Avian Photography and Bird Snapshots and the Olympus Stylus SH-1

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First, I don’t pretend to be an avian photographer. Avian photographers are people who take pictures of birds using bazooka lenses that look as if they evolved from cannons (ha! pun intended) that had their heyday at the Battle of Gettysburg. Avian photographers also have an amazing degree of patience. You can’t ask that Bald Eagle or that Song Sparrow to strike just the right pose in the right kind of light — you have to wait … and wait … and wait for the bird to do it. And don’t forget the catch light in their eye!

I don’t have that kind of patience. And my bazooka lens, a Tokina AT-X 80-400mm, is, in my hands anyway, better suited for shooting stationary objects like lighthouses rather than birds that you may capture on the wing. But what I do have is an amazing little point-and-shoot, the Olympus Stylus SH-1. It was recommended to me by fellow upstate New York photographer Dan Burkholder. In fact, the first time Dan and I met, at the reception for his gallery show in Hunter, we recognized each other because we each had this camera hanging around our necks.  With its zoom that reaches to an astounding 600mm, this Olympus is capable of getting bird close-ups that (for me, anyway) would otherwise have been impossible.

The image of the heron, above, is the closest I’ve ever come to “avian photography” with the Olympus Stylus SH-1. I was in San Diego on a business trip, and the heron obligingly posed in the waters of the harbor right outside my hotel. (I had gone out just after breakfast to photograph the ships–I have a thing about anything nautical–and this guy was there as an added bonus). Otherwise, as far as photographing birds is concerned, I find that this handy camera has various other uses. For example:

getting record shots of the birds that visit my feeders in winter (visual confirmation of the ticked boxes on the lists at the back of my Kaufman Field Guide), such as

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMr. Downy Woodpecker (the red cap identifies him as male), who seems to have moved in permanently; I sometimes see his mate, as well as a second male who is, in the opinion of the first Mr., avis non grata; or —

this White-Breasted Nuthatch. These are aggressive littleOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA birds who are able to run up and down trees, and when they run down, they go head first. Cute to watch. Always on the move, they’re difficult to photograph and so you have to keep shooting successively in hopes of getting something fairly usable.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnother application for photographing birds with the Olympus: Boasting rights, so I can email a photo such as this one of a White-Throated Sparrow to my birding friend in New England as proof that my feeder got one of these guys before his did. (Yup, that white stuff is snowflakes. This is the Northeast, remember.)

And similarly — to send to my birding friend for identification: Is this really a Carolina Wren? Yes,OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA he confirmed, and I’m at the northern end of their range.

Finally, here’s one that I like to think goes beyond just a plain old bird snapshot. This Red-Tailed Hawk was perched in a tree at the McIntosh Audubon Preserve in Bristol, Rhode Island last month, patiently waiting to find someone to eat. Very patiently. And he wasn’t bothered by my walking slowly and ever closer to where he was. He had his back to me and eventually I was OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAable to pass the tree and get some front shots of him — even with that all-important catch-light in his eye. Eventually he did swoop down on something but I don’t think he caught it. He landed in a tree on the opposite side of the field, but after a time returned to his original perch. To think that I was almost going to leave the Olympus in my car and just take the Nikon DSLR. Moral of the story: Never ever ignore that little inner voice that whispers a suggestion.

Repeat Visits Pay Off in Photography

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Photographers who teach and write will often tout the benefits of returning to a spot again and again. It pays to get to know a place well. The season of the year, time of day, weather, light — there’s a whole host of factors that, in an almost unlimited number of combinations, will pretty well guarantee that the spot will never look exactly the same twice. Add to that such factors that are more under your control — your vantage point, lens, focal length, exposure, etc. — and if you’ve found a place you like, it can be a virtual goldmine of different images for you.

I’m going to illustrate this for you with examples of images I’ve made from one of my favorite spots over the years: Second Beach in Middletown, Rhode Island. Water, sand, rocks, light, people — all these and more go into ensuring an endless variety of photo opps.

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The rock with the wave breaking against it is for me one of the main visual attractions on Second Beach. Rhode Island’s coast is often windy and it didn’t disappoint on this January morning. It’s a matter of taking several shots, trying to anticipate what an approaching wave is going to do, and hoping you got a couple of good images out of the perhaps dozens you took. Tip for wave photography: Be sure your Exposure Delay Mode is turned off!

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Here’s a complete contrast. The tide is in and the water is calm. I made these images in the evening in order to be able to get the long exposures needed to get that ethereal look in the water.

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This features a close-up of the piece of rocky coast that’s on the right of the first image. I deliberately heightened the contrast between light and shadow in order to make the most of the morning sun highlighting the people.

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When the waves are up, this is a popular spot for surfing, including surfing on these stand-up boards, which attracts all ages. Here I’ve turned slightly to the left to make the most of the golden early morning light. In the background is the silhouette of Sachuest National Wildlife Refuge, a favorite site for photographers and birders alike.

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Again looking left, this time a wide-angle view featuring clouds and reflections toward the evening.

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Finally, a classic example of “Don’t forget to look behind you”: the spires of St. George’s School against a red setting sun.

Another featured attraction close by is the famous rock where Bishop Berkeley used to sit, ponder, and write. It was Bishop Berkeley who posed the question, “If a tree falls in the forest and there’s no one there to hear it, does it still make a noise?” Berkeley’s rock is a photo opp all in itself.

Digital Neutral Density

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On the morning after Christmas my son, Anton, and I went out to shoot at Cooper Lake. One advantage to having a great place like this nearby is that you become familiar with the optimum times to be there and the optimum angles from which to shoot, depending on when you know the good light will be hitting a specific place. Since the path bordering Cooper Lake curves around, you can start at one spot for first light and then make your way to the next spot when the sun is slightly higher. (A lake surrounded by mountains has its own challenges when it comes to allowing for differences from the official sunrise and sunset times.) And while you’re waiting for the light to be in the right position, there’s always the beaver pond, or close-ups on the opposite side of the path.

On this particular morning one of my “while you’re waiting” shots was a capture of Anton in action. Instead of shooting from the edge of the path, he had got right down to the edge of the shore. I decided to go for an environmental shot, i.e., one that shows him in the broader landscape instead of a tight shot. (This is beautiful Cooper Lake, after all.)

The problem with the resulting image was that the lower half was too dark while the upper half verged on the too light side — perfect conditions for a graduated neutral density filter. But I don’t have one in my collection, or at least it wasn’t with me that day.  I remembered that Nik Color Efex Pro 4 has a grad NDF preset, so I pulled the image into Photoshop and then into Color Efex Pro. Easy! You can manipulate sliders to change the lightness/darkness of the two halves of the photo and to regulate the degree of blend. If your exposure problem affects the right and left halves of the image rather than the upper and lower halves, there’s a rotating slider as well.

Lightroom has an adjustment brush tool for this situation, but personally I found the Nik preset much easier (and faster) to use. Just a personal preference.

The processed image is at the top of this post.

While you’re at it, you might want to take a look at Anton’s website.

Winter Monochrome at the Lake

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Here in the Northeast we had a big snowstorm the day before Thanksgiving. On the day itself the snow was still coming down a bit and we went for a walk to Cooper Lake. It was very cold, the turkey was in process of roasting, so I grabbed my Olympus SH-1 point and shoot rather than my DSLR with tripod.

The images I’m showing you here are the best of the results from that walk. Conditions were a winter photographer’s dream come true. The processing was minimal — very minimal. No B&W conversion was involved; this is completely natural. I tried experimenting with converting one image to B&W and didn’t like the result; it wasn’t the right tone, somehow too warm. The cooler tones right out of the camera were spot-on for the feeling of that day. Hope you enjoy these; comments welcome!

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Last but not least — Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! Thank you for being readers of my blog.

Black and White Photo Challenge

Fellow photoblogger Janice Sullivan nominated me for the 5-day Black and White Photo Challenge. It had been a while since I’d done any serious B&W conversions so I was glad to have this discipline. Below are the photos, with something about each one. Each image was originally posted on my Facebook page.

Ed IMG_1190 Nik Neutral sThis is the interior of The Coffee Pot in Littleton, NH; the old-fashioned interior lends itself well to B&W. I had already processed this in color and chose to make the B&W conversion from the psd file instead of from the jpg to which I had added some Topaz Adjust finishing touches. This conversion was made with Nik Silver Efex Pro 2, in which I used the Neutral preset and simply increased the structure a bit as I like the somewhat gritty look that gives.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIf you know my image Dreamtime at the Ashokan Reservoir, this is another taken on the same day. After preliminary processing in Lightroom 5, I brought it into Photoshop and added a B&W layer, decreased the Cyans and Blues to darken the clouds (and their reflections in the water), and increased the Yellows and Greens to lighten the bridge structure to make it more prominent. I also cropped it a bit from the bottom; without the “dreamy” look of the color image I wanted the bridge to stand out more.

 

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This was taken at the Sachuest National Wildlife Refuge, Middletown, RI, when sun and wind combined for the right conditions early one morning. Observing the waves and trying to capture “the decisive moment” is a meditative experience. Here I was struck not only by the wave action but also by the play of the rising sun on the edges of the rocks. B&W conversion was simply a B&W layer in Photoshop CS5. I darkened the Cyans and Blues at the top of the image to make the contrast with the wave stand out more.

 

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This image of a barn and tree in the Adirondacks first went into Lightroom to increase clarity to enhance detail in the barn and the grass. Then I brought it into Photoshop for B&W conversion by adding a B&W layer. I tweaked the Blues to darken the sky but not too dark, then increased the Greens to bring out more detail in the grass.

 

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Finally, here is the Diana’s Bath waterfall in New Hampshire. I began by working on my processed jpg, but then decided to take the psd file back into Lightroom to increase the Clarity. That worked! Then back into Photoshop where I added a B&W layer, then tweaked the Shadows/Highlights a bit. In the process, I ended up with a better color version as well.

What do you think? Let me hear from you. If you’re interested in purchasing a print as a gift for yourself or a friend, click on the photo to go through to my FAA website. Thank you for looking.

Fun at PhotoPlus 2014

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The enormous PhotoPlus event held at New York’s Javits Center in autumn each year is photographer heaven. Everything photography is there to visit, inspect, try out — it’s energizing just to be there. An amazing variety of seminars is also available, many of them by prominent photographers, but I just enjoy spending a couple of hours walking around the exhibit hall, usually with my map marked out with the booths I definitely don’t want to miss. As usual, this year I visited the Canson Infinity display where friend and fellow Hudson Valley photographer Robert Rodriguez, Jr. holds forth; the AdoramaPix display, where you can spin the prize wheel and are guaranteed to win something — perhaps even a $100 gift card (this time I won a free 8 x 10 canvas print; and the LaCie booth, as I’m usually interested in external hard drive storage solutions.

The major manufacturers such as Nikon and Canon always have gorgeous prints on display by the big-name photographers who use their gear, and taking these in is always a “must”; this year I was especially struck by the work of Elizabeth Carmel. And I went by the Sony display because, as often happens, I’m itching for a new high-end point-and-shoot and wanted to check out some of their gear that’s been highly praised. And if you were looking really hard, you would have noticed the little booth occupied by Adventures in Photography. Run by my friends from the Ridgewood Camera Club Martin Joffe, Boris Hardouin-Deleuze, and Jia Han Dong, Adventures in Photography is an offshoot of the Camera Club field trips (now a completely independent venture) that offers everything from photo trips of one or several days to workshops on postprocessing and presentations by prominent pros.

Here are some photos from Friday October 31:

I loved Sony's Halloween-like color.

I loved Sony’s Halloween-like color.

Martin and Boris of Adventures in Photography were on hand to greet people and talk about what they have to offer.

Martin and Boris of Adventures in Photography were on hand to greet people and talk about what they have to offer.

Take your chance at the AdoramaPix prize wheel -- you're guaranteed a prize.

Take your chance at the AdoramaPix prize wheel — you’re guaranteed a prize.

You can see where my loyalties lie. In any case, Nikon's display always provides great material for exploring shapes and angles.

You can see where my loyalties lie. In any case, Nikon’s display always provides great material for exploring shapes and angles.

New Hampshire Scenes: The Intimate Landscape

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No matter what time of year one visits New Hampshire, those grand mountain landscapes are always an irresistible draw for the camera. Especially (but not only) during foliage season, the scenic vistas along the Kancamagus Highway, Bear  Notch Road, and other major routes (think Rt 302 at Bretton Woods) are magnets for photographers of all stripes.

I enjoy photographing those grand scenes — “lofty mountain grandeur,” as the hymn says. And as long as one clear, sunny day is forecast, I’ll be up and out of my motel room well before the crack of dawn to station myself at Chocorua Lake Road and catch the light show (with luck, the light-and-fog show) over the lake and mountain. But what I find more rewarding is shooting the intimate landscape — particularly forest interiors. It’s a quieter, more meditative process, almost as if I’m waiting for something — a tree trunk or a group of rocks, or a particular arrangement of fallen leaves — to call out, “Hey! Here I am! Look at me!”

A clarification: By “intimate landscape” I mean a scene in which the distance between myself and the closest object is fairly small; I don’t mean macro photography.

Here are some “intimate landscape” images I made on my recent visit to the White Mountains.

DSC-2619 sDiana’s Bath. I arrived early enough on a rainy day to be able to shoot without other people getting into the images, but the recent drought hadn’t left much water in this multistream waterfall. I aimed in close and vertically so that the waterfall wouldn’t be lost in a series of rocks and played with the exposure to get a silky-but-not-too-silky look.

 

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Forest interior. After I made enough images of the actual waterfall, I looked around to see what else might be photo-worthy. Immediately I realized that the scene right before me — the photo to the right — was it. It was as if the tree trunks had bent slightly to let the foliage and the light in the distance be seen.

 

The Champney Falls Trail.

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Named for the 19th-century New Hampshire artist Benjamin Champney, this has always been one of the most popular trails along the famed Kancamagus Highway. Not even the fact that the bridge over the stream was destroyed in Hurricane Irene and will not be replaced has changed that. I’ve gotten good forest interiors here before on rainy days, and this time was no exception. When a dry summer has resulted in trees losing leaves rather prematurely, then photograph the leaves on the ground! The varied colors and patterns of those leaves “make” this photo (below), I think. Incidentally, as you can imagine, several of these images required long exposures. It helps that nothing in them was moving, except the water in the waterfalls!

 Shelburne waterfall.

DSC2732 ed sThis little waterfall has to be one of the best-kept secrets in New Hampshire, as waterfalls go. It’s not listed in any of the guides. Unless you park in the pullover next to it, you’ll hardly notice it; it’s quite hidden by trees. Long exposure needed again. I didn’t want murky shadows, nor did I want to include too much more of the waterfall above where the photo ends; it made for too busy an image. I wonder actually how much water there would have been had I tried this spot two days earlier; as I said above, the drought had depleted the water in all the falls. I had planned to shoot at this spot on the previous day and set out going north on Route 16, but by the time I reached Pinkham Notch the rain was so torrential and thus the visibility so nonexistent that I turned back. Aside from the safety factor, shooting in a bit of rain is one thing, but drowning your DSLR? Not a good idea.

I hope you enjoyed these images. I’ll continue with more from this shoot in subsequent posts. If you’d like to see larger versions, or perhaps would like one of these restful scenes decorating your home, click on the images themselves or on this link to my site. Thank you for looking!