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Natural Perspectives:

Composing the right animal photograph

June 11, 2009|By Vic Leipzig and Lou Murray

Photography today, like painting in previous centuries, has helped the environmental cause by bringing remote or difficult-to-observe natural scenes and subjects to the public eye. Photography can be used to show off the beauty of nature as well as to document features of nature.

For example, local environmentalist Mark Bixby uses photography to document native plants and animals on the Shea property to help in the fight to save the degraded wetland parcel west of Graham Street next to Bolsa Chica. Sea and Sage naturalist Trude Hurd uses her photography of the flora and fauna of local wetlands and parks as teaching aides. And local botanist Bob Allen uses photography to document Orange County’s insects and flowers for lectures and books.

I’ve used some of my photos in similar ways, with some appearing on the interpretive panels at Shipley Nature Center and the Bolsa Chica Conservancy’s interpretive center. Since joining the Photographic Society of Orange County last June, I’ve had a great time improving my photographic skills. With monthly meetings and field trips, the club provides terrific inspiration for personal development.

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Normally, Vic teaches class on the night when the club meets, but he was free for last month’s meeting and came with me. Our speaker was Matt Brown, renowned sports photographer. Brown critiqued photos from club members first, then showed us a selection of his fabulous sports photos. You can see his work at www.mattbrownphoto.com.

When I think of Brown’s split-second timing and super-fast shutter speeds that freeze action in seemingly perfect positions, I am humbled. But I’m not into taking pictures of sporting events. I’d rather try to capture what I see in nature, especially things that hold still.

I need time to think about the shot, compose it and shoot multiple times, hoping that something will come out properly exposed and in focus. Sometimes I get lucky and get a decent shot. The more I practice, the luckier I get. The key seems to be to work at it, so I go to the beach, Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve, Central Park and Carr Park in search of subjects.

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