Disparage Some Gear If You Wish… Elizabeth MacSwan: Stupendous Student Image Capture « Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

Disparage Some Gear If You Wish... Elizabeth MacSwan: Stupendous Student Image Capture

What’s Up?

Me, at about 35,000 feet on my flight to Denver. I did most of the work on this blog post while offline in seat 23A at the back of the plane. Even 9- weeks post-surgery a seat close to the lavatory is a good plan… After a while I relented and plunked down $8 for the Southwest WiFi. Just another tax deduction that makes my life easier.

What’s Up? II

I put the finishing touches on this blog post just before the DAY 2 image review/Photoshop session for the first Palouse IPT.

The Streak

Today’s blog post marks a totally ridiculous 213 days in a row with a new educational (and fun) blog post. And I still have dozens of new topics to cover; there should be no end in sight until my big South America trip next fall. 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) we would appreciate your business.

IPT Similarities

The Fort DeSoto and the Nickerson Beach IPTs have a lot in common. Lots of birds, lots of sand, and lots of learning. The big difference is that there are lots more flight opportunities at Nickerson: hovering terns, birds landing at the nest, and with luck and the right morning winds, skimmers skimming. And we will surely get to photograph American Oystercatchers. With a bit of luck, they will be feeding chicks of various ages. Scroll down here for complete Nickerson details.


This image was created on the IPT by Fort DeSoto participant Elizabeth MacSwan with the tripod-mounted Canon 500mm f/4L IS lens, the “old five” (now replaced by the Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM lens) and the still amazing Canon EOS 7D Mark II. ISO 400. Evaluative metering at zero: 1/3200 sec. at f/5.6 in Tv mode. Daylight WB.

65-point Automatic Selection/AI Servo/Rear Focus AF as framed was active at the moment of exposure. Though the AF system activated the center AF point and the one below it that fell on the tail, the image was super-sharp on the eye? A possible explanation is that the system was still tracking the face as the AF points switched… Click here to see the latest version of the Rear Focus Tutorial. Click on the image to see the spectacular larger version.

Sandwich Tern emerging from water after dive. Image courtesy of and copyright 2016: Elizabeth MacSwan.

Elizabeth MacSwan: Stupendous Student Image Capture

I do not care who your are or what gear you are using, creating images like this is not easy. If I remember correctly, it was Machine-gun Mike Hankes who alerted the group of the possibility of creating images of the terns emerging from the water. I tried with my 1DX Mark II and had some success but none were anywhere near as good as Elizabeth’s great capture: sharp with a neat fish in its bill! Elizabeth kindly sent me the RAW file as I requested. As Elizabeth had done, I did the conversion in DPP 4 and went with -1 on the Highlight Slider. Post-processing was minimal. The only thing I did was sharpen the face and bill and use a 30% opacity Clone Stamp to tone down the brightest WHITEs on the tern’s upper flank and cheek?

Exposure Question

Why did Ms. MacSwan wind up up with small patches of detail-less WHITEs on the bird’s upper flank and cheek?

Disparage Some Gear If You Wish…

Some serious and/or experienced and/or well-to-do nature photographers are guilty of looking down their noses at some of the older gear, gear like the old Canon 500mm and the 7D Mark II for example. Before doing so, it might be best for them to take a gander at Elizabeth’s great image above. Good nature photography is a lot more about who is holding the gear than the gear itself…


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. Limit 10/Openings 8.

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

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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To show your appreciation for my continuing efforts here, we ask, as always, that you get in the habit of using my B&H affiliate links on the right side of the blog for all of your photo and electronics purchases. Please check the availability of all photographic accessories in the BIRDS AS ART Online Store, especially the Mongoose M3.6 tripod heads, Induro tripods and ballheads, Wimberley heads and plates, LensCoats and accessories, and the like. We sell only what I have used, have tested, and can depend on. We will not sell you junk. We know what you need to make creating great images easy and fun. And we are always glad to answer your gear questions via e-mail.

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18 comments to Disparage Some Gear If You Wish… Elizabeth MacSwan: Stupendous Student Image Capture

  • avatar Elizabeth M

    Hi Artie and everyone,

    Thank you again Artie for using my image and for giving me another chance to learn something! I was constantly checking my histogram during these afternoons of terns and brown pelicans in flight, and getting the right exposure on these terns with no blinkies but still pushing those whites to be as bright as possible was a bit tricky for me. This image is a great example of one of the big things I learned on the IPT – how important sun angle is, not only for the flattering light and minimal shadow, but also in figuring exposure. I realized (after a while) that the difference in sun angle, even just a little bit, can be the difference between having blinkies and not having them. I likely thought I was okay because I tested my exposure on another tern that was farther off sun angle. Still, I am happy with this shot, and I had so much fun on the IPT!

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Hi Elizabeth, You are most welcome and right indeed about the correct exposure varying as you get off sun angle. The big error in your thinking is that with the birds’s flying both above the Gulf–with a sky background, and lower down, with a water background as in your image, you needed to be in Manual mode… It was great meeting and working with you.


      ps: wanting to avoid looking like a big dummy, I went back and checked your RAW file; you were indeed in an automatic exposure mode: Shutter-Priority AE.

  • avatar Henry

    It’s the Stuff and not the stuffing that really matters…

  • avatar Mike Moynihan

    I believe she over exposed to get the blacks in the head correct.

  • avatar Bob

    I would agree. I always use the analogy, I could use tiger woods golf clubs and he a set we pickup at a garage sale on the way to the golf course and he would beat me every time. The other thing is that the quality of the equipment has reached a point that improvements are in very small increments. The pixel peepers will always be able to point to something but in the real world ………………

    As to exposure, it looks good to me.

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      As presented, the exposure is fine but it took lots of fancy stepping to eliminate the really bright WHITEs on the neck… a

  • avatar Belinda

    Any auto exposure mode will want to render the overall scene ‘neutral grey’.
    The scene overall is dominated by relatively dark water.
    This will cause the meter to increase exposure.
    The exposure increase in this case was sufficient to blow the highest highlights.
    Elizabeth should have applied a -1EV compensation or worked in manual mode and in either case checked the histogram (or RGB blinkies) before continuing.

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Working in any auto exposure mode in this situation is a no-no… You premises are correct but -1 stop is too, too much. And as noted by a few folks here, the key in these situations is to work in Manual mode… a

  • avatar Kerry Morris

    Beautiful image.
    Agree with Nikhil – those areas are overexposed?
    Reflection of water on the white creating or magnifying the overexposure.
    Plus she had no time to adjust.

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Confused by “Agree with Nikhil – those areas are overexposed?”

      What areas???


      • avatar Kerry Morris

        sorry. small patches on upper flank and cheek.
        I agreed with his comment and was trying to say she must have had blinkies on those areas.

  • avatar Bill Eaton

    Might also be water in those feathers at that light angle.Still a fantastic image.

  • Hi Art


    Amazing shot.

    I guess as she was in Tv mode she did not have the chance to adjust the exposure to prevent the highlights from blowing out(as the bird was in the sky one moment and then in the darker water). I guess if she was in manual and if she had intially set the exposure correctly the highlights would not have been affected.