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Top Ten Trek Tips from the Trail with Mark Alberhasky

The Variables. Shooting at a distance in the rain with a teleconverter on a long lens requires a careful balance of ISO, shutter speed and aperture to ensure sharp results. D3S, AF-S NIKKOR 600mm f/4D IF-ED II, AF-S Teleconverter TC-14E II, 1/160 second, f/5.6, ISO 1600, aperture priority, Matrix metering.

Not long ago we were talking with Mark Alberhasky, who spends a great deal of his time leading workshops, photo safaris and Nikon co-sponsored Mentor Series treks. "So," we asked, "what do you find that the people on your treks need to know in order to take better pictures?"

Our timing was perfect. Mark was about to embark on a series of workshops and treks, and he said, "I'll make some notes and let you know when I get back."

Here's what he told us when he returned:


1. The Variables

"A lot of beginning photographers need a basic, solid understanding of how shutter speed, aperture and ISO interact to control how much light enters the camera. Then they need to be aware that shutter speed and aperture have creative impact, that they determine how a moving subject is rendered and how depth of field is determined."

TIP: [If you use a small aperture such as f/16, your image will have greater depth of field; but if you use a wider aperture, such as f/2.8, then you will have shallower depth of field.

Likewise, use shutter speed to control how much action is frozen in your images. Using a fast shutter speed, say 1/500 or 1/1000 of a second to freeze moving water or a moving person but if you want to show blurring of motion to give the photo the perception of movement, use a slow shutter speed, such as 1/15 or ¼ of a second.

ISO is the sensitivity to light. The higher you raise the ISO, the less light is needed to make a photograph, but it can also increase the noise of an image. Think of ISO like you did in the days of using film. A low ISO film would be used when shooting in direct sunlight, but for shooting inside, with very low light, you used a high ISO speed film.]


2. The Settings

"Mastery of camera controls is vital. Where are the controls, what do they do, when do you adjust them and by how much? Even advanced photographers need to work on this, only they need to adjust the controls without looking, almost without thinking. I tell workshop participants to sit in the dark and find the control that adjusts, for example, the ISO. Finding it and other controls, teaches them the coordination they'll need in the field so they can make changes quickly and eventually make them without taking their eyes from the viewfinder."


3. RAW Fear

"Most photographers moving up to a D-SLR from a compact camera have been shooting nothing but JPEG files. By the time they attend a workshop some have heard of RAW files, but are often hesitant to use the format for capture. Some don't know their camera is capable of saving an image in both formats simultaneously, which is what I encourage as a starting point so they'll feel comfortable. Eventually they learn that they can process RAW as easily as JPEG and that JPEGs can quickly be created from RAW files. Most important, they learn that RAW files provide the highest quality and the greatest flexibility."

TIP: [Use Nikon View NX 2 or Capture NX 2 software to open, convert and edit NEF files.]


4. ISO Confidence

"Many photographers don't grasp the fundamental importance of ISO adjustments. Boosting the ISO can make all the difference in low light. It helps get sharper hand-held pictures and allows use of a faster shutter speed to freeze a moving subject. Even those who correctly see the need to bump up the ISO are frequently too timid in their adjustments."


5. Automation Control

"In the hands of an experienced photographer, auto settings—like shutter priority, aperture priority, exposure compensation and auto ISO—are valuable creative tools. The key issue is to understand what the automation is doing and how it's affecting the image. I like to start people out in manual mode so they can see the effect of their choices and understand that they are in control of the exposure. Then they can move on to auto."


6. The Histogram

"Understanding the histogram's usefulness has grown over the years, but many workshop students either pay too little or too much attention to this graphic representation of tonal values. I stress its use in arriving at an optimal exposure for a given lighting situation, but I tell my students not to be chained to its evaluation once they're in the ballpark of a good exposure. It's a great reference, but I like to think of it as a starting point."

TIP: Read Learning to Use the Histogram for specific details on how to read and use the Histogram.


7. Speed Bumps

"Many participants want to take sports and action photos, and they understand that the challenge of moving subjects demands good choices for shutter speed and autofocus settings. They know that fast shutter speeds freeze action, but they usually don't have a feel for choosing a specific speed for a given subject. It's a surprise to many of them that simple trial-and-error test exposures will provide the experience they need. As for the ins and outs of the autofocusing system, there is almost a universal need to better understand AF choices—like single point AF, dynamic area AF, auto area AF. And speaking of speed, many people underuse the continuous advance feature of their cameras—the high framing rate that'll capture a motion sequence."

TIP: [Single Point AF ensures that the most important element in the composition, such as the eyes in a portrait, will be sharply focused.

Dynamic Area AF allows you to select from several focusing options-9, 21 or all 51-point AF. Select a Single AF point and the areas surrounding it serve as backup-an advantage when shooting moving subjects. Select the 9-point option when you want to focus on erratically moving subjects with greater accuracy. When dealing with insufficient contrast for fast focus detection, choosing 21 or 51 points makes detection easier. The 51-point option also allows for 3D Focus Tracking, which uses color information from the 1,005-pixel RGB sensor to automatically follow moving subjects across the AF points.

Auto Area AF uses color information and special face recognition algorithms to automatically focus on an individual's face, which is extremely helpful when there's simply no time to select a focus point, or when using Live View in hand-held mode at high or low angles.]


8. A Critical Eye

"Virtually every participant comes to a workshop to raise the quality of their images. The first step for me is to help them develop a critical eye when viewing a photograph. If I ask them to tell me the strength or weakness of an image, the reply is often a shrug and a few generalizations. If asked to critique someone else's work, few can provide analytic insights. If you can't specifically identify what's right or wrong about a photograph, it's nearly impossible to seriously improve. The best way to learn to do this is in a group setting, where participants learn not only from my discussion of their images but from the group's discussion of other participants' work."


9. Something Different

"I tell the participants that they're here to try new things. The best workshop experience pushes them into areas outside their comfort zones. You take a workshop not to rehash what you already know. You're there to venture into unfamiliar territory."


10. Turn Pro?

"Hardly a workshop goes by without questions about making the switch from serious amateur to professional. Occasionally almost all the pieces are in place, but the person lacks the confidence or the one bit of advice to complete the puzzle. Others need realistic advice about the level of their work and help in designing a strategy to maximize their chance for success. If you entertain the notion of working as a pro, you need to understand the difference between shooting for fun and shooting to make a living. I never want to discourage someone with a dream-I was there myself-but I think it's important to understand what 'professional' means. It isn't just about selling your work for money; it's about delivering quality images, about which you may not be excited, often on a 'create on demand' deadline. A year down the road you may wonder what happened to your passion for photography. For some the answer may be to be professional about their approach to photography, to even sell occasional work, but to embrace the medium with the excitement of an amateur and use photography to enrich their lives while keeping their day jobs."

© Mark Alberhasky