Back to Basics: Metering

You’re camera’s meter controls what exposure you get when using an automatic or semi-automatic shooting mode. When you’re camera meters the scene it attempts to make the scene appear 18% grey. Most cameras have three types of metering center weighted, matrix, and spot. Understanding how different types of metering work will greatly improve your imagery.  

If you use center weighted metering your camera attempts to make the center of the image properly exposed. I rarely use center weighted metering and usually opt for spot metering for more control over what is exposed properly. Matrix metering works well in most situations as long as there isn’t incredibly high contrast. This attempts to finds an average exposure for the entire scene keeping detail in both the darkest and lightest areas in the image. Sadly this is impossible to obtain in some scenes with very high contrast. For example a black bird against bright white snow would be impossible to expose with detail in both unless you added flash to lighten the bird. In scenes were you want one specific area properly exposed use spot metering. The area you select will be properly exposed. For example if you want to get a silhouetted animal spot meter the sky. If you spot meter the silhouetted animal it will be properly exposed but the sky will most likely be blown out. You can also make certain parts of the image over or underexposed by adjusting the exposure compensation.


Learning when to use the right metering can greatly improve your imagery!

– Ryan Watkins (check out more of my posts and photos on or on flickr)

Hurricane Irene: Nature At Its Most Powerful State

With Hurricane Irene powering up the east coast, many people, and animals will feel the effects from this massive and dangerous storm. It will, without a doubt, cause major flooding and power outages. With storm surges predicted to be very strong, the whole coastline may be transformed. You may be wondering why I am discussing this here, as we are not weathermen, rather photographers. Well, this storm has the potential to produce many unusual birds, which can be interesting to bird photographers. With the fall shorebird migration in full swing, many migrant shorebirds will be knocked down. This will present some unique photo opportunities to capture images of birds that you may not have been able to see. There could be the potential for thousands of shorebirds to be hunkered down on the beaches during and after the storm. The other exciting photo ops may be pelagic birds, (or birds that live miles out in the ocean.)

Great Shearwater

Great Shearwater

The birds will be pushed in by the winds, and therefore have to stage on land. This is extremely exciting to me, as these birds are usually only viewed when on a boat. If you live on the east coast, keep your eyes peeled for any unusual birds, and of course, stay safe!

It’s An Honor

Me After A Successful Shorebird Photography Trip

Me After A Successful Shorebird Photography Trip

My name is Joey Lounsbury and I am a new blogger for Nature’s Best Photography Students Blog. It is truly an honor to be able to share my knowledge next to some of the great photographers that blog here. I am very passionate about nature photography, and have learned many techniques since I started 4 years ago. I look forward to to sharing my knowledge and images with you as well as viewing the great work shared by the other bloggers! To learn more about myself or view my work, please visit my personal blog at:

Telephoto Lenses: What to Look For


When it comes to wildlife photography more often than not we need to use telephoto lenses. These lenses allow us to get tight close-ups of skittish and dangerous wildlife along with giving us the shallow depth of field needed to make our subjects stand out from the background. Telephoto lenses come in a wide variety for focal lengths, speeds, and price ranges. Depending on the type of wildlife you want to shoot you’ll need different focal lengths. Some more personable creatures may allow you to get close enough to use shorter lenses with focal lengths between 70-200mm where as small exotic birds and dangerous predators like bears or lions will need longer lenses in the 500-800mm range.

Focal length isn’t the only thing to consider. Lens speed is crucial to the type of images you can get. The faster the lens the smaller the number after the F in the name. The slower the lens the bigger the number after the F in the name. This number refers to what apertures this lens can use. The wider aperture (smaller F number) the more light is let in through the lens, so you can use a quicker shutter speed. With zoom lenses the widest aperture may change throughout the zoom range. For example my Nikkor AF-S VR 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 Lens can shoot at f/4.5 at 70mm but can only shoot at f/5.6 at 300mm. Generally the faster the lens the better. You’ll be able to get images in lower light and with a shallower depth of field with a 300mm f/2.8 lens than you can with a 300mm f/5.6 lens. Another thing to consider is autofocus speed. Faster lenses tend to have quicker autofocus which is a big advantage when shooting moving subjects like birds.

Prime lenses (lenses with one focal length) are usually faster and better quality lenses than zoom lenses with the same focal lengths. Zooms are usually slower and have slower autofocus. Zooms can be a cheaper and reliable alternative if the cost of high end primes turn you off and you need the focal length.

To get even more reach out of your telephoto lenses you can add tele converters. These fit in-between your camera and lens and allow you to get a longer focal length but cut some light. Tele converters usually come in 1.4x, 1.7x, or 2.0x strengths. For example if you use a 2.0x tele converter on a 300mm f/2.8 lens you’d now have a 600mm f/5.6 lens. Getting faster shorter telephotos with tele converters can allow you to change them into longer, cheaper, and lighter weight versions of other lens.

Image stabilization can be very helpful when shooting handheld. Most stabilized lens claim to allow you to use lenses handheld with shutter speeds three stops longer than with non stabilized lenses. I have been able to get sharp images of elk and moose at 1/125 of second shutter speed at 300mm with my Nikkor AF-S VR 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 Lens handheld.

With long lenses more often than not it’s better to use a tripod. Carbon fiber is best material for tripods (in most situations.) Carbon fiber is lighter and more stable than aluminum or metal. Basalt fiber is a happy medium in terms of quality and price between aluminum and carbon fiber. Wood tripods can withstand vibrations better than carbon fiber (for example if you’re doing a long exposure near a highway and a semi went by) but due to the weight of wood tripods they can be a hassle to carry and move quickly. Going with higher end brands like Gitzo, Manfortto, Feisol, and Berleback will be worth the extra money. I currently have an old Velbon which I have lost some great images from it not being stable enough. I plan on upgrading in the near future. Tripod head choice also makes a big difference. Pan and tilt heads are nice for landscapes but ball heads or gimbaled heads are needed for the fast action of wildlife photography. Really Right Stuff, Kirk, Wimberly, Acra Swiss, Acratech, Manfrotto, and Gitzo are all known for making good tripod heads. Alternative supports like Bushhawks, beanbags, or monopods can also be used to brace long lenses.       


When it comes to price telephoto lenses can be from everywhere from under $200 to over $8000. The faster and longer the lens the lens greater the increase the price. It’s difficult to find a lens over 500mm for less than $1000. It’s hard to find short telephoto zoom lenses with a constant aperture of f/2.8 for under $800. Most camera manufactures make both high end and low end 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 Lens. Inexpensive ones in the $100-$300 price range are usually not worth buying. Lenses with the same focal lengths in the $500+ price range usually tend to have much better image quality, quicker autofocus, and usually some type of image stabilization.

I currently use a Nikkor AF-S VR 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 Lens which most amateur and semi-pro photographers would be happy with. It’s very sharp, has quick autofocus, and VR comes in very helpful. I hope to upgrade to a 70-200mm f/2.8 with 2x tele converted in the future.

Hopefully this post has helped you learn about telephoto lenses and which one is right for you!

The Alternatives to HDR

One of the biggest recent revolutions in photography lately is HDR photography. HDR stands for High Dynamic Range. HDR images are obtained by having specialized software (i.e. Photomatrix, Photoshop CS5, Nik HDR Effects … etc) tone map and merge several exposures of the same scene to get detail in the brightest and darkest areas of the image. This controversial type of imaging and the software used for it has matured and advanced over the last few years. Early HDR shots were mostly over the top surreal images and due to this it created many skeptics and disapprovers. Now we have the option of creating far more realistic images with HDR. Whether you approve of and have embraced HDR imaging or not this post should be able to help you obtain great images in high contrast situations or mimic the subtle and extreme effects sometimes created by HDR.

HDR can be very helpful but it’s not the only way to minimize extreme contrast! When shooting landscapes it’s almost guaranteed that the sky will be brighter than the foreground. In the pre digital days the most effective way of helping balance the exposure was to use a graduated neutral density filter. Many of us use round neutral density filters which are dark pieces of glass which attach to the end of our lens to allow us to use longer exposures. Graduated neutral density filters work in a similar way. They are rectangular filters which are half dark and half clear. You place these in front of your lens with the dark end covering the sky to darken it to the point where you can get an exposure with details in both lights and darks. Graduated NDs come in a variety of strength usually one to three stops and have either soft or hard edges. A soft grad will fade from dark to clear where as a hard grad will go directly from dark to clear with no faded edge. Lee, Singh-Ray, and Cokin all make high end ND grads. These were ideal in the days of large format film and can still be very useful today. But in some situation where it isn’t a straight cut off from foreground to sky this can add unwanted darkening of non-sky elements. These are also pricey and you’ll most likely need more than one because different situation called for different grads.

One of my favorite ways for battling high contrast scenes is old fashion compositing. Compositing is merging two or more photographs together in Photoshop. It can be very simplistic to mimic the effects of a ND grad by shooting two images of the same scene and merging them in post. For example the image of the iconic Mount Rundle at the top of this post is actually a composite of two images shot at different exposures. I set my camera on a tripod and shot an image exposed for the sky (I used spot metering). Next I shot another image where the foreground was properly exposed. I kept the same aperture, focus, and ISO for these shots and just varied the shutter speed. In Photoshop I opened both shots and put them in the same work space. Then I added a layer mask to the top layer. I used the gradient tool and dragged it near the separation of sky and water. This made it so the two images softly faded into one another. This can be difficult to do in shots were foreground elements protrude into the sky (i.e. trees, rock formations, or other things which force detailed masking.) This allowed me to have a properly exposed sky and properly exposed foreground without the use of expensive filters or some of the negative attributes of HDR imaging.

For brightening foreground subjects or shooting moving subjects (wildlife, people … etc) flash can be used to brighten the subject from the dark background. Hot shoe flashes are affordable and are quit powerful. I used my Sunpak PZ42X hot shoe flash (a cheap and highly recommended product) to add detail to this backlit scene during a senior portrait shoot a few weeks ago. I created the star burst by shooting at a very narrow aperture of f/22.

To mimic the effects of surreal and tame HDR imagery without the HDR software you can use the fill light and recovery sliders in Camera RAW. Increasing the fill light specifically gives the shot the HDR look but it also increases noise heavily. Shooting at lower ISOs like 100 and 200 will help minimize noise. The above image was processed using the fill light slider adjusted higher to add more detail to the elk’s fur. Flash won’t have carried far enough and may have startled the animal.

There are many advantages to HDR imaging. It is the quickest and easiest way to get details in both brightest and darkest areas of a photograph. There a few negative sides of using HDR compared to the alternatives above though. You probably need a tripod for best results unlike adjusting the fill and recovery sliders in Camera RAW. There can be added noise in darker areas (less than with a single exposure in RAW, but much more than with compositing two separate exposures.) There can also be halos around very high contrast areas (same with single image in Camera RAW), but this shouldn’t be an issue in manual composites if done correctly. The final verdict? Despite a few idiosyncrasies HDR imaging is definitely worth trying if you’re a landscape photographer. The software is cheaper and more versatile than old fashion ND grads and is far easier than doing most composites. In certain situations manual composting could be easier as in the few photographs show in this post but there are many (if not most) situations where HDR is easier. I personally don’t use HDR imaging yet because there is other photographic equipment which I consider to be more important to obtain before getting HDR software. There have been many situations where I wish I had the advantages of HDR software and it will most likely be a later purchase of mine. There are many situations where the alternatives to HDR just won’t cut it but in some they may even be better. Knowing when to use HDR and when not to and even when to use one of these other techniques is critical in getting our best images!

–        Ryan Watkins (check out more posts and photos at or on flickr)


Hi Student Photographers,
Gary Farber of Hunt’s Photo and Video has generously offered free registration to students for a number of photography classes being held this weekend in the Boston, Massaschusetts area. If you are interested in attending just email Gary Farber at with your name, address, and phone number and which classes you want to attend. The workshop schedule can be found below or here:
Best Wishes,
Gabby Salazar, Editor, Nature’s Best Photography Students
Upcoming Workshops & Seminars!

Camera Club Weekend

August 12-13, 2011, 100 Main St., Melrose, MA 02176

Expand your Creativity! Two Great Days of Educational Seminars! Instructors Ken Hubbard and David Guy will be teaching exciting courses like Exploring Digital Black & White Photography (Ken Hubbard) and Macro and Nature (David Guy). Free to ALL Camera Club Members and a small fee of $20 to Non-club Members. For more information and to register for classes please visit link below or call 781-662-8822 to speak to any of our highly trained sales associates. Hope to see you there! DON’T FORGET IT”S A TAX FREE WEEKEND! All purchases under $2500.00 NO SALES TAX!

WPPI Road Trip August 25, 2011 Boston, MA

This seminar is full of information about the ins and outs of photography, tailored for professional wedding and portrait photographers. For more information about this seminar please visit link below,


Understanding Exposure and Learning to see Creatively with Bryan Peterson: September 17, 2011 Plymouth, MA

This is an intensive all day course with Bryan Peterson, great for intermediate photographers. For more information about this seminar please visit link below, or call 617-794-2132.

Looking for Details


Many parts of Canada and United States have been photographed hundreds of time by many photographers and tourists. Due to this many images of these iconic locations look very similar. To make truly great photographs of these beautiful areas we need to find ways to make out images different from the hundreds of images taken at these locations before. The image featured at the top of this post is of Peyto Lake: one of the most well known places in the Canadian Rockies. This image is from the same vantage point that most photographers shoot from and is quite conventional. The image featured below is also of Peyto Lake, but it’s far different from the regular Peyto Lake image. I focused on where the light was hitting a mountain peak above the lake by shooting with the long end of my telephoto zoom lens.

In beautiful iconic locations like these it’s easy to try at shoot with as much as you can with the frame. By focusing on the details we can result in better more controlled images. For great images it’s better to have clean shots which are free of distractions. The more you add into the frame the more cluttered the image becomes. The below images are very simplistic which makes them more powerful. The strong golden hour light shining on this mountain peak near Field, British Columbia makes it stand out from the blue evening sky. Shooting wider and adding more to the scene would have made this shot less impactful. The road and rest of the mountain would have distracted from intense mountain light.

Another image which would have been missed if I had been focusing only on the mountains is this macro image of a hole in a tree which looks like a heart near Castle Mountain in Banff, Alberta.  

These last two images were shot in the forest outside Clare, Michigan. By again using my telephoto zoom lens I was able to focus on these details in the woods. The soft background created from the wide apertures and close subject to lens ratio make these subjects pop out from the background. The closer you get to the subject and wider aperture you use the softer the background blur – usually referred to as bokeh – you obtain. Both of these shots took some planning as well. First I had to find a nice colorful leaf. I knew I liked the aspen trees but by themselves they were quite boning. I taped the leaf to the aspen tree and it now became a great image. The soft orange color in the background helped accent and emphasize the orange/red color of the leaf. I also had to find a pleasing pine cone for the last image. Next I set it in the trees and moved the leaves in the front of the cone around so I would become a large green blur around the pinecone.     

Next time you’re out shooting instead of automatically getting your wide angle lens out consider what the landscape would look like if you focused on details around you. It could result in some amazing images.

–        Ryan Watkins (to see more of my images and read more blog posts please visit

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