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Bluebirds

I haven't had the best of luck with birds in the backyard this year, so far.  I've been plagued with some nuisance birds that think they own the place.  They have been trying their best to run off any other bird that comes into the yard.  However, my luck started to change as the month of May rolled in.  

I've seen several different species fighting for use of the bird box since then.  I've seen wrens, swallows and bluebirds all trying to claim the box as their own.  Time will tell who wins that fight.  Either way, I would be happy to photograph any of them.  Yesterday was my birthday and I started the day off with photographing those birds.

I was so worried that the bluebirds wouldn't show up this year.  They are usually here well before now.  So I am especially happy to see them in the backyard now...even if it only lasts for a few days.  This is the male Eastern Bluebird.  These bluebirds are easily one of my favorite birds to watch and photograph.  I was especailly happy to start my birthday off photographing them.

Equipment list: Nikon D500, Tamron SP 150-600mm F/5-6.3 Di VC USD, Sirui P-324 Monopod, Sirui L-20S Monopod Head

EXIF Info: Aperture-priority, 1/1,000 sec, f/8, ISO 900, 450 mm

John Moulton Barn

In Grand Teton National Park resides two of the most photographed barns on the planet.  The T.A. Moulton Barn, which is the most popular of the two, and The John Moulton Barn.  Both of these barns reside in an area known as Mormon Row and they are about a quarter of a mile apart.

The road to get to these barns is closed in the winter, so if you want to visit them, you will need to make a walk of about a mile, however, the walk is well worth the effort.

On this particular day, we hiked out in the dark to make sure we were at The John Moulton Barn before sunrise.  The area hadn't had near as much snow as normal this year, so the hike out was really easy.  It was cold, though, at -1 degrees Fahrenheit.  

Due to the lack of snow, it seemed several other people had been in the area before us.  What that meant was we had a lot of footprints in the snow to deal with.  The best, and easiest, way to deal with them was to get back from the barn a bit, lower your perspective and use the sagebrush to block as much of the footprints as possible. 

Aperture-priority, 0.5 sec, f/11, ISO 100, 24mm

This image was made just before the sun hit the mountain peaks.  The sky gave us a hint of color as the moon was setting.  I believe any morning is a beautiful morning in this area, but spending a morning here with friends, a camera and a sunrise is tough to beat!

Image made with my Canon 5D IV, Tamron 24-70mm Lens and Sirui 3 stop GND Filter.  Gear supported by my Sirui W-2204 Tripod and G-20X Ballhead.

Bluebirds

I finally got to spend some time with the birds in the backyard again last week.  It's been a while since I've seen very many birds in the backyard, much less got to photograph any.

If you've followed me for any amount of time you know my favorite backyard birds are The Eastern Bluebirds.  Although they are my favorite, I do enjoy attracting new, and different, birds to the backyard, too.  Most people do not realize how much time and effort go into getting these bird photographs.  It's more than just putting food out.  I easily spend three times as much time watching the birds vs. photographing them.  I spend a lot of time learning their behaviors, seeing which direction the fly in from, learning their flight pattern so I can know what bird it is before I "see" it, learning which perch or tree is their favorite and other things.  This doesn't include placing feed for different species and setting up different trees and branches that will photograph better.  In short, it's a lot of work...but the rewards are pretty great!

Aperture-priority, 1/250 sec, f/6.3, ISO 360, Compensation: +2/3, 500 mm

Image made with my Nikon D500 and Tamron 150-600mm G2 Lens supported on Sirui N-3204X Tripod and PH-20 Gimbal Head.

Eastern Phoebe

I got a chance to get out in the backyard and photograph some birds this past weekend.  That is something I haven't been able to do for a while.  If I have gotten a chance to get out there lately, then the birds just haven't cooperated much.  I was glad to see them cooperate a bit this weekend.

A bird that I have not photographed, or even seen, in the backyard before was this Eastern Phoebe.  It was nice to see a new bird.  This guy came in over and over and got his fill of tasty mealworms.

Aperture-priority, 1/250 sec, f/6.3, ISO 280, Compensation: +2/3, 460 mm

If you hover over the image you can see my camera settings for this shot.  I shot this image at 460mm.  I prefer to include the entire bird, and even some of it's environment, in my composition.  I often times see bird images with tails that are cut off, or cropped really tightly to the edge of the frame.  I see photographers get a telephoto zoom lens and they want to use it extended all the way out to it's maximum focal length.  Just remember, it's more important to create a compelling and interesting composition than using your lens at it's longest end.

I shot this little guy with my Nikon D500 and Tamron 150-600mm G2 Lens.  As alwyas when I am in the backyard, I was using my Sirui N3204-x and PH-20 GImbal Head.

Madison County Nature Trail

So, I've been trying my best to chase fall color around for the past few weeks.  I think the best I found was this past weekend, near my house.  There is a very nice area near my house called The Madison County Nature Trail, or some call it The Green Mountain Nature Trail.  The colors there were amazing this past weekend!  Word spread quickly, though and I think every photographer in the area made the trek there.  There were tons of people and photographers when I showed up.  A lot of photographers doing family portraits and other families just enjoying the colors and nice weather.

Aperture-priority, 1/40 sec, f/8, ISO 800, 86 mm

I was there to photograph the colors, and boy were they there!  This little covered bridge is a popular spot in the park.  You will often encounter people having their portraits made around this bridge.  It also makes for a great reflection...especially with these colors.

A few things I like to do when photographing fall colors is to use a circular polarizer and under exposure just a touch.  Using a circular polarizer will not only remove any glare off of foliage but also enhance the colors a bit.  Also, under exposing the image by 1/3 - 2/3 stop will also help to make the colors pop a little more.  It's a good idea to check your histogram to make sure you aren't getting too dark, or losing a lot of shadow detail.  It also never hurts to find a good spot with a reflection!

This image was made using my Canon 5D IV and Tamron 28-300mm Lens.  My gear was supported by my Sirui Tripod and Ballhead.

Center Composition

Composition seems to be the component in photography that allot of people struggle with.  You are told you must stick to the basic rules of composition.  Then, sometimes, you are told that it's OK to break those rules.  So, follow the rules...break the rules...it all makes sense now, right?

I generally base most of my compositions off the "rule of thirds".  The rule of thirds, if you aren't aware of it, is a composition rule that divides your image into thirds both horizontally and vertically so you have nine parts, or squares, like a tic tac toe board.  The idea is to place your main point of focus at one of the intersecting points of the squares.  This is supposed to make your image better balanced and give a more natural viewing experience.  Like I mentioned, this is the rule I base almost all of my compositions off of.  It's what I am always thinking about when I compose a shot through the viewfinder.

There are times, however, that I want my subject in the center of the frame.  You will hear many give advice against putting your subject in the dead center of the frame.  However, when I do it, I am still thinking about the rule of thirds.

Aperture-priority, 1/250 sec, f/6.3, ISO 1000, Compensation: +2/3, 600 mm

This elk, for example, is in the center of the frame.  As I was composing this shot, I was thinking about the rule of thirds, like always, and wanted to position his eyes on the "upper" third line.  Although the eyes aren't at one of the intersecting points, they are placed along the line of thirds.  In my opinion, this still works.  Being an outdoor/nature photographer, I use this type of composition most often when photographing wildlife.  In a scene like this one, where the critter is looking straight into the lens, I think it works well.  It gives you a sense of making direct eye contact with the critter.  Personally, I don't think you would get that instant sense if this scene were composed with the elk's eyes at one of the intersecting points.

Composition rules...follow them, bend them, break them.  Do whatever it takes to make the image a pleasurable experience for the viewer.  

This elk was photographed in Cataloochie Valley in The Great Smoky Mountain National Park.

This image was made using my Nikon D500 and Tamron 150-600 G2 Lens mounted on my Sirui Tripod with PH-20 Gimbal Head.  Camera settings can be viewed by hovering over the image.

That Lens Isn't Wide Enough

This past weekend, I met up with a small group of friends to do some waterfall photography in the back woods of North Georgia.  I am always up for waterfall photography!  When you throw in nice weather conditions and a waterfall I've never visited before, I will be even more excited.

I wanted to make sure I was traveling light for the trip, so I only took the Canon 5D IV and the new Tamron 24-70mm G2 Lens.  This was my second chance to try out the new Tamron Lens.  I have no idea how they did it, but they managed to make it even better than the previous 24-70, which I used more than any other lens in my arsenal. 

One of the falls we visited was Crow Creek Falls.  It has two parts, an Upper Crow Creek Falls and a Lower Crow Creek Falls.  I enjoyed the upper falls much more and spent more time photographing it. 

Did I mention that I only brought my 24-70mm lens?  When I typically shoot these water scenes, I like to use a wide angle lens and anchor the foreground with something.  In my experience going with a wider lens, like a 15-30mm is usually too wide for these scenes.  It also presents a bit of another problem in the fact that you will absolutely need a circular polarizer for these scenes...and although I have the polarizer setup for that lens, it is bulky and takes a bit of work to assemble.  I went the lazy route and stuck with the 24-70mm lens and its easy peasy, screw on polarizer.

Aperture-priority, 2.5 sec, f/16, ISO 100, 24mm

I wanted to use this group of rocks and small cascade as my foreground anchor, but when I tried that at 24mm I was losing the main waterfall in my composition.  I need to be wider!  Crap, I was lazy and didn't bring my wider lens.  What did I do?  I took two shots.  One for the foreground, then another including the main waterfall in the background overlapping the scene by about 30%.  In Lightroom I used the Photo Merge feature to create a panoramic out of the two images.  I got the composition I wanted and I could still be a little lazy by only bringing one lens...winner winner chicken dinner!

Image made with Canon 5D IV, Tamron 24-70mm G2 Lens and Sirui Circular Polarizer.  Gear supported by a Sirui W-2204 Tripod and K-20x Ballhead.

Important, Overlooked Items For Waterfall Photography

Yesterday, I headed to Southern Tennessee to do some waterfall photography.  The places I went I had visited several times in the past, but these are also places that could never get old.

When I left the house it was steadily sprinkling rain and had been for several hours.  Perfect weather!  When I got out to start photographing, of course the rain got heavier.  However, I was prepared.

Aside from all of the critically important things, like a solid tripod and circular polarizing filter, there are several things that often get overlooked that can make you leave happier.  First, a lens cloth.  I took several yesterday, and needed them all.  Even if it isn't raining steadily, a lens cloth can be used to wipe water spots off the front of your filter.  I tend to create wide angle compositions and put my lens really close to a cascade.  I place this cascade in the foreground to anchor the image.  Even it is isn't raining, splash from the cascade finds it's way onto the front of my filter.  The lens cloth saves the day!  There isn't much worse than getting home and finding blobs all over your image.  Another important item is a shower cap.  Although keeping my hair looking stellar is of utmost importance, I am using the shower cap to keep my camera and lens dry.  It is cheap, and works remarkably well.  I have a weather sealed camera body and lens, but I still throw the shower cap on as added protection.  It's not a bad idea to have one even if it isn't raining, too.  It can keep those splashes off of the camera.  A good item to keep in the camera bag is a terry cloth.  Typically if I am putting my camera in the bag and it is even a little wet, I will wrap it in the terry cloth and let the cloth absorb any moisture.  I never "wipe" the camera.  This could force moisture into tiny cracks and crevasses.  The best method is the dab the areas, or just wrap it up and let the cloth do the work.  Silica Gel is another item I keep in the camera bag.  You know those little packets you get in packages that come with the "do not eat" warning.  Those are designed to absorb moisture.  They can be purchased cheap online, or you can just save them from any packages you receive.  I typically keep a few pouches in my camera bag at all times, but I especially make sure I have them in there if I am going to be shooting near water.  A few last things to consider are bath towels and a change of clothes.  These items can save you from a long, soaked, cold ride home.  

Here is one of the images I made yesterday at Short Springs Natural Area in Tullahoma, TN.  This is such a great area to visit if you are nearby and love photographing water.  

Aperture-priority, 6 sec, f/16, ISO 100

This image was made using my Canon 5D IV, Tamron 24-70 G2 Lens, Sirui Circular Polarizer and Sirui W-2204 Tripod.

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.