The Great Journey in Photography

Posts tagged “Snowy Egret

The Golden Moment

Snowy Egret at Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve

420mm f5.6 250iso 1/1,250sec

Every time I have a sunset shoot there is always a Golden Moment. After most of the action has settled down and most of the birds have wandered off for the evening comes the golden moment. Look around, the light is weak but the colors are most saturated to the eye. It will only last a few minutes. Look around and often you will find a lone bird, maybe fishing or just hanging out. Make that your last salute to the day and I bet you will get a bunch of keepers. A couple of things to remember though, the light is always very weak so make sure you check any exposure compensation settings in the camera and always have support available because you will probably need it. Try to make portraits during the golden moment because birds in flight are not only sparse but are a lot more difficult to make.

One more quick tip. Many DSLR’s have a fine tune function. Nikon calls it “AF Fine Tune” and Cannon says “Micro Adjust”. These features are to compensate for any Front/Back focus problems. There are devices to check for focus problems but a very cheap and straight forward way to check is to take repeated photos of newsprint at a variety of settings, compare them and obviously use the one that is best. I have not to date deeded to make any adjustments for lenses but I have made a very slight adjustment on a lens and  tele-converter combo. When adding a TC the chances of errors is increased because the lens is now passing its data through a second connection and another device. With time and wear I think the ability to adjust the focus plane can be a valuable tool. If your camera supports it give it a check, you just might get yourself some sharper images.

Thanks for reading. I hope you enjoyed todays photo Snowy Egret in “Fortress of Solitude”

You can see more photos of mine here.

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Passing Time

brownPelicanatBolsaChica

350mm f6.3 250iso 1/2000sec

snowyEgretatBolsa Chica

420mm f6.3 250iso 1/2500sec

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

This one is for you Old Girl. God Bless

This one is for you Old Girl.
God Bless


Circle of Life

Snowy Egret and friend

420mm f9.0 250iso 1/1000sec

This morning I find myself at a loss for words. I have a beloved pet in the final days of her life and I would rather tend to her needs at the expense of coming up with friendly tips or advice for bird photography. I figured in the end this was going to be the post would be the simple “a picture is worth a thousand words” and let the photography speak for its self.

It is going to be a very hot day today and beloved and I were out early wandering aimlessly about the yard. We heard a “kuck-kuck” of a bird. It was my hawk , the hawk that has been visiting my yard for years hoping to make a meal of some seed eating sparrow. I first saw it as a juvenile and on the second appearance I made a wonderful photograph. I watched the bird grow up and turn into an adept hunter graduating from a shy youngster quietly and patiently waiting for a wayward bird to emerge from the bushes to an aggressive hunter that chooses the bird and if need be chase it through the trees and brush. It was a comfortable warm time and the raptor was heard long before seen, finally spotted in the big oak tree. Even here in Suburbia the ecosystem has great value. The small birds attracted by the seed I put out every morning also devour many insects and that prevents the fly and mosquito population from exploding which in turn keeps the spider population under control. That all makes me and my pet happy. All the small birds also attracts bigger birds that like to eat the small. That, in turn keeps the small bird population under control.

Today like all the others, the system was at work but events were like I had not seen before. The usually stealth hawk made its way to a nearby

Cooper's Hawk in the backyard

500mm, 400iso, 1/500sec handheld

pole and continued to call out. The small birds, out of character were sparse and silent. Usually they would all huddle in the bushes and make a racket like you would not believe. Clearly aware of me and my pet the hawk bounced from pole to pole then a couple of trees and finally a tall telephone pole making noise the entire time. It then flew straight toward me veering away just a few feet away with wings spread in beautiful form. It flew to a nearby tree, screeched and made way to another yard.

We all know that the hawk finally mature and comfortable enough, was just trying to protect its territory or a kill but just for today I am going to say that he was giving a tip of the hat to one of the family.


The Golden Moment

Snowy Egret at Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve

420mm f5.6 250iso 1/1,250sec

Every time I have a sunset shoot there is always a Golden Moment. After most of the action has settled down and most of the birds have wandered off for the evening comes the golden moment. Look around, the light is weak but the colors are most saturated to the eye. It will only last a few minutes. Look around and often you will find a lone bird, maybe fishing or just hanging out. Make that your last salute to the day and I bet you will get a bunch of keepers. A couple of things to remember though, the light is always very weak so make sure you check any exposure compensation settings in the camera and always have support available because you will probably need it. Try to make portraits during the golden moment because birds in flight are not only sparse but are a lot more difficult to make.

One more quick tip. Many DSLR’s have a fine tune function. Nikon calls it “AF Fine Tune” and Cannon says “Micro Adjust”. These features are to compensate for any Front/Back focus problems. There are devices to check for focus problems but a very cheap and straight forward way to check is to take repeated photos of newsprint at a variety of settings, compare them and obviously use the one that is best. I have not to date deeded to make any adjustments for lenses but I have made a very slight adjustment on a lens and  tele-converter combo. When adding a TC the chances of errors is increased because the lens is now passing its data through a second connection and another device. With time and wear I think the ability to adjust the focus plane can be a valuable tool. If your camera supports it give it a check, you just might get yourself some sharper images.

Thanks for reading. I hope you enjoyed todays photo Snowy Egret in “Fortress of Solitude”

You can see more photos of mine here.


New Gear Fear

Snowy Egret hanging in the wind

300mm f7.1 250iso 1/1,600sec

About 49.99% of the time I think my work sucks. 49% I think it is barely acceptable and a small sliver of the time I feel it is pretty good. It can be easy to slip into a funk working against those numbers. Just the few victories I do have made it all worth it though. What I really want to do today is write about the role new gear plays in making those numbers change one way or another. Bird photography is one of those places where the type and quality of your equipment makes a huge difference and then there is also the psychological advantage of using the gear you really want to have.

Most of my stuff is getting kind of long in the tooth and there is no doubt that some the newest cameras and lenses are items I lust for, but is it really needed? The difference between 5 frames per second and 9 frames is huge, that happened a while back for me. Megapixel and low light performance, not so much. I doubt there is any camera made that is tailored for wildlife photography, the megapixel wars during times when image size is becoming far less relevant is proof that camera manufacturers really care about making sales to those who are influenced by big numbers rather than real performance. Sure, there are improvements but nothing as dramatic as they would have you believe and certainly nothing that is going to dramatically change or improve how I make pictures. Ditto that for software. Every 10 months or so its a couple hundred dollars for this maybe five hundred for that, and the real kicker is that often it is not as good as the previous version. One new gimmick and you have to endure months of crashes and incompatibility, then they make the old version obsolete by not updating it. Yeah camera manufacturers and software makers really care about their customers. They do care about some, the elite few, those who actually help them sell products, they care about them a whole lot but you and I, the poor working folk who actually keep them in business, not so much.

It is kind of sad really because wanting, planning for, and buying new gear should be an exciting time. We should all enjoy the process knowing that things are going to be that much better when you finally make the goal and can get the prize we have been wanting so long. Big business taints all that though. I suppose the theme today is, be grateful for what you have, moderate your expectations, and expand your knowledge more than your camera bag. That is the best upgrade.

So how do you get the numbers flowing in your direction? Clearly it is not by going out and buying the stuff everyone says is “must have” new gear. Get what you must have by all means. With experience comes the wisdom of knowing what you really need and knowing the difference between hype and reality. Get more experience. That always works.

Thanks for reading-I hope you liked todays picture. You can see more of the every week so subscribe and enjoy. — Caio.


About-The Snowy Egret

Snowy Egret out for a stroll

500mm f7.1 250iso 1/640sec

It is the smaller of the two white egrets that I always find along the coast, the larger being the Great Egret. Its called the Snowy Egret. Other than size there are three tell-tale markings that define the two birds. The Snowy Egret has a long slender black bill, black legs, and yellow feet. During breeding season the smaller Egret also sports silky plumage down the back of the neck that can make a spectacular photograph when a breeze hits it. Most of the birds’ meals come from the water. Usually  feeding on small fish but also crustaceans and the occasional insect, the Snowy Egret is a patient predator that wades in shallow water or stands right on the waters edge. They are fairly friendly towards humans and a good photographer can get pretty close if there is some form of separation like a pool of water or large rock.

This bird is located in the southern half of North America and all of South and Central America. Where I am at they are plentiful all year long. Most plentiful along the coasts these Egrets can also be found inland near bodies of water. They are all white, as clean as the driven snow you could say, photographing them is fairly straight forward. I usually use -0.7 exposure compensation and dial it back further to avoid any “blinkies” when the sun is at my back. Definition in the feather detail is often tough to get out of the camera so I will very often burn down all of the shadows and midrange exposures a small amount to get a better looking body. One of my favorite scenes in bird photography is when I encounter a subject in full light and a background in shade. Usually it helps to make the bird pop. That does not work too well with either of the two all white Egrets, usually you will encounter the background way too dark and the shadows get blocked up. Go for a balanced background-you won’t regret it.

Thanks for reading everyone. Take care and God bless.

Follow me on Twitter @RonBoyd


The Other Side of the Sun

Snowy Egret walking on path

300mm f5.6 250iso 1/640sec

One of th big rules in bird photography is to always shoot with the sun directly at your back. Some say that being off by a couple of degrees here or there, you are toast. That is good advice almost all of the time but as you might be able to guess rules are made to be broken. There will be times when you can’t get around the sun and for whatever reason have to make the shot. Here are a few tips for shooting birds in backlight situations.
Unless you are looking for something very dramatic that will probably wind up being a silhouette image anyhow don’t place your subject directly in front of the sun. Instead let’s try a couple of tricks that portrait photographers use all the time. Do everything possible to place the sun off to one side or other, this is what they call “hair” lighting. The result is the sun will be out of the frame and the edge feathers of your subject will be illuminated. The other trick is to bounce sunlight back onto the subject. Portrait shooters use reflectors. Nature can provide us with all kinds of reflectors. In the picture above the Snowy Egret is crossing a path of light-colored gravel. That almost white gravel is bouncing sunlight in all directions including back up to the subject. Now I have detail in the shadows that I can work with. The image below shows a great egret along the water’s edge. Below the frame is a small body of water and a large concrete culvert bridge (where I am standing) both reflecting light back to the subject illuminating what would normally be a dark mini lagoon.

Great Egret backlight

420mm f4 320iso 1/1,600sec

You will get the best results with light and white colored birds. Flash helps but remember that the main purpose of flash in bird photography is to soften the shadows and throw a catch light in the eyes. If you are planning to use flash as a main light and defeat the sun at bird shooters distances you will be disappointed even with an extender. Always shoot RAW and don’t be afraid to let the fringes go a little overexposed (in camera) as it can usually be recovered in post. More important is to have detail in shadows as you will more than likely want to lighten those up.
Go out and look for the light, look for the hair light and natures reflectors and nice backlight shots are possible.

Thanks for reading and as always have a great day. You can see more of my work at www.ronboyddesign.com


Pixels or Paper?

Marsh Maven Wrap

So you are finally making some really good bird photographs and it is time to begin sharing them, whether it is just for friends and family or for sale, there is still no equal to making prints. There are billions of walls across the globe and decorating them is still the best way to get you images shown. My work has turned a lot more to the artistic side the last year or so and I have found that printing on canvas is working out very well for me. Depending on how you process a photo a canvas print can look very much like a photograph or a work of art. There are three companies that I use and recommend for prints, today I will give you a quick rundown.

WHCC – White house custom color is my go to printer. They do about everything you can imagine from business cards to canvas gallery wraps. While I have only used a fraction of the services they offer, mainly gallery wraps and photo prints, I know them to be a very quick and reliable company. Quality is excellent, customer service is excellent, and prices are pretty good. I have made several canvas gallery wraps with them and always found the colors to be perfect and workmanship very good. When making gallery wraps there are some very important preparations you need to do, read the guidelines very carefully and follow them. All of my wraps have text and logos placed on the side and I have to say that they always land exactly where I wanted them. I don’t consider it a downside, but some may, WHCC uses the ROES system to submit images. It is an application you have to download, install, and log into in order to upload images. As far as I am concerned the ROES system makes things closer to fool-proof but I can see how it can be cumbersome to many photographers.

On the recommendation of a professional photographer friend of mine I have tried Canvas on Demand, and oh my gosh they are very good! Now as the name implies they only do canvas prints but you can pretty much get canvas any way you want. Quality and customer service is excellent. I have been making artistic framed prints in custom sizes and what I find to be absolutely invaluable is that custom size pricing is comparable to standard sizing. That’s right folks, no huge surcharge to do custom work. If I can make a complaint about Canvas on Demand it would be that as far as I know, they don’t do matte with any of their framed prints and the choice of frames is not hugely extensive, but you can also buy only the canvas and have it stretched and framed anyway you want yourself. The other thing that bugs me slightly with COD is that it can take a while to get your order. I have to admit that I have only done custom frames with them, but it does take about 3 weeks to get the final product.

And then there is the Apple print services. If you own a Mac you have all the software built-in to iPhoto or Aperture to make truly amazing prints, photo books, greeting and post cards. As one would hope for, the Apple experience is built-in to this service with rich and clear printing and professional looking layouts in the books. I am pretty sure that the service is contracted out to printers across the world but standards are high, shipping is fast and prices are consumer rates but still reasonable. If you are doing a photo book or a small number of prints this is a great service. The downside is that text options are limited, no canvas prints, and it is for Apple users only as far as I know.

Mice are feet down-Time to move on!

You can see more of my photos here.


Up Before the Bell

Snowy Egret at Bolsa Chica-1

420mm f7.1 200iso 1/1250sec

Those who read this blog regularly already know that I am a frequent visitor to the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve in Huntington Beach California. It was acquired by the State in 1973 and expanded in 1997 and 2005 to its current 1200 acres. It sits adjacent to a rather large plot of undeveloped land used for oil drilling and in total provides a nice wetland area that has become home to many different birds. Originally Bolsa Chica was a fertile hunting area for Native Americans and in the early 1900’s it was home to the Bolsa Hunting Club, a prestigious duck and fowl hunting club and rumor has it, fox too. Today the reserve is a sanctuary to a large number of birds, some year round others migrating in for the Winter. Among my favorites are the Brown Pelican, Osprey, Great Egret, Long Billed Curlew, Great Blue Heron, and Least Tern.

The wetlands are a mix of fresh water run off  from the Wintersburg Flood Control Chanel and sea water from the ocean inlet at Huntington Harbor. This Ecosystem produces four distinct seasons depending on the amount of runoff from the surrounding area which affects the level of salt in the water. One of the greatest bummers of the Bolsa Chica is that there is no direct access to the beach. If the wetlands and salt marshes were directly adjacent to beach area it would be a truly spectacular place to photograph. Instead the two are separated by the Pacific Coast Highway, parking lots, vendors and all the other modern amenities associated with a public beach. The other bummer is that the flood control channel brings a significant amount of trash and refuse into the wetlands and there are times when the area is littered with plastics and even bits of furniture and appliances. From time to time the area is plagued by graffiti and vandalism. Sadly, sometimes I think the number one export of Southern California are the disgusting, filthy, selfish pigs that call themselves human.

I have depended on Bolsa Chica as a test facility for every piece of gear I own. When I have a new piece of equipment it gets broke in at Bolsa, new techniques are first tried at Bolsa, when I need a day of practice I head out to Bolsa. The first couple of years I usually tried to make Sunrise shoots but now my focus is around the Sunset magic hours. There are two reasons for that. One, the winds usually favor shooting at the end of the day and second is the absolutely spectacular opportunities to shoot the Tern Feeding frenzy at the end of the day during the Summer months. Bolsa Chica is by no means the most attractive area in Southern California, it is almost impossible to do a landscape with out an oil well or house in the scene, but it’s location serves millions in the Los Angeles area. Any one who wants to enjoy the surroundings and the birds for only the price of a short drive from the inland is welcome.

It has been a tough year at the wetlands. Starting the Winter before the last there was a sudden die off of Brown Pelicans in the Southland possibly due to extreme cold and rain. Last Winter the Browns did not return in any significant numbers and the entire population of Wintering birds was down. Egrets and waterfowl were sparse and the Great Blue Herons abandoned their usual nesting trees. There were many times I visited and the entire area was consumed by a stench of sewage and decay. I believe that there was some sort of toxic runoff this year as a result of the near epic rainstorms. I also suspect that the local ocean water was also less than healthy as local beaches were closed several times the past year due to contaminated water. Whatever the case, the birds stayed away. I was prepared to cut back on my visits to Bolsa Chica because there just was not anything there to shoot anymore. A couple of weeks ago I gave it one more shot. I wanted to give that place I have come to know so well a last chance to show some signs of life before making the decision to stay away. I am happy to report that I saw signs of great improvement. The stench was all but gone and the water was as clear as I have ever seen. There were not many birds but it is that time of your when the population is down anyhow, my favorite Osprey was at its post high above the fishing hole after months of absence. It would seem that Bolsa was down but not for the count. She has begun to heal her self and is up before the bell to fight another round. I look forward to the return of the birds next season.

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Nikon 300mm f2.8 VR Lens Review

Osprey with fish

300mm f7.1 iso250 1/800sec

I bought the Nikon 300mm f2.8 VR lens back in September and since then it has been about three months of using only that lens for wildlife and birds. I have put in a good number of hours with it and while I am not a professional reviewer or a person who try’s out every lens on the planet, I do own several Nikon, Sigma, Tamron, and Tokina lenses so I feel somewhat qualified to give a good overview of how this lens performs. That said, it is by far the best lens I have ever used. A little intimating at the begining because it does have a lot of bells and whistles, many of which most people won’t need to use on a regular basis. First impression is that it is a big heavy lens that is built like a truck and that is exactly what it is, and part of why it is a great piece of glass. The other part is the sharpness. Oh yeah it is so sharp! It is sharp everywhere. The rookie mistake is thinking it goes a little soft around f2.8 but usually it is because the depth of field is so razor thin that parts of the image you wanted sharp are simply out of focus. This is especially true when you get anywhere in the neighborhood of minimum focus distance which is a little over seven feet.
For me, just as large a part of the legend is the color, contrast, bokeh, and the complete lack of chromatic aberration. It is without a doubt more accurate and consistent than any third party lens around.

Legendary. I mentioned it before but it is worth repeating, this is one very sharp lens and it is sharp pretty much everywhere. A great lens needs to be sharp above all else and this one delivers that along with the quick focus, VR, and incredible image quality. As part of my workflow in bird photography I rarely sharpen an image anymore other than the the initial sharpening Lightroom does on RAW images by default on import. After that I will use the Tonal Contrast feature in Nik Color Effects Pro to give some feather detail and that is it. The VR is a huge help in getting sharp images also, especially when hand held. Just activate it at half press and watch a jerky view finder smooth out very quickly.

Complicated. It took me a while to get used to the 300 f2.8 to be honest. Sure I could pick it up on day one and shoot some sharp images but in pressure situations it is tough to know which switch to flip to get the best performance. No kidding, there is a bunch of stuff on this lens, it has six switches, three buttons, and two knobs, and it takes a while to learn what works best under different conditions. Some stuff is a matter of preference but others like focus memory can be a huge asset at times.

sand piper reflection

510mm f8.0 200iso 1/250sec 300mm f2.8 lens + 1.7TC

brown pelican in flight

510mm f8.0 200iso 1/640sec 300mm f2.8 + 1.7TC

Teleconverters. I had heard that the 300 f2.8 works as well as any lens with teleconverters so I wanted to try a few of them out and see how they perform. First was the Nikon 1.4x TC. This acts pretty much the same as if it were not there. Autofocus and image quality seem to be the same as the bare lens. All the benefit with none of the drawbacks other that the aperture will now only open up to f3.8. Then I tried a Tamron 1.4 that was for an older AFd screw drive focus. It worked in manual focus only and was pretty soft. Not an option for me. I also rented a nikon 1.7x teleconverter from Borrowlenses.com and tried that out. While the images are perfectly acceptable the quality does suffer a bit. Widest aperture comes in at f4.8 but for sharpest photos you will want to stop down to around f8.
Image quality seems to me to be a little too high in contrast, definitely different from the bare 300. Autofocus is noticeably slower also and tends to hunt in low contrast situations. It is about as fast as my older AFd screw drive lenses, not bad but not really very good either. Anyone who is thinking about using a teleconverter as a substitute for a longer lens should think twice because you just won’t be happy comparing the quality to the bare 300mm.

What I bought. For a short time Nikon was selling both the older version and the newer VRII version of the lens. I did some research trying to find out a real difference in the two and just was not convinced by anyone that the new version was a whole lot better. Nikon says that the VRII gives an extra stop of stability but feedback I have heard say it is not that big of a gain. In my mind it does not make a big difference in avian photography anyhow, so I opted for the original VR version and saved about a thousand bucks in the process.

Conclusions. While the Nikkor 300mm f2.8 G IF-ED VR lens is second to none in quality it does fall in the middle in a few other respects. Both of my camera bodies have a 1.5 crop sensors in them. That means that the 300 really has an effective focal length of 450mm and that really works well for me in a lot of situations. 300mm on a full frame sensor is a lot different and it might wind up being too short for a lot of avian photography so you really want to think ahead before buying one of these. The lens is heavy but not long lens heavy. You can handhold but not for a long time so you will really need to have some support near by most of the time. You can use it on a good heavy ballhead but you are really going to want to get a Gimbal head for smoother panning and stability before long.

Wether you buy new, used, or refurbished this lens (and supporting gear) is going to cost a pretty penny, there are simply no two ways about it. If you are not ready to lay down big money you will also be well served to buy a Nikon 300f4, 80-400mm, or Tamron 200-500mm, all of which will deliver about 90% of the quality at less than a quarter the price. For me the 300 f2.8 is a must have lens and is worth the huge sacrifice I made to get it.

You can see more of my images at www.ronboyddesign.com