My wife Chris and I have been feeding the bird life in our yard for over 30 years. We have a steady population of typical New England birds including tufted titmouse, yellow goldfinch, chickadee, downy woodpecker, house finch, white-breasted nuthatch, cardinal and blue jays. We also have resident hairy woodpeckers, red bellied woodpeckers, red breasted nuthatch, chipping sparrows, American robins, turkey, white-throated sparrow, fox sparrow. I’m sure there are some I haven’t mentioned. We do get some out-of-the-ordinary birds such as the four sightings this year of a pileated woodpecker. No photos yet.[Read more…]
Too Much Light!
While out photographing in nature, we all occasionally find a subject that might be better photographed at another time of day for better lighting conditions. But to delay may result in losing the moment and a change in the subject. A caterpillar crawling by, a dragonfly visiting a patch of flowers, one thing eating another thing, all of these scenes will change in a few moments; never mind waiting until early light tomorrow morning. In the worst of circumstances I’ll make some captures just as a record shot to document I did see the event; however, I will try to alter the lighting conditions, by adding or taking away light if possible, to make a better image capture.
In the Yard — Fungi
I tend to be an opportunistic photographer, although I do make some effort to be in the vicinity of opportunity. The fall of 2018 presented a great number, in variety and quantity, of fungi in my yard. I must explain that my yard is mostly wooded with trees up to 100 feet high since I only cleared what I needed for the house and the septic system. This year in seven weeks I have captured more images of mushrooms and other curious fungi than I have in the last 30 years living in this home. [Read more…]
In The Yard — Pink Lady Slippers
This spring was a spectacular year for the lady slippers in my back yard. There was one cluster of 20 flowers, with smaller plants of one to three flowers nearby. The flowers are located on the edge of the forest, next to a pile of cut logs with a rack of firewood behind it. Natural lighting can be difficult to deal with as the sun is low on the horizon sending shafts of light through the foliage of the trees. Occasionally overcast skies provided flat light that reduces or eliminates harsh shadows on the flowers. It was an opportunity to try several techniques capturing these beautiful flowers, and I went out early each morning while the air was cool and still. Once the sun starts warming the ground, air currents are created and even the slightest breeze results in significant movement in these large flowers on long stems. I often used a 160 LED lamp to illuminate a single flower. Most images are captured with a Sigma 150mm lens on a Canon 5D Mark II. I used tripod or beanbag for support and a wireless remote shutter release to avoid any movement during exposure. In addition to single captures of the scene, I made many captures with focus stacking in mind as well sets of images (a series of the same image at all f-stops) for use in teaching programs. I also made a few images using a 50mm f/1.8 on the Canon 7D.
The first set of images were made by selectively focusing on different parts of the flower, then merging them into one image file using Helicon Focus stacking software. Last year I had done quite a lot of image taking and analysis in an attempt to understand where focus stacking works and where it doesn’t. The extensive blog posts totaled 30 pages. Helicon Focus recently had an update and added a new stacking algorithm which I used on a trial basis. I was satisfied that it performed well on these image and purchased a one-year license ($30) for the Helicon Focus Lite. I plan to reprocess the images sets I took last year to see if the new algorithm solve some of the problems I described in my posts last year.
The reason for using a stacking program is to benefit from an extended depth of field at the subject while shooting at a large aperture to retain the soft out-of-focus (OOF) background. The images are labeled as a single exposure or number of images stacked, and the f-stop used.
To better see the effect of aperture on depth of field, images of a scene were captured at a various f-stops, and one image was constructed of several captures stacked together. The higher the f-stop (smaller aperture), the greater the definition in the background structure. As the aperture is opened, the depth of field lessens and the background becomes a pleasant, soft blur. Unfortunately, the wide aperture doesn’t capture much of the flower in sharp detail, which is where focus stacking can be of benefit. Care must be taken in capturing images for focus stacking to ensure sufficient overlap in the regions of sharpness. The technique doesn’t always work cleanly, and in some cases there are artifacts that require a lot of editing to correct, if they can be corrected at all.
After my trip to Costa Rica I planned to again try my hand at hummingbird photography in my yard. In past years, many hummingbirds, all Rubythroated, would visit my feeders. Usually one would arrive even before the feeder was up, hovering in front of the window location where it is usually mounted. Clearly that bird had been here before. This year was different. This year, we only had one male most of the time, with a second one showing up occasionally, and we had only three females. The male dominated the feeder until I set up a second one out of sight of the other. Now the male guards one feeder, and the three females seem to spend more time chasing each other around the other feeder than eating.
After several weeks of photographing, I haven’t been able to catch the male’s gorget fully lit up. Most captures that are a side view of the male results in dark, almost black gorget feathers. There always seems to be a dark patch of red gorget that never lights up. It’s very difficult to catch the throat lit up, and only seems to happen if the bird is facing the camera, but even then, there’s a patch in the center that doesn’t fully light up. I’ll have to experiment more with light placement to see if I can get better results. Up to now the two front lights have been to either side of the flower. Perhaps I need to place one below and directly in front of the bird. In the past, I’ve used a camera mounted flash with a BetterBeamer to trigger the other flashes. That may provide enough direct light, if lack of direct front light is the cause of the dark feathers.
I’ve been using the Canon 7D with the 500mm f4 Is lens since the birds were very wary of me being nearby. Now they are more comfortable with me there and I’ve been using the 100-400 zoom lens. . I can’t rotate my camera for vertical compositions because the built in flash controller of the 7D will not see all the remote flashes if I do so. So I’ve been taking images with less zoom with the intent of cropping for vertical presentation. The portrait images were taken this way.
There are not many more days to photograph hummingbirds; the males will leave soon and the females a couple of weeks later.
Winter Has Struck Again
This week the weather forcaseters imagined a big storm hiting the Northeast; however, it only brought a few inches of snow. The windblown snow that did arrive stuck to everything. The first image is from the side yard, before the turkeys got to tranpling through the snow. I also drove to some locations in town where streams pass under the road to see if I could find any good scenes to photograph. Then I went into the back yard to photograph the birds coming to our feeding stations. The scenic images were taken with my new Canon 5D Mark II and a 24-105mm IS lens. The the birds were photographed with my Canon 7D, and the 500mm f4 with a 1.4X converter on it. I cropped the images after that. It’s amazing how small a crop can be made and retain the details of the feathers.
This Bee Assassin stayed on one of two flowers during a four week period in September. The first images are in the nymph stage, and gradually transformed into the adult form over the first two weeks. I visited the flower often to see if the bug would catch something to eat. Near the end of the fourth week I was fortunate to see, and photograph, the insect eating a bee.
Assassin bugs get their name from the way they attack their victims, inflicting sharp stabs with their beak. Their front most legs have powerful muscles to grab and hold their prey while the body fluids are sucked out. The bug pounces on bees and other pollinating insects. After grabbing the prey, the insect thrusts its cutting beak in to the victim’s back, injects an immobilizing digestive agent, then sucks out the body juices.
For these images I used a Canon 40D camera with a Sigma 150mm macro lens and a Canon MT-24EX twin light.
Turkey and Poults
This spring the male turkeys that visited my yard spent a lot of time displaying. Well, it must have worked (at least for one). A female started visiting to feed her nine poults (turkey chicks) at our bird feeders. The little round birds were so cute when they first arrived in early June. They were very skittish and the mother did not allow any approach, even when we went out to throw some seed on the ground, so the first few photos are from the kitchen window. Normally, the adults stay within six to eight feet when we walk about the yard, especially if we are bringing seed. As the poults got older, the mother did get comfortable with us bringing seed and rarely moved more than six feet out of our way, and would start running for the seed before we’d finished throwing it. The image of the single poult was taken on August 1, and is just about two months old.
When young, the poults would occasionally hide under the mother’s belly for warmth or protection. You can see a couple sets of small legs. There are five poults under the mother.
Jan and Cemal’s Yard
My friends, Jan and Cemal, have the nicest house with wonderful flower beds both in front yard and back yard. And no grass to cut. I’m envious. They invited Chris and me for a barbecue as well as to photograph the flowers that were at peak blossom. Except for the fact that it was getting dark and I had to quit, I had a great time. These images are the result. They were all taken using a Canon 40D camera with a Sigma 150mm macro lens.
It’s Spring and Love is in the Air
After seeing only male turkeys in our yard over the winter, the big males have gathered up their harems and are displaying to impress females, and to chase off any portential rivals. There are eleven turkeys in the group that visits reguraly, one big male, a couple of juvenile males, and seven females.
The colors on their heads changes dramatically when they are displaying, with vivid blues, a whte cap on top of their head, and bright red neck. the colors in their feathers are spectacular in the morning light. The male puffs up its feathers, spreads his tail and extends his wings down to the ground. He also angles his tail so that it shows in the direction of the femals (or to potential rivals) to show how big and flashy he is.
The images in this post were take with my new Sigma 150mm F2.8 macro lens