© Ellen Anon
Nature photographer Ellen Anon received her Ph.D in clinical psychology and was working as a psychologist when, in the mid-Nineties, she was drawn more and more into the world of photography. Her images of nature are designed to elicit emotions in her viewers and stimulate an appreciation of beauty in the world. Anon, a leader of photo workshops and teacher, has successfully sold her fine art work through galleries and also licenses stock. A member of the SanDisk Extreme Team, Team Nik and Apple's Aperture Advisory Board, she advises companies on software development. She’s also the author of several technical books, including Aperture 3: Portable Genius and Photoshop CS5 for Nature Photographers (both co-authored with her son, photographer Josh Anon). Anon is a member of both the National Association of Photoshop Professionals and the American Society of Media Photographers.
This month, Ellen Anon will be taking questions from PDN readers about shooting the natural world, working with editing software, and photographing on location. To submit your question to Ask the Experts, email email@example.com.
Question: What gear, gadgets or software do you usually always pack for the wilderness?
--Holly Hughes, PDN
In terms of camera gear, most of the time I have a combination of a my Canon pro bodies (1Ds Mark III, 5d Mark II, and 1D Mark IV) as well as a selection of Canon lenses ranging from a 14mm wide-angle to a 500 mm telephoto depending on the intended subject matter. Much of my shooting is with zoom lenses such as the 16-35, the 24- 105 and the 100 - 400. I often bring the 28 - 300 zoom along as a backup. That way I have a lens that covers most situations and that I can use if I run into problems with one of my other lenses. Although some people may shy away from that large a zoom range, claiming the image won't be sharp, one of my images that was highly commended in the highly competitive BBC WIldlife Photographer of theYear competition was taken with that lens. Whenever possible I also have a Hasselblad H4D40 with a Hasselblad 28mm lens and the 50 - 110mm zoom, sometimes the macro lens and the 300mm and extender. I also take my Gitzo carbon fiber tripod and a Really Right Stuff ball head, a split neutral density filter, a polarizer, and cable releases. And lots of extra batteries! Needless to say I bring along a lot of SanDisk Extreme CF memory cards. I choose them for their reliability particularly in extreme conditions. When I'm off in remote areas, I can't risk having memory card failures.
Each night I download the CF cards to my computer as well as to a back up hard drive. I'm a firm believer that you need your images to be on multiple hard drives as soon as possible since all hard drives can fail. And just in case my computer fails, I also bring along a Hyper Drive so I can download the cards directly to it. I use Aperture to edit through my images and have all the Nik plug-ins installed as well for when I have time to optimize some of the images.
Question: How did you get that shot of the aurora in Alaska?
That aurora shot was taken in Alaska above the Arctic Circle in an area under the aurora oval, the end of September before the weather gets too extremely cold. The end of September it's in the teens and low twenties at night rather than sub zero that it is a few months later. The problem with that time of year is that it's often cloudy. In fact it was quite cloudy that night, but my husband and I waited in a small remote cabin hoping the clouds would break. We got to the cabin around 10 PM and by midnight it wasn't looking good. The other couple that was there gave up and went back to the hotel. We stayed and waited. About 1:15 AM the clouds parted and a bit of a simple green aurora band appeared in front of us and then quickly became more and more dramatic. Before long the entire sky was filled with amazing colors of light dancing in front of us, above us, behind us, everywhere! The show lasted 45 minutes and we hardly knew where to shoot because it was so overwhelming. And as dramatically as the clouds had parted, the aurora gave us a grand finale and the clouds reappeared. This shot was part of the grand finale.
When shooting auroras it helps to use as fast a lens as possible. I use my Canon 24mm f1.4 lens and my 14mm f2.8 when I want a wider view. The advantage of the faster lens is that you can use a faster shutter speed and minimize apparent star movement. I shoot wide open and choose an ISO that enables me to use a shutter speed of about 10 - 15 seconds when possible. Sometimes that's ISO 400 with an intense bright aurora, sometimes ISO 800 and with a faint ISO it might mean ISO 1600.
It's important to use a memory card, such as the SanDisk Extreme cards that can stand up in cold damp conditions. If you're lucky enough to see a fantastic aurora, the last thing you want is a memory card failure. After-all, you can't just go back and reshoot!