Getting Close and Tall for a Reason: Blackground! « Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

Getting Close and Tall for a Reason: Blackground!


Had my best night’s sleep in a while on Saturday. Sunday was more of the same: Blowing up balloons. Began alternating ice and moist hot towels on the shoulder. Worked on the the Nikon Focus Fine-tune Guide. Found out in part just how bad the Nikon camera body User’s Manuals are. Ate well.

Happy birthday today to the Executive Director of BIRDS AS ART, a wonderful woman, mother, and wife; my older daughter, Jennifer Lauren Morris. Hard to believe that she is 48 today … I can vividly remember hiding in the bathroom of the delivery room at Maimonides Hospital in Brooklyn as if it were only yesterday. I peeked out the half-opened door as she was born. Things have sure changed.

Please note: I forgot to include the following (important) item in the the Head Soft? Feet Sharp? blog post here.

Don’t Forget!

If you try this technique, it is absolutely imperative that you set your AFA or AF Fine-tune value back to the correct number when your flight photography session is complete. If you forget that step all of your images in the next session will be considerably front-focused …

The Streak

Today makes two hundred thirty-one days in a row with a new educational blog post! This one took less than an hour to prepare. With all of my upcoming free time (or not…), the plan right now is to try to break the current record streak of 480 … Good health and good internet connections and my continuing insanity willing.

Money Saving Reminder

If you need a hot photo item that is out of stock at B&H, would enjoy free overnight shipping, and would like a $50 discount on your first purchase, click here to order and enter the coupon code BIRDSASART at checkout. If you are looking to strike a deal on Canon or Nikon gear (including the big telephotos) or on a multiple item order, contact Steve Elkins via e-mail or on his cell at (479) 381-2592 (Eastern time) and be sure to mention your BIRDSASART coupon code and use it for your online order. Patrick Sparkman saved $350 on a recent purchase!

The Used Gear Page

Action on the Used Gear Page recently has been fantastic. You can see all current listings here.

Recent Sales

David Solis sold a brand new Sanho HyperDrive Colorspace UDMA 3 1 TB wireless photo/video memory card backup for $399.00 after being contacted on the first day of listing.
David Solis sold his Canon EF 300 mm f/2.8L IS USM (the original version) lens in excellent plus condition for $2399.00 after being contacted on the first day of listing.
David Solis sold his Canon EF 500 mm f/4L IS USM (the “old five”) in excellent plus condition with perfect glass for the BAA record low price of $3399.00.
Les Greenberg sold his Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM zoom lens in mint condition to a local buyer and is sending me a check for 2 1/2% of the original asking price of $1599.
Joel Williams sold his Fujifilm XF 50 f/2 R WR lens in like-new condition for only $299 in early March.
Rajat Kapoor sold his Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM lens (the “old 1-4”) in near-mint condition the first day is was listed for $649.
Jim Brennan sold his Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS USM lens (the “old five”) in near-mint condition and a Canon EF 1.4 III teleconverter in very good condition for $3,599.00 right after listing them in early March.
Gary Meyer sold his Canon EOS 7D Mark II in near-mint condition for $798 soon after it was listed in early March.


Several folks on the Spoonbill IPTs used the Booking.Com link below and got great rates and saved a handsome $25.00 in the process. If you too would like to give Booking.Com a shot, click here and to earn a $25 reward on your first booking. 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. Those questions might deal with systems, camera bodies, accessories, and/or lens choices and decisions.

This image was created at La Jolla, CA on the morning of January 21, 2018. I used the hand held Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR lens with the Nikon AF-S Teleconverter TC-14E III and the Nikon D5 with Dual XQD Slots). ISO 800. Matrix metering -2/3 stop: 1/1600 sec. at f/9 in Manual mode. AUOT0 WB at 8:10am.

Upper Group (grp) Shutter Button AF was active at the moment of exposure. The selected AF points were on the bird’s forehead.

LensAlign/FocusTune Fine-tune: -1.

Brown Pelican in breeding plumage

Getting Close and Tall for a Reason

It is a common situation on the cliffs at La Jolla. If you stay back and work with a long focal length, or if you get low as we are accustomed to doing, you can photograph gorgeous pelican heads against distant blue Pacific backgrounds. When a bird lands up on the cliff, to your left, you move to sun angle and the background becomes tan, sunlit sandstone. But if you get as high as you can and get relatively close, you can work against completely shaded backgrounds of wet sandstone. Today’s featured image is an example of that dramatic, studio-like backdrop. One of the tricks to improving as a nature photographer is to imagine “different.”

Somewhere in an old blog post I shared a similar tight head portrait of a Western Gull with the jet-black background. Hey, let’s coin another new term: blackground.

Light Angle?

Where was the sun coming from?

  • 1-Right over the top of my head.
  • 2-Over my right shoulder.
  • 3-Over my left shoulder.

What Don’t I Like About This Image?

There is one thing about this image that bugs me. If you think that you know what it is, please leave a comment.

Early Spring Photo Opportunities at ILE

BIRDS AS ART First-ever Master Class

Master Class. Two Full and two Half Days/Friday afternoon, March 30 through lunch on Monday, April 2, 2018: $1999.00. Limit: 4/Openings 3.

The Master Classe will be a small group — strictly limited to four photographers — with the first folks who register having the option of staying at my home ($50/night) or at a chain motel in nearby Lake Wales. Live, think, and breathe photography from Friday afternoon through lunch on Monday (late-morning); all meals included. There will be three afternoon photo sessions (FRI – SUN) hopefully with glorious sunsets like the ones you saw one the blog in December we should have good opportunities with the cranes even in the afternoon. We will enjoy three morning photography sessions (SAT – MON) with the main subjects being tame Sandhill Cranes almost surely with chicks or colts. Also vultures and Cattle Egrets and more. Limpkins are possible. Intermediate telephoto lenses are fine for the cranes, even the chicks at times. A 500 or 600mm lens would be best for many of the situations that we will encounter.

During the day we will sit together around my dining room table and pick everyone’s keepers and enjoy guided Photoshop sessions. On Monday before lunch, folks can make a single large print of their favorite image from the weekend. If you so choose, I will micro-adjust one of your lenses (at one focal length with your #1 camera body–Canon or Nikon) during a group instructional session. All will be welcome to practice what they have learned during the breaks using my set-up and my lighting gear.

To register, please first shoot me an e-mail to check on availability. Then you will be instructed to call Jim or Jen at 863-692-0906 during weekday business hours (except for Friday afternoons) to leave you non-refundable (unless the session sells out) $500 deposit. Only the deposit may be left on credit card. Balances must be paid by check immediately after you register (unless you wish to pay by credit card plus 4% to cover our fees).

I hope that you can join me on this new adventure.

with love, artie

ps: bring your bathing suit if you would like to try my pool.

Tame birds in breeding plumage and chicks are great fun.

Gatorland IPT #2. Sunrise: 6:48am. Sunset: 7:58pm.

3 1/2 DAYs: THURS 26 APR through and including the morning of SUN 29 APR. $1599. Limit 5 photographers/Openings: 3.

Must purchase Gatorland Photographers Pass. Click here for details. All early entry. Late stays Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Gatorland IPT #2 should have lots of chicks, and lots of birds in breeding plumage. We will get to photograph Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Tricolored Heron, and Wood Stork. The Cattle Egrets in full breeding plumage will be present in good numbers. Learn my Gatorland strategy, to get the right exposure, flight photography techniques, my secret Gatorland spots, how to see the best situations (nobody is better at that than me), and how to make great images in extremely cluttered situations.

Help Support the Blog

Please help support my (stupendous) efforts here on the blog by remembering to click on the logo link above each time that you shop Amazon. That would be greatly appreciated. There is no problem using your Prime account; just click on the link and log into your Prime account. With love, artie

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.

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.


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 :).

23 comments to Getting Close and Tall for a Reason: Blackground!

  • avatar kevin Hice

    Hi Artie,The sun is from the left. The shadow on the right wing does not bother me as much as some others have commented.For me I would like a little more separation between the bill and neck or body of the bird.

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Me too. They rarely lift their bills but when they do I press the shutter button 🙂

      with love, artie

  • avatar Don M.

    Hi Artie,

    Very glad to hear your shoulder is healing nicely! I like almost everything about this image, including the subtle side lighting. Perhaps a slight elevation of the bill, or the absence of a shadow in the bottom left corner would have strengthened an already great image.

    Best wishes,


  • avatar Warren H

    I agree with all that the sun was over the left shoulder and likely more from the left side than from over the shoulder.

    The only thing I noticed in the photo is the pupil shape. It is more vertical than round. I know you usually make sure the eyes are just the way you like, so I take it you liked that shape or else you would have changed it..

  • avatar David Policansky

    If the little shadow at the extreme bottom left bothered Artie, why would he not have cropped it out? That could have been done with no compositional loss.

  • avatar Ted Willcox

    Happy Birthday Jennifer, have a Beautiful Day!

  • avatar Sabrina

    Hi Artie, I agree with everyone else, sun coming over your left shoulder. Hard to pick this image apart because I love it! If I were to pick anything that might bug you it would be the same as what Jake said, shadowed part (slightly blue) of the wing in the left hand corner. Thanks for always making us think!

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Hi Sabrina, You are most welcome and thanks for your kind words.

      with love, artie

  • avatar Frank Sheets

    My guess, over your left shoulder. Jake makes a good point about the shadow on the lower left wing. I did not even see that. Nice catch.

    Was this bird below you with the cove south cliffs as the background. Love that backgrounds perspective in this image.

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Yes on the BKGR. No need to guess; note the shadow on the crest to our right …

      with love, artie

  • avatar Elinor Osborn

    Light over left shoulder. Agree with Jake on the little shadow in lower left corner

  • avatar David Policansky

    Artie: Maimonides (the ancient Jewish scholar who wrote the perplexing “Guide for the Perplexed”) is an interesting name for a hospital. Anyway, happy birthday to Jennifer. The sun was over your left shoulder judging from the lighting on the bird’s bill and breast. I’m guessing what bothers you about the image is the wing in the lower left of the image (if that’s what it is). I don’t love it.

    • avatar David Policansky

      By the way, I love blackgrounds and the coinage. As you know, I like to photograph flying hummingbirds in the sun against the blackground of a deeply shaded portal at our house in New Mexico.

  • Hi Artie,
    Light must be over the left shoulder and the off centre pupil of the right eye might be your dislike!!?
    All the best,

  • avatar Rob Stambaugh

    The bird looks side-lit, almost slightly back-lit, with the sun more hitting your left ear than coming over your left shoulder (though that wasn’t one of the answer choices.)

    Agree with Jack on what bugs. Especially to the left of the bill, it’s hard to tell whether that’s neck or background. The latter is otherwise beautifully dramatic, by the way (a cliff, I presume?).

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Me thinks that you did not understand Jake’s comment … Also, see my reply to Jack Nevitt below.

      with love, artie

  • avatar Andy Gregory

    Sun over left shoulder and you don’t like the wing on the left as it spoils the symmetry of the image.

  • avatar Tom Kreulen

    Thom Hogan has great guides for Nikon cameras – almost TMI. Answers all the questions and more.

  • I agree with light over left shoulder, but you don’t like how the black neck is “blending” into the dark background.

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Actually, only a sliver of the dark brown hind neck would be visible, that behind the crown. And that does not bother me in the least (but I thought that it would until I lightened the image to check …

      with love, artie

  • avatar Bob DeCroce

    Ah, Jake always up early! I second Jake’s comments exactly.

  • avatar Jake

    Hi Artie,
    I love the dramatic ‘blackground’. The sun was coming over your left shoulder. My guess would be that the thing you don’t like about the image is the shadowed part of the wing in the left hand lower corner of the image.