One of the iconic images from Bosque Del Apache has always been the storied “Cranes in the Fire Mist” shot. That was a depiction of a very special moment during the sunrise when under the right conditions a mist backlit by the rising sun looked like it was on fire. The conditions had to be perfect with very cold water and direct sunlight. They say the days of the Fire Mist shot are over, restrictions made by the railroad make it difficult to access the best crane pool for the shot.
Whether or not the fire mist shot will ever be made again there still is the fire, and the cranes, and oh my what a great combination they make. If there are clouds in the sky the two large crane pools along the highway to San Antonio (not Texas) are the place to be. After the sun creeps behind the hills the clouds light up with amazing color and there are still plenty of cranes coming in to roost for the night. When they lose the light, Sandhills take much more care when landing so they lower the gear and flaps at a much higher altitude slowing down to almost parachute into the pool. That is when you want to get the Crane in the Fire shot.
Here are a couple of tips. If you want to have a different look try cropping to a square and shooting in the vertical or portrait orientation. Capturing birds in flight in the vertical orientation is a lot more difficult but when you get a good one it pays off in dividends. You will be able to capture many layers of clouds and incorporate land features. It gives the impression of a wide-angle yet still tends to have a close looking subject. Vertical BiF’s, give it a try. Don’t be fooled that sunset is the end, stick around for at least a half hour after the sun is gone. That is the best time just make sure you have a decent shutter speed to get those silhouettes nice and sharp.
Once again thanks for stopping by. 2014 was a fantastic year and we are looking forward to bring you more good stuff in the years to come-Ron
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Thank God I am not yet of the age when people I know start dying off, the thought of attending funerals on a regular basis makes me sad. I am however old enough to start thinking about the mortality of all things and I wonder just how long birds actually live. From what I know as common knowledge it seems to me that large birds tend to live longer than small ones and that sounds out of line with most other members of the animal kingdom. I remember years ago the large Blackbird population was completely wiped out in Southern California by the West Nile Virus. There were large numbers of these birds and in the course of several months they were all gone. Not bad I must say, quiet and smaller birds flourished. We were instructed to save the dead and pass them on to the proper authorities but by the time I encountered my first body the die off was so fast and hard that the local government was overwhelmed. I was told to just throw them in the trash. It has been a few generations of the Black birds growing in population and now they are almost back to their original numbers. Perhaps all this attention is the reason for such a finite average life span of these birds of 3.4 years. Actually the can live up to 20. Blue Jays about 7. Humming birds 6-8 and Brown Pelicans come in at 25. Of course the bald eagle, which I have written about numerous times in the past year, about 30, with a captive record of 42, I believe. A regular old sparrow is 3 years and today’s picture sake the Sandhill Crane is over 20.
Hardly scientific, it appears that big birds live longer. I would like to be a big bird too.
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.
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
Nah, not the photo. Its OK, I like it.
I have been hitting around the corners for years but now it is time to play for keeps. I am talking about running my own business. There are tons of amazing photos out there so what makes me think I can make a living doing it? That is a great question and the answer is that I don’t. I make great bird photos, you make great bird photos, there are plenty of bird images to choose from and I don’t have the inclination to photograph weddings or the patience to do studio commercial work. When it comes to photography I really want to be outdoors and hopefully traveling to some of the most interesting places on the planet.
“Oh I have it now” you must be thinking, not another one of those guys who are going to go out and become an instructor and travel the world on other people’s dime. I have great respect for some of those guys. I admire what they do and I actually think I could be a good instructor/educator but I have the nasty habit of wanting to pick and choose the people with whom I share.
The tech and creative industries are for the most part what is called a “gig economy” where many people don’t hold down permanent jobs but rather are hired for a particular task, a gig if you will, and move on when the job is finished. Harsh reality is that there are not many gigs for shooting birds and that is why I will not rely on bird photography for an income. A small amount is good maybe 20% max. I like to call my plan the “five legged stool” approach hopefully to be trimmed down to three legs at some point and it is all encompassed in the title “Media Technology & Assets”. The details are not important now, the point in this post is to say that it is all a lot of hard, time-consuming work. Holding down two jobs is tough under the best of circumstances and those fun and enjoyable recreations like bird photography hold a special place. There are so many other things to attend to now that I no longer think about how an image could or should make money when I am out shooting. It is not work anymore and making time to go out and shoot is good. Not just good but stupid good!