Travel photo gear

Camera or travel photography buffs may enjoy this blog entry more than casual visitos. Just warning you – it’s about gear, not moments or thoughts. 

When we traveled to India and Iceland I carried a full size DSLR (Nikon D800) with a Nikon 28-300 mm lens attached.  I also carried a laptop computer and 2 external hard disks for backup creation. With batteries and cables added in the gear filled a small Lowe camera backpack and weighed a little bit more than too much. Carrying the camera and lens over my shoulder or around my neck was not something I really wanted to do since the camera flopped around unmercifully and screamed “here’s a really nice camera for the taking”. It was always awkward to try to access he camera, shoot and then stow it away again. I frequently carried it in my hand which stopped the flopping around but left the camera out and subject to weather and loss.

The photo below shows the gear I am using during our 3 week trip to Europe. Most of our travel is by train but cars, boats, planes, bicycles and feet have all played major roles as we move around.  This gear packs nicely in a small pack and, thanks to the binocular strap, can be carried in front of my chest without flopping around or over my shoulder. The difference n weight between this gear and the Nikon set is a true bonus at the end of the day. The camera went everywhere with me. The Nikon frequently stayed securely stored and not available for photos.

The Fuji X-T1 camera and 18-55 lens is small, lightweight and produces great Raw files. Thrown over my shoulder the camera is accessible and secure. I opted to take a 10-24mm lens thinking about cathedral interiors and grand landscapes. Really, I did not use it but a handful of times. Given the opportunities for decent bird photos I wished that I had brought my 55-200 instead. Next time I’ll likely bring all three lenses if carry on baggage weight limits allow.

In addition to the Fuji I brought along the little Ricoh Theta S 360 camera. A novelty camera but it provides a unique view. I did not use it as much as I thought I might.

I brought along 3 batteries for the Fuji camera. Normally I use the additional battery pack but wanted to save weight and present as small a camera as reasonable. I carried 2 extra batteries with me and had to swap to a charged battery several times near the end of the day.

Storage and backup of files has always been an issue for me. As mentioned, I used to carry 2 external hard disks for backup purposes.  I’d keep one with me and the other n my luggage. For this trip I opted to use memory cards as my primary storage and a Western Digital 2tb “My Passport Wireless Pro” hard disk as my only backup. This device has an SD card reader built in and creates a local wifi network that can be coupled to an iPad or other mobile device.

I carried 4 memory cards: 2-64gb, 1-32gb and 1-16gb. As I write this blog entry I have just put the 32gb card in the camera and have used most of both 64gb cards.  I have 48gb left for the last 3 days of our trip.

The Western Digital hard drive is working perfectly for my purposes.  When I insert an SD memory card into its reader the images automatically copy to the WD hard disk.  Before we left I was unable to figure out how to access the RAW files stored on the WD disk so I shooting both RAW and JPG.  I can easily see and move JPG files from the WD drive to my iPad using the WD app on the iPad or iPhone.

The iPad has taken the place of a laptop. It is vastly smaller and easier to use for photos or email. I’m writing this blog entry on it.  Yes, I would prefer to use Lightroom but a variety of iPad apps provide a robust set of editing tools. I have been using Snapseed and PhotoGene apps to process JPG files for posting to social media as we travel. I use the RollWorld app to generate the “little planet” mages I’ve posted. While I enjoy these weird views I realize that most people just wonder what the heck they are looking at. I try to use them sparingly until I get more experience shooting images that translate into impactful photos. 

Another aspect of my travel photography involves keeping track of where images are taken so details can be researched later. Shooting 50 images from a train doing 90 mph between Passau and Munich Germany is one thing.  Being able to know where that castle is once I get home is totally another thing. I’ll write up a blog soon to let you know how I did the location-photo synchronization.  Stay tuned.

I’ll close by saying that this gear has performed well. The Fuji shutter speed/exposure dial combination is gummed up somehow and I am forced to shoot in aperture priority rather than manual. Not a loss really but it requires more thought by me since it is not my normal way of doing things. I am anxious to get the RAW files into Lightroom, append GPS data and get key wording completed. Lots of work ahead but the trip’s photos are valuable to us and worth every effort.

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100 Birds – #12

We traveled to Costa Rica with several objectives in mind.  Our primary interests were (1) a week-long yoga retreat for Dianne, (2) a week of bird photography at Monteverde Cloud Forest for Bruce and (3) to see and experience some of the diverse cultural and geographic character of the country. Our trip started with several days together then split into separate trips as Dianne traveled to the southern tip of the Nicoya peninsula for her yoga reteat and I traveled to Monteverde to photograph hummingbirds and to search for the Resplendent Quetzel.  We came back together after our individual trips and toured other areas of Costa Rica near San Jose before flying home. Needless to say, there are stories to tell.

But this post is part of the “100 Birds” series and deals with one of the fairly common species we saw on our trip: the Blue-gray tanager.  This photo was taken during our first full day in Costa Rica when we stayed at the Arenal Volcano Lodge. Bird number 1 in the series, the Red-legged honeycreeper, was photographed at the exact same location as the tanager featured here. We stood on the deck and marveled at the birds coming into feed on fruit provided by the lodge. The sounds of the birds were widely varied in tone, complexity and decibels. This little tanager (6-7”) flew in and waited in the perimeter shrubs before flying to the food platform.  As it flitted around the shrub it presented several opportunities for photos. I took 13 photos before diverting to another bird.  This frame is the only one that has the clean background I prefer for birds. The bird is alert and concentrating on the population of other birds at the feeding platform.  The pose is a bit static in that the back is straight (I prefer a bit of head tilt) but the eye is sharp and the bird stands out nicely from the background.

I wish you could feel the excitement of seeing so many new birds so easily.  Really, just standing there as the birds came in to feed was a great experience. New birds every minute or so and then the enjoyment of watching repeat visits. The experience is not the same spiritual experience I had watching thousands of geese rise off a pond at sunrise but this short time in Costa Rica certainly widened our eyes and prepared us for the dynamic variety of birds we’d see in the coming days. Travel photography offers us the chance to tell a story about the character and vitality of a place. This little tanager is a small but important part of our Costa Rica story.

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100 Birds

I’ve been photographing birds for years. The pursuit of decent photographs of birds has given me hours of pleasure and taken me to remarkable locations with many friendly, helpful people. My efforts have taught me a lot about photography and a bit about birds. I still use the camera to create images that help me identify the bird and I am still routinely flummoxed by the variety of birds and their seasonal variability. But I push on with the hope of capturing a decent bird photo showing behavior, personality and beauty.  It’s not easy since birds are wary, quick and evasive. Light often messes up perfectly good bird poses and squanders another shot. My technique, such as it is, is always being refined as I struggle to follow birds in flight with the camera to my eye or as a bird jumps around, branch to branch, as I try to frame the photo.

There is no shortage of remarkable bird photography on the multitude of internet photo sharing sites. I am frequently astounded by a photo of a bird with remarkable, saturated colors or feather patterns. I will frequently study a photo to try to register diagnostic markings or to reverse engineer the photo in an attempt to understand how the photographer used light or presented the bird. I’m always reminded how little I know. It goes on.

A good bird photo will, in my opinion, show the bird in context with its environment, illustrate behavior and present the bird clearly and accurately. Done well, the photo will inform the viewer about the bird and, with luck, tell a bit of a story. Done really well, the photo will use light that shows feather texture and the exposure will hold detail in highlights and shadows. I fail frequently in recording many of these characteristics. Every once in awhile though, I get it right. An occasional success helps make up for the all too frequent blurry shots of a backlit bird flying away from my camera. There’s little merit in a fuzzy silhouette of a bird’s backend. I’ve proven that to myself hundreds of times.

Recently I reviewed nearly 350 bird photos I have published on Google+ or other social media. The review reminded me that most of the images have not been shared on Facebook or this blog. The review also brought back many good memories. Given that I am forgetting things more and more I kind of celebrated that I could remember where, when and with whom I took many of the photos. I can see Dianne’s and friends’ faces when they were along. I can feel the chill of a morning at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge as I drank coffee and watched the sun come up over a field of geese or a pond full of tundra swans. I remember my first experience watching thousands of snow geese lift off a pond in New Mexico at sunrise to leave another thousand Sandhill cranes behind to call out and depart more slowly. I remember the expression on my friends Steve and Eric and David’s faces as they witnessed the same spectacle at my side. I’m making new friends in Wenatchee and appreciate the friendship and experience that John, Linda, Darlene and Frank are providing.

So, with all that said, I decided I should share 100 of my favorite bird images and try to give a bit of back story for them. I hope you enjoy the photos and the dialog. You are always welcome to send me an email or add a comment if I get too far off on the task or if you find something helpful or entertaining. Of course, corrections are always welcome.

This Red-legged Honeycreeper was photographed our first morning in Costa Rica.  We were staying at the Arenal Volcano Lodge and found their bird feeding/watching deck next to the restaurant. The staff would load up the feeders with fruits and food at least twice a day. The birds respond quickly. We were astounded by the variety of species, sizes, colors and sounds. The 5 inch Red-legged Honeycreeper darted in from the adjacent cover and put itself in some decent light. I can’t honestly say I waited for the bird to pose well.  I didn’t.  I shot quickly and frequently. In review of the images, this one stands out for me due to the dynamic pose. The bird’s brilliant colors and amazing crown feathers add to the image. I like that the background is soft and sets the birds off. Technically, the bright crown of the bird was over exposed.  Thankfully, the Nikon RAW file format allowed me to pull back a bit of detail in Lightroom. I enjoy the image enough to use it on my current business card but I enjoy it more when I listen to my youngest granddaughter giggle as she points at the bird’s “hair do”.

Yes, bird photography can be quite rewarding.

#1/100

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A short story

We spent five marvelous weeks in India in 2011.  We stayed mostly in the northeast area for the bulk of our time but ventured west as we neared the end of our stay.  We barely landed at the Mumbai airport and we were whisked away to the train station to catch an 8 hour ride to Aurangabad to visit the Ajanta and Ellora cave complexes (amazing sites – highly recommended). When we were driving back to the hotel from Ajanta our guide asked if we would like to stop at the local market since it was “market day” for many people.  We never resisted an opportunity to mix in with the locals and found our times in the non-tourist public markets to be some of the richest experiences we had in our time in India.  By this time in our trip we were well versed in how we would be received… all eyes on us… especially Dianne… and frequent interludes where we were interviewed to find out our home country, how we were finding India and, ultimately, were asked to take their photo.  Music to my ears.  Many times people wanted to photograph us using their cell phone and we traded our photo for theirs.  Young men were frequently anxious to have their photo taken and this stop was no exception.  I had a group of 5 guys all requesting a photo and I was accommodating them as quickly as I could.  I’d do little other than try to get them to turn for nice light and was enjoying our interactions.  I kept getting bumped in my back and ignored the person for awhile.  He was insistent and when I finally turned around I was greeted by a man holding two large cauliflower and indicating he wanted his photo taken.  I did not need to be asked twice.  Please click on the photo to view a larger version.

 

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I took several photos and then showed them to him on the camera’s LCD.  He simply nodded and turned back to the rest of his cauliflower.

I returned to the young guys who had been snickering and joking with Cauliflower Guy during the brief intermission of their photo session.  I’d barely gotten into position to photograph a guy when an older man pushed his way in front of the camera, rapidly displacing the young guys.  He motioned to me that it was his turn for a photo.  The guy was all business and stared at me.  I tried a few times to interact and hoped for a smile or small grin.  Nothing.  I tried to joke with the young guys about how serious he was and they understood and tried to help me out.  Nothing.  I finally gave up and took his photograph.  As he looked at the images on the back of the camera he broke out in a wide smile, nodded and walked away.  Little did I know that I’d just taken two of my favorite photos of the entire 5 weeks.  Their faces show the hard life of the farmer as much as their traditional white clothes and hats.  I’ve spent a great deal of time looking into their eyes and studying their expressions.  Yet, it was just today that I realized that this guy has no eyebrows.  Does he shave them?  Genetic?  I’ll never know but I’ll also never tire of smiling at the image.  Again, please click for a larger version.

 

 

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Storm chaser?

I have long held a secret wish to go out to the heartland of the country and chase storms with my camera.  I have always enjoyed photos of the dramatic cloud formations associated with a major storm.  I’m not too keen on tornado chasing but I do love huge anvil clouds and dramatic skies filled with energy.  I may need to rethink this whole thing after a recent experience.

Dianne and I were driving on I-90 headed west with the discussion being dominated by the birth of our 5th grandchild, Rowan Alan, and all the good times we had while staying with our son and his family while waiting for the birth.  It was windy and the sky looked mildly threatening but not so much that it seemed anything other than a rainstorm or squall.  As we crested the top of the Continental Divide east of Butte, Montana we drove into what will always remain a memorable storm event.  Here’s the scene.  We are on an interstate highway and there is a semi ahead of me about 100 yards.  There were a few cars behind us but distant and not worth any concern.  The first thing I saw as we crested the divide was what looked to be water vapor rising from the road ahead.  It proved to be hail bouncing and not vapor.  We drove into the storm at 70 miles per hour and were instantly being beaten by heavy hail and rain.  The noise was deafening.  I slowed to about 30 and took the left lane while hoping that the semi would stay right.  I could no longer see the cars behind me.  I could hardly see anything as we crept down the grade.  I wanted to speed up to get out of the storm cell but knew that speed was not a good thing so we crept along.  About 30 seconds after it began we started to emerge from the intense downpour and we could see that there were cars stopped on the edge of the road on the other side of the highway.  A single motorcycle sat among a small group of cars but the rider had eithe been pounded into oblivion or had been given refuge in one of the cars. The semi was still moving ahead of us and as we passed it we both started talking about the noise and the situation we had just experienced.  We shouted mute warnings to a couple of motorcycle riders that were headed east and into the storm.  Their rain gear would not be enough protection and I can’t imagine what the sound would be like inside a helmet as the hail pounded down.  I’ve never experienced anything like it even though we have been through other hail storms in a car and on a bicycle.  It was intense.  While I can only imagine what it would be like I think it might be similar to being stuck inside a snare drum while the drummer bashed away at a very fast cadence.  Both of us were having a bit of trouble hearing and I think if we had been in the cell for another 30 seconds we’d both have lasting hearing damage.

As we cleared the cell we regained speed and headed toward Deer Lodge.  We were now very alert to neighboring storm cells that were beside and ahead of us.  We kept a close eye on one cell that was west of us and moving in our direction.  The race was on.  I really did not want to chance another downburst.  The storm cell did not catch us and as we drove away from it I asked Dianne to hand me the Fuji camera that was sitting behind our center console.  She uncapped the lens and I held the camera to the window and shot 3 frames as we sped by at 75 mph.  I don’t envy the people in these houses if they were home to witness the power of the storm to their west.

near Butte Montana
near Butte Montana

The next morning we heard from two friends who had been listening to the news and heard about a major storm that flooded part of Idaho near where we were when we hit the storm cell.  It is likely that the Idaho event was part of the same storm system we experienced.  I came away from the event with a different and much heightened sense of the power of nature.  Now I just need to adjust my desire to chase storms for photos of dramatic clouds.  Let’s be careful out there!

Time flies

It’s been over 3 weeks since I posted here and I should extend my apologies for such laziness.  Actually, it’s been pretty busy.  We made a two week trip to Idaho, Utah, Wyoming and Colorado in the time I’ve been away from the blog.  The trip was designed to put us in Silverthorne, Colorado to photograph my nephew’s wedding.  There are strong reasons that we agreed to photograph the wedding.  They involve the passing of time, the loss of my brother and my heightened sense of family.  I really wanted another set of images of my sister and her family with smiles, emotion and looking as good and well as possible.  Selfish motivation but true.  I’m very happy to say that I got the photos I wanted and hope that Doug and Laura find the images valuable now and in the future.  Before and after the wedding event we had wonderful opportunities to visit with many family members on Dianne’s side.  It is always so nice to be welcomed into a person’s home with a smile and offer of great food and time together.  Thanks to all of you who either hosted us or made the effort to join into a gathering while we were in your area.  It meant a lot to us to see you and to leave with fresh impressions of you and your families.

I’d be less than honest if I didn’t admit that part of the trip planning was truly selfish.  I knew we’d be near the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge in Brigham City, UT as we headed into or out of Colorado.  We opted to pass it by on our way to Colorado but we planned our travel to allow us a few early morning hours at the Refuge on our return trip.  The Bear River is a primary source of fresh water flowing into the Great Salt Lake and the birds love it.  The area is quite different from my home refuge, Ridgefield NWR, in that the area is all marsh and fields managed by controlling the timing and amount of water into the varied habitats.  No trees per se but quite a lot of shrubby vegetation.  The area is famous for migratory shorebirds and neotropicals.  My good friend Steve Howes and I first visited the refuge last fall and I knew then that I wanted to return as often as possible.  So, after sleeping a bit late, Dianne and I set out for a fairly easy day of driving to LaGrande, OR knowing that we did not have to rush through the Refuge.  I was hoping that Dianne would have the chance to see Black-necked Stilts, American Avocet and White-faced Ibis.  We were greeted by several thousand swallows (Tree and Barn… I think) and began our trip around the 12 mile loop, stopping whenever a photo opp presented itself.

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There were hundreds of Yellow-headed Blackbirds in the area.  I don’t get to see too many of these where we live so I enjoyed the show and their raucous calls as they set about their seasonal duties.

 

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We encountered Long-billed Curlew and a variety of other species as we looped around… no avocet or stilts or ibis.  We were enjoying our time and I was certainly involved with the camera.  I was reminded how much I appreciate how patient Dianne is as I fuss with dials, crawl on the ground to get position or exclaim about lost opportunities.  She encourages me with her enthusiasm and I try my best to respect that and not abuse her too much.

As we neared the end of the loop we came into a pretty setting and saw our first Ibis.  It flew off quickly but Di could claim a new bird.  I was happy.  We saw several more as we progressed and finally got a chance to at least record one that was more than a small speck as it flew away.  It’s not a great photo by any stretch but this is a White-faced Ibis…really, it is.

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We were enjoying the last few miles of the trip when we got into a small group of American Avocet feeding frantically near the road.  These are one of my very favorite birds and it was such a treat to have the time to watch them work the shallow water and to take photos to bring home with us.  When Steve and I were there last Fall the birds had lost their breeding colors.. .the beautiful cinammon tone of their heads and necks.  We sure made up for that this time as all the birds seemed to be a beautiful rufous color.

American Avocet

 

A Marsh Wren entertained us for about 15 minutes just before we finished the loop drive.

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We left the Refuge with 29 species of birds seen and most photographed.  A highly successful venture.

I’ve been working my way through the wedding photographs to deliver to Doug and Laura and decided that it was time for a break with a friend so I accepted Eric’s kind offer of a trip to Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge yesterday.  I always enjoy time out with Eric, especially when we have cameras and are intent on photographing birds.  Shared interests are a good thing if one is to be in a car with another person for several hours.

We made three loops of the 4 mile auto tour and each of us came away with way too many files to sort through.  We are both lucky to be married to patient wives who watch us leave on “field trips”  and as we disappear into the computer’s depths to edit and process.  I have not finished the editing process on those files yet but one image I posted to Google+ seems to be being received pretty well.  The Red-winged Blackbirds have returned to Ridgefield in large numbers and I always enjoy watching the guys fluff up and call to attract a mate.  It seems I just can’t resist taking photos of birds when the pose in a natural habitat with good light and a wonderful background.  Is it possible to have too many nice photos of a single species?  Likely.  I do find that each image I retain shows a bit different pose or a change in behavior of the bird.  At least that’s the rationale I use to justify my ever-increasing number of files of common birds.

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We are off to Montana soon to share Kendyl’s 3rd birthday.  The cameras will be along as we head out on yet anther road trip.  I’m looking forward to spending time with our friends, Steve and Suzanne Howes, in Pasco and to time out birding with Steve on the way to Montana.  I’m just guessing that there may be some photos taken.  It’s a safe bet.  If I don’t get any bird photos I can guarantee that I will have images to record yet another family time milestone as we celebrate Kendyl’s birthday.  These types of images… be they wedding photos or birthday photos…. all have a large place in our family history.  I know for sure that we can’t have too many of them.  It just isn’t possible.

Please stay tuned…

 

Agave

Costa Rica is an amazing country with astounding biodiversity.  We spent several hours at Lankester Gardens (http://www.jbl.ucr.ac.cr/) wandering the paths and admiring the vast array of plants.  When we got to the cactus/succulent garden I was quickly intrigued by several agave plants.  I thought that there was a black and white treatment that would emphasize the patterns and character of the plant if I could find a decent (i.e., healthy, little-blemished) plant to photograph.  I set the tripod up and shot 4 images at different focal points with hopes of bringing the entire plant into focus in Photoshop using focus stacking.  Here’s the result.

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Hummingbird…a very brief followup

Yesterday I posted a shot of a Magenta-throated Woodstar, the smallest hummingbird I’ve seen.  I would frequently hear them before I saw them since they sound like those huge bumble bees I see now and again.  They are about 4 inches long for the male and 3 inches for the female… beak to tail.  It is a hummingbird that had a very predictable pattern in its feeding behavior.  To counter that diminutive bird I offer the Violet Saberwing… the largest hummingbird I have seen so far.  This bird is like a B-52 compared to the Woodstar.  It’s behavior was not nearly as predictable but would often perch, fly to feed and then return to the same perch.  I never knew exactly where it was going to go or how it would behave when it got there.  Sometimes they would hover just outside the feeder and approach.  Other times they would dive in and land.  Regardless, they always seemed to command some respect when they came to a feeder.

This is a crop of the full frame to show the detail in the feathers and head.  Yes, the full frame has all the bird in it… no small victory for me, really.  Yes, the frame also has a substantial part of the feeder in it.  No, I can’t crop out the feeder and still show the whole bird in a reasonable frame.  I don’t have the proper software to remove the feeder from the image so cropping like this is the quick fix.  It’s not all bad though.  You get to see the amazing detail in the feathers and structure of the bird.  Personally, I’m fascinated by the detail and continually amazed that a camera can record such a thing.  If you click on the image you should be able to see a larger view.

Violet Saberwing
Violet Saberwing

Hummingbirds…well, one bird at least

The Magenta-throated Woodstar is the smallest hummingbird I’ve seen in the last 3 days at Monteverde.  It is a frequent visitor to the feeders at the hummingbird deck near the entrance to the Cloud Forest Reserve.  I’ve spent hours on this deck watching a variety of hummingbirds come in to feed and socialize.  It is farily easy to get a decent shot of the birds sitting on a branch with a nice background.  Not so with the in-flight shots. Discounting the ever-changing light on the background, the biggest challenge, for me, was finding the focus point for approaching birds.  There is not a prayer of following them and catching focus… at least not for me.  I quickly learned that this tiny Woodstar (about the size of a large bumblebee) would approach the feeder, feed, back away about 4-6 inches and come in to feed again.  It rarely lands that I saw.  So, it became my focus tool. I would find a background that looked decent and wait for the Woodstar to approach.  I was able to grab focus on the Woodstar as it fed, shoot and confirm focus (or not) and then switch to manual focus so I didn’t mess it up.  Then I would wait for another species to come into the same location on the same feeder.  Like I said, I spent hours here and I don’t know too many who would have the patience to wait, and wait, and wait… shoot… ooops, too late, wait some more.  At least there was a lot of action around to keep entertained – not just the birds but the tour groups and guides.  It was fun to watch the excitement of adults and kids as they watched the birds.  Could it get any better or easier?

Magenta-throated Woodstar
Magenta-throated Woodstar

 

Photographing hummingbirds is an art and I feel like I’m in the “chunky crayon” stage.  There are two basic schools of thought: (1) use of flash to stop the wings, or (2) no flash but good light and an ISO high enough allow for a shutter speed of 1/1600 or faster to stop the wings.  In scenario one, the flash is powered down to a very low power which effectively decreases the duration of the flash burst.  Durations of about 1/40,000 second are quite possible with a modern speedlight.  The folks who really specialize in the use of flash for hummer photography will employ as many as 6 flashes and will often bring their own backgrounds and flowers to the “field set”.  Me, I had one flash and was stuck using it on camera since had no way to place it off camera.  I could have triggered it off camera if I had some sort of stand to hold the flash.  I didn’t so I settled for using the flash as a minor amount of fill.  I was on Manual exposure at about 1/200 sec at f/8 to f/13 depending on the ambient light.  Glenn Bartley and Greg Basco are masters at using flash to provide off-camera directional fill or main light.

Scenario two is often similar in that a set is created to entice the birds into a known source of food…often a lovely flower arrangement.  The set is located so that sunlight is abundant and the photographer plans the shot using a very fast shutter speed and small f/stop to get depth of field.  This will frequently require a boost in ISO to make it work.  Raymond Barlow is a master of this type of photography and I encourage you to visit his website if you want to see some amazing, natural light images.

I have to be up-front with the ethical issue of using flash for bird or wildlife photography.  I’ve had an enlightening dialog with a friend as the result of my stating I used flash in some hummingbird photos in a previous post.  There is certainly a risk that a short burst of light can startle or affect a bird’s behavior.  Some folks find the idea of using flash a crutch and are quite set against it’s use anytime for bird photography.  Other folks maintain that the short burst is of no consequence…especially if it is meant to fill shadows rather than be a main light on the subject.  In reading Bartley and Basco’s ebook on Tropical Nature Photography they clearly fall into the camp that flash can be used safely if the bird is not nesting or in another sensitive situation.  I have not seen any writing by Raymond Barlow about his thoughts but I do know that he frequently cites “no flash used in any of my photographs” which leads me to believe that he would be firmly in favor of natural light.  And he’s darn good at it.

My recent discussion with my friend made me think about my use of flash.  I decided to ask the local guides about using flash for bird photography.  I asked 7 local guides and one back in Portland about how they saw the use of flash.  One local guide was adamantly against it based on his belief that it scares all the birds away.  The others saw no reason why flash should not be used.  A few guide brought out their own cameras and showed me images they had taken with flash.  I heard one guide encouraging his group to use flash so the colors would be better.  All this limited sample means is that the majority of the guides I interviewed did not object to use of flash. But there’s that other guy who did.  Therein lies the problem or issue.  I concluded that my goal was to utilize flash to open shadows and stop motion.  If the brilliant colors were enhanced I was OK with that.  I did this with full realization that it may irk some but, at the same time, there were as many as 20 people on the deck with point and shoot cameras flashing each bird they could find in their viewfinders.  Being part of a large population of flash users does not necessarily make it an appropriate technique but, if used with purpose and intent, I felt that the images I made benefited.

One of my main reasons for coming to Costa Rica was to stand on the hummingbird deck to watch and photograph these amazing birds.  I have decent photos of 7 species.  I had hoped for 30.  I will move on from Monteverde now and will drop elevation to the Pacific coast.  New species await.

A few from Costa Rica

It feels like it’s been a long time since I last posted here.  The days have been full and each day means that there is one less here in beautiful Costa Rica.  I have been posting images to Google+ and thought I would paste a few into this post a few bird images to let you know how I’ve been spending my time while Dianne is away at her yoga retreat on the Nicoya peninsula.  We were together at Poas Volcano but split itineraries the next day.

Things I’ve learned include:  no matter how much you study technique and approach nothing replaces hands-on experience, people are really open and interesting, everyone doesn’t think like me, color blindness is limiting, and there is too little time.

I am headed out shortly to recruit a guide in the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve to see if I can’t get some help locating more amazing birds.

Poas Volcano, Laguna Caliente
Poas Volcano, Laguna Caliente
Poas Volcano, Lake Botos
Poas Volcano, Lake Botos

 

Purple-throated Mountain Gem
Purple-throated Mountain Gem
Green-crowned Brilliant
Green-crowned Brilliant
Montezuma Orependola
Montezuma Orependola
Red-legged Honeycreeper
Red-legged Honeycreeper
Hepatic Tanager
Hepatic Tanager
Blue-gray tanager
Blue-gray tanager
Clay-colored Robin The Costa Rica national bird... not due to its color but due to its song
Clay-colored Robin
The Costa Rica national bird… not due to its color but due to its song