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Thread: Advice needed for photographing Bears

  1. #1
    Brownbear's Avatar
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    Advice needed for photographing Bears

    I photographed these Grizzlies at a wildlife sanctuary which is home to two orphaned Grizzlies who could not be returned to the wild.. they have 5 acres of land to roam about on...

    Anyway, it seems that they only come out to play in the water mid-day when the light is harsh and they prefer to play in the backlit pond instead of the front lit pond, so I just position myself as best as I can.

    My last two sets of photos have all had harsh black shadows on one side and/or other parts of the bear and I just can't seem to get the exposure right... (and shadows and exposure, curves in LR does not seem to help much) Is it possible for me to do so with different camera settings or do I just have to keep returning and wait for the day that I can photograph them in better lighting? I like the positions I can capture the bears in...

    Manual SS 1600 A F8 iso 2800 (auto iso) exp bias +.67 because -1 wasn't working

    Advice needed for photographing Bears

    Manual SS 1250 A F8 iso 1100 (auto iso) exp bias +.3 because -1 wasn't working

    Advice needed for photographing Bears


    [I]Manual SS 1000 A F5.6 iso 220 (auto iso) exp bias -1 (the best of the bunch I think)

    Advice needed for photographing Bears

    [I]Manual SS 1600 A F8 iso 220 (auto iso) exp bias -.67

    Why are my colours so wonky and the exposure all over the place?

    Advice needed for photographing Bears



    Advice needed for photographing Bears


    Aperture Priority SS 500 iso 400 exp bias -1... Which didn't work either because the shutter speed was too low.

    Advice needed for photographing Bears

    I set out to try and use a shutter speed of at least 1600 and an aperture of F8, intending to use -1 Exp. bias all the way through but since I kept seeing those dark black shadows I started experimenting with the exposure compensation to a positive value... but that did not work either.

    I just remembered that I used matrix metering instead of spot metering so perhaps that is part of the problem?

    Thank you in advance.

  2. #2

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    Re: Advice needed for photographing Bears

    Hi, Christina. Are these images cropped at all? I ask because it could make a big difference trying to evaluate metering.

    First, you are shooting under high contrast conditions. It will be hard to get shots straight out of the camera with both shadows and highlights well exposed. You can try setting D-lighting to high and shooting jpeg. Otherwise you have to do it in PP.

    Second, using matrix metering the bright reflected sky on the surface of the water makes the meter want to under expose the bear. Center weighted or spot is needed if you are going to shoot in auto (i.e. auto ISO).

    Third, exposure compensation won't help with bringing highlights/shadows closer together. Changing exposure shifts the whole histogram left or right. Exposure compensation is just a way for us to decide which portion of the image we want to expose properly at the expense of parts of the image that we don't care about.

    The exposure is pretty good on shots 3 through 5. We can't tell how wonky the colors are because we didn't see the actual scene. Brown bears have widely varying colors of fur so it's hard to judge. Actually the color of the log doesn't look that bad. There is a lot of difference in colors between shots four and five which shouldn't be the case.

    Since they are close by you can make it easy on yourself and go back on a cloudy day

  3. #3
    Brownbear's Avatar
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    Re: Advice needed for photographing Bears

    Hi Dan,

    Thank you so much for taking the time to advise... Very much appreciated.

    Yes, they are all cropped ~ 35%.

    1. I will try out the Dlighting next time they are in a back lit position.

    2. Yes, I remember reading that about auto iso and I will remember to use spot or matrix metering next time. That is a good thing to know. I will try auto iso and also setting it myself.

    3. I didn't know that about the highlights and shadows. Thank you. I was trying to expose just for the faces of the bears but it didn't work.

    4. Yes, the fur on their noses and the tops of their heads is very light. The fur around their eyes is almost jet black, and they also have patches of dark brown fur.

    5. I think #4 was taken in the other pond but my edit in LR using shadows, white and black points and the curves tool could be part of the problem.

    I will try again on a cloudy day following your guidelines and hopefully they will come out to play.

    Thank you Dan.

  4. #4

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    Re: Advice needed for photographing Bears

    OK, without the cropping the water represents even more of the image. So the matrix meter is influenced more by it and tries to compensate. Notice on the backlit shots the water is reflecting more of the bright blue sky and on the front lit shots it looks more brown? That is why you were having to set plus exposure compensation on the backlit ones but on shots 3,4,5 that are front lit the water is darker as well as the bears being dark so the negative compensation worked for you.

    In these backlit conditions you can get some pretty interesting shots particularly since the bears heads are blond. If you expose properly for the shadowed part of the bear the uninteresting BG will wash out and the fur will provide a bright outline where it is lit by the sun. You don't want to completely blow the highlights but if the detail washes out in the BG, all the better. I'd also try to flatten DOF a bit by shooting a larger aperture. Were you shooting your 300mm on these? Since they aren't in a particularly photogenic setting you may want to shoot and/or crop as tight as you can on them. Use your extender and flat DOF. As long as you get the bear's face sharp that is all you really care about. Let the rest of it fade into blur and/or over/underexposed lighting.

    The water running off their faces is pretty cool. Did you try using a brush tool to get some detail in the eyes? Some of the LR experts will have to chime in on that. In PSE I'd do it with a copy layer. A vertical crop would eliminate even more of the BG on the face shots.

    Based on how well you improved on the herons I'd say you'll get the bears down in another trip or two

  5. #5

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    Re: Advice needed for photographing Bears

    I never understand why people comment that you have to use this or that metering method in this or that situation. The exact same exposure can be obtained using all three methods (spot, center-weighted or matrix) whether using Active D-Lighting or not. So, I recommend using whatever method you are most comfortable with, meaning whatever method most reliably produces the results that you want.

    In this situation, spot metering is the only one of the three methods that will consistently produce the same results throughout a series of images if you are metering every image in the series. That's because the meter is influenced only by that one spot. However, to consistently obtain the same exposure throughout the series, you have to meter the same luminosity every time, which I assume is difficult. (I never use spot metering and if I did you would know how bad I am at it.)

    So, I think the solution to achieving a consistent exposure throughout the series is to first obtain a desired histogram using whatever metering method you select. Then change the camera to manual exposure for the rest of the series using whatever combination of ISO, shutter speed and aperture settings was used in that first image that produced the ideal histogram.

    Even then, don't expect the water to look the same in every exposure. Each time that you change your position relative to the sun, the water will appear different in person and in the photo. We generally don't notice these changes in person because our brain focuses on the bear (as an example in this case). When we view the photos, our brain focuses on the entire image, causing us to notice differences between the photos that were there in person even though we didn't notice them at the time.

    If you're going to use Active D-Lighting, consider looking up your manual to determine if your camera will bracket it.
    Last edited by Mike Buckley; 27th July 2013 at 12:23 PM.

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    Moderator GrumpyDiver's Avatar
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    Re: Advice needed for photographing Bears

    Christina - shoot on an overcast day. That will give you nice, diffuse light and will show up the features of the animals better than the harsh, bright daylight. Also, do like you would in portraiture and set your focus point at the eyes.

    Using a polarizer might be an option too.

    This was shot under overcast conditions; the details pop right out:

    Advice needed for photographing Bears

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    Re: Advice needed for photographing Bears

    Quote Originally Posted by GrumpyDiver View Post
    shoot on an overcast day.
    Poor Christina is consistently getting the same good advice in her threads -- to achieve the best results, shoot in the lighting conditions that produce them. Photography really is all about light.

    Christina: If you shot portraits of people in contrasty mid-day lighting conditions, would you expect to produce the most pleasing photos? Certainly not. When photographing animals, think of the photos as portraits of animals because, indeed, that's exactly what they are.

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    Moderator GrumpyDiver's Avatar
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    Re: Advice needed for photographing Bears

    Quote Originally Posted by Mike Buckley View Post
    When photographing animals, think of the photos as portraits of animals because, indeed, that's exactly what they are.
    Exactly Mike; I couldn't have put it better myself....

    Advice needed for photographing Bears

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    Re: Advice needed for photographing Bears

    I love these pictures, I don't own a Nikon, but do you have something like DRO = dynamic range optimizer on the camera?
    However all the pictures are very nice and can be adjusted with PP when wanted/needed.

    The bear with the feet out of the water and the 2 faces are priceless.

  10. #10
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    Re: Advice needed for photographing Bears

    Dan,

    Thank you. I really appreciate that you add an explanation of why something worked or not, because it helps me understand what to do next time around and why.

    I will try just that. Yes, I was using my 300 mm lens without the extender because I'm not certain I could get enough light using the extender as it decreases the aperture to about 6.7.

    Yes, the bears emerging from the water makes for a great photo opportunity and that is why I keep trying for a shot. I tried the eye enhance in LR on one of the bears but wasn't enough and looked funny.

    Thank you. I think I have about 2 months to try before they go into hibernation.



    Quote Originally Posted by NorthernFocus View Post
    OK, without the cropping the water represents even more of the image. So the matrix meter is influenced more by it and tries to compensate. Notice on the backlit shots the water is reflecting more of the bright blue sky and on the front lit shots it looks more brown? That is why you were having to set plus exposure compensation on the backlit ones but on shots 3,4,5 that are front lit the water is darker as well as the bears being dark so the negative compensation worked for you.

    In these backlit conditions you can get some pretty interesting shots particularly since the bears heads are blond. If you expose properly for the shadowed part of the bear the uninteresting BG will wash out and the fur will provide a bright outline where it is lit by the sun. You don't want to completely blow the highlights but if the detail washes out in the BG, all the better. I'd also try to flatten DOF a bit by shooting a larger aperture. Were you shooting your 300mm on these? Since they aren't in a particularly photogenic setting you may want to shoot and/or crop as tight as you can on them. Use your extender and flat DOF. As long as you get the bear's face sharp that is all you really care about. Let the rest of it fade into blur and/or over/underexposed lighting.

    The water running off their faces is pretty cool. Did you try using a brush tool to get some detail in the eyes? Some of the LR experts will have to chime in on that. In PSE I'd do it with a copy layer. A vertical crop would eliminate even more of the BG on the face shots.

    Based on how well you improved on the herons I'd say you'll get the bears down in another trip or two

  11. #11
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    Re: Advice needed for photographing Bears

    Mike,

    Thank you for your detailed reply. Yes, it is very difficult to use spot metering, but if the bear settles in one spot for a few minutes it is doable. I will try your recommendation and spot metering.

    I might hold off on trying the active D-Lighting for a little while because I have not read about it in the manual yet, and it might be too much, too soon for me.

    No, I wouldn't try to photograph people in poor lighting conditions but you can put people where you wish. It's about a 1 1/2 hour trip each way, up the mountain, then the bears might nap for a couple of hours before coming out to play, so when they do appear I try for a shot no matter the conditions. I realize this is just like the lesson I learned with birds, but I'm just dead set on trying to get a good photo of a bear, so I keep trying thinking I might luck out.

    Manfred,

    Thank you for advising... Your bear photos are exquisite! I would like to see more of your nature photos.I will wait for a cloudy day for my next attempt, and try again, including trying to focus on the eye, and maybe I will buy a polarizer.

    Splashy,
    Thank you. Yes, something about the big fierce grizzly bears playing in the water and looking cute really appeals to me. I tried processing in LR but when you try to lighten the dark spots the photo looks really bad. It is easier for me to just try for a better shot.

    I don't know if I have DRO on my camera but I will look it up. Thank you.

    Thank you to all for your advice. Truly appreciated. When I manage a good shot I will post one to show my progress, and yes, I will do my best to do so on a cloudy day and/or under better lighting.

  12. #12
    Moderator Dave Humphries's Avatar
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    Re: Advice needed for photographing Bears

    Hi Christina,

    With shots like 1 - 5, I would use any metering option (I think I have it in average),
    take a test shot in Aperture Priority,
    check the histogram and RGB blinkies then re-shoot until I was not blowing the pale snout with the back-lighting*
    then set Manual exposure (shutter speed, aperture and fixed iso) to those values
    and ignore the meter in subsequent shots under same lighting situation.

    This then works no matter what ratios of light and dark areas of subject or background present themselves in shot.

    Metering only needs re-evaluating when something significant happens; sun goes in, big change of shooting angle or different subject.

    * protecting the facial highlights is what matters for exposure here, shadows should** be fixable in PP

    I don't think you can hope to set a 'facial exposure'; the bear fur, with built-in shadows, is too textured to get away with it as you might with a smooth skin toned and (relatively) texture-less human face. That's not to say I disagree that you should consider them 'animal portraits', just they need a different technique to human faces.

    Manfred's shots certainly seem to show that overcast works best for such subjects.

    ** I haven't got the hang of the new ACR sliders yet, so I am going through similar issues you are with LR.

    In camera; I find I am using Manual more and more - except when I know the lighting conditions are changing too much, then I use Aperture Priority and use the "Easy EC" option to quickly change it.

    I don't know if I have DRO on my camera but I will look it up.
    Don't worry about/distract yourself looking for "DRO", it is just another manufacturers name for what Nikon call "A D-L" (Active D-Lighting) - personally, I'm not convinced it will help on this type of subject, I think it is better for landscapes and architectural subjects, I have only ever seen it be useful on unlit (i.e. in shadow), flat surfaces.


    Auto-WB is another thing that's going to change unnecessarily with scene or light angle changes, that's another thing I find I am using more on manual lately; set to the appropriate light source. Obviously there's a choice to be made here with back-lighting, set to shade so the in sun's shadow areas, lit by blue sky, are not blue, or set to sunny (because that's what it is) and avoid a tendency yellow highlights.

    Manual SS 1600 A F8 iso 2800 (auto iso) exp bias +.67 because -1 wasn't working
    I think this points to part of your problem; you seem to think there is a 'right answer' and just because we use a certain setting it should work for you, who said -1 was right?
    I shoot in a far more 'suck it and see' manner (hope that's not rude state-side) and yes, if shooting non-manual, I find I may spin EC between plus and minus as a subject moves in front of bright or dark backgrounds, or becomes backlit from being previously front or side-lit. Just remember to check the blinkies and histo (on same screen on D7100) and avoid blowing the highlights on the subject.

    Hope that helps,
    Last edited by Dave Humphries; 27th July 2013 at 10:20 PM.

  13. #13
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    Re: Advice needed for photographing Bears

    Thank you Dave... Yes, your reply is very helpful as it is informative.

    I will try your strategy.. Between all of these I should be able to produce a fine photo. (should)

    Good to know about the WB because it drives me crazy in camera and in LR... It seems to me if the subject is in the sun, should be able to use the sunny setting And I will forget about D lighting for now... With respect to -1 (same rule as +1 for snow) but yes, I know all the exposure rules don't always work but sometimes I just expect them to, and on this particular day nothing was working.

    Very helpful and truly appreciated... Thank you Dave.

  14. #14
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    Re: Advice needed for photographing Bears

    Hi Christina.

    Here is my two cents worth.

    First, if the dynamic range of lighting is beyond your camera's sensor, there isn't much you can do to fix both ends, dark and light.

    Second, I hope you are shooting in RAW and not JPEGs. The RAW files have a greater range that you can work with in post processing. I also use plug-ins to help me in Photoshop CS6. I use Topaz Lab's Adjust software and I use Nik's Color Efex Pro software. These two plug-ins do more than I possibly could by trying to use the basic tools in Camera Raw (similar to Lightroom) or Photoshop CS6. Starting with a RAW file gives you the best chance of recovering the details at dark and light tones.

    I downloaded your photos and worked on them for a brief time and then uploaded them here for you to view. I felt that I could have done more if I had started with RAW files, but all I had was your JPEGs. The colors may not be correct because I was not there to see them, but you should see a difference.

    Advice needed for photographing Bears


    Advice needed for photographing Bears

  15. #15
    Brownbear's Avatar
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    Re: Advice needed for photographing Bears

    Hi Ken,


    Thank you so much for taking the time to do this. It shows me that I still have a lot to learn about editing. I do shoot raw but I guess I'm timid about editing too much, especially lightening shadows because of the noise. If I could send you the raw photo for that first bear photo I would because I really like the expression on the bears face and the water droplets, and then I would try and follow your edit, and hopefully they would not look so processed... The bear looks good, the water is not that blue but it looks nice... In any case I will hang on to that photo for future.

    You also improved the bear in the 2nd photo but he still looks wonky, especially the water... But that is my fault.. I woke up in the middle of the night and remembered that I used flash on some of these photos, and I suspect it was the 2nd bear... At the time of photographing them I could see the clipping and dark shadows so I tried the on camera flash, and that is likely why his fur looks funny.

    Thanks a million for taking the time to show me this... I will keep working on the LR tutorials and learning how to edit and if I don't see any significant improvement in my skills I might have to sign up for a course at school this fall.
    Last edited by Brownbear; 29th July 2013 at 01:01 AM.

  16. #16

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    Re: Advice needed for photographing Bears

    Your EXIF data should display whether or not you used flash. EXIF data is extremely instructional, especially about things that go wrong.

  17. #17
    Brownbear's Avatar
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    Re: Advice needed for photographing Bears

    New and improved Bears... Funny enough it has been sunny and bright in July for the entire month... I still intend to return on a cloudy day for another try at this.

    This morning, I tried spot metering and I think it helped tone down the funky water, as I metered off the dark part of the bear around the eye (mostly)... This time I had overexposed bits in the light portion of the bear around the eyes and the top of the head.. I should have adjusted my exp comp more often, and will do next time around. Edited quickly in LR as I was anxious to share these... Later on I will revisit and edit more carefully.

    I followed everyone advice, started with Aperture priority to see what worked for exposure. Then I switched to manual and my settings were around 1000-1600 SS Aperture F4-F8, auto iso set to a max of 2000, exp comp -.67. I used my extender and tried to zoom in on just the bear... (matrix metered in the foliage, on most shots, but not all)


    #17-1
    Advice needed for photographing Bears


    More realistic water with spot metering

    #17-2
    Advice needed for photographing Bears


    #17-3
    Advice needed for photographing Bears


    #17-4
    Advice needed for photographing Bears


    #17-5
    Advice needed for photographing Bears


    #17-6
    Advice needed for photographing Bears



    No flash please! (none used)

    #17-7
    Advice needed for photographing Bears


    #17-8
    Advice needed for photographing Bears


    #17-9
    Advice needed for photographing Bears


    #17-10
    Advice needed for photographing Bears


    #17-11
    Advice needed for photographing Bears


    #17-12
    Advice needed for photographing Bears


    #17-13
    Advice needed for photographing Bears



    Clipped his nose but still cute. Si!

    #17-14
    Advice needed for photographing Bears

    I think next time around I will try center weighted metering hoping to avoid the white clipping.

    Sorry for all the images, but I think they are cute, and improved from my past bear shots.

    I would appreciate hearing which shots are the better shots and I always appreciate honest feedback, so if these bears are not new and improved, please let me know. Thank you.
    Last edited by Dave Humphries; 31st July 2013 at 09:44 PM. Reason: numbered photos

  18. #18
    Digital's Avatar
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    Re: Advice needed for photographing Bears

    Christina, As a non-wildlife photographer, IMHO you really caught this bear's personality.
    #3 is my favorite.


    Bruce

  19. #19

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    Re: Advice needed for photographing Bears

    Christina you are making amazing progress from one shoot to the next. The second to last shot and the one with the bear looking up with its mouth opened are over exposed. They look correctable with post processing unless you've already pulled them way back. You've got a couple of awesome shots in the mix here. The third shot with the bear looking out from under the branch is great as are a couple of the really tight ones. Nice job.

  20. #20
    Ken Curtis's Avatar
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    Re: Advice needed for photographing Bears

    I'm really impressed with the shots you got. So clear and great bear faces and claws. I know you will experiment with more post processing techniques. After that, you're ready for a position with National Geographic!

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