The Great Journey in Photography

Posts tagged “bird photography

Defining Moments

Photo by Chris Gardner

Photo by Chris Gardner

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!


You Don’t Say’s

Say's Phoebe

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.

Say's Phoebe 1


The Golden Moment

Snowy Egret at Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve

420mm f5.6 250iso 1/1,250sec

Every time I have a sunset shoot there is always a Golden Moment. After most of the action has settled down and most of the birds have wandered off for the evening comes the golden moment. Look around, the light is weak but the colors are most saturated to the eye. It will only last a few minutes. Look around and often you will find a lone bird, maybe fishing or just hanging out. Make that your last salute to the day and I bet you will get a bunch of keepers. A couple of things to remember though, the light is always very weak so make sure you check any exposure compensation settings in the camera and always have support available because you will probably need it. Try to make portraits during the golden moment because birds in flight are not only sparse but are a lot more difficult to make.

One more quick tip. Many DSLR’s have a fine tune function. Nikon calls it “AF Fine Tune” and Cannon says “Micro Adjust”. These features are to compensate for any Front/Back focus problems. There are devices to check for focus problems but a very cheap and straight forward way to check is to take repeated photos of newsprint at a variety of settings, compare them and obviously use the one that is best. I have not to date deeded to make any adjustments for lenses but I have made a very slight adjustment on a lens and  tele-converter combo. When adding a TC the chances of errors is increased because the lens is now passing its data through a second connection and another device. With time and wear I think the ability to adjust the focus plane can be a valuable tool. If your camera supports it give it a check, you just might get yourself some sharper images.

Thanks for reading. I hope you enjoyed todays photo Snowy Egret in “Fortress of Solitude”

You can see more photos of mine here.

And don’t forget, those of you with iPads can download my Wildlife application Nature & Wildlife Wallpapers and get some free high resolution images for just 99cents, while it lasts.

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Cranes in the Fire

Crane in the Fire

800mm f5.6 250iso 1/640sec

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.

BNSF invades Bosque

BNSF invades Bosque

 

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.

 

Crane in the fire2

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


Crunchy Thin Shell

Brown Pelican takes flight

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.

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Of Least Concern

least concern pigeon-1

“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.

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Photoshop Tools

Cranes in the sky

600mm f5.6 320iso 1/4000sec

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.

preshot

 

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.

 


Bleak Critique

Coopers hawk at Bolsa Chica Reserve

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.

coopers hawk in the yard-11

420mm f4 250iso 1/60sec

OK pencils down.
Lets review.
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.

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Who Says Fun Size is Fun?

wild parrots and the little hungry hawk-1

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.


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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Backyardbirds10-14-43-Edit

Even though temperatures have been soaring well into the 100’s where I am but we are well into fall and that means that all those migratory birds are getting ready to head south in the Northern hemisphere. If they are looking for warm weather they are welcome to come over to my place. I am looking forward to getting back into the swing of things and actually I have been seeing a dramatic change the sunrises and sets. A few clouds in the sky and the golden hour is often filled with color. There is an aqua color that appears here unlike any color I have seen before. In New Mexico it is a reddish, almost glowing pink color that is unique to there but here it is an aqua color. Perhaps it has something to do with the proximity to the ocean. I am presuming that a higher moisture content in the air could throw off cooler color tones. I am not an expert in that respect and I have found out over the years very few people are as much of  the talk about color in the sky is mere speculation. Next week I think is going to be a good time to re visit the facts about pollution and how light rays effect the color in the sky.

Today is the fifth straight day of my neighborhood being terrorized by a band of rogue wild parrots. I say terrorized because they make a tremendous amount of noise. Those noises are foreign to the rest of the wildlife and it has them as expected, running for cover.

*Note-Once again WordPress lost/deleted a good portion of the text in this post. I will try to recover but I am not going sit around for another hour or two loosing valuable time because WordPress can’t properly manage data. My apologies.

Here is the video I did not make.

 

Please don’t forget to check out my latest iPad Application.

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Look at Me, I’m a Creative!

Pair of Sandhill Cranes

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.

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Nature & Wildlife Wallpapers

Nature & Wildlife Wallpapers

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.

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Recover What You Already Have

Great Egret at Bolsa Chica State Park-

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.


Pretty Picture & Shameless Promotion-Trip Trak the app

California Gull at La jolla Cove-

300mm f4.5 250iso 1/2,000sec

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.

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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.

 


Beyond 1/500sec

Sandhill Crane in the sunset-

600mm f5.6 250iso 1/800sec

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.


Stable Environment II

Sandhill Carane coming in for a landing

800mm f8.0 200iso 1/500sec

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.

 

 


Stable Environment

bald eagle fight for salmon

420mm f7.1 640iso 1/1,000sec

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.


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.


Practice, Panic, or Pack It In

Canada Goose

300mm f3.2 250iso 1/60sec

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.

 


All About Speed

Snow Goose at slow shutter speed

420mm f6.3 200iso 1/25sec

 

The following is an excerpt from a new application I am writing “All about Speed” (not the real name) that will be available in a double of months. If anyone has a comment or suggestion please let me know.

There are more than 120 photos in this application. Combined the were all made in less than 2 seconds. All About Speed is a visual treatise into the effects of shutter speed in bird photography. It is that thing that splits seconds by thousands  and captures an image in a fraction of the time of a heartbeat. The shutter of DSLR’s open just long enough to allow light for a proper exposure to pass through it. The length of time a shutter needs to stays open is determined by three other factors, first and most important, the amount of light available to the camera, the desired depth of field or aperture setting and the sensitivity setting of the camera.  In action it is essential to have a relatively high shutter rate, but what does one do when there is just not enough light to freeze the action or what if there is too much light. Rather than making the shutter as fast as possible it is always best to think of every photograph in terms of the right shutter rate. The right speed will let you accomplish the things, the details that make a great image and it is very often not the fastest possible speed. Consider if you want to convey the sense of motion by having the tips of wings blurred or if the very slight addition of some fill flash would be the finishing touch, best possible speed won’t get you there. While it is a symbiotic relationship between the 4 elements the range of desired shutter speed should be your first consideration and that is contrary to many other genre of photography.

Having just read all that you may think that I always set my camera to “Shutter Priority” mode, after all it is the priority. It sounds counterintuitive but I almost never use shutter priority mode. First, I am always thinking about the shutter speed, that is built in to the thought process, so why would I set the camera to operate outside the thought process. It is easier and more flexible to adjust other settings to achieve my desired shutter rate using either the aperture priority or manual modes. And lastly, I am looking for a desired range not a set speed and having a set speed may ultimately throw other setting to places I don’t want to be. Ultimately the setting that is most comfortable to the user is the best setting to use as you can get the same results just maybe not at the same frequency. The key is become comfortable at all settings and have the ability to choose what works best for you.


Is 500px Just a Popularity Contest?

Backyard Birds

After writing about it on more than one occasion I finally gave the photo hosting service SmugMug the heave-ho last week. SmugMug wasn’t a bad service, in fact, the last year they did a good job of bringing the visual experience up to date with all new layouts and themes. I just didn’t think it was worth the money. On the back-end they really didn’t do anything to help you sell images and services. Enough said.

I am currently trying out the service from 500px. I had heard nothing but good things about 500px but to be honest I had never, not even once been there. Part of that may have been intimidation because 500px has always promoted the notion of nothing but the best of the best, but mostly it was because I don’t have time to sit around scrolling through photography sites. Don’t get me wrong I look at a lot of pictures and I make time for that but it is in a more targeted way.

500px is a popularity contest and they don’t make any bones about that. I have to admire that, they come right out and say it “popular” not the usual weasel words like “trending”. Popularity works too, we all know that from our high school days. I don’t particularly like this method of rating photos. It is often confused with a real critique. On whole 500px also displays the best photos because of their formula. It works because when I do view images I don’t want to see snapshots. I am not all that impress with 500 as a service though and the chances of me staying with them is about 50/50 when the trial is up. I don’t much like the default (free) theme, it is crappy. If you are not paying for a portfolio showing your best doesn’t look too good. The mobile app is marginal too. It seems to me that rather than picking a side or doing a spectacular job at both the service is stuck in between being a portfolio site and a social photo site. All those things don’t really bother me that much either but there is one big thing that may really break the camel’s back. Wildlife does not get a fair shake at 500px, there is no doubt in my mind. You can prove it to yourself by looking at the ratings and popularity (pulse) and you will see wildlife images are far behind others. I am going to say that a big part of that is the category listing of “animals”. It should be Wildlife, maybe wildlife and animals but using just animals is totally inappropriate and the fact that no one there doesn’t know that is troubling. The term animals immediately makes ones mind think as to farm and domestic life and wildlife is just that wild and natural. I spent an inordinate amount of time looking for a wildlife category and I couldn’t find one so either it is really hard to find or it doesn’t exist. 500px, you are in no way a bird shooters best friend.

Thanks for stopping by. Don’t forget to catch up with me on twitter @RonBoyd.


Call to the Wild

Brown Pelican Checking under the hood

300mm f4.5 250iso 1/1,250sec

The other day I was playing around with bird song sounds. For the most part I am not in favor of using manufactured sounds to change the behavior of the animals but I have been curious. It is easy enough to do. The iPad app iBird Pro has call sounds for every bird listed that can be played in a continuous loop. The goal of playing the sounds is to attract birds of the same species by either sending a mating call or some other call that will peak their curiosity. I had a slightly different strategy. I wanted to attract birds that I rarely see, birds that I know are out there in very small numbers. I didn’t get any of those birds to show but it modified the behavior of all the other birds in ways that I never would have thought of. The common birds like sparrows and finches actually gave me the perfect opportunity to photograph them. The stopped eating and hopped up to the strategic branches and just looked around, more birds available to photograph at one time than I have ever seen. Oddly enough, when I did play sparrow and finch song it had little effect.