Back in the day, on a job long since gone I was told to lie to customers. Not a one time thing to get out of a jam but as a matter of policy. A matter of policy when some extra effort on behalf of other workers would have eliminated the temptation to lie in the first place. That was a defining moment for me, they way the order so easily left the senders mouth, no hesitation, no level of discomfort or angst. I knew that I no longer wanted to be associated with that business or the person running it. For better or worse it is the moment that put me on the path to where I am today.
Another defining moment, one for bird photographers, is the day one puts down the money to own a top-notch lens. Back in the day that was pretty clearly defined, a top-notch lens was simply considered to be the longest lens the camera manufacturer makes with only a few exceptions, but today that is different. With skyrocketing prices and a flood of third party lenses that suspiciously all get rave reviews that step forward gets cloudy. Stay thirsty my friends, in the end the moment is clear-cut and a well defined moment, all be it a very expensive one.
I have a friend that I met a Bosque del apache a few years ago. He recently made the decision to plunk down the funds for a new Nikon 500mm lens and then put the effort into learning the lens and his photos have never looked better. Today I present for the first time a photograph from another photographer, the hard to find Green Jay from Chris Gardner. Thank You Chris!
I’m not the kind of guy that keeps track of all the different birds I encounter. I’m not that guy even though apps like iBird Pro make it very easy to keep track of sightings. After a while though, you just don’t see many new species of bird without making plans to do so with a trip to a new place. I doubt that it is a bird I have not seen before as it is rather common but it is a bird I have not noticed or specifically photographed and that is kind of cool. With a moderate amount of rainfall here in Southern California everything is once again turning green, something we have not seen in a very long time.It made for a fun afternoon shooting and discovering the new bird.
You can’t tell from the image above but the bird I am writing about is the Say’s Phoebe an unremarkable and common bird that just happened to stand out in the fields of green, but still something new is fun to see.
Contrary to what some people believe birds don’t generally fly for the fun of it. As far as I can tell and all things being equal, they would just as soon remain stationary. Food, shelter, saftey, and procreation are a birds motivation in life and all of their flying time serves one of those needs. They are creatures of habit and are always going to perform repeating patterns in flight. They like to fly along a shore line for example, and you will often see birds carry twigs on the exact same route when nest building. I know of one osprey that has a favorite fishing hole and most every day that bird can be found sitting on a branch above the hole waiting for the right fish to come along then swoops down to grab it.
Generally, they will also take off and land into the wind. That tells us that most birds very seldom fly in straight lines. All birds are going to circle around the nest at some point or follow the curves in the shoreline or river bed looking for food. Soaring birds always make circular patterns. Use this to your advantage, set up and track from profile all the way to head on and get a series of images. Many cameras acquire and track focus much better when the subject is moving across the field of view rather than straight at you. Using that technique will make things easier for the camera to do its job.
The one thing that will always make or break a photo is the background. Second to the subject the background is the single most important feature that must appear in every photograph. Most of the time the photographer wants to have the background blurred out as much as possible. This allows the viewer to concentrate on the subject which presumably is in focus. I always hear that a good photographer should buy a really fast lens and shoot at a wide aperture to get great blurred backgrounds, also known as “bokeh”. That is great advice but in the world of avian photography it is more complicated than that and I will try to explain a couple of things that have worked out for me in getting pleasing backgrounds.
There are also times when you need to have the background in focus and essentially it becomes the main subject. Take for example a bird silhouette against a sunset or moonscape. This may sound like a fairly easy, straight forward type of photograph but there are some important things that have to happen in order to get both your bird and background in focus.
Just to illustrate how big a deal the background really is, look at the image at the top. It is one of my favorite pictures of a Raquet Tailed Roller from a trip I made to the San Diego Zoo. Now look at the image below. That is the same bird on the same branch taken less than a minute apart. Look at how awful that background is. You may think that one of these images has some clever Photoshop work done to it. Well I am here to tell you that I am not that clever. The whole secret to getting that more pleasing image was to take about a half step closer to the subject and a couple of steps to the left. That is all a product of being mindful of both the subject and the background.
- Always be mindful of both your subject and the background. It is very helpful to search for the background you want in a target rich area and then wait for the birds to come into that background area. It will take experience to know if the background you want is an area where the birds will want to go but just remember that birds are creatures of habit, if they do it once chances are they will do it again. Be careful of branches, twigs, and hotspots. Some of this stuff can be photoshoped but it is always better to get it right in camera.
- The ratio of focal distance to the distance between the subject and background has the most profound effect on the detail of the background. This is true when using any super telephoto lens especially when using a crop sensor camera. So, if you are looking for that super blurry background you want to be as close as possible to the subject and have as much distance as possible between the subject and the background. conversely, if you want the subject and background to be in focus you will want to have some distance between yourself and the subject and also stop down the aperture as much as possible.
- Don’t be too concerned about the aperture settings effect on the background. Typically I only concern myself with aperture settings in regards to the subject. I set it so I will get the detail in the birds where I want it and no more. When using a lens 300mm or more at close distance the depth of field is going to be very shallow anyhow.
- Search for complimentary colors. If you have all those other things working for you the background will very often be just a swath of color. Try to choose colors that will compliment the subject. For example, one of my favorite photos is a white egret against an all blue background caused by the ocean.
- Try to get the background lighting similar to the lighting of the subject. Doing a high key or dark background is very dramatic but a little goes a long way and in general you will want to have the whole scene evenly lit.
Those are my few tips for getting pleasing backgrounds. Thanks for reading and I hope you comeback soon.
Thanks for stopping by and please remember you can always get a copy of my iPad application Wildlife &Nature Wallpapers from iTunes below.
There is nothing blue about them. They are white, gray, black, and even some yellow and green but no blue. I’m talking about the misnamed Great Blue Heron. I guess one could say that the light grey takes on the look of a bluish gray but that is stretching it in my opinion. Great Blue is the largest of the Heron family and is considered a coastal wading bird, they are common along the East and West coast and in the Southern states of the United States.
The photo here with the adult feeding the young has special meaning to me as it was the first series of images I made of the Great Blue Heron. It was also the first time I photographed at 500mm focal length. The lens was a brand new Tamron 200-500 on an old rickety tripod and ballhead. The scene was actually quite dark with the sun at my back completely covered in clouds. Shutter speed was down to 1/160 or below and I was pretty much holding on for dear life trying to keep the camera steady watching the young pop up from the nest from time to time when all of a sudden the adult circled above my head and came in for a landing. I was in the right place at the right time and got one of the more memorable images of my life. All the feeding was over in remarkably short order and in moments the sun was completely obscured and fog rolled in. How did I know to find these birds? Well that part was pretty easy. In the parking lot of the reserve I followed the guy with the most expensive gear. Yup, he hiked in before sunrise about a mile with me trailing him, he set up and waited and I set up right behind him and waited, he didn’t say a word, I didn’t say a word. Many other photographers came by took a few shots and wandered off and not a single one of them got the feeding shots that we both did. Sometimes ignorance really is bliss and it pays to play follow the leader when you don’t know what you are doing.
I have photographed the Great Blue Heron many times over the years and in spite of their size they can be rather challenging to shoot. Every time out I do better than the time before but still I am often disappointed. Perhaps I trick myself into thinking that it is easier than it really is and get lazy about it all. Big slow-moving birds that have neutral colors, what more can you ask for? They tend to be shy and separate themselves from humans on a three-dimensional level (they always want to be higher or lower as well as distant) and that makes things extra tough. When they are hunting or hanging out in a tree these Herons will stand perfectly still for long periods of time so there is never a rush to get the shot just realize that you are going to be at a distance. The best literature I have read about photographing the Great Blue Heron is located on Moose Peterson’s website and rather than trying to repeat what he wrote I will link to that post and let you enjoy it in all it’s glory here.
It may just be bad memory but I think I am drawn to the Great Blue Heron from a sinister cartoon character in my childhood. Sometimes they just look like they are pondering some evil deed.
You can see more of my pictures at www.ronboyddesign.com
One of the iconic images from Bosque Del Apache has always been the storied “Cranes in the Fire Mist” shot. That was a depiction of a very special moment during the sunrise when under the right conditions a mist backlit by the rising sun looked like it was on fire. The conditions had to be perfect with very cold water and direct sunlight. They say the days of the Fire Mist shot are over, restrictions made by the railroad make it difficult to access the best crane pool for the shot.
Whether or not the fire mist shot will ever be made again there still is the fire, and the cranes, and oh my what a great combination they make. If there are clouds in the sky the two large crane pools along the highway to San Antonio (not Texas) are the place to be. After the sun creeps behind the hills the clouds light up with amazing color and there are still plenty of cranes coming in to roost for the night. When they lose the light, Sandhills take much more care when landing so they lower the gear and flaps at a much higher altitude slowing down to almost parachute into the pool. That is when you want to get the Crane in the Fire shot.
Here are a couple of tips. If you want to have a different look try cropping to a square and shooting in the vertical or portrait orientation. Capturing birds in flight in the vertical orientation is a lot more difficult but when you get a good one it pays off in dividends. You will be able to capture many layers of clouds and incorporate land features. It gives the impression of a wide-angle yet still tends to have a close looking subject. Vertical BiF’s, give it a try. Don’t be fooled that sunset is the end, stick around for at least a half hour after the sun is gone. That is the best time just make sure you have a decent shutter speed to get those silhouettes nice and sharp.
Once again thanks for stopping by. 2014 was a fantastic year and we are looking forward to bring you more good stuff in the years to come-Ron
OK, so I am going to get all technical on you today. Recently I heard a very informed person mention the Brown Pelican was not hurt by the chemical DDT which was banned back in the ’70’s. While this is technically true in that the birds themselves were not effected by the chemical in the environment, there was, it is thought, a significant impact on the population. I thought another person duped by clever manipulation of the facts. Rather than making the birds sick the chemical is thought to cause significant thinning of the egg shells (about 12%) of many bird species including the Brown Pelican. After a moment of satisfaction on my part, the informed person caught himself and stated just that, but then went on to say that even the thin shell theory is subject to debate. That led me think it may be true that the evil chemical DDT did not cause the thinning of the egg shells either. Let’ take a closer look.
On Nov. 17, 2009 the Department of the Interior removed the Brown Pelican from the Federal list of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife. The 29 page document goes into great detail about the measures taken to help the Brown, population changes, and even the impact of global climate change, but I did not find any reference to DDT or any other toxin once thought to be the primary cause of threatening the existence of the Pelican. During the time of protection many steps were taken to support the birds, creation of natural habitats, responsible management of oil spills were 2 large factors. Not only did the government take actions to stop the things leading to population decreases but created factors to increase populations. It worked. Still I thought it odd the main culprits not referenced in the document. A little more research uncovered some facts about DDT and the impact on egg shells.
First of all DDT actually has no effect on the eggshells is in fact thought to be a compound known as DDE (Dichlorodiphenyldichloroethylene) a by-product of DDT that is stored in the body fat of raptors and waterfowl. There is a measured correlation of DDE levels and shell thickness but also there is conflicting data. For example the Brown Pelican shells improved with the removal of DDT from the environment but after 40 years of the chemical being banned, California Condors still suffer from thin shells. It is thought that 6-10 years is required to flush traces thought the environment. It is even admitted the DDE damage is a hit and miss effect completely unchanging many bird species, in particular domestic breeds.
So yeah it is subject to debate, not only if it causes shell thinning but also how the DDE is introduced to the birds that are impacted.
You can own your own full resolution of todays photo for just 99 cents. It is part of the iPad application Wildlife & Nature Wallpapers. Download it today.
“To be the business or interest of”, that is how Merriam -Webster defines the word concern and the conservation status of many birds is called “Least Concern”. Obviously that means that there is no concern or danger of that type of bird disappearing from the face of the earth. Ironically, the moniker also translates in another way. It seems as though the common birds draw least concern from those who photograph them. It kind of makes sense in that it is believed to be more of a challenge to make images of birds that are hard to find but in reality isn’t that just matter of patience or having the ability to purchase air fare to travel to where the bird is in promising numbers? The question being, does that make one a better photographer? It may indeed be rightfully so but it seems as though the more money spent making an image the bigger the treasure and that for some least concern falls on the common bird.
I like to photograph these pigeons but they are plentiful in my area and so I seldom show pictures of the pigeons. I never think about whether or not they are common to other people in other parts of the world, they are just the same old pigeon. The pigeon is not super easy to photograph, no bird is, either. Reality is that if you can make a nice sharp picture of any bird it is in its self an accomplishment. Believe it or not there are many very accomplished photographers out there who do not have a prayer of making a bird image on the fly. Photographing the pigeon is not as easy as it would appear either, for one thing they often bob their head back and forth making it hard to get real sharp eyes, a common characteristic of some raptors.
If you follow this blog regular you may notice that we have had some rain the past few weeks and that background has come back to the normal green and Fall colors it is supposed to be. A little late in the season but I will take everything I can get :).
One thing that is of great concern to me is sharing the latest version of my iPad application Nature and Wildlife Wallpapers. Get it at theApp Store today.
Want to make a picture like the one you see above but only have one like the one you see below? It is pretty easy thing to do with Photoshop. Today I want to highlight a tool and one of its features that is not widely known. The tool is the Clone Stamp tool. Yeah that one is pretty basic, it is the stamp icon on the toolbar to the left. The Clone Stamp does some amazing things and one of the keys to using it properly is setting the hardness correctly. Depending on the texture and complexity of the area surrounding the subject being cloned will determine the hardness required. It will be different every time you use the tool so get used to making that setting something you check every time you use the tool.
The lesser known feature is in the Clone Source Panel. If you don’t see it, and you probably don’t, go to the window menu and click on Clone Source. I wanted to show you a picture of the menu but the new Mac OSX Yosemite is not making them today. By the way , not to go off on too much of a tangent, I recommend staying away from the Yosemite operating system, it is a constant disappointment and every day bring a new problem that slows down my workflow for hours at a time. Right now it is such a piece of crap that has so many basic features that do not work properly I have all but abandoned machines running the system.
Anyhow, in that panel you see a little angle icon with a setting box next to it. This is the great feature of changing the source angle, make that bird fly straight or in this case fly inline with the other birds. Hope the little tip helps. Remember, Clone Source Panel it makes it so much easier to get it right on the first try.
Last week I lamented the fact that I did not like the two images I was presenting and that at times there can be overriding factors as to whether an image is worthy of publication. I didn’t like the photos because they were of poor quality in my opinion. The stuff was worthy of publication because it documented strange and unusual occurrences. Today lets take a look at the hawk image and first focus on why I think it is of poor quality. There are three things that I don’t like about the image, what do you think they are? Take a moment, look at it, and make a note of what you think is wrong.
OK pencils down.
First the image is not as sharp as it should be. True that, but exactly why is it not so sharp? Shutter speed is indeed quite low we all have to agree, crop sensor, 300mm with a 1.4x teleconverter says I need around a 1/500sec shutter compensate with the Nikon VR vibration reduction and maybe one could push the speed down to around 1/125sec. So it is simple, not enough shutter speed. But wait, look close and you will see the feet of the hawk are quite sharp. Oh you might say, in that case the depth of field is just too shallow because the head is not nearly as sharp as the feet. Nope, I won’t go into the detail here but given the distance math proves the focal plane should have both the head and feet in focus, in fact the head and feet are very close to being on the same plane in the first place. The real culprit does go back to shutter speed but it about movement related to the scene not the camera and lens. a theory that I have yet to confirm or deny it’s that many bird and raptors in particular quickly oscillate their heads as part of their focus mechanism. It makes sense in that it would help aid in-depth perception to have more than one perspective to reference in your vision. In any case, it is important to remember that movement in the scene is in no way effected by and VR, IS, OS, or any other optical stabilization offered by the camera or lens. Movement in the scene also is not in any way effected by the focal length that is being used, so if you scene requires a minimum shutter of 1/160sec that is it, no further math involved, and no way to get around it.
The key to making the sharpest possible image at extremely low shutter speeds is to make a lot of images. Set that frame rate as high as it will go and burn a bunch of images but it also increases the chances that it will capture that very brief moment when you the camera and lens are free of movement as well as the subject in the scene. Yeah it really works. When in doubt drop the hammer and chances are pretty good the will be a sharp one in the group.
Another thing I don’t like about this photo is the background, in a word it sucks. Even though it is nice and blurry there is a pattern in the background and that pattern is the tell-tale curse of the chain link fence. It is fairly easy to eliminate chain link fence infant of your wildlife subject but behind is another story. In this case it was at an effective focal length of 630mm shooting wide open at f4 fence about 15 feet behind the subject. As you can see it is nice and blurry but the pattern of the chain link is visible. Because this fencing is often coated with a bright galvanized finish it usually contrasts with the rest of the background, overly bright if in sunlight or dark in shade. Removing the unwanted lines is more difficult than it appears in Photoshop also, so don’t think it is easily fixed problem.
Lastly, I just don’t like the colors. It is OK I suppose but there is a sharp contrast between the ground and the rest of the background. It creates a horizon line with a hard transition from tan to green. We are in the midst of a severe drought this year and much of the foliage is off-color. Normally this time of year that chain link fence would not even be visible, it would be covered in green and gold making a sometimes spectacular background. Mother has given us a difficult situation and the is only one good way to handle that, try different perspectives. Go higher or lower than the usual comfort positions and always be mindful of the back ground.
Today I am also including one of my favorite hawk pictures so you won’t feel cheated on a good image for another week :). Thank You for stopping by, I hope my little reminders and failures help you and your photography.
Please, don’t forget you can download the latest version of my iPad application Nature and Wildlife Wallpaper below.
Alright people this is the year to step up and give out full size candy for Halloween. No body wants to get their ass kicked by Snow White.
I have a vague relocation of going there as a young child. Busch Gardens in Van Nuys California was a tropical themed amusement park attached to a brewery. It was Busch Gardens from that Busch, the Anheuser-Busch (aka Budweiser) company. It is no real surprise that one of my only memories of Busch Gardens is free beer, and I didn’t get any. Busch Gardens is also one of the leading theories as to the origin of wild parrots that have been living in Southern California for many years. In fact according to LAlist.com Busch gardens was paid by the Federal Government to take care of Amazon Parrots. They write:
For one 3 1/2-year period, Uncle Sam paid the company $110,000.00 in bird sitting fees related to a flock of fugitive parrots. Federal agents had thought the sanctuary a perfect nesting place for a seized shipment of 205 noisy and colorful Amazon parrots, smuggled in illegal through Mexico.
In all Busch Gardens was home to about 1,000 exotic birds. When the park closed in 1979 the legend says many birds were lost or let go and the run of wild parrots was born.
I had absolutely no real appreciation for the invasion of wild parrots. For a few years I had occasionally seen 4 wild parrots in my neighborhood, but nothing like what happened a few weeks ago. I never researched them because the parrots are not native to North America. For sixteen straight days a large band of wild parrots invaded my neighborhood in the morning. Almost like clockwork at around eight-thirty the racket started off in the distance and grew louder. in a minute or two the birds descended and caused nothing but commotion. At least a hundred to my count and I soon found out that parrots are not easy to photograph. They move around quickly and are hard to spot in trees because they are green. I have one large oak tree that is owned by a squirrel and maybe that is the reason why the parrots refused to fly to my tree but for whatever reason it was off-limits to them making it even harder to get a descent photograph. The wild parrots were very aggressive and disrupted the overall ecosystem for birds forcing unusual behavior and stress. One day I was visited by my local hawk. Usually very skittish the young bird paid absolutely no attention to me during its hunt. It makes me wonder if the hawk was deprived of food because of the parrot disruption.
Neither of these photo is of any quality and normally I would not even consider posting them but somehow I feel there is some sort of news worthiness in them, and that will be a topic for another day, just what to do when you are caught off guard or just plain can’t get the shot your need. When do you pack it in, when is it worthy to document with poor quality. But that is a topic for another day. Today it is the fighting parrots and the little hungry hawk.
See you next week.
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.
I originally wrote this post for another website but it was never published so lucky us, I am going to put it up here. You often read me referring to the “golden hour” and how magical it is, well this is my explanation of how it all works. Enjoy.
The golden hour, it’s that time right after sunrise and around sunset when the light is best for photography. Shadows are softer, colors bright and golden. So just what is it that makes the golden hour golden? Anyone who says its because the red color spectrum is increased please go to the back of the room and stand in the corner because that is not what I am going to tell you.
It all starts over at that fireball called the Sun. Our Sun emits rays of light that is called clean white light. White means that is contains all the colors of the spectrum. These colors are violet, indigo, blue, green ,yellow, orange and red. Combined there is no perceptible color and this light simply illuminates. All the colors in the ray of light are defined as waves and each color is a wave of a different length so for example the color red is the longest wave length and violet is the shortest. This is important to remember.
Light rays travel toward the earth at breakneck speed, so fast that people often refer to it as the “speed of light”. To be exact the speed is 299,792,458 m/s or 671million miles per hour. As that ray of light approaches the earth in the eight or so minutes it takes, it may encounter things like asteroids, planets, space debris, satellites, and the occasional Yugo, but in general it is unaltered until it hits the earth’s atmosphere. That’s when things change big time.
The earth’s atmosphere is made up primarily of nitrogen, oxygen, argon and water vapor along with trace amounts of chemicals, other gasses, with soot and dust particles. It also becomes more dense the closer it gets to the surface of the earth. The atmosphere does a bunch of cool things to protect us from harmful emissions but it also changes the quality of light that travels through it. Going back to those different colors of light having a different wave lengths now comes into play. The short answer is that the longer wave lengths are more durable than the short. You might think of it this way. Long wave lengths that make up red and orange light are like football players and the shorter lengths compromising violet, indigo and blue are like ballerinas. As the light travels through the atmosphere it encounters obstacles like water vapor, dust and Oxygen molecules. Often times the football players are able to brute force their way through the obstacle while the ballerinas have to go around. They are elegantly sent off in another direction essentially stripping that ray of light of that color. This stripping of color and diffusing it throughout the atmosphere is also the reason why the sky is blue. This phenomenon happens 24/7 but is not noticeable during most of the daylight hours. It is only when sun light is forced to travel through the greatest length and densest parts of the atmosphere that it becomes most noticeable. That is the golden hour.
So the notion that the red and yellow light actually increases during golden hour really is not possible. You would need to have a pretty substantial strobe mounted on the moon to actually increase any portion of the light spectrum. You might ask yourself, “if the sunlight intensity is greatly reduced then why do I get crazy fast shutter speeds while shooting sunsets”? Probably because most photographers won’t even try to capture the sun at any other time without some extra protection. Your camera wouldn’t even be able to handle all the light. Since the sunlight is less intense in the golden hours, you also have the added benefit of softer shadows an in general a softer quality to all natural light.
And that is what makes the golden hour gold for photographers.
Thanks For Reading.
You can see more of my photos at www.ronboyddesign.com
Today I am wondering just what is creativity? Maybe a more appropriately what makes a person a creative? A term that gets bandied about is “I am a creative” almost as if it is a statement of ones IQ score. I am sure there are some definitive definitions of the phrase in the job market and if there are any of those boasters that are in fact speaking about their employment, Stop It, you have a job, we get it. I suspect though that most if not all the self-proclaimed creatives out there say it as reference to their state of being and it makes me wonder just what is a creative? It must be a poet, a writer, a musician, a big idea maker, that makes sense, creatives who make the world a better place. They create stuff we all live for and we are all grateful for their genius. I look at architecture on a daily basis and those masterpieces are created by architects and engineers who, last I checked, are not poets or artists and are thought of as the mathematical right side brain lot yet some architecture is the most creative efforts on earth.
I would say that the least creative person I have ever known would swear on a stack of bibles that he in fact lives and breathes creativity. In fact that person is a delusional slave to dogma taken to an extreme as I suspect is a common trait among self-proclaimed creatives. Could it be that just because you want to be creative, make you a creative? The second least creative person I have ever known, myself sits here before you earning a living writing, taking pictures, and, wait for it, creating software! I never considered myself as a creative, in fact I never really thought about it until I started hearing the phrase on a regular basis a year or two ago. I never thought that going over the rule of thirds in my mind hundreds of thousands times qualifies to be a creative, could never have imagined that holding a phone in one hand doing simple addition and subtraction and more complex math, pencil on paper, with the other is really being creative.
One of the cute little ironies of the creative life is that it is usually considered taboo “take the easy way” or the path of least resistance, one must sweat, bang heads, pour out their blood for the craft, literally be one step away from death in order to produce the best product, yet everything has to flow. Don’t deny it the word flow is used all the time and the essence of that coveted principal is nothing but a path of least resistance. Be it wind, light, liquid, electricity, in nature everything that flows is in reality just taking a path of least resistance. How cool is that. I guess the ultimate in creativity would be to make water flow uphill? Not really, that’s just crazy.
Maybe I am missing something, like that has never happened before, but maybe creativity is just a synonym of hard work.
Thanks for stopping by everybody. If this is your first time visiting the blog thanks again, I usually write about photography technique etc. but often get into a philosophy session about life because we all have that in common and usually relates to nature and photography in many ways. Download on of my iOS apps too please.
It is a little bit of preaching to the choir but today I wanted to mention the update to one of my iPad apps that was released this week and give thanks for the response it has had. Nature & Wildlife Wallpapers is an iOS application that went through a complete make over in that it has become just what it says it is, some nice photos included in the price of the app. The previous versions followed a model that called for packing as much features as possible, most of which only do an average job. Just like the operating system the app runs on NWW has gone through a thorough cleaning eliminating all the fluff and drilling down to do just one thing. The number of photos included in the app has been increased from 9 to 51 and all those images are full resolution and downloadable for users to use at their leisure as long as it is for personal use. It is a bit of preaching to the choir in that I presume that most of you readers are photographers in your own right and thus already have your own images, but I do think it is relevant in that this is really a way to sell our images and I bet a bunch of you would like to do just that right about now. Am I right?
In addition to making the images developing and marketing a mobile application requires a tremendous amount of skill and dedication and hiring some one to do it for you can be expensive but places like the Apple App Store are far-reaching and NWW is being seen by a lot of people who otherwise never could know about it. There is flexibility in the store too because in addition to the purchase price I can also attach a premium to certain images and users can purchase images based on size and usage as need be. If you are spending all kinds of money at a place like Smug Mug and noticing that they make no effort to reach out on your behalf you may consider putting some images out in the form of an application.
In the few days that the NWW update has been available I have had the best response of any application I have had to date. Thanks to everyone who bought or updated the app this week and to anyone who may be on the fence about buying I can tell you that the price is an introduction, in the coming weeks pricing will change and many of the images will no longer be available for free. Stay tuned in the coming months as I keep everyone up to date and show just how well Nature & Wildlife Wallpapers performs and adapts to the market.
Thanks again everyone. Learn more about NWW below.
I have tens of thousands of bird images there is no arguing about that. When I wander through the images of yesteryear looking for something it is rather easy to get side tracked going off on a tangent to find other images I forgot even existed. It is easy because I have tools that are so much better than just a few years ago. Not talking about cameras and lenses obviously as these are old photos, I am talking about the digital tools we need to process the image files. The toolbox has become a lot lighter for me too. I used to have suites of plugins and tons of junk to make my images look better. Almost all of that is gone now, I have one suite of color effects that I use so infrequently that I forget the name of it and my two most trusted pieces of software, Photoshop and Lightroom, and that is about it. There is also one piece of hardware that makes all this possible and that is the Solid State Drive typically referred to as a SSD. If you don’t have one, get one. Lightroom was generally thought of as an organizational tool but it o good now that it takes on the role of primary editing tool too. It is a cause of internal conflict whether or not to export an image to Photoshop for processing any more. Fact is that I really only need Photoshop for one specific routine process. All those expensive plugin suites have been replaced with custom actions.
As you can see now I am wandering off on a tangent about editing tools when the point I want to make is that when you have collections of images, store them rather than delete because you never know when you may be able to breathe life into them at a technical level. Once you have saved those images, make sure you go back and visit them from time to time too. The new life I am able to breathe into my old images primarily comes in the form of exposure and noise reduction. My tools are so good now at balancing exposures, bringing down highlights, recovering over exposed areas, and bring up light in shadows that many images that otherwise would be good are now useable. Associated with adjustments like this is digital noise and older cameras had lots of it. Lightroom and Photoshop(ACR) are now so good that many of those noisy old images are also just fine.
Hurray for technology! Take a second look at some old photos and please don’t delete.
I never even thought about it until yesterday or I would have been mentioning it endlessly for the past few months as it occurs to me that bird photographers have to travel to make photos in almost every case. Today I am happy to announce for the first time on this blog a new iPhone application I made called Trip Trak. According to my own press release all of which is true, I promise:
…makes it easy to record and store mileage, routes traveled, expenses, and gives turn by turn driving directions all in one place. Users can also easily export data to their Dropbox folder, via email or by AirPrint. Trip Trak also allows the user to store up to three different vehicles with unlimited trips and categorized expenses. Using the latest technology offered by the operating system and iPhone 5s, Trip Trak sends a friendly reminder when the user forgets to input ending mileage and prompts voice navigation when turn by turn navigation is accessed while the vehicle is in motion.
One of the cool functions of Trip Trak is the stop and go button that records your position, so if you are bouncing along and find a good spot all you need to is press one button and you have recorded your position in the data. You can also rest assured that Trip Trak does not connect with any third-party or owned servers so there is no possibility of of a data breach beyond the Apple native security.
Trip Trak is free and has in-app purchase to remove ads and unlock premium features, if you are an iPhone user I invite you to give it a look. You never know come the end of the year if you will need to provide data for all your deductible expenses connected with your photography. Get at the App Store Today. You can also learn more about the app and read tutorials at this site.
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.
Ok so now the light has become strong enough that you can set your shutter speed at a rate that gives you great flexibility. Today I am talking about the shutter range of 1/500sec – 1/1,000sec, a point that I consider to be fast, good fast. Very often good fast correlates directly with the time of day more than anything else. Like all the other ranges it comes and goes with the intensity of light either increasing in the morning or decreasing in the evening. You have finally arrived and now you can really enjoy all the wonderful things going on around you. Whoa partner, hang on with that relaxation stuff because you need to get your game on. You see, there still is no time to relax, soft light that is strong enough to have higher shutter speeds is what I lovingly call the “Golden Moment”. For sure it is longer than a moment but it is fast-moving and depending where you are set up it will pass very quickly. For example if you are set up at the bottom of a bluff the transition from too dark shadows to bright light can happen in just a few minutes as the sun crosses the horizon.
You are now going to be working with your aperture setting a lot more. You can choose between BiF’s, portraits, Landscapes and set the camera so you will get the in focus points you need. If it is the morning, bird activity will be waning soon, and in evening it is just starting to pick up. You are going to need to have a clear plan of your shots by now, it is not an easy thing to do because you never know what the things are going to be like before you arrive, so shot lists and game plans often have to be formed on the fly, never the less you should have your intentions established by now. It’s true that you have the flexibility to freeze the action in BiF’s or show some motion blur by stopping down a bit. You have the flexibility to stop down in a portrait to blur the background just the way you want. Maybe you want to have another bird in the foreground sharp too. You can do that. Decisions, decisions. Make the most of the golden Moment because to won’t last long.
A little something that I forgot to mention last week about tripods and ball-heads. The more you rely on your stabilization system and the older you get, many people tend to lean into the set up. Traditional long lens technique has the photographer leaning into the camera and draping one arm across the top of the lens to hold everything in place and dampen any vibration. Note that this is not the only technique, some people are more comfortable cradling the lens from below and sort of holding the back of the camera to create a fulcrum effect that makes for fast panning. In either case it is important to be comfortable and fluid. I have noticed that a gimbal style head can become bulky and awkward at times when trying to maneuver the rig. Just something to know.
I also hear about those cool looking c covers for the tripod legs. We can argue about it all day long but in my experience I don’t see any real value in using camouflage clad gear but these leg covers do serve a purpose in two areas, insulation and comfort. If you happen to have an aluminum tripod they will solve the concern about the legs getting cold in winter and the insulation in the covers provide padding when carrying the tripod over your shoulder. Leg covers will set you back about $50 but if you don’t want to shell out the money for the camo you can easily make one of your own for just a few dollars with pipe insulation from the local home improvement store and some “athletic” style tape. If you are very lucky you may even be able to find your own camouflage tape.
Part of the premise of camouflaging gear is to make the subject feel less threatened. Beyond any benefit camo may lend it is very important to maneuver your tripod in a non-threatening manner. Collapsing the legs to move a few feet in the brush is a huge pain in the rear and is time-consuming but picking up a tripod with long extended legs can easily be perceived as an aggressive move so here is what I do. First, as always be slow and as quiet as possible, always facing the subject draw the tripod legs together and swing the ground end of the legs behind you cradling the camera/lens close to your body. Holding the tripod loose enough to allow the brush to guide the path of the legs as pushing brush around and breaking twigs and branches will make sounds that disturb the bird.
Sorry for not picking back up on the shutter speed series this week but this went a little long. We get back to it next week.
To review last week, we were talking about tripods, carbon fiber is good but not essential, weight rating needs to be double the actual combined weight of your camera and lens. The number of sections in the legs only is important in regards to size for travel not actual performance when being used. A couple of other things oith mentioning in a tripod, it is really important as to how the leg sections expand and retract. Latches are not good they will get caught on branches and debris and release when you don’t want them to. Most quality tripods will have a twist collar type lock to hold the sections in place, so look for that. Many tripods have optional spikes at the feet that can be used in rough terrain. It was actually a good selling point when I was shopping for my tripod but after many years of use I can honestly say there has only been a handful of times when using spikes was helpful and none that it was absolutely necessary, so I would not consider it a valuable feature.
The second part of the support equation is that thing that gets stuck to the top of the tripod. Here you have a couple of choices, a ball-head or Gimbal head. You can find ball heads in all size, price and quality ranges. Ball-heads are the essential part of all other forms of photography but with long lenses the gimbal is a specialty head that will provide superior support and usually are priced around $500. There are hybrid solutions out there too but none of them look very appealing to me. Ball-heads, just like tripods should be rated double the actual load to be stable and there are a few of them out that can support long heavy lenses.
I have both styles, the Induro GHB2 gimbal head which can and has handled lenses as large as the Sigmonster 300-800mm zoom. I doubt there is any production long lens the Induro can’t handle. It is a middle of the road product in price but works the same as the most expensive gimbal heads yet is heavy and kid of difficult to pack for travel by air. The last few years I have been, most of the time, using a ball-head though and there is only one that I would trust with my beloved Nikon 300mm f2.8. I use the Really Right Stuff BH-55 which I think is the best ball-head money can buy. All Really Right Stuff products are premium and only available direct from the manufacturer but the BH-55 has been well worth the investment and after a lot of use looks as if it is still new. The conventional ball-head is much easier for travel but there are only a few that handle heavy lenses so please be sure to use a ball-head that has been proven to work with all your lenses. I recommend avoiding any of the hybrid solutions and always using the “Arca-Swiss” style mounting system. “Arca-Swiss” is an industry standard but there are some proprietary systems out there that don’t work as well and are not comparable with other brand gear.
OK gang, thanks for stopping by. Next week I will get back to the shutter speed thing, getting faster.
The last few weeks I have been writing about photographing birds at slow shutter speeds or long expose times. One thing I have to point out is that all those techniques hinge upon having really good support for your gear. Yeah, you are going to need a good stable tripod preferably a carbon fiber one. Carbon fiber is not essential though, there is not a huge difference in weight between the CF and aluminum but the latter does tend to be about half the price. There is actually a good argument to be made for using a heavier tripod, more weight will hold your camera and lens in place better but hiking and traveling will be challenging. Aluminum can also get cold but can always be covered with foam insulation. In any case you need a good tripod. Use it as much as you should and it will become an extension to your body. I always have a tripod handy when shooting birds even if I plan to do nothing but hand-held shooting. With a heavier lens having the tripod standing next to you provides a great place to rest the gear when your arm gets tired. It is a whole lot better than putting your expensive gear on the ground. Straps and harnesses don’t work well with heavy lenses so it is really a favorable way to hike with camera/lens mounted on the tripod and balanced across your shoulder. If you extend the legs a bit it will balance the weight(depending on the lens) and be rather comfortable plus you can shoot at a moments notice. I use my tripod as a walking stick at times too, a monopod with only one leg extended also. Spend plenty of time with your tripod and you will find clever new ways it will be of use to you.
For me personally, I use the Induro CT-313. I have had it a number of years and it has always worked well. That tripod is the middle of the road solution price wise but like many products paying double the price only gets you a couple of features and is not absolutely necessary. More important you want to get a tripod that is rated twice the capacity you intend to load it. My gear usually weighs around 18-20lbs so I use a tripod rated at 40lbs. If you travel a lot you have a choice in the number of sections to each leg, 4 sections will collapse to a smaller size for travel while a 3 section in theory would be a little stronger. I have a 3 piece and wish I had a 4 every time I travel because it just barely fits in my largest bag. I have to pack it diagonally and that makes it more difficult to pack other things.
Next week I will continue with more about support and why a simple strong bullhead can be more useful than a big gimbal style head, but for now thanks for stopping by and please feel free to comment below.
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.
You may think of it as the time of the three P’s, “Practice, Panic, or Pack it in” but play your cards right and you just might wiggle your way out of the jam. When the shutter speed falls under the one, one-hundredth of a second mark the first tendency most people have is to push the iso or sensitivity of the camera sensor to compensate. While every year low light capabilities of cameras improves by leaps and bounds i would caution against doing that in general. When the shutter speed drops below 1/100sec it usually only happens at the very end of the day after sunset or very early before sunrise. The scene tends to be dark and to portray the reality of the time our photos will tend to have a lot of blacks and deep dark tones. Bumping the ISO is going to bring in digital noise. Even the best cameras produce noise at higher iso settings and the noise is far more noticeable in shadows and under exposed portions of a photograph. Your chances of getting unusable photos is greatly enhanced under these conditions. Let theses two thoughts always be in the back of your mind. First, know that increasing the sensitivity will not yield a significant change in shutter speed without introducing unmanageable noise and second, there are techniques and best practices that can bring home great photographs. As is always the case in bird photography, there are going to be many, many images that are no good so keep that high frame advance rate just as if you were shooting birds in flight at high noon as you will be shooting them in flight even at shutter speeds below 1/100sec.
Go wide. When it comes to sunrise and set I always make it a practice to have two have two high quality cameras with me. One on a tripod with a long lens and the other sporting a wide lens usually a 17-35mm. The wide lens requires far less shutter speed to make sharp images with the rule of thumb being the minimum shutter speed close to the focal length. For example, a 24mm lens would have a suggested minimum shutter speed of 1/24sec, on a crop sensor Nikon body that gets adjusted to 1/38sec. Throw image stabilization into the mix and that number can fall dramatically depending on how steady your hand is. Don’t worry about stopping down as the wider the focal length the deeper the depth of field, so an aperture of f2.8 at 24mm is quite good. Lazily panning in the direction of flying birds will yield even more interesting results.
Pro Tip: When shooting at sunrise and set the camera white balance to about 7,000k. Images on the camera LCD will look much better and that will help keep you much more excited about shooting in low light 🙂
Embrace the blur. Take that long lens mounted on a tripod and set the shutter speed to the minimum that will yield a sharp background(stationary objects) and wait to see birds flying across the horizon. You can alternate between holding the lens stationary and panning with the BiF’s and if your lens is a zoom type try zooming at the same time. You will get interesting results for sure.
Lastly, you can mount the camera with the wide lens on a tripod or better yet a monopod and get as close as possible to a big bird. Often the larger a bird is the more comfortable they are when a human approaches. This can be true for both wild and domesticated birds. Act slow and take a lot of images and a few of them should be sharp.