PhotoZAP 75: High ISO Spotted

Our Panel of Perfectionists Picks Apart Your Pictures

"While capturing a beastie in the wild like this is a true challenge and consists of infinite patience and waiting... you didn't set your camera properly in advance." ~Mason Resnick

©  Todd Kelmar, Farmington, CT. Gear: Canon 5D MkII with the Canon 2X II Extender on the 70-200 f/2.8 IS II, handheld. Manual Exposure: taken at 140mm, f/9. 1/4000 sec, ISO 1600.

Photographer’s statement:
"I took this picture off the back of a truck in Tanzania. We had stopped at a small crossroads when this Hyena trotted out of the bushes. I've never had any serious critique of my work before, and was hoping to get some good feedback

Our critics say...

Russell Hart: I like the action/gesture in the picture, but that's the best part. It doesn't help that the light was quite harsh, creating dark masses—though you could have made the one to the left of the hyena less prominent by aiming the camera to the right a bit, i.e. composing with the hyena more to the left in the frame. In fact, an off-center composition, as opposed to your dead-center framing, would have made the picture more dynamic. This would also have prevented cropping of the end of the hyena's shadow, which is an important element. With any moving subject, it generally looks better to have more space on the side toward which it's moving.

One other thing: You were shooting at f/9, which kept the background pretty sharp. Shooting at a wider aperture would have softened it and made the hyena stand out. You were already at a shutter speed of 1/4000 second, so there's not much room there for offsetting a wider aperture-but why were you set to ISO 1600 in direct sun? That pushed up your shutter speed and closing down your lens aperture, and gave you needless "grain" as well!


Jena Ardell:
Had you been shooting a day for night movie sequence, this would have been great! I actually like the creepy lighting, but it makes the hyena looks more like a taxidermy animal inside a museum than a wild animal. Using the shadow/highlight tool in Photoshop would have helped reduce some of the shadows Russell mentioned, but nothing would remedy his "missing" eyeball, unless you created one in post. I would have liked to see more of the scene to get a better sense of the environment, and again, to reduce the museum-scene feel. It seems like you were too caught up in the excitement of the moment to focus on your exposure settings. The next time you find yourself shooting wildlife, take a few prep shots before something worthwhile happens. Had you checked your exposure settings before this moment arised, you would have been prepared. The 70-200mm is a great lens, and you must be serious about photography since you own a lot of expensive equipment, so be sure to practice, practice, practice before your next safari!

Mason Resnick: While capturing a beastie in the wild like this is a true challenge and consists of infinite patience and waiting punctuated by a few moments (if you're lucky) of action, and your reflexes worked well here, you didn't set your camera properly in advance and this looks like it's about two stops underexposed. Unfortunately, this shot had me laughing like a hyena at the very basic error you made that doomed this photo: You shot it at too high an ISO. As Russell points out, shooting at ISO 1600—in the bright desert sun, no less—forced you to use too small an aperture, which in turn meant the background was in distractingly sharp focus; High ISO also introuced totally unecessary grain to the shot. But there's one more reason not to use a high ISO in this situation: Higher ISOs have lower dynamic range than lower ones. If you had shot this at a the camera's base ISO, 100 (a good exposure would have been a much saner 1/500 sec at approx. f/4) you would have gained approximately two stops of dynamic range, which would have helped get you more shadow detail.

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