Photo Tip of the Week: Nature Photography With Stanley and Kaisa Breeden
Stanley and Kaisa Breeden talk to Robert Keeley about the
techniques they use to produce their stunning wildlife and nature images.
Stanley Breeden has lived in the rainforests of Far North Queensland for two decades, and though he had photographed nature and wildlife around the world he ultimately decided to produce a high-quality hard-cover book about the rainforest country surrounding his home near Atherton.
To produce the book he worked with his long-time creative partner and wife, Kaisa Breeden, whose expertise in digital post-production is vital to the intricately detailed and razor-sharp images they create. The Breedens use a process called focus-stacking, which involves setting up their camera on a tripod, making minute adjustments of focus, shooting an image and then re-adjusting and shooting again.
Anywhere from a few frames up to 20 can be involved, and they are then merged by Kaisa Breeden using imaging software. This results in an image of extraordinary sharpness, despite the use of a close up shooting which would ordinarily result in very limited depth of field and sharpness.
The technique is subject to the vagaries of their subjects – animals, snakes and birds will only occasionally oblige the Breedens by staying still while they shoot a series of images. On the frequent occasions when they don’t, the Breedens either shoot a single frame, or pack up and plan for another opportunity. For their latest publication Rainforest Country they photographed everything from the smallest insects up to birds the size of the Cassowary, a large and potentially aggressive bird, one of which often visits their bush back yard. They captured an extraordinary close up of this particular creature because of their familiarity.
Stanley and Kaisa Breeden featured in the August issue of Australian Photography + Digital magazine. Rainforest Country, by Stanley & Kaisa Breeden, is published by Fremantle Press, and costs $75.
Here are a few key points we picked up from the Breedens when it comes to nature photography.
01 BE PATIENT
The key to focus-stacking photography is extraordinary patience, and the ability to walk away without frustration if a series of images is disrupted mid-shoot. But this approach applies with less complex nature photography as well.
02 STUDY YOUR SUBJECT
Study your subject before shooting. Wildlife of any type usually has certain patterns of behaviour. To have a really good chance of getting strong images, you need to take some time to study these patterns. If necessary leave your camera behind; return to the same locations and concentrate on learning the behaviour of the creatures you want to photograph.
03 USE A TRIPOD
Small, less mobile creatures should be photographed with the camera on a tripod. This is essential for focus-stacked images, but very useful for securing sharp images when shooting a single frame. Quicker, more jittery creatures don’t lend themselves to shooting with a tripod; where you have to handhold your camera consider faster shutter speeds (1/125s and faster, as necessary).
04 BE FLEXIBLE
photography essays can include flora as well as fauna. Be ready to take
advantage of whatever presents itself, rather than having one objective in
mind only. Outdoor photography is challenging – lighting and weather can quickly
change. Change your shooting objectives as these variables adjust
throughout a day or week. Dull, grey light can be good for shooting below
forest canopies because you can avoid harsh shadows, but brighter light
can be better for fast moving creatures.
A Brown Tree Snake – Boiga irregularis. This is our “tea cabinet” snake! Somehow it had come inside, and like a magic Indian rope trick levitated itself off the bench up through a tiny square hole in the hinge of the cupboard above, and coiled itself in there neatly like a Swiss pastry without knocking a single cup or item over in our over-stuffed cupboard. We just swept it off the shelf and took it outside to photograph! This was made with a 20-exposure depth-of-field focus stack.
Canon 1Ds Mk II, 180mm, f/16 @ 0.5s, 100 ISO. RAW software: Capture One Pro; Stacking software: Zerene Stacker.
This little pygmy possum, barely the size of a mouse, obligingly posed for us while hunting for nectar. It ended up on the cover of Rainforest Country. It was shot with a three-exposure depth of field focus stack.
Canon 1Ds Mk II, 100mm, f/11 @ 1/60s, 400 ISO. RAW software: Capture One Pro; Stacking software: Zerene Stacker.
Sunlit Beach Barringtonia on the rainforest floor at the edge of the Coral Sea. Barringtonia asiatica open during the night, attracting moths, beetles and even small bats. By mid-morning of the next day the flowers fall, becoming part of the mosaic on the forest floor.
Canon 1Ds Mk II, 100mm. HDR software: Photomatix Pro; Stacking software: Zerene Stacker.
We share this Cassowary’s habitat, and he has been visiting for around 20 years. These beautiful birds have a reputation for being unpredictable and intimidating, but Sir Cassowary is a gentle soul.
Canon 1Ds MkII, 200mm, f/8 @ 1/50s, 100 ISO.