End of a Florida Spoonbill Photography Season

We are now officially at the end of the good season to photograph Spoonbills with either breeding colors or young chicks in Florida. This year was pretty good as the Tampa Bay offered an amazing spectacle of pink feather life.

Roseate Spoonbill landing in the Florida water of Tampa Bay

Spoonbill landing – Alafia Banks, Florida
ISO 400 | f/6.3 | 1/4000 sec. | Manual mode | AI servo rear focusing
This photograph was created with the Canon 600mm f/4 L IS II USM lens (Canon 600mm f/4 L IS II USM review), the Canon EOS 5D mark III on tripod with Gimbal Head. Have a look at the equipment I typically carry with me. Click on the image above to see it at a higher resolution.

The photograph above is a very nice creation of a Spoonbill with breeding colors landing in the shallow water at Alafia Banks, during one of my photography workshops in the Tampa Bay. I truly enjoy this unique aerial position that Spoonbills display a split moment before landing. The possibility often occurs when I am working on a small group already in the water. I try very hard not to focus all my attention on the subjects on the ground and look around whenever I can to spot possible new incomers. Because the new birds usually want to join the group it gives one a fairly good idea of where they will land. It is then a matter of acquiring focus early on while the bird is approaching 🙂

Spoonbill photography tour in Florida

Spoonbill landing – Alafia Banks, Florida
ISO 1600 | f/7.1 | 1/2000 sec. | Manual mode | AI servo rear focusing
This photograph was created with the Canon 600mm f/4 L IS II USM lens (Canon 600mm f/4 L IS II USM review) coupled with the 1.4x extender, the Canon EOS 5D mark III on tripod with Gimbal Head. Have a look at the equipment I typically carry with me. Click on the image above to see it at a higher resolution.

The landing Spoonbill photograph above was created in the same fashion, under a different angle and while it was overcast at Alafia Banks. Note that I did not hesitate to push the ISO to 1600 to have a shutter speed that would be fast enough to freeze the action. I tend to prefer to push the ISO as much as possible, relying on good post processing techniques. If I were shooting with the Canon 7d I might have lowered the ISO a bit though as this camera is known not to create a lot of noise with high ISO settings.

Young Juvenile Spoonbill in flight - Florida

Young Spoonbill about to land in the mangrove trees – Alafia Banks, Florida
ISO 400 | f/6.3 | 1/4000 sec. | Manual mode | AI servo rear focusing
This photograph was created with the Canon 600mm f/4 L IS II USM lens (Canon 600mm f/4 L IS II USM review), the Canon EOS 5D mark III handheld. Have a look at the equipment I typically carry with me. Click on the image above to see it at a higher resolution.

The landing image above is very different in its creation. Maintaining the whites while having a somewhat dark background on a sunny day will lead to a low key picture: dark background, almost black. It is a different mood that can be done quite nicely when well handled. My guess is next year will be even better!! Join me on one of my workshop to get your chance at creating such memorable photographs 🙂

Botswana and the Victoria Falls instructional photography tour / $9,800 / limit 6 people / September 10th-20th 2015:

Join me and Robert O-Toole for a true photographic adventure in Africa.
Wildlife photography tour - Botswana African safari

Florida Spoonbills and Shorebirds instructional photography tour / $880 / limit 5 people / March 7th-8th 2015:

The best place to photograph Spoonbills with breeding colors, no questions asked.
Bird photography workshop - Florida Spoonbills & Shorebirds

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Nesting Black Skimmers at Indian Shores, Florida

There is a very nice nesting zone for Black Skimmers along the Indian Shores beach in Florida. If you want to have the best chances photographing Black Skimmers skimming in the water this is the place!! Also, time your visit right and you will be delighted creating photographs of Skimmers with their young chicks.

Black Skimmer preening - Indian Shores, Florida

Black Skimmer preening – Indian Shores, Florida
ISO 640 | f/8 | 1/4000 sec. | Manual mode | AI servo rear focusing
This photograph was created with the Canon 600mm f/4 L IS II USM lens (Canon 600mm f/4 L IS II USM review) coupled with the 1.4x extender, the Canon EOS 5D mark III on tripod with Gimbal Head. Have a look at the equipment I typically carry with me. Click on the image above to see it at a higher resolution.

The Black Skimmer photograph above was created at India Shores, Florida in the early morning. The Black Skimmers nest in a small colony straight at ground level in the sand depression. Individuals frequently come in and out to skim, stretch and bath. A small group detached itself from the colony for a few minutes with many of the birds preening for a bit. Skimmers are actually difficult to photograph properly while in a small flock because they tend to stay huddled very close together. Keep an eagle eye for the edges and you might get an opportunity as above. I decided to keep the left bird in the frame and not to Photoshop it out as I thought it gave a better story. 🙂

Black Skimmer skimming the water - Indian Shores, Florida photo tour

Black Skimmer skimming – Indian Shores, Florida
ISO 640 | f/8 | 1/4000 sec. | Manual mode | AI servo rear focusing
This photograph was created with the Canon 600mm f/4 L IS II USM lens (Canon 600mm f/4 L IS II USM review), the Canon EOS 5D mark III handheld. Have a look at the equipment I typically carry with me. Click on the image above to see it at a higher resolution.

Now when most people think about Skimmers, they think about the bird skimming the water surface in quest of food. The birds really like shallow areas where the fish cannot go too deep hence avoiding the long lower part beak of the bird. In fact, you might be shocked to see that many birds skim right to the edge of the shore. My advice for this type of photography is to select frames where the bird has its wings up and where you do not have waves crashing in the background. It might take a few tries before getting there…

Black Skimmer skimming - Florida bird photography tour

Black Skimmer skimming – Indian Shores, Florida
ISO 100 | f/14 | 1/25 sec. | Tv mode | AI servo rear focusing
This photograph was created with the Canon 600mm f/4 L IS II USM lens (Canon 600mm f/4 L IS II USM review), the Canon EOS 5D mark III handheld. Have a look at the equipment I typically carry with me. Click on the image above to see it at a higher resolution.

This an opportunity often missed! Arrive early, before sunrise if possible and work on artistic blurs. Results can be quite surprising with a good technique.

Botswana and the Victoria Falls instructional photography tour / $9,800 / limit 6 people / September 10th-20th 2015:

Join me and Robert O-Toole for a true photographic adventure in Africa.
Wildlife photography tour - Botswana African safari

Florida Spoonbills and Shorebirds instructional photography tour / $880 / limit 5 people / March 7th-8th 2015:

The best place to photograph Spoonbills with breeding colors, no questions asked.
Bird photography workshop - Florida Spoonbills & Shorebirds

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The best rookery to photograph in Florida?

A rookery is an area where the birds nest in a big group, with sometimes thousands of pairs nesting together. Rookeries are often a wildlife photographer’s paradise as the birds display vivid breeding colors along with elegant longer feathers. Best of all, the birds come and go to the same spots as they need to attend to their nest! A predictable place to find your favorite subject, what more to ask for? While Alafia Banks is the biggest rookery for Spoonbills in the state of Florida, there are two very successful rookeries in gator preservation theme parks: Gatorland in Orlando and Alligator Farm in St Augustine. I decided to pay a visit to Gatorland last weekend!

Snowy Egret - Bird photography tour in Florida

Snowy Egret displaying – Gatorland, Florida
ISO 500 | f/5.6 | 1/1600 sec. | Manual mode | AI servo rear focusing
This photograph was created with the Canon 600mm f/4 L IS II USM lens (Canon 600mm f/4 L IS II USM review), the Canon EOS 5D mark III on tripod with Gimbal Head. Have a look at the equipment I typically carry with me.

Snowy Egrets display stunning feathers during the breeding season. Their lore, bare skin surface around the eye, turns pink and they grow very elegant feathers that they flaunt during display. Note that the tough part of photographing in a rookery is to very carefully select subjects so that background are not too clustered! If possible chose a bird whose background is far away behind in order to maximize the blur behind 😉 Unfortunately, few people actually think about that. In the photograph above the subject is in the shade, while the background is lit up by the sun, giving a very vibrant image overall. Subject in the shade with background in the sun is one of my very favorite scenario!

Cattle Egret - Florida photography workshop

Cattle Egret with breeding colors – Gatorland, Florida
ISO 400 | f/5.6 | 1/1600 sec. | Manual mode | AI servo rear focusing
This photograph was created with the Canon 600mm f/4 L IS II USM lens (Canon 600mm f/4 L IS II USM review), the Canon EOS 5D mark III on tripod and Gimbal head. Have a look at the equipment I typically carry with me.

Cattle Egrets have surprisingly very bright breeding colors! Note again that I chose an angle where there are no tree twigs flying left and right. Rookeries are chaotic places, where one need to pay very close attention to the layout in order to recognize good photography situations.

Great White Egret - Photography tour Gatorland

Great White Egret with green breeding lore – Gatorland, Florida
ISO 320 | f/13 | 1/640 sec. | Manual mode | AI servo rear focusing
This photograph was created with the Canon 600mm f/4 L IS II USM lens (Canon 600mm f/4 L IS II USM review), the Canon EOS 5D mark III handheld. Have a look at the equipment I typically carry with me.

The Great White Egret above shows a very bright green color on its lore with red eyes. In a place like Gatorland there is no real need for a long lens as the birds are extremely tame and can be approached from very very close. However, you will still see me most of the time with my 600mm. Why? A longer lens yields stronger background blurs, helping to isolate the subject a lot better. Besides the fact that it is harder to use that type of lens in a confined environment, one needs to remember that the longer the lens, the narrower the depth of field. In order to get your entire subject in focus it is often necessary to decrease the aperture size by choosing f/13 instead of f/5.6 for instance.

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Florida Spoonbills and Shorebirds instructional photography tour / $880 / limit 5 people / March 7th-8th 2015:

The dates are now set for the next Spoonbill tour to Alafia Banks! Book soon as there is a lot of demand.
Bird photography workshop - Florida Spoonbills & Shorebirds

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Bird in flight photography with the Canon 600mm f/4 IS II

The Canon 600mm f/4 IS II is quite lethal for bird in flight photography. One of my outing to Alafia Banks, the best Roseate Spoonbill rookery in the state of Florida, is a great example… First off, that morning did not start well to say the least. The rookery is only accessible by boat, or a long kayak ride. At the time of assembling my kayak and getting ready to head in the water I realized that I had taken two half male ores that were not going to join together to form one solid shaft. I have two ores that split in two, and made the mistake of taking semi ore A of ore 1 with semi ore A of ore 2. The long ride promised to be extra long with just two halves that would not connect! I had a moment of hesitation and almost turned around. Finally, I decided that rowing harder will be a fair compensation for not thinking things through! “You have to be willing to do things in a harder way when you don’t think things through” is one of my grandma’s favorite sayings… 🙂 Well, eventually arriving at the rookery, it dawned on me that I was missing my tripod!! At Alafia Banks, one needs to wade 100% of the time as one cannot step on the island itself since it is protected by the Audubon society and no one is allowed to trespass on the island. So no tripod means a not so comfortable hand-holding with a big rig. And… as icing on the cake I had left my 1.4x extender in the car. Yey!!!

Spoonbill in flight photography tour - Florida

Roseate Spoonbill banking in flight – Alafia Banks, Florida
ISO 320 | f/5.6 | 1/3200 sec. | Manual mode | AI servo rear focusing
This photograph was created with the Canon 600mm f/4 L IS II USM lens (Canon 600mm f/4 L IS II USM review), the Canon EOS 5D mark III handheld. Have a look at the equipment I typically carry with me.

This Roseate Spoonbill banking in flight photograph was created at Alafia Banks, Florida. Having left my tripod behind was a perfect opportunity to focus on flight photography using hand-holding techniques that give the best stability for the minimum effort. Wanna know my secret to successfully hand-hold a 600mm for flight photography? Well… it starts with the position of your feet on the ground: feet spread shoulder length apart and orientation at 45 degree versus target. Then what I like to do is to hold the foot of the lens with my left hand and tuck my left elbow against the higher part of my left hip so that my muscles work the less possible, rather having the weight on my body structure instead. The reason why I like to hold the foot of the lens instead of the lens itself is because it gives me the length I need to have my elbow resting on my hip, greatly alleviating the overall strain. This technique absolutely saved the day! Note that the image above depicts a young Spoonbill, as you may have noticed a paler shade of pink, a head not so bald and the wings tip with a bit of brown.

Brown Pelican - Alafia Banks, Florida

Brown Pelican in flight – Alafia Banks, Florida
ISO 800 | f/5.6 | 1/3200 sec. | Manual mode | AI servo rear focusing
This photograph was created with the Canon 600mm f/4 L IS II USM lens (Canon 600mm f/4 L IS II USM review), the Canon EOS 5D mark III handheld. Have a look at the equipment I typically carry with me.

The Brown Pelican above liked to take off from its mangrove tree perch to circle the area a few times before landing back in the trees. The creation above shows the last second brake before landing on a branch. It is a good idea to have your neck strap with you while hand-holding, so that you may give a rest to your arms as often as possible while keeping a sharp eye open for flight action. I keep repeating to my students, that being able to anticipate flight patterns and recognizing that a bird is likely to come in range early on is a key factor to be ready when the bird flies across the target area. Target area? That is right, in order to capture the bird with proper sun angle and head angle you will necessarily have a limited area that will result in good photography.

Bird in flight photography workshop - Florida

Little Blue Heron in flight – Alafia Banks, Florida
ISO 500 | f/6.3 | 1/4000 sec. | Manual mode | AI servo rear focusing
This photograph was created with the Canon 600mm f/4 L IS II USM lens (Canon 600mm f/4 L IS II USM review), the Canon EOS 5D mark III handheld. Have a look at the equipment I typically carry with me.

This 3rd photograph was also created on the same day! This little blue Heron with breeding colors made a couple of circles above the tree line, before landing out of sight. Hand-holding allows for a very quick reaction time while walking (in this case while wading). The precious seconds used to move the tripod from my shoulder to the ground and then put the bird in the frame is often the main reason for a miss, when I am walking to a different spot.

Don’t get me wrong, I really like to have my tripod and gimbal head with me while shooting with the Canon 600mm f/4 IS II, but it seems that taking the lens off the head every now and then is a good idea, especially when aiming at bird in flight photography.

Botswana and the Victoria Falls instructional photography tour / $9,800 / limit 6 people / Sep 10-20 2015:

Botswana is the best preserved African country when it comes to wild safari. An opportunity not to be missed!
African safari in Botswana

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Background correction with water drops

While taking an action shot of a bird splashing in the water, or shaking off water from its wings, sometimes I end up with not so desirable background elements trapped behind water drops. The traditional clone stamps techniques tend to be somewhat limited in those situations as the water drops often follow a pattern and cloning water drops to follow the existing patter often ends up being a lot harder than it seems. How to go about it?

Roseate Spoonbill - bird photography workshop

Roseate Spoonbill flapping its wings – Alafia Banks, Florida
ISO 500 | f/7.1 | 1/3200 sec. | Manual mode | AI servo rear focusing
This photograph was created with the Canon 600mm f/4 L IS II USM lens (Canon 600mm f/4 L IS II USM review) with the 1.4x extender, the Canon EOS 5D mark III on a gimbal head and tripod. Have a look at the equipment I typically carry with me.

This Roseate Spoonbill photograph was created during a private photography tour, at Alafia Banks, Florida. After a bathing session, the bird started to flap its wings to dry up its feathers. It resulted a very nice splash of water drops coming out from the wings. You will see in the photograph below that I took out a brown area to the left of the image. The brown spot was very distracting and took out the attention of the viewer from the bird itself.

Spoonbill - Alafia Banks

Before and after the brown spot fix

Eliminating that spot turned out a lot trickier than one would expect. The difficulty was to clone or paint the background while keeping the water drops in their original pattern. This is how I proceeded in Photoshop:

1. Create a copy of the layer with Ctrl+J
2. Add a layer mask to the upper layer. Paint in black at 95% over each water drop so that the top layer will have holes directing towards the water drops of the lower layer. This process can be lengthy and requires good attention to details.
3. Paint or clone over the brown zone in the upper layer so that it disappears. In this case, I painted over it.
4. Merge the layers with Ctrl+E

The painted layer mask allowed for the water drops in the lower layer to appear in the front layer! Knowing your way around some of those image optimization techniques can lead you a good deal further in your artistic creativity. 🙂

See below a zoom over the brown spot.

Water drops

Painting over the brow spot while keeping the water drops

What do you think?

Roseate Spoonbill - Florida photo tour

Roseate Spoonbill along the mangrove shore – Alafia Banks, Florida
ISO 400 | f/5.6 | 1/4000 sec. | Manual mode | AI servo rear focusing
This photograph was created with the Canon 600mm f/4 L IS II USM lens (Canon 600mm f/4 L IS II USM review) with the 1.4x extender, the Canon EOS 5D mark III on a gimbal head and tripod while wading knee deep in the water. Have a look at the equipment I typically carry with me.

My favorite Spoonbill pictures are when I can have a blue background behind the bird! Spoonbills often stay close to the mangrove trees, giving the photographs more of a low key / dark feel. Positioning myself and my group of students on one side of the shore allowed for a blue background instead of rocks and mangrove trees.

Botswana and the Victoria Falls instructional photography tour / $9,800 / limit 6 people / Sep 10-20 2015:

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African safari in Botswana

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Bathing shorebirds with the Canon EF 600mm IS II

The Canon EF 600m IS II is quite an asset to create beautiful photographs of shorebirds while bathing! The reach helps not disturbing the tiny birds and make the background very blurry, while the extremely fast auto-focus allows for top notch action shots.

Short-billed Dowitcher bathing - Florida photography workshop

Short-billed Dowitcher bathing – Fort Desoto, Florida
ISO 400 | f/5.6 | 1/4000 sec. | Manual mode | AI servo rear focusing
This photograph was created with the Canon 600mm f/4 L IS II USM lens (Canon 600mm f/4 L IS II USM review) with the 1.4x extender, the Canon EOS 5D mark III handheld while laying flat on the sand. Have a look at the equipment I typically carry with me.

This Short-billed Dowitcher photograph was created during the previous Spoonbill / Shorebirds photography workshop, at Fort Desoto, Florida. Always careful to spot early on shorebirds bathing, I directed my students to this one, which seemed to have a blast cleaning up its wings in the shallow water. Though not everybody could get on the ground, the very best vantage point is as low as you can. Then make sure your auto-focus point is directed towards the bottom so that you don’t clip wings at the time of the flap or to capture most of the water splashes. Keep a very fast shutter speed and you are on the right track.

Semipalmated Plover - Fort Desoto photography tour, Florida

Semipalmated Plover – Fort Desoto, Florida
ISO 400 | f/5.6 | 1/4000 sec. | Manual mode | AI servo rear focusing
This photograph was created with the Canon 600mm f/4 L IS II USM lens (Canon 600mm f/4 L IS II USM review) with the 1.4x extender, the Canon EOS 5D mark III handheld while seated on the sand. Have a look at the equipment I typically carry with me.

A few minutes after the creation of the first photograph above, this Semipalmated Plover decided to go for a quick bath as well. Still in the same position, this photograph portrays the nice flap that follows most bathing sessions. Creating great photographs is often based on recognizing wildlife’s behavior and anticipating on the right position to be at to capture the action. From the image optimization perspective, I did not have to clean anything in the background. I selected the bird, which I pasted on a separate layer (Ctrl+J after selection) in order to apply some of my favorite Color Efex pro effects: 70% Detail Extractor and 20% Tonal Contrast.

Herring Gull - Florida shorebirds photography

Herring Gull eating a crab – Fort Desoto, Florida
ISO 400 | f/7.1 | 1/5000 sec. | Manual mode | AI servo rear focusing
This photograph was created with the Canon 600mm f/4 L IS II USM lens (Canon 600mm f/4 L IS II USM review) with the 1.4x extender, the Canon EOS 5D mark III handheld while seated on the sand. Have a look at the equipment I typically carry with me.

Herring Gulls are amongst the biggest gulls! This gull has a very interesting technique to add big crabs on its menu. First the Herring Gull captures the crab, then flies up in the air with it to let it drop from 50 feet high or so, hoping to crack the shell. Then it is meal time! Of course, it is usually not quite the end of the story, as the gull still needs to chase away other shorebirds from its quarry: it is not rare to see 4 or 5 Rudy Turnstones harassing the gull until they get a piece of the crab…

Botswana and the Victoria Falls instructional photography tour / $9,800 / limit 6 people / Sep 10-20 2015:

This premium African safari will blow your mind.
African safari in Botswana

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Memories from Fernandina Island in the Galapagos Islands

For some reason this week I have been thinking about a past tour to the Galapagos Islands on several occasions. More specifically, the visit to Fernandina Island had been very rich in photographic opportunities. The Island is perfectly preserved and is the home of multiple very rare species. This is the favored spot for Flightless Cormorants to nest for instance…

Flightless Cormorant on its nest - Galapagos photography tour

Flightless Cormorant on its nest – Fernandina Island, Galapagos Islands
ISO 640 | f/5.6 | 1/2500 sec. | Manual mode | AI servo rear focusing
This photograph was created with the Canon 600mm f/4 L IS II USM lens (Canon 600mm f/4 L IS II USM review), the Canon EOS 5D mark III handheld while seated on the sand. Have a look at the equipment I typically carry with me.

The Flightless Cormorant is a vulnerable species that nest from July to October, mainly on Fernandina Island, in the Galapagos Islands. The female stays at the nest while the male brings presents in form of sea weed of every color to help her decorate and fortify the nest. A big part of their courting happens in the water, where they swim after each other in crazy swirls. Quite the show! In the photograph above the female is patiently waiting on top of her nest. When creating a portrait photograph a good composition if often to put the head of the subject close to one of the corners.

Galapagos Hawk eating an iguana - Photography workshop

Galapagos Hawk eating a baby iguana – Fernandina Island, Galapagos Islands
ISO 640 | f/5.6 | 1/2500 sec. | Manual mode | AI servo rear focusing
This photograph was created with the Canon 600mm f/4 L IS II USM lens (Canon 600mm f/4 L IS II USM review) with the 1.4x extender, the Canon EOS 5D mark III handheld while seated on the sand. Have a look at the equipment I typically carry with me.

While creating the photograph of the Flightless cormorant above I noticed this Galapagos Hawk starting to come down from the sky with a big prey in its beak. After closer investigation, the Hawk had captured a baby marine Iguana. The bird chose a barren lava rock and went on with its meal.

Galapagos Marine Iguana with Lava Lizard - Photography tour

Marine Iguana with lava lizard – Fernandina Island, Galapagos Islands
ISO 640 | f/5.6 | 1/3200 sec. | Manual mode | AI servo rear focusing
This photograph was created with the Canon 600mm f/4 L IS II USM lens (Canon 600mm f/4 L IS II USM review), the Canon EOS 5D mark III handheld while seated on the sand. Have a look at the equipment I typically carry with me.

In the photograph above you may see a somewhat frequent scene on Fernandina Island: a lava lizard hanging out on the head of a marine Iguana. I observed that behavior only on Fernandina Island. Note that each island of the Galapagos Islands tend to have distinct species that have evolved differently across the years based on the specificity of each island.

Botswana and the Victoria Falls instructional photography tour / $9,800 / limit 6 people / Sep 10-20 2015:

The dates for next year are now set! This is the very best African safari package you will find out there, with a memorable ending at the Victoria Falls in Zambia.
African safari in Botswana

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White on white & upcoming Spoonbill workshop at Alafia Banks

Color contrasts between your subject and the background can help depict stunning stories. See below a couple of examples with Great White Egret photographs.

Great White Egret - Florida photography workshop

Great White Egret – Fort Desoto, Florida
ISO 2000 | f/5.6 | 1/250 sec. | Manual mode | AI servo rear focusing
This photograph was created with the Canon 600mm f/4 L IS II USM lens (Canon 600mm f/4 L IS II USM review) with 1.4x extender, the Canon EOS 5D mark III handheld while seated in the water with waders. Have a look at the equipment I typically carry with me.

The Great White Egret photograph above was created at Fort Desoto, during an overcast day. The white on white effect comes from overexposing to expose properly for the white feathers, resulting in a background a bit overblown. Overcast days are really good situations to create this specific dreamy atmosphere. It is all about properly exposing for the subject and picking a very clean background situation. A white bird in the still water is a very good start.

Great White Egret - Florida photography tour

Great White Egret – Sarasota Bay, Florida
ISO 320 | f/5.6 | 1/6400 sec. | Manual mode | AI servo rear focusing
This photograph was created with the Canon 600mm f/4 L IS II USM lens (Canon 600mm f/4 L IS II USM review) with 1.4x extender, the Canon EOS 5D mark III handheld. Have a look at the equipment I typically carry with me.

In the Great White Egret photograph above, I created an opposite recipe than the first one presented. Instead of white on white, a good way to create white on black, is to properly expose for a white subject in the bright sun, while having the background in the shade. The contrast white subject on a dark background will lead to underxposing in order not to blow the highlights. This will make for a background even darker, often almost black! I did not edit the background whatsoever… Understanding proper exposure techniques helps finding creative situations. 🙂

Roseate Spoonbill - Florida Alafia Banks photography workshop

Roseate Spoonbill blur – Alafia Banks, Florida
ISO 250 | f/4 | 1/15 sec. | Manual mode | AI servo rear focusing
This photograph was created with the Canon 600mm f/4 L IS II USM lens (Canon 600mm f/4 L IS II USM review), the Canon EOS 5D mark III handheld while on the boat. Have a look at the equipment I typically carry with me.

The Roseate Spoonbill blur photograph above was created at Alafia Banks during the Spoonbill workshop. One of the rare spots where it is somewhat easier to create Spoonbill in flight blurs is Alafia Banks. Given the fact that you will see a large number of the beautiful pink birds over there, and this from pre-sunrise to sunset.

Spoonbills and shorebirds instructional photography tour / $980 / limit 5 people / Feb 28th to Mar 2nd:

Only 2 spots left! We are now two weeks before the date, so hurry if you want to join me on this one of a kind workshop!
Spoonbills photography workshop - Alafia Banks, Florida

Support our blog by following our links for your purchases. It comes at no extra cost to you and it helps keeping this photography blog lively!

Steven

Av / Tv or full manual shooting modes?

Which shooting mode to choose? You have no idea how many times I hear the question! Many professionals think that because they are pros, they should only shoot in full manual mode… There is absolutely nothing wrong with shooting in Av or Tv mode when you know why you should do so. I personally shoot in full manual about 90% of the time, and the rest is split between Av (Aperture priority) or Tv (Shutter priority) modes. Let me lay down my reasoning behind choosing the proper mode…

There are two main factors: background and light source.

changing backgound              constant background

constant lighting                         manual                             manual or Av / Tv

changing lighting               manual or Av / Tv                            Av / Tv

The table above is what I believe is proper to do and here is why:

1. Constant lighting & changing background

A perfect example of that situation is when creating photographs of birds in flight.

Harris Hawk in flight - Photography Workshops

Harris Hawk in flight
ISO 1600 | f/6.3 | 1/4000 sec. | Manual mode | AI servo rear focusing
This photograph was created with the Canon 600mm f/4 L IS II USM lens (Canon 600mm f/4 L IS II USM review), the Canon EOS 5D mark III on a gimbal head over tripod. Have a look at the equipment I typically carry with me.

Birds in flight will move from one background to the other, from blue sky to tree line, to ocean waves and so on. The issue with using the semi-automatic modes (Av, Tv), is that they are designed to blend all tones into an ideally exposed grey tone. That means that if your subject is white and your background is very dark, you will need to dial some negative exposure compensation in order to properly expose your photograph. Otherwise your white subject will end up being overexposed and the whites will be clipped in your histogram, leading to a non recoverable loss of information. So, your camera is constantly assessing the ideally exposed grey based on where you are pointing at, hence constantly re-assessing your bird during its flight. Of course, you are not likely to have time to adjust the exposure compensation between flying from the blue sky to the dark mangrove! So, it is very important to stick to fully manual mode, where your subject is going to be well exposed no matter what the background is.

2. Constant lighting & constant background

You may use any semi-automatic or fully manual mode without consequences in this scenario. My preference will go to fully manual though.

3. Changing lighting & changing background

Those are the most difficult situations. Let’s imagine a bird in flight close to the tree line, with the sun playing hide and seek with the clouds. I would lean towards fully manual with constant check of my histogram and adjustments of my shutter speed.

4. Changing lighting & constant background

If the lighting conditions are constantly changing, but the background is pretty much the same, I will opt for Av mode with a good judgement on which exposure compensation to dial in.

Galapagos Waved Albatross - Photography tour

Waved Albatross – Espanola Island, Galapagos Islands.
ISO 640 | f/5.6 | 1/8000 sec. | Av mode -1 EC | AI servo rear focusing
This photograph was created with the Canon 600mm f/4 L IS II USM lens (Canon 600mm f/4 L IS II USM review) with the 1.4x extender, the Canon EOS 5D mark III handheld. Have a look at the equipment I typically carry with me.

We had a constantly changing weather that morning on Espanola Island and I was focusing on this Albatross with the green grass as background. Instead of having to adjust the shutter speed back and forth as the sun came in and out, I opted for shooting in Av mode and dialing -1 in exposure compensation as my subject was lighter in tones than the background. Another good example would be to shoot in a rainforest, where the sun might be one second going through the foliage, and the other being blocked by a tree. Photography in those conditions will require the use of Av mode a lot more.

When do I use shutter priority or Tv mode?

Controlling the shutter speed is extremely useful when creating pleasing blurs!

Fort Desoto - Florida photography tour

Great Blue Heron blur – Fort Desoto, Florida.
ISO 100 | f/8 | 1/15 sec. | Tv mode | AI servo rear focusing
This photograph was created with the Canon 600mm f/4 L IS II USM lens (Canon 600mm f/4 L IS II USM review), the Canon EOS 5D mark III handheld. Have a look at the equipment I typically carry with me.

I typically set my shutter speed between 1/15 and 1/30 of a second when creating blurs.

Botswana and the Victoria Falls instructional photography tour / $9,800 / limit 6 people / Sep 2014:

Botswana is designed towards high end ecotourism and has the best preserved nature amongst the great African safari countries. This is the very best place to go to!

Spoonbills and shorebirds instructional photography tour / $980 / limit 5 people / Mar 2014:

Do you like Spoonbills? This is the workshop for you!
Wildlife Photography Tour - Spoonbills & shorebirds

Support our blog by following our links for your purchases. It comes at no extra cost to you and it helps keeping this photography blog lively!

Steven

Sleeping birds

First of all, happy new year to all!!

What is the best way to photograph birds while they are sleeping or resting on one leg? One might think that a flock of birds sleeping does not offer much photography opportunities, but there is a way to make a few nice creations!

Sanderling sleeping - Florida shorebird photography workshops

Sanderling sleeping – Lido Beach, Florida.
ISO 2000 | f/7.1 | 1/4000 sec. | Manual mode | AI servo rear focusing
This photograph was created with the Canon 600mm f/4 L IS II USM lens (Canon 600mm f/4 L IS II USM review) with the 1.4x extender, the Canon EOS 5D mark III on a gimbal head over tripod. Have a look at the equipment I typically carry with me.

This is what I call sleeping on a cloud! This Sanderling photograph was created at Lido Beach, Florida, the day after Christmas day while visiting my mother in law.
First off, it usually yields better results to have the subject parallel to your camera. So, in this case a head angle parallel is better than a few degrees towards you. Second, try to have the head in one corner of your viewfinder for better framing. Third, wait for the bird to open its eye, which they usually do every so often wile resting. Note that I am not disturbing the bird, simply wait… Do you know how I created that dreamy part under the bird? It looks like it sleeping above a haze… Reach for a low shooting angle, and the out of focus sand between you and the subject should do the trick.

Oystercatcher - Shorebird in Florida

American Oystercatcher sleeping – Fort Desoto, Florida.
ISO 400 | f/7.1 | 1/3200 sec. | Manual mode | AI servo rear focusing
This photograph was created with the Canon 600mm f/4 L IS II USM lens (Canon 600mm f/4 L IS II USM review) with the 1.4x extender, the Canon EOS 5D mark III handheld. Have a look at the equipment I typically carry with me.

This American Oystercatcher was created at Fort Desoto. On this one I created a mirror effect by having a second subject blurred in the background. When dealing with a flock, try to work on the sides so that it will be easier to isolate subjects. If you cannot, try to look for an interesting composition.

Botswana and the Victoria Falls instructional photography tour / $9,800 / limit 6 people / Sep 2014:

This is the very best African safari package you will find out there! And I know the good spots…
African safari in Botswana

Spoonbills and shorebirds instructional photography tour / $980 / limit 5 people / Mar 2014:

Alafia Banks alternated with Fort Desoto makes for a killer Spoonbill in breeding colors / shorebirds photography combination.
Wildlife Photography Tour - Spoonbills & shorebirds

Support our blog by following our links for your purchases. It comes at no extra cost to you and it helps keeping this photography blog lively!

Steven