ImageSpotlight: Great Blue Heron with Prey

Great Blue Heron.  Canon 7D | 500/4.5

Great Blue Heron. South Padre Island, Texas.

During a quick visit to Texas, I ventured out one morning to South Padre Island. I’ve always had good luck at this location and the morning would not let me down. While a bit slow by a “good day” standard, my patience was rewarded as this Great Blue Heron began to hunt/fish in front of me. I managed a series of images of this particular sequence and this is one I particularly liked with the heron’s wing position and the blood trailing from fish to water.

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

Gear I used to make this shot:

Canon 7D – I used v1 of this camera body which is now my backup to the 7DMII.

Canon 500mm–  I used version 1 of this lens which is no longer available now that vII is.

Gitzo Tripod – I own and still use the Gitzo 1325 which has not been manufactured for years now. However, I have linked a good on you can purchase today (other options on my gear recommendations page).

Wimberley WH200– an essential piece of gear for long lenses.

Wimberley P40– without this you can’t mount the lens to the tripod.

 

ImageSpotlight: Least Tern

Least Tern. Canon 7D | 500/4.5mm | ISO 400

Least Tern. Canon 7D | 500/4.5mm | ISO 400

Florida sure is a bird photographer’s paradise. I traveled to Bonita Springs last June and was met with photographic opportunities everywhere I looked, from Ding Darling NWR to a popular beach near hotels. The image featured here was near a nesting site behind a row of hotels on a fairly busy beach. The bird nesting areas are roped off to allow the birds to nest without being disturbed but to be honest, I think the taped areas need to be larger as people routinely walk right up next to the taped area and are met with birds dive bombing their heads to let them know they are too close to their nest.

The least tern is a small bird and I knew I would have to get close to get the shot I wanted, even with the 500mm on a Canon 7D. However, I did not want to disturb them on their nests. So, when I was probably 40 yards away from this pair of birds I got on my belly and began a slow methodical crawl toward them. I don’t know how long it took but it seemed like forever as I inched my way closer and closer. Eventually, I felt I was close enough and began focusing on nesting birds while keeping an eye out for interactions. The birds had grown accustomed to my presence and paid no attention to this blob of a figure laying on the sand. I noticed the interaction of this pair of birds and waited for the right moment. The result is featured here.

The key to this image was concern for the subject and a lot of patience to begin a low crawl way outside of photographic range.

Until next time, good light and keep shooting –KEVIN

ImageSpotlight: Osprey with Prey

Osprey With Prey. Canon 7D | 500/4.5mm | ISO 400

Osprey With Prey. Canon 7D | 500/4.5mm | ISO 400

A few weeks ago I made a trip to Bonita Springs, Florida. I have to say Florida did feel like a bird photographer’s paradise as everywhere I went, photo opportunities presented themselves, whether that was at nearby Ding Darling NWR or simply a spot by the road where wading and shorebirds gathered to hunt during low tide. On this particular afternoon I visited Lover’s Key State Park with the intention of hiking one of their marsh trails. However, I changed my mind at the last minute and decided to photograph on the beach at Lover’s Key instead. I knew terns and skimmers were nesting on the beach and I hoped to get some images of them flying by. Before anyone starts to wonder, I never made it to the nesting area on this afternoon but I did another day and yes, I kept my distance from the nest area itself. The nest area is roped off to keep people from disturbing the birds on the nest. However, it is a public beach and people can walk right up along the rope. In my opinion, that’s still too close as the birds will feel threatened and give you a flyby (witnessed it several times over the course of a few days). But that is a story for another day. Let’s get back to the image in this post.

As I mentioned, I was on my way to photograph the terns/skimmers and was carrying my tripod mounted 500mm lens slung over my shoulder across a bridge/boardwalk connecting Lover’s Key to the beach. When I reached the part where the bridge met the sand, I was greeted by this Osprey clutching a fish and settling in to start dining. Shocked, I feared my movements getting the tripod off my shoulder and legs spread would cause the Osprey to fly away. To make matters worse, I heard someone saying “behind you, behind you” as I was trying to spread the tripod legs. It turned out to be a lady on a bike and she was none to pleased that I had not moved out of her way, specifically that I did not move to my right because the bike rack was to my left. Now I really feared the Osprey would take flight given her noise and movements but to my good fortune, the Osprey’s attention was fixed on the fish since it was still alive and flopping. With the lady now gone, I began taking images…lots of images.

I took some insurance photos from a standing position but I knew the best perspective would be low to the ground so I eased my way into a low kneeling position and fired away. I would capture some images from the prone position as well but thought the low-kneeling images were best given this location and backgrounds. To say the least, lady luck was with me on this particular afternoon.

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

ImageSpotlight: Indigo Bunting

Indigo Bunting.  Canon 7D | 500/4.5 | f8 | ISO 200

Indigo Bunting. Canon 7D | 500/4.5 | f8 | ISO 200

I’ve been after this bird for a number of years. When I lived in South Texas, these birds migrated through the area in the winter time. Now that I am in Georgia, the indigo bunting spends its summer months in the area. A few weeks ago I noticed a bird at my feeder that I had never seen on my property. It turned out to be the rose-breasted grosbeak, which migrates through the area. I setup hoping to get their photograph but they have since moved further north in their range. To my surprise, this beautiful blue bird visited my feeder instead. I was able to capture a documentation image but nothing I was excited about. Given that this is an afternoon feeder, the past two weekend afternoons has found me out back hoping for the bunting to land on my perch while the light was good. With the tall pines casting long shadows, I have a limited time before the perch is in the shadow and the background lit by the sun. After a few weekend attempts, I finally got a cooperative bunting to land where I wanted at the hour I wanted. And finally, an old nemesis was now a part of my portfolio. The summer has only begun so I hope to get many more but it sure feels good to have captured the image shared in this post.

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

ImageSpotlight: White-breasted Nuthatch & Tufted Titmouse

Decided to stay home this Sunday afternoon and given how nice the day was, figured I’d spend some time in the back woods with my camera. Lots of birds in the area and these two featured here were frequent visitors. All images shot with a Canon 7D, 500/4.5, f8, ISO400. Click on each image for sharper view.

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

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Fill Flash for Wildlife Photography

I don’t know a single photographer who owns “too few” accessories. The reality is that most of us are accessory junkies, accumulating some useful, but some quite unnecessary, things in the name of improving our photographs. However, one very useful and necessary accessory, particularly for wildlife photography, is an external flash. While many third party flash heads cost less and will work just fine with your camera, owning at least one dedicated flash is important, as it has been designed to communicate perfectly with your camera. Generally speaking, a single flash is rarely sufficient to act as a main light in wildlife photography. But we don’t really want our flash to be a main source anyway; except perhaps when shooting macro. For other wildlife applications, we simply want to use a flash as a fill light to illuminate some of the shadows and provide a catch light in our subject’s eye.

A great time to use fill flash is when the ambient light on the background is brighter than the light on the subject. You might be wondering if you could just adjust the camera’s exposure settings to make the subject brighter. You could. However, that would cause a new problem in that the background would also get brighter and potentially be overexposed. To avoid this, we need fill flash. The images of the nuthatch below illustrate this point. In these photos, the background is much brighter than the subject, which is lost in the shadows. A correct exposure for the background yielded an underexposed subject. Had I adjusted the camera settings to expose for the nuthatch, I would have overexposed the background and the viewer’s eye would have been drawn to the background since we know that our eyes are first drawn to the lighter areas in a photograph. To solve this issue, I simply added some fill flash. The result was a well-lit subject while the background remained correctly exposed. Notice the effect of the flash on both the bird and the bark. The shadows are filled in nicely and the details are brought out by the use of fill flash. Additionally, the catch light in the bird’s eye adds life to the image.

White-breasted Nuthatch. Canon 7D | 500/4.5| No Fill Flash.

White-breasted Nuthatch. Canon 7D | 500/4.5| No Fill Flash.

 

White-breasted Nuthatch. Canon 7D | 500/4.5 | Canon 580ex fill flash at -2 FEC

White-breasted Nuthatch. Canon 7D | 500/4.5 | Canon 580ex fill flash at -2 FEC

 

TECHNIQUES

So how does one use fill flash in the field? All you need is a DSLR and a dedicated flash capable of automatic flash metering and output (Flash exposure compensation) control. Enable the flash head’s high-speed sync, which allows camera and flash to work together at higher shutter speeds. Shoot in Av mode (aperture priority), which gives you control over aperture while the camera selects correct shutter speed to maintain ambient exposure. Keep an eye on the shutter speed. As you adjust the aperture, shutter speeds increase or decrease depending on the aperture adjustment you selected. Make sure to maintain a fast enough shutter speed to avoid ghosting or blurred images. Use FEC (flash exposure compensation) to adjust flash up or down as necessary. As fill flash for wildlife I often shoot between -2 or -3 settings. On bright days, I’ll start with -2 FEC. On darker days or when I’m in shade, I’ll start at -2/3 and adjust as necessary. Since I am shooting at -2 or -3 FEC, I use a better beamer which projects flash a little farther. Again, I’m attempting to open up the shadows in the image.

NOTE: Keep in mind that Fill Flash can be overdone. If you add too much flash, your shots can look artificial and overexposed. Aim for subtlety when using a flash and you’ll really improve your shots. The second nuthatch image still has some slight shadowing evident on bird and bark, but the fill flash is just enough to brighten the foreground, giving prominence to the subject in the frame.  I hope you have found this information useful.

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