Five Tips for the Inadequate

Defocus and Shoot it Shallow, Ngorongoro Crater - Tanzania
Feeling inadequate because you can’t afford the latest and greatest? Sometimes I do! Just this morning I was surfing the web, visiting some forums, and reading a few of my favorite photo-blogs. I came across a post from a guy who had recently returned from a Tanzanian safari. He had some amazing images... the tight portraits of lions and leopards were stunning. I’d be a liar if I didn’t admit to a tinge of envy. So, I dug into his EXIF data (digital raw data) to determine the camera and lens he was shooting. Sure enough, the images were produced with a Canon 500mm f4.0L IS lens. I whimsically thought to myself... “you too could produce images like this for the low-low price of only $6,999 + tax and shipping!”

Defocused Water Lilies, Caribbean Slope - Costa Rica

Unfortunately, some things are just out of reach for mere mortals. I can’t justify that type of expense on gear because I don’t derive my income from my craft. And isn’t this what it’s all about. This thing I do with cameras is my way of exploring the natural world... it is the way I express myself... it is how I escape my everyday reality and relax. Photography is my art, and at the core of this exploration is my vision. At times it is a real challenge to fight gear envy, but in the end, gear is just this... a tool. Camera equipment is the ephemeral thing, it comes and it goes. In contrast, the final image... your vision, is forever. So rather than waste time obsessing about the gear, we image makers should be obsessing about the process. We are all on a vision quest seeking a way to tell a story about a place and time. 
Grunge Lion - HDR Processing, Masai Mara - Kenya
What follows are a few “tips” (if you like) that might push you to differentiate your work from the sameness that is omnipresent on the web. There is nothing new about my suggestions, but most of these tips break with “best practices” in nature photography. While there is a time and a place to shoot it right, busting through accepted paradigms can inspire a creative spark that helps you to convey what’s hidden in your mind’s eye. 
Contrasty Caiman, Pacific Coast - Costa Rica
Tip #1
Focus and then defocus your lens. These pictures aren’t about the details, they’re about the color!
Tip #2
Shoot and apply strong HDR processing for the “grunge” look. 
Downpour! - Mantled Howler, Caribbean Slope - Costa Rica
Tip #3
Shoot and process for contrast... who cares about dynamic range!
Tip #4
Shoot in the rain, life happens during “bad” weather too.
Snake Mimic, Shoot it Shallow! Caribbean Slope, Costa Rica
Tip #5
Shoot with shallow depth of field (f/1.4 to f/2.8) even when you know you should stop down. 
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