Archive for the ‘birds’ Category

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Thursday, January 8th, 2009

I had a good bit of birding at lunch today. In particular, I had some particularly good luck working with goldeneye ducks. These birds are tricky, because their plumage contains very intense contrast. This makes it very difficult to expose them correctly. They also, for some reason, seem extremely prone to chromatic aberration. Partly this is due to the aforementioned contrast, but the CA issues when shooting goldeneyes for some reason are even more annoying than those encountered with other high-contrast birds, like buffleheads. It may be due to their eponymous eyes, which are susceptible to CA in a way that the black eyes of buffleheads are not. The fringing on the eyes diminishes their apparent sharpness in a way that is quite frustrating…

Goldeneye -- unedited, with rockin' CA

I was able to clean up the CA, for the most part. It helped that I was shooting with the 400mm f/5.6 ED AIS rather than my 300mm f/4.5 non-AI. I shudder to think what the CA would have been like without the ED glass, and the extra reach is essential in having enough image to crop in and sharpen appropriately.

My approach to dealing with CA is generally to drop a control point on the fringing in Capture NX, crank the saturation down, drop some other control points in adjacent areas, and then tweak until it looks right. It works. There are more elegant solutions, I’m sure, but I don’t know that those elegant solutions are up to some of the gonzo CA I occasionally get shooting with my old lenses….

Male Goldeneye

Female Goldeneye

Another stroke of luck — got a couple more shots of the Hooded Merganser x Barrow’s Goldeneye hybrid that drops in from time to time:

Hooded Merganser x Barrow's Goldeneye

CA is even more irritating in this case, because the bird has purple plumage that isn’t all that far from the color of the purple fringing…

Nick vs. Strobism

Wednesday, November 26th, 2008

New Gear: Vivitar 285HV

So, I finally gave in to the march of progress by buying a 285HV. As you can tell, I’m a bit ambivalent about it. I’ve been reading and re-reading the “Lighting 101″ section in Strobist, and I’ve ordered quite a bit of extra gear (although, as always, cheaping out wherever possible). However, for now I’m just experimenting with the flash itself and whatever modifiers I can cobble together from bits of paper, etc.

For example, this is a plastic bag diffuser:

Self-portrait w/strobe

And this is with the flash working through a couple pieces of curved office paper (you can dimly see the watermark in the reflection):

Peek w/case

I’ve also experimented a bit with off-camera fill flash for birding, which is a real pain in the ass without an assistant:

Experimenting with fill flash and egrets

So, people seem to like this image

Friday, August 15th, 2008

Flickr is weird. I’ve had nine images make it to Explore, and they are pretty gosh darn random. None of them are among my nine best images, and a couple of them are downright awful. The most recent addition falls somewhere in the middle of the range:


There are many ways in which this image could be better; mainly, if I’d had my tripod or monopod with me, I could have gotten a substantially sharper image without having to deal with the risk of oversharpening. I could also do without the off-beige background (the wall of the building where I work). : )

The image succeeds on two levels: one, the composition is good. This was just good fortune for me, although one must also have some kind of eye to see compositional good fortune when it hits you in the face. Two, it contains a hummingbird. Hummingbirds seldom sit still long, so clearly identifiable hummingbirds in pictures have a certain novelty about them, I guess…

But the main thing, I think, that qualifies it to be a good image on flickr, is that it while it has marked flaws when viewed at large size, it makes a really frickin’ awesome thumbnail. Which I can only suppose is why, in like a day of online existnce, it received 225 views and 51 favorites.

The internet is a strange place…

Black-Crowned Night Heron

Friday, June 6th, 2008

Sorry about the lack of posts. I’ve been very busy — end of the semester, end of the fiscal year, all that nonsense.

But yesterday, I had my 300mm f/4.5 and cobbled together half an hour at lunch to walk around with it, and I was rewarded with a rare, close-up appearance by one of the local Black-Crowned Night Herons. I’ve hardly ever gotten this close before, and I’ve never had a chance to get shots like this. I suggest clicking through to flickr and then going to “all sizes” to look at them a bit larger.

Black-Crowned Night Heron

Black-Crowned Night Heron

Black-Crowned Night Heron

Black-Crowned Night Heron

Later that day, I also got some less impressive (but hey, I’ll take what I can get) shots of the terns using my 180mm f/2.8 P:

Tern Fishing

Two Fortuitous Birds

Saturday, May 24th, 2008


I had a couple of lucky spottings last week, each of which I was not quite prepared for.

On Tuesday, as I was going from work to my film photography class, I spotted terns fishing near the 7th Street pumping station — first time I’ve seen them doing this in about a year. It’s something I’ve been looking forward to for a while, because the shots I got before weren’t all that great, so I was pretty excited. Unfortunately, I wasn’t carrying any of my long lenses, so I rushed back to the office, where I had left my 300mm f/4.5. I could have snagged my tripod at the same time, except then I would have had to carry it all night, and besides, a tripod and a standard ball head weren’t going to be much help in following the fast, bizarre flight of terns fishing, so I didn’t even bother.


This meant I had to crank the shutter speed, lean against anything I could, and hope for the best while handholding it. I didn’t get any heroic, ultimate tern shots, but I did get a few usable ones, with more detail than previously, including some of the more fantastic postures the birds assume before and during their dives.

I haven’t yet hit the books to identify these guys — terns aren’t a type of bird I know well, and many of look very, very similar to one another. This is irksome, but nearly so much as Sparrow identification. ::shudder::


On Wednesday, I was leaving work to again go to my class — end of the semester, and I wanted to wrap up my remaining assignments. (Which was tricky, because I had to make nine prints and I only had about seven pieces of paper left. I almost made it work (some of the prints were 5×7), but screwed up the last one and had to borrow a few sheets to finish. Almost had the hat trick….)

Anyway, as I was leaving work, I practically stepped on this gigantic Red-Tailed Hawk that was just hopping around the parking lot. This was pretty weird — we don’t see Red-Tails all that often, and when we do, it’s generally just long enough for them to make a pass at some of the ducks or coots, and then get chased off by the crows. And they don’t generally hang out on the ground. Maybe there was some prey it was after that I didn’t see.

Now, this time I was carrying a moderately long lens — my 180mm f/2.8 P. I could have run back into the office for the 300mm again (some days I carry it with me, but I’ve been trying not to do it every day, for my back’s sake), but my experience is that going somewhere and coming back and hoping that the raptor you saw was still there is…risky. So I went for the 180mm instead.


These shots were tricky for a few reasons. The lens wasn’t really long enough, so I had to crop in pretty aggressively if I wanted to fill the frame. I also had to deal with the fact that the bird was lit from a very awkward angle, meaning that the eye, for the most part, was in pretty deep shaddow. I did what I could to expose appropriately in-camera (getting as much detail in the face as possible without blowing out the highlights in the legs more than would be acceptable), and spent a fair amount of time in post-processing bringing up shadow detail where it seemed appropriate.

I didn’t get any usable shots of the bird on the ground, but instead of taking off, it decided to do me a solid (or at least a semi-solid) by flying to perch at the top of a small, very pointy statue we have near the parking lot. (A memorial for one of Police Services officers.) this would have been awesome if I could have finished circling around and shot it front-lit, but I didn’t get a chance for that.

Still, the opportunity was quite a gift, and I did as muchw it as I could.

Red-Tailed Hawk. View

Obligatory Gosling Action

Tuesday, May 20th, 2008

First gosling of the season

Yes, by popular demand, some more hot baby bird action. This one is the only gosling I’ve seen so far in the area, a Canadian. None of the others seem to have any young in tow, so far.

First gosling of the season

For this one, click through to flickr and view at “Large” size:

First gosling of the season (View "Large")

Obligatory Ducklings

Tuesday, May 6th, 2008

Obligatory Ducklings

By popular demand.

Also, obligatory bunnies.

Obligatory Bunnies

A Different Sort of Technicolor Yawn

Thursday, May 1st, 2008

Double-Crested Cormorant, Yawning

This guy was feeling pretty secure in the piling he was standing, as a result of which, I was able to — slowly and carefully — get pretty close. A lot closer than I usually get. I have historically had much difficulty in really getting a clear shot of a cormorant’s eye — which frankly looks less like a bird’s eye and more like the eye of some Egyptian deity.

Because their eyes are so awesome, and I have so few shots were the awesomeness comes through, I was excited about the prospect of getting a really good shot of the face and eye, and I went ahead and shot 100-150 shots in the space of maybe twenty or thirty minutes, which (together with what I’d shot before that) filled up the card.


During that whole time, this guy was pretty much looking around, looking at me, looking at the water, checking for his buddies, and then looking at me again. Not to entertaining. Nonetheless, I pounded away on the shutter, trying to ensure that I would get a shot with a sharp, clear image of the eye.

Then, when I was literally on the last shot left on the card, he suddenly broke into this enormous yawn, revealing the surreal color of the inside of his mouth.

Then he took off.

Thank, you photographic deities.

Up From the Shadows

Thursday, April 24th, 2008


Taking good pictures of birds is not easy. Taking pictures of birds at moments when they transition between stillness and motion is particularly hard, because of the need to capture motion, compose by anticipation, and keep the eyes in the depth of field. All of these problems are amplified when you’re photographing a highly contrasty animal like a Snowy Egret, and they’re amplified again when the scene includes both bright highlights and deep shadows.

This isn’t a reason not try, of course; on the contrary, this is exactly why these shots are so fun to attempt, even if they seldom turn out well. This is one of my best to date. I spent about half an hour watching him fly back and forth between two sides of the channel — presumably on the assumption that the fish are always tastier on the opposite bank. I observed his body language, his flight paths, and the tricky illumination. I also took many, many completely unusable shots before I got this one.

Black Phoebe with Black Phoeblets

Saturday, April 19th, 2008


There’s a pair of Black Phoebes camped out above one of our windows at work. Surprisingly, the shade beneath the overhang is quite intense, even on days when a few feet away, the sun is baking the lawn. This is probably a situation that calls for flash or a reflector, but I suspect that might seriously piss off the occupants of the office. : )


So, I cranked up my tripod to bring the camera up near the height of the next, set the slowest shutter speeds I could that would still capture motion, and triggered the shutter by remote.

These are pretty much my first usable shots of nesting birds and chicks. I’m pretty pleased, although I’ll probably take a few more cracks at it if I can before the little guys take off.

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