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Here Come The Birds!

Here Come The Birds!

Scarlet Tanager. Photograph by David Akoubian.

By David Akoubian

Each spring, as daytime lengthens and the nights grow shorter, migrating birds return to Georgia. Those that headed south last fall to their winter grounds – some as far away as South America – will begin reappearing in our landscapes, full of color and songs. As nature photographers, many of us strive to capture images of these the birds as they pause on their northward migration, or settle in to take up summer residence.

If you want to make the most of this annual opportunity, here are some ideas to help you attract those birds and bring them closer to your camera…

Black and White Warbler. Photo by David Akoubian.

Black and White Warbler. Photo by David Akoubian.

Whether the birds are returning to their summer breeding grounds or just passing through, how do you get them to stop so you can photograph them? Well, it’s fairly easy – you invite them! Birds prefer environments where they feel are safe from predation, and they will seek out areas that have a safe “feeling.” What do I mean by that? They search for areas where other birds are frequenting, like feeders in yards. Migratory birds as a whole (or at least the Warblers, Vireos and Tanagers) are primarily insect eaters and don’t really land at feeders. Some other birds, like Grosbeaks, will feed alongside your regular birds. But the insect eaters will often fly into a feeder area to see what all the fuss is about. Getting them to stay there long enough for photos is the tricky part.

A few years ago we had our yard certified by the Audubon Society as a Wildlife Sanctuary. To do so, we had to meet certain requirements, like having a food and water source, providing cover, and providing nesting options when possible. Out of all of those requirements, the most important to me is providing cover. We leave brush piles, and have created sections of small trees and shrubs where a bird can hide and feel safe. Once they feel safe, they will explore an area and search for food.

Eastern Bluebird. Photo by David Akoubian.

Eastern Bluebird. Photo by David Akoubian.

This is where it pays off for a nature photographer to create an outdoor “studio.” I usually set up only a few feeders, such as a sunflower seed feeder, a suet feeder and another feeder where I place mealworms and suet nuggets inside. Around those feeders, I place “T” bars driven into the ground, each with a stick, branch or small tree trunk attached to them with wire. The birds will land on these strategically placed posts and wait for their turn at the feeder, or in the case of the migratory birds, will pause to check things out. The reason the posts are important is that birds follow a social tier, with the most dominant birds feeding first, thus the term “pecking order.” It’s when birds land on these posts that I capture most of my images. I also have small trees near the feeder that serve the same purpose. Either place is perfect for creating photos of the birds.

I don’t use a blind when photographing birds; I simply sit on my porch drinking coffee and eating breakfast. Birds get accustomed to you sitting there, and they are unaffected by your presence unless you make any sudden movement. My posts are set up from 8-12 feet away from my seating location (I chose that distance because it’s roughly the minimum focusing distance of my Tamron 150-600mm G2 lens).

When I position my posts, I try to create some separation between the post and the background, which in my case is a row of trees and shrubs. I do this to allow the lens to drop off focus fairly quickly, even at my preferred aperture of f8. To accomplish this, I aim to allow a minimum of 4 feet between the objects. Behind the row of trees and shrubs I have a buffer of 20-40 feet, which will give the background a smooth, out-of-focus pallet of color to create the visual separation needed to make the birds stand out.

Cerulean Warbler. Photo by David Akoubian.

Cerulean Warbler. Photo by David Akoubian.

I prefer longer lenses, like my 150-600mm at 600mm or my 150-500mm at 500mm, when I am creating images in the “studio” area. This approach provides a sharp subject, then drops off to a smooth color background, creating an almost 3D effect. I shoot in manual mode, at f8, and I begin with a shutter speed of 1/125 of a second, with Auto ISO selected. I use the Auto ISO feature simply because the birds are constantly flitting back and forth between light and dark areas, and the variable ISO will help compensate for this. My subjects are mostly front-lit, so this works really well. But if I am shooting in the evening, the subjects can be backlit, so I will step my exposure compensation up +1 to compensate for backlighting. And while shooting I will use either a monopod or a tripod, because the weight of the lens can cause fatigue and shorten your shooting time dramatically.

As the morning goes on I will increase my shutter speed to an eventual 1/1000 of a second if needed. Usually, though, by the time the light warrants even a speed of 1/500, the light is pretty harsh and I am finished for the day.

To help enrich the studio site, I plant flowers around the yard that will attract insects. That’s because attracting insects means attracting things that feed on insects, which includes birds! I let the flowers die and decay in place as well. Why? Decaying plants attract insects, which attracts the birds. Do you see a pattern? I also don’t use any insecticides or pesticides in my yard because – you got it – I want the insects to be there. Each year I get good number of Scarlet Tanagers feeding on Japanese Beetles in the trees and shrubs in the yard, and that is the direct result of inviting the birds into the landscape.

This process will continue until the birds are ready to fly south for their fall migration. Often I see a greater variety of bird species in the fall than in the spring as numbers increase each year. You can pretty much count on the birds that come through one year to return again the next year, as they recognize a safe place where it’s easy to feed. This past summer alone we saw 27 varieties of Warblers, 5 different Vireos, plus Tanagers and Grosbeaks, all from the back porch.

This same setup can be adapted to smaller areas, such as a porch or even a common area in an apartment complex. The payoff can be many hours of photographing a variety of birds, which I find extremely rewarding. And most of what needs to be done actually requires less work than maintaining a pristine garden. So consider “letting things go” a little, and in return you’ll find more birds in your area than ever before.

 

 

David Akoubian is a professional nature photographer and a longtime resident of Georgia. He has been photographing professionally since 1992, and conducts workshops around the U.S. and Iceland. For more details on David and his workshops, check out his website at www.bearwoodsphotography.com. He is also active on social media sites like Facebook and Instagram.

GNPA Presents: STATEWIDE WEBINARS

GNPA Presents: STATEWIDE WEBINARS

By Lee Friedman.

This year, aside from all the wonderful speakers each chapter brings to our members, we are augmenting them with a new set of speakers we recruited. These speakers are nationally known and award winning nature photographer. They come by special invitation for the benefit of our members. We have established a schedule for the entire year, bringing our members at least one of these speakers each month. Here is the schedule:

Name Title Date
Michael Birnbaum Lightroom New Masking and Selection Tools 1/19/22
Mary McDonald Photographing Wildlife Both Near and Far 2/16/22
Kathleen Clemons The Art of Flower Portraiture 3/9/22
Ray Hennessy Creative Bird Photography 3/16/22
Clay Bolt Macro Photography 101: How Macro Photography Can Change Your Perception of the World Around You 4/20/22
Dawn Wilson Churchill wildlife 5/11/22
David Desrochers Painting with Cameras 6/15/22
Tom Wilson Nature Photography along the Chattahoochee River 7/27/22
Kathy Clark Photographing Butterflies 8/17/22
Jamie Davidson Getting Creative with Motion and Multiples 9/21/22
Alyce Bender Black Oystercatchers (a Pacific coast shorebird and species of special concern) 10/19/22
Mike Moats Is Your Flower Photography Boring, Let Me Help You 11/16/22

Watch for these speaker announcements each month on Meetup and on the Members page for registration. They are for members only as an added benefit of GNPA membership.

Not a member? Click here to learn more about joining GNPA!

Nature: Captured and Presented

Nature: Captured and Presented

By John Mariana

From my perspective, successful nature photography is comprised of two very different elements. Understanding the role that each one plays in the process is critical. Capturing the photo is clearly important, but so is our thought process for presenting that image.

THE CAPTURE

The camera, of course, is only a tool. Yes, it is the tool we use to capture nature images, but the tool itself does not create the image or provide the final presentation. Our own in-the-field experiences, our training in composition and the understanding of the elements of “good images” are the critical aspects for the capture. Composition, special light, depth of field, shutter speed and good exposure represent the craft of the capture. These should become second nature to you, so when a special nature opportunity presents itself, you are prepared to capture it.

Capturing moving animals and birds in flight requires good depth of field as well as a fast shutter speed to freeze the action. For flying birds, I typically use f11 at 1,000th of a second to capture sharp details from wing tip to wing tip. I will try to focus on the eye and use focus tracking for multiple captures as the bird or animal is moving. Also, I always shoot images in raw format. You can capture both raw and jpeg images simultaneously, but those raw images will provide many more pixels. And those extra pixels will give you the ability to crop the image and still produce quality prints.

Positioning yourself is also critical, but too often overlooked. Locate a position where the background is simple, distant, or shows an environment that brings special meaning to the capture. Then you are prepared.

THE PRESENTATION

Once you’ve captured quality raw images, the next step is determining your final presentation. This step is accomplished with software, not in the camera. Certainly, today’s cameras have very good software for adjusting light, shadows, color and more, but the best method is to simply capture the best raw pixels in the camera and then use software to enhance the captures. I use Photoshop, Topaz Modules, DXO modules and Luminar NEO to enhance my images. Those enhancements involve cropping, sharpening, color enhancement, vignetting, dodging shadows and burning some highlights. I use these tools to bring the eye of the viewer instantly to the main subject. Post processing is the difference between just presenting an image and presenting an image with real impact.

Happy Little Green Frogs

Darcy Elleby Pino conducts workshops in Costa Rica, where I assist her. This image (“I’m So Happy”) was one of several that I captured as a 3-inch tree frog was climbing a Bird of Paradise plant. Timing is everything with these opportunities. I made sure I had good depth of field for the frog’s body, and I darkened the background with a small amount of highlight behind the frog. The face is highlighted to bring the viewer’s eye instantly to the frog’s face. Compositionally, the frog dominates the center of the image, breaking the rule of thirds, but is in the upper third of the image.

 

Images with instant impact are the most appealing. This image has been cropped, and the highlights increased, so that the viewer looks instantly into the face. This presentation also has increased contrast to emphasize the three-dimensionality of the frog and the entire image. The frog seems ready to jump out of the image. This elicits emotion in the viewer. Winning images are those that have great composition, instant impact and elicit emotion.

The next image (“Hi Honey, I’m Home”) is a composite made from two separate frog photos. I created this image to tell a story and elicit amusement. Still, the image demonstrates the use of highlights, dark background and good depth of field to capture the details. The very dark bakcground creates the three-dimensionality of the frogs.

Special Birds

It is quite easy to capture a beautiful bird when it’s just sitting on a branch. This image was captured at a zoo, of a bird behind glass. However, it’s been enhanced in many ways. Originally, the image contained distracting branches, the background was not appealing, and the light was from above. Using the gradient background emphasizes the erectness of the bird. Meanwhile, enhancing the color of the head and beak immediately brings attention to the upper portion of the bird.

 

 

Hummingbirds are perhaps the most difficult bird to capture well. The best hummingbird images show detail in the wings and are difficult to capture. Understandably, depth of field and shutter speed are critical. Place yourself in a position where the bird has been flying and you have a good background and light. Then, patience and timing are required to seal the deal.

Note the sharpness of the wings, the body and the head in this photo. The curve of the stem on the flower brings the eye up around and back to the hummingbird. Capturing these tiny speedsters requires lots of time watching the same flower and waiting patiently as the bird flits around. But if you’ve done your homework, that patience will be rewarded.

Cataloochee Elk

From early September to late October, the male elks in Cataloochee Valley, Tennessee, offer a great opportunity for photographers. This is a prime location to capture big bulls as they gather their females. They often butt heads with other large elks to protect their territories. The best time to capture images is the early morning, just as the sun is rising and casting beautiful beams of light. This image is a panorama of three images as the elk turned to look at me. I had positioned myself near the open field because of the light rays there, and I waited. Timing is critical.

 

Early morning mist often fills the fields before the sun rises high enough to burn it off. This large elk stood very close to the female and searched for other females to add to his group. For this photo, I waited until the bull stopped eating, lifted his head and turned it toward the female. It made for a special moment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This image was captured during early spring in Cades Cove in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Again, I found the position I wanted, on a hillside with the farm in the distance and the sun creating a burst through the tree limbs. Patience, patience! I knew the location from previous occasions, positioned myself and waited. Eventually, a doe brought her young offspring into the pasture to feed.

Magnificent Magnolias

One of the most delicately beautiful flowers is the Magnolia. But the special beauty of this flower can be fleeting. Once the bud opens and the flower unfolds, it is pristine for only one day. By the second day the inner areas begin to fall out. I first tried to capture pristine magnolia blooms on the tree, but it’s very challenging to be in the right position at exactly the right time. So, I recommend removing a bud from a tree, taking it home and placing it in water. The next morning the flower will begin to open. Place it in front of a plain background, near an open window with soft light. With the camera on a tripod, make several captures at different levels as the petals are opening. This first image was placed against a white backdrop and the close-up capture emphasizes the beauty of the shape of the flower.

In the next photo, using a black backdrop emphasized the overall shape and beauty of the bloom. It was critical to preserve the detail in all the white areas. This was accomplished by utilizing very soft light from a side window. As the bloom continued to unfold, multiple images were captured. When all the petals have unfolded, a beautiful gold center pod is revealed.

 

 

 

The Magnificent Beauty of Yosemite National Park

Yosemite is one of the most beautiful of all the national parks, and I have visited there at least 50 times. As you enter the valley and look at the 2,000-ft.-high cliffs all around you, you understand why this park is so special. The Merced River runs through the center of the valley, providing great reflections of the famous mountains and waterfalls.

 

Winter is spectacular in Yosemite. The mountains are covered with snow, creating a stunning three-dimensional look, and the pine trees are highlighted by the clinging snow. Panoramas are the best way to capture the entire scene. Depth of field is critical for all the details from foreground to background. As I studied Bierstadt paintings, I discovered a compositional “must” for photographers. I call it “a place to stand.” When the viewer has a place to “stand” in your image, that viewer will feel the emotional experience of being there. But if there is not a place to stand, the viewer is only looking at an image.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Coastal Lights

The coasts of Massachusetts and Maine are filled with special lighthouses, stretching from Boston through Acadia National Park in Maine. Morning light is very good for capturing these iconic structures, and late day can be special when the beams from the lighthouses can be seen against the darker sky of sunset. A A tripod can be used to capture several images at different exposures, with a high dynamic range image. This provides details in the shadows and in the highlights. You never want to have photos with “blocked up” shadows or “blown out” highlights.

 

These are a few of the ways I approach capturing and presenting images. By concentrating on the nuances of these two different steps, I believe you can continue to improve as a photographer.

 

 

John Mariana is a well-known photographer and educator who has conducted numerous workshops across the United States, Scotland and Tuscany, as well as volunteering time to speak at functions, museums and photography groups. He has specialized in large print images and published two books. John is also a founding member of the Booth Photography Guild at the Booth Art Museum in Cartersville, GA. You can find his website at: www.marianaphotography.com

Through The Lens

Through The Lens

Northern Parula. Photo by Michelle Hamner

Georgia Audubon’s Birding Missions

By Michelle Hamner

As a frequent user of the hashtag #shi**ybirdpics to describe my own (lack of) nature photography skills, I’m a great admirer of those who can create in-focus, well-framed photographs that somehow convey the personality of their avian subjects. The bird and nature photographers that I have met possess some of the deepest wells of patience imaginable (much deeper than I can claim), which they use to hone their craft. Some of my most enjoyable outdoor explorations are with my quite-accomplished nature photographer friend, Marlene. We balance each other well, I think; her by documenting the birds we see, me by helping to keep her “on” the bird we’re tracking through the canopy.

The past 18 months of Covid-19 lockdowns, social distancing and postponed events have, understandably, sent many of us outside looking for a bit of respite from homes that now double as offices and schools. At Georgia Audubon, we saw membership numbers spike in 2020 as people across the state discovered and rediscovered nature and, in particular, birds.

Birdwatchers and nature photographers, ranging from the casual to the obsessed, have long shared common ground. A curiosity in our surroundings drives us to add just one more feeder to the backyard, or to test out just one more lens.

Eastern Meadowlark in Coweta County. Photo by Michelle Hamner

Georgia Audubon has been fortunate to enjoy the support of bird and nature enthusiasts, including amateur and professional photographers, from our founding as the Atlanta Bird Club in 1926, incorporation as an independent chapter of National Audubon known as Atlanta Audubon Society in 1978, and finally through our expansion to a statewide organization known as Georgia Audubon in 2020.

As part of our commitment to tackle conservation concerns affecting the state’s birds and priority habitat types, Georgia Audubon’s staff and board of directors recently adopted a new strategic plan. Over the next three years, this plan will guide our work to not only protect the natural resources that birds and other wildlife need across the state, but also to bring the wonder of birds and nature to new audiences, especially to communities that have been historically excluded from outdoor recreation opportunities and important environmental policy discussions.

Primary among our concerns are the ways in which climate change and increased development are affecting key habitat types and communities across Georgia. Climate-exacerbated events such as warming, drought and flooding are changing landscapes faster than birds can alter their own behavior to adjust. The recent Climate Report by National Audubon indicates that if we are unable to mitigate current warming trends, Georgia’s own state bird, the Brown Thrasher, will be extirpated from the state completely over the next several decades. What’s a state to do when it loses its own state bird?

Due to our decades-long success at local community-building through our membership and partnership structure, Georgia Audubon has a great advantage when it comes to raising public awareness of these issues (and others). In particular, partners such as members of the Georgia Nature Photographers Association have been invaluable by allowing us to use their own landscape, wildlife, community and bird photographs for more impactful story-telling.

Magnolia Warbler. Photo by Michelle Hamner

At its core, Georgia Audubon is a science-based organization looking to make a large-scale conservation impact across the state. But its strength lies in our ability to communicate broadly, and that hinges on our ability to make birds and nature accessible and relatable to people of all backgrounds and skill levels. So whether it’s joining one of our free public field trips through a local park or nature preserve (www.georgiaaudubon.org/field-trips), tuning in to an online webinar introducing participants to nature photography, or participating in our six-week-long deep-dive into ornithology through our Master Birder program, there’s a place for all at Georgia Audubon.

We welcome GNPA members who may wish to learn more about volunteer photography opportunities at Georgia Audubon, as well as from members who are interested in assisting us with additional opportunities to reach the public with our stories. As someone who only in the past six years came to truly appreciate (and slightly obsess over) the diversity of birds found here in Georgia, I know firsthand the difference that helpful mentors in the field played in welcoming me to the flock. I hope you’ll join us so we can strengthen our mission to protect Georgia’s birds.

Here are a few opportunities GNPA members may wish to explore:

  • Join Georgia Audubon as a member. Enjoy $5 off an annual membership with code GNPA. georgiaaudubon.org/joinrenew
  • Interested in sharing your nature and bird photography with Georgia Audubon to help us spread the word across Georgia? Contact Dottie Head, Director of Communications, at head@georgiaaudubon.org.
  • Join one of our free public field trips. Our field trips are suited for beginners and experts alike and generally operate at a “birder’s pace.” Most field trips offer great photography opportunities in the field, with many of our members always looking to compare notes with fellow nature photographers.
  • Stay up-to-date with all of our current workshops at
  • georgiaaudubon.org/upcoming-events.

By working together and learning from one another, we can do an even better job of understanding and protecting the birds we love in Georgia.

 

 

Michelle Hamner is the Director of Development at Georgia Audubon, a position she has held since 2015. She lives and primarily explores in Fayette County with her husband, two sons, and three short-legged dogs. She is also part of the Georgia Audubon Travel Program team, organizing and leading small-group birding trips to regional, domestic and international destinations. Michelle’s “spark bird” that got her hooked on birds is the Sandhill Crane, and her favorite birding destination is the Georgia coast. Every now and then, she says, the stars align, the lighting is just right, and she manages to capture in-focus photos of birds with her Nikon COOLPIX P900.

Exploring Flowers, Macro & Abstracts

Exploring Flowers, Macro & Abstracts

Hellebore Bud, taken with LensbabyVelvet 56 lens, 1/4000 shutter speed, ISO 400.

 

By Jamie Konarski Davidson, New Life Photos

In the world of flower photography, styles of interpretation run from documentary to artistic to abstract. Each approach has its place and purpose. And there is no “mutually exclusive” clause that says you, as the visual artist, must use only one style.

Technical Considerations
Of course, the technical aspects of photography are important. A clearly defined subject in a well-composed and well-exposed frame matters, no matter what photography style you prefer. So knowing how to achieve a technically correct image is vital. Once you are comfortable in the technical aspect, you can veer in the direction of your own creative vision. Knowing how to operate your camera without a litany of “whoops,” fumbling or fiddling will help you find your way in all areas of photography, not just among the flowers and gardens.

Snow Drops, taken with Tamron 28-300 VC lens, f/6.3, 1/160 shutter speed, ISO 250, on tripod.

For starters, it helps to create a goal for your image. If you know what you want to achieve, that vision will help guide your choices. For example, if you want tons of detail, choose small apertures (f/8 – f/22). If you prefer shallower depth of field and selective focus, choose wider apertures (f/1.8 – f/8). Depending upon your goal and closeness to subject, you may need to make adjustments. If you’re uncertain, use multiple apertures and focus areas. Experiment with exposure compensation to find just the right look. Stepping out of “auto-everything” gives you control over the results. Each choice hinges on your goal. So be the driver behind your images.

 

 

Recognizing Your Style
We all have leanings in how we approach our subjects. Sometimes, they are led by profession (i.e., conservation) and other times by personality (left/right brain). My style, especially with flowers and gardens, leans strongly toward the artistic and interpretive zone. Yet, I’m not averse to the documentary image. Photography is my passion and therapy, and my images reflect that.

Orange Tulips, taken with Nikon 24-200 lens, F/4, 1/320 shutter speed, ISO 160, on tripod.

With three macro lenses and a roller bag full of Lensbabies, I embrace getting close and discovering hidden gems within blooms. I tend to get “lost in the folds” of florals, and must remind myself to take reference images so I can later identify the flowers as they evolve from macros into abstracts that celebrate colors, shapes, lines and textures. There are times when all I can say is that the subject is a flower, but the “big picture” escapes me. If this happens to you, start the habit of taking the reference photo before you start or before you leave a subject. An environmental portrait never hurts.

The Intentional Approach
There are times when we’re in a field of flowers or gardens that overwhelm our senses. Awestruck, we don’t know where to start. When this happens, stop. Settle down, be where you are and take it all in. Don’t just plant your camera and tripod somewhere and start mindlessly shooting. Open your eyes and mind. In the middle of that ocean of blooms, look for the one that holds your attention.

Before you start shooting, ask yourself, “Who’s the star? And the supporting characters? And why?” Move around your subject. Find the best angle and perspective. Where do you need to be? What lens do you need? How do you make the light work for the subject? What gear do you need? Gather your tools, and now, begin connecting with your subject. (Keep in mind, this approach applies to more than flowers).

Peony and Iris, taken with Tamron 90 VC lens, f/3.3, 1/1000 shutter speed, ISO 100, handheld with Vibration Control on.

When I identify the “star” and the “why,” I usually work from the “big” (smaller) picture inward. I’m likely choosing a macro lens, making sure I have diopters ready to add, along with my tripod, diffuser/reflector set and small flashlight or Litra cube with diffusion dome. Most of these accessories fit inside the diffuser case, which I attach to a belt loop or my camera bag with a carabiner. And I nearly always use a circular polarizer for my flower and nature photography. The only time it’s off my lens is when I’m indoors or the light is so low that it’s not helping to temper glare and sheen off my subjects. By the way, a macro lens is awesome but is not required for flowers. Telephotos and wide-angle lenses work as well.

Pharsalia Yellow Peony, taken with Nikon 24-120 lens, f/8, 1/50 shutter speed, ISO 250, on tripod in shade with gold reflector.

If I don’t have a “star” in mind, it’s entirely possible that I’m “crap-shooting” and will go home with images that elicit a “What was I thinking?” reaction. Time in the field with beautiful flowers is precious and therapeutic. I want to see emotional impact in the frame. And while all images won’t “speak” to me, there’s always one that stands out. Remember that a slower pace allows for more depth in exploration. More frames in the camera do not guarantee success. More time with your subject almost always does. Slow down. Don’t leave before the party starts.

 

 

We Are ‘Mostly’ In Control
My perfect world for flower photography would look like this: The skies would be bright overcast; all the flowers would be in their best condition (though I am drawn to broken petals and bent blooms); there would be no wind; and the rain would only come before I arrived, so I’d find fresh drops on leaves and petals. There would be ladybugs, grasshoppers, caterpillars, butterflies and bees in all the right places, sitting perfectly still for their close-ups. Oh, and I’d find green tree frogs tucked in the flowers, just waiting for me. Yup, dream on! We can’t summon the perfect settings on command. Sometimes (rarely), we’re blessed with some of the best conditions. So when we head out, we need to put on our “happy face” and our “problem-solving cap” and move forward.

Magnolia Plantation, taken with Lensbaby Velvet 56 lens, f/1.6, 1/640 shutter speed, ISO 200.

Recently, I encountered several amazing gardens in Georgia (Gibbs Gardens) and North Carolina (Tryon Palace Gardens & local arboretum). The first line in Charles Dickens’ “Tale of Two Cities” echoed in my mind. There was bright sun and no clouds one day, perfect overcast the next, and twice I had varied light with almost constant breezes. In other words, an excellent time to find a cactus to photograph. It was a reminder that we are not in charge of the sun, the wind, the rain or any other planetary influence. We are only in charge of our own response.

On the sunny days, I look for flowers that lend themselves to the light, or find blooms in shaded, wind-protected areas. I work bigger scenes where the light is balanced and manageable. On the overcast days, I look for blooms that are beautiful to me because of their colors or shapes. In all cases, I am on alert for clean backgrounds without distractions, or ones that complement the subject (the “star”). On breezy days, I choose apertures that give me faster shutter speeds, increase my ISO and embrace the softer, more abstract look. I sometimes ditch the tripod and practice a rocking motion with my eye glued to the viewfinder, pressing the shutter as the select area came into focus.

Canna Motion, taken with Nikon 24-70 lens, f/16, 1-second exposure, ISO 100, handheld.

Brightly lit areas are easier to manage with a diffuser (or if you’re lucky, a random cloud). Wind is less manageable. In public gardens you can’t bring wind breaks and plop them in well-tended beds (unless you enjoy being asked to leave for not respecting the efforts of the gardeners). If it’s your garden, have at it. Cut the flowers, bring them inside and have a field day. While you’re at it, be open to trying new techniques. Motion blurs and multiple exposures offer creative ways to deal with moving subjects and changing light.

Go Beyond The Name With Abstracts
It is freeing when you know that you (and the viewer) don’t have to identify the flower by name. Rather, simply capture the essence of the blooms. This approach releases you from the tack-sharp requirement, but not from considerations like visual flow or relationships of colors, textures and lines. Are the flowers blowing (or whipping like crazy) in the wind? How about slowing down your shutter speed and letting them create a canvas wash of color? (You might need a neutral density filter to accomplish that, but it’s probably in your bag.) With abstracts, I work areas of focus that look best in the frame. It’s not a rule-of-thirds approach, but rather finding a place for the eye to rest momentarily before traveling throughout the frame.

Tulip Abstracts, taken with Nikon 70-180 micro lens, f/9, 1/100 shutter speed, ISO 400, handheld while laying on ground.

Best Thing To Bring To The Garden
Regardless of how you approach flower photography, there’s one thing that you must not leave at home or in the car. PATIENCE is the virtue that is always critical in flower photography. If you wait, the light will change, the wind will calm down, people will move out of your scenes, and there’s always another flower waiting for your attention. We’re in the middle of a season that’s ever-changing, with new waves of colors and textures and patterns arriving each day. Embrace those evolutions!

 

Jamie Konarski Davidson is an award-winning freelance photographer, educator and presenter with a passion for capturing the beauty of the natural world. She is a Lensbaby Ambassador, often working in florals and abstracts. Her images range from macro and abstracts to intimate, grand and rural landscapes. Jamie is a long-time member of North American Nature Photography Association (NANPA) and Carolinas Nature Photographers Association (CNPA). Via New Life Photos, she leads photo workshops throughout the East Coast.

Photography in the Pandemic

Photography in the Pandemic

A Little Blue Heron landing at its evening roost, photographed with the Induro GIT 404L tripod-mounted SONY 600mm GM, the 2X teleconverter, and the a9 ii. I didn’t discover this great sunset spot until I was forced to stay home because of COVID.

By Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART blog

Covid-19 has taken its toll in the past year, and created hardships for many of us. But during this time, like many of you, I’ve tried to take advantage of photographic opportunities that are close to home.

I am blessed to live in a development in central Florida called Indian Lake Estates (ILE). Please don’t ask me where the estates are because there aren’t any. Our development is about 70 miles west of the Atlantic Ocean at Vero Beach, and about 100 miles (as the crow flies) east of the Gulf of Mexico at Fort DeSoto Park in Pinellas County. I’ve lived there since 2001, when I was looking for a home and was intrigued by the fact that I found more than a few Sandhill Cranes feeding right along Park Drive, the main road that leads down to a large lake.

A Black Vulture coming in to land at my road-kill café, taken with the handheld Canon 100-500mm (at 500mm) and the EOS R5. It took me a while to figure out the best R5 AF method for birds in flight, but now I’m very confident in my lightweight Canon rig. And with the 1.4X teleconverter, I often use it for close-up work with tame birds. Canon mirrorless owners should check out the R5/R6 AF e-Guide.

Lake Weohyakapka, more commonly known as Lake Walk-in-Water, is about a two-minute drive from my house. Every year, you can find pairs of nesting cranes, lots of Red-shouldered Hawks, a few Bald Eagles, hordes of vultures, Great Horned, Barred and Eastern Screech Owls, a variety of herons and egrets, a very few shorebirds (including the wintering Killdeer), and a smattering of resident, wintering and migratory songbirds. In the two decades preceding the pandemic, I’d photograph at the lake fairly often in some years, but almost never in years when I was traveling the world extensively.

But since March of 2020, I have practically lived at the lake. I visit almost every morning and in recent months, I head back down for sunset.

A five-day old Sandhill Crane chick, photographed handheld with the SONY 100-400 GM lens and the a7r iv. With 61 million pixels, sharp a7r iv images can handle fairly extreme crops with ease. Because the chick is on a small rise, the background is beautifully out of focus.

In March, a pair of cranes at South Field hatched two chicks that quickly grew into handsome colts. As I was watching them every day, I learned that they would swim back and forth across a small canal each morning and afternoon. That discovery helped me make some good images of the swimming colts. But near the end of March, one colt disappeared, and then the other. I had been seeing a fox in their marsh…

On May 10, the day dawned cloudy and grey. For several months, I had been seeing a single crane standing in the same spot in a handsome stand of marsh grasses. Several days before, I had walked out into the water and seen that the bird was actually on a nest. I thought that it might be sitting on a clutch of infertile eggs. That day, I had the SONY 600 f/4 GM lens on my Induro GIT 304 tripod topped with a levered-clamp FlexShooter Pro. I had nothing better to do, so I walked out into the lake and waited, taking a few images of the adult. Suddenly, a tiny chick appeared; it had been roosting in the feathers on mom’s back! The little one walked around and around the adult as I quickly photographed it.

Then the chick snuggled back into mom’s feathers and disappeared. I stayed for another hour, hoping for another development. Eventually the adult stood up. In the nest beneath her was a cracked eggshell and a tiny, sopping-wet, just-hatched chick. I thought, “I’m gonna be famous,” but before I could push the shutter button even once, the firstborn chick, which had been thrown off mom’s back when she stood up, ran into the nest and pecked its new nest mate ferociously, driving it out of the nest where it disappeared into the marsh grasses. All in the blink of an eye. I was reminded that, for the most part, bird photography is not easy.

Anyhoo – as my dad often said – one of the two young cranes survived and continues to do well. Because of the pandemic, I had the privilege of photographing the Mother’s Day family for 10 months, something I never would have done otherwise. I was there when one of them hatched, watched them quickly grow, and witnessed the surviving colt fledge and take flight with its parents.

Another benefit of staying close to home is that I learned some new spots at ILE, locations that surely have been good for years but remained undiscovered by yours truly. My favorite is a sunset location where, with the right wind (northeast is best), you can photograph small wading birds flying into their evening roost with brightly colored skies and water as the background.

A five-month old Sandhill Crane jumping for joy, taken with a handheld SONY 200-600 G lens and the a9 ii. The bird in this image is either the chick in the first image or its nest mate. It is amazing how fast they grow! I was standing near the edge of a canal so that I was on the same level as the birds.

During these months, I’ve also had the chance to play with a Canon R5/RF 100-500 rig. Though I am fully committed to SONY, I had fun with the lens and quickly decided to write an R5/R6 AF e-guide, which has been well received. I purchased the rig and, at present, am almost finished writing a complete Canon R5 User’s e-Guide.

So don’t get me wrong; the pandemic has challenged the lives of almost everyone. But in keeping me at home, it’s opened the door to some opportunities that I might have never found in a normal year. And for those, I am grateful.

Spatterdock blossom photographed with the tripod-mounted SONY 100-400, the 1.4X TC, and the a7r iv. Shot at 1/6th second at f/8 with the self-timer.

 

Arthur (Artie) Morris is widely recognized as one of the world’s premier bird photographers, photographic educators, and photography tour leaders. His photos have been exhibited at a number of prestigious institutions. Before becoming a full-time bird photographer, he taught elementary school in New York City for 23 years.

His book, The Art of Bird Photography , is the classic how-to text on the subject, while the follow-up, The Art of Bird Photography II (916 pages on CD only), covers the digital aspects of nature photography. He is also a co-founding publisher and now sole owner of the online educational community, BirdPhotographers.Net, where honest critiques are done gently ($40/year). Artie also authors the BIRDS AS ART blog, which offers extensive free information geared toward becoming a better nature photographer.

Before the pandemic, he also led BIRDS AS ART instructional photo-tours and photo-cruises. He currently is offering a Galapagos trip in summer 2022 (those interested can contact him via e-mail.

Photographers can use his B&H affiliate link to save 3% and receive free second-day air shipping from Bedfords Camera by using the BIRDSASART code at check-out. Doing so will often entitle buyers to free or discounted Camera User’s or educational e-Guides.

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