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Question of the Month
August 2014


How difficult is Remote Photography?

Well, it is not, provided you know what you are doing. While the same may be said for brain surgery or rocket science (subjects I certainly haven't mastered!!!), the techniques and skills necessary for remote shooting are far less demanding. Recently, we completed our Advanced Digital Complete Nature Photography Course, the Flash course, where I hope all of the necessary skills were covered, taught, and hopefully learned. However, in watching my students actually implement what they learned, two things came to mind. One, I was inspired to try to successfully do what my students were attempting. And Two, I noticed that the students were painting themselves into corners somewhat by not having a 'vision' of exactly what they were hoping to achieve, and setting up their remotes and flashes to capture that vision.

After the course ended I took a few evenings to set up some of the projects the students worked on. The results are shown, with captions here or in The Story Behind the Photograph posting. The important thing to all this is getting familiar with the equipment and using it competently. Let's discuss the items involved:

phoebeA Manfrotto Magic Arm or Articulating Arm and SuperClamp isn't a complex piece of gear, but using it correctly does take a bit of patience and vision to position it right. Once you are familiar with the Arm, positioning it takes SECONDS, although you might spend a minute or more fine-tuning exactly where you want to position the arm, or arms, to hold a branch or flash. Taking the time to practice with a new piece of gear, like the Magic Arm, is important, and will save you a lot of time and frustration later when you're trying to use it.

tBack in 'the day,' the Canon 1N RS film camera had an incredibly fast reaction time, or lag time, so that a flying bird or similar fast-moving subject fired the camera, via a beam, almost immediately. Today's digital cameras have a terrible lag time, although this can be addressed with the Cognisys High Speed Shutter, which makes lag time almost a non-issue. If you are not using a high speed shutter, as I was to replicate my students' equipment, lag time has to be considered, and placement of the beam is important. Basically, the beam must be positioned further out, perhaps even out of the frame, of where you hope your subject to be placed. Some experimentation is often required. I used a Range IR for my shots, although a PhotoTrap would have worked as well. Sometimes, because of distant objects that might periodically trip either beam, a camera might fire unexpectedly, and a photographer might think they're capturing an image due to beam placement when, in reality, it was just a random click because of a misfire. This happened during the class.

pVision is important, and by this I mean how you want your light to look and, accordingly, where you place your flashes. Some students were keen on photographing mammals as they crossed a log, but because of time constraints (and possible overnight rain) they were unable to capture the shot they desired. I had clear weather ahead, and executed what they hoped to shoot. I did so by using six flashes, two on the distant stream bank, two to create a moonlight backlight effect, and two 'fill' flashes to cover the subject. I knew what I wanted, which is easy with experience, but also follows some basic rules.

rThey are: backlighting will give depth, so having either a more powerful flash, or a closer flash (or teleflash) will produce the backlight or hairlight effect. Background flashes for mammals may not require the same power ratio, since ghosting isn't an issue. I applied that principle to my background flashes. My fill lights filled in detail on the mammals, but didn't overwhelm the backlight, so these flashes were dialed down to a lower power ratio.

If all of this is Greek to you, some experimentation with your gear, or better yet, taking our Flash course in 2015 will reveal these 'secrets,' which are really easy to master.

Questions of the Month

Back Surgery - what does that have to do with photography?
How can so many people be so wrong about pumas?

What gear do you need for Antarctica?

What gear is essential for being in the field?

How Easy is NIK's HDR Program to use?

What is the most endangered big cat to photograph?

Why did we drop our NANPA membership?

What is the best $69 you can spend in photography?

More Questions about Pumas in Pennsylvania

Are the Latest Fast CF Cards worth the Expense?

How does the 7D hold up in a recent shoot?

Which is the better camera, the Mark IV or the 7D?

Are there Mountain Lions (Pumas, Cougars) in Pennsylvania and the Mid-Atlantic States?

Why is bat photography so difficult?

What do I think of the Canon 1D Mark IV?

Why do I advocate manual exposure so avidly?
Where can I find Depth of Field reference charts?

What is the Keboko backpack? Is it the New Best Pack?
Is there a correct position for the upright on a Wimberley actionhead?

How, Who, and Why? The story behind our new web site.

Archived Questions of the Month
Most of my original Questions of the Month for the last several
years are available through this link. The 'look' is from my
original web site, although if I ever have enough time I might
redo these pages to match the new web site But that's not
a high priority.