Lessons from the Laughing Puffin … « Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

Lessons from the Laughing Puffin ...


The 2017 UK Puffins and Gannets IPT ended with love, hugs, thanks, and kisses all around. There is nothing better than having a group of 100% Happy Campers. Though my good weather karma was at an all time low with one and one half missed landings and two cancelled boat trips in eight days, the good days were so excitingly perfect bird-wise and weather-wise that everyone went home thrilled. I even managed to make a wonderful image (see same below) at 10:58am on our single bright sunny day. I began working on this blog post on the flight from Edinburgh to Newark after getting some work done on the LensAlign/FocusTune Micro-adjustment e-Guide Tutorial.

I was glad to learn yesterday that the sale of Brooke Miller’s Sigma 50-500mm f/4.5-6.3 APO DG OS lens for Canon AF in like-new condition for the giving-it-away price of $749 is pending.

The Streak

Just in case you have not been counting, today makes 25 days in a row with a new educational blog post 🙂 There will be few or no new blog posts for a week while I am in Alaska as we move the BAA Blog to a new server.


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.

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.

This image was created late on the Saturday morning of July 8 on the 2017 UK Puffins and Gannets IPT with the Induro GIT 304L/Mongoose M3.6-mounted Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM lens, the Canon Extender EF 2X III, and my favorite bird photography camera body, the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV. ISO 400. Evaluative metering +2/3 stop as framed: 1/320 sec. at f/11 in Manual mode. Daylight WB.

LensAlign/FocusTune micro-adjustment: -5.

One AF point up and one to the left of the center AF point/AI Servo/Expand/Shutter button AF was active at the moment of exposure. The selected AF fell on a spot just below the base of the upper mandible where it meets the yellow/orange rosette.

Atlantic Puffin laughing

Lessons from the Laughing Puffin

#1: When the light is bright think tight.

#2: When the light is bright work right on sun angle. Notice the perfectly even lighting on the bird’s face and notice the complete lack of shadows. If you work off sun angle, parts of the bird, such as the bill, may cast shadows on the bird itself.

3-When working with a fixed focal length lens and the subject flaps or squawks or does anything erratic, press and hold the shutter button down while doing your best to frame the image. When this bird opened its bill quickly the head moved up and I did not think that I would be able to frame it properly. But I listened to my own advice and fired off a few frames. Two in the series of four were framed perfectly and this one, created at the peak of the yawn or call or laugh or whatever it was, was the best. (When working with a zoom lens zoom out if possible and then press and hold the shutter button down while doing your best to frame the image.

4-Pay attention to the subject. Concentrate. Be alert. And keep your eye to the viewfinder. Chatting and chimping are great fun but they will get you in the end …

5-Distant backgrounds are usually sweet.

The Image Optimization

After converting the image nearly straight-up in DPP 4, I brought the TIFF into Photoshop and did not do a whole lot. First I did a bit of Eye Doctor work by lightening the iris with my Tim Grey Dodge and Burn action; I lighten and darken with the Brush Tool in 10% increments. Then I selected the BKGR with the Quick Selection Tool and feathered and saved the selection. I put the BKGR on its own layer and applied the NIK Color Efex Pro White Neutralizer recipe; it really sweetened the distant blue water background turning it from a grayish blue to more of a sky blue color. Then I loaded and inverted the selection and ran my NIK 25/25 recipe on the bird only. I fine-tuned that layer with a Regular Layer mask by painting away some of the effect in the darker areas at 33%. Next I eliminated a few white specks from the black feathers with the Spot Healing Brush. Then a a bit of bill clean-up. Last was a Curves adjustment to deepen the BLACKs.

Everything above plus tons and tons more is detailed in the new 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. Just so you know, the new e-Guide reflects my Macbook Pro/Photo Mechanic/DPP 4/Photoshop workflow.

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.

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.

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. Please, however, remember to shoot me your receipt via e-mail.

2017 in San Diego was a very good year ….

2018 San Diego 4 1/2-DAY BIRDS AS ART IPT: Monday, JAN 15 thru and including the morning session on Friday, JAN 19, 2018: 4 1/2 days: $2099.

Limit: 10: Openings: 4

Meet and Greet at 6:30pm on the evening before the IPT begins; Sunday, Jan 14, 2018.

Join me in San Diego to photograph the spectacular breeding plumage Brown Pelicans with their fire-engine red and olive green bill pouches; Brandt’s (usually nesting and displaying) and Double-crested Cormorants; breeding plumage Ring-necked Duck; other duck species possible including Lesser Scaup, Redhead, Wood Duck and Surf Scoter; a variety of gulls including Western, California, and the gorgeous Heerman’s, all in full breeding plumage; shorebirds including Marbled Godwit, Whimbrel, Willet, Sanderling and Black-bellied Plover; many others possible including Least, Western, and Spotted Sandpiper, Black and Ruddy Turnstone, Semipalmated Plover, and Surfbird; Harbor Seal (depending on the current regulations) and California Sea Lion; and Bird of Paradise flowers. And as you can see by studying the two IPT cards there are some nice bird-scape and landscape opportunities as well. Please note: formerly dependable, both Wood Duck and Marbled Godwit have been declining at their usual locations for the past two years …


San Diego offers a wealth of very attractive natural history subjects. With annual visits spanning more than three decades I have lot of experience there….

With gorgeous subjects just sitting there waiting to have their pictures taken, photographing the pelicans on the cliffs is about as easy as nature photography gets. With the winds from the east almost every morning there is usually some excellent flight photography. And the pelicans are almost always doing something interesting: preening, scratching, bill pouch cleaning, or squabbling. And then there are those crazy head throws that are thought to be a form of intra-flock communication. You can do most of your photography with an 80- or 100-400 lens …

Did I mention that there are wealth of great birds and natural history subjects in San Diego in winter?


Though the pelicans will be the stars of the show on this IPT there will be many other handsome and captivating subjects in wonderful settings.

The San Diego Details

This IPT will include five 3 1/2 hour morning photo sessions, four 2 1/2 hour afternoon photo sessions, four lunches, and after-lunch image review and Photoshop sessions. To ensure early starts, breakfasts will be your responsibility. Dinners are on your own so that we can get some sleep.

A $599 non-refundable deposit is required to hold your slot for this IPT. You can send a check (made out to “Arthur Morris) to us at BIRDS AS ART, PO Box 7245, Indian Lake Estates, FL, 33855. Or call Jim or Jennifer at the office with a credit card at 863-692-0906. Your balance, payable only by check, will be due on 9/11//2016. If we do not receive your check for the balance on or before the due date we will try to fill your spot from the waiting list. Please print, complete, and sign the form that is linked to here and shoot it to us along with your deposit check. If you register by phone, please print, complete and sign the form as noted above and either mail it to us or e-mail the scan. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me via e-mail.

The San Diego Site Guide

If you cannot make or afford the IPT the San Diego Site Guide truly is the next best thing to being there with me. It is all very simple, you will learn where to be when depending on the wind and sky conditions.

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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Many kind folks from north of the border, eh, have e-mailed stating that they would love to help us out by using one of our affiliate links but that living in Canada and doing so presents numerous problems. Now, they can help us out by using our Amazon Canada affiliate link by starting their searches by clicking here.


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8 comments to Lessons from the Laughing Puffin …

  • avatar Ezhil Suresh

    Thanks for sharing simple and valuable lessons. Will remember them. Your images keep us amazing that irrespective of situation fun/great images can be made if creativity and concentration was there.

  • avatar Steve Rentmeesters

    Stunning image! The one nit pick is the tip of the upper bill is not as sharp as the rest of the face. Can this be tweaked with a little extra sharpening on this location only? I can also see the case for more background on the left and above as you mentioned.

  • avatar Warren Robb

    I think Puffins are evidence that God has a sense of humor; seeing one always makes me smile. So an image of a Puffin laughing can only be better. I love everything about this one!

  • avatar Kerry Morris

    Hi Artie, happy to hear the trip was great despite bad weather. I’m sure you were busy teaching the whole time though!
    I really like this shot…a lot! The detail is incredible. What I like most is that the shot isn’t directly from the side. I really like that the bird is turned slightly towards you – makes it more interesting and having that one little slice of white (from the bird’s right eye) next to the background makes the whole thing pop.
    Safe travels home!

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Thanks girl-Kerry. The weather was great most of the time 🙂 And yes, it was nice that the bird was angled slightly towards me.

      with love, artie

  • avatar Jake

    Hi Artie, I love this image it narrowly beats the laughing gannet image as my favorite from your shots published of this trip. I absolutely love the colors light and action of this image and the detail in the eye and face is simply stunning but if there was one thing I would do to it it would be to add some canvas to the bottom left of the image and if I was splitting hairs I would have liked the head to be tilted slightly upwards but it is hardly an issue. I am glad you managed to make some stunning images on a trip that the weather prevented you from doing some trips,

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Thanks Jake. I have no clue as to why or how you would add canvas to the “bottom left.” If anything, there is a case for adding canvas left and above …

      with love, artie