Puffin Isolationism/Part I of II. And Background Magic … « Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

Puffin Isolationism/Part I of II. And Background Magic ...

What’s Up?

I was hoping to get some more work done on my 2015 tax return on Friday afternoon … Also in my plans were some stretching and core exercises, and a mid-afternoon swim. I am glad to say that I have been eating well since my return from the Galapagos.

Thanks to all who commented on the two Razorbill images in yesterday’s blog post; y’all did a good job. My opinion soon 🙂

Canon 100-400 II On Sale

The Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens is on sale right now from B&H for only $2049!

The Streak

Today marks forty days in a row with a new educational blog post. This one took about three hours to prepare. With all of my upcoming free time, the plan right now is to break the current record streak of (I think) four hundred eighty something … Good health and good internet connections willing.

Everybody’s Doing It…

Everybody’s buying and selling used gear on the BAA Used Gear Page. Sales recently have been through the roof. Selling your used (or like-new) photo gear through the BAA Blog or via a BAA Online Bulletin is a great idea. We charge only a 5% commission. One of the more popular used gear for sale sites charged a minimum of 20%. Plus assorted fees! Yikes. They recently folded. And eBay fees are now in the 13% range. The minimum item price here is $500 (or less for a $25 fee). If you are interested please e-mail with the words Items for Sale Info Request cut and pasted into the Subject line :). Stuff that is priced fairly–I offer free pricing advice, usually sells in no time flat. In the past few months, we have sold just about everything in sight. Do know that prices on some items like the EOS-1D Mark IV, the old Canon 500mm, the EOS-7D, and the original 400mm IS DO lens have been dropping steadily. Even the prices on the new 600 II and the 200-400 with Internal Extender have been plummeting. You can see all current listings by clicking here or by clicking on the Used Photo Gear tab on the right side of the yellow-orange menu bar at the top of each blog post.

Wanted to Buy

I have a buyer for a 7D Mark II and an old 100-400. If you would like to sell one or both of those items, please contact me via e-mail.


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.

Thanks to the many who have already tried and used this great service.


I recently updated the IPT page. If you doubt that I am really slowing down, click here to see the meager IPT schedule. Right now there are only two US-based IPTs on the schedule. Best news is I now have two folks registered for the Fort DeSoto IPT so that will run. Do consider joining us if you would like to learn from the best.

Photographers Wanted

If you would like to learn to become a much better bird photographer, consider joining me on either the Fort DeSoto IPT in late September or the San Diego IPT in January, 2018. With four folks signed up, DeSoto will offer practically private instruction. And you can tack on the In-the-Field/Meet-up Workshop Session on the morning of Tuesday September 26, 2017 for free. Scroll down for details. Click here for complete IPT info and the current but abbreviated schedule.

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.

The DPP 4 screen capture for today’s featured image

Aperture Question

Why was f/9 a poor choice? (There are two main reasons.)

If you think that you know how I wound up at f/9 when I would rather not have been there, feel free to share your thoughts.

What Can You Learn From the DPP 4 Screen Capture?

Note the AF square illuminated in red that shows the location of the active AF point. Note also that I rarely place the selected AF point on the bird’s eye, trying instead to find a larger area on the same plane as the bird’s eye. With the RGB values for the WHITEs in the RAW file coming in in the high 240s I corrected a similar mistake that I made when converting the gannet image in the blog post here by moving the Brightness slider to -.33. Note again how I used the Color fine-tune box to come up with nearly perfect WHITEs (237, 238, 237) by moving the dot away from BLUE. In addition, I moved the Highlights slider to -1. I tried -2 but that made the WHITEs look dingy.

This image was created on a morning landing on Staples Island on the 2017 UK Puffins and Gannets IPT. I used 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 puffin photography camera body, the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV. ISO 400. Evaluative metering +1/3 stop: 1/320 sec. at f/9 (a mistake …) in Manual mode. Daylight WB.

LensAlign/FocusTune micro-adjustment: zero.

The AF point that was two up from the center AF point/AI Servo/Shutter button AF was active at the moment of exposure. The selected point was placed on the neck directly below the orange rosette. Click on the image to enjoy a larger version.

Atlantic Puffin on tall rock 🙂 With distant background.

Image Question

Is the head angle here ideal? Why or why not?

Puffin Isolationism/Part I

While Atlantic Puffins dig their burrows in relatively soft earth, they are very sociable creatures; they love to sit on rocky cliffs and they love company. At most puffin colonies, it is easy to create portraits where the bird takes up from 1/2 to 3/4 of the frame. The trick, however, to creating pleasing images is to be able to isolate a single bird against a relatively distant and clean background. Usually a background without any distracting puffins in the frame is preferred. Note: at times, it is possible to create pleasing juxtapositional images, photos where one or more puffins, usually out of focus, are perfectly positioned to add to the image rather than distract.

You can start either by getting very close to your subject or by choosing and using a relatively long focal length, often with a teleconverter. Long focal lengths always make isolating the subject easier. But the biggest key to success is finding a good situation is to find a single puffin sitting on a rock that either rises above the surrounding rocks or is completely isolated from other rocks. Next you can see how getting higher or lower or moving slightly left or right (depending on sun angle and the quality of light of course) effects the background. In nearly all cases a more distant background will be more pleasing a closer background.

In short, you can almost always improve your bird photography by being on the lookout for a teed-up bird on a nice perch with a distant background. If you so choose.

The Image Optimization: Background Magic

If you compare the background in the DPP 4 screen capture that opens this blog post to the background in the optimized image immediately above, most will find the smoother background in the optimized image to be far more pleasing. Read on to learn more.

After converting the image in DPP 4 (as detailed above in the DPP 4 Screen Capture item), I brought the image into Photoshop. Though I was happy with the WHITEs, I thought that the image was a bit too YELLOW overall so I opened Hue-Saturation on a layer, selected YELLOW from the drop-down menu, and moved the Saturation slider to 100%. That the whole image turned YELLOW showed that I was right so I reduced the YELLOW saturation to -20. hat was a big improvement. Next I did a Levels adjustment (Command L) on a new layer (Command J). As it turns out the WHITE point was pretty much perfect but I had a bit of room to darken the BLACKs so I did (while holding down the ALT key).

Then I started to work on the too-dark areas of the background: the section in the lower right and the less but still obtrusive area just below and behind the puffin. I started with Content Aware Fill in the lower right. The results were pathetically bad with some sharp triangular areas and ugly splotches of color. But, I opted to keep them and to smooth things out with a large Gaussian blur. To do that, I duplicated the whole image (Command J) and applied a 66 pixel Gaussian blur. Then I added a Regular Layer Mask and working with a 100% brush, I painted away the whole bird with about a half inch border around it to make sure that none of the blur affected the bird. In these situations this technique works well when the background close to the bird is nicely blurred to start with. If there is relatively sharp detail close to the bird, the Gaussian Blur background smoothing technique will yield unsatisfactory, unnatural results. I still wanted to eliminate the dark area behind and below the bird. For that one, however, I painted a Quick Mask of the mess after trying Content Aware Fill and then applied a 77 Pixel Gaussian Blur. Then I made sure to add a Regular Layer Mask and erase the edge of the rock.

Next I applied my NIK 30/30 recipe to the bird’s head, neck, and breast after making my selection with the Quick Selection Tool. That left the face too dark for my taste so I used Tim Grey Dodge and Burn in varying opacities to lighten only the face. Lastly I selected the face and bill with the Quick Selection Tool, put that on its own layer, and applied a Contrast Mask to add some pseudo-sharpening. I saved the image and compared it full screen in Photo Mechanic with the converted TIFF. I realized that I had made the image just a bit too contrast so I went back to Photoshop, out the whole thing on a new layer, and hit Command M for Curves on a Layer. Then I selected my Reduced Contrast pre-set from the drop-down menu. Voila!

I am quite proud of the image optimization for today’s featured image. One of the many reasons to attend the 2018 UK Puffins and Gannets IPT is that there is ample free time during which you will learn a ton about image processing simply by sitting next to me as I work on images, more time than on a typical IPT. And there is also lots of time for image sharing for those who really wish to learn.

The BIRDS AS ART Current Workflow e-Guide (Digital Basics II) will teach you an efficient Mac/Photo Mechanic/Photoshop workflow that will make it easy for you to make your images better in Photoshop (rather than worse). That true whether you convert your images in DPP 4 or ACR. See the blog post here to learn lots more and to read a free excerpt.

You can order your copy from the BAA Online Store here, by sending a Paypal for $40 here, or by calling Jim or Jennifer weekdays at 863-692-0906 with your credit card in hand.

The BIRDS AS ART Current Workflow e-Guide (Digital Basics II)

Everything mentioned above is covered in detail in the BIRDS AS ART Current Workflow e-Guide (Digital Basics II), an instructional PDF that is sent via e-mail. Learn more and check out the free excerpt in the blog post here. The new e-Guide reflects my Macbook Pro/Photo Mechanic/DPP 4/Photoshop workflow. Do note that you will find the RGB Curves Adjustment Color Balancing tutorial only in the new e-guide. Note: folks working on a PC and/or those who do not want to miss anything Photoshop may wish to purchase the original Digital Basics along with DB II while saving $15 by clicking here to buy the DB Bundle.

The two most recent MP4 Photoshop Tutorial videos releases go hand and hand with the information in the new guide:

  • The Wingtip Repairs MP4 Video here.
  • The MP4 Crow Cleanup Video here.

Folks who learn well by following along rather than by reading, can check out the complete collection of MP 4 Photoshop Tutorial Videos by clicking here.

You can learn how and why I and other discerning Canon shooters convert nearly all of their Canon digital RAW files in DPP 4 using Canon Digital Photo Professional in the DPP 4 RAW conversion Guide here. And you can learn advanced Quick Masking and advanced Layer Masking techniques in APTATS I & II. You can save $15 by purchasing the pair. Folks can learn sophisticated sharpening and (NeatImage) Noise Reduction techniques in the The Professional Post Processing Guide by Arash Hazeghi and yours truly.

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. Web orders only. 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/openings 4.

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.

The best airport is Tampa (TPA). Register soon so that you can be assured of a room at the IPT hotel.

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.


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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 :).

10 comments to Puffin Isolationism/Part I of II. And Background Magic …

  • avatar frank sheets

    Hi Artie,

    I have absolutely no clue why F/9 represents an issue on this image. The fact that the detail in the far side eye represents anything degrading to this image does not reverberate with me at all. And, the softness of the background is totally acceptable from my perspective. So, I’m going to be interested in the nuance of why you feel f/9 represents an issue. Ps, Laurie is playing a video of the albatross mating behavior with your voice in the background as am responding to this this blog. Nice to hear your voice again!

    Have a great day,


  • avatar David Policansky

    Hi, Artie. Amazing that we are bothered by the faintest hint of the bird’s far eye. That said, I’d like the bird’s head to be angled a few degrees to the left. It’s a wonderful image in any case. As for f/9, well the obvious main reason you’d have preferred a wider aperture is to have smoothed the background more. I can’t think of a second main reason; there’s no motion blur and there’s no noise, so f/9 didn’t force you to use too low a shutter speed or too high an ISO.

  • avatar Carolyn Peterson

    I hope you mean your 2016 tax return, not 2015. 🙂

  • Hey Arthur, i am not sure why f9 was a mistake. The head angle looks ideal to me the body of the bird and the head look in focus.

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      If you compare the BKGR on the original to the BKGR of the optimized image you should be able to see why I was not happy with f/9 and why f/5.6 or f/6.3 would have been much better.

      with love, artie

  • avatar Elinor Osborn

    Love those puffins and the beautiful color and sharp feathers on this one. My impressions turned out the same as Jake’s including background and far side eye. I was amazed at how tiny they are when I saw them for real. From the pictures I always thought they were fairly large.

  • avatar Jake

    Hi Artie, I think you wound up at f/9 because you had not changed settings between yesterday’s featured images and today’s, even though you had changed converters. F/9 was not ideal because it meant you had to spend a lot more time optimizing the image using Gaussian blur, masks and content aware fill. For me the head angle is not quite ideal because I can see a hint of the eye on the far side which bugs me, personally.

    • avatar Jake

      Thanks for the tips on puffin photography in general. I really want to photograph them again. The last time I photographed them was a few years ago and it was great fun, but it wasn’t at the Farne Islands. At the time I was very happy with the results but I know that I could do better now. Forgot to say that I like the image, the optimized background makes a lot of difference.

      • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

        YAW Jake. You should consider joining the 2018 UK Puffins and Gannets IPT with a Bempton Cliffs pre-trip 🙂

        with love, artie