Featured Image of the Week – 8/11/2014

Today I’m starting something brand new. Each Monday I’ll go through my catalog of images and I’ll pick one I like and I’ll share something about the image. It could be a story behind the image, some info about the gear I used, a technique that made the shot possible or I might talk about how I processed the shot. Here’s my very first featured image of the week:

“Two Lion Cubs”

This weeks featured image is from the Big Cat exhibit at the National Zoo in Washington, DC.

It’s been an active year for the staff at the National Zoo and the six new lion cubs are a joy to watch as well as photograph. On the day I took this shot the two cubs were around five months old.

For this shot I used a 70-200mm lens (racked out to 200mm) on a crop sensor camera. I kept the big camera/lens setup steady with a monopod. The RAW file was processed in Lightroom 5 and finished with Photoshop and OnOne Perfect Effects.

Shooting at the National Zoo

When it comes to shooting at the National Zoo the secret to success is coming back often. Some days the animals just aren’t going to do anything interesting and some days they’re non-stop awesome. Weather and crowds are always a factor and it’s not uncommon for me to come home without a single shot I like. With persistence you’ll learn the personality of the different animals as well as what time of day is the best for a particular animal. The more you come back the better your shots will become.

For gear it’s best to bring the longest lens you own as well as something to keep your camera steady (like a monopod). The National zoo doesn’t mind tripods but it can get kind of crowded (and a tripod takes up a bunch of real estate) so I recommend leaving the tripod at home unless you’re attending a private viewing.

When it comes to camera settings I try to get as high a shutter speed as possible and that’s usually a good thing since that translates to a big aperture setting (a low f-number). With a big aperture you can get some blur of the background and that helps to really put viewers attention on your subject. I usually set my camera to Aperture priority mode and dial in f2.8 -f4 at ISO 800 to get a fast shutter speed. Sometimes I’ll have to go full manual mode for tricky animals (Giant Panda Bears, for example) but usually Aperture priority works fine.

Another secret for my zoo pictures is that I’m pretty aggressive in post production. The light will never be perfect so dodging and burning (with Photoshop) can really help a shot come to life. In the case of this shot I used some dodging to bring a little life in to the eyes of the cubs (which looked a little dark as captured).

Here’s a quick tip: don’t be afraid of cropping to eliminate anything that isn’t important to the shot. Unless you have an incredibly long (and expensive) lens you’ll never get as close as you’d like. In those situations I’m never afraid to do a little bit (or a lot) of cropping.

One final thought – you don’t have to stick to the original aspect ratio when cropping. Consider going a bit wider when there’s nothing important at the top or bottom of your shot. In the case of this shot I cropped a little off the top and bottom of the image and it really helped strengthen the final composition.

If you have a question or comment about my featured image of the week be sure to leave me a comment below or you can send me an email.

You can see this image over on my 500px page here.

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