Joe and Mary Ann McDonald's

Wildlife Photography

September 2005

Question of the Month

What is the Difference?

Bear with me a moment while I make this point …

On our trip to Denali for our most recent photo tour I spoke at length with a professional wildlife photographer/cinematographer. A round of fires had plagued Denali through the summer, and he was talking about how that soft, smoke-diffused light had actually helped him put together a film he was making.

He spoke about how the uniform diffused light had worked for 'walk throughs,' where shots made at different times, on different days, could be inserted into appropriate places to add interest and continuity to a film. Most cinemtographers work alone, and everything they film is generally shot with one camera at one time. For example, if a cinematographer was filming a chase scene involving wolves, all of the footage is made with one camera from one angle. Most chase scenes take place at a distance, shot with extremely long lenses. However, to give a film interest, 'walk throughs' are needed, where close-ups are added, perhaps showing a wolf watching intently, or slowly stalking toward the camera, or close-ups of the prey animal feeding, unaware of the approaching predator. Walk throughs can be shot earlier, or later, days or weeks later, but the sequences help to tell the story.

This is accepted film making. One lone videographer or movie-maker can't be two or three or four places at once, filming multiple angles at the same time, so to add interest sequences are added later to flesh out the story. And, provided the light hasn't changed (like the constant, diffused light of this Denali summer), the viewer may believe he's seeing a true story as it plays out. The reality is, the wolf or wolves chasing the caribou may have been dead asleep moments before the chase, or completely invisible to the camera until the moment of the chase, yet the filmed story implies otherwise in its effort to tell the complete story.

Recently, for example, I saw a BBC film where lions were shown chasing prey, supposedly at night. The earlier sequences were indeed filmed at night with an infrared light, but the actual chase, and the kill depicted, was filmed in daylight, but altered by a filter or by digital enhancement to appear as if it were filmed at night. The color of the various sequences matched, but the lighting and shadows did not, and whereas the true infrared sequences were made with a rather tight beam (there's only so much area an artificial light source can illuminate at night on the African plains), the chase/hunt/kill sequence took place over several hundred yards. If you didn't know light, or how impossible it would be to actually illuminate such a broad area, you'd never suspect that the film was a collage. Certainly, the sequence did tell a story and I'd suspect that a disclaimer may have been added at the end of the film, but I missed that.

Okay, so what is my point? In an earlier Question of the Month I suggested a code label be given to DIGITAL STILL IMAGES that were enhanced in some way, perhaps by compositing two exposures when the latitude for one image was just too great, or compositing for focus, or cleaning up a distracting background. I suggested using the letters DEC for Digitally Enhanced Composition. Nothing like this presently exists, but a digital image, if worked on in any fashion, and if this work admitted to, can produce a stigma of being untrue, 'Photoshoped,' or 'manipulated' with the value of that image then being diminished. Yet, in an analogous fashion, other illustration mediums like wildlife art and wildlife film-making, are held to a much different standard.

I don't have an answer to the question I've just posed - What is the Difference - but I post this to perhaps generate some discussion, some thought, and perhaps, with time some consensus that will allow a digital shooter to do a DEC and to not have his or her work devalued because of this. Time will tell.


Previous Questions of the Month




 Camera Techniques

 In the Field

 What is our Digital Workflow in the Lab?

Who should go Digital,
and when?

What is our initial Digital Workflow?

Is Shooting in the RAW format worthwhile?

 Can you match the Histograms?
 How do I keep track of Digital Files?

  Is Digital Manipulation - a benign alternative to interacting in the natural world?

What is DEC? 

How can you capture a sharp image and angel hair on a windy day?  

 Is the Mark II the ultimate wildlife digital camera?

  Does the Visibledust cleaning system really work?

What do we really think about digital photography?

 What do we think of the Canon D30 digital camera?

How long will film be around? 

  The Sunny 16 rule -- is it worth knowing today?

  How do you shoot silhouettes?

 How would you meter these challenging images?

Why should you know Manual Mode? 

How would you meter these images?

 What is the best season to do a photo safari in East Africa?

Which Mountain Park is better for wildlife - Denali or Torres del Paine?

What is the best Car Window Mount? 

  How do you make things happen in wildlife photography?

 What are our Five Favorite Shooting Locales?

 What is the Big Lie?
Tfhe truth about Kenya's Tourism--it is SAFE!

 Which binoculars do we just love to use?

 What is the best
Game Caller?

 What is our Favorite bird-shooting location?

 How Easy is Whale Photography?

  How do we carry our film when traveling?

What Film Lab do we use, and why? 

 How can you attract insectivorous birds to your feeding stations and bait sites? 

How can you reduce contrast and the effect of wind for flower and macro photography?

 Is an L-Shaped Camera Bracket worth the Money?
You bet it is!

 Using Zoom lenses with tele-converters and extension tubes -- can you use both together?

 What the heck is the Scheimpflug Law?

  Reciprocity Failure

 What is the Best Composition?

 Are Image Stabilization Lenses Worth the Money?

 Hyperfocal Distance

  How do you determine distances?

 Should you have a depth of field Preview button on your camera?

 Flash and Tele-flash Techniques

 What is the most versatile remote release camera firing system?

 What the heck is a Plamp?

 What is the best flash for closeup and
macro photography?

 How do you shoot high-speed action images?
 How did I photograph that flying wasp?

 What is the Fotronix's
Flash System?

What is the Most Important thing you can do before a Workshop?

How did I shoot the gliding Sugar Glider?
 Is NANPA for you?  What is NANPA and how will it benefit me?

 Is it time for a summer NANPA Summit?

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