“Your diamonds are not in far distant mountains or in yonder seas; they are in your own backyard, if you but dig for them.”
In these uncertain times, life as usual seems to be on hold and daily routines are in a foggy disarray. However, one positive aspect is that families are taking time in this slower-paced environment to reconnect with each other in ways not possible during “normal” times. While we spend more time in our homes, yards and neighborhoods, this pause affords us the opportunity to observe and appreciate the seemingly insignificant things normally taken for granted, those “diamonds in our own backyard.”
By its nature, the act of photography requires the photographer to pause, if only for an instant, to create an image. What better tool than a camera to gather memories of those natural jewels around us? From close-ups of the tiniest insects to panoramic sunset shots, there are infinite possibilities for beautiful photographs if we only take time to pause, explore and appreciate.
For wildlife images, those possibilities include any number of insects, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals. Plant life ranges from tiny to large and includes lichens, mushrooms, flowers and trees. Extreme close-up images of plants showing their various textures and patterns can be artwork in themselves. Even water, from dewdrops on a flower petal to the rippling of a fountain or birdbath, is a jewel in its own right.
Most of us already have the photo equipment needed to create great backyard images. Today’s camera phones do a stellar job of getting medium close-up shots. However, for extreme close-ups or for bringing distant objects close (like birds), you may want to consider some other options. For tack-sharp, close-up images, it helps to have a separate macro lens for a DSLR, or a camera with a built-in lens having macro capability that will allow you to focus closer to the subject and fill the frame with tiny objects such as small insects or delicate plant features. Another option is to purchase less expensive close-up magnifying filters that screw on to your existing lens. Wildlife such as birds or mammals are usually photographed with longer telephoto or zoom lenses, which allow you to fill the frame yet maintain a comfortable working distance from the subject. While a separate zoom/telephoto lens for a DSLR camera can be pricey, many of the newer digital cameras with built-in zoom lenses actually perform quite well.
KEEP IT STEADY
Camera stability is extremely important for sharp images from both macro and zoom/telephoto lenses since any camera movement is greatly accentuated. Trying to hand-hold the camera for a macro photo usually results in a disappointing photo because of image blur or focus not being quite accurate. The best practice is to brace the camera on a firm surface or to use a tripod.
HAVE A LIGHT TOUCH
With any subject, lighting plays a key role. As a rule, harsh midday sunlight tends to produce harsh, unappealing images. A softer, diffused light is generally preferred. This can be accomplished by adding some type of diffusion material between the subject and the sun — anything from a small white handkerchief for small subjects to a white shower curtain or sheet for larger subjects. There are many photography-specific diffusers available at camera stores. Whenever possible, shoot during the “magic light” times of day, either early morning or early evening, when the sun is lower in the sky and shadows and colors are more pleasing. Natural light is your friend; resist using your camera’s built-in flash, which can result in its own harsh and unappealing look.
MAKE IT WILD
When photographing wildlife of any type, try to capture some type of unique behavior or angle. Also, try to eliminate distracting backgrounds such as power lines, feeders or fences, opting instead for a more natural background. While a typical portrait of an animal sitting or standing in one position can be nice, capturing it in motion or with another animal can make it more interesting. Remember, however, that in order to stop the motion, your camera needs to be shooting at a fast shutter speed, generally no slower than 1/500th of a second for most animals. If you’re not familiar with your camera’s shutter speed settings and their relation to subject movement, this would be a good time to brush up on them with your camera manual.