Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Ready for Fall and Ready for Good Luck

For a bunch of years I have made it to Shenandoah National Park during the fall foliage season.  I tend to go and have had some of my best luck on October 20th.

In general I get there an hour before sunrise, and then drive south along Skyland Drive, and check various overlooks and then shoot sunrise from one of them.  As the day progresses I will drive further south and continue to check out the overlooks and shoot photos from them.

I've not explored the trails at SNP at all really, just a tiny bit of walking here and there but nothing that would be considered a hike.  I know I am missing out on a lot of great areas and things to see, but that's not how I have shot there and I don't know the area well enough to go looking without doing with the potential for nothing coming of it if it isn't a good spot to explore or to shoot from.  In the future I may change that, but for now not so much.


But there are great views from the overlooks.  Here is one from 2012 that I like a bunch.  The sky was great and the foliage was pretty good too.
Oct 20 2012
Day Break

This is from 2007, my first visit to SNP. 
Oct 20 2007
Fall's Gold

This photo is from the second year I've been to SNP, and I like this since it has the "blue ridge mountains" in it!  
Oct 26 2008 
BLUE

Finally, in 2012 I got really lucky! 

I was driving along Skyline Drive and had my 200-400mm lens on the front seat next to me.  As I drove down the road, I had the though that I'd like to find a little foliage detail and shoot it with the longer lens.  So I slowed down, and was looking for interesting and colorful patches of leaves.  After just a few minutes of this mindset, I saw directly out my driver side window, this Barred Owl!  It was sitting along the side of the road and wow.  I was so lucky to be going slowly, to have the window down, and to be planning to shoot with a long lens.  Normally I would have a couple of wide angle lenses at the ready to capture a landscape scene...  But I was ready and I was very lucky.

The owl stayed there for just a few moments, and then flew away.  My shutter speed was only 1/250th, but it worked even though the car was running, I was hand holding and there was an unexpected owl there.

Oct 20 2012
Barred Owl @ Shenandoah National Park, VA

I'm planning another visit next month and I hope to get lucky and I hope to make some nice images.

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Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Night Photography / Stars and Sunflowers [in Maine/Maryland/NewJersey]

I've started to do a little night/star photography this month, September 2016.  I shot a couple nights in Maine while on vacation, and then again when I got back to Maryland.  In Maryland I shot sunset and then some more at a Sunflower field north of Baltimore.  And then finally last weekend I shot some stars in Cape May New Jersey.

The most unexpected thing I immediately discovered is that after an hour or so the lens on my camera would start to fog up.  This appears to be a result of the lens getting colder than the outside air and can be combated with a handwarmer placed on the lens to keep it warm - I will try this next time, now that I have handwarmers.

Another obvious challenge is getting the lens focused properly while it is nearly pitch black out.  I basically winged it, and then checked my focus on a test shot or two or three and then figured it was as good as I could get at that time.  I was considering marking my gear for infinity focus, or using gaffers tape (now I own some), but I haven't done this yet while out shooting or before hand to prep.

Here are a couple of images I took this month.

This was a shot of my setup, done with my D810.  I was shooting with 2 cameras and cable releases, and then decided to shoot my D4 setup.  The focus isn't that great, but it was good enough for a setup shot.  Notice I have duct tape covering where my little jog dial used to be before it popped out!  I had it fixed once before and then it happened again and i lost the rubber button, so now that.







My critique of the sunflower and images in general that I got is that I underexposed everything by a stop or so.  I wish the sunflowers were brighter.  And I should have know it would be that way.  In reading a lot of folks recommended ISO 1600, 30 seconds at f/2.8.  I stopped down, and shot a shorter duration of about 20-25 seconds.  But it was a good learning experience, and after 4 nights of night shooting/star shooting I think I'm ready to try again, and hopefully do better.





-Jon

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Sunday, July 20, 2014

Maine Osprey Video - Fishing 2014

Here are a couple of quick video clips of an osprey fishing, and then a handful of still images of osprey flying, splashing and carrying fish ;)



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Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Osprey in Maine Spring 2014

After much searching, a spot we thought wasn't working for osprey fishing, was indeed working...  taken near Portland Maine.

Just recovered from the splashdown and fish, starting to flap


Starting to flap



A nice lift-off.




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Saturday, July 5, 2014

Maryland Osprey 2014

Maryland Osprey Mom and Chick...



This is my favorite nest/pair.  They are so used to people being around due to the high traffic, but it is a private area and there are no other photographers.

Here are a couple photos from the years past.







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Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Happy Birthday America!





The above photo was shot from below the Carillon, to the south of the Iwo Jima Memorial in Virginia.



Here's a post about my fireworks experience a few years ago: dc-fireworks-july-4th-2010.html


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Thursday, November 14, 2013

FoCal - Focus Adjustments on D4 part 1

 As with just about any nature/wildlife/bird photographer I am always hoping/trying for better focus.  I've tuned many of my camera+lens combos using the AF-Fine Tune / Manual Adjustment.  I've tried using a big printed Sign as a target as well as a printed target positioned at an angle.

A couple weeks ago I bought FoCal (on the recommendation of Andy), the computer assisted focus tuning software.  In a nutshell, you connect the camera to a laptop running this software, setup a test target for shooting, and then with the software (sometimes plus some manual intervention during the tests) you run tests and the camera takes test shots, the software/laptop analyze the results and then the software recommends an optimal AF Fine Tune setting.

The following example results are from my first few test runs, and before I learned all the possible things you can adjust in the test software to improve results.  These additional settings w/ the Pro Version include increasing the ISO to make sharper (higher shutter speed) test shots, as well as target optimizations which improve test results across photo samples.

The D4 tests are my camera and a few lenses.  The D300 and D7100 are my brother's cameras with his 80-400mm.



D4







D300


D7000



The software worked pretty well, even given that I didn't know all the options available w/ the pro version (ISO and optimization).  It was often able to establish a curve across the test focus shots, leading to a good recommendation for AF fine time value.

Here are the results in a table:
CameraLensQuality of Focus [QoF]
D4105mm1450
D414-24mm850
D4500mm1025
D450mm820
D4200-400mm1370
D480-400mm (#1)1270
D428-300mm1180
---
D30080-400mm (#2)730
D700080-400mm (#2)620


While the D4 is a great camera, and I am happy with those initial results, it is interesting to compare the QoF/Quality of Focus results.

I was surprised that the 14-24mm scored so low relative to the other results.  My tests were not perfect by any means so, a new set of tests might show it performs better.

The gear I have has performed fairly well over time.  I've tried lots of things to make it work - tripod, higher ISO for higher shutter speeds, AF-fine tune, etc.

The results that are odd and seem out of place are my brother's results from the D300/D7000 w/ 80-400mm (his lens).  These results were lower than all of my results w/ my D4.  My brother's had concerns over focus and sharpness.  While it is tough to compare focus results of a D4 to a D300 or D7000,  I had better results with my 80-400, as well as my D7100 (results not shared here).

I'm very interested in what other people have recorded for the 80-400mm lens, as well as their D300's and D7000's.  Please post your results for QoF in the comments.

Over the next couple months I plan to test my 80-400mm on my brother's bodies.  And I plan to test his 80-400mm on my bodies.  These will provide some good tests to compare.
















I'm also going to re-run my tests at higher shutter speeds via higher ISO settings.  This is part of the FoCal pro options.

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Saturday, July 6, 2013

Diamondback Terrapin and Luminosity Masks

Here is the beginning of my post.
Northern Diamondback Terrapin in Maryland....

I learned a new post-processing technique today - luminosity masking.

Here's my posted and edited version of the image.

 Northern Diamondback Terrapin

And here's a little gif showing the difference between the LR base edit I did and the final PS edit with the use of luminosity masking to bump of the mid tone contrast and to add sharpening (USM) to just the meaningful areas (inverse of L-mask).




 The video I happened to watch that explained the technique is here.  Some good stuff in there!





Original content posted at http://natureandwildlifephotography.blogspot.com/
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Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Osprey Using Every Feather! p.s. I like Feisol.

This year has been pretty good for photographing osprey.  It started in Florida on Blue Cypress Lake, and that was off the hook.



But it has been even better here in Maryland.  A friend shared a couple spot of his and that turned in to a good spot I've visited a handful of times, and another spot I think he didn't know about, but that is nearby.  It's potentially even better!

So that leads me to the reason for this blog post.  Another cool osprey photo!



So here it is.

I've got a 500mm f/4 lens and need a big sturdy tripod.  The Gitzo tripods that are amazing are also $1,000-$1295.  I have spoken to some friends about alternative and one friend in particular recommend I buy one Feisol. 

I got a nice big one from Feisol, and in short it was what I needed, but I ran in to a few issues with it.  Over the course of about a year I had some problems and Feisol stood by their product, repaired it more than once, and just this week completely replaced the tripod.  Given the issues I had this is what I was hoping for and I am now once again a fully satisfied customer of theirs.

The history of my problems with my tripod date back a year or two.  The first thing that happened was one of the legs didn't seem to adjust correctly.  It would not stay tightly locked in like the other two legs, so it would droop sort of.  I could tighten it, but it would quickly get loose again.  To fix this Feisol replaced the entire top metal plate/structure and they reglue the carbon fiber legs to this new top plate.

This worked great at first.  Then I started to run in to problems with the legs and the reglue.  I was frustrated when things happened again but Feisol stood by their product and took many reasonable steps to make things right.  But I had more than one additional issue/incident.

Finally, most recently, Feisol did me a solid.  I sent in my tripod with a leg that needed reglueing, and due to the repeat issues, they sent it back to the manufactuer to assess and repair.  They had tried to repair it here in the USA and it didn't work.  So, they sent it overseas and to my amazement today, I got a brand new tripod in return.  It is nearly the same model, but with the additional no-spin leg technology for when the legs are loosened and extended.

I really didn't expect it, but did previously hope for it.  A new replacement to my ~$600 tripod came in the mail today.

They did the right thing by me, and it was what I was hoping for.  I am sure that the way I use my gear stresses it more than some and maybe more than many - be it on the beach in the blowing sand or over my shoulder and carrying a 500mm and D4 during a hike.  Feisol stood by my purchase, and I have to stand by them and say they did their best to stand by their product.

-Jon

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Sunday, January 27, 2013

Nikon D4 - Auto ISO (Fav Feature)

I've been shooting with the Nikon D4 now for about 9 months or so. Some of the cool features are:

  1. Auto-Bracketing with gaps between shots of up to 3 stops.  You can shoot for an HDR, and in 3 exposures get either -2, 0, +2, or even as much as -3, 0, +3.
  2. Bonus feature when bracketing is if you use the timer setting enabled, when you click the shutter for the first time it will take all the shots for you without having to depress the shutter again.
  3. Being able to toggle the focus modes, and focus point count from outside the menus is nice.  It took a bit to learn but now it is easy to recall how to adjust things.
  4. ISO adjustment is pretty straightforward with the D4, and the addition of being able to toggle Auto ISO on and off from the switches and dials works well.  You can enable/disable Auto ISO by holding the rear-ISO button and then turning the Front sub command dial.
And there it is, my favorite feature of the D4: Auto ISO.

The way I have come to use it is in two modes: Aperture Priority and Manual Mode.

Auto ISO in Aperture Priority works as you would expect - you set the aperture and the shutter speed changes depending on the available light and value you've set for Auto ISO and minimum shutter speed.  I have this set to 1/focal length.  So at 200mm it tries to maintain 1/200th of a second.  And at 500mm it tries to maintain 1/500th of a second.  As with normal Aperture Priority mode, the EV adjustment will tweak the brightness of the exposure up or down as it is adjusted + or -EV.

The down side to Aperture Priority is all you get to control is the Aperture.  And indirectly you can control the shutter speed if it gets low so that it will roughly match your focal length.

This will work with many cameras that support Auto ISO, but it works very well with the Nikon D4 since it allows greater control of how Auto ISO engages (focal length) and how clean the higher ISOs are.  I have my max ISO set to 10,000.  That's a pretty big number, and the image quality will suffer some, but in light that is that low, the ISO is upped and the camera does its job trying to get a sharp image based on focal length.

What I've described so far is great, you set the Aperture and the minimum shutter speed based on focal length (plus some EV adjustment) and the camera does the rest.

Here's how I really like to use Auto ISO thoughI shoot in Manual mode!  In manual mode I set the shutter, and the aperture.  The Auto ISO will NOT enforce the focal length adjustment since the shutter speed is manually set.  But it will cap the ISO at the max that has been set.  The exposure will also be adjusted to + or - EV even though the camera is set to manual!  The camera will operate like it does in aperture mode where EV is taken in to account, unlike in regular manual mode. 

In Auto ISO and Manual exposure mode I control the shutter, the aperture and the exposure bias via the EV adjustment.  The ISO will fluctuate up and down to meet the intended exposure.  The ISO will be adjusted both up (as expected to boost sensitivity) and down (to not blow things out).  This might be a bit unexpected, but it will allow you to go from say manual ISO at 400, to enabling Auto ISO and the resulting exposures might have ISO from 100 to 10,000! 

Sunrise @ Blackwater

What this then allows is for in normal to mixed light, you can get the camera to operate at the cleanest ISO possible.  In manual mode with Auto ISO, the only thing the changes is the ISO, and it will go to the lowest value that attains the proper exposure.  And if the conditions change greatly, so will the ISO (up the max already set).

Here's another example of full manual with Auto ISO enabled.  This is shot at 1/60th of a second at f/13 and the ISO auto adjusted to ISO 140.  For these shots what I really wanted to control is the shutter speed to get a good pan, and then the f/stop to get more DoF (so focus would be more forgiving at slow shutter speeds).


That's it, probably my favorite feature of the D4 - AUTO ISO!



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Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Snow Geese in DE MD VA area 2012

Last year (2012) was an odd year for Snow Geese. There were some here and there but it seemed like the largest group was in the Prime Hook NWR DE area. Counts were roughly 200,000!

Blast Off!
I managed to get out there a couple times and saw the most I've seen anywhere. But there were so many that they came and went and were all over the place so I doubt I ever saw the "full" group.

Sharp Blur

On one particular occasion I went hunting for a group that had left the refuge proper, any group really. And I found a couple groups in fields about 5 or 10 miles out.
This group was north west of PHNWR:
Snow Geese in DE (+animation)

2012_0210_D300s_141404-ani1

I don't know what 2013 holds in the way of Snow Geese. I heard there were some at Bombay Hook last month, and I think I saw a photo with a small number from Prime Hook recently...

But where are the huge number of Snow Geese in 2013? If you know, please share you info in a comment.

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Monday, September 17, 2012

Peregrine Falcons in Wildwood New Jersey




I went to Cape May NJ this weekend and stayed in Wildwood, which
is just up the coast from Cape May.

Yesterday morning when heading out to shoot for sunrise in Cape May, I heard what I thought could be a Peregrine Falcon atop the building next to where I was staying. Without any light, I couldn't really judge it but had just a hunch. All I could see was something, hawk-like, perched along the edge of a roofline. The call sounds like a PF to me, but I am not so good at judging calls, especially at 6am in the dark.

On a side note, that's one of the things I learned with experience - know that you don't know things. It is too easy to take a tiny thread of evidence and jump to a conclusion... While it is somewhat comforting to feel like you know everything and can ID this or that bird, it is actually counter productive because it can stifle the urge to actually learn more (because you think you know it all already, and can then make a judgement which you then want to defend.)

Anyway, back to my in the dark spotting of a possible Peregrine Falcon. So, that was yesterday, today I slept in and left my hotel a bit late, around an hour after sunrise. I decided to sleep in and relax - since I had already shot: sunset, sunrise, sunset, sunrise, and sunset in a row.

As I left I heard the same screeching/calling coming from the same spot atop the neighboring building to where I was staying.




So, with some light and this being the second time I thought I heard a PF, I got to a better vantage point and spotted this guy.




Within a few minutes of checking this guy out, I realized there was actually a second Peregrine up there to the right. Before I could try to get both in a photo, the second one took flight and sort of circled over me and then went back to the roof area.



As luck would have it, this was a banded bird and my quick shots seem to show a black and green band, with 22 on black (top) and b? on green (bottom).

The banded bird then flew in to what looked to be a hidden gutter - so my guess is that this pair is calling this building home. It is a somewhat new building in Wildwood, and would make sense that they would pick it. It is around 13 stories tall and the neighboring building I was in was just 5 stories.





I've reported the sighting and location to NJ Audubon folks so hopefully they can get more info on the spot and determine whether or not they are actually living/nesting at that location. I will be sure to check it again as well as the beach nearby - I have heard stories of PF's catching and eating prey along the beach and would certainly like to see that for myself.

-Jon
--50--

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