Command, this is bluebird...

So the action has picked up over the last few days at the bluebird box in my backyard.  The eggs hatched about 10 days ago, so mom and dad are both feeding pretty heavily now.

I've setup my trusty bird blind about 10 feet from the box and I sit in there early in the mornings and capture them doing acrobatics while they bring in the food.

ISO 1250, 280mm, F/5.6 @ 1/1600th second

Here the male bluebird is returning with a cricket.  I swear he looks like a rocket when he returns to the nest.  I'm not sure how he even stops in time without crashing!

I made this image with my Sony A77ii and Tamron 150-600mm Lens.

You'll notice the ISO was higher than I normally like here, but I had to bump it up to get a fast enough shutter speed to capture this pose.  I did apply a bit of noise reduction in Lightroom.

Sunset at Cunningham Cabin

Whenever I go to the Tetons, I always try to visit Cunningham Cabin.  It seems like I generally have much better luck with sunrises than sunsets in the Tetons, but I always try to get to Cunningham Cabin for at least one sunset.

ISO 100, 35mm, F/16 @ 1/15 second

Now, I'm always a fan of the sunstars, so when I can, I usually include them.  If you want to get a nice sunstar all you have to do is shoot at a lower aperture, like F/16 or lower.  Then once you've got your aperture selected, wait for the sun to just touch the horizon.  Once it first hits the horizon you only have a matter of a couple of minutes before the ability to get that sunstar is gone.

In the old days, I used to take bracketed photos of a scene like this.  What I mean is, I would take a photo that exposes for the foreground, then I would take a photo that exposes for the background, then I would blend them together in Photoshop.  This is the same effect you would get if you were using a Graduated Neutral Density Filter in the field.  

Over the last year and a half or so I've had with my Sony A7R, I began to notice that I could just take one shot and the sensor in that camera captures so much detail, that I can pull all of the detail I need out of one picture.

I processed this image in Lightroom then jumped into On1's Perfect Effects to finish it off.  Images like this benefit greatly from the "Golden Hour Enhancer" plugin found in On1's Perfect Effect Suite.  After applying that preset, I added another one of their presets for a vignette, "Big Softy".  "Big Softy" is by far my favorite preset for a vignette, however it was a little too strong for my taste on this image.  That's ok though, because I have the ability to dial down the opacity of each preset...just like you would do in Photoshop.

The image was made with my Sony A7R, LA-EA4 Lens Adapter and Tamron 24-70mm Lens. 

Morning Glory

Yesterday I told you about how I got lucky on my way to photograph The Morning Glory Pool in the Upper Geyser Basin of Yellowstone and was able to capture a bonus sunset image.

Well, this is the image I was originally going after:

ISO 100, 24mm, F/16 @ 1 second

While I am happy with this image, I'll take this and another good sunset image on the same day any time I can ;)

This pool is one of my favorites in Yellowstone.  Unfortunately, it's suffering from abuse.  Visitors to the pool have thrown coins, trash and debris into the pool over the years which has blocked the vents of the pool.  When the vents to the pool are blocked the water becomes cooler than normal causing more of the brown algae to thrive and the vibrant blue and green bacteria to die off.

The park service does attempt to clean the pool from time to time in an effort to combat this.  Remember, tossing your penny in might get you a wish, but does long term damage to the pools in the park.

This image was made with my Sony A7R, Sony LA-EA4 Lens Adapter and Tamron 24-70mm Lens.  All of this gear was stabilized using my Vanguard Alta Pro 283CT Tripod and BBH-200 Ballhead.

Sometimes it IS luck

Ok, so sometimes luck plays a very important role in a photographer walking away with a fantastic image or a dud.  You, as a photographer, still need to have the skills to know how to quickly adapt.  You need to be able to quickly setup your tripod, compose properly, adjust your focus, select an aperture, shutter speed, ISO...quickly, without even really "thinking" about it.  Then you can take advantage of the lucky moments.

On my first day in Yellowstone I wrote off sunrise because I got in very later because of travel issues.  My only hope for "magic light" was at sunset.  I put a plan together and took off that evening.  I knew I was going to stay in the Upper Geyser Basin that was near Old Faithful.  I shot Old Faithful at the last eruption that would occur before the sunset.  Then I started making my way down the trail to the Morning Glory Hot Spring, which is about a 1.5 mile walk.  Well, about half way on my journey the cloud cover rolled in and I had pretty much written off any kind of sunset, but I was halfway to my destination and I might as well finish the trip.  In a very lucky moment, as I got to the bridge that crossed The Firehole River, the clouds broke up just enough, the sun dropped below the horizon and lit up all of those clouds that had rolled in and created a pretty magical sunset.  I took a few images and quickly ran to Morning Glory to capture it at sunset.  Well, it was nice, but the reflections coming off of the river with the steam from the nearby geysers made a much stronger image, so after a quick few snaps at Morning Glory, back to the bridge I went.  It seems the longer I waited, the better the color got.  Well, until it gave way to rain.  That's right, rain.  I was 2 miles from my car and it's raining.  In another lucky twist, it only rained for about 15 minutes and not very hard.  I like to think I was being rewarded for suffering a horrible travel day on the previous day. ;)

ISO 100, 35mm, F/16 @ 0.4 seconds

This image was made with my Sony A7R, LA-EA4 Lens Adapter and Tamron 24-70mm Lens.  All gear was mounted on my Vanguard Alta Pro 283CT tripod and BBH-200 Ballhead.

Dramatic Weather, Dramatic Photograph

One of the days we were in the Tetons, it came a pretty good storm on us.  I had even heard reports of significant hail in the area.  Luckily, while it was storming we were resting at the hotel, however afterwards we went right out to shoot in hopes of getting images of some awesome clouds or dramatic light.

The old saying "Dramatic weather makes dramatic photos" was true here indeed.  I immediately could see some amazing black and white images being produced just from seeing the clouds the storm left us with.  While we were shooting different scenes, I told my group to keep black and white in mind for sure, because that would even be more dramatic!

One scene we photographed under these clouds was the famous barn on Mormon Row.  This is usually a great sunrise spot, but once I saw the clouds, I knew that's where we should check first for some dramatic shots.

ISO 100, 45mm, F/11 @ 1/200th second

This image was made using my Sony A7R, Sony LA-EA4 Adapter and Tamron 24-70mm Lens.  Of course I used my Vanguard Alta Pro 283CT Tripod and BBH-200 Ballhead as a solid foundation, too.  I then processed the image in Lightroom and Nik Silver Efex Software.

Macro Monday

Ok, if you follow me at all you know I just returned from leading a workshop in The Grand Tetons and Yellowstone National Parks.  Everyone had an absolute blast!  

I know you are probably expecting some grand landscape images...and they are coming, but today I wanted to share a macro image I made while in the Tetons.  

ISO 100, 90mm, F/5.6 @ 1/320th second

This is a wildflower called Lupine.  Lupine is a gorgeous wildflower that looks great in bunches, especially when placed in front of the Teton Range. ;)

I knew we would come across several good plants so I wanted to capture a macro image of it that I would be proud of.  I think this one was my favorite.  I liked the composition of this image as well as the blurred background I was able to get using the F/5.6 aperture.  The morning dew still on the flowers just added to the number of reasons I liked this one.

Image captured with my Sony A7R, Metabones Adapter and Tamron SP 90mm Di 1:1 Macro Lens.  I had this rig mounted atop my Vanguard Alta Pro 283CT Tripod with BBH-200 Ballhead.


Over the Memorial Day Holiday Weekend, I got an invite to go over to a lake in North Georgia to shoot some osprey that were on the nest.  It was a bit of a ride from my house, but boy I'm sure glad I went.  I ended up with some stuff I'm super happy with!

Although I left happy, it didn't start out that way.  I initially tried to shoot handheld.  The osprey were flying around so much that my arms quickly got tired.  I checked my images and the majority of them were out of focus.  I decided to salvage any part of the day I was going to have to go back to the vehicle and get the tripod, which I did.  Mounting the camera on the tripod turned out to be the deciding factor.  I started getting better shots when I could focus on the photography and not my tired arms.

ISO 800, 360mm, F/7.1 @ 1/1250th second

This image was made with my Sony Alpha 77ii, Tamron 150-600mm Lens and Vanguard Photo US Alta Pro 283CT Tripod.

I knew for the shots I was going for I needed a very high shutter speed.  I was shooting for above 1/1000th of a second.  I had to raise my ISO to 800, even though it was pretty bright.  Bumping the ISO and getting the higher shutter speed allowed me to capture this shot of the osprey landing at the nest and looking directly at me.  I was very pleased with this image.

Feeding time, yes they are Starlings...and yes they are an invasive bird...and yes it seems a lot of the suggestions are to "get rid of" them.  However, I'm not much on "getting rid of" any bird and they nested in my backyard, so I'm not letting those photo ops go to waste. ;)

I noticed yesterday afternoon that the babies were finally sticking their heads out of the box.  There was a little light left, but it was very unflattering.  I still gave it a shot (pun intended) and came away with some decent stuff, but the light was very flat and I was having to shoot at high ISOs to get a fast enough shutter speed.  So, I decided I would try it again this morning.

ISO 1600, 280mm, F/6.3 @ 1/1250th second

So, I employed the same strategy as before.  I composed the scene and  then I locked down all the knobs and levers on my tripod head so my camera would not move.  Then I manually pre-focused on the spot where the birds would be.  This was pretty easy because the baby pretty much stayed out of the box the entire time and the focus peaking on the Sony A77ii works like a champ.  Then, I would watch the sky and as soon as I saw mom coming in I'd hold the shutter button down and let 'er eat.  

ISO 1600, 280mm, F/6.3 @ 1/1250th second

The morning light was much better and I was able to shoot at a much lower ISO.  I went back out this afternoon to try to capture some video footage of mom feeding the babies, but mom never showed up...but I got 30 minutes of baby footage ;)

Images captured with the Sony A77ii and Tamron Lenses 150-600mm Lens mounted atop a Vanguard Photo US Alta Pro 283CT Tripod.

Starling Box

So, a few days ago I posted an image to Facebook (You should probably follow me there if you aren't already) of one of the starlings that had invaded my bluebird box delivering food to the newly hatched babies.

My good friend, fellow workshop instructor and Tamron Image Master, David Akoubian tells me "Your photo sucks!".  Well, that's what he normally says, because we rib each other pretty good.  Actually he said something like "I wonder how it would look if you had even more of a side angle?".

Well, this morning, I had the chance to get that angle David had suggested.  I sent him the image via email and he said to me "This shot is the best thing I've ever seen!".  Ok, he actually said "You suck!", which means the same.

Here is the shot of the starling coming back to the box with some worms...from even more of a side angle.

ISO 1600, 300mm, F/6.3 @ 1/4000th second

I was sitting in my "bird blind" for this shot.  That is a hunting blind that is typically used for hunting turkey that I purchased at a local sporting goods store and is fat friendly...meaning I actually have a bit of room in there.  

I knew I would need a blazing fast shutter for this shot, so I kept my ISO "high"...hey 1600 is high for me.  Once I got my lens focal length set, I manually focused on the area where the bird would be then left the lens in manual focus.  I was shooting in aperture priority at F/6.3, which gave me a shutter of 1/4000th.  Now it was just a matter of me getting lucky.

The starlings were coming from behind the box with food, so they would have to bank around and come in from the front.  I would basically just hold the shutter button down and let it fire off 10-12 frames as soon as they started to bank.  Out of those 10-12, I might get one where the bird was fully in frame.  I had about 3 tries at this...and on one of them I got lucky.

Image captured with my Sony A77ii and Tamron 150-600mm Lens.  Both mounted to a Vanguard Photo US Alta Pro 283CT tripod.

Pink Lady Slippers

No, those aren't what I wear with my housecoat before bed.

They are wildflowers.  And dang fine ones, too!  Oh, and hard to find, too.  That was until we found this spot during our workshop in the Smokies.

We were walking down this trail where my teaching partner, David Akoubian, had remembered seeing some of these Pink Lady Slippers years ago.  Well, we ended up finding a small group and spent some time photographing them.  As we walked further down the trail we found an elderly couple taking a rest on a log and they told us that just down this other trial there were "bunches of them".  

We walked down the other trail to the point where we thought the guy was just nuts, then we started to see small groups of them, then more of them, then large groups of them.  It was us that was nuts it turns out!

The first image on the left was taken on the day we initially found the flowers.  The lighting was not good and we were trying to use everything we had as a diffuser and background.  I had to push the processing on that one a bit to get an image I liked.  

The image on the right was taken a few days later.  The light was great on this day!  We had rain that morning and it was still very overcast when we arrived.  So the light was better and we got the bonus raindrops, too.

Settings for the left image: ISO 1600, 90mm, F/16 @ 1/10th second

Settings for the right image: ISO 800, 90mm, F/4.0 @ 1/125th second

Both images were taken with my Sony A7R, Metabones Adapter and Tamron 90mm Macro Lens.  This setup was of course on a Vanguard Abeo Plus 323CT.