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Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Canon 7D Mark II Autofocus Guide (Part I)

There is no doubt, that the Canon 7D Mark II's auto-focus system is a huge leap from the previous Canon 7D.  In this article, I will attempt to unravel the complexity of this system by gathering expert sources as well as my own experiences with the new system.  Particularly, part 1 will look at the basic configuration of the AF points and the AF cases.  This, of course, will be written from a nature photographers perspective.  


65 AF Points
The most obvious improvement I first noticed is the expansion from 19 AF points in the Canon 7D to 65 in the Mark II.  As shown in the image below, this gives the photographer almost edge to edge AF point coverage.  All 65 of these images are cross type on lenses which have an aperture of 5.6.  What this amounts to is the camera uses both vertical and horizontal planes to find focus on the subject.



Of course having 65 AF points, all cross type is a welcome addition, but what does this mean in practicality?  If the photographer is using one of the popular Sigma and Tamron 150-600mm lenses, they cannot reliably use cross type auto focus above 400mm.  At that point, the lens becomes a 6.3 lens and not a 5.6 lens.  So for wildlife photographers on a budget, cross type points may not be that big of a gain. If, however, the photographer is using lenses such as the Canon EF 100-400 II or the Canon EF 400mm 5.6, they can take full advantage of the entire grid of AF points in regard to cross point functionality.

Center Point AF
The center AF point, as with most professional bodies, has two additional properties which make it very useful for the wildlife photographer.  First, if the photographer is shooting at f8, the camera still maintains AF when using the center point.  Secondly, if the user is using a 2.8 lens, then he can benefit from the high precision diagonal cross type.  For most wildlife photographers reading this article, the high precision point, will not be an important feature as most do not own longer 2.8 lenses, but having a camera that can still reliably auto-focus at f8 is a huge advantage.  With this feature, one can use a teleconverter on his 400mm 5.6 lens and effectively be able to shoot at f8, 560mm.

The AF Configuration Tool
With the 7D Mark II, Canon has introduced a new configuration tool in the menu.  This tool allows the photographer to move through six different "cases" to better tailor the camera to handle certain auto-focus conditions.  Please note, that these cases only apply to AF when you have the camera set to AI Servo.  In other words this is for action shooting only.  Below each case will be examined and explained.


Case 1: Versatile multi purpose setting
As I expected, this case is best used when I have no idea what conditions I will be shooting in.  In essence, it is a general setting from which to start.  This is the setting I am currently using for all my songbird setup photography.  It is fast enough to handle a bird jumping from perch to perch as well as basic flight such as a slower moving great egret.



In this case, the tracking sensitivity, acceleration/deceleration tracking and AF pt auto switching are all set to 0 by default.  This provides a balanced approach to shooting moving subjects.  My personal feeling is to start here first and only change cases when the subject you are shooting demands the change.

Case 2: Continue to track subjects, ignoring possible obstacles
Use this case when you are shooting wildlife in and around other obstacles.  This is often a problem when photographing birds in flight that dip down through trees or bushes.  Because the tracking sensitivity, accel./decel tracking and AF pt auto switching are all set to a lower value, your auto-focus will not change focus as quickly to other obstacles in front of or behind your subject.



But, it is not just birds in flight that cause this type of scenario in wildlife photography.  Even photographing elk or backyard birds, sometimes it is best to not have the AF too jumpy and moving from subject to subject in the scene.  Sometimes we lose focus for a second and we don't want the AF to grab the background or some tree.  Case 2 is something I am currently experimenting with in my photography.

Case 3: Instantly focus on subjects suddenly entering AF points
This is almost the opposite of case 2.  In this case, we want the AF to jump to the subject as it enters the view finder.  



To me, this case, is a bit too jittery for most uses.  I know that there are situations out there where this might be the best solution, but I will most likely stay clear of this case for the most part.  Primarily in wildlife photography, we are trying to track the subject throughout its entire movement and not changing focus from one subject to another.  This case has souped up tracking sensitivity to force the AF to move to the new subject when  it is encountered.

Case 4: For subjects that accelerate or decelerate quickly
This case might become useful in scenarios where you are tracking raptors as they turn quickly and dive for example. I could also see this being useful when tracking a predator running after its prey.  I have not used this setting in the real world yet, so more to come on that in the future.




Case 5: For erratic subjects moving quickly in any direction
This case differs from the others in that it was specifically designed by Canon to work with AF focus modes such as center point expand and zone.  It increased the AF point switching so even if I were to move my tracking point off from the subject, the AF system will hand off to another point within the zone.  Although I have not used this case, I could see this being something which might be effective for older or beginning photographers who might find it very difficult to hold the AF point on the subject.  


One concern I have with this mode, is the potential to switch points of from the subject.  I may try to work with this case a later point in time, so stay tuned.

Case 6: For subjects that change speed and move erratically
Here, we have a balanced approach to extremely erratic subjects.  To me this would have to be a very unusual type of subject.  Canon uses the example of photographing a Kayak moving through the rapids.  It is changing direction and speed constantly so this option was recommended.  


In the wildlife world, the only scenario I can really think of is a case where a predator is chasing its prey around in circles and has sudden shifts in direction and speed.  Although this mode might be best in this scenario, I don't think I would have time to switch to this mode in time to photograph the action.  I think this one has better application in the sports world.

What other Professional Photographers are Saying about AF Tracking
As is state earlier, I wanted to gather more information than just my own experiences or what the Canon documentation specifies.

Martin Bailey - Martin is a professional nature photographer based out of Japan and I respect his opinion as being his own and not that of Canon or some other sponsor.  Martin, in the end, did not use any of the cases but rather changed the tracking, accel/decel and AF pt auto switching manually. He ended up using the setting he used on his 1DX for best results.  Here are his settings below:
"For both the snow monkeys running towards me, and birds in flight, both subjects moving erratically, I found these settings to work the best. I have Tracking sensitivity set to -2, Accel./decel. tracking set to 1 and for AF pt auto switching I’ve been moving between 0 and 1 depending on the subject, depending on how accurately it’s working in a given situation.With erratically moving subjects it’s important for the AF points to switch around quickly, so it’s tempting to increase the AF pt auto switching sensitivity, but as you increase the sensitivity, the focus often switches to an unwanted part of the scene too readily, so I found myself with AF pt auto switching set to zero most of the time." - Martin Bailey
Art Morris - Art, who up until recently was a Canon explorer of light, worked with the 7D II for several months and this is the setting he like best for birds in flight:

  • Tracking sensitivity: -2
  • Acceleration/Deceleration tracking: +2
  • AF pt auto switching: +2
This looks like a much more radical approach to AF, but you can't argue with Art's success. My recommendation is try it and see what you think.

Grant Atkinson - Grant is a Canon Explorer of Light and instead of using the default cases, he creates his own menu for the settings and essentially creates his own cases. Below are his settings:
  • Tracking sensitivity:  Grant doesn't have one setting for all scenarios, but he adjusts it as the conditions warrant it.  For example, if he notices that his lens is grabbing the background, he will turn his sensitivity down.  I got the feeling, although he did not state this, that he starts out at 0. He did say that in his opinion this was the most important setting in the cases.
  • Acceleration/Deceleration tracking: Leaves it a 0 for subjects that are moving at a standard speed.  Turns it up for erratic animals.
  • AF pt auto-switching - I got the feeling from his thoughts on this that he didn't use this too much.
Grant was definitely not someone who seemed to not have a "set it and forget it" attitude when it comes to auto focus settings.  I did find his videos informative, but I thought that he was largely just regurgitating Canon's literature.  

I thought that these three photographers give us a good cross section of what the pros are doing out there when it comes to the AF cases.

I hope you enjoyed this article on the Canon EOS 7D Mark II's AF.  In part 2, I will examine the various AF modes and when to use them.











  

Monday, February 12, 2018

My Top 10 Images of 2018

FORSYTH COUNTY, NC -  Last year seemed to go by so quickly.  I spent many months dealing with what the doctors believe is a failing gallbladder.  Even so, I did get out now and again to make some photographs.  Although I do not think 2017 was one of my best years, it did provide some images I am proud of.  As is my tradition, here are my top ten images of 2017.  I hope you enjoy viewing them as much as I enjoyed making them.  If I had to characterize this year, I would call it the year of the portrait.

 Let's switch it up from last year's and count them backward  from 10 to 1.


#10 -  Female House Finch 
I like this image because it takes a common species we all have in our own backyards and adds a little color and interest with the log perch flanked by moss.  The curvature of the log also parallels the finch's posture.  This image also shows what is possible with the older Canon 7D (classic).















#9 - Barred Owl (tight portrait)
I have always wanted to see just how close I could get to a bird of prey and provide a portrait that is in your face.  This was the resulting image.  I like how the viewer can see every feather of his facial disk, and the large eyes of the barred owl. It is slightly "over the shoulder" with a 3/4 view.  This shot was taken with the Canon 1D Mark III and the Sigma 150-600mm lens.


#8 - Barn Owl in Flight
The barn owl is somewhat unique in that it flies almost silently and very close to the ground.  Here, I am on one knee and waiting for the owl to dip down to the ground.  I use the zone focusing technique here, and hold the shutter button down as the bird approaches.  I let him fly into my zone of focus instead of focusing on him directly.  This shot was taken with the Canon 1D Mark III and the Sigma 150-600mm lens.


#7 - Blue Jay Surrounded by Light Snow
I really like this shot overall, but I placed it at number seven, because I do not like the fact I used my Christmas tree top as a perch. Yeah, I know, kinda corny. This snow storm caught me a bit off guard, and so I used what I had close for the perch.  Other than that, I really like the heavy snow in the scene and how comfortable the blue jay appears perched on the tree top. Had I not used a Christmas tree, this might have made #2.  This shot was taken with my Canon 1D Mark III and Sigma 150-600mm lens.


#6 - American Robin Nest
I have done very little nest photography, but it is something that has been on my list for a while.  I noticed this American robins nest on my property, and decided to take some shots of the little guys.  I like this shot because all the nestlings have their mouths open, ready for mama robin to return.  I also like the detail in their bodies.  This image was shot with my Canon 1D Mark II, EF 50mm 1.8 lens and an extension tube.  Lighting was provided by a fill flash and natural light.


#5 - Eurasian Eagle Owl
This is a shot that had been on my mental shot list for some time.  I wanted a symmetrical shot of an owl as he looked into my lens.  The depth of field is so shallow here that only the eye and part of the facial disk is in focus.  This image was taken with my Canon 1D Mark III and Sigma 150-600mm lens.


#4  - King Vulture on Skull
You almost couldn't ask for a better setup shot than this.  At PhotoWild, a trained king vulture on queue would jump up on this skull and wait for his picture to be made.  My only regret are all the trees in the background.  The trees really distracted from the subject. The other issue is the ground was actually sloping in different directions which made it hard to make level.  I got down in a prone position to make this shot with my Canon 1D Mark III and the Sigma 150-600mm.


#3 - Eastern Bluebird with Insect
Many years ago, when I first started on this journey of wildlife photography, I read a book by Leonard Rhue called "How I Photography Wildlife and Nature."  This was the book that first supercharged me into wildlife photography. One of the images in that book was of an eastern bluebird with an insect in his mouth.  From that time on, this is one I have longed to get, and finally in 2017, it happened.  I will continue to hone this shot, if possible, and make it better.    This images was made with my Canon 1D Mark III and the Sigma 150-600mm lens.


#2 - Eastern Screech Owl Yawning
This is a shot that I wasn't in love with immediately.  Don't get me wrong, I like the shot, but as it grew in popularity, I took a second look at it.  The appeal is really a universal appeal among humans and animals.  You see almost every species of animal yawns.  This image was featured in Europe, and won 2nd in Wildlife Magazine's contest here in NC.  This shot was made with my Canon 1D Mark III and my Sigma 150-600mm lens.


DRUM ROLE PLEASE...

#1 - Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Every year, in late May and June, I add to my lifetime project simply entitled: "The Hummingbird Project."  Hummingbirds are the most amazing animals that God put on this earth.  Nothing else compares!  Each year, I try to "take it up a notch" by trying new techniques and presenting the hummingbird with a more artistic flair.  This is a three flash setup shot with 2 flashes on the subject and one on the background.  I used the Canon 7D with my Sigma 150-600mm lens.



Well, that's all for 2017 and I thank God for giving me another year on planet earth.  Thank you for taking the time once again to read the newsletter and I hope you like my best of from last year.  This is a great exercise for all of us to do as it helps us to find our strengths and identify our weaknesses in our own photography.  I hope you have a wonderful year in 2018.

God Bless,

Matt Cuda



Announcements:
  • Check out the latest podcast episodes 
  • Consider becoming a patron to my work.  Funds received from your help, will go toward keeping the infrastructure in place to keep providing free content.  As you know, web site hosting, microphones and recording gear are very costly.  To find out more about being a patron and how this can benefit you, head out to my Patreon site : https://www.patreon.com/mattcuda 
  • Individual training, and honest and useful portfolio critiques available.  Email me at matt.cuda@mattcuda.com
______________________________________________________________________

My Websitehttp://www.mattcuda.com

Patreon:  https://www.patreon.com/mattcuda

Stock Images: https://www.artvisions.com/cuda/

For anyone not subscribed tho this newsletter because it is forwarded to you by others, you may sign up at the this link:  http://mattcuda.com/index.php?/pages/newsletter-signup/

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You may also contact me directly to purchase prints:  matt.cuda@mattcuda.com

If you are on this email list then you have either signed up for my newsletter or you have expressed interesting in doing business with me in the future.  This newsletter represents much of my latest work and is a great way to be the first to purchase my images and story ideas.  Although I would hate to see you go, you are welcome to unsubscribe using the link below.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Bad Things Happen



Yesterday I learned of something which frankly was astounding, and I think in some ways despicable.  While checking out the blog of Art Morris, I learned that Canon had "fired" Art from the Explorers of Light Program.  For those that do not know, the EOL program is an honorary position given to the best photographers in each of their respective genres.  They receive benefits such as paid speaking engagements, shooting training videos for Canon, and they are able to test the latest equipment.

If you have followed Art's work over the years, you know that Art has always stuck by Canon through thick and thin.  I often joked that Art had never seen Canon product he didn't like.  Art, along with Moose Peterson, were "go to" photographers for me as I began my journey many years ago as a nature photographer.  If it were not for them, I doubt I would be the bird photographer I have become.  I don't say that to brag on me, but on them!

Art characterized the firing on his blog: "About three or four years ago, Steven Inglima called me. Steve never called me. He was going on and on about nothing and suddenly it dawned on me: I was being let go as an Explorer. And that’s what happened. As a result of political [nonsense] at Canon. Steve fought hard to keep me in the program. In about a year he was fired too. He did get one concession. I, and the other photographers who were let go, were OKed to use the title Canon Explorer of Light Emeritus."
http://www.birdsasart-blog.com/2018/01/24/why-i-switched-from-canon-to-nikon/

I can only speculate as to the reason behind the firing, but I don't think we have to look to hard to figure out what might have been the cause.  I will leave that up to you and not speak more on that topic.  It is sad when anyone is fired, but someone with such great photography and teaching skills and dedication to Canon should have never been let go.

I would ask that you drop Art an email and let him know you are out there and let Art know that the members of the Matt Cuda Photography Community are behind him!  You can drop him an email at birdsasart@verizon.net or birdsasart@att.net


Thank you,

Matt Cuda
matt.cuda@mattcuda.com




To find out more about me visit my website:
http://www.mattcuda.com

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

June was the Month for Hummingbirds

TOBACCOVILLE, NC -  As most of you already know, every June for me is the month I photograph hummingbirds.  Hummingbirds are without a doubt my favorite "songbird" and perhaps my favorite bird.  I tend to flip flop on which bird species is my favorite, but I don't think I would have it any other way.

In North Carolina, we only have one species of hummingbird; the ruby-throated hummingbird.  I guess if you are only going to have one species of hummer, the ruby-throated is a great one to have.  The name comes from the male, who is named for his beautiful iridescent red gorget.  As he moves, in relation to the light source, this area reflects back in sparkling red.



Forsyth County, NC - A male ruby-throated hummingbird.  Note the red reflecting from his gorget.  This is my favorite image from this year's additions to the hummingbird project

Each year, I try to add new images using different flowers and different backgrounds from the previous year.  This year I hand painted a background to best simulate the foliage in my area, yet give me an uncluttered and smooth look.  I also worked with both the petunia and the saliva.  I am not entirely sure why, but it appears that the hummingbirds in my area prefer the petunia to the red salvia.  Perhaps it is that they actually prefer the bell shaped flowers, but I have not made any definitive conclusions.


Forsyth County, NC - A ruby-throated hummingbird positioned in from of red saliva.

My setup for photographing hummingbirds remains largely the same as it has been in past years.  I use a three flash studio setup.  Two flashes are positioned to the right and left of the subject at roughly 45 degree angles and one flash is positioned to illuminate the backdrop. By varying my background flash distance from the background, I can change how dark and how light the background looks.  This is one way, you can set the mood of your image.  You can also change the background flash position to the right or left so it gives the image a gradient.

The most important thing to remember when photographing hummingbirds with flash is to control the duration of the flash.  I like to have my power set at a maximum of 1/16 power, and most of the time I am in the 1/32 or 1/128 power.  This short duration allows me to freeze the wings perfectly.  Of course all of this is contingent on what kind of effects you want  in your photography.  



Forsyth County, NC - The female ruby-throated is larger and has a slightly different shape than the male.  Both are beautiful creatures.

I also spent time this year looking for shots without flowers in them to further isolate the subject and allow the viewer to better see the details in the feathers without the distraction of a competing flower in the shot.  The final shot in this newsletter is an example of this type of image.  This is just part of my overall style that you see repeated through most of my work.  I like to get close and go for impact and detail.  

In conclusion, I think this June, I was able to capture some compelling images to add to my Hummingbird Project.  The main point of this project is to capture the ruby-throated hummingbird under various lighting conditions, backgrounds and angles.  Sometimes I try something which fails (you don't see those shots) and other times I hit pay dirt.  The point is that i keep going and keep trying something new or something I have never been able to do.  I think this is how we grow as nature photographers.  I keep uping my game every year, and it is becoming more difficult to top the year before.  When we get stagnate is when things get boring and uninteresting.  


Whether it be in nature photography or just in life in general, what will you do next to up your game?  

Announcements:
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  • Consider becoming a patron to my work.  Funds received from your help, will go toward keeping the infrastructure in place to keep providing free content.  As you know, web site hosting, microphones and recording gear are very costly.  To find out more about being a patron and how this can benefit you, head out to my Patreon site : https://www.patreon.com/mattcuda 
  • Individual training, and honest and useful portfolio critiques available.  Email me at matt.cuda@mattcuda.com
______________________________________________________________________

My Websitehttp://www.mattcuda.com

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Stock Images: https://www.artvisions.com/cuda/

For anyone not subscribed tho this newsletter because it is forwarded to you by others, you may sign up at the this link:  http://mattcuda.com/index.php?/pages/newsletter-signup/

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You may also contact me directly to purchase prints:  matt.cuda@mattcuda.com

If you are on this email list then you have either signed up for my newsletter or you have expressed interesting in doing business with me in the future.  This newsletter represents much of my latest work and is a great way to be the first to purchase my images and story ideas.  Although I would hate to see you go, you are welcome to unsubscribe using the link below.
Copyright © 2017 Matt Cuda, All rights reserved.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

A New Project Launches


TOBACCOVILLE, NC - As I sit here at my desk and look out over my backyard, the signs of Spring are everywhere.  The gregarious grackles are feeding on the ground, robins are calling and grabbing for a plump worm, and the northern cardinal has begun to sing at length.

Although these birds are are all amazing creatures, the focus of my lens this year will fall on the amazing and beautiful eastern bluebird.  A member of the thrush family, the eastern bluebird is a striking figure with it's bright blue feathers and rusty breast.  One might argue that they are more striking than the famed northern cardinal. 

The Bluebird Project
Although, I certainly knew about and admired the eastern bluebird in books and magazines, it wasn't until 2014 that I came almost face to beak with this amazing little bird.  It was winter of 2014 to be precise.  A cold snap had fallen on the Piedmont of North Carolina, and to prove it we had several inches of snow on the ground that morning.  Knowing that birds would be desperate for food, I put fresh seed in the feeder, climbed into my blind, and began waiting for the birds to wake up and start foraging for food.

The typical suspects were present.  Carolina chickadees, wrens, nuthatches and the titmouse all made the list that day.  This day, I was performing what is called short lens bird photography.  This involves using a lens in the 200-300mm range and setting up a perch about 8 feet away from the camera. Using this technique you can get a more intimate look at the subject and often a different perspective.

I had pre-focused on the perch, and with shutter release in hand I made many photographs of the typical subjects.  This went on for probably an hour, but eventually a lull settled in as the birds retreated back to safer locations.  I was almost ready to call it day when, without warning, there on the perch was a male eastern bluebird.  Instinctively I brought my thumb down on the remote release and the camera fired a burst of five images.  Although these first images were nothing to brag about, that day began a great interest in the bluebird.

In 2017, I continue my pursuit of study of the eastern bluebird, by officially launching "The Bluebird Project."  This will be an ongoing project where I photograph the life of the eastern bluebird.  I have had the privilege of watching brood after brood emerge from nesting locations and now I officially begin the documentation process.  Below are the first images to christen this project in 2017.


Forsyth County, NC - A high key shot of the male eastern bluebird calling.  Note the head tilted back slightly and the feathers raised.  This is a typical behavior when a songbird is calling or singing.  He is currently part of a nesting pair I am documenting with this project.



Forsyth County, NC - Part of The Bluebird Project, involves documenting their nesting behavior.  Here the male darts out from the nest box.

Forsyth County, NC - The image that started it all.  Perhaps not my best work, but sometimes it only takes one shot to start a new passion.


I hope you enjoyed this month's images.  It is always my hope that others will be able to experience what I see though my eyes as I travel God's great and magnificent creation.  He is the great painter. All I do is just share his paintings.  


Announcements:
  • Check out the latest podcast episodes 
  • Consider becoming a patron to my work.  Funds received from your help, will go toward keeping the infrastructure in place to keep providing free content.  As you know, web site hosting, microphones and recording gear are very costly.  To find out more about being a patron and how this can benefit you, head out to my Patreon site : https://www.patreon.com/mattcuda 
  • Individual training, and honest and useful portfolio critiques available.  Email me at matt.cuda@mattcuda.com
______________________________________________________________________

My Websitehttp://www.mattcuda.com

My Bloghttp://www.mattcuda.com/index.php?/essays/

Patreon:  https://www.patreon.com/mattcuda

Stock Images http://www.alamy.com/stock-photography/211A2AB5-A104-42E5-99F0-9946B976EA0A/1/Matthew%20Cuda.html

For anyone not subscribed tho this newsletter because it is forwarded to you by others, you may sign up at the this link:  http://mattcuda.com/index.php?/pages/newsletter-signup/

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You may also contact me directly to purchase prints:  matt.cuda@mattcuda.com

If you are on this email list then you have either signed up for my newsletter or you have expressed interesting in doing business with me in the future.  This newsletter represents much of my latest work and is a great way to be the first to purchase my images and story ideas.  Although I would hate to see you go, you are welcome to unsubscribe using the link below.
Copyright © 2016 Matt Cuda, All rights reserved.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Goals for 2017


The sun is shining today and it is a cool 37 degrees outside, but my thoughts are definitely on the new year and what amazing opportunities God has for me. We never know what the year will bring and all we can really do is make plans and reasonable goals.
Before I get started on what I think this year will have in store, I thought I'd take some time and explore what did and did not happen last year. As you may know from listening to my podcast, 2016 was a strange year for me.  It was a year of exploration, excitement and in some cases, great disappointment.  Isn't that really the sum of life though?  
So, last year I had the following goals:
  • I wanted to take a trip to Cades Cove and to St. Augustine Alligator farm.  I never made it to Cades Cove.  I ended up substituting Gatorland for St. Augustine and two trips to Cataloochee instead of Cades Cove.  So, generally good substitutes.   I'd say this goal was pretty much met.
  • I wanted to spend more time working on fine art print sales.  In reality I did sell quite a few, but ended up shutting down my Etsy account due to my distaste for their fees.
  • I wanted to make a photograph of an elk bugling.  I did accomplish this goal in 2016!
  • I wanted shots of whitetail deer in the rut.  I did NOT accomplish this goal in 2016.  In fact, my whole trip to the Shenendoah National Park was cancelled due to time constraints.
  • I wanted a photograph of an eastern phoebe.  I did NOT accomplish this goal in 2016.  This one was a long shot for me anyway, but none the less it was a goal.
  • I wanted to take photographs of wild black bears.  I did NOT accomplish this goal in 2016.  This was due to cancelling my trip to Cades Cove.
There were other goals from 2016, but for sake of brevity i will not go into detail on them.  It was, in general, a year of not meeting many goals.  So what is store for this year...

Trips
Shenendoah National Park -  200,000 acres of land which contains everything from waterfalls to deer. I want to go up to Shenendoah National Park to capture photographs of new white tailed deer fawns.  This will be in the spring time.
Pennsylvania Bald Eagles and Osprey -  Most years, I travel up to Pennsylvania, to an undisclosed location to photography bald eagles and osprey.  This is always a fun time with my brother.  We talk a lot and shoot not nearly as much.  A good time to connect and chat about all things.
PhotoWild - this is a two day event at Carolina Raptor Center to photograph portraits of raptors.  I love this event and rarely miss going.
Audubon Swamp Garden - The Audubon Swamp Garden is a located at Magnolia Plantation, SC and is a great place to photograph nesting wading birds and other bird species. 
Cataloochee - As always I will return to Cataloochee, NC two times to photograph elk in the rut.
Gear
I have no major gear purchasing to do this year.  Instead, money will be funneled to trips.  The one exception to this rule may be the purchase of a new wide angle for scenics.  This is due to the fact I sold my Canon 10-18mm lens.
Backyard Bird Studio
A major goal this year is to totally reinvent my backyard bird studio.  Mainly, I need better perches and better backgrounds.  This reinvention will also involve attracting more species to my studio through water drips, additional bird houses and additional natural vegetation. I may not see immediate return on some of the landscaping but I should see the fruits of my labor within the next couple years.
Website
I am totally rewriting my website.  Although Koken has been a decent option for content management, I have found it lacking in many areas.  Since my day job is writing software, this will not be a major problem for me.  It will, however, be a large time investment.  My goal is to have something out there by the end of the year.  I will work on it as time allows.
Conclusion
I have intentional made the list of goals much shorter than I have in the past.  The general concept this year is intense, strides into fewer areas.  This will allow me to better hone my skills in specific genres of my wildlife and scenic photography.  The second half of last year was a big disappointment with very little to show and some wasted effort.  I have great hope that this year will be much better!

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Top 10 Wildlife Photography Mistakes

I hesitate to write a top 10 list as many perceive these as click bait. Hopefully, those that follow me, will know me better than that. At any rate, here are the main mistakes I see wildlife photographers making.
#1 - Photographers don't get in Close Enough
Many photographers, and particularly new photographers, have a difficult time composing portraits of animals. What I most often see from new folks, is a portrait that only takes up less than 1/4 of the image area. Now, this might be a valid approach for an experienced photographer looking to create an environmental portrait of the subject, but for beginners I recommend getting closer. This can be achieved two ways. First, if possible, get physically closer to your subject. This might involve using a blind or using a stealthy approach. Secondly, use bigger glass.  If you can afford it, buy a zoom lens like the Sigma 150-600 C.  Just remember that long lenses require a whole new set of worries.  Start with medium telephotos such as the Tamron 70-300 SP VC or the Canon 70-200 f4L.  Get in close and fill the frame!  After mastering this, move on to creating more compelling compositions.  The image below provides a level of detail and impact because the subject fills the frame. 


#2 - Photographers Over-sharpen Their Images
Just go out to Flickr, or your favorite social media platform and browse through the wildlife images.  Many have been over-processed and over-sharpened.  When they become over-sharpened, the image takes on strange artifacts and edges that don't look realistic.  I believe the reason most people do this is because they are trying to compensate for a blurry photograph.  If you have a blurry image, then you missed the shot.  Go back and try again.  There is no shame in this and most of the greats do this quite frequently until they get it right.

#3 - Using Too Slow of a Shutter Speed
OK, smarty pants, how fast is fast enough?  Well, like many things in this world, it depends.  For the sake of brevity, use as fast a speed as your lighting conditions will allow.  For example, if you are shooting birds in flight, and you want the wings to be frozen, a shutter speed of at least 1/1600 should be used (as a rule).  The faster the bird can beat his wings and fly, the faster the speed.  Shooting swallows requires a speed of at least 1/4000 for best results.  
When shooting a static subject, perhaps a bird perched on a branch, I like to use the reciprocal rule. Using full frame cameras, you should be able to set your shutter speed at 1/500 to handhold a 500mm lens. However, when shooting an APS-C, you have to take into account the crop factor. When shooting a 500mm with my crop sensor camera, I like to be in the 1/1000th of a second range.  Note that this also does not factor in using image stabilization.  With image stabilization on my Sigma 150-600, I have shot handheld at 1/125th of a second at 600mm with a static subject.  For beginners, I recommend keeping the shutter at 1/250th even with VC engaged.  
Don't forget, rules can be broken, but right now I am giving you hard fast rules that will get you pointed in the right direction.  Don't send me a long list of "but, what about..." emails.  I know all about the exceptions to the rules :)  Using a high shutter speed has frozen the egret below in mid-flight.


#4 - Spooking the Wildlife
Animals have what is often called a "fight or flight" zone.  What this means is that each animal, through conditioning and just plain innate behavior, has a mental circle drawn around itself that predators are not allowed to enter.  In the human world, we might call this "personal space."  When the photographer enters this zone, the animal is going to do one of two things.  He is going to run or he is going to attack you, but only if he feels threatened.  Too many photographers approach the animal too quickly and too aggressively and flush the subject.
 You must approach slowly, very slowly and without making noise.  For birds, approach is best done from a prone position.  Move forward a few feet, take a few shots, then move forward again.  Repeat this process until you get the composition you would like without causing the animal discomfort.  Obviously any technique depends on how conditioned an animal is to humans.  In some cases, you can simply walk slowly up to your subject and begin taking photos.  With any wild animal, I recommend using extreme care when on the approach.  In some cases, you may actually be able to get the subject to come to you.  This allows the animal to be in control and this makes for better behavior shots.  The shot below was made by slowly approaching this skimmer over time.


#5 - Using a Poor Tripod
You are going to hear this from  just about every advanced photographer on the net, but it bears repeating.  There is simply no substitute for a good tripod (when you need one).  This is especially true with wildlife photography.  When you set a 8 pound rig on a flimsy tripod, you are asking for micro vibrations and maybe even tripod leg failure at some point.  You paid thousands of dollars for your rig and you are going to set it on a 50 dollar tripod?  Are you also a low information voter? 
For economy and strength, I recommend the Manfrotto brand.  You will not be disappointed with Manfrotto. If you want to step up, I would go with the Induro brand.

#6 - Buying Expensive Gear that they do not Know How to Use
I can't tell you how many times someone asks me what lens I used to photograph a particular subject.  Then, they will turn around and buy that lens and ask me why they have soft images.  The camera and lens are tools that we use to get our job done.  You can go to the hardware store and buy a Milwaukee saw, but that won't make you a great carpenter.  Now, mind you, having good equipment does remove that aspect from the equation.  You will never doubt the equipment, but that equipment will not in and of itself improve your game.
Honestly, I recommend starting out with an older camera and a medium telephoto lens.  Learn to master these tools along with proper technique and then move up to the big leagues.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with this approach and if you find out you don't like wildlife photography, you are not out a ton of money.  Technique, knowing your subject, and practice are the keys to taking all this to the next level, and there is no moment when you have mastered photography.  It is always a learning experience.

#7 - Ignoring the Wildlife Shots in Your Area
Many who are just getting started in wildlife photography have the idea that they have to travel to some exotic location to take great shots.  Although traveling to places like Yellowstone and Antarctica will give you exposure to some great wildlife, you can make great images in your own backyard.  Even in large cities, there are parks which hold squirrels and birds.  If you can afford to travel to exotic locations then by all means do so, but don't let location keep you from creating photographs.  Don't use location as an excuse!  If all you have are pigeons and squirrels then become the best pigeon photographer in the world.  Whatever you do, don't stop shooting.  The nuthatch image below was taken in my backyard using my van as a blind.

#8 - Failure to Understand the Basics of Photography
Do you know what shutter speed, ISO and aperture have in common?  If you are dumbfounded by these basic elements of the exposure puzzle, then you will never make a great wildlife photographer.  The reason for this is that light changes frequently and not only that, the reflection of light off our subjects further changes the equation.  Not knowing the basics of exposure is a deal breaker!  Get out there, read blogs, watch YouTube videos and practice!  In the modern era there is a wealth of information on the internet.  I had to get a degree with an emphasis in photojournalism back in the mid-90s to get a basic understanding, but in today's world, you don't have to, and so there is no excuse for ignorance. 

#9 - Failure to Understand Light
This is a principle which took me a long time to get and sometimes I think I still don't get it fully.  Thankfully, understanding light in wildlife photography is a bit simpler than understanding how to be a great strobist like Joe Mcnally. 
 First, as with most nature photography, there are two types of lighting that really make the difference.  There is morning light and afternoon light. High noon is right out unless you are shooting on an overcast day. In the morning you want to shoot generally between sunrise and 9:30am.  In the afternoon, you want to shoot about two to three hours before sunset all the way to sunset.  During these times, the light is softer and because it is low to the horizon it produces a nice golden look.  This is most often what you see in high quality photographs.
There is one more important consideration.  Generally, you want the light coming from behind you and lighting the front of the subject.  This really makes the feathers of the bird pop and gives the animal a specular highlight in the eye.  It can really make your subject come to life.  Beautiful morning light made this elk come to life. 


#10 - Failure to Practice
We have all heard the adage "practice makes perfect" and with good reason.  As it turns out, practice does actually do us a great deal of good.  Do you practice often?  Wildlife photography practice can be done very easily.  If you have a Walmart parking lot, then you have a good subject.  They are called gulls and they make great subjects to keep your reflexes, exposure, auto-focus, and panning skills in tune.  I recommend getting out about twice a month at a minimum to keep yourself from getting too rusty. Do you have a zoo?  Zoos make a great, low pressure environment to both practice and create great images in the process.  I go to my zoo about three times a year to check my gear and look for new techniques to improve my photography.