Tag Archives: wildlife

10 Tips for Better Landscape Photography

Landscape photography is one of my most favorite subjects.  From the beaches and coastlines of Big Sur, California to the lighthouses of the Northeast, landscapes make up our world.  Everyone looks at them but few can capture the magnitude. Here are some tips to help you improve your landscape work and get the most out of your time

  1. 1. Wake up before the sun comes up.  It sucks, I don’t know anyone that likes to wake up early but that’s when you get those great shots.  The fog is still in the valley, nobody else with half a brain is awake, and the world is at peace.  The lighting at sunrise is spectacular, you can actually watch the sunlight move across the ground and expose colors that you never see in midday.
  2. 2. Equipment; don’t think that all your landscape work needs to be done with a wide angle lens.  I frequently use a 70-200 with great results.  A good wide angle zoom lens is a great choice.  18-200 is an awesome range.  You can play with composition and observe all sorts of different options.
  3. 3. Panoramas are becoming more and more common these days.  This is one thing where it’s ok to join the pack and do the same as everyone else.  Photoshop has an incredible panorama tool, use it.  The days of 8×10 are gone, don’t worry about what the dimensions of your image are.  It’s your photograph, show that entire mountain range with the ocean leading out the side.  Your eyes see it, show it in your photography.
  4. 4. Go where nobody else goes.  As I drive up and down the California coast I always see signs that say “no trespassing” and that’s a good rule to follow.  However, go up to someone’s house and ask if you can walk on their land and take some pictures.  Just explain what you want to do and offer to email something to them when you get back home.  I’ve never been told to go away and have never been denied admission after I ask.  Just remember, some of the people that have beautiful views are rich and powerful, so when John Travolta answers the door don’t become a stupid goofy groupie.
  5. 5. Get on the ground.  The true mark of a good photographer is that we’re not afraid to get dirty.  Get down on your stomach and try some shots with a different perspective.  Or get high up on something, climb a tree, hang off the side of a mountain.  Find a new way to approach your subject.  Think of the Golden Gate Bridge; millions of pictures are take of it each year, but how many people take the extra 10 mins to climb down to the shore and get the water’s edge in the foreground?
  6. 6. Take pictures of cloudy skies.  It always happens, I’ve got a great picture with no clouds in the sky, and I’m not local to the area so I can’t go back and reshoot another day.  Well, it’s cheating, but if you have a big collection of just cloudy sky pictures you can Photoshop in some clouds and make that dull sky come alive again.
  7. 7. Travel alone without your assistant.  For me this is the best way to inspire myself.  When I travel alone my mind is 100% on photography.  I don’t get distracted and I don’t have to keep someone else company.  If I have someone else in the car there is lots of useless babble and then you have to worry about if they are hungry and they always have to find a bathroom at the wrong moment.  Also, they won’t want to sit for an hour waiting for the light to get perfect.  You will compromise your quality to make your partner happy.  Keep your quality and inspiration at the top, leave them at home.
  8. 8. Take several different exposures of the same image. This is called bracketing, and while most people reading this know all about it few do it anymore.  Most cameras today have an auto bracketing setting.  I use mine all the time. I’ll often take 5 or 7 different exposures of the image.  90% of the time I use just the normal regularly exposed image, but if I decide I want to have greater highlights or shadows all the information is there in a different picture.  This also leads to the HDR world, which I’m not going to even go near in this article, but HDR is here to stay and multiple exposures are a necessity for it.
  9. 9. Pay the extra money to get into parks and travel on scenic roads.  For example the 17 mile drive at pebble beach, California.  It’s $9 to drive along this road and I almost didn’t go the first time I was there.  Well, I’m glad I paid the money, it’s one of the most scenic places along the California coast and if I never paid the toll I would have missed out on some of the greatest pictures on that whole trip.  The same goes for state and national parks.
  10. 10. Finally, be prepared; bring food and water with you in the car.  If you are hungry then your creativity will suffer.  Make sure you have a full tank of gas.  Nothing will screw with your brain more than running near the E and looking for a gas station instead of a great landscape.
  11. 11. Ok, one more.  Find your sunset image way before sunset.  I start looking for my sunset place about 3 hours before the sun sets.  It sounds like a long time but remember, you might have to hike a half-mile to get that unique vantage point, or it might take you an hour just to find a good location.  Once I find my location I can sit and wait and relax.  I get on my iPhone and start looking for hotels in my area so as soon as the sun is down and it’s dark I can just drive strait there and relax for the rest of the night before I have to wake up at that horrid time before daylight, ha ha ha.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Nikon 600mm vs. Sigma 300-800mm

When you need a huge long lens for your Nikon there are a few choices.  Today we will talk about the Sigma 300-800mm and the Nikon 600mm.  If you are looking for a quick answer, in my opinion, the Nikon 600mm is the better lens. There, now you can quit reading if you only wanted a fast answer.

Onto the details:  I first purchased the Sigma lens when I couldn’t find anyone that had the Nikon in stock.  The Nikon is still extremely difficult to find and buy however.  Both lenses have advantages and disadvantages from weight, size, and both have a learning curve to being able to use the lens to it’s best.

When you have both in your hands the Nikon is a smaller lighter lens but it is still very large and heavy.  The sigma weighs just under 13lbs while the Nikon weighs 9.8lbs.  I’m not sure that’s really a noticeable difference when you are carrying it around with all the other gear, but if you are only carrying the lens and camera body hiking a couple miles I’d rather bring the Nikon.

Length, the Nikon is 17.5” and the Sigma is 21.5” which does make a difference in traveling.  I fly a lot and I would never ever want to check this lens.  I try to pack all my gear in a standard roll aboard suitcase so I can bring it with me onboard the plane as a carry on.  The Nikon will fit in a standard roll aboard suitcase and the sigma will not.  This is a huge advantage to me because if you get a grumpy flight attendant they can enforce the one carry on rule and you’re stuck out of luck.  Both lenses come with their own cases; hard case for Nikon and soft case for Sigma.  Both of the cases are acceptable as carry on size but like I said, one carry on rule can get ya sometimes.  My basic rule is that if I’m traveling alone I only bring the Nikon.  And if I’m doing a driving road trip then I use the Sigma.

Physically handling each lens is different.  The Nikon has VR so in the right conditions you can “almost” hand hold it.  Basically, I’ve been successful using a monopod or leaning it against a tree, rock, car window, or other stable surface.  The sigma does not have VR so a large stable tripod is a requirement.  When I use the Sigma I put it on a large gitzo with a Wimberley head and a 6” Wimberley plate.

The big advantage of the Sigma is that it is a zoom lens.  You will read in other reviews that you can find your subject at 300mm and then zoom in to 800mm.   This does work good and I’ve used this technique several times with good success.  I don’t think it’s a huge advantage though once you learn how to keep both eyes open with the Nikon you can find your subject easily too.  To clarify that technique, look through the viewfinder with one eye and keep your other eye open looking at your subject.  Your eyes will adjust and kind of “match” and you can find your subject easily using that technique.  It takes practice but works with any lens.

Performance; both lenses will give you great images.  Both lenses have internal motors to focus.  The Nikon does focus faster.  Nikon also says you cannot autofocus with teleconverters.  This is NOT true.  With a Nikon 1.4 or the new 2.0 teleconverter I can still use autofocus.  When you put both converters on and stack them you do have to use manual focus.  The sigma will autofocus with the Nikon 1.4 converter but will not autofocus with the 2.0 teleconverter.

So now we get to the real story. How sharp are they and which one gives you a better image.  Honestly there is very little difference in sharpness.  I’m not going to go into crazy charts and scientific method, you can see all that stuff on their web site and if you understand what those charts mean then you are better than me, ha ha.

To test sharpness I went out to a cemetery and found a dark stone against snow with some good colorful flowers.  I figure that’s going to give the best idea of color, contrast and sharpness.  The following pictures were taken on a Nikon D700 set at iso 200 and aperture was 5.6 for each image.  I set the Sigma to 600mm so it would show the same magnification as the Nikon lens.  The images have not been sharpened or anything.  There is no post processing work done to any of the pictures.

As you can see, the Nikon images have a bit more brightness and contrast which makes it appear a tiny bit sharper.  However, I don’t think it actually is sharper.  If you process the Sigma image and add some contrast then the sharpness is identical.  It’s just a trick of your eye.  Personally I like the brighter contrast in the Nikon lens, but that is just a matter of opinion.

Both lenses are excellent.  Don’t get discouraged by thinking a non Nikon lens will give you any less performance than using Nikon glass.  When you get to this price range Sigma really did the job well and didn’t cut any corners.

That being said I would recommend the Nikon mainly because of the faster autofocus and the vibration reduction.  Unfortunately it is almost impossible to find the Nikon 600mm lens to purchase in the USA.  I finally had to get mine from Canada and Nikon USA will not honor any warranty for goods purchased outside of the United States.  I am playing the odds on this one simply because I figure if I spend a fortune on a lens then they are going to build it well and I’ll never need warranty repair.

If you can’t find the Nikon 600mm then purchase the Sigma 300-800mm and throw on a few teleconverters and go take a picture of the United States flag on the moon.

Photographing Dangerous Animals

Photographing dangerous animals is something that a lot of us enjoy.  It gets us excited as we are interacting with something that has huge teeth, speed, and weighs as much as a Yugo! I hope I’m not the only one old enough to remember what a Yugo is…  Really, who is going to get an adrenaline rush by taking pictures of a cow?

As with everything else in life, the more fun it is the more risky it can become, so today I will share some of my techniques that I use to get closer to larger wild animals and get those great shots.

Bears, tigers, lions; those are what everyone thinks about when they think of dangerous animals.  And it’s true, they are dangerous, I’m going to deal with bears for the most part since they are the most likely animal you will encounter on your own.  At my last trip to Glacier National Park it was September and the bears were getting ready for hibernation.  All they had on their mind was eating and building up fat for the winter.

Bears love berries, and if you found a big huckleberry patch then chances are a bear will be there sooner or later.  Luckily, once they find the berry patch they don’t leave for a while. The bear is happy sitting there and eating for hours at a time.  This is the safest way to work with these animals, they are happy, content and unless you do something very threatening you usually won’t be bothered by them. Now, that is true for berries, but if you find them near a fresh kill things change drastically.  Keep your distance, they will aggressively defend that kill and will see you as a threat.

In Glacier National Park you can often see bears from the roadside.  The safest way to photograph these animals is to just drive by and then shoot from within your car.   However, by doing that you will create a “bear jam”.   Every car behind you will stop and suddenly there are 30 tourists with cameras making a lot of noise.  Sometimes this helps because it will get the bear’s attention and he will often look around and even stand up to get a better view; good photo opportunities.

Most of my experience with bears is with the black bear.  These are the more dangerous bear and you will have to be extra careful.  Trust your senses; you can smell them if they are close to you.  It’s a musty manure smell that’s suddenly in the area.  These animals are territorial and will stalk you.  So pay attention.

Photographing these animals is lots of fun though.  I recommend a long lens, the bigger the better that way you are obviously further away.  When I am walking through the woods I usually have my 70-200 2.8 ready and in my hand at all times.  If you startle a bear while you are on a trail they will almost always run away.  So be ready with that camera or all you’ll get is the backside of this big brown thing going through the bushes.  Try to keep your shutter speed at 500th and aperture of 4 or 5.6 at the most.  Smaller apertures will not blur the background and you will get a distracting image.

If you know where the animal is and you have a chance to set up a tripod and wait, that’s the best opportunity.

Bears don’t have very good eyesight so you can sit and observe them with a long lens 400-600mm is ideal.  Set up a tripod and sit still and just watch him eat those berries.  When you are comfortable in your spot sitting there quietly you will get some great images.  If you want to get his attention don’t wave your arms or make big movements, that will usually scare him away.  Simply use a whistle; one quick sound will make him look up and if you are lucky he will look right into your lens.  Once he realizes that you aren’t moving towards him aggressively he will usually go back to eating.

Now, if things go bad.  There are so many different people out there that advise different things.  I’ve heard all the stories about what you should do, everyone has a different opinion.  Personally I feel my life and anyone’s life with me is more important than a bear.  I do not carry bear spray, you have to be close to use it and once the bear is that close to me it’s too late in my opinion.  I carry a gun, if he is running at me the first shot goes to the ground, the second goes to him.  Sorry if that’s not politically correct but I’d rather pay a fine for shooting a bear than be mauled by one.  Loud noises of the gun will usually scare most animals, just be sure that if you have to take that second shot you have a gun big enough to put it down.

If you don’t agree with that fine, just make sure you can run faster than your assistant! Ha ha ha

I’ve never had an instance where I’ve had to use a gun but I always believe better safe than sorry.

Other animals you can enjoy are bison and moose.  While they don’t have the teeth and claws of bears; these are much more aggressive and dangerous in the wild.

Moose are often found in water during the early morning and daytime.  They are very very territorial and will charge you if you get too close.  The best way to photograph them is to set up and wait for them to appear.  Moose are a predictable animal, they often return day after day to the same place at the same time.  Scout your area; get to know your subject.

Once you have figured out where they will be its time to get set up for the next day.   Setting up a blind is a great way to get some spectacular shots and stay safe.  Pick a good spot where the sunlight won’t be reflecting off your lens and where you can get a clear view of your subject.  Hunting blinds are great for this.  They are already camouflaged and have a small hole for a rifle which works perfect for a camera.  Bring a chair and your iPod because you will probably be sitting there for a while waiting.  Wildlife photography is all about patience.  Early morning is not the best time for bright light, so a strong tripod is key.  Sometimes you will have to shoot 1/60th of a second with a 600mm lens!  Use live view with a cable release and you will be ok.  These animals don’t make fast movements so as long as you can hold the camera and lens steady and not jiggle it you will be ok with a slow shutter speed.  If slow speeds are not your thing then push up the iso.  Today’s cameras allow us to use high high iso settings with less noise than ever before. Just remember, a picture with a lot of noise is better than no picture at all.  Even if you can’t fix the noise in your post processing today, in a year from now you can revisit that image and the software will be much better and can probably fix it for you.

Bison are one of my favorite animals to photograph. However of all the ones I work with I honestly think these are the most dangerous.  Once they are charging, nothing stops them.  And they are always in herds, so it’s not just one you have to worry about, it’s all of them!

Most of my bison photography is done on farms.  I have a friend that raises them so I can get out and drive right into the pasture in the “somewhat” safety of a truck.  And I say somewhat safety because of the huge dents in the side of the truck where they charged it and rammed it!!

Try to use the same method, find a nice bison farm with a huge field, and then go talk to the owner.  Most bison farmers are a very relaxed sort of people.  They are used to visitors and usually love to answer questions about their animals.  Often they will have a small store selling jerky and meat products and that’s your foot in the door.  Start becoming a customer and often they will let you go out in the pasture (in a vehicle) and take pictures all day.

Yellowstone National Park has some great huge bison herds that are used to tourists and walk right along the roads.  The problem is a bison walking along the road is not a great picture next to the family car.  The other problem is that if you see them moving around, they don’t move slowly.  They will not wait for you to get into position and get your shot.

Farm bison don’t leave the pasture, you can drive around, get the angles you want with the lighting at the correct time of day.

And farm bison are just plain safer for you.   You won’t need a long lens. Often 200mm is more than enough.  Often I can use a wide angle and get very close to them.  Sometimes I’ve even been able to use a flash to add fill light to the subject.

To give you an idea of how strong and dangerous they are I’ll tell this story.  My first encounter with bison was at a restaurant and I loved the meat, it’s delicious and lower in fat than chick breast!  So I decided I wanted more of it.  Buying it retail at $20 per pound was not an option so I bought an entire bison and had it butchered.  The neat part was when I went to the farm he let me go out and pick out the one I wanted and shoot it myself.  This isn’t for everyone, but I’m a hick so I liked that idea.  Well to make it a short story, they are so strong it took 7 shots to bring it down!  While butchering it they found wounds in the lungs, heart, head, and spine!

So simply put they don’t go down easy and once they start charging you with your camera they will not stop until they hit you and chances are you’ll be pretty badly hurt or dead.  Stay in a vehicle, don’t walk near them out in the open and respect them more than a bear!

Animals are so much fun and so enjoyable for me to photograph.  It’s very relaxing for me to watch them move and interact with each other in their natural habitat.  Their life is so much easier than ours; they wake up, wander around, and eat.  Then they go back to sleep and do the same thing again the next day.  Photographing them allows me to share in that relaxing lazy day of theirs.

Death Valley Photography Travel

Death Valley is one of the most unique places on the earth.  The colors and landscapes you can see there are amazing and I haven’t found anywhere else where you can photograph all of them in such close proximity.   Death valley is huge and without good planning you can easily get stranded without gas in the middle of literally nowhere.

I’ve been there several times and even with my knowledge of the roads and trails I’ve had my share of close calls.  I’m going to share some of my tips and tricks to see the most sights and avoid the common mistakes as well.  Death valley has many many things to see but some are more spectacular than others.  It’s a real let down to travel 2 hours to see something and get there and say to yourself “that’s it?”  This guide will help you to plan a good trip and keep you safe.

For most people your adventure will start in Las Vegas where you pick up your rental car.  Anything four wheel drive is fine for the trip you don’t need a hummer, but the luxury is nice.  My first trip I had a small jeep, remember, you are in a desert and dust gets everywhere!  Jeeps are great off road and durable but they do not keep out the dust.  It takes about 2 hours to drive from Vegas to Death Valley.  Before you leave Vegas make sure you stock up on food and water. The stores in Death Valley are not well stocked and the prices are outrageous.  A can of chili was $4.29!!  Gasoline prices are a bit higher than civilized areas but not too crazy, just make sure you fill up any time you pass a gas station.

As you drive towards Death Valley from the town of Pahrump you will see a sign for Ash Meadows Wildlife Refuge.  This is a nice place to stop and stretch your legs.  There isn’t too much to see there but it’s a nice little creek and some birds that are unique to the area.  I haven’t ever seen any other wildlife in this “wildlife refuge” however.

Camping is the best way to see things on this trip.  You can camp virtually anywhere in the park and you’re not restricted to campgrounds.  If camping isn’t your thing there are several motels in the park.  They are about a 1 or 2 star hotel quality.  The motel at Stovepipe Wells is the most centrally located and if you use that as your base you can see many things going back and forth each day.  The advantage of camping is that you can camp in close proximity to great views for the sunrise and sunset hours.  Driving in Death Valley in the dark is not something I would advise except on the paved roads.

As you drive in you will see Zabrinskie point on your left.  This is probably the most photographed place in the entire park.  The colors of the mountains are spectacular at dusk as the sun shines down on the valley.  Keep driving into the park and make sure you stop at the Furnace Creek visitor center to get a map of the backcountry roads.  This is not the normal map; you have to ask for it specifically from a ranger. Without this map you WILL get lost.

Death Valley is all about the backcountry roads.  You can see some of the sites from the paved roads and even these sites are amazing.  However to see the very unique things you need to get off the pavement and start exploring. The majority of the roads are well maintained and you will see people driving them with normal cars.  Just remember it’s a dirt road so it takes longer to stop than it will on pavement, and keep your speed low to reduce dust.

Some of the best things to see in the park are hidden and I think that is a good thing.  You have to travel and earn the right to see some of these spectacular sites.  Titus canyon is one of these for sure.  Take the one-way road from Rhyolite ghost town and you will be treated to spectacular mountain views and canyons reaching to the sky on both sides as you travel through.

The racetrack is the famous Death Valley moving rocks site.  This is a good place to camp and get some really spectacular sunrise or sunset photographs.  The drive there also gives you a chance to see a very dramatic cactus forest that just appears suddenly and then ends the same way.

Travel north from the start of the racetrack road and work your way to Eureka Sand dunes, the tallest sand dunes in California.  I’ve never made it to the top yet but I keep getting higher each time. Someday…  On the way there you will see a huge sulfur mine on your right side. Very dramatic orange and white colors and a huge opportunity for photography in the whole area.  You can easily spend a day there.  If your timing is right when you are at the sand dunes you can have a jet from the nearby air force base fly overhead.  The dunes are so high that you feel like you could hit the plane by throwing a rock at it!

If you have the off road driving skills then continue from the Eureka dunes through steel pass and end up at the Saline Valley Dunes and Salt Flats.  These dunes and flats are well out of the way for most people and receive few visitors.  You can reach it from the main road but using the main road will add many many more miles and hours.

A final out of the way thing to see is Darwin Falls.  The turnoff is just after Panamint springs.  Panamint springs has a great little restaurant with thousands of pictures on the walls and honestly this is probably the best little hidden restaurant in the park.  Darwin falls is nestled at the end of a nice walking trail in a green leafy forest.  It’s amazing how such a place can exist in a desert.  There is a 2nd waterfall above the first you can reach by taking a very narrow and somewhat dangerous trail.  I would estimate only about 500 people a year see the 2nd waterfall because of the difficulty getting to it.

There are many many many more things to see in Death Valley but these are just a few.  There are entire books written on the park so there is no way to mention it all here.  Make sure you see the salt flats below sea level, that’s easy to find just south of the furnace creek ranch.  Almost everything there is 500% better when photographed at dawn or dusk so try to plan ahead to be at your locations safely at the right time.

If you want a really interesting sight and you have a very clear day, go to Furnace Creek Ranch and look towards the Panamint Mountains.  If you have a very good telescope or binoculars you will see what looks like two large dark caves or holes in the mountains.  These are rumored to be the windows of a long ago abandoned government alien research station.

Safety is important there, drink a lot of water, about a gallon a day per person.  Most modern rental cars have no problems with overheating. Make sure you have a spare and a jack and know how to change the tire.  Flat tires are the most common mechanical breakdowns in the park.  There is a repair station in Furnace Creek.  If you do get a flat and are driving on the spare make sure you get the old tire fixed before you head out on the trail the next day.

Warning, when a sign says “advanced four wheel skills needed” believe the sign.  This is the only place in the world where I’ve actually agreed with this sort of sign.  Death valley has death in the name for a reason.  If you are not someone with advanced off road skills then do not go on the advanced roads or you will probably have an accident and fall off the side of the mountain and be seriously injured or die.  If you want to know why then park your car and walk for a mile on the trail.  You will understand, and it only gets worse as you go on.  The advanced trails are narrow with no room to turn around and there is no turning back, so once you start you have to go all the way.  Luckily there are few of these roads and there are always long ways around to see the same thing at the end.

Death Valley is home to thousands of abandoned mines.  Please remember to stay out of the mines, as they are dangerous.  There can be poison cyanide inside, unstable rafters and floors.  If you enter and get hurt it can be days or never before someone finds you.


Winter Photography Preperation

Winter is coming and we need to get ready for winter photography.  There are several different challenges that a photographer needs to overcome to produce good images. Cameras, lenses, batteries and all sorts of equipment behaves differently in the cold and we will go over the best ways to adjust to the weather and have good results.

Cold plays havoc on our equipment.  First of all, batteries will not last as long in the cold, it drains them much faster than normal.  Make sure you have a few spare batteries and store them in your vehicle or in your front pocket where they will stay warm.  That way when your battery in the camera runs down you can have a fresh one that wont’ be drained.  This isn’t’ as much of a factor if you are working out of your car because the car will keep things warm, but if you are out hiking it will drain fast.

In the extreme cold you have to remember that things will work slower as well. Autofocus will slow down and sometimes your memory card won’t write as fast.  Make sure you remember this when you are choosing your subject.

When you take your camera out in the cold it gets cold.  You have to be very careful when you bring it back inside.  Everyone knows that when you wear your glasses outside and then come back in they get all fogged up.  Same thing can happen to your camera and lenses.  Condensation or moisture forming on the camera when it warms up is obviously a bad thing because it will form on the outside AND the inside where you can’t see it.  This is actually simple to avoid.  BEFORE you go inside, take a zip lock bag and put your camera inside it.  As the camera warms up the condensation will form on the outside of the bag and your camera will be dry inside.  Make sure you have the bags with you and make sure you have bags that are big enough to fit the whole camera and lenses all at once.  A garbage bag will work as well but you have to make sure you have it sealed well.

It usually goes without saying make sure you are prepared for the weather yourself, but many photographers are more concerned with getting their equipment ready that they forget about themselves.  I’m a big one for comfort, I like to be warm and not freezing.  I live near an army base so I can get some really cool clothing. To explain things easier I will start at the feet and move up, ha ha.

Boots are super important, you never know where you will be and what’s ahead of you.  There are many times where I have been walking along and my foot crashed through some ice into water.  Make sure you have a good pair of boots, waterproof them with mink oil.  If they are high enough tuck your pants into the boots before you lace them up, then you wont’ get snow in  your socks.  Socks are critical, I have an extra pair in my car for those water mistakes.  Wool is your friend when it comes to socks.

Pants are pants, we’re not talking about Arctic tundra expeditions here, just a normal pair of jeans work good, same for a shirt.  Your coat is super important though.  I wear an army gortex parka.  You can find them on ebay.  They have huge pockets everywhere and zippers, velcro, drawstrings, and the hood is functional, not just for decoration.  Gortex will keep out the water and let your sweat out, and if you sweat and get wet from it you can get hypothermia fast–very bad.  These coats are not usually insulated well because the army uses a theory of wearing layers.  So under the coat I usually have polartec fleece on.  I don’t know what we ever did before fleece.

Hats and gloves are last on the list.  Gloves and photography don’t mix, but sometimes you have to wear them.  Thinsulate gloves seem to be the best I’ve found so far.  There are also some gloves where the fingertip comes off, those work good too.  As far as a hat, I wear the goofiest looking hat in the world.  Basically I have an elmer fudd hunting cap.  Go to your hunting and fishing store and get one of those horrid bright orange hats that has the flaps that go down around your face.  They are usually fur lined and they are sooo warm.  If you are lucky  you can find one that isn’t bright orange.

Some other small things that make it easier, cross country ski’s work well and there are tons of established trails all over the place in the winter.  Most of the trails are beautiful and wind through a forest giving you limitless photo opportunities.  Snowshoes are a great way to get around as well, and today’s snowshoes are easy to put on and very lightweight.

Don’t drive beyond the ability of your car.  It’s easy to get distracted and keep going “just a bit further” on that unplowed road. But it’s a real pain when you have to dig out for an hour just cause you drove 10 feet too far.. Carry a small shovel in your trunk just incase.  Also, if you are anything like me you are often out of cell phone range and that’s the only time anything will go wrong.  If the car dies and you are stuck there don’t try to walk out in the dark.  Make sure you have the necessary supplies if you have to sleep in your car, blanket, food, water.   Then the next day when you have to walk, make sure you leave a note in your car where you are walking to so the rescuers can find you.

Winter photography is a lot of fun and very rewarding. The images are stunning. This seems like a lot of preparation but it’s pretty simple once you have it set up the first time, after it’s all in place you just get in the car and drive and enjoy the day.

 

Florida Bird Photography

The time of year has come when the weather is just horrible.  At least in Northern New York it is horrible.  Up  here the skies are gray, it’s rainy, it’s cold, just no fun to be outside at all.  Many of us are faced with a similar problem, it’s discouraging and you just don’t want to get up and go out and photograph things.  Now is the time to go to florida!  If you time it right you can save a ton of money going down there and avoid all the tourists as well.

Florida is traditionally a tourist destination, but early to mid November and most of January it’s dead there.  The hotels are empty and traffic is light.  The locals are in a better mood as well which is a huge advantage!

Bird photography in Florida is simply the best in the United States without question.  There are more species there than anywhere else and they are completely comfortable with people approaching them.  You don’t need blinds, camouflage, or any sort of difficult equipment.  Simply get out of your car and go watch them and shoot away.

And if bird photography isn’t your favorite thing there are great coastlines, docks, lighthouses, marinas, the possibilities are endless.  I’m a nature photographer so I’m going to share with you some of the best places I’ve found to get some great bird images.

 

viera wetlands, brevard county waste water treatment facility   many birds and eagles and aligators and stuff N wickham rd  rockledge, fl

wakodahatchee wetlands   wastewater treatment facility  many birds and aligators and stuff 13042 jog rd, delray beach

1200 lakeshore blvd  st. cloud  spoon bill cranes and chicks walking   take trails from boat ramp

900 joe overstreet rd. kenansville  driving along road, pond on left, and marsh on right at end of road… tons of birds, eagles, owls, cranes

601 lakeshore blvd  kissimme  many wading birds

cape coral burrowing owls at library

922 sw 39th terrace  cape coral

laurel road dump   sign in at office… eagles, hawks, aligators

knights trail rd, nokomis

Honeymoon island state park  ospreys and possibly owls  1 causeway boulevard, dunedin, fl

 

Those are just a few specific places that will get you started, but there are tons more around.  Everglades national park is there too,  you can spend a day there easily at just one small section of the park.

Bird photography is tricky, you can spend years til you get it right so practice practice practice.  With the amount of birds around you can try all sorts of techniques as well.  Birds in flight are one of the biggest challenges most of us face.  Practice on simple shore birds and sea gulls.  You can sit for a few hours and work on tracking them in flight and figure out how they move and the best ways to take the picture.  After working on them for a while you have become much better at photographing birds in flight so you will have a much easier time when you see those eagles, owls, or cranes that look much cooler than an ugly sea gull.

Also, remember that you want to blur the background as much as possible.  Try to keep your aperture around 2.8 or 4.0.  Don’t be afraid to use a higher ISO if necessary, a picture with some noise is better than no picture at all.

As far as equipment this is one type of photography where bigger and more expensive IS better.  Sorry, but hands down, a 600mm F4 is going to do things that are impossible to do with a 70-300 with a teleconverter.  Now, I understand most people are on a budget and not everyone can buy the big glass, but don’t get discouraged.  Try to think of different ways to get the shot if you are limited on the lenses you have.  You might have to get your feet wet walking in the water to get closer, or you might have to use a bit of stealth and sneak up some.

The main equipment I use for birds is either a 600mm or the sigma 300-800mm.  I do keep a smaller 70-200 attached to a body all the time and this is the one I have closest to me.  Think of it this way, you are driving along, or walking on a trail and suddenly 10 feet ahead you see your subject.  A spur of the moment image is not something you will need big lenses for.  This is something you will need to click fast before it flies off.  Anything beyond 10 feet and you will have time to set up the tripod and bigger lens.

Teleconverters are also very important.  Even with huge lenses sometimes you just can’t get close enough.  I’ve seen photographers with 600’s and 2 teleconverters stacked behind it.. I’ve done it myself, ha ha.  The problem with using all those converters is you lose light and autofocus speed, sometimes you won’t be able to autofocus at all.   All my cameras and lenses will autofocus with a 2x converter but that may differ depending on what body and lens you are using at the time.

No matter which setup you choose, stability is key.  Tripods are your friend.  Live view mode is your friend.  Your tripod is just as important as the expensive lens you have with you, get a big heavy duty one, period.  Ball heads do not work for bird photography, you need a wimberly style head.  It allows you to pan and follow the bird in flight and has no trouble supporting 15lbs of camera and lens.

Live view is also a huge help, I’ve written articles on the advantage of live view, but essentially it’s a mirror lockup and still allows you to watch your subject.  A remote shutter release either infrared, radio or cable is important too.  If you are set up watching a nest with two teleconverters on a big lens, the slightest touch will give you camera shake, so some sort of remote shutter release is important.

It sounds like bird photography is expensive.  Well, it is.  Sorry but it’s not a type of photography that will be something you can just pick up and do cheaply but the rewards are amazing.  There are exceptions to every rule and even if you can’t afford all the expensive equipment you can still get out there and enjoy it though.  Don’t get discouraged wishing you had the biggest best lens. Have fun with the birds you can work with and then when you can afford more you can step up to the “advanced birds”.

 

Autumn Photography Equipment

Off into the wilderness I go, well, almost.  Before you head out to get that spectacular shot of the autumn leaves and waterfalls you need to make sure you are prepared.  The easy part of planning the trip is figuring out what kind of cameras and lenses and accessories you are going to take.  The other part is remembering all the extras you need.   Today’s article will talk about all the extra little things that are often overlooked as well as the “wish i remembered” things from my latest trip.
Clothes, it’s rainy, windy, wet and cold. Remind me again why we’re out in that sort of weather? ha ha  First and foremost you need good shoes.  Now my idea of good hiking shoes differs a lot from many people.  I wear Vibram five finger shoes http://www.vibramfivefingers.com/indexNA.cfm I can honestly say these are the best shoes i’ve ever owned.  My balance is better, they allow me to wrap my toes around rocks and sticks and roots, and blah blah blah, i could go on like a commercial.  There are a few drawbacks however, they will get wet and you will have wet feet throughout the day, and you can’t wear socks with them unless you get those special toe socks which would leave you with a wet sock as well as a wet shoe, so i advise against the socks.  To me it’s all about stability and not falling, and these help me a ton.  If you choose hiking boots make sure you have worn them before and they are broken in well.  Before i found the toe shoes i wore army boots.  They are inexpensive, strong, and give good ankle support.  Get some mink oil and waterproof the boots you get.   With boots you will be winning against me in the water department but i still bet i fall less often than you will….
Pants and shirts are common sense, but take along a light jacket/windbreaker that has a hood incase it starts to rain.  I have a really nice jacket that repels water and has tons of pockets.  While i wouldn’t count on it to keep my cameras all perfectly dry it does work well to keep the wind and sprinkles off of me.  Of course the pockets are filled with filters, batteries, cable releases and such.
Some guys are into hats, some are not, that’s your own fashion sense, i’ve found that any hat i’ve worn has always gotten in the way as i press my face against the camera.
So now we’re dressed, lets get to the location.  i’m driving up and that great shot is at the bottom of a gorge that only mountain goats would be brave enough to go down in.  And us of course, but ya gotta do it smart.  At my age i’ve started using safety gear. Now i know, when you are young you figure that you’ll be fine, so just skip ahead and let the old guys read this part.  I use rope on my way down, i’ve got a nice mountain climbing rope that is 220′ long and it makes my life so much easier.  I’m not talking about mountaineering here, just makes going down slopes safer because when you have something to hold onto that’s another balance point.  You have to decide how extreme of a hill/mountain/cliff you want to descend, but remember, once you are down there you have to get back up.  Going up is where the rope really comes in handy.  I use an ascender that is used by mountain climbers.  Basically you just attach it to the rope and it’s a handle to use to go up the mountainside very easily.  You might think i’m crazy, but the best shots are always at the bottom where the water is, not looking at it from above.
If you know me at all then you know i drive around back roads A LOT.  A word of warning, back roads do not have gas stations often–just remember that.  I work from my car primarily and driving can get tiring.  Bring along some energy drinks, bars, or goo packets.  My personal choice is a product called GU  http://www.guenergy.com/ some people don’t mind the taste, some think it’s the worst thing in the world.  The simple fact however is that it works better than any energy bar or drink i’ve ever used.  You do have to find your flavor, some are horrid (vanilla bean)  but the chocolate tastes like a rich brownie mix mmmm.  But it works great, when you feel yourself getting tired and dozing a bit, eat one and within about 10 mins you will feel awake again.  Of course it’s good for hiking too.
Don’t forget your iphone either.  If you don’t have an Iphone, then give into the dark side and get one!!  GPS, Maps, Hotel bookings.. it’s an indispensable tool that i use constantly. Assistants are helpful too “stop looking at the side of the road and stay in your own lane!!!” is one i always hear from my wife’s head. Although she sits there quietly and grits her teeth in terror, ha ha.  If you ever find someone that doesn’t interfere with your creative thinking then they would be a huge asset.  Personally i travel alone because another person distracts me a great deal.
So autumn is almost over but you still have another week or two to get out there.  These are observations i’ve made over my travels so far this year.  Leave comments and don’t fall in the middle of nowhere.