The Great Journey in Photography

Posts tagged “Sandhill Crane

Cranes in the Fire

Crane in the Fire

800mm f5.6 250iso 1/640sec

One of the iconic images from Bosque Del Apache has always been the storied “Cranes in the Fire Mist” shot. That was a depiction of a very special moment during the sunrise when under the right conditions a mist backlit by the rising sun looked like it was on fire. The conditions had to be perfect with very cold water and direct sunlight. They say the days of the Fire Mist shot are over, restrictions made by the railroad make it difficult to access the best crane pool for the shot.

BNSF invades Bosque

BNSF invades Bosque


Whether or not the fire mist shot will ever be made again there still is the fire, and the cranes, and oh my what a great combination they make. If there are clouds in the sky the two large crane pools along the highway to San Antonio (not Texas) are the place to be. After the sun creeps behind the hills the clouds light up with amazing color and there are still plenty of cranes coming in to roost for the night. When they lose the light, Sandhills take much more care when landing so they lower the gear and flaps at a much higher altitude slowing down to almost parachute into the pool. That is when you want to get the Crane in the Fire shot.


Crane in the fire2

Here are a couple of tips. If you want to have a different look try cropping to a square and shooting in the vertical or portrait orientation. Capturing birds in flight in the vertical orientation is a lot more difficult but when you get a good one it pays off in dividends. You will be able to capture many layers of clouds and incorporate land features. It gives the impression of a wide-angle yet still tends to have a close looking subject. Vertical BiF’s, give it a try. Don’t be fooled that sunset is the end, stick around for at least a half hour after the sun is gone. That is the best time just make sure you have a decent shutter speed to get those silhouettes nice and sharp.

Once again thanks for stopping by. 2014 was a fantastic year and we are looking forward to bring you more good stuff in the years to come-Ron

Photoshop Tools

Cranes in the sky

600mm f5.6 320iso 1/4000sec

Want to make a picture like the one you see above but only have one like the one you see below? It is pretty easy thing to do with Photoshop. Today I want to highlight a tool and one of its features that is not widely known. The tool is the Clone Stamp tool. Yeah that one is pretty basic, it is the stamp icon on the toolbar to the left. The Clone Stamp does some amazing things and one of the keys to using it properly is setting the hardness correctly. Depending on the texture and complexity of the area surrounding the subject being cloned will determine the hardness required. It will be different every time you use the tool so get used to making that setting something you check every time you use the tool.



The lesser known feature is in the Clone Source Panel. If you don’t see it, and you probably don’t, go to the window menu and click on Clone Source. I wanted to show you a picture of the menu but the new Mac OSX Yosemite is not making them today. By the way , not to go off on too much of a tangent, I recommend staying away from the Yosemite operating system, it is a constant disappointment and every day bring a new problem that slows down my workflow for hours at a time. Right now it is such a piece of crap that has so many basic features that do not work properly I have all but abandoned machines running the system.

Anyhow, in that panel you see a little angle icon with a setting box next to it. This is the great feature of changing the source angle, make that bird fly straight or in this case fly inline with the other birds. Hope the little tip helps. Remember, Clone Source Panel it makes it so much easier to get it right on the first try.


Look at Me, I’m a Creative!

Pair of Sandhill Cranes

Today I am wondering just what  is creativity? Maybe a more appropriately what makes a person a creative? A term that gets bandied about is “I am a creative” almost as if it is a statement of ones IQ score. I am sure there are some definitive definitions of the phrase in the job market and if there are any of those boasters that are in fact speaking about their employment, Stop It, you have a job, we get it. I suspect though that most if not all the self-proclaimed creatives out there say it as reference to their state of being and it makes me wonder just what is a creative? It must be a poet, a writer, a musician, a big idea maker, that makes sense, creatives who make the world a better place. They create stuff we all live for and we are all grateful for their genius. I look at architecture on a daily basis and those masterpieces are created by architects and engineers who, last I checked, are not poets or artists and are thought of as the mathematical right side brain lot yet some architecture is the most creative efforts on earth.

I would say that the least creative person I have ever known would swear on a stack of bibles that he in fact lives and breathes creativity. In fact that person is a delusional slave to dogma taken to an extreme as I suspect is a common trait among self-proclaimed creatives. Could it be that just because you want to be creative, make you a creative? The second least creative person I have ever known, myself sits here before you earning a living writing, taking pictures, and, wait for it, creating software! I never considered myself as  a creative, in fact I never really thought about it until I started hearing the phrase on a regular basis a year or two ago. I never thought that going over the rule of thirds in my mind hundreds of thousands times qualifies to be a creative, could never have imagined that holding a phone in one hand doing simple addition and subtraction and more complex math, pencil on paper, with the other is really being creative.

One of the cute little ironies of the creative life is that it is usually considered taboo “take the easy way” or the path of least resistance, one must sweat, bang heads, pour out their blood for the craft, literally be one step away from death in order to produce the best product, yet everything has to flow. Don’t deny it the word flow is used all the time and the essence of that coveted principal is nothing but a path of least resistance. Be it wind, light, liquid, electricity, in nature everything that flows is in reality just taking a path of least resistance. How cool is that. I guess the ultimate in creativity would be to make water flow uphill? Not really, that’s just crazy.

Maybe I am missing something, like that has never happened before, but maybe creativity is just a synonym of hard work.

Thanks for stopping by everybody. If this is your first time visiting the blog thanks again, I usually write about photography technique etc. but often get into a philosophy session about life because we all have that in common and usually relates to nature and photography in many ways. Download on of my iOS apps too please.


Nature & Wildlife Wallpapers

Nature & Wildlife Wallpapers

It is a little bit of preaching to the choir but today I wanted to mention the update to one of my iPad apps that was released this week and give thanks for the response it has had. Nature & Wildlife Wallpapers is an iOS application that went through a complete make over in that it has become just what it says it is, some nice photos included in the price of the app. The previous versions followed a model that called for packing as much features as possible, most of which only do an average job. Just like the operating system the app runs on NWW has gone through a thorough cleaning eliminating all the fluff and drilling down to do just one thing. The number of photos included in the app has been increased from 9 to 51 and all those images are full resolution and downloadable for users to use at their leisure as long as it is for personal use. It is a bit of preaching to the choir in that I presume that most of you readers are photographers in your own right and thus already have your own images, but I do think it is relevant in that this is really a way to sell our images and I bet a bunch of you would like to do just that right about now. Am I right?

In addition to making the images developing and marketing a mobile application requires a tremendous amount of skill and dedication and hiring some one to do it for you can be expensive but places like the Apple App Store are far-reaching and NWW is being seen by a lot of people who otherwise never could know about it. There is flexibility in the store too because in addition to the purchase price I can also attach a premium to certain images and users can purchase images based on size and usage as need be. If you are spending all kinds of money at a place like Smug Mug and noticing that they make no effort to reach out on your behalf you may consider putting some images out in the form of an application.

In the few days that the NWW update has been available I have had the best response of any application I have had to date. Thanks to everyone who bought or updated the app this week and to anyone who may be on the fence about buying I can tell you that the price is an introduction, in the coming weeks pricing will change and many of the images will no longer be available for free. Stay tuned in the coming months as I keep everyone up to date and show just how well Nature & Wildlife Wallpapers performs and adapts to the market.

Thanks again everyone. Learn more about NWW below.


Beyond 1/500sec

Sandhill Crane in the sunset-

600mm f5.6 250iso 1/800sec

Ok so now the light has become strong enough that you can set your shutter speed at a rate that gives you great flexibility. Today I am talking about the shutter range of 1/500sec – 1/1,000sec, a point that I consider to be fast, good fast. Very often good fast correlates directly with the time of day more than anything else. Like all the other ranges it comes and goes with the intensity of light either increasing in the morning or decreasing in the evening. You have finally arrived and now you can really enjoy all the wonderful things going on around you. Whoa partner, hang on with that relaxation stuff because you need to get your game on. You see, there still is no time to relax, soft light that is strong enough to have higher shutter speeds is what I lovingly call the “Golden Moment”. For sure it is longer than a moment but it is fast-moving and depending where you are set up it will pass very quickly. For example if you are set up at the bottom of a bluff the transition from too dark shadows to bright light can happen in just a few minutes as the sun crosses the horizon.

You are now going to be working with your aperture setting a lot more. You can choose between BiF’s, portraits, Landscapes and set the camera so you will get the in focus points you need. If it is the morning, bird activity will be waning soon, and in evening it is just starting to pick up. You are going to need to have a clear plan of  your shots by now, it is not an easy thing to do because you never know what the things are going to be like before you arrive, so shot lists and game plans often have to be formed on the fly, never the less you should have your intentions established by now. It’s true that you have the flexibility to freeze the action in BiF’s or show some motion blur by stopping down a bit. You have the flexibility to stop down in a portrait to blur the background just the way you want. Maybe you want to have another bird in the foreground sharp too. You can do that. Decisions, decisions. Make the most of the golden Moment because to won’t last long.

Stable Environment II

Sandhill Carane coming in for a landing

800mm f8.0 200iso 1/500sec

To review last week, we were talking about tripods, carbon fiber is good but not essential, weight rating needs to be double the actual combined weight of your camera and lens. The number of sections in the legs only is important in regards to size for travel not actual performance when being used. A couple of other things oith mentioning in a tripod, it is really important as to how the leg sections expand and retract. Latches are not good they will get caught on branches and debris and release when you don’t want them to. Most quality tripods will have a twist collar type lock to hold the sections in place, so look for that. Many tripods have optional spikes at the feet that can be used in rough terrain. It was actually a good selling point when I was shopping for my tripod but after many years of use I can honestly say there has only been a handful of times when using spikes was helpful and none that it was absolutely necessary, so I would not consider it a valuable feature.

The second part of the support equation is that thing that gets stuck to the top of the tripod. Here you have a couple of choices, a ball-head or Gimbal head. You can find ball heads in all size, price and quality ranges. Ball-heads are the essential part of all other forms of photography but with long lenses the gimbal is a specialty head that will provide superior support and usually are priced around $500. There are hybrid solutions out there too but none of them look very appealing to me. Ball-heads, just like tripods should be rated double the actual load to be stable and there are a few of them out that can support long heavy lenses.

I have both styles, the Induro GHB2 gimbal head which can and has handled lenses as large as the Sigmonster 300-800mm zoom. I doubt there is any production long lens the Induro can’t handle. It is a middle of the road product in price but works the same as the most expensive gimbal heads yet is heavy and kid of difficult to pack for travel by air. The last few years I have been, most of the time, using a ball-head though and there is only one that I would trust with my beloved Nikon 300mm f2.8. I use the Really Right Stuff BH-55 which I think is the best ball-head money can buy. All Really Right Stuff products are premium and only available direct from the manufacturer but the BH-55 has been well worth the investment and after  a lot of use looks as if it is still new. The conventional ball-head is much easier for travel but  there are only a few that handle heavy lenses so please be sure to use a ball-head that has been proven to work with all your lenses. I recommend avoiding any of the hybrid solutions and always using the “Arca-Swiss” style mounting system. “Arca-Swiss” is an industry standard but there are some proprietary systems out there that don’t work as well and are not comparable with other brand gear.

OK gang, thanks for stopping by. Next week I will get back to the shutter speed thing, getting faster.



Practice, Panic, or Pack It In

Canada Goose

300mm f3.2 250iso 1/60sec

You may think of it as the time of the three P’s, “Practice, Panic, or Pack it in” but play your cards right and you just might wiggle your way out of the jam. When the shutter speed falls under the one, one-hundredth of a second mark the first tendency most people have is to push the iso or sensitivity of the camera sensor to compensate. While every year low light capabilities of cameras improves by leaps and bounds i would caution against doing that in general. When the shutter speed drops below 1/100sec it usually only happens at the very end of the day after sunset or very early before sunrise. The scene tends to be dark and to portray the reality of the time our photos will tend to have a lot of blacks and deep dark tones. Bumping the ISO is going to bring in digital noise. Even the best cameras produce noise at higher iso settings and the noise is far more noticeable in shadows and under exposed portions of a photograph. Your chances of getting unusable photos is greatly enhanced under these conditions. Let theses two thoughts always be in the back of your mind. First, know that increasing the sensitivity will not yield a significant change in shutter speed without introducing unmanageable noise and second, there are techniques and best practices that can bring home great photographs. As is always the case in bird photography, there are going to be many, many images that are no good so keep that high frame advance rate just as if you were shooting birds in flight at high noon as you will be shooting them in flight even at shutter speeds below 1/100sec.

Go wide. When it comes to sunrise and set I always make it a practice to have two have two high quality cameras with me. One on a tripod with a long lens and the other sporting a wide lens usually a 17-35mm. The wide lens requires far less shutter speed to make sharp images with the rule of thumb being the minimum shutter speed close to the focal length. For example, a 24mm lens would have a suggested minimum shutter speed of 1/24sec, on a crop sensor Nikon body that gets adjusted to 1/38sec. Throw image stabilization into the mix and that number can fall dramatically depending on how steady your hand is. Don’t worry about stopping down as the wider the focal length the deeper the depth of field, so an aperture of f2.8 at 24mm is quite good. Lazily panning in the direction of flying birds will yield even more interesting results.

Pro Tip: When shooting at sunrise and set the camera white balance to about 7,000k. Images on the camera LCD will look much better and that will help keep you much more excited about shooting in low light 🙂

Embrace the blur. Take that long lens mounted on a tripod and set the shutter speed to the minimum that will yield a sharp background(stationary objects) and wait to see birds flying across the horizon. You can alternate between holding the lens stationary and panning with the BiF’s and if your lens is a zoom type try zooming at the same time. You will get interesting results for sure.

Lastly, you can mount the camera with the wide lens on a tripod or better yet a monopod and get as close as possible to a big bird. Often the larger a bird is the more comfortable they are when a human approaches. This can be true for both wild and domesticated birds. Act slow and take a lot of images and a few of them should be sharp.


Big Birds Live Longer

Sandhill Crane at Bosque Del Apache

700mm f7.1 200iso 1/400sec

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.

Times, They are A Changing

Another Sandhill Crane in the fire

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

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

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

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

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

Bang For The Buck

Sandhill Crane at Bosque Del Apache

420mm f4 200iso 1/2,000sec

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

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

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

Happy shooting. Follow me on Twitter  @RonBoyd

Stupid Good

sandhills at Bosque Del Apache

420mm f4.0 200iso 1/1,600sec

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!

The Friendly Skies

the friendly skies

28mm f8.0 250iso 1/80sec

I did a fair amount of travel this week and one of the things I am really starting to take note of is how things differ so much between airports and airlines and that things are always changing. First thing I notice,with the increasing fees for checked baggage more people are trying to pack in tons of carry on luggage and a typical flight has a very large number of the carry on bags getting checked into the belly of the plane with the other luggage. Only slightly better than checking the gear in the first place. Seems to me that there is also a lot more security and scrutiny given to checked bags so maybe checking photography gear is not as big of a risk as it one was.

The idea of carry 40lbs of photo gear on your body through security does not have the same appeal as it used to have either. You can plan on removing all that stuff at least once on your journey to the gate. Clever ways of moving photography gear from point A to B are now at a premium and by premium I mean paying extra money to the airlines. I believe every carrier has an upgrade scheme in place that can give the paying traveler an additional level of comfort or convenience. Choose wisely and you can do yourself a huge favor for not a lot of money. Speaking of “not a lot of money”, the last four flights I booked I shopped extensively and the last four flight I booked were through the airline direct. In one case I saved more than $470 (about half price) on the fare over the travel sites. Using the carrier offered mobile applications also makes travel a lot less stressful too. At SFO a couple of days ago we had a last-minute gate change and the airline had a notification out to me at the same time the agents knew of the change.

Just a few thoughts gang, not really on topic but it does have a lot to do with me (and you hopefully) getting out to the places we need to be to get those great shots.

Thanks for stopping by and we will do it all again next week.

Fakity, Fake, Fake

Sandhill at Bosque Del Apache 2011

700mm f5.6 640iso 1/3200sec

The other day I was invited to a “photo competition”. Funny thing was that it really was not in any way a competition. Today I want to take a moment to explain and caution photographers about”competitions” that are in no way connected to the quality of the entries. This is actually a pretty common occurrence. For me it was a vote via social media thing that was nothing more than a popularity contest. Simply said, the photograph submitted by the most followers always has the advantage and for the most part is locked in for victory. I don’t have any objection to running contests in such a manner as long as everyone is understanding that the winner and losers didn’t get that way because of the quality of the images. As a serious photographer I would never actively enter any such event and I think all good photographers should avoid them because they are promoting a fake competition. As for the folks who dream up social media contests, well you are doomed to having less than the best and really show that you are most interested in bringing more traffic to your brand. Kind of selfish really.

You may be wondering how I handled the invite? After I read the rules, which were rather vague in the first place, I did send in a photo. It was not my best work by any means and I made almost no effort to promote the contest within my social sphere but it was from an organization that I know and I would have (and have in the past) gladly donated an image to them. Things are never as clear-cut as we would like them to be but the important thing to know is that often photography contests are not a measure of your abilities and you probably should not consider your ranking in a contest anything more than ones ability to hustle up votes. Here in America we call that politics and everyone loves a politician. Right?

Thanks for stopping by everyone. If you made it all the way down to this line once again you are in the running for “Best Person on the Planet”. I hope you get lots of votes.

To Crop or Not To Crop II

Bosque Pano-2

Last week I said we would walk through making the photo into a real masterpiece, well maybe not a masterpiece but lets say make it all it can be. It looks like I cheated a little bit with the photograph I showed last week. I don’t believe I cropped that image at all but rather used the content aware scale feature in Photoshop to compress the image down to an 8×10 layout. For todays post I am going to revert back to the original image as it came out of the camera. It looks like this.


That is not so great but if you were paying attention the past few years you know that there are other images to work. Yeah it’s that burst of three thing, so lets look at the image before that one and see if it is better.


I actually like this one better except that the crane is way too far forward, it is falling out of the picture, but I really like the arcing cloud formation in the back. I think I am going to take the best of both worlds and merge the to photos and take the best of each to make one good image. In the process I am going to move the bird to the ideal position. That won’t be hard since it is a silloutte just make sure the background is seamless where you clone out the old bird.

I am not sure exactly what the problem is but Photoshop would not merge the images so I wound up manually blending the images together. It takes a lot longer but doing that also gives you ultimate control over the masterpiece. Just automate to manual (File-Automate-Photomerge-Interactive Layout) mode in Photoshop. You will get individual layers with masks to work. Once finished blending I always make a new layer (shift, option , command E) and work from that so I can always go back to blending if need be. Now lets select our bird with the  quick selection tool, copy and past onto a new layer positioning it to a good place according to the rule of thirds. I see that this image has the white balance out of whack. The clouds are nice and saturated with orange, yellow, and red but is still very warm where I should be seeing some blue sky, so lets fix that and also give a little more color  impact to the image. Rather than trying to balance out the colors I am simply going to create a photo filter layer mask and set it to a cooling color painting in the areas of sky that I think should be cooler.

Now I am going to save and turn it back over to Lightroom for  my standard processing adjusting color balance, highlights, shadows, contrast, saturation and noise reductions. You should note that I go back to Lightroom simply because it is a newer version and the Adobe Camera RAW engine there is far superior to the one in my version of Photoshop. You can also make all those final adjustments in Photoshop too if desired.

There it is , a nice wide screen image that is pleasing and rather that breaking the rules hits the mark for composition, and if you feel the need has plenty of room to crop to other sizes.

Thanks for stopping by everyone. If you have any questions about how I processed these images just leave a comment or drop me a line.

My iPad application Wildlife HD is getting a major tune up for the upcoming iOS7 platform and while it is I am sell it at half price. Just $.99 Wildlife HDuntil the new version comes out. If you don’t have it yet you might want to take advantage of the sale.

To Crop or Not To Crop

Sandhill Crane coming in for landing

600mm f5.6 250iso 1/640sec

This is one of my favorite photos, not for any reason in particular, in fact it is somewhat unremarkable, I just happen to like it a lot. The first thing you will notice is that the subject, a Sandhill Crane is in the center of the frame. Yeah, we all know that is a no-no. But what if that bird was not the subject of the picture. What if you treated the background as the subject? And why not, the sky is what brought me to the location in the first place. Treating the background as the main subject makes the bird in the middle ok. The problem is that the bird is also a compelling subject, nice and sharp with the feathers blown out and great form with the feet and legs hinged at a great angle. Truth is that what I was really trying to do was capture the bird  between the clouds, that I accomplished. Too bad it is in the middle of the frame. Lets take a look at exactly how that bird wound up dead center.

The focus points of most cameras have differing levels of quality and very often the focus point in the center of the frame is one of few “cross” style sensors in the array of focus points. So here is a great flow to try out if you are in a low light situation or using a narrow aperture lens when focus tends to become difficult.  Set you focus point dead center but also set the focus lock duration longer than you normally would. With those two elements in place you can acquire focus and have some time to lead the bird a bit before it starts to hunt for a new focus point. Using the burst of three rule you should pick up the number of in focus images but you will also get a larger number of them with the subject in the center of the frame. When you are there, you can always crop if need be.

Next week we will take a walk-through on processing this image, how I got it to where it is and what we can do to turn it into the ideal image with a fantastic background and the subject exactly where you want it.

Until then, have a good one guys.


sandhill crane in the menagerie

300mm f5.6 250iso 1/3200sec

You know how sometimes you get caught up doing a bunch of things and something gets forgotten about or left behind. Call that falling through the cracks. A lot of things can fall through the cracks in bird photography not the least of which are images. We have to make hundreds maybe thousands of images to get a really good one that is just a fact of life. Think about how impossible it is to give each and every image a good look. The last couple of days I have ignored some of the things I have to do, you know that endless stream of things that must be done, at a certain expense, money not made and that sort of thing, before my head exploded, and sifted through several thousand images I had made the last several months. I had already looked at these images a couple of times but I could not bring myself to deleting them because I knew in my heart that thee was some value there, hidden gems, backgrounds, stock, etc. I really like doing this because we are always trying out new software and editing techniques and I am always looking for an image for practice.

I had been thinking about something Moose Peterson said about photographing wildlife composed small in the scene. He said it is harder and more impact-full when done well. Scrolling through images I found a series of photos I had completely forgot. A single Crane flying through a menagerie of golden swirling clouds. Pretty cool I think and very little processing involved.

Hey everyone, I have to plug my latest iPad application Wildlife HD. If you have an iPad and want to see some great photographs, learn, and make great photos I recommend you give it a try. Available in the App Store for $1.99 today.

Thanks for stopping by. See you next week.Wildlife HD

Thirds and Birds

Sandhill Crane and Rule of Thirds

One of the golden rules of photography is the rule of thirds. That rule says that for a pleasing photograph you should compose the picture by dividing the scene into nine equal sections with four lines dividing the sections and compositional elements should be placed near to where those lines intersect. There is a lot of specific instructions and jargon that goes along with it but really what you need to know is that you want the important thing to be off-center and about a third of the way through the scene from top or bottom, left or right. The rule of thirds also holds true for bird photography.

Drill down even further in simplicity and for bird and wildlife photography you can think of the rule in terms of giving the subject room to move. lead your birds in flight shots so the subject has plenty of room to fly through the scene. Look at the photo above and you will see the bird flying through the scene and the two additional elements of composition, the mountain peak and the tree, are off in the left and right sections of the photo.

If the subject is stationary, that is easy too just give the extra room in the direction the bird is looking because that is the direction it will most likely move. Looking straight at you? Well, that is the signal to break the rule and go dead center but be warned, many birds don’t photograph well looking straight into the camera. Raptors being that exception.

Of course you really want to compose your photographs to the rule of thirds. That demonstrates a certain level of competence but with the high pixel cameras available it is perfectly acceptable to crop to the rule of thirds. No one will know the difference unless they examine the metadata and if they do that someone is just looking for ways to criticize your work.

As always, thanks for stopping by. See you next week.


Just another pair of sandhill cranes

800mm f5.6 250iso 1/6400sec

Seems like the most friendly and likable people I have met in my life happened when I was shooting birds. Stark contrast to some genuinely horrible humans I encounter on a daily basis. Dirty people with dirty minds are a drag. They are a drag and they bring others down to their low-level. Maybe because we share the passion, maybe it is because I only see them at their happiest or maybe it is because I live in the wrong circles, the people I really like are on the trail.

It all leads me to pause for a moment. I pause to think about recent events and the tornado that have hit Oklahoma and that two of nicest people I ever met are from Oklahoma city. I spent a few weeks there on vacation many years ago. I liked that but the people I met were at Bosque Del Apache last year. Such great ambassadors of their home state I left with the impression that everyone there was the same. So when I think about the devastation I think about millions of great people touched by disaster. It’s all about community I suppose, doesn’t have much to do with bird photography but is worth mentioning. Thoughts and prayers to all those who have been affected by the tornado.

Hey gang, big update to the Wildlife HD iPad application last week. If you have already downloaded it, Thank You, and make sure you update to the latest version. For those who downloaded and paid for the application in the last week there was a minor glitch in the files and the camera would not open on many machines. That bug has been fixed and is working its way through the iTunes approval process. Look out for version 1.1.2 and all functionality will be restored. Hopefully it will only be a day or two.icon

As always, thanks for stopping by and I hope you enjoyed the picture as there is not a lot of substance to todays post. A pair of Sandhills from last years Bosque Del Apache adventure.

Have a great day and go out and get my app!

Wildlife HD Ver. 1.1

Wildlife HD

Wildlife HD

If you have already downloaded my iPad application Wildlife HD, you will be in for a little treat tomorrow. There will be an extensive update and many improvements in version 1.1. Among the improvements you will see better accessibility with Voice over for the visually impaired and a left-handed option for the built-in camera and photo editor. In the original version it was possible to navigate the entire application, with only a few exceptions, with your right thumb. Now with the left hand controls, left-handed users can also enjoy the same level of comfort in the camera and photo editor. There is also improved social sharing too. You can now share any of your own photos throughout the app via Twitter, Facebook, and Mail, edited or original. There is also limited Google Plus integration where you can share messages and contents of the Photo of the Month. It also has improved photo preset filters with one that I particularly like called “Polly Beach”.

The camera now has a choice of three focal lengths giving it that prime lens feel where you don’t have the luxury of using a zoom lens. There is also the addition of timers and audio countdown  at 5 and 10 seconds with volume control for the countdown.

The application still has all the great photos, most with birds, and content from before but if you don’t already own it you are going to have to lay out a couple of sheckles. As much as I would like to continue giving it away for free we all have to earn a living and I really did not want to put advertising in the content. It is a reasonable price I think and if you are reading this today Friday May 17 I am giving you one more day to download the application for free.

Also, I want to give a big thank you to everyone who has already downloaded the application and who visit here every week to read my ramblings and look at my pictures. Thanks is hardly enough and I promise that the best is yet to come.

So go out and grab it if you can, I will appreciate it and I think you will enjoy the content a lot.

Viva la Vida!icon

Breathe Right

Sandhill Cranes

800mm f5.6 250iso 1/800sec

I have a lot of experience at this one, been doing it my whole life as have you, so it is hard to imagine that I could be doing it wrong. Well, not wrong but just not the best way possible. How you breathe is very important to a bird photographer especially for handheld shots. That’s right, the very action of inhaling oxygen and expelling carbon dioxide is enough to hurt the sharpness of your photographs. If you don’t believe me, keep track of it for a year or two and you will notice there is a difference. I think in the end it is a different strokes for different folk kind of thing but somewhere along the line you are going to need to become as perfectly still as possible in order to make the sharpest images. That means you need to suspend breathing actions for a moment or two. That’s where the different strokes part comes in. Some will say you need to exhale and hold while pressing the shutter, for others it may be far more comfortable to breathe in and hold position and I am not sure there is any practical difference. Here is what you want to do each and every time you make a picture with the camera in your hands. Set a firm foot stance, usually with your legs spread apart slightly, cradle the camera in your established position, draw in both elbows until they are touching your chest, pause breathing and roll your finger over the shutter button and pivot at your hips.

Correct breathing also helps when shooting with a long lens on a tripod. As you drape the hand on top of the lens once again your body needs to become as still as possible. The longer the lens the more motion will be picked up in the image. If you have ever had the chance to shot at over 1,000mm you will know that you can easily see motion from wind and touches even on a sturdy tripod with a gimbal head. So even with plenty of support it is best to practice a good breathing technique.

But wait, there’s more! Yeah, one more thing. Deep breaths. Everyone has heard about count to ten and take some deep breaths to calm down. Well, I think bird photography can be as frustrating as any human event so why not use the tried and true method to get back on an even keel. Wether you are excited because you made a great image, witnessed an unusual event, or are totally frustrated, turn around for a moment and take a bunch of deep breathes. It always helps.


The Perfect Moment

Sandhill Crane TouchDown

800mm f5.6 250iso 1/320sec

The other day someone saw one of my photos and exclaimed “you chose the perfect second to take that picture”. Yeah that was true but I also had about nine different images in that second from which to choose. Even today in the age of high rate digital photography most people, including many photographers, still have the sensation that a photo takes time to make. Time to compose, pose, light and snap, and why not, that is the way it was done from the beginning and still done most of the time today. Not so much with bird photography. Here it is really about frame rate. One of those things that makes wildlife photography an inherently expensive task because it really does help to have a fast frame rate. Maybe you are wondering what frame rate really is or thinking it is shutter speed. Frame rate is simply the number of times a camera can take a picture in a second. Most DSLR’s have a maximum frame rate of five. That is not bad and anyone interested in bird photography should be looking for at least that much in their camera. The fastest, most expensive camera bodies have eleven to twelve frames per second and that is really fast, about as much as you would ever need. In addition to cost, fast frame rates also have other expenses, you are going to fill up your buffer really fast and in no time, if you are not careful, will not be able to take any pictures for a few moments. You also need the fastest, most expensive memory cards to store all that data.

In my opinion it becomes more complicated to make great photos with super high frame rate don’t believe that will ever make up for inexperience. So lots of practice is needed. You will want to make sure you are not killing the shutter button, a soft touch is still in order, and a good working knowledge of the limits of your cameras buffer. I use high frame rates for both birds in flight and portraits. It is obvious for the BiF’s but also for the portraits it is nice to have that last detail in place, the exact turn of the head,eyes completely open, etc so it is nice to have more than one image to choose from.

Some Nikon shooters are blessed with a miracle in the race to high frame rate. The D300 series and D700 come from the factory with a hi-speed frame rate of 6fps but with the addition of the Nikon factory vertical grip and the big battery jumps up to a respectable 9fps. Yes those two cameras are getting long in the tooth but that one performance boost justifies keeping those bodies a while longer.

Hey gang, thanks for stopping by and looking at the pretty pictures. Remember if you own an iPad you still have time to download my new iOS application Wildlife HD. It is free for a limited time.

Until next week –Be good.


Wildlife HD

Wildlife HD

Wildlife HD

For so many months, too many months by most accounts I have been working on an iPad application. It has been a ground up project and today I am going to do some shameless self promotion. I like the application, put a lot of time and effort into it, and made sure it works well with the latest devices and iOS 6.1. It is called Wildlife HD and you can download it from the app store here. It is a collection of high resolution Wildlife and Nature images I have made over the years that you can turn into wallpapers, download and share at your leisure.* There is also a learning center with online pages packed with information about photography and wildlife, Explore pages that have in-depth information about the collection, and Twitter and Facebook integration. It also has a built in camera and photo editor that will eventually be the most compelling features. Right now they are both configured for landscape orientation which you don’t often encounter in mobile camera apps and other features and filters. Rather than spending a lot of time telling you about it how about you head on over to the store and download it.icon

Right now it is free. It will be that way for the entire life of the 1.0 version but I will warn you that as soon as I can push out 1.2 we will be charging for it so go ahead and grab it up now. Just to tease you a bit rev. 1.2 is going to include audio cues, improved Social interaction, improved editing and filters and improved camera with shutter timer and selection of focal lengths.

Thanks for reading everyone. Go buy an iPad, download the app. It’s only money.

*Personal use only. Not for commercial use or distribution. Creative Commons non-commercial

It’s All About the Sandhills

Sandhill Crane at Bosque Del Apache-

Maybe not all about, but the Sandhill Crane is the main draw to the Bosque Del Apache Wildlife Refuge every year. I am not going to write about general facts for the Sandhill today, I did that a while back and you can read more about that at “About the Sandhill Crane”. In this post I want to speak more of how they operate on the Bosque and how they can be best photographed. There is great reason to be attracted to these prehistoric creatures, they have unique look and with their gregarious antics come off very much like cartoon characters. I wish the birds felt the same way but the truth is that like all birds everything they do has purpose and boils to down to one of three things, food, shelter, and procreation.

The Sandhill count has been dropping at the Bosque in recent years for the most part from severe droughts. This past December in the first week there were an estimated 11,000 Sandhills visiting the reserve, last year at the same time there were over 13,000. By mid December 2012 there were less than 8,500. As always the population hits it maximum during the last week of November and the first of December. The birds migrating south stay in one prime location for two or three weeks at a time to feed and build energy to endure the rigors of winter. Some of the Sandhills will fly further south into Mexico but many of the will stay the winter on the Bosque when in late winter head back north for the spring.

Dance of the Cranes at Bosque Del Apache

Dance of the Cranes at Bosque Del Apache

High up on my shot list was the “Dance of the Cranes”. As part of their antics Sandhills sometimes hop up and down flapping their wings and let out the cry “Kar-ooo”. They are also often referred to as “Preacher Birds” because it looks like a reverend addressing his congregation. Exactly why they perform the dance is anything but clear. Most believe that it is a mating ritual, others say that it is just a physical release of pent-up energy. Some will tell you it is nothing more than a signal to a group of birds that it is time to leave and one crazy even says it might be an instinctual action to release themselves from frozen waters of a pond. Practice makes perfect.
Unfortunately, the dance was a very tough shot. The photo above is one of my better efforts telling me that the dance just might be at the top of my shot list for many years to come. This season photographing the Sandhills boiled down to really only one good spot, that being the second crane pool on highway 1. The corn fields, actually the entire farm loop was really dismal. A conversation I had with one of the rangers told me that because there were so many human visitors on the reserve this year the big birds were pressured out to the farmers corn fields. In an effort to relieve pressure they closed the auxiliary farm loop early so the Sandhills could feed on the reserve without human interaction. Back at the crane pools it was evident that the number of birds was down. The once crowded pools were not full but still active with a large number of birds. The weather was so spectacular I am sure it was a major reason why so many visitors were on the reserve. The main pool was great for sunrise, geese and the blast off but you needed to make a quick trip to the crane pool to catch the big birds in beautiful light taking off for the fields. Sun and breeze most of the time favored hills and some clear sky in the background making for some magazine cover images.

It seemed like clouds returned every afternoon right around those same hill to light up the sky when the birds returned for the evening. Get there early enough and you will also catch thousands of snow geese clearing out to make room for the Sandhills. Read more about the Sandhills return to the pool at “Cranes in the Fire”.

Cranes in the Fire

Crane in the Fire

800mm f5.6 250iso 1/640sec

One of the iconic images from Bosque Del Apache has always been the storied “Cranes in the Fire Mist” shot. That was a depiction of a very special moment during the sunrise when under the right conditions a mist backlit by the rising sun looked like it was on fire. The conditions had to be perfect with very cold water and direct sunlight. They say the days of the Fire Mist shot are over, restrictions made by the railroad make it difficult to access the best crane pool for the shot. This year the shot was impossible because that pool was

BNSF invades Bosque

BNSF invades Bosque

completely dry due to a severe drought.

Wether 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 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 loose the light, Sandhills take much more care when landing so they lower the gear and flaps at a much higher altitude slowing down to almost parachute into the pool. That is when you want to get the Crane in the Fire shot.


Crane in the fire2

Here are a couple of tips. If you want to have a different look try cropping to a square and shooting in the vertical or portrait orientation. Capturing birds in flight in the vertical orientation is a lot more difficult but when you get a good one it pays off in dividends. You will be able to capture many layers of clouds and incorporate land features. It gives the impression of a wide angle yet still tends to have a close looking subject. Vertical BiF’s, give it a try. Don’t be fooled that sunset is the end, stick around for at least a half hour after the sun is gone. That is the best time just make sure you have a decent shutter speed to get those silhouettes nice and sharp.

Once again thanks for stopping by. 2012 was a fantastic year and we are looking forward to bring you more good stuff in the years to come-Ron