Celebrating 40 Years in the Mud: Part II. Getting Lucky with Center Large Zone AF … And Mud Clean-up Magic « Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

Celebrating 40 Years in the Mud: Part II. Getting Lucky with Center Large Zone AF ... And Mud Clean-up Magic


On Friday I visited younger sister Arna again, this time with my younger daughter Alissa. Lissy and I ran some errands; I picked up some protein bars for lunch. As is usual I do not eat too well when I am traveling … I had a great dinner with Lissy, her two autistic boys — Ilyas and Idris, and Erin, one of Ilyas’ many support aides. Carver’s, where we ate, is right around the corner from where my Mom lived for more than ten years. I had never been there. The food was basic but great. Tomorrow Alissa, husband Ajiniyas, and I will be seeing Beautiful, the Carole King musical on Broadway. Fourth row center 🙂

I was pleased to learn that IPT veteran Andrae Acerra sold her barely used Canon EOS 7D Mark II in near mint condition for $924 within two hours of it being listed.

The Streak

Today makes seventy-three days in a row with a new educational blog post! This blog post took less than two hours to prepare (including the short time spent on the image optimization). 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.


Booking.Com came through for me once again with both my DeSoto IPT and next July’s UK Puffins, Gannets, and Bempton Pre-trip room reservations. And all 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.

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.

This image was created at the East Pond, Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, Queens, NY CA with the Induro GIT304L Grand Series 3 Stealth Carbon Fiber Tripod/Mongoose M3.6-mounted Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS II USM lens, the Canon Extender EF 1.4X III, and my favorite shorebird photography camera, the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV. ISO 400. Evaluative metering +1/3 stop: 1/800 sec. at f/6.3 in Manual mode. AWB.

Center Large Zone/AI Servo/Shutter Button AF as framed was active at the moment of exposure. The system activated three AF points on the side of the bird’s upper breast as seen in the DPP 4 screen capture below. Click on the image to see a larger version.

FocusTune/LensAlign Micro Adjustment: zero.

Pectoral Sandpiper in fresh juvenal plumage

Celebrating 40 Years in the Mud: Part II

On the morning of Wednesday October 6, Isaac Hayes and I ventured out into the mud on the East Pond. Forty years and a bit ago in August of 1977 I first set foot onto those same South Flats. Though it was prime time for migrant shorebirds, the tide in the surrounding bay was low and there was only a single bird. The young Marbled Godwit had a long upturned bill with a dark tip and an alabaster pink base. Not far behind me, hundreds of vehicles an hour drove north and south on Cross Bay Boulevard. Just beyond the eastern shore of the pond the “A” and “C” trains, part of the New York City subway system, transported hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers each month from their homes in the Rockaways to their jobs in Manhattan and elsewhere. Overhead, huge jetliners landed and took off every few minutes bringing millions of visitors and tons of cargo to the Big Apple from around the world. I remember thinking, none of these folks even know that this beautiful bird is here. At the time, I had no idea that seeing this single bird would change the remainder of the rest of my adult life. But it did just that. And all for the good.

My Target Species …

Understanding the timing of migration for the various shorebird species I had hoped to photograph the handsome juveniles of the following species: White-rumped Sandpiper, Long-billed Dowitcher, Pectoral Sandpiper, and Dunlin. Juvenile Hudsonian Godwit was a wild-assed dream. I knocked off juvie white-rumpeds and the young, molting Dunlin on Tuesday afternoon at the north end. On Tuesday morning we spotted a gorgeous juvenile pectoral that was at first elusive. We carefully approached a small group of shorebirds that included a first-winter Lesser Yellowlegs, two young Semipalmated Plovers, two young Semipalmated Sandpipers, and the highly desired Pectoral Sandpiper. Isaac got in position first and I approached in a crouch. I was sure that we had it made in the shade but as my left knee touched down I spooked the birds. I sat in the mud, apologized to Isaac, and then we both stood stock still. The birds circled the south end of the pond before flying back to us and landing, landing just on the other side of a stand of phragmites in the pond.

“With luck,” I whispered, “they should wind up right in front of us in a few minutes.” And that they did. I photographed while seated for a while, but my hip pain had me lying face down in the mud in short order. The light was still lovely and the backgrounds sweet and distant. We had a good solid hour with the pectoral and the yellowlegs before they were spooked by a Merlin and departed the pond. All in all we were blessed for the second straight session. Though we never did see a long-billed dow I was thrilled both with the experience and with the images I made on my old stomping grounds.

The DPP 4 Screen Capture for today’s featured image

Getting Lucky with Center Large Zone AF …

Both the pectoral and the yellowlegs kept coming closer and closer so I switched my 2X III TC for the 1.4X III TC. Tired of having to move the selected AF Expand point around constantly I went to Large Zone AF. With this image, switching to Right Large Zone AF would have been ideal as I could likely have had the activated AF points on the bird’s face or neck.

Even with this error the bird’s eyelashes are razor sharp. (No, sandpipers do not have eyelashes but that is what the tiny marks on the eye skin look like; and they are a great test of image sharpness. I love that I can easily zoom in when editing my images in Photo Mechanic.)
The question is, “Why are the eyes razor sharp if I screwed up by using the wrong AF Area Selection mode?”

Multiple choice:

a-I had lots of extra depth of field.
b-the bird was relatively far away.
c-the bird was momentarily standing very still.
d-the bird’s body was angled toward me.
e-all of the above are correct.

Before and After Image Clean-up

Lying flat down on the the mud is step one when you are looking to eliminate a majority of potential distractions and enjoy a soft, distant background. But there will almost always be some stuff in the mud that will wind up as distractions. With this image the main culprits were stray feathers, small sticks and stems, and bird droppings (whitewash). I used my usual cadre of clean-up tools: the Spot Healing Brush (J), the Patch Tool (my keyboard shortcut P), and Content Aware Fill (Shift + Delete). Notice that unlike most folks I do not depend on the Clone Stamp Tool for my clean-up work and with today’s image, I did not use it at all.

Then I used my foreground Gaussian Blur technique. I put the whole image on its own layer, applied a 75-pixel Gaussian Blur, and then added an Inverse (Black or Hide-all) mask. Then, using a soft, 100% opacity brush, I painted the blur in only onto the out-of-focus portions of the foreground. I carefully avoided painting the blur onto the narrow strip on the same plane as the bird’s eye <em>that was in sharp focus. In spots where the blur was a bit overdone I hit X and reduced the opacity of the brush to 50% and then painted back in 50% of the original until I was happy with the look.

Note: the posterization that you see in the two images above is a result of the creation of the animated GIF.

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 and many of the older 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.

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10 comments to Celebrating 40 Years in the Mud: Part II. Getting Lucky with Center Large Zone AF … And Mud Clean-up Magic

  • avatar Andy

    Love the memories. Thanks for sharing.

  • avatar Ted Willcox

    Beautiful Bird. Great Story.

  • avatar frank sheets

    Hey Jake, we’ll make it a contest to see who gets the post first! I don’t know where you live, but I am on the west coast so if you live in any timezone east of me, you have the advantage!

  • avatar Jake

    Hi Artie, love the image. I think ‘d – the bird’s body was angled towards me’ and also happened to be on the same plane as the eye. Great image, the animated GIFF is very useful to show the clean up.

  • avatar frank sheets

    IMO, its D, the bird is slightly angled toward you so the plane of focus where the active AF points are the same as the eye. You don’t tell us how far away you are from the bird (“closer and closer”), but considering it almost fills the frame and you had to switch from your 2x to 1.4, it was almost too close, so at 6.3 you may not have had enough DOF to cover the range.

    Sorry you had to lay down in the mud because of your hip pain. I guess just one of the things bird photographers need to do. You should have had Issac take a snap of you to share with us how you looked afterwards.

    Thanks for the ongoing posts Artie. I enjoy them every morning.

    PS, the turkey vultures roosted here last night on their southerly migration. An annual event here. I won’t be able to spend much time, if any, this am, but hopefully there will be another group come thru in the next few days or I will have to wait until the spring to catch them on their northerly route. Always fun to see them!

  • I choose E, all of the above

  • avatar Giovanni

    Hello Arthur,
    Why you wrote RIGHT large zone Af ..large zone is only one ?

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      You are thinking of all point, 65 or 61, I forget which. I am referring to Large Zone. More on that in a future blog post.

      with love, artie