The Dipper is just the best entertainment! They are a panic in feathers 365 as they go about their daily routine. They were once called Water Ouzel but their named was changed which more reflects their basic biology. They are constantly “dipping” as they peer through the water looking for their food under its surface. Add to this mix a fledgling along with double clutching and it’s non-stop fun!
So the photographic challenge is first and foremost the water. The creek is full to the brim with the winter runoff so getting close physically for the most part if not possible. If the Dippers come to you, fly to your side of the creek, you have a chance otherwise you need big guns to get a decent size image of this fist size bird. I’ve shot here with the 300f4, 200-400VR2, 600VR2 and now with the 800AFS w/TC-25e all with success. I normally have flash for fill because of the shadows but didn’t this day. One problem with flash with all the water is the spray and mist. It’s floats in the air and often is between the flash and the subject. The flash freezes it making the image full of white orbs which are really visually distracting.
This bottom photo is the one I wanted, how’d I get it? The problem is the light gray plumage against the light colored rocks. I wanted that wide open mouth and frantic wing beats of the food begging so needed a dark background with just some light on the fledgling. Lower light levels with a moving subject means you risk an out of focus photo because of slower shutter speed. But slower shutter speed communicates the frantic beating of the wings as the fledgling begs. So I watched the parent and the fledgling. The fledgling spent a bunch of time in the sun, can’t say I blamed it. When the fledgling moved back in to this dark corner of the creekbed I didn’t take my eye off of it because of the darkish background. Luckily there was some reflected light off the water onto the fledgling. Having seen the parent come and go to feed with heartbeat speed, I knew I’d have just a moment to make the shot. With the slower shutter speed, I knew I’d get the wing beats, it was just that mouth that was in question. As the parent flew towards the kid, you see what transpired and by letting the D4 rip, captured one tack sharp frame (the 800mm is freakin sharp!) of the moment. You could sum it all up with my general wildlife photography philosophy, combining biology with technology…with a big dash of passion gets the shot!
So there we were after breakfast on our Mono Lake Weekend at the falls. Now the falls have had American Dipper nests since the creation of the Sierras. Knowing that, I took the 800AFS with me to the falls. For the first time, I had the dedicated TC-25e attached which makes the 800mm a 1000mm f/7.1. I figured my friends the Dippers who I’ve been photographing in this one location since 1982 would be the perfect test zone for this combo.
What I didn’t expect was the Dippers would already have fledge 1 kid and working on double clutching. Or the fact that the 800mm/TC-25e combo would be for freakin sharp! Not only sharp, but in these conditions it would focus blazing fast on the D4. OMG, I was in pig heaven! After helping a participant on our Weekend, I would use the lull time to stand at the 1000mm and watch the fun of the Dippers which was catchy, most of the Weekenders got into photographing them as well. Why not, they would practically land on your shoe! What you see here is what I saw and photographed.
The adults spent most of their time going in and out of the nest (the top frame). Their nest looks like a igloo made out of moss. Then every 10-15min, the adult would grab a grub (they get by flying underwater) and would feed the fledgling. Normally I would use a flash to light up the shadows but I didn’t think I would really be spending much time with the Dippers. Well, I was wrong but couldn’t go get the flash. So I waited until the white water would work as a reflector. The 1000mm worked beautifully, the creek really ripping and the Dippers were really active and as you might have guessed looking at the blog title, what you see here isn’t all of the story. You’d be guessing correctly, mtc.
I had a w h o l e bunch of emails asking about star bursts from yesterday’s blog. The questions are two part, how do you create them and how do you know where to place them. The creation is pretty simple, just close your lens down all the way and shoot. Now you want clear skies and a clean front element / filter. You can increase the star burst effect by “squeezing” the sun like just letting it peek around the edge of a limp or rock. But the biggest thing is your lens, or rather its aperture. The best thing to do is simply step out of the home and shoot the sun with your lenses and look at the star burst pattern they create. I saw the star burst created by the Canon 16-35 and it’s schweet! Right now, my favorite in my bag is with the 18-35AFS
When it comes to placement in the frame, I have no formula to really offer you. Keep in mind that being the lightest/brightest in the frame, the mind’s eye will be stuck on the star burst big time. The rest of the elements in the frame will take a back seat to it. Also keep in mind, you’re shooting into the sun, that means everything else in the frame will be for the most part backlit, in silhouette. If that’s the case, how come these Tufas aren’t all black? Shooting with the D4 and its six stop dynamic range, I simply used the Shadow Slider in ACR 8.1 and pulled the shadows back (you can do this with most bodies these days with tons of success). The bottom photo, there were two other photographers with their tripods in the scene when I took it. This image, it’s the cloud in the top right that were important. So I took the prime frame even though the two photographers were in the frame. Once they left I took the second shot just for the parts of the Tufa they blocked. I processed both files in ACR at the same time and then layered the two frames and painted in the Tufa where the photographers stood. Now they’re gone. So the bottomline answer to the question is, just gotta thing a little and the rest is really simple!
When you have that bald sky and strong sun, another subject is available to you at Mono Lake. Getting there takes understanding a little bit about what is Mono Lake. The strange sculptures we love to photograph, the Tufas, are created underwater. If you’re wanting to be able to tell the story of Mono Lake visually, then including this process is part of the storytelling.
The other part is seeing beneath the water to visually tell that story. A polarizer is your standard tool because it removed the reflections of items such as clouds so we can see beneath the surface. But when you have blad skies and strong sun, you don’t need the polarizer, yo’ve just just gotta look down. So with the 18-35AFS on the D4, I pointed down.
Wanting to bring some visual depth to the photo, I try to have three planes to the photograph, the foreground, middleground and background. In this case, the dry, above surface piece of tufa is the foreground, the detail under the water is the middleground and the reflection of the sun the background. Now this is something I’m not really great at so it takes me time to find all the elements and get them to come together in the viewfinder. But when they do like these and they work, I do like them. They help tell the Mono Lake story just a little deeper.
It was a gorgeous weekend to be in the Eastern Sierra and we had a great group of photographers join us for our Mono Lake Weekend. And as what seems to be going with the weather this year, what should have been a stormy, moody weekend turned out to be a clear, warm weekend. Such is often the case when you plan a trip a year in advance but you’ve gotta make the most of what Mother Nature hands you. So, we worked the Tufas of Mono Lake with the bald skies.
How to you make the most of bald skies? That’s one damn good question. The first is, get over the fact you have bald skie. It can be a real mental bummer so you gotta get over it. Next, you need to work with the light you have. In this case, there was a moment just as the sun crested the horizon that the Tufas had that magical touch of warmth. It’s just a second so you gott move fast and work with that moment. For that moment, I set the WB to cloudy A6 to warm up the light. I underexposed and used a Schenider 3 stop split grad attached to 18-35AFS on the D4. Understand, you are working to make lemonade out of lemons, so pulling out tools, techniques and experimenting is all part of the process. You have nothing to loose, right?,/p>
And then as I’ve done many times, when the light gets hard and the skies are bald, it’s time for star bursts from the sun. The 18-3AFS does a good job when closed down all the way to create a cool pattern. Now it does help if you remember to clean the front element of dust which I forgot, again, to avoid UFOs. The D4 with its 6 stop range makes these image pretty darn simple. And I like simple when I have bald skies, I’m already thinking enough trying to make the photo happen.
Push! Just so we start on the same page, you can photograph your critters any way your heart says works. You like that click, than you are doing it the right way. There will more than likely be a point in time when you just want something more, spread your wings as it were. It’s at that moment in time you need to start pushing your photography. How do you push? You do it one foot at a time: right foot, left foot, right foot, left. In this case, the first step I recommend you take in photographing shorebirds is, gettin down!
Getting down works wonders to clean up the background, but we’ve got to do something with it. We want that clean background to make the subject pop so that’s the start, but we want to push our photography a bit further. Shooting with a D4 / 600VR2 w/TC-20e3 (damn sharp converter!) the combination of focal length and being flat on the sand makes the Marbled Godwit visually pop. It’s then we push, push the shutter release looking for that gesture!
The top image is the safe shot. It’s the one taken when there is little or no movement. It’s the safe shot because if the subject is not moving in the low light, than you have a sharp image. With wildlife, the eye at the very least has to be sharp. Then you go for a the little more riskier shot, when the Godwit start the sewing machine action looking for food. But I’m going to encourage to go beyond that, risk it all and look for that gesture when the shorebird walks and does sewing machine! In low light, this is a lot of action to freeze but can be done. This last frame with beak down and legs crossed is what I like to go for. It’s a real simple click when you look at it but then, there’s a lot going on. But makes it happen is the clean background making that gesture pop. In pushing your critter photography forward, look for the gesture.
An over active imagination? Ya, I have one of those! My love affair with rocks is pretty well known and that’s due in part to my imagination. For example this one at Lake Tahoe, it looks like a fish monster rising its head from the depth to spit out some chewing tabaco on us dumb photographers getting up early on a bald sky morning to shoot rocks. Perhaps a little more nuts is not only seeing this but then shooting to bring it out. Getting down near water level with D800 (ya, even wanted extra detail in the head) with the spooky sharp 18-35 and then processing it in Perfect Suit 7 B&W. Of course, when I say out loud what I was seeing, I was perceived as nuts and that is probably very correct. But then getting up early on a bald sky morning, is nuts!
The weather finally broke so at 05:15 Sharon and I were at Mono Lake with the new 800f5.6 AFS on my shoulder. I had my typical setup, Gitzo 5562GTS, Wimberley WH-200 with Moose Cam (Contour, with the only change being shooting with the D800 as my D4 and half of my gear is in for their annual CLA at Nikon. I was happy as a pig in clam shit to be out shooting critters! It was a brisk morning but not even a stitch of wind with clear skies. With the dirt still wet from the “storm” that went through, I figured the critters would be out and busy, making up for the days of snow, hail and rain. We walked and walked, looked and looked, nothing! Seriously?!
Carrying the rig over my shoulder as I always have, I swear it felt a little lighter than with the 600AFS but I know that’s because the 800mm rig is slightly better balanced on my shoulder. With time to kill, I started to check simple things like, how close can I get with the 800mm and focus on a critter? Manually focusing, I can be 18′ away from a subject and have it sharp. This is not how close it focuses with autofocus, but manually which is what I do most of the time when up close. At this distance at f/5.6, the DOF is bloddy narrow as I discovered when the first Violet-green Swallow appeared. Now being the middle of May, there should be a bucket load at the Tufas but all we had was this one. So as the sun came over the horizon, I had it in my sights and started to shoot. I was way too far away but it was the first bird we’d seen this morning so I wasn’t waiting. I wanted to photograph some critters in the worst way!
OK, I got a little closer, made some more clicks and then it flew off. Bastard! So there we stood, in the gorgeous light with no one to play with. So we kept walkin, lookin, checking all the normal haunts for swallows but with none in the air, I was feeling a little low. Then we came across some Canadian Geese with goslings! Goslings already, pretty big ones no less. While cute and all, shooting them with the 800mm seemed, well, a little anticlimactic after waiting three days to shoot so we just watched them as they strolled by. It was a gorgeous morning at Mono Lake though, looked like I should have been after landscapes rather than critters. We continued walking….
About 45min after sunrise and the nip disappeared from the air, I started to hear the swallows but didn’t see any. Then one came in from high above and landed. I now had two and then, lucky for me, a female showed up! Yeap, being spring and all, soon we had male swallows coming from everywhere to woo the one female and I could finally go to work. The swallows perch on the Tufas for brief periods as they do flight displays, fight with each other, all those male things they do in spring to get the attention of the female. The 800AFS had zero problems focusing from perch to perch as the swallows moved about. The AF speed is great and when the opportunity afforded itself, I would walk in slowly to get as close as I could to continue shooting. Only once did I walk too close that I couldn’t focus. That doesn’t count all the times the swallows landed so close I couldn’t focus no matter what. And was the Moose Cam on all of this time? It was running, I just haven’t edited it to post.
Sharon then saw another group of swallows on another set of Tufas so we wandered over to them. This is where I struck gold and had a male land on a Tufa right in front of me after taking a bath. For five or six minutes it groomed its feathers while calling to the other swallows flying by. On top of the Wimberley, the 800mm was real easy and fast to swing around to keep up with the action. You must be wondering if I was chimping all this time to see the results? Nope, didn’t check them until getting back to the office a short time ago and could see them on the 24HD Cintiq. That’s when I was blown away by the spooky sharpness of the 800AFS! I mean, this is one very sharp lens! It is also very obvious that the DOF at MFD is nothin, not even from the tip of the bill to the back of the eye on the swallow. Well, with these images in the can and the light getting hard, we started walking back towards the truck.
We spent time where we normally see Least Chipmunks but they didn’t want to play. Looked for the cottontail rabbits, none to be found. We kept walking back up the path. As were strolling up looking about, I heard the distinctive twitter (song not social media) of a Green-tailed Towhee. A second later saw it singing from the top of a big Tufa. While not a great perch, I walked to it. Then a female flew up from below it and they were off flying through the sage. I was just about to move on when the male came back and perched on a much better, smaller Tufa. I made a couple of clicks and moved closer. Made a couple of more clicks and then it sang! Those are the shots I love to get in spring.
For the next ten minutes I was able to work the towhee, getting closer and refining the background. The 800mm focal length has always been my favorite because of the ease of manipulating the background, in this case grabbing rabbit brush way off in the distance just getting its spring green. Now as my good friend Kevin pointed out this morning, the 600AFS with 1.4x gets you to the same place and this is true. Well, not too long that female reappeared and my subject jetted off through the sage in hot pursuit once again. So ended my first outing with the new 800AFS lens. Sitting now at my desk looking at the results, there is no doubt whatsoever in my mind that Nikon did an amazing job with this lens! This morning’s shoot was just with the 800mm itself, I didn’t attach any teleconverters to it. I will in due time but for now, I want to learn just what the lens will do on its own. mtc.
My latest class on Kelby Training, Master B&W Landscape Photography is now posted and ready for you! Why am I telling you this again? A whole lot of you asked why it was called Outdoor and not Landscape. Well, you’ll now notice it’s back to the original Landscape. Some have asked why there is Nik B&W and not onOne in the finishing. That’s because when we filmed the class, onOne hadn’t made their B&W public yet. Thanks to ALL of you making this one of my most successful launched.
Sharon & I had NO idea that Gas Town was part of Vancouver or just how cool it is! This is a building they called the “Flat Iron” which I have no idea is related in any way to the Flat Iron bldg in NYC, but it’s really cool. I didn’t have as much time here at the square as I would have liked. There is a whole photo essay to be shot here over time which I would love to have the opportunity to do. Then there are the people of Gas Town. These two girls were a hoot! Sitting inside grabbing a bite, I saw them as we passed and knew I had to make a click. Shooting with the 18-35AFS, I walked up to the outside of the window, smiled, pointed to my lens and then to them and made the body gesture if OK. They smiled and shook their heads so I asked to put their head together and made the click. The folks were so darn friendly and jovial, it was just a great time!
Sharon & I had an absolutely marvelous weekend in Vancouver, CA at the PPOC conference! On Saturday, we went out with a bunch of brave folks (going on a photowalk in a city with a wildlife photographer) to Gas Town. Now, if you’ve never been to Vancouver, you gotta wander what Gas Town or its fantastic Blood Alley. Well, on the way there, we walked through some of the gorgeous architecture that is downtown Vancouver. The clouds were very cooperative adding to the great reflections.
The first question I get is, “What lenses?” I went really simply, shooting with the 18-35AFS and 80-400AFS exclusively on the D4. Both lenses lent themselves perfectly to the photowalk especially the 80-400 with its small size yet long reach. Isolating patterns, textures, people was what I was looking for and came back with some images that I really enjoy. The walk was cool but the folks were killer. Now I’ve not seen any of the photos taken when I posed with a Moose yet, but that’s probably better that way. That’s a whole other story! mtc
That’s what I was saying in my mind, just 5 more minutes! The gale winds were building and being at the highest point in Bermuda (which really isn’t saying much) to photograph its lighthouse, the winds were already whipping us. But not knowing when I might be back again, I wanted to add this lighthouse to my growing collection of lighthouse photos from around Northern Hemisphere. But as you can see in the top photo, the two main elements I wanted in the photo, light and the clouds just weren’t clicking. Shooting with the D4 with the 18-35AFS I got in position and made the first click. That’s because I didn’t know if I had 5min or if the conditions would get better. Then, the clouds changed and the light came out and I jumped, closer and to the left to make the click. Na, it’s not an award winning photo. I simply wanted the best I could make with the moment I had. In my early years, I was the classic, “panic shooter” moving every which way trying to make all the great shots. With age and failure, I have vastly slowed down simply look for the one good shot that might lead to the great shot. With time, please.
Well…I’m no longer in NE, off on another project but didn’t want to leave you hanging. After that amazing sunset the night before, it got real quite outside the blind. Just so you understand, they lock you in the blind at 16:30 and don’t let you out until the next morning around 09:30. You spend the WHOLE time in the blind, there is no going back to a warm hotel room (it got down to 18 at night). So you sleep right next to the river and normally, you can hear the cranes call all night long. Once cranes land at night, they start to wander, walking about and often, they walk hundreds of years up or down the river. When I woke up around 03:00 and didn’t hear them anymore, I had my doubts and sure enough, when the dawn’s light started to light up the sky, we looked out the blind to see the river in front of us, empty. That’s happens but doesn’t mean you’re toast.
This is my expression when they open the door on the blind…freedom! Even though there are no cranes standing in front of you, they fly overhead as they take off for the fields. So with the D4 connected to the 80-400VR3 I kept shooting the cranes as they peeled off. It was simply a great morning and a great experience. Want to thank Pastor Mark for again, a great time and having the in on selecting the best blind each night!
First there are a couple of cranes and then ……
there are thousands! It’s such an epic, spiritual, beautiful site. It all unfolds in a matter of 30min and then it’s dark!
The photography is pretty straight forward. Seeing the light unfold, I grabbed the D4 connected to the 80-400VR3. I grabbed the D4 because I saw the conditions and knew they would change fast so I wanted the 10FPS. The clouds while partly made from contrails, were still going to give color and the cranes would be moving through the small patch of color quickly. While on the topic of color, I’ve noticed some on the boards suggesting it came from Photoshop. I would highly suggest that those not understanding what Cloudy White Balance in combination with -1 comp go out and try it. You might just find that you don’t need Photoshop for color, just a little photographic fundamentals in your pocket!
As it happens, great sunset often leads to…not so great sunrises…at least as the color goes. Without those clouds and a little prairie dust, the sun comes up just like any place else. That’s OK though, the Cranes provide lots of magic. Here’s a couple clicks from this morning’s lift off. Birds with the falling water levels were further away then I like but that’s OK too! I shot with the D800 and the 80-400VR3 (D800 had a firmware drop today BTW) when I didn’t simply just sit and watch. Honestly, it’s a spectacle EVERYONE should witness once in their lives. mtc…
At a stimulating 20 degrees in the blind, my fingers are barely functioning right now outside the warmth of my gloves. But I’ve just gotta share the magnificent flyin tonight on the Platte River, NE. The Lesser Sandhill Cranes are simply the most amazing critter in migration as they seem to celebrate every moment in the air and on the ground together. Shooting with the D800 and the 80-400VR3 (which did a FANTASTIC job!), we had about 20min of thousands of cranes coming in as the sun set. Shooting in Cloudy at -1, I pumped the colors up a tad but what you see is what we saw about a hour ago. Now, we’re locked in the blind until about 10am tomorrow and the temps seem to be dropping and the wet chill settles in. That’s OK though, I love going to sleep in the warm sleeping bag listening to the cranes sing outside. mtc…
It’s an annual right of spring, for me at least, to head out to NE where my good friend Mark lives, jump into his truck and head to the Platt River. There, we’re locked into a plywood box for 14hrs on the hope and the prayer that while inside, the Lesser Sandhill Cranes land in front of us and give us a show. I’ve done this many years now and as of yet, that magic just hasn’t graced us. We’ve gotten close, but no brass ring. And so we go again.
I came this year with what might seem like the wrong gear for such an adventure. I have the 200-400VR2 and the new 80-400VR3 to as my main lenses. In years past, I had my 600VR2 and with a 2x attached shooting HSC, that’s how I got the top image. That’s because the cranes were so far away. Even if the new 800AFS had arrived, I probably would have still gone with the same gear because, if that magic does happen, the 800mm would have been too much lens. And that’s kind how wildlife photography often goes. We might be present, we have the gear and surely the spirit is willing, but the critters and the light gotta wanna play with us.
Now, because I’m nuts and because I have the technology, I’m going to try to, from the blind which has no power (or heat) to blog somewhat live as the next two days unfold. Now if all we have in front of the blind is mud, I won’t have much to blog (mud is a bit boring). But if we are graced with a couple of thousand of cranes outside our windows, then I’ll be sure to post an image or two.