For shots such as you see in the Webmaster's Gallery - particularly the wild flowers and bugs - you simply must really want to take them, be alert to find your "subjects", and have a lot of patience and persistence. Another important thing I have found is to always have your camera handy! I've gotten quite a few shots of new birds, particularly, when I happen to see one and grab the camera and go after it - and some I haven't seen before or since - if I hadn't been ready when the opportunity presented itself, I wouldn't have any shots of a number of different birds. Following are some of the methods I have used to get the shots you see on this website.
Don't Stint on Memory Cards
Be sure you have at least two memory cards for your camera so you can switch out when one is full and always have a "spare". And, make sure the memory cards are large enough to hold a good selection of pictures. Shoot your pictures at the highest resolution and save them at the highest resolution (other than RAW or TIFF which usually is more than you'll need) so you will end up with the best possible shot every time. For my EOS 30D I use a 4 Gigabyte card in camera and a 2 Gigabyte backup handy as well as a 1 Gig and 512 Megabyte backup not too far away. For the Powershot G2 I used a 128 megabyte card in the camera and a 64 megabyte card for backup (which, at that time, was a lot). For my Canon Powershot A540 I use a 1 Gigabyte card in the camera and, since I seldom use this camera, have only a 256 megabyte card as backup.
Lots Of Shots
The most important thing is to just take a lot of shots; the more you take, the more likely at least one of them will be good. Even when you get a shot that looks good on the tiny monitor of a digital camera, it may not be worthwhile when it gets onto a computer screen and you view it full size with all of its flaws. Anytime you think you have just snapped the perfect shot - get another one just like it! Usually, I'm shooting in the field and subject to light and wind conditions I can't control. The only control I have is to first, get the shot any way I can... then, if I have time I go for better shots and then bracket the shots if it's very sunny so I'll have correct exposure on at least some of them. If it's breezy and the subject is moving, or if I'm in low light and, therefore, a slow shutter speed - I may get some camera shake to blur the picture. Again, the only remedy is to shoot a bunch of shots on the theory that at least one will be good. Sometimes virtually all are good and I've wasted time shooting and examining a lot of shots - but other times I may shoot 50 shots and get only one or two good ones - but at least I did get one good one!
A nice breeze sure feels great on a warm, sunny day. But, when you're outside trying to get some shots of flowers or bugs the sun gets hot quickly and there is no breeze. Then, just as you've found a subject, the breeze comes and it won't quit. Nothing will stand still while you try to get a picture! Depending on the situation, you may want to carry a piece of cardboard or foam board with you. Aside from being able to use this to cut some breeze, it can help with the shot. I'd recommend a foam board with one white and one black site. If the light is a little low, the white side may help with some reflected illumination; if it's plenty bright and you just need to screen some wind, face the black side toward the subject. Mainly, it is a matter of being patient and waiting (often uncomfortably) for a break in the breeze and being ready to shoot immediately when your subject is still.
Sometimes on sunny days I find a new wildflower to shoot and want a great shot of it. Given the time, I'll set up a tripod and shoot it with tight aperture for good depth of field. But, the picture is still subject to get burned out spots overexposed by just too much sunlight - this seems to happen on yellow flowers a lot and, naturally, on white ones. I have a translucent white umbrella I try to have handy on really sunny days to shade the flower and give enough light for the picture while keeping direct sunlight off and yielding a picture with no burned out spots in it from being overexposed.
If you want a really detailed photo, as many of the flower and bug pictures are in this section, there is no choice but to get very close. For some really small flowers this means having a macro lens attached and getting up close and personal with the bug or flower. With a small digital camera, such as my former Powershot G2, the LCD screen which can be moved around to different directions and angles can provide a great assist; having to look through a viewfinder can be a real task. Of course, on the other side of this equation is the fact that the right equipment on an SLR camera can allow you to be further away and get the same picture. I try to keep my Powershot A540 with me, too, for some pictures that the SLR just won't get - or, at least, not without carrying far too much equipment. With a macro lens attached and its zoom feature I can get some macro shots that would be nearly impossible with the SLR.
Often, even under good circumstances, the shutter speed may be slow enough that camera shake is an issue (e.g. less than 1/60th second even if you're very steady). Sometimes you will want to stop down the aperture to decrease the depth of field and have a blurred background; other times you must do it simply to increase shutter speed so you can get a sharp picture without camera shake. At the same time, you must keep in mind that the depth of field isn't going to be very much in any case with close up macro photography; you will want to be certain that you have enough of an aperture opening to put all you need into focus. A relatively "flat" flower doesn't require much depth of field, maybe f/2 or even less, while a longer, deeper flower may require f/8 or more. Of course, with any aperture, distance and lens power determine what the maximum depth of field you'll be able to get is. Sometimes, my little Canon Powershot A540 will outperform my Canon 30D in these situations in the field.
Shooting a white or very light flower close up on a sunny day may require an adjustment to your exposure compensation to keep the image from being overexposed; similarly a very overcast day and a darker flower may require a step up to get it properly exposed and keep it from being far too dark. Exposure compensation is also great for picking up your shutter speed a bit to control camera shake. Dropping the exposure compensation a bit to produce a slightly underexposed photo can pick up the shutter speed enough to prevent camera shake from having an effect and the underexposure can usually be easily corrected in your imaging software.
Image Processing Software
Most of the time all your digital images will require is a little punch up on contrast and possibly a little overall lightening (for underexposure) or darkening (for overexposure). Many free (free with your camera or scanner) or inexpensive software packages will do these simple adjustments quickly and easily with little effort on your part and no steep learning curve for mastering these little techniques on the software. I use PhotoImpact 11 produced by Ulead Software (ulead.com). The best known such program, of course, is Adobe Photoshop - which I recently acquired and am learning to use. There are several programs that will do for almost anyone the same things Photoshop will do for a fraction of the price, though (such as PhotoImpact). All of these programs give you a lot more capability for working with your images, but also have a lot steeper and longer learning curve. As I noted before, when working with some fish eye lenses there can be considerable distortion. PhotoImpact (and other programs in its class) have tools to "re-stretch" the picture and manipulate it in such a way as to take out virtually all of the distortion. Of course, sometimes you want these distorted effects as part of the "art" of the image; it can be put in with a fish eye lens or the same software that takes it out can be used to put it in and image that is not already distorted. As of September 1, 2006 virtually every image on this website has been processed with Ulead's Photoimpact in different versions. While Adobe Photoshop CS2 will produce better results with pictures that are on the edge of being throwaways, the Photoimpact is far faster and easier to use and produces results that are every bit as good if the image itself is fairly good.
Take lots of pictures and see what your camera will do. If you're using a digital all it costs to experiment is a little time and effort. The more pictures you take the better they will get!
Go take some pix! I hope this information has been helpful to you. I am far from an expert, but I have learned a little and believe I get some nice pictures, so maybe some of these tips will help you if you're just getting started.