The Great Journey in Photography

Posts tagged “Gret Blue Heron

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

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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.


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


Card Check

Great Blue Heron at Bolsa Chica-2

A couple of new things going on for me in the near future. I am going to most likely be using a Nikon D800 camera body. I always wanted to shoot a camera with a really high pixel count. I know that is contradictory to what most other photographers are talking about. They really like things like low light performance, fast shutter counts, and great focusing. Even though the D800 has a slow shutter I think Nikon has handled all those other issues well enough to make the D800 a very good choice for bird photography. I have had the chance to shoot next to D800 owners a few times recently and I can say that I am impressed with the results. I am thinking that super clean sharp 36mega pixel images are going to make some fantastic images. Nuff said about that now to the heart of this post, cards.

The other thing I am going to do different is that I am going to use my memory cards as an additional form of back up on trips. That means that I am going to need storage space for every single image I make. That also means that I am going to need to buy a gang of new cards. Although I don’t like them at all both the D300s and the D800 use SD cards as a second form of storage so I can buy large, cheaper SD cards and use them exclusively for back up. 

There are so many cards to choose from though. Seems like all the manufacturers have a different standard by which they rate their products and it can be confusing. Seriously, you guys may sell a few more cards if you go easy with all the “X”s and zero’s and just tell people what works best with each body. The fact of the matter is that if you have the fastest card in the world it does you no good if the camera does not match the performance so rule one is to match performance standards. In the case of the D800 the standard is “SD/SDHC/SDXC UHS-I compliant”. So if in the future someone releases a new say SDXXX card that is 10x faster than any previous card = not going to make any difference to me.

While the price and capacity of memory cards is always changing usually in favor of lower prices, you can spend a lot of money on cards so careful shopping is a must. For the most part you will be looking at two different styles of cards SD and CF. The CF or Compact Flash style is the professional choice and is the primary storage for most pro bodies. Many like the D800 have a second slot for a SD card. CF cards are far more durable but don’t necessarily perform better and are also more expensive. A couple of other things to think about when looking for memory cards.
They all have a lifespan so there is a time when they should stop working but it is a lot of cycles and if you keep track of those things chances are it is going to be a very long time, but you should replace cards from time to time before they fail.
Look for name brand cards from name brand retailers. This is important because there are a great number of counterfeit and defective cards on the market and if you shop the lowest price you just my wind up with one of those.

Well,thanks for stopping by. I hope you enjoyed my Great Blue Heron picture today. That guy was particularly friendly and seemed to enjoy his portrait session. I wonder if he would want to buy some prints?


Horse and Cart

Great Blue Heron at Bolsa Chica

Great Blue Heron at Bolsa Chica Nest Building

Every now and then I get the horse before the cart. Bird photography tends to be one of those things. You see, in order to make great photos you need to know things about birds. All to often I am looking up details about birds that I have already photographed. That is doing things the hard way. By any measure it’s the hard way and like everything else, preparation is one of the big keys to success. So where do you go to learn about the birds you are going to shoot? Well, no surprise here, I primarily use the internet and mobile applications.

My first stop is always iBird Pro version 6.1. I have leaned on iBird for a number of years now and each new update is light-years better than the previous. It has become the premier source of information in the field. One big drawback though is it is only for North America. In most cases I find it more than adequate but there are times I want to research the more “exotic” birds and they are not available through iBird. It is pricy too at about $30 regular but goes on sale often and can be found for $5 from time to time.
The Peterson Guide is good too but it is only illustrations and in my opinion photographs do a much better job for identification and show behaviors. Here is a little tip–The Peterson guide was free on Earth Day last year and may very well be this year too. Regular price is $15.
On the web I often encounter the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
In their own words

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology is a world leader in the study, appreciation, and conservation of birds. Our hallmarks are scientific excellence and technological innovation to advance the understanding of nature and to engage people of all ages in learning about birds and protecting the planet.

Cornell is, to be short, a world of birds. Once again devoted to the birds of North America,it goes into great detail about biology and behavior. I do find the photo on the labs pages to be small and of low quality that does tend to make things a bit harder for those who aren’t experts in identification.
Wikipedia is another source of information although it is not as thorough as Cornell. You will also find that Wikipedia can be accessed through the iBird application wrapped as “Bird-a-pedia”.

That is all good for the birds but now you need to learn about the places that birds live in. The United States has a remarkable network of parks and wildlife reserves ranging from the National Parks all the way down to local parks and ponds and for the most part they have websites to guide you through the terrain and inhabitants. Most of these places have one other thing going for them too, I call it the “friends of” groups. They are the independent supporters of a place or animal that go to great lengths to promote their cause. Most of the time “friends of” run their own websites with more up to date information and opportunities to get involved.

So, as you can see there are a few ways to research your subject before you even leave the house. Be a good scout and be prepared.

Thanks so much for stopping by everyone, until next week, be good.


Out of the Blue

Great Blue Heron

For years I have been trying to get close to a Great Blue Heron. They are one of my favorite birds but I have never really been able to get close as I would like to. For a long time, when I could see them in numbers, on a regular basis, there was a fence keeping humans away from their area. I could still get decent pictures but the Herons enjoyed that safe space and outside that area were very skittish towards people. A couple of years ago they all abandoned that nesting place and all but disappeared from the area. This last season I saw a couple of them here and there almost every time I was out. About four weeks ago I first saw my new pal in a place they usually don’t frequent but is a wonderful fishing spot that attracts many other birds. It kept its distance and I thought nothing much of it. When I saw that bird again last week things were different. It seems as though the fishing is so good there that it was becoming acclimated to humans.

That’s when I had the chance to make the picture you see. For the first time a Great Blue Heron allowed me to get within spitting distance and I was able to make one of the images I have been after for such a long time. I chose this particular image as the best. It is my favorite composition and I think the best way to compose portraits for long-necked birds. I think that in order to have great detail in the head and face it is impossible to make a full length portrait of this size bird, photographing just the head does not look natural because it crops in the neck and kind of makes the “floating head” effect, so what I like to do is place a portion of the body in the frame in one of the lower corners of the frame. This makes a very pleasing portrait that shows lots of detail in the head area. Depending on the size of the bird this can work out to be an 8×10 or 4×6, in portrait mode of course.

One of the things I love about shooting the cliffs of La Jolla Cove is the incredible backgrounds available, usually with the blue ocean blurred out even when stopped down. This was not La Jolla but when I saw the bird fly to a very small cliff and look out to the water I knew things were getting even better. As you can see this background is classic and flawless, no retouching either. Just one regret with this photo. It was shot before golden hour by just a little bit. If the time had been deep into golden hour the colors would have been a little more vivid and our subject bit golden. There was however a bit of a haze rolling in about the time of this shot and that helped soften the sunlight a bit and things worked out just fine.

Thanks for reading. You can see more pictures at www.ronboyddesign.com.


Recording History

Great Blue herons at Bolsa Chica Reserve

300mm f4.8 400iso 1/1000sec

The main purpose of photography is to record memories and document history. That is what is now often called “telling a story”. One of the intended benefits of a great photo is that it will evoke emotion in the viewer. Believe it or not the pursuit of sharpness, quality, illusion or emotion is secondary to documenting memories and recording history. I think too often a passionate photographer can lose sight of that.

Over the years I have put together a rather large collection of avian images and I suspect many of you readers have the same. I urge you all to take some time to look through those older pictures from time to time. I know when I do I often find interesting things that I either forgot about or overlooked completely. It is OK to have that “if only I knew then what I know now” moment, but then try reprocessing an image or two that do something for you with newer (and hopefully much better) software, look for the light that maybe you were not experienced enough to see before or just take a stroll down memory lane, pick one that you like and find a way to get it out to the world. Regardless of the quality, we all will be better off for it. I doubt that any of us ever took a picture with the intention letting it sit II the computer for an eternity, unseen, unappreciated and unshared.

The image I posted above was taken quite a while ago, I didn’t ever do much with it because I didn’t think the quality was good. It isn’t. But that photo has meaning. Back in the day the place where I shot that image was teeming with the Great Blue Herons. It was a nesting area with a variety of trees including a few large ones that were dead. The Herons liked nesting in those trees which gave a photographer great views to feeding and their early morning antics. Great Horned Owls nested in the trees with lots of foliage. It was the only place in the area that favored a sunrise shoot also. A couple of years ago, the Winter of 2010 I think, that the area saw unusual rainfall and wind storms. Not by the touch of man but rather mother nature this small wooded area was devastated. Many of the Herons moved on straight away, a few stuck it out for a while but they eventually left too. Today, you will be hard pressed to find a single Great Blue Heron in the whole reserve. I don’t even go there anymore for sunrise because there is really not much to shoot. The quality of that photo is bad I know it, but I took the raw image and cleaned it up as best I could, which is considerably better than I could do even a couple of years ago. I share the photo because it tells a story, shares a memory if you will, of a time that has passed and may never return. Kind of reflects the reason why we took all of those pictures in the first place doesn’t it?

Thanks for reading everyone, go look through your collection and share one with the world.

You can see more of my pictures at www.ronboyddesign.smugmug.com


I Follow Fat Guys

Great Blue Herons at Bolsa Chica

300mm f4.5 200iso 1/1250sec

I’m a fat guy so it only makes sense. When I was a kid I wanted to be an Indy car driver. When I got a little bit older I had the chance to sit in an actual Indy car. Being of large proportions at the time I found it impossible. No way could I get in the car let alone drive one. I met a couple of drivers and quickly noticed that their body type was much closer to that of a jockey than it was to me. A harsh reality for such a young man but a reality none the less. So when I say I follow fat guys it really does make sense. I didn’t say I only follow fat guys either.

When I say “follow” I am talking about those people who usually consider themselves educators and publish material on the web, social media, and in print. I follow their work and hopefully tap into their vast knowledge and experience on any given subject. I will admit that the only real purpose of following any one is to advance my personal skill level. I am not trying to be anyone’s friend or get in to some exclusive clique, I just want to become a better photographer. I have friends who are professional photographers who I don’t follow. I don’t need to. If I have a question or need advice I will just call or send an e-mail. So, back to the fat guy part. I think there are unique skill sets and obstacles related to the size of ones body in photography. It may not be nearly as important as in other things like sports but it is still there. Sometimes those little differences can lead to big differences.

Here is one example of how such a little difference had a big effect on me. World Famous skinny photographer says if you want to do nature and wildlife photography you should really get some knee pads and in particular ones that have gel pads. Totally un-famous photographer (me) runs out and buys the most expensive Nike gel pads he can find. The biggest ones he can find. They hurt like hell because they are not made for thick legged people. End result, un-famous photographer doesn’t wear his knee pads nearly as often as he should his knees hurt and he spends less time close to the ground. A couple of months later world-famous fat guy photographer says you need some gel pad knee pads but be sure to go out to Home Depot to get them because they are adjustable and more comfortable (and cheaper too). That’s the advantage of following the fat guy. If there is a world-famous skinny photographer who gets a particular shot hanging upside down over a cliff and you want to deconstruct that photo in hopes of emulating it somewhere along the line you are kind of wasting you time because hanging upside down off a cliff is not your reality and you are never going to get the shot.

That’s what I mean when I say I follow fat guys. There is an advantage all be it a small one. Every little bit counts.

You can see more fat guy photos at www.ronboyddesign.com


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