The Great Journey in Photography

Posts tagged “Birds in Flight

Get This Image For Free

snowyEgretatBolsa Chica

420mm f6.3 250iso 1/2500sec

Yeah I know you could just right click and save this image but that is stealing and you have to deal with the watermark. I do believe that most people don’t want to steal and I am making it easy for to do the right thing anyway. You can download this image and dozens of others in high resolution, unmarked, to copy and enjoy for personal use by installing the Nature & Wildlife Pictures app for iPhone and iPad.

With more than 60 high quality nature images free and for sale and support for 4 languages, version 3.3.2 of NWP was released today looking better than ever. Included in this version.

  • 12 Eagle pictures, 18 stunning landscape pictures, and 7 canvas art illistrations.
  • 6 Free Wildlife images specially designed to be used as Apple Watch faces.
  • See any of the for sale images in augmented reality mounted in a frame of choice in your own home before buying the image.
  • It’s a free download! That’s right you can get this application for less than the price of a cup of coffee.

You can download your own free copy of Nature & Wildlife Pictures for iPhone and iPad at the link below.

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#lessthanacupofcoffee

 


Free Hi-Res Wildlife Images

NWWImage

Just a quick little reminder that the Wildlife & Nature Pictures application that I have for iPad and iPhone contains 46 free full resolution images available for download and personal use. The application is a free download too. Counting it all up that means that there are 46 nature and wildlife images at no cost to you! When last I checked, that is less than a cup of coffee.

For real.

Wildlife & Nature Pictures is available world-wide in the Apple App store and is translated to Spanish with more languages coming soon.

You can download your free copy today at the link below or search for app id #595565558 outside the US.

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#lessthanacupofcoffee


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


Patterns, Arcs, and Circles

turkey vulture at bolsa chica

200mm f6.3 200iso 1/1250sec

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.


Good, Bad, and the Ugly

Great Blue Heron in Flight

300mm f4.5 250iso 1/2000sec

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.

Great Blue Heron Feeding Young

500mm f6.3 250iso 1/160sec

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.

Great Blue Heron

500mm f9 250iso 1/750sec

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


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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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.

 


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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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.


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.


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.


Extra Points For Style

Brown Pelican fly by

420mm f4.5 250iso 1/2,000sec

As I sat here yesterday preparing the photo for today’s post it occurs to me that some, maybe even many of you are under the impression that a lot of my pictures are composites.  That being two or more photographs artistically combined to create one hopefully very pleasing image. I get that, but the truth is that I rarely make composites in bird photography. No wonder, it is just a matter of my style. Slightly too much contrast, slightly too much saturation and slightly too much differential of brightness between subject and background. It is a style and for better or worse it is my style. Everyone should have the ambition to develop their own style. Style is good. Some of you may be thinking that style should be limited to “shooting style” and not post processing. That is a way of looking at it and having a shooting style is also very important to develop also. For me the two work in concert as I actively seek out shooting situations that will yield results that compliment the other style.

So, how does one develop a style? Steal it. Believe it or not I think the best way to develop your own style is to copy one that you really like. With practice, emulation, and experimentation I promise that you will come up with your own unique presentation. No kidding.

Thanks for stopping by everyone. Don’t forget, you can follow me on twitter @RonBoyd.


Dressing Up

Fly By

280mm f11 200iso 1/800sec

So, if you were wondering what were the best ways to attract birds to your space today is your day. Be it small, big urban or rural, there are birds everywhere and it is possible to bring those critters around yours, just be careful of what you wish for. To attract birds you don’t have to reach far, just appeal to the three things birds are always looking for and are only thinking about, food, shelter, and procreation. First, the food. That is pretty easy, just buy a bag of seed for wild birds, get the cheapest you can find, I don’t see any difference in brands, they all attract the birds and will work just fine. Here are a couple of tips to make things a little easier feeding birds.
To attract larger birds buy some sunflower seeds and mix that in to the feed.
If you want to attract large numbers of birds, rather than using a feeder set a cup of seed out in a couple of piles near some bushes.
Don’t forget the water, especially if water is difficult to find. In cold environments where most water sources are frozen the liquid is gold. For desert like environments the addition of misters will make a more hospitable environment the critters will enjoy.

Have some foliage or even just places for the birds to perch and look around. Birds are always on the lookout for danger and the essential component of their behavior is sitting up high and surveying a scene before approaching. They are most comfortable having camouflage but even branches held in place with clamps help tremendously and also make great locations for making photographs.  Taller trees make great places for nesting and if birds can build nests near by all the better. Trying to get birds to nest on your window sill probably is not a great idea, you may grow weary of the noise and may not be a happy camper when some of them die and are eaten. A better idea is to make sure the birds can build nests nearby. if your space has a plethora of twigs and fibers to choose from for nest building they will be all the more likely to return on a daily basis.

Be careful of what you wish for. Birds are part of an ecosystem and they will attract other animals such as cats. If you are a cat owner be advised they will hunt the birds and cause a stress on their community. Dogs keep the cats away and generally don’t disturb the birds. Small birds attract larger birds that prey on them. Raptors eat the small birds and other birds like black birds eat the eggs and hatchings especially the humming-bird. On the plus side birds will control the spider and insect population regardless of how much food you set out.

If you have any tips for attracting birds go ahead and make a comment.

Thanks for stopping by-See you ext week.


Much To Do About Nothing

Eagle coming over the top

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

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

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

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

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


Times, They are A Changing

Another Sandhill Crane in the fire

About a year ago my hopes were that Sigma would update the very long in the tooth 300-800mm lens. After working it for a week I came to the conclusion that it was heavy, slow, and a bit soft on the last 100mm (probably more a result of vibration). A redesign is in order to bring the lens in line with newer technologies. As of late Sigma and Tamron have made a charge towards the front in lens performance. Manufacturer lenses are getting very expensive and the demand for mid range super telephoto lenses is increasing. I don’t believe there is any genre more demanding of a super telephoto than bird photography so for me personally, midrange is where the scale begins. Today my attention turns to the new Tamron 150-600mm f5-6.3 lens. I don’t see where the Nikon mount version is shipping just yet but I know there are some Cannon  copies in circulation. Borrow Lenses is showing availability for both versions in May. I will for sure try one out then and report in-depth about performance but for now I am going to give everyone a bit of an overview of the lens based on the specs and images currently available.

First, let me say that I for the most part use the Nikon 300mm f2.8 lens and consider it to be the best telephoto lens made, bar none. I also currently own the Tamron 200-500mm f5-6.3 zoom that I have had for a number of years. While I don’t use it much these days I have made tens of thousands of bird images before the 300mm came along. It is a good lens but has some drawbacks and is well, pale in comparison to the Nikon 2.8. Tamron did some good things with the new lens, the 600mm reach is a grabber that will get the attention of any bird photographer but they also added a lens based focus motor and vibration reduction. Both are pretty much required these days. Those three things cover a lot of area but I can tell you from the experience of the 200-500mm that there can be a very narrow operating window with telephoto zooms. The 150-600mm still has a very short minimum focus distance suggesting that its window may be similar to the older lens and that would be very sharp in close on the long end. F6.3 is good with f8 a little bit better. Sharpness and color are very good 10′-50′ (yes, that is feet!), after that sharpness falls off.

One of the things that bugs me is the bravado that comes from the pre-release press. I suppose the intent is to get folks excited about the new product but lying, or just a hares breath short of it, is not cool.  All new design. No, not really. The new lens looks very much like the previous, so much so that I thought the press photos were the old lens. New Adjustment ring rubber. No. Same rubber just with some micro grooves cut in it. I guess you just don’t mess with perfection. Then there is the big one, the all new redesigned tripod mount. There was nothing wrong with the old one, it worked fine, does, because that is what is on the new one. A couple of improvements I suppose with a couple of finger ridges to make hand holding comfy. Here is a little tip world, when hand holding a long lens rotate the mount to the top and cradle the lens just like you would any other lens. No ridges required. I really want this to be a good lens, it would fit in my scheme very well and I hope it is close to the hype.
I have seen a number of photos made with the new lens, some of them birds and I can say without hesitation they are horrible. Not because of the lens, and I will leave it at that. Here are some, a video review, and the one decent image I could find. A little advice to Tamron, if you want to sell your lens to nature and wildlife people, in particular birding, push early copies of the lens to photographers who have those skills. I am just saying!!

I don’t doubt that the new Tamron 150-600mm lens is a big improvement and it may indeed find its way into my bag but there are a couple of things they would have done different. The zoom range is just way to big. I am sure it is a great selling point but I would rather have it around 300mm on the short side. Internal focusing is also something I really want to see. If those two thing were in place I would most likely consider buying one at 3 times the current price.

I guess I will find out just how good it is when I can use one in a couple of months.


Bang For The Buck

Sandhill Crane at Bosque Del Apache

420mm f4 200iso 1/2,000sec

Hi Gang, just wanted to give you a quick update about some the changes I made to my hardware and processing photos. At the end of last year I was faced with the dilemma of running out of storage space and processing power when on the road. Working with the D800’s huge images made my computer pretty much unusable. I have a three-year old Macbook Pro so it was not like I was flogging a dinosaur, but it was not cutting edge either. It was not a maxed out performance unit either. For around $250 I was able to bring the old Pro up to blazing standards. The first and cheapest change I made was to upgrade the RAM. Random Access Memory is basically a reservoir of computing power that is dedicated to handling the task at hand, the bigger the reservoir the faster everything gets processed. RAM is relatively cheap although the prices did spike with the tsunami and flooding in Japan and South East Asia a couple of years ago, and is usually easily accessed by the user in most computers. Check your specs and be sure you have the maximum amount of RAM installed, if not get some from a reliable source. For Mac I use Crucial. Running maximum RAM will give you the most bang for the buck.

Next is the leap into the 21st century and that is upgrading to a Solid State Drive commonly called SSD or Flash Drive. There are no moving parts and they are blazing fast in comparison to traditional drives but are also more expensive. Depending on the size, SSD’s tend to become very expensive and can cost 10 times more than their traditional counterparts for big storage. I decided to stay with the original size that came with the computer at 250GB and it cost about $175. This too I got from Crucial.
The only problem left was storage. This computer was equipped with only USB 2 and Firewire800 ports so fast external storage was not a good choice and I wound up using a “Data Doubler” from Other World Computing. It did just what is says it is in this case. Data Doubler is an adapter that converts the optical drive in the laptop to a second internal storage space. I used the traditional drive replaced by the SSD for that space and now I have 500 Gb storage. That second drive can always be replaced with a larger drive in the future but the additional 250 Gb is fine for now. OWC sells the Data Doubler for $35, and it is a great product but there are knockoffs out there as cheap as $7. Making all these improvements was really very easy to do with no hitches. There are a lot of videos out there from the manufacturers of theses products so it easy to figure out if the upgrades are over your head.

My computer is now a great performing machine. Comparing it to the latest and greatest Macbook Pro’s, it is not as fast, but it really is scary close! If you are getting frustrated by your computer, take a look at some of the alternatives, it just might make your life a lot easier.

Happy shooting. Follow me on Twitter  @RonBoyd