over a year can earn you more. If you make your own note cards, you are responsible for all the costs. People have a hard time understanding why you charge them $5.50 for a note card similar to the one they can buy down the street for only $2.50. The only difference is that it’s your photo on the card. Making money comes from creative marketing, but it also comes from a lot of research and planning.

This is only a warning, not a discouragement. If you choose this business, be prepared to work long hours and to work hard. Taking pictures is the smallest part of it. Study and choose your market(s) carefully. The Photographer’s Market published by Writer’s Digest is the main source for marketplaces. They list everything from stationery houses to galleries. Follow their guidelines and you will get a jump on the uninitiated.

photo of business booksIf you want to become more professional about what you are doing and to prepare yourself for the day when you might want to sell your work, the following are some tips and guidelines to get and keep yourself going. Go for it!

Get off your duff!
In order to do anything you must do something. In order to get something done you must do it. Talk is cheap. Get moving. Now. It’s that simple.
Educate yourself!
In order to do the business you’ve got to know the business. Read books, attend educational programs and workshops, talk to the pros, visit stock agencies, and join organizations focused on photography, business and networking. Try everything you learn at least twice. Everyone has their own style in business as well as art. Find what works for you. Trial and error is the best teacher. Do try to learn from those who already made the big mistakes, then go out and make some new ones of your own.
Read Everything!
Everything, everything, everything. Read junk mail, books, newspapers, flyers, posters, magazines, everything. If it comes near you, read it and learn from it. The key word is “read” not just look – absorb. Study how photographs are used in different mediums. Newspapers handle photographic images differently than a slick magazine. One travel magazine may want sweeping scenics and another may want close up details and vignettes. Some only include photos with people in them. How are the photographs used? Do they tell a story, add to the work, or are they just artwork? Is the whole image used or only part? Do they write over the image? Study everything to learn how to photograph your work for use in a variety of ways.
Ready, aim…
What do you want to photograph? Where do you want to photograph? How do you want to photograph? Who will buy your work? Where are they? How much are they willing to pay? Learn what your market place is and who the competition is. Study how they work. What will your market hold? Are you one in ten thousand or one in ten? When looking for your niche, don’t be afraid to be as specific or as versatile as you want. Some photographers will work in every market from high school portraits to wild birds, and others only photograph food and nothing else. Find your place, research its needs and go after it like an arrow to the target, be it travel, scenics, fine art, wildlife, education, cauliflower, or whatever.
Hire yourself.
When you are not working on a project, it’s easy to get lazy, to go with the muse. Set up a schedule and hire yourself to do self-assignments. This keeps the “juices flowing”. These self-assignments can be great additions to your portfolio and the self imposed risks may stretch your abilities. Don’t let yourself get lazy. Go through your work and find what is missing. Where are there holes? Practice becoming an art director, producer and assistant all in one, and then become a photo buyer, editor and critic.
Think Digital.
While digital technology for the nature photographer is still not quite up to snuff, it is here to stay and needs to be considered. While developing your business, carefully watch the marketplace. Talk to other experts in your field to see what they are using. Scanning with a top quality scanner from an original slide is still the best way to go, so keep using traditional slide film. But watch the market and what the buyers are buying. Move slowly into the technology so you aren’t locked into something that will become obsolete or lack the professional quality standard you require.
Get Help!
Brent VanFossen edits slides at the light tableHelp comes from two sources: mentoring and hiring. Study from the best and then get someone to help you get your business together and keep it running. Your job is to take pictures, but when turning your hobby into a business, your job description now includes cataloging, numbering, editing, marketing and sales, promotions, advertising, faxes, computers, answering machines, long distance telephone calls, meetings, presentations…..do you really want to do all that? Get some help. Get your family to pitch in. Get assistants to help with your work. Get a good tax accountant. Get a good copyright/arts-oriented attorney. Get a good business consultant. Hire a secretary/assistant to do the paperwork and make the phone calls. The money is in the images and if your time is spent on paperwork and not images, you have fewer images to market. Getting help could be well worth it in the long run.
Work with, not against.
This is similar to getting help. When you do get a publisher, editor, agent or agency to work with – work WITH them. Find out their needs and work your hardest to help them sell your work. Really communicate with them. Be open to their needs and problems and they will return the favor. Be reliable and dependable. When they ask, deliver. Be firm but flexible. Be honest and up-front about what is going on and they will too. You have to work together. You are both dependent on the other for your livelihood.
Outdoor and Nature Photography MagazineIf you are the only one with pictures of two-headed llamas, the industry will come to you for two headed llamas. But ask yourself “How many articles and stories and images of two-headed llamas can be sold?” Answer: not many. It is the law of supply and demand, but specialization can hurt you too. One photographer specializes in night photography, specifically stars and constellations in the night sky. The process of photographing these images is complex so there are few images available. The market for star images is vast: patterns, backgrounds, posters, text books, advertising, movie back drops, teaching, the list goes on. As one of the select few to create these images, and considering the time, money and energy that goes into producing them, this photographer can charge a lot of money. One image brought him $500 to $5,000 for single use depending upon the use. In his specialty, he can live off of fewer sales a year. Other photographers must sell hundreds of images a year to get by. It can pay to specialize. Remember, being the best at one thing can put you ahead of the game with a lot of photographers who are good at one hundred things.
Get Vertical.
One of the loudest cries from the marketplace is for more verticals. Magazine covers and pages are vertical, books are vertical, much of the printed work today demands vertical images. Want to sell more work to stock agencies and the printing market? Get vertical.
No FX.
The term FX is movie industry slang for special effects. Special effects are great and have a place. They can also kill an image quicker than anything. Art directors and photo buyers can spot a filtered image immediately. Rainbow filters, green, red, yellow, cross-star filters, are all noticeable to the pros in the industry. Sometimes special effect filters can work, but anything done too much is too much. Be careful.

Warm Stuff Sells.
Image of a frog inside of a slide mountWarm colors outsell everything else in advertising and color editorial. Warm reds, oranges, pinks, sunset or morning light, all sell remarkably well. The best images are those which use the light naturally, but warming filters come in handy when nature is not cooperating. The filter most used to warm an image is the 81B. Recently, colder looking images featuring cool pastel tones have become very popular, especially for the market displaying home and food products. Note color tones and quality as you research and know what color tones your market demands.
Slide on in to first base!
Slide Film. Use it. It is as simple as that. People are always asking what kind of film is the best. There is only one answer for most freelance editorial, commercial, and stock photographers: slide film. While digital cameras are slowly making their way into the commercial market, most photo editors and art directors want control over the end product and this means controlling the scanning process as well. Transparencies (slides) give them the best quality material to work from. While the market still requires slides, we will deliver them. If no one is buying apples, the apple grower needs to change to oranges. So will the photography industry shift with the trends.

Slides filling a garbage canThe cost of reproducing your slide images can be expensive. Known as duping, duplicates, reproductions, or simply a “dupe”, many pros have learned to make their duplicates when they take the picture. When working with a still subject, fire off three to ten “copies” in a row – all perfect exposure of course. The estimated cost difference is from $0.25 each in-camera duplication to a starting fee of $1 and going up for a commercial dupe. For protecting precious originals and having more images to market, duping is the safest way to go.
Bigger Sells.
In an industry inundated with 35mm format, larger format (120, 4×5, 8×10…) images are specialty items. They stand out from among the rest. The clients can “see” the image better. If your competition is using 4×5, and you shoot 8×10, your odds of a sale may improve drastically. Bigger sells more, if all other elements are equal. Times are a’changing and with today’s computer technology, scanning a 35mm slide is faster than scanning a medium or large format transparency. Scanning equipment is set up for 35mm and is more readily available and less costly. Chose a format that will work within the publishing industry’s needs – or just stand out from the crowd in your own style.
Go somewhere.
See everything and everywhere. Open your mind up to the possibilities the world can present. Get out and get off your duff! If you are not out there, you are not photographing it.
People, People Who Need People Are Indeed the Luckiest People.
People climbing on a glacierPhotographers who include people in their images often have better sales than those who don’t. Images with people in them draw the viewer into the image. It can also open the door for many different markets such as advertising, textbooks, magazines, newspapers and more. Images of people doing things, recreation things, working things; all are needed throughout the industry.
Release Yourself.
Keep yourself safe from lawsuit and keep your images salable – get model releases and property releases for everything, every time, everyone and in every way. As much fuss as this may seem, it will save you time and trouble in the future, present a professional image, and allow your images to be sold to everyone and anyone, everywhere. In one famous case, the photographer was asked to provide model releases for a photograph of a crowd in the stands of a football game, one release for everyone in the audience. He replied no and lost the sale. Even in foreign countries. The United States “Lawsuit Industry” is setting standards throughout the rest of the world on privacy and rights issues.
Protect your work.
Copyright your work. Protect your rights, protect your work. When you sign over images to a stock agency or client, know what your rights are now and in the future. Keep an eye out for illegal usage of your work and take action when you find it. Contact an attorney familiar with copyrights or the U.S. Copyright Office in Washington D.C. Protect your rights and protect your work.
Present only beauty.
When your images are your career, they are your reputation. Present them in a sloppy way and your work is perceived as such. Image and presentation are everything. Have all your slides neatly and correctly captioned, labeled, properly mounted, and clean. All paperwork must look professional and neat. Get professional assistance in logo designs, letterhead and business cards. Look professional, be professional, and be treated as professional. There are no exceptions to this.
Be You.
Don’t try to be Art Wolfe, Pat O’Hara, David Muench, Diane Arbus, John Shaw or Robert Mapplethorpe. Follow their guidelines, learn from them, study their work, but avoid imitation. All it does is flatter them. Create your own style by being you and trusting your natural instincts and abilities. You will only be true to yourself when all is said and done. Don’t be true to the you who is trying to be someone else. Your work will reflect it. No one wants to buy a David Muench done by someone else. Be yourself.

We offer a variety of articles and workshops on the business of nature photography. Check them out on our web site at www.cameraontheroad.com/learn.html#biz.

You Are a Guest in Their Home: Wildlife Ethics

Parachuting Cats into Borneo

In the early 1950’s, the Dayak people in Borneo suffered tragically from malaria and the World Health Organization (WHO) helped them by spraying DDT to kill the mosquitoes which carried the malaria. The mosquitoes died, malaria declined, but there were side effects. Among the first was the fact that the roofs of the houses began to fall down. DDT not only killed the mosquitoes, it killed a parasitic wasp that controlled thatch-eating caterpillars. The DDT poisoned insects were consumed by geckoes, which were eaten by cats. The cats died and the rats flourished and the population was threatened by outbreaks of sylvatica plaque and typhus. To handle this mess, the World Health Organization felt “obliged to parachute live cats into Borneo”. [Research by the Rocky Mountain Institute (Lovins & Lovins, 1990)]

This illustrates how fragile the food chain and the ecology of the world is. We need to protect it for ourselves and from ourselves. From a photographer’s point of view, the more successful we are at preserving the natural world, the more opportunities we will have to photograph it.

We believe that each person must listen to their own moral and social value system to determine the extent they must go to protect nature. To help you establish your own policy, we offer ours.

You are guests in their home
Looking over the shoulder of photographers at elephant seals in CaliforniaNo matter how friendly the wild animals seem, no matter how closely they resemble Disney characters, they are not. You have left the security of your known “human” world of paved streets and boxed-in homes to visit their homes. Remember they are wild. You are not meeting Bambi, Thumper, Mickey Mouse, or Winnie the Poo.
Smell the flowers but don’t smell them to death.
Enjoy the meadows but don’t trample them. How long is too long for a guest to “visit”? Fish and house guests both smell after three days. Know when you’ve overstayed your welcome. Take your trash with you when you go and leave the world a better place than you found it.
Do no harm.
We feel victimized and angry when we have been burglarized or vandalized and fight back through the political, legal and protective (police) services. Animals have no such recourse.
Everyone is watching.
Ethics dictate what you do when you think no one is looking. The attitude that “no one is looking so I can do what I want” is not a license to harass or endanger the animals. Behave as if the world is watching.
Do not disturb.
Migrating birds travel thousands of miles to their Arctic nesting grounds and gather in special places along the way to feed. All of their energy is dedicated to this process. Disturbances harass and weaken the birds by interrupting their precious time feeding and resting. Reports abound of photographers throwing things and chasing the birds just to make them fly for a patterns-in-flight shot. They will do that of their own accord. Just be patient.

Animal harassment is illegal

photo of a wild gray jay birdIn most national parks it is a violation of federal law to feed and harass the animals. Check with the state, city and private parks for specific laws and rules. Startling a fawn from its protective hiding place or flushing baby grouse from beneath the scrubs and undergrowth may expose them to a predator. The human scent is easily recognized, and many animals have learned to associate it with food. Don’t touch anything around bird nests and animal dens because your scent may attract a predator. If you do touch anything, put it back as you found it. Cutting or breaking branches around a bird’s nest, for example, can leave the chicks exposed to the elements and predators. Chasing and harassing an animal causes it to use energy which may be needed for feeding, protection, fighting and mating. Keep them wild for your safety and our future.

Return it where you found it
Small animals, especially salamanders, frogs, newts, and other amphibians and insects live in a very small and precarious world. Removal to somewhere else may put them in the path of a predator or separate them from their feeding source and family.

Tide pool creatures are dependent upon a very small ecosystem. Removing them from theirlife blood – the water – risks their life through dehydration. Keep them wet and put them back in the same tide pool where they were found. This is where they have chosen to live and feed, protected from predators.

Don’t feed the wildlife
Warning sign to keep wild squirels wild
Teach an animal that an outreached hand means food and they will return time and time again, ignoring their natural food sources. Human food contains salts and chemicals unnatural to their diet and can poison, harm or kill them. That the outstretched hand or feeding the animals brings them close so you can touch them is no excuse. If you haven’t seen a deer before, stand there and watch it. Don’t touch it or feed it just because it’s cute. It’s against the law. Reaching out to feed it or pet it can result in our getting bitten or attacked. The result is that the animal is either captured and killed or relocated and punished in some way. The human is rarely blamed for their actions.
Don’t feed the wildlife Part II
There are almost no bears left in the continental United States. Human invasion into their territory has pushed them out. The fear of confrontation resulted in their eviction from their traditional lands. Yet, bears are being reported entering these long dominated human lands again. Why?

Consciously or unconsciously, we are inviting the bear back. Being careless with our trash, loose lids on our garbage cans, and the increase in park attendance all shout, “Hey, you are invited to the party! Come join us!” We issue the invitation, then resent them when they show up. Studies show a bear can smell food over long distances even inside a tightly closed cooler. Keep your food locked in your car, pack up your garbage, and if you live near wildlife areas, take steps to keep your trash from becoming breakfast for wildlife. Remember, animals invading your garbage learn to associate you with food. Don’t rely upon the animal to have the brains to stay away. Don’t invite them to visit you.

No picture is worth the safety of the subject
Game farms and “rent-an-animal” programs are great opportunities for photographers to get close to the animals. Frequent facilities with high standards of care and humane treatment of the animals. Demand humane treatment and report all abuse cases, even if you are in doubt.

Our intrusion into an animal’s space can result in harassment and damage in many ways. We may disrupt their mating or nesting process. We may interfere with their feeding. Just as you would protect your child from harm, we need to be parents to the wildlife. No photograph is worth the safety of the animals.

Getting close
Bears approach people in a vanTo get close to wildlife without disturbing them, visit places where the animals are used to humans. The animals are used to people so they won’t shy away, allowing you to get closer without harassing them. Please follow all park rules and regulations concerning approaches to wildlife for your protection and theirs.
Don’t give photographers a bad name
All images of captive animals should be labeled as such, whether or not the editor also decides to do so. Photographs of tame or captive animals are fine only if they don’t convey false information.
Be wildlife aware
We watched with amazement as Olympic Marmots crawled up inside car engines seeking tasty rubber water hoses and the sugary taste of antifreeze at a trail head deep within the Olympic National Park. While help for those who return from hiking to find their cars’ radiators and transmissions bone dry is only 25 miles away, it is also 6,000 feet in the mountains above sea level and help.

Closeup of the head of a wild bald eagleIf you do spend time in the mountains or areas where wildlife consider your vehicle good eating or investigating, consider investing in a removable cover to protect the underside of your vehicle. At a minimum, bring extra water hoses, antifreeze, and water, along with some tools, to repair any damage the wildlife may inflict.

It is said that famous nature photographers, Eliot Porter and Helen Longest-Slaughter, are extreme examples of protecting nature, of which we might take note. Porter is said to have never even moved a leaf, and Longest-Slaughter will only photograph “wild” animals in wild places, avoiding game farms and captive animal ranches. Well known author and photographer, Bryan Petersen, is a preacher’s son. He tells of learning at his father’s knee that God gave man dominion over the world and it is man’s job to fight the anarchy and evil works of the devil. So if a leaf is in the way – it might be the work of the devil, and moving it will only be putting things right. Set a standard for yourself and keep it, no matter what the extreme is.

A few careless photographers can give us all a bad name, and park service rangers and other caretakers may be unwilling to share information and access if a photographer has stressed the animals in the past. Be conscious of the effects of your actions so others will have the chance to return.

Witness It: Stop It
If you witness people harassing the wildlife, make it your responsibility to stop them. Don’t stand by and wait for someone else to respond. When you visit a national park or any protected nature area, you have an obligation to obey the rules and regulations. You also have a responsibility to stop others from disobeying those rules. It only takes one person to ruin the experience for everyone and to restrict future access to these locations.

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