Asking A Lot… « Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

Asking A Lot...

The Streak Continues

This post marks 132 straight days with a new educational blog post. With so many folks getting in the habit of using our B&H and Amazon links why quit now? To show your appreciation for my efforts here, we do ask that you use our the B&H and Amazon affiliate links on the right side of the blog for all of your purchases. Please check the availability of all photographic accessories in the BIRDS AS ART Online Store, especially Gitzo tripods, Wimberley tripod heads, and the like. We sell only what I use, have used, and depend on. We will not sell you junk. We know what you need to make creating great images easy and fun. And we are always glad to answer your gear questions via e-mail.

You can find the following items in the store: Gitzo tripods, Mongoose M3.6 and Wimberley heads, plates, low feet, and accessories, flash brackets, , Delkin e-film Pro Compact Flash Cards, LensCoat products, and our unique line-up of educational materials including ABP I & II, Digital Basics, Site and Set-up e-Guides, Canon and Nikon Camera Users and AF e-Guides, and MP-4 Photoshop video tutorials among others.

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 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 visiting the BAA Online store as well.

I awoke at 4:15am today to finish this blog post; it took about 2 1/2 hours in all to assemble. Enjoy!


This image was created at Gatorland on Saturday, March 29 at 12:11pm on a cloudy day with the Gitzo 3532 LS carbon fiber tripod, the Mongoose M3.6 head, the Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS II USM lens, the Canon Extender EF 2X III, and the Canon EOS-1D X Digital SLR camera body. ISO 800. Evaluative metering +1 stop: 1/200 sec. at f/11 in Manual mode. Color Temperature: AWB.

Fill flash with Better Beamer at -2 stops in ETTL. Canon Speedlite 600EX-RT with the Canon CP-E4 Compact Battery Pack for faster re-charging times. Mongoose Integrated Flash Arm with the Canon OC-E3 Off Camera Shoe Cord 3.

Central sensor (by necessity) Expand/AI Servo/Rear Focus on the bird’s upper back active at the moment of exposure. Click here if you missed the Rear Focus Tutorial. Be sure to click on the chick to see a larger version.

My Thoughts on Exposure for the Image Above

I see the light-toned chick, large and in the middle of the frame, the light-toned sticks, and a middle-toned BKGR. Without bright sun, my first choice is +1. I make a single image, see no blinkies, and check the histogram–lots of data in the rightmost box of the histogram tells me that my analysis was right on the money. Note: Had the sun been out at full strength this one would have been either 0 or +1/3 stop. Understanding exposure theory and being able to apply it in the field can often put you on the right exposure without having to check the back of the camera…. And that goes double in difficult (and often spectacular) lighting situations.


This is the original image capture.

Rookery Nest Image Clean-up and Optimization

Murphy’s Law of Bird Nests states that all bird nests will have at least one stick too many…. Rookeries are cluttered places. Your job is to find the best angle into the nest. To do that you need to move side to side and up and down to find the very best perspective. Be sure to explore all the possibilities. Sometimes you are able to find a single clear slot into a nest that at first looked to be an impossible situation.

Once I have an image in Photoshop, I do not attempt to remove every branch and every twig. But as you can see by comparing the optimized image with the original image immediately above, I will remove the most obtrusive sticks in an attempt to create an aesthetically pleasing image.

After converting this image in DPP I brought the image into Photoshop. I executed a small artistic crop from below and from the right. Then I used the Divide and Conquer technique to eliminate several of the most distracting small branches. That process involved the use of the Clone Stamp Tool, the Patch Tool, the Spot Healing Brush, and several small Quick Masks that were fine tuned with Regular Layer Masks. That followed by a 50/20 NIK layer (Tonal Contrast/Detail Extractor).

Which image Do You Prefer?

Please take a moment to let us know which image you prefer, the optimized image or the original. Would you have done more clean-up, or less? Either way, why?

The DPP RAW Conversion Guide

To learn why I use Canon’s Digital Photo Professional (DPP) to convert every image that I work on, click here.

Digital Basics

Are you tired of making your images look worse in Photoshop? Do you have no clue as to how I optimized the images above? The Photoshop stuff mentioned above plus tons more is 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, the use of Contrast Masks, several different ways of expanding 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, creating time-saving actions, and lots more.


Learn the details of advanced Quick Masking techniques in APTATS I. Learn Advanced Layer Masking Techniques in APTATS I. Mention this blog post and apply a $5 discount to either with phone orders only. Buy both APTATS I and APTATS II and we will be glad to apply at $15 discount with phone orders only.

Asking a Lot…

The other day I received an e-mail from a reader that requested that I give them tips on getting the right exposure in practically every conceivable situation…. I replied asking if they had purchased and studied ABP and ABP II. They kindly responded that they did not have the softcover book or the CD.

My response to that e-mail follows. I am AM (in green). The blog reader is BR (for blog reader).

AM: AM: Thanks for getting back to me.


BR: I do not have either.

AM: While I love to answer e-mail questions, and answer probably 40-50 each week, what you are asking above is to teach you everything I know about exposure in all lighting conditions with all light angles…..

99% of your questions are answered in the two books that I referred to, the softcover ABP and ABP II, 916 pages on CD only.

This is from yesterday’s blog post:

Here’s the best news: you too can learn to determine the right exposure compensation with just a glance, to see and understand the light, to understand what your camera’s meter is doing, and to understand the influence of the various tonalities, be they black or white, light or dark, on the metering system. How? Study the chapter on Exposure in the original, soft cover, The Art of Bird Photography (ABP), especially the section on exposure theory. And once you have mastered that, study the Exposure Simplified section in The Art of Bird Photography II (ABP II: 916 pages, 900+ images). You can save $10 by ordering the two-book bundle here.

While I wish that I had the time to re-write extensive sections of both books just for you, I simply do not. I will answer what I can below very briefly in green. If you want to really learn and understand exposure, you will get the two books and study them Smile emoticon. Or not. Your call.

BR: I read your “At Long Last, As Promised: the Greatest, Most Educational Blog Post Ever? Manual… Av… Tv… Program… Which is The Best Shooting Mode?” blog post again. I try to read it often so that a bit more sinks in each time. I’ve had a couple of sets of questions from when I first read it and I’ve been reading the blogs and seeing if I could glean the answers in another way, but I hope you don’t mind me asking instead. I feel there’s something I’m just not grasping..

My understanding is that for birds in flight, its best to have the sun behind me, so its shining fully on the bird.

AM: Yes.

BR: In that situation and when shooting against backgrounds of rapidly changing tonality, you recommend working in Manual mode, and I get that. If I then turn left or right or 180 degrees to face into the sun, would they be the same or different exposure as used with the sun behind me?

AM: Totally different.

BR: If not the same, is there a rough guide for how much you need to compensate at each angle?

AM: No; you need to gain an understanding of exposure theory in order to come up with a good exposure in rapidly changing situations without having to take a test image and look at the histogram. That said, except for backlight I do not recommend shooting more than 10 or 15 degrees off of sun angle.

BR: Is the answer different if its overcast?

AM: Yes. You say that you have been studying the blog posts but I am confused as I have been commenting on the sun in/sun out exposure issues for quite some time….

BR: The situation where I’m not sure what shooting mode to use, is on a moving zodiac shooting sea otters or seals or puffins etc on the surface of the (dark) water, and cormorants or puffins or albatross in flight, sometimes with a lot of dark sea in the shot, sometimes a lot of sky (bright), and sometimes with mountains in the shot, sometimes with the sun coming in and out from behind the clouds, and it is sometimes in changing light at dawn or dusk. As the shots are opportunistic, they could be from any direction from the zodiac and sometimes from one side to the other between shots as subjects come into view. This seems to cross over a few of your situations (backgrounds of rapidly changing tonality, light is changing (though not too much of background being uniform), need minimum shutter speed (but not too much of background being uniform)..). In that situation, what shooting mode do you recommend?

AM: The answer to that question depends on many, many factors. You are basically asking me to teach you in a single e-mail how to get the right exposure in virtually every lighting situation that exists…

BR: Sorry if this kind of thing has been answered already or the answer is obvious.

AM: The answer is quite obvious at least to me. Buy the two books and get to work studying them. Again, I wish that I had the time to re-write extensive sections of both of the books that I recommended, but I do not.

later and love, artie

On a Related Note

I received an e-mail from another reader who stated that I was wrong in saying that if you know the right exposure for a middle-toned subject that a bright white subject would require one stop less light. That is John Shaw’s Sunny f/22 principle.

I wrote back as politely as I could suggested that he too get copies of ABP and ABP II and study them. He wrote me a long, very confusing e-mail explaining the tests that he did that proved that I was wrong.

Man, you gotta love it. Do you understand the concept of Sunny f/22? Do you understand exposure theory?


All of the images created at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm and copyright Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

From top left clockwise to center: Snowy Egret pair in breeding plumage, breeding plumage Cattle Egret with fill flash, large Great Egret chicks in the nest, killer breeding plumage Snowy Egret displaying, flash-as-main light Great Egret chick happy to see mom, Little Blue Heron chicks, Cattle Egret breeding plumage head portrait, flash flight Wood Stork with nesting material, Great Egret landing at the nest, large Snowy Egret chicks.

Click on the image to enjoy a larger version.

St. Augustine Alligator Farm Short-Notice IPT. 3-FULL DAYS. Early entry/Late stay. May 5-7, 2014. Meet and greet at 8pm on Sunday May 4: $1299. Two Great Leaders: Arthur Morris and Denise Ippolito

This trip needs four to run.

Breeding herons, egrets, and Wood Storks. Eggs and chicks in the nest. Some fledged young possible. Breeding behaviors including displaying and copulations. Flight and flash flight. Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Little Blue Heron, Cattle Egret, Tricolored Heron, Wood Stork. Early May rocks at the Farm as the weather is usually gorgeous and there should be lots of both small and large chicks in the nest. And you avoid the possibly oppressive heat of June and July.

Includes in-the-field instruction, early entry, late stay, $5/person late-stay gratuity, informal, small group Photoshop and image review sessions. Three lunches.

Not included: your lodging, your St. Augustine Alligator Farm photographer’s pass ($79.95 for the year); we will be more than glad to pre-order your pass for you. Please let us know when you register.

What you will learn:

How to see the good situations.
How to best avoid the clutter of a rookery by choosing the very best perspective.
How to properly evaluate the histogram and come up with the right exposure every time after making a single test exposure
How to see and understand the light.
How to to design pleasing images by mastering your camera’s AF system.
Why you must work in Manual mode 95% of the time when photographing at a rookery and how to do it.
How to evaluate and process your images.
Via intensive instruction how to use fill flash flash as main light, and Manual flash.
Flash flight techniques including the necessary use of high speed sync.
And tons more.

Please call Jim or Jen at 863-692-0906 to hold your spot with your non-refundable $299 credit card deposit and then put your check in the mail along with your signed registration form; you can find the form here.

Suitable airports: Jacksonville (JAX), Daytona Beach (DAB), Orlando MCO).

We look forward to seeing you in the nation’s oldest city for three days of fun and learning.

Note: Folks interested in possibly continuing on to Fort DeSoto–great in spring, are invited to shoot me an e-mail.



In all blog posts and Bulletins, feel free to e-mail or to leave a comment regarding any typos, wrong words, misspellings, omissions, or grammatical errors. Just be right. 🙂

18 comments to Asking A Lot…

  • avatar Chris Houston

    Just wanted to second the suggestion to get both books. I’ve read both a few times and am definitely still learning. There’s no easy answer to exposure, just reading, critically thinking about the examples and most importantly putting it to practice. Over time you’ll miss less and less shots due to missing the exposure. You won’t regret buying them. Heck, I’d pay the price just to look at all the pictures.

    Also Artie, I also see the outline/evidence of the stick that crossed the bird just above its foot in the processed photo. I personally wouldn’t bother removing it as I don’t find it distracting considering it’s a nest shot.

  • Arthur,
    I think the top image is spectacular. I love the edits you did, the sharpness and the NIK detail enhancement, as well as the removal of the single branch.

    The 1D X new firmware now supports Manual with Auto ISO with exposure compensation. I find it very useful, particularly when the lighting conditions slightly change. Still checking the histogram off course. Do you use this mode at all? What is your opinion about this?

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Thanks Pieter. I have not used the new feature as I cannot figure out what it can for me that I cannot already do… artie

  • avatar Maggi Fuller

    PS…. I can see the evidence of your cloning too now, but would I have noticed if I hadn’t read Jack’s comments and then comparing the 2 images very closely…? I doubt it! 😉

  • avatar Maggi Fuller

    Fair enough…. but it is not something we would use as a term other than to describe the jumble of twigs in the trees made by rooks in the same place every year. Unless of course a place or area was given it as a name. I think the subject is exhausted now… thanks for responses!

  • avatar Maggi Fuller

    Well, Artie & Jack…… I know that! I was just wondering how a collection of nests in an area on water, or whatever, made by anything other than rooks, came to be called ‘a rookery’ in the US!!!

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      While I could not find anything specific, I think that the connection is pretty obvious. The colonists knew of rooks and rookeries and when the saw lots of birds nesting close together in tress, the rest was history. Just like the Revolutionary War. 🙂 artie

  • Its more than just the definition. BTW when are the contest results coming out?

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      It’s more than just a definition but there is nothing there or in their links as to the derivation of the word. Plus, I was going by what you wrote: Rookery definition is on wikipedia.

      We are waiting for one judge to finish the Digital category. Then soon. artie

  • Rookery definition is on wikipedia. Just google it.

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      We know the definition Jack. Maggi was asking about the derivation of the term…. artie

  • Artie, to the left of the foot, small repetitive black marks and unsharp area where you cloned out the two sticks about the big stick you left in.

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      I am not seeing much there and not exactly sure where…. I will e-mail you a JPEG and you can bring it into PS and draw a box around them. artie

  • avatar Maggi Fuller

    The optimised image…..

    Query.. Here in the UK, the only birds that make a rookery, are the big, black ROOKS, I have one in the trees at the end of my garden every year at this time and they are a noisy and absolute nuisance, but very bad luck if you try to get rid! How has this evolved to be a common term for seemingly most nesting sites in the US?

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Hi Maggi, Well, it took me ten minutes but I finally came up with this:

      “colony of rooks,” 1725, from rook (n.1) + -ery.

      So there is a direct link from rooks to rookeries…. More than that I cannot say :).

      From the Online Etymology Dictionary here. artie

  • I still see cloning artifacts from using the healing brush. Might want to clean that up a little.