Learning About Light … And Lots More « Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

Learning About Light ... And Lots More

What’s Up?

My flight to Islip arrived one hour forty minutes late due to weather delays earlier in the day. With a big noreaster hitting Long Island, the last few minutes were a bit rocky. Once we touched down most of the folks on the plane erupted in cheers. Younger daughter Alissa picked me up in fine fashion. I spent most of the day with my Mom. She does not look a day over 93 3/4. She was 94 in September.


Thanks to all the folks who replied to my request for cold weather gear help in the recent blog post here. I will be taking a close look at the replies today as Japan is getting closer by the minute.

Gear Questions and Advice

Too many folks attending BAA IPTs and dozens of folks whom I see in the field, and on BPN, are–out of ignorance–using the wrong gear, especially when it comes to tripods and more especially, tripod heads… Please know that I am always glad to answer your gear questions via e-mail.

The Streak: 439!

Today’s blog post marks a totally insane, irrational, illogical, preposterous, absurd, completely ridiculous, unfathomable, silly, incomprehensible, what’s wrong with this guy?, makes-no-sense, 439 days in a row with a new educational blog post. As always–and folks have been doing a really great for a long time now–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. And please remember also 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 of course appreciate your business.

This image was created at La Jolla, CA with the hand held the Fujifilm XF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR lens and the Fujifilm X-T2 Mirrorless Digital Camera body) outfitted with the Fujifilm VPB-XT2 Vertical Power Booster Grip. ISO 400. Pattern metering at about zero: 1/800 sec. at f/5.6 in Manual mode. AWB.

Shutter Button Continuous Autofocus. Additional AF information is unavailable.

Image #1: Black Oystercatcher in sun standing on submerged rock

Learning About Light …

The image above was made in bright sunlight at about 10:30am. The image below was also made at about 10:30am but was created in cloudy-bright drizzly conditions. Which light would you prefer if you were photographing a Black Oystercatcher?

Oystercatcher Structure & Biology

Note the bills of oystercatchers are laterally compressed or flattened. That makes it easy for them to open bivalve shellfish and pry univalves like limpets off of rocks. In the west, limpets are one of their favorite prey istems.

This image was created at La Jolla, CA with the Induro GIT 304L/Mongoose M3.6-mountedCanon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM lens, the Canon Extender EF 1.4X III, and my favorite bird photography camera, the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV. ISO 800. Evaluative metering +2 stops: 1/800 sec. at f/6.3 in Manual mode. Daylight WB.

One AF point above and two to the right of the center AF point/AI Servo Expand/Shutter Button AF as framed was active at the moment of exposure. The selected AF point was just above and to our left of the bend of the wing, almost on the same plane as the bird’s eye. Click on the image to see a larger version.

FocusTune/LensAlign Micro Adjustment: +2

Image #2: high key Black Oystercatcher at eye level on rock shelf

Getting Low

Though I had photographed at this spot many times before, it was not until this year that I (finally) realized that if you stood in the crevice between the two rock shelves, you would be working pretty much at the birds eye level. You will be seeing more low level images from this spot along with an image of Patrick Sparkman photographing while kneeling in the crevice. Patrick thought that I was brilliant for figuring this out. My question is this: “If I am so smart how come it took me more than two decades to figure it out?”

This spot can be excellent on all but high tides with big surf. As many as three Black Oystercatchers — usually uncommon at best in La Jolla — were seen most mornings at The Crevice.

Your Favorite?

Overall, which is the stronger image of the two? Be sure to let us know why you made your choice.

The Location?

If you would like to know the location of The Crevice, shoot me an e-mail with a cut and paste of the title page of the San Diego Site Guide with the words The Crevice cut and pasted into the Subject Line. New purchasers are invited to e-mail me their BAA Online Store receipt.

Depth-of-Field Question

Why are the limestone granules in front of the bird’s feet in sharp focus? Note how limited the d-o-f is when working at f/6.3 at 700mm full frame.

Image Question

Would you have eliminated the two ovals — the grey one and the white one — on the rock shelf? The grey one looks like a small rock, the white one is probably whitewash (bird poop).


Images and card copyright Arthur Morris/BEARS AS ART 🙂

2017 Bear Boat Coastal Brown Bear Cubs IPTs: July 18-24, 2017 from Kodiak, AK: 5 FULL & 2 Half DAYS: $6699. Happy campers only! Maximum 8/Openings 3.

Join me in spectacular Katmai National Park, AK for six days of photographing Coastal Brown Bears. Mid-July is prime time for making images of small, football-sized cubs. The cubs, and these dates, are so popular that I had to reserve them three years in advance to secure them. There are lots of bears each year in June, but the mothers only rarely risk bringing their tiny cubs out in the open in fear of predation by rival bears. In addition to making portraits of both adults and cubs, we hope to photograph frolicking and squabbling youngsters and tender nursing scenes. At this time of year, the bears are either grazing in luxuriant grass or clamming. There will also be some two- and three-year old cubs to add to the fun. And we will get to photograph it all.

We will live on our tour operator’s luxurious new boat. At 78 feet long its 24 foot beam makes it quite spacious as well. And the food is great. We will likely spend most of our time at famed Geographic Harbor as that is where the bears are generally concentrated in summer. On the odd chance that we do need to relocate to another location we can do so quickly and easily without having to venture into any potentially rough seas. We land via a 25 foot skiff that has lots of room for as much gear as we can carry.

Aside from the bears we should get to photograph Horned and Tufted Puffin and should get nice stuff on Mew Gull, Glaucous-winged Gull, Black-legged Kittiwake, Harbor Seal, and Steller’s Sea Lion as well. A variety of tundra-nesting shorebirds including Western Sandpiper and both yellowlegs are also possible. Halibut fishing (license required/not included) is optional.

It is mandatory that you be in Kodiak no later than the late afternoon of July 17 to avoid missing the float planes to the boat on the morning of July 18. Again, with air travel in Alaska (or anywhere else for that matter) subject to possible delays, being on Kodiak on July 16 is a much better plan.

Barring any delays, we will get to photograph bears on our first afternoon and then again every day for the next five days after that, all weather permitting of course. On our last morning on the boat, July 24, those who would like to enjoy one last photo session will have the opportunity to do so. The group will return to Kodiak via float plane from late morning through midday. Most folks will then fly to Anchorage and to continue on red-eye flights to their home cities.

What’s included? 7 DAYS/6 NIGHTS on the boat as above. All meals on the boat. National Park and guide fees. In-the-field photo tips, instruction, and guidance. An insight into the mind of a top professional nature photographer; I will constantly let you know what I am thinking, what I am doing, and why I am doing it. Small group image review, image sharing, and informal Photoshop instruction on the boat.

What’s not included: Your round trip airfare to and from Kodiak, AK (almost surely through Anchorage). Your lodging and meals on Kodiak. The cost of the round-trip float plane to the boat and then back to Kodiak as above. The cost of a round trip last year was $550. The suggested crew tip of $200.

Have you ever walked with the bears?

Is this an expensive trip? Yes, of course. But with 5 full and two half days, a wealth of great subjects, and the fact that you will be walking with the bears just yards away (or less….), it will be one of the great natural history experiences of your life. Most folks who take part in a Bear Boat IPT wind up coming back for more.

A $2,000 per person non-refundable deposit by check only made out to “BIRDS AS ART” is required to hold your spot. Please click here to read our cancellation policies. Then please print, read, and sign the necessary paperwork here and send it to us by mail to PO Box 7245, Indian Lake Estates, FL 33855.

As payment in full is due on February 15, 2017, you may wish to pay in full now. If you would like to space out your payments a bit please get in touch with me via e-mail. I hope that you can join me for what will be a wondrously exciting trip.

Please Remember to use my Affiliate Links and to Visit the New BAA Online Store 🙂

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 New BIRDS AS ART Online Store, especially the Mongoose M3.6 tripod head, Wimberley lens plates, Delkin flash cards and accessories, and LensCoat stuff.

As always, 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 please remember that I am always glad to answer your gear questions via e-mail.

I would of course appreciate your using our B&H affiliate links for all of your major gear, video, and electronic purchases. For the photographic stuff mentioned in the paragraph above, and for everything else in the new store, we, meaning BAA, would of course greatly appreciate your business. Here is a huge thank you to the many who have been using our links on a regular basis and those who will be visiting the New BIRDS AS ART Online Store as well.


Be sure to like and follow BAA on Facebook by clicking on the logo link upper right. Tanks a stack.


In all blog posts and Bulletins, feel free to e-mail or to leave a comment regarding any typos or errors. Just be right :).

23 comments to Learning About Light … And Lots More

  • avatar Sarah Sterling

    Wish you could have taken Image #2 with both cameras for comparison. I can’t exactly explain why but I’m just not thrilled with the Fuji photos you have posted. They seem to be missing the depth and life that is so present in Image #2. I’m sticking with Canon.

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      These two images are apples and oranges and thus not a fair comparison. But I am sticking with Canon at least for a few years.


  • avatar Kerry Morris

    i like image#1 because of the angle -the bird is looking at you, the water- adding movement; its a pleasing image.

    However, i prefer image #2 because you just don’t see an angle like that too often. It’s really striking. Yes, i would remove both ovals. why? because it’s a tiny bit distracting and with that image, much better without them!

  • avatar Geoff

    Without reading the other replies and responses…

    I much prefer #2 for lower angle, cleaner foreground and background.

    I would much prefer to photograph this oystercatcher in some sort of cloudy light….maybe not drizzle but rather drizzle than full sun. Makes for an easier exposure and less specular highlighted image.

    I would say the sand is in focus in front because focus is on the head and the head is in the same plane as the sand. The feet and body are behind the plane of focus.

    I may have taken out the white but I’m okay with the grey. Really they don’t bother me all that much. The image is very neutral overall and very grey so having those two things adds some interest and doesn’t distract too much from the subject….IMHO, YMMV

  • avatar Jake Levin

    No contest, not even close, #2 is better from my point of view. The first pic looks like he’s in a spotlight. #2 also has the better background, fine feather detail, and (my opinion) head angle. Keep 2, delete 1!

  • avatar Elinor Osborn

    #2 is my favorite by far because of being eye level to the bird and more natural colors. For me the water is too blue in #1.
    Are the sand grains by the bird’s feet in focus because they are right in the plane of focus and slightly raised so the camera caught them from the side rather than glancing over the top and being oof as was happening over the flat sand? Those sharp grains add a lot to the image for me.
    I think I would remove the white oval but leave the gray one; or maybe remove it as well—can’t decide.

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      The limestone grains are in relatively sharp focus only because they are within the zone of sharp focus (which is pretty much equal in front of and behind the point of focus with a long lens).


  • Hi Artie

    While image #1 is a lovely informative image, I prefer #2 for the cloudy bright conditions, which I generally prefer for black birds as it brings out the subtleties in those black feathers a lot more. Also eye level with the bird in #2.
    I’d say that the granules are in sharp focus as they’re in the same plane as the focal point. Focal point is on the eye/head/breast, which is in front of its feet. Hope I articulated myself well enough there haha.
    I like the two ovals, as they complete the magic number 3. Odd numbers are pleasing artistically, and you have one oval, then the bird, then the other oval. They do not distract the eye at all.

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      See my reply on the d-o-f issue. I’m with you on the ovals …

      You articulated well 🙂


  • avatar Frank Sheets

    Good morning Artie.

    Not meaning to be blunt here, but when I saw the first image this AM I asked myself why Artie posted this. As far as the light goes, to me, this image demonstrates why one gets up early in the AM to photograph and why, except under conditions of the second image, you may decide its time to pack it up and go home by 10:30 with the plan to come back in the late afternoon. The image is way too harsh for me, and actually I don’t like the angle of the bird. As others have suggested, maybe a lower angle with the horizon in the background may have helped. Also, here you are demonstrating why many photographers think the sun has to be out to achieve good images, simply not true.

    Regarding the DOF question. Interestingly, you did not show the DPP4 image. I am assuming your focus point was on the face of the bird or, as mentioned by others, the breast. The bird’s angle is slightly toward you, as compared to parallel. So, assuming the conclusion about the focus point is correct, the plane of focus aligns with the sand below that focus point. I also notice the tail is starting to lose focus. That seems to confirm the focus point is toward the front of the bird and demonstrates the narrow DOF at your settings.

    That’s my $.02.

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      2 cents or a miliion bucks? You are getting smarter. A lot 🙂

      We are on the same page as to the light …

      You missed this: The selected AF point was just above and to our left of the bend of the wing, almost on the same plane as the bird’s eye.

      I try to include that valuable info in every one of the images that I post 🙂 IAC, your answer there is correct. Hey, Galapagos is almost full; two guys signed up yesterday 🙂

      later and much love, a

      ps: I was dead on light angle for Image #1 but it didn’t help much 🙂

  • avatar Jeff Friedhoffer

    I prefer the soft light of the second picture. I find the detail in the water of the first picture distracting. As far as the two spot in the second picture, did not even notice them until you mentioned them.

    When do you expect the lens align instruction book to be available? I am anxiously awaiting it.


    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Possibly before I head to Japan in about two weeks … Sorry for the delay but I have been swamped and have been working several hours a day on re-habbing my right shoulder (again) and my right hip (again). I am loving getting older 🙂

      later and love, artie

  • avatar Bob Allen

    Image #2: the in-focus rock/sand is on the same plane as the sharply focused bird’s breast. With that setup (500mm lens + 1.4x tc), your DOF is only about 3-4 inches, which includes the rock/sand anterior to the bird. I cannot more accurately determine DOF without knowing your distance to the bird – between 20-30 feet?

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Mostly right on but assuming 25 feet the total d-o-f with that gear is only about 1 1/2 inches, pretty much as we see in the image.

      later and love, a

  • avatar Erick Houli

    To me, the pictures are truly different. If the one in bright-sunlight would have been taken on the same low angle perhaps allowing a lighter background the result may be really great. On the other hand if the cloudy light one would have been taken over the same dark background wouldn’t pop at all. I think It’s a matter of how the background helps create the contrast.

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Good stuff and thanks for commenting. a

      ps: the sunny birds were well below my position; getting lower was not possible 🙂 At least without dynamite …

  • avatar Bob Allen

    Glad to hear that your Mom is doing well! She’s in good company; Betty White just turned 95 this month, as your Mom will do in Sept.

    I dig the view of the razor-thin bill in the first, but the overall portrait image in the second. The second is exposed to show that the bird’s feathers are black. In the first image, feathers look too gray. Plus, the second image shows that wonderful eye and those reptilian feet.

    Circles. I’d eliminate the whitewash – it’s distracting. I’d experiment with the gray stone to see if eliminating it is an improvement. As is, it breaks up the pleasing line of rock/sand.

    “If I am so smart how come it took me more than two decades to figure it out?”
    This year, your lucky charm was with you – Patrick “Patman” Sparkman!

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Thanks for all the good wishes 🙂 Your comments are right on. Hey, Patman was thrilled that I figured it out. Heck, he lives there and can visit often 🙂 Had the first request today for The Crevice info.

      later and love, artie

  • I really like both but especially the second/cloudy-bright. It really draws all your attention to the oystercatcher, emphasises the feather detail & black coloring. Agree with David – same vertical plane as focus point. Glad your Mom is doing well!

  • avatar David Peake

    My preference is for cloudy bright conditions for the black Oystercatchers.
    However I prefer image one of the two you posted today.
    Limestone granules are in the plane of focus along with the eye. I wouldn’t eliminate the two ovals.

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Why is the in-focus stuff in front of the feet?

      Why do you prefer Image #1?

      later and love, artie