Tag Archives: Sharpness

Have fun, take great shots – photography at the zoo

Elephants - at the zoo all sorts of images are there for you to capture.

• Elephants •
At the zoo all sorts of images are there for you to capture. Keep an eye open for the natural shots as well as the well timed ones.

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• Elephants • By Netkonnexion on Flickr External link - opens new tab/page

The zoo is a rich playground for photographers.

All sorts of opportunities pop up for you. First off, concentrate on getting your pictures sharp and well composed. We will be looking at a few other ideas to help you on your zoo trip.

Sharpness and composition:

A zoo is a great place to practice your five S’s… check these out: Five S’s for super shots. We have also covered a lot of the subject matter in these pages on how to keep your shots sharp and well composed. So here are two links to look back on:

If you want to work through the issues of composition also check out the most important one to get started with: Rule of Thirds. However, composition is a wide study. So here’s the link to the composition articles on Photokonnexion: Composition resources. You can also find these listed under ‘Articles’ on the navigation bar above.

Any special tips?

Yes, fences! They are a pain. But also not as much as a problem as you think. Ring-tail lemurs are hugely cute animals, but great climbers. They need to kept inside a high and secure chain-link fence – you know the diamond linked fencing…

Ring-tail lemur - inside a diamond-shaped link fence.

• Ring-tail lemur •
inside a diamond-shaped link fence. By focusing correctly you can focus the fence out.

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• Ring-tail lemur • By Netkonnexion on Flickr External link - opens new tab/page

In this picture you cannot see the fence at all! I assure you it was taken through the fence. If you focus correctly you won’t see the fence. Just leave enough room between you and the fence and the fence and the animals. In this shot I was about 2 meters from the fence and the animals were about the same distance inside it. Equal distance either side of the fence and you will be OK. A sharp focus on the animal will put the fence in its most out of focus point. A great tip!

Unfortunately it does not work with thick bars. It is slightly less successful with some finer mesh fences too. It works reasonably well with glass. It does not work from a long way back from the fence because the individual strands in the fence appear to come together and look like a sheen over the shot. So this tip takes a little practice but you should be able to do it if you keep ‘chimping’. Yes, chimping! In a zoo that’s just the thing to do… keep looking at your screen on the camera to see how it came out.

Approach to your shots

Sometimes plain old photos of an animal in a cage are fine. Especially if you are doing a science project or something similar. You do not want to mislead people about where you get the shots. So, if you are doing any sort of a record shot then capture the animal in its enclosure. If you are reporting, taking a journalistic shot, then you must not mislead the public in any way. So, make sure that you take a fair picture of caging as well as the animal itself.

It is great fun, for your own interest, to take shots that make it look like you caught the animal in the wild. This does take a bit of creativity. You need to find ways that show the animal in an environment where it might be seen naturally. Avoid fences, people, artificial surfaces and toys/climbing equipment. Put in plants, other animals, trees, natural nests and so on. Most caged-off areas are quite well suited to this in modern zoos. In the UK, and most other aware countries, zoos must cater for the animal so it has five needs satisfied. They must have…

  1. somewhere suitable to live;
  2. a proper diet, including fresh water;
  3. the ability to express normal behaviour;
  4. any need satisfied relating to being housed with, or apart from, other animals;
  5. protection from, and treatment of, illness and injury.

These five needs also give you a clue as to what to look out for when photographing the animals. Look around their enclosures and find them doing things that fit these five essentials of their lives. That way you will catch them doing things they might be seen doing in the wild. Eating, playing, chasing, sleeping, running… all these things are good photographic material. Capture the animal in movement and stationary… whatever gets your artistic juices flowing! It’s all about enjoying yourself as well as extending your photography.

Portrait of a Rhino - capturing an animal in its noblest pose...

• Portrait of a Rhino •
Capturing an animal in its noblest pose is fun and shows the essential character.

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• Portrait of a Rhino • By Netkonnexion on Flickr External link - opens new tab/page


It is not always easy to capture animals in action, doing exciting things. Another great pass-time is portraiture. Capture the animal looking at its best. There are lots of things you can do for this, and it helps to use a fresh perspective. So, try high shots, low shots, ground shots. Oblique angles and upside down shots are fun! Sometimes just get a beautiful picture. With your portraiture, as with humans, try to capture the animal looking at its best, and especially, when it is stationary. The idea is to make the essential character of the animal come out in your shot.

Where possible, and it is difficult sometimes, try to get catchlights in the eyes of the animal. The eyes of all animals, including humans are a strong focal point. Catchlights are great for helping to make the animal look alive and dynamic.

A day at the zoo

If you spend a whole day at the zoo you can also have fun people watching. Animals are great, but watch out for stupid humans. Grown ups are especially funny if you catch them with kids. They imitate the animals, and jump around in an attempt to get the kids into the mood. Boy does that make for some fun photography. So keep an eye out for good ol’ Homo sapiens External link - opens new tab/page doing what comes naturally when around kids and animals.


Finally, remember that you should take a lot of shots. Animals, especially on the move, make difficult targets sometimes. So, work hard to get each shot right. Also, concentrate on your experimentation, your sharpness and your composition.

Back at the ranch you have a chance to do some great post-processing. Some of the zoo shoots I have done over the years have seen over a thousand shots in a day. Wow! Weeks of post processing fun! Remember, while the shots may be worth developing in your favourite editor straight from the camera, animals make great subjects for morphing, general ‘PhotoShopping’ and cutting and pasting into other pictures. So don’t think your day is over when you get home. The fun is just beginning.

Have fun on your zoo trip!

By Damon Guy (author and Photokonnexion editor)

Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photog and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photographers.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.

Six tips for photographing silhouettes

"Figures on the dunes"

“Figures on the dunes” – the art in silhouettes is about shape
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Shooting silhouettes is about photographing contrasts

The only difficulty with silhouettes is seeing them. Our eyes often see detail in scenes that the camera cannot. We take a shot at something and a silhouette comes out – what’s happening? The difference between the brighter and darker areas of the shot creates a silhouette.

1. How a silhouette is created

Humans, and cameras, see a silhouette when there is a foreground-object placed in front of a strongly lighted background. The foreground-object looks black if it is not lit from the front. The strong back-light just looks bright behind the black and this creates the silhouette. In other words, the contrast between the bright background and the dark foreground object is so large the camera image sensor, cannot resolve details in it, leaving it black. In photographic terms, if there is more than two stops difference in the light between the foreground object and the background lighting there will be a silhouette.

"Cows Grazing" - Creating silhouettes is fun and easy.

“Cows Grazing” – Creating silhouettes is fun and easy.

In the picture above the tiny cows on the brow of the hill are black (dark) objects because they are not lit from the front. The sky behind them is relatively bright compared to them. So, a silhouette is created.

Clarity of the image is everything. So, in addition to ensuring the edges of your silhouette are well defined and not confused with clouds and other objects, make sure they are sharp. The shape is important, so is the focus. The simplicity and purity of the silhouette is lost if the sharpness is not there to support it.

2. You can ensure something becomes a silhouette

A silhouette will be created every time a dark foreground object is placed against a brighter background. However, sometimes you can still see some detail in the foreground object, which is not a true silhouette. There are some things you can do about this.

  1. Lower the foreground lighting to darken the foreground object
  2. Brighten the background increasing contrast between front and back.
  3. Underexpose the foreground making it go black so the background stands out.
  4. Overexpose the background so it darkens the foreground object.
  5. Post-process the image to blacken the silhouette and brighten the background

In effect the techniques increase the contrast between the front and back. That blows out or brightens the background. This relatively underexposes the foreground object so detail is lost making it black. If you do any of these, or more than one of them, you are controlling the light to create a silhouette. You can do these to a lesser or greater extent with a scene you create, or one you see when you are out and about.

3. The art in is in the shape

The silhouette art form has been used to strongly characterise shape since the time of the Greeks. The stark and well defined edges in a silhouette are simple and attractive. Dating from around 1750 onwards, the method of making silhouettes was to cut them from thin black cardboard and mount them on a white background. This established a strong tradition of high contrast silhouette art. In the last 150 years the cut-out form of the art has mostly been replaced by photography silhouettes.

A powerful silhouette is about shape. The more graphic you can make it the more the image stands out. The best silhouettes are two dimensional although modern photographic techniques allow for the scene to have depth and apparent texture. The trick in producing a successful image as a silhouette today is therefore to provide a clear image, a traditional shape-format for the silhouette shape itself, and a great photograph in which the silhouette has context.

4. Sunset and sunrise

These are ideal times for creating silhouettes. The darkening sky still has sufficient intensity of light for making a photograph. The sky often has great colours too. Highlighting objects of interest against the sky at these times gives not only the drama of high contrast in the image, but also dramatic or attractive colours. Any great sunset or sunrise can be used for a silhouette. The best ones are against a clear sky because the colours are more intense and there is no cloud to confuse the edges of the silhouette.

When working at these times you will need to be working with longer exposures to compensate for the darker tones and colours. Make sure you set out with a tripod. Also read up on night photography because the same settings and techniques apply in these low-light conditions.

5. Bright sunny days

The hottest mid-day light is often a disaster for the photographer. The sun beats down from above and drives out the colours as well as flattening the shadows. Everything looks flat. However, guess what? This is a great time for silhouettes.

Photographing objects against strong, blue, mid-day sky creates great silhouettes. You can lie on the ground shooting straight up at things, or just pick out objects in the environment. Just make sure the contrast between the silhouette object and the background is high. This usually means exposing your shot for the sky itself.

To expose for the sky get the camera to focus on the brightness of the sky. Point it so your focus point in the viewfinder is in the bright area but your silhouette shape is still in the frame. If the sky is very bright, or featureless, the auto-focus may ‘hunt’ and fail to focus. Auto-focus works by matching contrasts of tones. If it does not see a contrast it has nothing to focus upon. So try to find something that can be used. You can try to put your focus point near the silhouette subject, but not on it. That sometimes works. Or, you can focus on a cloud, bird or other object that is still mainly very bright. Once you have managed to get your camera to focus on the sky the silhouette subject will be relatively darker and you have your silhouette. The darker your subject the better it will be in silhouette.

The picture with the cows on the brow of the hill above was taken at about 1.30pm on a bright sunny day. When a few dark clouds passed over the hill nearby I exposed for the clouds. They came out with lovely detail. The cows were little black silhouettes as they were underexposed.

6. Wind and movement

Wind is the enemy of the silhouette – outside anyway. There is nothing worse than your tree waving its branches when you are doing a longish exposure. Even a slight wind can ruin things. The image will look blurry and there will be ill defined edges for the actual shape. So look carefully at everything around you and make sure that you have no movement. If you do have wind blowing, find something solid and immovable with which to do your silhouette. For the same reason, it is not easy to do silhouettes of anything moving, like cars or people.

Do you have any great tips to add to this? Please enter a comment below and we will write them up!

Five S’s for super shots

"Washday abstract"

“Washday Abstract”
Simplicity is one of the keys to making your image.

A list to help you make a good image

I love a good list. It helps me remember what I have to do. Here is a list of five S’s that will lead you through the basics of making a photograph…


The subject of your picture is the most important thing. Concentrate on your subject. It is too easy to put all sorts of things into the picture. If you do so you will confuse the viewer. Isolate your subject from things around it so that it is obviously the focus of your image. Never let your subject merge into the rest of the picture.


Actually, sharpness is a variable. Un-sharp parts of your picture are as important to the image as the sharp areas. This point is about the ‘way’ you use sharpness. Having a sharp subject and throwing the rest out of focus is one way to concentrate the viewers attention on the subject. It may be important to have sharpness right through the shot, or it may not. Sharp or un-sharp – ensure it is what you intended and that it helps your image.


Sometimes you can create a very simple shot. Other times not so simple. Whatever you manage, there is no doubt that the more complicated a scene, the more difficult it is to focus the attention of the viewer. This is a reminder to remove all distractions from the shot. Keep It Simple and Sweet (the KISS principle).


Composition is the one constant in every photograph. Study composition with all your energy. It is the fundamental that teaches you the way to set-up your scene in the image frame. It is a lifetime study.


A wise photographer once said,

There are always two people in every picture: the photographer and the viewer.

Ansel Adams
It may be satisfying for you to take a picture. But it is only a winner if you make it satisfying for the viewer. When you are taking your shot consider the viewer. Think about what they will see, try to understand what they will be visualizing. Try to pull them into the image, give them something compelling to see.

By the way

If you have stared at my image and think you know what it is and why it’s titled that way… leave a comment below!

By Damon Guy (author and Photokonnexion editor)

Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photog and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photographers.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.

Aperture – Mind the gap please!

Understanding the F stop

The aperture - a fundamental concept if you want to 'Go Manual

Aperture – Part 3 in a series about “Going Manual”

Previously, we discussed the sensitivity to light of the Digital Image Sensor. By changing the ISO we can adjust the camera’s ability to cope with bright or dark situations.

The Diaphragm controls the size of the aperture

In this article we look at the aperture, the second point of camera control. In the photographic lens unit of most DSLR cameras is the iris diaphragm. It is a circular fan of blades that slide across each other. As they slide, they open or shut the aperture in the middle of the blades. The aperture is the gap that the light comes through. It is the size of the aperture that determines how much light gets through the photographic lens unit to the image sensor.

The size of the aperture does not only control the amount of light through to the sensor. It also controls the ‘depth of field’ in the shot. The depth of field is the part of the picture which is in sharp focus.

The size of the aperture controls the amount of light that is allowed through the lens. As the aperture gets bigger the amount of light coming through the lens increases. However, a bigger aperture creates a shallower depth of field. Taking a photo at F4, a wide aperture, means you will be able to focus on an object like a face and have a high light input. But you may not be able to discern any detail behind the head. The depth of field has been made shallow by the wide aperture. You lose the focus in the back of the shot when the depth of field is shallow. You also lose some of the foreground ability to focus too.

If you set the aperture to f11, a narrow aperture, you will get sharpness right through the shot. The depth of field is deeper. A narrow aperture extends the depth of field. Of course the narrow aperture also reduces the light coming through to the digital image sensor.

If you set the aperture to, say, f3.5, a wide aperture, the shallow depth of field becomes apparent. The zone of sharpness will be well defined. Out of the sharp zone you can see highly frosted out-of-focus objects. The out-of-focus area is called bokeh. Shooting with a shallow depth of field creates bokeh in the background. The effect can be very pleasing. The aesthetics of bokeh is a lifetime of experiences for a photographer – it is an important aspect of many facets of photography.

To sum up…

Aperture sets the amount of light allowed to pass through the lens. It is one of the main controls used to create an exposure. When the aperture is wide open the depth of field is very shallow. When the aperture is narrow the depth field gives sharpness through the image.