2015—Tiger Lilies

My photography outing with Bruce on Tuesday resulted in an interesting and varied array of photographic options for my blog. We pulled off the Freeway at Emigrant Gap and drove past a place called the Onion Valley Campground to find a large meadow of wild tiger lilies he’d seen in full bloom a few weeks ago. They were beautiful but a bit past their prime according to Bruce. Still, I thought they were gorgeous and focused in on one pair that I struggled to photograph as the breeze was erratic. I was not as prepared as I usually am so much of my gear was at home. Fortunately, on Bruce’s advice, I borrowed a polarizing filter from him that allowed me to capture the stunning beauty of the tiger lilies without the bright, mid-afternoon sun blowing out parts of the photo. With the pine trees as a background, their bright colors pop.

After spending an hour or so photographing the lilies, we decided it was time for a break so we headed back toward the empty Onion Valley Campground to eat our bag lunches. As we drove back, a young black bear cub suddenly sprinted in front of us and scurried across the road. I had my camera in my lap but was not fast enough to get off a shot. He was only a quarter mile or so from the meadow where we’d photographed the lilies and only another quarter mile or so from the campground. I kept alert for him and wary that his mother was also nearby, but we never got another glimpse of him.

Here is the pair of tiger lilies I was happy to finally capture after fighting the breeze, a shot of a single flower, and Bruce photographing the lilies.

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2015—Forty Minutes At The Fountain

This morning was a banner day of sorts, in terms of the array of visitors to the fountain over a short period of time in the morning. It was not particularly a banner day in terms of the quality of the photographs I took, all with the 600mm lens, but I’m practicing and learning about the lens.

It started when I looked out to see a young hawk (I think a juvenile sharp-shinned) on the fence. I’m temporarily down to one camera, which was in my camera bag with the 24-70mm lens attached. I knew I wouldn’t get much of a photo from inside the house with a short lens but I took a few anyway before the hawk flew off. When he left, I scurried to retrieve my tripod and 600mm lens, both inconveniently inside the closet inside other camera bags. I dragged them out and attached the lens to the tripod. Just as I was attaching the camera to the lens, I looked up to see the hawk land on the fountain. But the tripod wasn’t yet in the correct position in the window so things were obscuring my line of sight. Adding to my frenzy was Bobo who was making her hawk warning calls and trying to hide. I didn’t want to lose sight of the hawk and the kitchen table was preventing me from centering the lens in the window so I leaned my hip against the table and shoved as hard as I could to move it out of the way; at the same time, I hooked my foot around the leg of one of the chairs and slid it in the opposite direction.

Despite my efforts, I still didn’t manage to get the focus point on the hawk’s eye. Everything was jiggling because I was still adjusting the position of the lens and the ISO was too low so the shutter speed was also slow. But I managed to get three shots before the hawk flew off again. Within minutes, the male hummer flew into the viewfinder. By now I had adjusted the camera to vertical because the hawk took up half the frame and I thought if he returned I might get a better shot at him in a vertical format. But, I had locked down the panning knob so I couldn’t move the lens easily and while I fumbled with that, the hummer was on the very edge of the viewfinder and not moving into the shot. I clicked 4 shots of the hummer also at a very slow shutter speed.

I made some camera adjustments to get a better shutter speed, returned the camera to horizontal and was getting ready to leave for the gym when I noticed the fountain filling with bushtits. They frolicked in the water for five minutes or so and I took quite a few shots with the lens wide open so I had a better shutter speed but the depth of field was too shallow to get all of the birds in focus at once. When they left, I looked out to see a lone dove laying in the water holding its wings aloft but not flapping. I presume it was trying to cool off since it was already quite warm even though it was only 8:30AM.

Now I realize I will have to leave my lens on the tripod so I can quickly set up if I see action outside. I will also have to wash my windows. But at least I’m getting experience using this lens and hopefully the more I practice, the better my results will be.

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2015—Where There’s Smoke

On Tuesday, after we photographed the osprey nest in its never-to-be-revealed location, Bruce and I drove toward the Lowell Fire hoping to get photos of air tankers dropping fire retardant, a very dramatic thing to see. We drove up winding Drum Powerhouse Road and stopped on a ridge to watch. It was late afternoon and the big tankers were not in evidence but we watched several helicopters ferry huge buckets of water to the smoky fire beyond the ridge. As I write, the fire has been burning for four days in the steep hollow drainage west of Alta; it has burned more than 2300 acres and is 45% contained. There are more than 2300 personnel fighting the fire with 13 helicopters and 5 air tankers as well as lots of ground equipment. On the day we watched, 4 firefighters were injured and had to be hospitalized.

I used the dehazing filter in Lightroom to eliminate the general haze from these photos but still retaining the smoky appearance of the sky. In the first shot, the helicopter flew directly overhead, suddenly appearing from the ridge behind us. In the second shot, two helicopters can be seen, the second one, just barely a dot, just to the upper right of the larger one.

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2015—But Then We’d Have To Kill You

But they did tell me and I’m still alive! Last week at my Camera Club, after it become known that I had just purchased a new Nikon 600mm lens, there was much talk of an osprey nest, its whereabouts classified and known by only a privileged few. Since I now had a lens that could potentially reach out and almost touch the birds, could I be trusted with the location? I volunteered to be blindfolded and led there, clueless of where I might be. But, they were skeptical. Then, Bruce, one of my friends from the Camera Club, offered to take me there, my vision unobstructed. I never would have found it myself. It was off I-80 at an exit called Yuba Gap. From there we bounced and jostled for at least 20 minutes over a deeply rutted dirt road so narrow that the brush scraped the sides of the truck leaving scratches all down its sides. Bruce didn’t seem to mind, having visited there more than once. When the road came to an abrupt end, we were there. The osprey nest was atop a pine tree that had no top, perhaps the victim of a lightening strike or fire. All the other trees in the area were dead and had turned ghostly white. The nest tree still had brown bark, just no top. We set up our tripods with our cameras and lenses and waited for something to happen.

I have lots to learn about this new lens. First, I had a makeshift plate to hold it to the tripod. I used the plate from my D800 but that plate is too short. It seemed to hold the lens well enough but I was worried about it the entire time. My new lens plate was being delivered by UPS while I waited for action at the osprey nest. It was also quite breezy and I noticed a bit of camera shake from the wind. I used my wireless remote to trigger the camera to avoid any additional movement I might cause. Every time I touched the camera or the lens, it took a while to settle back down and sometimes if I triggered the shutter too quickly, the movement of the mirror caused enough shake to blur the shot. I recall when I used Moose’s 800mm lens in Wyoming, he admonished me to gently rest my hand on top of the lens when I triggered it and huffed at me when I forgot to do it a couple of times. I was afraid to do that at all today but I’m thinking that’s probably something to test out, especially once I get the new, sturdier lens plate attached. I also forgot to bring my 1.4x teleconverter. As it was, with the Nikon D7100, the lens is effectively 900mm. If I’d added the teleconverter, I think it would have been close to a 1200mm lens.

We waited for an hour while the two chicks alternately napped, stretched their wings, or looked around for Mom or Dad to return with lunch. Suddenly, the female flew in with a fish and the real action started. Then the male arrived with a fish. For a brief time all four huge birds were atop the nest. I think they brought in trout to feed the chicks. The shape of the fish the female has looks kind of trout-like to me. The fish the male brought in had a pink side, but the one shot I had of the fish was not in crisp focus. We watched for two hours and decided that there wasn’t a whole lot more to see until next feeding time. We left, but I’m pretty happy with the results. They’re not great shots but they’re decent. I cropped them all but one so you could see what I actually photographed.

This is the very first shot I took; it is cropped. After a couple of shots, I moved the camera to avoid a bush that kept blowing into my photos:

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The uncropped view, after I moved the camera, I changed to a vertical format:

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All the rest of the shots were taken in a vertical format but cropped to a horizontal format.

The female arrives with fish for lunch:

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The chicks devour the fish while the female waits for the male:

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The male flies in about 90 seconds later with another fish:

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The male drops his fish and flies off just seconds after arriving:

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The female and the two chicks watch as male flies off to another tree:

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The male in a nearby tree, looks back toward the nest:

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2015—Comfort Food

When I visited The Bird Shop Monday afternoon to replenish Bobo’s supply of Harrison’s Bird Food, I came across a shelf with a large display of Nutriberries, a bird treat that I used to buy for Bobo all the time but stopped buying them when I started baking my own recipe for Parrot Pot Pies. Nutriberries are indeed a treat for Bobo and I’m sure she considers them comfort food. They are essentially balls of seeds held together by a binder. Usually, Bobo’s seeds are carefully rationed to her and seed treats are rare. For the past 12 years, she has been limited to 1 teaspoon of seed PER WEEK. Bobo became very ill 12 years ago and was diagnosed with Vitamin A deficiency and malnutrition brought on by a lifetime of a bad, all seed diet fed to her by her original owner for 17 years, then by me in ignorance for another year. It was quite a challenge to wean Bobo off seeds and convert her diet to a more nutritious diet of pellets prepared specifically for large birds but she responded to the change and transitioned to the new food in less than two weeks. The transformation was astounding. When we used to give Bobo spray baths, her malnourished feathers soaked up the water and she looked like a drowning rat. Her body quickly began to respond to good nutrition, she became more active, and now when given a spray bath, the water just beads up and rolls off. Although Nutriberries are seed based treats, they are more nutritious than seeds alone because they are prepared with other things besides seeds. I decided to treat Bobo with some Nutriberries so I came home with a tub of them.

I placed a single Nutriberry in the “treat drawer” that Bobo has to open in order to access whatever is inside. Within a couple of minutes, she had extricated the treat and was happily munching away without stopping. Parrots are incredibly messy creatures and they’ll take a bite of something then drop it. Not the precious Nutriberry. She grasped it tightly in her talon and seemed to savor every bite. It took her almost 15 minutes for her to delicately devour the treat, more than enough time for me to set up the camera and take a few shots of her. She was so intent on eating her treat that she ignored me and my camera.

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2015—Cassiopeia

My nephew Michael, who gazes at stars through telescopes, not camera lenses, has annotated the photograph of the night sky that I posted earlier today. In case you were wondering what I was focused on, Cassiopeia is smack dab in the center…not that I knew it at the time. The only constellations that I recognize are the Big Dipper and Orion. I was at Blue Bird Camp at age 8 years old when I remember first hearing of the constellation Cassiopeia which was pointed out to me and I was told she was sitting in her chair. I could never find it again.

It’s kind of fun to see a map of the stars superimposed on my own photo. It makes me want to go out and do some more night photography. We have so much light pollution around my house, though, that even the new Lightroom Dehazing slider couldn’t help.

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2015—Night Skies At Arches

My friend Richard sent me a link to remind me of one of the new features of both Lightroom CC and Photoshop CC…the dehazing slider that removes haze and enhances night skies. He suggested that he might have to redo some of his photos from our Moab trip this past April. I responded that since most of my photos from Moab sucked, there was little point. But, this morning I started fiddling with some of them and the filter really does help. I also went back to my photos from Moab in 2014 with Moose. Here are two of my dehazed shots.

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Arches 2014

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2015—Tips And Tails

In photography, unintentionally cutting off the wingtips or tails of either a bird or a plane (or, I suppose, Superman’s fingers or feet as his body is stretched out in flight), is frowned upon. Likewise, unintentionally capturing a tail as it leaves the frame is also a “no-no” when the focus is on something else. I have discovered that composition in bird photography is extremely difficult, partly because birds are almost constantly in motion. My long time goal has been capturing birds in flight and in focus and completely in the frame. It has also been a rare achievement for me.

I am excited to practice bird photography with my new 600mm lens. This lens is phenomenal, fabulous, and very daunting. I have ordered a gimbal head for it but in the meantime, I’m using my ball head and the plate from my D800 which I have sent to Nikon for servicing to hold the 600mm lens on the tripod. It is not the right plate but it seems to be doing the job for now.

When I focused on the fountain from inside my house, the baby scrub jays, with their Walt Disney beaks, were exploring it. But, I wasn’t fast enough to compose the shot properly so I ended up with lots of tips and tails either missing or unwanted.

Again, these shots are uncropped from about 30 feet away inside the house. I should have changed the ISO because at ISO 1600, and f/4, the shutter speed was 1/1600.

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2015—”Doo Doo Doo, Lookin’ Out My Back Door”

Early this morning, I noticed the hummer bathing and I decided to set up my tripod and camera with Big Bertha (the name may change, but it’s what comes to mind right now) inside the house looking toward the fountain, about 30 feet away. Of course, the hummer was gone by the time I set up the camera but minutes later he returned and because I had the camera already set up and focused, I was able to trigger the remote and take a sequence of shots. The blog title occurred to me as I was driving to the gym and Creedence was singing on the radio, “Doo Doo Doo, lookin’ out my back door.” Light bulb moment for me. I was literally looking out my back door when I took the shots. I’m pretty happy with the results and as I get more familiar with Big Bertha, I hope to get better shots.

It was only 6:30 am, the fountain was in deep shade, and the camera was inside the house, so I increased the ISO to 1600 and opened the lens to its maximum aperture, f/4, to get a decent shutter speed (1/125). I took these shots with the D7100 because Nikon hasn’t returned my D800 yet, so the effective focal length is 900mm. I think I mentioned in my last post that it was 840mm with the crop frame camera, but Nikon says it’s 900mm. Wow. I’m impressed. As I mentioned, I was at least 30 feet away from the fountain.

I decided to try making a time lapse out of eleven shots but couldn’t figure out how to show it in slow motion, so today’s offering is one still shot and a video created from 11 sequential shots. And, don’t blink. This video goes really fast!!

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2015—Moon Shadow, Moon Shadow

What an exciting day I had on Tuesday. Action Camera called to tell me that my new Nikon 600mm f/4 lens had arrived. The new lens was announced a few weeks ago and I immediately ordered one because I have at least 5 birding trips coming up in the next year and I thought owning one was a better idea than renting one over and over. I don’t have to have it until November when I’m scheduled to go to Alaska with friends to photograph bald eagles, and I didn’t expect the lens to arrive before September, so I certainly didn’t expect to be one of the first to receive it. Charlie, the owner of Action Camera, kept in close touch with his Nikon rep and succeeded in securing one for me. I would have had it last Friday but Nikon sent the 500mm lens, not the 600mm lens he’d ordered for me. Nikon had to overnight my 600mm lens. I opened it at the camera store with the help of Action Camera’s Charlie, Melinda, and Pete. As we unwrapped it, it felt like Christmas for everyone there, not just me. I don’t even know how to describe this lens except to say that it is huge, it comes with its own hard sided suitcase, and it has a lens hood the size of a 3 pound coffee can. But the new lens is 3 pounds lighter than its predecessor. In fact, when it arrived at Action Camera, they were concerned that the lens wasn’t in the box because it was so much lighter than expected.

I didn’t do more than set it on the tripod when I got home. Then, Tuesday evening, I had my camera club meeting. When I got home from the meeting, I was itching to see something from the lens. I decided my only option this late in the evening was to photograph the moon. So I traipsed outside with it to capture the rapidly setting waxing crescent moon. It was quite breezy and the lens was vibrating from the wind; Italian cypress trees were swaying back and forth blocking the moon; and then wave after wave of wispy clouds drifted by, creating a shadow on the moon. I have been singing “moon shadow, moon shadow” over and over ever since. Cat Stevens (or is it Yusuf Islam still?) would probably not approve. Here are two shots that I took with the clouds obscuring parts of the moon. And, a shot that Melinda at Action Camera took of me as I hefted the lens for the first time.

I took the two moon shots (an appropriate subject because it was actually Moon Walk Day —July 21— when I took these shots) at ISO 320, f/8, 1/100 using the D7100. On this crop frame camera, the lens in effect has a focal length of 840mm. Neither shot is cropped.

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