Blackdrops … « Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

Blackdrops ...


Wednesday was another cold day with fierce winds. In the morning, we headed down the coast to Nesseby to look for Little Stint. On the way, we saw several Rough-legged Hawks (Rough-legged Buzzards on this side of the Atlantic). Right off the bat I spotted a Little Stint, the first one I had seen since the one I saw at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge in Queens, New York in July 1983. This species is an extreme rarity in North America. But alas, it was — though we split up and tried for two hours — impossible to get anywhere near the birds. In the afternoon we headed back to the kittiwake colony at Ekkeroy.

The weather has been borderline brutal with gale force winds as strong as 9 kilometers per second (if I am understanding correctly). Where oh where is the arctic summer?

That’s Two

I was pleased to learn yesterday that Lyle Bown signed up for the 2019 San Diego IPT. That makes two.


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This image was created at Nesseby, Norway on June 6, 2018. I used the hand held Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 24-120mm f/4G ED VR lens (at 120mm) and the Nikon D850. ISO 800. Matrix metering minus 1 1/3 stops: 1/400 sec. at f/8. CLOUDY WB at 10:00am on a cloudy morning.

One to the right of the center AF point/D-9/Continuous (AI Servo in Canon)/Shutter button AF was active at the moment of exposure. The selected AF point was on the gill plate just behind the fishes eye. Click on the image to see a larger version.

Focus peaking AF Fine-tune: +1. See the Nikon AF Fine-tune e-Guide here.

Blackdrops I

I found this well preserved fish carcass (ID welcome) on a photo walk behind our hotel in Vadso. I picked it up and put it in the pocket of the red parka I got on my first trip to the Southern Ocean in 2006. Could it be that long ago? Then I tossed it under the back seat of the van in hopes of remembering it when I spotted a pleasing background. That happened at Nesseby after two hours of bird photography during which time I created zero images. 🙂 That Amy had mentioned that she was getting tired of smelling the dead fish helped to motivate me. When I saw some patches of clean sand on the beach I walked to the van and grabbed the 24-120 and the fish carcass, placed the fish on the sand, figured the exposure, and created some images. All were pretty blah. On the way back to the van I noted the dark, mahogany-colored seaweed, placed the fish on that, and made some more images. The looked amazing on the back of the camera and pretty neat on the laptop as well.

The key to the success of this image was a result of the really, really dark background.

It was so windy as I was making the images that it was hard to get a solid stance, and when I looked down to try to frame the image, my eyes watered so badly that the fish looked totally out-of-focus. That forced me to rely completely on the AF system. This worked out quite well though the framing was a challenge. With images like these I always struggle with how much if at all to angle the subject in the frame …

This image was created at Ekkeroy, Norway on June 6, 2018. I used the hand held Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR lens (at 400mm) with the Nikon D850. ISO 1000. Matrix metering plus 1 2/3 stops off the grey sky was about -1 stop as framed: 1250 sec. at f/6.3. CLOUDY WB at 10:00am on a cloudy morning.

Center Group (grp)/Continuous (AI Servo in Canon)/Shutter button AF was active at the moment of exposure. The array was centered on bird’s back just behind and to the left of it’s head.

Focus peaking AF Fine-tune: +5. See the Nikon AF Fine-tune e-Guide here.

Blackdrops II

With the west wind and a faint sun in the western sky, I thought that we might do well at Ekkeroy by taking the high road at the top of the cliff so that we would be looking down on the kittiwake colony and on the birds in flight. On our first visit we photographed from the beach. Things worked out quite well and we did not get blown off the cliff.

The dramatic black background here was a conscious choice. I’d follow the birds as they turned and glided in the wind until they were set against a single large, dark, seaweed covered rock shelf. You had to be quick because as they angled in toward the cliff they would soon disappear behind the top of the cliff. Understandably, we did not want to get too close to the edge.

Surprisingly both Amy (D500 and 200-500 with back button focus) and Anita (D850 and 200-500 and shutter button AF) were having trouble acquiring and maintaining focus. I had little trouble doing that with the 80-400 VR/D850 combo. If the birds are close, I much prefer the 80-400 over the 200-500 as it is much lighter (3.45 lbs. for the 80-400 vs. 4.6 lbs. for the 2-5). Conditions were extremely tough because of the high winds and the birds’ erratic flight. It is hard to believe how much lighter the 80-400 seems to be considering that the difference in weight is only a bit more than one pound. But in addition to the lighter weight of the 80-400, its smaller size and bulk makes it easier to handle in the wind. To that end I removed the lens hood that can act like a sail in the wind. I also recommend removing the tripod collar from the 80-400 and the 200-500 when you know you will be hand holding to minimize the weight. For me, every ounce matters.

Summing Up

Black backgrounds can offer work quite well for nature photographers so be on the lookout for them!

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9 comments to Blackdrops …

  • avatar Glen

    I love the lumpsucker photo AM. When I read it the first time I thought you had been carrying it around in your parka pocket since 2006? That is a well preserved fish! But no, just the parka (right?). Those 9km per second Norwegian winds must be tough, but no need to worry about the lens shade. Or the camera, or the photographer. They will be long gone. Those Vikings were a tough lot, stay well!

  • avatar David Policansky

    Hi, Artie. I agree, lumpsucker, Cyclopterus lumpus. 9 kilometers per second is around 20,000 miles per hour. I’d call that beyond borderline brutal. But whatever the wind speed really was, it seems brutal enough, which I’m sorry to hear. I love dark backgrounds.

  • avatar Guido Bee

    Probably 9 meters per second, which is just over 20 (statute) miles / hour.
    9 km/sec is between orbital and escape velocities, but that might explain why the birds are hard to find 🙂
    Hope the weather improves for you all. All the best.

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Hey, I was just quoting the hotel manager 🙂 But the winds have been averaging a lot more than 20mph, more like 34mph with higher gusts.

      with love, artie

  • avatar Doug

    I never imagined a pound of weight would make such a difference in getting AF lock. Taking off the lens hood in windy conditions is a great tip. Sure wish Canon would release the 600mm DO F4. Thanks, Artie.

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      1+ pounds plus the size and bulk of the 2-5 make it much more difficult for many folks to hand hold, that may include the elderly, the injured, and some women. For me that is two out of three 🙂 And when it harder to keep the bird in the frame it is harder to acquire and maintain AF.

      with love, artie

  • avatar Rich Steel

    Fish looks like a Lumpsucker.

    Hope weather improves for you all, it can be brutal at times there

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Thanks Rich, We did get on some feeding Ruffs yesterday thanks to Amy …

      with love, artie