Great Blue Silhouette

Today I'm sharing another image made at Viera Wetlands down in Florida.

Many times you arrive at a location before dawn.  While you can't really shoot any action you can take advantage of the sky back lighting some of the birds and use that opportunity to get creative.  Here I used the colors of the sky before sunrise to create a silhouette of the Great Blue Heron that was tending to her nest.

ISO 640, 600mm, F/6.3 @ 1/80th second

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

If you look at the camera settings, you'll notice a pretty "slow" shutter speed.  Especially when we normally think of shooting birds.  Shooting a 600mm lens at 1/80th second does require a stable tripod.  Bear that in mind if you are out trying this.  Handholding at that shutter speed would not result in an image as sharp as using a tripod.

Another thing to keep in mind when shooting these silhouettes is I typically shoot these in aperture priority with multi-segment metering mode.  I then shoot them at about -1EV.  This allows for more contrasty colors in the sky and we aren't really looking for detail in our subject anyway so I am not worried about that.  

One last thing to remember when shooting these is how to properly read your histogram.  When you shoot these silhouette images, your histogram will be mostly to the left indicating not much shadow detail.  Great!  That's exactly what we are looking for.  In this case, the "perfect" histogram is all the way to the left.  Don't get hung up on your histogram needing to have the "perfect" bump in the middle while not touching either side.  That maybe perfect in some situations, but not if you're looking for a silhouette.  

This image made with my Sony A77 II and Tamron 150-600mm Lens.  All mounted a top my Sirui tripod and Ph-20 Gimbal Head.

Osprey Tongue

On a day in The Viera Wetlands area down in Florida we got to spend time watching a few different osprey eat fish.  

This particular osprey we watched for over an hour.  He made pretty quick work of a fish he caught and brought back to this tree.  The other osprey we had watched on previous days would fly off the tree and take a bit of a swim to clean up right after eating his fish.  We kept waiting on this guy to do the same, but he never did.  He never left at all.  We were waiting and hoping for some flight shots, but instead after he ate his fish, he kept dancing around all uneasy like.  Then he would shake and then make this posture like he was trying to cough something up.

I thought it was hilarious.  It looks to me like hes screaming at something.  Or sticking his tongue out at the fish he didn't catch.

ISO 800, 600mm, F/6.3 @ 1/1000th second

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

This image was made using my Sony A77 II and Tamron 150-600mm Lens.  All my gear was resting on my Sirui P-324S Monopod with L-20S Monopod Head.

You sick of birds yet?

I hope not...I got tons more ;)

Today's image is of a Snowy Egret.  I photographed this guy at Viera Wetlands while down in Florida.  This guy was so much fun to watch.  He would run across the water and dive his head under water.  Apparently he was catching fish.  I wasn't able to see these fish he was catching while I was shooting.  This guy was so fast at catching the fish, throwing it to the back of his mouth and swallowing it that it was tough to see in real time.

Luckily, I was able to capture a frame or two with a tiny fish in his beak.

ISO 400, 420mm, F/6.3 @ 1/2500th second

Hover over the image to see camera settings.  Click on the image for a larger view.

Thanks to the 12 frames per second mode on the Sony A77 II, I was able to get these frames that I couldn't really see in person.

Also, since this was a white bird and it was in direct sunlight I had to dial down some exposure compensation in order to keep from blowing out the whites.  I shot this at -1 EV.  

This image was made with my Sony A77 II and the Tamron 150-600mm Lens.  All mounted on my Sirui P-324S Monopod with L-20S Monopod Head.

Flappin' Redhead

On one of our many trips around The Black Point Wildlife Drive on The Merritt Island NWR I caught this redhead duck out of the corner of my eye.

He was very close to the road and seemed to be relaxed and very tolerate of all the photographers.  He was intermingling with all of the coots and blue-winged teal that were also in the area.

I am much more knowledgeable of waterfowl than any other kinds of birds, so I was super excited to get a chance to photograph this guy.  We spent about 15 minutes with this guy and I got some images I am very pleased with.

This image is out of a series I took of him doing a wing stretch.  Although their feathers are practically waterproof, this is just a way that helps them to dry off.   It is fun to watch and pretty photogenic, too.

ISO 800, 600mm, F/6.3 @ 1/320th second

Hover over the image to see the camera settings.  Also, click the image to see an enlarged version.

If you look closely at the image you can see the water beading off his head, neck and chest.  It amazes me how different birds are equipped with the proper equipment they need.  If you look at a wet bluebird, for instance, it looks like a hot mess.  While waterfowl have feathers that just allow water to roll right off.

I normally try to go with a shutter speed of around 1/500th second when photographing birds, in this instance I wanted to show a hint of motion in the wings, so I went with a touch slower speed at 1/320th second.  Not only does this show motion in the wings, but it also takes your eye straight to the duck's eye, which is super sharp thanks to that Tamron Lens.

This image was made with my Sony A77 II and Tamron 150-600mm Lens.  All mounted to a Sirui P-324S Monopod with L-20S Monopod Head.


Birds in Flight Focusing Tips

After shooting birds in flight all last week I thought it would be a good idea to share with you some tips on setting your camera's focusing up to be better able to capture these fast little critters.

First thing you want to do is make sure you are in AF Continuous Mode.  If you are using a Canon camera this is called AI Servo.  This will allow your autofocus system to focus on a subject and track it as it moves across the frame.

Next you will want to set which focus "area" your camera is in.  Typically you will have better luck in a Zone focus area.  This will allow your camera to use more then one of the autofocus points to focus on your subject.  Typically the "zones" are configured as you would "zone" on the left of the frame, one in the center and one on the right.  This will improve your tracking ability over trying to use a single autofocus point.  Depending on your camera model you may have several "zone" areas, not just three.  If I use this focus mode, I have much better luck with the center most "zone". The center is usually where all of your cross type focus points are located.

Another option is to use a Multi Point Focusing mode.  My Sony A77ii is a bit different in how it names it's focusing areas.  I prefer to use what Sony calls Expanded Flexible Spot.  Using this mode the camera allows me to select one of the many main focus points in the viewfinder.  It then searches the main point I've selected. If that main point loses focus it scans the surrounding eight focusing points.  This allows me to use the center most focus point, which is actually the nine center points.  Again, using focusing points in the center is typically where all of your camera's cross type focus points are located, too.  Cross type focus points will track for contrast changes both horizontally and vertically, where as a non cross type will only search vertically.

Since I have become more and more familiar with my Sony system, I've become less familiar with the others.  In my Sony system I have a couple of other settings that can help me to capture birds in flight.  One of those is called "AF Track Duration".  This setting basically allows me to fine tune my tracking speed.  It has selections from 1 to 5 with 1 being the lowest and 5 being the highest.  A low settings is better for predictable, slow moving subjects or focusing in lower light situations.  The higher setting allows for a more responsive focusing for different subjects at different distances...I keep this on 5 for birds in flight. 

Another setting I have on my Sony camera is called "AF Drive Speed".  This has two or slow.  Slow is a better choice for lower light or more critical focusing.  The main advantaged of using Slow Mode is to cut down on the camera having to "hunt" on subjects or in lower lit situations.  Then there is Fast Mode.  Fast Mode works better for sports or action, such as birds in flight, so that's what I use when I am shooting birds.

Those are the focus settings I use on my camera.  You should have similar settings on your camera, they will just most likely have different nomenclature.

Here's an image I was able to capture of a bird I had never seen before, a Northern Gannet.  Two of the days we were at The Space Coast Birding Festival we got the opportunity to go offshore on a large boat to photograph birds.  This Northern Gannet was one of those birds.  It spends its life feeding at sea and only nests on offshore islands, so the only real chance of seeing it is by boat. 

ISO 400, 280mm, F/5.6 @ 1/4000th second

Be sure to hover your mouse over the image for camera settings.  Also click the image to see it larger.

This image was made using my Sony A77ii and Tamron 150-600mm Lens.  That combo was mounted to my Sirui P324-S Monopod and L-20S monopod head.

Roseate Spoonbill

One of my favorite wading birds is the Roseate Spoonbill.  And there were no shortage of them around the Titusville, FL area during The Space Coast Birding Festival.

I love the pink coloration of the bird and the oddball shape if it's bill.  Much like the American Flamingo, the pink coloration of the Roseate Spoonbill is derived from their diet.

A common breeding grounds for these birds is the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, so it's no surprise that we found the largest concentration of these birds there.  We spent most of our time on a portion of the refuge known as Black Point Wildlife Drive.  It is a 7 mile drive along a gravel road with prime birding habit.  We saw several different types of birds here...we saw herons, egrets, eagles, osprey, kingfishers, blue-winged teal, pintails, redhead ducks and of course roseate spoonbills.  It is a great area to visit if you are in the area!

Here is an image I really wanted to get while I was there.  A roseate spoonbill in flight.

ISO 800, 600mm, F/6.3 at 1/8000th second

Be sure to hover your mouse over the image to see the camera settings.  Also, don't forget you can click the image to enlarge it.

This image was made with my Sony A77ii and Tamron 150-600mm Lens.  I had the combo mounted to my Sirui P-324S Monopod and L-20S Monopod Head.

On my Sony A77ii camera body there is a camera setting that allows the camera to shoot at 12 FPS.  That came in incredibly handy during my trip.  The only catch to using this mode is that it forces you to shoot at a wide open aperture.  I was totally cool with that, because that's what I normally do anyhow when I am shooting birds.  

Heed this WILL get tired of seeing bird photos in the coming days and weeks ;)


Space Coast Birding Festival

I just returned home from Titusville, FL.  I was there visiting the Space Coast Birding Festival.  My teaching partner, David Akoubian, was teaching classes and workshops there so I tagged along for the chance to capture some birds with the camera.

Boy did we have several opportunities to do so!  All kinds of birds were in abundance...wading birds, birds of prey, shorebirds and we even took offshore boat trips to see some various gulls that can't be seen from land.

We had several opportunities to shoot on our own while we were there.  A few people had suggested we try this place known as Bio Lab Road.  I guess we went at the wrong time because we really didn't see much when we went down this road.  However an osprey did bring a fish to this dead snag in front of us and chowed down for a bit.

We spent several minutes photographing this osprey while he feasted.  He certainly didn't mind eating in front of us at all.

This is a pretty gnarly photo, but it shows the food chain at it's finest. 


ISO 640, 600mm, F/6.3 @ 1/1600th

Hover your mouse over the image to see the camera settings for this shot.

This image was made using my Sony A77II, Tamron 150-600mm Lens and Sirui P-324S Monopod.