Snapshots: The Delight of Flight

Most of us see Pelicans sometimes inflight, sometimes fishing, sometimes just paddling about. We also find them out of the water, and their huge bellies, beaks and ungainly legs makes them look amusing to say the least.
Have to be careful in this day of Political Correctness, that I don’t infer that a large slow stepping creature is any less a wonderful and important member of the bird society and any avoid any reference to them as less than fulfilling their chosen goals and aspirations and dreams.

However all that aside, tis when they take to the air, that their great beauty and artistry in the air is instantly apparent.

EE and I had a lovely sunny afternoon with nothing special planned so took the opportunity to head down to Werribee South, and stop at Wyndham Harbour for a coffee and ponder the fish’n’chip shop next door, and wouldn’t it be a good idea to grab some and take down to the foreshore and watch the birds. But diets, being what they are, we simply passed by the shop without stopping, much, except to sniff the air and enjoy the aroma and ohh, and ahh at the plates of rich looking fare on the tables outside.  Oh Well!

There was not much happening at the Werribee River entrance either. Lots of fishing boats a’comin’n’goin’ Ho, yah ho, ho, ho.

Which meant the pelicans were ready to help the fishermen dispose of any scraps of fish that were being cleaned.

So we sat on the grass, me on a seat, and she on Dolly, and enjoyed the birds as they preened, argued and flew by.  Such masters of the air. Able to propel that huge body and large wings with such skill.

Enjoy. We did.

 

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Saturday Evening Post #28 Brightening up the Grey Box Forest

For EE and I it was time for our annual pilgrimage across town  for an evening with friends.
As we pondered the going, there was a moment’s pause while we contemplated “It will be Thursday Evening before the Easter Holiday break, and by about 4:00pm the roads are going to clog up with holiday traffic and the RIng-road will be at a standstill, moan, moan, complain.”

Ah, says she, with a smile, and always full of bright ideas, why don’t we leave after lunch, take a picnic snack, and go early to visit Woodlands Historic Park and look for Robins, then we’ll only have a short drive to our evening destination.

We did, and arrived at the Werroona Carpark in plenty of time.  Then “Dolly” got ready for her maiden trip into the Bandicoot Hilton, also known locally as “The Backpaddock”.

Poor old Grey Box forest is showing the signs of no rain for several months.  Not such a big deal to the venerable Grey Box themselves, they are quite adept at surviving in hostile environments. But the understory, and particularly the moss beds that the Robins depend on over winter are simply dry dust.

As we walked down toward the Backpaddock gate, we mused about the lack of birds, and how in past seasons, there would have been Red-capped Robin activity visible from the roadway. At the height of the best seasons several years ago, we had 15-20 pair of Red-capped Robin territories mapped.  The pair we named “Lockey and Primrose” were always ready to pop out along the road near the cemetery to watch our progress past.  There are quite a few posts on the blog of our interaction with this gracious pair.

When I first started photographing out in the backpaddock, my friend Ray, who taught me so much about the area, and the birds out there, would often stop and chat with me inside the gate.  A male Red-capped Robin, would usually come by, sit on a branch nearby and listen to our conversations.
These days not one of those territories exists. In a strange turn of events since the introduction of the Eastern Bandicoot programme in the backpaddock, the number of Red-caps has been decimated. I’m not suggesting a link, just a co-incidence.

We walked the usual (old) kangaroo pads, through the forest, but did not see or hear any robin activity.  More walking, and then Dolly took a swerve off the path, and we headed into the forest proper. Dolly is not 4WD, so it was not going to be a long journey.  When just in front of me I saw a splash of red on a stump. Heart races, point camera, yes, indeed.
It’s a Flame Robin male.

We were able to work with him for about 20 minutes, hoping all the while that his clan would turn up, but as the light began to fade and our departure for the evening was closing in, it was time to go.

But, we did have a feel that there is life in the old Grey Box forest yet.

Enjoy

Nikon 500mm f/5.6 PF: Report from the Field

Tis a well know fact that this blog does not do equipment reports. It’s not as though there aren’t enough opinionated sites to trash the best of hardware. However I’ve had a few enquiries regarding this lens, and rather than rehash what Uncle Google can find in a minute, I thought I’d rather share a few paras and pictures on my use with the lens so far.

If you own Canon gear, don’t proceed any further, you have the wonderful DO 400mm f/4.  Be happy!

I hummed and hahed when the lens was first released.  The big bikkies involved was probably the first stumbling block. And I was working with the Simga Sport 15-600mm f/6.3 and it was working well for me.(more to follow below)

But the low weight and small size were an attraction, and in the end, I placed an order with Ross at Camera Exchange in Box Hill, in October 2018. I also planned to trade the Sigma at that time.
Eventually, got a note from Ross. “It’s here!”. March 29 2019. The wait-time worldwide has been astounding. So I motored over to collect the lens. Thanks Ross.

What follows is where it fits with my current work.

Time for the Pixelpeepers to click away now, as there are no charts, no ranking scores, no graphs and definitely no lens test charts to pour over. No dudes riding bicycles, or shots of the building over the road, or some obscure mountain in the distance.
Just how does it work for me.
Also please remember that these are all JPEG images made out of Lightroom to 1600pixels at 90% Qaulity. A few are crops, some almost full frame. Shot on both D810 and D500.  I’ll note the data with each shot.

All the ratings are against My Expectations of the lens, coupled with use of previous lenses in the field. 100 % is just that. I’m completely happy with that aspect.

  1. Price: No % Score, but I’d have no hesitation in buying it.
    Gotta get that out of the way.
    It’s a pro piece of kit, Nikon are asking big bucks. If that doesn’t fit with your bankbalance, then click away now. For those who want to save some money, the Nikon 200-500, Sigma Sport 150-600, and the Sigma Contemporary are all good value for money, and sharp. Canon users have the DO 400mm or a pretty nice 100-400 f/5.6 Zoom and a neat 400mm f/5.6 without image stabilisation. Any one of those lenses would be a reason for me to change to the Canon System.
    My reasoning was to amortize the investment over the next 10 years or so, and a couple of bucks a week is a reasonable.
  2. Size: 100% Meets my expectations.
    It is about the same size as a 70-200 f/2.8. Which makes it imminently handhold-able.
  3. Weight: 100% Meets my expectations.
    Having been using the 300mm f/4 PF from its introduction, I had a definite idea about how the weight would be. I’m confident I could carry it all day in normal use without needing a porter.
  4. Handleability: 100% Meets my expectations.
    I’ve thrown around some big lenses in my time, but this one just feels right. The balance on the camera and handholding is very comfortable. Mr An Onymous will tell you I once fell in love with a 10-30mm zoom for the Nikon 1 system, just from picking it up off the benchtop. I ordered one the next day. If it feels right, the chi is working, and it is pointless to fight nature.
  5. Focus AF: Exceeds my expectations. This is such a fast lens to focus, especially on the D500. Sometimes I think it finds the subject before I get it sorted out in the frame. Big plus. And it locks and follows. If I compare it to the 300mm f/2.8 or the 70-200mm f/2.8, which are my go to ‘speedsters’ for action, then it’s right up there as good as, if not better.  I can’t compare it to the 400mm f/2.8 as I’ve never owned one, but that is the gold standard in fast focus.  I reckon this lens would give it a pretty good run.
    The other feature is like all pro lenses, its sharp all the way from the closest point to infinity. Unlike most consumer zooms that lose interest in focusing after about 30m. I’m looking at you 18-200mm and 80-400mm.
  6. Sharpness: 100% of my expectations.
    Just have a look at the photos below.  I don’t do comparisons, but looks equal to the 300mm f/2.8, and has more contrast than the 300mm PF.(My copy.  EE’s copy is a little better than mine I think).
  7. Unsharp fuzzy bits.
    My photos don’t have bokeh, (never pronounced so a Japanese would know what these people are talking about), mine have fuzzy out of focus bits.
    So against a smooth backdrop 100% of expectation. Milky smooth as it should be.
    Against busy high contrast backgrounds, 75% of expectation. But then my expectation wasn’t that high. Digital sensors are the real problem here. Most lenses struggle with those clunky blobby bits of branch and bush and the like.
  8. That Removable Foot. 100% meets my expectation.
    I’ve seen some remarkable nonsense written about the foot. It’s like “OH wow, something to complain about”.  If the only reason not to buy this lens is the foot, then my advice would be trade in the camera gear and buy a set of golf-clubs. It is the same foot used on the 70-200 f/2.8 zoom.  I’ve owned three of them over the years, and not once has it worked itself loose, and those lenses travelled lots photographing car events.  If the user is so clumsy as to loosen it off then forget to tighten it, I don’t see that as a feature fault, I see that as incompetence!
    For my hand the end of the foot rests nicely on the edge of palm of my hand, and my fingers sit well just before the lenshood, near the programmable buttons (coming up soon). A good fit for me. I’ve used it without, and my preference is with the foot.  I’ve also no intention of buying third party Arca mount foots.  I simply don’t intend to ever put it on a tripod again. (Coming up soon).
  9. Programmable Buttons. 95% meet expectations. I use these a lot. Just wish they were a little bigger so my finger doesn’t need to hunt for them.  They can be set for a specific distance and the lens will return to that spot. About 30% of my use. Or programmed out of the D810 and D500 menus to do a range of activities. Mine is usually an AF function about 70% of the time.
  10. Tripod use. Balances well with the D500 on a Wimberley.  If you can’t get it to balance on a Wimberley, then read the instructions. On the Markins Q20 that I use a lot, it’s a treat. But now, the problem is you have to take a lightweight lens, and sally forth into the field with a whacking great tripod. Don’t see the point.  End of discussion
  11. VR 100% of my expectations.  Image stabilisation is so much better implemented than on the 300mm f/4 PF. I found myself handholding at much slower speeds than I anticipated. See below. {edit} For Inflight, I usually turn VR off. I have a paranoia that the VR interferes with focus acquisition, and while it might only be a microsecond as the VR settles down, it just might be enough to move the focus from the eye, to a wingtip. Besides for inflight, (regardless of the lens I’m using), I want the fastest shutter speed I can get. Give me 1/8000 please.  No need for VR there.
  12. Lens Hood. Guess what!  100% meets expectations. It fits, it locks, it’s lightweight. And in my world. It goes on the lens, and is never removed. (except to clean the lens). I use a bag that fits the lens with the hood attached. (and its taped in position so doesn’t go wandering off on its own in the field.) That is the way all my lenses are fitted.
  13. What about Teleconverters. Met my expectations 100%, and perhaps exceeded them.
    The results with the TC 1.7, were what I expected. And I won’t be using it again with this lens any time soon, or later.
    Haven’t had a need to try the TC 2.0, but I know it will be slow to focus and that won’t work for me too well.
    With the TC 1.4 I found it needed some focus Fine Tune Adjustment.  Using the D500 in camera, it gave a result of -6.   When I tried it I found the focus position was just not right.  So I played around, and hit on +6. Can’t fault that.
    I often get asked about Teleconverters as if they will help get a pin sharp shot of a duck on the far side of the lake.
    Nope.
    Here are 3 helpful points for that sort of shot. 1/ Learn to Swim, 2/ Buy a kayak, 3 Develop better bush craft.
    TCs are best for giving a little bit of extra magnification closer up, say in the 15-30m range. After that for the birds I work with, both heat haze and tiny size make it impractical.
    Acquisition can be a bit ‘iffy’ in lower light.  And the tendency to hunt is always likely.  But it’s a solid performer once the focus is there. Side by side I doubt I could pick sharp, with and without the TC 1.4

Beginning to sound like a ‘fan boy’, so let’s see if some of this makes sense from my field experience.

This is the first image I made with the lens.
1/320 f5.6 ISO 400
Tai Chi Pigeon
Spotted Dove
Early morning overcast.
1/640 @ f/5/6 ISO 400
Superb Fairywren
Morning Sunshine, near full frame.
1/800 @ f/5.6 ISO 400
Black Swan
1/500 @ f/5.6 Just a hint of sunshine coming through the trees.
Eastern Osprey
1/200 @ f/6.3 ISO 400
Eastern Yellow Robin
Late Evening Sunshine
1/2000 @ f/5.6 ISO 800
White-bellied Sea-eagle
1/200 @ f/5.6 ISO 400
Tawny Frogmouth
1/400 @ f5.6 ISO 800
Hazy indirect light through overhanging trees
Eastern Spinebill

What about the soft out of focus bits

Late evening. 1/640 @f/5.6.
Creamy out of focus bits.
Juvenile Whiskered Tern
1/1600 @ f/5.6 ISO 400
Very late afternoon rich light.
Brown Falcon.
Messy out of focus bits because of messy background
Brown Falcon, messy out of focus bits. This is mostly the result of sesor issues rather than the lens design.

How good is VR. I don’t shoot many in low light but here’s one from the back fence.

Checking VR or Image Stabilisation
1/50 @f/5.6 ISO 400. Handheld.
The sun had set, but there was still light in the sky.

Then off course the always asked question.

Oh, but what about Teleconverters. I’ve got to see it with Teleconverters.  See my point 13 above.

TC 1.4 700mm
1/3200 @f/9.0
Handheld. Bird worked its way toward me on the water line.
Red-kneed Dotterel
TC 1.4 700mm 1/500 @f/5.6 ISO 400
Soft out of focus bits and plenty of detail on WIllies beak whiskers.
TC 1.4 700mm 1/1250 @f/9.0
Handheld, overcast day. Lightened up 1/2 Stop in Lr.
TC 1.4 700mm 1/2500 @f/9.0
Full sun. It is no macro lens, but the detail is certainly there.

Accessories.
I was going to really annoy myself and write ‘accessorising’, but restrained. 🙂
I added a B+W UV filter. Not a great believer in UVs as the Sensor already has a UV component, but let’s face it, this an expensive piece of glass.  My first B+W UV was with the Sigma Sport, at first I was hesitant, now, I’m a convert. The B+W shows no visible image degredation, I wish I’d come across them years ago.
Added some Lenscoat to protect the lens, I really like the Kevin Kealty ones from the Wildlife Watching Supplies in the UK, they are a bit thicker and don’t seem to shrink like the US based mob.
Also work with a LensWrap, that I had for the 70-200mm, fits like a glove and gives added security for travelling. Simply velcros off when I’m ready to go in the field.

Conclusions.
I think the price is well justified for the work I am doing. It is indeed my go to lens at the moment.

Alternatives.
The Sigma 150-600 Sport worked well for me. In the end just to heavy for carry around field work. {edit} And, while it was very sharp, the focus was often a little to slow for me for inflight. Once acquired it stayed locked. Even using the Dock to set a faster focus acquire rate, it still left me wishing for a bit more speed.
The Nikon 200-500 Zoom. Is a sharp, well-balanced lens. I would have purchased it if the Sigma had not been on the showroom floor. I do find it a bit bulky to carry as the barrel is nearly twice the diameter of the 500m PF.
The 300mm f/4 PF and a TC 1.4 420mm @/f5.6  EE’s go to lens. Solid performer, I find mine with the TC has a little chromatic aberration in highlights, easy to fix in Lr, but detracts sharpness a little.  It is a lovely walk about for hours lens. Sharpness side by side with the 500mm PF would be hard to pick, and as I’ve used it for over three years, it’s a lens I have a high regard for.

Downsides.
Yes, there are a couple.
I tend to take a lot more pictures as it gives me a chance for good framing for inflight birds.
The lens makes my 300mm f/2.8 look a bit redundant. Not sure what I will do with that.
The 300mm f/4 PF is also going to take a back seat.  It sits in the lens cupboard and like a dog waiting to go “Walkies”, sort of quivers at me when I open the door.  Perhaps a D7200 or D7500 and use it for wider shots from the vehicle. Certainly can’t take both to the field.

And here are two more from a shot this morning.  The White-winged Terns are still around, and I spent the best part of 2 1/2 hours with them, one long session of about 90 minutes.

1/8000@/f5/6 ISO 800
Grab Shot. Got out of vehicle, lens grabbed focus, I framed next. Swamp Harriers do not give second chances.
1/2500 @f/5.6 ISO 400
I was working with these terns for about an hour and half, took several hundred frames. Lens didn’t feel tiring to hold. Had I not run out of time, and the birds out of patience, I could have easily done another hour or so, the lens is unbelievably easy to handhold.

 

So there you go. Thanks for taking the time to read to the end.
It is a keeper for me, and I’ll probably extend myself to get the best from it in the coming weeks.

Keep takin’ pictures we do.

(I’m hoping EE does not read this as I’d hate to have to wait another 5 months for the next lens.:-) )

Moments: A Hunting We will Go. Brown Falcon Style

In the best traditions of exclusive marketing, “Snapshots” has been renamed “Moments”.  Same great taste, same great ingredients, just a name that more closely realises the time with a bird(s).

EE and I have been missing our dose of Brown Falcon life for quite awhile.  Summer over, nesting behind them, tis time for Browns to come out and play again.  Gone are the wary, defensive secretive lives.  Now relaxed birds that don’t have a territory nor a growing family to defend.

We were looking along Ryan’s Swamp Rd at the WTP and found a bird sitting just off the road on a bund. Hunting.
Now Browns aren’t like other falcons, lots of flying about looking, here and there, looking busy.  Brown’s mostly contemplate. They are clever hunters that have their local territory ‘mapped’. Each flypast simply confirms, or adds to their already massive data bank.   A farm ute driving past on the roadway doesn’t even get a glance.  They know it’s not a threat.

We managed to get past the bird for some over-the-shoulder front light.
And then. Waited.  Browns do that a lot.
This one sat, then lifted off with one wing sweep, and landed on the far side of the bund emerging with a cricket or a beetle snack.
Next it swept across the road. Low down, Brown style.  Paused on a white fence post.  Then returned to our side of the road landing on a post to contemplate.
Another trip across the road, and more sitting.
A small sweep out to pickup another snack, and back on the white fence post.

Watching it is one thing. Working out the its stratergy something else again.
A dash off the post, a huge sweep up on to a branch and it sat.
Intruiged I walked over the road to get closer.
And it sat.

After a few minutes, it threw off the branch, dropped without a wing flap, straight down on to the ground on top of the bund on the far side of the fence.  Straight into some old grass and scrub. Luckily for me, there was an opening in the dried twigs and I managed to see it turn around with its latest meal. A snake.  Tiger I think. Your average Brown stands about 50cm so its fair to guess that the snake was at least that longer or a bit longer, perhaps 60-70cm (about 2 Foot in the old real measurement).

Satisfied all was safe, the bird went to work and before too long, turned, licked its beak (Well it can’t do that, but anthropomorphically speaking). Looked about and sailed back up into the tree to let the meal digest.

Bad career move!

The tree was inhabited by a small flock of WIllie Wagtail juveniles, all wanting to show their prowess and bravery.  So poor Brown was harassed mercilessly by the team of young guns. Each trying to be a little more enthusiastic than the others. In the end, Brown took the hint and moved on.

Sitting quietly by the side of the road. Taking it all in.
Just a hop and a step, and there’s a snack
It looks pretty detached, but its fair to conclude that nothing is getting past that steely gaze
A quick fly over the bund, just to see what the options or possibilites are.
From this perch, the bird no doubt had a good view of the snake, and kept returning here every 10 minutes or so.
A plan is hatched, just need to get the right attack position.
Dropping straight down under full control
On Target!
Look what I found.
And that is the last little bit.
Never underestimate your average Brown Falcon, but also never underestimate a determined Wagtail clan.

Saturday Evening Post: #27

We had the opportunity the other day to be in Williamstown, and as there had been several reports of Eastern Spinebill at the Botanic Gardens, we took it as too good an opporuntity not to go see.

Established in 1856 after a petition from the local residents, a 10 acre site was set aside and developed.  The formal garden layout was by Edward La Trobe Bateman who had also designed the Carlton Gardens. The Willamstown Gardens were opened in 1860, and as was fitting for the time, must have a extravagant gala event.
Today, the gardens have an elegance that belies their small size.

We managed a warm sunshine day, and as those who laboured through my Dean of Light blog sometime back will recall, I have been experimenting with old exposure techniques and manual settings.
Which as it worked, worked well for me when we found the Spinebills as they were on a salvia bush in the shade.
But there were small fingers of light coming through the tall trees on the Gardens border and making their way to highlight small areas of the foliage.
And that is where a Spinebill chose to hover.
I managed to be working on  mid tone for the bush and 2 1/2 stops from there is White (see I’m going to keep going back to Dean’s method), And that is just about where the bird’s face in the sun fell in the technical wizardry we call Exposure.

A little tweak in post to get the shadow area up and we could see the detail of those amazing hovering wings.
As the bird was busy extracting the nectar, its head/bill and body were stationary and so  slower shutter speed kept the wings in motion, while the body was sharp.

Enjoy

Snapshots: Dusky Woodswallow Morning

EE and I went to the Office a couple of mornings ago.

As we were walking over the river bridge we were discussing the small number of Dusky Woodswallows that had nested in the area.  And how they were now probably well on their way north.
When to our surprise, as much as anything, we heard the calls of them as hawked for insects in the sky overhead.
Like Choughs they are very community dependent, and its not unusual to see dozens of them sitting on the one branch all jostling for the best position. These are no exceptions. However with good grace the birds make room for one another, even if it means flying off and relanding.

They were still feeding young ones, so I concluded they must have had a late season nesting before the cold weather sets in.

Close, closer, closest
If you can’t get the spot you want, you go underneath and then popup on the other side. Everybody always moves up graciously
Incoming, make room
Woodswallows have the ability to both fly and glide like swallows.
They have a wonderful marking set on the wing edges, which is not always easy to see
Food is still in abundance.
Spent a few minutes with the patient bird, making portraits. While it talked constantly to its neighbours
Hard to guess, but this one is a juvenile, now looking like the adults
An adult turns up with a food topup

Snapshots: Biting of More than You can Chew

Here’s a quickie, hope it makes you smile.

Sometimes a day at the office for this Great Egret brings on more than expected.

Or
The tale of the Egret that hoped to grow up to be an Osprey.

As my old footy coach used to say, “Never let you Ambitions Outweigh your Capabilities.”

I was sitting at The Shallows, and well, it wasn’t as the tide was running high, so not much happening. And the weather was blowing all get out and deep dark clouds were appearing.

I saw this Egret on the other side of the river. Too far for much real work, and besides it was mostly hunkered down among the small trees, trying to keep out of the wind. I spent more time with some dotterels and a few spoonbills, and was well into my second cup of Grey of Earl, when I heard a loud “SPLASH”, and without turning round, I knew instantly what had happen. The Egret had gone into the water. What I didn’t know was what it had caught. Hard to get it in the water and  it was on the bank and behind the trees before you could say, “That’s a big Fish!”.

The next few minutes were between hilarious and painful, as it wrestled to get that size fish into a position to swallow. And to make things worse its new friends the Straw-necked Ibis  were getting close hoping to get a morsel or two.
In the end after much neck manipulation, and headshaking, it decided that a new approach was needed and it took off behind the river bank, and I lost sight of the outcome.

I waited, but in the end the weather, and time ran out, and I left not knowing how it had fared.

Enjoy

Saturday Evening Post #26 Responding with Wonder

Every year the White-winged Terns (not very aptly named I suggest), wing their way south and a group of them visit the Western Treatment Plant.

They come in varying stages of breeding plumage from white (hence the name), to mottled black, to an impressive Jet Black. To be graced by the presence of these birds is a real highlight for me and we spend several sessions down a the WTP trying to capture them in flight.  Not always easy, as tricky as they are, sometimes they hunt on ponds that are inaccessible from the roadway. But when the light is right, they are hunting close and the action is fast and furious it is indeed a photographic delight.

After my confusing rant last week which had started out well enough on an examination of lighting techniques and the astounding work of Dean Collins, I thought I’d be a bit more circumspect this week and stick to, well, you know, birds.  And the enjoyment of images.

Seeing as Freeman Patterson explains it, is “…using your senses, intellect and your emotions. Encountering your subject with your whole being.
It means looking beyond the labels of things and discovering the wonderful world around you.”

These birds fill me with awe, they travel to us from Asia, or maybe Northern Europe. They don’t breed here, but spend their time feeding up for their trip to warmer climes.  My challenge is not to just capture their presence, but also to grasp a hint of their freedom to roam the world, not encumbering it, but making it a little more enjoyable for those who accept their invitation to wonder.

White-winged Tern in late evening light

StudioWerkz: Darter On Show

As EE is becoming much more comfortable with Dolly, we decided on a morning around the Ornamental Lake at Werribee Mansion.  The tracks are wellformed and its possible to get close to the action without long walks.

The only part of our plan that was not controllable was the weather, and we ended up with mostly an overcast morning. Also there was little activity at the Lake, perhaps most of the food has diminished and the birds have moved away.

We were sitting on the grass near the lake enjoying a cuppa when an Australasian Darter launched itself out of the water, from between the reeds and waddled up onto the grass.  So close that I had to inch back along the grass to get it all in the frame.  I guess that I was at grass level, and not standing up, the bird felt comfortable enough to go about its preening and drying business.

So, rather than repeat my rant from the Saturday Evening Post on Dean Collins, here is the few moments as they played out.

Enjoy

Saturday Evening Post #25 The Dean of Light

Mr An Onymous and I have been experimenting a bit of late with the Exposure modes in the Nikon system. For almost all my digital life, I’ve been a staunch supporter of Nikon’s Active Matrix exposure system.

Briefly it reads the light value of the scene, and then compares that to a database of similar image values and determines exposure setting, f/stop, shutter speed, and/or ISO value to match with the current scene values for correct exposure.  Internet gurus (know it alls) may disagree, but its worked well for me the past 15 or so years.

What Mr A and I were experimenting with is the value of 18% reflectance and the need to determine a ‘correct’ exposure.
Now long time blog readers will be quite familiar with my rants on the “Mystery and mystic of 18% grey” and the more memorable “The 18% Grey Myth and how we’ve been Conned”, so there is not need to continue that further tonight.

One of the greatest teachers of the correct use of light, its values and how to gain correct exposure with Colour Slide, (Transparency, or ‘Chromes) was Dean Collins.  A US based commercial photographer. I had the great fortune to have attended one of his Seminar events and his clear, concise and skilled explanations of all things lighting was indeed one of the highlights of my life.

Dean’s premise for portraits was to get the Diffused Value of the skin at a specific exposure value, for various skin types, dark, light, tanned, etc.  Then set that and either add light for shadow control or remove it for highlight control. There I just saved you the $1000K for the seminar.  Thanks Dave!

Dean had established through experimentation that if the Diffused value is correctly exposed then Photographic White, (no detail) would be 2 1/3 stop more exposure and Photographic Black (no detail) would be 4 1/3 below.  They didn’t call him “The Dean of Light” without good reason.

The rest is just fascinating tech wizardry and dry boring numbers, so we shall not pursue further other than to suggest that a look at some of Dean’s work will reveal how clever with light he really was. One of the best photos is at the bottom of this blog, along with the whole story,
https://strobist.blogspot.com/2006/08/review-best-of-dean-collins-on.html
What is most amusing about this shot, is it was setup with gazillions of flash units running on a sensor, fire the sensor light and all the lights go off.  Except.  As they were getting ready for a shoot, a Japanese tourist came by, pulled out his little camera and took a shot, and set off every bank of flash, all gazillions of them. 🙂

Today, we can’t in the field, make those changes to the light, but clever Photoshop, and to some extent, Lightroom and others  can help. (I’m deliberately avoiding the issue of fill-in flash to help balance out those shadows, in my opinion, it’s so overused and so mostly poorly handled that the results remove the form of the subject)

I loaded the Yellow-plumed Honeyeater file into PS and hunted around with the Eyedropper tool for a value about 127-128 (Mid tone, think Diffused Value if you were paying attention)  Not finding one where I wanted it, I raised the Exposure slider until the area just under our model’s chin was as that value.  All good.

Now I need a Black of about 4 1/3rd less. Past experiments would say that is the 0 value, right?, but I think it’s better at about 25-30, so I dropped the “Shadows” slider until I was getting 25 in the black under the eye. Next is Photo White, and I hunted around the sky values until I found some that read 255 (white), but again from experience I think that is excessive, so I usually use dropped the “Highlights” slider to a value of around 230-235.  Here I went with 235. That way I get a tiny hint of form in the white. (Which by the way look like clouds in this shot, but clever reader you’d be misinformed).

Perfect highlights giving an excellent Hi Key Portrait. Dean would have approved.

And all this because I managed to get a pretty close exposure for the Diffused Value in the first place.  Thanks to Mr A’s theory.

This is not a solution for resurrecting badly over/underexposed photos.
Someone at a bird photography seminar once said to me, “Yes, but I don’t do it that way!!!” to which I responded, “True, but then you don’t get the results I do.”

Herein endeth the lesson.
Keep takin pictures,  we do.

Oh, and I’m not going to answer responses about 8, 10, 12 or 16 bit imaging.

Snapshots: A Most Valuable Commodity

It’s been dry. Last decent soaking rain was over 2 months back.
Its dry.

EE is getting on quite comfortably with her walking aid, now dubbed “Dolly the Trolley”. So she said, that we might take a trip down to the You Yangs, and have a walk on some of the tracks around the carpark. Sounded good, but its dry, very dry.  So I didn’t have much hope of finding many birds.

Suitably loaded with morning tea and a banana smoothie, and securing Dolly into the boot of the car, we set out.  And what a fine morning the weather had put on. No wind and an enjoyable warm sunshine.

We arrived at the carpark at Big Rock and Dolly immediately sprang into action. First sighting was a Nankeen Kestrel, then a Brown Goshawk, and two families of White-winged Choughs. And to my amazement, the Scarlet Robin pair that normally are in residence.  Off to a good start. Dolly is good about this, as EE can go to a spot, and instead of having to stand or sit awkwardly on a log or stone, Dolly is ready and willing. So a comfortably seated EE is a happy EE.

While she sat in the shade, I looked about a bit to see if any of the usual suspects were about. By the time I got back, EE was under a tree, near a piece of pvc pipe running out of the ground. And a red plastic cup! (?)

She had noted a couple of wrens inspecting the pipe, and concluded, rightly so, that it sometimes held water, and the birds were looking for a drink.  Enterprisingly, she located the ominous red cup, filled it from the handbasin at the toilet, poured it into the end of the pipe, so the water dripped out slowly into a tiny pool she had created among the rocks, and…

Add water—Instant Birds!

They must be able to smell it.
Or hear the tinkle tinkle of it dropping. But within a few minutes, she had quite a mixed flock on hand. Only problem that the water was only good for a couple of minutes. Which is when I arrived.  Now, we’ve seen the pipe dozens, if not hundreds of times, and never taken a lot of notice. But from the location, I figured it was the run-off from the handbasin at the toilet block.  Let’s see. Hold down the tap, let a couple of litres of water run down and go see.
There.
Slowly a tiny trickle of water appeared, and then a stream.  And before you could say, “What a waste of Water!!!!”, we had flocks of Red-browed Finches, Spotted Pardalotes, New Holland Honeyeaters, Silvereyes, White-naped and Yellow-faced Honeyeaters, a few familes of Superb Fairywrens, Brown Thornbills, Red Wattlebirds, and two bossy Magpies. Then to top it off both Scarlet Robins made a quick appearance.

So, we sat, occasionally egressing to push some more water down the pipeline, and drank a cuppa, enjoyed the fun, and felt pretty happy that they were able to enjoy such a precious commodity. When a few Crimson Rosellas came by to inspect, we thought we were made. But the Rosellas didn’t stay. Likewise a passing Grey Fantail, but being photographed was not on its todo list.

Satisfied with a morning’s work, and two memory cards bulging with images, it was time to leave. I gave the tap a run for an extra minute or so and didn’t feel the least stressed about ‘wasting’ water.  The birds were more than happy.

We loaded EE and Dolly back in the car and went for a well-earned coffee at Gary’s at the local servo.

Enjoy.

 

The Red-browed Finches seemed to enjoy the water running over them.
The Finches seemed to have no trouble working out where the water was coming from
Silvereyes were happier to drink from the ground
A Striated Pardalote watching the bathing.
Interestingly the wrens seemed to be able to time the droplets and catch them in midair, just like insects I suppose. This one was taking advantage of the stream.
One of several White-naped Honeyeaters.
This is how you enjoy the water.

Brown Thornbill after a bath
New Holland Honeyeater using its long tongue to sip up the amazing nectar
Anytime you add water and New Hollands, you get the inevitable and rowdy discussion about whose turn is it next.
When the Magpies showed up, everybody else took off.
Spotted Pardalote Male
Yellow-faced Honeyeaters were very cautious about approaching with two cameras pointed at them
Oh, oh, please, just one more drop, one more drop.

Saturday Evening Post: #24 Ephemerality

Still on my Freeman Patterson  binge.

As I wandered about the various shops and buildings in Queenscliff, I came across the photographer’s shop. At first I thought I’d just grab it for a record.  But when I looked harder I noted the ‘double glaze’ reflection. One of those AH! moments.

I walked across the road, and began to swing the little zoom in to action, the first two or three frames were ok, and the idea was good, but… I had a dark jacket on at the time, and a lighter coloured shirt, (Well it was actually grey), so I took off the jacket and got a much crisper looking evanesence in the window.  And this is where the zoom started to earn its keep.

I needed to move forward enough to give me just the right size reflection, and at the same time keep the frame of the window and the building.  Which inevitably ended up being about the middle of the road. Thankfully it wasn’t peak hour traffic on the main Queenscliff highway, so I had a minute or two to work it out.

As Patterson says,

“Nothing is more valuable to you in meeting the challenge of subject and yourself than an awareness of the symbolic content of your subject matter.
What does it suggest to you?
What does it evoke?
What is it likely to suggest to others?”

On that I leave you to ponder.

Snapshots: Crested Tern Feeding Young

Over the past few weeks I’ve been working on a new “Sit” spot at “The Office”.
At one point the Werribee River as it cuts through the old sandhills that once were part of the lake that became Port Philip Bay, runs over a stony bottom and has not been able to cut deeply, but rather has formed an area of shallow water at low tide.

To compensate, the river water spreads out into a number of small backwater lagoons or billabongs, so there is quite a range of areas for the birds to congregate and feed.

The Werribee Golf Club skirts the river at this point, so access to the area is relatively easy from the K Road carpark. A great feature is that the afternoon light is coming from behind the photographer, and as my Mum used to say when we used the Box Camera, “Keep the Sun over your left shoulder dear”, so she’d love the lighting happening here.

It’s only a couple of kilometres to the River Mouth at South Werribee, and the fish regularly come and go with the tides.

No doubt I’ll feature more of this area as I settle into working from the river bank. A couple of hours with a ‘cuppa’, and a bit of patience brings all sorts of activity along the river.

One of the birds in the area are Great Crested Terns, and at the moment they are feeding their juveniles.  I just can’t get close enough to the far bank, but sometimes the Tern will sweep by with its payload.

Enjoy

There that should keep you quiet
I know when food is on the way as the young one puts up quite a racket
The parent just doesn’t miss the mark
Sweeping in with a fresh fish
Two at a time is good fishing

 

While I was waiting a flock of Fairy Martins began to hunt insects among the reeds.

Saturday Evening Post #23: For the Joy of It


Vale Innocence—Christchurch 15th March 2019

I had written this blog earlier in the week, but felt I needed to add my heartfelt support and condolences to all those affected by the unspeakable tragedy in the quiet, wonderful, heartwarming township of Christchurch in New Zealand. For all those affected directly by the atrocities, for their families and friends and colleagues, for the amazing first responders and the superb work of all the authority services involved and all New Zealanders.

May Peace come on Healing Wings.


EE and I have been away on a break the past week.  Took a get-away with some of the people in our village to the quiet township of Portalington for some shopping, eating, entertaining and general good-natured company.  No cameras, birding, bird photography, early morning get-aways or late evening stay outs. Company!

Still as I was doing the last of the packing the weather forecast looked like some of the outdoor activities would likely be a washout or freeze out, so I pondered a day or two indoors and grabbed a book. (and a camera and lens—more to follow).

The book I chose was “Photography for the Joy of It“, by Freeman Patterson.  A great Canadian photographer and teacher.
He is one of those whose style was introduced to me when I was making a career change, and his work gave me a new direction for my own picture making at the time.  My copy of Photography for the Joy of It, is, to say the least, well-worn, and dog-eared.  Here tis.

It has been through a few updates since my copy was first published, but the simplicity of Freeman’s images and his honesty with the text is still a delight to read and view and to ponder.  So much so that by the end of the first day inside because of the weather, and bad tv programmes, :-), I was reaching for the D7100 with my rapidly becoming favourite walkabout lens the f/4 70-200. I was even seeing possibilities through the window of the unit.

Patterson is now in his 80s and still going strong. freemanpatterson.com  will find him if you are interested.  His “Images, Ideas, and Reflections” letter is a beaut source of creative inspiration, and some good quotes too.

A lot of his work that excited me at the time had to do with the application of Gestalt psychology, “an organized whole that is perceived as more than the sum of its parts”

Alignments, shapes and patterns being a big part of it.  Let’s not get technical.

So with a day to fill-in on a shopping field trip to the local Queenscliff area, and my head ringing with—Proximity, Similarity, Continuity, Closure, and Connectedness, (you’ve got to look that up), I entrusted EE to the group, and began to stroll the main street in the sunshine, armed with said lens and a polarising filter attached. Gotta make the most of colour.

One thing that comes out of looking through the book is the way he has assembled so many photos that seem at first to be too simple.  The thought runs continually, “Oh, I could have made that”, which is precisely his teaching style.
Here is an image of his that I have always been enjoyed.  I don’t have permission to reproduce it here, but this is a shot from a page in the book.  I acknowledge All rights, use and intellectual properties are the ownership of Freeman Patterson.

The title he chose for this fascinating view is “Maybe Maggie Left it Here!”

Now chooks might not fascinate you, but his patience in getting the elements to work in just the rich way says much to the Proximity motif.

I didn’t find any chooks, but had a fascinating day exploring the buildings and shapes and tones, colour and textures and incongruities of the way as humans we assemble the things in our lives.

In case you don’t ever read the book, here is the last line in the last chapter.

“Photography is a good way to explore yourself and your place in the scheme of things.
Try to understand your personal responses to different subjects—those you photograph and those you avoid
Then the techniques you use will make sense.

The Joy of Photography is the Joy of Self-discovery.”

Window detail Queenscliff March 2019