Death Stalks on Silent Wings

Posted in Natural History, Photo Stories with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 23, 2015 by chamimage

Owl Silhouette

I was staying in Klamath Falls, photographing owls and bald eagles, at the Klamath Wildlife Refuges when I read in the newspaper that we had an owl problem back home in Salem, Oregon.

Around mid-January a jogger (local surgeon) running at 5:15 am in a city park was hit in the back of his head with what he assumed was a two by four. Looking around he saw nothing. Later, it was determined that he was attacked by a barred owl (Strix varia). Three other joggers have had the honor of repeating his experience since then. All have been running before dawn or after sunset, basically pretty dark out there. One jogger lost his favorite Nike cap and never got it back.

It was assumed the owl is nesting nearby and is protecting its territory, but no nest has ever been found to my knowledge.

I went to the park when I got back to find the owl in question and was not successful. Nobody has seen it in the day time so maybe it is roosting or nesting away from the park and only hunting squirrels there in the dark. I did notice a paucity of squirrels. Maybe he tired of having to chase joggers off and gave up and moved out.

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl

I don’t have any images of a barred owl. They are relatively new to Oregon, being a bird of eastern forests. Their presence here in Oregon has been problematic in other ways. Remember in the 1990’s when the northern spotted owl was listed as endangered and old growth forest logging was essentially shut down to protect the spotted owls? Those same spotted owls are now being decimated and will likely go extinct due to the invasion of barred owls into their territory. They are similar owls in many respects. Both feature black eyes. The barred owls are more aggressive and are out-competing and driving out the spotted owls. The Forest Service now has a trial program of killing barred owls in northern California to see if it has any effect on the spotted owls and is feasible. 3,600 barred owls will be shot. The biologist involved described this as a classic Sophie’s Choice, deciding who will live and who will die when there is no clear fairness in the result.

The image directly above is of an owl I found early in the day when the sun was behind him. I came back in the evening when I knew he would be front-lit. I got near to his position, but there was a car behind me so I stopped at a porta pottie so as not to leads other to him and burden his life with too many people knowing of his location. To my dismay, when I came out of the latrine the driver behind me had not only seen the owl and stopped (I suspect he already knew he was there as well) but his stopping had created an owl jam with three other cars stopped. At that point I gave up on the stealth approach and drove up and got my images. Instead of a quick shot out the window of my car turned into stopping and putting the camera on the tripod. He obviously wasn’t going anywhere. By that time there were six cars stopped.

The title of this post refers to the silent flight of owls, which is unique. It hardly seems fair that they hunt at night and are completely silent in flight. They pay for the silent flight with feathers that are not able to repel water. Apparently you can be water-resistant or silent, but not both. Another fact I learned from Nature last week is that an owl’s feathers weigh more than its skeleton. Hollow bones.

At the Klamath wildlife refuge a biologist said that one morning when they came to work they found the head of a barn owl on the sidewalk. At first they thought they were victim to a boyhood prank, but later decided that it was a gift from a resident great horned owl. Owls like to behead their prey before eating them (perhaps they can’t digest the relatively dense skull?) and in the case of great horned owls they tend to spread body parts about their territory, probably for the same reason gangsters put horse heads in people’s beds.

Sunset

Sunset

The owl silhouette at the top was taken in one of these trees a few minutes later.

A good reference book on owls I “Owls of the United States and Canada” written by my friend Wayne Lynch.

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl

Saw-whet Owl

Saw-whet Owl

Photo Editing

Posted in Photography Technique with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 26, 2015 by chamimage
3 day old Elephant Baby

3 day old Elephant Baby

I had a recent epiphany about photo editing. In the past I have spent a lot of my time editing old folders of images that I felt guilty about not having finished with editing all of the images. The problem with that is that I have already gleaned the family jewels images from those folders so I am spending a lot of my time editing and Photoshopping my second best images.

Samburu Elephants

Samburu Elephants

That thought occurred to me as I looked at my Google Analytics one day and confirmed that Guanajuato, Mexico at night was still my most viewed image on my web site again for another week, as it has been for much of the past year. I don’t know why. But the point is that I also realized I had many more images of Guanajuato that I had never optimized.  Guilt be damned! I worked on Guanajuato images.

So now I let the fickle winds of supply and demand determine which images I will be editing, not guilt about old un-edited images. I check Google Analytics and my stock sites to see what images are being viewed, both my own site and in general. Today it was Australia, France, and elephants. I have elephants, so I’m working on elephants.

Elephant and Crocodile

Elephant and Crocodile

Being an elephant means you don’t have to bother about no stinkin’ crocodile.

Nikon D750 First Impressions

Posted in Photo Gear with tags , , , on December 15, 2014 by chamimage
Mural

Mural

I have had my Nikon D750 for about a week now. Long enough to read the important stuff in the manual. The first thing I noticed was the size of the camera. When I ordered the D750 I expected the same D300/D700 chassis as previous cameras of this line had. This camera is much smaller and lighter. I was pleasantly surprised. Holding it in one hand is very easy. I just now grabbed my D4 to look at something and what a shock to hold that monster after a week with the D750!

The second thing I noticed is how quiet the shutter is. I am used to the snap of the D3 and D4 that is anything but subtle. Just what a wildlife photographer needs, a loud rifle shot every time you trigger the shutter. The D750 whispers. I still haven’t gotten used to it. Since I had hoped to use this camera to do more street photography I am very pleased that it doesn’t announce to all that I am snapping photographs.

On the subject of stealth. I walked around town with this camera and it got hardly any attention at all. My D4 draws people like a magnet. Big pro camera – people get curious. Little camera – meh. I like meh.

I bought this camera with the memory of carrying my D3 around Guanajuato, Mexico and Florence, Italy all day and having such pain in my shoulders it hurt to just think about putting the camera bag around my neck the next morning. I will be able to forget I have this camera with me.

So far I have not found anything this camera can’t do (it’s only been a week, give it time). The noise is a bit more than the D4 at the same ISO. I did find that it does not have a 10 pin connector so I can’t use my shutter release cable. You can buy a different cable that plugs into a USB type port in the side of the camera, or you can get a wireless remote. I bought the wireless remote after finding out the D750 has an infrared receiver on the back of the camera and you no longer have to fire the wireless remote from in front of the camera. I also learned that unlike the MC-30 cord that costs $64.95 (I bought a Chinese remote for $20 instead for my D4 after a energy bar melted chocolate into my MC-30 recently. You can still use the MC-30 if you want about 100 frames before the button finally comes back up.) The wireless remote was $13 – for the Nikon brand! Generics were $10. Unfortunately to use the same wireless remote on my D4 I think I would need a $99 receiver. I’ll meed two remotes when I bring both cameras. Fortunately the wireless remote is unbelievably tiny. I bet I lose a bunch of them.

The D750 has two card slots and both take SD cards. No XQD slot! Yeah! I guess now that SD cards have so much memory Nikon has decided why waste space with CF cards? I have only used SD cards in point and shoot cameras before so it is a bit to wrap my mind around, not having a CF card. The card slots are in the right side of the camera behind a hinged door that opens by sliding it sideways until it springs open. It seems like it might open too easily and spring open unexpectedly at inconvenient times and get broken, but it hasn’t happened yet. Strange that they put Fort Know security into opening the D4 card slot door, but make this door so easily opened.

The files from the D750 are 24 megapixel so I can envision maybe needing the second card in Africa where I have made one thousand images in a morning before. But I am never going to be a fat enough shooter to fill two 64 gig cards before downloading. Perhaps if I have a computer failure and can’t download it will come in very very handy. We did have a lightning strike take out some computers in camp in Africa on the last trip. I stopped leaving the computer plugged in while I was out.

I haven’t worked on enough files to get a feel for color and exposure biases with this camera. So far I just know that ISO 800 resulted a more noise than I had hoped for.

The D750 has gone retro and put the mode dial (for P/A/S/M; it is now a dial) piggyback on top of the release mode dial (S/CL/CH; Q/Mup,etc) that has always been there. ISO and white balance are now assigned to the buttons to the left of the LCD screen. Pushing the ISO or white balance button brings up a menu on the LCD. One small gripe I have is that it takes a while for the menu to appear on the screen. Of course I just tried to time it and for the first time all week the menus came up instantly. I am going to be using the back LCD to make ISO and white balance adjustments, among others, a whole lot more with this camera.

Oh what an LCD screen it is! Nikon’s first articulating LCD screen in a DSLR, I believe. No more crawling on my belly in the mud! Just pop that screen 90 degrees and hold the camera on the ground and use Live View to focus and frame your shot. So very cool. Hand held macro shooters will be in heaven. People who shoot video of their small children or pets will be in heaven.

I haven’t challenged the autofocus with birds in flight yet. That will have to wait until this weekend when I will mate this camera up with the 600 mm lens for the first time. In theory that will take some strain off of my shoulders when carrying my rig on the tripod, but with the superior high ISO performance of the D4 it will still have to remain the main big lens wildlife body.

I was pleasantly surprised when I put my non-CPU 24 mm prime lens on the D750 and told it what the lens was the camera recognized the aperture setting on the lens. On this lens, anyway, you can’t set the lens on f/22 and use the sub-command dial to set the aperture, you have to use the aperture ring. The manual suggests otherwise so apparently with other non-CPU lenses that might be different.

This camera has a built-in flash. I only use built-in flash as a commander unit and I have a commander unit for the D4, anyway, but for getting the accessory flash off of the camera without having to buy a commander unit this is a blessing for most people. I can use it to trigger my macro flashes without having to worry about the commander unit battery going dead, as it likes to do on a regular basis. Changing batteries in the dark is not fun.

When I first got the camera I decided the longest period of time known to man is the time between un-boxing your new camera and when the battery is finally charged and you can finally check your new camera out. While waiting for the battery to charge I couldn’t get the camera to manually focus. I tried adjusting the diopter. Everything was still blurry. I had major worry. As soon as the battery went in it focused like a champ. Not sure what that is all about, but I tell you because I know you will do the same thing.

So far this is looking like one beautiful little camera body. At $2,300 it is expensive, but cheaper than the Df. I think the light weight, quiet shutter and the articulating LCD screen are going to prove to be impressive and useful in the months to come.

Salem Building

Salem Building

 

 

Banff Elk

Posted in Photography Technique with tags , , , , , , , on November 17, 2014 by chamimage
Bull Elk

Bull Elk

I photographed this elk in Banff two years ago (yes I am still editing images from 2012). I got some great shots of him, but the backgrounds were all very busy with that evergreen forest behind him.

I have yet to find a good way to blur a background without being obvious about it, though the new path and spin blurs in Photoshop CC 2014 are pretty cool for other uses, especially motor sports. I can’t bring myself to do any compositing when it comes to wildlife images so putting him on a different background was really an option for me.

I decided to do my best with Nik Color Efex Pro (still can’t bring myself to call it Google). The darken light center filter is one I have all but forgotten about lately. I put it to work on this image and was quite pleased with the result. I did some dodging and burning of the areas closest to the elk. I then still wanted the background a little bit darker so I opened it in Adobe Camera Raw (from Photoshop, which is totally cool since I always forget to dust spot before opening files in Photoshop and this way I can go back to do it using the dust spot finder in ACR) and moved the shadows slider to the left. This is a cool trick for darkening most backgrounds, as well as use in astro photography to make the Milky Way and stars pop.

This went from being an image I was kicking myself for not throwing away on the first edit to one I am pleased with. So now I am encouraged to procrastinate all the more about throwing out images that are flawed in some way. Perhaps I will think up a way to use it or perhaps someone will come out with a magic filter that will save it.

Miriam’s Place

Posted in Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 16, 2014 by chamimage
Flame-colored Tanager

Flame-colored Tanager

One of the most awesome days I have had as a photographer occurred last December in Costa Rica at Miriam’s Place, Comidas Tipicas Miriam.

We spent the morning in transit from La Selva in the hot and humid central Costa Rica to the Talamanca Mountains in southern Costa Rica, which are cool and not humid at all.

We arrived in time for lunch, and oh what a lunch Miriam made for us. Her restaurant is on a windy gravel road that runs seriously downhill from the main highway to Savegre Lodge where we were to stay.

She kept bringing out dishes full of chicken that fell off of the bone, the traditional rice and beans that are required fare for every meal in Costa Rica, even breakfast. I can’t even remember what all was served now, but I remember it was the best lunch I ever had and I was hungry.

After lunch we got our gear and headed out into the back yard where bird feeders were set up. The action in Miriam’s back yard was non-stop all afternoon. We shot flame-colored tanagers, acorn woodpeckers, yellow-thighed finches, slaty flowerpiercers (they pierce the base of a flower with their beak to get at the nectar); mountain robins, slaty robins; rufus-collared sparrows and magnificent hummingbirds.

Acorn Woodpecker

Acorn Woodpecker

At one point some other photographers stopped by and were very disappointed that we were already there. They decided they would come back later. They had some perches they wanted to set up so we offered to set them up for them.

“Oh no, these are our very own special perches just for our photographs.” Really. They hid the perches in the house for later. We heard Miriam and her daughter laughing in the kitchen. It turns out she knew where these very special perches were hidden and wanted us to set them up. She was not impressed with the other photographers attitude. She was feeling naughty and so were we so we got the perches out and set them up, fully intending to leave them set up.

Slaty Flowerpiercer

Slaty Flowerpiercer male

Slaty Flowerpiercer

Slaty Flowerpiercer female piercing flower.

The evening was then spent photographing Resplendent Quetzals in a wild avocado tree down the canyon a ways, just to round out a long, productive day in the rain forest. And the cool nights in the mountains were so welcome after sleeping in wet sheets from the humidity in other humid parts of Costa Rica.

Yellow-thighed Finch

Yellow-thighed Finch

Mountain Robin

Mountain Robin

 

Photoshop Tutorials

Posted in Photography Technique with tags , , , , , , , , , , on August 4, 2014 by chamimage

Caribbean Sea

I find myself not getting much work done today because I keep running into interesting Photoshop tutorials everywhere I look. And I look.

Some of them are so good I thought I would pass them along for anyone interested in going beyond the basics in Photoshop.

Jimmy McIntyre has become a great source for Photoshop education. His weekly newsletter not only gives links to his latest offerings, but also links to others he has found over the week.

This week he hit it out of the park in a tutorial on landscape image editing he did for 500px at http://iso.500px.com/post-processing-tips-for-landscape-photos/. There should be enough there to keep you busy for a few hours.

Julianne Kost is my prime source for all things new in Photoshop and Lightroom. Any time there is a new release she is all over it with videos on the new features. This week she gives a very good review of what is new in the latest Camera Raw 8.2 release at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a4UTmTai5FU#t=375. I learned several new things I did not know in that 15 minute video.

Lastly, I discovered an amazing new natural light portrait photographer, Lisa Holloway, from a link in Jimmy McIntyre’s newsletter (you really ought to subscribe, it’s free) at http://iso.500px.com/backlight-natural-light-portrait-photo-tutorial/. It is also on 500px, which is coming up with some very good tutorials lately.

Those ought to keep anybody remotely interested in improving his or her camera and Photoshop skills busy for several hours.

Rialto Beach Sunset

Washougal National Motocross Race

Posted in Photography Technique with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on July 28, 2014 by chamimage
Marvin Musquin

Marvin Musquin

Motocross races are a photographer’s dream. There are brightly colored subjects perched on a chocolate brown river of dirt. There is the gesture of speed and athleticism. And, as in all sports photography, there is no end to the ways you can do it better next time. You never stop learning.

I went to the National Professional Motocross race in Washougal, Washington on Saturday. I thought it had been thirty years since I had been to Washougal, but my son says I took him there in 1994. He even recalls the photograph I took of the first corner in one of the races. It now hangs on my wall. I have better cable  TV this year so have been following the pro circuit as it tours the country. I was getting kind of tired of just taking nature photographs and can’t afford to travel to Europe for travel photos, so the national race in my backyard was an opportunity to mix things up a bit and challenge myself.

As you can see in the image above, I used flash all day. It was bright bright mid day sun and you can’t shoot an HDR of a moving motorcycle. I used my Better Beamer to project my flash, but for some reason it was shooting low all day. Next time I’ll leave it off. There were the lucky few photographers in blue aprons with press passes that got unrestricted access behind the gates and I noticed they were all using bare flash units. One of the downsides to a national race is that you don’t get close enough to the track at times, and when you could, there are people standing three deep. Looking at some of the magazine photo galleries already up from the race I recognize a lot of the exact same images I shot on there. Spooky the same in some cases.

First Corner_250 cc Class

First Corner_250 cc Class

I used my 70-200 mm lens, with and without the 2x teleconverter. I tried not using my polarizing filter, but ended up putting it back on. It really helps with the dirt and the reflections, especially after they have watered the track between races. I shot at ISO 200-400 most of the day. At least with a bright mid day race the settings don’t really change all day so I left it on manual mode at f/8, 1/250th second.

The trick with motor sports is that you have to shoot a low enough shutter speed to let the wheels spin a bit. 1/250th of a second is about right for motocross. Of course that drops your keeper rate significantly, especially when you are panning with a rider parallel to you or going off of a jump. I actually did kick it up to 1/1000th of a second for some of the jump images because when you are on the far side of a jump (a hill, basically), you have to get on the rider, focus, and shoot in a millisecond as he goes flying by.

Washougal Motocross

Washougal Motocross

One of the most important pieces of equipment at a motocross race is earplugs. I want to thank the school charity that was selling them at the front gate. I had thought about them, but forgot them. Now I will leave a pair in my camera bag.

I survived the day with only a minor sunburn. Unfortunately, wearing my baseball cap backwards to facilitate shooting my camera resulted in a funny sunburn pattern on my forehead that people are going to be staring at for a couple of weeks. Better to have brought a broad brimmed hat, I suppose. I’ve been to Africa a couple of times, you’d think I’d know better. My knee was another casualty of the day. I was already waiting to see an orthopedist about it. Walking up and down the hill at Washougal ought to make the diagnosis easier for him because it is ten times worse now. Of course, it is my gas pedal leg so driving is excruciating at times, like driving one hundred miles home after a motorcycle race.

Pourcel vs Musquin

Pourcel vs Musquin

It was a good day of shooting. I shot almost 1,000 images. As of right now I’ve edited that down to 195 images. One way to improve the keeper rate would be to shoot at a higher shutter speed and then use the new spin blur filter in Photoshop to add spin to the wheels. Not exactly photojournalistically kosher, but I’m not a photojournalist. I added a blur path filter to image at the top of this page to blur the cars and the television scissor lift in the background.

I might have to go back next year in spite of the 6 miles of stop and go traffic jam and the mile long concession lines. You think I exaggerate? Really, Washougal, a few more concessions would be nice on a hot day. Someone is going to get mugged for their lemonade if things don’t improve. Fortunate for me one of the equipment vendors was giving away free water and I had a couple of protein bars in my bag. But when the crowd thinned at the end and I finally got that strawberry lemonade it was heaven in a cup.

One of the downsides to seeing a motocross race live is that you can see only a small fraction of the track at one time and if you are busy shooting a camera you really can’t keep up with all that is going on. I basically knew who was in the lead and a few positions behind him. Once they start lapping slower riders it is easy to miss the leading rider when he goes by. I concentrated on the lead riders because they are going faster and doing more athletically interesting stuff. Apparently there were some crashes. My son in Las Vegas knows more about what happened than I do because he watched it on TV. I can’t find an official attendance, but it used to be about twenty thousand people and that is what it felt like Saturday.

Who knows, maybe by the time of the 2015 race I’ll have schemed my way into one of those blue aprons.

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