Tim Boyer Photography

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Peregrine Falcon

My 5 Things to Make an Image Successful

Photography TipsTim Boyer2 Comments

Here's a short list of the five things I think have to be right for an image to be successful.

SHARPNESS

 The image has to be sharp.  If the subject is sharp and the background is blurred, that's okay, but sharpness really can't be fixed in post-processing, so it needs to be right in-camera when the image is created.  There are several ways to ensure you get a sharp image; check the shutter speed, use fill flash, use the professional newspaper photographer grip, use a tripod, with a big lens press down on the lens with your left hand to dampen vibrations, etc.  For bird photographers, if the eye is sharp, then the rest of the bird can be out of focus.  People connect with the eye!  On the flip side, if the image is supposed to be blurry, it needs to be blurry enough, so the blur is obviously intentional.

The eye is sharp and so ar ethe facial feathers on this immature Bald Eagle on the Washington Coast.
The eye is sharp and so ar ethe facial feathers on this immature Bald Eagle on the Washington Coast.
The near Sandhill Crnaes eye is sharp enough so the rest of the blurred bird doesn't matter.
The near Sandhill Crnaes eye is sharp enough so the rest of the blurred bird doesn't matter.

LIGHT

The quality of light and the direction of light make a huge difference between a successful image and one that's just so-so.  The quality of light means shoot at dawn or sunset when the sun angle in the sky is low.  This enhances the yellow or golden tones in the light and thus makes the image warmer.  For the angle of light ask yourself, where is the light coming from.  Is it in front of you, sideways to you or behind you.  The basic formula for bird photography is the light should come from behind you.  Front -lighting works best for bird photography, but Backlighting makes great silhouettes, and Side-lighting which works great for human portraits doesn't seem to works as well for birds but can work if the light isn't too harsh.  If you shoot before the sun is on the subject, like the Peregrine Falcon below, you might need to adjust the White Balance of the image, shooting in Auto White Balance will work most of the time, though.

Front-lighting on a Black Phoebe.
Front-lighting on a Black Phoebe.
Difused-lighting - before the sun is fully up.
Difused-lighting - before the sun is fully up.
Back-lighting on a Bald Eagle getting mobbed by a Red-einged Blackbird.
Back-lighting on a Bald Eagle getting mobbed by a Red-einged Blackbird.
Side-lighting that does work with this Peregrine Falcon.
Side-lighting that does work with this Peregrine Falcon.
Harsh side-lighting that doens't work.
Harsh side-lighting that doens't work.

BORDERS, EDGES & BACKGROUNDS

 When you're looking in the viewfinder, look at the background.  Is there a branch, light pole, building, Eiffel Tower or anything else coming out of the subjects head?  Does the horizon cut the subject into two pieces or is it at the neck and make it look like the head is getting cut off?  Then as you look through the viewfinder, take a quick glance around the edges of the viewfinder to see if there is something protruding into the frame that shouldn't.  A branch, building, another bird etc.

Nice blurred background, no distracting bright sticks etc.
Nice blurred background, no distracting bright sticks etc.
Cluttered background, bright stick coming out of the Gree-tailed Towhees head.
Cluttered background, bright stick coming out of the Gree-tailed Towhees head.
A Western Sandpoper sneeking into the frame of the Sanderling on the beach.
A Western Sandpoper sneeking into the frame of the Sanderling on the beach.

EXPOSURE

Why is Exposure fourth?  Well, to a degree (within a few stops of light) you can fix Exposure in post processing. But, start by reviewing your Histogram and exposing the image to the right when you're shooting.  If you can get even some data into the far right sections of the Histogram the image will be close to an accurate exposure.  The Histograms in the Canon cameras I use had five sections to the Histogram.  I always try to expose the image so some data reaches halfway into the fifth section.  It's very easy then to make any adjustments with the Blacks, Whites, Shadow and Highlights Sliders in LightRoom to finish the image and get an accurate exposure.

LightRoom Histogram showing expsoue to the right, and get data in the last section or box of the camera or LightRoom Histogram.
LightRoom Histogram showing expsoue to the right, and get data in the last section or box of the camera or LightRoom Histogram.

COMPOSITION

Try to create the composition of the image in-camera while you're shooting.  Yes, you can always crop to fine-tune the composition later in post-processing but the closer the image is to the final composition in-camera the more pixels you'll save for later use (like printing), or the less time you'll need to process the image.  The biggest thing to avoid is the DSLR classic image of a centered subject.  By using the Rule of Thirds, or placing small subjects in one of the corners the image will be better.  That said, sometimes dead center is where you want or need the subject and the horizon or the bird can be centered horizontally or vertically and the image still works. The Rule of Thirds is really, "The Suggested Default of Thirds" encase you can't decide what else to do with the composition.  It doesn't hurt to explore compositional ideas in-camera while you're in the field!

Centered Western Sandpiper. Avoid this by putting the bird in the corner or cropping to the Rule of Thirds.
Centered Western Sandpiper. Avoid this by putting the bird in the corner or cropping to the Rule of Thirds.
The Western Sandpiper is at the intersection of the left top crossing point of the Rule of Thirds.
The Western Sandpiper is at the intersection of the left top crossing point of the Rule of Thirds.

I hope this helps you create better images.

Enjoy!   Thanks   Tim

How to use CTO Gels & a Better Beamer Together for Bird Photography

Photography TipsTim BoyerComment
CTO Images -8961

CTO Images -8961

Many times I'll want to brighten up a bird in the shadows or to take images on cloudy/overcast days or even rainy days.  One way to make the subject pop is to add light. This can be done with simply using a flash unit, but the light disperses widely and might not project far enough to reach the bird or subject. Below is a flash unit attached directly to the camera just for demonstration purposes. (I only shoot with the flash directly on the camera when, for some reason, I can't get the flash off-camera.)

To extend the distance the light from the flash travels and to concentrate the light on the bird or subject, I use a Fresnel flash unit.  There's one pictured below, a Better Beamer Flash Extender setup from Visual Echos.  I've only used this brand, simply because it works and it's reliable.  The plastic side pieces vary for different flash units.  The strap and the Fresnel lens is pretty much the same in each kit.  (I get mine from B & H Photo.)

CTO Images -8963

CTO Images -8963

Here's what the Better Beamer Flash Extender from Visual Echos looks like on the flash unit.  This will concentrate the light onto the bird or subject and add one or two stops of light.  Sine this also makes the flash more powerful, be prepared to dial in -1 or -2 on the flash exposure compensation dial.

CTO Images -8959

CTO Images -8959

The flash unit puts out daylight temperature light.  On a cloudy or rainy day or in the shadows this can look fake and contrasty. So I borrowed a technique from studio and fashion photographers and started using gels on the flash unit. After some experimentation, I settle on these three products, buying each part separately.  The Honl Photo Speed Strap, the Honl Photo Professional Color Effect Gel Filter Kit (CTO warming) gels in various powers and the Honl Photo Rollup Filter Case.  I cut down the width of the CTO gel, so it fits inside the Better Beamer Flash Extender and is just wide enough to cover the flash units lens. (See below.)

CTO Images -8967

CTO Images -8967

Here's the CTO gel inside the Better Beamer Flash Extender, all held to the flash unit with the Honl Speed Strap. To do this, you have to use the Honl Speed Strap in place of the Better Beamer strap.  The CTO gel has velcro strips on it and won't stick to the Better Beamer straps.

CTO Images -8945

CTO Images -8945

The first image of the Peregrine Falcon is without any flash and looks dark and rather bland.  The second image is with a flash unit dialed down -2 stops and using a 1/2 CTO Gel, the image looks brighter and warmer.  I use the 1/2 CTO gels the most.  If you like warmer or cooler images, you can move up to 3/4 CTO or 1/4 CTO strengths.

Peregrine Camparison

Peregrine Camparison

This Peregrine Falcon was photographed on the Eagles & Peregrines of the Outer Coast Photography Workshop I lead each February and March.  More information about these workshops can be found here.

I just did an internet search and the Better Beamer is available at B & H Photo (order the right size for your flash unit), and the three Honl items are available at Amazon. I'm not an associate or affiliate at either place and only post equipment items that I use.

Enjoy!     Thanks     Tim

Bird Quest 2014 #7

Bird PhotographyTim Boyer1 Comment
Sub Adult Bald eagle and seal carcass.
Sub Adult Bald eagle and seal carcass.

Out on the Washington Coast last weekend there were flocks of Dunlin and  Sanderlings as well as a few birds of prey.  On Friday when it was sunny we watched a group of sub-adult Bald Eagles take turns feeding on a seal carcass.

On Saturday morning from sunrise until about 9:00 AM there weren't too many clouds threatening to rain on us.  We drove the beaches looking for more eagles and hopefully a peregrine.  I  spotted this Merlin, the first one I've seen and photographed on the coast since March 2010.  It was exciting to be able to watch it for awhile.  They are so in-tune with their environment, constantly scanning the sky around them.  When I was watching it, I was glad not to be a small bird.

Merlin perched on driftwood, watching for the next meal to flyby.
Merlin perched on driftwood, watching for the next meal to flyby.

Continuing norhtward we finally found a Peregrine Falcon.  This is a first year female, and has the band "Z2" on it. The peregrine was banded by Coastal Raptors a research, education and conservation non-profit banding birds on the Washignton Coast.

Peregrine Falcon watching the Dunlin as well as humans on the Washington Coast.
Peregrine Falcon watching the Dunlin as well as humans on the Washington Coast.

It was a fun weekend on the coast, and I was happy to  see peregrines and  Merlins again!

Enjoy!

Good birding!

Tim

Bird Quest 2014 #3

Bird PhotographyTim BoyerComment
Dawn at La Jolla

Dawn at La Jolla

A side benefit of birding and bird photography is the mornings.  Getting up before dawn, watching the day begin, the light on the horizon changes from black to blues, then from blues to lavendar and pink.  Mornings are special, dawn and birds awaken and there's just something tranquil and peaceful about mornings.

I've heard that there have been resident peregrines at the La Jolla caves, but never been lucky enough to see them until this year.  There was a lot of commotion amongst the birders and photographers when this female came in with a Rock Pigeon.  There was also a juvenile female close-by, but mom wasn't sharing very much this morning.

A female Peregrine Falcon in a pine tree.

A female Peregrine Falcon in a pine tree.

Western Gulls and Heerman's Gulls are always flying around and hanging out with the pelicans in La Jolla.

A Western Gull flys by to see if anyone will feed it.

A Western Gull flys by to see if anyone will feed it.

A Heermann's Gull not yet in full breeding plumage.

A Heermann's Gull not yet in full breeding plumage.

After a morning in La Jolla we went down to Coronado in the late afternoon to see if we could find some scaup, grebes or other sea birds in the harbor.  There were a few coots around and a few gulls but the grebes weren't very cooperative this year.

A Lesser Scaup near Coronado, CA.

A Lesser Scaup near Coronado, CA.

Good birding everyone!

Peregrine Expelling a Pellet

Bird PhotographyTim Boyer2 Comments

  Here's the complete process of expelling a pellet.

It all starts with the gaping mouth.
It all starts with the gaping mouth.
The buldge in the neck is an indication that something ismoving.
The buldge in the neck is an indication that something ismoving.
The pellet slowly emerges. As it looks like the Peregrine is choking.
The pellet slowly emerges. As it looks like the Peregrine is choking.
Okay, it's kinda gross, not the time to be looking through a 600mm telephoto lens.
Okay, it's kinda gross, not the time to be looking through a 600mm telephoto lens.
What?  Nothing happened.  Everything's cool, Anything to eat around here?
What? Nothing happened. Everything's cool, Anything to eat around here?

Birding/Photo Project 2013

Bird PhotographyTim BoyerComment

Peregrines eat carrion and cough up pellets! Until this weekend I thought of Peregrines as these fast, powerful and deadly hunters of the sky.  Well they are all that and more. Monday I watched as a peregrine banded WZ cough up two pellets, and Tuesday and Wednesday I watch peregrine K6 feed on the remains of a washed up Great Blue Heron.  

Peregrine Falcon banded K6 feeding on a Great Blue Heron carcass.  K6 filled up his crop twice on Tuesday.
Peregrine Falcon banded K6 feeding on a Great Blue Heron carcass. K6 filled up his crop twice on Tuesday.

In this image you can actually see the bulging crop of K6, while it stands on the Great Blue Heron remains.

Peregrine Falcon K6 shaking off the rain and the Great Blue Heron it was feeding on.
Peregrine Falcon K6 shaking off the rain and the Great Blue Heron it was feeding on.

The falcons I photographed were banded, and are part of the research of  Coastal Raptors a non-profit group doing research, education and  conservation on Washington State's coastal raptor population.  The organization is run by Dan Varland, and  their website is:  http://www.coastalraptors.org.  

Peregrine Falcon banded WZ in the process of a wing stretch.
Peregrine Falcon banded WZ in the process of a wing stretch.

Another view of WZ, which is also the peregrine featured in the Coastal Raptors logo.

Peregrine Falcon WZ alert to any movement in our car as we watched and photographed it.
Peregrine Falcon WZ alert to any movement in our car as we watched and photographed it.
Adult Bald Eagle flying up the beach.
Adult Bald Eagle flying up the beach.
Northern Shoveler at The Old Fishing Hole Park, Kent WA.
Northern Shoveler at The Old Fishing Hole Park, Kent WA.

Peregrine Falcon, Bald Eagle and  Norther Shoveler brings my total photographed bird species to 79 so far this year.  While my goal of 500 is starting to seem a little overly ambitious, in reality I'm reaching my goal of learning more about birds and getting out more to photograph them.