Background Strategies. And a Killer Emperor Penguin Double-overhead Wingstretch! « Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

Background Strategies. And a Killer Emperor Penguin Double-overhead Wingstretch!


I had 32 species on my bird walk/drive-around on Monday morning. I checked for the Purple Gallinule in the same spot as yesterday. It responded to audio; the Least Bittern did not.

Be sure to click on the Emperor Penguin wingstretch image below to enjoy the spectacular larger version.

Six folks are committed to San Diego so there are just two openings left. Only two folks are signed up for the Early Winter DeSoto IPT; there is cheap shared Airbnb lodging for one or two folks (male or female) available. Do consider joining us on that one or on another IPT — especially the Spoonbill Boat IPT. You can see all the current offerings by clicking here. It was great to see that at least three folks joined BPN yesterday after reading the blog post here.


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Selling Your Used Photo Gear Through BIRDS AS ART

Selling your used (or like-new) photo gear through the BAA Blog 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 went out of business. And e-Bay fees are now up to 13%. The minimum item price here is $500 (or less for a $25 fee). If you are interested please scroll down here or shoot us an e-mail with the words Items for Sale Info Request cut and pasted into the Subject line :). Stuff that is priced fairly — I offer pricing advice to those who agree to the terms — usually sells in no time flat. Over the past year, we have sold many dozens of items. Do know that prices on some items like the EOS-1D Mark IV, the old Canon 100-400, the old 500mm, the EOS-7D and 7D Mark II and the original 400mm DO lens have been dropping steadily. You can always see the current listings by clicking here or on the Used Photo Gear tab on the orange-yellow menu bar near the top of each blog post page.

Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM Lens/with Extras!

Brooke Miller is offering a Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM in excellent plus condition for $7398.00. The sale includes: the rear lens cap, the original tough front lens cover, the original lens feet (both tripod and monopod feet), the lens strap, the lens trunk, the owner’s manual, the original product box, a Canon 52mm Drop-in Circular Polarizing Filter PL-C 52WII like-new condition, a LensCoat Raincoat Pro in Realtree AP Snow, and insured ground shipping via major courier to US addresses only. Your item will not ship until your funds clear unless other arrangements are made.

Please contact Brooke via e-mail.

The 500 f/4 super telephoto lenses have long been the world’s most popular for birds,nature, wildlife, and sports for many decades. Canon’s Series II version is light, fast, super-sharp, and produces amazing images with both the 1.4X and 2X III TCs. The 500 II is relatively small, easily hand holdable for some folks, and is much easier travel with, focuses closer than, and costs a lot less than the 600 II. Lastly, and you might find this amazing, the magnification for the 500 II is the same as it is for the 600 II: .15X. How is that possible? Magnification is calculated at the minimum focusing distance of the lens — 12.14 feet (3.7 meters) for the 500 II and 14.77 feet (4.5 meters) for the 600 II. Simply put, the 500 II focuses more than two feet closer than the 600 II. The seller for the last one that sold here had five calls the first day; the first four folks quibbled on price. The fifth one jumped right on it … Please do not tarry if you are seriously interested in Brooke’s lens as it should sell almost instantly. Or not 🙂 As the 500 II goes for $8999 new you will be getting an excellent plus lens while saving $1701.00. I loved my 500 II 🙂 artie

Canon EF 100-400mm L IS II Lens

Brooke Miller is offering a Canon EF 100-400mm F4.5-5.6L IS II USM in excellent condition for $1,449.00. The sale includes: the rear lens cap, the front lens cap, the lens hood, the lens strap, the lens case, the owner’s manual, the original product box, a LensCoat Lens Cover in digital camo, and insured ground shipping via major courier to US addresses only. Your item will not ship until your check clears unless other arrangements are made.

Please contact Brooke via e-mail.

Y’all know how much I loved and now miss this amazingly sharp and versatile lens. artie

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L L IS Lens (with tripod ring!)

Brooke Miller is also offering a Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L IS USM Macro lens in near-mint condition for $599.00. The sale includes the Canon tripod mount ring D(B) (a $172.00 value), the rear lens cap, the front lens cap, the lens hood, the lens case, the owner’s manual, the original product box, and insured ground shipping via major courier to US addresses only. Your item will not ship until your check clears unless other arrangements are made.

Please contact via e-mail.

I loved this lens for flowers both on a tripod and hand held. I used it often on a tripod with a 12mm tube in front of the 1.4X III TC; manual focusing is mandatory and easy with combination. artie

Canon EOS 5D Mark IV

Brooke Miller is also offering a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV Body in excellent condition for $2,249.00. The sale includes the body cap, one original battery, the LC-E6 battery charger, the eyecup Eg, the wide strap, the cable protector, the interface cable IFC-150U II, the owner’s manual, the original product box, and insured ground shipping via major courier to US addresses only.

Please contact Brooke via e-mail.

Two 5D IV bodies served as my workhorse dSLRs right up until I switched to Nikon. I used them almost to the exclusion of my 1DX II, often on f/4 super-telephotos with either the 1.4X or the 2X III TCs (see those below). artie

Canon Series III EF Extenders (Teleconverters)

Brooke Miller is also offering a Canon Extender EF 1.4X III and a Canon Extender EF 2X III, both in near-mint condition for $299.00 each. Buy one or both. Each sale includes the rear lens cap, the front lens cap, the lens pouch, and insured ground shipping via major courier to US addresses only.
Your item will not ship until your funds clear unless other arrangements are made.

Please contact Brooke via e-mail.

Regular readers know that I used and depended on both my three 1.4X III TCs and my two 2X III TC pretty much every day that I was out photographing; traveling with back-up was mandatory. artie

Money Saving Reminder

Money Saving Reminder

If you need a hot photo item that is out of stock at B&H, would enjoy free overnight shipping, and would like a $50 discount on your first purchase, click here to order and enter the coupon code BIRDSASART at checkout. If you are looking to strike a deal on Canon or Nikon gear (including the big telephotos) or on a multiple item order, contact Steve Elkins via e-mail or on his cell at (479) 381-2592 (Eastern time) and be sure to mention your BIRDSASART coupon code and use it for your online order. Steve currently has several D850s in stock along with a Nikon 600mm f/4 VR. He is taking pre-orders for the new Nikon 500 P and the Nikon Z6 mirrorless camera body.

Gear Questions and Advice

Too many folks attending BAA IPTs and dozens of photographers 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. Those questions might deal with systems, camera bodies, accessories, and/or lens choices and decisions.


This image was created on Day 2 — October 25, 2018 — of the recently concluded Emperor Penguins of Snow Hill Island expedition via icebreaker. While lying flat on the snow and ice, I used the hand held Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR lens (at 175mm) with my back-up Nikon D850. ISO 400. Matrix metering plus about 2 stops off the snow: 1/1000 sec. at f/9 in Manual mode. Auto 1 WB at 10:13am on a cloudy-bright morning.

One AF point down and three to the right of the center AF point/Single/Shutter button AF as originally framed was active at the moment of exposure. The selected AF point was just above and to the left of the penguin’s eye.

I kept my 80-400 rig on my shoulder via an RS-7 Curve Breathe Strap so that it was instantly accessible when I was working with the tripod-mounted 500 PF.

Focus peaking AF Fine-tune: +5. See the Nikon AF Fine-tune e-Guide here.

Emperor Penguin/adult stretching

Background Strategies

When I am at the beach or working a pond and there are birds feeding along the shoreline, I will most always look for the cleanest section of beach, sit down behind my tripod right on sun angle, and wait for the birds to come to the cleanest background. On the first morning of the Emperor Penguin expedition, the ropes were set 30 meters from the various colonies. While there were lots of birds in each colony with lots of young, my style of photography was difficult to impossible for several reasons:

1- The birds were close together with several adults and chicks often occupying the same square meter. Isolating a single bird or even an adult with its own chick was extremely difficult.

2- Colonies are inherently messy places with bird poop, regurgitant, and avian footprints everywhere.

3- The warm temperatures that we encountered turned the snow at the colonies into very unattractive slush.


Photographers and adult Emperor Penguin on clean snow
Image courtesy of and copyright 2018: Werner Mayer

Being Away From the Colony Paid Dividends

For me, the solution to the problems listed above was to work well past the edges of the colonies and look for or wait for single birds on the relatively pristine snow and ice. As you can see in the image above — that’s me in the front — that is exactly what I and several others did in the situation that resulted in today’s featured image.

I am pretty sure that the bird in Werner’s image is the bird in today’s featured image. Note that everyone but me had their parkas unzipped to avoid overheating. Mine was lying on my gear bag a few hundred meters away. At one point I got flat on the ground but most of the time I sat and took advantage of the pure white frozen snow. Thanks to shipmate Werner for sharing the image.

The Lesson

If you have a choice between clean backgrounds and dirty, ugly, cluttered backgrounds always opt for the former. 🙂 That said, many folks could not withstand the allure of all the birds in the colony. But their images suffered to some degree.

Help Support the Blog

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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.

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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 :).

9 comments to Background Strategies. And a Killer Emperor Penguin Double-overhead Wingstretch!

  • avatar Christof

    Dear Artie.
    To shoot birds in snow. How much exposer compesation can or must i use to get the snow white without getting blinkiys? And when you shoot in manual mode, do you use ISO-Auto everytime? When i shoot birds in a snow, the snow is always blue or grey.

    Best regards from Germany

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Hi Cristof, As noted in today’s blog post, a good place to start is by setting your exposure in Manual mode to two stops above the snow. Then make an image and check for blinkies. In general with most subjects, a smattering of blinkies on the snow will produce a perfect exposure. I never use Auto-ISO in Manual Mode; as noted here often, I use it occasionally in an automatic mode like A or S. Your snow is grey or blue because you are using the exposure suggested by the camera and not adding lot of light as needed. Note: if the sun is out your exposures will not be nearly as bad as when it is cloudy of overcast. When the sun is out, the meter is pretty good. When the sun is not out, the meter is very stupid.

      I would suggest that you get a copy of The Art of Bird Photography II and study the section on Exposure Simplified. The link for ABP II is for the electronic download to make it easier to order from Germany. Do consider joining me on the 2019 UK Puffins and Gannets IPT.

      with love, artie

  • avatar David Policansky

    Hi, Artie. Another great image. I remember your telling me a bit more than 2 years ago that penguins on snow were to die for, or similar, and I have to agree. Of course, when the colonies are as densely packed as king penguin colonies are on South Georgia in January, then you can’t even see the ugly ground! Anyway, being post-processing challenged as I am makes me work even harder to get clean backgrounds.

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Thanks David, The Emperor Penguin colonies are nowhere near as densely packed as the King Penguin colonies. Deal with the BLACKs and WHITEs during post-processing is the bid challenge with the emperor images. I will cover that here in a future post.

      with love, artie

  • avatar ChicagoJeff

    Artie – What’s your species count? It must be way up there after decades of avian shooting. Also, what’s your most recent life bird?

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Hi Jeff,

      I do not keep any lists. I have seen about 110 species here at Indian Lake Estates. Surprisingly, Emperor Penguin is NOT my most recent life bird as I saw a one year old bird on ice in the Southern Ocean a few years back. Aside from foreign species my most recent lifer might have been the juvie Broad-billed Sandpiper at Jamaica Bay many, many, many years ago. .

      with love, artie