What do you do when nothing’s happening? Get into the creative zone! Part One of many. « Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

What do you do when nothing's happening? Get into the creative zone! Part One of many.

What’s Up?

I enjoyed my last morning of photography at La Jolla for at least a few days with old friend Aidan Briggs, a fine young bird photographer who has co-led two Morro Bay IPTs with me. Mazel tov to Aiden who will be graduating from UC Santa Barbara this June with a major in aquatic biology. He would like to become a professional nature photographer.

My green light laser surgery is scheduled for 9:05am today, Thursday, March 24, 2016. I have complete confidence in Dr. Parsons while at the same time realizing that there are always risks with any type of surgery and that there are no guarantees. But as they say at the start of each UFC fight, “It’s time!”

Elegant Tern Blog Post Update

In yesterday’s blog post here, I left this comment early on Thursday morning:

Clarifying things a bit:

Several folks hit on one of the two things that bother me: the bird should have been placed just a bit more forward in the frame as the tail is a bit too tight to the right frame edge.

Nobody has come close to identifying the second thing about the image that bugs me, the one that I could not control. Many are grasping for straws. Answer on Friday. a

The Streak

Today’s blog post marks 139 days in a row with a new educational blog post. As always–and folks have been doing a really great job recently–please remember to use our B&H links for your major gear purchases. For best results use one of our many product-specific links; after clicking on one of those you can continue shopping with all subsequent purchases invisibly tracked to BAA. Your doing so is always greatly appreciated. Please remember: web orders only. Please remember that if you are shopping for items that we carry in the BAA Online Store (as noted in red at the close of this post below) that we would appreciate your business πŸ™‚

IPT Updates

Learn to improve your bird and nature photography with the best instructor on the planet; join a BIRDS AS ART Instructional Photo-Tour. Learn more and see the schedule here.


This image was created at La Jolla, CA with the hand held Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens (at 188mm) and the amazing mega mega-pixel Canon EOS 5DS R. ISO 1600. Evaluative metering at about -1/3 stop: 1/1250 sec. at f/5.6. Daylight WB.

Center AF point (Manual selection)/AI Servo Shutter button AF as originally framed was active at the moment of exposure (as is always best when hand holding). This was a small crop from below and from our right. The selected AF point was on the base of the bird’s left wing.

Image #1: Backlit Brown Pelican in flight

The Situation

It was cold and windy. Worse than that, it was wind against sun at 25mph from the west. There were mixed clouds and sun making getting the right exposure a challenge. There were no birds on the main cliffs.

How do you get into the creative zone?

How do you get into the creative zone? Simple. Make a conscious effort to get out of your comfort zone. My comfort zone is working right down sun angle. But I am always aware that a bad wind for traditional flight photography is a good wind for backlit flight photography. For those, a dark background is pretty much a necessity. And I knew just the right spots for the conditions. Needless to say, I was the only one there.

I made one of my very best ever pelican in flight images but just barely clipped a primary feather or two. I will share that one with you here as part of this series.


This ISO 1600 5DS R image was noise reduced in NeatImage using the techniques in Arash Hazeghi’s new guide. The background is virtually noise-free and the bird is pretty clean too. Are you seeing any noise anywhere?


This image was created at La Jolla, CA with the hand held Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens (at 400mm) and the amazing mega mega-pixel Canon EOS 5DS R. ISO 400. Evaluative metering at about +1 stop off the white water alone: 1/1000 sec. at f/8 was about 1/2 stop under-exposed. Daylight WB.

Center AF point/AI Servo Expand/Shutter button AF as originally framed was active at the moment of exposure (as is always best when hand holding). This one too was a small crop from below and from our right. Though neither the selected AF point nor any of the assist points were on the bird the image is tack sharp.

Image #2: Brandt’s Cormorant leaving the scene…

What do you do when nothing’s happening?

So just what can you do to get out of your funk when conditions are terrible and nothing seems to be happening? Take a walk to a different spot. When I did that I noticed the cormorants taking flight over the breaking surf. It took me a while to recognize the situation and most of the birds had flown out to sea by the time I made this one decent image. It is something that I might be able to re-create on a day with high surf conditions.


This image was created at La Jolla, CA with the Induro GIT 304L/Mongoose M3.6-mounted Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM lens, the Canon Extender EF 2X III, and the Canon EOS 5DS R. ISO 400: 1/400 sec. at f/9. AWB.

Center AF point (by necessity)/AI Servo Expand/Rear Focus AF as framed was active at the moment of exposure. This image is full frame. Click here to see the latest version of the Rear Focus Tutorial. Click on the image to see a larger version.

Sidelit Brandt’s Cormorant displaying

Look all around and keep your eyes and your mind open

I made my way back into my comfort zone: long lens with the 2X III TC working right down light angle doing head portraits of a displaying Brandt’s Cormorant. By force of habit I am always looking left and right and even behind me. On one swing of my head I noticed another displaying bird well off light angle; it was about 30 degrees to my right. While most of the bird was in shadow, its azure gular sac was spotlit and the head angle was such that it was beuatifully lit. I moved only a foot to my right and created a quite dramatic sidelit image, a rarity for me.

Note that this image was created at 10:47am in full sun.

Getting the Right The Exposure

Working down sun angle on the same subject I was perfect at 1/640 sec. at f/9. Without giving it much thought I simply slowed the shutter speed two clicks from 1/640 to 1/400 sec. Why? I was far off sun angle.

Which is the Strongest Image?

Please leave a comment and let us know which image you feel is the strongest, and why. In this race, I have a very clear favorite.

Summing Up

Conditions were so bad that I thought originally that I would be back at Patrick and Robin’s house by 8:30am. Working. I wound up not leaving until a bit after 11 when it was blue sky sunny. I thought that I had done pretty well and though I did not create a lot of images, only about 400 in all, I kept 54 and loved many of those. You will be getting to see a good number of them and learning a ton more in the coming weeks.

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27 comments to What do you do when nothing’s happening? Get into the creative zone! Part One of many.

  • avatar Jackie Milburn

    I Love all three but the 3rd one is my favorite. It’s so relaxing! It feels like pleasure…almost cat like. I think the part that draws me in the most is where the neck is resting on his back. The soft roll of just letting go…The colors and the texture around the eye and the mud on the beak…I love it!!!

  • avatar Richard Gollar

    I really like image one but image 3 is amazing. I really think image 3 is one of the best I have seen. well done and I only hope to catch and image that nice someday. I feel you caught not only a amazing photo but a story or feeling behind it if that makes sense. And your killing me with the 5DS R camera as I just got the 1D X. Now I can’t get away from the desire of the 5DS R. My wife is going to kill me as I told her after getting the 1D X this will last me forever lol. Cant wait for the new guide your doing with Arash. Is it getting close to being released? Thanks again for all your work and lessons.

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Thanks Richard,

      The 5DS R is amazing. Forever should last at least until the 1D X II is available πŸ™‚

      Yes, we are getting close on the guide. I would guess that we are ten days or so out. The material is complex and the how-to writing must be perfect πŸ™‚ a

  • avatar Gary Axten

    I like number one best, the backlight versus a dark surf is great.

    Good luck.

  • avatar Tony Botelho

    #1 is a very strong photo, but I’m choosing #3 as my pick for all the reasons that have already been stated. It’s a very strong, beautiful portrait of this bird!
    I’m happy that all went well with your surgery!

  • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

    Many thanks to all for the good wishes. I am in my room and feeling great. Patrick and Robin are visiting. I get out of here on Friday, the earlier the better πŸ™‚ a

  • avatar Loren Charif

    #3 by a mile…I think it’s a prizewinner. By the time I’m seeing this you’re probably in recovery or maybe even back in your room. Hopefully all is well and you’re back to fighting form quickly!

  • avatar David Peake

    Hi Artie.
    You’ll be in recovery as I type this.
    No 3 is the clear favourite for all the right reasons, composition focus, lighting, etc.
    A very striking pose.
    Your question about changing shutter speed as you panned to the left to get this image?
    The reason is that, although you have the same light source, the sidelit subject reflects the light differently from what you were working with in the backlit situation so you increased the exposure.
    In addition, since there are no real bright whites on the cormorant and because of the predominantly dark tones it makes sense to increase the exposure to get as much detail in all the dark areas as possible.
    Kind regards

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      All went well and I am feeling quite good.. Actually panned to my right. Left was a typo. The reason is that as you pan away from sun angle the quantity of light is decreased; at least that is how I figure it. best, a

  • avatar Kylie Jones

    #3 is exquisite, I can’t stop looking at it. Beautiful shot.

  • Best of luck with your operation πŸ™‚

  • avatar Ron May

    Best wishes for a successful operation and a speedy recovery.

  • avatar John Wright

    Art, the much-anticipated arrival of my sandhill crane summer neighbors took place this morning, at 5400 feet in SW Montana. I took it as a good omen for your medical exercise. The birds are foraging through snow that fell two days ago, and more snow is en route to properly welcome them. Speedy recovery to you.

  • avatar Walt Thomas - Tucson

    Artie; good luck with your procedure and it’s effectiveness on your cancer.
    Tucson Walt

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      No cancer. Just an enlarged prostate; My PSA has always been 0.9. Just for the record books, if I had prostate cancer the last thing that I would do is have surgery. a

      • avatar David Policansky

        Just noticed this and wonder why….Although we all know that prostate cancer treatments are miserable.

        • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

          Not the misery part. There are many more successful alternative treatments and my understanding is that surgery often makes things worse. That said, God bless all who have had successful surgery for prostate cancer. a

  • avatar Joe Randle

    Praying for complete healing and speedy recovery…

  • avatar Brian

    Could the thing you couldn’t control be the downward angle of the Rock the Tern is standing on? Hope the surgery goes well.


  • avatar Wayne Lea

    Praying for you for a successful surgery and recovery!

  • avatar Kerry Morris

    Image #3 is my favorite. Beautiful close up: blue eyes, gulag pouch, feather detail on the wing. It’s almost as if the bird was position for you. I can see this blown up and framed!
    #1 is a great shot, however, there’s more background than bird. I’d prefer that one blown up to see more of the bird; in fact I’d like to see a vertical blow up of the head, face, bill.

    Best of luck this morning. Wishing you a speedy recovery.

  • avatar Roger Burnard

    The best of luck with your laser surgery this morning. I’m sure all your loyal followers are wishing you well, and that you will emerge all ready to hit the field again… ;-)))

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Thanks Roger et al. I need all the good luck that I can get my hands on to go along with my great doc. artie

  • Another tough choice. For me its between #1 and #3.

    I love #1 for what you pointed out, especially how the tail is lit. The wings are full extended and he’s looking right at you. The waves though with the dark background make it for me.

    Then there’s #3. The pose itself is exceptional. But I also love the body as the background. Almost gives me a sense he’s star gazing and at peace.

    Which one…which one? I’ll pick #3.