Story of the Shot

Photo credit: Tig Tillinghast

Editor’s Note: Our game cams went cold this month, so we solicited content from an honest-to-God photographer.

One of the challenges of wildlife photography is how to depict animals that are active in low light conditions. A good camera offers a number of ways to compensate for darkness, while also raising tricky questions about how much finagling is appropriate when an image is being used for journalism purposes.

Here’s an example of how modern equipment can offset difficult lighting conditions. Photographer Tig Tillinghast took these images of young raccoons at twilight; the final photo has been darkened down in post-production to approximate how the scene appeared at the time to the human eye.

The pictures were taken at twilight against a sky background, which on an automatic camera setting would likely “make for a dark, muddy silhouette of a tree branch.”  To compensate, Tig slowed his camera’s shutter speed to 1/30 of a second. Blur was managed by using the lens’ dampening mechanism and by “leaning hard against a nearby tree, pushing the lens and camera directly against the trunk.” He also notched up the ISO setting (which introduced some graininess to the image) and set the lens aperture to its maximum light-gathering setting (f/5.6).

That wide open aperture narrowed the depth of focus to about 4 inches. He chose to focus on the nearest eye of the top raccoon. “This is why the lower raccoon is a bit blurrier, especially the parts closest to the camera.”

Setting aside the technical wonk, these photographs demonstrate the habitat value of hollow trees. To learn more, check out Susan Morse’s article in our fall magazine, “Cavities Are Good.”

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