Back in the day, on a job long since gone I was told to lie to customers. Not a one time thing to get out of a jam but as a matter of policy. A matter of policy when some extra effort on behalf of other workers would have eliminated the temptation to lie in the first place. That was a defining moment for me, they way the order so easily left the senders mouth, no hesitation, no level of discomfort or angst. I knew that I no longer wanted to be associated with that business or the person running it. For better or worse it is the moment that put me on the path to where I am today.
Another defining moment, one for bird photographers, is the day one puts down the money to own a top-notch lens. Back in the day that was pretty clearly defined, a top-notch lens was simply considered to be the longest lens the camera manufacturer makes with only a few exceptions, but today that is different. With skyrocketing prices and a flood of third party lenses that suspiciously all get rave reviews that step forward gets cloudy. Stay thirsty my friends, in the end the moment is clear-cut and a well defined moment, all be it a very expensive one.
I have a friend that I met a Bosque del apache a few years ago. He recently made the decision to plunk down the funds for a new Nikon 500mm lens and then put the effort into learning the lens and his photos have never looked better. Today I present for the first time a photograph from another photographer, the hard to find Green Jay from Chris Gardner. Thank You Chris!
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.
I have tens of thousands of bird images there is no arguing about that. When I wander through the images of yesteryear looking for something it is rather easy to get side tracked going off on a tangent to find other images I forgot even existed. It is easy because I have tools that are so much better than just a few years ago. Not talking about cameras and lenses obviously as these are old photos, I am talking about the digital tools we need to process the image files. The toolbox has become a lot lighter for me too. I used to have suites of plugins and tons of junk to make my images look better. Almost all of that is gone now, I have one suite of color effects that I use so infrequently that I forget the name of it and my two most trusted pieces of software, Photoshop and Lightroom, and that is about it. There is also one piece of hardware that makes all this possible and that is the Solid State Drive typically referred to as a SSD. If you don’t have one, get one. Lightroom was generally thought of as an organizational tool but it o good now that it takes on the role of primary editing tool too. It is a cause of internal conflict whether or not to export an image to Photoshop for processing any more. Fact is that I really only need Photoshop for one specific routine process. All those expensive plugin suites have been replaced with custom actions.
As you can see now I am wandering off on a tangent about editing tools when the point I want to make is that when you have collections of images, store them rather than delete because you never know when you may be able to breathe life into them at a technical level. Once you have saved those images, make sure you go back and visit them from time to time too. The new life I am able to breathe into my old images primarily comes in the form of exposure and noise reduction. My tools are so good now at balancing exposures, bringing down highlights, recovering over exposed areas, and bring up light in shadows that many images that otherwise would be good are now useable. Associated with adjustments like this is digital noise and older cameras had lots of it. Lightroom and Photoshop(ACR) are now so good that many of those noisy old images are also just fine.
Hurray for technology! Take a second look at some old photos and please don’t delete.
About a year ago my hopes were that Sigma would update the very long in the tooth 300-800mm lens. After working it for a week I came to the conclusion that it was heavy, slow, and a bit soft on the last 100mm (probably more a result of vibration). A redesign is in order to bring the lens in line with newer technologies. As of late Sigma and Tamron have made a charge towards the front in lens performance. Manufacturer lenses are getting very expensive and the demand for mid range super telephoto lenses is increasing. I don’t believe there is any genre more demanding of a super telephoto than bird photography so for me personally, midrange is where the scale begins. Today my attention turns to the new Tamron 150-600mm f5-6.3 lens. I don’t see where the Nikon mount version is shipping just yet but I know there are some Cannon copies in circulation. Borrow Lenses is showing availability for both versions in May. I will for sure try one out then and report in-depth about performance but for now I am going to give everyone a bit of an overview of the lens based on the specs and images currently available.
First, let me say that I for the most part use the Nikon 300mm f2.8 lens and consider it to be the best telephoto lens made, bar none. I also currently own the Tamron 200-500mm f5-6.3 zoom that I have had for a number of years. While I don’t use it much these days I have made tens of thousands of bird images before the 300mm came along. It is a good lens but has some drawbacks and is well, pale in comparison to the Nikon 2.8. Tamron did some good things with the new lens, the 600mm reach is a grabber that will get the attention of any bird photographer but they also added a lens based focus motor and vibration reduction. Both are pretty much required these days. Those three things cover a lot of area but I can tell you from the experience of the 200-500mm that there can be a very narrow operating window with telephoto zooms. The 150-600mm still has a very short minimum focus distance suggesting that its window may be similar to the older lens and that would be very sharp in close on the long end. F6.3 is good with f8 a little bit better. Sharpness and color are very good 10′-50′ (yes, that is feet!), after that sharpness falls off.
One of the things that bugs me is the bravado that comes from the pre-release press. I suppose the intent is to get folks excited about the new product but lying, or just a hares breath short of it, is not cool. All new design. No, not really. The new lens looks very much like the previous, so much so that I thought the press photos were the old lens. New Adjustment ring rubber. No. Same rubber just with some micro grooves cut in it. I guess you just don’t mess with perfection. Then there is the big one, the all new redesigned tripod mount. There was nothing wrong with the old one, it worked fine, does, because that is what is on the new one. A couple of improvements I suppose with a couple of finger ridges to make hand holding comfy. Here is a little tip world, when hand holding a long lens rotate the mount to the top and cradle the lens just like you would any other lens. No ridges required. I really want this to be a good lens, it would fit in my scheme very well and I hope it is close to the hype.
I have seen a number of photos made with the new lens, some of them birds and I can say without hesitation they are horrible. Not because of the lens, and I will leave it at that. Here are some, a video review, and the one decent image I could find. A little advice to Tamron, if you want to sell your lens to nature and wildlife people, in particular birding, push early copies of the lens to photographers who have those skills. I am just saying!!
I don’t doubt that the new Tamron 150-600mm lens is a big improvement and it may indeed find its way into my bag but there are a couple of things they would have done different. The zoom range is just way to big. I am sure it is a great selling point but I would rather have it around 300mm on the short side. Internal focusing is also something I really want to see. If those two thing were in place I would most likely consider buying one at 3 times the current price.
I guess I will find out just how good it is when I can use one in a couple of months.
Hi Gang, just wanted to give you a quick update about some the changes I made to my hardware and processing photos. At the end of last year I was faced with the dilemma of running out of storage space and processing power when on the road. Working with the D800’s huge images made my computer pretty much unusable. I have a three-year old Macbook Pro so it was not like I was flogging a dinosaur, but it was not cutting edge either. It was not a maxed out performance unit either. For around $250 I was able to bring the old Pro up to blazing standards. The first and cheapest change I made was to upgrade the RAM. Random Access Memory is basically a reservoir of computing power that is dedicated to handling the task at hand, the bigger the reservoir the faster everything gets processed. RAM is relatively cheap although the prices did spike with the tsunami and flooding in Japan and South East Asia a couple of years ago, and is usually easily accessed by the user in most computers. Check your specs and be sure you have the maximum amount of RAM installed, if not get some from a reliable source. For Mac I use Crucial. Running maximum RAM will give you the most bang for the buck.
Next is the leap into the 21st century and that is upgrading to a Solid State Drive commonly called SSD or Flash Drive. There are no moving parts and they are blazing fast in comparison to traditional drives but are also more expensive. Depending on the size, SSD’s tend to become very expensive and can cost 10 times more than their traditional counterparts for big storage. I decided to stay with the original size that came with the computer at 250GB and it cost about $175. This too I got from Crucial.
The only problem left was storage. This computer was equipped with only USB 2 and Firewire800 ports so fast external storage was not a good choice and I wound up using a “Data Doubler” from Other World Computing. It did just what is says it is in this case. Data Doubler is an adapter that converts the optical drive in the laptop to a second internal storage space. I used the traditional drive replaced by the SSD for that space and now I have 500 Gb storage. That second drive can always be replaced with a larger drive in the future but the additional 250 Gb is fine for now. OWC sells the Data Doubler for $35, and it is a great product but there are knockoffs out there as cheap as $7. Making all these improvements was really very easy to do with no hitches. There are a lot of videos out there from the manufacturers of theses products so it easy to figure out if the upgrades are over your head.
My computer is now a great performing machine. Comparing it to the latest and greatest Macbook Pro’s, it is not as fast, but it really is scary close! If you are getting frustrated by your computer, take a look at some of the alternatives, it just might make your life a lot easier.
Happy shooting. Follow me on Twitter @RonBoyd
I have been playing around with a few images this week. I have several thousand to work on and I figure it was time to pick out a couple of them and see how they process out. I have heard over the years a number of professional say that if it can’t be processed in 5 minutes an image is not good. Don’t believe that, especially in wildlife photography. There are many great images that took hours to process out and taking time to optimize an image makes it that much better so today and next week I am going take you through the process of optimizing one of my images in Photoshop CC and Lightroom 5. First, let me say that the $9.99 a month subscription Adobe offers for Photoshop and Lightroom is a great deal and any one who considers themselves a photographer should take advantage of it.
One thing about these softwares though, since they are being updated on an almost daily basis sometimes things get reset to default settings. One issue I ran into took a while to figure out and it is essential to processing bird photos. You will most of the time need to create a layer mask to separate your subject from the background. The quick select tool in Photoshop is a great way to achieve that but if you are working with larger images the function may become too slow to be usable. There are settings in preferences that can adjust the performance. Just go into Preferences>Performance and look to the right side of the pane. There you will see History and Cache settings. Select “Big and Flat” with Cache Levels between 4-6 and Cache Tile size of around 1024k and you should see the performance you need for making selections on large images.
What you are going to want to do is make a careful selection around your subject(s) on a duplicate layer and then create a mask by selecting the “add mask” button at the bottom of the layers panel. Make a couple of copies of this layer, turn off the visibility and save them for later. In the topmost layer select the image (not the mask) and now you are ready to do some basic editing of just your subject(s). Most often I will start with the “Shadow/Highlights” tool. Important thing to remember about the shadows and highlights is more is less. Really what you want to do is balance things out. Recovering clipped areas is not something you want to do here just smooth out the balance, you will have to fix the extremes in Camera RAW or Lightroom with the recovery tools or better yet cloning. On this layer you can also make all the otter adjustments with masks making the adjustment layer mask specific to that layer. You can do that by creating the adjustment layer, at the bottom of the pane is a small button click that and you will see an arrow pointing down. That means your adjustments will only be applied to that layer.
Next is the part that I call magic because I spent many years doing things a different way and it took a very long time. Here’s the magic. Grab one of the layers you saved earlier, drag it to the top of the stack and turn on the visibility. Oops! All those edits you just made suddenly disappeared. To get that back click the layer mask on the layer you just put on the top of the stack and in the controls for that mask you will see a button that says “Invert”, click that and the mask inverts showing the edits on the layer below and effecting all the background area. Click the image in that layer and now you are ready to edit the background. Typically I would lower the exposure a little and do saturation and contrast adjustments, you can also apply some blur if the need arises.
OK folks I think that will do it for today. Thanks for stopping by and and be sure to come back next week when I finish processing the photo with some cloning and cleaning up the background.
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!
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.
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.
Wait a minute! I have shame. No, not shameful but I have shame. I went to Catholic school so I am pretty sure I have a double dose in fact. I think many people have a hard time warming up to the notion of shameless self promotion, many are most comfortable when they don’t draw any attention to themselves. But that is in conflict with making great bird photos and getting others to see,enjoy, and maybe even buy them. So do we desperately search for painless self promotion? Sure we do, just look at all the websites and services that claim to promote your brand in exchange for your money. That begs the question: does any one do shameless promotion on your behalf? Not so much. Right?
I am currently in the process of dropping the Smug Mug service this month because I can’t justify the price. They don’t do anything to promote your work. I have been there for years paying the maximum fee and there has been no attempt to promote products. The interface is OK, main appeal is a shopping cart but setting it up is complicated and time-consuming. Spending hundreds of dollars and a cut of every print sale for a shopping cart is not that great, and besides, I am really looking for shameless promotion.
Flickr. What can I say about Flickr? I have heard “if you want a hug go to Flickr”. Once the hottest thing in town Flickr was the place a photographer had to be. There were plenty stories of photographers and artists getting work through the service but also many a stolen picture that started public life on the service. That was back in the day though, as time passed Flickr became a has been and today is in the process of reinventing its self. Probably not going to end well as the official purpose of a social site is now data mining, where you are the product not your product.Grab a hug and move on.
500px and G+? Yeah, they are great places to be if you need other photographers to see your work. There is value in that, but you have to know that other photographers have zero interest in buying or promoting your work. Good for networking but not for selling or promotion.
Bottom line is unless you are a miracle worker or wealthy enough to hire an agent you will have to warm up to the idea of shameless self promotion. The two best ways to get your brand out in the internet are to a) build your own website and b) use a popular blogging platform like this one. You own website will be totally under your own control you can even have a shopping cart if you wish. The biggest drawback is that it takes views to get views. Somehow you have to drive some traffic to get a high enough Google or Bing ranking to be noticed. Good content and design helps a lot. On the other hand, popular blog platforms like WordPress generate a lot of views and rank well right off the bat. Combine the two and you will get your best results. Keywords and tags are vital too. The can make, and I firmly believe, break you. Be sure to keyword every photograph and every blog post, keyword your website with your specialty and location because that will help those who want you find you.
Thanks for stopping by everyone, don’t forget to download my iPad application if you haven’t already. Wildlife HD is available in the iTunes store worldwide. Spanish edition is coming soon.