nature

American Eagle Foundation

If you follow me on Facebook or Instagram, you probably saw where I mentioned during a recent trip to the smokies some friends and I made a trip over to The American Eagle Foundation.  I have visited several bird rehab facilities and exhibits, but The American Eagle Foundation had the most number of birds of any I have been to.  They are doing pretty incredible things there with both rehab and education.

On our tour, they had several birds outside.  As photographers we got excited for this, because a large portion of the time these tours and/or shows are held indoors in some pretty crummy light.  Seeing that a lot of the birds were outside got us excited.  

They probably had 20 or so different birds outside, but let's face it, this is The American Eagle Foundation....we're really here for the eagles.  They probably had 4 or 5 eagles on display of varying ages.  This is Lincoln.  He is a fully mature eagle and an amazing looking bird.  Not only did we spend some time photographing him, but later we got to see him fly within a foot of us and even took our picture with him.

The folks associated with AEF were fantastic!  I'll definitely be going back anytime I head to the smokies.

Equipment list: Nikon D850 and Tamron 100-400 F/4.5-6.3 Di VC USD

EXIF Info: Aperture-priority, 1/1,600 sec, f/8, ISO 400, 400mm

Bear Cub In The Grass

No trip to The Great Smoky Mountains is complete without at least one loop around Cades Cove.  Cades Cove can get pretty crowded, and quickly.  The earlier you can get there the better off you are.  The reason it gets so crowded is it is a very popular spot for viewing wildlife.  In the Spring and Summer it is especially popular for viewing black bears.

The Cades Cove Loop Road has a gate at the entrance that does not get opened until sunrise.  The strategy of getting there early means you want to get there 30-45 minutes before sunrise to get your spot in line.  During this time of waiting on the gate to open you get to see a lot of "interesting" characters.  At least the people watching passes the time.  

On one of our visits to Cades Cove we had the pleasure of seeing several bears.  I believe we counted about 15 in one day.  That's probably no record, but that's 15 more black bears than I would've seen at home, for sure.  So, I'm glad we went.  We saw what looked to be a lot of moms with cubs.  These bears looked a little worse for the wear.  I'm no bear expert, but I'm assuming that being in the den without food and feeding young ones was the cause of this.  The big bears that we saw alone, which I assume to have been males, looked much better than the moms with cubs.

We saw several cubs on our visit.  Most of them not much taller than the grass they were feeding in.  This made getting clear shots of them pretty tough unless they stood up.  After a lot of waiting for a clear shot I decided to try and get a shot of one of the little guys "peeking" through the grass.  After a lot of waiting, and several attempts, I was able to get a shot I was happy with.

You can see what I mean when I say they weren't much taller than the grass.  It was very difficult to get good clear shots of them, so I waited...and waited...and waited until I could clearly see both eyes through the grass.

Equipment list: Nikon D500, Tamron SP 150-600 F/5-6.3 Di VC USD G2, Sirui Tripod and K-40 Ballhead

EXIF Info: Aperture-priority, 1/800 sec, f/6.3, ISO 3200, Compensation: +1/3, 400mm

Osprey at Lake Martin

During my visit to The Gulf States Camera Club Council Convention last week, I was able to take a boat tour of Lake Martin.  On the particular morning I did the tour, it was pretty chilly...around 50 degrees or so.  Due to the chill we didn't see any gators, but we did see several species of birds that hang out at the lake.

One of those birds was this Osprey.  He had just caught a bass and was sitting in the sun feasting.  This Osprey was probably the best lit bird of the morning.  It was front lit and in plenty of morning light.  Most of the other birds were in dimly lit areas so I was excited to get some good light on a bird!

Aperture-priority, 1/1,000 sec, f/8, ISO 250, Compensation: -1/3

I used my Nikon D500 and Tamron 100-400 F/4.5-6.3 Di VC USD Lens to capture this image.  Since I was on a boat with several other people and there was no room for a tripod or monopod, I relied on the VC of the lens to help with any movement from either me or the boat.

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.

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.

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.

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.