Birds On An Icy Perch

Tufted Titmouse. Canon 7D | 500/4.5mm |f7.1 | ISO 800

Tufted Titmouse. Canon 7D | 500/4.5mm |f7.1 | ISO 800

A winter storm pushed through Georgia these past few days, bringing snow and ice to most of the state. My home received 2-3″ of snow and as I gazed out the window before going to bed, I knew I’d have a good opportunity for some great images if I could convince myself to leave the warm covers and brave the cold conditions. To put things in perspective, people in my native South Texas think 40 degrees is arctic cold. So, knowing that the morning hours would start in the upper teens, this South Texas transplant had to do some convincing that getting out there was the right thing to do. Now, I realize that people in the North country might laugh at that comment and I’m laughing with you; but get out there I did.

Eastern Phoebe.  Canon 7D | 500/4.5 | f7.1 |ISO 800

Eastern Phoebe. Canon 7D | 500/4.5 | f7.1 |ISO 800

I was after birds on this day, but I also wanted to convey the cold in my images so I searched for the perfect perch. After a few minutes of walking around my property, I spotted this small, multi-forked branch sheathed in ice and knew this was what I was looking for. I placed it at an attractive angle near my feeder and waited. My toes and fingers were numb and on numerous occasions I had a case of the shivers, but the birds were flying and I knew it was only a matter of time. The first bird to land on the perch was the Titmouse above, followed by numerous Pine Warblers and an Eastern Phoebe. The Phoebe was a new species for me so I was excited about that one.

Pine Warbler.  Canon 7D | 500/4.5mm | f7.1 | ISO 800

Pine Warbler. Canon 7D | 500/4.5mm | f7.1 | ISO 800

Eastern Phoebe.  Canon 7D | 500/4.5 | f7.1 |ISO 800

Eastern Phoebe. Canon 7D | 500/4.5 | f7.1 |ISO 800

For most of the day, I was shooting under overcast conditions. Since some of the birds I was photographing had dark plumage, I used a Canon 550ex flash as fill set at -2/3. I had the flash zoomed to 50mm so that I got a decent amount of light projected forward, but broad enough to cover the bird and perch. I also had to bump up the ISO to 800 because early in the day there was little light. The Canon 7D is not reputed to be a great high ISO camera, and while I like to keep the ISO at 400 or lower, I will not hesitate to shoot at 800 or even 1600 when I need to. At those higher ISO’s I do tend to expose to the right and pull the exposure back in post processing. I have found that this helps with the noise on this particular camera body. Anyway, that’s probably enough technical information but hopefully it is useful to you.

I had a great day of bird photography in the cold, documented several new species that I will share in another post, and made use of a very “cool” perch.

Until next time, good light and keep shooting. –KEVIN

A Day In The Field With The Georgia Falconry Association

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Red-Tailed Hawk perched and awaiting instructions from his falconer. Canon 7D | 70-200/2.8 w/1.4x converter.

The Georgia Falconry Association is a group of individuals dedicated to preserving the art and practice of falconry, as well as educating the public on the conservation, management and ecology of raptors. By pure good fortune, I happened to come across their website this past Friday and discovered that their annual event/hunt was taking place this weekend just 30 minutes from my home. I emailed the President of the association to inquire whether I could tag along and he invited me to show up the next morning.

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Red-Tailed Hawk coming down from the tree tops. Canon 7D | 70-200/2.8 w/1.4x converter.

I arrived at the hotel early and enjoyed some good conversation with others as we awaited instructions. After a quick group photo, those who would be attending as observers were assigned to those who would be hunting with their hawks. I joined the group that would be hunting with Red-Tailed Hawks at “The Chili Lady’s” property. Ms. Liz always makes a big batch of chili to feed the group at lunch and let me just say, it was very good.

After a few minutes of falconry etiquette at Ms. Liz’ home, we split into two groups and began the hunt. Not exactly sure of what gear I might need, I decided to take the 500mm mounted on a tripod, along with a 70-200/2.8 slung over my shoulder. The members in my group split up and began walking through the Georgia timber, trying to locate a squirrel. The hawk flew from tree to tree in pursuit. We had been instructed to yell “Ho, Ho, Ho” at the sight of a squirrel and it wasn’t long before someone in the group sounded out. Everyone, bird included, rallied to that person. The squirrel, meanwhile, was scurrying from branch to branch, and tree to tree, trying to evade the hawk.

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Red-Tailed Hawk In Pursuit of Squirrel (lower right). Canon 7D | 70-200/2.8 w/1.4x converter.

At one point, it bailed out of the tree and plummeted 30 feet to the ground. The hawk quickly followed and pounced on the squirrel. I was sure that was it, when suddenly, the squirrel darted off. It quickly climbed a tree and went into its nest. The falconers in the group fired their slingshots at the tree/nest, trying to get the squirrel to come out but this was one elusive, smart, and fortunate squirrel. It had no intentions of coming out. To my surprise, this squirrel got away.

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Falconer attempting to get squirrel to leave nest. Canon 7D | 70-200/2.8 w/1.4x converter.

We regrouped at Ms. Liz’ home, got another hawk, and went back in the timber. Ho, Ho, Ho! rang out ahead and soon we were watching the events unfold anew. The squirrel’s ability to maneuver through the trees was impressive. Time after time, the hawks were coming up short. Often, the squirrels would hug the trees so close that even the hawks had a hard time seeing them. To try and flush out the squirrel, the hawks employ a “laddering” maneuver, jumping from one branch to another as they climb through the tree. Though not always successful, the hawk will eventually get its kill. One slight miscalculation or mistake by the squirrel and the hawk will quickly snatch it in its talons and once that happens, it’s lights out.

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Red-Tailed Hawk after missing squirrel on the ground. Attempting to relocate it in the trees. Canon 7D | 500/4.5mm.

Once the hawks have their prey on the ground, the falconers place a towel over the squirrel and spend some time getting the hawks to loosen their talons and let it go. They do give them some meat to reward the effort but as I understand it, they will feed that squirrel to the hawks later at their enclosures. I believe this is to avoid a full-bellied bird from flying away and not returning. It takes some effort on the part of the falconer to convince the hawks to let go of the squirrel, but the hawks eventually release their prey and eat the tasty morsel given to them by the falconers.

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After a successful hunt, a falconer recovers the squirrel from the hawk and rewards it with some meat. Canon 7D | 70-200/2.8 w/1.4x converter.

After a successful morning hunt, we would return to Ms. Liz’ house for lunch, then regroup with another hawk and hunt the afternoon on a different part of her property. I would leave the 500mm in the vehicle this time as the 70-200/2.8 (I used mine with a 1.4x converter) is better suited for this type of photography. It’s not a bad idea to carry a wide angle lens too but I opted to leave that behind as well. Soon we were trekking through the countryside and the sounds of Ho Ho Ho would ring through the hardwoods twice more. Watching those hawks hunt, and the resiliency of the squirrels, was impressive. I had never witnessed this type of event and felt lucky to be a part it. I gained a new respect for the falconer and the sport of falconry. As the day came to an end, we gathered around the vehicles, exchanged our good byes, then went our separate ways. It was a day to remember.

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A falconer and his bird return home after a day’s hunt. Digitally rendered as an oil painting. Canon 7D | 500/4.5mm.

Red Tailed Hawk Portrait. Digitally rendered as an oil painting.

Red Tailed Hawk Portrait. Digitally rendered as an oil painting. Canon 7D | 500/4.5mm.

ImageSpotlight: The One That Got Away

Snowy Egret.  Canon 7D | 500/4.5mm | ISO 400

Snowy Egret. Canon 7D | 500/4.5mm | ISO 400
CLICK ON IMAGE FOR A BETTER VIEW

If you have ever been around a fisherman, then you are most certainly familiar with stories about “the one that got away”. If this phrase is new to you, then let me briefly state that fisherman are notorious about fabricating tales about the gargantuan-sized fish that broke their line and got away. With each dramatic re-enactment of the fight between man and beast, that fish just gets bigger and bigger and bigger. After numerous accounts of the fabled event, that fisherman will soon have his self convinced he had hooked a whale. The whole thing is quite humorous to say the least. I’ve never been guilty myself, of dramatizing a story about “the one that got away”. You see, I land my fish. In fact, the last one I caught was so big that when I opened him up for filets, I found two Filipino fisherman inside….still in the boat. No sir, you’ll never hear me fabricating any stories about those that got away. 😉

Now, lets get to the fisherman featured in this post. I ventured out to South Padre Island one early morning to photograph shorebirds along the bay. There are a few piers near the World Birding Center where many waterfowl and shorebirds congregate. So, I put on my waders, grabbed a chair, and found a spot out in the water (and near the pier) before the sun rose. Shooting near water level, as opposed to shooting from the pier, would provide a more pleasing perspective to the image. I draped myself and equipment with a camo netting and within minutes, had birds all around me. This Snowy Egret was actively fishing for breakfast and for the most part, was very successful at catching his prey. However, the fish in mid-air is evidence that even nature’s best can’t catch them all. I’m not sure if the look in that egret’s eye is frustration or embarrassment, but I’d be willing to bet that when he tells this story back at the roost, that little minnow ends up being “Moby Dick”. It’s a fisherman thing. 🙂

Until next time, good light and keep shooting. — KEVIN

Canon ef-s 15-85mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM Review

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Canon Ef-s 15-85mm Stock Image

Let me start out by saying that this review will be practical, not technical. There are a host of technical reviews on the internet (Rockwell, Digital-Picture, CameraLabs, etc.) so if you are driven by the techy/geeky stuff, you would be better served reading those. If you have more of a desire to know how the lens handles in the field and ultimately, how good its image quality is, then read on.

I’ve never really liked the idea of the ef-s lens and swore I wouldn’t own one because I wouldn’t be able to use it on a full frame camera body. Then one day, I sold my Canon 1Ds MkII and was left with just my 7D. My former ef 24-70mm lens was great, but just not wide enough on the 7D so I started considering the ef-s 15-85mm lens and yes, read all of the techy/geeky reviews. They all raved about it and these reviews were helpful for me to read, but all I really wanted to know was a user’s perspective of what was good or bad. Of course, I also wanted to see images from the field. So after owning this lens a little over 6 months, I’m going to give you my list (no particular order) of Pros/Cons, followed by examples of images taken with this lens on my Canon 7D.

Pros

Focal Length – The 15-85mm range is equivalent to a 24-136mm range on a full frame body and that makes this lens a great General Purpose/Walk Around lens that has a variety of uses from landscapes to portraits. I’ve read others say you can use it for macro work as well since it is a close focusing lens, but I have a dedicated macro as well as a 70-200/2.8 lens that fill that niche so I really don’t feel the need to test its macro capabilities.

CLICK ON ALL IMAGES FOR A BETTER VIEW.

Fall Scenic. Canon 7D | ef-s 15-85mm @ 59mm | ISO 100

Fall Scenic. Canon 7D | ef-s 15-85mm @ 59mm | ISO 100 | Tripod

Build & Handling – Considering I used to own the ef 24-70/2.8, the ef-s 15-85mm lens is not built quite as solid. In fact, it’s mostly plastic with a metal mount. Yet, it still has a solid feel and it handles great. The zoom ring is very smooth and I’ve experienced no zoom creep. On the plus side, it’s a much lighter lens to carry around than my former 24-70 lens.

Filter Size– It accepts a 72mm filter and with its internal focus design, the front filter ring does not rotate while zooming. This is particularly important when shooting with a circular polarizer. I own a couple of 72 mm filters but can easily use my 77mm filters with a 72-77mm step-up ring.

Image Stabilization- This is the only lens in my bag that has Image Stabilization. It’s not that I do not like IS, it’s just that the lenses I have acquired to this point simply do not have it. I really do like having IS but because I am not used to it, I have to remember to turn off the IS when mounted on a tripod. I forgot to do that one night and I was frustrated by soft images until someone I was shooting with asked if I had IS on. Once I turned that off, my images were sharp. Canon reports up to 4 stops gained with the IS. Whatever the number, it seems to work. I handheld the nighttime shot of Cinderella’s castle below and was surprised at how many sharp images I was able to attain.

Cinderella's Castle. Canon 7D | ef-s 15-85mm @ 50mm |  ISO 3200 | f7.1 | 1/20 sec

Cinderella’s Castle. Canon 7D | ef-s 15-85mm @ 50mm | ISO 3200 | f7.1 | 1/20 sec | Handheld

Price- I purchased this lens used (near mint) for $500 and given the many sharp images I’ve captured with it, I think it was a great value.

Image Quality– This lens is pleasingly sharp with good contrast and color. Bokeh is good but if you are used to a f/2.8 or f/1.4 lens, you will notice its shortcoming here. Still, if you use it wide open at its longer focal length and keep the background at a distance roughly twice that of camera to subject, the background will be pleasantly blurred. Overall, I think the image quality is great. Is it as good as my former 24-70/2.8? No, and given that the latter is a much pricier “L” lens, I would not expect it to perform as well. I also think my 50/1.8 is sharper. Nevertheless, image quality is still very good from this lens and again, the focal length is a good choice as a general purpose lens.

Cons

No Use on FF or 1.3x Crop Cameras- I do not currently own a full frame camera but at some point, I’ll own another. I’ll be limited to using it on a 1.6x crop body. Hopefully, that will be a 7D MarkII…Come On Canon!

No Lens Hood– If you are purchasing this lens new, you’ll have to spend a little more for a lens hood. I bought mine used with the lens hood.

Vignetting- The lens does vignette slightly at 15mm and wide open, but stopping down, which is nearly always done on landscape images, helps reduce or eliminate it. This issue has not been a real problem for me, but it can be an issue for some. For what it’s worth, this issue is easily corrected in post processing.

Verdict

Overall, a very good purchase. Will I be keeping this lens in my bag? Yes. Below are a few more samples. I hope you have found this review helpful.

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Christmas Wreath. Canon 7D | ef-s 15-85mm @ 75mm | ISO 160 | f8 | 0.8 sec | Tripod

Hot Air Balloon. Canon 7D | ef-s 15-85 @ 22mm | ISO 2000 | f4.5 | 1/20 sec |Handheld

Hot Air Balloon. Canon 7D | ef-s 15-85 @ 22mm | ISO 2000 | f4.5 | 1/20 sec |Handheld

Friends.  Canon 7D | ef-s 15-85 @ 35mm | ISO 400 | f/5.0 | 1/125 sec | Handheld

Friends. Canon 7D | ef-s 15-85 @ 35mm | ISO 400 | f/5.0 | 1/125 sec | Handheld

Mexican BlueWing. Canon 7D |ef-s 15-85 @ 85mm | ISO 400 | f/6.3 | 1/160sec | HandHeld

Mexican BlueWing. Canon 7D |ef-s 15-85 @ 85mm | ISO 400 | f/6.3 | 1/160sec | HandHeld

Church Interior. Canon 7D | ef-s 15-85 @ 15mm | ISO 400 | f/3.5 | 1/25 sec | Handheld

Church Interior. Canon 7D | ef-s 15-85 @ 15mm | ISO 400 | f/3.5 | 1/25 sec | Handheld

As you can see from the eclectic samples included in this review, the ef-s 15-85mm lens can produce quality images under various scenarios, giving further support to many claims about this being a great general purpose lens.

Until next time, good light and keep shooting. — KEVIN

A Few South Texas Birds

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Recently, I’ve been reviewing old files and while I’ve been generally pleased with my portfolio, I’ve also wondered exactly what I was thinking by saving many of the images I photographed. I’m going to let you in on a little secret…those soft images you saved years ago…well, they are not going to get sharp by saving them for a few years. Now how many of you reading this are shaking your head thinking, “yep, I’ve done that”. 🙂

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Anyway, the images I’m sharing hear were not those of which I just spoke. These images were some I was very pleased with and a few, such as the Green Jay and Oriole above, had never been processed until now. It’s good to go through your old files every now and then, you may be surprised at some of the jewels you overlooked the first time you downloaded your images.

Make sure you CLICK ON THE IMAGES to view the best resolution.

_J0P8113 _J0P6464 2H Ranch-Linn, TX - 2006 VLF STC IMG_6374-Cardinal-Male Perched on Thorny Shrub, Raised Crest

Until next time, good light and keep shooting. — KEVIN