Rich Ditch's Photography Blog

January 17, 2014

Papago Park, Part 2

Filed under: Birds, light — richditch @ 1:30 pm
Hooded Merganser

Hooded Merganser

Nikon D300, Nikkor AF-S 300/2.8 plus TC20E III (2x), ISO 400, 1/800th second at f/8

As promised in my last post here are some more photos from Papago Park in Phoenix. This is a very urban park next to the zoo, with lots of blacktop, parking lots, and picnic ramadas. The attraction for photographers is the number and variety of wild waterfowl that spend the winter months in the easy-access ponds. The birds are sometimes fed by park visitors and quickly become tolerant of people close by.

This drake Hooded Merganser has been attracting photographers since word got out on the AZ birders email list. Although mergansers can be found in multiple locations here this isn’t one of the abundant species in AZ, so having an attractive male that gets within camera range is worth checking out.

American Wigeon

American Wigeon

Nikon D300, Nikkor AF-S  70-300/4.5-5.6 @ 300mm, ISO 400, 1/500th second at f/8

A more common species in AZ in winter is the American Wigeon. Although I see them in greater numbers and in more places than the Hooded Merganser I won’t pass up a shot at an attractive wigeon in good light and within range.

Mallard

Mallard

Nikon D300, Nikkor AF-S 70-300/4.5-5.6 @ 300mm, ISO 400, 1/320th second at f/11

Like urban parks everywhere in the country there are always resident Mallards around. I liked the light on this drake standing beside the water, plus the chance to see the bulk usually hidden below the water’s surface.

Red-winged Blackbird

Red-winged Blackbird

Nikon D300, Nikkor AF-S 300/2.8 plus TC20E III (2x), ISO 800, 1/60th second at f/8

Even in an urban park there are often small areas with more natural aspects, and this Red-winged Blackbird was attracted to this micro habitat or water and reeds.

Palm Tree Bark

Palm Tree Bark

Nikon D300, Nikkor AF-S 300/2.8 plus TC20E III (2x), ISO 200, 1/125th second at f/8

Finally, I try to keep my eyes open for interesting subjects other than birds like the bark of this palm tree. I admit that my was first attracted to it by the red-shafted flickers coming to it to feed on hanging fruit, but they had moved on by the time I’d gotten my big lens set up. But one look at the bark in the warm morning light through my bird lens was all it took for me to forget about chasing after the flickers.

I haven’t finished editing and processing of my photos from Papago Park, so I might post another collection of shots from here sometime soon.

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January 15, 2014

Papago Park

Filed under: Birds, light — richditch @ 6:44 pm
Papago Park

Papago Park

Nikon D300, Nikkor 18-70 AF-S at 52mm, ISO 400, 1/320th second at f/5.6

Since the start of 2014 I’ve been making a few early morning visits to Papago Park, between the Phoenix Zoo and the Desert Botanical Gardens, jus east of Sky Harbor Airport and near the edge of Tempe, AZ.

I’ve been there occasionally over the years I’ve lived in Phoenix to add various ducks to my annual Year List, or to take advantage of the wintering ducks that allow close approach for photos. In the past it has always felt a bit too “urban”for full outdoor enjoyment, but I’ve gotten past that this year with visits on weekdays around dawn when there’s almost nobody else present.

Papago Park

Papago Park

Nikon D300, Nikkor 18-70 AF-S at 24mm, ISO 400, 1/250th second at f/5.6

A few days ago I was blessed with unusual conditions for Phoenix – solid cloud cover in the west with breaking sun rising in the east. That gave me the chance to capture local elements in warm morning light against a dark sky background. So for a while I ignored the birds and my big lens, grabbing the other body with wide angle zoom for some scenic views. For a change I played around with a variety of compositions, like this vertical view.

Papago Park

Papago Park

Nikon D300, Nikkor 18-70 AF-S at 38mm, ISO 400, 1/200th second at f/5.6

The light was low contrast so I could also play around with exposure a bit and not worry about pushing the histogram off either end of the scale.

I’ve got lots of bird images as well, of course. I’m nowhere near finished editing and processing my favorites, but I do have a few ready to share.

Canvasback

Canvasback

Nikon D300, Nikkor 70-300 AF-S at 280mm, ISO 400, 1/400th second at f/11

This is a good example of how accommodating the ducks are at Papago Park. The vast majority of my avian photos were taken with my modest 70-300 zoom, hand held, and often at less than the 300mm setting. I must say that the freedom of using this compact and lightweight lens, compared to my usual 300/2.8 and 2x converter, is intoxicating.

For comparison, here’s another Canvasback shot, this time with the 300 and 2x.

Canvasback

Canvasback

Nikon D300, Nikkor AF-S 300/2.8 plus TC20E III (2x), ISO 800, 1/800th second at f/11

More duck species and images are yet to be processed and hopefully will show up in the next post soon.

Great Blue Heron in morning mist

Great Blue Heron

Nikon D300, Nikkor AF-S 300/2.8 plus TC20E III (2x), ISO 800, 1/1250th second at f/8

I couldn’t resist this Great Blue Heron that landed on an interesting lamp post in the warm morning light and against the dark sky.

Green Heron

Green Heron

Nikon D300, Nikkor AF-S 300/2.8 plus TC20E III (2x), ISO 400, 1/1250th second at f/8

I also managed a couple shots of Green Herons in “micro habitats” that make this urban park seem a bit more wild than it really is.

Green Heron

Green Heron

Nikon D300, Nikkor AF-S 300/2.8 plus TC20E III (2x), ISO 12500, 1/160th second at f/5.6

December 22, 2013

A Walk in the Park

Filed under: Boyce Thompson Arboretum, favorite places, light, technique — richditch @ 1:45 pm
Boyce Thompson Arboretum Demonstration Garden

Boyce Thompson Arboretum Demonstration Garden

Let me say up front that I love my high end DSLR’s and my collection of lenses from a 12-24mm zoom to my 300/2.8 plus 2x converter. This gear gives my lots of control when I’m shooting seriously, and I can’t imagine being a photographer without the flexibility and quality of this kit.

But when I’m out for birds with my big rig (a Nikon D300, the 300/2.8 AF-S lens, the Nikon TC20E III 2x converter, a Gitzo carbon fibre tripod with Really Right Stuff ball head and Wimberley Sidekick), I rarely have the energy to drag along another D300 and short zoom lens for any other type of subject.

As I’ve written before, I’ve started to rely upon the simple camera in an iPhone more and more when I would have otherwise used an 18-70mm zoom on the D300. I am lucky enough to have a friend who donated his old iPhone 3GS a while back when he upgraded to give me access to the useful applications. And another friend just passed on an iPhone 4 when it was replaced by a 5C.

Boyce Thompson Arboretum Demonstration Garden

Boyce Thompson Arboretum Demonstration Garden

So when I visited Boyce Thompson Arboretum state park earlier this week to work with some vagrant birds I had the iPhone 4 in my pocket “just in case.” Conditions were so pleasant that morning in the Demonstration Garden that I reached for the iPhone so I could show my wife when I got home.

Boyce Thompson Arboretum Demonstration Garden

Boyce Thompson Arboretum Demonstration Garden

I admit at first I was skeptical about taking photos with a cell phone, thinking that the results just couldn’t be all that good. And also lamenting the lack of control such a camera has, with no way to select focal length, or aperture, or ISO, or to be able to shoot in raw format.

But then I realized that I still had control over how I composed the scene on the display, and that I still selected the subject and the point of view for the image: these are fundamental aspects of photography that no amount of  automation has been able to displace. And I also recalled that I still had some control over point of focus (by tapping on the image) and that by doing so I could control where the iPhone camera made its exposure determination.

The lesson of all this is important: the photographer’s vision still trumps the technology. Even the tiny sensor in a smart phone camera can capture some interesting images if only the photographer is willing to treat the simple camera properly.

December 15, 2013

A nice morning at The Ranch

Filed under: Birds, favorite places, Gilbert Water Ranch, light — richditch @ 11:08 am
Clouds Over Pond 5

Clouds Over Pond 5

I haven’t been visiting the Gilbert Water Ranch as often as I did in previous years, even though the weather has gotten much better recently. That’s partly because many of the birds I expect to be there hadn’t shown up yet, or were  too far away for photos, or the views of the ponds have been obstructed by overgrown vegetation.

But my visit on December 12 was a lot better – more birds and better views. Plus, the weather was wonderful as a cold front brushed past AZ. The front brought pleasantly low temperatures and neat clouds – something we don’t see often here. Pond 5 looked so good with the early morning light and the reflected clouds that I grabbed the iPhone to record what I could of it; that’s the image above. The iPhone has an angle of view equivalent to a 35mm lens on a full frame 35mm camera, or what I could have taken with a 24mm lens on my Nikon D300 if I had brought along such a lens.

I had a chance encounter with a juvenile Cooper’s Hawk along the path between ponds 3 and 4, where the “cormorant tree” used to stand before it got taken out in one of this year’s storms. I didn’t notice it at first as I marveled at the absence of the tree, but got off a few frames before it took its unknown meal farther down the trail away from me.

Cooper's Hawk with Curve-billed Thrasher

Cooper’s Hawk

Nikon D300, Nikkor 300/2.8 AF-S with TC20E III (2x), 800, 1/100th second at f/8

The bird didn’t give me time to find a cleaner view but at least I was able to keep the hawk’s head unobstructed.

On the way out one of the resident Northern Mockingbirds selected a high perch so I took a couple shots of it as well. Nothing special, but even though I’ve got an abundance of other photos of this species I don’t like to walk past a photo opportunity.

Northern Mockingbird

Northern Mockingbird

Nikon D300, AF-s 300/2.8 plus TC20E III (2x), ISO 800, 1/2500th second at f/8

Overall, a pleasant couple of hours with a couple nice photos to show for it.

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.

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