Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART
August 9th, 2022

Nickerson Beach Backlit Basics Part II: Second Verse, Same as the First!

Thank you note from Carlotta Grenier

Via e-Mail from Carlotta Grenier

Dear Artie,

I just ordered the RawDigger guide and will book a morning session with you in the coming weeks. Thanks again for the great session on Thursday August 4th. Once you loaded my settings onto my a1 body it was as if I had a new camera. I could not believe how well the AF system performed, how sharp the images were even with teleconverters with your simplified AF Methods (only two!), and how easy it was to get the right exposure with Zebras.

On a personal note, you look so good right now, better than I have ever seen you look. You should get at least to 100 and continue being productive as you need to share your knowledge with people who love to learn.

Best
Carlotta

Carlotta is a very young 80 years old. She knew me when my floppy sun hat was new, close to 25 years ago. She loves to photograph horses and birds. Her images continue to do well in her local Connecticut photo club contests.

What’s Up?

There were more clear skies and more southwest winds to deal with on Monday morning. I came up with another new technique for dealing with these difficult, wind-against-sun conditions: I photographed incoming backlit skimmers and terns, many with carrying baitfish for their chicks, with the tripod-mounted 600 GM/2X TC/a/1 rig. I sat to eliminate the distant background of cabanas and buildings and replace that with a row of beach grass along the bottom of the frame.

On Monday afternoon, with winds in excess of 28 mph in the forecast, I opted to stay in to protect my gear from windblown sand. Just one grain under the Playback button will have you sending your camera in for repairs.

I will be making my first visit to the East Pond at JBWR on Wednesday morning. Water levels and the weather are looking ideal. See below to join me.

Today is Tuesday 9 August 2022. I will be heading to Nickerson early to enjoy the challenge of another wind-against-sun morning. Wherever you are and whatever you are doing, I hope that you too have a great day. This blog post took about 90 minutes to prepare and makes one hundred thirty-eight days in a row with a new one.

So far, seven folks have been in touch about joining me at either Nickerson or JBWR in the coming weeks for an In-the-Field session or two. The first window for doing shorebirds at the East Pond at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge is from 10-12 August, the second window is 24-26 August. See the additional details below.

Please remember to use the B&H and Amazon links that are found on most blog pages and to use the BIRDSASART discount code at checkout when purchasing your new gear from Bedfords to get 3% back on your credit card and enjoy free second-day air FedEx. Please, also, consider joining a BAA IPT. You will be amazed at how much you will learn!

Clockwise from the upper left corner back around to the center: Wilson’s Phalarope, JBWR; just fledged Common Tern, Nickerson; Black Skimmer, adult skimming, Nickerson; Black Skimmer killing tiny skimmer chick, Nickerson; American Oystercatcher foraging at sunrise, Nickerson; Common Tern chick swallowing baby bluefish, Nickerson; Short-billed Dowitcher, juvenile, double overhead wing stretch, JBWR; Black Skimmers, predawn flock blur, Nickerson; Black Skimmer, 10-day old chick, Nickerson.

Click on the card to view a larger version.

Nickerson Beach/East Pond JBWR composite

Nickerson Beach/East Pond at Jamaica Bay (JBWR) In-the Field Workshops

Both Nickerson Beach and the East Pond at JBWR offer some of the best midsummer bird photography on the planet. Hundreds of pairs or Black Skimmers and Common Terns along with more than a dozen pairs of American Oystercatchers breed at Nickerson each season so there are lots of chicks of all sizes and handsome fledged young to photograph. Provided that the water levels are low, hundreds of young shorebirds in their handsome fresh juvenile plumages stop by the pond each August on their way south.

Nickerson often reveals nature at it rawest, most basic level. Most days we get to photograph all sorts of dramatic behaviors ranging from skimmers and terns fishing and feeding (and tending) their you. There are often chances to shoot a variety of predatory encounters — gulls eating large skimmer chicks, skimmers eating skimmer babies, and Peregrine Falcons hunting. And rarely, if we are lucky, Peregrine Falcons catching! Consider joining me to learn a ton both about bird photography and the birds.

This image was created on 6 August 2022 at Nickerson Beach Park, Lido Beach, Long Island, NY. While seated on dry sand, I used the lowered, no-longer available except from BIRDS AS ART, Induro GIT 304L tripod/Levered-Clamp FlexShooter Pro-mounted Sony FE 600mm f/4 GM OSS lens, the Sony FE 2.0x Teleconverter, and The One, the Sony Alpha 1 Mirrorless Digital Camera). The exposure was determined via Zebra technology with ISO on the thumb dial. ISO 800. 1/800 sec. at f/8 (wide open) in Manual mode. When evaluated in RawDigger, it was determined that there were 20,000 over-exposed pixels. Keep reading to learn why that was a perfect exposure in this situation. AWB at 7:10:41am on a mostly sunny morning.

Tracking: Spot S/AF-C with Bird-Eye/Face Detection performed perfectly. Be sure to click on the image to enjoy a high-res version.

Image #1: Backlit Black Skimmer chick

Can an Image with 20,000 Over Exposed Pixels be the Best Exposure?

The key to the success of this image was the light coming through and illuminating the translucent orange of the proximal half of the bird’s bill.

As you can see in the RawDigger screen capture below, nearly all of the OvExp pixels are in the specular highlights along the bottom edge of of the bill (as shown by the pink to red OvExp warnings). There are also a few OvExp pixels on the forehead. So why not set the exposure a lot a lot darker and eliminate all of the OvExp pixels? As you are basically looking at a reflection of the sun itself, you would need to shoot many stops darker. Even decreasing the exposure by 10-12 (or more) stops would not do away with the over-exposed line along the bottom of the bill. And if you did shoot to minimize the over-exposure there, the shadowed side of the subject would be rendered so dark that opening up the tones would tremendously increase the noise on the bird and would muddy the colors as well.

Note: in the old days, and even today, flash can be used to light the shadowed side of the backlit subject. You would not, however, be able to use a Better Beamer to increase the power of the flash. Why? As the lens is pointed towards the sun, the fresnel screen would burn holes in your flash or you hand or forearm. (I learned both of those from experience).

The Lesson

When the wind is blowing against the sun, creating backlit images is one of your best options.

Backlit Basics

1- Use your longest effective focal length for a narrow angle of view that reduces background clutter.

2- Set your exposure so that the rim light is over-exposed so as to avoid under-exposing the shadowed side of the subject.
3- Place the subject on the same line as the sun to get the most dramatic backlight. Only rarely will you want the sun in the frame on clear days as it is far too bright.

4- Look for situations where translucent, brightly colored portions of the subject are glowing from strong the backlight.

Send Verse, Same as the First!

With one small addition, today’s lessons are pretty much identical to the stuff we covered in yesterdays blog post.

Image #1A: The RawDigger screen capture for the Backlit Black Skimmer chick image

More of the Same

Many students need the lessons to be repeated over and over again so that they can understand and master them. So, here we go.

First, note that the histograms in all three color channels are pegged against the right-hand axis of the graph, indicating severe over-exoposure.

Again and always, when shooting backlit creatures, we strive to include rim-lit areas in an effort to create dramatic images. If you expose dark enough to avoid over-exposing the rim light, the shaded side of the subject will be grossly under-exposed; the entire image would be nearly black. Lightening under-exposed tones, will introduce lots of noise and will muddy the colors. By pushing the exposure to the right and toasting the rim light, you will create a raw file with at least some detail in the shaded feathers and will have produced an image that you can work with during the raw conversion and then in Photoshop.

What can I say? The combination of Zebras live in the viewfinder (with your camera set up properly) and post-capture study of the raw files in RawDigger makes it pretty much child’s play to come up with perfect exposure after perfect exposure, even in super-difficult situations. It would be impossible to overstate how much I have learned by studying RawDigger and how much better my exposures have become since I started with the program almost two years ago. The raw file brightness for today’s featured image is perfect with the G channel almost making the 16000 line. In other words, the raw file brightness is perfect.

RawDigger — not for the faint of heart …

Nothing has ever helped me learn to create perfect exposures to the degree that RawDigger has. I think that many folks are reluctant to learn that most of their images are underexposed by one or more full stops and that highlight warnings in Photoshop, Lightroom, Capture One, and your in-camera histogram are bogus as they are based on the embedded JPEGs. Only your raw files tell the truth all the time. Heck, I resisted RawDigger for several years … Once you get over that feeling, RawDigger can become your very best exposure friend no matter what system you are using. On the recent IPTs and In-the-Field sessions, we have demonstrated that fact. Convincingly.

The RawDigger Adapted (pink) Histogram

In the RawDigger e-Guide, you will learn exactly how to set up the Adapted “pink” RawDigger Histogram and how to use it to quickly and easily evaluate the exposure or raw file brightness of images from all digital cameras currently in use. RawDigger was especially helpful to me as I have struggled with R5 exposures and learned my new camera body, the Sony Alpha a1.

Click on the image to better see the green eye-AF boxes in action.

Sony Alpha 1 Flight Photography AF Points!

The SONY Alpha a1 Set-up Guide and Info Group: $150.00 (or Free)

The SONY Alpha a1 Set-up Guide and Info Group is going great guns as more and more folks chime in with thoughtful questions and experience-based answers. As the a1 is becoming more readily available, more and more folks are getting their hands on this amazing body. By June 1, 2022, the group was up to an astounding 124 lucky and blessed folks. (More than a few folks own two or more a1 bodies! Early on, we discussed the myriad AF options. I gave my opinion as to the best one for flight and general bird photography. The best news is that everyone in the group receives an e-mail that includes a .DAT file with my a1 settings on it, and explicit directions on how to load my settings onto your a1; talk about convenience! I am now offering a .DAT file compatible with firmware update 1.20. Your entry into the group includes a consolidated Sony a1 CAMSETA2 INFO & GUIDE. New a1 folks will now receive six e-mails instead of the previous 28! You will receive new e-mails as they are published. Simply put, this e-mail guide is an incredible resource for anyone with an a1.

All who purchased their Alpha 1 bodies via a BAA affiliate link — B&H or Bedfords — will receive a free Sony Alpha a1 Set-Up Guide and free entry into the Info Updates group after shooting me their receipts via e-mail. (Note: it may take me several days to confirm B&H orders.). Others can purchase their guide here in the BAA Online Store.

Typos

With all blog posts, feel free to e-mail or to leave a comment regarding any typos or errors.

August 8th, 2022

Nickerson Beach Backlit Basics Part I: How Can an Image with 124,000 Over Exposed Pixels be the Best Exposure?

What’s Up?

I kept only 102 of the 2712 images that I created on Saturday afternoon, a keeper rate of only 3.7%. That for the first edit. While there were a zillion skimmer midair battles, it was very difficult to keep the birds in the frame; the south wind was so strong that the birds were being blown to the north as soon as they took flight to squabble. on Sunday morning, the sun was out for a bit. With the wind from the southwest, I was glad that it clouded over quickly. I did well at sunrise on a single skimmer and then worked the birds with fish and the chicks. I kept 102 out of 1150 images, a keeper rate of 8.8%.

The Met game was great. I attended with younger daughter Alissa and my younger grandson, Idris. Mets all start pitcher Jacob DeGrom was spectacular. He had a perfect game for 5 2/3 innings. Then he walked a batter and gave up a home run with the Mets leading 5 to nothing. The Mets pitchers struck out 19 Braves to tie the team record. The Mets are now 6 1/2 games ahead of the Braves in the National League East. I lived in Brooklyn when the Miracle Mets won the World Series in 1969, and in Queens when they won again in 1986. Maybe this is there year too!

I should have mentioned that our seats were in the sun until the 7th inning. It rained hard at 2:30pm. Then the sun came out with a vengeance. By 3:00pm the temperature on the field was 93° but it felt like 111°. Can you say sauna?

Today in Monday 8 August 2022. The forecast for the morning is a repeat of the last few days; partly cloudy turning sunny with a brisk wind from the southwest. Wherever you are and whatever you are doing, I hope that you too have a great day. This blog post took about two hours to prepare and makes one hundred thirty-seven days in a row with a new one.

So far, seven folks have been in touch about joining me at either Nickerson or JBWR in the coming weeks for an In-the-Field session or two. The first window for doing shorebirds at the East Pond at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge is from 10-12 August, the second window is 24-26 August. See the additional details below.

Please remember to use the B&H and Amazon links that are found on most blog pages and to use the BIRDSASART discount code at checkout when purchasing your new gear from Bedfords to get 3% back on your credit card and enjoy free second-day air FedEx. Please, also, consider joining a BAA IPT. You will be amazed at how much you will learn!

Missed Anniversary

On 7 August 1983, I purchased my first telephoto lens, the Canon FD 400mm f/4.5FD lens. Yesterday marked 39 years of bird photography for me. Mazel tov!

This image was created on 6 August 2022 at Nickerson Beach Park, Lido Beach, Long Island, NY. Working off the titled rear monitor, I used the flattened, no-longer available Induro GIT 304L tripod/Levered-Clamp FlexShooter Pro-mounted Sony FE 600mm f/4 GM OSS lens, the Sony FE 2.0x Teleconverter, and The One, the Sony Alpha 1 Mirrorless Digital Camera). The exposure was determined via Zebra technology with ISO on the thumb dial. ISO 800. 1/800 sec. at f/8 (wide open) in Manual mode. When evaluated in RawDigger, it was determined that there were 124,000 over-exposed pixels. Keep reading to learn why that was a perfect exposure in this situation. AWB at 7:08:23am on a mostly sunny morning.

Tracking: Spot S/AF-C with Bird-Eye/Face Detection performed perfectly. Be sure to click on the image to enjoy a high-res version.

Image #1: Backlit Black Skimmer chick

Was It Worth It?

In yesterday’s blog post here, I wrote:

Conditions for bird photography were extremely challenging on Saturday morning. The wind was from the west southwest, blowing straight at the sun. A large cloud on the eastern horizon blocked the red sunrise light on the beach for ten minutes. When the sun finally cleared the cloud, there were few birds left on the beach due to too many bicycle riders, and the beach, was a mess with seaweed.

Then, I tried and failed on some backlit landing skimmers. My only successful image was that of a single backlit skimmer chick. I sat behind the tripod along the western colony ropes with the ground level 600mm f/4 GM lens/2X TC combo and going after backlit chicks for more than an hour. All in all, photography was very difficult, but I did make one very special image. Was getting up very early, working hard for more than two hours, and getting one very good image worth it?

Yes. All that I ever hope for is one good image. After that, I get greedy.

Note that the keys to creating a successful image here were working at 1200mm to isolate the subject and getting the lens just inches above the ground to soften the background by effectively moving it farther from the subject and create an intimate perspective.

The Lesson

When the wind is blowing against the sun, creating backlit images is one of your best options.

Backlit Basics

1- Use your longest effective focal length for a narrow angle of view that reduces background clutter.

2- Set your exposure so that the rim light is over-exposed.

3- Place the subject on the same line as the sun to get the most dramatic backlight. Only rarely will you want the sun in the frame on clear days as it is far too bright.

Image #2: RawDigger screen capture for the “Backlit Black Skimmer chick” image

How Can an Image with 124,000 OvExp Pixels be the Best Exposure?

When shooting backlit creatures, we strive to capture rim-lit feathers or fur so that we can create dramatic images. If you expose dark enough to avoid over-exposing the rim light, the shaded side of the subject will be grossly under-exposed. Lightening it will introduce lots of noise and some muddy colors. By pushing the exposure to the right and toasting the rim light, you will create a raw file with at least some detail in the shaded feathers and will have produced an image that you can work with.

What can I say? The combination of Zebras live in the viewfinder (with your camera set up properly) and post-capture study of the raw files in RawDigger makes it pretty much child’s play to come up with perfect exposure after perfect exposure, even in super-difficult situations. It would be impossible to overstate how much I have learned by studying RawDigger and how much better my exposures have become since I started with the program almost two years ago. The raw file brightness for today’s featured image is perfect with the G channel almost making the 16000 line. In other words, the raw file brightness is perfect.

RawDigger — not for the faint of heart …

Nothing has ever helped me learn to create perfect exposures to the degree that RawDigger has. I think that many folks are reluctant to learn that most of their images are underexposed by one or more full stops and that highlight warnings in Photoshop, Lightroom, Capture One, and your in-camera histogram are bogus as they are based on the embedded JPEGs. Only your raw files tell the truth all the time. Heck, I resisted RawDigger for several years … Once you get over that feeling, RawDigger can become your very best exposure friend no matter what system you are using. On the recent IPTs and In-the-Field sessions, we have demonstrated that fact. Convincingly.

The RawDigger Adapted (pink) Histogram

In the RawDigger e-Guide, you will learn exactly how to set up the Adapted “pink” RawDigger Histogram and how to use it to quickly and easily evaluate the exposure or raw file brightness of images from all digital cameras currently in use. RawDigger was especially helpful to me as I have struggled with R5 exposures and learned my new camera body, the Sony Alpha a1.

RawDigger e-Guide with Two Videos

The RawDigger e-Guide with Two Videos

by Arthur Morris with Patrick Sparkman

The RawDigger e-Guide was created only for serious photographers who wish to get the absolute most out of their raw files.

Patrick and I began work on the guide in July 2020. At first, we struggled. We asked questions. We learned about Max-G values. We puzzled as to why the Max G values for different cameras were different. IPT veteran Bart Deamer asked lots of questions that we could not answer. We got help from RawDigger creator Iliah Borg. We learned. In December, Patrick came up with an Adapted Histogram that allows us to evaluate the exposures and raw file brightness for all images created with all digital camera bodies from the last two decades. What we learned each time prompted three complete beginning to end re-writes.

The point of the guide is to teach you to truly expose to the mega-Expose-to-the-Right so that you will minimize noise, maximize image quality, best utilize your camera’s dynamic range, and attain the highest possible level of shadow detail in your RAW files in every situation. In addition, your properly exposed RAW files will contain more tonal information and feature the smoothest possible transitions between tones. And your optimized images will feature rich, accurate color.

We teach you why the GREEN channel is almost always the first to over-expose. We save you money by advising you which version of RawDigger you need. We teach you how to interpret the Max G values for your Canon, Nikon, and SONY camera bodies. It is very likely that the Shock-your-World section will shock you. And lastly — thanks to the technical and practical brilliance of Patrick Sparkman — we teach you a simple way to evaluate your exposures and the raw file brightness quickly and easily the Adapted RawDigger histogram.

The flower video takes you through a session where artie edits a folder of images in Capture One while checking the exposures and Max-G values in RawDigger. The Adapted Histogram video examines a series of recent images with the pink histograms and covers lots of fine points including and especially how to deal with specular highlights. The directions for setting up the Adapted Histogram are in the text.

If we priced this guide based on how much effort we put into it, it would sell it for $999.00. But as this guide will be purchased only by a limited number of serious photographers, we have priced it at $51.00. You can order yours here in the BAA Online Store.

The Image Optimization

The image optimization here was relatively straightforward. For the raw conversion in Adobe Camera Raw (ACR), I pulled the Whites slider to -100, moved the Shadow slider to +100, and surprisingly, left the Highlights slider at zero. Why the latter? I did not want to darken the white feathers on the shadow side of the bird. By experimenting with the Highlights slider and the Whites slider I came up with something completely new that worked.

I removed the white speck in the background, eliminated one or two distracting elements from the beach, and did some extensive bill cleanup work. I used Tim Grey Dodge and Burn to lighten the shadowed side of the bird in 10% increments with a large, soft brush. I selected the bill and the legs with a Color Range selection, increased the Orange saturation and Luminance, again in ACR. Technically, I should have played with the Orange tones during the raw conversion.

The BIRDS AS ART Current Workflow e-Guide (Digital Basics II).

You can order your copy from the BAA Online Store here, by sending a PayPal for $40 here, or by calling Jim or Jennifer weekdays at 863-692-0906 with your credit card in hand. Be sure to specify Digital Basics II.

The BIRDS AS ART Current Workflow e-Guide (Digital Basics II)

Almost all of the techniques mentioned above and tons more great Photoshop tips and techniques including my clean-up tools and techniques — along with my complete digital workflow, Digital Eye Doctor Techniques, and all my personalized Keyboard Shortcuts — are covered in detail in the BIRDS AS ART Current Workflow e-Guide (Digital Basics II), an instructional PDF that is sent via e-mail. Note: folks working on a PC and/or those who do not want to miss anything Photoshop may wish to purchase the original Digital Basics along with DB II while saving $15 by clicking here to buy the DB Bundle.

Folks who learn well by following along rather than by reading can check out the complete collection of MP 4 Photoshop Tutorial Videos by clicking here. Note: most of the videos are now priced at an amazingly low $5.00 each.

You can learn how and why I converted all of my Canon digital RAW files in DPP 4 in the DPP 4 RAW Conversion Guide here. More recently, I became proficient at converting my Nikon RAW (NEF) files in Adobe Camera Raw. About three years ago I began converting my Nikon and Sony RAW files in Capture One and did that for two years. You can learn more about Capture One in the Capture One Pro 12 Simplified MP4 Video here. The next step would be to get a copy of Arash Hazeghi’s “The Nikon Photographers’ Guide to Phase One Capture One Pro e-Guide” in the blog post here. Today, I convert my Sony raw files in Photoshop with Adobe Camera Raw.

You can learn advanced Quick Masking and advanced Layer Masking techniques in APTATS I & II. You can save $15 by purchasing the pair.

Typos

With all blog posts, feel free to e-mail or to leave a comment regarding any typos or errors.

August 7th, 2022

Pelican Art? And a New YouTube Photography Video

Still Trapped in Password Hell

I still do not have access to my samandmayasgrandpa e-mail address. I am trapped in a Catch-22 ATT/Yahoo password hell situation. It is a long story. I hope to have it fixed on Sunday evening or Monday. If you wish to join me at Nickerson Beach, at the East Pond at Jamaica Bay, or need to contact me for any reason, please text me at 863-221-2372. The office phone

What’s Up?

Conditions for bird photography were extremely challenging on Saturday morning. The wind was from the west southwest, blowing straight at the sun. A large cloud on the eastern horizon blocked the red sunrise light on the beach for ten minutes. When the sun finally cleared the cloud, there were few birds left on the beach due to too many bicycle riders, and the beach, was a mess with seaweed.

Then, I tried and failed on some backlit landing skimmers. My only successful image was that of a single backlit skimmer chick. I sat behind the tripod along the western colony ropes with the ground level 600mm f/4 GM lens/2X TC combo and going after backlit chicks for more than an hour. All in all, photography was very difficult, but I did make one very special image. Was working hard for two hours and getting one very good image worth it?

The afternoon was very windy and exciting and filled with skimmer fights and lots of chicks getting fed. It started off sunny, then I had some great soft light for an hour. Near the end, I was shooting the chick action at 1/500 sec. at f/5.6 at ISO 10,000. When I turned around there was a gorgeous sunset. I created some abstract snow fence images and a series of images that will be used to assemble a long-low-cloud stitched pano. My afternoon take was 2759 as yet un-edited images. I am expecting a keeper rate well below 5%. But after taking a quick peek on Saturday night, I can say that got some great ones for sure.

I was thrilled to learn that multiple IPT veteran Muhammad Arif will be joining us on the 2023 Galapagos Photo-Cruise of a Lifetime. That trip is now sold out.

Today is Sunday 7 August 2022. The forecast for the morning is for partly cloudy skies with a southwest breeze. In a perfect world, the eastern sky will be clear on the low horizon with some nice color. And that would be followed by lots of clouds to negate the wind-against-sun conditions. In the later afternoon, I am taking young daughter Alissa and grandson Idris to the Mets game at Citifield. Wherever you are and whatever you are doing, I hope that you too have a great day. This blog post took about three hours to prepare (including the time spent on the YouTube video) and makes one hundred thirty-six days in a row with a new one.

So far, seven folks have been in touch about joining me at either Nickerson or JBWR in the coming weeks. See the details below. Carlotta Grenier is returning next Monday for another In-the-Field session. The first window for doing shorebirds at the East Pond at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge is

Please remember to use the B&H and Amazon links that are found on most blog pages and to use the BIRDSASART discount code at checkout when purchasing your new gear from Bedfords to get 3% back on your credit card and enjoy free second-day air FedEx. Please, also, consider joining a BAA IPT. You will be amazed at how much you will learn!

Clockwise from the upper left corner back around to the center: Wilson’s Phalarope, JBWR; just fledged Common Tern, Nickerson; Black Skimmer, adult skimming, Nickerson; Black Skimmer killing tiny skimmer chick, Nickerson; American Oystercatcher foraging at sunrise, Nickerson; Common Tern chick swallowing baby bluefish, Nickerson; Short-billed Dowitcher, juvenile, double overhead wing stretch, JBWR; Black Skimmers, predawn flock blur, Nickerson; Black Skimmer, 10-day old chick, Nickerson.

Click on the card to view a larger version.

Nickerson Beach/East Pond JBWR composite

Nickerson Beach/East Pond at Jamaica Bay (JBWR) In-the Field Workshops

Both Nickerson Beach and the East Pond at JBWR offer some of the best midsummer bird photography on the planet. Hundreds of pairs or Black Skimmers and Common Terns along with more than a dozen pairs of American Oystercatchers breed at Nickerson each season so there are lots of chicks of all sizes and handsome fledged young to photograph. Provided that the water levels are low, hundreds of young shorebirds in their handsome fresh juvenile plumages stop by the pond each August on their way south.

Nickerson often reveals nature at it rawest, most basic level. Most days we get to photograph all sorts of dramatic behaviors ranging from skimmers and terns fishing and feeding (and tending) their you. There are often chances to shoot a variety of predatory encounters — gulls eating large skimmer chicks, skimmers eating skimmer babies, and Peregrine Falcons hunting. And rarely, if we are lucky, Peregrine Falcons catching! Consider joining me to learn a ton both about bird photography and the birds.

I am taking the Auto Train north on 31 July and will happily spend all of August on Long Island. I head south on 31 August and should be back home on 1 September (barring anything unforeseen). I am offering In-the-Field sessions at both Nickerson Beach and the East Pond at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge. If you are interested, please get in touch via e-mail or text me at 863-221-2372.

Whether you are a local or would like to fly in for several days of instruction — a sort of private, or small group. — at worst, IPT, LMK via e-mail so that we can work on a schedule that could possibly include both Nickerson and Jamaica Bay.

Photographing Pacific-race Brown Pelicans in La Jolla, CA

Check out this short (7:14) video to learn about photographing the gorgeous Pacific race-Brown Pelicans on the cliffs at La Jolla, CA. I share many of my favorite from several decades of visits. This year I will be staying in San Diego for five weeks from mid-DEC 2022 to late January 2023 and leading three Instructional Photo-Tour. Scroll down for details.

This image also was created on 21 January 2020 on a San Diego IPT. Again, I used the handheld Sony FE 200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 G OSS lens (at 600mm) and the a9 II (now replaced by The One, the Sony Alpha 1 Mirrorless digital camera. ) The exposure was determined using Zebra technology with ISO on the Thumb Dial. ISO 1600. 1/500 second at f/6.3 (wide-open) now properly in Manual Mode. AWB at 5:10:56pm on a partly cloudy sunny afternoon. RawDigger showed the raw file brightness to be 1/3-stop too dark.

Flexible Spot (M)/AF-C performed perfectly. Be sure to click on the image to enjoy a high-res version.

Image #2: Brown Pelican — rear view of head and neck — abstract

In the “You Must Always See the Bird’s Eye! Or Not?” blog post here, I wrote:

Though you cannot see the bird’s eye in any of today’s three featured images, all for me are excellent photos. To my artistic eye, however, one of the three stands head and shoulders above the others. I would call that one exquisite. Which one is your favorite? Please leave a comment letting us know which one you like best and why. And please remember, there are no wrong answers.

Five folks chose Image #1 as best. Two chose #3 as their favorite. Nobody mentioned Image #2. Here are my favorites, on order: 2, 1, 3. When I posted the image here in the Avian, the image garnered few comments and those were on the lukewarm side. While I agree that Image #1 is exquisite, it is the second image, now above, that really floats my boat.

Why? I love the soft light. I love the fine feather detail. I love the charcoal gray background. I love the image design with the bird slightly off centered to our right and looking fractionally to our left. I love the abstract nature of the photo. I love the halo of white and yellow feathers surrounding the darker tones. I love the splash of red bill pouch. And most of all, I love the rear view of the reddish brown crest feathers.

So, does it bother me that few folks like this one? Honestly, not at all. I love it to death and that is more than enough for me.

This all-new card includes images created on my JAN 2022 visit to San Diego. Click on the composite to enjoy a larger version.

The 2022/23 San Diego Brown Pelicans (and more!) IPTs

San Diego IPT #1. 3 1/2 DAYS: WED 21 DEC thru the morning session on Saturday 24 DEC 2022. $2099.00. Deposit: $699.00. Limit: 6 photographers.

San Diego IPT #2. 4 1/2 DAYS: SAT 7 JAN thru the morning session on WED 11 JAN 2023: $2699.00. Deposit: $699.00. Limit: 6 photographers/Openings: 4.

San Diego IPT #3: 3 1/2 DAYS: FRI 20 JAN thru the morning session on MON 23 JAN 2023: $2099.00. Deposit: $699.00.

Please e-mail for information on personalized pre- and post-IPT sessions.

Join me in San Diego to photograph the spectacular breeding plumage Brown Pelicans with their fire-engine red and olive green bill pouches; Brandt’s (nesting) and Double-crested Cormorants; breeding plumage Wood and Ring-necked Ducks; other duck species possible including Lesser Scaup, Redhead, Northern Shoveler and Surf Scoter; a variety of gulls including Western, California, and the gorgeous Heermann’s, all in full breeding plumage; shorebirds including Marbled Godwit, Willet, Sanderling and Black-bellied Plover; many others are possible including Least, Western, and Spotted Sandpiper, Whimbrel, Black and Ruddy Turnstone, Semipalmated Plover, and Surfbird; Harbor Seals and California Sea Lions (both depending on the current regulations and restrictions). And as you can see by studying the IPT cards, there are some nice bird-scape and landscape opportunities as well. Not to mention a ton of excellent flight photography opportunities and instruction.

Please note: where permitted and on occasion, ducks and gulls may be attracted (or re-located) with offerings of grains or healthy bread.

San Diego offers a wealth of very attractive natural history subjects, including and especially the Pacific race of California Brown Pelican. With annual visits spanning more than four decades, I have lots of photographic experience there … Click on the composite to enjoy a larger version.

Learning Exposure, Whether You Like It Or Not

Whether you like it or not, we will be beating the subject of exposure like a dead horse. In every new situation, you will hear my thoughts on exposure along with my thoughts on both Nikon and Canon histograms and SONY Zebras. Whether you like it or not, you will learn to work in manual mode so that you can get the right exposure every time (as long as a bird gives you ten seconds with the light constant). Or two seconds with SONY zebras … And you will learn what to do when the light is changing constantly. What you learn about exposure will be one of the great takeaways on every IPT.

Though the pelicans will be the stars of the show on this IPT, there will be many other handsome and captivating subjects in wonderful settings. Click on the composite to enjoy a larger version.

It Ain’t Just Pelicans

With gorgeous subjects just sitting there waiting to have their pictures taken, photographing the pelicans on the cliffs is about as easy as nature photography gets. With the winds from the east almost every morning there is usually some excellent flight photography as well, often with 70-200mm lenses! And the pelicans are almost always doing something interesting: preening, scratching, bill pouch cleaning, or squabbling. And then there are those crazy head throws that are thought to be a form of intra-flock communication. You will be guided as to how to make the best of those opportunities. Depending on the weather, the local conditions, and the tides, there are a variety of other fabulous photo chances available in and around San Diego.


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Did I mention that there are lots of great birds and natural history subjects in San Diego in winter? Click on the composite to enjoy a larger version.

The San Diego Details

These IPTs will include four or five 3-hour morning photo sessions, three or four 1 1/2-hour afternoon photo sessions, and three or four working brunches that will include image review and Photoshop sessions. On rare cloudy days, we may — at the leader’s discretion, stay out in the morning for a long session and skip that afternoon. To ensure early starts, breakfasts will be your responsibility. And so that we can get some sleep, dinners will be on your own as well. In the extremely unlikely event that Goldfish Point is closed due to local ordinance (or whimsy) — that has never happened in the past fifty years, I will of course do my very best to maximize our photographic opportunities.

San Diego offers a wealth of very attractive natural history subjects, including and especially the Pacific race of California Brown Pelican. With annual visits spanning more than four decades, I have lots of photographic experience there … Click on the composite to enjoy a larger version.

Deposit Info

A $599 deposit is required to hold your slot for one of the 2022/23 San Diego IPTs. You can send a check (made out to “BIRDS AS ART”) to us here: BIRDS AS ART, PO Box 7245, Indian Lake Estates, FL, 3385, or call Jim or Jennifer at the office with a credit card at 863-692-0906. Your balance, payable only by check, is due three months before the trip.


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Variety is surely the spice of life in San Diego. Click on the composite to enjoy a larger version.

Getting Up Early and Staying Out Late

On all BIRDS AS ART IPTS including and especially the San Diego IPT, we get into the field early to take advantage of unique and often spectacular lighting conditions and we stay out late to maximize the chances of killer light and glorious sunset silhouette situations. We often arrive at the cliffs a full hour before anyone else shows up to check out the landscape and seascape opportunities. On cloudy mornings with the right wind, we many opt to stay out for five to six hours and skip the afternoon session.

Typos

With all blog posts, feel free to e-mail or to leave a comment regarding any typos or errors.