Tim Boyer Photography

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Photography Workshops

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

First Birds of 2016

Bird PhotographyTim BoyerComment

I was up in the Skagit on January 2, 2016 and here are a few of the birds I was able to find.  

Short-eared Owl at the  Leque Island Wildlife Area.
Short-eared Owl at the Leque Island Wildlife Area.

We pulled into the Wildlife Area on Leque Island and the first thing we saw was a Short-eared Owl on the side of the road.  It left the road and flew 40 feet or so into the cut corn field, so we got a few images right out of the car, then very slowly we got out of the car and spent about an hour taking pictures and waiting for the  sunlight to hit the bird.  A very cooperative bird, and a start to a very special day.

Song Sparrow inthe blackberries at the Fir Island Farm Reserve. 1/500 of a second, f/8 and ISO 250, with the  7D Mark II and a 100 to 400 zoom at 400 mm.
Song Sparrow inthe blackberries at the Fir Island Farm Reserve. 1/500 of a second, f/8 and ISO 250, with the 7D Mark II and a 100 to 400 zoom at 400 mm.

There were Marsh Wrens, Spotted Towhees, and Song Sparrow in the blackberries, but it took some waiting around for them to pop-up and get out in the open.

Rough-legged Hawk near the West 90. 1/2000 of a second, f/5.4 at ISO 250 with the Canon 7D Mark II and  a 100 to 400 zoom at 40 mm.
Rough-legged Hawk near the West 90. 1/2000 of a second, f/5.4 at ISO 250 with the Canon 7D Mark II and a 100 to 400 zoom at 40 mm.

Rough-legged Hawks are one of my favorite birds, they only visit us in the winter months, but they're such cool birds.  It doesn't seem like there are as many of them as there was in the 1980's when I first started going to the Skagit to see them, now each encounter is special.

Blurred landscape. 1/15 of a second at f/25 and ISO 100 7D Mark II and the  100 to 400 zoom at 400 mm.
Blurred landscape. 1/15 of a second at f/25 and ISO 100 7D Mark II and the 100 to 400 zoom at 400 mm.

We were at the Wylie Wildlife Area or Skagit Headquarters and there were no birds close enough to photograph.  So, when there are no birds, it's time to play and by setting the aperature to f/25, shooting in Aperature Priority Mode slowed the shutter speed to 1/15 of a second.  Then with a little camera movement up, the dead trees in the slough became something besides trees that had been killed by opening the dike and letting the saltwater in.  We had to explain to another bird photogrpaher what we were doing, since he thought maybe we were seeing some birds he didn't.

Trumpter Swan flying directly overhead.  1/1800 of a second, f/6.3 and ISO 400 with the Canon 7D Mark ii at 150 mm.
Trumpter Swan flying directly overhead. 1/1800 of a second, f/6.3 and ISO 400 with the Canon 7D Mark ii at 150 mm.

There were a couple of large mixed flocks of swans on both sides of Dry Creek Road and when they would decide the grass was greener on the other side they'd fly right over us.  These are such large birds, and often when we were facing the oppiste direction they were approaching from, we'd hear the noise from their wing beats first.

Tundra Swans 1/1000 of a second, f/8 at ISO 250 at 400 mm with the Canon 7D Mark II.
Tundra Swans 1/1000 of a second, f/8 at ISO 250 at 400 mm with the Canon 7D Mark II.

Here's a group of Tundra Swans at our last stop on Fir Island.  It was a wonderful day, cold but sunny and we had some cool birds.  Hope the rest of 2016 is as productive for all of us.

New Images added to Photography Workshop Galleries

Bird PhotographyTim BoyerComment
A Red-tailed Hawk preens on a wire on the Skagit Flats.

A Red-tailed Hawk preens on a wire on the Skagit Flats.

I finally have a chance to add new images from 2015 to these workshop galleries.  It's been a fun year, and with the fall weather, I have a little more time indoors to get caught up on a few things like this.  I saw and was able to photograph some incredible birds this year, the ones that stand out the most was the Long-eared Owl that spent a fair amount of time in Stanwood the Black Skimmers from San Diego last winter.

Here's the link to the Gallery for the Winter Birds of the Skagit & Samish Flats, a great place for raptor photography in the winter months.  Bald Eagles, Red-tailed and Rough-legged Hawks, Peregrine Falcons, Short-eared and sometimes Long-eared Owls, thousands of Snow Geese and a lot of other possbilities.

A breeding plumage Brown Pelican preens while resting on the cliffs in La Jolla, San Diego County.

A breeding plumage Brown Pelican preens while resting on the cliffs in La Jolla, San Diego County.

San Diego County has one of the highest possbile species list for birders and bird photographers.  In the winter months, breeding plumage Brown Pelicans, Double Crested and Brandt's Cormorants are spectacular.  But, there are a lot of ohter birds we photograph there, like Little Blue Herons.

A male Gila Woodpecker searches for food in SE Arizona, near Green Valley.

A male Gila Woodpecker searches for food in SE Arizona, near Green Valley.

SE Arizona in the spring has fantastic birds and in early May, the Sonoran Desert birds are unique and fun to photograph.  

Enjoy the images!         Thanks as Always         Tim

Malheur NWR What a Difference a Year Makes

Bird PhotographyTim BoyerComment
The expansive Malheur Lake at sunrise from The Narrows.
The expansive Malheur Lake at sunrise from The Narrows.

There's a drought in the West, some days it's not noticeable, but other times it just smacks you in the face -- there's no water here!  I had hoped to do some more landscape photography around Malheur and Mud Lake this year, but it didn't happen because of the massisve amount of water that just isn't there.

This is what Malheur Lake looked like last June, full of water, and here's what it looks like this June!

Lake Malheur from the Narrows June 2015
Lake Malheur from the Narrows June 2015

The photos can be deceiving though, it rained for 10 days straight before we got there so the desert was green with grasses, sage-brush and even flowering plants.  But it won't last, it was only a temporary splash of color on a stark barren landscape.

But,  where there's water -- yikes there's bugs - and where there's water & bugs, yep there are birds.  Here's a few of my favorite images for the three day photography workshop.

Beuna Vista Overlook
Beuna Vista Overlook
Common Nighhawk
Common Nighhawk
Young Burrowing Owls at teh nest.
Young Burrowing Owls at teh nest.
Great-horned Owl
Great-horned Owl
Young Great-horned Owl
Young Great-horned Owl
Common Nighthawk in evening light.
Common Nighthawk in evening light.

Despite the drought we had plenty of birds to photograph, Spotted Sandpipers, Yellow Warbles, Willow Flycatchers, Ravens, Franklin's Gulls, Sandhill Cranes, American Avocests, Black-necked Stilts, Wilson's Phalaropes, Bullock's Oriole, a pair of Greater Scaup, Killdeer, Ferruginous Hawks, and a lot of others.

Enjoy   Thanks   Tim

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

Birding/Photo Project #5 & San Diego Workshop Images

Bird PhotographyTim BoyerComment

These images were created on the banks of the San Diego River, and at Cabrillo National Monument as part of the San Diego Workshop.   Having never photographed Wrentits, Little Blue Herons or California Towhees, this was a fun day.  California Towhee was a new bird for my life list as well.   The tally is now 33 species photographed and  467 to go.  

A Little Blue Heron pauses while searching for food along the San Diego River.

A Little Blue Heron pauses while searching for food along the San Diego River.

A basic/winter plumage Forster's Tern hanging out on the San Diego River.

A basic/winter plumage Forster's Tern hanging out on the San Diego River.

A Killdeer along the banks of the San Diego River.

A Killdeer along the banks of the San Diego River.

A Horned Lark searching for seeds along the San Diego River.

A Horned Lark searching for seeds along the San Diego River.

A Whimbrel searching for food along the San Diego River.

A Whimbrel searching for food along the San Diego River.

A California Towhee searching for seeds in the Cabrillo National Monument across the bay from San Diego.

A California Towhee searching for seeds in the Cabrillo National Monument across the bay from San Diego.

A Wrentit feeding in bushes in teh Cabrillo National Monument, San Diego CA.

A Wrentit feeding in bushes in teh Cabrillo National Monument, San Diego CA.