Opportunity Photos :: Digital Photo Secrets

Opportunity Photos

by David Peterson 4 comments

What is Opportunity Photography? It's when you take images of a subject you didn't expect to take images of when you picked up your camera.

One of my subscribers, Jeffrey Balliett, sent me some wonderful images of a fox that he saw in his back yard. Jeff was taking his camera to photograph a nesting hummingbird, but saw the fox first.

Jeff snapped a number of images through his closed glass sliding door with his Panasonic FZ15. He's kindly agreed to allow his images to be used as a tip.

Here's one of his first images.

This is a pretty good shot. He's zoomed in nice and close, and has the fox in the center of the image with a good pose. Unfortunately the background is very over exposed, and tends to draw the eye away from the main subject of the photo (the fox).

Why is the top over exposed? A camera's sensor can't handle in the range of brightness that we can with our eyes. Any time you have very bright and darker areas of a photo, you will see the same problem. For instance shooting a person standing in front of a window.

There is no easy way around this exposure problem. You can tell the camera to expose the sunlit area properly, but then the fox will be too dark. It is possible to use a graduating filter (to filter out some of the bright light at the top of the image), but these kinds of filters take a while to setup and are thus not suited to opportunity photography. By the time you've setup your filter, the fox has moved away.

So what I would do is either move the camera further to the right, or further up. If you move further to the right, then hopefully you'll get into frame the object that's causing the shadow, which means there won't be any bright sunlight in the shot. Moving further up will mean you'll be able to frame out the bright sunlight.

I also notice that the fox's tail has been a little chopped off. I would make sure the full tail is in shot. Also, allow some space for the fox to 'look into'. In this case, zoom out a little and place the fox in the upper right area of the image. Although that's not crucial as the fox is in quite a pleasing place in this image.

Jeff fortunately took a number of other images of the fox. And that's another tip... take more shots. That way you can find the best photo to use for your album. When taking more shots make sure you don't take more just because you can. Frame each shot differently, and change things like angle, lighting, your camera's aperture and other things between each shot.

In this next shot, the fox has moved into Jeff's bird bath.

Here I would zoom in further and make sure you just see the fox in the shot. The other reason I'd like to see a close up is the water pipe on the left of the bird bath. It doesn't fit with the concrete bath designs and seems very out of place.

Fortunately, Jeff did zoom in. Did he hear me in his head?!?

This is nice and close. And you don't see the pipe anymore! Unfortunately the fox's eyes are closed so it looks a little like a dead fox. Not a great look for an image! Fortunately Jeff kept shooting.

This shot is a better composition. The fox's eyes are open, and you can see most of the body in the shot. You can also see that he's in a bird bath, but the surroundings don't distract your eye. The main problem is that the image is too dark. The camera is probably trying to compensate for the bright background. Either Jeff has Matrix Metering enabled, or he had the camera pointing towards a sunny area when he half pressed the shutter.

While I'm talking about exposure... it plays a very important part in photography. When you depress the shutter half way, your camera takes a reading of the overall light in the image and adjusts it's settings accordingly. If you're pointing at an overly bright or dark area, your image won't turn out the way you planned. This is another reason to check your LCD screen after you've taken the shot to make sure it's not too light or too dark.

This final shot I think is the best. It is almost correctly exposed, and the background is out of focus enough that it's not a distraction (although I would still like to see less bright sunlight). The fox's eyes are open and looking almost directly at the camera.

Congratulations Jeff - they're really good shots. I think you had a hard subject (it's impossible to tell a wild fox to pose for the camera), and a hard place to shoot from. I gather if you opened the door, the fox would have run away.

If you'd like to see all of Jeff's images, you can see them in his Photos page.

Take Away : Look for Opportunity Shots. These are photos that you don't expect to take when you first pick up your camera. Keep your eyes open, like Jeff did, for different things to photograph and don't be afraid to experiment!

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  1. David Peterson says:

    Hi Winston,

    There are two solutions to your problem. Both involve an image editing program.

    The first is to edit the image and add a fake sky to replace the washed out sky. The other is to save the photo as RAW format. This will preserve all the original shot information. You can then selectively apply an EV (exposure) change to just the bird leaving the sky alone. This should make both parts of the photo a similar lighting.

    If you are photographing an object you can control (like a static object or a person), a third option is to reflect some light into their face. But that will be almost impossible with a bird shot.

    Good Luck!

  2. Winston says:

    Dear Dave,

    I often have opportunities to shoot birds perching on the top of trees against a bright blue sky. Naturally the birds are black, or very dark, when shot. I tend to over-expose the shots by up to 2X, in which case I get the birds in their natural colors but then the beautiful blue skies become washed-out. Any tips on how I can have my cake and eat it?

    Thanks for your advice,


  3. ganna says:

    Thanks David. I recently saw a saddlebilled stork in a dead/dry tree and it was 11am, a very hot and bright day. Difficult, because thats not something you see every day. I tried spot metering etc but the contrast was too harsh. I wish I saw this article first. Thanks a lot

  4. susan killingsworth says:

    Thanks for the step by step critique of the fox photos! I have had similar problems with my unexpected photo opportunities. Now I hope I can remember your tips in the middle of my photography moment! In fact I think I will try out your tips BEFORE I really need them! Susan

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