Backyard Photo Safari

People are funny. I think most of us are guilty of living by the old adage of “the grass is always greener”. Fishermen are always thinking that the big fish is around the next creek; while hunters obviously seem to think the bucks are bigger on the neighboring ranch or they wouldn’t put their hunting blinds right on the fence line. And photographers…well, our next great image is just a photo safari away. Even if we are not booking flights to some remote destination, how many of us drive for hours to photograph a subject, completely overlooking the abundance of photographic gems to be had in our own backyard? Too often I’ve been guilty of this so I now make a conscious choice to regularly photograph at home. I’m not saying I never drive long distances anymore, or that I don’t go on photographic ventures in distant places. I do and hopefully will always be able to do so, but as I just stated there are many photographic opportunities to enjoy at home. Granted, my current backyard is a little under 2 acres, whereas my former backyard was a small suburban lot. Honestly, that really doesn’t matter. Once I made a deliberate effort, I was able to capture some great images at both homes. The thing I hope you take away from the photos I share in this post is this…great images can be captured anywhere. All you have to do is realize how green the grass is at your own home…so put away the computer, turn off the t.v., and go discover the wilderness on your backyard photo safari. You’ll be glad you did!

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

The images below are just a small sample from my current backyard. Click on the images for a better view.

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Downy Woodpecker. Canon 7D | 500/4.5 | f8 | ISO320

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Carolina Chickadee. Canon 7D | 500/4.5 | f5.6 | ISO640

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

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Ruby-throated Hummingbird. Canon 7D | ISO 200 | 70-200/2.8

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

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

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

Tufted Titmouse. 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

The images below are from my old suburban backyard in Texas, taken by myself or one of my children.

Black-crested Titmouse. Canon 1DsMkII | 500/4.5 | f 5.6 | ISO 200

Black-crested Titmouse. Canon 1DsMkII | 500/4.5 | f 5.6 | ISO 200

Yellow Sunflower: Flowering Plants Category.

Yellow Sunflower: Flowering Plants Category.

Canon 7D | 50/1.8 @ f18 | 30 sec exposure | ISO 200

Canon 7D | 50/1.8 @ f18 | 30 sec exposure | ISO 200

Butterfly. Canon 1DMkII | 135/2.0 + extension tube

Butterfly. Canon 1DMkII | 135/2.0 + extension tube

House Sparrow. Canon 1DsMkII | 500/4.5 | f5 | ISO 200

House Sparrow. Canon 1DsMkII | 500/4.5 | f5 | ISO 200

White-winged Dove. Canon 1DsMkII | 500/4.5 | f 6.3 | ISO 200

White-winged Dove. Canon 1DsMkII | 500/4.5 | f 6.3 | ISO 200

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Rendering Your Photographic Images As Works Of Art

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As a photographer, I have a natural appreciation for other art forms and have always had a  personal affinity for oil paintings. How a person can take a brush to a blank canvas and create an inspirational work of art is really amazing. I’ve never had any formal artistic training, but I can read and I do have an inquisitive nature. Through my readings, I have learned a little about different art styles from the abstracts and impressionists, to pointillism and the realists. I pay attention to these art forms confident that they will, though unsure exactly how, have a positive influence in my own photography.

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Recently, I have been using various filters in Photoshop to render my photographs as art pieces influenced by the realist and/or impressionist styles. Now, real artists can find technical differences between my renderings and true realist/impressionist paintings so I just want to qualify that they have been influenced by those styles but I have not necessarily been true to any particular rules. Photoshop CS6 has a great built-in Oil Paint filter that is fairly easy to use and I have applied it to taste until I get a look that I like. While alone it is sufficient to render a great oil painting (e.g., church in a former post), I have also combined it with other filters (texture, blur) to achieve the look in most of the images on this post.

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Rendering digital photographs as a form of art has been a lot of fun so I created a template that allows me to drag and drop a photo and turn it into one of the looks you see here. Because I save each of the layers in Photoshop, I can then modify any particular effect to achieve a different look. In a future blogpost, I will take you step-by-step on how the look in these images was achieved and then show you how to save it as your own template so that you too, can enjoy a new art form.

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

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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

Migratory Fallout @ South Padre Island, Texas

About 10 days ago, an unexpected northern front blew through South Texas and with it came a massive fallout of migratory birds. To my misfortune, my Canon 7D was at Canon CPS for repair. Those who have shot with me in the past know that I always have two cameras but I had sold my 1Ds MarkII so that I could save up for a new full frame camera. Well, I still haven’t purchased a new one so when the fallout came, I was caught without a camera. This past weekend, another northern, though much less intense, pushed through the area. With my 7D back from repair, I drove to the South Padre Island Convention Center and was able to photograph the birds below. While this second fallout was nothing compared to the week before, I had a great time and some interesting experiences. The weather is warm now and these birds will soon be departing but they’ll be back another day…and I’ll be there with “two” cameras at the ready.

Until next time, keep shooting. –KEVIN