Monday, February 7, 2011

How I Got The Shot #8 - Bonobo Portrait - Shooting Through Glass

Not everyone can afford to go on safari or take exotic vacations.  That should not stop you though from getting great images.  You must use all of your creativity and skills.  We are here to help.  In this Bonobo portrait we had quite a few obstacles that we needed to overcome.  Today we learn about throwing your background out of focus(bokeh) and how to shoot through glass(common for shooting at zoos/museums).

Check out the details after the break...

Creative Process:
The animals at the zoo are a great way to learn to hone your skills in getting great animal shots.  You've got a captive subject, so their locations can be pretty predictable.  I did not plan for this shot in advance, a lot o photography is luck and being in the right place at the right time.

The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium in Columbus, Ohio

Nikon D50
Nikon 55-200mm f/4-5.6

EXIF Info:
Shot in Aperture Priority at 1/30th - f/6.3 - ISO 800 @ 200mm - VR active
Shot in JPG Large/Fine

Lighting Setup:
The light for this shot was sunlight that was coming through the clouds and trees from above and behind me.  No extra flash was used.

On that note - sometimes you will want/need to use flash to get a shot.  Some things to consider - know your animals.  Just because an animal is in a zoo does not mean that it likes the paparazzi treatment and can handle flash blasts in its face.  Do some research or talk to zoo staff to see if the animals are sensitive to flash.  If ever in doubt alway error on the side of caution and do not use flash.  Todays high ISO cameras can be pushed quite a bit and post processing software can provide you with the sensitivity you need to still get the shots.

If you can use flash, do not shoot directly into the glass. This will cause there to be a reflection of light directly back into the lens causing flare and/or a brilliant flash of light on the glass, obscuring the shot.
What you will want to do is shoot at an angle to the glass.  This way, any reflected light will be going out at an angle away from the camera.

For this shot, we used just the ambient light.  We still have an issue with the ambient light because, as I stated previously, it was above and behind us.  We did have some trees there, so instead of there being on big glare, there was a mottled spotting of light.  I needed to move around and find different angles that minimized or eliminated the glare.

Focusing - This is a whole different set of challenges.  You have a lot to think about here.  You want your focus to be on the animal and not the glass.  Auto focus only does what it is programmed to do, and that is to look for contrast and make that as sharp as possible.  Sometimes it picks up on dirt or glare from the glass.  Do not always rely on your auto focus.  If it starts hunting a lot or locks in on the glass, you may need to switch to manual focus.
These animal portraits are really no different than people portraits.  It is important to get the animals eyes in focus.

Exposure - This I will cover in two parts. The first is getting it right in the camera(which I did not for this shot - I got two frames off before the Bonobo moved).  I got the images framed, the focus locked, took two shots.  I looked at the shots in the LCD and noticed that between the glare from the glass and some hot spots in the scene behind the Bonobo that my trusted D50 metered the scene a little hot(overexposed it).  When I got back home, I looked and noticed it had over exposed the scene by almost a stop and a half!  What I would have done had I had the time was either set the camera in manual mode and set the exposure(the shutter speed component in this case) to expose for a stop and a half(somewhere between 1/60 and 1/125 instead of the 1/30 the camera picked).  The other way to do it would have been to use the cameras exposure compensation function and set it for -1.5.

Post Processing:
Because I did not have a chance to get the shot properly exposed in camera, I needed to pull the shot back from the haze it was suffering from in post processing.

I used Lightroom 3's Develop module and first thing is we needed to get the exposure to a manageable level.  We brought the exposure down by a -1.3.  This brought the overall exposure down, but the image still seemed a little washed out.  We needed to add some contrast, so we bumped the contrast up to a +18.  It still needed a little more, so we adjusted the clarity slider to +52.  You now have the image you see above.

I hope  this helps you.  Knowing that not all images are lost(but do remember that it is best to get the highest quality from the camera if possible - garbage in, garbage out), that great images can be made in just about any setting with a little know-how and perseverance.  So get out there, support your local zoo, have a great time with the family and get some great images!

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