The Great Journey in Photography

Posts tagged “Bolsa Chica Wetlands

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.

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.


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

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.


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.


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.


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.

Pin It Down

Brown Pelican Art-7

420mm f4.5 250iso 1/3,200sec

Recently I wrote about how I thought things had calmed down dramatically in the photography world and I kind of had a couple more thoughts since then. I am thinking that maybe people and images are “finding their place” in the grand scheme of things. By that I am talking about the explosion of places like Instagram and Pinterest. Could it be that these services serve the needs of a great number of people and fulfill their desires to be involved in the photography world? Could it be that a lot of people are satisfied with just that? First, lets look at why  places like Instagram and Pinterest are successful in the first place. To do that we need look at the principles of propaganda (read advertising). If you look up the term “principles of propaganda” you will find thousands of pages about Nazi Germany or politically slanted interpretation of the concept. Most of that stuff is not relevant to our conversation and you will have to dig deep to find facts. Here is what we need to know.

1) Bandwagon. Yes, everyone is doing it and so should you.
2) Star Power. Celebs are posting pictures especially selfies, and you should be hanging withe the cool kids.
3) Family Fun and Feeling Good. Lets bring everyone together and keep them connected sharing the emotional ups and downs.
4) Put Downs and Name Calling. It is so easy to criticize and make fun of some one else’s work. Generally we post anonymously or far from the others location, so why not, I feel better knowing that another is just as bad as my self.

That is just a few of the principles but it covers a broad area and boy they have those things covered wouldn’t you agree? The central question is though, what does all this have to do with bird photography? I started digging in to Pinterest thinking I would find a lot of  bird photos make with cell phones and other low-end devices, but was pleasantly surprised to see there were plenty of very good photographs there. In fact I signed up and am having a lot of fun searching and creating boards. Those principals work just fine and Pinterest is a hot property and a good place for a bird photographer to be. Will a service like Pinterest convert your photos into dollars? Doubtful. It is obvious that bird photography is just a small niche just like everywhere else.

Well I thank you for stopping by to see me here at WordPress. If you like what you see go ahead and sign up for the new newsletter on the link to the right.


Cry to the Heavens – For Arron Swartz (2014)

Cry to the Heavens  Forsters Tern

Last week marked the one year anniversary of the death of Arron Swartz. A short time after that I wrote the following post. Remarkable to me was that virtually none read it. When it disappeared from Google Plus I became suspicious but like most back then didn’t think anyone would be concerned about what I have to say after all I am just a little old bird shooter griping about big mean government. A lot has happened in the last year and all of us have learned about things that happen without our knowledge or consent. Today I am absolutely convinced that my writing that day was censored and that only further illustrated the abusive things that are happening around us. Please don’t misunderstand though, I know that has generously provided the bandwidth where this blog lives, they and only they have the right to censor or revoke it’s content. Today I am re running that post and I will continue to do it every year for the foreseeable future. If it shows unusual views again, next year I will get my own server and host it there. We, the Americans citizens own our government and I for one want the keys back.

It is time to put your cameras down and listen up for a bit. I am outraged by recent events.
Arron Swartz was an internet activist and a pioneer in technology whose contributions helped shape the internet into what it is today. Beyond his technical genius his main motivation was to ensure a free and open internet for all of us. Arron Swartz was also facing a 35 year prison term and 4 million dollars in fines from the United States Justice Department for what is at worst a violation of terms of service with academic data service JSTOR. You know terms of service, pretty much like that 37 page document you are presented with every time there is an iTunes update. Yeah one of those, 50 years, 4 million!
Swartz was an enemy of the state and the United States Department of Justice set out to destroy his very existence. You can read an interesting article comparing the prosecution of Swartz to violent crimes prison terms here. What he did was download too many files from the service, he didn’t share them with any one or make them public though that may have been his intention, he was a valid subscriber to the service also. So where is the crime? According to most, including the State Attorney General of Massachusetts there was no crime, at worst a civil matter.

On January 11 Arron Swartz took his own life. Friends and family say the in progress prosecution was the main factor. I am outraged by his death and by the off the rails government that caused it. It is a growing trend for the DOJ,willful disregard for the welfare of its citizens, a disregard for the law, and a complete lack of any moral or ethical guidance. They will surly have their own version of events and they will be lies, the same lies as the other outrages, the same rationalizations as always. The end of justice.

Back in the day I had a few employees who believed that our companies’ human resources department was there expressly to provide to their needs and best welfare. To be their advocate in all things. I would tell them to make no mistake about it that the Human Resources Dept., every HR Department was in place to protect the best interests of the business. They maintain the rules to avoid lawsuits and if that helps you along the way that is fine but if it doesn’t they will go against you. Eventually they all learned that the hard way.

It is hard to say when the big change happened but it is obvious to even the most casual observers that the United States Federal Government’s sole interest is to feed its own system heavy from decades of greed and corruption. It’s own bureaucracy consuming every resource available, it has no interest in considering its citizens needs short of getting a vote, the only motivation is to provide for its self and the DOJ is their HR department. That department is corrupt from the top down ignoring all attempts at oversight provided for by the constitution. Attorney General Eric Holder is currently held in “contempt of congress”, one of the highest levels of legal discipline for lying to and withholding evidence from congressional oversight. He is, at the highest level of government, obstructing justice.

Don’t expect to hear much about any of this from American mainstream media either. All the usual suspects, CBS, NBC, ABC et al. are standing mute, and why not, they are the ones who have the most to gain from Arron being dead. Shutting down the internet is the only way they can maintain a stranglehold on television advertising and ratings. Increasingly I hear the term “State Run Media”. It reminds me of  old Soviet Russia when I was growing up but it really is applicable here. Our National, shall I say traditional media is the state-run media. They deliver the government narrative on a daily basis, lie, mis-represent facts, and employ propaganda techniques right out of Nazi Germany. Probably the most sinister crime against journalism these folks commit however, is shaping the message by omission. Not telling the stories that need to be told, ignoring many important events acting as if they never happened. They think themselves cute and clever bouncing from role to role, pundit when it is convenient, spokesperson when it pays enough, and journalist when no one is watching closely. Void of ethics, on whole they are a shameful disgrace to the very notion of journalism, they truly are America’s corporate whores. Thankfully their time is rapidly coming to an end, regardless of outcome the American mainstream media no longer has the respect or ear of informed people.

Every American citizen living in the country has one representative in the house, two senators, and one president. They are supposed to be your elected representatives. While they are in reality only beholden to their campaign contributors, arguably they still serve at the pleasure of the voting public. I suggest you contact one or more of those people and let them know that things have to change, let them know that “by the people, for the people” has been lost. Tell them that the Department of Justice is not an acceptable steward of the constitution and if it does not change you will be voting for other candidates. Then go out and vote for someone else. No more glass half full rationalization, Vote For Another Person.
I know many of you are from another country but this is important for you too. You are not beyond the persecution of the DOJ. Kim dotcom, Julian Assange, and thousands of assault weapons sold to Mexican drug lords are just 3 examples of DOJ international crimes. You can help. Ask your government and the United Nations why are they meddling in international business.

A few days ago the activist group Anonymous took control of one of the DOJ’s websites and posted a 9 minute video declaring cyber war against the government in the name of Aaron. Government and media are taking the three monkey’s approach to the action. See, hear, and speak no evil. I am sure keeping the public un-informed is for our own good. Fortunately, there are alternative media outlets and places like here to disseminate information too. The fact that they were able to take over such a website is well, in a word, powerful. Anonymous would have you believe that they are the “Rebel Alliance” or True Freedom Fighters. Given the right circumstances the may come true for them. It is hard to imagine exactly how a cyber war between the two will unfold but I will tell you the one guaranteed looser will be you and I. I doubt Government will emerge victorious. For years they have been promoting a lifestyle of dependence for the sake of votes, and frankly it has become exactly that, fat, slow, and dumb depending on others to do the work for them. The only thing it truly excels at is collecting, containing, and killing. They will rely on those skills when needed, and we the common citizen will be the guaranteed looser.

Imagine a day when the government says they must take control of the internet to curb terrorism, to filter which websites you can visit, maybe have a national database like Facebook where you must store your entire digital life to be examined when desired. Imagine government scanning all your documents and communications in search of a terrorist plot, allowing photography in designated areas only, licenses for blogging and podcasting, censoring any words that may be construed offensive. “You are a bully, you are a racist, you are a psyco killer”, anyone can make the accusation, they can search your life and if everything is not exactly the way they want, you are off. Think that is far-fetched? It happens elsewhere and there are elements within the American government planning those exact things today.

So Yeah, I am outraged. Another line has been crossed in the great march to fascism and the lie known as the war on terrorism. Arron Swartz is that line, one remarkable young man lost at least in part because the American government trying so desperately to control and have the things they just cant have. Life and Liberty. He was oppressed, his rights violated and I cry to the heavens for him. It needs to be the last line. I am just the voice of one and you are the voices of many, together the voice of one and the voices of many can join together and speak out for all the Arron Swartz’s of the world.

“When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness….”

Thank You–
For all the Arrons of the world-God’s Speed.

Passing Time


350mm f6.3 250iso 1/2000sec

snowyEgretatBolsa Chica

420mm f6.3 250iso 1/2500sec

Tuning up with the old Tamron 200-500 lens. I have probably spent the most hours of shooting time with the old Tammy but in the last few years it was rarely used. It appears that as I have become a more mature, experienced bird shooter the old warhorse has become more forgiving and easy to use. maybe it is because it is so light, maybe it really a lot better than I ever believed but whatever the case that piece of glass was a breeze. The first thing I did was go straight to what it does best, short distance portraits. There is no doubt that at short (down to around 7″) focus distances the Tamron works best and also works very well at 500mm focal length. It is the lightest long lens I have  used and all of a sudden that is a serious plus. Sometimes folks it is best to go for what you know.

This one is for you Old Girl. God Bless

This one is for you Old Girl.
God Bless

Ready, Set….

Least Tern at Bolsa Chica_

300mm f5.0 100iso 1/1,000sec

Preparation is everything, everyone knows that. But there is also the saying about the “best laid plans” and prep for my upcoming Alaska Eagle trip has been no exception. After consulting with the expert and workshop leader my lens dilemma was not resolved. Best case I should want both a 600mm and my favorite 300 f2.8. Best case can’t happen in any practical sense this time around. Freight forwarding is not an option and while I could haul all the gear myself the trip would be rather uncomfortable and required checking some expensive gear with the airline. What I am going to do is bring my 300 and use my old Tamron 200-500mm for the longest shots. I’m told there will be plenty of opportunities for the 300 to shine. And for the Tammy, it has its limitations but it is sharp and has good color and contrast. It will be a bit of a gamble but I think I will pull things off just fine. The improved iso capabilities of the Nikon D800 body will allow the 200-500 to have good shutter speed at the slower apertures. The biggest downside is that there is absolutely no chance of using a teleconverter, best upside is an extremely close minimum focus distance at about 7 feet.

Rounding out the check list is 3 batteries for each camera body and about 100GB of memory. Still on the to do list is the last of the rain gear, a lens coat rain cover is in the works, waterproof boots and pants are in the closet and warm headgear is there too. The one last most important thing is yet to be done, and that is practice. Yup, I have to work in many days of practice before the trip. I need to be sharp but also muscles have to be in shape for all day shooting and hand holding the big 300 2.8.

Thanks for stopping by everyone. Next time we will look at the prep and packing for the trip in a little more depth.


One Still Shot

Juvenile Tern at Bolsa Chica

420mm f4.0 250iso 1/2500sec

Sure seems like it is easy to get off track. I know everyone has a busy life trying to get a million things done in time for only a hundred. It is easy to get side tracked, caught up in the minutia and distractions. Sometimes you just got to get back to basics, one bird photo and a little bit of info about photographing birds.  Today I present a lone juvenile Tern close up. This is right up at minimum focus distance. Minimum focus distance is one of those things you don’t hear about a lot with bird photography but it is also one of those things one should be working towards all the time. For bird photographers minimum focus distance should be a goal, a place you generally want to be. As close as possible.

As you can see this photo has an incredibly shallow depth of field illustrated by the pipe the bird is standing on. When you get this close to a bird I think it is a good idea to cut off the tail in many cases. If your goal is to show the body or some feature or action at the front of the bird it works well to let those tail feathers go right out of the frame. That way you have plenty of room to observe your rule of thirds and show that you are very close to the subject.

So there it is, a nice easy still photograph. Believe it or not I made at least 50 photographs of this scene trying slightly different things to get the one I wanted.

iOS7 and You

Wildlife HD Ver. 2.0 ios7 screenshot

I know there are a great many of you out there that use the Apple iPhone or iPad. Starting next week things are going to change dramatically for everyone using said devices with the release of the new operating system iOS7. In a nutshell iOS7 should be the pathway on which phones and tablets become full on computers with power and sophistication equal to most traditional desktop and laptop computers. One thing that is a for sure is that iOS7 is completely different. It is all about structure, a structure that visually pulls the user in and gives the feeling of being part of what is happening. The parallax effect you may have heard about is one example. The simple floating icons demonstrated in the previews only scratches the surface of what can be done with the effect. Transitions between applications and screens is all about scaling, either pulling you in or pushing you out of the view. Simply said, you are immersed in the operating system. There has been criticism levied toward iOS7 also, and it is not without warrant. There is a lot of white throughout the system and a lot of photography, in particular wildlife, looks much better against a dark back ground. This is in part due to extensive use of transparency and background blurring that gives kind of frosty effect. While those things are set in the Apple apps, developers have a lot of latitude for presenting colors and intensity of this look to create a more pleasing UI for photography. Some say the use of color is over the top. For some that is true but bright vibrant colors are the norm for almost everything short of cemeteries and funeral homes. It is not just for kids. Probably the most important feature of the new OS is that the essence of its structure is to be out-of-the-way. The content being displayed consumes your attention. There are no parlor tricks, you get what you get and it is really important the developers present the very best work possible because they are going to get undivided attention from the viewer.

To date about 1,300 of you have downloaded my iPad application and I am pleased to say that it has been tested and works fine with iOS7 as is but I am also doing a complete redesign to take advantage of and fit in better with, the new operating system. The photo today shows a snapshot of one of the working pages as a sneak peek into the new look. In the meantime, if you don’t already have your copy of Wildlife HD you can buy it for just  99 cents before the new version hits the market. WildlifeHD will have more photos, more original content, better camera functions, filters and lots, lots more. It is going to take a little more than a week to push this one out but hopefully it will be sooner rather than later.Wildlife HD

Moving Pictures II

Great Blue Heron

420mm f6.3 250iso 1/250sec

Before I start this post I want to make it clear that everything that I am going to write about video today and next week is all about first time videographers. I often get into advanced topics when it comes to still photos but the video scene is the beginners basics before having any special gear made just for video. We are going to start on the premise that this video is in general going to be shot at long focal lengths, and we will see how things turn out. For now a few do’s and don’ts for starting out.

First don’t is choosing a video editor. Unless you know for sure that it is something you are really going to want there really is no need to spent any money to edit your video. I know for many photographers the Mac is the computer of choice and it always comes loaded with the latest version of iMovie. That is all you need, in fact, it is an excellent editor that I will go into more as you read on.

Panning is essential in video. Unless you want to have the most boring clips in the world you will at the very least need to have some pans. Problem is you can’t do pans with a regular tripod and ballhead and handholding a long lens is not an option either. My suggestion is to avoid the panning with the camera and take advantage of the Ken Burns Effect in iMovie. Take a wider still clip, zoom in a bit, and use the effect to pan across the scene. You can also zoom in or out while panning for an even nicer look. If you are shooting for an aspect ratio of 4×3 (like for a iPad or iPhone) you may not need to zoom in at all. Just the conversion of ratios may give you enough room to make a nice pan.

Do have a game plan. Often called a storyboard you need to know what you need to shoot before you shoot it. A good video is made up of many clips close, far, and intermediate, laced together. A great exercise to show just how complex a good video can be is to watch one of the old episodes of the TV program “Law and Order”. During the courtroom scenes count the seconds between clips. You will notice a lot of “one, two” and rarely make it to “five” and almost never make it to “ten”. Point is you have to mix in a bunch of different shots. Once again Apple’s iMovie is a good starting place. Although they are kind of cheesy and not really appropriate for bird photography the themes bundled with the application has some storyboards built-in. You can use those storyboards as a template for building your own storyboard.

Last is Audio. Don’t even waste your time recording audio with the camera microphone. Unless you have some more expensive audio gear all your sounds are going to be horrible so I suggest making the video silent, have voice over, or music. Audio is a category in itself and even if  you are very serious about making good audio it is going to take a lot of time, practice and money to make it worthy. I think you are best served to wait till your moving pictures are as good as they can be.

Moving Pictures

Since most of the hoopla about shooting video with DSLR is starting to die out a bit, I thought it would be a good time to start looking at making some videos. I spent most of my writing time editing this week so I have very little to add. Next week I will most likely share a couple of tips I picked up. For now I present a video made with the Nikon D300s with the 300 f2.8 lens with a 1.4x teleconverter. Quality is not great but I really want to start shooting at long focal lengths and this has an effective length of 630mm. Soon I will have a much better video camera and I am sure the quality will improve.

Beauty in the Beak

Long Billed Curlew

500mm f8 220iso 1/400sec

Any one know how many different beaks/bills there are? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?
Well, before we start the count lets define what a beak is. Known as the beak, bill or rostrum, it is an anatomical structure of all birds that according to the Wiki is used for eating, grooming, manipulating objects, killing prey, fighting, probing for food, courtship and feeding young. Wow, now that is what I call a utility tool! We all know that birds can have very different size and shape beaks based on its needs, a sandpiper has a long bill for picking up small crustaceans under the water, a hawk has a short sharp beak for tearing flesh, and the pelican has a long bill and pouch for scooping up large quantities of liquid. In all there are sixteen different size and shaped bills. It goes like this:

Insect Catching
Grain Eating
Coniferous Seed Eating
Nectar Feeding – Humming Bird
Fruit Eating  – Toucan
Chiseling – Wood Pecker
Dip Netting – Pelican
Surface Skimming – Skimmer
Scything – Sanderlings?
Probing – Long Billed Curlew
Filter Feeding – Flamingo
Arial Fishing – King fisher
Pursuit Fishing – Duck Water Fowl
Scavenging – Vultures
Raptorial – Hawks and Eagles.

As you can see I have no examples for the first four types. They are pretty close together and it seems like they overlap a bit but to give you a general idea I would guess at Scrub Jay, Black Phoebe, Sparrow, and Dove respectively. Maybe a little too much information for a Friday morning but what the heck, put until it in your hip pocket until trivia night.

Until next week guys, have a good time and thanks for stopping by.


Calling the Wild

Angry Osprey

300mm f7.1 250iso 1/640sec

I have always been in the camp that says that bird calls are not as effective as most people would like to think. For me it is a simple fact humans are almost never going to pull the wool over the eyes of any wild creature in their natural habitat. What I am saying is if you are thinking that you are sneaking up on a bird unnoticed you best think again. Birds are always aware of your presence, the trick is in making them comfortable with you being around. Along those same lines I came to the conclusion that birds are smart enough to decipher a fake call.

But times, they are a changing and in pursuit of any advantage it is time to visit the subject and ask the question of just how effective can a call be. First stop as usual is the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and as expected they don’t get into how to attract birds much but have loads of info about bird sounds and what the sounds mean.

Birds communicate for many reasons, including to

  • impress and attract a mate
  • declare territorial boundaries
  • identify family members
  • announce the presence of a predator
  • convey information about food

I find myself dangerously close to the other side, the darker side as it is, the side that watches and only watches birds, stepping out of the photography world I found a wonderful article by the National parks traveler. According to them it works like a charm but is really not a good practice. You are probably best off to read the whole article for yourself here. The practice of “playback” is akin to ” someone pounding on your door threatening to steal your wife and burn your house down“. A little extreme but the rationale is that birds find the call to be another that is invading its territory. Even if they believe it to be less than genuine, the threat is too big to ignore. It should be easy to imagine the stress this can cause the local wildlife. I am a tad bit smarter now but I guess nothing has changed and I think the only experimentation I will do with calls is in my own yard where the birds are essentially domesticated.

Thanks for stopping by everyone. Follow me on Twitter and get links to the column delivered every Friday.

Bright White Fright

White Pelicans at Bolsa Chica

I often hear things about how to handle bright white scenes in digital photography. In particular I hear that one should increase exposure compensation to make a proper exposure. The rationale being that the digital camera is trying to make a medium grey exposure and compensating upward will make the whites nice and bright. I am not sure if that is still true with newer camera bodies but in any case that dog just does not hunt in bird photography. In order for that rule to be true the scene really needs to be all white and by that I mean about 90-100% white, like a snow scene. In bird photography you will need to take a different approach, almost always in the direction of negative exposure compensation. One way is to change the metering mode. You can always switch to center weighted or spot metering mode and that will get you in the ballpark shooting white birds but I think I have a better way. Since you should always be mindful of any exposure compensation you have dialed in to the camera, it is a lot less confusing to change the exposure manually with the compensation wheel. The camera isn’t going to do any of the work but with time and practice you will do a much better job of making the exposure correct. Shooting white birds I will almost always start at a compensation of -0.7 (“two-thirds of a stop under”).

Now you need to verify your settings. For that you will need to set your camera display in highlight mode. Reading the histogram is actually better but I think it tends to be distracting and scanning for the “blinkies” or “marching ants” in highlight mode is most efficient.
Blinking areas are over exposed. Or are they? Not necessarily.
Most camera displays show the histogram or highlights based on the .jpg preview image. That preview may also have some effects applied to it like a “vivid” setting that adds saturation and contrast and might not be an accurate representation of the image being transferred to your computer. If you shoot in a RAW type format your computer will have a lot more data to work with and can recover some of those over exposed areas just fine. A good rule of thumb is to turn off in camera enhancements and give yourself  about a half stop of lea-way on the exposure highlights.

Well that is it for today. Thanks for stopping by and I hope you will stop by again next week.

Shameless Self Promotion-A Little Bit More

Great Blue Heron in flight at Sunset

420mm f8.0 200iso 1/640sec

There is an elementary school in my neighborhood that I walk by several times a week and their mascot is a hawk. I have known this for years because it says “home of the hawks” on their welcome sign. The other day I was walking by and noticed a brand new mural on the side of a building. It was a hawk but it was a reproduction of the Seattle Seahawks football team logo. I doubt the team or the NFL granted the school permission to use the logo and there is no such bird as a sea hawk. The Osprey is often refereed to as a Seahawk but, it already has a name. I wanted to bang my head against the wall. I have hundreds of hawk images, just look at the top of this page. That school should have and probably would have used the artwork of a local resident (whose tax money helps support the school) in favor of another organization’s logo had they known such art was available. No one on the internet reached out to that school. It was a missed opportunity for me. Had I been proactive and contacted that elementary school years ago I would have had a decent shot at having my hawk artwork on the side of that building and probably get paid well for it too.

That is an excellent starting place for shameless self promotion. Traditional marketing still works pretty well believe it or not, a phone call or hard media has more value than an e-mail. However, digital communication is priceless for follow-up. The best place to start is also in your own neighborhood and that is how the saying “own your zip code” started. There is the old cliché that giving your photos to local restaurants will work wonders. Not so much with wildlife images, but you should look at school districts, doctor offices and other medical care facilities. Bird photos often have a calming effect and medical professionals like that. Here is a pro tip: there are interior design firms that do nothing but medical facilities and the buy a lot of high-end art and photographs.

A couple  more bits related to last weeks post that concentrated on the internet, I mentioned that tagging was very important. On some platforms it is keyword, others call it tags or hashes but what ever it is called you need to use them. Make sure you are using relevant and precise terms. Often people use inappropriate or controversial keys in order to get a lot of views. That works to a certain extent but it is really not the way you need to get views because they probably won’t come back, and if you are dishing up out-of-bounds search terms you will get censored. Unless you run your own servers, you almost always have to agree to behave in a reasonable manner that is at the services discretion. Abuse it and you will wind up with fewer followers.
Also, I just started reading a new book named “Blogging for Photographers” by Jolie O’Dell. I am familiar with Jolie’s work so I don’t hesitate to recommend the book before having finished it. I direct you to her website which in turn directs you to her Amazon link. If you are inclined to buy the book please follow that path. I feel it is important to give back to authors when ever possible.

A little shameless promotion of my own, you can download the latest version of my iPad application from the iTunes store for just $1.99 US. That will lock you in for all future updates and I can tell you the iOS7 update in the Fall is going to be huge with new content improved camera and filters, and tons of new content. Wildlife HD – Get it today.

Wildlife HD

The “A” Word

Brown Pelican

500mm f9.0 250iso 1/750sec

Aperture. There I said it. Probably the most misunderstood concept in photography and why not, large is small, letters and numbers living together. The world is upside down. It makes as much sense as a politician at confession. Ahh, but it makes perfect sense and maybe that is the problem, logic can be hard to follow at times. First of all large number means a small aperture. Aperture is the size of the opening that lets light into your camera and onto the sensor or film. So why in the world would one want to change the amount of light going into the camera? Wouldn’t it be best to have as much light as possible all the time? That actually makes a lot of sense except for the fact that optics also have the size of the aperture controlling the portions of the scene that are in focus, also known as depth of field. The smaller the aperture, the less light but also the larger amount of area in the scene you are photographing that will be in focus. You can read more about depth of field in my previous post “A fine line Between Clever and Stupid“. Often we hear about a photographer who shoots “wide open” This means that photographer likes to shoot at the widest aperture (small f-number) letting the maximum amount of light in the camera and the least amount of the scene in focus. That tends to lead the viewer right to the subject of the photograph.

So now lets bring it all back to bird photography because as you might imagine aperture takes on a different level of importance for us. Some of the time we have little choice. You will have to shoot wide open just to have enough shutter speed to make a shot. Often the case when making birds in flight photos. The silver lining when backed against the wall like this is that you are also rarely very close to the subject and thus a razor-thin depth of field is less of a concern. When shooting slow moving and stationary birds it is important to increase that f-number (making a smaller aperture) to increase the depth of field so that you will be sure to get everything you want in focus. As you get closer to the subject this becomes more important. For example, if you are making a portrait of a Brown pelican and want to have the tip of its bill and the eyes in focus you are going to need to go with a very high f-number for the aperture setting. With a 500mm lens you will need to stop down to about f16-f20 to get the shot you need.

So the moral of today’s post. “There is no set it and forget it” when it comes to aperture so make sure you are confident in knowing how your aperture setting is going to affect your image and be mindful of your f values every time you change the scene.

Less “Getting Away”

American Kestrel with Lizard

420mm f8 320iso 1/1,200sec

If you have been visiting regularly you will know that the past several months I have been in pursuit of a great Kestrel image. You can read bit about that in my previous post Littlest Hawk and the One that Got Away. At least one pair of the birds have nested in a palm tree below the nest of a pair of Great Blue Herons. While it is not possible to get close to the nest I am sure that the are young there because the female is bringing food to the nest. On this day, rather than fighting among themselves this  Kestrel was busy fighting off Black Birds to bring food home. In the past post I was lamenting the fact that I let a really good opportunity get away from me. A great image that was technically flawed.

I have been closing in on getting a shot or maybe I should say “the shot”. It has been a while now but I settled in on using the unusual looking trees to frame the shot. I don’t know much about foliage and these few trees show up in a lot of my images always appearing to be dead. The Kestrels’ like them and they don’t block the action too much. I have been trying to use the branches in images without cluttering the background. The image above is a better attempt. Technically, I think it is pretty sound, nice clean composition and good exposure and focus. A couple of things I did a little different this time around is that I stopped down to f8 to get a little bit more depth of field and I used continuous focus. Focusing like that can be tough as birds weave through the branches you will often loose focus to the branches. It is a nice image but not great by any means. The two big flaws strictly a matter of circumstance. The lighting is harsh. This photo was made a short time before the golden hour hit and if you examine the shadows the sun is too high in the sky. It is particularly important in bird photography to shoot late into the golden hour so that sunlight can get under the wings and illuminate the bird better. Sadly, on this day the Kestrels’ had other plans for golden hour. The other drawback, well this is a female Kestrel. The males have more color, a lot more orange, and would have made a more colorful image really complimenting the blue of the sky. You may also notice that even with a shutter speed of 1/1,200sec there is motion blur in the wing tips. Fast little critters I say!

Hey Now, thanks for stopping by everyone. Once again it has been a pleasure and until next week-Be good.