Tim Boyer Photography

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bird photography

10 "Rules" of Bird Photography

Bird PhotographyTim Boyer
10 "Rules" of Bird Photography, what they are, how they work and when to break them, why they aren't really rules. -- MY GEAR -- This is an affiliate link and this channel will receive a small commission (at no charge to you, thanks for the support) if you link to Amazon to purchase any of these products.

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

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

Give the Bird Room to Move Into The Frame

Bird PhotographyTim Boyer1 Comment
Here's what I think of a a "normal" shot. 840 mm, the 600 mm lens and a 1.4 Extender.

Here's what I think of a a "normal" shot. 840 mm, the 600 mm lens and a 1.4 Extender.

I like to shoot tight. I do this because it's the kind of image I like, a close shot of a bird with lots of detail. If I can show a different behavior or characteristic to the viewers, I feel like I’ve been successful in the image. Part of why I photograph birds is to show the world how beautiful they are and to show how each bird is unique. But sometimes I miss a shot because I’m focused too tight on the bird, and it moves too much or decides to fly away. I end up with clipped wings or cut the feet off, or have the beak of the bill right up to the edge of the frame, etc.

Over the years I end up with lots of clipped wings, feetless birds and birds flying into a wall (the edge of the frame) but lately, I’ve been working on how to not clip the wings or feet and give the bird some room.

If the bird is facing left, then put the bird in the lower right corner of the viewfinder. Switch your Autofocus Mode to matrix or the mode with the most active sensor points. Place the lowest right-hand sensor point on the bird. This gives the bird room to move into the frame and up into the frame.

I took the 1.4 Extender off and am now shoot with just the 600 mm lens and placed the focus points on the eagle.

I took the 1.4 Extender off and am now shoot with just the 600 mm lens and placed the focus points on the eagle.

Sometimes I can do this by taking off the 1.4 Extender; sometimes I just don't get as close, or even backup, and sometimes with the 100 to 400 zoom I just back off of 400 mm to 300 mm or less.

The eagle is starting to take off, so I how down the shutter release and send a burst of three or four shots off.

The eagle is starting to take off, so I how down the shutter release and send a burst of three or four shots off.

Here's the bird fulling filling the frame nicely, with its wings wide open taking flight.

Here's the bird fulling filling the frame nicely, with its wings wide open taking flight.

Last weekend, when I was on my photo shoot on the Washington Coast, I was practicing this and came up with the working title for this post, Give The Bird Room to Move Into The frame. That triggered a memory of John Mayall’s 1969 Room to Move song on The Turning Point Album. So, I’m listening to Room to Move while I’m writing about room to move. Listening to good music is just another way to be more creative.

Enjoy   Thanks   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

How to Manage Light Throughout the Day

Bird PhotographyTim BoyerComment

Three shooting locations and three different light situations, by managing the light, shadows, angle the light was striking the birds, it all works.  The beautiful warm light of early morning and late afternoon are best, but not always possible so let's  figure out how to work with what we have.  

Royal Tern on a foggy morning at Crown Point. 1/1250 of a second at f/4 and ISO 500, with the Canon 5D Mark III and a 600mm lens.
Royal Tern on a foggy morning at Crown Point. 1/1250 of a second at f/4 and ISO 500, with the Canon 5D Mark III and a 600mm lens.

On foggy mornings it's even more important to expose to the right and get the image as bright as possible without blowing out the highlights or overexposing.  Otherwise everything turns out dark gray.

Common Gallinule or as it was formally known as a Common Moorhen. 1/1600 of a second, f/5.6 at ISO witht e Canon 5D Mark III and a 600 mm lens with the 1.4 Extender.
Common Gallinule or as it was formally known as a Common Moorhen. 1/1600 of a second, f/5.6 at ISO witht e Canon 5D Mark III and a 600 mm lens with the 1.4 Extender.

Shooting at high noon with bright light and dark shadows equals contrast, it's important to manage the shadows.  Since all the shadows are behind the bird - except for a little on the neck, this image works.  Yes, it would have been better to make this in the sweet morning light, but that wasn't possible, so this is under the category of, "making the best of the given situation".  Manage the light!

Whimbrel finding dinner on the rocks. 1/640 of a second at f/8 and ISO 800 with the Canon 5D Mark III and the 600 mm lens and a 1.4 Extender.
Whimbrel finding dinner on the rocks. 1/640 of a second at f/8 and ISO 800 with the Canon 5D Mark III and the 600 mm lens and a 1.4 Extender.

Okay, finally at the end of the day, some nice warm evening, magic hour light, and a Whimbrel that forgot its got a probing beak, not a short, sharp beak for eating barnacles.  I've never seen them eat like this, so it was a treat to watch them work the rocks. In this light, just keep the sun at your back,  and have fun.

Enjoy  Thanks   Tim

Expectations

Bird PhotographyTim BoyerComment

As photographers do we just go out and photograph what's there or do we expect to see certain birds in certain locations?  The habitat was right, the birds that I had photographed five times before in the same location were not there.  Why?  What changes, recent storms, climate change, who knows?  In the past two days, I have expected to see Lesser Scaup in one spot and Wood Ducks in another, and they just weren't there.  There were consolation prizes, though, Redhead ducks and Surf Scoters in Glorietta Bay and Phainopepla, Red-tailed Hawk, and Northern Harrier at Santee Lakes.  Today I think I'll just go out and see what I find!

Here are a couple of my favorite images from yesterday at Santee Lakes.

A wet Double-crested Cormorant.
A wet Double-crested Cormorant.
Winter plumage male Ruddy Duck. 1/320 of a second, f/7.1 ISO 400 Canon 5D Mark III the 600 mm lens and the 1.4 Extender, +1 Exposure Compensation.
Winter plumage male Ruddy Duck. 1/320 of a second, f/7.1 ISO 400 Canon 5D Mark III the 600 mm lens and the 1.4 Extender, +1 Exposure Compensation.

Enjoy    Thanks    Tim

It's All About Habitat

Bird PhotographyTim Boyer1 Comment

14 species of shorebirds at the mouth of the San Diego River and then three more at the Tijuana Slough NWR! A 17 species shorebird day!  

Long-billed Curlew scratching its face. Birds have to be contortionist to satisfy those itiches.
Long-billed Curlew scratching its face. Birds have to be contortionist to satisfy those itiches.

We had the usual shorebirds at the San Diego River, plus this year we had Surfbird, Ruddy Turnstone, and Yellowlegs.  This is a great location for birders and bird photographers.  The birds allow for a close approach, the local dogs from the dog park scare them more than humans walking slowly and getting low and non-threatening.  Tech data: 1/1600 of a second, f/6.3 at ISO 250, with the Canon 5D Mark III and the 600 mm lens and a 1.4 Extender.

Marbled Godwit bathing.
Marbled Godwit bathing.

Tech data: 1/1600 of a second, f/6.3 at ISO 250 again with the 5D Mark III the 600 mm lens and the  1.4 Extender.

Little Blue Heron fishing.
Little Blue Heron fishing.

The light started to get harsh when we finally got close to the Little Blue Heron. Created at 1/800 of a second at f/5.6, ISO 400 and still using the 5D Mark III and the 600 mm lens with the 1.4 Extender.

Redhead
Redhead

In the afternoon before we went to the Tijuana NWR we stopped at a Glorietta Bay thinking we'd photograph Eared Grebes and Lesser Scaup.  They weren't there, but we did find Surf Scoter and Redheads, a very nice consolation prize instead!  Captured at 1/640 of a second f/5.6 ISO 400 with the 600 mm and the 1.4 Extender.  I had to crop this too, so you can see they didn't come in very close, but they're beautiful birds!

Enjoy     Thanks As Always     Tim

Pelicans & Sea Lions - San Diego Photo Workshop

Bird PhotographyTim BoyerComment

How to  shoot on a cloudy day.  

Although it was a cloudy morning at teh La Jolla cliffs by shooting tight we were still able to get some great iamges of Brown Pelicans in breeding plumage.
Although it was a cloudy morning at teh La Jolla cliffs by shooting tight we were still able to get some great iamges of Brown Pelicans in breeding plumage.

This image was shot and then cropped tight to eliminate the cloudy gray background.  1/800 of a second, f/5.6 at ISO 1600.  Created using the Canon 5D Mark III and a 600 mm lens.  I used the  5D Mark III because there is less digital or luminance noise at 1600 ISO.

Brandt's Cormorant with their white plumes are so cool. For the cormorants having a cloudy day helped get a more detailed shot of their plumage.
Brandt's Cormorant with their white plumes are so cool. For the cormorants having a cloudy day helped get a more detailed shot of their plumage.

The cormorant image was created with the 5D Mark III as well at ISO 800 at 1/400 of a second at f/5.6.  Shooting at 1/400 of a second is a slow shutter speed for a 600 mm lens so I pressed my hand down over the  center of the lens to dampen any vibration.  This is often refered to as long-lens shooting technique.

Female Sea Lion at The Cove. We were able to get a little closer to them this year, the last couple of years there was a safety rope seperating people and sea lions.
Female Sea Lion at The Cove. We were able to get a little closer to them this year, the last couple of years there was a safety rope seperating people and sea lions.

I used the Canon 7D Mark II while shooting the sea lions, at ISO 400, this allowed me to move around them and get a nice background, without any other people in the image.  There were a few people who got a little too close and the sea lions let them know.  It's nice to have a 100 to 400 mm zoom on a APS sensor camera with the extra reach of the conversion factor, so staying back and not pressuring the sea lion was possible.

Sea Lion pup taking a nap with a soft furry pillow.
Sea Lion pup taking a nap with a soft furry pillow.

Again it ws a day to shoot tight, and the soft difused light made for  some fine detail in the images.

Enjoy     Thanks     Tim

Snowy Plover - Directional versus Quality of Light

Bird PhotographyTim BoyerComment

It was just after noon that I came across this Snowy Plover today.  So the light was not the typically sweet morning or later afternoon light that warms up an image, that I like.  But by putting the sun directly on the face and eye of the bird I was still able to get a workable image, without too much contrasting shadow below the main subject.  

Taken at 12:28 PM on 1/17/16.
Taken at 12:28 PM on 1/17/16.

This image was created at 1/640 of a second, at f/7.1 and ISO 250.  With the handheld Canon EOS 7D Mark II and the EF 100-400 mm f/4.5 - 5.6 IS lens.

Enjoy  Thanks Tim

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

Wenas Canyon & Eastern Washington Workshop Report

Bird PhotographyTim BoyerComment

Just a quick update on the Wenas Canyon Eastern Washington Photography Workshop.  Here are a few images from the last two days!  

First shot of the two-day workshop. Beautiful light on this Mourning Dove.

First shot of the two-day workshop. Beautiful light on this Mourning Dove.

Day one was all about Western & Mountain Bluebirds. This Mountain Bluebird was very attentive to the chicks in the nest box. He made about 3 times the trips with food than the female.

Day one was all about Western & Mountain Bluebirds. This Mountain Bluebird was very attentive to the chicks in the nest box. He made about 3 times the trips with food than the female.

This Black-headed Grosbeak was pretty far away, so I had to crop this image quite a bit.

This Black-headed Grosbeak was pretty far away, so I had to crop this image quite a bit.

Day two started out with Burrowing Owls and I love the attitude this one is giving us.

Day two started out with Burrowing Owls and I love the attitude this one is giving us.

Our second stop was the County Line Ponds near Othello. This Black-necked Stilt is in the process of landing.

Our second stop was the County Line Ponds near Othello. This Black-necked Stilt is in the process of landing.

Wilson's Phalarope at County Line Ponds. For some reason, there are no American Avocets at the ponds but there were more Wilson's Phalaropes then I've seen there before.

Wilson's Phalarope at County Line Ponds. For some reason, there are no American Avocets at the ponds but there were more Wilson's Phalaropes then I've seen there before.

Lark Sparrow at the Ginko State Park in Vantage. We saw several and some had food they were carrying to chicks.

Lark Sparrow at the Ginko State Park in Vantage. We saw several and some had food they were carrying to chicks.

Rock Wren not on rocks but at the base of one of the large trees in the park.

Rock Wren not on rocks but at the base of one of the large trees in the park.

It was a fun two-day bird photography workshop.  We had some birds we didn't expect (like Lark Sparrow) and missed some we thought we'd get (like American Avocet).  There were seven chicks at the Burrowing Owl nest site, with two adults for  nine total an all time high, so that was good to see since their overall population in the Columbia Basin is declining.

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

How to Setup the Canon 7D Mark II -- Part II

The Canon 7D Mark IITim Boyer12 Comments

In this section, we’ll talk about the other camera settings I use that were not covered in Part I when the camera menus were discussed. In Part III we’ll discuss the Auto Focus Selections and Modes.  

Bonapartes Gull in basic or winter plumage. ISO 640, 1/1600 of a second at f/5.6

Bonapartes Gull in basic or winter plumage. ISO 640, 1/1600 of a second at f/5.6

TOP OF THE CAMERA

The Mode Dial:

Set the Camera Mode to AV. AV is Aperture Priority Mode, and I almost always use this shooting mode for bird photography and some landscape photography as well.  Aperture is one of the main creative controls we have when making an image and it can determine how the images looks and feels almost as much as having dynamic or creative light does.

Here are the two main reasons I use AV Mode.

For most bird photography I want to have a sharp image and an out of focus background. The easiest way to obtain this is by shooting wide open at f/4 or f/2.8.  80% of the time, or more, I shoot wide open. But, some of the time I want the bird's bill to be as sharp as the bird's eye, so I change the aperture to f/8 or f/11.

Selecting a wide-open aperture will give me the fastest possible shutter speed automatically, and I don’t’ have to think about it.  Often an image is not sharp because of human or camera/lens movement during the shutter release. Having the camera select the fastest possible shutter speed reduces the chances that the camera, the lens or human movement will impact the image in a negative way.

To change the aperture with my index finger, I move it off the Shutter Release Button to the Main Dial wheeland roll the dial right or left until I’ve changed the aperture to the desired depth-of-field or look & feel I want in the image.

ISO Setting

I like to shoot at the lowest ISO setting I can get, so I’ve been starting the Canon 7D Mark II at ISO 200. Think of a low ISO basically as a high-quality setting and the higher it gets, the less quality there is in the image. At ISO 800 there’s more grain then an ISO 200 setting. At 1600 there is a lot less quality and a lot more grain. ISO 200 is my basic starting point, and I change it, as I need to for either a faster shutter speed or a smaller aperture for more depth-of-field.

It’s easy to set and adjust as needed by pressing the Flash exposure compensation/ISO Speed setting button and then rolling the Main Dial to the right or the left.

Female Mallard,'What's that noise?" ISO 6400, 1/320 of a second exposure at f/5.6.

Female Mallard,'What's that noise?" ISO 6400, 1/320 of a second exposure at f/5.6.

Drive/AF Button

Drive

Change the Drive by pushing down on the Drive/AF Button then using the Quick Dial (thumb) to move between the various modes. I find that I use High-Speed Continuous and Silent Shooting Mode Continuous most often. I usually leave this on the High-Speed Continuous Mode and adjust, as I need to.   High-Speed Continuous will give the ten frames per second; Silent Shooting Mode Continuous will give about four frames per second. But, when you’re close enough to the birds that noise matters, four frames are going to be better then none if the bird gets scared and fly’s away.

Autofocus Mode

I use AI Servo 99% of the time. I used to spend time changing from One Shot to AI Servo, but now I just leave it on AI Servo, and if I need to compose the bird in the frame, I move the focusing points around in the viewfinder. See the AF Point Selection Button section below to see how to move the focus points around in the viewfinder.

Pacific Loon juvenile ISO 500, 1/400 of a second at f/6.3

Pacific Loon juvenile ISO 500, 1/400 of a second at f/6.3

White Balance Selection/Metering Mode Selection Button

Pressing the button and then using the Quick Dial with your thumb to move between the various White Balance Selections Cloudy, Shade, Daylight, Auto White Balance (AWB), Flash, Tungsten, and White Fluorescent can change the White Balance. I leave it on Cloudy because I like the warmer tones I get on this setting. In post-processing about 1% of the time, I’ll change the White Balance.

Metering Mode Selection

There are four metering modes, which control the exposure of your images; Evaluative metering, Partial metering, Spot metering and Center-weighted average metering. I use Evaluative Metering almost exclusively and dial in Exposure Compensation as needed. Adding light if the sky is bright and the is bird dark, subtracting light if the bird is bright and the sky or background is dark. The camera exposure algorithm does a good job of evaluating the scene and making a pretty darn close exposure, but there are times you’ll need to adjust it.

By shooting in Evaluative Metering Mode and using Exposure Compensation Adjustments, I can concentrate on composition and acquire the targeted bird rather than make a Spot Metering constantly reading between or before shots. I use Spot Metering for a lot of landscape photography shoots, but not for bird photography.

To make Exposure Compensation Adjustments quickly, press the shutter release down halfway, then use the Quick Dial with your thumb to add (move right) or subtract (move left) from the Evaluative Exposure Metering the camera has chosen.

M-Fn Button

Each time this is pressed it cycles through the autofocus modes available. We’ll cover this in the next in How to Setup your Canon 7D Mark II post when it is all about Auto Focus.

Canada goose, ISO 400 at f/11 and 1/400 of a second

Canada goose, ISO 400 at f/11 and 1/400 of a second

AF Point Selection Button

By pressing this and using the Main Dial to move the focusing points right and left or the Quick Dial with your thumb to move the focusing points up or down you can choose what will be sharp and in focus.

AE Lock Button

Use this to lock the exposure metering when you want to take multiple shots at the same exposure. Then press the AE Lock Button then recompose and take another shot.

AF-ON Button

This turn on the auto focusing when pressed. I don’t use it very often. I activate the auto focusing by pressing the Shutter Release Button down halfway.

Quick Control or Q Button for Shooting Functions

This is a handy way to change any of the shooting functions quickly. Although I have to confess it wasn’t until I started to do a lot of landscape photography that I started using this. For bird photography, I think its best to learn how to make shooting function changes by feel. By not taking my eye away from the viewfinder, I wouldn’t miss any shots while photographing birds.

The next post on How to Setup, your Canon 7D Mark II, will be on auto focusing, Part III.

Enjoy

Thanks as Always!

Tim

Birding/Photo Project 2013 #3

Bird PhotographyTim BoyerComment

San Diego Workshop images!

I'll do a full post on the San Diego Workshop, but here are a few of the images taken during the workshop that are new species this year.  The  first  five were taken in La Jolla, and the last two were taken on Coronado.

Brown Pelican preening.  The uropygial or preen gland that contains the oil/waxy substance to waterproof and care for feathers is visible.
Brown Pelican preening. The uropygial or preen gland that contains the oil/waxy substance to waterproof and care for feathers is visible.
La Jolla California
La Jolla California
In January only a few birds will have the breeding plumage double crest.  Most of the Double-crested Cormorants were still in basic or winter plumage.
In January only a few birds will have the breeding plumage double crest. Most of the Double-crested Cormorants were still in basic or winter plumage.
Ruddy Turnstone in basic or winter plumage foraging for lunch on the rocky La Jolla coast.
Ruddy Turnstone in basic or winter plumage foraging for lunch on the rocky La Jolla coast.

Ruddy Turnstone in basic or winter plumage foraging for lunch on the rocky La Jolla coast.

A Royal Tern waiting to fish the incoming tide.
A Royal Tern waiting to fish the incoming tide.
Winter or basic plumage Horned Grebe hanging out in the marina at Coronado.
Winter or basic plumage Horned Grebe hanging out in the marina at Coronado.
Lesser Scaup just after diving for food in the marina on Coronado.
Lesser Scaup just after diving for food in the marina on Coronado.

Bosque Sunrise & Snow Geese

Bird PhotographyTim BoyerComment
Wow, another day, another incredible sunrise.
Wow, another day, another incredible sunrise.

While some Snow Geese blasted off to the south, (you can see them above the trees on the left side of the image), a few came into the main pond.  I used the new Canon EOS 5D Mark III and the Canon EF  17-40mm f/4L USM @ 32 mm for this image.

Bosque Reflections at Dawn-8291
Bosque Reflections at Dawn-8291

Textures, colors, light and a little creativity.   Canon EOS 7D, EF 100-400 f/4.5-5.6L IS USM lens @ 100mm, ISO 400.

Snow Goose Dreams-9051
Snow Goose Dreams-9051

I was really trying to get a little of the character of the Snow Goose and the texture in the feathers to come out.   This image was taken in the middle of the day with side lighting.

The geese were close to the shore, but staying back about 20 feet or so.  I guess that's their comfort zone for a bunch of photographers with big lenses pointed at them.   To get a close, tight shot, I opted to use the Canon EOS 7D with the EF 600mm f/4L IS USM lens with the  1.4X Extender II.  The effective focal lenght was 1,344mm, @ ISO 200, 1/320 sec. @ f/6.3.