Sharp Focus In Your Animal Images

Ya know how I’m always harping on moving in close, keeping your shutter speed on 250th of a second, watching for good composition, paying attention to depth of field, cropping…ok, here’s the thing…I know it’s a lot to think about, but you’re good!

I was reminded of the above when I opened my photo folder from The Wilds, a research and conservation facility outside Columbus, Ohio. It’s a way cool place for animal photography so check it out if you get near the area.

When I save photo files, I begin by looking at each image and throwing out any that are out of focus, have major exposure problems or are just plain boring. I recommend you do the same. Keep your files lean and clean and only full of the best you can produce. If you are keeping junk, you are training your eye to a lesser standard than if you keep only the best.

When you edit files, try to be as objective as possible. Be someone else. In other words, take the emotions you had when you made the image out of it. Does it work without excuses, or is it flawed with technical difficulties?

Going back to my files from The Wilds, what about these two? Which one is working?

Well that was easy. The first one goes into the trash bin. An animal walking away isn’t   saying anything interesting. However, the second one is, at best, a nice record shot. Nothing spectacular here.

Next up. What about the depth of field in this image?

The front part of the rhino’s head is blurry. When I look closely at the horn and search for the focal point, I see it is just in front of the ears. Darn. I didn’t choose enough depth. I needed to set a wider depth of field (bigger numbers on the depth of field scale). Reminder to myself, the depth of field is always 1/3 in front of the focus and 2/3 behind the point of focus.

Here’s the thing. Shutter speed and depth of field are inversely related, so when one goes up, the other goes down. It’s a moving animal, so I couldn’t fudge the shutter speed. It had to be at least 250th of a second to stop the action. But that choice meant I had to choose a less than ideal depth of field to balance the exposure. (Smaller numbers on the scale.)

Or, I could have adjusted the ISO to a faster speed. That would have bumped up the depth of field and brought the whole head and body into focus.

Or, I could have stayed with the settings I was using and simply focused on the horn instead of the eyes. That would have rendered the front of the animal in sharp focus while the back end would go a bit soft.

Basically lots of decisions to make and sometimes not so easy to make them.

How about this little guy? Should I keep him? Un-oh. He’s blurry. My shutter speed was too slow. I must have decided for some reason to lower it below 250. Beginner’s mistake. Fifty lashes. No wait. My focus wasn’t off, there isn’t any focal point in this image. I wanted to show a lot of movement, so I was panning. With panning, the background becomes a blur while the subject is frozen. Way tough to do and this one is a scratch.

What about this one?

Much better! I must have bumped up my shutter speed. Wait… I always keep my shutter speed on 250 or higher, plenty of speed to freeze the action. There’s another possibility. In the first image my shutter speed was high enough to freeze the action, but the focus was off just enough to render the baby too soft on the file.

Here’s a pro secret with fast moving subjects. Figure out the correct exposure, set your exposure controls, push your shutter button half way down to focus, wait till the animal comes into view, and fire. Then keep firing. In the old days before autofocus this advice never would have worked. But now cameras are so sophisticated you have a good chance of getting a fast moving animal in sharp focus by just firing away.

How about this one? When the baby stopped the zoomies and began to watch me, it was easy to get a good shot. This one is way perfect, so I’ll spend a bit of time tweeking the lighting and hit save.

Except it needs a tighter crop.

Good shooting!

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