Tim Boyer Photography

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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

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

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

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

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

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.