Rich Ditch's Photography Blog

October 13, 2013

Return to Planet Earth Temps

Filed under: Birds, comparisons, composition, favorite places, Gilbert Water Ranch, light, weather — richditch @ 3:56 pm
White-crowned Sparrow

White-crowned Sparrow

Nikon D300, Nikkor AF-S 300/2.8 plus TC20E III (2x), ISO 400, 1/500th second at f/8, 7:47 am

I’m very happy to report that temperatures in central AZ have finally returned to reasonable levels for outdoor activities. Last I had heard on the TV was that we’d had 114 days of triple digit highs in Phoenix this summer, and that on average it was the hottest summer we have ever had. The 10 day forecast shows highs only in the mid-high 80’s so we might even be past the triple digits for the remainder of 2013.

Overnight temps have been very nice, and it was just under 60 degrees when I got to the Gilbert Water Ranch around 7:00 am on Friday, October 11. I spent 90 minutes re-aquainting myself wit the Water Ranch and seeing what birds were around. They included my first-of-season White-crowned Sparrows and Yellow-rumped Warblers – two species that should be around the Water Ranch in good numbers for many months.

White-crowned Sparrow

White-crowned Sparrow

Nikon D300, Nikkor AF-S 300/2.8 plus TC20E III (2x), ISO 400, 1/640th second at f/8, 7:48 am

The two images shown in this post are of the same White-crowned Sparrow on the same branch, taken 47 seconds apart. I like them both and haven’t yet decided which I prefer.

A good friend gave me this unsolicited response after seeing the top image:

Like it. A good example of how much you can get into a supposedly simple shot. Composition balanced but not symmetric or static, with a mix of straight and curving lines for the eye to wander along; colors: muted and harmonious. mood: sunny and warm but not too hot. Sparrow, main subject: interesting pose, technically wonderful, enjoy the soft texture of breast and tiny catchlight in eye and, oddly, tail. Yellowish bill echoes yellowish tones in background and gray overall color echoes tones in the branch.  If you stop there, it’s a fine picture indeed, but there’s another layer with the calligraphic shadows and a perfect little sprig on the bird’s breast.

Blushing, I replied:

Thanks! I wish I could claim that I was aware of all that when I made this shot.

When I’m doing this I pay attention to the bird – am I focused on the face/eye?; how’s the light falling on it (especially the face); where is the bird in the frame (don’t clip it if it is big in there frame; don’t center it if possible). I also worry about the exposure when there’s important white or bright yellow/red areas, or when there’s strong back light or high contrast.

Experience makes a lot of this almost “muscle memory” level, and I’m glad I didn’t lose that over the low activity hot summer.

The gear also makes a lot of difference. Having essentially unlimited free frame capacity means I can take a lot more risky shots with no penalty, and this means I can greatly increase my chances of a good frame in the sequence. I’m not locked into a slow film speed – I can dial up the ISO to whatever I need in seconds. Nikon’s metering has always been trustworthy so I don’t have to guess and pray. And I’ve set up my auto focus so the active sensor “floats” as needed after I’ve initially locked on.

The time stamps recorded in the EXIF of both images here show they were taken only 47 seconds apart. After my initial series of shots I moved a little closer to tighten up the composition on the sparrow, but as the images show that larger subject means less of the setting. Sometimes this is a good tradeoff, while at other times I prefer to see more of the habitat.

May 25, 2013

Great Blue Heron Variety

Filed under: Birds, favorite places, Gilbert Water Ranch, light, style, weather — richditch @ 11:10 am
Great Blue Heron in morning mist

Great Blue Heron

Nikon D300, Nikkor 300/2.8 AF-S lens with TC20E III (2x), ISO 800, 1/25ooth second at f/5.6, 7:24 am on 5/2/2013

It is easy for a photographer to get stuck in a rut of lookalike images, especially with common subjects like the Great Blue Heron. The Great Blue is hard to miss around water throughout its extensive range and even non birders often are attracted to them because they are obvious and often stationary allowing decent views.

I see these large birds on every visit to the Gilbert Water Ranch where I do the bulk of my bird photography, and if nothing else cooperates with me on an outing I can usually find a heron to exercise my camera and eye.

But with an extensive collection of Great Blue Heron photos already in my catalog I am always on the lookout for interesting poses or situations to add some variety to what I’ve already shot.

The lead image was taken at the start of a recent walkabout, so I had the ISO set to 800 and the lens wide open at f/5.6 to maximize the shutter speed if I encountered any small active birds in the shadows. I should have dropped the ISO to 400 and closed the lens to f/8 for this had I been thinking about settings, but I was really more interested in the posture of this usually elegant subject. The spread legs are something I don’t usually see and for me that made this an image suitable for my collection. All I had to do was wait for a turn of the head to give a nice profile shot.

Great Blue Heron in morning mist

Great Blue Heron in morning mist

Nikon D300, Nikkor 300/2.8 AF-S lens with TC20E III (2x), ISO 800, 1/8oth second at f/8, 7:41 am on 1/31/2013

Another way to add variety is to take advantage of any unusual weather conditions. Here in very dry Arizona I don’t get to see much fog or even morning mist, so encountering a bit rising from one of the ponds at the Gilbert Water Ranch led to my second example. I’ve left some space at the top of the frame to show how limited the mist actually was – just a few feet beyond the edge of the pond the view was clear and open.

So, if you can’t travel to new places anytime you want you can still keep your photography fresh by looking for variety in common subjects. If nothing else it is good practice until you get the chance to visit someplace entirely new.

 

August 24, 2011

Time, or Temperature?

Filed under: curiosities, Non Birds, weather — richditch @ 2:56 pm
Time or Temp?

Time or Temp?

Trick question – its both the time and the temperature! And, that’s a reference to one of my favorite movies – Chinatown with Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway (Mrs. Mulwray says: “She’s my sister and my daughter!”)

I just wanted to post something to let everyone know I’m still around but its still too hot to be out shooting much. It will get hotter in the next couple of hours and I might get brave enough to head back out for a peak temp shot, but don’t count on it.

August 24, 2011, Nikon D200, Nikkor 18-70 @ 24mm, ISO 400, 1/1250th second at f/5, hand held from inside the air conditioned car.

October 10, 2010

Birds in Fog

Filed under: Birds, favorite places, Gilbert Water Ranch, light, technique, weather — richditch @ 6:28 pm
Black-necked Stilt

Black-necked Stilt

On a nature photography critique web site where I have been participating since 2001 a discussion began with this question: “Images shot in the fog — is there a way to do it?” The poster went on to say: “A lot of noise removal was necessary. I also enhanced the contrast. Is there a way to get a well-defined bird in the fog?”

For me, this goes against my reasons for shooting in the fog – I don’t want a “well-defined” bird nor would I increase the contrast trying for better definition.

The essence of fog is the way it simplifies a scene by reducing contrast and eliminating detail – the subject and setting are reduced to a minimum of lines and shapes while color and detail are suppressed. I think this makes for a simplified image depending on strong graphics, and I like to have some of these images in my portfolio.

The Black-necked Stilt group at the top of this post is an excellent example. A heavy fog in central Arizona at the Gilbert Water Ranch gave me a rare opportunity to create a simple graphic image. Stilts are high contrast birds with stark white and black plumage, but the fog has reduced the contrast and made these birds two close shades of gray. 12/12/07, D200, 300/2.8 plus TC20E, ISO 400, 1/500th second at f/8.

Great Egrets in fog

Taken just a few minutes earlier this pair of Great Egrets at the Gilbert Water Ranch shows a little more detail since the birds are closer to the camera putting less fog between to reduce detail. 12/12/07, ISO 400, 1/320th second at f/8.

Green Heron on a foggy day

This Green Heron was encountered about an hour before the egret and stilts, and at even closer range. So, the image has more color and detail, but the heavy fog has obliterated details of the busy background just a little farther behind the heron. 12/12/07, ISO 800, 1/640th second at f/8.

Cactus Wren

Cactus Wren

The technique works for small birds as well, as with this Cactus Wren at the Gilbert Water Ranch. Again, I’ve taken advantage of a bit of fog to  minimize background detail that might have been distracting. 12/22/08, ISO 320, 1/160th second at f/8.

White-crowned Sparrow in morning haze

Finally, a White-crowned Sparrow in light mist at the Water Ranch, where the mist has softened the background to pastel shades. 11/25/08, ISO 400, 1/60th second at f/8.

October 8, 2010

Rain in Phoenix

Filed under: backyard, light, Non Birds, technique, weather — richditch @ 8:24 pm
Rain in Phoenix

Rain in Phoenix

We’ve finally had a break in the oppressive summer heat in Phoenix, and hopefully the triple digit days are over for 2010. The big change came when a major storm over southern California spilled far enough east to cover the Phoenix metro area. We started with 0.3 inches of rain one day (I know that doesn’t sound like much but in Phoenix it is). Then on October 5 we had 0.9 inches in our back yard, with some parts of the Valley getting almost 2 inches.

It was odd enough that I grabbed my backup D70 body and mounted my widest lens – a Tokina 12-24 and stepped out to the covered patio to take some shots as the rain came down. It was only 4:46 pm but it was so dark that even at ISO 640 I ended up with an exposure of 1/10th second at f/5.6. The resulting raw file was still quite dark and this image was given another stop of exposure in raw conversion with Adobe Camera Raw.

I had the Tokina lens at 12mm – the equivalent of an 18mm lens on a full frame 35mm camera. I did my best to position the tripod low enough to minimize any tilt up or down with the lens, and tried to square it up with the patio roof and pillars, but I didn’t quite get it aligned. So I used the transform feature in Photoshop  to straighten out the vertical lines in the image. This is a great feature of Photoshop if you ever shoot buidings with a wide angle lens.

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