Saturday, February 27, 2010

Experiments with Calla Lily

We had a lot of rain around here yesterday and this morning Kim noticed this Calla Lily which has been ignored all season had opened.

I found the drops to be fascinating and wanted to experiment with different angles and compositions.

Since I was using a macro lens, I could get really close to highlight the detail.

This is probably my favorite composition, though I can't decide if I like the color or the black & white version better:

I'm leaning towards the B&W version. All of these images were taken hand held. You can also see the light set up in the reflection of the drop (3 macro lights with diffusers).

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

White-faced Ibis

I have finished processing my Ibis images from Saturday, these are my favorites.

The light was unfortunately not ideal Saturday morning for photographing the Ibis (very cloudy and flat lighting), which was however great for the Egret (2 posts below).

I was also pushing the limits of reach since the Ibis was staying pretty far back and not getting that close. I needed every pixel of that 7D on the 800mm lens to make these images.

I'm looking forward to going back on a day with better light. In the future, I'll probably also take the flash and Better Beamer.

Sunday, February 21, 2010


It started raining here today and the weather calls for rain all week. Fortunately that means interesting droplets all over the plants in the yard.

Technical Specs: Canon 1Ds3, 100 Macro IS, f/16, 1/100s, ISO 1600.

Saturday, February 20, 2010


I went to the Palo Alto Baylands this morning in the hopes of photographing an Ibis. The Ibis eventually showed up but in the mean time I managed to catch this Great Egret having breakfast.

Technical Specs: Canon 7D, 800 f/5.6 IS, f/8, 1/400s, ISO 640.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Fortnight Lily

The weather this week hasn't been that great. We've had very dense fog in the mornings, so the conditions aren't that great for trying to photograph birds. As I arrived home I saw this Lily open and decided to grab a quick handheld image.

Technical Specs: Canon 1Ds3, 100 Macro IS, f/8, 1/80s, ISO 400.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Great Egret

I had the day off today and Maya's daycare was closed so I was on Mr. Mom duty. In the late afternoon I took her down for a walk along the baylands. I spotted this Great Egret which was feeding very close to the path. I also finally saw the White-faced Ibis I've been looking for. Sadly, it took off before I could get close enough (and I didn't have any large lenses with me since I was pushing a stroller). This was the best I could do:

Oh well, I'm going to try and return a few times this week and hopefully I'll be able to get a much better image.

Technical Specs: Canon 7D, 100-400 @ 400mm.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Evening Stroll in the Baylands

I went for a stroll along the Palo Alto Baylands yesterday, well as much as one can stroll with an 800mm lens on a Wimberley on the shoulders :)

There were numerous Long-billed Curlews (above) about as well as many American Avocets (below).

Several of the Avocets were also starting to show their breeding plumage (below).

Once again, it was the 7D and 800 f/5.6 IS combo that was able to give me sufficient reach to get decent images of these distance birds. I suppose I could have gotten closer to them by being up to my knees in mud, I wouldn't mind that, but I suspect the rangers would disapprove.

As the light was starting to wane, I went over to the duck pond with the D3s and 200-400 f/4 VR combo.

I photographed a lot of Gulls in flight, mostly to get a feel for the tracking. Tracking performance was excellent with nearly 100% of the images all in focus precisely where I had aimed. This shouldn't be too surprising though, Gulls aren't that difficult to track. What is most impressive to me is that when I took the above image, I saw the Gull approaching, very quickly put the camera to my eye, pressed the AF button and immediately started firing. This was the first frame of the burst. I remember having a different experience with my D700 where it would take a lot longer to get initial acquisition.

After the sun had set, I walked around and took a few images just to see what was possible with the super high ISO of the D3s. Once again I am very impressed with the color accuracy and richness of the D3s at high ISOs. The above image was taken at ISO 6400 and has had no color saturation adjustments in Lightroom.

Finally, just before leaving I took a quick gratuitous ISO 20,000 snap (above). Once again no color or saturation adjustments were made to this image.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Return of the Red Lip

This post is purely for the camera geeks out there so if you aren't one, you can probably skip it :)

Once again, it seems a Nikon body has managed to sneak into my camera bag, this time a Nikon D3s. Though the D3s was announced last October, it didn't start shipping until around December and is still heavily back ordered and very difficult to find. What can I say, I got lucky :)

There are several reasons I chose a D3s. One of them is simply to change things up a bit but the more practical reason was that I've been itching for a high speed FF body for quite some time. Its something that Canon sadly steadfastly refuses to give its shooters and after looking at the 1D Mark IV, decided that I won't be upgrading to their new line of pro bodies this cycle.

Ok so that's it for the whining, lets talk about the D3s. I have only spent a couple of hours shooting with the D3s and 70-200 f/2.8 VR II combo but my first impressions of both the body and this combo are excellent.

Having previously owned a D700 and aware that the D3s shared the same CAM 3500 AF system I was curious about the autofocus. Either my memory is shot or the D700 I used to have had issues because this D3s behaves nothing like my D700. It locks on the subject and won't let go, even in low light and even with the non cross sensitive AF points.

The image above is something I've tried taking many times with my Canon bodies and is usually nearly impossible with auto focus. The camera will immediately jump to the background (which was a well textured building). With the D3s, once the camera locked onto the bud, it stayed locked. Just awesome. By the way, if you look closely you can see the thin spider web that is holding that bud up.

One of the issues I had with the D700 was auto focus in very low light where the camera tended to hunt a lot and give up. The D3s seems to be quite different (again I don't know if this is an inherent difference between the D3 series and the D700/D300 or if it was just my previous D700 that was acting up). The above image was taken at a light level of ~ 2ev (ISO 12800, 1/80s, f/2.8), the AF locked onto Maya very quickly and stayed locked. Just awesome.

The second impressive aspect of the D3s is of course its crazy high ISO settings. With ISO expansion turned on, the camera will shoot at ISO 102400. The above image is a 100% crop of the image of Maya. The lighting was atrocious (mix of tungsten and whatever junk the TV was spewing out at the time), the settings are pretty much Lightroom defaults with just a touch of luminance noise applied. What I find impressive isn't the noise levels but the integrity of the colors and the dynamic range at these high ISOs.

It isn't just the stratospheric ISOs that are impressive with the D3s. The above image was taken at ISO 4500 (f/7.1, 1/125s) and what is fantastic that again along with the lack of noise, there is great detail and excellent color integrity. Here is a 100% crop:

This is with just the default Lightroom settings (no additional noise reduction or sharpening was done). I am confident that properly processed, even a 16x24 print of this image would withstand scrutiny. Looking back at my catalog of D700 images, I would say that at the highest ISOs the D3s easily has a 1 stop advantage (and at ISO 102400, its closer to a 2 stop advantage). The difference in noise levels at lower ISOs is much smaller, however there is a notable difference in color fidelity at those lower ISOs.

The D3s is the preeminent handheld photographer's camera. No tripods and no fast primes necessary which is one of the things I was looking for. Don't get me wrong, I love shooting my fast Canon L primes, but I don't want razor thin depth of field in every image I take (nor do I want only the eyelashes in focus in every image).

So does this mean I'll be switching to Nikon? No chance. My 1Ds3 doesn't stop working because of the D3s, neither does the 7D for that matter. The 1Ds3 + 800 combo is still something that produces beautiful images. Furthermore, the new Canon 17 TS-E and 24 TS-E II are stellar optics and the 1Ds3 enjoys a significant resolution advantage for macro, still life and landscape photography. Furthermore, the 800 + 7D combo gives me a fantastic amount of reach for those small birds. No, I think I'll enjoy using the best of both systems, a luxury which most people may not be able to appreciate but one for which I am grateful.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Interesting Lines

Just a quick one from the yard this afternoon. I took this late enough in the day to avoid the harsh light.

Technical Specs: Canon 1Ds3, 100 Macro IS, f/16, 2.5s, ISO 400.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Wood Duck Drakes

I wanted to share a few of images of Wood Duck Drakes (i.e. males).

They are beautiful creatures and a lot of fun to photograph.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Importance of Head Angle

The angles between the camera the camera and the head relative to the head and the light is very important to getting a pleasing image. These two images were taken only a few seconds apart, yet the one on the right is much more pleasing than the one on the left. This is primarily due to the small catch light in eye, where as in the left image the eyes appear dead.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Cut Don't Clip

A common mistake a lot of flight photographers make is to clip small part of the subject (usually a wing tip or the ends of the feet). Compositionally, a clipped image is usually less appealing. However all is not lost. If an image is 'cut' (i.e. a significant portion of the wing or feet) is cropped, then you can still end up with a compositionally interesting image.

Technical Specs: Canon 7D, 70-200 f/4 IS @ 200mm, f/4, 1/1000s, ISO 400.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Snowy Egret

Snowy Egrets and Great Egrets are among my favorite local avian photographic subjects so when I saw this one land on the cliffs of La Jolla I couldn't resist making a couple of images with him.

Technical Specs: Canon 7D, 70-200 f/4 IS @ 200mm, f/4, 1/4000s, ISO 200.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Black-necked Stilt

The black-necked Stilt is fairly common around here, yet its one which I haven't photographed very often. No particular reason for this, I guess they're just so common that I usually haven't paid much attention to them.

Technical Specs: Canon 7D, 800 f/5.6 IS, f/5.6, 1/640s, ISO 400.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Iridescent Head

The Anna's Hummingbird has a remarkably iridescent head (reflects different colors in different directions). As you can see even slight changes in head angle can result in dramatic color differences.