Rich Ditch's Photography Blog

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.

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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.

December 13, 2013

A Trip to the Library

Filed under: Non Birds — richditch @ 2:24 pm
Mexican Beads

Mexican Beads

I’m a big fan of the Phoenix Public Library, and we use their services on a regular basis. Of course we go for the occasional book (usually we just buy books), especially when I want to learn the details of  a complicated application for the computer. More often we go to pick up DVDs to watch at home, and by borrowing from the library we have seen a lot of stuff we’d likely not risk money on in a blind purchase.

Mexican Comb

Mexican Comb

What is also nice about the Phoenix Library system is what we get to see there, like this small collection of Mexican folk art items at our local branch. There are two small display windows with interior light and black background, and they often contain small items as seen here.

Mexican Figurines

Mexican Figurines

Mexican Figurines

Mexican Figurine

In the past I would just glance at there displays on the way to the shelves, but now that I usually have an iPhone with me I have discovered that I can get a decent photo of some of the items. All I need to do is press the phone against the glass (it helps stabilize the camera and blocks many reflections), tap on the screen image to set the focus/exposure point to fine tune the brightness, and take a photo. With a little bit of cleanup of the images in Photoshop (background cleanup, minor exposure adjustment, a bit of cropping) I can get a nice result and share with my wife who couldn’t come along on the visit.

 

December 3, 2013

Abstracts – Cat Fur

Filed under: Cats, curiosities, Non Birds — richditch @ 7:07 pm
Ernie Fur Abstract

Ernie Fur Abstract

Nikon D300, AF Nikkor 105/2.8 Macro, ISO 800, 1/60th second @ f/5, 11/17/13

Ernie is one of our two indoor-only cats, and I’ve featured him in a number of previous posts on this blog. Ernie likes to be close, except when anyone visits or rings the doorbell. When he was so close the other day that I couldn’t do anything productive I grabbed an iPhone and turned on the camera just to examine his messy fur. It was a revelation for me, and I took a couple quick photos to see what I could do. I liked the results enough that I soon got out my old 105/2.8 Micro-Nikkor and mounted it on a D300 body, then waited for a good opportunity to try for higher quality images.

Ernie has enough variation in the color of his fur to make this a fun exercise – just focus on different sections for a variety of patterns. Light and shadow are also important for any results as they provide contrast and define the third dimension of the image.

Ernie Fur Abstract

Ernie Fur Abstract

The original shot: 11/14/13, iPhone 3GS, ISO 320, 1/15th second @ f/2.8

There’s also a lot of opportunity to make any image more abstract with some simple processing – just play around with contrast and color balance as I did on the original shot with my iPhone.

Ernie Fur Abstract

Ernie Fur Abstract

iPhone 4, ISO 200, 1/15th second @ f/2.8, 12/01/13

I must point out that I find it a lot easier to work with the iPhone than the D300 and 105 macro. The phone is always handy and it is easier to position close to the subject. As long as you don’t need the higher quality of fist-rate optics and a large sensor you can turn out a lot more images in a shorter period. The D300 got the colors spot-on, but with these being abstracts I don’t mind the blue or cyan that crept into the iPhone photos.

Ernie Portrait

Ernie Portrait

Nikon D300, Nikkor 105/2.8, ISO 800, 1/25th second at f/5.6

As long as I had the D300 and 105 at hand it was easy to get another portrait of Ernie for my files. Note: I’ve got a lot of shots of Ernie in my files already, like this shot from October 19, 2013.

Ernie under shirt

Ernie under shirt

Nikon D300, Nikkor 50/1.8, ISO 1600, 1/80th second @ f/2.8

December 2, 2013

One Less Thrasher

Filed under: backyard, behavior, Birds — richditch @ 4:24 pm
Cooper's Hawk with Curve-billed Thrasher

Cooper’s Hawk with Curve-billed Thrasher

Nikon D300, 300/2.8 AF-S Nikkor, ISO 800, 1/400th second at f/6.3, hand held and cropped 50%

Curve-billed Thrashers have been a staple of our backyard since we moved to AZ in 1994. Compared to the Brown Thrasher that we were familiar with in NJ, the Curve-billed Thrasher is a lot easier to see. Unfortunately for the thrasher, being easier to see isn’t always an advantage.

In all but the warmest months here our yard attracts occasional Sharp-shinned Hawks, and more often, Cooper’s Hawks like the immature in this photo. The usual victim is a Mourning Dove, of which we have an abundance. The doves feed mostly in the open yard, with another group feeding on seed scattered on the patio. The thrashers feed the patio almost all the time.

When a Cooper’s Hawk makes a pass the doves scatter in flight and the hawk usually follows one. The thrashers run on the ground for cover, which in the past has always kept them safe from the accipiters. On November 30 this strategy didn’t work for this thrasher, and the Cooper’s Hawk decided to grab it instead of chasing doves.

The remaining Curve-billed Thrasher is still visiting the patio, but is more shy. Probably a good thing, too, as we just had a visit from an adult accipiter (either a small male Cooper’s or a larger male Sharpie – it didn’t sit long enough for me to decide which it was).

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