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. / Jon Read more On "FoCal - Focus Adjustments on D4 part 1"!

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 / Jon Read more On "Diamondback Terrapin and Luminosity Masks"!

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 / Jon Read more On "Osprey Using Every Feather! p.s. I like Feisol."!

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! / Jon Read more On "Nikon D4 - Auto ISO (Fav Feature)"!

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)


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. / Jon / +nikographer Read more On "Snow Geese in DE MD VA area 2012"!

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.

--50-- / Jon Read more On "Peregrine Falcons in Wildwood New Jersey"!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Not in a rush anymore

For quite a while I was in a rush. A panic, motivated, rush, to see, shoot, get, photograph, share. I'm not anymore. It took about 4-5 years of that before it really changed.
Fall Colors

So, what was previously a daily task of posting an image, something hopefully grabbing, something cool, is now a weekly, or monthly, or who knows task. I really no longer feel a drive to share. I feel a drive to try to take good images. But not to share, not to 'feed the machine' or keep 'posting to flickr daily'.

I don't know that I am shooting any less. Maybe slightly here or there, but I'm still trying to get out and could be shooting 100's a day, nearly a couple thousand over a weekend when I am at it.

The photo in this post is a foliage shot from Vermont taken a couple years ago. I did not post anything from this trip prior to today.

One of the things I've hoped to do is to shoot during an event, a season, and then share just prior to it when it happens again, say a year or two later. This is now one of those things, I waited about 23 months to finally post some foliage images. / Jon Read more On "Not in a rush anymore"!

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Osprey update June 30, 2011

I haven't been to visit "my" nest in a couple weeks. Last I checked the 3 chicks were doing well.


I visited tonight and was met with a sad sight. One of the 3 osprey died, and is still in the nest.


The chick in the background was really bothered by the situation, just looking at its sibling that wouldn't move any more. And it bothered me too.

I couldn't tell what the cause was for sure until I got home and reviewed the images closely, but I had a suspicion. I thought maybe a hook from a snagged fishing line had managed to be eaten by the osprey. But it appears that the osprey chick got tangled in the line and died from that.

There wasn't much to do, but I reported it to someone that can hopefully get a visit from someone that can remove the dead bird.

And to be expected, mom was still mom, and yipped a couple times. And dad came by with a fish, circled a few times, and then delivered a fish. And then mom fed the (2) chicks.

Life goes on. / Jon Read more On "Osprey update June 30, 2011"!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Have Fun - Flickr

Every few days or weeks I notice that someone has favorited one of my flickr multi-image posts, and often especially this Red-Tailed Hawk set of posts.

There was someone on flickr, and it hit facebook too, where ppl turned posted individual images in to posting collages or multi-tile images one post at a time....

I first saw it on flickr, but soon realized ppl were doing something similar on facebook to create sets that when viewed as thumbnails created a single image.

Whatever you do with your images, have fun. Post. Print. Sell. Share. Donate. Take images and do something with them - and have fun. / Jon Read more On "Have Fun - Flickr"!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Maine Osprey 2011

My brother has been getting in to photography a lot lately and found an awesome spot for Osprey in Maine. There's a river and a run of fish going on now, and well, the river's pretty narrow and there's lots of fish and osprey. It's an awesome spot.

A half hour's walk through the woods and then there it is.


In a few days I've gone a few times and spent quite a few hours there. There are all show with a 500mm handheld and cropped some...

The spot is setup pretty nicely, by late morning the light is working its way to the side of the river and behind the spot to shoot from.

While there my brother and I were both initially put off because of some hikers and people fishing there along the river. But after a while, I realized that by this not being an untraveled spot the osprey are actually more accustomed to people being around. / Jon Read more On "Maine Osprey 2011"!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

All I get is butt shots!

Ok, so, I haven't posted in months. I ran in to someone today and they said "All I get is butt shots!"

I think I might be able to help, and this seemed a like a good topic to tackle.

It just so happens that while browsing past images this one struck me. I had already done the edit, and tonight framed it and added a logo.

Ice Landing

So, first thing is - sometimes a butt shot is ok and cool.

But if what is happening is that every time you see a bird it flies away, then yeah, that's a problem.

Birds will do what they are doing until they want to do something else. If you are not there they will do their own thing. If you are there, you can either watch and see what they'd do on their own, or you can influence things and then see their reaction. The trick really is to be observant, and to tell when your presence is affecting things.

With some observation, you can start to guess at what might or might not cause the flight-response.

I've even used that simple premise as a way to get CLOSER to birds. Here's how - if I see a bird, I'm watching, and I see someone else on a trajectory towards me and the bird, I will back off. Give the bird lots of room, so I am no longer a part of the equation. Then I (sometimes, and sometimes succeeding) have tried to predict what the person approaching might do, and what the bird might react by doing. Then I've moved and sat or positioned myself in a non-threatening position, and waited. It doesn't always work out, but some times it does.

Butts shouldn't always be seen as a bad thing.

Sushi Connaisseur

But if that's all you get to see you need to rethink your approach and try to think like the bird a little.

If you are approaching to the point that the bird always flies away, then, you need to not approach so close and learn to read the birds better. Some birds don't like friends and will always fly away (like a kingfisher) but others will tolerate you if you do it right.

Other things you can do to limit your impact when out looking for birds are:

  • turn off cell phone

  • travel alone

  • put the sun at YOUR back

  • secure your car keys so they make no sound

  • secure your camera gear so it makes no sound

  • wear camo or colors that don't jump out (contrast-wise) while out shooting

  • Good luck,
    -Jon / Jon Read more On "All I get is butt shots!"!

    Tuesday, November 23, 2010

    Cape May - Skimmers and Light


    Cape May is a hot spot for bird watching during fall migration. The way the state tapers off to the cape/point of New Jersey acts like a funnel where birds follow the land south and end up there, running out of coast/land and then momentarily stuck to think it over.

    According to the local bird watchers who are in the know, approximately 80% of the birds that pass through the cape are immature/juvenile birds. The main reason being it is easier to migrate south 100% over land, avoiding the Delaware Bay and the water crossing. Adults know enough to take the easier inland route, while the first year birds don't. These young ones can cross but they have to stop and think about it, and then muster up the courage to make the trip over the open water.

    In 2009 I made a couple trips to Cape May and this year I did 6 or 7 trips (multiple days each trip). The migrating hawks and falcons, and little birds / song birds (passerines) are most people's favorites. And they are mine too, except for the black skimmers, they are so fun to watch, and offer such great chances.


    Last year I shot the skimmers a lot at sunrise and sunset and this year I did the same. Trying to get the flock and some nice light together is what makes them extra special. The skimmers might sit on the beach most of the day doing next to nothing, but around sunrise and sunset they are full of action.

    Rise and Shine

    As the fall season passes most of the early skimmers to leave are mature ones. By November the flock of black skimmers in Cape May is mainly juvenile birds.

    Skimmer Sunrise

    Birds of Prey
    This year I finally got to experience what the big big push of birds is like - seeing hawks and falcons on the frequency of seconds, not minutes or hours. Seriously. All this year it was just a couple of the days I was there, and one especially, when the action was just crazy.

    The best days I had were a day or two after a storm passed through, with the backside of the weather creating winds out of the ~west which groups up the migrating birds along the coast. Perfect.

    Sharpie w/ bulging cropKestrel w/ Dragonfly

    Next year I am going to visit lots again, and I will try to focus more on the migrating birds of pray. It is (too) easy to split time between them and the skimmers. Most of my visits this year were in October, and next year I am going to go a bit more earlier.

    --50-- / Jon Read more On "Cape May - Skimmers and Light"!