Monkey Business Tutorial

Wide Eyes with IPI

Wide Eyes

(Click on image to enlarge)

I know that quite a few of my regular blog followers are accomplished and talented photographers in their own right.  More than a couple of you are fellow professionals, and try to eek out a living doing this stuff like me.  For the less experienced photographers amongst you I like to occasionally share some How To’s (how did he do that).  They’re not really secrets; anyone can find this information online, but I have no problem sharing what I’ve learned.  Maybe it will inspire you to try something new and different in your photographic approach the next time you’re out shooting.

The Equipment:  Canon EOS 5D Mk2 camera with Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM zoom telephoto lens + Tamron Pro SP AF 1.4x TC tele-converter.

The Challenge:  To get a well-exposed, in-focus, interesting animal portrait of Mr. Wide Eyes.  What stood in the way of that goal?  For starters he was in deep shade and behind chain-link fencing.  Also he was backlit (the main light source was coming from behind him); you can see the illumination over the right shoulder (his left shoulder).  I liked that he was backlit, because it provided a very nice rim light effect accentuating his fur—but it threw his face and body into deep silhouette using standard evaluative metering mode (the default mode on most cameras).  So the challenges were:  A low-light situation (deep shade); backlighting; chain-link fencing obscuring the view and negating the possibility of using external flash (it would further illuminate the chain-link with the reflected light from the flash unit).

The Solution:  I elected to shoot wide open at f/5.6, and use Auto ISO, to allow as much light as possible to enter the camera; combined with my telephoto lens of 200mm + 1.4x TC (FL=280mm) this also helped to further obscure the chain-link fence.  Shooting through a chain-link fence can be successful when shooting with a telephoto lens wide open, and standing as close as possible to the fence.  Looking at the image carefully you can still see the fence, but it’s blurred significantly and doesn’t pose the distraction that it would otherwise.  To solve the backlighting challenge I simply changed my metering mode to spot metering, and metered on the monkey’s face providing a nice exposure while retaining the rim lighting on the fur that I liked so much.

The Setup and Capture:  I set my camera to AV-Priorty (Aperture) to maintain f/5.6 as a constant, Auto ISO, Auto WB, Spot Metering and Single (Center) Point AF.  Based on these settings the camera then selected a shutter speed of 1/320s (because of my 280mm FL) and an ISO of 3200 (consistent with Canon’s internal algorithms).  I focused on the eyes and clicked the shutter.  The result was a well exposed, in focus, animal portrait of Mr. Wide Eyes with minimal distraction from the chain-link fence that separated us.  The only post-edits included:  CameraRAW conversion; a slight tweak to WB (White Balance); slight sharpening and then cropping.  The 3200 ISO added some noise (graininess) to the image, but the 5D Mk2 camera handled it well, and even viewed at 100% it’s pretty acceptable.

The Presentation:  If an image is good enough then it is worth presenting well (IMHO).  I like the standard ‘Museum Presentation’ consisting of a stark white matte and black minimal frame.  I ‘personally’ think that too many photographers try to overcome a marginal image with fancy (over-the-top) colored mattes and frames that totally distract the viewer from truly seeing the image.  I like to display my work online, matted & framed, so that a viewer can imagine it hanging in a gallery, or better yet their home.  You can do this in Photoshop, but I’ve found a very simple free resource online:  Big Huge Labs ( > click on Mat > upload (web size) image > use sliders for outer/inner borders (I recommend white/inner and black/outer) > save.

If you would like to go one step beyond, and add a name or company name (like I do for marketing purposes), then simply open your now framed image into your photo editor (Photoshop Elements 11 in my case).  PSE11 > Open framed image > Select Horizontal Type Tool for adding text to an image (I use Arial Black text and add a space between each letter, and four spaces between each word) > place text on image wherever you like (I like it centered on the white matte) > go to Layers and adjust opacity … you don’t want your name to distract from your photo … (I reduce opacity from 100% to 10%).  The final result is what appears on the two images I have included, top and bottom.

Final Suggestion:  Try experimenting with Black & White.  Portraits, both human and animal, lend themselves to this process.  Sometimes, color really does distract (at other times it’s all about the color).  Have fun amigos—until next time.

Wide Eyes BW with IPI

Wide Eyes in Black & White

(Click on image to enlarge)


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