Photographing Waterfalls and Streams

June 3rd, 2011 by Jack Graham

Editor's note:  Welcome Jack Graham to the blog!  Jack comes to us via regular contributors Mike Moats and Guy Tal.  Now living in Portland, Jack conducts workshops all over the country, concentrating on landscapes.  Jack has been published in numerous magazines including Audubon and Outdoor Photographer, and is a chairperson for NANPA.  Reinforcing the the theory that It really is a small world after all, Jack and Chris found out that they went to the same university, lived in the same dorm, and even played the same instrument in the band!  Read more about Jack on his website here, and learn about his workshops here.  A big welcome to Jack, and we look forward to more from him soon!

–Chris Klapheke

I live in the Pacific Northwest. What else says Pacific Northwest more than a waterfall. Spring here in the Pacific Northwest is a glorious time to take advantage of the hundreds of waterfalls  within a short drive. The waterfall  against a backdrop of lush greenery is one o my favorite subjects. Let’s discuss some of the challenges and suggestions that might help you in your waterfall photography. These are in order of how I think about them in the field. They are all equally important  in making quality waterfall images.






WATER EFFECTS: Silky or Natural?

This should be an easy decision. Slow shutter speeds for the silky effect and faster for less silky, or more action packed water. This is determined by the amount of water coming over the falls or over the rocks in a stream. If you are undecided, experiment and shoot both ways. Sometimes this is the best way to attack the situation and make your final decisions after the fact in front of your monitor.  If you want to convey the overall power, force & majesty of a big waterfall, I usually try to use a fast shutter speed. The converse is true for smaller falls and streams.

Adjusting shutter speeds is your call. If you want the silky effect (my preference) use slower shutter speeds. If you want moving water to look like it really does, then use a fast speed. Here is a chart that I refer to

Learning wildlife photography – Making sharper images – Part 3

June 2nd, 2011 by Paul Burwell
Chipping Sparrow perched on a branch

Chipping Sparrow perched on a branch

Learning wildlife photography – Making sharper images – Part 3 – In this final installment on making sharper images, we’ll discuss a few more things to think about when you’re trying to make the sharpest possible images.

Shutter Speed – You need enough shutter speed to have a reasonable chance at making a sharp image. The general rule of thumb is that your shutter speed should match the focal length you’re shooting at. E.g. For an image made at 220mm you should be shooting at a minimum of 1/200th of a second. With an image stabilized camera or lens, you can generally get away with a shutter speed that’s a couple of stops slower (1/50th of a second in this example).

  • If your subject is moving around, you need enough shutter speed to freeze the motion. In most situations, you probably need shutter speeds of 1/250th of a second or faster to freeze the motion.
  • One of the big advantages of digital photography is that you have the option of boosting your camera’s ISO setting in order to achieve a higher shutter speed. Of course the trade off with the higher ISO settings is increased noise in the images.

Camera Support – Many photographers are not accustomed to making images with the aid of a tripod. They find them cumbersome to use but instead enjoy the flexibility that hand-holding their camera gives them. However, I am a strong advocate for using a tripod whenever it is practical. Even with today’s advanced image stabilization system and cameras capable of reasonable images at high ISO settings, it is still generally advisable to use a tripod to enhance your image quality.

Learning wildlife photography – Making sharper images – Part 2

June 1st, 2011 by Paul Burwell
Female Purple Finch perched on a branch

Female Purple Finch perched on a branch

Making sharper images – Part 2 - In the previous psot I discussed some of the finer points of using your camera’s auto focusing features to help compose an image and get what’s important (the eyes!) in focus. Let’s look at some additional factors that go into making sharp images.

Lenses – The higher quality the lens, the better images it can produce. And unfortunately, higher quality almost always translates to higher cost. Most camera and lens manufacturers make a line of “professional” lenses. In addition to the higher price for the “professional” quality, the lenses can produce tack-sharp, well saturated images. Spend enough time on Internet camera forums and you’ll come across a bevy of people constantly chasing the latest and greatest body. There are even some individuals who flip-flop back and forth between brands constantly chasing the newest camera body with the best perceived specifications. I’ve always advocated investing in the glass and then purchasing the best camera body you can afford. And I don’t know if I’ll ever understand people who switch back-and-forth between brands. I sincerely doubt it makes them better photographers and I know I couldn’t afford to take the hit on selling all my gear every couple of years only to stock up on gear for another brand.

Learning wildlife photography – Making sharper images – Part 1

May 31st, 2011 by Paul Burwell
Wilson's Phalarope swimming on a marsh - 1000mm, AI-Focus

Wilson's Phalarope swimming on a marsh – 1000mm, AI-Focus

Making sharper images – Part 1 – A lot of wildlife photography is dependent on the use of telephoto,telephoto-zooms and super telephoto lenses to make reasonable images of small subjects or larger animals off in the distance. When you use a telephoto lens, you need a new set of techniques in order to ensure that you end up with sharp images. Nothing is more frustrating than coming across some desirable subject, actually getting them into your viewfinder only to get home and discover that the images are lacking in the sharpness department.

The first thing to focus on (pun intended or not, you decide) is the subject’s eyes. In nearly all cases, the eyes of your subject should be tack sharp. So, that means that your going to have to put your camera’s focus point onto the animal’s eyes. Or, you can either exclusively use the center focus point and just accept the fact that your going to be spending a lot of time in Lightroom or Photoshop cropping your images to create a usable composition, or you can learn to use your camera’s features to create that composition in the viewfinder.

Andy Biggs on the NBC TODAY Show

May 30th, 2011 by Matt Dennison

Our pal Andy Biggs, of Gura Gear fame, appeared on the NBC Today Show last week to give folks some photography tips.  You can view his segment right here:

You can find out more about Andy, his safaris, his blog and his images at his website:

Cotton Carrier Camera Vest System Review

May 27th, 2011 by Jerry Monkman
Skiing with the Cotton Carrier Camera Vest.

Skiing with the Cotton Carrier Camera Vest.

A couple of months ago I was asked by OPG to try out a new camera carrying system by Cotton Carrier.

Their Camera Vest system works much like a Baby Bjorn for cameras, holding a camera snug to your chest and distributing the weight comfortably on your shoulders and torso. When I am on my shooting adventures, I usually carry my camera and a spare lens or two in a waist pouch, which I position so that the gear compartment is in front of me. This has always seemed to be the best way to have my camera easily accessible for action shots, but either I'm getting older (o.k., I know I am) or my gear is getting heavier because I'm finding the waist pouch option is increasingly putting pressure on my lower back. I was eager to try out the Cotton Carrier vest to see if it fit my shooting style. After a few outings over the winter and this spring, I've decided it will be my "go to" system for adventure shooting.


May 24th, 2011 by Steve Gettle

Here is a series of pictures I made a few years ago. The pictures show the main stages of a monarch caterpillar turning into a beautiful butterfly. This group of pictures was made over about a two week period. All of the action takes place at the beginning and end of that two week period. Near the end you can tell when the butterfly is about to emerge because just before the hatch the chrysalis becomes transparent allowing you to see the butterfly inside.


I came home early one afternoon and found a transparent chrysalis, I knew that the butterfly was just about to emerge. So I got my gear ready and kept a close eye on things. As the day went on I could see the butterfly moving inside struggling to break free. About ten o'clock that evening I had myself completely convinced that it was going to happen very soon. At midnight, (twelve hours in now), I'm quite certain that the chrysalis is just about to burst. By three in the morning I'm seriously considering using a razor blade to perform an emergency butterflyectomy. Well, five am comes and I certainly can't go to bed, I had already spent fifteen hours waiting for this thing! I could not imagine going to sleep and missing it at this point!  The clock on the mantle announces eight in the morning, and still no butterfly, OK this is just getting ridiculous!  In the end the butterfly you see here was 'born' at 11:00 AM on a beautiful July morning, after I had spent just over 23 hours on stakeout!

Metamorphosis 2


I can tell you that I took a much deserved nap that afternoon.

People Need A Connection To Your Images

May 23rd, 2011 by Mike Moats

When I started in the art show business five years ago it was my first experience at selling nature photography, I thought that the art shows were a place where people came to find contemporary abstract art, so I loaded up my booth with abstracts and soft focus images.   It didn’t take long to figure out that the people that attended these shows were not interested in the abstract images.  What they were buying was the images that is called realism.  Everything in focus images of subjects that people could identify and relate to. Images of reality.

After about five or six shows, I pulled out most all of the abstracts and replaced them with realism.  My sales shot up dramatically.

So why do people like realism over abstract?  Not everyone likes realism, there are the people that like abstracts, but they are in the minority.  I’m in the minority because I tend to prefer the soft focus abstracts, or images with patterns, shapes, soft blurred colors.

One thing that I have learned from talking with the people who buy my images at the shows is that they usually have a connection to the subjects in the image.

Take this Lily of the Valley flower in the image above.  One lady buying this image told me that her grandmother had a patch of Lily of the Valley flowers in her yard, and every time she sees this flower she thinks of her grandmother.

Quality Time

May 20th, 2011 by Steve Gettle

Editor's note:  Welcome Steve Gettle to the blog!  Steve has been a professional wildlife photographer for over 25 years.  Hailing from Brighton, Michigan, Steve has traveled the world to acquire stunning images and to teach a wide range of workshops.  Steve's work has been featured worldwide as well, from the Museum of Natural History in London, to the National Center for Nature Photography in Ohio.  Steve has been a multiple award winner in the BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year contest as well.  Make sure and take some time to browse Steve's wonderful images, read his blog, and learn about his incredible variety of workshops at his site!

A few years back I had the privilege of spending some real quality time with a Sandhill Crane family. I have photographed cranes on the nest on several different occasions but this situation was about as good as I could imagine. The nest was located in Kensington Metro Park (a park very close to my home). The nest was very near the Nature Center so the birds were extremely acclimated to the presence of people. This was a good thing because at times there were more than a half a dozen people enjoying the experience. Over the course of about a month I spent dozens of hours photographing this incredible situation.

I found the nest early on and was able to photograph the adults as they incubated and turned the eggs. The incubation period for Sandhills is about 30 days, during that time one of the parents was with the eggs at all times.