Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART
May 17th, 2021

Thanks again, Anita! When f/4 is more than enough. And Super-telephoto Basic depth-of-field Lessons

What’s Up?

On Sunday morning we sat in the marsh again and enjoyed another great day with the Black-necked Stilts. Again, they landed right in front of us and copulated. Twice. In addition, we got some great stuff on Boat-tailed Grackles grabbing snails. Toward the end of the session, I did some ultra-low-level shooting off the tripod with the Levered-clamp FlexShooter Pro. That gets me down to about a foot above the mud. I am getting better and better at working off the rear monitor. Techniques for doing that will be shared here soon.

Thanks to all who left comments on Anita’s images yesterday. As I wrote in reply to one comment, Anita’s images are not perfect. Had anyone pointed out some of the legitimate flaws, I would have thanked them very much. The point of the post, however, was that she worked very hard to discover a new location and got some very good images. Not to mention that the first three images were made in extreme low light conditions. I have been preaching here for years that depth of field with super-telephoto lenses, especially with subjects at relatively close range, is very shallow. And some folks on BPN often ask for “more d-o-f” in low light-, already high ISO-, slow shutter speed situations. That is why for decades, my mantra has been to focus on the eye, get that sharp, and to heck with depth of field.

There are many other comments and replies worth reading. Learn more about d-o-f with long lenses in today’s post below.

Today is Monday 17 May 2021. The forecast is for still and sunny with a light breeze from the northeast developing. We are heading down to the lake early. Wherever you are, and whatever you are doing, I hope that you have a great day.

This blog post took about two hours to prepare and makes 144 consecutive days with a new one. Please remember that if an item — a Delkin flash card, or a tripod head — for example, that is available from B&H and/or Bedfords and is also available in the BAA Online Store, it would be great if you opt to purchase from us. We will match any price. Please remember also to use my B&H affiliate links or to save 3% at Bedfords by using the BIRDSASART discount code at checkout. Doing either often earns you free guides and/or discounts. And doing so always earns my great appreciation.

Please Remember

With income from IPTs now at zero, please, if you enjoy and learn from the blog, remember to use one of my two affiliate programs when purchasing new gear. Doing so just might make it possible for me to avoid having to try to get a job as a Walmart greeter and will not cost you a single penny more. And if you use Bedfords and remember to enter the BIRDSASART code at checkout, you will save 3% on every order and enjoy free second-day air shipping. In these crazy times — I am out at least forty to sixty thousand dollars so far due to COVID 19 (with lots more to come) — remembering to use my B&H link or to shop at Bedfords will help me out a ton and be greatly appreciated. Overseas folks who cannot order from the US because of import fees, duties, and taxes, are invited to help out by clicking here to leave a blog thank you gift if they see fit.

New and Better Bedfords Discount Policy!

You can now save 3% on all of your Bedfords photo gear purchases by entering the BIRDSASART coupon code at checkout. Your discount will be applied to your pre-tax total. In addition, by using the code you will get 2nd day air shipping via Fed Ex.

Grab a Nikon AF-S Teleconverter TC-14E III and save $14.99. Purchase a Canon EOS R5 and your discount will be $116.97. Purchase a Sony FE 600mm f/4 GM OSS lens and save a remarkable $389.94! Your Bedford’s purchase no longer needs to be greater than $1,000.00 for you to receive a discount. The more you spend, the more you save.

Money Saving Reminder

Many have learned that if you need a hot photo item that is out of stock at B&H and would enjoy free second-day air shipping, your best bet is to click here, place an order with Bedfords, and enter the coupon code BIRDSASART at checkout. If an item is out of stock, contact Steve Elkins via e-mail or on his cell phone at (479) 381-2592 (Central time). Be sure to mention the BIRDSASART coupon code and use it for your online order to save 3% and enjoy free 2nd-day air shipping. Steve has been great at getting folks the hot items that are out of stock at B&H and everywhere else. The wait lists at the big stores can be a year or longer for the hard to get items. Steve will surely get you your gear long before that. For the past year, he has been helping BAA Blog folks get their hands on items like the SONY a9 ii, the SONY 200-600 G OSS lens, the Canon EOS R5, the Canon RF 100-500mm lens, and the Nikon 500mm PF. Steve is personable, helpful, and eager to please.



Gear Questions and Advice

Too many folks attending BAA IPTs (remember those?) 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

This image was created on 15 May 2021, my first morning of sitting on a milk crate in the marsh along the lakeshore at ILE. I used the Induro GIT 304L/Levered-clamp FlexShooter Pro-mounted Induro GIT 304L/Mongoose M3.6-mounted Sony FE 600mm f/4 GM OSS lens and The One, the Sony Alpha 1 Mirrorless digital camera. ISO 500. Exposure determined via Zebras with ISO on the rear dial: 1/4000 sec. at f/4 (wide open) in Manual mode. AWB at 7:39am on a clear sunny morning.

Wide/AF-C was active at the moment of exposure and performed perfectly by nailing the plover’s eye. Click on the image to see a larger version.

Image #1: Black-necked Stilts, pre-copulatory stand

Thanks! Anita

Thanks to Anita for coming up with the idea of sitting on a milk crate in the marsh. It is something that I will be doing quite often — not only in May, but throughout the year. Right now, however, the opportunities have been amazing. We can hardly wait to get up each day and head down to the lake. I’ve gone down the last two mornings, and we’ve had two copulations right in front of us each day. Plus numerous fights between pairs from abutting territories.

The courtship rituals of all members of the Recurvirostridae family, the stilts and avocets, are entirely fascinating and beautiful. You will be seeing images here over the next few weeks of the various courtship behaviors. I have seen this species in previous years as the water level in the lake drops, but had only photographed them from afar (and not very well) working at 1200mm. As long as we sit and stay still, they come right up to us. Today is day four for Anita, and day three for me. We have been improving our strategies and techniques each day and will continue to do so.

And who knows, perhaps they will nest successfully this year at ILE for the first time … I have never seen a BNST chick here …

Depth of Field with Super-telephoto Lenses

I have attempted to share the information below here on the blog for many years. But after reading some of the comments on yesterday’s blog post, my teachings — for some folks — have fallen on deaf ears. Here are the facts:

Depth-of-field (d-o-f) with super-telephoto lenses is extremely shallow when working at or near the wide open aperture. The closer you are to the subject, the less the d-o-f. Working a 600mm lens at 15 feet at f/4, the total d-o-f is less than 1/4 inch. Increase the distance to 50 feet, and the d-o-f increases to roughly 3 3/4 inches. In each situation, stopping down two full stops roughly doubles to the total d-o-f. Note that with super-telephoto lenses, the d-o-f is about 50/50 with half of the d-o-f in front of the point of focus, and half behind.

Today’s featured image was created at a distance of about 50 feet, perhaps 60. Though the d-o-f was 5.4 inches at most, that was more than enough to cover both subjects. How do we know that? Because both birds are razor sharp.

I recommend stopping down with long lenses when you are very close to the subject. But realize then that the additional d-o-f you will gain will be minimal. Again, the d-o-f roughly doubles for each two stops that you stop down. But folks need to understand that there is a price to pay when stopping down. Stopping down two stops will cost you either two stops of shutter speed or two stops of ISO (or some combination of the two).

My strategy for three and and half decades has been to focus on the bird’s eye and let the d-o-f fall where it may. Unless you can verbalize a good reason for stopping down.

Image #1A: AF Points for the Black-necked Stilts, pre-copulatory stand image

You-Gotta-Be-Kidding-Me AF Performance

Can your camera body detect and track the eye of a Black-necked Stilt, a dark red eye buried in a black cap? The Sony Alpha a1 can. Easily. As for the Sony Alpha a1 AF system, what can I say? The results that you see above are typical of those achieved with Animal Eye Tracking. You will not, however, get consistent results easily unless your AF Menu is set up correctly. If you own an a1, and are not getting the AF performance that you want and expect, consider joining the SONY a1 Info and Updates group. If you are planning on purchasing an a1 — the world’s best camera for bird photography, be sure to use one of my two affiliate links and earn free entry into the group. Details immediately below.

Sony Alpha a1 AF

Barring operator error, the performance of the Sony Alpha a1 AF system at any focal length — as we saw recently even at 1200mm — when your a1 is set up properly as detailed in the in e-mails to the Sony Alpha a1 Info & Updates group, more than remarkable. Early on, there was lots of discussion within the group with many preferring multiple back button approaches. For me a simple shutter button approach with the right AF settings that yield 99% sharp-on-the-eye images is best. By far. It is super-simple and mega-effective. In the next SONY Alpha a1 Set-up and Info Group e-mail, I will be sharing what I have learned as to when and it what situations it is best to abandon Wide. We have already learned to limit the AF Area choices and to switch AF Areas quickly and conveniently. The default method of switching AF points with the C2 button is both slow and cumbersome.

SONY Alpha a1 Set-up and Info Group

The SONY Alpha a1 Set-up and Info Group is going great guns as folks chime in with thoughtful questions and experience-based advice. We are now up to an astounding 41 folks. Early on, we discussed the myriad AF options. I gave my opinion as to the best one for flight and general bird photography. More recently, we have been in contact with folks at SONY sharing our thoughts, experiences, and frustrations with the EVF blackout problem.

All who purchased their Alpha a1 bodies via a BAA affiliate link will receive a free subscription to the Sony Alpha a1 Set-Up and Info Updates after shooting me their receipts via e-mail. (Note: it may take me several days to confirm B&H orders.) This same service may be purchased by anyone with an a1 body via a $150.00 PayPal sent to birdsasart@verizon.net indicating payment for Alpha a1 Info Updates. Alternatively, folks can call Jim weekdays at 1-863-692-0906 to pay via credit card. New members will receive composite e-mails that summarize all previous discussions.

Typos

With all blog posts, feel free to e-mail or to leave a comment regarding any typos or errors.

May 16th, 2021

I Thought She Was Totally Nuts! How Observation, Intelligent Planning, Forethought, Patience, Belief, Skill, Faith, and Determination Led to a Big Pay Off!

Which?

Which of Anita North’s five images do you think is the strongest? Why? Also, you may wish to learn something by trying to answer the Aperture Errors Question below.

What’s Up?

Early on Saturday morning, I sat on a plastic milk crate in the marsh behind my tripod-mounted 600 GM/a1. Anita was to my left with the same gear, sitting on a small plastic stool. Two minutes after we were in place two Black-necked Stilts flew in and landed right in front of us. That was just the beginning of a truly great morning.

I did lots of catching up on e-mails and doing critiques in the Avian Forum at BPN. Since 12-13-2007, I have commented on or created 31,339 threads. I was pleased to learn that Dan Womack sold his Canon EF 100-400 f/4.5-5.6L IS II lens in mint condition for $1449.00 within hours of it being listed in yesterday’s blog post.

Today is Sunday 16 May 2021 and the forecast is perfect for sitting in the marsh: mostly sunny with a soft northeast breeze!. So that is exactly what we will be doing at 6:45am. Wherever you are, and whatever you are doing, I hope that you have a great day.

This blog post took about two hours to prepare and makes 143 consecutive days with a new one. Please remember that if an item — a Delkin flash card, or a tripod head — for example, that is available from B&H and/or Bedfords and is also available in the BAA Online Store, it would be great if you opt to purchase from us. We will match any price. Please remember also to use my B&H affiliate links or to save 3% at Bedfords by using the BIRDSASART discount code at checkout. Doing either often earns you free guides and/or discounts. And doing so always earns my great appreciation.

Please Remember

With income from IPTs now at zero, please, if you enjoy and learn from the blog, remember to use one of my two affiliate programs when purchasing new gear. Doing so just might make it possible for me to avoid having to try to get a job as a Walmart greeter and will not cost you a single penny more. And if you use Bedfords and remember to enter the BIRDSASART code at checkout, you will save 3% on every order and enjoy free second-day air shipping. In these crazy times — I am out at least forty to sixty thousand dollars so far due to COVID 19 (with lots more to come) — remembering to use my B&H link or to shop at Bedfords will help me out a ton and be greatly appreciated. Overseas folks who cannot order from the US because of import fees, duties, and taxes, are invited to help out by clicking here to leave a blog thank you gift if they see fit.

New and Better Bedfords Discount Policy!

You can now save 3% on all of your Bedfords photo gear purchases by entering the BIRDSASART coupon code at checkout. Your discount will be applied to your pre-tax total. In addition, by using the code you will get 2nd day air shipping via Fed Ex.

Grab a Nikon AF-S Teleconverter TC-14E III and save $14.99. Purchase a Canon EOS R5 and your discount will be $116.97. Purchase a Sony FE 600mm f/4 GM OSS lens and save a remarkable $389.94! Your Bedford’s purchase no longer needs to be greater than $1,000.00 for you to receive a discount. The more you spend, the more you save.

Money Saving Reminder

Many have learned that if you need a hot photo item that is out of stock at B&H and would enjoy free second-day air shipping, your best bet is to click here, place an order with Bedfords, and enter the coupon code BIRDSASART at checkout. If an item is out of stock, contact Steve Elkins via e-mail or on his cell phone at (479) 381-2592 (Central time). Be sure to mention the BIRDSASART coupon code and use it for your online order to save 3% and enjoy free 2nd-day air shipping. Steve has been great at getting folks the hot items that are out of stock at B&H and everywhere else. The wait lists at the big stores can be a year or longer for the hard to get items. Steve will surely get you your gear long before that. For the past year, he has been helping BAA Blog folks get their hands on items like the SONY a9 ii, the SONY 200-600 G OSS lens, the Canon EOS R5, the Canon RF 100-500mm lens, and the Nikon 500mm PF. Steve is personable, helpful, and eager to please.



Gear Questions and Advice

Too many folks attending BAA IPTs (remember those?) 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

This image was created on 14 May 2021 down by the lake at ILE. Working from my SUV with the lens resting on a lowered window, I used Sony FE 600mm f/4 GM OSS lens and The One, the Sony Alpha 1 Mirrorless digital camera. ISO 800. Exposure determined via Zebras with ISO on the rear dial: 1/500 sec. at f/4 (wide open) in Manual mode. AWB at 7:30am on a cloudy morning.

Zone/AF-C was active at the moment of exposure and performed perfectly. Click on the image to see a larger version.

Image #1: Anita North in marsh

I Thought She Was Nuts!

When I first saw Anita sitting in the marsh, I thought that she was nuts. She had been observing the stilts on and off for about a week and had faith that they would land in front of her. That despite that fact that I had recently sat at the edge of a small mudflat at DeSoto and had firmly believed that if you sat, they would come.

This image was created on 14 May 2021 by Anita North in the marsh along the lakeshore at ILE. She used the
Induro GIT 304L/Mongoose M3.6-mounted Sony FE 600mm f/4 GM OSS lens and The One, the Sony Alpha 1 Mirrorless digital camera. ISO 5000. Exposure determined via Zebras with ISO on the rear dial: 1/500 sec. at f/4.5 (stopped down 1/3 stop in error) in Manual mode. AWB at 7:00am on a cloudy morning.

Zone/AF-C was active at the moment of exposure and performed perfectly by nailing the plover’s eye. Click on the image to see a larger version.

Image #2: Black-necked Stilts copulating
Image courtesy of an copyright 2021: Anita North

Copulations

The first pair that landed in front of Anita did the whole courtship deal: the female crouched in invitation while the male strutted around her splashing water with his bill. Then he mounted, her and they copulated. When he hopped off her, he put one raised wing over his mate, and they intertwined their necks in a seemingly loving embrace. Not a bad way to start!

This image was also created on 14 May 2021 by Anita North in the marsh along the lakeshore at ILE. She used the Induro GIT 304L/Mongoose M3.6-mounted Sony FE 600mm f/4 GM OSS lens and The One, the Sony Alpha 1 Mirrorless digital camera. ISO 3200. Exposure determined via Zebras with ISO on the rear dial: 1/500 sec. at f/4 (wide open) in Manual mode. AWB at 7:03am on a cloudy morning.

Zone/AF-C was active at the moment of exposure and performed perfectly by nailing the plover’s eye. Click on the image to see a larger version.

Image #3: Black-necked Stilts starting to squabble
Image courtesy of an copyright 2021: Anita North

The Squabbles

As many as six stilts are often involved in fairly violent, exceedingly-difficult-to-photograph squabbles. In a way, Anita was lucky on her first attempt to have a cloudy morning. As there was no sun, she was able to photograph birds in positions where they would have been terribly sidelit on a clear morning.

This image was also created on 14 May 2021 by Anita North in the marsh along the lakeshore at ILE. She used the Induro GIT 304L/Mongoose M3.6-mounted Sony FE 600mm f/4 GM OSS lens and The One, the Sony Alpha 1 Mirrorless digital camera. ISO 2500. Exposure determined via Zebras with ISO on the rear dial: 1/1000 sec. at f/4 (wide open) in Manual mode. AWB at 7:07am on a cloudy morning.

Zone/AF-C was active at the moment of exposure and performed perfectly. Click on the image to see a larger version.

Image #4: Black-necked Stilt in flight
Image courtesy of an copyright 2021: Anita North

Flight Opportunities

On occasion, there are decent flight chances with the BNSTs as they fly to and from their three favorite spots well to the left of the pier. In addition, there is no telling what will fly by: Great and Snowy Egrets, Green, Little Blue, and Tricolored Herons, Fish Crow, Red-winged Blackbird, Boat-tailed Grackle, Black-bellied Whistling Duck, Mottled Duck, Osprey, and Bald Eagle are all likely.

This image was created on 15 May 2021 by Anita North in the marsh along the lakeshore at ILE. She used the Induro GIT 304L/Mongoose M3.6-mounted Sony FE 600mm f/4 GM OSS lens and The One, the Sony Alpha 1 Mirrorless digital camera. ISO 2500. Exposure determined via Zebras with ISO on the rear dial: 1/1000 sec. at f/5.6 (stopped down 1 stop in error) in Manual mode. AWB at 6:54am on just before sunrise.

Tracking: Zone/AF-C was active at the moment of exposure and performed perfectly by nailing the plover’s eye. Click on the image to see a larger version.

Image #5: Black-necked Stilt flapping after bath
Image courtesy of an copyright 2021: Anita North

Aprés Bath

On a recent IPT, I called out that a Willet would jump into the air and flap. I even predicted that the bird would turn to its right before jumping up. That, after repeatedly dipping its breast in the water and splashing around. Several folks were stunned. How did you know that that would happen? More than nine times out of ten, when you see a bird, any bird, dipping its breast in the water to bathe, it will flap in place and then jump up and flap some more as it heads back to the shoreline. And since the wind was from behind us, I knew that it would turn so that it could flap (and fly) into the wind. Knowledge of bird behavior can get you images that you might otherwise miss.

This image was also created on 15 May 2021 by Anita North in the marsh along the lakeshore at ILE. She used the Induro GIT 304L/Mongoose M3.6-mounted Sony FE 600mm f/4 GM OSS lens and The One, the Sony Alpha 1 Mirrorless digital camera. ISO 2500. Exposure determined via Zebras with ISO on the rear dial: 1/1000 sec. at f/5.6 (stopped down 1 stop in error) in Manual mode. AWB at 6:53am just before sunrise.

Tracking: Zone/AF-C was active at the moment of exposure and performed perfectly by nailing the plover’s eye. Click on the image to see a larger version.

Image #6: Black-necked Stilts battling
Image courtesy of an copyright 2021: Anita North

The Holy Grail Shot!

It seem that the stilts from adjoining territories will meet up to fight just once each morning. On day two in the marsh, the big battle took place right in front of us. I pretty much fanned on all of my attempts as I struggled to properly frame the combatants as they jumped into the air. Anita did a great job with this one.

Aperture Errors Question

Anita made three errors in setting the aperture. Take a close look at the EXIF for images #2, #5, & #6 and see if you can figure out what she did wrong. If you think that you know, please leave your explanation in a comment. On a higher level, let us know if you can figure out why she made the error with images #5 & #6.

The Great News!

Anita is headed back to Toronto in about a week. The best news for me is that her strategy for photographing in the marsh while sitting on a milk crate (or in the water, to get even lower), will continue to pay dividends for me personally for years to come (at various settings).

Typos

With all blog posts, feel free to e-mail or to leave a comment regarding any typos or errors.

May 15th, 2021

Is it possible to make beautiful, small-in-the-frame images of shorebirds that include habitat? And Sony Alpha a1 AF Magic

Need Your Help

In general, shorebirds live in flat, featureless, — usually pretty ugly places. There is not usually much of interest on a sandy beach or a mudflat. Your best chance of creating an artistically pleasing image is to get right down on the ground as close as possible to the bird’s eye level. I did that with Image #1 but not with Image #2 … I was, however, able to include some pretty neat habitat in each of these panoramic images. Please be so kind as to leave a comment and let us know which of the two images you believe to be the more beautiful, and what you liked about it. I am on the fence.

What’s Up?

I dropped Anita off at the lake early. With her 600 GM/a1 on a tripod; she sat in the marsh for two hours hoping to have some Black-necked Stilts land in front of her and copulate. I thought that she was totally nuts. But they did and they did! She got some very nice stuff. I headed back down at about 7:30am and came away with a very few decent Osprey and crane family photos. I worked on some images and took care of some business e-mails. I was glad to learn that IPT veteran Bob Willmschen sold his Canon 100-400 II in mint condition for $1499.00 in early May before it was even listed.

Today is Saturday 15 May 2021. The forecast for early this morning at ILE is for mostly sunny skies and a northeast breeze. I will be heading down to the lake very early and sitting in the lake next to Anita … Wherever you are, and whatever you are doing, I hope that you have a great day.

This blog post took about two hours to prepare and makes 142 consecutive days with a new one. Please remember that if an item — a Delkin flash card, or a tripod head, for example, that is available from B&H and/or Bedfords and is also available in the BAA Online Store, it would be great if you opt to purchase from us. We will match any price. Please remember also to use my B&H affiliate links or to save 3% at Bedfords by using the BIRDSASART discount code at checkout. Doing either often earns you free guides and/or discounts. And doing so always earns my great appreciation.

The BAA Used Gear Page

The Used Gear page continues to be very active. The BAA Used Gear Page is the place to sell your used photographic equipment. We will help you to get your gear sold quickly for 30 to 70% or more than what the big guys are offering … Doubt me? Check out the Recent Sales list at the bottom of the page.

Canon EF 100-400 f/4.5-5.6L IS II Lens

Dan Womack is offering a Canon EF 100-400 f/4.5-5.6L IS II lens in mint condition for $1449.00. The sale includes the front and rear lens caps, the tough fabric lens case, the original shipping box and insured ground shipping via major courier to lower-48 US addresses only. Your item will not ship until your check clears unless other arrangements are made.

Please contact Dan via e-mail.

This incredibly versatile zoom lens — with its amazing .98 meter close focus — was my favorite Canon telephoto zoom lens ever. By far. It is easy to hand hold, great for tight portraits, birds in flight, quasi-macro stuff, and lots more. For flight, it is even better with an R5! The lens sells new for $2399.00 so you can save some hard cash by grabbing Dan’s pretty much new lens now. artie

Please Remember

With income from IPTs now at zero, please, if you enjoy and learn from the blog, remember to use one of my two affiliate programs when purchasing new gear. Doing so just might make it possible for me to avoid having to try to get a job as a Walmart greeter and will not cost you a single penny more. And if you use Bedfords and remember to enter the BIRDSASART code at checkout, you will save 3% on every order and enjoy free second-day air shipping. In these crazy times — I am out at least forty to sixty thousand dollars so far due to COVID 19 (with lots more to come) — remembering to use my B&H link or to shop at Bedfords will help me out a ton and be greatly appreciated. Overseas folks who cannot order from the US because of import fees, duties, and taxes, are invited to help out by clicking here to leave a blog thank you gift if they see fit.

New and Better Bedfords Discount Policy!

You can now save 3% on all of your Bedfords photo gear purchases by entering the BIRDSASART coupon code at checkout. Your discount will be applied to your pre-tax total. In addition, by using the code you will get 2nd day air shipping via Fed Ex.

Grab a Nikon AF-S Teleconverter TC-14E III and save $14.99. Purchase a Canon EOS R5 and your discount will be $116.97. Purchase a Sony FE 600mm f/4 GM OSS lens and save a remarkable $389.94! Your Bedford’s purchase no longer needs to be greater than $1,000.00 for you to receive a discount. The more you spend, the more you save.

Money Saving Reminder

Many have learned that if you need a hot photo item that is out of stock at B&H and would enjoy free second-day air shipping, your best bet is to click here, place an order with Bedfords, and enter the coupon code BIRDSASART at checkout. If an item is out of stock, contact Steve Elkins via e-mail or on his cell phone at (479) 381-2592 (Central time). Be sure to mention the BIRDSASART coupon code and use it for your online order to save 3% and enjoy free 2nd-day air shipping. Steve has been great at getting folks the hot items that are out of stock at B&H and everywhere else. The wait lists at the big stores can be a year or longer for the hard to get items. Steve will surely get you your gear long before that. For the past year, he has been helping BAA Blog folks get their hands on items like the SONY a9 ii, the SONY 200-600 G OSS lens, the Canon EOS R5, the Canon RF 100-500mm lens, and the Nikon 500mm PF. Steve is personable, helpful, and eager to please.



Gear Questions and Advice

Too many folks attending BAA IPTs (remember those?) 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

This image was created on 11 May 2021 on the second day of my recent busman’s holiday at Fort DeSoto. Working one the Panning Ground Pod while seated, I used the Sony FE 600mm f/4 GM OSS lens, the Sony FE 2.0x Teleconverter, and the blazingly fast AF King, the Sony Alpha a9 II Mirrorless Digital camera body). ISO 500. The exposure was determined by Zebras with ISO on the rear wheel: 1/800 sec. at f/9 (stopped don 1/3 stop) in Manual mode. AWB at 9:09am when a light cloud obscured the sun for a bit.

Tracking: Expand Spot/AF-C was active at the moment of exposure and performed perfectly. Click on the image to enjoy a wider version.

Image #1: Semipalmated Plover on mudflat with invertebrate burrows, extreme pano

Mudflat with Invertebrate Burrows

It is not uncommon to see large areas of exposed mudflats at North Beach in Fort DeSoto dotted with small mounds and pyramidal & irregularly-shaped structures of wet sand. Such landscapes remind me of Mono Lake, but on a much tinier scale, of course. They can be strangely beautiful. With no birds in sight, I set up my gear abutting a small pool on a rising tide with the flat as described above. The little sand piles were so pretty that I made a few images of them without any birds.

The habitat looked perfect for shorebirds and I was confident that I would get some birds. It was a case of if you sit, they will come. The SEPL featured in Image #1 was the first to venture into the shallow pool to feed. It was soon joined by a few more semi-plovers, about a dozen Dunlin, a Black-bellied Plover, and a Willet. Many of the shorebirds wound up coming quite close. Image #1, however, the one of those that showed the habitat quite well, was my favorite from the session by the pretty little mudflat.

The Panning Ground Pod

Having recently (again!) become enamored with ground level shooting, I have been using the Panning Ground Pod more and more when I am at the beach. It gets me right down on the bird’s level and, by using the rear monitor, it allows me to sit rather than to have to lie in the muck and the mud. As soon as I get several pairs of new reading glasses made by Zenni, I will always have a pair on when I am at the beach with the Panning Ground Pod. I will be teaching you a lot about how to use this great product in future blog posts with lots of examples of what it can do. We have six in stock right now.

Image #1A: AF Point screen capture for the Semipalmated Plover on mud flat with invertebrate burrows, extreme pano image

You-Gotta-Be-Kidding-Me AF Performance

Can your camera body detect and track the eye of a distant, small-in-the-frame bird when you are working at 1200mm? The Sony Alpha a1 can. You will not get consistent results unless your camera is set up exactly right. If you own an a1 and are not getting the AF performance that you want and expect, consider joining the SONY a1 Info and Updates group. Scroll down for details.

The Image Optimization

By comparing Image #1 with Image #1A, the original capture, you can see my chosen crop, the background (and a bit of mud) clean-up, and the Gaussian Blur applied mostly to the background but to a bit of the foreground as well.

Image #1B: Photoshop trick used to level the Semipalmated Plover on mud flat with invertebrate burrows, extreme pano image

A Great Photoshop Leveling Tip

In Digital Basics II, I describe several methods for leveling an images. One of my favorites involves the use of the Ruler Tool. For Image #1 I drew a line from the tip of the actual bill to the clearly defined tip of the bill in the reflection. Then I hit Image > Rotate > Arbitrary and then hit OK. Using my keyboard shortcuts the entire process take less than ten seconds. If you are a slow-poke. This image needed 1.41 degrees of clockwise rotation. My excuse? Without my glasses on, I cannot see the activated level on the rear monitor very well.

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

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. Be sure to specify Digital Basics II.

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

The image rotation, Gaussian Blur, and clean-up techniques mentioned above and tons more great Photoshop tips and techniques, along with all of my personalized Keyboard Shortcuts — are 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. While the new e-Guide reflects my MacBook Pro/Photo Mechanic/DPP 4/Photoshop workflow, folks using a PC and/or BreezeBrowser will also benefit greatly by studying the material on DB II. 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.

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. Note: all of the videos are now priced at an amazingly low $5.00 each.

You can learn how and why I converted all of my Canon digital RAW files in DPP 4 in the DPP 4 RAW Conversion Guide here. More recently, I became proficient at converting my Nikon RAW (NEF) files in Adobe Camera Raw. About two years ago I began converting my Nikon and Sony RAW files in Capture One Pro 12 and continue to do so today.

To purchase Capture One, please use this link. Then you can learn more about Capture One in the Capture One Pro 12 Simplified MP4 Video here. The next step would be to get a copy of Arash Hazeghi’s “The Nikon Photographers’ Guide to Phase One Capture One Pro e-Guide” in the blog post here.

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 Professional Post Processing Guide by Arash Hazeghi and edited by yours truly. Please use this link to purchase NeatImage.

This image was created on 12 May 2021 on the last day of my recent busman’s holiday at Fort DeSoto. While standing, I used the hand held Sony FE 600mm f/4 GM OSS lens and The One, the Sony Alpha 1 Mirrorless digital camera. ISO 400. Exposure determined via Zebras with ISO on the rear dial: 1/2000 sec. at f/4 (wide open) in Manual mode. AWB at 9:29am with some faint clouds taking the edge off the sun.

Tracking: Expand Spot/AF-C was active at the moment of exposure and performed perfectly by nailing the plover’s eye. Click on the image to see a larger version.

Image #2: Snowy Plover, male on eggs, pano

Why Stand?

First off, thanks to Anita North who shared a similar image of this bird on the nest with me, thus providing me with significant inspiration. I opted to stand to eliminate some foreground vegetation. I chose f4 for a similar reason – to render the vegetation in front of the bird on our right as out-of-focus as possible. Situations like this where I needed to keep the lens raised and steady without a tripod were very tough on my left shoulder. The shoulder is, however, feeling quite a bit better with a bit of rest and rehab.

Image #2A: AF Point screen capture for the for the Snowy Plover, male on eggs, pano image

The Original and the AF Point

Here again you can note the pano crop and my beach clean-up efforts. I could have added either teleconverter and made an image with the bird much larger in the frame, but inspired by Anita, I went with the wider view so as to include the mighty attractive beach vegetation.

As for the Sony Alpha a1 AF system, what can I say? The results that you see above are typical of those achieved with Animal Eye Tracking. If you own an a1 and are not getting the results that you want and expect, consider joining the SONY a1 Info and Updates group. The details are immediately below.

Sony Alpha a1 AF

Barring operator error, the performance of the Sony Alpha a1 AF system at any focal length — as we saw in Image #1 above, is, when the a1 is set up properly as detailed in the in e-mails to the Sony Alpha a1 Info & Updates group, more than remarkable. Early on, there was lots of discussion within the group with many preferring multiple back button approaches. For me a simple shutter button approach with the right AF settings that yield 99% sharp-on-the-eye images is best. By far. It is super-simple and mega-effective. In the next SONY Alpha a1 Set-up and Info Group e-mail, I will be sharing what I have learned as to when and it what situations it is best to abandon Wide. We have already learned to limit the AF Area choices and to switch AF Areas quickly and conveniently. The default method of switching AF points with the C2 button is both slow and cumbersome.

SONY Alpha a1 Set-up and Info Group

The SONY Alpha a1 Set-up and Info Group is going great guns as folks chime in with thoughtful questions and experience-based advice. We are now up to an astounding 41 folks. Early on, we discussed the myriad AF options. I gave my opinion as to the best one for flight and general bird photography. More recently, we have been in contact with folks at SONY sharing our thoughts, experiences, and frustrations with the EVF blackout problem.

All who purchased their Alpha a1 bodies via a BAA affiliate link will receive a free subscription to the Sony Alpha a1 Set-Up and Info Updates after shooting me their receipts via e-mail. (Note: it may take me several days to confirm B&H orders.) This same service may be purchased by anyone with an a1 body via a $150.00 PayPal sent to birdsasart@verizon.net indicating payment for Alpha a1 Info Updates. Alternatively, folks can call Jim weekdays at 1-863-692-0906 to pay via credit card. New members will receive composite e-mails that summarize all previous discussions.

Typos

With all blog posts, feel free to e-mail or to leave a comment regarding any typos or errors.