Natural Art: The Photography of Brad Hill

 
The Awakening

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In the Field

The Awakening. Findlay Creek, BC, Canada. March 22, 2014.

This was an unexpected, spontaneous grab shot I captured while in the midst of doing some early and methodical testing of the Nikon D4s. Like many areas of North America the winter of 2013/2014 dumped a lot of snow on our home. But...right on schedule...in early March the temperatures went up and our snow quickly disappeared. On the morning of March 22 I said this to my girlfriend: "...any day now we'll see the first chipmunk of the year" (they hibernate for about 4 months in southeast British Columbia). Sure enough, later in the day while I was in the midst of doing some ISO testing on the Nikon D4s I heard a chipmunk "chipping away" right behind me. At the time I had the D4s connected to a 600mm f4 VR on a solid tripod. Because I was still in the midst of my testing protocol I didn't want to move the tripod, so I whipped the camera and lens off the tripod, walked over to where I was hearing the chipmunk, found it, and fired away (while hand-holding the D4s and 600mm setup). The only real tricky part of getting the shot was maneuvering myself into a position where the composition "worked" for me and where the background (which was dominated by a mix of shaded Douglas Firs and juniper) had no gaps in the vegetation (which would have produced bright distracting hotspots behind the chipper). Yeah, I know, "just" a chipmunk...but it was a long, snowy winter and I get just as charged up about seeing the harbingers of spring as the next person!

But I have a few reasons for showing this image beyond conveying the "spring has sprung" message. I've been asked this question by wildlife photographers more than a few times: "I don't shoot in real low light very often - so what value would there be in me getting a camera capable of shooting clean images at high ISO's?" In my mind there are at least two advantages of to using a camera like a D4 or D4s for wildlife photography. First, being able to shoot extremely "clean" (noise-free) images at moderate ISO's (like this shot captured at ISO 1800) means that if you're suddenly facing a situation where you need a high shutter speed (like, for instance, when you have to hand-hold a 600mm lens or miss the shot) you have it available to you.

Second, and often more importantly, by having a wider range of ISO's available to you, you gain more complete control over your aperture and depth-of-field (DoF), which has obvious creative consequences. On this shot I stopped down only a little (to f6.3), primarily because I wanted to ensure the background was rendered as a soft, continuous green "backdrop". If I decided to stop down more (say to f8 or even f11) to place more of the squirrel in focus (by broadening out the DoF), then I could have done so with my D4s (or D4, or D3s) and still captured a clean and very usable shot. Simply put, with a camera that performs well at high ISO's you quite literally OWN your aperture (as opposed to being a slave to it), which gives you so many more creative options.

Is this shot clean enough if presented in a larger size than is normally shown on the web? I think so - but you be the judge of this higher resolution shot:

The Awakening: Download 2400 pixel image (JPEG: 1.5 MB)

NOTE: This image - in all resolutions - is protected by copyright. I'm fine with personal uses of it (including use as desktop backgrounds or screensavers on your own computer), but unauthorized commercial use of the image is prohibited by law. Thanks in advance for respecting my copyright!

Behind the Camera

The Awakening. Findlay Creek, BC, Canada. March 22, 2014.

Digital Capture; Compressed RAW (NEF) 14-bit format; ISO 1800.

Nikon D4s paired with Nikkor AF-S 600mm f4 VR lens - hand-held. VR on and in normal mode.

1/640s @ f6.3; No compensation from "recommended" matrix-metered exposure setting.

At the Computer

The Awakening. Findlay Creek, BC, Canada. March 22, 2014.

RAW Conversion to 16-bit TIFF, including first-pass/capture sharpening using Adobe Camera Raw 8.4 Release Candidate (at the time of the processing of this shot my preferred raw converter - Capture One Pro - had not been updated to include raw support for the D4s). Two raw variants (different versions of a single raw capture) processed, differing by a total of 0.5 stops in exposure.

Further digital corrections on resulting 16-bit TIFF files using Adobe's Photoshop CC and Light Crafts Lightzone. Photoshop adjustments included compositing (blending) of the two output files from the raw converter, further slight exposure adjustments, selective desaturation of colors, and selective sharpening for web output. Final minor selective tone-tweaks performed using tone-mapping tools of Lightzone.

Conservation

The Awakening. Findlay Creek, BC, Canada. March 22, 2014.

Ten percent of the revenue generated by this image will be donated to Wildsight.

Species Status in Canada*: This species is not designated as at risk.

The Yellow Pine Chipmunk (Tamia amoenus) is a small, strongly striped chipmunk found in the southern half of British Columbia and along the southwestern portion of Alberta's border with BC. Interestingly, recent behavioural studies of this species shows that smaller males tend to be dominant over their larger counterparts. This is both counter-intuitive and uncommon among mammals.

This Yellow Pine Chipmunk was photographed in the Columbia Valley of the East Kootenays. While this species is not currently not considered at risk, it is vulnerable to habitat loss due to logging activities. Many ecosystems within the Columbia Valley face development pressure, including pressure from logging operations. Wildsight is an effective conservation organization that protects biodiversity and promotes sustainable communities in Canada's Columbia and Rocky Mountains. Support for Wildsight, through donation or becoming a member, will help ensure that they remain effective in their efforts to conserve threatened or endangered species and ecosystems.

*as determined by COSEWIC: The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada