Baby Rat Survives Hurricane Irma! And a New Foreground Softening Trick. « Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

Baby Rat Survives Hurricane Irma! And a New Foreground Softening Trick.


Oh, I forgot to mention, Rat Snake not rat 🙂

Thursday was a very hot day with no breeze. Despite that, Jim and I worked on our tree removal project for about 1 1/2 hours in the morning. I followed that by doing lots of dishes in the sink with a bucket or two of water. It reminded me of many of my visits to the Great Gull Island Common/Roseate Tern project. The only water they had was rainwater collected in huge rubber vats. For three decades plus they survived without refrigeration, but quite a while back they got a small refrigerator and a small generator. Next was a cooling and relaxing 48-length swim.

Jim drove me into town to have TJ work on my back — my shoulders have been feeling great with the manual labor stuff. But not my lower back. Using Active Relief and more standard chiropractic techniques, TJ McKeon is a miracle worker. While I was with TJ Jim filled our gas cans.

Once we got back to ILE Jim drove back to Melbourne for a short visit. I napped and then did some more yard work. That followed of course by a 40-length swim. One mile in all total.

My son-in-law Erik Egensteiner visited us again. We are dog-sitting for Olivia and each time he visits he shows up bearing wonderful gifts: gas cans filled with gas, fans, and extension cords to name a few. Thank you, Erik. Our new generator is doing great running one freezer and one large fridge and lots of little stuff. It seems that I was in error when I thought that we might have electricity fairly soon. The power/telephone poles and lines are still on the ground in my backyard and we have not seen any crews visiting the site. I would guess that we might get power back in a week or two at best. I hope that I am wrong.

Early evening thunder storms cooled thing down for sleep last night but Friday dawned clear and dead-still with the promise of another day of scorching heat …

The Streak

Today marks fifty-two days in a row with a new educational blog post — Irma be damned! This one took about two hours and a half hours to prepare over the course of two days. I finished it up just before 7am on Friday, September 15, 2017. With all of my upcoming free time (or not …), the plan right now is to break the current record streak of (I think) four hundred eighty something … Good health and good internet connections willing.

Everybody’s Doing It…

Everybody’s buying and selling used gear on the BAA Used Gear Page. Sales recently have been through the roof. Selling your used (or like-new) photo gear through the BAA Blog or via a BAA Online Bulletin 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 recently folded. And eBay fees are now in the 13% range. The minimum item price here is $500 (or less for a $25 fee). If you are interested please e-mail with the words Items for Sale Info Request cut and pasted into the Subject line :). Stuff that is priced fairly–I offer free pricing advice, usually sells in no time flat. In the past few months, we have sold just about everything in sight. Do know that prices on some items like the EOS-1D Mark IV, the old Canon 500mm, the EOS-7D, and the original 400mm IS DO lens have been dropping steadily. Even the prices on the new 600 II and the 200-400 with Internal Extender have been plummeting. You can see all current listings by clicking here or by clicking on the Used Photo Gear tab on the right side of the yellow-orange menu bar at the top of each blog post.


I could not secure the lodging that I needed for last year’s 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.

Thanks to the many who have already tried and used this great service.


I recently updated the IPT page. If you doubt that I am really slowing down, click here to see the meager IPT schedule. Right now there are only two US-based IPTs on the schedule. Best news is I now have two folks registered for the Fort DeSoto IPT so that will run. Do consider joining us if you would like to learn from the best.

Photographers Wanted

If you would like to learn to become a much better bird photographer, consider joining me on either the Fort DeSoto IPT in late September or the San Diego IPT in January, 2018. With four folks signed up, DeSoto will offer practically private instruction. And you can tack on the In-the-Field/Meet-up Workshop Session on the morning of Tuesday September 26, 2017 for free. Scroll down for details. Click here for complete IPT info and the current but abbreviated schedule.

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 many 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.

What Would Your Post-processing Plan Be?

After you take a peek at the original image capture immediately below, think about how you would process the image. Then keep reading to learn what I did and how I did it. I am particularly proud of this optimization as I only figured it out as I proceeded.

This image was created mid-morning of Monday, September 12, 2017 in the shade of my garage with the hand held Canon EF 180mm f/3.5L Macro USM lens and my favorite baby snake camera body, the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV. ISO 800. Evaluative metering +1 stop as framed: 1/40 sec. at f/10 in Av mode. AWB.

Flexi-zone Shutter button AF (in Live View) with the box right on the snake’s eye as originally framed.

Image #1: Baby Red Rat Snake/image as is right out of camera

The Situation

I am not sure why I was walking around my garage, but when I turned the corner I saw a dark, young snake resting in the pine needles and Irma debris. In most cases, I would not have given it a second glance but the snake was posing with it’s head raised. I approached and it did not move a muscle. Best lens? The old 180 macro. For the reach — it would be way better than the 100mm f/2.8L IS macro for snakes and frogs. Best camera body? That’s easy: one of my three 5D Mark IV bodies. Tripod? No way. It would have taken a week to get it into position, I could not have gotten low enough even with the legs splayed, and the tripod would have surely scared the snake into the grass. After I got my rig, a card, and a fresh battery, I grabbed three old pillows from the back of my car, approached the snake slowly, spread the pillows out on the concrete, got flat down on the ground, and went to work. I stayed in Av mode, added one stop of light, and set the aperture to f/10.

I picked an AF point that fell on the snake’s eyes and began using shutter button AF to create horizontals with the snake well back in the frame. And perfectly clean backgrounds. But seeing the beautiful markings on the snakes lower neck I decided to go vertical so that I could include them. As I could not get as low as I needed to be, I went to Live View, all the while resting my forearms on the pillows that were on the concrete in hopes of creating a few sharp ones at almost silly low shutter speeds. I was thinking that a new 180 IS Macro would be nice 🙂

All of the vertical images had the snake a bit too high in the frame … and I was not thrilled with the look of the pine needles and other debris.

This image was created mid-morning of Monday, September 12, 2017 in the shade of my garage with the hand held Canon EF 180mm f/3.5L Macro USM lens and my favorite baby snake camera body, the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV. ISO 800. Evaluative metering +1 stop as framed: 1/40 sec. at f/10 in Av mode. AWB.

Flexi-zone Shutter button AF (in Live View) with the box right on the snake’s eye as originally framed.

Image #2: Baby Red Rat Snake/the optimized version

The Image Optimization

After converting the image straight up in DPP 4 I brought it into Photoshop and added canvas above using John Haedo Content Aware Fill. Next I did a 2X3 crop to restore the original proportions. My first task was to remove the sharp, image destroying vertical whatever it is, either a pine needle or a tiny twig. I did that using my Divide an Conquer techniques with the Clone Stamp Tool (S), the Patch Tool (my keyboard shortcut P), and Content Aware Fill (Shift + Delete). Next I cleaned up a few little things and did some Eye Doctor work with the Clone Stamp Tool (S). Part of that involved eliminating my reflection in the iris.

I really like how the out of focus debris at the bottom of the frame looked so I decided to try to to make it all out of focus. It did take some experimentation but after ten minutes or so I was very happy with the look. I used many small Quick Masks, probably eight or ten Content Aware Fills, probably a dozen Patch Tool patches, and maybe ten or fifteen 77-pixel Gaussian Blurs (some modified with a Regular Layer Mask).

It was surely only the second time I had tried something even remotely similar. The first time was with another reptilian image of a Lava Lizard from the Galapagos Photo Cruise. I will share that one with you here at some point.

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.

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

Everything mentioned above is 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. The new e-Guide reflects my Macbook Pro/Photo Mechanic/DPP 4/Photoshop workflow. Do note that you will find the RGB Curves Adjustment Color Balancing tutorial only in the new e-guide. 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.

The two most recent MP4 Photoshop Tutorial videos releases go hand and hand with the information in DB II):

  • The Wingtip Repairs MP4 Video here.
  • The MP4 Crow Cleanup Video here.

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.

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.

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


Obviously folks attending the IPT will be out in the field early and stay late to take advantage of sunrise and sunset colors. The good news is that the days are relatively short in October. Click on the composite to enjoy a larger version.

The Fort DeSoto 2017 Fall IPT/September 22 (afternoon session) through the full day on September 25, 2017. 3 1/2 FULL DAYs: $1649. Limit 8/openings 4.

Fort DeSoto, located just south of St. Petersburg, FL, is a mecca for migrant shorebirds and terns in fall. There they join hundreds of egrets, herons, night-herons, gulls, and terns who winter on the T-shaped peninsula that serves as their wintering grounds. With luck, we may get to photograph two of Florida’s most desirable shorebird species: Marbled Godwit and the spectacular Long-billed Curlew. Black-bellied Plover and Willet are easy, American Oystercatcher almost guaranteed. Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Great Blue Heron, and Tricolored Heron are easy as well and we will almost surely come up with a tame Yellow-crowned Night-Heron or two. We should get to do some Brown Pelican flight photography. And Royal, Sandwich, Forster’s, and Caspian Terns will likely provide us with some good flight opportunities as well. Though not guaranteed Roseate Spoonbill and Wood Stork would not be unexpected.

Folks who sign up for the IPT are welcome to join us on the ITF/MWS on the morning of Tuesday, September 26 as my guest. See below for details on that.

On the IPT you will learn basics and fine points of digital exposure and to get the right exposure every time after making a single test exposure, how to approach free and wild birds without disturbing them, to understand and predict bird behavior, to identify many species of shorebirds, to spot the good situations, to choose the best perspective, to see and understand the light, and to design pleasing images by mastering your camera’s AF system. And you will learn how and why to work in Manual mode (even if you’re scared of it).

There will be a Photoshop/image review session after lunch (included) each day. That will be followed by Instructor Nap Time.

The best airport is Tampa (TPA). Register soon so that you can be assured of a room at the IPT hotel.

A $500 deposit is due when you sign up and is payable by credit card. Balances must be paid by check after you register. Your deposit is non-refundable unless the IPT sells out with ten folks so please check your plans carefully before committing. You can register by calling Jim or Jennifer during weekday business hours at 863-692-0906 with a credit card in hand or by sending a check as follows: make the check out to: BIRDS AS ART and send it via US mail here: BIRDS AS ART, PO BOX 7245, Indian Lake Estates, FL 33855. You will receive a confirmation e-mail with detailed instructions, gear advice, and instructions for meeting on the afternoon of Friday, September 22.


Fort DeSoto in fall is rich with tame birds. All of the images in this card were created at Fort DeSoto in either late September or early October. I hope that you can join me there this October. Click on the composite to enjoy a larger version.

BIRDS AS ART In-the-Field/Meet-up Workshop Session (ITF/MWS): $99.

Join me on the morning of Tuesday September 26, 2017 for 3-hours of photographic instruction at Fort DeSoto Park. Beginners are welcome. Lenses of 300mm or longer are recommended but even those with 70-200s should get to make some nice images. Teleconverters are always a plus.

You will learn the basics of digital exposure and image design, autofocus basics, and how to get close to free and wild birds. We should get to photograph a variety of wading birds, shorebirds, terns, and gulls. This inexpensive afternoon workshop is designed to give folks a taste of the level and the quality of instruction that is provided on a BIRDS AS ART Instructional Photo-tour. I hope to meet you there.

To register please call Jim or Jennifer during weekday business hours at 863-692-0906 with a credit card in hand to pay the nominal non-refundable registration fee. You will receive a short e-mail with instructions, gear advice, and meeting place at least two weeks before the event.


BAA Site Guides are the next best thing to being on an IPT.

Fort DeSoto Site Guide

Can’t make the IPT? Get yourself a copy of the Fort DeSoto Site Guide. Learn the best spots, where to be when in what season in what weather. Learn the best wind directions for the various locations. BAA Site Guides are the next best thing to being on an IPT. You can see all of them here.

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.

Those who prefer to support BAA by shopping with Amazon may use the logo link above.

Amazon Canada

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.


Be sure to like and follow BAA on Facebook by clicking on the logo link upper right. Tanks a stack.


In all blog posts and Bulletins, feel free to e-mail or to leave a comment regarding any typos or errors. Just be right :).

18 comments to Baby Rat Survives Hurricane Irma! And a New Foreground Softening Trick.

  • avatar Jeff Robinson

    For those who may not have a 180mm macro (or have it with them), I have found that the Canon 100-400 II with an extension tube or two is great for photographing dragon flies, butterflies, or other similarly-small creatures (where you don’t need a true 1:1 macro). The extension tubes are light enough I don’t mind adding them to a field kit when I’m out walking or hiking, and you get the IS capability of that lens.

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Thanks Jeff. As noted here many times since the introduction of the 100-400 II, I agree 🙂
      with love, artie

      ps: for many subjects you can do just fine without and extension tube, but you are correct, it is always good to have them in your pocket, vest, or backpack.

  • avatar Brad Moon

    Yikes! Upon closer inspection, it appears that the reflected photographer became headless in Image #2. These snakes may bite when handled, and the literature even says that some racers seem to strike toward one’s face rather than toward the hands that grabbed them (and I’ve experienced that with Blue Racers in the upper Midwest), but fortunately they can’t take a person’s head off no matter how hard they may try 🙂 That must have happened during image-processing in Photoshop, although I don’t think the word “optimization” is very good for this particular change.

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Hi Brad,

      Two things.

      #1: it always helps to actually read the blog post before commenting:

      Next I cleaned up a few little things and did some Eye Doctor work with the Clone Stamp Tool (S). Part of that involved eliminating my reflection in the iris.

      #2: to optimize, adapted from the Merriam Webster online dictionary: to make as perfect as possible.

      with love, artie

      • avatar Brad Moon

        Indeed, I missed that part of the text on my first quick read. Sorry about that. I think part of what surprised me about the eye adjustment was that it looked like the rest of your reflection was still in the lower part of the eye, and knowing that it was headless made it seem odd. Also, I thought the natural curves of your reflection fit in well with the curves of the reflected treetops; so I thought that removing your reflection wasn’t needed to perfect the image. The bold vertical lines in the eye that seem to be the reflected garage were a bit more noticeable to me than your reflection, although they might have been a bit harder to fix. Overall, I thought that neither your reflection nor the garage’s reflection really detracted from the image in any substantial way. The compelling composition, the details of scalation, and mix of colors all caught my attention much more than the reflections in the eye.

  • avatar Brad Moon

    It’s a beautiful baby Southern Black Racer (Coluber constrictor priapus). Baby racers look very different from adults. They’re called racers because they’re fast, and usually flee from disturbances–often to climb a tree nearby and watch the scene from there. It’s nice that this one stayed put for photographs, and that it’s relatively big baby eyes reflected the photographer nicely. They’re non-venomous, but will bite and sometimes chew if grabbed. For some information about them, see

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      With probable/possible apologies to Ryan below, the photo sure looks like a perfect match to the photo of the baby racer that you linked to. Can you provide a link to text or photos that indicate how to separate the young of the two species?

      with love, artie

      • avatar Ryan Sanderson

        No worries Artie–I was into snakes about 20 years ago and had several Corn Snakes as pets so I knew it wasn’t one of those. I had to Google and find a best match which apparently was close, but missed the proverbial cigar.

      • avatar Brad Moon

        Sure, below are some comments about identifying features of the snake in your photo compared to some other look-alikes. These are things I’ve learned from diverse sources ranging from various field guides (there are several nice ones to eastern US and to Florida herps) to technical identification keys to firsthand experience. When looking at a whole snake, there are other features (mainly color pattern and overall shape) that can be used to distinguish any age/size of corn snake, other rat snake, racer, and coachwhip; the features below focus on those visible in your photo. I’m sorry that I don’t have a link to a single source online that focuses on baby snakes or the details visible in your photo. It sounds like Ryan knows several of these features generally, even if the memories are a bit rusty, and I bet he’ll recognize most of the details below.

        Red Corn Snakes are usually much more thoroughly red or orange, with less of (or without) the blue/gray color or plain white chin shown in your photo, they have a fairly sharp spearpoint marking on top of the head, and they have a bold and often dark-edged line curving across the top of the snout in front of the eyes and then running diagonally backward through the eye and usually well past the angle of the mouth (see The close-up portrait on the Wikepedia page for corn snakes ( shows this diagonal line well. (By the way, the extension of this diagonal line past the angle of the mouth helps distinguish corn snakes from the young and adults of other species of rat snakes, which may sometimes be a bit orange or reddish but in which the diagonal line, if present at all, stops at the back of the mouth rather than extending beyond it.) Corn snakes also often have bold black lines between adjacent upper lip scales.

        Baby racers lack spearpoint on the top of the head, as well as the line across the top of the snout and diagonally back and downward through the eye and past the jaw. The details of scalation also differ, including the number of lip scales, the presence of a tiny scale in front of and slightly below the eye, and the number and shapes of enlarged scales behind the eye along the side of the head.

        Baby coachwhips are very similar in appearance to baby racers (see and However, the fine details of scalation on the head of the snake in your photo appear to match those of the racer better than the coachwhip.

        This may be more than many people want to know about the close-up details of snake heads 🙂 but I hope it’s helpful when you see more snakes. Baby snakes are often abundant and tend to range widely in search of food and a good place to live; so we often see more of them than we do of adults, especially in late summer and fall.

        • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

          Hi Brad, Thank you for the info. I rarely see any snakes when I am in the field. with love, artie

  • avatar Ryan Sanderson

    Hi Artie,

    The snake is not a Red Rat Snake/Corn Snake. I THINK it’s a baby Eastern Racer, but I’m not 100% sure on that.


    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      I thought that that might be the case. But both my pool guy — who knows a lot about snakes, and my son-in-law, Erik Egensteiner — a biologist for Florida State Parks, say that it is a young Red Rat (aka Corn) Snake.

      thanks with love, artie

  • avatar Catherine Costolo

    Sounds like all of your needs are being met. Glad to hear it.

  • avatar Joel Eade

    Really nice composition and I agree … amazing sharpness. Heck, when I enlarge the image I can see you lying down with camera on a pillow in the eye reflection:)

  • Hey Arthur, this is very sharp for hand holding the 180 macro especially at 1/40sec. Very nice image indeed. I would also love to see a 180 IS macro.