Tuesday 30 November 2010

Defining the eyes

Eyes-Gateways to the soul as they say are one area that i see in many images that could do with some extra processing to bring some life into them, Many times eyes are just a little dark or in some cases very dark and with some selective processing can change an image dramatically by bringing out that extra detail that is missing. Take this image (again) of an eastern bluebird
I have done the basic processing but the eye is a tad dark, So i have used the quick selection tool and have clicked on the eye, Make the selection tool bigger or smaller by using the [ ] keys, If the selection goes over the area that you want simply hold down the ALT key and you see that the + sign in the selection circle turns into a - by holding down the ALT key you can 'push' the line back with the selection tool until you are happy, Let the ALT go and you will get the marching ants, Now go to image>adjustments>levels at the top of the screen and you will get this on your screen
Now grab the right hand cursor and drag it inwards, You will see the eye get lighter, Dont over do it as it will go grainy, You can also add some saturation at this point if you wish, As with all things in photoshop small touches are all that are needed to keep it looking 'normal'
Once you are happy click OK and then you are ready to resize the image, Here i am resizing for the web
I use this size as it covers most forums and is also the size i need for my website, You can use whatever size you are happy with, Once it has been resized right click on the image and click on actual pixels to bring it to full size that it will seen on the web, I then (and this is just my quick way of doing things) use the quick selection tool again and draw around the areas that i want to be sharpened, I dont want to sharpen the background as it will bring the grain out so just the bird and post
Once i have the marching ants where i want then i go to Filter>Sharpen>Unsharp Mask and once i have clicked on this i get the screen above, You can see that for my web images i have it set to 125/0.2/0, These are settings that i am happy with, It will give a small amount of sharpening and i then do this 3 or 4 times or easier still hit CRTL F another 2 or 3 times until i am happy that the image is sharpened enough but not too much, If it is over done then go to the history panel (seen in the screen top right) and work backwards until you are happy, Once it is good right click over the bird and deselect the selection tool, The bird and perch are now finished, Just a last play with the eye by using the quick selection tool again but just on the eye, Again put the selection tool over the eye and tap on the [ key to make it smaller until its about the same size or just smaller than the eye then right click to get the marching ants

Once you have the 'ants' where you want them just hit CRTL F twice to slightly over sharpen the eye, This will make it 'shine' and really stand out, Once done right click over the eye and deselect then add your copyright and save for the web-Job done

As i said this is my quick way to get my images ready for web presentation, By adding some brightness to the eye and some slight over sharpening it will really add to your image
Hope this helps


Monday 29 November 2010

Planning your Spring Trips in the UK - Part 4

A few days ago, I shared some of the typical target species from my Mull trips.  These are the sort of things that everyone wants to see and get stunning photos of.  Well, they are not always at close quarters and getting stunning photos will involve a lot of patience, and some luck assuming you go there with the intention of trying to take your photos legally, particularly during the breeding season.  But if you are going then good luck and hope you do well.  Tips for Otters - generally from about 2 hours before high water on a rising tide usually seems to be quite successful.  In terms of locations, that is down to you or your guide if you use one.  There are quite a few regular haunts.

With regard to eagles - the same thing goes.  You will see plenty if you look.  I have seen ten Golden Eagle individuals in one day, and half a dozen WTSE - they are there, but you need to look, find, be patient and lucky.

However, if you are there for a limited time - I used to go for a week at a time then make sure you get after a lot of the other species.  You never have to go far from the road, which is handy when carting heavy kit and tripods.

Some years you get lucky, and the odd Slavonian Grebe hangs around

When it dives, get yourself down to water level for an eye height shot.  You have up to thirty seconds to move when they have dived.

Don't forget to get photos of the most common birds on the islands such as these two.  Oystercatcher and Meadow Pipit

One of the techniques I use when stalking a subject is to get two shots from a distance, then slowly take a couple of steps, bang bang, two more shots, two more steps, two more steps until the subject either clears off or it gets too close.

This shot of a Ringed Plover was taken at close to minimum focus distance for the 500 lens.

One trip definitely worth making is out to Lunga on the Treshnish Isles.  you only get a couple of hours out there to avoid ovestressing the wildlife.  But when you leave the boat, make sure you go to the end of the island.  DON'T let the first puffins beguile you .  Move on - there are lots more subjects at the end, such as the shot of a Shag through a crack in the rock.  Plus loads of close ups of Kittiwake, Guillemot, Razorbill and more Puffins than you can manage.

When you get back on the mainland - don't forget the mammals.  There are Red Deer everywhere, a small herd of Fallow deer in the middle of the island, plus plenty of Hare both at the southern and northern tips.  More gentle than the usual Brown Hare in appearance - although still just about as nervous.

My first sightings of Green Hairstreak butterflies was on Mull on my first trip.  very tiny and difficult to see.  It is their movement that is likely to get your attention.  These two were happy to stay around as they had their minds on other things than photographers.

Sunrise and sunset is both very early and very late if you are used to more more degrees of latitude, particularly in Spring/early Summer.  This sunset was taken after 10.30.

Make sure you get out on the north west facing sides for views like this.  Taken on the north west tip of Mull looking towards the island of Coll.

I hope you have enjoyed a little glance at some of one of my favourite places, and maybe given you the motivation to think about your own trips next year.

I will bring a brief update in the next part of some of what you might find in the Cairngorms in Spring.


Sunday 28 November 2010

Nikon D7000 in the Studio

Since i have had the D7000 i have used it for types of photography except the studio, I had some friends over the day after thanksgiving and thought it would be nice to have a quick studio session as their son was over for the holidays, I set my Elinchrom D lites up and set the camera to 1/125 @ F14 and shot off various poses of our friends, Yina is a keen photographer and she ended up shooting us as well, It was only a quick session but fun which is how it should be, I normally shoot the D3s in the studio but the images from the D7000 came out very well, Nice and sharp with lots of detail, A good tool combined with the 16-35VR, My 24-70 is in for repair which is the lens i would normally use but the 16-35 on a cropped sensor gives around 50mm so not too bad and good for the group shots

Here are a few from the shoot

And yours truly

Click on the images to enlarge and then use the back button to return, So far the D7000 has past every test that i have put it through and continues to impress, For the money its a true bargain and a real jack of all trades


Saturday 27 November 2010

Winter has definitely arrived in the UK

We woke up to find a small covering of snow here in Stratford upon Avon today.  The forecast has been variable, and the last time I looked at the Met we weren't due any here.

Now it is nowhere like that being experienced in the North East, where up to 35cm or 14 inches has been falling.  But our temperatures are very cold, and have been for a few days now.  The two ponds and the reflection pool have frozen solid - so my first job this morning was to get out there, break the ice, lift the lumps away and make sure there was clear water available.  Then it was  case of replenish the feeders, and put some surface food down too.

With these very cold temperatures, it is vital that we make water available for the birds.  So please even if you don't have a pond, find some suitable container to put out for the birds - but make sure you keep it clear and you will probably have to re-do it each day.

Already, we have seen a shift of species activity with a huge increase in Chaffinches as they come in from the surrounding fields to readily available garden food.


Update: Sunday morning - seriously cold overnight - broke the ice on pond this moninng to clear some free water.  Frozen solid again two hours later.   Will need to keep on top of this now.  Even more Chaffinch in this morning, plus first of the winter Redwings in town and in the adjacent gardens

Friday 26 November 2010

Canon 7D and 550D firmware updates

7D here
550D here

Xmas pressy for the Bird Photographer

The name Alan Murphy will be well known to those who visit nature forums, His images always have the WOW factor, Very clean and attractive images, You sometimes wonder how the hell he does it, Well he now has a DVD out with all his little secrets on how to make the nicest looking set ups and how to attract birds onto them, Its basically a book on a DVD, The images are stunning and the text well laid out and easy to read-although i did find a couple of spelling mistakes, This DVD is a must for any bird photographer as the set ups will cover birds in any country, There is also a good section on shooting in water,The DVD has been out a while but i did read that they may be running out so i quickly bought a copy, At $50 its not cheap but you are paying for the guys knowledge and hard work and if you make 1 sale through the DVD you will have your money back-Highly recommended
You can get a copy at the Naturescapes store


Thursday 25 November 2010

Santa List - part 3 - UK reference material

For UK based wildlife photographers, I have posted you a few key reference books that I like and have in my collection across a range of our subjects.  These are vital in subject identification for those species that we do not recognise.

Until Kindle get round to a colour screen, then reference books are best as precisely that - real books.

The Birders bible

For other subjects,

A few more stocking fillers for you (or your partner to buy for you)


Wednesday 24 November 2010

Happy Holidays

Tomorrow is Thanks Giving here in the USA so just a quick post to say a big Happy Thanksgiving to ALL of our readers-Here are few festive shots i took lest year in the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee


Tuesday 23 November 2010

Planning your Spring Trips - Part 2

This year was the first year that I didn't go to Mull for a few years.  I made six trips in five years.  It is a fine place.  There is a lot if ground to cover, and getting lose to the wildlife requires knowledge, skill, patience and some luck.  OK, so no different to most other places in the UK to be honest.

Now I am either tight as I don't like paying for someone to put me in front of my subjects, or prefer the thrill of my own explorations.  The truth is someone in between, and probably much closer to the last.

Let me explain what I mean.  When I go somewhere new for a holiday, I usually have more subjects that and photos that I want to get than I know is reasonably possible, although it never stops me trying.  With limited time in one location, I have tended to use a wildlife guide, rather than a photo guide to take me round an area so I can see what is where.  Photo opps on these days are usually limited by the activity, and other people.  However, if I can get a day trip out early on, I am then better placed to do my own thing for the rest of the week, or however long I have.

And so it was when I visited Mull on previous years, taking a trip out with Pam and Arthur Brown of Discover Mull, or Steve Duffield of Western Isles Wildlife this year on the Uists.

Mull is a great island with wonderful wildlife but not always close to you, so you do need to work at it.

The typical  big target species that people go to see are Golden Eagle, White Tailed Eagle, Hen Harrier, Short Eared Owl, Ottter, and Corncrake down on Iona.  Early May is a good time to see all of these species, with the SEO and HH being dependant on the vole population.  The first couple of years I went the vole population crashed so the Harriers and Owl were nowhere to be seen.

All of the above were taken on Mull or Iona, the images below were taken on North Uist or Skye, but can be found on Mull

However, many of my best shots, in my opinion were not of the 'big' species.  There are a staggering number of bird species on Mull, I usually just about cracked 100 in a week there.  Some of the best photography can be had working these other species, which I will bring you in the next part.


Monday 22 November 2010

Wrap Up

Even though the temperature is forecast for 75 degrees here tomorrow winter is just around the corner, The nights for one are getting cold and that mean wrapping up and staying warm, I have a couple of very cold trips planned in the next few months and have been getting ready by getting good quality clothing, Staying warm and dry is not just important for your comfort-if you are not comfortable then you wont be enjoying it and whats the point in that- and also for your health, i am just shaking off a bad cold that has bugged me for nearly 3 weeks now as i wasnt prepared for a cold few hours in my hide and have paid the price, When dressing for cold weather always dress in layers-base,mid and top layers, There are lots of choice for base layers-vest and long john type pants and most outdoor places will sell them, Always try to get some that 'wick' the sweat away as if you are walking far you will sweat and as soon as you stop you will get cold, get good makes like Helly Hanson or North Face, I have just bought a new mid layer top by Spyder and its very nice, Comfortable and very warm, Last year i waited for the sales and then bought some insulated bib trousers ready for this winter, I got them for about $20 which is ridiculous as they are well made and very warm and waterproof, Last Xmas santa dropped some boots down the chimney, They came from Cableas, These boots are the absolute business, I spent a week on the New Jersey shore last January when temperatures never rose above zero for 10 hours a day and never once had cold feet-amazing boots and worth every penny, Its your Head, Hands and Feet where most of the body heat is lost so for my head i have a Mad Bomber-Again very warm and comfortable and for my hands i have just purchased some mittens with built in fingers which also take a handwarmer if needed, I purchased them from Dicks sporting goods but for some reason they are not on their website, I have used Sportchief jackets and trousers for years and they are still in good condition and work well which shows that its best to spend a little extra, There are a huge selection of good quality winter clothing around now, These are what i use and recommend but just visit any outdoor shop and try for yourself, Its money well spend and could help save your life if you are lucky enough to be able to photograph in less visited areas


Sunday 21 November 2010

Planning your Spring Trips - Part 1

Now is a good time to start thinking about (if you haven't already) your Spring wildlife trips, if you live in the northern hemisphere that is.

Some of this is dependant on what type of wildlife photographer you are, see previous posts here and here.

Assuming you prefer to plan and research your own trips then this look back in the archives might help.

It was about this time last year I did my research for my North Uist trip - lots of posts on that trip here for you.

Starting with working out what the subjects were likely to be available, and what time of year, and what sort of location, I could then sort out the accommodation and then travel arrangements.  After that it was easy. All common sense logic really.  The same applies whether you are staying in country or 'going abroad'.  When you have done that, it is a good idea to have a plan of action with enough flexibility to ensure that if your subjects aren't playing ball you have another option or two, and also think about a good and bad weather option too.  It isn't always perfect photographers light.....at least not here in the UK anyway.

One thing I did learn from a couple of my early trips on Mull, and also having watched other wildlife photographers is that it is all too easy to go chasing the wildlife if it isn't where you expect it to be.  Sometimes (always actually, I believe) you need to have patience and pitch up and wait for the wildlife to come to you.  Sometimes, I just sit and wait and watch before I even contemplate what to photograph.  Now, when you have travelled a long way, spent a lot of money and have limited time, it is so easy to get caught in the trap of wanting to shoot everything possible.

I know that when I put my 100 image Mull presentation together, I was still short of all the material I wanted even after five trips to the place..

Anyway, maybe there are a few useful pointers there for you.  If it is all too obvious, then apologies, although I still often find myself forgetting to do the things I write.

In Parts 2 and 3, I will bring you some pictures and tips for those planning a trip to the Isle of Mull on the West Coast of Scotland and Part 4 the Cairngorms in the Highlands of Scotland.


Saturday 20 November 2010

Feed them and they will come

I have been feeding the birds on the private land for a couple of weeks and the feeders are now starting to get busy, I put up a branch for the woodpeckers and after nearly 3 weeks they have finally found it, I have drilled a few holes in the branch with a paddle bit and have filled the holes with a fat/seed mix, I have managed some decent hairy woodpecker images and he has visited for the last 3 days-very important now to keep it up, I had 4 Northern Flickers feeding on the ground right in front of my hide the other day, they are like the Euro Green woodpecker in that they eat ants and bugs so i am looking for a decent sized log with a large knot or branch hole that i can fill with mealworms and hope that i can get some decent shots of these beautiful birds before too long, The cardinals,Tufted Titmouse,Mockingbirds and wrens have been regulars and i have had a Jay or 2 arrive and grab a nut before departing, The Jays are very shy and the slightest movement of the lens and they are off, A beautiful bird and i hope to get them at the feeders on a regular basis, They are very vocal and they never seem to be far away, I have now removed the bramble that i was using as a perch and will be replacing it with different branches with fall/autumn colour leaves to add a splash of colour, The deer are still arriving although normally after the sun has disappeared from the area, I am in a dip, i have taken a few head shots but not really bothered with them as the birds are my main interest unless a decent buck arrives of course,

Male Cardinal with raised Crest
Female Cardinal
This years White Tail
Tufted Titmouse
Hairy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker at food hole
Same image with hole cloned out
New perch with Carolina Wren
All images taken with the New Nikon D7000 and 600 with and without 1.4x