Tim Boyer Photography

Small Groups, Cool Birds, Fun Locations

Merlin on the Washington Coast

Bird PhotographyTim Boyer

While there are probably Merlin on the Washington Coast at Ocean Shores each year, some years they're easier to find. In October I found Merlins on three out of four days, which was the highest percentage of sightings I've had in 10 years of going to the coast looking for them.  Here's a little tribute to them. 

My encounters with Merlin on the Washington Coast over three days in October 2017.

Coastal Peregrine

Bird PhotographyTim Boyer

A short video on a Peregrine Falcon that I found scavenging on a gull carcass in October 2017.  This is the third time I've watched a peregrine scavenge a carcass on the Washington Coast. We normally think about them just snatching ducks and small birds out of the air, but when they can or need to they scavenge - predators and opportunist. 

An encounter with a Coastal Peregrine Falcon on the Washington Coast. More information on peregrines scavenging food on the Washington Coast can be found on the CoastalRaptors.org website.

My Top Ten Ways You Can Improve Your Bird Photography

Bird PhotographyTim Boyer

1. Master Your Camera Settings

Being able to change ISO, F-Stop, Shutter Speed, Exposure Compensation, Focusing Modes, Drive Modes, and knowing how your camera is set up is probably the most important thing you can do to get a better image. You'll be ready for any changes, and can catch teh action.

2. Practice Creates Mastery

Just by sitting in your backyard or on your couch at home and practicing changing the camera's functions and modes, so you know them by feel is time well spent. It’s preparation for being in the field.  The more you practice, the fewer shots you’ll miss.

Killdeer

Killdeer

3. Be Intentional

What are you trying to say or show the viewer? What’s the story you’re telling? How can the image you’re creating best connect with the viewer? What are you trying to do, say, to have the viewer feel, how are you creating the image, so what you want is communicated?

4. Light

Shoot the golden hours, get up early and then go back out in the late afternoon.  Using the warm buttery tones of early morning light can help make your images look sharper, and that light can be so beautiful that it will tremendously improve your image.  Light matters!  So be very intentional and only shoot in the best light.  Or learn to add light with a CTO gel and a flash unit or a gold reflector.

The second part of this is having the sun at your back, and point your shadow at the bird.  If you can't, point your shadow directly at the bird made sure you intentionally shoot as close as possible to the angle of the sun This will allow you to manage the suns angle as it lights up the bird for the best images.

 

Greater Yellowlegs

Greater Yellowlegs

5. Sharpness

There’s a huge difference between an intentional pan blur and an out of focus image. So, focus on the eye of the bird, if you only get one thing sharp in the image and it’s the eye, then you score!  For most images, there has to be a place of the eye to land and start viewing it from.

6. Point Of View

If you can get eye level with the bird, you’re photographing your image will look so much better. Shooting wide open (f/4), you’ll have a wonderful soft foreground and background. Since the bird is separated from the background, it will pop. Always try to get eye level or as close to eye level as you possibly can. 

Sanderling running

Sanderling running

7. Background

By using a long lens 400, mm or greater, and shooting wide open the background of your image should be blurry.  The more distance between the bird and the background the softer or more blurred out the background can be.  If the bird is sitting in branches or a nest etc. it will be difficult to get a clean background, so try to get the opposite and shoot at f/8 of f/11 and get more detail in the branches and nest material.

8. Edges of the Frame

Visually scan the edges of the frame while you’re looking through the viewfinder so you can make sure there isn’t something sticking into the frame you don’t want there.  Branches, buildings, garbage cans, etc. can creep into the frame when you aren’t looking so do a final check before pressing the shutter button. 

Solitary Sandpiper

Solitary Sandpiper

9. Composition

Create a pleasing image, first by paying attention to the compositional “rules,” then by breaking them, but making sure the composition works for the story or feeling you’re trying to tell or evoke.

10. Exposure

And finally, Exposure, because if you did number 1, 2 and 3 getting the right exposure was easy.  But a couple of things to remember the camera’s internal light meter what’s to turn whites into 18% gray, so you need to over expose a little, and if you have a dark bird on a light background, you need to over expose.  If you have a white bird on a dark background, you need to underexpose.  Set your exposure for the bird, not the background.

Sanderling with marine worm.

Sanderling with marine worm.

I hope this was helpful, these are the things I think abut everyday.

Tim

7 Ways to Get A Soft Background

Bird PhotographyTim BoyerComment

By having a softer background, the subject will be separated from the background and pop a little bit more. Also, our eyes will focus more on the subject and less on anything distracting in the background.

Shooting wide open at f/2.8, f/4, or f/5.6 will give us the minimum amount of depth-of-field. So I almost always shoot wide open (f/4 on my 600 mm lens) to help blur the background and to increase the shutter speed. Since more light is getting through the aperture, the shutter doesn’t have to be open as long.

 Use a longer lens the more telephoto power you use, the less depth of field you'll have so the background will be more blurred. Long telephoto lenses have a very narrow depth-of-field, this will help separate the subject from the background. A 600 mm lens gives a softer background than a 400 mm lens.

Use an extender to increase the effective focal length. By using a 1.4 Extender and making a 400 mm lens effectively a 640 mm lens, there will be less depth-of-field, and the background will be more blurred.

Use an Extension Tube to help blur the background. An Extension Tube (usually used in macro-photography) allows your lens to focus closer; this diminishes the depth-of-field so that the background will be blurrier.

Get lower or move to the right or left to improve what's in the background sometimes by moving lower you can get the sky in the background and not a cluttered bunch of branches. By moving right or left, the background will change as well, so move a little each way to see if the background can be improved.

Have distance between the subject and the background the further away the bird is from the background, the more it can be blurred. Sometimes you have control of this and other times you don’t but if you can shoot where the background bushes or trees are further away, the better the image will look.

Use a full frame sensor; a full frame sensor has less depth of field than a cropped sensor. A cropped sensor like the Canon APS-C on the 7D Mark II has more depth-of-field than a full sized frame on a camera like the 5D Mark IV.

I hope this helps, if you have other ways to blur the background, please leave them in the comments section below.

Thanks as always, Tim

How & Why Sandhill Cranes - Evening Flight

Bird PhotographyTim BoyerComment

I created this image on November 11th, 2006 at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge.  Even eleven years later it is one of my favorite images. This was my first visit to Bosque, and I was mesmerized by the abundance of wild birds. There were tens of thousands Sandhill Cranes, and Snow Geese, thousands of ducks, and large flocks of blackbirds - Yellow-headed, Red-winged and Brewer's all mixed together. And then, of course, there was the light. Magical sunrises and sunsets. The sun would burst over the horizons in reds, oranges, and yellows. There was an intensity and clarity to the morning light as well. Each sunrise brought thousands of Snow Geese blasting off into the sky. The sunsets were equally as dramatic, actually a photographers dream, lots of close birds and incredible light.

HOW WAS THIS IMAGE CREATED

I can tell you the technical aspects of how I captured this light, and the movement of these cranes very easily. The camera was set to 1/20th of a second at f/4, and ISO 800 on a Canon 600 mm f/4 IS lens with a Canon EOS 1D Mark II, with no Exposure Compensation.  But camera settings only tell us part of the story.

In 2006 the main roosting ponds by the highway were closed, drained dry. So, we had to be a little more creative in where we were going to spend the afternoon and evenings photographing Cranes and Snow Geese. The Evening Flight image was created on the third day of scouting and watching the cranes behavior in the late afternoons and evenings. So, we knew what time they would leave the cornfields, and exactly where we should be standing so we could photograph them as they flew by at eye level. I can't say that I visualized this image before I created it, but I knew the kind of image I wanted to create.

WHY DID I MAKE THE CHOICES I MADE

I knew I wanted to capture motion in the image or to give the illusion in a two-dimensional photograph the feeling of movement. I also wanted to create a mood and effect of a painting. The slow shutter speed of 1/20th of a second blurred the bird's wings, and panning with the birds, matching their speed helped blur the cornfields and distant mountains. An aperture of f/4 also helped blur both layers of background, the cornfields, and the mountains. The indirect, scattered light was a result of the sun going behind some mountains to the West, so there were no shadows. The panning motion and slow shutter speed and soft scattered light also create a softness to the image, which also adds to the mood of this image.  All of these things together create an image that I still enjoy looking at and studying.

Bosque del Apache NationalWildlife Refuge is a special place, the light and birds mixed with good access make for memorable shooting experiences.  The roar of the Snow Geese blasting off in the mornings is an experience in its self. Planning your shots or thinking about what you're trying to do and what kind of image you'd like to make will always help the result.

Thanks for stopping by,

Tim

Let me know what you think about this post, and if there's  one of my images that you'd like the backstory on, please let me know by commenting below.

National Camera Day

Photography TipsTim BoyerComment

I woke up this morning with a tweet and an email that started my day off in the most incredible way. Casey Neistat tweeted “Here Comes the Sun” by George Harrison, and while I was listening to that, I saw Chase Jarvis/Creative Lives’ email about it being National Camera Day. While I’ve had a lot of cameras, I have only one that means the most to me; it was my dad’s camera. One day about ten years ago my sister just showed up with it and said I thought you might like this. I didn’t even know it still existed. Dad was born in Indiana, and when his job with Boeing moved us to Seattle he fell in love with Mount Rainier, and most of my childhood memories include family photos of us kids standing in front of Mount Rainier taken on his Minolta Hi-Matic E camera.

Cameras document memories for all of us, and it’s been a trip down memory lane for me this morning, so a big thank you to Casey and Chase today, and let’s all go out and make some photographs.

Shorebird Migration On The Washington Coast

Bird PhotographyTim BoyerComment

It’s late June so now is when things start to change again, shorebird migration on the Washington Coast is starting. First, the failed breeders will start showing up then the breeding adults will start to trickle southward. As we get into July more and more adult birds will start returning to the coast, and finally, in late August and into September we’ll have some rare birds show up along with this year's juveniles. Juvenile birds migrate with innate maps coded into their DNA; they’re migrating without their parents, so mistakes happen. If a juvenile bird in the high Arctic makes a small mistake, it could end up on the wrong side of the Pacific Ocean. We got to see birds like the Ruff on August 21, 2014, or Lesser Sand Plover on August 16, 2015. While it’s super exciting to see those rare birds, we’ll still get to see birds a little more common, but equally as special like Pacific and American Golden-Plovers, or Long-billed Curlews and Whimbrel as they migrate down the coast. Late into October, we’ll see juvenile Rock Sandpipers on the rocky coast and jetties.  

Fall migration requires patience that the spring migration doesn’t. In the spring there’s a quick 6-week flurry of birds rushing in their migration northward to claim the choice breeding territories. But the fall migration of shorebirds is very long from the end of June through October. Four months where we need to pace ourselves if we’re to keep up with the latest arrivals. There are several places on the Washington Coast to check out for fall shorebirds. I like to go to the North Jetty at Ocean Shores for Surfbirds, Black Turnstones, Wandering Tattlers and sometimes even Pigeon Guillemots show up. For Sanderlings, Semipalmated Plovers, Dunlin, Western Sandpipers, the outer coastal, sandy beaches are great places. Later in the summer, the coastal freshwater ponds near Midway Beach or the Oyehut Wildlife Area in Ocean Shores are gathering places for migrating Red-necked Phalaropes, Lesser and Greater Yellowlegs, Willets, and occasionally even Whimbrel show up. Where there are some grassy areas out on the Oyehut Wildlife Area, it’s possible to find Pacific and American Golden-Plovers, rare birds like Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, and Ruff.

If you’re interested in photographing shorebirds and learning more about them, come on my Fall Migration Shorebird Photography Workshop click here.

Enjoy  --    Thanks As Always  --  Tim

How to Get Your Big Lens On The Plane

Photography TipsTim Boyer2 Comments

I have used a Lowe Pro Road Runner AW to haul my 600 mm lens through airports for over 10 years, along with a ThinkTank Urban Disguise 70 shoulder bag for my laptop and extra lenses. Airlines have been cracking down on carry-on size and weights so here's how I'm getting around their scrutiny.

If you ditch the big and bulky lens hood that comes with the 600 mm lens and use the LensCoat TravelHood instead, everything will fit into this bag. It doesn't attract as much attention as a big roller bag and shoulder bag. The only downside is you have to carry the bag instead of rolling it. But, as I travel to bird photography locations on smaller airlines I don't have to worry about being asked to check my bag.

I recently upgraded my should bag to the Thinktank Urban Disguise 60 which is just as large as my older Urban Disguise 70, but the 60 has a place for my 13 inch MacBook Pro. I put any extra lenses I need like the 70 to 200 and the 100 to 400 mm lenses in the shoulder bag depending on which lens I decide to take.  Lately, I've been taking three lenses with me, the 600 mm f/4, the 100 to 400 mm zoom and the  17 to 40 mm zoom.  These three lenses are my standard setup.   For my recent San Diego Workshop, I used the  70 to 200 m zoom for flight photography and left the 100 to 400 at home.  This strategy worked because the birds-in-flight opportunities and the Brown Pelicans at La Jolla allow a close approach.

I'm also trying to carry less gear around, I don't feel like I have to carry everything anymore.  I don't take five or six lenses to a locaton, I take the three I'll most likely use or in some cases I'll only take one or two lenses.  Travel lighter, go furthert  etc.

Hope this helps you in your travels.

Fall Color Before the Storm

Landscape PhotographyTim BoyerComment

Tonight the first of three storms is moving into Western Washington, so I got out for a quick trip to my local city park (Gene Coulon Park in Renton) for an hour. I could have photographed the Canada Geese that hang out there but went for the fall colors instead.  The geese will be there all winter the fall color will only be there a few more hours, the next sunny day we have there will only be bare branches at the park.  

Fall color at Gene Coulon Park
Fall color at Gene Coulon Park
More fall color at Gene Coulon Park.
More fall color at Gene Coulon Park.

If you live in the Pacific Northwest and can, get outside today, it's gonna be a wet rest of the week.

Enjoy

Tim

How to Manage the Sun's Angle of Light For The Best Bird Photograph

Bird PhotographyTim BoyerComment

It's all about where the light is coming from. For bird photographers, there are three possibilities; the light can be from in front of us and behind the bird thus backlighting the bird, the light can come from one of the sides of the bird giving us side-lighting, and the light can come from behind us and thus lighting up the bird without shadows.  If there are "rules" kinda like the "Rule of Thirds," then Pointing Your Shadow at the bird has become one of the rules of bird photography.  And as a general "rule" or best practice, it's almost always going to give you a good photograph.  But like the Rule of Thirds, there are other compositions and directions of light that will work and sometimes work better and create a stunning image.  Backlighting or creating a bird silhouette at sunset can be very dramatic, side-lighting can show more character, etc.  

Sandhill Crane taking flight in morning light. 1/1600 of a second, f/9, ISO 640 witht eh Canon 5D Mark III and a 600 mm f/4 lens with a 1.4 Extender.
Sandhill Crane taking flight in morning light. 1/1600 of a second, f/9, ISO 640 witht eh Canon 5D Mark III and a 600 mm f/4 lens with a 1.4 Extender.

In this image, the Sandhill Crane is fully lit up with some soft morning light.  There are no harsh shadows because the sun is behind me over my left shoulder.

Created at 1/500 of a second, f/8 and ISO 800 witht eh Canon 5D Mark III and the 600 mm f/4 lens.
Created at 1/500 of a second, f/8 and ISO 800 witht eh Canon 5D Mark III and the 600 mm f/4 lens.

In this image at the same pond, different day, the crane has flown a little past me, and you can begin to see the shadows on its back. The sun is still coming from behind me and over my left shoulder, but where I'm standing in relation to the crane isn't as optimal as the prior image.  In this photo, I need to move to the left to get a little more in front of the crane.  And that's the big secret; we need to move around and put ourselves in the right position in relationship to the sun and the bird.  And since birds fly into the wind, if the sun and the wind are at your back, well, that's a perfect combination.  So each morning at Bosque del Apache, where these images were created, we always try to place ourselves in the right spot in relation to the sun, the wind and the birds.

Enjoy & Thanks

Tim

3 Quick Tips to Improve Your Bird Photography

Bird PhotographyTim Boyer2 Comments

#1 Get Outside Early The number one thing you can do to improve your bird photography is to make/create your images within two hours after sunrise. The light is the best then, soft and warm yellow tones and the birds are their most active.  If you can't make it outside that early, you could shoot the two hours before sunset, the birds won't be as active, and the light will be a little more orange or red tones. Light in photography is so important that this one simple thing can turn a good photograph into a stunning photograph.

A Curved-billed Thrasher at 6:21 AM.
A Curved-billed Thrasher at 6:21 AM.

#2 Push The ISO

I don't like Luminance noise or graininess in my images.  But, if I have to I'll push the ISO up because a grainy image is better then no image and a sharp image is better than a blurry image.  So a sharp grainy image is better than no image too. Also, if you print an image or you post it online, the noise is never as bad as it looks at 100% in Lightroom or Photoshop. Can you tell this was at 3200 ISO?

Male Mountian Bluebird about to jump inot ht enest box and feed a few chicks. ISO 3200
Male Mountian Bluebird about to jump inot ht enest box and feed a few chicks. ISO 3200

#3 Get Eye Level

The Point of View is so important, getting eye level makes it easier for the people to connect with the image, you can also manage the background by moving up or down and right or left.

The ground level view of a Mountian Plover.
The ground level view of a Mountian Plover.

These seem like very easy simple tips, but it's sometimes difficult to get up early enough, it's hard to change the ISO when you know you're adding noise, and it can be hard to lay down on the ground to get eye level.  But the results speak for themselves.  Practice these this weekend if you have a chance, and let me know how it goes.

Enjoy!          Thanks As Always        Tim

Give the Bird Room to Move Into The Frame

Bird PhotographyTim Boyer1 Comment
Here's what I think of a a "normal" shot. 840 mm, the 600 mm lens and a 1.4 Extender.
Here's what I think of a a "normal" shot. 840 mm, the 600 mm lens and a 1.4 Extender.

I like to shoot tight. I do this because it's the kind of image I like, a close shot of a bird with lots of detail. If I can show a different behavior or characteristic to the viewers, I feel like I’ve been successful in the image. Part of why I photograph birds is to show the world how beautiful they are and to show how each bird is unique. But sometimes I miss a shot because I’m focused too tight on the bird, and it moves too much or decides to fly away. I end up with clipped wings or cut the feet off, or have the beak of the bill right up to the edge of the frame, etc.

Over the years I end up with lots of clipped wings, feetless birds and birds flying into a wall (the edge of the frame) but lately, I’ve been working on how to not clip the wings or feet and give the bird some room.

If the bird is facing left, then put the bird in the lower right corner of the viewfinder. Switch your Autofocus Mode to matrix or the mode with the most active sensor points. Place the lowest right-hand sensor point on the bird. This gives the bird room to move into the frame and up into the frame.

I took the 1.4 Extender off and am now shoot with just the 600 mm lens and placed the focus points on the eagle.
I took the 1.4 Extender off and am now shoot with just the 600 mm lens and placed the focus points on the eagle.

Sometimes I can do this by taking off the 1.4 Extender; sometimes I just don't get as close, or even backup, and sometimes with the 100 to 400 zoom I just back off of 400 mm to 300 mm or less.

The eagle is starting to take off, so I how down the shutter release and send a burst of three or four shots off.
The eagle is starting to take off, so I how down the shutter release and send a burst of three or four shots off.
Here's the bird fulling filling the frame nicely, with its wings wide open taking flight.
Here's the bird fulling filling the frame nicely, with its wings wide open taking flight.

Last weekend, when I was on my photo shoot on the Washington Coast, I was practicing this and came up with the working title for this post, Give The Bird Room to Move Into The frame. That triggered a memory of John Mayall’s 1969 Room to Move song on The Turning Point Album. So, I’m listening to Room to Move while I’m writing about room to move. Listening to good music is just another way to be more creative.

Enjoy   Thanks   Tim

It’s about PoV and Getting Eye Level!

Bird PhotographyTim Boyer3 Comments

Most photos of birds are either from above the bird looking down on them (like ducks or shorebirds) or from underneath the birds looking up at them (such as an eagle or gull flying by).  If we were taking a portrait of a family member, we wouldn't stand above them or below them. We'd want to shoot eye level, to see who they are, to see their character, to understand the features of their face.  Aren't people's faces and eyes the first thing we look at? We want to see if they're following what we're saying and to see who they are, etc.  If we make a connection to other people by looking at their faces and eyes, won't our bird images be better if we do this too? In some ways, shooting eye level shows we are trying to meet them at their level, in their environment, and on their terms.  We're looking for their character too, and we're looking to make a connection.  It's possible to get eye level and make this connection in different ways.  For this image, I was standing on the bank of a river and climbed down about five feet, so I'd be pretty much eye level with the landing Osprey.  The Osprey nests near where I live are up on 40 and 50-foot poles, or on top of cell phone towers, so I also traveled across the state from Seattle to Cusick, Washington because I heard the Osprey nests there were at eye level.  I also had the tripod at normal height since I was able to move up and down the bank to adjust my Point of View.

A juvenile Osprey is strecting and practicing flaping its wings.
A juvenile Osprey is strecting and practicing flaping its wings.

With water birds or shorebirds the most common way to get eye level is by lying on the shore or sand. Creating an interesting Point of View means working the subject to understand how best to create an image of it. The Western Sandpiper image was created at Ocean Shores during the spring migration of shorebirds.  I was laying on the sand with waders on slowly crawling towards the birds.  I got as low as I possibly could!  By wearing waders when it's wet I can keep dry, and mud boots and Gortex rain pants help if the grass is wet or I'm shooting in a muddy habitat.  If you can't lay down on the sand or shore, sit or kneel behind your tripod, just by getting as low as you can you'll create a better image.

Western Sandpiper - 1/1600 of a second at f/8 ISO 640 Canon 5D Mark III withthe 600 mm lens and a 1.4 Extender using a Ground Pod.
Western Sandpiper - 1/1600 of a second at f/8 ISO 640 Canon 5D Mark III withthe 600 mm lens and a 1.4 Extender using a Ground Pod.

If the photographer doesn’t make the connection with the bird, how can the viewer?

Ansel Adams said, “There are always two people in every picture: the photographer and the viewer."

I understand this better now that I know - as the photographer my connection to the bird will be the connection the viewer has or my connection will help the viewer connect with the bird.  The day I created the Snow Goose image, I was looking for a different kind of image, I laid down in the road and shot into a flock of Snow Geese. When I started, I was just taking images of the rounded and curved forms, and patterns.  But when this Snow Goose opened its eye I knew I had my image.

Snow Goose - 1/320 of a second, f/9 at ISO 200 Canon 7D at 600mm with the 1.4 Extender
Snow Goose - 1/320 of a second, f/9 at ISO 200 Canon 7D at 600mm with the 1.4 Extender

But, Point of View is only one of theses “connection” elements an image needs to have. Humans also make the connection to birds through the sparkle, gleam or highlight in the eye, thus making the bird look alive and not dull or dead with a flat black eye. A successful image will have both, a sparkle and an interesting Point of View.

While photographing this Mountain Plover, the tripod was lowered about 2/3 of the way to the ground, so the camera is about two feet above the bird.  There's a slight downward angle present in the image, even from the lens being just a couple feet higher than the Mountain Plover.  Sometimes to get the feet of the bird in the frame or to get the whole reflection of the bird in the frame it will be necessary to shoot from a slightly higher than eye level position.

Mountain Plover - 1/160 of a second at f/5.6 and ISO 500. Canon 5D Mark III 600mm lens and CTO gel and 580 EXII flash.
Mountain Plover - 1/160 of a second at f/5.6 and ISO 500. Canon 5D Mark III 600mm lens and CTO gel and 580 EXII flash.

This Snowy Plover image was made with the camera on the tripod but with the tripod legs fully splayed open and resting on the ground.  The soft blurriness on the bottom of the bird is a small rise in the sand.  This softening creates an element of mystery and maybe even movement in the image as it appears it could be moving sand.  By being a bit higher in Mountain Plover image above the soft blurriness was avoided.  Both work, it's a matter of personal preference and what you're trying to say in the image.

Snowy Plover - 1/80 of a second, f/5.6 at ISO 640, Canon 5D mark III, 600 mm lens and 1.4 Extender, with the CTO gel and falsh Extender on the Canon 580 EX II.
Snowy Plover - 1/80 of a second, f/5.6 at ISO 640, Canon 5D mark III, 600 mm lens and 1.4 Extender, with the CTO gel and falsh Extender on the Canon 580 EX II.

I think it's our job as the photographer to make sure that the connection between people and wildlife happens.  That this just creates a more wonderful, intimate image is a bonus

A note on equipment and use.

I have a tripod that doesn't have a center column.  Center column tripods don't allow for the tripod to sit all the way flat on the ground and keep the camera up a foot or two off the ground.

  • I shorten the tripod legs first; then I spread them out wider to get the camera closer to the ground.
  • It's difficult to push an opened legged tripod on the ground, so when I know I'll be crawling (like for shorebirds) I use a Ground Pod and mount my camera and lens to it.  The Ground Pod requires a tripod head so; sometimes I'll use the taller Wimberley gimbal head, and  if I want to get super low, I'll use a ball head.
  • If I'm on the ground, most of the time I stay behind the camera to reduce what the birds see. But sometimes I'll kneel to the side of the camera and tripod.
  • I often use a C Angle Viewfinder.  This is a right-angle viewfinder that fits on the back of the camera so I can have the camera lower in I need to kneel and can't lay down.

Enjoy             Thanks         Tim

Creating Light on a Dark Winter Day

Bird PhotographyTim Boyer1 Comment

Earlier this week I went to Newport, Oregon to photograph a Mountain Plover. The weather forecast was for 10 to 25% chance of rain, but I knew if I was creative I could get a reasonably good image, as long as it didn't rain too much. The first thing was to understand that Mountain Plovers usually don’t run away, they’ll squat or “hide,” so getting close by moving slowly, staying low, etc. wasn’t going to be an issue. Here’s what the day looked like. You can see the band of gray sky, and general overcast/dull light the day had to offer. You can also see that I used an off camera flash and Better Beamer Flash Extender. The Mountain Plover is just in front of the camera lens, sitting in the sand trying to stay out of the wind and conserving energy. The tripod has it's legs fully splayed, so it rests on the ground. I got as low as I could for these shots.

Iphone photo at 1/400 of a second, f/22 and ISO 22 no flash.
Iphone photo at 1/400 of a second, f/22 and ISO 22 no flash.

Here’s one of the images I created with the off camera flash.

Mountain Plover at 1/125 of a second, f/5.6 adn ISO 5000 with the Canon 5D Mark III and a 600 mm lens.
Mountain Plover at 1/125 of a second, f/5.6 adn ISO 5000 with the Canon 5D Mark III and a 600 mm lens.

By getting low to the ground I was able to not only get close to the bird, but also I could eliminate the background gray sky. The Flash unit with the Better Beamer also had a 1/8 power CTO (color temperature orange) gel on it. You can see how to set this up in a previous blog posting. The CTO gel warms up the light from the flash, without the CTO gel the light would be a daylight (or blue tone) light. The CTO gel creates an overall warm feeling for the image. The image now looks like it’s from a warm beach in nice afternoon light, and doesn’t look like the drab winter day it was.

Mountain Plover 1/200 of a second at f/5.6 and ISO 640. Canon 5D Mark III and a 600 mm lens and a 1.4 Extender and a 25 mm Extension Tube.
Mountain Plover 1/200 of a second at f/5.6 and ISO 640. Canon 5D Mark III and a 600 mm lens and a 1.4 Extender and a 25 mm Extension Tube.

More tips on how to do this:

The flash unit was set to -1 or -2 stops for two reasons, one it’s a light colored bird which reflects more light (don’t blow out or overexpose the whites on the sides and belly) and the closer the flash is to the subject, the lower power needed to get an accurate exposure.

I then made adjustments in camera (Exposure Compensation).  I shoot in AV or Aperture Priority Mode, so I added or subtracted light as needed to get the Histogram I want. I like to get the exposure data into, or close to halfway into the fifth section of the Histogram (on the right) of my Canon cameras.

There were also a group of four Snowy Plovers around and here’s an image of one of them. For the Snowy Plovers, I had to adjust the amount of light, so the images were not over-exposed. I decreased by 1 or more stops – subtracting light with Exposure Compensation.

Snowy Plover, 1/200 of a second at f/5.6 and ISO 500. Canon 5D mark III with a 600 mm lens a 1.4 Extender and a 25 mm Extension Tube.
Snowy Plover, 1/200 of a second at f/5.6 and ISO 500. Canon 5D mark III with a 600 mm lens a 1.4 Extender and a 25 mm Extension Tube.

By adding external light and a little creative flash gel, I could make some pleasing images of the Snowy and Mountain Plovers.  I got the idea of adding CTO gels to my bird photography images while reading a Joe McNally book.  He's the master of off-camera flash; I just applied his techniques to photographing birds. The big lesson I guess is even though it might be winter and gray skies in the Pacific Northwest, it's still possible to create and make beautiful images.

Enjoy   Thanks   Tim

How to Manage Light Throughout the Day

Bird PhotographyTim BoyerComment

Three shooting locations and three different light situations, by managing the light, shadows, angle the light was striking the birds, it all works.  The beautiful warm light of early morning and late afternoon are best, but not always possible so let's  figure out how to work with what we have.  

Royal Tern on a foggy morning at Crown Point. 1/1250 of a second at f/4 and ISO 500, with the Canon 5D Mark III and a 600mm lens.
Royal Tern on a foggy morning at Crown Point. 1/1250 of a second at f/4 and ISO 500, with the Canon 5D Mark III and a 600mm lens.

On foggy mornings it's even more important to expose to the right and get the image as bright as possible without blowing out the highlights or overexposing.  Otherwise everything turns out dark gray.

Common Gallinule or as it was formally known as a Common Moorhen. 1/1600 of a second, f/5.6 at ISO witht e Canon 5D Mark III and a 600 mm lens with the 1.4 Extender.
Common Gallinule or as it was formally known as a Common Moorhen. 1/1600 of a second, f/5.6 at ISO witht e Canon 5D Mark III and a 600 mm lens with the 1.4 Extender.

Shooting at high noon with bright light and dark shadows equals contrast, it's important to manage the shadows.  Since all the shadows are behind the bird - except for a little on the neck, this image works.  Yes, it would have been better to make this in the sweet morning light, but that wasn't possible, so this is under the category of, "making the best of the given situation".  Manage the light!

Whimbrel finding dinner on the rocks. 1/640 of a second at f/8 and ISO 800 with the Canon 5D Mark III and the 600 mm lens and a 1.4 Extender.
Whimbrel finding dinner on the rocks. 1/640 of a second at f/8 and ISO 800 with the Canon 5D Mark III and the 600 mm lens and a 1.4 Extender.

Okay, finally at the end of the day, some nice warm evening, magic hour light, and a Whimbrel that forgot its got a probing beak, not a short, sharp beak for eating barnacles.  I've never seen them eat like this, so it was a treat to watch them work the rocks. In this light, just keep the sun at your back,  and have fun.

Enjoy  Thanks   Tim

Expectations

Bird PhotographyTim BoyerComment

As photographers do we just go out and photograph what's there or do we expect to see certain birds in certain locations?  The habitat was right, the birds that I had photographed five times before in the same location were not there.  Why?  What changes, recent storms, climate change, who knows?  In the past two days, I have expected to see Lesser Scaup in one spot and Wood Ducks in another, and they just weren't there.  There were consolation prizes, though, Redhead ducks and Surf Scoters in Glorietta Bay and Phainopepla, Red-tailed Hawk, and Northern Harrier at Santee Lakes.  Today I think I'll just go out and see what I find!

Here are a couple of my favorite images from yesterday at Santee Lakes.

A wet Double-crested Cormorant.
A wet Double-crested Cormorant.
Winter plumage male Ruddy Duck. 1/320 of a second, f/7.1 ISO 400 Canon 5D Mark III the 600 mm lens and the 1.4 Extender, +1 Exposure Compensation.
Winter plumage male Ruddy Duck. 1/320 of a second, f/7.1 ISO 400 Canon 5D Mark III the 600 mm lens and the 1.4 Extender, +1 Exposure Compensation.

Enjoy    Thanks    Tim

It's All About Habitat

Bird PhotographyTim Boyer1 Comment

14 species of shorebirds at the mouth of the San Diego River and then three more at the Tijuana Slough NWR! A 17 species shorebird day!  

Long-billed Curlew scratching its face. Birds have to be contortionist to satisfy those itiches.
Long-billed Curlew scratching its face. Birds have to be contortionist to satisfy those itiches.

We had the usual shorebirds at the San Diego River, plus this year we had Surfbird, Ruddy Turnstone, and Yellowlegs.  This is a great location for birders and bird photographers.  The birds allow for a close approach, the local dogs from the dog park scare them more than humans walking slowly and getting low and non-threatening.  Tech data: 1/1600 of a second, f/6.3 at ISO 250, with the Canon 5D Mark III and the 600 mm lens and a 1.4 Extender.

Marbled Godwit bathing.
Marbled Godwit bathing.

Tech data: 1/1600 of a second, f/6.3 at ISO 250 again with the 5D Mark III the 600 mm lens and the  1.4 Extender.

Little Blue Heron fishing.
Little Blue Heron fishing.

The light started to get harsh when we finally got close to the Little Blue Heron. Created at 1/800 of a second at f/5.6, ISO 400 and still using the 5D Mark III and the 600 mm lens with the 1.4 Extender.

Redhead
Redhead

In the afternoon before we went to the Tijuana NWR we stopped at a Glorietta Bay thinking we'd photograph Eared Grebes and Lesser Scaup.  They weren't there, but we did find Surf Scoter and Redheads, a very nice consolation prize instead!  Captured at 1/640 of a second f/5.6 ISO 400 with the 600 mm and the 1.4 Extender.  I had to crop this too, so you can see they didn't come in very close, but they're beautiful birds!

Enjoy     Thanks As Always     Tim