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Top Pic of the Week: Chris Baker

Congratulations to our Top Pic of the Week, Chris Baker. Read to learn more about the production of his photos.

How long have you been a photographer & how did you begin your journey?

Photography started as a minor hobby approximately 18 years ago. I began with a simple point and shoot digital camera to document the vacations my wife I and would take.  

I decided to get serious and upgrade to a DSLR in 2012.  I took a simple on-line course that introduced me to the basics of aperture, shutter speed, and ISO, and my interest grew from there.  As an engineer, the technical aspects of photography were naturally easier for me to comprehend and apply.  My artistic skills have only developed over the last few years, which has elevated my previously minor hobby into a serious passion as I learn to combine my technical and composition skills.  I’m gradually picking up side jobs, such as small weddings and portraits for friends and coworkers, which is helping to fund my hobby/addiction.

White-Tailed Deer| Joe Wheeler State Park in Rogersville, AL | Nikon Z6 | Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6 (from KEH)

Captured this shot early one morning on a recent camping trip.  I was crouched down shooting some photos of a pretty, male cardinal on the ground, when I heard a loud, whistling noise coming from the tree line.  I slowly turned to see this white-tailed deer who appeared to be very agitated with me.  I stayed crouched, remained still, and shot a few dozen photos as she stomped her front foot and continued to make the whistling sound.  After about a minute, she realized I wasn’t much of a threat and took off.

 Only minor cropping in Lightroom to remove some distracting elements and minor adjustments in exposure to add some contrast.

 How would you describe your photographic style?

I love to convey depth and drama in my photos, which is probably why I tend to photograph high contrast, strong colored objects and scenes.  I see my style evolving as I experiment more with de-saturated color and monochrome looks.  I’m finding that bright colors can sometimes hide underlying details and shapes.

What is your favorite genre to shoot? What tips do you have for shooting some of your favorite genres?

My favorite genres are nature, wildlife, and landscape photography.  My wife and I love to spend time outdoors, whether it’s in our backyard that backs up to a nature preserve or traveling and camping in our motor-home.

 I enjoy utilizing the range of techniques and lenses to capture images, whether it’s a macro lens for flowers and insects or a long telephoto for birds and animals or a wide angle for waterfalls and landscapes.  One of the best tips I have for these genres is to shoot early in the morning. The obvious benefit is the soft, warm light of the rising sun and the beautiful range of colors in the sky.  However, just as important, is that animals tend to be more active, flowers and plants will be covered in dew (water drops are always interesting!) and when camping, you’ll generally see few people out and about.  Most of my favorite shots have come in the early morning hours.

Lake Guntersville Sunrise | Lake Guntersville, AL| Nikon D750 | Nikon 16-35mm f/4

 This shot was only taken a few yards from our campground spot on Lake Guntersville.  I got up early to capture the sunrise over the lake and used a 30 sec exposure combined with a strong neutral density filter from Formatt-Hitech to give the water a glassy, smooth look.

 I did some selective dodging and burning in Lightroom to remove the flat, matte look of the original image, as well bumping up the vibrancy and saturation to make the colors pop.

What advice or tips would you give to other photographers regarding finding their style?

I think finding your style starts with simply shooting…a lot.  No matter the subject, you’ll see a pattern start to develop in what catches your eye and how you post-process your photos.  I love to play around with an image in Lightroom and am often surprised at how some simple select changes in a few exposure settings can dramatically alter a photo.

Do you own multiple cameras? Which is your favorite?

I own two camera bodies, a Nikon D750 DSLR and the new Nikon Z6 mirrorless.  I've absolutely enjoyed my D750 since I bought it almost four years ago.  It just does everything well.  The two main benefits the new Z6 brings are the silent shooting mode, which is critical for not scaring wildlife, and the focus peaking feature, which helps me with macro photography where depth of field is extremely shallow.

Dew Drop Sunrise | Rotonda West, FL| Nikon Z6 | Nikon 200mm f/4 Macro (from KEH)

I was shooting some flowers in my parent’s yard when I saw a small dew drop hanging from a palm frond.  I noticed that if I positioned myself just right, I could see the sunrise in the drop and thought the "landscape within a macro” concept was very interesting.

I did some cropping in Lightroom to isolate the subject from other palm fronds that were distracting in the scene.  Also, darkened the background a little to make the water drop stand out more.

What gear are you hoping to add to your collection?

The next purchase I’m looking to make is the new Nikon 500mm f/5.6 PF lens.  I’m always looking to reduce weight when I go hiking and long telephotos are generally not travel friendly.  My current telephoto zoom, the Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6, is relatively light for this focal length. At about 6 lbs it's heavy compared to the new Nikon prime lens that reduces the weight to just over 3 pounds.  The lighter weight combined with the faster auto focus will make wildlife photos much easier.

Grasshopper and Camellia | Huntsville Botanical Gardens |Nikon Z6 | Nikon 200mm f/4 Macro (from KEH)

The tiny, infant grasshopper that poked his head out was a happy accident as I was shooting this camellia blossom.  I was fortunate in that he posed long enough for me to fire off a dozen shots to ensure I got the proper focus on his head and eye.

Only minor adjustments in Lightroom to basic exposure settings to darken the shadows, and brighten the grasshopper.

Thank you, Chris, for allowing us to share these photos! Check out more of his work on Instagram, and his SmugMug portfolio.