Know your Equipment and Location

By David Halgrimson

Since moving back to Minnesota I have been researching places to go for photo opportunities and found a couple near where I live. One is Swan Park in Monticello Minnesota 15 miles west and Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge 25 miles north of my home. Both easily accessed.

We moved back to MN in November just when the Trumpeter Swans were starting to return to a section of the Mississippi River in Monticello. They stay from November thru February when they mate and leave for their nesting locations. The Swans along with geese and ducks like this area as the river is open due to a power plant on the river to the north and because for the past 30 plus years they get free breakfast and lunch. The Swans are the main draw at Swan Park, a very small park, maybe 40 feet wide, overlooking the river where the birds spend their days, eating, mating and fighting.

For more information on the park and the swans visit this site, http://www.monticellocci.com/pages/Swans.

About knowing the location, not just the Swan Park location, but any location. When visiting in August I went to check out Swan park only to find out there are no swans there in august, but now I knew right where to go when they returned… scouting day one. Once settled after our move, I went back and was pleasantly surprised by not only the swans, ducks and geese but the sheer numbers of them. As the story goes, over 30 years ago there were only a handful of swans and now there can be as many as 2,700 on any given day. I needed to know how to get the best view, what equipment and clothing would be best, it’s dang cold here November thru February. Because people are not allowed down at the river’s edge the area is somewhat secluded, so a good winter coat and stocking hat, warm boots and most of all special gloves. I went through three different sets of gloves to find those that would somewhat keep my hands from freezing. I found mittens with internal gloves that fold open to reveal gloved fingers and thumb to operate the camera. The glove portion of the index and middle finger have a special coating that allows for touch screen operation. Still, my fingers get very cold and I need to warm them occasionally. Next, what kind of lighting might be best for the subject. This day was bright sunlight and I found that the white swans had a good chance of blowing out the histogram, maybe a cloudy or partly cloudy day would work better or perhaps lens filters might help… scouting day 2. Oh, yes I did take pictures.

So now about knowing your equipment. On scouting day 2 I took my Lumix GX8 with a 40-150mm f/2.8 and a 300mm f/4 prime lenses and no tripod. The birds are very active, swimming, diving, taking off, landing, fighting and feeding. A slow shutter would not work but how fast should it be? I tried 400-500 with some good results for the swimming and feeding but needed much faster for the flying, landings and takeoffs.

The Lumix and lenses being new to me and not having used it for birds before, I was not quite sure what settings to use so experimented with a number with mixed results and not to my personal standards. I also found the 300mm a bit too close for many of the shots but great for the birds coming in or taking off…scouting day two.

40-150mm, f/4, ISO 100 1/640th hand held

40-150mm, f/4, ISO 400, 1/2000th hand held

40-150mm, f/4, ISO 400, 1/2000th hand held

Not quite as sharp as I wanted as can be seen here. Part of that is the aperture of f/4 giving less DOF.

I went home to review my images and decided to do some research on best settings for the camera and lens combinations. After some testing and experimenting and finding the settings I thought would work best for me, I decided to setup a custom setting for wildlife on both camera bodies. This included the shutter speed, aperture, ISO, high speed burst and more, this way when I am shooting birds and fast moving subjects I don’t have to remember settings I can just set the camera(s) to custom 1 and start shooting and making small adjustments as needed from there.

Now with all the scouting complete and camera settings configured it was time to return for a real shoot. I took both camera bodies, one with the 40-150mm and one with the 300mm and, yes, a tripod. I used the 300mm on the tripod for the birds in the air and the 40-150mm hand held for the action on the water.

All the scouting, researching, testing and camera setup paid off big time. I went on a bright but cloudy day, cameras all ready, my warmest gloves, set up the tripod with the 300mm, hung the other around my neck and started shooting. The results were to me more than I expected.

300mm, 1/2000th, ISO 400, f/8 tripod mounted

300mm, 1/2000th, ISO 400, f/8 tripod mounted

40-150mm, 1/2000th, ISO 400, f/8 hand held

40-150mm, 1/2000th, ISO 400, f/8 handheld

40-150mm, 1/2000th, ISO 400, f/8 handheld

As can be seen in these the DOF and sharpness are much better. This is due to the faster shutter and and smaller aperture settings.

Know you equipment and do your scouting, it pays off in the long run.

Check out Arizona Highways PhotoScapes at https://photography-workshops.directory/photographer/arizona-highways-photo-workshops/

David Halgrimson is a Volunteer Photo Guide with Arizona Highways PhotoScapes

Photographing Wildlife in the Dark

As you will see Bruce has been taking nighttime images of wildlife for a long time and has worked out many of the problems and associated issues. Many of Bruce’s workshop participants have shown an interest in this type of photography but, as you can imagine, it is very difficult to give a workshop and guarantee great nighttime images of deer, coyote, kangaroo rats, and the like. What Bruce can do is teach participants all of the material and methods they can use in their own nighttime efforts. He can cut your learning curve to almost nothing and advise and assist in the purchase or making of all of the necessary equipment. If you are interested in learning the skills that will allow you to take the type of images that Bruce presents in this article, please contact the Arizona Highways Photo Workshops office at, 1-888-790-7042 or email to info@ahpw.org and let us know if you would be interested in a workshop such as this!

 

By Bruce Taubert

I love photographing wildlife at night.  The light is mine to make, there is practically no competition with other photographers for time or space, and the degree of difficulty is relatively high!

My first nighttime photography endeavors began about 25 years ago with attempts to catch bats in flight.  Of course, this was before I had a digital camera so I was using Fuji slide film.  I remember leaving home at 3PM for a small water hole in the desert, arriving at the bat photography site at 5PM, setting up for a couple of hours, and then “attempting” to take photos of flying bats until dawn.  Then the long drive home, sending my slide film off, waiting for three days to see the rewards of my work, only to be disappointed at the results.  If I took one or two decent bat images each trip I was lucky.  There were not, and still are not, any training manuals for photographing flying bats.

Pallid bat drinking from a pond. Kofa National Wildlife Refuge, AZ

A few years later I bought my first digital camera.  I still left home early and got home late but I was able to immediately see my images and make corrections IN THE FIELD.  That first night I took home several excellent flying bat images.  Maybe my images, that night, did not rival the great Merlin Tuttle but I was on my way.

Lesser Long-nosed Bat feeding of Agave Blossom (Leptonycteris curasoae). SE, AZ

I can repeat almost the same story for flying elf owls, except my sites were closer to home and I did not have to leave home so early and I got home earlier.  I spent many years in the field locating owls, learning their habits so I could photograph their behaviors, and finding the appropriate gear to get the best results.  I cannot even begin to tell you how many bad butt shots I took of elf owls flying into their nest hole!  Once I had a digital camera in hand the learning curve for my nighttime endeavors became less steep.  I was able to make corrections in the field and my success rate soared.

Elf Owl bringing banded gecko into nest. North Phoenix, AZ

Pair of adult screech owls. Canon EOS 5D-Mark III, 70-200 mm with 2x teleconverter, ISO 500, f/ 10 @ 1/200 sec., flash

For the next several years I fought with equipment development, locating my specimens, and dealing with the many challenges of nighttime wildlife photography.  Luckily a few small companies were beginning to make equipment that was either geared towards nighttime photography or that could be adapted for its use.

I concentrated on fast moving subjects, such as flying owls, running kangaroo rats, striking Rattlesnakes, and the like.  The biggest challenge was to train myself to do a majority of my scouting during the day so that when I went out for the nighttime shooting I was familiar with the location and had a good idea about how I could/would set up my equipment.

Spinx Moth feeding from Datura Flower. Phoenix, AZ

Although I am still very interested in photographing fast moving subjects at night I am shifting a little to more sedentary beings.  I became very excited when looking at National Geographic Magazine images of African beasts going about their nocturnal lives and had hopes that, someday, I could take similar photographs.  Coyotes, deer, javalina, elk, fox, and many other species are either primarily nocturnal or become nocturnal for certain times of the years.  Given that I live in the Arizona desert almost all the mammals become nocturnal during the oppressive summer heat.

The challenges are a little different for slow moving subjects but the story is basically the same-scout during the day, find out from locals were the critters are, and have the right equipment.  Like most “interesting” photography, the most difficult part of photographing wildlife at night is getting over the idea that it is too difficult.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Given the right equipment, much of my nighttime imaging of these slower moving subjects is accomplished with remote cameras when I am happily sleeping (either in the back of my truck or at home).

Fortunately, there are a few blogs and You Tube videos that present some much-needed basics for the budding nighttime photographer but no one has yet to put together a training manual.  Unfortunately, there is insufficient information for those of you that want to “”hit the road running”.  The vagaries of lighting, equipment brands, battery life, finding the right location, field set-up, and the many other small tidbits of information that separate success from failure have not been adequately recorded.

During my attempts at nighttime wildlife photography I have purchased and tried almost every type of equipment there is.  I have frustrated myself experimenting with nonproductive implements and had the pleasure of finding the right tool that allows me to take an image that I can be proud of.  Today most of my old equipment lies fallow and dusty in the recesses of my camera room and by the process of elimination I now have lightweight and easy to use tools.

Over the next few months I plan on concentrating on my nighttime wildlife photography efforts and expand my species list.  I hope to improve my abilities to dramatically light my quarry and increase my success rates. Like most photography I enjoy the process of learning and improving and continue to strive for the “best” images I can take.

Bruce Taubert is an Instructor with Arizona Highways Photo Workshops