To Sit or Not to Sit? Why Would a Grown Man Sit Down in a Foot of Saltwater and Muck? « Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

To Sit or Not to Sit? Why Would a Grown Man Sit Down in a Foot of Saltwater and Muck?


I am just about finished editing Dr. Cliff Oliver’s iPhone e-guide. And I just began editing Andrew McLachlan’s amazing frog and toad photography e-Guide. And on the distant horizon, I am planning to write a Nikon D850/D5 Camera Body e-Guide.

I will post the original Royal Tern starting dive image tomorrow.

I received my very own Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 500mm f/5.6E PF ED VR lens from Steve Elkins at Bedford Camera as I was walking out the door to head for Thanksgiving on Long Island. If it turns out to be cloudy this afternoon I will do my focus fine-tuning outdoors with the lighting set-up. I will need to do six micro-adjustments: the 500 with my two D850 bodies and my D5, and then again all three bodies with my back-up TC-E14. I will share the results with you here soon. Followed I hope with lots of great images.

DeSoto Early Winter IPT News

Because both folks who have signed up for this IPT have expressed an interest in learning to micro-adjust their gear, I will be bringing my LensAlign unit and all of the lighting gear. Do consider joining us if you would like to do the same. Scroll down here for details.


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Selling your used (or like-new) photo gear through the BAA Blog 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 went out of business. And e-Bay fees are now up to 13%. The minimum item price here is $500 (or less for a $25 fee). If you are interested please scroll down here or shoot us an e-mail with the words Items for Sale Info Request cut and pasted into the Subject line :). Stuff that is priced fairly — I offer pricing advice to those who agree to the terms — usually sells in no time flat. Over the past year, we have sold many dozens of items. Do know that prices on some items like the EOS-1D Mark IV, the old Canon 100-400, the old 500mm, the EOS-7D and 7D Mark II and the original 400mm DO lens have been dropping steadily. You can always see the current listings by clicking here or on the Used Photo Gear tab on the orange-yellow menu bar near the top of each blog post page.

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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. Steve currently has several D850s in stock along with a Nikon 600mm f/4 VR. He is taking pre-orders for the new Nikon 500 P and the Nikon Z6 mirrorless camera body.

Gear Questions and Advice

Too many folks attending BAA IPTs and dozens of photographers 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 on the morning of September 27, 2018 on the Fort DeSoto Fall IPT. I used the Induro GIT 304L/Mongoose M3.6-mounted Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 600mm f/4G ED VR AF lens and my souped up Nikon D850. ISO 400. Matrix metering at about +1/3 stop: 1/2500 sec. at f/7.1 in Manual Mode. NATURAL AUTO WB at 8:08am on a dead-clear morning.

Center Group AF. The array barely caught a bit of the bird’s back. Nikon Focus Peaking fine-tune was a significant +6. See the Nikon AF Fine-tune e-Guide here.

One to the right of center/Group (grp)/Shutter Button/Continuous (AI Servo with Canon) AF as framed was active at the moment of exposure. The array was centered on the bottom of the base of the bird’s neck.

Image #1: Roseate Spoonbill foraging — standing at full height behind my tripod

The Situation

Just after sunrise on the last morning of the Fort DeSoto Fall IPT we were blessed when a flock of six spoonbills flew in and landed right in front of us. To get on sun angle required that we wade across some mucky bottom while circling well around the birds. As always, I used my tripod as a walking stick placing it well ahead of me while advancing slowly and taking small steps. I make sure with each step that the tripod is firmly placed on the soft bottom with the legs fully spread. That way, if I lose my balance I can almost always regain it by grabbing the tripod just below the Mongoose. Though I have never fallen using this technique, If I did, I would let go of the tripod so that I was the only thing to get wet. Once in position – it took a few minutes for Ed Dow to catch up with me — I began photographing from a standing position, knowing all the while that getting lower was the right move. But as kneeling is not something that I can do without aggravating my left knee, and though sitting get you lower than kneeling anyway, I resisted the urge. For a while.

This image was created on the morning of September 27, 2018 on the Fort DeSoto Fall IPT. I used the Induro GIT 304L/Mongoose M3.6-mounted Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 600mm f/4G ED VR AF lens and my souped up Nikon D850. ISO 400. Matrix metering at about +1/3 stop: 1/2500 sec. at f/8 in Manual Mode. NATURAL AUTO WB at 8:19am on a dead-clear morning.

One down and one to the right of center/Group (grp)/Shutter Button/Continuous (AI Servo with Canon) AF as framed was active at the moment of exposure. The array was centered on the bottom of the base of the bird’s neck.

Nikon Focus Peaking fine-tune was a significant +5. See the Nikon AF Fine-tune e-Guide here.

Image #2: Roseate Spoonbill foraging — seated behind my lowered tripod

To Sit or Not to Sit?

When standing you obviously stay a lot drier than when sitting down in the water. There is far less danger of dunking your gear. It is easier to follow the birds as they are foraging and if more birds fly in you at least have a chance at photographing the incoming birds. (I am not too good with seated flight photography off the tripod …) Lastly, if the birds move well off sun angle it is easy to move along with the flock.

The huge advantage of sitting (and of getting lower in general) is that your images will have a far more intimate look and 99 times out of 100 — all things being equal — your backgrounds will be a lot sweeter and well out of focus. When you get low you are effectively moving the background farther from the subject. Getting to the seated position is, however, somewhat of a hassle. First you need to shorten all three tripod legs. Then you need to choose your spot carefully. Though the tide was coming in, some areas of water were cluttered with floating debris (see Image #1), while other areas were pretty much clean (see Image #2). I lined the sun angle up with an area of clean water, sat down as gracefully as possible while holding onto the firmly seated tripod for support, wriggled my butt into position behind my rig, and waited for the foraging birds to move into the cleanest water right down sun angle. (Moving in any direction while seated and keeping your hands dry is pretty much impossible.) Once I got settled, I did not have to wait long. My biggest problem was that some of the birds were coming much too close.

It was a total thrill to be seated in the warm saltwater with half a dozen gorgeous spoonbills foraging peacefully right in front of me; pink birds and blue water!. Near the end of the session I added the 1.4X TC-E to the mix and tried to create some tight head portraits; that was difficult at best. (The TC had been in the fanny pack that I had draped around my neck for safe-keeping.) As the tide continued to rise the birds, sensing that the water was getting a bit too deep, all took flight and headed southeast for regions unknown. All in all I created about 400 images. Most of the ones that I kept were made while I was seated.

Keeping Your Hands Dry

Keeping your hands dry is a big challenge when getting down and then up. I once trashed a 5D IV by carelessly touching the camera right after I had had my hands in the salt water … Use your tripod for support but be sure not to put your full weight on the center of a single leg section as carbon fiber is strong but brittle. Instead, grab the tripod near the tripod platform.

Be Careful Getting Up!

As above, the trick to getting up is to resist the urge to put all of your weight the center of a single tripod leg for support. Can you say “snap”? If you are sure that a session has come to an end, you can get place one hand on the bottom to help you get up. Just be sure to dry that hand thoroughly before touching the camera.

Spoonbills and DeSoto IPTs

Over the years, virtually every DeSoto IPT group has had a least one good chance on Roseate Spoonbill. Is a close encountered guaranteed? Not by any means. But oftentimes we are so, so lucky that I think my late-wife Elaine is calling the shots from above …


Fort DeSoto in early winter is rife with tame birds. Click on the composite to enjoy a larger version.

Clockwise from upper left to center: Long-billed Curlew, Marbled Godwit, Caspian Tern, Great Egret, Sandwich Tern with fish, Willet, Black-bellied Plover threat display, Snowy Egret, 2-year old Yellow-Crowned Night-Heron, juvenile Yellow-Crowned Night-Heron.

The 2018 Fort DeSoto Early Winter IPT/Thursday December 7 through the morning session on Monday December 10, 2018: 3 1/2 DAYS: $1549. Limit 8/Openings: 6.

Fort DeSoto, located just south of St. Petersburg, FL, is a mecca for migrant shorebirds and terns in early winter. There they join hundreds of egrets, herons, night-herons, and gulls that winter on the T-shaped peninsula. 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, Tricolored Heron, and White Ibis are easy as well and we will almost surely come up with a tame Yellow-crowned Night-Heron or two. We may very well get to see and photograph the amazing heron/egret hybrid that has been present for three year. And we should get to do some Brown Pelican flight photography. In addition, 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 might well be expected. And we will be on the lookout for a migrant passerine fallout in the event of a thunderstorm or two.

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. Most importantly you will surely learn to evaluate wind and sky conditions and understand how they affect bird photography. 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.

As with the fall IPT, this one will run with only a single registrant. The best airport is Tampa (TPA). Once you register, you will receive an e-mail with the hotel information. Do know that it is always best if IPT folks stay in the same hotel (rather than at home or at a friend’s place).

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 eight 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, clothing, and gear advice. Please remember that the meet and greet will take place at 7:30 on the evening of Sunday, September 23. Please shoot me an e-mail if you plan to register or if you have any questions.


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 short in December. Click on the composite to enjoy a larger version.

Clockwise from upper left to center: Long-billed Curlew, juvenile Tricolored Heron, Marbled Godwits, Great Blue Heron, juvenile Pectoral Sandpiper, Wood Stork, smiling Sea Scallop, Ruddy Turnstone scavenging needlefish, Great Blue Heron sunset silhouette at my secret spot, and southbound migrant tern flock blur.

Early and Late

Getting up early and staying out late is pretty much a staple on all BIRDS AS ART Instructional Photo-Tours; on this particular trip we will get lots of sleep as the days are short. Being in the field well before the sun comes up and staying out until sunset will often present unique photographic opportunities, opportunities that will be missed by those who need their beauty rest. I really love it when I am leaving the beach on a sunny morning after a great session just as a carful or two of well-rested photographers arrive.

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6 comments to To Sit or Not to Sit? Why Would a Grown Man Sit Down in a Foot of Saltwater and Muck?

  • avatar Ed Dow

    Hi Artie,

    Norm Steffen? That sounds a lot like my story in the muck next to you!

    That’s OK, that was an amazing morning! For anyone contemplating the Fort Desoto trip, jump on it. I don’t think anybody knows that area like Artie. I was pretty much new to bird photography and he got me in positions like the one above to get so many shots that I treasure.

    I recall the good advice about salt water hands. Another word to the wise re: weather sealing…my 5DIV was used in a light rain for about 20 min. and failed. Anything more than a heavy mist now and I’m covering it. Fortunately Artie brought it back to life with a pillow case and hair dryer! Thanks Artie!

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Howdy Ed, I had the wrong year so yes, that was you. I have amended the text. And YAW. Most times the 5D IV will do just fine in a drizzle …

      with love, artie

      ps: YAW and thanks for your kind words.

  • Great images! Sitting is better. One day I’ll photograph a spoonbill besides the captive ones at Disney World. I wanted to thank you. I bought some gear recently from Bedford. They took good care of me. I never knew of them before reading your blog. Also, I used the BIRDSASART code and saved $50. Thanks!

  • avatar Kevin Gallagher In CT

    Hi Art,

    I love Spoonbills but don’t know that much about their habits or biology. These pics don’t appear to exhibit the beautiful pinkish color I associate with them. Is there a peak time of the year for the colors?

    Thanks Art!!

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      The bird in the photos is a likely a one-year old. The get a lot spiffier in breeding plumage. That happens in mid-winter in Florida. And that is why I plan the Spoonbill Boat IPT for mid-February:

    • The 2019 Hooptie Deux/Roseate Spoonbill Boat 3 1/2 DAY IPT — FEB 16 thru 19, 2019: $2599.00. Limit: 5 photographers/Openings: 2.
    • with love, artie