For most of us, studio photography calls to mind fashion, portrait and product shoots. Rock stars, glamorous models, and designer accessories are what we expect to see in front of a seamless backdrop surrounded by flash units. But capturing wildlife in front of a white background is growing in popularity among nature photographers and stock agencies seem to be very keen to get their hands on these kinds of images.
|In the field studio the subject is photographed in front of a white background and illuminated with two flash units, bringing out detail and showcasing the translucent qualities of the species.
Subject: Snakelocks Anemone (Photographed in a tank)
Although he was not the first to do it, many credit Scottish nature photographer Niall Benvie with taking the idea of what's now called field studio photography to a whole new level. The essence of field studio photography is that the studio comes to the subject. The idea is simple in concept, if not necessarily in execution. You're isolating the subject from its environment and illuminating it with flash.
To do this you'll need a white translucent background, two flash units with sync capability and a means of safely positioning your subject in the frame. The subject is then illuminated both from the back with the flash firing through the white background and from the front via fill flash.
|Wildlife can be placed in a clear acrylic bowl or tank which will not be visible in the photograph.
Subject: Flat Topshell (Photographed in a tank)
As you can imagine this approach requires a bit more equipment than traditional nature photography. Apart from the camera, lens and flash units there are various bits and pieces you need to make the whole thing work. To fire the flash you need sync cables or a wireless flash system. I wholeheartedly recommend the latter. The good ones are not cheap but after repeatedly tripping over cables, nearly bringing down the whole setup I happily invested in a wireless flash system.
You will also need tripods or light stands on which to mount the flash units. While you could certainly bring a third tripod for the camera, I prefer the flexibility of shooting handheld in the field studio. A diffuser or softbox for the flash and reflectors are also helpful in many situations.
The most crucial part of the whole undertaking is undoubtedly the background. White Polymethyl Methacrylate, better known as Perspex or Lucite, is the material of choice. When shooting flora, a simple sheet of the material will suffice. For active wildlife the setup becomes a bit more elaborate. A makeshift transparent bowl placed on or over the background or a tank built of Perspex with a clear front can form the basis of a field studio for all kinds of the crawling, jumping, running or swimming fauna.
For all of the logistical complications, composition is very straightforward as there is no need to arrange multiple items in the frame. There is only a solitary subject, placed directly in the middle of the field studio. The choice of subject can be crucial, however. The goal is to use the best possible representative of the species you want to photograph. And finding that textbook specimen can take some time and effort.
The goal is to get a perfect white background while not overexposing the subject. Finding the perfect amount of lighting output is therefore the most important (and trickiest) part of the whole endeavor. I always use both flashes in manual mode and place a diffuser on the front fill flash. The diffuser not only creates a softer, more natural light but even more importantly, causes less distress for the animals.
|You use fill flash to bring out details in the subject and create a subtle highlights...
Subject: Hermit Crab (Photographed in a tank)
|...without making it overly obvious that flash was used.
Subject: Shore Crab (Photographed in a bowl)
The flash placed behind the Perspex will light the subject from the back, bringing out any translucent qualities. The aim here is to overexpose the background. If your camera has a highlight warning alert it is very helpful to turn it on. When the entire background blinks while the subject itself has maintained good detail throughout, you've got the correct flash output settings and camera exposure.
Flash output and exposure can be controlled in several ways. You can control output of the flash units themselves by adjusting the power setting or moving the flash units closer to or further away from the subject. Alternatively you can adjust the ISO setting or change the distance between subject and background. The last method can be especially helpful when working with white or very translucent plants and animals.
Exposure is largely going to be a matter of trial and error though. But don't despair. After a few sessions you will get a feeling for the appropriate exposure for a particular subject. My basic settings are always f22, 1/200sec., ISO 200 with background flash on full power and the fill flash on a low to medium setting. I start with a test exposure using the background flash only. Once I have rendered the background to my liking I add the fill flash and eventually make the picture.
|Plants and flowers offer the easiest opportunities to start field studio photography. They don’t run away and most don’t have highly reflective or translucent surfaces.
Subject: Herb Robert
Photographing animals raises the degree of difficulty, as they tend to move around. Insects and amphibians often have wet or reflective skin, which can cause nasty highlights. Working with a tank brings additional problems. Debris in the water or bubbles sticking to the front glass are just a few of the problems that may need to be overcome. A box of Q-Tips and a soft cloth to clean the front pane and a few bottles of still mineral water (when working with freshwater creatures) can be a big help here. When working with saltwater creatures the best you can do is find the cleanest tidal pool, sieve the water through a cloth (or simply wait until most of the debris has settled) and use that in your tank.
|Subject: Montagu’s Bleeny (Photographed in a tank)|
I can't stress enough that the welfare of the subject should always be your main priority. Plants shouldn’t be uprooted and sessions with animals should be as short as possible in order to cause minimal stress to the involuntary (and unpaid) model. The old motto ‘Take only pictures, leave only footprints’ applies.
This kind of photography requires some important post-processing work so it is essential to shoot in Raw format. Shooting Raw gives you greater flexibility and control during the editing stage and can result in a higher quality image file. Most of my processing is done in Lightroom. Activating the ‘highlight clipping’ feature instantly shows whether the background is correctly overexposed. All RGB channels should read 100% (or 255 if you're using Photoshop). You want the subject to exhibit relatively strong contrast and fine detail. Because we have purposefully overexposed the background, creating a lighter overall image, achieving this aim typically requires some image editing. Lightroom and Photoshop have no shortage of tools to adjust brightness, contrast and saturation. It is important, however, to make sure that any adjustments are properly masked so that they are applied only to the subject, with the background remaining maximum white. Once satisfied with the image, I use Lightroom to export a TIFF or JPEG compatible with any other editing and/or image viewing software.
There are certainly easier ways to capture nature images than what I've outlined here, but once you have mastered the technique you are rewarded with truly unique images.
|Subject: Hatched Burnet Moth|
Field studio fever is spreading around the world. In 2010 Niall Benvie and US photographer Clay Bolt launched the Meet Your Neighbours project. The goal of this undertaking is to show the often overlooked and undervalued common wildlife, the flora and fauna that thrive on our doorsteps. The message is ‘biodiversity matters’, which basically means the common frog under the garden shed is just as important as the mighty lion in the far away African savannah.
Carsten Krieger is a professional landscape and wildlife photographer based in the West Ireland and author of several books on the Irish landscape and nature. To find out more about his work please visit his website: www.carstenkrieger.com
Jul 25, 2014
Aug 10, 2014
Aug 3, 2014
Jul 14, 2014
TIME Magazine has named the Sony a7R III one of its top 10 gadgets of 2017. It was the only camera that made the illustrious list this year, receiving high praise from TIME, who dubbed it "one of the best mirrorless cameras ever made."
Thanks to Google Assistant integration, the Pixel 2's AI-powered 'Google Lens' camera feature will soon be easier and quicker to use.
Photographer Jenna Martin and her model friend Rachelle Kathleen set themselves a challenge: could they create beautiful portraits in an 'ugly' location? So they went to a local Lowe's hardware store and gave it a go!
The LG V30 differentiates itself from the competition with an expansive video feature set and a secondary wide angle camera, making it something of a Swiss Army knife for content creators.
We're counting down our top 10 most popular sample galleries of 2017. Holding down the top position is none other than the Nikon D850 – by a landslide.
It's been twenty years since Jeff Keller founded the Digital Camera Resource Page, one of the first websites dedicated to digital photography. Jeff, who has been at DPReview for nearly five years, looks back at the rise and fall of consumer digital cameras and his website.
We're counting down our top 10 most popular sample galleries of 2017. At #2 we have another staff favorite – the Sony Alpha a9.
Rotolight has released the Anova Pro 2 circular LED for stills and video, boasting a 70% increase in brightness and what the company describes as "unrivaled battery performance."
Designer Vinicius Araújo has imagined what he believes the perfect Adobe software keyboard might look like. From customizable touch pads, to a scroll wheel, to a little display that shows the tool in use, his design is pretty compelling.
Peak Design has teamed up with Leica to release a limited-edition backpack made special for fans of the Red Dot.
A portrait of an android woman has beaten over 5,700 pictures of humans to take third place in this year’s prestigious Taylor Wessing Portrait Prize. The judges were not told the subject was an 'android' until after the winning images were chosen.
Hauling around C-Stands just got a whole lot less annoying thanks to these new Matthews shoulder and roller bags, which can hold two or three C-stand (respectively) plus accessories.
Neal Preston has shot timeless photos of everyone from Led Zeppelin, to Whitney Houston, to Michael Jackson. In this interview, he offers insights into his craft to up-and-comer Elijah Dominique.
Future prosumer Canon DSLRs might feature light-up buttons, if this newly published patent is any indication of the camera company's plans.
Sony's a7R Mark III shoots 42.4MP files at 10fps and incorporates a robust video feature set, large battery, refined ergonomics and more. It certainly looks impressive, but what is it like to use, and how does it stack up against the rest of the market? Find out in our full review.
We're counting down our top 10 most popular sample galleries of 2017 – the Fujifilm X100F takes the bronze and the #3 spot.
There's never been a better time to shop for a new camera, but the number of options available can be overwhelming. In this series of buying guides we've provided customized recommendations for several use cases, from shooting landscapes to buying a first camera for a student photographer.
Shopping for a camera with a set budget? No problem! We've rounded up our favorite cameras, broken them into price brackets and picked the best of the bunch.
Looking for a lightweight compact camera that's easy to bring with you anywhere? Or maybe you're smartphone-shopping and want the one that takes the best picture. And what if you want to shoot from above? In these buyers guides we have recommendations for the best compact cameras, smartphones and drones.
Despite reports to the contrary, analysis of DPReview images by our friend Jim Kasson confirms a disappointing fact: Sony a7R III is still a Star Eater. But there may be some improvements.
As the saying goes: A photo is worth a thousand words. And if you're sending that photo through Facebook Messenger, your thousand words now look twice as nice after today's update to 4K resolution.
Get to know the new Leica CL in short order by giving our 90 second 'First look' video a watch.
Leica has just released the CL, the forth in its series of APS-C L-mount cameras. Despite sharing a name with a camera released in the mid-70s, the new CL is a thoroughly modern ILC, with a 24MP sensor and built-in electronic viewfinder.
The Leica CL is a 24MP rangefinder-style mirrorless camera, which sits alongside the TL2 in the company's APS-C lineup. We've been using one for a few days – check out our gallery of images.
While it shares a name with one of Leica's most popular and affordable cameras of the 1970s, the new CL is separated from its namesake by more than just years. We've been using one for a few days - click through for a detailed first-impressions report.
We're counting down our top 10 most popular sample galleries of 2017, and the #4 ranking goes to the Leica M10.
Sigma is discounting 13 different high-performance 'Art' series lenses from today until November 30th. The company is calling it an 'unprecedented' sale.
See DJI's 'AeroScope' drone-tracking technology in action. This is the system that DJI says can help law enforcement and airport (among others) track and identify rogue drones.
iPhone X owners can already accessorize their new phone with high-quality smartphone photography lenses courtesy of Moment's new lineup.
Considering buying Sigma's exciting new 16mm F1.4 DC DN Contemporary lens for crop-sensor E-Mount and M43? Check out these official full-res samples first!