Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Sunrise at Hemingways near the Chesapeake Bay Bridge March 2016

The first time I ever went to Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, many years ago, I had the pleasure of witnessing the sunrise while crossing the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. I say pleasure because I had not planned it right and didn't know how far I had to drive (no smart phone at the time, no google maps, and no proper prior planning) and while I was less than half way there I got to see the sunrise and realized I had blew it, and would be more than an hour "late" for sunrise...

Pretty much every visit since, over 50 easily in the last 9 or 10 years I've made it to Blackwater before sunrise, sometimes 45 minutes before... It is around a 100 miles to drive for me, and can take nearly 2 hours in the early morning. And it is totally worth it. Here are a couple sunrises from Blackwater that were awesome/epic/wow'd me, etc... Any many more here.

Sunrise @ Blackwater
Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, MD
Blackwater NWR Sunrise
And finally this sunrise, from my second visit when I did actually make it in time for sunrise... ( Taken on December 16, 2006)

In March 2016 I think the weather wasn't supposed to be great and I slept in and then decided anyway to go east, and instead of getting up at 4am I got up at 5:30am or something. As I was driving I saw the amazing sunrise and these strange clouds and it was something to see. So for the first time, I stopped on the East side of the Bay Bridge at sunrise and went to the marina there.
Previously I'd shot the Snowy Owl that was there in the evening, while coming back from the Eastern Shore:

All that lead up to show off these two images I've shared so far from this spot... I shot a bunch, walked on the docks a bit, shot looking east, looking west, and took a few hundred photos. Then I continued east and hit a couple other spots without going to Blackwater.
Empty Docks
Empty Docks @ Sunrise

Sunrise @ Chesapeake Bay Bridge
Sunrise @ Chesapeake Bay Bridge

Finally, here's a 'contact sheet' from the images I processed and rated from this day in March 2016. I've only posted the 2 above so far. There might be another couple to post from the sunrise timeframe... Later in the day the images were not unique, though it was fun to see the osprey early in the season the ducks as well.

If you're wondering about how I rate images, here it is:
1= come back and find this image and process it later.
2=used for an automated image/hdr creation, not editing by itself for single export
3=any edited image that is not rated higher
4=hdr images (TIF's then processed and exported), or regular images that are a "4". So just because an HDR is a 4 doesn't mean it is an image I really like.
5=highest rating, any image that I REALLY like...

Original content posted at http://natureandwildlifephotography.blogspot.com/
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Saturday, October 8, 2016

Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens Summer 2016

Over the last 8 years I've been to Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens a bunch of times, mostly looking for the Yellow Crowned Night Herons. But also other birds and the great Lotus flowers and water lilies.

This year there weren't any YCNH's that I spotted, so I photographed the Lotus a *lot*.

Sometimes the petals would fall off quickly, in a sort of chain reaction once the first one broke free. I'd never seen that before, it was cool.

Lotus Bloom

The YCNH's were great in 2008. I went multiple times and got some close ups and some feeding photos...

Yellow Crowned Night Heron

JYCNH Hunting

You Can See The Crunch

The second to last time I went this year I shot the water lilies in the back, and the light was pretty good. I used a 600mm lens, which I would normally use for birds, and I shot the flowers...

Water Lilies @ KAG

Just prior to this visit I had gone to Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens I think 5 times, and the first few times I took a normal approach and shot the flowers with a long lens, and had hoped to see birds, but still shot the flowers. The images I got were "normal" and looked ok. I was happy with them at the time. But they were like many other images I've taken and seen others take. This one with the Red-Winged Black Bird was a highlight. The birds were in the flowers and I could shoot them for just a few minutes before they flew off.

So this year on visits 4 and 5, I brought some macro gear and shot much closer images of the flowers and got much different and I think better results.

As I reflect on the half a dozen-ish visit I've made to KAG before this year, and then the 6 or 7 visits I made this year I noticed how it took a few visits to shoot through the shots and approach I had in my head already. It took that long to then be able to try to think differently, to see the gardens and flowers differently and to get different images.

A photo posted by Jon (@the_real_nikographer) on

On the last few visits I still brought a long lens (600mm) but I also brought a 70-200mm f/2.8 and a 24-120mm f/4 lens, along with the Canon 500D closeup filter for a 77mm lens ring. By using that filter I was able to turn both lenses in to very close focusing lenses that gave drastically different shooting distances and super narrow depth of field.

I'm happy with the results I got this year. It took a bunch of visits to get lucky with the RWBB and then to start to see and shoot the flowers in a new way. In the future I guess I hope to be able to push past what I had planned and the way I was seeing things initially, and start to see in a fresher/different way like I did on visits 4 and 5 with the macro shots.

I've been meditating and practicing mindfulness this year and last year, and as I read what I just wrote above, I think that is a result of this new approach to life. It's all too easy to have a plan, work towards a plan, and then either execute on the plan and be happy, or not execute on the plan and be disappointed. But with a fresh approach and fewer expectations, and a more flexible nature new and unexpected things can happen.

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Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Wildlife Photography Doing it Right and Doing it Wrong @ Nickerson Beach in NY

I should start by saying I grew up literally just down the beach from Nickerson beach, and back then it was called Nassau Beach, and they would spell out that in flowers along Lido Boulevard at the park entrance. I visit regularly, and I have numerous friends that still live there. Many people I know were directly impacted by Hurricane Sandy.

Nickerson Beach is a great place to see nesting birds along the shore, including common terns, black skimmers, plovers, and oystercatchers. There are a couple of areas that are restricted and this allows the birds some space to nest in.

The string that ropes off the area can be pretty close to where the birds have chosen to nest. So if you want to, you can get very close to them. I have sat along the string a handful of times and gotten shots of the birds, sometimes on eggs from dozens of feet away. I found this interesting at first, but now I prefer to spend more time shooting around the edges, along the surf, or when the birds are flying around.

I think you can shoot from close up respectfully and without bothering the birds. That said, as you approach to get that close, the birds will fly right at you and can attack you. I've heard of people getting cut up, or pooped on.

When I shoot wildlife I also very much like to get as close as possible. But over the last few (or more) years something changed in myself and partially from seeing others pursue their shots. Now I like to enjoy my outing, get photos, but not at the cost of the animal or doing something others might frown on. Basically, I am not shooting for a magazine, or for an award or even really in search of praise anymore. I just shoot to enjoy the time out, and to have images for myself. Sure I share my images as well, but I am not primarily motivated by the sharing / social aspect of photography any more. I've been burned by it personally, and realize that being a go-getter isn't all it's cracked up to be.

And then there's seeing how other people behave, and that's just too much for me to be associated with or to contribute to. A few years ago we had the eruption of Snowy Owls and people were jerks all over. Some of the jerks were birders. Other jerks were photographers. And still more jerks were those with a cell phone camera who would walk in the dunes (restricted/not allowed) to try to get close to the owls - and of course the owl would fly away and they'd still have a cell phone. So - for what? Not everyone knew or knows better, but people should know better.

I shot this owl in New Jersey for 4 hours and felt very lucky. It was my first owl, and a friend shared the location with me. I made the bird fly a couple times in that period, but it didn't fly off until 2 birders approached me and the snoozing owl, causing the owl to fly away. They tried to blame me, but no - the bird was actually sleeping a little and they flushed it. Snowy Owl in NJ

So back to Nickerson Beach New York.

In July I got there a little after sunrise, and saw a bunch of other photographers there, all east of the nesting area shooting with the sun at their back. So I went to the south side of the nesting area and sat for a while and there was an oystercatcher family there, with an adult hunting for stuff and feeding a small chick. I shot them like this for 20 minutes maybe. Then three of the photographers that were on the east side came back, and they setup a little ways behind me closer to the ocean. After a few minutes one of the oystercatchers ran out from the protected area, towards the other people, grabbed something from the sand and ran back to the chick and started feeding on something. Then it happened again and I realized that these people were throwing food, open clams as it turned out, to the birds!

So, how many ways to describe how this is wrong are there?!

  • The birds were already eating/feeding
  • Baiting birds is cheating, unless it is your backyard and it is with seed or such
  • I was shooting the birds and these folks not only disturbed the birds but they disturbed me.
  • The bait was huge, and could have potentially either been spoiled or been bad for the chick.  Let mother nature do its thing, no need to stop them from feeding on their native food...
  • It's against the law there
  • There's no benefit I could see for doing this, the birds were already just feet away and it just made them do un-natural things.
These people were on the east side, and in the dunes which you should not be doing.  The dunes are off limits.

This is the guy with the clams and 2 women he was with.  What bugged me more was the hat he was wearing is from a "professional" photographer he probably went on a paid photo trip with and for all I know learned that this behavior is ok and that's how you get bird photos...

So when I realize what he was doing i got up, and cursed him out.  I told him he was disrespectful and that basically he was a jerk.  As I walked away I saw a park ranger in a motorized cart and let him know the guy was feeding the birds and had a bag of clams in his backpack.  He stopped and talked to them, but so briefly it had to be a quick warning and nothing more.

A month later I was back and got these images along the edge of the ocean.  No birds were harmed when I took my images ;)

Oystercatchers 1 of 3

Oystercatchers 2 of 3

Oystercatchers 3 of 3


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Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Black Skimmers at Cape May New Jersey 2016

Skimmers landing on the beach at Cape May New Jersey. This time of year there are a few hundred there, roughly by the Arcade. In years past they tended to be near the Second Ave Jetty, but a few years ago they changed their preferred spot.

While I was at Cape May this trip I also did a little bit of night/star photography - it's pretty dark there...

Black Skimmers coming in for a landing @ Cape May NJ

(f/8+1/1250+ISO1100++1/3EV - D500 / 600mm / RRS tripod / Wimberley Head / Manual Exposure w/ Auto-ISO)

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Saturday, October 1, 2016

Cape May NJ 2016 - Juv. Osprey Fishing

During the Fall I love to go to Cape May New Jersey. The raptor/bird migration is great. My friend Wayne turned me on to the location a while back, and I've gone every year since.

This year I have been once so far on September 24-25 (2016). It was a little early for big numbers of hawks, and the weather was not great for it either.

The best setup for hawk migration is when a cold front moves through, pushing birds east, and the prevailing winds are out of the Northwest. This pattern pushes birds towards the east coast and the way Cape May and the Delaware Bay are the birds run out of land to fly over, since there's water everywhere else and they tend to stop over on the cape.

But it's Fall and it's Cape May so not great here still has the potential to be good.

On this morning there were a few young osprey flying around over The Meadows and along the shore, over the Atlantic Ocean just at the edge of the beach.

The young osprey aren't very skilled at hunting yet and it takes them a lot of effort to catch fish. Here the osprey has caught 2 small fish, after trying numerous times to get something. I also saw dolphins in this same area and they were hunting as well. I probably saw more than a dozen of the dolphins over the course of a couple of hours.

Juv. Osprey Hunting @ Cape May NJ

Juv. Osprey Hunting @ Cape May NJ

(updated - 10/11/2016 with another image) Juv. Osprey @ Cape May NJ

The ideal time to see hawks migrating is when the weather is right, and during the first couple of weeks in October based on my experience...

To see more of my Cape May photos click on this image to see my flickr set.

Sharpie @ CMBO Banding Demo


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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 

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.


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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.




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]
D480-400mm (#1)1270
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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