Water...Of Course!

With all the storm damage in Cades Cove, especially to the trees along Sparks Lane, I was searching out other interesting compositions along Sparks.  

Initially, we had gone down the road a bit and photographed directly down the road in the fog, which was a great scene, but I was still looking for something else.  Then I turned around.  The water from the creek was flowing across the road at a pretty good rate.  Then the sun was trying to break through the fog a bit, too.  I knew I wanted to use the water as a strong point in my composition, so I got down at a low angle and included as much of it as I could.  I adjusted my circular polarizer to knock off the glare from the water, then I set my aperture to F/16 so I could get a long shutter speed to blur the water.  The sun lighting up the right side of the frame a bit was just a bonus.

Aperture-priority, 1.3 sec, f/16, ISO 100, 24 mm

Everything came together for this scene....the fog, the water, the light.  It was a great morning.

Image created with my Canon 5D Mk IV and Tamron 24-70mm Lens.  All supported by my Sirui W-2204 Tripod and K-20x Ballhead.

Smoky Mountains

Last week we held our Smoky Mountains Photography Workshop.  David and I arrived on Wednesday to get a little early shooting in.  We had plans to go to Roaring Fork on Thursday morning...promptly after a sop at The Log Cabin Pancake House, of course.  When we got to Roaring Fork, we realized we were in trouble.  I was getting out of the car every few hundred feet to move limbs and branches.  One time we came across a tree that was big enough we both had to get out and move it.  Then we started seeing the trees bend in half, it seemed.  The winds were howling.  We finally came to a tree blocking the road that was too big to move, so we had to turn around and go out the wrong way.  Once we got out, we notified the park service and by the time we had gotten to the Sugarlands Visitor Center, almost everything within the park was closed due to downed trees.  Our workshop started on Friday morning.  Everything was still closed in the park until late Friday afternoon, and then the only thing opened was Cades Cove and a small portion of the road to Tremont.  We photographed at Tremont Friday evening, then spent the next day and a half in the cove.  Our group was super, though!  They all had a wonderful time, despite our limitations and, from what I've seen, they all got some amazing images!

The landscape of Cades Cove did change a bit.  There were several downed trees and limbs.  The iconic image of Sparks Lane will never be the same.  One of the trees had some massive branches that came down and virtually looks like it's half of what it used to be.

I guess because of having to deal with all of those issues (either that or as my late birthday present), mother nature rewarded us Sunday Morning with a morning full of beautiful foggy scenes.  The fog seemed to last forever and we were able to capture several different subjects in it.  One of my favorite scenes from the fog was this fence line, that I'm certain I've never noticed before.  We were parked along Sparks Lane looking for different shots, since "the shot" was not very appealing anymore, and we found this fence line off the road...and it just looked great in the fog.

Aperture-priority, 0.5 sec, f/16, ISO 100, 31mm

When I composed this scene, I knew I wanted to have a solid anchor for the foreground.  I also knew I wanted to use a fence post for that.  I picked out a nice one, placed it in the scene where I wanted and let the fence line and fog do the rest.

Image made with my Canon 5D Mk IV and Tamron 24-70mm Lens.  I stabilized my gear with a Sirui W-2204 Tripod and Sirui K-20X Ballhead.

Tree Swallows

I had been away from home for the last week.  When I returned home there were a lot of things going on around the house with the birds.  First, the bluebird eggs had hatched and they were feeding the babies on a regular basis.  Then there was a robin nest in the front yard.  Finally, the tree swallows had started working on a nest in one of the other nesting boxes.

I always watch the birds with binoculars from my garage or porch.  When I was watching them Friday I saw the tree swallows bringing in nesting material like crazy.  I put the binoculars down, ran inside and grabbed the camera, which stays at the ready on my Sirui Tripod and Gimbal Head, and setup in the bird blind.

It only took a few minutes before they started bringing in more and more nesting material.  I spent the next hour or so photographing these tree swallows.  I watched as they built a nest, watched guard and even battled other birds over territory.  It was a great experience...especially for birds that have not nested in my yard before.

Aperture-priority , 1/1,250 sec, f/8, ISO 800, Compensation: +2/3, 380 mm

Click on the image to view it larger.  Hover over the image to view camera settings.

Here's an image of one of them bringing in a few items for the nest.  This went on and on the entire time I was photographing them.  At times, I was photographing them flying into the nest box, too.  So I tried to keep my shutter speed at 1/1000th of a second or faster.  That was pretty easy to do on this particular day.  I only had to raise my ISO to 800 in order to achieve that desired shutter speed.

Image was created using my Nikon D500 and Tamron 150-600mm G2 Lens mounted atop my Sirui tripod and Gimbal Head.

Dad's Role

During the week last week the backyard bluebirds really started working hard on building their nest.  They had been house shopping for quite a while before they finally decided.  Their indecisiveness was a blessing in disguise due to the fact that if they had picked a week earlier they might have been in trouble.  We had very warm temperatures followed by a week of mostly freezing temps.  If they had  moved in and laid eggs a week earlier they might have lost the eggs due to the cold.  Luckily for all, they are picky.

I spend a lot of time watching these birds.  Easily double the time I spend photographing them, possibly more.  I've been noticing during nest building that dad never really brings in any nesting material.  It appears that mom is doing all the hard work.  So I spent some time watching dad to see what his whole role was during this process.  Dad's first role was to be a watchbird.  He was always at, or near, the house watching for invading birds.  He sat on this one tree stump that is about 10 feet away from the house constantly watching and attacking anything that came near the house.  Mostly running off House Sparrows and other birds that were brave enough to investigate the situation.

Aperture-priority, 1/500 sec, f/6.3, ISO 800, Compensation: +2/3, 600 mm

Another role dad played was making sure mom didn't burn off too many calories during all of her nest building activities.  Many times mom would go to the ground in search of the perfect piece of straw and dad would follow her with a mouth full of mealworms.  He would then offer her the mealworms.  He did this over and over.  On the ground, at the tree stump and on top of the birdhouse.

Aperture-priority, 1/400 sec, f/6.3, ISO 1600, Compensation: +2/3, 500mm

Although dad didn't "look" busy and it looked like mom was doing all the hard work, dad was doing his part, too.  Heck, he might even do the dishes later.

These images were made with my Nikon D500 and Tamron SP 150-600mm Di VC USD G2 Lens.  The camera was mounted on my Sirui Tripod and PH-20 Gimbal Head.

I'm Not An Artist

Like the title says, I'm not an artist.  

I've never considered myself to be an artist.  I've never painted anything (but I did watch Bob Ross).  I've never sketched anything.  I'm horrible with sidewalk chalk.  I've never even seen a pottery wheel.  Hell, I can't even draw a straight line with an old school, number 2 pencil.  You want to know what I consider myself?  A regular, overweight guy in his 40's from Alabama.  Well, there's nothing too special about that, you say.  You are right.  I'm just that.  

I do not delve deep into my connection with the arts to explain a photo I took, or justify why it is fabulous.  I don't include some strange quote, that the person being quoted probably doesn't even understand, with an image to help you connect to it.  I do not have any magical connection with the rock, or stream, or mountains.  I am not responsible for creating any kind of "magic" light at sunrise or sunset.  I simply put myself in a place at those times and what happens happens.  It's always great to see another one, I'll tell you that.  I am only hoping to create an image I like, and hopefully others will, too.

Despite being from an IT background, when it comes to cameras, I'm about as technical as an animal...you can pick the animal.  I think they are pretty much all on a level playing field technologically.  If you've ever heard one of my talks, or been to a class, you've probably heard words like "dumaflachy" or "do-dad".  If you got real lucky you may have even heard "dohickey".  

I first picked up a "real" camera about 10 years ago.  It was, at that point, I immersed myself in every piece of literature, every video (we still had these weird DVD things back then), every piece of online content I could find concerning photography.   I could care less about the super technicals...or the mechanicals.  I just wanted to know the basics of exposure and what creative controls I had.  I quickly learned about the exposure triangle, I learned how things like your aperture selection could help you tell a story.  I learned how shutter speed effects an image and can give it different feelings.  I also learned that there is usually more than one way to get somewhere, you just have to find the way that works the best for you.  I skipped the parts about learning how many millimeters the opening is at aperture F/8 of a certain lens (yes, I've been asked that).  I also skipped the parts about the processes of sensor production.   I simply wanted to take a nice photo and know how to repeat that process.  If you are new to this, my advice to you is do not get caught up in the technicals.  It will frustrate you, unless you are an engineer.  If you are an engineer, then dive deep into the technicals.  The point is knowing how many millimeters the opening is at F/8 on your lens is never going to help you.  Ever.

I am very grateful to photography.  It has allowed me to see and appreciate many things in this world I never knew existed.  When I was growing up, my family never went on vacation to The Grand Canyon or Mount Rushmore.  Our "vacations" were to the Dairy Queen and then we continued onto Guntersville Lake.  They lasted the afternoon and then we were back home.  I never knew a world outside of the state I lived in.  Photography has allowed me to see phenomenal scenes all across this great country of ours.  It's allowed me to make some great friends, too.  Seeing these things makes me want my children to see them.  I want them to know how things outside of Huntsville, AL look and feel.

The whole point of this post was just to tell you how incredibly ordinary I am and I'll not try to be somebody that I am not.  I wanted to capture good sports shots of my son when he was growing up, so I bought a camera.  Next I learned how to operate it, which some may argue I still haven't learned.  Then I wanted to shoot waterfalls, and wildlife, and mountains, and flowers, and birds....

If this average, overweight, forty-something, donut loving, nontechnical ginger can figure this whole thing out....So.  Can.  You.  Don't be discouraged or intimidated.  Don't be afraid to take a short class, or workshop (with anyone...not just me, although that would be kinda great).

I guess I should share an image now, right?

Aperture-priority, 4 sec, f/16, ISO 100, Compensation: -1/3, 24 mm

This is an image I went back and re-processed from Portland Head Light in Portland, ME.  If you hover over the image with your mouse, you will see my camera settings, or metadata, for this shot.  I always try to include this information for a few reasons.  First, if I don't then it's the first question I get asked.  Second, was part of my initial learning process.  Many people will tell you that metadata is pointless because you would need to be in that exact same light and conditions in order for you to be able to use it and recreate the image.  I could not agree with that more, however, when I was first learning, I would look at this information and see what the shutter speed was and what effect it had on the image.  I would look at the aperture someone choose and see how it effected depth of field.  So, even though I knew I would most likely never be in those exact same conditions or light, I was still using the metadata to learn about photography.  Hopefully, my sharing this information helps you learn a little, too.

Image made with my Canon 5D III and Tamron SP 24-70mm F/2.8 Di VC USD (A007) Lens.  My equipment was steadied by my Sirui W-2204 waterproof, carbon fiber tripod and K-20 Ballhead.

More From the Female Osprey

On Sunday morning our workshop group got the opportunity to photograph both mom and dad osprey eating a fish.  

Dad brought his fish to the nest to eat.  Mom was none too happy about this.  She screamed and squawked at him the entire time he ate, until he finally left the nest with the fish.  I think she was more upset that he brought the fish to the nest than she was that he wasn't sharing.  At one point while dad was eating at the nest, a mighty brave, little kestrel came swooping in trying to steal some of dad's meal.

After dad left the nest, mom went out and got a fish of her own.  She began eating it within the cover of some trees instead of at the nest.  This worked out great for the group.  The trees were much lower to the ground allowing a much better perspective for photographing her.

Aperture-priority, 1/1,600 sec, f/8, ISO 800, Compensation: +1 2/3, 600 mm

It was very cloudy and the light was not great, so I had to increase my exposure compensation for this by 1 2/3 rds.  Shooting a dark subject on a bright background always throws your camera meter into fits, so you need to adjust your settings to compensate for this.  

This image was made with my Nikon D500 and Tamron SP 150-600mm F/5-6.3 Di VC USD G2 Lens mounted onto my Sirui P-324S monopod and L-20S Monopod Head.

Mobile, AL Birding Workshop

This past weekend was our birding photography workshop in Mobile, AL.  It went really well!  We were hosted Friday night by Calagaz Photo in Mobile, where David and I both gave presentations then Calagaz offered some super specials to the 6o+ in attendance.

Saturday and Sunday morning we held our field sessions of the workshop.  Due to weather and blustery winds, the bird activity started out a bit slow.  However, thanks to the nesting osprey in the area, we got plenty of chances to photograph stationary birds and birds in flight.

We made some great new friends and had a great time!

On Friday morning, while we were out scouting locations for the workshop, we got the opportunity to photograph some osprey that were busy nest building.  

Aperture-priority, 1/2,000 sec, f/6.3, ISO 400, Compensation: +2/3, 600mm

This is the female osprey bringing in a few sticks to accommodate the nest.  She and her mate spent about 45 minutes non stop adding to the nest this particular morning.  She would leave and get a stick, and upon her return, he'd then leave and go get a stick.

I used my Nikon D500 and Tamron 150-600mm G2 lens all weekend attached to my Sirui monopod.  The Tamron G2 did so well at locking on focus and never losing it!

More Backyard Bluebirds

I've been spending a lot of time in the backyard photographing the birds lately.  This time of year things start to pick up again at the feeders.  I'm glad to see activity picking up.  Everyone knows how much I enjoy the bluebirds, so I never pass up a chance to photograph them.

Aperture-priority, 1/800 sec, f/5.6, ISO 3200, Compensation: +1, 300 mm

Hover over the image to view camera settings.  Click the image to view it larger.

Whenever it's a bright, overcast day outside that type of light allows me to shoot all day in the backyard...and if I am able to, I certainly will.  This image was taken on just a day.  It was taken about 8:30ish in the morning, so I had to raise my ISO to 3200 in order to get a decent shutter speed.  Luckily, the Nikon D500 had no trouble with noise at ISO 3200!

I typically don't like taking photos of a bird's backside, however I am OK with it as long as I can still make eye contact.  The eye is the most important part in any kind of wildlife photography.  You need to see the eye and it needs to be sharp!  The impact of the photo is increased even more if you are able to photograph your subject at it's eye level.  Sometimes that means getting down low and maybe even dirty.  But it's all worth it for the shot ;)

Image made with my Nikon D500, Tamron 150-600mm G2 Lens and Sirui Tripod and PH-20 Gimbal Head.

Merlin

While down in Mobile, AL scouting for our upcoming birding workshop, David Akoubian and I ran across this Merlin.  As we were driving down the road, we saw this bird sitting in the top of a tree and thought it was a hawk.  We turned around, came back and got a closer look through the lens.  We knew it wasn't a hawk at that point, but we were unsure what it was for certain still.  Whenever you are with a bird nerd, like David, and he doesn't know what kind of bird it is, it is a bit of an exciting moment.  You know if David can't ID the bird instantly it must be something special.

This Merlin had just finished a meal when we found her.  She was pretty content to sit on that tree snag and pose for us.  So, while I was just taking pictures David was doing the bird nerd thing and taking pictures from the front, sides and back to properly ID the bird.  Sure enough when we got back in the car, we used our phones to ID the bird as a female Merlin.  I can tell David was doing a happy dance on the inside.

Aperture-priority, 1/640 sec, f/8, ISO 200, Compensation: +1 1/3, 600 mm

Hover over the image to view camera settings.  Click the image to view it larger.

Although this bird sat and posed for us for several minutes, I think the shots I liked the most were the ones where it appears she is looking directly into the camera.

This image was made using my Nikon D500, Tamron 150-600mm G2 lens and Sirui P-424S Monopod.

Female Eastern Bluebird

I love my backyard bluebirds.  All of them.  However, I think the females tend to photograph better than the males.  I have no idea why...I just usually like the images of the females better.

This image of a female Eastern Bluebird was taken on an early, overcast morning.  As I've mentioned many times before, that's my favorite kind of light to shoot these birds in.  I did have to kick my ISO up to 3200 for this image.  I did that in order to get a higher shutter speed in order to freeze any action and ensure a sharp image.

I have my backyard bird blind setup about 8 feet from the posing trees.  Doing so allows me to fill the frame with these small birds at 400mm or less.  I am continualy amazed at how sharp this Tamron 150-600mm G2 lens is!  You could count the feathers on this thing if you wanted to!

Aperture-priority, 1/1,250 sec, f/6, ISO 3200, Compensation: +1, 350 mm

Hover over the image to see my camera settings.  Click the image to view it larger.

I have a video of my backyard birding setup planned, pleas be patient as I work through that.  I plan to share everything from how I setup feeders, posing trees, birdhouses, blind, tripod....everything.

This image was made using my Nikon D500, Tamron 150-600mm Lens, Sirui Tripod and PH-20 GImbal Head.