Happy Veteran’s Day – Thank You for Your Service

After 9 days of no power or internet, things are finally getting back to normal around here. All family members are present and accounted for and thankfully limited damage to our family’s homes thanks to Sandy.

Flag Waving Window Reflection

But the thing we should be most thankful for is the sacrifice so many living and deceased have made defending our right to be free!


More Maine

Thank you for the kind words about the images I made while at Pemaquid Lighthouse in Bristol Maine. I promised a few more when I had time to sit down at the computer and process some more images. It feels like the weekends are the only time I have now for working on my images. Here are two more Lighthouse shots.

Pemaquid Lighthouse at Sunrise
Pemaquid Lighthouse Reflection

I also took the following 2 images that I really like while at Boothbay Harbor. We were trying to photograph a famous lighthouse named Cuckolds Lighthouse but the location of the sun just wasn’t right so we had to settle on finding other subjects.

Boothbay Harbor Sailboat
Colored Sea Weed/Grass

Images Captured with Nikon D3x, 70-200 VRII and 200-400 VRI on Lexar Digital Film

One Of My Favorite New England Landmarks

It never seems to fail that whenever I visit Pemaquid Point Lighthouse I come away with images I really like. I spent 5 days last week searching for fall color in Maine. Fall color has been somewhat limited this year due in part because of the extremely warm fall we have had here in New England. A cold snap is just what you need for the leaves to start turning colors. Since we had limited fall foliage to occupy our pixels, we decided to turn our attention to some of Maine’s historic lighthouses. No mention of lighthouses would be complete without a trip to Pemaquid Point.

Pemaquid Point Lighthouse at Sunrise

The above image was taken from below the lighthouse from almost in the water. I would like to caution anyone thinking of replicating this image to proceed with caution as this location is very dangerous. Especially true in the dark!

Pemaquid Point Lighthouse B&W at Sunrise

We were very fortunate to have stormy wet weather for the 5 days of our journey. Stormy weather can be a photographers best friend….at least sometimes ;-). It is amazing how the clouds here can add to the drama of the scene. They also act like a light box, changing the mood, color and texture of the light on a regular basis. Here are just 2 of my favorite images. I will post others as I have time to process them. I hope you enjoy them.

Images captured with Nikon D3x, 27-70 f2.8 (split grad ND, top image) on Lexar Digital Film

Out Of My Comfort Zone

I am currently on a trip photographing fall foliage in Maine. An opportunity presented itself for me to photograph vintage aircraft from the Texas Flying Legends Museum.

Japanese Zero

The opportunity was unique in that the airport where the Legends were flying had a backdrop of fall foliage.

Betty’s Dream

I was apprehensive about spending 8 hours on an airfield in the middle of fall foliage season. I especially felt this way since frankly aviation photography was something I had never done before. Not only was it a really fun day, but it was phenomenal to see the faces on the Veterans who came out to see the very planes they flew in missions protecting our freedom. It was an awesome day.

Images Captured on Nikon D3x w 200-400 VR I on Lexar Digital Film.

Getting Close

I received an email after my recent post about seeing and photographing a new bird species in my yard. That species was was a House Wren. There is nothing like the exhilaration associated with this adding a new species to your files and life lists.

Female Northern Cardinal

The email I received asked how close I was in order to make these images? He knew of my own standard of not cropping or post processing my wildlife images. (The only images I apply post processing to are artistic in nature, like landscapes). I told the reader I was about 12′ from this branch which is the mfd (minimum focusing distance) for my Nikon 600mm f/4. The question in his followup email is the basis for this post.

Female Northern Cardinal 2

So here is the question; How do I get that close?
Here are my tips for getting close to the birds.
1) Try to have something between you and your subjects, like a fence or a shrub. It usually makes the birds more comfortable.
2) Wear dark clothes. Try to avoid anything reflective or shiny.
3) Remove straps from your camera. To a bird they look like talons hanging from a predator.
4) Once you find your spot, stand still and be patient. You may have to wait 30 minutes before birds will return to the feeder. The great thing about this tip is you get to just enjoy the birds, weather and your surroundings.
5) When the first birds return, continue to stand motionless, don’t attempt to photograph the first birds.
6) The most successful position I have found is to “hide” behind your tripod and camera and use your free eye to watch the feeder. If you move unexpectedly to photograph a subject that lands on the perch, you will most likely scare them. (Tip, while you are waiting for the action to start, make sure your nose and mouth are to either side of the eye piece to ensure you dont fog up the eye piece!)

Realize that the tips I have here are general. I have found over the years that these work consistently for me. But I must admit that I have to make some adjustments depending on the species I want to photograph. In particular, Cardinals and Blue Jays prefer I am further away from the feeders than say Tufted Titmice or House Finches. What I usually do in this regard is to start close to the feeders and then retreat to a location further away. The only way you will know is by trial and error. But that is what makes it fun!

New Species in my Yard

I was thrilled to see a new visitor to our feeders yesterday.

House Wren

While I know House Wrens are considered a common species, I have not had the pleasure of sighting and/or photographing one. When I first saw these 2, I thought for a minute that they might be in the Nuthatch family. I was especially drawn to this conclusion by the tail position of the Wren in the the photo below.

House Wren Singing

However, after doing some research I realized it was not a type of Nuthatch but in fact a House Wren. Apparently my incorrect species identification is a common one ;-).

House Wren 2

I believe based on comparing these images that this must be a mating pair. I did in fact place a wren box on the edge of the woods this past winter hoping it would provide some shelter for some of the birds. I suspect that these Wrens have either been using this box and that I have not seen them before or the more likely scenario is that these two found our feeders on their migration south.

Images captured with Nikon D3x, 600mm f/4 w/TC-14eII on Lexar digital film.

My Backyard Bird Photography Studio

Co-Posted on Birding is Fun! (link)

Its amazing how this topic seems to be on the minds of so many people. I bet I get a few emails a month from folks asking for help designing and/or building a backyard bird photography studio. I have tried many different gadgets and setups for my backyard bird photography studio, both home-made and purchased. In fact I have tried as many setups as I have camera bags! Just like camera bags, different yard setups present different solutions and complications depending on weather and time of year. What I will attempt to do in this post is talk about and show you how I have generated the most consistent results in my backyard bird photography studio. I will give you one warning before you read this post. I follow the KISS method in my photography. KISS stands for Keep It Simple Stupid :-). If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me how many lights I setup in my backyard or how big or what kind of a tent I use for a blind, I would be rich. The simple answer is I don’t use any of these things. I know, I know, some of you will say you have to use lights if you are going to stop the action of a hummingbirds wings or counteract the effects of the harsh mid day sun and this is true, in some applications. I will give you that using a flash when photographing hummingbirds is helpful but not required. As it relates to using a flash to help counteract the harsh midday sun my response is I don’t photograph in the harsh midday sun. Have I used flash in the yard for special effects, yes. Do I use it often, no.

So lets talk about the basics of backyard bird photography studio. What do you need for this to be successful? The first thing is you need to be able to control your background. There is nothing worse than a beautiful bird on a branch, with 20 other branches in the way or a sky scraper in the picture along with your subject! What you also need to consider before you select a location for your feeder is the angle of the sun and where you will be standing in relation to the sun and your feeder. Ideally, you want the sun to always be behind you (over one of your shoulders) so that you will be between the sun and the perches/branches you will be photographing.

Basic Setup

In the picture above you will notice 3 locations for birds to land, eat and drink. All 3 are highlighted by white arrows. I will show you closeup images below to help. If you notice, I have placed the feeders, bird bath and large perch in locations where the birds can fly in and out to the woods easily. I have also made it easy for little song birds to hide in bushes and make their way to the feeders using the cover of the shrubs for safety. You should also notice that I do not place any of the feeders near windows in an attempt to limit window strikes.

The feeders and stands I am currently using are made and sold by a company named Wild Birds Unlimited (WBU Link). I have found their products to be excellent and the store employees to be very helpful and friendly birders. I use the APS System (APS Link).

Here is the view of the main feeder from the driveway where I usually shoot from. Notice the clean background behind the perches.

Providing water is an essential element to having happy birds at your feeders. In fact, water is often more difficult for them to find than food so if at all possible, try to provide this. I am actually considering burying a water feature in the ground nest spring for a different angle from which to photograph my birds!

Hopefully this post gives you some ideas on how to layout your feeders and perches on your property in order to give you the best opportunities to photograph the birds in your backyard.

Notice all the feeders have squirrel and raccoon baffles
Second setup with ranch style feeder
Anther view of the ranch feeder
Clips sold by WBU to hold branches/perches

So I thought that I would provide some examples of images you can take in the yard with and without special effects. The two images of a Ruby Throated Hummingbird were both created without using flash. Nope, just plain old fashioned sunlight. Its just how you use that sunlight! The bottom image is taken using flash. The intent was to try and give the viewer the impression that the bird was actually photographed in front of a black background. It was actually photographed in front of a tree. Its amazing what you can do if you use your imagination when it comes to photography. Don’t be afraid to experiment with your photography!

Ruby Throated Hummingbird with an itch
Ruby Throated Hummingbird looking for some nectar
American Goldfinch photographed with flash to blacken the background and make his colors pop!

Juvenile Mourning Doves

We have had a lot of Mourning Doves around the feeders this year. I have actively been stocking feeders for 2 1/2 years now and I have never seen as many juvenile Mourning Doves as I did this year.

Juvenile Mourning Dove

My count was 4 pairs of adults and approximately 7 juveniles. Given that the average clutch size is 2 eggs, this would make sense.

Juvenile Mourning Dove from behind

If you are interested, here is a link for a PDF on building a nesting basket for Mourning Doves, provided by All About Birds (PDF Link)

Images captured with Nikon D3x, 600mm f/4 w/TC-14eIII on Lexar Digital Film