Ten Tips for Better Photographs
Story and Photos by Irene Hinke-Sacilotto
Refining your Images
In the field, I continuously try to refine my images. Typically, if there is time, I take a series of photographs attempting to make each one better than the last. I examine the composition, carefully scan the edges of the frame, and look for potential flaws and distractions. I also consider alternative points of view so I can take full advantage of each situation. I look for lines, contrast, color, etc. that can lead to the subject and keep the viewer’s eye engaged and within the frame. I may spend hours with one subject or return day after day to capture a particular image I have in mind.
Avoiding Background Distractions
Sometimes I squint my eyes when looking at a scene to exclude less important details and see what stands out (including lines, forms, etc.) or could possibly present a problem. For example, I use this technique when photographing a subject as a silhouette to be sure its shape does not blend with other unlit portions of the scene and that the animal is recognizable by its outline alone.
For close-up photography, I sometimes shift my camera’s focus off the subject and focus on the background for an instant. This technique allows me to more easily see if strong forms, bright highlights, or other distractions that are in the background and may be a problem. Then I refocus on the subject with this information in mind.
The longer the focal length of the lens, the narrower angle of view. So, these telephoto lenses can help you exclude a something distracting in the background. Small shifts in the camera position can dramatically control what appears behind your subject. In some situations where the subject is in sunlight but the background is distracting, I position camera so that a shadowed area falls behind my subject. This approach creates a dramatic image, as is if the animal is lit by a spotlight.
Shooting from a position level with your subject is often desirable, producing less distortion of the image and suggesting a more intimate relationship between you and your wildlife subject. The lower angle can also help isolate the subject if the background is distant and well out of the depth of field.
Capturing the Unusual
I love capturing the unique aspects of an animal’s morphology and behavior. I look for unexpected behavior and try to capture the emotions evoked by the scene. Every situation is unique. The behavior, environment, and lighting is never the same. Don’t pass up on an opportunity expecting it to be there tomorrow. It won’t!
To judge the impact of a photograph, I sometimes imagine it hanging on the wall in a gallery. I close my eyes and examine the photo as if seeing it for the first time. Then I ask myself, have I conveyed the thoughts and feelings I experienced while taking the photo? Is the composition static – perhaps with the subject centered or with the horizon in the middle of the frame? Is the viewers eye drawn into the scene? Does it convey a story? Does it have the impact I desired or is it mundane, a scene I have seen many times before?
Learning Never Ends
I always am learning something new from magazine and web articles, YouTube, experiences in the field, or from other photographers.
I keep my workshops small so I can provide individual attention to each person, no matter their skill level. No one should ever be embarrassed to ask questions. I typically learn something each time I conduct a program. If you have an open mind and see disappointments as opportunities to improve and try new techniques, you will gain from your experiences. Everyone has his own unique vision. This becomes very obvious when we review images taken during the program. Even though the photographers are at the same location at the same time, the resulting mages are typically quite different. Even if a person does not yet have a firm grasp of the technical aspects of photography and camera operation, their images reflect a special way they look at the world. If committed, the technical skills with come with time.
Irene Hinke-Sacilotto is a frequent judge and speaker at camera clubs with programs on wildlife, bird, nature, and garden photography as well as on locations such as the Pantanal, Assateague Island, Chincoteague NWR, and Tangier Island. For many years, she has taught photography classes and has lectured at Johns Hopkins University and other educational institutions. Additionally, she has written “How To” articles on nature photography for national publications such as Shutterbug’s Outdoor and Nature Photography, Outdoor Photographer and Birding. Her images have appeared in magazines, calendars, and books published by National Wildlife Federation, Natural History Society, National Geographic, Audubon, and Sierra Club. Credits include the book, “Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, an Ecological Treasure.”
For more than 35 years, Irene has shared her photographic experiences and love of nature with thousands of individuals through more than 200 photo classes, workshops, lectures, and tours in both the U.S. and abroad including Kenya, Iceland, Newfoundland, the Falkland Islands, and the Brazilian Pantanal. Recent photo workshops include South Dakota Badlands, Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge (NWR), Chincoteague NWR, Assateague National Seashore, the Outer Banks, the Hermitage, Norfolk Botanical Gardens, West Virginia Mountains, and Tangier Island. Program sponsors include zoos, nature centers, and conservation organizations such as National Wildlife Federation, the National Aquarium, the Baltimore Zoo, and the Assateague Island Alliance.