Tim Boyer Photography

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

Sandhill Cranes

How & Why Sandhill Cranes - Evening Flight

Bird PhotographyTim Boyer2 Comments

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.

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

Celebrate our National Wildlife Refuges -- Malheur NWR

Bird PhotographyTim Boyer2 Comments

It's National Wildlife Refuge Week, let's celebrate! My all time favorite National Wildlife Refuge is Malheur NWR.  I first went there around 2000 armed with a 300 mm lens and a 2x Extender with a Canon film camera.  I had heard there were Sandhill Cranes there, so I went there for a week in mid September looking for newly arrived cranes.  I think I heard a few, but I discovered so much more.  The abundance of birds, the wide open landscape, the room to breathe, just the freedom of the West, so prevalent in the High Desert of Eastern Oregon.  Here are just a few of the birds that can be found at Malheur, and a few landscape iamges as well.

A Sandhill Crane pauses during feeding to checkout the surroundings.

A Sandhill Crane pauses during feeding to checkout the surroundings.

From near the Refuge Headquarters a full moon rises over the landscape.

From near the Refuge Headquarters a full moon rises over the landscape.

Lake Malheur from The Narrows at sunset.

Lake Malheur from The Narrows at sunset.

When there's water at Malheur the birding and the bird photography is fantastic.  Didn't Roger Tory Peterson himself describe this a a birding place not to be missed!

A Black-necked Stilt chick foraging by the side of the road in a "wet" year.

A Black-necked Stilt chick foraging by the side of the road in a "wet" year.

An American Bittern by the side of the road in one of the years where tehre wre birds everywhere.

An American Bittern by the side of the road in one of the years where tehre wre birds everywhere.

One of my all time favoirte birds becasue of the way they sit side-ways and the sound they make when they dive through the eveing air.

One of my all time favoirte birds becasue of the way they sit side-ways and the sound they make when they dive through the eveing air.

Sunset on the high desert near Malheur Lake.

Sunset on the high desert near Malheur Lake.

White-faced Ibis flyinig near sunset.

White-faced Ibis flyinig near sunset.

In the spring, a huge variety of songbirds migrate thorugh the refuge, and migrate traps like the Malheur NWR Headquarters site arrtact them.

In the spring, a huge variety of songbirds migrate thorugh the refuge, and migrate traps like the Malheur NWR Headquarters site arrtact them.

I love the way Western Meadow Larks sining along the side of the road as I approach the refuge make me smile.

I love the way Western Meadow Larks sining along the side of the road as I approach the refuge make me smile.

Our National Wildlife Refuge system protects and preserves land and animals.  It's one of the things that makes America a great place.  I encourage everyone to visit a National Wildlife Refuge and for a few minutes just stop and listen.  You'll hear the natural world, birds, insects, and lots of  other animals.  Then plan to go out and experience a sunrise or a sunset at a Refuge, when the sun breaks the horizon it's usually magical.

If you'd like to join me on one of my photography workshops to Malheur Natioanl Wildlife Refuge, more information can be found here.

Many thanks to Sue from A Sense of Wonder for giving me the idea that I need to post about Wildlife Refuges this week.

Enjoy!        Thanks As Always          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

Bosque del Apache - Outdoor Photographer

Bird PhotographyTim BoyerComment

An interview and four of my Bosque photos appear on the Outdoor Photographer Magazine website in a feature called Animal Stories.

Sandhill Cranes leaving the corn fields they feed in during the day for the ponds they roost in during the night. Pan blur and slow shutter speed.

Sandhill Cranes leaving the corn fields they feed in during the day for the ponds they roost in during the night. Pan blur and slow shutter speed.

Feather texture and an urge to get a differnt shot lead me to lay down onthe road and shoot eye level with the Snow Geese in the roosting ponds.

Feather texture and an urge to get a differnt shot lead me to lay down onthe road and shoot eye level with the Snow Geese in the roosting ponds.

Sandhill Cranes leaving the roosting ponds headed for the corn fields where they will feed all day. Spectacular light is just one of many reasons to visit Bosque.

Sandhill Cranes leaving the roosting ponds headed for the corn fields where they will feed all day. Spectacular light is just one of many reasons to visit Bosque.

Snow Geese take flight at sunrise blasting off sometimes in huge flocks.making a lot

Snow Geese take flight at sunrise blasting off sometimes in huge flocks.making a lot

I've been to Bosque many times and  I know where to be during the right light and winds. As in all of my workshops, you get lots of personal attention and I teach and review images with you during the morning and afternoon/evening shooting sessions.  There's a break in the middle of the day (when the  light is harsh), for  lunch, images review, post processing instruction (I have a quick and efficient workflow using LightRoom) and to answer any questions you have.

Enjoy!   Thanks   Tim

Bird Quest 2014 #10

Bird PhotographyTim BoyerComment

I had the chance to give my "Understanding Shorebirds, the Miracle of Migration" at the Blue Mountain Audubon in Walla Walla last week. On the way back I added these three birds to my quest of seeing how many birds I could get good quality images of this year.  Last year I didn't do so well after the art show season started, this year I think I'll do better.  

Starling at a nest hole it was trying to  put  grass strands in.
Starling at a nest hole it was trying to put grass strands in.

I stepped out of the car at McNary National Wildlife Refuge just as this Starling was entering a nest hole.  I waited a few minutes as it came back first with grass strands, they  wouldn't fit in the  hole so the Starling dropped them.  Then for a minute or two it just stood by the entrance as if guarding it.

Yellow-headed Blackbird calling from McNary National Wildlife Refuge.
Yellow-headed Blackbird calling from McNary National Wildlife Refuge.

I like the call of Yellow-headed Blackbirds, the raspy, richness of their voices make me smile.

From McNary I made a stop at the Burrowing Owls near Othello.   I got a few images of them, but was surprised to hear Sandhill Cranes.  They were directly above me riding thermals.  It was fun watching them for several minutes as they were swirling around in the sky.

Sandhill Cranes catching a thermal over farm fields east of Othello WA.
Sandhill Cranes catching a thermal over farm fields east of Othello WA.

Enjoy!

Good Birding

Tim