Tim Boyer Photography

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Mountain Plover

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

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