My Deteriorating Flight Photography Skills –For Real, but not today … « Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

My Deteriorating Flight Photography Skills --For Real, but not today ...


After a sunny Saturday the photography weather returned to perfect: completely cloudy bright skies with the best ever Black-legged Kittiwake nest with a fluffy white 2 1/2 week old chick in the nest with mom and a west wind in the afternoon. A baby puffin swimming in the same small pond where I had photographed one several years ago, put a fine ending to the Farnes Island portion of the IPT. With predation by the large gulls being at an all time high, it was the first one that we laid eyes.

Today, Monday, July 10, is a something of a get-away day for us; we leave our wonderful cottages in Seahouses, UK and head up to Dunbar, Scotland where we will be spending two nights before flying home on Wednesday. Weather permitting we will enjoy another session with the gannets before we depart for the other side of the pond.

I was glad to learn this morning that Erik Hagstrom sold his Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Contemprary lens for Canon EF in excellent plus condition for $699 in early July.

Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Sports Lens for Canon EF

Price Reduced $200 on June 25, 2017.

Multiple IPT veteran Brent Bridges is also offering a used Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Sports lens for Canon EF in near-mint condition for only $999 (was $1199). The sale includes the original product box, a LensCoat, the instruction manual, the lens strap & hood, and insured ground shipping by major courier to US addresses only. Your item will not ship until your check clears unless other arrangements are made.

Please contact Brent by e-mail or by phone at 770-565-5012 (Eastern time).

Lots of folks on recent IPTs have been using this relatively new Sigma lens with excellent results. artie

Sigma TC-1401 1.4x Teleconverter for Canon EF

Multiple IPT veteran Brent Bridges is also offering a used Sigma Sigma TC-1401 1.4x teleconverter for Canon EF in near-mint condition for a ridiculously low $129. The sale includes the original product box, and insured ground shipping by major courier to US addresses only. Your item will not ship until your check clears unless other arrangements are made.

Please contact Brent by e-mail or by phone at 770-565-5012 (Eastern time).

The Streak

Just in case you have not been counting, today makes 22 days in a row with a new educational blog post 🙂 There will be few or no new blog posts for a week while I am in Alaska as we move the BAA Blog to a new server.

Via e-Mail from Warren Hatch

Hi Artie, I just wanted to drop you a quick note to say thanks for everything you’ve done to help my photography. The lessons I’ve learned from The Art of Bird Photography I and II, through your daily blogs, and on a pair of IPTs (spaced 20 years apart), have been invaluable. They’ve influenced my shooting profoundly and I know I am a better photographer as a result. This week one of my images won an Audubon award (People’s Choice in the 2017 photography competition). Your inspiration and teachings played as large a part in the formation of the image as my hitting the shutter button. At a minimum, the official scorer should show you with an assist. So, thanks! Hopefully it won’t take another 20 years before I capture something special again. Kind Regards, Warren


I could not secure the lodging that I needed for the UK Puffins and Gannets IPT in Dunbar, Scotland, so I went from Hotels.Com to Booking.Com and was pleasantly surprised. I found the rooms that I needed with ease at a hotel that was not even on Hotels.Com, and it was a nice hotel that I had seen in person. And the rates were great. If you’d like to give Booking.Com a shot, click here and you will earn a $25 reward.

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.

Please Don’t Forget …

As always–and folks have been doing a really great job for a long time now–please remember to use the BAA B&H links for your major and minor 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 on the sunny Saturday afternoon of July 8 on the 2017 UK Puffins and Gannets IPT with the Induro GIT 304L/Mongoose M3.6-mounted Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM lens, the Canon Extender EF 1.4X III, and my favorite bird photography camera body, the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV. ISO 800. Evaluative metering +2/3 stop off the blue sky 30 degrees above the horizon: 1/2500 sec. at f/7.1 in Manual mode. Daylight WB.

LensAlign/FocusTune micro-adjustment: zero.

Though Center Large Zone/AI Servo/Shutter Button AF was active at the moment of exposure no AF point or points were illuminated in red on the RAW file. This is due either to an anomaly or to a camera malfunction.

Atlantic Puffin landing with killer background

My Deteriorating Flight Photography Skills

Given the fact that this flight image is very sharp, nicely designed, and has a very pleasing background might lead some to think that the title of the subhead here, My Deteriorating Flight Photography Skills, is either inaccurate or something of a joke. It is neither. I made many hundreds of flight images on this trip that were simply nowhere near sharp. Why? I was simply unable to acquire the subject in the frame and unable to acquire and maintain focus as the bird approached. Why? The deteriorating strength, stamina, and hand-eye coordination that comes with age. For the non-believers, I will share a collection of such out-of-focus images with you here soon; most were made in absolutely perfect situations where more skilled folks would have cashed in on these outstanding flight opportunities.

I failed hand holding the 500 II with the 5D IV and the hood removed from the lens. I failed with the 500 II and the 1.4X III and the 5D IV on the tripod. I failed with either the 5D IV or the 1DX II on the hand held 100-400 II. And most surprisingly I failed with the 100-400 II with the 1D X II on the gannet boat; it would be difficult to find easier flight photography subjects than the gannets …

I did fairly well with the hand held 5D IV/70-200 f/4 L IS combo — can you say smaller and lighter ?

The truth, as I have been saying here for years, is that I have never been a very good flight photographer. My knowledge of the wind and the light and of the birds’ flight patterns and habits, along with a very large — make that huge — dose of determination, has usually enabled me to come away with a decent flight image or two from each good session. On this trip, my percentage of good flight images was noticeably pathetic at best.

If In Doubt …

If in doubt about using the BAA B&H affiliate link correctly, you can always start your search by clicking here. Please note that the tracking is invisible. Please, however, remember to shoot me your receipt via e-mail.


Obviously folks attending the IPT will be out in the field early and stay late to take advantage of sunrise and sunset colors. The good news is that the days are relatively short in October. Click on the composite to enjoy a larger version.

The Fort DeSoto 2017 Fall IPT/September 22 (afternoon session) through the full day on September 25, 2017. 3 1/2 FULL DAYs: $1649. Limit 8.

Fort DeSoto, located just south of St. Petersburg, FL, is a mecca for migrant shorebirds and terns in fall. There they join hundreds of egrets, herons, night-herons, gulls, and terns who winter on the T-shaped peninsula that serves as their wintering grounds. With luck, we may get to photograph two of Florida’s most desirable shorebird species: Marbled Godwit and the spectacular Long-billed Curlew. Black-bellied Plover and Willet are easy, American Oystercatcher almost guaranteed. Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Great Blue Heron, and Tricolored Heron are easy as well and we will almost surely come up with a tame Yellow-crowned Night-Heron or two. We should get to do some Brown Pelican flight photography. And Royal, Sandwich, Forster’s, and Caspian Terns will likely provide us with some good flight opportunities as well. Though not guaranteed Roseate Spoonbill and Wood Stork would not be unexpected.

Folks who sign up for the IPT are welcome to join us on the ITF/MWS on the morning of Tuesday, September 26 as my guest. See below for details on that.

On the IPT you will learn basics and fine points of digital exposure and to get the right exposure every time after making a single test exposure, how to approach free and wild birds without disturbing them, to understand and predict bird behavior, to identify many species of shorebirds, to spot the good situations, to choose the best perspective, to see and understand the light, and to design pleasing images by mastering your camera’s AF system. And you will learn how and why to work in Manual mode (even if you’re scared of it).

There will be a Photoshop/image review session after lunch (included) each day. That will be followed by Instructor Nap Time.

This IPT will run with only a single registrant (though that is not likely to happen). The best airport is Tampa (TPA). Though I have not decided on a hotel yet — I will as soon as there is one sign-up — do know that it is always best if IPT folks stay in the same hotel (rather than at home or at a friend’s place).

A $500 deposit is due when you sign up and is payable by credit card. Balances must be paid by check after you register. Your deposit is non-refundable unless the IPT sells out with ten folks so please check your plans carefully before committing. You can register by calling Jim or Jennifer during weekday business hours at 863-692-0906 with a credit card in hand or by sending a check as follows: make the check out to: BIRDS AS ART and send it via US mail here: BIRDS AS ART, PO BOX 7245, Indian Lake Estates, FL 33855. You will receive a confirmation e-mail with detailed instructions, gear advice, and instructions for meeting on the afternoon of Friday, September 22.


Fort DeSoto in fall is rich with tame birds. All of the images in this card were created at Fort DeSoto in either late September or early October. I hope that you can join me there this October. Click on the composite to enjoy a larger version.

BIRDS AS ART In-the-Field/Meet-up Workshop Session (ITF/MWS): $99.

Join me on the morning of Tuesday September 26, 2017 for 3-hours of photographic instruction at Fort DeSoto Park. Beginners are welcome. Lenses of 300mm or longer are recommended but even those with 70-200s should get to make some nice images. Teleconverters are always a plus.

You will learn the basics of digital exposure and image design, autofocus basics, and how to get close to free and wild birds. We should get to photograph a variety of wading birds, shorebirds, terns, and gulls. This inexpensive afternoon workshop is designed to give folks a taste of the level and the quality of instruction that is provided on a BIRDS AS ART Instructional Photo-tour. I hope to meet you there.

To register please call Jim or Jennifer during weekday business hours at 863-692-0906 with a credit card in hand to pay the nominal non-refundable registration fee. You will receive a short e-mail with instructions, gear advice, and meeting place at least two weeks before the event.


BAA Site Guides are the next best thing to being on an IPT.

Fort DeSoto Site Guide

Can’t make the IPT? Get yourself a copy of the Fort DeSoto Site Guide. Learn the best spots, where to be when in what season in what weather. Learn the best wind directions for the various locations. BAA Site Guides are the next best thing to being on an IPT. You can see all of them here.

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.

Those who prefer to support BAA by shopping with Amazon may use the logo link above.

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Many kind folks from north of the border, eh, have e-mailed stating that they would love to help us out by using one of our affiliate links but that living in Canada and doing so presents numerous problems. Now, they can help us out by using our Amazon Canada affiliate link by starting their searches by clicking here.


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

15 comments to My Deteriorating Flight Photography Skills –For Real, but not today …

  • avatar Chicago Jeff

    Artie – Time to start lifting weights. It’s never too late to start.

  • avatar Markus

    Sorry to hear. Here there is a large group of Nikon users who love their light D500 (sometimes D5) and 300mm f4 lens combination. I habe not made personal experience – since I am using Canons always – but it may be worth a try for you. Best wishes from Germany!

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Thanks.It is always easier to shoot flight with shorter faster lenses than with longer slower ones 🙂

      with love, artie

  • avatar Neil Hickman

    Hi! Concerning a lighter rig. Denise Ippolito has just given the Olympus OMD1 Mk II and the Olympus 300mm f4 (Equivalent to 600mm) a good run for BIF. Her conclusion was it did not cut it “at the moment”. However for relatively static subjects and as a travel camera with shorter lens she rates the camera very highly. As an older fella who loves BIF the lighter rig attracted me, but as David Policansky states, the Canon 7D II and 100-400 II would be a difficult combination to beat at the moment.

  • Hi Artie, great image. Do not kick yourself about it not being handheld it is a lovely image regardless. Enjoy Bass Rock I am very jealous. Thanks for your teaching,

  • avatar Frank Sheets

    Artie, this is another beautiful Puffin image. Having the opportunity with the Ganetts and Puffins is on my bucket list, perhaps next year. You have mentioned before having the situation when the AF point doesn’t show up, even though the image is in focus. This happened again this morning shooting a fledged Magpie. I AM not sure it is specific to the 5DIV, but I have not noticed it with other Canon bodies. I wish I knew the answer. If you ever find out what causes this, I would love to know the answer.

    I’m wondering though: Over the last few years I have been BBF exclusively, the far left button. I notice sometimes, that perhaps that button is somewhat sensitive; and if you don’t keep enough pressure on it all the time, the AF indicator on the bottom right of the screen may register as on, even though I think I am depressing the button. Could that also happen with the shutter button. If the AF indicator in the screen is not showing, but perhaps the AF system is still functioning, does the AF indicator on the image not show up.

    My Magpie was pretty stationary, so still could have been in focus even though the AF system was not operating. But in your case with a BIF, your AF system had to be performing, unless you were extremely fortunate the bird was exactly on plane with the sensor. And a question, was yours a single shot or a series. If a series, were all the images in DPP4 without sensor indicator.

    Anyway, a bit baffled here and if you get the answer, I would love to here it. Again, beautiful image.

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Good thinking by you. BUT, I was using shutter button AF so it should simply not be possible …

      I will talk to you about dates for a possible UK Puffins and Gannets IPT in the Galapagos. If the two of you commit, I am in 🙂 No pressure.

      with love, artie

      ps: I am not sure if I ever noticed it with another Canon body …

  • avatar Jay Shah

    Artie, your humility and honesty — so much to learn besides photography from you..

  • avatar lawrence lieberman

    Have you tried Olympus omd 1 mark 2
    much lighter even with 400 mm lens and 2x crop factor

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Have not, but when those light outfits are good enough for flight and action and I get a bit older, I will be there somewhere 🙂

      with love, artie

  • avatar Bill Richardson

    One out of a thousand is fine if the one is great and that one is.

  • avatar David Policansky

    Hi, Artie. Nobody knows better than you that if you understand how and where birds fly, if you understand how the combination of wind and light leads to good or bad opportunities, if you understand exposure, if you understand backgrounds, and if you are persistent (and who is more persistent than you?), you’ll get your share of good flight shots. I never could handle a 600 mm lens for hand-held flight shots but my success rate has gone up since I started using the Canon 100-400 f/4.5-5.6L IS II lens. It really does focus like lightning with the 7DII and I often can crop the image a little without noticeable loss of quality. Smart often beats strong, and we see that from the beautiful flight images you post, such as today’s. I’m not sure that anyone gets a high percentage of flight shots sharp, but I’ll accept that some get a higher percentage of sharp shots than you do–certainly than I do. But I’ve watched young, strong people hand-holding a 600 mm lens take shot after shot of birds that aren’t presenting themselves well, in poor light, and with horrible backgrounds. Maybe they get sharp images of the birds but they would be instant deletes for me. I am confident that you’ll continue to get beautiful flight shots for some time to come.

  • avatar Ezhil Suresh

    That is a very humble self introspection. Your bird portraits are outstanding and most mortals try to emulate even a portion of that creativity. Looking forward to your Bass Rock post second time around.

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Many thanks for your kind words. We got weathered out on Bass Rock …

      with love, artie