You’ve Heard This Often… And Analyze, Envision, Plan, and Execute « Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

You've Heard This Often...

What’s Up?

Right before my flight touched down in San Diego the veteran pilot came on the intercom and said, “Sorry about all that turbulence; in 20+ years of flying that was the roughest flight I have ever made.” The first two hours were the worst and the seat belt sign was illuminated for the entire flight. It was not an easy situation for someone drinking lots of water while headed for prostate surgery. 🙂

None-the-less we landed safely and early. I picked up my rental car at the new rental car center–what a disaster–and headed up to Patrick and Robin Sparkman’s home just north of San Diego. Mutual friend Byran Holliday arrived soon after I did and we quickly headed out into the rain. More on that tomorrow.


This image was created at Nickerson Beach last summer with the Induro GIT 304L/Mongoose M3.6-mounted Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS II USM lens and the Canon EOS 5D Mark III. ISO 400. Evaluative metering +1 1/3 stops off the light yellow sky: 1/1600 sec. at f/4 in Manual mode. AWB converted in DPP 4 at K8000.

Center AF point/AI Servo Expand/Shutter Button AF as framed was active at the moment of exposure (as is always best when photographing moving subject). The selected AF point was squarely on the bird’s back just behind the head; notice that the shallow d-o-f at f/4 is a non-issue due to the distance to the bird. Click on the image to see a larger version. Note: the optimized image above is a slight crop from below and our right.

Black Skimmer landing at dawn

You’ve Heard This Often…

You’ve heard this often: Join an IPT and learn to think like a pro. For folks seriously looking to become better bird and nature photographers, that is true dozens of times each and every day on an Instructional Photo-Tour. Here is what I am thinking. Here is what I am doing. And this is why I am doing it.

Having spent my last two Thursday mornings at Gatorland, I was–as always–amazed at the number of folks with good gear who have absolutely no clue as to what they are doing, no clue as to how to create a good image. I see folks routinely hand holding their intermediate telephoto lenses incorrectly. Walking by great situations. Working well off sun angle; that includes photographing backlit or sidelit gators into the bright sun at 9:30am (with no blasting highlights). Photographing subjects in mixed light, i.e, subjects that are partially lit by the sun and partially shaded. And the list goes on and on.

And the same is true in spades at Nickerson.

The Situation

The sun was just up and muted by a thin cloud on the eastern horizon. The wind was from the west; wind against sun is bad, bad, bad. But a bad wind for front lit flight photography is a good wind for silhouettes. I notice some skimmer landing in the dunes. “Everybody, lower your tripods and sit behind the colony ropes. Work in Manual mode and add about a stop of light to the meter reading off the sky just above the horizon. ISO 400 is plenty. Get AF on the incoming birds and make an image or two just as you see the beach grasses in the bottom of the frame… Sitting is mandatory to get the sky background and the silhouette. If you stand, you will have a beach grass background.”

Analyze. Envision. Plan. Execute. Get in the habit of using this formula/philosophy with every interesting situation that you encounter.


From upper left clockwise to center: Black Skimmer head portrait, American Oystercatcher dining on surf clam flesh, Common Tern at sunset, Common Tern adult swallowing flatfish, Black Skimmer in flight, newborn Common Tern chick, American Oystercatcher with chick, fresh juvenile Common Tern (with fill flash), and Common Terns copulating.

Nickerson Beach Terns/Skimmers/Oystercatchers Instructional Photo-Tour (IPT): July 18-22, 2016. 4 1/2 DAYS: $1899

Meet and greet at 3pm on the afternoon of Monday, July 18. Limit 10/Openings: 8.

The primary subject species of this IPT will be the nesting Common Terns. The trip is timed so that we will get to photograph tiny chicks as well as fledglings. There will be lots of flight photography including adults flying with baitfish. Creating great images of the chicks being fed is a huge challenge. In addition to the terns we will get to photograph lots of Black Skimmers courting, setting up their nesting territories, and in flight (both singles and large pre-dawn flocks blasting off). Midair battles are guaranteed on sunny afternoons. And with luck, we might even see a few tiny chicks toward the end of the trip. We will also get to photograph the life cycle of American Oystercatcher. This will likely include nests with eggs and tiny chicks, young being fed, and possibly a few fledglings.

Nesting Piping Plover is also possibly. There will be lots of gulls to photograph; most years I am able to find a few Lesser Black-backed Gulls of varying ages in addition to the Herring, Ring-billed, and Great Black-backed Gulls. You will learn to identify and age the various gull species. There will likely be some Willets feeding along the surf and with luck we might get to photograph a handsome juvenile or two. In addition to the locally breeding shorebirds, we will likely get to see some southbound migrant arctic-and sub-arctic breeding shorebird species such as Sanderling, Semipalmated Plover, and maybe even Red Knot.


From upper left clockwise to center: Black Skimmers with tiny chick, Common Tern landing with baitfish for young, fledged Common Tern chick in dunes, American Oystercatchers/display flight, adult Common Tern with pipefish for chick, Common Tern fledgling in soft light, American Oystercatcher on nest with eggs, American Oystercatcher 3-egg clutch, battling Black Skimmers.

The IPT Logistics

The tour will begin with a meet and greet on the afternoon of Monday, July 18, 2016. That will be followed by our first shooting session at the beach. From Tuesday through and including all of Friday we will have two photography sessions daily. Our morning sessions will start very early so that we are on the beach well before sunrise. We usually photograph for about four hours. Then we will enjoy a group brunch. We will always have a midday break that will include a nap for me. That followed by our daily afternoon classroom sessions that will include image review, workflow and Photoshop, and a review/critique of five of your trip images. Folks are always invited to bring their laptops to brunch for image sharing. I always have mine with me but heck, I am a big show-off. Afternoon in-the-field sessions generally run from 5pm through sunset.

Breakfasts are grab what you can. Four brunches are included. Dinners (if at all) will be on your own as we will often get back to the hotel at about 9pm. There is a fridge in every room and a supermarket within walking distance of the hotel so nobody should starve. You will learn a ton during the nine shooting sessions, the four in-classroom sessions, and even at lunch. Early morning and late afternoon parking is free. If we want to head back to the beach early we will need to arrange tight carpools and share the $30/vehicle parking fee. Non-photographer spouses, friends, or companions are welcome for $100/day, $450 for the whole IPT.

Save a space by calling Jim or Jen at the office at 863-692-0906 and arranging to leave your deposit of $599–credit cards are accepted for deposits only. Your balance will be due on April 18, 2016. I hope that you can join me for what will be an exciting and educational IPT.

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1 comment to You’ve Heard This Often… And Analyze, Envision, Plan, and Execute

  • avatar David Policansky

    Again, let me recommend this IPT. I was on last year’s trip. So many wonderful photo opportunities in a very nice and accessible place and lots of learning opportunities. And if you’re really lucky, the best Thai food anywhere….