Game changers

Johan van Zyl All Authors, Johan 1 Comment

As Photographers we often look at how we can improve our photography and take things to the next level.  That is one of the reasons why I love our Digital Photography and Wildlife Photography workshops.  Most of the guests we get on the courses shoot in either Auto or Program mode, and although there is nothing wrong with that, you just do not have the ability to get the end result you are after.

Here are a few basic game changers that could help you with your photography.


Marked as AV or A on your camera, Aperture priority does exactly what is says, it allows you to control the aperture and ISO manually.   This gives you the ability to decide how much light you want to come into the lens and also how much depth of field you would like in a scene.  The camera automatically gives you a shutter speed according to the ISO and Aperture (F-stop) you have chosen.


This allows you to not only get creative with your photography, but also gives you the ability to isolate the background from your subject, using shallow depth of field (low F-number).

6G4A4438Image taken at F2.8 


Marked as TV or S on your camera, this setting allows you to manually select your shutter speed and ISO. Depending on the Shutter speed and ISO you have chosen, the camera will give you an Aperture to balance your exposure.


Personally not a setting I use, especially in Wildlife Photography, but one that can be a lot of fun to play around with and understand what effect different shutter speeds will give.


Image taken at 1/640 sec which froze the moment.  You can see the front paw in the air has no movement.


Image taken at a very slow shutter speed 1/6.  You can see the movement in the legs


Marked as M on your camera, this mode allows you to Manually choose your Shutter Speed, Aperture and ISO.  You can get very creative in this mode and comes in especially handy when photographing stars and animals at night.


Now with most of the guests I have dealt with, THIS is a massive game changer.  Previously you used to rely on your camera to focus (remember the camera chooses the point of most contrast) and often you will find it will not focus where you would like it to?  How frustrating!!!  Now you can select you focal point manually, helping you not only get your subject more in focus and help with your composition, but it opens up a whole new world for you in terms of playing with shallow depths of field, adding a story to your image eventually.  Remember you’re not changing your lens to Manual Focus, your lens still focusses automatically, you’re just telling it where to focus.


Instead of all your focal points being highlighted, you are now selecting individual points.


There are different options and how many focal points you would like illuminated, but for the sake of this exercise lets keep it to one.  The only other time I would really change my focal points to more than one is if it is a very small bird I am photographing.

You can then move your focal point around depending on how you would like to compose your image, or put more emphasis on certain parts of your subject.  Generally in Wildlife photography, we want the faces and especially the eyes to be sharp and in focus.




12 Exposure-Compensation-Scale

Definitely a game changer to help you expose for the scene in front of you.  Often in Wildlife photography you are faced with exposure nightmares.  A dark animal with bright skies, or a white bird sitting in the shade.  With exposure compensation you can manually manipulate the exposure in camera to achieve your desired result.  It is also a great tool to use when photographing in low light.  By underexposing you increase your shutter speed, and although it could only be ever so slightly, every bit helps when shooting in low light and could be the difference between a blurred image and one that is sharp.  Andrew did a great blog on exposure compensation a little while ago.


A pretty dark animal standing in white sand can be very tricky.  If I did not overexpose this scene and left it at neutral, I would have lost detail in my subject.  In this case you don’t mind if the foreground or background is washed out, the story is about your subject.  In this image I overexposed by +1.


With Silhouettes and sunsets you want to underexpose your scene to preserve those colours.  In Silhouettes you intentionally don’t want any detail in your subject, you just want the outline.  In this image I underexposed by -2 stops.


This image was taken early in the morning before sunrise.  I underexposed by -1 1/3 which helped me achieve a shutter speed just high enough to get a sharp image.


Birds in flight are always tricky as more often than not you are faced with bright white skies.  In this image I overexposed by +1 2/3 to get some detail in the Vulture.


As far as I can remember probably the most recent and biggest game changer of them all.

What is back button focussing?  In short, instead of achieving focus by half depressing your shutter button, you are now assigning one of the buttons at the back of your camera to achieve focus, while your shutter button now just takes the image.  On a personal level this has changed by photography a lot and has increased my success ratio when photographing high speed action scenes.  Back Button Focussing has many benefits, most notably you can shoot in AI servo (AF-C) and One Shot (AF-S) without having to waste time changing it in your menu.  With Wildlife, which is what I photograph 99% of the time, an animal can go from standing still to running within seconds, so there is no time to change from single shot to AI servo.  If you haven’t made the move to Back Button focussing yet, I cannot recommend it enough.

These are just some of the game changers, what has been your game changer?

Till next time


About the Author

Johan van Zyl


The opportunity of visiting some of the wildest, undisturbed areas and sharing my passion for wildlife, conservation and photography with like minded people is a privilege that I am forever grateful.

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