New Thinktank Products

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The Lens Case Duos are protective lens sleeves that can be used both when transporting your lenses in transit and while shooting.  They are available in a range of sizes to fit most DSLR and Mirrorless lenses.  Don’t forget that when you use these special URLs you will receive free gear and free shipping on all orders over $50.

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Photographers backup strategy

Backup, backup, backup – Photographers backup strategy

A Photographers Backup Strategy

How many copies of your precious images do you have, and, where are they located? All photographers should have a sound backup strategy for their images.

My biggest fear as a professional photographer is that a catastrophe of some description would result in the loss of a lifetime of work. So, over they years I have developed a backup, backup, backup strategy. That’s right, at any moment in time my images are always in at least three locations.

White-eared Puffbird (Nystalus chacuru), Mato Grosso, Brazil (Peter Llewellyn/Peter Llewellyn Photography)
White-eared Puffbird (Nystalus chacuru), Mato Grosso, Brazil – I have photographed the White-eared Puffbird, precisely once. My chances of photographing another are not good, so, to lose this image would indeed be a disaster

I was told by a computer technician many years ago to work on the principal that every hard drive in the world is going to fail, sooner or later. Over the years I have had several hard drives completely fail so, if that drive was the only location for my images it would truly have been a disaster.

Since beginning to work in digital format I have been through several different backup strategies including copying images to floppy disks (remember those!) Iomega drives, and CDs and DVDs. As the price of hard drives has dropped my backup strategy has evolved to be based around a hard drive system.

Everyone, amateur or professional, should follow a photographers backup strategy. Although below you will find a belt and braces method please adapt this to suit your own needs.

My backup strategy.

  • Images are copied from the camera memory card to the internal drive on my laptop, using Photomechanic’s ingest dialogue. IMPORTANT NOTE: Do not format your card at this point, your images are not yet safe. Format your memory cards only when they are in at least two location. You never know when a disaster is going to strike.
  • I proceed with culling images and then caption and keyword the keepers
  • Images are copied to my primary office storage device known as Images-Main. If I am travelling and have no access to my main drive files are immediately copied to a separate portable drive. Do not keep this drive in the same location as your computer. If one gets lost or stolen you will at least have a backup available of the images you have already taken. Immediately I return to the office the portable is copied to Images-Main
  • Although not directly a part of my backup strategy at this point the images are imported in Capture One 11 ready for further processing and preparation for various uses including submitting to my Agencies, putting on the web site, and my Instagram account. However, once images are processed the very best are uploaded to my Photoshelter account, which is certainly a part of my backup strategy
  • At 9.00am every day, seven days a week, the main drive is cloned onto an identical second drive called Images-1. To accomplish this I using a small utility, ChronoSync (available for Mac only) 
  • Every Monday the drive Images-1 is removed from the office and switched for another identical drive, Images-2. Not only is the drive removed from the office it’s removed from my house and stored in a secure location
  • Next Monday Images-2 is switched back for images-1 and so on

Replacing hard drives

When my three drives are nearing capacity they are retired and three identical new drives replace them. This happens around every 18 months to two years and until now it has been easy to simply replace with larger capacity drives. With 10 TB stand alone external drives now available this equals a huge amount of storage. I do not use a RAID system. Remember RAID is not a backup specially if it get stolen or irreparably damaged in a home or office catastrophe!

Summary

To re-cap, at any given moment in time all my images are on the drive Images-main. Additionally all images are on an identical cloned drive, Images-1 or Images-2. Whichever of Images-1 or -2 is not currently connected to the office system is stored in a location away from my office to mitigate a total disaster such as fire, flood or theft. At the very worst I can only completely lose a week’s worth of work. Although this would be difficult to accept it would not be the end of a lifetimes images.

Finally, all my first pick images are also uploaded to my Photoshelter account, which means they are safely stored in the cloud and can therefore also be recovered from there, with the added benefit that images are also available for my website galleries and clients.

I highly recommend Photoshelter as your cloud storage method. Photoshelter is built just for photographers rather than a ‘catch-all’ cloud storage method.

To receive a 14 day free trial and a $15 credit on your first Photoshelter subscription click here

Stop Iceland Whaling

Over 100 endangered fin whales have already been killed this year. – Help stop this senseless slaughter of our largest marine mammals, that are still being hunted in defiance of the 1986 International Whaling Commission’s moratorium. Join the stop Iceland whaling campaign.

Let’s promote eco-tourism to view these magnificent animals over the whale meat trade. The majority of Icelandic whale meat is exported to Japan, the leader in commercial whaling despite it’s contention that it is only killing whales for ‘scientific’ purposes. Much of this meat is then not consumed for years, remaining in frozen lockers. Surely this alone indicates that there is no demand for this product.

Please help the Sea Legacy campaign to stop the whale hunts by signing the petition at https://www.sealegacy.org/pages/iceland-whaling

Sea Legacy is supported by some of the world’s leading wildlife and nature photographers.

Exposure for white birds

Many people have great difficulty getting the correct exposure for all or mostly white birds, such as snowy egrets. It is vitally important to ensure that you retain detail in the brightest area of the feathers.  If these areas are ‘blown out’ no amount of work in post processing will help. It is all to easy, if relying on any automatic exposure mode, to overexpose your subject.

Any automatic exposure mode is going to inevitably result in an incorrect exposure. Your camera meter will try and render your subject an 18% grey. You need to ensure that whites are actually rendered white.

It is essential to understand how to read your histogram to ensure you achieve the correct exposure.

Snowy Egret (Egretta thula) searching for food among water hyacinths on Lake Chapala, Jocotopec, Jalisco, Mexico

Below the histogram for this image

Note that to correctly expose the bird, I have ensured that the brightest whites (the right end of the histogram) are well to the right but not actually touching the right hand edge. If the histogram goes right to the edge, or, even worse is blocked up against the edge then you have overexposed the image.

Do not rely on a visual inspection of the image on the back of your camera – it will not give a true representation of the actual exposure, especially if you are shooting in RAW – which you should be!

There is certainly more than one way to achieve a correct exposure.  The two that I generally employ are:

  1. Use Aperture priority automatic, check the histogram on the back of the camera and then dial in + or – exposure to bring the histogram to the required levels. I generally find that a value of +2/3 EV is close to correct on my Nikon bodies.
  2. Take an image, check the histogram, then set exposure manually.

Method one works when there is a constantly changing light or I am shooting in several different directions because of movement of the birds.

Method two is employed when the light is remaining constant and I am consistency shooting in the same direction and the birds movements are causing the subject to appear at different sizes in the frame.

To aid in quickly visualizing hot spots, i.e. overexposed areas, turn on the highlight exposure warning if your camera has this setting, otherwise known as the ‘blinkies’. Overexposed areas will then be highlighted and flash on and off giving a clear indication of areas that retain no detail.

Great Egret (Ardea alba) in breeding plumage courtship dispaly while perched in a tree at edge of Lake Chapala, Jocotopec, Jalisco, Mexico (Peter Llewellyn)
Great Egret (Ardea alba) in breeding plumage courtship dispaly while perched in a tree at edge of Lake Chapala, Jocotopec, Jalisco, Mexico

Nikon D3s, Nikon 500mm f4 lens, 1/1600th @ f8, exposure set manually

 

New images August

August has been a quiet month for me photographically as I have been working on a couple of other projects.

However, I have been out a few times so below is a small slide show of some of my latest images.


You can also search the stock photo library by entering keywords in the search box below.

 




New images for July

Many new images have been added to the online database during July. In fact, new images are uploaded every few days.

Female Bronzed Cowbird (Molothrus aeneus) perched in a tree, Alan Lloyd trail, Ajijic, Jalisco, Mexico (Peter Llewellyn)
Female Bronzed Cowbird (Molothrus aeneus) perched in a tree, Alan Lloyd trail, Ajijic, Jalisco, Mexico

Nikon D3s, Nikon 500mm f4 + TC14 converter (700mm), 1/1000th @ f5.6, ISO 320, Gitzo Tripod with Arca Swiss Head

Western Kingbird (Tyrannus verticalis) perched in a tree, Alan Lloyd trail, Ajijic, Jalisco, Mexico (Peter Llewellyn)
Western Kingbird (Tyrannus verticalis) perched in a tree, Alan Lloyd trail, Ajijic, Jalisco, Mexico 

Nikon D3s, Nikon 500mm f4 + TC14 converter (700mm), 1/800th @ f5.6, ISO 320, Gitzo Tripod with Arca Swiss Head 

Keep up with images as I work on them, some old, some new by following my Instagram account 

To view more images enter keywords in the search box below




 

Lightning

A couple of nights ago I was treated to a huge electrical storm over Lake Chapala, Mexico. No rain, no thunder, just lightning. This went on for well over an hour presenting a great opportunity to capture some dramatic lightning images.

Safety first

First however, a word of warning, if you are venturing out to shoot lightning pictures remember that lightning is dangerous. Stay inside a building or vehicle and definitely stay away from tall trees, water, and any other tall object that can act as a conductor. All the images in this article were taken from the covered deck of my home, around 600′ above the lake.

Equipment

To successfully shoot lightning images you need a camera that can be set to manual exposure, and a sturdy tripod and preferably a cable release. You are going to be using long shutter speeds so it is essential that there is no movement whatsoever of the camera. Lens choice will depend on the location of the storm but generally wider angle lenses will work best.

Lightning storm at night over Lake Chapala San Juan Cosala, Jalisco, Mexico (Peter Llewellyn)

Nikon D3s, 24-70mm f2.8 lens @ 35mm, 10 sec at f8 set manually, Gitzo carbon fibre tripod with Arca Swiss ball head

Set up your camera and lens on the tripod and focus manually to infinity. It’s best to turn autofocus off so the lens does not hunt for a focus point in the dark. . You need to include some foreground elements to add interest and in the shot above I am fortunate to have the village of San Juan Cosala with it’s lights. This did however present a slightly tricky lighting balance as too long an exposure  would simply blow out the lights of the village into one big glare.

You need to experiment with your exposures – the shutter needs to be open long enough to capture one of more bolts of lightning. Take lots of shots, some will work and some won’t and it is, to a great extent a matter of luck. Vary your exposures until you find one that works. Review images on the LCD screen as lightning varies tremendously in the level of brightness.

It is also, to some extent, possible to anticipate the next bolts of lightning as there are often fairly regular intervals between strikes. But, your shutter must already be open when lightning occurs, if you try and take the image as you see the lightning you will be too late.

Lightning storm at night over Lake Chapala San Juan Cosala, Jalisco, Mexico (Peter Llewellyn)
Lightning storm at night over Lake Chapala looking toward Jocotopec village, Jalisco, Mexico (Peter Llewellyn)

Nikon D3s, 24-70mm f2.8 lens @ 48 mm, 3 sec at f2.8 set manually, ISO 200. Gitzo carbon fibre tripod with Arca Swiss ball head. This image shows both cloud to cloud lightning and bolt lightning

Noise reduction

Long exposures inevitably mean an increase in the noise in the image file. My Nikon camera have built-in processing for long exposure noise reduction. This captures a ‘dark frame’ using the same exposure as the original image immediately after the original is captures. The camera software then uses this dark frame to find and remove ‘hot pixels from the original. Very technical, but it works. If you have it turn it on! The downside is that if for example you are shooting a 30 second exposure the processing takes another 30 seconds during which you cannot take another image.

In addition to the above I also process long exposure images through NIK filters Dfine which further reduces noise. (See NIK filters are back in business)

Lightning storm over lightpainted palm trees, Matehuala, San Luis Potosí, Mexico. (Peter Llewellyn)
Lightning storm over lightpainted palm trees, Matehuala, San Luis Potosí, Mexico.

Nikon D3s, 24-70mm f2.8 lens @ 24 mm, 30 sec at f11, set manually ISO 160. Gitzo carbon fibre tripod with Arca Swiss ball head. This image shows both cloud to cloud lightning and bolt lightning

In the above image I have used a 2 million candlepower flashlight to ‘paint’ the trees and add interest to the foreground, around 15 seconds of paining on each tree.

To view more weather related images enter keywords in the search box below




 

NIK filters are back in business

I have used the Nik filters software package to enhance some images since it was a $150 package. It is in fact, the only image processing plugin that I use in addition to my regular workflow software, Capture One Pro 11 and Adobe Photoshop.

The package was acquired by Google in 2012 who made it  free but then subsequently abandoned any further development in 2017. The ultimate effect of this was that as Photoshop and Lightroom were updated, incompatibilities started to creep in, leading to software crashes and general instability, much to the concern of regular users.

I had all but given up hope of continuing to use the Nik filters collection suite when suddenly, imaging software company DxO announced they had acquired Nik and had produced a major update. This resulted in full compatibility with Photoshop, Lightroom and Apple OS operating system.

Nik is no longer free, with DxO charging just $69 for this very powerful product – (was on offer for $50 until July 1). Actually great value considering you get a total of seven creative plugins – most of which I use at different times.

Analog Efex Pro

Create a range of effects emulating both creative wet darkroom techniques and/or the look produced by  various camera and film combinations. The least used of the plugins in my personal situation.

Color Efex Pro

This is the filter I use most. It includes options for color corrections, retouching,  extracting fine detail and contrast corrections. In my opinion this filter, along with Viveza and Sharpener is worth the price alone.

Setting the Control point so that just the hummingbird is selected.

In this image I have added two filter effects to the original image. First I have selected color extractor followed by a Pro-contrast adjustment. As this is a regular combination for me I have also saved this setting as a ‘Recipe’ that I can quickly add to other images. As I still want to ensure the bird stands out from the background I have set a control point for each filter and adjusted the circle to just encompass the bird leaving the background pixels unaffected.

Please note that the image sliders are not working in the latest version of WordPress. We are working on a fix for this.

Use the slider to see before and after using filter

CAUTION – This filter is extremely powerful and it’s very easy to overdue it’s use creating an artificial look to your image. The effect should be subtle!

Silver Efex Pro

Now, the only method I use to convert images to black-and-white. A huge range of controls available including presets emulating the effects of traditional camera filters for mono photography, tonal and contrast corrections, and dynamic range adjustments. In fact just about everything I could previously achieve in a traditional wet process darkroom but with a great deal more control.

Adjustments using Silver Efex Pro

Use the slider to see before and after using filter

For this conversion I first chose the High Contrast preset that added some refinements of my own by increasing the brightness slightly and reducing the contrast.

Viveza

Need to selectively adjust color or tone in just a part of your images? Achieve enhancements exactly where you need them which blend beautifully with the rest of the image without creating complicated masks. Achieved using Upoint technology (see below) which is also available to apply selective adjustments to other filters within the suite.

Image being adjusted using Viveza

I used two control points, one to lighten the spider and one to brighten the white background. The whole process took less that one minute without having to mask a single thing.

Using Nik filters Viveza 1

Use the slider to see before and after using filter

HDR Efex Pro

Create a range of HDR (High Dynamic Range) effects, adjusting tonality, opening shadows and enhancing saturation. I usually run through the presets to find the one that most closely resembles the effect I am seeking  and then make adjustments to fine tune the image.

Use the slider to see before and after using filter

I opened the image in HDR Efex and quickly scanned through the pre-sets before choosing Graduated 1 HDR Efex can also be used to combine several images taken at different exposures into an HDR iage

Sharpener Pro

Whilst Photoshop and Capture One have some fine sharpening tools in my opinion this filter is far superior. First, you have the ability to pre-select sharpening based on the final use of the image – inkjet printer, screen, continuous tone printer etc. Further, you can easily apply selective sharpening to different parts of the image.

The sharpener dialogue box

Dfine

The best noise reduction package I have found. Dfine has built-in profiles, customized to different cameras and ISO settings, which applies the reduction only to noise elements of the file so that details are not lost. Although modern cameras are themselves, extremely good at reducing noise at high ISO settings I find myself often using Dfine on older images shot with older, less adept cameras.

Here Dfine is automatically selecting the right profile for the camera/ISO combination used

The workflow

My usual workflow when using the Nik suite is the following – note that of course not every stage of this flow is used on every image, it depends entirely on the image at hand and the desired final effect.

  1. Apply noise reduction – never user Dfine after final sharpening of an image as you may soften the sharpening effect you are aiming for
  2. Control specific areas of the image that need contrast or brightness adjustments using Viveza
  3. Apply tonal and detail enhancements in Color Efex Pro (Note this is actually the starting point for many of my images)
  4. Convert to black and white if desired using Silver Efex Pro
  5. Sharpen the image for the desired output using Sharpener Pro – I only use this step when an image is being prepared for final output and sharpening is applied according to the use of the image. Always size your image before applying sharpening as different degrees of sharpen are required for different output sizes, even of the same image.

On occasions when I want to produce an HDR image I will use HDR Efex Pro immediately after using Dfine (if noise reduction is necessary.)

Upoint Technology

Upoint technology uses selection points to select and modify a specific part of your image. As you click on a specific point the ‘masking effect’ will automatically select similar colours within the selected area (see the sliders on the tarantula image) The first slider controls the size of the circle of influence, with lower sliders creating the desired effects

Using Nik with Capture One 11

Although the Nik collection is designed to integrate with Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom you may know that I have recently moved from Lightroom to Capture One Pro 11 as my primary Raw conversion and databasing program – see https://peterllewellyn.com/new-workflow/

It is in fact extremely easy to ’round trip’ an image from Capture One into the Nik filters and save back to a new version in Capture One. Simple select File/Edit with (or right click the thumbnail and select Edit with) and a pop-up window asks what program you wish to use for your editing. Select the desired Nik filter and afterwards save your image which will automatically be added to the Capture One catalog.

Nik filters in Capture One 11
Capture One 11 Edit with dialog box

The downside of this method is that you have to re-open the image and save it multiple times if using more than one filter

If I intend to use more than one of the Nik filters it is much more convenient to open the image in Photoshop then use the multiple filters in sequence before saving a single time.

Download a fully functioning 30 day trial at https://nikcollection.dxo.com and try this amazing product for yourself.

Search the image database by entering keywords below




 

Creating ‘movement’ in a still image

Generally my ‘how to’ articles have concentrated on obtaining the sharpest images possible. That’s great, up-to-a-point, as the majority of my published images need to fit exactly that criteria. But, after you have captured all the usual images of your subject showing it in all it’s pin sharp glory, it’s time to look beyond the norm and start getting more creative.

In a follow-on from my previous blog where I started to look at the similarities between sports and wildlife photography, the techniques used for movement blurs in both subjects are identical.

Movement blur is simply allowing your camera shutter to remain open long enough to allow movement of your subject (or of the camera) to register on the sensor.

Track cycling
Milton International Challenge, Cisco PanAm Velodrome, Track Cycling International – Mens Omnium Points event

Nikon D3s, 16mm f2.8 fisheye lens hand held, 1/6oth @ f8 ISO 640 Note that by keeping the nearest cyclist centred in frame he remains quite sharp while all the other competitors are blurred

Let’s look at some of the methods to induce that sense of movement into your still images.

Creative blurs using long exposure with subject moving

There are effectively two methods you can use with a long exposure technique, keeping the camera still while the subject moves, or moving the camera (panning) whilst keeping the subject centred in the frame – or you can combine the two.

Pantaneiro cowboys working cattl
Pantaneiro cowboys working cattle, The Pantanal, Mato Grosso, Brazil

Nikon D3 with 80-200mm f 2.8 lens @ 80mm hand held, 1/30th sec @ f22 ISO 200 – Here I have used both a slow shutter speed and a panning action. The slow shutter produced the movement in the subject, the panning the movement in the background

This is perhaps the most common technique to induce deliberate blur where the photographer choses a shutter speed sufficient to render a recognizable subject but, at the same time, the shutter is open long enough for movement to register on the image. The trick is in choosing what stutter speed to use and for this you need first to assess how quickly your subject is moving. Obviously a formula one race car move quicker than a galloping horse which in turn is quicker than grass stems being blown in the wind.

 

Pronghorn Antelope
Pronghorn Antelope (Antilocapra americana), Sand Wash Basin, Colorado, USA

Nikon D3, 200-400mm f4 lens @ 360mm, 1/125th sec @ f16, ISO 200 In this image I have used a relatively fast shutter speed but the foreground blur imparts a great sense of movement. This was shot through a vehicle window whilst travelling at around 50 mph (80 kph)! The Pronghorn is renowned as the fastest land animal in the Americas.

If you are using a long shutter speed to capture movement, for example moving water, it is absolutely essential to lock the camera down on a solid tripod. The long exposure will exacerbate any camera movement. To ensure there is no camera shake it is best to either use a cable release or to lock the mirror up and use the camera’s self timer to trigger the shot.

Waterfall, Brazil
Waterfall, Chapada National Park, , Mato Grosso, Brazil

Nikon D3, 20-35mm f2.8 @ 35mm, 1/15 sec @ f22 ISO 100. Gitzo carbon fibre tripod, Arca Swiss ball head

What shutter speed?

So, what shutter speed do you need to create motion blur – the answer is ‘it depends’. If the speed is too short you still end up freezing the subject or it has minimal blur which just doesn’t work well. If too long then the subject itself becomes too blurry to be recognizable for what it is. Other factors will also come into play such as the angle your subject is moving. Is it toward you , diagonal, away etc. each of which causes a different apparent speed of motion. Are you, the photographer standing still or are you moving i.e. in a vehicle?

Note that, the further away you are from your subject, the easier it is to pan and follow, keeping the subject in the same location in the viewfinder.  The plain fact is you need to experiment a little for each subject you shoot – exactly what that little screen on the back of the camera is for!

However here are some starting points:

  • Birds in flight to create some wing blur – 1/125 sec
  • Panned action for cars, cyclists, and animals at full gallop – 1/30 sec
  • Sports action featuring people, basketball, athletes etc. 1/60 sec

Remember that these are just indicators, you will still need to experiment for yourself.

I am not including star trails etc as this is a whole other subject. Similarly I am not going into rear curtain flash – I will again write about this in a separate article.

Long exposure while moving the camera

The second common method of creating movement blur is when the subject is still (or relatively so) but you deliberately move the camera during the exposure.

Koi carp
Koi carp in pond, Nan Lian Garden, Kowloon, Hong Kong

Nikon D3, 105mm f2.8 Micro lens, 1/8sec @ f32, ISO 100. Here I have used a twisting motion to rotate the camera and lens whilst taking the photo. Note how the fish near the centre are rendered relatively still whilst the further you look to the outside of the frame there is increased blur.

There is a huge range of movement you can introduce, rotation, up and down , side-to-side each of which will introduce a different blur effect. Also experiment with the same movement and different shutter speeds to find which works best.

Exposure

As creative blurs require longer exposures than normal you need to take care with not to overexpose your photos. In general keep the ISO settings as low as possible and use small aperture to allow for longer shutter speeds without over-exposing. On bright sunny days even then you may not be able to set a long enough shutter speed to achieve the desired effect. This is where the use of a neutral density filter comes into it’s own. Neutral density filters cut the amount of light coming through the lens without altering the colours. These are available in a range of density settings but I recommend owning having one of the darkest, perhaps a -6 stop. This way you can always open the aperture or raise the ISO if you need a slightly faster shutter speed. If you don’t have a dark enough ND filter you have fewer options to slow the shutter down.

Long-track speed skating
World Single Distance Speed Skating Championships, Richmond Olympic Oval BC, Canada, Mens 10,000m, Hiroki Hirako (JAP)

Nikon D3s, 20-35mm f2.8 lens @20mm hand held, 1/30 sec @ f4, ISO 200. Here due to the light levels it was not necessary to use a small aperture to achieve the desired slow shutter speed.

Sensor dust

Here, a word of warning. Your sensor must be scrupulously clean when taking long exposures. Almost invariably you will be using small apertures which have the effect of sharply focussing every tiny scrap of dust on the sensor. If I know I am going to be taking long exposure shots I will always clean ny camera sensors before going out.

To see more creative blurs search the online archive by entering keywords in the search box below.




Turkey vulture

Photographing birds in flight

Several times I have been asked how it is that my long-time career as a sports photographer gels with the wildlife and nature work I now mostly shoot. The fact is that there are a great many similarities. 

First let’s look at the equipment…  Pretty much identical, rapid-focus cameras using large telephoto lenses.

Second… similar techniques, long periods of waiting around with not much happening while trying to maintain a high level of concentration so you don’t miss the decisive moment!

Birds in flight - Great Blue Heron
Great Blue Heron Ardea herodias bringing a stick to nesting mate Arthur R Marshall National Wildlife Reserve Loxahatchee Florida

Nikon D2x, 600mm f4 lens, mounted on a Gitzo tripod with Wimberley head, 1/3200th sec ISO 200 @ f5.6. You can certainly shoot low slowly flying birds from a tripod but it’s much harder to acquire focus and stay locked on than with hand holding. Here, as I was still shooting with a D2 series camera  that does not handle high ISO settings as well as more modern cameras, I have opted for a larger aperture than I would choose today.

One area of wildlife photography where all the above is particularly true is in capturing images of birds in flight. Often fast moving, unpredictable, with difficult lighting, much the same as with so many sports events.

My preferred lens for in-flight photography is the Nikon 500mm f4, either with or without the TC-14 1.4x converter, and occasionally the 200-400 f4, more often than not hand held with image stabilization turned on, depending on the size of bird I am working with and the distances involved. I never use the converter on the 200-400, which slows down autofocus to an unacceptable level. This technique results in more ‘keepers’ than using the 600mm f4 on a tripod with a gimbal head. The 600mm is just way too heavy to hand hold, at least for me, not being a muscle-bound body builder!

Camera settings

Just like photographing high-speed sport it’s essential to set your camera effectively to freeze the action (unless of course you are going for intentional blur, but that’s a whole other subject – coming soon!) I never let my shutter speed drop below 1/2000th sec, adjusting my ISO settings to ensure that I stay at this speed or above. Remember, birds can be very high-speed subjects, often cruising at 30 mph, and can reach enormous speeds of 60 mph or more when diving or hunting. I will generally stop my lens down to around f8 to give a good depth of field and also because this is the ‘sweet spot’ on my 500mm producing the sharpest corner to corner images. Unlike sport and ground-based wildlife subjects – where I will often use my telephotos wide open (largest aperture) to limit depth of field and isolate my subject from the background – this is rarely necessary with in-flight photography as, in the majority of cases, your subject is against the sky or is already distanced from any discernible background.

Birds in flight - Great Egret
Great Egret (Ardea alba) in flight over Lake Chapala, Jocotopec, Jalisco, Mexico

Nikon D3s, 500mm f4 lens hand held, 1/2500th @ f8, ISO 800. Look for the unusual bit of action such as when this bird dips his toes into the lake.. 

With my Nikon bodies I use continuous autofocus, AF/C (AI Servo on Canon) and select 9-point autofocus when photographing single birds, or 51-point 3D-tracking when shooting more than a single bird. I always use the highest frame-per-second rate possible and, like capturing sporting action, will often shoot in short bursts.

Shooting birds in flight I almost always use manual exposure, unlike sport where my preferred method is aperture priority. Primarily, in sport, I generally aim to keep my subject isolated from the backgrounds which, most of the time, are fairly constantly lit. With in-flight photography, backgrounds can constantly change as you continue to shoot; i.e. the birds move from blue sky to white cloud, or from a dark vegetation background to a more open area, and it’s really important that the exposure is based on the bird and not on the background. To set my exposure I get in position and shoot a few test shots ensuring my minimum 1/2000th sec is achieved, checking my histogram, and adjusting my shutter speed and ISO to move the histogram to the right without it actually touching the right-hand edge and blowing out highlights. It is essential to keep detail in the brightest, often white, part of your subjects.

For white balance I invariably just leave the setting at auto. As I shoot 100% in RAW format, I can always change the white balance in post production, if I need to – which is rarely. I find it all too easy when manually setting a white balance to forget I’ve done so and end up with extra work on a whole bunch of photos.

Technique for birds in flight

Even though my Nikon lenses autofocus extremely rapidly, you often have little time to acquire sharp focus as a subject might suddenly appear. To ensure the most rapid focus I will, if at all possible, find a subject that is at approximately the same distance as I predict my subjects might appear and pre-focus on that. This means that when a bird appears in the right zone my lenses have little work to do in locking on to the bird and I find I am shooting sharp images way earlier. I always use the rear focus button on the camera and not the half-depressed shutter button, as I like to decide when the cameras actually focus on the subject… Another throwback to how I shoot sport.

If you can, keep your selected autofocus points on the eye of the bird, which is easier with large birds than with rapidly moving, smaller subjects. When photographing more than one in-flight bird, ensure that your focus points are on the leading bird, because if the leader is ‘soft’ and the following bird(s) is sharp, it produces a very strange look.

Birds in flight - American White Pelican
American White Pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) flying above of Lake Chapala, Jocotopec, Jalisco, Mexico

Nikon D3s, 500mm f4 lens handheld, 1/2000th @f8, ISO 320. When shooting more than one bird ensure you focus on the leading subject. Also remember that many birds have large areas of white colour so it is essential that you don’t blow out your highlights.

Just like shooting sports, with birds in flight it is essential to develop good panning technique. You MUST keep the lens moving, locking your subject in the same position in the viewfinder as far as you can, and keep shooting. A common error is to shoot every image with the bird dead centre in the frame. I often shift my focus selection points slightly to one side of the frame or the other depending on the flight direction, to allow space for the bird to move into. This generally gives a much more pleasing composition. The best bird images, particularly with larger species, tend to be when the wing is at the highest or lowest position during the flapping motion, aim to hit this spot consistently.

Birds in flight - Turkey vulture
Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura), in flight, Ajijic, Jalisco, Mexico

Nikon D3s, 500mm f4 lens with 1.4 teleconverter (effective focal length of 700mm) hand held, 1/2000th sec @ f8, ISO 1200. Try and time your shots so the wings are either fully elevated or fully down, relatively easy with soaring birds like this vulture

Perhaps more-so than with other forms of wildlife photography, it is practically essential to shoot with the sun at your back with a useable arc of around 30°. Backlit and sidelit subjects rarely work well as you will invariably end up with very harsh shadows. The angle of the sun is also a huge factor. Photographers talk about the golden hours, around two-and-a-half hours after sunrise and two hours before sunset, when the light has a soft even feel and has a golden glow that lends itself well to all wildlife subjects. A further advantage of a low sun angle is that it will often result in a great catchlight in a subject’s eye. In general, high sun angles during the middle part of the day are not workable if the sun is out, but you can extend the shooting day with more overcast conditions.

Birds in flight - Caspian tern
Caspian tern (Hydropogne casoia) flying above Lake Chapala, Jalisco, Mexico

Nikon D3s, 500mm f4 lens with 1.4 teleconverter (effective focal length of 700mm) hand held, 1/2500th sec @ f8, ISO 800. Give a little more space on the side of the image that your subject is facing to allow room for it to ‘move into’

Another weather condition to keep in mind is wind direction. Birds, like aircraft, will tend to take-off and land into the wind. Absolutely the best conditions for in-flight bird photography is when both the sun and the wind are at your back.

Birds in flight - Great Egret
Great Egret (Ardea alba) landing on edge of Lake Chapala, Ajijic, Jalisco, Mexico

Nikon D3s, 500mm f4 lens with 1.4 teleconverter (effective focal length of 700mm) hand held, 1/1600th sec @ f8, ISO 800. Birds take-off and land into the wind, try and have both sun and wind at your back

Remember, like all photography, the foregoing suggestions are guidelines and not set-in-stone rules! I still experiment with different shutter speeds, camera movement, lighting angles etc. but, my experience has been, that using the above guidelines will generally produce the most pleasing images.

To see more flight photography go to the wildlife and nature galleries and  choose Birds in flight or enter the keyword ‘flight’ in the Search box. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The rains are coming

I moved into my new house in San Juan Cosalá on the shore of Lake Chapala back in February of this year and, until a few days ago, we had not seen a single drop of rain. However, we do have the harbingers of the rainy season, the so called ‘rainbirds’ which traditionally begin singing six weeks before the first rains fall. 

The Rainbirds

Not birds at all the Rainbirds are in fact a species of cicada, or chicharra, living underground for the majority of the year only emerging to begin their song. Actually only the males produce the noise and not, as is popularly believed, by rubbing their legs or wings together! They actually have a special organ, called the tymbal, that produces the noise. The noise level, actually a mating call,  is incredible, recorded at up to 120decibels, and if one were to have one of these insects up against the ear canal would be quite capable of damaging the ear drum.

Once the rains start the insects mate, lay their eggs in the soil and the adults die and that’s it for another year.

Cicada or Rainbird
Cicada or Chicharra – also known in the region as the rainbird – not the prettiest bug.

Nikon D3s, Nikon 24-70mm lens at 70mm, 1/250th @ f18, ISO 800, one flash at 45° on each side and a third flash lighting the background

The above specimen was ‘singing’ out on my deck so took the opportunity to transfer it to my light tent for a quick portrait shot. The light tent is great for this sort of subject producing nice even light and isolating the subject.

And, over the last two days the rains have started to fall – right on time with forecasts of rain pretty much every night and thunderstorms over the next weeks. Yes, it really does, in general, only rain in this region at night!

 

 

 

New Workflow with Capture One

As many of you that have followed my admittedly intermittent blog postings will know, I was extremely disappointed when Apple dropped development of their professional imaging program back in 2014, forcing a move to Adobe Lightroom. At the time there really was, in my humble opinion, no viable alternative. Te next blow was Adobe’ decision to move their products to a subscription based model, which I was somewhat opposed to having always owned my own software.

Now, Lightroom is a great program with a host of features but I never really liked three aspects:

  1. The RAW conversions from my Nikon cameras were never quite up my expectations
  2. I just did not like the interface, having to constantly switch modules depending on what I was wanting to do
  3. I had to keep all my images in one huge library as, to switch libraries, meant quitting and restarting

Over the past few years I have tried various options to try and help solve some of these issues, including 

  • Using Nikon’s own Capture NX2 software for RAW conversions – nice results mostly but way too slow when handling large volumes of images
  • Investigating various databasing options but none really fit with my workflow, mainly because I didn’t want to add yet another layer to my workflow
  • Trying just about every independent RAW converter on the market to see if there was one that met my requirements

 There was one program that I kept coming back to each time a new iteration was announced, PhaseOne’s Capture One Pro.

Capture One Pro 8 – Great RAW conversions, but the catalog was soooo slow to open.
Capture One Pro 9 – Great RAW conversions, catalog marginally quicker but still not fast enough.
Capture one Pro 10 – Even better RAW conversions , and the catalog was now much quicker. I came within a whicker of taking the plunge and making the purchase, even building a complete catalog for my wildlife and nature images but the darned thing kept crashing. It just wasn’t stable enough.

Capture One 11 (Yes the Pro designation has gone from the name but what a Pro program this has turned out to be.) The best RAW conversions with the minimum of post processing work, rapid catalog opening with quick image searches and so many new features including the ability to add layer adjustments for just about every adjustment type available. Painting a layer adjustment mask, and refining the edges has become incredibly straightforward with the added advantage that all masks (you can add up to xx) can additionally have the opacity adjusted, a boon for fine control of each masks effect 

In fact, Capture One 11 is worth the price (and yes, you can either buy it $x and own the software or opt for a monthly fee of $x) just for the amazing power of the layers.

Working in Capture One now provides me with a workflow that fits perfectly with the way I like to deal with my images.

  1. Download from the card into Photomechanic. Sort, delete outtakes, caption and keyword. (More on the way I do this in a future blog). After all images are ready they are moved onto the main images hard drive and at the same time renumbered to reflect my numbering system. Images are automatically backed up daily onto second and third mirrored drives.
  2. Images are imported into Capture One 11 ensuring that the check box for Exclude Duplicates is on and that files are left in their current location – i.e. the Main Images Hard Drive

    Import dialogue
  3. As images are already sorted and captioned I immediately start working on each image preparing it for it’s intended use – i.e. For publication, upload to my representing agencies prepared for the website etc – (more on outputting the images for final use later)
  4. All the preparation and outputting of images in Capture One 11 takes place within  a single screen – just like Apple Aperture! No switching into different modules to perform each task

Although I state a single screen this is not strictly speaking true as I do have a dual screen setup and have saved a workspace in Capture One where I have all the thumbnails on one screen and the enlarged image where adjustments are made on the second.

You can create as many different workspaces as you wish so, for example, I have created spaces for working onsite on my laptop, as well as my dual monitor setup for the office.

Capture One Process

My process for working on images tends to follow pretty much the same pattern although of course refinements are made depending on the requirements of each image.

  1. I correct any overall colour casts or white balance anomalies using the colour balance and white balance tools
  2. I perform overall exposure adjustments first setting input and output levels then using the Exposure, Contrast, Brightness and Saturation sliders
  3. I open up or hold back shadows and highlights using the appropriate sliders
  4. I now start adding layer masks if necessary to make defined and targeted local adjustments. Remember I can add layer masks for any of the adjustment tools other than vignetting and the black and white conversion tool. Using layers in Capture One has been a revelation, and is perhaps, the main reason that few images go into Photoshop. Layer masks are incredibly easy and accurate to paint onto the image
  5. I clean up the image using the Spot Removal tool and Clone and Heal layers depending on needs
  6. I crop the image
  7. I apply sharpening as necessary sometimes to the whole image and sometimes to selected portions using another layer mask.

And so far my image has not, and probably won’t, ever be opened in Photoshop. However, note that it is entirely possible to ’round trip’ an image into Photoshop or other imaging programs such as the Nik collection and Capture One will automatically create a new version for the adjustments applied and re-import the resulant version back into the Capture One 11 catalog when yu save it.

Outputting Images

Output recipes – here I am simultaneously preparing images for my Instagram account and My website galleries

Finally the point of all this work is to prepare images for final use. In Lightroom I had to set up a series of output presets and re-process each image multiple times if it was to be used for several uses, i.e. web site, Instagram, and publication ready.

Thanks to Capture One’s ‘Process Recipes” I can set up the various parameters for each use, save those settings as a recipe, and select multiple recipes at the output stage and Capture One will within a few seconds process the same image multiple times for each use – a great timesaver.

Other features

There are many features of Capture One that I don’t use but that would still be of great value to other photographers. The two most notable are tethered shooting, for which, I, at the moment have little use and annotations which allow a photographer to add notes directly onto an image when sending it to another person, perhaps for further retouching etc. 

What do I still use Photoshop for?

Well, actually very little!

Occasionally if I find that I have a lot of clean-up to do on an image due to excessive sensor dust I might take the image into PS as it is quicker and better at that .

If I am compositing images, using focus stacking techniques etc. then PS would be the tool for this, but, for straightforward, preparing images for publication than Capture One now does it all.

What do I miss from Lightroom?

Of course no program is perfect and there are a number of features I do miss from Lightroom. 

Perhaps the biggest is that Capture One does not accept the use of any plugins. I have used plugins available for Lightroom to automatically send images to the agencies that handle my work and Lightroom records which images have been sent and even, with Alamy, records sales statistics for each image. I now have to output my agency images to a folder and upload using an FTP program rather than directly from the database. 

To ensure I don’t send duplicates I now use the colour tags to record which images have been sent to each, not to mush of an onerous task.

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