So, if you were wondering what were the best ways to attract birds to your space today is your day. Be it small, big urban or rural, there are birds everywhere and it is possible to bring those critters around yours, just be careful of what you wish for. To attract birds you don’t have to reach far, just appeal to the three things birds are always looking for and are only thinking about, food, shelter, and procreation. First, the food. That is pretty easy, just buy a bag of seed for wild birds, get the cheapest you can find, I don’t see any difference in brands, they all attract the birds and will work just fine. Here are a couple of tips to make things a little easier feeding birds.
To attract larger birds buy some sunflower seeds and mix that in to the feed.
If you want to attract large numbers of birds, rather than using a feeder set a cup of seed out in a couple of piles near some bushes.
Don’t forget the water, especially if water is difficult to find. In cold environments where most water sources are frozen the liquid is gold. For desert like environments the addition of misters will make a more hospitable environment the critters will enjoy.
Have some foliage or even just places for the birds to perch and look around. Birds are always on the lookout for danger and the essential component of their behavior is sitting up high and surveying a scene before approaching. They are most comfortable having camouflage but even branches held in place with clamps help tremendously and also make great locations for making photographs. Taller trees make great places for nesting and if birds can build nests near by all the better. Trying to get birds to nest on your window sill probably is not a great idea, you may grow weary of the noise and may not be a happy camper when some of them die and are eaten. A better idea is to make sure the birds can build nests nearby. if your space has a plethora of twigs and fibers to choose from for nest building they will be all the more likely to return on a daily basis.
Be careful of what you wish for. Birds are part of an ecosystem and they will attract other animals such as cats. If you are a cat owner be advised they will hunt the birds and cause a stress on their community. Dogs keep the cats away and generally don’t disturb the birds. Small birds attract larger birds that prey on them. Raptors eat the small birds and other birds like black birds eat the eggs and hatchings especially the humming-bird. On the plus side birds will control the spider and insect population regardless of how much food you set out.
If you have any tips for attracting birds go ahead and make a comment.
Thanks for stopping by-See you ext week.
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.
The plan this week was to have some video and a few stills of Brown Pelican antics that were made with the GoPro Hero 3 camera. I needed to test out the camera for another project I am working on so I figured I would try out some wide-angle video for birds. I had a good plan I knew where I wanted to mount the camera. one static spot on a rock near the waterline where Browns routinely dive for fish and also mounted atop the 300mm f2.8. I had scheduled 3 sessions figuring one of them would wash out leaving 2 good attempts to get some footage. One of the big attractions of the Hero 3 is the applications available for the iOS devices that allow you to control the camera remotely. The first morning I set the Hero 3 up in my backyard the first thing I noticed was there was a very long delay in the video to the iPad, I also saw that it indicated a low battery after I had just charged it. A short time later the camera was dead. After charging it and checking the battery it was non responsive. Checking online there seems to be a number of complaints with the same issue. I tried a couple of “tricks” to get it working but no luck. Sorry Go Pro you are a No Go, I will be looking for other solutions in my project.
I have some old gear I need to sell to help finance the new years planed expenses and what can sell photo gear better than some nice photos made with said gear, plus I wanted to make sure everything was in good working condition. Even my newest gear is old and that is why I am selling off a bunch of it. To get better equipment. It is painful using the oldest stuff, cameras and lenses I once thought to be really good no longer cut the mustard and results are frustrating. I wonder about the photo above. It is not an image that I consider to be good. The day I made that picture I had numerous beautiful scenes to set up upon and I did and I waited and waited and not a single time did a bird come into view. my best shot was this little sparrow on a wire. Bird on a wire is not a classy scene in high-end bird photography and I kind of wonder why. Is it because it is supposed to be easier to make or is it supposed to be ugly? Honestly, I find neither to be true. I actually like a bird perched on a nice rusty piece of barbed wire, it highlights the whole foot area of the bird which can be complex. Anyhow this image is not great quality either, too much contrast even though the light was pretty good.
Not a great way to close out 2013, “epic fail” as the kids would say.
Thanks for stopping by everyone, I really appreciate having a chance to share my thoughts and images with you and 2014 is going to be a great year. “Epic Not Fail” right?… “Epic Fail-Not”? Whatever!
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.
You know, it happens to everyone at some time. Everyone falls into the funk. I’m not talking about Rick James(RIP) at the Roxy either, it’s that thing that prevents you from making great photographs. “I don’t have time, I don’t have the right gear, I can’t do anything right, Blaah, Blaah, Blaah, Funk, Funk, Funk, no one is immune. Well today I am going to give you a sure-fire remedy to kill the funk.
If you don’t have one go out and build a portfolio, no more than six images. Get yourself plenty of time and review every one of your photographs and pick out the best ones and explain to yourself why they are the best then ask What will make it better? Can I process it out better? and is it worthy of a portfolio? If you have a portfolio do a refresh. Since one of the goals of this exercise is to not overwhelm yourself don’t bite off more than you can chew. If you have a large body of work maybe just review one day and maybe just look for one photo that could be portfolio worthy. Take the time to stroll down memory lane, every picture has a story, relive those stories, even if just for a moment. Then work on different ways to process a few photos. Hopefully you will get lost in playing around, seeing things a different way, and just plain having fun. There is only one catch, you have to be sincere in you actions, no biggie, I kind of assume you all are anyway. Chances are you won’t find a suitable replacement but don’t worry about that you are not really looking for that anyhow. what you need is a distraction and something to get you excited about making better photos.
Thanks for reading everyone. If you have an iPad remember to download my new application wildlife HD It’s free for a limited time.
About this photo: This Osprey was photographed at the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve in Huntington Beach California. If you click on the image the larger picture clearly shows that it has been tagged and the left leg has been shaved. There are tags on both legs also which indicates to me that this bird may have been recently released into the wild. I had first seen the Osprey six months prior to this photo and on numerous occasions afterward for at least a year. Difficult to photograph because they usually perch far from the ground. A skilled fisherman this bird can catch fish of a rather large size. It always returns to its high perch and in about a half an hour eats the entire fish. The fish you see in the picture is actually one of the smaller ones I have seen it pull out of the sea. The photo below is from the first time I saw the Osprey and you can see it was tagged at that time. It was taken with what considered to be a very soft lens and detail is not very good.
Getting back to the discussion a few weeks ago about feathers, I was wondering about tail feathers and what they do. Tail feathers are part of the flight feathers. Flight feathers encompass the primaries, secondaries, those are the wing flight feathers and the others are the tail feathers or rectrices. Those feathers act as a rudder, they control steering and balance. I should say that they help control the steering because if you remember the primaries are also critical for attitude and that is critical factor of steering in flight. Birds have ten to twelve tail feathers. According to Wikipedia:
Rectrices (from the Latin for “helmsman”), which help the bird to brake and steer in flight, lie in a single horizontal row on the rear margin of the anatomical tail. Only the central pair are attached (via ligaments) to the tail bones; the remaining rectrices are embedded into the rectricial bulbs, complex structures of fat and muscle that surround those bones. Rectrices are always paired, with a vast majority of species having six pairs. They are absent in grebes and some ratites, and greatly reduced in size in penguins. Manygrouse species have more than 12 rectrices; some (including Ruffed Grouse and Hazel Grouse) have a number that varies among individuals.Domestic pigeons have a highly variable number, due to centuries of selective breeding.
OK folks-that’s it for today. Just a couple of things to note between the two pictures, the good one was made in the winter and the other was made in June on one of the longest days of that year. One was made with the Tamron 200-500mm lens a good lens but the other with the amazing Nikon 300mm f2.8. It shows that it really pays to invest in good gear and to have the patience and desire to wait for the good moments, and know the behaviors of your subject.
Thanks for stopping by.
It has been overa year since I purchased my legendary 300 2.8 lens and I have been using it week in and week out since then. It has become my go to lens in many more situations than I had ever anticipated. Because I am still lacking the long prime that I have been needing for a couple of years the 300 has truly become my most used lens. i often use a 1.4x teleconverter on a crop sensor body which gives an effective focal length of 640mm. For me it is not an adequate substitute for a 500 or 600mm f4 but it does work well enough. Where the 300 really shines is for photographing birds in flight and the larger subjects.
Durability-I have not had a single issue of performance in the many hours of use. Simply said, it works every time I put it on any body and every function works every time I access them. I don’t think you can ask for more than that. There are a few scratches and wear marks here and there but overall the lens appears to be pristine and that is in large part due to the really great soft case Nikon provides. The one thing I love about the case is that it is expandable and will not only hold the lens but also a full body DSLR attached. It has traveled many, many miles both over the road and over the shoulder without damage or incident. I do believe when I have a few bucks to shell out a Lens Coat will be added to the lens and that will make it even more durable. The carbon fiber HK-30 lens hood has also worked without damage or any failure. It attaches straight and secure just as the day it arrived. One thing about the shade that I like is that I can turn the knob to the top so that I can use it as a sight when looking at the subject above the camera, then when I move to the view finder the subject is usually in the frame.
Performance-There is good reason for calling this hunk of glass and metal legendary. It is very sharp indeed and even more impressive is that it is sharpest wide open at f2.8. I generally won’t shoot at 2.8 unless it is low light scene and I am trying to maintain a higher shutter speed because the depth of field is so very shallow as you approach minimum focus distance. Often I can’t get both eyes and feet in focus so I tend to bump the aperture up to about 3.4-4 just to get that extra little bit of depth. My work flow really doesn’t involve sharpening in post anymore, it is that good. Just a little on import of the RAW image and a bit of tonal contrast in NIK Color Effects to bring out feather detail is all that I usually need.
What I find really as impressive as the sharpness is the quality of color and contrast this lens delivers. I have a bunch of lenses many of them are 3rd party and most of the time I feel the need to color correct and adjust saturation levels but with the 300 most of the time it is very, very close to where it needs to be right out of the camera or with a simple white point click. And then there is the Bokeh and what a sweet bokeh it is! One would think that having such a creamy blur would make background less relevent but for me it has just the opposite. I find myself concerned about consistent and complimentary colors more than I have ever been. That’s the pursuit to become a better photographer I suppose.
The 300 2.8 has been paired with my Nikon D2x for most of its life and it has been a great combination. The D2x has a 1.5x crop sensor so that helps with the effective focal length but it is a little dated in iso performance and auto focusing. This camera is perfectly suited for slower subjects and places like zoos. Last week I picked up a new D300s and it is intended to be dedicated to the 300 lens. Still having a 1.5 crop sensor but with much better low light performance and focus tracking. That all translates to higher shutter speeds and quicker focusing which makes the D300s well suited for action and in flight shots. I never noticed any front or back focus issues shooting with the D2x but if there are any it can be easily adjusted with the D300s also.
Next week in part II of the review I will write about how well the 300 works with the new body, VR performance and mention some of the things that just might not make the Nikon 300mm f2.8 the perfect lens for every one.
You can see more of my 300 f 2.8 images here.
Those of you with newer cameras might find this post a little silly but I am betting that there are more than one or two people out there that still shoot with gear that is older than a few years. Many of us with older DSLR’s just cringe at the subject of sensitivity also known as iso. In its simpliest terms, the iso setting is an adjustment to your camera sensor’s sensitivity to light. Good stuff except that the higher the sensitivity the higher the instance of digital noise. Noise is the presence of grain or color speckles where there should not be any and is easiest to see in sky or dark shadow areas of an image. Newer digital cameras deal with the noise issue much better than older ones and in some cases it is really not an issue at all anymore.
For me personally, I use primarily a Nikon D2x which is about a 6-year-old design. I love that camera and I doubt I would trade it for anything other than a new Nikon D3s for many reasons but the iso performance is not one of them. In a low light situation I really don’t like to go beyond an iso setting of 400, it is that bad to me. I try to overcome that limitation by investing in fast lenses and a good tripod. Avian photography is kind of a different animal. In that realm low light is not nearly an issue as is shutter speed. We normally shoot during daylight so making a proper exposure it not the problem, the biggest problem is maintaining a fast shutter speed to make sharp images at long focal lengths or capturing birds in flight. When you already have a good daylight exposure using the iso setting to simply bump up shutter speed will yield different results. Shooting beyond iso 800 is possible as long as you are not capturing a lot of shadows in the image. I understand that this may not make much sense but just try it and you might see that those high iso images become perfectly useable and you will have enough shutter speed to overcome those slight twitches and movements that can cause blurring.
There are also ways to deal with any noise you do have in your image. The newest version of Adobe Lightroom (3) has a really good noise reduction tool built-in, but my prefered method of removing noise is to use the Photoshop plug-in “Noise Ninja”. With that utility I can selectively de-noise the areas that I think need it and still leave my main subject nice and sharp. I guess I should point out that all noise reduction software will hurt the sharpness of the image and over doing it can and will ruin a photo. In the image above of the Sparrow, I set an iso of 800 and used the Noise Ninja to clean up the sky and the dark area below its feet only. Even at this heavy crop (about 70%) you can see that the image looks pretty clean. So if you are in a situation where you need to get a little extra shutter speed to really freeze the action don’t be afraid to give that iso setting a bump up, you just might be really pleased with the results.
You can view more of my photos at www.ronboyddesign.com
Last week I was able to shoot at the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve in Huntington Beach CA, a home coming of sorts. Bolsa Chica is where I took my first serious bird image on New Years day not too many years ago. The hawk below is that image. No more than ten minutes after I started my day I met up with that bird. It was sitting on a fence and attracted the attention of several other photographers, became annoyed and flew to just a few feet away from me where I was alone. I had about 2 minutes with the star of the show before others invaded the area. What a great note to start such a journey on!
I was so proud of that photo, a great capture on my very first try I thought. Later, I foolishly submitted it to the Apeture Nature Workshop photo contest believing that I had a shot at winning a spot to attend. But I digress.
I remember telling a friend the next day that it was like being at Jurrasic Park with all the large birds seemingly whizzing by my head. I have photographed at Bolsa Chica many times since then, most of the year I show up about once a month. On my last trip I was expecting to see tons of trash washed in from our recent epic rain storms but was happy to note that it was not really the case. I was yet again disappointed to see that the wildlife was no where near those Jurrasic Park days of the past, just a couple of Brown Pelicans not many ducks and even my favorite Osprey had wandered away from it’s usual fishing hole .
This time I decided to use my Tamron 200-500mm lens. It was the first time since I bought the Nikon 300 f2.8 back in September that I had pulled this lens out of the bag. I knew the limitations were going to bug me some but I also wondered how well I could make it work. I dare say that I have picked up a lot, both experience and technique, since September and was curious to see how that translated to working with the Tamron. I often mention that the Nikon 300mm f2.8 is sharp everywhere, well the Tamron is not. The 200-500 can be as sharp as any other lens really but you need to be shooting between f7.1 and f9 and also have a pretty short focal distance, about 50′ I would say and there is a bit of CA working in that range. Not a problem in most cases but it really does not hold up to Nikon Pro standards. I can see a new 600 f4 or a Sigma 300-800 f5 in my future but even so I would keep the Tamron because it is great for some really specialized uses like zoo photography and other places where you need a lighter more compact lens. I will say that I think the Tamron is also the best long lens you can buy for around $1000.
The bottom line is that I had a great time working the Tamron in it’s zone. The top image is one of my better efforts from the day and as you can see the photo is sharp enough and has a really sweet bokeh. As promised I am also paying a little more respect to the Gulls of the world. I am going to call this one as an immature Ring Billed Gull with first Winter plumage. If anyone knows otherwise I would be pleased to hear about it.
See more photos from the Bolsa Chica Wetlands at www.ronboyddesign.com
Last weekend I took out my new (to me) D2x for it’s first real day of bird shooting. I paired it up with my trusty Tamron 200-500mm lens. I really like that Tamron, but lets face it, the lens is slow focusing and at 500mm shoots at f6.3. I had been shooting that lens for the last year on my old D200 and the limitations were starting to frustrate me. Enter the D2x. This camera was just serviced by Nikon and came to me in “like new” condition. I was not all that optimistic for better performance seeing that the D200 was actually newer technology. The main reasons I went with a D2x was for better battery and full sized body. Much to my delight the D2x body performs leaps and bounds better than the D200. More accurate metering, and focusing are the two big differences and a very close third is the 100% view finder.
The good old Tamron performs like a champ now too. It pairs up very well with the body. It meters well and auto focusing is noticeably improved. All in all, a very nice pair.