Saturday Evening Post #71 Wings Out

One of the most sought after inflight poses for birds is the “Heraldic” form.

The doyen of the craft was an Englishman named Eric Hosking.  It is hard to appreciate the complexity and technical difficulties that Eric had to overcome, in this day of High ISO values, Ultra fast f/2 and f/2.8 lenses and long focal lengths, electronic flash and electronic release systems.  Yet some of his earliest and most influential work was made with a glass plate or sheet film camera.  Each darkslide had 2 exposures.
Yet, if you take the chance to view the EricHosking Gallery online or obtain a copy of some of his books, the work still is modern, fresh and extremely well detailed.

In any discussion of his work, several points will always be made.
1 His meticulous attention to detail.  His field note books contained observations and details that  advanced our understanding enormously.
2. His care for the subject he was working with. No photograph was worth endangering the bird. He went to great care to work in the bird’s world at its pleasure.
3.His endless enthusiasm for the subjects, their surrounds, the technical issues and opportunities to share his work with others.

It is so difficult to think of sitting in a hide, with just one piece of film (a glass plate of ISO less the 10) and having to prefocus where the bird ‘should’ be at the time of exposure, and then making just the right judgement to press the shutter. No burst at 16fps for Eric.

He had a most unfortunate accident early in his career with a Tawny Owl.  A hide had been built to photograph a Tawny Owl family, but late one night he had to return to the hide as he thought poachers were at work.  On entering the hide, the Tawny flew in, and and to quote from “Any Eye for a Bird”
There was not a sound, not even the whisper of a wing. But out of the silent darkness a swift and heavy blow struck my face. There was an agonising stab in my left eye.  I could see nothing. The owl, with its night vision, had dived-bombed with deadly accuracy, sinking a claw deep into the centre of my eye.”

Eric would lose the eye.

But he soon went back to work.

One of his greatest images is the heraldic owl.

This was made in 1948, and Eric describes it as a “One in a Million Pose”.

The basis of the shape of the image is the typical heraldic form of family crest.

That such a pioneer was able to give us so many fine images and be an inspiration to so many people, not just photographers, but naturalists and the general public is part of the tribute to his skills, and concern for his subjects.

I was working with a pair of Black-shouldered Kites.
The male lifted off the tree, and soon after the female took off along the track.
He was back in less than 30 seconds flat with a mouse.  And he immediately began work on devouring it. She turned up a minute or so later, carrying a freshly plucked stick, no doubt intending to do some work on a nest.
On seeing him, she changed direction, swung in, expecting I guess, to get a share of  his dinner, and wings out dropped the stick. (the header photo)
Then in a million to one moment, the wings were out in the heraldic fashion, and I heard Eric say, “Well done!”

Both shots have been through Nik Silver Efex Pro, just to keep the historic theme going.


Moments: Enterprising Grebe

A headsup for anyone making the trek out to Eynesbury Grey Box forest at the Golf Club.

In the main lake an enterprising pair of Australasian Grebe have taken advantage of a downed sapling with its branches in the water, and have setup home among the twigs and leaves.

I only managed one shot of the eggs, and I suspect there are four.  Everytime the sitting bird leaves the nest, it pulls the loose green weed over the eggs for security.

Hopefully we’ll get a couple more visits to see how things progress.


A secure home with a view
They take turns in sitting
Hard at work keeping the nest it top working order
Hard to get a clear shot among the branches.
Making sure the eggs are well concealed before taking a dip
They seem to be quite large eggs for such a little bird



Happy Birthday Photoshop

It seems that the 19th of February was the anniversary of the release of Adobe Photoshop 1.0.

Now a full 30 years old. And still going strong, unlike so many software programmes that hit the wall.
Now you may, or may not be a Photoshop fan.  You may be quite the Photoshop luddite, or you may even despise the very name, and would never inflict your harddrive with the hint of an installation.

But none the less, it is one of two programmes I’ve got an intimate working knowledge of, that turned both the photographic and graphic arts industries on their collective head.  Formally two entirely different streams, both bought together by several pieces of software that alterered for ever both streams.

If you really want to get some background on Photoshop, and John and Thomas Knoll and their industry contribution, may I suggest clicking over to Jeff Shewe’s blog. 

If you ask, “Who is Jeff Shewe?”, then its a fair bet that you’re a relatively new digital worker. Check out the link for the full story.
And for extra bonus, get to see Jeff do a quick video demo of


The first Adobe version of Photoshop the original, unvarnished, never to be repeated  Version 1.
And imagine how far we’ve come.

And here is a link to Photoshop’s very own John Knoll demoing version 1.07, Now you’ll know about Jennifer.

My own relationship goes back beyond Adobe’s ownership and involves a product called Barneyscanner.  For its time, (1989) this was a revolutionary 24 bit film scanner. (mostly transperancy). At first they didn’t have a real software solution, just large unmangable, (read unviewable) files.  John and Thomas struck a deal with their little Mac programme that not only could read the files, but actually make some modest adjustments.
By the time Tennis Australia’s Victoria Open was run in Jan 1991, scanning of film was still the major go to working pro tennis photographers.  Generally time frames were impossibly long, with processing and drum scanning and slow transmission, but with Barneyscan and the new Adobe version, time could be reduced significantly for shot to press time.
Co-incidentally that was also the first year that digital photofiles were transmitted directly to the newsdesk. All from a wonderous 1.3megapixel chip. Gasp!, Shock!, Horror! Amazement!

One of the biggest things about demos of Barneyscan and its software was, nobody was interested in the scanner, like, man, what is the programme you’re using and where can I get it???!!!!

Enjoy Jeff’s demo with Jennifer, its a not to be repeated moment.





Saturday Evening Post #70 : Exposure by Cat’s Eye.

If you are like me, and let’s hope that is not in too many ways, 🙂 then no doubt you’ll have pondered from the day you first picked up a camera,
“What is Correct Exposure?”

And… haven’t there been any number of ‘friends, family, websites, blogs, books, faceblot pages, and courses to set you on the right road.

Luckily this is not going to add to the incessant chatter.

I think, “What is correct exposure?” is about as useful as asking, ‘What colour should I wear?’ Because of so many variables.

T’would be easy to offer advice, such as, “Oh for my bird shots I use the fastest shutter speed, blah, blah.”

The great New York newspaper, Wegee,  is reputed to have said, “f/8 and be there!”

So let’s go at this another way.  How to you-royal plural-determine correct exposure?

Well in this modern day and age, you point the camera, press the shutter and all is well. (most of the time, with the exceptions of the critical moments, when its wrong!)
No doubt modern camera design is at pains to get it as close for most general picture making as possible.  Else people wouldn’t buy the cameras. So hats of to the manufacturers for their great work.

All sorts of hand-held exposure meters have been used in the past, and each had their adherents. And if you think camera blog discussions get heated and verbose, you’ve never heard the disciples of one sort of meter lampooning the other less informed individuals of lesser choice meters. 🙂
When I started, the choice was pretty simple, English company Sangamo Weston had a Weston Master meter. I confess to owning several during my lifetime, and have just purchased one from ebay, as much for sentimental as much as practical reasons.

As time went on and studio requirements changes, so did my choice and Sekonic meters came (and went)

Note I’m not into, here, whether fast shutter, or large or small aperture are the creative issue.
And don’t start me on the poorly defined “Exposure Triangle”.

Just a lighthearted stroll through the thorny subject of how we determine from the light available, and our photographic intention, what settings might best bring out our intent and feel for the subject.
Simply, how to measure the amount of light off the subject. (Or just for completeness for the Incident Method die-hards, how much is going to strike the subject)

What is the average reflectance of a scene has also bought in its wake, a host of disagreements.

For the record, Kodak scientists in the early 1900s arrived that in bright sunlight about 13.4% And then based their recommended exposure settings for their filums upon that basis.
Not good enough cried Fred Picker and St. Ansel, and they  cajouled Kodak into making their measurements at 18%.
Dah Dah, enter the great Kodak 18%-90% reflectance Card. Kodak Publication No. R-27.  Cat 152 7795.  Which, distinctly says on the outside of the package.
Designed for use with and exposure meter in artificial light. For use with Kodak Ektacolor and Vericolour Films.

Makes me smile when I see the card recommended for use in daylight by some controversial exposure determining system. And also in camera reviews that say—Oh, the manufacturer has set the basic exposure wrongly as it overexposes by 1/3 stop. Sure does. It’s easy to speculate when you don’t grasp the theory.

Then there’s the Sunny Sixteen Rule. Used to be on the leaflet inside each roll of filum.
Set the shutter speed to 1/ISO and aperture to f/16 and in bright daylight you’ll get correct exposure.
And if you’ve never done this, then next time your out in bright sunshine, set the camera to Manual. Dial in 100ISO, set the shutter to 1/125 (closest to 100) dial in an aperture of f/16, and sun over-your-shoulder. Bet is so close  to acceptable as to be scary. 🙂 But who wants to shoot at f/16. Not me.

You could try the Nicéphore Niépce method:  8 hours out the back window of the house. Yep, first recorded exposure ever! And no shadows in the scene. Give you HDR folk something to ponder. 😉 Actually there is more recent research that suggests it might have been several days exposure!   Think about that the next time you choose 1/4000th.

Which brings us to Exposure by a Cat Eye.

Enter: Oscar Gustav Rejlander, the year is 1857, and he is embarking on a rather risque work called, “Two ways of Life”. Here’s a link

To quote from Rodger Cicala over at,

“Rejlander’s photographic career was remarkable. It wasn’t possible to practice “street photography” in those days, so Rejlander would use models to recreate scenes he observed of the poor in Britain at that time, producing haunting photographs that are collected in museums around the world today.
 He was also the first to use a light meter— sort of, anyway. He would bring his cat into the studio: if the cat’s eye’s were like slits he used a short exposure, if more open a long exposure, and if the cat’s pupils were wide open he knew there wasn’t enough light to photograph!”

So there you are.  The next time you struggle with “Should I add or subtract EV for this shot?” Just remember there is a long history of incorrect exposures littering the photographic biosphere.
And take heart, I’m responsible for a good many of them 🙂

Here’s a visiting Black Kite, just back to re-establish its breeding territory I think.
Guess which exposure method I used?  Oh, and to help, I don’t own or have access to a cat;-)


Little Journeys : A Rainbow on a Gloomy Day

The season for the Rainbow Bee-eaters visit to the southern end of the country is drawing to a close.  Time for them to journey back to more tropical locations.
Each year we have been fortunate enough to enjoy their company, and cheery calls, in a number of locations.
They come to breed, and steepish creeklines are among their favourite spots.  This season however, partly because of the dry winter, and partly because of unyielding high temperatures, which no doubt affected their food supply, we did not see the same numbers in the normal places.

One area in particular out near Bacchus Marsh, normally would support perhaps 15-20 pairs, this year it was a much lower number.

Surprisingly at first they arrived in quite good numbers, and we saw at least 50 or more birds in one day at Mt Rothwell, but they soon dispersed further afield. Also the River Red Gums cooperated and for the first time in awhile had excellent blossom cover, and attracted not only bees, but a wide variety of nectar seeking insects.  So it looked like the season could be good.

However we soon noted that the birds were having a very hard time finding a suitably soft  riverbank clay to open up their nests.  The ground was bleached bone dry, and little beaks and tiny feet can only do so much.  As the hole has to be around a metre or more inside the bank, it appears the work was just too hard and many pairs abandoned the site.

We did find an enterprising pair, that had persevered and in the end they got down to the business at hand.  Later on in late January we walked several kilometres along the creek and did locate several more pairs that had been able to establish in a more favourable location.

And given that at the same time we were working with the Brown Falcon,  Cassia-of Cinnamon, and her young on the other side of town, we didn’t spend much of the season with the Rainbows.  However in the end, they seemed to have gotten on quite well without our overseeing. 🙂

Mating is quite a sustained event. And begins when he comes in with a food offering.
The question is what to do with tails.
With a large butterfly or moth.
I’ve always been fascinated by the way they are able to flip the bee and catch it the right way round to go down easily


Saturday Evening Post #69 : Awareness

Last week I started the essay about “Distraction”, and in one of the unique turns of events, was immediately distracted.

As Deng Ming-Dao writes,

“Today is the ideal moment between yesterday and tomorrow”

The observation seems so trite, yet if we could observe the simple, how much would we see.

more from Deng,

“Cat sits in the sun,
Dog sits on the grass,
Turtle sits on the rock,
Frog sits on the lily pad.”
Why aren’t people so smart? ”

He comments: When you next see a cat or a dog sitting still, and admire the naturalness of their actions think then of your own life. Don’t meditate because it’s part of your schedule, or a demand of some particular philosophy.  Rather Meditate because it is so Natural.

I finished last week’s blog bemoaning missed opportunities.  Indulge me if you will, but Brown Falcons don’t bemoan missed opportunities.

EE and I were making our way back toward the vehicle, and came to an opening in the forest, and there, just along a bit, in the open Brown was sitting. Again it took a while to get round past the bird and be able to position it against a leafy backdrop, rather than a porridge sky.

I positioned myself, you better believe it so I also had good views of the around.  I’m left-eyed dominant, and most DSLR designs are for right-eye dominant folk. That way you lucky people can look through the viewfinder and also use your left eye to check the surrounds.  My unused eye is buried behind the dials, knobs and buttons on the back of the camera, and I don’t have the luxury of staying intouch with the around.  It’s why I’d never make it as a army sniper, have to lean over the weapon to aim. Recoil plays havoc on the cheekbones. 🙂

I even spent years trying to train myself to use my right-eye, but all that did was induce vertigo. 🙂

Brown was obviously well fed, and not in a hurry to go anywhere, and didn’t perceive us as a threat.  Twenty minutes went by and neither of us moved. Deng’s thoughts were playing out. Meditation is not to be separated from life.

As it preended out the feathers, it eventually arrived at the tail, and it was possible to see its three new tail feathers and the two outside growing in.
It must have been pretty pleased with its new wardrobe, as it was a very slow, precise and gentle interlocking of the feather edges.


Saturday Evening Post #68 : Sight and Vision

A lot these days in photo circles is talked about Vision. What they are wrestling with is; why I photograph birds, someone else photographs cars, while another does street, and yet another is ‘creative’ and someone else is  ‘general purpose’. No matter, the issue is the same.  Is the way I photograph the subject an expression of ‘me’.  And to a lesser extent, “Oh, and what I think if the subject”.  And if it gets me more “likes’ on spaceblock, then I know I’ve arrived.

And the discussions go off the rails as defining ‘me’ is not so much about photographic topics, but rather about becoming a ‘fulfilled’ person.

The thing that seems ‘obvious’ to me in going down that maze, is we begin to lose the benefit of the right language to find ways to extend the photographic vision.

People, say, “Oh, I’m not a creative person.” ” I don’t have much imagination”. But its not so much I think being ‘creative’ as having insight into the subject.  What do you want to say, how should it look, what is the right approach.

Sight is such a precious gift, so is in-sight. If I close my eyes and think of something, I’ll say, “Oh, I see.”  When I’m out and about with fellow photographers, I’m often conscious that they are too involved in their immediate ‘around’, and are at the mercy of impulses.  Point something out, and the response is, almost always, “Oh, I didn’t see that!”.

Others are hungry, and point things out that I miss
Part of that I think is the lack of language to identify ‘the photographic possibilities’ in front of us.
Form, Tone, Texture, Shape, Pattern, and all the rest are the building blocks of our creativity.

Had Jane Austen written “Pride and Prejudice” without a knowledge of word flow, sentence structure, grammar and description, we might have ended up with:-

Want acknowledged  is a man truth  , that a possession single good in  wife of a  universally fortune    ,  must be in of a it.  —Sorry Jane  I apologise profusely.

A client steps into the the studio to have their new whizz-bangery product photographed for a brochure.  A full brief is provided, Simple Set, Highlight the Product, bring out the best features. Make it appealing.
The photographer makes the shot, then says, “Oh, that is not creative enough, it doesn’t say anything about me, and my skill and my vision”
Next step, into Photoshop, download some Preset, turn the subject into HDR, blur out the company logo, make a drop shadow around the product name, give an ‘artistic’ wash to the final result.
Client says, “That is not what I asked for”
Photographer says, “No, but look how creative I’ve been”.
Client says, “I’ll look for another photographer.


Client comes in with new  whizz-bangery product.
“I need a photograph for our new brochure.”
Photographer, “Sure, what is it about the product you want to emphasise. What kind of feel do you want to give it. How should the final look”
Client, “Oh, I don’t know. But. I’ll know it when I see it.”
Photographer, “Sorry, Look for another photographer!  If you can’t see it, I can’t photograph it.”

EE and I were searching for the young Brown Falcons. They are near full grown, so it was not going to be easy, and so we strolled along a track looking for a table for morning tea.  When there on the tree in front, sat, Brown. The weather was foggy, 100% humidity, and smokey still from the bushfires. The light was impossible. First shot is black shape on a black shape tree. Hardly inspiring. So I moved into the scrub a bit, and eventually managed the bird against a distant pine tree, but with so many light patches coming through the branches, it was not that much better.
Re-assess. I told EE I was going to backtrack about 50m, head across the road and hook around in a “U” to be opposite the bird on the other side of the road, at least it would be against a supportive background.
Brown, was in no particular hurry. Patience is their watchword. After a few minutes I was in position, and while not perfect at least I could see the bird.
And we entered Brown Falcon Time. Twenty minutes or so of preening, watching, changing leg positions, preening, watching.  Perhaps the fog and smoke gave it little option.
I’m nailed to the viewfinder.  After a suitable look around, the bird became active, stretched, preened out the wing feathers and was probably getting ready to leave.  Should be a good inflight I’m convinced.


What I didn’t realise, from my position just off the track,  was that two people were walking down toward us. Then ‘crack’—a broken stick, and I made the absolute beginner’s mistake, I looked away. Milliseconds at most. Brown had dropped and was away. One wing flap-just about got it in viewfinder, second wing flap-on target, but out of focus, third wing flap-focus locked,— here’s a Flickr Link,  fourth wing flap-angle of bird is now away from me, and tail feathers aren’t that exciting.
“Expletive deleted”.
“Oh’, said the passersby, “Nature Photographers.  Sorry, hope we didn’t spoil your shot.”
“I’ve had better days,” I snap.
Both went on mumbling about rude nature photographers…

Here is the perched shot.
Again I’m going to show it vertical as that is how I envisioned it.

This young Brown is beginning to moult out of of juvenile colours, the rich orange is now being replaced by the more normal creamy colours. The tail has three long new feathers and on each edge of the tail, short growing new feathers, they grow fast so it should be good  in a week or so.


Werribee Wagtails: A Monthly Walk


Screen Shot 2020-02-06 at 11.08.02 am

Werribee Wagtails existed as an active bird watching group in the western suburbs for 25 years or so. With the formation of BirdLife Australia, Wagtails merged to become BirdLife Werribee, and essentially continued to run business as usual.

Change is, as they say, inevitable, and many of the core of the group, found themselves at the Jawbone Reserve yesterday, co-incidentally, 😉 , looking for birds.

Surprise, Surprise!

So too, of course, were  members of the old group 😉
Perhaps it was a ‘re-birthing’ of Werribee Wagtails? Stranger things have happened.

So after the usual good natured greeting and discussion we all set off with the same intent, looking for birds.  And Jawbone didn’t disappoint.
Another surprise, or co-incidence, we all ended up at Newport Lakes for morning tea. And some of Cathy Buckby’s wonderful cake creation, thanks to Mark for just happening to be there with cake on supply. 😉

We walked the lake, finding the birds very quiet and furtive, so it was soon time for lunch. The merry chatter of (former?) Wagtails enjoying the day out resounded from under the picnic shelter.
Then on to the mouth of Kororoit Creek and Paisley Drain outflow among the fishermen’s huts. Should that be fisherperson’s ??
Not a bad way to spend an afternoon.

Mr An Onymous, EE and I went on to Altona to have a coffee in the sunshine and watch the activities on the beach.

We might meet up again 😉

Catch you Along the Track.


Great Crested Grebe
Hoary-headed Grebe
Little Black Cormorant
Great Egret drops in with looking for a space
Pied Stilt Juvenile
Hardhead, Male
Black Swan Cygnet
Several of the Common Greenshanks near the creek causeway

Saturday Evening Post #67 : From Studio Werkz

Studio Werkz was a proposed name for a photo studio/business in another universe. Mooted by an eclectic group of photographers, we had the idea of being able to offer a wide range of photo services, but in the morning, after the coffee kicked in, we managed to drift in our own directions.

Still I’ve often retained it for some bird portraits that have a ‘studio quality’ about them.

This is usually a clever mix of bird character, the right location and an interesting lighting set.

As my earliest mentor was oft to say when assembling a lighting order for a product or portrait, “We don’t keep adding light, we work to remove the shadows until the subject expresses itself.” Which means in commercial product photography that no two lighting problems are alike, and the difference of a few millimetres up or down, left or right of lights, reflectors, camera angle, lens choice could result in an entirely different rendition.

Which, still holds true in this day an age of bulk-flat light, the environmental feel, or the harshness of poorly balanced lighting and an over abundance of post-processing.

So Studio Werkz images try to emulate those great lighting arrays, without the benefit of controlled studio.

The other morning I looked out the front door to see what all the noise in the garden was about. New Holland Honeyeaters at corroboree. Each sitting on a branch and crying out at all its relatives.

And then one landed on the agapanthus plant in the garden.
The early morning light stuck hard lines across the bird, separated it from the background, incidentally my neighbour over the road’s garage door in shade.


Scramble to get the camera, grabbed the one with the 500mm lens, and opened the door.


But the noise carried on and they flicked back and forward of the agapanthus, and I waited.

The trick of course is to get the best light on the bird, and to keep shadow detail, so there were only ever going to be some angles that would work.
Until Mr Clever turned up.

“Would you like me to pose upside down?” it seemed to say.

Adjust the exposure to hold the highlights, and the job was done.  In a studio of course, it would have been easier to add a light or two to open up the shadows, or at least put up a reflector to push some light into the shadows.  These days, we just slide up the ‘fill-light’ in software and job is done.

We each have our own way of making that work, and my favourite for many years was a Nikon Software, Capture NX(2). Its major claim to fame was some clever Nik Software, (different company) “Control Points” They measured the lightness and colour values of an area (think L*A*B* Color space), and then applied it to all similar values in a given area. Making it easy to open up shadows or make subtle changes to colour and tone. Sort of like Photoshop Layer Masks and a Brush.
Nik eventually marketed its own versions, and Google bought them out, and the series languished until DxO Labs purchased the technology and have incorporated it into their very clever Optics Pro software, now called DxO PhotoLab.

Pop the Adjustment Tool into the shadow areas on the bird’s chest, slide up the ‘shadows’ controller. Simples.
Dean Collins couldn’t have done any better with “Available Light”. — For new readers, there is a photographic joke in there—you’d need to read back on my Dean Collins series.

I have to say, I really wanted to show this as a vertical, so I’ve done a header image horizontal, as that is what WordPress demands, but here is the way I saw it.