Get Ready, Get Set, Shoot! Tips for better field photos
Text & Photos by Nancy Anisfield
Seventy-five percent of us have been seduced by the convenience of digital cameras. One wild pheasant hunt snapping away with a palm-sized point-and-shoot, and we find ourselves with nothing to show but a few blurry photos of a dog’s head, lots of empty sky, and a trophy shot of a guy in a ball cap with a skanky grouse clutched in his hand.
Most hunters and anglers don’t want to waste time fussing with the camera – we just want to get some good shots then get back to business. The problem is that digital cameras have made taking lots of photos so easy that we forget we still have some work to do to get really good shots. Breaking the process into three steps – ready, set, shoot will improve the odds of getting photos worth framing or sharing on social media.
- Think about the picture you’re taking and what you want from it. Don’t always shoot middle ground. Try some close-ups to reveal details such as engraving on a gun, burdocks in your dog’s fur, the box of flies on the boat gunnel, a few spent shells by the birds on the tailgate. Walk away and set your subjects with the landscape around them. Maybe changing the height of your camera would tell your story better. Climb a rock wall and shoot down at your buddies loading the canoe. Sit on the ground and focus the camera upwards as the shooter mounts her gun.
- Compositions with odd numbers of subjects – three anglers, five guns, etc. – are apt to be more visually interesting groups of two or four. Similarly, varied sizes and positions are more exciting than simply lining people up. Also keep in mind that composing the picture in halves can be dull. If half of the picture is dark and half is light, it’s boring. Make it one third dark, two thirds light. One quarter trees, three quarters ground. Two thirds water, one third sky.
- Keep an eye on the light. Early light and late light create nice contrasting shadows and more vibrant colors. Overhead sun washes out color and depth. Conventional wisdom says to always put the sun at your back, so your subject will be well lit. That generally makes sense but shouldn’t scare you away from putting the sun on the side to avoid squinty eyes and in front of you to try backlighting which can create interesting silhouettes and highlights.
- First, set your camera to take large/fine JPEG files. Even though that means you can take fewer shots on a card, you’ll get much better resolution. Camera photo cards are available in 8 GB or higher, providing plenty of storage. For example, a 4 GB Compact Flash card can hold about 877 photos, each about a 3.5 MB file. That translates into an 8” x 12” photo with 300 pixels per inch – good print quality.
- Next, pick your auto mode. Making the assumption that you don’t have time when the shell is ejected, the bird flushes, or the fish jumps to select f-stops and apertures, trust your camera to do it for you.
- Select the continuous mode or sport setting to capture action. The number of frames and the speed at which they are taken varies depending on the camera. If your lens or camera has an image stabilizer, use it for the still shots but be wary of it in continuous mode because it may slow down the autofocusing.
- If there’s time, review your photo before pressing the shutter button. Cap brims shadowing faces? Grass and brush blocking your dog’s head? Skeet tower tilted or level? Look for strange shadows or tangents that might wreck the shot such as a tree limb growing out of someone’s ear. Check for distracting elements like goofy bumper stickers or power lines in the background.
- Finally, run an ethics check if there’s time. If not, do it later, but do it before you print, post or share the photo. Make sure the guns are always shown being handled safely. Trophy shots should show the birds clean of blood or debris, and with smoothed feathers. Fish should be held properly for safe return to the water. All game should be shown being handled with respect.
- If you have a choice between looking through a viewfinder or an LCD screen, use the viewfinder. You’ll get a better view of the picture and will be steadier with the camera held by your face as opposed to out in front of you.
- If you’re shooting in the continuous mode, try to start shooting just before the fish may jump, the dog charges forward, or shooter swings on a clay. Keep the shutter button down as you move the camera with the subject. Odds are you’ll get lots of blurry shots in the sequence as the autofocus works to keep up, but there will be some frames that grab the subject sharply.
- If your camera has an optical zoom, trust it. Optical zooms physically use the camera’s optics, the lens, to bring the image closer to you. Digital zooms, however, electronically crop the image and enlarge it, similar to what you can do with photo software on your computer. When it performs that enlargement, the resolution will deteriorate because the camera adds pixels to fill up spaces when the picture is blown up. Thus, if your camera has a digital zoom, keep in mind that as you zoom, your picture quality will degrade.