Photo Tips and Stories (Page 6) RSS Feed for Photo Tips and Stories

 Sunday, November 14, 2021

The weather forecast indicated partly cloudy skies at sunset and a clear sky afterward, with low wind speed throughout the duration. That is a perfect recipe for an evening of landscape and nightscape photography over a mountain lake, and our workshop group headed to one of my favorite Rocky Mountain National Park locations. The plan was to photograph the sunset reflecting in the water and then the milky way doing the same after dark.

Which lenses to take? The best nightscape lenses are usually outstanding landscape lenses, and the Sony FE 20mm f/1.8 G Lens is an excellent choice for night sky photography. It made the small set in the pack this evening.

Post processing of this image involved a manual HDR process.


A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
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Post Date: 11/14/2021 8:00:00 AM ET   Posted By: Bryan
 Thursday, November 11, 2021

It's all about the scents. He's not physically stuck, but the desire to leave his scent was holding him against the tree.

Rocky Mountain National Park has areas of straight-trunked pines that call me to photograph them. Add an animal, and I'm all in for that image.

The lines in nature running in primarily horizontal and vertical directions result in a uniqueness to this image. Of course, it is hard to make a bad image when a 6x6 bull elk is in the frame.

In this case, the focal length range provided by the Canon RF 100-500mm F4.5-7.1 L IS USM Lens permitted getting the ideal subject framing while moving in front of obstructions — other pine tree trunks. A high percentage of my favorite images are currently being captured with this lens.


A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
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Post Date: 11/11/2021 7:01:00 AM ET   Posted By: Bryan
 Thursday, October 14, 2021

Hatcher Pass is always beautiful, but a recent snow leaving the mountains capped in white made this pass especially picturesque.

The distant mountains with craggy peaks were beautiful, and I was searching for some foreground to go with that background. At the same time, I was searching for Pikas. Pikas live in rock piles, and rock piles make great foreground subjects, so the location had the potential for a win-win combination.

While a couple of pikas were heard (they sound like a squeak toy), the rocks proved best as a foreground on this afternoon.

The 28mm focal length was selected to keep the distant mountains relatively large in the frame. While mountains surrounded this location, the mountain peaks with the most character were what I wanted to emphasize (along with the cloud formation over them). The width provided by a 15mm angle of view (that lens was in the MindShift Gear BackLight 18L) would have been filled with mountains, but the 28mm choice on the already-mounted Canon RF 24-70mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens de-emphasized the already-large rock in front of me and added emphasis on the craggy mountain peak. At the same time, 28mm was not too long of a focal length to achieve sharp focus through the entire image at f/11, an aperture not greatly affected by the softening effects of diffraction.

I recently returned from an intense three weeks in Alaska and Colorado, working in the field with some great gear. As always, the trip was extremely valuable educationally, and the stack of images to be sorted through is a bit overwhelming. This picture was among the low-hanging fruit.


A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.

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Post Date: 10/14/2021 8:00:00 AM ET   Posted By: Bryan
 Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Badlands National Park has the full deal for landscape photography — interesting foregrounds in front of incredible backgrounds. Mix those features with the warm light from a rising (or setting) sun, and great results are waiting.

With the extremely warm light hitting the red-colored rock, the red channel is the one to watch. Make that channel too bright, and the red details will be lost. Use the RGB histogram to monitor exposure levels, and having an understanding how far your camera's red channel can be pushed is helpful.

While there were a few lenses in the backpack this morning, the Canon RF 15-35mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens was the only one to see use. This lens on the R5 produces outstanding results and is an ideal choice for landscape photography.

In this camera position, the sunlight angle made own-shadows a bit of a problem. So I hid in the shadow of a land formation during the image capture, and the tripod shadow was removed with the healing brush tool in Photoshop.


A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.

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Post Date: 9/8/2021 8:58:30 AM ET   Posted By: Bryan
 Monday, September 6, 2021

Among the interesting subjects in Badlands National Park are the shadows created by water erosion channels.

While sunrise and sunset are easily my favorite times to photograph in this park, those times of the day do not provide light on some of the great subjects. A higher sun is necessary to light the depths of the canyon. Higher, though not fully overhead as that light often erases the shadows.

I often talk about wide-angle focal lengths being useful for emphasizing an interesting foreground in front of a vast attractive background, with all details in sharp focus. This scene provided that combination, and the perspective captured by the Canon RF 15-35mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens at 15mm was ideal for this photo.

Well, ideal until I decided that more sky might be a nice addition. The clouds were attractive, and it seemed advantageous to sometimes capture a picture of mostly sky to enable stitching later. In the end, the selected to share photo seemed best with the sky image stitched in.


Among the interesting subjects in Badlands National Park are the shadows created by water erosion channels.

While sunrise and sunset are easily my favorite times to photograph in this park, those times of the day do not provide light on some of the great subjects. A higher sun is necessary to light the depths of the canyon. Higher, though not fully overhead as that light often erases the shadows.

I often talk about wide-angle focal lengths being useful for emphasizing an interesting foreground in front of a vast attractive background, with all details in sharp focus. This scene provided that combination, and the perspective captured by the Canon RF 15-35mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens at 15mm was ideal for this photo.

Well, ideal until I decided that more sky might be a nice addition. The clouds were attractive, and it seemed advantageous to sometimes capture a picture of mostly sky to enable stitching later. In the end, the selected to share photo seemed best with the sky image stitched in.

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Post Date: 9/6/2021 8:28:00 AM ET   Posted By: Bryan
 Friday, August 27, 2021

In June, at this latitude, there is not much time between sunset and sunrise. However, at this time of the year, in this location, there are few sunrises and sunsets worth sleeping through.

While driving at a high rate of speed (as permitted by the high posted speed limit on I90) toward the park this morning, I could see the beautiful sunrise color begin to show in the sky and feared being too late. Fortunately, that fear was unfounded.

Near the end of a narrow ridge, the camera could be positioned to capture just the end of that ridge, helping to emphasize the dramatic depth. The 15mm focal length was ideal for this big scene.

The Canon EOS R5 and Canon RF 15-35mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens made this exposure-bracketed capture easy. However, ensuring that the blend between the sky and foreground was void of bright or dark edges while HDR stacking was a bit more challenging. With the foreground carefully separated from the background (in Photoshop), and its brightness reduced by a stop, there is plenty of latitude for changing my mind in a month or 5 years.

While this site's white background is perfect for product photos, it is a touch harsh for sample pictures. Head over to my portfolio site for a larger image on a darker background, a combination that improves especially this image's appearance.

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Post Date: 8/27/2021 10:10:25 AM ET   Posted By: Bryan
 Monday, August 23, 2021

The fog was so thick this evening that I was concerned about getting lost (at least to the point of requiring the compass), and the low visibility hindered subject locating abilities. Having this monster walk into visibility was thrilling.

Despite the capabilities of this incredible camera and lens, the tiny water droplets in the fog noticeably impacted the contrast and resolution of this image, as always.

When the fog effect is undesired, a circular polarizer filter can cut the reflections significantly, improving clarity. However, in this case, I welcomed the fog's differentiating look (and didn't want the light loss incurred by CPL filter use).

One makes the most of an opportunity such as this one. The Canon EOS R5 and ProGrade Digital 325GB CFexpress 2.0 Cobalt Memory Card combination supports holding the shutter release down as long as desired (until the card is full) in high-speed continuous shooting mode, the strategy implemented for this moment. The moose beginning to angle away was provided the logical endpoint to the burst as, at that time, I expected no better images to be made.

The animal was walking at a steady pace but not so fast that the R5's framerate couldn't capture a plethora of images. This particular image stood out as a favorite because of the overall body position. The bull is angling slightly toward the camera (when in doubt of this, use the antler base juxtaposition, minimally indicating head angle) with its legs evenly separated. The front leg lifted and showing slight motion blur illustrates motion.

The RF 100-500 proved an outstanding choice for this moose hunt.


A larger version of this image is available on my portfolio site.

 
Camera and Lens Settings
114mm  f/4.5  1/200s
ISO 2500
8266 x 5407px
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Post Date: 8/23/2021 10:30:23 AM ET   Posted By: Bryan
 Sunday, July 25, 2021

I scheduled three days to photograph Custer State Park in South Dakota. Those three days included two significant travel days and followed a nearly 1-week-long photo trip in Badlands National Park. On that day, the plan was for my daughter and I to scout from Spearfish Canyon down into Custer State Park.

Upon arriving in the park, the highest priority was to scout a milky way photography location in The Needles, featuring incredible rock formations. A Needles Highway closure foiled that plan. An unfortunate person's camper was stuck in the Needles Tunnel, a peril relatively easy to encounter in this extremely narrow tunnel.

After checking in to the hotel mid-afternoon and grabbing a bite to eat, my daughter and I drove the Custer State Park wildlife loop in search of wildlife subjects. That endeavor was mostly unproductive, with only the donkeys cooperating on this evening.

Exhausted from driving all day (and a rough schedule for the prior two weeks), we opted to sleep in the next morning. With the camper now extracted from the tunnel, the original Needles Highway scouting mission was completed late on our only full day in the park. The perfect position was established, and with help from The Photographer's Ephemeris and a compass, it was determined that the milky way would ideally align just before 3:30 AM, just before the sky started brightening in the morning (nautical start).

Hotel checkout was in the morning, and a 7-hour drive to the airport was on the must-do list. Thus, a reasonable amount of sleep was required for a safe drive. However, the National Weather Service forecasted the clouds to (finally) dissipate at approximately 2:30 AM, the already set moon meant that the sky would be dark, and I couldn't pass up this opportunity. So the alarm went off at 2:30 AM. We jumped into warm clothes and drove to the selected site.

While it was the middle of June, the air temperature was low and the sustained wind speed was extremely high. Tucking into the rock spires helped reduce the felt wind, and the high-performing Really Right Stuff TVC-24L Mk2 Tripod and BH-40 Ball Head combination took care of the remaining stabilization requirements. Every frame the Sony Alpha 1 and Sony FE 12-24mm f/2.8 GM Lens captured on this shoot was tack sharp.

Upon establishing the ideal composition, with manual focus on the stars, images were captured in quick succession (as quick as 25-second exposures permit) to ensure the perfect alignment among the needles spire formations, including the Needles Eye, was captured. Also captured was an increasingly bright blue sky, providing a range of options to choose from later. As the new day dawned, the sky continued increasing in brightness, with the foreground brightening as well. Once the milky way had passed through the optimal alignment among the spires, it was time to do some light painting for foreground compositing options.

My light painting flashlight of choice is the Black Diamond Spot 325 Headlamp. This small, lightweight headlight is an excellent all-around choice for outdoor photographers, featuring an extremely bright spot light for navigating in the dark, a red light for preserving night vision, and lower-power floodlight that casts a wide, even light, perfect for many uses, including light painting. The duration of the light panning across the scene was informally measured by counting and adjusted from frame to frame to create varying brightness options.

To gain improved directionality to the light painting, the flashlight was positioned around the far side of the nearby rock spire. The 10-second self-timer provided time to run to this position after the shutter was released.

At 4:00 AM, the milky way was no longer visible. Tired but exhilarated, we packed up and headed back to the hotel for second bedtime.

As so often is the case, the memory of the tiredness, coldness, and effort required for this shot was short-lived, already faded. However, the photos and positive memories will last a lifetime.

Note that a benefit of shooting at this time of the day was that, not surprisingly, we didn't see another car or person during this entire shoot.


A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.

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Post Date: 7/25/2021 12:00:00 AM ET   Posted By: Bryan
 Sunday, July 18, 2021

If you plant it, they will come. Coneflowers, butterflies, and the Canon RF 100mm F2.8 L Macro IS USM Lens go together beautifully.

This eastern tiger swallowtail was moving from flower to flower, rotating in a circle on each. Getting to the flower and in position before the rotation was complete was the key to capturing a pleasing angle.

Hanging out in the garden with the Canon RF 100mm F2.8 L Macro IS USM Lens is quite fun.


A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.

 
Camera and Lens Settings
100mm  f/2.8  1/640s
ISO 100
7987 x 5327px
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Post Date: 7/18/2021 7:00:00 AM ET   Posted By: Bryan
 Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Adorable or vicious killer? Right — both descriptions accurately describe this little predator.

The opportunity was a unique one. What started as a glimpse of a weasel hunting in the brush turned into an afternoon of waiting, with some watching and photographing mixed in.

Often nocturnal, weasels are seldom seen, and when they show do themselves, getting these fast- and erratically-moving critters in the frame is tremendously challenging, even without accounting for accurate focusing. This weasel finally paused momentarily to check out (her reflection in?) the near-ground-level Sony FE 600mm f/4 GM OSS Lens aimed in her direction.


A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.

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Post Date: 7/13/2021 8:10:00 AM ET   Posted By: Bryan
 Saturday, July 10, 2021

You don't leave when the sun sets, do you? Usually, the best show is yet to come when the fiery ball goes below the horizon.

With primarily flat ground outside of Badlands National Park, the sun is not blocked by tall nearby mountains when the sun is at a low angle. This scenario bodes extremely well for sunrise and sunset sky color, creating an above-average percentage of great opportunities, especially during the storm season.

Sunrises and sunsets can be seen nearly anywhere, and they are often beautiful — highly photogenic. But, having a great foreground can give sunrise and sunset images an additional positive element, and when you are somewhere special, make your images show that place.

My least favorite foreground element is a power line. My most favorite foreground element is a glassy reflective lake or pond. However, a mountain with character ranks just behind that favorite. So when it became apparent that the skies would light up after sundown this evening, I headed for such a mountain.

Upon arrival on the scene, the first task was to set up a Canon EOS R5 with an RF 15-35 mounted with an also interesting close foreground. With exposure duration bracketing established for later HDR compositing, getting the time of day bracketed was the remaining key for this camera's capture. Pressing the shutter release frequently (using the 2-second self-timer) took care of the latter goal.

As this scene's primary intrigue seemed to be the incredible sunset color fronted by the gnarly character of the Badlands mountain, a panorama capture was calling me. The Canon RF 100-500mm F4.5-7.1 L IS USM Lens mounted on another R5 was the perfect option.

The first task was to establish a manual exposure. The scene brightness varied significantly throughout the proposed pano, promising a range of auto exposures that would increase the stitching challenge later. This manual exposure was established by pushing the red channel, much brighter than the green or blue, against the right side of the histogram.

After autofocusing on the mountains (I depend on the R5's excellent AF accuracy), the AF/MF switch was moved into the MF position. Having all images focused at the exact same distance eliminates any focus breathing issues for panorama stitching.

The image captures ensued. The camera was rotated from left to right, capturing vertically orientated images with at least 1/3 scene overlap between frames (more like 50% overlap, which was overkill). The frames were captured in quick succession to reduce cloud movement and sky brightness change between the frames. The viewfinder grid was used to keep the images vertically aligned. Upon pressing the shutter release, the height of the horizontal grid line was noted against the background and maintained as the camera was panned.

When quickly capturing frames handheld, it is easy to rush the shots and end up with blurry images. Ensure that the camera is still for each gentle press of the shutter release (with a slight lag to the release of the press — a follow-through of sorts) to ensure sharp images. A tripod works best for this task, but that support was under the RF 15-35 mentioned above, and there was not enough capacity to bring two tripods on this trip (my preference). The RF 100-500 and R5 coordinated IS were not stressed by the 1/100 second shutter speed and delivered a 100% sharp image rate.

I mentioned that the exposure was established to protect the red channel. That exposure provided a dark foreground. While the foreground needed to stay dark for a natural balance, making foreground details slightly visible seemed a good idea. Taking advantage of the R5's dynamic range, the original frames were processed brighter. Note that the brighter foreground is much easier to see in a larger version and with a darker background.

Photoshop's Photomerge feature with "Reposition" selected created the pano from 16 source images. Unfortunately, that PS feature created a slightly different resulting image from the brighter-processed source files than from the darker ones. Creating 16 HDR images to use for the stitching source seemed too much work (and likely prone to additional differences), so the foreground pano was manually position-adjusted where it did not properly align. A small area of the sky was processed slightly darker and blended into position. The final images measure over 300 megapixels. For improved display on devices, the image was cropped on the right side, with a sense of balance used to establish where the right side should be.


A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.

 
Camera and Lens Settings
100mm  f/5.6  1/100s
ISO 100
24449 x 9050px
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Post Date: 7/10/2021 7:00:00 AM ET   Posted By: Bryan
 Sunday, June 27, 2021

With air-to-ground lightning strikes averaging under 10-seconds apart, this thunderstorm was awesome.

After dark, lightning becomes easy to photograph. Mount the camera to a tripod, frame a composition that includes the location with the most frequent lightning, focus to a long distance, set the aperture and ISO to control the lightning and overall image brightness, and then open the shutter long enough to catch at least one strike. Easy is to use 30-second exposures controlled by the camera (the strategy implemented for this example), but the Bulb setting controlled with a remote release enables the exposure timing to be adjusted as desired. For example, lock the remote release button down until there is a strike or the time duration exceeds the tolerance for long exposure noise.

Make safety a priority. Photographing lightning from a safe distance (far away) is advised. Locations with long distance visibility are advantaged in this regard, and the flat midwest prairie gets impressive thunderstorms.

Along with this storm came wind, wind strong enough create significant camera vibrations with even a sturdy tripod and strong enough to put a significant amount of dirt in the air. The solution to this issue was to drop down into the canyon a bit. The difference in wind speed 25 yards (25 m) down from rim was substantial and a solution to the problem.

Right, the title says four minutes, but a 30-second shutter speed was in use. This image is a four-minute exposure created by blending eight 30 second exposures using the "Lighten" layer blending option in Photoshop. This blending option is simple to use, allowing the lightning strikes from the layers below to show through.

As usual, the Canon EOS R5 and RF 24-70mm F2.8 L IS Lens performed impressively on this shoot.


A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.

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Post Date: 6/27/2021 7:00:00 AM ET   Posted By: Bryan
 Saturday, May 22, 2021

A large bull moose is a good animal to run out of the path of.

This image is brought to your by the R5's incredible AF system paired with the versatile RF 100-500's outstanding image quality. This camera and lens combination is perfect for the quick catch-the-shot and get-out-of-the-way moments.


A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.

 
Camera and Lens Settings
200mm  f/5.0  1/500s
ISO 200
8192 x 5464px
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Post Date: 5/22/2021 10:46:14 AM ET   Posted By: Bryan
 Friday, April 23, 2021

Even when 50 MP resolution exceeds the final resolution required for an image, the ultra-high resolution is often unexpectantly valuable. In this example, the selected camera position was optimized for capturing vertically oriented images of the runners jumping from a hurdle (going high in the air) while attempting to clear a water pit.

Crashes always draw attention, and the fall was the eye-catcher of this pass. However, the compressed body position and splashing water no longer worked well in the vertically oriented frame. The horizontal orientation crop seemed favorable, and the optimal framing required a tight crop, including pulling in from the sides. Despite the heavy cropping, the a1 image provided an often sufficient nearly 20 MP of final resolution.

While the Sony Alpha a1's 30 fps drive rate seems extreme, I am finding it addicting. In this case, the 30 fps results provided the ideal moment of touch down and splash combination.

Regarding splashing water, bright water droplets in front of a subject are notorious for stealing a camera AF system's attention. While a sustained high volume of water drops covering the subject sometimes eventually stole the a1's focus, the default AF settings held on the subject's eye behind the splashing very well.

The 400mm and f/2.8 combination is often perfect for photographing track and field events. In this example, the Sony FE 400mm f/2.8 GM OSS Lens renders the foreground and background diffusely blurred, making the subject and water drops stand out. Despite the cloudy day and 1/2000 sec. shutter speed, the ISO setting remained relatively low.

We can enjoy the spectacle of this water crash without feeling too sorry for the runner. Being cold is apparently motivating for running because she went on to win this event with a top 10 list time for the university.


 
Camera and Lens Settings
400mm  f/2.8  1/2000s
ISO 1600
5440 x 3627px
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Post Date: 4/23/2021 9:05:29 AM ET   Posted By: Bryan
 Saturday, April 10, 2021

Canon EOS R5 and RF 100-500 Lens Create Giant Bull Moose Environmental Portrait, Alaska When the subject is in a great environment, incorporating that environment into the portrait is usually the priority. While I love tightly-framed wildlife portraits, capturing a great environmental portrait is a more significant challenge.

Of course, with that set of antlers in the frame it is difficult to take a bad picture.

As is so often the case, the Canon EOS R5 and Canon RF 100-500mm F4.5-7.1 L IS USM Lens were a perfect handheld combination for this run-and-gun pursuit.

Right, the 1/200 shutter speed is a relatively long exposure for photographing close wildlife. The beast paused (he was watching a cow) long enough for me to roll the shutter speed down to this setting. With auto ISO selected in manual exposure mode, the camera then chose a very low noise ISO setting despite the dark light levels.


The Canon EOS R5 is in stock at B&H.

A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.

 
Camera and Lens Settings
100mm  f/4.5  1/200s
ISO 500
8192 x 5464px
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Post Date: 4/10/2021 9:30:28 AM ET   Posted By: Bryan
 Monday, March 29, 2021

Last week's goal was to put a significantly challenging subject in front of the Sony Alpha a1's AF system.

This project started with 350+ images of whitetail deer captured with the outstanding Sony FE 600mm f/4 GM OSS Lens. At f/4, this lens produces a shallow depth of field that presents an AF challenge. Initially, the deer were milling about (erratic motion), but the game was quickly upped when a large group of deer came in fast, primarily single file, leaping toward the camera position. With animal eye detection and the entire AF area selected, the a1 easily and impressively tracked these subjects' eyes and produced an extremely high in-focus rate, including when the deer were leaping at close distances.

Despite the in-focus aspect of the image, none of these pics were worth keeping as the deer were shedding their winter coats and looking shaggy. I needed pictures that would look good in a review. From a wildlife perspective, birds, primarily ducks, were the acceptable subject I had access to.

After watching the weather forecast and the migration reports for some hotspot locations within driving distance, I made a final decision. On this day, the temperature was going well above freezing, and clear skies were forecasted. Bright sunlight brings out birds' iridescent colors, and the sky color reflects in the water, which, in this case, provided a surrounding blue color in the image (deep blue late in the day). The wind speed was supposed to be light for calmer water. The temperature was going to be comfortable — sitting in the water in the wind and sub-freezing temperatures complicates duck photography.

On this morning, I drove to the closest of the four selected locations, about 2.5 hours away. Unfortunately, the perfect subjects, the wood ducks reliably found there, were not there. While Canada geese were plentiful, I was looking for something different.

Plan B was immediately implemented. The Chesapeake Bay location was 2+ hours farther away, but this location is best in the afternoon, so there was still time to make it there for the ideal lighting.

Upon arrival, I discovered that the huge winter flock of ducks was down to a small fraction of the count. I expected a reduced count, but not this reduced. Fortunately, a selection of the ideal species was there, and with fewer birds, it was easier to isolate individual subjects, making the situation was ideal.

The scenario was ideal except for some wind that made the water choppy. Ideally, swimming duck photography is done at the water level, with the camera just above the water. This low camera position provides a side view of the duck, with a more-distant background, meaning the background has a stronger blur, making the subject pop.

When photographing floating ducks, getting the camera low involves sitting in the water, with chest waders and thick insulated pants required at this time of the year. With the high-frequency wind chop, splashing salt water was an issue, requiring a slightly higher camera position (a LensCoat rain cover protected most of the camera and lens). An unexpected wind complication was that bobbing with the ducks while looking into the viewfinder contributed to a strong sense of motion sickness.

Ducks floating on water may seem a low challenge to photograph (the proverbial sitting duck), but this scenario was the completel opposite. Many near-1' (0.3m) waves rocking the already-twitchy, constantly-erratically moving ducks and me (at different frequencies) made keeping a duck in the 600mm frame (I started at 840mm with a 1.4x teleconverter) extremely challenging (especially when the duck was obscured by a wave). I monitored image sharpness until becoming confident that a 1/3200 shutter speed eliminated motion blur in most pictures.

One of the biggest wildlife (and portrait) photography challenges is to keep the proper AF point selected. A motionless subject permits a focus and recompose strategy, but moving subjects require selecting a specific AF point that produces the optimal composition while remaining on the subject's eye. Fast AF point selection is an especially big challenge for unpredictable wildlife. Tracking a twitchy, bobbing duck with a specific focus point held on the eye would have been nearly impossible. However, the 600mm, f/4, close distance combination's shallow depth of field made focusing precisely on the eye a requirement.

Eye AF eliminates this challenge for a significant percentage of subjects. With the Sony Alpha a1's eye AF enabled, bird selected as the subject, and the entire AF area chosen (most of the frame), I was left to concentrate primarily on framing the scene and timing the shutter release press. Note that, when eye AF is locking on the subject, gloves are no longer an impediment to cold-weather wildlife pursuits.

When many changes are happening simultaneously, a fast frame rate has your back. I began shooting in the 30 fps drive mode but backed off to 20 fps when I saw how fast the image count was increasing.

Twenty fps is still an exceptionally fast frame rate. Most 20 fps shot sequences captured, minimally, a properly-framed duck image, and often, many well-framed shots, despite all of the motion (ducks would sometimes bob from one frame border to another during a short burst). With 20 fps capture, I didn't feel the need to repair closed necessitating membranes as the previous or next image still had the ideal pose. The foreground and background matter, and wave and reflection nuances vary constantly. These elements can be the deciding factor for selection, and the 20 and 30 fps capture rate provides considerable options in this regard.

That the a1's viewfinder responded fast enough to keep the birds in the frame was remarkable, and the lack of viewfinder blackout was also critical. Even more remarkable was the extremely-high in-focus rate the a1 delivered. In this 3:45 shoot, 8,985 images were captured, and in almost all of them, the eye was in sharp focus – even when the eye bounced into the periphery of the frame.

When packing, four batteries seemed a lot, but 4% of the fourth battery was consumed by the time I walked out of the water. That said, capturing nearly 3,000 images per relatively-small battery is great performance.

Similarly, taking a full terabyte of memory cards seemed overkill, but the last 256GB card was half-filled when shade reached the water. As much as I want to purchase CFexpress Type A memory cards for the a1, I can't get past the current price. Let's put a Type A number on this day. As I write this, adequate 160GB Type A memory cards to contain this under-4-hour shoot would have cost $2,394.00.

In comparison, four fast Lexar 256GB Professional 1667x V60 UHS-II SDXC Memory Cards currently cost $300.00.

With these Lexar cards, the a1 was writing the buffer to the card most of the time. This writing prevents some camera features from being accessible, though image playback functions during the writing process.

Ultra-high performance AF combined with an extreme frame rate results in a problem, albeit a great problem — too many excellent images yield a long selection process. You may have foreseen this issue: reviewing nearly 9k photos is a massive project, and the phenomenal in-focus rate makes that job far more difficult. It is hard to delete excellent pictures, but the quality bar must be raised (or considerable hard drive storage space acquired). Again, the a1's extreme performance create a problem you want to have.

I didn't mention the a1's 50MP resolution in this post, but the bouncing ducks were often not ideally framed. This camera's high resolution meant that significant resolution remained even after cropping deeply.

The Robus RC-8860 Vantage Carbon Fiber Tripod (great tripod, excellent value) provided the support for this shoot. With the tripod leveled, the two-way pan and tilt of the smooth-functioning Wimberley WH-200-S Sidemount Head ensured that every shot was level (though the wave action diminished this requirement).

The bottom line is that Sony Alpha a1, and especially its AF system, is an outstanding performer, as expected.


Last week's goal was to put a significantly challenging subject in front of the Sony Alpha a1's AF system.

This project started with 350+ images of whitetail deer captured with the outstanding Sony FE 600mm f/4 GM OSS Lens. At f/4, this lens produces a shallow depth of field that presents an AF challenge. Initially, the deer were milling about (erratic motion), but the game was quickly upped when a large group of deer came in fast, primarily single file, leaping toward the camera position. With animal eye detection and the entire AF area selected, the a1 easily and impressively tracked these subjects' eyes and produced an extremely high in-focus rate, including when the deer were leaping at close distances.

Despite the in-focus aspect of the image, none of these pics were worth keeping as the deer were shedding their winter coats and looking shaggy. I needed pictures that would look good in a review. From a wildlife perspective, birds, primarily ducks, were the acceptable subject I had access to.

After watching the weather forecast and the migration reports for some hotspot locations within driving distance, I made a final decision. On this day, the temperature was going well above freezing, and clear skies were forecasted. Bright sunlight brings out birds' iridescent colors, and the sky color reflects in the water, which, in this case, provided a surrounding blue color in the image (deep blue late in the day). The wind speed was supposed to be light for calmer water. The temperature was going to be comfortable — sitting in the water in the wind and sub-freezing temperatures complicates duck photography.

On this morning, I drove to the closest of the four selected locations, about 2.5 hours away. Unfortunately, the perfect subjects, the wood ducks reliably found there, were not there. While Canada geese were plentiful, I was looking for something different.

Plan B was immediately implemented. The Chesapeake Bay location was 2+ hours farther away, but this location is best in the afternoon, so there was still time to make it there for the ideal lighting.

Upon arrival, I discovered that the huge winter flock of ducks was down to a small fraction of the count. I expected a reduced count, but not this reduced. Fortunately, a selection of the ideal species was there, and with fewer birds, it was easier to isolate individual subjects, making the situation was ideal.

The scenario was ideal except for some wind that made the water choppy. Ideally, swimming duck photography is done at the water level, with the camera just above the water. This low camera position provides a side view of the duck, with a more-distant background, meaning the background has a stronger blur, making the subject pop.

When photographing floating ducks, getting the camera low involves sitting in the water, with chest waders and thick insulated pants required at this time of the year. With the high-frequency wind chop, splashing salt water was an issue, requiring a slightly higher camera position (a LensCoat rain cover protected most of the camera and lens). An unexpected wind complication was that bobbing with the ducks while looking into the viewfinder contributed to a strong sense of motion sickness.

Ducks floating on water may seem a low challenge to photograph (the proverbial sitting duck), but this scenario was the complete opposite. Many near-1' (0.3m) waves rocking the already-twitchy, constantly-erratically moving ducks and me (at different frequencies) made keeping a duck in the 600mm frame (I started at 840mm with a 1.4x teleconverter) extremely challenging (especially when the duck was obscured by a wave). I monitored image sharpness until becoming confident that a 1/3200 shutter speed eliminated motion blur in most pictures.

One of the biggest wildlife (and portrait) photography challenges is to keep the proper AF point selected. A motionless subject permits a focus and recompose strategy, but moving subjects require selecting a specific AF point that produces the optimal composition while remaining on the subject's eye. Fast AF point selection is an especially big challenge for unpredictable wildlife. Tracking a twitchy, bobbing duck with a specific focus point held on the eye would have been nearly impossible. However, the 600mm, f/4, close distance combination's shallow depth of field made focusing precisely on the eye a requirement.

Eye AF eliminates this challenge for a significant percentage of subjects. With the Sony Alpha a1's eye AF enabled, bird selected as the subject, and the entire AF area chosen (most of the frame), I was left to concentrate primarily on framing the scene and timing the shutter release press. Note that, when eye AF is locking on the subject, gloves are no longer an impediment to cold-weather wildlife pursuits.

When many changes are happening simultaneously, a fast frame rate has your back. I began shooting in the 30 fps drive mode but backed off to 20 fps when I saw how fast the image count was increasing.

Twenty fps is still an exceptionally fast frame rate. Most 20 fps shot sequences captured, minimally, a properly-framed duck image, and often, many well-framed shots, despite all of the motion (ducks would sometimes bob from one frame border to another during a short burst). With 20 fps capture, I didn't feel the need to repair closed necessitating membranes as the previous or next image still had the ideal pose. The foreground and background matter, and wave and reflection nuances vary constantly. These elements can be the deciding factor for selection, and the 20 and 30 fps capture rate provides considerable options in this regard.

That the a1's viewfinder responded fast enough to keep the birds in the frame was remarkable, and the lack of viewfinder blackout was also critical. Even more remarkable was the extremely-high in-focus rate the a1 delivered. In this 3:45 shoot, 8,985 images were captured, and in almost all of them, the eye was in sharp focus – even when the eye bounced into the periphery of the frame.

When packing, four batteries seemed a lot, but 4% of the fourth battery was consumed by the time I walked out of the water. That said, capturing nearly 3,000 images per relatively-small battery is great performance.

Similarly, taking a full terabyte of memory cards seemed overkill, but the last 256GB card was half-filled when shade reached the water. As much as I want to purchase CFexpress Type A memory cards for the a1, I can't get past the current price. Let's put a Type A number on this day. As I write this, adequate 160GB Type A memory cards to contain this under-4-hour shoot would have cost $2,394.00.

In comparison, four fast Lexar 256GB Professional 1667x V60 UHS-II SDXC Memory Cards currently cost $300.00.

With these Lexar cards, the a1 was writing the buffer to the card most of the time. This writing prevents some camera features from being accessible, though image playback functions during the writing process.

Ultra-high performance AF combined with an extreme frame rate results in a problem, albeit a great problem — too many excellent images yield a long selection process. You may have foreseen this issue: reviewing nearly 9k photos is a massive project, and the phenomenal in-focus rate makes that job far more difficult. Most of us are not interested in a large volume of images, but we do care about quality. Still, it is hard to delete excellent pictures, and the minimum quality bar must be raised (or considerable hard drive storage space acquired). Again, the a1's extreme performance create a problem you want to have.

I didn't mention the a1's 50MP resolution in this post, but the bouncing ducks were often not ideally framed. This camera's high resolution meant that significant resolution remained even after cropping deeply.

The Robus RC-8860 Vantage Carbon Fiber Tripod (great tripod, excellent value) provided the support for this shoot. With the tripod leveled, the two-way pan and tilt of the smooth-functioning Wimberley WH-200-S Sidemount Head ensured that every shot was level (though the wave action diminished this requirement).

The bottom line is that Sony Alpha a1, and especially its AF system, is an outstanding performer, as expected.

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Post Date: 3/29/2021 10:40:06 AM ET   Posted By: Bryan
 Sunday, March 21, 2021

More precisely, a big beautiful bedded bull elk bugling in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Stay with an elk long enough, and it will bed down, and a stationary subject is easier to photograph than a moving one.

However, once bedded, obstructions (such as grass or trees) are often an issue. This cooperative bull opted to bed in a meadow with short grass, meaning that foreground obstructions were not an issue.

The background can typically be counted on to present a challenge, and distractions are among the most frequently encountered issues.

In this image, the first background distraction avoidance strategy was to blur it away. The Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS III USM Lens rises to that challenge. The bokeh capability of many ultra-wide aperture lenses is raved about, but the 600mm f/4 combination is unsurpassed for diffusely blurring the background. The 600mm f/4 combination smooths the strong contrasting background lines, such as trees, that would otherwise catch the viewer's eye, distracting from the subject.

The big in-the-field challenge is aligning the subject within the background. Once it is bedded down, you know where the animal will be for at least a short time — usually long enough time to allow perfecting of the composition. In this scenario, the goal was to avoid strong lines and color differences intersecting the animal's body and antlers.

I love a low shooting position when photographing elk (and most animals). While this image was captured from a low position, the position was high enough for the elk's back to remain below the brush behind it.

For many, it is all about the antlers. The camera position that placed the rack between the background trees also worked well for the animal.

A sleeping animal is usually not too exciting (unless it is a baby). Fortunately, during the rut, bull elk make use of their downtime. When bugling (one of my favorite sounds), elk raise their heads which lowers their antlers for my also-favorite elk body position.


A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.

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Post Date: 3/21/2021 6:45:00 AM ET   Posted By: Bryan
 Tuesday, February 23, 2021

A few months ago, I noticed a large oak tree standing alone at the top of a field in the countryside not far from home. I made a mental note of the interesting tree, keeping that photo opportunity in the pocket for later application.

Right after a recent snowstorm and during the Canon RF 70-200mm F4 L IS USM Lens review seemed like the perfect timing to photograph this lone tree. The snow minimalized the scene's details, and the lens was a perfect choice to capture it. I pulled the SUV into a snowbank to get out of traffic (there was little on this country road), turned off the vehicle (eliminating the vibration), and photographed the tree until I couldn't think of any more compositions to try and adding any more insurance shots seemed complete overkill.

This scene was filled with bright subjects. At most, changes in lighting through the thick clouds happened slowly. Thus, a manual exposure that pushed the histogram graph to the right edge proved perfect. In this image, ISO 100 provides low noise, f/8 yielded adequate depth of field, and 1/160 with image stabilization activated made getting sharp elbow-rested photos easy.

The focal lengths in the 70-200mm range are among my most used for landscape photography. These focal lengths provide angles of view that make good compositions easy to find. While parked along this road, I used all of these focal lengths, with the tree filling various percentages of the frame, ranging from the 70mm result shared here to the tree nearly filling the frame. An example of the 70-200mm focal length range using this tree is shared in the Canon RF 70-200mm F4 L IS USM Lens review.

I shoot a lot of action and other images where timing is critical to get the perfect shot, with a stress-induced adrenaline rush typically accompanying the moment. A nice change for this image was that I had as much time as I cared to take. The tree was not moving, the snow was not melting, and the clouds were unchanging.

At the longer focal lengths, not much time was needed to get the good compositions. At the wider focal lengths, there was considerably more freedom to position the tree in the minimalistic scene within the frame. My favorite tree position at 70mm is shared here, but I also like the tree toward the upper left, and the tree centered at the bottom in a vertical orientation also looks great (at my wife's request, I ordered a metal print of that image this morning).


A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.

 
Camera and Lens Settings
70mm  f/8.0  1/160s
ISO 100
8192 x 5464px
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Post Date: 2/23/2021 10:41:02 AM ET   Posted By: Bryan
 Monday, February 22, 2021

Let me introduce you to "Nala," my oldest daughter's year-old goldendoodle. I was looking for a subject to challenge the new Canon RF 70-200mm F4 L IS USM Lens for the review, and Nala happily volunteered. She maintained a great spirit for 25 minutes until the session ended abruptly when another dog arrived.

Not long ago, capturing an eye-sharp image of a big dog in a great pose while running (bouncing) full speed toward and close to the camera was extremely challenging. With the Canon EOS R5's incredible animal eye AF combined with the 20 fps frame rate and the Canon RF 70-200mm F4 L IS USM Lens in front of it, the biggest challenge of this shoot was deciding which of the 1,400+ images on the ProGrade Digital 325GB CFexpress 2.0 Cobalt Memory Card to keep.

Bright white snow is a strong auto-exposure influencer, typically causing the camera to underexpose images. With bright white snow filling greatly differing percentages of the frame during each dog pass, exposure compensation was not optimal. Thus, my most frequently used exposure mode, manual, was the ideal choice.

This shoot's goal was to challenge the camera and lens AF system, so the shallow depth of field provided by a wide-open aperture was best, providing little margin for error. The wide-open aperture in combination with the longest focal length provided the strongest background blur possible, making the subject stand out.

Next, the shutter speed was selected, with freezing motion the goal. I opted for 1/1250-1/1600, choices that proved marginally short enough for this fast dog in some instances.

ISO was the last image brightness factor to be applied. As a rule, snow in the sun should be nearly blown-out white. To determine the optimal brightness, the histogram is the proper tool. The ISO setting was increased until the brightest pixels were registering nearly against histogram graph's right side. Note that the blinkies will likely show before color channel capacities are reached. Use the histogram.

This day was cloudy, and cloudy skies often bring brightness changes. Thus, the histogram required monitoring for ISO adjustment needs.

With the R5 in face and eye detection mode and animal eye AF selected, the remaining job was to keep the dog in the frame while holding down the shutter release as my daughter repeatedly positioned and ran Nala toward the camera.

With the R5 and a good lens, getting the perfect action shots is (often) only a small challenge.


A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.

 
Camera and Lens Settings
200mm  f/4.0  1/1250s
ISO 250
5715 x 3812px
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Post Date: 2/22/2021 12:59:41 PM ET   Posted By: Bryan
 Thursday, February 4, 2021

When reviewing a lens, I'm always looking for ideally suited subjects to photograph. The Sigma 100-400mm f/5-6.3 DG DN OS Contemporary Lens is a great option to have on hand. It is perfect for wildlife photography, and this amazingly-colored blue jay timely volunteered a moment to pose for me.

When this bird showed up, providing a unique scenario, I was in full reactive mode. This fleeting opportunity was not expected, leaving no opportunity for preparation.

Working quickly with the Sigma telephoto zoom lens mounted to the Sony a7R IV, I first switched to Av mode. The overall scene was not especially dark or bright, so letting this competent camera determine the exposure was a logical, fast move.

A cloudy day meant that the late morning lighting remained soft and that the sun angle held little relevance. The camera could be positioned for the ideal bird angle, sideways or slightly facing the camera.

A cloudy day also meant somewhat dim lighting that called for a wide aperture. Not so fortunate is that wide open isn't especially wide for this lens. Very fortunate is that this lens is very sharp wide-open.

An additional benefit to this lens's specific wide-open f/6.3 aperture selection at 400mm is the relatively strong background blur, making the subject stand out, yet providing adequate depth of field for this close subject. Birds are seldom still, and ISO 400 seemed the immediate logical guess to go with this aperture, providing an adequately short shutter 1/160 speed.

After quickly capturing some insurance shots, the next move was to continue to work the scene, optimizing the composition. In this scenario, optimizing the composition included juxtaposing the background elements with the primary subject, primarily avoiding distractions around the bird's head and adjusting the camera elevation. More specifically, I moved to the left and slightly down.

With the next round of images on the card, moving closer seemed the next best option, and as close as the lens would autofocus was the subject distance for this image. While the entire bird was not close to fitting in the frame at this distance, I liked how much of the frame was filled with this bird's incredible colors. Of utmost importance is keeping the head entirely in the frame and providing some breathing room around the head. That concept meant cropping the tail out of the picture.

The next move was to rely more heavily on the Sigma and Sony coordinated optical stabilization, reducing the ISO setting to only 100. The bird was still enough for some of those images to be rendered sharply, but my eye preferred this overall composition better.

Those looking for a compact, lightweight, highly affordable telephoto zoom lens for Sony (or Leica) cameras should seriously consider the Sigma 100-400mm f/5-6.3 DG DN OS Contemporary Lens.


A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.

 
Camera and Lens Settings
400mm  f/6.3  1/160s
ISO 400
9504 x 6336px
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Post Date: 2/4/2021 12:51:30 PM ET   Posted By: Bryan
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