A Different Look/Lots to Learn « Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

A Different Look/Lots to Learn

This group of southbound migrant Black-bellied Plovers was created at the north end of the East Pond at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, Queens, NY on the afternoon of August 13. I was on the ground behind my tripod-mounted Canon 800mm f/5.L IS lens, with the 1.4X III TC and the Canon EOS-1D Mark IV. ISO 400. Evaluative metering +1 stop: 1/320 sec. at f/9 in Av mode.

Central sensor (by necessity) AI Servo/Rear Focus AF on the closest bird’s face and recompose. Click here if you missed the Rear Focus Tutorial. Click on the image for a larger version.

A Different Look/Lots to Learn

When I walked down the path to the East Pond late that afternoon everything was perfect. It was just before high tide when the birds from the surrounding bay are forced to the pond to feed, rest, and preen. And I had heard that the water level was perfect with lots of shoreline and habitat available for the shorebirds. The date was perfect too; the first juveniles of several species should have just arrived. As the pond came into sight, I saw that the water level was indeed perfect. There was only one problem. There were no shorebirds anywhere. There were no birds in the northwest corner of the pond. There are always birds in the northwest corner of the pond…. And there were no birds on the first spit to the south. Yikes!

As I walked south with all my gear I saw that there was a small group of shorebirds roosting in the shallow water just to the east of the second spit. I passed one photographer who was milling around photographing nothing. I made my way through the soft wet muck of Mud Cove–it was a bit messy and I was in old sneakers having forgotten to put on my preferred surf booties. I splayed the tripod legs and began the long belly crawl towards the flock that was made up of all adult birds. The adults are far more skittish than the juveniles that would be arriving en masse over the next two to eight weeks. I had a single young Semipalmated Sandpiper land in front of me and begin bathing. I waited for him to flap his wings after the bath and made six frames. You can see the best one and read that whole story here on BirdPhotographer’s.Net.

That bird flew off and I continued my belly crawl. A group of three more juveniles SESAs landed right in front of me. I framed the image I wanted and just as I was getting ready to push the shutter button I heard a noise behind me and all three birds took flight. I glanced behind me to the right and learned that the photographer whom I had passed had decided to join me and scare my subjects away. As he was on the ground he should have easily been able to join me without flushing the small flock. But…. He was crawling atop a big black plastic garbage bag that rustled and snapped each time that he moved.

In as kindly a voice as possible I said to him, “If you want to stay with me as we try to approach the larger flock you need to leave the plastic bag behind. You just scared off the birds that I was on.” He agreed to do so. As I began belly crawling I saw another problem–he was crawling rather than belly crawling; each time he moved forward he raised his butt about three miles in the air. He was crawling on his knees. I said, “You’ve got to keep your butt on the ground. Push your rig forward and then pull yourself forward with your elbows. You have to stay completely flat. If you are gonna crawl with me you need to learn to do it right.” Heck, you can’t beat free lessons.

After we moved up a bit more I realized that the relatively large flock was simply too far off for me to create images of the single birds. All were adults: mostly molting black-bellies with a few dowitchers and a single red knot in the mix. Three fading, molting adult Stilt Sandpipers fed along the outer margins of the resting flock. That’s when I created the image above.

Here are some questions for you? You may find some or all of them to be educational in nature. Feel free to take a crack at one or all of them.

1-What was the main reason for creating this relatively wide image?
2-Why did I focus on a bird on the left side of the frame?
3-Why didn’t I go to a much smaller aperture like f/18?
4-Why isn’t the active focusing point showing in red in the BreezeBrowser screen capture below?
5-Why did I add one stop to the exposure?
6-Why was I on my belly?
7-Why was it necessary for me to use the central sensor?
8-Do you find the arrangement of the individual birds pleasing or not? Either way, why?
9-Why did I cut off the bird on the right frame-edge?
10-Why did I execute a small crop off the right side of the original frame?

This is the BreezeBrowser Main View screen capture for the RAW image. You can see that I cropped a bit from the right and the bottom. Coming soon and finally: How to Run Breezebrowser on a Mac. Note that the latest version of BreezeBrowser supports the Canon EOS-5D Mark III.

Note as usual the perfect histogram with the light-toned bellies of the birds well to the right in the fifth histogram box. In The Art of Bird Photography II (ABP II: 916 pages on CD only) I teach you to get the right exposure using digital capture every time. Best of all, it is easy to learn.

Recommended Reading

Juvenile shorebirds will be arriving over the next week or two days all across the continental US. You can learn to age and identify all of them in my

Shorebirds; Beautiful Beachcombers

. Unlike many of the advanced guides this book is written in simple, easy to understand language. You will learn that at this time of year it is actually easier to age most species as either adults or juveniles than it it to identify them as to species. You can order a copy here. If you wold like your copy personalized let Jim know to hold it until I get back to Florida on 4 September.

New York City Weekend Nature Photography Seminar December 8-9, 2012

If you can learn this much in five minutes from a simple blog post think how much you will learn and how much your photography and image optimization skills will improve after you spend an entire weekend with Denise Ippolito and me…. See all the details and discount info here. If you live within a three hour drive of Staten Island and do not take advantage of this opportunity…. Nuf said. ๐Ÿ™‚ It will be great.

Crazy B&H Canon Rebates

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Crazy B&H Canon Rebates

B&H is offering crazy-huge instant rebates of up to $300 on a variety of Canon lenses and Speedlites including many of my absolute favorite intermediate telephoto lenses like the 70-200mm f/2.8L IS, the 70-200mm f/4L IS, and the 100-400mm L IS. Click here or on the image above now for complete details; these offers expire on 1 September.

Purchases made using the links above will help us be able to continue providing free information on the blog and in the BAA Bulletins.

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Killer B&H Nikon Rebates

B&H is offering killer instant rebates of up to $450 on Nikon gear. First choose a camera body and then add a lens to the bundle. The Nikon AF-S Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8G ED Autofocus lens is one of the choices! Remember, two of my very best friends are on the Black Side: James Shadle and Todd Gustafson both use Nikon gear and I love them both. Click here or on the image above for details.

Purchases made using the links above will help us be able to continue providing free information on the blog and in the BAA Bulletins.


The Nikon rebates expire tomorrow, August 25, at midnight. Honest; I just got them.

B&H Sigma Lens Specials

I have, on many occasions, seen the incredible images made by Robert O’Toole with the Sigma 50-500mm f/4.5-6.3 DG OS HSM APO autofocus lens. It is lightweight, relatively inexpensive, sharp as a tack at f/8, and it features an almost ridiculous minimum focusing distance. The OS refers to the optical stabilizer in the lens. Best of all, B&H is now offering some very nice rebates on both the Canon and Nikon versions of this lens as well as on a wide variety of other Sigma lenses.

Click here to learn more about the Sigma 50-500mm f/4.5-6.3 DG OS HSM APO autofocus lens with Canon mount.
Click here to learn more about the Sigma 50-500mm f/4.5-6.3 DG OS HSM APO autofocus lens with Nikon mount.
Click here to learn more about the rebate offers for all Sigma Canon mount lenses.
And click here to learn more about the rebate offers for all Sigma Nikon mount lenses.

Purchases made using the links above will help us be able to continue providing free information on the blog and in the BAA Bulletins.

16 comments to A Different Look/Lots to Learn

  • avatar Charles Scheffold

    I’m glad you mentioned your “Beautiful Beachcombers” book. Someone bought it for me as a gift a few years back and I often refer to it. It’s great train reading ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • avatar Bill Tyler

    I don’t have much to add except that if there is any area for improvement in an excellent photograph, it is in the area of the primary subject’s beak. It is so close in tone to the out-of-focus feathers on the bird behind it that it merges visually with the background. A probably unattainable viewpoint slightly lower down or slightly to the right might have put the beak against lighter feathers and made the outline of the front bird clearer. But of course that would have changed the rest of the composition as well.

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Excellent fine point Bill. Moving a foot to my right would have helped there. Do you hang out on BPN? If not, we could use you there! And you would have a ton of fun.

  • avatar Deirdre Sheerr-Gross

    Ok It’s late but I’ll give it a shot…

    1) Compositionally… You wanted the story to be the movement of the bird(s), the group of BB Plovers to be the image, ….the wide, long image allows for their moving through the scene

    2) When photographing a group, focusing on the bird in front, emphasizing it and making it sharp, makes it the key to the shot, where your eye goes… It is the lead emphasis for the rest of the group…

    3) F9 gave you a shallower DOF… You didn’t want all that distraction… You wanted the bird in front to be the shot and its supporting cast of characters (the other birds) not to be in focus or too distinct… and the resulting soft blurred BG and out of focus foreground emphasized and set off the meandering bird(s);

    4) When you use “Rear Focus ‘lock’ and recompose” you don’t get an AF point;

    5) You wanted to expose to the right… and thus provide more detail, especially in the darker feathers… You know that you would be able to adjust afterwards in post processing… but if you had “lost” the darker detail in the shadows.. you might not have been able to recover them later;

    6) Why are you lying down in that “composting” bird poop marsh mud??? Well, I could say you’re nuts… but I won’t go there… But being the excellent, savvy and dedicated Bird Photographer that you are, you wanted to be down on the same plane as the bird… the birds eye level… to capture the best shot… and most likely getting the best non distracting back ground;

    7) To quote your tutorial on Rear Focus: “With the 800mm lens, the 1.4X III TC, and a pro body (the Mark IV), only the central sensor is active.”

    8) I like the composition of the group, their bodies are all going in the same direction… and the “group” sets off the front in-focus juvenile(?) Black Bellied Plover… Who is made more distinct by its paler body being set off by the out-of-focus dark feathered background of the other birds;

    9) Too emphasize the group and the movement of the group (going to the left)… The left side is open, the group can move into it…. the right is where they are coming from.. and with the cut off bird, the group could still be coming into the photo….

    10) Compositionally, ending with a downward line instead of the upward moving tail, leads your eye down and out… and off the shot??

    Night! Night!

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      First of all, good on you for having the guts to tackle the whole thing. Miguel Palaviccini submitted a comment that has been up for approval; I left it in moderation hoping that lots of folks would take a crack at this. He nailed it! I will approve it when I am done commenting here.

      Most of your answers are right on too with the exception of the last one. I cropped from the right to eliminate the hint of yet another black-belly on the frame edge.

      Also, all of the birds in the image are fading adult Black-bellied Plovers in varying stages of molt to winter or basic plumage. There are no juvies. ๐Ÿ™‚ They do not show up for another few weeks at the earliest.

      All in all, very well done. I am proud of you. It is good to know that you have been listening on those IPTs! I look forward to seeing you again at the NYC seminar ๐Ÿ™‚

    • I’m so impressed, you are kickin’ *

      • avatar Deirdre Sheerr-Gross

        Thanks Artie and Denise…

        9 months ago, I would not have known how to have answered those questions…
        I have been listening on the IPTs… and reading your blogs… and some of it is seeping through…

        In fact, just last week at Nickerson… You explained to us ….when taking a group shot… blurs included… You should find the closest bird and put your AF point there.. on their eye…

        Many thanks for being good teachers… from a grateful student

        • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

          YAW and thanks for your kind words. And for being a great student! You will be learning a ton more at the NYC Seminar so buckle up! later and love, artie

  • To my eye cropping out the far right plover would have unbalanced the image. His presence nicely complements the dark plover on the far left.

  • avatar Ruth Schueler

    Thanks, next time!

  • avatar Ruth Schueler

    Dear Artie,
    Do you have a special permit to approach the birds? I have visited Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge several times, but staying on the trails I could not get in any way close enough for good pictures (OK,my biggest lens is a 400mm), crawling or not.
    Take care, Ruthie

  • I’ll give these questions a shot …
    1-What was the main reason for creating this relatively wide image?
    Well, you couldn’t get any closer, so that is one reason. But in this photo you can see the various plumages of the BBP. Who said a good shot can’t be good documentation too?

    2-Why did I focus on a bird on the left side of the frame?
    He was the one closest to you. I assume you didn’t want an OOF bird to be the nearest subject, so you picked the one that was closest?

    3-Why didnโ€™t I go to a much smaller aperture like f/18?
    Wouldn’t have bought you much, I don’t think. You were far enough away from the birds that the extra 2 stops wouldn’t have changed the dof by much. Plus, who shoots at f/18?

    4-Why isnโ€™t the active focusing point showing in red in the BreezeBrowser screen capture below?
    Not sure, but my guess is that when you recomposed, your camera didn’t have anything in the selected portion as being in focus. Just a guess though.

    5-Why did I add one stop to the exposure?
    2/3 of your frame is water which is pretty light and your camera would want to “correct the exposure” make that gray. So you have to compensate so that to properly expose for the BBP. I think that if you didn’t have the darker green on the top, you might have even gone more on the + side. Correct?

    6-Why was I on my belly?
    So as not to spook them and to get a better perspective. Getting on your belly allows the distance between the subject and the background to increase, allowing you to get a more pleasing (oof) background – even at f/9!

    7-Why was it necessary for me to use the central sensor?
    f/5.6 + 1.4x = f/8. I think the camera will only autofocus with the central sensor if your min aperture is f/8. Hence the central sensor and recompose.

    8-Do you find the arrangement of the individual birds pleasing or not? Either way, why?
    Well, they are all facing left except for the one on the left which is facing right. Almost like he brings you back in the frame. I’m not sure that you had too much of a say on the placement of the birds (except for some minor adjustments that you could have made while on your belly), but I’d be interested to see what you would have liked if you could have placed the birds yourself ๐Ÿ™‚

    9-Why did I cut off the bird on the right frame-edge?
    Either you really didn’t have a choice because you wanted to leave room on the left … or there was a a lot more to the right side that wouldn’t have added much to the image (and may have detracted from it quite a bit).

    10-Why did I execute a small crop off the right side of the original frame?
    To get rid of a hint of what could be on the right side. The little bit extra implies more BBP on the right part of the frame, but I think you wanted a “book end” so that the viewer isn’t inclined to want to see what’s on the right.

    OK, how’d I do. I gave my best educated guess on most of the questions, but am curious what your answers are. Thanks for the post!

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Welcome Miguel, and congrats. You nailed every question as if I had answered them myself. Thanks for saving me the time! With #4, the camera only records the active sensor info if AF is active at the moment of exposure.

      As for the arrangement of the birds, I like it a lot. Realize that this was the best available arrangement with more than 100 birds in the group. In situations like that you can usually find something nice by composing through the lens while panning. The only thing that I would change is to lose the bird’s head between the 2nd and 3rd birds on our right, but heck, I could have easily lost that in Photoshop if I had found it a bit more distracting.

      As for #10, there was a sliver of another bird on the frame edge.

      All in all, you still get an A+.