For the birds…

This was one of my favorite recent bird photos. Getting a sharp close photo of any songbird is usually somewhat of an accomplishment, but capturing one doing something “cutesy” can be especially endearing.

NJ Bird photo

White-throated Sparrow

This photo was largely the result of right time, right place. But composition-wise I knew I wanted a bit of negative space on the right side of the frame, so the image would not appear too crammed. I went with an aperture of F/7.1 to pull some of the vegetation into focus as well as ensure decent sharpness throughout the bird’s body.


I know this is a ridiculous looking photo, but this is actually my own image, and a setup that I do use from time to time. A great amount of my nature photography is wildlife based, and wielding a super telephoto lens around through the woods and wetlands means having a dedicated tripod with a heavy duty head. That is fine and good, but I hate being limited while I’m exploring, and feel a bit naked not having an easily tripod mountable macro or all-in-one lens to fall back on too.

Stacked DSLRs

Super Telephoto and Macro Lens Solution

Pictured here are two of my Canon DSLRs, the top camera with my Tamron 90mm VC macro lens is bound to my Canon 500mm f/4 setup via a Gorillapod Focus (portable tripod). Granted there are plenty of opportunities for the whole combination to swing and sway, yet I am still able to get some macro shots from the top camera using low ISO speeds for maximum image quality.

Note that I don’t walk around with them bound together like this, as it isn’t entirely stable. Generally I sling the big tripod + big lens over my shoulder, while wearing the smaller camera with Gorillapod connected to it around my neck. I connect the 2 setups only when I am going to shoot with the top camera.  It ain’t foolproof and it ain’t pretty, but sometimes it does what I need it to do.

If you have a better solution, please let me know!

Technique: Framing a sunrise

A fairly basic photo, but hopefully it has enough going for it to make viewers look twice.

First of all, I went to a section of the beach where I anticipated possible foreground elements to create a multi-dimensional image. I set my alarm so that I’d have some time to spare before first light came above the horizon, made sure I had my essential camera gear, grabbed a flashlight, and made the short drive over to the beach.

NJ Shore sunrise photo

Gnarled Tree and Sunrise

I walked past this interestingly twisted dead root as soon as I neared the beach, and made a mental note that I could try to incorporate it into my scene. I continued to scout around for a few minutes after that, but realized that I probably wasn’t going to be able to beat the character of the root.

I set my tripod to a pretty low level so that the widest part of the root would not converge with the horizon for this frame, and I will admit to snapping off a vertically extending portion of the root to make sure it would fit into the photo. Another important part of this photograph is the sunburst effect, which I know is generally best achieved with my lens/DSLR combo at an aperture of F/22. I’ve found that having the sunburst disperse across a solid object to help amplify the effect, and I knew that I wanted to frame the sun within a portion of the root to further draw the viewer’s focus to the sun itself. That took some fine movements of the tripod to get things just right.

I also shot some horizontal frames before the sun came above the horizon, and will upload and possibly discuss those later this week.

Setting up Foliage Closeup Photos

I’ve been trying to compose more isolating leaf and foliage macros lately, and there’s certainly plenty of challenges involved in that. One of the most important aspects is the physical condition that the leaf or leaves are in. For the majority of photographs, I believe finding the nearest thing to an immaculate specimen is optimal. Although, depending on the mood of the image, perhaps you are seeking the exact opposite.

Foliage closeup photo

Fern and Rock

The setting for the leaf/leaves is of great importance as well. I experiment with contrasting surfaces and complimentary surfaces just to see “what works”. The texture of the background surface will also play a large role in the feel of the image.

In this particular shot, as with many of my still lifes, I opted to have the plant at a diagonal, as this helps break up an otherwise static and linear image. I’ve also found that a polarizing filter may be essential in these situations as reflectance from leaves can be very distracting in the final image. Lighting conditions? I’ve found flat overcast and shadowless lighting to be pretty good for these kinds of shots.

Right Place, Right Time

Sometimes it just pays to be lucky in photography, and that’s pretty much how I came across this wildlife photo opportunity. Anticipating possible action, being prepared, and visualizing how to maximize the opportunity are also very helpful.

Salamander eating

Red Eft and Earthworm

I like to do my photography rounds with two camera bodies ready to shoot and two distinctly different focal lengths. Generally, I will have either a macro lens or a wide angle lens on one DSLR and a longer telephoto lens (400mm) mounted on the other camera. Currently, no all-in-one zoom or all-in-one camera can match the image quality attainable using specialized lenses as standardized charts and personal experience have taught me.

How else can you be prepared? Remove the lens caps in advance, leave your DSLR switched on (they go into convenient standby mode anyways), and have the camera settings attuned to the current ambient lighting situation as best as possible. A formatted memory card and extra batteries are a must for me as well.

Maximizing the opportunity:
Let’s talk about this particular shot. I did not immediately realize there was a tiny amphibian chowing down in front of me as I don’t have superhuman vision, but once I did I knew that I wanted to get in as close possible to emphasize the action, to allow my macro flash setup to illuminate the key elements, and to eliminate the need to crop my final photo and waste valuable megapixels of the image. Cropping reduces the maximum print size of an image, and also emphasizes imperfections like noise (film grain).

Luck?  Well you’re one your own with that one.

My Personal View on Post-Processing

I read a lot about “must have” post-processing programs and plug-ins to “get the most out of photography”. I think the trends like adding background textures, post-processing blurs, and over-the-top HDR programs will eventually go the way of the Dodo.

Do you think Ansel Adams would have benefited from importing someone else’s floral patterns behind his powerful mountain images with often ominous storm clouds? Probably not. Did he go beyond basic post-processing? Not really (mostly what I consider rudimentary contrast enhancements). Does his photography have some of the greatest longevity we’ve yet to see? Of course!

Bird photo

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

If I don’t see semblance of a compelling image through my viewfinder or in the Camera Raw preview, I simply move on, and try to compose better next time I shoot.

Just my two cents.

Using a Neutral Density Filter to Enhance Motion

This photo was taken on an overcast morning so a slow-ish shutter speed was inevitable. However, I really wanted to emphasize the motion in the flow of the water, so I mounted my 3-stop neutral density filter which allowed for a shutter speed of 8 seconds at F/16 ISO 100. The lens used was my Tamron 18-270mm VC, at 18mm.

New Jersey Scenery Photo

Rockaway River and Footbridge

Long exposures like 8 seconds are a matter of taste, but I love the painterly effect it can give. I find that the majority of ND filters on amazon are decent quality, and I usually don’t spend much more than $20 on mine.

Sunset Photography

This photo was a bit tricky to pull off. I had a 2 stop Graduated Neutral Density Filter mounted on my lens to darken the sky, but the foreground still was not receiving enough light to have any definition in the frame. I did a couple of experimental photos with my pop-up flash at its lowest configurable setting (via flash exposure compensation). Unfortunately, even at that flash output setting, the foreground foliage was still completely whited out by the pop-up flash.

I decided to experiment, and handheld one of my unused GND filters to the camera’s flash. I’m not sure how natural the illumination of the foreground looks in this finalized frame, but by thinking quick and “manufacturing” a flash diffuser I was able to pull together somewhat of a cohesive compensation.

Sunset Photography

Sunset at Cattus Island Park

Taken with a Canon EOS 50D, 1/250s, F/22, ISO 400. Toms River, New Jersey

On Snake photography…

I find it’s hard to take a great snake photo. One of the main issues is that there elongated body shape is not naturally conducive to the aspect ratio of a photograph, unless you are shooting panoramas. My personal opinion is that going in close for just a headshot of wildlife often yields great detail, but may also remove artistic longevity from the final image. Alternatively, it is very difficult to compose a compelling wideangle photograph of most wildlife for a variety of reasons. One being that their habitat is often simply too cluttered to create a compelling frame. Another reason is obviously that most wildlife is generally on the move, so you aren’t typically going to have the chance to to compose something grandiose.


Black Ratsnake; juvenile

I am fairly satisfied with this photo, because the snake coiled in a way (striking position) that allowed me to get close enough to eliminate a largely distracting background. At the same time, I was not only lucky enough to get a bit of its body in the frame, but I was also able to shoot a frame where the snake’s head was in profile. This was also difficult as this wary and aggravated snake really did not trust me to take its eyes off of me for very long.