Rich Ditch's Photography Blog

January 17, 2009

Take advantage of the weather

White-crowned Sparrow in morning haze

White-crowned Sparrow in morning haze

A lot of people believe that “chamber of commerce” weather is the best for photography, so they don’t get out in anything but crisp sunny light. We have an abundance of such light here in AZ – a lot more of it than I really like. So, I rejoice on those rare occasions when there’s enough moisture in the atmosphere to create a little early morning haze, or better yet (and even rarer) some actual fog.

These conditions will soften everything and allow the photographer to show more detail that might otherwise be lost to deep shadow. It will also act as a diffuser of more distant objects and render backgrounds much softer than under “normal” light.

This White-crowned Sparrow was photographed at my usual haunt: the Water Ranch in Gilbert, AZ. Note the softening effect on the background and the openness of the normally shadowed underside of the sparrow as a result of the morning haze.

Green Heron on a foggy day

Green Heron on a foggy day

This Green Heron was also photographed at the Water Ranch, but on a different, very foggy day for AZ. The fog is so heavy here that it has taken a toll on plumage detail, but I thought that was a good tradeoff for the total obliteration of the busy background I’d otherwise have recorded.

When shooting in these conditions you might find it necessary to adjust the color temperature on any images to avoid the shot looking too blue. But if you do add warmth in the raw conversion with the color temperature slider be careful not to overdue it and lose the feel of the weather, or worse make the image look completely false. This is an excellent reason to be shooting raw and maximizing the benefits of digital.



  1. The White Crowned Sparrow is one of my favorite LBJs. What were your camera settings on that picture, if you don’t mind my asking? Thanks!

    Comment by Robin McEntire — February 3, 2009 @ 12:50 pm

  2. ISO 400, 1/60th second at f/8

    Nikon D200, 300/2.8 AF-S lens with matching 2x converter (TC20E)

    8:26 AM, November 25, 2008

    So, that’s almost 5 stops away from “sunny 16” conditions

    Comment by richditch — February 3, 2009 @ 3:05 pm

  3. Thanks! I’m always afraid to shoot ISO 400 because I want to avoid as much “noise” as possible. I guess you have to experiment to find the best setting for the current environment. Be BRAVE!!

    Comment by Robin McEntire — February 3, 2009 @ 4:11 pm

  4. Since I cut my teeth shooting film (color slide plus B&W negative) in the early 1970’s I am probably more forgiving of digital noise in an image than people who got into photography with digital. I see a lot of comments about noise in images posted at photo critique sites on the web, and I see a lot of people immediately hit their images with heavy doses of noise reduction to take it out.

    I have NoiseWare, one of the Photoshop plugins like the better known Noise Ninja and Neat Image, and use it on occasion when the noise in an image becomes distracting, but I’m careful to apply it only to the background portions of the image and avoid using it on the main subject. These NR applications can’t really tell the difference between the noise and a lot of the important fine detail in an image, and I’d much rather preserve the plumage detail than eliminate all the noise.

    But I’ve mostly eliminated the need for using NR by learning to give each shot proper exposure. This is often referred to as “shooting to the right” and comes from giving enough exposure to keep the exposure histogram shown on the LCD on the back of the camera pushed as far as possible to the right end of the graph. The tricky part of this is keeping the highlights from “blowing out” and losing all texture from overexposure. I did a lot more negative compensation (-1/3, -2/3 typically) when I first started digital to protect the highlights, but that meant I’d often have to increase exposure a bit in raw conversion. What has helped me a lot is the Recover slider in PS CS3: it lets me bring back the brightest parts if the highlights do get too hot.

    Comment by richditch — February 3, 2009 @ 5:38 pm

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