On Thin Ice

Author:  Amy Horn

The overnight temperatures in Flagstaff on average have been below 20 degrees Fahrenheit for the past few weeks, so it is no surprise that Francis Short Pond is covered with thin ice. The ice has been different thicknesses but the first day I went to capture ice photos, the ice was not even an inch thick. So, I had to be creative on how to capture the intriguing ice bubbles I spotted just off the shore. I knew I couldn’t stand on the ice, but I hoped it would hold the weight of my camera. So, I setup my gear (tripod, Nikon D600 and 105mm macro lens) on the dry land and carefully set it on the ice.

Photo 3

I was a little nervous setting thousands of dollars of gear on the iced, but the ice held as you can see in Photo 1 and 2. When my heartbeat returned to normal, I realized my lens was not parallel to the plane of the subject. I would not get sharp photos if I didn’t make a change. Reaching over the ice from dry land, I adjusted my camera’s lens plane and then slid the tripod over the ice bubbles. I was using live view, but could barely reach the lens to focus from the side of the pond. I snapped a few shots with my shutter release then brought the tripod back to dry land to view the shots. The shots were in focus, but not the composition. Then I remembered my CamRanger. It was in my camera bag. A CamRanger is a wireless solution to capturing and viewing images (among other great features). The CamRanger would solve my problem.

Photo 2

I plugged the CamRanger into the camera’s USB port and used a Tether Tools Rock solid smart clip with hot shoe adapter mount to stabilize it on the camera. I opened my iPhone wifi settings and found the CamRanger wifi signal. Next, I opened the CamRanger app and turned on live view. Only a few short minutes at 19 degrees passed and I was ready to place my tripod & camera back on the ice. With the CamRanger, I could remotely control my camera through focus and exposure and preview the composition. As long as I could reach a tripod leg, I could rotate the camera on the ice to capture the composition I desired. I even used the CamRanger focus stacking feature to capture a series of images that I could stack when I got home. Photo 3 is a single capture from the CamRanger setup. This was so much fun, I forgot my gear was resting on thin ice or that it was below 20 degrees!

For more information on a CamRanger or Tether Tools mounts, please visit tethertools.com. Amy Horn is a professor of photography at Northern Arizona University and an instructor for Arizona Highways Photo Workshops. To see her current schedule view ahpw.org or horndesigns.com.

Lazy Boy Photography

Author: David Huffman
DWH_0729_

Did you ever get the desire to take a photograph but you just didn’t have the time or the inclination to drive a long ways to take it? Well, that happened to me just over this last weekend.

I have been studying, reading, and talking with friends about photographing hummingbirds for a long time. Arizona Highways Photo Workshops has a specific workshop on this, and it is terrific. I decided to try my hand at it on my own from the comfort of my living room.  That’s why I call this Lazy Boy Photography.  I have hummingbird feeders on my back patio and in my front yard as well. The hummingbirds tend to visit first thing in the morning, and again late afternoon.  I use Nikon equipment, and take advantage of their commander-slave strobe synchronization technology. I set up four strobes in total, one below, another above, and one each on the left and right side of the focus point. You can see this in the attached photograph. I used two different cameras, two different lenses, and three ways to trigger the shutter.
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One camera and lens combination was a Nikon D810 body with a Nikkor 70-200 mm F/4 lens.The other is a Nikon D7100 body with a Nikkor 24-120mm lens.  Overall, I prefer using the D810 for the better image quality and also because it has a larger buffer so I could shoot more photographs more quickly. I tried the Nikon wireless remote utility using an iPad and the remote adapter for that D7100, but the app is just too inconsistent for this use.  On the D810, I used a iUSBport Camera2 to trigger the system remotely with my iPad.  This works better, has a faster reaction time and you can make many camera adjustments from the app. The third way I triggered the set up was with a wired remote, but I soon tired of standing so close to the camera.  For settings, I used high speed flash synch, aperture f/22 for maximum depth of field, ISO 800, and flash distances of about 24 to 30 inches.  You’ll need to experiment.  We take advantage of the high effective shutter speeds of the flash to freeze the wings of these little beauties.

Photographing hummingbirds takes practice and patience. That’s why I decided, on my first attempt, to do it from the convenience of my living room. Over the course of about four hours I ended up getting three or four images that are usable.  This one is from a small part of the frame.  I encourage you to try new subjects and methods, and of course to learn from others, especially from Arizona Highways Photo Workshops, visit www.AHPW.org.

David is a Volunteer Trip Leader, Author and Instructor.  Visit him at www.HuffmanPhotoArt.com.

 

Conquering the Creative Block

Author: David Halgrimson

Have you ever gotten to the point where your creative photo eye just does not see anything? I have had my own dry spells, photographically that is. We look and look and even try a few shoots and it just does not feel right. Well sometimes we need to just take a break, relax take the pressure off and it will come back. Other times it is better to drive or force yourself to get up get out and find something to take pictures of.

In one case the Arizona Highways Photo Workshops group gave us volunteers a challenge, for seven days go out and just shoot one thing and only take one shot. For me, I thought well where would I go do that and how could I find seven different things, interesting things, over seven straight days?

I decided I would see what I could find right around my home, inside and out. These were right in my front and backyard and I never really saw them before.

So just do it, give yourself a challenge, pick up your camera and get out there. You will be surprised, as I was with the number of images right around your own home.

 

David Halgrimson is a trip leader with Arizona Highways Photo Workshops.

Mobile Editing with Photoshop Mix

Author:  Amy Horn

In my opinion, mobile editing is not a laptop but it is using an iPad to edit photos. So, on all of my travels I only take my iPad and recently I discovered a great application to editing on the run, Adobe Photoshop Mix. Not only is Photoshop Mix easy to use, it is a free download for Adobe Creative Cloud users. So, let’s take a look at my workflow. A few weeks back, I photographed ice on a frozen pond. When I returned home, I downloaded my images to Lightroom on my PC and created a collection of these images to synchronize with Lightroom Mobile. Now, my ice images were available anywhere I carried my iPad. A few hours later, our family took off on a weekend road trip which gave me time in the car editing my photos.

So, I opened Lightroom Mobile and selected a photo to edit. The image I am showing here is an image I thought I would throw away. When I first captured the image, I neglected to notice the branch in the frame. Once I studied my composition, I captured several more images without the branch. But instead of throwing this image away, I realized I really liked the curve at the bottom of the ice and decided it was worth editing. This particular edit is more than what Lightroom can do, so I chose the export feature of Lightroom Mobile and selected “Copy to Photoshop Mix.” Just like that, Photoshop Mix opened with my image ready to edit. That was pretty cool.

Original Ice image

Zoomed in image cloning tool in Photoshop Mix

The app has a simple overview screen with icons and descriptions to make it user friendly. I chose the healing button and then the clone stamp tool. With a quick tap on the screen where I wanted to steal from and then another tap on the screen over the branch, instantly part of the branch was gone. I continued to apply the clone stamp tool until I had removed the branch from the photo. In a matter of one minute or less, I had a “cleaned up” version of my image to evaluate. If I decided this image is a keeper, I will probably complete a final edit using Photoshop on my home computer, but since I was in a car and didn’t have my computer with me, this was a great solution. The best part of using Photoshop Mix is the seamless transition back to Lightroom. In my editing screen I chose the exporting icon and selected my favorite option, “Save to Lightroom.” Of course, I could have saved to my camera roll or many other options, but, just like that, my edited image was returned to Lightroom Mobile. Saving to Lightroom Mobile is synonymous to saving on my home computer since all of these photos synchronize instantly. Mobile editing doesn’t get much better than this! If you are a mobile device user, Photoshop Mix might be a great solution to your editing needs. Now I can edit on the go and know the image is safe on my home computer.

Finished image

Amy Horn is a professor of photography at Northern Arizona University and an instructor for Arizona Highways Photo Workshops. To see her current schedule view ahpw.org or horndesigns.com.

Nikon 300mm Lens Field Test First Impressions

Author: David Huffman

From time to time, we all get the urge to buy a new piece of equipment. We research it, talk to others, and maybe even rent one before we make a purchase decision. I’m no different. As a teenager, when I first got the photography bug from my father, I poured over all the lens data and testing graphs in the back of the photo magazines every month. I could memorize them. That was partly because I had more interest than I did money. Several decades later, now I find that while there is tremendous information available over the Internet, I still want to try it myself before I make a final decision. The abundant testing that most websites perform is very helpful, but at times tends overstate the deficiencies of the lens—the lenses look better than the reports would have you believe.

So, I no longer photograph newspaper pages or test targets, but instead take the lenses out into the field for testing in more real situations. I can’t remember the last time a photograph of a test target or newspaper page won a contest.

This report comes from a walk-around test in my local park of an exciting new lens from Nikon. It has been 15 years since a new version of a 300mm telephoto lens was introduced by Nikon, so the new Nikkor 300mm f/4E PF ED VR lens was something many enthusiasts and professionals have been waiting for.  What makes this new lens so exciting is an innovative optical design that reduces the weight by 50% and the physical size by 30%; this is a completely different lens. Nikon was able to achieve this by using a Phase Fresnel (PF) lens element, which can effectively reduce the need to use complex lens elements for correcting chromatic aberrations and ghosting. (Please note that I received no compensation from Nikon or other manufacturers for this review.) There are a number of new technologies in this lens, and I’ll refer you to the manufacturer’s website or other Internet sources for the full details. What interests me most about this lens, was that I could achieve full frame coverage with a longer telephoto lens, and keep the size and weight lower so I could carry it and use it more often. I use long lenses and although the results with them are very good I find I use them infrequently because they’re just too big to carry. This lens is so small and light, that is comparable to my every day walk-around lenses and short zooms.  The lens is 89mm x 147mm, and weight is 755g.  The picture below shows the new (left) and old lens for comparison.

lens1

Lens handling is excellent and well-balanced on my full frame Nikon bodies D750, D810 and Df–– its weight is distributed evenly across the lens and it does not feel front-heavy like some of the telephoto and super telephoto lenses. Because the lens is so light, you don’t have to lay it on your left hand entirely when hand-holding, so you can completely avoid touching the focus ring.  The photo below shows a close up of the new lens alone.

lens2

I’ll abbreviate this review in the interests of time for your reading.  I decided to test the lens today without a tripod, for the convenience of walking and also because I intend to use it for wildlife which can be more difficult with tripods.  So the waterfowl photos that accompany this blog are hand held.  All photos use the VR—vibration reduction— setting and I was not resting the lens on any type of support.  I had good results at all shutter speeds down to 1/30th second, although the sharpness was more consistent at shutter speeds over 1/250th second.  Focus was fast and accurate, both in single focus and continuous focus modes.  Each of the photos below were cropped somewhat, just as I would for a final image; these are not intended to be contest-winners, just test shots.

The first image is was taken at f/4 and 1/1000th second.  Even taken at a distance of over 150 feet, the depth of field is very shallow, so I’ll have to be careful with focus.  Using smaller apertures can help, but with these longer lenses, depth of field will always be limited.

photo3

The second image was taken at a closer distance of about 35 feet, and you’ll see the sharpness is outstanding, using f/8 and 1/350th second.  But depth of field is still limited.

photo4

Finally, I added a 1.4X teleconverter to the lens for an effective focal length of 420mm, and took this image from a distance of about 25 feet using f/5.6 and 1/1000th second.  Very sharp.

photo5

My practical assessment concludes this lens is “a keeper” and one I’ll enjoy on my next outings and workshops with Arizona Highways Photo Workshops.  Join us soon!

David is a Volunteer Trip Leader, instructor and author, find him at www.HuffmanPhotoArt.com.

Gear Review: Sirui ball head

siruiAuthor: Jeff Cox

I heard about the Sirui ball head at a workshop and it had a very good review on DP review. I found there are several different variations depending on the weight capability. The review gave the heavy duty one five stars because it performed as well as the others but was much less expensive.

I decided to try the one rated at 44lbs. because I don’t use really heavy cameras and/or lenses. There are three knobs; one for the locking plate, a large one for the ball and a smaller knob or panning. The release plate is adjustable for different cameras with the ability to slide and has a strap loop that could be used. The ball head has three types of levels. These are best used prior to attaching the camera.

I have used this with a couple of different lenses so far. The heaviest being a 100-400 on my Sony A77.

The quick release plate uses the standard  Arca Swiss type plates.

Friction and Locking Knob have a small screw dial on it. This allows the user to set the friction amount and is easily turned with the thumb. The friction setting will help prevent the camera from flopping around when loosing the knob.

The camera is easily moved around and tightening is simple with no slippage or movement. My camera is rock solid on the ball head and the tripod. In conclusion, for the price I feel the Sirui ball head is as good or better than some that cost twice as much.

Jeff Cox is a trip leader with Arizona Highways Photo Workshops

Award Winning Bird Photography

Author: Nathaniel Smalley

Nathaniel @ Audubon AZ

Recently I was honored to be requested as the guest speaker at Audubon Arizona’s showcase event in November, featuring award winning images from the 2015 National Audubon Photography Competition. The event was very well attended and I enjoyed an engaged audience as I discussed the topic of award winning bird photography. Due to the popularity of the topic, I chose to compile some of my notes into a blog post here.

Though I haven’t personally invested a lot of time entering my work, I have been asked to be a judge for a number of different nature photography competitions including the distinguished Natures Best Photography – Africa (a division of Nature’s Best Photography), Viewbug.com and others.

Birds were my door into photography way back in high school. These days I rarely go anywhere for the sole purpose of watching birds, but that hobby helped shape my career as a professional nature photographer, and as a result birds will always hold a special place in my heart. I now carry a camera in place of my binoculars when out looking for avian subjects. So you might ask, what am I looking for when I photograph birds? Creating successful bird photographs requires one or more different elements in our composition. Obviously there are many that could be listed, but for the sake of simplicity I’ve limited it to 10 elements. In the caption of each photo in this article I have detailed the main elements from this list have been utilized in my photographs. They are as follows:

– Action | Behavior | Humor | Personality | Friendship | Light | Perspective | Habitat | Depth of Field | Nostalgia –

Despite popular opinion, bird photography isn’t all about having a big lens. While it can certainly help achieve certain images, there are many creative ways to photograph birds that certainly require more effort, but produce great results. This image of a Great Blue Heron in flight was taken with my 70-200mm zoom lens and a teleconverter making it effectively a 400mm lens. Capturing this image came down to being prepared for the bird as it flew in front of me, as opposed to having a piece of high powered glass.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron – This bird in flight image utilizes action. Camera: Nikon D700 & Nikon 70-200mm Lens w/ 2x Teleconverter – ISO 1,000 | f-5.6 | 1/1600 sec. @ 400mm

To further illustrate my point I want to show you the image below. This is perhaps the most popular photo I’ve ever taken. What camera was it taken with? My Sony Cybershot Point & Shoot, 8 megapixel camera! Sure, it’s not a bird photo, but it proves a point; Creativity and being passionate about your subject trumps expensive equipment every time.

-This image was licensed by Nikon for a corporate presentation.
-It has been shared to every corner of the world.
-Published in international magazines and used in multiple articles.
-Occupied 1st place on 500px ahead of over-saturated landscapes and photos of half-naked female models.

Nathaniel’s infant son Dimitri at one week old – ISO 400 | f-2.8 | 1/25 sec. @ 6mm

Nathaniel’s infant son Dimitri at one week old – ISO 400 | f-2.8 | 1/25 sec. @ 6mm

So the next logical question then is how does one get close enough to these subjects without spooking them. Birds tend to be very skittish of humans, and for good reason, in fact I’m wary of humans at times myself! When we photograph birds and wildlife we want them to be relaxed and in their natural state. I’m strongly opposed to using bait to lure in wild subjects, but that’s a whole topic in and of itself. (If you would like to read more on the topic of baiting birds and wildlife click on this link). I also refrain from using calls and recordings. As much as possible I want my wild subjects to be acting out their normal behavior patterns as though I was not present. This is when I capture my best images. The longer we sit still and the more we blend into our surroundings the more comfortable birds become with our presence and the closer they will come to us. The clothing colors that we wear can effect how birds react to our presence. Stay away from whites, reds, yellows and other brightly colored clothing, these colors are often associated with danger in the natural world. Instead choose earth tones or even camouflage. Bird blinds are another option allowing us to photograph birds without being detected. Many species are much easier to photograph in the spring when they spend a majority of their time singing, displaying their bright breeding plumage and engaged in territorial disputes. Sometimes a bird will be all but oblivious to human presence during this time of the year as they’re so preoccupied with finding a mate and defending their turf. Below is an American Redstart singing his heart out at Magee Marsh, along the shores of Lake Erie in Ohio. Magee Marsh is a bird photographer’s paradise! I’m returning to Magee Marsh in 2016 to lead an exclusive bird photography workshop for Arizona Highways Photo Workshops, (to see more information about that workshop click here).

American Redstart – This image illustrates behavior & action. Camera: Nikon D800e & Nikon 600mm Lens w/ 1.4x Teleconverter – Iso 1,250 | f-7.1 | 1/250 sec. @ 850mm

American Redstart – This image illustrates behavior & action. Camera: Nikon D800e & Nikon 600mm Lens w/ 1.4x Teleconverter – Iso 1,250 | f-7.1 | 1/250 sec. @ 850mm

Conversely, nesting season can be one of the most difficult times to photograph birds, as they are trying to be secretive and all their attention is consumed with feeding their young. While nest sites can be intriguing to photograph, one should take extreme caution to do so at a safe distance so as not to stress or make the birds feel threatened. No photograph is worth rising the welfare of the nestlings, regardless of how cute they are.

Even the most common species are popular as babies, like this pair of Herring Gull chicks (above right) navigating through a large patch of ice plant on the California coastline. For this image I climbed on top of a railing along the ocean cliff to get even higher perspective (see below). This allowed me to shoot down on my subjects and isolate them in the frame from one another. If I’d shot them straight on then they would have blended together into a fluffy blob with two heads.

Nathaniel on location at La Jolla Cove in San Diego, California © Laurie Rubin

Nathaniel on location at La Jolla Cove in San Diego, California © Laurie Rubin

Capturing fledglings in their natural element in great light can produce some really magical results. Below a baby Canada Goose is struggling to put down a large dandelion blossom. The early morning sun on the dew covered grass creates the perfect shooting conditions for an image like this. I got low to the ground on eye level with my subject to help put the size of the surroundings in perspective. Using a shallow depth of field helps to isolate the gosling from the habitat and draws the viewers attention directly to the subject.

Canada Goose – This image utilizes light (dramatic), perspective & depth of field. Camera: Nikon D800e & Nikon 600mm Lens – Iso 1,000 | f-6.3 | 1/2000 sec. @ 600mm

Canada Goose – This image utilizes light (dramatic), perspective & depth of field. Camera: Nikon D800e & Nikon 600mm Lens – Iso 1,000 | f-6.3 | 1/2000 sec. @ 600mm

Golden Plover chick – This image utilizes perspective & depth of field. Camera: Nikon D4s & Nikon 600mm Lens – Iso 1,000 | f-6.3 | 1/320 sec. @ 600mm

Golden Plover chick – This image utilizes perspective & depth of field. Camera: Nikon D4s & Nikon 600mm Lens – Iso 1,000 | f-6.3 | 1/320 sec. @ 600mm

By getting very low to the ground when shooting this Golden Plover chick, the subject appears much smaller and more vulnerable in the overall scene, which is what I was going for. This impression is enhanced by the fact that I centered the subject and composed the bird low in the frame with lots of negative space above it. This image breaks one of the main rules of composition, known as ‘The Rule of Thirds.’ The rule of thirds states that: ‘An image is most pleasing when its subjects or regions are composed along imaginary lines which divide the image into thirds – both vertically and horizontally ’. This just goes to show that all the ‘rules ‘ of photography are made to be broken.

Unlike the previous example, this image below was composed following ‘The Rule of Thirds’. You can see the owl’s eyes, as the primary point of interest, are located right where the top left intersecting lines meet. This photo has nice balance to it with the double Aspens on the right offsetting the ‘weight ’ of the owl on the left. I’ve used depth of field to manage how much of the surrounding habitat is in focus.

Great Gray Owl – This image utilizes habitat, depth of field & perspective. Camera: Nikon D800e & Nikon 600mm Lens w/ 1.4x Teleconverter – Iso 400 | f-8 | 1/320 sec. @ 850mm

Great Gray Owl – This image utilizes habitat, depth of field & perspective. Camera: Nikon D800e & Nikon 600mm Lens w/ 1.4x Teleconverter – Iso 400 | f-8 | 1/320 sec. @ 850mm

Spring Fancy | Hooded Merganser

Hooded Merganser – This image utilizes behavior, perspective, action & light (reflected & direct). Camera: Nikon D800e & Nikon 70-200mm Lens w/ 2x Teleconverter – Iso 1,000 | f-6.3 | 1/1250 sec. @ 400mm

With bird photography almost every image will have more impact if you can get on eye level with your subject. Sometimes photographers don’t put a lot of thought into the angle at which an image is taken, but considering the role it plays in creating a successful image it aught to get far more attention. People are instinctively drawn to an photo taken from an unusual angle. For the image below I had my tripod in the water and was laying down with the upper half of my body stretched out over the edge of the bank to operate the camera and capture this shot. Needless to say that is not a comfortable position to be in, but often capturing the best shot requires a bit of physical discomfort to achieve the desired results.

Brown Pelican – This image utilizes fine art & behavior. Camera: Nikon D4s & Nikon 600mm Lens – Iso 1,250 | f-7.1 | 1/100 sec. @ 600mm

Brown Pelican – This image utilizes fine art & behavior. Camera: Nikon D4s & Nikon 600mm Lens – Iso 1,250 | f-7.1 | 1/100 sec. @ 600mm

A fine art photograph is taken with the goal of creating a work of art. It goes beyond the literal aspect of the scene or the subject photographed and creates an image that shares the photographer’s personal vision, a metaphorical aspect or message. This type of photography is more about making a photograph, not just taking a photograph. Documentation is great for certain types of photography, such as forensics where the purpose is to record the scene in the most literal and factual manner possible, but fine art photography is is about more than just creating a documentary image. While defining exactly what constitutes fine art photography may be impossible, here are a few points to consider in defining it:

1). What a fine art photograph illustrates must be different from what is observed when the shot is taken.
2). The purpose of a fine art photograph is to share the photographer’s personal vision of the scene or subject.
3). When looking at a fine art photograph it’s clear that the photograph was created by an artist and not just by a camera.
Sunset Salute | Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron – This image utilizes action & behavior. Camera: Nikon D800e & Nikon 600mm Lens – Iso 800 | f-4 | 1/3200 sec. @ 600mm

Great Blue Heron – This image utilizes action & behavior. Camera: Nikon D800e & Nikon 600mm Lens – Iso 800 | f-4 | 1/3200 sec. @ 600mm

Often after catching and swallowing a large fish a heron will open and close its beak activating its throat muscles and helping it to fully swallow its meal. Knowing of this behavior and watching for it allows you to capture a shot like this one of the Great Blue Heron below and gives the impression of a loud audible call from your subject.

That is exactly what I was going for when I took the image below of this Green Heron. It looks as though the heron is screaming at the top of its lungs, when in reality it was simply trying to work down its morning meal.

Green Heron – This image utilizes action & behavior. Camera: Nikon D4s & Nikon 600mm Lens w/ 1.4x Teleconverter – Iso 640 | f-7.1 | 1/800 sec. @ 850mm

Green Heron – This image utilizes action & behavior. Camera: Nikon D4s & Nikon 600mm Lens w/ 1.4x Teleconverter – Iso 640 | f-7.1 | 1/800 sec. @ 850mm

Shooting into a glowing sunset certainly has its challenges as images can easily end up over-exposed. Be sure to take care not to look through the viewfinder when shooting directly towards the sun, use the live view function on your camera if possible. You’ll notice that I’ve composed this image with the sun just to the left of the frame to allow me to shoot while looking through the viewfinder. When the sun is still above the horizon, sunrise and sunset can provide photographers lots of light to work with, and as a result you are able to shoot at faster shutter speeds and freeze motion or smaller apertures for greater depth of field. That is exactly what I’ve done here with this flock of Arctic Terns over the coast of Iceland. In the image below I have taken advantage of the extra light to shoot at f-14 giving me more depth of field in the image and showing more of the layers in the distant hills.

Arctic Terns – This image utilizes action & light (dramatic). Camera: Nikon D700 & Nikon 70-200mm Lens w/ 1.4x Teleconverter – Iso 500 | f-14 | 1/200 sec. @ 220mm Last Light | Snowy Egret

Arctic Terns – This image utilizes action & light (dramatic). Camera: Nikon D700 & Nikon 70-200mm Lens w/ 1.4x Teleconverter – Iso 500 | f-14 | 1/200 sec. @ 220mm
Last Light | Snowy Egret

Snowy Egret – This image utilizes light (dramatic). Camera: Nikon D4s & Nikon 600mm Lens – Iso 100 | f-8 | 1/1000 sec. @ 600mm

Snowy Egret – This image utilizes light (dramatic). Camera: Nikon D4s & Nikon 600mm Lens – Iso 100 | f-8 | 1/1000 sec. @ 600mm

Back light can give an photo a very special effect and enhance shapes and forms. Back lighting works best when the details on the edges are more important than the colors of the subject. Here a Snowy Egret is beautifully illuminated by an early morning beam of light that perfectly highlights a stray feather on its chest. In a shot like this I’m adjusting my camera settings based on the reading from my camera’s light meter is giving me for the brightest parts in the image. By doing this most (if not all) of the distracting back ground elements fall off into the shadows and help to further isolate and emphasize the subject.

When seeking bird subjects to photograph there are a few questions we can ask ourselves that will aid us in finding them in the best conditions. What is the dominant habitat for the location you are photographing? Researching the region and the knowing the geography will aid you in being better prepared for the type of vegetation and/or terrain you’ll be working in. For most bird species the year is divided into different activities (migration, nesting etc.). Understanding what birds are doing at different times of the year will help you learn when is the best time to photograph them. Where do the birds in your part of the world like to nest and feed? Discovering where their food sources are will lead you to the birds. In the image below a Northern Parula Warbler feeds on small insects inside the seed heads of an Alder Tree, knowing this information makes locating my subject more predictable.

Seeds Of Spring | Northen Parula Warbler

Northern Parula Warbler – This image utilizes habitat & light (soft). Camera: Nikon D800e & Nikon 600mm Lens w/ 1.4x Teleconverter – Iso 800 | f-6.3 | 1/1250 sec. @ 850mm

Signs Of Spring | American Robin

American Robin – This image utilizes nostalgia & habitat. Camera: Nikon D800e & Nikon 600mm Lens – Iso 800 | f-8 | 1/200 sec. @ 600mm

Depending on what part of the Country you grew up in, seeing a Robin in a blooming Crab Apple Tree can be synonymous with spring and feelings of happiness. Having grown up in New England shots like this one of an American Robin bring back great memories for me personally. Capturing a familiar subject in an identifiable scene often takes a bit of planning, but when it is done right you can create a heartwarming photo that has a lot of appeal in front of the right audience. Photos that resonate with a viewer often do so because there is some nostalgic connection that they have with the image. I can’t track how many times I’ve been told by clients purchasing a print that they were ‘buying a hummingbird photo because their mom loved hummingbirds and the photo reminds them of their mother’, or they simply ‘had to have that print of the ocean because they grew up on the coast and the photo reminded them of home’.

Burrowing Owl – This image utilizes personality & behavior. Camera: Nikon D4s & Nikon 600mm Lens – Iso 200 | f-6.3 | 1/3200 sec. @ 600mm

Burrowing Owl – This image utilizes personality & behavior. Camera: Nikon D4s & Nikon 600mm Lens – Iso 200 | f-6.3 | 1/3200 sec. @ 600mm

This look of a Burrowing Owl in the image to the left is achieved by photographing it from just the right angle and produces the look of a stern school master (or perhaps your mother when she’s angry at you). Capturing birds from the best angle and at the perfect moment can yield exceptional results that give your subject a personality all its own. Photos of birds and wildlife that show a recognizable personality immediately resonate with the viewer and tend to be very popular.

Images that illustrate friendship between two wild subjects (whether actual or perceived), always evoke positive responses. Places where birds and wildlife both find food sources together are great locations to look for this kind of interaction and capture these types of shots. I found this sea lion and cormorant sunning themselves together on a rock along the coastline of California.

Sea Lion-Cormorant

Sea Lion & Cormorant – This image utilizes friendship & habitat. Camera: Nikon D4s & Nikon 600mm Lens – Iso 800 | f-8 | 1/320 sec. @ 600mm

 

The Height Of Audacity | Elk and Magpie

Elk & Magpie – This image utilizes friendship & humor. Camera: Nikon D700 & Nikon 600mm Lens – Iso 400 | f-4| 1/350 sec. @ 600mm

 

 

I can’t emphasize enough the importance of studying bird behavior in the field. That’s how I was able to be prepared for a shot like the one to the right of the elk and magpie. I watched this magpie that was hanging out with a herd of Elk, eating parasites out of their fur and foraging underneath their feet. I witnessed it fly up and land on this one elk’s back numerous times before I got the opportunity to capture this shot on the right. Anticipating bird behavior is absolutely essential for capturing winning bird photographs. Also be sure to read up in your bird field guide. There have been numerous birds that seeing them for the first time I immediately knew what they were just from having looked at them in my bird field guides or having read about their behaviors so many times in the past.

The final image I’ll discuss is by far the most comical image I’ve ever captured. This photo below of a Sandhill Crane was taken before I’d really gone full time with my photography, but it is consistently one of my best selling photographs. This photo is also one of the few images of mine that I’ve entered into a photography competition. However, when I did, it took home Honorable Mention from the National Wildlife Federation Nature Photography Competition in 2012. People love humorous images of birds and wildlife so I jump at the opportunity to capture a photograph like this. It’s also the only image from my bird portfolio that was taken in captivity. This photo was shot on an a family outing there with my children at the Sandhill Crane exhibit in the Phoenix Zoo. Since beginning to work as a professional photographer I no longer take photographs of captive subjects. All the photos that you’ll see on my website were taken in the wild.

Sandhill Crane – This image utilizes humor & personality. Camera: Nikon D700 & Nikon 70-200mm Lens w/ 2x Teleconverter – Iso 200 | f-5.6 | 1/640 sec. @ 400mm

Sandhill Crane – This image utilizes humor & personality. Camera: Nikon D700 & Nikon 70-200mm Lens w/ 2x Teleconverter – Iso 200 | f-5.6 | 1/640 sec. @ 400mm

In conclusion I’ll say that the absolute best way to produce award winning images is to get outdoors with your camera. The more you’re out in the wild looking for avian subjects and watching bird behavior, the greater your odds are of seeing and capturing an exceptional image. After all, even if you don’t get the image you’re chasing after I can’t think of a better way to spend the day than being outside surrounded by your feathered friends. So boost your award winning potential, and grab your camera… the birds are calling.

Nathaniel on location in the Himalayas photographing raptors. – India, 2015

Nathaniel on location in the Himalayas photographing raptors. – India, 2015

Nathaniel Smalley is a full time professional nature photographer based in Phoenix, Arizona. To read more and view his portfolio, please visit his website: www.NathanielSmalleyPhotography.com