A Different Kind of Bird Photography… « Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

A Different Kind of Bird Photography...

The Streak…

When I got back to the room last night after a great session of Wood Duck photography I was feeling quite ill, fighting a cold. I climbed into bed at 7:11pm, read for a while, and then conked out. I had set the alarm for 2:45am. I awoke at 1:11am feeling rested, read for a while, and then began packing. I started working on this blog post yesterday afternoon and am finishing it while waiting for the first of my two flights to Orlando on Southwest.

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This flower image was created with the Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Lens with Internal 1.4x Extender (hand held with the internal TC in place at 377mm) and the Canon EOS-1D X. ISO 400. Evaluative metering +1/3 stop as framed: 1/2000 sec. at f/5.6 in Av mode.

Central Sensor/AI Servo/Surround–Rear Focus AF as framed active at the moment of exposure. Click here to see the latest version of the Rear Focus Tutorial. Click on the image to see a larger version.

A Different Kind of Bird Photography…

We were at the guaranteed can’t miss Lesser Scaup spot that is detailed in the San Diego Site Guide. The only problem is that there were no ducks at all…. We did, however, find a stand of bird-of-paradise flowers. Most were well past their prime but with some careful searching we were able to find a few nice blossoms in pretty close to pristine condition. Most were in impossible spots. But not all. To create the image above I wove a few background stalks out of the way without damaging any of the plants. We took turns photographing the best blossom. A variety of backgrounds were possible so it was important to choose your perspective carefully. And each background created a different exposure challenge. In short, it was an ideal teaching situation.

The different birds were bird of paradise blossoms.


Image copyright and courtesy of Brian Willis, a participant on the San Diego Short Notice IPT.


Why was I standing on the small step stool while creating the blog-opening image?


Note that my shadow is pointing directly at the subject.


This image of the same flower was created with the Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Lens with Internal 1.4x Extender (hand held with the internal TC in place at 377mm) and the Canon EOS-1D X. ISO 400. Evaluative metering +2 1/3 stops as framed: 1/320 sec. at f/7.1 in Av mode.

Two sensors to the left of the Central Sensor/AI Servo/Surround–Rear Focus AF as framed active at the moment of exposure. Click here to see the latest version of the Rear Focus Tutorial. Click on the image to see a larger version.

Brilliant Idea 🙂

I have said countless times that 95% of the flower images ever created when the sun is out at full strength could have been improved by shading the flower. Brian came to the rescue by using his baseball cap to shade the flower.

Image Questions

Why did I add 2 1/3 stops of light for the image above while only adding 1/3 stop to the opening image?

Why did I work wide open when creating the blog-opening image?

Why did I stop down to f/7.1 for the image above?

What was the background in the second image?

Your Favorite?

Please take a moment to leave a comment and let us know which of the two images here you like best. Be sure to let us know why.

The Image Optimization

I had had a bit of a problem framing the image properly while standing atop the small step stool. Choosing a sensor to the left of the central sensor as I did for the high key image would have been a better choice… First I moved the flower left in the frame using techniques detailed in APTATS II; the whole thing took about 30 seconds. Mention this blog post and Jim will be glad to apply a $10 discount on your APTATS II purchase with phone orders only.

Next I had to deal with removing some specular highlights, cleaning the white crud on the edge of the left-most petal. and cleaning up a few of the other petals. All of the above of course as detailed in my Digital Basics File, an instructional PDF that is sent via e-mail. It includes my complete digital workflow, dozens of great Photoshop tips, several different ways to expand canvas, all of my time-saving Keyboard Shortcuts, Quick Masking, Layer Masking, and NIK Color Efex Pro basics, my killer image clean-up techniques, Digital Eye Doctor, and tons more.

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33 comments to A Different Kind of Bird Photography…

  • avatar Jeffrey Friedhoffer

    To get white background three possibilities

    1. Person holding hat to shade flower or someone else was wearing white and stood behind the flower
    2. Someone held up a white piece of something behind the flower
    3. The polar vortex showed up again and it snowed between the first and 2nd picture

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Wrong, wrong, and wrong again; you are on a roll. See Neil’s comment and my reply below. artie

  • avatar David Policansky

    Hi, Artie. I hope you feel better soon! Love the flower, and it’s my wife’s favorite flower, I think (other than red roses from me). I prefer the first image; prefer the overall color and the background color. On your questions, I think the first two have been answered correctly by everyone. Question 3: you stopped down to f/7.1 to get all the flower parts sharp. Question 4: I am not sure what the background was in the second image. It seems you moved to your left after taking the first photograph, assuming it’s the same flower, and you were shooting from the same elevation, so my guess is the background was the whitish wall on the far side of the path.

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Thanks for the get well wishes…. See my comments on d-o-f below. And see my response to Neil’s comments. He nailed it. artie

  • avatar Jeffrey Friedhoffer

    White background is either concrete walkway or concrete curb. The flowers in the pictures are not the same ones.

  • avatar Neil Hickman

    I’ll just have a go at back-ground on second image. You’ve moved a half step to the left and gone down to shoot against the sky.

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Perfecto. By moving left and getting low, the 3rd petal from our left was hidden behind the 2nd petal from the left. And with my exposing for the shaded flower, the blue sky BKGR was rendering white (and totally flashing over-exposed).

      • avatar Deirdre Sheerr-Gross

        …and thanks for the lesson on Dark on Light… BG Blinkies ok!
        New enough that I’m always learning..

  • avatar Doug

    I like the 2nd which is odd, I’m usually not a fan of bright backgrounds. Something learned!
    I like the way the blue in the base (pod?) is brought out and I like the 3 sharp orange sepals vs the 4 with one out of focus.

    Did you remove the 4th sepal in post or is it hidden behind the one in front?

    Reason for stopping down to 7.1, in addition to increased DOF as mentioned I believe it also reduces softness and chromatic aberration caused by edge diffraction on a backlit subject.

    High key rocks! The fourth pertal (sepal) was hidden. See my comments to Neil. best, artie

    • avatar Doug

      The background isn’t the van. That’s a surprise. Should have known you wouldn’t make it that easy, after the trash bin background a few days ago.

      Looking back at the problem I see the shutter speed is slower and you made the comment about the flower being in the shade of a baseball cap. Then the background is the same green foliage but it’s blown out now.

  • avatar Richard Lethbridge

    Standing on step to ensure all green grass background. Plus 2 1/3 stops to avoid underexposure due to the white background, which is the right white van. Why wide open in the first image? Maybe there was a little wind, and you needed the 1/2000 sec to ensure sharpness. The wind perhaps abated for the second image, and
    you took advantage of f7.1 to get increased depth of field.

    Yes to the step stool. Yes to avoiding underexposure, no to the van. With the 1st image I did not want to bring up detail in the BKGR. It was a bit breezy for both images. With the high key image I did not need to worry about bringing up unwanted detail because the background was the sky.

  • avatar Deirdre Sheerr-Gross

    Artie.. You’re Amazing 53DiaR!! We are blessed!!!

    I like the 2nd shot the best…
    “They” say… personal choice makes the world go round… and life more interesting..
    I’m a sucker for the dramatic!!
    Love the intensity of the pure colors and there is a softness w/o losing clarity..
    …and I also am seduced by the perfection of this flower vs the imperfection’s of the 1st…

    Ditto to most of the answers below… Step stool offered the green BG…

    See you Friday!!

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Hi Deirdre, What is 53DiaR!! ???

      I like the high key image best also. The “imperfections” in the first image were caused ny the harsh sunlight. It was the exact same flower albeit from a different angle. artie

  • Love both photographs, the first one is my favorite. I feel that your questions were answered by Elinor and Loren. I believe you used that small step to get that nice green background. Loved how you used one of the vans as a nice clean background, (assuming that is what the background is), very creative. I can’t believe you can hand hold that huge lens….you the man 🙂 Thank you for posting this blog, I always look forward to it! Hope you feel better.

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Thanks Tony. Not the van. 🙂 Hand holding the 200-400 is not to difficult with proper technique. Thanks for the good wishes. See Sunday’s blog to learn how I was feeling last night = NTG!

  • avatar Chris Houston

    I went to the Lesser Scaup spot in December and there were only a handful of them quite a distance away. There was one Coot (eventually well fed on corn) that entertained me for an hour or so until the Scaups eventually ventured closer. Unfortunately by that time the tide was going out so there were little plants sticking up in my shots. I still need to try going back sometime. The tide just hasn’t been right in the afternoon on any days I could make it out there yet. I have seen a large number of Lesser Scaup farther out in the bay from a couple of the parks south of “the spot” in the last few weeks but not close enough for photography.

    The bird of paradise flower shot is really nice. I’ve admired them here in San Diego but rarely find a bloom that’s not past its prime in a spot with a decent background. I should look harder.

    I look forward to more shots from the area, especially wood ducks which are some of my favorites but which I’ve only had moderate success with at your wood duck spot. They don’t seem to be interested in food at all!

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Thanks Chris. There were not many scaups there two years ago. Prior to that there were always dozens the loved their bread and corn. Wait till you see my Wood Ducks!!! Do you have our San Diego Site Guide?

      • avatar Chris Houston

        I do and I’ve been putting it to good use, although like I mentioned, the Scaup spot wasn’t too productive. I could spend every day at the duck spot (trying to not give away proprietary info!) though. Very excited to see your Wood Ducks. Did you go in the morning or afternoon? I’ve tried both with about the same amount of luck each time.

        And if you have any tips for luring them out of the distant shadows I’d appreciate it! They are so much touchier than the other birds there. Toss some bread and the wigeons, ring-necked, mallards and coots go into a frenzy but the wood ducks seem to be indifferent and always stay far away. I’ve been trying to get good wood duck shots for a few years in different states and have only gotten a handful of decent ones so far.

  • Why did I add 2 1/3 stops of light for the image above while only adding 1/3 stop to the opening image? The hi key image was in shade and with a white background and therefore needed the 2 stops more of light. First image was in sun so the “meter was smart”.

    Why did I work wide open when creating the blog-opening image? To make the background grass blur

    Why did I stop down to f/7.1 for the image above? To make all the petals sharp to look good with the plain white background? Back petal is a little OOF with the green background which looks fine to me. I think all sharp look better with the white.

    What was the background in the second image? One of the white vans with you maybe kneeling on the ground?

    The first is my favorite. The orange has more pop than in the shaded image. I like the softer, less contrasty look as opposed to the hi key image. But it is a hard choice. Both are beautiful

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Thanks. All good but not the van. I stopped down with the high key image because I could do so without bringing up the BKGR…. artie

  • avatar Loren Charif

    Why did I add 2 1/3 stops of light for the image above while only adding 1/3 stop to the opening image?
    The white background caused the camera to want to underexpose; adding the additional 2 stops (above & beyond the original 1/3) brought it back to the correct exposure of the flower.

    Why did I work wide open when creating the blog-opening image?
    To create shallower DOF and blur the background, which, based on Brian’s wide shot, was the grass/manicured area behind the flower.

    Why did I stop down to f/7.1 for the image above?
    To preserve the white background as opposed to having it appear blown out.

    What was the background in the second image?
    The back of the rightmost vehicle in the parking lot.

  • The stool – to use the ground (green) as the background. The white – the van (or whatever that vehicle is) as the background.


  • Your opening image is killer, one of the best BOP shots I’ve seen – I know the reasons for all your choices but will wait to let others try.

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Thank you. That is most kind. 🙂 ps: thanks for letting the boys and girls have a chance to play.

  • avatar Alan Lillich

    Congrats on getting this post written. Hope you get home safe and healthy!
    Alan & Pat