The Great Journey in Photography

Posts tagged “Alaska

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canvasEagle

Version 3.1 of Nature & Wildlife Pictures is now available with many new images and performance improvements. NWP is a free download with most of the 60 downloadable images available at no additional cost including the one at the top of this post. There are also additional images available for sale.

Among the other improvements the app now allows image purchases on both the phone and iPad and the entire process is more robust and informative to the user. Previously purchased images are now shaded in green on both the phone and iPad and allows users to easily restore purchases they have already paid. This version is also translated into Spanish and shows local currency rates for all countries.

Nature & Wildlife Pictures is a free download for all users so if you enjoy the pictures you see on this blog you will love the application.

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The Shadow Knows

420mm  f6.3  640iso  1/1,000sec

420mm f6.3 640iso 1/1,000sec

Every man woman and child who has ever tried to photograph birds has probably more than once fallen prey to the ruse. The old Giant Bird over the shoulder trick. Well, ok maybe not a real ruse we all know birds are not sophisticated enough to perform a ruse, or are they but time after time we have all fallen for that shadow of the giant bird shadow streaking across the scene. Our human nature emotion of the grass is greener on the other side of the hill makes us believe that just outside of your field of view is the largest, slowest flying bird in the history of flying birds, yet overtime we react and look for said bird it turns out to be a waste of time. After thousands of failed attempts I have almost become oblivious to shadows. It really is important to set up with a plan of action and to stick to it. Yes, you do need to be able to react to developing bird movement very quickly but it still has to fall within the parameters of making a useable image. Swinging around 180 degrees to capture a bird that may or may not be flying behind you does not fall into those parameters. The chances that it ever will are so slim that one should consider it an exercise in futility and avoid it all together. My recommendation is to make every effort to ignore both shadows and stray noises that may come from behind you but don’t feel bad if you do, everybody does. Just know that you are disrupting your workflow. On the other side of that though I think it is a good idea to note that usually I set aside some time, every time I go out, to just look around without any intention of making images and during those time I will watch shadows and look for patterns of flight etc.

Hey folks-Don’t forget if you have an iPad you can download my app and for a limited time all the images are available for free.

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Puppet Magic

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle photo from my new iPad app Wildlife HD

Just when you think you are at the top of your game when it comes to Photoshop, this guy gets completely blown out of the water.
OK, that may be a bit of an exaggeration but I did feel high and dry, let me explain. One of my favorite shows on the internet is Photoshop User TV on Kelby One. The show rotates through the staff as hosts for the show and every episode has at least two Photoshop or Lightroom tutorials. The other day I was catching up on some shows when what comes along is the “Puppet Warp” tool and birds and I am blown away because I could have used it about a million times the last couple of years.

First, let me point out a very cool tip in making a selection around a bird. If you follow this blog regular you will know that digitally separating the subject from the background is an important part of my workflow and making a selection around a bird can be a time-consuming process in Photoshop. Rather than making a fine grain selection you can also make a very loose selection around the bird with the Lasso tool and then grab the Magic Wand (aka Tragic Wand) tool, hold down the option/alt key and the selection will snap to a tight fit around your bird, then go to Selection>Modify to expand, contract, or feather your selection. Given enough contrast it works really well but the real magic is in the Puppet Warp tool. Once you have made your selection put it on its own layer in most cases, and then go to Edit>Puppet Warp. There you will create a fine grain mesh containing the bird where you will create anchor points to manipulate body parts without harming other pixels. This is the perfect solution for moving a wing ever so slightly or changing beak position to that perfect point.

I highly recommend watching Photoshop User. You can catch the episode here.
Also, if you are not taking advantage of it now Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom are available as a package for $9.99Mo.

 


Promised Land

Pair of Bald Eagles Art-

420mm f9.0 500iso 1/500sec

Today is another excerpt from text that I am writing about the importance of shutter speed, also known as exposure time, in bird photography. This time I write about the range of 1/250 to 1/500 sec.

The light is coming up and you just entered the point when you can do pretty much anything you want with the camera and can still maintain a minimum shutter speed of 1/250 sec. Congratulations, you have just entered the promised land. Many bird shooters may disagree with the notion but the range of exposure time between 1/250sec an about 1/500sec is the best place to be. You most likely would disagree if you were using a very long lens between 600mm-800mm, or making a lot of birds in flight images. Granted it is easier to shoot at the higher speeds but not essential. With good support and stabilization you can get nice sharp images in this range.

Generally the time of day associated with these slower shutter speed ranges has a softer light, one that will be more flattering to your subject in all ways. If you are in close making portraits you can actually stop down a little bit and let me tell you that even with a 300mm lens at a range of ten or twenty feet you will want to stoop down. If you have the luxury of shooting a lens as fast as f2.8 and are making a small bird portrait wide open you would be struggling to get both the eyes and feet in focus. That is usually a depth of field around a quarter of an inch or less. Because the goal is to get as close as possible the depth of field is going to be very shallow depending on your success, so you are actually punished for achieving the impossible unless of course you have the where-with-all and the ability to stop down to just where you need it.

If it is morning, the birds are waking up and beginning to become active. Like all living creatures birds wake up at varying speeds and there are ones that are sluggish often making great subjects. In the evening birds are looking for that last meal before hunkering down and you will undoubtedly notice a large increase in activity.

Here is the kicker that makes this shooting range the most wonderful time of the day, it is flash. Most likely you are at the upper limit of being able to use a speed light without taxing the gear to the point of not being all that helpful. In a nutshell, most speed lights max out around 1/250sec for syncing to the shutter, some go a little higher and some of the better ones have a hi-speed mode. Hi-speed is simply a series of flash pulses over a longer timeframe hoping to catch the shutter opening rather than actually syncing with the shutter. It is hard on the system and does not work all that well so I avoid it. Using a regular sync speed, adding some flash can work wonders to your bird photography. It is very important for hummingbirds but for other birds it will often be that finishing touch. Adding that extra light will soften harsh shadows and create a better edge contrast and freezes the micro movements all which helps the image to appear sharper. You are best served to use your flash as a fill light so back off on the intensity with at least -1 stop of compensation and add an extender if you are using a long lens.


Hurry Up and Wait

Iconic Bald Eagle Pose

420mm f6.3 400iso 1/1,000sec

If you compare today’s photo with the one from last week you will see there is very little difference yet it changes the photograph a lot. I like both of them but both have challenges to process. I have already done a lot about processing photos so I won’t say much about that today, rather lets take a look at the stats about making those photographs. I will call it “the series”. For me the series is a number of photographs I make having set up on one bird in one place. As I move around, in and out and different angles and aspects, it is all part of the series. So this series was 24 images and about 7 minutes in duration. Short by my standards, there are times when a series can be hundreds of images lasting for more than an hour. After a few months it can be hard to put the details into proper context and the series mindset helps organize things. For example, in this series the bird may have flown off or I might have moved on to a more promising scene as it looks as though the light was getting harsh. To help preserve the context of the moment you might consider not deleting all of those forgettable images, you know like the empty perch or the out of focus back half of the bird as these will often jog your memory of the events. In this case it was a combination of things that made me pull up the sticks, I was a little further away than I wanted to be, angle to the sun was off a bit, the sunlight was becoming harsh, and there were other Eagles in the vicinity. By the way, if anyone gets clued in to the EXIF data for these images you can note that the timestamp is incorrect. I really don’t concern myself with the time of capture, date is important but with time zone changes and all that I just don’t rely on a time stamp at all.

Like I said, I like both photos, last weeks was nice because it had some action, the old head throw as this Eagle was chatting up a storm. It is a little awkward though, the angle is a bit off in relation to the sunlight and it casts a harsh shadow across the head. Today’s photo is nice too, it is the iconic Eagle pose with an almost perfect (best possible) angle to the sun. As you can see though, just a couple of minutes further along, the sunlight on this bird is getting really harsh, just short of being unusable.

So that is just a little glimpse of what happens behind the scenes, super exciting right!

You can keep up with all the action by following me on twitter @RonBoyd


As in Real Estate

All about location Alaska Bald Eagle

420mm f6.3 400iso 1/1,600sec

Just a quick mention today guys. Thought for the day, just as in real estate, in bird photography it is all about location, location, location. Go find your location.

Follow me at Twitter @RonBoyd


Birds, Branches, and Zen

 

Call it Eagle Art

420mm f11 250iso 1/250sec

Not once in my entire life has anyone who wanted to purchase a bird photo say ” I really love the photo but if that branch was not there I would buy it”. Maybe I should say that no one who ever bought a photo of mine said that about an other photo of mine. Of course we all have our critics but critics are just that, and they don’t pay the bills. I used to know a person who fancied himself as a knowledgable photography person. He told me that just because I could photograph birds I was in no way qualified to photograph product. He also said almost the same thing about the best commercial photographer I have ever known. I recall once he said my photos have “drama” and that was no good. Really!  FYI-to the whole world. It takes a whole gang of skill and commitment to become an accomplished bird photographer, Light is light and it doesn’t change just because you are shooting shiny objects. He was under the impression that he could do better himself but never actually tried. It didn’t take long to realize that guy is a complete tool! As much as I can sympathize with having contempt for such people there is no value in trying to prove them wrong and really no need. Those folk already have a large “L” branded on their foreheads for the world to see. Run, don’t walk away from them because their only real accomplishment is to suck the oxygen out of the room.

I think it fair to say that almost all people have no interest in seeing your bird images. It can be easy to get caught up in the genre, but we live on a big blue marble and the simple fact is that 99% of the population just does not care. I show my work now more than ever and I can say that it is important to figure out in the first minute or two if the viewer has any interest. Most people try to be nice but you won’t hold their attention for long, the “Tools” always respond, that is how they draw you in.
I guess what I am trying to say with this long-winded intro is that all the manipulation you do to an image like cleaning up branches and twigs usually boils down to personal satisfaction, so do what makes you happy. If it is a pain to do extensive cleanup, don’t bother, it is doubtful it will make a big difference to anyone but yourself. If you are like me you will spend the extra time. You can also do what I did with the photo above, get rid of all the damn branches, and call it art!

Thanks for stopping by and I hope you come back soon. Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter @RonBoyd.


Much To Do About Nothing

Eagle coming over the top

420mm f6.3 640iso 1/1,250sec

Hi all. First a quick follow-up to a post I made a few weeks ago “Eagle Eye“. Yesterday bird note.org posted a great audio piece about bird vision. It is well worth listening . Catch the link here.

Sometimes people spend a lot of time and energy fighting a losing battle against things that are just not that big of a deal. There is a heated debate starting that has both sides of one side arguing and I am starting to thinks there will be no winners anywhere. I am talking about the rush to develop wind energy and the effect it is having on the bird population. Of course this is all a result of global warming hysteria. Well ahead of the game I reported about Golden Eagle deaths in a post back in 2011 Caught in the Middle. As it turns out the free pass for wind energy goes far beyond the Riverside County Board of Supervisors. All the way up to the EPA waivers are being granted to bypass restrictions and considerations for wildlife and in particular  leading to the deaths of Eagles in California and Wyoming. All done in the course of saving our planet!

I was never one who climbed on to the global warming band wagon. I find some things very hard to reconcile. Let’s consider history. It has never been the case before and there is no reason to believe currently that anyone or anything can or has been able to predict more than a hundred years into the future. History says we can not see hundreds of years into the future. Consider the source, that is an ages old cliché that stands its ground because it is valid. We always consider the source in decision making so lets consider the source in the global warming debate. I see politicians, celebrities, and billionaires. Actors and actresses are paid large amounts of money to play a role, to literally be someone other than who they are. Do a little digging and you may very well find that the big money folks all have financial investments riding the wave. Politicians, really, their lips are moving! Right!
There is also the sell. Why is there such a big effort to sell the cause? Step back and look at the effort to get the public on board with the global warming bandwagon and you will see the principles of propaganda being used. Yeah those little concepts used successfully in Nazi Germany, those ones that we were once told to be repulsed by. I could go on for a while but I will just leave it at that. Color me dubious.

Putting all that aside there is still yet another argument to be made. Birds are pretty intelligent, it may not seem that way to the casual watcher but when you take into account that birds only consider three things their entire lives, food, shelter (safety), and procreation. That’s it. So their scope of thought is very limited but in that scope they tend to e very successful. I watch birds every day and I can say they have remarkable ability to protect themselves. There is no doubt that birds are being killed today by wind turbines and that is a tragedy. I do believe however that given some time they will adapt and survive in changing environments. There may however be unintended consequences, things that no-one ever considered or can see. Maybe a disruption in the food chain maybe caused by some ultrasonic vibrations emitted by hundreds of spinning turbines? I’m just saying. What do they say-“you never hear the bullet that gets you”.


Post Up II

Bald Eagle Workflow

Last week we did the most basic editing by separating the subject from the back ground, balancing the exposures and making contrast, saturation, and shadow/highlight adjustments independent of each other. Today we are going to finish off the photo with some cloning. There are plenty of different ways to do cloning and none of them are wrong, so don’t think you need to do it the same as I do. Any way that accomplishes the result is just fine. Lets go back to that background layer that we just adjusted and duplicate it. We see an ugly black waterline from the river going right through the bird. This is going to be a lot easier to fix with the layer mask in place, we won’t have to worry about our bird at all. Select a soft brush with medium opacity in your clone brush tool and be sure that you are sampling only the current layer and the “aligned” box is checked. Here you have your choice, you could clone with the river bed rock, the foliage, or a combination of both. In this case I did both trying to make the water line slightly meandering so it is not a straight arrow shooting straight through our eagle. The log under the eagle could also be cloned out at this point but I think I will leave it in. The only big distraction it creates is the huge black spot behind the subject in the trunk. I am going to sample the area just below it and at a very low opacity tap the brush repeatedly until it looks ok.

beek

Yeah, that’s the ticket. Now lets look at the bird. Not much to do here, the beak has a white highlight on the tip, it is not a blown out highlight just a white area that is overexposed. All we need to do is put some color in it and that is easy to do. I could clone from the area around it but since the area is round and irregular shaped it is much easier to simply sample a nearby color and paint over it on new blank layer. At this point you could try different blending modes and the “color” mode is often a good choice but since the underlying layer is white just lowering the opacity until everything blends in works just fine. By the way, there is a lot of blood and dirt in this eagles head area, usually eagles clean up after eating but this guy must have forgotten. I could have cleaned that up but for me it is just part of nature so I left it in. On the strip of the tail that was too bright I did a little cloning lowered the opacity and changed the blend mode to multiply (I think!) to darken it up a bit. After that  Shift<Option<Command<E to make a complete layer, flatten the image if you need the performance. I now just need to clone out that branch in the lower left corner, healing brush will get it too, and send the image over to Lightroom for some final adjustment. I like to use Lightroom for sharpening, noise reduction, saturation, and selective exposure or gradient masking. There is no need to do it in Lightroom but for me it seems easier, probably because it is one step closer to a final output.

compare

I am sure you will agree that the final image is a vast improvement and I hope one or two of these methods finds its way into your workflow. Until next time Thank You for stopping by and Happy Shooting.

You can catch me on Twitter: @RonBoyd


Post Up

Bald-Eagle-Photoshop

I have been playing around with a few images this week. I have several thousand to work on and I figure it was time to pick out a couple of them and see how they process out. I have heard over the years a number of professional say that if it can’t be processed in 5 minutes an image is not good. Don’t believe that, especially in wildlife photography. There are many great images that took hours to process out and taking time to optimize an image makes it that much better so today and next week I am going take you through the process of optimizing one of my images in Photoshop CC and Lightroom 5. First, let me say that the $9.99 a month subscription Adobe offers for Photoshop and Lightroom is a great deal and any one who considers themselves a photographer should take advantage of it.

Photoshop Screenshot

One thing about these softwares though, since they are being updated on an almost daily basis sometimes things get reset to default settings. One issue I ran into took a while to figure out and it is essential to processing bird photos. You will most of the time need to create a layer mask to separate your subject from the background. The quick select tool in Photoshop is a great way to achieve that but if you are working with larger images the function may become too slow to be usable. There are settings in preferences that can adjust the performance. Just go into Preferences>Performance and look to the right side of the pane. There you will see History and Cache settings. Select “Big and Flat” with Cache Levels between 4-6 and Cache Tile size of around 1024k and you should see the performance you need for making selections on large images.

What you are going to want to do is make a careful selection around your subject(s) on a duplicate layer and then create a mask by selecting the “add mask” Screen Shot 2014-02-20 at 9.39.16 AMbutton at the bottom of the layers panel. Make a couple of copies of this layer, turn off the visibility and save them for later. In the topmost layer select the image (not the mask) and now you are ready to do some basic editing of just your subject(s). Most often I will start with the “Shadow/Highlights” tool. Important thing to remember about the shadows and highlights is more is less. Really what you want to do is balance things out. Recovering clipped areas is not something you want to do here just smooth out the balance, you will have to fix the extremes in Camera RAW or Lightroom with the recovery tools or better yet cloning. On this layer you can also make all the otter adjustments with masks making the adjustment layer mask specific to that layer. You can do that by creating the adjustment layer, at the bottom of the pane is a small button click thatScreen Shot 2014-02-21 at 7.41.01 AM and you will see an arrow pointing down. That means your adjustments will only be applied to that layer.

Next is the part that I call magic because I spent many years doing things a different way and it took a very long time. Here’s the magic. Grab one of the layers you saved earlier, drag it to the top of the stack and turn on the visibility. Oops! All those edits you just made suddenly disappeared. To get that back click the layer mask on the layer you just put on the top of the stack and in the controls for that mask you will see a button that says “Invert”, click that and the mask inverts showing the edits on the layer below and effecting all the background area. Click the image in that layer and now you are ready to edit the background. Typically I would lower the exposure a little and do saturation and contrast adjustments, you can also apply some blur if the need arises.

OK folks I think that will do it for today. Thanks for stopping by and and be sure to come back next week when I finish processing the photo with some cloning and cleaning up the background.