Photographing Shorebirds

As we move into September the Southern migration of shorebirds is in full swing. The main way station beaches are full of life as these long distance travellers rest and fuel up for their long journeys, in some cases thousands of miles well into South America, but photographing shorebirds can present some challenges.

Piping Plover (Charadrius melodus) foraging on beach Cherry Beach, Nova Scotia, Canada

Nikon D3, Nikon 500mm f4 lens + TC14 (700mm), 1/800th sec, @ f7.1 with aperture priority mode with ISO 400, + 1.3 stops exposure compensation

It can be difficult to get frame filling shots, even with the longest of lenses as the majority of shorebirds tend to be nervous, quick movers and relatively small. Maybe this is in part due to their habit of wanting to use the same beaches popular with humans, resulting in constant disturbance from their feeding areas, and, not least by dog owners who find great amusement in allowing their pets to chase the birds.

Semipalmated Plover (Charadrius semipalmatus) foraging along shoreline, Crescent Beach, Nova Scotia, Canada

Nikon D850, Nikon 500mm f4 lens + TC14 (700mm), 1/800 sec, @ f5.6 manual mode with Auto ISO active at ISO 500 with + 1.3 stops exposure compensation from metered value

To stay away from the crowds I get out early and late, coinciding with the best light of the day. The other thing I check out is the state of the tides. High tide tends to be poor as there is little sand and mud for the birds to feed on. Low tide is much more productive and the best of all is when the incoming tide coincides with the early or late period.


Black-bellied Plover (Pluvialis squatarola) foraging along shoreline, Crescent Beach, Nova Scotia, Canada

Nikon D850, Nikon 500mm f4 lens + TC14 (700mm), 1/2500th sec, @ f5.6 manual mode with Auto ISO active at ISO 400

The reason for this is it’s the easiest way to get close action. By getting in position well back from the flocks of feeding birds and getting low to the ground the birds will totally ignore me. Then I just let the incoming tide bring my subjects to me until I am forced to move.

Getting low also gives a much more natural perspective, in fact a birds eye view!

Semipalmated Sandpiper (Calidris pusilla) Cherry Beach, Nova Scotia, Canada

Nikon D3, Nikon 500mm f4 lens + TC14 (700mm), 1/640th sec, @ f8, ISO 800, aperture priority mode, + 2/3 stop exposure compensation from metered value off wet sand

Identification of shorebirds can be a real challenge, especially at this time of year when breeding plumage is being shed for their winter look, many of the birds now looking incredibly similar. One should make a habit of making a note of behaviour of each of your subjects as you shoot them, especially when working with mixed flocks. The relative size of each species is much easier to determine when they are stood close rather than in trying to determine the size of a single bird in a photo. I highly recommend ‘The Shorebird Guide by O’Brian, Crossley and Karlson’ for help in identifications as this book attempts to provide details on each different plumage and between the sexes.

Birds in flight

For shorebirds in flight I have given up trying to work from a tripod. They move so fast that it’s almost impossible to keep them individual birds in the frame, although much easier when shooting the vast flocks that can form.

Willet (Catoptrophorus semipalmatus), in flight, Cherry Hill Beach, Nova Scotia, Canada

Nikon D3, Nikon 500mm f4 lens + TC14 (700mm), 1/1250 sec, @ f8, ISO 400, aperture priority mode, + 1/3 stop exposure compensation from metered exposure off sea

I handhold the Nikon 500mm, both with and without the TC-14 converter. The Nikon D850 bodies I am now using are remarkably accurate at locking on to these fast moving subjects and retaining focus. Use a fast shutter speed, keep your vibration reduction turned on, and swing the lens rapidly with the subject, ensuring you keep the lens moving the whole time you are shooting.

For fast moving birds in flight I keep a minimum shutter speed of 1/2000th second, stop down to f5.6 to give a little extra depth of field and use auto ISO in manual mode to ensure my shutter speed does not drop. In fact, I am finding myself using auto ISO more and more.

Mixed flock of shorebirds in flight Cherry Hill Beach, Nova Scotia, Canada

Nikon D850, Nikon 500mm f4 lens, 1/1600th sec, @ f5.6 manual mode with Auto ISO active at ISO 200

When setting out to the beach for shorebirds you need to be ready for other subjects that may suddenly present themselves  a couple of days ago I was heading over the stone berm leading to Cherry Hill Beach when a sudden flurry of movement in the water attracted my attention. This turned out to be a Blue Shark in the surf right up by the beach. You just never know what might turn up!

Blue Shark (Prionace glauca) in surf close to beach, Cherry Hill Beach, Nova Scotia, Canada

Nikon D3, Nikon 70-200 f2.8 lens, at 200mm, 1/1000th @ f5, ISO 800, aperture priority automatic

Workshop news

I will soon be announcing the first workshop series since I have arrived in Nova Scotia. These will include classroom workshops for post-production work using Lightroom, Capture One and Photoshop and the always popular  ‘digital workflow’ where you will learn the complete process involved for every one of my images from camera to final archive. Spring 2020 will see several practical ‘in the field’ workshops learning a variety of photography techniques.


To see a wider selection of new photos go to the Recent Images gallery. This is updated regularly.

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The super blood wolf moon 2019

Last night I spent several hours photographing the 2019 super blood wolf moon. I was lucky to have perfectly clear skies and a warm evening to shoot this amazing phenomenon.

Your camera needs to be locked down on a very sturdy tripod and head as the slightest shake will result in a blurred image due to the huge distance you are shooting over – Some 238,900 miles! Either lock up the mirror on your camera and use the self timer, or use an electronic cable release, or even both.

I started with the full moon around 9.30 pm. Focus on the moon, take a couple of shots to check your focus is spot on and then turn autofocus off , you don’t want the camera to be trying to re-focus for each shot.

Shooting a full moon in a black sky can often completely fool your cameras meter into overexposing the image rendering the moon as a bright white blob in the sky. You can get away with surprisingly high shutter speeds. I start with a test exposure of  1/100th @ f8, ISO 400 – and after a couple of tests just upped the ISO to 500 and felt I was spot on. I set this manually on the camera.

Lunar eclipse, leading to the super blood wolf moon 2019

I continued to shoot an image every 10 minutes each time checking my exposure. As the moon moved into the earth’s shadow it darkened, meaning I had to continually adjust the manual exposure set on the camera. First I lengthened the shutter speed, then opened the aperture, and finally as the moon moved into the red phase I also upped the ISO.

I didn’t worry too much about exactly where the moon was in my frame as my intention was to crop each image to make the sequence shot found at the end of this post.

The image below was shot at 1/320 sec. @ f8 at ISO 800

Lunar eclipse, leading to the super blood wolf moon 2019

As the eclipse begins to turn into the blood moon I need to continue to increase my exposure. For the next image I am at 0.2 sec, f8 ISO 1600

The super blood wolf moon 2019

Finally for the full blood moon my exposure has become 1/4 sec, f 4.5 ISO 2500

The super blood wolf moon 2019

All images were shot with a Nikon 500mm f4 lens on a Gitzo tripod and Arca Swiss ball head.

Finally, for a bit of fun, here is a full sequence of 20 images stitched together in Photoshop representing a time frame of three hours

Multiple images showing the lunar eclipse and The super blood wolf moon 2019

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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!


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

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



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.


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


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.


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!




Lady in red

Several people have asked how I produced the ‘Lady in Red’ photos recently posted to my Instagram account.

Here are the steps I use in Photoshop.

  1. Choose a photo that will convert well to black and white but which has a small area of a vibrant colour that you can bring back. Bright warm colours generally work best i.e. reds and oranges. Good subjects that work well are a bright red vehicle, red rose, red dress etc.

    El Santuario de Nuestra Señora de la Solidad (The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Solitude), Tlaquepaque, Mexico
  2. Open the image in Photoshop and create a black and white adjustment layer
  3. With the new adjustment layer active you will now see a black and white version of your image
  4.  Select the Eraser tool (This may be hidden behind other eraser tools)

    Select the eraser tool
  5. Use a suitable sized brush with a fairly hard edge and carefully paint away the top layer revealing the colour underneath. It helps to zoom in on the area you are working on. If you have a pressure sensitive tablet it makes this much easier than using the mouse

    Paint away to reveal the layer beneath
  6. Now flatten the image into a single layer )Layer-Flatten image

And that’s all there is to it!

Lady in red

Image stabilization or fast shutter speed?

Recently while covering the World Junior Taekwondo Championships I was approached by someone asking what my ‘camera settings’ were. I quickly rattled off what I was using “1/1250sec, f2.8. at 4000ISO set manually”. The gentleman replied I must be using old lenses as he did not need to set his ISO nearly this high as all his lenses had ‘stabilization’ so he could shoot at much lower settings and get higher quality pictures, 2-3 stops lower and still handhold “no problem at all” so he was only using 640 ISO.

Now, I am always happy to engage in discussions about photo technique and equipment, just not in the middle of an important competition where I am working, so told this person I needed to concentrate on what I was doing but would be happy to chat if I had the time after competition had finished. Unfortunately I never saw him again so was unable to point out the errors in his thinking.

First would have been – why was I choosing to use 4000 ISO. Of course, had I thought it prudent I would have loved to use a lower setting. The choice of 4000 ISO was to give me a shutter speed high enough to freeze the action when the athletes engaged in their fast kicking movements. This required a minimum shutter speed of 1/1000sec. If I had lowered my ISO to the same 640 that this person was using and assuming I still wanted to make a correct exposure at f2.8 (the maximum aperture of the lens I was using) my shutter speed would have dropped to around 1/250th sec – not nearly fast enough to freeze the action. 

Burnaby, Canada. 16 November, 2016. WTF World Taekwondo Junior Championships, Alan Arcal Alcazar (ESP) in blue and Ilyas Hussain (GBR) in red compete in 48kg class. ALAMY LIVE NEWS/PETER LLEWELLYN
Burnaby, Canada. 16 November, 2016. WTF World Taekwondo Junior Championships, Alan Arcal Alcazar (ESP) in blue and Ilyas Hussain (GBR) in red compete in 48kg class. 

Nikon D4s, AF-S 70-200 f2.8G ED VRII lens, 1/1000 @f2.8 6400ISO – This was on an outer mat where the light was even worse than the main mat hence 6400ISO

Now comes the misconception that I have heard many times since Nikon and Canon brought out their stabilized lenses – I can shoot at much lower shutter speeds and still freeze the image. NOT SO!! What VR (Nikon’s Vibration Reduction) and IS (Canon’s Image Stabilization) actually allow you to do is to avoid camera shake at slow shutter speeds – this has nothing to do with freezing the action.

If you need 1/1000th sec shutter speed to freeze the action and have no movement blur you need 1/1000 sec, period. No amount of vibration reduction or image stabilization will affect this in any way.

Burnaby, Canada. 16 November, 2016. WTF World Taekwondo Junior Championships, Maria Calderon (CRC) blue and Thi Kim Ngan Ho (VIE) red, compete in female 44kg class gold medal match. Ho took the gold medal
Burnaby, Canada. 16 November, 2016. WTF World Taekwondo Junior Championships, Maria Calderon (CRC) blue and Thi Kim Ngan Ho (VIE) red, compete in female 44kg class gold medal match. Ho took the gold medal

Nikon D4s, AF-S 70-200 f2.8G ED VRII lens, 1/1250 @f2.8 4000ISO

Finally I would have pointed out that using 4000ISO ( and higher) is well within the capabilities of my cameras and can produce image files that can be used easily up to a full poster output. 

Shooting raw files and a bit of prudent noise reduction in Photoshop produces remarkably clean images, even in deep shadow areas.

Burnaby, Canada. 20 November, 2016. WTF World Taekwondo Junior Championships Georgii Tandelov (RUS) blue, and Aleksandr Keselj (GER) red compete in the male +78kg. final won by Tandelov.
Burnaby, Canada. 20 November, 2016. WTF World Taekwondo Junior Championships Georgii Tandelov (RUS) blue, and Aleksandr Keselj (GER) red compete in the male +78kg. final won by Tandelov.

Nikon D4s, AF-S 70-200 f2.8G ED VRII lens, 1/1250 @f2.8 4000ISO

By the way – pretty much every lens I own has VR, including the Nikon AF-S 70-200 f2.8G ED VRII lens I was using that day. And the VR was turned OFF. I find my images are actually sharper with it turned off when using fast shutter speeds. I only ever turn VR on if hand holding at slow shutter speeds (who said better to get a decent tripod?) or if I am working from a moving platform such as a boat, helicopter or vehicle.

Burnaby, Canada. 17 November, 2016. WTF World Taekwondo Junior Championships, Chan-Ho Jung (KOR) blue and Houssam El Amrani (MAR) red, compete in the semi-final of male 55kg won by Jung  Photo: Peter Llewellyn
Burnaby, Canada. 17 November, 2016. WTF World Taekwondo Junior Championships, Chan-Ho Jung (KOR) blue and Houssam El Amrani (MAR) red, compete in the semi-final of male 55kg won by Jung 

Nikon D4s, AF-S 70-200 f2.8G ED VRII lens, 1/1250 @f2.8 4000ISO


Attila the ‘Hum’ – how to photograph hummingbirds

Since being back in British Columbia we have had our hummingbird feeders out and have seen more of these mini wonders than in any previous year. We have been filling the feeders every day and if we are a little late the birds soon mob us as soon as we go outside and let us know.

Female Rufous Hummingbird
Female Rufous Hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus) in flight at a feeder

One feeder is situated on our upstairs deck, overlooking the garden and this is jealously guarded by one male Rudous Hummingbird who sits nearby waiting for intruders. As soon as another hummer appears anywhere near the feeder he rockets across the garden and there ensues a round of astonishing aerial combat – this is ‘Atilla the Hum’ who terrorises the rest of the hummingbird flock. However as soon as he is otherwise engaged other birds will rapidly take the opportunity to visit the feeder.

Male Rufous Hummingbird
Atilla the Hum – Male Rufous Hummingbird

Photographing hummingbirds can be a little challenging – their wings beat at some 60-70 times per second, and can fly at 25-30 mph in normal flight and attain 60 mph when they make their spectacular dives. Fortunately they are also able to hover virtually motionless when feeding and are the only bird that can fly backwards.

Even with today’s modern DSLR’s and their ability to shoot at shutter speeds of up to 1/8000th sec this will still not be fast enough to get those wings completely frozen. In addition to obtain these fast shutter speeds you will often need to dial up the iSO setting resulting in  loss of image quality, and open up the lens to it’s maximum aperture resulting in limited depth of field.  The answer is to use high speed flash to freeze the action.

My technique for high speed flash

There are number of ways to set up for high speed flash, but here is my method. (When I talk about high speed flash I am using regular camera speedlights, not studio strobes)

Flash settings

I set all my flashes to manual. Some photographers use TTL but I find that for this sort of work I prefer to have complete manual control. The main reason for this is that flash is providing 100% of the illumination for the photograph, therefore, once you have your camera and flash settings giving a correct exposure, you are not subject to any changing light conditions so you can be guaranteed that every exposure will be the same.

Flash duration is directly related to the output setting on the flash. The table below gives the power output and corresponding flash duration for settings with a Nikon SB910 Speedlight. Other Speedlights will be broadly similar including those by other manufacturers.

1/1 (full) output = 1/880 sec
1/2 output = 1/1100 sec
1/4 output 1/2550 sec
1/8 output = 1/5000 sec
1/16 output = 1/10000 sec
1/32 output = 1/20000 sec
1/64 output = 1/35700 sec
1/128 output = 1/38500 sec

As you can see, when you dial down the power, the flash duration gets progressively shorter, and these durations are way faster than any camera shutter. So how to put this to good use.

Camera settings

I also set my camera to manual mode when using high speed flash. Again, once you have a correct exposure there is nothing to change and you need to gain complete control for this first stage.

You need to determine a base exposure – this is an exposure at which the camera will register no ambient light in the image. (To help with cutting out ambient light it is helpful if your subject area i.e. the feeder and background are in a shady area rather than full sun). Start by setting your camera to it’s lowest ISO setting, which will additionally give the best quality in your file and the fastest flash synchronization speed. (Nikon and Canon users should not use high speed flash settings as, to achieve these fast synchronization speeds, the flash emits multiple burst of light that will have a slightly stroboscopic effect and result in blurring of the wings – the very thing we are seeking to avoid). Turn off your flashes, focus on the feeder and take images adjusting your camera aperture until you get a completely black frame, i.e. no image registering at all. I generally find something in the order of ISO 200, Shutter speed 250th (my fastest sychronization speed) and an aperture of around f11 does the trick in a shady location.

With regard to lenses you need something that focusses relatively closely whilst allowing you to remain far enough form the feeder to not disturb the birds. Something in the 300mm to 400mm range is ideal. I pretty much always use my 200-400mm f4 for these shoots as it focusses right down to 2m (6.2′) allowing frame filling shots of these tiny birds.

Finally – use a tripod! You cannot possible hand hold a long lens, focus and frame the birds with any degree of accuracy.

Placement of the flashes

Note that I say flashes – you need more than one flash for a number of reasons. First, the output is going to be dialled right down so output is going to be low (although we are going to compensate by placing the flashes close to the subject area). Second we need to light from multiple directions to avoid shadows, and third we are going to need to light the background otherwise it will register as jet black (although this in itself can lead to interesting photographs).

Rufous Hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus) in flight
Rufous Hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus) in flight – no background

Many articles will show setups with between five and seven flash heads but you can certainly get great photos with as few as three as I will demonstrate. (Note that because you are using fully manual settings you do not need thousands of dollars worth of camera brand flashes – a few cheaper models with manual settings will easily suffice such as those made by Vivitar and others).

Your flashes do need to be close to the subject area as your flash output is going to be low and will not have a lot of reach, around 12″ to 18″. To use a three light set up I place two of the flashes at around 45º with one set slightly higher than the other to give a balanced light, and a third above the background pointing straight down.

Set up using three flash heads
Set up using three flash heads

Most modern flashes also have a zoom setting. I set the two flashes in front of the subject to their maximum zoom settings to concentrate the throw of light and the background flash to 50mm to give a bit of spread over the background.

I generally start with an output setting of 1/32 or 1/64th, either of which will give an action freezing flash duration for a hummingbird wing. Take a photo, doesn’t have to have a bird in it, simple image of feeder or a flower head in the correct location will do just fine. Check the exposure on the camera and watch for flashing highlights and blown out area on your histogram. Adjust your camera aperture (never the shutter speed) until you have a spot on exposure.

Female Anna's Hummingbird (Calypte anna) feeding at a Hosta flower
Female Anna’s Hummingbird (Calypte anna) feeding at a Hosta flower

You are going to need a method of firing the flashes. I use Pocket Wizard Radios along with some flashes set to fire  using IR slave. You can also use a sych. cord to one flash and set others to fire using either built in optical slaves or cheap add on optical triggers. Check your manuals to see what works for you.

Feeder set up

To attract the birds it’s best to set up at a feeder station they have already been habituated too. Hummingbirds are remarkably tolerant, allowing you to be very close whilst they feed. When you start shooting don’t simply fire away every time a bird arrives at the feeding station. Give them a break once in a while and allow them to feed without the flashes popping of every time they get near. It is amazing at how quickly they will get used to the flashes and other ‘stuff’ you have placed near their feeder.

Start by placing the feeder to one side of the frame. Cover any feeder holes you don’t want them to visit. If your feeder has perches remove them as the hummingbirds will provide better subject material as they hover rather than sat on a plastic feeder.

Once the birds are habituated you can start changing things up. I usually start by placing  suitable flowers close to the feeder which can give the illusion of the birds feeding on the flowers. (Make sure you only use flower heads that the hummingbirds would normally visit to avoid a false looking image). The ideal way to position your blooms is to use a Wimberley Plamp. ( The next step is to remove the feeder completely and replace it with a suitable tubular shaped bloom. Grab a syringe (I have often been described as a photo junkie!) and some sugar water and ‘inject’ the flower bloom with sugar water. They may be confused for the few few visits but will soon latch on to the idea that the bloom is fill of nectar. Regularly re-fill the bloom to keep them coming.

Sit back and wait for the hummers to arrive and make great images.

Female Rufous Hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus) feeding at a Petunia flower
Female Rufous Hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus) feeding at a Petunia flower

Baseball – a story

Many years ago, long before we ever came to live in North America, my wife Jean and I were sitting in a restaurant in Houston Texas having a meal while en-route to cover another major sports event. A nearby TV was showing the baseball play-offs games and it was evident that tour waiter was more intent on the game than on serving us. To get his attention we decided that the best course of action was to engage him  in a conversation about the game as frankly, we had no idea what was going on. There followed a series of questions around the rules of the game, distance from pitcher to batter, how far it was around the bases, how many players in a team which, if achieving little else, did get us our meal served.

Fast forward to 2014 and I found myself in Toronto working as the Photo Chief for the 2015 PanAm Games. So, I started to pick up some photo assignments, mostly for USA Today, covering major pro-sports event in and around the city. Inevitably, I therefore picked up my first assignment to shoot baseball, and quickly realized that little I had learned all those years ago had stayed with me.

My first ever game was Canada Day, July 1st 2014, a national holiday here in Canada.


I had tried to study other photographers photos, including the work f some famous baseball photographers including Brad Mangin and Robert Beck to try and figure out the shooting angles and chatted to friends here in Toronto to get the names of the teams leading photographers. So far all well and good!

I have always believed that a good sports photographer can go to any new sport and quickly figure out the best ways to shoot it, and found that baseball is easily learned – up to a point. Sure there are the photos of the pitcher throwing the ball, and the batter hitting the ball but much of the best action photos come from other plays, sliding to a base, fielders catching and I soon found that my lens was pointing one way while all the others were in an entirely different direction as they were anticipating plays – still a lot to learn. And one other thing, I realized that, although I thought my reflexes were pretty good, not one of my batting pictures had the ball in.

Jul 1, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Milwaukee Brewers Left Field Khris Davis dives to make first base watched by Blue Jays First Baseman Edwin Encarcion Milwaukee Brewers and Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Peter Llewellyn-USA TODAY Sports
My first ever photo of a player diving to the plate. Jul 1, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Milwaukee Brewers Left Field Khris Davis dives to make first base watched by Blue Jays First Baseman  Credit: Peter Llewellyn-USA TODAY Sports

Nikon D3s, Nikon 200-400mm f4 lens at 250mm 1250th @f4, ISO 800, set manually, Gitzo carbon fibre monopod

Now, shooting for a major wire service like USA Today Sports Images means that you are constantly having to decide when it is a suitable break in play to race in to the photo area, select some images, caption them, transmit them and get back out again hoping you didn’t miss any major play. And thereby came the next problem.  In most sports I was used to very simple captioning – i.e. Seve Ballesteros (ESP) putts on the 18th green to win the British open golf, or Rafael Nadal plays a forehand in round two at Wimbledon, and so, adopted the same principal for captioning my baseball photos. Big mistake!

May 10, 2015; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Boston Red Sox second base Dustin Pedroia (15) turns a double play as Toronto Blue Jays designated hitter Jose Bautista (19) slides to seconds base in eighth inning at Rogers Centre. Red Sox beat Blue Jays 6 - 3 Mandatory Credit: Peter Llewellyn-USA TODAY Sports
May 10, 2015; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Boston Red Sox second base Dustin Pedroia (15) turns a double play as Toronto Blue Jays designated hitter Jose Bautista (19) slides to seconds base in eighth inning at Rogers Centre. Red Sox beat Blue Jays 6 – 3 Mandatory Credit: Peter Llewellyn-USA TODAY Sports

Nikon D3, Nikon 200-400mm f4 lens at 360mm 1000th @f4, ISO 3200, set manually, Gitzo carbon fibre monopod

Phone starts ringing from the editors desk asking me what the play was – i.e. was that the RBI single from the pinch hitter in the 7th inning? Of course I had no idea what he was talking about, and what’s a pinch hitter anyway? Fortunately I had colleagues in the TO2015 office who were baseball fans, and the other photographers at the game soon started to educate me in the finer points of the game and before long my images started to improve, and the caption errors got less.

September 2 2015: Toronto Blue Jays Designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion (10) [4352] batting against Cleveland Indians in the second inning at Rogers Centre in Toronto, ON, Canada.
September 2 2015: Toronto Blue Jays Designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion (10) [4352] batting against Cleveland Indians in the second inning at Rogers Centre in Toronto, ON, Canada. – Photo Peter Llewellyn Nikon D3, 300 f2.8 lens, 1/1600th @ f2.8, ISO 2000
So, fast forward again to October 2015, and now having covered around 50 games I find that this is a game that has really grown on me and I look forward to covering each one. And what a season it has been for the Toronto Blue Jays, they are in the post-season play-offs for the first time since 1993, when they were World Series Champions. Unfortunately things are not looking so good, having just lost the first two games of the play-off series to the Texas Rangers, hopefully they will pull it back with two way wins so I can continue my new fond love affair with the game.

Oh, and every caption for the play-off games I have covered was absolutely perfect, mainly because we were hard-wiring (plugging an ethernet cable directly into the port on a Nikon D4s and transmitting straight from the camera to the picture editor) the camera to send images and all the post-processing work and captioning was done by the editor. Yes, baseball play-offs are a really big deal. USA Today Sports Images had three photographers at the games, one shooting from an elevated position, one from the photo pit near first base, and yours truly from the photo pit near third base. You cannot afford to miss a big play at this level.

How to improve your baseball photography

These principals apply whether you are shooting your son or daughter at Little League or getting your first opportunity at shooting a big league game.

  1. Get close to the action – use a long lens and fill the frame as best you can. At least a 200mm even for those school diamonds. I rarely shoot with any less than a 300mm and often am right out to the 500 or 600mm if I want to get good facial expressions
  2. utista (19) against Boston Red Sox at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Peter Llewellyn-USA TODAY Sports Nikon D4s, 500mm f4 lens, 1/1600th @ f4, ISO 3200
    Jose Bautista (19) against Boston Red Sox at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Peter Llewellyn-USA TODAY Sports Nikon D4s, 500mm f4 lens, 1/1600th @ f4, ISO 3200

    Use a fast shutter speed to stop the action, especially if you are trying to get the ball in the picture. 1,000th second at an absolute minimum and even at that speed you will still probably get a slightly blurred ball. Remember, that with any modern DSLR you can push the limits by increasing the ISO setting. I often use the auto ISO setting on my Nikons where I can ensure that if the light drops to a level that would make the shutter speed less than 1,000th the ISO will automatically increase to compensate.

  3. If you see the ball in the viewfinder it is probably not going to be in the picture you take, especially as you get to the bigger league games with faster pitchers and harder hitting batters. By the time your brain tells your finger to press the shutter, and the mechanics of the camera operate to open the shutter the ball is either in the catchers glove or sailing over the outfield. At MLB games I keep both eyes open and try to watch the ball leaving the pitchers hand, press the shutter and fire a sequence of two or three and you are likely to get the ball in the frame – with a bit of luck actually connecting with the bat
  4. Aug 23, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays Melky Cabrera (53) slides in make second base while Tampa Bay Rays second base Logan Forsythe (10) catches in ninth innings at Rogers Centre - Blue Jays won 5-4 in tenth innings Mandatory Credit: Peter Llewellyn-USA TODAY Sports
    Aug 23, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays Melky Cabrera (53) slides in make second base while Tampa Bay Rays second base Logan Forsythe (10) catches in ninth innings at Rogers Centre – Mandatory Credit: Peter Llewellyn-USA TODAY Sports. Nikon D3s, 200-400 f4 lens at 260mm, 1/2500th @f4, ISO 1000

    Anticipate the action – not all good action shots are pitchers or batters at the plate. Watch when players are on the bases, stolen bases or the batter diving to home plate make some of the greatest action shots. Concentrate, focus on the player and follow focus the action if your camera focusses fast enough or pre-focus on the point where you expect the action be if your camera is a little slow. Almost any modern DSLR will allow you to follow the action. However, even with he fastest cameras, make sure you have your focussing set up properly. My cameras allow 51 points of focus but for any sport where you are essentially focussing on a single player cut this number down in your menu settings and your success rate will improve dramatically. I always use 9 focus points on my Nikons for this type of sport.

  5. If you have a favourite player (your son or daughter!) make sure you shoot from the right side of the field. A right handed pitcher should be shot from
    May 4, 2015; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; New York Yankees opening pitcher Chase Whitley (39) pitches in first inning against Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Peter Llewellyn-USA TODAY Sports Nikon D3, 500mm f4 lens, 1/100th @ f4, ISO 2500
    May 4, 2015; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; New York Yankees opening pitcher Chase Whitley (39) pitches in first inning against Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Peter Llewellyn-USA TODAY Sports Nikon D3, 500mm f4 lens, 1/100th @ f4, ISO 2500

    third base, a leftie from first. A right handed batter, go to first and a leftie from third.

I hope you find the tips will help you improve your baseball photography.

UPDATE: Yesterday, 14th October, Toronto Blue Jays won the divisional championships. Take a look at the latest images gallery to see a small selection of some of my favourites or go to to see the full selection