Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Great Egret in Flight

I decided to stop by the baylands on my way into work yesterday morning. Since this is the time when the birds are nesting, the next few weeks present an excellent opportunity to photograph these birds. I arrived shortly before 6 am and the sun was still rising. Much of the Egret nesting grounds were unlit, so many of my early shots required high ISOs.

It seems that it is during this time (from about 6am (maybe earlier) to about 7am) that the Great Egrets are the most active, flying back and forth busily gathering twigs and branches with which to build their nests.

They don't generally go very far to find their twigs, sometimes they are content to just swipe the building blocks from nearby nests.

All of this activity makes it the ideal time of year and day to photograph these great birds in flight.

I used my 300 with the 1.4x teleconverter the entire morning and eventually learned that the 1.4x was unnecessary. The birds are large and close enough that the bare would suffice. I plan on returning tomorrow morning at about the same time to see if I can capture more Great Egret activity.

While I was there, I also managed to photograph a few Snowies, Night Herons, and Geese.

Here is the gallery of the images I took yesterday.

Technical Specs: Canon 1D3, 300mm f/2.8 IS + 1.4x TC, f/5, various shutter speeds, ISO 400.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

BIFs and Shore Birds at Baylands

I arrived at the baylands this morning around 6:30. The sun had already risen, guess I was too late for the really crazy colors. The range arrived within a couple of minutes so I ended up driving the car in, instead of hauling all my front from the outside lot. The first picture I took was the one above. The warm sun made it easier to not blow the Egret's feathers.

There is a Great Egret nesting and I spent 1/2 hour trying to catch him in flight (above) with the 600 on the Wimberley. Definitely a challenge, but I managed to get 1 or 2 usable shots, also got a shot of a Snowy Egret in flight (below). I was told by another photographer that there were a lot more Egrets last year, he wasn't sure why the numbers were lower this year.

I eventually wandered off and started photographing a pair of American Avocets (pictured below).
As I was photographing the Avocet I noticed how the water was so still it was like glass which made the picture below striking.

I eventually came back to the Egret nesting grounds, but by then it was 9 and the light was starting to get harsh, so I packed it up and returned home. It was definitely a good morning for photography and I'll probably return even earlier next time.

Here is the set of images I took this morning.

Technical Specs: 1D3, 600 f/4 IS (some with 1.4x TC), mixed apertures and shutter speeds, ISO 400.

Orange Asiatic Lily

This Asiatic Lily is one of the flowers Kim picked up during our trip to SoCal last weekend. I'm told it only blooms once a year, after which it dies back only to return in greater number the next year. The color of the lily is definitely striking and sun was lighting it up pretty much perfectly this morning.

Technical Specs: Canon 1D3, 90 TS-E with minor tilt, f/11, 1/320s, ISO 200.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

BIFs at Palo Alto Baylands

Went to the Palo Alto Baylands this morning with the intention of photographing some of the Egrets and Herons in flight. For maximum flexibility I decided to forego the tripod and Wimberley setup with the big gun and chose to hand hold the 300 instead. Of course there ended up being more to shoot than just birds in flight and this a small sample of what I got. I think I'm going head up there again tomorrow at dawn, this time with the big gun.

Technical Specs: Canon 1D3, 300 f/2.8 IS + 1.4x TC, f/4-f/7.1, various shutter speeds, ISO 400.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

More Daisies

I spotted a very nice clump of daisies in the corner of the front yard this evening so figured I'd try to capture it. I like the way it turned out.

Technical Specs: Canon 1D3, 90 TS-E + 24mm extension tube, f/5.6, 1/60s, ISO 400. Very mild tilt and shift.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Flowering Satsuma

The Satsuma tree in the front yard is flowering like crazy, so here is a quick shot I took this evening shortly after returning from our SoCal trip.

Technical Specs: Canon 1D3, 90 TS-E, f/8, 1/80s, ISO 800.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Flowers, Fruits and Freaky Trees

Yesterday afternoon Kim and I drove down to Southern California with the intention of hitting several nurseries looking for fruit and palm trees.

We managed to get a very nice looking king palm along with two varieties of Gauva (Chinese white and Mexican red). We also bought a Heliconia and a few other flowers.

Along the way to one of the nurseries I saw a field with what looked like painted stumps. I'm not sure why this was done, maybe someone can tell me or have theories.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Moon through the Scope

Last night was another decent night for astronomy and this time I decided to haul the scope into the yard. My main goal was to see how the moon would turn out through the camera. The moon was a little late coming into the backyard so in the mean time I took a quick shot of Saturn (pictured below). Even at 2000mm, Saturn is still tiny, next time I'll use a barlow and webcam :)

The picture above is a little deceptive. Its actually the end product of several hours of processing in Registax. Even with stacked tele-converters the Canon 600mm lens has more resolution than the RCX400 (which I guess isn't that surprising). The scope though did exhibit much less CA. To make the image above, I cropped a region of the larger image (prime focus I could fit about 1/2 the moon on the XSi sensor). I took 11 shots and used 10 in Registax. I then brought it back into Photoshop and did some more work with sharpening and noise reduction.

I'm not sure if the results with the telescope warrant all the extra work, though it was a lot easier getting it pointed at the moon. Maybe I need to get out to a really dark location (with altitude) and give this a try.

Technical Specs: Canon Rebel XSi, Meade 10" RCX 400, f/8, ISO 400 top: 1/250s, left: 1/20s.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Highest Resolution Moon So Far

It was a clear night tonight and the seeing was forecasted to be ok. I decided to try photographing the moon with the most reach yet. Along with stacking tele-converters, I also used the 12mp Rebel XSi with a 1.6x crop factor (giving a FF equivalent of 2688mm). As a basis for comparison, an 8" f/10 SCT has a focal length of about 2000mm. I wasn't expecting great results, but I was pleasantly surprised with what I got. Now at this magnification even very good seeing still results in a lot of scintillation and distortion.

If you click on the image above, in the full size version the embedded image is a 100% crop. I think shooting through the telescope will be the next thing to try.

Technical Specs: Canon Rebel XSi (450D), 600mm + 1.4x + 2x (1680mm eqiv.), f/10, 1/100s, ISO 400.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Nature's Aphid Control

Yesterday, Kim released several lady bugs in both the front and back yard. With the arrival of spring and the warm weather, the aphids were starting to go crazy, especially around the rose bushes. If you use an insecticide, you risk killing the helpful bugs. One natural way to get rid of aphids is to use Neem oil, which Kim had done the week prior, but there were just too many aphids. The lady bugs should have had quite the feast today and when I returned home from work many were still hanging out on the bushes, despite the cold weather.

Technical Specs: Canon 1D3, 180mm macro, f/11, 1/300s, ISO 400, MT-24ex fired.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Birds Galore!

Last night's astronomy viewing session was a bust. It wasn't a total bust, I did manage to get a very nice view of Saturn through the 12mm Radian's on a Barlow. However by about 10:30 the transparency was still pretty bad and I couldn't see the same deep sky objects I saw the previous night. So I decided to pack everything up and go to bed early. Consequently, I got up early this morning so I took Kim with me to the Palo Alto Baylands for some birding. We saw lots of Egrets, Herons, a couple of Terns and several smaller song birds. Overall it was a pretty good trip photography wise and we spent about an hour and a half photographing. I have these and more picture in my Baylands Gallery.

Technical Specs: Canon 1D3, 600mm + 1.4x TC (840mm equiv.), f/5.6-f/8 at varying shutter speeds. ISO 200-400.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Another Moon Shot

As I sit here waiting for the seeing and transparency to improve (which should happen at about 10pm with optimum seeing happening at 1am) I figured I'll post an image I took of the moon last night. This was taken in the back yard before I started my viewing session last night. I again used Live View to make sure all shaking had subsided before taking the shot. The resulting image is a stack of 3 images processed with Registax and taken with both teleconverters stacked. I think this is a better result from what I got last time.

By the way if you want a great way to find out how the astronomy conditions will be where you are check out the Clear Sky Clock. Also check out the Clear Sky Alarm clock which will send you an email when optimal viewing conditions (that you can customize) will be in your area. I've been using both for the last couple of years and they are awesome.

Technical Specs: Canon 1D3, 600mm + 2x + 1.4x (1680mm equiv.), f/10, 1/200s, ISO 800.

3 Views of the Beehive Cluster

Last night was a particularly clear night in the bay area. Though the moon did keep astronomy conditions from being ideal (unless you wanted to look at the moon). I hauled out my telescope and binoculars into the backyard for a few hours of viewing. It was a great night for viewing planets and deep sky objects. Got a great view of saturn, rings and all. In all I saw 13 Messier objects and a couple from the NGC catalog. M51 (Whirlpool Galaxy) was a nice treat through the scope. Even with stray light problems, I could make out the fact that it was two galaxies. The view of M67 (open cluster) was particularly stunning through the telescope. Both M81 and M82 were visible and I could make out their distinctive shapes. All my observing was done with a fairly wide angle eyepiece. Tonight, I'm hoping to get a high power view of Saturn along with more Messier objects.

I actually kept darting between the binoculars and the telescope during last night's viewing session. One object which was great in both was the Beehive Cluster (NGC 2632). The photograph above was taken as I was observing the cluster through my binoculars and telescope.

Technical Specs: Canon 1D3, 24L, f/2.2, 6s, ISO 3200. Composite of 3 images.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Ants on Birds of Paradise

A new flower opened up on the bird of paradise in the front and I've been meaning to photograph it the last couple of days.

Technical Specs: Canon 1D3, 90 TS-E, f/4, 1/320s, ISO 800.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Tilt (or shift) that Perspective

I sacrificed my infrared camera last week so that I could get two of Canon's tilt/shift lenses, the 90mm f/2.8 TS-E and the 24mm f/3.5L TS-E. I really wanted the 90 TS-E for serious flower photography (where tilting the focal plane would come in handy). The 24mm TS-E will be interesting to play with for shooting interiors and architecture. Its close focusing ability (down to a ft.) also makes it an interesting lens for exaggerated perspective.

I spent a couple of hours playing with both lenses and getting used to the tilt and shift operations. Both of my lenses had already been modified so that the tilt and shift are on the same axis (they come from the factory in opposite axes). In playing around I was able to immediately see how this is useful. I found myself composing the shot un-tilted. Once you apply some tilt, the image shifts on the same axis, requiring a little bit of shift to restore composition.

I have a lot of experimenting to do in order to really get the hang of these lenses. They definitely benefit from tripod mounting and live view is a real boon for using these kinds of lenses. Both lenses seem to be great performers. The 90 TS-E is wickedly sharp even wide open and though the 24 isn't quite as impressive but its no slouch either.

The top image is an animated GIF switching alternating un-tilted and tilted images of my toy car with the 24 TS-E. The tilted version is the one where both the headlight and the windshield are in focus. The left image is with the 90 TS-E, the tilted image is the one where more buttons on the phone are in focus.

Technical Specs: Canon 1D3, ISO 100, 1/200s. Top: 24mm, f/5 Left: 90mm, f/2.8.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Light Tent

I received my light tent on Friday. Its a product made by EZcube which is useful for controlling light for product photography. I managed to get a 30" Light Tent used one pretty cheap but even new they are quite reasonable.

In order to give it a try I photographed a wooden toy car which I purchased in India a few weeks ago. The car is hand carved and assembled from solid wood and is well built.

I didn't experiment with many configurations for the strobes (I'll do that in the coming weeks) but the light tent does do its job, namely diffusely scattering light all around the inside of the tent. This will definitely be useful for those folks who photograph stuff for websites or items for sale at places like eBay.

There are two things I'm looking forward to photographing in the tent. First are flowers; the white background should provide nice contrast for particularly colorful flowers. Next is food where the neutral lighting and white background should be useful. The 'top' (as I've oriented) has a zippered flap, so one could arrange an array of small point lights to photograph jewelry. Pictured to the left is the setup I used to shoot the car at the top.

I am also switching to Zenfolio to host the images for my PhotoBlog. Not only do I have much better control over the images with Zenfolio but the resizing algorithm that Zenfolio uses to generate the smaller images and thumbnails works well.

Technical Specs (top): Canon 1D3, 24-70 @ 34mm, f/11, 1/200s, ISO 100.

Saturday, April 05, 2008


The day started off somewhat cloudy and dreary but at around 10 the sun came out and the weather is now quite nice. Kim noticed this little guy hanging out on the leaves of our newly planted Satsuma tree. I grabbed my macro rig and fired off a few shots. Both were taken pretty close to 1:1 magnification, handheld.

The picture to the left is my favorite and is actually a composite of two shots. Because of the narrow depth of field, I had to take two images to get as much of the spider as possible in focus. Since they were taken hand held, I aligned the two images in Photoshop and after a couple of minutes of quick select and masking, voila.

After wandering around the yard for a couple of minutes, I returned to the tree and the spider had turned itself around, so I quickly grabbed another shot trying to get the hind eyes in focus (top). I set the focus to as close as possible and while holding the camera I very slowly moved back and forth until the desired element was in focus. I really need to invest in a decent macro rail.

Technical Specs: Canon 1D3, 180 macro, f/13, 1/300s, ISO 400, MT-24ex fired.