Tim Boyer Photography

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rare shorebirds

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

Lesser Sand Plover

Bird PhotographyTim BoyerComment

These images were taken yesterday on August 16th at Ocean Shores, WA. On the outer coast near the Quinault Casino.  This was a field trip sponsored by the Seattle Audubon, and there were nine of us on the trip.  Later the bird was seen by two other birders see -- eBird for those details. We accessed the beach from the entrance point by the Best Western Hotel and drove north.  We saw the usual Western Sandpipers, Semipalmated Plovers and Sanderlings but it was low tide the birds were scattered and not bunched up so we had low numbers and small groupings of birds.  After driving as far as we legally could we turned around and were headed south back to the Best Western beach access point thinking about the North Jetty as the next stop.  I don't know why I stopped the car to look at this small group of shorebirds, but the day before on the shorebird field trip for the Fall Shorebird Class I taught for Eastside Audubon we found a Ruddy Turnstone on the beach with a few Western Sandpipers and Semipalmated Plovers.  What happened next though must have looked like pandemonium on the beach as I jumped out of my car and ran back to Blair's car to ask him to get the scope out, he was already out of his car grabing his camera.  We both had left our car doors open and cars running as we very quickly realized what we were seeing.  I bet the field trip participants wondered what the heck they'd gotten themselves into as both drivers had jumped out of their cars.  Blair and I both called out Lesser Sand Plover, although I think the first thing I said was the old name Mongolian Plover.  After awhile we settled down and got the other field trip participants on the bird, but still in shock/surprise that we'd located a bird that hadn't been seen in Washington since 2013, we made sure everyone got good looks, four of five of us had cameras and got pictures, and I'm not sure I stopped smiling and saying WOW, for a couple of hours.  Yep, 24 hours later, WOW!

Lesser Sadn Plover found on the outer coast of Ocean Shores near teh  Quinault Casino on Aug. 16th, 2015.
Lesser Sadn Plover found on the outer coast of Ocean Shores near teh Quinault Casino on Aug. 16th, 2015.
Lesser Sand Plover-8128
Lesser Sand Plover-8128
Lesser Sand Plover-8188
Lesser Sand Plover-8188
Lesser Sand Plover feeding on a marine worm.
Lesser Sand Plover feeding on a marine worm.
Lesser Sand Plover with Semipalmated Plovers and Western Sandpiper
Lesser Sand Plover with Semipalmated Plovers and Western Sandpiper
Size comparison Lesser Sand Plover with Western Sandpipers and Semipalmated Plovers.
Size comparison Lesser Sand Plover with Western Sandpipers and Semipalmated Plovers.

Later in the day on the Oyhut Game Range we located what we first thought to be 17 Pacific Golden Plovers, but when they were flushed by a peregrine there were 22 or 23. I had counted 8 the day before with the Eastside Audubon Class. But, 20+ Pacific Golden Plovers was a high number for all of us.

There was also a pair of peregrine on the Game Range, and we watch one Peregrine Falcon snack on a shorebird.  It had landed pretty close to use and we had great views with our bins.  We couldn't make out the band number but it had a right leg red band and a left leg green band.  It was pretty windy by then and even with scope views there was too much vibration to read the band number.

We watched the peregrine that had been snacking take off and fly about two feet off the ground and spit a group of flushed shorebirds.  Then the other peregrine from higher up dove on one of the groups.  It caught one of the small shorebirds and flew directly over head.  On any normal fieldtrip that would have been the highlight, watching a peregrine hunt then do a fly over at 20 feet. But on a day with a Lesser Sand Plover and  20+ Pacific Golden Plovers, it was exciting, but definitely not the highlight!

These images were taken around 11:45  AM in mid-day light with the Canon 7D Mark II and a 100-400 mm lens with a 1.4 Extender so the  effective focal lenght was 896 mm.  I had to do a lot of cropping on each image, we were not that close to the bird, and none of us wanted to flush it.

Enjoy      Get outside and Thanks!         Tim