Tim Boyer Photography

Small Groups, Cool Birds in Fun Places, Create Award-winning Images!

Mew Gull

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

Canon 7D Mark II Post #1 -- First Shoot Review

The Canon 7D Mark IITim BoyerComment

These are my first images with the new Canon 7D Mark II.  If you have this camera the first thing you need to know is Lightroom 5 or any Adobe product will not be able to download and preview a RAW file.  You will need to shoot RAW & Large JPEG or use the Canon Utilities to convert images into tiff files.  Adobe will have an update shortly.  Probably pretty soon since so many photographers have pre-ordered this camera.  

Male Mallard on a cloudy November 2nd at Renton, Washington's  Gene Coulon Park.  Image created at ISO 800, f/6.3, 1/200 of a second.  I was using the 7D Mark II and the  600 mm f/4 lens with a 1.4 Extender.  I like the drop of water below the bill.  A little post processing in LIghtrRoom 5, but no noise reduction.

Mallard ISO 800
Mallard ISO 800

This Horned Grebe was again created at ISO 800, something I never would have done with the older Canon 7D.  No noise reduction slight processing of the tiff file in LightRoom 5.  1/500 of a second, f/6.3.

Horned Grebe ISO 800
Horned Grebe ISO 800

Female Mallard 1/160 of a second, f/6.3.  She was in the shade, and this would have produced some noise in the older 7D, but nothing here, with the new 7D Mark II.

Female Mallard ISO 800
Female Mallard ISO 800

This Crow image was created at ISO 1600, 1/200 of a second at f/8.  Again with the 600 mm f/4 lens and the 1.4 Extender.  Cloudy day, best kind of light for a black bird, but I also was pleased - again - no noise. Nice!

Crow ISO 1600
Crow ISO 1600

I had some time to experiment with a resting Mew Gull.  The first one is ISO 800 at 1/800 of a second as f/6.3.  It's a little soft, but not bad for a cloudy day.

Mew Gull ISO 800
Mew Gull ISO 800

Mew Gull ISO 6400!   Created at 1/6400 of a second at f/6.3.  Okay, it's a little softer, but there was no noise reduction, and it was shot at ISO 6400.  Something I never would/could have even tried with the older 7D.

Mew Gull ISO 6400!
Mew Gull ISO 6400!

So far I like this camera.  Fast ten framed per second, a lot faster than the 5D Mark II I've been using, and a very noticeable difference.  Not very much noise, kinda like the 5D Mark III.  I noticed the autofocus was faster than the older 7D, and I think faster than the 5D Mark III.  Acquiring birds was very quick.  So, I'm very happy with my first day of shooting with this camera.  Now I'd like to go out and get some nice birds in some great light.

Enjoy!

Thanks

Tim

Bird Quest #21

Bird PhotographyTim BoyerComment

  Catching up on the last month or so's worth of birds photographed this year.

These first three images are from a whale watching trip I took in the San Juan's out of Anacortes with Island Adventures in September.  I hadn't seen a Marbled Murrelet on the water in a long time.  I think I liked seeing this murrelet as much or more then the whales.

Marbled Murrelet off the  coast of San Juan Island.
Marbled Murrelet off the coast of San Juan Island.
A group of Common Murre.
A group of Common Murre.
Rhinoceros Auklet
Rhinoceros Auklet

The closest park to my house is Gene Coulon Park in Renton, WA.  It's just down the hill, so I can get there quickly when I need to get outside.  When the sun comes out in the  fall and winter even in the middle of the day the sun is low enough so it's possible to photograph birds and not have too much harsh mid-day light.  So, for one of my lunch breaks last week I went to the park to see what winter birds had shown up so far.

A Greater White-fronted Goose at Gene Coulon Park.
A Greater White-fronted Goose at Gene Coulon Park.

I was surprised to find the Western Grebe right in the little boat dock area by the Kidd Valley & Ivar's.  Lot's of Coots and Mallards but just one Western Grebe.  A cool bird for just taking a break in the middle of the day!

A Western Grebe at Gene Coulon Park.
A Western Grebe at Gene Coulon Park.

Mew Gulls are back now as well.  It really is fall!

Mew Gull on a log boom at Gene Coulon Park.
Mew Gull on a log boom at Gene Coulon Park.

Whenever I teach a photography workshop I always try to go a day or two earlier so I can locate the birds or just do a little photography on my own.  The gorge trip was really a landscape photography workshop but since I knew the dippers were there and I wanted to photograph them I took the big 600 mm lens with me.  There were about six to eight dippers flying up and down the river eating Coho Salmon eggs, singing and chasing each other.  it was great fun watching them.

American Diper on Eagle Creek, Columbia Gorge.
American Diper on Eagle Creek, Columbia Gorge.

When driving back from the Portland area on I-5 there are two great places to stop for birds, Ridgefield and Nisqually National Wildlfie Refuges.  This time we stopped at Ridgefield and besides the Goldfinch there were about eight Great Egrets and dozens of Great Blue Herons.  We even had two groups of Sandhill Cranes fly over us and  great close looks at a juvenile Red-tailed Hawk.

American Goldfinch on thistle at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge.
American Goldfinch on thistle at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge.

Enjoy!

Thanks, as always

Tim