Great bird photography comes from a successful collaboration of the right location, the right equipment, good technique, plenty of patience and an ounce of luck. If you approach a target-rich environment with the right lens and practice your technique enough — you will get lucky. (I paraphrase my husband’s motto: luck comes to the well prepared.)
The nesting arctic terns on Vigur Island in Iceland (a target rich environment) are very strong, fast and quick. They are busy catching small fish and delivering the fish to their chicks on the island. They also have an instinct to attack your head, so it helps to have an assistant guard your head with a stick.
Set your camera this way: fast shutter speed to freeze action, and all other settings to support that choice: higher ISO, wide open lens, spot meter, and maybe continuous shooting. Then, my technique was very quick action: pan/focus/shoot.
“Thar She Blows” was the cry of a sailor spotting a whale, but the expression came to mind as we stood waiting for the Icelandic geyser to explode with a massive force of steaming water.
About every 10 minutes, Iceland’s Strokkur geyser puts on a show — shooting hot water about 30 meters into the air. It’s a dramatic natural phenomenon that you can watch only a few places in the world. Yellowstone National Park and the north island of New Zealand are two other sites that come to mind. Geysers are an indication that you are standing in a volcanic landscape.
You would be well advised to keep your children and yourself out of the line of fire, but not everyone follows the rules or exercises good judgement.
Puffins are camera shy, as they flee when they see you coming — unlike many seabirds that I’m accustomed to in Florida. As soon as I spotted one, tried to creep a bit closer, framed the shot and focused — off it went. Most of my photos that afternoon on Vigur Island were shot a second too late. Charlie and I were a persistent team; he was holding high sticks to ward off the Arctic Terns who are apt to attack your head. He was watching the long grass in the hillside for puffin nests where the puffins briefly land to feed their chicks, and acting as my spotter.
“Over there,” Charlie whispered to me, pointing. I crept closer with camera poised, hoping to focus and shoot before the puffins took flight.
I kept my shutter speed high and my lens wide open, trying to freeze action on a flying puffin at the very least. I was working hard to get a good puffin shot before leaving Iceland. Having seen puffin photos in all the shops, I knew how cute the little birds are!
At last our teamwork paid off, and I captured this image of a puffin with a beak full of fresh fish for the chicks. The Nikon D800 with 70-200 lens and a 1.4 teleconverter gave me a sharp image even though we were about 10 meters away.
Recently in the Florida Everglades, I shot a series of images of this blue heron as it took off and landed. I was pleased to see this magnificent bird with its wings outstretched. In order to freeze motion of wildlife, I usually increase the ISO on my camera making the sensor more sensitive to light. That way, I can still get a good exposure with a very fast shutter speed of 1/1000 of a second. In this case, I increased the ISO to 2000, anticipating the bird’s flight. (I was just explaining this formula to my daughter who will be traveling to Africa to enjoy a safari in a few days.)
I also made a conscious choice for the f stop setting. A lens is usually at its sharpest in the mid-range (f/7.1 here), and the depth of field is forgiving — keeping the bird in focus for the split second between the time I focus and the shutter releases. Had I opened the lens aperture wide (to counter balance the fast shutter speed), it would have been very difficult to keep the flying bird in focus. You can see, the image is successful, as long as you don’t mind a little grain, resulting from the high ISO. I will share some of the other photos in the series in subsequent blog posts.
I see green grass out my window today, but it’s starting to snow, and the blustery wind blew my hair up and in every direction. I was so cold, I had to come inside and take a hot shower! I’m reminded on this photo I took six years ago today after a fresh snow fall.
I used a textured brush tool in Photoshop to reveal the image through a layer of solid white for a notecard. It almost looks like I have scraped the fresh snow off my window.
With my husband and photography friends having departed, I woke up on my own in Maui this morning, but my productive photography workshop with Gary Hart gave me a tip to start my morning in a unique way. On a rainy afternoon in Hana (on Maui) this week Gary shared his methods for moonlit, full moon, and star photography. Then, last evening I remembered that this morning was just one day after the best day of the month for shooting a moonset — still close enough to capture something. Yesterday would have been better, but it was cloudy in Hana. On the second morning after a full moon, the moon (waning but 97% full) will set two hours after sunrise, when the landscape will be gently lit to balance the light of the moon. AND, as fate would have it, my room at Napili Shores opens on the Pacific Ocean, facing west where I saw the sunset last night. I looked up the time of the sunrise and moonset on my Focalware app, and set my alarm. It would only take me five minutes to put my clothes on, grab my camera and set up my tripod outside.
About 30 minutes after sunrise, when the full moon was about 20 degrees above the horizon was my best opportunity for an image. I was able to frame the moon with the silhouette of a palm tree, and the sky would only get brighter in the next 30 minutes, making it harder to separate the brightness of the moon from the brighter sky.
I did venture down on the lava rocks by the ocean in an effort to capture the moon sinking into the ocean, but clouds got between us (the moon and me), and that view didn’t happen. (Daily reminder: Mother Nature does whatever she wants. Cooperation is not in Her vocabulary.) I did capture some other cool images that I will share in future blogs, though. A vivid rainbow appeared for a few fleeting moments, and I captured that. Stay tuned to this nature photography blog…now is great time to subscribe by entering your email address. I’m posting some other cool Maui and Hawaii images on Instagram. Follow me there at @cathykellyphotography.
Sometimes you just have to respond to a magnificent view by making a stitched panorama with your camera — not just an instant one with your iPhone. I was so inspired after hiking to the top of St. Peter’s Basilica Dome in Rome, and inside St. Peter’s under the central dome.
Here are some best practices for shooting for a successful panorama.
If practical, use a tripod and make sure your camera is level. Realistically, you aren’t going to hike all day in the summer heat with a tripod in one hand, so if you don’t have a tripod handy, just do your best to hold the camera level as you shoot a series of images from left to right or low to high. Some locations don’t allow tripods — such as St. Peter’s (and most Major League baseball and football stadiums in the U.S.).
With your camera set to Program, Aperture Preferred Mode or Shutter Preferred Mode, determine your best average exposure setting. Especially outside, looking in one direction may be brighter than another, but you are going to need to choose one exposure setting for your camera, and then set it on Manual.When I shot these panoramas in Rome, I had a 24/70 lens on my camera, so I used the zoom level of 24mm and the aperture of f/2.8. That aperture is wide open, but I knew the whole scene would be in focus, so it worked. I chose an ISO level and shutter speed that worked (fast enough to eliminate camera shake blur), and set the camera on Manual, so these values would not change as I pointed the camera in different directions along my axis.
I also reduced the variables by making sure that my focus was constant (manual/turn off auto), and white balance was set manually, not auto. One last variable to eliminate: don’t use a circular polarizer filter, as this will change the color of your sky.
Now you are ready to shoot. Overlap each frame by at least one third. This way, Photoshop will have an easy time stitching the frames together and eliminating lens distortion.
Back at home, open all your files in the series in Photoshop and run the Panorama action. Crop and resize your finished file. You will be rewarded with a large file, that might enjoy printing as large as possible at a lab. My panorama of St. Peter’s Dome would make a print 18″ wide by 38″ tall with an ideal resolution of 300 dpi. That’s a powerful print!Interested in buying these or other images from Italy? Visit the Italy gallery on my website.